Penland School of Crafts, Summer 2000

The Whole Cloth

May 28-June 10, 2000

This course was billed as a little of everything, intending to create handwoven fabric which we would then embellish with a wide variety of surface design techniques. We certainly did that, and more, with 14 students, two studio assistants, two teachers (Susan Brandeis of NC State University and Chris Zoller of East Carolina University), two studios to play in, and lots of enthusiasm.

The first night was devoted to introductions, establishing levels of knowledge, and goal-setting and planning. Almost half the students were current or former students of the teachers, so they were all experienced in surface design. Two others had never done anything textile-ish. The rest of us, mostly older, were primarily experienced weavers but with not much experience at surface design.

The format of the class was primarily late-morning demos (to accommodate work-study student schedules), with the rest of the day and evening to work. Occasionally there was an afternoon demo as well. Everything revolved, of course, around the meal schedule!

The first day we warped looms, using one of two drafts (pique or blanket tweel) out of Davison’s green book with 5/2 cotton yarn to create fabrics with a lot of surface texture. Those of us who were experienced weavers just went for it; the others got a condensed version of Weaving 101.

The next day the surface design demos started. We primarily used Procion MX fiber reactive dyes, which don’t require heat (a blessing in the early summer heat wave!). We had nine 5% stock solutions to work from: Black, Brown, Scarlet, Fuschia, Sun Yellow, Golden Yellow, Turquoise, Basic Blue, and Leaf Green. Some later work was done with Createx and Procion pigments, which we could mix into thickener or print paste straight from the bottle.

For most techniques we started with commercial fabric. We began with fold-and-dye, where you fold a piece of fabric (or tissue paper) up in some various way, iron the folds of the fabric so they’ll stay, dip or brush dyes on the various parts of the top surface and hope the dye will wick down to the lower layers, flip it over and redo any parts that missed the color, and stick it in a baggie and let it batch for 3-24 hours before rinsing. We did tissue paper (which we just let dry instead of rinsing, of course!), then commercial muslins, then silk scarves from the supply cabinet, then our handwovens, over the course of the next few days.

From there we moved to two forms of resist dyeing. Pole-wrapped (arashi) shibori gives incredibly cool results but is extremely hard on your hands to set up. It is not that controllable, and the results on handwoven fabric differ considerably from what you get on commercial fabric. Stitched resist takes FOREVER to stitch up and set up (I was stitching on a little piece for DAYS in the occasional spare moment), and then has to be dyed with thickened dyes to work decently. My handwoven arashi pieces were pretty cool, but the silk scarf I tried to scrunch on a pole and wrap and dye was my class disaster. I folded it in half, wrapped from the inside out, dyed it with stripes of green & yellow. Only the ends dyed. So I refolded it, wrapped it from the outside in, dyed it with turquoise and scarlet. YUCK! White scarf with green & yellow stripes on the ends and a few splotches elsewhere, turquoise & scarlet in the middle likewise, ewwwww!

We soon turned to immersion dyeing. This was not your mother’s immersion dyeing trying to get nice even color. This was immersion dyeing with salt, without stirring, trying to get UNEVEN color. INCREDIBLY COOL. At this point I overdyed the yucky scarf with a periwinkle blue, which did improve it some but not enough (one thing about silk scarves: the fabric doesn’t take a whole lot of dye so the parts that were already dyed from the shibori pretty well stayed their original color).

Next we came to warp painting version 1, on-loom with pigments. Gregg Johnson (studio coordinator) didn’t really want us doing this, but he was off at the Surface Design Association conference, so we went for it!

Over the weekend, many of the class members dispersed to various other pursuits. Those of us who stayed got a lot of nice quiet studio time and accomplished a LOT. It was nice being able to put on a second warp without as much distraction.

The second week began with a LOT of demos, trying to finish them up so we could have a couple of days left to just work. We learned how to make and use a silkscreen, how to do “rainbow dyeing” and off-loom warp painting, weft ikat techniques, and probably something else I’ve forgotten! We finished up the demos with several beading and stitchery techniques.

The remainder of the week we worked like madwomen to finish our projects. My first warp had been primarily devoted to fold and dye and arashi shibori techniques. On the second warp (10/2 cotton), I did warp painting, some short lengths to try the earlier dyeing techniques on a finer fabric, a piece of weft ikat which was something of a failure (the ikat pattern didn’t show up because my weft skeins were just a bit too big), and finished off the end of the warp with more warp painting. Usually I’d spend part of the evening dyeing, let the dye projects batch overnight, and rinse at some point the next day. I found the dyeing (and weaving) so fascinating that it was the last afternoon before I could make myself try the silkscreen and play with that a bit. I also finally found time to wind one more warp and paint it, to weave at home, and to space-dye about a pound of yarn for later use as well.

In among all the madness, I whipped out two pieces for the scholarship auction Thurs. night. One was an orange-sherbet colored immersion-dyed scarf (yes, I used orange dye and I have witnesses and dyed thrums to prove it!). The other was a peach-colored silk tie blank, on which I silkscreened a butterfly and stitched on some beads. I also silkscreened a bunch of little dots in blue-violet over the yucky scarf, trying to see how far I could push it — it’s STILL ugly.

I came home, finally and reluctantly, with a stack of samples, several scarves, a painted warp, a dozen or so skeins of space-dyed yarn, some dyed paper for bookbinding, more pictures of Penland, several new friends, a determination to return next year, and most importantly, INSPIRATION.