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!

Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina

November update and Thanksgiving 2017

I’ve been neglectful of the blog, as usual, but my mental health bogged down for a few weeks. I feel better now.

I threw a soiree for Sandy’s 65th birthday at Cafe Europa on Nov. 16 that went well. My sister and brother-in-law came to it, which made us both very happy. I don’t have any good photos because it was a little too dark for my camera. We haven’t had a party since Sandy’s 50th birthday, mainly because of my overwhelming anxiety about throwing parties. That one was fun but definitely had its problems. We had just moved into our house and didn’t have as much stuff so there was more room for people. Nowadays, it would be a real squeeze. We don’t have the back deck any more and I can’t even figure out how to make room for a Christmas tree.

The following week we went to Lake Waccamaw, as has become the tradition. As usual, the photos begged to be taken. There are different birds at Lake Waccamaw in fall and winter, and that’s a nice change from the usual mallards. There were flocks of American coots and we identified a pair of buffleheads one day. Photos at the end of the post.

The big surprise was when we went to lunch at Cape Fear Vineyards near White Lake in Bladen County. Seriously in the middle of nowhere, and as a former resident of Robeson County, I know about nowhere. Delicious food at decent prices, beautiful grounds, horses, miniature horses, llamas, and an art collection worth millions of dollars. There were at least a couple of hundred autographed celebrity photos and paintings, prints and memorabilia from movie and rock stars, including every member of the Beatles. But also, many signed prints and lithographs from Dali, Picasso, Chagall, even a Renoir. Shepard Fairey prints in the freakin’ bathroom. I was stunned. The owner moved back home after years of owning a restaurant in L.A., and he was friends with a lot of famous people. The question remains, why would anybody rich want to move back to inland eastern North Carolina? Amazing.

After that we took a little two-car ferry across the Cape Fear River and back just for fun.

And here are my annual November Lake Waccamaw shots. We stayed at Fred’s (now Weezer’s and our family’s) house again. The first time we’ve stayed there since it has central heat.

American coots on the lake and on the canal:

Big Bird came by at some point that morning (great blue heron).

Back Forty, butterbeans, critters, fiber art, Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina, Slow Food

July in North Carolina

My “summer” is almost over, at least as far as work goes. I have a job that is most intense January-early May, calms down in summer, then starts ratcheting up in early August as the new semester begins with a new cohort of history graduate students. September quiets down a little, then October hits like a hurricane, then there’s two tolerable months until January, when it all starts to get crazy again. I like it. It is a bit difficult making the transition from July to August, though.

It has been very hot and too dry. The occasional strong thunderstorm has not been enough.

This past weekend I lolled around the house, mostly, watching movies, reading, and cooking a little bit. I had plenty of butterbeans from the garden, and some very tasty tomatoes. There are a few volunteer field pea vines, but I didn’t plant them this year because of the annoying ants that hang out, who will run up your arm and bite you unless you shake them off before picking each pea. My poor little okra plants have recovered enough so that I will have a few to eat with my butterbeans this week. I used to only like my okra fried. Now I prefer young whole pods, boiled briefly to make them tender but still a little crunchy, and eaten straight up. Pickled okra is nice too, even though I am not generally a fan of vinegary foods. The woodchuck came back and decimated my broccoli and even tried to eat my Mexican sunflower, which is trying its best to survive. I hope that my neighbor traps him soon.


Movies watched: “The Dallas Buyers Club,” “Django Unchained,” and “Chicago.” I love Chicago and have watched it several times. Book finished: “Ghostwritten” by David Mitchell. Excellent book.

I got a bit of prep work done for the back side of the t-shirt quilt – cutting apart more t-shirts and ironing light interfacing on the fabric, then cutting the pieces to specific sizes so that they all fit together once I start designing. This side will have the rejects from the front side, so I’m not putting as much effort into it, but it was so much fun doing the front side I decided to piece the back side as well.

The tapestry loom has been moved back inside. It was way too hot to weave on the front porch, even with the fans. I’ll probably leave it in, but I moved it in front of the window so I’ll have a little more light.

I have an opportunity to buy a 60″ tapestry loom that once belonged to Sylvia Heyden at a good price that is within an hour’s drive so that I can pick it up. It would have to be taken apart and rebuilt, though, and since it was probably handbuilt for her, there won’t be instructions. It is massive and heavy according to the owner, and I’d have to get rid of some stuff if I acquire it. The 24″ Shannock loom would definitely be up for sale in that case, but I need to finish “Cathedral” first. I’m going to go see it soon to make a decision.

Last weekend Sandy and I went to Lake Waccamaw for a long weekend. My focus was, and still is, healing my neck and shoulders. It’s been almost exactly two years since I hung that Scandinavian-type vertical loom on the stairs at Arrowmont and heard my neck say “uh-uh.” Since then, it was touch and go with my chiropractor helping, but since he moved out of town and I lugged a big backpack and bag around the United Kingdom and Ireland, my neck and shoulders have been very, very unhappy. So I am undergoing some intense massage therapy that hurts so much it makes me cry on the table, but I’m tired of depending on pills and I want this to heal. I have faith that it will help, and I’m looking forward to being able to get back to weaving without pain.

