What Have You Sampled Lately?

This week I learned that Everclear (the high-octane pure grain alcohol) makes a dandy glass shower door cleaner. If you had seen my scummy shower doors, you’d know why I decided to sample that idea from the guy who keeps my 14-year-old car getting 35 mpg.

Sampling is one of my favorite things. Here’s a quick sample of freeform looping I made for the student who came yesterday for a private studio class. We spent the day working on a solid foundation of looping technique. By the end of the day, she could see the underlying structure in this sample. There were wheels turning in her head when she left about ways to incorporate looping in her handmade felt. But what really made me smile was her statement that first, she had a lot more sampling she wanted to do.

Sometimes we go looking for inspiration. Sometimes it just comes up in casual conversation, like using spirits to clean glass. But inspiration without action is like a balloon that quietly deflates after a week or so. Sampling is a good way to find out if an idea will fly. Even if it won’t fly, letting the air out of a balloon all at once so it makes a rude sound and dive bombs everything in the room is more fun than watching it slowly deflate.

So what have you sampled lately? What are you hoping to sample soon?

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Digital Sampling

Regular readers, former students, and people who know me from potluck dinners all know I’m a big believer in sampling. (That last group doesn’t know about my Wonder Undies, and please don’t tell ’em.)

American cheese singles monoprinting sample

In the studio, I always find that sampling saves time in the long run. Outside the studio, it doesn’t always feel that way. But it still feels necessary.

So today I’m sampling a new feature from Blogger called Dynamic Views. It’s buggy and going to take some adjustment on my part. On your end, it may mean clicking on the post title to see the rest of the story, images, links, and the links that let you comment here and share on Facebook and Twitter (which I always appreciate!).

Click to open the rest of the story.
I like that this layout makes it easy for you to make a quick scan of previous posts. You can go all the way back to the Elizabeth Hodge post that explains how an unfinished family heirloom from 1815 inspired the name of this blog, without having to open a dozen or more different links to older pages.

But the altered landscape at this URL is nothing compared to the other sampling I’ve been doing. Here’s a hint: Lights, Camera, Action! Tune in tomorrow for the next chapter in my digital sampling adventures. I’m about to make an offer you can’t refuse.

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Spring Cleaned Up

Dust thick enough to draw in should be considered an art surface, don’t you think? I need to address the domestic situation soon. In the meantime, I’m glad for other people who’ve started their spring cleaning. Because of them, I cleaned up at the thrift shop last week.

For six bucks, I got four percale sheets, two damask tablecloths, a piece of flannel-backed vinyl, two cotton/poly twin blankets (possibly fire retardant, because they didn’t take dye well at all), and a hairpin crochet frame. I guess I deleted the picture I took of the pile before I washed it, but here’s one of the tablecloths after I dyed it. It’s going in a piece I’m working on now.

I took a little time this week to play with an idea suggested by one of my Designing Quilters students in Fargo/Moorhead.

The flannel-backed vinyl was very easy to stitch by hand. It doesn’t have quite enough body for a class challenge vessel as a single layer, but would be great for testing and patterns.

Still, for my own vessels I’ll probably stick with builder’s rosin paper, even though it’s stiffer, for modeling. Bill was kind enough to cut a new roll of the stuff (nine bucks at Fleet Farm) for me.

The last time I bought a roll, I cut it myself with a hand saw, which works but leaves a more ragged edge.

I’ve had ragged edges on my mind lately, particularly the “ravell’d sleave of care” knit again by sleep, as Shakespeare put it in Macbeth. There’s a dream theme running through work I’m doing for a summer show. With the boro influence and recycling constraint I gave myself for this work, “ravell’d sleave” immediately came to mind. That’s the problem with great language: It sticks in your head and it’s hard to get it out, even when it doesn’t quite fit.

Now I’m mulling “the dear repose” of Sonnet 27. “But then begins a journey in my head...” We’ll see how that wears as the work progresses.

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Top Shelf Dyes Part 2

In Part 1, I shared a snow dyeing project I did last week (Sherri in Texas said it almost made her wish for snow). It was part of an effort to use up some discontinued Procion H dye concentrate. This week, I’m starting a piece from one of the fabrics I altered by printing and painting with Procion H mixed with shaving cream.

Shaving cream is great for faux marbling, which I like to do with Dharma Pigment Dyes. I can’t remember where I read about mixing dye with shaving cream for screen printing, but I wanted to sample it.

So I mixed the Procion H concentrate with a little chemical water, added a bit of dissolved soda ash, then combined that mixture with shaving cream.

On half of a pre-dyed sheet (part of my 9 sheets for 5 bucks collection), I sampled two kinds of printing. First, I screened on a text element and one of my floral collage designs using Thermofax screens I made in a workshop with Stephanie Lewis Robertson at Sievers. Then I applied the shaving cream-dye mixture with a foam brush to a plastic tray (saved from one of my late mother-in-law’s craft containers) and used that to stamp the fabric.

