Upcycled textiles…all the way to the Brooklyn Museum!

“Eco” in my lexicon includes more than printing with natural dyes. Vintage textiles repurposed as art media is a major interest for me. So this post's topic is the vintage textile and textile-inspired work by Mickalene Thomas whose work was on recent exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. What charmed me greatly was this:

The artist had sewn patchwork covers for the viewing benches in the exhibition area. I understand she sewed them with her own hands. What a concept!

Just to make the point, here is another image. I love the daring idea that artists sew. And find ways to include viewers in their art beyond eyeballing it.

I believe Thomas' point with the patchwork-covered brenches was not to be cutesy or (that dread, dead term) “inclusive”.

Using a variety of vigourously patterned cottons and polyester fabrics (and many African printed cottons), and rugs and wallpapers besides, she covered not only gallery benches for viewers like me but whole display rooms – couches, chairs, floors, walls, art on the walls…She created IKEA diplays gone maximal and mental and stay-away with prints of every colour and scale, of chaotic value association, no cowardly beiges or whiteys here. Was the patchwork-covered bench outside the display her invitation to bring me as a viewer into museum “rooms” I was otherwise forbidden by guard and cordon to enter? Or was her patchwork gallery bench simply my seat at the back of the bus? Or was I truly welcome to sit where I wanted not only to view the art but to participate in it, feel at home in it? Was she telling me how bloody-well exclusive the Big Art world is still for her and for me? Go Big because you can't go Home here…

Love the Big Stitch

A second area of work was devoted to enormous canvases, collaged or “patched” with patterned fabrics and pieces of painted canvas in characteristic vibrant colours and larger than life forms intended to recall classic art landscapes or works with female subjects and (Thomas is an art historian as well as a practising artist.) Some examples:




Loads of loud textured glitz on this one as on many others

Note the scale of Thomas' paintings.

Finally: An important fashion note. The tall young lady on the extreme left closest to the wall is my hostess and Newly Wed Daughter who asked me to note that the folks in the gallery are wearing the NYC uniform of black from head to toe..the one in the white shirt is a tourist. O, we could learn a thing or two from Mickalene!

Next post:

More eco prints on paper and some books by medieval authors. And maybe in between an update on my dye plant page!



Blog Invaders, Dostoyevsky, Dye Plants, and A State of Transparency


Sorry about this first part dear readers. Dessert – two helpings! – is coming down the page, though…

Just FYI, this morning I updated my blog’s dye plant page using my computer not my iPad because that is where my dye plant files reside.

Without my permission and without my yet knowing how to prevent or correct the invasion, my post was attacked by advertising links. Selective words on my post and elsewhere on the blog were hotlinked out to iffy sites that use words like “love”, “companion” and “passionate” — you get it!!! These are all words appearing on my site but of course the links are to other contexts. SO…gotta find out how to nip that nasty worm in the bud but meantime please excuse any sleezy ads linked to my blog if you see them…Alas, that we would be in danger of much nuisance now from innocent word usage…

Not yet sure if the same thing happens when I update my blog from the iPad with BLOGSY…which, BTW, is far less clunky to use than WP for editing and posting…Yet therein might lie the problem for one needs to keep updating EVERYTHING online and I have not done so with WP since the winter…so might have missed some bug fixes…or it could be simply that the relentless voracious internet engines /sites find ever new ways to compromise or pirate your work. I say “pirate” because these things steal my words and my contexts -and yours, if you write comments. Cuckoos in my blog nest!


So here are some photos and a video to distract – first, of beautiful dye plants and other garden lovelies to soothe you as a reward for your loyalty and patience in having read this far; then, of a serene and contemplative cityscape in pure white cotton organdy, a perfect foil for the richly layered colours of “Forest Floor”

As Dostoyevsky says: Beauty saves the world.

