Artist Books and Textile Frescos at Arte Studio Ginestrelle

Time to share with you, dear Readers, some more of the results of my experiments with the “pianticelli” (Little Plants) of the Subasio near Assisi. Most of the  “fioretti” (Little Flowers) have long ago gone to seed, though some valiant survivors remain, like Scabious and Centaura cyanus; only the Cyclamen (a protected species in this regional park) is in its element now. At the start of October when I arrived here, the leaf colours (unmodified by iron) were giving me lots of yellows, many exciting and unCanadian shades…but relentlessly yellow nevertheless…Would I ever see a real blue or green emerge from the dye pot?

I began my printing experiments with papers and so the little Artist Books which were made from them show the range of yellows, both pure and iron or tannin modified; the first textiles (a vintage cotton sheet donated by the Studio) also show that range.

Some pics of the book pages; covers are made from the walnut eco printed cotton (leaves and nuts):

Artist Books 1 and 2: “October Scroll: Little Plants of the Subasio” (“Pergamena di Ottobre: Pianticelle del Subasio”)















The accordion spine records the names of the Subasio plants printed on the pages inside in Latin, Italian and English.












The covers are of Walnut shibori prints – leaves and nuts.















Book structure












Each page is printed with a single exemplar of a Subasio plant: this is the Juglans regia (European Walnut):













.and these are the stems and tannin-rich seed pods  of the Ginestrelle (Cytisus scoparius or Broom,  one of several variety of Broom) from which the Studio takes it name. (I am now a Ginestrellian, I have learned!) The dyes wash around the stems and pods, creating the water-colour effects I love. Those few yellow blobs below the pod prints are a few last blooms left on the Ginestrelle – just for me! Thank you, Saint Francis:





















More books next time. Now for a few textile “frescos” .

So despite my original idea to print only paper, I bought ten metres of unused but very old linen at the flea market in Assisi, a very thick handwoven and textured weave. It was all in a roll and sewn  closed with little red cross stitches…it might as well have had my name written on in for the Desire To Possess overtook me completely…I had not intended at all to work in textiles because I thought a month’s worth of them them too clunky to cart across the ocean from Canada to Italy.  Pads of watercolour paper are way easier to transport, obtain, prepare for dyeing and to print. But the antiques flea market close to the Portziuncula of Saint Francis and Saint Clare at Santa Maria degli Angleli was soooo tempting…ooo, the piles of antique linens, to dye for, ha ha.

Even so, the lovely, heavy, textured, handwoven linen proved a b**** to print because it was without the “patina” of years of laundering.  To get a variety of colours during the weeks here, given the slow development of fall pigments in the Subasio October leaves, I had to dye each textile several times with a view to tweaking the chemical reactions in the dyes hoping to provoke tannins that would in turn provoke other colours from the leaves printed in succession. Each successive print gave more and more broken colour and form; previous colours changed in the environment of the “leaf of the week” coupled with tannins and more soaks in alum acetate. At first I was really worried that nothing but yellow would emerge, as happened the first week here with my papers. But patience and faith in the processes of Slow Art triumphed. The results appear to me like the fragments of frescos I delight to see all around on the walls of Assisi and other medieval towns , colour and form diffusing over the centuries, plaster textures disintegrating, colours receding and advancing and changing with time.   (I am posting more pics of them on FB if you need others – just a few examples now):

Colour notes: Walnut, elder, sumac for yellows; Broom seed pods, Cotinus, oak leaves,  walnut fruits for browns; Dogwood berries, blackberries and Cotinus leaves for blues; plus some other berries, unknown; “Ruta”, Dogwood and Cotinus leaves for greens; iron dips for greying and violating and greening; and many little surprises from the overlapping of numerous dye baths and plant associations…

Here, the black-brown print of the oak leaf (Quercus robur, Roverella) overprinted with yellow from walnut leaf gave up some surprise blues, the Enhance feature on iPhoto notwithstanding:













The reds are from madder, Rubia tinctoria powder selectively sprinkled and dribbled on for the last layer of prints. No madder plants at this altitude on the Subasio, likely lower down if they are here. The only galium I can find here is Galium lucidum, Shining Bedstraw. It gives no red as far as I can discover even though some authoriities propose it as the same variety as G. mollugo which does give red from the roots. Anyhow, the madder powder from Couleurs de Plantes in France is still a bioregional fit with the Subasio plants used here. Plus the reds of this Madder Rich are maintained even in higher processing temperatures,  which is nice.












