image from Asian Art Museum exhibition

image from Asian Art Museum exhibition

This is a little bonus post for my tutorial series on creating a faux batik.  I know that it is hard sometimes to know where to start a design.  It’s the dreaded blank page syndrome!  If you don’t have a favorite faux batik bag like mine for inspiration, you might need a little help coming up with design ideas.  These are a few places you might look for inspiration:

Ta Ta Indian Stamps at Etsy.  She has a great collection of beautiful wooden stamps for sale.  Plenty of eye candy here!

e-Quilter Fabric store has a huge selection of batik fabrics.  We used to live really close to them when we lived in Boulder but I didn’t know it at the time!

Batik Exhibition from the Asian Art Museum.  Some lovely examples, especially of patterns filling a space.

This is the second post in a series: a digital fabric design tutorial making a faux batik print.  Yesterday I painted some batik-inspired designs on paper and today I am going to show how to scan and clean up the designs.
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Part Two:  Scanning and preparing your paintings

This (above) is the program I use with my scanner.  It’s called Image Capture and is built in to the Mac.  You can use whatever scanner software you have – they are really pretty much the same.  I scanned each page of my paintings.  I chose to scan them as black and white at 200 dpi.  (This scanner software has a drop down menu with defaults set, so I couldn’t scan to 150 dpi exactly as I mentioned in the previous post.)  I scanned the whole page and then saved it.

Next I opened up the scanned painting in Photoshop to do a little touchup.  I am going to adjust the Levels in my design, which basically makes the blacks blacker and the whites whiter.  It will help smooth out anywhere where the paint was uneven or lighter and get rid of a few smudges on the paper.  In Photoshop I choose the Image menu, then Adjustments, then Levels.  You don’t have to do this in Photoshop.  There are a number of really great (and somewhat more affordable) graphics programs out there that have tools that do the same things.  The tools are sometimes labeled slightly differently, but if you are willing to experiment, you can usually find a tool to do what you need.  (Photoshop is 100% worth the price, but I get that not everyone can make that work for them.)

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 4.58.38 PMHere’s a side-by-side comparison before and after I adjusted Levels.  You can see in the tool box that I dragged the triangle sliders under Input Levels from the outside edges towards the middle until it looked right and then clicked OK. Here’s the simple techie explanation for what’s going on.  Look at the Levels tool box. The left side of the controls (black arrow) adjusts the blacks and the right side (white arrow) adjusts the whites.  All of the colors in the image fall somewhere between black and white and that’s what the spiky mountains in the diagram are showing you.  There is a lump of blacks – they are spread out because there are a lot of variations in black in our painting.  There is tall spike of all the whites, which are all very similar.  When I drag the arrows, I tell Photoshop that anything to the outside of those arrows should be all the same.  In otherwords, I tell Photoshop to make all of the blacks to the outside of the black arrow just be pure black.  That gets rid of any cloudy/grey/faded parts of the design and makes it pure black and white.  Now that you know what the tool is doing, don’t be afraid to slide the arrows around and see what happens.



I wanted to work with just one element at a time instead of the whole page, so I cut out one of the elements using the Lasso Tool to draw a loop around it and select it.  Then I used Cut & Paste to paste it into a new blank document.  I saved that rosette as a .jpg all by itself.  I repeated the select, cut and paste steps for all of the design bits on this page and saved them all in a folder together.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 5.00.56 PMIn the next post, I will show you how to convert these designs to vector shapes, but I wanted to talk a little first about why I am going to do that.  Just adjusting levels is enough to make these look pretty great and I could just go on cutting and pasting to make a whole design with new big canvas in Photoshop using these exactly as they are.  That is a great way to do it.  But, I want to bring everything over to use as vectors for a couple of different reasons and those are things that are really hard to do in Photoshop.  First, I want to make repeating patterns with some of these elements.  Illustrator has a killer pattern tool. Next, I want to be able to play with the colors on these a whole bunch – I don’t want to make a black and white design and I think that is going to be easier to work with in Illustrator.  Finally I want to combine a lot of these smaller elements into bigger ones, and I think copying and manipulating them will be easier in Illustrator.  Stay tuned for more.




