Thursday, May 14, 2015

C!QA hears from Jean Williams Cacicedo, icon of wearable art

Jean Cacicedo shows annotated samples of some of her techniques at the May 9 joint CQA/SDA meeting in Seattle. (Photo by Christina Fairley Erickson)
As quilters, many of us dye various fabrics to get the colors and effects we want. While she's not a quilter, Berkeley artist Jean Williams Cacicedo goes even further--she first creates her own cloth! Cacicedo, an icon of the wearable art movement of the 1970s, showed samples of her unusual garments May 9 as she addressed a joint meeting of the Contemporary QuiltArt Association (CQA) and the Seattle chapter of the Surface  Design Association (SDA).
Cacicedo models one of her "pieced, felted, slashed" coats (Photo by Christina Fairley Erickson)

Closeup of the felted, dyed, slashed coat fabric

When Cacicedo was studying drawing, painting and sculpture at Pratt Institute in New York, textile art wasn't on her radar--there were no textile classes available at that time. She received her BFA from Pratt in 1970, in sculpture. It was viewing a tapestry at the Cloisters that inspired her to express herself in fiber and textiles, which became her media for the next 45 years. "Cloth is with us from birth to death, in every culture," she said. "We're beholden to our ancestors, who first tied threads from flax...then the history of spinners, weavers, dyers and so on."
One of Cacicedo's earliest crocheted pieces: fabulous butterfly coat.

Some of her first works were done in crochet, which at that time was somewhat "anti-establishment." Indeed the '60's and '70s were an era of counter-culture, and working with one's hands was a big part of the U.S. craft movement at that time--as it is in the more current "maker" movement of today.

Coat created for Wyoming Wool Growers' Association. Cacicedo's spinning, dyeing and crochet work.
An early piece: "Chaps: A Cowboy Dedication"

 During this period Cacicedo spent seven years in Wyoming, and fell in love with working with wool--spinning, dyeing, crocheting, sewing: "Wool is our first language," she says.

Chart showing the "toothiness" of various fibers, with the rougher fibers better for felting and dyeing. From left: Coarse wool, fine wool, alpaca, cashmere, silk, linen, cotton, polyester.
Closeup of a Cacicedo piece, showing internal layers after a "burn-out" type technique. Wool layered with a single-knit poly jersey.

From crochet, Cacicedo began to work with layers or "substrates" of materials to create finished cloth. One of her first chosen layers was Melton cloth, a tightly woven, smooth-finish wool often used for overcoats. Later she came to use a lot of wool jersey that, unfortunately, became harder to find. To each of these fabrics (and later selections of wool and other fibers) she would add a layer of a fine gauze that would shrink when hot water and pressure were applied.

A "pre-coat" shape of shrinkable gauze, to which Cacicedo will add wool or yarns for subsequent shrinking.
Closeup of gauze. Cacicedo's chosen version, from Japan, is all wool and shrinks 50%.

 The gauze she now uses is a high-twist, pure wool from Japan...that costs $38 per meter and has a 50% shrinkage rate! She can create near-felt with these layers through the application of water, pressure and agitation. She warned that in this method it's best to do the shrinking process before any dye is applied as the dye will prevent some of the shrinking.

Stitching with a heavy white thread is added to a layered scarf.

In 1997, Cacicedo attended an international shibori symposium, and was delighted to discover new techniques to apply to her work. While many of us think first of "tie-dye" when we hear the word shibori, to her it's more the process of the stitching that's the hallmark of this craft. She will stitch heavy wool into the lightweight gauze, often using the stitching as a resist, drawing up the threads and then dying (and shrinking) the result. Sometimes she will stitch polyester to wool to achieve the designs that occur as the wool shrinks and the poly does not.
This felt-like coat includes hand dyes and printed motifs.
Printed and dyed, this coat is of Asian motif.
The scarf (above) and coat (a closeup below) appear printed, but the dark areas are actually tissue-thin from a "burn-out" type process.

Her garments can be described as "pieced, sewn, slashed, felted, dyed." Some of her work includes printing on the final cloth, and her method involves the use of sodium alginate as a print paste (often including dye). Once totally dry, the printed material is then immersed in an aluminum sulfate (alum) bath so the water and alum attach to the sodium alginate, then a water softener is used to remove the alum.

Cacicedo extensively documents each  of her methods, including experiments with various types of yarn and fabrics, with annotated samples. She finds the documentation process as exciting as making the final pieces themselves.
(Above) Attendees at the meeting survey Cacicedo's extensive array of annotated technique samples. Closeup of one technique below showing her layering method.

