Making the Switch from Fabric Collage to Small Paper Collage

Here we are, Will and I, basically still at home, staying safe. Making little forays out now and then for curb pick up or quick shops, masked up, sanitizer hand cleaner at the ready. Summer has zoomed by, today the calendar says it’s the start of Fall. But, the time has not been wasted and has been, for the most part, put to good and I may say, even enjoyable, use. The upside of being an artist I suppose. We’re rarely bored, even stuck at home.

I’m taking a short break from the frustrations of dealing my new sewing machine, all that thread changing, stitch setting, constantly reading my instruction manual. Lol. Yes, sewing is not second nature to me. Even though I love playing with the fabric, pushing scraps into pleasing collages. And even though I love zooming around, the feed dogs down, drawing and scribbling with threads and stitches, I said to myself, enough! Time for a change…..

Fabric collage creation in my studio, Helen Bushell,

So, I decided to transform my little studio from a sewing studio into a paper collage studio instead. Luckily, I’m quite organized, but then, I have to be. My studio measures about 10 ft by 12 feet (3 x 3.5 m). It’s full to the brim with shelves stacked with dishes for mosaic, a large easel for painting, shelves holding fabric scraps, paints, brushes, glue, tools. All this not to mention, 3 or 4 sewing machines, one new but most rather vintage bargains found at garage sales and thrift stores brought back to life by Will’s talent with oiling and cleaning, So after the work table is cleared, the fabric packed into recycled plastic storage bins, the little ironing board folded and put away, it’s just a matter of bringing up the boxes from under the work table full of folders of paper scraps and voila!, I have the paper collage studio!

Creating paper collage in my studio, Helen Bushell,

Most of my paper collage is made with paper design and textures of my own making. I’m not one for using much from old mags. Lots of mark making is saved. I do like to create abstract collage and for that I need lots of colour and texture. So, every time I paint, before I clean off my plate of leftover wet paint, I use paper from old envelopes, junk mail, whatever and rub the the paper on the leftover paint. It makes amazing one off prints and you get some interesting textures. These are all saved for later use in paper collage. So, before you know it, the table is now piled high with scraps of paper, pencil crayons and matte medium.

I’ve decided to have a bit of fun, work small (around 5.5 x 6in or 14 x 15 cm), do them up, 6 collages at once on mixed media paper. This approach has had the added benefit of keeping me loose and intuitive as I work, each piece is not getting too precious. So I’ve been taking my time, playing with each arrangement, fiddling with details, and enjoying the process. But they’re starting to pile up a bit and I’m planning on putting them up on our FoundMadeArt shop. Some will also be scanned for use on products on our Print on Demand shops too and may become prints, pillows, clothing, furniture, all sorts of things. I’ll be posting each group as they become scanned and ready. Hope you enjoy! Here’s batch #1.

Collage on Paper, by Helen Bushell,
Collage on Paper, by Helen Bushell,
Collage on Paper, by Helen Bushell,
Collage on Paper, by Helen Bushell,
Collage on Paper, by Helen Bushell,
Collage on Paper, by Helen Bushell,

Staying home and escaping to the studio

Like many people these days, we’re staying home. We’re staying home, mesmerized and saddened by the heartbreaking news on the internet and trying to cope. We’re staying home and by doing so, we’re doing our bit by not getting ill. Which I think is pretty easy in comparison to all of those who are out on the front lines doing much more than that. We’re very grateful for everyone from healthcare staff to all of those working grocery stores and all the other essential services.

So we’re staying home and becoming quite creative with cooking and baking, making our groceries last to avoid going out. We’re staying home and doing a bit of gardening. Ok, maybe a bit too much of that all at once, got a back spasm and had to rest that for a while.

And we’re staying home, and escaping the news and seeking some meditative time by working in our studios. Will is working on lino cuts in his studio. I’m working on the latest free motion sewing and fabric collages. Hopefully, a lot of people are finding creative ways to cope with staying home in these very scary and difficult times.

So, I’m sharing my latest fabric collages, in bright and cheerful colours, paying forward the inspiration I’ve gotten from others and offering a bit of inspiration of my own on what to do with all that stash of material and perhaps a little antidote to the state of things.

These were all done with basically the same materials. This time, a bright red material caught my eye and with it I found other bits and pieces to create three different collages. Instead of a white background, I went for a very colourful backing. The first was also my first attempt at “couching” or applying a cord with stitching to the surface design. Couldn’t get quite the loops I wanted with just zig zag stitch but still I’m happy with the result.

Fabric Collage on Red, by Helen Bushell,

The next has my latest attempt at “couching” included. I don’t have the proper foot on my machine for this, so I’m faking it with an open toe free motion foot. I will admit to a bit of swearing.

Fabric Collage on Red, by Helen Bushell,

This one is the last in the series on the red background. The turquoise arcs in these are left over from a pattern cut out for neckline interfacing on a tunic I made. I never throw out anything and that’s handy when you’re into fabric collage. For my next pieces, I’m eyeing a rather lovely piece of orange satin as the base.

Fabric Collage on Red, by Helen Bushell,

Let’s all hope that there will soon be a happier end to this stressful time. I’ll be checking all the artists that I follow for inspiration on coping while staying home. In the meantime, take care.


