February Humbug!

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Looking around at blogs of other Etsy sellers, I see that I am not the only creative mom who has been sidelined by sickness this month. It has been a rough month. I've never done anything concrete about February's Take it Further Challenge, besides dreaming about 1970's cloudscapes at the beach of my childhood and I haven't done much to improve my Etsy store this month, either. I've been sick as a dog since Sunday and am afraid that I'll miss work (my paid day off!) at the Arts Council tomorrow. I'm coughing and sneezing so much that I'm certainly toxic in spite of doping up on cold medicine. I'm tired of lugging wood into the house, building the fire and sweeping up wood chips and dust. I'm sick of having the drapes drawn against the cold all day. I dread trips to the bathroom because the heat from the woodstove does not make it into that room. I'm just generally ready for spring to come and warm things up a bit!

Round Robin Fabrics

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I've recently finished and mailed two pieces of fabric for the Complex Cloth Round Robin that I am participating in. This Round Robin is being hosted by Von Biggs over at the Complex Cloth forums. There are 7 of us in each Round Robin Group. My group is working in cotton. Each participant started with one yard of high quality cotton fabric, added one layer of dye to the fabric and sent it on to the next person on the list. When my original fabric comes back, it will have been altered by 6 more people. Folks have been posting photos as they go along on the Complex Cloth forum and it is fun to watch how each piece gets altered.

I added a 3rd layer of dye to a yard of fabric that had soft, pale yellow and blue stripes. I painted circles on the fabric with Speedball drawing fluid, allowed them to dry and then laid the fabric on a shower curtain and painted coral pink dye all over with a sponge brush. Then I mixed some fire red dye and painted more circles around and/or inside the resisted circles. I had never used drawing fluid as a resist before as I was afraid that it might stain the fabric. In Jane Dunnewold's book, Complex Cloth, she mentions that drawing fluid as a resist had once stained a length of silk noil. However, I felt safe using it on this piece because the existing blue dye was the same color as the drawing fluid; I felt confident that it would look intentional if it stained. There was some icky looking color mixing going on between the fire red and the drawing fluid while the fabric batched, but it all washed out just fine. I was surprised at how well the drawing fluid worked as a resist considering how much it appeared to bleed while batching. Placing the fabric on a shower curtain resulted in having some interesting bleed lines where the plastic carried the dye over into other areas of the fabric. Some people would hate that but I liked it. So one thing I've learned in this RR is that I can use drawing fluid as a sturdy resist on cotton. I generally use Elmer's school glue gel as a resist for silk painting, but that does not hold up well to really wet work on heavier fabric.

For the second fabric I just accordion folded the picece into a little packet and discharged the edges with bleach. Frankly, I didn't want to do anything to this piece of fabric and I'm disappointed with what I did do. I guess that I should have been bolder, but in my world that piece would have been considered done when it got to me. I hope that the next person who gets it does not feel as stumped as I did! I've tried to photograph this length of fabric in a way that will do justice to all of the incredible things going on with colors and discharging/overdyeing, but I'm stumped. You'll just have to take my word for it - this is one beautiful piece of fabric.

I need to get started with some screen printing techniques. I think if I had some more tools in my studio, I would not have been so intimidated. My piece of fabric has been to 4 people and the last person added some
silk screened Emily Dickinson text to the piece. The effect is subtle compared to the larger patterns happening with the dye but it is bold enough to stand out from the background.

Cloth and Culture Now

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There is a very interesting online exhibit called Cloth and Culture Now up with artist statements and photos from 35 artists from 6 countries with strong textile traditions. The project is headed by by Lesley Millar, who has co-ordinated several textile projects and exhibitions with the University College for the Creative Arts. Take a look - it is visually pleasing and intellectually stimulating.

