Paper Diversions: Rust Prints, Fresco Papers and Fancy Doodles

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Paste papers and rust prints are among the mark-making adventures on my radar this month, along with the trademarked 'Zentangles' (Since I am unable to insert the R copyright/trademark symbol using this iPad keyboard, I must henceforth refer to thIs topic as 'The Z Word')

One of my rust print excursions (below) is via Canal paper (artisan-made by Saint Armand in Montreal) and features vinegar-splashed iron chunks sprinkled with Assam tea for blue-black tannin marks:

Next is something I have never tried before; pedantically, I was thinking it was just a fad, basically the 'Pet Rock' of markmaking:

The Z Word

Throwing prejudice aside, I bought a wee kit for my daughter, who, seeking some artistic diversion to offset the pressures of work, was ready to give these fancy doodles a go. We both tried; for my effort, i gave myself zero, having broken the Fancy Doodle Rules (use a pen, no ruler, no eraser, start at the line, etc. ) and not having filled in the whole three and a half inch square required:

My daughter, on the other hand, became enchanted. This is her first Z Word:

And her second:

She ran off home, excited to do more Z Words, plus try more spirograph from Michaels (she and Dylan, aged five, play with that together) plus a fancy old-fashioned kind of spirograph from Lee Valley Tools that architects used to use and that Google knows nothing about. Thank you, Z Word, and please accept my apologies; you are not the Pet Rock of the art world after all.

'Fresco' paste papers.

Paste paper was the next experiment. The textured surfaces of papers coloured with pigmented paste seem fresco-like; so my aim for the overall look of the paste papers became: abraded surfaces – pitted, peeling and faded, ancient walls…

I have enjoyed making paste papers in the past, painting more or less traditional swirled and combed patterns and using mostly natural dyes ( I have reported on the paste recipe, patterns and results in a previous post.). Favoured by book artists, paste papers are usually coloured with a home-made wheat or cornstarch or rice paste (sometimes wallpaper paste or methyl cellulose) mixed with acrylic paints or other pigments.

Paste paper was a kind of side activity traditional with bookbinders, a frugal way to use up the leftover paste used in book construction. The paste (wheat, corn, rice, etc., depending on cultural traditions and era) was mixed with colours and painted in simple but effective designs on paper that could be used for book decoration. Today, many bookbinders make paste paper for its own sake and as a way to obtain beautiful and unique materials for Artists' Books displaying complex, painterly designs.

Really, you could just use straight acrylic paints instead of going to the trouble of making coloured paste. Still, making paste papers nowadays is perhaps more about rediscovering and emulating the long-ago customs of bookbinders and connecting yourself with the history of the craft. But allowing your creativity some contemporary licence. The resulting art papers can be used as pages, end papers or covers for Artists' Books, as background for book content or even as the book content itself.

For my 'fresco' papers, I chose acrylic paints by Golden for their high pigment load. ( Wheat or cornstarch paste tends to thin out the pigment so paler prints can result from less concentrated paint colours). My preference is for a basic palette I can use to mix the colours I want, either by layering colours on top of one another on the paper, or by mixing them before application.

For this batch, I chose Hansa yellow, Cadmium red, Ultramarine blue, Cobalt blue, Green Gold, Cadmium orange, Titan buff (instead of stark white), 'sludge' by Tri- Art ( a factory mix of leftover paints that offers a cheap, brownish substitute for black that gives a more faded, antique look to the darks on the page) and Interference red, a metallic paint I used as a resist before the paste layer, and as bit of shine on the surface, brushed on straight.

Some of the paste papers were printed in two or three layers of colour, and dried between layers so that a wet top layer could be wiped, scraped, rolled or printed off in areas to allow the under colour to show through. Textile scraps (coarse linen strips, crochet lace, netting, heavy weaves, etc.) were pressed with a brayer into a wet paste layer, then removed, leaving their impressions like stamps and lifting off a lot of the surface colour, creating new texture and revealing the underlying layers. The textiles can also lift off bits of paper, too! The abrasion was not hard to achieve…Other marks were made with carved rollers, combs, etc.

I took several monotypes from the 'host' paste painting by pressing a clean, damp sheet of Canal paper on top of the painted page (or two) and pulling a secondary print. In some cases, as in this first image, you can see that layers of paper were pulled up from the surface of the paper along with the coloured paste, creating a look of broken plaster.

 

 

This image belpw shows the monotype I printed off the 'host' paper, above, with bits of paper pulled off the surface and adding to the 'fresco' effect.

The Interference red used as a resist before painting the first coloured layers changed colour to purply- grey when the 'sludge' was rolled over the top of the yellow and red layers. The metallic worked better on the top surface in this paper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until next time!

Wendy

 

 

Kaleyard Art for Story Chairs

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I recently became owner of six small, pretty wood dining chairs with hand-made wool tapestry seat-covers in a charming rose-sprig pattern. They are perfect in size for our new and smaller dining room. But in style – unadventurous. Farewell, twee tapestry. Time for some upcycling fun, I thought…maybe something outsider-arty and a more than a tad outrageous? So more than a bit pretentious, since for this project, I am invoking real art by real painters.

I was thinking Kandinsky and Klee, two of my favourite painters, because of how they used vibrant colours in geometric and organic forms…I have two images of their work on the wall in my studio as constant companions. The ‘Kandinsky’ is one I painted myself many, many years ago…I like to experiment with painting from time to time and try to copy, just for the exercise, work by my favourite artists. (I think one can learn a lot this way. One learns especially fast that one sucks at painting and should likely not blog about one’s paintings except to encourage ‘schadenfreude’ …

The only thing I have in common with Kandinsky is that I, like him, experience synesthesia, which for me means that when I hear music, especially opera, I see colours. But that doesn’t get me my painter license…

The Klee on my studio wall is poster of a work in the MOMA.

Here is my Kaleyard ‘Kandinsky’ (Be kind, dear Reader):

I was pretty into it when painting the figures but then got really bored with the bits top right and top centre… O those muddy lumps…Thus, copying art has limits as an educational pastime…

The Klee:

For my chair upcycling project, I made a giant sacrifice in deciding to use up a precious hoard of thrifted canvas from my Hallowed Stash. The Lofty Eco Idea was not to buy anything but to use what was at hand. The fabric, about 60″ long and 36″ wide, was enough to make six new chair seat covers, painted and stitched. I gessoed the canvas with some very ancient stuff, barely liquid, found in the drawer where I go to practice my archaeological digging now and then.

