I attended an amazing workshop hosted by Maryam Wahid earlier today.
We were asked to show a single photograph that represents home.
An easy task, I thought… But no. As a former chronically unhoused eclectic (who is now partially housebroken) I found myself unable to come up with a simple way to represent what home means to me in a single image… Until I looked up and saw my mantle collection.
The side of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has a huge text piece by Lawrence Weiner that says, “Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole.” — I have referred back to that piece for many years now. About how a lifetime is just that… Bits and pieces that form a semblance of a whole.
My life as a sort of urban nomad has meant I have lost a lot along the way… This collection is what I have kept. When it is unpacked, it means I am home.
Sidenote afterthought (or a poem?)….
i used to
to kick to
after we moved
i began to notice i
on my back
i must feel
safe now i
what an odd
to feel safe
but not to
until one day
you are sleeping
My world is 667 square feet big. I have a window in the front that looks out upon a shuttered pub and another window in the back that looks out upon a carpark, some houses, and in the very tippy toppy distance: the sea.
I have been outside 6 times in 271 days. Wait… let me write it out longhand for emphasis:
As with many other things in my life, my artistic practice has changed significantly as a result of the SARS-Cov-2 pandemic. My world–which has never a paragon of tranquillity (lest I give the accidental impression that it ever was)–has become a cacophony of cooking and laundry, of online grocery orders and of doing everything within my ken to keep my ever-present anxiety at a level that still allows me to function, at least a little.
“Even before the pandemic, it was estimated women were doing about three quarters of the 16 billion hours of unpaid work that are done each day around the world (Lungumbu & Butterly, 2020).” In late November of this year, the UN published the results of 38 surveys conducted across the globe. According to the results, that number has “at least doubled (ibid).”
So, like women all over the world, Covid-19 has impacted my life in a very domestic way. Although somewhat bewildering a position to find myself in–particularly when it comes to issues of gender equality–my ability to take up the reins of domesticity has served as an unwished for, but much needed, safety blanket (Kim, 2020).
In addition to domestic tasks, I use my ears to escape onto spaceships where I travel to Mars and exoplanets that are still only named scientific gibberish today, and to periods of human history when the last pandemic was the black plague (Alcott, 1886)–that being said, I did read, Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis (Willis, 2008) in September, so consequently I have also escaped TO the Black Plague, so perhaps that is not a very good example. Semantics aside, my only escape from this pandemic prison (safe haven?) is audiobooks.
Though not overtly present visually in my work, audiobooks have kept me company whilst I cook and do laundry, as I rearrange the furniture for the twelfth time, and especially, as I create artworks. In her book, My Year of Meats, Ruth Ozeki’s main character states:
“I bought a People magazine at the airport and read it very carefully on the plane, cover to cover, every word of it; I cannot recall a single story I read during the five-hour flight, but I cannot remember having a single thought of my own, either, and that was the point (Ozeki, 2006).”
I used to think that was why I read–to protect myself from my own thoughts–but recently I have discovered that the themes and stories I listen to very often seep into my work in strange and unexpected ways. I have come to realise that, through reading, I am searching both the fictional past and the dystopic future for a way to make sense of the present (Goodreads, 2020). At the same time, I am also seeking out the truth in the stories of the women in my family, of the epigenetically inherited emotional trauma I was born with (Daskalakis, et al., 2018) and how my own early childhood trauma has forever transformed my life (Curry, 2019).
In my summative statement for Artistic Research: Themes and Methods, I wrote that “my usual modus operandi is to scream desperate messages of need and longing beneath a guise of humour (Adamson, 2020).” Although these quilted woodgrain pieces are more of a whisper–a quiet plea to be understood, perhaps–they are filled with longing and desperation, nonetheless.
I have been using textiles to explore my own fragility, to investigate my anger and pain and confusion… to traverse my struggles and make public the naked, vulnerable truth of my existence, whatever that might be.
I want to find the beauty in the mundane, to find worth in what I do… in who I am.
The last 271 days have found me hiding from the world beneath a repurposed duvet that has become covered in the poorly quilted landscape of my psyche; ridges and furrows and torn threads lay waste to a field of broken sewing machine needles.
As I pace around my 667 square feet, I want people to know that I am here… I want to scream out of my window to the people walking by on their way to the discount grocery store across the road that this pile of laundry and discarded sourdough starter do not encapsulate my identity.
But instead, like my foremothers, I will quietly sew (on Mars).
