Archive for January, 2015

Reading: Bauhaus weaving theory

Smith, T. (2014) Bauhaus weaving theory: From feminine craft to mode of design. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

I found this a difficult book to read. It’s academic writing, with lots of references to ideas and philosophies and people and work that I don’t know, using words that I don’t know or know only in a more general sense, not the precise-in-this-field sense.

It was also difficult because of my expectations, my desires. I want to find a compelling reason for hand weaving today. Not a joy of craft or handmade functional/wearable item way, but an expressive or conceptual way in which weaving provides unique perspective or insight. That may seem narrow, or a backwards approach, it may combine with other things or develop or change out of all recognition as I progress in my studies, but to me today “weave” seems to contain more, to offer more, to have more in processes and materials and metaphors and allusions and human history, than any half lifetime could explore. So a “weaving theory” – what answers would I find in weaving theory? None really for my personal quest, not in Bauhaus weaving theory. After reading this book I have more questions – which in the long run is probably more valuable.

Smith’s book begins with the original manifesto for the Bauhaus published by founder Walter Gropius – an art-craft unity, joining “practical and scientific areas of work” (p. xiv). Weaving was there at the start, and continued throughout the Bauhaus history. And the weavers wrote about their work. “Through texts that explored weaving’s material elements, loom practice, and functional applications, a Bauhaus theory of weaving emerged” (p xv).

Their early weavings were “pictures made of wool” – not taking advantage of weaving’s specific nature, but translating other media, in particular painting. Later Anni Albers “argued that weaving’s processes, structures, and materials are best explored through direct experimentation on a loom” (p xvii). New fabrics were created from experiment, using advantage of what the medium weaving could offer.

The book explores the changing goals of Bauhaus, driven by individuals, politics and economics. Gender issues are explored. In 1922 weaving generated significant revenue, more than any other workshop at Bauhaus. However its status was low – “As the social and economic history of textiles haunted the Bauhaus weaving work, the textile medium, it seems, was dismissed as mere labor, as ornamental form without ‘intuition’, whose ‘inner sound’ could only ever ‘simulate internal necessity'” (p 32).

As time passed the Bauhaus developed a functionalist rather than expressionist approach. The weaving workshop responded. “At once modernist, or insistent on the distinctness of this thing and its space of practice, and acknowledging a specifically modern civic identity … early weaving theory joined together the rhetoric of functionalism, modern marketing, and the new women’s movement” (p 44). “Color and form as an abstract, autonomous terrain of inquiry remain integral to the object, even as it shifts toward use. Utility and formal concerns occupy the same matrix” (p 67).

By 1931 Gunta Stölzl in her writing “declares that there is a rhetorical cleavage between … the development of textiles for use in interiors (prototypes for industry) and speculative experimentation with materials, form, and color,” she also insists that any ‘cleavage’ between utility and experimentation is also bound within the very structure of the woven prototypes” (p 67). [By this stage the theory is definitely moving away from my own agenda – but I wonder, what is the modern day’s art rhetoric?].

The third chapter of the book, “The haptics of optics: weaving and photography” struck some resonances for me, beginning with “tactility”, which for me is one of the great strengths and interests of textiles generally. “The Bauhaus weaving workshop explored the possibilities of color and formal composition through the interlacing of threads, tacitly placing it in comparison to painterly composition and architectural function. Yet the specific palpability of threads and cloth surfaces required a new set of terms” (p.79). Photography, able to show the “intimacy”, the textured detail, the tactile nature of a fabric, provided a new language.

Previously I thought “haptic” was to touch as “optic” is to sight, but here I learnt it is more. Otti Berger “through a subtle and perhaps counterintuitive response to photography, … insisted on the tactility of different materials (the smoothness of silk or the roughness of jute, for instance) as well as the fabric’s contact with the kinesthetic movements of the body within architectural space (with curtains or upholstery fabric)” (p 81). Berger “queried the limits of the visual as modernism’s prized term of formal inquiry” (p 84). There is space and movement within haptic – is this part of the unique perspective or insight I am seeking? Moving beyond the visual to incorporate other senses? (I’m reminded of Hiromi Tango – see 30-Oct-2014).

