My indigo has been sown and is growing happily ready to be planted out at the end of May along with Coreopsis and Weld.
Spring leaves have been steamed in handwoven khadi cotton and prints and last years indigo vat has been revived for some mud resist printing.
I was invited by my friend and Potter Noriko McFarlane to show at her studio at Manor Farm in Stanford in the Vale for Oxfordshire Artsweek. The exhibition opened last Saturday with a stream of people coming through the door and is open until the 11th of May.
The weather has been so bad for so long with relentless wind, rain and flooding. I feel so fortunate, unlike many others, to live on a hill with no fear of flooding. The bad weather means it’s a good time to be inside by the wood-burning stove bundling pieces of fabric.
I have wanted to experiment and see what is possible in the depths of winter with very little in the way of fresh leaves to work with. Bundling what I can find in silk and cotton, around sticks, stones and metal scraps and then simmering them in baths of windfalls.
I bundled a piece of the fine hemp silk from the hemp shop with the habutai samples. It has the body of hemp with some of the dye qualities of silk. Steamed up windows and the lovely aroma of leaves fill the air and later, though little time has been given to developing the prints lovely colours and marks emerge.
My brain is whirring thinking of what wonderful things I could do with it. I have also bought some organic hemp and cotton jersey fabrics to play with which are calling for an indigo bath.
Dan returned from his weekly commute to London with samples of different papers from Atlantis Arts, some rusty nails in a bag and some other treasures for winter experiments. But first we have decorating to do so a weekend of sand paper, paint brushes and rollers and the living room has been transformed into a brighter place for the gloomy months.
This morning I woke up to the first frost of the winter. The dog walk took us out into a crystal covered landscape. No pictures, (having forgot my camera) but many more frosty mornings ahead.
Finally some time to work. Which papers will produce the best colours? No rust at this stage as this may confuse things too much just paper leaves and steam. First into the steamer are the Rives BFK, Aquarelle Arches 185 gsm HP, and Bockingford water colour 150gsm NOT ,with Acer palmatum, Prunus and Poplar italica
After half an hour first out of the steamer is the Aquarelle Arches which is showing bright colours of green, yellow and blue, The paper is sticky with size.
another half an hour the Bockingford which has more subtle prints and natural colours.
The heavy weight Rives BFK has produced unexpected rust notes. Quite different from the other sample of Rives I was given which was similar to the Arches sample.
Should really do more work on paper, though I’m really in the mood to look at the pile of sample pieces I have been accumulating and piecing them together.
I’ve had a lovely day yesterday playing with different types of paper to see how they take leaf prints. I know others who mordant paper with aluminium acetate to get lovely clear prints but I am hoping to find papers which give me the results I’m looking for without mordanting.
My good friend and artist Duncan Clarke gave me two sheets of acid free cotton rag paper to try and I already had sketch books of various types of water colour paper. I was also given a bag of lovely red Virginia creeper to add to the Prunus, Amelanchier, Cotynus and Sumach leaves I gathered on my morning walk with the dogs.
After a day simmering and steaming I got some lovely prints and such a variety of colours. Duncan’s paper really pulled out the yellows and turned the Virginia creeper green and blue. My smooth water colour paper produced pinks and blues though not such clear prints and my sheets of rough water colour paper made very blurry images so I have left it folded up hoping for more.
Cotynus on rag paper
Cotynus on watercolour paper
Cotynus Grace print
I have folded some thread book boxes using standard printer paper and put leaves in and around them and they are now in the steamer with bits of metal. The challenge will be to find a strong, printable and light enough weight paper to make the folded books. There seem to be lots of info on the web on making simple origami books which I have also tried successfully using heavier weights.
The folded printing paper turns out to be promising though very fragile when wet. Most of the other papers are too heavy to fold into boxes except for a cartridge paper which didn’t take a good print. onion skins, sumach and Prunus turn out to be stars of this show.
We are bracing ourselves for the storm due to hit tonight and have been gathering the last of the dye plant seeds from the garden.
I’m very pleased with my crop of Japanese indigo (Persicari tinctoria) this year of which 3 plants were encouraged to go to seed. The last of the flower heads are now hanging and drying to add to the harvest. I have a very good supply of seed this year and hope to sell some to anyone wanting to grow and dye with this wonderful plant. You have to use fresh seed as it isn’t viable for long. The good thing is that it is easy to grow and will layer easily. Look at my Indigo page for more information.
I have dried both my first and second harvest and hope to ferment it as they do in Japan. I don’t have enough to create a pile as Roland Ricketts is doing in Indiana. However, I have been looking at Bryan Whiteheads blog and he ferments smaller quantities using another traditional method which I might try this year or wait until I have another harvest next year. It would be wonderful to make a natural fermentation vat using indigo that I have grown from seed.
Autumn fruits provide coloured backgrounds to leaf prints. The possibilities seem endless. Walnuts are simmering on the stove and another pot is reducing the previous extractions to a dark and wonderful ink. Painted on watercolour paper with the berry dye produces lovely colours that reflect the gloomy sky outside and remind me of beautiful landscapes I viewed last night by local artist Duncan Clarke at our community shop and gallery
The rapidly shortening days create a sense of creative urgency. The hedgerows are heavy with berries, leaves are changing and falling onto the damp ground. The remains of squirrel collecting lie under the trees asking to be made into dyes and inks for future projects. Pots of foraged hulls and berries are simmering on the wood burning stove. Bundles of ferns, rose geranium and cotinus leaves laid in cloth are bound around fallen pine cones from the forest floor. Pieces of bundled silk wait for the dyepot ready to be transformed by botanical alchemy.