Give Cushions a Chance

I’m halfway through Book 5 of my ‘How to…’ series of craft books. The working title is ‘How to Design and Make Fabulous Cushions’ although that may change, as they usually do..

But, believe it or not, this blog post isn’t a sales pitch, it’s about my thoughts and sympathies for the humble cushion.

Cushions don’t even get a bad press. They’re more or less ignored. Lined up by the hundreds in department stores, dumped in trolleys and baskets, taken home, placed artfully on the matching sofa and never really noticed again – until it’s time to change the colour scheme.

As I’ve been writing, I’ve begun to realise that cushions don’t have to be dull, boring and unnoticed. They can be used for more than slouching, sleeping and receiving dribble. They can be fun, interesting, educational, inspirational and informative.

They can convey your feelings about your favourite possessions…

'Don't Mess With My Camper'

‘Don’t Mess With My Camper’

They can remind you of a favourite place…

My Favourite Tea Shop

My Favourite Tea Shop

They can remind you of those that are no longer with you…

A family photo quilt

A family photo quilt

They can remind you of your holidays…

What I Did on My Holidays

What I Did on My Holidays

They can remind you of where you used to live…

My Childhood Home

My Childhood Home

But cushions can also be an education aid for children and those with disabilities. At the Industrial Museum where I volunteer, we regularly have visits from groups of deaf/mute children and their carers. Children like this only have touch as a means of communication and, as I was told by several of their carers, tactile cushions and soft toys are an invaluable education aid.

So as I work through my book, I will be rethinking the role of the cushion and its place in modern living. If you have any ideas or thoughts on how cushions could take a more active role in our lives, I’d love to hear them.

All my craft books are available on Amazon in eBook format, and, by the end of this week, in print format. You can find details of these and get lots of free sewing tips and videos on my website at  http://www.time4me-workshops.co.uk/

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How To Dye Your Own Fabrics – Why I Dye

Why Do I Dye?

I have been teaching machine sewing for over twelve years and have been dyeing my own fabrics for most of that time, both for my students and for my own creations.

Margo_bookshelflarge-200

My nearest, decent, fabric shop is an hour’s train ride away. They sell a wide selection of plain and printed fabrics in most of the well-known ranges, but often I cannot find exactly what I want. This is no reflection on the shop, but since I have discovered fabric dyeing, shop-bought fabrics seem pale and uninteresting. They just cannot deliver the zing that my home-produced, procion-dyed fabrics can.

The variety and intensity of the coloured fabrics you can produce are entirely under your control.

Wall hanging for the local Brickworks Museum shop

Wall hanging for the local Brickworks Museum shop

A Whole New World of Colour

When you visit a fabric shop, or even buy on-line, your choice is limited to whatever is on offer. But once you get the hang of dyeing, you can create whatever colour you want and even a good many that you didn’t want – at first…

One of the most exciting things about dyeing is the element of surprise. When you’re not in need of any particular colour and you just allow yourself to experiment, you will be amazed at what you can come up with. Some pieces you may not like at all, but you can change them. If you’re using a good quality fabric – and we’ll get to that in a minute – you can overdye any that are not quite your thing, until they’re just right.

A Safe and Easy Process

Dyeing is not difficult. There are chemicals involved, and a fair amount of mess, but with a bit of care and attention to detail, home dyeing is easily achievable by almost anyone. Very little specialist equipment is required and you probably have most of the general equipment already. Anything you don’t have can usually be picked up cheaply at a supermarket or discount store.

Economy

Commercially-dyed and printed fabrics are expensive and, as long as labour prices in the Far East continue to rise, the price will keep on rising. High quality mercerized cotton fabric, ready prepared for dyeing and printing (PFD), if you buy it in lengths of at least 10 yards (or metres), can work out at less than half the price, per metre, than commercial fabrics. And it is usually 60” wide; instead of the traditional 45” width of those you buy.

