Fibre Jewels

A collection of some of the fibre jewels made from stuff in my stash: When I was first trying free motion machine embroidery, I did small projects with mini “canvases” to find out how tension, thread weights, colours, bobbin thread, etc.  worked . I made little bags, pins, neckpieces, cuffs and cards,  too. I found these projects  a convenient way of trying various fibre art techniques, like needle felting, nuno felting, transfer printing – anything and everything you have ever read about in Quilting Arts… I did not buy anything new but used up stuff from my stash, especially silk and wool fragments, jewelry findings and vintage trims and buttons, etc. Making a small item like a 2″ pin meant that  I did not end up with millions of boxes of huge  UFOs! (Only thousands… ) I often made these fun and frivolous pieces whenever I got “stuck” on a major art piece or when I just felt like playing and trying new things.  

Here are some of those little fibre jewels:
I designed my version of a  Chanel cuff in silk with a “medallion” in classic Chanel jewelry colours,  stitched the medallion on pellon, cut it out and appliqued it to the silk cuff. Some of the other stitched medallions (above) were also later stitched to silk cuffs.

Next, some pins and neckpieces:
  A pin-necklace combo. Needle and wet felting, dyed cheesecloth, free motion embroidery and a chunky-funky abalone button from The Stash. More:

A lovely little mother-of-pearl vintage button for that one.  Next:

More trim with abalone for this one. Next:

Pin-necklace. Wet felted and handstitched, trimmed with a vintage gilt and jet button.

Pin-necklace; wet felted, free motion stitched, dyed cheesecloth, vintage jet button trim.

Pin-necklace. Wet felted, free motion stitched, dyed cheesecloth, abalone button trim.

“Flora” pin-necklace. Painted and embroidered in layers. Trimmed with vintage Japanese printed cloth button.

“Abstract 1”. Pin, 2″ x 2″ approx. Free motion embroidery on silk.  This was practice for using thick threads in the bobbin and working from the back of the piece.

Next time:

Some more eco prints with fall leaves that I put in the freezer to see if they would release good colour after freezing. They do! At least, on water colour paper, they do. (Not so good for prints on my embossed handmade papers…)I am hoping that means I can freeze leaves instead of saying “Goodbye until next spring”. TBD…


Following the Mark: Stitching an Eco Printed Vintage Refectory Cloth

When a local monastery moved away last year, the sisters had a garage sale. I collected some of their old kitchen and refectory linens,  woven by nuns of the order elsewhere in the world. Each linen  cloth is embroidered in a corner with inventory letters worked in tiny cross stitch, like this:  ( the red running stitch is mine):

I admire these  humble “slow” cloths, so carefully created and preserved, so respectfully employed in the service of community. And since many of them are stained by that  daily service,  as we are by life, I was inspired  to work through that idea: To stain and mark the cloths further, but with the beauty of natural dyes from my own garden plants and with embroidery, just following the marks. It was a way to honour daily tasks, their life-giving dignity not always registering as we carry them out.  So I  have made my own registrations ( printing with plants, marking with threads, staining with dyes) on this first refectory cloth using rose leaves from my garden, not only to recall the rosaries the sisters recite but to let me share somehow in the stories in the prayer cloth.  

So when my  linen bundles emerged from the steam pot,  the old stains on the cloth  re-emerged but in new colours under the eco prints, and I set out to follow all those marks. 

This is how the whole textile looks at this stage ( work in progress!) Don’t forget, you can enlarge the image by clicking on it and then again with the taskbar Google “magnifier”. It’s cool. And useful. I can see a lot more stuff that way than with my glasses.

Then there are some lovely surface details that bring to mind  the original worker- like the beautifully darned area here ( with an unvintage hole  emerging…):










I free- motion stitched around the darned area to highlight it and to protect it from too much embellishment.  I am using  straight hand stitches for the first layers of embroidery: running, cross stitch, cross hatching, seeding, etc. Straight stitch  seems appropriate for the simplicity of the cloth’s origins even though the surface design is becoming quite elaborate (deliberately so). I am inspired by the handwork of Julia Caprara and Ilze Aviks whose simple straight stitching is far from shallow.  Some of my attempts:



Other areas:

And another:

And the last one:

A note on the  threads: They are from my stash, too. They are vintage threads from the 1930’s:  Beldings’, a Canadian thread company (samples of the thread are in the collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa) made rayon and silk thread for embroidery. I found them at local vintage textile sale.

Honour Roll for this post:

Julia Caprara (now sadly deceased). Julia’s wisdom: “Trust your beginnings.” Colour, texture, handwork and design were all strengths but her love of her students, her sincerity in teaching and her devotion to her art were her greatest gifts.

