Saturday, September 20, 2014

Using Freezer Paper Stencils: Figure It Out

An early acrylic  paint experiment was the A3 piece I made for the  Contemporary Quilt Suitcase challenge  'Figure it Out ' It was cut down from a rather dull 24 inch quilt I'd made a  few years earlier  in shot silks with a  backing of a hand printed fabric bought in Australia . The painted results were much more exciting! ( both this and  2 A4 Journal quilts)
"Inspired by Australian aboriginal rock paintings of Arnhemland, particularly the spirit figures ’Mimis'. The act of painting is considered more important than the finished picture which results in layers of paint and patterns, where individual shapes are initially  difficult  to recognise .
  • Front constructed from ‘shot’ silks in blue green and orange ( colours of rock), turned at 90 degreesto reflect light differently. 
  • Screen printed fabric produced by the Injalak is used on the back. The ‘Mimis’ are  outlined by machine quilting from the back following printed figures then contour quilted.

 Acrylic paint in ochres applied by sponge over  freezer paper stencils of handprints.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Painting 'Gythion Glow' Part II - Scaling up

After preparing my 1/4 size samples for 'Thin Blue Line'  challenge , I was ready to scale up! The original inspiration was of boats moored at Gythion in Greece with the 'thin blue line' of hills in the background. I snipped sections out of the photograph to compress it down to a composition and proportions I was happy with and matched some of the colour in fabrics to insert as thin strips. Having to work to a fixed size of 30 x 120cm meant I had to use some maths and measuring to PLAN where I was going to insert them - not my usual style at all (normally I judge by eye and let things evolve)

I used the technique shown by Alison Schwabe - the strips are 3/4 inch wide and using a scant 1/4 inch seam allowance and careful adjusting and matching under the machine, can achieve gentle curves without using bias strips.
Then I started quilting( using the same fabric on the back although without the inserted strips means that if it all goes horribly wrong when painting, I get a second shot!) I used  Vandana variagated thread and a double or triple needle  managing to break 2 new double needles by not re-adjusting settings before inserting the needles. Next steps  were  quilting from the back with perle in the bobbin to emphasise the boat masts and some serious hand stitching

 Then I  taped it onto a board and painted it- with sharp intake of breath!  It worked , mainly because I'd learnt my lesson and erred on side of caution, working slowly and leaving some areas unpainted
 It was exhibited in several places and sold ( and apparently could have sold it several times over) It captures a particular time and place which is why I think it resonated with others. I still have the original watercolour done in  Greece and the 1/4 size sample.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Painting 'Gythion Glow' Part 1 - Inspiration and Samples

After my success with 'Strindberg Shore'  I was keen to continue the themes of the sea and apply my newly learnt techniques to the Contemporary Quilt 'Thin Blue Line' challenge, a strict  30 x 120 cm format. I wanted to look at different proportions of sea, sky and shore, with the horizon line between sea and sky being the blue line. Some of my inspiration (besides some more Strindberg paintings ) included photos and a drawing from Ireland and Greece, paintings by Terry Frost and monoprints by Trevor Sutton. I tried out a different material - a cotton yukata fabric from Japan in blues and blacks. I quilted this with a twin needle to get slightly raised lines on a 12 inch square  finished size ( CQ Journal Quilt size- cunning eh!) I marked off 2 areas with masking tape to the same proportions as the Thin Blue Line and painted with acrylics, varying the horizon line.

With the masking tape removed, I quite liked the contrast with the unpainted fabric. Not sure which horizon line/ proportions I prefer ( if any) - I'm afraid I 'fiddled', always a danger when working on such a small scale and the painting is not as fresh and lively as it could be.

 I wasn't that happy in particular with the 'sea' part or the definition of the horizon line. I'm confident mixing blues in watercolour but  was struggling in acrylics ( got round that in 'Strindberg Shore' by using indigo dyed fabric after a few abortive attempts). Maybe it needed a line of blue fabric introduced or a left unpainted? More experiments  were required!

