A Garden Printed in July

Eco dyeing and eco printing are, for me, art forms sprung from my lifelong love of plants and gardening. My earliest childhood memories, in fact, are of the textures, forms and colours of plants – bilberries, heather and fuschia growing in Orkney. Since then, I have made a garden in every place I have lived, starting small in England with seed packages of orange calendula, blue cornflowers and purple Virginian stock that my garden-loving parents gave me. In my current Ottawa garden, just two summers old, I am slowly building a collection of plants native to eastern Ontario or other parts of North America, but not so exclusive a collection as to banish well-beloved European green immigrants, sentimental favourites, that have adapted to our eco zone. I am also delving into the tradtional use of dye plants by First Nations of this area. Some of the latter plants (Sanguinaria canadensis /bloodroot, for example) had made themselves at home in my new garden years before we bought the house. Such are the plants that I want to use for eco dyes and prints – local, regional, national and a few well-travelled and well- behaved internationals. The epithet “eco” in eco dyeing can mean several things, of course, but first, I use it to refer to my use of plants that are native to my geographical area, especially those I can grow myself or forage with respect in the neighbourhood.

And now into the garden during a hot and humid month of July in Ottawa. What to find in bloom there, full of seasonal colour for printing? Below, a little bouquet of favourite flowers and leaves that work for printing: Clockwise from the left: Bee balm, Japanese maple, Coreopsis verticillata, rose leaf, blue cornflower, calendula, burgundy cornflower Anthemis tinctoria (Dyer's marguerite), Cotinus obovatus (smokebush).

Not only the oft-invoked serendipity and spontanaity but also some deliberation and discrimination went into planning this series of “July Gardenista” prints. Instead of going first for the “dark and stormy” eco print that is the result of putting iron and tannin- rich plants together in the bundle, my goal with this little collection was to pair complementary colours and to promote a range of analagous colours by a careful choice of pigment-bearing plants. I wanted clear, bright summer's day colours , a “painter's palette” .

And after first showing you the “painter's palette” prints I obtained on paper, I have included some of my “dark-and-stormies” : the iron-tannin-indigo prints that develop fast outside on the stones in the heat of a 35 C day!

Here are the ” painter's palette” results.

The plants below were printed on (thrifted) handmade paper, highly textured, most likely some kind of mulberry (kozo).

The cornflowers, calendulas and coreopsis above are still attached to the paper

Orange calendula print and bloom, above.

Blue cornflower print ( Renaissance artists considered this blue to be inferior – or so say some of the art historians like Daniel Thompson) I love that blue-orange opposition!

 

Cotinus in July – a new colour each month from this plant! Blue with green from cotinus

The pink-purple is Monarda didyma ” Cambridge Scarlet”/ bee balm

Coreopsis verticillata red with marigold yellow

A few pages together. The red stems of the coreopsis bring essential structure to the design on tne surface so covered with abstract smudges of colour

Blue pansy, fresh, prints teal-green: a strong shape in a strong colour. Then we have the yellow- purple complements via Anthemis tinctoria and Monarda didyma, amorphous stains

More red- green complements, with interesting strong red lines and loose smudges in contrast. Plus a bit of blue in there. Where did that come from?

 

A rose leaf (below) offers a soft yellow to complement the also-soft pink-purple of the bee balm. Strident deep orange-reds sing loud with a powerful dark teal green print from a blue pansy, And an emerald cotinus leaf.

The many contrasts of colour, form and value in these prints keep them from being insipid, don't you think?

And now to the “dark-and-stormies” .

To get really dark prints (black, charcoal, blue-black) from leaves, we need to choose tannin-rich leaves like sumac, oak, walnut, geranium and others and process them with iron bits.I do my D and S's in three stages – three, if I dip the thing in indigo for the last stage.

