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i recently was asked to help edit the translations on a book about northern lights. and was very taken with one of the photos, so i decided to make a few scarves of the photo.
i ordered a dozen scarves from dharma trading company, mixed up a batch of sodium alginate resist, and began. after steaming the first batch of scarves i noticed that the yellow was very weak, and basically washed right out. so i started mixing my own yellow using the mx powdered dyes. i’ll be doing more experimentation with this process in the coming months, but for now i’ll just show you the process on the 5 scarves i managed to complete.
okay. the first thing i did was to put into grayscale and enlarge my reference photo many times, and tile it onto a bunch of sheets of paper until it was the size of my scarves, which i think are 72″ long. i taped them up, outlined it with a sharpie so i could see it thru the silk, and pinned the whole thing to the back of a scarf. then i slapped it onto my light box (thanks elizabeth) and used my resist to outline all the black marks.
you can see the pattern on the top, on many sheets of paper. on the bottom is one of the scarves that i have just finished putting hte resist on. it’s a scarf i’d already started painting that i didn’t like, so i washed it out and started over. so this is what a scarf looks like if you don’t steam set it. everything but some of the red and blue just wash right out.
for the details on the mountain i used several tints of black mixed with some red and yellow to make a nice brown color. and since i don’t care about things like that, i turned the frame vertically and let it drip off. adds texture, yeah.
here you can see my mixes of colors for the mountains. they go from kind of dark to watery clear, just by adding water. if it’s going to be t his watery, tho, you want to add a few drops of rubbing alcohol to aid in wetting the scarf, else it’ll just roll off and not take.
here’s the scarf with the beginnings of the sky put in. this one happens to be one of the silk and wool scarves i did first, as special presents for my friends in iceland, and they don’t take up the dye like regular habotai scarves, so i thought it was particularly ugly. the colors just didn’t run like they ‘should’.
so i sprayed the whole thing with water and added more color, and some salt, and it turned out much better.
this is the beginning of another scarf, this time on habotai, which is what i usually work on. i’m putting in the sea in roughly 12-inch lengths, pausing to sprinkle rough salt on it, and going on. you can see the watermark right in the middle where the second section starts, and you can start to see the dye being drawn by the salt. it’s still wet when i took the picture. above, on the white, you can see the resist.
i did the sky in a variety of colors, using lots of salt. i put in the acid green color (looks like yellow here) and hten some darker green on top of that, but it was still ugly, so i took lots of dark green dye on my brush and flicked it onto the scarf, trying to be accurate in my aim (haha). and more salt. you can see that it’s still wet because of the dark spots inside the green drops.
at this point i turned the frame vertically and sprayed the hell out of it to get everything wet and running. this is a delicate moment, and it’s really easy to make it run too much and spoil things, so it has to be watched. btw, when the scarf is wet like this, the salt will remain on it even when it’s vertical, so it can still draw the dye.
and this is what it looked like once it dried. i probably turned it upside down while it was still wet, too, and more than likely added even more dye.
but the whole thing turned out looking pretty good. unfortunately, something happened. read on.
however. once it was steam fixed and washed out, most of the yellow came right out. and by this time i was using an old bottle of yellow that was horribly weak, so i added some powdered dye to it, soaked the scarves in vinegar and let them dry, and then went over them with yellow, steamed them again, and was a lot happier with them. unfortunately i don’t have an after picture for it.
i’ve been experimenting with different ways of setting the scarves. for the ones i had to recoat with yellow, i put plastic over my ironing board, got a towel really wet, and put the scarf on top, put a piece of kraft paper on it, and steam the hell out of it. then i roll it up and wrap the towel around it, put it in a plastic garbage bag, and stuck it in the microwave. for 3 minutes. and 3 minutes. and then screw it, for 6 minutes. and when i took it out, there were scorch marks on the paper. and scorch marks on the silk. which means it’s ruined. i was so depressed. this is what happened to my scarf that turned out so well (second from the top).
here’s a closeup to torture myself with. the scorched parts are very ripe, meaning they are brittle and shred with the slightest pressure. i went ahead and poked holes into the scorch marks with my finger, just to make sure. but nope, they were ruined.