Cacicedo states that "Art is not about fashion. We are pawns of the fashion industry, but wearable art can differentiate the wearer....can transform the spirit of the wearer. The art we wear can tell stories of journeys both real and spiritual." She reminds that "There is no art-making that can take place without first having craft," and that "there is no one way to approach design...we all go in different doors."
"....stories of journeys both real and spiritual..." (Above) Part of Cacicedo's "Down Under" jacket. (Below) "Red Sea" coat.

Among Cacicedo's most recent design explorations is "notan," the Japanese design concept of the use of black and white in the dynamics of positive and negative space. She has begun conducting workshops involving this principle.
"Reveal Handbag," above, a sculpture of black wool stitched with white wool and shrunk. Inside is an armature of reed.
A beautiful visual pun, this "Raincoat," now in the de Young Museum in San Francisco, is full of punched holes!

Her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout Western Europe, Japan and the U.S., and in 2000, the de Young Museum in  San Francisco mounted a 30-year retrospective of her work. She is the author of the book "Jean  Williams Cacicedo: Explorations in Cloth," published in 2000 by the Museum of Craft and Folk Art. For more on Cacicedo and her work, go to

(Thanks to Christina Fairley Erickson who contributed notes and photos to this report.)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Kathy Hattori and "sustainable color for artists"

Kathy Hattori at the April 11 CQA meeting
Kathy Hattori, president of Botanical Colors LLC, Seattle, gave CQA members an enlightening--and disturbing--look at the world of color, specifically fabric dyes, at the group's April 11 monthly meeting. A strong proponent of natural, plant-based dyes, Hattori bolstered her thesis with facts and photos of the largely unregulated dye producers that support the global fashion and textile industry.

Around 2000, Hattori was a hobby spinner, weaver and dyer with a tech job in Silicon Valley--"doing okay, not great"--when, in the space of a couple years, she lost her job in the internet bust, sold her house and ended her marriage. Building on her earlier experience with dyes, she started a small, online natural dyes company and was now enjoying what she was doing.

Then she was contacted by Target, a large retailer whose "concept team" wanted to see if natural dyes would be practical and economical for their apparel lines. Several dyed samples later it was clear that the company's clothing lines--comprising a number of synthetic blends rather than pure wool or silk--were not appropriate for natural dyes, nor would the increased costs of using natural vs synthetic dyes work with the retailer's price points.

Growing out of this experience, Hattori learned that "the textile industry is in trouble managing their resources." She pointed out that in the 1980s, 95% of the clothing sold in this country was U.S. made; today, that figure is only 2%.  Unregulated dye manufacturing  and dye houses abound in the developing world, and there is little regulation on dying commercial clothing. "And yet there are no waste-water treatment plants in the developing world," she noted, adding that "Some of the water in these countries is fatally polluted. In 2012, global dye-manufacturing was listed as one of the top 10 industrial polluters." Hattori noted that azo dyes have been banned in the U.S. and Europe, but they are regularly used in China and India. "There are more than 50,000 dye houses in China alone, and more than 40% of the surface water is polluted," she added.
Hattori says the dye industry "would like you to see it like this (above) when it's really like the scene below." China alone has more than 50,000 unregulated dye houses.
In many parts of the developing world, waste-water from the unregulated dye industry ends up polluting surface waters.

Hattori then spoke of a number of "change agents" who were working to reverse this trend. Greenpeace, for one, has done a great deal of work with their "Toxic Threads" initiative in pushing manufacturers to clean up their supply chain. H&M has introduced a line called "Conscious Collection," and she urged that it be supported.  A movement called "Fibershed" was started by a woman in Northern California who set out to recreate her wardrobe from suppliers within 150 miles of her home; the Fibershed idea has now taken off around the country. 
The Greenpeace "Toxic Threads" initiative has been instrumental in helping many manufacturers clean up their supply chains.
One project involving Hattori was an interesting effort started by noted designer and store operator Eileen Fisher, who opened "Green Eileen" stores that specialize in recycled clothing, sales of which provide income to support programs that improve the lives of women and girls as well as help cut back on the vast number of new garments created annually. These stores get a ton of garments each month for recycling. In connection with the 2014 opening of a "Green Eileen" store in Seattle, Hattori was tasked with over-dyeing 100 garments. The collection sold out in three weeks and was considered an excellent launch for the store.
A recycled T-shirt over-dyed for Seattle's "Green Eileen" store

Though she was not "a fit" for Target, that experience encouraged Hattori to approach other apparel manufacturers, and she's now working with several to develop new clothing lines with more "earth-friendly" dyes and natural materials.

