Indigo blues et amaranth reds in August

A busy month so far! Art, gardens, travels, guests…

Brooklyn and Manhattan in late July, early August were HOT! Ottawa, too.

But refuge was close: The Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and in particular, the native plants garden, were ripe with goldenrod and black-eyed susan:

 

We were there In Brooklyn for these two beauties, giving the little mama a break and a bit of time for a nap – Mr. Zev is no sleeper! So a walk every day with the Grandies in the botanical garden was heaven for all concerned. Don't you love the tie Zev is wearing on top of his onesie? Smiles to light up your heart!

 

Earlier in the summer, we paid a visit to the grave of one of my dear friends at Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario. The beautiful chapel there is alive with icons, painted by a member of the community. I am making a little book in memory of Martha and her garden.

 

Not long after, West, our grandson's kitty stayed over for a few days. Here you see West taking his ease after his brave but fruitless night-long vigil at the mousehole in our kitchen floor. Dylan's mama found West (he was nine months old ) at the animal shelter and just had to take him home. West had arrived injured when about six weeks old, and most adopters were afraid to take him on – but not Dylan's mama. Looking pretty comfy, isn't he?

 

The August garden is full and lucious with colour still but, dear Reader, my “kaleyard” this year needs to be renamed the “amaranth yard”! This year, I planted the black 'Lacinato' kale in a pot along with what I thought were two dwarf red amaranth ( I got the seeds from a hippy seed seller and I forget the name of the variety) but which have turned out to be extremely ambitious and quite bumptious imposters, size-wise; they are reaching ever-skyward and thus dwarfing the usually-giant kale! OOOPs! And it is here to stay. The amaranth will self seed copiously around the whole neighbourhood- its tiny seed becomes windborne quite easily. I am growing it mainly for dye; even if it is not the famous Hopi red amaranth, it may yield some dye anyway…I did have a red amaranth (variety unkown) for many years in my other garden and it gave me a lasting pink.

Some other dye sources: this year, blue cornflower and yellow calendula. Monarda didyma “Cambridge Scarlet” , Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb' and 'Route 66', chartreuse smokebush and yellow black-eyed susan:

 

 

 

 

Studio time this month has been taken up with prep for the annual West End Studio Tour. Indigo and rust will be featuring large on the displays. This year, I will show rust, indigo and tannin monotypes on paper and cloth wall pieces: eco dyed and printed silk scarves, artist books and small art cards. A selection follows:

Rusted paper and cloth with indigo and tannins ( plants, too):

Indigo, rust and tannin on paper. One of six larger works.

Laying out the monotype print:

 

A stack of printed cloth and papers:

I made some cast paper dyed with indigo and painted with acrylics for my books:

 

 

Eco dyed scarves:

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An older rusted linen work, embroidered and two-sided:

Some scarf prints:
 

Some eco prints on paper and cloth:

Off the country again tomorrow to meet up with the other grandchildren and to usher out August.

I am taking my wildfower books, my sewing kit and my hapazome hammers. Flower pounding! Kids LOVE it! Can you guess the plants Dylan and I pounded?

 

 

 

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Snow Comes To The Kaleyard

Winter means art indoors and the studio is my refuge. For natural dyeing and eco printing, I use my stash of dried plants, dye powders and whatever fresh plant materials I can find in the fridge or a florist bouquet. The first snow in the kaleyard this year sent me scuttling about to bring in one of my Potted Plant Pets that, forgetful gardener that I am, I had neglected all summer and fall. Out of sight, out of mind: it was hidden, pot and all, by the huge foliage of that Monster Kale. Si when the vernight temperature fell to about two degrees, that was curtains for the leaves on the indigo (Indigofera tinctoria).

I had started the seeds indoors in March and set out the largest plant In a pot after the last frost in late May.The indigo looked like this (below) in June beside the Kale Monster; by November, it was hidden completely by the dinosaur kale.

Let us see if the now-leafless indigo pet will revive. More below on this indigo and its gifts to the dyer.

Meantime, I did manage to bring in the Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria) and pot it up for overwintering. This type of indigo also yields blue pigment so I have dried several batches of leaves to try winter vat-making. In the past, I have found that the plants will set seed in their pots and produce seedlings in late winter. But for good measure I have saved seeds this year. One of my dyer friends here in Ottawa says she even finds seedlings in her compost in spring! That is a plant with a huge will to survive, even if with a reputation for short seed viability.

Here are the leaves of Japanese indigo, dried after the first of three harvests this year:

 

And here are some dye results on silk velvet, post-dyeing and pre-eco printing ( Those little brown pebbley things that look like critter poo are, in fact, dried tansy buttons.)

