Wednesday, May 01, 2013

How to Make a Fiber Vessel

Last February during the Buyers Market of American Craft show in Philadelphia I met a nice lady who talked about an upcoming Trunk Show at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York.  She asked if I might be interested in sending things for her to sell on consignment.  It worked out!  I sent two boxes of assorted fiber arts to her late last week.  Inside were several, smaller Grave Rubbing Art Quilts, various shrink-wrapped pieces of fiber arts, a few framed keys on embellished grounds, fiber Christmas ornaments and about seventy of my wrapped and stitched wooden spools.  I put the ornaments into a fiber vessel.  I put the spools into another fiber vessel.  I put price tags on the vessels just because they were being sent in the box.  Well, yesterday the nice lady received the boxes and immediately sold the two vessels.  The trunk show isn't even until this coming Saturday and Sunday.  She called asking for more vessels and also for some sort of explanation as to how these pieces are stitched.  Yesterday Steve and I packaged up 28 vessels and got the box to FedEx before the last pick-up.  So ... today I'm posting my "explanation".  Here it is

How to Make a Fiber Vessel

By Susan Lenz

I started making fiber vessels years ago after a hair-brained idea occurred when looking at a giant stash of knitting yarn acquired at a local auction house.  Since I don’t knit and never even learned to crochet, it seemed a shame to waste all that acrylic yarn.  I thought to myself, “Maybe it could be stitched into something?”  So, I shoved six to eight strands of yarn through the # 21 Braiding/cording foot of my Bernina.


Using old threads also bought at auction, I zigzag stitched over the strands of yarn to create a thick cord.  When I ran out of a yarn, I substituted another.  When I ran out of a thread, I substituted another.  It was fun and a great way to use neglected materials.  I continued zigzag stitching over the yarns until a relatively large ball of cording was made.

My idea was to take this cording and stitch it into “something” that resembled the braided rugs that were popular in the 60s and 70s.  My family had one that looked like this:

I really had no idea that the stitching would automatically start shaping itself into a vessel but it did.  After creating a dozen or more, I got familiar with the process and was able to control the shape.  Below is a description of how I now stitch these pieces.

First, take the end of the cord in your fingers.  Create a flat, relatively tight coil about the size of a quarter.  It is easier to take a needle and thread and hand-stitch/baste the coil … though eventually, I became quite able to do this by machine as well.  Position this coil under an “Open Embroidery” sewing machine foot … with the cord coming off the coil on the right side of the machine’s foot.  On my Bernina, this is the #20 foot.  The idea is just like the braided rug above … a cord is zigzag stitched in a flat spiral … growing bigger and bigger.

Stitch … cord to coil … in an ever-continuing circle.  As the coil grows larger than the machine’s base, it will start forming a vessel by itself.  I generally don’t use my slide-on or plastic extension-table … just the machine.  Keep stitching.

Keep stitching!

This is how it looks … cord being zigzagged to the ever-growing coil/vessel. 

Eventually, the coil forms a vessel.  With practice, I became quite able to control the formation.  I don’t know any easy way to articulate the feel, motions, and process of forming this shape except to say … TRY IT!

As the shape gets larger, it is often necessary to move the machine slightly off its support table.  This allows the vessel to rotate in a perfect circle … like a very, very slow potter’s wheel!

When I’m satisfied with the vessel and want to stop stitching, I cut the cord about two feet away from the vessel.  Using a seam ripper, I separate the yarns and snip them at various lengths.  This prevents a “bump” on the rim of the vessel.  It allows the cord to become thinner and thinner until a smooth rim is achieved.  I put the vessel back under the #20 foot and continue zigzag stitching until the last, single length of yarn is attached.

Voila!  A Vessel!
By the way ... though I've had a very busy week, I haven't yet blogged about it ... so this is the post being linked to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site sharing fiber artworks.  


Iz said...

Brilliant! I've just learnt how to make coiled fabric pots with a washing line core, but I must try this too. We stitched the other way out ie the stitching was in the inside of the bowl, and it curved upwards. You can then hold it around the top of the machine instead of round the table!

QuilterBee said...

This is an amazing idea! Clothesline is so dense, I have to use my industrial machine. But this! Beautiful, thrifty, interesting, no bulk, and fun!! Thank you!!

lotzacatz said...

Must take absolutely ages though!

Sewing girl1 said...

I really liked the idea about putting the machine over the edge of the table, it gives better space to form the bowl😃. Thank you

Anita said...

This is so similar to basket making. My last basket was started in 1981 and never finished. It set off arthritis in my fingers. Still carrying that basket around hoping to one day finish it. I think I could handle sewing a "basket" and will give it a try. Thanks for the inspiration.
Anita Stalls

BarbieCat said...

As others have mentioned, this has similarities to clothesline baskets and vessels which use fabric strips wrapped around cord. Generally, one sews them from the inside, which limits how deep or narrow the vessel can be. I like this method, sewing around the outside, then letting the vessel hang down, which will enable a larger, deeper rounder and more evenly sewn basket form instead of having to deal with it curling up unevenly. I am imagining using the sewing machine platform table to support the forming vessel until the bottom is as wide and flat as one wants it, then removing the pull-away platform and letting the basket hang off the edge of the arm... I must experiment !

lotzacatz, I don't think the actual sewing of the vessel would take a lot of time... once you get going, it's repetitive... you snug the coil up against the previous row and just keep going with zigzagging round and round. At least that's how it is for my clothesline vessels.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the tutorial, I'll have to give this a try with the stash of yarn I have that will never make it to kitting needles. I have done rope baskets and the rope is so hard to work with. Also trying to make a rug with covered rope not going so well frustrated with it curling. I want the rug for under my kitchen table, well it just may become baskets. said...

When I was a child my mother reused dress sashes from the trash of a clothing store to braid the sashes and then sew them together to make those braided rugs. She made a very large one. I don't know if she sewed it by hand or on the machine.

Melissa Collard said...

I’ve really loved making these, but I think I just broke my Bernina. Do you drop the feed dogs while making the cording? I did not, and I was pulling pretty hard to get the cording through. It wasn’t really feeding on its own. Anyway, after several vessels the machine froze. I’ve taken it in for repair, but they might not be able to save it. In that case I may have to get a new Kaffe model. But I don’t want to break that one. I think it was going against the feed dogs so hard.