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How to Make Coiled Fabric

Updated on September 23, 2014

Fabric can be Coiled just like Clay...

Have you ever coiled clay to make a pot?

Did you know you could do the same with fabric?

Fabric can be coiled into shapes or thicker surfaces which gives us all sorts of exciting possibilities for manipulating fabric.

When fabric is coiled it can be used to create shapes, vessels, bowls and baskets, circular rugs, coasters, place mats, fabric sculpture etc.

This lens is a collection of inspiration, ideas and instructions about how to use fabric coiling in your own craft work.

Above: Old bed sheets coiled into a vessel.

Why Coil Fabric?

Coiling fabric gives it a strength that enables you to create 3D pieces.

I became fascinated with the idea of creating a piece of fabric sculpture - but not only that - a piece of fabric sculpture that was made entirely of fabric with no stuffing, no under-structure just fabric and stitch.

I have a huge stash of fabric but I'm used to making layered textiles pieces that are backed with wadding and topped with organza. The wadding and organza regularly have to be bought at the fabric store. I wanted to start to look at ways of making beautiful textiles pieces purely from recycled fabrics that didn't have to be bought - for financial reasons and also from the point of view that I think there's a lot of discarded fabric out there that needs using before it's simply just trashed.

I don't want to be someone who's continually buying more materials when I already have a home clogged up with fabric!

So in short coiling fabric is awesome because:

1. You can create awesome 3D textiles work.

2. You don't need any fancy or specific materials - you can use any old fabric and any old thread!

Above: The beginnings of a coiled creation.

Three-Dimensional Embroidery

Three-Dimensional Embroidery
Three-Dimensional Embroidery

I discovered coiling fabrics from this book.

I've only experimented with basic ideas of coiling fabrics but there are some amazing examples in this book - I've only had a flick through it so far but you can see some of the pages on Amazon by clicking the link.

In the example pages on Amazon it looks as if there are coils within coils instead of using one continuous length of fabric - yummy!

 

My Coiling Adventures

The images below are pieces I made by coiling quite large strips of old man-made fiber (from old trousers).

I perhaps didn't twist the fabric strips, making these structures, as much as I should have as they're fairly loose.

I used a tapestry needle and contrasting yarn to sew the coils in place.

I used a heat gun to melt the fabric coils and give this piece a more organic look.

This was just an experiment so I didn't have any idea about what I wanted to use these pieces for - but they'd be great for creating a 3D organic texture that pushes out from a textiles background.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

The images below are some photos I took whilst I was making a bowl that I wanted to make look like a nest.

I made the coiled bowl from tweed fabric and then played with stuffing little pieces of fake fur in between the coils (you can see this in the last 2 pics) - I didn't end up using this for my finished bowl but I love the idea of being able to poke other fabrics and objects between the coils and have them poking out.

I covered the finished nest bowl with strips of fabric.

These strips were sewn vertically to counteract the horizontal coiling. The strips acted as anchors that held the coils into a specific shape. I've since discovered that if you use thinner fabric strips you can make a sturdier coiled piece that doesn't need supportive strips of fabric.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

The piece below is something that I'm working on at the time of publishing this lens.

This piece is made from old discarded bedsheets and is a relatively small vessel so far that fits in my cupped hands.

It's quite laborious making this piece but as I'm working on it I find it hysterically funny - spending hours on making a useless sculptural thingy out of discarded old bedsheets!

On the other hand it's a very peaceful activity - like knitting.

I decided I'd stick with the 2 colors of fabric for now and switch the thread color occasionally to create different looks as I go along.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Before I started the piece above I made the doodle below.

I think originally I wanted to make something enormous - a bit like one of those baskets that snake charmers have! I realized that would probably be far too big a project and that I didn't have the space for something so monstrous.

Also whilst I was working with the fabric and thread they decided what they wanted to be and how they wanted to look - I'm just along for the ride!

Above: My original idea for a coiled vessel.

You may have noticed from the images above that I stopped coiling round and round and interrupted the pattern with a separate coiled piece.

I'm planning to surround the outside edge with these coiled bumps, fill in the gaps in between with more coiling and then start the main body of the vessel above the bumps.

I started thinking about how to continue the vessel and what it might look like when it's done. However the fabric and thread seem to do whatever they want to do - I'm just along for the ride - so the finished piece might end up looking a lot more "organic" than the doodles below.

Above: Some ideas for what to do with my coiled fabric piece next.

Step by Step Process

1. Choose a piece of fabric - the bigger the better as you're going to be cutting it into strips. The bigger the piece of fabric is the fewer funny chunky bits of fabric you are going to have when you start chopping it up.

2. Cut the piece of fabric into one long strip of fabric. Check out the images below to see how you could do this. I usually don't cut my whole piece of fabric up at once - just enough to twist a few rows - I do this because it's easier to keep the right amount of twist in your strip when it's shorter.

