Iris leaves as a source of paper and pigment

First, some pics of my Artist Book “Botanica: New World Scroll” referred to in my previouscpost. The tutorial I published here some minutes ago gives instructions for making a book like this. The July issue of Somerset Studio magazine has published my article on how to make this book. That is great! But Because of some editorial errors and wishing to correct the info for readers, I have published my unedited article here for readers' benefit – as well as to relieve my own anxiety. See previous post!

This book will be in the show of work by the Canadian Book Artists and Bookbinders Guild held in Calgary later in July at the University of Calgary. And speaking of Calgary prayers and hugs go to my blog buddy arlee barr of Calgary who lost so much especially her studio.

Now a return to the Iris Adventure, El Camino de Las Irises ( forgive the rusty Spanish).

Guessing that blooms were not the only source of colour in iris, I decided to cook up some iris leaves to see if I could obtain both paper and pigment.


In water to cover and a cup of soda ash, the cut-up iris leaves (post-bloom period) were soaked overnight, then simmered at 180 for three hours in a large granite canning vessel.

Into pot also went a few lengths of alum-mordanted habotai, a bit of cotton, some vintage linen. Plants and fabric were simmered an hour together and left overnight.



The familiar soft iris green developed on the fabric in the pot but turned a neutral “greenge” when dry. Time to get out the dye assistants. Copper sulphate (home made, vinegar on copper pipe) can shift colours towards greens. Indeed it did, but much more strongly on silk (R) than on linen (L).


Iris leaf sludge made this ribbed cotton quite green. The sludge is a kind of green paste that settled in the bottom of the dye pot and that I collected after draining the pot:
After dyeing the fabric in the pot with iris leaves, I set about making paper from the leaf fibres. I was pretty sure by then that any paper made from iris leaves would be green.
I have made paper in a class situation before but never from my own garden plants. My aim was to produce handmade iris leaf paper to use in an Artist Book about irises and pigments.
Here is the first sheet, handpulled and a soft green (but not such good colour in the photo). Husband made me a mold and deckle from scrap wood and window screen fabric, 4″ x 8″, a good size for pages in a small book. I followed the usual papermaking steps: cooking the plants, straining them, rinsing the fibres well, squeezing out as much water as possible, separating the fibres into wee bundles, processing handfuls of plant fibres in a blender, mixing the iris fibre with newsprint (unprinted) pulp in the vat, pulling the pulp up on the mold to make a sheet, couching the sheets in a stack, pressing and drying the sheets.

I made 17 – 4″ x 8″ sheets from my pot of iris leaves, some thicker than others. The thicker, the greener.

The thinner, the more easily frayed or fragmented and in need of some fun stitching. (Repairs to medieval vellum MSS were often done with lovely embroidery. Very entertaining to the eye)

The thread I used for reparing the breach in the paper was cheap cotton string, solar dyed in green iris ink made from blue blooms. Waxing with beeswax made the cheapo cotton very much easier to work with. I was trying to work with comes to hand, like cheap string.

Don't forget that you can see a close up by clicking on the photo- you can even entertain your Inner Stitch Police Persona by checking my hand sewing…Note the various greens possible, depending on the material dyed:

Below, you see the different textures imprinted on the papers as they dried on J Cloths and Shop Towels; plus you can see the long iris fibres. Some of the papers have bits of green leaf embedded. Poor colour reproduction here, though – they hardly look green at all! They sorta look like home made crackers.

I do enjoy the deckled edges!

Next time: The Iris Book: with iris flower eco prints and iris leaf papers. This turned out to be serious Eye Candy for me!

After July 6, reports on soil pigments plus comments on my class on Renaissance pigments and using the iris “clothlet” as a source of green pigment for painting.

NB I am still looking for confirmation on the correct name for the iris variety that produced iris green for Renaissance painters and before them, Medieval MSS artists. I have out out requests…

Meantime, a few pics of fun things from my June garden, before June departs:

Perennial Geranium eco print on watercolour paper, dipped in iron liquor:

Ditto, a sumac leaf print:

Used iris blooms composted on watercolour paper:

Coreopsis, iris blue, iris green solar- dyed string:


Happy Canada Day July 1 and Happy Fourth Of July this week to all!





More from the Story Chair

Well, have you ever made something you find you just adore? I just love that vintage needlepoint chair I made for First Daughter and Son.One very pragmatic reason is that after all these years, I have FINALLY stopped procrasinating on at least ONE “vintage retrouvailles ” project and have actually produced the work I had written up in an ancient sketchbook. This Chickie finally hatched that Egg!

As for the narrative content in the work: Depending on how I place the seat cushion in relation to the back cushion, different sets of stories present themselves…What are the permutations? The reversible square seat cushion can be placed eight different ways; the reversible back cushion (not square) can be placed four different ways, thus each pairing of cushions can be read visually with multiple connections…and that is without counting the contribution of side views from the eight gussets which contribute yet another set of multiples…

This Old Guy (my age I think) you see on the right is from a Quebec needlepoint named “Pecheur” or “fisherman”. I rather like the ambivalence of the title printed on the canvas in capital letters because the word can also be mistaken for “sinner”….

Here are some more Stories:

Interesting that the subjects of the stitchery are often portraits of some kind- here, the Carmen-like dancer (Jane Russell? ) and the free spirited dancing figures twirling textiles above them as dancers from Mid East cultures might do.

Fruit, flowers, wine, fish, the dance…allusions to all the sensual pleasures are stitched- smoking too!

And some close ups of the Work Of Their Hands, may they be blessed:



And of course how can we escape reference to the landscapes of the Group pf Seven and that stereotypical – still lovely, though! – Canadian fall landscape:

In contrast to but in sympathy with the heroic cross stitchery above (on crappy polyester) the machine made embroideries from patterned polyester ribbons:

Draped over the arm is a companion for the Story Chair, a wool crochet cuddle “blankie”, shrunk to feltedness, also a rescue from the sallyann.

The design of the Palestinian embroidery reminds me so much of the Fair Isle “jumpers” my mama used to knit for me when I was small. In future, I will post some images of a wool “jumper” knitted in Orkney (where I was born and lived as a child) and which has many similarities of patterning. I am so grateful for the inspiration we derive from the legacy of women's creative, generous and industrious spirits from every culture and across time. The Story Chair brought this all to my mind and heart.

“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!



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.


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.


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.