Friday, January 1, 2010

Just because I could, Part I

This past semester, I took the last class required for my Master’s degree. I had already taken all the other available electives, so Composites was the only one left. Composites are materials made of a reinforcement and a matrix. In general, the reinforcement is a fiber of some sort, and the matrix is a resin (not always, though). Fiberglass with polyester resins are probably the most familiar to the general public, as they are used in making boats and skis and such. As a requirement for the class, I naturally had to make something using the materials available in the plastics/composites lab. I opted for something made out of carbon fiber, rather than glass, because carbon is just cooler.

During a class period earlier in the semester, I think when we were discussing forms of cloth made from reinforcement fibers, I started joking about making composite bobbin lace. But for my actual project, I planned to make a carbon fiber laptop sleeve. Well, when it got right down to it, my joking captured my enthusiasm much more than my practical plan did, so I became determined to make a functional piece of bobbin lace out of carbon fiber. Due to the general dimness of my living room, I decided to make a hanging lamp, with a carbon fiber bobbin lace shade.

The first thing I needed to do was make a mold. I had decided to use an epoxy that cured at room temperature, so my mold would not need to withstand the pressures and temperatures of curing in an autoclave. I got a few rounds of Styrofoam and glued them together.

I just used Elmer’s all-purpose glue, and I wasn’t sure how well it would work on the polystyrene foam. Fortunately, it worked quite well for my purposes. The glued-up foam pieces were the size of the lampshade, with no cutting or shaping required. So next I needed to make the pricking for the lace.

Normally I work lace on either my broad, slightly domed cookie pillow, or my roller pillow, which is set into a broad, flat pillow that supports the bobbins while working. For this project, I would be basically working on a large bolster-type pillow, with the lace working around the entire pillow and the bobbins just hanging from the work.

Because the resin would be applied to the fiber while on the pillow, I needed to make sure the composite lace wouldn’t get stuck to the pricking. I took a sheet of release paper home from the lab—I’d used it before in some preliminary work and found that the cured epoxy peeled off the paper quite easily.

I had done some preliminary drawings on graph paper to determine the design, a basic honeycomb ground to fit the 9” width of the pillow. After cutting the release paper to a strip that would just fit around the mold, I started drawing grid lines. At first I tried using pencil, then gel pen, but neither would mark the paper. So I dug out a couple of Sharpies, red and black, and drew grid lines at one inch intervals in red.
Next, following the plan on my graph paper, I used the black marker to place the spots for the “pins”.
And, because it is a good idea anyway, and even more important on something like this, I drew in the working lines of the honeycomb ground between the dots.
I finished up the mold by cutting a circle of release paper to fit the top of the shade and drew a flower-like design, which I marked with pin dots, arrows, and numbering so that I could work the entire design with one continuous strand. (I did end up adding two more circles for support later on). This top part would not be worked in traditional bobbin-lace techniques, but rather the fiber would just be placed along the design, and smooshed together with the resin.
Next, I clipped the top and pinned it to the mold using straight pins, then pinned the honeycomb pricking around the side.

The mold was now completed and ready to be taken to the lab. I’ll stop my story for now, but I will be continuing it in two more installments!


Joy (The Art Of Joy) said...

Interesting! It's neat to see your work in "progress", and to get a visual of what you mean when you leave your school stuff postings.

Giggles said...

I'm intrigued.

Happy Hound Creative said...

So cool! I love learning about how you did this!!

Judy said...

This 'work in progress' is interesting to watch! I have always love to create my own designs! Shell

Guzzisue said...

Watching this project with interest!!!