For colours, I elected to go for bright and bold, not realizing right away that the Kandinsky and the Klee had pretty much formed my choice without my conscious awareness. (Shall I credit or blame in this case? ) I chose seven colours; Dark blue (ultramarine), cobalt blue, cadmium orange, nickel azo gold, green gold. quinacridone crimson and Hansa yellow. Straight out of the tube. Squeezed straight onto the brush. And a quirky move to start me off on that big, white, scary canvas: I used up the rest of my indigo ‘vat’ (left over from the indigo-dyed papers I showed you last post), sloshing it on and letting it drip down the canvas in squiggly stripes with dribbles and blobs. I decided to layer on the warm colour layers first, with the result the the indigo dribbles turned green under nickel azo gold and Hansa yellow.

The large canvas was eventually to be cut up into six equal portions, so no single ‘focal points’ were in my mind. No points at all, in fact. I simply laid down a layer of dye or paint each day for a week when I came down to the basement to do the laundry. No thinking, just moving the brush, following the first impulse for markmaking, no second guessing: “Trust your beginnings”, as Julia Caprara, my esteemed teacher, used to say. Loud and chaotic colour, n’est-ce pas? COMMIT TO FUN! And NOT to the surface…Paint it out, paint it over, paint it and let it go…No obsessing…

Black and white layers will be stitched on layer when the acrylic paint has dried sufficiently. And the wood chairs will be painted, each one a different colour in the Kandisky Kaleyard Why not?

This is the canvas part-way through the project:

Here are the smaller portions after the canvas was cut up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for the old tapestry seat covers, so lovingly stitched by an unknown hand: they will get a dunk or two in the indigo dye vat, ready for inclusion in a wall piece – switching roles with the painted canvas, therefore.

I think Klee might feel it proper to plop his derriere on my paintings..And he painted on what what he found at hand, too, even corrugated cardboard – I saw that in the MOMA.

Next post about the Kaleyard Art Chairs will show the finished suite!

Best

Wendy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snow Comes To The Kaleyard

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Winter means art indoors and the studio is my refuge. For natural dyeing and eco printing, I use my stash of dried plants, dye powders and whatever fresh plant materials I can find in the fridge or a florist bouquet. The first snow in the kaleyard this year sent me scuttling about to bring in one of my Potted Plant Pets that, forgetful gardener that I am, I had neglected all summer and fall. Out of sight, out of mind: it was hidden, pot and all, by the huge foliage of that Monster Kale. Si when the vernight temperature fell to about two degrees, that was curtains for the leaves on the indigo (Indigofera tinctoria).

I had started the seeds indoors in March and set out the largest plant In a pot after the last frost in late May.The indigo looked like this (below) in June beside the Kale Monster; by November, it was hidden completely by the dinosaur kale.

Let us see if the now-leafless indigo pet will revive. More below on this indigo and its gifts to the dyer.

Meantime, I did manage to bring in the Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria) and pot it up for overwintering. This type of indigo also yields blue pigment so I have dried several batches of leaves to try winter vat-making. In the past, I have found that the plants will set seed in their pots and produce seedlings in late winter. But for good measure I have saved seeds this year. One of my dyer friends here in Ottawa says she even finds seedlings in her compost in spring! That is a plant with a huge will to survive, even if with a reputation for short seed viability.

Here are the leaves of Japanese indigo, dried after the first of three harvests this year:

 

And here are some dye results on silk velvet, post-dyeing and pre-eco printing ( Those little brown pebbley things that look like critter poo are, in fact, dried tansy buttons.)

The blues I obtained (above) from my first-ever Japanese indigo vat are, as you can see, on the turquoise side of blue.

Later in the year ( when I am back from January in Brooklyn where our youngest is about to have her first baby) I will have a go with a vat using dried the Persicaria tinctoria but likely not before February.

On to dyeing with other indigo now – the Indigofera tinctorIa. I am chiefly interested in using this indigo for my Artist Books. My current focus is, as you might know by now, Artist Books made with and about native plants, the Medium being the Message in my approach to the work.

But I am not so granola that I shun non-native plants like European kale, Japanese indigo and indigo (probably) from India. We are all strangers and sojourners on this earth, are we not? And we likely come from somewhere else, and will end up somewhere else again, more than likely. I am from Orkney, as it happens, but live now in Ottawa, Canada, via Liverpool in England. Green Immigrants have a valued place in my garden; potted, they are Plant Pets; they will always find a place in my repertoire as a dye artist even if native plants are my garden focus. We have transplantation, translation and removal in common, and the search for where to put down roots, scatter seeds and lay one's head.

Indigo paper has an interesting history in the book and paper arts, too. ( A discourse on that topic will follow at another time, dear Reader! ) Indigo papers will be a fine little Rabbit Hole for me to disappear down with my pre-reduced indigo, taking along rust and black tea leaves as companions, plus some others (like beeswax) to sustain and surprise us on the journey.

Feeling connections to the traditional use of indigo for colouring papers of various qualities and types, especially for the express purpose of hiding imperfections, I have begun to accumulate indigo-and-rust dyed materials to create a series of Artist Books, with tea leaves for tannins to blacken the rust. And some beeswax to trap the rust, like insects in amber. And dye and wax to cover over many things, like the mold on paper left too long soaking in alum water…And, O that divine blue and orange combo, the Impressionist painter's expressive colour gift to humanity and art history.

To get the blue markings, I dipped, painted, sprinkled, splashed the dye and scattered crystal before eco printing it with the rust and tea on watercolour paper. I dissolved pre- reduced indigo crystals in water (no chemicals added) and also scattered crystals on the pages to be eco printed as usual by steaming. To get the rust, I laid on flat bits of metals and soaked the metals and the paper in white vinegar befor steaming. (You can skip the steaming step if you are OK waiting a day or so for the rust to print. The hot steam simply accelerates the process. And the indigo needs no steaming, either. But if you want tannins to react with the rust, and you'd like marks from the tea leaves, then steam the stack or bundle as I did with tea leaves scattered on) Some examples:

Here is a batch of indigo, rust and tea prints on paper:

 

 

 

The dark marks in this one are from molds on composted papers:

 

 

 

And here is some linen printed with indigo, rust and tea: this will become book cloth.

