Sun Printing with Transparent Fabric Paint

In late summer, I resolved to try sun printing with transparent fabric paint and compare the results to reverse-stenciling plant materials with fiber reactive dye. The latter can be frustrating if you want a lot of control over the reverse-image process. A breeze blows your plant matter aside, the dye drips and runs under the edges of leaves, flowers, etc. That lack of control doesn’t bother me – I feel like I am collaborating with an entity I barely know. I start with an idea of what image I want to make, but relinquish my expectations of the actual results. I am usually pleased with whatever result I get; it can be exhilarating if the effect is something I never imagined.

Some of my students have been hesitant to embrace a process that gives an unknown and unexpected outcome, so I wanted to try a method of reverse image-making that gives a modicum of control over the result. Transparent fabric paint can be used to create sun prints by applying the paint to fabric, then placing objects on the surface and letting sunlight “develop” the color and leave the resisted areas uncolored.

Putting to use the last sunny days of September, I gathered leaves, ferns and flowers, then painted some fabric samples. Setacolor, the fabric paint I used, is meant to be mixed with water. Two parts water to one part paint gives a pale shade, which leaves the fabric with a softer hand after sun printing and washing, but the contrast between color and reverse-image is very low. A ratio of one part water to two parts paint gives a much more intense color and higher image contrast, but the fabric feels thick and stiff in the end.

So, the upshot of the comparison between dye and paint: I encountered similar problems to the dye stenciling with the resisted images on the sunprinted fabric. You have to leave the fabric in the sun until it is dry, which can take an hour or more on a cool day. The wind blows the leaves around, they curl up and let light in underneath, creating a blurry mark, any wrinkles in the fabric create shadows in the final color, etc. And I really don’t care for the stiffness of the painted fabric. As to control over the final result, I think they are about equal. While I am glad I have tried both methods, I realize I am likely to be buying more fiber reactive dye and less fabric paint in the coming year.

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Leaf of mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) on linen painted with Setacolor light green.
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Oak leaves on linen with Setacolor.
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Maple and oak leaves on linen with Setacolor.
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Closeup of fern on cotton with Setacolor.

 


 

New Work from Old Fabric

Many years ago (don’t remember how many), I took a large piece of commercially-made linen/rayon fabric, cut it into four equal-size pieces, prepared each piece using different shibori methods, then dyed each one in indigo. The fabric was originally about 56 inches wide by 3 yards long; I divided it in half lengthwise and crosswise, so each piece ended up about 28 by 54 inches.

The first piece was a radiating series of lines of ori nui stitching, where you fold the fabric, then stitch along the fold and gather. The second piece was a radiating series of lines of a simple running stitch and gathering. For the third piece, I machine-stitched and gathered several rows, then left the remainder of the fabric unstitched, but hand-pleated and bound it with a rubber band at the end. Piece number four was hand-pleated in large folds then bound with a few rubber bands.

I dyed all the pieces in indigo, then tried to figure out how to combine all of them in a single garment design. They sat on a shelf and years went by. Every now and then I would take them out, sketch some design ideas, give up, and put them back on the shelf. This year it dawned on me I could make two garments of simpler design. I used an old Burda pattern (3221) and made one pullover tunic with the fabric pieces oriented vertically, and another pullover top with the pieces oriented horizontally.

Why didn’t I do this ages ago?

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Tunic front: radiating lines of ori nui stitching, gathered and dyed in indigo.
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Tunic back: radiating lines of running stitch, gathered and dyed in indigo.
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Top front: rows of machine stitching, gathered, and hand-pleating, bound and dyed in indigo.
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Top back: hand-pleated and bound, dyed in indigo.

 


 

One-day Workshop at Sitka Center Coming Summer 2018

Please join me for a day of colorful, messy fun on July 21, 2018 at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on the beautiful Oregon coast. We will use natural objects such as flowers, branches, leaves and grasses as reverse stencils while we paint on cotton and linen fabric with thickened fiber reactive dye. Bring an apron and rubber gloves; I will provide all supplies and materials. We will mix our own colors from two blues, two reds, two yellows and black, using a technique which gives impressionistic results.

Select from a variety of projects including linen placemats and table runners, cotton bandanas, rayon scarves, or cotton pillow covers. Additionally I will have a bolt of Kona cotton, suitable for designing your own fabric for quilting, apparel, table linens, wall hangings, etc. The workshop materials fee includes $20 worth of product; more will be available for purchase at cost, so paint all you can in a day!

We will use brushes, foam rollers, sponges and spray bottles to apply the dye to soda-soaked fabric, then wrap in plastic to take home and “batch cure” overnight. The dye reaction will take place in the damp fabric over 8-24 hours at room temperature, then you will rinse and soap to remove excess dye and see your final results revealed. I hope to see you there!

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Linen placemat reverse-stenciled with sword ferns.
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Cotton bandana reverse-stenciled with flowers: daisy, chive blossoms, seed stalks of spent bluebells.
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Rayon scarf reverse-stenciled with evergreens: cedar, cypress, sequoia.
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Rayon knit scarf reverse-stenciled with feathers.
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Cotton T-shirt reverse-stenciled with Black Locust leaves.

 


 

Handpainting Handwovens

Painting on fabric is something I have always loved to do, and in recent years I have tried it with pleasing (to me) results on my own handwovens. I weave yardage with white, light- or natural-colored yarn, usually, but not always, in plain weave. With thickened fiber reactive dye, I use brushes, rollers and sprayers to create abstract designs in bright colors on cellulose fibers, e.g., cotton, linen, rayon. If the yardage is of adequate size, I can sew it into something wearable.

