Friday, January 13, 2012

Art Cloth in the Making

Art cloth is all about layering. Any given piece of cloth has 10-20 layers of dyeing, printing, color removal, stitching, applique, etcI love the richness that layering lends to the cloth.  Each layer may not be apparent to viewers, yet they all work together to create depth and texture.  I like to think of it as similar to a symphony.  One may not hear each individual instrument, yet each instrument contributes to the composition.  Likewise, each layer of dye, resist, paint and stitch complete the cloth. Leave out one layer and it just wouldn't be the same.

The following narrative walks through the steps I used to transform a piece of white cotton into art cloth. (Action photos are courtesy of Lynn Luukinen and were taken during a demonstration I gave at the Hill Country Arts Foundation. Please excuse the blurs on some of the photos - I moved too much for Lynn to get a clear shot!) Below is a photo of the finished cloth.

Photo of finished cloth

I use a lot of resists in my work, and they are often the very first step.  I like to begin by creating background texture.  There are lots of options for this - most of the paste resists work well (flour, oats, grits, potato dextrin, mashed potatoes).  I chose flour paste for this cloth. I mixed equal parts of flour and water (this version used bread flour since that was all I had on hand) and spread it over the entire cloth, then let it dry.  Once the flour was  dry, I scrunched the fabric to crack the paste, then applied dye thickened with sodium alginate.

Painting over the flour paste with thickened dye

The finished first layer

Before adding background color, I created a layer of my chosen image - a stylized leaf.  I applied the image using a hand-cut stencil with red and yellow-orange thickened dye. 

Adding a stenciled image with thickened dye

The completed second layer

Before adding background color, I reserved some of the white space with another resist.  I didn't want a stark white, so I chose Elmer's Gel Glue.  It is a water-soluble resist that leaves a soft, ghost-like image.

Screen printing with Elmer's gel glue resist
The next step was to add the background color.  I  chose to apply olive green, blue green and golden brown thickened dyes with a scraper (aka an old credit card). 

Adding background color with a scraper and thickened dyes

The finished fourth layer - note the "drip" pattern created by the glue resist

The piece needed more value contrast, so the next step was to remove color with diluted bleach. I wanted to add texture rather than creating an additional image, so I flicked the bleach on with a brush to create spots.

After completion of the fifth layer
At this point it was time to put away the dyes and add a few additional touches with textile paint.  I started by adding more of the leaf imagery in an opaque yellow orange.

Adding more leaf imagery with textile paint - layer six

Then I added more value contrast by stippling on dark brown paint with a stencil brush.

Stippling on brown paint - layer seven
At this point, it needed a little something to brighten it up, so I used copper metallic paint. I wanted just a hint of gleam, so I rubbed it on lightly with my finger.

Applying copper paint with a finger - layer eight
Knowing when to stop is always the difficult part. At this point, I felt I was finished with paint and moved on to the final details. I added some hand-dyed fibers with needle felting and a touch of copper leaf.

Needle felting with hand-dyed fibers - layer nine

Applying metal leaf with acrylic medium - layer ten

Isn't the transformation exciting?


LindaD said...

Great post, Lisa. It brings alive the process we use in our art and will help visitors to the site understand what we do. And your fabric is lovely. If your fabric was silk, it would make a beautiful blouse, soft and drapy to wear.

Frieda said...

Great demonstration. Thanks for sharing.

Linda Stokes said...

Beautiful fabric and great to be able to follow your process. Thanks.