Noody-what?

I am often asked what inspires the pieces I make, the truth is inspiration can strike anywhere, sometimes it is the materials themselves, the pattern on a piece of sari silk or the tassels on a charity-shop scarf for example. Nature is another great source, the textures of a patch of lichen or orange-crimson autumnal leaves against a bright blue sky. Memories from holidays or previous careers such as watching cells growing in a petri dish from my days as a “lab rat”.

As some of you may know, I used to SCUBA dive a lot and frequently draw inspiration for my felting from the underwater world, for my new collection I couldn’t resist the gloriously colourful world of nudiranchs (pronounced noo-dee-branks). I confess I have been slightly obsessed with these little sea slugs for more than 20 years but the usual response when I try to describe them to non-divers is, “noody-what?” Their name means naked gills in latin and refers to the fern-like gill structures you can often see sprouting from their backs.

I love them because they are so outrageously colourful  and don’t seem to care who sees them strutting their stuff in the magical aquatic world. I can’t think of a better muse to create a fabulously colourful set of wearable art, deep down, who wouldn’t want to be a nudibranch? 🙂 If you google “nudibranch photos” you will get a taste of their fantastically beautiful world and the colours will be much less washed out than those in my photos.

 

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The Pink Dorid nudibranch was my muse for this hat and gloves set.

Now I just need to find a human who is as exuberant and fun-loving as a nudibranch to wear them…. 😉

Exploring Botanical Printing

A few weeks ago I spotted a last minute ecoprinting workshop that Kim Winter from Flextiles was running, this is a technique I have been curious about for some time so I jumped at the chance to go play with a lovely group of ladies. It turns out this is the perfect time of year (in the northern hemisphere) to be ecoprinting as most plants are at the end of their growing season and I don’t feel so bad about denuding my beautiful Acer knowing it will shed its leaves in the next few weeks anyway.

The workshop focussed on printing on silk, probably the easiest of fibres to print as it doesn’t need to be mordanted first. These are the pieces I made during the workshop, out of respect for Kim I am not going to share her methods here but I think most of what we learned is available on the net. All but the first piece were printed with an iron blanket:

Printed and simultaneously dyed with onion skin, note the repeat (ghost) prints as no barrier was used

Silk dyed with tanin and iron blanket

I also took a  few scraps of nunofelt along to the workshop just to see what would happen and was pleasantly surprised with the results:

Top piece was dyed with tanin before printing

Although I came away from the workshop with a good range of samples I wanted to test more of my local plants on both cotton and silk and with my notoriously hard local water. The cotton was mordanted with 10% Weight of Fabric (WOF) Alum (Aluminium Potassium Sulphate), rinsed and dried before use. Mordanting is a process that makes it possible for the dye to form a chemical bond with the fabric, therefore making the dye colours stronger and more light- and wash-fast.

For almost all the leaves I placed one leaf (on the left) with the veins facing the fabric and a second leaf with the veins facing up. In almost all cases the side with the veins gave the best print.

These are my results on silk, as you can see, some plants produce much better prints than others. Clicking on the photos should enlarge them enough to read my plant labels, I am ashamed to admit I don’t know names for all of the plants are, so some are just location labels for my own reference:

And these are my results on alum-mordanted cotton (the cotton is pink from a magenta coloured top included in the mordant bath, but had the unintended benefit of revealing which plants might discharge the dye):

In the next photo the leaves in the lower left corner clearly discharged the dye.

I also had a play with some natural dyes too, madder and logwood. My biggest learning is that madder loses its colour above 60ºC so printing with steam onto madder-dyed fabric causes the colour to fade. But how I love logwood! You can get anything from pale grey-purple through to the deepest indigo-purple colours depending on the strength of the bath and how long you steep your cloth.

Pre-dying cloth with logwood has opened up the option of discharge printing, a technique that relies on the ability of certain plants to remove the dye from the cloth. These are some of my test pieces, very few of the plants I tried removed any of the logwood dye:

Feeling brave I raided my local charity shops for pale coloured clothes with a high cotton content and these are the results of my first attempts, some I am really pleased with and have been wearing at every opportunity 🙂

This was my first attempt, I was a little disappointed that the large fern frond I placed on each side only left a pale smudge rather than a print but otherwise there were some nice geranium prints.

This was the offending magenta top that dyed my test cottons pink but I was really pleased with the subtle crimson prints it gave.

This one was initially shibori-dyed with logwood – that gave the barbed-wire effect across the top (best seen in the second photo) and then printed with sycamore and deutzia leaves.

This is my favourite print so far, it was predominantly sycamores and acer. The lovely orangey-yellows were from just one tree, it still amazes me how different trees from similar species give such different prints.

This shirt was dyed with logwood and then printed with sacred bamboo and sycamore leaves. Unfortunately you cannot see distinct leaf shapes from the bamboo, it looks more like I splattered the shirt with white paint, the sycamore leaves gave a nice crimson print though.

I tried reprinting over the white areas with some more sycamore leaves and some virginia creeper. I’m still not happy with it… perhaps I will dye it with logwood again and just print with sycamore leaves instead.

