A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Fabric Pyrography - 4

Sandy Snowden with the last post on Fabric Pyrography.

From time to time I have mentioned the issues with your soldering iron, location and other problems.

Where do you put it when you have to put it down?

Margaret Beale advises using a terracotta – NOT plastic – flower pot turned upside down. You insert the hot portion of the soldering iron into the hole. It needs to be a larger one so that the tip of the tool does not touch your working surface.

The Margaret Beal soldering iron and some others have an attachment which can be used to hang the soldering iron on something. You can take it off and reposition it to suit your needs. This is useful. However, I find the hook bit gets in the way of how I hold the tool. So I usually take it off.
With a bit of maneuvering, I can hold the handle of the tool and slip the hook on from the bottom. (It has a slit in it so you can get it over the cord.) And then I can hang it in a sensible place. That is, if I can find one near the place where I have plugged in the soldering iron!

So the easiest way I find to park my soldering iron is a tall mug with a rock inside to keep it from tipping over.
Lately I have also been keeping a metal dishwashing scrubber inside, too. It keeps the tip clean.

Sometimes with a curved tip, you find you can’t hold the tool comfortably because the positioning of the tip is not natural for the way you hold it.
I have found that you can turn the sheath holding the tip around. This must, of course, be done when it is not plugged in and not at all hot.
I used a pair of pliers to turn this sheath. Don’t grip too hard, as it could break.
I understand that you can get replacement tips. But to be honest, the amount of use you will get out of your soldering iron means it will last a very long time. The one case I have heard of a tip breaking was an artist who produces large numbers of work for Gallery shops and Art Council Shows. She was able to order a new tip online.

Some of the issue with holding the soldering iron is the fact that the bit of the cord below the handle is pretty inflexible. Not sure of a solution for that except keep working to find a comfortable position for you.

Things about health to consider:

As with all things you need to beware of your health. Obviously with this tool, it goes without saying that you may burn yourself!

I haven’t had any problems with any fabrics catching alight, which is a big issue for those who are using candle flames and incense sticks. But I suppose it could happen. If you work over a non-flammable surface, then you don’t have to worry about any unexpected scorch marks. This could happen with your natural ‘jerk’ reaction when you burn yourself...you may automatically release hold of the soldering iron and drop it.

About the ventilation

What may be a greater problem however, is the smell of the burning. Burning silk smells like singed hair and burning cotton has a smell like burning paper. Cotton and silk are natural fibres, but you still don’t want to be inhaling them for hours! Little wisps of smoke/heat come from the fabric as it is being burnt...surprisingly, it can come from the back and curl round an edge to the front.

Often I would be doing this and a family member would come home and say, “What is burning!?!” The interesting thing is that I have grown accustomed to the smell and thus am unaware it may be causing me problems. SO now I do this at least by an open door or window. A fan may also be an option. Of course, this is where the soldering iron is a better prospect than a candle or lighter. If you have any breathing issues, it is a wise precaution to use a mask.

About the fibre content

If you are interested in trying mark making with a soldering iron on different fibres, a burn test chart is helpful in finding out how your fabrics might behave. It gives you a way to test fabric with unknown content. (although blends still can be rather mysterious!)

There are several of these charts to be found online, but here is one burn test chart with basic fabrics. A quick glance shows that there are fabrics you might not choose to use for Fabric Pyrography – perhaps because it won't suit the purpose you have in mind, but even more importantly, it may be that the chemicals in the fibre make-up could be toxic.

Additionally, it is worth looking for other burn test charts, because you may learn of other characteristics to the way fabrics burn.

Other links from commenters:
A sculptor who uses pyrography - with sunlight - is Roger Ackling ---Margaret Cooter

Burn Marks using Iron Soleplates: Willie Cole. His website doesn't seem to have as many images of the iron scorches, as he refers to them, but I see he also took the idea further and found a way to heat the metal perforated ironing boards and used them to print with. However, he even has a Wikipedia entry! If you want to find more images of his work, it is easiest to Google Images Willie Cole iron scorches or Willie Cole iron burns.----reg82

Madonna Yashinski, for Nov 2005 issue of SewNews. She had a pattern for wheat stalks and buds included. She used a low-temperature (750*) burning tool and natural fibers.----Luann Fischer (I was unable to find Madonna Yashinski's work online. Sandy)

The Cord Issue: I had a wood burning kit when I was a kid. I used the ironing board for my table since it was adjustable and my Mom already had one of those cord holders on the end of it. It kept the iron cord from dragging across the clothing so with my smaller hands, I figured it would keep the cord to my tool out of my way and off my hand/arm. Worked great!---Crystal Griffiths
Well, it seems there are no questions! So, I leave you with a photo of one more example of using Fabric Pyrography.
A map of my neighbourhood. The fabric is British Calico. The burning is often just the thing to give an aged look to something.

