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Archive for February, 2006

Hey Sarai, how’s this for something attractive from the mundane?

I used to love making linoblock prints, but found the linoleum itself to be rather costly. Stamps are great fun, too, but the really nice ones are bloody expensive at around $20 Cdn or thereabouts – that’s two containers of milk, ten pounds of apples and two loaves of bread. For one stamp. And the stamp has 15% tax. So add three cans of frozen juice.

There are smaller ones, of course, but you are once again limited to the designs created by other people. not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you crave the feeling of creative control over the pieces you work on, sometimes you need to go beyond what can be purchased and make your own.

So I was fiddling around with assorted stamps and imprints the other day, when a friend called to say that she had a few meat trays for us, cleaned and all (we don’t eat much meat). Would I like them? Sure would! (Gotta love friends who save weird stuff for you at random!)

So I made a couple of little designs by drawing on the trays with a ballpoint pen. Just little ones at first… They’re 1×1, 1.5×3.5 and 1.5×2.5 inches respectively.

After a few uses, they acquired the colour of the paints used. I actually like the look of the stamps as much as the resulting prints.

I used the Setacolor metallic paints for this project, although I did try a couple of the Lumiere metallic paints (they weren’t dry by the time I took these photos) and was very impressed. I applied the paint with a foam brush and took care to get it fairly even. Then I stamped it down onto pressed fabric laid on a flat surface. Worked nicely. Gluing two layers of the foam togethe makes it easier to grab.

I did try placing the block face up and laying the fabric face down on top of it and applying pressure with a breyer. The only catch with doing it that way is that the fabric has to be very carefully placed and you have to be quite cautious about it shifting or sliding. Stiffened or stabilised fabric worked very nicely this way. If you do opt to place fabric on top of block, put non-skid matting under the block so it won’t slide around the table….

After some smaller scale mucking, I decided to try a slightly larger (5×7) print of a window in a stone wall, much along the lines of the other stone walls I’ve been working on lately. I was sort of thinking of these wall prints as good backgrounds on which to build.

Here’s the styrofoam block, with the design drawn into it with the ballpoint pen again.

And a few of the results, using different coloured paints on different coloured fabrics:




So now I have quite a few similar images. I wonder if it would be interesting to combine them in a book, interspersed with other pages…..

The larger wall prints are also roughly postcard size. Lots of potential for embellishment, too!

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front cover

Basic materials used throughout:

  • covers – super-heavy Pellon stabiliser
  • pages – medium-weight Pellon stabiliser
  • cotton fabrics, mostly, with the odd bit of silk
  • acrylic fabric paints – Pebeo Setacolor with a few touch-ups from Tulip Pearl paints. I often used my calligraphy dip pens for lettering with pearlescent Pebeo paints, watered down slightly.
  • metallic threads of different sorts
  • polyester cording for edges
  • Solvy heavy water-soluable stabiliser (for the autumnal bushes)
  • Wonder-Under
  • Procion MX fibre-reactive dyes
  • Jones Tones plexi glue
  • gesso & ordinary acrylic paints for the CDs
  • Angelina fibres
A few notes:
I was stuck on how to embellish the insides of the covers. I wanted to do something to make them stiffer and had been thinking of something to link the back and front of the tome. I settled on a mandala and a couple of dead CDs presented themselves as obvious choices. I primed them with gesso, painted them and then scratched tree branches and words into them. You can see the irridescence shining through. I stuck them to the covers with Jones Tones glue. I love that stuff!
The coptic stitching was easy as pie. The hardest part was making sure that I looped around the stiches and didn’t punch through strands of cord inadvertently. To that end, I suggest blunt-tipped needles. Also, keep an eye on the stitching pattern for each respective side, as the right and left are mirror images of each other…

Took me about five to ten minutes to stitch. I didn’t need grommets as I used a fairly fine cording. I just punched holes with the tip of my littlest scissors and went on from there.

Definitely a great way to stitch a binding. Just pay attention to the tension as you work. In retrospect, I would probably use hard covers for another of these. The front of my book had fabric-heavy stabiliser-fabric and the back had twice that, but both bent a good bit.

