Ecoprinting with eucalyptus

My neighbour Len three doors down has a very large eucalyptus tree in his garden. I kept meaning to ask if I could go and “prune” some cuttings, but I don’t see him very often (it’s like that in London!).

But I came home one day a few months ago to find a landscape gardener’s truck parked on the road filled with various branches and cuttings, including eucalyptus! There was no-one around to ask (it was lunchtime), so I salvaged an armful of eucalyptus – and it’s been sitting on my front porch ever since.

For those of you who have never done any ecoprinting, eucalyptus is one of the easiest plants to work with. It doesn’t need a mordant, prints on pretty much anything (including plastic!), and, as a bonus, fills the house with a lovely smell while “cooking”. :-)

So last week I finally got round to using some of it for ecoprinting. I started with a cream wool scarf, which gave some very strong prints.

scarf with eucalyptus ecoprints

As they were so strong, I wondered whether the prints would still show if I overdyed with indigo. I hummed and ha-ed and took a mini straw poll on Instagram, where there was a slight majority in favour of leaving it as it was.

But I tested the indigo vat after the dyeing session with Carol and it seemed to be fairly weak. So I overdyed. :-)

eucalyptus ecoprint overdyed with indigo

I’d tested the vat on cotton, and it came out fairly light blue, but the wool scarf clearly took the colour much better, so the scarf is darker than I expected. But the prints still show through.

I also printed a couple of raw silk scarves. Because the fabric is much lighter, textured and semi-transparent, I was quite disappointed when I initially unwrapped these, as the prints didn’t seem to be as strong. However, one of the things I learnt on Irit Dulman’s workshop is that you can’t tell what the final print looks like until the fabric is dry and ironed – and indeed, the print was stronger when the scarves were dry.

I’m still considering whether to overprint these with some different leaves treated with iron, but I may resist(!), given the indigo result.

As the eucalyptus worked so well on wool, I made a couple of felt vessels and printed these.

felt vessels ecoprinted with eucalyptus felt vessels ecoprinted with eucalyptus

I don’t think I will overdye these! ;-)

Finally, in case you thought I was kidding about eucalyptus printing on plastic, here’s a picture of some of the plastic wrap I used to cover one of the scarves!

plastic ecoprinted with eucalyptus

Indigo dyeing with Carol

Last week my sister Woman of the Cloth Carol came round for a day of indigo dyeing.

indigo dyeing

I’ve not run indigo shibori workshops at my house because the thought of having several people traipsing between my kitchen (where the water supply is) and the garden (where the indigo vat is) with dripping blue bundles is a bit alarming, even though my house is not exactly up to show home standard – as you will see from the photos!

Also, indigo dyeing is slow – you need to dip several times to build up colour and make it fast, and the fabric has to oxidise well between dips. And although there are some shibori techniques that are relatively quick, stitching and binding resists are time consuming. So it’s not for people who want to produce something in a couple of hours.

shibori stitching

However, Carol is a very competent stitcher (she runs embroidery workshops), and, despite her being a decorator, I knew she wouldn’t be judgemental about the state of my house. ;-)

She turned up with a beautiful bundle of table mats and napkins, many of them with lovely crocheted or cutwork edging. Some of these we just dyed without any resists.

indigo dyeing

A couple of the larger pieces we rolled and tied with string.

indigo shibori

For the stitching techniques we used mokume (woodgrain), karamatsu (Japanese larch) and maki-age (stitch combined with binding).

We managed to dip each piece three times, but as I generally prefer to let the fabric oxidise overnight before unpicking, Carol took some of the pieces home and undid them and washed them through the next day.

indigo shibori indigo shibori

As you can see, the stitch patterns are very strong and distinct – good stitching technique Carol! :-)

Basketry workshop with Mary Crabb

When I was at West Dean in February there was an exhibition of work by some of the college tutors, including some exquisite woven pods by Mary Crabb. So when a textile friend announced that she had contacted Mary about running a workshop, I jumped at the chance!

Peacock Pod by Mary Crabb Image: Mary Crabb
Peacock Pod by Mary Crabb
Image: Mary Crabb, http://www.marycrabb.co.uk/photos/index.html

This friend Barbara, along with dachshund Bertie, hosted the workshop in her beautiful house and garden in Hove. I wasn’t surprised to learn that she regularly opens her garden to the public as part of the National Gardens Scheme – it’s a multi-layered, multi-textured sensory delight, perfect for such a creative workshop.

Mary arrived with boxes of wonderful goodies, particularly paper threads in luscious colours, and books to inspire us all. Along with the mix of fabrics, wool and thread we had brought ourselves, we were certainly spoilt for choice!

basketry1 basketry2

We started by learning how to twine on a paper cup cut into strips. This helped us to maintain the shape without worrying too much about tension. We explored different threads and created coloured patterns, as well as learning how to introduce new threads when the old ones ran out.

We then moved on to an exercise intended to create a flat motif, to get used to working with warp threads in the round. However, we all decided that we wanted to go straight into making vessels, resulting in an array of teeny pods!

basketry vessels

The combination of a glorious pot-luck lunch in the garden and lots of gossip to catch up on meant that most of us managed only to make a start on creating a larger vessel in the afternoon. The exception was Chrissie, who made a wonderful bag with Indian trimmings.

chrissie vessel
Image: Chrissie Messenger

However, with Mary’s very useful handouts, we will hopefully be able to finish what we started. :-)

Image: Carol Grantham
Image: Carol Grantham

All in all, it was a very inspiring day in gorgeous surroundings. Many thanks to Barbara for hosting, despite the electrical problems!

basketry group

Some of Mary’s work can currently be seen in Back to the Beach, an exhibition at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, which runs until 22 August 2015.

Seashells revisited

Two of my favourite books are Art Forms in Nature: Prints of Ernst Haeckel and Albertus Seba: Cabinet of Natural Curiosities.

haeckel and seba

I could spend hours leafing through the intricately precise illustrations of natural specimens, marvelling at the wonderful natural geometry. They are a fantastic source of inspiration.

haeckel2seba2

Earlier this week I was looking at the plates of shells in the Seba book and was reminded of my last attempt to make felt shells. Three years later, with much more felting experience under my belt, I had a eureka moment about another way to tackle this.

My first attempt didn’t go too badly, but the proportions weren’t quite right.

felt shell

So I extended the resist at one end, and also added some silk decoration on the outside.

felt shells

You can’t hear the sea when you hold it to your ear, but the view inside is rather lovely. :)

felt shell interior

Mother and Child: inspired by Hepworth

Just like the Richard Deacon exhibition, my visit to the Hepworth show at the Tate inspired me to try something different in felt.

Developing the previous “horned” shape, I extended the horns so that one curved inside the other, evoking the feeling of a mother protecting her child. Using two colours, I tried to create sharper edges at the borders and along the back of the curves, but this was only partly successful.

hepworth felt

Then came the tricky bit: I wanted to add some strings as in the Wave sculpture.

I experimented with several arrangements using loose thread, to see how it looked.

For the actual strings I used red linen thread. I thought about using wire, but wasn’t sure how to conceal the ends.

The advantage of adding strings to a felt piece rather than wood or metal is that you just need a needle rather than power tools to drill holes. The disadvantage is that , unlike wood or metal, fibre has a tendency to move, which creates problems when trying to set the tension.  :)

It wasn’t too bad in the end, but next time it might be better to use wire!

hepworth in felt