Tuesday, December 1, 2015

TEXT-ile Ternion Exhibit

The 2014 Conant Grant, “Museum Collaboration to Interpret History Through Surface Design”, is coming into the home stretch.   I am pleased to announce that the exhibit “TEXT-ile Ternion” will be installed on January 5th and will hang until February 8th at the Sandy Spring Museum.  You’re invited to the opening on Saturday, January 16th from 1-3PM.   I’d love to see some friendly faces!   Sandy Spring Museum is located at 17901 Bentley Road, Sandy Spring, MD 20860.
Tall Timbers #1 is 20" x 33" and based on a wood carved block of the Tall Timbers house from the Sandy Spring Museum collection.   The design was printed onto postcards and mailed on Dec. 16, 1972. 
The museum is fond of short titles, so I was encouraged to be parsimonious with my words.   I named the exhibit “TEXT-ile Ternion” because I get three concepts for the price of two words:  textile, text and ternion.  My work is surface design on cotton fabric incorporating text.  I was delighted to discover while scrounging for a title that a ternion is a set of three.   Bonus points for alliteration!   I am working in a series creating three pieces of art for each set of museum artifacts.

I have been reveling in Transfer Artist Paper, Kraft-tex and Lutradur.   Dye and fabric paints are sloshing wildly around in my studio.   Limiting the MX Reaction dyes to tangerine, strongest red and deep navy still gives me a rainbow of color. . Stencils and Thermofax screens are being created on demand.   My printers are getting a workout for auditioning.   The steamer is taking pride of place in the garage.   Layering for visual depth is becoming more natural.   I’m in love with my large homemade print board which doubles as my photography backdrop.  I got to finger paint with thickened dyes on my vinyl table cover a few nights ago to make my largest monoprint ever.   My grant objectives are being met.  As my sister would say…”I’m in my happy place.”   See you in January!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Corel Paintshop Pro X7 - Perspective Error Correction - Hurrah!

The perspective error gets me every time when I take photos for the blog.   My arms are too short (even with the kitchen step stool) and the fabric too long...  Today, I stumbled upon the perspective correction tool in Corel Paintshop Pro X7.   At last!   A solution!   So easy!  This is big!   You can see in the original photo below that the perfectly rectangular cardboard auditioning frame is narrower at the top and wider at the bottom of the photo.   Yep, classic perspective error...
Original photo complete with feet on kitchen step stool and perspective error. 
   I cropped the photo to get rid of the feet and positioned the 4 corners of the perspective correction tool's box..
Perspective correction tool being used.
I cropped the photo again, then admired the nice straight cardboard frame.  Success! 
Photo with corrections completed.

There are various suggestions out there for getting different vantages on your artwork.   For example, you can turn the artwork 90 degrees, view it from a distance, squint at it or look at it thru a camera lens.   Anybody have any other suggestions for "seeing" your artwork?   The auditioning frame can only be in one position at a time, so the camera gives me the ability to compare options too.  It's so much better to compare the options without the distortion.

Here are two different frames of a single piece of fabric being auditioned.  Because I'm collaging on these backgrounds, it becomes important to determine what I wish to be seen and what can be covered up.  I like the way the darker reddish-purple color helps frame the top photo the best.

Two auditions of the same piece of fabric using a cardboard frame as a view finder.
If you're grazing the Internet late at night and could use a chuckle, I offer up the girl geek band, "The Doubleclicks."  The "Hollywood Raptor" song is especially for those of you who also feel short in the arm when photographing your work...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cardboard Auditioning Frame and "The Luminous Ground"

The life cycle plan for the museum exhibit fabrics is to turn them into tote bags to sell in the Sandy Spring Museum's store.   I've been dyeing larger pieces of fabric to make sure there is coordinating fabric available for handles later.   I attempted to work with two extra strips of fabric for handles for the first piece and it was a pain to pin all 3 pieces down, so I quickly learned to simplify!

Another lesson in simplification has taken place.  One goal of the grant is to start working bigger.  No longer will 4 pieces of random printer paper work to frame up a piece for auditioning!   What to do?   Thank goodness for our local Plaza Art store.   They will give you a huge cardboard folder if you purchase a bunch of their fabulous fancy paper sheets.  I treasure the paper *and* the cardboard folder.   Today I sacrificed a cardboard folder in order to make an auditioning frame.   Ahhh...so much easier to use this free tool to gauge the right place to print the next layer.   I'll mark the edges with an erasable fabric marking pen before moving the frame.   

Blue shibori background for a Civil War piece
After doing Elizabeth Barton's exercise, "The List of Important Features", to learn about my personal voice, I determined that I admire designs based on grid structures.   I decided to fold and dye a simple shibori pattern that I knew would give me a grid structure to add interest to a background.   So far, so good!    The next challenge will be to integrate the printed and TAP layers with the shibori background. 

