To work on my first piece.
The first thing to do was to make some maquettes so as not to waste the tempting roll of underlay which Texfelt kindly donated…I’m not sure quite what they made of me…middle-aged woman artist enraptured by the aesthetic of their humble and normally unseen product…but they were very generous and threw in a tour of the factory for good measure!
The first maquette was a paper-and-sellotape affair; shortly followed by one made of felt scraps. There were several unpickings and modifications of this, until I was happy with the twisted forms.
Transferring these to squared paper came next and then scaling up to human dimensions onto dressmakers’ pattern paper.
I knew things would be tight, so wanted to pin all the pattern pieces out before starting to cut. This necessitated a complete move round of the studio in order to get a clear 5m run.
Cutting underlay proved quite a job and quickly blunted the titanium blades on the rotary cutter…perhaps fortuitously… I ended up with a badly cut, but not amputated finger!
I had, of course, made sure that my sewing machine would cope with sewing such thick fabric, but what my small sample hadn’t revealed was the physical difficulty of dealing with such a weight of fabric. I couldn’t let the needle and presser foot bear the brunt of this …but a day of sewing left my shoulders and arms in no doubt that it had been a tussle. I was so stressed at this point I forgot to take a photo! At the end of several days of struggle though, they were standing!
Recycled, felted underlay is designed to resist wear and provide padding, but does not have the strength of a weave nor the fibre length of virgin wool. Concern that the strain on the curved seams, once I stood the figures up, would, over time, tear the felt from under the stitches gave me some sleepless nights.
Aptly for underlay I got back on my knees, but not in prayer. Firstly to work out where to position the cones. My ‘alternative technology’ (red yarn) approach to 3-D design:
Then, hammer and heavy-duty hole punch in hand, I spent the morning contributing to the creative sound track of the studio with a percussive rhythm unusual for a textile artist!
Meanwhile, back at table level, a small army of aluminium mesh cones were in production. I had thought I would sew these into the underlay, working from the back, but a friend rescued me from what would have been a sisyphian ordeal and suggested I use silicone sealant. Very much learning as I go, here’s my first venture into the world of Slow TV – filming myself without getting silicone all over the camera, then hours grappling with simple editing software. There is so much I do not understand in this world!
Sticky, but successful! In a lightbulb moment I also realized that this would also be a way of strengthening the seams by impregnating the underlay spreading the tension and reducing the risk of tearing.
Now to add needlefelt and stitch. Temperatures soared for the time of year, so I took my spiked underlay blanket and worked in the sunshine on the terrace at the studio
Almost done now. But looking back to my original design, I wanted the group to be brought together by a tenuous spiral of fleece, passing around and between the drums. Blood red… for danger.
A visceral dyeing session ensued.
Finally – a little hint of the finished piece. A full photo shoot is for another day!