I'm planning two projects for the next three to six months. The first is a quilt, or possibly a series of quilts about my mom. My mom turned 88 this year and we were reminiscing and looking at old photos. As I looked at pictures from a time that I only know from her stories, I was drawn to somehow memorialize her life through fabric and thread. I have been recording her words, scanning old photos and planning a piece that not only celebrates her life, but the world remembered by the fast disappearing "Greatest Generation". As I record her words I begin to underestand how listening is the greatest gift to give another. My mom is in good health for her age, but I don't know how much longer I have with her. This project gives me joy but also fear, for the time of loss somewhere ahead.
Here is photo from my design wall:
Here we are with a quilt that we made together. My mom made the blocks in a quilting class several years ago that was in her "UFO" drawer. I assembled it and hand embroidered imagery from documented crop circles from Wiltshire, England.
My other long-term project is the series on the Tao Te Ching. My next piece is for verse #47:
Sunday, October 8, 2017
I continue to experiment with plant materials that I've gathered in my neighborhood. Ivy berries are found on hedges and banks in many yards. Abundant eucalyptus leaves, bark and pods are easy to collect. I found large fennel plants in my backyard, as well as red cabbage that was too woody to eat. The kitchen provided onion skins that I saved over a 6-month period. The range of colors I got from each dye batch varied based on the fiber. Silk organza and wool yielded the darkest hues. Other weights of silk and rayon gave lighter colors. Here are some of the results:
Ivy berries gave a rich pinkish-brown color:
I was able to gather enough elderberries from a friend's tree and combine them with last year's harvest in my freezer to make this pinkish-lavender dye:
The pokeberry should yield a dark burgundy color. I also hope to harvest the more of the indigo and process it to make a traditional indigo vat, a long term project that I look forward to realizing.
Ivy berries gave a rich pinkish-brown color:
Fennel gave a pale yellow color:
Onion gave a rich gold color:
Red cabbage gave pale purple and eucalyptus ranged between pale brown and a rich dark reddish brown.
More eucalyptus variations:
It took me several months to collect enough avocado pits and peels for another dye experiment. It made a warm, pale apricot color that, unfortunately, doesn't translate in this photo:
After making juice from our grapes, I used the pulp to make this dark purple color:
My last experiment for 2017 is with fresh indigo. The seeds took a while to germinate and grow large enough to transplant into a sunny corner of my garden. The plants are very hardy. They are still growing and blooming since July and my first experiment.
Fresh indigo dying is a simpler process than the fermented vats that create dark blue. I gathered about one pound of leaves and used an immersion blender to grind them with water in the dye pot. Then I dipped the fabrics into the pot, stirring them for about five minutes. Then laid them out on the drying rack.
Fresh indigo yieds a teal color. The greenish pieces on the rack have been previosly dyed with fennel, then over dyed with the fresh indigo.
Here are the range of colors I got with different fabrics. The darkest is silk organza and the lightest are rayon, cotton, and linen. I also got darker colors with multiple dips.
My final experiment for this year will be with Pokeberry. While I was on vacation a friend in Bonsall froze five pounds for me that she gathered on her property.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
After working with fiber-reactive dyes for more than ten years, I began to think about the use of natural materials for dying fabric. In the spirit of reuse, reduce and recycle I wanted to know if there were any readily available locally grown plants that I could use to put color on cloth. Of course, this simple question was hardly that. The art and craft of applying color to surfaces has been with humanity since the time we began to seek shelter and wear clothing.I discovered an overwhelming amount of information about the history dyes and pigments as well as numerous resources for the contemporary textile artisan to explore and experiment with.
History of Natural Dye
Using dyes, whether synthetic or natural, requires adherence to recipes and rules that can seem vague and esoteric to the beginner. The correct part of the plant must be harvested in the correct way and the dyestuff extracted and concentrated. The dye extracts themselves must be paired with the appropriate mordants, modifiers and fibers (silk, linen, cotton or wool) to achieve desired results. Dye recipes in the middle-ages were family secrets passed down through families and the guild system. In our modern era of mass produced textiles, we have forgotten how cloth and clothing was incredibly labor and time intensive to produce.
My own dyeing practice has always been experimental. I enjoy happy accidents and look forward to unexpected results. I’m not interested in mass producing or repeating exactly a specific color or pattern. It is important, however, to take notes about what you used and the amounts, the processing time, and the results of your experiments. These notes are important to learn from as you develop your own recipes. They become essential if you want to achieve a specific result for your own creative vision
Local dye plants
I decided to limit my experimentation to plants that I could grow, harvest, or collect in my own neighborhood. This severely limited my color choices, but limitations can be overcome with persistence and experimentation. These are the plants that I had access to in my garden, kitchen and neighborhood:
Eucalyptus Ivy Berry Elderberry Onion
Dandelion Fennel Red Cabbage
Fabrics to use:
I used plain white silk, wool, silk and rayon, and silk and wool blend fabrics and pre-made scarves (blanks) for my experiments. Cotton and linen are more resistant to the absorption of natural dye so I did not use them in my experiments. I set up a “dye lab” in my back yard with two electric burners for the dye pots plus spoons for stirring, tongs for lifting, strainers, 5 gallon buckets and a drying rack.
All though there are many more resources available, the books listed at the bottom of this post gave me the most specific methods and recipes that I could work with as I conducted my own experiments. In my lab I discovered that I did not always get the results described by the books. Natural dying processes are affected by the soil the plant was grown in, sun exposure, time of harvest, the alkalinity of the water, and the interactions of mordants and modifiers. In the spirit of experimentation, note your own results and remember that you can always re-dye your fabric or fibers and note any new results.
