Part 5, Stages 3 & 4 – Further Sample making

I am now ready to start making some more samples to take my investigations further. I still need to answer the questions I asked myself before:

  • Can I weave or join grasses or leaves to a high enough standard to make vessels and would I be able to make them interesting enough?
  • Could they be made strong enough or stiff enough to be usable. what could be used to stiffen them?
  • Could other natural materials be used in conjunction with leaves? i.e. Grasses for stitching, bark for structure, seeds for decoration?
  • Can leaves or bark be embroidered into successfully? Can leaves be stitched together or embellished with machine stitch?
  • Is there a way to make my own skeleton leaves to add more choice of shape?
  • Could I wrap objects in such a way  as to convey a feeling successfully?
  • Could I make my own cocoon like structures either from natural materials or other materials in more of a conceptual piece / collection and do I have enough time to do this successfully to my satisfaction?

A few, I am now able to answer:

  • Can leaves or bark be embroidered into successfully? Can leaves be stitched together or embellished with machine stitch?

Yes they can although great care needs to be taken. Machine stitch needs the addition of a water-soluble product to protect the leaf from the thread ripping through it. This can be used to deconstruct the leaves too if desired.

  • Is there a way to make my own skeleton leaves to add more choice of shape?

Yes I can do this although using native local leaves limits the stability of finish achieved, therefore continuing with purchased skeleton leaves may be a better way forward especially considering the time restraints I have. I need to keep developing the technique quite a bit before I feel it is successful enough to use for a finished piece.

  • Could I make my own cocoon like structures either from natural materials or other materials in more of a conceptual piece / collection and do I have enough time to do this successfully to my satisfaction?

Yes I managed to make some very exciting small structures from the skeleton leaves.  a couple were particularly successful; the leaf ball, tiny vessel made from only four leaves and the seed pod containing seeds are really exciting and although very delicate and tricky to make could be developed in the time frame to a high standard.

As for the others I need to plan some samples to reach the answers.

I am going to try to use some long grass to construct vessels this may include knitting or weaving the grasses to create the structure. This poses another question: Can you knit with grass?

I am also going to see what I can achieve with bark. I have been for my walk in the woods and found some great pieces of bark which I stripped from fallen twigs and branches. A lot of them still have moss and lichen attached which will add to the overall natural appeal.I propose to make a couple of vessels using the found bark for structure. It would be interesting to see if I can combine it with some of the leaves.

I am also going to try wrapping both grass and other materials to create cocoons. It will be interesting to combine thread with natural grasses etc. and see what happens when the grasses dry.

Samples

20161018_095513_1476796544304

I have decided to start with the bark that I collected: I found two pieces that interlocked together. To form a vessel I decided to line the structure with a preserved leaf. I then decided to mount it on a small leaf to give it a base. Although very plain I decided not to embellish it further as I like its natural look. It is perfectly sturdy and could be embellished at a later date if required but for now it proves that the materials work together as an idea.

20161018_095522_1476796544454

For my second little sample in this set (above) I used the same materials but decided to try to hold the structure together by wrapping and tying it thus bringing in the wrapping technique that I so enjoyed earlier on in the course. It also introduced some extra colour and texture. I ideally want to keep to the natural colours found in the materials themselves during this exploration but I feel that a little outside influence won’t hurt. I had a good look through my bag of yarns and threads and came across some recycled sari yarn. So although not natural colours it is at least  recycled. I have used this yarn before with all natural materials most notably in some weaving I did during my first course. I also found some old ‘eyelash’ type yarn that was left over from a previous project. I thought that the fluffy nature of the eyelash yarn would contrast well with the other textures and I was right. It almost reminds me of wool caught on a gate post and blends in with its natural background well. The softer wrappings almost seem to be protecting the bark and softer inner layer of leaf in the centre. Holding them altogether and cushioning them.

20161018_095331

My third sample is a larger version of the above.A small progression; I wanted to try a change of scale and get an idea how they would look if grouped. I’m not sure that this one works as well as the first. The proportions do not seem to work as well and it looks a little stumpy compared to the first too being wider and only a little taller. Repeating this with longer pieces of bark would lead to it being better proportioned

Following on from these samples I decided to try wrapping leaves and half cylinders of bark with the aim of creating a more cocoon like structure which would be softer and horizontal rather than vertical and which served no purpose whatsoever. I have a very strong tendency to want a use for everything which sometimes hinders expression.

This was an interesting exercise even though I don’t think that the ‘parcels’ worked so well as the first three bark samples.Their lack of structure appears to be part of their failure. I much prefer the standing versions as they do have structure and form. I also varied the colours slightly which did not add to their success they ceased to blend together with the natural colours of the bark and leaves.

Recording my sample by making drawings and digital pictures of samples in my large sketchbook. My drawing skills still need developing but I am beginning to enjoy recording my samples in this way. I need to practice more and perhaps try some more ‘note like’ sketches rather than concentrating on producing good drawings.

For my next set of samples I wanted to try to use grasses to create vessels or structures:

My first idea was to try knitting with the grass. I selected some reasonably flexible long grasses from the garden. This time of year they are not a flexible as they once were and when trying to knit they continuously broke making them useless as yarn for knitting. So I put this idea to one side.

following this slight disappointment, I thought I would return to the wrapping, trying to form very natural cocoon like structures from grasses wrapped and woven together. I decided to use a very small amount of thread to both secure them and add a little colour that would remain if the grasses lost their colour with time I chose threads that closely matched with the grasses to remind myself of their original colour in the future.I also tied to wind one using a horsetail. I really like this small group of wrappings but they are not yet complete. I am looking forward to them ageing and changing over time only then will they be finished.