 

 

This (below) is what happens when you scatter the indigo crystals on top of paper and plants for eco printing; logwood and madder powders are scattered in there, too, on top of mold marks and rust. I showed my friend, Gayle, how to do this and this was her result at my studio:

 

Finally for this post: some Artist Books, including work from a bookbinding workshop offered by the generous Genevieve Samson, medieval book conservator at Archives Canada and CBBAG member. Longstitch binding: the white one is mine, the next two are Gen's demo books, the coptic binding is by Gayle Quick of CBBAG and the blue and white on the bottom of the stack is a canvas wrapper I painted with acrylics.

 

Next time: more books, more indigo and some painted chair covers

 

Blessings on your day, dear Reader. Thank you and welcome to all the new folks who have joined the blog since last post.

 

Wendy

 

Autumn in the Kaleyard

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Kale is another word for cabbage. I learned recently that Scottish “Kailyard” literature displeased the artspeakers of the late Victorian era who found it sentimental and cottagey, not nearly edgey enough, too sweat-blood-and-tears free, so to speak. James Barrie, author of 'Peter Pan and Wendy' was a kaleyardist author, and thus much sneered at by the critics of ' kaleyard' (or 'kailyard') lit, a genre so- named for the ordinary country-Scot of tradition who had kept a cabbage patch ( or 'kaleyard') beside his wee house to feed his family way before the potato came north…You may even have noticed 'cole' (AKA kale or cabbage) depicted in medieval MSS. showing images of jolly, contented peasants tending seasonal crops.

In growing the absurdly handsome 'Lacinato' black kale (AKA 'Dinosaur' kale) this year, I had the most innocent of intentions, just looking for some kitchen dyes and a little summer salad. I had no idea this plant would turn out to be the decorative star of the front yard, a neighbourhood conversation starter like no other and an art-political statement besides. Here it is, flanked on the left by the lovely native great blue lobelia, or Lobelia syphilitica.

Dino kale leaves (backed by natives coreopsis on the right and black-eyed susans on the left, out of focus.)

 

Kale colour and texture are foils to a chartreuse barberry, saved from severe garden editing as a Native Plant Gardening Don't, only because it was too prickly to pull out that day – but which turned out to be a Garden Designer Do (Does Glamour magazine still run pics of their fashion Do's and Don'ts? ). The sedum 'Autumn Joy' is still summer green in this photo:

And here is the much-expanded kale beside the fall rust-pink of Sedum spectabilis:

 

Pollinators love the fall-blooming Michaelmas daisy:

 

Pot-grown indigo beside the kale: this will overwinter indoors, like Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria).

 

Calendulas love the cooler fall weather: and burnt orange beside kale green is eyepopping.

 

These humble, cottagey little kaleyard sparrows love their bath at ground level:

 

This is the sparrows' Birds' Eye view of the fall colours in my kaleyard. The lobelia has gone to seed. The rue (back left) is divinely thick and blue-green, lighter in tone than kale, with a lacey texture for contrast, harmony and repetition.

 

Looking up, the sparrows can see the black elder, native Sambucus nigra, in full fruit:

 

And under the bird feeder, some new garden sculptures by Shlomo, in my favourite orange and blue combo:

 

Fall means foraged wild apples for apple butter:

 

And for art this late summer and early fall, eco prints a-plenty, using mostly the native plants from my garden.

Coreopsis with Aronia melanocarpa berries and Prunus cistena leaves:

 

Prunus cistena, Aronia melanocarpa, sumac.

 

Japanese maple and grevillia (exotics!)

 

Varia:

 

Almost all native plant prints. The reds are coreopsis and bloodroot; the blues are various blue berries, e.g., aronia, elder and dogwood.

 

Iron enhanced prints from Cotinus obovatus, Baptisia tinctoria and Sanguinaria canadensis.

 

Ditto, as above; blues from red cabbage and aronia berries.

 

Plus an embroidered Artist Book or two: this one is about daisies ( o how kaleyard a topic!) and incorporates embroidered imagery along with vintage textiles (o how kaleyard an art!)

Spidey below was not the only weaver in the kaleyard:
 

 

This year, Kaleyard visitors were invited to weave fibers and plants on the garden loom (hinged like a gate to the shed and painted as near to Yves Klein blue as we could manage with Home Depot paint).

 

And finally, we began to hang up some of the art we have had stashed since we moved here a year ago: blue and orange, my faves:

 

Next time, more about Artist Books and native plants for eco printing; plus some long overdue updates to my other pages here, notably the tutorials page, the eco dye references and the plants.

I also have a set of thrifted chairs that need new seat covers and a new paint job. TBD!

 

Regards from your Kaleyardist blogger

 

Wendy

 

 

August prints from native plants: Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

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Eco dyeing and printing are seasonal activities for me, closely tied to my garden's rhythms. Late summer and early fall in AgCan/USDA zones 4/5 is a period rich in accumulated plant pigments. Even though eco printing as a technique relies on the knowledge of tradional dyeing, it does not always turn up the same pigments in the dye pot as do the traditional “whole cloth, dye bath” techniques for dyeing fibres.

Furthermore, due to the nature of the eco print processes ( bundling, stacking, steaming, composting, tying, solarizing, etc.) , more than one colour may show up from one plant on a dye printed surface. This happens when the eco print processes force pigments in the plants to separate out into constituent colours on the surface of the substrate. These colour differences can often lost be when the plants are processed to extract colours by first heating them in water in a pot to make a dye bath, then processing the fibres in the dye bath to take up the colour.

I like to approach my print surfaces as if they were abstract compostions; thus, I am concerned with the interplay among colours, forms and field. The second image (rather far below) shows silk crepe de chine eco printed with a selection of native plants from my garden last week: a background lightly coloured pale- ish yellow by just a tad of goldenrod ( a few sprigs removed from the tops), a lot of coreopsis verticillata (the whole plant in bits) to give small, varied and strong red-orange marks, the blue-black berries of Aronia melanocarpa ( black chokeberry) smooshed on to contribute blue, purple and lavender areas to the field (plus the darks and lights of analagous colours, as does the coreopsis), purple sandcherry leaves for deep teal greens (not shown), and on the right, a Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quiquefolia) leaflet in its red fall colours – but scarcely any eco print from it.