I buy my dyeing fabric, in 60m bolts, from a former mill town in the North of England. I am not under any misapprehension that it is woven there any longer, but it is heartening to be able to buy it in the same country!

Initial outlay for dyes and chemicals, can be quite expensive, but you need only three basic primary colours to begin with, and black. I say begin with, but I have been dyeing for over five years now and still only buy basic primaries and black. I may buy a different shade of primary occasionally to mix things up a bit, but I still prefer to experiment with mixing my own colours rather than buy ready-mixed.

The Procion dyes I buy are very economical and a little goes a long way, as you will find when you start to clean up after a dye session.

All the other equipment you will need is cheap and readily available, if indeed, you don’t have it already.

So give dyeing a go – you’ll love it!

This post is an excerpt from my new eBook ‘How to Dye Your Own Fabric’. If you’d like to get the book for yourself I’ve given you the link below:

http://www.amazon.com/How-Dye-Your-Own-Fabric-ebook/dp/B00K5VCUAW/ref=sr_1_6?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1399575598&sr=1-6&keywords=dyeing+fabric

 

Revisiting The Secret (or Not so Secret) Photo

This is not, strictly speaking, a new post.

Just lately some of the embroidery and sewing pages that I follow have had a few requests asking for help in printing photos on fabric for memory quilts.

So I thought it might be helpful to drag out this old post and update it in the hope that it might be of some help.

Hope it’s of use, but if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

We crafters are a savvy and often financially-challenged bunch and usually like to tackle things in the most cost effective way possible – even if it does mean a lot of hard, time-consuming work. So it is with printing photos on fabric.

A Photo of my Mum in the 50s Printed onto Fabric

I particularly like old black and white photos printed onto fabric. The texture of the fabric emphasises the graininess of the photo and adds a wonderful sense of antiquity.

A Photo Quilt made by one of my Students

So here’s how to do it.

For a good image you need a good tight weave fabric. I use a pre-shrunk mercerised cotton that has been prepared for dyeing and printing – that means any sizing or dressing has been washed out.

I then cut out however many pieces I need a little larger than A4 (8 1/4″ x 11 3/4″), to allow for any further shrinkage and to allow you to trim the pieces cleanly before printing. I find 9″ x 12 1/2″ is adequate.

Cutting the Fabric

The next stage is to soak your fabric to prevent the photo from fading. Now I used to use Bubble-jet Set for this, but it is rather expensive for a bit of formaldehyde and water and doesn’t go very far. So a short trawl on the internet revealed a marvellous recipe for home-made photo set.

You will need:

  • 2 1/2 cups of hot water (not boiling but quite hot)
  • 2 1/2 oz of Alum (potash) – available from chemists in the UK and, I’ve been told, drugstores in the US.
  • 2 x tablespoons Soda ash or washing soda – available from supermarkets or hardware stores
  • 1 x teaspoon of fabric conditioner

Dry Ingredients for Home Made Photo Set

Add the dry ingredients to the water in a large jug or bowl (at least twice the size of the amount of water) and stir until the alum crystals dissolve. It will bubble up but fear not, the bubbles will subside after a few minutes.

Photo Set Bubbles

For the next part, ideally, you will need a large flat tray, about 3-4″ deep, but if you’re only doing a few pieces, a washing-up bowl will do.

Pour the photo set into the tray and check there are no undissolved alum crystals (if there are just pour back into the jug and stir a bit longer).

Lay your fabrics in the tray and press to submerge – you should wear rubber gloves for this.

Soaking the Photo Fabric

Leave the fabric for 5 minutes. then place the tray under a clothes line or clothes horse and lift each piece out one at a time and hang at an angle to drain for a minute or so.

Then hang all pieces up to dry overnight – leaving the tray in place to catch any drips of your carefully prepared photo set!

The next day, decant the photo set into a sealable bottle and store in a cool place to re-use for the next project.