Smith continues to examine Berger’s work in the next chapter Weaving as invention: Patenting authorship. In a traditionally anonymous field, Berger sought acknowledged authorship of her textile designs. Her initials appeared on sample books. She took out patents on innovative work. “Berger was not the typically creative author-artist – at least insofar as that would have signaled the deep recesses of her inner life, the projection of her soul onto her work. But neither was she the anonymous factory laborer” (p 111). Berger was an inventor. Smith explores ideas around the inventor as author, the anonymity of textiles, a link back to gender.

It was in the final chapter, Conclusion: On weaving, on writing that I lost my tenuous grip on Smith’s arguments. “Recall that the Bauhaus weavers, in their practice and in their essays on their craft, absorbed the languages of other media. In their wall hangings, for example, the weavers adopted the formal principles of expressionist painting; in their workshop’s prototypes for architectural textiles, they assumed the functionalist vocabulary of the Neues Bauen; for their fabrics found in Neue Sachlichkeit photographs and glossy magazines, they considered the limits of optical and tactile perceptions; and within patent documents, one weaver sought intellectual property protection for her textile inventions” (p 141), seems a good summary of earlier chapters. Much that followed was beyond my grasp. The subtleties of “media” or “mediums” are clearly important, but I don’t have the background knowledge to appreciate them. “Weaving is not just a set of processes: it is also, as I’ve indicated, a certain mediation of the semiautonomous zones of form and history” (p 172) I want to understand, I suspect is relevant to my own inquiries. The following sentence, “Textiles are so overtly bound up in the modes of production that define precapitalist and capitalist societies, and the gendered problematics that circumscribe labor, that they are rarely called ‘art'”, seems to point to areas I have been keen to avoid in my thinking, that I want to move beyond.

So yes, a difficult book. It began as a doctoral dissertation, and it shows. There is nothing wrong with either of those things. I’ve learnt from this book and I’m convinced there is much, much more I could learn. I just need to work up to it.


This morning I’ve been playing with ArahPaint, free software designed as “a drawing tool, which helps textile designers in editing pictures in repeat” (from the User Manual). It’s intended to support the first step in designing jacquard woven fabrics, but I was thinking of stamping and printing.

First some links: The AVL blog which alerted me to the software. It has direct links to the software download, user manual etc. Arahne website. Their main product is weaving software for jacquard and dobby looms, and there’s also a draping or texture mapping program which looks complicated but fun (there are demos for both, but I don’t think they’re open source). Gimp is my preferred image manipulation software (also free). I found myself swapping between gimp (to adjust my basic image) and arahpaint (to produce pattern repeats) and it worked pretty smoothly. The windows snipping tool came in handy too.

p4s4_02I used a design based on a shell, from A Creative Approach (sketchbook here and blog post 11-Feb-2012). A few of this morning’s new patterns are in the slideshow below.

I didn’t get into the details of ArahPaint, just tried the things that worked without too much trouble. A few times either the program or I got confused, which was generally solved by starting a new image, closing and reopening the software, or getting a cup of tea. With my gimp experience most things worked pretty much as I expected, and the User Manual helped out.

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Overall a very useful tool which I will explore further when a project suggests itself.

OCA textile student get-together in Sydney

Kath, Eva, Claire, Judy

Kath, Eva, Claire, Judy

Today the stars aligned and four of the five Sydney based OCA students were in Sydney, and in the Art Gallery. It was great to meet up, to share stories and support, and to show each other a bit of what we’ve been doing.

OCA_Sydney_201501_04Kath has recently done an online workshop with Dionne Swift – Developing Sketchbooks

OCA_Sydney_201501_03Her results were really exciting. What had started life as a standard A5 spiral bound book of cartridge paper had been transformed. Pages were added, moved, larger foldouts inserted (changing dimensions and orientation), cutouts, mini-flips, plus there was development of a theme with lots of ideas to explore, extract, combine, change… There was a real sense of energy, the book now bulging with ideas.

OCA_Sydney_201501_05Kath also showed us some stitching in progress, including a microprocessor and stitches in conductive thread. Apparently there is a light that will flash. A very interesting area to become involved in.

Eva described some of her recent work, sketching and also stitching on her mapping theme. No photos – her kayaking on the harbour in the morning had run late, and she didn’t have time to pick up her bag of goodies. What a very Sydney problem 🙂

OCA_Sydney_201501_02Claire brought some examples of her printing-stitching combinations. The photo on the right shows paper that has been marbled and then stitched. Other examples are in her blog here. She also gave me a goody bag of samples from our indigo dye day – a range of different fabrics, with matching swatches dyed and undyed. A great addition to the resource folder.

