Thursday, May 17, 2018

Explorations Episode 11: Decisions have been made. Plans carried out.

I'm participating in an exhibit that requires me to create a 30" by 50" piece, and document my process as I go along.  I've been documenting away like crazy, experimenting with different materials in scale-size mockups.  You can read all about it elsewhere in prior  blog postings.

Today, after a hiatus of about a month, I'm back to report that I've finally begun the full-size piece, and that I made an important decision about the materials I'll be using for a significant part of the image I'm using, the foam:

After considering , and experimenting with, many varieties of silk, including silk habotai, silk crepe de chine, and silk chiffon, (you can read all about those experiments in prior postings), I decided to use lightweight raw silk (22 mm) for the foam.

In my scale-size experiments, the lightweight raw silk created a nubbly texture close to that of the foam itself. 

So I ordered a yard or two from Dharma Trading, my go-to source for silk:

Yesterday I cut a piece the size I needed, then treated it with GAC 900, a textile medium.  Today I painted that piece of silk to look like the foam, except 30% bigger, because it will shrink and pucker in the process of using Fabric Magic:

When the painted silk dries, I'll layer it with Fabric Magic, then sew lines of stitching along its curves.  When the stitching is done, steam is applied, and the result is the creation of curvaceous puckers like these, in one of my scale-size experiments:

 The piece of silk I painted today

once it's dried, stitched, and steamed, will be mounted on this full-size background, merino wool felted onto slightly heavier raw silk (35 mm)

Can you picture these sand ripples padded so that half of them are raised and half are troughs?  That's what I plan to do.  In the troughs, I'm going to thread-paint clusters of tiny bubbles.  I'm also going to use beads for bubbles, throughout.

But first, gotta wait for that painted silk to dry.

Here are the books I've listened to since my last posting, about a month ago, all courtesy of

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
The Diplomat's Daughter by Karin Tanabe
Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
The Dry by Jane Harper
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

On the music system:  Various things.  Right now, the Fats Domino station on Pandora.  Did you know that Fats Domino's given name was Antoine? Gotta love that Francophone culture!  Especially since I'm part of it.  But that's another story for another day.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Explorations 10: Puckering: A Scathing Self-Critique

I'm learning how to do something, and as usual, learning the hard way.  With a lot of trial and error. Basically, I'm trying to make a piece of painted silk look like a band of foam advancing across a beach at low tide.  I've been at it for days.  Today I worked on my third effort.  Right now I'm going to articulate what's working and what's not.

In this first effort (heavy silk crepe de chine, quilt batting), the lines are too evenly spaced:

In this second effort (lightweight raw silk, no quilt batting), I tried for less even spacing, but the result is haphazard looking and even a little ugly...

...except that I like the effect of white and iridescent threads, zigzagged along the edge, looking like the raised lip of the leading edge of the foam.

In today's third effort (silk chiffon, no quilt batting), I'm onto something.  This photo below shows the silk chiffon after having been stitched but before the steam was applied to the Fabric Magic:

 This photo shows the same piece after the Fabric Magic had been exposed to steam:

 Closeup of after Fabric Magic:

 What worked and what didn't:
  • I'm getting much better at making the rows of stitching look more irregular, but they still have to be in parallel bands
  • The rows sewn in lazy curves, using straight stitch, such as those on the lower left and upper right, work well and look natural, as long as they're not too regular
  • Zigzags don't work well in a color that contrasts with the background, such as gold.
  • Zigzags do work well when sewn in the same color as the background, such as white, and where the puckering mimics the rounded edge of the advancing foam
  • This piece is way too crumpled and puckery, more so than in the real thing.  Solution:  If I do go with silk chiffon, as in this example, I should use quilt batting between the silk and the Fabric Magic. 

What else?  I have one more piece of silk (crepe de chine but not heavy weight) which has been painted and is ready to use for practice.  I'll do that tomorrow, and I'll
  • Layer it with quilt batting
  • Avoid zigzags, especially in colors that contrast with the background, but use zigzags in the same color as the background (white and iridescent) when showing the leading edge of the foam
  • Concentrate on straight stitches in lazy rows, keeping them more or less parallel without being too regular

Wish me luck.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Explorations 9: Practicing my Puckering

I'm still trying to get a piece of silk fabric to mimic the luscious, multi-folded look of a band of golden sea foam advancing along the sand.  So I'm practicing my puckering.

