getting through

I’ve hit a bit of a bump on the road with clearing the studio, so decided i’d futz around with little bits.

The little boxes i’d planned didn’t work out, too much struggle honestly for what i would have had to charge, when doing by hand, and what people would really pay, especially when they don’t appreciate the fact that the threads and cloth too have been hand dyed with naturals and strong skill …. the amount of fussing with edges, the actual embroidery, the assemble, and then worrying about the construction wouldn’t be compensated adequately. One of them has already been taken apart and will show up in/on something else, one never got constructed. Sometimes you just have to know when to stop, when it’s just not worth the effort. (I’m not a quitter, but 4 in a row that wouldn’t behave is E N U F!)

My camera battery has died, alas, and i have to wait until Amazon delivers new ones–the D90 we have doesn’t just take *any* battery, so i am reduced to using my phone and heavily editing. I hate my camera phone: the colours are wrong, the lighting is weird, and i’m too shakey to get decent shots usually! (But doesn’t it look IG worthy? πŸ™‚ )

Two little “talisman pouches” :), each has a section of those damned boxes aforementioned. The bodies of them are a linen that was dyed with weld and indigo in a Yoshiko Wada workshop several years ago.

The colours still aren’t true, but good enough for this minute.

I’m also working on this, but won’t show you the whole yet πŸ™‚

I have also discovered i am sleeping better, and getting more work done by turning off the computer, usually at 830AM. What a novel concept.

Oops, it’s 843AM.




my drawers will never be empty (book review)

JUST when i had got all my dye stuff and tools and pots back down to the Dye Dungeon, this arrived in the mail πŸ™‚ I pre-ordered this last July, the moment i heard it was finished, and have been anxiously waiting for it. I pretty much snatched it out of the postman’s hands!

The Art and Science of Natural Dyes: Principles, Experiments and ResultsΒ  – Catherine Ellis and Joy Boutrup

I’ve already had 3 “AHA” moments, and i’m only half way through. It’s not a book you read once and then sporadically refer to, so fortunately, it’s also spiral bound so it stays open to the page you want. (Terrific, now i have to dig my book/magazine holder back out of the “donate” box….)

It’s not so sciencey that it can’t be understood, but it’s also not a skim it and do it manual. It covers the “classic” dyes, none of the usual beets, beans and berries nonsense, so don’t bother if you’re interested only in sauteing up some food waste, throwing in a cute baby onesie and staging artful photos for IG. If you’re serious about natural dyeing, and i don’t mean Total Scientist Mode but are a dedicated hobbyist/artist/small business owner, this is the book to explain WHY things work/don’t/happen. I still recommend Jenny Dean for basic, accurate dye recipes and processes, but this one will give you insights into the many variations that can and are encouraged to happen with skillful, knowledgeable hands.

There’s a small section on testing the dye potential of local foraged plants, minimal though helpful, but not the focus of the book. That being said, those tests could lead to work with those plants, following the advice for the classics. It’s all grist for the colour mill!

I’m not about to dissect any “recipe” in this reference manual: A.Β  buy the book, i don’t like spreading out the photos of pages i find interesting, as i’d rather you support the authors, and their research and B. the recipes are classic anyways, BUT with much new information that can be digested fully with the book in front of you πŸ™‚

There’s a LOT of excitement about this book in the natural dye groups, and rightly so: it also supports all the things i, and others, have said about what constitutes solid, legitimate dyes and the techniques used to create these wondrous rainbows. I have to laugh though in one sense, because i just know that the new catchphrase is going to be “Welllll, Boutrup Ellis says……..”

It’s not a cheap book, but then it’s not a cheap book, like so many of the Popular girls are publishing right now. I’m about to settle in with another cup of coffee and a pack of stickit thingies to mark pages, and do a little dreaming and planning.

Edit: After almost 500 hits to this blog post, it occurred to me that there really should be a link here to the book! Beware though–already some are claiming it in their “used but good condition” racks at two and three times the price!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

EDIT: Feb 9/18WHOA! “#1 best seller” in dyes at Amazon, sold out of a lot of places, and the bloodsuckers have moved in with their jacked up prices because they bought several copies deliberately to re-sell. Good for the authors, not so much for the buyers!

transparency in natural dyeing

#Plant dyes. #Natural dyes. #Botanical dyes.

These hashtags drive me up the wall. Use them, sure, but QUALIFY them.

