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blog — Melanie Testa

Lost in the Land of Making

I am feeling lost artistically. Politics and the state of our nation have me down. And, I now have a part time job which distracts me. My art isn’t keeping me afloat as it has in the past. I keep trying to stir my pot, try new things, stir things up. Mostly, I am telling myself that this shall pass and that an exciting bell will ring soon. My ears are peeled.

In the meantime, I am trying new things. For instance, I am informing myself about Common Tern (I recently got a tattoo of two Common Terns, so I am hot on the topic). So this weekend, I took out my three ring binder of  drawings and images and began combining as many as possible into a single image.

This piece combines Common Tern, which uses the east coast of the United States as nesting ground, with drawings of chairs from Upholstery Yardage Sheets. This is a visual pun that describes me, an armchair birder! Then I added a drawing of a New York City skyline and the City Hall Subway station. Living in the city, I sometimes forget that Common Terns are living near and around me, as this is a city surrounded by water, marshes and beaches! 

I know art can’t be my end all and be all, its just, sometimes you need to show up and do the work! So here I am, showing up and doing the work! And I have to say, its not all bad!!

Common Tern

Years ago, I began working on a series that I call, The 20. This centers on the Audubon list of Common Birds in Decline. Because I love birds so much, I decided to highlight these common birds and to give them my voice as an artist. Common Terns are coastal birds whose habitat is being lost to humans and climate change. If you live near or visit the coast, please clean and remove any detritus you find! Especially plastic.

Since I first created the ATC in the upper right corner, I have thought of this image as depicting David and I.

My good Man and I have been married for just over 24 years and we’ve decided to get tattoos to celebrate (our appointments are in less than 2 weeks!!). I have chosen the Common Tern image. This image is so loving, shows such connection between the two birds, it communicates the love I seek to honor. David plans to get a portrait of our good feline, Peach.

So all three of us will be present in the honoring of our time together! That’s what I call family.

‘I love to embroider’ kit and mini class.

I have two handprint embroidery kits in my Etsy right now. Consider this to be a mini prototype class, for two, in a private FB group. I hope to make into a full online class, with your help. Are you game?

This online class, held in a closed FB group, will consist of video, photographic and written content, covering: knife edge finish, use of stencils, transfer pen, fill stitch recommendations and more. You will also have access to me in 2-10 minute Live FB Videos, where you are encouraged to ask questions and I will share similar and related work.

Each kit contains a Melly Handprint of a Rose / Love handprint, a hank of handyed embroidery floss in an array of sparkling colors, 2 6 strand DMC floss per color, 18″ long each, scrap handprints in sheers, velvet and more. There are samples of my favorite needles too.

Just to let you know, a friend, A, is getting married soon. David and I both enjoy this person very much. And, I would like to make a gift for him. I am embroidering the third ‘I love embroidery’ kit while creating your video content. It is my goal to make this gifty-embroidered-square ooze with a NYC graffiti like appeal.

This will be a lovely, intimate, learning experience and I hope you might be one of two to purchase these kits! This is a new idea for me, one I hope to make into a full blown online class. If you are interested in eventually taking this class, let me know in the comments and I will start printing more kits!! Heck! I would love to.

Please join me. I assure you, this will be fun!

Embroidery kits! Containing handprints! Threads and more!

What makes me happy

Recently, I have been on a quest. I am cultivating enjoyment. I am exploring what makes me happy and I am following those leads. Cancer, as much as it happened 7+ years go has greatly affected me.

The waves of healing, self introspection, the acceptance and embrace of my changed body, while standing present to my husbands needs, its taken a toll. I feel gratitude in that, I am now at a place where I can look out over the landscape of change and feel calm. I am willing and able to sort through the aftermath without tremors of anxiety, worry and fear. Just, open, gentle curiosity. 

I am also letting go creatively. I am allowing myself to work in series. I am encouraging myself to mess up and make mistakes. I am trying new things and exploring old methodologies. It feels amazing. Cancer and its aftermath kicked up some pretty deeply ingrained PTSD and I am happy to say it is abating. 

Please join me in celebrating this. It feels great to be printing nudes again. It feels great to go on a creative tangent and pile up the work. Let’s be happy together.


one in eight- a series

(The voice over volume is low, turn the volume up, if you are interested in hearing about the techniques used to print the piece in the video)

I am printing, making, steaming, embroidering. All the things I love best. The weather is changing, it is cooling down. Change is in the air. All is well. 

It is coming up on ‘Pinktober’, or ‘breast cancer awareness’ month. I am in strong dislike of the commercialization, sexualization, and pink washing that occurs because this is a disease that (predominantly affects) female breasts, though -men get breast cancer too-!! 

Of those diagnosed, one in three will go on to have metastatic disease, the only breast cancer that kills. As we move into the ‘pink month’, remain cognizant -a very small amount of money is given to fund metastatic research. Be judicious, research pink product$, inform yourself. Remember, we are already aware.

I am printing female nudes in groups of eight, with one image from that group appearing with scars. As I begin printing the eighth figure with scars, that ratio feels much too constricting. I am grateful to heal and calm myself in the making, but I am also reminded that way too many people are affected by this awful disease. 

Metavivor is a great place to donate $$, if you are inclined.


artful reboot

For a long while, perhaps a year or more, I have been having a hard time artistically. I needed to get a part time job, and I did. Its a good job, I like it. As in most things I do, I jumped fully into the job, started taking more hours, I began volunteering for more work. Until I felt a huge void. I was experiencing a lack of focus on my own art, and it hurt my feelings. I became disconcerted. Grumpy. I made things, but nothing was stirring the well.