Experiment one: flower pounding variation:
Part one of my natural dyeing journey began in March 2016. I started with a variation on “flower pounding”. The color is extracted from flowers and flower petals by pressing or pounding them into fabric that has been treated with alum and soda ash.
My variation rolled the petals into a bundle that was soaked and pressed in the mordant solution. All though I used pink, yellow and purple flowers, the color that fixed to the fabric was primarily pale green and pale yellow, with a bit of blue. A second try was mostly yellow with a few golden and greenish highlights.
My next experiment: Ivy Berries:
Resources for methods and materials:
Burgess, Rebecca. Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes. 2011.
Dean, Jenny. Wild Color: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes. 1999.
Duerr, Sasha. The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes. 2010.
Saturday, November 5, 2016
As inspired by Judy Chicago's "Dinner Party" each night stand in the exhibition suggests a woman, real or imagined, who sleeps next to it.
My piece, Malala’s Dream, honors Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 because of her public support for the education of all girls in Pakistan. Malala almost died from severe brain injury as a result of the attack. An international coalition was able to transfer her from Pakistan to Birmingham, England where she continued treatment that saved her life.
After extensive rehabilitation therapy and the support of her family, who also eventually joined her in England, Malala continues to speak out for education for girls all over the world. On October 10, 2014 Malala became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
I conceived this piece as a representation of Malala’s dream for world peace and education for all. I imagined her with a night stand full of books that she is always studying in her pursuit of knowledge. Her love of family and her home in the Swat Valley of Norther Pakistan are represented in the photos. The scarf is symbolic of her words and her accomplishments. As a Muslim woman Malala is shown wearing her hijab or headscarf. I incorporated a scarf with the night stand to reference her identity and the accomplishments of her life. I embroidered many eloquent declarations about her determination to fight for world peace and education. One of her most famous quotations is written and embroidered in 15 different languages: “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.”
As we all do when we set aside the cares of the day and lay down to sleep, I imagine Malala setting aside her hijab, her books and her pens to dream of her home and the friends she left behind in Pakistan, and a future where all girls are free to pursue their goals.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
This is a new piece that I made for the show that will travel to Sweden for the exhibition at Krogen Amerika in 2017:
If Any Woman. 16 x 24". Cotton and silk with handand machine stitching. 2016.
This is a piece from grad school that I re-photographed on the gray background:
Gross Domestic Product. 24 x 36". Polyester with
hand and machine stitching. 2015.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
It was great to participate in this show curated by Nancy Roy-Meyer at Butte College Art Gallery near Chico in Northern California. I presented four pieces of my work from grad-school and a new piece that I created to emphasize the Suburban Truisms that have been a big part of my creative process starting in the summer of 2014.
Suburban Truisms. 60 x 32". Hand-embroidery on cotton. 2015.
The cross-stitched words are almost two inches tall creating an oversize "sampler" that declares my version of aphorisms for twenty-first centuy suburban culture. The statments are meant to provoke thoughts about behavioral assumptions. This isn't a great photograph, but the piece was purchased at the exhibition, so I didn't have a chance to get it professionally photographed.
My Piece Locked Up was juried into "Interperetations: Celebrating 30 Years" at Visions Art Museum in October of 2015:
Locked Up. 60 x 33 ". Fabric, digital photos on fabric, hand stitching. 2014.
This piece asks questions about fear hidden inside ouselves and our homes. We lock up our stuff, lock out others and let fear control us.
It's been great to see pieces from this body of work featured in various exhibtions. My work will also be in a group show titled Feminism Now at Gallery D in San Diego in May. I am working on a new faric piece that focuses on fear and the real estate market. I will continue to pursue themes of suburban life, feminism and modern domesticity.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
As of August 25, 2015 I am a MFA. The last two years culminating in the Graduate Residency have been an intensely bittersweet experience. This period of constant critique and deep personal questioning has been both exhilarating and dispiriting. Though the experience was never what I expected, I wouldn't change any of it. As a person who longed for much of her adult life to be part of an art community, the residencies have been a time to be in a world of creative ideas outside of the demands of "real life". Long conversations about ideas, self-expression and processes over many glasses of wine could take place without any interference from practical concerns. Returning to studio practice after the residency was always a frustrating jerk back to reality, and the struggle to make relevant work.
The Grad School experience was deeply transformative, but again, not in the way I expected. I went to Grad School wanting to make art about the universal struggles of humanity. I was making work that referenced spiritual evolution, and reflected on alienation. It was suggested that I make work that was more personal. I made new work that addressed these themes through my own spiritual evolution. Since I admired artists who made work with political and social content, I also started making work that addressed my concerns about the social and cultural problems of American society. My attempts to make work with a political edge, as well as about my personal beliefs about spiritual evolution were both rated confusing, inconsequential, and bland.
The disconnect between what I thought was an important theme in art and what I was expected to produce was profoundly disorienting. For the first time in my creative life I found myself without any idea about how to move forward.
The work of artists who addressed their personal experiences of racism, loss and political atrocities was inspiring; however, my experiences as a privileged, white, middle class female seemed petty and trivial. Why would I want to make art about that? This period of intense questioning of my beliefs and experience ultimately became the source for my thesis and graduate exhibition work: Homeland Insecurity.
Now that I am on the other side, I see the last two years as a constant see-saw between "I can do this", and "I'll never be able to do this". It was the most difficult experience of my work/school life. This is the crucible where sheer determination out-weighs any talent you aspire to have as an artist.
The most profound realization came several months after graduation. I expected the degree to give me a certain status as an artist in the world, and it does. Those three letters make me eligible to teach at the college level, and demonstrate a measurable level of knowledge and competence. But surprisingly, I realized that it was really about me proving that to myself. This accomplishment is not and end but a another beginning in the lifelong vocation of being an artist.