Thursday, 30 July 2015

Sunshine by The Heathlands Project

Sunshine, 2015 by The Heathlands Project

The Heathlands Project's 2015 quilt is completed and down in Birmingham for this years Festival of Quilts! Despite my best efforts at being organised it was, as usual, a bit of a rush to get it finished in time but we did so all is well and the members are already looking forward to getting it back and hearing the judges comments.

Quilt details

Quilt details

Quilt details

I wrote before about this quilt and why, despite the stresses,  I like doing a big project like this with the group. Seeing everyone's work come together to create a coherent group piece is a really satisfying thing. One of the reasons it's always a bit of a rush to get finished is that I like to give the guys as long as possible to work on their individual patches. This of course means that there's less time for me to put it together but I love seeing all the different patches and how each individuals character shines through.

Laying out the patches

I wanted to create this year's quilt in a slightly different way to previous years. So, once I'd collected all the patches I laid them out on a base cloth, filling any gaps with sunshine coloured fabrics. I wanted to keep the edges if the fabric raw to add a bit more texture.

Quilt sandwich

Quilting on the sewing machine

One of the members of the textile group was really keen to help with the construction so along with one of the members of staff he made a 'quilt sandwich' of the layer with the patches, the wadding in the middle and a plain back cloth. They then worked together on the sewing machine to quilt these layers in place, fixing the patches as they went.

Adding the binding

Once all the quilting was done it was time to finish the edges. I wanted to have a go at binding the edges this year, previously we have worked on more of a bag like construction with the quilting being the final step. One of the comments we've had from some of the judges in the past is that we could do with a bit more quilting, which is why we took the approach mentioned above.

The binding and back of the quilt

By this point we were very short on time so I took the quilt home to finish off, doing the last bits of quilting, the binding and adding a hanging sleeve before parcelling it all up and sending it down to The Festival of Quilts. It was interesting doing the binding. I quite like the look and it's different to how we've normally done it. As usual I am not totally happy with the finished piece as it is not as nicely finished as I would like but I find generally when it comes back I can appreciate the good things about it more!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Beautiful Blues: Indigo Dyeing

Indigo dyed fibres

Indigo dyed fibres

On a not totally horrible Sunday I decided to have a go at indigo dyeing. I've always been interested in natural dyeing and over the past years have collected a number of recipes and possibly one or two supplies! I have played around a little bit with natural dyeing and I really like the unpredictable nature of it. The idea of being able to create colour from something I've grown also appeals and as we are in the process of doing up the garden this will hopefully soon become a reality.

Stitch-resist

Fibres and materials

Fibres 

Wetting the fibres before dyeing

I set aside the whole day which turned out to be a good move, although it's not difficult it is helpful to have time to work through the different stages of the process. I like dyeing as it's a mixture of science and art. It involves basic chemistry and the results are always exciting to me. I have a fairly loose approach to following the 'rules' for dyeing. I prefer to follow the basic guidelines and embrace the quirks that emerge from making errors.

Mixing the indigo dye

Indigo solution

That said, I was a little more careful with the indigo dyeing as it is important not to introduce oxygen into the dye-bath as this is what 'fixes' the dye, which I obviously don't want to happen until the dye is attached to the fibres I'm dyeing. I'd prepared a range of fibres including wool, silk, cotton and linen so I could see how each fibre reacted. I'd also prepared a couple of bits of fabric with a stitches resist to see what effects that would yield.

Hi tech insulated dye-bath

Making sure the temperature was right

Keeping the temperature right

Having mixed up the dye-bath and prepared all my fibres I got to the exciting bit, dyeing! It really was exciting lifting the fibres out of the yellowy green murk of the dye-bath and watching as they turned from bright acid green to beautiful blue indigo in a matter of moments. As the dye oxidises and fixes in the air amazing marbled patterns are created on the fabric as the air hits different parts of the fabric at different times. I didn't have either of my cameras with me (one I'd left at the prism studio and Mr. Stitches was borrowing the other one on a trip out) so I was only able to capture a few shots on my 'phone's fairly rubbish camera. However, it gives an idea of what happens (and gives me an excuse to do it all again!)

The dye-bath, when ready, goes a yellowy green colour

Fibres in the dye-bath

Fibres ready for dyeing

Indigo dyeing is a little different to most other dye processes. For one thing no mordants are required as the dye is fixed by being exposed to the air. Usually when dyeing to obtain darker or more intense shades you leave the fibres in the dye-bath for a longer period of time but in indigo dyeing darker shades are achieved by repeating the dipping process. So, for a darker indigo you just dye it more times. The fibres spend about 2 minutes in the dye-bath each dip. I had fun experimenting with dipping the fabrics repeatedly to achieve a range of shades from palest blue to much darker hues.

