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Wednesday, February 29, 2012


is one of my favourite occupations.  I have only to do it to wonder why I do anything else, if truth be told.  Up until recently, I stuck to Procions, but working with Evolon, which has nylon in it, made me experiment with acid dyes.  The thought of steaming or simmering on a stove top just didn't appeal. does now.  The wool tops here have been dyed using acid dyes in a pot on a heat plate in my studio.  My friend Moira, who lives next door, had bought some undyed tops at a car boot sale (it never happens to me...).  She wanted to learn how to dye them, and kindly swapped me some wool for some silk tops, which we also dyed.  I'm in a purple phase, as is she, but we both liked the looks of the scarlet when we made it up, hence the bright red wool.  The other clump of wool is really a lilac colour, though it reads in this photograph as grey.  Either way, I like it a lot.   I'm looking forward to felting with these tops, and the other, darker tops I dyed later this afternoon. 

I've never really liked working with flat colour, and most of the pre dyed tops you buy are exactly that, flat colour.  These have a certain amount of variety (mostly because of the total lack of stirring, as heat and agitation and water equals felt, not dyed tops...).  I also dyed some silk cloth; the image below is of some silk organza, dyed lilac/pink/turquoise using Procion, this time, and some darker lilac/turquoise/green cloth, which needed more turquoise in it for me, so I overdyed it.  You can possibly see that the darker cloth is a much heavier silk satin, with a wonderful sheen.

Silk will allow itself to be dyed using either type of dye, and you can, of course, use a procion like an acid dye, with vinegar instead of soda ash.  Those in favour of using acid dyes say that the colour is superior.  I'm not sure that that is the case, but I dyed some cloth in an acid bath today, and liked the results. 
It's wonderful, being able to try things out, take a risk or two, learn something different.  It's what I love about art making.  There are no limits.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Button Up....

I mentioned that I am starting to collect old glass buttons.  Here is a selection of the buttons I have found so far, along with a dead fly that somehow got caught in among them; didn't notice until I'd uploaded the photograph...

I did buy these with the intention of using them, but I find them so lovely that I just can't bring myself to do it.  I love the variations in shape, pattern and design.  They really are delicious!  I don't know enough about them yet to be able to tell you anything about them.. but I'm planning to do some serious learning.  I've never really collected anything before, but once the work situation has been resolved, I intend to go Buy A Book.  Meanwhile, a click on the image should enlarge it, so you can have a closer look.

ps No, I don't collect fabric.  I like fabric, I use fabric, but no matter how much I like it, it either gets used, sold, or given away.   Ditto with contemporary buttons...unless I find some interesting glass ones, of course...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fascinated By Feathers.

They are just so incredibly beautiful.  The colours, the sheen, the variations, the texture and that incredible softness.  These are natural colours, no dyeing involved here, though some dyed feathers are really interesting.  Because we are working on making accessories with hand dyed cloth, I thought I might like to dye feathers, too.  It looks really very simple, a combination of acid dyes and alcohol, as feathers may not be boiled, too delicate.  I'm wondering if that combination would work on cloth and fibres, too...much less steam in the studio... 

These particular feathers are ideal for fascinators, and I'm designing one around them right now.  The dark areas in this photo read as dark brown or black; they are, in fact, a beautiful green.  Subtly beautiful; Mother Nature really knows what she's about, doesn't she?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Economics of Dyeing.

In a recent post, I asked you for feedback about pricing hand dyes.  Louise said, "I think you're wrong to try to compete pricewise with commercial fabrics. You should instead educate ppl about the individual nature of hand dyed fabrics and quality of fabrics you use so you can get a decent return on your investment in materials, time and expertise. Otherwise you might as wrap them up with a bow (because you're giving them away and not honouring your own work). Just my opinion."

Thanks, Louise. You are absolutely right, in many ways.  However, it does depend what you think the cost of commercial fabric actually is.  Dyers in the UK are working at a disadvantage compared to dyers in the US; our raw materials cost us significantly more here.  Mind you, commercial fabric for quilting, much of it imported from the US, can cost up to £15 a metre; that's $23.50 at time of writing.  E-Quilter puts the price of a yard of Hoffman Batik at $11.50, less than half.  A typical quilt shop price for a similar batik (I checked) would be £13 or just over $20 per metre.  There's a statement to make your eyes water.... 

