Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Three Dimensional Texture on Cloth - Hand Stitching

Many artists working on a flat surface continually strive to create the illusion of depth and texture. There are many printing and dyeing techniques that accomplish that goal.  However sometimes the work calls for an element that is raised above the surface of the cloth. Do you want to create real texture, not just the illusion? Over the next few weeks I'll highlight some of the techniques I use to add dimension.

Hand stitching in a contrasting or complimentary color adds a nice accent. If you don't consider yourself good with a needle - no problem. I did not come from a stitching background. When I first started using stitch seven years ago, it felt very awkward. But I have come to love it. I find it calming to sit with a needle and thread. You don't need to know any fancy stitches - a simple stitch repeated many times can result in a rich surface. 

Use a thicker thread (4-6 strands of embroidery floss or size #3 or 5 of pearl cotton)  for more impact. Embroidery floss is made up of six strands that can be separated to create the desired thickness. While that sounds great because you have the flexibility to create the thickness you want, beginners may find it harder to stitch with the floss.  Sometimes the plies separate while stitching, leaving a loose thread in some stitches. Pearl cotton has multiple plies, but they are non-divisible. It comes in several thicknesses - the smaller the number the thicker the thread.

This Moment, detail view

This Moment, detail view

This Moment, 80" x 24", silk noil
 See how a simple straight stitch in red thread draws the eye into the small circle?

Marking Time, detail view

Marking Time, 80" x 24", Silk noil
The stitching on Marking Time is more subtle.  A tone-on-tone effect was used to keep the emphasis on the red painted marks.

The decision about what stitch to use was easy.  These two pieces explore our emphasis on "marking time" - looking to the past or future rather than focusing on the current moment. The universal symbol for counting seemed to make sense as a stitched element.  As did a double chain stitch to complete the larger circles on This Moment.

 Next Tuesday I'll highlight a few pieces with hand beading.

If you are intrigued and would like to explore several ways to add dimension, join me later this month in San Antonio for Three Dimensional Texture on Cloth, a 2 day class at the Southwest School of Art.

Monday, July 30, 2012

On Mentors

A comment from a friend started me thinking about the mentoring relationship.  She was talking about her mentor and how they had a falling out.  She said, "I guess that's normal.  Once you realize your mentor isn't perfect, you can't continue the relationship and you can't become friends - it just won't work."

Mentors are a special breed.  They share their knowledge, they do all they can to support your efforts, and they often become friends and colleagues. I was taken aback by her comment, because my experience has been just the opposite.  I have been fortunate to have had a number of mentors over the years. I deeply value those relationships - both for the wisdom and guidance during the mentoring period and for the life-long friendships that evolved.

The transition from mentor to friend isn't always easy.  I agree with my friend - the realization that a mentor is just a human being with quirks and frailties will change the relationship. But if both parties are open to the change and are willing to talk openly about any conflict or uneasiness that comes up, it can evolve into a rewarding friendship. I think the key word is evolve.  The relationship changes over time as you move beyond the teacher/student dynamic and recognize the other as an equal. 

In September, I'll be visiting a former boss and mentor from when I was in my early 20's.  She taught me a lot about the business world and encouraged me to stretch beyond my self-imposed limitations. Her faith in me helped me gain self confidence.  She has long since retired and I have remained good friends with her and her husband.

Who was your mentor and what did they bring to your life?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Month-Long Resist "Fest"!

If you haven't read the blog, And Then We Set It On Fire, you are missing out.  It is hosted by a group of fiber artists and each month they focus on a particular technique. For the month of August, they will explore the use of resists. They are also giving away a copy of my book, Visual Texture on Fabric (courtesy of C&T Publishing). To enter the drawing, leave a comment by July 31on the blog post linked below:


On August 1, I'll be kicking off the month of resists on their blog with a sugar resist tutorial. Plus I'll be giving away a sample set of resist-dyed fabrics.  See you there!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ice Dyeing Observations

I can't claim to be an expert on ice dyeing, since my first try was two weeks ago.  I have dyed about 15 yards of fabric using the technique, however, so I have learned a few things.

The Ice

It takes a lot of ice.  My freezer can't create cubes fast enough, so I had to buy it.  And the lack of room in my freezer limited how much I could do at one time. I actually found myself wishing I lived somewhere that had snow so I could dye as much as I wanted!

I only used whole ice cubes, so I can't comment on how the pattern is affected by using crushed ice. I like the results I got, so I never bothered to crush it. I did use several types and sizes of cubes and didn't really see much difference.  The tightness of the scrunching seemed to have more impact on the pattern.

