Saturday, November 26, 2011

Commissioned Gyotaku Batik Napkins

I made this set of eight napkins for a friend on commission. They will be headed to New Zealand as a gift!
To make them, I sewed the squares of muslin to finish the edges, then hand-printed them with yellow perch. First I dyed the fabric yellow, then waxed out the fish etc. with soy wax. Next, I dyed the fabric Aqua-Marine, but because of the underlying yellow, it came out more of a spring green color. I removed the wax by ironing it out into newspaper. In the past I have boiled out the wax, which leaves less wax residue behind, but the process is more time intensive and cumbersome, and I was crunched for time. I think when people see something like this, it is hard for them to appreciate just how many steps and how much time it takes to accomplish it.
I also gyotaku-batiked a few handkerchiefs I had printed with a brook-trout. Once I finish the edges, I'll probably post one in my Etsy shop and have one for sale in the gallery.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Lately I’ve been experimenting with a new to me dyeing technique called Shibori. It has Japanese origins, and in my mind I think of it as fancy tie-dyeing. There are many Shibori techniques involving folding, scrunching, pleating, and stitching of fabric, but I have primarily been experimenting with various stitch techniques. Essentially, I hand stitch a pattern with needle and thread, then pull on the threads to scrunch it up tight before dyeing. After dyeing, the thread is removed. In the places where the fabric is scrunched tightly, the dye does not penetrate, thus creating a pattern.

On a recent visit with my Aunt, she asked me how I got interested in Shibori, and I had to think about it a bit to remember where it first entered my brain. I think I was first introduced to the term from my mother’s childhood friend Deborah Gregory. She is an amazing and accomplished fiber artist living near Seattle, and had a show at my mother’s gallery last year. She mentioned Shibori to me, and it just sort of stuck in my brain for awhile, waiting to form into a project idea. Then one random day, I decided that I wanted to try combining Gyotaku fish printing with a dyeing technique that would be “less messy” than batik. I love the effects created by batik, but I find the process of removing the wax long and intensive and somewhat imperfect. I remembered the term Shibori but couldn’t remember exactly what it was. After a Google search, I had some ideas and set about experimenting.

For my first experiment, I tried some stitching techniques on some plain t-shirts. My sister-in-law Jenny was visiting, and happens to be an art teacher, so I thought she might be into doing some Shibori with me. We Shiboried (is this a word?) several shirts together. We used a dye that was supposed to be a color called “warm black” (a black with red undertones), but it actually came out a bluish purple (which I really like). I wondered how much of the chemistry of the water affected the color, as we were dyeing up at my family’s camp on Shadow Lake, and the well water is very sulfurous

These are photos that Jenny took of some of the shirts we made. This one is my favorite - made by Jenny:

Beautiful Shadow Lake - a nice place to practice shibori:

With a better understanding of how the stitches create a pattern, I was ready to undertake my next experiment of combining Shibori with Gyotaku. I started by fish printing on some shirts in black. I then stitched and scrunched over the fish and a few other random places in-between. My 6 year old, and very creative, nephew Asa, also stitched a shirt (all by himself, I might add). We used a navy blue dye that came out less than navy and a brighter blue with a purple undertone. Again, we were up at camp, and I wonder if the chemistry of the water played a part in this or just our technique. Regardless, I really liked the resulting color. I think the gyotaku-shibori combo is pretty neat, but the fish are a little more subtle than I intended. I would like to experiment more with some stitching that would leave more white fabric behind the fish, making it stand out a little more. I’m hoping to have some of these available to sell at the Art and Artisans market later this fall and on my Etsy site.

My silly dyeing assistant, Asa:
Asa and his super cool creation:

Some interesting clouds overhead while we were dyeing (might need to blow that picture up a bit to see what I saw as interesting):
Finished shirt -- a birthday present for my sister Jessica! Would like to figure out how to make those fish pop out more.


Some printed shirts ready for more shibori experimenting:

For another experiment, I tried just sketching a simple fish design on some old sheets that I was making into curtains for the room at work that I use to pump (a little privacy, please!). First I sketched out the design:

Close-up of a fish sketch:
Then I stitched along the outline:
Pulled the strings tight and tied them off:
Died the whole thing blue -- and this is what I got. Kind of neat!
An installed curtain:
I also shiboried a few hand-me down onesies that were in good shape, but a little on the grungy side. I think it would be neat to combine shibori with gyotaku and indigo dyeing – a sort of Japanese fiber art trifecta! There’s something about the Japanese aesthetic that has always appealed to me. I really enjoy the simple elegance and neatness of the style – maybe it’s a sort of mental harbor compared to the rest of the craziness in my life!

