Exercise 3.2 Fabric manipulation

This exercise concentrations on simple methods of fabric manipulation and also exploring the effects of scale and repeat.  The methods used are ones I am familiar with but the exercise asks me to think about them in different and exploratory ways using words taken from Richard Serras’s verb list from Exercise 1.5.

I admit to not having thoroughly read the exercise in its entirety and so initially interpreted the words simply and literally with 2 or 3 samples each before turning the page and then adding some further samples following the course instructions …. lesson learnt to thoroughly read the exercise first!

So for my first set of samples I tried the verbs fold, twist and cut …. for the first I tried something different thinking of origami style folds which I quite liked and thought they could be used as potential inserted blocks in a larger piece.  I also did a simple sample using a strip of fabric pleated.

For the ‘twist’ verb I simply twist fabrics together effectively creating new ‘yarn’ before cutting into a square of fabric randomly for the first sample for the very ‘cut’.



I added a further sample for the ‘cut’ verb which can be seen  on the left hand side of this image before moving onto two basic layering samples and also knotted samples – my imagination had got up and left the building for these.

I admit I had been trying to do this exercise during a period of illness and found I was seriously struggling with being experimental and hence do not feel the majority of the samples were even remotely successful – I have  taken the step of writing out the verbs and pinning them up so that I can consider how I might interpret them into fabric manipulation and when inspiration strikes I can immediately act on it so that further work can be done!  I also realised during this particular exercise that I have suffered a dip in confidence due to my assessed mark at ACA and having recognised it I am aware of how it has affected my creativity and this is something that I am hoping will rectify itself during the exercises that follow.

Going forward to the verb ‘crumple’ I regret not having some spray starch as I just wanted to crumple and scrunch the fabrics to produce texture …. I admit to using hairspray instead here and soaking the fabric pieces before scrunching them up and letting them dry which was relatively successful.

The following 3 samples (2 on this page) were for the verb ‘felt’ – felting is a new technique for me but one I had really wanted to try and I loved it!  I had to purchase a small felting kit and some wool roving but feel now it has been worth the expense as it is a technique I can see me using further.

On my samples I tried using denim and felt as the background fabric initially – the denim produces a firm effect and I love the colour contrasts whilst the felt is softer and blended better with the roving.

The third sample can be seen in the top left of this photograph and for this one I decided to forego the background fabric and just blend the roving together to produce a new fabric – the shades I have used produce a lovely soft effect which I really love.

The final three verbs of ‘tear’, ‘gather’ and ‘roll’ can also be seen on this page – for tearing I simply tore 3 different fabrics into strips, gathering encompassed a simple strip gathered into a circle and a second one which was gathered on two sides and finally rolling was interpreted by rolling two fabrics together …. as I said early my creativity seems to have deserted me and I am far from happy with these samples.

At this point I turned the page and read more of the course material!

It is suggested to take a strip of fabric approximately 6 x 30 cm which I folded down the middle and ironed before finally using a small running stitch along the crease in the fabric.  I gently pulled on one end of my thread to gather the fabric to approximately half its length and arranging the gathers neatly.  I repeated this exercise using 6 different fabrics exploring this technique and did feel it was very worth while – I particularly liked the contrast between the calico in the bottom right of the photo which produced wonderfully stiff gathers and the silk or velvet which produced soft and delicate gathers.

I am entranced with the use of velvet both using gathering or pleating techniques due to the effects of light and shadow and although difficult to work with feel the effort is really worth it.

Shirring is another method of gathering executed by sewing two parallel rows of either running stitch or machine stitch (with the tension adjusted as necessary) before gathering – usually this is done with a thin elastic but my initial sample was done just using running stitch.  I am however adding a further sample trialing a machine sewn  method as I have purchased the required elastic.

Folding can be interpreted as pleated as the course material instructs and in this area I felt considerably more confident.  I tried simple folds along one edge in 4 differing fabrics – poly-cotton, voile, muslin and velvet and loved the very differing results.  I am aware the calico would have produced a very stiff pleat which I would have ironed firstly before stitching but the samples I stitched I decided to leave the pleats unpressed to produce a softer effect.

I further tried using tucks as small folds and again tried in different fabrics – poly-cotton, muslin and also pink felt.  The poly-cotton and muslin produced very soft tucks which were loosely done and not pressed whilst the felt produced tucks that actually stiffed the felt considerably which is interesting to note with future projects in mind.

I added two further samples at this stage which combined techniques – layering and cutting for the sample shown on the left hand side of the photograph and cutting and knotting for the right hand sample.  I now feel combining the verbs gives me the opportunity of being more experimental and I felt more confident in my interpretations.

I could not resist doing some samples of gathered Suffolk puffs in calico, voile, felt and velvet – this is a technique I know and love.  There are two ways of doing Suffolk puffs but both start by drawing circles onto your fabric and cutting out.  Some people choose to turn over the edge of the circle before using a running stitch around the outside and some people choose to leave the edge un-turned depending on the project they have in mind – for these samples I chose the un-turned method.  Once the running stitch has been done I drew the gathers together before securing.  I have not used any of these fabrics before with the puffs and loved the felt version as it reminded me of a French beret but I am also entranced by the voile due to the lovely soft result although I found the voile difficult to work with.