I used the Pellon super-heavy stabiliser for the cover (I really like this stuff) and medium weight for the pages. The pages have two layers of stabiliser sandwiched between two layers of fabric.

When planning one of these, pay attention to the fact that half of the pages will be full spreads and half will be effective separated due to final assembly and arrangement.

I’m addicted. On to another one…

I had a fit of inspiration when I finished that last book, though. I was looking for a container to put it in (finally decided that I have to make one) for storage purposes and was hit across the head by idea idea of making books that fit into receptacles I’ve accumulated over the years (my great-grandmother’s sewing basket, a puzzle-box that came with a treadle sewing machine, ornate boxes of various sorts, a small army case of my grandfathers, my grandmother’s watercolour paint case, etc.). It would even be intriguing to make some that fit into CD or DVD cases, possibly integrating the idea of a book with digital medium visually. Great potential there.

Will let you know how it evolves!

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Book Finished!

Finally finished the book. Phew! It’s a nice little thing – fits comfortably into a hand. I’m quite please, overall. A good inital effort and definitely a great start to book-making.
This is the front cover, done in metallic acrylics with a calligraphy pen and embellished with silver foil.

The spine, after stitching. It’s bound in a Coptic style.

A view of the book, lying flat. It measures 6″ x6″ and is 2 inches thick.

The front cover….
The inside of the front cover. It’s a CD painted, scratched and embellished to  work as a mandala. The paint was scratched away to reveal the holographic shine of the CD. The centre is a piece of fabric embossed with foil.

Inside of the back cover. Done much the same way, but the centre piece is a circle of Angelina Fibers.

Spread one – inside cover and first page.

The right side has a write-up about the islands in the area of Tor’s Cove, Newfoundland; a community on the East Coast Trail.

Spread two – “Storm Rising” (silk on cotton)

Spread three… more on Tors Cove on the left and a sun setting in the woods on the right (paper and cheesecloth on cotton)

Spread four – “Ice-cycles”. Cotton with acrylic paints.

Spread five – “Lost”. Cotton with acrylic paints and tissue/cheesecloth paper.

Spread six – “Echoes”. Cotton with acrylic paints.

Spread seven – “Steps on Leaves”. Cotton with acrylic paints and ink.

Spread eight – “Ablaze”. Cotton with acrylic paints and assorted threads.

Spread nine – “Elegance”. Cottons and inks.

Spread ten – “Wake at dawn”. Cottons with painted cheesecloth.

Spread eleven – “Endings and beginnings”

Back cover

Thus concludeth this book. More projects to come over the weekend!


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Traditionally, I have been worse than average at finishing things. Part of that is due to my basic nature – I fly full-force at a project and need some external impetus (a deadline, etc.) to finish. Recently, though, I have noticed that I finish a far greater percentage of what I start. Part of that is the limits placed upon my time; working around a child and a husband who works long hours forces you to make clear choices about how to spend that most precious of commodities. Part of it, though, may have something to do with skill. I’ve gotten better at what I do in recent years. Quite a bit better.
Now most people who have a hobby have a pile of half-completed projects of varying sorts. Some people have a small basket, some a large room or garage. I’ve even met people who effectively had a basement devoted to “projects yet to complete”.

Quilters call them UFOs (unfinishied objects) and treat them with a combined attitude of benevolence, bemusement, resignation, and pride. You can detect clear notes of both pride and encumbrance in the mix; a pride in having had an idea and started it and a feeling of being weighed down by an unfulfilled obligation. Most of those UFOs never get completed, but they sit there as a testimonial to the creative ideas and executional failings of the individual. Which is fine, to a certain extent, but wouldn’t it be better if they became what the originator actually foresaw or, even better, something more?

Having done what I do for (oh help) around ten years or more, I can honestly say that when I started, I had more ambition than skill and more talent than training. Now that I’ve slogged at it (and part of artistry is slogging, make no mistake) for a decade, it’s possible for me to look back on who I was and recognise the same symptoms in other people.

