The Colors not what you think

So I haven't managed to keep up with my once a month schedule for posts very well.  I will try to do better in the new year. I'm currently transitioning out of doing a lot of craft work, like dyeing socks and scarves, and into fine art mode to prepare for a show this fall at the Carlisle Arts Learning Center with ceramist Kirsten Olson.

But before I go there I wanted to talk about some oddities of my natural dyeing experiences. Don't worry I'm including natural dyes in the fine art stuff too.  But if you want socks buy them now at CALC or The Harmony society because more won't be made for awhile.

Dyeing with carrot tops was particularly challenging,  I loved teh bright green color I got at first and was very excited to dye more things that color.

The center scarf is wool gauze the outer scarves are silk chiffon and have cold water indigo under the carrot dye.

The center scarf is wool gauze the outer scarves are silk chiffon and have cold water indigo under the carrot dye.

Dye samples

Dye samples

I got more organic carrot tops from Everblossom farms in East Berlin, PA., came home, chopped them up and started boiling them.  I made sure I boiled them for an hour to extract a lot of dye so I would get a nice intense green shade.  Then I removed the carrot top, put my scarves and sample fabric in and cooked them for an hour.  I thought - they aren't really coming out the right color. So I took them off the heat and let them sit overnight, which I always do with the natural dyes. The next day they still weren't the color I was expecting so I let them sit in the dye a few more days but it never really changed.  Below is what I got.

SIlk chiffon scarf

SIlk chiffon scarf

Dye samples

Dye samples

I hadn't signed up for this brownish peachy color.  Where was my brilliant green?  I went back to my main dye book, "Natural Colors" by Jenny Dean (great book!) and noticed it said to boil the carrot tops for a half hour to 45 minutes.  Could I have overcooked my dye?  Can you overcook dye?  Not that's there anything wrong with the brownish peach color with edges of green.  It's kind of cool but not what I was looking for. 

So onto the 3rd trail.  Got more carrot tops from Everblossom.  Came home, chopped them up and stuck them in the pot, started them boiling and watched what happened. Below are my samples.

3rd close up.jpg

On the right is a close up of my wool sample. Notice the little piece that is bright green! It was put in with the carrot tops and removed after half an hour.  And even though the other fabric is not quite what I wanted, it is not brownish/peach. It seemed like there might be some truth to my hypothosis.

Back to the dye pot for 1 more try.  Carrot tops cooked for 35 minutes.  Tops removed and fabric placed in teh dye bath and treated as usual. 


Now all I have to do is try to recreate the overcooked colors next summer or fall when carrot tops are back in season to know for sure.  But I really think that carrot tops can be overcooked in dye just like carrots can for eating!

To Dye or not to dye (as if that's a possibility)

I recently took two dying workshops at Longwood Gardens given by the Dogwood Dyer.  The first was on natural dyes. I have played with these before using India Flints book, "Eco Color".  She is from Australia and her plant material is sourced there to. Which means she uses a lot of eucalyptus tree leaves which just don't grow in South Central Pennsylvania.  I did really enjoy some of the techniques she taught especially one where you put some plant material between two pieces of fabric and pound on it with a hammer.  Works beautifully with red maple leaves.  I'm not sure how long the color will last but these where done over 2 years ago.  However they haven't been exposed to the sun.

But I digress... We used two plants in the class and dyed on several types of fabric after the fabric had been mordanted.  The mordant helps make the dye stick to the fabric.  One plant was the outer shell of black walnuts - which stained my clothes many times as a child. The other was elderberry leaves.  Unfortunately since the class was only 3 hours the fabric wasn't in the dye bath for that long and didn't get dark. The elder berry was left in longer and you can see the difference between 2 hours and about 4 hours because I tied a resist in it after 2 hours.  The lighter color stripes in the yellow material is from the shorter time.

I'm planning on continuing to use prunings and other dropped plant material to play with natural dying further.  Next up is a native Spice Bush that has lovely brown flowers and has spread out into the driveway.  This is not a traditional dye plant, I'll let you know what color I get.

The second class was Indigo dyeing. A natural indigo vat was made using fructose to reduce the indigo.  If the indigo is not reduced it will not dye fabric.  The dye molecules are too large. We used powdered fructose but apparently you can also use really ripe fruit to do this.  Finally something else to do with those old bananas.

Above is the Indigo vat when it was first made. A lovely shade of blue but not something that would dye cloth.  Below is an out of focus picture of the indigo vat in it's reduced state.  The funny orange yellow color means that the vat is ready to be dyed in.

Below is another blurry photo of one of the textiles we dyed.  This was dyed in the Elderberry then the natural indigo.  The fabric is a raw silk.

A blurry shot of natural indigo dyed over elderberry.

I started this post in June but never got around to finishing it till now. I haven't found time to experiment with the plants around mu house yet although I still hope to do so.  Currently I've gone back to synthetic fiber reactive dyes that I'm very familiar with and am dying bamboo socks. 

The colors are quite a bit brighter! There are also some clamp resist cotton circle scarves in there too if you were wondering what the clamps were. If you want to learn how to dye with the fiber reactive dyes or indigo (although we will be using the synthetic kind) please check out my class listings here. Or if you just want to make some great gifts these classes work well for that too.


I was honored to be included in the Surface Design Journal Spring 2016 edition in the Exposures Section. The Journal is put out by the Surface Design Association.  Their website is here - or just click on this link.  I am on the second page which is shown below. 

