Nina's Textile Trail 2

– Textiles 1: Mixed Media for Textiles

MMT Part 3 Molding & Casting – Plaster, Concrete, Alginate & Air-Drying Clay

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(paper workbook p41-45)

A fabulous resource introducing casting materials.  So much information and temptation to try everything.  During my initial look, I was drawn to shredded paper captured in resin, layered resin, gel-coat, a very thick gel-like polyester resin used to draw in three dimensional space which can be piped from an icing bag.   Alginate caught my attention as a material for the capture of fine detail.

Over-excited at the thought of trying new materials, I had to reign myself in.  Much as I need to push boundaries, I also need to focus on the materials I can usefully explore at home, incorporating some samples from Assignments 1 and 2.

Contemplating a liquid material to capture texture and in preparation for part 2, plaster and concrete were considered.  Initial thoughts are that whilst my eye is drawn to the three dimensional pillows of colour and texture of Rebecca Fairley’s work below and I find them visually appealing,  I don’t feel compelled to touch or feel the material in the same way as I do with paper mache, paper clay and pulp-made products.

Looking at larger, detailed photographs in her online portfolio for a long time, trying to decipher my thoughts and interpret my feelings, there is no doubt that the softer curvaceous shapes are more attractive to me, the flatter, sharper edged pieces, some containing other materials are visually interesting and invite a closer look, those from a more knitted surface which have retained scraps of the cast material are absorbing, but the two that capture the soft, billowing folds of a textured cloth (images P1100371.jpg and P1100363) provoke a feeling not experienced with any of the other samples.  It is so elusive, I almost can’t get it, but it is there, I’m closing my eyes, trying to identify the feeling, a pleasure and warmth, a slight glow, causing a relaxing of my shoulders, maybe a comfort, a coming home?  Is that meaningful or a confirmation that I am comfortable with the familiar?!

When first researching for this Assignment, Ines Seidel’s work was so inspirational, different from anything I’d seen, loose and expressive and telling a story. I still find it so, but feel the ‘story’ is such an integral part of the work that without its title, each piece loses some of its meaning. The inclusion of plant material, strips of newsprint or text on slivers of paper contrast with the dense roughness of the concrete.  There is some capturing of surface texture but more capturing/containment of actual textural material.  I think it is the contrast of materials and textures and an appreciation for the subtle and descriptive humour of the titles of each piece that appeals to me.

Rachel Whiteread’s “sculptures subtly disturb the status quo” comments Charlotte Mullins in her book Rachel Whiteread, Tate Publishing.  The negative space cast certainly plays with my mind, in some cases, I really had to think to identify the space that had been ‘solidified’.  How does her work make me feel?  The mattress cast in rubber has a feeling of being alive, the texture of dental plaster untitled bed/mattress has captured texture like a wrinkled bed, a moment in time,  putting it into context.  I don’t feel the same about the casting of the ‘House’ or the Holocaust Monument which have less ‘life’, although this may be the point. This is art that needs to be seen in person, the size and desolate nature of some of the pieces cannot possibly be felt from a photograph.  Subesquent to this observation I came across an interesting article in The Guardian on a recent work from Whitehead, which reiterates my view.

Though the work photographs beautifully, it was made to be experienced in person. “You need to see it and be with it: the air, the weather, the sky, the ground, the piece and its relationships to all these other things,” Whiteread says. “It’s really quite something.”

The more organic, fluid shapes suggest a softer surface and the negative casts need careful thought as they’re not quite as I expect.   The casts from hot water bottles are the most interesting to me, the pillow-like shape, the rubber more alive than the plaster, the negative space immediately obvious, suggesting the fluid movement I expect from a hot-water bottle.

Rachel Dein’s method of casting plant forms helped me to better visualise the positive and negative aspects of casting. The idea of creating a mould of the negative space in a more flexible material which is then used to to achieve a detailed textural surface became clearer and quite tempting.  The following quote is taken from an article in Gardens Illustrated March 2014. Words Sorrel Everton.

Gathering plants, often from her own garden, Rachel lays them on to a rolled-out slab of clay and presses them in to transfer all their details, before carefully removing them. A wooden frame is then placed over and the plaster poured in. Once set, the clay is peeled away to reveal the ‘plants’ in relief. Yet it feels almost as if the real plants are still there, the casting is so accurate.

Here I am really taken by the detail of capturing nature ‘in the moment’, the composition, fluidity and movement created by the curling stems, the contrast in shapes, from the finest detail to the chunkier stalks.

