On True Up we write mostly about quilting weight cotton prints, and that’s what a majority of our sponsors sell or make. It’s a given that we love it! But one of my primary goals is to branch out and explore other types of fabric, and encourage/embolden readers to do the same. We’re also big into DIY fabric design, and want to be THE source for information on independent fabric designers. So when Suzanne Meyer Pistorius of Blugirlart wrote to me inquiring about advertising, I was especially honored — it meant to me that I’m starting to meet both these goals.
So, I’m very excited to introduce you to Ms. Meyer Pistorius. She employs the age-old technique of handpainting onto fabric — mostly silk, though she does work with some heavyweight upholstery cottons too. She offers one-of-a-kind yardage, scarves, and pareos (or body cloths; the term AFAIK is interchangeable with “sarong”) painted with her bold, modern, edgy designs, through her website. When I think of DIY fabric the first methods that come to mind are screenprinting, block printing, and digital textile printing — I don’t know why I so rarely consider handpainting, but Meyer Pistorious’ work has decidedly corrected that! Of course I was excited to know everything about her background and process, and I thought you would be too. So a big welcome to Suzanne …
True Up: Please tell us about yourself, where you live, and your background as a designer and artist.
Suzanne Meyer Pistorius: I live in Springfield, MA. I moved here 11 years ago from St. Martin in the Caribbean. I studied Fashion Design and had my own clothing factory in Africa for many years. I used to make womenswear for my own outlets and also CMT (Cut, Make, and Trim) for other designers. It was during my years in the Caribbean that I seriously started fabric painting — I used to paint clothing to sell to the tourists. After one hurricane too many I made the move to the United States. For many years I worked in Technical Design in the fashion industry. My last position was at Brooks Brothers in Manhattan. This was a six hour a day commute from my home in Massachusetts — which needles to say was exhausting, but it was on these long commutes that I used to daydream about getting back to my creative roots. So last June I took the plunge, resigned and started creating all the product for my website. In November, just as the economy was crashing Blugirlart went live – talk abut crummy timing!
TU: Please tell us all about BluGirlArt — What is the product range? How would you describe the overall point of view?
SMP: The products range from my “recycled” chairs, throw pillows, silk scarves, and cotton and silk pareos. I recently added a small line of necklaces, made mostly from vintage beads and wooden buckles. I have the artwork of Max Rudolf whose art is 95% recycled product. I also paint fabric by the yard which can be used for upholstery, drapes, etc. or for that fabulous one-of-a-kind “Red Carpet” gown that we all need ! I say the overall point of view is creating fabulous prints or products that are sure to be conversation starters and keeping true to my core belief of the three “R”s – reduce, reuse, recycle.
TU: How did you get into hand-painting fabrics? I’d love to hear anything you’re willing to share about the process …
SMP: I started painting fabric while in the Caribbean as a way to earn some extra cash. My first attempts were rather dismal — fabric moves and one cannot erase a mistake, so a steady hand and a clear idea of what the finished product should look like is very important. I paint freehand and with resist. I use water-based resist to draw the outline of a design, then its a bit like paint by numbers to fill in the colour. I really like painting freehand with watercolour technique, as one can get such lovely effects. I have created this new technique which is wet on wet. It works really well on silk chiffon.
I have two working tables – the longest is 12 feet long – so that’s the longest piece I can paint. Firstly the fabric is stretched on the table, it is raised off the table so one is painting in mid air on a surface that doesn’t move. The first step for my wet-on-wet process is water, a sponge brush, and an idea. Working very fast I create the negative outline of the print with water, then add the colour to the positive shape. Where the paint and water meet incredible effects are are formed. For some upholstery fabrics the process is much the same as painting a canvas (very large canvas).
Every fabric takes the paint differently, so each fabric has its own technique. Silk organza does not absorb the paint or bleed — it sits on top of the fabric, which allows me to paint definite shapes. This is not possible with silk charmeuse, for example. I find fabric painting to be a constant exercise of trial and error.
All the paints I use are water based, nontoxic, and colourfast.
TU: As an independent textile designer, have you explored digital textile printing at all? What do you think of it?
SMP: Working with a graphic designer, I created my first collection of digital prints for Fall 2010, we showed our collection at the August PrintSource show.
Some of my prints were chosen by Mudpie, a leading UK trend forecaster, as trends to follow for 2010. Which is high acclaim for a startup business.
My very first digital print I sold to Banana Republic for Fall 2010 — so I have a long wait to see the end result. Many of the prints we created were a combination of handpainted and digital. I love the process and am working on a new collection at present. I have a small selection of my prints on my website.
TU: I would be terrified to cut into your fabrics! Please talk me down from the ledge …
SMP: On my website I show some fabrics draped on models — as a suggestion of what one could do with the fabrics. As many of my designs are overscale, to me the finished product should be classic and simple is style — long and strapless allows the print and fabric to be shown at its best.
This also requires only cutting 3 panels and sewing 3 seams – less cutting, less anxiety, also one can leave bigger seam allowances in case of runaway scissor syndrome i.e. trembling hands!!!
TU: What are some of your favorite things that people have made from your fabrics?
SMP: I have sold some of my handpainted designs to Chico’s for clothing and accessories and Lifetime Brands for dinnerware for Fall 2010 so I have to be patient and see what the end result will be.
TU: Who are your favorite designers and artists, either contemporary or from the past?
SMP: Antoni Gaudi — the architect for his incredible contribution to Art Nouveau.
Alberto Vargas — his paintings of women that became cultural icons of the 1940s and 50s.
Man Ray — his experiments in photography created some of the most unusual effects and are still relevant today.
This could be an endless list!
Thank you so much, Suzanne! Isn’t her photo styling amazing? I think one of her scarves or pareos would make an amazing gift this year for any fashionable, textile-loving woman …
Photo credits: All images copyright Suzanne Meyer Pistorius.