Experimentation

Jun 132016
 

Previously, I told you about one of my Experimentation projects this year, to make batik fabrics. The process is to layer wax and cold dye to create designs. Below, I’ve walked you through the steps on three pieces I created.

First, get fabric to your first color. I used PFD (Prepared For Dying) fabric, but you could use any fabric, including already colored fabric, if you’re willing to do a little chemistry and waiting. The aversion to waiting is the reason I own a bolt of PFD – so I can merely cut a piece off and get to printing, dying, painting, whatever-ing. When the muse calls me, I jump, if I can. Take that fabric and stretch it out over a frame. Put a pile of trash papers underneath as the wax will go through the fabric and drip onto the surface beneath. I used stretcher bars and a light-duty staple gun.

Batik fabric steps.
Here, I have a piece of a lavender color fabric. I didn’t take pictures of the plain dyed fabric – that would be boring. This picture is of the first application of hot wax. I melted a chunk in a small electric frying pan. For these big dots, I used a 1″ chip brush. You want tools dedicated to this process as you’ll never really get the wax back out. That dark, noticeable color is what you want. If the wax is too cool, it sits atop the fabric, looking white and being useless against dye. If the wax is too hot, it will catch fire.

When the wax has cooled on your piece, take it off the frame and put it into your second dye color.

Batik fabric steps.
This is a different piece (obviously) but it also started as a lavender color. After the first wax application, this one was put into an Amethyst dye overnight. Here it is drying on top of my trash can. Once it is dry, stretch it back into that frame. It will be marginally more difficult because of the wax in the fabric making it less flexible than the first time. Next you put on the second application of wax. You now wax everywhere you want the second dye color (Amethyst, in this case) to stay. You must also wax any pieces that are broken from the first waxing – IF you want them to stay that color. I had a hell of a time rewaxing some of those circles and dots that broke a lot on this design. Again, once the wax is cool, deframe and put into your third color dye.

Batik fabric steps.
Then it will look like this. This piece started off a baby blue, with a first wax of big dots and a second dye of Amethyst [Hey, I already had it out! Besides, they’ll coordinate well now.] Then it got a second wax of dot outlines before its third dye of Blue Violet. In this shot, it is still quite wet, so the colors look darker than they will end up.

Once you are done with the dye, wax, dye, wax, dye process you have to get the wax out of the fabric. The best way is to boil it out.

Batik fabric steps.
This is the pot I use to process jars during canning, so I don’t mind that it will forever have a waxy residue. I didn’t want to ruin any spoons, so I cut a solid stirring stick from the yard waste pile. I felt like I needed a cauldron and dark night after that. This part is simple – boil the wax out of your fabric, stir well and a lot, then let the whole thing cool off. The wax will float to the top, allowing you to simply pick it off the surface in a fat slab. The fabric might want to float up, too, which would ruin the whole process, so make sure it stays at the bottom. I used a couple rocks to keep it down.

Batik fabric steps.
After the boiling, stirring and hours of cooling, I used my excellent stirring stick to break the wax seal along the edges, then simply lifted it out with my hand. The blue color is bleed from the dye. I will be able to reuse this wax in the future.

Batik fabric steps.
Once you get all the wax out of the fabric (one of my pieces took two boiling sessions) you are done. Here are the three pieces shown above drying on the line. Pretty cool, right?

My thoughts on the process
1. MESSY!! Personally, I find dying fabrics messy enough. Adding hot wax to the equation? 300% more messy.

2. Too much dye. Two layers of dye is fine, I can tell you what I’m going to get at the end – you saw my grid of colors. Three layers of dye? Roll the dice, as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure professionals and experienced folks have learned all the combination nuances, but I am not willing to invest that much effort, time, and material. Example, The first and second fabrics above had Blue Violet as their last color. It nearly washed completely out of one, but dominated the other. If I do this again, I’ll stick to two dye colors for allover dying. Or – I will only paint dye onto the fabric directly to avoid conflicts.

3. Wax! Wax removal sucks! I know it sounds easy, but hot wax gets everywhere and doesn’t want to come off of anything.

4. Time. The whole process takes a lot of time.

Summary
This was a fun experiment. Will I do it again? Probably, but not for fun. The four items I listed above make it not fun and I am not a masochist. If I find a design I want to create that is ideal for batik, I will do it. I will still dye, print, and paint fabric, but I’m leaving off the batik from my list.

Mar 152016
 

For the folks who only care about the results:
In order of score from high to low.

  1. Madagascar + Jim Beam
  2. Madagascar + Everclear
  3. Ugandan + Jim Beam
  4. Ugandan + Everclear
  5. Mexican + Jim Beam
  6. Mexican + Everclear

Thanks for participating and I hope you enjoyed it!

For folks who want more details:
First, I severely underestimated the “one month is fine” idea when using raw alcohols in sealed bottles in such tiny amounts. I think the alcohols definitely need more than a month with the small bits of bean, and some evaporation time to knock down the alcohol. Some people even noticed a faint alcohol tingle in the cookies themselves; that was after baking should have kicked it out! So, I had to take that into account when scoring.