Adamson, J. L., 2020. Artistic Research -Themes and Methods. Musselburgh: Edinburgh College of Art / University of Edinburgh. Unpublished Essay.
Alcott, L. M., 1886/2011. Jo’s Boys. eAudiobook ed. Baltimore: Narrated by Barbara Caruso. Recorded Books by Blackstone Audio.
My step-mother found another letter my great-grandmother received about my great-great-aunt Jennie who died during the 1918 pandemic. This letter was from the woman who she worked for as a housekeeper in Cascade, Minnesota before moving to Montana to study to be come a civil servant.
Here is the transcription:
Dec. 29. 1918
Mrs Henry Vokes
Tho’ I have never met you yet, I feel in a measure acquainted with you for Jennie spoke so often of her sisters – Florence & Mable. Miss Pride has written you so fully of Dear Jennie’s illness & death that there is little for me to write. Only to tell you how much we loved Jennie & how heart-sick we were over her sudden death. She left us only three weeks before, so well, happy & hopeful!
Earlier in the summer, she had not felt quite so well as usual so cancelled a play. Exercise & the room had her feeling fine with the exception of those hard head-aches to which she seemed susceptible. I felt that the continual grind of housework was too much for Jennie so persuaded her to try & find herself for something that would be less laborious. She quite fell in with the idea and was studying to fit herself for a civil service examination. She was so very happy in the work she was doing. Jennie was a great favorite among the Y U. workers and also with the fellowship girls. She seemed to have a faculty of making friends where ever she went. She enjoyed much & so expressed a wish that Mable was here. It seemed so strange that Mable did not write. Jennie was so worried about it. I do hope Mabel was not sick. Jennie could not account for her silence in any which way & it greatly bothered her. You must not feel that Jennie is here among strangers for we were greatly attached to her and it was a comfort to us to have her buried by the side of our dear little girl. We had assured Jennie more than once that our home was her home and she greatly appreciated it. Herbert thinks to have her trunk sent here. Then when he is discharged, we will try to carry out her wishes as expressed to me last summer.
aka: My Artistic Research 3 Formative presentation…
(My YouTube disclaimer workaround: if you click on the image, it will bring you to my presentation)
I know that I kind of went about this in a slightly unorthodox manner, but then… that’s usually what I do. It’s cheesy, and I get cut off at one point, and I think I sound a bit like a YA (young adult) audiobook narrator, but… here it is, warts and all.
I have a virtual drop-in meeting with someone from the Textiles department Tomorrow. I have been hesitant to order any actual supplies for dying fabric because I haven’t been able to find much information about how well Transfix—the product that is supposed to make it possible to print on natural fibres with disperse dyes—actually works.
I think this meeting will help a lot. Not only with answering my question about transfix, but also whether disperse dyes are the best way forward with what I am hoping to do.
Traditionally, quilting is done with 100% cotton fabrics, and I was hoping to try to stick to traditional fabrics to begin with. That being said, synthetics aren’t something I am absolutely against using, as I am hoping to turn the idea of domesticity on it’s head a bit, and using non-traditional materials will eventually be where I am headed—I think—but I have long been a believer of learning how to follow the rules before breaking them.
However…. if transfix is not going to work, I think that leaves me with two options:
Forge ahead using disperse dyes, but on high-quality polyester… Downside to this = not a green material, and not terribly nice to work with.
(unless there are affordable, high-quality, recycled polyesters? Note to self: Ask about this tomorrow).
Switch to using Procion MX dyes and ask for guidance from the textiles department gurus.
(Note to self: Learning new things does not need to be scary. You are a student. The entire POINT is to learn new things, dodo head!)
Materials aside, I am almost ready to start writing my study plan. I have a few different ideas about what I would like to work on, but essentially, I will be exploring the idea of traditional gender roles, historically female handicrafts and how textiles have been used for centuries to communicate with the world.
Something I was thinking about when doing my research into disperse dyes is just how simple it is to use them to create transfer prints onto fabric, and how this could be a really fun activity for the children my sister, Rachael, works with.
Not only are the dyes affordable, but the process itself is so simple! Paint image in reverse onto cheap paper, let it dry, iron onto fabric, and voilà!
Rachael works with children in an elementary school. One of the activities she does with her kids is art therapy, so I thought… How fun would it be for her kids to create a collaborative quilt together?!
I spoke with her about it, and she seems pretty excited by the idea too. She thinks each kid might even be able to make their own lap quilt for when they have rest time (they are in 1st Grade, so no longer nap, but do have a rest period where they put their heads down on their desks for a little while). At the moment they’re using towels, so this might be a nice activity that would result in something they could actually use.