Carol Soderlund introduced me to another Christopher Alexander book - "The Luminous Ground."  This is the fourth book in his "The Nature of Order" series and deals with color.   Christopher Alexander proposes eleven color properties that relate directly to the first book's fifteen properties of wholeness (beauty).   Happily, shibori automatically creates the property "echoes" where similar patterns are created thereby echoing each other and building centers.   The corresponding color property is called "Family of Colors."   Shibori involves resist techniques where parts of the fabric receive the maximum amount of dye, resisted areas keep out dye to remain their original color and some areas only get a bit of dye resulting in tints.    Hence, you get a range of colors.   Shibori dovetails nicely with the project goals.  

"Love what you do and do what you love.  Don't listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it.  You do what you want, what you love.  Imagination should be the center of your life."  - Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"Neutral Territories" Dye Class with Carol Soderlund

Neutral Territories is all about finding the blacks, greys and browns hiding in various combinations of MX reactions dyes.   In Carol Soderlund's workshop at ProChemical & Dye, we were not handed individual recipes to dye neutral colors.   Instead, we were taught how to search systematically for neutral colors.   I was delighted to expanded my grasp of color through this process.   Toss in some discharge and thickened dye exercises and it was dye heaven!

Here is one sample card from my notebook - all of the colors are closely related..  The row on top was my favorite neutral grey/black.  Some seemingly black colors on the right hand column  when lightened are shown to have blue, purple and reddish shades.  The lightest values on the left hand column become more similar as the dye is diluted.

Below is the sample card that I dyed in my search for browns given the dyes used for the grant:   tangerine, strongest red and deep navy.  I found the range of browns very pleasing.  Carol's exercises taught me to evaluate the samples.   I know that I'd like to explore browns with slightly less red and more yellow hue based on the colors below.  Additionally, I'll be breaking down these browns into value gradations (like the picture above) to understand them better and increase my color vocabulary.

The workshop included time for individual projects.   I noticed a fellow student, Laura, had put notches in an old credit card and was scraping with thickened dyes.  I decided to follow suit using the nine closely related brown dyes from above.   Our marks looked totally different.   Here is the credit card and the two pieces created using my freebie tool:

I still had dye left, so I did some stamping with a 16oz plastic cup, a plastic salsa cup, a wooden thread spool and a plastic core from Mettler thread.   I was thinking about Christopher Alexander's Property of Wholeness "Levels of Scale" when I chose my circles in 4 sizes.   The dye was applied thickly in places, so it dripped when I hung it up out of the way.  I'm going to think of this as a two techniques bonus...stamping and dripping.

Messy plastic cups and dedicated brushes filled with a residue of thickened dye sat in front of me, but what to do with it?   I decided to add a bit of water and create dye washes to help clean up the brushes and cups.  Thickened dyes are *NOT* good for your drains!  It was a neat exercise in seeing how far the dye would go...  Once I had the stripes painted on the fabric, it occurred to me that I hadn't added soda ash anywhere along the line...ooops!   I scrunched up the fabric lengthwise and rolled it up like a cinnamon roll.  I stuffed it into a tight container (could't find a looser fit) and added some soda ash water.   I squirted some black dye on top of the fabric roll for good measure.   The error prompted me to create a piece more interesting than the original plan.   I love getting 2 visual layers for one dye process.

The last piece was created to use up the dregs of the dye washes.   I poured the remaining brown and black dyes into the bottom of a container and mopped it up with fabric that I had scrunched in my hand.  I rescrunched (it's a technical term despite what spell check is telling me...really...) the fabric in the container.   I squirted some leftover black dye on top and left it to batch.   Now I have a variety of related fabrics and very little wasted dye.
Scrunched fabric with colors breaking from a custom mixed black and browns.

Detail from the scrunched fabric above.

Dye companies such as ProChemical & Dye and Dharma Trading offer a few premixed browns, blacks and greys, but there are so many more available for the adventurous dyer!   Using the primary and secondary pure colors with neutrals blended from those dyes allow all of the colors used in a piece to harmonize.  Bright colors pop thanks to neutral colors.   The Neutral Territories workshop was inspiring.   It was my fourth color/dyeing class taken from Carol Soderlund.   She continues to offer new insights into color and dyeing.   I highly recommend her classes.   You'll find them well run, fun and chock full of information with excellent notes and samples to take home.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Elizabeth Barton's "Find Your Style" Exercise Works!

The Potomac Fiber Arts Guild's members are encouraged to form small interest groups.   I'm lucky to belong to a group dedicated to studying design.  One of our members was inspired by a blog post from Elizabeth Barton -  "The List of Important Features."  Her article talks about the importance of personal style and how you can go about identifying your own.   Head on over to Elizabeth's blog to get her take on personal style...   

