madder returns, and baby blue hopes

So………………..this is the culmination of 3 and a half years of growing madder. There were 4 winters in that time span, and the first three i had the good fortune of a large garden, where the huge pot could be heeled in (buried and well covered in other words) for our harsh winters. Not so with the recent move and downsizing though: i kept the pot against our sunny house wall by the heat escape vents, wrapped and covered it well, but no growth at all when spring started. Time to “harvest” roots, regardless, as madder is good to dig up in at least it’s third year (5 is optimum apparently).

I dumped the pot, and pawed through it, working as fast as possible because there was a new ant home in the bottom (i HATE ants: they creep me out, have done since i saw Salvador Dali’s “Un Chien Andalou” when i was 16…..) and was very disappointed. Not only did the roots never get below the depth of half the pot, but they were SMALL, stringy and unfortunately, had started to rot. POOP.

I ended up with 65 grams of “fresh” root, which as i understand means they would dry down to about one sixth of that, not quite 11 GRAMS…… I can see a red tint to them, but am not hopeful for good depth. I will use as soon as i can because they don’t *have* to be dry to use, though it’s suggested that letting them “age” develops more of the alazarin. (Although as i hit “publish” on this post, i note they have been drying now for 32 days, admittedly a far cry from drying for a year ๐Ÿ™‚ ) I won’t be trying to grow it again as our new garden space is too tiny to heel anything in, and seriously, the “return” on all the effort was not worth the effort… If i ever win the lottery, and have my big space in the country and a proper greenhouse, well, then we’ll revisit that.

Most of the Indigo suffruticosa seeds i planted did pop up. I lost a couple to drying out, because of the winds we’ve had lately, and due to the fact that Calgary is very dry at the best of times. I’m not assuming these will get as big as they grow in Texas at Deb’s though (SHE”S HARVESTING ALREADY!), because we have a shorter growing season, much cooler nights (due to our altitude) and so far this season not a lot of heat….. They did manage to get through 3 hail storms unscathed, probably because they are so tiny! I’m going to cloche them for awhile, trying to keep some heat in, and hopefully they will get big enough that i can get something. I still have a very tiny harvest from my first indigo Persicaria tinctoria attempts at the old house–a handful stored dry since 2015! (Edit: Even cloching these babies didn’t do much though they did double in size in a week. Still pretty teeny! And i don’t know if a bug/virus got them, or it’s the cold weather, but they are all spotted.)

I’ve decided in future, i won’t be sharing much about the actual process of natural dyeing, just the results. I get a fair number of hits on my “how to/how i did it” posts, but since 99.9% of readers don’t acknowledge even with a simple “thank you”, it seems rather pointless. (I’m sure it also bores the hell out of my readers that don’t care about that part of the process.) I seriously think schools have done a poor job teaching anyone HOW to research correctly, but i ain’t getting into that. All i can say is “just because it’s on the internet, or “popular”, doesn’t make it true”.

booked out–and back

I needed a nice long break. I just read. No stitching, drawing, planning, dyeing, sewing, painting, nothing.

Worked my way through 75 books since the first of May, when i finally figured out how to access library ebooks. And yes, that is correct, 75 books. I learned to read fast, and i mean really fast when i was a kid, 900 words a minute at that time–we all did the three of us kids, this was “self defense/interest” in my family because if you wanted to finish the book that the family was all reading at once, you had to be speedy before Dad got it and spent hours with it! I read about 700 per minute now as i get older ๐Ÿ™‚

I gardened a little, walked the dog, did the minimum (TOO minimal, actually…) housework, watched piss all TV as even Netflix is rather boring right now as all i can find that i am interested in is usually Scandinavian with stiffly translated english subtitles, and read, read, read, for hours at a time. Books were a big escape for me when i was a kid and a single mother, and in times like we’ve had lately, and the times i’ve had lately, escapism was needed. I feel neither guilty nor as if i wasted time. Worked my way through series of David Baldacci, Frances Fyfield, Karin Slaughter, Nicci French, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Jo Nesbo, Kathy Reichs, the first volume in the Villanelle series —totally different than the tv series— and assorted “one off” novels by various writers. I read NOTHING for research purposes, nothing to learn new techniques, nothing to do with my passions.