Second, Jim Beam is mostly fluff with some alcohol (maybe up to 40%, depending on version). Everclear is mostly alcohol (95%) with minimal fluff – about 15 states have actually outlawed its sale and you can’t get anything stronger, chemically speaking, period. This difference in liquid composition meant that the cookies turned out with very different dough consistencies. Plus, I used WAY more vanilla than you normally would in a recipe, about 400-500% more. This caused me a bit of fuss baking, but according to taste test numbers and comments, I don’t think it made a significant difference in the actual tasting. Based on comments, many people got distracted by the textures and moisture of the cookies, which is valid in the larger context, but not useful in the taste context. The numbers tell the tale true enough, (I think) and I’m letting them stand on their own.

Cookies for the vanilla extract tests.
Third, cookies rely on your mood. One clever person ate half of each cookie, resealed the bags, then waited a day and a half to eat the second half. The scores scaled the same way, but each was higher on the second day, when the taster admits a better overall mood. I find this simultaneously obvious and fascinating.

Fourth, food marketers are not morons. Store bought vanilla extract is mostly made from Madagascar and/or Tahitian vanilla beans. You will note those Madagascar beans scored the highest. [I don’t like the Tahitian vanilla bean flavor and since this test is ultimately for my vanilla extract, I didn’t even include it for the test.] Bourbon is one of the most popular alcohol flavors, too, as held out by our own scores. Madagascar beans and bourbon alcohol scored the highest in our test and it is what you’re essentially buying at the store.

Fifth, there isn’t that much difference. All the scores were less than a standard deviation away from the mean. That doesn’t excite me either way since 11 people does not a good test group make, but it is what I have to work with as supplied by my tiny kitchen and time resources. Less than a dozen testers and scores were close enough that any variance can be attributed to pure chance, not on actual preference mean that this is splitting hair without a scalpel or a microscope. This doesn’t mean the test is meaningless; the scores did skew a noticeable way. Merely, the difference wasn’t statistically relevant.

What will you do for your extract, based on this information? Maybe you like the light, almost fruity flavor of Tahitian vanilla beans. Perhaps vodka is your BA-FF. Your personal flavor preferences are going to have the biggest influence on your choices, as they do mine. For now, I’m going to shove all the beans I have into a bottle with the remaining Everclear. I’m not taking out the Jim Beam either – everything from the test is going into a bottle and living in the cupboard to extract in the dark. When I place another order, it will be for Ugandan beans and a couple Mexican beans if they are on sale. Personally, I prefer Mexican over Madagascar, and I hadn’t even tried Ugandan until this test, but I like those equally.

NOTE: If you would like your scorecard back, with the extract details filled in, let me know. It might save you some future taste-testing efforts.

I’ve learned a lot about my personal vanilla preferences and about the taste of the masses. I consider this entire experiment a success and I hope that you cookie-eating participants have at least had a positive experience, even if you never make your own vanilla extract.

Mar 032016
 

Many people on the internet claim that homemade vanilla extract is much better and cheaper than store bought vanilla extract. You know how I love a good experiment, so this seems an ideal thing to test.

I ordered some vanilla beans in a couple varieties from a reputable online retailer and while I waited for the delivery, I went to the local liquor store and picked up some Jim Beam bourbon and some Everclear. Once everything arrived, I began the extract test.
Vanilla extract tests.
Vanilla extract takes from one to three months to become usable, but for these very small amounts (one to four ounces) of liquor compared to generous amounts of beans, I am going to begin the taste testing at one month. Conveniently, one month (specifically five weeks) is up this weekend.

Since it would be ineffective and generally nasty to straight taste test these extracts, I am putting them in a more palatable vehicle: chocolate chip cookies. I am making up a huge batch of cookie dough, and splitting it into seven parts – for each of the six extracts I’m testing, plus one for the store bought version I have in my cupboard right now. From this, I will make a pack of seven anonymously-identified cookies and a scoring form. I do not expect to have problems finding volunteers to taste test cookies at work on Monday.

If you won’t see me Monday and want to participate, email me (don’t comment here, for once) your address (unless you are absolutely certain I already have it) and let me know. I will send out the cookie taste tests to two or three people, so consider it first emailed, first served. Email me before Monday, so I can get them in the post the morning before I start handing the others out to folks here.

I am interested in the results. I don’t honestly know if there will be a discernible difference at all, but I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

 Posted by at 7:00  Comments Off on Vanilla Extract Tests and a Call for Volunteers  Tagged with:
Nov 102015
 

A couple weeks ago, I got a bit of a shopping itch and had some bonus points on Amazon. I stumbled across this product, Scratch-Art Printmaking Scratch-A-Print 2 and decided to try it out. It was interesting and cheap – both things I like. There were no useful reviews I could find online and the description of the product didn’t give me enough information to satisfy my curiosity.

Screen printing can be an intimidating process for folks who are new to it. There is a comparatively steep monetary investment, there are sensitive emulsion chemicals to mix up and deploy/install/adhere/spread/coat, there are specific timing and light guidelines/restrictions/requirements that can change based on a variety of factors. I’ve had my own difficulties with old, poorly-stored materials.

The Scratch A Print package, front.