I found some very pale lilac jeans, they still had their original shop labels, clearly whoever bought them had second thoughts about them by the time they got them home. Initially I printed them with chestnut and geranium leaves but was really disappointed with the pale quality of the prints so over printed them with sycamore leaves, that added the yellows and greens you can see below. Some of the yellow patches were in some rather unfortunate places…

So back into the dye pot they went! This time I rolled the jeans up with more sycamore leaves and a few from my acer tree and put them in a logwood dye bath….

I was hoping the logwood would reach the groin area on the front as well as the back but I do like the way the purple plays against the yellow.

If you are interested in exploring ecoprinting, these are some resources that I have found useful:

Printing with Botanicals FB page – there are several FB pages dedicated to ecoprinting but this one insists that anyone posting their work shares the method they used – incredibly helpful for beginners.

Wild Colours  – a UK supplier of mordants and natural dyes but they also list methods and recipes on their website.

For natural dyeing I can recommend Jenny Dean’s book, Wild Colours, she provides recipes and methods as well as colour swatches to give you an idea of how alum and iron will impact the final colour.

If you are concerned about the toxitiy of mordants used in natural dyeing (that was my main reason for not attempting it sooner) you might find this post interesting: https://alpenglowyarn.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/mordants-and-natural-dyeing-the-great-debate/

Confused about the difference between mordants and chemical assists? Take a look at this:  http://www.pburch.net/dyeing/FAQ/mordants_and_assists.shtml

Have you tried eco-printing? What results did you achieve?

 

Hat Fest

Bridport Hat Festival has crept up on me, I have quite a few hats but, they are like shoes, you can never have too many! So this month I have been spending every spare moment making more stock and trying out some new ideas and developing some old favourites with a new twist…

The pink unicorn:

 

is a variant of the horned viking:

 

Finishing up some hats started in a workshop with Zsofia Marx:

 

Experimenting with wire and other inclusions between the layers of felt:

 

 

Adding flaps to give a new dimension:

Do you think I should leave this one white / cream or dye it? It feels quite anaemic sat next to all the others but maybe it is good to offer some neutral options for sale?

“Haturday” starts at 10 am Saturday 1st September 2018 in Bridport, Hampshire, UK. Check out this link for more information. If you are in the area please pay us a visit, its a free event with lots of live music and entertainment and of course I can be found with the International Feltmakers Association in the Arts Centre behind the main stage. Why not pay us a visit, try on a few hats for fun and have a giggle? 🙂

Book Review – Pastel Innovations by Dawn Emerson

I confess, I am not really one for writing book reviews, it is rare that a book excites me enough to give it a star rating on Amazon but this one is in a class of its own….

Following a very enjoyable workshop with Mark Cazalet a few weeks ago I was looking to broaden my pastel drawing skills so trotted off to my local library to see what they had, the front cover of the book immediately grabbed my attention and flicking through the vibrantly colourful photos in the book had me hooked.

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The title, Pastel Innovations, 60+ techniques and exercises for painting with pastels is a little misleading because this is really a mixed media book with pastels as a recurring theme, but in my opinion the mixed media element really enhances the book rather than detracts from it.

Dawn starts with a materials list but I like her pragmatic, “use what you already have” approach, she makes a very sensible comment that you are more likely to experiment and take risks when working on cheapo newsprint paper and the art materials you were given as a child but never found a use for. An opportunity to use some 20+ year old materials that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away? I like her already! 🙂

She then takes you on a journey through some basic art theory: line, shape colour etc but she compares each element with her own twist and provides lots of examples and drawings along the way. This section culminates in how to self-critique your work against each of these elements.

At the end of each chapter there are exercises to practice what you have learned, I thought these were the best part of the book and if you learn best by doing, I think they are what sets it apart from so many art theory books.

This is my interpretation of the exercises from chapter 1…. Dawn provides a detailed still life photo to work from by I preferred a black and white photo of some pears on a window sill that she provided for an exercise later in the book.

Line:

Shape:

Value:

Texture:

Colour:

Translating this into textiles…

Working with pastels and charcoal is all very lovely but I was itching to put this into practice with felt.

I “cheated” and use some commercial prefelts as a support for my painting with a few wisps of wool between 2 prefelts. Bearing in mind that these fibres will migrate as the felt is fulled I laid out an “underpainting” of tones roughly where I wanted lights and darks to come through between the two layers of prefelt. These fibres will also help the two commercial prefelts glue together

Line

I laid out some purple fibres to suggest the outlines of the pears and windowsill, I used wool tops rolled between my hands with some wool yarns for different line weights and some variety.

 

Adding white highlights:

Using yarn and Kap merino.

Adding shadows:

I used some low-immersion dyed Kap merino provide some extra depth but you could also blend 2 or 3 different colours / shades to get the same effect.

Adding a light complimentary colour

The compliment of purple / mauve is yellow… unfortunately the only yellow I have is quite a dark, orangey yellow, not ideal but blended with some white, it will have to do.

Adding some interest to the background:

Looking at the photo, there’s still something missing….

