I haven't worked with natural dyes since my weaving class at California College of the Arts, where for one day we dipped skeins into steaming pots of cabbage leaves, onion skins, turmeric, and into one glorious vat of indigo. It's been at least ten years since then, and I finally had the opportunity to return to it.
Last year Pat attempted to grow some flowers for dyeing, but they didn't thrive. This year, we managed a healthy crop of zinnias and some indigo. For zinnias, we needed a 2:1 ratio of fresh flowers to yarn. So, we picked a pound of blooms for an 8 oz. skein of cotton yarn. (It was really hard for me to decapitate the flowers!)
Before we could extract the dye from the blooms, we had to prepare the cotton fiber--first in a bath of alum and second in a bath of tannin (from hickory bark). Alum is a mordant that helps the dye to adhere to the fiber. The tannin also helps, but I was surprised at how much the tannin dyed the fiber a --well--a tan color.
Half a day later, we heated up the blooms for an hour, and then finally after extracting the blossoms, we submerged the yarn in the resulting dye bath. Zinnias dye a yellowish color which sort of made the tan more golden. Of course there are so many variables in dyeing. Had we used less tannin or more blossoms the outcome could have been different. There's always a next time to play with the amounts like dye scientists.
We have three more skeins to dye. We want to try walnuts for sure. (Walnuts don't eve require added tannin because there is enough tannin in the husk itself) I'm not sure we have enough indigo for a bath, but maybe we can supplement it with purchased dyes.
Once we have it all dyed, I am going to teach Pat to weave with our new fiber! One thing I really love is that these yarns become a record of your year's garden or at least a way to enjoy zinnias in the winter.
And for the self-promotion portion of this blog post, Woolgathering Fall 2017 should be landing in mailboxes today. This month's issue explores themes of collecting, talismans, and death. If you are interested in subscribing or know someone who might be interested, please check out the Woolgathering Page. It's never to late to incorporate Woolgathering into your life as a way to celebrate the seasons! Fall is a perfect time to start!
You can also email me firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions!
2016 was a challenging year--for many personal reasons and otherwise. As an artist, it has always been my tendency to confront life’s struggles and emotional upheavals with art. If I can transform uncertainty into some thing, I am better for it. So, last year feeling anxious, stressed, and a little crazy, I began to sew my wings. I needed my wings to fly above what I perceived to be obstructions. I decided to incorporate these blockages into the piece. I sewed X’s inside squares like wrong answers in the Family Feud game show.I could hear that negating buzzer and picture a red X every time I thought about what I wanted to do with my life and what I wanted from it. “It’s not going to happen--can’t happen--forget about it” echoed in my head sinking me further into despair. So, I sewed my wings flying over these X’s to symbolize my freedom from their obstruction.
Then, a strange thing happened. I’m sewing my blockages, my “NO’s”, and I began to realize that these X’s aren’t really blockages. Any mathematician will tell you that you must solve for X. X is the answer-the unknown-the mystery. And while I was chuckling to myself about these rows of mysteries under my wings, I realized that X is also the crossroads. X was not just an unknown, X are many unknowns--many directions, many choices. When I started making this piece, I thought I had to sew wings to overcome these obstructions in my life, but what became clear through the actual making of the piece is that I have to change the way that I interpret these roadblocks. In fact, I must go through them.
When I shared my revelations with my Mom, she said, “You know, X also marks the spot. It’s where the treasure lies.” I think she’s right. Struggles can actually become treasure, and soaring through them rather than above them is the only way to find out. Here’s to fearless flying!
Five years ago, my Grandma passed away at the age 98. She had lived with my Mom and Dad the last dozen or so years of her life and was fortunate enough (for us) to die in my parents' home. She was a real matriarch of the family who lead quietly by example and modeled an almost compulsory habit of service to everyone around her. She left many memories that we carry with us and often share at family gatherings (or in blog posts), and sometimes I'm lucky enough to have her visit me in my dreams. But she also left behind the physical stuff that we all accumulate over a lifetime. Perhaps among the most intimate of her belongings were her clothes. They are intimate not only because of their obvious closeness to the body, but because she cared so dearly for her clothes. Grandma was a wiz at laundry--able to get all stains out. This was her art. She said she was "fussy, " but her intense care for her things made them last--a behavioral outgrowth having grown up poor, a daughter to illiterate immigrant parents, and of surviving the depression. This kind of care for her clothes was how she cared for us, tending to our relationships in a way that made them endure. Our relationships never wore thin much less out.
