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)
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!
Having worked on the colour family for what I hope will be my new series I need to start creating a palette of fabrics. Where to start? I started by clearing a design wall and moving everything off my 3.5m long print table. I don’t do sketchbooks so this is my equivalent of that blank first page. Scary.
Time for a cup of coffee and a think. I want to experiment with building layers. Marks or text being the first layer. Colour (from the new colourway) being the second layer. Then marks or text being etched back into the colour using a discharge process. Thus revealing some of the original marks or text. Sounds simple but there are so many ways of achieving this. Being a list person I went through all my cupboards and pulled out all the different materials that could be used to mark cloth and wrote a long list of all the different ways they could be used – for example using acrylic, acrylic mixed with water, acrylic mixed with fabric medium, acrylic mixed with matt medium … you get the picture. I cut decent sized pieces of cotton, pinned them to the bench and started.
Having not touched some of the materials in years I guess that I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much stuff had dried out and how many containers I could only get into by cutting off the lid! My big long list got a lot shorter!
I am not bothered about the types of marks or even the colour of the marks as I’m pretty sure that most of what I produce over the next few weeks will end up in the bin. I am really looking at how different materials interact. After a pleasant couple of hours I have my first set of 8 different starting layers. Some will need fixing which I will do tomorrow then they will need soda soaking and drying ready for the second layer. It wasn’t so scary after all.