Rachael’s idea when we were brainstorming was that she could give them all a piece of paper that’s sectioned off into enough squares for each child to have one panel ftom everyone else’s design. The actual piecing together of the quilts will probably be done by her, but still… Such a neat idea.
Anyhow, I will need to look into if this will work with our external project brief, but even if it doesn’t, if she gets the go-ahead, I will do this with her regardless.
I found this old NYT article about Sublistatic Printing when I was researching disperse dyes earlier tonight. Apparently, disperse dyes were specifically developed for the sublistatic printing process by a Swiss chemical company for the textiles industry… I think?
I’ll do some more research and post more about it tomorrow.
Also, I wrote a much more detailed post earlier but the android notepad app gremlins appear to have eaten my homework.
Anyhow, here’s the article. More later:
Decals Are Big Business: In Printing of Textiles
Feb. 1, 1970
Credit…The New York Times Archives
See the article in its original context from
February 1, 1970, Section F, Page 12
An old art—decalcomania—has been given a new application in the textile trade. It is rapidly growing into a big industry and will prove an invaluable aid to apparel manufacturers and other who are using printed fabrics.
A process involving the transference of a printed design from paper to cloth has been perfected by a Swiss company, Société des Pro cedes Sublistatic, which has set up a subsidiary in New York called the Sublistatic Corporation of America. In business for less than two years, the company here is selling continuous rolls of decals as well as single‐sheet designs at a rate of almost 350,000 yards a month.
Westbury Fashions, Inc., a large producer of women’s sportswear, will use Sublistatic for much of its print ed‐garment production. Hy Rabin, president, pointed out that his company could do its own printing as it needed the goods and had only to stock gray goods, which involves a much smaller inventory investment than would be the case for Printed tex tiles.
500 Yards an Hour
Westbury has purchased a printing unit costing $50,000 and other equipment for making its own prints. The unit is made in this country by the David Lessner Company of Worcester, Mass., and can print yard goods at speeds of 500 yards an hour and higher.
Another type of unit for printing individual pieces, cloth, sweaters, hosiery, drapery panels and the like, is the Kannegiesser Automatic Heat‐printing unit. Gessner is the North American and Central American agent for the Kannegiesser unit.
The Sublistatic color system at present is adaptable only for 100 per cent man made fiber fabrics or in blends with at least 65 per cent of such fiber. These include acetate, triacetate, acrylics except modacrylics, nylon 66 and polyester. The fabrics may be woven, knit ted or of a non-woven construction.
The cost of the decals in continuous roller form is around 53 cents a yard, much higher than the printing cost in direct application of color or pattern by rollers or screen. But the higher cost is often offset by savings effected in not having to stock hundreds or thousands of yards of fabric awaiting possible demand.
Those who are using the method feel that the added cost is justified by the results. Color registry, for in stance, is as good as in the best letterpress or rotogravure paper printing methods. The fact that there is little or no stretch in paper makes it possible to get clean results without one color run ning over the edge of an other.
The decals are made by Sublistatic from original designs supplied by the textile company or garment manufacturer owning the goods. At present, they are pro duced in France, but eventually a printing plant will be set up in this country. Roger A. Lepoutre, vice president and managing director of the New York company, said that a design could be sent overseas, processed and re turned on paper within three weeks.
The dyes on the paper are produced by Ciba, which has an interest in the parent company. These dyes, when subjected to heat, are changed to a gas and fused into the fabric. They are said to meet all technical standards for dry cleaning, machine wash ability, shrinkage, light fast ness and abrasion resistance.
About 35 companies are either now producing Sublistatic prints or will be doing so very shortly. By the end of the year, according to Mr. Lepoutre, there will be 70 manufacturers in the United States.
Among those making the prints in addition to Westbury are Texfi Industries, Wamsutta Knitting Mills, Marva Industries, William Heller, Inc., the Talbot Knit ting Mills division of U. S. Industries, Leslie Fay, Inc., and Jonathan Logan.
It is a gorgeous machine, but it is daunting, and I must admit… I was (and am) more than a little afraid of it. I’m worried that it would be too complicated to use, and that I’d end up frustrated and crying rather than actually making anything.
So yeah… It’s super pretty, but I think I will be using something else to work with. Probably the new Janome 5060 QDC that I purchased after several days of confusing research. It was at the very tippy top of my budget, but my sister, who is an avid sewer says I’ll never need to purchase another machine ever again.