My design group decided to use Elizabeth's excellent style exercise, but with a twist.  A group member selects artwork that she's drawn to and presents it to the rest of the group.  The group feeds back what they see in the collection of artwork.   The presenter considers the group's opinion.  If the idiom "two heads are better than one" is true, then imagine how fabulous the seven heads are in our group!   I received the following feedback on my style preferences:
  • underlying grid
  • an organic feel
  • lots of orange/blue complements
  • layers of texture and pattern
  • representational imagery, but non-dominant
  • collage
  • strong use of line
This led me to create a grid structure for the background of my next grant piece.   An organic feel is incorporated by softening the edges of the grid.   I tried using some new screens, but the solid rectangles lacked interest.   I dug out some old screens that I'd used to run a screen printing event a few years ago.  I'd tucked them away to rescreen eventually.  The small amount of texture afforded by the randomly clogged screens was much more interesting when printed.   I can see that some orange and blue snuck into the composition.   Additional layers of dye, stitch, TAP paper and whatever else inspires will give the piece additional layers of texture and pattern, as well as, adding some representational imagery.
 Torn blue painter's tape is used on the printing screen to break up the straight lines.   
I am deliberately making my pieces larger than the 20"x33" size required because the fabric pieces will be made into tote bags to sell in the museum's store after the exhibit ends.   The extra fabric is required for straps.   It made me realize that I need to make a viewfinder tool that windows the 20"x 33" size, so that I print the next layer in an appropriate spot.   I'm off to raid my cardboard stash!

Draft Artist Bio + Blog Pages

I've finally been called out - I need to submit an artist bio...in under 200 words.   People like me can't sneeze in less than 200 words!   Fortunately, there is help out there on the Internet.   I used this article entitled "How to Write a Good & Effective Artist Biography" as my guide.   I answered their list of insightful questions and had the basis of my bio ready to write.   Many thanks to the Light Space & Time Online Art Gallery for offering up this useful tool.   I welcome any constructive critiques...  I now have a head shot to pair with it. Two more artist tools for my toolbox.

Diana Guenther was hooked early on fiber arts.  She was begging to embroider at age 5, took sewing lessons at age 8 and knitted the endless scarf thanks to Grandma at age 9.  
Fiber is part of her daily life.   She delights in the tactile satisfaction and accomplishment of making.   She especially loves the controlled chaos of large scale projects.   She thrived on felting with preschoolers, screen printing t-shirts with Girl Scouts and tie-dyeing with the swim team.   Art is about making and sharing making.
Diana turned her talents to winning art grants as the PTA’s cultural arts officer.   As the kids grew, her art-enabling included demonstrating and teaching spinning.   She loves to learn from other artists too.   She sought out workshops with leading artists including Jane Dunnewold, Elin Noble and Carol Soderlund.   Diana banded together with small groups of like-minded artists to explore design theory and surface design techniques.   Art provides intellectual challenge.

In 2014, she won an art grant from the Potomac Fiber Arts Guild to create an exhibit of surface design pieces based on the collections of the Sandy Spring Museum of Olney, MD.   Diana is currently designing fabrics with visual depth and rich historic content.

Writing the artist bio also nudged me to learn how to add pages.  Pages are used for static information that you always want to have available.   It wasn't hard.   I just had to go back to the layout and find the right gadget.   The upper right hand blog column now offers key information about this blog:   the artist biography and grant application.   The artist resume is coming soon...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Curriculum Vitae/Artist's Resume

One of the goals of the grant I received from the Potomac Fiber Arts Guild is developing the tools of a working artist.  The "Exhibit Summary Form" that I'm filling out for the Sandy Spring Museum requires a curriculum vitae.  It's time to create that tool...

I've written resumes before, but never a curriculum vitae.   I wondered how they differed.   There's a wonderful article entitled "Curricula Vitae (CVs) versus Resumes" from the University of N.C. at Chapel Hill's Writing Center that cleared the issue up for me quickly.  Resumes cover education and work experience.   I have none.   A curriculum vitae covers more of your life experience.  I do have fiber related volunteer work, workshops taken, classes taught, grants won, guild memberships and study groups in my background.  Clearly, a C.V. is the way to go! 

What a relief to find this article:  "How to Write an Artist's CV When You Don't Have Much (Or Any!) Professional Experience."   Thanks to thepracticalartworld.com  for shortening my learning curve.  I've created a blog page for my new C.V. and linked it to the top right hand column of the blog.  Done! 

