Sunday, November 20, 2016

Natural Dyeing Project

     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

I have a piece in this new show at The Women's Museum of California

              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

I have two pieces in this show opening May 14th.

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 hand 
                                              and 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

First Exhibition of 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

June 19 to June 28, 2015 Final Residency and Graduation

     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.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

April 2015

       The last three months have been intensely busy as I work on writing my thesis and completing work for the graduate exhibition in June. Here are photos of the work I have completed:

Homeland Insecurity, 2014

Perils of Ownership, 2015

30 Thoughts on Suburban Life, 2015.

Locked Up, 2014.

Detail from 60 Thoughts on Discontent, 2014

     Here is the final version of the apron piece that I re-did based on my research and study during the summer and fall of 2014.

Gross Domestic Product, 2015

     This is one of the final versions of the Suburban Truisms. There are four groupings: Fear, Identity, Guilt, and Belief. I will write some of the Truisms on tags and hang them on the gates of the gated community and photograph them. Journal entries will document my experience during this process as I look for ways to introduce the tags into my environment during the next two months.

         Individual Truisms will be printed on t-shirts, buttons and stickers tor public distribution.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Residency Four: January 2015

                           Here is a view of my critique space in Porter Hall in Cambridge.
                           The "fake" window piece, the bulletin board with truisms and the
                           "fake doorway with tagged domestic objects:

The security sign fabric curtain with the window photo:

The large fabric stitched piece based on suburban fear:

Suburban truisms printed on t-shirts, tote bag,  and as real estate fliers:

60 days of embroidery intalled as a frieze:

Two details of the 60 embroideries: