There are a lot of samples to be made in this investigation on joining. There are a total of 5 exercises related to joining various surfaces together. For this reason this post deals with the first two, exercises 1 and 2. That is, the samples and commentary about joining straight flush edges together and also joining straight edges with a gap.
I felt a real sense of excitement about this project, I am very much enjoying new lines of artistic inquiry. Sometimes I feel out of my comfort zone but I am learning so many new processes, using different materials and following a whole galaxy of exciting ideas and artists.
At the time of creating some of these samples I was on holiday for a month, in the UK, away from my art studio and tools. I used unsophisticated materials like paper and felt that were easy to access. I also took advantage of British Libraries and spent a lot of time on research as well as visiting artists studios and a September art trail in North Wales. I can never quite leave the itch to investigate art related events, attend workshops, exhibitions or meet other artists. Apart from socialising and family time, other interests have faded into insignificance. I rarely watch television, read newspapers or main-stream women’s magazines. I have far too much to read in the world of art and archaeology. Perhaps third in line is science literature or listening to TED lectures and talks.
Materials for these samples were found easily by visiting a rural ironmongers, stationary shops, the haberdashery and the use of recycled and found materials.
I gathered together rivets, crushed bottle tops, ring pulls, cartons, (cleaned opened out & cut to shape), an A3 sketchbook, acrylic paint, torn fabric strips, glue, masking tape, tomato puree tubes, pipe cleaners, assorted metal shapes, fishing wire, paper yarn, raffia, safety pins, staples, sellotape, crochet thread, plastic coated wire, fine cotton thread, plant fibers, different gauges of wire.
I had been looking at the work of Jennifer Davies (1*) who works in various media, but I particularly liked her handmade paper subjects, especially the scrolls, which are all joined together with stitch and glue. It looks seemingly haphazard, but the whole gives a very pleasing, yet fragile effect.
Exercise 1: Straight Edges joined to Straight Edges
I revisited the work I did at Gwen Hedley`s workshop (Contemporary Kente) whilst participating in an earlier level one course, A Creative Approach To Textiles with the Open College of Arts. I reminded myself of the various process I had used using fabric & stitch as well as using wrapping techniques. I called my piece Spanish Mafia Wedding, the colourways were very different than any of the other participants on the course, with their muted blues, browns and ivories. This course had also been my first introduction to contemporary embroidery and it changed the way I though and worked with embroidery for ever. I deleted from my mind tidy rows of perfect stitches on anti-macassars on my mother’s chair and sofa backs.
Sample 2.1.1a : I clipped tiny holes with a punch using two pieces of strong handmade paper. Next I used button hole stitch along the two edges to be joined to give it extra strength, & then I joined the two resulting edges with a contrasting coloured thread using ladder stitch. The result was a sturdy and malleable surface and could be further embellished, or other surfaces attached to it if I chose to do so.
Sample 2.1.1b: I reinforced a smaller piece of the same handmade paper using interfacing to make it stronger and joined it to the first sample with safety pins.
Sample 2.1.2a: I took a vintage printed fabric and cut straight through the printed pattern in three places. I then joined the two edges together with ladder stitch using a thick thread without reinforcing the fabric or strengthening the edges with anything other than paper underneath, so in effect the surface is likely to fray. Later I thought I could add an iron-on fabric stabliser to the reverse to make it stronger. I liked the sample because it had added an interesting texture to the surface.
Sample 2.1.3a: Two pale brown felt pieces were cut straight across at the edges, I stitched them back together with a variety of cross stitches in different weight threads and outlined the area with small black straight stitches in an effort to show that the join was almost invisible. I did not like the sample, except for the simplicity of the join. I added more joined edges embellishments to make it look more interesting.
Sample 2.1.3b: I took the sample 2.1.3a above and added a dark felt piece using a pair of hook & eyes meant for skirt waistbands, joining them using large French knots in an attempt to make it look decorative rather than ugly stitching. I wanted to expose the hooks rather than use them in the more traditional way of hiding them. The two techniques were simple, but I didn’t like the sample. I wanted to create something on a much bigger scale and use the idea on a different medium. I had no desire to keep adding embellishments to make any more of the work. What I have learned is that even a ‘poor’ sample can be a jumping board for another idea. The second sample should really be in the category below under ‘joining edges with a gap’ and also ‘joining overlapping edges’ using studs.
Sample 2.1.3c. Using the same felt sample I joined two straight edges using metal studs.
Sample 2.1.3d – I used Kantha stitch to join two edges.
Sample 2.1.4: A piece of brown organza was joined with an iron-on webbing to a piece of scrim between two sheets of baking parchment. The invisible webbing partly melted in the centre, where perhaps I had held the iron too long. I feel this sample has potential for more work, despite the fragility of the materials and the melting effect. I like the concept of Wabi Sabi and the idea of mending old or worn sufaces, making them beautiful in the process. This fragile piece may be the perfect opportunity at a later date.