Civil War Artifacts + Exhibit Title

Like many folks living in the Washington, DC metro area, I wasn't born here.   I know the broad strokes of American history, but discovering artifacts that highlight local history bring Sandy Spring alive for me.   At times the Quaker culture of Sandy Spring was at odds with much of the nation. This makes Sandy Spring a pretty interesting place. I was looking thru the archives for photos of Civil War soldiers last week and having little luck...until I thought it through.   Oh yeah!   Quakers are pacifists.   The absence of material was telling in this case.  Nevertheless, a few artifacts from the Civil War found their way into the Sandy Spring Museum collection.
Sandy Spring Museum Collection - Civil War Button - Maryland Officer's Uniform Button
A quick trip to www.relicman.com found a photo and description of the button above. 
 "Button depicts state seal of Maryland, a shield with a fisherman, farmer, and eagle.  Manufactured before the war, intended for officers of Maryland militia units, who generally sided with the South but served both sides.  Backmark: "CANFIELD. BRO & CO. / BALTIMORE." dm between rings of dots, Scovill produced ca 1860"

I found it interesting that Civil War button and belt buckles are described on-line as dug versus non-dug.   The button above looks non-dug, but the belt buckle story infers that the buckle was dug up on a farm.   You learn something new every day...
Sandy Spring Museum Collection - Civil War Belt Buckle from a Union Soldier - Found on Hutton Farm August 1963
One of my current tasks is to refine my ideas for the exhibit.  I need an exhibit title, theme and 150 word statement for marketing purpose that sums up why you should come see my work.   The timeline concept that I've been working on has problems:   
  • a timeline is not an inspired, zippy presentation
  • many of the artifacts are not currently dated
  • the artifacts are not evenly distributed thru time (older = scarcer)
I was planning to start with the Native American artifacts (oldest man made items in the collection) and work my way up to recent times.   Now I am thinking that approach would not take advantage of the best the collections have to offer.   

What have I learned about the artifact collections?   The museum started collecting in 1981.  Items were frequently donated from estates.   So, it makes sense that a lot of artifacts donated were from the first half of the twentieth century.   These later artifacts tended to have more information associated with them.   Live and learn!   I wasn't able to elicit information about the character of the archives when I started the project, but I'll be sure to ask probing questions the next time I approach a collection.      
Reviewing the artifacts was like Cracker Jacks - "a prize in every box!".   Items are stored by accession date (when it was entered into the collection), so boxes are typically filled with random items.   I loved slotting each artifact into it's historical context.   Next, I'm contrasting calling cards versus texting and button hooks versus Velcro to consider how life has changed.   Unsafe tin dishes are outdated along with mercury-laden blood pressure cuffs.   Some of the artifacts pointed to bigger stories.   The bank letter to the local Grange stating that they would not continue to automatically invest the Granges' money in a failing Florida railroad had me scrounging for the dates of the Great Depression.  Score!   I loved the stories big and small.   Each vignette helps to evoke Sandy Spring's past as it evolves over time.   I want to convey the excitement of discovering Sandy Spring one artifact at a time.

My first working title was "The A.H.A. Moment:   Artifacts as Historical Ambassadors."  It wasn't universally embraced by the museum staff, but I'm told that I'm moving in the right direction.  Perhaps "Discovery:  Sandy Spring" would be more concise, if not very descriptive?  How about "Sandy Spring:  Going with the Flow and Bucking the Tide" superimposed on a tasteful chamber pot?   O.K., that was silly, but I did find a chamber pot in the collections.   You may be relieved to know that the museum director and marketing guy at the museum are prepared to step in and help name this exhibit.   In the meantime, I'm leaning towards "Dyeing to Tell a Story" as it references creating the unique one of a kind surface designed fabrics and the story telling I plan to do with the museum's objects, photos and documents.  Wish me luck in this next phase of exhibit design.   ...and place catchy title suggestions in the comments...   Thanks!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Research Upgrade + The Home Improvement Society

Sandy Spring Museum is on their third archivist since I won the grant in May 2014.  The turnover has slowed down my researching.  When the latest archivist arrived, I was off tending another ring in my circus.   That's life...   The new archivist brings experience from the Textile Museum in Washington, DC, so I'm really looking forward to her input.

I met with the museum staff recently about moving forward with the research and starting the exhibit planning phase.   They've helped me regroup.  I am grateful for their guidance.   Previously, I was looking thru individual boxes of artifacts starting from those earliest accessioned into the collections (1981).   It's been a slow way to work, yet a quarter of the way thru it's given me a good feel for the archive collection.  The archivist has committed to pulling documents and photographs from e-mailed requests now that I've got specific fabric pieces that I'm designing.   I have finally narrowed my focus beyond a general timeline.   This is great news!