The only exciting/worrying/dire/nasty thing that happened during all this was my mother ending up in hospital for a few days with something bad happening–but fortunately with a woman who speaks her mind and impresses upon doctors and staff that SHE IS NOT STUPID, SENILE, OR LOSING HER MARBLES: JUST TELL ME THE DAMN TRUTH (GO MOM!) that worked out and she’s home under the care of my Super Brother. Late night phone calls from family members are always agonizing, and i know there will be more happening as the year goes by…….. (Hopefully yearS!) (Hopefully with little frequency.)

Since my other library requests are “holds” where i am #57 on 2 copies and similar ridiculous wait times, i guess it’s time to get back to studio hours.

 

yesterday and today

Yesterday, i felt like this:

Pomegranate dyed/mordanted cotton, post modified with iron solutions. A base for bad days, i haven’t decided if i should work on it ON the bad days, or wait until a good day to do! Either way is valid–maybe both to see how it affects the work?

When the going gets tough though, it’s time to get out the brightest crayons and have a good scribble. My version of that is vivid natural dyes, and today these results on mostly cellulosic fibres (linen, cotton lace trim, cotton scrim, cotton threads– and small skeins of wool thread on the far left) came out of the quebracho rojo dye pot.

I’m thrilled with these results as previous experiments, while gorgeous on silk threads, silk habotai and silk velvet were rich, my cottons were pastel pinky browns, nothing exciting, and the threads were even more boring. The water IS different in this house, obviously quite different from the Grand Old Lady’s 100+ pipes.

I *might* use some of the wool thread on the top grey piece, still auditioning thread colours for it.

Scribble, scribble, scribble.

 

playtime

A long time ago, i used to play a lot in my studio. That usually resulted in 4 posts a day (!!!!!), because everything was exciting then: textile arts and mixed media were hot in the blog world, as we were all new to the internet and the windows it opened for creativity. There was MORE feedback then: people didn’t just “like” something and then flit to the next page. There were CONVERSATIONS, friendships made, active sharing and promoting of each other, and well, it just wasn’t facebook/instagram preciousness and staging.

I always enjoyed making Little Things, and at the time, it was part of a viable business as well. There were at least a hundred Yule Ghouls that flew out of my BC studio, innumerable really inexpensive wallets, the ubiquitous christmas stockings, penguin ornaments and artsy bags of all sizes. I stopped most of that when i moved to Edmonton in 2003: the market there was completely different, a lot less explorative, a dearth of innovation, and funky individuality was not cared for much…..it was crushing, as an artist and as a small business.

That coloured things for many years. I got rid of a lot of finished product simply by donating it to the Sally Ann, and once in awhile, even in such a large city, see one of the very creative bags i made, slung over someone’s shoulder. But i know they paid peanuts for it, thrift stores generally not in the biz of charging shitloadarmandleg prices, and so won’t make them again AS part of the bread and butter part of my studio. I also didn’t see the sense of having PILES and BOXES full of Things that wouldn’t see the light of day again.

BUT, i am involved with Contextural again, and there is a Christmas Sale, so let’s just think about that. Stocking up, protyping, testing, MAKING.

Anyways, blah blahdy blah.ย  I made a pile yesterday of recent naturally dyed linens (my new favourite fabric):

I admit to just sitting and staring at it, inspired by the colours and the feel, but not sure where to go. Then i espied an unfinished project and what the heck. I gots lots of those ๐Ÿ™‚ Combine!!!! I’m “Goin’ Minoan”, ha.

It’s a start.

 

meeting a deadline that isn’t there anymore

Well, poop. No surprise though that the exhibit space for Contextural’s upcoming show is closed due to “the Covid”. I had asked the first of March, and yup, the morning of the 17th brought an email that it’s not going to happen. Contextural’s summer residencies have been cancelled for the same reason at AUArts, something that isn’t affecting me however. I did 6 of them myself from 2009-2016, but when the price jumped so high, had to call it a day. That’s why i do ‘self directed workshops” now ๐Ÿ™‚ (And i think it’s time for another one, with the recent “isolation” tactic.) I am hoping however that a workshop i signed up for in Edmonton in May will go ahead, through another “group”!!

BUT. This doesn’t mean i’m calling it quits. I still want to finish this piece, and i will, and goal setting, *by* the original deadline. That’s in 12 days, and i *will* do it. Who knows what will happen in 12 days? And technically, we’re just postponed, not cancelled. All written on the 20th, so not as close to completion as i’d like BUT I WILL DO MY DAMNEDEST.

