Alchemist's Apron, Back Forty, critters, dyeing, Nature printing

Sunday brunch post

Coffee’s gone, eggs, cheese grits, and leftover chili devoured.

Listening to Michelle Wolf’s Netflix show in the background. She is really funny, but there’s a little too much screeching going on, so switching to Radio Heartland. Ah! Mountain Stage. That is perfect.

Today is muggy and damp but so far no rain. Sandy finally gave up and bought a new lawn mower yesterday.

I was amazed by two things this morning. One, the US Postal Service delivered my order from Pinetree Seeds that I ordered on Friday. On Sunday morning. On Memorial Day weekend. Two, I saw the groundhog on TOP of the fence munching on vines. Now I know that it can climb.

The Pinetree package contained small animal repellent spray, holographic flash tape, and indigo seeds. I sprayed the rocks and planters and landscape timbers and pots, since the rain is supposed to hold off until tonight. The motion sensor is working on human sized animals, but I’m not so sure about smaller ones. This repellent contains “Putrescent whole egg solids, mint oil, rosemary oil, and cinnamon oil.” Maybe it will helpful with the skeeters too.

Now I’m going to play in the studio today and tomorrow. Yesterday I only wove a little on my tapestry diary. Still wrapping my head around that and how to proceed, if at all. I dyed some iron/vinegar mordanted pockets in tap water with onion skins and the rest of the pitcher of red zinger tea. I wrapped up one with a sprig of deep purple plum leaves and another with the tea bags. The tea bags didn’t do much but the plum leaves worked blue magic. I soaked these in a really strong mordant for days so my colors are very dark. Love the olive color, though.

Oh yeah, I busted the back of my new smart phone a week ago, so it is now held together with packing tape. It shattered across the lens of the camera. Fortunately, the only thing wrong with my old one is that it doesn’t hold a charge very long, so I kept it. I can still use it for a camera and it hooks up to wi-fi.

I really can’t do much in this studio without cleaning up this mess, so I’m done here. I’ll post any progress on my little tapestry or the tapestry diary later. Tomorrow is another day off.

art, art retreats, dyeing, fiber art, Georgia, Lake Waccamaw, National Parks and Monuments, tapestry, weaving

Tapestry Weavers South Retreat

I’m taking a personal day to recharge after a particularly sweet and inspiring art retreat weekend with members of Tapestry Weavers South at Epworth-by-the-Sea on St. Simons Island.

It is a lovely venue and the price was very reasonable for three nights and all meals. We were lucky that even though most of the Southeast US was getting pummeled by thunderstorms and flooding, we only had a few light showers and the temperature was perfect. On the last night we enjoyed the veranda next to the river and it was lovely – not muggy at all and I didn’t notice any bugs. The sunsets were nice too:

^^^Just outside my window

The greatest value of this retreat was the talent and encouragement of my fellow tapestry weavers. I’m not kidding – if you are a tapestry weaver in the southern U.S., I recommend that you join this group.

I left for the retreat with just a vague idea of what I might do, and a fairly neurotic state of mind about my weaving break. I was also worried about sitting for the long drive and the workshop in general, but I met April Price near Charlotte and she drove the rest of the way, so I was able to adjust a rolled-up towel under my legs, hips, and back frequently. That helped so much, and I am grateful for her willingness to drive! April organized the retreat and did a wonderful job.

I left the retreat with a warm feeling of making new friends, and the beginning of a small tapestry on the loom that I am excited about. Some of my artist crushes were there and we got to know each other. I was encouraged to continue my tapestry diary that I dropped at the end of March and was given a few suggestions on how I might proceed from here.

You are likely to see more from me on the subject of Tapestry Weavers South, because I suspect that I’m going to break my vow of getting involved in group leadership and help out with this one. Just in a minor role that I’m comfortable with, though.

Jennifer Sargent was our featured artist and she shared a slideshow of her work and critiqued the pieces that other weavers brought. She gave me very positive feedback on my own work.

We honored Tommye Scanlin with a lifetime membership and an emotional celebration on the last night. She was my first teacher that was an actual tapestry artist. We figured it out that was in 1991! She is loved by so many people.

I decided to work with the abstraction of a favorite photograph of rain on Lake Waccamaw, using my naturally dyed silk/cotton threads from India’s online class. It’s interesting that I return so often to this family place at Lake Waccamaw for art inspiration. Even the threads are wound on driftwood sticks that I picked up on this shore.

