Monday, July 08, 2013

The fabric of our lives...

Today I dyed some shirting fabrics in a green bath. It is wonderful how differently the different fabrics take the dye. Much, of course, depends on what the underlying color is.

The top two fabrics are from the pile of fabrics that Del brought me from a shirt factory. These fabrics are both so finely woven and silky in feel that I wondered if  they were all cotton. I only use cotton fabrics and if they are synthetics they will not take the dye. The way to tell is to burn a corner. If the fabric is cotton it will burn, leaving a bit of soft, gray ash. If it is a synthetic it will melt, rather than fully burn, leaving a hard melted edge, and it smells like burning plastic. Silk smells a bit like burning hair. They are cotton. Really nice cotton.

I have a real bias. I love cotton and am not really interested in working with other fabrics. I know a lot of fiber artists who love working with silk. Their work is often quite beautiful and silk takes dyes in a really vibrant way, but still I am in love with cotton.

I think part of it is that cotton is really the same material as paper, that most basic art material. It is pure cellulose and both paper and cotton fabrics have the same feel and opacity and smell and a certain subtle texture—a tooth that begs for pigment to be applied. Earthy. Simple. The fiber grows from the earth, is spun and woven and dyed and/or printed. My favorite fiber for clothing is cotton as well. Cotton yields and caresses us, and conforms to our bodies from birth. Besides human hands, it is usually the first thing we touch on this earth. It is the oldest fabric, dating from before 5000 BCE.

I have no taste for shine and sparkle and glitter. My tastes are more simple and I find richness in the matte depth of a woven cotton surface.  A needle slides effortlessly through and the fabric sinks into the stitches and relaxes into the thread, gracefully accepting the stitcher's plan. Cotton never argues. Cotton knows its calling.


  1. What great greens. I'm glad the fabrics took the dye so well. Talbott's Ties does make very, VERY expensive ties and shirts, so the fabric is the best. Not always easy to sew.

  2. One of the most elegant descriptions of my favorite fiber. I am expecting a box of cotton sheets from an aunts estate and can't wait. Noble cloth.

  3. Gosh, I hope a cotton fabric company reads your last paragraph! They're going to want to quote you! I love the greens and am anxious to see what you do with them. I love the shirting quilts and the fact that you got most of the fabrics from the resale shops. The story, and the resulting quilts, seems like something that should be published in a magazine. The ultimate "silk purse out of a sow's ear" or whatever that phrase is!

  4. lovely greens and a wonderful ode to cotton! how do you feel about linen?

    1. Natalya, I like linen a lot too, but not so much for artwork. It is so wrinkle-prone and doesn't have the ease of cotton, but a cool, wrinkled linen shirt is wonderful on a hot day!

  5. So true. My blog intro says, "We are born to cloth. It is the second thing we touch after our mother." (Cotton, of course.)

  6. Anonymous1:14 PM

    What a beautifully written post.

  7. I admit to delving a bit into some shiny bits of various media for my art quilts but my first love is cotton. Your description of it is quite beautiful and poetic.

  8. I absolutely love reading your blog. You definitely have a talent for working with fabrics and words.