TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

TAFA Members Talk: Helen Klebesadel, "I Love Quilts"

"Crazy Quilt" by Helen Klebesadel, watercolor, 30 x 20

I love traditional arts, and in particular those fiber arts associate with women’s traditional roles.  Many of my large-scale watercolors celebrate the crochet work and quilting that were the creative work of the women I grew up around in rural Wisconsin.  In my paintings the hand work of women is not represented as part of the background, but are instead the point of the paintings.

As a child I was taught to sew, tat, knit, crochet and quilt.  My earliest memory of an artist at work is my great grandmother embroidering a fantastic crazy quilt and crocheting amazing bedspreads, but I was not taught to think of her as an artist or her fabulous creations as art until much later when I studied and became a part of the feminist art movement. As a returning adult student I was lucky enough to study and teach women’s studies as I worked toward my MFA. 

As a professor of art and women’s and gender studies I have long made traditional and cross cultural approaches to art a key part of my teaching and I have incorporated critiques into my core curriculum that examine the exclusion of particular arts associated with women, working class, and culturally diverse people.  Now, the day job I have, that supports my art habit, is Director of the Women’s Studies Consortium of the University of Wisconsin System, and I look for opportunities to keep the arts a core part of the women’s studies movement.

"Altared" by Helen Klebesadel, watercolor, 20 x 30

The paintings of quilts are my most extensive series to date.  I have titled the series "Everyday Use" in reference to a wonderful short story by Alice Walker, which examines the meaning and core human values quilts can represent.

To date I have painted over thirty watercolor paintings of the quilts I wish I owned. While I am an enthusiastic viewer of contemporary art quilts, most of my paintings make use of traditional quilt patterns and employ fabric patterns I make up that are influenced by the aesthetics of particular periods.  I rarely just paint an existing quilt (except an instance of an artist-to-artist direct exchange where I painted a quilt portrait, described here.

"Dresden Quilt" by Helen Klebesadel, watercolor, 22 x 30

In my artwork I try to connect common daily experiences to broader social issues.   I’m best known for my large, feminist watercolors, which often consider definitions of "female" and "feminine" in myth, folklore and stories, and examine how we value and devalue those things associated with women.  Embedded in that examination of values is a questioning of who we have been taught to call artists (men), what media we have been taught to call ‘Art’ (as opposed to ‘Craft’), and where we have been taught we will find art (in the white cube of the gallery rather than wrapped around a love one).  My paintings are a part of a larger effort aimed at fostering a shift in consciousness.

It has felt like a very natural transition to create designer fabrics myself.  Once I figured out how to convert sections of my paintings and watercolor experiments into designer fabrics using Spoonflower.com it felt like I had come full circle back to the fiber traditions of my youth.  It thrills me to know contemporary quilters are using my fabrics in their creative work.  I am currently working on a new series of fiber based works which will use the digital printing process I have learned creating the designer fabrics.  I look forward to sharing the results in the future.

"Tree of Life" by Helen Klebesadel, watercolor, 38 x 29

Art making for me is intellectual, spiritual, and emotional work.  It is a visual thinking process that reveals knowledge we have but are not yet able to put into words.  Art can help society notice and feel things with greater clarity, and can provide opportunities to re-examine what we thought we knew.  While I do art about subjects that appeal to me or concern me personally, I have learned to trust that if I put the artworks out in the world they will find their audience.   I hope that part of that audience is here on Fiber Focus and at TAFA.


This post is a part of a series that I am running here on Fiber Focus about TAFA members.  To see the other articles that are a part of TAFA Members Talk and about TAFA, click here.   Interested in joining TAFA?  The guidelines are here

Helen also wrote a tutorial on how to design fabrics for Spoonflower.  Read the tutorial.  Visit Helen's member profile on TAFA for more info on where you can find her on the web.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tutorial by Helen Klebesadel: Using SpoonFlower to Design Your own Fabrics

 Wallflower Lady Slippers, watercolor, 15 x 22
by  Helen Klebesadel

SpoonFlower Print on Demand Fabrics

As an artist I am best known for my large-scale highly detailed watercolor paintings with environmental and woman-centered themes.  For a long time I had thought that my Wall Flower series featuring flowers rendered from careful observation, could make a natural transition to fabric.  Encouraged by fiber artists I know I started researching how to bring this vision to reality.  Daunted by the process of figuring out how to put together a portfolio for fabrics I did what any contemporary artist would do…an internet search.  