Most quilt shops in the UK offer Fat Quarters at about £3.  That's the price I also charge for my simple low immersion dyed cloth, like this piece here.

 I'm not disrespecting my work; I'm setting the price at what the market will stand.  I'm about to make a sweeping statement here, and I'd love to be corrected, but I believe that the average UK quilter doesn't value hand dyes above commercial cloth.  Explaining that it's unique, unrepeatable, complex, takes a lot of time and effort to do, just doesn't seem to cut the mustard.  People here buy on price.  Which is why I don't think I'm likely to sell much cloth that requires more than one process, no matter how lovely I think it is.  I've put a couple of Fat Quarters up on Etsy of double dyed fabric, like the piece at the top of the post.  I'm charging £4, just to see if anyone will buy.  I should probably be charging upwards of £5, but I doubt if anyone would pay that in the UK (or anywhere, come to that)

Despite rises in the price of cloth, I've not been able to raise my prices since I started doing this.  I have, of course, got much better at it, and therefore faster, so my time costs are probably lower.  Actually typing this, I'm beginning to wonder why I bother, to be truthful.  I have no intention of stopping; I just think that I'll stop trying to sell it, and dye for specific projects.  That may sound defeatist, but at the end of the day, I have to make what sells.  If it doesn't sell, I can't buy more fabric or dye, and on it goes.  In a recession, it becomes harder and harder to make money as an artist or craftsperson.  I love being able to inspire people; I would love it even more if someone bought some of the inspirational fabric or work from time to time....

I'd love to hear what you think about this topic.  What is it about hand dyes that makes them difficult to sell?  If you want to see more detail shots of the fabric at the top of the post, you can see them here

Monday, February 20, 2012

Buttons..And More Buttons...

I went into a charity shop recently, and asked if they had a button box.  Err...yes, sort of, they said, we've got a button bag.  It was donated last week. you know what kind of button you are looking for... they said, humphing this bag up onto the counter.

I grinned... and asked how much for the lot.  £3, they said.  Money well spent, I thought.

I love buttons, and have begun to collect antique glass ones.  The collection is tiny at present, but I'm working on it!  Not a glass button in sight in this little lot, just lots of them!  So I've been gradually sorting them out, and had spent a couple of evenings doing so, until I realised that a. the boxes I was using were just too small and b. artificial light makes it really difficult to distinguish between colours, and the black were mixed with the blue... sigh.  There are buttons with shanks, buttons with holes, buttons with neither.  There is the occasional boot button, which I suspect may be Victorian.  There are plastic buttons, wooden buttons, fabric covered buttons and even a few tortoiseshell buttons.  Lots of black, brown and white, but also some yellow, pink, blue, green and even some purple.  Some fab Sixties buttons (I think; I'll need to get Jill to have a look).  Buttons that remind me of my gran.  A lot of individual buttons, the spares from particular outfits, but often maybe as many as six of some of the nicer ones. Yummy.  Now, though, having got them all arranged by colour, I want to USE them... so all I have to do now is Think Something Up.  A bag and a hair clip of some kind, I think... mmm...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Snapping Up A Storm.

I'm taking lots of photographs at the present.  Most of them are to put onto Etsy, either in the Artmixter shop, or the new project, Myrtle and Rose.  I've been learning a lot about how to take an interesting photograph.  I've also been finding things out about the things I've been making.  I'm exploring the design of hats, fascinators, hair slides.  I've even been wearing the odd one, though I have to say, I'm not really sure that they suit be honest, I think I'm just too old to wear some of them at least.  Frilly little ribbon clips just don't do it on a fifty-something... sigh.  They do, however, look fab on a twenty-something...especially one who looks as good as my friend Gemma Samson Munday, who blogs as Norfolk Homemade Mum.  Doesn't she look wonderful in these photographs?

The top fascinator is made from a felt rose, with wonderful orange feathers.  The second is made from black satin ribbon with more, slightly different orange feathers (well, if you're going to do it, you might as well wear this season's colours...) .  The last one is cute, I hope... a brown ribbon bow on a comb, with some yellow ribbon beneath it, and a yellow gingham button on the top.  Great fun!  Now to make more felt...

