Tuesday, 24 November 2015

How to: Gelli Plate Printing

Some of today's prints drying, with added slipper on bottom left!
One of my favourite techniques at the moment is gelli-plate printing.  I’ve been teaching it a lot recently and whenever I have a spare hour, it is definitely my preferred way of experimenting creatively. 
Applying paint with foam stamper
A gelli plate is a soft surface to monoprint on.  You can make your own using gelatine, but I prefer to use one made from some kind of silicone made by Gelli Arts.  It’s disadvantage is that you don’t control the size, but it doesn’t go off, can be reused endlessly and doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge.  Also it is vegetarian.  Are you sold yet?  They are not cheap, but I think having to keep buying packets of gelatine and other stuff to make one would end up more expensive in the long run.
Gelli plate ready to print, with paint and leaves on it
I really enjoy developing work using the gelli plate, using ‘what if’ principles.  Generally, the first couple of prints are poor in a session, then I get into it and change the paint colours or the objects I’m mark making with.  So far, my favourites are stencils, the plastic netting from orange bags, foam stampers and empty tape rolls.  Oh and of course, leaves.  You get fabulous prints from leaves.
First print on left and how the gelli plate looks after it on the right
Today I spent an hour playing with a foam stamper, five colours of paint and two sprigs of bamboo. 
Second print on left and how the gelli plate looks after it on the right
I mainly printed on hand dyed fabric and got lovely effects on scrim and woollen felt.  I wasn’t as convinced by the silk habutai, but I think it was partly due to the background colour rather than the fabric.  Of course, you get wonderful effects on cotton, which is what I usually use.
Printing from the inked up leaves
Generally, the second print is better than the first as it is more delicate.  I also was getting a third print from the bamboo leaves themselves, which were gorgeous.
Printing on scrim
Gelli plate printing also works really well on paper and on Friday 4 December, I have a one day workshop on gelli plate printing and making artists books.  
There is just one space left if you are interested.  The theme is up to you, but it could be a special way of making unique Christmas cards.
Printing on felt

Now I’ve just got to find time to make something with these fabric bamboo prints!

Unsuccessful printing on silk habutai

Monday, 16 November 2015

Inspiration: Eye on Elegance at the DAR Museum

Eye on Elegance Exhibition
Eye on Elegance was an exhibition of antique quilts at the DAR Museum in Washington DC, USA, this summer.  I wish I had been lucky enough to visit as was my friend, Louise Carr.  However, I got second best as she kindly gave me a copy of the catalogue.  As well as the catalogue and physical show, the DAR Museum has also mounted a big and informative online exhibition of these quilts, which is well worth a look.  You can access it here - http://eyeonelegance.dar.org/ .
Pieced and Stuffed Medallion Quilt about 1810 and 1820s
For anyone interested in historical quilts, it is a must.  For others though, there is lots of interesting titbits to be gleaned.  As well as the quilts, which are organised by type (Appliqué, Pieced, Album, Migration and Wholecloth), there is historical information about the makers and the designs and fabrics used.  A few facts that caught my attention:
·         The quality of the stitching is stunning.  Some of these quilts have up to 12-13 stitches per inch.  Reading this made me flick through the catalogue to look at the different standards – even the ‘worst’ has 6-7 stitches per inch. I think I would struggle to draw 12-13 stitches per inch, let alone stitch them!
Reverse Applique Flower Basket Quilt 1849
·         These are not ‘make-do-and-mend’ quilts.  Some of the fabric cost more per metre than a farm hand would earn in a week.  I would be terrified to use such expensive fabric now in case I got it wrong.  Unsurprisingly, many quilters followed patterns and sometimes it seems you could buy a kit ready basted ready for you to stitch down the appliqué and then quilt.  This would still be very time consuming.
·         The curator makes the point that even when there is one named quilter (and there is much information on their individual lives, which is fascinating), often any woman who could stitch to a high standard living in that household would be commandeered into helping – including servants and slaves.  I admit knowing this changed how I looked at some of the quilts.  We have this lovely cosy view of a sole maker inviting her friends to a quilting bee to finish off her masterpiece, but how much does this actually reflect reality?  Did these woman see stitching as a break from their normal routines, or resent being made to do it?