Cut some sheets of freezer paper (this, I’m told is readily available in retail outlets in the US but is not so easy to find in the UK being deemed more a craft than a kitchen item – I, of course get in on the internet…), the same size as your soaked fabric and iron them onto the back of the fabric.

Now lay these pieces face down either under a large cutting mat or between the pages of a large book until completely flat. If you try and put them through the printer curled up, you are asking for a smeary paper jam.

When flat, usually the next day, place a piece of A4 paper (or whatever size you want to print) on top of each fabric/freezer paper combo and trim carefully to the exact size. Ensure there are no loose threads or frayed edges.

The next bit depends on your printer. I use an HP and it gives me the option to choose ‘other speciality papers’ in the paper option menu which works fine. I always print on ‘Normal’ quality rather than ‘Best’ as it gives the best image.

Only place one piece of fabric in the printer feed tray at a time.

While printing, keep a very close eye on the passage of the fabric as the corners do tend to flip up and get caught in the roller resulting in a smeared image.

Of course, the alternative is to go out and spend good money on  a pack of those ready soaked and backed printer fabric sheets – but where’s the fun in that?

It’s Manipulate not Annihilate

Hello everyone.

This post is really an addition or appendix to my recent post ‘The Secret Photo’. In this post, I talked about preparing fabric for photo printing and the actual printing but never actually talked in any depth about digitally preparing the photo before printing it on the fabric.

There are many wonderful  graphics packages out there now, the most popular being Adobe Photoshop. The latest CS versions have a wonderful array of masks and filters and are so powerful that, in the right hands, anything is possible. Unfortunately, in the hands of the less experienced, such as yours truly, they can also be rather destructive. Just a few clicks of the plastic wrap filter and an over-zealous swipe on the saturation and hue sliders can turn your Mother-in-Law into a unrecognizable, jellied mass.

If you are in the throes of a family feud and feel that digital mutilation of your relatives is wholly justified , then perhaps Photoshop is the tool for you, but for the majority, there is another way.

Since I came to the realization that over-manipulation and subsequent annihilation of my digital media was not really a good thing, I have started to use the free download version of Photofiltre. This is much simpler to use than many other graphics packages and it’s free!

I have given a few examples of the most popular tools on Photofiltre and the ones I use the most.

This is the brightness tool and one I use for over-dark photos – but don’t overdo it as too many clicks can quickly wash the whole thing out.

Brightness Tool

The next one, and the one I use most for colour photos is the Saturation tool. This is particularly important when you are printing onto fabric as when the ink seeps into the fabric (rather than sitting on top as it does with paper) a lot of the colour is lost, so you need to compensate for this by increasing the colour saturation.

Image with Increased Saturation

As you can see, the tomatoes are really overdone in this picture, but this is about the level of saturation I would use for a good image.

The next tool, and again one of my favourites, is the Grayscale Tool. This, with one click, will transform your coloured images into black and white. Despite the bright colour images I have shown you so far I much prefer to use black and white photos. I find that colour photos can clash with the fabrics I want to use while the black and white images will often complement a whole range of coloured and patterned fabrics.

Grayscale Tool

Black and white images, whether originals or converted using grayscale, often need a tweak in contrast to give them the definition needed for a good image on fabric.

Black and White Image with Increased contrast

For the sake of demonstration, I have rather overdone the contrast on this image, almost achieving a poster-like effect. But it does make for an unusual, other-worldly atmosphere which I rather like. And remember the effect will not be quite as strong when printed onto fabric.

The last tool I want to show you is the Old Photography tool – one which I don’t personally use that often but which can give a rather pleasant vintage sepia effect to the right sort of photo.

Image using the Old Photography Tool

I hope this short missive has been useful to those of you wanting to manipulate your own photos.

Just remember – when manipulating photos, less is definitely more. Walking through craft fairs and art exhibitions I see so many images that have that ‘over-photoshopped’ look. The sea is too blue, the sand is too golden and the people…are people really that colour?