Diagram of a traditional multi-step supply chain for a pair of men's trousers
While the commercial garment industry has expanded to nearly countless suppliers along the line from designer to retailer, Hattori and her company developed a supply chain with only four entities: Customer, Fiber/Fabric, Dyes, Dyer.
Garments from Other Brother, Portland Or, a typical customer in Hattori's company's 4-step supply chain
Knit Tees from Cloth Foundry, San Francisco, a fabric supplier in Hattori's supply chain (natural-dye colors)
Hattori uses either large-capacity or specialty dye houses depending on the size of the order.

One customer example is Other Brother of Portland, specializing in men's wear based on natural dyes, sustainable cotton and U.S. manufacture. An example of a fabric supplier is California Cloth Foundry of San Francisco, specialist in knits spun from U.S. sustainable cotton, and U. S. manufactured. Depending on the product quantities involved,  large-capacity dye houses in North Carolina or Maine, or specialty dyers in New York, Los Angeles or Seattle, will be used. The dyes, of course, are all natural and non-toxic.
Hattori holds a "Backyard Hoodie" designed by Cloth Foundry in all natural cotton and natural dyes.
A rich, black color on natural cotton, as in these pants, can take five different dyes.
Hattori explained that the No. 1 issue for natural dyes is that they must meet wash- and light-fast standards to be acceptable for commercial use. As an aside, she noted that to get a rich black color on natural cotton can take five different dyes, and that "Cotton needs a lot of preparation before dyeing: it takes 8 hours to prep and 45 minutes to dye!"

She mentioned several area operations involved in the natural/sustainable movement, including Tolt Yarn & Wool in Carnation, a local grower, and Jubilee Farms, also in Carnation, offering classes and gatherings of dyestuffs in July and August.

At the end of the presentation, attendees gathered around Hattori's samples of organic brown cotton and both yarns and clothing dyed with indigo and other natural dyes in glowing, earthy colors.

Hattori holds a cotton boll with newly developed brown cotton fibers.
Natural dyes create rich colors in yarns.
Warm, earth tones in natural-dyed cotton  Tees invite touch!
Dye from the  indigo plant produces a wide range of blue colors in these natural cotton fabrics.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Art quilter Helen Remick's early work proves fresh as today

CQA member Helen Remick, Seattle, has made yo-yo's and complex spiral piecing hallmarks of her art quilts for a number of years, and recently even some of her earliest pieces have been appearing in current publications and exhibits. "I'm now convinced that my work is 10 to 15 years ahead of its time!" she laughs.

She has four images included in the book 1000 Quilt Inspirations: Colorful and Creative Designs for Traditional, Modern and Art Quilts, Sandra Sider, Editor, Hachette Press, 2015.  These are  “Raining Cats and Dogs” (2010), “Ma, How come she gets all the attention”  (2014), “Tangled Web” (2003), and “Fantastic” (1998).

"Raining Cats and Dogs" (detail)

"Ma, How come she gets all the attention" (Detail)

"Tangled Web" (Detail)

"Fantastic" (Detail)

Two of Helen's early quilts are on tour until 2016 as part of the exhibit associated with the book 500 Traditional Quilts, Karey Patterson Bresenhan, Editor, Lark Books, 2014. "Untitled" (1996) and “Spinning Out Spinning In 4: Rose of Sharon” (2005) will be at the IQA show in Portland and other venues. A third piece,“In Honor of the Wedding of Elizabeth and Yuki,” (2005) was not available for the exhibition.
"In Honor of the Wedding of Elizabeth and Yuki"

“Fantastic” (1998) was included in the SAQA red-quilts show on Facebook and has been picked up by Quilters Newsletter to appear in a near-future Readers Quilt Show feature in the magazine.  Helen recently finished instructions for this quilt in response to requests generated by someone pinning a picture of the quilt on Pinterest.  The pattern is available on Craftsy

"Fantastic" (Full view)
Our heartiest congratulations to this prolific artist!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Alfredo Arreguin's "pattern paintings" charm in the details

Alfredo Arreguin at March 14 CQA meeting
"When I paint, my problems I paint a lot!" laughed prolific Seattle artist Alfredo Arreguin as he spoke about his work to members of the Contemporary Quilt Art Association at the group's March 14 meeting. Arreguin's paintings can take up to four months to complete. And, given the amount of details contained in each work, that's a whole lot of problems that can just go away!
This kind of detail can take months to complete

Born in Mexico,  Arreguin admits to being a bit of a bad boy in his early years. When his mother created a series of small drawings for him, he took them to school to exchange to other students for candy. When she learned of these transactions, his mother balked and said he should learn to create his own art.  His father took a different approach: When young Alfredo was doing poorly in school, his father sent him out into the jungle to work on-site with engineers. The discipline of creating his own art obviously took root, and  scenes and animals of the jungle became an ongoing theme in his adult paintings.
Elements of the jungle appear in many of Arreguin's paintings
One can spend hours finding interesting details!

