Friday, 23 May 2008

just teasing

If you're wondering what I've been doing this month - well - I've been making a quilt. It will feature in an exhibition this summer (a big juried one if I'm lucky, a small open-to-everyone one otherwise. All I can say about it is it's a bit weird (I'm not sure where it came from) and it's made of scrim. One detail above and one below:

I have really enjoyed working with scrim: I love the effect of transparent overlays - a bit like putting on watercolour glazes only with crosshatching cause by the texture of the scrim itself. I've used dyed wadding (batting) as the base colour, a purple which shows under the blue in the middle of the second detail.
Now fired with enthusiasm for scrim, I'll just show you the first stage of the second scrim quilt - various blues and greens "glazed" over bright lime green wadding (batting). Not sure where this is going next (though I have a number of ideas which should be interesting)

Monday, 12 May 2008

dyeing bright colours - a tutorial

I love bright colours. Decided I needed some for the quilt I'm currently making, so had another dyeing session yesterday. People have asked me how I get such bright colours: here's my basic method for dyeing brights.

1. First of all I use urea. It makes the dyes more soluble in water and enables the dye to dissolve more easily. It has other qualities too - it keeps fabric wet for longer (important when dye-painting silk for example) and if you dilute dyes with it it helps to get even-coloured pales and pastels. It even makes fuchsia behave! I would not be without it. So I begin by mixing a urea solution - nine tablespoons full to two litres of very hot water. Quantities are not critical - if you have some urea pearls left undissolved at the bottom of the jug they'll keep.

2. I immediately put my dye-powders into containers - for strong colours I put in 2-4 teaspoons per cup depending on the dye: light dyes (more bulk per gramme) such as turquoise, rust or gold need more, heavy ones like fuchsia need less. Then add a little urea mix (also called chemical water) and a plastic spoon to each container and stir well - the ideal is a smooth paste. Then add about a cup full of chemical water. Go away and have a cup of coffee, prepare your fabric if you haven't already done so but leave the mixes time to dissolve. If you're not sure, stir - if there's anything solid on the spoon it means the dye is not thoroughly dissolved so stir and leave some more (you can also strain through an old pair of tights to remove undissolved dye but I've never had to do that yet). The advantage of working with dye solutions rather than with powders are firstly that it makes the whole process safer (you spend less time risking inhaling the powders) and secondly it gives you easier control over shading the colours.

3. Mix up the soda ash solution: approx 8 tablespoons per two-litre jug. I have been known to use guesswork here and not have problems. MAKE SURE YOU LABEL THE TWO JUGSFUL OF SOLUTIONS SO YOU KNOW WHICH IS WHICH.

The urea and soda solutions keep for ages. The dissolved dyes should be used quickly as otherwise they bond with the water. They will keep longer in cool or cold conditions - a day or so (longer if you have a spare unused fridge you can store them in); in hot weather use within a few hours. If you have dye left over at the end of a session be adventurous - use it up by trying different colour combinations, dyeing different items - revitalise those dingy white knickers socks and teeshirts. Whatever.

4. Prepare fabric: non-PFD (Prepared for Dyeing) fabric (also called loomstate) often has dressing in it which needs to be removed or the fabric can't take up the dye: scour in hot water plus detergent; you can also improve matters by adding a handful of soda to the wash water. You can do this bit in the washing-machine but leave out the soda. Rinse thoroughly (in the machine is fine). If you rinse by hand, adding a tiny drop of baby shampoo or washing-up liquid to the final rinse will help the dye to penetrate difficult fibres such as wadding (batting in the US). I also tend to rinse out PFD fabrics in hot water before using as this seems to enable them to absorb dye more readily.

5. Add dye to fabric: in a separate container add the same amounts of dye and soda solutions (the dye solution can be diluted with water/chemical water). Pour/dribble/spray this onto the fabric. Use a second colour and repeat the process. And so on until you are happy with the result (remember it dries paler). If you are using strongly contrasting colours avoid overloading the fabric with dye unless you really like shades of mud!

6. Leave the dyes to do their work - preferably at a warm temperature overnight if you can wait that long. It's possible to leave them for too short a time but you're unlikely to leave them too long (I once found some dyeing fabric shoved into an invisible corner that had been sitting there for a couple of weeks and it was fine though I wouldn't want to risk it with silk which rots more easily). Then rinse, first in cold water to remove the soda ash, then in hot to remove excess dye.
Then wash in really hot water and detergent (the milder kind without added whiteners which could bleach your fabric slightly). I usually leave the fabric to steep in the soapy water for ten minutes or so - this makes it easier to remove the excess dye. I then rinse in hot water and steep in hot water for a further ten minutes before flinging it into the machine for a full rinse cycle.

