Sunday, February 23, 2014


Autumn Trees Padfolio by Sheila Mahanke Barnes
Sometimes whining is a good thing. It either gets you some sympathy or a needed boot. As I've worked through two courses on Linocut blocks, I've done my share of whining, both on the blog and to friends. And it did garner a certain amount of sympathy. But it didn't really help resolve my biggest whine: why am I doing this and how am I going to use these blocks I'm making? And then someone gave me a boot. Fellow blogger Michele Matucheski of Sweet Leaf Notebook and I got in an e-mail exchange on the subject, me working through my litany of whines, Michele offering insights and support. A single comment from Michele shifted my thinking about my growing number of blocks; she offered that I was building a reference library to pull from, and that I didn't have to start big (like my idol Cynthia St. Charles), but could get my feet wet with some smaller journal-sized pieces. I'd not thought of my blocks as a resource, but as needing to know each individual design's purpose ahead of time. And yes, I'd been envisioning filling a yard of fabric, not small pieces. I speculated that hey, padfolio covers might be the perfect thing to shoot for. And that led to Michele challenging me to use some of my new linocuts as a surface design layer for my padfolios, sweetening it with the offer of a trade for one of her hand-made journals (a sample of which can be seen here). How about that for incentive, she asked? It was just what I needed - game on! And that is how the padfolio shown above came to be.

I've shown you bits and pieces of the progress on this, without revealing it was for the challenge. So let me pull it all together here. Like me, Michele has her hand in many interests. I first remember following her blog because of the fabric dyeing experiments she was doing. She also showed some of her quilting efforts. And hey - she's from Wisconsin where I spent 13 years of my life. An instant bond there. But she soon turned to sharing her work from a class on Photoshop Layers, transforming her photographs into lovely works of art, a group of which can be seen in this slideshow here. (And in our first exchange, I traded a postcard of my willow quilt for the postcard showing before starting the slideshow) Well, you know I have a thing for photo manipulation so I followed her progress with interest. It was natural that I include something photo-related on her padfolio. It turned out to be a cropped and tiled photo of a stand of trees in full autumn color near my house. Above is the original photo before my manipulations to turn it into a narrow band printed on cotton sateen.

But the real challenge was to use my linocuts. I had the line one from my texture exercise that always said tree trunks to me. I decided it was the perfect foil for the photo band. I tried both a solid dark grey and a lighter batik grey as background fabric for the linocut as well as another linocut. But it was the one at the bottom left in the above photo that won out.

But it wasn't enough - pretty boring in fact to my eye. I considered what adding stitch would do but in the end, I remembered Michele's talk of layers in the printing. I reviewed my texture blocks once more and, not without trepidation, chose a Versatex gold metallic paint to stamp the fan-like texture over the trunk lines. I was hoping it would mimic the look of the leaves in the photo, and the unevenness of my paint application played into that. This photo also shows the light grey batik and other texture blocks I experimented with but rejected for this project.

With cover fabric ready to go, the photo band was fused down the center and it was time to choose the lining and pocket fabric. I probably spend too much time on this particular part of the padfolio process but I do like the insides and outsides to go harmoniously together. With our common fabric dyeing link, I looked to my hand-dyes and found these perfect warm tones from one of my first dye experiments. Judi and I had included one of her friends in a session and she came bearing tone on tone fabrics. We were a little miffed that she had not followed our instructions for a muslin or similar cotton, but we had to admit, the results over the tone on tone were pretty wonderful. In this case, I used the "right" side on the pockets and the "wrong" side for the lining. 

Satin stitching with my favorite Sulky Ultra Twist thread (which unfortunately is no  longer being made) pulled it all together. The closing gave me fits though. I've been defaulting to velcro closings on my padfolios, but Michele had mentioned how much she enjoyed hunting for and using special buttons for her journals. Yes, I could not do a default closure for her padfolio. When I ran across my stash of antler buttons, I knew this was the perfect final touch. When I've used elastic or some sort of tie in the past, I've run it around the padfolio, but in this case, I did not want anything running through that photo band. I finally figured out I could stitch the butted elastic ends to the flap rather than try to thread them through the button holes and run the loop around vertically rather than horizontally to hold the flap in place, the antler button sewn on top of the elastic concealing the join. Success!

Sweet Leaf Notebook #116 by Michele Matucheski

And what did I get in exchange? This lovely journal from Michele, a nod to my years living in the "northwoods" of Wisconsin, particularly the area near Rice Lake. Fabrics include some from her journal quilt called "Marsh Sunset" (detail in the postcard) which reminds her of that area. The bits of fabric and chocolate wrapper are held with sheer fabric and it is filled with ample pages of the most luscious stationery paper. For additional information on how she made it, including an explanation of that metal piece on the front, see her blog post here.

I love these friendships I've forged through the internet. I don't know that I would have grown as I have as an art quilter had I not had the interaction with them through yahoo groups, blogs, e-mail and even Facebook. I thought my challenge days were behind me - you know, they had become more of a distraction than a help in recent years. But thank goodness, Michelle gave me the boot and this challenge. I'm not sure I would have explored my linocut printing had she not - it was definitely on artist-block hold. That little push got me going and gained me some confidence and direction. And I've gotten to know Michele even better. We keep discovering things we have in common, yet we are individual enough to keep our friendship interesting. Thanks Michele!   


Michele Matucheski said...

Thank you, Sheila! This is a wonderful write-up. I almost forgot giving you all those bits of encouragement. Seeing some of your linocut block prints printed to fabric is really neat! Makes me want to dig out my tools and work some up myself. I really like the tone-on-tone versions. So tasteful! What a nice way to add interest and texture -- under the wire, so to speak. Which allows you to add additional layers. Neat! Neat! Neat!

Living to work - working to live said...

Sheila - what a stunning thing this is. I love the effect from your printing. I have an enormous selection of printing blocks, rather than line cuts, created over the years, but I don't think I have ever used them to such a good effect. I love this. Hilary.

The Inside Stori said...

Your 'story' from beginning to end was so interesting and inspirational....not to mention being able to see the fabulous results! Thanks for sharing...

Chris said...

Sheila, what an interesting process. I love your linocuts and love what you did with the fabric. I will have to remember about the layering. It sure makes a difference.

I also agree with your comments about challenges. They can become too distracting. I found that out years ago with exchanges. I used to make something really nice (postcards, blocks, etc), but get something not great in return or sometimes get nothing at all. I finally stopped doing them.

I am going to have to think about what I really want to do and concentrate on it instead of getting distracted.