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( Originally Published 1935 )
The machine age is bringing more and more leisure which is not entirely a blessing, for since the machine can make everything it leaves people little to do with their additional spare time. Gardening and a variety of other outdoor diversions are possible in summer; but in winter there is little besides reading, radio entertainment, and movies.
Psychologists now say that it is a human necessity to create. Man has, however, little opportunity for creative work in this age of regimentation, for his education, his work, and his recreation are standardized. For many persons the only outlets for creative effort lie within the home. Therefore hobbies that permit individual expression should be encouraged.
It seems as if this may be the time to revive a good old custom, that of having the members of the family make some of the things they need in their homes. Formerly, in Scandinavian homes during the long winters, all the members of the family gathered about their enormous fireplaces and made their own equipment for the art of living. The pride of the individual in his own product was one of the satisfactions of life. More sane home life might result in this restless age if we were to return to that old custom of making articles for our homes.
It would be an anomaly in this age for handwork to replace machine work, so that is not suggested. It is recommended, however, that handwork should supply many things for the home, and that men, women, and children should all have a part in making them. A home that becomes a center for creative work will exert a permanently beneficial influence on its members. Almost everyone desires the romance in the home setting that results from the creative effort of the members of the family.
It can not be too strongly urged, however, that only well-designed articles should be made at home. A course in design and color study is a necessity for anyone who wishes to do first-class creative work. The person who can not take a course would gain much benefit from reading books on design and looking at the work of good designers. She should first trace designs from art books and periodicals, and as she becomes experienced, should adapt designs or even originate new ones. Museum material is often inspiring to amateur designers. Primitive designs are usually interesting and easy to copy and adapt. Whether the problem is to make a table or an embroidered textile, more care should be taken in selecting the design than in making the article. If possible the amateur should have her designs approved by a trained person before using them.
Directions for making a few interesting things are given here to encourage the reader to experiment with creative work.
Dyeing is an easy way of changing the effect of textiles, especially of silks and woolens which take dye better than cottons and linens. The person who dyes things at home should not expect always to get the even effect of professional dyeing. Excellent results are possible, however, if one buys good dye and follows the directions exactly. Dye that is boiled into the goods is more permanent than cold-water dye; however, some materials can not be boiled and require other dyeing processes. As there are dyes that will color certain fibers, such as silk, and leave others unaffected, one should read the description of the dye on a package before buying it.
Sometimes it is desirable to bleach the color out of fabrics before dyeing them. To bleach cottons, boil them first in soapy water and then in soda water. If this is not sufficient, bleach them in a solution consisting of one tablespoon of chloride of lime to a half gallon of water, and boil again in soda water. Silks and other delicate fabrics can be bleached in a solution consisting of one tablespoon of hydrosulphite of soda to a half gallon of warm water. It is well to test the solution with a small piece of the cloth to be bleached in order to see its effect on the material. Most dyes are mixed with a little water first, then boiled in a small pot, and strained through cloth. Some of this strong strained dye is then added to the water in the kettle in which the dyeing is to be done. It is better to have this light in color at first, to try samples of cloth in it, and then darken it, if necessary. The fixing solution or mordant is added according to directions.
The material to be dyed should be washed absolutely clean, and while still wet should be immersed all at once into the dye bath. The dye should be stirred constantly while the material is in it, whether boiling or not. If more dye is to be added to the dye bath, the material must first be lifted out. When the dye is thoroughly mixed the material may be dipped again. When colored sufficiently, it is rinsed in several waters to remove the free dye and then is hung out to dry. It is usually well to shake the material often while it is drying. If a color is not satisfactory it can be removed by a dip in dye remover, and the material can be dyed again. The joy of dyeing lies in the subtle unusual colors that can be obtained, as well as in its economical aspect.
One artistic home maker changes the color of her bedroom glass curtains every time she washes them. She first changes yellow to salmon, the next time to peach, and finally to coral by adding dye to one rinsing water. When the old color is too dark to leave as an undertone, she dips the curtains in dye remover and starts anew. This artist also dyes her old dresses, and boils odd lots of silk hose in dark brownish black dye, so that she can match them into pairs again.
It is very desirable for a home maker to learn to dye things, as she can often improve the appearance of her possessions in this way. She should have courage, and should not be disheartened by a few mistakes. Often the beginner spoils her product by letting the wet material come in contact with dye on the table or on the outside of the pan or on her own smock. The dyer must keep all puddles and spots cleaned up or covered, in order to do a good job. Rubber gloves should be worn by the woman who is careful of her hands.
Textiles, decorated by hand, make interesting wall hangings, table covers, or curtains. Several ways of decorating fabrics are given here.
Designs for Textiles. In making designs for textiles it is well first to plan two or three borders of various widths around the edge. The central area can then be filled in with small geometric forms repeated, or with a large design. For silk or other fine material the design should be small, but for a coarse material a larger, bolder design is needed. It is well to buy cloth of an interesting color to begin with.
