the new digs

It’s been a very tough 1 month and 22 days since MIL’s passing. Stress, grieving, anger, logistics, managing 2 houses for clearing, cleaning and moving, official paperwork, semi-serious health issues (yeah no cancer in bowels or gastric system!), family dramas (resolved), and just the day to day stuff of a normal life means i have lost 12 pounds (it’s a start…..) and am physically and emotionally depleted. There is light at the end of the tunnel though.

I now have a studio space that is bigger physically, a room that ironically started me on a serious look at textile art (as much as i hated being there with MIL constantly disrespecting boundaries and privacy), and that i have returned to after 10 1/2 years! I *will* miss my big studio window, and have to photograph things in the master bedroom because of the light πŸ™‚ , and no more easy access to plant materials as DogFaced Girl and i got our exercise in lots of green space, (this area is very residential), but i have more wall space, better storage options and even room for a table and 2 chairs should any one ever drop by for a cup of whatever. It’s not a magazine pretty place, but it’s out of the way (basement) and a definite, defined, definitive work area and that’s what i need, especially with the paucity of creativity for the last year or so. (I have never had a “pretty” studio and don’t give a shit about that anyways, so a moot point:) )


HA. I haven’t done anything creative since the end of September, unless digging up rhubarb roots for natural dyeing counts, so i’m itching to get this organized. There are two more of those big wall units to move in here, and a large 4×8′ table to set up. The RubbermaidsΒ  still have to be sorted as to garbage, donate or keep, (with 8 more still at the old place! SORTED! Only 5 full, 3 empty!) but what is left will be stored under the stairs out of the way. I got rid of 4 large plastic bin towers, but somehow “inherited” 2 from MIL that didn’t get tossed, so they will probably go against the same wall. Mostly useless as i found along the way–drawers too small, too many drawers for same thing because of the size, not very stable, not really stackable as the weight presses down and prevents easy opening of drawers below. Fine for small studios with less stuff to store, but ultimately not good for my purposes, and practice! Two though are manageable and will have the tiny stuff no doubt. Or i may just toss/sell after all. The walls have to be patched and repainted, and more lights put in, but it will be functional very soon.



Once the washing machine and TV are out of the way! The space is about 20 x15 in main area, with a little 8×4 alcove.


OOOO, i’ve found a LOT of spruce cones in the immediate area, so i’ll have to give those a go for dyeing with. Might only get tannin results, but wth πŸ™‚ And i have to amend that crossed out line in the first paragraph: we’re within a 25 minute walk to one of the largest urban provincial parks in Canada! Fish Creek Park here i come! I have to respectful though (as i always am when gathering) as it is a protected area, both for plants and wildlife, which means gathering only windfall and invasives. DogFaced Girl will have to stay on leash, not quite as enjoyable for her, but we follow the rules in this regard–and sometimes there are not only deer, porcupines, rabbits, skunks and snakes, but cougars and bears!!! And considering that when i stop to”harvest” she usually (and sometimes annoyingly) lies at my feet, it doesn’t matter that she’ll only be leashed πŸ™‚ (If i could just get her to hold the bags open for my collecting, or carry them after….)

In the flurry of tossing and donating my MIL’s “stuff” (i am SO tired of this), i did exhume some treasure, hidden under enough household linens to wash, dry and bed 5 households (i swear):



Gorgeous pristine white cotton crocheted tablecloths, embroidered and cutwork pieces, battenburg lace, filet lace, small pieces of crochet, needlelace, a few machine embroidered bits, these will be scoured, mordanted and treated to spa days in various dye pots. I’m thinking too of wearable art again as it would be a shame to cut up some of the larger pieces! (Note, these had been “collected” by Jane, as she sadly had neither the talent nor the will to do such work.)

Since i have a rather mundane sewing task today, sewing up privacy curtains for the old house (doing the landlord a favour, because we still love that place!), i’ll be starting the switcheroos down there today. Dig me out in a couple of weeks, would ya?

this is why we scour and mordant

Oh, but it’s a pretty colour anyways.

