The first task for starting work on manipulating fabrics was to sort the fabrics into colour groups, and the course suggests two hours to do that and cut samples from each type of fabric for a pinboard. I have too many fabrics, I think! I will take a little longer over it because it’s a good motivation to get them organised so I know just what I have to work with. I always find sorting anything a bit of a challenge because I see too much as borderline (it’s the same with my filing cabinet). I knew that aspect of it would be hard, so I designated a pile for patterns and mixtures as well as the clearer colours and just threw anything too complex on that pile instead of spending time trying to make small decisions.

I sorted about half the fabric yesterday, and today I made some sample sheets, using only my own dyed fabrics. I’ve done them loose-leaf so I can keep them in a folder and add to them, and I’ll just pin up the whole sheets for reference. These are all cottons and silks, so tomorrow I’ll make some more sheets with other types of fabrics from the sorted colour boxes.

The idea is to make it easier to pick out the ‘right’ fabrics for collages to interpret some of my design work – it will certainly be more systematic than my usual method of just diving into an amorphous mass of colour and texture and pulling something out. I got out my copy of Jean Littlejohn’s Fabrics for Embroidery, as I thought it would be good background reading for this section of the course, and this kind of recording of fabric is the first thing she suggests – every time you get a new one, stick a little piece in your notebook… I should obviously have taken more notice when I first read it many moons ago!

fabric samples

On the subject of having too much fabric, Littlejohn points out that before the expansion of the fabric trade, people were limited to the materials in their local environment,

These limitations encouraged people to be endlessly inventive with the materials at their disposal.

I know I have a tendency to collect more, rather than using up what I have, not just new fabrics but new ‘must have’ products and new techniques as well. There’s a place for these, of course, but I think it’s also an important challenge for me to learn how to practise the traditional skills that my grandmother would have recognised, and to be inventive with the stuff I already have (some of which once belonged to her, in fact).

I was thinking about limitations and about the way people would use and reuse fabric in the past, and I did a mindstorm on the words wear/worn as the first step towards constructing a garment (or part of one) which comes a bit later in the course. That piece has to relate to and grow visually from the design work I’ve done so far, as well as what I’m about to do, but I think I also need to anchor it in some way, otherwise I’ll flounder. The work I did in January for Sharon’s Take it Further Challenge gave me a new sense of the power of limiting and channelling ideas, and it also showed me how much strength I personally can gain by playing with words and thoughts as part of the design process.


thinking about cloth and limitation

5 thoughts on “thinking about cloth and limitation

  • February 7, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    I often get seduced by new fabrics and techniques and there is a tendancy to keep adding. I think its a way to avoid actually “doing” rather like the way a child will endlessly sharpen a pencil because of the trepidation of actually starting the task.

  • February 7, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    Your process is inspiring!

    I have noticed in my own work, that sorting and categorizing supplies leaves a subtle mark on the brain, like a bookmark, that one returns to when chosing materials for a project. I admire your determination to use what you have. It expands horizons! When I shop, I rarely shop with a project in mind – – or if I do, it’s for something like glue, or stabilizer – -something I’ve run out of. On my shopping trips, I tend to buy what I like – – what catches my eye and heart. Then when working on a piece, I shop my own shelves and use the things I love.

    Can’t wait to see where you go with the Feb. challenge!

  • February 8, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Great take on this subject, Fiona! I haven’t even started thinking about it yet… And what a good idea putting samples of all fabrics into a notebook – though I think my notebook would have to be a rather large one!! I conscientiously did one for my handdyed fabrics while I was doing C&G but since then…. zilch!

  • February 9, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    This is the first time I have come accross this idea of putting samples of fabrics into a notebook. I wish I will follow this good advice.

  • February 9, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    What a wonderful idea — one I must follow. I have been contemplating putting something together with fabric swatches — thank you for the push. You have a wonderful blog here full of great sketches, art and ideas. I will be visiting again!

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