Ujamaa score!

Have you ever heard of the Ujamaa Gramma’s? A Calgary, Alberta (Canada) initiative, they do massive work to help support a very worthy cause and solution.

Approximately 14.8 million children under 18 have been orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In many African countries, 40 to 60 percent of these children now live in grandmother-headed households.

As part of the Stephen Lewis Foundation Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, UJAMAA GRANDMAS works to raise awareness for these tens of thousands of African grandmothers who are struggling to raise their orphaned grandchildren.

Since 2004, this dedicated local group of (mostly) women has raised a lot of money for the Foundation through an annual stash busting sale: donations of anything textile related from the surrounding area crams an entire large church basement, and people eagerly and happily wait in line for up to 2 hours to get in. (Gotta follow fire code regulations for occupancy!) It sounds like small potatoes in a way, but when you realize that the dollar bags of threads, the fabrics at a dollar a metre (except for higher priced quilting items, still a grand deal though!), yarns, notions, crafting supplies, tools, books and patterns raised $42,000 last year alone, that’s a lot of metres and miles of yarn and threads!

(With no way to snap pics as i was shopping,Β  i “borrowed” these from the FaceBook site) Imagine these spaces with huge knots of gridlocked shoppers too! What you don’t see, is all the little side and back rooms crammed with stuff as well.

Last year, i spent the magnificent sum of 37.00, this year a mere 12.00–not because i couldn’t find anything, but because A. i was overwhelmed by the amount offered, B. overwhelmed by the number of people and C. (unfortunately) overwhelmed by all of the perfume! I also had a specific list this year, and finding alternatives to items on that list was not a Thing. (Part of both those amounts included a $2 dollar admission fee, and a small “keep the change” donation as well.)

I bought 3 bags of embroidery threads at a dollar a bag–and even with some of them being short ends, i figure i saved at least 96bucks, by not buying “new” or from a retail operation. I fooled myself again, and do this frequently–i always get excited by the look of the “variegated” threads in the bag, which always turn out to be specific colours knotted together for someone else’s defunct/fuhgeddaboudit projects πŸ™‚ You’d think i’d be more on the ball by now, but no-ooo-oo-ooo. Quite happy regardless! Some of the colours that i won’t likely use will be for overdyeing, so not a waste at all!

Edit next day: Untwangled everything, and discovered i have 102 skeins, counting some of the shorts as one—that works out to a wee bit less than 3cents per!

A bag of tassels for a buck:

A Maggie Grey, and a Jan Beaney/Jean Littlejohn, both hardcovers, both a measly 1buck each:

(The Beaney/Littlejohn book is signed by Beaney, but so what? πŸ˜‰ )

Another (small) bag of threads for dyeing:

I say “small” because i COULD have crammed the bag full with three times this amount, and still have been charged only a buck!

Lace bits for a dollar:

One chunk of fabric i want to cut into small bits and play with, again only a dollar:


And my best score to date. As we stood in line to get in, we noticed there was sidewalk length of “free items”, mostly weaving frames, tapestry frames, and a few tapestry/embroidery stands. I poohpoohed the idea that i “needed” any of it. However, since i finished an hour before my friend Susan whom i’d gone with, i was sitting on the bench outside and thought “Hmmmmm…” So i pulled a stand over by my sit spot and looked at it, sneaking glances out of the corner of my eye, hoping it wouldn’t bond with me. When Susan came out, she reminded me that it’s FREE, sensibly mentioned that it’s wood so i could burn it if i didn’t need it and give the metal attachmenterthings to the Greyman, and that if it was semi wobbly, Greyman could fix it, and reminded me again that it’s FREE. How can i argue with that logic?

Never mind the mess behind–it’s “creative exploration” πŸ™‚

I did a bit of research this morning, and the closest model i could find online sells for $195US (PLUS the shipping of course). Miss Susan was correct in her logic therefore.



start your needles

Fine threads, thick threads, wool and cotton, it’s all becoming strands of delish.