Two years ago I stumbled on SpoonFlower.com, a print-on-demand company situated in Mebane, North Carolina that is in its Beta phase (test mode).  It has been giving artists the ability to design their own fabrics since 2008.   The company’s mission is to give people who make unique things with fabric greater power to express themselves and to make their work available to others. The company is eco-conscious, with fabrics printed using eco-friendly materials and methods, and has been slowly expanding the line of organic cotton fabrics it has available. Click here for sample packs available of the range of fabrics Spoonflower offers. 

The idea for the company was inspired by a casual comment of the founder's spouse when she mused about how wonderful it would be to print her own fabric.  An idea was born.

Spoonflower has now blossomed into an interactive community of 70,000 individuals participating in an online designers’ community and marketplace where users can create, share, and purchase a huge variety of unique fabric patterns and designs.   Designers can choose whether to make their designs public or not, and whether to make them available for sale once they have proofed designs they are happy with.  Purchasers can order swatches as small as 8x8 inches for $5.00 of any fabric in any design available for sale.

Designers have formed a creative community who follow each others work facilitated by the ability to make comments about each other’s designs on the site, and communicate through the Spoonflower Blog, Flickr Group, and Facebook page. Textile design veterans and amateurs alike can enter the Fabric of the Week contest, which is voted on by Spoonflower users. Winning designs are offered for sale as limited-edition fabrics at Spoonflower's Etsy shop.

DIY Designs on Spoonflower Tutorial:

1) Create an account on Spoonflower.com.  This takes less than 5 minutes.

Create a pattern you would like to print. Designers often start with a scan of a painting or drawing or they might compose the image in Photoshop. Illustrator, or another graphic design application they are comfortable with.  Spoonflower shares several free graphic design applications here.

A firm believer in only learning what I need to accomplish my next project, I personally find that Photoshop Elements does everything I need so far.  For other complete novices at digital design there are a series of very useful tutorial on designing and color calibration on the blog Mama Made

3) Your design will need be a digital image that should have a resolution of 150dpi (dots per inch). Meaning a 10" x 10" pattern, the width and height of your image should be 1500 pixel by 1500 pixel (150 dots times 10 inch = 1500 dots).

4) Your pattern should be designed in a way that allows seamless repeating (also called “tiling”). For a guide to creating seamless tiled pattern in Illustrator click here, and for the same in Photoshop go here.  (I will share how I create a tiling image using a pattern from my paintings and Photoshop Elements at the end of essay.)

If you don't want your image to be tiled, set up your image to the size and exact dimensions you want it to appear on your fabric. For instance, if you'd just like to order an 8" x 8" swatch, your pattern size must be 8" x 8". Check out Spoonflower's fabric sizes and prices for more information.

Advanced users may find that colors (especially reds and yellows) may become inaccurate when transferring from screen to fabric. For best results, set the color space to 8-bit LAB color. More info can be found here.

5) Once you have it the way you want it save your design as a JPG or TIF (8-bit, uncompressed) format. I recommend TIF for its image quality, but Spoonflower does not accept files larger than 25MB, so you find using a JPG allows you to upload a larger images.

6) Upload you design to Spoonflower and see how it tiles. You can use the Spoonflower preview window to experiment with different layout options and fabric sizes.  You can also use some of the tools Spoonflower provides to tweak your design.

Start with one design and see how it goes.  If you are like me you will become immediately addicted.  I now have over one hundred designs and find myself appraising every new watercolor painting experiment for its potential as a fabric design.

7) Once you are happy with your design you can order a swatch as small as 8x8 inches, for $5.00, to test your design. Once you have proofed you fabric you have the option of making it available for sale on the Spoonflower website or keep it private for your own use or sell it separately.

