More walnuts

Last time I reported on making walnut colour extract on its way to becoming ink. The walnuts have been fermenting since late summer 2015. They started out in big jars (128 fl oz), a couple of dozen green-hulled walnuts in each jar with water to cover, left to solar-soak outside until frost, then transported inside to dark studio cupboards.

Most recipes I have looked at suggest removing the green hull and using that part. I thought that maybe some extra tannins might enter the dye if I left the nutmeats inside their shells and cooked them along with the green bits. After cooking ( and before being donated to the critters outside) I find they  look a quite lovely deep brown:


Walnut does quite well as a dye without cooking. I found it enough to simply soak a discoloured vintage white wool coat in a bucket of fermenting walnuts. After a couple of weeks soaking and a rinse in plain water, this was the colour:

You can see that different shades of white wool had been used to crochet this thrift-shop find. I could also have soaked the coat a second and third time for deeper shades. Wool dyes beautifully in walnut- here are some more examples from a few pre-ink years ago:

Eco printed wool pre-felt, native plants.

Lambs-wool cardy dyed with walnuts, iron nails and eucalyptus (I  forget which kind)

Little strips of blanket trimmings bundled with various eucalyptus and immersed in a walnut dye bath – also from past dye pots.

Linen and cotton dye well also, as does paper. Here are some samples of eco dye prints made in October 2013 while Shlomo and I were in residence at Arte Studio Ginestrelle near Assisi in Umbria. The walnut there ( photo below) is the Juglans regia – ours in Ottawa is Juglans nigra.

Notice the distinct pinky lavender colour that comes out with the yellow pigment in the eco print.


The photo above shows one of my Artist Books with linen covers eco dyed in walnut; the pages are about other  plants of the Subasio Regional Park where the art residence was located. The title of the little book is “Pianticelli del Subasio”.

And now here is a little surprise – walnuts combined with wild grapes to make a colour extract. I found a reference to this combination in a book about First Nations quill dyeing traditions. The recommendation was to combine walnuts with ” a lot of wild grape” and cook that until the liquid went black. I stopped the cooking way before the liquid turned black and got this grey-blue-greenish colour you see on tag of the left hand bottle of ink. ( More on grapes next time) 

And to finish in a sweet walnut note from the kitchen: here is what we had for breakfast one day at the art residence: walnut-parmesan scones ( I do not have the recipe so must go back there and pick it up…)

Until next time.

Welcome to new readers and thank you to those who have been following along this inky passage this fall. I do have lots of ink-fixings in my stash yet to be explored so we are not done yet.

Happy Chanuka for tomorrow, too!

This year, I made some chanakiot for the grandkids  – The candle ” flames” are cut-outs with velcro attached so the kids can “light” their candles each night ( and open a little loot bag, too! )

Even if we do not celebrate Chanuka, we  can still be the light!







Over-dyeing eco bundles : Tagetes and Purple Sandcherry

I have been dyeing the same eco-bundled textile several times to obtain layered plant prints.

For the first print layer, after steaming for an hour , oyster coloured silk noil bundled with purple sandcherry  leaves gave greens and blues with alum mordant:

A second bundling/steaming with tagetes (marigolds) and a third bundling/steaming with another layer of purple sandcherry leaves modified  the oyster-beige silk to yellowish-green, added several shades of orange, peach and rust from the marigold petals; plus layers of blue, green, blue-green and patches of purple from the sandcherry.


Stitching an eco printed textile


An eco printed and stitched vintage linen

1. Left and centre of the cloth

2. Right and centre of the cloth

This eco printed textile is a vintage linen kitchen-refectory cloth from a local monastery,  the Sisters of the Visitation .

It is women’s cloth, made by women for use by women; and now, taken on a new life’s journey by another woman.  It was darned in white thread and embroidered in one corner with motif in red cross stitch, an inventory control mark. Many of these utilitarian linens were handwoven by the orders’ nuns  in other parts of the world and distributed to monasteries in their network. Even a humble dishtowel was treated with great care, as you can see by the darned area of the textile in this image. (When was the last time I darned a tea towel? Hmmm…)

I have eco printed this linen with rose leaves (as well as geranium leaves). Roses make a connection to the history of prayer often said with rosaries by the nuns in the monastery. The linen was pre-mordanted with alum, then tannin from sumac leaves which coloured the cloth yellow-green overall.

