Monday, November 28, 2016

Thanksgiving

Last Thursday, we in the US celebrated Thanksgiving Day, and besides fixing turkey, my personal tradition includes baking a mincemeat pie. I do as my mother did and buy a jar of filling rather than make it from scratch, but pop it into a pie crust I've made using my mother's recipe. She actually didn't have a crust recipe, just threw the ingredients in amounts that looked right into a bowl and added water to mix until it was the consistency she wanted. But when I married and realized I didn't know how to make a pie, I begged her please to translate that into a written recipe for me. She did her best, pouring flour into the bowl, then measuring and recording the amount, and paying closer attention to how much of the other ingredients she was adding (just salt, shortening and water). She warned me that Crisco shortening would not produce the best, flakiest crusts like lard would, but would be an ok substitute. She also warned about working the dough too much before rolling it out - too much handling would make the crust tough. She was right on all counts.

But isn't pumpkin the traditional Thanksgiving pie, I hear you ask? Yes it is, and my mother made it too for our family feast. And I always ate some of each, although I was never that keen on the pumpkin, preferring the mincemeat instead. Every year I'd do the same, why I'm not sure, maybe tradition having something to do with it, or following along with what everyone else was eating. If everyone else liked it so much, then it must be good, right? I was well into adulthood before I took my last bite of pumpkin pie and admitted, I just didn't care for it.

Here's the funny thing though. I'd been doing the same as my mother, fixing both kinds of pie each Thanksgiving, and my husband and I were eating both kinds without complaining before I had my little epiphany. My husband looked at me and said, You don't like pumpkin? I love pumpkin but really don't like mincemeat pie. Really! Why had neither of us admitted this for the many years we were married? Tradition and a little of not wanting to hurt the other's feelings I think. We both gave each pie one more try the next year, just one bite, looked at each other, shook our heads no, and never again touched the pie we really didn't care for.

And since that day of swearing off pumpkin pie, I realized it wasn't just the pie I didn't like, which I'd decided was because of its sort of custard base and I don't care for custard. I just didn't like the taste of pumpkin regardless of what it was in. Now I was free from trying to like pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin-spice lattes! There's so much good food out there I DO like, I hardly need to consume things I am at best lukewarm about.

So if you are an all things pumpkin lover, by all means, enjoy all things pumpkin. But don't try to convince me how good these things are because they simply aren't to me. Give me mincemeat instead! And so a slice of mincemeat pie has been added to my comforts sketchbook, using the fountain pen with the brown ink, which seemed very appropriate. The pen worked really well on this paper, and I used a little trick I saw on-line of turning the pen over essentially using the back side of the nib in order to draw narrower lines on some of the shading and texturing. I'm getting pretty comfortable with this pen now, and I'm wondering why it was giving me so much trouble initially.

I also had a thought of an advantage of drawing food. No matter how good or badly the sketch turns out, you can always enjoy eating the subject matter afterwards!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Artgraf Experiment

As long as I was in an experimental mood in prep for the art group meeting (see previous post), I decided to do a quick test run of the ArtGraf blocks I'd bought quite awhile ago. I'd been playing with water soluble graphite pencils with intriguing results, and when I saw these, in "my" earth colors, at greatly reduced "new product" price, well, I had to buy them. And not so much for my sketching forays, but as I so often do, wondering if I could use them on fabric. The graphite pencils became permanent on paper after wetting. Perhaps these colored ones would work the same.


So I went about laying down color and wetting in various ways on a strip of white muslin that I'd ironed to freezer paper to stabilize it. The blocks are shaped like tailor's chalk so you can pick them up and draw using the edge or pull across in a wide band as I did here. Hard to get even coverage. Then I tried dabbing and pulling a wet foam brush across the section in the middle. No control. The last test on the right was with a wet one inch flat brush that was used to pick up the color directly off the dry block like you would a watercolor pan, and brush across the fabric. Also difficult to control. But you can see better how the ArtGraf reacts like the Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils - the color comes to life when it is activated with water.