Natural dyes patchies, work in progress. You may have noticed that when I post, I hashtagΒ  (edit:or ID) ALL of the dyes i use: when people say “plant dyes”, it doesn’t always mean it’s light or wash fast; in fact it could be fugitive. I pride myself on doing these colours and the subsequent art work made from them correctly, from the start. I make sure my efforts are going to last! The “Beets, Beans and Berries Brigade” can go suck on a turnip 😜 #naturaldyes #plantdyes #cochineal #sandalwood #indigo #logwood #osage #madder #quebrachorojo #naturaldyersofinstagram #yycartist #calgaryarts

I’ve asked people what “natural dye” they used. They don’t answer. I’ve asked to see their lightfast tests. They don’t answer. Or they do answer,Β  huffy because “it’s not going to be washed anyways”. I’ve asked what mordant they’ve used. “What’s a mordant?” or “Vinegar.” Sigh………… I ask precisely because i DO want to know–there are dyes out there that are not Old World, European, Asian, that we know nothing or little about at present. Maybe i could learn something new, but not with these attitudes.

Raspberries, grapes, beets, strawberries, black beans, mint, spinach, daylilies, passionfruit, cherries, rose petals, hibiscus and hollyhock blooms: when we start out, we try these. It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s colourful, pretty, sweet.Β  BUT THEY ARE NOT DYES. I admit it, i used 2 of these things, but only because they were in a book by a dyer i trust. (That dyer has subsequently revised her opinion on them as NOT true dyes. And i threw in the compost the blooms i’d saved.)

I strongly believe that natural dyeing has become such a burgeoning industry, that anyone who has ever seen beet juice stain a tablecloth, suddenly is a natural dyer, writes a book, and sells the product to increasing numbers of gaga followers. Hell, *i* could write a book, and it would be accurate, but since there are already more than enough GOOD, WELL RESEARCHED, RESPECTED authors and books out there, i wouldn’t presume. I don’t have all the answers (yet πŸ™‚ ), but someday i will (have all the answers, not write a book), because i DO the research: i don’t trust So and So who has made a fortune on one fruit, without actually talking or demonstrating anything about lightfastness, i don’t trust “seasonal colours” when half of them are not real dyes, i don’t trust just because something makes a wonderful ink means it also dyes cloth or threads, i don’t trust anyone who won’t be clear about what they are doing if they are selling it, i will never trust someone who advocates the use of kitchen waste without discerning and explaining the difference between a stain and a dye. I’ve *seen* the beet juice dyed yarn on Etsy, the packages of coloured fabrics on Instagram that have no identifiers. How do i know they are “plant dyes” , not food colouring, or watered paint, or procion, ’cause i ain’t never seen THAT green or deep fuschia from plant materials???? Yeah yeah, i know about mordants and modifiers, but some of the colours i’ve seen do not occur in natural dyestuffs! I just wish more buyers too would call out the frauds, identify problems plainly, and stop the “oh but it’s pretty anyways” crap.

No one wants to bake or buy a cake that looks gorgeous, but is really just icing bewitchingly swirled onto a cardboard base……………

I think what i’m asking for is honesty here. If you take pride in your work, and you know that you know what you are doing, share that. Don’t make people guess, don’t defraud them, don’t lie, cheat, obfuscate. If you write a book, aren’t you supposed to be sharing the real true information, or are you just promoting your own agenda with the artfully staged photos, the vague instructions, the “projects” that take up half the book? Holding the information close to your chest is selfish; if you’re doing it wrong, you will be found out i guess, if you’re doing it right, well, so can someone else. And yeah people copy, of course they copy but with natural dyeing, there are so many factors, that their projects are not going to be copies of your projects no matter how hard they try. If you’re hiding that information so you can sell your books, or your fabrics, and you’ve done it wrong, you will be found out, and there goes not only your bank account, but your reputation and the reputation of natural dyers WHO DO IT RIGHT.

I have been asked for instance, “how did you get that colour from madder?” I’ve answered, “by using it correctly, as per a madder recipe”. I can’t be more specific because there are water, mordant, modifier, fibre type, age of dye stuff, original source of dye stuff, length of time, temperature and Magical Fairy Moon Breathless Goddess factors–and that last one is no artsy fartsy obfuscation, because sometimes there is such a confluence of events to create a colour, that it HAS to be magic. Even this pragmatic skeptic has to admit this.