April was kind enough to go with me to Fort Frederica National Monument so that I could get a stamp for my National Park Passport book. The deerflies were pretty bad and we were short on time so we decided not to walk to the actual fort, but it was a lovely park. The 42d Regiment of Foot battled with Spanish forces there in 1742 so I was especially interested in visiting. That was our regiment when we were 18th century re-enactors. We drove around St. Simons Island, then we stopped in Savannah and ate Crabcakes Benedict at Bar-Food, which I highly recommend. Just as we were driving into Charlotte, the bottom fell out and I have rarely seen such a hard rain. I thought that I might have to spend the night at April’s house but we looked at the radar and I made a good decision to drive home. I wonder how many inches fell in that half-hour?

Back Forty, butterbeans, coffee pot posts, depression/anxiety, dyeing, Nature printing, Permaculture, Slow Food, whining

Sunday morning coffee pot post

Time for another long rambling post. Guess I’ll make a second pot of coffee.

It is hot and humid this weekend, with highs in the 90s. Anyone who is not in denial about climate change is not surprised about any freakish weather. I understand those who feel helpless and just can’t bear thinking about the future for their children. I wish that they’d try to face it, but I get it. It makes me very depressed also. What I can’t understand is those who flat out deny that it is happening because of human activity and that we don’t have to make any changes to our lifestyles to slow our journey toward the cliff ahead, whether it is because they worship money or political parties, or because they have opted out of critical thinking out of sheer mental laziness.

Well, isn’t that a cheery way to start a post on Mother’s Day? It’s not my favorite day. It’s also a day that I am glad that I made the decision not to bring any more children into this world. I definitely appreciate the hard work that most parents, especially mothers, do all of their lives. I know that I couldn’t have done it if I had wanted to, and I hail those feminists who came before me who worked so hard to ensure that I had a choice, unlike my own mother.

Believe me, I hold back a WHOLE LOT when I write on this blog these days. Mainly because I’m tired of complaining and politics in general.

I’ve been working hard this week to get the garden planted. Now I have the area along the fence to plant, and Sandy and I have decided to use the greenhouse frame as a support to grow trombincino squash on. I took off the greenhouse cover and pulled up the landscape fabric yesterday. My only concern is that this area doesn’t get enough sun now that the trees have leafed out, but I’m going to try it anyway. I used to plant in this area back when the entire Back Forty was in food production. In the meantime, I’m going to put down cardboard and landscape fabric in another sunnier area to prepare for moving the greenhouse later this year.

The Jacob’s Cattle beans germinated well. Not so much for the saved Henderson bush lima beans, but they were a bit old. I’ll replant in the blank spots. These were planted around the outer edge of the bed.

I planted a lot of green beans. A “yard-long” bean and “Brio” bush beans that I got from the Greensboro Permaculture Guild seed swap in the middle of the bean-shaped bed – really, how could I not fill this bed with beans? A few leeks down the center between Roma tomatoes. Pat Bush’s heirloom “beautiful” beans, which are more like crowder peas, and Kentucky Wonder snap beans in pots around the fig tree, which we nearly butchered in late winter. It is coming back though. I need to keep it small.

The herb and lettuce seeds don’t seem to be germinating in the area that did not get dug up. I’m thinking that ants may have carried off the seeds. There are lots of ants, and I am afraid that they are being pushed (and eventually will be replaced) by fire ants into our lot. Fire ants are definitely nearby.

Yesterday I bought some more mints, a French tarragon plant, and a pack of Sugar Baby watermelon seedlings, because why not? They were a quarter a piece and if it doesn’t work out, so be it. Two went into big pots, and I’m going to find a few spots for the others.

Suddenly the back faucet doesn’t leak. The front faucet, which I have been bitching about being cut off under the house where I cannot crawl, works. I KNOW that the back faucet leaked, and Sandy says he didn’t fix it. I am not so sure about the front faucet, but I haven’t had a plumber under there for a few years, so could I have been using it all this time instead of hauling the hose and watering cans back and forth?

Have I lost my mind? Really? I have slipped into that middle-aged worry that I am developing Alzheimer’s. It runs rampant in my genes. It is my greatest fear.