I decided not to let that first swath go undampened, and tried a dauber to see if that worked better than the foam brush. It did.


Also on my mind was whether one could mist the Artgraf with water rather than apply the water with a brush. Besides laying down color in a swath, I also decided to try drawing a few lines with the edge of the block. 


My mister laid down a heavier spray of water than I thought it would, but at least I could see that it was a method that could work. There was some wicking of the color along the edges of the drawn lines but the lines themselves stayed quite visible. I also tried wetting the fabric, then drawing and dragging the block over it. Apparently forgot to take a picture but it worked fairly well. Where I dragged the block, the color eventually wicked into the damp area where I had not applied color.


The other thing I was curious about was if I could use these to make rubbings. I have several tjaps and had seen that they could be used this way, so I picked one with a fairly dense design. I covered it with a strip of white muslin taped to the top and held the other end as I dragged the block over it. Yes, it did indeed pick up the pattern. But what would happen when I dampened it?


I used the dauber again, because it held the least moisture and could be pounced along with some control. I quickly saw I had to use very little water or the color would wick and I'd lose the pattern. I really thought this product would give me more control over adding color but it did not.

Chart showing ArtGraf applied dry, dry then wet with brush, picked up from block onto wet brush and applied.

The real question, though, was if the color would bind to the fabric. And once dry, I quick rub with a piece of white muslin showed that the color rubbed right off. I was puzzled. I went back to my sketches where I'd used the water soluble graphite and it was not rubbing off. I read again the test run article that I'd pulled from a magazine that clearly stated this had binder in it. Perhaps it binds to paper but not to fabric. So I quickly did up a sample color chart (which I needed to do anyway) and found that some of the color also rubbed off once dry. And then it hit me, and I'm almost embarrassed to admit this. All this time I was thinking ArtGraf was colored graphite (which indeed many sites that sell it describes it this way) when in fact, according to the manufacturer Viarco's website, it is pure pigment with binder in the form of blocks. Yeah, the combination of working with the graphite pencils and seeing "Graf" in the product name along with possibly an erroneous product description allowed me to block out all else that was being said about this product. Now I understand why the videos and descriptions I'd been watching and reading kept saying you could use this like watercolors as well as draw with it before adding water, just that it left a slightly different look than watercolor. Sheesh.


And can you believe it, I had this epiphany AFTER I'd ordered up the "new" primary color set of ArtGraf blocks - red, blue and yellow - because yes, they were on sale. (Have you figured out yet I am a sucker for sales?) I had something I wanted to add to my comforts sketchbook and thought I'd work with the ArtGraf to get more familiar with it, and that red would come in handy. Well, the new colors came, and now that I understand what they are, it still was a good idea to play with them in this sketch today. I must confess I still do not have steady hands and used a different brush than I've used with my watercolors in this sketchbook so things are a bit ragged. While I like the idea of using the ArtGraf like a watercolor pan, I'm not sure it is as easy to work as watercolor - again, that may have been the brush. I didn't take a lot of care with this sketch, really wanted to use it to try some things out regardless of how the result might look. Thus, the darker than I'd meant spots on the lid (and there I was, sketching those ellipses again!) which are because I was being too slap-dash with the water soluble graphite up there. And rather than define the edges of the cup in pen or even dark pencil, I wanted to make a background wash of the ArtGraf to define it. I wondered if I could transfer the dry pigment onto a dry brush (I already knew how easily it transferred to my fingers when holding the blocks), and I could. A stencil brush seemed to work the best, although perhaps I just should have used my finger. Then I lightly brushed it with a damp watercolor brush and called it good.

