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GLOSSARY OF FIBER ART TERMS AND TECHNIQUES

FIBER ART STYLES »

CONSTRUCTION: TERMS and TECHNIQUES »

SURFACE TREATMENTS: TERMS and TECHNIQUES » 

TECHNOLOGY as a TOOL in FIBER ART »


 

FIBER ART STYLES

TRADITIONAL QUILTING. FIBER ART has its roots in traditional quilting which refers to designs that are made up of pieces of fabric stitched together by hand or machine following a predetermined pattern and layered with middle batting and a backing fabric. The 3 layers are then stitched together by hand or machine creating a QUILT. They are usually large in size reflecting their origin as utilitarian bed coverings. In difficult times it was the original recycling process utilizing old clothes and scraps to make useful household necessities. Construction used formal, traditional methods and techniques and resulted in many “rules” that separate Traditional quilting from other forms of Fiber Art. In the beginning, everything was stitched by hand and using a sewing machine was considered to be cheating. The Contemporary Art movement has changed the way Fiber Art is perceived.

 CONTEMPORARY FIBER ART designs feature modern subject matter and are not restricted to traditional patterns.  Traditional and/or non-traditional methods and techniques are used in their construction and embellishment of utilitarian pieces or designed as purely non-utilitarian artwork.

 
ABSTRACT and Impressionistic FIBER ART refers to the artwork’s design depicting the “essence”, “impression” or “idea” of a chosen subject using color, line, abstract designs and various stylistic techniques that may evoke emotion or tell a story without displaying detailed, realistic images.  These styles are not limited to landscapes or portraits but can depict events, activities, moods, ideas, things and more. Traditional and non-traditional methods and techniques are used in the construction and embellishment of Abstract Fiber Art pieces.


REALISTIC FIBER ART often referred to as Representational or Pictorial FIBER ART refers to the artwork being very "real" looking within the artist's particular style. The artist may choose to depict or *represent* a Still-life, Village scene, Landscape, Seascape, Thing or person.

 
LANDSCAPE FIBER ART can employ numerous styles, methods and techniques to create or recreate realistic, representational, abstract or imaginary landscapes. Scenes are often based on original photography. Techniques often used are appliqué, fiber collage, thread painting, thread sketching, hand painting and dyeing. “Raw-edged” appliqué, insertion techniques and embellishment with a multitude of materials enables artists to not just depict a scene but create real texture and depth with stitching and added embellishments. If you can apply or attach it safely to the surface, you can use it to interpret your vision of the world around you.


PORTRAITURE in FIBER ART utilizes many methods and techniques to create or recreate realistic, abstract or imaginary portraits of living things, primarily people. Digital software, transfer printing and digital imagery are often used to achieve striking results. Raw-edged appliqué is used frequently to give color, depth and shading to fabric portraits which, at a distance, can look just like photographs. Fusible products have enabled fiber artists to cut and apply tiny pieces of fabric in creating amazing painterly effects. Stitching with “invisible” thread has eliminated grueling handwork and enables fiber artists to use fabric as they would paint in their portraits. These same techniques can be used to create very Abstract or Impressionistic portraits and also can include: piecing, fusing, appliqué, stitching, insertion, weaving, fabric- manipulation, embellishment with beads and found objects and texturing the surface with paint, dyes, inks and various other mediums. “Pieced portraits” can also be hard to tell from a photograph at a distance. Individual pieces might be ½” square or 12” square depending on the effect desired, time allowed or the finished size of the piece. As with digital images, each piece is a kind of “pixel” that when placed together creates an image. Construction techniques can include traditional piecing, weaving, slashing and repositioning pieces to create a whole image. Pieced artwork can appear Realistic, Abstract or Impressionistic depending on the size and nature of the “Pixels”.

Fiber artists can now utilize almost any technique to make their vision come to life -there are no boundaries. Rules no longer apply (other than for safety).

 

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FIBER ART CONSTRUCTION TECHNIQUES and TERMS


APPLIQUE is a term used to describe one fabric pieced placed on top of a background fabric and stitched down. It traditionally required the edges be turned under (needle-turned) and stitched by hand with tiny, almost invisible stitches or are purposely bold and part of the overall “look” of the piece as in the “Folk Art” style. Applique allows the artist-maker to put any design anywhere in whatever order to create amazing curves and clusters of fabric pieces that traditional “piecing” cannot accomplish. In the past, early quilt makers created extremely detailed and complicated baskets of flowers, figures, text and other images –almost drawing on the surface of the quilt. This style of quilt making is still very popular. Baltimore Album quilts and Hawaiian quilts are two well-known styles of Applique.

