In casual conversation with non-fiber people, I try to keep a lid on my enthusiasm for a technique many people have never heard of. Don’t want to scare people with raving and weird vocabulary. But when someone wants to talk about looping and asks great questions? You can’t begin to know how much I appreciate it!
Leanne Jewett did just that when she interviewed me for the artist profile in the National Basketry Organization’s Spring 2015 quarterly magazine. It arrive yesterday, and NBO gave me permission to post a PDF of the four-page article. You can read it here.
There’s still time to register for my July 15-17 workshop New Age Looping: Process and Possibilities at the NBO biennial conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. The class is open to all levels. We’ll cover basics, even if you’ve been looping for a while (I’m a big believer in solid fundamentals), then I’ll be able to tailor challenges for students of different experience levels and interests. Want to come spout weird vocabulary with me?
When I can glean materials for natural dyeing that would otherwise end up on the compost pile, I’m a happy dyer. That’s what I’ve been working with lately — the waste from processing bark for this basket, and rhubarb leaves I saved from last summer.
Bill and I grow rhubarb, which we gorge on in summer and freeze for winter. When I harvest the stalks, I save the leaves for natural dyeing. The oxalic acid in rhubarb leaves seems to help yarns take up other natural dye colors better, but on its own the color is not that special. Usually. This time, I got an electric yellow-green — best color ever for me from a rhubarb leaf dyebath by itself. So now I have a fade test going to see how colorfast this yarn will be.
For thousands of years, people have learned to make the most of materials they can grow or gather locally. To celebrate that tradition, for an exhibition in Iowa this summer I’m sending a looped basket made from white pine bark I gathered in my own yard.
My cavalier approach to natural dye documentation must drive some of you nuts. Any 8th grader knows from working on science projects that I go about things all wrong. Well, maybe not all wrong. But I certainly don’t make it easy for others to replicate my results. When was the last time you read “weight of fiber” here? Right.
This is going to sound awful, but I really don’t care if others can “replicate” my results. I do care, and care deeply, that others feel encouraged to explore uses of natural dye materials they can grow or gather where they live. That’s why I share these experiments in the first place. Chances are you won’t have access to the exact same materials. Or you won’t have the recommended weight of materials in relation to weight of fiber. Or your water chemistry will be different. Or any number of other variables will make your results unique. That’s why I write about the process, instead of the product.
That’s a variation on one of my alkaline extraction natural dyes on the left, and a pH modifier test on the right. I’m tempted to leave them hanging on the towel rod in the bathroom because they look so pretty in there.
For the one on the left, I simmered the wool yarn in a rhubarb leaf immersion bath. That helped use up some of the frozen dye materials that were relegated to the porch in my recent freezer purge.
Where snow cover and freezing temps are the norm for four or five months, you have to plan ahead to use local natural dye materials in the winter. I dry some things, press leaves for ecoprinting, and store bags of fresh willow leaves, rhubarb leaves and other materials in the freezer.
Nothing deflates the euphoria of finishing a piece quite like having to get it ready to ship to an exhibition. But it does feel good to get that job done. Here’s how I prepared “Shoal” for shipping and storage.
It’s amazing how much changing the point of view changes your perspective on something.
As an instructor at the 2015 National Basketry Organization biennial conference, I was invited to have work included in the exhibition. The plan in my head was for a hanging installation. But when a bundle of willow hoops in my studio came untied one day, the scattered pile reminded me of a shoal of fish.