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.

blurring the lines

My dubious- stenciling-turned-into-art-project is finished. It is messy, cluttered, random, un-colorful, and without focus. All things an art quilt should not be. But I love it. I love the way it hangs, the paint splattered binding, the layered shapes. And I truly loved all the hand stitching involved. I am still insecure about my "art", unsure of my voice. This piece is most likely not representative of where I am heading, but it made me appreciate the possibilities within imperfection and encouraged me to try something new. I am not sure where it will end up. Blurring the lines may stay here with me in a happy spot in our house, since its error-filled origins may not be as endearing to the uninitiated eye. To me it is a reminder of awakening.

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.

studio life

My studio is located in the most beautiful room of our house. It has a 10 foot ceiling, and three enormous windows. Late last week, after a series of deadlines had left this magical space in an undignified disarray, I embarked on operation clean-up. The photos above shows the progress... It is almost done. Most of my beautiful fabrics have been pulled out of the closet, and placed on open shelves and display racks. I love having it all right there for reference and inspiration. I also have cleared out two work stations - one for cutting and assembly and another one for sewing. Right now, when everything still is in place, it feels luxurious. I am wondering how long the order will last. The voting is in full swing over at poppytalk, and I would love to receive yours for favorite handmade housewares, if you are inclined...

the sewing corner, with lots of room for big projects

my favorite (for the moment) fabrics on display.

where the cutting, assembly, labeling, and packaging happens

could not resist this crate from three potato four

more textiles; vintage, new, dyed, delicate, heavy...

pin board with sketches, inspirations, and various treasures from friends and family

the computer corner...

a while longer

I am swamped with projects this week, and as my deadlines pile up I will be away from the blog for a little while longer. I'll return soon with updates about all the exciting things that are in the works. Warm wishes for a wonderful week!

in the works

I have spent little time in the studio this summer. I miss the work immensely, but know that I will return when other things in my life settle down. Here are few pieces that are close to completion. From the top; linen pillows ready for the etsy shop, a section of a large wall hanging in progress, a custom etsy order waiting for shipment.

Thank you for all the birthday greetings and heartwarming words during my son's illness. I am grateful!

folds and foilage

I am leaving you with a snapshot of another project I am working on, this one involving lots of folds and fantastic vintage Irish linen. Prints of leaves will be incorporated at some point as well. Also, I can't resist these freshly sprung japanese maple leaves in my front yard. The color combination is perfect in that strange way that only nature can provide. Anywhere else it would look garish. Chicago is waiting. I'll be back next week with photos, marvels, and impressions.

handkerchief project

A while back I found these wonderful vintage irish linen handkerchiefs. Unused but gracefully aged with occasional spots to prove their heritage. They are sheer, almost transparent, and the linen is just exquisite. Now a few of them will be transformed into a wall hanging, although I am not sure which form it will take just yet...
I printed large geranium leaves in shades of brown and ochre in their centers and have carefully hand pieced them together in long strips. They would look quite lovely as is, used as a room divider or curtain, with lights filtering trough the gauzy material. I am also thinking that they would look fantastic backed by a very coarse nubby linen as a contrast.

This is what I love most about the creative process, the small decisions that need to be made along the way. So challenging and exhilarating at the same time. Stay posted...