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Friday, November 18, 2011

A brief visit to where I want to be...

Today starts our 14th annual Voorhees Family Art Show here in Asheville, center of the Universe, and I will hang four new pieces - the first (below) really was done in 2010 but never published before.  The other three are created from my first experiments with natural dyes - madder root, lac, walnuts and osage orange.  Working with natural dyes is where I want to be for my personal work.  This was just a brief visit.  Below are the rest of the new work - complete with liner notes!
Page 26 - Welsh Holly Leaves Fall to Earth
Page 26 -  Welsh Holly Leaves Fall to Earth (2010) 
When my best friends and I went to England and Wales in 2009 for a Memorial tour for my adopted mother Millie Voorhees, we visited the Welsh National Museum - St. Fagan’s.  This is an outdoor museum with every type of dwelling from the stone-age on.  Holly bushes surrounded the parking lot so I “borrowed” a few leaves. I had to snip off the points as they drew blood.  They were pasted in my drawing journal until I started this piece.  The “falling to earth” imagery comes from a poem by Mendy Knott where she writes of leaves leaping off the trees in Fall because they are so glad to be reunited with the earth.  She read this at Millie’s memorial service.  The tour, Millie, the leaves and their fall to earth all came together for this artwork. 
6.5” w X 9”h framed to 13.75” x 16.5H 
merino wool, sabreset dyes, glass beads, Welsh Holly leaves,  linen and cotton thread. Hand felted, resist dyed, stitched and beaded construction.

Walnut Page - Peeling Black Walnuts Under October Skies.
Walnut Page: Peeling Black Walnuts Under October Skies.  Squirrels Watch. (2011) 
When my friend Helen brought over 45 bushels of festering black walnuts I knew that it was time to indulge my long time desire to explore natural dyeing.  I have worked with synthetic acid dyes for almost 35 years but was a bit nervous learning a whole new world of plants and chemistry.  We sat on the back porch on a wonderful breezy, sunny day in October, surrounded by squirrels scolding us from trees and peeled the dye-rich hulls from the nut.  They were rotting and some were full of bugs but the smell was divine and I was completely captured by the ancient history of the black walnut dye.  I clamped pieces of hand felted merino wool and fed them to the walnut dye pot.  An hour later I reaped my rewards.  Thank you Helen. 
8"w X 10.5”h framed to 14"W x 17"H 
Australian merino wool, resist dyed in hand gathered walnut dye, glass beads, buttonhole thread, weeping cherry twigs. Hand felted, resist dyed, stitched and beaded construction.

Page 28 - Seeds Sense the Change (chance) of Seasons.
Page 28 - Seeds Sense the Change (Chance) of Seasons. (2011) 
One of my favorite resist tools is a handful of circular steel paper clips from Holland.  They don't work very well as paper clips but I love the beautiful circles they create on wool felt.  I tried them for the first time on a piece of felt that was first dyed yellow from Osage orange heartwood and then dipped into a dyepot of purplish Lac.  The pumpkin seeds, left over from another project of five years ago, jumped into those beautiful yellow circles and instantly had halos. Lots of tiny "seed" stitches around the halos created active and jumpy pumpkin seeds eager to make the transition from stationary storage to life.  (It's almost like how I feel when learning to make my transition from synthetic to natural dyes!) 
7.5” w X 7”h framed to 14”W x 17"H 
Australian merino wool, resist dyed in Madder root, Lac and Osage Orange natural dyes, glass beads, gold painted pumpkin seeds,  button hole thread. Hand felted, resist dyed, stitched and beaded construction.

Page 29 - Madder Root, Osage Heartwood.
Page 29 -  Madder Root, Osage Heartwood.  (2011) 
Sometimes the pieces of resist dyed felt talk to me before they are arranged a certain way.  Sometime I stumble blindly, stitching this piece to that and then doing it over again and again.  For this artwork, rather helplessly named Madder Root, Osage Heartwood, the Madder dyed side pieces demanded to enclose the lovely circle patterns created with Lac dye over Osage orange.  And then naturally, the circles became the Osage heartwood and the madder developed glorious wings with matching hearts of spiral metal sequins.  I hope they're all happy now! 
8.25” w X 7”h framed to 14”W x 17"H 
Australian merino wool, resist dyed in madder root, osage orange and lac natural dyes, glass and metal beads and sequins, button hole thread. Hand felted, resist dyed, stitched and beaded construction.

Thanks for lookin'.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It's my birthday!

This is the view I'd love to spend every day looking at - the view straight up from my daybed on the screen porch - looking up at the yellow leaf maple in the clear blue skies!  But even a fairy princess or old crabby step mother as myself has to scrub out the cat box every once and again. Today is my birthday and while I normally postpone this celebration to the doldrum days of February, I am planning a lovely day with cats, dyes and friends.
Madder, walnut and osage dyed merino felt
I attended a lecture by Catherine Ellis on Tuesday and could barely sit still in my seat.  Just to hear those enchanted words...indigo...madder...dyes of antiquity... makes my heart race.  And another thing she mentioned - how she started working with natural dyes about 10 years ago when she retired from teaching and found it wonderful to know that one can still become so excited about learning even at a "later" age.  My feelings exactly! 
Felt in the osage orange dyepot
This week I have been sampling the yellows from Osage Orange and reds from Lac, Madder and Brasilwood.  After several weeks with the "Festering Walnut" it was a shock to the eyes to see the color bloom on the felts in the dyepots.  I am not a very good "sampler" as one should be when starting new dye ventures.  I see the rich browns of the walnut and put in whole Mokume tied scarves!  But I feel so many changes coming upon me that I am now 'sampling' - doing smaller dyepots and trying out the colorways on smaller felts.  But all those tiny felts are going in with resist tools a-bristling! 