As I have stated previously for this exercise I had suffered a combination of a dip in confidence combined with a bout of illness and do not feel my creativity has been what it should have been or could be and as a consequence I am not entirely happy with many of the samples.  However I am aware that I will be revisiting this exercise, if not during the course of the rest of the assignment, certainly before this course module is completed to add further samples exploring the different techniques and perhaps using other fabrics that I have made such as knitted or woven samples.  My biggest problem has been lack of confidence I feel.

Regarding the samples the most effective have been the gathered, felted and Suffolk puffs – all 3 of these seems to have worked well and I can see the potential in them to capture the mood or essence of my theme as they could be used to ‘describe’ flowers or textures within my garden.

Thinking of my theme I tried a further pleated sample but this time stitching the pleats down the length and this produces an effect reminiscent of the veins of a leaf or petal which I do really like – this is an idea that could be explored further using differing fabrics but when I have more patience!

I think some of my problems with the fabrics has been the difficulty in using them – velvet, voiles or silks are notoriously problematic and if I had done this exercise when fully fit I may have had more patience than I had at the time!  These fabrics need handling with care and accuracy and for some techniques ensuring cutting on the grain would produce a better and crisper result. I also feel that for some of the techniques careful marking with the appropriate pencil or chalk could have also helped to produce the effect required – straighter lines for instance or even the stitching line around the circle for the Suffolk puffs.  Some of these finer fabrics I have intentionally avoided using in the past and I am well aware of why – I do not like working with slippery fabrics although the final effect and finish is definitely worth it and this exercise has shown me that perseverance, patience and a little determination means I can now see a place for them in my theme.

The next part of the exercise was to look at the effect of a change in scale on one of my samples and for this I chose the felting as I wanted to explore the technique further.  I decided to work a petal shape as a new sample before recreating it 50% larger and 50% smaller – I am aware my shapes are not as accurately repeated as I would like but the technique is still very new to me.  I worked all 3 samples on a cotton background before cutting them out.

At this point I note that the course material has stated to document my samples through drawing and photography – the drawing I feel I have neglected as I, again, had not read the exercise thoroughly but also because I found it difficult to draw what I was doing when for me it is an obvious step by step procedure but now understand it is those steps that are worth drawing. Lesson learnt – READ the course notes THOROUGHLY and highlight or make notes of each stage!!

I am really pleased with the 3 samples as I can see the change in scales clearly and this gives me a clear idea of how this changes the look of each sample – I love the delicacy of the smallest shape which contrasts with the boldness of the largest.  The colours blend delicately with the smallest shape before becoming more obvious with the largest – they seem to want to be ‘heard’ more in the largest shape despite the fact I adjusted the proportions of each colour according to each shape (in effect the proportions were the same is what I am trying to say).

At this point the course material points me towards looking at the work of Rowan Mersh and recording my response to his experimental and intuitive approach to ordinary materials.  Oh wow, omg, oh I love it, intrigued, fascinated, want to know more, how does he do it?, oh I wish I could see these works in person …. all these were my reactions as I sat looking for a considerable time at the gallery on his website.  I rarely find I respond with such enthusiasm or even an emotional response but something about the style or maybe the way these sculptures and works are done just sends a tingle down my spine – I just love love love the fabric sculptures in particular.  It feels like this artist is a cross between artist, textile artist and almost an architect and each material whether it is leather, wood or corn is used in intricate and fascinating ways that make you look twice to discover what material the art work is made of – the artist almost defies your eyes and challenges your perceptions of the materials used.  I was also particularly entranced by the Iambic Rhythm from 2011 – the whole installation looked incredible and I love the mechanical but somehow natural rhythm the art work produced or captured.    I can honestly this is an artist who I will be following now without question – something about his work has seriously got my attention but it is indefinable and indescribable but there are just some artists that touch your soul through their work and for me Rowan Mersh is one.

The final sample is one that was created through making 8 identical samples before joining them in a variety of different methods.  I chose to work with Suffolk puffs and used a combination of knots, herringbone stitch (not overly successful), French knots, running stitch to create a hinge before roughly slip stitching the resulting edges back down on themselves, machine stitch in two differing methods (a hinge and also a semi-circle on top of 3 other puffs) and also a simple overcast stitch.  I am not entirely happy with the result and feel it may have been better had I worked my puffs on a larger scale but on the other hand I like the effect created too – it is random with no specific design or desired outcome other than to become a more complex sample and this is something that is new to me … running with just a series of motifs or samples and seeing where the process leads me and I found it exciting and almost freeing to do.  This complex sample could have been made larger with other puffs added to it with either side of the puffs showing – it is not a sample that has a ‘right’ side.  I really liked joining the puffs with French knots in particular as this gave an area of added interest and texture – thinking of my theme this would look effective in different coloured threads particularly if the knots were repeated in different sizes and in the middle of the gathers.


Mersh, R.  (date unknown). Rowan Mersh [online].  [Date accessed:  April 2017].  Available from:  http://wwww.rowanmersh.com/gallery-category/2016/

Wolff, C. 1996. The Art of Manipulating Fabric. Iola, Wisconsin.  Krause Publications


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