Tuesday, 1 April 2014

And when I wasn't dyeing...

... I was making postcards.

I've made two postcards for swapping at Fibrecircle. I really enjoy making this postcard each month, because I usually begin with one of my paint rags. The paint rags are really one-of-a-kind pieces of cloth, mostly cotton, usually given multiple processes. That can mean dyeing, block printing, monotyping, screen printing, painting, resists, deconstructed screen printing, being used as a drop cloth or as a clean up rag. The result is usually very complex.

My first postcard this year was called Faerie: The Bonny Road, a reference to the ballad Thomas the Rhymer, about Thomas of Learmonth. Thomas met the Queen of Faerie and went with her to Faerie. She shows him the "broad road that lies across the lily land", the Path of Wickedness which leads to Hell; "the narrow road, thick beset with thorns and briars" called The Path  of Righteousness leading to heaven, "though after it but few enquire". The third road is "the bonny road that winds about the ferny brae", which they will take to Faerie.

I thought it might be interesting to share the process. I began with a not-quite-square piece of quilters' muslin. It was used as a paint rag back in 2010.

It looked a bit pale and the white was too stark, so I threw it into the wash water after a dyeing session in 2011, to add some colour.

That made it look a bit forest-like, so I filed it away with that in mind.  Then it got used as a paint rag again.

In April 2012, I grabbed it to add as a top layer on a stack of sun-painted fabrics, to hold the top layer of resists in place. I hadn't tried that sandwich method before, so it didn't occur to me that all the colour from the stack beneath would migrate into the top layer of cloth.


It was very dark and full of pigment.

I thought about screen printing over it with white Supercover, which has given me good results before. But somehow that didn't happen.

When I was looking for the basis of a postcard, it appealed to me because it had the suggestion of a forest, but the heavy pigment made it misty and vague. I imagined the road to Faerie would be not very clear to human eyes.

I cut a 7in x 5in section from the cloth, tacked it to a Timtex base and began to paint it.

I added the Timtex at this point, because I intended to add stitch, once I had shaped out the general form, but as I went along, I felt this would be too hard-edged. The painting was mostly adding dark shadows and highlights, to draw out what was already there.

This photo was partway along, when I was still shaping out what was there into a coherent landscape.

Once I had the image the way I liked it, I cut a backing fabric from another piece of cloth. I folded the edges of the front around the Timtex and folded the edges of the backing fabric in. I like to mitre the corners by folding the corners in first, ensuring the edges are at right angles, and then folding the edges into a neat mitre. I hand stitched the edges together with embroidery thread, making a delicate picot edge.
Faerie: the Bonny Road

It doesn't photograph terribly well, but it's just as I imagined it.

My second postcard was inspired by some journal work we did at Fibrecircle last year. We took turns to choose themes and one was Under the Sea. I wanted to look at unusual things under the sea, so I researched the strange creatures in the Marianas Trench and did some sketches in my journal.

On the basis of those, I wanted to create my own sea monster. I was interested in the Kraken. As a child, I was told that the sea monsters mentioned in the bible, that rise from the deep, included the Kraken. I was interested in the way ideas of the Kraken have changed. Nowadays, influenced by Hollywood, we think of the Kraken as a kind of giant squid, but originally it was a Norwegian monster that surfaced from the deep occasionally, fooling sailors into thinking it was an island. I see it as a mammoth creature with a confusing structure, so that when it comes to the surface, it's not immediately clear what it is.

I started out with a paint rag again. This piece of cloth was originally block printed with a stamp lent to me by Erica Spinks, about a decade ago. It was used as a paint rag in the intervening time. It looked a bit unfocused so, in early 2012, I started drawing black lines on it, to add pattern. It finished up looking like this:

I cut off the bottom left hand corner section, which seemed to offer possibilities for my sea monster. I painted a dark blue background because this is a creature of the depths, but you can still see traces of the original textured stamp.

I wanted my Kraken to look enough like an island to fool sailors but also to have some of the scary features of the Marianas Trench creatures; the spikes and teeth that make them look so fearsome. I'm not sure I achieved that, but I like what I did.

I cut a backing and some Timtex and trimmed the front to 6in x 4in. I layered the front, Timtex and backing and held the lot together with paperclips, which works much better than pins for these thick items.

