Making Rocks; techniques to be taken for granite.

Sorry about the pun. I couldn’t help it. Really. I know there must be a rehab programme for punsters, but first you have to want to quit…..

Anyway, back to the topic that instigated the abuse of the English language; illustrating rocks in the fabric medium. When first I started making pictorial fibre art, I had a tricky time with rocks. No matter how you cut it, commercial rock fabric doesn’t look like rocks. There’s something more needed. Rocks have depth and texture. They have shading. They get wet. They catch the sunlight and gleam. They have lichens, bugs and bird poop. A simple chunk of commercial rock fabric just doesn’t have those aspects. I was searching for a way to create realistic rocks when I happened upon a snippets technique, by Cindy Walter.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, basically you use snippets of fabric backed with fusible layered like brushstrokes on a fabric “canvas”. I didn’t actually read any of her books in depth, nor did I spend much time working through the technique as she uses it, but I did take the basic steps as a starting point. Essentially, you pick out the range of hues, shades and tints that you need, cut a six-inch square from each, back the square of fabric with a square of Steam-a-Seam 2 (which is sticky to the touch and therefore stays put even before you iron it to fuse) and snip bits off onto a piece of fabric. You sculpt and create the shapes and shadows you want by adding snippets here and there.

Nota bene: for making rocks to work, you must do two things. Firstly, you must actually look at rocks, notice their contours and shapes and see how they cast shadows, both on the ground and within themselves. Secondly, you must decide from which direction the light source in your composition will be coming. Shadows are caused by light hitting something through which it cannot pass and leaving the space behind that thing in darkness. If you haven’t a clue as to where the light is coming from, you can’t possibly make realistic shadows.

This works fabulously well for rocks. I drew the outline of the rock shapes I wanted, put them on an ironing board, laid a piece of parchment paper or a translucent Teflon pressing sheet over the outline and filled the space in with snippets. I started with light colours and worked my way to dark, adding little jigs and jags here and there as needed. The resulting piece was peeled off the sheet, trimmed and fused to the main work. I then stitched it down, to be doubly sure it weren’t goin’ nowhere fast. The pieces on the right thus far were made using that technique.

Eventually, though, I needed other techniques for making rocks. I also needed to be able to make whole beaches full of smaller stones. You can appreciate that the snippets techniques were somewhat labour-intensive for cobblestone beach types of work.

Painting rock fabric is actually pretty darned easy, it turns out. It’s simply a matter of painting fabric without watering down the fabric paints much. I might add a drop or two of blue, a tinge of red or whatever other hue I need to make the rock fabric required. I use Pebeo Setacolor transparent paints (in Canada, get ’em from G&S Dye). The paints come in a concentrate, which I remix as half paint, half water. Normally when working with these, I dilute them again by half while mixing them during painting, but when painting rocks, I dilute them only a very little in this second stage. Keep a test cloth for checking and remember that they’ll dry lighter than they look while wet. Stretch the fabric on a board, don’t mist it at all, or only very lightly, if you must.

Painting dark colours works best on hot, dry days. When the paints dry fast, they stay higher on the fabric and are not diluted by the fabric’s whiteness as much. When they take longer to dry, they are lighter. a drop or two of pearl paint for sheen. I generally use the white pearl, but have tried the black. Doesn’t seem to make much difference, really. Both work well. I generally mix two or three different shades of black or grey and apply them randomly with a sea sponge. To some, I add a sprinkling of coarse salt (the kosher pickling kind) for texture. You can see the results at right. Iron or bake to heat set. Don’t forget to brush off the salt!

Using these fabrics to create rocky shores is actually quite easy. I pick a piece that I want to use, estimate how much I’ll need and back that bit with Wonder-Under (Steam-a-Seam is expensive and I don’t really need the adhesive-before-ironing quality for this construction. I then cut out long strips that have bumpy tops, like the top of a smooth-rocked beach. Taking my trusty black fabric pen (or a fine paintbrush and black paint), I trace the definition of individual rocks. You can see two pieces in the preliminary stages at left.