I have to admit too that the current climate with all the closings, people staying home, and online foofarah, that a possibly developing case of agoraphobia may be okay FOR NOW. That started *before* the Covid pandemic happening. I’m having a VERY hard time going outside the house, can’t explain it, not going to, and will deal with it, but in the meantime, i may as well make the dirty bugger work and pay its keep! (That Edmonton workshop is something i REALLY want, so hoofies crossed i can deal with the hidinginthecloset thing….)

I’m also staying off FB, except for the FybreSpace page, because i am exhausted by the constant bombardment of willfully ignorant fiction, plain old lies, magical thinking and profiteering. I KNOW what i’m supposed to do as a responsible citizen/human being, will get my updates from reliable government sites and credible news sources, and hive in to protect myself and my Greyman.

In the meantime, i pulled out old bags of dried plant materials, rightly figuring that i might as well use them. My scant bag of saved onion skins gave me these, not bad for the amount:

I had expected more orangey colours, and deeper, but 2 handfuls of skin ain’t a lot of colourant. Even so, i find it a very soothing palette of texture and faint peachy tones.

Then i used half of my dried silver dollar eucalyptus:

I adore that velvet! If i were a teddy bear maker, i’d probably use it for that!

The bits of cotton eyelet are slated for a project, a colour record i’m thinking of.

So, we go on, things different but not, life changing but not in the end very earth shattering really. There will be financial adjustments of course, but most of us could benefit from that lesson anyways. Hopefully, a lot of us will refine what we know, learn some new skills, calm down and carry on.

 

โ€œLoneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.โ€ May Sarton

 

 

 

 

testing new waters

At the old house (and i mean where we lived before *and* the fact that the house was 100+ years), i knew what the water would do to my natural dyes. Turns out it’s a new ballgame in the new place, a totally different ballgame.

A. There’s a LOT of chlorine in our water in this location. We noticed the smell when we moved in, but stoopidly, i forgot that if i want to use it as hard water (’cause hard water is good for certain natural dyes like madder, weld, logwood and brazilwood, and we get hard water because our water is from the mountains) *and* there’s chlorine, you have to let the water sit for awhile so the chlorine off gases (dissipates). Didn’t have to do that at the old house.

Did you know that if you add ferrous sulphate to water with chlorine in it, that it turns the water PINK? Pretty, but the iron didn’t want to do what it was supposed to because the chlorine was being all busybody and getting in the way.

B. I use our filtered osmosis system for a lot of my dyeing. But it doesn’t work well, when apparently the tank membrane broke and is letting things into the tank, like iron and gawdzknows what else…..this also doesn’t work well for natural dyeing. There are a lot of minerals in our water too, but i’m not sure what else there is that isn’t supposed to be “is”…..

On the 14th and 15th i tested some of the Ugandan marigold my son brought back for me. I was shocked at the amount of green instead of yellow i got. My tannin was green as well, not a good sign, but a sure sign that there was a fair amount of what shouldn’t be in there, in there. I *did* get some pretty colours so that’s okay, but.

This means i now have to test all the dyes i work with, checking the new parameters and verifying my normal practices as still viable. It’s a good thing then that with the rhubarb root and quebracho rojo work i did last week i made lots of notes, and because of that, the marigold was documented as well! BUT it’s also weird that the RR and the QR gave me close to the results i was used to, even though i had used the (broken) filtered water.

Interestingly enough, in several natural dye groups, this was posted. I mean, i KNEW water affects the dyes, but wow, what a lesson in my own space.

So, i begin again.

planning the plans to plan

I don’t know how other full time artists handle the tasks associated with making a living in the studio, but i’ve decided i have to treat this like a “job”. I don’t mean cut and dried “you MUST do this today” or “from 211:315AM to 32:3719 PM, you will be weaving gnats hair into celestial robes” kind of job, but being serious about what i want to do, need to do and would like to do. It’s too easy to get side tracked when the studio is “in home”! There’s always a dog to walk, a dish to wash and “Oh look! Cat barf! Goody! Gotta scrub that.”

