Monday, October 5, 2009

Creating is NOT an option for Margaret C. Wheeler: Silk fusion is her medium of choice

Margaret C. Wheeler has generously shared her process, and her work as well as her experiences that might help others grow their art. She gives an interesting and thorough intro to silk fusion. But if you're like me, its hard to take my eyes off of the photos long enough to read her story. But be strong -- its a great read. -- Dawn

(First photo: Maui Ocean #1)

Margaret C. Wheeler in her own words!

Silk fusion is the process of bonding silk fibers together to make, usually, a sheet which can then be altered to anything you want. It is very strong since silk is very strong. It is nearly impossible to tear. I make wall pieces out of it. I cut and weave strips into a sheet and then I do freeform machine stitching and finally I do lots of beading. I am always evolving so things change fast and now I am adding prints of my photographs on silk organza.

When making silk fusion you lay the fibers (very carefully) in one direction then another layer in the opposite direction. Usually one more layer is required but if you need a 4th that is up to the individual. 2 layers is the very minimum. It is laid out on plastic screening and then is sandwiched between a second screen. This is where it gets messy. You need to wet it thoroughly with water and a tiny bit of liquid soap so that it will accept the textile medium. Next you carefully sponge out the water after which you apply the textile medium. Since silk does not have barbs like wools it needs something to bond the fibers. You must not apply too much or it will be too stiff and rubbery but you must be careful not to apply it too thin or it will not stay together and when you take the screen off it will pull apart.

Next you must hang it to drip the excess "glue" and dry. Usually about eight hours to be sure it is fully dry. Then you carefully peel off each piece of screening and there is your sheet and you are just getting started.

I set up tables in the garage to do this process because I like to make larger sheets. I break apart boxes to lay under a wooden clothes rack to catch the drips. If I am working in the warm summer weather I will hang it outside between 2 trees and let it drip on the grass.

Meet Margaret C. Wheeler

I have been working in textiles since I was about 18. I started designing my own clothes for a practical reason. I was married young and had my family early and hence no money. I would make my clothes and then when I grew tired of them my mother would take them to her town about 20 miles away and sell them to her friends. I now had money to buy new fabric. My husband and I got involved in starting a summer stock theatre in NE Montana and the director figured if I could sew I could do costumes. And I could. For the next 25 years I worked in theatre as a designer and I also constructed my designs. (Photo 2: Maui Ocean 2)

There were always volunteers but I never liked their work and always had to redo it. I learned so much about fabric and what you could make it do.

We moved from Montana to Washington where I continued to work in theatre. I loved it even tho it was very hard work. We moved to eastern Washington and I decided it was time to quit and do other things. I had started weaving in 1980 and had several looms so that was going to fill my time and satisfy my creative needs. Well it didn't. I developed an allergy to wools of all kinds, mohairs, angoras you name it.

I sold some of my looms and started to make clothes again for others, spirit dolls and fabric bowls. I was on a search for my niche. I went to a regional weavers conference and happened to find a seminar (her classes were all full) by Karen Selk on silk fusion. Had no idea what it was. I had taken other classes from Karen and knew that whatever she did it would be good, understandable and memorable. I was not disappointed. I knew I had found what I was looking for.

I love everything about silk. And silk fusion gave me that without having to set up a loom which I never liked doing and was never that good at because I do not have good eye sight. Weaving has been great for me because I understand all about the single fiber and how it fits into the scheme of a beautiful finished piece. Because of weaving I had the opportunity to take classes on color, dyeing, weave structure and many other things from some of the best people in the world.

As I say on my web site " Creating is not an option; for me it is a passion; it is my life." Other than my 4 sons and 7 grandchildren and 1 great grandson there isn't anything else I get into the "zone" over. I am very passionate about travel but cant afford to go all the time and I love golf but nothing fills that inner need except my grand kids. I never get tired of creating something out of nothing.

You asked me what does my art do for me spiritually, emotionally, physically or financially. Well spiritually, and emotionally my work fills all the holes in my soul and makes me feel complete. I often wonder what it would be like to not have to "make" something and I cant imagine it. It is a blank.

Watch TV??? Never. Maybe I would walk more. Physically it can be very hard on me. Most of the time when working I forget to take a break and pay for it the next day. My hands have arthritis in them and if I bead too long it may take several days before my thumb joint stops hurting. Not to mention neck and back problems from sitting too long. (Photo 3: Maui Ocean #3.)

Financially It is a losing proposition. I never made much money in costuming and I do not make much money now. I am very lucky that my husband is a big fan and loves my work and is willing to support my needs. We have spent a lot over the years especially when I was weaving. Equipment is so expensive. I always said I should have taken up knitting instead. I have one small drawer full of enough knitting needles to do whatever anyone would want forever. So much cheaper!!! I make more money selling my weaving equipment now.

I have collected beads and things over the years to last me for a long time.

I have a 500 sq ft studio separate from the house. I have knitted scarves, made handbags, hemmed dresses, made aprons for German trachten, dyed silk scarves, you name it, in a effort to make money to help and it does in a small way. My hands are always busy. My Mother always said "Idle hand do the devils work."

But more often she said "To thine own self be true."

I think silk fusion is for the person who really likes to start from scratch but does not want to weave. Spinning then weaving your yarn are really starting from scratch. Well then you must grow the sheep. But silk fusion can satisfy that need to start from nearly nothing and create your very own piece. I admire quilting a lot but the ones done from a pattern or using a printed design that is cut and sewn on are like paint by numbers paintings to me even tho I admire the beautiful ones. Technically I do not think I could be that precise because I'm too impatient but creatively I think I can do something better. At least I have to try and my head is full. I will need to live to 200 just to do what I think of now. By then I would have even more.

Silk fusion is a technique that is for the person who has their own vision, doesn't mind being wet and sticky and a bit messy (tho nothing like felting) and making the sheet is just the beginning. Bottom line to any one who might be interested in exploring silk fusion I can only say there is nothing more beautiful than silk. (Photo 4: My Flower Garden.)

I have several things in shows right now:
  • 2 paper collages (the 2 of the dog Kelly on my website) in the NWCollage Society Fall show.
  • 1 silk fusion (Let Your Life Speak) and the Memory Book (although I had to change the cover because the feather disintegrated so I have used antique lace) in a fiber show in Sequim, WA. 
  • And last but not least I have a huge hand woven quilt 10 feet by 13 feet that I designed and sewed the pieces together. I oversaw the work of about 60 members of the Seattle Weavers Guild who wove the fabric for the squares and long strips as joiners and also emblellished 48 squares. That is being hung at the LaConner Quilt and Textile Museum in LaConner, WA. and will be there until the 27th of December. I have shown some of my silk fusion there in the past.


Katxena said...

I've never heard of silk fusing before. Ms. Wheeler's work is really beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing it.

Lisa Chin said...

I've never heard of silk fusing either and am now facinated. Thanks for the article!