Let me know if you try Fabric Pyrography and how you get on with it! I would love to see how you incorporate it into the type of textile work you enjoy. If you want to keep up with other things I do, please visit my blog! I try to stay busy. ;-)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fabric Pyrography - 3

Sandy Snowden back with more Fabric Pyrography.

Looking at Fabric Pyrography on Silk

Yesterday I showed a recent work ‘B is for Book’ which has Fabric Pyrography on two different types of silk. The background, which is a natural silk dupion with good weight and the little images of historical figures which are on a silk twill of a finer quality.
The phrase before colouring in with gel pen.
Images on silk twill - line work and shading with the soldering iron.

Whereas the line work is similar to writing with a clumsy pen...(the cord often causing drag on the soldering iron which you try to compensate by holding your hand awkwardly hoping you don’t get too near the hot part)... the shading is more like burnishing or colouring in with a fine circular motion. I find the curved tip of the Margaret Beal soldering iron useful for this because I can use the back of the curve.

If you look at the images of the historical writers above, you can see how the coloured areas on the silk twill are a golden colour rather than the brown of the line work. This is the awesomeness of fabric pyrography on silk twill! You can take advantage of this to create depth to your shading as if with a pencil. More burnishing or more time in one spot will give you darker colours. For this work, I was happy with a flatter image because they were images from a time when perspective and depth weren’t so important. However, it does help with defining one part of the sketch from another.

Here is another work using silk twill, also a few detail images showing how the colouring in or burnishing with the hot soldering iron works.

‘Tudor Rose’
Detail of ‘Tudor Rose’

You can see how the different areas of the silk have been treated with a heavy or light hand in order to get different results. The rose was made separately to the couple and then arranged in front of it.

For the binding of ‘Tudor Rose’, I used the same silk, but made marks with the side of the iron to give a striped effect.

‘Tudor Rose' binding

Problems and solutions:

As I mentioned, it is easier to make the burnt mark with the soldering iron if the work is in a hoop so that the air gets to both sides. Generally, the method is to move the tip of the soldering iron back and forth over small sections of your line until the burn mark is strong enough to suit your purpose, continuing until the pencilled line is covered.

The work is slow and methodical. There is no hurrying – for instance holding the soldering iron on a lower angle so more of the fabric is in contact with the soldering iron. This can result in unwanted marks in places you don’t want them! You are focusing on the tip and suddenly realise you have made a mark elsewhere with the side! Or that you have angled wrongly and gone off your line.

I know this, but it doesn’t mean it keeps me from learning the lesson each time!

Smudges and going out of line

There is not much you can do about these sorts of mistakes, so you have to get on with it the best you can! After all, burnt fabric cannot be ‘unburnt’!

If your mark is not too dark, you can scrape a bit of the burn away, but too much of that compromises the fabric. It may cause it to go fuzzy or even make a hole. So, rubbing a white colour pencil over the burn may be able to get your smudge to be a little less noticeable.

With the silk dupion, I came into a different problem, which was that when the line I was burning was in the same direction as the grain, the soldering iron would push through between the fibres. In this case I was able to limit the damage so that it was not so obvious.

Previous to the ‘Tudor Rose’ work above, I did Fabric Pyrography work on a thin habotai silk.

‘Lady Constant’

I wrapped a wooden frame from some packaging in order to hold the whole piece of silk taut as I worked on it.
wrapped wooden frame

On ‘Lady Constant’ there are smaller images on the golden colour silk dupion. This was early on when I was still developing technique. The golden colour silk was quite difficult to work on in that it really needed a lot of pressure and time to get a burn mark.
‘Lady Constant’ detail of gold coloured silk

I can’t remember, but I think I was working on the pieces individually, so that is where I really learned you need the fabric to be held taut in some way. There is only so much you can do with the fabric held with tension between fingers...especially with some of the other issues I mentioned the other day about how to hold your soldering iron.

In the situation of using thin silk the burn mark developed very quickly. Thin silk needs very minimal pressure. Several times the soldering iron burnt right through the fabric.