I ordered an animal deterrent for the groundhog problem that is a motion detector that hooks up to the hose and sends out a surprise blast of water when set off. Then Sandy reminded me that since the faucet leaked it was not a good idea to leave it on. So I canceled the order and was going to call a plumber tomorrow. Now it seems that I won’t have to. I wonder if Justin fixed it and didn’t tell me? I guess I’ll reorder the groundhog thingie.

Yesterday I clipped vines and stray trees from along the fence and I really missed him. We ran out of time (and my budget) for him to do several things that we planned. He should have a newborn son by now, so he won’t be available for a few weeks.

Tomorrow I will have my sixth adjustment at the chiropractor, and I’ve reached the phase that I am tired of it and wondering whether I am chucking my travel and hired help money down a black hole. He gave me some suggestions for how to manage my hip pain for those long drives and flights. Since I have a long drive coming up on Thursday, I’ll give it a try but honestly, he wasn’t very encouraging about me being able to prevent all my pain. Sitting for more than an hour aggravates that compressed disc and radiates pain out to my hips. The pain source is in my back, not my hips, and that was confirmed by my orthopedic doctor. So that has not improved my mood. You always like to think that you’ll get better, or healed completely. It’s part of accepting the aging process.

Anyway, I did a little eucalyptus bundle experiment with some leaves I found out back. They may be too old. I soaked them and wrapped some iron/vinegar mordanted cotton cloth and silk thread around sticks and a stone, then steamed them for an hour or so. I’ll unwrap them this afternoon when I spend some creative time with a friend. I should leave them wrapped longer, but I’m not that patient right now. Maybe I’ll do a few bundles and let them sit while I am gone for my long weekend coming up.

We are so proud of our friend Gerald Wong, who walked his talk and ran for Congress in the Democratic primary this week. He got lots of votes despite having to work out of the area (he is an over-the-road trucker) and not taking donations. My friend Zha K was a warrior for him here at home, going to events as a surrogate and doing research. We celebrated election night on the Wongs’ back deck on Tuesday night.

I am going to take a Sabbath today. I enjoy working in the garden and planting but it’s time to rest.

Alchemist's Apron, Back Forty, dyeing

A catch-up post

I just haven’t been able to make myself blog lately. So here are a few paragraphs to catch up on April.

The bed in the Back Forty is complete and I couldn’t be happier with it.

The swale was constructed just in time to catch the heavy rains we have had in the past couple of weeks. I stood outside my back door to take photos of how the water was flowing on April 15, not knowing that a high F2 tornado was on the ground two miles east of me. It is not unusual for us to get tornadoes around here, but this one was particularly destructive in a mostly poor area. It was lucky that it didn’t strike when school was in session because there would have been many more deaths and injuries.

Potatoes and arugula seedlings are coming up in the planter nearest the door. I planted kale, dill, parsley, basil, purple carrot, regular carrot, and a few beet seeds in the bed. In one planter I tossed a bunch of seeds that had spilled out into the bottom of the shoebox I keep my seed packets in. That should be fun. The fig tree looks awful but there are some green sprouts on it now.

We have broken apart some the the whiskey barrel planters that were rotting. They were originally rain barrels on each corner of our house. I remember when I unwrapped them (they were shipped to us) you could smell the whiskey all the way down the block. Too bad that they sprung so many leaks because they did look awesome. Then they had a second life when we cut them in two for planters.

More photos later.

Justin is now working on turning the container garden at the end of my driveway into a plot ready to plant this summer. He’s doing some tree pruning and clean-up for me too, then I will have to let him go because I’ll be spending my money on chiropractor visits and travel.

My pain is much better, and I am seeing a new chiropractor to try to get my neck and hips in alignment. It helps that I have hired Justin to do the heavy work – it was a big plus that he turned out to be a great permaculture designer!

Work has been busy as usual. I’ve played around with natural dyes some for India’s online class, but a lot of my experiments have not resulted in good color or prints. Now I think that the pillowcases I was using are not cotton, or mostly not cotton. I’ll soak some more fabrics in the iron/vinegar mordant and use some tried and true dyes. I’m playing catch-up in her class too, and have been dyeing this silk/cotton thread. The beautiful purple came from dried dark purple hyacinth blossoms that I gleaned on my walk home from work. The olive green is from a mullein dye bath. I’ve gotten some golds, yellows, silvery grays, and browns. The top thread is the original color for comparison.