so, unwilling to throw anything away when i don’t have to, i cut them into pieces, cutting around hte scorch marks, and turned them into a bunch of snot rags, which only i use, everybody else being addicted to kleenex. and now i have a full drawer of snot rags (it being winter and my nose dripping constantly). so there.
and in all i have 5 scarves in this pattern, which i’m saving to use as fundraisers in iceland, else that or gifts. i am ordering another dozen scarves and will do some more, and these will be my experiments in using powdered dyes.
because i’m sick of using dyes somebody mixed up and won’t say what’s in them and sell them at a great profit. and these dyes you can’t ship to iceland without huge expenses, and since i’m going to be teaching a workshop, i might as well teach people how to do every part of this on the cheap. because that’s what kind of artist i am.
i’ve been to a lot of blogs that start out well and then just trail off, because the writer got tired, or the essay was of the moment and they lost the trail, or they moved off to youtube to cruise for a couple hours after the dose kicked in.
i’m afraid some of my fabric posts are like that. and that’s a shame because i’m trying to show how to do stuff, and if i don’t ever finish documenting it, then there’s some poor schmuck in the middle of trying to make whatever unique thing i’m trying to redesign my way, and what’re they going to do – improvise? – when i never come back to explain how i made it look that strange way that the photos don’t really show.
right now i’m thinking about the double-apron artist’s smock that i never posted another thing about after my computer crashed and i lost all the process photos. thanks for helping, ex husband. not. stupid comment about never meeting your obligations mutter mutter.
i had this great idea for a smock. i looked and looked for artist’s smocks that looked okay. most looked like the xxxx shirts kids wear these days. then there was gustav klimt’s smock.
so i took a regular old restaurant apron, which i actually kind of like wearing, made it so there was one apron on my front, and one on my back, added sleeves, and i was off.
and then it sat there half finished for over a year.
so i still have to detail that.
but i can go forward with the scarves i’ve been making for gifts and to wear underneath my sweater to keep my neck warm.
i had four patterns that jim drew for me. two were little wee fairies frolicking in the flowers. you’d say too cute, except jim’s cute turns out very sinister and twisted. the other two were puffins, who inhabit the islands where i’m going to be.
i started off with the puffins. it had been about a year, maybe more, since i’d done any scarves, and boy what a learning curve there is. it’s mainly simple, painting on silk, but things can go wrong, and you’ve got to prepare for it.
i forgot. things like how easily the silk takes up the dye and why don”t i use a drop of alcohol in the damned mix instead of either not having enough dye or flooding the whole scarf with it. things like the use of sugar syrup for interesting effects that can sometimes look lousy.
anyway, i hated the first two scarves. they looked horrible right up to the end, when i was splashing dye on and violating all the lines. somehow this helps my work to look better, to overpaint and then pretend it was my intention all along.
i really screwed up the first fairy scarf. putting sugar syrup all over the fairies’ wings and clothes was a good idea, but the dye i painted over the sugar syrup was too strong. plus, it was humid and i waited too long for the syrup to dr, which it won’t when it’s humid. it just sort of melts and runs, and then it’s as if you used no-flow.
this is why i stopped posting the progress. because to me it didn’t feel like progress. it felt like a mistake. the kind you hide in the corner. but i only had the one scarf of the puffins, over colored, and i wasn’t happy with that. the first fairy scarf was ruined, so i had to proceed. so i whipped out jim’s template and inked it in using homemade water-based resist (alginate print paste), and started in on it using the lessons i’d just absorbed fucking up the first two scarves.
everything went in pastel at first. a basic light green, a dilute magenta, yellow, a dirty orange. then i developed the colors a bit, adding a tip of yellow to a magenta flower, etc. then i deepened the greens with blue. notice i avoided painting any fairies until i was happy enough with the half-way stage of the flowers.
the fairies got an underpainting of dirty yellow where their bodies are, leaving the drapery floating out away from them untouched – the white of the scarf. then i went over their skin with dirty orange, and made sure to smear resist all over their faces so that later i could apply eyes and mouths with a fine brush, like makeup on a tiny doll.