See the cross stitched inventory marker for refectory linen beside the eco print of a rose leaf:

The plants were arranged to print  in more or less three bands along the length of the fabric. I have no plan before I start to stitch. My goal is to simply to express in stitching my response to the marks on the cloth made by the plants. The stitching progressed in stages: first some free motion embroidery to outline some of the rose leaf prints which appear in a horizontal band on the textile; then some running stitch:

Then some more hand stitch ;

Bands of plant prints: rose leaves and geranium leaves, gently coloured. Free machine embroidery to outline and hand stitching to begin bringing out the forms.

Handstitching in shiny and matte threads: colours, lengths, directions and density of stitched marks, responding in variety to the marks of the eco prints; three major bands of motifs. Communicating natural abundance.

Details of stitching:

The stories behind the use of these cloths in their previous lives are somewhere to be told. Because they were present during much spoken, thought, felt and sung prayer, and because for the nuns, work was equally prayer (“Laborare est Orare”  – “To work is to pray” ) these working textiles have become my prayer too.  The title of  the completed the series of eco textiles using the vintage linens from the monastery will be “Prayer Cloth”. This is Prayer Cloth 1.


Natural Dyeing and Six Eco Printed Textiles


My natural dyeing experiments this month are about making ecobundles. The bundled plant material prints coloured marks on contact with the fabric but does not deliver an overall colour. I see how one plant (for example, the purple sandcherry/ Prunus cistena) delivers its colour and form onto different fabrics, pre-dyed or not,  and treated with tannin and alum as mordants and modifiers like iron, ammonia, baking soda, washing soda or copper to shift colours.

I am using a small number of plants available now in my garden and working with them in a rather restricted fashion in various combinations to see how much variety I can obtain. All the eco textiles shown were bundled and steamed for one hour. In some cases the dye from one bundle attached itself to another; for example, the threadleaf coreopsis dye leaked onto the purple sandcherry bundle and gave a lovely orange patch- a perfect colour complement to the blues in that bundle.

For more images of dye plants, see my Dye Plant page.

Eco textile 1

Below are purple sandcherry prints on Habtai silk, pre- dyed yellow in apple bark. A deeper yellow colour developed after ammonia was added to an already-yellow apple bark dye bath. The purple sandcherry leaves (plus twigs and stalks) gave a range of purple-blues and tad of green here and there:

This dyed textile is a fragment of vintage silk and comes from the lining of a vintage kimono. I have left some of the silk thread from the hand stitching in place. Woven motifs in the silks in Japanese kimonos were often hand painted.

Eco textile 2

Purple sandcherry leaves on beige silk noil: here the prints show up in darker blues and greens with streaks of yellow.

Detail of the eco print with purple sandcherry leaves

…see those orange splotches leaked from the  coreopsis  bundle!

Eco textile 3

The vivid orange is from Coreopsis verticillata, threadleaf coreopsis. A white silk fragment (mordanted in alum only,  pre-scoured with soda ash)  printed in  spectacular rust-oranges- and reached over to colour the sandcherry eco bundle, too.

Eco textile 4

Purple sandcherry leaf looks quite blue on white habotai silk, and a tad of anthemis tinctoria to make yellow here and there.

Eco textile 5

Silk noil, rust printed and flour-paste resist printed (with purple acrylic paint to give a crackle effect); then eco bundled with coral-pink geranium flowers(pelargonium house plant!) and rose-leaves; mordanted with alum; pre-scoured with soda ash (washing soda). The geranium flowers printed a deep purple blue grey; the rose leaves, kkaki.

Eco textile 6

This eco printed textile is a vintage linen kitchen-refectory cloth from a local monastery. It is darned in white thread and embroidered in one corner with motif in red cross stitch, an inventory control mark. Many of these utilitarian linens were handwoven by the nuns  in other parts of the world and distributed to monasteries in their network. Even a humble dishtowel was treated with great care.

I have printed this linen with rose leaves as a connection to the history of prayer often said with rosaries by the nuns in the monastery.