At the end of March, I sent in my first request list.   I'd found a photocopy of the Home Improvement Society showing women in old fashioned garb sitting in a room with a few sewing machines.   It intrigued me as a sewer.  I also wondered if this was part of the early organizing that led to the Women's Rights Movement.   Bingo!   I was provided with several newspaper articles and photos that I'd requested based on the collection catalogs.   In addition, the new archivist presented me with a vertical file of materials collected about the society.  On top of that, I received a box including all of the early minutes from the society.   Wow!   I suspect that the society's notes would be the basis of a very interesting exhibit.   I was able to hold the first notebook of minutes from 1870 in my white gloved hands.   It was an honor to look into that time capsule.  In terms of surface design, the handwritten pages were fabulous.

It was delightful to discover that the society is still meeting today.  The archivist was recently invited to attend the next meeting of the society.   What an amazing coincidence...  I was disconcerted to find that the Home Improvement society was actually organized by six married couples with an interest in horticulture in 1870.  This clashed with the notes on the Mutual Improvement Society being founded in 1857.  What about the photo above that references the Women's Association?   The newspaper articles indicated that the Mutual Improvement Society was the oldest women's organization in America.  Are we talking about two or three different groups?   I've found a number of names that overlap.  It was all tucked together in one vertical file.   Hmmm...I guess history isn't always clean cut.  

Either way, it was fascinating that the Quaker model was responsible for the ability of the local women to organize.   It wasn't seemly for women in the 1800's to hold office.   A woman couldn't be a president or a treasurer.   However, Quaker meetings held individuals as equal in status with a single clerk voted on to guide the meeting.  This allowed Sandy Spring's women to be in the forefront of social progress. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Procrastination Station - The Dreaded Draft Post Blogging Build Up

Does anyone else live in Procrastination Station?   The rest of my life got busy and I let ugly "draft post build-up" happen.  Excuses were along these lines:
  • Sure, I can do the final edit on that post later...  
  • Oh, that post just needs a few more photos...  
  • Uh oh - I've leapfrogged this post and already talked about some of the material...
However, I'm not going to let it bug me or get my goat...
Sandy Spring Museum Artifact - Beaded Headband - c. 1915-1919 - Part of a Camp Fire Girl Costume
Sandy Spring Museum Artifact - Plaster Goat - undated - Part of a Nine Piece Farm Animal Set 

Instead, I finished up the promising posts in March and cut the lame ones loose.  I've watched the Blogger stats.  Naturally, you get fewer hits when there's nothing new to see. My new blogging goal will be better pacing:-)   

Monday, April 6, 2015

Diane Franklin's Book "Dyeing Alchemy" + Dye Calculator

If you use Procion MX dyes or want to learn how, then I have a treat for you.   Check out Diane Franklin's self published book "Dyeing Alchemy - A Primer About Procion MX Dyeing."   I admit to paging thru it shamelessly first for the artwork.   Diane excels at Shibori, but has experience in a wide array of dyeing techniques.   She's shared the work of other fiber artists too which keeps you flipping pages.

 I am impress at how thoroughly she covered the topic of Procion MX dyes. You will learn about:

  • the history of Procion MX dyes 
  • how the dyes work chemically
  • the 14 pure dye colors (great comparison chart for purchasing at ProChemical & Dye, Dharma Trading and Jacquard)
  • color theory/mixing dye colors
  • immersion dyeing with powders versus stocks
  • hue gradations and value gradations
  • pyramid dyeing (creating related fabrics from 2 or 3 dyes)
  • dyeing safely
  • supplies and equipment
  • recording your dyeing efforts
  • setting up a dye work space
  • planning an efficient dye day
  • going beyond the basics (think snow dye, thickened dye, painting with unfixed dyes, fabric manipulations, overdyeing, thread dyeing, and more)
  • dye suppliers
  • recommendations for books, DVDs and workshops
All of this information is a valuable resource for me and a real bargain at under $18.  However, what really sold the book for me was the dye calculator.   I'm working to improve my dyeing process.  I want repeatable results.   However, dyeing some days looks like the dreaded word problem...   
If Diana is dyeing a piece of cotton fabric that weighs 1.62 gram and she wants 4% depth of shade using a 5% dye stock, then how much urea, soda ash, salt and dye does she need?   
Some days this feels like a lot of math...   I have the formulas.   I know how to calculate everything (mumble, mumble...if I get out my notes and think about it...)   The joy of plugging in a few numbers and having the answers magically appear is pretty appealing!

I had the pleasure of meeting Diane at a dyeing workshop.   She advertised her dye calculator as a time saving tool that would allow me to frugally use just the right amount of chemicals - urea, soda ash, salt, dye - to get the color I wanted.  Save *time* AND *money*?   I haven't been disappointed.   Many thanks to Diane Franklin for putting out a great tool for fiber artists.   