I was hesitant for the longest time about the wool, as i figured it was too “fluffy’, but have now fallen in love with it. I experienced “not all about sweaters and warm slippers” after working with it πŸ™‚ Depending on your tension as you stitch, it can be more raised, more taking acceptance of the loft, but you can also draw it slightly tighter and end up with finer lines, whereas medium tension will give a fuller appearance in stitches that fill more space. The wools i’ve been using are classified as lace weight, which means while they look downy, they are as easy to use as cotton. (But i do recommend shorter lengths, not the longer than fingertips to elbow *i* normally use!)

The cottons have been a joy also, as they are easier (for me at least) to get a variegated dye happening. From a weight that is like using 2 strands of conventional embroidery floss, to one that imitates a full 6 strands, the colour variations are wonderful.

I decided too that labelling them only needs the type of dye–i’m not about to add all the mordants and modifiers, as it could get rather wordy!–the length and the type of fibre.Β  Some of these are also shorter lengths than i had intended, as i learn about tension on the niddynoddy as i wind the skeins, pre-everything! Prices will reflect that, but all are still worthy and long enough to be treasure. In the future, i intend 10 yard and 20 yard pieces, depending on the thread. (Most of these vary from 7-18 yards, though i erred on the side of caution: some may be slightly more than indicated, but none will be less. And the “20 yard” ones will be having their labels changed to reflect that they are more likely a generous 18!)

There are many more to wind still, and yes i kept some for myself, though none of the above, so it’s not a tease with any of them. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ I still have indigo, potassium permanganate and a mix of the two to complete, so there will be those as well.


I’m still deciding on pricing and packaging, as with the cost of shipping, it’s probably better to sell these in sets of 2, 3 and/or 4. I want them to be something you can work with together, rather than just a “one off”. So far too, i am doing small lots, as i am only a one woman show,Β  so you’ll have to bear with me for availability! Pricing *will* reflect the hand dyed/naturally dyed “point of the exercise”, but will also be more than fair for the amounts (and the work involved to do them!). I hope to add these to the shop on the weekend, October 30th the latest.

immersion therapy

Autumn is my favourite season, with its deeply rich colours and the spicy smell of earth, falling leaf and seed. It’s also the start of SAD time, something i struggle deeply with every year. I know all the coping mechanisms well, and follow most of them ( and sometimes they work, or don’t……), but this year, seem to have been helped muchly by my intense self-workshopping on natural dyes. I *do* tend to get obsessive about things, and this is no exception, but the results from it have been most gratifying.

My brain has benefited from all the science lessons, my focus by the procedural steps that it necessitates, and my soul heartened by the results. Instead of sitting on the couch staring at the walls, or visiting the kitchen too often, i’m up and about between studio, dye dungeon and sketch/notebook.

As i’ve been dyeing the threads, i’ve also been stitching with them, and this is the result.

All natural dyes (except that one brown from “PP”), it’s almost finished. Silk, silk/wool, wool and cotton threads, and all the dyes i can get my hoofies on, on indigo dyed cotton, i can’t wait to finish this and mount on a canvas!



autumn and the animals

Our backyard has the lowest fences on the block, ie none at front, and only old frail 4 foot chain link out back, with a delicate divider of open wire work that keeps Nessie in the back 40, though she has rarely ever gone walkabout on her own if the gates are accidentally blown open. We’re bounded on either side by 6 foot fences because the infills want privacy for their tiny yards. Being near the river and across from the park berm and path, all parts of the wildlife corridor, means a constant funneling therefore through ours, as they pass from water to habitat.

And hollyhocks, raspberries, bird feeder, crabapple and apple trees πŸ™‚ Admittedly though, they are kind enough to wait until the raspberries are picked (deer LOVE the leaves), and most of the apples gathered, though i did miss a few blooms on my favoured black Chater hollyhock this summer. We’ve had rabbits and i mean Rabbits, the Alberta Jack Rabbit, not cute little abandoned bunnies that were turfed out after Easter and let to breed and live as they could, coyotes singing and hunting, a family of skunks that Nessie was unfortunate enough to check one out of one fine dark morning this summer, tons of squirrels, bajillions of birds, numerous deer, and a suspicion we had that there was a local porcupine.