I found it difficult to mound much ice on top of the fabric because I was using a flat surface, rather than a container with sides.Check out the Quilt or Dye blog for a great way to overcome that. I ended up with a lot of spaces between the ice cubes where the cloth was exposed.  More info under  The Dyes, as to why it matters.

The Dyes

I used mixed colors, since I read that they turn out more interesting that way.  It makes sense - the beauty is not only the patterning, but the way the colors break out and mix and mingle together. I tried the technique with both powder and liquid dye.  The powdered dye method did seemed to yield more complex and intriguing colors.

When I used liquid dyes, I mixed a very strong concentration - about 1 t dye to 2 oz. water. That resulted in medium value fabrics. When I used the powder dyes, I sprinkled on about 1 teaspoon total per yard. 

When using the powdered dyes, I ended up with spots of color where the dye powder landed directly on the fabric. You may find that desirable or not.  If not, use more ice and pile enough ice on top so that none of the fabric is directly exposed.

Flecks from powdered dye directly on fabric

The Fabric

I tried a variety of fabrics: cotton sateen, cotton printcloth, Kona, silk habotai, silk noil, cotton/silk charmeuse,dobby noil, and even a 50/50 poly cotton (I thought it was all cotton). The patterning came out with a softer edge on the silks than the cotton.  Both are beautiful, just different. As expected, the thinner fabrics have less patterning.

Silk habotai

Silk/cotton charmeuse

Silk dobby noil



I read that the color/pattern breakouts are due to the slow dyeing. Since I was doing it outside in 95 degree weather, it probably wasn't that slow.  It took from 1-2 hours for the ice to melt, and I let it batch for 3-4 hours after that.  I have not done any comparisons to see if longer batching time or longer time before the ice melts yields different color and pattern.  That will be my experiment for this fall/winter.


I found very little excess dye run-off. I soaked the fabric in cold water for about 10 minutes.  Very little dye came out in the rinse after that soak.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Artist . . .in Training?

A friend and I were talking about attending workshops and the feelings of insecurity that sometimes brings. She had just completed a workshop and was feeling that she didn't "measure up" to her classmates. I could relate to that.  I have experienced those feelings in a workshop setting - that my work was not as good (whatever that means!) as the others'.

When I first started working in textiles, I had recently quit my corporate job and didn't have money to attend workshops.  So I checked out every book my library had on dyeing and surface design.  I scoured the Dharma Trading website and catalog for information.  And I played.  When my financial situation improved and I was able to attend a few workshops, I often felt like a beginner.  I felt that my work was so amateurish compared to others in the class.  I doubted whether I really was an artist.

It was a long road to the place where I feel more secure in who I am and where I am.  (That doesn't mean I don't experience those feelings anymore - just not as much.) Why do we insist on comparing ourselves with others?  Each of us is on our own journey.  We start in different places and take different paths. We are continually learning and growing.  Each of us is an artist in training, going at our own pace.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Rendezvous With an Old Love

A fluttering of excitement in the stomach. Shortness of breath. A touch of giddyness. That is how I feel as I work with silk screens in the studio.  I was on a self-imposed hiatus from screenprinting for a couple of years.  I wanted to eliminate the intermediary (silk screens and other tools) and apply color to cloth directly with my hands.

Looking back, I can't believe I gave up screen printing for such a long time.  For several years that's all I did.  No immersion, just screen printing with dye. I loved it. And I find that I still do.  I can't explain why, but I become completely immersed in the process.  Time flies. I don't want to stop.

Without intending it, my approach is a bit different now.  I'm trying new things. I guess I had gotten into a rut and now I'm looking at it with a fresh eye.  And now I'm combining screen printing with hand painting techniques.  The best of both worlds!

Until I got sidetracked by ice dyeing last week, I've been working diligently in the studio with my silk screens for the past month. Only one finished piece to show for it, but lots in progress. Here is a sneak peek. More photos will come as they are complete.

What is your surface design "love"?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More Ice Dyeing

I spent a few more days ice dyeing last week.  I'm really enthralled by the process.  It's my "new boyfriend", as Jane Dunnewold would say. Below are more photos of my results.  I have also documented the process for those of you who may not be familiar with it.  You can also google "ice dyeing" and you will find numerous tutorials and lots of ideas for alternate ways of setting this up.

Red violet and yellow green liquid dyes on cotton

Red, yellow and green powdered dyes on cotton sateen
Yellow and green powdered dyes on cotton
Blue and orange liquid dyes on silk/cotton
Tobacco, bronze and palomino gold powdered dyes on cotton
Red and green liquid dyes on cotton

This set up worked well.  I placed a tarp on the grass and anchored the corners into the ground. The fabric was raised above the surface with a plastic ceiling grid. The fabric was soda soaked and the dyes were applied while the fabric was damp.

