Trash-in’ The Ocean

Photograph by Jordi Chias

Last year I joined the Wey Valley Workshop, an exhibiting textile group based in west Surrey (UK). The theme for this year’s exhibition will be “re-use, recycle, re-purpose” and titled, “Adapt, Adjust, Amend”.

I have long considered myself (and most felt-makers) to be a Womble at heart, making this an ideal exhibition theme. For those who do not have childhood memories of these fictional furry beasties from the 1970’s, they were among the original recyclers, decades ahead of their time, collecting rubbish left by others and finding new uses for it. As I write this post the theme tune is running through my mind….

Underground, overground Wombling free, Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we….

Making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folk leave behind.

By our very nature, using wool (a waste product of sheep husbandry) as our principal material we felt-makers are already up-cycling other people’s “rubbish” but many of us also scour charity shops for unwanted fabrics and felting tools (AKA children’s toys, massage tools and kitchen equipment), old rubber mats, plastic shelf liner… the list is endless, in our pursuit of textile happiness.

For my exhibition piece I wanted to highlight the growing issue of plastic detritus in our oceans. The impact of human activity on the wildlife in our oceans is truly horrific, I have been reduced to tears time and again by they photos and videos I encountered while researching this project. The impact of plastic affects all ocean-dwelling species, from the the larger pelagic species and seabirds found dead or dying from gut obstructions (caused by swallowing plastic carrier bags) or intestinal perforations (caused by ingesting shards of plastic), to turtles and fish entangled in the plastic rings from multi-packs of drinks and discarded fishing nets, down to the tiniest crustaceans ingesting micro-plastics.

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Terrapin trapped in plastic packaging; before someone feels the need to comment I know these are fresh-water inhabitants, it serves to illustrate how rubbish in our rivers flows downstream to our oceans.

I knew I wanted to upcycle some waste plastics into my exhibition piece and that it would have an aquatic theme so I put a call out for mesh plastics on local social media sites and to the Wey Valley Workshop members, I was inundated with donations, this is just a fraction of the plastic netting I received….

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Many, many thanks to all the wonderful people who donated to this project, I will make sure they are put to good use and don’t end up in landfill.

My initial thoughts were that the netting would look like fish scales when felted into the surface but the more I pondered this exhibition piece the more I started to see possibilities in all manner of items that would normally go in the recycling bin and a few items I could rescue from the horrors of landfill. So I started collecting all manner of “rubbish” much to my other half’s bemusement. 🙂

Unusually for me, I refrained from immediately making the most complicated fish imaginable, instead sampling a wide selection of plastics, including food netting, carrier bags, drinks bottles, sweet wrappers, bread bags and the trays soft fruits are often sold in.

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The sweet wrappers were a surprise, they feel like plastic but once they were wet with warm soapy water it became apparent that they were organic in origin; they became slimy and slowly disintegrated while I was fulling the felt.

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Already impatient to stop sampling and start making, I started experimenting with different resist shapes for the fish, of course I had to start with my most complicated idea first…. 🙂 This is a yellow box fish, made using a book-resist and strips of deep purple carrier bag between the layers of wool. He is a bit of a disaster but with a lot more work he might still make it into the exhibition.

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My next two “water babies” were a little more successful, this time using plastic mesh for surface decoration.

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I plan to add some plastic pectoral fins to this little chap.
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Close up of the plastic netting

Plastic bottles and food trays have proved useful in my attempts to replicate coral (employing a fair amount of artistic licence of course).

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I plan to colour the plastic and entwine it more evenly amongst the felt but I am mesmerised by how the shiny plastic and matt felt augment each other’s qualities.

Some of my other plastic bottles have the potential to be become jelly-fish, what do you think? Try to imagine this piece upside down with slubby yarn tentacles….

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This just the beginning for this piece of work; looking forward, I hope to incorporate crisp packets (which invariably end up in landfill) into some fish and I envisage all of these elements (and lots more, yet to be made) forming a 3D coral outcrop that could be hung from the ceiling.

Has this post struck a cord with you? Would you like to do more to lessen your personal impact on the oceans? This link contains several helpful suggestions, some of which I expect you are already doing but there may be one or two you haven’t considered yet. Please add a comment your thoughts on this topic and any novel steps you are taking to minimise your “footprint”.

Autumn is my favourite colour

I know I have said this before, but it is worth saying again :). Every year I am left in awe of the beautiful colours that mother nature brings us each October / November.

