Friday, December 31, 2010

Did you know...

It is still the festive season, and high summer holiday time for many of us here in New Zealand. I am trying to take some time out but haven't succeeded just yet, however I feel the next few days will be more relaxed.

Herewith a couple or three 'did you know' facts that may interest you:

We all know of the fabric which we call corduroy, it being constructed with vertical ribs. But did you know where the name came from? Early temporary roads, particularly over soft ground, were made from laying logs of wood cross ways. There were called corduroys or cordways. I suspect this method is still used in appropriate circumstances. Also trousers made from corduroy are often referred to as 'cords'.

Why do we call trousers 'trousers' ie plural? In earlier times trousers were two separate garments ie one for the right leg and the other for the left leg. This could be cost effective if one leg became damaged!

And do you know why 'plus fours' (those shortened trousers worn traditionally by golfers where longer trouser legs may get caught up in the swing) are called plus fours? In earlier times men's underwear had longer legs than contemporary underwear, and this style of trouser was made four inches longer than the underwear, hence 'plus four'. One could also have 'plus eights'; and both are often made from corduroy.

Monday, December 27, 2010


We don't need to be reminded that now is the time of giving, and receiving. During the week before Christmas I managed to complete my second knitted blanket, and delivered it to the local Women's Refuge for passing on to someone in need. Much of the wool has been donated (I am continually scrounging for knitting wool!) and I am just the 'machine' that knits it. This is one of those lovely win win situations.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Seasons Greetings

I don't do much in the way of Christmas trimmings, although I enjoy what other people do. My attempt above wraps some of my art tools in Christmas decorations. All the very best to everyone for the festive season and the New Year - may 2011 be an extraordinarily creative one for you all.

And just a wee bit more on precision dyeing of fabrics.

5. Once the dyes required are selected and weighed, paste them with hot water from the tap, add some more and stir well to dissolve all the powders. Some dyes are notoriously hard to totally dissolve, so after giving the dye water some extra time to dissolve any difficult powders, I then strain it through the toe of a pantihose. Any undissolved residue is then discarded. The worst colours for leaving undissolved powder are anything containing reds ie browns, purples, navy and of course any of the reds. If straining is not done, the undissolved powders will 'spot' any dyed fabric.

Dye water being strained through the toe of a pantihose.

6. Fabric awaiting dyeing must be thoroughly washed to remove any manufacturing dressings. This is essential with the plant fibres eg cottons, linens etc, but oddly enough silks do not need to be pre-washed although I give them a good soaking before dyeing. All fabrics need to be wetted out before starting the dyeing process.

That is all I will write on this topic at this time. More in the New Year. I hope you are finding this useful. Even though you may not be into precision dyeing, perhaps some of what I write is new to you.

I will blog on and off during the holidays, with things befitting to the season.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The biggie - how to read colour

We know the colour we want, there may be a swatch of another fabric, a magazine cutting, a flower or you-name-it, colour is everywhere. Achieving that colour in hand dyed fabric is a challenge; skills in 'reading' colour need to be developed. Just as a musician is able to recognise individual sound notes, or the way a mechanic tunes a vehicle, the visual artist needs to be able to analyse colour to reproduce it. One of my favourite pastimes on long drives is to concentrate on the colour of the car in front of me, and 'read' the colours to determine how I would reproduce this, it works!

We all know that there are warm and cool colours, we also know that there can be a warm red and a cool red, a warm green and a cool green. Being able to look at a colour and separate the many individual colours that come together to produce a colour is the next step.

There is also the intensity of the colour, is it at full intensity; or is there less intensity, a paleness or lightness of the colour?

I have a range of Procion MX dye colours which total 28 - they include 4 reds, 2 yellows, 2 blacks, 6 blues and 4 greens, plus a further range of individual colours. I know these colours intimately - I have been working with them for about three decades. If I was to be given a different set of dyes I would have to start all over again!

Everyone of these dye colours is made up of a complex selection of colours, and in various quantities to make that individual dye colour. When faced with a new colour ie it isn't in my range of colours already and this is in most cases, I need to determine what dyes to combine, and how much of each. Usually I start by selecting a main colour, then the others that will blend to make that colour. Recording quantities/proportions is paramount. And the intensity? Full strength for a strong colour, with less for paler colours.

My dye Record Chart which I use to record new colours. The colours used were Blue G, Soft Orange and Deep Purple. The swatches from the left are cotton, silk charmeuse, silk/rayon velvet and silk organza. Remember how I said it was so important to know that makeup of fabric? These four swatches all came from the same dye bath.

