Friday, April 8, 2016

The Resistance: Fighting With L.A.W.

What are the essential characteristics of quality fiber art? Most quality discussions revolve around the aesthetics of art. I was interested in the physical characteristics of quality fiber art. If I entered a time capsule and jumped ahead 100 years, what would my masterpieces look like? Would the printed imagery stand up over time? Nobody can predict the future but a strong foundation would increase the odds that my printed babies would still be there for future generations to enjoy. 

From the drudgery of doing laundry, I knew that faded clothing did not last long in my wardrobe. Neither did faded outdoor couch cushions after a season of being exposed to daily sunlight. Resistance to water and light would be crucial to the longevity of my printed wonders. The last secret to longevity emerged from an impromptu experiment.

One day, I approached family members with a piece of framed art and a piece of fiber art. As we discussed the visual impact, I found that they would instinctively reach out and touch the fiber art.   There was an automatic yearning to understand what was creating the visual texture. To gain that information, it needed to be touched. So resistance to abrasion would be an important quality consideration. As I moved forward, the acronym L.A.W became my shorthand for fiber art's ability to resist light, abrasion and water. It was the technical standard I used to measure the physical durability of digitally printed fabric.
It seemed cruel and unspeakable, but in the name of science and  the "Pink Cut Velvet Box", I tore my printed children into quarters.  One quarter went into the sun.  Another into hot water.  The other two quarters were on standby.  Looking for immediate gratification, I focused on the washing experiment. One can always avoid light. Moisture was much harder to escape.
Pretending I was having a spot of tea,  I poured my the fabric into a cup of  hot water. Like a teaspoon of sugar, my precious images dissolved and vanished leaving a fabric "teabag" floating aimlessly around the edge of the cup.   My stomach turned as the hot water became a lovely shade of muddy gray. The verdict was swift. My prints were not water fast.  In desperate denial,  I took standby piece #1 and rubbed it vigorously between my hands. Known as crocking, the color abraded off with little effort. Sharing was suppose be a good thing. However leaving color on my hands was not. At this point, my light test seemed like a moot point but I completed it anyways. Three days later the results were undeniable. The sun had caused significant fading. A harsh reality slapped me in the face. Even if printer 1 and Rosie had survived, the prints failed to meet the technical standards of  L.A.W...
When I began my adventure, my hope was to eliminate the "middle man". Perhaps I was premature. Clearly I needed a better understanding of the technology I was trying to harness and repurpose.  To fight the effects of L.A.W., it was time to zoom in from the big picture and start looking at the details.

Unlike the printers, I did not have the heart to bury what remained of my printed babies. Instead, I made a banner out of them.  I pinned them to my design wall next to a picture of the pink cut velvet box. They would remind me that my dream of personalizing fabric was, after all, a quest.

Until next time.
Forever dreaming of the "Pink Cut Velvet Box".

Julie S. Brandon

Where Digital Meets Fiber

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Recycling & Repurposing: The Noble Cause

My early attempts at printing on fabric taught me a lot about printing.  The simplicity I envisioned proved elusive... What was the big deal?  In a world of DIY, recycling and repurposing, using a printer to print on fabric seemed like a noble cause.  Bolstered with this "noble" sense of purpose I began my journey.

A fabric's awesome ability to drape is a printer's worst nightmare.  My excitement became  horror as I watched my first piece of fabric wiggle through the printer.  The take up rollers/fingers grabbed only part of the fabric.  My beautiful composition of flowers looked like a bad impression of Dali.

Undeterred, in my second attempt, I tried hand guiding the fabric. This time the printer carriage got caught on some loose threads and jammed.  While cutting away the fabric, I realized that I had broken the plastic fingers used to guide the media. Additional testing and a complete autopsy revealed that the print head was also damaged.  My second printing attempt killed the printer. With a heavy heart,  I made arrangements for a proper funeral and buried it at the local recycling center.

