The local farmer’s market accepts only a few tables each week for non-produce items. Bill took the rustic furniture and trellises we build to the market a couple of years ago. This year, I’m scheduled to go three times. I’ve been dying yarn to take, as well as silk scarves, and some indigo-dyed T-shirts and scarves.
It’s raining this afternoon, so I may not get these thrift shop tablecloths dipped again in the indigo vat. I’m hoping to get a tunic out of this fabric. And I can’t complain about the rain, which we really need.
Two skeins of yarn are ready for a final rinse. Two more bags of frozen dyestuff are ready to be brewed. Two more hours of ironing this afternoon. The last may be a bit optimistic
This week I’ve been banging my head against a brick wall of tech challenges. I couldn’t get through, go over, or sneak around that wall. So I’m giving magical thinking a shot: Maybe what feels like a brick wall is really a crossroads? And maybe I should make a turn?
Crossroads by Donna Kallner
Crossroads is also the name of a piece I shipped this week for the Teachers’ Exhibit at Midwest Weavers Conference in Emporia, Kansas.
Bringing together people from different places with different ways of doing things to trade ideas and resources: That’s the ancient tradition carried on by events like this conference. To celebrate that, I combined my own basswood fiber (harvested in northern Wisconsin and twisted into cordage) with handspun tassar silk and fique (a pineapple fiber) from Habu Textiles. The flat elements were woven on a simple pin loom I made myself. The pieces are joined at the edges and rimmed with cross-knit looping, a single-element construction technique that may be even older than loom weaving.
At lunch, I emailed our county’s economic development director to get recommendations on who to contact for help with my tech woes. She’s pretty good at bringing together resources. By this time next week, I’m hoping all the loose ends I’ve been struggling with are neatly joined together.
But there may still be some construction delays ahead.
Because I don’t have running water in my studio, my winter practice is to haul buckets — one for clean water, one for rinsing. But when the calendar says “spring”, it seems reasonable to wait and carry pots to the hose. Then, the rinse water can go right onto plants or the compost pile. The dirty pots and jars piled up a bit when it kept snowing.
Today, the sun is shining, my feet are warm, and that stack is getting scrubbed. And as you can see, it’s time to sweep up the daily quota of Asian lady beetle corpses.
Honestly, I tried to think of a way to make this part of the job sound more glamorous. Any suggestions?
Two of these silk scarf bundles have already been opened and need to be washed (Tuesday got away from me). I saved one bundle to open this weekend. On Saturday, I’ll be doing a lecture in Milwaukee for Wisconsin Handweavers on Willow For Color. (and also other dye plant materials you can grow or gather in the Upper Midwest).
These were simmered in a dyebath made from willow leaves I froze last year. Time to start thinking about getting the freezer cleaned out.
Quaking aspen is called “popple” in my area. You don’t often read about aspen as a natural dye material. But it’s in my own yard and it’s abundant. That’s enough reason for me to test it.
The popple catkins wrapped in silk in the baggie on the left released pink as soon as the vinegar hit them. That sample should be ready to remove from the baggie next week. We’ll see how the color changes when it oxidizes.
While not as bright as the baggie bundle, the “ashes of roses” color on the right is really more my style. That came when I substituted (low) heat for time: I added catkins to plain (hard) water in an aluminum pan, added the silk, and slowly brought it up to a not-quite simmer (about 150-160 degrees F). Again, we’ll see how the color changes over time.
Last year, spring came early and the popple catkins were out the third week of March. This year, spring is a bit late and they’re out the first week of May.
The most fragrant of my willow catkins are just now coming out, too. We have another experiment going with those. Each summer, Bill gathers petals from the Thérèse Bugnet rose in our yard. He soaks the petals in rum to extract the flavor, then mixes the extraction with simple syrup to make a cordial we enjoy sipping in the winter. We’re hoping to capture the fragrance of early spring with our willow “Catkin Cordial”.
I’m ignoring this morning’s freezing rain. With catkins and crocuses in bloom here, it’s officially spring. What’s blooming in your yard?
Soy milk on cotton, preparation for natural dyeing.
Had to bring the rack inside when it got windy. Too bad. I had hopes the flapping would discourage the swallows. They want to nest again in the peak over the front door of my studio. I love to watch them — until they start dive-bombing every perceived threat (which is just me going in and out).
Over the weekend, we tackled a couple of jobs in the yard that yielded some dye material for the studio.