Eco Textiles and Natural Dyeing

June 16, 2011

This year my garden is supplying dye plants.  “Experiment” is the word! The June garden brings lush greenery and many kinds of blooms that can be used as plant material for natural dyeing.  Both whole plants and plant parts can be used to colour cloth and natural fibres and as mordants. With the help of several books about natural dyeing (see my References page) I am learning how to print and colour textiles with natural dyes. After dyeing and printing with plants, I plan to develop the art textile further with stitch and applique.

My aim for this part of the summer is to colour vintage linens and silk with dyes obtained only from plants in my garden and whatever I can find in the fields and hedgerows around here.  (I may cheat a bit and buy the odd dried dyestuff like cochineal or osage orange, IOW, dyestuffs I cannot make myself.)


For my first attempts, I mordanted all the textiles by soaking them in an alum solution overnight before dyeing them. I also soaked some of them in tannic acid after a first overnight soak in  alum. The tannic acid was obtained by simmering sumac leaves for an hour.  Some of the textiles were mordanted in three stages: with alum, tannic acid, then alum again by soaking the textiles for at least two hours each time in each mordant (but mostly overnight).

The textiles were then simmered for an hour in the mordant,  then rinsed;   finally, immersed wet in a dye bath and simmered for an hour; then rinsed again, dried in the shade and ironed.

Dye Baths

I prepared the dye baths by cooking up at a simmer about one pound of plant material to one pound of dry textile (I used my kitchen scales to weigh them). I drained off the dye liquor, submerged the textile in it and simmered that lot for an hour.  The perfume of simmering plant material is wonderful! After dyeing, I added (for some pieces of cloth) a tad of iron – just a scant teaspoonful- in order to shift the colours to darker hues and to add greys or even blacks.

Three books have been helpful to me so far:

1. Wild Colour: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes by Jenny Dean

2. Craft of the Dyer: Colour from Plants and Lichens by Karen Leigh Casselman

3. Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for beautiful Textiles by India Flint

About the Vintage Linens

The linens I dyed have a special provenance: they are vintage refectory linens  from a local monastery that relocated last year. The linens have been embroidered in the corners with red cross stitch as an inventory control marker; and several have been carefully darned by hand. The nuns took care of their linens, even the humblest kitchen cloths, some of which may have been hand woven.

In addition, I am dyeing vintage embroidered tray cloths, doilies, handkerchiefs, damask linen table napkins and the like, all from my stash.

Eco Prints

My aim is  to obtain prints of the fresh plant material that will provide me with inspiration for stitching. Likely several layers of dye and print will precede  stitching, and maybe some will come after stitching.

Dye Plants this month 

I used what was available in plenty in my garden so far this month of June.  Later in the month and later in the summer, other dye plants will be plentiful. Some plants were used for overall dyeing and others for ecoprinting , i.e., obtaining coloured marks from individual leaves, buds, petals, flower heads etc. Here is my list so far (…and more to come later this season).

1. Sumac (Rhus typhina)  leaves for a light green-yellow overall dye colour and for a tannic acid pre-mordant

Note: To make a dye or a tannic acid mordant: simmer fresh sumac leaves in plenty of water to cover for one hour; strain and use as dye or pre-mordant.

2.Anthemis Tinctoria/Golden Marguerite flowers for yellow eco prints.

Note: The yellow daisy-like flowers will bloom around June 24th, the Feast of Saint John the Baptist. Another name for this plant is Saint John’s Daisy.

3.Calendula marigolds for yellow eco prints

4.Tagetes (“marigold”) flowers for orange- yellow eco prints. (The yellow blob inadvertently on the right is my shoe…La Natura Lista makes comfy and colourful shoes…)

5.Purple pansy flowers for blue and purple eco prints

6.Perennial Geranium flowers: magenta for pink eco prints.

Note:  G. macrorhizum has red seed heads shaped long and pointy like a crane’s or heron’s beak, AKA, bill. The seed heads  also print beautifully. The flowers are larger, pale pink and white and are done blooming now. The common name for this plant is Cranesbill.

7.Geranium leaves for green eco prints.  See the leaves as well as flowers in the image above.

The leaves print beautifully in rich bright green on linen with the alum- tannic acid-alum mordant sequence, especially if steamed in an eco bundle.

Note: Pelargoniums are the oft-named “geraniums” we see in the markets each summer for use in summer-only planters.