When I started, I probably finished one out of three pieces that I started. Some were abandoned due to lack of time. Some left me due to my recognition that they weren’t such hot ideas after all. Most, however, stalled at some point because I didn’t have the technical skill or artistic ability to push them into the next stage.

Now, I finish rought nine tenths of what I start work on. Elimination happens in the planning on paper stage. I still encounter those impasses in which you stare blankly at a piece and try to figure out what it needs, but generally I come up with a solution in short order. Part of this is a self-recognition; I need deadlines and now I make certain that I have them. But part is an ability to see the project through its trials and tribulations.

In the past year, I’ve done some slate-clearing with regards to residual UFOs from years gone by. As you get better and the UFOs get older, they start to taunt you and haunt you. They’re no longer cute in any way, but rather a painful list of things you didn’t or couldn’t do. So here’s my remedy:

  • rename them. They’re not UFOs (a cute name) but projects in limbo
  • categorise projects in limbo as
  1. valuable for sentimental reasons (that quilt your grandmother started, for instance)
  2. stupid ideas or bad execution of no real value to you
  3. things that could be disassembled for materials, cut up and reintegrated in a new way into a current work. This includes things that could be painted over, frayed, burned, or in some other way rendered useful.
  4. things that should be finished
  • pick up each project only once and make a final decision about it before you put it down again
  • go with your gut insinct, but overrule your packrat voice
  • pack up category one and label “For My Children” – don’t think of it as an obligation but an heirloom.
  • put category two and all of its bits and pieces into a bag. Put all the bags in a box. Contact your local craft association or quilt guild. They often have fundraising sales or give materials to charities. Get them out of your house.
  • pack up category three and think of them not as UFOs, but rather, pieces to be worked into other things.
  • put category four items in workbaskets and start working on them within the week. If you hate every second, turn them into category threes or twos and get them off your plate. If you haven’t finished or made substantial progress on them within six months, ditch them.
  • The hardest part is deciding whether something is category two, three or four. When in doubt, throw it out. Trust me. If you’ve gotten better at what you do, you have enough skill to redo something better than the obkect you’re pitching.
  • By passing things along to charities or recycling them, you can assuage your “waste not” demon. Someone else will view them as treasures.

Ultimately, what you create for yourself is more physical space and less mental clutter.

There’s no shame in recognising that, at some point, for a variety of reasons, you couldn’t finish a bunch of projects. That’s no reason to let them bog you down mentally. Take note of your recent pursuits… have you finished more in recent years than you did in the past? How have your improved abilities made this easier? Don’t you owe it to yourself to clear some clutter (both physically and mentally) and to move forward in keeping with your creative and technical talents? Don’t you owe it to the projects you started to get them off the shelf and into some sort of finished state?
Go on! You can do it! Step out of the murk and mire of your unfinished projects.

Notice the lack of emphasis on actually finishing them – you’ll probably find that things that have sat for a year or more simply aren’t worth it.

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I’ve been working through the concept of stone wall construction in churches and ruins and have been struggling with how to add depth to the pieces. The quick study of a ruined arch at dawn has since been quilted and, while it’s difficult to see the texture and depth added to the piece through the stitching in this photograph, the result is a subtle curvature to each individual rock.

The sparkly stuff is shredded lamé overlaid with sparkly tulle. Initially, I had quilted a traditional feather design that started in the lower right corner and swooped upwards, but that just wasn’t working, so I added the lamé and tulle, quilted with swirls. In my mind, it simultaneously represents the mists of dawn and the enduring spirit that inspired the construction of the building. (You’re welcome to find your own meanings, of course, as always.)

So then I went back to working on the arch on tissue/glue/dye paper and hummed and hawed over that for a bit. After a bit of experimentation, I discovered exactly how flat things look when ironed to paper and how, when the paper itself is wrinkled, the resulting adherents are also wrinkled-looking. This wasn’t what I was going for, but I still wanted to be able to see the background between the rocks. I came up with the idea of ironing the rocks to a sheer fabric and overlaying that on the paper background.

