May Gardenista


To celebrate May Day and the work of our hands, yours and mine, dear Reader, I am sharing with you the next in my ‘Botanica’ series of Artist’s Books. On the left (above) is the first ‘Gardenista’ book, beside some of my textiles auditioning for future roles in the series.


As with the Chinese Thread Book, I am working with my embroidered printed, painted and/or dyed textiles. This next set of books in the ‘Botanica’ series is entitled ‘Gardenista’ to recall a full garden at the height of the season, spilling over with flashy colours, striking forms and strong perfumes;  at the same time, I am taking a last look at the modestly lovely but fleeting spring messenger, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) blooming probably for its last day on May Day, and well before her showy ‘gardenista’ companions strut into the Kaleyard and steal the show:

IMG_0169Below are painted linen “Gardenista” textile book covers, embroidred with the names of the dye plants used for the ecoprinted pages within; the pamphlet-stitched pages have see-and-and-fruit like tassels attached:

IMG_0174IMG_0173IMG_0172The book is made as an accordion with pages inserted into the folds of both sides of the accordion (in both ‘mountain’ folds and ‘valley’ folds; so that there is really no front and no back per se.) The textiles shown under the book (above) are being auditioned for the next books in the set of ‘Gardenistas’. Below are (1) an ecoprinted silk panel (sumac and coreopsis), and (2) linen painted with acrylics and embroidered:

Coreopsis and sumac ecoprint
Coreopsis and sumac ecoprint

The pages inside the book are eco printed watercolour paper. The embroidered accordion spine is double sided. Below are some images of the painted and embroidered linen side of the accordion:

IMG_0186 IMG_0185IMG_0184 IMG_0183 IMG_0182 IMG_0181Here are pages from the other side of the accordion: the eco printed silk accordion spine with ‘trapped’ gold embroidery, with eco printed watercolour paper pages pamphlet stitched into the accordion folds.

IMG_0180 IMG_0179 IMG_0178 IMG_0177 IMG_0176 IMG_0175Close-ups of the stitching: above, handstitched gold on eco printed silk; below, free machine embroidery on painted linen.  And the last two images show the book standing up. Next time: A case for the book.


April Adieux

At the start of the month of April, the Kaleyard was not without some ragged post-winter charm:


After the spring clean-up:

CleanKaleyradSpring2015Meanwhile, the indoor dye garden is growing.

First. Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria). I layered the long stems to encourage rooting at the nodes of the one plant that survived the winter indoors (most of them dried out while we were away in January, no reflection on the plant’s vigorous survival mechanisms)

JapIndiogoPlantThe seedlings from last year’s crop of Japanese indigo seeds are appearing:

JapIndigoSeedlingsAnd perhaps some seeds have survived the rigours of the winter outside: on verra! After the winter the leaves have taken on that teal colour of the Japanese indigo that I harvested three times last year and dried.

JapIndiOutsideSeedlingsOther dye plants from saved seeds:

Baptisia australis:

BaptisiaSeedlingsTagetes pumila (Lemon Gem marigold):

LemonGemSeedlingsThe beloved black kale ‘Lacinato’:

KaleSeedlingsAnd the Indigo indigofera that I started from seed last year and kept as a pet in a pot:

IndigoPlantHere are some Indigo indigofera prints on paper with rust; the indigo is from the pre-reduced crystals:

IndigopapersSome old favourites of mine, the red amaranth that Hopi Indians used  for colour. I had them in my old garden where they self seeded abundantly; here, for my new garden which will be in its second summer in 2015 , I bought seeds:

RedAmaranthSeeddlingsAnd now as promised, here are some more images of the making of the Chinese Thread Book reported in my last post. First, better image of the first of Ruth Smith’s books on the Miao needle case:
And a second book by Ruth Smith (both sent to me by Kit Tyrrell in the UK, so kind!) on other structures similar:

Some of my trials before making the finished version. I tried several kinds of paper and book cloth before I made my own book cloth from mulberry paper and eco dyed and rusted linen tablecloth damask, recycled of course. I keep my “trials” in a project box so that I can refer back to the experiments as well as my instructions to myself for the completed work. (If you think you will remember…ha ha…):

ThreadBkTrialsMore trials:

TrialBoxAnd on leaving the cool and cruel month of April, let’s say goodbye to the lovely bloodroot which has begun dropping its white petals:

BloodrootApril2015Next time:

I am experimenting with eco dyeing on cheapo cotton knit from the auto parts store (sold for polishing cars). It comes in one metre lengths and in tubular form. At 99 cents a metre on sale…

And perhaps I will get to finish the next in my ‘Botanica’ series of Artist’s Books. The next one is “BOTANICA: Gardenista”. The book is done, and I am planning the case or cover.