Getting rid of Baggage - or - I am not a Drug Dealer

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I mentioned several weeks ago that I would post about studio storage problems and solutions as I cleaned out and re-structured my studio. One issue that I have been struggling with for years is the baggie problem. Not only did I feel a vague sense of unease about having all of these teeny baggies hanging about my house, after years of storing my beads inside baggies inside plastic shoe boxes I began to realize that baggies were hampering my creative process.

This is what beads, threads, sequins, etc.. look like when stored in baggies inside shoeboxes:

Anything could be inside these bags - or not. One can't see past the first layer or two of baggies to find the stuff on the bottom of the box. so I would end up having to pull everything out to get to what I wanted.

Having more than one box of baggies compounds the problem. Instead of being able to quickly put my hands on the beads I wanted, I would often end up with a table full of slippery, slidey, non-stacking baggies full of distracting stuff that needed to be sorted and re-sorted again and again. Two large "fishing tackle/hardware" style compartmentalized bead boxes proved helpful for a while but my bead supply quickly outgrew them and they were simply not portable enough. Sure, I could grab a fishing box full of beads, throw in some pliers and wire and go, but they might not be the beads I want to work with and the boxes take up a lot of room. It is really hard to carry one of those boxes, a purse, a diaper bag and a toddler.

A couple of years ago, I discovered these wonderful round, clear, stacking, screw together containers. You can get them from most bead shops or craft stores for a couple of bucks per set of 4 or 5 shallow stacking canisters. these have proven to be great. They are easy to see through and to store:

I can sort my beads by color, style or project and can easily take the sets apart and reconfigure a small stack or two to throw in my purse or luggage and thereby carry the specific beads I need for a project. Also, I can throw a large number of stacks into my big Art Bin carriers if I am headed out to teach a class. This is very handy for classes because it allows me to easily eliminate any beads that I don't want to share and allows me to group beads by price, color family or style once I get to class. I keep everything in these canisters - seed beads, pearls, sterling beads and findings, briolettes, crystals, etc... I still have sequins living in baggies and my bead collection is constantly growing and expanding so I pick up a new stack or two every time I encounter them.

Needlefelting experiment

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Last Friday I got a call from my friend, Brenda, of Hollow Brook Handmade and Etsy's Dye4fun. She needed help with editing her instructions for a needle felted eggs kit. Knowing that MB and I are not afraid of fiber arts and that we haven't tried needle felting yet, she brought us a sample kit so that we could give her instructions a trial run.

The result was an afternoon of fun for all of us. My daughter and I felted the eggs, the little guy stole bits of wool and waded them up and got them dirty, the dog enjoyed sniffing the baggie containing the wool. (Ziggy is a German Shepherd/Boxer mix and has an excellent nose, he is really into smelling new stuff that comes into the house. He especially likes to smell boxes that the UPS man brings and anything that is associated with animals. Don't get me wrong - Brenda's wool is very clean and I can't smell sheep in it anymore, but Ziggy can!)

Brenda's instructions were well written, the colors were fun and the needles were strong and did not break, thanks to a warning not to twist or bend the needles while felting. There is quite a bit of roving left over after finishing the two eggs included with the kit. I think that MB could probably get a few small styrofoam balls covered with what is left. She has some laying about to make sequined Christmas ornaments with and I can see that this method would make lovely little christmas ornaments in the right color schemes.

I was really impressed with how easy and un-messy needle felting is compared to the traditional method. I did poke myself a couple of times but the intrepid 13 year old managed to make her purple polka-dotted egg nice and tidy within a couple of hours without any bloodletting. I discovered that you can create a very fine line with needle felting by using thin wisps of roving, twisting them tightly and felting them in at an angle from both sides and then securing from the top of the strand. It is a very peaceful task that allows some left over brain space for discussing homeschool assignments or having an important phone conversation while you are felting. I'd like to do it again. Hmm. . . I just remembered that I have 2 bags of wool left over from a shearing of my in-laws sheep a few years ago and I just got some pretty acid dyes from Pro-chem. . . .

