Winter Madder

January 23, 2010

With winter rains pouring, creeks bristling almost over capacity, lightening striking Redwood trees… This has been a wonderful week of weather.  And due to the predominant quiet gray light, it felt appropriate to pull out the dried madder roots and prepare a dye vat whose colors would inevitably warm the heart and soul.

Madder has rhizomatous roots, and spreads effortlessly across most landscapes.  I’ve seen it growing in Wyoming, all through California, and have heard reports of it successfully being cultivated in the central and Northeastern states.  Its brilliant orange/red color releases into the dye vat within a couple of hours of gentle heat.  This dye lot turned a shade more orange than my other winter vats, which have been predominantly quite red.

I recommend the book, The Wild Root of Madder for your natural dye literary collection.  It surveys the history, and lore of madder’s use within Persia.  The traditional madder root dyer’s were well regarded artisans.. During the dissemination of synthetic dyes in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Iranian government banned there use– in an effort to to protect the natural dyes, and the craftspeople who used them.

Madder’s deep orange-red is a familiar color often seen in butterfly wings, berries, mushrooms, and autumn leaves.

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Dyeing and Middle School

January 15, 2010

When the middle school group found out we’d be dyeing, the jokes began… ‘I’m too young to go’, ‘We are dying.. at school?’.  I presented my powerpoint on natural dyes for them, and they were extremely animated as we poured through pictures of coal tar processing plants and synthetic dye houses, and then made comparisons to the natural dye studios and the dye crops.  The questions began rolling in, ‘Can we dye black’, ‘I’d like to dye the Mexican flag, how do I do that?’, ‘Can you show me how to make purple?’

Then we discussed the native plant connection, and that the colors we’d be making were from native species.  They had just learned about native and invasive species in science class earlier that day. I had prepared two of my favorite winter native species, toyon and coffeeberry for them.

I showed them how to create a shibori patterns on their silk scarves.  As they tied rocks, sticks, and rubber bands to their pieces they became completely engaged with the creative process, and particularly interested in developing pattern.  The patterns and shapes reminded them of certain body parts, and this kept them all very entertained.  Once they began removing things from the dye vat, they were transfixed. ‘This is awesome!’, ‘Do I get to keep this?’

This particular piece was a complete experiment in pattern.  I have never seen anything quite like it.

As the sun began to set behind the San Rafael hills, the questions came like a lovely refrain, ‘When are you coming again?’,

‘Next time bring blue’, and ‘Can we do a whole day?’

My response, ‘I would love to- and yes, I’ll bring blue’

Thank you North Bay Conservation Core for inviting me to work with this wonderful and well-humored group of young people.  If anyone lives in the Bay Area and would like to attend an incredible community event- I suggest going to the community and school garden building day at Martin Luther King Middle School in Marin City on January 18th.  I believe Carlos Santana will be performing, and food and drink is available for volunteers.  Check out the Conservation Core  website for more info!

Winter Windrush Photoshoot

January 9, 2010

Today was a day of taking stock.  Many photoshoots have been done to prepare images over the last year.  Today’s goal was to fill in the gaps, to create a fully comprehensive collection of images for the work we are creating on natural color.

Taking a few moments to catch some shots of my own.  The quiet of my winter garden has given me the opportunity to work with ancient dye stuffs that I only rarely use.  This collection of cochineal is a reminder of why exploring Spaniards gawked when they  first saw this rich Aztec dye.

They loaded thousands of pounds of the material onto their ships and sailed home to show Europe the ‘new crimson.’  I can’t imagine the look in the eyes of the people as they cast them for the first time upon the newly dyed cochineal robes.

My cochineal would have no canvas if it were not for these lovely sheep, the corriedale cross herd of Windrush farm is seen here in their great winter coats.  Spending a day in the midst of these gentle animals is the most calming of any experience I could dream up for myself.

And the oh-so-soft-alpaca, staying warm in her fine coat, enjoying the winter light as it exits behind the ridge…

And then, it was time to go.. we packed the car with massive amounts of dye equipment, and off we went.

Arlo and Paige in the front seat.  He is a patient dog, and a perfect match for a wonderful photographer such as she.  He sat and quietly watched the photoshoot for hours, occasionally chewing on a madrone wood stick, or eating a stray acorn.

The drive home.  The  expanse of fog, light, grass; these are the surroundings that gently seat me in the wisdom of place, and inspire the subtle and engaging colors of my dye vats. These are the landscapes I will be exploring and taking inspiration from for the rest of my days.