First stage: Bundle the paper and textile/layer with iron and vinegar to get a good iron print; bundle up the iron chunks and slosh on the white vinegar, 5% acetic acid, no exact proportions. Wrapping the iron or layering it flat works well. No need to alum-mordant; but if you do, no matter. Put the textile or paper with iron between heavy black plastic garbage bags, weighted down, and leave in the sun for a day (or even less if it is very hot outside, say over 30 C. Keep checking…) Leave it to print until you are happy with the result, then unwrap and evaluate. You can add more iron, vinegar, tea leaves and leave it for a while longer if you like.

Second stage: For this stage, I layer on leaves, then I steam the bundle to print the leaves. I layer tannin-rich leaves onto the textile or paper, put the iron bits back in, bundle or stack the package in the dye pot, slosh again with vinegar and process (covered) over high steam heat over water for about an hour. The leaves print blue-black if they are tannin-rich. You may get smidges of yellow or green colouration also. Very nice. I suggest using leaves of contrasting size and shape, like the longer pinnate sumac with the smaller palmate geranium. This kind of attention to shape and size of print elements makes for a more interesting surface design. After all, sooner or later, an artist might like to feel they have some control over the essentially- spontaneous exo print process. Serendipity and considered choices make good partners in design.

Third stage for indigo: Either dribble on a diluted indigo solution from pre- reduced crystals and let dry; or skip this stage and dribble the indigo onto the substrate at Stage Two before steaming.

For good info on using pre-reduced indigo, check out Catherine Ellis' fine PDF via Earth Guild.

NB The indigo I am using at the moment is not the “granola” indigo, i.e., the “haute eco” indigo used by “eco-printerati” which comes from real leaves. MIne Is the synthetic variety, alas, the pre-reduced crystals. But rest assured, Dear Reader, for when my potted Indigo indigofera plant grows big enough, I, too, shall aspire to membership in the aforementioned elite company. And you shall be the first to know. ( And I do have my Japanese indigo in the works, too. )

And now some the pics of the the iron/rust, tannin and indigo prints.

Shlomo cut and welded these iron bits:

The bundle was dribbled and blobbed here and there with indigo: iron bits with tannin from tea leaves.

Other iron bits for the bundles/layers/stacks:

Leaves layered on the textile after the first printing with iron and tea leaves only:

Ready for steam processing: Indigo dribble, tannin marks from some ? leaves in the bundle that printed in the heat of the sun: lots of great rust marks.

Papers and iron stashed under plastic in the hot sun:,

Rust prints on paper with indigo and tannin-rich tea leaves, dry.

 

Part of a rust printed textile:

Sumac prints blue-black with iron bits:

Indigo and rust with tannins and leaf prints:

 

And one last print: Japanese maple and geranium without iron but with indigo. Just the usual eco print process to print the maple and geranium on rice (mulberry) paper, then pre-reduced indigo dribbled on with a bulb baster. The maples printed different colours on rice paper than on linen where ir gave purple and green, And here, different colours from the upper and under side of the leaf.

And that is it for ” July Gardenista” prints, Dear Reader.

We are off to Brooklyn this week for a week to babysit our newest grandbaby! And to give the poor parents a break – little Zev is no sleeper! We may have time for some arty things – the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is nearby…we will not be able to resist a nice walk in the gardens with our little grandson.

Leaving you with one of my faves:

Until August, then.

Wendy

 

 

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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

 

 

Eco printing Perennial Geranium

 

Before the July- August garden begins to blooms its gaudy head off and I get carried away taking photos, I thought I might present some of the last of my June eco print images. Artist and blog visitor Julie Shackson inspired me to share more about printing with geraniums, a topic I touched on only briefly last post. If not published now, those geranium photos would most likely sink unseen into the pile of 3000+ already on this iPad.

Hoarding issues, folks? Thank you, Julie, for encouraging me to divest. I have promised myself that whatever else I might hoard, I will not hoard knowledge that might assist or inspire others.