Believing it was "beginner's bad luck" and the persistent dream of the "Pink Cut Velvet Box", I purchased my next printer. I named her Rosie, hoping that personifying her would give her special protective powers.  With a new found respect for Rosie's mechanics, I started again.

To eliminate the drape problem, I needed to laminate the fabric.  Combing through my stash of crafty things, I found three options; thin cardboard, overhead acetate and freezer paper.

At first, I thought thin cardboard would be the ticket. A few dots of washable glue and I was good to go. It was a false start.  The cardboard and fabric sandwich was too thick for Rosie to accept.  The next option, overhead acetate, worked with mixed results. The middle of the fabric was still loose. The print was distorted. I was not there yet.

I admit it sounds cliche,  but honestly my third option was the charm.  Ironing freezer paper to fabric proved to be the winner. Who would have thought that a kitchen staple could be repurposed for my dream.  I could feel the DIY,  recycle and repurpose communities gazing down on me with pride.  

The first print was flawless. I was so excited,  I had to pinched myself to see if it was real.  

The second print was awesome.  Rosie hummed and I was singing.  I could hardly contain myself.  In my head, the ideas were lining up in Rosie's print queue. Together, Rosie and I were unstoppable or so I thought..... 

When printing the third image, one of the sandwiched corners went through curled. It was caught on Rosie's print head.  I held my breath as I struggled to rescue her.   My hopes of a quick recovery dissolved into despair.  The cardinal rule was broken. The fabric had jammed against Rosie's print head.  After a small eulogy and moment of silence, I lovingly wrapped Rosie in a paper bag and delivered her to the local recycling center.

Although Rosie's demise was a blow,  my glass remained half full.  Rosie's sacrifice gave birth to my dream. I had two of my own images on fabric.  It was progress, however,  another question began to gnawing at me.... Were the prints of any quality? 

Until next time.

Forever dreaming of the pink cut velvet box.

Julie S. Brandon
Where Digital Meets Fiber

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Pink Cut Velvet Box: The Quest

A fiber artist's lament... If only it was a different colorway. Or the imagery on the fabric was a different size.  Or it was the right fiber content and quantity.

Countless times I have walked into fabric shops in search of the "perfect" fabric. Shopping for fabric was like speed dating.  Inevitably, "making do" was the prize.
I admit the prize wasn't a the worst thing in the world. After all,  it lead to the creative challenge of making the prize fit the vision in my head.  I have spent many entertaining hours morphing my prizes using stamps, paint, dye, bleach, solvents and fire.  

However, in the end,  my morphed fabric satisfied the itch but not the soul. To scratch my soul, I needed to eliminate the middleman, (i.e. someone else's fabric designs/ideas).  

I am on a quest to personalize fabric.  

In order to achieve my quest, a couple of visuals come to mind.

My first thought was to go all Hollywood..... 

As you walk in the front door of a fabric shop, you are greeted with the smell of chocolate, Willie Wonka and a big computer screen. There are no fabric bolts on the walls; just comfy chairs covered with luxurious fabric that you can't help but caress. Willie guides you through the process of designing your vision. With the push of a magic button,  the Oompa  Loompas prepare your fabric treat. While enjoying your final sip of hot chocolate, your custom fabric would come down a noisy conveyor belt trumpeting its arrival in a pink cut velvet box with a beautiful bow.

My second vision...

Involves a Toshiba TV monitor,  Photoshop CS5.5 and an Epson 9900 printer.  In my world, cutting up fabric and sewing it back together has evolved into printing whole cloth imagery and digitized machine quilting.  My work process has followed the rise in the availability of digital technology. I am excited and want to spread the word. My hope is to share stories as I pursue my quest to personalize fabric.

As a final thought, for those that are not inclined to "pet" fabric, you might ask "Why use fabric and thread?".  It is because nothing beats the tactile/visual connection created by stitched fabric. 

Until next time.....
Forever dreaming of the pink cut velvet box.

Julie S. Brandon
Where Digital Meets Fiber