Down To Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day, here’s a peek at some of the recycled materials in pieces I’m working on for Night Vision, a celebration of how sleep and dreams can bring transformation and renewal. So far, all the materials in this body of work except thread have come from my stash or my closet, or been purchased at garage sales or thrift shops. It’s surprisingly easy and very satisfying to transform fabric you have into fabric you use with a few surface design techniques.

Night Owl includes an old pillowcase simmered with bark and old chain, an old tablecloth altered with Procion MX dyes, and an indigo-dyed piece of muslin.

To work out ideas for the design, I used recycled magazine paper. At a later stage, I stabilized an edge with horsehair braid bought at a garage sale still attached to fabric. (Whoever shortened a bridesmaid or prom dress and saved the stiffener — thank you!)

Dreamcatcher includes another old pillowcase. My mother worked so hard when I was a kid to keep our sheets from turning orange from the iron in our water, and now I do it on purpose. I also used some silk scraps from my Black Hole, and flannel and cotton quilt blocks (given to me by a friend) that I overdyed with indigo.

The rust-colored piece above is the leg from a white wool suit handed down to me by my mom several years ago. After an introduction to some acid dye, it ended up in piece called AfterMath.

I can’t talk about this work without mentioning how much I loved the recycled feedsack PJs my grandma used to make for me when I was a kid. If only I could get my hands on some of those old feedsacks now…

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Iron-Rich Dye-It

Bark Soup left me feeling tired, run-down, listless. Well, not really, but I can’t resist the Geritol references since I’m talking about iron and dye(it). Hmm. Now I’m wondering if I could print fabric with Geritol.

Anyway. My mom spent years trying to keep sheets and underwear from turning orange in the wash when we were on the farm, where the high iron content in our well water was pretty high. I seem to remember, too, a crisis caused by wet fabric left in the washer, where a chip in the enamel on the tub left a very permanent orange stain. We won’t be telling Mom I do this on purpose now.

One of the easiest ways to do mineral printing is to dampen fabric, wrap it around something that a) is rusty or b) will rust, and keep it from drying out while the color develops. That’s why the piece above is inserted in a plastic bag — to keep it from drying out. You can’t see in the picture, but the bag is not sealed. You want this to oxidize.

The photo above shows what that sample looked like after being left overnight and unwrapped the next day. The color on this piece was produced by rusty sheet metal and the chain I used to hold fabric bundles down in the simmering bark soup. The fabric is a cotton percale pillowcase from the thrift shop. My favorite part of this piece was the seam at the border.

The liquid you use to dampen the fabric can be plain water (takes longer), a mixture of vinegar and water (faster), plain vinegar (faster yet), or what I call Tannin Juice.

Tannin Juice is basically vinegar on steroids. In summer, I stuff fresh willow leaves or fresh staghorn sumac leaves into jugs of vinegar. That’s it. Put a cap on it, let it sit in a dark corner, and pull it out when you want a really fast, strong reaction. As always, you’ll want to sample this. Because the results may be unexpected.

I did a little experiment with Tannin Juice to test how I might use it for resist printing. The fabric here is some of the cotton that was soaked overnight in an iron kettle with elm bark then simmered in bark soup with an iron chain. You may not see any rusty orange on it, but this fabric is not only tannin-infused but also mineral-infused. I laid string I had used to tie up bundles on the fabric, then brushed over it all with Tannin Juice. This isn’t as black as I’ve gotten on other pieces (mostly silk), but it is pretty dramatic. I don’t like the hard lines I got from brushing on the tannin juice. Next time I’ll put the juice in a spray bottle.

I did another little experiment to sample how I might use the pickled sumac leaves from the Tannin Juice.

I laid the leaves on another piece of fabric from the bark soup collection, pulling them out of the jug with a pair of long forceps.

I wadded the fabric around the leaves, then poured on a bit of iron liquor, which I make by dissolving metal (steel wool works well) in vinegar.

The orange is from the iron liquor. The black is from the pickled sumac leaves.

I promised last time to show some of the Bark Soup fabric overdyed in the indigo vat. The vat is due for some attention, but two dips gave me a soft shift in the color that I really like.

I was thinking I would use this fabric in a wall piece, but now I’m wondering if I have enough to make another Crossover Top from the Kayla Kennington pattern.

It will have to wait a bit, though.I’m chained to the computer for a few more days until I complete another project. In the evenings I’ve been looping motifs for my freeform vest and making looped heart pins for Valentine’s Day.

Would you like a short tutorial on the hearts? Let me know in the comments.

