Sunday, April 24th, 2016

A little history about pigment, paint and dye

Pigments used in paint and pigments used in dyes have overlapped at various times in history.

The Forbes pigment collection  at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University has over 2,500 specimens. It’s mostly used for scientific analysis for verifying paintings and checking authenticity.


The oldest forms of paint were pure pigment. Ochre was used from cave paintings to Ancient Greece. Black is straightforward to produce in the form of charcoal from the fire.

Different forms of paint are made with different types of binders. Egg tempera is made with pigment, egg, and clear alcohol. It dates to the Middle Ages and was used to illuminate manuscripts. These days it’s most commonly used to make Greek Orthdox icons. The one time I had the chance to try the technique, I had codeine in my system and I got tipsy off the vodka fumes. Whoops!

Oil paint became popular in Europe in the 15th century. It had been used in India and China much earlier. While various oils have been used over the years, I understand that most modern oils are based on linseed oil.

The specific pigment plus the specific binder will affect the chemical composition. Some have very specific timelines. In 1826 synthetic ultramarine was discovered as the result of a competition. Natural ultramarine was rare and therefore expensive.


Madder was used as both a dye and a paint pigment. It’s a plant based red which needs a mordent to set it to cloth. Lots of onion skins can produce a pale brown through the same dye process.

Modern dyeing processes can be toxic and dangerous.  A some Australian textile artists specialise in Natural dyeing including Belinda Evans, Myf Walker, Belinda Sheekly and many others. Most of these artists are interested in the ecologically friendly but usually mordent still has to be used. Mordents include alum, iron, copper and tannin, and all except for tannin need to be disposed off carefully.

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

My toolkit for reverse appliqué and hand embroidery

These are the tools I rely on for reverse appliqué and hand embroidery. 

Sewing machine

A sewing machine

My sewing machine is my workhorse. I use it for seams, finishings, and the outlining for my reverse appliqué. I have a mechanical model which was a deliberate choice over a computerised model. Any computer can get worse with age and a power surge would definitely kill a computerised sewing machine. Buying a sewing machine is difficult because the cheapest ones aren’t worth what you pay for them and never work well even when you first buy them. On the other hand at upper end the skies the limit for what you can pay. Most of these machines are marketed on the extreme number of stitches they have. I have 22 stitches and that’s more than I need. I usually use straight stitch, zig zag, and triple stitch for my reverse appliqué. I replaced my machine in 2013 and spent $500. She serves me well and hasn’t needed a service yet.


Detail on hand embroidery with seed beads

Detail on embroidery with seed beads. There are also bullion knots in there but you have to know what you’re looking for.

There are two types of embroidery needles I use. The crewel needle I prefer for general hand embroidery and hand sewing. The crewel needle has a large eye and a sharp point. I use straws for seed beads and bullion knots. These needles are thin, dead straight with a small eye.


Three types of scissors

I use three types of scissors. Left to right these are fabric scissors aka the good scissors, general purpose scissors, and a pair of embroidery scissors with a sharp point. The fabric scissors do what it sounds like they do. These scissors are for cutting fabric. The general purpose scissors are for cutting paper and plastic. I buy these as cheap as possible because their function is to do things that blunt scissors. The embroidery scissors with a sharp point in addition to cutting threads, I use these scissors to cut back fabric when doing reverse appliqué. I use the sharp point to make the first incision when cutting a new section.

Basic materials

I prefer a neutral weave fabric for the backing of my work. At the moment I’m using exclusively calico because I got a good price on a bolt of it a while back. Threads include black and white sewing thread, cotton embroidery floss, and cotton perle thread.

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

How to create art while chronically ill

Good art creates a emotional response in the participant. Artists have to create lots of art to create good art.

Not all people who are chronically ill have the spoons to create art. If you’re bed bound, making art isn’t an option. If you can’t focus on more passive activities like reading or playing computer games, you’re not up to making art. The decision of what you’re capable of is up to you. Always.

If you have the spoons to create art while chronically ill:

1. Decide how often you want to create art
If you want to make art, the first decide how often you want to make art. If you want to be a professional, this should be daily.