Ilze Aviks works wonders with the humble seeding stitch. I have her books on embroidering marks with seed stitches – they are fabulous.

Next post: Off topic. Some stuff I have been turning up from the stash as I clean out the stufio. Fibre jewels and accessories – all frivolity and fun! While waiting for the silk and wool panels to mordant.

Sorry again about the formatting. Don;t know how to fix it yet.


Eco printing again with eucalyptus: Golden Leaves!

 A review of my experiments with eucalyptus so far this Fall: In short, yellow rules!  

A. 1. Left: Seeded Eucalyptus and Baby Blue 2. Centre: Silver Dollar (E. Cinerea, said the florist) 3. Right:  Silver Dollar E. plus Seeded E.

B.1. Left: Silk Fuji (vintage kimono fragment from my stash) steamed two  hours over copper pipe (I think…forgot to note that…) . 2. Centre: Silk Charmeuse (stash fragment, new) steamed 90 mins. over de-barked cherry wood (Most likely. I forgot to note that detail…) 3. Right: Silk and wool (80%-20%; new yardage) steamed four hours over (bark-on) hydrangea wood – for sure.

Plenty of experimental variables uncontrolled or uncontrollable! But they all gave the a range of orangey-golden-lemony-yellows on silks, chartreuses too, with reds and darker oranges responding to longer steaming. The dry leaves used for the centre panel (silk charmeuse) had been steeped to the point of fermentation, but the steaming time was shortest. Need to try that one again.

C. Next pic: more silk.  Handwoven Thai silk dupion, new, from my stash: bundled over copper pipe, steamed two hours, then modified with iron to give greens and greys:

The prints are of Baby Blue and Seeded Eucalyptus. Mordanted with alum before steaming. The panel has an oriental  scroll-like look to it – more on that one in future posts- it is ripe for life as stitched art cloth.

D. Next pic: Wool and wool jersey, vintage sweater cut up; premordanted with alum; bundled over copper and wood lengths with iron bits and acorn caps added, over Seeded and Baby Blue eucalyptus with pieces of florist’s fern; steamed for a good two hours.   An “edgy” acid yellow on lamb’s wool:  

E. Another piece of the cut-up wool (there were five). After the bundles had steamed, they were dropped into a dye bath of walnut to simmer for an hour. That gave a whole range of lovely browns, marks from the seeping dye as well as from the string resist:






Below, some details from the silk prints:

Eucalyptus on silk Fuji:

Eucalyptus on silk and wool blend:

Eucalyptus on silk charmeuse. 

More “eco-euco” later when the silk-wool panels are  ready.

 I received the panels  this week and they are to be mordanted in alum acetate.  I am trying this kind of alum because I have read (see “Wild Colour” by Jenny Dean) that one can then skip the tannin mordant stage for cellulose (cotton, linen) fibres. No more tannin from my garden now that that snow is here and I will have used up the tannin stock I made this summer from the sumac leaves pretty soon.

Last note on mordants: theoretically, eucalyptus and walnut are substantive dyes and need no mordanting for fastness. But I mordanted them anyway, since I have read that the substantive colours would likely dye brighter with alum.

Goodbye, Calendula:

Shakespeare referred to these marigolds as  “Mary Buds” (he would not have known tagetes “marigolds”). That is because their name “is a version of “Mary’s Gold”, a reference to the Virgin Mary. Shakespeare said that they opened their golden eyes to the rising sun.

Next post:  Itching to Stitch! Some pics of my progress on stitching some vintage refectory linens that I eco printed in early summer.

Please excuse the erratic formatting  these last posts.

Eco prints with the last of the green garden…

Today in Ottawa we had the first big snowfall:









 …but just yesterday I decided to gather some of the last “green” garden plant leaves before the serious cold arrives to carry them off.  Baptisia, heuchera  (“Palace Purple”), culinary thyme, sage,  vinca, and of course, that faithful green stalwart, the rose. And one new idea for a print: the roots of the borage plant. (More on that below).  

These were placed on a  fragment of pre-mordanted vintage kimono silk lining (some handstitches still attached in broken thread, o the stories in the cloth…) then bundled over a thick piece of cherry wood, stripped of its bark, and steamed as usual for about an hour. Here is what emerged:

The heuchera leaves gave  the largest prints and look purplish in fact. The surprise of the bundle was the colour from the borage roots: a clear and undeniable purple,  those dots. I read in Dominique Cardon’s book  “Natural Dyes” that the borage family worldwide can give purple from its roots – and indeed the herb garden variety does exactly that! But its roots are so tiny in comparison to the size of the plant with its paddle-like leaves. Some  details of “Last Green”  :

The green print is from baptisia and the purple from both heuchera and borage roots (the dotty parts).