This sounds drastic, but can be a positive thing in that you can work the mark as if on purpose. The idea of age with this piece was enhanced by the anomalies created with the mark making. Instead of trying to hide the problem, I used copper metallic thread to mend the burn tears.

mending burn work on ‘Lady Constant’

And, as I mentioned yesterday with the “B is for Book” piece, I used gel pen to make the flourishes around the image and on the sleeves. You can see how the different metallic colours work with the burn lines.

Unfortunately, after all that work, the fusible I used at the time caused some real issues with the silk. But, there we are...one of those pieces where you have to look at it as a marker of where you came from! Perhaps I should revisit her, I always meant to!

More tomorrow about some problems and solutions for tools.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fabric Pyrography - 2

Hi! It is Sandy Snowden again with more Fabric Pyrography.

I had an opportunity to do some wood burning when I was recently out of collage...at that time I ironed an embroidery transfer image onto the wood and burnt it away using a wood burning tool. Pretty basic, but it stuck in my mind.

Somehow I felt that technique could be used on fabric as well. I have rarely come across work by textile artists who have used hot tools solely to make a feature of burnt marks.

I remember hearing of one artist who used a regular clothing iron to do this. As I recall, he looked for different steam patterns on the soleplate and used them to differing affects, such as a mandala shaped burn pattern on cloth. If you know of his work, will you pass the details on?

EDIT: I knew someone would know the answer! thanks 'Reg82'! (sorry, don't know your name.) It is Willie Cole. His website doesn't seem to have as many images of the iron scorches, as he refers to them, but I see he also took the idea further and found a way to heat the metal perforated ironing boards and used them to print with. However, he even has a Wikipedia entry! If you want to find more images of his work, it is easiest to Google Images Willie Cole iron scorches or Willie Cole iron burns.

I did come across one artist who centred her thesis on the idea of the ‘Iron as Memory’. Shannon McCarty’s work consisted of framed and unframed work which had been burnt using the hot soleplate of an iron.

Installation by Shannon McCarty.
You can discover more images here. I haven’t been able to find any more recent work by Shannon McCarty.

But now, onto that Fabric Pyrography!

For many years I have been making burnt marks on fabric using a soldering iron. I mostly draw or trace a design onto fabric (using a lightbox) and then follow the line drawing with a soldering iron.

Fabrics: I use silk and cotton the most.
Starting with cotton. For most of the works I have done using cotton, I used a thick cotton version of a fabric that we call Calico in the UK. It is a firm version of the American muslin. (All following references to Calico is the British version.)

The silks I used have been varied. I will mention a beefier type today and some finer and thinner types tomorrow.

Tools: For silk or for cutting synthetics, I use my Margaret Beal(MB) soldering iron with a curved tip. (White handle below) But for the thick cotton, I use a fine tip soldering iron made by Drapers which I got at a local ironmongers/hardware shop some time ago. (Blue handle below)
As you see, it isn't as fine as the M.B. one, but I find it gets hotter and so works better on the calico. The MB soldering iron is useful for detail. I have also used the curved side against the fabric when I am 'colouring in' or shading.

One of my students had a wood burning tool with exchangeable tips. This is also a good option. Since doing the research for this series, I am now determined to save up for one of the tools which has a temperature control!

Method of working:
Basically, you use the soldering iron as a mark making tool. This does take a bit of experimentation as you need to work out:
how to find a place to work within the range of the cord,
how to find a place to work with adequate ventilation,
where to park the soldering iron so you don't burn something else,
how to hold your soldering iron without burning yourself,
and so on! And that is just for the tool.

For the fabric, you also need to work out:
how much pressure to use when making marks (what your fabric can take!), how you will hold the fabric taut and other important considerations.

I have tried drawing directly on the fabric laid onto a non-flammable surface like tile. But I found you need to have the fabric taut, such as in a hoop. This allows a little give as you press onto the fabric, but the fabric is secure enough that your marks end up where you want them. It also allows more air, which is needed (as you may know) for burning.

The first piece in which I used Fabric Pyrography was a piece called ‘Uncommon Virtue’ for ‘She Made Her Mark’ exhibition which was the first art quilt exhibition at the Quilter’s Hall of Fame. I wanted to reference the stitching, weaving and making women have done over the centuries.
"Uncommon Virtue"
This is where I remembered the idea of Pyrography. With a little experimenting, I found I could make marks with the soldering iron on the calico backing. So, I chose to continue the idea of the actual stitching I did, but instead make marks which resembled stitches.