8.Rose blooms and buds for pink/red/magenta eco prints.

Note: Dried rose petals and buds give a purplish brown colour and an overall mottled pattern on mordanted linen (alum-tannic acid-alum)  if the petals are crushed small, as for tea.  (see textile images below)

9. Rose leaves for green eco prints

10. Apple leaves for warm yellow overall dye on linen with alum and tannic acid; pale yellow with alum. Chartreusey green on cotton if baking soda is added to the last minutes of the dye bath. Grey-greens with iron.

11. Silver maple seeds for khaki-green-brown dyes, overall colour.

12. Purple Sandcherry leaves for purplish eco print colours; colour shifting to blue-blacks with an iron modifier.

13. Hibiscus flower tea (dried): deep pinks,  used here for overall dye.

14. Plum tree bark: warm browny pinks.

15. Vidalia onion skins: a range of yellows, rusts and oranges.

Vintage refectory linen dyed and ecoprinted with garden plants:

These linens were first dyed one colour all over: 

From the left: Sumac gave a first dyeing of green-yellow, later modified with iron liquor to give greys and grey-green;  plum tree bark gave light and darker rose-browns, darker with iron liquor;  hibiscus petals, originally producing pinks,  shifted to greys with iron ; apple leaves gave a warm yellow on cotton and chartreuse on linen withbaking soda in the dye bath at the end; maple seeds gave yellow on linen (weak bath);  sumac gave a range of yellow greens on linens and cottons.

Eco prints and bundles

Then the dyed linens shown above were “eco printed”:  tightly bundled up with other kinds of fresh leaves and blossoms,   fastened securely with elastics and strings and left to develop their coloured prints, either by steaming for an hour or by resting in the sun for many days.

I obtained a lot of  inspiration from India Flint’s blog and book about these processes of ecobundling and ecoprinting. Here are a few images of eco bundles.

Eco bundle 1

Calendula, tagetes, pansy and geranium leaf bundled with alum mordanted vintage damask linen.

Eco bundle 2

This damask linen napkin was mordanted with alum then bundled with pansies (blue-purples) , purple sandcherry leaves (dark blues) , perennial geranium leaves (yellow greens), geranium seed pods (pinks).  The whole was sprayed with 5% vinegar and left to develop by resting in a warm place outdoors, inside a wee ziploc plastic bag.

Developing the eco print

So far, I have found that a reliable way of obtaining a print is to make sure the plants make good contact with the cloth by bundling them up tightly with elastics and string; then by steaming the tied-up bundle at a simmer for an hour at no more than 200 degrees. I used a double boiler with candy thermometer attached until I was sure I could recognize the right kind of “simmer”.  I have also tried leaving the bundle in a plastic baggie in the sun to get the print.  The longer I left the bundles, the deeper the colour – but so far I have only managed three days…Keen curiosity is the enemy of patience in this process!

Dyed and ecoprinted vintage linen refectory cloths

The magic of these overlapping marking/colouring processes is the unpredictable nature of the changes in colour and mark as the layers of dyeing and printing proceed. You can only predict so much…so you learn to embrace the change…For example: In the vintage linen collection, the pale yellow linens (on the far right in the image above) developed as follows:

After immerison in a one colour dye bath, the linens were bundled with various plants and left to develop their colours by resting undisturbed for a few days and/or by being steamed for an hour.

On the left, cloth was first dyed with apple leaves to give light yellow; then eco printed with marigold flowers(yellows); geranium leaves (greens) and flowers (pinks); and purple sandcherry (dark blue-black) .

On the right,  purple sandcherry (blues and dark greys), geranium leaves (greens), and pinks from magenta perennial geranium all darkened with iron liquor on yellow sumac-dyed cloth. The iron modifier shifted the whole range of colours towards greys.

Cloth on the left is dyed with sumac leaves first to give light green, then bundled with tagetes (marigold) petals (for orange yellows), rose leaves and perennial geranium leaves (for medium to light greens) and magenta perennial geranium petals (for bright pinks)

. Cloth on the right is dyed with the sumac for yellow-green and eco printed with tagetes (yellow orange), geranium leaves (light green); purple sandcherry leaves (purple-blue) and rose leaves (medium green);  iron liquor is added to the rinse to shift all hues towards greys, light to dark: this gave moss green-greys instead of yellow greens and dark grey blues instead of purple-blues.

