Monday, July 16, 2007

Printing and Cutting Marathon: The "Pages" Pieces

I have been studying and working through some sample ideas and compositions based on written language for over a year. I started first by researching ancient scripts, some of which are so obscure that they are not even able to be deciphered by linguistic experts. In one of my first pieces, "Forgotten Language," (2006), I made language-like stitched marks with embroidery floss across a surface that I wanted to look and feel like a fragmented, ancient tablet.
Here's the complete view of the piece. It felt like a good beginning but not quite what I was striving to communicate
Then, early this spring, after trying several other ways to express language in my compositions, I had the idea to make a semi-transparent single layer piece using water soluble fabric and thread. This piece is called "Pages" and will be on exhibit at the International Quilt Festival in Houston this fall as part of an art cloth exhibition juried by Jane Dunnewold and Claire Benn.

I cut tiny 1" x 2" rectangles from silk screened text on white silk. I sometimes search for old letters or diaries at antique shops, borrow old family letters from friends to make copies and then turn them into silk screens. On this piece I selected pages from an old dictionary and a fragment of an old love letter and created screens from that. I also bleach discharged and potato dextrin resist dyed silks and cottons, laid them out on water soluble fabric, stitched them with a loose grid and then washed away the water soluble. A sheer, floating length of fabric with rows of these tiny pages remained. From that point on, a wave of ideas started and I seemed to be recording one right after another in my sketchbooks and journal. I envision hanging these pieces at least six inches away from the wall (and hopefully my talented husband will be able to help devise this hanging mechanism) because the pattern of shadows created behind them adds another dimension to the piece that I find most interesting.

Ideas continued to fill my sketchbook and journals while I was teaching at Pro Chem, through the SDA conference and class, trip to New Mexico and class in Ohio. When I got home from all my teaching and travels around mid-June, even though I had another three day class to prepare for and teach locally, I went right to my studio and started designing new screens, printing them on cloth and doing more discharge and resist patterned yardage. Here's a sample of black and grey silk-screened on white silk:

In the past few weeks, I've made numerous patterns and combinations, all working with greyscale. There is something fascinating and freeing in working without other colors for now. I can always add them in numerous ways down the road when I feel they become important to the idea for a piece. I see so many incredible ranges of hues in simple greys right now, for example, that I will enjoy exploring their subtlety and variety for a bit.

For the second "Pages" piece I've decided to cut the pages a half-inch larger in both directions -- 1.5" x 2 ", so it is possible to read whole words now, although their relationships remain ambiguous. Because I am more interested in the calligraphic look of the large text than creating a readable document or story, I enlarged this writing with the idea that the fragmented text would read as calligraphic marks rather than actual words.

I still have many more ideas for making fabric components, but have settled on the ones I'll use for the second piece, which will be twice the width and length of the first one. I'll be laying it and stitching it over the next week and will post the piece as it progresses. I thought it would be exactly the same as the first Pages piece, just larger, but am already "seeing" some ways I want to modify the patterns of rectangles for this new piece. The cutting down into little segments is tedious and time-consuming, but also very meditative because it is so repetitive. My mind plays with design and composition variations as I cut and stash each yard or so of fabric into small plastic storage baggies. I'm working on being patient, although my mind tends to leap ahead and wants to get right at the design and construction part. But making marks and patterns on cloth and then creating the little page components are what I'm doing for now.

What fascinates me most about this exploration is that I turned to visual arts over 10 years ago to get as far away as possible from words and written language. Visual art has been a way for me to go to what I call my No Words Place, an intuitive world of color, pattern, line and shape. I find it hard to speak or think coherently when I'm in this mode -- sometimes there's a kind of instinctual monosyllabic thought chain -- "Here.... blue...." --then that fades and there's just movement and gesture and strong instinct.

Not that working from instinct always work out initially! Even though at that moment it feels like I am connecting to some incredible creative wellspring, the intuitive flash abates and I'm left in my regular, thinking mind considering what I've just done and what needs to be done -- or undone -- next.


  1. "...I turned to visual arts over 10 years ago to get as far away as possible from words and written language. Visual art has been a way for me to go to what I call my No Words Place..."

    In my creative journey, I've learned never to say never! I can't believe some of the things I'm doing now, things that I pooh poohed not so long ago.

  2. Your blog is wonderful and very inspiring. Can't wait to see your piece in Houston.