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

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