Inspirations From The May Garden

May is violet time in my USDA Zone 4 garden, a sesson blessed with my favourites. Heaven might have these views and fragrances, don't you think? Today, meantime, they heal the eyes of body and soul.

First, a look along the flagstone path from under the Corkscrew Hazel, through Husband's forged iron “Peony” sculptures. The green glass flower (lower right) is part of his forged iron candelabra (subject of another post one day on garden sculptures.) Beyond the greenery, you see the Rideau Canal, alongside which lies our garden. It is the Tulip Festival time in Ottawa and my tulips have obliged this year by blooming on time with the violets. The flagstone path is where violets love to grow.

Nature inspires art.

My embroideries of past years have all been especially inspired by the colours and textures of the season in my canal-side garden.

Textured pinks, purples, lavenders, burgundies:

Purple Sandcherry (Prunus cistena) – to embroider as well as to eco-print

Tulips…extravagantly contrasting purple petals and golden stamens

Hardy Rhododendron, acidly mauve. Victorian.

Isabella Preston's “Prestonia” extremely hardy lilacs, developed here in Ottawa at the Experimental Farm of the Government of Canada, during a time when females did the work and males got the credit…(Hmm, you say? ) ….Isabella did get two Ottawa streets named for her eventually. A fine parade of her hybrid lilacs is still grown in the Farm's Ornamental Gardens as well as in gardens all over the city and in the valley around. We can let t the work speak for Isabella in lasting pleasures of fragrance and colour.


Lily of the Valley, fragrant and spotless – no enemies at all thanks to her iron hands in velvet gloves. Well, blessed are such peacemakers in some parts of my garden! But keep her out of the dye pot and the veggie garden – she could hurt you there. Above, she is getting along well with the Forsthythia which will have dropped its blooms by the time the Lily of the Valley is in full flower.

Dandelions, Pis-en-Lits (Pee The Beds) with violets (The pink petals are from the “Purple Passion” hardy apple tree under which they grow.) Our city no longer uses pesticides so the dandelions are free to roam. Love them, always have – that is my harmless, cultural prejudice. Would that all cultural prejudices could be confined to quarrels over what may be termed “weed” or “useful” in the plant world.

The Canada Violet, my all-time-most-loved plant.

See how the violet manages to find a place to grow between the spaces in the flagstones? I love the symbolism of blooming in a tight and arid space…

And here, my favourite Spring tree blossom – the native Serviceberry (Amelanchier family) Pretty soon, the delicious berries will ripen to purple and the birds of the neighbourhood will flock to the tree…in a few days, all the berries will be gone. I snack on a few but leave most to the birds. I do pick Saskatoon berries, though – the birds and squirrels here ignore them. I have some berries in my freezer waiting to be eco printed. No need to make the jam- Saskatoon berry jam, made in Saskatchewan, is available in our supermarkets. It is tasty if seedy…and it is Canada-local! The tree is a member of the Amelanchier family (see plant list pages )

Bleeding Heart does well under the Serviceberry, The pink form is much hardier than white in my garden. I try not to have any plant “pets” so no matter how much I love white Bleeding Heart, if it cannot tolerate the basic conditions in my garden, I cannot have it there. When I began gardening seriously in this environment, I did have all kinds of pets, growing them from seed, even. In time, however, I changed my gardening style to growing drought- native plants and only those Green Immigrants known to adapt well to Zone 4. NO pushing the seaonal envelope in this garden nowadays.

“Le Temps Des Violettes – Violet Time” 2004
In response to these Spring Garden Beloveds, I made an embroidery. It was actually among the first art embroideries I created with free motion stitch on a printed substrate. I designed the colours and shapes in my computer graphics programme, printed it out on Pellon on my inkjet printer, then used all manner of threads in my sewing machine to create textures and colours, aiming to capture the parade of blooms such as you see in the photos above. I embellished the finished embroidery with seed beads and painted Pellon “beads”



Reflections of trees in the canal water are a fascinating source of art inspiration, too. Across from my garden is a magificent old elm tree. I think I have hundreds of photos now showing that tree in every season, year after year. I am planning to make an Artist Book or two about my Elm Friend. Here is the tree on a warm day in May across the canal:

I have made many embroideries of reflections in water. Here is one about the willow tree in my garden as reflected in the Rideau Canal waters:




Until next time with more embroideries about the spring garden and waterside trees, and some eco printed artist books. You can see more of my embroideries on my website





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”




Eco prints for wedding guests

Just a few days to go before the wedding …Chuppah Day is May 6!

