Exploring the Black, a dye reference e-book

I was invited to present a talk about dyeing with black to a weaving study group this weekend. They knew that black was a challenging color and wondered if I could provide some tips and tricks for working with black dyes. I usually skip over black in my beginning dye classes because it is challenging and I think it is confusing for beginners when one color breaks all the rules.

So I spent a couple of days dyeing and photographing samples. I worked with 3 dyes (2 for plant fibers and 1 for animal fibers) and 27 different substrates (fabric, roving, ribbon, yarn). I asked friends of mine, who have years of dyeing experience, for their tips for working with black and I incorporated those into my samples. When I got done, I realized that I had way more information than would reasonably fit in a class handout, so I put it all together into a 28-page e-book. It’s not an instruction book about how to dye, but it is a reference manual for how black dyes are influenced by fiber choice, temperature, salt and more. You can get it at my Etsy shop and see sample pages and more info there.

Tutorial: Make a valentine cut-out design

Since Valentines Day is just around the corner, I thought I would post a quick tutorial for making a heart shaped cut out design. You can use any image or pattern and “cut it out” to make it into a heart shape. (Or any other shape you want to use. The steps are the same.)

Make a heart

The first thing is to create your heart. I want a nice smooth shape that is basic black and white. You could use some clip art, but I really prefer to make my own “clip art”. (pun intended) With my own art, I never have to worry about using a copyrighted image or inadvertently stealing someone else’s design. I could draw something in Illustrator or use the vector tools in Photoshop, but I think it is so much easier to just start with a piece of paper. Seriously.

Why? I like the quality of the shape. Vector designs often look too perfect to me. It is really fast and easy to use the circle tool and the pen tool to create something that is symmetrical and has perfectly smooth lines, but I think that’s boring. It is also fast and easy to use scissors and a piece of dark colored paper to cut out a shape, and get all kinds of imperfections: little wobbles of the scissors, curves that are more irregular and so on. It looks less computer generated to me and I like that.

So I sketched a heart with an arrow design on a piece of black paper and cut it out. I used a paper punch to make the little dots. Then, I scanned it. I adjusted the scanner so it was scanning it black and white and I bumped up the contrast. The scanner DPI settings aren’t very important here, so I chose 150 dpi because that should be plenty of pixels to work with.

If you have Photoshop, you can use that do do this next step, but it is also really easy to do in PicMonkey and that’s what I will show you in this tutorial.

Use PicMonkey

Go to picmonkey.com and choose Design (t icon) from the menu at the top. Then create a custom canvas. I am going to make mine 600×600 pixels. That’s a great size for a blog post or email and by making it square, it will look great in my Instagram feed.

Go to the Overlays menu (butterfly icon at left) and choose Add your Own at the top of that column. Then find your scanned heart design.

Next choose the photo or image that you want to “cut out” with this heart. I will use a picture of my dogs as my example. Choose Add Your Own in Overlays again and find that image.

To make it “cut out” you just need to select a different blend mode for this new overlay layer. Look in the Overlay pop up palette that should have popped up somewhere in your editor. (It’s on the right side in my screen shot) Under the Blend Mode dropdown, choose Add.

I can adjust the size of the overlay by using the bubble toggles at the corners or rotating with the handle at the top until I have the image and the heart cutout aligned the way I like it.

You can also use another repeating design instead of a photo; in fact any .jpg image will work. How about a sushi valentine? For this one, I just took a screen shot of this sushi stripe design that I created and used it to make an overlay.

And here I took the same idea with a different design and then uploaded it to Spoonflower to make a repeating pattern for a fabric design. This one would be cute as wrapping paper!

If you want to learn more techniques like this for designing your own patterns and fabrics, be sure to check out my online classes. There is even a free one to get you started and it builds on some of the ideas in this tutorial. Or check out my events calendar for in-person classes.

Work in progress and origami design inspiration.