Thursday morning i had been woken by the DogFaced Girl in a frenzy at 430AM, and in my winter boots and nightgown at -2C temps in the dark and a crisp frost on the ground, managed to ascertain with the stupidly useless flashlight on my phone, that yes, there was Something on the strut under the picnic table. Under those circumstances, that was good enough to bring Nessie back in. Skunk, cat, porcupine, whatever it was, welcome to our backyard, fill your boots then please leave. This autumn i have taken to leaving something outside by the back door to either kick over, or a shovel i can bang on the patio to warn whatever’s out there, because even after peering through the curtains, you can’t see the whole yard, and if the motion sensor lights haven’t come on, you can’t see anything anyways. Dog has a routine that can’t be interrupted for obvious reasons.

Nessie’s last ablutions of the day are around 9PM.Β  Last night i did the nosy neighbour check and saw deer resting and eating in the backyard, so opened the door gently and shooed them to safety. What leaps a young one can make! Let Miss PeePee Pants out and realized she was doing a warning circle with the low gruffs around the apple tree, saw a lump passing down the fence by it and thought AGH, grab the camera, be brave and let’s see what the lump really is. (If the lump had been larger, i’d have pulled DFG in, not chancing any encounter with bear, lynx or cougar, also known to visit Calgary backyards, though fortunately not (yet) in our neighbourhood.)

Lump saw me coming and proceeded to climb the apple tree.

Meet “Billy Idol”, our latest AirBnB guest.

Doesn’t he look all soft and cuddly? πŸ™‚

Tabula Memoria journal available, and residency exhibit news

If you are interested in process, rather than project, the journal that accompanies “Tabula Memoria” is available through Blurb now. This was as much a labour of love as the actual work was, and i’m quite proud of it. The print quality is fantastic, and i am liking the response from the few who have seen it “in the flesh”. It’s a bit chatty, but that was part of the point as well!

The actual link is here, because clicking on the photo below takes you to only the preview, with a bit of a counter-intuitive search for the information!


I have yet to figure out the PDF conversion so at the moment, it’s only available as an actual Real Book. I also have not jacked the price very much above the base price, as i’d rather more be able to add it to their libraries! (And remember, the price is in CANADIAN DOLLARS.)

With the timeframe i’d had left to get work done for the end of residency show, i decided instead that since the owner of this work isn’t picking it up until near the end of September, that i could show this instead. Created with fabrics during my 2016 residency, and worked on during the 2017 residency, it suits perfectly in that respect as work done DURING res (because i have seen work in those shows that had nothing to do with res…which kind of defeats the purpose of the exhibition IMHO), and also, as celebrating 10 years of Contextural, it was a perfect opportunity for me to see and show how *i* have evolved in 10 years. (Though i have been a member for only 8!)

To show the scale, i gritted my teeth and had my photo taken with it, hanging at the 371 Gallery at the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD). I really don’t like getting my picture taken anymore, because it reminds me i am no longer a sweet young thing (yes, i was, a long time ago, and sometimes still, inside πŸ™‚ ), but it *is* important that people see the Actual Real Artist on occasion!

If you are in or near Calgary, Alberta, or are visiting, the exhibition is up, ready for you view it. The Closing Reception is Thursday, September 14th but you can come into ACAD’s public areas and take it in anytime daily until then between 8am – 8pm, weekends too. Remember to check the two areas – the Main Mall and Room 371. I don’t know at this point if i will be at the closing reception, but who knows?

making my own rules, potassium permanganate

I really like the effects i get with potassium permanganate, but there’s not a lot of info available, online, or in old books, when it comes to using it with cloth. Most sites tell you how to get rid of the “stains” when you are working with it, in either metal or wood applications, but not how to keep it! I *think* we might have done something with it in the textile arts program in the early 90’s at Capilano College, but if we did, i either took few notes (usually when i wasn’t that interested!), or i threw them out in a long ago purge…….

