Ugly Fabric Challenge


Some of the pieces (in the center) made for the Ugly Fabric Challenge

Christine here.  One of the more interesting concepts about “creativity” is that it works best within limits. I don’t know whom to credit with this observation, because I’m sure there’ve been some studies done on this concept, but I have seen it borne out in life. The first time that I observed the need for walls within which to expand creativity was when disinterested substitute teachers would cover my childhood art classes. Inevitably, they would pass out white paper and colored pencils and say, “Draw anything. Anything you want.” While they may have thought they were “freeing” students by giving us no limitations on our drawing subjects, they were actually stymie-ing us. I remember me and other kids looking at each other in panic and saying, “What do I draw, then?” With no limitations, our minds went blank.


Fabric chosen for the “Ugly Fabric Challenge” at Methuen, 2016

Since 2008, the Valley Forge Guild has been having rug challenges, in which we pick a topic and make rugs along that concept. The innovations in braided rug techniques that have been stimulated by these challenges have been just amazing. I know that the craft has been furthered directly by these challenges, and part of what has helped is the limitations set by the challenge topics. Our minds have to have restrictions within which to focus our creativity. We need walls for ideas to bounce off of.

Pam Rowan started the Ugly Fabric Challenge last year at Methuen 2015. (I know Carol Broadbent, the woman who runs the braid conference, calls it “New England Braids,” but I just think of it as “Methuen.”) Pam chose a fabric this year that was truly awful! A combination of a dull dusty taupe, a dull coral, and a brown stripe that some perceived as a dull olive green and some perceived as just brown. I shared my frustration with this fabric in an earlier post. But, despite my whining about it, working with this difficult fabric definitely had the desired effect of focusing creativity.


Debra Weinhold’s fringed strip rug pillow


Debra’s strip rug pillow — other side

Here is a parade of some of the projects. I know there were a few projects, but I don’t have photos of them (darn it!). If someone else has photos of the other projects, please send them to me. I emcee the Show and Tell (which I just love doing) but it means I’m helping to hold up rugs… and not photographing. So I have to rely on others to send me photos from the Show & Tell.


Debra Weinhold’s applique pillow

Regarding COLOR: some paired this fabric with…

  1. A bright dark coral (Cheryl Hanline)
  2. A dark green (Rose Robertson-Smith)
  3. Dull pink and rose (me)
  4. Light taupe or camel (Pam Landry)
  5. A rusty red and a green (Deb Weinhold)
  6. An ocher brown (Pam Rowan)
  7. Changed the color by overdyeing to orange (Peggyann Watts)

Given how difficult I thought it was to match this fabric with ANY color, I thought it was interesting to see which color directions to go. Personally, I think the dark coral and rusty red worked best (although changing the color completely also worked!)


Rose Robertson-Smith shows her triaxial weave table-topper, with a multi strand border

Then, there was the decision of what SHAPE to braid. People chose to braid: a basket, two acorns, two square pillows, one square table-topper, a round rug, and a multi-circle runner.

Then, the TECHNIQUES. We had some really interesting things here. One of my favorite was the pillow that Deb Weinhold made. In this pillow, she made two square strip rugs which were fringed on the ends. Then, she sewed them in opposite directions, so one made a fringe at the top and bottom, and the other made a fringe at the sides. Isn’t this clever? Never seen that done before. The strip pillows also had lovely braided patterns: zigzags and dots. In addition, she made an applique pillow with a pretty butterfly and flower.

Rose Robertson Smith made a table-topper with two techniques: one, a tri-axial weave or “mad-weave,” in which strands are woven in 3 directions instead of two. Tearing strips along the stripes, she wove the strips in such a way that they appeared like the quilt pattern, “tumbling blocks.” Now, I have to confess that I have personally tried to weave like this to make a star pattern (google “triaxial weave” and you’ll see some 6-pointed star patterns) and watched some You-Tube videos on the technique. It was an INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING experience on which I spent an entire day and still didn’t completely figure it out. The fact that the You Tube person says things like, “I really find putting the third strip into the weave to be the easiest” only added to my frustration. So let me tell you, the fact that Rose was able to do this technique was IMPRESSIVE. Then she topped it off with a pretty multistrand braid around the edges.


Pam Landry’s spiral braided basket

Pam Landry made a braided spiral basket by tearing some strips across the width of the fabric, and other strips down the length of the fabric. If you squint a bit, you can see that this led to one lighter and one darker braid in the spiral (before the overt color change to the camel/taupe color). Pretty buttons secure the braid ends with a short fringe.


Small and Big Acorns, by Pam Rowan and Peggyann Watts, respectively.

Pam Rowan and Peggyann Watts made ventures into sculptural braiding with their small and big braided acorns, respectively. Very cool! I think more sculptural braiding is going to be the wave of the future…


Cheryl Hanline’s Ugly Fabric Challenge rug

Cheryl Hanline and I made more traditional rugs: she a round, me a multi-circle. Cheryl’s rugs are always so pretty, and I think a lot of it is how she uses combinations of lights, darks, and brights to create a lot of drama with patterns. Her rug has two types of multistrands (6-strand diagonal stripe and a 6-strand ribbon), as well as zigzags, back-to-back triangles, and arrowheads. Wow! Mine just has 4-strand diagonal stripes. But hey, I’m putting a picot edge on! When I finish it, anyway.


Close-up of Cheryl’s patterns and multistrands

Final comments: despite my best intentions… yet again I didn’t quite finish my challenge. Sigh. I am just not organized enough.  And, thank all of you for your kind and frank words about going through surgery (or other medical events) with a husband.  While I didn’t answer comments individually this time… I appreciated your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “Ugly Fabric Challenge

  1. When I see the things you ladies braid I am both amazed and inspired!! Your talents are special gifts!! You’ve shown that there is a place for all fabric – beautiful and ugly!! The same goes for people- (thank you Lord) 😊

  2. Thank you Christine for the review of the Ugly Wool Fabric Challenge. The items photo’d and described are just fine and remarkable. Sometimes it is good not to have the rug get the major attention but be a background piece in a room. So the bland colors can be very useful I believe. The multistrand pillow of Debbie’s is so clever. Rose’s piece is very artsy and Cheryl’s rug is awesome. You are encouraging in each review. Thank you.

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