I talked a few posts back about goals for 2018 and one of those was to design more fabric. My goal was one new design a week and so far I am way ahead of schedule! First, I expanded my oboe fabrics line. It went from 1 print, which I originally designed in 2009 to 24 oboe and oboe-themed fabric prints available. I did six different designs in 4 different colorways. Because someone always asks the question when I use that term, a colorway means the group of colors that make up the designs. I use the same colors in all 6 fabrics so that the colorway all coordinates and you can mix and match. So my colorways are Tango (grey/red/pink/black), Duet (blue/green/purple), Salsa (orange, lime, turquoise, grey) and Blues (blue, grey, black). Those are all now printed, proofed, tweaked and available for sale in my Spoonflower shop.

And then I printed a slight variation on those same designs onto note cards so that I have sets of oboe postcards available now in my Etsy shop called Oboe d’Amore. It ends up that the repeating oboe instrument print is my favorite from the collection, although I am thinking about making a dress from the music staffs print with the wavy lines.

Then as another part of that “design more” goal, I have tackled the Spoonflower weekly design challenges. You can see my Spanish Tile, Greek art, and Kilim designs by clicking those links. Even though I loved my stegosaurus kilim design, it placed #328th, so I have a ways to go before I crack the top ten. I love the contests and I talk about them when I teach, but it isn’t something I ever made time to participate in. I am so glad I put that on my list for this year. I am really enjoying the challenge (and the deadline).

Something I have noticed about my Spoonflower Challenge entries is that I tend to design for the scale I would actually like the print to be printed at, but many contest entries seem to scale for what is going to look awesome in the fat quarter preview that is voted on, even though that would make somewhat exaggerated oversized prints on fabric. Maybe because I am such a fabric person/sewist that I am thinking always “what would this print be good for” and making my design with that scale in mind. So I am going to try a little experiment and for the next few entries, I am going to upload for the contest at a larger scale then I would normally design and then go back and revise them later to scale it down where I think the print belongs (or upload a second version).

This week the contest theme is “Origami” and I thought I would tell you a little about my design, because I love to talk about the process. You know if you have read my blog for any amount of time, that I love origami. I have used it in several exhibitions and I have several fabric designs that incorporate origami.

So for this challenge entry I thought I would start by using the butterflies that I folded for an installation this fall. They are super pretty and I had already photographed them.

But as pretty as they are, I just couldn’t make them look like a cohesive design. I layered them with black and white patterns, dots, clouds. I overlaid them with another color to tie them all together that way. I spent several hours noodling around and just felt like nothing was really working. Bleh.

So, I bagged that idea and started something else. I posted a video about how to fold these butterflies, and I thought it might be interesting to photograph each step of that process and see if I could make a fabric design from that. I wanted to simplify the patterns on the paper, which I think was one of the problems with my previous idea, so I pulled out some construction paper and a little indigo colored craft paint, a pencil eraser and a popsicle stick.

Simple, bold patterns on one side, plain color on the other.

Then I set up my mini photo box and folded and took a photo at each step.

I thought it would be fun to line them up in order of steps, so that you could follow along and see the way it transforms. (Follow Along became the title of this design.)

I felt like it needed one more thing to make it feel finished; some kind of texture in the background so it wasn’t just “things on a white piece of paper”. I love to add layers, so I drew a pattern of arrows. In origami diagrams there are often different kinds of arrows to help tell you what to do with a piece of paper. A zig-zag arrow says fold-and-unfold, a loopy arrow says flip-it-over and so on. So I drew origami-style arrows, scanned and made it into a repeating pattern for the background.

Here is the final finished design.

If you want to see all of the other origami designs (and if you’d like to vote for mine!) you can check out the Origami Challenge page. I think it is really inspiring to be able to see how hundreds of other artists choose to interpret the same themes. There is always something that makes me say “why didn’t I think of that?” and something that makes me say “I wouldn’t have made that choice.” and several new favorites. There’s a dog origami design in this batch that I particularly like.

The next challenge theme is “Significant Otters” and I can’t wait to show you that one!

I think I forgot to eat breakfast this morning.

You’d think by this point in my life that I wouldn’t miss things like this, but there it is. I was focused on a project (taking photos for some new classes) and then I had a meeting to run to and I am pretty sure I didn’t even finish my cup of tea. So then this afternoon, I was kind of scatterbrained and not very focused and suddenly I realized that all I have eaten today is a bowl of lettuce and a hard-boiled egg. That explains a lot.