I didn't want the edges to be too neat on this one, because the creature itself is not neat or limited too much by boundaries.  I took two textured yarns and attached them to the edges with a row of satin stitch in machine embroidery thread, and then added another round of satin stitch inside the first.
So that's it. Just a bit of fun, really!

Latest experiments

It's been a bad year for creating things so far - I'm hoping it's going to improve! Just a combination of things that have made for fewer playdays.

I have done a few things - nothing like what I wanted.

One thing I've been doing is experimenting with using resists on my newly-acquired silk painting frame. I've never tried painting on silk this way, as I love the sometimes serendipitous effects you get from less controlled ways of dyeing. But there have been times when I needed some way to control the silk, while I did various things to it.

My first attempts were just to see for myself what dye did on stretched silk. I had some concept of the likely outcomes from our Shibori and other methods, but I needed to try it myself, as a kind of base position for trying out various resists.

Here's my first scarf, in the frame:
Apologies for the angle - it's hard to photograph!

I left lots of space for the dye to wick into and used what felt like a very scant amount of dye. Even so, the pattern largely disappeared (I'm sure sager heads than mine are nodding!).
 The colours all blended together, in the way I like to exploit when dyeing out of the frame, but had hoped to avoid this way, by more judicious use of dye. I can get this effect without the bother of a frame. I see that syringes, even used gently, won't get the effect I want and I need to move to brushes. I think I'll probably also get better effects using Drimafix, so that's on the list too.

I dyed this one in stripes, which I blended across in some places, and that's been fairly effective...

... but that's mostly because I was concerned about the amount of dye and rolled another scarf onto the surface.
 This looks like nothing much in the main picture but the detail is shows these beautiful delicate patterns that I couldn't have achieved easily with my other methods.

 Then I moved on to resists. The obvious resist for this kind of dyeing is Gutta.  I had some Supergutta, a water soluble form of Gutta, and I used it to draw on a silk scarf, but that scarf is still waiting for dye to be added next time.

A while ago, I also bought a resist called Inkodye Resist. It's made from cassava root and reminds me more than anything of honey. It has the same colour and has the same habit of gluing things together and being sticky, hours after you thought you'd washed the last bit off yourself! I'd tried it before and it really doesn't like being too wet (no surprises there, it washes off in warm water, after all!).  I wondered if it would work if I used it on a frame, with a lot less dye.

I decided to use cotton, which takes dye in a very different way from silk. I used a narrow-tip bottle to draw on ivory quilters' muslin on two quarter-metre pieces and a syringe to give a thicker line on a third fat quarter. The thickness of the line wasn't significant to the outcome.

These two were drawn with the bottle.

This one was drawn with the syringe. It was much harder to maintain control with the syringe!

When the resist was dry, I added dye in different sections of the three designs, using a brush. In all cases, the resist didn't prevent the dye wicking between sections of the design.  That was disappointing, but I'd had similar results with this resist on silk out of the frame, so it wasn't surprising. It clearly isn't good for this kind of application.

I deliberately used a light coloured dye, because I had a plan B. I switched to dye thickened with DR33 and painted it in swathes across the first design, paying no attention to the lines of resist.

The application was quite thick, because I wanted to ensure good coverage, and because the thickened dye had been standing for some months and I thought the colour might not be very strong.

I painted the dye onto the second one using the lines as a guide but without trying to stay within them, but allowing the overlapping areas to blend.
I painted largely within the lines on the third one, more as a control than with any expectation of creating a fabulous piece of cloth. (Just as well!)

Here are the results.
I like this one - it worked just the way I hoped it would. Obviously, one way to use this resist is to use it to create lines and pattern, with thickened media.

I like this one too. Some areas really pop using this method of applying the colour - kind of partial colouring-in.

This isn't exactly Great Art but it shows that the resist works well to divide areas, when the medium is thickened.

So that was quite illuminating!

I had some fat quarters lying about, so I used the last of the dyes I had out to space-dye them.  It's a mix of the thickened dyes I'd used and some un-thickened dye. They're not quite this pale but again, as the thickened dye was old, there was quite a loss of intensity.

I think they're really pretty. They make me think of the skies in old paintings, so they may be the start of a Celestial Skies collection of fat quarters.

So that was a fun day's dyeing! I hope to share more of my experiments, as they happen!