Bewitched But Bewildered

I’ve read a lot of quilting books over the decades. I’ve looked at books on patterns, techniques, and design; plus picture books of quilt collections. I’m not a novice at extracting sense from such books.

However, my attempts to understand Wen Redmond‘s “Digital Fiber Art” have foundered. It’s as if I signed up for intermediate Spanish, thinking the six words I already knew would be adequate preparation. Instead, I’m catching the sense of about one sentence out of seven.

Redmond’s forte is printing digital imagery on fabric, paper, and other more unconventional surfaces. She assumes, rightly so, that her readers will know their way around Photoshop or other photo editing software. After all, the book’s title includes the word digital. I’m a novice there, though I have grand plans to take a course.

Where she loses me is there’s no overall step by step instructions or any supply list. I desperately need an introductory chapter that says here’s what I’ll cover, here’s what you need to get started, and here’s some fancy stuff to try. I now know something about the importance of pre-coats and post-coats but I have a hard time putting that information into context. I haven’t a clue about what kinds of fabric work best with this approach – she mentions organza, canvas, duck, cotton, but says nothing about the pros and cons of each. I’d also like to know how basic I can go with the raw materials and still have the potential for a decent outcome.

Even if I understood all aspects of the process, I gather printing my own digital fabrics would be costly. Redmond herself uses an Epson Stylus Photo printer. That will set you back at least $300. The various pre-coats and other supplies run $25 per bottle, if you want to prep your own fabric.  Cotton pre-treated fabric starts at about $83 for a 17 by 35 inch piece. Then there’s the pigment ink, which costs about $20-25 per cartridge. You can see how the costs could mount up. Mind you, Redmond isn’t shopping at Joann’s or Michael’s, but is buying professional grade materials.

There are copious examples of her work and some of the steps that went into each piece. They are great illustrations of the fertility of her imagination but I got confused. I never figured out if some of the interesting base effects shown are meant to be photographed and digitally manipulated, or be a substrate to be printed on.

Redmond is obviously expert at these techniques and produces some amazing art. However, for me her book is like watching a slide show at warp speed with no context. I keep wanting to say, back up a minute. Until I get more digital editing expertise under my belt and am willing to invest $1000 or so, this book will be borrowed from a library and not purchased. I need to start at digital fiber art for dummies.

However, I do recommend this book if you just want to take in some lovely eye candy. I think you could dumb down some of the ideas for printing on a humble inkjet printer, but just don’t expect the results to look like Redmond’s.

Trees Singing – Wen Redmond

Amazements of Tender Reflections – Wen Redmond



Filed under Books, Commentary

11 responses to “Bewitched But Bewildered

  1. Wen

    The book is helpfully divided up into sections such as using fabric or paper as substrates, using Pre-Coats (such as InkAid) and basic Digital Photography printing before moving onto more experimental chapters of using acrylic mediums, overlays, creating textured surfaces for blending or printing over and using nonporous substrates. Each area is fully illustrated and clearly explained in stages and each chapter contains its own Process and Example sections so you can get to grips with how to achieve an effect and then see some finished pieces.

    This is a fantastic book if you like to take pictures and want to learn a bit more about incorporating it into your work. As it goes way beyond just teaching you to print onto fabric, you can get a sense of how to run with this area of work. The stages of layering up your images, substrates and mediums provides an infinite number of combinations to explore to create a wide range of visual images. This is a book rich in beautiful pieces of work, clear instruction and plenty of inspiration to try it yourself.

  2. If someone with as much experience in art quilting as you have can’t make sense of this book it seems the audience for it is very narrow. It’s too bad the author didn’t see that she needed to start with the basics.

  3. I love Wen’s work and appreciate reading your take on her book. I think you could help Redmond write a great “Back to Digital Fiber Art 101” book!

    • If you’ve looked at this book I’d love to have your opinion. I felt like I was trying to figure out where to start untangling a skein of yarn. And thanks for your confidence in my ability to co-write a book.

  4. I am impressed with the eye candy you have shared at least. To bad the book does not help as much with actually achieving those effects.

    • As I hope I made clear, the fault may be due in part to my ignorance of digital techniques. But the pictures are great for getting an idea of what you can do with digital manipulation.

  5. Sounds like an interesting but poorly conceived book. If nothing else, the introduction should say who the audience of the book is. And if it really is intended only for those who already know how to do this, then… why bother?

    • I agree with you, but the reviews I’ve seen of this book seem to suggest that some of the reviewers didn’t actually read the book with an eye toward applying the techniques.

  6. I don’t even know what pre coats od post coats are so you have an advantage over me!!!

    • My understanding is that pre-coats are put on your fabric before you print your photo, while post-coats are added after printing. The purpose of both is to make your print as vibrant and as colorfast as possible.

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