To that end, today I tried my luck with lightweight raw silk.  As before, I pre-treated the fabric with GAC 900 before painting it in golden hues. 

The fabric is very loosely woven: the GAC 900 should help keep the paint from escaping downward through its loose weave.

Compared to my prior effort, this time I did these things differently:
  • I did not use quilt batting underneath the silk
  • I sewed random ribbons of foam  instead of uniform rows
  • I used specialty threads (metallic, holographic)
  • I used decorative stitches (zigzag, others)
  • I used darker threads to show depth.
What worked and what didn't:
  • The decorative stitches did a good job of showing crumples, especially on the lacy, whiter edges of the foam
  • The lighter-colored threads were effective in showing laciness, but were hard to see while working.  The photo below shows some stitches in white thread, very hard to see.

 Nevertheless, the white threads did a good job of mimicking foam.  This photo shows the excellent puckering with the white thread, looking so real.

  • The darker threads were too dark and attracted too much attention.  This is especially so where darker threads were used for decorative stitches.

  • The lack of quilt batting makes the piece more pliable. 
What to do next:

  • Before proceeding to another piece of silk (silk chiffon and silk crepe de chine are already painted and prepared), I'm going to see what will happen if I apply more paint, in various places, to this already-puckered piece.
Why not?  We're enjoying a spirit of experimentation here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Explorations Episode 8: Trying to Keep It Simple

Today I'm going bravely into territory where potential violations of the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) Rule lurk very close by.

I'm still trying to find a way to turn a piece of silk into the image of a band of sea foam.  Last week I experimented with heavy silk crepe de chine (30 mm)*, painting it and then puckering and pleating it.  Today I experimented with three other kinds of silk fabric:  Lightweight raw silk, silk chiffon, and a lighter silk crepe de chine (16 mm), painting each one the colors of the advancing sea foam:

Lightweight raw silk

Silk chiffon

Lighter-weight silk crepe de chine, 16 mm
* By the way, did you know that the measure of the heaviness of silk is the "momme," pronounced "mommy"?  You can't make this stuff up.  I imagine it's from the French, but I haven't looked it up, so if you know its derivation, please let me know.

Before painting these three different kinds of silk with my special blends of Jacquard Lumiere paints and Pearl-Ex powders,

 I treated them with a product called GAC 900, a polymer intended to give the fabric a better hand and make it more receptive to the paint.

Once these three pieces of silk dry, I'll experiment with getting them into tiny folds.  By recommendation and experimentation, I've found that the best agent for making sinuous, tiny, narrow pleats is a product called Fabric Magic,,.  I'll layer each piece of silk with Fabric Magic and quilt batting and make parallel rows of stitching to get the sinuous folds into the silk.  The silks have to be cut 30 percent larger than the intended final product to account for the extreme shrinkage that occurs when Fabric Magic is exposed to steam.  This time, I'll make the stitching more uneven so that it looks more like the real thing:

These pleats are way too even and close together.

The real thing is much more random: 
When the silk dries, I'll experiment with different spacing of the rows of stitching so that they make both thick and thin strips of foam.  The thinner strips are toward the right edge of the moving band of foam, where the layers are accumulating as the tide advances from left to right.

While I wait for the silk to dry, I can experiment with the thread painting I'm planning to do in the troughs of the sand ripples.  In the actual photo I'm using, the troughs contain groups of shining bubbles:

Now I can fool around and experiment around with different threads and different ways of showing these bubbles:

These are not too hard to make.  The danger, if there is one, may be making too many of them, thus violating the KISS rule.  I also want to add tiny clear beads to the final product.

