Friday, May 27, 2011

Julie Booth's "Little Sister"

The theme of our current show at the Potomac Fiber Arts Gallery is work inspired by The Crone of Crazy, an art quilt by Pamela Allen. One of the Jurors' Recognitions was awarded to a cloth figure by Julie Booth, "Little Sister," shown here:

I asked Julie about her process for designing and making these figures. She told me that she has been creating cloth figures and fiber sculptures since 1994. In 1996, she started to move away from her more traditional “folk art” style to create more stylized figures based on simple shapes. Julie has always loved the colors and textures of indigenous crafts of many countries, in particular the carved animal sculptures of Oaxaca, Mexico and the fabrics and masks of Africa. As a result, many of her works incorporate both “human” and “animal” characteristics, often blurring the line between the two.

All of Julie’s fabrics are hand printed. She carves many of her print blocks from linoleum-like products, including Speedball Speedy Carve and Speedy Stamp and Staedtler Mastercarve. In addition, she likes to create blocks from recycled materials and materials that can be found in craft stores, including Styrofoam, layered cardboard, hot glue, craft foam, and moldable foam. Julie prints these blocks on solid colored cotton fabrics using Pebeo Setacolor fabric paints. She enjoys printing different block patterns and designs on top of each other for more interesting, layered effects. More recently, Julie has started with white cotton or silk and hand painted her own background fabrics before printing. Julie won the 2010 Potomac Fiber Arts Guild Margaret M. Conant Grant for a project to study the use of ordinary and inexpensive materials found in most homes as resists in art projects. Her new knowledge, which she will present to Guild members, will add even more possibilities to her printed fabrics. Here is a group of Julie's fabrics:

Julie’s figures are made up of combinations of simple stuffed shapes that are sewn together to create an interesting form. Julie’s designs often start as thumbnail sketches which she’s doodled on scraps of paper. When a sketch “speaks” to her, she will first draw a full-scale rough sketch which she then refines and breaks down into the simple shapes that will make up the piece. The next stage is to make a muslin “dummy”, machine sewing and stuffing the shapes, then hand sewing them together.

Once the design is set, Julie will create pattern pieces from quilter’s template plastic. She uses these to trace and cut out the patterns from her block printed fabrics. After the simple shapes are stuffed and sewn together, Julie further hand embellishes them with appliquĂ©, stitching, and bead embroidery. For many of her pieces, Julie creates polymer clay faces using either “faux” stone techniques or an embossing technique which she developed.

Julie used polymer clay faces in "Friends are Angels" and Warrior:

Each of Julie's figures has its own personality. It is always interesting to see what the current show brings.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Felted flowers

Felted flowers are popular in our gallery. Several of our member artists make these, each in their own style. Most often these are created as pins, but the flowers sometimes are on a necklace

or even used to create an elegant hat.

There are many ways to get different effects in making flowers, and each of the gallery's feltmakers uses more than one layout method, but they all involve warm soapy water to wet the wool and encourage the felting process after layout, and, of course, agitation.

"Felting" actually involves two processes: felting is when the wool holds together and fulling is when it hardens and can be shaped. Paige Garber, one of our feltmakers, says that "most of us don't push the fulling too much as we want the flowers to be soft and somewhat translucent, though that is not a hard and fast rule."

Here are photos of some of the steps Roz Houseknecht went through to make this ruffle flower:

Roz begins by creating the leaves from loose wool fibers (usually merino) that have been hand-dyed. Each layer is wet with a soap solution and then covered with plastic that has a hole cut out of the center. Because there is a hole in the plastic all layers will attach in the center. There are 3 layers of petals, some covered with silk fibers. The top layer has a stamen attached. The entire package is rolled in bubble wrap, rotating every 100 rolls. The final step is to check all the felting and continue to full each layer individually by hand. At the end, the flower is rinsed in clear water, shaped, and allowed to dry.

Here's a leaf, the first step in Roz's flower:

Roz has added the bottom layer of flower petals in the photo below:

In the next photo, she has added the stamen:

This is what the bundle of fibers looks like when the wet fibers are being rolled in bubble wrap to felt them:
Here's the flower after several layers of petals have been added:

And this is how it looks after more petals have been felted:

Here are two more flowers by Roz in our current show at the gallery:

Paige Garber, another of our gallery's feltmakers, generally likes to put flower beads in the middle of her flowers. Most also have silk roving inlay to provide some sheen. Here are two of Paige's flowers:

Grace Mahanes often uses seed beads in her flowers:

Paige says that "the beauty of flowers is that they take so many colors and forms, it is hard to get bored with designing them." It's also always fascinating to see what our artists have come up with. Our display of flowers changes with every show. Please drop by the gallery to see our current garden of felted flowers.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Artistic Growth

Our members must demonstrate mastery of at least one fiber technique––knitting, weaving, quilting, etc.––to be juried into the Gallery. Sometimes members may want to learn something new, whether as a change of pace from their primary area or as an expansion of something they already do. This new road helps us grow as artists and broadens the range of work available in our Gallery. Today I'll showcase three members who have taken this artistic journey.

Anne Sanderoff-Walker is a weaver, but recently she has added felted, embroidered pins to her repertoire. When I asked what led her to this new endeavor, Anne said:

Every once in a while I take a workshop that is totally different from my primary art form, which is weaving. The Potomac Fiber Arts Guild’s February three-day workshop was on hand dyeing, stitching and beading on felt, making pins and books. I find that learning new techniques helps me tap into unexplored reserves of creativity. I have recently been exploring dyeing and I was looking forward to expanding this exploration with the added dimension of felting. Chad Alice Hagen, the instructor of the workshop, encouraged us to make one decision at a time as we stitched patterns onto the hand dyed felt, adding buttons and beads as the whim struck. This is drastically different from the planning and executing of my woven pieces which require color and structure decisions to be made very early in the creative process. I have always enjoyed hand work and the embellishment of my new pins has brought me back to a loved technique. The addition of this new fashion accessory line to my work has also provided pieces at a lower price point, providing the opportunity for customers to make a differently affordable purchase of my art.