Monday, March 30, 2015

Microwave a Hot Water Bath for Cold Day Dyeing

What would we do without friends?   Kay was describing how she proofed bread on chilly days by microwaving a cup of water, then letting that frozen dough sit in the the steamy microwave with the hot water.   In an hour, reheat the water and return the dough for further raising.  Smart...   So, today I heated a deep dish pie pan half filled with water in the microwave.   I set the container of fabric being dyed into the middle of the pie pan and shut the door.   An hour later, I reheated the water.  So easy!  After two hours I washed out the fabric.

Previously, I would put smaller dye jobs in the niche that houses my husband's computer CPU.  It stays consistently warm there.   Unfortunately, he took a dim view of my Ziploc baggies of fabrics and dye near the electronics.   A strategy for larger items has been a heating pad underneath and a box above to catch warmth.  I'm always afraid that I'll forget to turn it off...

I finished printing a piece of fabric today and was determined to fit it into the microwave too.   I spritzed it with a fine mist of water as most of the layers of dye had dried, rolled it in a plastic garbage bag to keep the layers of fabric separated from each other and folded the roll in thirds to fit into a plastic steamer basket.   The steamer basket sits up on legs which allowed me to suspend it over the hot water in the pie pan.   I plan to leave it in the microwave overnight.  I'm looking forward to the washout as this is supposed to be a light background layer.   I used a weak dye solution in the print paste, so the resulting piece should be more of a textured background.

I'm looking forward to the warmer weather, so that I can batch fabrics outside under black plastic.  I have two teenaged drivers, so no more batching in the back of the old car.   It's gone too often!  

What are your favorite strategies for cold weather MX reaction dyeing?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Discharging with a Stencil + The Life of a Project

Look at this wonderful wooden French curve from the Sandy Spring Museum collection.  It was my top choice of shape to represent Christopher Alexander's concept of positive space.
Wooden Template/French curve - Object ID 1990 0024 0022

I plan to use it as a large scale motif in the background of the fabric design enlarging the motif from 9.5" to 14" to better fit my fabric dimensions.   I'm envisioning 4 motifs placed as shown below.  This arrangement creates new shapes.   Each motif is a "center" in Christopher Alexander's terminology, but the grouping of the motifs builds additional centers which reference each other.
French curve motif mirrored, grouped and flipped.
I'm using Silhouette brand matte adhesive vinyl cut by a Silhouette Cameo to create the stencil.  The Silhouette software allowed me to enlarge the motif from it's original 9.5" wide to 14" wide to better fit my standard fabric size for the grant (18.5"x30").    It's a large, awkward stencil using the thin vinyl, so it's been adhered to my kitchen wall in between usages for fear of it sticking to itself.   In retrospect, a firmer stencil material would have been a better choice for this large motif.   I adhered it 4 times to fabric in my testing without issues.   It's still tacky enough to use again.   The thin diameter of the vinyl makes it easy to print.  I'll keep looking for a better, cheaper stencil material, but this work pretty well.  

Screen shot of the Silhouette software.   The original attempt to trace the motif on a 12"x 18" background.

I couldn't get the Silhouette software to trace the 14" shape even though I had defined a large enough page space for it.   The software would only trace the upper portion that was sitting in the standard 12" x 12" grid.   So, I set the shape on the diagonal to squeeze it into the 12"x12" space.   Tracing worked great.   I'll have to figure out if the limitation lays with the software or if I have more to learn.  My mother was fond of the expression "If there is a will, there is a way."

Silhouette software screen shot of the motif skewed to fit into the standard 12"x12" space.

Another issue I ran into was that you're supposed to be able to cut vinyl without a mat, but my experience was that the vinyl shifted under the rollers when feeding into the machine.   I decided to stick the vinyl on a mat to move ahead with the project.   It cut very nicely adhered to the mat.   The maximum size limit on the Silhouette Cameo is supposed to be 12" x 10' cutting without a mat.   The manual recommends sticking to less than 40" in length due to feeding issues.  Silhouette sells a roll feeder accessory to assist with rolled materials and keeping the material aligned.  However, testing the maximum length was not today's exercise.

To print the stencil, I folded the fabric in quarters and ironed the folds to provide me with guidelines.  Two of the stencil edges were cut to align with the ironed folds.  I taped the test fabric down to my table, adhered the stencil and masked the rests of the fabric off with large pieces of plastic.  I applied deColourant Mist to discharge the dye.  I had deColourant on hand...   I wanted to try it...  Sadly, my light misting touch turned into more of a soaking seeping under the stencil material.  I could have chosen to wash out the deColourant product without discharging, but I decided to follow thru on my test.   I had blotted up excess mist that landed on the vinyl hoping to stop any leakage.  No luck.  I moved the stencil and made another attempt at a lighter coating.   deColourant still snuck under the stencil.   Hmmm...not the right product for this job.