What can I say? Now I know and I can go on from here. I'm still wondering if there's a way to "fix" the ArtGraf to fabric - I'm thinking soy milk since it is the binder for natural pigments (yes, another experiment waiting in the wings that I was researching along with the natural dyeing). Or perhaps I should get back to the machine and fabric not needing surface design added!
  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Natural Dye Experiment

Back in May, I brought these beautiful lilac blooms into the house, and as I enjoyed them, my mind wandered to whether I might be able to use the blooms to dye fabric. I've not really been interested in trying natural dyeing, but I think something Shirley Goodwin in New Zealand was showing on her blog intrigued me and stuck in the back of my brain. She had picked pansies from her garden and put them in mason jars with water, mordant and wool yarn. But she also had some pansy blossoms that she had bagged and stored in the freezer. These went in a second jar, and when she processed both after the jars had sat in the sun for awhile, she found the blossoms that had been frozen released more dye color than the fresh blossoms. That made sense to me as freezing anything tends to break it down a bit. As the lilacs began to fade, I did a quick google to see if those blooms would indeed produce some natural dye, and popped the spent blooms into the freezer. When I received the bountiful birthday bouquet of orchids in August, those fading blooms also ended up in a bag in the freezer.


This weekend I finally did something about it. I did a bit more research of the process, with my original site being the only one that said to use vinegar for blooms, leaves and stems, while everyone else, including Shirley, said to use Alum and Cream of Tartar. Well, I had the Cream of Tartar but no alum on hand, so vinegar it would be. But first, the dye stuff needed to simmer in water, approximately two parts water to one part dye stuff ratio. There wasn't much of the lilacs to work with.


But there was more of the orchids. I simmered both pots for the minimum hour and then some, and left it all in the pots until the next day per recommendation of one of my sources.


It all looked very promising, although I know from my procion dye experience, how the dye stock looks often has little to do with how your fabric will look in the end. I must admit I was not expecting the lilacs to produce such a dark brown liquid.


And I was not counting on the orchids to produce a color similar to their blooms but they did. Such a dark rich red reminding me a bit of beet juice.


With the dye stock cooled and having soaked overnight, it was time to strain out the blossoms, leaves and stems. I mostly strained, then squeezed what additional liquid I could out of the stuff with my gloved hand.


For a dark to medium dark value, my sources suggested a one to one weight ratio between the dye stuff (before adding to water and simmering) and fabric. That came to about an 1/8 of a yard of cotton for the lilac dye and a 1/4 yard for the orchid dye. These were to be simmered in a solution of 4 part water to 1 part vinegar for at least an hour, allowed to cool and rinsed before adding to the dye stock. What kind of vinegar was not specified so I used white vinegar. The fabric is a good quality bleached muslin. Again, a minimum of 1 hour simmering in the dye stock was suggested, with the recommendation to go longer if you could, which I did. I could see that the fabric was picking up color but was not going to be very dark, and of course, even lighter when it was dry. Again, I let these cool in the pots and sit overnight.


And now for the big reveal, which is always the exciting part of dyeing. I rinsed the fabric in cold water and if I remember right, also did a quick swish through a solution of Orvus Paste and another rinse before tossing over the shower rod to damp dry. As I ironed the lilac piece (top), I could barely see any tint at all and in fact thought, well, this isn't much different than unbleached muslin. I had better hopes for the orchid (bottom) as the color was more visible, but as I ironed it looked like the fabric was starting to turn brown. I panicked, reduce the heat setting on the iron and tried to get the rest of the wrinkles out but again, once dry, there seemed to be almost no color in the cloth. They really do have to be against something white to see the tint, and I almost feel like the camera is being too generous in the amount of color it picked up. I took these to art group Monday, and under the light in the space we were meeting in, the lilac one had a bit of green tint to it, which according to the natural dye chart I found is the color lilac blooms should produce.

All in all, a lot of time spent with disappointing results. I can think of several reasons why these did not come out better, primarily that I did not use fresh blooms, and perhaps even that I did not use alum. I'm trying to see an upside to the natural dyeing, primarily I guess that I'd be adhering to the "waste not want not" mentality by using dye stuffs readily available from the garden. But one site I found suggested that because of the amount of simmering that must be done to extract the dye and thus use of electricity or gas, this may not be as ecologically friendly as the term "natural dye" would suggest (unless you are trying Shirley's solar method), and in fact some dye stuffs are poisonous and must be handled and disposed of with care. The biggest downside for me is the fact that the end product will not be particularly wash-fast or light fast.