Then I folded the other half of the sheet over what I had printed, and just stamped it. While I was at it, I stamped a stray piece of plain white fabric.

After steaming, rinsing and washing, here’s what the sheet looked like.

The sheet was slightly damp when I printed it, so the slight blurriness and color separation at the edges of the printing was what I expected. Most of the time, I prefer text that isn’t readable, so I’m quite happy with this slapdash print job. If I wanted crisper edges and finer detail, I could mix up sodium alginate and thicken the dye with that instead of the shaving cream mixture.

The plain white fabric was completely dry when I printed with the shaving cream mixture. Here’s how it looked after steaming, rinsing and washing.

Maybe I’m easily pleased, but I’m happy with the results here. Since it was so simple to print with the shaving cream mixture, I know I’ll do it again.

On another pre-dyed sheet, I printed with two different Thermofax screens and the shaving cream-dye mixture. The first screen is one I made from a graphite pencil rubbing of the electric range burner in the Walter Studio at Sievers. Prints from the second screen, from a photograph of a tile wall, blurred quite a bit (this sheet was also dampish when I printed). On this piece, I also applied some of the shaving cream-dye mixture by piping it like cake filling from the snipped corner of a plastic baggie. Here’s how it looked before steaming.

After steaming, rinsing and washing, it’s not my favorite fabric but there are areas of interest that I can definitely use.

My favorite piece of last week wasn’t one of the sheets. It was a piece of rayon from a long-ago ho-hum shibori attempt. Using the shaving cream-dye mixture on dry fabric, I sampled a slapdash Pellon stencil/screen idea. I won’t bore you with the details because that was a total flop.

In no time, the Pellon soaked up the dye mixture. Oh well, I figured I couldn’t mess it up worse than it was. So I started making marks with the shaving cream-dye mixture using the edge of a squeegee, then progressed to finger painting with it. Here’s what it looked like after steaming, rinsing and washing.

That’s the piece I’m going to work on this week. It has flaws, but I love it. So I’m going to make myself work fast and not get too invested in the piece. I need to just get back in the studio groove for the new year, and too-precious fabric is a hindrance rather than a help. At least, for me: Your mileage may vary.

Even with the extra steps to wrap and steam fabric printed with Procion H, I really do like the shaving cream-print method. I’ll do it again. But jeepers, I just made a dent in the collection on that top shelf.

Got any wild-hair suggestions on other techniques to sample with it?

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Wonder Undies

No way will I caption my undies.

I’ve never had the nerve to tell students to bring extra underwear to a workshop. But I often tell people there’s no better test for a surface design product or technique than putting it on your unmentionables. That’s the load of laundry that really tells you how things stand up in the wash.

Last year on Compost and Creativity, I wrote about some sampling I did using disperse dye transfers on 100% cotton painted with fabric paint. You can read the original post here and the follow-up here.

As long as you’re looking at my granny panties, I might as well be completely honest. First, I never got any other sampling done on that batch of undies. Second, let’s just say it would be an honest mistake in the emergency room to assume that wasn’t surface design.

So yesterday while I was sampling a new image transfer product, I raided my underwear drawer. In addition to trying the product on Ultrasuede and woven cotton, I added another layer of “interest” to that batch of undies. And just in case they’re someday seen by medical personnel, I labeled them as Surface Design Samples. It might not alleviate all their concerns, but it should give us something to talk about.

What’s the craziest fabric you’ve experimented on?

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Local Color On Washington Island

Last week was my 5-day Local Color workshop at Sievers School of Fiber Arts on Washington Island. A wonderful group of students worked hard in the studio, played hard on our field trips, and made me proud by sampling without being reminded. That’s my gang, spelling out “Washington Island” in sign language at Percy Johnson Park. As a student many years ago in a class with Jo Campbell-Amsler, I had a magical day at this beach weaving on a willow backpack, eating Lunchables, and enjoying the company of another great group of women.

This time, my class took digital photographs around the island, printed fabric, altered printed fabrics with surface design techniques and image transfers, did sun printing and solar dyeing, explored disperse dyes, and celebrated island traditions like Burger Night at Karly’s and Breakfast at Sunset. I even managed to finish a chocolate cone from the Albatross without decorating my white T-shirt with any drips (which I would have called “surface design”).

Whether I’m teaching or taking a workshop at Sievers, I always come home inspired and energized. I spent part of yesterday afternoon reflecting on the week and doing the same homework I assigned to my students, to help me clarify and prioritize what I want to explore next. I have more ideas than I have time (sound familiar?). So I have to choose which to pursue now. I’m also choosing which to pursue later, and which to pursue never. It’s strangely satisfying to say, “That’s interesting, but it’s not me” and move on.

