New workshops with Alice Fox and Christine Chester
 Alice Fox dyed silk with hand stitch

Alice Fox dyed silk with hand stitch

I am delighted to share the news that Alice Fox and Christine Chester will be teaching in the Urban Studio North in 2020. Yes that seems a long way off but both of these excellent tutors get booked up early!

Alice will be teaching her three day Rust Marks workshop (27th to 29th March 2020) in which she shares her experimental approach for transferring marks from rusty metals onto fabric and paper. Alice has a passion for the natural world and for using found objects and materials in her work. I am fascinated to see how she, and the students, work in an urban environment. You can see her work on her website here. And you can see more details of the class and book here.

Christine will be teaching her five day Poetry of Decay class (15th to 19th June 2020) introducing students to materials and processes that can create rich and textured surfaces based on their own photographs of decaying and eroded surfaces. Christines’ own work on absence is made even more poignant by her use of a restricted colour palette which she also uses in her class. You can find out more about Christine here. And you can see more details of the class and book here.

Inspirational images from Christine Chester

WorkshopsLeah HigginsComment
Creative Surface Design
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I’ve just finished setting up the studio for this weekends classes with my day a month Introduction to Surface Design students so it seemed like a great time to tell you about my new course - Creative Surface Design which starts in September 2019. I have developed the course for those of you who have had exposure to lots of different surface design techniques and have a head full of ideas but are not sure how to transfer ideas into finished cloth.

The course will be run over 5 weekends spread over an 8 month period. I’ve chosen this format rather than a day a month as being able to leave work on the bench and come back to it the next morning allows for deeper exploration of an idea; it allows you to take your time rather than hurrying to finish. Because I am ‘me’ the course will start with a focus on colour and the power of using a restricted colour set or family. There is a loose structure for each weekend but the exact content will be largely driven by the individual students. I’ll give demonstrations as needed but I am assuming a basic understanding of dyeing and printing techniques.

I’ve mentioned before in this blog that I’m not a ‘sketchbook’ type of person as I tend to work directly, intuitively onto fabric with a lot of my design process happening in my head. But I do keep a journal where I write down ideas, and importantly, where I critique my own work. I will be encouraging students on the Creative Surface Design course to keep some form of personal record - whatever form they are comfortable with - and will have a one to one review with each student each weekend to support them as they develop their ideas and their own way of working.

All the details are on my website. Or, maybe you can come see me at the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate, 22 to 25 November, stand TG626!

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Breakdown Printing
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It may be cold and grey outside but it is artfully grey inside! I’ve spent this week breakdown printing using squeezy bottles and wooden printing blocks. All in one single colour - grey. The humble squeezy bottle is such a useful tool. I have collected a range over the years with different size nozzles so I’ve been able to play with scale when using them to draw grids on my screen. And by varying the strength of the dye I have been able to play with value. I’m slowly building a palette of printed fabrics to use together.

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This is the first time I have used wooden print blocks with breakdown printing. I’ve tried a couple of things. Using them to stamp thickened dye onto the screen is quick and easy but it doesn’t get much dye on the screen so I’m only getting 1 or 2 good prints per screen. This would be OK in the summer when you can dry screens really quickly but much slower in the winter. The other way I have used them is to embedded them into a layer of thickened dye. Sometimes on their own. And sometimes combined with a grid on the screen. This shows much more promise.

I love this stage in developing a new series of work. Playing with new ideas. Auditioning fabrics. Stitching samples. Figuring out what is missing and going back to the bench to print more fabric. Figuring out if I need to include fabrics made using other surface design techniques. Who cares if it is cold and grey outside!

And whilst I wait for screens to dry I have been adding workshop dates to my calendar. There are only 3 places left on my Breakdown Your Palette workshops in 2019 so I have just added 2 workshops in 2020. How crazy is it to be planning that far ahead! The sessions are on 18th to 22nd May 2020 and 22nd to 26th June 2020. Details can be found here.