Hours, how do we manage this? It’s easy to say it could be a 9-5 job (Oops better write this fast as it’s now 10 minutes to 9!), but i think a *little* flexibility could work ๐Ÿ™‚ย  I wrote a post last year (gah, last year seems so far and so close away already…) touching on the subject (3rd paragraph) and parts of it will work, but as i mentioned: tangents! possibilities! potential! As a natural dyer, there *are* certain things that *must* be done; scouring, mordanting, dyeing, the winding of thread skeins (running really low on those to use), the labelling and storage of, and the decision on what to sell and what to use.

On my work blog (private, neener neener neener) i have draft posts with each week’s dates, but not so neurotic that any but the first are lists of what the plans are. Sample, this week Jan 6-10:

  • mordanting! (some are pre-tannined already: linen, chenille scarf, get them in alum)
  • new indigo vat needs startingย  DONE ON WEEKEND! โˆš
  • dye with indigo, madder and weld: velvet, linen, trims
  • trees for moon piecesโ€“smaller than done before, and larger
  • ORGANIZE studio better…… UN-ENDING JOB!!!
  • wind threads, scour, mordant, dye, combination colours
  • chair cushions-indigo (there has to be personal things made too)
  • finish chenille scarf (a test, post about that later)

I also realized through December that while i can work in front of the tubage, and don’t need to concentrate fully on what i’m doing in the stitching corner, that it *does* slow me down, just enough that i start feeling pressured IF i feel i have set a deadline. I can wind threads, but not embroider with them with “Stumptown” or whatever onย  …… Instead, i talk to the DogFaced Girl……

But, not all studio work is Work either. There has to be time to make the art, the pieces that are in our hearts, that are sketched out excitedly and that the stash is culled for. Play it by ear: this week is that list above, but the week after can be the Art Part, because those listed things HAVE to be done or nothing gets done.

I do also stop for lunch, coffee refills, bathroom breaks and skritches for assorted animals. ๐Ÿ™‚ I have too, lately, cleaned up the work space every night–not cleared completely of course, but at least organized and tidy for a fresh start the next day. *We’ll see how long that lasts, as i usually end up with “inspiration” and “possibility” piles everywhere! Sometimes there are going to be days when i just go in and “WOWZERS what happened, it was a GREAT DAY” without even noticing what time it was. Sometimes those days are like this:

See the teeeeeny little green buds on the stems? I cut these raspberry canes two weeks ago, thinking it was a futile exercise to save some of the raspberry bushes from the old place. (Remember i live in Alberta and it’s ^%$#ing cold and snowy in the winter. I never managed during the move to dig up even a small piece.) Last night, we noticed GREEN. That’s sometimes how things go in the studio, indeed in life also: hopeful, life affirming, chance, luck, caring.

 

How do you deal with time management? Any tips?

 

sort of a recap

These are why i believe natural dyes in textile arts are important to me and to others with this passion, no matter their “technique” or Practice. Ixchel Suarez had asked about this in a post on FB, in a natural dye group, about the importance of natural dyes to tapestry, *almost* intimating that it was the one use of the medium/material where it was so important, but i know there are other embroiderers, knitters, weavers of all the sorts, twiners, basket makers, rug hookers, book makers, fabric designers etc. who also use exclusively natural dyes. I can’t imagine using commercially dyed threads on anything now! There are nuances to natural colour that can never be replicated in synthetic dyes, and everything always “goes together”.

I know a lot of people can’t tell the difference between synthetic and natural dyes, just to look at them. I’m at a point though myself that when i look at photos of other natural dyers work, i can usually tell what dye they used, whether it’s tried and true historically accurate natural dyes, or “food waste” S**T. Really, i can. Really! There’s something warm and poetic about madder in all its antique hues, indigo and finding beauty in the palest to darkest, no โ€œwrongโ€ blue as a result, clear as the golds and leaf russets of osage, the aureate luminosity of rhubarb root (as prosaic as that one sounds…), the terra cotta nobility of cochineal and cutch, the royal richness of purples from lac, cochineal and logwood. SIGH.

I haven’t done any dyeing since before we moved to our new home, too much going on, too many other projects, but i’m starting to run out of threads especially. I’m planning for 2020 (i can’t believe that at all, that it’s going to BE 2020), and trying to figure out a schedule of sorts with flexibility for making the materials i use, and then making from/with *that* making ๐Ÿ™‚ The best i can figure is to devote a week every 2 months (as needed, because surely i won’t have to do it EVERY month) to the dyeing, a week for paperwork, putzing and planning, and two for making. That still isn’t written in stone of course: part of this whole thing is the spontaneity generated by excitement, discovery, tangent, possibility!