One of the things that I usually end up including somewhere in my work is text. As such, I have been trying to figure out not only an aesthetic for text that would work well with quilting, but also subject matter.
I recently discovered that my Great-Aunt Jennie (or possibly actually my Great-Grandmother, but that’s a family mystery none of us has yet to solve for certain) died during the 1918 pandemic. My stepmother found a letter that the Office Secretary of the Young Women’s Christian Association in Great Falls, Montana wrote to my Great-Great Grandmother Vokes on December 10, 1918 about the death of her sister, Jennie Everett.
Anyhow, given that we are currently living through another pandemic, I was thinking that I might try to print the text onto the fabric and then quilt that. I haven’t thought it through much further than that at the moment, but it’s an idea…
Update before I post this: I decided to see if I could find anything else about Jennie and was able to track down the handwritten, in the book death certificate. The woman who wrote the letter to my Great-Grandmother is the same woman who informed the authorities of Jennie’s death. Also… She died on December 6th, exactly 59 years before I was born.
I have spent the day researching quilting, and then more specifically, dyes and which one(s) I should try experimenting with first, and then sewing machines.
As mine is very, very basic, I began with trying to figure out if I need to get a new sewing machine. I know myself well enough to know that if I need to do everything by hand, I will grow tired of this medium and never finish anything, so the answer to do I need a new machine is (you’ve probably already guessed it, but…): YES (and a resounding one at that).
As sewing machines that also allow for free motion quilting are *insert expletive here* expensive, I decided to set that particularly depressing bit of research aside for a bit as I think I won’t need that as immediately as fabric. Another thing I need to acquire is knowledge of how to quilt in the first place.
Although I come from a small, rednecky Minnesota town that isn’t all that far away from Walnut Grove (where one of the Little House on the Prairie books was set, and where the television series was set), I never really learned anything about traditional craft practices at all, and did not learn anything about sewing until I was twelve and took Home Economics as a mandatory class in Junior High.
Lest I begin rambling on about my weirdo childhood in a giant house filled with recovering addicts (true story) in rural Minnesota, I’ll just say: I am basically starting from scratch and have nearly no idea what I am doing.
As I have no clue what I am doing, and as there are SO VERY MANY books out there about quilting, I decided to email Susan Mowatt because she is the only lecturer I know who I also thought might be able to direct me towards a good online resource.
Unfortunately, neither quilting nor fabric dying are areas she specialises in. She was, however, able to point me in the direction of an online retailer with a good book section and decent prices on supplies. The book section alone was a very helpful jumping off point, as it narrowed down some possibly better books to take a look at, and also showed me a further array of textile dying options that I had not yet come across.
I don’t really have a concept in mind for my project yet, but I do (think I) know that I want to be able to paint on cotton fabric and then quilt it. As such, I am going to need a dye that not only works with natural fibres, but that also doesn’t run too terribly. I absolutely loathe the aesthetic of batik, so using a wax resit is not something I am willing to consider. I had a textiles section during my foundation year where we learned how to use disperse dyes, but as I thought transfer dyes only work with synthetic fabrics (a thought reinforced here) and because I am/was a bit afraid of Procion dyes because I’ve never used them before, I decided to look around for something else.
I found fabric paints online yesterday, but they are fairly cost prohibitive, so I decided to do a little more research into Procion dyes and discovered that Procions can be thickened with enough to paint onto fabric without bleed.
Cutting to the chase… As I was doing research into Procion, and finding myself ever more worried about the mess and the faff of trying to mix chemicals in my flat, I ran into the following line in a list of materials required at the very bottom of this blog post about transfer dying:
“Synthetic fabric such as polyester (or natural fabrics painted with Transfix)”
OR NATURAL FABRICS??!!!?
Sure enough, all one need do should they wish to use disperse dyes on natural fibres is to use one more chemical called Transfix! The colour will be almost as bright as it would be on synthetic fabric, and the process is identical bar the one extra step of painting the fabric that is to be printed on with a coating of the Transfix. Talk about making my life a gazillion times easier!
After discovering this amazing bit of information, I went to the site where I found the best prices on disperse dyes that also appears to be shipping as normal. I think I am going to start out with a small set of disperse paints, as they’re not so expensive as to make a failed experiment trigger my poverty trauma, and of course, a bottle of Transfix.
*fingers crossed* that this works because if it does, I can start making and not just doing materials research.