Next time, more Textile Frescos with images of some of the fresco colours from Umbrian churches.



About wendyfe

I am a fibre artist working in mixed media textiles with a focus on vintage cloth reworked with stitching, natural dyeing, eco printing and rust printing . My work can be seen at
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18 Responses to Artist Books and Textile Frescos at Arte Studio Ginestrelle

  1. Oh wow, these are just amazing, the paper, the books the fabric, everything

    • wendyfe says:

      Thanks, Debbie! Back home now, I think how amazing was the opportunity and how grateful I am for the experience of eco printing “October in the Subasio”. It will stay with me.

  2. Mona says:

    Wonderful way of getting to know another country and region. Lovely results!

    • wendyfe says:

      Indeed, the history and the environment of the area is completely captivating, Mona. A month there and one has not even scratched the surface of inspirational possibilities

  3. ellypropelly says:

    How I wished I had been there, taking part in this magic.

  4. Beautiful hues, reminisent of the autumn’s fading colour. Thank you i am inspired. Living in the Southern hemisphere we are heading into summer. I will be wandering collecting and experimenting with paper. My beginner attemps have been on silk. Lots of fun.

  5. Ginny Huber says:

    Loving seeing these-the “Textile frescoes” and the paper; you have really communed and created so artistically in San Francesco’s territory!

  6. oh so lovely! Absolutely love what you are doing. I’m envious of your Italian location.

  7. Hello Wendy,

    Can you please recommend a “how to book”? My sister has a beautiful garden and I would like to try some ecco dyeing on silk but I do not know where to start! I bought a beautiful book giving me the plants names but how to use them. Thank you so much.

    • wendyfe says:

      Hi Maryse!

      Good question! I would recommend Jenny Dean’s “Wild Colour” for the essential info you need about the basic natural dye plants of Europe and North America, plus her great instructions for setting up and carrying out the dye processes. She writes clearly and comprehensively re the plants and their pigments.

      On my site is a Reference page which lists many of the books I have consulted besides Jenny Dean’s work. Most of what you could benfit by is listed there.

      For the How To of the basic eco print process: it is not rocket science! A beginner can get wonderful results first time, in my experience as a teacher. But you need to keeo very careful records.

      You can look at the tutorials my site and at links there to other eco print artists.

      India Flint’s book about the process, replete with lovely pics and her philosophy, is short on the kind of info that Jenny Dean supplies. India is primarliy a teacher of the eco print process; she kickstarted interest in the technique and has used the internet effectively to spread the word about eco printing and about her classes. Like many who make their living on the classes they teach, she reserves the right to share knowldege in a way that protects that living. These days, you can find many adventurous experimenters in eco printing on the internet: blogs, FB, etc. who also share their knowledge. Helpful, however, are less frequent.

      Finally, I would recommen KImberly Baxter Packwood who publishes smaller monographs on aspects of natural dyeing rather than a whole book. Kim is a very generous and experienced teacher and a prolific poster on natural dyes and printing – even YouTubes and online classes.

      Good luck!

      • Thank you Wendy. I will order Jenny Dean’s book. I mostly wanted to know how to prepare silk cloth before adding the plants. I noticed that she has a chapter on the subject. Mostly I want to have fun and make some scarves. I am not sure how fast the colors will be though….
        Again thank you. I do love receiving your Threadborne blog.

  8. wendyfe says:


    Jenny provides the info you need on fabric prep and fastness. But be aware that eco printed art to wear, like scarves and other wearbles in need of laundering, might lose colour in wash water. Hence, dry clean is safer OR simply reprint! Some plants like walnut or sumac are unlikely to fade…but your print experience, growth in dye knowledge and an “eco attitude” will guide your decisions. You are not making stuff for Target or Marks and Spencer after all! Look for plants that have traditionally given fast colours and do not expect every plant to provide fast pigments.


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