Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Illustration Friday - Tall

I can't believe it's only Tuesday and I already have finished the Illustration Friday weekly topic which I chose for this month. What came to my mind was a poem I long ago memorized: "Sea-Fever" by John Masefield, poet laureate of England from 1930 until his death in 1967   
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.
 So off I set to find some photos of tall ships.  This one I used above is from Bruce Clayton on Flickr.
The night sky with its moon and star is a morguefile photo by mensatic.  I also incorporated two textures from Flickr's Best Textures group: Old photo texture bw by Essence of a Dream and Texture #18 by Shelly Freedman. Much of the credit for my timely completion of this little opus is due to my fabulous new Photoshop plug-in, Topaz Simplify which is specifically designed for digital art and painting.  Check out the Topaz Software group on Flickr to see what others are creating with the entire range of Topaz plug-ins.

While I really liked what I had done with the above composition, it wasn't what I had started out with in my mind's eye.  So, feeling on a creative roll, I concocted another version which was closer to my original vision.


The ship here is from **Mary** on Flickr.  All the other components – the night sky and the two textures – are the same.  And use of Topaz Simplify filters also.  Lots of layers and blend modes that I won't bore you with, but if you are interested, please email me and I'll be happy to tell you more about the inner workings of these compositions.  I say this because I often study digital images that I admire to try to suss out their secrets, and I appreciate every little bit of info that I can use to improve my own work. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Our House

Built in 1910 for W.O. Brown, a buggy manufacturer, and his wife Mitty, in Munger Place, "strictly a high-class residential district" about three miles east of downtown.  Rescued in 1977 by us after decades of decline.  Restored room-by-room, over the course of many years, by our four hands.  A great adventure.   

Circa 1910.  Note the streetcar line. 

Ready for renewal in 1977.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Catch of the day: dyed fish

Here's my second dyeing project in which I tried out uncooked flour resist.  That's what created the background of crackle lines and splotches.  This is from the book Off-The-Shelf Fabric Painting: 30 Simple Recipes for Gourmet Results by Sue Beevers.  Within chapters on Simple Free-Form Techniques, Background Textures, Print Techniques and Resist Techniques, the author demonstrates and explains clearly how to achieve results similar to the beautiful examples she has created.  She uses acrylic and textile paints, but I'm sure most of these techniques would work with thickened dyes – dye concentrate mixed with print paste – which is what I used.

I was intrigued by the uncooked flour resist, a 1:1 mixtures of flour and cold water.  After whisking them to a smooth paste, I spread it fairly thinly on my fabric, then raked through it with a notched plastic trowel.  I didn't achieve the pronounced pattern she shows in her example because it was a bit difficult to rake through the thin paste while keeping the fabric flat and unwrinkled.  The next day the resist had dried to a hard, brittle surface  which I crinkled up here and there to all allow the dye to penetrate.  I was somewhat cautious in my crinkling, unsure of how much dye would go through.
dried resist
dye on resist
first result

What next?  I remembered some very simple fish stencils from Stencilling by Lynne Robinson & Richard Lowther which seemed just the thing.  In their book, the fish are stenciled "swimming" across the front of a piece of furniture, the lighter colored large fish reading as a shadow of the darker large fish, which I don't think is obvious on my top, although I quite like the fish as design elements. I tried out placement by cutting the designs out of construction paper first, then I stenciled the fish and the arcs by dabbing on three related colors with small natural sponges.

 Here they are freshly stenciled, much darker than before they are cured, washed and dried.   I thought I was done, but after what should have been the final washing, the background looked too light, so I did another round of flour resist and dye, using a bit darker colors and being bolder in my crushing up the paste-covered fabric to let more dye through.  Last little touch was to dot on fish eyes of metallic fabric paint. And, of course, sew up the top. 