Exploring alginate as a means of capturing detail, the following clip on pinterest was useful.

Additional inspiration for plaster casting:

Material: Plaster of Paris

  • made from the gypsum
  • when setting, it expands slightly so castings retain detail
  • strong and can be cut, carved, sanded, drilled.
  • works best in flexible moulds eg plastic, rubber, silicone and plasticine
  • gently sprinkle plaster into water, allowing it to sink and leave a few minutes for the powder to properly soak. Add plaster to any clear water.
  • mix slowly and pour gently to avoid creating air bubbles
  • immerse used tools and containers in water immediately to remove plaster and do not empty into sinks or drains.

Safety Considerations

  • When plaster is mixed with water, it is exothermic and can severely burn the skin. Although many tutorials show people mixing plaster with their hands, it is not recommended to do so, the exothermic reaction occurs as the mixed plaster is hardening and just after it would be possible to extract your hand!
  • Non-toxic
  • AVOID inhalation, ingestion, skin and/or eye contact.
  • Wear gloves and dust mask.


Material: Alginate

  • water-based gel, made from kelp, a type of seaweed
  • flexible mould/impression making material
  • produces very accurate impressions
  • clean and safe (used for dental impressions)
  • shrinks as it dries, detaching from non porous moulds.
  • sets quickly, 3-4 minutes
  • single-use product, use soon after forming, moulds deteriorate in 24-48 hours
  • not durable, skin moulds need supporting with, say, modroc

Safety Considerations

  • non-toxic
  • practice good hygiene, wear gloves
  • do not empty into sink or drains


Material: Air Drying Clay

  • soft & pliable
  • dries hard to a durable matt finish that can be painted and varnished

Safety Considerations

  • non-toxic
  • Avoid ingestion or eye contact.
  • Sensitive individuals may wish to wear gloves.


Project 1 – Molding from a surface

Sampling with Alginate, Plaster of Paris and Air-drying clay

My first attempts at capturing the texture of a natural wrapping from Assignment 2 worked to a degree but too much water in the alginate and insufficient plaster of paris powder to water affected results.  The alginate didn’t set well and the plaster cast is a little soft and has subsequently cracked. All the ingredients were prepared with separate disposable containers and spoons for each step with a large bucket of water in the sink to rinse off any remains of alginate and plaster to ensure the plaster didn’t get into the drain.  As soon as the grass was in the alginate, I started to mix the plaster of paris.  Once it was mixed and the alginate seemed set, the grass was removed and the plaster poured in.  The sides were tapped to encourage the air bubbles to the surface.  Once set it was easy to remove the plaster cast from the alginate. Inverting the plastic container to remove the cast, the alginate started to disintegrate.  If supported it may be possible to use it more than once, but better to assume it’s a single use material.  I was really encouraged by the detail of texture achieved from the central wrapped section and the movement created by the fine lines of grass.

Although a little scruffy, I was encouraged by the results.


Inspired by the negative cast of cauliflower found on Pinterest, I suspended a small cauliflower head over a plastic bowl and poured alginate into the vessel.  After two or three minutes, the alginate was set and the cauliflower easily and quite cleanly removed. The proportions of both were better than the first attempt but there were air bubbles in the alginate causing some extra little pimples in the cauliflower cast.  The results were still very satisfying.  There is something really impressive about the detail of textured and three-dimensional form achievable with this technique.



Not expecting to exceed such success, I was overjoyed with the texture achieved by rolling plantains into air drying clay and the resulting plaster cast.  Aquilegia seed heads were also effective but the plaster layer was a little thin and cracked.



The following was cast by pouring plaster directly onto cotton scrim.  The scrim was easily removed from the plaster. a lovely story of the soft undulating folds of the cloth and the loose weave.


Far less successful was the attempt at casting jute scrim direct from plaster.  The hairy-ness of the jute made it impossible to remove cleanly from the plaster.


Far better results were achieved by impressing it into air-drying clay to create a mold and casting from that. In both this and the plantain cast, the scraps of plant material and jute left behind in the cast remind me of the comment that some of Rachel Whiteread’s casts “captured traces of life” (Charlotte Mullins (2004)).  This record of a ‘moment in time’,  the thought of material evidence, a trace of human contact, perhaps in discarded clothing, is touching.


Attempting to cast the underside of a mushroom was a bit tricky, the alginate was difficult to remove from the mushroom and the plaster enveloped the smaller pieces, but the pieces that worked show promise.

The Plaster FAQ—Working With Plaster



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