Recently I completed two items made from handwoven and dye-painted rayon. One was woven with a seed yarn originally dyed in a pale sage-green color. The seeds are made during spinning from a shiny rayon thread that is plied and allowed to build up a little bump on another ply; the result is they look like reflective little beads. Another item I made was woven from white rayon yarn in a textured twill, dye-painted and fashioned into a long-sleeved tunic.

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The original sage-green colored handwoven cloth.
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Close up of the seed yarn making little beads in the fabric.
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Dye-painted fabric.
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Poncho made from handwoven and hand-painted fabric.
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Handwoven and dye-painted rayon twill fabric. That was a fun day!
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Top made from handwoven and dye-painted twill fabric.

 


Basket Weaving on a Rigid Heddle Loom

Recently, after successfully busting down my yarn stash, I felt I was due for a reward: more yarn! I cruised my favorite online stores and ordered a few pounds of interesting items. One that caught my eye was a “straw yarn” I found at Made in America Yarns. I love working with unusual cellulose fibers and had to try it, so I ordered two skeins. When they arrived, I realized I now have a lifetime supply – each skein was over a pound! I couldn’t get them on my umbrella swift, so I carefully placed the skein on a table and wound off 14 balls per skein with my ball-winder. This yarn is sproingy and hard to control so I put each ball in a mesh bag to keep it from unwinding itself.

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The skeins explode out of their packaging like a jack-in-the-box.
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One skein wound into 14 balls between 1.5 – 2 ounces each.

The “straw yarn” is actually paper raffia. Unlike true raffia which comes from a particular kind of palm tree, this is man-made to look and act like raffia, but is much softer and it is still a natural fiber. I did a burn test and got a gray ash with a smell of burning newspaper. It is very strong when pulled along the grain, so I thought it would stand up to weaving in the warp. Now how to get this stuff on the loom: I briefly considered weaving it on a floor loom, but decided threading the heddles and sleying the reed would be asking for punishment, so I tried warping directly onto my rigid heddle loom. Surprisingly, it was not at all difficult! Having no elasticity, the warp has to have a little more slack than I would prefer, but weaving went pretty well. I set the yarn at 12.5 ends per inch and wove a plain weave, which gives a slightly warp-faced textile. I think a 10-dent reed would be ideal, but we weave with what we have.

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The basket fabric on the rigid heddle loom.

My plan was to weave a basket in two pieces, each about 9 by 30 inches. I centered them by crossing at right angles and I stitched the two layers together in a square for the bottom of the basket. Then I folded the long sides up and stitched them together, folded the hem-stitched edges down and stitched them in place. The first basket came out rather shorter and wider than I wanted, but it makes a good storage container for the remaining balls of yarn.

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Stitching up the sides of the basket.

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Kitty approves!

The second basket is made of two pieces 8 inches wide. One is about 30 inches long, the other about 32 inches. I made the basket the same way as the first, but left a wider hem on the two longer edges and threaded leather strips through them for handles. My basket is now the size and shape I originally wanted and ready to carry my sneakers, towel, etc. to the gym.

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Ready for duty.

 


 

Working with Woven and Dyed Panels

Another project involving woven panels. For this one I made two warps of a rayon/flax blend yarn. I folded the warps into packages, then bound each bundle tightly with plastic strips, and dyed in indigo, for an ikat-like effect. Thinking the weaving would go quicker if I dressed the loom with two similar warps, separated by a few inches, I threaded the loom with side by side warps about 8 inches wide and approximately 4 yards long. Live and learn – this did not hasten the process of weaving, which required throwing the shuttles separately on each warp for every row. I used a navy fine rayon boucle yarn for a textured weft.

This project is similar to the Mexican-inspired one, but I added enough extra warp for sleeves. I wove two long panels and 4 shorter ones: two for the center panels and two for sleeves. I folded over one short edge of the center panels and trimmed the warp ends to an inch. I just overlapped the long edges and zig-zagged with navy thread. The sleeves are made by folding one short edge on a 45° angle and stitching the other short edge to the folded portion of the long edge. See Virginia West’s A cut above: Couture clothing for the fibre artist for an illustration of the technique. The top is soft, drapey and comfortable, and will be cool for summer.

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Dressing the loom with two side by side warps.
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Weaving the separate warps with two shuttles.

 


 

Indigo Shibori Jacket: Handwoven and Dyed

A recently completed jacket made from cloth I wove and dyed over the last couple of years.

A few years ago I acquired some wonderful yarn on sale as a close-out. It is a blend of alpaca and Tencel, both of which are soft (and slippery) fibers. I wove a few yards – enough to cut and sew a jacket, but I learned what other weavers probably already know, which is that alpaca does not full like wool does when wet-finished. The fabric is fragile and unravels easily because alpaca, unlike wool, has no little scales reaching out to grab onto their neighbors. About a year or so after taking the fabric off the loom, I folded and clamped it and dyed it in indigo, itajime-style.

Another year on, I serged the edges of the pattern pieces as I cut them out, but if I pulled a bit too hard on the serger thread, that slipped right off too. I primarily used Vogue 8676, designed by Marcie Tilton, with elements from a couple of other patterns as well. I stitched every seam twice for strength, but that ended up perforating the cloth. This yarn was really meant for scarves and shawls, not tailored clothing. But I persisted toward my goal of a jacket, which I lined with Bemberg rayon, and fitted with snaps instead of buttons for closures.

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Detail of jacket collar, snap closures and lining.
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Detail of resist-dyed indigo on handwoven fabric.