I made this bag last week. The fabric was a curtain panel that I bought at a garage sale. Pretty wild for a curtain but great for a small tote. I am in love with this fabric – the colors and the design are very me and I would love a tshirt that looked something like this (and this is not clothing fabric). So I am going to show you the “behind the scenes” process of how to make a faux batik like this that I can print on any fabric I want to. I am going to make a seamless repeat inspired by this design and show you how I do it.

I get asked in classes very often “do you use Photoshop or Illustrator for your designs?” The answer is yes. I often use both on a single design. Sometimes I throw in some PicMonkey too. It all depends on the effect I am trying to achieve. Hopefully as I show you the process I use you will be able to see a little bit of how that works.

Faux Batik: Step One
Even though I am going to design this fabric digitally, Step One doesn’t involve Photoshop or Illustrator. When you look at the inspiration print, there are a lot of organic lines and shapes. They are blobby and irregular. The designs might repeat, but each one is a little different than the one next to it. This is because real batiks are made by drawing designs with wax, which doesn’t lend itself to a lot of precision. Irregular lines like the ones drawn with wax are really hard to make digitally, so I wanted to start with something that would give me the line quality without having to do a lot of digital manipulation. My solution: Paint.


This morning I painted 6 sheets of card stock with batik motifs. I didn’t worry about making specific designs but just made elements that I will be able to cut out, shrink, duplicate and put together to make my repeat tile. I did a few shapes that could be borders and tried to think about small, medium and large shapes that I could use. I used the bag fabric as inspiration for some and others (like the peacock) I made up myself. These were done with some acrylic craft paint and a small tapered brush on white card stock. Acrylic paint has some nice body to it so it was easy to change the pressure on the brush and get some great line variations. I know many people like to do this kind of work in a sketch book but that never works for me because it is so much easier and cleaner to scan separate sheets of paper than a big bulky book. Personal preference.

Once they are dry, I will scan them. I painted these designs at a pretty large scale based on the line weight my brush could do, so I plan to scan them at about 150 dpi because I know I won’t need to make them any bigger than this for my finished fabric.

I have bad luck with sewing machines.  Or maybe that should be recently I have had bad luck with sewing machines.  I sew a lot.  As with most tools, I really think that you and your machine need to have a relationship.  There is no one “perfect machine” and there isn’t one you can call the “best”.  But there are machines that work better for each person than others.  I am the same way with computers.  I name them so I can talk to them and they can learn to behave themselves.  (This machine right now that I am typing on is named Carson.) But my recent sewing machines and I have not had very good relationships.

The very first machine I learned to use was my mom’s 197X Singer that she bought from the Family Thrift grocery store.  It is a solid tank of a machine.  I sewed painted theater curtains and costumes and who knows what else on that lovely machine.  It isn’t pretty, but it was a workhorse.  They don’t make Singers like this anymore.

When I was 17 and had my very first paycheck from my very first summer job, I bought myself a Bicor VX1005.  This beautiful girl was $100 from Walmart and has been the single only consistently running machine I have had for 20+ years.  To this day, when the others croak she is always there and ready to go.  Bicor was made by Brother and I will always love Brother because of this machine.  Her strength is mostly with straight stitch.  Tension is always beautiful, stitches are even.  She does not do a good job with chiffon or anything too thin and the zipper foot is mediocre, but I can hem and do basic stitching all day.  I made my prom dress and my wedding dress on this machine.

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After I started doing costuming and teaching sewing, I bought a new fancy machine to replace this one and give myself some more bells and whistles.  That was a Babylock Quilters Choice. At the time these machines were made by Brother.  So I was really excited to get this upgrade to my little basic Bicor machine. This one is affectionately called “The Lemon”.  It is a super cool machine and I paid a lot for it.  Fancy buttonholes, alphabets, thread cutter.  And it did sew beautifully.  It ends up that it has a software problem.  The software problem gradually lets the timing get out of synch and then suddenly your needle goes through the bobbin case with a big ga-smash and you have to have a $100 repair.  After several times of hauling it in for this repair, I started to see the same story appear on blogs and learned that it’s not just me, it’s a design flaw.  It self destructs.  So this one sits in my studio and collects dust.  I can’t sell it or give it to anyone in good conscience because I know it is a ticking time bomb.  Sigh.

