walnut magic


The dye pot was waiting for us when we arrived to class. Three days old, filled with simmering walnuts and remnants from dye attempts past. Thick and almost sirupy, ready for the magic to begin.


The walnut pot was of course only one part of the enchantment taking place during the two day long botanical alchemy workshop in Cleveland with dye master and artist extraordinaire India Flint. The class was expertly arranged and organized by Christine Mauersberger, who besides making sure we were well fed and equipped also shared her own useful insights and beautiful stitching. All of my fellow class mates where so talented and energetic. They generously exchanged knowledge, fabric swatches, and plant materials.

My work space.

Walnut marks.

And then there was Ms. India, who made the two days whisk by with lightning speed, while still making sure all of us accomplished many, many things. We learned to wrap cloth directly around the fresh walnuts for amazing colorful patterns. We learned to play with  metal scraps, iron potions, milk paint, and tangerine juice. Her wonderful teachings were carried out with grace, patience, and a great sense of humor.

Magical hands.


The last day we were assigned to make a special piece. Starting out with white on white, layers of cloth stitched together, embellished with thread, fabric scraps, and stitches, lots of stitches, before ending up in the dye bath. The purpose was to create a personal companion piece, that would continue to be enhanced by dye and stitch over time. I am thrilled with the outcome and I will carry my piece along as a reminder of friendship, camaraderie, and the pure joy of making art.

My special piece.


While in Cleveland I also discovered the beautifully curated art museum, the botanical garden, and a great little exhibit of India Flint and Susan Gaylord's work tucked into the midst of the residential neighborhood of Cleveland Heights. And I got to reunite with a wonderful friend from the past. Happy times to be had by all.


Eco printed repurposed book pages by India Flint. © India Flint


Eco printed vintage kimono by India Flint. © India Flint


Spirit book by Susan Gaylord. © Susan Gaylord

color and chemistry



I am still catching my breath and stopping my brain from spinning. I signed up for a workshop in natural dye techniques with Michel Garcia at Shakerag last week, and instead I found myself immersed in chemistry 101 and then some. Our brilliant teacher took on a group of 17 women, some of us self subscribed experts on the subject of natural dyes, and immediately turned our worlds upside down.



We started out with the indigo vat, which he in all of 30 minutes whipped up, using only indigo, fructose from boiled fruit peelings, and pickling lime. Then we moved on to resists using clay and arabic gum, and then onto mordant and discharge techniques using benign ingredients like iron, vinegar, alum, citric acid, and soda ash (no, no, not all mixed together...). 



And so the week progressed. With patience and determination, Mr. Garcia convinced most of us, that it is much better to know beforehand why something will or will not happen in the dye pot, rather than making every dye session an experiment and a guessing game. He taught us how to make clever color charts using a range of mordant solutions on one pieces of cloth, and then dipping them in different dye sources.



To be honest, it was a week of hard work. By day 5, when we finally were let loose to experiment on our own, almost all of us suffered from information overload and creative melt downs. But it was all worth it. I feel that my dye attempts from now on will be much more informed and deliberate - there will still be surprises (and maybe disappointments), but now I have the tools to figure out why and how to redeem it (should I choose to...).


Shakerag workshops are always magical (this was my third year), not only for the rigorous and wondrous teachings, but for the beauty of the place and the people who visit. Every person there, whether learning, teaching, or staffing, has something to share and contribute. This time I was lucky to meet up with many old friends (Marianna, Michelle, Ilsa, Judilee, Catherine, Christi, and Patricia) and make new ones (Lisa, Joy, Barbara, Linda, Meg, Cari, and Angela). I feel so lucky to have been there yet again.



here and there



I spent last week with my wonderful family at Sandbridge Beach, with lots of sunshine, delicious meals, reading, and quiet quality time. This morning I am getting ready for my drive to Sewanee, Tennessee and a week at the Shakerag workshops. I am eager to return to this magical place, to learn (this year I am taking a class with Michel Garcia), and to meet up with some great friends! The blog will be quiet while I am gone, but I will keep up with the weeks activities on my facebook page. Join me there if you like.




seeing blue


Blue is on my mind. In March I will take this online class, to get a better grasp on indigo and its properties. Glennis Dolce is a renowned indigo dyer and shibori artist and you can find samples of her beautiful work in her shop. Then, come summer I will be back here, for a class with french natural dye master Michel Garcia and indigo will once again be on the agenda. I can't wait for these opportunities to learn and grow, and to unveil the mystery of dyeing blue. For further indigo adventures check out  India Flint's workshops at Long Ridge Farm in New Hampshire in August. I am thinking that may be a perfect ending for a season of blue. The rocks in the image above turned blue after being used to hold the red cabbage under the surface during our latest sauerkraut batch. Love that color.