Forgetting to fuel up, in the metaphorical sense, came up in a couple of conversations today. Back in the late summer, when it was time to schedule teaching gigs for this winter, I was 100% apathetic. I scheduled almost nothing. I was busy and the thought of scheduling one more thing was just completely unappealing, no matter how far away it was on the calendar or how easy it was. They were all classes I had taught before and venues where I know all of the quirks. I was so bogged down in the boring details of contracts, descriptions and logistics that it was just easier to say “no, I’m just too busy” and know that I was really just bored.

And that was kind of the conversation that we had today. Being so caught up in the “getting it done” part of your job, that you don’t have time for the reason you were there in the first place: because it is something you love.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I taught a class at a new venue to a new group that I haven’t worked with before and it was like a breath of fresh air. It was a beautiful space, the class was engaged and asked good questions, and the things that went wrong (like wonky wifi) were things I am well prepared to deal with. (I can’t tell you how many classes I have taught tethered off my phone.) I am booking some new classes at some new to me venues because I realized that I needed to get out of my rut, go to some different places and talk to some new people. I need some new fuel.

That design up above is another source of fuel I have discovered: the Spoonflower Design Challenge. I have been a huge fan of the challenges for years, but rarely took the time to participate. I decided that designing more was a goal for me this year and this has been a great motivator. I like deadlines. That’s a little detail of my design for the “origami” theme this week.

What has been bogging you down lately? Have you found some new fuel to get you going?

Out of step with the trend

Last year I applied to a bucketload of exhibitions. It’s a thing you do when you are an artist. When you get well-known enough, you start to get invited to things, but when you are still “emerging”, you apply to juried shows so that you can get your work in front of people. I applied to a variety of things: exhibitions with themes, ones limited to specific media, ones showcasing “craft” instead of focused on fine art. I applied to two that were specifically about the crossroads of technology and art (which I think my art is a great example of). I applied to some that friends told me were “made for my work”. I never know quite where my work will fit, so I applied to a lot of different things.

I didn’t get in to a single one.

This isn’t terribly surprising. You get a lot of rejections in this business. I don’t take it too personally. But these applications take a lot of time and money. Each one has a form to fill out, a statement to write and images that always have to be edited to be a specific format (and no two are ever the same). It takes a couple of hours to apply, even if you are super prepared and have your resume and artist statement up to date. And they always have a cost. Each show has an associated fee of $25-$50 to apply. I have been on the administrative side of juried shows and I totally understand why they do this. There are costs involved to putting a show together and this is an easy way to offset it. But on the artist side, those fees add up, with no good way for me to recoup those costs. IF I get into the show, I might sell a piece and defray it somewhat, but one sale isn’t going to probably add up to $300 worth of application fees. And not every venue encourages sales.

So I decided before I applied to anything else, that maybe I would take a look at what WAS getting in to these shows and see if I could get a feel for what the trend is. So I went back and looked at some of the websites and announcements for some of the things I applied to. Several organizations that are considered to be leaders in the fiber art/craft field have also recently published posts about “10 exhibitions to not miss in 2018” and the like. So, I looked at the images that were being used to talk about these exhibitions too.

I absolutely see a trend.

I pixellated this image on purpose, so it’s not just a lousy internet connection making it blurry. I took screenshots of the images that were being used as the promo for a big variety of those “don’t miss” shows and things I had applied to. I pixellated them because I don’t want to call out or disrespect any specific artist, juror or show, because it isn’t about the specifics, but I think you can see the trend I am talking about.

There is a whole lot of neutral there.

If I were to also give you some adjectives to describe the common elements I see from this group of images, I would choose: eroded, aged, uncomfortable, sparse. At least two shows had pieces that were almost creepy with altered baby doll faces. Many objects were distressed, grungy, earthy feeling things. And I am not saying any of these adjectives are bad or negative, just that these were very common elements from show to show.

My work matches none of those adjectives. It is colorful, retro, graphic, quirky.