I then had a brief affair with a 1952 Singer, which is lovely but only does straight stitch and nothing else.  Not quite enough, but a great old machine when I need it.

I auditioned a lot of machines in the meantime.  I read reviews, I stitched on things and I asked everyone I knew what they loved. I tried friend’s machines.  And then I bought a Viking Emerald. Which now belongs to my sister. (And by the way, B, I found the owner’s manual, which I will send to you!)

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I was so fed up with the computer system, that I went for a full-on manual machine.  It is basic, solid, sturdy, it works great and the price was right.  My only complaint with this one is that it was too basic for the kind of sewing I wanted to do and I had gotten spoiled with the Lemon.  I had outgrown this machine (which I didn’t realize) before I even bought it.

So I passed that along to my sister and went shopping again. This time, I listened to what everyone else told me and bought a Bernina Activa 230. Many people had owned multiple Berninas and loved them. This one was on sale and it seemed like it was just what I needed and so many people loved Berninas.

This machine was the biggest disappointment of the bunch.  I hate the Bernina.  I had it for 2 weeks and I was already yelling at it.  The tension was finicky.  It ate thread.  Anything too thick threw all of the stitches and tension out of whack.  The zipper foot was stupid and I couldn’t stitch a zipper to save my soul.  (This is why I learned to hand pick them.  Which I like better anyway.)  I wanted to love it, but it’s seriously underpowered and undersized and way too picky for me.  I think probably Berninas can be great machines, but I am not feeling it.  This one came down with a tension issue about 2 weeks ago and I cleaned it and babied it and I have put it in time out rather than yell at it some more.  I will take it in and get it repaired (I am sure it is nothing major), but it is available if anyone wants it.  I have just accepted that it needs to go.  We don’t get along.

(Somewhere in here while fighting with the Bernina, I bought a Brother 1034D Serger on a whim for $200 on Amazon and I love love love it.  Never owned a serger before.)

So today, I bought a Pfaff.  It’s an Expression 3.2 and I haven’t even unpacked it yet.  Why a Pfaff?  At my former job, we owned 6 basic Pfaffs and they survived 12 years and hundreds of kids sewing on them and they are STILL RUNNING.  They have been banged around and abused (thread octopi in the bobbin case) and  threaded incorrectly and had crummy thread used in them and buttons pushed and needles broken and although they squeak and rattle, they still stitch beautifully.  I scoffed at them when I first saw them 12+ years ago.  They were pretty basic.  They thread kind of funny.  The bobbin winder didn’t really work after a while.  But the more I thought about my own sewing machine saga, the more I thought I just needed a machine that just worked.  Like those Pfaffs.  No matter what you do to them.  We gave them all names during summer camp this year to help them get through the summer.  We figured if they had names we could keep track of their issues better (they are getting pretty elderly) and they would feel loved.  So we (the teachers) named them after our grandmothers and the ladies who taught us to sew: Helen, Muriel, Ruth, Grace, Nancy and Barb.  Good karma.

So I bought one that is a couple of steps up from those student machines and I can’t even tell you about it because I have only stitched 8 inches on it so far.  It has plenty of bells and whistles.  Pfaff makes this built in walking foot gizmo that I just think is brilliant (our student machines had it) and they have the best zipper foot ever.  (Trust me.  You teach a class full of 9 year olds how to put in zippers with just any zipper foot and you will see.)  So I am hopeful.

In order to have really good karma, I am taking nominations to name this machine.  (My dress form is named Dolores.  My computer is Hippolyta.  I named the Bernina “Scarlett” because it made me say Damn! a lot.)

I want your best name suggestions.  Let’s make sure she feels welcome.