This image right below shows coreopsis (red and oranges) and red cabbage (blues) on silk. The colours and distribution of forms across the field of the textile reminded me of flower paintings by Seurat and Odilon Redon- along with the orange-blue Impressionist fave colour combos. Playing with the dye outcomes is for me the most fascinating part of contact printing with plants

Back to the Virginia creeper (VC)

VC, a native vine, is not much used in the traditional dye pot, as far as I can tell. It seems to be a kind of Bait and Switch plant, flaunting spectacular red and purple fall foliage, adorned with rich bunches of black berries that birds devour; but it appears to be a Tame, Timid and Stripeless Tiger in the trad dye pot. Adrosko, Cannon, Casselman and Dean (to mention some Big Trad Dye Names, see my References page) make no mention of VC as a dye plant. Other sources do mention it but without enthusiasm: Richards and Tyrl in their book on on North American dye plants have it classified in their chapter about plants that give little or no colour, noting only a pale yellow-cream. ( I guess that is the chapter every poor dye plant dreads to be consigned to… But take heart, Virginia creepers. Eco printing is your friend.)

Daniel Moerman (in “Native American Ethnobotany” ) writes with erudition that the Kiowa Indian tribe (in Canadian usage: “First Nations” or Kiowa native peoples) obtained pink dyes from VC berries to colour feathers used in war dances.

The notion of long-term “fastness” is not generallly addressed, other than to recommend the use of the Usual Suspects as mordants. I suspect tannins and iron might help VC colour up in an eco print process more than in the trad dye pot.

The only really hopeful discussion about potential eco print colour from the VC appears in a 1986 publication entitled “Dye Plants of Ontario” from the Burr House Spinners and Weavers Guild ( see Reference page). The guild tested the vine for dye potential, using the whole plant, having gathered it in November and noting: “This vine is not known as a dye plant.”

With alum as mordant , a 6:1 plant-to-water ratio and 45 minutes in a simmering dye bath, the colour given is “butterscotch”. Other mordants were as follows: with copper, a rich tan; with iron, a golden tan. As a modifier post-dye bath, iron gave deep bronze; ammonia, a bright golden tan. Summer foliage gave ivory with an ammonia rinse, and olive greens with a vinegar rinse. No longer recommended as mordants are tin and chrome though the Burr House dyers did report their experiments with these.

Thus, with this info In mind, I plan to experiment further with the Virginia creeper as it matures in my garden and in the environs.

And after all that “learned” text above, I expect, Dear Reader, that you will be wondering when your author will finally put up the Eye Candy.

Here it is:

 

The red leaf on the right is one leaflet of the five leaflets ( the “quinque” in quinquefolia) of the Virginia creeper. But hardly any eco print at all. The reds and purples came from coreopsis and aronia berries, though of course, one could be forgiven for hoping the VC had printed thus. But we know that what we see in a leaf is not what we necessarily get on an eco printed substrate. (And I think snails ate the holes in the VC leaflet – the vine was covered in snails. )

Next, I will mess around with tannins and iron to see if an eco print can be coaxed out of the Virginia creeper. There were no iron bits, bark or tannin rich plants in the bundle shown here. Of course, I am just guessing that we could get a print from the VC in the environment of these mordants/dye assistants. TBD.

Inspiration for this post

Thanks to the edltor of the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers who asked me about fastness of dye in the Virginia creeper. That question became my research topic for today, and led me down this most interesting rabbit hole. I have been planting lots of the native Virginia creeper this summer to attract birds, to give fall colour, to cover the tattier parts of our fence and to give privacy. Perhaps VC leaves can make an interesting eco print, or perhaps the VC berries can dye some war dance feathers pink (gonna try for those pink feathers for sure but maybe will weave them into the garden loom instead of my hair. Turn swords to ploughshares, kind of.)

Meanwhile, here is a taste of some more Eye Candy in relation to future posts about dyeing with native plants. The next post will be about eco prints on silk with other native plants from my garden. See if you can guess the plants printed here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hints: Walnut, coreopsis, sumac, aronia berries, rose, cotinus, goldenrod, purple sandcherry.

 

Until next time

 

Wendy

 

Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria) in the garden and the dye pot

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This month, I made my first indigo vat, guided by an excellent article by Isabella Whitworth and Christina Chisholm, published in the winter 2011 issue of the U.K. Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. The article is available online as a free download from the journal:

http://www.thejournalforwsd.org.uk/application/workfiles/resources/art240.pdf

In a recent blog post, Isabella (dye expert, textile artist, teacher, independent scholar and dye editor for the above journal) adds some very useful notes to the dye experiences reported in her 2011 article. Check these out on her blog at http://www.isabellawhitworth.com; see also some other suggestions for dye authors on my reference page here. The link to Isabella's article is also in her most recent post about Japanese indigo

All the instructions needed for your Japanese indigo vat are there. Please disregard the journal links I sent in the original version of this post (if you saved it) and see my “Stern Footnote To Self” at the end of this post.

Japanese indigo is not a native of North America or Europe and has a bit of a rep for being frost-tender. Despite my limited experience of it, I have found it a plant with a violent will to live and leave a legacy. It sets seed abundantly, though seed viability is limited, maybe not more than two years from harvest.

In the photo below, you see that at every node, the plant grows long roots. These two-and-a-half-foot-long stalks of indigo were in a bucket of water for three days after I had cut the plants for the dye pot, and then got too busy to make the dye. The indigo rooted overnight at each node under water and bloomed after a day.

