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  • The Disruptive Designer

Owl and the Rat

Canvas sample of multiple techniques, in an attempt to design a cohesive narrative that is colourful, tactile and intriguing, allowing the techniques to compliment each other.


This design is composed on a full jacket front canvas removed from a RTW Hardy Amies Jacket, acquired from Oxfam Wastesaver and was heading to landfill due to damage on the outer shell sleeve, deemed unrepairable by the sorters.


The subject mater for this design utilised images I had stored on my computer from my archive of animals and birds. This particular owl was sourced from a tattoo website, but I could not see any name attributed to the creator. I chose it due to the variety of geometric shapes and the potential for tactile manipulation and interpretation. The coloured areas will utilise machine digital embroidery on my Janome MC 10001 machine while the areas remaining black and white will either be burnt (pyrography) or rhinestoned. This is first time I have attempted to combine differing techniques deliberately within the early design stage of the design process. Previously my approach was to see how the sample looked and responded accordingly in a ADHOC fashion, working very much instinctively and responsively. I was aware that this composition was going to take a lot of time, patience and accuracy, particularly in the placement and alignment of the multihooping process adopted. How long exactly and what issues I would encounter all the journey was an unknown at the beginning. Whether or not the processes could work together was another concern, but I approached this sample with an open mind and hoped I would learn and discover new possibilities to explore.


In my previous embroidery samples I experimented with trying to create a signature style through artist interception throughout the CADCAM process, from stitch design through to actual machine stitching. This is something I wanted to continue to explore and development through this piece. Therefore, even though at the early design stage I had an idea of which processes are going to applied where on the composition, I did not know how the design stitches will actually look, as I would be reacting responsively through production based on my design and aesthetic taste and judgement. This approach is very risky as a missed opportunity or wrong decision could potentially ruin it. With machine embroidery it is very difficult or impossible to go back and remove stitches after they have been sewn, due to the risk of material damage/weakness and creating holes. Using this "planned Adhoc responsive"(PAR) approach it makes for duplication very difficult and slows down the production stage of the process by extending the design process throughout the whole creation of the piece from start to finish. It is only once the piece has finished that the design stage is finally completed and the creator is able to asses whether the piece is successful or not. This approach is ideal for one off pieces of work, which would demand exclusivity and high price point.



The embroidered areas were created first and took 4 days overall to complete with a total of 9 individual hoopings. The eye detailing with rhinestones was an opportunity to try out two differing rhinestones for suitability. Stick-on Rhinetones came on a sheet and consisted of a tacky glue base. The process is very simple and involved removal from the sheet with tweezers and apply on the surface area with pressure. The hotfix approach used a special heat tool with various copper/brass tips that fit a specific size rhinetone. The heat of the tool melts the glue on the base of the rhinestone and tweezers and pressure are used to bond to the surface material. Initially both processes worked very well, with the sticker method resulting in a less aggressive reaction and the stones sitting softly on top of the felt, the pile of which caused the stones to raise slightly with a little movement at touch. The hotfix approach was far more aggressive due to the heat and pressure, with the bonding causing the stones to sit much flatter on the felt, squashing the pile down. Together it created a suitable 3D effect staggered effect which added to the overall aesthetic quality of the piece. However, several days later I noticed rhinestones appearing on my studio floor and gaps appearing in the eye section. It turned out that the rhinestones all came from the sticker application areas and non from the hotfix method. Although the affect of the two methods was a pleasant surprise I decided for durability reasons to replace the sticky rhinestones for the hotfix ones, and thus flattening the eye area. If this was to be a wall mounted art piece I could have utilised both methods, however as this particular piece was just an experimental sample and I could potentially be showing experts in order to gain feedback then I thought it be safer not to put any seed of doubts in their minds regarding durability. One of the main difficulties with the rhinestone application is knowing where to apply the coloured stones to create the eye detailing. I decided to use the CAD file for the black and white eye section and machine embroider guide lines using a simple running stitch. Hooping was difficult due to the bulk of the embroidery and shoulder pad thickness, and in hindsight another approach may have been more practical for creating a template to follow.