Fabric folded in quarters and ironed along folds to form guidelines.

Fabric taped to printing surface and stencil adhered.

Fabric masked with recycled plastic sheeting and spritzed with deColourant Mist 
Clearly, I need to use a thicker discharge product that I can control better.  Dishwasher gel detergents with bleach, Thiox in print paste and deColourant cream would likely all be better choices.  To control the coverage, I plan to adhere the stencil to a print screen.  I'll use a squeegee to print the discharge paste on in a fine layer to help control leakage.   I wanted to use the stencil to do mirror images.  Adhering the stencil to the front versus the back of the print screen will accomplish this goal.   Initially, I was planning to use a temporary adhesive spray to flip the stencil over and get a mirror image, but that's more work and mess.   The vinyl isn't cheap, so I didn't want to cut a second stencil if I could get away with reusing the first.  Here are the blurry results below...   Tomorrow I will try discharging with Thiox with the stencil on a screen printing frame.

In the meantime, I have a wonderful book called "Steal Like An Artist - 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative" by Austin Kleon.  It's a fun read with excellent advice and lots of encouragement.  It pairs well with tea and chocolate for a boost...

The author really nailed it for me on page 83 with a funky chart entitled "The Life of a Project."   From a retired software engineer's perspective it was hilarious!   The gist of the chart is that you go through stages of initial elation, anguish as the project doesn't measure up, wrestling it back from the depths of failure (I think that's "responding" in artspeak) and finally spitting out a decent product.   I took the lesson from this chart not to give up too soon.   I'm practicing another sage bit of advice from Mr. Kleon's book - I'm going to fake it 'til I make it as an artist!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Silhouette Cameo Die Cutter Tip

Here's a tip for die cutting fiber artists out there.   I found myself switching back and forth between the regular and fabric blades.  I was making trial cuts from cardstock, then committing to fabric cutting.   I got annoyed with searching for the blades and the little grey plastic wrench that helps you set blade depth.   So, I taped half of a chopstick to the side of the Silhouette where the blade assembly rests (left side).   It's as close as possible to the blade assembly without blocking the lid.   Customized!

Silhouette Cameo for Fabric Cutting and Stencil Making

One of the bonuses that I got from the Pro Chemical and Dye workshops this Fall was learning about the Silhouette Cameo die cutting machine.   Two of my fellow students brought fat folders of custom made stencils to use in class.   They generously demonstrated the Silhouette software over lunch one day.   It seemed easy to use.   Cyndi M. showed off the intricate small fabric pieces she was cutting for a quilt kit she'd designed.   Cutting fabric?  Cool!   One of the goals of this grant is to create my own art lexicon and generate tools.   I knew I wanted a Silhouette Cameo...and JoAnn Fabrics delivered in December.

I had a quilt challenge based on a heart quote due in February.   Cutting text for the quote sounded like a good job for the Silhouette.  I tried a test piece first with these goals:

   - cut plain cotton broadcloth plain
   - cut painted cotton broadcloth (Setacolor transparent and opaque fabric paints)
   - cut painted cotton broadcloth (ProFab textile paint and ProBrite metallic textile paint)
   - cut the above fabrics with Mistyfuse fusible webbing already applied
   - cut in reverse with the paint side next to the mat and the Mistyfuse applied to the top
Test piece
The results look messy, but were informative!   I discovered that the painted fabrics cut better than unpainted fabrics.  There were still occasional places on the bias in curvy letters where the cuts weren't complete.  The occasional small snip of the scissor was necessary.   I attribute this to the fact that the blade moves in a grid pattern - north/south and east/west.  The blade doesn't curve.   For the price of the Silhouette, I'm going to live with it!   The brand of fabric paint didn't seem to make a difference.  Mistyfuse on top or bottom cut equally well.   I had layered two thicknesses of Mistyfuse on my fabric because the letters were small.  They fused nicely to the quilt top.  I wasn't sure if the mat adhesive would grip the Mistyfuse and detach it, but no worries!   The tackiness of the mat was perfect.

On the left is the cardstock letter audition, on the left is the fabric version.
Onto the lettering results... Unsurprisingly,  I found that the tall skinny letters in thin fabric want to bias as you peel them off the cutting mat.  I quickly selected a more robust font...   Research done, I was ready to move forward cutting cardstock letters for a test layout on my busy background fabric.  The pale yellow paper didn't look very good on the fabric, but I got the letter positioning sorted out thanks to the audition.   I mixed a higher chroma yellowish green paint to help stiffen the broadcloth fabric.   My background fabric was a test piece from a soy wax dyeing exercise that had been kicking around my studio.  The slashes of purple on the bottom were very distracting.   Used the lettering to deemphasize the purple.  I think it worked.