Wax Crayon Decoration. The easiest method of decorating a textile is to use wax crayon. A ten-cent box of wax crayons and a ten-cent piece of light-colored muslin are enough to begin with. One can, however, decorate table covers, wall hangings, curtains, or lunch cloths with crayons.
First tack the cloth down on a smooth surface. Then draw a good design on it lightly with pencil. Next apply the crayon, which must be rubbed very- hard on the cloth to get a solid effect. Finally press the cloth carefully with a hot iron. When washing this textile use almost cold water.
Sprayed Dye. Tack the cloth against a smooth wall well protected by papers. Put the dye in a little can with an attached sprayer which produces a fine spray. The sprayer can be purchased in a drug store. Cut out pieces of rather thin cardboard, preferably geometric in form, and tack them onto your cloth in some regular order. Then spray the dye so that it shades out from the dark near the cardboard to light. Take off the cardboard and move it into a new position, or tack up some other, related forms. Spray again with the same or some other color, and continue until you have something that satisfies you. This is a quick way to get results. It can be used in making curtains, wall hangings, table covers, or bedspreads. By experimenting on some cheap cloth you soon learn the possibilities of the medium, and can then concentrate on the design to be used.
Sponge and Dye. Fasten your cloth on a smooth table and tack cardboard shapes over it. Dip a very fine sponge into strong dye and squeeze it as dry as you can. Rub off any further surplus dye or. rags or blotting paper. Then rub the dry sponge upon your cloth, pressing hard next to the cardboard and gradually lighter away from it. The gradation of tone obtainable by this method is one of its best features. The method is effective only with bold designs, and is desirable for primitive or modern effects. Several colors may be used for variety. Rather coarse material is best as a base upon which to apply the decoration.
Batiks. Batiks are made by an old Javanese process that we delight in copying. They can be made in a simple, crude way or with extreme care. On some smooth material, like china silk, draw lightly in pencil a design having no fine detail or lines. Tack the silk on a frame. A mixture of paraffine and beeswax must be kept hot while you paint in parts of your design with it, using a small brush. The part that is waxed will not be affected when the material is dyed. Next dip the cloth in dye, stretch and dry, and then, if you wish, paint some more wax on part of your design. If you want a crackled effect, crush the cloth so that the wax breaks in fine lines. Then dip it in dye of another color. If you like, stretch it again and wax, dye, and dry. Finally dip the cloth in gasoline to remove the wax and pencil lines. It is a mistake to touch up batiks or tie-dyes with paint on a brush. The batik process is useful in making table covers and wallhangings.
Tie-and-Dye. This is a primitive way of dyeing that is done very beautifully in India. It can be done painstakingly in which case the cloth is gathered up along running stitches, or it can be done quickly. After planning a simple design, gather up the cloth, wrap part of it very tightly with cord, tie it firmly, and dip it in dye. Allow the material to dry and without untying the first cords, now wrap some more of the cloth with cord, and dip it all in another color; do this again if you like. Finally dip the cloth into a fixing bath containing salt or vinegar.
In the tie-and-bleach work, colored fabric is tied and wrapped, and the exposed color is discharged in a bleaching solution.
Stencils. It is possible to make interesting designs from stencils, but ready-made stencils have discredited the process. If you can forget about precise rows of tulips and think of overlapping oblongs, squares, triangles, or circles your stencil may be a success. Draw your design on thin cardboard and cut out the parts that are to be painted. Get several small tubes of oil paint including white, mix the color you want, and add a very little turpentine to thin it. Dip a stiff brush in the paint, and then rub all the free paint off on a rag. Tack the cloth on a table, place the stencil on it and paint through the holes, with a stamping motion. After painting the design, move the stencil so that you repeat the same form overlapping the first motif painted. If your work appears spotty, connect the spots on your design with bars or zigzag lines, if you are using straight lines; or with wavy lines if you are using curves. Stencils may be applied to cloth, paper, furniture, or walls.
Block Prints. Linoleum rather than wood is now used for making block prints because it is easier to cut. Scraps of leftover battleship linoleum can be procured from shops that sell linoleum, and mounted linoleum blocks are available in art supply shops. Since the linoleum is too dark to permit lines to show on it, it should be painted with white water-color paint before the design is traced on it with pencil. To allow cutting, the design must be rather bold. Using a sharp pen knife or some wood-carving tools cut away either the background or the foreground of the design, keeping the edges as precise as possible. When finished, wash the block to remove the remaining water-color paint. For printing on cloth use either printer's ink or oil paint, both of which come in tubes. Thin the paint with turpentine on a piece of glass or marble, or on a metal tray, to the consistency of thick sweet cream. To apply the paint to the block, use a small roller called a brayer, rolling it into the paint and around on the tray until it is evenly coated. Then roll it over the face of the block, coating it with plenty of paint. The paint can instead be applied to the block with a brush or a pad of cloth, but the roller spreads the paint more evenly. Place the cloth on the floor on a blanket so that you can print your design on it. Put the painted block in the place marked for it on the cloth, painted side down, and apply the necessary pressure by stepping very carefully on the block. Remove the block, run the roller into the paint and over the block again, and repeat. Linoleum cuts can be printed with a roller press or run through a clothes wringer, either way providing a more even pressure than the stamping method. If you have used oil paint or oily ink to print with, you can clean your tools with kerosene, gasoline, or turpentine. Different blocks can be used to print additional colors if desired, but this hardly seems worth the trouble, and often weakens the effect.