I’m not making Grand Art right now (with the exception maybe of the patient Samara, and hopefully others like her), but i am making art that other people enjoy, and that *I* enjoy making. I see all these together and i get excited all over again, knowing that i, me did this from “scratch”–i may not have grown the sheep or cotton plant or moth cocoon, or woven or spun the cloth and thread, but i still “made” these fabrics and fibres, i coloured them and that’s pretty damn satisfying.

Would i be as rapturous if it was the “old days” and i was using commercially bought, commercially made, commercially dyed materials? Not sure, don’t care: i am where i am, and where i need to be now, now.

 

 

I also have in mind to if not REPLICATE, but to redux, remake, re-interpret a few older works in natural dyes:

Too, there are also old techniques i favoured, themes i loved, and mediums, and i’m testing some for the use of natural dyes in them. So many ideas! Piles, heaps, hills, masses, oodles and multitudes, stacks and torrents! Good thing it’s not 2020 yet ๐Ÿ™‚

 

no scrap left behind

I come from a long line of Sensible Savers and Scroungers. While most of my line put the scraps in the ragbag, and none were really stitchers, small pieces came in handy for cleaning with or patching. I learned to sew on a machine when i was 5, creating barbie clothes (of course) (though my Barbie wasn’t a true Barbie, just a knock off) with scraps saved from Mom’s making of our pyjamas and shirts. In my early early teens, my uncle Ron did window dressing for big department stores as part of his Arts program, and brought me bags of bits i didn’t even know existed: pink sparklies and gold lame and screenprinted trees and red fake fur. (Shoulda seen the hotpants i made from those!)

When i became a single mother, i scrounged old clothes from the Free Box at Gordon House, a neighbourhood community organization in the west end of Vancouver–BLISS! (And wow, it’s still around, in a shinier location now, with a thrift store instead.) There were barkcloth muu-muu’s, “old lady suits” of metallic brocades, Hawaiian print shirts and plenty of odd 70’s cast offs that no one would be caught dead wearing in the 80’s ๐Ÿ™‚ I STILL HAVE SOME PIECES!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I made a LOT of patchwork then, having discovered quilt magazines too. That was a skill no one had in the family either, with the exception of ONE quilt made in the 30’s by my Great Grandmother, which i still have.

Now these velvets, these natural dyes, oh my. Seems such a waste to toss the little bits, and realizing as i was cutting more moons, that there were still “useable” bits. So iย  made *more* moons *from* them, and i have a list of other little things i’d like to make too.

That was the first batch above, but then i started really piecing, using some of the off cuts from them:

(Two of the three from the “Thorntree” series, still in progress, these will go on backgrounds as well.)

Of course, with velvet’s slurki-ness, some scraps are too small, so they will either be stitched raw edge on something else, or (becoming a neurotic masochist), i will hand stitch. There IS a limit though ๐Ÿ™‚

But then i remembered these from 2012, which became the “juice moon” series:

OMG how would these look in VELVET????????????????????????

I think there’s at least one more series with that idea, and then i must rest–and get back to some Samara stitching–lots of ideas for *her* background. (No bling though ๐Ÿ™‚ )

 

 

in praise of scraps

Tomorrow is the LAST day of this messy, chaotic, stressful move, the last bits and pieces of 10 years in an old house (and almost 16 years together of collecting..) that honestly made it easy to “accumulate” things. Funny though, the new place is bigger, has better storage and is more organized in layout, but we want less Stuff now… Another dump run, another donation run and the last bits and pieces from odd corners is by midnight’s goal……

The studio is slowly slowly taking shape, though one thing that is needed is MORE LIGHT. I discovered how bad it is down there when i realized the white thread i was using was actually a soft yellow……..

I’ve been itching to do *something* down there that doesn’t involve going through every bin and box, and then strewing things around because i get sidetracked. Found a bag of velvet scraps–they still got strewed ๐Ÿ™‚ย  —and spent some time digging through and fondlesorting, ending up with this gorgeous indigo piece. Close by also was the box of jewellry findings, so:

I made a Thing! A second Thing will join it, and maybe they will be worn at a company christmas party.

But oh to get back to the projects, especially Samara! And i need to find a new canvas for her—the one delegated disappeared on one of the truck runs……..