Once the rhinestone section was completed I turned my attention to the Pyrographed winged section. This was a very high risk part of the process as there is no chance of recovery or rectification if it went wrong. I attempted to hoop the the section as above to stitch a guide line but the bulk would not allow this so another approach was needed. I decided to look at traditional non CAD methods and watching a program on arts and crafts gave me the idea of tracing and free machine stitching. Tracing paper was used to get an accurate indication of the working area and then the design was drawn by hand for each feather indicating the outlines, feather direction and central stem of each. Pinning the tracing paper to the canvas, the sewing machine was used to trace the outlines with the paper removed afterwards.

Before attempting the actual canvas I decided to produce a test piece to get an idea on how the tool reacts at what temperature and using which tips. The image on the left (below) shows an early pyrography test on a Hackett felt (non fusible). The middle feather image uses the above guide template and was burnt on a fused RTW Hugo Boss canvas. The results differ considerably in quality and detailing. When it came to attempting the actual winged area on the Hardy Amies owl, the felt burnt differently once again to my annoyance.


From this it became evident that I need to carry out pyrography tests on various different types of felt, applying various temperatures and experimenting with different types in order to create burnt affects. I approached Dugdales who have given me 4 different felts to experiment with and I am currently in the process of systematically producing burning reference sheets.

In terms of what this means from an entrepreneurial perspective. If using refashioned jackets, it is impossible to know what the composition of the felt is exactly and therefore there is an element of guess work when applying the burn tool on its reaction. One method to overcome this is to remove part of the felt for testing prior to design, this would allow for a more accurate idea on how the felt will burn. If using new virgin materials in order to create a new canvas from scratch then designer can refer to the test burn sheets in order to make an informed design on which felt is most suitable for the design.


For the bottom of the canvas I decided to once again use it as an opportunity to experiment with techniques, but this time the aim was to create more texture and regarding the owl claw and a scraggy rat. For the claw I opted to try needle punch using thicker wool threads and for the rat I used an applique method, ripping and fraying woven wool cloth from the jacket exterior. For detailing I used free machine embroidery over a paper template, with the ears embroidered and cut from white felt, leaving the paper attached, creating a smooth silky feel to the touch.


Currently I am considering what to do regarding the shoulder pad section and decided to seek advice from my tutors and Jenny Robson before I continue further.


Advice received:


Debbie Gonet: Loves the rat and claw and the contrast with the owl. Debbie feels in order to balance the piece more hand work could be included, that of beading, either in the ear section or elsewhere on the owl. Debbie also likes the roughness and honest of the canvas, would prefer to see more canvas coming through and less covered up. Debbie has suggested I look into stitch density for loosening the embroidery fills in order to create more gaps.


Jenny Robson (Embroider and chair of Sheffield embroiders guild): Jenny loves the concept and is also drawn to the owl and claw section due to its tactile and rough qualities. Jenny is not so keen on the burnt wing and feels it would benefit from additional tactile element, something I agree with. Jenny has suggested the ear to be furry which would dry the eye from the top of the owl, through the tactile wing and to the rat, bringing the whole image tighter together.


Robin Kerr: Really impressed with the craftsmanship and possibilities of art pieces and more commercial jacket canvas', but consideration will be needed to durability and functionality of these. Robin's main concern is the weakness of the narrative behind the piece of work, and although I could create one after the event, given the time available for the Hand and Lock competition (see below paragraph) I should consider starting fresh picking a theme that is either personal to me or is a statement that others could relate to, more akin to the brief. This piece was not designed for this competition and was only really meant to be a sample piece combining techniques, so there was never a meaningful narrative behind it.


I have registered for the Hand and Lock competition (see separate blog entry) and considered this piece as possible submission, however from feedback given I have decided to create a new piece with a stronger narrative and original research. I will continue to finish the owl introducing more tactile elements and look into beading, while simultaneously deciding on a potential theme for not only the competition but also my final project.