This year, I’m trying to more clearly delineate the different types of creative work I do, so that I can make measurable progress the way I want to. Before, I did things haphazardly and that doesn’t work so well for progress. My categories are Productivity (actually making the projects that come up/are on my list/ catch my eye/whatever), Sketch (to draw, paint and whatever to visualize ideas), Praxis (focused practice exercises to improve a skillset), Experimentation (trying new ideas, techniques, different ways of doing things, using new or different materials, etc.) and Show (putting items in shows, in my Etsy shop, into swaps, etc.). This post is one of my Experiments.
Maker talk (all the way):
This particular line of thinking started forming up last year, when I was imagining Scrappy Cats. I wanted to devise a way to make use of the many tidbits of fabric, thread, and ribbon that collect in any sewing area. I thought that if I could find a way to get all the bits together on some sort of base, make them stay there for a short while for positioning, then FMQ (Free Motion Quilting) all over them to make their places permanent; I could essentially create new fabric from scrap bits. For the Scrappy Cats, I used a base fabric – mostly because I didn’t have time to play around and needed the structure to hold up to being made into a doll. Really, though, I wanted to see if I could make fabric from scraps only, no base fabric, only a new fabric comprised of bits and thread holding it together.
To reach this goal, I’m going to need to use some products to keep things together until the stitching part. On the Scrappy Cats, I used Elmer’s Glue, merely the regular, white, school glue that is on sale for $0.50 a bottle every fall. You don’t need much, so it lasts a long time; plus it works equally well watered down by about half so it stretches out, too. I know what you might be thinking, “glue?! On fabric? No way!”. Well, yes way. If you’re a sewist, you have a hot iron at your side. Put a dab of glue on your piece, stick it to your backing fabric and press that iron to it for a few seconds. The heat speed-dries the glue and you have a semi-permanent bond. You can usually pull the piece back off it you have messed up your placement and need to redo it. Yes, the glue will often leave a shiny, discolored spot that you can see through your fabric piece. However, Elmer’s Glue is water soluble AKA washable. You don’t even need soap, as far as I can tell, only water. Water dissolves the glue and the fabric piece is held on by the stitching you did over it. Note: If you own a Scrappy Cat and see a spot of glue I have missed on my cleanup round, wet it and rub it with your finger – that should get rid of it.
Alright, back to the experimentation. This is the first attempt. I kept a background fabric to start, because I didn’t want to try too many variables at once. After the rainbow spectrum projects I’ve had the past year, I had scrap bits of fabric in wide range of colors. I laid all these bits directly onto the background fabric – no glue, nothing, only fabric bits (rainbow color scraps, threads, ribbon) on the background fabric (in black broadcloth). Then, to try to keep it together, I laid sheets of Sulky Super Solvy water soluble stabilizer on top of it. [a new product for me] This stuff isn’t sticky, so I tried misting the base bits with water before laying down the sheet – to make the parts that touched water dissolve and stick a little. It helped, but it didn’t stick well at all. Basically, the stabilizer was just a layer on top of the bits.
This photo is with half the stabilizer laid on, so you can see the difference. On top of that, I added a layer of black tulle. Tulle is a fine net fabric. I used this to help keep the smallest pieces and threads captured in place once stitched. At this point, before stitching, I have four layers: background fabric, bits, stabilizer, tulle. None of these things are stuck to one another at all. This meant that while I handled and stitched it, bits were still moving and slipping around when they got the chance.
This is the finished experiment. This is post-stitching and post-washing to remove the stabilizer. You can see large breaks to the background where the red bits and the pink and fuchsia bits decided they didn’t like each other so well and scooted away from each other. While you can see the stitching (a simple grid in black thread) you can barely make out the tulle unless you get close. You can’t even see it in the bigger view of this photo (click to embiggen).
So, what do I think of this? I am … not impressed. Yet. This thing looks just like the thing I laid out. There is no transformation. This is not a greater thing than it started being. It looks exactly like bits of fabric stitched to a background, which it is. I need more.
To get rid of the background fabric, I could use a bottom layer of stabilizer, which would wash away once the stitching is done. But, the stabilizer is rather plasticy. I couldn’t get pins through it and had to handle it firmly to get it to stitch. If I don’t want to use that stabilizer, I could use a different one, like a fabric that could be burned or melted away. Acrylic felt will melt away and cotton will stay. [The lower temperature needed to melt acrylic is not hot enough to set cotton afire.] That could be messy. And smelly. Am I stuck with a background fabric? Maybe, for what I want. If I am stuck with it, I could make sure the bits completely cover it so you can’t see it (like I did with the Scrappy Cats). That might work.
The bits sticking issue. I could use glue again, but I think with bits this small it would get messy fast. The glue would be everywhere and that would include my iron. Of course, you can clean the iron, but while you’re using it it should be clean so it doesn’t pick up and stick other bits that shouldn’t be stuck or moved. The bits are too small to pin and that would be a huge PITA to put them in and take them out. Forget that. I could try one of those temporary adhesive sprays. I’ve read mixed reviews, but they aren’t too expensive to try out. Although, stitching through anything sticky like that (basting spray and Heat-N-Bond are two examples I’ve fought through) is difficult. It gums up the needle, which helps break threads. Potentially very frustrating, but I can still try it to find out. Experimentation is all about learning.
So, now I have two directions to head in. More to come!