Sunday, May 2, 2010

adventures in fabric-making

To frame the photographs I will use in my piece on homelessness, I wanted to create a fabric that would work with the elements in those photos. As I have written, I printed the photos in sepia tones to represent the dirt or earth that is the home of those without a structure of their own, so I felt that the fabric should as well be that hue.

Two aspects of the photos have resonated with me. In the hand photo, the weathered wood of the bench is echoed in the furrowed lines in Thomas' hand. I thought that this could be captured by a particular surface design technique that produces minute cracks in the texture of the fabric.

To get this effect, a flour paste is applied to cloth. The dried paste is full of cracks, and any paint or dye applied to the cloth seeps into those cracks. The flour acts as a resist.

As well, one can draw in the flour paste, and with any luck, the designs will also take the paint or dye. I used three bamboo skewers, held in unison, making very staccato marks, rough, hoping to achieve a coarse disheveled look, if fabric can look that way.

You see a chain in this photo as well. In the photo of Thomas sitting at the bench, at his foot is a chain, leading to the bench. This chain is not, of course, attached to the homeless man, but the imagery in the photo was startling when I first spied it, as I have written before.

A very nice employee at Lowe's cut 5 one foot lengths of chain for me, and I laid these out on the fabric before I applied the flour paste. Here is the set up before I let it cure for 24 hours.

...and here it was today after a nice day in the California sun...

Next I had to prepare a dye paste. I had soaked my prepared-for-dyeing fabric in soda ash so it would accept the dye. I needed urea and sodium alginate for my thickened dye mix, so I hightailed it to my fave quilt store, Quilters' Studio, and it turned out that this was my day!

Eileen, the owner, had taught a dyeing class yesterday, and she not only gave me gave me all the dye I needed to mix up my dirt-brown color, she gave me the thickener I needed for the particular process I was using. Here's what she sent me home with!

So I mixed up my color and painted up my dye:

...and covered in plastic to let it batch for 24 hours...

I am pleased with how the "marks" look. I am not sure whether the chain motif will come through -- I may have been a bit heavy-handed with the dye, getting it into too many nooks and crannies and destroying the image. I won't know till late tomorrow.

Right now, the fabric certainly looks like the dirt around it. Let's hope this holds. As ever, stay tuned...

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