I think it is green! Green and purple, always a good combination in my mind, and the reddish pinks in the background really throw the greens (their complement) forward, although I am running the risk of ending up with khaki brown once the picture is fulled.

 

Then I brought touches of the bright pink from the background and used it for mid tone highlights on the pears to try to visually link it all together.

Once it reached the firm prefelt stage (fibres holding together but no shrinkage) I let it dry out so I could assess the colour and needlefelt in some details this is dried prefelt. Wetting the fibres reduces the contrast between the light and dark colours so it is best to let your painting dry out before fulling:

And after adding some more details and dark blue shadows:

To mimic the texture element from the first exercise I screen-printed some blue and purple patterns over the background and a small area of the foreground before fulling it ready to be stretched over a frame:

 

My tips for wool paintings:

  • Layout your wool directly onto your felting set up, trying to move it once you have starting arranging the fibres could lead to disaster. I like to work on a sheet of plastic over a bamboo mat as the mat gives to wool some extra support, especially in the early stages of felting
  • Use only enough soapy water to anchor each layer of fibres down, it it is too wet it will be difficult to place the next layer of fibres where you want them
  • Check and rearrange your fibres as necessary every time you add water
  • Kap merino is very versatile for wool painting, the short fibres make it very easy to blend and feather the edges of a colour, it is available from Woolknoll in Germany
  • Spend at least 10 minutes gently massaging the front of your painting to ensure the surface fibres are knitting together before flipping it over and checking the back is evenly wet before starting to roll.
  • Roll up your work, at least to begin with, with the painting facing down, this will minimise the folds and distortion forming in the face (the outside of the roll is slightly stretched while the inside of the roll is slightly compressed when it is rolled up).

 

Chapter 2 covers various monoprinting, stencilling, embossing and brayer printing techniques, most of which I haven’t tried yet.

Dawn is clearly a fan of frottage (rubbings), I am sad to say some of the exercises I did for my City and Guilds course put me off this technique but I really like Dawn’s approach. For the most part she seems to use it as an accent in her own work but she also advocated using it to build up an entire image in what she called a “drubbing”. I found this a useful for pushing me away from trying to be to representational and literal in my interpretation and was a lot of fun to boot, this was my attempt at a “drubbing” of a calf using various textured wallpaper samples and charcoal:

 

Chapter 3 concerns itself with backdrops and under-paintings, among the options presented are, abstracted brayer paintings, watercolour and charcoal value drawings. The exercises at the end of this chapter felt a little disengaged from the chapter content, they predominantly focussed on the effect of different colour combinations but were still very enjoyable and informative in their own right.

Mass drawing with compressed charcoal:

 

Monochrome:

Complementary colours:

 

 

Adding analogous colours:

 

Towards the back of the book there are more mono-printing techniques, how to take a print from a pastel drawing and how to paint with pastels by mixing with a painting medium and using as paint. I confess I simply haven’t had time to work through those exercises yet but am really looking forward to having a play with them.

I was particularly smitten with a photo of a fancy chicken that Dawn shared to illustrate the inspiration behind one of her paintings, he was so funny I just couldn’t resist… 🙂

I can see him as a wool painting with his feathers made from coloured yarns and perhaps the occasional wool lock but that will have to wait for a later post….

Expressive Textile Printing with Dawn Dupree

Last week I was back at West Dean for another module of my Foundation Diploma, I had an absolute ball screen-printing on plant based fabrics (cottons, linen etc), guided by Dawn Dupree. We had a fantastic group and everyone was happy but exhausted by the end of our magical 3 days together. These are some of the pieces I made:

These first few prints were painted onto the screen and then print paste was squeegeed through to transfer the image to the cloth, it opens up lots of opportunity for different mark making and generally produced nice bright colours but is limited in that it is essentially a mono-print technique.

These next two prints were made using the same method but the muslin (cheesecloth) was under the cotton scrim during the printing so that the excess dye was caught by the muslin. This produced a feint print on the muslin that I added to by painting dyes directly onto the cloth.

Cotton scrim

I am planning to felt these 2 pieces to make nuno felt hangings.

Cotton muslin

This little chap from Costa Rica was printed from a line drawing that I transferred to the screen using photo emulsion. I wasn’t happy with the colour intensity of the initial print so again hand painted with the dyes directly onto the cloth, I am planning to add at least one more layer of colour to add some more depth as it still looks a bit flat.

This print also used the spider-monkey screen but also used some direct dyes and paper stencils for the leaf and discharge paste with splashes of yellow pigment for the off-white background.

 

This print was onto some commercially dyed (blue) cotton, the fish were screen printed with discharge paste mixed with some red pigment and the ripples were discharge paste painted on with a paint brush. The white highlights are silver foil.

 

These last 3 pieces used a combination of the techniques, mono-printing, direct dye (printed and painted directly onto the cloth), discharge paste and pigments suspended in binder. I even  managed to use the gecko and hibiscus stencils I made in Ruth Lane’s screen-printing on felt class. Click here for more information on that class.

 

 

Now the million dollar question… what to do with all these new pieces of fabric?

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