Sample 2.1.5a & 2.1.5b: For these samples I painted paper in my sketchbook in acrylic paints, then tore it into four pieces lengthwise and rejoined with stitches using household string, some areas were reinforced by masking tape. I liked the contrasting different size holes and large stitches. I thought more about presentation as I worked on these samples, and these can be sent in the post to my tutor or for assessment in a flat format. I am also planning to join wood samples on my return to Spain with this method.
2.1.6 a This is the front cover of my sketchbook, which I tore in half then joined it back together with a large zipper. The top and bottom part of the zipper remained exposed with a small gap and I used bold red stitches to draw attention to this. The reverse was rather unstable and capable of being destroyed by too much use. I glued a strip of fine scrim on the surface, this was a mistake and the glue was exposed and looked ugly. I used a thick strip of tape (2.1.6b) instead to make the surface strong and also to have a bold contrast to the prosaic looking brown sketchbook cover.
2.1.7a I took a paper insert from a discarded CD and tore it in half, then stapled it back together. The fragility of this idea was obvious and there was a lot of movement in the paper, that could potentially destroy the piece if there was much handling. I was attracted to the novelty of using staples and I liked the texture. I used two different size staplers. I was feeling a sense of excitement with these shiny metal staples in different sizes and wanted to experiment more with this material.
Sample 2.1.7b: I added a different torn paper CD insert to the edges of the sample 2.1.7a. I used masking tape on the reverse to create a more solid structure. I also liked how the two disparate pieces worked well together. The top and bottom pieces were images of skiers on a ski slope, yet they looked like Ermine on a royal cloak. I liked the extra strength created by the masking tape so much I explored more with this idea.
Sample 2.1. 7c: I carried on being playful with the staples, and I cut many level slices into sturdy paper from a shiny brochure, the paper was stronger than the CD inserts. On the reverse I used masking tape to put the slices back together. I used a stapler to heavily staple all the slices. I really liked the texture this was creating as well as the sheen of the metal in the staples and decided I wanted to explore this idea further with printable fabric. I have opened up a new direction with the use of staples and I have yet to exploit its full potential. These samples are also flat pieces of work that can be presented in my sketchbook. I had also investigated and researched artists who used staples in their work.
French Sculptor Baptiste Debombourg (2*) creates detailed art on white board that needs to be viewed up close to appreciate that he is uses staples as an art material. From a distance his work looks like fine sketches in pencil. Debombourg took 75 hours and used 35,000 staples to create two pieces of art, Air Force One and Air Force Two. Debombourg wanted to play with the ideas using the guise of engraving and to make a comment about contemporary aggression. He uses Italian Mannerism as his inspiration.
Ex 2: Straight Edges joined to Straight Edges leaving a gap
Sample 2.2.1: Dyed felt pieces were stitched together leaving a gap, using a variety of embroidery stitches in different weights. I overlaid stitches on top of each other, some stitches employed sequins, in effect the gap in some cases is barely noticeable. This gap idea with stitches could be exploited on other materials and I wish that I had more time to play with hand made papers, slices of ply wood with holes drilled into it, or plastic piping.
My husband has felled a tree in our garden and there is a large part of the trunk remaining. I asked him tentatively how difficult it would be to cut it into quarters, vertically. (He said he would need to borrow a chainsaw, but was not put off by my query! I asked him to lift it and place it vertically in the ground to examine it more thoroughly). I could foresee a large sculpture ‘stitched’ together with plastic washing line, but that would be a massive amount of collaborative work and perhaps only photographed for my coursework, with no hope of my tutor or an assessor viewing all the hard work. There would only be myself, husband and visitors to the garden to enjoy it. But I like thinking big. And the ideas have sprung from creating these small samples. When I have more spare time I will create the sculpture, collaboratively with my husband, just for pleasure.
Sample 2.2.2: Using a piece of yellow damask and pale blue felt, I joined the felt with bold red paperclips and joined the pieces together with a matching red running stitch. I very much liked the colour drama, crude running stitches and shiny paperclips on matt foundations. I would love to rework this on a number of colour variations and on a larger scale
There are far more ideas I would like to explore…. but with a time limit to work through the coursework, I am taking this sample-making too far. The way my mind works, and the wonderful ideas springing from the samples, I would need a year to complete this section!
2.2.3: Hessian painted & marked with symbols from prehistoric rock art joined with plant fibers, sharpened match sticks, knotted string and household string cross stitches. I added the petroglyph imagery onto eco-dyed cloth using Free Machine Embroidery that I had made last year. There is a need in me work to reach some conclusions, to finish things and these two disparate pieces seem to have all the right ingredients. All this sampling that I am doing is driving me to marry current and previous work. I cannot resist the urge. Its like cutting of my air supply if I don’t follow it.