One of my favourite plants is the Cranesbill (above) or Perennial Geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum” or “Big Root geranium”.) The “geranium” part derives from Greek “gerano” meaning “heron” (or “crane” ) so named because the seed pod is a capsule, shaped long and pointy like a beak ( “bill”). The pods “dehisce”, which means they explode open and fire their seeds into the air like wee projectiles. In my garden, the purple flowered geranium have virtually replaced grass in some areas, growing “dwarfly” in a mat of leaves covered with little elfin flowers and defying the mower by their speedy regrowth. These and the “album” ( pale-pinky-white) geranium make wonderful drought-tolerant ground cover in sun, shade or semi shade. I let them romp and replace unwanted plants- if there is any such thing…Either plant is perfect in dry rooty areas under trees. And it is pretty-well evergreen here in Zone 4 USDA. ( Garden talk today, my lifelong passion…I have grown a garden in every place I have lived in my 72 years – and there lies the true root of my newer passion for natural dyes)

As eco prints, geraniums are stars. They were among the first I used for prints on cotton and linen, which, as substrates, I now know are not as easy to print as silk and wool. This June 2011 eco print (below) shows leaf and flower prints, the latter being the blue and purple marks on the alum-mordanted vintage linen. The blooms print quite well, though not in flower forms but in patches of blue or purple – unlike the leaves which can be relied on to print realistically (if that is your aim).

 

 

Geranium print colours vary with the season and even the month. Deep under snow in January, the leaves remain green but they print in the khahi-brown range:

 

The same January Under Snow Priint dipped in iron liquor (rusty nails in vinegar). Thanks to Amelia Poole for this tip. (See Refs pages)

 

In late April – early May, yellows emerge:

 

The buds print beautifully – see below. Blue patches have leaked from an iris print!

 
With iron, one can shift the colours from yellows to deep grey-purplish-charcoals with some original yellows holding their own as luminous passages ( Honestly, my photos cannot do justice to the nuanced colours and forms in many of my eco prints. I am certain other artists would agree re the difficulty of taking a good photo.) A tiny blue stain or two leaking from an iris bloom in the paper layer above in the steamer offers an inspired near-complement as foil to the geranium leaf colour. The iron liquor induces near-lavenders from the yellows of the initial print. The shadow effects are delightful, I think.
 
 

As the season progresses, the geranium leaf prints become greener, especially on cotton rag paper. This print is from August 2012:

 

Later last year, I made some little journals like the one above using the geranium leaf printed papers as soft covers. The colours continue to glow in soft but bright shades. Coreopsis verticillata sent some pigment way down through a couple of paper layers in the steamer. Coreopsis contains powerful pigment! I try to plan accordingly. Here it is welcome, providing a tad of red-orange complementarity to enhance the greens. I love the contrasts of forms and colours in this print and I enjoy the challenge of manipulating the materials and the processes to obtain certain outcomes. I look forward to trying more prints with geraniums as the season advances. .

 

Finally, “Forest Floor”, a deep green geranium leaf print on a silk habotai panel, one of my botanical scrolls series. The silk was immersion-dyed a cinnamon colour first in a lichen bath (Parmelia saxatilis), then with safflower, (oops – vice versa, actually), overprinted with geranium leaf, iron dipped and embroidered. (The lichen was foraged from the forest floor of a wee plot of Boreal land my daughter owns, so it was responsibly foraged, IOW) The colours in the photo seem to be picking up mostly the cinnamon lichen and yellow safflower dyes; in the real world, this work shows a wide range of rich greens besides cinnamon.

 

 

I hope you will try some geranium prints and find them rewarding as I do.

Dear Readers, I know this post is not about soils! Will get there… trying to track down some Leda (Blue) clay, a chief soil constituent hereabouts in the Ottawa Valley. And hoping to make good on my promise to experiment with water soluble glues for attaching plants to substrates for eco prints. Has anyone tried that?

 

Best

 

Wendy