If you are like me and tend to do a number of designs all at once there is a useful feature that allows you to proof a sampler of a  ‘collection’ of designs all at once with of 1-12 designs costing $20, and 13-24 designs costing $35.

If you sell it on Spoonflower you will get 10 % of the sale of any of your designs and the same discount in printing your own fabrics.  (If you are like me all your earnings will be spent ordering more fabric).

It generally takes 2 weeks for the fabric to be printed and shipped but it's more than worth the wait! If you have any questions or problems with your order, do not hesitate to email them. Stephen Fraser, one of the site founders, will respond quickly with a detailed and clear answer.

Spoonflower can also be used for more than just textile design. Some designers mass-produce patterns for dolls, stuffed toys, clothing, or DIY kits.  Other, like me, explore its potential as a tool in art making.  The service is still in beta and as the founders explore what is possible new material choices and fabric treatments are sure to continue to appear.

How I Design a Fabric From a Watercolor Painting Using Photoshop Elements

1) Chose a section of a painting and resize it to 150 dpi.  Go to the FILE pull down menu and select ‘Duplicate.’  This will give you a copy of this first image.


2) OFFSET the Image 2 using the FILTER menu. You will find the OFFSET in the OTHER category of the FILTER menu.  A box will appear where you can set the degree of offset you want. If your image is 2000 x 3000 dpi you would set the Offset to approximately 1000 x 1500 to quarter the image.  The center of the original image is now at the four corners.

3) Go to the SELECT pull down menu and select ALL.  Go to the EDIT pull down menu and COPY.  Then PASTE the offset Image 2 over the top of Image I.

It will layer to look like Image II.

Choose the eraser tool from the Photo Shop Elements toolbar and erase the center and the obvious seams, in an artful way revealing the image in the layer below.   Save the finished image with a new name and without layers.

Final Layered Image 3:

5) Upload to Spoonflower and see how it looks:

If you are happy with the outcome your next step is to order a proof or add it to a collection to proof later.

Check out my fabrics on Spoonflower.com and have fun designing your own fabrics!

Helen Klebesadel


Helen Klebesadel is a TAFA member.  Check out her profile here.   When she joined TAFA, I was intrigued by what she was doing with SpoonFlower, so I asked her if she would be willing to share the process.  She kindly agreed and came up with this wonderful tutorial!  Just think of all the doors that can open through having control over the design process!  Many thanks, Helen!

Helen also wrote a post as part of the series, "TAFA Members Talk".  See it here.

-Rachel Biel


Friday, August 20, 2010

TAFA Members Talk: Carol Larson

TAFA Member: Carol Larson

Last February I launched an organization called TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List.  We are now at over 150 members and each new member who joins brings an interesting story.  When Carol joined, her Tall Girl Series caught my eye, and as a tall person myself  (I'm 5'11"), I asked her about it.  I was horrified to hear that her parents had her surgically shortened when she was a teenager so that she would "fit in" better.  

Me and Adelia, 1975
I know very well what it feels like to stick out and tower over everyone else.  I grew up in Brazil as a missionary kid and although our city was incredibly diverse, I was still very tall compared to the locals, especially for a girl.  My best friend was Japanese.  We met when I was 6 and she was 9 years old.  We were the same height and weight.  She stopped growing and I kept going and going and going.  I grew quickly and was almost my full height at the age of 12.  I have always had joint problems and as I am aging, the problems have become worse.  

Carol's story is important to me in many ways.  Most significantly, it is a testimony to the healing power of art.  As I have expanded my creative community through the internet, I have found that many of us deal with all kinds of physical ailments and that having a creative outlet not only heals, but in many cases, also allows us to work at home and earn an income that might be difficult in a traditional work environment.  