The panel

 Last note: Memories of summer green.

Some silk  scarves eco-printed with red cabbage (blues), tagetes (oranges and greens), coreopsis (rust-reds), sumac berries (rosy reds and dark pinks), chartreuse greens ( Black Eyed Susans). I edged the scarves with open stitches: no turned hems (except one), just narrow zig-zag or straight stitching.

Honour Roll for this post:

 Dominique Cardon, author of  “Natural Dyes: Sources, Tradition, Technology and Science” .

Next time: More adventures with eco printing eucalyptus.  








Eco prints with Fall leaves on dupioni silk

Fall leaves, starting with alder at 12 o’clock: Alder, Blackberry, Chokecherry, Cotinus Coggygria, Ginkgo, Japanese Maple, Sweet Gum. This is my principal print material this month.

Cotinus coggyria, Japanese maple, Sweet Gum, blackberry, green carrot tops on silk dupioni, mordanted with alum and modified with iron liquor (rusty nails in vinegar). Lovely broken colour purple-brown from the Smokebush (cotinus c.) and sage greens from iron-modified carrot tops.

Detail of the panel:

Red cabbage as a background blue-violet dye colour to mix with the yellows from the blackberry leaves for greens. The panel evokes a blue sky with white clouds and fall leaves swirling by. A close-up:

The layered colours and forms are reminiscent of a windy, cool  fall day. I love the near-transparent colours and shapes of the blackberry leaves against the “sky”.

The back of  Sweet Gum leaf

And preparing for the next batch of eucalyptus prints: Silver Dollar (E. Cinerea) is soaking in a Moshe’s Kosher Pickle jar:

Now waiting for my shipment of silk and wool panels to arrive!


More eco prints on watercolour paper

Japanese Maple: green version! With a blue colour wash (left) from a Smokebush leaf.

I prepared my watercolour paper by soaking it in 25% alum and water, then layering  leaves, dried petals, tea , etc. between two sheets  of paper and steaming a stack of them under weights (three bricks) for an hour or so in a big old turkey roaster, tightly covered. The eco prints  came mostly from Japanese Maple (blues and greens), Sweet Gum (browns, yellows, ochres and sometimes yellow-green); Cotinus Coggygria  (blues, oranges, greens, purples…); Chokecherry (dark greens and blues); Ginkgo (light yellows); Blackberry (dark greens and purple).

1. A few of the above:

Yellow gingko, blue Japanese Maple and orange-green Smokebus (cotinus coggygria). I am enamoured of the watercolour wash effects created by the dyes leaking out from the leaves. Here are some details of my favourites:

1. Cotinus coggygria

2. And another Cotinus C. (Smokebush)

3. Yet another :

4. Blackberry- with thorns

5. Leaves layered on the left of the paper which was then folded over, giving  a mirror image print  but not quite…like two sides of a human face…

6. Another Mirror Print:

7. And one last one for this post:

I love the way the dyes settle into he fold of the paper and create a new design linking the leaf shapes and textures. More Monet than Morris, my motto for eco prints.

I used up whatever 140 lb watercolour paper I had in the studio, three different kinds, commonly available. Can’t say I have noticed any big differences so far but Cassandra Tondro says that papers do affect the print outocome. More fun to come!

Next post:  Some more leaf and dried petal prints and “kitchen” prints – cabbage, safflower and tea and the like but on fabrics. I have ordered some more silk and wool and that will be next, likely!


Eco prints on silk with eucalyptus, Rooibos tea, Red Cabbage and fall leaves

This time my eco prints are on some longer pieces of silk charmeuse, silk and wool mixture (80-20) and a small piece of silk twill.  Two lengths of  silk – wool, 24″ x 100″ were pre-mordanted in 25% alum , and the charmeuse and twill were post-dye mordanted in a 25% alum bath…am hoping for the best because I made a mistake in thinking that these two had been pre- mordnated. The collection:

From the left: 1. Sweet Gum and Japanese Maples on silk twill; 2. “Silver Dollar” eucalyptus on silk-wool mix bundled over cherry branches; 3. Red Cabbage, Rooibos tea, blackberry vine and leaves, dried tagetes petals and black tea (Taylor’s of Harrogate “Bungalow” blend) on silk-wool bundled over some very old iron rebar 4. Japanese Maple, Cotinus Coggygria, Sweet Gum and red Chokecherry bundled over copper. All steamed for at least an hour; the eucalyptus bundle was steamed for over three hours.

