The Crossing

The Crossing by Allison Green

The Crossing
Linen, quilt batting, gouache, cotton, and textile medium. 32″ x 16″.
© Allison Green 2012.

Painted quilt with free-motion machine stitching and hand-embroidery. Inspired by the old train bridge in Fredericton, NB. Now converted into a walking trail, this piece show the softening of the bridge over time. Sold in the Summer 2012 Isaac’s Way Art Auction for youth music lessons.

Railway crossing 120 (2) (1280x1187)

Building bridges.

I got to work early last week on my painted quilt piece for the Isaac’s Way art auction. It was great fun, lots of little steps, just how I like it. The outcome is complex but the steps are actually very easy, anyone could do it. It is basically an exercise in tracing. But for the sake of respect, if you try this out, please make sure you took the photograph yourself.

This post will take you through part one, painting, and tomorrow’s post will show you how to do part two, quilting.

For this part you will need:

a digital photograph
a laser printer and/or photocopier
a couple of transparent blender pens
a spoon
a big board or piece of foamcore
a piece of cloth (preferably non-stretchy)
gouache paints
textile medium
your favourite paintbrushes
old plates and water cups
plenty of time and scrap fabric

The first step is to print off your image on regular paper to the size of your finished piece plus a couple inches on each side for wraparound. Keep in mind that those couple inches will mostly disappear so keep all the important stuff inside this zone.

Ideally you could just use Adobe Illustrator’s tile printing function with about a quarter-inch of overlap. This means your image will print off in 8.5 x 11 sections. You want to flip (mirror) your image before you print it off or else you will end up with a backwards finished product (like I did by accident, haha). You could also enlarge and flip on a photocopier.
The printer at my school was being difficult so I ended up with no overlap and little spaces in between my sheets. But no biggie. You line them up perfectly and tape them together on the back with tiny little pieces of tape the size of a fingernail tip. I used black and white because photocopies tend to transfer better than laser prints. You could use laser colour prints I believe, just no inkjet.

Then you tape down a piece of cloth (any old cloth, washed natural fabric works nicely but I think it would be alright either way) to a big piece of board. You could even pre-dye the cloth. In retrospect it might have been easier to dye the linen the white of my background colour. I used chipboard which gave me a funny wood grain on my transfer, but I think you’d get clearer results on a flat base, like foamcore.

Next you place your image face down on the cloth. You want to tape it at the edges so it doesn’t wiggle. Then you get this magic tool called a transparent blender pen (I used Chartpak, and I think you can get it at most art supply stores). You colour on the back of the image, a little area at a time, maybe the size of your hand. Then you rub it with a spoon, being careful not to shift the page. You continue doing this until you have rubbed down the entire image. It’s probably a good idea to practice this step before you start, and you may need more than one pen. And it smells like magic marker, so ventilate your area.
Now you peel up the pages very gently. I found that it took so long to go over the entire piece that it had glued the pages to the cloth by the time I took it off. It might be better to peel up each page as you finish rubbing it, but only if you are doing something fairly large. Voila! Your image is now transferred onto your fabric.

Next I dug out my paints. I chose to use gouache, but I think any fast-drying paint would work. Please test it out on scrap so you can get an idea of how it looks, especially if you are planning on washing it. Things always run more smoothly when I mix my paints in advance. In this case I only needed a handful of colours.
Some other time I will explain the logic behind paint mixing but I’m sure there are many many good guides to colour on the internet. The most important thing I have found is to always “muddy” your colours with their complement (put a little blue in your orange). That keeps them looking more natural and they won’t clash with one another.

Next step is painting. I scoop out a little paint onto a plate, and stir in a bit of this varnishy-looking stuff called textile medium. Probably about six parts paint to one part textile medium, although you should follow package instructions if you plan on laundering. I was going for a more washed out look. It looks so neat when you squirt it into the paint.

Then I used both flat and round brushes to cover the whole image in paint. It took a while to figure out how thick to lay it on. Not very, but enough to look opaque. Use lots of water. With gouache you won’t know what it looks like until it dries. I left the mint green railing areas quite translucent as I wanted the wood-grain transfer to show through.

I switched over to a foamcore backing, and used a ruler to get all the lines really straight. Sounds compulsive, but it ended up being easier and faster that way, especially when it came time to sew.
Right in the middle the transfer was too shoddy to see so I had to line it up and transfer again. This helped more than I was expecting and I was able to eyeball it after that. Here is the completed painting. At this point you should press it for a couple minutes with a piece of parchment paper in between cloth and iron. You could also wash it but I chose not to for lack of time. It took a couple days but worth every second. And much easier than trying to piece a thousand bits of fabric.
It looked really nice with light shining through it. Gave me big ideas for painted curtains and lampshades.

