making it smell like Summer

I can’t pretend Spring is coming with the coming weekend supposed to be in the minus20’s(C), but i can smell Summer right now: I had a pot of rhubarb root simmering, an excellent dye the last time i used some. The fragrance lingers, even to the next day, and always reminds me of alder burning in the old wood stove on Bowen Island. This is a test of sorts too, as the first time was freshly dug and cut up, and this particular bag has been in my cache since October of 2015, so very dry. Some dyes just don’t do well dried! Checking the pot after an hour assured me though: there was LOTS of colour seeping out.

Silly me though! I forgot to weigh the bag and have no idea how much i used. I decided to start a separate note book for my silk work, as it’s a different kettle of canned worms than other fabrics, and the colours are amazing! And guess who didn’t take notes last year when she was doing all this? I mean, i know if i used quebracho rojo, or madder, or osage obviously, but what post mords or post mods did i use? What mixes of dyes did i use to get other colours? How many times did i use that bath? I didn’t even keep swatches!

Rhubarb root has more of an affinity for protein fibres though: all the trials i’ve done on cotton or linen gave at best, a pleasant warm toned pale yellow, and even post modifying doesn’t change much of that. (Except for iron which which pretty much *always” turn any natural dye to shades of charcoal!)

Here’s my array of tests, in order of post-modifier: copper, iron, soda ash and vinegar. (Unfortunately, i threw out the ammonia for some reason, so couldn’t try that…) Again, little change on the linen.

For some reason, there also seems to be little difference in the colour when overdyed with indigo, but my vat may be too strong still. This is the one time i wish for a weaker one! (In *my* experience, a weaker vat gives a better chance for the first colour to influence the outcome.)

So, did i lose you with that highly detailed ireallydon’tgiveashitphotoijustlikecoloursandb? 🙂 (I myself quite like the orangey soda ash results, and the iron.) This is how we roll, us natural dyers!!!! BUT, once we know the general outcome of all those steps, we can play confidently and happily, mixing, mixing more, and mixing again. It’s not just a matter of throwing an avocado in a pot with some pretty muslin 🙂 And more tests will now be done, in overdyeing with *other* dyes: quebracho rojo, cutch, madder, cochineal, etc etc etc.

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Speaking of misconceptions about dyes……..this article was brought to the attention of several natural dye groups yesterday. Quite an uproar ensued, because while yes we should be more aware of our purchases and the effects mass consumerism has on the world, we should also not have to, as natural dyers, be misrepresented by an uninformed “trend forecaster” belittling us with comments about natural dyes being “Subdued and melancholic…….”, even if she *is* trying to be “on trend”. Except for aforementioned avocados maybe, HA.

The ennui that rises from this article is a palpable stench. I would guess that’s the subdued and melancholic way of saying “i just don’t give a damn”. But then she of course redeems herself with pithiness because “She is given to issuing prophecies such as: “I think we will get very inspired by blouses.” *My* blouses are pretty vivid and lively 🤣(This is as bad an article as one i read by Germaine Greer, who hadn’t a CLUE about textiles, and textile art. I wrote about that on my old blog, here, and here. If you’re going to set yourself as an expert, do some research, for jeebly sakes.)

why don’t we write long blog posts anymore?

I started blogging in 2003, intensely personal and set to completely private. I thought that was what blogging was for: an online journal, diary, lists of daily experiences, woe-is-me’s, and small joys. I don’t remember being able to add photos or links, it was literally just an online personal notebook. In 2004 i discovered there were PUBLIC blogs–and WHOA, there were artists, there were TEXTILE artists out there who like me, wanted to record their journeys, their tests, their revelations, how to’s and failures, and their art, for everyone to see.

I would spend hours every day clicking on links–in those days we shared that, shared the work of people we admired, with no thought of jealousy or snark, long lists of blogs we each visited, links to strange things we liked. One of my favourites was “Corpses for Sale“, an artist who yes, made life like (death like??) corpses from latex and hardware supplies. (That was part of my body fascination in art phase 🙂 ) The  site is pretty slick now and i guess disturbed people enough that a warning was posted on it: “WARNING: Displaying a corpse in public may break some County laws.”  HA.