The day the photos were taken, I used powdered dye sprinkled directly onto the ice cubes. Salt and pepper shakers work well for this. I used full size ice cubes made with ice cube trays.  The powdered dyes mix and mingle with the melting ice. Later in the week I experimented with different kinds of ice and with liquid dyes.

Once all the dye had been applied, I folded the tarp in half to keep the cloth damp.  This also proved helpful when the rain storm came through later that morning.

This is what the cloth looked like after the ice cubes melted.  Not very exciting.  But look at the finished cloth below.

Deep purple and jade green on silk dobby noil

Monday, July 16, 2012

Studio Creep and Studio Envy

For the past 7 years, my home studio has been in one of the extra bedrooms in our home.  It is a rather small space and it has become smaller over the years.  (With the acquisition of all of my "stuff"!) I finally gave in and appropriated an adjacent room as additional studio space.

I blame studio envy for my decision.  It started in March when I had a chance to see Dianne Hricko's studio in Philadelphia.  Ohhhhhh what a space! You can see photos of it on her blog.  It is huge - probably the size of half of my house. It has wonderful high ceilings, lots of storage space and a huge 12 foot table.  Actually I don't know the size of the table, but it seems like 12 feet.

Then last month Barbara Schneider, another friend of mine, moved into a wonderful studio space. You can see photos on her blog. Her space has high ceilings, lots of natural light, plenty of room to move around and even space to hang finished work.

I was feeling too cramped in my small 10' x 13' studio, so the sunroom is now my design studio.  By moving the futon, bookshelves and design wall out, I have room for another work table in the wet studio. My new studio "suite" still feels too small, but it is certainly better than before. Maybe in another few years studio creep will kick in again and I'll take over the dining room!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Art Movie Night

Another aspect of the online class I took with Alyson Stanfield is planning for your continued learning.  She gave us a worksheet designed to get us thinking about ways to enhance our knowledge of art in general, art techniques and other topics related to our work.  One of her suggestions is to watch art documentaries. Occasionally I'll watch one and I am usually inspired.  So we have instituted art movie night in our household.  Once a week we watch a documentary or movie focused on an artist or art.

Last week we watched Waste Land, a documentary about Vik Muniz.  He is a photographer who creates compositions with unusual objects and then photographs them. He has done work in thread, diamonds, chocolate syrup, soil, dust, junk and trash.  I saw his work, Bacchus Astride a Barrel, at a local museum and was fascinated.  The documentary is about a series of portraits he created using trash from a landfill in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  He spent three years there, getting to know the landfill workers who pull recyclable objects from the landfill.  He photographed them and then, with their help, created large scale reproductions of the photos using trash.  These were then photographed and put up for auction, with the proceeds going to the person in the portrait.

The documentary was inspiring on so many levels. I enjoyed the glimpse into his approach and methods. It was also moving to hear the stories of the people who work in the landfill. I highly recommend this DVD.

What art documentaries are your favorites?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ice Dyeing

I'm a little late on the ice dyeing craze, and this may seem like a strange time to do it, but I finally made time to try it.  I read about snow dyeing several years ago and thought it sounded interesting, although not very practical for someone who lives in a warm climate.  Ice dyeing makes more sense, and summer is actually a good time, because the mess can stay outside.

The nudge to do this came when I was invited to participate in a friend's booth at the American Sewing Guild conference in August. She invited me to sell my books and DVDs and said that fat quarters would be great, too. Ice dyeing seemed the perfect way to create unique fabric for fat quarter sets.

After doing an internet search, I realize there are many variations. I chose to work with the dyes in their powdered state rather than mixing them into a liquid.  I placed a tarp on the ground outside and used a plastic grid from a commercial light fixture to raise the fabric out of the melting ice/dye. I didn't document the process, but I'm doing more later this week, so I'll take photos of my setup. At that time I'll also give more detail about the process I used.

I am pleased with the results, although I have to admit that while it was in process I was not impressed.  I had read some comments that the results are similar to what you get with low water immersion dyeing.  I found a significant difference.  The patterning is hard to describe, but it has a distinctive look. Here are my results (I used Dharma Bronze and ProChem Tobacco on all these pieces):

This is a full and detail shot of a piece of silk dobby noil (from Thai Silks). It is a wonderful fabric and it took the ice dyeing beautifully.

This is a heavy-weight cotton.  See how much difference in how the colors took?