So what do you do when making art has become difficult? How do you reconnect with your art and begin engaging with it in a manner that bolsters and supports making? Often, in the past, I have changed media, swapping out dye for watercolor and paper. This time, I have begun cleaning (I am destashing and selling on Etsy, please check it out). Cleaning is magical, it moves energy and makes way for different things to come forward. I love cleaning. Then, a few weeks back, my good man and I went to see the David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night. As we walked through the galleries at the Whitney, I was amazed at what we saw and touched to my very core at the depth and veracity of that mans’ work. I felt the spark of the burning creative fire, that I have been longing for. I could see a pathway to my own creative endeavors forming. I listened.

So, when I got home, I soda soaked cloth. Searched out imagery that I have been wanting to work on. Cut some freezer paper masks. I cleaned, and got ready to let the creativity flow. Geez, it feels good to turn a corner.

Please check out my Etsy! I would like to continue to make space for this change. There are artworks, purses, a bolt of fabric, and other supplies and all are priced to move. Help me make more space for change! Thank you.

Handprinted Dharma Trading Unitard

This fabulous project taught me lots and lots. There are a few aspects of this project where I will continue to find and apply solutions to perceived problems.

I started by printing a small swatch of cloth, just to see if my color choices were pleasing.

The Unitard is a  ‘clothing blank’, made of cotton jersey, procured at Dharma Trading. I love it. The medium size fits my body well, I am 5’2”, weighing roughly 130 pounds. The gathering at center front is pleasing and easily printed over. The plunging back is a fun addition to the design. The legs are about 6” too long, which I think is a great addition to this piece-as yoga clothing goes, allowing you to pull the excess length down over your ankles and heels. My one complaint is that the bodice is slightly long, although this may just mean, I am short  🙂

I decided to Playful Fabric Print the Unitard in an all-over design that contains Roses and Forget Me Nots. The repeat is a six inch square (Page 26, Playful Fabric Printing), the multicolor print set (Page 29) contains a total of 5 possible layers to print. The Rose and Forget Me Nots were carved from Eko Carve, and the additional color separations were printed using plexiglas mounted, sticky back, fun foam stamps (Page 63). This was printed using thickened Procion MX Dyes (I swapped out Turquoise Blue, Fuchsia, and Lemon Yellow dyes when mixing color numbers 2 (an Orange), 15 (Teal) and 22 (Red). I did this because I wanted bright colors (see the value bands on page 57 of Playful Fabric Printing).

My one hesitation in printing this, is the need for an insert or form, as I discussed in this post. I traced the Unitard out onto an opened cardboard box, including an additional 3-4″ to stretch the knit jersey and separate the front from the back. 

Recycling a cardboard box meant there were folds in the cardboard. Those folds were nearly impossible to print over. I had to fudge, add thickened dye with a brush and make due on this account. It’s nothing major, the print is pretty forgiving. Also, the Unitard, stretched over a full length form was a bit ungainly to manage on my small print table. But, oh well, it was necessary. 

And, I have two more Unitards to print!

Next time, I am going to try printing with Thermofax, as I think the color saturation with be super pleasing. Overall, I think printing on clothing blanks is something I am going to thoroughly explore! When I bought these babies, I also bought a skirt, a camisole and I recently dug out a tunic and a kimono (similar to this one) from my stash.

Stay tuned to more printing on clothing blanks!






Unitard and dressing a piece of cardboard

I have been wanting to print clothing blanks for a while. Luckily, Dharma Trading carries many styles and options and they have all the kinks ironed out. Their blanks have been tested for acceptance of dye, even the threads used to sew the garments have been considered and addressed. That’s where I found this Cotton/Spandex Unitard. If you head over there, check out the tie dyed, unitard wearing yogi in the images.

I won’t be tie-dyeing this though. In printing this, I assume I will come across some challenges. Submerging cloth in dye is much different than applying thickened dye to cloth. Much of my experience in printing is based on printing cotton broadcloth, which is woven and smooth. Knit jersey is also smooth, but the cloth is thicker and stretchy. 

Luckily, I bought three unitards, so I have some wiggle room to mess up and try again.

My first step was to cut a form out of cardboard. I made this slightly larger than the unitard, so that I could stretch the cloth some. I imagine this may help the printing to appear darker, as the cloth will be spread out in order to print it, then will retract when taken off the form. My hope is that I am not stretching the cloth too much. 

I imagine the shirring and binding on the bodice will be hard to print well and I accept ahead of time, that this may be wonky. We will soon see. Wish me luck.



The Final Carve?

This has been an interesting repeat to carve. I love floral motifs and roses printed on cloth. Carving a rose by hand is a great challenge.

Drawing and depicting roses is not easy, there are so many curved petals! Then, you need to figure out how to carve it in an elegant hand. I like to carve in stages, printing a copy at each major stopping point. In this case, I printed on both copy paper and cloth, so that I could evaluate the printed artifacts. It turns out, I want to see some shaded areas on the dark half of each rose.

Now, I prepare to remove the last bit of shading in the rose. I am plotting my course and thinking through how to go about it. I really like this carving and I do not want to mess up!

Wish me luck. 


Finding the lines through the drawing.

I love carving rubber. My mind and body reduce to nothingness as I watch the blade slip beneath the surface of the rubber, butt up against the pencil mark and lift the rubber away. I become calm and centered, my mind lets go, and I am free. It is bliss.

I begin by carving away the ‘bright’ half of each rose. I have not resolved how I would like the ‘dark’ half of the flower to be carved. I will leave that alone until I have a vision. So, there is tension and hope for a great outcome.

Life is good. How about you? Tell me about you.