One of my new challenges with the natural dyes was to see if I could use my knowledge with resist dyeing to create those seductive patterns on the surface.  I am finding that each one of the natural dyes I try out - be it an extract or made by me from the root/hulls/dyestuff itself, each dye has a personality.  Each one has such different ways it colors the wool.  Walnut manages to sneak under even the tightest of knots.  My former resist tool favorite - hair pins from Sally Beauty Shops - cause interesting iron stains on madder and brazilwood if the alkali is higher in the dyepot but no reactions with the gentle Lac.  I swear these dyes are alive.  Well, really they are, coming to me as gifts from Helen's Walnut trees, or squished and extract by human hands in France.  I don't think I could be happier with these new friends.
resist dyed with lac, madder and osage
On my birthday I will be beading and stitching my second group of yellow/red resist pieces that came out of the dyepot yesterday  This is a fabulous present of both time and dyeing.  Oh, I do have to have these done for the Voorhees Family Art Show coming up next Saturday and Sunday, but with them I shall spend all my days.
Walnut Pages:One.  "Peeling Walnuts under October Sun".  Walnut dyed, hand felted merino felt,  cherry tree sticks, beaded, stitched (and sideways)

but first a little time with my best pal, leon

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Morning of Dreams

Morning from deck at Coupeville, WA
Well, it is still morning in my part of the world and I am still in my pjs and bathrobe.  Today I am dividing useable parts of the day between this computer and the dye kitchen in the basement (studio B).  All of the year's teaching has been finished with manifestos to be written and changes to be wrought.  Two more sales shows remain - The Famous 14th Voorhees Family Art Show to be held on November 18-20th here in Asheville, and maybe a small second show at my studio in December. So I am happy and anxious to continue working with my natural dyes.

I have a dozen bushels of peeled walnut hulls festering away on the back porch. I have never read in my pile of dye books about peeling the walnuts after they start to rot, but the resulting liquid after a few days of steeping is fabulous.  The slimey black goo and the fly maggots are a visual deterrant so I left the last couple of bushels for the squirrels to peel and a wonderful job they did of it too! All I had to do was sweep up the peelings each morning.

Here are my friends Helen and Steve helping with the peeling.  Helen got all the walnuts from her backyard tree and swears by the color they produce. I think the sitting in the October sun on my back porch smelling those walnut hulls is why I am so smitten with them.

This is one of probably 30 pots of walnut hulls a brewing.  Some containers were getting moldy so I took off the lids.  The water just evaporates so I top up every once in a while.  True to my own squirrelish behavior, I feel that I need a LOT of hulls to last me through the winter dye days. Sure wish I knew everything about walnut dyeing!
my first felted wool scarf walnut dye experiment
A few weeks ago I followed through on my written thoughts and got rid of my clothes dryer.  I needed the space for a "real" stove in the dye kitchen.  My favorite Habitat for Humanity had a wonderful and very cheap electric range that needed to be with me.
Now that I don't have a clothes dryer I am finding that I pay attention to the weather - what days are good for hanging clothes outside, how humidity extends the drying time, and the beauty of clothing waving in the breeze.  I bought a fabulous indoor wooden drying rack from the good folks over in Missouri - BestDryingRack.com and now have more fun than one could imagine hanging my clothes on the rotating rack. 

 I also am experimenting with Madder, a wonderful, ancient dyestuff which should give me some wonderful yellows through reds.  Helen gifted me with about 6 oz of the roots, themselves rather ancient purchase from Earth Guild several years ago.

I have done a few dyebaths with pieces of my felt hoping to recreate the resist dyeing surfaces that I have been doing using Lanaset dyes.  But there is something so different with the natural madder and walnut.  Their smell is rich and earthy and as far as I know, not bad for the body. The time it takes to mordant the felts, rinse and then put them in the dye liquor and carefully watch the temperature so it doesn't go over 160 degrees is time nicely spent.  The after-mordants of citric acid and ammonia that change the pH to give either pinks or yellows is truly pure magic.  I like spending that time with the pots as these feel as if they are alive.  Years ago when I taught a semester of indigo dyeing at the University of Minnesota - St. Paul, those pots were alive and needed careful tending.  We had a partnership, those pots and I.  And here again I have partners in my Studio B dye kitchen as well as squirrel partners on the dye porch.

Putting a previously felted and dyed in light madder (with ammonia after mordant) scarf, stitched and tied in Mokume resist pattern into a darker Madder bath.
The finished washed and dried scarf.  A whole pile of ummmms for that one.  Today I get to go back to the kitchen and think and play and learn some more.

I will be listing 2012 workshops on the next page of this blog.  Check under the title for the button.  I am starting to reduce the number of away-workshops for 2012 and 2013.  There are a few places I will continue to teach as I love the areas and people connected to the venues - Lopez Island, Sievers School up in Washington Island, WI,  and several other places. And I will start to hold more classes here in my studio.