My adorable shibori model:

I’ve often found that when I get interested in something, there’s a sort of positive feedback loop that leads me further and further into it. The more I am interested in shibori, the more I seem to bump into it in other places. I recently visited the Rae Harrell Art Gallery in Hinesburg, VT to see a fiber art show called "No Boundaries in Fiber". There are many fascinating pieces on display there and it’s worth a visit if you live in the area. One of the artists, on display is Karen Henderson – a weaver/dyer. I had randomly come across her website a year or so ago and was amazed at her work. When I saw it in the gallery, I immediately recognized it. Really wonderful and subtle landscape-like patterns and earth tone hues. She gave a short talk about her art and the pieces on display, and turns out one of the techniques she used in one of the pieces was shibori! Although instead of hand stitching – she had used her sewing machine. Now, that gave me some ideas… I happened to be wearing one of the shibori shirts that Jenny and I had made together, and Karen came up to me later and said “nice shibori!”. Later, my mother-in-law sent me a book on shibori. Shibori, shibori, shibori. I like to interpret these types of synergistic events as a sign that I’m on a good creative path.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ecological Footprint of a Sweater

I thought this story was pretty neat - it's about a woman who pledged to only wear handmade clothes derived from materials from within 150 miles of her home in California - her "fibershed":

Your clothes can say a lot about who you are and what you value. I wonder what we would all look like if we all hand made our clothes? I have to admit, I did wonder if she even made her own underwear and bras...

Part of what I love about working with wool from my sister's farm is that I can start with a sustainable raw material that an animal has assimilated from the grass growing under my feet, the water that falls and flows through my watershed, and the same air I am breathing -- and end up with a beautiful and functional creation. I think the idea of dressing yourself with materials local to your home builds on the local foods movement, and helps raise awareness about how every choice we make in our lives has a consequence for the planet - a choice as simple as what clothes to put on in the morning.

Here are a few examples of some garments I have made from raw wool. This is a vest I knit from a Tunis fleece given to me by my friends Ben and Grace at Tamarack Tunis in Corinth, VT. I started with a raw fleece straight off the sheep. I skirted the fleece to remove undesirable parts, hand washed it in batches using a canning pot, dyed it two shades of blue/green, hand combed it (with combs hand crafted in Bradford, VT, no less), spun it into a tweed yarn, then knit it into a vest. I wore it a few times, but it never fit quite right -- a bit too short. So, I threw it in the washing machine and felted it (technically, I fulled it). Now it is a toddler size and someday my little Henry will wear it (assuming it's the right temperature when he's the right size to fit into it). Here is the vest prior to felting:

This is a hat I knit from yarn I spun -- also from fleeces given to me by Ben and Grace. You can't see it in the photo, but the inner brim of the hat has a band of alpaca knit into it for softness against the forehead. The alpaca came from the Miller's Safe Haven Alpaca Farm, just a mile from my home. I donated this hat to a silent auction to raise money for our local community center. My neighbor Dianne, who is an extremely talented fiber artist, was the highest bidder.

This vest - well, this vest was a lot of work. I got the border leicester fleece from a "free" ad in the local newspaper. It was a variegated fleece with grays and browns, some of which I dyed a purpley blue. After hand combing the fiber to prepare it into rolags for spinning, I spun a tweed yarn - one strand blue fiber and one strand natural color. I then knit a humongous vest and then felted it down to about 1/4 of the size in the washing machine. The tweed yarn made a cool mottled effect when felted, and I liked how the natural grays and browns come through a bit. I saved the outer stitches by knitting on a band of acrylic yarn (that won't felt), and after felting, picked the stitches back up and knit a border (the border yarn is commercial bought - not local, but hand spun and dyed by women in Peru, I believe). After that, I needle felted a maple tree on the back. Phew - what a process! I sewed a zipper into it so it could be worn jacket-like. It's one of the warmest pieces of clothing I own.
Like most good things in life, it's not just the final outcome, but the process that is important. Patience and hard work has its own rewards.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gyotaku with Horseshoe Crabs

Our latest development with fish printing is substituting a horseshoe crab for the fish! The aquarium where Brian works has a saltwater touch tank that represents the Champlain Sea (way back when Lake Champlain was connected to the Atlantic due to glaciers). It has sea stars, sponges, and horseshoe crabs. When a horseshoe crab went belly up, he brought it home to print. And what do you know, it actually came out pretty neat.

Crab painted and ready to print:

He printed the top of the crab on the front of some t-shirts, and the bottom of the crab on the backs. You can find some examples for sale on our Etsy site or at the Emile A. Gruppe Gallery in Jericho, Vermont!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Our Latest Masterpiece

Been quite a while since I posted to this blog, but my excuse is that over the past several months I've been working on one of my finest creative collaborations yet. And finally he arrived in our world a little over two weeks ago. Say hello to Henry!