Well, i can always overdye it.

But it was/looked clean when i bought it to dye.

It doesn’t matter, my clients like this colour.

But Famous Author *always* does this.

I don’t wash these anyways.

Did too scour: I washed this with my socks, before i dyed it.

Vinegar is too a mordant, you freak.

You’re just jealous i got dye from strawberries, ______, _______ and _____. (Insert appropriate inappropriate plant material here.) (This is usually said when said player has it explained to them, that even mordanting will not “fix” fugitive dyes.)


Here’s why you should scour, and pre mordant. Left to right: unwashed cotton, dye didn’t penetrate completely, many white spots visible, stiff as a f*****g board. Next, scoured only (soft as a baby’s butt!!!), no mordant, some colour uptake. Last, scoured and premordanted, deeper colour uptake. All were dyed in same pot of quebracho rojo, at the same time.


And please “but the colour is so pretty anyways” is not a good way to dye: the colours on the unscoured and unmordanted especially will/did wash out and will continue to do so, the scoured only will lose most of its colour with each subsequent wash, while the scoured and mordanted piece will keep its colour. And even “new” fibres that look clean need scouring.

Below cotton also, right scoured and mordanted, left scoured but no mordant.


A perfect example of what happens if you don’t scour properly, lesson learned in June last year:

I thought i had done enough on a new thread, but when i put them in tannin, this happened:

GREEN?????? I contacted Maiwa, my trusted supplier, and asked if perhaps it had been the soda ash in the initial scouring that had reacted (maybe not rinsed enough), as gallnut is a clear tannin, and stays to the β€œbrowner” tones after being used and stored. Nope.

Hi Arlee,

This is rare but it does happen, but it is not from the soda ash. Fabrics are often pretreated and contain substances which can leach out or react with the mordant. When used on it’s own Maiwa’s gallnut extract is usually a clear/colourless tannin. I would suggest trying other cotton fibres from different sources and comparing the results.


I had to REALLY scour again, properly, to get the green out of the threads!

I have noticed since, that even tightly plastic packaged new thread can show brown, yellow and PINK (!!) dirt in the water after scouring. Don’t skimp on this step. Even “PFD” (prepared for dyeing) fabric in MY opinion should be scoured—a. it’s been “prepared” for synthetic dyes, and b. you don’t know how much it’s been dragged over warehouse floors, handled, packed or shipped. (MMM, someone had tacos for lunch and wiped their fingers on the silk. SHARESIES!)

I mordant EVERYTHING first. I *know* substantive dyes like indigo and walnut don’t require mordanting, but given that i use a lot of dyes that do need it, i’d rather have everything pre-done in case i grab the wrong chunk. Pre mordanting will not hurt substantive dyes. Some may be stripped out by a chemical indigo vat, but you should mordant again after indigo if you are going to overdye with another natural dye.

HOW to scour? Maiwa: NOTE: different scour methods for cellulose vs protein fibres.Β  I use neutral soap and soda ash, or neutral soap and borax, or just neutral soap, depending on what i have handy, and depending on the fibre type.

HOW to mordant? Maiwa: I sometimes add a tannin step to protein fibres, not because they need it, but because they will extend the colour possibilities.

Yes, they are the same link. Maiwa has the BEST, FREE information available that is accurate, researched and trustworthy. Save the link, print it, share it, USE it.


Samara, Samara, will you ever be?

I don’t know WHAT it is about this piece that keeps stalling work. I LOVE the idea, the form, the work so far (with a few minor colour quibbles), but she’s been pinned to the design wall again for 6 months with no more stitching done.

She started like this, created during my ACAD residency in 2016:

In August of 2017, she had this much (little!) work done on her:

Rolled up and stuffed away, until i got ruthless in October of 2018 and cut her into pieces:

She got this treatment also in October of 2018: body dyed in osage, wings in madder (the iron on this really purpled it!), and the background tossed in a weak indigo vat. (The iron of course affected the osage as well, browning it, which is okay because a bright yellow body would be NFWay πŸ™‚ )

In November, i start stitching the wings and the thread colours really livened up that dark purple:

And the finished wing (mocked in crudely) had ZING when backed with some of my naturally dyed silk velvet:

Like this:

The second wing was done in November also, but is STILL not attached to the velvet backing. SIGH.