The Bride is making up little Loot Bags to greet the wedding guests, with fun contributions from sundry friends and family.

For the cause, I am donating my stock of stitched and eco printed greeting cards…about six dozen. This is still the year of stash busting! The cards were fun to make, especially with eco printed watercolour paper, cut to fit a greeting card window. The stitched cards have always been a favourite way to limber up in the studio…no planned designs, just playing with colours and textures using fragments left from finished works to make tiny artwork – see a selection below:

The eco prints below were made Fall 2011:





Fig leaf print

Before leaving for NYC, I had to cut back my indoor fig:


What to do with the fig cuttings? Why, layer them over silk velvet and silk noil them with fermenting (three months) eucalyptus:

On silk velvet:


On silk noil:


The euc gives up its colour right away:

The two were bundled, wrapped in plastic and left outside in a wee portablevgreenhouse to solar dye until I get back. We will see if steaming or immersion dyeing will be needed to develop the colours.

Until next time


Spring Garden Art

The garden is coming alive with promise! Today I found my favourites the first violets, growing in the cracks between the flagstones:


In the past, I embroidered this beloved scene with free motion embroidery and beading on a substrate that I first painted with my impressions of blue and lavender violets growing freely:


Beading and little painted cut outs were applied to the finished stitching. As a matter of fact, this was one of my fiirst free motion abtract art stitcheriea, completed in the spring of 2004.

This year, I am wondering how those violet leaves and flowers will look as eco prints…and maybe these plants, too:

This is the first dandelion in my garden (I love dandelions). I have read that dandelion roots can print red but have not heard of anyone who can actually prove that claim.

What about forsythia?


Bleeding Heart?


Korean Pear?


But for sure, this will print: a rusted iron Spring Flower sculpture my husband made :

And more iron Flowers, rusted – they will print:


Not sure how much time I will have before the wedding to eco print the above spring blooms and leaves..

My .last task is to make lots and lots of bunting to decorate the wedding venue!





Stitching Eco Printed Textiles: Studio Notes 1

I have been preparing some of my silk and silk- blend textiles as shawls and scarves for my shows this December. But  my carpal tunnel and arthritis is acting up, thus sewing by hand will be torture for a while until it flares down again… Some of my solutions meantime:

1. Dharma Trading pre-rolled hem on silk-wool blend…but I wondered (too late, I admit )about the age of the stitchers and the thought made me uneasy…

2.  Hmm. So I rolled my own on another silk-wool blend, cut yardage this time:

3. When the handwork gave much stress on my wrist, I elected to use (for the first time) the blind hemmer attachment that came with my sewing machine …But said an incantation, lit a candle and did a dance around the studio first:

4. The above ritual worked about 70% of the time but not well at the corners – though often  better if I slipped some watersoluble paper under the foot when I started stitching…The hardest textile to sew was the 8mm or 10,, silk habotai.

5. So next I tried  running stitch by hand, CTS be damned (using variegated rayon thread):

6. Then I gave the wrist a rest again, skipped the blind hemmer for a turned hem and tried simple straight stitching along raw edges instead for an “edgy” look:

7. I did two rows of stitching in variegated rayon thread to suggest embroidery; then for another type of finish, some zig-zagging along raw edges:

8. Finally, some creative repair when I snipped the eco bundle strings with scissors instead of unwinding them by hand (no patience that day…) and cut into the silk:



9. Solvy and free motion embroidery to the rescue:

I will repeat the machine stitching over the surface  -might have to forego the hand embroidery for a while!

Next post: Last eco prints of 2011!

Christmas blessings to all.



Fibre Jewels

A collection of some of the fibre jewels made from stuff in my stash: When I was first trying free motion machine embroidery, I did small projects with mini “canvases” to find out how tension, thread weights, colours, bobbin thread, etc.  worked . I made little bags, pins, neckpieces, cuffs and cards,  too. I found these projects  a convenient way of trying various fibre art techniques, like needle felting, nuno felting, transfer printing – anything and everything you have ever read about in Quilting Arts… I did not buy anything new but used up stuff from my stash, especially silk and wool fragments, jewelry findings and vintage trims and buttons, etc. Making a small item like a 2″ pin meant that  I did not end up with millions of boxes of huge  UFOs! (Only thousands… ) I often made these fun and frivolous pieces whenever I got “stuck” on a major art piece or when I just felt like playing and trying new things.  

Here are some of those little fibre jewels:
I designed my version of a  Chanel cuff in silk with a “medallion” in classic Chanel jewelry colours,  stitched the medallion on pellon, cut it out and appliqued it to the silk cuff. Some of the other stitched medallions (above) were also later stitched to silk cuffs.