The blues I obtained (above) from my first-ever Japanese indigo vat are, as you can see, on the turquoise side of blue.

Later in the year ( when I am back from January in Brooklyn where our youngest is about to have her first baby) I will have a go with a vat using dried the Persicaria tinctoria but likely not before February.

On to dyeing with other indigo now – the Indigofera tinctorIa. I am chiefly interested in using this indigo for my Artist Books. My current focus is, as you might know by now, Artist Books made with and about native plants, the Medium being the Message in my approach to the work.

But I am not so granola that I shun non-native plants like European kale, Japanese indigo and indigo (probably) from India. We are all strangers and sojourners on this earth, are we not? And we likely come from somewhere else, and will end up somewhere else again, more than likely. I am from Orkney, as it happens, but live now in Ottawa, Canada, via Liverpool in England. Green Immigrants have a valued place in my garden; potted, they are Plant Pets; they will always find a place in my repertoire as a dye artist even if native plants are my garden focus. We have transplantation, translation and removal in common, and the search for where to put down roots, scatter seeds and lay one's head.

Indigo paper has an interesting history in the book and paper arts, too. ( A discourse on that topic will follow at another time, dear Reader! ) Indigo papers will be a fine little Rabbit Hole for me to disappear down with my pre-reduced indigo, taking along rust and black tea leaves as companions, plus some others (like beeswax) to sustain and surprise us on the journey.

Feeling connections to the traditional use of indigo for colouring papers of various qualities and types, especially for the express purpose of hiding imperfections, I have begun to accumulate indigo-and-rust dyed materials to create a series of Artist Books, with tea leaves for tannins to blacken the rust. And some beeswax to trap the rust, like insects in amber. And dye and wax to cover over many things, like the mold on paper left too long soaking in alum water…And, O that divine blue and orange combo, the Impressionist painter's expressive colour gift to humanity and art history.

To get the blue markings, I dipped, painted, sprinkled, splashed the dye and scattered crystal before eco printing it with the rust and tea on watercolour paper. I dissolved pre- reduced indigo crystals in water (no chemicals added) and also scattered crystals on the pages to be eco printed as usual by steaming. To get the rust, I laid on flat bits of metals and soaked the metals and the paper in white vinegar befor steaming. (You can skip the steaming step if you are OK waiting a day or so for the rust to print. The hot steam simply accelerates the process. And the indigo needs no steaming, either. But if you want tannins to react with the rust, and you'd like marks from the tea leaves, then steam the stack or bundle as I did with tea leaves scattered on) Some examples:

Here is a batch of indigo, rust and tea prints on paper:

 

 

 

The dark marks in this one are from molds on composted papers:

 

 

 

And here is some linen printed with indigo, rust and tea: this will become book cloth.

 

 

This (below) is what happens when you scatter the indigo crystals on top of paper and plants for eco printing; logwood and madder powders are scattered in there, too, on top of mold marks and rust. I showed my friend, Gayle, how to do this and this was her result at my studio:

 

Finally for this post: some Artist Books, including work from a bookbinding workshop offered by the generous Genevieve Samson, medieval book conservator at Archives Canada and CBBAG member. Longstitch binding: the white one is mine, the next two are Gen's demo books, the coptic binding is by Gayle Quick of CBBAG and the blue and white on the bottom of the stack is a canvas wrapper I painted with acrylics.

 

Next time: more books, more indigo and some painted chair covers

 

Blessings on your day, dear Reader. Thank you and welcome to all the new folks who have joined the blog since last post.

 

Wendy

 

Autumn in the Kaleyard

Kale is another word for cabbage. I learned recently that Scottish “Kailyard” literature displeased the artspeakers of the late Victorian era who found it sentimental and cottagey, not nearly edgey enough, too sweat-blood-and-tears free, so to speak. James Barrie, author of 'Peter Pan and Wendy' was a kaleyardist author, and thus much sneered at by the critics of ' kaleyard' (or 'kailyard') lit, a genre so- named for the ordinary country-Scot of tradition who had kept a cabbage patch ( or 'kaleyard') beside his wee house to feed his family way before the potato came north…You may even have noticed 'cole' (AKA kale or cabbage) depicted in medieval MSS. showing images of jolly, contented peasants tending seasonal crops.

In growing the absurdly handsome 'Lacinato' black kale (AKA 'Dinosaur' kale) this year, I had the most innocent of intentions, just looking for some kitchen dyes and a little summer salad. I had no idea this plant would turn out to be the decorative star of the front yard, a neighbourhood conversation starter like no other and an art-political statement besides. Here it is, flanked on the left by the lovely native great blue lobelia, or Lobelia syphilitica.