But, looking at her last week, the background still seems both dark and weak at the same time. So, i got brave again–because it took some teeth gritting and hoofie crossing when i cut her into pieces the first time—pulled the background off its stabilizer, mordanted the cotton with tannin and alum because even though gawdz knows there’s already a lot of iron on it, cellulose fibres do better taking up dye with these premordants, and threw it in a fresh pot of the 34 year old madder.

And so:

Wow, the hexes shrank.

This has been scoured, rusted, washed, dyed, washed, mordanted, and overdyed again, so why now? Ah well, just means more beautiful fabrics behind the hexes, peeking out.

And of course, part of me is incredulous that all the rust and cream coloured fabric is now “gone”, but that’s how it goes. Because you know what? She has a sister! (I did TWO pieces like this during the 2016 session.)

I’m thinking too, her body is much like a husk at the moment, but husks hide secrets that are revealed through peeling away layers. Things escape husks as well, corn silk, seeds, errant old petals. We’ll go with that and see how she evolves there:

(Something else i realized too: if and when she is ever finished, this will be the first big piece i have done with all natural dyes, from fabric to threads.)

Bets on when she actually soars?

rabbit holes (some of the drawer stuff, sort of part 3)

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice arlee had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next.

Clearing out the stuff crap stuff crap has surfaced some Stuff i’d forgotten about.

Machine embroidery piece, apple core, maybe new inspiration, pinned up on the design wall now.

To combine with this:

I have in mind a “rotten apple” piece πŸ™‚


And these from around 2005 (6? 7?), when Angelina was all the craze.

Found a wad of the stuff unused too:

But, you know what? There’s NO reason this stuff can’t be combined with the natural dyes! The colours fit together, and i’ve been slowly adding a bit of bling anyways, so why not?

And this from my “fabric paper” phase πŸ™‚ Bling was paramount then: look at all the shiny threads, beads, inclusions πŸ™‚

I’ll probably cut this up, and make something else from it, with some commercially dyed threads. I have to use them somewhere!

I’ve already started cannabalizing old unfinished bits!

Above, never finished piece that was chopped in two–half was partly embroidered with lurid loud commercial colours, the other (this side) earthier tones, but that i lost interest in as a whole.

The cut out left side top corner became this:

Bravely too, i actually threw some of the old unfinished projects in the garbage, and immediately put the bin out for collection. Can’t rummage to rescue, because they are now GONE. (And yes, i would have put them in the recycles, but alas, Calgary while having a very good recycling program with plastics, paper and compostables, does not have the facilities for textile products.)

I have also discovered that my finished pieces are literally everywhere on studio surfaces! While smaller pieces from the last two years are in a proper storage box, there are others much larger that slip, slide and slither everytime i go near that area. Digging under them for other stuff is getting ridiculous, so i may have to bring home a big flower box to properly store them in.

Getting close to the daylight at the end of the tunnel!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the table now looks like this:

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

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

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

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






wanna see my drawers? (part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

That table was 4 feet wide by 8 feet long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“death cleaning” interrupted

A horrible translation i’m sure of the Swedish precept that one should clear all “clutter” before one’s loved ones has to deal with the mess when you’re gone……..

My mother has been a proponent of this since long before the idea swept the trends index. She started doing this after my grandmother’s death when i was 21, a LONG time ago. (SHEESH, 40 years ago in fact.) Among other strange and wonderful accumulations, my grandmother had four sewing machines, none of which were actually ever used, eight cases of canned green beans, boxes and boxes of rags, fifteen bottles of bleach, needlework galore unfinished (none passed on, as they were crappy kits and mostly 70’s “design”) and all the other detritus that is inevitable when the collector grew up during the depression and two world wars—-that learned, desperate “don’t throw anything away, and amass whatever you can, because you don’t know when hard times will hit again.”