My next idea was to weave the grasses together to create a form. Again the grasses were too dry so I went for another walk.

This time I went to a part of the woods which is more boggy than the rest and looked to see if there were any reed type grasses growing there. Luckily for me I found a few patches. These were much more supple than the grasses and I found that I could weave with them relatively easily. I have never tried any form of basketry so it was a bit of trial and error. I decided to try to weave a small section then gather the long lengths up to make an elongated form which would hopefully have an elegant look, similar to the reeds themselves. This worked really well and I really like the elegant form.

The weaving requires some further practice but I feel it is a good start. I need to work on the stability of the design too as it will not stand on its own due to it being very top-heavy. I will need to engineer some form of weighted flat base if I am to develop this sample further.

Following on from the grass vessel I wondered if I would strengthen the lengths using stitch and also use stitch to form the grasses into a different type of vessel.So This time I laid the grasses into a loose grid and used a zigzag stitch over the stems. These were then gathered around an old vase using rubber bands, soaked in a solution of PVA and water and left to dry overnight. Once the rubber bands and vase were removed I tied the ends together. All in all quite successful. As with the previous sample I Like the way that the stems flow out of the top of the vessel. They both look very elegant but sadly require work to stand alone. Overall I refer the woven structure more than the stitched one. I find the stitching takes over a little and reduces the natural appeal created when using wholly natural materials.

I recorded these in my sketch book (above) and moved onto my final sample.

20161018_095634

My last sample uses twigs collected from the silver birch tree at the bottom of the garden and some of the reed type grasses. I wondered if I could weave the reed through the twigs to form a seed pod shape similar to the one I made with the skeleton leaves. It did work but was very tricky as the  twigs were prone to snapping. A further development of this idea would be to join three of these together to form a pod or indeed to use a larger twig to make a vessel of some kind. The skeletal form works well as do the colours and textures of the chosen materials. It looks delicate yet remains strong in form so fits in very well with the other samples.

Conclusion

Overall I am really rather pleased with the samples so far. I think there are some really strong ideas between them. The trouble I have now is deciding which ones to take forward into development.

I am particularly taken with the simple yet stunning forms created using the skeleton leaves. They have such elegance about them. Although obviously created by hand they would not be out of place in nature themselves.I would need to investigate how to display a few of them together and decide whether to make several the same or make each one unique but similar.

I also like the grass vessels I think they are very unusual and again have an ethereal elegance about them. They are crying out to be developed further and would look stunning in a group. There are a few intrinsic problems with  them regarding stability and the unknown factor of how they would survive once dried; but with research and development they could work really well

And back to the questions?

  • Can I weave or join grasses or leaves to a high enough standard to make vessels and would I be able to make them interesting enough?

Yes with practice I feel I could. Weaving them together would be the best way as stitching is too obtrusive.

  • Could they be made strong enough or stiff enough to be usable. what could be used to stiffen them?

Yes they are strong enough although further investigation is needed into a weighted bottom to aid stability.

  • Could other natural materials be used in conjunction with leaves? i.e. Grasses for stitching, bark for structure, seeds for decoration?

Yes the only limitation is imagination!

  • Can leaves or bark be embroidered into successfully? Can leaves be stitched together or embellished with machine stitch?

Yes they can although great care needs to be taken. Machine stitch needs the addition of a water-soluble product to protect the leaf from the thread ripping through it. This can be used to deconstruct the leaves too if desired.

  • Is there a way to make my own skeleton leaves to add more choice of shape?

Yes I can do this although using native local leaves limits the stability of finish achieved, therefore continuing with purchased skeleton leaves may be a better way forward especially considering the time restraints I have. I need to keep developing the technique quite a bit before I feel it is successful enough to use for a finished piece.

  • Could I wrap objects in such a way as to convey a feeling successfully?

Yes this could be done using colour and texture. It is not something I wish to pursue at the moment 

  • Could I make my own cocoon like structures either from natural materials or other materials in more of a conceptual piece / collection and do I have enough time to do this successfully to my satisfaction?

Yes I managed to make some very exciting small structures from the skeleton leaves. a couple were particularly successful; the leaf ball, tiny vessel made from only four leaves and the seed pod containing seeds are really exciting and although very delicate and tricky to make could be developed in the time frame to a high standard.

 

 

 

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About Julie Hooker

Having recently returned to my roots in Surrey, I am currently studying a BA Hons degree with the OCA. My work is often inspired by the local countryside in the beautiful Surrey Hills area and the wild rugged nature of the North Cornish coast. Steam engines and abandoned industrial history are also recent themes. A free machine embroiderer and felt maker; I like to explore the use of natural, found materials to create my art, whether that be as raw materials to stitch or weave with or as a material with which to produce dye or print with. Previously, I completed City and Guilds parts 1 & 2 Creative Embroidery at the East Berkshire College in Windsor in 2007. I was also awarded first place in the wearable art section of the National Quilt Championships 2008 and 2009 held annually at Sandown Park.
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