While the British deciduous woodlands make my heart sing with their beautiful yellows, oranges and chestnut browns, this year I was lucky enough to visit Japan for the first time and was blown away by the intensity of the golden yellows and crimson maples against the dark green conifers.

The FFS fourth quarter challenge is all about creating a colourscape (creating pleasing combinations of colours). It seemed an obvious step to use some of the photos from this trip as my inspiration, but what to make? Felt can be notoriously difficult to work with when you want to place complementary colours next to each other, by its very nature the fibres (and therefore colours) want to mix and mingle and of course that will lead to muddy browns and greys where the two colours meet.

A few months ago, Fiona Duthie posted a video on how to make a double-walled vessel on her course FB page (it is only open to former students of her online classes). I have been having lots of fun with this technique as it provides an excellent solution to the colour mixing problem.

This is one of the first vases I made following her video, the double-walled technique lends itself very well to placing complementary colours adjacent to each other.

Feeling inspired by the crimson and orange acers (Japanese maples), I set about planning my vessel…

First to choose the colours…. for the inner wall:

And the outer wall:

Laying out the silk and wools:

Silk hankies that will be seen on the inner layer
Wool layout for the inner layers
Wool layout for the outer layers

While felting I couldn’t help but adore the colour transitions from the inside to the outside wall:

I could have cut the leaf shapes from the outer wall free-hand but given how fiddly they are I decided to play it safe and made myself a stencil.

I used water soluble crayons to mark where I wanted to cut the felt (these are really convenient way to mark up damp felt and they wash out easily).

Once the leaf patterns had been cut away I continued to shape the vessel and heal the cut edges, et voila! It’s not quite dry yet but I think you can still get a feel for the colour combinations even though the sheen on the silk can’t be seen yet. What do you think?

Botanical Printing Fun

Autumn has definitely arrived in my little corner of the world, the trees are turning breath-taking shades of red, gold and orange and starting to fall to the ground.

This week I met with two friends who I normally meet every couple of months for a felting play-date but we couldn’t pass up the perfect opportunity to use the abundance of natural materials at our feet and have a go a botanical printing. Not something any of us are experts in but its always fun to try new things isn’t it?

I have been playing with botanical printing for a couple of years now, so I already had a selection of materials to hand (rusty water, logwood extract, a tea urn and fish kettle for steaming etc) but Janine and Nancy also brought materials (red onion skins, another fish kettle, hot plate etc) with them, along with the all important vegetation and mordanted fabrics.

After looking through some of my previous attempts we settled on a logwood carrier blanket for the first attempt. The leaves were dipped in iron water before laying on our fabric, covering with the logwood-soaked carrier blanket and steaming. These were our results…

Janine’s dye blanket was smaller than the fabric she was printing, I love how her leaf prints appear to be breaking free from their logwood “frame”:

unmordanted habouti silk

I loved the greens Nancy achieved with jasmine and rose leaves:

Alum-mordanted cotton

This was my silk scarf part way through the reveal…. logwood blanket with leaves still stuck to it on the left, printed scarf on the right. I was a little disappointed with the eucalyptus leaf in the top centre of the picture, I have previously achieved some lovely orange prints from this tree but not today.

Left: carrier blanket and leaves, right: alum-mordanted habouti silk

My silk scarf revealed….

Alum-mordanted habouti silk

Never one to make life simple, I added a previously printed nunofelt scarf to the other side of my logwood blanket. I was reprinting it because I did not like the original, insipid print, but I like the over-print even less! 🙁

unmordant nunofelt (chiffon and merino)

Now it is dry it arguably looks even worse! Not to my taste at all. Yuk!

Next we tried a dye bath (as opposed to steaming our bundles), we mixed a sweet-smelling concoction of eucalyptus bark and red onion skins:

I thought most of the leaf print results from this batch were a little disappointing (only the cotinus appeared to work) although we did get some nice shibori style stripes. The colour difference between the alum-mordanted and unmordanted silk was striking, mordanting really does yield brighter colours.

We sprinkled dried safflower petals among the iron-dipped leaves before bundling and simmering for 90 minutes.