Secondly, it is an example to me of how our society enables horrible mutilations in the name of "beauty".  We look down on "primitive" groups who practice tattooing, scarification, tooth chipping, and most abhorrent, female genital circumcision.  Yet, our "evolved" modern society endorses all kinds of mutilation in order to look younger, more sexy, and to fit in.  I heard once that Dolly Parton, Cher, and Elizabeth Taylor, all short women, had their bottom ribs removed in order to have a better hour glass figure.  I don't know if that is true, but do know that it is a practice in the movie industry.  The worst example of this is Sarah Burge who has had over 100 surgeries to look like Barbie, the doll.  On the other hand, I have several friends who have had breast cancer, had their breasts removed and are now going through breast reconstruction surgeries.  Each person needs to decide for themselves what they need in order to come to peace with their unique burdens.  Carol, however, wasn't allowed to make that choice.  Her parents did it for her and then forced her into silence.  She has now found her voice. 

Carol: A Tall Girl

Carol Larson
When I was 17 years old and 78” tall I was surgically shortened with the intention of giving me a normal life. I was also forbidden by my father from talking about it.  Fast forward four decades and I was living in daily pain in a broken body with anger and sorrow oozing from my pores. With my family maintaining the secret, I began to speak by writing.

From my stories I created thermofax screens and screen-printed the words to cloth. I felt compelled to do more so I began a four-year healing process which became the Tall Girl Series: A Body of Work: 23 narrative quilts, a self-published book, a PowerPoint lecture and a traveling exhibit. www.live2dye.com/tallgirl.html

The Tall Girl Series: A Body of Work made its debut February 2010 at Rogue Community College’s Wiseman Gallery in Grants Pass, Oregon with a future exhibit June 13-July 8, 2011 at the Park National Bank Gallery at University of Cincinnati Clermont College in Batavia, OH.  I spend a fair amount of my time marketing this exhibit as it carries a very powerful social message about self-esteem and body image, a subject still so relevant today.

"In My Wildest Dreams", Art Quilt by Carol Larson

Included in this series are: In My Wildest Dreams (53” x 31”) which illustrates my frustration with my loss of mobility; that I can no longer dance, run or ski.

"On a Scale of 1-10", Art Quilt by Carol Larson

On a Scale of 1-10 (43” x 61”) addresses how often the pain is off the medical industry’s scale of pain measurement.  In this detail shot from Medical Research (70” x 33”) the viewer sees the scrutiny & humiliation I endured as a ‘case study’ for aspiring medical students.

"Medical Research", Art Quilt by Carol Larson

Completing the Tall Girl Series: A Body of Work allowed me to heal these old wounds to my body and my heart, to take my story public and to receive acknowledgment that indeed this was a barbaric solution to what was really a parental obsession.  The series also allowed me acceptance of the long-term debilitation brought by these surgeries and living in daily pain. 

Being a great believer in holistic medicine I now rely primarily on acupuncture, acupressure and movement for pain management; although I am not ruling out medical marijuana brownies in my elder years!  Today my focus is on challenges and obstacles; as stamina, agility and comfort are my primary concerns in life. The more present I am in my body the less often I am injured.

Currents Series, Art Qults by Carol Larson

Completion of the series also freed up my creativity to design new and exciting work. In my everyday work I dye, paint and stitch art quilts with a variety of vintage textiles.   The Currents series deals with my obsession for the curvy line and new work, Upheaval, represents the chaos brought on by Alzheimer’s which now affects my father.

"Upheaval"  Art Quilt by Carol Larson

Visit Carol's Member Profile on TAFA for more information on her work and web links.
Click: Carol Larson 

 Do leave comments for Carol both here and on TAFA.  We welcome you!


Sunday, August 15, 2010

TAFA Members Talk: Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo

"Nomad Girls", by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo
As part of a series I am running on Fiber Focus about TAFA members, Leslie responded by sharing a bit about the places she has lived and how that has affected her work.  As fiber artists, we are all part of a larger community, an international one that has thousands of years of history where we can add our particular vision and voice.  But, as individuals, we help shape our immediate communities whether we work alone or participate in a larger group.  Leslie has immersed herself into Tibetan textile traditions and apprenticed herself to T. G. Dorjee Wangdu where she participated in embroidering thangkas for His Holiness The Dalai Lama and other notables.  She is one of the few Westerners who has had such an honor. 

