Colleen and Annie: Starting the Design

Posted by on Jul 23, 2015 in Fabric Portraits | No Comments

My next few entries will show you some of the steps involved in creating the artwork, Colleen and Annie.  In case you are wondering who is who, Colleen is my daughter and Annie was our dog.  I took a variety of pictures of them and decided on this pose because I remembered Colleen was getting impatient at holding a somewhat heavy beagle, while Annie was her oblivious, contented, canine self.

Colleen Holding Annie 2013

This artwork is an example of first painting on fabric and then using free-motion machine stitching to embellish and quilt it onto a stained raw canvas backing. All my fabrics are pre-soaked in a solution of soda ash, drip dried and then stored for when I need them.  Note that you should not fold the dry soda-soaked fabric when you store it.  Just loosely bunch it up and put in a bin.  That way if there are any stubborn wrinkles that don’t come out they will be in a random pattern!


I use fiber reactive dyes.  The great thing about these dyes is that they bond with natural fibers and are very permanent.

There are many online sources for fiber reactive dyes (and their related chemicals), but I usually buy mine from Dharma Trading. I create a seaweed paste from sodium alginate and combine this with my dye mixture.  As I am mixing up my dye paste palette, I feel like an artist from another era when you had to mix your own paints.

When purchasing your dyes and related chemicals, be sure to follow your manufacturers directions and safety procedures (such as wearing a safety mask when mixing the fine powdered dyes.)


Lets take a quick look at the dye paste that I use for most of my fabric work.

My biggest piece of advice is to ALWAYS use a blender to mix up the sodium alginate paste!  Otherwise you will have clumps that are almost impossible to dissolve. Above is a picture of the paste when it is first mixed in the blender. Kinda gross!

Below is the same mixture after you allow is to settle overnight.  It now looks like something between honey and corn syrup.


For this artwork I wanted to maintain a realistic portrait, so I carefully traced my drawing onto prepared cotton fabric with a disappearing fabric marker. You can see the purple line.  This line will disappear over time or when water is applied to it.  It disappears when I paint on it. Sometimes if my studio /basement is humid the purple line will dissolve overnight, so do this step right before you plan to work in it!!!


My next step was to add my selected dye color to some dye paste and paint an outline to follow.  I don’t always use an outline, but I wanted to maintain certain details.  The color I used for the outline was one of my favorite colors – maroon brown.  It is much warmer than a black outline.


You will need to stretch and tack the fabric onto a stretcher frame to hold it in place and above your table surface while you work.

In the photo above you can see that the outlines and some shading have been completed with a brush and the maroon brown dye paste.

This is then allowed to dry and cure.  When I am doing something small like this, I usually apply a quick chemical cure, such as Dharma Trading’s Afterfix.  After this ‘quick-cure’ method, the fabric is then thoroughly rinsed out. Since I usually work with dyes in the warmer months, I do a first rinse (with the fabric still on the wooden frame) with a hose in my yard.  A final cleaning is done in the washing machine with a professional detergent.  After the fabric is dried, I re-tack it to my stretcher frame and proceed from there. I now have a permanent outline drawing to work with.  As a time saver, I usually work on several projects at once to allow for drying time in between steps.

In my next post I will show you some of stages of the Colleen and Annie portrait as I painted it with the dye paste.



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