Monthly Archives: February 2015

Building the next Hidden Message pieces

Having printed most of my fabrics I have now started to make the next Hidden Message pieces. I’m never quite sure what to call this process – I guess it could be called collage but the regularity of the pieces seems to fit better with the word ‘construct’. And construct seems more appropriate given that I am building cityscapes. Whatever you call it I love this part of the process. For me it involves lots of sitting and looking at the design wall, lots of pinning and unpinning bits of fabric, drinking lots of coffee and eating too many biscuits! I spent about 8 hours constructing 3 pieces.

Creating my skyscrapers

Creating my skyscrapers

I fused acrylic felt to cotton backing fabric and cut out 3 pieces 14 x 32 inches (although the finished pieces will be 12 x 30 inches). I then started to make my skyscrapers using freezer paper as guides for ironing under edges.

Layering the skyscrapers to build a cityscape

Layering the skyscrapers to build a cityscape

I pin the pieces in place as I go and pin the whole piece to my design wall at regular intervals. What looks good on the bench doesn’t always work when you try to look at the piece as a whole from a bit of a distance. I didn’t really have a plan in terms of how I wanted to use the fabrics – the 3 pieces sort of evolved together. I have ended up with two paler ‘day’ pieces and one which feels more like a night scene. I plan on making more of these but will spend time quilting these first – stitch on these pieces will spark new ideas for the next pieces!

Cityscapes, one at night and two during the day

Cityscapes, one at night and two during the day

Printing the next Hidden Message fabrics

So having sampled on similar coloured fabrics I spent the weekend using thermofax and screen printing to create a group of gorgeous fabrics ready for the next set of Hidden Message pieces. I started with a hand dyed 21 piece colour family. I used a single screen on some. Others I used a couple of screens. Some were discharged. Some were printed with screen printing inks. Some were over printed. I still have 7 pieces of fabric to print but I’m pretty happy with the results so far.

Printed hand dyed colour family

Printed hand dyed colour family

Printing - marking out fabric with pins and thread so that I can see where to print

Printing – marking out fabric with pins and thread so that I can see where to print

Printing - using kitchen towel to mask areas to stop 'ghosting'

Printing – using kitchen towel to mask areas to stop ‘ghosting’

Printing with discharge paste - activating with an iron

Printing with discharge paste – activating with an iron

Printed fabrics drying in the studio

Printed fabrics drying in the studio

Sampling for the next Hidden Message pieces

I have completed 13 pieces in the Hidden Message series to date but none of them are quite right for an exhibition I have later this year with the Etcetera group. The venue is relatively small so we each only have limited wall space. I thought that the last two pieces I made would be OK but woke up one night realizing that their scale was just not going to work.

So with only 8 months to go I decided that I needed to start from scratch and work smaller. I dyed some more fabric over the Christmas holidays – that was the easy bit. And then I started to think about layout and construction methods. I did spend a lot of time working in a sketchbook when I did City and Guilds but the habit never stuck. Instead most of my ‘working out’ happens in my head with the odd scribble on bits of paper. This time though I couldn’t quite figure everything out so made a paper mock up of how I thought the piece could look. The series is all about censorship in modern China and takes its form from the skyscraper filled skyline in Shanghai. So I made a cityscape using cut up Chinese newspapers. No idea what any of the text meant but loved the texture.

Sampling Paper Skyscrapers (12 x 30 inches)

Sampling Paper Skyscrapers (12 x 30 inches)

This told me that I needed some smaller scale prints than I had used in the earlier pieces so I had a series of thermofaxes made featuring barred windows and Chinese text. Although the text will read more as texture than clear text it does have meaning – it is a list of types of censorship used in China (and, unfortunately, in many other countries). I trialed these screens on a set of fabrics left over from an earlier Hidden Message dyeing session. I experimented with thickened dyes and with screenprinting inks to achieve different levels of clarity. I also used discharge paste on some pieces.

Printed and discharged fabrics

Printed and discharged fabrics

And then I started to build my skyscrapers. I stitched the first pieces around their ‘exposed’ edges then with parallel vertical quilting. Looked OK but lacked some movement? Maybe. So I switched to just stitching pieces down around their edges. Once the skyscrapers were built I hung it on my design wall and made a cup of tea. And sat and starred. And gave up for the night but when I got into my studio the next evening I knew that I wanted to add parallel diagonal lines – as if the stitch were rain pouring down on the city.

