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.
Holly Wilkes and MJ Lord allowed me to photograph their hands in action.
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?
I broke all the rules and took photos at the closing reception of the Tapestry Weavers South exhibit, “A Strand, A Shape, A Story,” that ran in the upper gallery of the North Carolina Folk Art Center from January to April 2018.
Many of these tapestries have moved on to Yadkinville, where they will reappear in an exhibition at the Yadkin Arts Center in June.
You can see the rest of the photos in my Flickr album. Some photos were blurry or had reflections from glass, and they won’t be there. It is worth clicking through to see the album, because this is a very fine show and I finally stopped loading them on this page because it was so hard to pick.
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!
I’ve been in my busiest time at work in the last two weeks, leaving me little desire to get on my laptop at home. I need to do taxes this weekend, I have sworn to myself that I will get the taxes done this weekend, I WILL GET THE TAXES DONE THIS WEEKEND. I will do it today.
Much thought has gone into how I can make my art a sustainable practice. I ditched the tapestry diary for over a week now. This studio is much too crowded. Past experience finally whispered in my ear and asked, “What are you doing right now just because you feel like you should be doing it, and what are you doing that you enjoy? What is it that you think you want to do, but when you do it you feel unhappy about the reality of doing it? What is it about that activity that bugs you?”
I put aside the idea of making any money from my artwork a few years ago. That by itself made a huge difference. It wasn’t doing anything to sustain me financially and my artwork suffered for it. At best, the money I made covered my membership fee in the co-op I exhibited in and bought a few art supplies. But now, I have an extensive palette of tapestry yarn, a huge stash of fabric and recycled garments, my mother’s thread and sewing supplies and paints and inks and plenty of paper and bookboard for bookmaking. My main focus has been to reuse and recycle what I have instead of buying anything unnecessary, and even though I have broken that vow three times this year, it’s been for small things.
So I got down to thinking about the answers to those questions. I am not enjoying the tapestry diary any more. But I made the rules for it, so I get to change or ditch them altogether. Nobody is making me do this. It is an obligation I set for myself. Some would call it discipline. I’m calling it a pain in my ass right now and setting it aside.
I am enjoying stitching the projects for India Flint’s class the most I have enjoyed anything for a long time. Sewing is very satisfying to me. Jude Hill is starting another online class soon and I’ll participate in that. However, I have to be aware of my physical problems because the pain usually shows up after the activity that causes it. I’d like to get back to sewing my patchwork t-shirt blanket too. That won’t be so hard on my arms and hands, but I need to make room in here and set up a design board.
I want to set up my Macomber loom for that double weave rug project. The warp is measured and chained. Again, I need to make room in the studio because I have boxes stacked around it.
Finally, “what is it that you think you want to do, but when you do it you feel unhappy about the reality of doing it? What is it about that activity that bugs you?”
This same question came up when I was doing ceramics. I loved the idea of doing ceramics, but finally I had to admit that having my hands in the clay for hours drove me crazy. Same with paint – I can only tolerate so much before my OCD kicks in. Collage is intellectually fascinating to me, and I love doing it to a certain extent, but I fucking HATE GLUE, and that is a problem. Fiber and fabric art, for the most part, present me with little to set off my anxiety about sticky and difficult messes. My head says, “you should have no problem with this. What’s wrong with you?” But that is not the kind of inner criticism I need right now.
So the solution that I see is that I am going to get rid of my collage stash. I’ll keep the handmade paper because I enjoy that activity. But the boxes of travel materials, maps, old music books, dictionaries…to Reconsidered Goods they will go. I’ll have a bit more room to maneuver in the studio and if I want to do collage I’d do it with fabric. If any of my local friends want to come by the house and get some of this, you are welcome to do so. Just do it soon, okay?
I will feel better once this hoard is gone. I know that I will.
There will be another post about my current project. I have a lot more to write about. AFTER I DO THE TAXES. Which I will do. I will do the taxes TODAY. In the meantime, here are some photos from the front shade garden.