Claire has recently done a two-day masterclass in printing, which has revolutionized her work. Some of the drawbacks of distance study with OCA – no demonstrations, no immediate feedback and advice from tutors, and instructions that can be rather vague and brief to keep options open for students with access to different tools and materials. Frustrating, but on the other hand we’re building self-reliance, experience in our own toolsets – and it’s said you learn a lot from your mistakes! Still, with so many short courses available, including many online, there are ways to supplement our learning as required.

OCA_Sydney_201501_06I was wearing my show-and-tell – a light summery top from indigo dyed cotton.

Getting together like this is another way of supplementing our learning. Fun, informative, invigorating – a real boost.

Indigo vat continued

Having an indigo vat in the garage is a very pleasant thing. It was started in the last days of 2014 with Claire (posted 3-Jan-2015) and now it sits there, ready to colour and pattern in just minutes. In odd moments over the past week there’s been:

  • a time series experiment in a mid-weight cotton fabric, 11 swatches, single dips in the vat for periods from 30 seconds to 30 minutes (not shown here because the gradation is minor and it makes a boring photo)
  • some paper-based work (waiting for a sketchbook post)
  • a series thinking about the patterning on the Emperors’ cloak, from my Aztec research (see 17-Nov-2014). That’s the subject of this post.
  • Codex Mendoza folio 108r

    Codex Mendoza folio 108r

    This was spurred on by an article I’ve only recently found, A New Look at Tie-Dye and the Dot-in-a-Square Motif in the Prehispanic Southwest (an aside: one of the advantages of blogging – in my stats I followed a link from a referrer, which was a page of citations of one of my previous sources, and included a link to this new source).

    Earlier attempt

    Earlier sample

    Could I get the appearance of a dot in a square? I chose a white voile cotton as my base – it had produced the brightest, clearest colour and patterning in the comparison done the first dye day.

    indigo_dot_02On the left are a tied and a clamped sample. The tying was done with teflon tape – I didn’t want any additional patterning from thread or cord.
    indigo_dot_03The first idea was white squares in an offset placement, each with an internal dot of blue. I ironed folds in the fabric to help align my ties. It didn’t go so well. Placement is off and there is huge variation in shapes and sizes of “white squares”.
    indigo_dot_04The second piece was accordion folded in one direction then the other, then two rectangles of perspex were tied around – being careful not to distort the fabric or introduce any extra patterning from the thread. I wasn’t clear about the pattern I expected, but this fits the “dot in a square” brief quite well. While this is a good, strong and clear pattern I really wanted a border of blue around the white squares, and to have the squares aligned with the grain of the fabric instead of on the bias. The scale is also rather larger than I was looking for.

    indigo_dot_05On the left is the next set of prepared fabrics. The sample in the centre is the critical one. This time the accordion pleats were folded on the bias, to align the pattern with the grain of the fabric. The package is held in two places, which I planned thought would produce the desired blue border. Instead of the 5 cm wide perspex, the resists are now paddlepop sticks.

    indigo_dot_06I am absurdly smug about the result. The sticks were wide enough to be effective (I hadn’t been sure), all my other adjustments worked as I hoped. There’s a lot of extra layers of patterning, on the bias where the fabric was folded, plus a faint grid in blue – presumably from the bowing of the thin wooden sticks in between the two end ties. The white squares are about 8 cm across, compared to 19 cm on the first attempt.

    By this time a plan was forming for a garment – although not a cloak. The other two fabric pieces shown prepared above gave the results shown below.
    indigo_dot_07The tied pink fabric gives me a small stock of fabric pieces with that colour, and patterning at a smaller scale. It’s interesting to see the different effect on each side. The white stitching was seen on a linen sample earlier (2-Jan-2015).

    My final pair of fabrics is shown above, with a few process shots and the result. Pink and white fabrics accordion pleated, then wrapped around a pole, tied and scrunched arashi-style.

    indigo_10I’m now playing with everything, looking at how they sit together. More later as the project progresses.