2.2.4 I used plastic samples that I had fused in an earlier module of this course and joined them together with slices of balsa wood joined with metal studs.
Plastic bags are reviled for the damage caused to the environment and celebrated for their usefulness. The statistics for the polluting harm to the environment, birds and sea life are extensive and utterly demeaning to us as civilised humans. Yet it is a practical item used daily all over the world at least since the 1960s. I too am part of the problem. I feel it is up to everyone to protect ourselves and the earth from pollution by combining its practical uses, along with efficient, safe disposal (if that is at all possible given the ingredients). I note that more shops are banning plastic bags, and despite using several reusable shopping bags, I still manage to acquire a small collection each week that I use for all sorts of secondary uses.This must be multiplied by everyone all over the world.
I looked at the safety features for these experiments, because plastic bags are made from polyethylene and petroleum and can give off harmful gases. After reading the literature, I decided that, as a short experimental period, in a well ventilated room, it was worth doing.
3.1.1 My first sample took me into the garden for inspiration (nature v chemicals). I placed 2 layers of white plastic bags over the leaf, and 6 underneath, it made interesting holes and textures. Maybe the surface can be stitched into? Although it feels rather too solid for my sewing machine or hand stitching.But that result might be more to do with my lack of technique for fusing plastic.
3.1.2 This sample included a layer of printed plastic over another leaf, but most of the ink adhered to the baking paper. An interesting faded effect all the same.
3.1.3 For this sample I used coloured bags underneath white plastic with a sandwich of felt and silver thread. I thought the felt might have shrunk more, but it didn’t. When I removed it from the heat source I placed it under a heavy flat object because it was curling.
3.1.4 Uninteresting sample, which thinking back on, I could have distributed the sequin waste in a more artistic way instead of just tucking it under a layer of plastic.
3.1.5 and 3.1.6 I didn’t know quite how newspaper would react with the shrinkage of the plastic. Despite some fine holes, it stayed intact whilst the plastic shrunk around it, although the image itself is rather crinkled. I used part of a coloured bag in the background.
3.1.7 & 3.1.8 Unfortunately, despite being from the same newspaper, David Beckham did not fair very well with the technique, some of the print from a bag remained inside. Both these samples had a white background with print, I thought the coloured backgrounds worked better. But then it would depend upon what I’m going to do with the images next. I am already thinking of a stitched assemblage of ‘Heroes or Villans’.
3.1.8 I knew this netting melted, as a result of my earlier experiments with folding when I used an iron to press it in place. This sample created interesting lace like effects with the plastic melting satisfactorily, with holes.
3.1.9 Due to the fact that the print adheres to the baking paper, I reversed the printed bag under a white plastic bag. This is possibly my least favorite piece, but I can see some use for it if I cut it into smaller pieces and stitch them back together into inchies or an assemblage using some of other samples.
How far have I come with this process? I am still open to exploration. I watched the above video on using plain white plastic bags to create sketchbook pages. So I will continue to experiment.
3.1.10 and 3.1.11
On my second lot of samples I turned to different iron and realised that the temperture settings were more controllable. After processing, the samples felt smoother and pliable and I would defintely be able to stitch into them. I used only white carrier bags of the same density, and I cut out coloured shapes for contrast. A single sheet from an almost transparent bag was the final layer in the ‘sandwhich’.
3.1.12 For these samples, (blue and transparent) I used single colour plastic bags, on a low setting. They almost have the feel and transparency of silk. I will soon find a use for them. They would be easy to stitch into by hand or sewing machine.
3.1.13 For the final sample I experimented with maintaining printed matter and not loosing it to the baking parchment.
I have learned a limited amount about fusing plastic bags. It was interesting process to learn and I did gain more control over the process once I adjusted the various heat settings on the iron, I can understand and how this effects the final result. It is another tool I might use in the future.
Normally I like working with discarded and recyclable materials, because I despise that fact that in such a disposable culture as ours, so much of it ends up in landfill sites or dumped in our oceans after very little use. I can see a use for some of these pieces and I know if I got better at the technique I could be more creative and produce more consistent samples. But working with these chemical substances and the fumes having possible carcinogenic effects or creating other respiratory problems is not particularly appealing.
I did look at the work of Khalil Chistee who uses black and white plastic bags to create fascinating sculptures. I cant work out his process, I am certain heat is involved. The effects are stunning.
Khalil is from Pakistan, but now lives in New York. He said in an interview ”We live in the age of plastic, and plastic bags are the most ordinary form of this material. It goes back to the Sufi approach of my upbringing where worth does not depend on what you inherit, it depends on who you are. Anything made out of bronze, wood, stone or painted on a canvas carries the appearance of being worth looking at, because of its history, but if one can change the impact of that history, one is an artist.”
Beautiful Decay: Khalil Chishtee’s Plastic Bag Sculptures, November 12, 2013 by Jené Gutierrez