Last week I spent a day at the MN State Fair demonstrating mending.  Well, it started as demonstrating mending, but watching someone stitch a hem is about as much fun as watching paint dry.  ReUseMN, the organization that was sponsoring the demos is all about reuse and repair and each day they had a different group showing how to fix up something.  I had brought a bunch of little projects with me, but I needed something that would draw people over.  So I started “mending” a t-shirt with reverse appliqué.

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Appliqué means that you take a little piece of fabric and stitch it on top of another piece of fabric, like a patch.  It’s a good way to fix a hole.  Reverse appliqué means that you take  little piece of fabric and stitch it behind another piece of fabric.  When you trim away that top layer, you can make really cool designs and you can get rid of a hole or a bleach stain.  You can see one flower petal in progress on the t-shirt above.  The yellow fabric is another t-shirt that I brought along. I put a piece of yellow behind the red, stitched each petal and then cut away the red t-shirt.  I worked on this shirt all day, making 4 sunflowers with leaves and a butterfly.  (I turned the rest of the yellow t-shirt into some t-shirt yarn and made an infinity scarf.  That’s a fun project for another post.)

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If you love the look, be sure to check out Natalie Chanin’s work.  She has made reverse appliqué (especially with knits) pretty famous.  Molas, a South American art form, are also made using reverse appliqué.  The Hood Museum of Art has a great article about making molas that you can download here.

Frequently asked questions while I was working and chatting with people at the fair:

Won’t that just shred itself where you cut it?  You can’t wash it?

I am always surprised when I get this question.  Why would I make clothing that I couldn’t wash?  For the most part, knits don’t fray or come undone when you cut them.  Especially t-shirt knit.  The edges will curl up a little bit especially on an edge that gets stretched a lot, but it’s going to hold up just fine.

You have to sew it by machine if you really wanted to wear that, right?

I guess there is a perception that if you make it by machine that it is somehow stronger and better.  (If you didn’t check out Natalie Chanin before, let me just say that every stitch of her garments are hand sewn and meant to be worn.)  As long as I use good sturdy thread (perle cotton for this) and make sure I secure my ends, hand sewing can be stronger than sewing by machine.  This kind of stitching is also decorative because I chose to make the stitches somewhat large and in a contrasting color, but those pieces are going to stay together.

Cut then stitch?

Many people assumed that I had cut out the holes first and then stitched something behind.  It’s a lot easier to actually stitch first and cut after because everything stays nice and flat and the holes don’t stretch out of shape.  I did these shapes free-hand, but you could easily draw some light pencil lines as a guide for stitching.  I pinned the two layers of fabric together and used the pins to help me see where the edge of my yellow fabric was so I didn’t accidentally stitch off the edge.


apple-2Happy Back to School to all of my favorite students and teachers.  Some were back last week and some have their first day today.  I hope all of you have a fantastic day!

My big back to school news is that this is my last week at Textile Center.  I have been at Textile Center for 11 years as a teacher, summer camp instructor, artist in residence, administrator, designer and much much more.  There have been a lot of changes there in the last few years and as I was looking ahead to this coming school year, it was like a little voice said to me “It’s time to move on”.

Several friends have asked me if I am sad and I don’t think I am.  I have had some of the most fun I have ever had working there.  I have met wonderful people who will continue to be friends for many many more years.  I have learned skills I never thought I would need to know.   It has been an amazing journey.  But right now, I realize that the things that I am excited about doing and the creative directions I want to go are heading on a path that doesn’t include Textile Center.

So what are my plans?  I am going to have a vacation.  I am going to remodel my kitchen and my studio, which may require a blow torch or a small explosive device to sort through the mountains of “why do I have this?”  I am going to finish that book I am working on.  I am going to say “yes” to some projects and see where they take me.  I am going to spend some time with my family.

It’s the time of year for new beginnings.  What’s new for you?

musketeersAs of today, I have three works in three different exhibitions, which are all open at the same time.  Pretty dang cool!

On the left is “Rain Storm” which was selected to be a part of Textile Center’s MN State Fair exhibition. These were selected works from the show which was originally held in January 2013.  I blogged about it here.  It is made from digitally printed and hand-silkscreened fabric with some hand embroidery.