Meanwhile, though, I have to confess that I'm mesmerized with the swiftly flowing channels in this other photo:

This water is flowing, flowing, flowing, inexorably, with a power and a sparkle that delights.  I would love to find a way to show these ripples within ripples, but so far this is the best I get:

These images in no way reflect the constant move and sparkle of the water in the photo immediately above it.  It's going to take a lot more experimentation to get these stitches to look like that flowing water, and there are potential violations of the KISS rule lurking very, very close by.  I think that means I have to take a break for the rest of the day.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Explorations Episode 7: Have to Admit it's Getting Better

I have to admit it's getting better.

My first attempts to create an undulating band of sea foam from a piece of silk fabric instead resulted in the creation of a piece of silk with all the grace and pliability of a plastic shower curtain.

So in a spirit of continual effort and improvement, I tried again.  The creation I'm attempting to bring into being is for a pretty significant goal:  an exhibit that will hang in the New England Quilting Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts.  So it's worth getting right.

 And I'm keeping on keeping on.

For my second effort, I used a product called Fabric Magic to create the undulating band of foam. First I painted the foam colors onto heavy silk charmeuse.

 I put the fabric magic, which feels pretty silky itself, under this piece of painted silk.  I layered a piece of quilt batting in between the two.  Then I stitched vertical rows of stitching all along the outlines of the silk, sewing the silk, the quilt batting, and the fabric magic together.  Once those rows were sewn, I held a steam iron gently over the piece of painted silk.  And this is what I got:

The Fabric Magic shrunk the silk down around the lines I had sewn. This looks much closer to the band of foam than the monstrosity I created the first time: 

So I think I'll stick to this Fabric Magic stuff, because it created undulations much closer to those in the photo.

Now here's what I'll do differently next time:

  • Sew more irregularly spaced rows into the fabric:  some close together, some farther apart, and not always consistently parallel
  • Leave a good part of the piece of silk unsewn, and flat, on the left side, to show the flat place in the foam, and to give me room to embellish it with beads etc.
  • Vary the color in the foam a little more. Make it much brighter than the sand ripples across which it's crossing
  • Find a lovely way, shape, and thread color to show the little foam bubbles in the troughs of the sand ripples
  • Try to create the band of foam yet again, in the same way, but using one of the other lightweight silks I got for this purpose, such as silk gauze.  Just to see.
Despite the need for all these improvements, I can see that my efforts are nevertheless yielding better results.

I have to admit it's getting better.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Explorations Episode 6: Shirr Am Learning the Hard Way

The only way I ever learn anything is the hard way.  Especially with my current art project: trying to make a piece of heavy silk charmeuse look like an undulating wave of sea foam.

OF COURSE it's challenging!

There's a lot of trial and error involved.  Here's how one of the errors happened.

The charmeuse had been white, so I painted it in colors that I thought matched the foam in the photo.

I think the colors look pretty close to the ones in the original photo.  But the mistake I made, if it was one, is that I also put GAC 900 on the silk charmeuse before I painted it.  The GAC 900 was supposed to fill up the interstices in the fabric and prevent the paint from soaking through it and ending up on my work surface.

I also hand-sewed eight lines of large stitches across the width of the silk.

By pulling on the long strings of these stitches, I should be able to gather the silk in parallel gathers, a process known as shirring.

gerund or present participle: shirring
  1. 1.
    gather (an area of fabric or part of a garment) by means of drawn or elasticized threads in parallel rows.

    "a swimsuit with a shirred front"
 But the GAC 900 gave the painted fabric a rubbery feeling.  So when I went to gather it, it was stiff and plastick-y.  Well what did I expect?  GAC 900 is an acrylic polymer.  Thus, plastic.  I didn't want to lose the paint, so I used the GAC, so I wouldn't lose the paint, but that made the fabric feel stiff and rubbery.

I shirr am learning the hard way here.

 I pulled the gathering stitches but the result of the combination of the painting and the GAC made the silk much less pliable.

 If I use this technique in the final product, I'll manipulate the gathers, spread out the fabric within the folds, sew on beads, and add hand embroidery and machine stitching, all of which will flatten it out somewhat.  And the dimensionality of the texture is an issue because this quilt MAY have to be stored in a roll, whenever it's not hanging on the wall at the New England Quilt Museum, which is its ultimate destination.  The flatter it is, the easier it will be to roll, and the less likely it will benegatively affected by the rolling.  So it's in my interest to make it flat.