    Laurie D. Webster, Kelley A. Hays-Gilpin and Polly Schaafsma “A New Look at Tie-Dye and the Dot-in-a-Square Motif in the Prehispanic Southwest” In Kiva Vol. 71, No. 3, Recent Perishables Research in the U.S. Southwest (Spring, 2006), pp. 317-348 Published by: Maney Publishing [online] Available from (Accessed 11-Jan-2015)

    Reading: Steal like an artist

    Kleon, A. (2012) Steal like an artist: 10 things nobody told you about being creative. New York: Workman publishing company

    This book is on the reading list for my next course, Mixed Media for Textiles, so I’m getting a headstart while waiting for the course’s release. You can get a good idea of the contents from the author’s blog,

    The book is a fun, quick, entertaining read. There are cute little drawings and quirky hand-written headings and catchy, brisk nuggets of information. I chuckled and nodded in agreement or raised my eyebrows and thought “this one’s not for me”. It would perhaps be easy to skim through in a couple of hours and move on little changed. Or perhaps not. I can see a few changes in myself, and I think if over time I flip through the book now and then I’ll see a few more.

    For example a logbook (see I have this blog, and various record books of dye mixes, workshop notes, sketchbooks… I’ve started a logbook along Kleon’s suggested line and after 10 days’ experience feel really positive about it. It’s quick and easy, has become quite natural and – I’ll have to see how it develops but it’s already been useful when the short-term memory blanks.

    The whole idea of “stealing” – that’s what we do. Keep collecting new ideas, lots of them, copy other people’s work, let them influence you. “You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes” (p. 36). Where your copies are different, where you’ve added something yourself, is where you’ll find your own work.

    A new approach to time – “Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing” (p. 67). Who’d think that being bored is valuable. But for me it pinpoints a danger with part-time college work. Rush and push and set a deadline and tick boxes … and the quality of work suffers and the joy suffers. At times I need to push, but at times I need to step away and mess around and give the back of my brain and my eyes and hands a chance to mull.

    That’s three things from this round of reading the book. That’s plenty to be going on with.

    Sketchbook: Indigo

    Tuesday 30th
    As part of the indigo dye day (see 3-Jan-2015 and Claire’s post here) we experimented with dipping paper into the vat.

    20141230aFollowing Claire’s lead I dipped some small cards, then stamped, clipped, brushed, flicked…
    20141230bI folded some A3 cartridge paper into a nice little package and dipped that. The indigo didn’t penetrate into the folds, so it was back to flicking and dripping.

    Wednesday 31st
    20141231aAn uninspiring day. Larger samples of mark making on both cartridge and kraft paper didn’t excite.

    20141231bA “fishbone” fold from “Folding Architecture: Spatial, Structural and Organizational Diagrams” by Sophia Vyzoviti looked good plain, but after dipping the folds were muddled rather than enhanced and when flattened – boring. Other folding attempts were even less interesting.

    Thursday 1st20150101a
    I did a repeat of the fishbone sculptural folds – this time remembering to take a “before” picture, plus dipping on one side only and being more careful of drips, wanting to make the indigo highlight the shaping of the paper. A much better outcome than the previous day.

    20150101eAnother type of folding also came from Vyzoviti’s book. This is like the folded paper game we did as children, where you wrote little saying under the flaps – but it’s a double version. I found it very challenging to fold (there’s a small cut you have to make which is critical), and the results are under-whelming.

    20150101bA new experiment looked at using various white oil/wax drawing implements as resists – sennelier oil pastel, two kinds of children’s crayons, and a candle. The oil pastel was the least effective in resisting the indigo, but produced an interesting texture in the line where it worked. The candle wax was the most effective. I dipped twice to get the A3 cartridge paper covered, and the area of overlap overwhelmed most of the marks. Not much to show, except for some of the lovely, complex marking produced by a simple dip into indigo of basically flat paper.

    Friday 2nd
    20150101cI continued the “history of folds on the page” line of inquiry with a fold based on Ralph Matthew’s origami butterfly (link). I added some extra folds in an attempt to complicate the final patterning, and tied with string. I think the result is finally getting somewhere. Note importance of complex folds, with a large part of the surface of one side of paper either fully exposed or in a simple tuck rather than folded in.

