You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘fiber art’ category.

When I heard that Boston was going to get 2-3 feet of snow earlier this week, I decided to make lemonade from lemons by snow dyeing fabric, using some of that snow. The day before the storm, I prepared 9 colors of dye concentrate. I also scoured some fabric so it would be ready for snow dyeing.

The following tutorial goes through all the steps involved in snow dyeing, with illustrations of many of these steps.

1. Scour (wash) the fabric to remove any dirt or finishes. Do this in the washing machine. For 8 yards of fabric, I used 3 tablespoons of soda ash and a teaspoon of Synthrapol. I washed the fabric using a hot cycle. At the end of the cycle, I still had some suds in my fabric, perhaps because I used too much Synthrapol, so I did a second short, hot wash. I then hung the fabric over the shower rod to dry. (The fabric I used was Testfabrics 419, a closely woven cotton fabric.) You can use any plant-based fabric for the snow dyeing process.

2. Using Procion MX dyes, mix up 5% dye concentrates, wearing a face mask whenever you are working with dye powder. For each color, I added 10 grams of dye powder (about 2 teaspoons), plus 1/2 tablespoon granular urea, to 200 ml. of water (a little less than 1 cup). I mixed the concentrates in bottles with tight caps by shaking them thoroughly. If the dye powder didn’t fully dissolve after being well shaken, I stirred the dye concentrate with a chopstick to dissolve the last particles. The colors I chose for this dyeing session were black, dark brown, rust, gunmetal gray, scarlet, mixing red, lemon yellow, golden yellow, bright blue and navy. Several of these dyes were several years old, but I didn’t care if the colors were exact since I would be doing a lot of mixing of colors. The black, brown, gray and rust are all colors mixed by the dye house from different pure colors, so this meant that I would be likely to get a lot of color splits and new colors as the dyes migrated to the fabric at different speeds. To the extent possible, I put my dyes in squeeze bottles when applying them to fabric since it is much easier to apply a controlled amount of dye using a squeeze bottle than by pouring it from a wide-mouthed bottle.



3. Soak the fabric in soda ash soak for 30 minutes. Soda ash soak is made by adding 9 tablespoons of soda ash to 1 gallon of warm water. Wear a face mask when measuring the soda ash. Shake thoroughly to dissolve the soda ash. After 30 minutes, wring out the excess soda ash into the soaking basin and return to the soda ash soak bottle. The fabric can be soda soaked ahead of time and dried over the shower rack (not in the dryer) or soaked right before dyeing. I elected to soak the fabric right before dyeing because I wanted to use it wet.


Fabric Soaking in Soda Ash Solution


4. While the fabric is soaking, prepare the dye vessels. I used dishpans with various racks to keep the fabric out of the dye. (Any pans or racks that are used to dye fabric cannot be returned to the kitchen.) Since I didn’t have enough racks, in one instance, I used a piece of old fiberglass screening which I attached to the sides of the dishpan with some small clamps. This was suspended above the bottom of the dishpan. I also decided to snow dye a shibori piece, so I wound the fabric around a pole and compressed it. I dyed this in a bucket. I had no idea how this would come out, but it was worth a try.


Various Containers with Racks and Makeshift Screen. There is also a pole for shibori snow dyeing.


5. Manipulate the fabric. I experimented with various manipulations, including crumpling into small folds, knotting, crumbling and twisting, folding lengthwise into loose pleats, and wrapping fabric around a pole.

6. Place the manipulated fabric on top of the rack or screen in each of the dishpans. You can dye more than one piece of fabric in a single dyeing container if you want.


Fabric is Loosely Folded, Knotted and Twisted



Fabric is Scrumpled Up, Coiled and Crammed onto Rack


7. Fill the containers with snow. The snow from this storm was very light and fluffy, which was good since, when doing previous snow dyed experiments, I discovered that light and fluffy snow gave better patterning than wet or icy snow.


