Friday, November 28, 2008

The Fine Art Department

Woven Shibori I was just invited to participate in a fine art blog, The Fine Art Department, so I invite you to go there and check it out. We are 25 artists of varying media using that blog as an onling art gallery cum contact information point for each individual in the group. I'm excited about it. Everyone's work is wonderful. And many thanks to Lisa Call for mentioning The Fine Art Department on her blog, which is how I became aware of it.

Still hoping to get to dyeing today -- I have soda soaked a bunch of fabric samples that I want to overdye or print on, and have a bunch of white fabric ready to soak. Plus the ready to go fabric I soaked earlier in the week. But there are always so many other things to do, that sometimes it's difficult to get to the time when there's an opening to actually do art!

But I'm on my way...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Still Waters (run deep)

I completed this piece of art cloth earlier this week. It is handwoven bombyx silk, woven shibori on a painted warp. I wove it a couple of months ago and just got to finishing it. Finished size is 17 x 73 inches.

Today was a lovely, rather quiet Thanksgiving. Scotty and I had supper with a small group of friends then came home and watched a couple of movies. I tinkered around a bit in the studio early in the day, pulling out lots of fabrics I've dyed recently just because I enjoy looking at and touching them and considering what to use them for. Also to spark my imagination for a fabric dyeing session I'll do tomorrow. I'm going to aim for dyeing once a week on a regular basis, so that I have a continual stream of fabrics to overdye and otherwise finish off before their final use.

Hope you all had a good day today, whether it was Thanksgiving for you or just Thursday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Loom-Controlled Mokume

You may remember that I recently wove a cellulose fiber fabric, with random pickup for my supplementary shibori threads. And here it is, after initial finishing. The fabric is cotton/tencel warp and linen weft. After wet finishing and drying, I soaked it in soda ash solution. After that dried, I scrunch dyed it with fiber reactive dyes, let that dry, then drew up the gathering threads. Then I discharged it with a 20% bleach solution.

Cotton/Tencel and linen woven shiboriCotton/Tencel and linen woven shibori

The really cool thing is that it looks just like hand stitched mokume (mokume means "wood-grained"), which is what I hoped for. Because hand stitching is so laborious, if this effect can be done on the loom, so much the better. I'm considering what to do next to this piece. The fabric itself is so soft, I just love it. In fact, I am just loving handwoven fabrics. In my recent experiments with numerous techniques, I've been using commercial fabrics, and I have to say that I do not like the cottons that are available these days. My preferred fabrics are linen/rayon, cotton/rayon, cotton/linen, and silks, of course. I've tried a few of the commonly available quilting-type cottons, and I just don't like how they feel -- even after being laundered before I use them, then laundered again numerous times after each surface design treatment. The best commercial stuff I've found, to my liking anyway, is Osnaburg. Guess I'm just a homespun kinda gal -- but I already knew that!

Anyhow, below is a silk crepe de chine scarf -- black originally -- that I discharged today, in thiox. I have something else in mind to finish it off, then it will be available for sale.

Discharged silk scarf

Monday, November 24, 2008

It's Soup!

Ta Da! My new website is up and running. It's like a breath of fresh air to me. Have a look here, and see what you think. If you've been to my former website, I think you'll like the clean lines of the new one, plus more and different work than I had on the other. The best part is that pretty much everything about it is totally within my control, so the site can grow and change right along with me and my art. What a concept!

In other news, I'm having an End-of-Year GRATITUDE SALE at my Etsy shop! All fibers and yarns are on sale at 25% off from now until the end of the year. I am very appreciative of the support and patronage I've had this year from fiber artists here in the U.S. and around the world. I've really loved sending fiber off to places near and far, playing a small part in others' creative ventures.

I haven't decided yet, though, whether I'll continue to sell fiber after the end of the year. The fact is that since about midway through this year, sales have slowed down -- probably because there are so many other folks selling at Etsy now, more and more of them selling fibers just like I do (albeit some with higher prices than mine!). But the way Etsy is organized, the last items posted there are the first ones a buyer sees when they do a search for something. So newer sellers, or sellers who turn over their inventory really quickly and repost items, have the advantage. Unfortunate, but true.