I'm already planning my next adventure in dyeing and surface design.  If you've ever had the urge to try it, just do it!  Make something you can wear or use, and have fun.  Just keep in mind, it's only an experiment; do the best you can, but don't let perfectionism (my bugaboo) deter you.  You'll be amazed at what you can create.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

All About Pants

Julia in McCall's 6361Around a decade ago I started on The Quest for Perfect Fit in Pants, a pursuit which seems to occupy many if not most women who sew.  The non-gaping waistband, the smooth front, the side seam perfectly perpendicular to the floor, and most especially, no wrinkles or excess fabric under the derriere.  On this quest, I collected every scrap of information about pants I could find.  Long before Threads produced their oh-so-useful archive on DVD, I hunted through every copy I owned for pants articles, including in the Fit section, then scanned, printed and put them in a notebook.  I added some Sandra Betzina articles from Vogue Pattern Magazine.  And notes from sessions, especially those of Peggy Sagers, that I attended at Martha's Sewing Market.  I found a great out-of-print book, Pants fit for your figure by Louise Bame.  I bought David Coffin's CD on Making Pants.  I tried out the Vogue 1003 pants fitting shell.  And I copied  useful tips and tutorials from the Web.  What I have learned is that there is a lot of information – sometimes confusing, sometimes conflicting  – out there.  And, also, husbands are no help when it comes to pinning out wrinkles or other fitting niceties.

McCall's 4007 top & 6361 pantsEventually, I developed some pants patterns that, while not perfect, were satisfactory to me. I've made Loes Hines European Pant, Claire Shaeffer's V7881contoured waist pant, Sandra Betzina's V7608 jeans among others.  But by now most are frankenpatterns: the pocket from this, the leg from that, the crotch curve worked and reworked.  So after coming across the Palmer/Pletsch website, I decided to start from scratch with  McCall's 6361 contoured-waist, slant-pocket pants, just to see if maybe I had tweaked and amended a bit too much.  I was so pleased with the result that it is now my go-to basic pants pattern. You can read a more complete assessment on Pattern Review which mentions the few alternations I made in the pattern. I followed up these full length pants with a cropped summertime version. 

One refinement I add to all my pocketed pants you can see here.  I took this from Cecelia Podolak's Fearless Pants #105.  Both pocket pieces are made from pocketing.  (Usually I would use Silesia or a tightly woven muslin, but I had this leftover lining fabric, so I used it instead.)  Then the fashion fabric is sewn to the pocketing pieces. You can't see that on these photos as the fashion fabric is naturally on the right side of the pants.  The two pocketing pieces can be sewn together normally up to the point where the part that extends into the fly begins.  Then I turn the raw edge of the bottom pocket piece under one-fourth inch and stitch it to the top pocket piece, closing the pocket.  Normally I would just overcast the raw edges, but I chose to encase them in a self bias-binding here.  There are two advantages to this pocket technique.  One is that with the pocketing extending into the fly, the pocket cannot bag and droop, plus the entire front is stabilized.  And secondly, using pocketing will make both a stronger and a less bulky pocket.

I also always make a separate fly.  This I adapted from a very old Vogue pattern and really adds no trouble to inserting the zipper. Cut one of fashion fabric and one of lining or pocketing, sew together, turn and baste raw edges together. Next, after basting the zipper to the left side of the front opening, you put the fly underneath and stitch it all together.  Then you just have to be careful to keep it out of the way when stitching the other side of the zipper. 

On casual pants, I also make flat-felled seams on the crotch and inseams to add sturdiness. 

If anyone would like a copy of my fly and pocket pattern pieces, I'll be happy to send a PDF file that could be scaled and adapted, with more complete instructions.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

To Dye For

There is something absolutely magical about putting color on a swath of white fabric.  Color we've put on paper from the time we are old enough to hold a crayon, and some of us have put color on walls and perhaps even on furniture and other objects.  But fabric rarely.  If you're around my age, you might have tie-dyed some t-shirts with Rit dye back in college.  And that was the extent of my dyeing experience until around ten years or so ago when my eye chanced upon an ad for Dharma Trading Company in the back of Threads magazine. I sent for a catalog, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

I wish I could say that I've been busily dyeing and printing fabric for those past ten years, learning and honing my skills.  Alas, as much as I love it, as much as it excites me, I've only done it in spurts with too much forgetting time in between.  Two years has gone by since my last venture. (You can see the two shirts I dyed/printed here and here.)  It's actually not all that difficult, but as with any unfamiliar activity that involves both some know-how and preparation, there's always a good bit of the approach-avoidance syndrome involved, at least there is with me.  But I finally got around to it, and here is the first result.