 

I obtained the seeds some two years ago from another textile artist and dyer in Ottawa, Debra Percival; Debra is also an accomplished printmaker and devotee of non-toxic printmaking. Debra starts her seeds indoors, then pots the young plants up in planters on her small patio. She notes that after composting unused plants that have set seed by the fall, she often finds plantlets growing in the compost in late spring from overwintering seeds. Find Debra at http://www.landfillart.org/debrapercival

I planted my first batch of seed in a pot outside in May two years ago…and forgot all about it that year. We had begun the process of selling our former house and indigo vats were struck off the agenda….Come October, I found the pot, plants still cheerful, and brought it inside to more neglect on a cold floor near a window. Though the plants looked scraggy and tatty, some pink flowers boldly showed up and set seed by Christmas…and by late February, seedlings appeared, became plants and yet again went to seed in the pot – only to suffer neglect for another year! It was the seeds from this second batch that provided the plants for the vat of 2014. Here they are, blooming and setting seed even in a pot of water:

 

Most dye authors (but not all) that I consulted ( see my Reference page) advised cutting the stalks before the plants bloomed, since dye could not reliably be extracted if the plants were in flower. The time to harvest leaves for the vat? Just before the bloom time! But I saved a few long stalks from the scissors to keep for seeds next year. Perhaps unnecessarily: the plants I cut at two nodes above the soil are now over twelve, lush, leafy inches high and it is barely three weeks since I collected the first harvest. Mind you, the fish fertiliser we use helps plants produce more leaves…

 

But after cutting down all the plants quickly before they could bloom, I found myself with too much indigo to deal with in one session. All the leaves from one planter full of plants were therefore dried and stored for “later”, while the harvest from the second planter went into the pot. And Lord knows what amount will yet arrive from the the plants that are now regrowing…I think I may get two more harvests.

Here is the first batch of dried Japanese indigo stalks and leaves; not sure if the stalks give colour, though…

Leaves stripped from the stalks and laid out, fresh and green:

 

After a day drying in the hot sun, the blue pigment begins to appear. I stored the dried leaves in a tin.

 

The dried stalks become bundles of warp on the garden loom:

And now the vat.

For my first indigo dye experiment, I used a (well-scoured) yard or so of silk velvet that had been an eco print flop last year.

I used a thrift shop electric turkey roaster with a thermometer gauge that allowed me to set and hold the temperature of the water in the pot to well below a simmer. I filled the pot with leaves, covered them with ice cold water and left them to warm for several hours, until the temperature reached 160F/60C. ( Slow warming ensures that the blue pigment is not destroyed.) The pot of leaves by then had changed colour to look like sherry:

 

After straining out the leaves, I added washing soda (sodium carbonate/soda ash) to the liquid, one tablespoon (15ml) at a time, until the liquid turned a kind of slimey green. Then I beat the water like mad with a whisk until It got frothy:

 

When I had plenty of froth (more than in the pic above), I heated the liquid in the vat back up to 160 C, then dissolved a tablesoon (15 ml) of thiourea dioxide in the liquid in order to remove the oxygen from the vat. I think I added a bit more than that, for good measure. This turned the liquid greeny-yellow. After a few minutes, I entered some silk velvet into the pot and left it submerged for about three minutes.

In the picture, you can see the silk beginning to turn aqua blue as areas of the fibre become exposed to the oxygen in the air.

 

Exposed to the air, the yellow turned aqua-green-blue.

Voila! I obtained this shade of green-blue by dipping the silk textile three times in the vat, each time for about three minutes, and hanging it for about five minutes each time. The textile had been eco printed once before but not very successfully, hence the yellowy-brown blotches on the surface.

 

The next step was to see if the indigo textile would accept fresh eco prints from plants with the pigment concentration that is available at this stage in the season. I layered the silk with aronia berries, Japanese maple, Cotinus obovatus and a few tansy buttons:

TBD!

And finally, a Stern Foot(In Mouth)note to Self:

The only things in life that one can say one truly owns are one's mistakes.

Dear readers, please note the mea culpa: This blog post is an update of the one from the early hours of Labour Day in Canada in which I made three bad editing blunders with reference to the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.

I offer my apologies to Isabella and the Journal. Please destroy my most recent post about indigo if you saved it and note the following:

1. I gave the link to Isabella's article about dyeing with indigo (see first para, above) without checking that the site listing “free” pdf's had, in fact, received permission to reprint the article from the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. I did not check (ouch) to see whether this site had permission to offer the JWSD article for download. I will not give the name of the site because they do not deserve any more publicity. I am truly repentant for my carelessness here.

2. Isabella's link is as follows: http://www.isabellawhitworth.com

3. Isabella is still the dye editor of the journal, not recently retired, as I, in my fog of indiscreet errors, stated.

And as one last note: I had also linked Isabella's name to the Midsomer Murders series…thank God it is no longer midsummer….

 

 

Dye colours from the late July garden

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Finally I have taken a break from the reno's of house and garden and turned my heart back to my dye pot. A squirrel convinced me. A well-fed little pest heaved himself onto my new, young sumac just as that precious plant had reached the top of the fence…and snapped the head off the sumac…I just had to use that sumac in the dye pot.

(Husband has now been equipped with an humungous $10 water pistol that shoots sprays of water forty feet…yet, in wildlife-friendly native plant gardens why curse when wild natives show up?)

So here also was the chance to check out the dye pigment potential of some of the other plants in my garden, plus one or two from the local wilds.

Let me begin with Hypericum perforatum, Saint John's Wort, foraged (rescued!) from nearby wild acreage dedicated to a future Big Box shopping centre that has been a long time coming…TG…

Fo my research, I have read all the reference books I own and have come away dissatisfied. Lacunae abound. Hypericum perforatum is not native to North America, though it has cousins here. It is considered a noxious, invasive weed in some quarters; even respected dyers like Rita Buchanan would rather not bother to dye with it because it is too troublesome to pick the needed quantity of flowers. (Note that other dyers may use all parts of the plant) Still, I find that hypericum offers interesting challenges.

The plant is reputed to give red, green and yellow colours, but a very particular order of extracting the pigments has been counselled by some of the Deities of Dye, chief among whom (IMHO) on the subject of hypericum performatum is Jenny Dean. ( See my Reference page for details) Most of the other Dye Deities kind of vaguely wave their sceptres over the hypericum and mutter something about it possibly giving red if you really want that..then fudge off to the next dye plant on their list whose dye properties they actually can present with authority. Or they avoid the trouble and simply quote another Dye Diva, equally vague on this plant as a dye source.

Hypericum perforatum.

The black dots along the edge of the petals actually print! If you hold the leaves up to the light, you can see wee perforations. Glands on the inflorescence hold the red dye.

 

The “smoosh test” ( i.e., squishing an interesting new plant part with my fingers is my first line of investigation always) yielded this maroon colour from the flower head crushed onto paper towel:

 

Steeping the whole plant in rubbing alcohol was my next step.

