Inventing ghostwork

This week I’ve been inventing ghostwork. At least, I think I’ve been inventing it – apologies to anyone who got there first.

So, what is it? Regular readers will know that I’ve been obsessing over whitework recently, and have been playing around making whitework samples. I decided to turn the thing on its head and to start with a coloured fabric, then reduce it back to plain white as much as possible. I took a piece of African batik (purchased as part of a range of fabrics from the excellent African Fabric Shop) and cut a small piece. I then tried to remove most of the colour from it using DeColourant spray. This had very little effect, so then I tried DeColourant* paste. This still wasn’t working particularly well, even after prolonged steam ironing, so I put some household bleach into a plastic tray and immersed the piece of batik for well over 24 hours. After this time the dark areas of fabric were still dark, but the bright green had faded to either white or a pale pink. I then free-machine embroidered all over it using off-white Madeira rayon thread. The effect is to produce a ghostly image of the batik, much dispelled by the bleach and the white embroidery. The photograph shows, on the left hand side, a piece of the original batik, and in most of the picture on the right hand side, the bleached out ghostwork version. I’m really rather taken with it.Bleached out batik - whitework

I also tried bleaching another piece of African batik cotton which I’d covered with coloured embroidery. I immersed this in pure bleach for about three days and I have to tell you that the DMC embroidery cotton holds its colour really well even in the face of this attack on it. Some of the colours turned a bit paler, but that’s it. Very impressive performance. The background fabric was definitely fading after three days in the bleach, though. So, not wholly successful if the whole point was to remove colour. Well, I then rinsed it out and decided to put it through a washing machine cycle with a lot of towels. Then I was going to photograph it and show it on this blogpost as an illustration of how well DMC cottons hold their colour. However, I proceeded to unload the washing machine and then to hang the towels up, but there was no sign of the little experimental piece of cotton. Where oh where has it gone? I examined the washing machine drum, but the piece of cotton seems to have just disappeared. This is truly weird. Although, it could be akin to the sock conundrum which you’re probably familiar with. When you pair the clean socks, there’s almost always one left over. Where is its mate? Gone to join the other spare socks in some forgotten corner of the universe, perhaps.

* DeColourant spray and paste: I’ve not had outstanding results with these products. I think if you’re expecting them to remove colour completely you’re probably in for a disappointment. However, I have not used them a great deal, and others may have had more success. Has anybody tried them? Have you got any helpful comments/tips/suggestions about their use? There’s a similar Jacquard product that I’ve not tried. These pastes/sprays are pretty expensive, offputtingly so for the casual experimenter. Household bleach, on the other hand, is cheap.

Experimenting with whitework

Last week I was doing some more experimenting with whitework, and this time mostly on the sewing machine. Here’s the result of an experiment in ‘pulled’ work.Pulled work experiment with sinamay

I’ve placed it over a patterned gold and black paper for a bit of contrast. I set the machine to zig-zag and then stitched lines down and across the sinamay which is the base material. I’d intended to make a somewhat bigger piece but, frankly, it was a nightmare to work, so I scaled it back. Sinamay is a difficult material to use because of it being so brittle. The thread kept snapping and I had to rethread the machine several times just to produce this small piece. Nice effect, though, and worth a certain amount of trouble, I think. Sometimes it’s just fun to sit down and make something without much forethought, in order to see where it will lead. I’m a big fan of sampling as it gives you scope to be creative in a relatively small timescale, using a minimum of materials. I set out a few small bits and pieces of different materials and just got to work to see what I could make with them. With a piece like this, the effect is produced almost at random, once you’ve made the basic decision about materials. The sinamay distorted in unpredictable directions, so there was no real intent about it.