(But thinking there is not much hope that Dostoyevsky will get hotlinked from this page…)

“Flanders Field” poppies (papaver rhoeas) and wild white yarrow (achillea). Kind of purple prints from the poppy and greens from the yarrow, depending on the mordants, assistants and processes.

Next: Coreopsis (Tickseed), double and single, for yellows and oranges)

The striped poles in the background are part of a garden scuplture by my husband, recalling the use of brightly coloured striped poles in medieval herb gardens. The dye plants are grown with other useful plants, like the Golden Oregano ( O. Aureum) in the middle ground.I adore that shot of chartreuse green! In the foreground is a young Red Amaranth.

(I wrote the word “el oh vee ee” but then swapped it out in favour of “adore” – still true but maybe a lesser prey…)

Below: White feverfew (matricaria) and Golden Marguerite (anthemis tinctoria). The coreopsis is in the background.

And now some garden scenes

A river of white feverfew with sumac on the right:

An iconic poppy seed head from the giant (and likely still illegal in Canada) papaver somniferum:

Hungry heron visitor framed by sumac (rhus typhina)
… and the a last still pic is from my granddaughter because it is adorable and beautiful like her:
As a wedding gift for her aunt and new uncle, she painted the Bride and Groom and herself at the wedding under the chuppah. Note that the Bride is taller than the Groom and that both Bride and Bridesmaid wear purple. And there are two bouquets of red roses.
And one last beautiful textile word from my dear friend and colleague, Karen Goetzinger
A State of Transparency


Forest and City in Fibre

“Forest Floor”, my exhibit of ecoprinted and embroidered art cloth and “A State of Transparency”, Karen Goetzinger's white organdy sculptural panels and constructions are complementary installations in adjoining galleries at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Ottawa. Thanks to curator Mike Taylor for an inspired pairing of installations exploring two artists' themes and approaches to textiles as art.

Here is some video footage along with some stills. We beg you to be indulgent, dear viewers – these are our first attempts at filming and editing!

Forest Floor


A few detail stills of “Forest Floor”

“Earth and Heaven” (rust printed and embroidered vintage linen panel on black wool). Slashed and torn.




“Marigold” panel. Eco printed silk. Embroidered, burned, gilded.


“A State of Transparency” – Karen Goetzinger.

An ideal city, lit from within, communicating a humanizing warmth and purity.

A movie of the installation is coming (I hope!) Some stills meantime:



Until next time.




Eco printed washing on a line in the garden

Well, I was stung by the comment from a viewer of my “Forest Floor” installation that it looked like a “line of washing”. Since making silk purses out of sows' ears is a textile artist's dream, I took up the “line of washing” challenge and applied it to a stash of eight old white tee shirts, almost ready for dusters and floorcloths…

An elegant Korean pear tree in my garden, mighty stressed by the drought (note the dead grass) and going into early leaf fall, became the clothesline. BTW, the green you see amid the dead brown grass is self seeded perennial geranium which makes terrific tiny ground cover if you cut it with the mower to keep it tiny.(The water you see is a pond off the Rideau Canal beside which my garden grows)

I gathered leaves from sumac, roses, geraniums, blackeyed susans, prunus cistena, maple, dried eucalyptus and red amaranth, along with whole long stems of early Golden Rod. I placed a mix of plants inside the tee shirt, bundled it over copper pipe or itself, and steamed the bundle for two hours. Lots of yellows and yellow greens! Some more contrast was in order.

Having learned afrom Amelia Poole (see blogroll) about the magic of iron as a colour value developer i dunked the bundle in water modified with iron liquor until the yellows turned to greys or sage greens or deep lavender charcoal grey. Punky-edgey!

Here are four of the tee shirts, straight from the steamer, no rinsing, and left to dry in the hot sun before being washed in Orvus Paste and well rinsed.










Details of the prints:










Fun with repairing the holes in the tee shirts: some heavy free machine stitching to create a solid darned base in a neutral colour, then some threaddrawing in black with on top.






