Experimental Textiles - session 6 Colouring natural and synthetic fabrics

A cake and flowers for my birthday.

. . . and then another cake . . . !!!

We are now over halfway through Experimental Textiles, this session was the sixth of nine. I have only ever taught one group at a time before, this year we are running two groups - a Thursday/Friday and a Saturday/Sunday. We will be doing the same next year.
It is very interesting teaching the two groups side by side - they are both strong and are producing some excellent work. One thing that I hadn't considered was the air of competition creeping in between the groups. It is light hearted - but very definitely there!!!
One of the benefits of having two groups - when the tutor has a birthday - you get two cakes!!! 

When we are all settled with coffee (and cake) first thing on day one of the session - we look at what has been done for home work produced to reinforce what did on the session before. On the previous session we had looked at constructed textiles - felt, knit and weave, and how you can make your work 3D.
This is a just a small selection of what the groups brought in . . . .

 Rachael experimented further with felt . . .

and then stitched into it. Beautiful.

Mary felted this lovely bowl . . . . 

and played around with combining stitched paper with felt.

Jane created this fabulous little vessel . . .

and this one. Lots of fabulous hand stitch.

Kate stitched into one of the bowls she made on session five. Very delicate.

Once we have looked at and discussed all the homework, we have more tea and coffee and then set up for the task of the day - which was dyeing natural fabrics with procion dye. I use the the dyeing in a plastic bag technique. It is a great way to see how several different types, weights and weaves of fabric absorb dye. We dyed cotton, silk and viscose.

The fabrics were cut up up and placed in the plastic bags and wet the fabric, giving it a good squidge about to make sure the fabrics are thoroughly soaked.

The dyes . . . 

The students then play with colour, using pipettes to add dye to the bags of fabric.


The bags of dyed fabric are then put into plastic trays and left over night and washed out the next day.
This process only take up the morning so we had the afternoon to prepare the papers for transfer printing on the second day of the session.

The girls painting disperse dye onto copy paper.

I think it is very important for students to be able to colour and print their own fabrics, it helps make their work distinctive, more original. This is why we spend a whole session on colouring fabrics.
Synthetic fabrics are coloured with different dyes to natural fabrics. Synthetic fabrics are coloured with disperse dyes. These dyes usually come on powder form and you mix them with water - it's as simple as that. The dyes are then painted onto a non absorbent paper and left to dry. 

 Ironing the papers onto fabric between baking parchment.

Once dry, the papers are laid, paint side down, onto your synthetic fabric - placed between baking parchment, and then ironed, slowly, for a couple of minutes to transfer the dye from the paper onto the fabric. This is how the dyes have become known as 'transfer paints'.
The iron needs to be as hot as your fabric can stand and off steam. The dyes look very dull until you iron them off . . .

Kate using the heat press.

If you have access to a heat press - this can really speed up the process. We have one in the IDC studio at The Old Needle Works.

The painted paper is on the right - the print is on the left. You can see how much brighter the colours are when applied with heat.

Again, the painted paper is on the right and the printed fabric is on the left.

The painted paper is on the left - this was then ironed onto a satin and a fine crepe. You can usually get at least three prints from one painted paper.

Disperse dye is translucent, layering the prints will create beautiful shadowy effects.

Using resists is great fun when you transfer print - you simply lay your resist between the fabric and the painted paper and then iron or heat press to transfer the colour. 

Stalks of wheat used as a resist.

Using stencils and leaves as resists then turning the leaves over and printing off the dye they have collected.

Another resist print with a leaf - which was then turn over and printed.

A detail of a print using a doily as a resist.

The groups have printed a large amount of fabric - I am excited to see what hey will be doing with them.

Because we were working with synthetic fabrics - it meant we could cut them with a soldering iron and zap them with a heat gun.

Marilyn cutting her applique shapes with a soldering iron.

A print is ironed onto Bondaweb, the backing paper is left on. Shapes are cut  and lifted off the backing paper and ironed onto another printed background.
This is basically applique, just cut with a soldering iron as opposed to scissors. You can achieve more intricate shapes with a soldering iron.

Several layers of applique.

Because the layers of applique are all printed, the applied shapes merge in and out creating an interesting surface on which to stitch.

A more contrasting sample of the applied layers.

We had a great two sessions, I am just about getting used to teaching the same session to two groups. It's a bit like groundhog day!!!
I can't wait to see what they all get up to for home work.

Rachael, who is on the weekend course, writes a blog about the trials and tribulations of being an 'ExTex' student. You might like to have a look at it - do look at the previous posts, particularly the one on collage.

I am continually and happily surprised at the effect the course has on students and how dedicated they become. Two of last years students are re-doing the course this year. When this was first suggested to me my first response was -"ooh!!! Didn't I teach the course right the first time?". But what has happened is that students want to continue with their studies, they realise that if they are on a course, there is more likelihood they will get some work done. I didn't have the time free with my other teaching to offer a continuation course. Until now!
We already have five students enrolled for Experimental Textiles 4 which starts next June.

 Layers of applique cut from transfer prints.

I have cleared five weekends for a continuation course only for the past students of my Experimental Textiles course at The Old Needle Works. It will run from July 2015 - February 2016 and I expect it to roll on from there. As I will be living in Redditch by then it will make it easier. The course will be more concept based with me taking more of a mentoring role. The group will be supported through their further development and it is my hope they will be an exhibiting group.
The name of the group will be ExTeXtra!!!


I am writing this in the room of my hotel. I am in Harrogate ready to set up the Vilene stand at The Knitting and Stitching Show at the Harrogate International Centre. We are on stand number TG540. Laura arrived by train last night and I drove up from Brighton. The show opens tomorrow - it will be great to see all our friends again, particularly Viv and Kevin from Art Van Go www.artvango.co.uk who Laura and I shared a house with in Dublin when we did the show there and then I taught at Art Van Go last week. 

So - watch this space. . . .  I will post about the show . . .  later!!! I'm looking forward to seeing many of you at the show.

x x x


  1. Great work... You done printing in a best way and all designs are so beautiful... Jaslynn, Bizbilla


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