Sunday, February 28, 2016

red, red wine

Blame it on the wine. When I washed my natural dyed fabrics, everything came out dingy. The cabernet colored Color Catcher was a dead give-away. It was the deepest colored piece in the entire wash. Apparently, even three Color Catcher sheets weren’t enough to stem the spread of the tannin dinge. 

No worries. That turn led me down a different path and I decided to try for an impressionist look to my quilt. I figured I could fit my blurry flowers in somehow. I found a marvelous piece of Carol Eaton’s ice dyed fabric I had purchased at a SAQA conference in DC. I was originally drawn to it because of its variety and subtle colors missing from my super-bright stash. 

It was the perfect piece for “Misty Melange”. I randomly pieced the background with 1” and 2” strips to create a watercolor effect. I added strips of green hand dyed fabrics and accented with wine colored pieces of linen, cotton and Color Catchers (polyester?). I also raw edge appliqued strips around the edges to create a more symmetrical top. Though I thought I would use the flower-pounded fabric, I opted to omit it. Instead, I added flowers to the quilting motif. 

It was a fun challenge, especially playing with the whole family. I would have to say I remain perplexed at why the “dyes” I used will stain my favorite shirt forever but will come out in the wash when I want them for an art quilt. Mordants, molecules, binding…perhaps I should’ve paid more attention in chemistry class.

Misty Melange is 33.5” W by 42.5” H, quilted with cotton and polyester thread.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Still Dry

Still Dry detail
Sue's challenge was, indeed, a challenge for me.  I avoid dyeing.  I support others who dye so brilliantly, and therefore, I have a wonderful stash and I don't worry about my immune system's uncanny ability to find strange, unheard of, crazily random reactions.

The challenge was posted while I was on holiday on a small island in San Pablo Bay, opposite Vallejo CA.  When the island was developed in the 1800's it served as the first US Naval port on the west coast, in response to Russia's trade in timber, moving from Alaska into N. CA.  Mare Island served as a military station and a ship building and repair yard until it was de-commissioned in the 1990's and became the property of the city of Vallejo.

Still Dry full (24" x 40")
Today Officer's Row, a splendid eucalyptus lined street boasting gorgeous mid-1850's homes, which serve as an inn, offices, a wine-tasting facility and private homes.  Nearby, also eucalyptus surrounded, is St. John's Chapel with 23 beautifully maintained Tiffany stained-glass windows.  Recently new homes have been constructed, a building was converted into a elementary school, a VA hospital moved into a new location and a large private university converted Army/Navy buildings into classrooms, labs and dormitories.  In short the place is hopping and will continue to develop with it's new ferry service directly to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf.

The part of this story that is relevant to Sue's challenge is the 150 year old stand of eucalyptus.  They are grand things, and while we were on holiday they were shedding their thin bark strips.

The timing was perfect.  Sue's challenge and my affection for eucalyptus.  I harvested armloads of bark, packed them up and shipped them home where I tried my hand at "non-invasive to my immune system" dyeing.  I decided the best tack would be to boil the chips in a big vat for several hours outside on my grille.  After sieving the broth into another vat, I boiled a cotton sheet with black printed leaves that I'd found at a thrift store and a piece of bright gold cotton for several hours.

My results were not flashy.  Indeed they were dull.  The white turned meh, a tad cream,  and the gold turned brass.  But I did like change.

Still Dry's color will probably not be permanent, surely could not stand up to repeated washings.

My theme, Exotic, continues to look at global warning and subsequent climate changes.  This piece is pieced with the dyed and commercial cottons, It is machine and hand stitched.

Back to the Drawing Board

I will say that I learned a lot through this challenge. One of the important things I realized is that I am NOT good at creating fabrics. Cutting them, yes. Stitching them, yes.  Hand-dying? No.

The other thing I learned (or reinforced) is that I work better when I have a plan. I don't really enjoy the process many call “intuitive” or “spontaneous” or stream-of-consciousness. It just doesn’t work for me. I often end up, as I did with this one, creating a haphazard soup of ideas with no clear direction and a lot of wasted time.

I’m NOT blaming the challenge at all! It was a very interesting and valuable challenge idea. I’m just unhappy with my poor execution of it. But it’s ok. They can’t all be masterpieces. Let’s walk through the wayward journey of this quilt….