Manipulated Fabric Covered with Snow


8. Squirt dye over the fabric and snow, using several colors of dye. If you’re lucky, the dyes will mix and form lots of secondary colors. This is especially likely is you work with mixed colors instead of pure colors, but both sets of colors will yield interesting results. You can also combine several pure colors ahead of time and use that mixed color as one of your dyes. Experiment with different patterns of pouring the dye over the snow.



Dye Poured Over Snow. Several Colors Were Used



Dye Poured Over Snow


9. Leave the dye containers in a cold place to allow the snow to melt slowly. I left mine on an enclosed, but unheated, back porch for 5 and a half hours. Since the temperature was going to drop significantly, I brought the dishpans into the house before going to bed since I was afraid the snow wouldn’t melt at all if I left the containers on the porch. Leave the containers for a total of 24 hours. The snow will continue to melt and form patterns as it does. Because you are dyeing at a very cold temperature, it will take much longer than normal for the dye molecules to bond to the fabric receptor sites. A 24-hour waiting period will enhance the amount of bonding that takes place.


Dye Changing Appearance as it Melts



Snow Melting and Dye Seeping into Fabric


10. When I brought the dishpans inside, I peeked at my fabric and noticed that there were a lot of places where the dye hadn’t penetrated. So I massaged some of the melting snow/dye mixture into the white parts of the fabric to encourage more dye pick up. I didn’t know how well this would work but it seemed worth a try. In previous snow dyeing sessions, I didn’t have to do this, so I wondered whether I had used too little dye. (In retrospect, when washing out my dye, I saw that I had indeed used plenty of dye. It took quite a few cold water soaks to get out the excess dye that had not bonded to the fabric.)

11. The most exciting part of this process is washing out the fabric and seeing what happened to it. I forced myself to wait 24 hours before doing the washout for the reasons just stated. After the waiting period is up, untie/or open up the fabrics and rinse in a bucket of cold water. Change the water several times to get out all the soda ash and much of the excess dye. For this batch of fabrics, I seemed to have a lot of excess dye despite not having been sure that I had used enough. I used several changes of cold water before the water seemed somewhat clear. I also kept the colors separate at this stage by using several washout buckets rather than soaking all the fabrics together in a single bucket. This is especially important if some of your fabrics are light colored. Keeping the fabrics separate prevents back staining in the light portions of the fabric.

12. After you’re satisfied that you’ve gotten out all the soda ash and much of the excess dye, soak the fabric in hot water with a little Synthrapol or Blue Dawn. Because I have a front loading washer, I always add boiling water to my hot water soaking buckets to get the final hot water temperature above 140 degrees. Let the fabric sit in the buckets for 30 minutes or so. This stops all the dyeing action and allows the unbonded dye particles to move into the water.

13. Dump the fabric and the soapy water into the washer and wash on the hottest cycle without adding additional soap. In this instance, because I still had some excess dye in the fabric, I washed the fabric for more than 50 minutes. I washed all the fabric together because most of the excess, unbonded dye had been poured away from the fabric, and back staining was unlikely.

14. Take the fabric out of the washer, admire it, and then dry it. It generally takes 15 minutes on medium heat to dry the fabric I use. Admire your fabrics some more once they are dried. Iron the fabrics to bring out the patterning which is harder to see when the fabrics are crumpled.

Below are my finished fabrics. The first two were dyed together, and they are variants of the same colors. (The actual colors are somewhat deeper and less pink than shown in the photos.)

The third photo shows the piece I wrapped around a pole and compressed. I did not use string on this piece, so the resisted lines are more subtle than when string is used.

The turquoise piece and the first red piece seemed boring to me, so I decided to over dye these. I resoaked the fabrics in soda ash soak, manipulated them again, put snow over the top and added additional colors of dye that I thought would work well with the original colors. These are still batching as I am writing this post.

The final piece is my favorite because of the complexity of the colors and the patterns obtained. In this  piece, I knotted the fabric loosely in several sections and, in others, tied off sections with rubber bands.

