Dyed and Draped to Heaven

For some time, I’ve thought about how to portray music visually. How does one art form honor another? What could be done in our spaces to reflect the prominent position that music has in our worship?

What first comes to mind, of course, are clichés: a huge banner featuring a loopy treble clef. Flocks of brightly colored eighth and sixteenth notes soaring off into the sky. That sort of thing. Nothing wrong with these, mind you (you may have one of these hanging in your church this very moment!), but I was looking for something a little more dramatic.

Then I remembered a photo feature we did of artist Chris Overvoorde’s work way back in Reformed Worship 2. In that magazine, we showed how he used streams of colored fabric to transform a cinder-block structure into a gorgeous place of worship.

What if we could somehow work in musical scores and words onto strips of cloth? I wondered. Long strips of cloth that could be imprinted with music and draped and hung and wrapped to represent the melodies of praise and worship to our God. Here are three ideas in order of complexity, from the more complex to easy.

Complex

My first thought was to use batik—a wax-resist dyeing technique used on fabric. No doubt you’ve seen beautiful batik patterns on brightly colored fabric from India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. But for this project, we’re not going to try anything that complicated. Instead, simply project and lightly pencil a favorite score onto white cotton fabric (first making sure to follow the dye manufacturer’s instructions for preparing the fabric). Then loosely brush on the melted wax to create the relief portion, the notes and staff. Once the wax has cooled, soak the fabric in water and lay flat. Use large brushes and broad strokes to apply the dye, letting the colors blend into one another freely. When the fabric has been dyed completely, the wax can be boiled away in a large kettle of water.

Less Complex

Let’s be honest, though. Batik can be tricky and a good bit of work—especially if you are doing yards and yards of fabric. An easier way to print on fabric is to find fabric in the colors you want, pencil on the score, and then use a paintbrush to bleach the color out of the fabric. Fabrics do react to bleach differently so you’ll want do a test to make sure that the bleach easily removes the color from the fabric.

Easy

Finally, you could use ordinary latex paint to paint music on fabric. This may be the simplest way to achieve the effect you’re looking for.

Finally

For all three methods, once your fabric panels are complete, you’ll want to iron them smooth and hang them in your worship space. If the architecture in your sanctuary is angular, hang the fabric in large swoops; if it already has plenty of round shapes, perhaps straight flat panels would look better.

Dean Heetderks (info@reformedworship.org) is art director of Reformed Worship and director of Proservices for the Christian Reformed Church.