Thoughts on February's Take it Further Challenge

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The theme and color pallette have been posted over at In a Minute Ago and I've already had lots of ideas about how to handle this challenge. The challenge this time around is a question: What are old enough to remember? Sharon's idea is that there are items, skills and general qualities that are disappearing from our world with changing technology and cultural habits and many of these things are worth commemorating. I like the concept but I'm not sure my idea will work with this months color palette.

One thing that is worth remembering to me is the sky and the weather in the 1970's here in upstate NY. We used to get these amazing sky-scapes with hundreds of huge, magnificently puffy clouds mounded together, moving gracefully across the sky in summertime. We would get several quick rainstorms a week, including some real cracking thunderstorms and a few all day soakers scattered throughout the season. Perfect cloud and lightning watching conditions. We've been in drought conditions here almost every summer since I returned from Arizona in 1991 and we just don't get that weather anymore.

This last summer was as close to a 1970's summer as we've been in a looong time. Several times we would be outside or in the car or I would look out of a window and shout, "Look, it's a 1970's sky!" My daughter eventually started to roll her eyes at me whenever I got excited about the sky. She did not grow up spending days laying on the lawn, looking at the sky - there hasn't been much to look at up there in the last 13 summers. Hardly any dragons or turtles or charging horses in the sky. I had forgotten how magical cloud watching can be. We started out with a 1970's winter here, too, with lots of snow (before thanksgiving, even!), reasonably cold temperatures and actual snowbanks in a few places. I've never considered myself a sentimental person, but the weather in '07 has really tugged at my heart. If you are wondering what I mean by these amazing cloudscapes, you just need to look at some of the nostalgic commercial art of the 1930's-50's. Eric Sloane, a highly talented illustrator of barns and early American material culture, published a book back then about how to draw these sky-scapes. Dover has just re-issued it and you can get it for 6 bucks right now. So there's one more thing to work on.

I'm also interested in playing with mono-printing. The new issue of Quilting Arts has some amazing articles about the process, including a story on monopriniting on sheer fabric as an overlay for collaged images on a base fabric. I immediately went to the Pro-chem website and ordered some print base so I can try this at home. I've never tried this stuff before because I have never been set up to do screen printing, but the Quilting Arts article shows how to use thickened dyes for mono-printing. I do have a piece of plexiglass and a brayer and my pro-chem stuff arrived Thursday - I hope I get time to experiment today. The issue also has an excellent article about preparing textile arts for display and another fun article about mono-printing using textile paints.

Well, my boy is awake. I'll bet he will want breakfast before we go to the studio to learn about mono-printing.

January Take it Further Challenge

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Here are photos of my progress in the January Take it Further challenge. Earlier I posted my design sketch and info about my source materials and yesterday my camera came home so... Here's where I am so far - now that it is no longer January!

I've had a bit of frustration with the colors here - obviously, I need to take the time to re-calibrate my color balance on the camera. The actual embroidery is not quite as yellow as the first picture nor quite as blue as the second picture. The detail photo is close but not quite right, either.

I have been using satin stitch for the foundations of the ruins here and french knots and some modified satin stitch for the ground/foliage around them. I'm loving the textural detail but am feeling a bit daunted about the remaining amount of empty space in the composition. I'm leaning toward leaving a lot of it as is and formulating some elegant border and corner motifs.
I do like that the texture in this work looks like organic growth super-imposed on a man made structure - much like a forest overgrown into the ruins of an ancient fortress - which was the whole point! Another part of my bewilderment over what to do with the open areas right now is how to fill in the empty spaces without using too much satin stitch - which would look like more ruins instead of grass or foliage as seen from the air. Maybe I sketch some color on with colored pencils or something? I don't dare use textile paint or dye at this point because I don't want anything to get on the embroidery. Any suggestions?

Look for Round Robin photos in the next day or so - those are finally done and just await a good pressing .
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