Whatever the end results, snow dyeing is fun and always unpredictable. I’ve found that snow dyed fabrics don’t play well with other dyed fabrics, unless used in small pieces, so I tend to use my snow dyed fabrics for whole-cloth quilts or for backings.









The question of why galleries and museums tend not to show fiber art–with the exception of exhibits that focus on fashion (such as the Iris Apfel exhibition, Rare Bird of Fashion, at the Peabody Museum of Art in 2010 or the Elsa Schiaperelli and Miuccia Prada’s Impossible Conversations exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2012)–has long puzzled me.

Several of the small museums in my area hold annual juried shows featuring local artists. It is rare to see a piece of textile art in those exhibitions, unless the art is a picture of a textile or a real textile hidden under glass, which of course obscures the very qualities that make textiles different from other media.

I am especially perplexed by this tendency when I see some of the amazing fiber art that is being created today. The Fiberarts International exhibit, at the Textile History Museum in Lowell, and the Game Changers: Fiber Art Masters and Innovators exhibit, at the Fuller Craft Museum, both show the scope and breadth of the contemporary fiber art scene.

Given that I have long pondered this question, I was very interested to see a blog post today written by Mirka Knaster, a textile artist and writer. Knaster’s post, entitled Artists and Textiles, explores the ways many famous artists have either depicted textiles in their work or created art that incorporates textiles in some way.

Mirka asks the same question I do–“Why the exclusion?”–and then speculates on some possible answers: “Objects constructed with fiber–through knotting, quilting, sewing, crocheting, knitting, weaving, etc.–are most often associated with domestic activity by women. Even when the items are prized, lower status is accorded to traditionally female work. There is also the division that arose (I don’t know in which century) between ‘fine arts’ and ‘applied arts.’ I have yet to understand why this distinction exists.”

She then goes on to cite the long list of artists who engaged with textiles in some way in their work. Among these were Henri Matisse, Raoul Dufy, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall, Lucian Freud, Pablo Picasso, Barbara Hepworth, Sonia Delaunay, Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and quite a few others.

A number of images of the textile work of some of these artists are included in Mirka’s post. Here are a couple of examples:


“Spring Rain” (1949), by Salvador Dali. Photo: Steve Tanner. Source:


Henry Moore

“Family Group,” textile square designed by Henry Moore (1944). Source:
























Mirka ends her post by pointing to a recent exhibit held in London and the Netherlands: ARTIST TEXTILES Picasso to Warhol at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London (31 January–18 May 2014) and at the TextielMuseum in Tilburg, the Netherlands (14 June-14 September 2014).

While it is heartening to know that some famous artists of the past did not eschew, and even appreciated, the textile form, their interest–and the interest of museums who show their work–does not compensate for the lack of representation of fiber art in the contemporary gallery and museum scenes. Organizations such as the Surface Design Association and Studio Art Quilts Associates have made it part of their mission to educate the public and members of the art education communities about contemporary fiber. Let’s hope they succeed!

I have just returned from a 5-day workshop on deconstructed screen printing, at PROChemical & Dye, taught by fiber artist, Kerr Grabowski. Deconstructed screen printing is a technique I had experimented with on my own, not as successfully as I liked, so I decided to take this workshop from the woman who coined the term. The workshop was quite intense and full of exciting material. During the first couple of days, we learned a number of basic techniques but also had a chance to experiment with each. As the week progressed, we spent more time doing our own work, choosing the processes of most interest to each of us.

One thing I particularly liked about this workshop was the concentration and talent of the participants. Several attendees were serious studio artists, and most of those who weren’t aspired to becoming so as their lives allowed. Many people were fearless in their experiments, and there was a sharing and generosity that I have not always seen in other workshops.