About My Vintage Art Cloth

I am a “threadborne” artist: my passion is creating fibre art  and this blog is about how I create art with vintage textiles either as whole cloth or from fragments.  Expect inexactitude!

Over several pages here I  am sharing  the What, How and Why of a  rather risky practice. I will be posting  about my latest vintage textile art,  cataloguing  images and descriptions of the work as it goes along or turns out  -or not.


I am writing at length about  rust printing on this Home Page since it is a way to contextualize my various approaches to the creation of other art textiles, vintage or “vintagized”.  It is a way to explain to myself as well as interested readers  why I bother to cultivate interest in vintage textiles. My art takes its cultural  meaning, I believe, from the interplay among technical processes, the provenance of the materials and my own nature and disposition.

Rust Printed and Stitched Vintage Linens

I am experimenting with rust printing on found linens , both plain and patterned.  I will later stitch them by machine and by hand and maybe print or dye them with other materials, too. I am using vintage hand embroidery thread- Belding’s Artsyl Floss which ceased production in1935.

Basic Rust Printing

My basic rust printing goes like this:  I lay old bits of  anything  iron on top of a textile (copper works too), soak that in vinegar and water, leave it all to react and let the marks begin…

Rust printing and fabric decay

I find rust printing is an intriguing process; it allows  a found textile to develop new history in dialogue with the marks I stitch. Eventually the fibres in a rust printed textile will break down and holes will appear, along with other rifts and wrinkles.  Of course, that process may take the proverbial three score years and ten,  but like everything organic, a rust print will sooner or later decay either naturally or with human (artistic) encouragement.  This adds  a significant layer of content to the art.


In this kind of  insecurity lies my attraction to working with vintage textiles in general. Concepts like decay, deterioration, ephemerality, fragility, changed forms, new identities, loss and so on seem appropriate for art made with textiles. These concepts lead me to others  about  making new forms from old textiles or from textiles “made old”.

Some textiles I create are just plain fun pieces while others have many layers of thought and feeling behind their creation. But all represent the respect I want to give to the processes and the medium that makes up the new form.

I connect these idea with what happens when I  plant a seed. ( I am a fanatic gardener, seed sprouter and seed saver) Unless the seed dies in its current form it cannot assume the successive forms that lead to harvest – and to new seeds which appear only at the end of the cycle of generation.

(And on that topic, one of my gardening interests is growing dye plants for use in colouring and marking my vintage textiles. See my dye plant and dye colour pages)

When I assemble textile with fragments from hither and thither, each with its traces and layers of memories and histories, I am committing them to becoming new forms in active memory and so to enter another  cycle of generation, degeneration/decay and then regeneration all over again.

People often ask me  “How did you do that?” if they try to excavate the complex surfaces of my textiles.  In my work the What, How and Why often coincide. So  in many ways the  medium becomes the message.

Disintegrating surfaces in fibre art

It seems to me that textiles have unique qualities and characteristics that favour abundant artistic expression on themes related to impermanence.  So while I love to collect vintage textiles ready- made, I also like to “vintagize” or “degenerate”  textiles myself using various processes and artistic subterfuges. I want to allow emerging signs of decay to assume  an identity in the work, to let them have a voice. Some of the vintage textiles I have collected have been repaired by hand darning, traces of another identity still visible in the work.

In the rusted vintage linen panel shown below, the linen began to  disintegrate and tear under my needle. Not seeking to repair the rips, I let the holes take part in the dialogue happening on the surface between the rust and tannin  marks and the stitching.  Take a look : you can see some thick metallic thread hand stitched around some of the tears in the linen . The stitches are not made as repairs but to add some shiny marks to make us look at the spot where thread used to be…

Stitching the Rusted Linen Art Cloth 

The linen panel below  was printed last year and I left it a long time to see if any fading or tearing would occur before I worked on it. None did. This summer I took it up again. I mounted it on a fine melton-type wool backing (tacking it by hand ) then free-machine embroidered it in response to the rust and tannin marks on the surface of the linen. When the free machine embroidery was done to my satisfaction (for  this round at least) I began stitching by hand using long and short running stitches in straight lines as contrast to the freer pathways of the machine stitching. For the machine embroidery I used a variegated hand-dyed thread in a range of rusts, yellows, oranges and greys.

