It was a test of a vintage pattern and I wasn’t all that impressed with it. The shirt came out okay, but when I went to wear it I found the facing fabric in the button band and collar was much too stiff and uncomfortable, so I cut off the buttons and sent it off to a clothing recycling company.
Just about that time, Tessuti released a similar shaped shirt with a collar, so I bought it, and recently did a test version:
The fabric is a rayon sarong I bought in an op shop. I used a very light facing in the collar and under the buttonholes. It’s very wearable, though the weather here has suddenly grown too cold for short sleeves and single layers. The pattern has some annoyances like teeny tiny photos of very busy cloth that you can’t make out the seams on, and the collar method seemed needlessly fussy.
Nothing bad enough that I wouldn’t use it to make the shirt I was testing patterns for. That one will be made from a piece of fabric I painted in the Maiwa class, plus some black and white linen I bought to go with it. I’d have probably started that project this week if I hadn’t come down with a bug that had me sleeping half of most afternoons. Not Covid, but probably the one spreading among friends with sinusitis as the main symptom.
I’ll get to it soon enough. And I’ve thought a lot about art and hobbies, how much of my time I want to dedicate to either, and how the reality is the opposite. I decided to try limiting hobbies to weekends and art to weekdays. This will be helped by finally getting a workable set up in the new studio side of the laundry. The last piece of the puzzle was a still life “box” that controls the direction of light on the subject.
I was happy with how the trial artwork went. Maybe tomorrow I’ll squeeze in another piece.
For a few weeks up to the end of the Maiwa workshop, and Dad getting the go-ahead to drive, I felt like I was rolling toward a cliff edge, in that I knew there’s be new terrain over that horizon but I couldn’t see it yet. It wasn’t that there isn’t lots for me to do. It was just that a part of me expected that whatever I decided to do would be scuttled by another big drama.
What I ended up doing was lots and lots of sorting stuff out. A large part of that was post-workshop tidying up and using up dye pastes. After going through the leftover dye pastes to see what colours were left and tossing anything moldy (surprisingly little) I planned some projects to use it with.
I also tried using a new dye source – white mulberry – on a piece of leftover fabric from the workshop. It was supposed to be green with paler leaves created with stencilled discharge paste, but I forgot that the cloth hadn’t been mordanted and only got a faint difference in greens. So I tried mordanting, and dying again and redoing the discharge paste. No change. So I overdyed with the last bit of logwood I had and the result was the opposite to what I expected: the discharge areas took up the purple more than the background. It was a lesson in why the workshop creators chose the dyes they did – reliable results.
For the last a square of workshop cloth I did a print of a layered leaves with mordant-dye paste.
I’d already been through my fabric stash, and only found a scrap of heavy twill cotton to play with. I tried out a dip pen stamp on it.
There was a bag of bits and pieces in my old dyeing supplies that included a cotton scarf from when I made sun-printed scarves as presents a decade or so ago. Of the dye pastes I had, the colours with the most paste left over included myrobalan/iron and two shades of madder. The myrobalan steams up to a nice olive green and the madder becomes pale pinks, so made them into mordant-dye pastes and painted roses.
The bag also contained a white t-shirt. I wanted to try doing two fabric dyeing methods on one object, so I dyed it with iron, used discharge paste to remove circles around the neckline, chalked and dried it. Then I painted the circles with lac and madder mordant-dye pastes.
There’s plenty of dye paste left and I still have ideas I’d like to try, but I’ve run out of fabric and I really want to start painting still lifes. While I was doing all the above I was also sorting through all my art, printing, dyeing and paper-making materials and stowing them away in the laundry cabinet. We removed a chest of drawers (you can see the unpainted area in the pic below) and installed shelving to make a little art nook.
The printing surface has a new, clean cover (blue) and has been stowed behind the table, and I’m starting to set up for painting.
I also made ink out of madder from my garden, caught up on gardening, made tomato chutney and relish. caught up with some friends. sorted through a huge pile of accumulated fabric and clothes belonging to a friend and myself to send to recycling. did my quarterly tax, and finally went to plein air and portrait workshops.
