Most of the work that Maine artists Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade do is painted and printed with fiber-reactive dyes on cotton broadcloth. Each piece consists of a single top layer of fabric that is layered with batting and backing fabric, a structure that can be referred to as a whole cloth quilt.
Fraas and Slade are pioneers in the artistic use of fiber reactive dyes, with which they have worked for more than thirty years. Fiber-reactive dyes, which bond with fabric, are widely used for commercial fabrics. Gayle and Duncan dissolve the dyes in water mixed with a seaweed-derived thickener, this concoction allows them to paint with the dyes, controlling the viscosity and allowing for effects from painterly washes to clean sharp edges without bleeding. An alkaline chemical reaction binds the dye to the fabric; this involves pre-treatment of the fabric, painting and rinsing and repainting two to four times. Each time the fabric is washed the dye is "set," allowing the artists to overlay color for desired effects.
Most of Gayle and Duncan’s work is completely painted on one piece of fabric. They also sometimes screen-print some pattern elements, but the textile industry has recently developed inkjet printers that allow them to transfer those elements directly to the fabric with the same fiber-reactive dyes that they paint with. Much of this pattern work is then overpainted to complete an effect. Patterns are digitally printed from original works painted and drawn on paper with gouache, pastel, and charcoal.
After they are done painting and printing, Gayle and Duncan add batting and backing layers and then machine and hand stitch all three together. They consider a machine-stitched line a “hard” line, while handwork generally serves as a “scrim” to view the painted work through. Both types of stitching also serve structurally to hold the layers together. While some large pieces are left unframed, most of their finished work is sewn to a stretched linen panel and then framed and faced with Plexiglas to create an attractive and protective archival environment.