Last Word

I have updated my Tutorial Page with one on the basics of eco printing on paper and cloth.

Also, the Dye Plant Page has been updated; I will continue to update it as the plants allow me to photograph them! I am waiting for some of the bushes in my garden to leaf out. I prefer to use my own photos of plants in my garden and environs.

A la prochaine!

Writing Eggs for Easter

I was reminded recently about pisanky, a craft I first tried years ago, taught by Martha Shepherd of Madonna House Catholic lay apostolate in Combermere, Ontario. The founder of Madonna House, Catherine Doherty, came from Russia, bringing with her a love of Baltic, Eastern European and Russian art forms, one of which is the decoration of eggs for Easter. As a pre-Easter Lenten meditation, Martha used to make pisanky, or wax batik eggs,”written” with Christian symbols. Deep into my stash I went looking…

I remembered one of the books we used and a selection of the wax application tools named ‘kistky’. The Ukranian tradition is to say we ‘write’ an egg, not decorate it, because many of the symbols and colours tell aspects of the story of Christ. A kistka is a little brass or copper cup attached to a long handle. You heat the bowl of the cup in a candle flame then dig the hot metal into a block of natural beeswax to scoop up the wax that liquefies instantly at the touch of the hot metal. If you use an electric kystka, the bowl is heated by the electricity.  The hot wax runs out of a wee pipe sticking out of the bottom of the cup.

Next, you begin to ‘write’ (draw) your design on the egg by trailing the wax in the kystka across a hollow egg.  The egg is first emptied of its contents by blowing them out through wee holes made with a fat needle at the top and bottom of the egg. You use a typical batik process to colour the egg in several layers: apply the wax designs successively to cover areas you wish to reserve in your chosen colour.  After applying each layer of the design in wax, you dip the egg into dyes (synthetic these days), one colour at a time. The first dip is the lightest colour (yellow) and the last dip is the darkest (black) – in other words, the undercolour must always be hidden by the subsequent layer of dye. When the design is done, you hold the waxed egg to the candle flame and melt off the wax.


A close up of the kistky and beeswax blocks:

KistkyMy first egg: you will see how crude it looks compared to the others done by friends who are experts:

FirstEggAnd this:


Here are the dyes: not sure what kind. NOT natural dyes, anyway.


This next pattern is a traditional design for a “fish” egg, symbolic of the Resurrection of Christ. It is one of my favourites. It is usually done on a brown egg with yellow, rust, red and black dyes:

EggpatternThe egg I made in the fish design unfortunately broke (along with a couple of others in other colours):

BrokenEggsHere it is with other eggshell fragments (blue would be a modern dye)

BrokenEggs4I saved the broken shells thinking to inlude them on day in a mixed media work…intentions, intentions…It is traditional also to give the eggs as gifts at Easter so I do not have many left – I kept the ones I thought were no so good.

Here are some eggs written by a friend from Lithuania who has made these all her life:

EggCollection2As you can see, my egg was truly a beginner work but I loved doing it anyway! In fact, I love the ‘fish’ pattern so much that I have tried it in other media, also.

Below are some examples of my heavy handmade paper (in whites and yellows) that I embossed with the fish design and some that I painted with paper pulp. To emboss the paper, I made the fish design with hot glue trails (using the hot glue gun) on a large sheet of soft thick pellon that became my embossing plate. (This  is a great technique for making  embossing plates, BTW… and you could use mat board, also): No picture until I find that plate! BrownEggpaper2

The full repeat: BrownEggPaper

Pulp paper painting:Eggpaper3

WhiteFishEmbossLast look at the wax applicator tools: Electric, (left), modern plastic handle with brass bowl(centre) and traditional copper bowl(right). Various sizes of little pipes trail thin, medium or thick lines of wax, as needed.

Kistky2Cristos anesti! Christ is risen!

Next post:  Some extras about the Chinese Thread Books that I showed you last time; and the indoor indigo garden


Rust and Indigo For A Chinese Thread Book

Thanks to the delightful kindness of Kit Tyrrell, one of my blog readers in the UK, I have received two booklets by Ruth Smith about folded books that can contain many compartments. One such book is the Chinese Thread Book (AKA the Miao Dong thread-and-needle case) that I mentioned in my last post. Kit had found the booklets at a textile show in the UK and had made the needle case using soft Japanese paper. She was so generous in sending them to me to have a go, too.