Lots of stuff happening this time of year, and I’ll try to not be so slack about posting. My mood has been up and down. With the end of the semester in sight it will get better.

Alchemist's Apron, art, dyeing, fiber art, Lake Waccamaw, Nature printing, North Carolina, Slow cloth, Upcycling

Alchemist’s Apron project

Last weekend Sandy and I went to Lake Waccamaw and I gathered materials to dye my project for India Flint’s online class, “The Alchemist’s Apron.” I’ve experimented with natural dyes down there before without a whole lot of luck. This time, using a good mordant and bundling the plant materials directly in contact with the cloth did the trick.

In this project we cut apart a shirt in a particular way to make an apron. This is a lightweight denim shirt that Sandy discarded a long time ago. I saved it, paint stains and all. I have a few other white thrift store shirts that I could use, but I wanted to experiment on this one first. Blue is my favorite color, unless you bring up any of my other favorite colors, like orange, purple, yellow, brown, black, red, and green.

I made a mordant from iron scraps, white vinegar and water in a pickle bucket that is safe to use but turned out to be almost scary powerful. The chemical reaction creates a billowing orange foam much like the toupee on Dear Leader’s head. I have a lifetime supply of iron mordant now because I have to dilute it so much. This mordant developed over about eight days.

Even after diluting it with rain water it had a weird metallic sheen on top which cracked when touched. I ended up straining it through a piece of thick cloth to get out most of the rust, poured in hot tap water to dilute it more, and even then I got a lot of brown/orange color on the shirt. I soaked the shirt for two days and a half in this mordant solution.

Then I bundled it tightly with swamp bay leaves, common privet leaves, red tip photinia leaves, dried live oak leaves, dried bald cypress needles, dried sweet gum leaves and balls, and some dark blue berries that could have been from the swamp bay or Chinese privet. They were growing beside each other and I identified the Chinese privet after dyeing, which was a no-no. The leaves and berries of Chinese privet are toxic to ingest. My guess is that they are not dangerous to the skin since I saw nothing that mentioned it and this will be going on over other clothes. I cleaned up all the berries and washed the apron well. Also, I could be wrong on the ID.


The swamp bay leaves smelled heavenly in the dye bath. Some leaves didn’t leave a print but made a negative print where they blocked the dye from the leaves on top on them (a resist) and had a black edge around them. Looking at it today, I wonder if the black leaf prints are actually the dried live oak leaves and the leaf prints with the black edges are the swamp bay leaves. Unwrapping these bundles is such a joy – you just don’t know what you will get. I knew that it would be mostly black prints because of the mordant and the tannins, but that was about it.



Here it is after rinsing it in the bathtub. It has since been washed and dried and lost none of its color. I’m pleased, because early spring is not the best season to do natural dyeing.

The next step in the class is to dye threads for stitching and sewing on pockets. Many pockets. I needed some more thread dyed with broom sedge to finish an old project anyway and I saw some down the street on the old train tracks, so I’m going down there to gather it now. It makes a lovely yellow.

I also stuffed a garbage bag full of Spanish moss that covered some tree branches piled on the side of the road for pickup. That will be mulch for my container garden. The birdies love to line their nests with it too. I’m sure that conservative crowd living at the lake thinks I’m bananas walking along the canal road, plucking up Spanish moss and leaves and branches from their yard trash piles, wild graying hair, braless, and no make-up, with my Bernie 2016 bumper sticker on my car in the yard. Ha!

Back Forty, dyeing, Rebel stitching, tapestry, Tapestry Diary 2018, Upcycling, weaving

Saturday morning WHEW thank God post

I’ve been living for the weekend lately.

Here’s my newest obsession – taking online instruction from India Flint. Her first foray into a structured online class just began this past week: The Alchemist’s Apron. (By the way, that price is in Australian dollars and the exchange rate for US dollars makes it much lower.) Stitching has saved my sanity lately – honestly my work should not be this stressful. It’s the best job I ever had but bad ju-ju from anxiety and frustration is contagious for me.

The weather has been pretty whack, just as it has been almost everywhere else in the US and Europe. It’s hard to know what to do with the temps going up and down the way they have. It snowed earlier this week and was predicted to snow again this weekend, but I think that the forecast has changed. We haven’t gotten enough sun to really warm up the soil and the greenhouse. I spent some time yesterday evening and this morning filling an egg carton and peat cups that I found in the back building with seed starting mix and water. They need to absorb a lot of water before I use them. My garden usually gets a late start compared to others in the area anyway. I started a few broccoli seeds and will figure out a place to begin tomatoes and peppers inside. There are few sunny spots in my house.

