Ideas for designing a functional, three dimensional embroidered item
I began with quite simple three-dimensional shapes, made from white felt and hand-stitched using blanket stitch (it seems to go with the felt) in black machine thread, to make the seams stand out. Image 1 shows some basic three-dimensional shapes – cube, cone, cylinder and tetrahedron. I didn’t stuff these – there are advantages and disadvantages (depending upon whether one wants convex or concave plane surfaces).
Image 2 shows a biscornu (again, quite a simple shape) and a – what – nautilus? cornucopia? These 3-D objects are each made from two 2-D shapes stitched together and stuffed with polyester wadding.
Image 3 shows two vessels. The smaller one is a sort of vase shape, made from a cruciform 2-D shape. The larger one was made from random scraps, to see whether I could generate an interesting form (I couldn’t, and it isn’t).
At about this point, I went back to my research images from the introduction to this module, and decided to investigate the form of the cone snail more closely. Image 4 shows an open surface in the shape of an incomplete cone, which was my first step in looking at the cone snail shape. It has a flat base.
Images 5 and 6 show a more realistic version, incorporating two conical surfaces joined at the circular edge.
The last 3-D shape in this series is shown in images 7 and 8. This is based on a common form taken by mediaeval reliquaries (I’m intrigued by these – more later). The shape has feet on the base made from little rolls of felt.
My first thought for my first assessment piece was to make a lampshade for the light in the upstairs sitting room, which had an old, torn ricepaper shade at present. However, having discussed this possibility with Siân by e-mail, I fairly quickly came to realise that the techniques in this module were not necessarily very applicable to the idea of a light shade, which is meant to transmit light.
Having thought about it again, I decided to try to combine the ‘reliquary’ and ‘cone snail’ ideas from Stage 1. As I said, I find the whole idea of reliquaries intriguing. They appear to be a common feature of Christian, Buddhist and Hindu traditions, although the ones I am most familiar with as art objects I have come to associate with Roman Catholicism. As someone not reared in the Christian tradition, I find the idea of veneration of holy relics both touching and strange , but very much admire the ingenuity and craftsmanship associated with the objects which house the relics (although I have to confess I find the ‘body-part’ ones just a bit creepy).
At the same time I was thinking about reliquaries, I spent some time browsing web pages about cone snails, and discovered (somewhat to my shame , given I have a (very) small collection – image 9) that threats to some marine molluscs, as a consequence both of habitat loss and of collecting, are becoming a concern. While no cone snail species is endangered at the moment, they are potentially under threat from harvesting, and because cone snail venom is increasingly of interest to medical researchers. Some governments are setting limits on collection. This made me think of making a secular reliquary. Would it be for the veneration of threatened species? Not really, because we want to save these, not venerate them. I’d be more for the veneration of environmental activists than threatened species. How about a reliquary for the veneration of environmental remnants of whatever kind? Perhaps.
The only threatened species in my collection of animals is the Mallee Fowl, although some heirloom chicken breeds are also endangered. I didn’t think poultry were particularly well-suited as the form for a reliquary (or even feathers) so I decided to go back to the shape of my cones to see whether I could make a cone snail reliquary.
The rest of this post is a combination of sketchbook pages, blogging and photographs. I hope it’s not too confusing – it’s just the way my tired brain is working at the moment. The material which follows is not strictly in the order of the dot points in the notes, but it’s all here. The first sketchbook page is about reliquaries, then pages 2, 3 and 4 set out the geometry of my cone shape (not very interesting for the casual reader, I suspect). I’ve looked at construction before surface design, then again after.
Images 10 to 16 show six small-scale paper samples with each surface more or less as a tonal exercise. I began trying to draw actual surface designs onto these, but quickly realised that it would make better sense just to show tone, so I used a black wax crayon for this. Image 10 shows how I made these – they are made in three pieces, and stuck together with magic tape.
I’ve grouped each image pertaining to a single sample together under the one image number.
