One of the few staff development seminars I recall was F.A.T, or file, act, toss. The idea was to clear your overflowing desk by going through all the paperwork on it and decide whether to keep it (file,) respond to it (act,) or throw it out (toss.) I used the process with my pile of surface design experiments when said pile fell to the closet floor. The pile is now smaller and neater.
Once I threw out experiments that were beyond help – too overworked, just not appealing, etc. – I chose two to act on. The first is a painting experiment with an empty toilet paper roll cut to flare out. You dip the flared out end in paint and dab it onto fabric. I used it for free motion practice, and gingered up the color with oil pastels. It may become a pillow cover.
Next, I finished quilting an ancient sampler from about 2005. It was made from scraps left from an Amish type wall hanging, and I had hand quilted about half of it. Knowing I would never finish the hand quilting, I completed it with machine quilting and bound it.
With some actions under my belt, next I turned to the file pile. I tend to have groups of experiments in similar colors or themes as they were done in one session. Here are a few of those groups.
Finally, I decided to keep pieces of dropcloths that could make good backgrounds and a screened linen piece that I just don’t know what to do with.
I didn’t photograph my discards, though some of you may think I still have plenty to toss. I have lots more in my pile, but those bits are cut into squares in anticipation of a future project.
Are you a hoarder of such experiments or are you more ruthless than I am?
Do you have old pressed glass pieces hanging around your abode? I inherited plates, bowls, small pitchers, and cups done up in pressed glass that were meant to pass for crystal or cut glass. Because it was machine molded it was much more affordable than crystal, which explains why my family, with modest means but a desire to emulate the more well to do, owned pressed glass. I use my inherited pieces on occasion, but didn’t think much about them until I discovered margarts.com.
Actually, I discovered her videos on Instagram which show her printing a wide variety of fruits, veggies, scissors, and pressed glass onto fabric with printing ink. The technique is like the old potato printing you may have done in school, but done more imaginatively. I was eager to try artichoke printing, but I had pressed glass, printing ink, and fabric on hand, so off I went.
First, here are a few of Margaret’s efforts with pressed glass. She makes up her prints into pouches and needle cases.
Then, here are my initial efforts. You can see I’m still working on the correct amount of ink.
It turns out I used that pressed glass pattern some years ago.
Since I had my table set up for printing I dusted off my Gelli plate and printed weed leaves and stencils on old napkins used as mop cloths and silk scraps. For these I used Jacquard textile paints.
My final experiments were on crinoline that I had stitched pleats into and painted. For some reason my textile paint was quite watery and so it didn’t stick evenly to the plate when I rolled it out.
Maybe I’ll cut up the plate prints into quarters and do a drunkards path type pattern. For now they sit on the top of my pile of experiments.
Finally it’s done, I thought as I sewed the hanging sleeve on “Shattered” yesterday. Unlike most of my work, this piece has been a multi-year effort. I wrote about its genesis from a photo of a broken mirror earlier (here and here.) To recap, I had Spoonflower print fabric from my photo in 2019, did the initial composition in 2020, solidified the design in early 2021, and quilted the piece in June and July of 2021.
Usually it wouldn’t take me four weeks to quilt a small (roughly 2 by 3 feet) piece, but problems with my neck have limited my sewing machine time. Like Nora Ephron “I Feel Bad About My Neck.” In my case though the bad feeling is from pain, not vanity.
The materials I used besides the printed photo include hand dyed cotton and damask, silver lame, and novelty yarn.
You’d think I would choose to go light on the quilting. Hah!
I did walking foot and free motion quilting using six different threads, including metallic, which was a pain as usual. The edges are faced, but I tried sewing 1/8 inch grosgrain ribbon along the raw edges before adding the facings. It’s a technique for stabilizing edges I read about in a Jean Wells’ book. It seems to reduce waviness, but the true test will be on a larger quilt.
I’m relieved to have it done and be able to move on to a new project. At this point I can’t tell how I feel about it beyond relief since I’ve been so close to it for four weeks. I should reach a better assessment after I’ve ignored it for a few months.
Ever since I took Tansy Hargan’s “From Sketchbook to Wall” course I have wanted to use painted fabric on a larger scale than 10 inches square, with a lot more glue, and maybe even forget about thread. In essence I wanted to move from a three layer quilt to fabric collage. Restrictions on the amount of time I can spend actually sewing spurred me to combine a photo printed on fabric with leftover hunks of cut up clothing already painted with acrylic. The painted hunks, ripped and rough with some curled edges, are stuck on a foundation with matte medium. The result is quite stiff and grungy.
My starting point was a fabric printed photo taken by Penny and a dye experiment leftover from a theatrical costume.
I sewed the dye experiment to the photo and backed it with iron-on nonwoven interfacing. Then I started to position the hunks, adding bits of painted heavy non-fusible interfacing from my experiments pile.
More pinning bought me to this stage.
I think I’ll add a bit of sewing to make sure the pieces stay in place, though how much I add will be a function of how difficult it is to sew over the stiff surface. I may also add bits of paint.
