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What is Surface Design? It’s All Around You

Candace Edgerley
Candace Edgerley
Story cloth by Julie Booth
Story cloth by Julie Booth

One of the less familiar terms in The Art League School catalog is “surface design.”

What is that, anyway? We asked two artists who should know: Candace Edgerley and Julie Booth, who both teach surface design classes at The Art League.

What is surface design and what can you use it for?
Candace Edgerley: I think the best definition of Surface Design comes from the Surface Design Association: Surface Design encompasses the coloring, patterning, and structuring of fiber and fabric. This involves creative exploration of processes such as dyeing, painting, printing, stitching, embellishing, quilting, weaving, knitting, felting, and papermaking.

You can find surface design everywhere you look. Someone had to design the pattern or create the color on your sheets, blankets, towels, curtains, coats, sweaters, socks, shirts, everything you wear. Your favorite quilt was designed and stitched by hand or machine. Someone had to spin the yarn, dye, and knit or crochet your sweater. Whether done by hand or machine, someone had to design the item. My definition includes both functional and non-functional items. Non-functional items such as sculptural baskets; wall quilts; embroidered, dyed, woven, stitched wall art; fiber installations. The list is endless.

Julie Booth: I define surface design as any technique that manipulates or changes the surface of a fabric. This would include: painting, dyeing, printing/stamping, stenciling, applying resists, stitching, embellishing (e.g. adding beads), collaging, weaving, etc.

What I love about using surface design techniques is that I have control over what I want to design for a particular functional or non-functional piece. If I can’t find it commercially, I can make my own piece of fabric using colors I’ve mixed and designs I’ve created.

Julie Booth, Fabric Painting and Printing
Julie Booth, Fabric Painting and Printing

What is your favorite surface design technique?
Julie Booth: I have a number of favorites! First on the list is relief printing. I love to carve my own blocks from materials that range from commercial rubber products (such as Speedball Speedy Carve) to vegetables! I enjoy creating print blocks from materials I have on hand such as recycled cardboard, paper and plastic. In fact, I just published a book called Fabric Printing at Home that uses materials you can find in your kitchen to design beautiful one-of-a-kind fabrics.

Candace Edgerley: One of my favorite techniques is referred to as “deconstructed screen printing.” This is a process of applying dye to a silk screen, allowing the dye to dry in the screen, then printing the design in the screen onto the fabric. The results are always somewhat unpredictable and amazing. This is a class that is being offered beginning April 14 and will be offered again in the fall. Additional techniques such as Thermofax screens and photo emulsion are also covered in this class.

Candace Edgerley, Screen Printing
Candace Edgerley, Screen Printing

Julie Booth: I also love to hand stitch fabrics. I find the process very meditative and the results can be very personal pieces of art that can tell a story or even provide a healing experience.

Candace Edgerley: Shibori is the Japanese resist dye technique which is another of my favorites. Fabric can be folded and clamped, stitched and gathered, or bound to create areas that will resist the dye. These techniques also allow the fabric to be manipulated in such a way to retain its shape transforming the 2D to a three dimensional form. Shibori classes will also be offered in the fall.

Shibori collar by Candace Edgerley
Shibori collar by Candace Edgerley

Julie Booth: This semester, I’m offering two surface design classes. Fabric Painting and Printing: Surface Design starts on April 15 and covers a broad range of techniques including: relief printing, gelatin monoprinting, stenciling, screen printing and fabric resists. Students are encouraged to come up with an independent project that incorporates a variety of these techniques. Fabric Painting, Printing and Stitching to Tell a Story with Cloth, starting on April 22, focuses on using surface design on fabric techniques to create a story. We discuss the definition of “story” and expand upon the more traditional view of story.  In addition to using printing, stenciling and resist techniques, students learn basic hand stitching techniques to add another dimension to their final art pieces.

What experience and supplies does a first time student need?
Julie Booth: No prior experience is necessary in my classes. I welcome newcomers to surface design. I love to share my knowledge and always find that I learn something new from my students. I provide all the fabric paints, print blocks, brushes and tools needed for a nominal materials fee. I do have supply lists for my classes that include such items as cotton fabric (available for purchase in the classroom) and foam core boards and plastic to create portable work surfaces.

Candace Edgerley: No previous experience is necessary for the classes I teach at The Art League. Most of the supplies needed for the surface design classes are provided by The Art League. Students usually bring a few extra yards of fabric to classes for projects. Dyes, fabric, and a screen for printing are included in the materials fee for the screen printing classes.

See the full list of Spring classes in fiber arts on our website.

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Did you know: The Art League's Art Camp is the longest running visual arts camp in the area! We've been here for more than 30 years! While sadly we can't find any photos from the '80s (please let us know if you have any lying around), let's take a look back at the last several years of burgeoning kid artists and eight years of fun at Art Camp!

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