The Scratch A Print is a paper frame with a tissue screen. The screen tissue is embedded with pressure sensitive material in it – this is the equivalent of your emulsion. The stencil is created by mere pressure. This means you write or draw what you want with a pointy thing, through the clear plastic and you’re ready. I don’t think it gets much easier or simpler than that. Very little time investment and the product is the only resource investment to get to stencil ready status.

The tissue in my pack was blue, not red as shown in their package picture. I think the picture is of the larger size, the 6.75 x 5 inch printing area, but I have the smaller ones, which are 3 x 4 inch printing area.

The Scratch A Print package, back.

The frame exterior is made of a thick, coated paper, which increases its water and ink resistance and general durability. The core of the paper is still merely a foamy, paper nothing. This means that as soon as the frame edge gets wet, the moisture spreads. The stability degrades with any water or even wetness, as you’ll see below. The screen is like a carbon copy layer. If you’ve every used a carbon copy layer, you will recall how your writing or typing would leave translucent sections on the layer where the blue was transferred to the paper below. This is exactly the same principle. I want to call the screen carbon tissue, but that term defines something specific and different, so I’m going with carbon paper tissue. The carbon paper tissue is delicate, but plenty sturdy to get through the job, as you’ll also see below.

Paper already cut to the tissue window size is included in the kit, so if you’re creating your image from scratch, you can get right to it. Otherwise, make sure you have a correctly sized frame around your art so you can line it up with the tissue window.

I drew a quick outline of this photo of Moxie and wrote a few words to see how they’d look.

The first tests were done using a foam roller – aka brayer. Mine was a closed cell foam (meaning it was smooth) instead of the brand advertised open cell foam (meaning it had sponge texture). I was concerned the brayer, even with the soft foam rubber, would be too harsh on the tissue, but it was fine. In fact, I think my smooth foam roller made the prints better.
Test of Scratch A Print on plain paper with Sargent's washable tempura using a foam roller.
Test on plain paper with Sargent’s washable tempura paint. Not great. This is not paint I normally use, but I wanted to try it since success would mean a low monetary investment (this whole bottle was $1.50) and easy cleanup. The paint was too runny out of the bottle, so there was little I could do to increase the viscosity without breaking out my paint additives, which defeats the purpose of using cheap tempura paint to begin with.

Test of Scratch A Print on plain paper with Versatex fabric screen printing ink using a foam roller.
Purple Versatex fabric screen printing paint onto white cotton using a smooth foam roller. Good consistency out of the jar, good push through the tissue stencil. Half of these prints are acceptable. Maybe I’ll make some zip pouches from them.

Test of Scratch A Print on plain paper with Speedball block printing ink using a foam roller.
Speedball block printing ink in red on plain paper using a smooth foam roller. Had to add water to the ink to get a usable consistency, but the push through the stencil was okay after that.

Between each color and material, I gently rinsed the screen and blotted it dry with soft towels.

The next tests were done using a foam brush.
Test of Scratch A Print on plain paper with Sargent's washable tempura and Versatex using a foam brush.
On the left in blue, Sargent’s washable tempura onto plain paper and on the right, Versatex fabric screen printing paint onto white cotton using a foam brush. Yes, I also did a partial of the purple onto paper – almost okay! The blue tempura was worse than before, with the brush – the brayer forced a good layer through the tissue stencil, whereas the foam brush was most useful for sticking unhelpfully to the tissue itself. Even worse than that was the purple Versatex on fabric! The force required to make the brush get the paint through the tissue also squished too much paint onto the other side on the fabric. All bad.

Test of Scratch A Print on plain paper with Speedball block printing ink using a foam brush.
Red Speedball block printing ink on plain paper using a foam brush. This was the worst! All bad. The only print that turned out on this set is the cleanup one, upper left, where I placed the screen on the paper and used a damp paper towel to remove as much excess ink as I could. That cleaning gave a decent print!

Scratch A Print frame and tissue after six print runs and rinses.
After six rinses, the paper frame has lost enough integrity that the red ink has seeped into the center of it and isn’t coming out. I recommend against full water cleansing of the frame if you can help it at all. The tissue itself is surprisingly resilient, but the paper frame getting wet and dry causes it to warp and shrink, which makes the tissue screen increasingly useless as it loses vital tension.

Summary:
For most screen printing, I use Golden Acrylics (fluid or heavy body) with fabric medium and I love them. I also use Speedball fabric screen printing inks/paints and they’re almost as good. For relief printing from blocks, I use Golden Open Acrylics. I would suggest any of those mediums for this Scratch-A-Print product. If you have a slightly thicker tempura, try it. You might be able to get the Speedball block printing inks to a good consistency, but I can’t speak to it only because I didn’t try very hard.

The stencil can be gently cleaned with a damp paper towel or rinsed in a container of water and blot-dried in order to change colors or mediums. If you allow the paint to dry in the stencil, it will become unusable. Given the paper frame delicacy, I would instead suggest transitioning to an acceptable mix color to change instead of rinsing. For instance, going from a blue to a purple, which would give you a print or two with in-between colors before the new color saturated the tissue completely. Damp paper towel the edges of excess paint to clean them up. Reasonably, I wouldn’t expect much reuse from this; I would consider it a one or two run product. If you’re kinder and gentler than me, you may get three uses. Jainists may get four uses.