The problem with that concept is that most sheers (at least the ones I have currently in stock) fuse at a lower temperature than the cotton. Essentially I’d fuse the cotton to melted goo. Not appealing for this project. Then I remember my painted cheesecloth collection.

Whenever I paint fabric, I take the left-over paint and dump it onto cheesecloth and let the cloth dry. I now have a bizarre assortment of hand-painted cheesecloth pieces that are beyond useful. They’re amazingly good for all sorts of bizarre textures. And they’re cotton.

So I fused the rock pieces to the cheesecloth and made a quick study to see how it looks. Here’s a detailed shot of the stones on the cloth:

As an added bonus, painted cheesecloth doesn’t unravel as much as the plain or dyed cheesecloth; the paint acts as a sort of a binding agent. Very handy.

Here’s the almost complete mini-study I made last night as prep for the larger pieces to be started today. This morning I added silver foiling to the outline of the interior window and outlined a bit of detailon the window’s framing in silver as well. This piece is a scant 6″ square. Here’s a quick look (before foil):

To round things off, I’ve started planning the borders for the Ferryland Lighthouse piece. I’m getting somewhere. I think.

And now it’s back to work….

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On the design wall…

It’s been a slow week, but I need to post something, if for no other reason than to reassure myself that I have actually been working. I know I’ve been thinking, mulling, ruminating and planning, but it helps to see actual results periodically so as to validate the thought process!

Making progress on the pillars of the church in “Foundations”. I’m currently auditioning fabrics for the concrete ruins and planning ways of possibly adding light and shadow to the piece as a whole.

It’s in the “post it on the wall of the studio and think about it” stage, which means it sits there until I tweak it to satisfaction or until an epiphany drags me in an entirely new direction. It’s about 40″x 30″ and will likely finish up at around those dimensions.

The pages of my book are coming along quite nicely. I jest need to finish a few, add text to many and then organise and edge the leaves. It’ll be bound in a Coptic-style binding. So it’s getting there.

You can see the pages a bit more closely here:

And here:

The lighthouse scene is coming along quite nicely. Fabric selection done, placement done and now have to do some work on the waves in the foreground. I’ve already started thinking about the borders and have a pretty clear plan in mind for how they’ll look.

A detail of the lighthouse and point below. Overall, I’m quite happy with this piece. I’m a little burned out on doing lighthouses, although they always seem to sell well. This summer, one of my plans is to take some outings to lighthouses I haven’t yet portrayed and acquire a new set of pictures and sketches for the coming year. Lighthouse pieces are certainly dramatic. If I can retain the enjoyment of making them, they’ll be much better works. To do that, I need fresh material! Still, this one is pretty good. I think the sky and ocean make it.

Must toodle off now. Hopefully I’ll get a good chunk of work time this weekend and will have more to show for the week afterwards!

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Sorry about the pun. I couldn’t help it. Really. I know there must be a rehab programme for punsters, but first you have to want to quit…..

Anyway, back to the topic that instigated the abuse of the English language; illustrating rocks in the fabric medium. When first I started making pictorial fibre art, I had a tricky time with rocks. No matter how you cut it, commercial rock fabric doesn’t look like rocks. There’s something more needed. Rocks have depth and texture. They have shading. They get wet. They catch the sunlight and gleam. They have lichens, bugs and bird poop. A simple chunk of commercial rock fabric just doesn’t have those aspects. I was searching for a way to create realistic rocks when I happened upon a snippets technique, by Cindy Walter.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, basically you use snippets of fabric backed with fusible layered like brushstrokes on a fabric “canvas”. I didn’t actually read any of her books in depth, nor did I spend much time working through the technique as she uses it, but I did take the basic steps as a starting point. Essentially, you pick out the range of hues, shades and tints that you need, cut a six-inch square from each, back the square of fabric with a square of Steam-a-Seam 2 (which is sticky to the touch and therefore stays put even before you iron it to fuse) and snip bits off onto a piece of fabric. You sculpt and create the shapes and shadows you want by adding snippets here and there.