Arreguin arrived in Seattle in 1956 at age 23, to enter the School  of Architecture at the University of Washington. The choice  of major was more that of his father's than his own, and after a couple of years he switched to Interior Design in the University's art department for a year, finally coming to rest in the school's painting program, where he earned his BA and MFA degrees.
One of Arreguin's early works, where he adds pattern to the tablecloth to tie elements together

During his senior year at the University he began to develop what would become his signature style--very detailed, pattern paintings that offer the viewer almost endless possibilities to discover nearly hidden elements. "I love painting scenes from nature," he says, "and the use of pattern allows me to hide things in those scenes, like behind leaves."
Birds and forest elements are common themes
There are two large cats worked into the pattern....
(Above and below) Large cats are favorite elements

His favored format is four by six feet, and he prefers working in oils rather than acrylics as the latter dry too fast for the type of detailed, overpainting work he does on each piece. He was once asked why he chose to work pretty consistently in the 4x6 format, and the reason is quite practical: When fellow artist Alden Mason was leaving Seattle for Europe, he put up for sale a large quantity of cheap stretcher bars in that size, and Arreguin snapped them up!
Patterning on floors often appear as tiles
Closeup of a pattern portion showing the "fill" is often faces
"Deep Time," with graceful pterodactyls, is in the collection of the National Academy of Sciences

To achieve the over-all patterning that characterizes Arreguin's work, he will start with a grid of, say, one-inch squares, which he then fills in, often working on a detail in a square on the left side of the painting, then moves to the corresponding square on the right side to create a similar or matching detail. "It's organic," he says. "Often I discover new things by changing a few details as I work back and forth on my grid." He frequently creates "ghosts" by covering his first drawing with another on top. For his striking portraits he will first outline the face realistically, then add patterns to  crowd around the image and sometimes work patterns on top of the face.
Except for the eyes (above) and the red lips (below), the faces are almost hidden

"I paint what I love," he says, "and I love people, women, flowers, birds, gardens...everything that lends itself to patterns." Many of the combinations reflect designs of the tapestries and crafts seen in traditional markets in his native Mexico. Other frequent subjects include religious figures--St.  Francis  of Assisi for  one--and some important in Mexican observances, including madonnas and La Malinche, mistress of the conqueror Cortes. And for a time, he created a series of portraits featuring the noted Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
Mexican-heritage themed piece

St. Francis of Assisi and his beloved birds
A completely patterned madonna
A madonna in a more typical "halo" setting...but look at the background!
A very Mexican madonna
Above and below, two very different treatments of a Frida Kahlo portrait

Arreguin's pieces may now be found in countless museums and private collections, and his resume of solo and selected group exhibitions covers several pages. Some of the achievements of which he's most proud include having two pieces in the Smithsonian (one in the National Museum of  American Art, the other  in the National Portrait Gallery); winning the competition for the 1988 Washington State Centennial poster from among 200 applicants; and having pieces selected by the U.S. Department of State for the embassy in Karachi, and for the collection of the San Francisco's Mexican Museum.
Arreguin's portrait of Emilio Zapata is in the Smithsonians's  National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Arreguin's "Washingtonia," selected for the state's centennial poster from among 200 applicants. When asked why he painted the cat in the foreground, he replied, "It was there!"

In a more recent development, as Arreguin related, he hadn't been known in Mexico for his art as he had been living in Seattle for so long. Now, however, he's pleased that his work is being shown in a San Antonio, TX, gallery as one of the "Mexican Masters" alongside Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
A young Arreguin, right, with the late writer Raymond Carver and his wife, poet Tess Gallagher. Carver's short story "Menudo" was written about Arreguin.
Arreguin's portrait of Carver features a poem by Gallagher , the words of which the artist painted over the entire image.
A portrait of Carver barely emerges from the typical Northwest fish

Noting that he recently turned 80, Arreguin is not looking to mount big exhibitions any more. "A big show drains you," he says, "and I now have just enough energy to paint every day." Given the amount of creative inspiration and just plain detailed work that goes into each of his pieces. that seems just about right.
This piece combines Arreguin's signature patterns with the "big wave" typical of many Japanese paintings. The artist was in Japan during his Army duty as well as on later trips: "I am like a sponge," he says, "I soak in everything I see!"

Arreguin's impression of Washington's Rialto Beach on the Pacific Coast

More about Arreguin and  his work may be seen  on his He is represented by Linda Hodges Gallery in Seattle, where his bio and resume may be found at!alfredo-arreguin/c18o6. University of Washington Press published a book on Arreguin and his work, "Alfredo Arreguin: Patterns of Dreams and Nature," now in a second edition--