Come on back tomorrow to see it all quilted up! That part is a little more fiddley but still pretty foolproof. I am glad I picked a photo with lots of straight lines, I would definitely recommend that to beginners. This was my first real quilt (non-paper) and I think there would have been a lot more hair pulling otherwise.

Try it out, you’ll like it :)

Relinquishing grip.

I miraculously forgot about my rust buckets for a couple of days. Guess I was too busy worrying about the piece overall. When I came back to it today the chain bucket looked like this:

For some reason it only dyed in the areas that were out of the liquid, where the rusty vinegar had wicked up into the cloth. I’m hoping those parts were just exposed to more oxygen. I dumped the liquid into the other bucket (which had done nothing) and with a little luck the iron on the cloth will oxidize.

What a pretty colour though! A much stronger red than anticipated.

While that was working away, I was stressing big time. Today I was cutting up my bridge pattern. Gradually then suddenly I was overcome with bleary-eyed frustration. And no, it had nothing to do with the act of cutting. I couldn’t decide whether to piece the fabric bits together with sewing machine or appliqué them onto one big sheet by hand. Piecing would be more difficult in keeping the bits lined up while hand-stitching would take more time.

I have been consumed by this question for several days, with no headway. Might seem silly, but it’s not like I could progress further without answering that question. Of a sudden I realized I couldn’t choose because neither seemed doable by Friday.

I am never a fan of quitting, but sometimes you need to accept your own limitations and move in a slightly different direction. Once I allowed myself to think of different choices, one came along very quickly, like it was waiting in the rafters. So I put away the cloth I had dyed for the occasion and moved on.

I am going to paint the train bridge image onto one single piece of linen with gouache, then quilt and stitch it afterwards. I won’t have to worry about piecing at all and can focus on  colour and finishing. This flash of inspiration has me excited about this project all over again. Me and gouache are best friends, and so I am a very happy camper.

I gleefully dug out my paints and started sampling. The top row here has half and half Sonja’s textile medium and Holbein gouache, with varying amounts of water. The second row is simply gouache and water. The third was a photo transfer using blending pen (more about this later) with gouache/textile medium painted over.

I stuck them in the wash with regular detergent to see if the textile medium would soften up (it had developped a displeasing sort of acrylic look). It did a bit, but still too cakey on the heavy areas. Interestingly, the gouache alone weathered the wash just fine. Little bit came off, but nothing like you would expect.

I don’t intend this piece to be washed after it is sold, it will be stapled to MDF and hung on someone’s wall. I was just a little worried about running unwashed paint through my sewing machine. In light of this development with the unmixed gouache, I think I’m just going to use it straight.

Today will be a play day, with lots and lots of painting.

Praying to the rust fairy.

Today I discovered that ferrous sulphate is nowhere to be found in Fredericton. Garden stores, hardware stores, grocery stores, pharmacies; all came up empty. My only hit was in the “online only” section of Home Depot website. No time to be ordering away, the bridge piece needs finishing in the next week.

So for experiment #1 I settled for a big ol’ piece of chain, which unfortunately is galvanized. I put in the fabric, weighed it down with the chain, and poured in about 2 L of vinegar.

It immediately began to fizz. I suspect it is the zinc coating coming off. At any rate, I took it out to the shed for safety’s sake. Who knows what all is toxic these days. Don’t want to be breathing anything in.

When I was at the pharmacy I looked for iron sulphate but found only iron bisglycinate. I bought a bottle anyhow.

So for experiment #2, I followed the instructions here but with the whole bottle of iron supplement. It really seemed to have no effect at all (fabric was already cream-tinted). However you are supposed to let it dry before washing out so maybe if will oxidize overnight.

For Experiment #3, I grabbed the bucket of iron tablets/4 L of water that I had used above and threw in about a cup of vinegar. I put some fabric in, weighed it down with a wine bottle, and put it in the shed.

This was maybe an hour after Experiment #1 got started, and check out the foaming action now! Neato!

It looks like most of the shiny coating has come off the chain, so hopefully the next step is rust. Or it could all go horribly wrong and I’ll have to suck it up and use synthetics.

Cross your fingers for me!