Thursday, July 30, 2009

Chemistry Exercise Part 1

I love the excitement of dyeing fabric and watching the wonderful colors emerge but I've never been very precise or scientific about the process. I have Ann Johnston's Color by Accident: Low-Water Immersion Dyeing
book and refer to it constantly, particularly for the dye concentrate formulas and occasionally to get a particular color. It's always been hit or miss, with the emphasis on the "accident" part. When aiming for a particular color, sometimes I'm successful, sometimes not.

I also have Elin Noble's book Dyes & Paints: A Hands-On Guide to Coloring Fabric, which is also a great resource. I refer to her color pyramid with the percentages of yellow, blue, and red needed when I'm trying to get a particular color. She talks about "earth tones" and "jewel tones" and herein lies the basis of my chemistry exercise.

(I know I could take Carol Soderland's color class and end up with a marvelous resource of color recipes, but I know I will never be that precise when dyeing fabric. I'm just looking for generalities here and to see how the various primaries affect the final color.)

Part 1 - the plan is to use the "earth tones", which are somewhat subdued from the "jewel tones". I used the three dyes she recommends, or at least something close: Golden Yellow (Dharma 3, which is nearly orange), Light Red (Dharma 12), and Intense Blue (ProChem 406). The orange tendency of the Golden Yellow has a big influence on the final color.

I took her percentages and translated them into milliliters of dye concentrate, which I made using Ann's formula of 2T dye powder in 240ml of water (talk about mixing measuring systems, but I only have measuring spoons in teaspoons and tablespoons, and it's easier to use milliliters when calculating percentages.) I used fat eighths of fabric and labeled each piece according to the color it was going to get. I knew I had to get everything arranged ahead of time in order to not get mixed up. I used little syringes marked in milliliters to measure the dye concentrates, if not exactly, at least pretty close. Here is the color pyramid from earth tones:

This is not a very accurate color presentation, but you can certainly see how the yellow tends toward orange. The outside edges of the triangle are combinations of 2 colors only: red and yellow, yellow and blue, blue and red, with the points being the pure color. I find the colors on the inside of the pyramid much more interesting - these use all three dyes in varying amounts. It's equivalent to adding the complement of the color to the color to mute it somewhat. If I mix yellow and blue, I get green. Red is the complement. Or mix yellow and red to get orange, then add blue. Or mix red and blue to get purple, then add yellow. It was really interesting to see how little or how much of a color was needed to make a change. The color in the middle of the third row from the bottom is the brown that results from equal intensities of the 3 dyes. But not equal amounts, since red is about twice as strong as blue or yellow.

Part 2 of the exercise is to use the "jewel tones", which I mixed up last night. Those colors are Sun Yellow, Fuchsia, and Turquoise. I haven't rinsed those out yet, but I can see that there is a huge difference in the results. The colors are definitely more brilliant, like jewels. I have to be a little more patient before rinsing these colors out because turquoise takes longer to fix.

Part 3 of the exercise is going to be smaller in scope, because I could drive myself crazy here with all the combinations and permutations. But I am going to combine earth tones and jewel tones to get the secondaries (green, orange, purple) and the middle brown.

Then I will put all the information in a notebook along with color swatches and have a marvelous reference!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cover Girl

This month's issue of Professional Quilter is using my Quilt National piece Family Reunion as its cover.

Other good news - two possible sales, one through Artful Home and the other to the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities. Both are still on an approval basis, so I can't spend the money just yet. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It's July?

I could tell you this fantastic story about my adventures since my last post, how I've been to the Antarctic and dog sledded to the South Pole, or maybe how I've made the ascent to Mt. Everest, but I'm pretty sure nobody would believe it. So what have I done lately? Been to QSDS, came home, unpacked, got back into the routine of ordinary life. What did I bring home from QSDS - my class wasn't a stroke of lightning where I discovered some amazing new artistic direction to pursue. But I did bring home a tool of sorts: we made little 4"x6" compositions, some in black and white, some with color. These served as exercises and some were put up on the board to illustrate principles of good and not so good composition. Elizabeth Busch, our mentor, selected some from the group and arranged them on the board with the good compositions at the top and moving down towards the not-so-good ones at the bottom. We discussed what made these work and why the less successful ones didn't work. It's difficult for me to verbalize what is a good composition, but I know it when I see it. I think. Anyhow, whenever my little cards showed up on the wall, they were in the top row, in the company of the "good" compositions. Doesn't mean all the cards I did were good, of course, but at least some made the grade.

This is a greyscale version of one of my cards. While at QSDS I attempted to make this piece on a larger scale and did put something together. It didn't quite have the same impact as the card, mostly because the proportions were not the same. I needed to find some method of enlarging the image to the size I wanted. Elizabeth suggested an opaque projector. Others suggested scaling up using a grid. Both of these had to wait until I got home. I was able to borrow an opaque projector from someone but I wouldn't get my hands on it for a few days, so I did the gridding technique. Oh my, how tedious can you get? Trying to keep track of which little box I was working on, and figuring out the fractional parts of lines nearly drove me to distraction, but I did finally make a full size cartoon of this piece at about 40"x60", and then made patterns for the various pieces. It's finished now and I'm please with the results. I haven't photographed it yet so I can't share it at this point.

Now I'm ready to begin working on the second card that I did. (We actually did about a dozen in class, but as I said, not all are worthy of prime time.) While still at QSDS I pulled out some fabrics trying to pull this one together, but what I couldn't quite get were the subtle shape and line variations that make this work so well visually. Using blocks of fabrics with straight edges made the design clunky and much less interesting. I need to have a "pattern" to follow.

This is the card in the actual colors I used, little swatches of fabric that were right at hand. By now I have the opaque projector and wanted to try it to scale this up. The projector came with no instructions but it's supposedly simple enough that directions aren't really needed. Which means I spent some time figuring out how to get it to work and get the image in focus. It was not a successful venture and I will be returning the projector to my friend. What I did instead was scan the postcard and bring it into Photoshop Elements where I could enlarge it to the desired size. Usually, enlarging images is not recommended because the image quality degrades severely, but in this case, image quality is not an issue. Then I printed it out onto about 35 sheets of paper, one 8"x10" section per sheet. After trimming the margins down to the edge of the image, I could tape the papers together, and voila! my full size cartoon. So much easier than trying to draw it or grid it up.

I have some of the fabrics selected and will be working on this for the next few weeks. I'm excited about this new (to me) tool of little card compositions and have been making a few here and there as practice. One is already selected to be the next piece.

I have a new book in my library - Ann Johnston has re-issued her book The Quilter's Book of Design. I have the first edition and really thought it was well done and this one adds a lot more information and examples. It doesn't seem that there are many design theory books that are geared towards quilters, many of whom do not have art backgrounds (like me). Ann's book relates the theory to a medium that is familiar and that makes it very much more understandable. If you're well acquainted with the principles of design, this book is a good review with lots of illustrative pictures. If it's all new to you, this is a great introduction.