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Art from Scrap.

Katharine Okano is a teacher of English conversation and an artist living in Japan. In a recent conversation, she told us about the way she works.

SA: Katharine, you call yourself a textile painter. Does that mean that you paint designs on fabric?

KO: Not at all. I paint with textiles instead of with oils or watercolors. I recycle all kinds of scrap material. I paint with leftovers of fabrics I use to make clothes for my family. Whenever I make a garment, a few pieces are always left over. I keep them all, even the very small ones.

SA: So tell us how you make your paintings.

KO: To start with, I usually buy a piece of plain cotton. Its size depends on how big I want my work to be. Then I need bits of textile--anything from ordinary cotton to fine silk. I like to work with a variety of colors and patterns. Sometimes small pieces of lace come in handy, for instance, to show the top of a foaming wave or to put a misty touch to a landscape.

Before I start to arrange pieces of various colors and shapes on a spread-out cotton sheet, I usually draw a sketch on a piece of paper of what I plan to paint. For instance, after a walk in the woods on a beautiful autumn day, I might decide to convey my impression with fabric scraps. I then look through my assorted scraps for the colors, patterns, and textures that inspired me on my walk.

Once the intended painting is set up, I work on the details. Often I have to cut out the desired shape. Since all the pieces have to overlap each other, a margin of at least a tenth of an inch must always be added. I like to use lots of layers of fabric, so that the background material is covered.

Next, I fix each bit of fabric with a pin on its designated position, making sure that none will fall off, even when I lift up the cloth. Then I sew the pieces with small stitches onto the basic cotton sheet using a strong thread, preferably of the same color as the textile. I always work from the outside towards the center, turning from one corner to the next, to avoid being pricked by the pin or losing one during the manipulation. Exactitude is needed as the border of each piece must be bent inside to prevent it from raveling out.

Finally, after the last piece is sewn on, my work must be framed. I choose a large trimming band of the main color, which I stitch around the borders. For this, I use a sewing machine.

Like with traditional paintings, the end result is your personal creation. You are completely free to let your imagination run high. It's fun, and it's a wonderful feeling of total freedom and boundlessness. Moreover, there is the priceless satisfaction of achievement.

SA: Have you ever tried to do this with children?

KO: Certainly. This is an ideal art form for students of all ages. They learn how to use their imagination and coordinate colors and shapes. Also they will develop a sense for exactitude, all while enjoying creating beautiful works out of small cuts of fabric. Textile painting is affordable for anybody. All that is needed is a plain piece of cotton, some bits of cloth, some thread, a needle, pins, and scissors.
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Title Annotation:fabric painting techniques of artist Katharine Okano
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Words:576
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