Not all my fascinators are this frivilous...or this colour!  I just love orange!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Spunbond Sensations Is Here!

well, more correctly, it's here.  I've thought for a while that it was time for a blog 'about' spun bonded fabrics like Lutradur, Evolon and the new Zeelon, so, given I've written books about two of the three, I thought I'd start one!   I think there are far too many people around with Lutradur in a cupboard because they don't really know where to start.  I'd like to change that.  Hence Spunbond Sensations.  I've said over there that it is a bit like an interactive book; you ask the questions, I do my best to answer them.  And I hope to have interviews with other artists who use these materials, including some of the artists featured in the Exquisite Evolon book...not that I've actually talked to them about it, yet...oops!  But I do think it'll be interesting to see what they are up to now, and how their use of Evolon has changed in the intervening period.   If you are an artist using any of the spunbonded fabrics, and would like to be interviewed for the new blog, drop me an email or leave a comment here.  I'm also looking for images to use on Photo Friday, and you don't have to be a 'name' to have your work featured here... just let me know and we'll talk.

It feels great to be back to some semblance of normality.  Depression puts a fog on your brain, which activity helps to lift (I talked about that here).  I know that it is lifting because blogging has once more become a challenge, and exciting, instead of something I felt guilty about because I couldn't bring myself to do it.  The same with Etsy; I'm about to list the quilted photograph you see above, with optimism rather than pessimism.  I hope someone will fall in love with it, and buy it, which is a big difference in attitude from, 'it's not worth it, nobody likes my work enough to buy it...'.  And so on, 

When I started the business, several years ago, I considered myself recovered from depression.  I was wrong.  I am recovering from depression...but it still limits me to a significant extent, if I'm honest.  What it doesn't do,t hough, is stop me from doing things completely.  It just makes them harder to do than it might be for most people.  That, of course, is the definition of disability.  And I believe it helps to embrace it, rather than try to either evade or outright reject it.  This is who I am, and I am proud of what I have achieved so far.  Let's see how much further I can go...

ps if you are reading this in a month's time or more, and want to visit the Spunbond blog, make sure you read the introduction to the blog; it'll help you understand what's going on!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Getting Technical, or The Art Of Dyeing.

I said I would revisit some of the dyeing terms I used yesterday.  If you haven't tried dyeing before, you might be thinking of the immersion style of dyeing, when you put dye into a lot of water, and then stick your fabric in, swish it around regularly and hey presto!  the fabric is another colour.  That works really well for single colours, but what if you want to have more than one colour in a cloth?  Clearly, pouring three colours into a bucket of water is going to produce...well... mud, probably.  A grey, or a brown.  You have no way of keeping the colours separate.  And of that desire, low immersion was born.  You use a lot less water, and introduce the colours carefully to the cloth, so that you get the kind of results that you saw yesterday, and in the cloth pictured above.  I'd like to say that there's a lot more to it than that, but, other than getting the chemistry right (ie, adding the soda ash at the right time), that's really all there is to it.  The dye travels around the cloth, mixing as it choses, with a little white cloth left in places where the dye hasn't quite managed to reach.

Taking low immersion cloth out of the container it has been dyed in is always thrilling.  You never really know what you have created, until it is out of there, rinsed and washed.  You do get some wonderful surprises, and the occasional shock.  The good thing, though, is that no matter how unhappy you are with a piece of cloth, you can always overdye it to create something you are happier with.  It is a very forgiving medium.

But what if you want to make patterns in your dyed cloth?  There are lots of ways of doing that, of course, but the one I mentioned yesterday is discharge dyeing.  That involves taking a piece of dyed cloth and removing dye from it, usually with bleach.  You then neutralise the bleach and admire the results.  The images here are of brown cotton sateen cloth that has been discharge dyed using bleach.  I wanted to have a really organic, natural look, so the marks are fairly random.  In the piece, the result is really impressive; however, cloth like this is always really interesting cut into strips and then reassembled. Think of the look of a traditional block using fabric like this... really unusual.

So there you are, yesterday's technical terms, explained.  Any questions?

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Only Thing Better Than A Piece Of Fabric... a lot of fabric...

