It’s Materials Madness March – a month where I am going to just play around with different materials, without having to complete any useful items.
Back in 2002, I read an article in Somerset Studio about making paper from fused silk fibers. Since I had bags of roving and no spinning wheel, it seemed like a good way to use unspun fiber. I didn’t have pure silk, I had cotton and silk blend, and cotton and rayon blend, but I thought it would work anyway. A mere eleven years later, I found the book Take Silk by Judith Pinnell at the library, and that spurred me to finally get around to it.
I will tell you right off that I don’t really care for my results.
The process is a lot like felting, only with textile medium as a binding agent, instead of agitation and temperature change.
- window screen fabric (does not have to be in a frame)
- plastic-covered work surface
- textile medium (Jo Sonja brand was recommended, but I used Plaid brand too)
- small plastic bowl
- spray bottle of water
- shampoo without conditioner
- brush or cosmetic sponge
- painters’ tape, to provide a straight edge for removing the fused fibers from the screen
I used a trash bag spread out on my work surface, then set an old window screen on top of that. I placed a loop of painters’ tape on one side, to give me a straight edge for pulling the fibers off the screen later, after drying.
I tried a few different methods, so I will tell you about the one that worked best for me. (Both fiber blends and both textile mediums worked equally well.)
Spread one layer of fibers, about as thin as a sheet of handmade paper or paper towels. Think pie crust, not pancakes, for the thickness. The fibers need to be parallel, but touching each other. You don’t want any holes in the fiber area.
Once the fibers are spread in a thin layer, they need to be wet. A quarter teaspoon of the shampoo, added to the spray bottle of water, will make the fibers take the water more easily. I sprayed lightly on this first layer, until the fibers flattened slightly. The bottom of the layer should be wet too – you can tip up the screen and spray through the screen.
Now add another layer of fiber, at right angles to the first layer. Wet this layer too. Spray from different directions to apply the water evenly. You want the fibers to be thoroughly wet, but not in a puddle. I sprayed until they looked flattened, and then I patted them with a paper towel to get any excess water off.
The next step is to apply the textile medium. I poured a small amount in a little bowl, and then poured from there onto the fiber, and spread it with a cosmetic sponge. It looks white when you first apply it, so it’s easy to see where to apply more. I didn’t worry about getting it perfectly flat, and I ended up with wrinkles and bubbles, so if you want it flat, I think you will have to manipulate it to get it spread evenly.
At this point you can emboss it with something (I used a bumpy shelf liner on one piece) if you want.
While the fiber is still damp, push any wispy edges toward the center, to make a little edge about a quarter of an inch thick, so that it will be easier to peel off the screen when it is dry.
Let it dry for 6 – 8 hours. I just took the whole screen outside and let it dry flat.
When it is dry, peel carefully off the screen.
It will look something like this.
Heat set it by ironing it between two pieces of parchment paper or pressing cloth, so that you don’t get the textile medium on your iron or ironing board. I used a setting between silk and cotton, and pressed for 5 seconds on each part of the cloth.
The end result really didn’t do anything for me. Honestly, I think I could get this effect by just dropping food coloring on a dryer softener sheet or a piece of interfacing. Maybe pure silk would have a lustrous glow.
Giving it a little structure by cutting it into straight-edged pieces makes me like it better. The sheet handles well and cuts easily.
I can see some possibilities, especially in layering different fusions.
You could also add stitches and embellishments. There are about a dozen different books on the topic available, so obviously people can achieve beautiful results with this technique, but I think that spinning this roving into yarn would showcase its qualities better. A wise friend once told me that it is just as important to find out what you don’t want to do, as what you do. At least this is one technique I can check off my to-do list!