Last weekend I had the great luck to go to Vancouver to take a workshop that was part of Maiwa Handprints' spring symposium of textile education. My dear husband gave me the tuition for this workshop as a Christmas or birthday present (I can't remember which) with the added bonus that he would drive me down so that I wouldn't have to cope with winter highways on my own.
The class was not what I was expecting. I thought I was signing up for a class that would help me make decisions about what layers of colour and texture to add to a piece of cloth and in what order. Instead, we were introduced to a rich smorgasbord of techniques, all of which can be used in making complex cloth. Some of these I was already familiar with, having taken Maiwa classes about the techniques or learned them on my own: block printing, for instance, and silk screening, and carving blocks for printing. But I'd never used mineral dye baths (although I've taken natural and synthetic dye classes from Maiwa), or done any shibori or used discharge agents, and I was really glad to have the opportunity to learn those techniques. We were each given a large, fine cotton scarf to use as the basis for complex cloth, but I was so busy experimenting with techniques and making samples that I never got any further with my scarf than throwing it into a dye pot in the last half hour of the cloth as I whizzed past on my way to do something else.
Want to see some snaps? Come on in!
Here you can see some of the hundreds of pieces of fabric (linen, cotton, and several different kinds of silk) that we were invited to use to make samples (the clothespins I'd set down there so I could take the picture: I went on to use them as clamps for shibori).
Here is the dye centre: two buckets of mineral dyes paired with two buckets of developing agents, plus four buckets for rinsing.
This is the third mineral dye: potassium permanganate. See the purple? That disappeared as soon as the dyed fabric came out of the bucket and into the air: oxidization turned it a lovely rich brown.
We started by throwing some small samples into these dye baths so we'd have an idea of the base colours on our cloth. Then we started to play around (oh, it was fun!) with some of Maiwa's vast collection of wooden and softoleum carved printing blocks. The colour is applied in the form of fabric paint.
Then we moved on to screen printing, and again, we were given the run of a dozen of more of Maiwa's silkscreens. It was amusing to me to see a few screens that I'd actually used about 15 years ago when I took Maiwa's silkscreen class: it's nice to know that after all the work of creating a screen, it can last for all this time if treated with a little care. Are you like me? Does your heart beat a little faster when you see a room like this, filled with paint and silkscreens and myriad other things to do with making art, especially on fabric?
With some screens, we taped off parts of the design to isolate a motif.
I experimented with combining paint colours on the same screen.
On the second day we were introduced to shibori, which is the Japanese term for what most of us in the west know as tie-dying. The Japanese have elevated this technique to a fine art and in class we did little more than the very basics, but I was intrigued with the results and this was probably the most exciting thing I tried all weekend. I made this first one by folding silk into a triangular wedge and clamping it with three heavy carpentry clamps.
I made this one by using elastics to cinch the fabric around marbles.
This one was clamped with metal washers.
I love the way these look together (all were dyed in potassium permanganate), but I have no idea how I'm going to use them.
And this one I stitched with nylon thread. It's my favourite of all my shibori experiments.
Isn't it amazing that the mineral bath turned from purple to these browns? Here are a couple of my samples sitting and oxidizing before being rinsed.
We also used a tea dye bath, which made the whole studio smell gorgeous. The colour of the dyed fabric isn't as intense as with the potassium permanganate.
These next three are all examples of pole wrapping, which I tried for the first time this weekend. I did all three (linen, silk organza, and a silk blend) on the same length of PVC pipe, wrapping them tightly with nylon cord and then scrunching the fabric up. These were also dyed in a mineral bath, this one of iron and a caustic soda developer.
Again, they look fabulous together, but I don't know how to put them together in one piece.
Are you getting tired yet? There is more to see.
On the second day, we tried our hands at carving printing blocks. I was focussed on trying to come with a design or two that might work well as background texture on fabric. These are what I produced: a mosaic sort of design and a sunburst. (See that nice simple drawing of a fish? That was my dh's suggestion for a block print. I like the drawing, but it's not my design, so I didn't use it.)
It's always a surprise to see how the block will print, and this one was a big surprise. I wasn't expecting my carving lines to show so much. I originally interpreted them as nasty mistakes, but then decided that they actually make a more interesting print than my first idea.
Similarly, I didn't like the lines that remained in the middle of the circles on the sunburst block, but after I overprinted with a small circular block from Maiwa's collection, I decided that those carving lines were an asset.
By lunchtime of the second day, I felt such a sense of class time slipping away that I stopped taking breaks, even to eat. I scarfed my lunch while sketching and carving blocks.
On the last day, we moved on to discharge techniques, which means using various chemical agents to lift colour out of fabric. This first one is just thickened lemon juice,, which lifts the mineral dye out of the fabric. I used a couple of Maiwa's wooden blocks for this piece.
I've avoided discharge in the past because so many of the agents sound very toxic, so I was glad to know that at least for some situations, lemon juice works. We moved on to Jacquard discharge paste and sure enough, this proved to be toxic enough to make me feel pretty ill for the rest of the day. We each wore a respirator to apply the paste, but I could smell it even through the respirator, and of course, we did it in turns, which means that the rest of the time we weren't wearing the respirator, even though someone else was using the paste. Yuck. I applied the paste freehand with a brush, through stencils (fish), and on printing blocks (leaves).
In the end, I accumulated quite a stack of samples, the colours of which work together beautifully, even though a neutral, subdued palette like this one wouldn't be my first choice.
And I also ended up with this, a marvellous collection of instructions for all the techniques we tried and some we didn't have time for. Maiwa always presents teaching materials beautifully, and this class was no exception.
The generosity and care that Maiwa applies to its classes is always noteworthy. And I have to say that our instructor for this class, Nathalie Grambow, did a wonderful job. She is knowledgeable, personable, and very helpful. So even though this wasn't the class I thought I was getting, I'm very glad to have taken it. I had a blast, and it gave me the creative kickstart I've been needing recently.
Once it was all over, it was strange to come out of the studio and see that the rest of the world has been carrying on with its day while we were so consumed with what we were learning.
Other things have been happening, both in my studio and in our lives, but this workshop is enough for one post, I think. I hope you get some sense of how engaging and absorbing I found these three days in fabric design heaven.