The GAC made it so stiff it wouldn't be easy to manipulate or easy to roll.  So I decided to see what the fabric felt like if I put on the paint without the GAC:

It was a little stiff, but not as rubbery, so I decided to ditch the GAC.

On my second attempt to recreate this band of foam, I applied the paint without the GAC:

In this second attempt, I won't be shirring the silk charmeuse.  Instead, I'll be using this special stuff called Fabric Magic a steam activated shrinking interfacing:

What I'm going to do is layer the painted silk with a same-size piece of Fabric Magic.  Then I'll sew lines parallel to the undulant edge of the foam. Once those lines are sewn, when the Fabric Magic is exposed to steam, like from an iron, the silk will pucker along the sewn lines.  And maybe it will look like the foam in the photo.  I had to cut the silk 30 percent larger for this reason.

That's my next trial in this trial and error process.  Shirr am learning the hard way.


Friday, March 23, 2018

Explorations, Episode 5: This Shirr is Fun!

I'm working on an art quilt that doesn't have to be completed until August, and to get ready to work on it, I'm making scale-size practice pieces, each inspired by a different image.  The idea is that making these practice pieces will help me decide which of four images to use for the final piece.

I finished my first scale-size practice piece last week, and the results were... so-so. You can read about that here:

Today, charging on, I'm working on a second practice piece.  This one will be based on this image:

This image, I have to admit, is the very one I intended to try when I entered this contest.  I always wanted to try to replicate that exquisite foam, as elegant in its way as the ermine trim on a royal robe.  For this exhibition, I'm required to use felting and thread painting.  The ripples on the right will be felted, then embellished with thread painting and beads.  As for the foam, I'm planning on making that out of some kind of silk.

For that purpose, I acquired

Silk habotai 
Silk gauze   
Silk chiffon  
Silk crepe de chine 
Raw silk
Smooth raw silk
Lightweight raw silk.  

I'd already made a pattern for this practice piece, and I started  construction by felting the sand ripples on the right:

You see that piece of green yarn?  I used that to measure the length of the line of foam.  Starting at the upper right there, and going down to the lower left, the line of foam is 32 inches long.  I adjusted this to 36 inches long, which definitely couldn't hurt.  The width across is about 8 inches at the widest.  I multiplied that by three to give the foam some gathered fullness.  So the width of the piece of silk I would cut to make the foam would be 24 and its length would be 36.  

Which of all those silks to try?  At random, I put my hand on heavy silk crepe de chine.  I cut a piece 24 inches by 36 inches, taped it down to my table, and drew lines across it where I would put large stitches which I would then gather.  Actually, this is called shirring, a type of gathering. It shirr is fun.

 I took a marker and drew lines about every eight inches across this piece of silk.  Then I machine basted across these lines and pulled up the machine stitches to gather it.  But the machine stitches broke from the pulling, so I had to rip them out and start again.  This time, I added more rows, to make them every four inches instead of every eight.  And you know what I did then?  I hand basted these lines, using double threads, and shirring each line in two separate zones:  for each line, one set of gathering threads from the right to the middle, and another set of gathering threads from the left to the middle.  This way, I would have the flexibility to gather the "foam" loosely on one side and more tightly on the other if I so chose.

See what I did?  Each line of marker is being gathered in two separate zones.  I can adjust the gathering threads to take on the look of the foam.

As a preliminary, I gathered all the lines of thread:

 and spread the newly-shirred piece of silk onto the partially-felted sand ripples:

I think they're ballpark, and not bad for a practice.

Now I have to take that silk and paint it in colors such as those found on the foam in the photo.  I got out my Jacquard Lumiere paints

...and came up with some colors that I think are plausible for the foam:

  I think these golds and tans are a good start.  So in order to apply these colors to the piece of silk that will become the line of foam, I have to gently undo the practice shirring without pulling out the gathering threads, spread the silk out flat, and paint it with these colors, all mixed with GAC 900 to prevent all the color from soaking right through the weave of the silk.  Painting is going to be my next step.