book arts, depression/anxiety, papermaking

My mood was so dark yesterday that this morning my shadow had a shadow.

I feel better for the rant, though, and that the weekend is here. Here’s another photo from my walk to work:

Sounds like Irma might take a path to the west, but of course, nobody can accurately predict a hurricane’s path this far out.

If we get high winds, I feel sorry for my neighbor across the street. Look at all the black walnuts on his tree, hanging over his house. It’s gonna sound like hail on his roof. Of course if the wind is high enough some of them might make it over here too. I’ve been collecting some. There are lots of black walnut trees around here. Almost every part of the tree makes good fast dye.

On Labor Day, I cooked all the corn shucks I’ve been saving in my freezer with soda ash so that I can break down the fiber for paper pulp. I’m going to try to make some very rough textured paper this weekend, but there is SO MUCH going on around here!

I pulled this book that I made in 2013 off the shelf and decided to work it some more for an exhibit with the Triangle Book Arts group this coming winter. It’s called “First the Seed,” and the cover has a seed catalog print gel transferred onto handmade paper, with some dried “whippoorwill” field peas in a mica window on the front. The pages are handmade paper from both recycled green office papers and recycled handmade papers with different plant materials in them. I decided to use it to showcase the seed packets that I have hoarded for years. I feel like they need to be framed, either with this rough corn shuck paper I’m about to make or with drawing frames in ink around them. I can’t add too much more paper to it or it won’t shut. I’m not satisfied with the front cover either.

book arts, cloth weaving, depression/anxiety, papermaking, Slow cloth, Upcycling

Saint Patrick’s Day

Thinking about Ireland. Aching for it. I wish that I had the courage to throw everything to the wind and take a chance on trying to move there. Like, NOW. This is a photo that I took on the Burren in May, 2012.

Since I last wrote, spring came and then left.

When this weather system came roaring through, I had cluster migraines all day. I always feel concerned for the farmers when we have these false springs.

I read “Long Quiet Highway” by Natalie Goldberg this past week. It was time for me to read something about Buddhism. Do you ever wish that you could get back a feeling that you treasured and you don’t understand why you can’t? I don’t understand why I don’t care about certain things that I once cared about. It occurred to me months ago that maybe I should get out one of my many books on Buddhism or mindfulness or simplicity but I didn’t care enough to do it until this past week. I want to care. I want to care about cooking and gardening and even watching TV and movies again. I want to feel present again. I guess this is depression. I feel so lazy and blah. Anyway, Natalie’s book is excellent and it stirred something up that needed to surface. Let’s see if I can get moving forward.

The book also made me want to go to New Mexico. I think that Sandy and I will go there in September, if we have the money.

I meant to go see Natalie at her stop at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro on Sunday, but I started making a book and that took me into a time warp and I forgot.

It was the first book I have made in many moons. I didn’t have a real plan. My sewing machine was in the shop and so I got out the denim paper that I made last spring and a piece of the recycled denim woven cloth to make a cover. A couple of scraps of old pajama pants decorate the front. This one is for me to experiment with stitching on paper. The paper is very soft so if I make another book with it I will need to reinforce the signatures where the pages are folded and stitched to the cover.

I just picked up my sewing machine and I look forward to some frustration-free sewing this weekend.

Back Forty, critters, fiber art, papermaking

Making paper from denim scraps, part I

I’ve been pretty bummed out about Fred and jealous of my friend Susanne, who spent her spring break marbling paper at my house while I dealt with April craziness at work last week. When the weekend got here I played in my studio until I triggered carpal tunnel in my right hand again. Can’t blame anybody but me for that one. I knew I was overdoing it but I wanted to get as many denim scraps cut up fine as I could to make paper pulp in Susanne’s “Critter” on Sunday. It’s going to make beautiful paper once my nerve endings get back to normal. Right now it is in buckets in my back yard. I am chompin’ at the bit to get back to creating and I find it very frustrating to be stopped in the middle of a roll like this, especially when I’m trying to distract myself from depression.

^^^Susanne Martin’s marbled paper

^^^Denim trimmings and threads that unraveled from the cloth strips I’m weaving together for a picnic blanket.

^^^Adding cotton linter pieces and stirring until the Critter started circulating the pulp on its own. Fabulous little machine.

^^^Later this week I hope to show you this stuff in the form of beautiful blue handmade paper.

^^^Planted these lettuce seedlings at the front steps this year. We are having a late frost so I’m glad that I haven’t planted anything else. I’m going to plant my butterbeans and field peas next to the fence again in a couple of weeks.

^^^A sweet shot of Theo, trying to charm me into letting him sleep on my pillow, preferably on my face.

art, book arts, fiber art, papermaking, weaving

New artwork

I managed to weave this six foot long overshot scarf during the month of February. The warp is thin cotton and the weft is silk, with lots of colors from different dyepots I’ve played with over the years, as well as some commercially dyed yarns from Treenway Silks. Some of the silk is from an order that our guild placed with a group helping a Colombian mountain community set up a silk industry back in the 1990s. That silk is handspun, and I just have a little bit of it left. I usually use it in tapestry because I like the textures that the unevenness of the handspun gives. I started with a overshot pattern that was published by Interweave Press, then, because I just can’t follow a recipe, I decided to take the theme of sunset turning into night, then sunrise. I’m going to do another one that will be similar.