Don’t skimp on the research yourself, personally. Don’t take at face value one blog post that has a colour you like. Don’t EVER take at face value the most popular as the final word on a subject. (Popularity has nothing to do with actual knowledge.) Compare notes with each source, find the original source. Was it all done correctly from the start? Scouring, mordanting, actual dye material, possible post mordanting and/or modifying, light fast and wash fast tests? (These last two are my biggest peeves–i RARELY see any indication these have been done.)

Ah, i could go on and on.

Maybe most people are more interested in popularity and money, than pride of place, of ethics and honesty, of quality work/art. I’d like to sell more too, because i sure as hellΒ  get frustrated when i see those big numbers of sales on stuff that just isn’t made correctly, done poorly, weak. There’s no “sustainability, eco-consciousness, mindfulness” to any of it. I have however found natural dyers who give a damn, who share the info, who are constantly learning, who are nice or snarky (because they too are frustrated) and know their stuff, who will troubleshoot with you. Those are the ones who have the art of transparency in spades (to mix a metaphor).

As usual, i’m probably just pissing into the wind.



I wrote about this before too, in less polite terms πŸ™‚

room at the table (wanna see my drawers, part 2)

Warning, these “wanna see my drawers” posts are long, and only interesting if you either have the same studio problem, or you want to live vicariously through someone else’s existential misery πŸ™‚

Since June, my worktable has pretty much looked like this:

I shuffled things around for 6 months, “clearing” a small spot for the occasional bit of work on the table. Honestly, i do most of my hand stitching on the couch, where i’m more comfortable and am able to have an Ott light clamped beside me. The rare time i was here, i was adding beads, cutting fabrics or auditioning threads——-or just sitting there stunned and overwhelmed at the mess. It is NOT inspiring, exciting or creative to work like this. It’s dangerous in two ways too: there’s so much stuff on the floor, i’ve slipped. There’s so much stuff on the floor, i don’t want to go in. (Prevents slipping.)

This is a REALLY good way to prevent yourself from actual working, and more importantly, making coin from the making to pay the bills, by the way. (As i was sitting there one morning, confounded by the mess, a comment was left on the first drawers post that made me realize this.) I say “good” only in the sense that if there were a procrastinators list for artists on how to put obstacles in your own way, this one would be damn near the top. Followed by “go have another coffee, and think some more about it”…. Frighteningly, the Black Dog loves the room this way: he barks SO loudly it forces you into a corner, cringing and hopeless, unable to help yourself. You have to stop feeding him this chaos though, because the alternative is to dig a hole, climb in and pull it in on yourself.

It’s not enough to scoop all that stuff off and bundle it underneath, much like throwing the dirty dishes in the oven when an unexpected visitor shows up. You still have to sort it all out later when you want a clean fork. And actually, there’s no room under this table anyways, as there are 11tybajillion boxes with more crap in them.

Part of my problem in here is that i have never been the type who cleans up at the end of the day. You wouldn’t guess that if you saw me at the Day Job–everything there is organized, clean, tucked away and efficient, because i need to be able to find tools fast and in good condition to keep customers happy. If time is money there, why isn’t time money in here?

I tried at one point to have organizers and specific containers for items. I found i approached this system two ways: 1. huck everything in and not be able to find what i really needed after the fact (because how many items can one list on a label, AND the label would be constantly changing as things were subtracted or added) or 2. buy more so i could sub-divide. Result? Numerous half empty boxes and too much room taken up. And a pile of empty ones, because who puts one thing in? Honestly, i’m a sucker for a good box, whether cardboard or plastic–“don’t throw that away! it’s a good box!” So, what good then is a big box full of other, empty boxes? Sheesh, more space wasted/filled, for no good reason.

The point with clearing a table is that it has to go somewhere. That means other areas have to be done first, so they have room for the table shit. This got the treatment first, all going back down to the Dye Dungeon.

It was stuffed more than since when the photo was taken, necessitating three trips with a full bin, and much swearing and wrangling to get it down narrow old stairs. It’s been pressed into service as a “catch all” while i figure out where things go in the end πŸ™‚

And the table now looks like this:

These will not be the final resting spots for some of this stuff πŸ™‚

The biggest thing i have learned about this studio purge is that you HAVE to do small sections first, because the crucial point is that there are going to be items un-needed, or real garbage everywhere. It’s not enough to tidy up, this isn’t just “tidying up”: you have to be honest and ruthless about what stays. You’re still going to be shuffling things around, but hopefully by the time each section is completely dealt with, the shuffling will become organized as well, and everything will find it’s resting spot and make sense.