Now, hear from Leslie:

Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo
For the past 20 years, I've been living primarily out of the country and traveling back and forth for events and to visit family. I LOVED living in Dharamsala, India, where I met and learned the precious tradition of Tibetan appliqué. There, I was immersed in communities of Tibetans, of dharma students, of artists, of adventurers. I felt very supported and very much at home. But nothing lasts forever, and life shifted in unexpected ways. 

"I once lived here... My beloved mountains in Dharamsala, India"  

I spent my 40s living in Milan, Italy. Milan was "closer" to California, more accessible to the airport, and less pleasant to hang out in. So, I traveled back and forth to California more frequently.

"and then I lived here... You pick!" (Milan, Italy)

Living on two continents and traveling back and forth frequently may sound exciting. And it's true -- life doesn't get boring. But it doesn't get connected either. Milan was a hard place to connect anyway, and connection was made even harder by taking off every few months. I met some wonderful fiber artists in Lugano, Switzerland, and participated with QuiltItalia a little. But I found that I couldn't be continuous in my activities, couldn't establish routines to make my work flow more smoothly, and couldn't take on an organizational role in any groups because I'd always be leaving too soon to take responsibility for follow-through.

A glimpse of my studio (now, back in California).

I love where I'm living now and am so fortunate to have a light and spacious area in which to work. The weather is cool and the ocean is near. It's a good place. And I'm on a path to connect with community here. I don't know whether there are relevant fiber arts groups, but I've found a wonderful Buddhist study group, some amazing entrepreneurial networkers, and will soon start an internship at an ethnographic art museum in LA. It's good to feel that I'm here for the long haul and can count on deepening my involvement in these (and other) activities.

"And this is just a block away!"

A word about physically near community:
In recent years, it has become easier and easier to connect with people and with like-minded groups online. My life has been bountifully enriched by such connections. I love email and Facebook and Twitter. I love that I can teach online through my Stitching Buddhas Virtual Apprentice Program. I love that I can stay connected in an inspiring way with people through my Threads of Awakening Weekly Wake-Ups.

Lotus, by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo
But maybe because I'm a tactile person... Silk isn't silk unless you touch it. The light only shines off it in a certain way if you're standing near it. And the energy of physical presence with people is different than what travels through cyberspace... So community in my physical vicinity is important to me, whether that be through an arts group or a book group or a hiking group or a volunteer group. I'd love eventually to live in an artists' live-work community. One of the things I miss from my days in Dharamsala is the simple pleasure of having someone stop by for tea during the day. I'd stitch while we talked. It was wonderful! I'd love to live in a small arts community where that's possible again. But for now, I'm really happy where I am and am enjoying the process of connecting day by day.

Visit Leslie's Member Profile on TAFA for more samples of her work  and to find her places where she is on the web.  Leslie has a website, blog, and is on facebook and other places.  So, come and show her your support and leave a comment if you like her work!

Visit other articles about TAFA and its members on this blog.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

TAFA Members Talk: Valerie Hearder of African Threads

Valerie Hearder presenting at a talk and showing a traditional  beaded skin apron worn as a wedding skirt by the Ndebele in South Africa.

In an effort to give a voice to TAFA members, I am running a series here on Fiber Focus called, "TAFA Members Talk".  Valerie Hearder is both a working artist, making art quilts and giving workshops on various quilting techniques and a small importer.  She works with women's groups throughout South Africa, focusing on embroidery projects, but offering traditional Zulu and Ndbele crafts as well.  Valerie responded to two questions I posted as a spring board for discussion, one on fair trade and the other on travel.

 Telephone wire baskets by Zulu craftsmen. 
Coloured wire is recycled into gorgeous baskets.

How do you define fair trade or what is green?  What support do you have in your community?  How do you educate consumers on product and pricing?  Do you think you can compete well against mainstream, commercial products?  Where do see the fair trade/green movement going in the next 10 years?

I have defined my business by fair trade principles as a social entrepreneur. It’s my personal code of wanting to create a fair income for women that guides me, not fair trade certification.
I know other textile importers in my small community and we talk a lot and share marketing ideas. I am into the concept of “wikinomics” which is based on helping each other and sharing information. Sharing just seems natural to me as a quilt maker.  I don’t see my fair trade friends as “the competition”. The more we work together and help each other, the more we all succeed and that has a positive impact on women in the third world.  