Everything changes. Nothing stays the same for very long. This is just life as we know it. Anyway, check out my new website, let me know what you think, and if you're an artist looking for where and how to set up your first website, or a replacement one, email me and I'll put you in touch with the folks I'm working with now. Thanks!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Quiet But Busy

Dyed and discharged linen napkinI'm having a busy, productive week, and feeling really wonderful about everything. Nice! The photo is of one of a set of old linen napkins that I recently dyed and discharged. Just foolin' around a bit. I have a couple other sets I did similar work on but I don't like them all that well. While I was working on all of them, though, I'd thought of writing a blog post called "Feminine Napkins," and I'm sure you all would have appreciated the play on words.

Anyhow, I completed three major pieces of Art Cloth this week, and have them posted at my shop at 1000 well as on my new website, which I'll be launching early next week. I'm totally excited about it, it's everything I've wanted in a website. So look for my post about it next week, before Thanksgiving.

Speaking of online marketing -- has anyone else noticed that Etsy has become a kitschy eBay? So many of the sellers there these days -- and I thought they were supposed to be making everything by hand! -- are buying and reselling vintage items. Clothing, linens, books, housewares, furniture, etc. I still subscribe to Etsy's Storque newsletter, and every day there are posts about vintage this and vintage that.

I'm dyeing today -- two more pieces to finish off. One silk piece with acid dyes, one cellulose piece with fiber reactive dyes. And similar colors, interestingly, although the pieces will be quite different.

Enjoy your pre-holiday weekend!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Extreme Makeover, Textile Edition...

...or Don't Stop 'Til You Get It Right!

Here's what I started with -- a silk woven shibori scarf I made late last year. I never liked the colors of this piece -- the purple was too intense, the green was too blue for my taste.

But it didn't occur to me to overdye it until recently, when I decided to overhaul a few early pieces. So I immersion dyed it in yellow, to sweeten the color up. But the dyestock looked weak, so I added more and subsequently the colors were neon-like! No problem, back into the dyepot!

So I immersed it in magenta, to turn it more brown, and the magenta also brought the original colors a lot closer together...and now it no longer had that jarring contrast.

Last step -- yesterday I stitched the piece into a tube, scrunched over a pole, and this morning I bomaki shibori'd it. Now I really like it. The piece is called Autumn Wood, and it is part of my initial inventory of handwoven art cloth.

All told, this piece of cloth has been dyed six times! It's hard to tell from the photo, but the depth of color from all those dye jobs is just awesome.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Third of Three

Here's the last of the three new scarves -- also silk chiffon. Red isn't usually a color I work with...but although this piece reads as red, really it is myriad shades of orange, rust, dark magenta, and browns. I embellished it this morning with metallic textile paint. And it has been added to the list of available pieces on the left. Enjoy!

New Scarves

I dyed and painted two new silk chiffon scarves over the weekend (actually, a third one but it's not ready yet). So here they are...

What fun I had! I like that each one is so different from the others. Each piece speaks to me about what it wants to be.

The newbies are now listed in the Art For Sale section on the left. I already sold one piece that was listed on Saturday. So if you want one, don't hesitate.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Fix Is In

Okay. The column at the left now has works for sale, my recently created Handpainted Silk Scarves. Under each photo is a description, price, and a Buy Now button, which will redirect you to a PayPal invoice page for Constance Rose Designs. More info on how this works is in the box at the top of the left column.

Where there's a will, there's a way. Sometimes you just have to go around roadblocks to make things work!


What a nightmare Blogger can be! I've been trying to add PayPal buttons to photos of art for sale, within a blog post, and Blogger is making it extremely difficult to do it and have it look good. If this were a real website I'm sure it could be done far more easily. The problem is NOT on PayPal's end -- the html code works just fine. The problem is that Blogger apparently has some hidden code that adds unwanted space and a small empty square underneath the PayPal button. And it all looks cheesy to me. So I'm undecided about proceeding with this...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Vanilla Cream

Handwoven cellulose fabrics Another morning of fulfillment, as I laundered these just-off-the-loom cellulose fabrics. The warp for this batch is 10/2 cotton/tencel and each piece measures 22" in width. From the top down, they are:
  • cotton flake weft, 34" in length
  • cotton/tencel weft, 54" in length
  • linen weft, 66" in length
  • cotton/rayon weft, 82" in length
  • organic cotton weft, 66" in length

I always used to hand launder my handwovens but since I've been weaving plain fabric, I've been machine laundering -- wash AND dry -- and the resulting cloth is something else entirely from what I was getting before. These pieces are soft and drapey, wonderful to touch, very sensual overall. I'm hooked, now, on machine laundering.

The first one of these I plan to finish off is the third from the top, that piece I wove with random pickup shibori wefts. I know what I want to do and plan to have it complete within the next week.

