Apr 17, 2018 9:35 AM
I've had a box I've been moving with me for longer than I care to admit. A small box full of fiber reactive dye from ProChem. By now, it's been so long since I packed this box, I'm not even sure what I have, what is still good to use, or (most importantly) how they work. The shibori and ikat indigo dyeing I've been doing inspired me to pull it out and figure out what was inside. Luckily for me, Prochem is located in nearby Fall River and hosts classes and workshops.
Using two vacation days for a workshop felt like an indulgence, but I had an incredibly productive experience with a fun group of women, all learning to dye for different projects. It had been nearly 20 years since I last dyed with anything beside indigo and this class was the perfect refresher.
I had a couple of revelations as I (re)learned to dye.
Color is chemistry.
Whether done with natural dyes derived from plants, or dyes made in a building in Fall River, dyeing is chemistry. Fiber molecules and dye molecules are getting together and the end result is color. Not to mention what you need to make the fiber ready to take color, and then fix the color.
Color science is endlessly fascinating.
As much as I think about color and feel inspired by it, it had been a while since I thought about how it works and interacts. Color matching and color mixing is a delicate undertaking, and how our eyes perceive color adds another dimension. Then factor in how that color will interact with other yarn in woven cloth, and how those interlacings will be mixed by our eyes into yet another color and there are endless possibilities.
Really good notes and careful trials are essential.
I have a lot of patience when it comes to tasks (I'm a weaver after all, this is no instant gratification type creative outlet!) but it's hard to remind myself that learning something brand new is going to take a while to perfect. Dyeing is a science, and it will take a lot of trials and errors before I get what is in my head accomplished. Keeping track of what I'm working on, doing thoughtful trials and noting my process and reflections along the way are absolutely essential for dyeing.
I came home from this class with new dye, all the items in my box labeled, and some gorgeous dyed fabrics and yarns, including a new ikat warp.
Feb 19, 2018 2:29 PM
Our first full day in Guatemala, I experienced something very out of the ordinary. No, it wasn't walking down the street of a colonial city while a volcano was puffing out smoke in the distance. It wasn't peering into ruins of a church ruined by an earthquake and subsequently abandoned. It was answering our guide's question, "Why did you decide to come to Guatemala?" and answering "I'm a weaver." The strange part? He was not at all confused. He just answered, "Oh, nice, you'll enjoy all our textiles."
Saying "I'm a weaver" is something I don't actually do that often here at home, because most people are very confused. While many are often interested, it's a novelty. It is never taken as something normal and valued, not like in Guatemala. Throughout our 10 days there, I told a lot of people I was a weaver. And told a lot of weavers, "Soy una tejedora."
My job and career have pivoted over the years, and led me in directions I enjoy, but would never have anticipated. While I've been working on creative projects all along, I always felt like weaving was tied with industry and tied with a job and an income. It's taken me a while to release that.
These past two years I've been weaving a lot, dyeing with indigo, and engaging more with makers and artists. It's been liberating to explore, improve my skills and separate the making from a job. It's been satisfying to know that I don't regret my education just because I'm not working in the industry I trained for. In fact, I'm doing the best work I've ever done at my loom.
I'm a weaver, soy una tejedora.
Feb 19, 2018 2:28 PM
When I started exploring indigo dyeing last year, I couldn't wait to attempt ikat, despite knowing that it is an incredibly laborious technique. For those unfamiliar with the technique, the first step is to wind a warp. The warp threads are then bound in a design so that when dyed, the dye will resist those bound areas and the design will be visible. The warp is then dyed, rinsed, and the tied areas are unbound. At this point, the warp is ready to be put on your loom, and weaving can finally begin.
Ikat is a technique used in cultures around the world, with each culture making it uniquely their own. For my explorations, I was looking an examples of simple designs, made with just one dye bath.
During my first attempt, I had used regular household plastic wrap to bind the yarns, which proved a terrible idea. The plastic wrap clings to itself, which is handy in the kitchen, but not so much when binding warp threads. For my second attempt, I used plastic tape that artist and friend Paula Becker passed along to me. It made all the difference as I was able to bind tightly, and work with it more easily. After wrapping with the tape, I reinforced the area with a strong thread to be sure that it was tight and no dye would penetrate.
In my first piece, I used weft that had also been dyed, along with yarn that had been bound for use in weft ikat effects. (Thanks again to Paula for giving me her weft ikat yarn!)
In my second piece, I used dyed yarn as a ground weft, with an inlay technique in areas to make the white areas more white.
I hadn't used inlay much recently, but had used this technique extensively in college. It slows the weaving process down a lot, but the results it yields are worth the extra effort. (It doesn't look quite so slow in time-lapse!)
Lastly, I had threaded my loom with a pointed draw so I could play with twill structures. While I do appreciate seeing the structure more on this piece, I found I prefer pieces woven with plain weave as the pattern already has so much interest.