With one exception, I also didn’t see a single wearable garment as a featured image for any exhibition. There was a little bit of jewelry and some sculptural pieces that were garment-like. (The exception was a “don’t miss” show of Native American weavings from a museum of folk art.)

It’s actually difficult to find exhibitions that will even take wearable pieces. They are often ineligible, with no reason given. I expect it has something to do with not wanting to bother with dress forms.

So, it seems that I am out of step with the trend.

That leads me to wonder. If I took one of my garments and gave it the Cinderella-after-the-ball treatment, would it get a different response? Desaturate my colors and distress and deconstruct the piece. Would that make it more appealing to the trend? Does that make it more “art”? Do I want to do that? Is that even my work?

The answer is that I think I am not going to bother with juried shows for a while. Maybe they just think my work is terrible. Fair enough. You never get any feedback from this process, so it’s hard to tell what they are thinking. But juror after juror seem to be choosing the same kinds of other things, which are not what I do. So maybe that just means it’s time to take a break and put that time and money to different use.

I also wonder: Where exactly does my work fit? Maybe I am looking in the wrong places and I need to think about that some more too.

The “fiber art” people tell me that I am cheating because I use computers and technology in my work. (I have had other fiber artists tell me this to my face, so I know this is a real thing.). The “fine art” people don’t consider fibers a fine art form; they think I belong in craft. The “craft” people aren’t sure what to do with my focus on surface pattern; it’s too much like art. The “wearable art” people tend to favor more sculptural or conceptual. The “digital surface design” people are all about pattern and licensing and not about using your own patterns to make art. Again, I am not disrespecting or complaining about any of these groups, just looking at trends I’ve noticed and feedback I have gotten. I am not sure where I fit.

A friend of mine was recently passed over for an art-related opportunity and the feedback she got was she didn’t have enough “fine art” teaching experience, despite the fact that she is a skilled and much experienced teacher of fiber and paper arts. Let’s just say, neither of us agree with that particular piece of feedback. She’s struggling to find a fit as well.

I’m curious. What trends are you seeing in the shows you have attended, viewed, applied to or participated in? Do you love the trend? Tired of it? What do you wish you saw more of?

(Edited: also check out the comments at Facebook. some great discussion)

 

Goals are better than resolutions.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions. It always seems like they are looking backwards: here’s what I did wrong last year and how I am going to fix it. I think New Year’s Goals are more positive and productive. Here are the things that I want to do in 2018 and why.

Design more of my fabric.

I did basically no fabric designing just for me this last year. I did a lot of projects directed by other people, as partnerships or as samples for classes. They were some awesome designs that I am really proud of, don’t get me wrong, but they were constrained or influenced by people who weren’t me. I need a little more room to explore with me as the head of the expedition.

Sales of my designs on Spoonflower picked up this year and that’s really fun. For a number of years, I was working on designs for the Spoonflower book or other projects and so 90% of my designs were private for one reason or another. If you searched me out on Spoonflower there was almost nothing there to see. I added a few new things this year, like my Screaming Hairy Armadillos collection, and I would like to do more of that. With that in mind, my goal is to release one new public design every week this year. That’s pretty crazy ambitious, but it is something I know I procrastinate really easily because it’s something without a client or a deadline. So I think if I give myself an ambitious goal and state it right here publicly, I am more likely to make it happen.

Embrace the oboe.

No, I am not suddenly taking up a musical instrument. (I played clarinet and saxophone in high school and college and took organ lessons for several years as a kid. I have already checked that off my bucket list.) I designed this oboe fabric in 2009 to make some tool bags for my husband, who does play the oboe. It was the first “collection” I designed with three coordinating prints. “OboeBlues” has consistently been one of my most popular designs and I have always meant to go back and make it in more colors and add some more coordinating prints to it. I have learned a lot since 2009. It is time to stop procrastinating that.

I actually started working on this goal this morning and I wish I could smack my past-self upside the head. I didn’t save any of the original layered versions of these or the original vector drawings I made them from. So I am re-creating them properly in layers so that I can change the colors easily and pull out elements to make coordinating prints. I am hoping to send those off to proof by the end of this week with three new colorways.