I had intended to stitch more black when the black wool melton cloth began to “beard” on the surface I found I did not need to add any black thread. Instead there are now lovely chains of black dots brought up from the back of the work by  the variegated surface thread.

The hand stitching is done with vintage 4-ply rayon skeins in yellows and browns to tone contrast with passages in the rust prints. I used my stash of vintage skeins (1895-1935) of Beldings Artsyl Floss that I found at a vintage textile sale. This is quality vintage thread! It is in the collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilisation —

I found handstitching to be  a killer on rust prints. It seems harder to get the needle through the rusted linen;  machine embroidery needles get blunt faster, too. I  have carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis in my hands so I wear my brace for handstitching. Just think of the older ladies (like me…) who stitched at Gees Bend no matter what their pains. Loving the result of the handstitching, I forget the discomforts. I can only hand stitch a little while each day so this is Slow Cloth for sure!

I have recently learned from textile artist and handstitcher, Ilze Aviks, that finger cots, available as finger protectors in the First Aid section at the pharmacy, will help out with this difficulty, and so will longer needles intended for basting quilts. Ilze’s workbooks on handstitching textiles are inspirational! See Ilze’s website at

Rust Marking the Linen

The sources of the marks I responded to in stitch were large chunks of iron, floor nails and steel wool from my husband’s stash (he is a Green Artist working in  found metals).

Some maple leaves had volunteered to make little black prints –  the linen lay outside on the deck in the warm fall of 2009 under the shedding maple tree; the vinegar helped release tannins that  printed from the leaves.

The alchemy was basic: equal parts vinegar and water poured on to the textile to keep it moist, plus some neat vinegar if the cloth seemed dry. The metals were randomly strewn over the surface of the linen which I folded and patted and ruched and wrinkled up. I covered the lot  loosely with a black plastic garbage bag and let that whole bundle “cook” in the sun for about a week. I checked on it every day (or when I remembered) and moved the metals around a bit, making sure the linen remained moist but that the air could still get at it.

The rusting varied in intensity, ranging from a pale peachy-pink beige  to deep rusty red-brown. All kinds of marks emerged, so exciting! The surprise maple leaves released tannins and printed interesting black marks.

The Voice of the Work: a Whole Cloth in gestation

The panel is not finished yet so it is not quite a “Whole Cloth” yet even if it is a one-piece panel, 30″ x 60″,  for it has yet to give up the whole  of its story. That will be when the stitching is done.

Meantime,  here are some shots of the front of the work in progress.  The back of the work, the fine black melton cloth, holds  another story for another day. As I was working on the linen surface I noticed that the back of the work was looking very interesting. I began to form an impression of maps. The rusted and stitched surface on the front of the work spoke to me of the Earth while the stitching on the back on black wool, with no marks except for those made by threads, spoke to me about star maps and the Heavens. So now I am wondering if to present the panel from two sides?

Working title (front):  (Earth) 

Working title (back): (Heavens)

The cloud-like white markings on the back of the textile panel are made by white bobbin thread.

Foundling Fibre Art AKA Stash Busting

I like the idea of  resurrecting my stash of “dead” textiles . They  might as well be dead, if they are languishing in boxes unseen and unheard in my studio, destined for someone else’s vintage collection when I am dead and the kids give my stuff back to the sallyanns…

On the other hand, the vintage textiles I have brought home have  probably been available only because someone stashed and forgot them –  and maybe the stash had  outlived the stasher (“The one who dies with the biggest stash wins”…)

Stash busting is a great way to assuage one’s guilt over the collecting habit which has consumed many a fibre artist besides me. It  also challenges me to make art out of only what I find at hand – not exactly Arte Povera but a kind of Foundling Art. No need even to take a walk around the block…

Sleuthing vintage textiles

I prefer printing and painting and stitching on found linens, those that have a provenance and a patina, and are open to assuming even more layers of memory and experience in print and stitch. I regularly scour the sallyanns,  garage sales and estate sales for discarded linens.  I love this “rescue” part of the process and, I admit it,  I get  secret satisfaction when I spy a treasure overlooked or concealed behind grime or wrinkles.