I digress………

We posted samples of how we worked, we wrote actual tutorials, we traded art, we wrote long posts and added lots of pictures, bared our guts, and laughed at ourselves a lot. I remember being excited so often by what i saw, what people made, how they discovered things, how their artistic exploits evolved and expanded. We formed groups by dint of actual MAIL, real letters and packages, we created round robins and exchanges, we made art collaboratively and entered shows specifically for that, we solved problems for each other, we communicated almost every time we “visited”. Our best “communal platform” was Flickr, a Flickr that was a lot more user friendly in those days. We were interactive, wrote long “in response” posts of our own, did even more sharing of links and how to’s, and left thoughtful comments that were more than a “like” (or a troll response!).

So what happened? With few exceptions, most of us don’t do, act, think, or respond any more, do not inhabit our blogs the way we used to. (Guilty.) They’re drop shipping ports now: “Go to my Etsy, Facebook, Instagram, flavouroftheday platform”. (Guilty.) Or they are “monetized” now, supported by suppliers, links to quote affiliates unquote and advertising for spuriously related products. (By the way, any ads you see at the bottom of MY posts are completely out of my control, as i use WordPress’ free platform. They get put there automatically and i don’t even know what they are!)  Islands in the vast galactic sized ocean the net has become, with no other land in sight it feels. Some of us disappeared by choice, or sadly, died, some just faded away with no reaction or reason from themselves or their followers, some did abrupt turns and we left them behind because they no longer interested us. (Guilty.) Attention spans shortened drastically, “yeah but’s” appeared, “one up man ship” started distorting responses. (Guilty.)

So. Almost 17 years later (cause that calendar page is gonna flip again in 20 days and everything will be MAGIC again…), i want to go back to 2004 in a sense, and BE here. I may miss things, may not appeal, may flounder, flop and fail, but i’m going to try. Are you?

 

 

 

“True Colors” book review (or how to make yourself even *more* unpopular)

Firstly, i’m ambivalent, PERIOD, about posting this review. I realize it may have been a deeply personal choice of the editor/writer to make these particular inclusions in the book. I’m also rather curious how some have been given the title of “World Master” as well. But honestly? I wouldn’t recommend buying unless you’re one of those people who has to have *EVERY* book on a subject: borrow from the library when it gets there.  (Petition your library: they are always open to reasonable requests for aquisitions, and it’s still a sale for the writer/publisher.) It’s not that it’s expensive (it isn’t by a long shot) but you’d be better off with other more historically “slanted” books, like Dominique Cardon’s epistle, any of Yoshiko Wada’s beautiful offerings, Jenny Balfour-Paul’s indigo histories, and many museum guides online and sometimes available as catalogues.

So.

 

 

This is the first natural dye book i’ve ever been ambivalent about. On one hand, it’s exciting visually, a cornucopia of natural colour use around the world, illustrated gorgeously with close-ups and atmospheric scenes. Spotlights are on cultural meaning and history, empowerment of indigenous people, and the uses of ethno/geo-centric dye materials, in traditional and in cutting edge directions. The many facets of indigo are intriguing, and in some cases jaw dropping in the dedication to preservation of a skill, and in the use of aeons old techniques and materials for contemporary art applications in other media. The indigo sections in particular opened my heart to appreciate *all* the permutations of blue possible and to embrace the vagaries of the vat, finding beauty in the palest to darkest, no “wrong” blue as a result. The book should have been edited then and there, to be finished.