This is a good product, if it will fulfill your project needs. I will certainly be using it in the future. As an occasional home-screen-printer, it is a bit of fuss to clear spaces and gather and process materials to expose an emulsion screen. This Scratch-A-Print product requires none of that – just take it out and write or draw on it. It doesn’t last very long, but if I only need to make two or three dozen prints ever, this would trump a traditional emulsion stencil screen. The Scratch-A-Print will never give me exacting and crisp details, like printed text or anything fine, but it would be excellent for more simple designs, of shapes with some details and shading, but not much. The small size is restrictive, true, but I don’t think this Scratch-A-Print material could hold up at a larger size. For how cheap and easy this is, I think many crafters would benefit from having it on hand. The only additional tool I would strongly suggest would be a smooth foam roller, if you don’t already have one. They’re maybe three or four dollars at the craft store, so it isn’t too big a deal.
This would be a good product to make some holiday cards, or invitations. With each screen running a mite under a dollar, you could do some color layers, too. The Scratch-A-Print would be ideal for some quick design additions to fabric, which I think I’ll be trying out in the future when I need just a little extra personal touch to a piece.

May 072015
 

This is the last post of the Experimentation Project for fusing plastic bags. You can see the previous experimentation results:
for basic fusing of grocery bags here,
for decorative fusing here,
and for seams and closures here.
and using plastics besides grocery bags right here.
This post is the last, 5/5 of this project series.


This post covers a few more closures, seaming, and leftover “what-ifs”.

Fabric enclosed seams
Fusing plastic experimentations.
This is the last method in the project to get plastic seams together. You can use heat only, you can sew them straight on your machine (or by hand with assistance of a hole-poking tool) and you can glue them if you have an appropriate glue, like E6000. Here I’m going to make yet another simple envelope pouch from a long piece of fused plastic folded over. I did shape the flappy bit to make it look nice.

Fusing plastic experimentations.
This method uses fabric binding on the edges of the plastic. It works well. Almost like sewing on only fabric, but there is still that thickness in the middle, so I used a slightly longer stitch (3mm). This looks nice. I put a snap closure on it, using the snap press I got myself for my birthday. You could absolutely use snap pliers – the full press is an unnecessary luxury.

Fusing plastic experimentations.
Look, the new pouch holds a bottle of Elmer’s School Glue perfectly! That was not intentional. Or needed for any reason at all.

Can you fuse plastic to fabric?
Fusing plastic experimentations.
Yes! You totally can. Looks nice, feels good. You could line a toiletries bag with this, or make a plastic-covered pouch for a wet swimsuit, or whathaveyou.

Now, is it durable?
Fusing plastic experimentations.
Eh, mostly. I was able to work a fingernail under an edge and peel up some of the plastic. I don’t consider this normal wear-and-tear use, but this might preclude using it for a pouch for sharp pencils or forks. Can’t think of a reason you’d want to line a pouch for sharp objects with plastic, but this Experiment Project isn’t about regression testing, only information gathering and hypothesis forming.

Can you fuse plastic to paper or cardstock?
Fusing plastic experimentations.
No. Not well, anyway. The plastic peeled back up off this index card with minimal effort. I don’t think a layer of plastic fused onto a postcard would make it to a mailbox, even with hand delivery.

How about those anti-static bags?
Fusing plastic experimentations.
Anti-static bags! Technically plastic! Let’s try it! This one shielded a hard drive in its previous life.

Fusing plastic experimentations.
Excellent! Almost no shrinkage at all. The resulting plastic is resilient and mostly transparent. Exciting.

What else could you use it for?
Fusing plastic experimentations.
A paintbrush or tool roll up! Admittedly the plastic side wouldn’t help your brushes dry out at all, but it could prevent them from getting wet? Tools then. This roll up was made with fabric for the pockets, straight sewing and a strap with Velcro to close it.

Fusing plastic experimentations.
Not too shabby for something made from garbage and scraps.

Anything else?
Fusing plastic experimentations.
You can totally make some primitive art by fusing plastic. These fabulous colors are thanks to AmyKatt, who hoarded some plastic bags for me. Thank you, AmyKatt!. If you’re going to do this sort of fusing, I’d recommend one of the small, seam pressing irons that are marketed to quilters. They are cheap, $20, for what they are and how long they last. Using a full size iron for this means that many pieces are heated multiple times. After this many heatings, they stop fusing and merely get hot compared to the other pieces you are trying to layer up. Some bits might try to unfuse as well. Flipping the piece over and getting it fusing hot from the backside helps stick the bits down again, but a tiny iron circumvents the problem to begin with. Also, static electricity!! Really the hardest part of making this scene was getting the pieces of plastic to release from my fingers and stay still on the plastic base. Grrr!

I’m concluding this Experimentation Project now. I was going to do another section for shaping and forming plastic, but that seems like a different subject at this point. I’ve fused plastic, in many formats, in pretty or utilitarian combinations, into useful items, with different seaming methods, with different closure methods, as well as purely for art. I feel familiar with fused plastic as a material for use and am confident I could integrate it into other projects in the future. I’ll probably fuse plastic to cloth for some reason, use fused plastic for bags and maybe even a raincoat. I’m sure there are some outdoor or camping applications that haven’t come to mind yet, but I’ll be ready when they do.