And suddenly I realised I was on the other side of that cliff edge, and everything was fine.
During Drama #1 (Mum-Covid-to-Aged-Care) I spontaneously bought a second hand dip pen and ink set on eBay that didn’t arrive until a month after I reported it missing and a few weeks after I’d bought the set new and at full price. During Drama #2, having distracted myself with a lot of fun and silly YouTube videos of artists and crafters trying out art hacks, products and subscription boxes, I decided to try out one of the latter.
I did do a bit of a shop around, comparing past boxes for each subscription and watching unboxings. The craft ones were interesting but it was the art materials ones that appealed the most. I tried to sign up to ArtSnacks twice but the order form wouldn’t work. Then I went to the site of Scrawlrbox, but that ones is based in the UK but they were having problems with international postage. The next one I tried was Palletful Packs. Figuring it was better to test things out by ordering something before committing to a subscription, I ordered one previous subscription pack, and a pack of brushes.
By the time I realised I should have checked the postage, it was too late. Oh boy. A friend who has a US craft box subscription says hers only costs $15 in postage and I’ll be generous and assume that’s US dollars. This order cost me US$63 in postage. More than the more expensive of the two packs cost.
It was, however, worth it. I can’t imagine buying all the contents for under the $200 for boxes and postage, mostly because that’s a LOT of brushes. The acrylic inks, markers, single brush and cute mini watercolour pads were in the past subscription box, the rest was in the brush box. I was expecting the brush cleaner to be the mini version, but it’s full size.
So I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got, but I’m not sure about subscribing when I don’t know how much that’d cost in postage. There’s another art subscription box that looks pretty good and it says $15 for postage to Australia, so I might try one of the previous pack from that before deciding whether I want to go the full sub.
The last two weeks of the Print and Paint with Natural Dyes covered more methods that played with mordants and didn’t involve steaming the pieces. The last one was my favourite.
Module 7 was all about painting with mordant pastes with varying ratios of alum and iron. I was in full test everything mode, and tried eight dye baths instead of four, putting them in jars in a water bath rather than cooking them individually over 10+ hours.
I tore the samples even smaller with the intention of overdying one of each with indigo.
Unfortunately, when I tried making an indigo vat it was a complete failure. I had a memory from the Kay Faulkner workshop I organised of buying urea for our woven shibori dyeing, but I couldn’t find a recipe. Not even on her website, which should have been warning enough. I googled and found a blogger with a recipe using urea and soda ash… that did not work. Later I realised the urea was probably for using with the commercial protein fibre dyes in Kay’s workshop. After doing more research, I tried adding mashed banana juice and more soda ash to the vat, with no success. At that point I had too much else to do and put the bucket outside. I’ve bought some chemicals to try the recipes on the Maiwa site, but I suspect I’ll have to start from scratch.
After making the sampler, I returned to an earlier idea of cutting notches in foam brushes. Since they came in set and I had to buy several packs to get three small ones, I had a lot of these large ones and was able to make one for each of the six alum/iron pastes. I painted the white linen with wavy lines, inspired by a shirt I’d glimpsed on tv, and then dyed it with logwood.
For the natural linen, I painted tropical leaves freehand with Japanese sumi brushes then dyed it with pomegranite. This one I intend to dye with indigo when I get a vat up and running.
For Module 8, we mixed up mordant discharge paste. We cut our cotton and linen pieces in half and dyed them, and two bandanas, in two batches: one dyed grey with iron, the other mordanted with alum. The discharge paste then either bleached out the grey or removed the alum mordant so when those pieces were immersion dyed later the paste areas took up little to no colour, depending on the dye.
I’d bought some refillable pens which you can use to make your own textas, and tried it with the discharge solution before the thickener went in. It worked, but the solution with beet powder in it kept clogging up the pen. I also realised on the second day that I’d made the first solution half strength. It still worked but the result was paler. I also tried screen printing but the result was too blobby.