Today is a dyeing day -- fabrics and scarves to be overprinted on tomorrow or this weekend. So more, later.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Not My Color

I'm grousing a bit today...thinking about a friend who, earlier this year, said she loved a scarf that I'd woven and would buy it if it were her color. In a moment of desperation a couple months later, I thought about calling her and offering to dye it for her, but decided I really didn't want to.

But that whole scenario is one of many reasons I decided to turn my focus away from the wearable art market -- except for the handpainted silk scarves I've been doing lately. If folks love a piece of art, they'll make room for it in their environment. Not so with wearable art -- it has to be just the right color to wear it on the body. I mean, let's face it, I feel the same way! I'm very color conscious when it comes to clothing myself. Some people, obviously, don't favor the same colors I do, or they wouldn't use that excuse for not buying my work.

I'm having a bit of a down day today but I won't bitch anymore here. If you can't resist hearing more of what I have to say today, though, check it out here on my other blog. Otherwise, I'll see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Modern Day Miracle Fiber

A few weeks ago, Bonnie Samuel, who's blog features articles about fiber, asked me to do a story about silk...

Back when I was growing up, the then-new manmade fibers were heavily touted as "miracle fibers" -- those fabrics that were wash 'n wear, required little if any ironing, either never showed stains or you could get spots out easily, and lasted virtually forever. In time, we learned most of that simply wasn't true. The manmade fibers didn't hold up the way they were supposed to or developed problems of their own. And who wanted to wear lime green jacquard polyester leisure suits, anyway?

Now that's ancient history. Today's miracle fiber, IMHO, is silk. They used to say you had to dry clean silk, but that too was hogwash. Fact is, I had my share of sumptuous silk blouses ruined by dry cleaning in the 1980s. Among it's numerous virtues, silk is very hand washable, plus it's nearly indestructible. Silk is also light weight and amazingly warm, it's hypoallergenic, it dyes magnificently, and it comes in a wide variety of textures and finishes. Is there anyone out there who doesn't absolutely love silk?

I've been spinning silk, almost exclusively, for the past eight years. Originally I switched to silk from animal fibers, when I found I could no longer wear wools -- even very fine merino wool -- because they caused me to itch and made my skin crawl. At first I moved from sheep wool to alpaca, but that was way too warm and still somewhat itchy, and eventually I went down the list of finer and finer animal fibers until I found myself so unbelievably allergic to angora that I can't be in the same room with the stuff. So enter silk in my life, and I've never looked back.

Although all silk comes from silk worm cocoons, the first division in types of silk is whether it has been cultivated or harvested in the wild. All, or nearly all cultivated silk comes from the Bombyx Mori moth, hence cultivated silk is simply called bombyx, or alternately mulberry silk, because bombyx moths are raised exclusively on mulberry leaves. Cultivated silk is very white and lustrous.

Wild silk is called tussah or sometimes muga depending on the species of moth, and there are many silk moth species in the world. What distinguishes all wild silk is that it will range in color from honey to a nearly cinnamon color, depending on what the moths eat. The more tannin in the moths' food supply, the darker tan the silk will be. Of course, these days you can get bleached tussah, but even though it can be disguised to look like bombyx, there are distinct differences in the way the two silks feel. Tussah or wild silks are just slightly crimpy compared with the amazingly straight bombyx silk fibers; they're fuzzier, they're matte in finish, and they're slightly heavier. Also slightly stronger.

Regardless of whether they are cultivated or wild, silk cocoons are processed to get silk fiber for spinning, and subsequently for silk yarn and silk fabrics. It all starts with those fine strands of fiber that create the cocoon. In the processing of cocoons another division occurs, and that is between long silk fibers and short fibers or noil. The long straight fibers are combed together to become top or sliver (pronounced with a long "i"). Silk top is heavenly to spin with, it practically spins itself. Typically you'll use the long draw spinning technique. You can spin it extremely finely, or not, the fibers are long and straight, and the yarn is so strong -- even the very finest yarn -- that you can easily cut your hand trying to break it!

The short noil fibers might be carded into roving, or spun as is. Usually silk noil fiber has bits of cocoon in it, or small pieces of whatever the cocoon was hanging on out in the wild. It looks a lot like cotton fiber. It's a completely different experience spinning silk noil -- because the fibers are so short you must use the short draw method keeping your hands very close together. And you'll typically spin a chunky yarn, although it will weigh almost nothing.