May 052015
 

This is the continuing Experimentation Project for fusing plastic bags. You can see the previous experimentation results:
for basic fusing of grocery bags here,
for decorative fusing here,
and for seams and closures here.
This post is Section 4, using plastics other than grocery bags.


This post covers using plastics besides grocery bags, and a couple more closures.

Clear tarp
Fusing plastic experimentations.
The clear tarp, or drop cloth, was purchased from the hardware store. It was marketed as a painting drop cloth, which we all know from years of movies means body-disposal plastic. If you’re disorganized, you’ll use the shower curtain. If you’re more organized, you’ll use the opaque black plastic drop cloth. But, I digress. The clear tarp wasn’t very clear, more like semi-transparent. I put some bits of purple plastic in the middle so you could see the level of transparency. This is four layers, two on bottom, purple bits, two on top. It works and the plastic is a good thickness, but it isn’t too clear. This might be best for a single layer topper, for clarity purposes.

Ubiqutous blue tarp
Fusing plastic experimentations.
The blue tarps are everywhere and I purchased a new one at the hardware store. The bitty sample attached to the outside of the package melted down to this. Looks like it melts pretty well, but the amount of blue coloring coming out of it is discouraging. Let’s try something bigger.

Fusing plastic experimentations.
Okay, it doesn’t melt so well. It takes higher heat and more of it and it doesn’t like to meld nicely. This resulting piece is only mostly fused, wrinkled and warped. Maybe it needs a different plastic to join with. Let’s try some blue tarp with grocery bag.

Fusing plastic experimentations.
Damn. Blue tarp single layer onto grocery bag is even worse. The differing temp and time points meant this thing barely bonded at all. As well, there is blue over my pieces of parchment now and that will get transferred back onto the next plastic that touches it. There is a smell of hot plastic – which sounds obvious, but there has been no (or almost no) smell on other plastic at any point up to this. The best summary here is that blue tarps are no good for this type of fusing project and I don’t suggest them. On the other hand, I’m certain you could easily patch up a torn blue tarp with another bit of blue tarp or even the above painting tarp. You know, in case you aren’t able or willing to get to the hardware store and spend $5 for a new one.

Food packaging
Fusing plastic experimentations.
Since most of our food products nowadays come packaged in plastic, let’s try fusing some. Here is a single bread bag folded in thirds, with a couple scraps of white grocery bag in the middle for aesthetics. (Above pic is pre-fusing.) Result? It fused beautifully! Minimal distortion and good adherence through all plastic layers. Highly recommended.

Fusing plastic experimentations.
It fused so well, I immediately turned it into a small envelope pouch with a Velcro closure. The branding designs lined up as if the bread company knew I’d be doing this to their bag.

Fusing plastic experimentations.
Seriously! Look at that balanced logo placement! I don’t like looking at brand names, but if you’re not opposed to such a thing, I think there are some great fusing supply opportunities to be found on your next grocer run.

Fusing plastic experimentations.
Since we’re into the grocery store plastic, let’s try some vegetable mesh. This piece came from a bag of boiler onions. I love those things. Throw some into the pot with a bit of roast, carrots, and potatoes. Yummy. Again, I digress. I layered the mesh in between two pieces of clear packaging plastic so we could see the mesh well. In this photo, I’ve slipped a piece of fabric behind it all for viewing purposes only. The whole thing fused together fairly well. The mesh pretty much got smaller and melted only enough to stick to the other plastic. It looked cool enough to turn into a simple envelope pouch.

Fusing plastic experimentations.
Some quick E6000 glue was used to seam it. This time I installed a magnet to metal closure. I melted a small coil of binding wire into the receiving flat piece (right) and a small but powerful magnet into the flappy bit (left).

Fusing plastic experimentations.
This type of closure works quite well – the gentle snick of magnet finding metal through plastic is satisfying and reassuring. Creating this is marginally more difficult than other closure styles. The metal coil pulls heat from your iron and it takes much longer to complete the embedding than you’d expect. Likewise, the magnet wants to get away by sticking to your metal iron, or to your nearby scissors. It isn’t too difficult to manage, being that you’re steadying it through the parchment paper, but maybe don’t make it the first thing you try when you go for your fusing project.

Tyvek shipping bag
Fusing plastic experimentations.
These are thicker, tough plastic bags often used for shipping flexible items. This bag is from some clothing I ordered last year. I like that it says “Please Recycle” right on it – because that is what I’m about to do!

Fusing plastic experimentations.
Yep, fuses like a dream! Smooth, minimal wrinkling or warping, quick and adhered well all around.

Caution tape
Fusing plastic experimentations.
How about caution tape for some added flash?

Fusing plastic experimentations.
Excellent! Especially against (my favorite) the black garbage bags that fuse to look like pleather. There was almost no shrinkage or distortion of the caution tape at all. It merely fused down and stayed there.

Soda bottles
Fusing plastic experimentations.
I cut strips from a soda bottle and wove them between fused grocery bag strips, then heated the whole piece. It looks like it worked….