12"x12" heart quilt challenge for the PMPatchwork Guild

Next, I wanted to create a stencil.  I used a graphics program to create a crescent shape, then put three of these shapes together into a ball.  I imported this graphic file into the Silhouette software, made multiple copies of the ball and created the cutting file.  My first attempt was cut in cardstock.   You can see it in the upper right hand side of the test piece photo above.   The crescent balls were too big and sparsely set for my taste.  I changed the scale and crammed in more motifs.   I adhered a piece of inkjet transparency plastic onto the cutting mat and guessed a blade depth of 3 based on the Silhouette's suggestions for other materials.  I guessed wrong.   I have the cuts thru the mat to prove it...ooops...   Happily, I was watching the die cutter (mesmerized by the new toy...) and stopped it quickly.   I ended up with a stencil that pleases me:-)


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fun Finds! Comparing Crazy Quilts at Sandy Spring Museum

The Sandy Spring Museum has some wonderful crazy quilts in their collection.   I was struck by the difference between two quilts - one created in 1870 and the other, I suspect, in the 1920-1930s.  I based my guess on the art deco embroidery stitch style and the fact that some of the fabrics are old enough to have deteriorated..  Wikipedia states that crazy quilting became popular in the late 1800s "likely due to the English embroidery and Japanese art that was displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition."   Who knew? Thanks Wikipedia!
Quilt #1 - Crazy quilt made in 1870 by Elizabeth Trundle and Margaret Chiswell 
Quilt #2 - Crazy quilt donated to the Sandy Spring Museum by Lewis Moore & FLorence Grosso  (1920-1930?)
The 1870s quilt (Quilt #1) does show the satin stitching and heavy embellishment on seams and patches mentioned in the Wikipedia article on crazy quilts.  The move away from "boring" cotton to richer fabrics such as velvet and silk is typical.   The lack of lumpiness in the construction suggests that the patches were minimally overlapped.  The theme of embroidered flowers, berries and animals is beautifully unified by the same embroidery stitch in gold & white thread throughout the quilt.  A few of the patches are even painted velvet.  This quilt has a Victorian feel to it.
Quilt #1 detail - Note the unifying embroidery at the seams
Quilt #1 detail - Painted sunflower on velvet

The Brooklyn Museum had some interesting insight into crazy quilting too stating that "[crazy quilts]...were made possible by newly affordable luxury fabrics produced by the growing textile industry and encouraged by women's magazines dismissive of "old-fashioned", "dreary" cotton patchwork.  That's amusing to me as organic fibers are all the rage in America today.   Fabulous cotton fabrics in a bewildering array of solids, batiks, prints and so much more overflow my wonderful local candy quilting shops.  Quilts these days are only dreary if that's the feeling they are trying to impart!

Let's look at the art deco influenced quilt (Quilt #2).   This quilt feels more utilitarian.   It is less planned and more free form in construction and embellishment.  The maker must have had a basketful of strips - the design is more linear than the 1870s quilt..  There is less luxury/patterned fabric being used.  The maker offsets this by embroidering over whole patches.   It's hard to tell from the photos, but there are big lumpy overlaps in the construction.  The maker of this quilt focused their creative energies on an abundance of art deco inspired stitch patterns in many colors.   I wonder if it was a sampler inspired by yet another woman's magazine tracking the trends?   Whoever made this quilt, they had fun with it!
Quilt #2 detail - Many thread colors and stitch patterns are used.  Three patches above are covered in stitching.
Quilt #2 detail - more embroidery stitches and colors.  
Some of the embroidery stitches are similar to the stitch used on the 1870s quilt seams.
Quilt #2 detail - more embroidery stitches and colors because I couldn't bring myself to edit them out...   The same patterns are scaled up and down in size and variations of stitches are used to add interest.
Quilt #2 detail - the green stitch above was tantalizingly situated on the fold of the fabric, but I could tell that the motif was being reversed 180 degrees each time it was stitched 
Quilt #2 detail - here is another instance of the green stitching where all of the motifs are in the same orientation.   Sadly, you can see some of the disintegrating fabric.
Quilt #2 detail - my favorite stitch pattern!  The way the maker used two partial "trees" to fit the design into the available space speaks to Christopher Alexander's property of roughness that I talk about here in my blog.

The Sandy Spring Museum collection also contains a set of 1930's electric bills with advertisements on the back designed to sell more electricity.   I enjoyed reading about the latest and greatest appliances and services.   I want to use the crazy quilt format as inspiration to integrate the advertisements into a surface design piece.   It will give me the opportunity to have fun with the art deco inspired stitches too!   Are you thirsty after reading all of this?  Maybe you should get a chilled drink out of the refrigerator models below!
1930s Advertisement on the back of a Potomac Electric Power Company bill