Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fray Me, Baby!

I've been obsessed all week with these fabrics, which I showed you in one of my last posts.

Something about the moody, almost bruised color palette stuck in my mind along with the weirdly opposing vibrancy of the hand-dyed fabrics, and just wouldn't let go. It asked to become an art piece.

Both the base fabric (in teal green) and mostly-purple piece (at the top of the photo) are hand dyed cotton fat quarters from my latest gradation.

The largest accent fabric was done on a lightweight, hand-dyed, pale green cotton that started its life as a bed sheet. I splattered and squirted multiple colors of alcohol inks onto it, let it dry and then ironed it nearly to death. To emphasize the somewhat circular pattern, I dripped clean isopropyl alcohol onto it from an eye dropper. If you've ever worked with alcohol inks on paper or other surfaces, you know that this will "push" the other pigments away and form variously sized dots with somewhat hard (visual) edges. Later, I would use these dots as guidelines for free-motion quilting a rock pattern.

I used two other accent fabrics. One is the back of a piece of painted and stamped duck cloth (the back turned out to be more interesting than the front), and the other, a piece of artist's canvas, was painted, stamped and dyed (really, I threw the kitchen sink at that one; I'm amazed it didn't just dissolve in protest).

I've developed an interesting little technique. When I work with paper, I know that I can tear it in many ways to achieve an almost endless variety of effects. Cotton fabric is, of course, stubbornly different in that way- you have a warp, you have a weft and you are obliged to work within that structure. If you tear the fabric, you can't achieve a "deckled" edge in the shape of your choosing; you get a straight edge with fraying.

I've found, however, that if I cut a piece of fabric- well, really the term I'm looking for here is hack- if I "hack" at a piece of fabric with either my straight-edged scissors or my pinking sheers and then launder the fabric as usual, I can control my beloved thread schmutz to a much greater degree and get a variety of organic shapes.

I used this technique to create several "distressed" strips of each of my fabrics, which will become focal points in the final piece.

When I do any kind of collage work, throughout the process, I snap photos of designs I particularly like. I tweak the design over hours or days (sometimes months, truthfully) and then before I begin final assembly, I take a few more photos- what I call "down-and-dirty shots". I don't care about color correction, angles or lighting for these shots, I just want a record of my final design decisions.


So enough about the individual components. Onto the construction!

My focus over the years in my painted work was always to bring the strict structure of hard, simple lines and geometric shapes together to work in harmony with more distressed, aged and chaotic themes. It seems only natural that my textile work now follows that same progression.

In this piece, I used the intentionally tattered remnants of my chosen fabrics to emphasize my desire to produce order from chaos. They lay in a tangle against tightly-stitched, meticulously pieced background work, reminding me that without a little wildness, structure quickly becomes stricture. I used a few raw-edged appliques, as well, and haven't fussed too much over them wanting to get in on the fraying action, too.

One more thing to tell you about before I show you the final piece (and then ask for an opinion). I am exploring new ways to finish a quilt top. I hate binding a quilt, and it reminds me too intimately of being boxed in, something I've fought against for a very long time. For this piece, I constructed the whole thing on a large piece of un-primed artists' canvas. I sort of had a vague idea when I started that I could, when all the decorative stitching was done, sew it to another piece of the canvas and then do a pillowcase turn on it. Maybe even paint the back with matching acrylic paints.

At first, the whole thing was very stiff and unyielding, but as the canvas stretched and was worked into, it began to soften, fray and generally loosen up. Before I was finished with my quilting of the piece, I was already considering not doing anything more to the piece to bind it. The layers of fabric combined with the heavy thread work has made the sides too inflexible to fold them back and get a nice flat final seam.

Now I am thinking about leaving the piece as it is, without any kind of binding. After all, what is finishing and trim for? To cover all the raw, messy edges. I've spent my life trying to cover my raw, messy edges and I've finally realized that it's the frayed parts of me, the parts worn down with hardships and laughter and years, that are my contrast and texture.

So I ask the quilting experts, and beginners- would you finish this piece or leave it raw with all of its work exposed?

This is the piece, sewn to its canvas backing material, with all its thread schmutz flying.

And this is essentially what it would look like if I cropped it down and trimmed it out.


Mom says I'm over-thinking all of it. What do you think?

Next week is Thanksgiving here in the states... have a wonderful holiday, those of you who celebrate! And as always, happy creating!

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