Archive for the ‘techniques’ Category

One of the things I’ve often found to be a great remedy for artistic blockage is fabric painting and dyeing. Painting more so than dyeing, truth to tell. Having completely depleted my hand-painted fabric supply over the past few months, I decided to have a go at some skies and oceans.

Normally I paint outside, with the mess factor weighing in heavily as  a reason. February in Newfoundland is not exactly….. warm, however, so I set up the studio for some inside work and turned up the heat a wee tad to speed drying.


I painted this lot on corrugated plastic sheets, which are light-weight, resilient, waterproof, flat and easily stored. These are 48″ square, which is a comfortable size for working with indoors in a small studio. When I’m not painting on them, I use them as design walls and pin pieces in progress to them.

As you can see, I had a successful day. This is only some of what was accomplished. I painted about eight metres of fabric, all told.

night skies
Night ocean and sky, drying.

Summer sky, drying.

My studio, waiting for the paint to dry!


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Over the last few days, I’ve been preparing summer stock for two of the shops I supply. Most places around here like to be in full swing by mid-May, so I generally aim to have things in their hands by mid-April.

This week has been a week of birches. I use hand-dyed cotton fabric (low water immersion dyes using Procion MX, in case you’re interested) for the backgrounds and fussy-cut the pieces for specific spots in the fabric. Wastage is minimal, however, as the smaller works (4.5″ squares, for instance) can make excellent use of sections of fabric that would look just plain wrong for larger backgrounds. Below are thumbnails of two of the pieces used:

7a 6b

The trees are a commercial (ugly as sin) fabric that, when cut into strips, looks not bad at all. I cut the strips freehand with a rotary cutter (yes, it’s tricky to get things even) and tend to cut from several different pieces of the same fabric so that the trees don’t all end up having the same curvature or the same repeats in the fabric print.

As you can see below, the background with the strips laid in place:


These will be cut into three panels each when finished, hence the somewhat odd arrangements of tree trunks.

When working in a series like this, I also streamline the process by cutting out fifty or a hundred trees at once and then arranging them afterwards to suit the individual composition. I’ve discovered that I don’t really like being a one-woman assembly line, churning out the same piece time after time. I prefer to work on a reasonable number of pieces that are of a similar theme in one go. This allows me more variety, less stultification and, most importantly, gives each piece the attention and space it needs to be original as it grows and evolves.

After laying the trees in place, I then hand-shade the trees to add curvature to the trunks. As you can see below, the effect is not only one of added depth, but also adds drama to the composition and enhances the effect of the trees moving towards the viewer, off the background. The work is built up another layer from the furthest visual point.

I’ve spent several days penning in the details on these tree pieces and can say with certainty that if the devil isn’t in the details, he sure as hell rejoices in their existence.  Small, refined motions of shading for days on end are not good for the body.

A shot of two smaller pieces showing the shading(these were two of my favourites from the week)


The effect is even visible from a distance in the larger pieces:

Shading done!

It’s interesting to see the contrast between shaded and unshaded trees in the same piece. The first shot below is half-shaded. The second shot is with shading complete.

before & after 3after entire

Today’s task is to pen in all the branches, layer the piece with stabiliser and push the whole batch towards completion. To that end I have to:

  • add branches
  • stabilise panels
  • cut panels into tryptiches
  • prepare backings and attach hanging devices
  • layer panels with backing and centre stiffener (plastic canvas is a wonderful stiffener for such things; inert, waterproof, doesn’t stain and won’t kill a sewing machine if you accidentally or purposefully sew through it. Cheap, too.)
  • stitch edges
  • attach cording
  • apply glue
  • apply foil for leaves (Foiling is always the last step for these pieces.)

The result will be a variation on this (apologies for the rotten picture):

green birches

With details looking like this (again, bad picture. Colours wrong. Sorry. Will photograph the current series properly when completed!):

blue birches detail 2

blue birches detail 1

blue birches detail 3

And some of the smaller pieces from a past rendition of this idea:

foiled birches

foiled birches many

So I’m off to work. Proper pictures will follow…..

a quickr pickr post

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Ah, I love having an chance to play with some new products. Recently I wandered through Kent Hardware store (Kent are the spawn of Irving, a New Brunswick company) and discovered that they are ceasing to carry the Pebeo line of art supplies. The remainder of the paints were seriously discounted (I paid $1.30 CDN for a $7 bottle) and included some of the silver glitter finish and the expandable paints. Score!