Images courtesy of Glennis Dolce, Shibori Girl Studios. All rights reserved.

teaching and learning







My teaching debut last week at the Thomas Jefferson Demonstration Garden went off without a hitch. We boiled up two dye pots, chatted about natural dyes, colors, mordants, local dye sources, and textile history, all in a brief two hours. Despite my nervousness and doubt I enjoyed myself and I am grateful for the students willingness to partake in something new. Most of the undergraduates taking the workshop had no experience with dyeing or plant colors, and their perspective and questions were both insightful and refreshing. I think all of us had fun.











Time was short, but we managed to harvest tansy buds and sumac leaves, brew them up, add linen samplers and silk thread to the extraction, one dip in the alum mordant, and then back into the dye pot for a final soak... The colors turned out beautiful, a sunny yellow from the tansy and a rusty brown from the sumac.




Prior to the class I made a small sampler quilt, with fabric pieces dyed with plants growing in our region. Just to show how diverse the colors can be, even if none of them appears to be bright and flashy on its own. This lead to new conversations about synthetic dyes, and the difficulty of mass producing natural dyes, which in turn lead to a discussion about something else. So for me this teaching experience was just as much about learning. Thank you Lily and Rachael for the invitation, and for the beautiful photos documenting the event.


Photos courtesy of Rachael Dealy Salisbury, Thomas Jefferson Demonstration Garden. All rights reserved.

all about color

Work samples by my wonderful classmates.

Colors are not always what we perceive them to be. A piece of dyed fabric can look pale and unassuming on its own, beige and boring. But accompanied by another pale shade of cloth, both pieces may come to life. Color is on my mind, after this past week's natural dye workshop with Rowland Ricketts at Shakerag. I had a wonderful time, catching up with old friends (you know who you are), meeting new ones, and getting to know Rowland who is an amazing artist – generous, knowledgable, and fun.


Something is brewing.

Black willow bark samples hung to dry.

Towering trees everywhere.

Rowland's beautiful silk yarns.

The lovely compost pile.

My first attempt at shibori.

The focus of the class was the natural local landscape, and the colors we can gain from it. We were encouraged to collect plants that were either plentyful or invasive, and then by using japanese inspired dyeing techniques and mordants we managed to produce a wonderful range of soft (and sometimes not so soft) shades of cloth, yarn, and threads. I am much inspired and ready to fully make these natural dyes my own.

Documenting and organizing.

My finished samples. I love the range and the hues.

beach, boys, and books

We are heading east for our annual family beach vacation next week. It will be extra special this year with everybody back home, happy and healthy (thank you for all your well wishes). Can't wait to join the boys in the surf, cook, chat, sip wine, and catch up on my reading. Then the fun continues as I return to Shakerag for a week of work and learning with dye master Rowland Ricketts. So it will be a bit quiet here for the next few weeks. Happy summer!

fall color


Brightly colored leaves are starting to cover the ground in the garden and along the city streets in our part of the world. Intrigued by their beautiful hues and how they might might work as eco-prints, I have collected bunches of them during recent walks in our neighborhood.

This weekend I bundled them up, trying to be somewhat scientific by adding nothing but pure water and a couple of pieces of copper piping to the dye pot. The results were amazing, but not in the way I imagined. I was thinking I would get leaf impressions in red, burgundy, maybe orange based on the colors I started with. Instead the imprints on the linen fabric were vivid green, yellow, soft bluish gray, brown, or tan pending on the species. On silk the same leaves printed pale pink, peach, and mauve... I am totally infatuated with this dyeing method. Unwrapping the bundles is like unwrapping a treasure, always with surprising results. And each time I recall the wonderful time spend learning during India Flint's workshop this summer and the friendships that were forged in the process. Bliss.

I have listed the leaves I used, and the stunning pieces of cloth that resulted below.







learning

Seventeen women, six days, one bucolic setting, plentitude of laughter, a bit of poetry, several botanical excursions, and lots of simmering dye pots. That pretty much sums up my week at Shakerag. Add scrumptious meals, heartfelt conversations, book making, evening swims, contemplation, yards of plant colored fabric, some more stomach cramping laughter, and the experience becomes almost life altering.