I’ve also added new dates for my 1 day a month Introduction to Surface Design course and over the next couple of weeks will be announcing some new 5 day workshops and, very excitingly, workshops with some wonderful guest tutors. Life is good. Now back to my bench!

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Just itchin'
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I have an itch. I can feel it growing inside of me, gaining momentum. It’s at the edge of my consciousness now whatever I’m doing. It needs scratching!

Yep, all the ideas about a new series of works on the printing and publishing industry that have been brewing in my head for weeks have started to come together. This is how I work. I don’t use sketchbooks when developing new ideas but I do like to have something pinned to my design wall or sat on my desk that is always there, in the corner of my eye, as I work on other things.

I started thinking about printing and how it has, as an industry, changed and continues to change when I printed some fabrics using simple grid based breakdown screens in July. I made a small quilt called Process Colour for my stand at Festival of Quilts expecting it to be a one-off. But I don’t think it’s going to be. Actually I know it isn’t going to be. I liked how the simplicity of a grid become complex it broke down. I liked printing in only black. I cut some thin strips of the printed fabrics. There is no text but they somehow remind me of newsprint. And so my mind has continued to churn ideas around.

I thought about introducing text on top of some of the fabrics using old wooden print blocks. I wasn’t sure how but I’ve had the blocks sat next to my computer for a while now and they have been the catalyst that has caused an ‘idea’ explosion in my head. I need to get the ideas out. I need to play. I need to print!

Knitting and Stitching Show at Harrogate
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I really enjoyed having a stand at Festival of Quilts this summer and had a fabulous response to the workshops I offer. So I have taken the plunge (again) and decided to take a small stand at the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate (22nd to 25th November). I am going to be on stand TG626 which is in Hall M where the galleries are. I’m hoping to see lots of familiar faces but, obviously, I’m hoping to also reach a new audience for my workshops.

It is exciting but a little daunting. I am really nervous about the set up and take down - the exhibition centre is right in the centre of Harrogate and doesn’t have much parking attached. Fingers crossed for good weather! This time around I have all the quilts I need to display on the walls but didn’t have much hand dyed fabric ready to sell. These shows are really expensive to do so having something to sell as well as the workshops reduces my anxiety levels considerably. So this last couple of weeks I have been dyeing up a storm! And what fun it has been especially the tray dyeing and ice dyeing. I just love watching the dye travel through the fabric. Some of the pieces are just yummy. The ice dyed piece below is my favourite so far - made with rust brown and petrol green dye powder the colour blending and flow is pure serendipity! And I still have lots of ice in the freezer …….

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A good (two) days dyeing
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This last weekend I had my two ‘Introduction to Surface Design’ groups in the studio for the 2nd session in their ‘day a month for 10 months’ program. I had introduced the groups to dyeing in the first session by having them dye an 18 part colour wheel using the ‘dye in a bag method’. I learnt this way many, many years ago during a workshop with Helen Deighan and still use it today when I want to dye small pieces of fabric.

But in the 2nd session we got into the serious stuff. Each of my lovely ladies dyed 12 x 1/2m pieces using a high immersion bucket method in a dark, medium and light version of a single colour. These pieces will be over dyed with a different colour in the next session to create a colour family of coordinated ‘nearly solid’ fabrics. They then dyed 6 x 1/2m pieces in a gradation using a low immersion technique. And finally I let them loose using multiple colours with tray dyeing and layered dyeing techniques. My goodness but they worked hard! They each dyed over 11 square metres of fabric! And so far they are delighted with the results - it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling when they share photos!

Because I teach by ‘doing’ I dyed fabric using each method each day. So Monday and Tuesday were taken up rinsing, washing and ironing a mammoth 22+ metres of fabric. And I couldn’t be happier. Not everyone likes this bit but I do …. its that sense of a slow reveal as you rinse away unused dye, as the washed fabric drys and finally as you iron it. Life is good.

7 days of bliss
 Assessing fabrics against Vestiges, a tiny Ruins piece, in the top right hand corner.