The silver glitter finish isn’t bad at all. It’s basically glitter in some sort of acrylic medium suitable for use on fabric. You can paint it on already painted and dried fabric and the base dries clear. You can also mix it in with the other acrylic-based paints. Opaque paints will obscure the glitter a good bit (unless the glitter happens to be on top of the paint), but the transparent paints mix well with it and the transparency of the paint allows the glitter to shine through, although the sparkle is somewhat diminished.

The glitter hold on well during a wash (I didn’t machine dry it) and is fine after being ironed with a pressing cloth (ironing the fabric from the back would likely achieve the same effect). It seems to rub off a bit when you rub it hard, so it’d probably be better for things that got minimal abrasion and washing.

The sparkle of this isn’t overpowering, also, so it’d be reasonable to use moderately in landscape quilts (snow in moonlight, for instance, or water shimmering). Heat setting makes a definite difference to how well the glitter adheres, btw.

The expandable paint was also rather niffy. I’d read about it a bit in Quilting Arts (issue 24, winter 2006 – Linda Schmidt) and was therefore rather keen to add it to my repertoire of techniques and tools. Finding it on sale was an added bonus!

I tried it several different ways. Firstly, painted on parchment paper rather thickly, allowed to dry, ironed and then peeled off. This gives me the option of creating pieces that could be sewn or glued as layers in a work. The resulting pieces were rather brittle, however, so care needs to be used in peeling them off and handling them. They painted nicely, though:


The expandable paint was wonderfully easy to work with, although I think a squeeze bottle with a fine applicator tip would be excellent for very detailed work. As it expands in all directions after heating, you need to start with rather fine lines for such things as tree branches:


But I like the effect. It’s white and dries white, so tinting it before using is helpful. After it has dried and then been heated, you can rather easily paint right over it as I did with the tree above. A keeper as far as materials go!

Finally, I ‘ve been playing with the Sprinklettes (not a girl group from the fifties), purchased at Michaels.

Basically, it’s iridescent glitter that can be mixed with paint and used on fabric. You can also stick it on with fabric glue. I’ve only played with this a little, but I have found the following:

  • it needs to be mixed with its adhesive, not just sprinkled on top
  • if just sprinkled on top, much of it will wash or rub off
  • a fine coat of thinned fabric glue over top of it really helps to keep it on
  • it mixes well with fabric paints, especially transparent ones
  • it’s quite visually powerful and easily overdone
  • it is attracted to everything via static electricity
  • it gets everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Places that will astonish and thrill your husband kind of everywhere.

Here’s what colours come in the bottle:glitter_bottom.jpg

Now that I’ve got the sparklies out of my system (and underwear), I’m off to do some preliminary sketches for another series.

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It’s not really “work” work, but…

Soy-wool, felted

I’ve been knitting a lot, lately, in and around other things. I don’t knit in the warmer months as I find my hands just get too sweaty, but cold winter evenings are perfect for clicking together needles (I like bamboo) and wool. This winter, I’ve discovered the joys of felting or fulling wool and have been trying different types of wools, just for kicks. This is a 70% wool, 30% soy silk mixture, which is beautifully soft to handle and felts rather nicely.

Warning note: make sure you felt wools inside some sort of bag (i.e. a pillowcase) when using the washing machine. Felting sheds fibres and the soy-wool mixture sheds more than most!


sample of soy-wool

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fabrics 3

Dyeing fabric is an addiction. Painting it is bad enough, but requires more work and drying space and is therefore self-limiting, in some respects. But low-water immersion dyeing? Fast, easy, accomplishes large volumes in a batch and seeing the results is incredibly inspiring.

Two evenings’ work, spread out on the ironing board….

Now to chop it up, pick out the pieces that are specifically for my own work and sell the rest…. (prices are $18 CDN per metre, or $5 per Canadian fat quarter if you’re interested, plus shipping. – Canadian fqs are slightly bigger at approximately 20 x 21 because we sell by the metre which is 39″ instead of 36″).

fabrics 1

Might do some more tonight, probably greens and yellows!

