My internet friend Brenda asked me to create a special piece of silk. She intends to make herself a fit and flare type of dress. At the moment, while she is having treatment for breast cancer, she can only sew in short bursts (same for many of us without such a good excuse). So when I said it might take me some time she said not to worry.
I showed you the inspiration pictures she sent me.
Lots of nice stuff going on there but I was anxious, and daunted. I had trouble with all the elements of her specification
- deep colours
- including coppery brown
- medium scale
- leaf and elliptical shapes
Brenda sent some taupe brown cuttings, alongside the other deep strong shades – purple, teal and forest green. so I felt that was my main colour scheme. However my piece started with a central motif in pinks and purples, which are rather light. As I explained in my post on how to do this, after dividing the fabric into sections I like to start with light colours. Maybe this one is a little bit like a roundel in a stained glass window. The window is framed in dark green, like old-fashioned paint, with a view of a garden through them. I then used hot wax to outline these light colours and protect them from the darker colours I was planning to add next.
I planned to create a garden (botanical instruction) because I love painting flowers. They are my natural motif (Ruth of Ruthie Sews has a leaf as hers) and I love the colours and shapes of flowers (and the smell!) and enjoy flowers in art and on fabric. But Brenda hadn’t asked for flowers!
As I filled in the background I knew that I should be doing deeper colours. One of the problems I had was that I don’t have brown, and only a small pot of black. I have lots of blue, turquoise, pink, red and yellow (my colours!). So I struggled to implement this aspect of the spec. I did lots of mixing and testing.
Leaf and elliptical shapes and flowing, medium scale design
Once the pink/mauve flower was in I felt the need to put some strong deep green lines to divide up the space. I was thinking leaves and elliptical shapes. I spent some time looking at images of teardrops and paisley too. Also Brenda had mentioned “medium scale, botanical, flowing,” which worried me a bit.
I put leaf shapes diagonally in lots of shades of mainly cooler greens. These are my ellipses. They may look a bit like mussels. I think I used about 10 shades of green to make them look fairly natural and botanical. I wasn’t sure if this was flowing enough – probably not. And I think I messed up the medium scale – this might count as a large scale design?
Brenda specifically mentioned she liked wearing brown and you can see the copper verdigris, and there is a gingery brown in the peacock feathers. I knew I had to make this shade and I used orange with black and blue to make it. We used to call this “poo brown” (and not after the bear) when I was young. Sorry Brenda – this is my least favourite shade. I mixed in some turquoise which I thought set it off nicely and was true to the verdigris inspiration.
Unfortunately once the brown was on I was appalled. The photograph captures the work in progress at that point. My husband asked why I had put brown in. I was pretty crestfallen and I left it to simmer overnight.
I knew that Brenda had asked for deep shades but I felt the only way I could retrieve the work was by contrasting the brown with some strong, bright colours. I wanted red and pink in there. She hadn’t asked for it (although one of the cuttings has a purply red in it, just). I was worried but on instinct I introduced turquoise, strong bright pink, bright blue, bright light blue and bright purple. These are my colours (cool bright), whereas Brenda is deep-cool I think. And I felt it was a huge improvement. I am not sure this is what Brenda wanted me to do, but I had to do it.
The artistic process
When people ask for certain specifics I can get a bit fixated on them, and I start to worry if I can include elements I like and are “me” too. But of course this is acceptable – the whole point of a commission or a collaboration is that the creator (me) is being asked to put themselves into it. I don’t think I exactly answered the brief, but I felt Brenda wanted me to be myself and make this my own way.
I held her and her wishes close throughout the process. I knew, in my heart, that she would accept that I am going to communicate something of my own nature. Yet this was bothering me all the way through. I still don’t really like the brown in this piece myself. But overall I think it works well and I am happy with my work. I probably wouldn’t buy this in a shop as the greens and browns are a bit dark/warm/muted for me. But I think they will suit Brenda well and I love the pattern. To me it looks like bunches of grapes, malachite, delphiniums and peonies. It’s got a 1930s vibe, maybe more like a furnishing fabric than a dress fabric. But I could see it as a rather grand 1950s evening dress with a full skirt. Overall I love it, and so does Brenda. And I got 346 likes on Instagram!
“I can’t say enough how much I love the colors and the design” she kindly wrote to me. I fear she may just be saying this to make me feel good, but she is sincere as well as kind, so (riddled as I am with doubt that I may have disappointed her or failed to please her) I am going to believe she means it.
Once the painting is finished it is necessary to iron out all the wax, then iron actively and hotly all over the cloth until we are sure the colours are fixed. I have never had any trouble with this but as this is going to someone else I thought I had better do it properly. The whole de-wax and fixing process took a few hours. Next I washed the fabric in a fairly hot wash with detergent (as the wax leaves an oily residue). Then a final press before packing it up for its return journey to the USA.
This was a fun project, despite the angst. I like it the finished product very much. I think it is one of the best silk painting projects I have done. Now I know Brenda has received it I feel alot better. Brenda still has a couple of chemo sessions to get through, then her operation. Once all that is behind her I expect she will make something really nice with it. I really enjoyed doing something creative for Brenda, and I hope wearing it will make her happy too.