On the iron-coloured natural linen I printed leaf stamps that I’d made by tracing leaves from my front yard, and wrote the common names of trees.
On the alum-mordanted natural linen I used a stencil from a bundle I bought at Bunnings then immersion dyed in lac.
For the iron-coloured cotton I made a teeny skull stamp. I meant to draw neat diagonal lines but things went wonky and I just went with that, and used the stamp here and there in the gaps. I love this and wish I’d worked on a bigger piece of cloth.
For the alum-mordanted cotton I tried an Indian wood block and did a simple diagonal grid of flowers. Then I poured a whole lot of exhaust baths into the pot to make an orangey peach colour. Unfortunately, the half-strength discharge paste and the lighter dye colour meant that the pattern was rather hard to see, but I did a wheat bran bath later and that helped to lighten the design a little.
The iron-coloured bandana was entirely done with the refillable pen. I traced around the cat face stamp I’d used for Module 6 and then added details. This one is definitely a keeper.
The alum-mordanted bandana became a gift for a friend who likes pink and skulls. For this one I had the rare satisfaction of planning something and it coming out as I intended.
I have a few ideas I’d like to try now the course is done. Because I’ve made small colour charts, I wound up putting aside a half metre of lightweight cotton to use if I really stuffed up a piece. Since I didn’t, I’ve torn that into two pieces to play with. For the smaller, I’ve explored dyeing with white mulberry. The rest – a square – I’d like to use up some of the leftover pastes. I also ordered two metres of silk.
As I made more and more pieces it became clear I was going to have a long list of sewing projects to do. Since we don’t use napkins I’m treating them as small squares of fabric to be transformed into something, usually something that requires more fabric. The linen nearly all begs to be made into garments, but to do that I’ll definitely need more fabric – perhaps even painted in the same way. Thankfully, the silk pieces just need to be hemmed to become wide scarves.
Overall, it has been a lot of fun and I’m glad I chose the workshop. I learned heaps and it kept me distracted rather than freezing up and stressing during a very scary few months. But I didn’t get much else done, creatively, in that time and I really, really miss art. Yet it kind of benefitted me artistic practise in that it had me working in the laundry in a different way to how I did during the ink making workshop. I have a better feel for the space and how to make it work as a mini art studio.
Which will be my next task. And then… art resumes, perhaps even daily art.
So I may have mentioned the multitude of jars the workshop required. There came a point around week 6 where I decided I needed to use up paint rather than buy more jars. I dug through my bag of clothes to dye and found two long-sleeved tops that I’d attempted to dye before but wasn’t happy with the result.
Putting my newly acquired knowledge to use, I scoured them first. That removed some but not all of the old colour. Then I mordanted them with gallnut, alum and soda.
In the 6th module we’d made some iron solutions for painting, and the tutors suggested using them up by dyeing fabric. I decided to dye one of the tops, which had come printed with stripes. The white areas came out a nice, soft grey.
The second top had a few indigo leaf prints that hadn’t come out strongly enough to look like more than mistakes. So I lined the inside with paper and laid down lines of narrow masking tape, then painted it all over with the mixed colour dye pastes, figuring that I can always mix up more from the pure colours if I need to in later classes. I had to mix a little bit more of a few colours, but managed to empty six jars overall. The indigo leaf prints still show, but come across as a bit of extra patterning.
Steaming was a challenge. After the top had tried I replaced the paper inside with clean pieces, then rolled the sleeves up first, then the body from the bottom up, and continued by rolling the sleeves inside the body. It needed a few patches of paper where the odd shape made tears and I managed to curl it into a neat but open parcel.
Then I had to buy another level for the bamboo steamer and get Paul to remove the base to make a spacer level. That allowed enough room for the parcel. I dyed it for an hour rather than 40 minutes to make sure the heat penetrated.
When it was done I washed it in warm water twice, but it’s still a bit stiff from the gum. I’m going to let it cure for a few weeks then wash it in soapy water.
