Surface Design Collaboration – Take a Ride on the Renga

What do you get when six fiber artists pass a piece of fabric around, adding surface design as they go? When In Stitches Editor Jane Dávila first proposed the idea of applying the collaborative concept of a round robin to surface design, I was worried the result might be a mess.

I was wrong.

surface design jenn mason
Jenn Mason, editor of Cloth Paper Scissors, started with a white piece of muslin and added faux script
with a fabric pen.
surface design renga
The resulting cloth is layered with
paint, printed with a swimming pool noodle,
stamped with wooden blocks, and finished
with metallic foil.

Jane found a term from 15th century Japanese poetryrengathat originally referred to a form of collaborative poetry. One poet would contribute the first stanza of a poem, and pass it on to the next participant.

The surface design renga collaboration resulted in six distinctive pieces of beautiful fabric. Artists Sue Bleiweiss, Jane Dávila, Jenn Mason, Jeannie Palmer Moore, Virginia Spiegel, and I all added a layer of dye, paint, tea, or oil stick to each piece of fabric. We scribbled with ink, stained with natural dyes like tea, added screen printing with paint, discharge with bleach, and made marks with every creative process we could imagine.

Along the way, we had a ballthough there were a couple of twists in the plot. Notably, one artist applied a design made with oil sticks to her fabric. The next artistunaware that the paint hadn’t yet cureddyed it, washing away the oil stick design with the dye bath. That round needed a do-over.

Personally, I found it both thrilling and terrifying to apply my own surface design technique on top of someone else’s. The challenge pushed me to think creatively about the design of the fabric and also about what kinds of surface design techniques to use.

I hope more artists will jump on the renga bandwagon and start this new form of round robin in their own communities.

Here are Jane’s tips for organizing a successful surface design renga of your own:

1. Limit the number of participants to four to six for each group.

2. Use a permanent marker to write your name on the fabric you start with so you get it back in the end.

3. Write notes in a journal that travels with the fabric. If a technique is particularly fragile or requires special care, it is a good idea to let future participants know.

4. Avoid repeating a technique that’s already been done on the fabric.

5. Keep in mind the number of artists that follow you so you don’t get carried away and “finish” the fabric. Leave some space for future layers.

Anyone who is looking for new surface design techniques to try and wants a glimpse into the creative process of highly talented artists should add the In Stitches Vol. 8 emag to their studio library. It’s available now for download in the Quilting Daily shop.

P.S. Have you ever done a round robin with surface design? Would you be leery of trying it or jump into the challenge? Leave your comments below.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Fabric Painting & Dyeing, Quilting Daily Blog

5 thoughts on “Surface Design Collaboration – Take a Ride on the Renga

  1. I LOVE this! I’m going to send it on to my small art critique group since we had been discussing working on a piece with multiple techniques and then cutting them up to share. Both sounds good to me!

  2. Quite a few years ago I was in a four person round robin……and all of us were all over the US and members of a dye on line group…….Each person had two two yard pieces……and we dyed and did whatever to those pieces…….and then sent them to the next person within a month…….when you got back your original 4 yards……you kept one two yard piece and sent a quarter yard to each participant…….so we all had samples of each others pieces and info about how they were done, etc……..It was fun and I still look at my big piece……..

  3. I have done some fabric round robins with a surface design group. Some of the fabrics were great successes, a couple were dismal failures that I am still trying to salvage. I would do this again, with the caveat that nobody use black sharpie markers on my fabrics. It was a lot of fun deciding which fabrics to send out and the excitement of seeing the end results when I got my share in the mail. It was like Christmas when I found the chunky envelopes in my mailbox!!