Below are photos of three of Anne's pins:

Anne's work shows the wide range of color, texture, and composition she can achieve with this technique.

Another member who has taken this road to artistic growth is Roz Houseknecht. Here is an example of Roz's felted shibori scarves:

Roz says that "combining textile techniques has always been intriguing to me. For several years I have been dyeing silk using a variety of shibori techniques."

Shibori is a resist process that creates patterns in cloth by blocking the flow of dye to certain areas of the cloth. For example, if one clamps rectangular blocks of plexiglass to both sides of a folded length of fabric, a pattern of repeating rectangles will result because the dye hasn't reach those areas, but has colored the rest of the fabric. You can see this in the center scarf above, where the first dye bath of paler blue forms rectangles outlined by the purple applied after the fabric has been clamped. Another shibori technique that Roz uses involves wrapping the fabric around a length of PVC pipe, tightly wrapping string in a spiral up the length of the pipe, then compressing the cloth so that the cord blocks access to the dye. This results in a more linear pattern of light and dark area. You can see this in the closeup below.

Roz makes the surface complex by using 2 different tying methods. "I clamp or wrap the silk and put it in a dye bath. After I rinse the project and dry it, I then tie or clamp the silk in a different way and drop it in a second color. This multi step process adds depth and interest to the surface. After the cloth is dyed, I add fine merino wool to the silk to highlight different sections of the cloth. The felting process adds additional texture when the wool shrinks and silk pleats."

Another process that Roz has been working on with felt is to collage onto the silk with shapes that have been pre-felted, creating a complex surface pattern. Below is an example of a garment Roz made that uses this technique:

A third Gallery member who has developed a new body of work is Janet Stollnitz, another of our master weavers. Here's how Janet describes her journey:

What is old is new. A number of years ago I took workshops in both wet- and needle-felting. Although I enjoyed the results of the wet felting, I was more intrigued by the details created using needle-felting techniques. In the needle-felting workshop we created heads; each head had a unique personality. The next step was to create a body. My enjoyment was in making the heads, not a full body sculpture. That ended my needle-felting endeavors. However, seeing the various pins produced by Gallery members reminded me that I had enjoyed making heads, especially the faces––face pins!

Each face is created individually starting with a basic background followed by a nose and ears. With the addition of the eyes and the mouth, the personality appears. Some hair-- many seem to have a “bad hair day” --and of course, beaded earrings complete most pieces.

The base or background starts with a hamburger roll sized mound of carded wool fleece. Using a needle that is specially designed for needle-felting, the fleece is pierced repeatedly to form the desired shape and density. The nose and ears are shaped separately using the felting needle and attached to the base shape. All facial features, such as eyes, eyebrows, and lips, also are made of carded wool fleece and applied using the felting needle. Curly, wool locks are most often used for hair. The beaded earrings are attached using a needle and thread.

I hope you've enjoyed learning about these artistic journeys as much as I did. Our new show will be juried on Monday. Please visit the Gallery to see the latest places our artistic paths have led.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hand knits at the Gallery

Knitted clothing and accessories can be bought many places, in department stores, in boutiques, and in galleries such as ours. What makes a knitted item gallery-worthy?

First, all knitted items in our gallery are hand-knit using original designs. Beyond that, one thing that often distinguishes knitted items at our gallery is the fiber used. For example, Joan Hutten's scarf is knitted of wild silk and cotton.

This detail shot shows the knitting pattern Joan used for her variegated yarn. Often the yarn in our wearables is hand-spun or hand-dyed.

Debra M. Lee is one of the Gallery's master knitters. One of her specialties is knitted tote bags made using recycled cotton canvas tote bags as the lining. These use quality yarns of natural fibers. In the examples shown below, the Journey and Chameleon and Praying Mantis bags use wool or wool and soy yarns, while the Blooming Flowers bag uses cotton, bamboo, silk, and linen yarns. Each lining is customized with a zippered top and interior pockets. The knitted fabric is reinforced with fused non-woven interfacing to help retain its shape and promote wear.

Here are the front and back of Debra's Chameleon and Praying Mantis tote bag:

The image on The Journey, below, is embroidered using the duplicate stitch technique.

Our final example of Debra's work is Blooming Flowers, where Debra knitted the bag in a geometric pattern, then added separately knitted and crocheted flowers.
Photos by George McLennan

When asked how her bags differ from commercially produced tote bags, Debra says:

My hand-knits are my attempt to change the grandmotherly, dowdy perception of knitting as a craft and help bring it into modern, contemporary fashion and art.
My bags take a small step toward reducing our carbon footprint by recycling mass produced canvas totes.
I incorporate the principles of design and color through the use of color yarns and imagery that are not easily mass produced. The images on the Journey and Chameleon and Praying Mantis bags are hand-embroidered, for example.
Each hand-knit is a project with a unique vision.

Of course, knitting need not be restricted to functional items. One example is Gayle Roehm's knitted interpretation of a Fabergé egg, Spring Flowers Egg:

Photo by Miriam Rosenthal, ThirdEyePhotography

This is but a taste of the range of knitted items that may be seen in our gallery. Please stop in to see what our members are showing this time.