One of Ruth Smith's instruction books:

(You can see the thread book on the far right of the cover pic)

The traditional Miao thread and needle cases can have up to thirteen folded 'containers' stacked on top of each other and enclosed within covers that shut like a pocketbook. Miao embroiderers kept thread, needles, patterns, etc, in these “pockets”

For the annual CBBAG (bookbinding) swap ( themed “Envelope” this year) I was looking for an interesting way to bind and/or contain a collection of 20 artistically-made 'envelopes' containing creative enclosures.

We were encouraged to explore the 'Conceal-Reveal' concept inherent in the theme. I had in mind to make a multi-pouch container based on the traditional needle-and-thread cases made by the Miao people of South West China. Their needle-and-thread cases are usually made from paper, often handmade, and decorated with symbols and designs of cultural significance. (In fact, the Miao designs are a principal means of handing down their history since until recently, the Miao people were 94% illiterate, having no written records, relying instead on oral and graphic-image storytelling and record-keeping to transmit and preserve their ancient culture)

Instead of paper, however, I decided to use my (pre-reduced) indigo and rust dyed fabrics (stashed from last year) because of an indigo connection: the Miao people are famous for growing indigo (three species) and for indigo-dyeing their handwoven hemp clothing that they later applique with exquisitely skilful embroideries.

In addition, I thought that placing the CBBAG Swap envelopes inside still other 'envelopes' that also 'conceal' then 'reveal' seemed another appropriate and enriching concept to explore, and one that links to the curiosity, excitement and mystery we might experience in turning the pages of a book.

This is what my Chinese Thread Book looked like when it was done: I needed four larger compartments each topped with one smaller 'box' or 'envelope'; the eight compartments are mounted on cloth-bound book board covers. Each of the larger 'boxes' contains five art envelopes (about 5″ square) with an enclosure; the smaller box on top contains small cards bearing the name of each participant in the project.

But first, there was many a trial and much mess and often, confusion…More books of instruction and also You Tubes were gratefully consulted…

After the confidence-building reading and video-watching, on to the trials – playtime!

On the studio table is some rust and indigo dyed cloth laid out for auditioning as book cloth (cloth backed with paper to use in bookbinding)

Some trials with paper – origami folds to make a box:


The vintage linen (below) dyed with rust and indigo was successfully backed with thin mulberry paper to make book cloth. I adhered the cloth and paper together with Heat 'N Bond and Steam-a-Seam; no wet paste or glue for this application, though I have used it very successfully before. But wet glue had been a mistake in a previous trial with another kind of cloth). Lessons learned from paper trials and the cloth-wet glue trial led to success with the first of the four folded cloth 'envelopes' AKA origami-fold boxes:

Smaller boxes are stacked (glued with PVA) on top of the larger ones and open up to reveal their contents:

The paper layer of the bookcloth of which the wee boxes are made is painted with indigo; the cloth side is rust printed cotton. Some of the thin mulberry paper tore but I fixed that easily with acrylic glazing liquid – in fact, giving the whole mulberry paper layer a thin coat of glaze which serves both to enhance the indigo blue colour and to strengthen the paper. (The Miao people varnish their paper). One has to give some thought to the colour of the paper that lines the cloth before adhering cloth and paper together and folding it – something I failed to do! The result: a lot of unwanted white showing! So I made a wash from the indigo and CAREFULLY painted it on the white paper/outside of the boxes…though after the thread case was finished, not before, which would have been safer.

Inside the wee box, a little card for each artist with their name:


Inside the larger folded boxes five 'envelopes' with their enclosures:


On top of each of the five 'envelopes' inside the larger box I placed a lid made from my hand made and hand dyed indigo and rust paper. I intended the 'lid' to conceal the contents briefly even after the box is opened…you lift the lid by a wee loop.Each of the four lids is different:



This box shows my own CBBAG 'Envelope' inside:


The case for the folded boxes is covered with rust-printed linen and furnished with ribbon ties: It looks like a hard-cover book.


The covers fold flat to keep the folded boxes flat inside, and they are wrapped around with a ribbon:


And a final protective 'envelope' : one to slip the ” Envelope” case inside, made of indigo and rust printed cotton and linen; free motion stitched label.


Next time: A look at some of the envelopes and their enclosures!

And maybe some Philip Taafe ( I must stop making that promise…the truth is that I took some photos at the gallery where his show took place but have not received permission to use them…so until I do….I did write and ask for permissiom at the gallery but the answer I received was not clearly a YES or a NO…so I have to clarify…I do believe an artist has the right to the work being represented by images that he or she wants so I cannot go barging ahead to publish my own little snapshots without a clear OK…But if I cannot use my own photos, I know I can use theirs)

And thank you once again to Kit Tyrrell who, through her amazing kindness, provided me with the necessary instructions for this interesting and challenging bookbinding project