Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Dress Called Harvey: Flour Resist Painted Fabric for the Fabric Mart Challenge

As you may have read in my previous post, I live in Pearland, Texas, and we were affected by Hurricane Harvey. We experienced 51 inches of rainfall in 4 days, and we watched as flooding devastated our community. Following the directives of city leaders, we hunkered down, and we hoped, prayed, and watched the rising water. Though it was touch and go with the rising waters, my home ultimately did not flood like the hundreds of thousands impacted in my community.


I was notified of this challenge's rules as Hurricane Harvey was a developing into a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico.  I told Fabric Mart that I would participate in the challenge until I was unable to do so. The water rose, and my anxiety and fear rose alongside it. We were told not to leave our home, so I retreated to my sewing room. 

This first challenge is to transform a 2-yard "blank slate" of cotton muslin. I chose to use the muslin as a canvas to focus some of my emotions (i.e., fear, gratitude, grief, and guilt) related to the storm and the aftermath. 

I am not new to embellishing fabric in fun, playful ways to express what is in my heart and mind. I have ice dyed cotton jersey for a maxi dress. I have airbrush painted my Afro diva dress, Peace, Puff, Afro Love bag and Afro Puff Diva dress for Little Miss. I have used multiple hand embroidery and applique techniques in my embellished shower curtain skirt.


I like my clothes to express elements of my personality or emotions. That usually results in happy-looking pieces. Sewing usually lifts my spirits and allows me to shift focus in moments of sadness. I currently feel broken. I am living in a broken city around broken friends and neighbors. With nowhere to go, I took to my sewing room. I contemplated how to show brokenness on fabric and to find a sewing pattern reflecting putting pieces back together. 

Because of the storm, I was unable to shop for supplies to transform my fabric. I decided to use what I had on hand in my sewing space and pantry. It gave me a chance to try a "flour-resist" technique (see below for further details). A paste is applied to the base fabric. The fabric is dried overnight and cracked to expose the fabric beneath. Fabric paint is then applied, and it seeps between the cracks. After the paint dries overnight, the flour is removed to show the painted fabric beneath. This is a labor-intensive process involving saturation, breaking and cleansing.


The colors in the fabrics are black, blue, and gold. Black and blue represents the devastation left by Harvey. The paint effect is stronger in some areas and varies in strength throughout the fabric. I did this to represent the wide continuum of impact of Harvey on people who have been affected. The crackle can be interpreted as rising water and escalating emotions during the slow progression of the storm. 

First responders and ordinary people with boats and trucks risked their lives to save people in immediate danger as the water rose. They are represented in a layer of gold painted directly on the muslin. 


A second layer of gold overlaps the blue and black to represent love and out-pouring of local, national, and global support. It recognizes those who provided food, shelter, clothing, and ongoing cleanup in the aftermath of Harvey. 



The McCalls 6028 pattern does not reflect my everyday style, but it communicates what I feel. I wanted a pattern with multiple seam lines to represent separation, structure, connection, and regrouping. 
                          
The black piping represents the common thread we share, the boundaries of overrun banks, and released reservoirs. The piping also reflects the inaccessibility of streets and the need to feel supported in difficult times.  


This fabric is unlike anything I have made before. It is chaotic. It is messy. It is confusing. It is hard to look at, but it has more to show. This dress is organised, structured, detailed, and precise. It is purposeful and serves to calm the disorder.    




The fabric is designed using the "flour-resist" technique described here:
  1. Make a flour paste with a 1:1 flour/water ratio. A good starting point is 2 cups of flour per yard of fabric. Stir until there are no lumps and it looks like melted ice cream. Lay your fabric on a protected surface and smooth the paste over areas to be treated on the right side of the fabric. 
  2. Allow the fabric to dry completely overnight. Do not dry outdoors unless it can be protected from insects and vermin. 
  3. The edges will curl, and the fabric will become board stiff.
  4. Bend, fold, and twist the fabric to crack the flour surface. The more cracks you make, the more the paint will permeate to the base fabric.
  5. Paint the fabric with fabric paint using a sponge dauber.
  6. Check the backside to see if the paint is showing through the backside sufficiently. If you are not satisfied, add more. If you plan on using multiple colors, apply the light colors first. Allow that layer to dry, re-crack, and apply the subsequent colors drying in between. Allow the paint to dry completely before the next step.                                                                     
  7. To remove the paste and paint layer, submerge the fabric in a bucket or kitchen sink of water just until you can scrape it away. 
  8. Wring excess water out of the fabric and lay it on a protected surface. Using a blunt tool like a spatula, or putty knife, scrape the flour and paint away and dispose of it in the trash. 
  9. Lightly hand-wash any remaining flour from the fabric and dry. Heat set the paint with an iron or the method directed by your paint instructions. 