The reverse side of the coin however is the inclusion of erroneously labelled “sustainable” branded “dyers” who promote the use of food waste, fugitive dyes and the instant gratification element of DIY, with no actual historical data. This isn’t a recipe book by a long shot, but i would have expected a disclaimer by some, (even one!) of these currently Popular Girls, about dyes that last, are done correctly with proper mordanting, with light and wash fast tests, instead of “seasonal colour” that essentially wastes more resources by the very fact that they have to be redyed over and over to have colour. I feel that these chapters are puff pieces only, designed to fill the book, with no actual value added, but since there are only a couple of these artistes included, there is a small blessing in that.

As i said, this isn’t a recipe book by a long shot, and was never intended to be, but in giving the title “World Masters” to some of the included artists, it cheapens the whole field, promotes bad practice, and encourages questionable business models. It’s unfortunate that the classic dyers, innovative artists and contemporary uses will be glossed over by many in favour of the easy to do fugitive. A coffee table book, and it may pique some interest in those who intend to get serious, but in the end, not a reference book, not destined to become a classic, and not very useful for the most part, except perhaps as a “Digest”.

 

Unfortunately, or funnily, or strangely even, i cannot post this review on Amazon, because the book hasn’t been “released” yet. Really? I got my copy 2 days ago!

You’ll note too that i actually was rather mild in my condemnation for fugitive dyes, and mentioned no names 🙂 These ARE *MY* personal opinions, and whilst many think i’m a Know It All, i have never steered anyone wrong, deliberately or otherwise, with information i have shared. “The facts, Ma’am, just the facts.”

 

beating a dead horse

I had a boss who would constantly blether on about the same subject all day, repeating himself, re-iterating, asserting, testifying, re-hashing and rinse and repeat. One day, i got brave and put a plastic toy horse in a pot of dirt with a little trowel, and told him “The horse is dead: bury it”.

I guess that’s me now with the smelly horse, and i DO give up. My response now to people who obviously can’t do research on natural dye use, or ANY subject is either (shrug), or this:

(With credit to Caroline Nixon, and Carol Walker, who left the second and third comments on my original post.)

the story of another ugly duckling, and important shop announcement

When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before.

Henry David Thoreau

 

March 31, 2016:  “As textile artists, we connect and are connected to communities larger than our Selves, or our immediate environs. We encapsulate culture, technique, history and innovation every time we touch cloth. Delving into our country’s textile narration subsumes our own work, bringing translations of common ground and personal archetype. ” (My statement, abbreviated, from exhibit at Leighton Art Centre.)

I’d of course now have to change that to “a” country’s etc. !

I’m not saying ever again though, that *this* is the direction i will go in, forever. I’ve been through that before, from “why waste my time with hand stitch” to “i’ll never be a good natural dyer” to “i prefer abstraction”, and then with each new learning experience, all of those have been negated. I think it is important however to look beyond one’s own experience and preferences, habits, and approaches, because art is constantly evolving. The artist/artisan should too, even if in the end there is nothing visibly apparent in the work. None of us work or live in a vacuum, especially now. You may not be able to afford to travel to get first hand experience, but you sure as hell can learn from books, teachers and a plenitude of online information. I *do* wish though that i could see these works “in the flesh”, as there is nothing like the real thing, no matter how well photographed!

Anyhoo. I thought i’ve been working on this longer than i have! (That “myopia” thing again…) Started on Feb 22nd, it looked like this:

Missing pieces, rips, uneven seams, badly placed pieces for strangely shaped connections, i’m thinking how sloppy, what the hell can i make from these messes? But i have taken ugly before and made it beautiful, so just go with it 🙂

So, i stitched the pieces together, and chose a few threads.

Made changes in the thread colours, added some more dimension with applique and reverse applique:

The blue stitching is my “crackle stitch” (unpatented 🙂 ), a form of backstitch done randomly and in small stitches. As i wandered through online research, elements of Swati, the darker motifs (chainstitch), and Rajasthan, the yellow dots (backstitch), crept in:

That damn hole that originated from the tear in construction (centre bottom with indigo insert on the yellow) stopped fighting, and rather than going around it, i treated it as if it were part of the whole cloth, continuing the yellow and burgundy backstitch lines. I realized it shouldn’t be accented, but “integrated”.

