Sunday, October 28, 2012

Leftover Oatmeal

Before Sandy and her friend have a chance to knock out our power, I thought I would show you the results of the oatmeal adventure.

This had been covered with the boiled oats.  Part of what I am discovering with these experiments is how heavily to paint the dye on--and what painting tool to use. If you paint too heavily, the dye wicks under the resist and you end up with very little pattern; too lightly and you get too much undyed space with again no texture. The bottom three-quarters was done with a foam brush and I like what happened there better than the top when I used a small synthetic bristle brush. Lisa Kerpoe recommends a larger--perhaps a 2 inch--brush that I did not have (but now I do, ready for the next experiment!). Those places where the oats clumped together and raised off the fabric produced either undyed spaces or large blots of dye.  But even those spaces with very little texture might come in handy, depending on what I am doing.

Here is the result of the mixture of boiled oats in the middle and microwaved on the rest. And you can easily tell where I used the paint brush this time. But there is a further experiment in this piece: I used dyes thickened with sodium alginate for all of these because of the danger of plain dye bleeding under the resist, but I wanted to see if that would indeed be a problem since the dye paste solution in Lisa's book was fairly weak. So the purple dye has no thickener and you can see how it spread out under the oats but there is still some texture and I rather like the effect.

And here is the microwaved oatmeal. I am still not sure about the colors I chose.  The orange is a bit too orange for me. I have definitely decided that erring on the side of too much dye is preferable to too little--and I am not using that brush again!  The texture is somewhat different from the boiled oats but I am not sure I prefer one to the other yet.  And as for the low texture spaces, I can always do what I did last summer and add a second resist on top of the first:
This was done with microwaved oats but I also soaked the fabric in soda ash first and let it dry before I smeared on the oats.  In my most recent round I actually followed the directions and added soda ash to the dye paste. 

And if you managed to hang in there for all four explanations, thanks for the company!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Urge to Resist

Way up on the list of things I wanted to accomplish this summer was experimenting with resists, which create pattern and/or texture by blocking the dye from contacting the fabric.  I had bought Lisa Kerpoe's book, Visual Texture on Fabric, in July and had been inspired.  But being inspired did not mean that I actually had the time to do much dyeing at all. And so the warm weather slipped away.

But now I have received a gift from the weather gods: warm weather in October and I am trying to make up for at least a portion of lost time--as well as overseeing the chaos of the dining room being demo-ed to the studs so we can start over, but that's another story.

The end of last week saw me hard at work spreading oatmeal goo on fabric:

Actually there were two kinds of goo: the one above was made by adding oats to boiling water; the one on the right by microwaving oats and water.  The boiled water method creates a much denser cover with the oats still rather solidly formed, while the microwaved was less dense with the oats a bit mushier, and was more spreadable.  I did a third piece of fabric with a mixture: leftover boiled oats in the middle and microwaved spread around the rest, but I'm leaving that one to your imagination.

And here, after four(!) days of drying, they are ready to dye.  I have done this before and the big challenge is getting the oats to dry.  Sunshine helps, but as soon as I decided to begin, the weather report changed and we got a couple of days of rain and dampness.

You will notice that some mold took advantage of the ideal conditions on the microwaved oats on the yellow, which isn't a problem as I have found from experience, and the curling of the fabric is also usual when it dries, but this is the first time I used the boiled oats and they seemed to clump together and rise up off the fabric as they dried.  Not sure how this will affect the result.

Next step: painting on the dye! And if you've stayed with me this far, thanks for the company.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Reflecting on Reflection

Each member of the Art 1016 challenge gets an opportunity to propose the word for the next challenge and this time it was my turn.  After much thought and many rejected words I decided on "Reflection."  I had a couple of possible directions in mind shortly after I chose it but thought I would have plenty of time to reflect on and develop my ideas. But of course life didn't work out like that. 

Instead I found myself choosing a rather literal interpretation and seeing if I could create the feeling of objects reflected in some kind of watery surface. 
The objects I left a little amorphous--are they trees?  are they people? are they just shapes? 