Alum mordanted silk
Unmordanted silk
Alum mordanted cotton
Alum-mordanted cotton, washed and dried

Nancy had better luck with a second piece of cotton in her bundle:

Alum mordanted cotton

Finally we tried soaking our fabric in tea and using an iron-soaked carrier blanket, the tea gives a gentle yellow-brown colour but where the iron reaches the tea, it turns almost black:

I was quite surprised by how much the colour of the leaf contributed to the colour of the print, in previous tests I found the orange and red leaves gave yellow and brown prints, just like the yellow leaves…. this really is a craft that relies on serendipity! 🙂

unmordanted chiffon/merino nunofelt

Another surprise was the beauty of the iron carrier blankets, they really stole the show!

top: nuno felt scarf with leaves, bottom: iron carrier blanket
Janine’s Acer on the iron blanket
Nancy’s Geranium leaf on iron blanket

Nancy also had a promising looking result from a heuchera leaf

But when the leaf was removed the print underneath was a little disappointing…

Our final bundles of the day were arguably the best. Janine and I used some large fatsia leaves and I included some wisteria that Janine had brought, this gave one of the most beautiful greens I have ever achieved from a botanical print. We dipped the leaves in iron water and used a logwood carrier blanket again.

My alum-mordanted habouti silk scarf

While I love the white silhouette effect of the large fatsia leaf on my scarf, I am in awe of the detailed print Janine achieved from hers…

Janine’s unmordanted habouti silk scarf
Nancy’s print on heavy slub silk

Feeling inspired by the wonderful greens Nancy’s jasmine had given, I carried on after they left, pruning my poor garden far more than it really needed 🙂 However, while the maple and liquid amber leaves printed beautifully, my jasmine wasn’t as pretty as Nancy’s:

Alum mordanted silk

I included a nunofelted scarf on the other side of this dye blanket too and was pleased with the colours from the sycamore and oak leaves, I think the yellows work beautifully next to the blue-grey background:

unmordanted nunofelt

I also put another bundle in the red onion and eucalyptus bark dye pot, but this time it was simmered for 2 hours, and I think the leaf prints were much improved from the extra 30 minutes of cooking:

Alum-mordanted habouti silk

Thinking of having a go yourself? You should, its a lot of fun if you like unwrapping presents! You can never really know what you will get 🙂

All but one of the scarves / fabrics in this post were steamed or simmered for 90 minutes, however, I found simmering in the dye bath yielded better results if they were left in for at least 2 hours. I know some botanical printers steam for a lot longer or leave their bundles to cool overnight before unwrapping, but I never have the patience to do that! 🙂

All the leaves were placed with the veins facing the fabric to be printed, in theory the stomata (the holes that the leaf “breathes” through) on the leaf underside should give a better print as there is more opportunity for the tannins to be released, but the prints on the iron blanket (they are printed from the top of the leaf) were equally stunning, I will leave it to you to experiment with that 🙂

In most cases (not when the iron blanket was used) we dipped the leaves in iron water before laying on the fabric.

All fabrics were gently washed after printing to remove the iron and organic material.

Beautiful Bridport and Walton-on-Thames

Bridport Hat Festival

Every September sees the return one of my favourite annual events, the Bridport Hat Festival.

I was manning a stand in the Arts Centre with the lovely Region 2 ladies from International Feltmakers Association (IFA), there was much giggling and laughter as festival goers tried on our various hats.

As always, everyone was in high spirits and enjoying the relaxed festival atmosphere, with live music and many people people sporting their home-made, incredibly creative headwear for the various competitions. It really is the most wonderful event, and it is free! 🙂

We were incredibly busy serving customers this year so not much time to take photos but here are just a few of my highlights from the festival:

This was a first for me, Mr&Mrs, each wearing one of my creations! 🙂

If you would like to learn how to make your own felted hats, registration for the online Concertina Hat Class will be opening on Thursday (October 10th) with the felting fun starting on October 24th and continuing until the end of November. If you would like to book a place on this course and learn how to make the super-cute snail hat please email me at teri@teriberry.com or complete the contact form here.

More details on the concertina hat course content can be found here and photos of the inspirational hats made by my students on previous courses can be found here.

If you are interested in more general information on felt-making, the IFA and classes offered by IFA members please click here.

SDC at Walton-on-Thames

Today I made the 30 minute drive to see the Society of Designer Craftsmen’s exhibition at the Riverhouse Barn Arts Centre in Walton-on-Thames (KT12 2PF). Expecting to see an eclectic mix of different media (ceramics, jewellery, glass etc) I was very pleasantly surprised to find 80% of the works on display were textiles.