    20150101dFor the drawn resist inquiry I chose candle on A3 cartridge paper, and did a quick sketch of myself – challenging in white on white! The drawn resist gave a ghost face emerging from the indigo.
    Saturday 3rd
    20150102aReturning to yesterday’s drawn resist I thought it was a bit too indistinct, and found I could easily scrape the indigo off the wax areas using my nail or paper clip (it was nearby) – but the result was too white, too sharp edged. A gentle rub with a toothbrush was better, although I think I should have stopped sooner. Could I cover a page with rubbed candle wax, dip into indigo, then “sketch” by removing indigo selectively?

    20150102bThis led to two more experiments.
    First a candle wax sketch of my husband. The basic process used was the same, but I was very gentle and more selective about rubbing over waxed areas to remove indigo. I think this is my best result to date, although that ear is a real problem.

    20150102cThat’s fortunate because the second idea was a failure. I rubbed candle wax over the “full” surface of an A3 sheet of cartridge paper (110gsm – the same used in most of the experiments). After dipping into indigo and drying I tried a number of tools to draw into the blue. Would you believe there is a face in there? The surface was just too inconsistent and too fragile, I couldn’t draw a line or shape effectively.

    Having found that simple (non-waxed) indigo-dipped paper made a very nice base for drawing with conte crayons I decided to make a small sketchbook. Potentially it could contain:

  • “plain” dipped paper
  • wax rubbed then dipped paper
  • paper edged with an indigo treatment
  • separation pages of baking paper (to stop the crayon transferring), possibly with a decorative indigo treatment
  • Sunday 4th – Monday 5th
    20150104aIt took a couple of days to dye and make, but here is my latest sketching journal. The cover is a creamy rice paper behind mulberry bark (indigo dyed of course). It’s roughly A5 in size. The binding is coptic stitch in a natural coloured waxed linen thread. The stitching is uneven – there are only 3 sections, so not enough to build up a rhythm – but I really like the patterning given by the mulberry bark. It seems very appropriate for this book.

    20150104bIn the end I kept it simple – each section effectively has 12 A5 pages of indio-dipped cartridge paper, with all pages separated by baking paper which is mostly just indigo dipped at the edges with more patterning at the start and end of each section.

    I’ve started using the journal, but it will probably be a couple of weeks before I can show results now holidays are over and I’m back at work.

    Reading: Sheila Hicks: Weaving as metaphor

    Stritzler-Levine, E. (Ed.) (2006) Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor New Haven: Yale University Press

    I first saw this book during Liz Williamson’s class at Sturt almost 3 years ago (see 24-June-2012). At that time it cost an appalling amount of money. I now have a fourth edition copy for a mere large amount. It is indeed a beautiful book.

    In my post linked above I wrote about the importance of scale. The works in Weaving as Metaphor are quite small – many around 23 x 12 cm. The variety and complexity achieved is eye-opening.

    There are a number of interesting essays. Arthur Danto explores instances where weaving has been used as metaphor, particularly in political analysis. Joan Simon gives an overview of Hicks’s career and in particularly her longterm use of a small fixed frame to create these miniature works. My jotted notes:

  • Wide variety of materials and found objects
  • “evoke evidence of place” (p. 50)
  • “emphasis on different ways of revealing and enhancing the warp threads” (p. 51)
  • ways “to break through the visual plane” (p.51)
  • “integral cohesive forms that stand at the size they need to be as works in their own right” (p. 58), although discoveries inform larger works
  • “the number one decision is color, and that determines what happens” (Hicks quoted p. 58)
  • the readability of the mark – a brushstroke, a sweeping gesture (p. 59)
  • Nina Stritzler-Levine discusses these miniature works in the context of Hicks’s design work. More jottings:

