4.1; More Sampling: Embossing

The next material I embossed was foil, which I found instantly more accommodating. When I last used kitchen foil in 1.4.4, I felt I didn’t gain much from it. I now found that I could press it onto objects and with much less pressure than paper required, create a facsimile.


The texture of the embossed plastic canvas was transferred clearly and neatly onto regular kitchen foil. However, when I tried embossing the dots from earlier samples, I began to see the limitations:

The pattern was recreated by the kitchen foil without breakages but with only minimal handling the surface began to deteriorate (you can see in the photograph some of the ‘bubbles’ have popped!). This meant that recording these samples would be more important than ever, since they were not going to last long.

One of the things I really liked about the kitchen foil is that it revealed exactly how much stress a material is put under when it is embossed. No wonder there were so many breakages when I used paper! The drawing above records these stresses and I rather like the strange sunburst shapes that have created a pattern like a secret cipher or code. Once again, I considered embossing with Diane Reade’s themes of concealment and revelation in mind. What if my drawing is secretly revealing the stress it was under?

SAMPLE  4.1.5

Since I have been thinking so much lately about the texture of bark, it would probably have been more appropriate to have directly embossed a tree. Unfortunately, that was impossible this week so I had to use a substitution: I used a Lotus flower seed head from the florist.


I had intended to draw the seed head as it was because I thought it related really well to the Exercise: Cutting Holes, instead I embossed it.

I liked the craters that appeared in the foil, I also thought the lines and creases in between them were really interesting. The three dimensionality of the sample, from wrapping around an object rather than pressing into a surface, put me off a bit. It simply extenuated the problem of the foil being so delicate and liable to roll into an unrecognisable ball at a heavy touch. I put it to one side for a while….


I have mentioned before that I like to incorporate knitting into my work, this exercise was no exception. After knitting two swatches in cotton DK, I coated them with Gesso to harden them.

I did not manage to successfully emboss the knitted texture onto the foil (or paper). The knot was still too soft, I wonder coating with PVA might have produced a harder surface? Interestingly, I thought I would have more chance of transferring the second swatch (because it had a larger gauge and therefore more spaces for the foil to sink into) in actuality it made the problem worse because it was more springy than the tighter knit.

SAMPLE 4.1.6

The failure of my experiment above, was really important because it encouraged me to keep looking… this hideous piece of free-machine embroidery was my first attempt at using water soluble fabric during ATV and has been kicking around my desk ever since! Curiosity, frustration or serendipity made me pick it up and try to emboss it.

This unlikely combination of failure and foil actually produced something I found really attractive. It was similar to 4.1.5 in appearance, only better: the series of lines and creases between the irregular circle shapes was wider an more pronounced than when I used the Lotus head. I decided to draw it before the tiny web of lines flatten out (which they did, the sample no longer ‘exists’):


I first used a black pen to record the creases and folds and then recreated the drawing by scratching marks into a surface prepared with oil pastel.

The drawings remind me of my plastic fusion images because of the bubbles but they are different: there is no hard line between the circles. What is more important? The shapes or the spaces between them? The holes or the lines? I like this dichotomous relationship: one can not exist without the other.

I am reminded of Karen Margolis’ three dimensional work which explores a similar theme. In pieces like ‘Containments’ http://www.karenmargolisart.com/containments made from looped cotton, bound and linked by wire, the space exists because of the boundary. Yet without the boundary we would not see the space. Hmm…

SAMPLE 4.1.8

I tried combining kitchen foil and sheer fabric to ascertain firstly whether embossing could be transferred through fabric without a press and secondly to see if this would strengthen the foil making the emboss last longer.

I found that I quite liked the way the organza toned down the shininess of the foil, the shapes showed clearly, although they were no stronger or permanent than before. The silk tested the limits of this way of embossing, the shapes were ‘readable’ but only just. In order to emboss thicker fabrics I believe a different technique is required. I did not have the equipment, so I returned to foil alone.

SAMPLE 4.1.9

I found the foil of a disposable serving platter was much more suited to embossing. I was able to make deeper marks, without damaging the surface. I had to wrap the edges with electrical tape because they were really sharp (it was like self adhesive bias binding- now that would make finishing a quilt simpler!)

Having discovered that I could emboss quite deep and dramatic marks into the surface of this thicker foil I returned to the embroidery from 4.1.7. I was able to produce a sample that wasn’t in danger of disappearing!

The irregular circles have become scale-like. The linear mark that have created each scale are clearly visible and are all orientated in one direction. I feel the sample has an air of mystery- What is the foil concealing? I like that it is not immediately obvious. What does the emboss texture reveal? Is it too abstract?

SAMPLE 4.1.10

Finally, I used the little scrap of foil from the neck of a wine bottle to emboss the Lotus flower head.

This foil acted more like thin sheet metal, which I guess in essence it is. I was able to push the material deep into the recesses, creating a really three dimensional effect. The fact the surface is not especially shiny makes it more pleasant to look at. It also leads me to question my choice of materials for this exercise, have I been looking in the wrong places?




4.1; Sampling: Embossing

At the beginning of this exercise, I felt quite frustrated with both the materials and the technique. I started by mark making on a series of different papers, trying to find one that would produce the effect I wanted. This felt similar to the first exercise I did on pleating, perhaps my preconceived notions were interfering with what I was producing?

