How To Create Hollow Structures and Surface Contouring In Textile Art

Exploring 3D Textiles - Hollow Structures and Surface Contouring.

Why Use Hollow Structures In Textile Art?

Hollow structures can raise a contoured surface away from a flat background, casting shadow, reinforcing depth within the contouring of 3D sculptures. Abstract flower designs are constructed from hollow petals and leaves machine stitched (right sides together), cut and turned out to be moulded around a single bud or flower head, creating a rich textural carpet of movement and depth.

What Is Surface Contouring?

‘Yellow Sunflowers’ is a fine example of surface contouring with long tapered petals and leaves, creating a surface depth of 4.5 inches. There is a natural rhythm within the layering application around a central flower head and diversity within individual parts which are curled and sculpted by hand.

'Yellow Sunflowers' has a rich surface contouring with a depth of 4.5 inches
Surface contouring has a natural rhythm

How To Create Hollow Structures

A variety of techniques can be used to strengthen hollow structures. The petals of ‘Green Sunflowers’ are painted to give structure to the soft open weave cotton, achieving a depth of 4 inches.

Petals are painted in 'Green Sunflowers' to give structure to the open weave cotton fabric.
Hollow structures painted to give strength to fabric

Both ‘Yellow’ and ‘Blue Sunflowers’ use pipe cleaners inside the long petals and leaves to provide movement of individual parts and direction within the surface contouring. Diversity within the texture and colour palette adds a visual depth within the design.

'Blue Sunflowers' use pipe cleaners inside of petals and leaves to give structure and direction
Pipe cleaners define shape and direction in surface contouring

Natural strength can be achieved by leaving an excess of redundant fabric when cutting around the machined petal, providing bulk when turned out. The process of wrapping petals around a single bud creates a mature rose in in ‘Cancer 1: Lumpectomy’ with a depth of 2.5 inches.

Natural strength is found within the excess fabric cut away after machining petals.
3D sculpture with internal excess fabric providing bulk to petals

The size and shape of each petal determines its versatility and strength. In ‘Ecstasy’ small petals stand upright around the abstract flower head, creating a depth of 3.5 inches. In contrast large leaves lie flat against the background.

Small petals stand upright and have greater 3D quality than large leaves which lie flat against the background
Small petals have greater 3D strength than large leaves

How Materials Affect Hollow Structures

The type of materials used plays a crucial part in determining strength and structure of 3D sculptures. In contrast to the large organza leaves of the ‘Ecstasy’ garden, ‘Gang Bang’ offers naturally sculpted lilies created from a thick silk, requiring no more than a single stitch to anchor in place. Beautifully contoured with a depth of 5 inches.

The thick silk petals in 'Gang Bang' are naturally sculpted to form 3D Textiles in 'Gang Bang'
Lilies are naturally contoured 3D sculptures

Great strength can be achieved from a collection of hollow structures. The 3D vagina in ‘V AND A’ is moulded from a sculpted mass of tiny silk petals creating a depth of 4 inches with a rich surface contouring.

The Hollow structure of 'V AND A' is created from a mass of tiny silk rose petals
3D sculptural vagina created from a mass of tiny hollow structures

Exploring 3D Textiles created from hollow structures follows my previous article in which I investigate 3D sculptures created from padded structures. For more textiles with sculptural contouring visit my two collections at and by Christine Cunningham.

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Christine Cunningham

Creating art from recycled materials using traditional methods (applique, patchwork, quilting) with a modern exploration into fabric manipulation and padded structure. Unusual materials include hair, plastic, rubber, metal, disintegrating fabrics and found objects. I source my treasures from carboot sales, charity shops and freecycle. Original poetry captures the essence of an experience, an emotional layering to which the viewer can relate on a personal level. I have two bodies of work. The Natural Collection explores abstract flower design and the seasons, religion, visions of India and Buddhism, childhood nostalgia and the seaside. The Womanhood Collection explores natural states of being including breast cancer, sexuality, the ageing process, anatomy, love, fragility and independence. I was inspired by my own experiences of breast cancer, both the physical brutality and fragility of living in the aftermath.

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