Frühlingsfieber/ Patchwork Sneak Peek

Give me a couple of days of sunshiny, above-freezing weather, and I’m delirious with Fruehlingsfieber (spring fever). I’m superstitious even as I write this that Jack Frost is reading and will surely punish me for hoping spring is really on its way. I know the sunshine can’t last, but if gray weather will teach you anything (and actually, I think it can teach a lot, more on that some other time) it’s to make hay while the sun shines. Go out! Enjoy it! This is what the Germans do and so am I.

I’m also feeling the creative sap flowing. Recently I’ve been getting deeper and deeper back into my YA novel and motoring through chapters as fast as I can, trying not to look back and overpolish before I’ve got a complete draft. It’s a totally new way of working for me, and I have to ask myself why I never tried it before. I guess I just wasn’t ready.

Meanwhile I’m getting further and further along on the self-dyed patchwork I started awhile back. I’m so excited about the way it’s coming together. Hope I can share it in full soon. It’s for my son (3) and he’s loving it, which is just the best.

Above is a little peak from the back. Do you notice those finished edges? I realized since it wasn’t going to be quilted that I needed to do something to keep it from fraying. So I’m zigzagging every last little seam. Yep. Crazy, isn’t it? But somehow so satisfying. Aren’t you proud of me for being such a stickler?

A few more random updates:

  • just finished The Hunger Games trilogy. Whew! What a ride! I can’t believe it took me so long to pick them up. Although, it’s kind of nice to be able to read the whole trilogy at once rather than wait for a year or so in between installments. This isn’t my “normal” favorite type of read, but these were way way awesome, very fine writing in addition to the exciting plotlines. They were also progressively engrossing. By the second half of the third novel the world just sort of fell away, dinner went uncooked, children made messes.
  • just discovered a new-to-me design-y/ crafty/ arty blog with a good sense of humor that I’m really enjoying: aesthetic outburst. Thanks go to Meg of elsie marley for the hot tip.
  • oh, um, in case you were trying to reach any of those links on my “projects” or “writing exercise” pages, they have now been fixed. Gotta tell me when these things are messed up, okay?
  • enjoyed this opinion piece by Mark Bittman in the NY Times re: the new dietary guidelines. It’s called “Is ‘Eat Real Food’ Unthinkable?”

Getting Started with Dyes, Part II: Plant Fibers

 

In my last installment on dyeing I wrote about animal fibers. Today, it’s plant fibers.

Plant fibers include cotton and linen. Synthetics generally don’t take dye all that well, at least not when I’ve tried them, so I tend to stay away from them. If your fabric has a small synthetic content, that’s okay, but anything above 25% I would avoid.

The best dyes I’ve found for plant fibers are what are called procion dyes. These are available at dharma trading, where I’ve gotten a lot of dye materials. They have reasonable prices and lots of information on their website.

I used to use grocery store dyes, but I got tired of the lackluster hues, the constant fading, and the lack of color range. With procion dyes, once you dye your fabric, it stays dyed, with no worrying about washing it with other items. There are a million colors to choose from, and the colors just glow. I think you can also use procion dyes on animal fibers, but I haven’t tried that.

The image above is of a patchwork made of self-dyed and commercial fabric (the fabric I dyed is the teal and the lighter orange). And good news! I should have some more to share on that project soon. It’s coming together.

I did a post on faux batik with procion dyes here. Another project with hand-dyed fabrics: my washcloth hand puppets.

Malka Dubrawsky has a wonderful book on dyes and batik called Color Your Cloth. She also has a very inspiring blog, and she sells her hand-dyed and batiked fabrics and other creations on etsy. Her stuff is very modern and cool.

Another book worth checking out (I discovered it through Malka’s blog) is Surface Design for Fabric by Proctor and Lew. It’s out of print but available used through online outlets. I bought mine through half.com. It’s like a textbook for fabric decoration: dyeing, tie-dyeing, batik, printing. You name it, it’s got it.

Yet another book with information about dyeing and other techniques is Textile Arts: Multicultural Traditions by Margo Singer and Mary Spyrou. This book is an overview of several textile techniques, including batik and tie-dye, with sample project instructions for each technique. I used to check this one out over and over again at the county library when I was a teenager, and now I own it.

This should get you going. I recommend starting with one or two colors to get your bearings first. And as always, dye with an open mind. You never know what your end product will look like exactly, and that’s part of the fun.