How does this all work?

3. I have determined the weight of the dry fabric (see previous blog), and for this example we will use 100gms (WOG). I have also decided that I want the colour to be quite intense, a good strong middle range is 5% DOS (depth of shape).

4. I have a pile of file cards each recording how much dye, and the chemicals that are required to achieve an outcome on fabric weighing in at various amounts from 25gms to 1000gms. It says that I need 5gms of dye in total for the 100gms dry weight of fabric. Referring back to my warm brown colour above, I therefore need 2.5gms of the Soft Orange, and 1.25gms each of the Blue G and Deep Purple. (Apologies to those who work in imperial quantities, but metrics are so much easier!) It is essential to weigh dye powders and not work with volume eg half a teaspoon etc, as all dye powders weigh in at different weights eg 5gms each of two colours may look, in volume, completely different.

My dye quantity record cards.

More next blog....

Friday, December 17, 2010

How to weigh a cat

I have received several comments (on line and off line) about my dyeing silk fabrics for bridal parties. Therefore my next few blogs will cover aspects of how to achieve a specfic colour spread, 100% flat, across a length of fabric which may be anything from 1 metre/yard to 10+ metres/yards. These are garment fabrics, not art works, and need to look like 'bought' fabric. And because of the festive season I am 'resting' from my creative art works, although I will still be 'thinking'.

First, however, Karen commented that she found it interesting that in my art work I work very intuitively, building up the images as they come to life, and relying on what has already been achieved and my feelings about the topic; and then when dyeing the silk lengths the complete opposite is required, it is precision dyeing. The art work and precision dyeing require quite different skills and experience, but more importantly it is an artist's eye that is paramount in both. They are equally challenging, and I just love challenges...

Okay, here we go...

1. When dyeing fabric the type of fibre has first to be determined, is it cellulose (plant based), protein (living creature eg wool, silk); or synthetic (chemical based)? Each fibre type requires a different dye and/or processes. I work with cottons and silks and use Procion MX dyes.

2. Weigh the dry fabric piece to be dyed. This is very important as this determines the quantity of dye and chemicals to be used. A small piece of fabric can be weighed on kitchen scales, but larger pieces which drown the scales need to be weighed as if weighing a cat. Use the bathroom scales, weigh yourself, then weigh again while holding the cat, whoops, I mean fabric! The difference of course is the weight of the fabric ie WOG = weight of goods! Make a note of this weight. Everything relates back to this.

14.8 metres / 16 yards Paj silk resting on kitchen-type scales. This weighed in at 350gms / 12oz.

Bathroom scales and me. I have not activated the scales as I don't think you need to know my weight!

Monday, December 13, 2010

More dyed silk

The wedding session must be nigh as I have dyed yet another length of silk for bridesmaids. Once again it was a silk georgette which I suspect is to be an overlay. I was given 13 metres / 14 yds which included extra for sampling.

The silk georgette was already a very pale pink but so pale that it did not have any affect on the dyeing. The swatch is the colour requested.

The sampling to achieve the right colour:

Left: a control sample to determine how the dye worked on this particular silk (silks can have a different makeup and resulting dye colours can vary). It also indicated that the depth of colour was too strong.

Middle: Dye quantity has been reduced by two thirds, and the one third of dye remaining had some of the red removed and a portion of a coral dye added.

Right: Final sample, as with the middle sample but the two dye quantity portions reversed. The colour swatch appears above.

Final outcome - not too bad really! Swatch sitting in centre.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Well, I now feel I have finished this latest piece although it has yet to be mounted. As usual I will leave it to 'rest' for awhile like a good roast, before doing so.

This piece came about after I made the comment that I should now do a companion piece to my previous piece Co-Existing. Little did I know how much of what has happened in New Zealand during the last few months, and my visit to the Chatham Islands, would creep into this piece. None of which were anticipated, but somehow they took over and I have been open to these feelings. Serendipity is my favourite word, when all senses are open to make the most of what occurs, both good and bad. Expressing it in a meaningful and successful way is always a challenge, but then I am up for any challenge (as someone has just pointed out to me recently!).


©Diana Parkes, Dis-Cord 2010, 115cm x 160cm; 45" x 63"; dye, textile paint and cloth.