Some critter left a rather large dump in my raised bed, and I wonder if it was a raccoon. After shoveling it out I covered the bed in wire fencing. That will not make the husband happy. He does not like my gardening methods, but organic gardening can’t always be pretty, especially if you don’t have the room to sacrifice some of it to the critters. I’m just praying that the woodchuck will not come back this year.

I went to the Greensboro Permaculture Guild seed swap on Tuesday night but wasn’t feeling great and didn’t stay long. Great group of people, though, and someone brought some warm freshly baked bread that was so good I wanted to snatch it and run away and gobble it all down by myself. However I resisted that wild urge and helped myself to a variety of beans, including Jacob’s Cattle and cannellini beans. I shared some of my Whippoorwill and Dixie Lee field peas that I have saved over the years. The Whippoorwill field peas originally came from Monticello.

There I met a young man and his daughter who I am going to call later this weekend and arrange to hire him to help me prepare a couple of planting beds for the summer.

Deep Roots Market is having their Taste Fair this afternoon from 12-4 which is unfortunate timing since today is also the day for the March for Our Lives. Greensboro’s march and rally is from 2-6 p.m. I will show up for part of it but I need desperately need art time.

I have filled a pickle bucket with iron scraps and vinegar and water to make a mordant for natural dyeing the shirt I will transform into the apron for India’s class this week. It was supposed to be in a big glass jar but most of my rusty bits were too big for the jar. It’s been a long time since I’ve attempted any natural dyeing because of my upper body problems. The exciting thing that happened is that I finally found my stash of naturally dyed cloth in the bottom of a hamper this morning. Most of it is silk though, and will probably be saved for something else.

My mood has been as whack as the weather and my tapestry diary this past week shows it. I’m kind of bored with it and I wonder if I will have the willpower to push through that and finish it. Some stitching will make me much happier today.

dyeing, fiber art, Nature printing

A little of this, a little of that

Weekend before last, I dyed this white cotton tank top from Dharma Trading with turmeric, soda ash, cream of tartar, and bundled it up around a stick with oak leaves and steamed it. Then I dipped it in some water with a scrap piece of iron and some vinegar to take the edge of that brilliant yellow. Now it has been in the wash twice and is much more tan. I’m going to bundle it again with some eucalyptus leaves and steam it. Maybe add some fig leaves. The material feels so light and soft.

Scenes like these on my walk home from work made me consider doing the visual diary journal again:


I remember when I was little I found a whole continent in the roots of a large oak tree – mountains, valleys, lakes, forests…

art, dyeing, Nature printing

Natural indigo dyepot experiment and leaf prints on photo paper

I decided to try my hand at dyeing with natural indigo powder this weekend since I missed my weeklong workshop at Arrowmont where I would have dyed with a fresh (fermented) indigo vat. Following instructions on the Dharma Trading website, I soaked the natural indigo powder overnight and ground it in a blender. I added soda ash because I’m not interested in playing with lye. I used all the thiourea dioxide I had and tried my best to introduce as little oxygen as possible to the pot, but I still had a deep blue dyebath. I decided that I might as well try it anyway.

It did not work at all – the dye oxidized in the pot and it all washed out of the skeins. There could have been several reasons I couldn’t keep the extra oxygen out of the pot, one is that our tap water has been cloudy for the past few days. However, I did learn from the experience. I won’t even try to dye in a deep blue indigo vat again – it was a waste of time having to wash out all the skeins and equipment. The good thing is that the skeins are ready to be mordanted and dyed in another dyepot.

Because I am eager to start on my new tapestry, I’m going to use my Procion dyes. I know how to use them. Later I will try again with pre-reduced indigo crystals.

Since I am not to let a hot pot of old dye go to waste, I boiled a bundle of glossy photo papers layered with leaves and bound between ceramic tiles at the bottom of what was left in the indigo solution and got some great results. I learned this method from Marilyn Stephens at Interlaced-Textile Arts. I would not have considered using this photo paper for plant prints, but it was bought long ago and gathering dust and probably would not have ever been used. These are all plants that I pass on my walk to work twice a day. I’m not sure whether the indigo will rub off the paper or not, but here are the photos.