I want to thank Julie Fei-Fan Balzar and her blog for introducing me to Margo Hoff. That post has tons of photos of Hoff’s work, so I recommend you check there for a visual feast. Hoff painted canvas fabric with vivid solid colors and then cut it up to make multi layer collages on canvas. Color, curves, transparency – her work has everything I want to do.
As digital fabric printing becomes more prevalent, fabric users have even more choices for printing their own without resorting to the vagaries of their home printers. The latest SAQA Journal has a good comparison by the Pixeladies of fabric printing services. In the future I may try some of the services reviewed, but for now I’m sticking with Spoonflower as I know their interface and have been satisfied with their work. And it doesn’t hurt that they’ve been running 20% off sales.
I’ve turned to photos printed on fabric as a way to continue creating now that intense piecing is literally painful for me. I aspire to create work like the one below, but I’ve a ways to go.
Jill Kerttula uses fabric printed photographs as a starting point for her work. Her blog entry about “6 of Chaos”shows her process. You can see more of her work on her website.
From my latest fabric order I created “Corrugated,” which uses four fat quarters of Photoshop edited versions of a photo my friend Penny took. I’ve inset narrow strips of varying widths to spice up the palette.
I don’t know if I’ll add more embellishment or quilt it as is. Any opinions are welcome.
Inspiration for how to deal with another fabric from the same order has been slow in coming. This is another photo from Penny that I played with in Photoshop. I want to emphasize the gritty textures, and may add some of the fabric I painted for my Tansy Hargan class.
Just in case you wondered, I’ve never had any flower photos printed for me, though I’ve used photos of trees.
The pandemic has heightened my anticipation of mail. No more store browsing for me. I dash in, list in hand, and grab what I need. It reminds me of the name of a South Dakota convenience store I once passed, the Whoa ‘n Go.
The internet is all well and good for classes, resources, and keeping in touch, but I miss actually handling items. So, I look forward to brown paper packages wrapped up in string, or the modern equivalent of them. Recently I’ve received two packages that made their way to me in spite of USPS difficulties. (Three day delivery is a fantasy right now.)
First, my blogging friend Ann Scott raffled off four fabric artist postcards, and I was the lucky winner. Ann created the cards as part of the postcard class she teaches. You can follow her blog and her YouTube channel.
Second, Spoonflower ran a 50% off fat quarters sale and since I am unable to pass up a sale I had to have several of my Photoshop edited pictures printed. The price worked out to about $5 each. Most are on cotton, and I may cut them up or use them whole.
I had more printed which I’m not showing as I don’t want to give you any more reason to question whether my sanity has been affected by our current situation. Well, of course it has, but as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, who cares?
This post was inspired by one written by Jane Davies, a collage and mixed media artist I admire. She wrote about an exchange with a reader concerning some simple collages made as practice.
“Q: My main question was if you had a purpose in mind when you created these simplified works, if you save them, and how you view the time spent creating them. Are you working towards a goal or just doing them for relaxation?
A: When I need a break from whatever larger work I’m doing, OR when I’ve been out of the studio for a while and am rusty, the best way to get ideas moving is to keep my hands and eyes DOING something in the studio. Not thinking, but doing. And that takes on many forms. This little exercise I just made up and did a LOT of them. The main point is to do SOMETHING with hands and eyes to generate ideas, see where it goes, keep in practice, jog something loose, get back to some basic ideas, etc. It is not for relaxation, though it might be relaxing.”
Susan Lenz addresses similar points in her article for a regional SAQA newsletter. She makes several helpful specific points about productivity. In response to comments about her seemingly prodigious work output she says, “Productivity is often the result of a habit that took years to adopt. Get yourself a time card. Track your hours. This isn’t about the quality of the work or the amount of money you have in it or might get out of it. It is about the time you spend trying. It is about the hours you actually work.”
[Sidebar: I should note that Lenz is fully supported by her husband who deals with many of the day to day practicalities so she doesn’t have to. Same deal with Susan Carlson. I’m alluding to the kind of support from spouses that women have traditionally supplied male artists. Yet women artists may feel guilty that their art is taking time away from their families and all the duties associated with day to day living. Now that I’m retired and am no longer responsible for a child I’ve given up any pretense of feeling guilty about dereliction of such duties. My husband does these things better than I do and I value his willingness to shop and cook. I still do the dusting as he has asthma.]
But to return to my original points, I think it’s just fine to create without a goal. In fact, it’s fun. Often what I make while messing around ends up in finished work. “All Decked Out” and “Sur La Table” were made with surface design experiments done for the heck of it.
If I depended on sales of art to support myself I might have a less cavalier attitude toward purposeful work, but the two artists I quote above support themselves through their work yet still feel the need to mess around.
Another way I mess around is to revise old, finished work. If I’m not happy with a piece and would never display it, why shouldn’t I try to make it better. Even if I make it worse, I’ll have learned something in the process. “All Fly Away” is an improv piece that I have been fussing with for a few years. I just couldn’t get it to work. Finally I looked at it as a black and white image and saw why – not enough value contrast and too light in the wrong places. So I darkened the flying triangles with a marker and toned down bright/light areas with paint. It still needs more value contrast, but I’m happy I could diagnose the problem.