Some close ups and some details:

The sought-after reds from eucalyptus have arrived here in small measure, in stripes, outlines and spots here and there, adding sparkle and vivacity to the oranges and chartreuses of the leaf and stem prints, as touches of red are wont to do. I used the whole eucalyptus branch (from the florist) and like how it looks printed, better, in fact, than  isolated ovals printed from leaves torn from the stem . 

But to obtain red prints of the whole branch? My understanding is that I need  to soak the leaves several days before printing them; to use dry as opposed to fresh leaves; and to be patient while they cook, under steam or in a dye bath of water. Longer than other leaves…that means over two hours, for sure. Next time.  Meanwhile, chartreuse and orange with just splashes of red will do nicely:

I love the broken-up look of the leaf prints here. That effect comes from how I folded the cloth over the branches. I like how the red dye has drawn lines around the oranges and yellow-greens of the eucalyptus leaves in places and filled in small parts  of the print but without colour blocking the whole area. More Monet than Morris again!

I scrunched up the length of silk to get the photo – I like it better than the long “table shot”. You can see the incredible variety in the marks made by the dye stuffs and know that no two areas will show the same sets of marks or colours. Blues from the cabbage, greens from the marigold mixing with the cabbage; greens from the blackberry; rusty brown red from the Rooibos tea; blacks and dark greys from the black tea and the iron rebar; yellows and oranges from the dried tagetes petals, of course.

A couple of detail shots:

Great detail of the blackberry and the iron rebar.

Rooibos (“Red Bush” in Afrikaans), red cabbage and tagetes meet and mingle.

A range of gentle blues and greys from Japanese Maple, soft browns and ochres from Sweet Gum and more blues from Cotinus Coggygryia (I think I have misspelled that last word a hundred times in this blog – just can;t make it stick in my head… better stick with “Smokebush”… I can spell that…)

And a detail:

The darker blue values are from Chokecherry leaves (burgundy red all year) and the darker browns from Sweet Gum.

Next post: More eco prints on watercolour paper.

Honour Roll for this post:

Why, India Flint of course, the Great Queen of Eucalyptus Dye lore.  Her book on eco prints has taken me on this fascinating journey of discovery.

Eco prints on paper

Lovely results from eco leaf prints on water colour paper! Blackberry, Cotinus Coggrygia, Chokecherry, Japanese Maple and Tagetes petals on water colour paper, folded. Amazing that the same red Chokecherry leaf prints both blue and green.

In my search online for “how-to’s”, I found great instructions in Cassandra Tondro’s delightful blog on eco friendly art: My change was to add alum to the soaking water. My process:

I made a stack of “leaf sandwiches”. I soaked watercolour paper (from a pad) in an alum and water solution (about 10% alum) for at least a few hours. Then I laid leaves over the water colour paper, covered that layer over with a fresh piece of w-c paper, then repeated that until the pad was used up and I had a nice stack of leaf sandwiches. I laid one cardboard backing from the pad on the bottom of the stack and the other on the top. The whole stack was placed in my old aluminum turkey roaster (with three inches of water in the bottom) on a rack raised above the water level. I set three brick on top of the stack to weigh it down and placed the roaster’s cover tightly . I steamed the stack for  about an hour – maybe more.

I printed the following leaves in various combinations: Sweet Gum, gingko, blackberry (with vines), Japanese Maple (acer palmatum), Chokecherry (red leaves), Cotinus Coggrygia, Magnolia, Eucalyptus (Silver Dollar, Seeded Euc., Baby Blue), Alder.  I gathered the leaves from the ground, not from the branches.


This red Chokecherry leaf printed in many shades of green and yellow. The veined side of the leaf gives the stongest colours, so by playing with the placement of leaf, veined-side-up or veined-side-down, or layering leaves over, under or beside each other, I was able to make different prints appear on the two pieces of water colour paper sandwiching the leaves. In addition, leaves exude different amounts of colour as well as different colours so frequently, one can obtain a delightful “colour wash” effect around the prints, with the wash sometimes even a different colour from the leaf print. Amazing.  

These photos were taken immediately as the papers were removed from the dyer bath. Yellows and browns predominate , with some blue-greys from the Japanese Maple. But as the time passed, colours began to change even more deliciously: greens, purples, oranges, blues, greys appeared. The darkest leaf print in this collection is from the blackberry (middle row, far left)- it is dark green, near black: But we see in the image at the top of this post that the blackberry leaf , after a few hours resting and developing, has  changed colour to multiple shades of green.