I am not the kind of dyer (and there are many of them) who thinks her method is the only one that works. It is simply the method I learnt with, have continued to use and which works for me. If you're a beginner dyer do try other methods; you will eventually acquire a range of techniques that work for you!

Friday, 9 May 2008

Django in the dyes

I had intended to post about the fabrics I dyed last weekend, for a series of projects, the first of which is now on the way. The fabrics are cotton scrim (in twists on the top), cotton wadding (the tope folded fabric) and various fabrics. Have got hooked on the combination of wadding and scrim so am trying something somewhat bigger than a postcard. If it continues to work as well as it is doing so far I may well take my courage in my hands and try entering it for something which is why I am keeping it under wraps for the moment.

All dyed with Procion MX (except the cat who I banished - I've been very careful ever since the day I found him strutting proudly round the neighbourhood with bright blue paws).

The purples are dyed with Fuchsia (8B) and carmine (5B) and a series of blues including 4RD which is a sort of deep midnight/ reddish navy. I find I get good purples using these two reds whatever blues I use. Trying to dye purple with the yellower (postbox) reds produces a duller, brownish purple.

Django loves having his photograph taken and he was not going to budge easily off all that lovely soft fabric: he looked so contented I didn't have the heart to chuck him off (luckily I have a good supply of lint rollers).

As a result of working on this new piece (which could end up being a series of pieces) I am having to take a brief rest from postcards but they have already served their purpose of getting me working again.

A footnote on lethargy - it appears that I have an enlarged thyroid gland and may be hypothyroid (a lot of symproms fit, especially the one about feeling exhausted much of the time). Am currently awaiting the results of blood tests. Hopefully it is treatable - according to a friend with the same problem - and I may lose some weight and have thicker hair - wouldn't it be wonderful to look and feel twenty years younger again? Though maybe that's a bit over-optimistic, I can dream...

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Feline fun!

Ok Week 3 (actually it took a week and a half - busy finishing off group quilt for the QGBI Button Up Challenge and it's amazing how long those final stages take) of the "Wake up Sandra by making postcards challenge" This week I decided to have fun, using a range of favourite print fabrics to create some more lighthearted stuff on one of my favourite topics.

This time the challenge elements were to a)draw the cat outlines myself; and b)use a selection of fabrics I've found difficult to use so far:

In the case of this first one the checkerboard fabric (overdyed a few years back) with the wavy stripes and batik plus gold highlights. The cat needed the narrow red zigzag outline to make it work.

This one's called Hiding in the Garden, something my cats do a lot of, especially when I haven't weeded and the jungle takes over; the background's a really mad Laurel Burch fabric that I love but have found difficult to use so far and the blue seemed to have just the right amount of patterning to provide the contrast.

The thrid one is another two-fabric one, called I'm not talking to you - I'm sure most cat-owners will recognise this behaviour:

The mad squares is another irresistible bright I found languishing in the "one day I will find a use for this" corner of my stash and it sort of made friends with the blue stripe.

The next one, called Chat en forme d'une poire (Cat in the form of a pear) is based on my white cat Bixy who has been on a diet for the last year but not sd's you'd notice (I'm going to have to take drastic measures soon). He likes to spend time sitting looking our of the window and is always there to welcome me when I get home. I've used one of my favourite Carla Miller (Rowan) prints for the background.

This one's a portrait of my cat Django, a sort of birds-eye view of him lying in front of the fire with his paws in the air, in the way he's spent most of the last winter. He really does have a lightning-streak belly and a lop-sided face. A couple of years ago he had a serious road-accident - a complex pelvic fracture, plus associated nerve-damage and I was really scared he would lose the hind leg and the paw with the black spot - thankfully he recovered and is now more of a home-cat than a roaming moggie.

My third cat, Pepper, likes to climb trees: I love the way cats go up trees really fast and then panic sets in when they discover it's not so easy coming down - most tackle the problem by doing a sort of controlled fall. Anyway this is a cat up a tree - not necessarily Pepper who's tabby rather than blue:

The final card uses a selection of fabrics - an African dyed damask, an indonesian batik, a commercial batik and a black fabric with holographic swirls I couldn't resist at a show (you know how it is). I hadn't had any squabbling cats so far so included the arched back hissing pose in this one, plus the tail end of cat disappearing off the scene familiar to cat-owners everywhere.

Now feel inspired to take it a stage further and create a hanging with wild prints in bright colours and black and white: I now have a list of projects to undertake as a result of doing these postcards: well worth while.