Although these quilts are over 150 years old, it is surprising how relevant they are to today.  
Tree of Life and Birds quilt 1810s
For example, I was teaching Broderie Perse to my City & Guilds Certificate Group yesterday – it is part of the syllabus.  No, none of them were using pieces of chintz that cost over £200 a metre, but it is the same process.  And the other month with the Diploma Group, we were looking at borders and their proportions, just like the medallion quilts in this exhibition, which were very popular at that time.  
Mathematical Star Quilt 1830s
And I love the star design, and was already thinking of making one using paper piecing, even before I saw this book.  Actually, I’m trying to dissuade myself due to lack of time and to concentrate on my 4-years-and-counting hexagon paper pieced quilt, which is still going to need another 3 years!

If you have the opportunity, I would thoroughly recommend reading the book - the photos are stunning and there are lots of detailed shots -  and having a flick through the online exhibition.  And fingers crossed that one day I can get to see some of these quilts in person.

All images used with kind permission from the DAR Museum.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Mhairi Matheson's amazing miniature quilts

Miniature by Mhairi Matheson.  I think this was my favourite one
As part of the C&G Diploma course, the students have to make a proper miniature quilt.  This is not my area of expertise and I was delighted that Mhairi Matheson was able to visit and share some of her miniature with us at the weekend. 
Miniature(detail) by Mhairi Matheson
Mhairi loves making miniature quilts and has made over sixty.  This is no mean feat, given that it is often said that a miniature quilt takes the same amount of time to make as the equivalent full sized one.  She has made miniatures in many different styles, including foundation pieced, traditional block patchwork, appliqué and even contemporary styled quilts.  Her skill in all of these is impressive.  I can struggle to make my points match on a 12in block – she can manage to do so perfectly on a 1in one!
Group of miniatures by Mhairi Matheson
Miniature quilts for competition purposes (and Mhairi has won a fair few) have strict guidelines and it was interesting to have some of them explained.  I knew that a miniature had to look like a full sized quilt if photographed – with no sense of scale you should not be able to tell that it is tiny.  Mhairi’s quilts meet this criteria as one of the students had shown me a photo of this quilt taken at the Festival of Quilts and I hadn’t realised it was a miniature at all to start with.  However, to get this correct sense of scale, everything tends to be made on a 1/12th scale ie a full sized 12in quilt block should be made as a 1in block.  So a 2in quilt block would not be generally be considered a miniature as you don’t tend to get 24in full sized quilt blocks. 
Miniature by Mhairi Matheson

Miniature (detail) by Mhairi Matheson, showing the foiling on the trees

Mhairi’s enthusiasm was contagious and even the mini-sceptics amongst us were (almost!) converted after seeing all of her wonderful work.  Can't wait ti see what the students now make.  
Miniature by Mhairi Matheson
Remember when looking at these photos that none of these quilts is bigger than 12in (30cm) square and that any wonky angles are due to my photography rather than Mhairi's making.

Miniature by Mhairi Matheson

Miniature by Mhairi Matheson

Miniature (detail) by Mhairi Matheson

Monday, 2 November 2015

Starting at the beginning - my next piece

Ink wash drawing of a teasel
A few months ago I was invited to join the exhibiting group, Turning Point.  I was very flattered as I love seeing their work in various locations, such as the Smith in Stirling.  Of course, I accepted, especially as it adds a new challenge for me – making work to a theme and size set by another.  The first piece I need to make is to be inspired by a saying.  


We had lots of family fun coming up with inappropriate sayings, but finally I settled on the William Morris quote:

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful

Another flower

I’ve been taking lots of photos of nature recently and I thought this could tie in nicely with a quilt inspired by nature.  This also conveniently links in with the nature course I am running over this year.  So far, I have taken lots of photos, 

Lovely flowers from one of the students, Chrystine

looked at lots of Morris wallpaper on Pinterest
My pinterest board

made lots of sketches 
Blind drawing of leaves
and dyed and printed fabric green.

Breakdown printed fabric
Initially I was thinking of something directly Morris inspired, but I’m not convinced that this suits me as all my drawings keep going looser and looser. 
I didn’t think it would be a photo realistic quilt either, and that has been confirmed as I’ve gone along – my drawings started from the flowers and have become more imaginary and I use the shapes which appealed the most. 

One of the more recent drawings

So now I’ve done my research and I have a reasonable idea in my head as to how it is going to look.  Having dyed lots of fabric for the background – it was always going to be green! – I just need to get started on the sampling.  
Some of the green fabric dyeing - this shade will not be the dominant colour!
I always tell my students to sample as you will end up with a more interesting work, having worked through any issues in advance, but sometimes I still rush in...  This time I’m going to be good!