  • “[MoMA’s] concerns about identity at a time when definitions of design and craft were in flux..” (p. 349). I ask when are they ever not, in modern times?
  • “Hicks’s insistence on not giving credence to terminology may derive from her desire for multiple readings of her art.” (p.349)
  • “Pure expression and the utilitarian often join in the most surprising moment.” (Hicks quoted p. 350) “she actually solves problems by integrating art, design, and craft and placing all three disciplines at the service of industry” (p. 351)
  • Painter Piero Dorazio – “She thought the fields of color and the patterns of vertical and horizontal lines in Dorazio’s abstract paintings had a strong textile sensibility” (p. 363). I did an internet search on his images – exciting colours and interactions.
  • Working with a business in India: “they patiently corrupted the things they knew how to do expertly” (quoting Hicks, p. 365).
  • Sensitivity responding to indigenous cultural traditions (p. 377)
  • Of course there’s a lot more – the above is just a sampling of things that touch on some of my current preoccupations.
    The Notes to the text are also rich in information particularly:
    “[Hicks has] offered a taxonomy of her different explorations within ‘four categories’: ‘closed compositions,’ where ‘nothing can be added or taken away’ (her miniatures are included in this category); ‘open compositions,’ which comprise ‘modular elements’; ‘blocked compositions,’ which are ‘made up of similar elements multiplied but limited by the dimension of the surface to be treated’ (architectural commissions), and ‘ephemeral compositions,’ which are ‘acts, manifestations; short-lived, symbolic.'” (p. 385). An interesting way to categorise work, particularly given the emphasis elsewhere on the “autonomous” painting or work of art. I think it could also offer an approach to submitting assignment work – perhaps send a single “modular element”, together with documentation / photos / video of an installation of multiple elements.

    There are also photographs of some of Hicks’s journals. It’s interesting to see the mix of notes, images and just a couple of sketched details of structures and designs.

    All very interesting, and generously illustrated with documentary photographs and images of works. However finally I get to the meat – the catalogue of the exhibition. Perhaps 150 miniatures pictured, each given a page and the facing page giving details of title, date, materials, dimensions, and sometimes some brief comments by Hicks. Measuring one photo chosen at random, it shows the work at 70% the size of the original. You can see so much. There is such an amazing wealth of inventiveness, so much to learn from (I’ve also been reading “Steal like an artist” by Austin Kleon – more on that another day). This book has been my evening reading/looking for a couple of months, and while I’ve spent time with every page I don’t suppose I’ve absorbed half a percent of what I could gain.

    Of course having such detail just leaves one wanting more. Dimensionality is lost, colours are presumably shifted, textures and sheen lost or diminished, colour interaction – what happens when you tilt your head or move around or back or forward – all is lost. This book was originally the catalogue of an exhibition, and just as with Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – present (26-Dec-2014)) an excellent catalogue has left me hungry.

    Indigo dye day

    Earlier this week fellow OCA student Claire and I spent a day dyeing with indigo. The idea came up when I was researching Aztec culture and design for the Cultural Fusions project. That project is on ice while I transfer courses in OCA, but we weren’t going to cancel the indigo (nor the cochineal – coming soon). I’ll add a link to Claire’s post about the day when it’s up. Claire’s post is here.

    indigo_07Both of us have done a little dyeing with indigo before, but always with a vat prepared for a group – never by us. We used synthetic indigo from Batik Oetoro, weighed, measured, mixed, and waited an hour. We were so excited by our first sight of the result – photo to the left. A thin film of dark purple-blue on the top, and underneath a beautiful yellow-green.

    indigo_08This is Claire, gently stirring. Oxygen is the enemy in an indigo vat. The indigo will react to it, turn blue … and not be available to dye your goods. Lower damp fabric gently into the vat, leave for a time, lift it out (trying not to drip into the vat – that would introduce oxygen). The fabric comes out yellow green, then before your eyes the indigo blue develops. Very satisfying.

    Both of us came prepared with experiments. There are some basics with indigo – the vat must be alkaline, the indigo must be reduced (oxygen removed) – but every resource I checked seemed to have its own “magic” process. How long should the fabric stay in the vat? Longer means deeper blue – but is that two lots of 15 minutes, or 1 dip of 5 minutes followed by repeated 1 minute dips (up to a dozen), or 20 minutes followed by 2 minutes followed by repeated 30 second dips? One source referenced a traditional Japanese process involving multiple dips over days, with rinsing and drying in between (more variables).

    I had a complex plan based on a total of 30 minutes in the vat. I would dip 6 swatches for 5 minutes. 5 would go back in for a second 5 minutes. 4 in for a 3rd dip etc. Secondary plans were also based on 30 minutes: a swatch would go in for the full 30. Another would have 2 dips of 15 minutes each. Et cetera.