This is silk habotai, and it was underneath the two previous fabrics to catch the dye as it dripped down. This looks like a typical low water immersion dye.

This is also cotton, and it was dry when I placed the ice cubes on top.  The other fabrics were all wet.

This piece was underneath the plastic grid to catch the drips from the previous cloth.


Have you tried ice and snow dyeing?  What was your experience?

Monday, July 9, 2012


Last month I participated in an online class offered by Alyson Stanfield called Blast Off. A lot of Alyson's work is focused on marketing, but this class had more of a big picture focus.  The course was designed to give artists a jump start by working on their vision, goals, financial reality check and  continued learning. 

I got a lot out of it and it really has lit a fire under me.  Many of the lessons were very useful.  One that I particularly like was to make affirmations a part of your daily routine. I have created affirmations in the past and found them to be poweful - in helping me visualize what I want and also in keeping me focused.  I just found it hard to make them a part of my daily practice.

Alyson talked about a process of making affirmation cards so that you would have something in your hand to hold and read.  After writing out my affirmations, I decided to try it.  I used heavy (300 lb) watercolor paper and watercolor pencils.  The process of creating them was fun and I've found that holding the cards as I read them is more powerful than just reading my affirmations as a list on a piece of paper.  The cards seem to have a sense of energy that I can feel in my hands. 

I have been successful at making them a part of my daily journaling/meditation. Let's hope I can keep it up this time!

Do you use affirmations?  How have they affected your life?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Great Print Paste Experiment

There are a lot of recipes for making print paste, the seaweed-based mixture used to thicken dyes. I have always made mine from scratch, using some combination of sodium alginate, soda ash, urea and water. I've been frustrated over the years because it seems to go bad quickly.  By "bad", I mean that it becomes thin and watery.  I'm lucky if mine lasts for a month in the refrigerator.  So how come people talk about it lasting indefinitely? 

While in New Jersey, I was discussing print paste with a friend who says that hers lasts months at room temperature. I asked how she makes it, and found that she uses the Print Paste Mix from ProChemical and Dye that includes calgon and metaphos.  Hmmm - could those other ingredients make a difference? I decided to find out.  I'm going to do a side-by-side comparison.  Today I will mix up my usual recipe and a batch of the ProChem print mix and see how long they maintain the right consistency. I plan to check them every week to see how they are holding up.  I'll report back as soon as I have the results.

How do you make your print paste, and how long does it last?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Midlife Clarity

That sounds much better than midlife crisis, doesn't it? I wish I could take credit for the term, but I borrowed it from Kenny Loggins.  I had one (midlife clarity) in my early 30s.  It was a period of re-evaluating all aspects of my life - work, relationships, spirituality, health. It was a difficult period, but I came out better for it.  And my journey has been very fulfilling.

I always thought that was it - I went through my midlife clarity early, and I was set for the rest of my life. Ha! I realized last month that I'm going through another one. (Don't worry, I won't bore you with the gory details.) I suppose it makes sense - we are continually changing, as is the world around us. We evolve and grow, and our path changes as well. It is not always comfortable, though. However, I found that just the recognition of it has helped me obtain some peace and clarity.  Before, I just felt a sense of disconnection and malaise. Now I am a bit more forgiving of myself and I am more focused on working through it. I know I can't rush it - things will all become clear in their own time.  What I can do is allow space for the discomfort and unknowing.

How have you emerged from your own midlife clarity?  

Monday, July 2, 2012

Artwork winners!

Peace Amidst Chaos
Thank you so much to all who ordered my new book, Visual Texture on Fabric. As a thank you to those who ordered the book from me before June 30, I held a drawing of some of the artwork from the book. Eight silk scarves created for the book, along with two pieces of artwork from the cover will now go to a new home. Congratulations to the following winners:

Lynne Allen - silk scarf
Rachel Edwards-Ridder - silk scarf
Diana Sanchez Harwood - silk scarf
Angela Maroun - silk scarf
Carol Mendenhall - silk scarf
Penni Redding - silk scarf
Deborah VanStratum - Peace Amidst Chaos, cover artwork
Stephanie Wilson - Bamboo Sunrise, cover artwork
Judith Winshel - silk scarf
Carol Yingst - silk scarf

As I pulled the names, most were of people I know.  I thought, "Oh, no - people will think it's rigged." But then I realized that only 30% of the orders were from people I didn't know personally.  Out of the ten winners, I know seven.  So I guess the law of probability and sampling really does work pretty well.

For those whose names weren't drawn, I'm sorry.  I wish I had enough artwork to give to all of you!

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