First of all, this stuff is actually Scarey Dangerous. Yes, very, no exaggeration, in application, storage and with other chemicals. It can be explosive, toxic, mutagenic, corrosive. I cringe when i see people sticking their hands in vats with no protection, but this one in particular made me yell at someone during res who did just that. But it’s also used as an anti-fungal, an antiseptic, water purification, in garden applications, for livestock use, and in science labs for staining specimens and slides.

(Ignore the “antidote” notes on the above, and check the MSDS for the real deal.)

It’s not a “natural dye”: it’s a chemical compound. So why use it if it’s so freekybeaky? Because i like the warm browns it can give, i like the way it chases (discharges, technically) indigo, i love the effects with rust and ecoprints. Respect for what we use as dyers, whether chemical or natural, can go a long way though and i have always stressed safety first in any of my own work, and certainly when i have taught classes. So i will use it, and with pleasure! (The few sites that have had any information make me shake my head too, as they blithely swish things around with bare hands……..)

I know brown is not an exciting colour to most people, and most natural dyers are going to use walnuts, chestnut, cutch or sequoia, or combine different dyebaths with various mordants and modifiers to get brown when they do want it πŸ™‚ (And i have, and do that as well. ) You’re not going to find potassium permanganate for sale on any dye house sites though, chemical or natural. I searched through chemical suppliers, university science sites, and finally water purification shops, and bought mine at a local supplier forΒ  “HVAC, Water Treatment, Fluid Handling and Conservation Industries .”Β  (I’ve heard it also referred to as “Condy’s Crystals”, an archaic name for it, and supposedly available at pharmacies/”chemists”, though i suspect that’s more in the UK than anywhere nearby!) And i asked for and got the 6 page MSDS that should go with ALL chemical use. (See that first link in this post.)

Initially, it’s expensive. I just about had a bird when i called and asked about the size they had on the website (10lbs)–$169.00!!!! The gentleman on the phone said though that they did have smaller 5 lb packages, at slightly less than half of that amount. In use though, it’s cheap, cheap, CHEAP. At 1/4 to 1 TSP per litre of water, it’s going to last a looooooooooooooooooooooooooooong time, great Cost Per Wear!

(HA. When i picked it up, he said someone else had just called and wanted that smaller size too, something he hasn’t sold much of in a good while. Maybe another dyer?)


ALL “mixing” of this will be done outside in a corner of the back40, wearing gloves, respirator and safety glasses. And lest anyone think i am totally looneytunes using this potentially bombwhacko product, a lot of textile program school scenarios have a vat of it in the wet studio, and no one has reported any Incidents. ALL dyeing should be handled with respect, safety and care.

I remember there are a few other things i can do with “potperm” and cloth, so am off to refresh my memory, and make my own (SAFE) rules for use.



becoming a purple thread

Certainly a vanity, thinking one knows everything, but i’ve always subscribed to “Learn something new everyday, and you know you’re not dead” — i *don’t* know everything, but i do my research and i’m happy to not only do the correct thing, but to riff on that once the lesson is learned. If i need an affirmation of something i’ve done or a puzzlement needs solving, i’ll ask, but i don’t JUST ask and expect the whole answer “with 8×10 glossies and paragraphs and arrows on the back” to be handed to me on a silver platter.

I remember asking a Contextural member a long time ago how she achieved a certain shade in her natural dyeing/ecoprinting, and she sweetly and truthfully replied “Every dyer has her secrets” with no smugness, and in all honesty. I took that to heart, learning what i could and often failing because i didn’t follow the basics first.

I’ve got that part well sussed now, and am quietly thrilled with the tried and true, and the experimenting. All of this past week’s naturally dyed threads here have notes on each as to what it is, but you’ll have to figure out certain parts for yourself πŸ™‚

And the details in close-up:

Where these threads go next will be “the long white gown”,Β  metaphorically speaking.