Wednesday, December 24, 2014


May we all find many ways to be kind to each other in the coming year!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Many Thanks to the Squirrels

Years ago we decided it would be fun to use the black walnuts falling from a local tree. After hours of work and very few nutmeats to show for our labor, I understood why black walnuts aren't a staple of our diet. And I can still remember the stain on my hands that took over a week to wear off--nothing would wash it off.

So I knew black walnut would be a good candidate for natural dyeing even before I kept seeing it mentioned as I did my research. But for two reasons I kept putting off adding it to my list of items to experiment with:  I did not relish ripping that outer husk apart and I did not know of any nearby black walnut trees. And then one day as I passed by a back window, I saw a squirrel sitting on the corner of our neighbor's deck railing and what was he chewing on? His sharp little teeth were quickly turning that tough husk of a black walnut into a pile of pieces just right for throwing in a dye pot. Over the next couple of weeks I found a number of such piles on our own deck and patio and even got our neighbors to give me the piles from their deck.  They graciously told me I could gather nuts from the tree (which was in their yard) but I decided I would make do with the preprocessed  husk chips I was collecting.

Finally I had enough:

At first I was a bit disappointed in the cotton, which you can see below, but it has very interesting gray brown veins, which don't show up well in the photo, and it would make a great neutral background for something.

The silk, as usual, won the beauty prize with its rich brown mottling.

And just so you can see that I am not just creating more fabric, but actually stitching some together, I will add a snapshot of one of the new projects I am beginning

And if you are still with me, thanks for the company!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Spinning Gold

As I continued to experiment with my scrunchy, texturing technique, I had to try adding silk so I dyed several gradations of yellow and set to work. I love the shimmer it adds to the texture:

Spun Gold 14" x 16"

The silk shimmied around as much as it shimmered when I was trying to get a needle through it, but it felt so good in the hand and created such dynamic textures that I easily forgave it for having a mind of its own.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Using natural chemicals

Even though I believe that the most dangerous part of the chemical dyes is the possibility of inhaling them, I have still been intrigued by natural dyes as being bit more friendly to things that matter to us. I even went so far as to buy India Flint's book on the subject a couple of years ago. But I finally seized the opportunity to try it out about a month ago. Beginning with goldenrod seemed ironically appropriate particularly since we had just moved from a farm with a whole field of goldenrod to a city where goldenrod does grow here and there but is usually on someone else's property. I was whining to my friend Cecilia about this when an hour later she arrived on my doorstep with an armload of goldenrod fresh picked from a New Hampshire roadside and soon it was in a pot ready to be boiled.

I covered it with water, let it boil for a couple of hours, and then drained the liquid. I threw a small piece of silk into the dye since I had read that silk will take the dye even without a mordant. But, as usual, not everything you read is accurate; it did color up a bit, but was not anything I even commented to the dog about.
Then I stirred in 2 T alum as a mordant, threw in a piece of silk and a larger piece of cotton and boiled them for about 15 minutes. I let them soak overnight in the dye and then hung them to dry but waited for a week to rinse and iron them. But I got excited even before they were completely dry. Here's the cotton:

And here's the silk!!

I had also read that I could get gradations by boiling the original goldenrod again in fresh water and repeating the process--and this was true. The silk soaked up so much dye that you can't tell the difference in the photo but in the cotton there is a clear difference between the second boiling on the right and the first on the left. 

My next experiment involved avocado pits, thanks to the help of my daughter Clare, whose family has a fondness for guacamole. A couple of them were beginning to move into the pre-rot stage (I kept forgetting to pop them in the freezer) so I threw what I had into a pot:

Now I had also read that the longer you boil these guys the redder the dye gets and so they were on the stove for 3 or 4 hours. It was a busy day and I wasn't checking often enough, and much of the water had boiled away by the time there was a significant color in the pot. Not wanting to dilute anything any more, I stirred  in 2 T alum, brought it to a boil, and then threw in a piece of cotton and a piece of silk. I left the pits in with them and boiled it all gently for about 15 minutes and then left the pot tilted over night so that the fabric was mostly covered by the small amount of liquid left.