Fusing plastic experimentations.
… but no. No dice. The soda bottle shrunk a miniscule amount and did not fuse at all to the bag plastic.

Alright, that is plenty for now. I’ll post the remainder of the experiment results on Thursday, so come back for more then!

Apr 072015
 

You can see the all experimentation results:
for basic fusing of grocery bags here,
for decorative fusing here,
for most seams and closures here, (this post)
using plastics besides grocery bags here,
and more closures, seaming, and leftover “what-ifs” here.


Section 3 of this Experimentation Project covers most Seams and Closures.

Since melted plastic bags are still plastic, they must be handled differently than woven or knit fabric. For instance, if you sew plastic with close, tight stitches as if it were fabric, the plastic would become perforated and easily tear apart. On the other hand – you don’t have to sew plastic at all. You can fuse seams together instead, exactly the same way you fused the bags to start. So, this part is playing around with the differences in getting plastic together and using notions for closures.

First on my list, a favorite, a zip pouch. Since these are so cheap to buy nowadays, I realize I’ve not made a zip pouch for … years!? Woah. Nine years ago. Before I started with the more difficult material of plastic, I did a trial zip pouch to make sure I knew what I was doing.
Seaming and attaching closures to fused plastic.
Yep, it is a successful zip pouch, even if it is a tiny one.

Seaming and attaching closures to fused plastic.
Big enough to hold a bottle of Fray Check, a spool of heavy duty thread, a beading needle, scissors, and a small baggie of beads. Perfect to contain the tools I need for the Art-O-Mat audition pieces in progress.
Okay, I’ve proven I still know how to sew a basic, lined, zip pouch with a boxed bottom. Good. Now I can go forward sewing with plastic.

Seaming and attaching closures to fused plastic.
This is a basic, zip pouch with plastic as the exterior material and a blue-violet cotton lining. To accommodate the plastic, I lengthened my stitch to about three instead of my standard two (*). The plastic tended to slip on the feed dogs if there was any resistance, but gentle guidance of the piece meant I had no problems

Seaming and attaching closures to fused plastic.
I think it turned out well. A little pencil case, basically. Now, on to a project with no fabric at all.

Seaming and attaching closures to fused plastic.
A small coin purse, in the shape of a cat head. Yes, it is a cute, gimp kitty. There is no lining, this is bare plastic to plastic with stitching and the zipper is directly to the facing plastic – no turned seams on it.

Seaming and attaching closures to fused plastic.
This plastic is stiff, quite unlike fabric. You could use a softer plastic piece to better suit whatever shape or pattern you’re making. The stiff plastic suits this shape nicely, though. The plastic malleability is worth considering when planning your end product.

Next up, no stitching at all – only using heat to fuse plastic seams.

Seaming and attaching closures to fused plastic.
First up, I’d like a small pocket on the inside of this bag. So, a small scrap of plastic cut to a pocket shape. Place it where I want it on the inside of the panel and put parchment paper where I don’t want it to fuse, which is the pocket area. All the edges of the pocket are touching plastic to plastic and will fuse when ironed with parchment on top. It worked a charm.

Seaming and attaching closures to fused plastic.
Now the basic bag shape. Right sides together, parchment where I don’t want fusing and IRON it! If you look closely you can see the parchment between the plastic. This picture doesn’t show it well, being white on white under florescent light like it is. The seam fusing worked great.

Seaming and attaching closures to fused plastic.
Box the bottom edge. This was a bit tricky to do – I had to grab a scrap of 2×4 wood lying around, wrap it in parchment and put it inside the corner of the bag so I’d have something to nonstick iron against. Fiddly, but worked.

Seaming and attaching closures to fused plastic.
Hey, since the corners boxed easily, let me fuse them down to the bottom of the bag. Neat. Tidy!

Seaming and attaching closures to fused plastic.
Trim seams down and turn the whole thing inside out. I slapped a handle on it and now have a totally plastic fused bag with no stitching at all.

Yeah, it is a homely bag, true. But, this is about experimentation, not the end product.

Okay, this post is getting rather long, so I’ll leave the rest of this Experimentation Section for a second post. Upcoming yet: using fabric to bind the edges when stitching, a straight Velcro closure, a snap closure, a wrap closure and maybe even an embedded magnet.
Maybe. Frankly, I’m getting tired of working with plastic and I want to get back to making things with fabric. I’ll try to finish as much of this project list as I can before I start to really hate it and quit it altogether.

(*) How many mm each stitch measures, on most machines. 2.5 is common for quilting. You’d use 5 for basting, or 2 for something dense or when you need to tear off paper from it after stitching. Some older or specific brands will measure in stitches per inch (SPI), but I’ve not owned one of those ever.

Mar 252015
 

You can see the all experimentation results:
for basic fusing of grocery bags here,
for decorative fusing here, (this post)
for seams and closures here,
using plastics besides grocery bags here,
and more closures, seaming, and leftover “what-ifs” here.


This second project section concerns decoration of the plain, fused plastic. There isn’t a lot of technique here, so I’ll run through a summary of things I tried.

This is what the samples started off like.
Fused plastic bag decoration.
Plain, fused plastic – made from the unprinted sections of Target bags.

