Getting a handle on things

I stopped over midwinter. Something of a new experience for me. I always have something on the go, and it always involves thinking. I just needed saving from myself and to give the brain a rest so I just pottered with a cross stitch where I just did what I was told for a while. No tiny endless decisions about placement, shape, stitching, colours…

But now I’m ready for another adventure (‘adventure’ being something where you don’t know the destination as opposed to ‘journey’ where you plan to reach a certain place). 

I have been reading a few comments from those who dye fabric saying that they do so partly because they don’t want to change handle of it. After reading a couple of these, something consciously popped out of my head with the words ‘but you do!’  Sometimes this is what I want as well – to use a fabric with its new colour but retain its other properties that lured me to it in the first place. However, I’ve realised that changing the handle is part of most of my adventures with a material. Changing something about how it works, what you can do with it, and a little bit of ‘what would happen if?’ are all part of the delicious possibilities on an adventure into the unknown.   

I have just finished this piece. It started out as a pile of scraps from bees-waxing most of the Inkberrow Design Centre in Redditch last time I was there. Fabric, bark, paper all change in different ways and having only done this once, I’m definitely going to explore this more. Fabric stiffens and has sculptural qualities as it can be set and reset, bent and cracked. It feels completely different. Putting a needle through feels different. The handle is utterly changed. 

I decided to look for a definition of ‘handle’ on the web and came across a whole world I didn’t know existed. I feel it only fair to communicate some of what I learnt for your edification… 
Essentially, fabric handle is concerned with how a piece feels – how soft, bendy, rough or smooth it is. This was traditionally decided upon by the people in the cloth industry. It was simply about qualities a person felt as they used their hand, and very skilled they would have been at it, too. The handle influenced the tailoring, processing and drape of a fabric but there was no consistent language or measurement and as many of the experienced handlers left the industry, a common and objective approach was sought.

I give you the ‘Hand Evaluation Standardisation Committee’ formed by Professor Kawabata. But what I found interesting is that this was formed in 1972 which seems very recent to me. They argued that if the handle comes from mechanical properties of cloth, if they could be controlled then they could be measured objectively.  So a system was developed to do just that.

Now, Japanese words are very alluring and rather romantic I feel. Shashiko sounds better than darning don’t you agree? Well the professor and the committee came up with some primary hand qualities as follows, the words from which I intend to ruminate on for a bit:

Koshi – stiffness

Numeri – smoothness

Fukurami – fullness and softness

Shari – crispness

Hari – antidrape, stiffness

Sofutosa – soft feeling

Kishimi – scrooping feeling

Shinayakasa – flexibility with soft feeling

Did you see that one? What the heck is a scrooping feeling? I’ve definitely had several of those lately without even looking that one up!! 

But this is my most favourite sentence as a result of intensive research: 

‘A universal quantitative measure of fabric handle should be considered as the basis for considering reliable fuzzy membership functions’. H Behery.

Not quite sure how one responds to that? 

I have found I particularly like painting silk organza with acrylic, using bees wax, layering up fabrics by bonding them together or using a lot of stitch to bring them together into a new whole. I rarely keep a fabric’s softness in what I do and I have no idea why – think it’s just because I love combining lots of things together, although they do get harder to sew.  

I have more printed organza for pebble work, and have been plotting some more ideas.  Just auditioning some pebble prints in the images below, not quite sure about them.  I did think that after playing with this theme for so long, I’d be done with it but there’s a bit more to come out yet. I think I may move away from block prints but the original theme was ‘line’ which I’d like to retain.     

In amongst this is a gel transfer print of some rust at Filey beach.  It has been cut up and combined with fabric and paper. I’m starting to find lines of interest and add texture. The different combinations,  thicknesses and areas of stitch are interesting to handle.  


I thought I’d also share these lovely layers from the allotment round the corner from the Design Centre that I have often snuck onto at lunchtimes.  Always worth a peep around the corners of things…


In celebration of two years working together, here’s one of the girls.  Kim has done a good job with us.  We started out on the same journey, but we have all got our own style and interests now.  She has helped us all find a voice for our adventures.  Thank you xx


We are putting a few bits up at the NEC in March where I shall be helping which is exciting. I have started to plan something locally with some textile buddies and am looking forward to that, but my trips to Redditch are now at an end.

I think I can feel a scooping feeling coming on…

11 thoughts on “Getting a handle on things

  1. Lovely photos and images of your ….playing/sampling….. Some gorgeous pieces……clever stick…! 👍😀…X

  2. Love the work you are doing here, do you wax and then stitch? I would have thought that was difficult or am I misreading. I like the translucent effect you get with using wax.

  3. Let us know when you get a handle on scrooping 😁 Thanks for sharing your research and updating us on your adventuring.

  4. Scrooping sounds delicious. As ever your words are eloquent and from the heart. I need some head space to scroop at the moment . I can see an investigation into the textural qualities of succulents when imaged and dipped in wax coming sometime soon xx

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