Holiday Gift Wrap-Up #1 — Willow Pillow

It’s all over but the leftovers! Before I start in on the next gift occasion, here’s a peek at what I made this year (now that holiday surprises won’t be spoiled).

For Mom and Dad, I finished the quilted pillow cover I wrote about here. The fabrics are silks I dyed with willow I grew myself. Dad helped me plant that willow, and one of the fabrics was dyed using my mom’s old aluminum jelly kettle as the pot-as-mordant.

The hand stitching was done with pale pink silk buttonhole twist I bought at a yard sale then overdyed in the willow bath.

I purchased the square pillow insert, and used a row of snaps to close the cover. Note to self: Buy more snap tape. That would be easier for aging fingers to do up after the cover gets washed, but I was out of what has become a sewing staple for me. It’s not just for onesies any more.

The finished pillow got wrapped furoshiki-style in one of the 35″ x 35′ willow-dyed silk scarves like I sell in my Etsy shop. I swaddled the works in recycled dressmaker’s pattern tissue for mailing. The United States Postal Service moved the box from northern Wisconsin to southern Florida in a timely and efficient fashion and delivered it to my parents’ door with a smile and wishes of the season from the mail carrier. He probably got cookies from my mom.

When I’m pressed for time, I sometimes forget how much I love hand stitching and embroidery, working without a plan, seeing how things develop, making it up as I go along. For this gift, I had time to savor the making. And I did!

I’d like to think that good feeling gets worked into the piece and radiates love when I can’t be in that room myself.

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Aren’t Rules Made To Be Broken?

Please, please say yes, and that breaking rules is one of your favorite hobbies. I’m breaking a family gift rule this year in a big way. By about a thousand percent, I’d say.

The family gift rule is that presents should fit in the palm of your hand. That was Mom’s suggestion when she and Dad were getting ready to move to smaller digs in a warmer climate. It’s actually a good rule, one that makes coming up with gift ideas much simpler. For Mom — jewelry and scarves, naturally. But Dad? That’s a little trickier.

So I’m making him a pillow. (My parents are still on dial-up, so no chance they’ll see this post). This gift won’t fit in the palm of even his big farmer hands.

The quilted cover is made from naturally dyed silks from my Willow For Color collection. My dad helped me plant that willow. I think he’ll find it interesting, and I like to give gifts that spark the telling of a story.

A few years ago, I broke the rule and made my dad another silk throw pillow — one with an embroidered appliqued picture of me and my sister many years ago, standing in front of the milkhouse on the farm. Sorry, no pictures (I barely got it done in time), but I think it’s one of my dad’s favorite gifts.

I’ll really try to get pictures of this pillow cover when it’s finished. There’s more embroidery to do, buttons, and a bit more stitching on the silk velvet binding. I want this pillow to be soft and cool and soothing to the touch. That’s all I can write on the topic of aging parents right now, except to say that the strength and resilience of the willow I used to dye the fabric are a pale reflection of the character of the man.

Mom’s gift I’ll use to wrap the pillow furoshiki style. She’s getting a silk scarf like those in my Willow For Color collection on Etsy. After Dad unwraps his pillow, it will fit in the palm of her hand.

Are you breaking any family rules with your holiday gifts this year? Or are you making family rules that make gift exchanges easier? I’d like to know! Leave a comment below, or post it on my Facebook page.

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Willow, Indigo, Discharge And Free Shipping

The turkey carcass isn’t cold before thoughts start turning to the holiday after Thanksgiving. If you’ll be doing some shopping over the next few days, I want to let you know about what’s happening in my Etsy shop.

You can use coupon code 2REDTHREADS to get free shipping on willow, indigo, and discharge dyed scarves. If you’re in Wisconsin (as I am) and want to support a Wisconsin artist, I’ve added another coupon code for you: Enter SHOPWIS at checkout and I’ll pick up the shipping and the state sales tax.

You’ll find indigo-dyed circle scarves, discharge-dyed silk scarves, and more willow-dyed scarves in my shop (including the 35″x35″ square silk scarves like the one shown above).

I’ve also added a few scarf pairs to wear separately or together, like I showed in this post. 

You can find it all at Happy shopping and have a great weekend!

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How Do You Explain To The Neighbors?

This was a week for simmering, dipping, wrapping, rinsing, ironing, and catching the light to get pictures of more willow-dyed scarves to go in my Etsy shop.

This afternoon, I cleaned up a bit and got Bill to take a picture of me in the willow bed. There’s a local show coming up next week, and I needed a photo to for some PR.

Shows like this give me a chance to tell the neighbors what that is growing behind my house. And why I grow it. And how cool it is. I even get to throw in “sustainable” and “renewable.”

How do you explain your obsessions to the neighbors?