On this trip my sister and brother-in-law took us to a new BBQ joint in Whiteville, Big W Barbecue, which is owned by a Slow chef, Warren Stephens, who was the executive chef at Cochon Butcher in New Orleans and at the Fearrington House near Chapel Hill. According to the article linked above, he is here because he loves Lake Waccamaw, and he is a native of Lumberton. I was pleased and surprised to find out that he uses heritage pasture-raised pork. I mean, you can’t find that in eastern NC, which is ground zero for hog factory farms. I am somewhat of a heretic in North Carolina because I am not a fan of barbecue, especially the vinegary eastern NC style. But everything on our sampler plate, even the Q, was delicious. He makes his own sausages, so I bought some for the freezer at a very low price for Slow meat. I will go back for sure, especially since I missed the pork tamales – they were sold out. He was playing John Lee Hooker in the restaurant too.

There is always a lot of beauty at Lake Waccamaw, so here are some more shots from that hot weekend. The one at the top of this post is my favorite – taken while sitting in a gentle rain at the edge of the lake.

Family, Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina

Lake Waccamaw Easter 2017

Easter at Lake Waccamaw seems to be on its way to tradition status.

We rolled in around 8 p.m. on Friday night and went straight to Dale’s for fried oysters and shrimp. When we walked out around 9 p.m., the mayflies were swarming. They calmed down during the day on Saturday and Sunday, but at night they were attracted to light colors and you could hear the cars running over them on the pavement. It sounded like bubble wrap popping. They are a nuisance, but they are a sign of nature in balance, and they don’t last long. A mayfly is quite graceful looking.

We stayed at Weezer’s cottage (Fred’s house) down the road from my sister’s house and walked back and forth. The temperature was mild and it was breezy enough for whitecaps even during the day.

On Saturday morning we went to the local old time music jam at the Lake Waccamaw Depot Museum. There were 2 or 3 pickers who were extremely talented. I’ll go back to hear them again.


As usual, Lisa had fabulous food prepared for us. We took a boat ride on Sunday morning, then returned to Greensboro after lunch.

Deep Roots Market, depression/anxiety, Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina, whatever

A Bit of Catching Up

Well, you know. You know how it is with me if you’ve been reading my blog for a while.

Anyway, since I last posted, the election brought a lot of attention to North Carolina. Ben Harper showed up at the pub across the street, sang a few songs, asked us to vote for Hillary, then hung out for a while right at our table. I offered him some of my nachos and he took me up on it. I look drunk and excited because I was drunk and excited. Such a nice guy.

Then a few days later Bill Clinton came to UNCG.

I’m not a Hillary fan, but I dressed as close as I could to a suffragette on Election Day. I don’t do pantsuits.

A couple of days later:

So I’m marching in Washington on Jan. 21. I feel quite steamrolled and helpless, though.

We got our front porch screened in! But we haven’t gotten the second coat of paint on it yet. The weather turned cold and rainy when we finally had the time. It has an outside electrical outlet and a ceiling fan now. We didn’t find a front door that has satisfied both our budget and the Historical Commission yet, though.

Thanksgiving at my sister’s house at Lake Waccamaw:

I just moved my studio from the church to Susanne’s house. I didn’t feel safe at the church any more and Susanne seems quite happy to have me there. It will be a much better situation.

The “resistance” group of owners of Deep Roots that I’m involved in has managed to bring some positive changes to the co-op. Whether it will be too late is the question. But the manager is gone and it looks like it will begin to behave like a co-operative again instead of like a private business.

Theo is looking quite frail these days. Diego and Pablo are plump and sassy.

Sandy and I went to Savannah, Georgia for his birthday in mid-November. That will be a separate post.

critters, Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina

Independence Day Weekend at Lake Waccamaw

This was the first time I’ve been able to go to Lake Waccamaw for July 4th. Fred’s house (I will always think of it that way, I guess) is always full on holiday weekends but this year my sister has a house down the road from there and I was able to stay there. I was able to take off work on July 5th so that I could stay and see the fireworks from Lisa’s pier.

It was so hot and humid (with an heat index from 107-110 degrees) that I stayed in the air conditioning for much of the time, but that was okay, because KITTENS! The one day that I did get in the water the water itself was very hot. We had a big storm on Sunday night that cooled the water down somewhat but the waves got so big that they were churning up all the stuff on the bottom so I just stuck my toes in. Family, fun, new friends, and fireworks. Did I say KITTENS? Meet Sissy and Rascal, yin and yang. I spent each night with them.

The fireworks were professional quality. You could see them going off all around the rim of the lake. The ones at Mr. McNeill’s pier were the best and the closest to us. Even the garbage in front of his cabin the next day was impressive.

Lake Waccamaw, North Carolina

Latest photos from Lake Waccamaw

I didn’t get a photo of either pileated woodpecker that I watched while I was there, but I now know that the “wild laughter” I heard came from them, not loons. It rained most of the time we were there. We said goodbye to Fred on Monday and I sent a piece of driftwood and a duck feather from the lake with him.

^^^The bones of the tree that I am weaving. I seldom see it bare.

^^^A melancholy evening in bed.

^^^The Easter Gator.

^^^A reminder that persistence pays off.