My mother’s house is sparely furnished, almost monastic, and i rarely send her gifts, as somehow they always come back to me….Β  If it has no function, it doesn’t enter her house. I’m fine with that though.

Years of no money as a single mother myself resulted in an overload of Things when i *did* have some money to spare, and then/now, as Greyman said every time we’ve moved, “the house is gaining too much weight.”

Himself and i decided we need to do the same. It’s painful in some ways, but there’s no one to pass things on to, dear Son excepted who lives a rather sparse and nomadic life himself, so if we’re not using it/don’t need it, why keep it? That “spark joy” thing, where if it doesn’t please you, get rid of it? I bet dollars to doughnuts there are little IG yummymommy’s getting rid of last week’s new skirt and buying another, but “donating” the “old” skirt to someone else, which just perpetuates the problem…..

I’ve come to realize, that especially in my studio, no one is going to want this stuff. It’s rare that even locally placed artists and crafters would take on a whole room full of someone else’s creative impulse/obsession/collections/projects buys, never mind any potential on line listings, without wanting to pick through it. A small box or two painstakingly sifted, when the leftovers add up to a good sized Uhaul does the de-clutterer no good really……. I know this for a fact: a few years back, a friend and i went to the house of man who had lost his wife, and he was trying to clear a lifetime and a whole HOUSE full of these things, and all i walked out with was this amount…. (I heard much later, that the poor guy couldn’t even give it away, and no doubt, most ended up in the landfill………)

In the last week, i’ve done three rooms: kitchen, bathroom and laundry room, and it’s funny because while i can’t see any change, i know the stuff’s not there πŸ™‚

The bedroom is half done, and let me tell you, there are more clothes in bags than Greyman and i could ever possibly need, all from days of yore, as both of us wear limited wardrobes, by choice. My days of thinking a new dress or pair of shoes would change my life, are long long long gone. I admit, at one point i could have worn a different outfit and accessories every day for several MONTHS (all thrift store or made by self, but still…..), but now i live in two different modes: lounge pants and tshirt at home, leggings or pants and a tshirt/blouse for work, Greyman pretty much the same. We dress up maybe once a year, for his company christmas party, and it’s still a pretty casual dress up.

There’s a little back room off the laundry, that iΒ  am petrified to go into. There are large rubbermaid bins full of yardage i will never use, bags of thread and yarn that are probably too old to use (threads do age after all…), finished and unfinished projects, his college day textbooks, my sketchbooks dating back to the 90’s, things packed 10 years ago and never unpacked, boxes of rusty bits, and papers for that damned mixed media craze from 10 or more years ago, a box of old film negatives that really are not that crucial, and gawdzknowswhatelse–why do we do this??????? We never even LOOK at them anymore, never mind USE or enjoy them.

We don’t really buy things anymore. Oh, we replace a dead coffee maker, get new shoes, mitts, underwear, socks, and top up the coffee cup assortment when things get chipped or dropped, but we are no longer consumers. We don’t do birthday, anniversary or christmas gifts. I don’t go to the thrift shops once a week anymore “in case there’s something good”. We’re an advertiser’s nightmare, because we also don’t believe in “laser serum creams”, a new car every year, furniture that can’t stand up to real life with house animals, vitamins that act on a “cellular level”, trendy toys whether adult or not, body products that are Hogwash really, and 99.9% of what is advertised anywhere….. It’s not that we can’t afford them. We just don’t want them, we don’t believe the hyperbole and certainly not that they will improve our lives.

If we won the lottery, our lifestyle would still not change much. Except for that piece of 100 acres with a house and workshop/studio in the middle, all the sad animals no one else wants,Β  and big fences all around.

So WHY do we still have all this Stuff? It’s got to go.

Ok, i had my coffee break from the death cleaning. Obligatory post photo, door valance made from naturally dyed scraps because this old house has strange air movements between the main part of the house and the laundry room.

The sign above the door is most appropriate right now.