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SDA Follow-Up

Willow-dyed scarves by Alicia Engstrom and Alison Gates

Last month at the Wisconsin SDA meeting, I took some dried and fresh willow and willow bark to share and did a short demo on how I use willow to color and pattern fabric.

Today on the Wisconsin SDA blog, Jill (our state rep) posted a photo of silk scarves made by two of the people who were at the meeting (the ones who reported on the Flax Project at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay). Beautiful!

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Willow For Drying And Dyeing

The first time I posted about willow immersion dye for fabric, I showed how I use fresh willow. That’s fine for me, because I can always pop out back and cut some fresh willow (even if it doesn’t have leaves on it). But people who don’t grow their own or have access to wild willow can still use willow to dye fabric.

This is dried basketry willow cut into short lengths. Like fresh willow, I cover the dyestuff with cold water and let it sit for a day.

The dried willow will float (even more than fresh willow), so needs to be weighted down to keep it mostly under water. It’s also going to absorb a lot of that water, so you may need to add more.

After a day or more of soaking, bring the dyepot to a simmer over medium heat and let it brew for an hour or so. Then let the dyestuff cool, fish out the willow, and pour the liquid into plastic jugs for storage.

But don’t throw that willow away. Put it back in the pot, cover it with water, and repeat the process as many times as it seems you’re still extracting color. You can also put the willow bits into bundles.

 As soon as I have a chance to get instructions written up, I’ll add dried willow for dyeing fabric to my Etsy shop. But if you happen to know a willow basketmaker, you might just offer to sweep up after them and get yourself all the dyestuff you need!

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Willow, Dye, And The Space-Time Continuum

Yesterday in my post on steaming and simmering natural dye bundles I mentioned the challenge I have controlling the temperature of dyebaths on the second-hand hotplate in my studio. In small batches simmered in a saucepan, if I turn the dial past the halfway mark at any time to speed things up even a smidge, I risk bringing the works to a boil. That kind of heat can strip the luster from silk.

Since I haven’t cooked on an electric range in years, to get used to this tool I had to do something I rarely do: I watched the pot. In other words, I did nothing else while observing the interface between an electric coil and the liquid contents of a saucepan.

Actually, I did make a cup of tea. But I didn’t sort beads to use in jewelry I’m making for holiday sales, or re-read the discharge chapter in Holly Brackmann for the nth time, or pick up some handwork. Zero multi-tasking occurred while that burner ticked and liquid began to steam. Did you notice a small tear in the space-time continuum? My fault.

I’m used to dovetailing tasks. And now that I have more experience with that hotplate, I’ve learned there are things I can do while stuff is simmering. Yesterday, I tied resists on black fabric I plan to discharge. The day before, I finished taping the edges of thermofax screens I burned one evening at Sievers.

But when I’m hot-dyeing, I can’t handle too many distractions. If the phone rings or UPS pulls in or a neighbor drops by while I’m hot-dyeing, it’s better for me to turn the burner off. Maybe not if it’s a big pot of dyestuff I’m trying to bring to a simmer slowly, but definitely for a saucepan of silk.

One of the advantages of cold-bundle dyeing is it takes little to no management. I might move a tub of baggie-dyeing bundles into Bill’s black truck to take advantage of its warmth and not think of it again until Bill asks how long I plan to keep it there. I’m good at forgetting things, which makes the joy of rediscovery sweet.

That’s what happened in the studio on Thursday. On the counter, I discovered a baggie with a coil of willow bark wrapped in damp fabric. It’s bark I soaked a week ago then wrapped up to mellow for my demonstration at the SDA meeting last Saturday. And even though it was coiled with the inner bark to the inside, it had begun to mark the fabric (a thrift shop napkin).

It seems fitting to wrap up this series of posts in response to the SDA meeting by wiping out the saucepan with that napkin (which I did yesterday) and thanking you for reading (which I’m doing now!). I know some people are still having trouble getting comments to post, so if you have questions or your own experiences to share, please email me or post them on my Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you!

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Willow Dye The Bundle Way

Earlier this week when I wrote about using willow immersion dye for fabric, it probably made more than a few dyers cringe. For thousands of years, dyers have worked hard at perfecting the even application of color. I admire that, but it’s not what I’m going for.

I’m going for fabric in which the process leaves its mark — irregular, organic marks, as well as color.

Most of my natural dyeing involves putting dyestuff in direct contact with fabric. Sometimes it’s a slow process in which fabric and dyestuff are wrapped together with copper or steel wire, the bundle is tucked into a plastic bag and splashed with vinegar or old wine, then left in the sun for a week or two (longer, if sun isn’t part of the equation).

