A few months ago I saw a call for entries for an exhibition here in Uruguay early next year. South American artists working in glass and/or textile were invited to submit a 20cm x 20cm piece combining both textile and glass materials and techniques in some way. The January exhibition will be along the coast at Maldonado, part of Punta del Este, the summer season playground for the rich and beautiful from Europe and other latin Americn countries. An online catalogue will be presented, too, so for exposure alone I thought it definitely worth trying for.
My first thought was “fibreglass, that’s a textile!”, and my next move was to rummage in the cupboards for a long forgotten stash of large glass beads. On a visit to Egypt years ago, a textile artist friend living there took Mike and me to a glassblowing artist’s studio. I simply couldn’t resist gathering up a heavy half-full shopping bag of these huge beads, with no idea of what I’d do with them. I strung some into a necklace, which looked great, but was so heavy I could only wear it for about 3 hours. I don’t remember what I did with it, but probably gave it away.
I called a carpenter friend, PJ, who had some remnants he gave me to experiment with. through sample making I learned how to handle this stuff – and it is not at all like stitching on even weave linen! For one thing it’s pretty slippery to work with, so there were handling problems requiring creative solutions. After a week of fiddling around samplising, I followed PJ’s recommendation to visit a store where I could buy some fabric and was able to buy just one metre. I also bought some velo – (trans. veil) It’s very like a single layer of unwoven facial tissue and similarly delicate, which disappointed me a bit. Velo’s used as the final finishing layer on surfboards, for example, giving a smoother finish to the board, and probably making a difference to the performance in the water. I had decided not to get into the area of resins and toxic fumes etc, but did look up health and safety concerns for fibreglass itself, and that’s ok on its own, though it bothers some people when they get it on their skin (I didn’t). As a fibre it’s fairly heavy, and any tiny pieces fall, they don’t waft around in the air.
Considering techniques, to use,my first thought were of the counted thread and drawn thread embroideries I made when young, but the piece of fabric I had wasn’t closely enough woven, and so I turned to the creative embroidery I worked with in the 80s, in the style of Constance Howard and the other, mostly British, embroiderers of that era. Perfect – because in recent years, after a long period making quilted contemporary patchwork, my layered stitched artworks are again featuring hand stitch as a vital surface design element.
In this pic are several things I auditioned for the piece I eventually made. I had thought I’d hemstitch the edge, but the glass is too brittle to fold over into a hemstitched edge – in addition to which it is very slippery indeed – so although it looks like even weave linen, it doesn’t behave anything like it!! I had a fairly steep learning curve to handle and control it, while adapting my expectations a bit! And, in the end, I didn’t use the hemstitching, the grey ribbon or the two glass flowers.
I avoided googling to see what other artists are doing with this stuff, as I wanted to keep what I already envisaged within the exhibition’s prospectus, and it will be exciting to see what people have produced within those 20cm x 20cm measurements!
When I did get round to googling the uses of fibreglass fabric, I was astonished at the number of industrial, engineering, automotive and architectural uses of this material. It wasn’t easy to work with, but I would consider using it again if it was appropriate, or if a bright idea strikes me!
The exhibition opens early in January, and I’ll post the details of that closer to the time.