In its most simplified form, deconstructed screen printing (DSP) involves preparing a screen with thickened Procion dye, letting the screen dry, and then removing the dye by printing it off with a clear (or colored) version of the same print paste that is used to thicken the dye. Often, before adding dye to the screen, textured objects are placed under the screen so that when the thickened dye is pulled across the screen, it will retain impressions of the objects used to texture it.

Whatever the technique used to change the screen from a plain screen to one with imagery, with each successive printing of the screen, more of the dried dye on the screen is dissolved. This means that all the prints are related, but each has its own distinctive look.


The Two Prints on the Left Resulted from Successive Printings of the Same Screen. These are Kerr’s prints


But making prints using textured objects is only the beginning. It is also possible to draw on the screen with wax which then serves as a resist when the screen is printed. Wax can also be painted on the screen in selected areas, giving a different look. In the next photo, Kerr is demonstrating the application of wax to a screen using a Javanese tool called a tjanting (or canting) that is traditionally used for batik.


Applying Wax with a Tjanting


Another technique taught in the workshop involved drawing on the screen with thickened dye using either a squeeze bottle or a syringe. The drawing was then dried and the screen was printed off. Each successive printing gave a different look to the lines that had been drawn on the screen.


Kerr Drawing on a Screen with Thickened Dye Contained in a Squeeze Bottle



Two Screens with Drawings That Are Being Dried Outside


These techniques are only a sample of the various ways this process can be used. One of the most interesting parts of the workshop was seeing how class participants interpreted deconstructed screen printing. Almost from the beginning, each participant’s work was different, carrying with it the stamp of the maker.

Most people worked on fabric, but one person, a paper and collage artist, used only paper. Her pieces were amazing, and a sample is shown below.


Prints on Paper with Multiple Layers


Below are some other examples of student work. The variations in imagery, color, and technique are all very evident.



































For anyone seriously interested in DSP, I would highly recommend taking a workshop from Kerr. She teaches throughout the United States at various art center venues and also teaches abroad on occasion.




Last weekend, I went to two very different fiber exhibits in Lowell, MA, an historic city that was once the home of many textile mills during the Industrial Revolution.

Lowell is a fascinating city, and it has done a good job of preserving its textile heritage. Both the Lowell National Historical Park and the American Textile History Museum have wonderful ongoing exhibits about the history of textiles in Lowell as well as about other industries that flourished at the heyday of manufacturing in the area. The city has done a good job of reusing many of its old textile factories, converting them into residences and mixed use spaces. It is also home to a number of galleries–including The Brush Art Gallery and Studios and the Whistler House Museum of Art, housed in the birthplace of James McNeill Whistler–that show rotating exhibits of visual art, including fiber art.

People from many different cultural backgrounds, including a large Cambodian population, now reside in Lowell. The city’s many wonderful restaurants and festivals reflect the origins of its population.

Every summer, the Whistler House Museum holds a juried art quilt exhibition focusing on a specific theme. This year’s theme was How Does Your Garden Grow? The exhibit is on view through September 20th. Below are the three winning pieces in the exhibit.

ARebele_Southern Living

Ann Rebele – Southern Living

busby-echinoderm full

Betty Busby – Echinoderm

Sue ColozziColeus Up Close

Sue Colozzi – Coleus Up Close


Down the street from the Whistler, the American Textile History Museum is showing a very different kind of fiber exhibition: Fiberart International 2013. Sponsored by the Pittsburgh Fiber Arts Guild and originally shown in Pittsburgh, this triennial exhibition features cutting edge fiber work by artists throughout the world. It is on view at the Textile History Museum through October 26th.

Below are some images from that exhibit.


Cynthia Lockhart


Sandra Jane Heard


Anne Goebel


Josefina Concha

Perhaps because I viewed both exhibits in close juxtaposition, I was struck by my different reactions to each of them. While I liked a few pieces in the Whistler show, overall I did not find it to my taste. It was a very representational show, and I already know that I personally prefer more abstract art. It also felt more like a traditional quilt show than a fiber show, which is not a surprise since the Whistler summer shows always focus on quilt art. While many of the pieces in the Whistler show were well done, both visually and technically, few felt innovative or were striking to me in any way.