And here, after hanging them out to dry and then waiting a week to rinse them are the results:

You have probably guessed that the silk is the second photo--a very rich reddish tan. Perhaps more pits--or more liquid--would produce a stronger dye. A smaller pot would help as well, which I am working on, since I am reluctant to use the pots I cook dinner in. Even though all this stuff is growing somewhere, they are, as my chemist sister would remind me, still concentrated chemicals.

And, if you are still reading, thanks for the company!

Friday, September 19, 2014


Wanting to extend my repertoire of hand stitching beyond the basic running stitch that I love so much and needing some small projects that I could use as a break from a larger  (I did not say interminable, but I thought it) project, I decided to challenge myself and commit to a stitching journal. I would choose a stitch, prepare a sandwiched "page," and then for two weeks I would play with that stitch working on structured and free form versions to see what kinds of patterns or texture I could produce with it. I thought two weeks would give me plenty of time, given the unpredictability of my schedule these days.

I chose the blanket stitch and dutifully produced a row of blanket stitches on the first day. That was a month and a half ago so I didn't exactly abide by the rules (I have plenty of good excuses I can roll out ranging from major house projects to some great adventures with grandchildren), but this week I declared myself done with this stitch, at least for now, and ready to move on. 

When I was learning machine quilting and made a commitment of fifteen minutes a day practicing, I ended up with a number of doodle squares that I could sell. I am not sure I will ever produce anything finished enough to put a price tag on with this project but you never know.

Next stitch will be the backstitch. I may have to work at coming up with creative forms for this one. Let's see what happens in two weeks!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Celebrating Labor Day

I got to celebrate the fruits of my year long (or more) labor in a very appropriate way this year. During the long process of our move to MA I had joined the Abstract Artists Group of New England. They are a somewhat eclectic group in terms of media but I was the only textile artist among those who worked with acrylic, oil, watercolor, collage, pastel, and several other media. Each year they have a show of members' work at the Newburyport Art Association and this would be my first show with them.

I ended up with ten pieces in the show and, when I looked around on the evening of the hanging, I knew I had joined the right group.

There were seventeen artists participating in the exhibit so these pictures are only a portion of it, but you can see how my work fit in. The show opened August 22 with the opening reception on Aug. 30, Labor Day weekend, and the day of the big Riverfest in Newburyport. At times it looked like wall-to-wall people in the gallery and it was exciting to see that many people looking at and talking about the work in the show.

I am enjoying getting to know these artists and seeing their work in the show and at our monthly meetings.  And it is energizing to receive comments on my work from artists working in such diverse media.

And if you are still with me, thanks for the company!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Blog Hop

It has been a long summer with lots of settling in, house repairs, and getting to know new people and a whole new area. My blog has suffered. I am celebrating the approach of fall with a renewed resolution to blog more consistently and I began by accepting an invitation to a Blog Hop from a new friend and fellow member of the Abstract Artists Group of New England, Ethel Hills. This hop requires that I answer four questions today and then nominate three more artists who will continue the process next Saturday by answering the questions on their blogs and nominating another three artists. And so the questions. . . .

1. What am I working on/writing?
Currently I am spending much of my time on two series. I have always been intrigued by texture in art and when I began to dye my own fabrics I increasingly chose techniques that produce texture by manipulating the color values of the dyes or by printing on the dyed fabric. And then I added a tactile element—texture produced by a combination of scrunching and hand stitching, and I have been spending some time seeing where this technique leads me.

I am also experimenting with raw-edge applique sewn to the background with visible stitches using a heavy thread like perle cotton.  Although the edges may fray, I like the way the fabric lies flat against the background without the stiffness caused by a turned-under edge or a layer of fusing.

2. How does my work/writing differ from others in this genre?
As I was writing the answer to the first question I realized that my two series were breaking with quilting tradition that emphasizes avoiding wrinkles and frayed edges when joining fabric. I am actively embracing both at the moment because I want to let the fabric be fabric and see what happens. I find myself drawn to the wabi-sabi point of view—one that delights in the beauty of the imperfect, the simple, the natural, the ordinary.  I am definitely not alone in this preference but it does seem to set me apart from a great number of textile artists.  And my work probably differs from others, no matter what technique or series I am pursuing, because I am combining my own hand-dyed and/or printed fabric with my unique and ever-changing vision of the world.

