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March 2017

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silk painting

Hand-painted silk for Private Lives: Part Two

In Part One of this series on some hand-painted silk we are making, i got as far as the sample process, in which my assistant and i created a whole range of surface design swatches to show our designer, Jennifer Caprio, how we might create the fabric. Once Jen chose the sample, our next task was to get the image onto the fabric, a rich 4-ply silk crepe.

Recall that the inspiration for the dress was a 1935 Schiaparelli gown in the collection of the Museum at FIT. Because Jen wants the lily motif to be the guide for our own fabric creation, i decided Photoshop would be the best tool to make our template.

Here's my first pastiche--i isolated a full repeat from one of the photos of the Schiaparelli gown, and rotated it so the motif ran vertically.

Then i dropped all the color out of it by first inhancing the contrast, then switching to a grayscale mode.

And here's where it gets really fun! The original image is taken off a photograph of a bias-cut dress hanging on the form. So i knew that the original flowers were not shaped like the ones in the above image--those had been distorted across the diagonal from the dress fabric hanging on the bias. (Like how a balanced plaid turns into rhombus-diamonds on the bias.) If i had the actual fabric to work from, i could reblock it and trace the pattern from there, but all we have is the image of the fabric.

I enlisted the opinion of draper and third-year grad student Leah Pelz, and together we looked at our original image and discussed how, if it were a piece of actual fabric in front of us, we would manipulate and steam it in order to reblock it. Then, i selected a chunk of the fabric in Photoshop and used the "Transform -> Distort" tool to digitally "reblock" the fabric! This way, i could make my template and paint our fabric so that when Leah turns it into a dress and it hangs on the bias, it winds up looking like the original in scale and form.

Compare the original at left to the reblocked image at right.
See the difference? Pretty cool, eh?

(I also turned the art into a seamless repeat with a couple of iterations to share with Jen for approval before moving on.)

Then i inverted my artwork so we'd have a black design on a white ground for tracing onto the 4-ply.
Meanwhile, Leah oversaw the process of threadmarking out her pattern pieces onto our fabric,
so that we would paint our lilies along the right path.

photo 2 (3)
Here's a close-up of the tracing process on an initial test sample..
We're using a washable pencil to sketch out the design on the fabric,
so all these lines will be gone in the finished version.

photo 3 (2)
Crafts assistant and first-year grad Katie Keener begins tracing on the real stuff.

And, in a future final installment, we'll move on to the actual painting process!
This project is easily my favorite of the season so far.