A Garden Printed in July

Eco dyeing and eco printing are, for me, art forms sprung from my lifelong love of plants and gardening. My earliest childhood memories, in fact, are of the textures, forms and colours of plants – bilberries, heather and fuschia growing in Orkney. Since then, I have made a garden in every place I have lived, starting small in England with seed packages of orange calendula, blue cornflowers and purple Virginian stock that my garden-loving parents gave me. In my current Ottawa garden, just two summers old, I am slowly building a collection of plants native to eastern Ontario or other parts of North America, but not so exclusive a collection as to banish well-beloved European green immigrants, sentimental favourites, that have adapted to our eco zone. I am also delving into the tradtional use of dye plants by First Nations of this area. Some of the latter plants (Sanguinaria canadensis /bloodroot, for example) had made themselves at home in my new garden years before we bought the house. Such are the plants that I want to use for eco dyes and prints – local, regional, national and a few well-travelled and well- behaved internationals. The epithet “eco” in eco dyeing can mean several things, of course, but first, I use it to refer to my use of plants that are native to my geographical area, especially those I can grow myself or forage with respect in the neighbourhood.

And now into the garden during a hot and humid month of July in Ottawa. What to find in bloom there, full of seasonal colour for printing? Below, a little bouquet of favourite flowers and leaves that work for printing: Clockwise from the left: Bee balm, Japanese maple, Coreopsis verticillata, rose leaf, blue cornflower, calendula, burgundy cornflower Anthemis tinctoria (Dyer's marguerite), Cotinus obovatus (smokebush).

Not only the oft-invoked serendipity and spontanaity but also some deliberation and discrimination went into planning this series of “July Gardenista” prints. Instead of going first for the “dark and stormy” eco print that is the result of putting iron and tannin- rich plants together in the bundle, my goal with this little collection was to pair complementary colours and to promote a range of analagous colours by a careful choice of pigment-bearing plants. I wanted clear, bright summer's day colours , a “painter's palette” .

And after first showing you the “painter's palette” prints I obtained on paper, I have included some of my “dark-and-stormies” : the iron-tannin-indigo prints that develop fast outside on the stones in the heat of a 35 C day!

Here are the ” painter's palette” results.

The plants below were printed on (thrifted) handmade paper, highly textured, most likely some kind of mulberry (kozo).

The cornflowers, calendulas and coreopsis above are still attached to the paper

Orange calendula print and bloom, above.

Blue cornflower print ( Renaissance artists considered this blue to be inferior – or so say some of the art historians like Daniel Thompson) I love that blue-orange opposition!

 

Cotinus in July – a new colour each month from this plant! Blue with green from cotinus

The pink-purple is Monarda didyma ” Cambridge Scarlet”/ bee balm

Coreopsis verticillata red with marigold yellow

A few pages together. The red stems of the coreopsis bring essential structure to the design on tne surface so covered with abstract smudges of colour

Blue pansy, fresh, prints teal-green: a strong shape in a strong colour. Then we have the yellow- purple complements via Anthemis tinctoria and Monarda didyma, amorphous stains

More red- green complements, with interesting strong red lines and loose smudges in contrast. Plus a bit of blue in there. Where did that come from?

 

A rose leaf (below) offers a soft yellow to complement the also-soft pink-purple of the bee balm. Strident deep orange-reds sing loud with a powerful dark teal green print from a blue pansy, And an emerald cotinus leaf.

The many contrasts of colour, form and value in these prints keep them from being insipid, don't you think?

And now to the “dark-and-stormies” .

To get really dark prints (black, charcoal, blue-black) from leaves, we need to choose tannin-rich leaves like sumac, oak, walnut, geranium and others and process them with iron bits.I do my D and S's in three stages – three, if I dip the thing in indigo for the last stage.

First stage: Bundle the paper and textile/layer with iron and vinegar to get a good iron print; bundle up the iron chunks and slosh on the white vinegar, 5% acetic acid, no exact proportions. Wrapping the iron or layering it flat works well. No need to alum-mordant; but if you do, no matter. Put the textile or paper with iron between heavy black plastic garbage bags, weighted down, and leave in the sun for a day (or even less if it is very hot outside, say over 30 C. Keep checking…) Leave it to print until you are happy with the result, then unwrap and evaluate. You can add more iron, vinegar, tea leaves and leave it for a while longer if you like.

Second stage: For this stage, I layer on leaves, then I steam the bundle to print the leaves. I layer tannin-rich leaves onto the textile or paper, put the iron bits back in, bundle or stack the package in the dye pot, slosh again with vinegar and process (covered) over high steam heat over water for about an hour. The leaves print blue-black if they are tannin-rich. You may get smidges of yellow or green colouration also. Very nice. I suggest using leaves of contrasting size and shape, like the longer pinnate sumac with the smaller palmate geranium. This kind of attention to shape and size of print elements makes for a more interesting surface design. After all, sooner or later, an artist might like to feel they have some control over the essentially- spontaneous exo print process. Serendipity and considered choices make good partners in design.

Third stage for indigo: Either dribble on a diluted indigo solution from pre- reduced crystals and let dry; or skip this stage and dribble the indigo onto the substrate at Stage Two before steaming.

For good info on using pre-reduced indigo, check out Catherine Ellis' fine PDF via Earth Guild.