Cocoons also might be made into hankies, which are then dyed, separated into individual cocoon layers, and spun. A hanky is a flat square of silk comprised of approximately 6 to 8 cocoons that have been degummed in water and soda ash, had the worm pupa removed, and been stretched over a 10" x 10" frame to dry. Hankies have both long and short fibers in them so when they're spun up, the resulting yarn will have tiny slubs of short fibers. Spun up, this is raw silk textured yarn.

I should clarify that my focus is primarily on spun silk, because I am a spinner. There's also an entire industry devoted to reeled silk, that creates unbelievably gorgeous and extremely expensive yarn and fabrics made of numerous filaments of silk being unreeled together from individual cocoons and made into thread, rather than being spun together.

The silks just mentioned -- bombyx and tussah top, hankies, and noil -- are what I spin. I often combine a ply of one type of silk with a ply of another to create interesting and unusual yarns. For example, a chunky noil ply with a very fine bombyx ply. I also often hand card angelina fiber and/or weaving thrums into the silk noil, then ply that with fine bombyx, for a really unique, glitzy silk novelty yarn.

For earlier posts about my work with silk -- spinning, weaving and/or dyeing -- go to the compilation here. For a really terrific website devoted to silk worm raising and cultivation, visit Michael Cook at WormSpit. For great source info on using silk, see Treenway Silk's website. And check out my Etsy store for silks to spin. Enjoy!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Some Easy Changes

If you haven't already noticed, I've made a few changes to my blog...besides putting all the navigational links on the left now, I moved the section with my sites to the very top, and added links directly to the Flickr galleries where my artworks are located. If you get my posts by FeedBlitz, you'll have to go the blog itself to see the changes.

This is an intermediate -- or perhaps permanent -- fix to my issue about whether or not I really need a standalone website. If you click on the link for Constance Rose Designs, you'll go to the website. And the art galleries at the website are also now directly linked to from my blog, see the links for the Galleries sections. So you don't even have to go the website to see the art.

I did some research over the weekend and am thinking seriously about abandoning my current website, and redesigning one that speaks to who I am now and the art I am producing now and intending to produce. I found a host who provides all the tech support needed, for a very low annual cost for everything, hosting included (and I should add, works specifically with artists). I'll still have the same domain name but the website will be significantly different. I'm hoping my current host can put up a "redevelopment" type of page for me during December, while I am revamping the whole thing.

Stay tuned on this, the issue is likely not completely resolved.

City Lights quilt, detailAnd here's a detail of City Lights, posted yesterday.

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

City Lights

City Lights art quiltCity Lights art quiltI finished my latest quilt this morning, called "City Lights." It's 21.5 x 27 inches. It started out as a sample discharge project, had metallic paint added, then I discharged the backing fabric, machine quilted, then hand beaded it. It was difficult to photograph, looks to much better in person than what you see here.

I really love this piece. It's a pleasure to finish a piece I really love. A lot of things get made in the process of doing art that are just so-so. So it's always a treat when something works!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Dyeing For A Friend

Dyed cashmere skeinsWow, this is my 200th post here!

This morning I busied myself dyeing these skeins of re-purposed cashmere yarn for weaver Bonnie Tarses in Seattle. I like the idea of reclaiming old items knit with natural fibers, unraveling them, dyeing the yarn, and making something new with it. This yarn dyed rather unevenly, but I'm hoping Bonnie will find that charming and unusual. The yarn was not white to begin with -- one skein was pale blue/pale yellow/white, and the other was pale yellow/white. Likely that had something to do with the uneven takeup of dye color.

I spent much of the last two days working on my new art quilt, and hope to have it completed later today.

I'll be writing an article this weekend on silks to spin with, at the request of weaver Bonnie Samuel, who's blog features educational and historical information about fibers. Look for the article right here early next week.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Online Venues

As I write this, in another window I am setting up shop at a new online marketing venue called 1000 Markets. 1000 Markets is another artisan shopping community, similar to Etsy, but because one needs to be juried in and approved before setting up shop, I'm really hoping that most, if not all, of the really inexpensive, underpriced, undervalued handmade work doesn't show up at 1000 Markets as it has proliferated on Etsy.

Here's a link for an interesting article Etsy ran yesterday in it's Storque (online newsletter), about the phenomenal sales growth happening there. Nobody I know, including myself, who has higher-priced work at Etsy has sold anything in quite a while, if at all. Somebody's making a lot of money at Etsy, with $8.4 million in sales in October alone. I'd sure like to be getting my share of the sales activity! A friend told me yesterday that Etsy recently said about itself that there were "better deals at Etsy than you can find at Wal-Mart." OMG! I will very likely not relist my finished work there after the listings expire over the next few months. Instead, I've begun listing all that work at 1000 Markets. I'll use Etsy for fiber sales only, eventually.

