Thursday, March 28, 2013

Digitally Printed Fabrics

"Digital Print Fashion", a current exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum, provides a fascinating look at the history of printed fabric. I was pleasantly surprised at how fascinating I found it. I had seen Project Runway episodes where the designers were allowed to create their own fabric but didn't really pay attention to it as a process. 

Digital printing was first used by carpet manufacturers in the 1970's. The fashion industry began experimenting in the 1990's. By the mid-2000's high fashion became interested as technological advancements improved accessibility and quality.

The earliest existing examples of printed fabric are from the 5th century Egypt, but reliable records indicated that printed fabrics appeared as early as 2500 BC. Many different techniques have been used around the world to create printed fabrics but here's a review of the predominant technologies in American and European fashion:
  1. Block Printing - can be traced to 400 BC. the method involves carving a design into a large wooden block. Ink is applied to the raised surface and pressed to the fabric. You have probably done some printing by carving a design into a potato. 
  2. Copper Plate Printing - Introduced in Dublin in 1752 and used until the 1850's. The design is engraved on a copper plate and the recessed lines trap the dye which is then pressed to the fabric with the weight of an iron pressure roller. Only monochromatic designs are possible.
  3. Roller Printing - Thomas Bell is credited with the first successful roller printer in 1783. The method was used until the mid 20th century. Again, engraving creates the design; this time on a metal roller which can print a continuous pattern mechanically.
  4. Silk Screen Printing  - Patented in 1907 this is the primary technique used in 20th century textile printing and is still the predominant method used for most printed textiles today. A 'screen' of very fine fabric is treated with a substance that allows ink to penetrate specific areas in the manner of a stencil.
So here we are in 2013.... Here are some examples of garments made with digital prints:

Hemline border print
 Graphic software, digital photography and ink-jet printing allow designers to do amazing things! Digital tools allow rapid editing, adjusting and customizing all at one time as opposed to the time consuming process of screen printing.

A digital printing machine
Christina Binkley of the  Wall Street Journal:
"New prints like these are not the sort of repetitive patterns we're accustomed to- stripes, dots or flowers repeated across the fabric. They're abstractions and they make you stand back, then look close, the way you would in a museum."

But..... here's something to think about.

This dress is digitally printed!

It does not resemble the previous examples does it? The textile was commissioned by Colonial Williamsburg. A rare fragment of painted silk was scanned and Photoshop worked its magic.
Think of the potential - missing elements of authentic period garments can be reproduced digitally to enhance their display.

Although this method accounts for only a small percentage of all printed textiles today, it is predicted that soon this "technology will provide the majority of the world's printed textiles."

 If that is true how will the quilts of the future look? 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Jockey Cap - 1940's Reproduction

One year ago - February, 2012:
A friend of mine showed me a little project she was doing using Drunkard Path blocks in 1930's and 1940's reproduction fabrics. The technique was simpler than the usual two templates required for this design  but she said the trouble was that she got two identical blocks with this method and she wanted to do a small project where each block was different. What to do with those extra blocks?

I realized quickly, as any good friend would, that I could help her solve that problem. So she sent me home with a pile of blocks all prepared to applique and now we each have an identical set of blocks.

Basically, you select two fabrics that you like together, cut a square and a circle out of each, ( we used a 5" square and a template for a 3" diameter circle). Applique a circle to the center of  each square (we did needleturn) Now trim the completed block to 4.5" and then cut it  into quarters and reassemble creating two identical blocks. I cut away the 'bottom' layer of each inner quarter circle.

The beauty of it is that there are no curved seams to sew as there are in the more typical method of making Drunkard's Path blocks.
More typical construction method
Two templates required

Here's my finished little quilt:

                22.5" x 26"

Hand quilted
No matter what method you use to create it, this versatile block can be worked in any size and arranged in countless ways to create very different looks. Numerous names have been applied to it; sometimes related to the way the blocks are arranged;  Jockey Cap, Fool's Puzzle, Oregon Trail, Baseball to name a few.

I wrote about the design and it's relation to the Women's Christian Temperance Union in this 2011 post.

More examples:

Scrappy - Kaffe Fassett design
32 x 45
Block orientation and fabric choice makes a big difference!
The bold graphics of two solids

Very contemporary
My friend Gail just sent me this example - I had to add it!
Dad's Plaids by Elsie Campbell

Click here to view this tutorial which uses the more challenging and traditional curved piecing construction but at the end of the tutorial there are tons of photos of different settings...worth a look!

Have you worked with this design? 
If not, I hope you are inspired to try a version of your own in the method you prefer.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Pictorials - Weavings and Quilts

"Picture This". a current exhibit at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, has gathered some exceptional examples of pictorial Navaho weavings.