SAMPLE 4.1.1

Having decided from early experimentation (above) that the answer to the perfect paper for embossing was a thick and sturdy card, I was quite surprised that my first sample used tracing paper:

I rather like the way the marks crease the surface causing a slight discolouration. The translucent quality of the paper suggests the embossed surface could be layered over another surface, fitting quite nicely with my thoughts about using embossing to conceal and reveal. As I handled this sample I noticed how much more dramatically the surface texture had changed in comparison to paper. The fragility of tracing paper provides the additional benefit of creating textures that can really be ‘felt’ as well as ‘seen’. 

SAMPLE 4.1.2

In my investigation, one paper stood out as being particularly suited to embossing, it held the shapes well without tearing. It also didn’t become shiny in the areas that I pressed, which was a problem I encountered with some of the other papers.

The regular arrangement of circles breaks up the surface quite rhythmically. In my drawing I tried to capture the way light and shadow add to an embossed piece emphasising the form. I found it wasn’t easy to record the white surface without making it look grey.I thought about what secrets this sample might be withholding. Perhaps the circles are like little pills hidden in their plastic strips? 

SAMPLE 4.1.3

Although Diane Reade’s embossed designs are created with plain white paper, I still wanted to explore the use of colour. I selected some patterned papers and decided to emboss a contradictory design onto them.

I was disappointed with how soft the papers were, they damaged quite easily. I tried to overcome this by sticking two sheets together, which did help a little. I didn’t really feel the patterns I was embossing produced anything meaningful; the samples looked a bit like wallpaper.

On reflection I wonder why I believed that embossing has to be perfect? Perhaps embossing could be used to distress the surface, like sanding, scrapping or scratching? This would be an interesting concept to explore. 

SAMPLE 4.1.4

Still interested in adding colour, I returned to the ‘perfect paper’ from 4.1.2 and embossed it with two simple designs. I wanted to see what would happen when I added a wash of Brusho over the top. I suspected that the water content of the Brusho would make the paper wet and mushy and that the embossed design would lose all definition. I hoped, however, that the colour would pool in the recesses, in a similar way to shadows. Realising the reaction would be different depending on whether the surface design was concave or convex, I produced a second set.

After producing the first version, I realised the ‘magic moment’ I was looking for occurred only briefly, just as the Brusho was applied. I was able to photograph this in the following samples:

I found the moment in time much more appealing that the samples when they dried:

As it dried the Brusho soaked into the paper in a more ‘all over’ fashion, it is most effective in the second and third photographs. One is the front, one is the reverse, so this seems to suggest this is a trial and error process, rather than one that works particularly better on the convex or concave side of an emboss.

Most importantly, the paper did not collapse, the emboss did hold its shape. It could be argued that the colour detracts from the raised surface but I personally like the effect. I am left wondering how I could incorporate this effect into some of my drawings or prints?

Could embossing add something extra? Would it detract from the marks I made?

Having produced these paper samples, I decided to try embossing with foil, which I will discuss in my next post.


4.1; Initial Thoughts and Research

Reading about how Diane Reade uses handmade paper embossed with the shapes of familiar objects helped me to view embossing from an Artistic perspective rather than a Design one.

My initial thoughts about embossing were really bound by commercial uses. Embossing is used everywhere in our daily environment, from credit cards to wedding invitations, from wallpaper to kitchen towel. The added detail of a raised surface, appeals to our human need to touch. It makes insignificant objects that we handle everyday a little less ordinary. No wonder manufacturers include embossing, it encourages us to pick up their product, to touch it and use it.

Generally, we are discouraged from touching and handling works of Art. Even at Textiles exhibitions, where the texture of the pieces has been key to their creation, we are still prohibited from touching. It often amuses me at Quilting Fairs, when you are allowed to touch but only through the barrier of a white glove! What purpose then does embossing have in Art? It disrupts a flat surface. It changes the way light reflects. It adds subtle detail and shadows.

I began thinking about the current vogue for Die Cutting/Embossing Machines, e.g. Sissix, Tattered Lace and X-Cut. Embossing is clearly popular in card-making and scrapbooking but how could I use it in my work?

Diane Reade 

I read about Diane Reade in Jac Scott’s book ‘Textile Perspectives’¹, some images of her work can be seen here:  http://readerunner.co.uk/Diane. It is not so much the visual appearance of the works that interest me, although I like the use of plain white paper and rough deckled edges that contrast with the sharp outlines of the embossed objects. I found it was more the thinking behind the work that attracted me.

Reade uses the shape of a bag as a metaphor for the containment of a set of objects that define the owner. Themes of secrecy, concealment and revelation run through her work. The embossed bag fails to disguise sometimes incongruous objects, for example ‘Granny by Day, Spy by Night’ reveals spying devices that allude to “Granny’s” clandestine employment. This piece is Reade’s interpretation of a news story but I discovered her inspiration originally came from researching African Art.

Reade’s embossing is then informed by investigating the way some African tribes wrap, contain and disguise their secrets. She asks:  “So when is a secret being partially revealed or partially concealed?”² I found this a pertinent question because it can be applied to the work itself. I often find myself wondering: how much do we really need to know?  In the case of Reade’s work, the appearance and peculiar titles revealed enough to get me interested but further research into the ‘concealed’ thoughts behind the work gave me a greater appreciation. I found the same of Karen Margolis, once I understood where the ideas came from I liked the work more. Yet with Agnes Martin, once I learned the inspiration, I felt the work lost some of the mystery that was key to its charm.

I digress. The point is that researching Diane Reade, provided plenty for me to think about as I started work on Exercise 4.1. Would the surface I was embossing be revealing the object beneath it? Would it be concealing it? Why was it necessary to emboss the object rather than incorporate it onto the surface by any other means?

¹SCOTT,J. Textile Perspectives in Mixed Media Sculpture. (2003) CROWOOD PRESS LTD

²P71 of above source