What are REAL artists to do? Which brings me to something else I've been thinking about this week -- whether or not it pays anymore to have a standalone website. I've had mine for over a year, and just this week I had the first contact via my website contact form. It's true that I've had a lot of hits in this past year -- a nearly unbelievable 58,000 since last December! But nobody's ever contacted me before via the site, whereas I am in constant contact with folks around the world via my blog. Also on my blog are links to my other online venues, as well as Flickr galleries. So I'm not sure why I have the website any longer. As a matter of fact, the way my website is set up, all the photos you see there as well as detailed info about each piece for sale are actually housed in Flickr galleries. So this seems like it might be the height of redundancy.

I've had changes in mind for my website, but it's pretty costly to maintain and I've begun to feel that updating it with new galleries to herald my shift away from wearable handwovens to surface designed handwoven art cloth would be duplication of effort, since this blog is my regular mouthpiece for all aspects of my life and work as an artist.

We artists are always told that it's definitely a good thing to have a website, to refer art galleries, museums and patrons to. But why can't this blog work just as well for that purpose, with expanded links to places online to see my work? Without the cost of a standalone website?

I'd really be interested in hearing what other artists think about this. So please weigh in on this and let me hear from you. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Two New Scarves

I just completed two new handpainted silk scarves and will post them at my Etsy shop post haste. They were both white to begin with...

Handpainted crepe de chine scarfThe "black" one is crepe de chine, and was dyed, discharged, and overdyed a couple of times, then wrapped for arashi and embellished with metallic paint.

Handpainted chiffon scarf

The one above is chiffon, painted randomly, then embellished with metallic paint.

Other than these scarves and a bit of weaving, today was one of those less-than-stellar days in terms of motivation and energy. I'm glad I have a lot of irons in the fire, so that when I'm not in the mood to tackle large projects, I can still be productive at something!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Random Pickup

Random pickup loom-controlled shibori The fourth piece of fabric on my cotton/tencel warp is well underway, this time with linen weft.

I've been so enchanted with hand-stitched mokume shibori that I decided to weave this loom-controlled shibori piece utilizing random pickup of warp threads for the supplementary weft pattern. I actually do have the loom set up for 24-end block Monk's Belt, and an earlier piece on this warp was woven like that. But I thought I'd give this very random pickup a try, and I'm curious about what it will look like when it's dyed and finished. Increasingly I'm being drawn away from "regular" patterning towards more organic, whatever happens, happens designs.

It's raining steadily here right now, so I guess it's safe to say the rainy season is upon us. I don't plan to leave the house today, and very glad of it. I do like to hunker down when the weather is inclement, particularly at this darkening time of year.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Print Off

...kind of like Bake Off or Blast Off! Yesterday I tried a little experiment that didn't work, so this morning I tried it again, see first photo below, and it's kind of working. My idea was to print off one of those deconstructed screens onto black fabric, using bleach gel instead of discharge paste. So yesterday I tried it with Soft Scrub, which I'd purchased without bleach unwittingly, because I wanted to get something that didn't smell so bad. Well, not only did it not work for my purposes, but the product didn't even scrub stains off my bathtub! So I bought some of the stuff with bleach and what you see here is what I've gotten so far. It's still "cooking" but I don't have great hopes. Next time I want to do this with bleach, I'll make thickened bleach, which I know works. I was going for convenience here.

Bleach discharged deconstructed screen printSo I totally exhausted one of my three screens yesterday with that ill-fated project. Actually it all looked great on the black raw silk, then it all steamed and washed out. Oh well.

The black photo is of a piece of cotton, printed this morning with the second screen. And after I printed with the bleach gel, I used print paste to get the image just below.

Deconstructed screen printAnd this last photo was the third screen. Needless to say I made a number of images from each screen and it was great fun doing it. I haven't silk screened since I took a textiles class when I majored in art my first two years of college, like 100 years ago! So this was a great re-learning experience. It took many more passes with the squeegee to get the screen to start printing, than I'd imagined. A couple of my books say it might take 2 or 3 passes, it took me more like 7 or 8. Whatever works.

Deconstructed screen printIf you're up for a bit of a political rant, visit my other blog, A Crone's Chronicle, for today's post there.