‘Undercurrents’ textile hanging 2011

I wanted to create a hanging that conveyed the feelings experienced on the therapist’s couch.  The idea was that everything I viewed was about me: it was my projections.   I was in everything the water, the clouds, the tree, the landscape.  I was myself, the viewer who was being viewed and looking back at myself.   There would be eyes hanging in the air, in the water, and in the tree: everywhere.

I  intended to give the quilt a dreamlike, surreal quality and originally I was going to make it in indigo blue as in my previous quilt ‘In your dreams’.   I quite unexpectedly found myself painting in  vivid,  saturated colours, far from the moonlight, dark background I’d used for my previous quilt this was a shimmering, pulsating, hot, desert environment, where I could get burnt, as I was exposed and vulnerable: under the spotlight.

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The picture above was my original painting which was really only one layer of what I intended. I still had to devise a way of incorporating another layer which would include angels in the sky, swimmers in the sea, eyes/fish,  hair/seaweed. One thing would morph into another in a ‘now you see it, now you don’t fashion’.  The tree and sun were strongly influenced by Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of the sower.   I’d been to an exhibition of his work earlier in the year.

The Sower

I intended to amalgamate features creating visual metaphors waves/sheets,  clouds/angels,  swimmers/fish/eyes, sleeping figures, hair/seaweed, and sea/emotions/Undercurrents.

This is a picture of to show the way I built up the intended second layer.  It includes all the other elements; angels, sleeping figures, swimmers, fish, eyes,  hair, seaweed etc.  I drew them on to tracing paper with the painting underneath for reference.

I did some  experiments with soya wax, but felt I wasn’t getting the definition I wanted: the wax was giving me too broad a ‘brush stroke’.  I also tried out “gutta” (silk paint resist) with the intention of silk painting the hanging but again I found the method was not defined enough for what I wanted.



I painted my design straight onto fabric, but lost the drama of the original, as I’d failed to keep my original proportions , so I went back to my original draft.  I may still return to this at a later stage as I’d like to experiment with a stitched resolution, applying another layer and cutting away.



I went back to the model to work out where I’d gone wrong.


At this stage I expected to create and piece the different elements of the landscape separately: the painting was just a draft idea.  I used a model to check the perspective on the body. Were the knees too big? Would I see the toes from this angle? Was the overall size right?  At this time I expected to apply the body in much the same way as I had the ‘In your dreams quilt’.  I realised the tree was not in the right proportions but decided to leave it: after all I was trying to create something surreal!


At this stage I took lots of photographs of some of the elements I wanted to incorporate.  I scrunched and folded sheets across a large table to mimic waves and took shots from a low angle into the morning sun.


I tried to create a sharper perspective by arranging larger folds  in the foreground and graduating them towards the horizon.


I  hoped to utilise the strong graphic  quality of the images possibly highlighting the tops of the waves that caught the light with stitching.


I liked the turbulent looking ‘waves’.

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I hoped that by taking pictures of hands I could achieve more realistic proportions.



This photograph  printed on a transparent HP sheet was tested out on the images with the photograph of the sheets.  Later I printed them onto silk organza by first amalgamating the two in Photoshop.   This gave me a transparent layer I could then overlay onto yet another layer.


I hoped to use these gulls on a transparent layer.

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The sheets and waves amalgamated in Photoshop.

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I researched buying silk sheets already prepared for printing, but decided that though they would save me time, matching silk  to other areas of the quilt could be a problem.  I had used the other method and found it time consuming and often difficult to prepare the sheets perfectly. Cutting to size and adhering the fabric to the freezer paper has to be done to an exacting standard to avoid problems at the printing stage.In Photoshop I incorporated the sheet and wave images and replaced the sea I’d painted.  Though the image created was quite subtle I was pleased: this had the surreal feel I wanted.

I began to investigate printing sections of the quilt.  I bought some bubble ink jet solution, silk satin and freezer paper and did some tests at home to get as close as I could to the colour in my design.  I liked the vibrant colours and the sheen on the silk, I felt I’d achieved the shimmering heat effect I wanted.

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PNTX9230-ruth quilt body-cropped-composite-ext-2-17-3-v-6-strip tests copy

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Above right is a transparency of waves at Mudeford and the sheets, printed on to silk organza.  At this time I was still contemplating layers and I was really excited that this incorporation of two layers on to transparent organza meant I could have yet another layer beneath, perhaps my original painting downloaded into Photoshop and printed on to the silk satin.