Next, some pins and neckpieces:
  A pin-necklace combo. Needle and wet felting, dyed cheesecloth, free motion embroidery and a chunky-funky abalone button from The Stash. More:

A lovely little mother-of-pearl vintage button for that one.  Next:

More trim with abalone for this one. Next:

Pin-necklace. Wet felted and handstitched, trimmed with a vintage gilt and jet button.

Pin-necklace; wet felted, free motion stitched, dyed cheesecloth, vintage jet button trim.

Pin-necklace. Wet felted, free motion stitched, dyed cheesecloth, abalone button trim.

“Flora” pin-necklace. Painted and embroidered in layers. Trimmed with vintage Japanese printed cloth button.

“Abstract 1”. Pin, 2″ x 2″ approx. Free motion embroidery on silk.  This was practice for using thick threads in the bobbin and working from the back of the piece.

Next time:

Some more eco prints with fall leaves that I put in the freezer to see if they would release good colour after freezing. They do! At least, on water colour paper, they do. (Not so good for prints on my embossed handmade papers…)I am hoping that means I can freeze leaves instead of saying “Goodbye until next spring”. TBD…

Following the Mark: Stitching an Eco Printed Vintage Refectory Cloth

When a local monastery moved away last year, the sisters had a garage sale. I collected some of their old kitchen and refectory linens,  woven by nuns of the order elsewhere in the world. Each linen  cloth is embroidered in a corner with inventory letters worked in tiny cross stitch, like this:  ( the red running stitch is mine):

I admire these  humble “slow” cloths, so carefully created and preserved, so respectfully employed in the service of community. And since many of them are stained by that  daily service,  as we are by life, I was inspired  to work through that idea: To stain and mark the cloths further, but with the beauty of natural dyes from my own garden plants and with embroidery, just following the marks. It was a way to honour daily tasks, their life-giving dignity not always registering as we carry them out.  So I  have made my own registrations ( printing with plants, marking with threads, staining with dyes) on this first refectory cloth using rose leaves from my garden, not only to recall the rosaries the sisters recite but to let me share somehow in the stories in the prayer cloth.  

So when my  linen bundles emerged from the steam pot,  the old stains on the cloth  re-emerged but in new colours under the eco prints, and I set out to follow all those marks. 

This is how the whole textile looks at this stage ( work in progress!) Don’t forget, you can enlarge the image by clicking on it and then again with the taskbar Google “magnifier”. It’s cool. And useful. I can see a lot more stuff that way than with my glasses.

Then there are some lovely surface details that bring to mind  the original worker- like the beautifully darned area here ( with an unvintage hole  emerging…):










I free- motion stitched around the darned area to highlight it and to protect it from too much embellishment.  I am using  straight hand stitches for the first layers of embroidery: running, cross stitch, cross hatching, seeding, etc. Straight stitch  seems appropriate for the simplicity of the cloth’s origins even though the surface design is becoming quite elaborate (deliberately so). I am inspired by the handwork of Julia Caprara and Ilze Aviks whose simple straight stitching is far from shallow.  Some of my attempts:



Other areas:

And another:

And the last one:

A note on the  threads: They are from my stash, too. They are vintage threads from the 1930’s:  Beldings’, a Canadian thread company (samples of the thread are in the collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa) made rayon and silk thread for embroidery. I found them at local vintage textile sale.

Honour Roll for this post:

Julia Caprara (now sadly deceased). Julia’s wisdom: “Trust your beginnings.” Colour, texture, handwork and design were all strengths but her love of her students, her sincerity in teaching and her devotion to her art were her greatest gifts.

Ilze Aviks works wonders with the humble seeding stitch. I have her books on embroidering marks with seed stitches – they are fabulous.

Next post: Off topic. Some stuff I have been turning up from the stash as I clean out the stufio. Fibre jewels and accessories – all frivolity and fun! While waiting for the silk and wool panels to mordant.

Sorry again about the formatting. Don;t know how to fix it yet.


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.

My Art Embroidery as Banner in the new Quilting Arts E-mag

The little orange flowers with purple buds below are free machine embroidered  on a background of melted wax crayons. The panel (8 x 10) is entitled “July” for it bursts with the hot colours of my abundant and floriferous garden in that month. “Quilting Arts In Stitches” e- magazine is using the “July” stitchery as part of their cover image for their new e-mag. A lovely article about my work appears there along with articles about nine fantastic fibre artists in whose company I am honoured to be.   Thank you Quilting Arts! Check it out here

Here is the full artwork