This is a labor-intensive, slow process involves layering, saturating, breaking and cleansing. I thought it was an appropriate metaphor for my experience. This was a wonderfully therapeutic exercise for me. My family provided encouragement and guidance along the way.  The waters are receding, schools and businesses are reopening and people are on the road to recovery. It will take time, but HoUSton is strong.



To see what the other contestants made and to vote click here.

Healing sewing,
Bianca

52 comments:

  1. I love this idea! I so hear your heart, I'm with you.

    For me, I had the wedding coming up (rescheduled) and the electricity was out for the first time. I stood at the kitchen table robotically cutting out several skirts. Yesterday for the first time in weeks I sewed my fall skirts. A new beginning! : )

    Love your material, thank you for sharing, it's helpful to read others' thoughts on this disaster.

    I do need to try this, it sounds and looks to be a quite beautiful collision! : )

    Blessings!

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    1. Thanks Amelia, I am sorry about the change of plans with the wedding. I am so glad you have been able to create beautiful things through your sadness too. I enjoy the unexpected nature of this project. There were some areas of paint I had no control over and had to roll with, as in life. I plan to try it again on a project with more joy associated with it.

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  2. Overwhelmed by your story and your sewing journey process. The dress tells a beautiful story. You are one of the few people on the ground with Harvey that I have actually heard their account. Devastating, yet bringing a community of strength together for the purpose of recovering through faith and determination. The development process of the cloth used for your project provided an amazing analogy. "A Dress Called Harvey" indeed.

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    1. Thanks so much for this. I was hoping my voice was clear and that it would resonate with others. Thank you for confirming that.

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  3. I am blown away by your creation. You are truly an artist and fabric is your medium. The dress you made shows the pain that inspired it but also the connectedness of your community. However, it is beautiful and I would really like it even not knowing the inspiration. I'm so sorry for the losses in your community.

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    1. Thanks so much Justine! I was hoping to juxtapose chaos with community and end up with an attractive piece. I wanted to visually tell the story, but still look good on its own without explanation.

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  4. Bianca, This is gorgeous! I love everything about it, wonderful work. Sending well wishes to you and all in your community as the recovery efforts begin.

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    1. Thanks so much Elizabeth! We feel the well wishes coming our way!

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  5. Thank you for sharing your story and the process of creating the fabric. I have family in the Houston area who are safe as well, thankfully, but the horror of the situation is very real even for those of us watching from a distance. I'm glad you found some of the "therapy" you needed by designing and sewing. I find when I'm distressed, stressed, depressed, getting my hands busy on fabric and creating and designing can help me ground and quiet and find some peace.

    All the best for you, your friends and family as you rebuild.

    Beautiful dress and expression.

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    1. Thank you so much Ginger. In the past sewing has made me feel better in difficult times. I knew that was the way to go when it seemed the rains wouldn't end.

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  6. This dress is absolutely stunning and that flour dyeing technique is amazing- thank you for sharing. I can't even begin to comprehend how stressful and heartbreaking your experience has been... I'm glad that you had your creativity to help you through it.

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    1. Thanks so much! My heart continues to break for those who've lost everything. I pray Florida does not have to experience Irma.

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  7. The dress and it's process are beautiful. I love how you channeled all your emotions into the fabric design. I'm glad you are safe. Good luck in the competition

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  8. You are such an inspiring lady! Incredible job for a worthy cause! Praying for healing!

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    1. I appreciate you saying that! Thanks!

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  9. I truly love your dress and the story told during the process. I could almost feel the emotions that were generated during the process. What comes from intense pressure is great beauty.....simply put....your dress is amazingly beautiful. Grateful to an amazing father that you, Your family and Houston as a hole are on the road to recovery.

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    1. Your kind words move me; thank you so much.