I’m also half way through the 400+ magazines i’ve accrued over the last 15 years…………….holy shit, is that a lot of space on the bookshelves! There’s only a handful with one or two pages i’m going to photograph to keep. They will all then be given to someone local who takes them ALL–i figure they can have a magazine party with their fellow creatives and divvy ’em up πŸ™‚ If you’ve ever looked for back issues of these magazines, it’s ridiculous what people are charging for them! Anywhere from $10-22 EACH!!!

And now i need to take a couple of days break, and do something else. This is quite exhausting, and still some frustrating too!






rest stop from studio cleaning

I’m continuing to clear and clean my studio one section at a time, but spent a delightfully diverting hour yesterday morning with some needlecraft magazines from the early part of the 1900’s.

As much as i love them, for the history, 1915 to 1935, and the viewpoints ( πŸ™‚ ), i can’t keep them. I’m wondering if maybe one of our local museums would take them. (And i thank MaryAnne for sending them to me a long time ago!)

The covers all have romanticized illustrations (the crewel embroidery marked as 1875 above is not the date of this 1930 issue, merely a reference point for the contents),Β  and there are pages of “helpful” reader’s tips, Food Facts for Home Folk, ads we would just shake our heads at for feminine cleanliness (diluted carbolic acid as a douche anyone?), and various needlecraft techniques. They did also cover “ethnic” work. The main focus of the magazine though was to get you to buy the patterns, as there are few actual instructions.

I couldn’t bring myself to cut the pages, (and what good would they be then to donate?) so instead i took photos of what i found most interesting. The actual articles about embroidery were vague, (gotta sell the pattern!), and obviously were the type of stamped transfer that is so indicative of the period, with diminutive florals, the occasional nautical theme, and bland “tasteful” colour schemes. Even adapting them would be a waste of time, as they really are very generic. As an embroiderer though, i was fascinated by the product ads.

DMC turned 273 this year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! While looking for that tidbit, i stumbled on this, in french, and WHAT A RABBIT HOLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!


The company below is still in business too (since 1919), but they now make metal wire products for industry only.

J&P Coats is almost as old as DMC, starting in 1755. They have a bit of a shady history, fined for fixing prices as part of a “cartel” in the textile industry!!!!!!

I’ve never heard of this one, formed in 1893 and dissolved in 1960:

The promises, and the prices on these all just kill me. Yeah yeah, long ago, different times, but look at how things have inflated.


Once upon a time, i actually managed to competently crochet a fancy medallion, and these below might me try again (in that pesky spare five minutes).

I bet these could be done ON the fabric, instead of as cutwork:

I have the instructions for this. (Apparently there are 3 versions of the “book”, 2 from 1924 and 1 from 1925, but they are mostly variations on a theme.) If you look online though, there are tons of Etsy sellers cashing in on the PDF format for it. The 20’s fashions really appeal to me, precisely because the shape is so simple, and just cryin’ for embellishment.


Still popular into the early 30’s, these particular one hour dress kits were an incentive to have readers sign up other subscribers. Can you imagine this being attempted today?

Even these subscription promises of thread or stamped cloth couldn’t be done today!


And this! Can you imagine what the cost of something like this would be today? Considering the wages of the day though, this would have been quite exciting to wait for the postman to show up πŸ™‚

Another DMC ad. *My* mother HATED the act of embroidery, though she appreciates the skill and designs of cultural examples in museums and galleries.


Singer sewing machine ad. I had one of the beautiful old treadle Singers in my late teens/early 20’s, complete with bobbins, attachments and instructions, and made 90% ofΒ  my clothes on it–and sold it for $75, groan.

I thought these were quite pretty, instructions for cushions that could be adapted to modern techniques, colours and forms/uses/applications:

And this, this really wonderfully surprised me. Given the times, this woman was amazing.Β  “Instead of talking about assimilating the foreigner, we should be taking steps to assimilate what he brings us. Our new citizens have almost as much to offer us as we have to offer them.”