Playing with Stitches and Scraps

I’m one of those people who keeps little bits and pieces, scraps that anyone else would probably toss. In each of these three compositions, there is a little scrap of dark periwinkle silk, which originally was the frayed and torn end of a favourite scarf that I mended. When I put them aside, I hadn’t even thought of making fabric collage. Hadn’t even heard of it yet.

Fabric collage, Helen Bushell,

The other materials are just me snapping up scraps of remnants in colours that attract me, found at garage sales and thrifting. The orange and violet and purple just wanted to be arranged together. It doesn’t really show here, but except for the turquoise, it’s all very silky and sensual material.

Fabric collage, Helen Bushell,

Those little scraps of turquoise are the best bits of a really old cotton square scarf. I think I used to wear it when I was painting walls in the house. Just love that texture in the black and turquoise.

Fabric collage, Helen Bushell,

So here they are, three new abstract collages. All about 8inches by 10 inches or 20 x 25 cm aprox. I’m quite liking working on a set of three at a time, using the same set of scraps and pushing them around until it feels right. And the stitching, well, that’s pretty well intuitive, as well, just letting it happen. And this was before I discovered “couching” cord into a design. That’s coming up next. So MUCH to learn yet. And I’m still pondering how to present them.


Finding Connections While Experimenting with New Mediums

Experimenting with and immersing yourself in a new medium is always fun. For years I was cutting up dishes and making my way through learning the “how to” of mosaic. That lead from making some crazy wall pieces full of ornaments and pattern, to doing more and more work, in an abstract way, playing with the basics of colour and texture. I’d say the surfaces of mosaic still attract me, the glinting of china in the sun, against the dull grout acting as a foil.

"Speckle and Stripe" ,mosaic, by Helen Bushell,

While still creating mosaic in a more abstract vein, I was also messing about with bits and pieces of stained glass and creating some abstract and colorful compositions with that. To say I loved the colours in the stained glass would be an understatement. I’m like a kid faced with “Allsorts “candies! And the layers I could make, colour over colour and best of all, the effect of the sun shining through!

"Momentum", stained glass composition by Helen Bushell,

Alongside these experimental works I was also creating with paper and collage, mixing it up with papers and texture that I’d created into, again, abstract comps. Paper collage has so many possibilities, so many surfaces and colours, movement of shape and line.

"Moving Parts" collage by Helen Bushell,

And now, with fabric, I’m finding that there is a bit of a correlation with all that I’m doing. Each set of materials presents it’s own learning curve and challenges. And I’ll admit to doing a bit more swearing while sewing. Me and machines, well, there is need for patience, I’m finding. But, the results and excitement of mixing up patterns, textures, lines and most of all colour, in fabric… well let’s just say I’m having fun but it has been a challenge.

Colourband, fabric collage, by Helen Bushell,

And I’m liking the sense of seeing that all my work somehow relates, whether in broken dishes, stained glass or paper and now fabric. So, today along with a few examples of my other forays into other mediums, I’m sharing a few new fabric collages. As with all the other mediums, often it’s finding a pattern or texture on a dish or glass or paper and now fabric, that leads to a composition.

Squares and Stripes, fabric collage, by Helen Bushell,

With these, it was finding fabric with some lovely exciting stripes. I’m a sucker for stripes.

Red Rocket, fabric collage, by Helen Bushell,

And then of course, colour. Colour is my talisman, and also the thing that attracts me every time. Like a hummingbird to a red flower. Each medium has it’s own qualities and permissions. Glass allows movement and space without having to think about how the grout will affect it all. Paper allows more texture than glass and more line. Then fabric, well, now I’m exploring creating line with thread, texture with layers and applique. More to come! But nothing abandoned. I’ll still create with mosaics, glass, paper collage and now fabric. Just more to add to the pot.

2 Turquoise Circles, fabric collage, by Helen Bushell,

On the Value of Making Mistakes

Before I got my fancy new sewing machine with the capacity for doing free motion sewing, I’d already decided to try fabric collage. This is my first attempt, on my old machine, with just the ability to zig zag and sew in only slightly curving lines. Lots of colour and a bit of movement. I used some great material I found in Hawaii.

"Hawaii" Free Motion Fabric Collage by Helen Bushell,

When you are learning something new you have to be willing create something that is not perfect. Well, actually, I think perfection is over-rated anyway. In fact, most artists make use of “mistakes” and find a way to use them in the composition. So, when I decided to teach myself how to do free motion sewing, I was ready for “mistakes” and jumped right in to practice making lots of “mistakes”.

free motion thread side 1, Helen Bushell,

I think free motion sewing was actually meant to be used to make very controlled quilting lines on large quilts. In fact, I’m a great user of internet tutorials and most of them are really into making very controlled patterns, with no variations or “mistakes”. Of course, like many artists, I’m sort of in the camp of just using scribbly lines and being loose and free with it all, more of an “abstract random” you could say. I must admit, I do like some of the effects that “mistakes” like bad tension and random movements can make. I may use these somewhere, someday. Quite like them.

free motion thread side 2, Helen Bushell,

Anyway, here is one of my first attempts at free motion collage. Trying hard to get in lots of spiral, circular and scribble-y lines.

Free Motion Fabric collage by Helen Bushell,

Even the back is kind of interesting to me, with just the thread lines….

Free Free Motion Fabric collage underside threads, by Helen Bushell,