Lately, I’ve been playing with the balance between heat and time. Much of this exploration was inspired by India Flint. After a comment she made at the Surface Design conference in Minneapolis last summer, it seemed like serendipity that I should find a rice steamer at my local thrift shop. I started playing with it during goldenrod season. And I’m loving it with willow.

What I do is wrap my dyestuff (willow leaves and/or bark, bits of metal, etc.) in fabric moistened with water or willow dye liquid, then wrap the bundle in baking parchment. Some bundles I let sit overnight first, some get steamed right away. A bundle is steamed on a rack over hot water for an hour or so. I have to add water about every 20 minutes. After steaming, I let the bundle cool. I might pull the metal out of the bundle the same day on a silk piece, but I try (try, I say) to let the bundle mellow overnight before unwrapping it.

Steaming isn’t the only way I apply heat. I also simmer bundles in willow dye liquid in a saucepan on a hotplate in my studio. Because the metal in the bundles leaches into the dye liquid, I may only get a couple of bundles simmered before the color starts to get dull. Bundle simmering has been successful enough for me to take a second saucepan (cast aluminum) from kitchen duty and dedicate it to the studio.

The biggest problem I have with simmering bundles is controlling the temperature on the electric hotplate (a garage sale purchase). With too much heat, silk can lose its luster.  With the smaller saucepans, I have better results when I never turn the dial past the halfway point and just let it come up to below-simmer sloooowly.

The second-biggest problem I have with simmering bundles, I’ll save for tomorrow. I’m working on pacing and patience. It’s a challenge!

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Mark-Making With Willow & Liquid Metal

Liquid metal, metal liquor — whatever you call it, it’s a pretty effective way to make marks on fabric. When you add willow to the mix, the results can be even more exciting.

To make iron liquor, stuff one or two pads of steel wool into a bottle and add vinegar. Don’t fill the bottle too full, because it will fizz up as the acid starts to work on the metal. (It’s lovely to have studio flooring that isn’t precious!) Don’t cap the brew while it’s working. I rubber band a piece of fabric over the opening to keep bugs out. The longer it brews, the stronger the liquor gets, but you can use it after just a few days.

To use the liquor, strain it through a piece of fabric to catch any undissolved metal bits. Then apply to fabric. I generally apply it to fabric that has been dyed with willow, sumac or rhubarb leaves. I’ve had good success with fabrics that were cold-bundled, steamed and simmered in bundles as well as immersion dyed with willow.

This test piece is a silk scarf that was very briefly simmered in a willow immersion dyebath. My iron liquor had only been working for a few days, so the color was a very light gray. I applied the liquor with a Tsukineko Fantastix applicator, but have done brush and sponge applications, too.

Older (more aged?) iron liquor and more willowy fabric can give darker (as in black) marks.

I’m cheating here (trying to get caught up on my willow dye posts for the SDA group) and using a photo from last winter. This shows iron liquor used with the tannin liquor I make from staghorn sumac leaves and vinegar. I make the same kind of tannin liquor using willow leaves and vinegar, but these are the pictures I can find at the moment. I soaked the folded/clamped fabric (a recycled cotton percale pillowcase) with the tannin liquor, then mopped up a puddle of very old iron liquor with it.

Here’s the resist pattern on that pillowcase.

For most of my natural dye projects, I like to let a piece oxidize for a couple of weeks before I wash it (if I can hold out that long). For mineral-printed pieces, especially ones made with mature (vintage?) iron liquor and especially on silk, I usually rinse the fabric within a few hours.

I’m not worried about metal-made marks washing out. Have you ever left a load of wet clothes in a dryer with chipped enamel on the tumbler?

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The Dark Side of Willow Surface Design

Willow may not be the first material most people think of for natural dyeing, but it’s certainly versatile. You can dye or “eco-print” fabric with the leaves, stems and bark. But it only occurred to me recently to try marking the fabric with willow charcoal.

This post from last summer shows how Bill and I make homemade willow charcoal. It’s a good use for the denuded sticks left behind after harvesting the willow bark I need for dyeing. Most of the charcoal we give as gifts.

I might be keeping a bit more of it now.

After just a few samples of fabric marked with willow charcoal, I’m pretty excited about the possibilities.

The markings on these fabrics are subtle, which I like.

These silks were washed much sooner than I generally wash naturally dyed fabric. I prefer to let it oxidize for a couple of weeks, and will sample that next to see if I can produce bolder marks as well.

Next, I want to sample charcoal marking on fabric pre-treated with a binder. Soy milk is one possibility for a binding agent. But I’ve just started another set of experiments using trub, the layer of sediment that settles to the bottom of the carboy in homebrewed beer. Bill has been saving the trub for me when he bottles beer. My first test was encouraging, but I’ll tell you about that another time.

Instead of beer, tomorrow I’ll break out the iron liquor as this dyeing with willow series continues. In the meantime, cheers!

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