Assessing fabrics against Vestiges, a tiny Ruins piece, in the top right hand corner.

Maybe I am just easily pleased but the last 7 days have been wonderful! I set my teaching ‘stuff’ aside and have immersed myself completely in printing (and dyeing) fabrics for the next pieces in my Ruins series. I also took the opportunity to include a couple of lazy mornings and have ‘allowed’ myself to finish early in the evenings. Frankly I have been working long days in recent months to get the teaching / studio launched and needed a little holiday.

I also needed to get back to making art and this has been the kick start I needed. Lots of September sunshine helped dry breakdown screens quickly and meant that I could soda soak and dry fabrics easily. A couple of pieces still need to batch overnight, and I have a small mountain of fabric to rinse, but I am a very happy artist today. I have printed / dyed about 20 square metres of fabric. I may need to tweek the colour balance slightly but I have the basis for the Ruins pieces that I will be creating for my solo exhibition at next years Festival of Quilts.

Although breakdown printing is the back bone of the Ruins series I have always included other surface design techniques. My work can be quite incestuous - I take photos of breakdown screens and breakdown printed fabrics and use them to create thermofax screens which then get used to print more Ruins fabrics. Love it!

I need to get back to teaching ‘stuff’ and a building project next week but I’ll be leaving all my new fabrics pinned up on my design wall to inspire me!

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Back to work Leah!
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My focus for the last 5 months has been on teaching - developing workshops, refitting my studio and, finally and wonderfully, greeting my first groups of students. But I was an artist before I was a teacher and now I need to get back to making art.

Fortunately for me I have a great big carrot - a solo exhibition at next years Festival of Quilts. Installation will be on the 31st July. Which is 314 days away. Only 314 days away. Oh heck.

The exhibition will be titled Deconstructed and will be a continuation of my obsession with breakdown printing (also known as deconstructed printing) and industrial heritage. When I put together the proposal about a year ago I knew exactly what I wanted to do with one half of the exhibition - new pieces in my Ruins series that will reference the cotton industry once so important to Manchester (where I live). But I was, and still am, a bit more fuzzy about the other half. I haven't has much time since then to work on my ideas. That needs to change.

Over the next few weeks I will printing a whole bunch of 'ruins' fabrics. I'm hoping that this will ease me back into artist mode. 314 days and counting! oh heck!

Simply Screen Printing
 Hilary Kimber: open screen over a string resist

Hilary Kimber: open screen over a string resist

I ran my first two day screen printing workshop this last weekend and loved every minute of it. With only two days it was difficult to know what to include. I started with a focus on using temporary resists that are readily available and relatively cheap; masking tape, freezer paper and sticky back plastic. You could probably spend two days just on masking tape resists but I wanted the students to go away with a sense of the range of options open to them. Their work was wonderfully varied.

 Judy Tomlinson: masking tape resist pulled through with three values of turquoise and yellow giving some lovely greens

Judy Tomlinson: masking tape resist pulled through with three values of turquoise and yellow giving some lovely greens

 Jean Martin and Judy Tomlinson: masking tape resist pieces

Jean Martin and Judy Tomlinson: masking tape resist pieces

We moved on to breakdown printing - where the thickened dye / print paste that is dried on the screen acts as a temporary resist. The weather wasn’t kind but the screens just about dried over night. I loved hearing the students ohhs and ahhs and can’t wait until next May when I teach my 5 day Breakdown Your Palette class.

We looked at different ways of using an open screen - on pinned out fabric, on scrumpled fabric and, with wonderful results, onto fabric with string on the surface. Love Hilary’s piece! And somehow we found time to play with thermofax screens.

It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling seeing the groups confidence grow in the two days! I am so glad that I took that big step into teaching. The next two day class in February is already full but there are still places on the workshop in 27th and 28th April 2019. Can’t wait.

 Anita Bennett: using thermofax screens to create texture

Anita Bennett: using thermofax screens to create texture

 Maggie Pearson: repeated layering of a thermofax screen

Maggie Pearson: repeated layering of a thermofax screen