Absolutely none of the dye authors, not even Dean or Cardon ( see refs page) managed to explain to my satisfaction how to move from dye-infused red rubbing alcohol (e.g., above) to red-dyed fibre…Many authors mention the alcohol extraction method but none provides useful details for the next step after steeping. Flint provides teasing images of the colours one might obtain with various mordants on protein and cellulose fibres, but no explanations of how obtained.

One guesses that topping the alcohol up with water might make a dye bath, so TBD, once my two jars have steeped a day or so. But I am puzzled. Why bother with the alcohol extraction when water baths seem to extract the red pigment quite easily (cf. Dean et al)? Or perhaps just smoosh the colour out for a contact print? Another TBD. Plus the authors on my Reference list offering differing counsel about which plant part to use to obtain which colour, not to mention differences in other information about processes, such as best season to gather the plant, process time, mordant, etc. I figure, as usual, that one's own experiments are the way forward, after having made genuine efforts to uncover “Best Practices”.

Hypericum (whole plant, roots included) in isopropyl alcohol:

 

Thus my research with Hypericum perforatum continues.

 

July eco prints with native plants

Now to a couple of familiar native plants that give up pigments for contact dyeing, namely sumac (Rhus typhina) and coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata, 'Zagreb' and 'Route 66' varieties. 'Route 66' is new to me. I am not pedantic about sticking to the purely native species like C. lanceolata or C. verticillata. Hybrids are OK with me, well-behaved relatives, such as Cotinus coggygria. This plant is from 'Away', as one might say, but is the worthy cousin of Cotinus obovatus, a North American native that was here in my new garden, to my delight, along with the Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), well-known as a dye source among First Nations peoples.

'Flower Pounding' or 'Hapazome' to make contact prints

To check out some of the pigment potential in plants for contact print /dye material, I made a few prints by pounding the plant material with a hammer in order to transfer the colour and form to watercolour paper and silk. I also thought this method might be useful in revealing info about the hypericum red colour. I found that alum mordanted substrates gave best results, and that one can modify the colours obtained by pounding if one uses the customary post-dye assistants such as iron, copper, ammonia, etc.

Some plants I tried 'pounding':

 

Red geranium (pelargonium) with yellow-orange coreopsis v. With blue borage , top right. On water colour paper, no alum:

 

As above, but with alum. That coreopsis red sings!

 

'Route 66' (a bi coloured coreopsis, red and yellow) with red Japanese maple and red geranium , with alum:

 

Coreopsis verticillata 'Route 66':

 

Hypericum perforatum, with alum, post-modified with ammonia: You get the hypericum red this way, too!

 

Pansy, Japanese maple, hypericum with alum and post-modifier, ammonia (to bring out the greens) The maple lost its blue and purple – compare with the previous images:

 

And now the three Squirrel Bundles (no, I did not…) Three dupioni silk panels were layered with sumac, Japanese maple, Cotinus obovatus and coreopsis plus a tad of sliced bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). I used mostly the busy and abundant Coreopsis verticillata 'Route 66' because my 'Zagreb' is quite weedy this year – dunno why. Since all three texiles were bundled with the same collection of plants, I expected the colour results to be the same in each. I achieved variety by using post dye-bath modifiers.

(Aside: The bloodroot and the coreopsis gave reds that look the same to me. Vibrant! )

And FYI for vintage fibre fans: the three bundles of dupioni silk were tied up with thrifted wool yarn that originated in the Rosamond Woollen Mill in Almonte, near Ottawa. When the mill closed, it became the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum (I have shown my work there in the past). The textiles were bundled with plants over copper pipe and steamed about an hour.

 

 

Two cones of vintage wool yarn from the Rosamond Woollen Mill, Almonte, Ontario:

 

The silk panels below, post-dye pot, are alum-mordanted dupioni, each treated with a different post-dye modifier to shift their colours.

L to R: post- modified with copper acetate; with iron; with ammonia.

 

The Bloodroot deserves its name:

 

Detail, ammonia:

 

Detail, iron:

 

Detail: Copper acetate

 

 

In future posts: dyeing with weld (Reseda luteola) and indigo (Indigofera tinctoria). The plants below in the pot were started from seed in May 2014.

The weld can be transplanted to the garden and stay over the winter but the indigo will have to be potted up and brought inside. A hitch-hiking, self-seeding columbine joins them for now…

 

Seeds saved from my last batch of Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria) grew into these lush babies! Soon it will be time to process the leaves for blue. TBD! (They like heat and water)

 

For the next dye – pot, I will not wait for the squirrel…

Wendy

 

A Little Italy: the Arte Studio Ginestrelle at Assisi

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It is the last weekend of Italian Week in Ottawa, the annual celebration of all things Italian. It takes place in “Little Italy” during the week of the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua, one of Saint Francis of Assisi's first friars, a theologian and faith-filled preacher, who, says the legend, addressed even fishes when human ears were deaf to the gospel. I have taken this week to think longingly again about our time as artists in residence at the Arte Studio Ginestrelle near Assisi in Umbria last October. It was not only an artist's refuge but also turned out to be an unexpectedly meaningful place of pilgrimage for both me and Shlomo, I, as a Catholic and Shlomo, a Jew. Assisi is, of course, a major Catholic pilgrimage site but, perhaps less well-known, it can be a destination for Jews in recognition of the city's successful hiding of Jews from all over Italy and elsewhere during the Nazi occupation. ( FYI ” The Assisi Underground” is a book and a movie on that subject. It was especially moving for us to visit the “Eremo”, the Franciscan monastery/hermitage where many Jews were concealed. )

Arte Studio Ginestrelle is the brain-child of a remarkable young woman, Dr. Marina Merli, director at the studio residence. Marina is a graduate in law, economics and international tourism. After some years in the business world in major Italian cities, Marina did a crazy thing: as a single woman with energy and a vision, she bought an old farm and started a business in hospitality to artists, focusing on artists whose practice incorporated deep love of the natural environment. Surely Saint Francis was onside! The Town Council of Assisi is certainly onside, providing the studio with important business support in the hospitality industry outside of the millions of pilgrims to Assisi, as well as the distinct honour of offering the town art gallery in the main square of Assisi to the artists in residence for their annual show each December.