Try this and see – any questions are welcome…

The Secret Photo

A few days ago, a friend emailed to ask me how she could print her photos onto fabric – what kind of fabric I used and what processes I followed.

As I wrote the long reply email, I realised what a complicated process it was and one I would like to share.

We crafters are a savvy and often financially-challenged bunch and usually like to tackle things in the most cost effective way possible – even if it does mean a lot of hard, time-consuming work. So it is with printing photos on fabric.

A Photo of my Mum in the 50s Printed onto Fabric

I particularly like old black and white photos printed onto fabric. The texture of the fabric emphasises the graininess of the photo and adds a wonderful sense of antiquity.

A Photo Quilt made by one of my Students

So here’s how to do it.

For a good image you need a good tight weave fabric. I use a pre-shrunk mercerised cotton that has been prepared for dyeing and printing – that means any sizing or dressing has been washed out.

I then cut out however many pieces I need a little larger than A4 (8 1/4″ x 11 3/4″), to allow for any further shrinkage and to allow you to trim the pieces cleanly before printing. I find 9″ x 12 1/2″ is adequate.

Cutting the Fabric

The next stage is to soak your fabric to prevent the photo from fading. Now I used to use Bubble-jet Set for this, but it is rather expensive for a bit of formaldehyde and water and doesn’t go very far. So a short trawl on the internet revealed a marvellous recipe for home-made photo set.

You will need:

  • 2 1/2 cups of hot water (not boiling but quite hot)
  • 2 1/2 oz of Alum (potash) – available from chemists in the UK and, I’ve been told, drugstores in the US.
  • 2 x tablespoons Soda ash or washing soda – available from supermarkets or hardware stores
  • 1 x teaspoon of fabric conditioner

Dry Ingredients for Home Made Photo Set

Add the dry ingredients to the water in a large jug or bowl (at least twice the size of the amount of water) and stir until the alum crystals dissolve. It will bubble up but fear not, the bubbles will subside after a few minutes.

Photo Set Bubbles

For the next part, ideally, you will need a large flat tray, about 3-4″ deep, but if you’re only doing a few pieces, a washing-up bowl will do.

Pour the photo set into the tray and check there are no undissolved alum crystals (if there are just pour back into the jug and stir a bit longer).

Lay your fabrics in the tray and press to submerge – you should wear rubber gloves for this.

Soaking the Photo Fabric

Leave the fabric for 5 minutes. then place the tray under a clothes line or clothes horse and lift each piece out one at a time and hang at an angle to drain for a minute or so.

Then hang all pieces up to dry overnight – leaving the tray in place to catch any drips of your carefully prepared photo set!

The next day, decant the photo set into a sealable bottle and store in a cool place to re-use for the next project.

Cut some sheets of freezer paper (this, I’m told is readily available in retail outlets in the US but is not so easy to find in the UK being deemed more a craft than a kitchen item – I, of course get in on the internet…), the same size as your soaked fabric and iron them onto the back of the fabric.

Now lay these pieces face down either under a large cutting mat or between the pages of a large book until completely flat. If you try and put them through the printer curled up, you are asking for a smeary paper jam.

When flat, usually the next day, place a piece of A4 paper (or whatever size you want to print) on top of each fabric/freezer paper combo and trim carefully to the exact size. Ensure there are no loose threads or frayed edges.

The next bit depends on your printer. I use an HP and it gives me the option to choose ‘other speciality papers’ in the paper option menu which works fine. I always print on ‘Normal’ quality rather than ‘Best’ as it gives the best image.

Only place one piece of fabric in the printer feed tray at a time.

While printing, keep a very close eye on the passage of the fabric as the corners do tend to flip up and get caught in the roller resulting in a smeared image.

Of course, the alternative is to go out and spend good money on  a pack of those ready soaked and backed printer fabric sheets – but where’s the fun in that?