 RAW-EDGED Appliqué: Today, Applique has expanded to include less tedious methods of achieving similar results and Raw-edged Applique is exactly that. The fabric appliqué is placed on or fused to the background and the raw fabric edges are left unturned and tacked down using various types of stitching during the quilting and/or embellishment stage. Often a blanket, satin or other decorative stitching is used and sometimes only the body of the appliqué is stitched leaving the edges rough and “raw”. It is used frequently in creating landscapes, representative and portrait fiber art. Applique has no limits for design, color and complexity, only the amount of time and dedication the maker is willing to commit to the project. One quilt maker has emerged who cuts tiny shreds of fabrics in many colors and sprinkles them onto a background of appliquéd tree shapes to create very realistic foliage and forest scenes. She keeps the tiny pieces in place by covering the shreds with very fine, invisible tulle before stitching them in place. Fiber artists continue to innovate.


DIMENSIONAL 
Fiber art generally refers to 2 dimensional, primarily flat, artwork that has dimensional elements as part of the construction. The dimension can result in many ways such as, through piecing (stitching) fabric pieces together so one part stands out, as a result of inserting bits of fabric or other materials into the stitched seams, as a result of folding, tucking, pleating, tacking, “gathering” or otherwise manipulating fabric to make certain elements or areas recede or stand out or by stitching (quilting) more densely in some areas and not in others. Stitching of layered fabrics (usually with a batting or other, thicker or “loftier”, middle layer) results in the unstitched areas standing out and making a puffy or dimensional pattern on the fabric surface. (Entire patterns on whole cloth quilts are made solely by the technique of stitch density where a large, blank, flat surface suddenly sprouts intricate patterns and motifs as the background, stitched areas, recede and the design “puffs” up). Embellishment of fiber art with beading and other materials also creates dimension although it usually requires only the addition or application of the materials and does not employ creating the dimension solely through the use of fabric and stitching.

ECHO QUILTING describes background stitching the around design elements, following their silhouettes again and again like stitched rings pulsing on the surface of calm water from the place where a pebble was dropped into it. This technique can be very effective in accentuating the form at the center of the "rings".

FABRIC COLLAGE is where fabric pieces are placed together to form a design. Paper, beads and found objects are often included to tell a story. They may be stitched down by hand or machine or fused to the background with “fusible web” or even glued. Surface stitching may or may not be present. Other surface embellishments, techniques or media may be employed to create a finished piece. This technique is used often in creating Abstract, Landscape or Portrait Fiber Art.


FABRIC FOLDING 
describes when fabric is folded and held in place within a seam or with other stitching to create design features, texture and/or dimension on an art quilt.


FABRIC FUSING refers to the fusing, with heat, of one fabric piece to another using fusible web in between. The pieces can then be stitched or otherwise embellished. This method is often used in fabric landscape and portraiture. There are many products available such as paper-backed fusible web which allows the artist to draw a shape on the paper backing before fusing it to fabric. Tiny pieces can be cut and fused onto other fabric pieces this way to create complex designs.

FABRIC INSERTION is where fabric is inserted into the seams of the art work to create design features, texture and/or dimension.

 

FABRIC MANIPULATION refers to twisting or manipulating fabric which is then held in place within seams or other stitching techniques to achieve various textures and surface effects.

 

FREE-MOTION STITCHING describes moving fabric freely through the sewing machine with the “feed-dogs” down allowing the Fiber Artist to stitch in any direction without stopping. It is very much like drawing with thread.

 

HAND EMBROIDERY utilizes embroidery stitches such as the Blanket Stitch or French Knots that often enhance and embellish the surface of fiber art works. Crazy quilts are examples of how to utilize an amazing array of fancy embroidery stitches to highlight fabric mosaics usually made from bits of fancy silks.

 

HAND STITCHING refers to stitching by hand to piece together, embellish or quilt fabric. Materials used include various weights of sewing threads, embroidery threads and yarns to create interesting surface textures or effects.

 

MACHINE-STITCHED EMBELLISHMENT refers to machine stitching added to the surface of an art quilt that adds texture or creates dimension to a piece.


STIPLING
is a commonly used, meandering, Free-motion machine stitching pattern that adds texture to backgrounds in Fiber Art works.

 

THREAD PAINTING describes using the sewing machine as a paintbrush and thread as the paint. Heavy stitching creates texture and dimension on the surface of the art work. The image or design on fabric is completely composed of stitching. Similar to Embroidery, it is done using Free-motion machine stitching. The needle and thread are used as a painter would use a brush and paint with the Fiber artist guiding the fabric underneath. Using the speed of the sewing machine to keep the “needle/brush” in motion, the image is built up with layers of threads that give form, color, depth, shading and texture to the artwork. Free-motion machine stitching enables the fiber artist to be as realistic or abstract as he or she chooses. Because of the density of stitching on flexible fabric, it is necessary to reinforce the fabric with a “stabilizer” allowing it to remain flat and not “shrink” as it is pulled in by dense stitching.

