Saturday, May 2, 2020

Purple Robe and Anemones

Well, hello there, old blog!  It's been a while, hasn't it?  I thought this latest project I worked on deserved a real bona fide blog post. So here it is.  And boy, is it a long one.  I wanted to keep all my info in one place, so just skim if you are not interested in the whole lengthy process.

I have been inspired by Matisse's artwork since I was a kid.  I remember the painting Robe Violette et Anemones hanging in my elementary art classroom.  For as long as I have been sewing, I have wanted to create my own version of Matisse's purple robe.   The whole 'quarantine art' social media trend gave me the push to do it.  In fact, a local arts festival, Artisphere, put out a contest to recreate a famous work of art at home like the 'between art and quarantine' hashtag that I think originated with the Getty Museum. Years ago, I came across an article talking about an exhibition of Matisse's paintings displayed along side of a collection of his textiles.  Matisse was a textile lover (and aren't we all around here!).  He grew up in a textile region of France and his studio was filled with fabric, clothing, weavings and wall hangings.  Some of his textile items show up in multiple paintings, like the purple robe.  There is an exhibition catalog titled, Matisse: His Art And His Textiles that is amazing.  I ordered it when I began this project.  The book is full of photos and beautiful examples of Matisse's textile collection.  There is even a photo of the real purple robe. If you are a fan of Matisse's work, I highly recommend the book.  

The biggest issue with making myself a purple striped robe was finding the right fabric.  Over the years I have bought purple fabric a couple of times thinking I could paint the white stripes.  I even thought maybe I could bleach them.  I actually had a length of purple linen in my stash for a long time specifically earmarked for this.  I pulled it out and tried painting the white stripes with fabric paint and it looked bad. Extremely homemade.  I tried bleaching a little piece but it only bleached to pink.  I figured I'd have to dye the stripes to get the look I was going for.  I almost pulled out my batik supplies but I wasn't sure I'd have the time nor the means to get the wax out, so I looked in to painting with Procion dyes instead.

Believe it or not, I had everything I needed to do this except for the sodium alginate, which I ordered via amazon.  Apparently it's used in cooking. This truly was done with things I had at home. I had the deep purple Procion dye and the things needed to mix with it (urea and soda ash).  For the fabric, I had a leftover piece of white rayon challis that I had been using to line things.  I laid it out and rough cut it to fit my pattern pieces.  I used Burda 6740, a pattern from my stash- which again, I think I bought a while back just to do this purple robe.  I only had enough fabric for the fronts, sleeves and facings so I planned on using the printed rayon for the back and belt from the beginning.  I like a bit of print mixing anyway.

When it came to mixing the dye to paint with, I used the recipe from the Dharma Trading Company website to make the 'chemical water.'  I mixed 3/4 cups of urea in to about 4 cups of water.  I mixed it in a big glass jar.  From what I understand, the urea keeps the dye from drying too fast once it's been painted on the fabric.  Then I mixed in about 4 teaspoons of sodium alginate.  The sodium alginate is a thickener which keeps your dye from spreading.  I could have used more sodium alginate.  I let that mixture sit overnight before mixing up the dye.

The next day, I separated half of chemical water and mixed up my purple dye.  I used 3ish teaspoons of deep purple and 2 teaspoons of soda ash.  Soda ash is necessary for the chemical reaction between the dye and fiber (hence 'fiber reactive dyes').  Once you mix in the soda ash, you have to use your dye right away.  And so I painted my stripes.  

I laid each piece of fabric out on a piece of a plastic drop cloth and painted long vertical purple stripes.  I tried to leave enough space in between each purple stripe so the white would remain.  In hindsight, I could have used a smaller brush to make smaller stripes, but that also would have taken me even longer.  Doing these three pieces of fabric took about an hour and half.  It was a little tedious.  I did get some ripply edges because the dye would pool underneath the fabric on the plastic.  It would have been better to have something absorbent underneath, but I don't mind the ripples.  I wanted the stripes to look painterly like the Matisse painting.

After painting, I left the fabric to sit overnight underneath another piece of plastic (to keep it from drying all the way).  I actually sandwiched all three pieces on top of one another with their respective pieces of plastic.  Now, when I was painting the stripes, it was that beautiful deep purple that I was hoping for.  The next day, however, it was much lighter.

I rinsed out all three pieces the next morning until the water ran clear (with gloves in my bathtub).  Then I washed in the washing machine with some synthrapol.  When I took the fabric out to dry, it had faded to a pretty violet-red and had a faint blue halo around all the edges of the stripes.  I still thought it was pretty and planned to use it, but it didn't turn out exactly as I had envisioned.

I read around online to try and figure out what happened and came across a great website with tons of info about hand dyeing. One article I found interesting was that some dyes are pure color while some are mixtures. In mixtures of color, sometimes the two colors react with the fiber at different rates, which is what I am assuming happened here.  The website also specifically mentions fuschia reacting faster than blue, meaning the blue will travel longer and create that blue halo.  So that's probably what happened.  I do like the blue halo anyway.

After the fabric was dry, I cut out my pattern pieces and sewed.  The pattern was pretty straight-forward, though there was a little bit of hand sewing the facing at the back neckline.  I tried to avoid hand sewing whenever possible.  I made a medium and left off the pockets, no other modifications.

I was super pleased with how it turned out.  Not only did I plan to recreate the Matisse painting, Robe Violette et Anemones, but I also planned to use my robe for real (and I have been using it with all my time at home lately).  I spent an embarrassing amount of time staging my living room to snap a photo.  I hung pieces of fabric and party streamers on the wall behind my couch and made anemones with tissue paper and pipe cleaners.  My daughter helped.

After I finished everything, I decided to use the leftover piece of printed rayon (the back of the robe) to make myself some pajamas.  I mean, if I'm going to lounge around in my beautiful hand painted purple robe, I might as well have some swanky pj's to go along with it, right?  I used every scrap of the printed rayon to make an Ogden cami and elastic waist bottoms using Simplicity 1112, which is now OOP, unfortunately. 

I'm late to the Ogden cami game, but I love it.  This is the first one I've made but there will be many  more.  This is a size 12 graded out to a 14 under the bust.  Next time I'll add an inch or two of length and I'd like to experiment with making a wider strap.  The pants pattern I've used too many times to count (see my faux jumpsuit from a couple of years ago).  I cut a 16 but added a smidge more to the hip area (weight gain, yay).  I used every bit of fabric I had, so there is no pattern matching anywhere and the length hit just below my knee.  I wanted more length, so I found a teeny, tiny scrap of a cotton and steel rayon (leftover from a romper I made for my daughter) and added to the hems.  I love the end result. And all from the stash! Woo hoo. 

If you made it to the end here, you are a champion. 😆 All in all, it was a fun and really rewarding project where I got to combine my love for art and sewing together.  And bonus, I get to look pretty fancy while I sit around my house and sip my tea during this time (but not with my mask on).  Stay safe and healthy, friends!