Dino kale leaves (backed by natives coreopsis on the right and black-eyed susans on the left, out of focus.)

 

Kale colour and texture are foils to a chartreuse barberry, saved from severe garden editing as a Native Plant Gardening Don't, only because it was too prickly to pull out that day – but which turned out to be a Garden Designer Do (Does Glamour magazine still run pics of their fashion Do's and Don'ts? ). The sedum 'Autumn Joy' is still summer green in this photo:

And here is the much-expanded kale beside the fall rust-pink of Sedum spectabilis:

 

Pollinators love the fall-blooming Michaelmas daisy:

 

Pot-grown indigo beside the kale: this will overwinter indoors, like Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria).

 

Calendulas love the cooler fall weather: and burnt orange beside kale green is eyepopping.

 

These humble, cottagey little kaleyard sparrows love their bath at ground level:

 

This is the sparrows' Birds' Eye view of the fall colours in my kaleyard. The lobelia has gone to seed. The rue (back left) is divinely thick and blue-green, lighter in tone than kale, with a lacey texture for contrast, harmony and repetition.

 

Looking up, the sparrows can see the black elder, native Sambucus nigra, in full fruit:

 

And under the bird feeder, some new garden sculptures by Shlomo, in my favourite orange and blue combo:

 

Fall means foraged wild apples for apple butter:

 

And for art this late summer and early fall, eco prints a-plenty, using mostly the native plants from my garden.

Coreopsis with Aronia melanocarpa berries and Prunus cistena leaves:

 

Prunus cistena, Aronia melanocarpa, sumac.

 

Japanese maple and grevillia (exotics!)

 

Varia:

 

Almost all native plant prints. The reds are coreopsis and bloodroot; the blues are various blue berries, e.g., aronia, elder and dogwood.

 

Iron enhanced prints from Cotinus obovatus, Baptisia tinctoria and Sanguinaria canadensis.

 

Ditto, as above; blues from red cabbage and aronia berries.

 

Plus an embroidered Artist Book or two: this one is about daisies ( o how kaleyard a topic!) and incorporates embroidered imagery along with vintage textiles (o how kaleyard an art!)

Spidey below was not the only weaver in the kaleyard:
 

 

This year, Kaleyard visitors were invited to weave fibers and plants on the garden loom (hinged like a gate to the shed and painted as near to Yves Klein blue as we could manage with Home Depot paint).

 

And finally, we began to hang up some of the art we have had stashed since we moved here a year ago: blue and orange, my faves:

 

Next time, more about Artist Books and native plants for eco printing; plus some long overdue updates to my other pages here, notably the tutorials page, the eco dye references and the plants.

I also have a set of thrifted chairs that need new seat covers and a new paint job. TBD!

 

Regards from your Kaleyardist blogger

 

Wendy

 

 

In search of natural dyes in South Carolina

Indigo plant, gone to seed in the Heritage Garden of the Discovery Center at  Hilton Head, South Carolina:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had the pleasure of visiting Savannah and Charleston for a few weeks this last while, as well as some of the Sea Islands off the coast of these gorgeous and artistically inspiring cities. On Hilton Head, near Savannah, I saw (for the first time) indigo growing. I had no idea it grew so tall!

Indigo was once a valuable cash crop in this area, thanks to the skills and knowledge of captured and enslaved Africans who worked on plantations that might also produce rice and cotton (and of course, thanks to the pioneering plant breeding by Eliza Lucas Pinckney whose slaves grew and processed her indigo for export in the eighteenth century). Indigo and rice were harvested at different times of the year, thus ensuring plantation owners a full year of slaves’ labour. It was said that slaves that worked the indigo were the hardest-worked of all.  After their white masters fled before invading Union troops during the Civil War, freed slaves took over land, dividing it and planting it  for their own survival. For many years their Sea Islands culture and creolized language, known as “Gullah”,  developed apart from that of the mainland for there were no bridges to the islands until the 1950’s. But the Gullah knowledge of indigo largely died out,  since the dye was not much used for their own purposes.  I did try to find information about the Gullah use of other natural dyes but at the Penn Center, a museum and center of Gullah culture on St. Helena Isand, almost nothing is reported. Dr. Emory Campbell, former Director of the Penn Center, and now a Gullah culture interperter and guide, told us much research is still  needed on local and traditional plants and dyes. 

More in the next post about dye plant prospects  from S.C.