I’m pretty chuffed with both of these tops, and was ridiculously pleased by emptying six (SIX!) jars ready for future workshop modules. Painting a whole garment was quite time-consuming and fussy, so I wouldn’t do it except in this circumstance. Much easier to print the fabric then sew the garment.
This week was the one in which life just got too stressful and busy. We were to treat six hankies with three tannins and paint on them with iron in various forms. I had little brain power left for creativity, so I decided to do one design on all six, but compensate by trying six tannins instead of three: gallnut, myrobalan, cutch, pomegranite, walnut and black tea.
Thank goodness I was saving yoghurt containers!
The design might have been inspired by Dad’s cat, who had gone from meek to cute to curious to full on tortoiseshell monster from hell.
The cat faces originally had eyes, but the method I used to paint in the pupils didn’t work and looked so terrible that I painted over it.
The gallnut is the most dramatic, but I’m intrigued by brown of the walnut and how well the tea worked – especially considering how easy it would be to do with just rust water made from old nails and a teabag.
This week felt like we had reached the peak of process development while also having passed the busiest part of the workshop. We didn’t need to make any more colours but use what we had to make a paste that was both paint and mordant. Instead of painting a big sampler of the colours to be steamed and chalked, I made a small chart like the one I’d made at the start. Which I stuffed up, so had to redo it later.
There were no set exercises to do so I tried a few ideas. Firstly, a plaid. I painted lines in one direction, steamed and chalked them, then painted the lines in the other direction and repeated the finishing. In the class the tutors had warned that the gum in the paste could act as a resist preventing top layers from reaching the cloth, so this seemed like a good solution. The interaction of paint between the layers was interesting: the second layer of colour seemed to activate and push through the first layer to the paper beneath, and where colours crossed they mixed.
Screen printing didn’t work. I’d done it successfully on a scrap of fabric the previous week, so I can only assume the mordant-dye paste, being the only change, was the problem. I wound up having to treat the paper doilies I used as stencils.
For the silk, I used one of the subjects I’d listed where the colours were in the yellow-orange-red-purple-green range available. Knowing that underneath layers of paste could be a resist to additional ones, I started with an iron grey outline of fruit, then coloured them in. After steaming and chalking it was clear the orange I’d made was too weak, so I did another layer that brightened them up. I was pretty chuffed with this piece, which I like and will definitely wear as a scarf.
Last in the module was a length of linen. I made block stamps that worked together to create brushes and pencils, and filled the gaps with ‘scribble and flourishes’. This turned out more 80s than I anticipated, but I like it.
This week was the most productively creative rather than experimentally creative. I made something worthwhile despite all the stress and distractions around me. It was also the week of peak jar. I’d started with a dozen or so from my store of jars to reuse, had to buy a 24 pack of small jars, and needed to go back to the shop for more, then added implausibly large ones for the mordant-dye pastes. I did pick up some 70ml ones after this just to get the latter into something less airy, but from this point I started planning to use up paint and free up jars for future modules.
We started out mordanting about a third of the fabric in the kit. Only two pieces required simmering in a pot, so it was easier than the scouring, which needs to be watched.
Then we made six dye pastes, some using extracts and some requiring an extraction to be made from a source material. I made a chart showing the colours before and after steaming.
The pastes were mixed together in various ratios, painted on cloth and steamed to see the result.
This had me scrambling for jars, and for a box to keep them in that could be stored in the fridge. I thought the above was a lot of jars, but it was just the beginning. We worked on two napkins, two bandanas and a length of natural cotton. The first napkin was a graduating spiral, for the next I used an old plastic lace table cloth as a stencil, the first bandana was printed with triangles to make pinwheels and the second I dug out some old foam stamps I made for printing wrapping paper. For the natural cotton I replicated a weaving pattern, with a graduating background.
The following week we made even more colours, this time in larger batches so they could be divided up and altered with iron and soda ash. The tutors had us do test circles on a big cloth, then a row of lines in a gradient. I did drips and then linked them.