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Bark Soup

Last week I spent some time testing ways to speed up a process that is mindlessly simple when you don’t care how long it takes. For years, beautiful color and intriguing patterns have been a side benefit from using old dish towels to mellow bark for weaving. The longer you leave bark tightly rolled up in damp fabric, the better. After removing the bark from the fabric, the longer you leave it before washing, the better.

It’s a lazy way to do things and thus perfect for me. Nevertheless, I wanted to test the adage “heat = time” as it relates to bark + cotton.

The first step was to narrow down my choices. In a couple of minutes I gathered willow bark, cedar bark, birch bark, elm bark, spruce bark, white pine bark, cherry bark, black walnut shavings, and a couple of barks I can’t identify because, duh, I didn’t label them. It would probably have been smarter to test methodically and compare with known results from the slow-and-lazy approach. Of course it would. Instead, I chose the two I was most unfamiliar with — elm bark and black walnut shavings.

The night before my experiment, I put the elm bark in to soak in plain water.

At the same time, I put the black walnut shavings to soak in an old iron kettle, hoping to get enough mineral leach to darken the color. While I was at it, I wrapped up a couple of fabric bundles and let them soak overnight in the kettle.

The next day, I transferred the elm bark and soaking water to an enamel pot, threw a length of chain on top to weigh down the fabric and interact with the tannin to yield a darker color. After simmering for about an hour, I removed the fabric. I saved the elm bark soup in another container, then transferred the black walnut stew from the iron kettle (which won’t sit on my hot plate) into the enamel pot. Since the chain was already there and worked so well to hold the bundles down, it went back in.

While neither method produced results of heartstopping beauty, I didn’t really expect them to. But they produced a modest amount of color and pattern, and thoroughly tannin-infused fabrics that took mineral printing well. More on that next time, along with (I hope) shots of fabrics I overdyed in the indigo vat before I remembered to take pictures. That fabric is in the wash now.

I saved all the iron-rich bark soup in a plastic jug, and now I’m contemplating whether I should add a tiny bit of sugar and yeast to kick-start some fermentation. Any thoughts or advice before I try to explain this wild hair to my husband?

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Yes Sir, Yes Sir, Two Bags Full Of Ideas

Here’s the update on the bag I introduced last week, and another recycling project.

The Indigo/Walnut Tote
Last week while I was giving the indigo vat a workout, I overdyed a tote bag I started last summer. I was cleaning up after a slapdash experiment to use a Rubbermaid bin as a solar oven for Mason jar dyeing. There was a bit of walnut dye left in the bottom of a jar. I think there might have been some vinegar or something else in there too (did I mention I didn’t take notes?). Anyway, I didn’t want to put that liquid back in the walnut dye container. So I scruched up a pre-made canvas tote bag and shoved it into the jar. No scouring or presoaking. You can see it didn’t dye evenly (just the way I like it). 

Walnut dye on canvas tote bag

I took it out of the jar a couple days later, hung it up to dry, and it’s been oxidizing since. As a lazy dyer, I’m a big fan of oxidizing — except when it happens to stains in my wardrobe because I didn’t wash them out right away.

Last week, I finally washed the bag. After rinsing it, I kept it damp. Then it went into the indigo vat. Here’s what it looked like after oxidizing this time (a quicker and more dramatic process with indigo).

Walnut dye then indigo after rinsing

My walnut dye has been “saddened” with a bit of iron, and I love the way it warms the indigo.

Over the weekend I added a couple of outside pockets to this bag.

Pocket fabric is my Doodle Leaf design from Spoonflower

Now I need some advice: Is this guy-ish enough for a college-age man who shops at the farmers market to appreciate as a Christmas gift?

The Doorknob Bag
While cleaning this fall, I ran across another natural dye experiment from a few years ago. This week, I used it to make a bag to hang on the doorknob in my studio. My fantasy intention is to tuck receipts, packing slips and other documents that need to go into the office here instead of scattering them amongst the debris on my work table.


The fabric is huck toweling I stained with tea and turmeric, then mineral printed with vinegar and nails. For the bag, I also used a woolen necktie I from the thrift shop and a swatch of my Spoonflower fabric.

The bag is a bit wide for a doorknob hanger because I wanted it to fit a notepad as well as receipts. So it doesn’t flop on the knob, I snipped the ends off a couple of electrical cable ties and threaded them into a casings at the rim.

I used the necktie for the hanger and edging and a flap over the top. As I was working on it, I wanted to keep the necktie-iness with that little tab at the lower left. Naturally, that break in the line is the first thing my eye goes to and it’s annoying me, but probably not enough to change it.

While working on this bag, I tried to remember why I never did any more dying on huck toweling. I love this stuff with or without traditional huck darning embroidery.

So now I’m thinking of other ways I might use huck toweling. Feel free to chime in!

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