A month ago, I wrote a post about a current public art piece I've been finishing up. If you haven't read "How to wake a dragon," you could go do that right now.
Or, there's a warp-speed version here: I made a public art piece for a branch library in 2003, a double sided triptych textile dragon, 15 feet x 44". When the branch library closed in 2010, the really nice librarians rescued it and moved it to another, newer branch library. When I saw it in 2013 in the larger space, I realized it could be better. 2 years ago I wrote a proposal to refurbish it with a community art component. Wrote grants with librarians, got rejections, got funding. Spent October conducting community art workshops.
There is so much more to this project. The why of it. The fact that the original budget steered me to use thrift store clothing for the majority of the fabrics, and this decision not only made the piece so much richer and varied in the end, but set me on a course with my personal work that I adhere to today. I still look to old fabric; I would rather take something apart and make it better than it ever was. I'd rather not start with all new.
This mindset is limiting and restrictive. But in the words of my wise, once-first grader, who surprisingly mourned the loss of the confines of the kindergarten play yard at his little school: "I don't like recess anymore. I don't like first grade. I don't have any freedom, because ... because ... because there are no fences!"
Something to think about.
Meanwhile ... dragon tending.
Step 1: Bring your dragon home.
Step 2: Mend your dragon's wounds.
After vacuuming each panel, I took them apart and added stitching over top of several tulle sections that should have had this before. When the work was handled at some point, there were a number of snags in the more delicate fabric, so I covered the damage with more stars.
The snags probably happened during transport and re-installation in 2010. Frayed cable ends were the culprit, so I finished these with small shrink wrapped sleeves so it wouldn't happen again. The shrinkwrapping looked so nice I wanted to shrink wrap everything all around me. Mainly I just wanted to use the heat gun.
These cables drop the piece 18" below the sprinkler heads. This is code. If you are engaged in public art, you will need to know building code. Or consult with someone who does. Or marry an architect.
When dismantled, the six panels are 2 different sizes: 2 are 90" x 44" and 4 are 44" x 44". This is a function of the original installation. The biggest panels were a nightmare to get under my machine with all the 3-D scales and padded dragon forms, but my 22-year-old PFAFF -- as usual -- was a champ.
Step 3: Control your dragon's flame.
The other thing I needed to address at this point was fire retardant. The original piece hadn't ever been treated with anything other than Scotch Guard (which is why it was unbelievably clean), and this had started bothering me a few years after it was originally installed. I used a Fire Tect product purchased through Dharma called "Fire-poof," and used the sprayer they recommended. The product safety guidelines recommend ventilation, eye protection, and gloves.
I worked in my heated garage, but this fire retardant is corrosive when it comes into contact with metal, so I draped cabinets with plastic to protect everything from overspray. If you use this product, test a series of fabric swatches first. It beads on some fabrics so I back brushed and swabbed those areas to force the liquid to penetrate. Because it leaves white specks if the product does bead, I swabbed the entire thing until dragon and I were fully soaked.
Then I freaked out because it looked like a sopping mess and I was pretty sure I'd ruined the whole damned thing.
Step 4: Support your dragon.
The reverse panels are comprised of over 200 community-created, star-themed squares, either 5 1/2" x 5 1/2" or 11" x 11". Much of this fabric came from cotton or linen clothing and required interlining for each square and a full cotton backing for each large section. I invisibly back-stitched along each seam by hand to stabilize, so the panels are heavy and structural without being "quilted."
Just an aside: this is not a "quilt." It never was intended to be and it felt important to adhere to the banner-like intention it's always had, hence no visible "quilty" hand stitching. I don't know why I think it's important to say this, but, well, there it is.
Step 5: Wrangle your dragon.
The banner's edges were originally bound, which had a tricky maneuver at the top to allow for a slat with eyelets punching through button holes. The technique made it easy to square when first made in 2003, and despite the fact I still had plenty of unused blue cotton duck to do this again, I didn't want to. The binding would have broken up the community art and I wanted a cleaner finish overall.
I stabilized the inside edges with twill tape following exact measurements so nothing would stretch, then I matched panels and sewed them together. This sounds easy. It was not. The layered fabric was heavy, the original dragon had stretched after hanging for 13 years and wasn't square, my iron was dying. I was pretty sure I was going to match the wrong panels together, so the inside is covered with Sharpie arrows and notes and descriptions of what goes where.
Step 6: Suspend & protect your dragon.
I hung the finished panels in my entryway for about a week, then the night before delivery, we lowered the ropes and wrapped each panel in plastic (a brilliant move, which I'll share in the next post). This multi-day suspension allowed all the fibers to breathe and move and relax, while the weight of the inner slats encased at the bottom edge straightened everything.
Step 7: Cut your dragon's bonds.
Yesterday morning Brian helped me cut all the suspension ropes and load the car for the transport back the the Chugiak-Eagle River Library.
I was nervous.
Also, it was -2 degrees F outside.
* * *
I'll post soon about the installation and upcoming celebration, which is this Saturday, December 10 from 3-5 pm at the Chugiak-Eagle River Library. You're all invited, of course.
I hear there will be cookies.
Other posts about public art:
For related posts on this dragon, please see:
For other public art, please see:
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.