The studio, its rooms and its environs are furnished and furbished with Marina's exquisitely creative and elegant Shabby Chic taste, using Umbrian vintage treasures in exciting new ways, repurposed to create harmonious ambiance (without the fakery we might shudder to experience in over-designed, under-hospitable, self-important Places To Stay.) All that at Ginestrelle, and wi-fi, too.

The heart of the Arte Studio Ginestrelle, though, is not the artists' comforts, the elegantly rustic accoutrements or the delightfully quirky “architectures”.

The heart of Ginestrelle is the hardworking, efficient, competent and intelligent business approach and astounding personal generosity of Marina Merli, the director, for whom nothing is too much trouble where artists are concerned. Is there a word for “no” in Italian? If so, Marina never used it…though she may have used many, many synonyms (I think she said “No TV” very directly, as well as: “NO, cats, you cannot come in the house”…However, the cats did not listen and they did not watch much TV, anyway…)

Situated a few kilometers from the medieval hill town of Assisi, the art studio is a restored farm house part way up a mountain slope of the regional park of Mount Subasio ( a conservation area), along a twisty road rich in Umbrian vegetation and spectacular views:

 

 

 

 

Outside the residence are cabin and barn, havens where one can enjoy nature, meditate, paint, write, sculpt, picnic…

 

A broom made from the broom plant – the ginestrelle dye plant which grows in abundance on the property.

An

 

A chair with seat woven from rushes or maybe broom plant:

 

Inside the residence, are many different spaces for artists, simply but appropriately furnished in creative rustic style for work in different media:

 

There is a great selection of books in the library, too, in many languages. I greatiy appreciated that Marina had stocked up on books about the vegetation of the Subasio and Umbria in general. Latin nomenclature for plants transcends my limited Italian!

 

Resident “working” cats, Cimabue and Negrito, try to get inside for treats at “breakfast” time:

 

And why not? The breakfasts are sumptuous, more like lunch or dinner, so delicious and generous, prepared freshly every day by Adria from locally grown and organic foods: and always there ar leftovers for lunch and snacks…

Cheese, ham and sage filled pancakes, like tortilla:

 

Little spinach, truffle and mushroom crostini (October was still truffle and wild mushroom season; truffles and mushrooms were foraged at the residency, courtesy of a neighbour with a truffle dog!) served with farm-cured ham.

 

Fresh bocconcini with peppers and home-pressed olive oil: yes, they have olive trees in the family.

 

Grapes from the home vinyard, drying in the residence kitchen to make raisins.

 

Fresh local cheeses, yoghurt, tomatoes and ham: set out in vintage pottery on vintage embroidered linens Adria, the cook and housekeeper (and most important, mother of the Director) knows her linens and her embroideries! She is a former textile designer, before the Italian fabric indusrtries went off- shore for workers…she has an amazing collection of embroideries in traditional Assisi-work; the linens at the table, on the beds and at the windows are all treasures of traditional handwork rarely practiced these days.

 

Adria's little raisin cakes still made in Umbria from a recipe dating back to the time of Saint Francis:

 

Mushrooms from the residency property: for breakfast omelettes.

 

A picnic lunch (artist-prepared) outside. The grocer and the baker come to the studio in their vans…

Days Away

The nearby towns are fascinating centres of art, history and archaeology. Assisi is very close by car; for day trips (we went every third day for an adventure in the other hill towns) Spello, Spoleto and Florence are only a short train ride or car trip away. Even Rome can be made there and back in a day! When we did not feel like driving to Assisi, Marina would load up her four wheel drive with artists and off we would go for the day.

 

Assisi, beautiful city of peace. Looking down into the valley and the town of Santa Maria degli Angeli where Saint Francis dwelled at the Porziuncula.

 

The wonderful flea market at Santa Maria degli Angeli, outside the basilica and in the main square (I bought vintage linen here for eco prints to make “textile frescos” contact printed with local plant pigments.

 

The River Arno from the bridge in Florence:

 

Bruneleschi's Dome in the Duomo, Florence:

 

The Ducal palace at Gubbio. Francis ran away to Gubbio when he renounced the world, escaping the wrath of his textile-merchant father who disputed his son's vocation. At Gubbio, Francis is said to have tamed a wild and ravening wolf.

Gubbio also has a marvellous flea and farmer market in main square, at the same spot as in medieval times. It is a fantastically scenic mountain drive from Assisi to Gubbio!

 

Somewhere in Perugia, tne university town that we can see from Assisi. We had a wonderful day with one of the professors of environmental studies who came to the studio to give a presentation on the environment and took us on a hike around Mount Subasio, explaining the flora and fauna and management challenges in a national park where people still own and farm land. Marina arranged this for us!

 

Assisi:

 

Giotto's frescos in the basilica of Saint Francis, Assisi:

 

Saint Francis and Saint Clare. Paintings at San Damiano monastery:

 

Somewhere in Spello, a town that is home to frescos by Pintorecchio.

 

Mosaics in Spoleto:

 

Square in Spoleto, a town which is a stop on the Via Francescana (like the Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Spain)

 

Alley in Spoleto:

 

Bookstore, antique and handmade books. Each of the hill towns we visited had at least one shop that made and sold beautiful leather-bound journals – bookbinding is a craft that seems to be surviving in this part of Italy (even if, as we learned from a bookbinder in Florence, that they send to Talas in Brooklyn for many of their supplies…)

 

Thank you, Arte Studio Ginestrelle, and Dr. Marina Merli, for one of the most beautiful months we have ever spent. And we even made art.

http://www.artestudioginestrelle.wordpress.com

 

Viva Italia! And grazie.

 

Wendy

 

Works In Progress

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Summer Solstice is fast approaching and my garden is almost ready to meet the longest day of the year! It has been a month (and some! ) of long days for me in the new garden. For what is an eco printmaker and dyer without her plants? It was a matter of the utmost urgency for me to rearrange the existing botanicals at least by the solstice so that eco dyeing and printing could resume…With the addition of some new plants and a few transplants from my old garden (though, sadly, most died in the harsh winter 2013 – 2014) I am almost there! So here are some pics of the garden, back and front, and the progress to date.

The front garden from the porch.