So now it’s back to the studio and back to work. Picture me rubbing my hands together in glee. Or better yet, picture me working myself like a rented mule (my students will get the joke). I have a lot of sampling to do!

How about you? What techniques or ideas are you exploring this summer?

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Time Out

Over the weekend, my sister-in-law and I had a chance to take a time-out (the good kind, not the naughty kind). We spent time in the studio sampling some ideas and just plain playing.

Bless her heart, she brought up a whole-cloth quilt she made in plain fabric so we could (gulp) hack it into pieces for sampling. The gulp is mine: I have no problem chopping up my own stuff. Neither did she. But it was so pretty all by itself, I almost didn’t want to cut it.

 I got over it, though, and we had the best time playing with possibilities.

Now it’s back to putting the finishing touches on upcoming classes and (count ’em) three soon-to-be-published e-books. With teaching travel starting this week, it will be July before I can get back to the ideas that came from this sampling session. But in the meantime, ideas are incubating!

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Doodle Gimping

There’s a new creativity warm-up exercise called The Panel Doodle at my other blog, Compost And Creativity. Here’s another way I use material from my warm-ups as part of my other sampling activities.

For several years, I have occasionally used a version of The Gimp for photo imaging, and it’s time for me to get comfortable with more features of the program. GIMP is a freely distributed program for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. You can read about it here. For a free download, go here. There are tutorials here.

Or you can just scan an image and start playing with it, with no particular outcome in mind. Let me repeat that, with no particular outcome in mind. I like to use doodles for this kind of experimentation because there’s no emotional attachment. You can try any hare-brained idea without feeling like you’re “messing up” if it turns out bizarre or ugly.

So here’s how I Gimped my panel doodle warm-up. I added color, applied a film strip effect and a perspective effect to a selection, layered the selection over the original image, and put both of those layers on a black background.

I could take this image over to Spoonflower, play with repeats, and order fabric to be printed and delivered right to my home. But that must wait for another day.

For now, I’ll just ask. Would you like to Gimp along with me next month while I play more with this digital imaging program? Hit the comment button below to tell me what you want to find here at Two Red Threads.

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Two Red Threads In An Unfinished Sampler


I’m the current custodian of an unfinished cross-stitch sampler. It’s faded and hard to photograph through conservation glass, so let me tell you its story.

Back in the early 1970’s, my great-aunt Ruth Matthews Wiggins gave the sampler to my parents. In 2005, they passed it on to me. The information passed along with this linen sampler says it was made about 1815. The maker’s name was Elizabeth Hodge.

Elizabeth used two different green threads, one of which is still pretty vivid, to work an outer border and designs that separate the major sections of the sampler.

The first two sections — an alphabet (upper and lower case letters) and a poem – are worked in one shade of red. Part of the third section — her name and dates – is worked in a different red. The last section says, ”Elizabeth Hodge was born September the 4 186 (we would read that 1806) and was married July the 6 1824.”

She would have been 9 years old when she began the sampler, and 18 when she married.

The sampler is about 18 inches square, and there’s a good 5 inches of blank space between the last stitched date and the bottom border. Maybe she meant to sample different embroidery stitches there, or fill the space with some design or motif. Maybe she intended to fill in the birth dates of her children, then had children and never found the time.

I know a lot of people who feel weighted down by projects begun but not completed. Maybe Elizabeth felt the same way. I don’t know. But I do know this: Even if my great-great-great grandmother had bought this sampler at a carriage-house sale, I would still treasure it. Even though it appears to be unfinished, to me it represents the process of learning.

Learning is a lifelong adventure. It doesn’t always fit exactly into the framework we expect, or the timetable we would choose. There’s something to be learned from everything we make, and it’s not all related to design or technique. It may be about patience or perseverance or learning to accept our own imperfections. It may be about celebrating achievement instead of feeling guilty when our reach exceeds our grasp.

I know you know that, but sometimes we forget.

Take a look around in the corner of the world where you make stuff. If you find things you’ve been lamenting because they never got finished, ask yourself:

— Is there more I want to learn from this?
— Can I learn more from it, or is the lesson complete?
— Is this a project or a sampler?
— Can I be happy with it just the way it is — at least for now?

If it’s weighing you down, give yourself permission to pass it along: Sell it at a garage sale, take it to a thrift shop, offer it to a friend. Or reclassify it in your mind from Unfinished Project to Material or Supplies, and use it for sampling some new product or technique. But please, think twice before you send it to a landfill.

I’m grateful to all the people between Elizabeth and me who made the choice to save this faded, unfinished artifact.

Two red threads represent a passion for learning that never fades. Now, that’s a legacy.

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