Painted Panels. Painted panels can be interesting or dull depending upon the design and color used. A simple large "stylized" design and a single color varied slightly seem to produce the best effects. An important thing to keep in mind is that since you are making a wall textile, not a picture, some of the cloth must remain unpainted. Several techniques are possible but the most successful results come from using a stiff brush, rather dry oil paint, and a wide outlining tone that grades from dark to light, painted sometimes on the objects and sometimes on the background. It is usually advisable to use a rough fabric particularly if the panel is large. Both crash and pique give good results.
Embroidered Panels. Embroidered textiles can be interesting, but very few of those made today are. The ready-made designs generally used for needlework are unbelievably stupid. A woman interested in needlework should study design and examine good examples of needlework, until she can judge rightly whether or not a pattern is worth embroidering. The type of fabric used should determine the character of the design, the kind of thread, and the kinds of stitches used. Small embroidered panels for upholstery purposes can be made successfully by amateurs.
Appliqued Panels. Textiles decorated with applique are often delightful and easy to make. Patterns are cut out of one or more fabrics and fastened to another fabric, usually by sewing, amusing panels being made of many calicoes of small quaint patterns. Egyptian, primitive, and other appliques are to be found in museums and shops.
The most important thing about making a plaque is to find a worthy design for it. Needless to say it should not be naturalistic. Books on modern architectural sculpture show interesting basreliefs that indicate proper subjects and treatment for wall plaques.
Plaster of Paris Plaques. The plaque can be made in clay first, and then cast in plaster; a composition clay that does not dry is preferred. First a flat slab of clay about half an inch thick is made, and the design is traced upon it. Either the background or foreground is dug out about one eighth of an inch. For this work a hairpin, knife, nail file, and a modeler's tool may be used. The surfaces should be smooth, and the edges definite and not under cut. In order to make a plaster cast of a clay plaque, it is necessary to make an upstanding frame or fence of cardboard all around the plaque. Then the plaque should be given a light coat of oil of any kind. Plaster of Paris should be added to water until it is the consistency of paste, and then the mixture should be poured over the plaque. It can be pried off in an hour or less and the negative or opposite of your plaque is the result. This plaster negative should then be brushed over with a coat of oil, a cardboard fence built around it, and a fresh plaster of Paris mixture poured on it to the depth of half an inch or more. Rings to hang it up by must be put in the back of the cast while it is still soft. The plaques can be separated in about an hour. The negative can be used again and again for making other plaques. Cement plaques can be made from the plaster negative.
A simpler way to make a plaster plaque is to make a slab of plaster of Paris about one inch thick and carve it with a pen knife as soon as it sets well. These plaster plaques can be antiqued with stain, oiled, or painted in colors.
Cardboard Plaques. An interesting bas-relief can be made from layers of cardboard cut into a good pattern and glued on to each other. No layer should extend beyond the layer under it. Such plaques can be calcimined or painted with tempera. Abstract designs look very well in bas-reliefs of cardboard.
Linoleum Plaques. Battleship linoleum can be cut to make unusual plaques, which can also be used for printing on textiles. Cork composition also can be carved and used for wall plaques.
Carved Wood Plaques. Wood-carving tools and pen knives are needed for wood panels. They can be quite detailed because considerable modeling can be shown in wood-carving. A boy should be encouraged to make a plaque of wood for his room.
Courses in pottery, metalwork, and basketry prove very interesting to both men and women. Experience in crafts work makes one appreciate the work of craftsmen and designers in all fields.
Furniture can be made at home if one has the necessary tools and a place to work. Certain pieces such as shelves, bookcases, tables, benches, hanging shelves, and chests are most easily made. It is important to have the furniture well designed.
Well-seasoned wood must be used or it will shrink, leaving ugly open seams. Stain, paint, enamel, or a natural finish are all suitable for homemade furniture.
Made-Over Furniture. Second-hand furniture that is too large to be usable can often be secured at a very low price. If a large piece is made of good wood and has reasonably good structural lines, it can usually be cut down to the right scale. Wall pieces are often too deep, extending far out into a room. Such pieces can sometimes be cut right through the center from one side to the other. Usually glued-on ornaments can be pried off, and other protuberances sawed off, until the article is fairly plain. Straight legs can be substituted for curved. The legs can be removed entirely from such pieces as chests, desks, or beds so that they rest directly on the floor or on small platforms.
Dressers are easily converted into chests of drawers with the mirrors hung separately. A mirror can even be taken out of its wooden frame entirely as holes can be made through the glass for wires, or a clamp device on each side can provide a means for fastening the wires. Ugly drawer pulls can be replaced by a kind that suits the rest of the furnishings. Finish can be removed with paint remover or covered with paint. Changing its color every few years adds interest to old furniture.