2. Identify your simplest process
Identify your simplest process because this is what you will rely on when your body gives up on you but you need to make art. It is this you will be able to rely on to make on a daily basis. I’ve only recently found something simple enough for this. My token dolls are made of found objects, primarily plastics and scraps of fabric, and can be assembled in front of the TV. I started making them in January 3 this year.

3. Make time for more complex art
Schedule time for more complex art, write it down in your diary or calendar. I usually have time set aside once a week. This is time for using the sewing machine or working on your latest painting. Lately I’ve been working on my commission and my dream scroll. 

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

Why you will be more comfortable wearing natural fabrics

I have a passion for natural fabrics. Most commercial garments are made of acrylics because the material is cheap. All natural fabrics breath more than acrylics. Therefore these fabrics are cooler in summer and warmer in winter. If sewing for yourself, prewash the fabric on your normal setting then put them through the tumble dryer (if you have one). This way washes out any starch or fabric treatment. It also means the fabric shrinks before cutting and your finished garment will be able to be washed with the laundry without further shrinkage.

In the photo above I’m wearing a purple silk velvet coat, a black cotton shirt, a silk brocade waistcoat and an acrylic satin purple A line skirt. The jacket and waistcoat were made to measure. The shirt is a men’s shirt to give the top pocket. The skirt is a plus size women’s garment. I should make one in silk brocade at some point to replace it, on the other hand on a day that was both sunny and windy, I was the right temperature when other women were freezing at my friend’s wedding.

acrylic vest

I have started making a copy of the above vest because I love the cut but the original garment is in acrylic. I bought it to give me pockets on a summer day, it has four on each side of the garment. But when it hits forty degrees Celsius, it is simply too hot to wear. Melbourne hits forty degrees or more over several times each summer. I’m copying it with cotton which is cooler in hot weather.

This fabric of this fiber makes excellent summer garments. This is the cheapest of the natural fabrics. The prices of all cotton fabric went up when the Quilting craze came to Australia. It takes dye easy. Some textile artists sell specialised dyed fabric in cotton.

Another fabric that makes excellent light weight garments. It feels delightful against your skin. Creases and uncreases easily.

Light weight silk makes excellent summer wear. Heavier weights can be worn in cooler weather. It’s water proof. I was wearing my purple velvet silk coat shown above on the way to Pilates one day, when I got caught in a downpour. I got to Pilates and I took my coat off. It had absorbed a lot of water but I was dry underneath. Silk is another fabric that takes dye well.

Wool and Cashmere
Wool and Cashmere are usually winter weight fabrics. Cashmere feels like a dream. Both fabrics are water proof. Be sure to wash them with wool detergent. Washing with normal detergent will cause them to felt. Last winter I started wearing a wool vest under my leather jacket. It improved my warmth significantly.

Leather makes wonderful winter garments. It is water proof and provides protection from wind chill. Unless you have an industrial sewing machine, I recommend buying rather sewing your leather garments. Sewing leather by hand requires an awl, a block of beeswax, a spool of linen thread, leather, one or more needles, and more patience than I have. To start make holes in the leather with the awl. Thread your needle. Rub the linen thread through the beeswax. Make your first stitch. Repeat as needed. I’ve only hand sewed leather once because I hate the process.

Natural fabrics are more comfortable because they provide better temperature regulation, some of them are water proof or feel better against the skin.

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Dream scroll WIP update

This is what I have done since my last blog post. I’ve been asleep a lot and spent three days trying to find a pathology centre that could draw blood for my three monthly blood test *grump*.

In better news the next State Trustees Connected Exhibition will be in February 2015. I have a couple of ideas including a monochrome blue portrait of me at about 15 or so. This would be a departure from my normal style.

Speaking of exhibitions: the dream scroll will be going to the embroiderers guild annual members exhibition.
Saturday August 9 -Sunday August 24, 10.00am – 4.00pm daily. I’m hoping to having work accepted for the Bayside Art Show but confirmations aren’t out until 1 August.

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

How use a baking paper stencil

This post describes how to use a baking paper stencil using examples from my dream scroll.


Baking paper

pencil preferably 2B

A project

sewing materials



1. Draw a shape or complex design on the baking paper

2. Pin the baking paper to the material going through all layers.

baking paper stencil

3. Sew through the baking paper stencil and materials.

Baking paper stencil 2

I’ve magnified the picture to try and show the stitches but white on white will still be hard to see.