Lesson learned, and a better appreciation for my forefathers and mothers whose only option was to dye with natural dye stuffs. As for me, I am very happy now to return to my procion dyes!   

Monday, November 14, 2016

Down the Internet Rabbit Hole

I mentioned back when I was finishing up that Inktober sketch challenge that I got sucked down a research rabbit hole while looking up some info for a little family history project. As I wrapped it up last week, I got sucked in again as I rediscovered a source for free census records and got to comparing info on them with my notes from various family members and all too limited dating and descriptions in photo albums. It's an amazing experience to rebuild someone's life from information like this, and try to imagine what some life events must have been like to live through during a different time. Here's the family member I was focusing on, my maternal grandmother's sister Gertrude and her husband Roy. While so many of the pictures from this time period of the mid to late 1920's show Gertie with no expression on her face, arms hanging at her side, this one shows a different side. I just love this jaunty pose she and Roy struck, the almost smiles hinting at a mystery they may or may not share.

I admit I spend way too much time on the internet following links and hunting down bits of information. I'd like to think it all gets tucked away in the folds of my brain for future reference, things that I don't even know will be useful to have floating around in there at some point. It helps assuage the guilt I feel when I realize I've lost an afternoon of sewing to such pursuits. That's why I sat up and took notice at Austin Kleon's Tumbler post sharing Kenneth Goldsmith's thoughts on Wasting Time On The Internet. My favorites are an observation similar to my own about people talking on bluetooth headsets ("Once, the only people who spoke to themselves were drunks; today, armies of people spout great soliloquies whilst traversing the sidewalks.") and how Twitter with its character limits affects how people write and edit, something I've experienced myself ("I often see a great deal of craft going into the composition of tweets. The constraint alone brings craft to the fore: how can I say something with such limited real estate? And then there is the game of the compositional method itself: watching the character count dwindle, then precisely editing and revising the tweet so it will fit into its allotted space. We substitute ampersands for “ands,” delete commas, double spaces, and redundant words, use hashtags, and employ URL shorteners to craft the most compressed language possible.")

Basically, he is saying it's all good, that all our reading and writing on the internet can be likened to "sampling and remixing", making connections and improving our own thinking.
The DNA of the web is embedded in 20th-century movements like Surrealism, where artists sought to live in a state like dreaming, or Pop Art, where they leveraged popular culture to make bigger points about society. Postmodernism is about sampling things and remixing them, and that is made real in this digital world.

When I teach my students about the historical preconditions for what they are doing when they waste time together — things like Surrealism or Cubism — the theoretical framework helps them know that the web isn’t a break, it’s a continuity with earlier great thinking.
And in answer to the question of what will an educated person be in the future, he responds, "We still read great books, and there is a place for great universities. But an educated person in the future will be a curious person who collects better artifacts. The ability to call up and use facts is the new education. How to tap them, how to use them." Actually, I'd say we're already there. At least, I have felt the power of the internet to track down information that previously would have meant traveling to a library or museum that held original documents or artifacts or art in their collections. Or requesting microfiche to laboriously scan through. Or searching through a library's vertical files. Some information still needs to be accessed "the old fashioned way" but with each bit of info that gets uploaded to the world wide web, the speed with which we can discover and make connections between bits of information increases, as does the breadth of our understanding of our world, what came before and what can be.

So . . . go ahead and dive down that rabbit hole! 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Resurrecting a Project

Auditioning King Tut variegated threads
It's amazing to me how long some projects sit, waiting for me to get back to them. This week I've returned to textiles and am diving into the quilting of a lap quilt that, as I check my blog, has been layered for quilting since October 2014 - yes, 2 years! (See this post where I choose the backing and start the pin basting.) The last thing I did was set out some prospective threads for the quilting, bundling it all together into the closet until I thought through the quilting design and felt I could "afford" the time to start quilting it. I've gathered ideas for the quilting and in my head thought I had it worked out - a way to mimic the paisleys in the border and sashing fabric in a pleasing continuous design that would be quilted in top to bottom rows - an overall design as it were. This is a technique I learned in a workshop and decided this was the quilt top to try it out on. You'll have to click on the photo for a larger version and peer closely to see the stitching and design on the above sample sandwich which gave me a better clue than pooling the thread over the surface as to how each color would read.