I began with my hand-dyes, which allowed me some color variation to suggest watery reflections. The upper background is an oatmeal resist that makes great texture. I added some perle cotton patterned stitching and finally hand stitched the straight lines because I felt that it needed more line variation with all the curves of the objects, and the varied colors of those lines connect the varied colors of the objects. 

I tried one final experiment with this piece: the frame lines of heavy perle cotton were bobbin stitched.  This is certainly not a new discovery; people have been doing it for years.  But it is the first time I have tried it and I was amazed how easy it was--and it did not destroy my bobbin case or my sewing machine!

And if you are still with me, thanks for the company!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

My Favorite Color

The growing season is officially over on our hill.

Friday, October 5, 2012


I am showing up. While I am finishing up two other projects, I have begun something I have no idea what it will look like when it is finished but I smile whenever I go to pick it up so that is enough for right now. My muse or resident spirit may have a lot of work to do on this project. Last summer I began experimenting with a variety of hand stitches and this is a continuation of that experiment, although I have focused on the running stitch this time a la Julia Caprera, although it will be years before this piece has the  kind of visual impact that any of hers does, if it ever does.

I decided I wanted to use these stitches like quilting stitches, which meant I had to prepare a quilt sandwich.  I pulled a hand-dye from my stash with a funky crackle that I had not been sure would ever be useful for anything.  In other words, if this experiment flopped, I would not be overly distraught about having wasted the fabric.  In order to stabilize the sandwich I did a bit of machine quilting that emphasized some of the color texture of the piece.

And here is a close-up of my first hand stitches that are just following the verticals:
The beginning. . .

And thanks for the company as I make these first steps.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Showing Up

The TED Radio Hour, a full hour of eyes-free audio, has become one of my preferred ways to feed my mind while my hands are stitching.  And "The Creative Process" was one of the first I chose to listen to. It focuses on a poet, a writer of nonfiction, and a singer/songwriter and the TED talks they have given. Warning: much of what follows is a sort of talking-to-myself about some of the insights I gained from my listening, in the vain hope that they will last longer in my brain than the thirty seconds it takes me to get distracted by something else.  So feel free to just click on the above link and follow your own line of distractions.

The poet is Billy Collins, a former poet laureate, whose writing I admire and, let it be known, that if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I would like to set myself up so that I would deserve to come back as someone as insightful, clever, and downright funny as Billy Collins. But this time it was from Elizabeth Gilbert, the writer of Eat, Pray, Love, that I felt I learned something. She advocates taking some of the burden of creativity off the shoulders of the individual and giving it back to the genius of classical Greek and Roman times, a spirit who came to visit and bestow his gifts. Although she grants a belief in this kind of fairy godmother is a hard sell these days, she demonstrates how it can be a helpful when, on a particularly bad day in her writing process, she gives it a try.  After haranguing her muse for not carrying his part of the burden and indicating that they are in this together, she says something like, "And whatever the outcome of this project, let the record show that I did my part. Wherever you may be, I showed up." And it helped; it kept her going.  Of course, the story has a happy ending since the book she was working on was a runaway bestseller, but we'll ignore that part.

Now blaming somebody is often a way people deal with difficult situations, but blaming a house spirit may be much more healthy than blaming your parents or your third grade teacher or even yourself when all the creative colors have drained out of a project; it leaves you free to keep showing up.

And the second thing I want to remember from this program comes from Abigail Washburn, a folk singer and songwriter. In answer to the interviewer's question about what role discipline and practice played in her life, she indicated that she was not a trained musician and went on to say, "We're only as great as our ability to negotiate and take advantage of our limitations. I've decided my limitations are not only okay but an incredible opportunity to think about what it is I can do with what I have."

This reminded me of the fact that some poets find that a very defined form like the sonnet, instead of stifling their creativity, actually makes them more creative. The form is decided and they can concentrate on the words and images. And I know from experience that the worst thing a teacher can do in a Freshman Comp class is tell the students to write on anything they want.  They may complain about the topic assigned them but it gives them a starting point. I had not thought of my own limitations as this kind of starting point, as a frame on which I can weave.

And, if you hung in there through both my discoveries, thanks for the company!  And let me know if you find talking to the corner of the room helps--of course maybe you wouldn't want to admit it.