In this instance, all the marks were linear. But to draw the whole of the work together, I also seared the edges of the fabric from the mini-corset shape...just a light touch, which also served to control the fraying.

The most recent work I did with Fabric Pyrography was last year. I decided to do a set of Celtic inspired letters as part of an online group. We had each done a different technique for each set of letters we did. So, I chose to do this set using Fabric Pyrography.

I chose to use calico for my fabric - actually the back of some calico I used years ago for a toile/sloper when I was first learning pattern drafting. So, recycling!
A few of the letters
As you can see, the linear quality is still there, but I have taken the idea further with shading and a strong burnt edge.

I decided to create a sort of swatch book with the Burnt Letters.
I kind of like the look of the pages swirled round like that. The burnt edges make their own pattern.
I stitched a bead between each letter on the upper left to hold them together.
They could be flicked through as well.

If I did this again, I wouldn't cut all the squares of fabric first because sometimes it gets pretty hot when you are burning a section near the edge. (See the advice about how to work out how to hold your fabric!)
You have to also take into account that the just-burnt section of fabric will be HOT. So when you reposition where you are holding the fabric you have to be careful not to touch the section you just did. It cools fast, but you don't want to touch it straight away. (How do I know?)

This is a natural silk dupion. It doesn't take as much heat or pressure to make the marks as cotton does, but is a lot easier to handle than thin silk which I will cover tomorrow.
The wording is in progress for an Illuminated Letter B for Book.
First I traced the lettering onto silk for the phrase and was in the process of etching the letters with the soldering iron. The wrapped hoop helps to hold the silk without damage.

The phrase completed and some decoration
I often use metallic gel pens in conjunction with the marks made by the soldering iron and have done so here. (I haven't washed this piece, but have found that some gel pens can be set to be permanent. However, you should test first if you plan to wash work that has gel pen.)

The completed work.

I used a finer silk twill to create the figures at the bottom of the letter. The technique for fine or thin silk is a bit different, so I will talk about it tomorrow.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Fabric Pyrography - 1

Hi I am Sandy Snowden...or Sandy in the UK if you are on any of the art quilt lists.

Beth asked for guests for this month and I thought you might like to get into some of the 'Setting on Fire' part of the "Fire Blog"! ... or at least burning fabric or "Fabric Pyrography", as I call it.

Today we start with looking at backgrounds of this type of work and some artists using burning in their work.

Pyrography - The term means "writing with fire", from the Greek pur (fire) and graphos (writing).

Pyrography can be practiced using specialized modern pyrography tools, using a metal implement heated in a fire (pokers or needles), incense sticks on paper or cloth, or even sunlight concentrated with a magnifying lens. Others have perfected their technique using candle flame; adding smoke to the burn marks made.

Pyrography was known in China from the time of the Han dynasty, where it was known as "Fire Needle Embroidery". But it seems the technique used in more ‘modern’ times was developed in the late 1800’s by adapting an electric cautery tool, one of the latest medical technological advancements of the time.

There is a lot of information about the popularity and development of “Les Arts du Feu: La Pyrogravure” as the French called it, at the very eclectic E-Museum of Pyrographic Art.

from the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art

The most frequently used material for this technique is wood. Any search on Pyrography will bring up images, forums, tutorials, books and more.
Work and tutorials by Lora Irish, author of definitive books on Pyrography and other wood techniques, can be found on her website.

You may have also seen the wood burning technique used on leather. Actually a lot easier than pyrography on fabric.
A variety of ideas, photos and information on tools can be found doing a search for pyrography on leather. For instance, this video by Harry Rogers is quite informative, though the image he draws is a quick sketchy one.
If you want a video of a Master at work, this link takes you to the Takis Leather Work Shop in Greece.(Accompanied by Greek music for your pleasure!)

You are probably familiar with work done using a soldering iron and synthetic fabrics. A few artists who use this technique to create very different looks.

Margaret BealFusing Fabrics and New Ideas in Fusing Fabric - Margaret layers synthetics and sheers over acrylic felt. Then she uses the soldering iron to make marks through the layers. Margaret's website

Kathleen Laurel Sage - Uses dissolvable film, machine embroidery, trapped organza fabrics, cutting back techniques and use of a soldering iron to produce lacy see-through panels. Kathleen's website

Kim Thittachi also uses soldering irons in many ways. Kim's website...Kim uses the technique as one of a wide variety of things she teaches. Jo Vandermay showed her experiments on Lutrador following ideas that Lesley Riley uses. This was on the Fire Blog last year

I use this technique of soldering iron with synthetic fabrics in my own ways, too. However, for this series of posts I want to talk about using a soldering iron to burn marks onto fabric. I will go into this further tomorrow. Meanwhile, do check out some of the links above.