The Surface Design Associations vision is to "To inspire creativity, encourage innovation and advocate for artistic excellence as the global leader in textile-inspired art and design." They're mission statement is to "To promote awareness and appreciation of textile-inspired art and design through member-supported benefits including publications, exhibitions and conferences." All around a great place to visit and support if you are interested in Contemporary Fiber Arts.

Just a short blog post this time.  I recently taught Tie Dying and Marbling with 22 five to twelve year olds.  They were wonderful and my support staff was great (thanks Reagan and Cameryn!) but I'm still recovering.  It reminds me of why I usually teach adults!

Rejected Again

So if you've been making things as long as I have you get used to a lot of rejection.  April was my month for rejections this year (so far). I was rejected from two shows. This is the life of an artist. So what does one do - create new work about it, get it out of your system and move forward.

                                                                    Rejected Again (Thing 7).

                                                                   Rejected Again (Thing 7).

The photo doesn't really do it justice.  I will try to take another one soon but this work doesn't want to photograph well.  Probably it is rebelling against the title I gave it!

The gessoed panel was originally painted with red onion skins in water left over from my unusual materials class.  In the class it turned brownish but here it was a weird light green. I don't know if this was a product of time, I used the onion skin water several weeks later, or the material it was on - gesso versus paper?   On top of the onion skin is compresses charcoal, a marvelous thing. There isa 3rd porcelain bead you can't see on the left hanging from the top pom pom.  I have a bit of a pom pom obsession going on.  I just wish there was a better word for them. Pom pom is too cute.

Above are the pom poms from Sheep in Wolves Clothing (Thing 6). Also I made some from the same silk chiffon that is shown in the background of the picture at left but they haven't found a home yet.

If you are interested in classes I have updated the class page with two for this summer.  I'll have pictures soon for the "Nuke a Scarf" class.

At least as soon as I take the scarf off!  I made another one that is more chocolate brown and coral and want to do a blue one. Then I'll make an "official" picture. Still working on examples for the weaving class.  Enjoy the sun if you can find it.


I have been teaching several classes lately. The first one was on unconventional materials.  The idea for the class came out of the material I'm using to create the things and trying to find a use for supplies I already own instead of buying more art - which is such a seductive thing to do. The class was originally 2 sessions although I added a third.  The first session was on 2-D materials. We made out own mark making materials using coffee, onion skins and 3 types of spices mixed with hot water or egg yolk. Also we used shoe polish and stove black as pre-made materials. 

A pastiche of two photos showing the test sheets and some drawings made with the 2-D material

A pastiche of two photos showing the test sheets and some drawings made with the 2-D material

I think Turmeric was the most successful. The cinnamon is very odd.  It became thick and viscous almost like slim.  If anyone knows the chemical reason for this please let me know.  It smelled the best but was basically unusable. One student even drew some lines with the Hershey kisses that were there for snacks.  They give a very pleasing light brown line.

The second session explored 3-D materials.  Some of which are pictured below. Not pictured are a lot more hardware, fabric, beads and I'm not sure what else.

Some of the 3-d supplies for the class

And below are some of the creatures that the class made.

For the last session.  The class continued experimenting with previous materials and also ones that they had brought in. 

I think in the fall I will offer a similar class on Unconventional Materials used by artists in the 20th century.  I'll have to research a little. but I can definitely see sandpaper (Jean Miro and others),  newspaper (Picasso and Braque and others) and some house paint (thank you Mr. Pollack!) in the 2-D section. If you have any suggestions please leave me a comment.

Yellow - Oh No

The Carlisle Arts Learning Centers member show started last week.  The theme is always color related.  This year it was "Hello Yellow". Yellow is not one of my favorite colors.  It is too bright and generally transparent.  An intense deep yellow can be done but you have to be careful not to go orange or another secondary color.  Thus my reluctance to create work for the show.

However I also enjoy a challenge and think it's good to work with colors and things one may not be totally comfortable with using .  So I created 2 pieces for the Yellow show.  Both are 8" x 8". The first a tapestry called "Little X, why yellow". Knowing my aversion to yellow the title probably makes more sense then when seen alone.  Plus I liked the x/y alphabet thing going on.  This weaving continues a theme of weaving I have been working on. One of which," X, who was really quite Alien but wanted to be Reptilian", is shown under the weaving section in Projects.  Below is a picture in progress of "Little X".

This is the top half of Little X, why yellow. Above it is another Little X weaving that was worked on the opposite end of the loom which helps to minimize warping time although it does cause the warps to get awfully tight near where the two weavings meet. Below is a finished picture. Sorry it is a little out of focus.

And below is Little X taken with a flash.  The plastic strapping (originally from around a very large cardboard box) shows up interestingly on this one.

The second piece I created is called "And So Hung the Moon".  It is a new type of thing I'm doing combining weaving, painting, recycled textiles and any other technique that fits.  I will be creating a project page with these soon.  It will be called "Things".  Below is an in progress but almost finished picture of the piece.  Along with a bit of my work space.  I no longer notice the polka dot table cloth when I work because it's been there so long. Although Its getting pretty tattered and will need to be replaced soon.


Below is the finished picture.

The circle is a piece of un-glazed porcelain I made.  The yellow is the former sleeve of a Desigual t-shirt and the black and white is butchers twine. The yellow thread wraps around the piece and the braided butchers twine in the lower proper left corner continues to the side.

If you are in the area the "Hello Yellow" show will be up until March 12th at the Carlisle Arts Learnign Center, 38 W. Pomfret St., Carlisle, Pa 17013.