I prepared  the fabric for printing, by soaking the fabric in bubble jet, drying, ironing onto freezer paper, cutting to size and drying the test results after rinsing.  After these tests I decided to research printing the whole image in one piece.  I already knew of Mount Pleasant Media Workshop and persuaded them to let me use their large printer.  I had to prepare my fabric in the usual way, by soaking it in ink jet solution, drying it, and ironing it onto freezer paper, which was in 6 A3 sheets on the first attempt. But on the second attempt I’d managed to buy some wider paper so there were less joins.  On the second attempt I also upped the colour in Photoshop as the colour seemed to be ‘diluted’ on the big printer and I also allowed several inches extra for the printer to engage.

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I found all this very exciting and I was very grateful that Martin of the workshop had agreed to let me have a go. The picture top left shows him downloading my file and putting in the size the printer would accommodate.  Top right my nervous excitement and anticipation!  Bottom left is the print exiting the machine, note the amount of wastage before the printing kicked in, Martin thought this might be a complication of using fabric: the computer didn’t quite know where to start.

In fact it was because of this I couldn’t print in one go and I did land up with two pieces as you can see in the picture above right.  Unfortunately this is very noticeable.


I tray dyed the backing and bought silk wadding as I used silk for the top and bottom layers.

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I used a freestyle quilting frame and a Bernina sewing machine to finally quilt my hanging. The quilting frame is designed to keep all the layers under tension, does a good job and saves the need for stretching.  In fact I could set it up on my own.

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The printing mark on the right was a disappointment.  Suction plays a part in the printing process and can cause a fold.  The print head then hits the top of the fold causing the black mark and in the pleat the surface remains white as it can’t come into contact with the print head.  I did go ahead with the quilting and then considered covering the mark with fabric from some of the sample fabric I’d printed backed with bondaweb so it wouldn’t fray. I was unhappy with the quilting stitch as the bobbin thread showed through to the top (I’d matched it to the backing fabric) I tried unpicking it but it left a mark on the delicate silk so I decided to leave it.

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I was really excited about discovering how to amalgamate a design in Photoshop and bubble jet print on a large scale: I could print my design straight onto fabric and achieve a very satisfactory outcome.  It was as though I had pieced without stitching. I did tests on heightening the colour to achieve the vibrant colour.  I was also pleased with the choice of silk satin for the quilt as I feel the sheen adds to the hot, scorching, all seeing, glorious, light effect I wanted.

I am disappointed, however in some ways with my final quilt.  Firstly after quilting, the ‘wave/sheet’ element has become blurred and lost its impact.  The image works well as a photo and on the original tests on fabric with a flat surface but once quilted losses definition and impact.  I also abandoned some of the elements in my original idea perhaps because it was too complex but also because I became distracted by the excitement of moving to the printing stage before I’d really thought through how I was going to create my other layer and then finding I couldn’t work it out.

I am also disappointed with the stitching. The bobbin threads which I’d matched to the back shows through on the top surface and are quite unsatisfactory especially on the sea. I tried to unpick it but found that it left a mark on the silk and decided it was best to leave it.

I quilted it on a freestyle quilting frame with a Bernina with a BS2 attachment. I found it difficult to get the tension right to start with. It was only when I abandoned the BS2 and used the foot control that I got the tension right and achieved a reasonable stitch.

I like the allusion to Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘The Sower’ with the tree and the sun which an onlooker recognised immediately when she saw it being printed.  I found that very satisfactory!  I wanted to hint at a slightly disturbing feel from the association with Vincent Van Gogh.

I am looking forward to trying out my new found technique (amalgamating my design in Photoshop and ink jet printing onto fabric) on other projects and testing out whether some stitching on the top before sandwiching the layers will ensure that the clarity of the image is not lost and keeps its impact. I am very excited about the possibilities.


I’m working on building up the intended second layer .  This will include all the other elements; angels, sleeping figures, swimmers, fish, eyes,  hair, seaweed etc which were originally left out.  The plan is to draw this onto tracing paper with the painting underneath for reference.  I am in the process of deciding whether to reprint the whole thing with this layer incorporated or to transfer it onto the quilt in some other way and use that to give me a guide for another lot of quilting.  I’m intending to hand quilt this in order to get the accuracy I need and to help differentiate between the layers.

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Ruth Peel Textile Art Show

Ruth Peel Textile Art Show Ruth Peel Textile Art Show

Ruth Peel Textile Art Show  Ruth Peel Textile Art Show

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