Printed and discharged fabrics collaged

Printed and discharged fabrics collaged

I haven’t completely quilted the piece. I don’t need to. The sampling process has given me enough understanding to know how to print my fabrics and how to build the city. I am already thinking of different variations on colour placement and on adding stitch. And now I am ready to start work – I need to have 5 pieces (that I am happy with) by the end of August – easy!!

Stitched sample

Stitched sample

Story of my studio

I’ve had a great week in my studio printing and discharging 4 pieces of cloth simultaneously as well as continuing to stitch the next Ruins piece. But, for various reasons I can’t share images right now. So instead I thought I would share the story of my studio.

I am an incredibly lucky person. I have always had a room to work in even when the kids were still at home. There were years when I had a decent sized room and years when I was squeezed into the box room. Once the last one left home I was able to move into the biggest bedroom in the house which had the added benefit of having a small ensuite. So instead of dyeing fabric in the kitchen I was able to set up a small wet area in my studio. For the first time I was able to experiment with screenprinting and lots of other wet processes. I took the time to paint the room white, to add good lighting and to build lots of storage shelves and cupboards. And it really paid dividends. Both in quantity but more importantly in the quality of my work. Having a good space to work caused a step change in my thinking and in my intention.

But after a couple of years I realized that I needed a much bigger wet studio. And so in summer of 2013 we started to renovate an old outbuilding that sat at the back of our property. We brought our house about 16 years ago and always intended doing ‘something’ with the building but never quite figured out what. So over the years it has been a garage, a teenage hangout, a smoking shed (how come my kids all smoke when we’ve never let them be around smokers???) and a general dumping ground.

Before starting the renovation

Before starting the renovation

We were put in touch with a great builder by Helen Conway www.helenconwaydesign.com  (big thanks Helen!) who took up the challenge of creating a warm, dry, well lit studio at minimum cost. We used windows and French doors that were ‘seconds’, recycled timbers where we could and second hand cupboards. The one thing we really went over the top on was insulation as I knew I wouldn’t use a studio that was cold and damp in the winter.

Work in Progress!

Work in Progress!

Building work finished - now the hard work started!

Building work finished – now the hard work started!

The builder finished work on 23rd December 2013. We didn’t have the money to pay him to do the painting and finishing – so for the next eight weeks myself and Callum (middle son) painted, sanded, sealed and tiled. It was incredibly hard work but at the end of February I was able to use the studio for printing and dyeing. I had cupboards, a working sink and a massive print table. No cupboard doors and over half of the studio still full of timber and part built cupboards. But I was in heaven!

Print bench (140cm x 350cm) is built on top of kitchen units with long wide shelf in between.

Print bench (140cm x 350cm) is built on top of kitchen units with long wide shelf in between.

Studio life took a bit of an unexpected turn last spring – Cal was finishing up his Interactive Art degree and looking around for something to pay the rent that would still allow him to work on his music and art. He decided to start a picture framing business as he loves working with hands (and couldn’t abide the thought of working full time in retail or in an office). So my studio has become our studio. Which meant building units to store tools, as well as glass and mountboard. And building Cal a bench to work on.

Today we share the space. He uses it 2 to 3 days a week and I use it in the evenings and at weekends. We have to constantly clean up as sawdust and fabric don’t mix but it has been a real pleasure seeing his business take off. Hopefully he will move into his own studio in a few months at which time I’ll take over the whole studio.

Callums' space

Callums’ space

My sewing table with storage behind

My sewing table with storage behind

My print table and design wall

My print table and design wall

Having this wonderful space has allowed me to make some big changes in the way I work. Last year I really ‘got the hang’ of working in series and have started to work on two series at the same time. I am able to work on multiple pieces without constantly moving stuff around. I have different pieces at different stages in their creation. I work in my studio every day, even on those days when my day job has been tiring and frustrating. Unlocking the door and stepping into my studio fills me with energy. It is allowing me to develop as an artist.