A plant with tiny yellow flowers, orange roots and oozing sap that turns bright orange in the air, must go in the dye pot! An herbalist had given me a plant that self seeded into a little patch in the shade under my red maple. The tree died over winter and the now sunny spot will go to bee balm, coneflowers, and black-eyed-susans for the birds. I am also moving my natural dye garden plants; madder, woad, weld and tansy, to a new location where they won’t be hemmed in by the vegetable beds.
Back to the mystery plant. The sticky sap suggested that I wear gloves while rinsing dirt off the roots and then chopping the entire plant. After covering the chopped bits in water, I went online to see what I was dealing with. This antique gem is Greater Celandine and has many common names going back centuries. It had been purported to treat a myriad of ailments, colour manuscripts and was used as a yellow hair dye in the middle ages.
Experience with yellow natural dyes has taught me not to cook them too hot or too long. You don’t want a rolling boil as it may ruin the colour. The beautiful June day allowed me to keep the door of my basement dye studio open to allow plenty of fresh air into the room as I gently simmered the plant material. My recommendation is not to “hover over” a dye pot to reduce risk of inhaling an irritant, especially when cooking a plant new to you.
After straining out the cooked plant bits, the remaining liquid was a promising amber hue. Always at the ready with a skein of wool prepared with alum/ cream of tartar mordant means I could dye right away. I immersed the skein of wool and a piece of cotton in the hot dye and did not return it to the heat. Allowing it to stand overnight to naturally cool was the hardest part! Lovely warm buttery yellow, a different yellow than weld or tansy so devil’s milk (one of it’s common names!) makes the cut to move to the new dye garden!
Outside it is a sunless, dreary winter day while in my studio I am designing new wool tiles with bright juicy colors. I remember the summer days, picking coreopsis flowers used to extract the luscious orange and the honey scented goldenrod I cooked for the happy yellow dye. Spring will be here soon and I can resume the natural dyeing with my daffodils when they begin to fade. I enjoy the process immensely. In the meantime I’m heading to the basement to wet felt these new pieces in preparation for the American Craft Council show in Baltimore next week. I am in Booth 806, still have a few free tickets left so contact me if you would like to attend Feb 21-23.
The next step is combining all those strands of drafted wool into the colour combinations I want for my design. I swirl the wool into shapes with my fingers and begin the task of laying out the pattern on a large sheet of plastic. I use yardsticks in the beginning to help keep the repeats relatively straight. This is the longest part of the entire process, many hours of walking around the table placing little circles of wool in a pattern and then tufts of greens for leaves. I work this design face down so this first layer of colour ends up as the face of the felt fabric.
The beginning of a new felt tapestry involves several hours just preparing the fiber. I’ve made these wispy strands of wool fiber draped on my ironing board with a technique called “drafting”. It is a term familiar to hand spinners who draft fibers in the making of yarn. The fiber mass is extended or attenuated into a thin untwisted strands. Without twist they can fall apart easily so I handle them very gently at this stage. I’ll choose groupings of three colors each to gently coil together for the flower motifs in the felt. The coils are headed to the basement wet studio where I will start laying out the design.
I have been thinking, for a while, about doing a series of works representing the four seasons. It is a theme that is often rendered by photographers and painters. At a show this spring a customer had the same idea and commisioned me to do the works. The most challenging piece is the spring request for a cardinal pair with cherry blossoms. Above I am starting to work on the male bird. Below is the result. I think my customer will be pleased!
I will be teaching “How to wet felt a landscape with wool” class this Saturday, May 19th. The workshop is in Lancaster at the PA Guild of Craftsman building at 335 North Queen Street. There are still some spaces available. Go to http://www.pacrafts.org/workshops to register online, or call 717-431-8706. Email any questions to email@example.com
One of the questions I hear most frequently at art shows is “Do you teach?”. This is your opportunity to learn the techniques I use. Every class participant will create a felted artwork suitable for framing or for use as a cushion cover. Have some fun getting your hands wet and take the mystery out of the felting process!
On the drying rack today, a whole lot of new felted art work! The tulips WERE blooming in Williamsburg last week. When the wind died down I was able to spend a day working en plein air in the Flag Garden. I created two new garden tile designs from that felt designing experience. Some of the other floral designs are inspired by pictures I’ve taken of my own gardens. Yesterday I did all the wet felting and am anxiously waiting for the work to dry so I can begin framing. These new fiber art works will be ready for the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsman’s Fine Craft Show in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia this weekend May 11,12 &13.
This is the third year I am presenting my work in historic Williamsburg. The Art and Craft event is ” Art on the Square” run by the Junior Women’s Club of Williamsburg, always the last Sunday in April. Last year I was surprised to find the tulips were done and the iris and roses already blooming! I took advantage of the warm weather to do some felt design work en plein air in several of the gardens. The Williamsburg Roses image shown here is a theme I’ve revisited a couple times since that day in the garden. The felted wool tile is approx. 8″ square mounted in a 12″ burgundy wood frame @ $249.
This spring has been much cooler than normal. My daffodils are finally blooming, several weeks later than typical. Perhaps I will get to see tulips this year in Williamsburg and come home with some new felted garden designs!
The New Year begins on 01/01, it is the milestone most of us use to chronicle our lives. This January I found myself still finishing up the last orders of 2018. I spent the first week of the new year shipping orders and finally delivering the large artwork shown above to a client in NJ. Another milestone people use to mark the passage of time is their birthday. For me that date also falls in January, on 01/11. It marked the date I could concentrate on making exciting new work for the upcoming season.
Artists on the show circuit have yet another way of looking at time. The artist’s show season dictates the way we talk about and plan our lives. This year my season kicks off in February with my first appearance at the American Craft Council show in Baltimore, MD. I’ll be exhibiting there from Feb. 21st through the 25th. The first two days are wholesale and then three retail days. Coincidentally, my booth number is 1101.
Knowing when to change things up in your art business is not scientific. There are many variables involved in creating and selling a successful line of work. After making your art you must try to perfect your display, and then find the right venues to sell whether show locations or galleries. Sometimes changing one factor, such as a price increase, can drastically alter the results. I am not one to rush into change. I tend to give shows a second chance and allow galleries to run through their seasons before making big decisions. When the moment feels right, I know I’ve given the issue enough consideration and time that I don’t second guess my choice.
My felted cat sculptures are difficult and physically intensive to make. My hands are feeling the effects of aggressive production of these little critters. I will only be making special request cat sculptures from now on. This litter of cats was languishing in a gallery for too long so I decided to “rescue” them today. After a little rehab this week they will be available at my next show June 17-18 at Brookdale Park in Montclair NJ. When they are gone I will certainly miss their goofy presence in my booth!