Tuesday, May 21, 2013

All about the fabrics

As the countdown to Quilt National 2013 continues, let's talk about fabric. I really enjoy the challenge of using cloth to create convincing realism in my work. The images are constructed from thousands of pieces of fabric and finding fabrics of just the right color and value to create dimensionality isn't always easy. Because my work is primarily sewn from fabrics purchased at local quilt shops and big box stores, I often spend hours shopping to get the colors right. I sometimes wonder if it would be easier to dye my own fabrics, but I really enjoy the search and I believe the printed surface of commercial fabrics  and the variation in hand dyed and batiked pieces adds to the visual interest of my work.

When I start shopping for fabrics, I typically hit my own stash first, culling sample swatches from the mix and getting an idea of what I need to purchase. I create a board of swatches before I go out. This helps to target my purchases by reminding me of what I have on hand, but these initial swatches frequently change after the first round of shopping.  Much of the final decision has to do with what is available in the stores at any given time. If I can't piece together a colorway using fabrics in my stash, I will purchase a full spectrum of fabrics with alternate choices. Sometimes the colors will look different in the studio, so having some other options on hand can save time.

The colors in El Cortez, Las Vegas are primarily turquoise blue, brown, white, black and red. While shopping for fabric, the light to mid range blues came together very quickly. I used a variety of hand dyed and batiked fabrics, with a couple of prints. The darkest values were impossible to find. Because I use a hand painted black in my work, it is often difficult to match the intensity of the black in the darker colors.  My solution is to use several layers of tulle to build up a rich shadow. In this case I used layers of navy and black tulle on top of a hand painted fabric to create a more complex dark blue that blended nicely with the full range of colors.

Occasionally, when I am sewing I discover that a fabric isn't working out the way I planned. The color is in the right family, but the print is too bright or too dark. Frequently, I flip it over to see if it works in reverse. Many of my pieces have examples of this technique, and El Cortez, Las Vegas is one of them. I loved the color of this print and felt it really worked in the rusted sections of the letters once I turned it over. It pays to be a little flexible when working in fabric. 

Where I struggled the most on this piece was finding the right range of browns. I wanted a reddish brown that was rich enough to compete with the turquoise. What I found time after time were browns that were too yellow or too dark. Against the turquoise, the yellowish browns felt flat and lifeless and the dark browns created a visual hole in the composition. I exhausted my local quilt stores. And truly, I started to panic. My deadline for Quilt National was drawing near and I didn't have a solution. I had found a handful of reddish browns that I thought worked together, but there was a gap in value. I could not find a fabric to bridge the mid range browns, until I came across this fabric in JoAnns:

I rarely look at novelty prints, but I was desperate. I am so thankful I found this while wandering around the store aimlessly, because the background of this M&M Halloween fabric was just what I needed to pull the browns together. I found it with a week to spare.

Overall there are 39 different fabrics in El Cortez, Las Vegas and 3 colors of tulle. 

If you are in Athens, Ohio for the opening on Friday, see if you can find the M&M fabric in my piece. If you look hard enough, you may even catch a glimpse of the characters...an odd foot or hand peeking out here or there. Boo.

This week I am grateful for: 
1. backup drives
2. lemonade
3. Southern California beaches
4. new shelves
5. time with family

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