I recently posted that I can’t created in chaos. And that messy in my studio is when there are snippets of thread and fabric on the floor. Well I got really, really messy (for me) over the long weekend we have just enjoyed in the UK. I also got sore feet from standing for hours. And my rotary cutter needed a long lie down in a dark room afterwards. But look what I got in return – trays of cut ‘bricks’ and bondaweb backed ‘brickettes’ ready to build backgrounds in my Ruins and my View series.
I love printing and it is so tempting to just keep on printing, especially on sunny days when breakdown screens dry quickly. But it is only by cutting up the fabrics that I can see if I have the right balance of colour and pattern. I can see that I have enough fabric to start making backgrounds. I use the bricks to piece backgrounds for my large quilts and I use the brickettes to fuse backgrounds for smaller works. But I can also see that I will need more of the darker fabrics in both series to complete the work I am planning for the rest of this year. Which means more printing. Happy days!
I make a mean lasagne. I could eat it every day but hate washing saucepans so guess what – I don’t want to make lasagne every day. But I love all aspects of breakdown printing and I could very happily spend every day making beautiful fabric. I love mixing the dyes and preparing the screens. I love pinning out my cloth and pulling the screens. I even love washing my screens, washing the objects I use on my screens and washing my printed cloth. Because I love it I have spent hundreds of hours learning to sort of control the outcomes and it now forms the foundation for all of my art.
I made my first breakdown screens during a Committed to Cloth workshop in 2010. I wasn’t really aiming for anything – I just picked a couple of colours and made two screens.
I printed the golden yellow screen first by pulling through with more golden yellow. I wasn’t that impressed. Then I pulled the petrol green screen on top. I was worried that I had lost all the first layer. And then I washed the cloth and feel in love.
The joy of breakdown printing for me is in the detail. Those tiny areas of texture that are impossible to create in any other way. When I made that first piece of printed fabric into a piece of finished art I added stitch that mirrored some of that detail. Today I use breakdown in a very different way but thought you might like to see how I started!
Knots and Crosses (detail)
I started sampling ideas for my new series using a selection of dyed fabrics pulled from my stash. Early outcomes did not exactly grab me so I also tried using stencils to take colour out (discharge) and to add colour. Interesting but still not right. I added back colour. And got rather depressed until I decided to change the scale and to add stitch. Bingo!
The sample above is definitely a step in the right direction. However looking at it I realised that the colours of the appliqued strips were not really ‘me’. Being dyed fabric, they lacked the texture I usually work with. Pieces from this new series will be shown alongside pieces from my Ruins series in the exhibition I am doing with Helen Conway at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery in Autumn 2018. So I pulled out my colour diary and compared my little sample with the colour family used in Ruins. The background for the new series uses a colour family made from black and petrol green. In my Ruins series I use petrol green and a colour family made from rust and black. Doh … it seems so obvious now!
In between wrapping presents last week I did manage to prepare and pull some breakdown screens. I got some really promising marks by using a screen made with torn strips of freezer paper gently ironed onto the screen before rollering on a very thin layer of black thickened dye. I also made a screen using strips of torn masking tape. I wanted the marks to be delicate so pulled through with lots of print paste. And replaced the paste if it got tinted with colour.
However those lovely marks only appeared from the first and sometimes second pull. After that everything went ‘blobby’ and not at all what I wanted.
I have found before that I get the best marks and the most ‘pulls’ when I dry breakdown screens outside on warm sunny days. Drying out screens quickly and thoroughly is not easy in the winter. I have tried drying this batch of screens next to and above radiators and I still only get one good pull. Trying to develop a new palette of textiles based on this low success rate could be really frustrating! Luckily I am not working to a deadline so, although Plan B looks to be a good one I am putting it on hold until spring. I wonder if Santa can bring me an early spring?
It is a good job that I have a Plan B as my experiments over the last week or so have failed to give me a ‘WOW’ moment. The results didn’t even fall into the ‘Ugly Duckling’ category of pieces that might fit in with what I’m trying to achieve with some additional process. The experiment has been educational but not in any way that is connected with what I think I’m trying to achieve.
I started with 8 pieces of cotton each ‘marked’ with a different medium. It turns out that my water resistant acrylic ink didn’t put up much of a fight and washed out when put in the soda bath to soak. The soda solution was a beautiful turquoise colour as I poured it down the drain. Luckily (sic) the colour washed out so sucessfully that I can reuse the piece of cloth. The remaining seven, soda soaked and dried pieces were pinned to the bench and a layer of colour added using an open silkscreen.
After batching them I washed and dried the pieces. The original marks were all clearly visible below the layer of colour. The lines I had made with dilute acrylic and with acrylic mixed with Golden Matt Medium looked a little faded and fuzzy but the rest appeared unchanged. I then stripped out the colour using two methods. One half of each piece of cloth was discharged using Formosol mixed with print paste and applied through a screen. The other half was discharged using the cheapest bleach I could find (40p for 2 litres – bargain!) and a fan brush.
The Formosol discharged to a fairly consistent colour irrespective of the original colour. The bleach gave a bit more variation and also some different colours. Neither method affected the original marks. Hmm … I had been hoping for some really interesting chemistry to happen that maybe striped back or somehow changed the first layer of marks. Instead discharging added colours to the fabric pieces that created a palette that reminded me of street lights glowing in the dark. Which has got me thinking about something else … maybe the beginning of something else? So the pieces will be hung on a small design wall to contemplate whilst I move on to Plan B!