And some plants that supplied the colours:

Golden Rod


Golden Rod with magenta phlox a d white phlox beside one of my husband's funky RRR /Green sculptures, and hiding the tomatoes.



Black Eyed Susan with Scarlet Bee Balm and white veronicastrum (natives) and white, late-summer August phlox that came three weeks early because of the heatwave. Note the dead grass. While the flowers are very drought tolerant.



And one last lovely solidago, another drought-tolerant native


That's it for today, dear readers. Lots to look at but I was making up for my blog drought!

Next time, maybe more tee shirt restoration plus video from “Forest Floor”




“Forest Floor” exhibit of eco printed art cloth installed

Well, it's up at the Trinity Gallery, Salon B, Shenkman Arts Centre, Orleans (Ottawa) – installed by my Beloved of 40 years, after two days on top of a ladder.)


In Salon B, “Forest Floor” explores ideas about decay, rebirth and restoration using eco printed and embroidered textiles presented in scroll-like forms that stir gently in response to visitors as they move among them. Rust and plant dye prints mark the surfaces of lengths of natural fibre, silk, linen and wool, here and there gleaming with gold leaf and embroidered with text referring to the plants.

Here are some other images from “Forest Floor”




Below: “Earth and Heaven” embroidered rust print on vintage linen one side and embroidered wool on the other. Vintage embroidery threads by Beldings.

Slashed, worn and abraded linen “Earth” with wool “Heaven” making itself visible through the wounds. The more wounded the earth, the more heaven appears.

Rust printing will, of course, continue to decay fabric indefinitely so the concept of fragility and temporality is intrinsic to a rusted work's story. We are dust and earth, too.

The Heaven (wool) plane:


The Earth (linen) plane (or the parts I photographed and did not lose!)


Some images of the text on the scrolls:



Sweet Gum:


Purple Sandcherry:
Some gold leaf glitz on the scrolls. Gold is a product of the earth and using it makes a reference to illustrated manuscripts.
Eucalyptus cinerea:


Purple Sandcherry on marigold (tagetes). The holes burned and embroidered


Rusted iron prints on embroidered vintage linen.Holes were embroidered.Details next post!


” A State of Transparency” by Karen Goetzinger

In Salon A beside ” Forest Floor” is an inspired complementary installation by my friend and colleague, Karen Goetzinger. “A State of Transparency” is a stitched textile exploration of an elegantly structured ideal city, lit from within, offering an experience of intimacy and warmth from its pure forms and delighting the eye with surface textures that invite a hand's touch.

Here are the two installations, side by side:


Notes on an installation of art cloth:

This was my first exhibit of art cloth and the first one in my city, Ottawa, as far as I know. A first for eco prints, too. I am gratified that the City of Ottawa was ready to take the risk that commercial galleries hereabouts have avoided! My city has been tremendously supportive of the textile arts in its many public galleries and I am truly grateful.

Every exhibit space has ways to enhance the art display but can also to limit it if we do not plan ahead. But as artists we work with what we get, on the spot and make changes as we go along with spaces that may not be ideal. Galleries, by and large, are well equipped to hang paintings or display sculptures…but they often do not “get” loose and flapping textiles. So I knew challenges would face me and looked for help on hanging the show.

Jane Dunnewold's blog on art cloth (see blogroll) has some very helpful advice about hanging a show of textiles that are not designed to be attached to a canvas but to be displayed in ways that preserve the hand of the cloth and that permit movement in the space. I was grateful for Jane 's generosity (in this and and all things art, Jane The Generous is she) in sharing her experience.

To bring variety to my display some textiles were hung loosely by fishing line from the beams of the gallery. The placement of the gallery ceiling beams permitted hanging only in parallel line, so variety was achieved by staggering the placement of the lengths of cloth. I wanted to create an experience of moving among trees. The loosely hanging textiles were eco printed with abstracted patterns evoking abundance of colour and form but with no specific plants represented, merely making reference to the natural world from which the prints were soourced.