    It didn’t happen. I did the first 5 minutes, then let the swatches oxidize while pottering around with other things. They looked a very dark blue, so we kept using 5 minutes as a standard. I rinsed and ironed dry a swatch and it looked a good, rich colour. I wish now I’d been more disciplined – with calmer eyes that blue isn’t quite so rich and deep.

    indigo_04A second experiment was based on weights of fabrics. Three 40 cm squares of cotton were pleated and each was tied between a pair of DVDs acting as a resist (that is, reserving an area that won’t be dyed). The cottons were a gauzy open weave, a voile, and a mid-weight cotton (left to right in the photo). All spent 5 minutes in the vat. The colour is richest and brightest on the voile. I speculate there is less material to hold the dye on the gauze, and not enough time for the dye to penetrate the thicker fabric.

    indigo_02Claire brought along a cold wax (emulsified paraffin wax), also from Batik Oetoro, for us to try. I was very excited by the brushmarks I was able to make, and with the easy washout in warm soapy water. My choice of a pink fabric looks a little dull in the end result. It was a mid-weight cotton I’d dyed some years ago, probably with drimarene K.

    indigo_01This shows a series of experiments with a pink voile (commercially dyed). A swatch of the original fabric is top right. Below that is part of a 40 cm square that was pleated and tied between two squares of thick perspex. After 5 minutes in the vat this had rich blue where the dye wasn’t resisted and a halo of off-white around the protected pink. On the left are 6 swatches. Each had a simple knot tied in the middle to provide a resist. My plan was to dip them for increasing times. My original idea of 5 minutes, 10 minutes etc was reduced, based on the earlier sample. Unfortunately I chose 30 second increments – so the samples range from 30 seconds to 3 minute dips. There is more difference in real life – trying to sort them by eye I swapped a couple, but had the general sequence right. With the glories of hindsight I wish I’d used 1 minute increments.

    indigo_05I tried the same process with a yellow, heavier cotton. The 5 minute resisted sample on the lower right almost has some blue. Most of the dyed area is a sequence of greens. Once again I was able to sort the 30 second increment dip swatches by eye, but the differences were tiny. A part of that was the unevenness caused by the knot and incidental folds of the fabric, but really it was that poor choice of timing. For this heavier fabric 2 minute increments would have been better.

    indigo_06It’s interesting to see the pink and yellow resisted samples side by side. There is no sign of colour mixing on the pink sample. It is indigo blue where dyed, that halo of off-white, then clear pink. The yellow has no halo, then colour mixes to green. I believe the sodium hydrosulphite in the vat, used to reduce the indigo, is the cause. That chemical can also be used to discharge – that is, intentionally remove dye colours. A discharge agent acts differently for different dye types, and even different colours within a dye type. I think the pink commercial dye was very susceptible to discharge by sodium hydrosulphite, so was completely removed where ever it was touched, even if there was insufficient indigo to leave colour. The yellow dye was much more resistant – so I got colour mixing and no discharge halo.

    indigo_03My stamped linen sample was seen in an earlier post (2-Jan-2015). I had a couple of other fabric samples, nothing too exciting. Some white panne velvet ended up a very pale blue. I didn’t expect any colour at all, given it is 100% polyester. I suspect it is not at all wash-fast. My other main area of inquiry was paper, but I’m keeping that for another post. As the host of the dye day I still have the indigo vat and have been visiting it each day with experiments as part of my daily sketchbook. More on that in my next sketchbook roundup.

    Sketchbook – bracken

    I decided to start last week with drawing. A drainage grate I was clearing had some bracken in it, which gave me a subject.

    20141221Sunday 21st. Pencil sketch on tone gray 118 gsm sketching paper, a little less than A3.
    Tried to focus on observation. Always difficult. I also tried to give at least a little connection around it – some shadows, a sense of the wrinkled white cloth the frond was lying on.
    One issue is that I get tired and rush. Perhaps I should try a run of smaller attempts, quick impressions.