3. Why do I do what I do?
I grew up wandering the back hills of Kentucky and the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River in Iowa, spent a good chunk of my adulthood in the northcentral mountains of Pennsylvania and now find myself in a city in New England with a five-acre pond outside my studio window and the ocean ten minutes away. And the colors, textures, shapes, and movement of the trees, water, animals, and skies that I have known in all these areas influence my work and its recurring themes of interconnectedness and change.

A number of years ago I came across a quotation from Harold Thurman Whitman:  ”Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go and do that because the world needs people who have come alive.” When I make art, I come alive.

4. How does my writing/working process work?
I sometimes begin by putting an intriguing piece of fabric on a corner of my design wall and leaving it there for a week or a month or more until I come up with a vision of what to do with it.  At that point I may do a rough sketch or I may begin to build a composition with bits of trial fabric that will ultimately be replaced with more carefully cut shapes.

But I also sometimes begin with a sketch that may be totally abstract but more often is inspired by a natural shape or pattern, a plant or an animal, or by a word (not a surprise, given my English literature background) that I keep in my head as I work. The sketch becomes a guide rather than a template as I make minor and major adjustments as the piece takes shape.

Sometimes I will dye fabric for a specific project but more often I will choose already dyed fabrics, auditioning various hues and shades, always aware that the thread I use will add more color, texture, and even line.

Thank you, Ethel, for inviting me to participate in this project and for giving my an excuse to think about what I am doing and why I am doing it and for giving me a way to learn more about some very talented artists. You may read her post here.

Ethel HillsI’m an abstract landscape painter living and working in Hampton, NH. My studio is in an old factory building a couple of miles from the ocean. I came to art late in life, learning to draw so that I could make the simple line drawings necessary for traditional rug hooking. In that moment when I decided to learn how to draw, my life shifted. I fell in love with drawing and then painting and haven’t looked back since.

And now let me introduce you to two people worth knowing. I will announce the third artist later.
Frauke Schramm
Frauke Schramm has been my friend for a number of years and I am still amazed at what she can create with needle and thread. Her work has been in exhibits all over Europe.
I’m Frauke Schramm (also known as quilthexle). I live close to Stuttgart, Germany. By day, I work as a teamleader (customer services) in a book-distributing company. By night, I’m a textile artist (and sometimes, I try to get some sleep !). 
When I was a kid, I used to collect the scraps of my mother's sewing projects (she sewed most of our clothes herself). I did not know why I did this - but I loved cuddling them. During my studies I was an avid knitter, but that came to an end while I wrote my Masters Thesis. After I finished my education (I'm a trained bookseller and I hold an M.A. in Political and Educational Sciences), I joined  corporate world. And I realized - I need something to balance all this brainwork. So, I took a patchwork class - a LoneStar class, to be precise ;-)) That quilt ended in the bin, but my husband rescued it (it's still in my house). Anyway, I was hooked. For quite a while, I was happy just to play with fabrics and learning traditional techniques. Artsy elements slowly turned up in my quilts. Around 2009 art quilting took over, at least mostly. I enjoy working with my own hand-dyed fabrics as well as with purchased fabric; recently, I stepped away from the "cotton only" rule, and the variety of all the material now available to me really excites me.
My central theme right now are opposites / contrasts - I love exploring them, and I have only scratched the surface so far !
              Frauke Schramm's blog:

Janis Doucette

Janis Doucette is a friend and fellow member of We Are Six, a group of art quilters living near Boston. She loves to play with surface design and I love to see what she comes up with. She currently has a piece in the Whistler Gallery in Lowell, MA.

I’m lucky – at this point in my life, I get to work on whatever my heart desires! Most often, that means I'm working on some form of textile art. Often, I’m printmaking or taking photographs, which are frequently incorporated into fabric, literally or figuratively.  I may also add paint to, or dye my own fabric. I may add beads or various odd tidbits to a piece. Today, we have an alluring array of commercial fabrics available and I also use them without restraint.

Every day is an ongoing experiment in life where I continue to observe, learn and grow.

                      Janis Doucette's blog:

Look for their posts next Saturday!