Resolved piece – whitework on paper

Earlier in the week I said I’d write another post about progress on a more resolved piece of whitework on paper. Well, here it is, and somewhat to my surprise it’s actually finished; I got a second wind with it yesterday and managed to complete it.Whitework on paper - resolved piece

As with the sample, I drew ovals freehand on a piece of watercolour paper, and then cut them out using a craftknife. Then I used as many different Richlieu and cutwork techniques as I could think of to fill in the cut holes. I think I’ve made a few of them up myself. Some are more successful than others, it has to be said. I’ve used only one thread for all of this – coton à broder which is one of my favourite threads. I bought a very large hank of it in écru, but it’s nearly all gone now.

If I extend this work, it would be interesting to use a more limited range of styles, perhaps using identical repeats. I don’t know – I’ll see. Maybe it’s time for me to draw the whitework to a close and get back to colour. But dipping my toe into whitework again has been a very pleasant interlude. I’ll no doubt return to it someday.

Yet another whitework sample on paper

Yes, folks, it’s yet another whitework sample on paper. I’m really rather taken with working on paper, although I should add that it’s more like card than paper as it’s quite a thick sheet from a watercolour pad. Another whitework sample on paper

I cut out some ovals, using a craftknife, and then tried to use a range of techniques to fill in the spaces. The red backing is more watercolour paper, painted using Derwent watersoluble pencil. The techniques are drawn from Tracy A Franklin and Nicola Jarvis’s book on whitework, which I like very much. This sample is based – very loosely – on Chapter 4 on Richlieu work and cutwork.

Whitework techniques do tend to be labour intensive and this one is no exception. I didn’t keep an exact note of how long it took me, but it’s not a quick process. I don’t have much interest in reproducing very detailed examples of old-style whitework, but the techniques (drawing threads, cutting holes and filling them up again, etc) are interesting and well worth trying out.

This is really just a fragmentary sample but I’ve used it as a basis for a somewhat more ambitious piece. I’ll get back to you on how I’m doing with that later in the week.

 

More whitework on paper

I’ve been doing some more whitework on paper. I based these images on sketchbook work that I did some time ago, thus reinforcing the view that nothing is really wasted. Having struggled with the thick rayon thread (see previous post earlier this week) on my first resolved piece, I decided to make life a bit easier by using a range of different threads. Some are easier to use than others, but they’re all easier than the rayon. Here’s the first sample I did:

Whitework on card

It’s got cotton and silk threads, as well as a bit of rayon. The creamier coloured threads have come out quite yellowy in the photograph, but they look much more neutral than they appear here. I put in lines of backstitch on the verticals but wasn’t completely convinced, once I’d finished, that they were necessary.

So, in the next sample, I left them out and I think it’s more successful:Whitework on paper

I’m still very pleased with the technique, overall, and may well do more of this. Perhaps I’ll introduce a bit of colour next time….

Whitework on paper

I decided to try a little bit of whitework on paper, as a development from the crazy patchwork I described in one of last week’s posts. This development arises naturally out of last week’s work, but also out of my interest in the work of Emily Barletta, whom I’ve mentioned previously. Quite a lot of her work is embroidery on stiff paper, and I like it very much so thought I’d have a go. It wouldn’t work on anything flimsy, so I tried using watercolour paper, which is ideal. I did a few very small samples on one piece of paper, and soon discovered that the best way to do it (for me, at least) is to sketch out the image on the back of the paper, and then punch holes at regular intervals on the lines of the image, using a large pin. I don’t know how Emily Barletta works, but this works for me. Having done a few basic samples, I then had a go at a more resolved piece, which looks like this:Whitework on paper

It is stitched entirely using a thick-ish rayon thread which is part of a collection of very old threads that I was given many years ago. It’s not easy stuff to work with because it snags on everything, including rough patches of skin on my finger ends (of which there are many). However, I persisted with it, and I’m really quite pleased with the result. Because it’s quite a thick thread it casts shadows, so it’s easy to ‘read’ even though it’s off-white thread on an off-white background. I am busy working on some other samples so will report on progress over the next few days.