Adventures in Thrifting: Germany Edition

Every town has its own thrift store scene strengths. I love cruising to see what kinds of clothes, craft fodder, and crazy stuff are available. For the most part, the thrifted clothing here in Hannover is not a strength, though I’ve found some cashmere sweaters just asking to be made into scarves.

Vintage textiles are a whole other story. There’s a place here called Fairkauf that’s like the department store of thrifting, with four entire floors of stuff.

My favorite is the floor of household goods, much of it embroidered tablecloths, runners, hankies, plus all-cotton (mostly white) bed linens. The collection of china and dishes is nothing to sneeze at either. I’ve been dreaming up a new quilt and snapped up some of these things with it in mind. I couldn’t resist the cherry placemats, though (not part of the quilt plan) and the bird fabric (also not for the quilt). It’s just asking to be over-dyed, don’t you think?

Below is a “commode” we bought to go next to my work station in the dining room. It holds the printer and scanner (when is someone going to design some more attractive computer equipment?). We were looking at some cheap something at Ikea or whatnot and I thought I could do better. This solid wood, glass-covered, dovetail-drawered baby was only 30 Euros! It also happens to go really well with our dining room furniture.

 

Next up is a candelabra I got at the Flohmarkt (fleamarket) on Saturday. I really like the lines, though I wish it had more candle holders. You need a lot of candles to light up your life in January here. I can’t complain for 5 euros, though! I’ve been wanting to go to the Flohmarkt for a long time. It was pretty cool, lots of interesting stuff, from furniture and antique toys to books and ancient dentistry tools. As you see, I restrained myself.

If you, like me, are a thrifter, you must must read this post by Blair Peter of wisecraft about torturing her husband via iphone thrift photos. It’s hysterical and inspiring. And besides that, she has a great blog with tons of other inspirations.

If you enjoyed this post, you might want to check out this one about flea market finds.

Getting Started with Dyes, Part I: Animal Fibers

Want to try dyeing things but don’t know where to start?

A reader wrote me recently asking for help.

Where to start, what to read?

The easiest kind of dyeing to start with is food dye on animal fibers. I love this because you can do it in the kitchen with grocery-store items, the results are super-satisfying, and the kids can join in.

What are animal fibers? Wool, silk, cashmere, you get the idea.

Wool and Cashmere:

You can do some beautiful things with Kool-Aid and wool, and IT WILL NEVER WASH OUT.

Kool-Aid (or Easter egg dye) and wool yarn is a perfect starter project, especially if you knit. You can dye it with a rainbow of colors, using your microwave. The yarn above was dyed with this method. Check out this article on knitty.com for details and instructions. Lion Brand makes an undyed 100% wool yarn called Fisherman’s Yarn that is very reasonably priced. I used to buy it at Hobby Lobby, but it may also be available at Michael’s and other craft stores. Knitpicks also sells undyed yarn, in a wider variety of weights and variations. Their prices are very reasonable also, but you do have to order it. Also try dharmatrading for yarns.

You can dye pieces of old wool or cashmere sweaters in a similar way, but it’s a little tricky—-you should be prepared for uneven results.  Here’s a project of mine with Easter egg dye on cashmere. I would recommend starting with a light-colored sweater and dyeing smaller pieces (an arm or less) at a time, as a sweater acts like a sponge to the dye, absorbing the color before it gets the chance to circulate around the fabric.

The process is similar to the yarn-dyeing project, but use a larger amount of dye and a larger container, on the stove instead of the microwave. I used my big soup pot. The same process should work for wool and cashmere wovens, though I’ve never tried it.

Silk:

Kool-Aid, Easter egg dye, or food coloring also works well on silk. I’ve used it to make playsilks, with the directions here. I’ve also dip-dyed silk scarves, which you can see here. After heat-setting, these dyes are not quite as colorfast as in wool and cashmere, so I would recommend hand-washing. Even so, the colors  bleed very little. Dry out of direct sunlight, or the colors will change.

With any dyeing project, there’s a certain amount of risk involved. You never know exactly what your finished project is going to look like, and for me, that’s part of the thrill. Be prepared for that uncertainty, because even if your project turns out beautifully, chances are it won’t be exactly as you  envisioned.

For part two of this article, about dyeing plant fibers, click here.