We all have experience losing loved ones, and it is difficult to lose them even when they live 98 years. So, I conceived of this idea of transforming the clothes of our loved ones into memory quilts. This way, their most intimate possessions can be transformed into a new textile--designed to comfort and endure for many more generations. Last year, I made my first memory quilt for a family friend who'd lost her partner and who'd recently been diagnosed with cancer herself. I imagined our friend being wrapped in a quilt made of her partner's clothes for healing--for being able to receive the physical hug that she needed from her. And shortly after that quilt, my Mom asked if I would make quilts out of my Grandma's clothes for my parents and siblings. Of course, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work so closely with my Grandma. In deconstructing them, rearranging and piecing them together, I could see where the fabric had been taxed and where stubborn stains resurfaced after years of disuse. I could imagine her hand washing them, stringing them on a clothesline, folding them into perfect squares. I could feel her love for us, and I was able to return it and hopefully add to it through this process.
At our recent family lake vacation to L'Anse, Michigan, my Mom gifted them to everyone. It felt like an appropriate way to end the project. Grandma would have appreciated my stringing them on a clothes line for a photo shoot. Although she'd have been afraid they'd get dirty in the process. I'm hoping they will bring comfort and textile hug to my siblings, nieces and nephews and generations to come. Thank you Grandma!
PS If anyone is interested, I'm taking commissions for memory quilts for loved ones who are deceased or perhaps have outgrown baby clothes. The above quilt dimensions are designed to wrap around a torso to simulate a hug, but they could obviously be made to any desired dimension. If you are interested or know someone who might be, please email me at: email@example.com Thanks for enduring my sales pitch!
PPS I should mention that the backs of these quilts are bed sheets from my other Grandma. So, another intimate textile was incorporated into these hugs!
Living in the woods, I experience its healing benefits daily. When things get hairy, I go for a walk in the woods. I will string my stress among the thickets and unburden my anxiety on the tree limbs. Always, I will notice something---the humidity, an animal, moss, or an unusual bird call. I undoubtedly feel better after my walk even if it is a short one. But, a couple weeks ago, I was so fortunate to be able to join the Wild Mind group in experiencing a Forest Therapy walk led by a trained guide, Kim Ruffin.
The Wild Mind group of women has been meeting monthly at Spring Bird for the last couple of years. One of the group's members participated in a Forest Therapy walk that Kim led at Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL and thought that the group would enjoy the experience. Luckily, I was able to tag along.
In a preparatory walk to assess the trails, I told Kim that increasingly see a "to-do" list when I walk and was eager to reacquaint myself with my environment. She said that Forest Therapy was just what I needed since it is designed to slow down, to walk purposely, to engage the senses, and to ultimately develop a relationship with nature. In fact, at one point, we literally introduced ourselves to a tree, a flower, or whatever we felt called to connect with. I picked an oak but was drawn to the absence generated by a fallen limb and began to dialog with its hole, which contained the remnants of somebody's jaw. The hole had been a place to die.
Outfitted with mosquito nets and walking sticks, we followed Kim along a predetermined path stopping to accept her "invitations" to see, smell, feel, hear, and taste the natural worlds around us, and to notice our impact there. The total walk was under a mile and was completed in about 2 hours. Despite humidity and relentless mosquitoes, I emerged from the experience feeling renewed, playful, and child-like. I had been able to reconnect with my woods in new and deeper ways and to make observations that I might not have had I not been invited to do so. For instance, I noticed how sunlight can transform a shadowy place, how water feels right before I plunge my hand into it, how a particular tree across the creek is decaying and what it smells like, and how a woodpecker neatly punched patterns in the bark of a tree.
Kim so patiently and calmly guided us, gave us space to be, and gently pulled us into a more engaged way of walking in the forest. She also thought of everything regarding our comfort-- from mosquito nets, to camping stools, and even surprised us with fans when we needed them most. Perhaps most joyful was the closing tea ceremony complete with tea brewed from fresh herbs. We celebrated and shared our experiences along with our lunches. It was a remarkable experience and I'd recommend it to everyone.
In fact, if you are interested in a Forest Therapy walk, please contact Kim Ruffin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kim is willing to trek from her Oak Park home to Spring Bird again --if other groups are interested, but she is also able to lead walks in Chicagoland forests near you. I encourage you to experience Forest Therapy for yourself. It's healing and life giving in so many ways!
Anna Lentz, artist and writer, blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.