I love the dew on the cobwebs in Autumn

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

10 years on

I realised the other day on the middle one’s 10th birthday that it must be 10 years since I graduated from Goldsmiths.  In some ways it seems like a life time ago since I was studying textiles there.  So much has happened since and not just in my artwork. 
When I visited Goldsmiths for an Open Day before I became a student, I remember being told that it took on average 10 years after graduation for the textile student to get on the right track for their career.  At the time, I thought, surely not – that seems forever!  Now, 10 years down the line it seems about right.  Things have finally fallen in place as to where I should be going and taking control and teaching from home is exactly what I want to do.  It has taken the 10 years to get to this point.  I don’t think it would have worked any earlier.
An anniversary, like 10 years, is a good time to look back on what I have been doing.  So here are some edited highlights (missing out the low points!) of the last 10 years.
Vigilance V by Gillian Cooper
This was my degree show work. 
Vigliance VIII by Gillian Cooper

I almost made these,
Shelter by Gillian Cooper at Delta Studios

...but at the last minute decided to take advantage of the digital knitting machine as I knew I would not have access to it later.  Some of these knitted pieces later toured in a Scottish Arts Council exhibition, the Cutting Edge.  I finally made the Shelter pieces for the Loch Lomond Quilt Show gallery.  They now live in my garage!
the 37 steps installation by Gillian Cooper at the Changing Room, Stirling

I was ‘Craft Practitioner in Residence’ at Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art in Dundee for a number of months.  It was fantastic opportunity to create a new body of work – the 37 steps, which went on to give me my first solo exhibition at the Changing Room in Stirling.
3 of the 37 steps by Gillian Cooper

This led on to creating the Unsung Muses series, which has occupied me for the past five years.  Initially it was shown at the Festival of Quilts, and this year had a number of outings, including to the European Patchwork Meeting in France and a couple of solo exhibitions in the UK. 
Unsung Muses at the European Patchwork Meeting

Over the past 10 years, I have written for a number of textile publications, given talks to quilt (and other) groups and started running workshops.  The teaching part of my life took a huge step this year when I converted my home studio into a teaching room and started running textile classes from home.  I can’t believe how popular the C&G in patchwork and quilting is and the dedication of the lovely students.  It is enormous fun. 
Facing Time by Gillian Cooper

Looking at this on paper, it doesn’t seem that much, but I’ve also had two more children and they do take up a lot of time – which is great.  We also moved to Scotland.  And how could I forget to mention the PomPom Festival – that really was a bit nuts.
Balfron PomPom Blossom Festival

So, not bad for 10 years.  My work has greatly developed, in ways I couldn’t have imagined and at the moment, I am loving playing with and sharing all different types of surface design.  I’m getting ready to think about the next big art project and spending lots of time teaching and writing.  It will be interesting to see what the next 10 years lead to.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

How to: Block Printing

Popular Patchwork - Nov 15
I love exploring techniques that I haven’t used for a while and finding new ways (at least to me) of using them.  In this month’s PopularPatchwork (November 2015) is an article I wrote about block printing. 
Popular Patchwork - the project
It was great fun to make the samples and to explore what I could do, especially as I was constrained (for this feature) only to use bought blocks, not ones I had designed myself.
These blocks were just gorgeous to look at - and to work with
To this end, I had a lovely box of Christmas stamps from Colouricious to play with.  If you have time, it is a very pleasant way to spend a few hours and you can make some lovely, unique cloth that you can use to wrap Christmas presents.  If you have quilter friends, the fabric itself would make a fantastic gift. 
My equipment, including the all important cup of coffee
All you need are the blocks, fabric, a sponge and some paint.  I used a mixture of textile paints and standard acrylics.  To be honest, there was not much different in the handle of the fabric between either of them, but perhaps the textile paint will be more permanent, especially if you are going to wash the fabric.  As most of my fabric is used for wall hangings, this is not something I spend much time worrying over.
Creating a pattern
On some pieces, I just kept overprinting, in different colours, which produced some interesting results.  On others, I tried making patterns.
Usings the printed fabric as wrapping cloths
Another way of printing, which also gave good results was to spray the block with water and then rub with an Inktense stick, before pressing it on the fabric.  Full details are in the article.
Using Inktense and a different type of block

I’m also running a one-day class in block printing on 6 November and there are still some places if you are interested.  We will be making and designing our own blocks, using foam, so you could create your own Christmas wrapping fabrics if you wished.  Email me for more details or visit the website.

Fabric printed with Inktense

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