3. Make sure you've threaded up your needle, knotted the end and are ready to use it.

Above: Instructions 1-3.

4. Next you need to take the end of your strip and start twisting it until you have a solid length that can be wrapped around itself.

This can be quite fiddly so take your time!

And don't give up - if I can do all this and take photos at the same time then you'll be fine!

Above: Instruction 4.

5. Start to wrap the fabric around itself until you've got a couple of "rows".

Above: Instruction 5.

6. Pull your thread up through the fabric at the center of your coiled fabric.

Above: Instruction 6.

7. Begin to wrap your thread around 2 rows at a time making sure they're firmly attached to each other .

Above: Instruction 7.

8. Keep wrapping the thread around the rows of coils - 2 at a time.

9. You may find that your piece naturally starts to curve into a bowl shape. If you're careful you can avoid this by making sure that you stitch the coils side by side and don't pull them too tightly with your stitches.

10. If you want the bowl shape then begin to stitch the coiled rows slightly overlapping each other.

Playing with Stitches

I've mainly just played with wrapping stitches around 2 rows of coils as I went along because it seemed like the easiest way to make a coiled vessel but then I started to think about how the stitches actually affect the look of the finished piece - they're just as important as the fabric.

In the image below and opposite I've experimented with trying to hide my stitches. This is done by stitching through 2 rows of coiled fabric instead of wrapping the thread around them and places all the emphasis on your fabric and the shape of your coiled piece.

Above: Hidden stitches between coils.

Below I've attempted to explain how the stitches work.

Above: How to hide your stitches.

Above: The stitches and coils create interesting patterns of horizontal and vertical lines.

In the image above notice how I started with using double thread on that central part. I decided to switch to single thread because I felt like the dark thread was taking emphasis away from the paler fabric and the paler darkness between the coils.

Consider the thickness of your thread and how many stitches you fit into each row - consider tucking the stitches in behind the stitches of the previous row.

Playing with Colours

The piece shown below and opposite has been made with two different colored discarded bedsheets.

Notice the wide range of looks that can be achieved with changing the color and thickness of the thread.

It's easy to change the color or even texture by changing the fabric.

All you need to do is begin to twist the new piece of fabric in with the end of the older piece.

To make it easier you could sew the 2 ends together carefully or you could knot them together. Bear in mind that the knots will show unless you can cleverly hide them on the inside of your coiling.

Above: You can create different colours by changing the fabrics or the threads or both.

Embroidery Thread

12 Spools BRIGHT Embroidery Machine Thread
12 Spools BRIGHT Embroidery Machine Thread

These bright threads would be great for creating a rainbow piece.

You could start with a neutral fabric and just change the colour of the thread every few rows to experiment with colour.

 

Further Ideas for Coiling

One thing I want to try - when I have the time - is to make a set of coasters and place mats from coiled fabric pieces - although it would have to be made from durable fabric and thread and be washable.

When I started making the coiled yellow and white vessel (shown above) I noticed how cute it would be for resting a mug on - see below.

Other Ideas for coiling:

Making big chunky pieces from thick coiled fabric and stitching it with thick yarn or something like jute.

Stuffing old ruined tights and coiling those round and round.

Using old ripped tights that haven't be stuffed.

Making machine embroidered cords and coiling those.

Using coiled fabric to make the body for an art doll.

Twisted wire around the twisted fabric so that it can hold a different shape - square or triangle perhaps?

Above: I think small flat coiled pieces would make really cute coasters for mugs!

My Finished Coiled Vessel

Check out my finished coiled vessel in the images below.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Share Your Thoughts - Reader Feedback.

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    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 3 years ago from Norfolk

      Really interesting to see this as I often saw people in Africa where I grew up making items like these. The vessels or mats were made using these same techniques but with grass or reeds dyed in the most glorious colors.

    • profile image

      Deborah Groom 3 years ago

      Very fun. I make coiled pine needle baskets but I like to go multimedia with phone wires, bits of metal and jewelry. I create rugs with recycled fibre so trying to add some fabric to baskets is very cool.

    • profile image

      Frederick Nunley 3 years ago

      Thanks for this great tutorial on how to make coiled fabric into a vessel. I love your sketches with the actual fabric creations! Nice artist's touch there and very well photo illustrated too.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hi Thanks for the inspiration. I too hate trashing materials and this looks like a great way to do it. Blessings

    • Rachel Field profile image
      Author

      Rachel Field 6 years ago

      @bikerministry: Glad you enjoyed it :D I think I wrote the first one around 2005.

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 6 years ago

      How long have you been writing e books? That was one of my 2012 goals. I may still get one or two done. This is a sweet lens, and it makes me want to try the craft. Thanks. Blessings.

    • Rachel Field profile image
      Author

      Rachel Field 7 years ago

      @WildFacesGallery: Thank you :D

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 7 years ago from Iowa

      Fascinating as always. :)

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