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!


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!



my drawers will never be empty (book review):The Art and Science of Natural Dyes

JUST when i had got all my dye stuff and tools and pots back down to the Dye Dungeon, this arrived in the mail 🙂 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 Results  – 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.  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 🙂

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……..” This book should be MANDATORY reading for anyone who goes near a natural dye pot.

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 1000’s of 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

#Plantdyes. #Naturaldyes. #Botanicaldyes. #Vegetabledyes (????????????????????)

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 hashtag  (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,  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.  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 🙂 ), but someday i will (have all the answers, not write a book), because i DO the research: i don’t trust anyone who doesn’t address or demonstrate 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 hell  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 🙂

art vs craft, disappointed but not even any discussion

EDIT January 22: I’m going to add the response i gave to the owner admin of the group, at the end of this post. I don’t want to dwell on this anymore, have resolved it as much as i am comfortable with, and will go back to my Art and Craft. 🙂


I posted this photo on a very popular FB group, and had wonderful responses and reactions. Every time someone shared it, i would get an email notification: i do check, i am curious who likes, what possible demographic i’m hitting, what people think. Today i clicked on a one of those notices and got the ol’ “the person who shared this blahblah/the post is no longer blahblah” The entire post/photo had been deleted.

WTF? This is the second time something i’ve shared to the group has been treated this way, even after wonderful reactions, shares and comments.

These above were deleted as well, BUT currently in the group is a post from awhile ago by a Well Known Teacher: small pouches, dare i say without sounding sourgrapey, not nearly as “artistic”, engaging or original as mine. I guess i should have called the boxes “Reliquaries”, the pouches “Alembics”, snotty enough right? Boxes and pouches are just so plebeian, doncha know…………

How come these are art then?

embroidered moons, natural dye, arlee barr, hand embroideryOH i know, it’s the EASELS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But it’s the same fucking technique, materials, skills and time.

Now i DO understand that this group’s mandate is Textile ART. They don’t want dollies, doilies, bags, socks, placemats–unless of course, the artist has worked in a political or socio-economic “statement”…….. HOWEVER, a fair bit of the work posted there is from people who are just jumping in without a clue about either the/any technique or the/any aspect of design. There are also some INCREDIBLY talented artists who share. I am not THE “Best”, but i’m not competing, nor is that my intent, by sharing, and i’m certainly not by a long long long shot, the Worst.

So, then i posted this:

Thank you all, those who shared my little vessels (boxes), hand dyed with natural dyes, hand embroidered with naturally dyed threads, with designs of my own. There’s a definite science and ART to using natural dyes, but apparently, it isn’t good enough for certain groups, even with over a hundred likes etc and many shares, because it isn’t “Art”, it’s “only Craft”. My post was deleted, the second time this has happened to me with my work in this group.

Craft is an art as well–we buy from, support, hold in esteem many craftsmen/women as well as artists–and where is the dividing line anyways? Is it craft because it’s useful, is it art only if it sits on a table or hangs on a wall?

I’m really disappointed, and hurt by this. I spend a lot of time and skill on not only dyeing my own fabrics and threads with historically accurate methods, but working out the designs, the mechanics and the presentation. I had hoped this group would not only be more receptive, but more supportive and encouraging.

I have my Big Girl Pants on, but they’re pretty knotted up right now. (I’m even ready for them to delete the post.)


WOW, it took only 2 seconds to be deleted. I didn’t even get a screenshot.

Why is tapestry an art? A quilt? A cross stitched porn picture? If they were made in the shape of something that could be functional, are they now “only” Craft? Whoa. Roll that tapestry into a cube and slap a lid on it, and now because it’s a box, it’s craft, not art? Why is embroidery an art if it’s hanging on a wall, or on a body, but if it can be Used for Something, it’s craft? The piss off is that if i had posted a hairy string laden “vessel” embroidered with fetishes and twats, it would have been “Art”– but because it could be “Used for something”, as opposed to just sitting on a shelf and being admired, it isn’t…….OMG THEY HAVE LIDS, THAT MUST BE THE PROBLEM..🤣.

I *do* have an “ulterior motive” by showing in these groups–i run a small business. It’s exposure. I need/want people to know what i do, where they can find it, what’s new with me. At least half of members in any of these groups are there for the same reason. It’s not cheap, it’s not wrong, it’s networking, advertising, sharing, educating, encouraging. Putting your eggs in one basket these days just ain’t gonna cut the mustard.

I was also asked if i could get over  “how many years hurt by rejection” i was going to take –well-meaning or not, from a respected friend, that kind of hurt too,  and i say: EVERY. FUCKING. YEAR. I am allowed to feel this way. This is part of my living, a lot of my reason for living, my joy in living. If you can roll that off your back, lucky you. Either that, or you’re lying to yourself……. If my kids are rejected, it does hurt. Even when the kids are gone/old.

You know what too? We don’t “art” something, we CRAFT it. Huh.


My addendum the day after i wrote this post:

Thank you all for the responses *you* “CRAFTED”. Obviously i know now that there is both too large *and* too small a line between the two viewpoints. I wasn’t looking for sympathy, but rather a discussion, or at least some thoughtful responses on the difference, if there IS any, between Art and Craft.

I heard back from the owner/admin of the group, and it was a kind, thoughtful response BUT, while i respect the rules of the group, (and yes, i agree the text post was a no no) i can’t really tell if there’s too large or too small a divider between art and craft in the group! I don’t know if it’s happened to others, but this really brought home the disdain brought to the table by some. (Speaking of whomever it was that deleted the posts originally.)

I have used the same materials, skills, techniques, time and originality to create these. Is the lower set “art” because of the presentation for wall or easel, and the upper set “craft” because it is functional? Technically, they are the same, but presented differently in the final “use”.

If i take a tapestry, considered art, fold it into a cube with a lid, and climb in, is it not now craft because it’s able to hold something? Form follows function? If i had pretentiously called the small forms/boxes “Reliquaries” and the pouches “Alembics”, would they then be art? So, under the parameters of the group then, ANYTHING that can be used as a functional item is not Art. And yet i see other posts with felted or machine stitched forms that are obviously BOTH art and craft.

Apparently then, it’s rather arbitrary, depending on which other admin gets there first.

I *did* thank her for the kind words, and the thoughtful response. I won’t leave the group, as that would be “cutting off my own nose to spite my face”, but i will be making very considered choices about what i share. (I will also not name the group, as that would not be fair to the artists there, or this particular Admin.)

There’s a lot of crap posted in the group, but there’s also a heck of a lot of incredibly talented artists as well. Dare i say, even some incredibly talented *craftspeople*?