Dyeing in the Sun

A few years back I grew some marigolds. As the blossoms drooped I harvested them and dried them, but then stuck then in a cupboard and forgot about them. In a fit of boredom during the rains this year, that kept me inside more than I am used to, I discovered them and decided it was time to use them. I boiled them for a couple of hours until the water turned a deep golden brown, strained off the liquid and sealed it in a gallon jar.


Then came spring and summer with days of soaring temperatures that once again kept me inside. I spent some time spinning a fleece that had waited for me for several years. I plied a small one-ounce skein to see how I liked it and hit on the brilliant idea of using my marigold liquor to see what would happen. It was too hot to turn on the stove for this experiment so I decided to go solar. In a small jar just large enough to hold the skein, I dissolved a scant half teaspoon of alum in water and added a pinch of tartaric acid. In went the skein, on went the lid, and out it went to a table in the yard to sit in the sun for a day.
The marigold liquid had developed a layer of mold on the top, but it peeled of easily in one piece. The mordanted skein now went into this dye bath for another couple of days in the sun. And it seems to have worked.

marigold dye with wool in a one-gallon jar

Now on to the next step. I am not sure what that will be.

Follow Your Star

Tapestry with red and white stripes, stars on a blue fieldDuring this contentious election season, I have taken some solace in contemplating a small tapestry I wove some years ago. It visually sorts out for me some of the multidimensional aspects of our present situation. When I created it, I called it “Follow Your Star”, which seems as appropriate now as it was then.

Not being particularly gifted with creating original designs, I based it on a depiction of a Chinese lattice from a book I have had for many years called Chinese Lattice Designs (a 1974 edition of a 1937 work call A Grammar of Chinese Lattice). I started from the very beginning when I created this. I bought a fleece at the Monterey Wool Show, washed, carded and spun the fleece into yarn, dyed the yarn into various shades of reds and blues, and wove it into this small tapestry. It, like our lives in the U.S., was a journey.

I did not set out to create something patriotic, but rather something universal. Of course, the wavy red and white stripes and multi-sized stars on a blue background evoke an immediate suggestion of America. But the various shades of the reds and the blues suggest the variety in our country. And the stars—some large, some small—travel in varying directions. To me it is a tapestry that embodies both freedom and diversity .

And it started with an idea from the ancient Chinese.

A drawing of lattice work.

Chinese lattice work design

Weather vane with sheep

Finding My Peace

The door always unlocked, my retreat in the garden is where I find my soul. The threads of my life have converged in this small space.

When I was five, my mother taught me to sew. My dolls were always finely attired.

When I was seven, my second cousin taught me to knit. She was attending college to become a physical therapist. One of her assignments was to teach something to someone that they might find challenging. I was selected.

I continued to thread my way through life.

A year after I married, my husband encouraged me to by a small table loom. This led to a larger 4-harness loom and finally to a very large 8-harness loom. At some time a spinning wheel was added to the mix. Our small house teemed with my projects and I jokingly told people we did not live in a house, we lived in a studio. The door to every room revealed traces of my passion.

When we moved in, there was a small shed in the garden. It had originally been used as living quarters while the house, a small weekend retreat, was built by our predecessors. The shed finally succumbed to the elements in the winter of 1999-2000. We decided to have a new shed built. We found plans, hired a new contractor (this was his first job since getting his contractor’s license) and had a nice shed with small attached greenhouse built.

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And then it happened. My husband suggested we turn it into a studio. I put up insulation in the stud walls and ceiling and we had the contractor add wallboard and a ceiling fan. I painted it–inside and out–and had shelving installed.

Over the years since, my threads have followed me out to this haven. The view out the door extends beyond our apricot tree to the ridge beyond and the faraway coast when the air is clear. I sew, I spin, I weave. I can hear birds sing, the neighbors dog bark and their horse whinny. Here I can maintain the orderly chaos that comes naturally to me.Studio interior

As I walk through this door–winter and summer, I know peace is possible.

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Bearly Making It

When I discovered this pattern, I knew I had to try it. My stash revealed a partial ball of brown yarn, so I went to work.
knitted teddy bear

Then in a recent clean-out I discovered a notebook filled with yarn color samples from decades ago. The company is no longer in business. This relic needed to go. The samples were not glued but rather looped through a punched hole with the ends pulled through. There were pages and pages of them. I decided to free them so I could recycle the card stock they were attached to. Then an IDEA struck me! I could recycle the yarn samples too by stuffing them into the bear.
stuffing a leg with yarn scraps

When the bear awakes from hibernation, I am sure it will find a happy home.

One fun project!

A Case for the Blues

Who could live without their blue jeans? But what about that blue? Indigo blue has been around for a more than two thousand years. But we still use it–a lot. Today I dyed some of my (white) handspun yarn with this beautiful ancient dye.

To extract the indigo from plants is not a simple process. It takes some chemistry that the ancients figured out and we now replicate with modern chemicals. Mainly we use synthetic indigo instead of the natural indigo that has been around for centuries. But natural indigo is still produced in many parts of the world.

In my trip to Guatemala and El Salvador in 2007 I visited an indigo plantation in El Salvador. It has survived, but barely, for several generations. You can read the story of Grace and her family and the road she has traveled to keep her heritage alive. In the pictures you can see the three huge cement vats used to process and extract the indigo from the plants. What a pleasure it was to be on that hillside looking out to the Pacific on a warm moonlit evening and to feel part of an ancient tradition.

Today I was not the only one using the indigo vat. Other members of Fiber Artisans, who meet once a month, use it regularly. It is a vat that has been kept “alive” for at least twenty years with additions of appropriate chemicals and a warm enough temperature to keep it “alive”.

 

For many years indigo good were prized. Indigo was expensive to produce. True denim is made by having two threads cross over one. So only the blue threads in the weft (the threads that go crosswise in a fabric) were blue. The other threads were less expensive white threads. This is why many jeans are much lighter on the inside than on the outside. It kept costs down by only having to dye the-thirds of the thread. So wear your blue jeans with a new pride. They  have a proud heritage and represent a great link to the past.

A New Generation of Spinners

“I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.” — Lily Tomlin as “Edith Ann”

McClellan Ranch Preserve Fiber Festival 2015 from CApoppy on Vimeo.

Several of my longtime friends and I who belong to the Glenna Harris Weavers Guild often do hand-on demonstrations locally. How much fun it is to show kids how cloth is created and to let them try their hands at it! And it just isn’t the kids who have fun.