 

THREAD SKETCHING refers to a Fiber artist “sketching” with his or her sewing machine’s needle and thread usually over some sort of design. The thread sketching gives the design an extra emphasis or appearance of spontaneity. The underlying design can be a photograph transferred to the fabric, a hand-painted, dyed, drawn or printed design or image or a plain, blank fabric where the Fiber artist uses the thread as one would a pencil to create their own original “drawing”. The resulting thread sketch has an originality that is very compelling. Different from Hand-stitching which is limited to how quickly one can put thread to fabric by hand, thread sketching is possible because of the speed of sewing machines. One can thread sketch almost as fast as one can draw with a pencil. There are no limits to the subject matter that can be thread sketched or thread painted. Techniques utilized are simply Fabric, Thread, a Fiber Artist and a Sewing Machine.

 

THREE DIMENSIONAL (3D) refers to objects that have multiple surfaces and can be shaped in any way from round to angular. They may jut out from a flat surface or stand alone like an object you can hold in your hand or a large statue. Almost anything can be incorporated in some way into a 3D piece. There are few rules, no size limits and therefore the artist is free to do almost anything. In Fiber Art, there are many materials to work with from string, twine, yarns, roving, rope and fabric. The materials can be woven, knit, knotted, twisted, corded, coiled, stitched, glued, tacked, stapled, folded, stretched, draped, pinned and stuffed either alone or in combination with other materials to fashion a multitude of shapes. Because fiber can be soft or stiff, it is possible to make it bend without breaking or become a sturdy component to an artwork. 3D fiber creations have a history in the practical and utilitarian, such as bags, baskets, hats and of course clothing (wearables).

TRAPUNTO refers to a technique where a (usually complex) design is stitched out on two layers of fabric. A filling is stuffed in between the fabric layers, in the stitched design areas, and force them to rise above the surface of the work. No other stitching is required to keep the background flat. To get the filling into the design areas a small cut is made in the back layer of the fabric sandwich and the filling is pressed into and positioned throughout that particular section. The cut is then stitched up by hand. This process is done for each section of the design and can be very time consuming. Many contemporary Fiber Artists stack 2 or 3 extra layers of batting (that have been pre-cut into the desired design shapes) on the backing layer before placing the top layer of fabric in position. The design is then stitched, usually by machine, around those pre-cut design shapes which results in more dimension in those areas. Note: The "modern" method is faster but the older, traditional method provides more definition of the raised shapes as it is possible to control how much filling can be pressed into the stitched design sections to achieve a desired amount of dimension.

 

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FIBER ART SURFACE TREATMENT TERMS and TECHNIQUES

DISCHARGE DYEING is a process where one “discharges” or removes the dye from fabric with some sort of caustic medium such as bleach. Most commonly used on black cotton fabric, the dye removal process reveals under-layers of dye until, if the bleach is left on the fabric too long, the bleached area will disintegrate (and bleach only works on natural, non-animal fibers such as cotton). Time is therefore a key element in the process. The longer the bleach solution is left on the fabric, the lighter the remaining color will be. Black fabric is surprisingly made up of many layers of color and usually discharges from dark brown all the way through rust to a light beige color. Each fabric dye batch is different so no two black fabrics will discharge to the same exact color. The process is somewhat magical because you can stand there and spray your fabric with a bleach solution or draw or paint on it with “Soft-Scrub” or a bleach pen and then watch as the color changes. It is a bit like watching film develop before your eyes.

If you are tempted to try this process please read further: Once the color is what you are looking for you must immediately rinse the bleach medium out with water and then soak it in a “deactivating” solution such as “Anti-chlor” or “Bleach Stop” and finally rinse or wash the fabric before drying and ironing. When done, the fabric may be used as any other fabric. This process is very organic and amazingly spontaneous. The results are immediate and often surprising. Whatever you can do with paint or dye you can probably do with the discharge process with a few major cautions: bleach is caustic and will “bleach” any fabric in comes in contact with so take precautions if you wish to try it. Use a respirator or discharge outdoors, protect your eyes, surfaces and clothing and work very quickly as fabric can be permanently damaged if exposed longer than about 15 minutes. Be prepared with soaking and “deactivating” baths before you start. There are other discharging products available besides bleach and fabrics other than black will discharge to other surprising colors so experiment to your heart’s content.

 

FABRIC DYEING refers to the process of dyeing fabric individually by hand where the fiber artist is able to achieve unique colors and textural effects on fabric. There are many techniques such as Batch Dyeing of solid colored fabric, Batik dyeing using wax resists, Tie Dyeing and Shibori dyeing which leaves marks where pressure or stitches were applied by various means before dyeing or Marbling where dye or paint is dripped onto the surface of a special fluid mixture. It sits on top and can be manipulated to create designs before cloth is carefully placed on the surface at which moment the dyed design is transferred to the fabric’s surface, hopefully intact. No two designs are the same and, like fingerprints, marbleized designs on paper have been used as security features in the past. Dye can be used in many painterly ways as well. There are numerous books written about the many dye processes and techniques used by fabric dyers.