Thinking Pink: Pillows with Hand-Printed Fabric

The pink started here:

My dear husband, for reasons yet unknown, picked out these shades for the lights in our apartment living room. In most apartments here, the lighting fixtures are not included, and since we’re here for a limited time, we didn’t want to spend a lot on them. We have no pink in our house otherwise, so I can only guess he was asking for a dose of color in our lovely but very white white white apartment. Reactions from guests have ranged from: “Fresh! Modern! I love them!” to “Hmmmph. Why? Why?”

I felt the need to echo the pink somewhere else, so recovering our pillows was my first thought. Finding fabrics here has been tough, so I hit up the thrift store, bought old white cotton tablecloths and turned them into something that works.

First I doused the tablecloths in a good strong brew of coffee (no, I did not use the good stuff, honey). Then I broke out a favorite childhood toy.

I love these stamps. I used Deka fabric ink that I found at the local art store. I’ve used Deka ink before, a long time ago, which was more like a gouache consistency. This was different, more gel-like.

You may recognize this shape from another project using dishwasher gel.

Now the pink feels at home.

For more information about printing on fabrics and other surfaces, check out Lena Corwin’s excellent book: Printing by Hand.

Hand-Dyed Patchwork in Progress

I hadn’t planned to share from this work-in-progress until it was done, but then I was inspired by this post, which challenges bloggers (quilting bloggers in particular) to share more of their process, not just finished projects.

So, here I am, showing you a strip from a large patchwork I’m working on. When I do patchwork, I’m not usually interested in following a traditional pattern or in measuring. Some people call this “liberated quilting.” For me it’s about being able to enjoy the process (I hate measuring) and also something we used to talk about it in art class called “showing the artist’s hand.” In painting this often means that the artist has let the brushstrokes show. I enjoy having my patchwork look handmade at first glance. If you’re familiar with the Gee’s Bend quilts, it’s that kind of aesthetic I’m going for.

I also prefer to work with mostly used or scrap fabrics in my patchwork (I keep saying patchwork rather than quilting because this piece is not actually going to be quilted). I think it’s because historically that’s what quilts were made from, and that thriftiness and ingenuity is part of what attracts me to patchwork in the first place. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a beautiful quilt made from new fabrics—-this is just a rule I give myself (and sometimes break, of course). The history of the fabric creates a story behind the project, and it also provides an extra challenge, kind of like painting a still life using only four tubes of paint.

This patchwork is for my son’s duvet cover, and it’s made from his crib sheets, most of which I hand-dyed, and also from the fabric I used in a failed attempt at making a shopping cart cover. You can see one of his crib sheets in this blog post. There’s also a bit of fabric left from making the curtains in his room.

When I was pregnant with my son, I went snorkeling for the first time and was inspired to create a nursery mural of a very simple school of white fish on a grayish-teal backdrop—blogged here. Now that he’s in a big-boy bed, I wanted to make him a new bedcover with a similar theme. I didn’t want to make literal fish but  wanted to keep the feeling of simple white shapes moving over the space. Here’s my sketch for the piece—although I didn’t color it all in so you really can’t tell at this point which parts are going to be white. That part’s in my head. I may or may not follow the sketch entirely.

In addition to the Gee’s Bend quilters, another influence is the work of Malka Dubrawksy, a fiber artist, quilting blogger, and author I admire. Check out her gorgeous work made with fabrics she batiks and dyes herself.

Can’t wait to get some more done so I can show you my progress. Hopefully I’ll finish this before the little man goes to college. And if he doesn’t like it, I’ll hang it on the wall!

Hand-Made Cloth Book from Laos

 

My friend Megan sent this beauty from Laos. She bought it directly from the maker on her long vacay in East Asia. It’s for the kids, but I’m kind of commandeering it.

I’m just dumbfounded at how much work was put into this little book. I think it would take me a year or more to do something like it. Megan said the woman had a big stack of them beside her and was working on more. Note how the mom and dad in the story are working together 🙂

If you’re interested in textile art, check out this blog I found the other day. It reminds me of a book I used to check out over and over again from my hometown library when I was a teenager: Textile Arts; Multicultural Tradition/ Singer and Spyrou. I finally bought myself a copy of it a few years ago.

Good news! Our container arrived on Monday. Bad news: the apartment is now a complete wreck. Did I really need to pack enough towels, sheets, and washcloths to host a busload of tourists? And burp cloths? What do I need burp cloths for?

I’m back to weeding, even though I thought I’d done so much on the other side. It’s slow-going but I did clear a couple of paths today.