The the second collection of cloth, those that showed my captured plant specimens, labelled in Latin, hung against the walls but were still free to move slightly.

Placing dark near light cloth panels, long rectangular near short rectangular, square near triangular was my strategy of complementary placement of the botanical scrolls. Scrolls as precursors to books was my idea for in the written word lies the record of human knowledge passed down through history…but preceded and complemented by oral traditions that often ensure the transmission of knowledge about plant culture and natural dyes.

The textile scrolls could not be hung with rounded bars inserted into channels on the textile top and bottom as I had envisioned, the style that allowed a roll of fabric top and bottom. I had to substitute flat plexi bars that worked with the gallery hanging system on the walls and with the variable height of the supports.

I found that because the gallery lighting is not full spectrum as I have in my studio at home, the cooler blues, greens and purples recede mightity while the warmer reds, yellows and oranges advance strongly. The subtlety of colours in natural dyes from eco prints is somewhat lost in this situation.

I was gratified that the first visitors to the show were some 14- year old students taking an art course at the Shenkman. Their teacher, a former curator at the National Gallery of Canada here in Ottawa, brought his students around the two exhibits…they were in the gallery when I arrived, running in between the textiles, blowing them back and forth, flapping their arms to create more draft…one girl exclaimed: This is a really interactive exhibit! I was mighty chuffed with that evaluation, i must say…Kids get it!

…But to bring two sides to the evaluation, lest you think all was complimentary cheers and appause….

Last night I was standing outside the gallery with friends as a woman walked by…she scarcely slowed her pace but threw over her shoulder: “Looks like a line of washing”

As the French proverb says:” Les gouts ne sont pas a discuter” – Tastes are not to be discussed.

Thanks for reading!

Next post: Maybe movie of the show plus some old tee shirts restored to style by eco prints!



Botanical Scrolls – continued

Some more images of the “Forest Floor ” scrolls.

Sweet Gum Scroll


Detail of Sweet Gum with Seeded Eucalyptus companion



Eucalyptus Scroll – details



Another Eucalyptus Scroll


Sweet Gum Scroll (above) – idetail, with Eucalyptus Cinerea


I like the idea that a scroll is a handmade repository of knowledge and experience, viewable as a cumulative whole that can display from the start to the finish of the record.

In an odd way, scrolls remind me of favourite childhood comic books where you could take in every phase of the visual narrative in one look if you chose, images and text. Or a whole page of a text if you are speed reading, looking at the arrangement of written marks as a you might look at an image whose meaning you want to discover.




Forest Floor

Getting ready for my show “Forest Floor”, July 29 – August 28, 2012 at the Shenkman Arts Centre, in the Trinity Gallery, City of Ottawa. I will be displaying eco printed art cloth and paper.

First up is a collection of ten eco prints on watercolour paper, variously sized: 8″x 10″, 9″x 12″, 11″ x 14″ and some irregular. The leaves were collected and printed in fall 2011. The colours remain vibrant, and some have even developed further depth. One of my research questions last year concerned print longevity. I am satisfied with these results and feel comfortable offering then to the public.

1. Cotinus coggygria, chokecherry, Japanese Maple, ginkgo


2. Blackberry, marigold (tagetes), catalpa pod


3. Alder, Japanese Maple, ginkgo, blackberry

4. Cotinus c., Japanese Maple, ginkgo, alder


5. Sweet Gum, Japanese Maple, ginkgo, cotinus c.,


7. Sweet Gum, Japanese Maple, cotinus coggygria



8.Sweet Gum, Japanese Maple, cotinus coggygria


9.Sweet Gum, Japanese Maple, cotinus coggygria, alder.


10.Sweet Gum, Japanese Maple, cotinus coggygria, alder.


Also in July, two of my embroidered art pieces purchased by the City of Ottawa will be on display at city hall in the City of Ottawa Gallery, Permanent Collection. Pics next post!

Thanks for following