The Fiberart International show had a completely different flavor. First, it contained many interpretations of the word “fiber,” and the participating artists used fiber in a surprising variety of ways. Second, many of the pieces in the exhibit pushed conventional boundaries. They used innovative materials, such as the plant material found in Anne Goebel’s piece. They were also innovative in their use of dimensionality, often bulging from the wall, hung around a corner, or stiffened to stand on their own. Most of the pieces in this exhibit were also quite large, asserting themselves through their sheer size. Another commonality was the use of a neutral palette. It was fascinating to see how much could be expressed using shades of white, gray, black and brown. Not every piece in the exhibit was successful, in my view. Some of the more conceptual pieces felt very cerebral and had little visual content.

My husband, however, had a completely opposite reaction to the two shows than I did. He loved the Whistler show and was intrigued by the colors of the work and the many ways in which participating artists interpreted the garden theme. He found the Fiberart International show boring, perhaps because of the subdued color palette used in many of the pieces. When we talked about a few of the pieces in the Fiberart show, and I explained some of the techniques that were used in the work, he became more intrigued, but this was on a different level from the pure visual.

For the past week, I have been thinking about these two exhibitions and pondering the question of how we arrive at our tastes and preference. Why do I prefer abstract art to representational art? Is it because I can read into the work whatever I wish or interpret it to mirror my own emotions? Why do I like art that uses a neutral palette, yet so often use intense colors in my own work? What gives a particular piece of  art gravitas, distinguishing it from its many neighbors? What is the role of beauty in art, and why does beauty seem absent from so many contemporary exhibitions? I have no answers to these questions but am enjoying the process of thinking about them. I welcome readers’ comments on these questions.

Because I dye all the fabric I use in my work, I often have limited quantities of fabric to use when making a piece. Once I cut my fabric, it’s cut, and I can’t go backwards. But I have found a way to visually cut my fabric before cutting it for real by using some of the tools in Photoshop.

This process has limitations and can only give me an approximation of what the final piece will look like, but it’s enough to help me make decisions before putting scissors to cloth.

The rest of this (long) post explains the process of Using Photoshop to manipulate fabric, and it contains illustrations of each step. Click on each photograph to see it in a bigger size.

Here is a photograph of the original piece of fabric opened in Photoshop.

Uncut Fabric
In my sample, because the fabric in the original photograph is on an angle and hard to work with that way, I am going to crop the photo to cut off the edges and give a neater rectangle. My fabric has a label pinned onto it, but I will ignore that since it is hard to remove that in Photoshop and it doesn’t really impact the visual changes I want to see.

To crop the piece, select the Crop tool from the tool bar and drag a rectangle around the area you want to keep. The next photo shows the highlighted crop area which is outlined with a white rectangle. Once you’re satisfied with the Crop area, click on the check mark at the top of the page to complete the cropping.

(In general, it’s best to start with a photo that doesn’t require cropping, since cropping the photo at this stage of the process means that you can’t move pieces lower in the Photoshop pasteboard. But if you have to crop, the above instructions explain how to do so.)

Crop Area
At this point, there is only one layer in Photoshop. (If you don’t see the Layers box in Photoshop, go to Window (at the top of the application) and make sure that there is a check mark next to the word Layers.)

Because this layer is the Background layer, Photoshop doesn’t allow you to manipulate it. Therefore, the next step is to make a copy of the original layer in order to be able to work with it. To do this, right click on the background layer and choose Duplicate Layer. This will give you two layers, the original one and a copy of the original layer called Background Copy. You will now be able to work with the duplicated layer.

Duplicating Background
The next photograph shows that the two layers: the background layer and the background copy. The background copy is highlighted in preparation for the next step. (In Photoshop, if you want to do anything with a layer, you must highlight it first. You do so by clicking that layer with your mouse.)