I am starting with fabric, but the goal here is to actually open an Etsy shop that is all about oboe. I already have an Etsy shop that specializes in geeky puns and mashups with fiber art, and I realize, as I have been evaluating the parts of my business that I really enjoy, that I love designing these little things celebrating the stuff that people love.

When I looked at my best sellers for 2017, it wasn’t just generic knitting bags, it was overwhelmingly knitting or crochet mashed up with sci-fi. So that’s what I am going to do with the oboe. Celebrate the oboe geeks! Having been married to an oboist for 20+ years, I am always looking for oboe themed stocking stuffers and little gifts and they just aren’t out there (or they are designed by people who think the oboe is just another kind of clarinet).

I realize that the number of you that are interested in these designs just dropped to about <8% of my readers. This is not the shop that’s going to be profiled in the “Quit your Day Job” Etsy shop articles but that is 100% not the reason I am doing it. This is why:

…our cousin (senior in HS) won our symphony’s Young Musician Award and was featured in a symphony performance. If that wasn’t enough, he also won the oboe chair in the Youth Symphony Orchestra of the USA. He will be playing this summer at the Kennedy Center and touring to London, Moscow and St. Petersburg. I’m going to make him a quilt to commemorate his achievements; using embroidery to call out his awards. You offer the ONLY oboe print online – so glad I loved it!…

That’s just one of the notes I have gotten from people who have bought that original OboeBlues print. That joy is exactly why I am doing it. So it’s not going to be just fabric, but bags and stickers and all kinds if gifts for your oboist.

Do the drudge work and like it.

I launched two new online classes this fall and I have another really big one that I am working on. The tangible goal here is to get that third class done and launched, but the more intangible goal is to keep up the momentum. I have quite a few people registered in that first class (thank you!) and I have a few registered in the second one (I LOVE YOU GUYS!). The classes were monsterous, epic amounts of work to put together: learning the new platform, writing the content, editing the video, developing the curriculum, marketing and so on.

It’s actually not drudge work at all, I really enjoy putting them together (more than I thought I would) but it takes a lot of time and it is easy to get super discouraged. I’ve been struggling with that. Logically, I know that I don’t have enough stuff ready yet. To really build momentum, I need more than 2 intro-level classes, I need a whole curriculum so that you have a reason to come back and take another class or ask a question. And I need to somehow make sure that you don’t forget about me in the meantime and forget to come back and take that next class. There is a lot of shiny out there demanding our attention. But it’s just going to take time to get there.

Embracing the theme.

As I was thinking about those three goals that I was going to publicly hold myself accountable to here, I realized that there was a bigger theme for all of the things I really wanted to do: bring more joy. 2017 was a bit overwhelming in many ways. The biggest thing I felt was dragging me down was all of the negativity I kept running into in all of my communities, both in person and online. Negativity, disrespect, apathy, competitiveness. By the end of the year, I had to pull myself away from a number of things and just focus on getting things done that mattered to me. So my goals for 2018 are going to be all about bringing more joy to my community.

Designing my fabrics brings me joy through expression and creativity. That artistic voice is really essential to who I am and I need to remember that I need to be my own director too.

Embracing the oboe is about bringing joy to others by celebrating the things they love. Those notes I get from oboe fabric fans or watching someone laugh and call a friend over to check out the “Extermi-knit” bag are moments of pure delight. We all need more of that.

Doing the drudge work is about empowering others to make their own joy. I am a teacher at heart and there is no greater reward for me than watching a student have that “ah-ha!” moment and figure something out. That’s why I teach classes, so that other people can have the joy in creating and sharing their creations. Paying it forward, one little step at a time.

The woven piece up above is a great representation of all of these things. I sent one of my small weaving looms to a friend with the “price” being that she had to weave something on it that I could show as a sample project. (I don’t love making samples, so I like to bribe friends.) She surprised me and sent me truly the most awesome sample I could ever have dreamed up: my logo woven on a loom I designed, handmade by a friend (of more than 30 years). 2018 needs to be more of that.


I want to know: Are you a resolutions person or a goals person? What are your creative goals for the coming year? Do you have a theme?

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