Friday, November 23, 2012

Fun with Flowers, Fruits and Rusty Nails

We all seen our favourite piece of clothing fall victim to a food related stain.  Oh the disappointment, as we rush to wash out that spattering of black berry juice or watch the cranberry sauce spread across the table cloth.  Who ever thought that deliberately crushing black berries into a silk scarf would create something beautiful!

Our guild recently held a dye workshop that would have horrified my mother.  It went against all those lessons about how to avoid splashing the beet juice while peeling beets, removing grass stains from the knees of pants and adding a napkin underneath the bowl of cranberry sauce to avoid spills.  The pigments for the dye workshop came from the woods, the garden, the pantry and the shed.  The sources included leaves, flowers, berries, vegetables, fruit, and tea bags.  Rusty nails, pennies, alum and assorted other metal items (including sometimes the dye pot itself) provided the mordants as well as creating distinctive colours and patterns.  Add some salt to the mix and you can create magic.
In the pictures shown, silk scarf "blanks" were used but some members used cotton with equal success.  The silk blanks were pretreated with alum.  The dye materials were layered onto the cloth then the cloth was folded and rolled using various techniques.  Finally it was tied to keep the dye material in contact with the cloth.  The bundle was heated in a dye bath containing salt, more dye material and more metallic objects.  Everyone created their own dye bath so no two finished pieces were the same.
This picture shows a selection of the scarves that resulted from the workshop.  The colours were subdued browns, gold and rose.  The dark lines in the right hand scarf are due to rusty nails.  Where copper pennies or other copper items were involved the scarf often had a blue green cast. 

The photo to the left is a close up of an open cotton cloth showing a pattern of red and purple. 
 From the workshop we learned that the method for folding, rolling and securing the undyed cloth would effect how the pigments in the dye bath penetrated the cloth and how even the colours would be.  Many of the techniques from shibori dyeing could be applied here to create distinctive patterns. 
Although green leaves and other materials that appeared to be green were used very few of the pieces showed the typical greens that we are familiar with from other natural dye sources.  Possibly our plant materials reacted as they did because they were collected late in the year.
Such is the mystery of natural dyes and the variability that gives natural dyeing it much of its charm.  You never know what the final result will be.
For what is left of November our guild is counting down the days and madly finishing off pieces for our annual show and sale, Elegant Threads.  This event is our once a year opportunity to show off our works.  It is also our major fund raising effort as a percentage of the sales goes towards guild activities.  We will be at Rotary House in Qualicum Beach from November 30 to December 2nd.  Rotary House is located on the corner of Beach and Fern in the downtown area.  We would love to see you there.