Snipping My Way To Color

Natural dye material is ready to harvest just about everywhere you turn here in rural northern Wisconsin, where I’m snipping as fast as I can. It’s nice to have a reason to slow down for a bit and enjoy dyeing with a friend.

The angel who started my Japanese indigo last spring came over yesterday morning. We combined leaves snipped from her plants and mine and had a nice visit while the pot warmed gently over a two-hour period. 

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Gathering Bulrush And Leeches

The last time I cut bulrush where we went today to harvest was about 10 years ago. I never harvest much in any one spot. My goal is always that when I leave, my activity should be undetectable and not diminish the resource in any way. But today I took out more than my share — of leeches.

Bulrush harvested to dry for cordage.

In the past when the lake level was lower, Bill and I just waded in and cut here and there. With some heavy rains this summer, lake levels are higher.

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Looping At Convergence

​After two days of teaching, I had a day off before my next seminars and I’ve made the most of it. Now I’m sipping iced tea, resting my feet, and reflecting on the wonderful things that have happened so far at Convergence 2016 in Milwaukee.

My week began with a 2-day workshop sampling seven looping variations from around the world. As usual when I’m teaching, I get too busy to take pictures. Then right at the end of the lunch break on Day 1, the convention center was evacuated because of a nearby fire. My class managed to meet up at the Starbuck’s across the street, and I managed to get a picture of this lovely group stitching and sipping until we could return to our class space.
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Studio Transformations

This weekend has been our annual fishing camp, and my studio was temporarily converted into Fly Tying Central. But once the feathers and flash are picked up this afternoon, I’ll start spreading out natural dye materials to dry while I’m away teaching at Convergence.

Fly tying table at fishing camp.

Convergence is the Handweavers Guild of America biennial conference. Packing for an event like this is best done without any distractions — at least for me. At least if there’s anything that has to be counted. So I got all that done before our company arrived on Friday.

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Local Color At Sievers

One warm, sunny October day in the mid-1990’s, I fell in love with Washington Island. I was in Jo Campbell-Amsler’s willow backpack class at Sievers, and we left the studio to weave at what is now called Percy Johnson Park. 

Now I take my own students there when I teach a Sievers class called Local Color. The class combines field trips, natural dyeing, photography and digital imaging, and printing and embellishing images on fabric and transfers.

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Japanese Indigo In Containers

Last year I grew Japanese indigo successfully in a recycled horse trough with the bottom cut out. This year, to plant my expanded crop, I’m also trying three more container growing options.


Each year, Bill and I try a few new container experiments for growing vegetables. Last year we raised potatoes, sunchokes and basil in wire cages made from hardware cloth. We lined the cages with a thick layer of dry leaves. (We found a ring of plastic cut from an old barrel makes it easy to pack leaves up the sides of the container.) Then we fill the center with a mix of soil and compost. This year, one of those bins is planted with indigo seedlings.

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Japanese Indigo Under Cloches

My Japanese indigo seedlings got transplanted over the weekend. Or at least, some of them did. With scattered frost possible for tonight (yes, that would be June 7), I have the rest safely in the dining room in case I need to replant. Frost into early June is not unheard of here, and nights tend to be cool anyway well into June or July. So I try to protect these tender plants after I set them out. My system relies on recycled translucent plastic jugs.


We buy our milk in glass containers, but neighbors save plastic ones for us. And I go through a lot of vinegar for natural dyeing and household cleaning, so I save those jugs, too. When I transplant indigo, tomato or other tender seedlings, I cut the bottom out of a jug, push it into the soil over the seedling, and remove the cap.

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Homegrown Indigo Season 2

Last year’s crop of polygonum tinctoria — Japanese Indigo — produced more than leaves for dyeing: My plants also produced more viable seed than I hoped for in my short northern growing season. So in Season 2, I’m growing plants from seed I saved last year.


This is only possible because my friend Julie started the seeds for me. I knew this spring would be challenging, and starting plants indoors was not in the cards. So I asked Julie for help.

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Wrecking Willow

Over Memorial Day weekend, a small group gathered at my home to wreck some willow. That’s what Dawn Walden calls the process of splitting and resplitting seasoned white (peeled) willow until what remains is a lustrous ribbon of wood and exciting possibilities.

Skeins made from the outer layer of seasoned peeled willow.

Dawn and I met last summer when we both taught at the biennial NBO conference. We sort of knew each other from Facebook, but had no idea that we live just two hours apart — practically next door. At the conference, we had adjacent rooms and kept having to tear ourselves away from conversations in the hall to go teach our workshops. It was there that she offered to teach me to make willow skeins. She graciously extended the offer to two mutual friends from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and two more friends with special interests in willow skeining. And that’s when it turned into a party!

The willow wrecking crew -- Beth Hester, Dawn Walden, Karen Tembreull, Poppy Hatinger, Jo Campbell-Amsler and Donna Kallner.

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