On Wednesday March 13, 2019 I am offering an evening class on using natural objects to print fabric and/or paper. Nature offers a variety of source materials – plant materials such as leaves and branches (bare or leafy) and some vegetables yield wonderful designs.
My favorite nature prints come from leaves. There is such a wide range of shapes, sizes and sometimes intricate details; leaves offer an incredible range of design potential. You can focus on the leaf forms themselves or play with simpler shaped leaves in a variety of arrangements.
I first experimented with stamping leaves in my younger years, printing them onto exotic Japanese rice papers. I would stamp and press merrily away using the successes to make handmade cards while the ‘rejects’ were chalked up to the luck of the draw. Speaking of which, nature printing is serendipitous, you don’t know how well your impression came out until you lift away the leaf and see the results so it pays to do some test prints to check the viscosity of the paint and how to apply it correctly and keep an open mind enjoying the process. Some prints will be drop dead perfect while others… Even the failures might have a bright future, This collage bird was made onto a backdrop of one such ‘failure’ but look how perfect it was as a backdrop.
It can be fun to play with different textures of fabric, trying everything from flat goods to fabrics with a nap or nubby silks and linens… Once done the prints can be cut up for collage (paper or fabric) or you can print your own yardage. If you are adventurous, you can even press leaf prints onto garments or pieced quilt blocks. If you love applique, you can print leaves to cut out and applique onto your projects for an unusual take on the ‘fussy-cut’ applique method.
Whether you are a paper artist or fabric artist this will be a very fun class and you will leave at the end with some new ideas as well as some nature prints to play with.
Printing From Nature
Gold Maple Leaves printed on a pieced panel; by Helene Knott
Heuchera Leaves printed on chiffon; by Ardie H
Branch prints enhanced with stitching and confetti leaves on a hand painted background. Made by Gerry W.
Joy's Stained Glass style table runner featuring leaf prints in center panel
Winter Branch print by Joy J. The Kanji symbol at the top means 'Winter'
Leaf prints enhanced with stitched veins
Forest-scape: collaged trees cut from fabric combined with printed Cedar sprays. Made by Joy J.
Pieced quilt block enhanced with leaf prints. By Joy J.
Quilt detail - leafy branch sprays printed and enhanced with stitching. By Helene Knott
Leaves printed on a Dupioni Silk scarf; by Helene Knott.
In this second installment about texture, I want to explore the difference between visual and physical texture. Visual texture relies on the designs printed on the fabric to create graphic contrast. While contrast of color and value are extremely important to define differing areas in a quilt pattern, a variety of textures ranging from fine to bold will add depth and complexity to a quilt. These ‘visual’ textures extend from fabrics that are solid or of such a fine print that it reads almost as a solid all the way to large scale bold prints. As quilters and fabric artists, you have probably played with visual texture; it’s one of the most common considerations after color and value when assembling fabric choices for a project.
There are additional considerations when working with visual texture. You are probably all familiar with the concept of ‘fussy cutting’ a print to feature a particular motif or print design in specific parts of a quilt but what about the general use of a bold print? Many quilters don’t want to take the time to fussy cut each part of a quilt block – plus it is wasteful, turning a piece of fabric into Swiss Cheese (unless you are a scrappy quilter that will use these less desirable parts of the fabric in a scrap quilt). Many quilters wanting to make a quilt fast and easy will opt to cut the fabric efficiently and randomly with a rotary cutter. Here is where you can run into a problem; if the print is too bold for the scale of the block pattern then you may lose the definition of the design. Examine and compare the nine patch blocks in the picture below, see how the definition of the block is lost in the example with the bolder print congruous with the size of the piece you need for you quilt or block.
There are exceptions to this rule such as in Watercolor or Color-wash quilts where the strategy is to have the prints interfere with the hard pieced divisions of the squares and create a wash of color and texture that flows across the entire panel (see photo below).
Physical Texture is something completely different; it is tactile. Burlap, corduroy, denim, velvet, silks … are examples of fabric with a physical texture; these fabrics can even be dyed in a solid color and still retain their physical texture. Here’s the test – take an assortment of ‘quilters’ cottons’ in a variety of prints and spread them out. Close your eyes and run fingertips over each fabric. Other than minute variations based on thickness, quality and thread count, you will not really be able to tell one from another and you will certainly not feel any variation as regards to a fine print vs. a bold one – this is visual texture. Now spread an assortment of textural fabrics in the same manner – denim, burlap, monk’s cloth, brocade, satin, velvet, corduroy … and repeat the same tactile experiment. Unless you have no sensation in your finger nerve endings, you will be able to clearly discern the difference between a piece of velvet and a piece of burlap – this is physical texture.