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  10. Bianca - - this dress and your process are so moving! I love what you did with your emotions, creating a piece that reflects the intense and unbelievable journey your community has been on together. And that dress is so gorgeous! I love the way the structure tames the chaotic look of the fabric. And it fits like a dream. Going to vote now :)

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    1. Thanks so much for saying this. I really struggled with finding the right balance between between chaos and calm. I'm so happy to know that it is evident.

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  11. Glad to hear that your family and home are safe after Harvey. This dress is proof that no disaster is strong enough to stop your boundless creativity and will to make. May your resilience spread to all of those struggling to recover from the storm. Remember that you have friends in Austin if you ever need anything.

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    1. Thanks so much Rina! Can't stop, won't stop! 😀

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  12. Love you hair first and foremost! I bought this pattern when it was released, but have yet to do anything with it. I recognized the lines immediately as being one in my stash. I love how you chose to present it. The dress is absolutely amazing in this fabric print. You go girl!!!! Truly your fan and loving it from Cali.

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    1. Thanks so much Renee! I had this pattern in my stash from when it was released as well. I didn't "feel" like making it until now and I'm glad I made this choice.

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  13. Bianca, you never cease to amaze me and drop my jaw. You and your dress are astounding and gorgeous.
    This is another example of why when you are in a contest I vote for you. As good as the others may be yours is that much better somehow. I am glad you and your family are safe and well. Jean

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    1. Aww Jean, thanks so much for your encouragement and support.

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  14. I'm so glad that you and your family are safe! I'm heartsick at what has happened with the hurricane and the devastation that has been visited upon so many people! I'm trying, from Minnesota, to do what I can. Your dress, and you, are beautiful! The sewing is perfect and you've really expressed your feelings with your surface design technique. It's all just great! You always get my vote in any of the contests that you enter.

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    1. Thanks so much Tina. It is so hard to know what to do to help. I have found donating money to worthy organizations helps when I can't physically provide support. I listed some in my previous post. This was a great way for me to emotionally expend energy and I'm glad it was successful.

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  15. Thank you. This is a powerful piece, and I'm glad to understand all the symbolism.

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  16. Such a beautiful dress! Thank you for sharing your process and the symbolism of it.

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  17. What a great story and a great way to work through all your thoughts and feelings. This dress turns out really cool. I actually thought the print on it was a map when I first saw it. I'm sorry for all your community has suffered. I've been thinking of and praying for everyone down there.

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    1. Thanks so much Lisa. I was really tempted not to explain the print. I had a friend come over and she saw something completely different. I love that art can be interpreted by the viewer but, because this was a contest entry I felt I should explain. It's amazing to see how communities are rallying to support each other.

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  18. Beautiful dress! You are so generous to share the process with us, thank you!

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  19. Thank you for sharing your artistry and your process.

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  20. I have been a follower of yours for some time. Every detail in this dress and its creation is heartfelt, moving and absolutely beautiful. Prayers to everyone in your community. Beautiful job by a beautiful woman.

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    1. My goal was to get the feeling vs out. I am so glad this moved you. Thanks for following me in this journey.

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  21. I shared your post with my entire Atlanta Sewing Guild. It was an amazing piece of work, we felt we were right there with you during your entire harrowing journey. Such courage and strength to continue on while in the midst of chaos, and to emerge triumphant with a beautiful creation. You are a strong woman and an inspiration to us all.

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    1. Thank you so much Carole, I appreciate that you thought enough of this to share it with your guild. I am really happy with this dress.

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  22. I really think that the stress of Harvey must have set your creativity aflame. Your dress is *such* a powerful statement. I love, love, love what you did! May I suggest that you hang on to this piece of art. This is something that you will want to pass down to the next generations of your family. This is what makes true family heirlooms.

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    1. Thanks so much for saying this. You are not the first to suggest I hang or display this dress. I think I may do that.

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  23. Your dress looks so beautiful. Thanks for sharing the story behind it. Your creativity is truly amazing. I didn't know about the flour technique; you did a great job using it to tell your story.

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    1. Thank you. I hadn't done it before and found it to be so satisfiying.

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  24. Congrats on winning round 1!!! You are amazing!

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    1. Thanks so much Sue. High praise from an another amazing woman.

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  25. OMG. You made me cry. I had just spoken to a friend who went to help for 5 days and had just come back. She told me what they encountered and then reading about your journey to make the dress just melted my heart. Prayers for all.

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    1. Thank you Susie, I am so glad to know this moved you. That means so much to me.

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