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Course: Create a Stitch-Sketchbook Map

I did a two day online course with Cas Holmes as I wanted to explore my ideas about patchwork and stitching further. Cas works with fabric and paper and describes much of her work as 'book like objects'. I had previously bought two of her books and on discovering that there was a two day online course running I signed up.

Cas started by showing us how she creates the pieces that might be incorporated into a final piece. She asked us to take pens and colour something, then she built on this with ink and water. This was the part that I wasn't very interested in. I dutifully coloured the gaps in a test print using sharpies, but the colours were all wrong and I threw it away knowing that this simply isn't how I work. I'm finally learning that I have to work in my own way.

Cas then started laying more things over the top and 'auditioning' pieces, adding inks and paints to cloth and found paper. She encouraged everyone to continue creating and notice how some pieces were influencing other pieces. She asked us all for feedback and to show how we were getting on. I had got out a selection of misprints and papers and general 'leftovers' along with some scrim which I thought I could use as a support or even print/paint on. Cas wanted me to use found papers from a magazine etc and pointed out that by throwing something really alien in there it would really challenge me, and that was the point of the course. I agreed and looked through a free Waitrose newspaper (I'm not prepared to cut up any of my precious printmaking magazines!) but nothing stood out and I decided that the type of 'found' materials I want to use is the natural things I find in the forest so I set up the etching press and started creating prints from the selection of grasses, flowers and leaves I had collected and pressed the week earlier. I suddenly felt much better and more purposeful. This felt right.

I used water based inks as I knew they needed to be dry quickly as we would be sticking and pasting them that afternoon. I created positive, negative and ghost prints using as many different ways of inking and taking impressions as I could think of onto some really lovely thin Japanese paper that a friend gave me. I'm not sure exactly what sort of paper it was, I suspect it's some sort of conservation tissue paper - it didn't seem to have a front side and was more like fabric than paper. I decided to revert to my favourite 'sludge' blue-grey and orange as colours. Cas seemed to realise that I wasn't going to use something 'found' in the way she would but also that I was very happily creating what I wanted to. I explained that the addition of stitch and collage is the 'alien' thing in my work, as usually my prints are on a single piece of paper, conventionally mounted in a frame.

Cas is experimental and will try anything that takes her fancy, I particularly enjoyed when she got a custard cream biscuit and printed onto her piece from that!

Once we'd spent a couple of hours creating our basic materials Cas got us laying them out onto a long strip of paper, or if there was lots of over lapping, without a support. She also encouraged us to have a small test piece on the go as well. I discovered I could put the paper I was using under the tap, squeeze it out in my fist, unfold it and then lay it on top of a piece already printed then lift an impression because the water based ink would transfer beautifully. This would also leave an interesting paler patch on the original print and the new one would have a lovely, slightly creased texture. I kept creating pieces, layering up the techniques by over-printing solid colours with inked up materials to make them more interesting. While Cas was layering papers in collage I was layering inks, shapes and colours. Again, I was pleased that I was able to stick to how I am happiest working, but I did appreciate being challenged to explore new ways. I adored this paper, it looked so like fabric and when I printed onto some scrim and then pulled the image off using wet paper it even took the texture of the scrim as part of the impression making it look even more like fabric!

Cas asked us to lay out a long strip of backing support and then use wall paper paste to stick our pieces down. I had two test pieces on the go and I'm glad I did as I very quickly discovered that the high water content in the paste made all the water based ink run. I also had some acrylic gel medium to hand so I tested that and found it worked much better. The benefit of the wall paper paste it that it's removable - you can peel layers back and even wash it right out of fabric but it holds everything in place for stitching far better than pins will (and doesn't make holes). I banked this information for when I've used oil based ink but used the acrylic this time as my glue.

Rather than overlap pieces too much I arranged them and stuck them side by side onto printmakers scrim. On reflection I don't think I'd use it throughout a piece again as all the paper took on the scrim texture and so lost some of the subtlety built up in the inks.

On the second day we started adding stitch. I also made a random little new test piece with smaller shapes, more like the shapes found in the forest when you look at an aerial view, I didn't back this one. I added machine stitch that tried to echo some of the shapes I'd printed from leaves, flowers and lichen. I also added some small hand stitches.

I popped some further printing from the things I'd found the following day. I wanted print to finish it off, not stitch.

I may have gone a little overboard on the dark shapes on this little piece, but I was trying not to be precious about it and use it as a test. One of the shapes in a bright orange would have added a nice contrast to the dark grey. I used safe wash oil based inks for the final print and was impressed at how well they transferred and printed. They were slightly more crisp than that water based ones I think which is important for some of the more intricate and delicate plants. I did add a little bit of tack reducing jelly to help with the viscosity with both the transfer onto the piece but also so the especially delicate flower petals were protected and didn't stick to the piece which I thought might happen if the ink was stiffer.

This was the final piece I made. The end pieces are printed directly onto scrim, the rest is paper pasted to scrim. It's mainly printed but there is also machine stitch and then it's finished with oil based inks.

Overall I think this was really worthwhile. I enjoyed being pushed to try things that I felt uncomfortable with as I think it really made me think about what I was doing and why. I quickly found a way to create the base materials needed in a way that fits with my practise but was also experimental and I learned from, by using different paper and water based inks. I really enjoyed learning about how Cas works and drawing on her experience of the materials she uses. She was very generous, showing us lots of previous creations and explaining how she came to make them and what they mean. She also got us to think about how our finished piece would be stored and presented, making us consider possible covers and fastenings for them which is important.

I'm looking forward to employing what I've learned in future work.

You can peruse Cas's website and work here:

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1 Comment

Jul 05, 2023

It was so enjoyable watching you learn from the process and adapt to your chore printmaking techinques and 'your voice' whilst finding new directions. A meeting point through the screen between tutor/student/artists Cas

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