Here are a few of my favourite pieces from the exhibition, it is only open until October 13th so do be quick if you would like to see these pieces in person (they really are worth a visit).

I was blown away by Samantha Harvey’s critters, each one had a unique personality, I felt like they were inviting me to engage them in conversation or to stroke them but there were other people in the room so I bit my tongue and put my hands in my pockets. Another time perhaps 🙂

Samantha Harvey
Samantha Harvey
2D work by Samantha Harvey
Sandra Hurll
detail from Sandra Hurll’s lamp
Sandra Hurll
Sandra Hurll
Anne Biss
Mary Gray
Yumiko Reynolds
detail from Yumiko Reynolds
Alex Duncan

Entry is free and the exhibition is open every day 10 am-4pm.

Do Animals Have Emotions?

This may seem like a rather philosophical title for a textile art blog but please bear with me, I wanted to share a new direction and body of work with you.

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These thoughts and ideas have been slowly percolating through the recesses of my mind for about 20 years, since a fairly heated debate with a psychology teacher on whether humans are the only animals who possess cognitive abilities (perception, attention, memory, motor skills, language/communication and visual/spatial processing). She quite vehemently argued that only humans possess all of these skills, I was a veterinary nurse at the time and forcefully argued the opposite, taking it further and arguing that animals also feel emotions too.

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This debate was recalled during a trip to India in January 2018 and a visit to a Jain temple. The Jains have an intriguing philosophy and what struck me most about the monks was the extreme lengths they go to in order to preserve and protect all life, they believe every animal is sentient and as such, must not be harmed by their actions (either directly or indirectly). Their vows of non-violence make them the ultimate pacifists, a stance which I thoroughly admire but have to admit have no hope of ever attaining. They are strict vegetarians and do not eat after sunset for fear of accidentally eating an insect on their food, and the monks pluck out all their head hair rather than shaving it so as not to harm any lice that might be residing there.

While sentience is essentially another word for consciousness and it is relatively easy to argue that most animals, even the smallest, are “conscious” on at least some level, even if it is just awareness of food sources and potential mates. The idea that all creatures are sentient rekindled my thoughts about the cognitive processes and expression of emotions in animals.

Paramecia – are they conscious?

I knew I wanted to explore this idea from a creative perspective but was unsure where to start. Researching colour theory revealed a wealth of information about our emotional responses to different colours and this led me to play a game of “abstract word-association”; starting with a one or two words that described an emotion I worked on small squares of water colour paper, trying to express that emotion with just colour and mark making, these are some of the results:

Joy / happy
Eager / enthusiastic
Calm / relaxed
Jealousy
Isolation
Vulnerable / intimidated
Afraid / Scared
Anixious
Despair
Grief

These little sketches were surprisingly cathartic to make, if you or someone you know is going through a challenging time and finding it difficult to talk about how they are feeling, asking them to illustrate, in an abstract way, a series of emotions (both positive and negative) from a list of words may be helpful.

Taking Gladys Paulus’ mask workshop earlier this year has given this topic and my approach to it, a whole new lease of life, no longer confined to 2D work, I have been having a ball making various animal sculptures, each expressing their own emotion. As each new personality takes shape on my work bench I am finding myself creating whole backstories for them.

I am thrilled to introduce you to 2 new, very special friends:

“Laughing Lionel”

While the king of the beasts has a fearsome reputation, Lionel is really a very gentle, affable soul who likes nothing more than a good chortle at the ridiculous things humans do.

“Indignant Margo”

She isn’t quite finished, but will be a wall-mounted sculpture like Lionel when she is.

Margo is an old soul in a young body, she takes offence at almost everything and wears a permanent look of indignation on her face. She believes her purple spots are a sign that she is descended from aristocracy and therefore everyone is beneath her; if anyone is going to look down their nose at you, it should be the tallest of the beasts!

These two sculptures (and hopefully one or two more if can finish them in time) will be on display at the Art Box exhibition, at Denbies Wine Estate, Dorking RH5 6AA, UK, between September 23rd and 29th. If you are in the area please pop in and say hello, it is a beautiful place to visit and entry to the exhibition (with artworks in a range of media from 8 independent artists) is free.

Which animal and emotion would you like to see paired together?

Do you think I am anthropomorphising (applying human characteristics) the animal kingdom, or do you agree, animals do feel and express emotions, and perhaps some humans are too ignorant to understand when the animals around us try to communicate these emotions?

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