You are probably familiar with the term 'pictorial' in the quilt world. In general, textiles with recognizable images such as a person, animal, plant, place (such as landscape, cityscape etc) or object, fall into this category.

Cows are popular subjects in Navaho textiles:

Cowboys and Horses

Florence Nez Riggs wove this textile in 2012 capturing the many facets of the Indian Fair and Market in great detail. She has included the hoop dancers, various foods and types of art being sold, sculptures and even folding tables and chairs. Her initials are worked into the trunk of a palm tree which is so realistic that it includes dead fronds.

Date woven into corner
The Tower of Babel
By Sadie B. Begay - 1995

In the 1960's Rose Owens, of Cross Canyon, AZ, invented a way to make round rugs using a steel wagon-wheel rim! This textile is not as big as a wagon wheel but she may have used a similar technique to create a circular 'sampler' containing four distinct weaving patterns with a ceremonial theme.

Made by Alice Benally c. 1989. 

This tree of life variation was woven by Shirley Bitsuie in 1996.

I wanted you to see the details close-up

c. 1970
 by an unknown weaver.

A visit to the Heard Museum is worthwhile at any time of year.

Now for a few Pictorial Quilts 
From folky to fancy in a variety of techniques

The famous Harriet Powers 'Bible Quilt' - collection of the Smithsonian
I was fortunate to see it there

c. 1885

These are just three of the wonderful pictorial quilts I saw at the International Quiltfest in Houston, 2002



by Hollis Chatelain
36" x 46"
Hand dyed painted fabrics - Machine quilted

Now back to reality....this pictorial effort of mine was part of a Postcard Quilt Challenge with the Minnesota quilt study group.
8" x 10"
It was inspired by a real adobe entrance in Arizona as seen in the photo below. 

Have you made a pictorial quilt?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cochineal - A Natural Red Dye

A current exhibit at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ, provides a great education on the source of one of several natural red dyes that has been used for centuries. You may be more familiar with madder red dye which is derived from plant roots, but a tiny beetle, the cochineal, is the source of another red dye used in many textiles. The insect feeds on the Prickly Pear cactus and produces carminic acid which is extracted and mixed to create the dye called carmine.
According to wikipedia, the dye was used in Central America in the 15th century for coloring fabrics and in fact, it became an important export during the Colonial period.

Prickly Pear

This exhibit, however, notes that the dye was produced as early as the 2nd century in Mexico and South America.

Various shades of red, deep crimson, purple and even black are possible.

A lovely variety of items dyed with cochineal (co shin ee' al) are beautifully displayed

 Historic Navaho textiles

The dye is used for many things besides textiles; notably in foods and cosmetics.

 You may see it listed if you check nutrition labels carefully.

In 2012 vegetarians became upset when they heard  that 'crushed bugs' were used to color various product at Starbucks.Learn more here if you are not squeamish. 

Starbucks has stopped using the dye in their products but it is a natural product and as such as become more popular again for use in foods due to the uncertainty of all the artificial additives in foods.

See the  museum website for more information on this and other current exhibits and be sure to visit it if you are ever in the Phoenix area.

Click here for more on natural red dyes.

Another peek inside the Heard:
 Pictorial Navaho Textiles

Saturday, March 2, 2013

American Indian Quilts

The Heard Museum Indian Fair and Market, is an annual event here in Phoenix. It features over 700 top American Indian artists selling their handmade jewelry, beadwork, sculptures, paintings, pottery, weaving, baskets, and even....quilts! It is a juried show and all items are for sale. Each winner is awarded two ribbons so that if the piece sells, the buyer and maker each have a ribbon.
This is Carla Hemlock with her award winning quilt, "Round Dance".  It represents the top of a drum and as her label states relates to nature and the 'heartbeat' of the earth. Symbolism and story is an important part of much Native art.

She took first place for "The Treaty of Canandaigua, November 11, 1794".  Click here for more on this early treaty between George Washington and the Iroquois.

Some beads represent the wampum used as currency

  Extensive beadwork, satins and cottons

According to Carla, at the signing of the treaty only X's were used. When asked their names they were spoken orally and the scribe did the best he could to phonetically record them.

Shared with the permission of Carla Hemlock, Master Quilter. Her beaded quilt, "Tribute to the Mohawk Ironworkers" has been purchased by the National Museum of the American Indian Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

It was a perfect day to meander through the artist booths.  Music and dance performances enhance the outdoor event as does the wide variety of Native foods tempting you along the way (my favorite is fry bread!) all under sunny skies and 85 degrees.

Admission includes access to the famous Heard Museum and its 12 galleries.
I'll share two textile related galleries in my next post. 
If you happen to be in the area don't miss it - and keep it in mind for future's held annually in March.