i put sugar syrup over their clothes and wings, tho not their hair like i did last time. i didn’t bother letting the syrup dry, which takes hours, because it’s been damp lately and i knew from recent experience that it would only get worse the longer i left it on there. so i came in over the sticky wet syrup with a brush full of medium dark purple, and put it on the wings, with magenta on the clothes. and then before it had a chance to do much, i flooded the whole area with water, so that the dye would hitchhike on the back of the syrup as it flowed and made cool patterns. neat trick, and just the thing to make the fairies seem ethereal.
but it didn’t work with the flowers, which were pale and pastel. i hated it, and put it over a door to dry out, moving on to the second puffin template.
this one went pretty smooth, because i didn’t take so many hesitant starts. i just went ahead and put in a medium blue on the water, and diluted black in the clouds, coming in much earlier with the rich tones, being a lot more heavy handed with the blacks. i like this result better.
so then i went back to the fairy painting, and went ahead and got bold on the plants, putting in black for shadows and strength. normally you wouldn’t use black, silk is one of the few mediums where black is necessary to get any kind of dark at all. it’s more like light than pigment. it’s like printing when you use the four colors and everything in the range is represented with those four colors, white being the paper, the substrate. that’s why i have so much trouble using white paint, because i expect the substrate to supply the lightest values, and in silk painting, the white silk blank does just that.
so i got bold, deliberately going outside the resist lines, flooding the area around the plants with clear water every time so that the overs would fan out and spread. and slowly the whole thing got richer without looking like a disney poster.
and the whole thing looks much better. and even if the intended recipient thinks my scarves are touristy as hell, she might like the colors, and she might deign to take one from me as thanks for all she’s done. or else i’ll just wear them myself to ward off the cold.
i set out to make a batch of cheshire cat scarves, because that’s what my agent, jennifer, has got an order for. some lovely person liked the sample i gave her and ordered one. so, cool. i was done with my last project, the encaustic painting of jupiter, which i still insist qualifies as pigment on fabric. i had not yet begun on my next painting, which is going to be an interior portrait of my sewing area, which i only now after months of treading thru piles of junk have gotten around to organizing. and is it organized, i am so proud.
i went and found my pattern that i had used to make the sample jennifer was carrying. actually, jennifer was carrying around a color chart that i used with my last silk painting class. it even had the color-formula numbers all over it, and the guy still liked it.
i was looking on the internet and saw another version of the disney character, this one when he’s in the process of disappearing. i’d forgotten about that, so i went out and got it and did a slight redraw that ended up with jim completely reconstructing the disappearing tail. thanks jim.
it was strange actually using my silk painting materials. it had been a couple-few months of not using them, when the table stayed set up but i never went near it, when i was getting used to encaustic painting and ignoring everything else including the housework (let it get dusty)
i did the first painting very rusty. and i had a lot of material problems. my materials had gone kerflunk. my water-based gutta, formula unknown, i mean proprietary, had broken down and was coming out all lumpy and watery. it spread out a whole bunch on the silk and made thick goopy lines. very dissatisfactory. can’t sell that. so i popped four scarves in a row off the clips and dumped them into the sink and hot water. then i found something else to use as water-based resist. it’s called presist and it comes highly recommended. it tastes like detergent, but it’s got a funky formula and you wouldn’t want to eat it. well, it breaks down with time, as well. useless, it was, i threw it out.
i’d been threatening for some time to do it the eastern way, and brew up a batch of some sort of starch. rice starch is what’s i’ve read, but you won’t believe how complicated it is.
i tried tapioca starch because that’s what i found at the indian grocery store in decatur. i boiled it up like cornstarch pudding, and it got admirably sticky and viscous. i stuck it into a little plastic bottle with a metal tipped nozzle. i stuck it down in by-now practiced hands – thin, smooth, perfect.
then i laid down some dye along the tail, purple like in the cartoon. and it bled right thru the line. well, that sucked. completely changed things. so i put clear water all around the dye and just let it bleed out and dry.