Although the 'broken' house symbol initially made no reference to the Christchurch earthquake in September, it soon became just that. The sometimes ghastly history of the Chatham Islands, between Moriori and Maori, and the many headstones with 'drowned/lost at sea' played on my mind after my visit. Then the 29 entombed miners. There is always to be a human figure(s) in this series of works, and I now see the New Zealand paratrooper killed (supposedly) by friendly fire in Afghanistan last week in this figure. His mother is an associate of mine, and a very well-respected person in the quilting world. We all feel for the family at this time. The white arch symbolizes hope which we must never ignore.

I am aware that expressing emotions and feelings within textile works is not common, but textiles do not always have to be 'nice' and acceptable. They can be a vehicle for all sorts of situations and emotions. I have in the past stepped over 'the line' with my work and probably confused lots of people. The older I get, the more comfortable I am with doing this, I just have to tell a story, otherwise I am wasting my time. It is as simple as that.

And to end on a more cheerful note - my daily strawberries from the garden!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Something different

In amongst other things I do, one of my jobs is to dye silk fabrics for future brides and their bridal parties. I work with a couple of local silk fabric shops; one in particular deals a lot with bridal and special occasion fabrics.

It is a very long time ago since I was a bride, and today's bride-to-be has a huge source of images to choose from in magazines and on the Internet. And often their dreams select a fabric of a certain colour which does not seem to be available anywhere, that is in New Zealand, or further afield.

One skill I have developed very successfully is dyeing yardage to a specific colour, and with a 100% flat colour, just like a 'bought fabric'. There has been quite a few brides and their bridal parties out there with garments made from silk fabrics which I have dyed specifically for them.

Here are my latest pieces - a heavy silk crepe on the left (shiny finish) while on the right is a silk Georgette (dull finish)which is to be made into sashes for the bridesmaids.

I have developed a reliable method of doing these fabrics and for those not familiar with such processes, it all goes by weight ie the dry fabric is weighed and the amount of dyes and chemicals are determined as to the depth of colour, and of course the colour itself which may be achieved with several mixed dye colours. I never bother to measure the length of what I am dyeing, that is not part of the equation. The fabrics above, combined, weighed in at 800 gms dry weight; the silk crepe was very heavy, but the Georgette very light. As I do this all by hand, I do have a limit of one kilogram, dry weight, as when wet this becomes very heavy. If the fabrics go above this weight I need to cut into more manageable pieces, the dressmakers are able to manipulate the garment pieces when cutting. One bridal party got their fabric in five pieces ie five dye batches, and they all matched perfectly!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Adding details

Really concentrating on details this week and bringing everything to the front. It is a matter of quietly working through the various processes. I enjoy this part although it can be scary as sometimes it can go horribly wrong. One of the applications was hastily removed with a hose-down on the driveway as it was just not working! The advantage with working with cloth, dye, textile pigment/paint is that work can be washed - try doing that with a traditional painting!

Here the headstones have been more defined.

The back ground inside the collapsing house has been further worked on. This has turned out well, although it is rather hard to see any difference in the photos.

Another great day out on Wednesday. Back into Wellington to attend functions and exhibitions at Te Papa as well as getting to see the galleries which were closed last Tuesday when I visited. I always come home feeling inspired, and eager to get on with things.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pulling it all together

I have now added all the elements I think are necessary to this piece and now need to pull it all together. My favourite way is to print out an image of the whole piece, place a sheet of tracing paper on top and start sketching in details. If done in pencil this makes it easy to amend and adjust. From this sketch I can then start applying the ideas, which are bound to change but it does give some direction.

Tracing paper placed over the top of an image, and some details added.

Tracing paper lifted off the image. The details are now up-side-down.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The saddest times...

It is no secret that New Zealand is suffering at the moment. The mine tragedy on the West Coast of the South Island has everyone in a state of national mourning. For those directly involved their worlds have crumbled along with their men and our thoughts and support must be with them. And those that worked so tirelessly towards a positive outcome need our support too, they did their very best in such dreadful circumstances.

It seems unfair that life still goes on and like everyone else I am suffering from time acceleration and am constantly wondering where time has gone. My hairdresser came today for the usual 4 - 5 weekly trim, and I swear blind that she was here just two weeks ago!

On Tuesday I took myself off for a day of gallery crawling, and the movies, in Wellington. I thoroughly enjoy these outings but I must remember that many galleries are closed Tuesdays (and Mondays)! However I still had plenty to see, and a lecture at Te Papa in conjunction with the European Masters exhibition was excellent. Not only did we hear the history of selected pieces but also about the application of paint and techniques. The movie wasn't too grand but I did have the luxury of the 300 seat cinema all to myself!

