On Invasives And Plant Dyes

At what point are invaders considered naturalized? That’s been a central topic in a class I’m taking this fall on the ethnobotany of Central Wisconsin. A recurring theme has been how one person’s weed is another’s food or medicinal plant — or natural dye.

Buckthorn -- invasive weed and natural dye plant.

It wasn’t on the syllabus, but buckthorn came into the discussion early in the class. We’ve all tried and failed to stop the spread of this European invader. Buckthorn leafs out early and holds its leaves late, often shading native plants. And it produces a huge amount of fruit, making it easy for birds that eat the fruit to disperse the seed where they poop, making more buckthorn. It has spread so widely now in our area that it seems likely here to stay. Which led to the question, “What will people think of it in 400 years?”

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At Last, Nalbinding

It’s taken almost 20 years, but I think I finally have a handle on one species of the looping genus known as nalbinding (or nalebinding, or naalbinding…).

My WIP in nalbinding class

Last weekend I traveled to Iowa to Vesterheim, the national Norwegian-American Museum, for a 3-day class in their Folk Art School with Kate Martinson, an Emeritus Professor of Art at Luther College in Decorah.

The first time someone showed me how to do a nalbinding stitch would have been about 1996. By that time, I had been looping for a while and was pretty comfortable with the basic structure and concepts. But it’s one thing to see someone stitch in nalbinding and another (at least as an adult) to translate watching into doing. Especially with nalbinding, where you work into both the back and the front of the piece

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Natural Dye Play: pH And Heat

Over the past few weeks I’ve been playing with some natural dye process variations. On Saturday, I took some of my experiments to show at a demo at our local farmers market. I love doing demos at the market, and thought this would be a perfect time to celebrate the color potential of what you can grow or gather in this area.

Natural dye demo at the farmers market.

For the demo, I took some of solar dyed yarns. After last year’s fermented dye experiments, I was a bit reluctant to venture back into the realm of reek. But I thought it was worth taking a chance to see if the addition of alum to a jar of solar extraction would give results worth the potential stink.

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First Vat of Homegrown Indigo

On Saturday, I set aside nagging doubts and made my first fresh-leaf indigo vat with leaves from plants grown in northern Wisconsin. And it worked!

Yarn dyed with fresh indigo grown in northern Wisconsin by Donna Kallner.

Usually, I don’t stress that much about experiments that might fail. But with a limited supply of fresh leaves, I was more than a little afraid a mistake could cost me a whole growing season.

Japanese indigo container-grown in northern Wisconsin.

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Another Bag, Another Story

My family has a code phrase for things that are a big deal: If you don’t fully understand why but you hear the helpful phrase, “It’s a $7 ham,” you know it’s something to celebrate. This week, two new looping treasures have come into my life. One is a gift that adds another another layer to the tale of two bags I wrote about last time. The other, an out-of-print book, is a $7 ham (cue the confetti).

Akha bag gifted to me by Tressa Sularz.

This nettle fiber Akha bag arrived in the mail this week, an unexpected and cherished gift from my friend Tressa Sularz.

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Thoughts On A Summer’s Day

Today, I gave myself permission to ignore my to-do list (prep for Sievers workshop next week) until afternoon. By then, I should have a huge accumulation of laundry washed and hung to dry. In between trips to the clothesline, I need to download a huge accumulation of stuff from my head. Some are things I wish I had taken better pictures of, or better notes, or any pictures or notes, because I think you would find them inspirational. Others may be of no interest to anyone but me. But it’s hard to be tidy during a mental house-cleaning, so here’s goes.

Willow laundry basket by Joanna Schanz.

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Rethinking A Teaching Philosophy

For the 15 years I’ve been a traveling fiber arts instructor, I’ve tried to provide most of the materials for workshops I teach. As a student, my personal pet peeve is getting an extensive materials list for an event and not needing those things after I’ve carted them through connecting flights. And I know people appreciate materials and preparation that show respect for students’ time and money.

Handwoven fabric for Statement Seams workshop.

I’m almost packed for a two-week road trip that will take me to two conferences. The first is the Midwest Weavers Conference. I’ve been teaching at this biennial event since 2005, and it’s one of my favorites. This time I teach three different workshops — one full-day, two half-days. They’re topics I love, or I wouldn’t have proposed them. But they’re short teaching time frames.

Student samplers basted to stabilizer for fiber art workshop with Donna Kallner.

Short workshops often mean more instructor preparation. Like basting fabric to stabilizer and pressing seam allowances so 16 students can focus on stitching and possibilities in the three hours they have with me. As a student and as an instructor, I know the disadvantages of having prep work done for you. But I understand why short time frames are standard at many conferences in the United States.

Sorting and packing for fiber art conference workshops.

I had planned to remain the instructor with the short student materials list and the long instructor preparation to-do list for as long as I can manage it. Or at least, that’s the plan for events I can drive to and classes for which materials can reasonably be shipped. But I may rethink that on my way home from the second conference.

Eva Seidenfaden teaching at the Willow Gathering in Decorah, Iowa in 2014.

That’s the Willow Gathering at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. I’m not teaching there. My friends Jo Campbell-Amsler and Lee Zieke Lee organize the event, and I’m going to act as Conference Auntie. That way Jo and Lee can take workshops without the frequent interruptions that come when a bunch of people are living and learning in unfamiliar surroundings. And I can study other instructors’ teaching methodology. The Danish basketmakers I met there last year gave me much to think about.

But what about you? What do you see as the pros and cons of short workshops, longer workshops, instructor-supplied materials, student-supplied materials, different teaching models… Hit Comments and give me something to think about on the drive. I always appreciate your input!

More On Willow Natural Dye

Having a jar of willow bark alkaline extract sitting on the shelf comes in handy when you need some quick color. This is silk ribbon and silk cord immersion-dyed in liquid from the jar of willow bark extract I’ve been working on since last fall. I just keep topping off the liquid in that jar, adding a bit of soda ash when I do.

Willow bark alkaline extract natural dye on silk ribbon and silk cord.

The color on silk from this method is much like the buff color of willow boiled or steamed with the bark on before peeling. But in this case, no heat is applied to extract the color from the bark — only when I simmer the fabric.

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It’s All About The Base

Last week I made a trip to Iowa’s historic Amana Colonies to visit with basketmaker Joanna Schanz, who curates the Philip Dickel Basket Museum Gallery.  The looped white pine bark egg gathering basket I made last winter is now on exhibit there. And there’s nothing like a long drive to help me sort things out in my head. I spent some time thinking about bases, but also about making do, making things that are useful, and making friends.
Amana coiled bread rising basket repaired.

First, making do: This coiled bread rising basket is one of the samples of historic Amana baskets that complement the work of contemporary makers in American Baskets: Made To Be Used. Notice the different colors? Different materials were used when this basket was repaired.

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