Nota bene: for making rocks to work, you must do two things. Firstly, you must actually look at rocks, notice their contours and shapes and see how they cast shadows, both on the ground and within themselves. Secondly, you must decide from which direction the light source in your composition will be coming. Shadows are caused by light hitting something through which it cannot pass and leaving the space behind that thing in darkness. If you haven’t a clue as to where the light is coming from, you can’t possibly make realistic shadows.

This works fabulously well for rocks. I drew the outline of the rock shapes I wanted, put them on an ironing board, laid a piece of parchment paper or a translucent Teflon pressing sheet over the outline and filled the space in with snippets. I started with light colours and worked my way to dark, adding little jigs and jags here and there as needed. The resulting piece was peeled off the sheet, trimmed and fused to the main work. I then stitched it down, to be doubly sure it weren’t goin’ nowhere fast. The pieces on the right thus far were made using that technique.

Eventually, though, I needed other techniques for making rocks. I also needed to be able to make whole beaches full of smaller stones. You can appreciate that the snippets techniques were somewhat labour-intensive for cobblestone beach types of work.

Painting rock fabric is actually pretty darned easy, it turns out. It’s simply a matter of painting fabric without watering down the fabric paints much. I might add a drop or two of blue, a tinge of red or whatever other hue I need to make the rock fabric required. I use Pebeo Setacolor transparent paints (in Canada, get ’em from G&S Dye). The paints come in a concentrate, which I remix as half paint, half water. Normally when working with these, I dilute them again by half while mixing them during painting, but when painting rocks, I dilute them only a very little in this second stage. Keep a test cloth for checking and remember that they’ll dry lighter than they look while wet. Stretch the fabric on a board, don’t mist it at all, or only very lightly, if you must.

Painting dark colours works best on hot, dry days. When the paints dry fast, they stay higher on the fabric and are not diluted by the fabric’s whiteness as much. When they take longer to dry, they are lighter. a drop or two of pearl paint for sheen. I generally use the white pearl, but have tried the black. Doesn’t seem to make much difference, really. Both work well. I generally mix two or three different shades of black or grey and apply them randomly with a sea sponge. To some, I add a sprinkling of coarse salt (the kosher pickling kind) for texture. You can see the results at right. Iron or bake to heat set. Don’t forget to brush off the salt!

Using these fabrics to create rocky shores is actually quite easy. I pick a piece that I want to use, estimate how much I’ll need and back that bit with Wonder-Under (Steam-a-Seam is expensive and I don’t really need the adhesive-before-ironing quality for this construction. I then cut out long strips that have bumpy tops, like the top of a smooth-rocked beach. Taking my trusty black fabric pen (or a fine paintbrush and black paint), I trace the definition of individual rocks. You can see two pieces in the preliminary stages at left.

Again with the paint or pen, I shade in the darker areas of the rocks, keeping in mind the direction whence cometh the light. Sometimes I use paint, sometimes ink, sometimes black pearl paint, as in the example at left. Often, when making many strips of rocks for a large piece, I’ll mix and match, doing some of each for a non-homogeneous effect.

After I’ve made sufficient rock pieces for my purposes and the pieces are completely dry, I arrange them on the composition background in whatever manner I need. The example at left shows how I’ve arranged them, working from back to front and overlapping them. Before I fuse anything in place, I arrange the entire thing, because you never know when you might need to add a blade of grass or a tree….

Fusing the piece not only attaches it to the background, but it heat-sets the paint or ink. In order to create still more texture and to reassure myself that the rocks aren’t ever going to come off without a crowbar, I make sure to quilt the lines defining the individual rocks and the outlines of the strips. This makes them bumpy physically as well as visually, taking advantage of the sculptural aspects of fabric.

One of the pieces on which I’m currently working uses the hand-painted fabrics backed with fusibles, but in a technique more reminiscent of snippets. I’m currently working on achieving the textures found on seastacks, having now established the basic form. More as I progress…..


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