Piece with Two Layers
You now have to decide which area of the piece of fabric you’d like to “cut”. (You’ll only be cutting it virtually, not in reality.) Use one of the selection tools to highlight the area you want to work with. In this case, I’m using the Rectangular Marquee tool. Make sure that you have highlighted the Background Copy layer before you make your selection. Otherwise you’ll get a message saying that the selection is empty.

Cut Piece Selected
After selecting the part of the fabric you want to “cut”, you need to save it to a new layer so that you can work with it later. To do this, hold down the Command key (Mac) or Control key (PC) plus the letter J. Doing so will save the selection into a new layer. You can rename the layer to give it a meaningful name or just keep the default name, here, Layer 1. In the thumbnail in the Layers panel, you can see a small image of the “cut” piece in the layer you’ve just created.

Layer 1
To move the new “cut” layer to a different location, highlight Layer 1 and use the Move tool to move it to a new location.
Layer 1 Moved
You may then want to select a second piece, “cut” and move it. The next photo shows the second piece to be “cut”. As before, select the Background Copy layer and use the Rectangular Marquee tool to select the area to virtually cut.
Second Cut Highlighted
Then, use Command and J (Mac) or Control and J (PC) to save the second “cut” piece to a new layer.
Layer 2 Saved
The next step is to move the second piece to a new location. To do this, highlight the layer (here Layer 2) and use the Move tool to move it elsewhere in the piece.
Layer 2 Moved
At this point, you may want to see what Layer 2 would look like if is was rotated it. To do this, highlight Layer 2 and then use the Rectangular Marquee tool to select the piece you want to rotate.
Layer 2 New Location Highlighted
While it is selected, use the Edit menu at the top of Photoshop. Choose Edit, Transform, Rotate 180 degrees to turn the piece upside down. (You can rotate the piece by any amount and then manipulate it further, but for this example, I’m rotating it 180 degrees.) The rotated piece is shown in the next photo.
Second Piece Upside Down
Once the selected piece has been rotated, use Command D (Mac) or control D (PC) to deselect it.
Now, since you’ve virtually cut off and made adjustments to the right hand section of the original piece, you need to get rid of it in your image since you can’t have it in two places at once. One way of doing this is by using the Crop tool. Highlight the Background Copy layer, and using the Crop tool, drag a rectangle around the left hand side of the piece, omitting the part of the original piece that you have just manipulated in Photoshop.
Altered piece selected for cropping
When you are satisfied with the crop area, click on the check mark at the top of the Photoshop screen. The final cropped piece will look like the photograph below.
Final Cropped Piece
You can continue to “cut” and further edit the piece using variants of the above steps.

In this morning’s email, there was an unexpected treat, the second issue of Through Our Hands, a free online magazine focusing on fiber art in Europe, edited by Annabel Rainbow, Laura Kemshall, Linda Kemshall, three fiber artists living in the UK. The entire issue may be read by following this link: Direct Link to Magazine.

Through Our Hands Issue 2












More information about the magazine is  available on its website.

Those who are interested in fiber art and follow its trends know that a great deal of innovative fiber work is being done in Europe. While this is also true in the U.S., the flavor of the art in the two continents is somewhat different. Many European artists combine paper and fabric in their work, or they use subtle sculptural techniques to give a 3D feel. Some UK artists, perhaps influenced by the strong embroidery traditions of fiber art in the UK, heavily stitch their pieces, both by hand and machine.

Many artists are featured in this edition of Through Our Hands including Alicia Merrett, Sandra Meech, Eszter Bornemisza, Mirjam Pet-Jacobs, Bente Vold Klausen, and Fiona Campbell, among others. The magazine shows examples of their work, contains several articles on artists’ processes, and also discusses some of the interesting materials that are being experimented with by fiber artists. Several articles focus on sources of inspiration and new directions.

Spend a few minutes with this new entry in the field of fiber art; it will be time well spent. There is much to ponder here, and much to be inspired by.