Amazing colours as the fibres come out the dye-bath

Amazing colours as the fibres come out the dye-bath

Amazing colours as the fibres come out the dye-bath

Amazing colours as the fibres come out the dye-bath

One of my favourite parts of the process was hanging all my dyed fibres on a line and watching them flap about in the wind. The different shades of blue against the green of the hedge and the grey of the sky looked so beautiful, almost an artwork in themselves. I'm really pleased with my dyes fibres and am looking forward to using them in my work. I'm also looking forward to some more experiments in natural dyeing...


Flying in the wind

Fibres on the line

Fibres on the line

Fibres on the line
Cotton, stitched cotton and wool

Silks, dipped multiple times to create different shades

Silk and linen

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Life Drawing 21.7.15

Random Fall, continuous line drawing

After a bit of a break it was really good to get my Life Drawing sessions restarted this month. I enjoyed being back in the Prism Arts studio with a clear focus and time just to draw. Although I love drawing and regard it as a really important part of my practice it can sometimes be hard to fit it in, other (usually mundane) activities seem to take priority so I appreciate the life drawing sessions as time set aside specifically to draw and nothing else.

Continuous Line

Continuous Line

Continuous Line

It was also good to see my regular attendees as well and a model who has been with us from the start but since the change of day has been unable to sit for us. It was great to see her again and I particularly enjoyed the chance to utilise her 'random fall' modelling approach (it is exactly what it sounds like, she falls randomly and we draw the results!)

Practising drawing the face

Practising drawing the face

Practising drawing the face

Although during the sessions we are mostly quiet, with us all focused on our drawing, part of the appeal of life drawing is the social side; being with other people doing the same thing. I think this is probably one of the reasons that it was identified as one of the best ways to keep dementia at bay, according to a recent BBC radio programme (and a growing body of scientific research.) The other critical factor is the hand-eye-brain co-ordination that life drawing involves. As I have mentioned many times before life drawing seems to demand a certain type of focus, it improves your drawing in a way other drawing doesn't seem to. It is, for me, a kind of meditative process that allows me to almost bypass the concious brain and allow my eyes and hands to 'talk' directly to each other.

Continuous line

Continuous line

Despite having had a not great day I found that once I'd got to the session and got everything set up I was looking forward to drawing and as soon as we started I immediately relaxed and began to enjoy the session and drawing. I like the sound and the feel of the pen gliding across the paper, seeing a tangle of lines arrange themselves into something resembling the human body.

Continuous line

Drawing is seeing and creating at the same time, expressing and recording what's in front of you. When I'm life drawing I don't think about the outcome, I try and just enjoy the process and not concern myself with what it will be or look like. I think this approach actually improves my drawing as it relieves any pressure and as I'm not expending energy worrying I can use that energy to create my drawing.

Random fall

Random fall

Hanging off a chair

Recently, in the spirit of facing up to challenges, I've been trying to draw faces more as this is my weakest point. I did several face studies this evening, with varying degrees of success. Overall though I think I am improving and I'm certainly feeling more confident about not cutting the heads off my drawings! Next session I may even try some different media...

Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Crafty Hen

Textile Flower Table decorations

In my continuing quest to avoid having a proper job one of the things I've been doing is working for The Crafty Hen. They run crafty workshops all over the country for hen parties, baby showers, corporate events and other celebrations and my role as a 'little hen' is to lead the groups chosen session. There's a whole range of sessions available including bespoke bouquets, ceramic painting and knicker customisation! I've run three sessions so far; two textile flower sessions and a fascinator making session. All have been for Hen parties and have been a lot of fun.

Making textile flowers

Making textile flowers

Making textile flowers

For me it's a really nice and relaxed job as I don't have to plan or organise the session, the materials and details are all sent up to me and then I travel off to wherever the party is (usually a nice holiday cottage in pretty rural Cumbria) and deliver the workshop. Because the parties are not aimed specifically at crafters the activities are such that anyone can take part.

Making textile flowers

Making textile flowers

Making textile flowers

Running these sessions is really fun, everyone is there to have a good time and enjoy themselves so the atmosphere is usually quite upbeat and positive. They also tend to be groups of friends so they are already comfortable with each other which makes a big difference. There are usually one or two crafty people and they tend to help everyone else out which seems to work well.

Making textile flowers

Making textile flowers

Making textile flowers

Making textile flowers

I am used to adapting my approach to suit a whole range of abilities and I am used to working with groups that can potentially be quite challenging and demanding so for me these sessions seem quite relaxed. Although every participant is different the overall level of ability and understanding is higher than many of the groups I work with. There is also a set outcome for each session which again makes things a lot more relaxed, I know what we are aiming for I just need to support the group to get there.

Fascinator making

Fascinator making

Fascinator making

I love my participatory work but it can be hard going so these sessions offer a bit of light relief. They also give me the chance to travel to some of the most beautiful parts of my county and help me overcome my driving phobias!

My example fascinator

My example fascinator

My example fascinator