 My next experiment  was a 1/4 scale sample piece to test out ideas and fabrics. I made it double sided - both main fabrics used were kimono/yakuta ( conveniently already a narrow width ) and painted with acrylics both sides. The woollen slubby fabric didn't work that well (at least on this scale)  but I was pleased with the results on dark blue/black patterned cotton yakuta fabric which has a slightly starched finish.
 Woollen slubby side
Cotton yakuta side

Cotton yakuta side detail

Next step scaling up!



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Painting Strindberg Shore

In the next few posts  I'm going to be show you some of my painted quilts and share with you some of the stages involved in their creation. Early on I got into the habit of taking photos as I went along. One of the big disadvantages of acrylic paints is that once it's on, it's on for good , you can't take it off. Photos  helped to pinpoint the point sometimes when things went horribly wrong so  that I'd know better  next time! I've learnt with practise to  paint sparingly to start with and gradually build up the layers.  

So I'm starting out with my first large scale foray into painting with acrylics on quilted fabrics: 'Strindberg Shore'  This was made for Quilters Guild of the British Isles (QGBI)  'In the Spotlight' exhibition on behalf of Region 1 (London) at Festival of Quilts 2007. The theme was 'August'  - I based my piece on a book and exhibition of paintings by August Strindberg , as I said in my statement:
 " He was as innovative in his painting as his writings, exploring the use of colour , texture and composition in impasto interpretations of sea and sky, merging contrasting images" 
As I explained in my previous post, I make lots of  stitched samples which I then paint. This is when I discovered how quite unexpected fabrics such a  wild African prints produce a more vibrant effect than plain fabrics.  Having both machine and hand stitching gives interesting variations in texture : hand stitching gave deeper peaks and troughs while fancy machine stitching  created different density of patterns. This  sample  was one of my  more successful.
Working with African fabrics brought the challenge of how to mark for stitching (I used  more than one spool of 1/8 inch masking tape ) and then after months of stitching the sharp intake of breath knowing there was no going back once I applied the first brush stroke....
Detail before  and after painting
I sometimes find I have to make further samples to solve problems as I go along ,  in this case assembling off cuts.  These can  often result in interesting pieces in their own right.
I was really pleased how  'Strindberg Shore' turned out, it's one of those pieces that rewards when you look closer. And I was thrilled when it was chosen to travel to National Quilt Museum Paducah as part of the 'acCent' exhibition highlighting UK Quilt artists in 2012- I was among some very prestigious  company.
A slight cautionary note. As fabric painted with acrylics becomes rather stiff, quilts have to be rolled for transit rather than folded. When it came back from being exhibited at Festival of Quilts in 2007 it had been folded resulting in  some fine vertical creases. I was lucky in that they eventually came out  but  the experience made me wary of sending quilts for exhibit where rolling could not be guaranteed. It's also the rather pragmatic reason behind the choice of  size and format of quilts that I make. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Painting Experiments

 When I first  started experimenting with using acrylics, I used failed projects and the samples  I use to test machine quilting  tension.  A layer of gesso and they're already looking interesting !

 Now though I will usually make up some test samples while I'm thinking of projects  using a variety of different fabrics . I use Dream Cotton 'Select' wadding in the sandwich and then machine and hand stitch often  in ripple patterns. In the examples I'm showing here  I applied acrylics (Liquitex firm body) straight from tube with a palette knife but not to the whole piece so that a strip of the original fabric can be seen. It's a bit distracting to look at ( as you can see in the 'studio' shot below) so I've cropped the image in Photoshop and shown the 'before' stage separately.

Fabric 1: A heavy cotton canvas (pattern called 'Tipsy'!) I liked the pattern already printed on it but it was difficult to hand stitch and also to paint and the texture of the canvas showed through when painted.