When binding my ikat, I imagined the shapes would hold together more. Yes, ikat is known for its shifting edges, but my pieces seemed to be shifting more than I expected. I'm not sure if I'm doing something wrong, it takes more practice, or if I should ask a friend to help me crank the warp on next time. Regardless, as I wove my warp, I loved the shifting more and more. The shapes became their own, and I was surprised to find that I felt liberated by that.
Each ikat attempt inspires me to do another and to research more about how this technique is done around the world.
This month I'm making a quick visit to Toronto and am excited to see that the Textile Museum of Canada currently has an ikat exhibit on display. Hopefully I'll come back feeling inspired, with lots of ideas of new projects.
This post was originally published on The Common Thread.
Feb 19, 2018 2:27 PM
Urban living has it drawbacks. Such as, having to ask myself “Will my loom even fit into this place?” every time I’ve looked for an apartment. Also, sitting on a set of dyes for years because I have no space to rinse anything messy. And often, creating alone in my studio.
Enter my friend Cathy and her brilliant idea to host an outdoor indigo dyeing party. I could not accept the invitation fast enough and joined fellow textile artists in sharing dye baths. Together we explored indigo dyeing, shibori techniques, and I attempted ikat.
I accepted the invitation because I wanted to dye again, yet I came to realize it was about more than just the dyeing. Participating in these indigo dyeing parties filled a creative void that I didn’t really realize I had. My 16-harness Macomber loom is anything but portable, and I no longer work in the textile industry. I miss the days of working in a space with creative people, all of us working on our own projects, sharing ideas and offering feedback.
I also don’t push myself to learn about new techniques or research textile history and culture. These projects and these gatherings connected me with other artists, and also reminded me of the value of slowing down and taking the time to learn new skills.
By working together, we inspire each other to try new techniques, and share tools, resources and ideas.
I came away with many interesting samples, and a burning urge to try more ikat. Technically, it was the biggest challenge for me. My first time wasn’t great, but good enough to make me want to try again. My second attempt seems better, and I’m already planning out a third.
Creating can get lonely, it’s important to get out of that rut every now and then and be inspired by your community and hopefully inspire others.
Where have you found a creative community?
And there’s good news for those of you in Southern New England. What started out as a group of friends getting together, has evolved into actual workshops taught by the talented Cathy Wilkerson of The Indigo Squirrel. Sign up if you’re interested in learning shibori techniques.
Resources I found helpful:
Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shape Resist Dyeing
Japanese Ikat Weaving
This post was originally published on The Common Thread.
Feb 19, 2018 2:26 PM
When I used to make a sell travel journals at craft shows, people would always tell me how they never know what to write in a journal. I'd often hear that they sit down at the end of the day to write and fall asleep. Not at all surprising! If it feels like homework, it's not going to be enjoyable.
Travel journaling is never going to be successful if you're treating it like an assignment that you need to complete each day. Rather than thinking of your journal as a record of your itinerary, think of it as a series of snapshots of your trip. Print out your itinerary and tuck that into the journal to remember that you went here on Tuesday and there on Friday. Use the pages of your journal to write about what you're feeling about the trip, what senses are being awakened, and what ideas you're having in this brand place new.
If you save your journalling for the end of the day, you'll never remember all the small details. Instead have your journal on hand and write snippets throughout the day, little snapshots of what you're thinking and feeling. You can always go back and expand on some of those thoughts and experiences later when you have more time, but writing them down will press pause on that moment in time.
For those of you scared of the white page or not sure where to start, here are 5 of my favorite travel journal prompts to get the wheels turning.
Start each day with the same oberservation.
I love this exercise as a way of getting into the journalling mindset each day. Note the view out your window, or from your breakfast table. What's different? What's the same? What details shift a little each day?
What do you smell?
Sit in one place and smell your surroundings. Look around you, can you figure out where that smell is coming from? Is it different from anything you smell at home, the same? What memory does this smell conjure for you?
What do you hear?
Close your eyes and just listen. Where are those sounds coming from? How would you describe them? Are people talking? Listen for a snippet of conversation, and if you don't speak their language try to imagine what they're talking about by intonation and gestures. Are any of these sounds familiar to you?
Note the environment around you.
Is it cold, warm, humid, dry? Write down the time of day and weather. What is it about the physical environment at this moment that sets the season? How do you feel physically right now? Comfortable?
What boring details about ordinary life are different?
Go to a supermarket, pharmacy or post office and note how it's different from at home. What items are sold differently than they are at home? How do the prices compare? How is this experience different from home, and how is it surprisingly the same? Travel isn't always just about taking in the sites, it's also about seeing how other people live in a different country.
Sometimes all it takes in something quick to get you started, and words and sketches will start flowing. Like anything, it takes a while to get into a new habit. If you're not a daily journal keeper in your day to day life, pick up a little notebook and start writing before you leave home. Added bonus: you'll be looking at your regular routine and environment with new and fresh eyes.