“Finished” last night, and edges turned, ready to audition the backing fabric(s) it will be mounted on:

Cloth cotton, dyed with madder and with osage, post modified with iron, puff and reverse elements indigo, and indigo and oak. Threads silk and cotton, dyed with indigo, osage, cochineal, quebracho rojo, and logwood, various post modifiers. Funny too how things seem so big when you work on them, and when finished, they measure out to “only” 12×11″!

Now which shall we go with?

I like the blue, to keep it with the primaries, the yellow because it looks more antique, the red i’m not so sure of, but that may be because it’s a brighter truer shade than the pieces i used in the stitched areas.

The stitching done on the background will be kept simple, perhaps echoing the seamlines, as i want the main piece to be the focus.  Of course, often handling the work, the needle decides where it will go, so no firm plan there!

Notice something? NO Kantha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Honestly, there are SO many more stitches to explore than the tired running stitch, and having looked at a wealth of photos from Central Asia, Kantha is not used as often as assumed. Maybe in some cases, this one should be the “racing” stitch, since i’ve seen work “completed” in three days on sloppy and hastily added scraps, and a label of “Boro” attached. Use your imagination and stretch, stretch!

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Sign of the times, sorry! As of April 1st –and no, this is no Fool’s day joke—i will be raising my prices on artworks. Until then, you can buy at the “old” price. There are a few sale items as well available. PRICES NOW RAISED. This is a hard but necessary fact of life and business, and i do hope everyone understands! When this happens, i will still accept payment plans, but only on Artwork above $100.00. Payment is listed as CANADIAN dollars, so please check a currency converter to see what *you* would be paying.

My work is labour intensive, from the initial prepping of fabrics, to the natural dye processes, and in the case of Art, creating by hand takes time.

Fabric and thread listings will remain somewhat the same, as i want people to be able to create without having to break the bank.

As ALWAYS, i refund extra shipping costs if the mailed package comes in under the amount paid.

paying attention, and intention

Well, now i know why my double buttonhole stitch couldn’t begin to emulate the look from one of the online photographs: it was actually squared chain stitch that made those lovely sinuous lines! I was checking Anne Morrell‘s book again, found a photo of lines that were similar, checked her diagram, and then decided to cross check with Jacqueline Enthoven‘s embroidery stitch book (one of my bibles), and lo and behold: there it was.

So, i immediately started working that, and then a variation on an interlaced look next to it, trying to get that defined line down the edges……. BUT when you realize the practice stitches you just did are on the work instead of the sampling cloth, so you add more in another area to “balance” the look, and then have to rip out both areas because they look like absolute crap, you realize you could have planned a bit better 🙂

Much better without!

And yes, i need more practice with this one. It involves a lot of flipping around of cloth to get the flow going, good lighting and (less) coffee!

There’s also a very closely related stitch, that i just haven’t had time or patience to figure out yet:

 

A bit of discussion ensued on FB about the use again of obviously not related to oneself’s tradition or heritage but i *did* think about this exercise, and am comfortable with deciding that inspiration and interpretation is not appropriation. Because these aren’t specific to one ethnic group, and i’m not passing them off AS “ethnic”, whether Swati, Uzbeki, Banjara or whatever, they aren’t infringing on anyone’s culture. IF however, i swathed myself in as close a copy as possible, called myself a Sindhi “princess” and then swanned downtown for a pose-ish photo shoot…….. 🙂

I agree it’s a tough line sometimes, but these wouldn’t/can’t even remotely be classified as the real thing. In my opinion, cultural appropriation is when someone blatantly uses costume or style in a form that is disrespectful to the original, and people who have fancy runway shows of product who are the furthest thing from the original, in style and in actual cultural belonging, those who “cash in” on a “trend”, and those who cheapen by using it as a party item.