 Valerie Hearder: "I bought this jug and mug from this potter
in Johannesburg last year. 
I use them everyday and they remind me of Africa."

I educate my customers by presenting an informative web site and by giving illustrated talks about the conditions and realities of the maker’s lives that I buy from.  It's very important to educate customers about how their shopping choices has a huge impact on someone's life in the third world. I don’t have a shop but do small shows, talks and on-line sales. My new web site should be launched in about mid-August. www.africanthreads.ca  I do think that I can compete with mainstream commercial products: people are interested in the story behind the work and the stories sell the works. Customers are more aware that they are connecting with and supporting women's empowerment in the third world and can feel good about getting something beautiful as well.
How do I educate buyers about pricing?  I tell them that when they see something cheap from the third world they can be sure that maker got a pittance. I explain that I buy outright at fair prices for the makers, and take all the risk if the product doesn't sell.
I have an amazing network of supporters for African textiles and crafts in the quilting community and also through the Grandmothers-to-Grandmothers Campaign. This movement has over 250 groups of active women in Canada who really care about women in Africa. What I’m doing is a natural fit with them as I give 15% of my profits to this group to support Grandmothers in Africa.

Valerie Hearder: "This is my little store house. 
It was the old "summer kitchen" which was built onto our house 
in about 1850.  It sits between 2 apple trees."

Where and how often do you travel?  What do you love/hate about it?  What challenges do you face culturally?  Is your local community interested in what you do?  What are the greatest lessons learned for you?  What are your long term goals?


It’s become more stressful to travel but now that I’ve developed a strong working relationship with women’s groups in South Africa I travel more frequently there. It's part of fair trade to visit and know the people I buy from. I’ve also just launched a new project to lead a cultural tour to South Africa next year.

Valerie Hearder's suitcase: "This is my suitcase on my trip last 
year to South Africa. I packed a bag full of embroidery 
threads that has been donated by lots of different women 
in Canada. I distributed the threads to various women's
sewing groups I visited during my 6 weeks in South Africa."

Interested in going to South Africa with Valerie? Visit her blog for more information.

"Ndebele Painted village that we'll visit on my tour 
next year."  Valerie Hearder of African Threads.

Visit Valerie's member post on TAFA to see all her links: facebook fan page, shop on Etsy, and more!

Zulu doll maker from rural KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.
Dolls available through African Threads.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

TAFA Members Talk: Patty Benson of Papaver Vert

Felt Podlets by Papaver Vert

Patty Benson of Papaver Vert creates gorgeous objects through crocheting and wet felting.  Her web presence consistently showcases her work through beautiful photography and careful presentations of her work.  Patty lives in Alameda, California, and as part of our series, "TAFA Members Talk", she describes her artist community there.  

Visit Patty's full member profile on TAFA for links to her website, Etsy shop, blog, and other links on the web.

Do you have a good support group? 
In regards to a support group for fiber art, not really. But I have a great support group in regards to other artists in different mediums - fashion, ceramics. All who have small business so I'm constantly picking their brains about business, marketing etc.

What do you long for?  
It would be great to know more fiber artists but I don't think it's extremely necessary since my other artist friends are a wealth on information. But it would still be nice to ask specific questions to those fiber people who know a lot more than me!

What excites you about where you live?
The bay area is so beautiful. You can go from urban to lush and green in minutes. I love walking all over my town, Alameda. I can visit the library, my local produce store, bookstore and get a coffee without getting in a car. There are a lot of artists in my area too and great fairs and shows.

Patty Benson's studio.

How do you market yourself?
Doing shows, facebook, blog, newsletter and e-mailing stores that I would like to be in.

What are your long term goals as an artist?
To be a true artisan in my medium. I want to really hone my craft and discover new ways of creating using wool and yarn. Eventually it would be a dream of mine to create installations and have my pieces in a gallery -  either in 3D form or hanging on a wall.

Papaver Vert's booth at the Renegade Craft Show
San Francisco, 2010




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