Again with the paint or pen, I shade in the darker areas of the rocks, keeping in mind the direction whence cometh the light. Sometimes I use paint, sometimes ink, sometimes black pearl paint, as in the example at left. Often, when making many strips of rocks for a large piece, I’ll mix and match, doing some of each for a non-homogeneous effect.

After I’ve made sufficient rock pieces for my purposes and the pieces are completely dry, I arrange them on the composition background in whatever manner I need. The example at left shows how I’ve arranged them, working from back to front and overlapping them. Before I fuse anything in place, I arrange the entire thing, because you never know when you might need to add a blade of grass or a tree….

Fusing the piece not only attaches it to the background, but it heat-sets the paint or ink. In order to create still more texture and to reassure myself that the rocks aren’t ever going to come off without a crowbar, I make sure to quilt the lines defining the individual rocks and the outlines of the strips. This makes them bumpy physically as well as visually, taking advantage of the sculptural aspects of fabric.

One of the pieces on which I’m currently working uses the hand-painted fabrics backed with fusibles, but in a technique more reminiscent of snippets. I’m currently working on achieving the textures found on seastacks, having now established the basic form. More as I progress…..


13 Comments Add yours

  1. arlee says:

    Thanks Vicky–i have to try this now—what a great tutorial!!!!!!!! Looking forward to this technique on one of my journal pages as well!!

  2. Micki says:

    You’ve done a wonderful job with the tutorial. Your work looks great. I really like the colors you have used.

  3. Ann Flaherty says:

    Thanks Vicky,
    Much needed and usable info on rock building…I do appreciate it.
    Please say hello to John for me, and Steve and I are thinking about heading back up to NF this summer. Hope we can get together…I tell everyone about the wonderful tour you took us on!
    Ann Flaherty

  4. Tomme says:

    Vicky — Your rocks looks quite realistic — some of the best I’ve seen in the fabric medium. Thanks for posting all the tips!

  5. Jeanne Beck says:

    Vicky, I really learned a lot from your explanation about how you create your rocks. Very informational and I’ll look forward to trying some of your techniques. Thank you,

  6. Cheri Searles says:

    Vicky, thanks so much for this great tutorial! I will try it out soon.

  7. r.e.wolf says:

    These are really stunning!

  8. Verna Banks says:

    Verna Banks, Feb.15,2006
    Thanks Vicky, I’ve made rocks from expandable paint but
    never thought of snippets.
    I havent seen your name on thi s list for a long time. Are you in
    Nfld. or NB?
    You are very generous with your hints.

  9. Paula Wright says:

    I am new to QuiltArt Digest, and this is my first comment to anybody. Your work is incredible! The colors are delicious. I live in Colorado now, and have for 25 years, but for one year, my senior year of high school while my father was stationed at Goose Air Force Base (the US side), I lived at the “Goose” in Labrador. It is such a beautiful place, beyond compare. The light is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The forests pristine, your work gives me the same feelings as when I lived there. Thank you, Paula Wright

  10. Margaret says:

    An inspiration. with good instructions, but you have a special talent.

  11. vickyth says:

    Thanks arlee! I look forward to seeing your journal pages as they progress.

    Ann, drop me a line at vickyth @ (take out the spaces).

    Micki, Tomme, Jean, Cheri, r.e. and Margaret – thanks!

    Verna – I was in NB for a few years, but we’ve moved back home now to NF.

    Paula – Goose Bay’s light is incredibly dramatic, although I can’t say I’d like to spend a winter there! Thanks for visiting and come back again! I’ve been on Quilt Art for….. seven years? Something like that. Lots of good information and people there. Certain topics seem to ccome up regularly and get flogged to death, but the creative and business stuff is really work the read! Lots of great people on that list!

  12. sarah e. says:

    How absolutely superb…and so great for anything large and lumpy!! Thanks so much for taking the time to document each of your steps!

  13. sue b says:

    I came across your blog after doing a search on Pebeo Setacolor transparent paints and boy am I glad I did ! I just got a bottle of the expandable paint along with the transparent ones to experiment with adding some dimension to my silk fusion pieces but now I can’t wait to try making some rocks with it ! Thanks for a well written and very generous tutorial !

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