Thursday, August 07, 2008

Book Review: Create Your Own Handprinted Cloth

I've long had the same feeling about the idea of creating my own fabrics with various surface design techniques that I had about learning to dye fabric: I was afraid to start down that road out of the fear that I'd get so entranced with even MORE ways to add fabric to my already-stuffed shelves that I'd never get anything finished. So, while I read Rayna Gillman's blog regularly, I've avoided getting very involved with printing, screen printing, and other surface design techniques.

But earlier this week, a copy of Rayna's new book Create Your Own Hand-Printed Cloth (C&T Pub. 2008) landed in my mailbox, around the same time I'd been laid low with a nasty sinus infection. I retreated to bed with my antibiotics and this book.
And, I'm afraid to say, I was smitten. Dang it, I knew this would happen. I really want to try some of these techniques.
First, the book itself is really pretty to look at. There are tons of vibrant pictures. Each page has great visual appeal, so it's a pleasure to read this book even if you're not going to rush off to paint fabric right away. I'm much more likely to want to use a book if the pictures are vivid and interesting (shallow, I know, but what can I say?) and this one definitely fulfills my visual criteria.
But for someone like me, who doesn't like making an enormous mess and who doesn't have a dedicated "wet" studio area (I'm left to the kitchen and the patio) Rayna's instructions make these techniques seem feasible. I'm leery of melting wax to try batiking, and I tend to think of screen printing as something complex that trained artists need big expensive equipment to do. I'm impressed at how Rayna explains how these techniques are accessible and easily achievable with relatively inexpensive and/or found items. It's a small thing, I know, but I really liked that Rayna explained how to make a portable work surface to use when trying these techniques. That's the sort of basic information I need.
A lot of different surface design techniques are covered here -- stamping and stenciling with found objects, "random" screenprinting, gelatin plate printing, discharge printing, soy wax batik, and more. And as I read each section, I not only could see myself trying the techniques I'd not yet used, I actually wanted to try them. Rayna's text is very encouraging and she takes a lot of pleasure in the simple concept of experimenting. I've had people tell me about gelatin printing, for example, and the idea of printing with "jello" sort of grossed me out. But Rayna's instructions and pictures made me think again. I really want to give this a try, and I figure it'll be a good mom-and-daughter project one of these days.
One of the parts I like the best in this book is "Can This Fabric Be Saved?," where Rayna shows some examples of pieces she made that she didn't like, and how she changed them with additional surface design treatments to make them better. That was encouraging too for the non-confident among us.
Scattered throughout the book are pictures of art quilts made with various personally-created fabric, by Rayna and others. I would have liked to see more, but of course I realize that the point of the book is simply making the fabric ... once made, it's like any other fabric in terms of how a quilt artist chooses to use it.
I'll confess that that leads to my other vague discomfort about getting on the "surface design" bandwagon. I have the impression that, as surface design techniques are being taught and used more widely, more people are making cloth, adding quilting to it, and calling it "art." I feel like I'm seeing more and more pieces made to simply show hunks of hand-created fabric, without (to my eye) good composition, thought to artistic principles such as balance, focal point, etc. Wrongly or not, I've concluded that a lot of people who delve into surface design end up falling in love with the fabric they make and then can't bear to treat it as actual cloth to cut up and integrate into anything. I can see that making the cloth is an artistic process, but to me, that doesn't necessarily make the resulting cloth "art" in and of itself. I appreciated that the title "Create Your Own Hand-Printed Cloth" makes clear that it's about making the cloth, and then you're left to use that cloth an element in your art. But I'm digressing. That's my own pet peeve about the subject.
In short, I'm very impressed with this book and how accessible Rayna makes these techniques. I think I'm going to give a few of them a try ... I guess I'd better make a bit more room on my fabric shelves!


  1. Be careful, it is an addiction. You will have to join the complex cloth list and think of the additional layers of surface that you can add to a piece of fabric.

  2. STOP encouraging me! I don't need more books and I don't need more digressions. I don't need to even think about how most if not all the products I need to do this stuff will be on sale at Festival next week. As will the book, I expect.. and after all I don't need more commercial fabric either. And its no fun not to spend at Festival. And we could compare results....what was it called again?

  3. Gee, Diane, thanks for the wonderful and thoughtful review. I agree that it can be difficult to cut up a piece of fabric you've printed and I have to admit I am reluctant to do that very often, myself. But you are absolutely right about composition.

    I feel the same way about people who embellish the life out of a piece, adding beads, angelina, doodads, charms, foil, and heaven knows what and calling it art.

    This is such a thoughtful post that I'd like to continue the discussion on my blog if you don't mind. The whole idea of cutting it up is worth a post instead of just a comment. Thanks for initiating a good discussion!

    Oh, and welcome to the land of the addicted.

  4. Diane, you and I are the same person, I think--ha ha! I have the same thoughts and reservations about getting into dyeing, printing, etc and the same feelings about a lot of the complex cloth work that I see. But I am equally enamored of Rayna's book and am trying a few methods. I will cut mine up for sure, however!