Fused plastic bag decoration.
A variety of inks. At the top we have solvent inks, under that Sharpies, Faber Castell Gelatos (pigment in a kind of creamy medium) and at the bottom, Ranger alcohol inks. All of these looked good going on, but all these failed the “rub hard with a paper towel” test. The best of the failures was the solvent ink and alcohol ink. These could be used in a protected area, I think.

Fused plastic bag decoration.
Next is more alcohol ink, but this time applied to raw plastic and THEN fused. I used Pinata alcohol inks this time, which were more concentrated, and they were brighter before fusing, darker and more vibrant after they were condensed with the plastic. They didn’t blend well, at all, so this is a good solution if you want only one color or highlights. This method mostly passed the “rub hard with a paper towel” test, but failed the fingernail scratch test.

Fused plastic bag decoration.
Acrylic paint, Golden heavy body. It went on like a dream, but after drying you could rub and scratch it right back off. Cool if you want to make a scratch-off toy, but no good for permanence.

Fused plastic bag decoration.
Colored plastic bags fused onto already fused plastic. Not bad, but limited to what colorful bags you have. You can tell I don’t have many. If you have lots, this is great. As now-fused plastic, they were impervious to rub or scratch tests. Good durability.

Fused plastic bag decoration.
Colored plastic bags fused onto already fused plastic with a clear plastic layer on top. This is part Ziploc bag and part protective shipping bag – it was all the clear I had. Looks pretty good and I think the clear top layer would give you good collage options. Excellent durability. Shiny, too.

Fused plastic bag decoration.
Since the clear layer looked so nice, I thought I’d try it again. I was out of proper plastic bags, so I grabbed my Saran wrap, having no idea what sort of plastic it was made from. I tossed down glitter and mica flakes, put the wrap on top and ironed. It was a crunchy disaster! The wrap shrunk around the bits and only fused in other places. Also, the plastic was either the wrong kind, or way too thin, because after fusing it rubbed right back off, leaving glittery plastic flotsam all over. If I get some better clear plastic, I might try it again, but this piece was a total failure of durability and the glitter looked like crap under plastic. The flakes were pretty though.

Fused plastic bag decoration.
Spray paint can be a miracle, so I tried some. This is, in L to R order, blue paint that claims it sticks to plastic, purple paint that claims it sticks to plastic, red paint that has no plastic-friendly attributes on top of a plastic spray primer and the same purple plastic-friendly atop plastic spray primer. You can see the rub and scratch test results in this photo – all failed. Although, the red did the best and could possibly be of use.

Fused plastic bag decoration.
Finally, the odd ball. This is a black plastic garbage bag, fused to itself. I was tired of looking at the dull white bags. This looks good, like a pleather. Definitely useable for me.

Fast summary there. The next section is seams and closures, which will take some time to work up. Stay tuned!

Mar 162015
 

You can see the all experimentation results:
for basic fusing of grocery bags here, (this post)
for decorative fusing here,
for most seams and closures here,
using plastics besides grocery bags here,
and finally more closures, seaming, and leftover “what-ifs” here.


This Experimentation Project is for fusing plastic bags (LDPE and HDPE) such as come from the grocery or general store. This isn’t a new idea and I’ve even used the method before, but I want to find the boundaries of this medium, for my uses anyway. There is no tutorial with this, but there are about 10,000 on the internet, if you’d like to look around.

Since Target has the nicest bags, I’m using those. They used to be even better, with thick glossy white plastic, but they’ve changed over the years to the thin, smaller, matte and transparent plastic you see today. That’s fine by me, I’ll just use more layers. Plus, I have collected a flattened stack of bags over the years, so I’m using the supply I have.

Since we’re melting plastic, I’ll need something to protect from meltiness. The very best choice for this is parchment paper. I know some internet tutorials suggest wax or freezer paper, but DON’T do that. If you’ve got a couple brain cells worth rubbing together, you’ll immediately realize that the wax and plastic coating on these papers will melt off and onto your plastic project. Stick with parchment paper (oh, a pun!) which is made precisely for non-stick, heat applications. I was able to use the two sheets seen here for all my experiments – up until I painted on them. The Target bag printing doesn’t come off with heat – if you’re using something else you’ll have to check for yourself.

For the heat, use a “wool” setting on your iron, which is about seven out of ten. The number marking have long since been worn off my iron, but I’m doing a dial percentage type estimation here. Also, this is the most common setting stated in the pile of internet tutorials. Every iron is different, even among brands, so you’ll have to sort yours out yourself.

Experiments in plastic bag fusing.
Starting simply, two layers of plastic on a large sheet of parchment. I have a smaller sheet of parchment on top.

Click the jump to see the rest of this post.
Continue reading »

Feb 232015
 

The continuing saga of making tiny bits into a new, whole fabric.

Maker talk (all the way):

This experiment involves the more sturdy branch of using a water-soluble stabilizer as the base layer as well as the top layer, and using a temporary adhesive spray to keep everything together until stitched. Here we go!