4. Tear the paper away. There is no need to be neat about this step. This can be cathartic.

5. Do the next step in your project. Which in my case looks like this:

dream scroll 2

Friday, June 20th, 2014

The Beginning of the Dream Scroll

dream scroll 1

I’ve been preparing for this piece for sometime. I’ve made a sample and chosen fabrics. This scroll is going to be my focus for a while because I want to show it at the Embroiders Guild of Victoria Annual Members Exhibition. This week I cut the fabric, washed it and painted the ‘Dream’ kanji on it. It’s 163 cm long so it fitting all the calico on the bed where I paint at one time is impossible.

The painted character is smaller than the sample because even though this scroll is bigger than divisions, there is still only so much space to work with. Compare:

dream charactercharacter sample

I’m much happier with the character on the scroll than on the sample. It’s still not perfect but Shodo (Japanese calligraphy) was never one of my strengths. The size of that character in the center of scroll determines how big other elements in the scroll can be.

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

New work for the Embroiderers Guild (Victoria) Annual Members Exhibit

The 2014 Annual Members Exhibit
Saturday August 9 -Sunday August 24
10.00am – 4.00pm daily

Location: Embroidery House
170 Wattletree Road, Malvern 3144

I intend to have a piece of work in this exhibition. The turn in date is in late July. I have nothing finished that I’m happy to submit. I missed out last year because I was moving. In 2012 I had two pieces in the exhibit. I’m starting my dreams themed scroll and putting my current work aside.

I’ve made a sample for this piece already. The kanji in that sample is going onto this dreams themed scroll. I learned Japanese for roughly a decade. I’m a Japanophile, but not Manga and Anime, more Shrines, Temples, Kimonos, Karate and Ikebana. Each piece of coloured fabric in the piece has its own story. The background will be plain calico.

This japanese craft print (cotton) I bought to make a skirt. I didn’t buy enough fabric because I hadn’t taken measurements recently enough. It’s now going to be part of the scroll. I suspect japanese craft prints are based on patterns traditionally woven into silk kimonos worn by young women, adapted for the western market. The patterns are too busy to be traditional prints for cotton made for the japanese market.

fabric 2
I bought this when I was stash building immediately after committing to reverse appliqué. I was trying to buy reds, greens, yellows, neutrals. I mostly had blue and purples before that because they are my favourite colours. I did buy some of those colours but not with this japanese craft print.

fabric 4
This one was bought for this project. This is the real deal. Yukata fabric is for cotton for kimonos that used to be for everyday wear. They are still in limited use. The traditional weave for Japanese fabric is narrow, 36 cm. Kimonos are assembled in strips. The blue and white floral pattern is a traditional one.

fabric colours and sample
This is a very rough layout to show colour relationships on a neutral background. The sample is also to one side.

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

There is never enough time or energy for art


I had hoped to have finished the reverse appliqué on this piece before sharing this again. There is probably another four hours work to finish the reverse appliqué. However I have nothing else interesting to share. The work I have done this week was applying a layer of gesso as a base on a cheap canvas. However a white canvas is boring.

I lost a lot of energy over the weekend after tripping in my room and opening a cut under my right big toenail. I also slept through today and yesterday was wasted time going to my psychiatrist – he’s usually good, this time he wound me up – and this is where the time and energy go for me as a chronically ill artist. It’s worse when I’ve managed to book four appointments out of the six health professionals I see in one week. Or I go out for a three hour dinner with friends and spend the rest of the week recovering.

Even artists who are healthy have to manage their time. Most have day jobs. Even those who are full time artists can lose a lot of it to doing admin and making sure art travels to where it is going etc.

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Australian themed textile WIP

I started on the reverse appliqué on the print of Australia today. That’s two hours sitting at the sewing machine plus time spent cutting.  Even then I wanted to do more but when my back is sore from sitting, it’s time to stop. I’ve had a virus that made me even more fatigued than usual and when I recovered, life became busy. This is the first chance I’ve had to sit down at the machine.

All content © Copyright 2016 by Anita Morris.
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