Thursday, February 7, 2008

experiments in photo transfer

This past weekend I took a photograph of my dad and his sister (circa 1927) and tried four methods of transfering it to something that allows me to use it as fabric.

First I printed four copies of the sepia-toned photo onto plain paper using a color laser-jet printer. Laser prints don't run like ink jet prints.
Then I used four different transfer methods. I numbered the photos in the upper right corner but it's not as easy to see as I'd hoped.

For #1 I applied clear shipping tape over the photograph. I had to use several pieces to cover it all and I overlapped them slightly. I burnished it with the side of a wooden ruler and the smooth rounded end of a letter opener. Then I set the photo under a stream of cool running water and wet it thoroughly. The paper rubbed off of the back easily and it was easy to see where I'd missed spots so I could go back and get them. This was hands-down the quickest method and it provided a good, clear copy of the photo. This is the first time I've tried this method and I haven't applied the piece to fabric yet. I probably will use gel medium. I think it would be difficult to stitch through by hand.

#2 has three layers of Wonder-Under fusible ironed onto it, one on top of the other. I used a teflon pressing sheet over and under the piece and fused the webbing on one layer at a time to control it. (I've tried one layer and it simply disintegrated.) Once cool, I soaked it in water and rubbed off the back. This took a few tries because it needed to dry for me to see missed spots. It also took more care because the webbing is still fragile and it was easy to rub off too much. I do like the tattered and worn effect. I have applied it to fabric with both glue (gel medium) and ironed-on fusible. Both methods work fine and can be sewn through.

For #3 I simply placed the image face down onto a piece of fabric (smooth cotton) and ironed it. I set the iron as hot as it would go and I sprayed my cotton ironing-board cover with water beforehand to add a little steam. I burnished it with the edge of the iron (hard to do without the design shifting--basting it to the fabric might help). I pressed hard. The image is soft and ghostly, which could be good for certain projects. Since it's on fabric, it can be stitched, fused or glued onto another piece. I put it on a large piece of fabric, thinking that I might make it the center of a crazy quilt square.

Last, I made a gel transfer. I used Golden Gel Medium and painted several layers over the photograph. I let each layer dry in between applications and I alternated the direction of the brush strokes. The brush strokes will be visible in the finished piece, so for the top layer I made shorter "painterly" strokes. I let the final coat dry for 24 hours. Then I soaked the piece in cool water and rubbed off the paper from the back. You have to do this on a smooth, flat surface and take care not to stretch and tear the gel, which is like a soft plastic. It will stretch a bit as you work but if you're careful, it will snap back into shape. I had to let it dry completely and rewet and work at missed spots several times with this method and it is possible to over scrub and loose image. For the most part, though, this method retains the color and provides a clear image. I have both glued and stitched down gel images. You have to be careful when stitching through the gel but it works okay.

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