The Colors

Imagining a “garden at dusk” led me to paint several layers of dusky colors in a very light value on the entire surface of the cloth, using soy milk and natural pigments. I would never have used the vintage white damask formal linen tablecloth for dining purposes. My cloth is long enough for two instances of the stencil, which was created from a full sheet of stencil paper. The finished image will be approximately 16” x 30.” Placing my stencil on the cloth before pasting allows me to see where the background colors fall within the stencil design. Before pasting the design (rice paste through the stencil), the stencil and the bamboo stretching sticks–“shinshi,”–soak in water.

Sketches to stencils

I usually start designing a stencil by doing some sketches of my idea. In this piece, I want to combine some pasted background imagery including a moon and some branch and leaf-like forms over the leaf impressions made by the eco-print (see my previous post) Then I’ll add pigments in subtle shades of blue and green, let the piece cure a few days and then rinse out the paste. Over this layer I will paste a single stencil of branches and blackbirds. Here are my initial sketches on newsprint for the final stencil.


Next, I work out a cartoon from my sketches, combining the imagery from the sketches. (I probably have no business making a stencil with this much open area (that is, area to be cut away), but I’m curious and committed to see how my idea works out – or not, as the case may be!) I make design adjustments both after tracing the stencil and while I am cutting it. This one will need lots of bridges to give it stability because of all the open areas. The moon is missing because it will be pasted from a separate Yupo stencil.

A light coat of spray adhesive adheres the cartoon to my stencil paper, which has been cut to allow an ample margin on all sides. My image is larger than my stencil paper so will be spread across two pieces of shibugami.

This week I am pasting and dyeing the under-layers, and hope to share a bit of that work later this week.

Playing with natural dye extracts

Several months ago I put a call out to the diverse community of local textile and fiber enthusiasts asking if there was interest in starting a local natural dye study group affiliated with the Textile Center of Minnesota. At least 15 people responded, and now we have a fledgling natural dye group in the Twin Cities! We met first in March, and will meet again this Wednesday in the Textile Center dye lab. This group is about exploration, experimentation and sharing – i.e. more play than structured learning. At the first meeting, participants shared their lovely naturally dyed samples. (I wish I had taken photos of them). This week we are going to play with Earthues Natural Dye extracts, both immersion and direct application methods. (Earthues has a new blog and hopefully will have an online shop soon.)

In preparation for leading the meeting, I did some playing on my own. Here’s a peek at my wool scrap, followed by some notes describing what I did with it.

I mixed up several colors (cutch, logwood purple, pomegranate and madder), along with iron water and cream of tartar water, and gum tragacanth thickener. I pasted several of my stencils on two large scraps of wool and silk which had been soy sized and mordanted (painted with alum). I added thickener to the natural dye extracts and painted it on. I also painted on iron water and cream of tartar to see what would happen to the colors. My guide for these experiments is the Natural Dye Instruction Booklet by Michele Wipplinger of Earthues, which you can find here. The book covers several methods of applying these natural dyes to cloth.

I used the extracts full strength along with the thickener. I also used the iron water at full strength. Next time I’ll dilute these considerably. When I painted on iron water and cream of tartar water, I could see the color changes instantly. There is a bit of magic to this! I’m excited to learn more about these dyes!