Some progress on my piece this week. I have added some headstones to the left of the figure. I sourced these from a photo taken in a cemetery on the Chatham Islands. There is no wording left on the stones but one headstone nearby had a date of 1802 and is possibly one of the earliest European graves in New Zealand.

The headstones have yet to be further defined at a later date.

The broken headstones.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Line of fire...

This week I have added some rifles to my latest piece. I searched the Internet for a simple recognisable outline and then made two lino cuts, one for each direction.

The test run on a scrap of fabric. I have re-painted the bottom rifle to get a better definition.

Positioning and masking up the areas to be printed. The right hand prints are my test sample. Lino cuts resting above the areas to be printed.

.... and the final outcome.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Making art...

I actually don't like working on a messy table, but sometimes it just happens!

I have been working on the boat this week. It may get some more attention further down the track but I hestitate to do this too early. It is better to balance things once other details are added.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wet Saturday

After a marvellous week of fine weather when time in the garden ruled, it rained on Saturday. This was somewhat of a relief as the garden needed the rain, and I was able to return back to work again.

In an earlier posting I mentioned that the initial dyed background in my latest piece would receive further treatment and almost disappear. The beginning of this has now happened. I mixed some white textile pigment (this is always very dense so that it will stay white when printed on to dark fabrics) with a textile medium. This thins the density and makes it almost transparent.

The photo shows most of the background obscured. The grave stones on the left have yet to have the freezer paper template removed.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Discharging Shapes

I have been quietly making progress this week working on the elements I wish to introduce into my latest piece. This piece is to be called Dis-cord and is a companion piece to Co-Existing.
I am using one figure in this piece, and made a start by discharging the base colours with this shape.

Simple newspaper template to define the shape. I have also marked the eye area for future applications.

After discharging with Thiox.

And then I discharged a boat!

Monday, November 8, 2010


Another dye painting stage and then the whole piece got washed to remove the excess dye. This allowed me to photograph it up-front. A lot of the outcomes here will be over-dyed in due course but it does give me a base to work further.

A couple of small samples thinking through future applications.

And the last photos from the Chatham Islands:

This tree carving (dendroglyphs) was worked by the Moriori people who were the first settlers on the Chatham Islands. The carvings are under threat of deterioration and disappearing.

Me, and Tommy Solomon who died in 1938, the last full blood Moriori. Many of the current population of the Chatham Islands claim a mixture of Moriori, Maori and European descendants.

This is, I consider, the most successful photo from an ascetic point of view. Windswept cliff tops, ewe and her two lambs.

The plane out of the Chathams. Front part for passengers, the rear for cargo. Our flight had live crayfish destined for the markets in Hongkong.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Things are underway on my latest piece and I have been putting down some background dye colours.

My wonderful brush 15cm / 6" wide - it seems to contain lots of power!

A couple of colours, fairly random at this point. The painting going over the masking tape. Colours blended with clear water after painting.

The addition of the gold looks a bit of a mess but these colours will be over-dyed eventually. Both these photos are still at an odd angle...

And a couple more photos from the Chatham Islands.

Mixed messages. Life's necessities!

The famous Chatham Islands Forget-me-not, unique to the Islands.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Seaside and other things...

Things are underway and I have made a start on my next piece. Just a little start, but things have to start somewhere. I made a throw-away line in my blog of October 15 after I had finished the previous piece Co-Existing. I wrote that I should consider a piece where existing is not cohesive, pleasurable and plenty. This stuck in my mind and while away in the Chatham Islands I re-visited the idea several times.

I decided to fracture the house symbol which I am using in this series and will take it on from there.

The house symbol marked out in masking tape. What can't be seen is that the fabric is divided into six squares and eventually I intend to cut this piece into these squares, emphasizing the feeling of separation.

Here I have 'fractured' the house. Both these photos are taken at an odd angle but they should give a good idea of what is happening.

And now more from Chatham Islands:

This photo shows Waitangi Port which is the main link between NZ and the Chatham Islands. It is their end of 'State Highway One' which takes three days by sea. A vital link for survival not only for supplies, but the shipping of sheep, cattle and fish to NZ.

A remote wharf at Owenga. Boats leave here for Pitt Island to the south. Barely populated Pitt Island does have an airfield, and this treacherous boat journey. What the photo doesn't show is the boat rising and falling on some pretty dramatic swell - I was pleased I wasn't on board!

Bird life is very special on the Chatham Islands. These rare oyster catchers, Torea, walked along the beach with me one morning.

The Basalt Columns which are of great significance to geologists and found only here in NZ, and I believe Ireland.