The first four samples are an exploration of a more or less even gradation in tone (two orthogonal, two radial). The ones I feel are most effective are those which have the greatest degree of contrast across the opening of the ‘shell’ (images 12 and 14). I made the last two samples to investigate markings more similar to those on real cone snails. I don’t feel these are so successful, although I am interested in the idea of a spiral on the spire of the shape.
The next step was to make a full-scale template for the reliquary. Having done this, I made two photocopies to use as the base for further development of the ideas in images 12 and 14. At this point, I went back to earlier chapters to seek ideas.
The pattern I adopted for the outside of the first shape is based on some of the paper blocks from Chapters 9 and 11. I was looking to create a wide tonal column shading from darkest at the opening of the cone shell to lightest, so I used some of my decorated papers to produce the design on the pattern pieces in image 17. The idea for the lining of the whorl was suggested by a comment from Siân about some of my designs from Chapter 10. These were the finely divided black and white ‘piecing’ exercises which have small, sharp points as a feature of the design. Siân commented on the likeness of some of these shapes to animal teeth and claws, so I decided to incorporate a lining which references the barbed harpoons which cone snails use to inject venom into their prey. I pasted together multiple copies of a scan of one of my fabric samples from Chapter 10 to make a piece large enough to cover the inside surface of the spire of my shape. Image 17 shows the surfaces cut out along the outline of my template (the spire is pasted up and ready to stick on).
Images 18 to 22 show the completed sample assembled with magic tape.
I really like the contrast over the opening in this one, both in tone and in the direction of the paper strips which make up the design. I also like the contrast between the outside of the shape and the lining of the spire.
I decided to try a radial design for my second full-scale sample and, again, went back to Chapter 11 to look again at the radial designs in that chapter (here they are again, in image 23).
I have been conscious while working through this process that I am not making a replica of an actual cone snail but an abstraction based on its shape, so rather than locating the point of the whorl right at the origin of the radiating shape, I have moved it up, so that the design is only vaguely radial, and I have broken the design up with stripes. Again, tone goes from darkest at the opening edge. Image 24 shows the pattern piece.
The spire is radial too (I don’t seem to have a photograph of the 2-D shape) but I have investigated the spiral idea a bit more, and have stuck on a spiral made of black paper. I didn’t line this one as I’ve pretty much settled on the same lining for either version, subject to advice. Images 25 to 28 show the assembled shape.
The things I like about this one are, again, the tonal variation across the opening, they way the stripes form a kind of ‘herringbone’ pattern across the opening, and the spiral on the spire, although the radial design on the spire seems a bit obvious.
The next thoughts were about practicalities. I have some heavy pelmet vilene (S133) but it is quite rigid and I’m not sure whether it will be flexible enough to curl. I’ve ordered some pelmet/craft vilene (S520) which I think might be more suitable but it hasn’t come yet, so I haven’t tried any fabric samples at this stage. I thought it would be a good idea to investigate further the idea of a spiral form for the spire so I made a quick and dirty trial sample using a zig-zagged cord with some wire (florist’s? cake decorating? paper-covered, anyway) as the core. This worked quite well, I thought. The sample is shown in images 29 and 30.
The ‘rungs’ of the spiral are connected with a kind of ‘lock stitch’ made using torn and frayed strips of fabric, but I think it would work better if I decorate strips of fabric with rows of machine stitch and work in some more wire to make the whole structure a bit more rigid. The apex of the spire is made by drawing all the fabric strips together and knotting them. A further thought I had is related to the fact that traditionally, reliquaries were decorated with precious stones. I have some sea urchin spines in my collection which would make good ornaments for the ends of the fabric strips (I would simply tie the ends around them and let them dangle).
Further practicalities are dealt with in the remaining sketchbook pages (7 to 9), which more or less speak for themselves. It did occur to me that I could support the reliquary either on attached legs (perhaps conical shapes made from wrapped, tapered fabric strips) or on a stand. I have decided to opt for the stand as I think legs would make the shape just a little too weird-looking.
I wonder what I’ve forgotten!