The underside of this lichen is a dark brown.
First, I cleared out fallen limbs from the grove of trees across from my studio. A neighbor wants to get the old hay rake out of there. He’ll refurbish it and sell to the Amish, who use horse-drawn equipment.
Then we pulled out some fencing and old cedar fence posts.
Every time I mention lichen dyeing, someone points out ethical concerns related to harvesting them. Lichens convert carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into oxygen. And they’re important indicators of the health of an ecosystem. There are very good reasons to resist the inclination to scrape every last lichen off the rocks, trees and tombstones in your neighborhood. But these lichens were salvaged from wood that’s going to be burned next winter when there’s snow again. In her book Lichen Dyes, Karen Diadick Casselman calls this “salvage botany”.
One one trip to the brush pile, I stepped on this piece of bark covered with lichens. So I salvaged it for a little experiment.
Dye references say to scrape lichens off bark which can muddy the colors the lichens yield. Makes sense. But I want to see what happens to this silk fabric, which I wrapped around the lichen-encrusted bark I found. I added about 1/4 cup non-sudsing ammonia and 1/2 cup of water to the jar, which is loosely capped. I’ll give it a shake every day and see what happens.
Overnight, we got a little rain. So this morning, it was very easy to scrape the lichen off the other salvaged wood that had been sitting outside my studio.
I added the same ammonia-water solution to two jars of chopped lichen. I’ll give those jars a daily shake, as well, to extract the color.
This is my first attempt at the ammonia fermentation extraction method. I’ll keep you posted.
Washing silk kind of intimidates some people. But really, it’s simple and worth the small effort: Fill the bathroom sink with cool water and a small squirt of mild, pH balanced shampoo. Add the silk item, and go do something else while it soaks. Rinse in clear water with a small splash of white vinegar. Blot dry with a bath towel. Line dry until slightly damp while you have a cup of tea. Then press with a dry iron (no steam) on the silk setting.
This scarf is washed, ironed, listed on Etsy, and ready to ship. It’s a collage of naturally dyed silks, including the bodice of one silk blouse and a sleeve from another. You can see the placket at the cuff in this photo.
This was in the wash the last time I did a load of whites.
It’s a silk handkerchief I quickly knotted around an egg while dyeing Easter eggs with some dried bracken leaves and onion skins.
For years, I’ve been testing surface design media and techniques under the toughest conditions I could imagine: By washing them with the whites and tumble drying. Usually, that means undies. Let’s just say it didn’t even occur to me to boil my eggs and undies at the same time.
The onion skin dye is holding up beautifully after repeated washings. And I just may be a convert from cotton hankies to silk.
Blue skies, mild temps, dry feet and gloves — my second day volunteering on the Patrick Dougherty installation at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point could not have been more perfect.
With no ice on the decking today, I worked from scaffolding. Between what I learned yesterday and having willow from home, I felt like I had better control of the material.
This slit window is on the outside of one of the structures nearest the sidewalk. There are doorways on two walls opposite the window. My task was to carry the line element around three sides of the structure, integrating it with one of the doorways. It’s challenging to “see” around corners and through scaffolding. I’m sure that would improve with more experience. But I took the safe route and asked Patrick to check my work every hour or so to make sure my interpretation matched his vision, which ties all the structures together.
With a bit more fill just a little higher than I can reach, I think this structure will be getting its cap before long.
A group started working on another of the structures today. Others were doing fill work inside structures. And one person was doing the important but unsung work of preparing materials for others to use.
It was a delight to see a familiar face among the volunteer crew — basketmaker Elise Thornton, who I know from a class at Sievers. She helped me pull the load of willow I hauled over there out of the bed of the pickup truck first thing this morning. It wasn’t gone but was greatly diminished by the time I left.
Back at home, the path I stomped down through the snow yesterday so I could carry cut willow to the truck is still there. But there was a patch of dry ground where yesterday I was parked in slush and mud. I hope that bodes well for the work crew at Stevens Point, who will be cutting more willow tomorrow. They’ve had some really challenging conditions on this installation, and deserve a day where you can see a big pile of progress.
No picture of my favorite moment of the day (naturally): The grandparents of one of the student volunteers came to see the work. It’s so much fun to see how people interact with the work in progress!
Tomorrow, back to my own work, and to reflecting on some things I learned from volunteering on the Dougherty installation.