Here’s some recent puttering I’ve done for no reason except I came across scraps while de-cluttering, and took a play break.
The overall point of my puttering is to keep doing; to practice, practice, practice. Often I have no end goal in mind. You can talk theory all you want, but trying and failing teach you a lot more. Maybe we should have a show of our interesting failures.
I began my marks explorations with black and white as I reported last week, but soon added color. I have finally caught on that so-so surface designs are often improved with more layers, so I dug out a few pieces I had made in a Sue Benner thickened dye class with a eye to tarting them up a bit.
A rather haphazard squodge of red, blue and gold got another layer of yellow using torn freezer paper as a mask. I like how the somewhat transparent yellow turns the blue to turquoise.
On another piece I used a deformed empty toilet paper roll to add white on top of black bits. The result is probably best used cut up in bits.
I also added layers to my gelli plate experiments.
Finally, I created another fabric bowl with black and white printed canvas, sections cut out of really bad black and white mark making efforts, commercial fabrics, and hand dyed yellow fabric. I know I was influenced by clay pottery from the southwestern U.S. I saw at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Lately I’ve been working through an online course from Susan Purney Mark that uses just black and white paint and ink. It’s called Squiggle, Line and Dot; and focuses on mark making with markers and paint. Mark marking seems an artistic term for abstract streaks and blobs on paper or fabric.
So far my success rate has been 50/50. I like some of the techniques enough to tuck them in my toolbox. Others I had high hopes for have just fallen flat for me.
Let’s start with the successes. Both are easy and involve an iron.
Both of the above techniques achieve fast results and can be used with multiple colors of paint.
Here’s another piece with freezer paper strips over writing with a marker, followed by printing with wrapped string.
Now for the flops. I was excited to try straight and curving lines with paint and a tool like a credit card. Unfortunately, my efforts achieved lots of blobs and few sustained lines. I had to draw in the curved lines with Penn artist markers.
I tried different thicknesses of paint, but never managed to get effects like those shown in Susan’s video. Instead, I used my palette to print with the leftover white paint after I ran some printing tools across it.
Another failure for me was asemic writing. Susan’s looked elegant; mine looked like failed cursive writing. The only example of my attempts I’m willing to share is the last freezer paper strip piece above.
I did learn a good tip for dealing with palette cleanup. Cover your palette (mine is a pane of glass with taped edges) with Press ‘n Seal. Then, pull it off and throw it away when you’re done.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this class. I’ve learned new techniques and have the foundation for a new fabric bowl. I discovered white markers, which I could cheerfully overuse.
But, I bought lots of paper and ink as they were on the supply list. The class videos didn’t use paper. Of course the exercises can be done on paper, but I think the paper supplies were optional. More importantly, I found I missed the ability to ask questions. Apparently there is a Facebook page, but I don’t do Facebook.
In all, I’m glad I took the class and plan to use what I learned, but it just wasn’t as good as it could have been.
Too often I trip myself up with a lack of focus in my work. I start with an idea that cascades into yet other ideas and, in the end, I realize none of them well because I try to do them all. I find I do better by putting metaphorical blinders on – to work only with certain colors, shapes, or techniques. In her 1965 book “On Weaving” Anni Albers said, “Great freedom can be a hindrance because of the bewildering choices it leaves to us, while limitations, when approached open-mindedly, can spur the imagination to make the best use of them and possibly even to overcome them.”
I have two long term projects on the go that have built in size and material limitations. Both are sets of squares, needle felted ones and appliqued roundish shapes that I call pebbles.
The former came about because I had wool roving left from a wet felting class and was given felted wool fabric scraps. I bought a Clover needle felting tool, read a book, watched a video and went to work. The work is limited to the colors I have on hand, hand embroidery, and 5 inch wool squares. At some point I may sew the squares together. So far I have 16 squares made and only a small amount of roving left. I’m undecided about buying more. Right now I’m concentrating on embroidering them all.
The pebbles are a variation like this one on the classic Dale Fleming 6 minute circle, with my monoprinting experiments used as the pebbles and backgrounds of hand dyed mottled fabrics in green, blue-green, and turquoise. When I make just one inset circular shape I often use a single layer of freezer paper as my template. If I’m making several shapes, as with my pebbles, I iron two layers of freezer paper together to make a longer lasting template.
For my pebbles I used pieces of my monoprints smaller than the template so I could get more pebbles – 30 in all. It worked fine as I made sure the stitching lines wouldn’t go beyond the edges of my fabric pieces.
Here’s the pebbles I created with four different templates. I’m now out of monoprinted fabrics.
I debated whether to go with a simple layout or try to concoct something more elaborate. I decided to surround each square with uneven thin lines, somewhat like a tile floor.
Next up is figuring out a surround. I’m working on an uneven border. After that is settled I need to decide whether to pursue a wild hair idea to turn my pebbles into talismans by crossing them with threads to make them look wrapped. I wouldn’t add beads and feathers, though.
I have saved all the innards I cut out of the framing fabrics and fused WonderUnder to them. Maybe I could figure a way to add them, or maybe not. At this point I should reread the first paragraph of this post.