O.k. I know this post is going to sound totally wacky but I have a concept I want to explore in my art that will require a "yarn" that will disintegrate in 1-2 years. I'll go on more about the work itself in a future post but here are my tests to create a "yarn" that will disintegrate.

In the perfect world I would want this "yarn" to meet the following criteria:

  • Disappear in around 1-2 years but NOT get moldy, smelly, or harmful in the process.
  • I would want to ply it with a thin metallic or monofilament. So after it disintegrates only a ghostly piece will remain.
  • I want it soft enough and thin enough that it will allow me to knit, weave, embroider, or lace with it. I'm looking for options.
  • It would need to accept color but grey, black, or white would be best. I'd imagine a natural food based dye would be most practical.
  • The material I use would need to be inexpensive or free.

I landed on newspaper after reading that it decomposes quicker than other paper options. I also read that it's break down can be sped up with a chemical found in certain laundry detergents. So this became my first experiment.

I started by cutting the paper into long strips. I knew I wanted to make this as thin as possible so I moved beyond scissors to weighting down one end of my paper and cutting at it with an  x-acto knife until the slices were really thin.

I then started spinning the paper!

I tried four options.

  1. The first was the paper by itself. I didn't like this because the paper had to be heavily layered (= bulky "yarn") to keep it in tact.
  2. The second attempt was spinning the newspaper with monofilament as a core. I also added a damp sponge to the process so I could add a little moisture to keep the paper fibers together. This wasn't too bad. The monofilament is exactly the kind of material I want to remain after the paper disintegrates. It also allowed me to add only tiny amounts of paper so the thickness was what I was looking for. The only problem was that the monofilament kept it from really bending as sharply as would be ideal for some weaving or lacemaking.
  3. I tried a softer thin cotton in my next attempt. It created more flexible yarn. However, it was thicker than the monofilament so the resulting yarn was bulkier. Also, it isn't the kind of material I want to remain after the paper disappears.
  4. My final attempt was metallic thread and I think this is the winner. It was the thinnest of the cores I tried and it will definitely create the kind of look I'm after for once the paper disappears. It was flexible! All three cores would tangle on themselves while spinning but with this final one that was o.k. When that happened I let that section of the "yarn" have the little extra thread and it looks great.

My next attempt was to see if I can color it and add the laundry detergent to it. The concepts I'm exploring obviously include time but not news stories or recycling so I don't want it be obviously newspaper. I dabbed some coffee on the left side of the samples and the detergent on the right side. The center of each sample was left plain. 

I'm going to observe them for a while to see what happens and will likely spin up some more "yarn" with the metallic thread to play with. I realize this all sounds totally crazy but nothing is worse than seeing artwork with a great concept and really bad execution. As a viewer you lose faith in the artist and the poor technique distracts from the message. So wacky and crazy as it is, artists must take the time to do their homework even if it means inventing new materials to make it happen.