The specimen red Japanese maple (an eco dyer's delight) is underplanted with various shade lovers moved from the back garden which became suddenly very sunny due to the over-winter demise of a sugar maple. No more grass, just pea gravel now with field stones plus brick edging that will disappear from sight as the edging plants (for example: geranium, thyme, dianthus) grow in:

 

 

Along the sunny fence, I have planted old favourite cottage perennials, many of which give colour in the eco dye pot. More are to be added, like tansy and goldenrod.

 

 

Ferns, Solomon's seal, Siberian iris, daylilies, hostas, lupins, mint, variagated weigela and dogwood:

 

Before I made it my own, the gardens back and front were already rich with interesting native plants like Eastern cedars, Bloodroot, American smokebush (Cotinus obovatus) redberried elder, wood poppy, ostrich ferns, American bittersweet, goatsbeard, virgin's bower clematis, Virginia creeper. But as you know, one thing always leads to another in a garden (Didn't Adam and Eve set us some examples?) First, the mature sugar maple that died rendered areas of the back garden inhospitable to some shade plants. Then, installing a walkway in the front occasioned the transplanting of three mature evergreens- two yews and an Alberta spruce – which I couid not bring myself to chop down…We will see if they survive among other native plants installed along the shady perimeters of the back yard. Some images:

In the back, a native prairie grass, big bluestem, with rocks and vessel to break up the gravel “lawn”

 

Natives along the back fence: Pagoda dogwood shrub (back left) and Joe Pye weed (centre right) with fave green immigrants greater celandine (back right), sweet woodruff (under the dogwood) and hostas (foreground). I have planted the native celandine (aka wood poppy) elsewhere in the woodland area.

 

Native serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea or laevis, not sure which…the tag said A. canadensis but that is a cop-out name…)

 

Ostrich fern, Black Chokeberry(L), Solomon’s Seal and American smokebush(R), natives all.

 

Wonderful native sumac, Rhus typhina. With iron bedstead as Sugar Snap pea support and as eco print assistant later this summer…TBD!

 

The loud purple smokebush, brash and brazen, wonderful hybrid, fronted by enormous bloodroot, a native dye plant. Set beside Shlomo's garden candelabra, hand-wrought iron.

 

The Black Chokeberry in bloom, early May, beside red-twigged dogwood. Shade-loving natives. And another iron sculpture by Shlomo, “Peony” .

 

The greater celandine, green immigrant, which gives lovely greens and oranges when smooshed onto paper:

 

Smooshed thus:

 

In May, before some plants in this area were transplanted to the front garden. The whole candelabra – sculpture by Shlomo. The bedstead was garbage-picked.

 

“Canadian Pioneer” sculpture by Shlomo in the “woodland” garden of native plants alongside a few respectable green immigrants. (I am into native plant gardening but am no purist…Live and let live, in life, in gardens and in art, say I …Am I not also an immigrant, a stranger and a sojourner on this earth? )

 

Now for a little Non Native Gardening: I am growing these in pots for now:

Woad. Weld. Indigo. Japanese Indigo.

Just because. Reports later in the season!

 

 

This is the Persicaria tinctoria (Japanese indigo) in planters:

 

Native baptisia australis, AKA Rattlebush because the seed pods rattle when drying. This plant fixes nitrogen in the soil. I have put a weedy “Northern Lights” (bright orange blooms!)azalea close by to fatten her up…

 

Pods:

 

Coreopsis verticillata. Red dye from every part. Not the prairie version which is a native but a respectable relative. This image shows all that survived the Winter From Hell in Ottawa:

 

A hybrid of the threadleaf coreopsis above, in the front garden, too.

 

 

Good old tagetes, red, orange, yellow from the blooms and green from leaves and calix.

 

Precious wee pansies, even if they are not real Johnny-Jump-Ups. Blues and teals and turquoises in the dye pot.

 

Foxgloves and chives. Not sure about these in th dye pot…foxglove is risky!

 

Hybrid chartreuse sumac as companion to the red Japanese maple. Colour in the dye pot: TBD

 

Siberian iris (blue and green dyes) with pollinator plant, Canada thistle (L). Not natives but useful – to me…

 

Ostrich ferns, black chokeberry, Solomon’s Seal and smokebush, all natives. All eco-printable.

 

Sumac in June…growing nicely!

 

Red-painted bamboo poles as climbing supports for Hubbard squash in pots: nicely tied with copper wire by Shlomo (copper thrifted from a cable)

. Expecting the squash will cover the pergola while we are waiting for the grape vine and arctic kiwi to grow.

 

And after all this art in the garden what about art in your dye pot or at the printing press or at your bookbinder's bench, you may be asking.

This collagraph plate is part of my new series about a venerable elm that stood near my old house. I have collected photos of that elm for over 30 years. So now I have another way to say goodbye to our old home.

 

The “Elm” test print on eco printed paper:

 

Another collagraph plate created from some of my super-textured embroideries:

 

A third plate, also an “Elm” collagraph plate, yet to be proofed and printed. Report later. It has a kind of Wuthering Heights look to it, all windblown and broken…

Some of the prints from these plates will be on exhibit in July at the gallery associated with my printmakers’' group. Report later.

Next, on the topic of book arts:

“Unbound/Debride” is an exhibit of books and boxes by the Ottawa Valley chapter of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild, held at the gallery of the lovely City of Ottawa Archives building.

Here are my eco printed box (L) and Shlomo's “El Anatsui” box (R)' with works by our colleagues Maggie McGovern (front), Paul Champion Demers (R), Beatrice Lourtioux (centre) and Holly Dean (back)

 

A funky selection: Genevieve Samson (L front) , Spike Minogue (L back), Shlomo (centre), Madeleine Rousseau (R) and Holly Dean (top). (This book by Holly appears in my article about book arts in the current issue of Fiber Art Now. See below)

 

My eco printed box and book with a coptic-bound, wooden-cover book by Paul Champion Demers:

 

The poster for the show:

 

Finally for this post, I mention two of my articles recently published: one about eco dyeing (with tutorial) in the current issue of the UK Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers and one featuring Canadian book artists in the current Fiber Art Now.

The work of Sandra Brownlee (winner of the 2014 Governor General of Canada award), Martha Cole, Holly Dean and myself appears in Fiber Art Now.

 

Happy gardening! It is a great joy. And it entails many other joys.

 

Wendy

 

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