Unfortunately, i can’t find any information about her, or the “Pro-America Committee”. (Let’s NOT go there, with recent events…..) (Ironic though that Secretary of Labour Doak who “endorsed” her believed that removal of illegal aliens would reduce relief expenditures and free jobs for native-born citizens during the Great Depression. )

And back to de-cluttering again. A few more surprises and delights along the way too πŸ™‚


wanna see my drawers? (part 1)

I’m not buying into the current trendy Kondo cleaning Thing. “Sparking joy” is not my objective, unless it relates to me having space to work in again, with things i am going to use. I’m also quite ambivalent about the “treasuring” things as we get rid of them, thanking them for their having been made and for their use: let’s face it, most of us have mass produced, soul-less gadgets that really have no “spirit”. I really don’t give a good god damn that someone invented a spatula, it was made, and it was used……………………….Β Β  However, if i am looking at a well crafted truly hand made item, or a good book, that might be a place to be grateful for what i have.

Cleaning out a house is one thing; cleaning a studio is quite another puddle of fish. As suspicious and skeptical as i am about the value of “new” “Products”, i *did* buy into that at one time IN MY STUDIO. (See my previous post about not buying into mass consumerism, and a long view of “hoarding”.) I blame the internet πŸ™‚ Before the web was so prevalent in our lives, we only heard of certain things if a friend (who had heard it from a friend who had heard it from another friend who knew so and so) told us about it. Suddenly, with the web, if you didn’t have that friend in Real Life, you probably had a blogging friend who waxed rhapsodic about it. What a rabbit hole!!!!!!!!!!!! Because of the internet, i also found the shelves of mixed media magazines or books on the way down. (By the way, Cloth Paper Scissors folded at the end of 2018. While i hadn’t bought an issue for the last 5 years, i was/am grateful for a publication that *did* spark joy with its perspective on looking at materials in unique ways.)

Almost overnight, my work space was full of buckets of rusty bits, piles of pretty papers, fancy stabilizers, paper “substitutes” (tyvek, lutrador, interfacing, tissue paper), “mark making tools”, “found objects” (bags of dried tropical seed pods from the home decor section, interesting metal and wood shapes from the hardware store, bits of computers and technical equipment saved by the dear Greyman, and on and on and on……) and too many books. There IS such a thing as too many books, when you realize a lot of them are rehashes of what you already have.

Greyman and i however had some major moves between provinces and parts of provinces that involved islands, so a lot of it had to go then. When you have only yourself and the SO and one truck to pack in one shot, you start choosing more carefully what is Important. Even so, once your self and SO has settled into the house your cold dead bodies will be pried out of, you tend to accumulate again. It’s a cycle that is hard to break: you might “need” something, so better buy it now. (Again, i am speaking of Studio Stuff, not general household items.)

Here’s the perfect example. We had just moved in the month before, and i was ecstatic that i had all this room.

That table was 4 feet wide by 8 feet long.

This is what 10 years does to a studio space. A couple of weeks ago, it looked like this:

We had to cut almost 3 feet off that table at one point so i could get more stuff in……. I wish i’d kept the three feet, and not got all the other crap!

I find this quite funny now (click on photo to see the point):

I LOVE Princess Auto, a Canadian chain that has a fantastic surplus section, and is actually a quite inspiring artist mecca for basics. I bought my dyer’s neoprene gloves there for 390% less than a major industrial supplier (i kid you not: 390 per cent less.) I could go on and on about the wonderful items i’ve bought there, but will stick to the subject πŸ™‚ Before i started being successful with naturally dyed threads, i had shitloads of commercially dyed embroidery flosses, and thinking i was doing myself a favour, bought all those parts cabinets that were Just Perfect For Sorting Threads By Colour. Oh it looked so Studio Perfect!

HOWEVER. Notice how much space that “organizing” took up?

All those threads are now in one spot (again, click on the photo):

(HA, minus the ones in the 4 drawered cabinet under the table. Next on the list!) I’m selling the cabinets on the neighbourhood buy/sell/swap page πŸ™‚ Also, HALF of the stuff that was up there is now divided into 3 piles: donate to thrift shop, donate to kids after school program, throw in garbage or recycle bins.

I haven’t been able to spend a full day clearing every area of my work space. I literally get bogged down, tired and frustrated, so i’ve been doing a section at a time. I figure by the end of February it’ll be done. AND there is NO new stuff coming in. Today, i will do another small section, then spend the rest of the afternoon STITCHING πŸ™‚

Note: no actual drawers depicted in this post. Next time!