Water soluble stabilizer, bits and pieces, temporary spray adhesive and more stabilizer.
Terribly boring photo, but this is the base layer of water-soluble stabilizer. On this will go all the fabric trimmings, thread scraps and miscellaneous bits beside my cutting board. I went smaller than the first time around because I have fewer teensy scraps laying out now. Plus, I wanted to take less time on the work. To this base I added a spray of the temporary spray adhesive. I used Therm-O-Web spray (same makers of Heat-N-Bond); I also have a Sulky brand that reviewed highly, although I have not used that one yet. Atop the spray I arranged (and later, blindly tossed) bits and pieces on. Then, another spray and the top layer of stabilizer.

Water soluble stabilizer, bits and pieces, temporary spray adhesive and more stabilizer.
Keeping up? This is stabilizer, bits, stabilizer – all held together with the spray. I swear, this thing felt so flimsy, I thought for sure it would all fall back to its individual parts. It didn’t though. Ready for stitching now!

Water soluble stabilizer, bits and pieces, temporary spray adhesive and more stabilizer.
An hour of high speed stitching later, here we are. I tried to FMQ it, but it wouldn’t go. The thread wanted to snag and break; the needle didn’t move smoothly through the stabilizer. Straight and zigzag stitching worked perfectly. I’ve stitched densely and don’t see any bits that might escape. Ready for the water now.

Water soluble stabilizer, bits and pieces, temporary spray adhesive and more stabilizer.
After a five minute soak in water, then a brief wash and rinse (all in the utility sink) the stabilizer was completely gone. I do like how easily it washes out. Impatient, I ironed the piece dry and took this photo.

What I learned: the temporary spray adhesive is impressive! It really held everything together and it really was temporary. There was no stickiness left after the wash and iron. Stitching through it proved no problem at all. You might think I have different standards after my determined stitching through the heavy duty Heat-N-Bond, but I assure you it was tacky-needle-problem free, except for the FMQ. I guess that means it was tacky-needle-problem lite. I would have preferred to FMQ instead of standard stitching. I don’t care to handle the water-soluble stabilizer very much. The natural moisture [honesty edit: sweat. It is hand sweat.] of my hands makes the stabilizer ever-so-slightly tacky while I’m holding it. It isn’t terrible, but it does feel like you have picked up something a gaggle of small children were playing with.

What do I think of this? This is better than the first try. This is something different, something a bit better than it originally was. Part of this difference is that these bits are closer together and more dense than the first trial. You can barely see in the photo (better if you hold it up to the light – the fabric, not the photo, obvs), but there are many spots that are blank. These bits are held by thread, securely, and the spots where there weren’t bits are clear and you can see through this new fabric. That is cool. I laid down the largest bits first, then dumped thread and fuzz bits on top. Thus, the backside looks more patchwork and the topside looks more thready. I can change that up in the future for better balance on both sides of the fabric. I can still use tulle or stabilizer for the top layer; I like the look of either and I think they both worked equally well.

This new fabric is soft, but stable. I think this could be used to make a Scrappy Cat, provided I didn’t have too many open spots. Wait. No. No open spots. Open spots mean you see the stuffing inside. No good. Shit. Okay, not good for Scrappy Cats. Good for something else? Sure. What? I don’t know. Yet. One thing at a time.

I think this Experimental: Stitchy Bits project is done. I have three successful ways to make bits and pieces into a new fabric (Scrappy style, with backer fabric, with stabilizer and spray only) and one way I definitely don’t want to use for this type of goal. I’m going to close this project, find something to do with the created samples and move on to the next experimentation project.

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Feb 172015
 

After the initial experimentation for sewing bits together, I had a clear direction to try out. Despite that, I got rather off track with it, and might have to end this branch of experimentation for now. I’ll save it for another time with different goals.

Maker Talk (all the way):
Last time, I decided that one option to create a new fabric from bits of fabric trimmings, threads and ribbons, could be to put these on a meltable base fabric and heat it away later, after stitching. Since I work mostly with 100% cotton, I took an expensive trip to the local hobby store and purchased acrylic felt, acrylic velvet, and acrylic or polyester (don’t recall which) chiffon. The selection was quite limited and my color range was small because of this. Also, I bought every reasonable, meltable fabric the store carried – yes, only those three; I skipped the fleece, and anything that didn’t list its makeup.

This is my first misstep. Instead of using the meltable fabrics only as a base, I also used them as the bits. I blame the velvet for being so pretty and touchable. What I should have done was put down a meltable base, then my bits (which are almost all 100% cotton), and then maybe added one more meltable layer on the top. I didn’t do any of that.

Bits of meltable fabrics.
The cream background is acrylic felt, the shapes are all cut of velvet which was backed with Heat-N-Bond. Those of you readers with excellent memories might recall that I’d previously asseverated sewing through Heat-N-Bond, as warned against by the product printing itself. But, it was the product I bought for this project and I figured that some extra heat would help dissipate the thickness of the glue layer while still staying fused. Given the multiple layers and the desire to lessen the glue layers, I used a lot of heat. Not the highest heat, but a lot of it, on each layer and from any side I could reach with the iron. Would it have been easier to use a more lightweight product? YES. It would have, but I didn’t!
Being right before Valentines, I had hearts on my mind, so it is heart heavy.
Continue reading »

Feb 112015
 

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 if 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.
Experimental bits of fabric.
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.

Experimental bits of fabric.
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!

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