...and the knowledge that you have yet more fabric to play with. I just took delivery of some silk organza, to add to the silk velvet I already have.  Guess who's going to be dyeing shortly?  I spent much of the weekend cutting and ironing fat quarters, some for the gallery (the image above was taken there...the FQs are sitting on one of my bed quilts, which Judy has appropriated to cover a large chest.  It was one of the first quilts I ever made, long before I learned to dye. I sleep under it in the summer, so Judy better find something else to cover the chest by July!

I'm mulling about whether or not to start selling more complex hand dyes.  The ones you see above are low water immersion, but I have just cut up some discharge dyed fabric, which takes a bit more work than a simple low immersion piece.  I try to keep prices as low as possible; at the moment, a simple FQ costs £3, which is directly comparable with commercial fabric, and I use the best quality fabric I can find, which is usually a higher thread count than most commercial prints.  I don't know whether people will pay more for more complex fabrics, but I'm going to try them out on Etsy this week.  If you're wondering what all the fuss is about, I'll show you some of the fabric tomorrow (haven't photographed it yet!).  And I'll talk you through the technical stuff, if you are wondering what I mean by low immersion (which has nothing to do with a bucket on the floor instead of the table...).

I'd be grateful for any feedback you have about buying handdyes, and their price...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Moving Things Around...

is a good way of seeing them with fresh eyes.  This textile piece has been sitting in the conservatory, but at such a height, and with so many other things, that it was difficult to actually look at.  Now, here it is on a clear wall, and it can be seen for itself.  To good effect, I hope!  I forget what I called this piece, which is alarming.  Usually titles stick with me, but clearly I must have got the title for this one wrong.   I'm tempted to call it 'Palely Loitering', not entirely sure why; probably something to do with the abstract figure to the right of centre.  We'll  see if that one sticks.

I like this piece, partly because it has a lot of movement in it. As part of the tidying up process, I looked through a couple of large sketchbooks and found these images in one of them, along with several black and white versions.  I realised that the feeling of movement in the textile piece is mirrored by these earlier sketches.  Interestingly, though, I find myself wanting to use them in a very different way, now, as works in their own right, and I'll doubtless ruminate about that until it's clear in my head, just as I must have done, unconsciously, with the sketches.

I've been ruminating on the other blog about not getting things done; this has been moved because I'm making a space for Big Bertha, my large scale printer, in the conservatory.  Mainly, I'm doing that because I'm about to go on a dyeing and felting frenzy, and steam and damp are not good for the printer.  But it does also mean that I might actually be able to sit in the conservatory, once I've finally finished tidying it up.  It is probably my favourite room in the house, simply because of the amount of light in it.  Of course, all that glass means that it's very warm in summer and cooler than I like in winter.  At the moment, though, I'm ironing hand dyes, and the coolness is very welcome.  More of the handdyes later...

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Going Away...

for a few days, to stay with my friend Terry and her menagerie (one dog, three cats, two horses and a parrot).  I'm meeting up with Mervyn from Spunart, too, to discuss a possible project surrounding spun bonded fabrics in general and lutradur and evolon in particular.  Watch this space...

Robin is, of course, holding the fort here while looking for the next job.  The cats won't be pleased, but they will, at least, get fed, watered and stroked.  He'll probably also be answering the door to the postman; I just ordered a lot of silk organza to dye, so that I can make more of these pretty little bags.  This particular one is made from a piece of hand dyed silk organa which has been felted, creating the lovely textures you can see in the photograph.  The hand made silk flowers are also made from my hand dyed organza, and it is lined in silk, also.  I'm going to be making quite a few more of these little bags with my friends Jill and Clare, for our new venture, Myrtle & Rose.

The idea behind Myrtle & Rose is to create accessories for special occasions from hand dyed fabrics, all of which are made from the same materials.  So, for a wedding, we might make one of these little bags for the flower girl, and make her a headband from the same materials, as well as shoe clips with tiny versions of the flowers.  It's always difficult to get things that match, much less are made from the same materials.  Guess how I know... I was really lucky to get my bag and fascinator from the same place, but the shoes were...challenging.

But I digress.  Actually, I'm not sure I've finished digressing... I'm having such fun making these pretty, happy little things.  It's fun.  I've been talking for ages about making happy things, and now I'm Actually Doing It, it's even better than I expected.  Just goes to show... we should stick to what we want to do, not what we think we ought to be doing.  It makes such a difference.