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If you were thinking I had a table at a little flea market affair, you’ll need to adjust your vision a tad. This fair (held by the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador) allocates booth space and bases the fees on a combination of on square footage, shape and location. Here’s the schedule of fees for the past fair. I had an 8 x 4 aisle booth. The structure of it was originally designed to display my mother’s stock of bears, dolls, fairies, mermaids, rabbits, beavers and other critters, but with a little tweaking, it did a very nice job for my purposes. (Thanks for lending it, Mom!)
Fee Schedule 2006

On the side you can see that each booth has a reasonable wattage available for use.  I used the equivalent of 1100 watts to light my booth, which made is marvelously light and enhanced the vibrant colours tremendously. I used a mixture of florescent and incandescent in order to balance the spectrum a bit. I couldn’t afford all full-spectrum florescent bulbs, but the mixture worked really well. The florescent bulbs also don’t get hot and don’t heat up the lamps, so repositioning them was easy. To boot, if I had a bigger booth I could have used many more lights by using florescent bulbs, as the wattage is low proportionate to the candlepower emitted.

Here’s a diagram of the booth, with the lighting and rough direction indicated in brown:


The panels are four feet wide and seven high. The back panels were navy and the side were off-white, which allowed people to see the work against a dark or light value, depending on their walls at home. The dark background also showed off certain pieces exceptionally well, whereas the light sides bounced the light around nicely. The table was for me to work at while doing demonstrations and also provided customers with a place to mull over which particular purchase they wished to make.

Everything on walls was displayed above waist level. The long table across the back of the booth held beach rocks which were interspersed with products similar to those on the wall, but on stands. Business cards were scattered throughout. Tables and shelves were all draped in light coloured fabrics to reflect light, although the top of the long table in back was topped with silky blue, to thematically go with the beach rocks.

The side panels held large pieces while the back panels held a mixture of medium and small. Groupings were thematically organised.  I switched the layout around a bit throughout, but here’s a rough idea of how things went, flattened out:


The hot spots were the three-panel spot to the right of the middle panels, although the entirety of the right side of the big section (the back, btw) was fairly hopping all through the exhibition.

I placed smaller items on the tables on either edge of the booth and scattered lower-priced items here and there. This worked amazingly well, as people often seemed to see things they like as they were leaving or were pulled into the booth by the first price tags they saw being low. Many bought larger pieces.

All-in-all, this display worked rather nicely. I have some modifications in mind for next year, including hard panels throughout (the side panels were cloth attached with Velcro) and easily accessible storage units. Also, I need better signage. Plans are in place for all of these aspects.

Stupidly, I didn’t take pictures. I should have, I realise, but somehow it escaped me this time. I’ll check around and see if someone else did. I did a few interviews and there were photographers present, so who knows what’s out there?! If I find any, I’ll post ’em.

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Much of my smaller work involves cutting squares, rectangles and strips of fabric, some of which is attached to stabiliser and some of which is not. I also produce my own tags, business cards and custom-fold and trim my brochures. Doing those things by hand, with a rotary cutter and straight edge is not difficult, just time-consuming and ultimately hard on the wrists.

The other day I picked up this little gem:


It’s a Fiskars paper trimmer. It takes the same rotary blades as my larger rotary cutter and works for fabric as well as for paper, card-stock, stabiliser and other flat things. I use it primarily for squaring off my rectangular pieces and cutting the backings. It’s saving me buckets of time and is by far easier on my hands and wrists as I no longer have to put pressure on a ruler or worry about the straight edge slipping. It also works in such a way that my hands are well clear of the blade and there’s no chance of my “missing” the edge of the ruler and slicing my fingers (haven’t done this yet, but have come darned close).

In short, it’s marvelous. The surface area is 13.5″ long (in the direction that the cutter travels) and 12″ wide, which means that I can rough-cut a super-long strip of stabilised 5.5″ fabric and slice it easily into 9″ lengths, the rough-cut sides of which can then be trimmed and tidied without spending endless hours lining things up with the ruler.

The only modification that would be nice is a lock of some sort that could be attached when not in use to keep little fingers away.

If only the Fiskars circle-cutters for paper worked on cottons reinforced with stabiliser. Anyone tried these?

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