The center piece is called “Concert” part of the 20 for 20 exhibition that opens tonight at Textile Center.  This is collaborative fabric that was made by attendees of Textile Center’s birthday party.  I guided an activity where everyone was invited to draw an image celebrating fiber art in a square of a 1 inch grid.  I combined all of the 50+ images and made a repeat.  The dress is inspired by some I saw in the collection at Kensington Palace and the draped sash is there to represent membership in an organization (a fun fact I found while looking up trivia about formal dress.)

The third is “Permafrost“, which I blogged just recently.

Here are some close-ups of the fabric designs, so you can see some of the details:

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I am absolutely delighted to be one of the artists featured in this regional Surface Design Association show which opens in just a few days.  When I got the announcement of the exhibition call for entry, I thought the concept was intriguing.

The intention of this exhibit is to illustrate things that are transparent, translucent, and/or transformed in this world, OR, things that should be (i.e. government, politics, fundraising, banking, corporate power, policy decisions, healthcare, etc.). You can go for the literal meaning of the words transparent, translucent, transformed… or, you can go with a more conceptual or abstract meaning of the words. We invite both the literal and wide view of this theme.

The piece I made for the show is called “Permafrost”.  We got a great photo (I think) and they must have loved it too because it is there on the flyer.


To me, the word translucent can be described by layers; something you can see through, but what you look at changes based on the layer you are looking through. This design was created using layers of images: fern frost on a window and a chain link screen. Separately, the two don’t have an obvious relationship, but combined they become a new idea and allow you to see one as it is influenced by the other. “Permafrost” is a geologic term for soil that remains frozen for consecutive years, bound or locked up as ice, and as the title of this piece, describes the connection I see between these two images. The lines of the dress give the feeling of emerging from this image of everlasting winter. The sleeveless style and broken neckline suggest the wearer is cracking and shedding away the ice.

Rahn_Becka_ttt_PermafrostDetailThe fabric is digitally printed, naturally.  It’s a lovely drapey silky faille from Spoonflower. This fabric has a nice weight to it so it hangs well.  A little challenging to sew as it is a bit slippery and tends to shift off grain if you let it.  Hand beaded with vintage flat sequins from Etsy.  Both photos for the design were taken on trips to my hometown.  The frost (which is actually 6 images put together) was on the windows at my mother-in-law’s house.  The chainlink was in a public art space called “Art Alley” and although I faded a lot of the color out for this piece, the fence is painted bright blues and pinks.

imageI spent a truly delightful weekend taking a workshop from the very talented Jackie Abrams.  Textile Center had Jackie come to teach a 2 1/2 day class on bias plaited baskets.  I am not a basketweaver, in fact, I had only ever made one basket before I took this class.  This gave me a rating of “0” on my name tag at the start of class.  There were several of us “zeroes” in class and although we were the total beginners, I never felt like I was struggling to keep up even though there were “fives” in the room, a credit to Jackie’s teaching style.  I took the class on a whim.  Jackie was organized and thoughtful and just lovely to email back and forth with while I was setting up the class (so I knew I would like her) and it has been a challenging spring for me creatively and I thought this would be a great jump start.  I am so glad I did.


Bias plaiting works on the bias.  You weave the base, over-under-over-under, and it looks just like a flat paper coaster.  It reminded me a lot of the woven paper placemats I have made with kids.  The bias comes in when you start to shape and you do that by bending things on the diagonal.  It was tough to get the hang of at first and I really forgot what it is like to be a beginner at something totally new.  It’s sort of rare that I jump into something that I don’t have a little experience with.  After wrestling with my first corner, I watched Jackie demonstrate again and it surprised me how much more it made sense the second time.  It also took me a little while to make the connection that I was working with the bias of a woven “fabric”, which stretches and compresses does all kinds of crazy things.  Once I remembered “oh yes, bias” and realized that I could boss the paper around a bit more, then things started to click.

imageOur material was painted watercolor paper, which is a lovely thing to work with. It’s thick paper which is hard to crease (which is a good thing) and is much less fragile than I had at first thought it would be.  We painted each sheet of paper on both sides because in this basket, you end up seeing both sides (and the contrasting colors are a huge help in remembering what piece to put where.)  Painting was fun because really anything goes and some of the wildest papers made some really great baskets.  We cut it into 1/4 inch strips using a pasta machine.  (Brilliant!)