Natural dyes. Ok, I thought, what kinds of things have stained our clothes and tablecloths? I started with beets, blended and boiled.
My fabric-dying friend recommended using a mordant but I couldn’t find any that I’d consider “natural”. So I went without a mordant, knowing that the color might not be very vibrant. I soaked the PFD fabric in beet juice for 48 hours thinking it would be a wonderful pink color at least. Nope. ALL the red rinsed right out (just plain water, I didn’t even wash it!) The results were barely the color of my own pale skin. Which is to say something like a light beige blush. meh.

Next I tried to add some personality using rubber bands and tie-dye techniques.

I soaked the fabric in dark espresso and some crushed raspberries.   Delicious, right?

The color it produced was less savory.  I’d call it “Sun bleached khaki tote bag”.
Again, time invested with very little payoff.

My last resort – frozen blueberries.
Poured into a kitchen trash bag along with the fabric, thawed, crushed, smushed and left for 2 days. Taken out and literally just rinsed enough to get the blueberry guts off it. Then ironed to heat set it. Here’s where we stood:

Hooray!! Color!!  Not a beautiful color, granted. Not even very consistent but who cares. I have colored the fabric!!! Wooo hooo! (Dancing around as if I had just discovered fire). Success!

Oh, wait. For a second there I thought I was done with the challenge. Now I have to DO something with this fabric. Oh yeah.

At first glance it looked like spilled ink. So since I was running short on time, I went with that idea.  I drew a picture of an ink jar and feather using sharpie marker. 
Not bad, but kind of boring and hard to see the feather amid the busy background.  So I added some fabric paint to colorize the feather and add some deeper black to the ink. 
Better, but still I’m just floundering and reacting instead of following a vision. I decided to move it on to quilting, hoping to clarify the feather and make it “pop” with colorful thread.
Ok, good. But how to stitch the background? I had no idea. I’m just flying by the seat of my pants on this.  So I took a moment to think. The only impression I was getting from this piece was the feeling of constantly going back to the drawing board. As if this quilt were a chalk board or sketch book where I was working out random ideas.  Not something completely thought out.

The stitching is an approximation of writing, there are no real words just the shapes and rhythm of writing. Crossed out phrases, circles, arrows and small diagrams are included as if the writer is formulating a plan. But in reality it’s all nonsense.  Fitting, I think.  HAHA!!

What Peace there is in Slumber

"What Peace there is in Slumber" ©2016, 40"x26"

Thank you, Sue, for the great challenge!  I enjoyed this a lot - - and learned a few things creating my "naturally colored fabrics" for this piece.  When I had finished the initial step of creating them, they were all sort of flesh-tones, and had no idea where I was going with this….

(L-R) Persimmon, Pomegranate, and Coffee stained fabrics
Somewhere along the way, I had decided that it was going to be a piece about sleep - as that had been a topic of discussion in our house recently - and sleep cycles.  I used to carry a sketch book when I traveled and draw my youngest while he slept, with my left (non-dominant) hand - but that is another story altogether…..

original sketch, 2003
Working from the sketch as a starting point, I layered my persimmon organza over my pomegranate linen, using my pomegranate organza as the shadows.  

The pillow and comforter are predominantly silk habotai with the three different stains, and some old damask linen tablecloth.  I don't feel like it is finished, though….there's still a lot of pearl cotton….

Indigo #3

Indigo #3
18 3/4"w x 39 1/2"long [47.5cm x 100.5cm]
I have enjoyed combining 3 panels of indigo dyed cotton that I stitched before immersion, creating a resist pattern. This pattern is further enhance with hand stitching in white and red. The white prints use the abundant weeds I found in my garden. They grew unchecked while I was away in Mongolia.
Materials: cotton, indigo dye, textile ink, batting, threads
Techniques: hand dyed, hand printed, hand stitched, machine pieced, machine quilted.


Had a lot of help with this one.  Whether it was the dorozome silk I used- dyed in the mud in Okinawa, or the rough natural raw silk, or the rust stained handwoven cottons, this piece is beloved of the cats.
The base structure of the piece is turned edge appliquéd silks that were machine quilted before getting an overlay of the rusted cottons.

started with my favorite- a blank piece of paper with the design blocked out roughly.
I cut the shapes out, and used them as templates to iron down the edges of my fabrics-

like this

eyeball the shapes from a distance as they are being stitched down-
the finished base.

I spent a month hand stitching down the top layer, mostly with perle cotton.
the overlay was manipulated and stitched slowly, area by area- each zone responding to and reflecting 
its neighbor.

it's easy to see the crackle effect I painted on top of the raw silk here- I used Jane Dunnewold's flour paste resist technique.