 

FABRIC PAINTING is where the fiber artist paints designs or images on fabric using fabric paints and/or other painterly mediums. The surface is usually further embellished with stitching of some kind.

 

FABRIC PRINTING is a term that covers many different mark-making techniques on fabric. Most common are Screen Printing and Block Printing. There are numerous other techniques. The basic method for Block Printing is to put paint or dye on an object and press it onto fabric or press the fabric onto the painted object and press evenly with a brayer to make a print. Screen Printing uses a tightly stretched silk fabric in a frame with a medium of some sort painted on it that will “clog” or “mask” the screen in some areas leaving open the desired design that will be colored (a positive print) or “mask” out the design instead leaving the background open so the background will be colored (a negative print). Paint or dye is pressed through the screen onto underlying fabric making the print of whatever area was not “masked”. Another often used technique is Monoprinting  on fabric where paint or dye is spread onto a smooth surface in a manner to make a design and fabric is pressed on it with a brayer resulting in a one-time print or monoprint.

 

MIXED-MEDIA refers to multiple mediums utilized in the creation of an artwork. It involves Fiber, with the addition of paper, paint, dye, markers, acrylic mediums, gesso or embellishments. Essentially, anything that will change or add to the texture or composition of the surface of the fabric. The sky is the limit in Mixed-Media artwork.

 

PATINA is the color that remains on the surface of an object after time, use and/or exposure to the elements. In Fiber Art it is a treatment that can be added to a fiber’s surface to develop colors utilizing the chemical reactions of mediums containing reactive metals. For example a copper patina will turn a beautiful blue/green color.

 

RESIST is where design elements are placed or drawn on the surface of the fabric before another process is employed such as printing, painting, dying or discharging etc. The covered area "resists" the secondary process and retains the original surface color and texture. Commonly used resist mediums are wax, glue, oatmeal, stencils, paper and objects.

RUST DYEING in the Fiber Art world means, literally, to purposely stain your fabric with objects or powders that contain iron resulting in unpredictable rust brown shapes appearing on the surface of the fabric. Cotton and Silk are the best fabrics to use with this technique. Rusting takes place best when you spray the fabric with a 50-50 solution of white vinegar and water then place metal items with iron content onto wet fabric. Metal washers, iron filings, wire and steel wool are some examples. Chrome and Stainless Steel won’t work as they do not rust. Cover the metal pieces with plastic and weight them down with a heavy object to create more distinct images. If possible, bag the entire project or work over a large plastic sheet and wrap that around the project. Let the project sit (“batch”) for 24 hours then uncover and rinse in a solution of 4 gallons of water mixed with a small amount of salt. After rinsing, wash the fabric in soap and water. This process is very spontaneous and unpredictable and results in lovely, warm, rusty- brown shapes that may have distinct edges or blurred shapes or be larger areas of very organic-looking rusty-brown colors.

 

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TECHNOLOGY and FIBER ART

Technology has become a major tool used by Fiber Artists

COMPUTER / DIGITAL MANIPULATION refers to using a computer program such as Photoshop to create original artwork or to manipulate existing artwork or photographs. These images can then be printed on fabric and embellished further using other techniques listed above.

 

DIGITAL IMAGERY refers to images created by various computer programs. They can be created from scratch or be the result of various methods of image manipulation such as filters and layering using a computer program such as Photoshop Elements. These images may stand alone as "Computer Art" or be printed on fabric and further embellished with other techniques.

 

INKJET PRINTING in Fiber Art refers to printing on paper or fabric, images, designs or photographs stored in your computer or copied straight from the surface of your printer onto the fabric ready for further embellishment or artistic treatment.

 

PHOTOSHOP Elements is a commonly-used computer image processing program.

 

PHOTO TRANSFER is a technique utilizing the printing (usually using an inkjet printer) of a photograph or design onto paper or a specialized surface which is then transferred permanently onto the fabric surface using one of several techniques such as gel medium or heat.



FINAL THOUGHTS


Fiber is a multi-faceted medium that Fiber Artists love to work with it because it is so versatile. Just think, you can Spin, Fold, Bind, Pleat, Cut, Tear, Wrap, Stretch, Shrink, Stitch, Embroider, Couch, Quilt, Knit, Knot, Braid, Weave, Wrap, Applique, Fuse, Ink, Mark, Marble, Distress, Dye, Paint, Print, Paste, Patina, Stencil, Stamp, Sponge, Spray, Rub, Glue, Glaze, Emboss, Foil, Bleach, Burn, Rust or Wax it and still find new ways to work with it.

 

 

 

 

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