You sculpt your flat paper by adding corners which change the direction and shoulders which are decreases (like k2tog for those knitters reading along).  Some of the class members went for asymmetrical sculptural pieces.  I (being a zero) decided that I would rather get a little practice with the classic symmetrical shapes first, so I made two different baskets in class: a “kimono” and a “pillow”.



The little clippies come from the electronics department at Radio Shack.  You should have seen the look on the face of the teenaged boy at the counter who asked me what project I was working on.  Basketmaking?  Priceless.








I get teased a lot at my day job for being a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to “yarn bombing”.  If you aren’t familiar, yarn bombing is the art of wrapping, covering, or decorating a public space with knit/crocheted “graffiti”.  There is a book written about it (probably more than one):  Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti.  I interviewed the authors of this book once and they are delightful.  There’s an interesting article about yarn bombers here and a very different take on it here (which I find myself nodding at alot as I read).

Yarn bombing can be cool and whimsical and fun.  Just check out a few photos I found online:

PicMonkey Collage

I have very mixed feelings about the “art” of yarn bombing.  Yes, it’s fun.  I get that. I have promised to work with a group of kids yarn bombing some things this summer as part of a community art project.  And I am sure they will have fun.

From the article I mentioned above, there is a quote that stood out for me.  I am not sure I agree with the “beautiful decay” remark, but:

“Yarn bombing exemplifies the ‘do it for the photo’ method of street art. There’s a disingenuousness. … It’s bright and colorful for a day, then it looks gross and someone else has to clean it up.” And it’s no beautiful decay, like the withering of wheatpastes or chipping paint. Personally, I always feel a bit uncomfortable with the awareness that someone put in a disproportionate amount of hours to make such a short-lived mess.

And that is the part that makes the knitter in me just cringe.  Let me explain.

untitled-2This is a baby sweater that I knit for a friend.  It’s little and is about the simplest baby sweater pattern out there.  I know you non-knitters will scoff, but trust me that this has nothing complicated about it, just swapping colors every couple of rows and 3 different stitches.  It’s worsted weight yarn (which is the standard kind of medium weight yarn) so in sweater terms it knits up very fast.  This sweater took about 15 hours to knit and is about $25 in materials.  I wasn’t working to break any speed records and I was probably reading a book as I knit, so it wasn’t my fastest project.

But let’s put that in the perspective of yarnbombing a telephone pole.  This little sweater would pretty much fit right around a telephone pole and cover about 12 inches of it.  So let’s do the math.  If I want to cover a section of the telephone pole as tall as I am (which is a respectable amount of yarn bombing), that’s 75 hours.  Forget the sleeves and the button bands and maybe we’re down to 10 hours for this little bit of sweater knitting.  That’s still 50 hours to cover that telephone pole and $125 worth of yarn.  Even using inexpensive acrylic yarn (which is more typical I think for yarn bombing) and we have the cost down to $25 in materials, but the knitting experience has gotten a whole lot less fun.  Acrylic has it’s uses, but it isn’t nearly as fun to knit with as far as I am concerned.

I can tell you that as a knitter, I have a heck of a lot more things I would like to spend 50 or 100 hours working on.  Now I notice in looking at those yarn bomb photos I posted above, most of those are crocheted.  Crochet (by all accounts) goes faster row for row than knitting.  I am not a fantastic crocheter, so I can’t really compare apples to apples.  I read recently that crochet takes 3 times more yarn.  Even if we assume that you can go twice as fast, that’s still 25 hours to make that yarn bombed telephone pole and 3 times the materials.

And that quote that I mentioned above –  she’s not wrong.  It’s going to get wet and dirty and stretched out and faded and not so whimsical in not too much time.

So here’s my question to you.  Would you put in the time?  If you had 50 hours that you could dedicate to a project, what would YOU choose?  Is it the process?  Or the product, no matter how ephemeral?