I had a fantastic time and learned many things, way beyond the mysteries that occurred in the bundles and in the dye pots. India Flint was a great teacher; soft spoken, funny, beautiful, and incredibly generous with her knowledge and talent. I feel privileged to have been there, and am inspired to adapt my new wisdoms to work and life.

A special thanks to India, Kelly, Michelle, Marianne, Christi, and Janet, who warmed my heart so much, and to Celeste, Judy, Judilee, Vicky, Sharon, Patricia, Andrea, Ilsa, Catherine, and Anna who's spirit, kindness, experience, and sense of humor made this week so special. New friendships were forged and I know we will meet again.

experimentation x 2

Two amazing women and their books have brought me on a joyful creative journey lately. I already gushed over India Flint, and her inspiring book Eco Colour, but have now followed lightly in her footsteps by experimenting with dyeing my linen fabrics using nothing but plants and natural materials. So far I am thrilled, mainly because many of the hues I have achieved are ones that I have unsuccessfully tried to produce for a long time using synthetic dyes. It is very hard to get pale shades of color from procion mx dyes. The soft greens here, created from boiling carrot tops in an iron pot are just perfect.

So is the grayish lavender color from the black bean water left over from our latest chili batch, and the rusty warm tones achieved from seeped onion skins, and the pale acid yellow made from chamomile tea bags...

I even tried India's famous eco printing technique, where you bundle your plants in tight fabric layers and put them in a steam bath to coax out the colors. I used geranium leaves, and although the result is nowhere near perfect, the impressions and imprints are intriguing.

I also recently purchased Natalie Chanin's book Alabama Studio Style. Her beautiful designs, technical skills, and innovative business methods, have inspired me for years. I love the new soft stencils she use, and decided to try the diluted ink spray bottle method included in her book. Well the result was quite disastrous – the ink bled everywhere, soaking through the felt stencil, making big blobs and splattering the fabric beyond the stencil. But once dried, I realized there was something appealing about this distressed mess. I added flower clusters, printed using rhododendron leaves, that echoes the blotches, but prettier. For some reason I just love the result. Next I will layer it, and add stitching, still using the same shapes.

The most wonderful side effect of these experiments, is that they taught me to cherish imperfection. I am by nature a perfectionist, wanting everything to be uniform, smooth, unblemished, aligned, and beautiful. These natural dyes come out mottled, uneven, and the stenciling is obviously quite ugly on its own. But somehow I have come to terms with how it all happens. The beauty is in the process, not necessarily in the end result.

I will take some time off for travels this week, but will return soon, with new reports, impressions, and imagery.

I just have to make an addendum to this post. Yesterday afternoon I found out from dear Claire at Shakerag, that I got a spot in India Flint's class this summer, after months on the waiting list. And guess who is the guest lecturer the week I am there – Ms. Natalie Chanin. I am so lucky!

india flint

Images courtesy of India Flint. All rights reserved.

Prophet of bloom, is the name of her couture clothing line. She calls her blog not all those who wander are lost. These names exemplifies the imagination, travel lust, and free spirit of Australian born fiber artist India Flint. She is the queen of color; both vivid and subtle, faded and stark, and sometimes beautifully muddy and murky, all derived from plants and other natural materials. Threading light on this earth, and only using what is necessary, is India Flint's guiding light and it is evident throughout the artistic process. Even her preferred mordants, the fixatives used to make the dyes bonds with the fibers, are from natural origins.

I recently got India's book eco colour and am intrigued by the possibilities her techniques bring using leaves and flowers from our own back yards. Most plants are fair game, although some are more reliable than others (and be ware of the poisonous ones). Besides mordants, factors like water quality and what kind of vessel used, will affect the final outcome of the dye bath. The book includes vast plant lists, as well as safety and care instructions. It does not provide many exact recipes, instead it encourages the readers to experiment on their own using the book as a guide, and to celebrate unexpected results.

Image courtesy of India Flint. All rights reserved.

For her own fashion line, India Flint has developed a technique called eco-printing where leaves are layered with mordanted cloth, and then bundled up and treated with moisture, heat, or just time, depending on the preferred outcome. The result is magical impressions left behind by the natural pigments in the plant.

Image courtesy of India Flint. All rights reserved.

India is sharing her knowledge by teaching classes all over the world. This summer she will give two week long workshops at Shakerag, in Sewanee, Tennessee. I am currently on the waiting list for the first class, and although I do not wish for any of the current participants to miss this wonderful opportunity, I am secretly hoping that a spot will open up. I would love to meet India Flint, learn from her, and experiment alongside her.

Image courtesy of India Flint. All rights reserved.