If you have a soldering iron, you might like to get it out so you can get ready to try some of the techniques. If you have used it previously with synthetic fabrics like the artists I mentioned above, you should also get a metal scourer (like for pots and pans) and clean off any residue. *While the soldering iron is cold and unplugged!*

During this series of 4 blog posts, I will keep track of any questions and try to answer them fully on the last post.

EDIT: I will collect any links from the comments and put them at the end of the last post, as well.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Gallery Wrapping Art Quilts

More and more of us are finishing off our textile art by framing it and gallery style is the latest trend.  Ordinarily I tend to buck the trend but I really like this one.  There are many good ways to do this but I thought I’d share how I do it with you.  Feel free, of course, to alter as you wish.

We’re starting out here with a either a 2 or 3 layer art quilt. That is:
 1) a base, a top and batting in between 
(2) a top and felt on the bottom.

The frame can be a store bought stretched canvas or 4 stretcher strips with a piece of foam core board glued to the top of it.

In most cases, I’ve made a quilt and later decided to put it on a frame; however, I’m starting to make them to a specific size before I start. The most important reason is I think it makes a neater final product if the batting ends at the top edge and you don’t have to wrap the whole thing around to the back.  It gets pretty bulky to get a truly square corner.  If I make it to size, I don’t have more batting than I want already stitched beyond the exact size of the frame I’m going to put it on. (The red arrow indicates where the batting stops.)

So, to begin, make sure you have an adequate amount of fabric (minus the batting) around the edges of your quilt to wrap it. You need it come at least a half inch preferably ¾ inch over the side.  Here there’s about an inch but it’s better with a little less fabric so there’s room to tape it when you’re finished. But this works and you can extend the tape beyond the edge or you can trim any excess if it’s larger.

I begin by stapling the center of each of the four sides, then proceeding on one side at a time by stapling all along the edges on both sides, tugging some as you go so it stretches to the frame ever-so-slightly.

Then do the same on top and bottom leaving the corners unstapled until now. I had to go back and pull that staple out of the left corner before I went any further. You'll end up stapling there but to begin it's good to leave some leeway until you know exactly where you want it.

To make your corner, you just tuck, pull and staple as shown. Now, maneuver the fabric to lay flat and pull taut, hold and staple in place.

 Just make sure it’s lying flat, taut and square before putting in the final staples.
Sometimes it folds right over easily and sometimes it takes a little finessing of the fabric to make the last fold nice and neat.

And you might want to catch it here with a staple.

Fold it over .
Hold it in place. 
Tack it down.

Another for good luck!

And there you have it.

Repeat this until all four corners are done and then you’re ready to tape off the edges with gaffer’s tape for a clean look.

You may find that you need some tools to help you pull the fabric taut (gently though!)

I wish I had some canvas pliers, which is on my list of things to buy (grin…a long list).  Here’s a link to onehttp://www.dickblick.com/products/fredrix-premier-canvas-pliers/

But, especially for the smaller sizes, regular pliers do the job.

You can wire your frame before or after you’ve attached your art.

When it comes to wiring the back, D-rings work best but small eye hooks are just fine too,  They go inside the frame so it lays flush against the wall. It’s tricky to put them in though, so this is how I solved the problem of getting those pesky little screw eyes into place with only 2 hands: begin by starting a hole for the screw with a pushpin.  Remove the pushpin and insert the screw eye as shown.
It’s an awkward task because of the size but also the fact that the D-rings are mobile and the placement is on the edge of the frame.

Also, it’s worth picking up some flexible wire for this.  It’s amazing how much easier it is on your fingers.  It also gets nice and tight because it’s easier to wrap around itself and achieve a secure fit.

Loop the wire into the screw eye or D-ring and pull it around first to one side of the wire and then the other. 

Pulling tight wrap the wire around itself repeatedly, pulling and pushing taut as you go.

Now that the first one is in, put the other screw eye in on the opposite side and proceed with inserting the wire into the screw eye in the same manner, always keeping the line as taut as you can.  This wire will stretch some as you go so keep it tight.


Ready to hang!


Janis here for my last guest post!  It's been fun!  Thanks for having me!