Bleh - not at all what I had in mind

It also immediately showed me I did not like this juxtaposition of paisleys, which now just looked like badly quilted folk tulips. This is the back, using what thread was already in the machine. I actually may use it as the bobbin thread since the backing is a combination of the dark blue and a tan print. Again, click on the picture to see more clearly.


Part of the problem, I decided, was the size of the paisleys. I started off quite large and they slowly came down in size as I changed threads. But still, this is not what I wanted on this quilt.

Either color works over the top, & there's the paisley in the fabric inspiring the quilting

Time for a new thought. I studied the piecing in the top and could see a different way to approach this, an idea that a single paisley could show up in each small square, two in the larger one, keeping them more or less upright and quilting a graceful curve to connect them. And I'd pretty much narrowed the thread color choices to these two.

Time to draw out my thought. I placed a transparency sheet over those squares and drew a continuous line of paisleys through them. Then place the transparency on something white so I could see better what I'd drawn. Oh yes, this was more like it! Since I'd filled up my sample with stitching, I removed some of it in the middle so I could try this out with the two threads I was still considering.


My biggest concern after reviewing the quilting out of the 5 different colors was that whatever I chose would not overshadow the paisley in the print to the point you could not even see it. The darker brighter colors were definitely doing that. The blue seems a little distracting too, but I think that more sandy color, perhaps used to quilt around the paisleys in the border fabric, may be just the thing. I did try a dark blue but it didn't show up enough to see as I quilted, could not see where I'd already stitched. Not going bold this time, but not going completely into hiding either.

I still have the final decisions to make on thread color and whether or not I'll add a frilly echo around each paisley, but I am really excited now to get stitching on this. It will take awhile since this is a generous lap size. But I don't have the feeling I can't work on anything else until it's done. It feels more like something I can do a little quilting on each day, if only a row or two, a bit like my sketch a day challenge, before switching the rest of my studio time to a different project like more baskets or one of my art quilt ideas. Feels good to be enthusiastic again!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

More Smiles in the Mailbox

Have to share since the news here post election is disturbing and a goodly portion of this nation needs some cheering up. A few months ago when looking for an organization to donate to in order to help the flood victims in Louisiana, I came across the Donors Choose organization which allows you to help fund projects put together by teachers all over the country to fill specific classroom needs. And there was this 1st grade class in Louisiana, looking to raise enough money to buy Kindles for each child to stand in for damaged materials. Many of these children had lost their homes to the floods, and the school, which also sustained damage but was open, was providing some continuity and shelter for them during the day. The project met its goal, the Kindles were delivered and the kids started sending out thank you notes to the donors like me!


Talk about a ray of sunshine. I never had my own kids, but long ago I worked at several schools in different non-teaching capacities, and had a lot of fun interacting with the kids, especially the younger ones who are still so open and mostly innocent. Olivia here was the star of my group of thank you's. Not sure you can tell from the photo, but she chose to add a pink roof to her orange house, and stars! I don't think I learned to make that sort of star until I was quite a bit older. And look at how legibly they write!


Olivia and another child also provided some back art. Lots of hearts - I'll take 'em. I think these kids really enjoyed making their thank you notes. They will keep me smiling for a long time. You can read more about this project and see photos of the kids in their classroom here.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

An Unexpected Kindness

All I did was pass along a book to a friend who mentioned she might be interested in reading it some day. I expected nothing in return, yet received this kindness as a thank you - a bit of this friend's hand-dyed and rust dyed fabric. It takes so little to make someone feel better, feel special, and this showing up in my mailbox last week did that, put a smile on my face. And look, Mary Stori, that friend who just happens to be in WI, made sure the hand-dye was a "Packer export" - green and gold!