The we painted two more napkins, a length of silk and a length of natural cotton. The first napkin was to be a colour wheel. I simplified this by using all but one pure (unmixed colour) because I had plans for the other napkin that would be far more time-consuming. It became a paint chart style grid of 144 squares, showing all the combinations of the colours in ratios of either 1:2 or 2:1.
I did blobby circles on the silk and made starts out of a diamond-shaped velour stamp for the natural cotton after making ‘pastel’ version of several colours.
These were by far the most colourful weeks, though I found I really missed blue, which I believe is done with different processes. I got more useful pieces out of it: the silk just needs hemming to become a scarf, the two natural cotton pieces will be sewn into something. The paint charts are practical as they are. I kept tweaking the bandanas each week and they’ll have a post of their own. I like the stencilled napkin and later tweaked the spiral one.
The first week of the workshop was entirely taken up by scouring. This is one of those necessary steps that isn’t particularly entertaining or difficult, but since I’ve never scoured before there was definitely value in the doing of it.
The second week’s process involved making a mordant paste, applying it and then immersion dyeing. That was rather fun and a good introduction to the various methods of application. I’d already decided that I wanted to do all the processes as demonstrated, but rather than copy everything exactly I’d try to come up with a different design and find additional ways to apply the dye pastes.
One of the methods in the class was to stick adhesive-backed velour onto foam blocks. I thought I only had a few scraps of velour Contact from the 70s, but it turns out it’s fashionable again for lining drawers so I had a roll of black as well. It turned out to have just the right amount of dye-holding capacity and gave good crisp edges.
I had picked up some men-shaped makeup sponges from Daiso a few years back thinking they’d make great stamps. And they were.
They used Indian hand-carved wood stamps in the class. I had a couple of those and gave it a try. Not my favourite method, but effective.
They used multiple sponge brushes in the classes. I couldn’t find them sold singly, so for every one in a useful size I got two to three extra large ones. So I cut nicks out of one to make one that made parallel lines.
These are all napkins, which came in the kit. A nice size for playing around with, but ultimately I’m not sure what I’ll use them for. In Australia napkins are generally only used, if at all, at formal dinner parties. These are too informal for that. Maybe I can sew them into throw pillow covers, or drawstring bags. Or use them as furoshiki. Whatever they turn into, they were fun to paint and print and had me eager for the next class.
Seven weeks were left of 2022 when I began thinking about my intentions for 2023, which felt early but maybe only because the weather felt like Winter right up and into December. When I asked myself want I wanted to do next year the words “get my sh*t together” flashed into my mind. So I wrote a list of what sh*t needs getting together and noted that most items were tasks I’ve been putting off for a long time. I considered and dismissed various reasons why and was left with one: because they aren’t much fun.
So I asked myself if I could make them fun. Perhaps take a different approach? Maybe break them down into more enjoyable tasks? Possibly reward myself when they’re done and have that be the fun part?
The idea inspired me to decided that my motto for 2023 was “Make it Fun”. However, so far 2023 has had other ideas. Getting my sh*t together took a major back seat behind just getting through each day.
After the first drama passed a gloomier sense of clarity set in. There’s nothing like dealing with elderly parents to make you review what you need to let go, be that possessions, activities or people. Getting my sh*t together was suddenly about more than just a few neglected tasks I hadn’t done, but ones I’ll need to do in future, and ones I should avoid having to do. It also felt like an illusion. Like housework: something never finished and harder to get to when there are dramas in your life.
I thought… perhaps a more realistic motto might be: “Remember to Have Fun”. So it was in that spirit that I decided not to delay doing the Maiwa “Print and Paint with Natural Dyes” workshop I’d signed up to, but get stuck in. Being busy and distracted meant I didn’t always get results I like, but so long as I was learning something and had something to occupy my mind that was fine. It was truly art as therapy.
There are two weeks of the workshop to go. I have one day free. I’m going to create a few posts and set them up to self-publish just in case another drama happens. Thankfully, I did keep records of what I did to remind me of what I did. So here goes…