so i went over all the lines with school gel, which i’ve been told works real well. and it did. a nice bead of glue, works like a charm. what the hell went wrong with the tapioca starch, anyway? those streaky bits on the background are humongous pieces of salt. i tried for a dark green background by adding a bunch of black to yellow and some blue, but it never got beyond mid-lime.
then my kid saw the first one and suggested putting purple in the tail as a shadow, and i switched to a blue for the body and started playing around with making a rainbow out of the other stripes.
the original color chart used each pair of stripes as another color in the rainbow, each mixed using a precise number of drops of yellow, cyan, and magenta. i liked the effect.
but i abandoned the school gel, and that was a good thing, because i can’t remove the glue from the scarf, no matter how hot the water or how much i scrub. grrr.
i found some old water-based gutta in little bottles that my students had used. they must have refilled them from their own supplies, because it was still good, and i collected all the little bottles together and outlined the rest of the scarves using the fresher resist. i guess my stuff was a few years old. but tht just underpins the necessity to do it all myself, and not rely on expensive materials with shelf lives. cheap materials with very short shelf lives is better. cheap being good. free is better.
with the rest of the scarves, five total, i tried to fade out each stripe into the next color, but something funny happened with it every time i tried.
i also tried to make the blue fade out to way-pale toward the tip of the tail, but it never ended up that way. the blue is very strong.
i tried to lighten the blue stripes at the top and ran a thread of black along the bottom of all the stripes, as well as shadowing beneath the chin and around the arms and paws.
it’s really fun doing this. it’s like any design, most of which i’ve adapted from somewhere, my favorites being designed by jim. i’ve got a bunch of outlines that look good, and i can go progressively nuts or more refined, whatever, as i do four or ten of a subject.
my kid gets the first choice. my buyer gets second choice. i’ll give one to my sister for her birthday, and with luck will have one more left over for awhile until i have to do another batch.
this last one got nicely dark green. i didn’t use salt, which attracts dye to it and obscures teh fact that each little area you put dye on gets an edge immediately, and you can’t put on dye fast enough over a large area to keep it from being streaky and uneven, especially in colors with a lot of black in them, which is the only way to get a dark shade of anything in silk painting. i know that in watercolor and oil you can avoid black, but with dyes you can’t be subtle. it’s partly because you’re only working with three colors and dark. it’s partly how dyes go on versus how pigments go on. i haven’t figured it out and i’m not scientific but there are resources if you’re interested.
the background went on streaky and the only thing i could do since i wasn’t using salt was to add more water and scrub the damned thing to obliterate the hard dark edges. so all the darkness migrated to the edge of the drawing and the sicdes, and that’s fine. worked pretty well.
this being the fifth scarf, i didn’t do it in the batch of the other four because i steam four at a timein my stovepipe steamer. i saved this for another batch of four, but i got so tired of inking in little lines that i did a bunch of nebula scarves instead, and didn’t want to steam them with a cheshire cat in case the cat end up with big splotches of blackest space bleeding thru the newsprint. nonono.
next, going from kitch to an interior scene – my sewing corner.
since she doesn’t read my blogs, she won’t notice before xmas, so i’m safe in putting it up now.
when we were at the beach this summer, my sister got me to make her a sea turtles crawling out to sea t-shirt. so when jim designed me a sea turtle scarf this fall, i figured i just might as well make an extra one because susie was going to want it. so.
it’s a design that uses a lot of wavy waves, and a lot of sandy sand, with seashells and sea turtles on the shore and marching out to sea. not the seashells, marching. so i was going to get to use my favoriet technique – karo syrup resist – and i was going to have to figure out how to do sand.
fotunately, i had on hand a jar of presist, which is some sort of paste resist (tastes like boiled detergent, but they never tell you what’s in these things) that i had never tried. so.
i got out a sea sponge, and put down a layer of resist, sponging it on haphazardly all over the sand area. at the same time, i put in my water resist lines, very gloopy sugar syrup that i then let dry. when the syrup was down, i started putting in various blues for the water, and left a strip of white to represent the shoreline foam.
over the presist, i put in a golden yellow with a brush, trying to avoid the resist where possible. i didn’t yet understand the properties of this resist, and found that it was very reactive with water, which means that it wouldn’t hold at all if i brushed dye over it. but after the stuff was dry i couldn’t tell where the resist was, so oh well.