NB The indigo I am using at the moment is not the “granola” indigo, i.e., the “haute eco” indigo used by “eco-printerati” which comes from real leaves. MIne Is the synthetic variety, alas, the pre-reduced crystals. But rest assured, Dear Reader, for when my potted Indigo indigofera plant grows big enough, I, too, shall aspire to membership in the aforementioned elite company. And you shall be the first to know. ( And I do have my Japanese indigo in the works, too. )

And now some the pics of the the iron/rust, tannin and indigo prints.

Shlomo cut and welded these iron bits:

The bundle was dribbled and blobbed here and there with indigo: iron bits with tannin from tea leaves.

Other iron bits for the bundles/layers/stacks:

Leaves layered on the textile after the first printing with iron and tea leaves only:

Ready for steam processing: Indigo dribble, tannin marks from some ? leaves in the bundle that printed in the heat of the sun: lots of great rust marks.

Papers and iron stashed under plastic in the hot sun:,

Rust prints on paper with indigo and tannin-rich tea leaves, dry.

 

Part of a rust printed textile:

Sumac prints blue-black with iron bits:

Indigo and rust with tannins and leaf prints:

 

And one last print: Japanese maple and geranium without iron but with indigo. Just the usual eco print process to print the maple and geranium on rice (mulberry) paper, then pre-reduced indigo dribbled on with a bulb baster. The maples printed different colours on rice paper than on linen where ir gave purple and green, And here, different colours from the upper and under side of the leaf.

And that is it for ” July Gardenista” prints, Dear Reader.

We are off to Brooklyn this week for a week to babysit our newest grandbaby! And to give the poor parents a break – little Zev is no sleeper! We may have time for some arty things – the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is nearby…we will not be able to resist a nice walk in the gardens with our little grandson.

Leaving you with one of my faves:

Until August, then.

Wendy

 

 

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June Dye Plants in July

Through many dangers, toils and snares I have come since last post, dear Reader! Pinched nerves, spine miseries, carpal tunnel syndrome have kept me away from blogland and the garden for too long….But TG for physio and MRI machines…Still, I had to save my mobility and energy for family visits (new baby), a family trip to the Muskokas and a couple of eco dye classes that I gave in June. But I did keep taking pics of the June dye plants growing in nicely without me fussing; so here are some of them ( even though we are half way through July) along with a few samples of eco prints done by students in June:

Cotinus coggygria (R) with Rhus typhina (above R); nasturtiums in the wheelbarrow ( for hapazome) and dogwoods by the fence.

Front garden with the eco print star, red Japanese maple, probably “Bloodgood”

At this time of the year, this red leaved maple prints greens and purples. For complementary contrast, it is paired with yellow-primting sumac ( a student print).

And here is the Acer palmatum again, this time green, with red Coreopsis verticillata as colour complement, and yellows from baptisia as analagous colours.

Coiinus surprises in June, with red coreo for a bit of sizzle:

Iris always blue:

Tall bearded blue iris:

Baptisia australis: blue and purple blooms on the same plant! Fluorescent yellow from ththe leaves, deep blue stains from the little flowers:

This plant is NOT in my garden: Rhamnus cathartica (buckthorn) is an invasive non-native soo fair game for June foraging. Green from the berries, a trad dye plant in Europe. The local Buckthorn Police were happy that this Most Wanted on their list had been hunted down…

Japanese indigo ( Persicaria tinctoria): two overwintered plants that I layered and that consequently filled the whole planter: a plant with the will to live and leave a legacy; dye pot coming.

I still have loads of dried J. Indigo from last year, plus a 2014 vat that will get reactivated later this month:

The very well informed and generous mad dyers over at FB pageThe Wild Dyery have told us how we can get the vat going again.

Above are prints from a lichen solar dye pot that I started on my return from the Muskokas where I found huge rocks covered in umbilicaria (Rock Tripe) lichen, and which our B&B owners allowed me to gather.

The liquor looks like rich red wine at the moment; I shake it to areate the jar each day and I catch the dye drips on a piece of linen under the jars. The underside of the lichen is green when wet.

The umbilicaria, above. Not sure of the variety. FYI: The ethics of collecting lichen are in still in dispute. I feel comfortable having collected three small jars worth from over a large area on private property where a lot of the lichen has detached spontaneously from the rocks. The colour will fully develop in about six months.

A lovely print by expert linocut printmaker and teacher Deidre Hierlihy who took a little eco print instruction session from me this month; print on handmade Canal paper by Saint Armand. Smooshed blue aronia berries with Salvia officinalis (culinary sage) and rust prints.

One of my favourite wild flower scenes in the Muskokas: orange Indian paintbrush (talleja) backed by white clover and tall yellow hawksweed. Native peoples used the talleja for pigments according to Moerman ( see my refs page)

Last pic is of ME, dear Reader. I have been reluctant to show my face and be somewhat personal, but I know you perhaps wonder who is speaking to you and what I might look like. So here I am, dressed for the photo and right after I had my grey hair dyed…I cannot tell a lie, paper was not the only thing that got dyed in June… I got these great copper-oxidised earrings from the kids for Mother’s Day; the kids insisted I send them a pic with me wearing them; so I am daring to share it with you. The earrings were made by the very talented young jeweller artist Shane Cook, a grad of NSCAD. Behind me in the pic are some of my embroideries. A couple of these works will soon appear in a text book about modern textile art embroidery published by the Hong Kong Polytechnical University.

Next post will be in July!

 

Wendy