None of these motifs are specifically a copy or exact replica of any of these people’s personal symbols. In this case, embroidery is embroidery, and since the stitches are all the same all over the world, no one person or group has a claim on them. It’s in the use, the combination, the colours and the personal aesthetic that lifts them WAY above cultural commodifying or appropriation. If a stitch used by one group is then passed on and used by another, and that’s a Bad Thing, whomever thinks that is way off base! This is how trade, cultural exchange and welcoming new or different ideas shaped the world after all! And NO ONE has a patent, license, ownership, trademarked, copyrighted stitch, even if they change it to “So and So’s” “something else” stitch. You can’t rename it, claim ownership: you didn’t invent it. Don’t Bogart that stitch, man!

(And please….do not say to me “oh that looks like SoandSo’s Something stitch”—because, No. It’s a stitch that has been around forever, used by many and no one can co-opt that, then teach it as Something New and Individual to that person.)

coming to terms with the artisan self

I’ve come to the logical conclusion this past week, that i am an artisan type artist now. I say “now” because it’s taken me this long to recognize that all the damn drama i put in and the fighting i’ve done with myself on so many occasions, has been a millstone around my neck. I’m not about to give up the “serious” work, but i know now i will never be considered on a larger scale as “a prophet in my own land”, or anywhere else for that matter. “My land” is still within the scope of textiles, but i won’t ever be a Judy Martin, Penny Berens, or any of a multitude of other Canadian artists who get the gallery shows, the invitations, the international acclaim. I had my spate of “popularity”, exposure, recognition a few years back, in international magazines and on several well-respected online sites, but the days are done.

Please know this is NOT sour grapes.I don’t envy, am not jealous of these artists: i respect and admire them. They have integrity, skill, talent, vision, fortitude and knowledge. In fact, i am in awe of them, love them.

I enjoyed/enjoy (even with the usual accompanying angst that each piece extracts from me 🙂 ), the making of the more reflective pieces, am very proud of them, stand 100% behind them, but in the long run, these do not support me, do not go anywhere, with a very few exceptions, but a wall in my own home. I’ll still create them (Samara, i hear you calling again), but truthfully, it’s the more “crafted” pieces that are going out to the world.

That actually makes me happier. Yes, there’s coin, and who doesn’t like that aspect, but knowing that someone appreciates enough what i have made, to put up their own hard-earned cash, to enjoy the package they open, to take pride of ownership in the purchase, is, THAT is the true validation of what i’m doing. Paying entry fees, shipping costs, filling out paperwork, and rarely if ever being able to attend a show that accepted the work, not so much! Only one of these shows have ever put money in my pocket (and i thank that organizer/buyer/artist from the bottom of my wizened little heart, you know who you are, Darlin’). We all know that “exposure” thing really doesn’t mean much for too many artists…..

Artists can die of exposure……………………

I don’t suffer when i am making the smaller pieces, the stuff that goes in the shop. I don’t have to, shouldn’t have to act like the proverbial starving artist living in a garret. I won’t be shamed or ashamed for not making big political/subversive/feminist trope/anything trope/mindful/revolutionary/label label label Art anymore. I LIKE WHAT I’M DOING NOW. It gets me out of bed in the morning, it helps me sleep at night, it keeps the Black Dog from howling (though he may still growl in unguarded moments). I won’t be an apologist anymore for my Self. BUT, the next person whether in cybrespace or in real who gets all dismissive and condescending to me, gets a mighty slap on the self righteous ass. Make your own damn sandwich then 🙂

So. To that end, i have new plans, though i am smart enough to know that not all always goes according to plan. I need to actually go to the local galleries, participate in the local shows (yeah, still gotta do some, whether artisan market or solo), talk myself up locally. Online has been a great experience, and i will continue there, but i need a more reachable plateau. After all, this is real life.

My tasks this week then are to find those galleries, put some “propaganda” together, figure out tags, prices, presentation and then apply, submit, show.

Oh yeah, and do the artisan thing and make!