Sweet Gum leaves printed face-to-face on two sheets of watercolour paper. The variation in the colours is due to the placement of the leaves, either veined-side up or veined-side down. Most of my prints with Sweet Gum on paper have produced colours in a relatively narrow  yellow-ochre-brown range but with much variation in printed textures – dots, lines, washes. On silk they seem to produce much more in the way of greens, including chartreuses.

Next post : More eco prints on silk – and with some of the same leaves as used here on watercolour paper.

This post’s Honour Roll:

Eco dyeing with safflower

For information on how to coax the pink-red and yellow-orange range of colours from the dried safflower petals on silk, wool, cotton and linen, I relied mostly on Jenny Dean’s book “Wild Colour”.

Safflower petals contain red dyes and two kinds of yellow dyes, each of which can be extracted from the petals. To obtain the first yellow, one simply soaks the petals in cold water and squeezes out the colour. For red, one has to first remove (and save if you want yellow)  all the yellow dye by thorough soaking and rinsing that colour out of the petals. The rinsed petals are soaked again in clear water and either ammonia (alkali) and/or vinegar (acid) is added to shift the pH of the solution in order to alter the colours (to yellows or pinks),  depending on the type of fabric. Wool will never dye pink with safflower but cotton, linen and silk will. Silk, however, turns pink only after a second colour modifying stage.  

Special note: No heat or cooking is involved in extracting the colours from safflower. It all happens with cold soaking.

First step was to obtain the basic yellow dye. I soaked the petals in cold water then squeezed and rinsed them, saving the yellow liquid in  three separate pots.  Then silk, cotton/ linen and wool were soaked in their own yellow dye baths and removed as the colour reached a shade I liked. I was aiming for a gradation of sorts.

After soaking for various periods of time, the wool, linen and cotton dyed various (and lovely!) shades of yellow, orange, coral and pink…the longer the soak, the deeper the colour. But  I have not yet managed to get the glorious safflower pink on silk, only the yellows and corals and oranges for now…Next time…

To coax out the red dye from the safflower and make fibres pink:

Add alkali to the dye bath : ammonia

After soaking the petals and squeezing out the yellow dye (as above) , I resoaked the petals in water and added ammonia to raise the pH to 1o (as read on my meter:  the dye bath pH was probably higher but my meter stops at 10),  (Next time, I might try washing soda as the alkali.) 

Add acid: Vinegar, 5% acetic acid

After an hour or so, I strained the dye bath and added some 5% acid vinegar  to lower the pH to about 6. (Use some pH papers or a pH meter) Then I added my silk and the cotton cheesecloth and soaked overnight.

The silk became coral-orange and the cotton, bright pink – just as Jenny describes in “Wild Colour”!

Dyeing silk pink. Or not.

Alas. The discharge process did not work for me this time. To obtain pink on silk one needs a “carrier cloth” ( a kind of Surrogate Dye Mother? ) that has been dyed yellow first, then pink-dyed in saffflower; then it is coaxed by the alkali (The Midwife?) to to release  its red dye back into the dye pot so that the colour will be available for the silk to “Adopt” when vinegar is added to the the dye pot.

Now that part happened successfully…because the bright pink cotton changed to lavender -grey in the alkali (ammonia)..But-but-but-but, and boo-hoo,  the silk refused to go Pink. Instead, it stayed a coral-orange colour when I added the acid to create the correct dye environment for silk.

I am wondering if  I was unable to obtain pink on my silk because  the small piece of cotton cheesecloth that I put in the dye bath simply did have enough dischargeable red dye in the fibres to turn the silk pink. Next time I will try a larger piece of cotton with a much higher thread count.

Here are some pics of the colours I obtained, nevertheless. The longer the fibres soaked (hours or overnight or a whole day) in the cold dye, the deeper the colours became:

The dye pots contained silk (top), cotton (right) and wool(left).

Cotton and linen turned various shades of yellow, orange and pink, depending on threadcount,  time in the dye bath and acid or alkali solutions (pinks in acid):

Cotton cheesecloth, a finer cotton gauze and vintage linen became pink in the yellow safflower dye when  modified in  an alkali -acid sequence.

I obtained several shades of yellow and orange on wool (from a vintage Jaeger wool skirt, taken apart) but no pink because safflower does not do that colour on wool. However, the cotton interfacing on the skirt waistband (right) took on pink dyes. (BTW, the colours in my photo were really pale so I tried to improve them by photoshopping them…hmmm…)

Next post: Eco prints on paper

This post’s Honour Roll: