Sunday, May 31, 2009

Playing with Paper

This morning I was looking through one of Steve's books with plans of Bronze Age settlements in it. (I was reading it because it was on the couch where I'd flopped down; I don't know why he was reading it.) I don't know what attracts me so much about these maps, but after looking at the illustrations for a while I went off and doodled my own little settlement plan with some dyed and printed papers. I think it wants to become a small quilt; the question is whether I dare start even a small piece in the sewing room which I have just cleaned up to make room for one of my nieces to stay next weekend, because when I make a quilt I do tend to fling fabric around the room with abandon. Oh well, I can always use the Shovel-It-Into-A-Large-Box approach to temporarily cleaning up the leftovers.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Raiding, looting and pillaging

At least that's what it felt like this morning, when Hill Country Weavers (probably the best yarn shop in Central Texas) had a sale and invited their customers to come and set up tables to sell off the odds and ends in their own stashes.

Knitters, I suppose, think in terms of multiple balls of yarn, and haven't much use for one ball or worse, part of one ball of yarn left over from a project. For me, a single ball of yarn is like a lifetime supply; I may use a couple of yards to embroider with, a few more yards to couch to a surface, a few more - especially if they're glitzy - to loop over the surface of a jewel scarf. So here were all these lovely ladies selling off their leftovers at bargain-basement prices, and I felt like a kid in a candy store. I filled up a shopping bag with odds and ends of fantastic yarn and fiber, and my friend Vivian did nearly as well scoring interestingly colored yarns to quilt with.

(It's not that I don't like knitting. I love freeform knitting and crochet. But in central Texas, what's the point? I already have a Good Wool Sweater, and I haven't worn it since I got back from Ireland in the summer of '97.)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Wimberley mini-vacation

And a very pleasant couple of days it was - until the homecoming. We stayed at the Creekside Inn, which has a wide green lawn meandering down to Cypress Creek with wicker chairs here and there for guests to sit and read, or just watch the creek flowing by. The public room inside (think living room squared) was decorated with glass art from the studio of local artist Bill Meek.

Then...we came home and faced up to the reason for our flight - fogging for roaches! It's been a relatively dry May and they've been showing up, not single spies but in battalions which all my scrubbing in the kitchen has failed to eradicate. I doubt that setting off a few fog bombs will do the job either but there certainly were a lot of dead roaches on the floor when we got back. Ickkkk. And then, of course, every dish and surface in the kitchen had to be scrubbed.

I need a scullery maid.

There hasn't been much time for art in these last few days, but last night in an insomniac moment I stayed up trying to turn one of the photos of cypress roots into a header for a fairytale:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Defining the SolvyLace border

So far we've been making ragedy-edged bits of SolvyLace that are fine for making bowls, or appliqueing to a solid fabric to make an interesting base for embroidery, or setting a lacy window insert into a dress or a quilt. But suppose you want to use the SolvyLace on its own - for a scarf, for instance? You might trim the edges with a rotary cutter and hope they stay even. You might bind the trimmed edges to make sure they stay even.

Or - and this is my preferred method - you might start making your Solvy sandwich by laying down a wide ribbon all around the outer edge, and then make sure your stitching goes into the ribbon so that it'll be well anchored to the rest of the grid.

That's how I bordered this sample, as well as the "Jewel" scarf to be seen here.

And that, I think, is quite enough variations on the Solvy sandwich; and a good time to end the series, because tomorrow and Thursday I'll be out of town.

Monday, May 25, 2009

SolvyLace - Dyed After Rinseout

This, like the heat distressing variation, requires a little planning ahead. You want to use only threads or fabrics that you can dye - and, if possible, thread that you can dye also. For this piece I layered a variety of smooth and textured whire rayon yarns for the Solvy sandwich. I didn't have any white silk sewing thread - and, as DharmaTrading points out, when you need it is a bad time to go looking for it - so I used white rayon thread and hoped for the best.

After sewing the sandwich and rinsing out the Solvy, I soaked the piece in a soda ash solution for a while, wrung it out very gently, and applied minute quantities of dye with an eyedropper. The Madeira rayon embroidery thread didn't take the dye; it must have some finish that made it resistant. The rest of the piece, though, dyed very nicely indeed.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Color Blended SolvyLace

Select a collection of fabric scraps (as usual, I prefer sheers, but it's up to you) and blend across the spectrum like this:

When I put this piece together, clearly I was thinking too much "blend" and not enough "lace."
So to get a lacy look afterwards, I heat-distressed it just like the previous piece. This almost worked, because nearly all the fabric was synthetic. I had, however, used some hand-dyed green/aqua silk to make the transition from green to blue. That's the big ugly brown spot in the lower left. And that is why it pays to think about what you're going to do next with the piece, and what type of fabrics you want to use, before you get the wrong stuff neatly stitched into the grid!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

We Interrupt this Series of SolvyLace Variations...

....for a day mostly consumed by Nap Attacks. I got up this morning, made coffee, got dressed, started to list a beaded pin on Etsy here, and fell asleep in the middle of uploading pictures. I got up again this afternoon, poured a Coke, got dressed, started to list this scarf, and....didn't quite fall asleep until the listing was complete, anyway.

Tomorrow I'll show a Color Blend variation before and after heat distressing...I'm too sleepy to write it up now!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Heat distressed SolvyLace

In this case "heat distress" does not refer to the way everybody in Austin feels about the arrival of summer both with a bang (the sun) and a whimper (the rest of us). It's the fabric that we're going to make seriously unhappy.

Start by laying down a base of sheer synthetic fabrics. (You can use solid synthetics too, as long as they're something that melts under the heat gun; but I prefer to stick to sheers here.) It's best if you choose analogous colors here that will layer well, since you do want to let the pieces overlap and blend. When the sandwich is made, stitch, rinse, and dry as usual.

Here's the starting point. Kind of boring, isn't it?

I've stitched a larger grid than usual - lines about 3/4" apart - to give the fabrics plenty of room to move and crinkle while they're being zapped.

Next step: Put the fabric on a heat-resistant surface like a ceramic tile or a concrete driveway and zap it lightly with the heat gun. (NOT a paint stripping heat gun from the hardware store - the kind of heat tool you find in crafts stores for melting embossing powder. We want to distress the fabric, not incinerate it.)

Even with the lower-power heat tool it's easy to go to far and wind up with a shriveled, plastic-hard blob. So work slowly, moving the heat gun to a new area every time the fabric you're heating begins to react, and maybe stop after the first few passes to evaluate how it's going.

This is more interesting than the original, but it still has a way to go. Back to the ceramic tile and heat gun!

Now this is a nice lacy fabric. Two of the synthetics reacted in particularly interesting ways, and I look forward to playing with them more after this project of samples and variations is done.

One fabric I used was a very sheer synthetic overprinted with a gold metallic grid. The sheer parts vanished almost completely and the grid remained.

Another fabric was snipped from one of the super-cheap, three-dollar saris I bought in India. This stuff melted in a very lacy way, which not all synthetics do; some of them just curl up and shrivel into hard beads.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ribbon SolvyLace

Variation 3: use only ribbons and yarns, laid down lengthwise, and sew crosswise over them.

What more to say? It makes a gloriously light and beautiful piece with only half the work. This sample would have worked better if I'd used a broad ribbon at each edge, and better yet if I'd pressed the creases out of the broad ribbon before laying it down; live and learn.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

These pics illustrate two variations in one piece.

Variation 1: use only threads and yarns


Variation 2: instead of rinsing out all the Solvy, just give the piece a quick rinse and mold it over something to make a 3-D piece

This little bowl was formed over a spherical paperweight with a piece of SolvyLace made from leftover ends of yarn and given only a quick swish through the rinsing water. First I wrapped the paperweight in Saran wrap just in case the drying Solvy decided that its destiny was to adhere forever to the glass, then turned it upside down and found a cup to hold it in that position, then molded the damp SolvyLace over the bottom half of the paperweight (so that the resulting bowl would have a flat bottom. It spent the afternoon drying in a sunny corner of the back yard before I removed the paperweight and Saran wrap and tried to get a good shot of the bowl. The first picture should give you an idea of the delicacy of the piece; the second picture shows its true colors in sunlight (ok, except for the corner that wound up in shadow. That's one of the catches of using a camera without an optical viewfinder; in really bright light it's hard to see the screen and realize what you're actually taking a picture of.)

Variation 3 coming tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

SolvyLace mini-workshop

What is Solvy and where do I find it?

Solvy is a transparent, water-soluble stabilizer sold by Sulky. It's been around long enough that variations and competitors exist, but for today, we're just going to work with the orginal, plain vanilla Solvy. You can find it among the pre-packaged stabilizers at most big fabric stores; if that doesn't work, try sewing machine shops, especially those selling the gazillion-buck embroidery machines.

I buy it in multi-yard rolls, which gives you an idea of how much I use it; you may want to start smaller, with one of the packages that are easier to find. You should be able to get a 20" x 36" piece for under $5.00, and that's plenty big enough for this workshop and for the variations I'll be discussing in the next few days.

Working with Solvy

The single most important thing to remember about working with Solvy is: DON'T GET IT WET (until you're through with your project and ready to wash it out). If you're drinking something, put it on a separate table until you're done. If you're drinking from a glass that "sweats", like the icy mugs I like to use in summer, don't even touch the mug until you're done. Do not lick your fingers to persuade the edges on a folded sheet of Solvy to unfold; they'll merge with each other and become One for All Time. Don't get it wet.

The second thing to remember is that it's flimsy, it likes to whip around and fold over on itself, it is resistant to the idea of dangling from your fingers while you look for the scissors or some old newspaper or the spray adhesive. So get your work surface(s) and tools and materials ready before you start.

Tools and materials and all that

For this particular project (making a small, say 8 x 10, piece of Solvy-lace) you
will need the following:

-Spray adhesive of your choice

-A collection of fabric and thread snippets in the colors you want to use. Sheer fabrics are particularly good; so are the metallic mesh net fabrics you can sometimes find at the glitzy end of the fabric store.

-Interesting yarns and ribbons in the same color scheme (optional)

-Thread that will not be too conspicuous against your chosen color scheme. I like a variegated thread when, as now, I want the sewn thread to blend in with the fabrics and yarns I'm using. For this project I used a Madeira variegated rayon machine embroidery thread.


- A white work surface on which to lay out the bits of fabric, etc. This is not absolutely necessary but it's a big help; it's not always obvious where the edges of the Solvy are if you're looking through it at newsprint.

- Some spread-out newspapers on a flat surface, or some other way of containing/absorbing the adhesive you're about to spray on one piece of Solvy, so your entire work surface shouldn't get sticky.

-A sewing machine set up for straight stitch

And that's it. Everything except the newspaper and the sewing machine is in this picture (I didn't think you needed a photo of yesterday's newspaper, and if you need a picture to recognize a sewing machine, this project is not for you)

Step 1: Preparing the Solvy

Cut two pieces of Solvy, the same size and shape, about an inch bigger on all sides than the piece of Solvylace you want to end up with. Since this is just a test run, I used a rectangle of Solvy left over from last week's mini-workshop and cut another piece off the roll. But if you have specific plans for your piece, it wouldn't hurt to measure it beforehand and then cut precisely sized pieces on a cutting mat.

Put one piece of Solvy aside – hanging it over a chair back works well. Set the other piece on the newspaper and spritz it lightly with your spray adhesive of choice; then pick it up by two corners and slide it back onto the white work surface.

[N.B.: That's what we did during the mini-workshop and how I did this demo. It turned out to be not such a good idea. All the people who made test pieces managed the Solvy Slide with grace and elegance, but me – I had bits of the Solvy waving in the air and sticking to themselves. You can probably see in the next picture how the base Solvy is wrinkled in places and no longer exactly a perfect rectangle. From now on, for small applications like this, I'm going to place a sheet or two of typing paper on top of the newspaper, put the Solvy on top of that, and work without moving the Solvy to a different work surface.]

Step 2: opaque scraps

Most of the time, when I make a piece of Solvy lace, it's going to wind up appliqued to something else; so there's a bottom side and a top side. And I work from the bottom up so that I can see how the piece is developing.

I want this piece to be lacy and mostly, but not totally, translucent; so I started with some tiny snippets from a couple of wonderful metallic brocades, trying to distribute them evenly around the surface.

Step 3: sheers

Now it's time to bring in the sheers. I happen to have lots of green synthetic sheer snippets left over from a previous project; there's also some green-dyed silk organza, some rose-colored silk sheer with metallic threads in it, and some lovely iridescent and wrinkled apricot sheer synthetic. Let the sheers overlap each other, let them overlap the opaque pieces of the first layer, but don't worry too much about covering every square inch of Solvy with them.

[N.B. For this test piece I'm mixing synthetic fabrics with silk. For some of the variations we'll discuss later in the week you may want to use all synthetics, or all silk; you may also want to cover the Solvy more thoroughly or less thoroughly than I'm showing here. Right now we're just getting a feel for working with the materials.]


Step 4: mesh, threads and yarns.

I like to swirl these gently across the surface as a last step. Sometimes I do a lot of sparkly thread, but in this piece I just used some scraps of a very open gold mesh and a few loops of a light green railroad thread. The other yarn that I had laid out initially, the eyelash yarn, seemed like too much for such a light and airy piece

Step 5: making the sandwich

Press down lightly on all your design elements, encouraging them to adhere to the bottom piece of Solvy. Then protect your white work surface if necessary, either by sliding a piece of newspaper under the Solvy or by reversing the slide-to-the-newspapered-side move. (Of course, if you've taken my retroactive advice and worked on a disposable sheet of white paper on top of a protective layer of newspaper, you don't have to do either of these things).

Now spritz the layered work lightly with spray adhesive, retrieve that second piece of Solvy – you know, the piece I told you to hang over a chair back in Step 1 – and lay it gently and precisely over your layered work. Press down lightly again and there you have it: your Solvy-lace sandwich, ready for the sewing machine.

Step 6: stitching the grid

Take your Solvy sandwich and stitch across it in one direction, keeping the lines between ¼ and 3/8 inch apart, at least most of the time.

After you've covered the piece one way with straight lines, turn it 90 degrees and do it again:

Now your Solvy sandwich should look something like this.

Step 6: washing out the Solvy

This invariably takes longer than you think it does, especially if you want to end up with a nice, soft, drapey lace fabric. If you take the Solvy sandwich to the sink and run warm water over it, in just a few moments it'll feel as if all the Solvy had washed away. This feeling is deceptive; if you leave it to dry at this stage, you'll have a stiff piece full of plastic - good for some applications, but not for all. I usually leave a piece overnight in a nice big tub or bucket of hot water, changing the water whenever it occurs to me to do so.

In the morning, take out the piece and lay it flat on a towel to dry. This won't take very long at all, and when you're through you will have a piece of your own unique, lacy fabric that nobody else can duplicate or buy.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Watching vinegar evaporate

Nothing at all happened to the brass finding; it must have had some protective coating or oil on it that I didn't notice. I'll probably scour it and try again.

The fabric with bronzing powders worked a treat, though. The "gold" paint reacted only slightly, around the edges, but the "copper" paint took on so much patina that the painted streak almost disappears into the green background. (Duhh, maybe next time paint a piece of white or black fabric so you can really see what's happening.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Even in 100-degree weather, watching vinegar evaporate isn't all that exciting. So today I went through my synthetic scraps and yarns to find sheers and laces and yarns for the fiberarts group meeting on Thursday. We're meeting at my house for a few months (until the usual hostess finishes ripping out the middle of her house and replacing it) and several people have expressed an interest in making lacy fabrics like this scarf, which I did by trapping frivolous scraps and laces between two layers of Solvy, stitching the bejesus out of it, and washing out the Solvy. So on Thursday night I'm going to try and run a mini-workshop for those who are interested...they can assemble the sandwiches on the dining room table before stitching them in the sewing room, where there is hardly room to swing a cat. (Not that I've actually tried. Galway is much too dignified to be swung and much too heavy for me to try it without risking back injury.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Happy accident

Last week I had some oxidized brass stampings that I wanted to get the oxidation off, so I could color them with alcohol-based inks. I dropped them into a salt and vinegar solution with every intention of coming back in a couple of hours with some Brasso and an old toothpaste to get the last bits of oxidation off...and then forgot about them for two days, by which time the vinegar had completely evaporated and the salt had re-crystalized into bright blue crystals. I rinsed that off and found that the findings had acquired a beautiful, uneven, variegated blue-green patina.

Okay, I've heard about getting a patina on brass with salt and vinegar, but nobody ever suggested the results would be this interesting if you let the solution evaporate down to nothing. Now I'm going to try to do it on purpose, using a brass stamping I'm not very fond of and a scrap of cloth painted with two bronzing powders from Gold Leaf and Metal Powders: "dark gold oxidized" and "copper."

I think patinated fabric would be fun to work with - on a wall hanging or something else that isn't going to be washed; I have a feeling washing would take off the patina.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

message in a bottle

This feels rather like putting a message in a bottle and dropping it into the ocean. I guess I'm doing the virtual equivalent to that by starting a blog from central Texas; at least it's easier than driving hundreds of miles to find some ocean.

Whatever - I'm running out of excuses to start listing stuff for sale on Etsy, having completed all the advance work; so I may as well drop two bottles at once, here and on Etsy. I guess I'll start listing scarves; the scarf inventory is already completed. The beadwork inventory needs a little work, since The Gallery at Round Top ( just took some of my best pieces, and I don't want to accidentally list those online.
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