i sponged resist onto it on top of the first resist and the first dye, and when it was dry i put a deeper brown color over the first bits. when that was dry, i sponged on the resist again, and put purple bits on. it looked very cool, but more like a pebble beach than a sandy one, and sea turtles, i’m sorry, don’t like to make their nests in rock. so.
then i turned my attention to the turtles and the shells. they’d been outlined in regular water-based resist (rice paste???), and i painted the turtles green, and the shells red, with various water color type treatments.
and then i put water all over the water, violating the resist lines. this had the effect of dissolving the sugar syrup, and the dye moved in tendrils and swirls into new areas, making a wonderful loose mess of color. that’s why i love this technique.
over the sand, i washed clear water, hoping to move the resist in a similar way. it didn’t do anything like the sugar syrup did when i put water on it, but instead washed everything into soft blended color. it kind of washed the color out, actually, but since i was aiming for a sand look, that was alright. for the four scarves i did for sale, my sand goes thru several different versions, depending on how bold i was being with both resist and color, and by the time i got to my sister’s scarf, i was about at my limit for going outside the lines.
once i had the scarf steamed and saw how it all came out, i wondered what i should do with it next. my sister isn’t the type to actually wear my scarves. she hangs them instead. so i figured why not make a backing for it and give her a wall hanging. so.
i was over in marietta a while later, showing a friend this great quiting fabric store, and ran across a batik of sea turtles. it was in lime green, which i detest, but i figured i could overdye it and make it more green-blue. but i overdid the overdyeing, and it came out bluish black. so i tosseed it in the wash and cycled it thru three or five hot water washes, and it faded out enough to where you could actually see the sea turtles. so that was okay.
i had to cut and piece the batik, and i had just enough flannel to cut out the batting, so i sandwiched the thing together and started sewing. i was undecided whether to quilt the waves, and in the end i just quilted the turtles and the shells and left it at that.
now i have to figure out when i can mail it so that she’ll get it for xmas. if i sent it to her now, or in early november, she’ll just open it, and the xmas present part will be ruined. if i send it to her husband, he’ll put it aside and leave it at work. timing is everything.
and to my other sister, who does read my blogs — lise, i’ve still got to fix something about the way your wall hanging hangs, and then it’ll be on the slow boat to you. and i must tell you, allison doesn’t think it’s very good at all, but susie loves it.
every year i make a batch or two of scarves, with dyes on silk. they’re habotai scarves, 11×60, and i sell them around atlanta, and give them away as xmas presents.
i’ve been painting on silk since 2003, and my designs have gotten progressively more colorful. they’ve never been precise, i’m more interested in the happy accident and the leakage of color than i am with straight lines and other boundaries.
this year, to an unprecedented extent, my husband jim is designing most of my fall line (i almost need to put quotes around that). he started out several years ago designing a dragon scarf, and then a snake one, and then i had him do me a dragon for a kimono, and a stream and crane for another kimono, and now i’ve got him drawing fairies and toadstools, and fish and seaweed, and sea turtles in the ocean. and he’s just asked me to cut 4 more templates so he can do designs he hasn’t even thought up yet. (paisley)
i’m making the scarves in batches of four each design. i’m saving the templates. each set is more wonderful than the last. he’s drawn me some real works of art, and these will be my top of the line scarves.
he’ll help me with the wall hangings when i get around to making them.
so here are some of my new fall collection. i’m still in production; i bring the week’s output into my class on thursdays, and i’d like to enthuse about how i got some effect but they’re still grasping the basics so i’ll try to tone it down.
but how can you not be enthusiastic about designs like these?
these are this year’s dragon design. i use karo syrup resist for the scales and spines, and salt in the background.
this is fish floating around among seaweed fronds.
these are portraits of a pair of russian blues that i originally did as a present for my friend gretchen, their mom.
detail. they adopted a stuffed floppy dog to sleep on, showing the natural domination of species.
but wait. there’s more. i haven’t taken pictures yet but each one is more beautiful than the last.