You may not be able to touch a quilt or piece of fiber art in a show or photograph but that physical texture still is apparent. The light and shadow created by the texture is visible and so is the refraction of light that reflective satiny or napped fabrics create (see image below).
I once saw some quilted panels made by a fiber artist working with velvet in a single color where he had oriented the nap of the fabric in ways to catch and refract the light; this created light and dark parts of the design that shifted depending on the angle the panel was viewed from; I wish I could remember his name.
Working with textured fabrics does have a downside. Contrast of texture is a key factor to the rich beauty of these fabrics and that means you will often be sewing fabrics of unequal weights together which can be problematic. Add the fact that many of these fabrics may fray excessively (requiring wider seam allowances) and that some fabrics like velvet and corduroy have a tendency to ‘creep’ making accurate piecing a challenge, and you have your work cut out for you. The results are worth it though.
Appliqué artist Martha Mood was a master at creating what she called tapestries using a variety of fabric textures that she enhanced with hand embroidery. To see an assortment of her stunning work, Google the terms ‘Martha Mood Tapestries Images’.
Next time, we will explore three dimensional embellishments in the third and final series on texture.
For the most part, as quilters we deal with a fairly two dimensional medium – fabric. Most quilts are fairly flat, at least that is what we are taught to strive for – a quilt that lies or hangs flat. It is true that there is a little raised texture from the quilting, a sort of bas relief effect created by the stitching that can be subtle if thin batting is used and may become more pronounced if a higher loft batting is used or the work enhanced with Trapunto (padding or stuffing individual shapes). There is even a Faux Trapunto where you use a high loft batting and after stitching the shapes you wish to stand out, you quilt the living daylights out of the background to flatten it and enhance the puffy shapes (see photo below). In both of those methods, care must be used to distribute the puffier shapes consistently throughout the quilt or you risk ending up with a distorted quilt that won’t hang true or lie flat.
Returning to the more subtle relief quilting, the choice of thread color will dictate whether the stitching assumes the role of a graphic design using high contrast thread or an almost invisible design made from thread that matches the fabric closely where the only observable design is that created by the light and shadow created by the subtle raised and depressed surface of the quilting. Many quilters do not fully appreciate the overall impact that even this subtle texture has on the visual appeal of the quilt.
Here are some tips to those quilters who have not played much with thread color choices: As a novice quilter, you may be tempted to hide your lack of stitching skills by using a thread that matches your fabric and while it’s true that this may ‘hide’ errors pretty well, the truth is that you are more likely to make errors choosing this option. It is very difficult aligning precise stitching when you can’t see well what you have previously stitched. White/cream thread on white/cream fabric is hard enough but the worst is trying to quilt on black fabric with black thread (believe me – this is the voice of experience talking here); and ripping out mistakes on this no contrast color scheme is a nightmare (been there – done that too).
At the other (literal) end of the spectrum, quilting with a high contrast thread can create a striking graphic effect whereby the stitching becomes in essence a drawn line on your quilt. This can be gorgeous however, every little mistake or mis-stitch will be glaringly apparent. See the coparison of the two extremems below.
A good sensible solution is to choose a thread color that varies from the fabric just slightly by a couple of steps – lighter or darker – where your skill (or lack thereof) is not showing like a sore thumb but with a pleasing definition that shows off the stitching pattern or design to good effect.
Often I am asked by students if there is a rule of thumb regarding whether or not a quilt should be quilted in all one color of thread. My answer is that there is no set rule about this; there is no quilting ‘planning commission’ and you will not have your ‘quilting permit’ revoked because you choose to defy traditional quilting decorum. As a matter of fact, using a variety of thread colors in one project can create a much more effective visual presentation by using higher contrast thread to draw the eye to focal motifs enhancing them and using a lower contrast thread to make the background patterns recede.
In summary – remember that the subtle texture created by quilting on even a low loft quilt has a major impact on the appearance of your quilt whether someone is examining it up close to see your stitching or viewing it from a distance. Choose your quilting designs and thread colors to work within your skill comfort zone but always with the knowledge that the quilting does indeed “make the quilt”.
Stay tuned for more on texture in another post to come when I will address visual vs, physical texture.