In the sweltering Texas summer, I do wear tank tops around the house, and Dharma's sturdy, non-clingy cotton jersey is perfect. For the pattern I traced a store-bought tank:  two pieces – what could be simpler?  Dharma sells all sorts of clothing blanks, but I'd rather make my own because it's easier to work on a flat piece of fabric than a garment in the round.  I'm planning on making several of these to try out various techniques and processes, and I like that I'm making something I can actually use rather than just experimenting on a piece of fabric.

When I first became interested in dyeing, the most useful/practical book I acquired was Erin Nobel's Dyes and Paints which is an excellent "Hands-On Guide to Coloring Fabric" as it is subtitled. However, the book that really liberated me is Ann Johnston's Color By Design. She sets out so clearly and simply everything you must know and do in order to...just do it! First there are assorted chemicals that you need to have and mix up, not really all that daunting. Then you mix up the dye concentrates, using Procion MX Fiber Reactive dyes, and after that you can create colors by mixing them visually just as you would paint.

The chemicals
The colors

In her book, Johnston points you to single-chemical colors: basic yellows, reds and blues, plus a few others, as your color arsenal, rather than the tempting array of available pre-mixed colors. And while dyes are a bit more complicated than fabric paints, these bond chemically to the fabric, without altering its hand. They are mixed up with warm tap water, are relatively non-toxic, and can be used on all natural fibers. In the Color By Design method, the fabric is soda-soaked prior to dye application and is "cured" by letting it sit for several hours while the chemical bond is formed. All this is probably much more than you want to know, but if you are intrigued or just curious, there is info galore on the Dharma website, about all types of dyes, fabric paints, tools for creating surface design, as well as fabrics, yarn and clothing.   As you can tell, I love Dharma with its amusing hippie vibe.

On this project my first step was to brush a color wash on the wet fabric, with the intention of having mauve at the top segue into violet at the bottom.  What actually happened was that I more or less blended them together over the entire piece.  (Before I began I marked my two pattern pieces on the fabric wtih stitching which would be easy to see and durable during the entire process.)  Because my dye powders are older than recommended, I didn't know how much they might wash out.  This photo shows them still wet.

After the base color had dried, I stenciled with print paste (made in the chemical preparation phase) mixed with the dye concentrates.  Only a small amount is needed to color the print paste; I wanted a blue-violet, a red-violet and a plummy shade in between the two, easy to test by just dabbing some on a paper towel.  The stencils are adapted from one of my favorite Dover books: 235 Decorative Designs of the Twenties by Henri Gillet. It's no longer in print but is available on Amazon. Once again I had no idea of how dark the designs would be when it was washed.

After the stenciling had dried, I sponged on dye mixed with more print paste to give lighter shades.  As you can see, it looks very dark when freshly applied and very wet.


Finally, here is the fabric washed and ready to sew.  It has lightened considerably and I've lost a lot of the blue, things I need to take into consideration when I start my next top. Which I'm hoping to do in a just a couple of days!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A World of Creativity

Since I'm of a generation that was past grown-up when the Web came along, I am constantly in awe of all that it puts at our fingertips.  Just a few taps and we can access, examine and marvel at the creations of people all over the globe.  Christopher Jobson does the searching for us and displays his amazing discoveries on Colossal, an "art and visual ingenuity" blog.  In the About section, he states, "During the course of a week you’ll find roughly 15-20 posts on photography, design, animation, painting, installation art, architecture, drawing and street art. I share things that I feel are accessible to everyone, requiring little explanation or theory, so in that sense, I hope people not involved directly in the arts can also find it interesting."  And I don't see how you could help but find it so.  Here are just a few of the posts that caught my eye.


I could go on and on, but why don't you just click a link and see for yourself.