    20141222Monday 22nd. Printing using the bracken as a stamp, onto A3 kraft paper that I had pre-coloured with watercolours prior to the journal making workshop with Adele Outteridge but not used (25-July-2014).
    20141222bPartway through I followed an impulse to add some text, for texture and interest. The text is from NSW government information on bracken (link) – an attractive native plant that is a weed and toxic to livestock.
    I was happy with the actual printing – acrylic paint colour mixing, the prints really showing up the texture of the plant (I rollered the paint onto the bracken, placed it on the paper with some paper towel on top, then gently pressed by hand). The layering is pleasant. The base covering of the paper is not really evident, but the fan-folding left ridges in the paper which in some lights creates an interesting contrast and a little structure to the page.
    The text (nib pen and ink) gets lost, too spidery. Possibly a change of scale would help. Also it’s another overall pattern. I need to push myself on composition.
    20141223Tuesday 23rd. The base A3 cartridge paper was also prepared for the journal workshop. There was not a lot of colour, but the paper had become soft and floppy. I decided to explore text a little more. My first attempt was to create a font on the computer, with text outlines filled with images of the stamped texture from the previous day. The result was uninteresting, with a bad balance between the image texture and letter clarity. The second attempt was on a much larger scale, using parts of the actual bracken to form the letters.
    Wanting to avoid the gloss of mod podge, I used a thin base of acrylic structure medium spread on with a palette knife and pressed the bracken into that. The surface left by the knife was too smooth, so I created texture around the text by repeated pressing in bracken fronds and lifting them. The medium didn’t actually take the shape of the bracken, but became much more “organic” in appearance. On a whim I rollered an iridescent medium over everything. This made the text too indistinct, so I added some dark green metallic rub to the leaves, which at the detail level really brings out the texture of the plant.
    Overall it doesn’t work – the placement on the page, the jarring (rather than intriguing) contrast between organic letters and polished page.
    Pluses: the feel and finish of the paper. It is still soft and pliable, I think it could be stitched into by hand or machine, it has an interesting texture and a lovely soft metallic glow. I wonder if the structure gel and iridescent combo would work on fabric without changing the hand too much.
    20141224Wednesday 24th. Experimenting with simplified shapes, using charcoal pencils and a number of different black pens.
    20141225Thursday 25th. Scanned the previous day’s page, and selected one shape for further pattern development. All of the versions on the right were created using gimp. I like the sense of movement in the individual shape, and think it works quite well in the different repeats.
    20141226Friday 26th. I had an indigo dye day coming up (more on that in a later post). I wanted to create a design that combined a shibori effect and the mottling of indigo with another level of patterning. The image on the left was a simulation of the design.
    Plan A was to print the bracken on silk, direct from the computer on silk ironed on to freezer paper. I’ve done this years ago, on a different printer. This time I jumped straight in to A3 size on my quite new printer (which has a rear feed, so no rollers to go around). I didn’t get good adhesion on the freezer paper, tried to print anyway and the silk got caught part way through. After some anxious moments I cleared everything and the printer seems to have survived – but it was time for Plan B.
    20141227aSaturday 27th. Plan B: carving a stamp in ezy carve. The A4 page on the left shows the simplified pencil tracing I made of the bracken shape, and some proofs as I refined the carving of the stamp.
    20141227I tested the stamp (in red) over a printout of the original shape from the computer. The registration is off semi-deliberately – it’s hard at any time, and I think the movement is more interesting.
    I chose some white linen and used black textile ink to stamp on my design.
    20141228_29Sunday 28th and Monday 29th. Around A3 size, this was a new combination of techniques used over the past couple of weeks. I used the carved stamp with acrylic paints onto tissue paper. The colour mixing was similar to the previous Monday. The leaves were torn out by hand – I wanted to stay with an organic feel, and liked a variable boundary around the shape. The individual pieces were stuck onto a tissue paper base using mod podge – rollered on for a light uniform coverage. When that was dry I used some structure medium over the top to integrate the surface, stamping into it with the carved stamp to create more texture.
    20141228_29bI like the back-lit photo. A nice glow, and some interest from overlapping colours and pattern. It could be useful to have something that is equally interesting in both back and front lighting. It’s light and soft and pliable, but there’s a plasticy feel to the surface – I think you’d need a sharp needle to punch through. Even after a couple of days the surface is still a bit sticky which could cause challenges in use.
    On Monday I also prepared fabrics ready for indigo the next day.
    20141230Tuesday 30th. This shows the stamped linen, now dyed with indigo. The section shown is around A3 size – there is some plain border around it. The patterning was a whip stitch over single folds the length of the fabric. Some refinement is needed, scales and spacing aren’t quite right. Just a bit more space between stitching and the stamps would help. The stamping might show up a bit better with a minute or two less in the vat. However I regard it as a successful experiment in showing that shibori patterns can work in combination with other elements in a design.


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