Starting out

This post is about starting out on my third cochineal piece, just to show you how I actually get these pieces out of my head and into reality. First, I cut a piece of lightweight calico. This has to be sufficiently large so that I can comfortably use a small hoop. Then I gather together a selection of likely-looking fabrics. In this series the fabrics have mostly been those I’ve dyed with cochineal or logwood (for a bit of contrast), but I feel these are my pieces so I can include what I want. For example, in each of the three pieces, I’ve included a piece of silk gauze as an overlay for part of the piece. The reason for this is that I like a very small amount of low-level bling – nothing vulgar or showy – just a small hint of something glitzy in the background.

I lay out my fabrics on the work surface and have a think about them, trying out various combinations. I give the pieces a quick iron, if necessary. Everything is ironed before it’s put away in my storage system but it’s amazing how creased fabrics can get just sitting by themselves in a drawer. Once I’m happy with the combinations and placing of the pieces I pin them out on the lightweight calico ground. That’s the point I’ve got to in this photograph:Putting together Cochineal Dream 3

The very bright pink piece is a leftover piece of silk (bought from The Silk Route some while ago and partially used on a City & Guilds project) which I’ve been wanting to use. It’s not dyed by me, unlike most of the other pieces, but I wanted it there so I’ve used it. The slightly duller pink on the right is lightweight cotton lawn, and the stripy bit in the middle is one of the last fragments of recycled men’s shirt that I have. I rather like using this. The pale pink at the bottom is another piece of cotton lawn, from when the cochineal dye bath was pretty much on its last legs. Similarly, the very pale grey up at the top left is the product of the 8th or 9th immersion in the logwood dye bath (cochineal and logwood dyes are expensive but they both go a very long way). Barely visible, also up on the top left, is a square of silvery silk gauze and a piece of pale grey muslin. I measure a rough square and mark around its perimeter with pins, and that’s pretty much it. Ready to go.

While I’m assembling all this, I’m asking myself about thread colours. My intention here is to make a lighter, brighter, piece, so there will be quite a lot of whites, creams and pale pinks and greys. I’m using the same thread basket as previously. I probably won’t use the darker colours in it, but they will be there if I need them. The next stage in the process is to get rid of the pins by basting. If there’s a pin in a work I will draw blood with it, so it’s important to see them off as soon as possible. These pins, incidentally, are quilting pins, so longer than the usual dressmaker’s pins. I find the quilting pins very useful for appliqué work, as they anchor the fabrics more securely. I do as little basting as I can get away with (because it’s a tedious part of the process), but it’s important to put enough basting stitches in place to hold the fabrics securely.

When I’m putting these appliqués together I’m thinking about harmony and composition, but I don’t agonise over these elements. If I’ve got an odd-shaped piece of fabric (as in the case of the darker pink cotton lawn on the right, which was an offcut from something else) I’ll just use it if I feel like it. Not very scientific, is it? Or very artistic, either. Still, these are my choices, and I’ve become more confident about making them over the last two or three years. I’m less bothered than I used to be about things going wrong. If they do, they do. Laid back or what?

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