OverGrowth  40x32"


How does alchemy relates to natural dyeing?  Well, I don’t know for sure, but it somehow seems to do. Using natural products and mixing them, boiling them, distilling them, searching for some wonderful result….  Anyway, Alchemy seemed a good theme for my quilt, fitting well with my ‘Magic and Science” theme.

Now I had to find the fabrics.  As I didn’t want to dye them myself, I investigated whether I could buy them – but I found no sellers in the UK.  A few friends do 'eco' dyeing, but their fabrics are all in the ‘beige’ range – totally not appealing to me.

Then I remembered The African Fabric Shop, run by quilter Magie Relph -  I explored the online shop, and talked to Magie. She couldn’t guarantee that all the fabrics were dyed with natural dyes, except for the ones done with Kola nuts. But she thought the indigo was mostly dyed naturally too.  The website describes the complex processes the dyers carry out to obtain the different effects on the fabrics.- colours, shapes, etc - fascinating to read.

So I chose the Kola nut and indigo mix fabric – almost black - for the background.  I then looked at other Kola nut-dyed fabrics, which are beautiful to look at, but still, Kola nuts give mostly a beige tone – not for me.

My eye was caught by another set of fabrics in the website, called Langa Lapu Sun Prints, made in South Africa:

“The name Langa Lapu comes from the Xhosa for 'sun cloth'. And that's just how these wonderful hand-dyed fabrics are created. Leaves, ferns and seed pods from plants indigenous to South Africa combine with the natural elements and eco-friendly dyes to produce these unique sun prints. Langa Lapu uses non-toxic dyes, composts old leaves and recycles when ever possible. For example, vegetation used in the dyeing process is sourced form garden centres and not cut fresh from the bush”.

They come in really strong colours, and the foliage shapes on them are beautiful. So I chose to use Langa Lapu fabrics to make the letters and the flasks, tubes, beakers shapes which I then fused to the background. I enjoyed playing with the colours, and the marks left by the leaves give a great  texture to the fabrics. And I think it is important to support the hard-working South African dyers in their small businesses.

The quilt is 40” high by 31” wide. The indigo fabric leaves a slight stain on my fingers when I handle it, and it has a faint smell – but not unpleasant. In the first of the detail shots you can see (faintly) the straight line quilting I did on the background. I also quilted all around each letter and shape, but that is very close to the edges, so it's not visible in the photographs.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Be natural

In our fast paced world, the trend to eco dyeing and being more in touch with nature for our health and well being has me thinking about how my studio practice fits into this wider world view. I enjoy using the plants around me, mainly for printing but have been known to throw the odd vegetable scrape into a pot with fabric to see what results.
My recent time in Mongolia has alerted me to the use of the natural, non-dyed fibres from Sheep, Yak, Camels and Cashmere goats. Some examples shown above.
Indigo is also an extremely popular plant dye in many cultures and seems to be enjoying a resurgence in the Western world among textile practitioners.
For this challenge I invite you to explore the use of natural products to colour your fabric. Don't be shy- raid the spice shelf or kitchen pantry, pull up your weeds, order in indigo and get a witches brew bubbling!
 I look forward to seeing what  you come up with to use within your chosen theme. Happy New Year!
Length to be 40".

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Natural Conundrum

This challenge presents me with a conundrum.  I don’t dye fabric.  I don’t like messing about with wet processes – yuk! - I haven’t got the facilities, or made the space, to do any dyeing.

However I investigated.  I bought books, read them (!), considered the processes, researched how I could get strong colour with natural dyes.  I discovered mordants and fixatives can be more toxic than procyon dyes. I found that if one wants to get really strong colour, the number of stages mounts up, without guarantee of final success (at least for beginners…)  The book cover below is rather misleading!

I am quite keen on improving our environment, but going around collecting the plants etc that are needed for natural dyeing doesn’t really appeal.  The most ‘natural’ dyeing I have done in the past is to submerge white fabric in strong tea to make it ‘skin tone’, when I used to make dolls.

Rust is a process that I find rather overdone already, and the colour does not appeal to me. I am not a 'beige' person – and most ‘easy’ natural dyes – such as tea, coffee, onion skins – only produce shades of beige and brown. And I need strong colour! Wild colour! I wouldn't know what to do with beige tones...

So eventually I pursued other lines of enquiry and found a solution.

You’ll have to wait till the 27th to find out what it is!