Fabric 1 Before

Fabric 1 After

Fabric 2 : A vintage black/brown cotton sateen with abstract orange pattern. Easy to stitch and paint and like the result- only concern is the stretch and distortion of sateen when used on a larger scale
Fabric 2 Before

Fabric 2 After

Fabric 3 (top)and 4(bottom): An African damask shibori in orange and blue (still with starch in ) and Kaffe Fassett Roman Glass - an old favourite of mine. Both fabrics easy to stitch. The damask didn't take paint that well (probably because of the starch) and the pattern showing through was too dominant. Its also too gorgeous a fabric to hide under paint! ( which is why I was a bit mean in the size of sample)
The dots and circles of the Roman Glass were not as prominent as I thought they might be - definitely one for consideration
Fabrics 3&4 Before

Fabrics 3&4 After
Fabric 5: African wax fabric mainly of wild large pink and black leaves. These African wax prints really stitch well and are a good surface for painting on. I rather like the vibrant pink and black showing through but perhaps wouldn't want too much of it!
Fabric 5 Before

Fabric 5 After
 A different palette of acrylic colours (greens) would have given a different effect-  the shapes of the stitched ripples also suggest land forms  to me.
You have my permission to play!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Distressed Doors Tutorial: Paint effects on Patterned Fabrics II

Once you've prepared your stitched fabric surface, mount the quilt securely on a drawing board  with  2 inch masking tape ensuring it has a taut surface.

Pour a small amount of white gesso into a small container. Gesso is a primer, it seals the surface of the fabric so that it will take the acrylic paint better and adds to the effect of a plastered wall.

Apply the gesso with a fairly large paint or varnish brush to the surfaces of the ‘stones’. Allow to dry for a couple of hours

Paint the stitched monoprint door with a palette knife loaded with acrylic paint, working across the  stitching so the paint  stays on the surface of the fabric but not in the ditches.

On your palette, mix stone –coloured paint from cream (unbleached titanium is a useful colour) with a little of the blue used for the door
Apply sparingly to the gessoed wall areas with a palette knife. This helps to add texture and variety to the wall surface. In places, add some slightly darker colours at the base and edges of the stone.

Using a fine paint brush and a little black or Paynes Grey paint, extend the shadow area around the door into the cracks in the wall.


Paint effects in detail – the speckled look to the stones were achieved by dipping an old toothbrush into paint and flicking on the surface. Be careful –it’s a messy process!

Remove from board, trim to size and  bind or face the edges .Finally you may want to embellish with door knockers or  hinges  eg a hinge of copper ribbon  ‘rusted’ with a touch of cream paint .


 I hope you've  enjoyed these series of tutorials on 'Distressed Doors'. As you'll have seen  I tend to  use  heavy body paints in a  very painterly way, adding texture to already stitched surfaces.
Some of you have already commented on the stiffness that this adds. I'm aware of using fabric medium with paints to give a softer 'handle' to fabrics but it's not a technique I use myself . If you have some  great ideas to share, get in  touch!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Distressed Doors Tutorial: Paint Effects on Patterned Fabrics I

Having seen  the effect of paint on plain fabrics, now try them on patterned material based on photos and sketches of a door set in a crumbling whitewashed  wall.


The fabrics used here include a mono-print ‘door’ set in a doorframe of matching hand dyed fabric with a thin ‘shadow’ of black and blue batik. The ‘wall’ fabric is an African waxprint- this might seem an unlikely choice but once painted, it will give a livelier appearance than a more conventional print or plain fabric. Make up sandwich with low loft wadding and backing and secure with safety pins.

            One of the problems with using highly patterned fabrics is marking out patterns for stitching. Thin masking tape (5mm width or similar) works very well but be careful not to stitch through it as it can gum up machine needles.
Simplified stitching patterns for the wall area can be obtained by drawing round the main shapes on a photograph with a felt tip or marking pen.

Use free machine quilting to emphasise the woodgrain patterns on the door and the spaces between the stones.  Leave some areas un-quilted

Once stitching is complete, trim off excess wadding and backing and mount the quilt securely on a drawing board  with masking tape ensuring it has a taut surface.

Next step: painting