This upcycled book really took a long time, but once I latched on to the idea of using field peas and an illustration from a seed catalog and handmade paper, it all came together. I scanned the illustration, printed it on a laser printer, and transferred it with gel medium onto handmade paper. The pages are handmade paper, some abaca/corn husks/whatever and some cotton/recycled office paper. I painted the inside covers with acrylic paint, enclosed the field pea “seeds” with mica windows, and bound it with a longstitch binding. The field peas are “Whippoorwill,” an heirloom variety that I first bought on a trip to Monticello and have been saving from year to year.


Now I’m going to weave off the rest of this warp on the Baby Wolf and get ready to bring my adopted child Macomber loom home.

Back Forty, coffee pot posts, papermaking

Saturday morning coffee pot post

There is a light rain outside that I’m happy about, because it will keep me inside where I need to knock out the taxes. We need money to bolster the Irish economy in May!

This was my last really heavy duty work week for a while. Now it will be a more normal load, as several of my deadlines and major duties passed at the end of March. That’s the way it is in my job – really busy sometimes, and really slow sometimes. I don’t mind that. The long peaceful summer when I can take time off without getting behind and work on projects that aren’t driven by time is very nice. Another month of serious work days remains before that, but at least I’ll feel like I can go out for a lunch break more often. Have I mentioned lately how much I love my job? I love my co-workers. I really love nearly every little part of it, except sometimes the inevitable bureaucracy of working for a large organization where people in other offices decide things for you without knowing what you do or how things work best, or how they work at all, gets on my nerves a bit. But I get over it.

So, Susanne and I hauled back a big load of iris leaves and a couple of big buckets of horsetail from Goat Lady Dairy last Sunday. She is going to lend me her Critter to make paper pulp here at my house! This is a very expensive piece of equipment that makes exquisite pulp for papermaking. Susanne has a big Hollander beater at her house for making large quantities of paper pulp, so she only needs the small Critter for travel. I am psyched about this since I will be able to make some real cotton and linen rag paper from fabric scraps and yarns leftover from weaving and stitching. I love to recycle all that I can. I don’t know why it gives me such joy but I love nothing better that to make something useful out of something that would have been thrown “away.”

I put quotes there because of course “away” is that fantasy place where trash disappears because it is out of our sight and we don’t think about it any more.

Yes, see. I am still interested in sustainability and simple living and environmentalism. I know it doesn’t seem that way any more but I got tired of writing about it. I still care about local food and Slow Food, but for some reason the LAST thing in the world that I want to do these days is cook. When I do cook, it is usually uninspired and done with a bit of resentment because I would really rather do anything else. I go through periods of this and this one has lasted a long time. Sometimes I wonder if it is that I don’t really like my kitchen. I can’t tell you why I don’t like my kitchen because I can’t put my finger on it myself. I thought I would grow to like it but I still miss my little crowded kitchen from the house next door.

And the gardening thing, well, the pain in my hands and the critters stealing all the fruits and tomatoes and squash and peppers pretty much took the joy out of that, but I do plan to plant butterbeans and field peas again since those do well. I’m going to try some indigo as well, although I was supposed to start the plants inside a couple of weeks ago and that hasn’t happened. I don’t have a good place to start seeds anymore because I no longer have a “cat-free” room since Theo came to live with us. If I shut that room off now there would be no end to the yowling and crying and scratching at the door.

The Back Forty is starting to look beautiful again without much help from me, though. I bought a new canvas roof and mosquito netting curtains for the gazebo in the back, which I need to replace soon before the skeeters hatch out. That is usually in May, but we have had such an extremely warm winter here it wouldn’t surprise me to see them even now. I made green-colored recycled paper back there after work on Monday and it made me very happy and content. It could be that I will need to switch over to papermaking from stitching since my tendinitis seems to be calling the shots despite the surgery.

I realize that I have a short window of opportunity to do solar printing while it is warm and the mosquitoes are not around, so I may get some cloth ready to do that tomorrow when the forecast is mostly sunny.

art, book arts, fiber art, papermaking

Papermaking this week

This has been a pretty good week. Susanne made lots of pulp for me in her beater, so I have made three batches of paper this week.

I used so many ingredients in these that it is a little complicated to describe. From left to right:

1. Abaca (a type of banana fiber), okra, daylily, joe-pye weed stalks. Mostly abaca and okra. I added a bunch of dried rosemary because I wanted a paper that had a lot of texture. I only pulled a few sheets with the rosemary.

2. See above, without the rosemary.

3. Cotton and corn shucks. I embedded maple leaves near the end of this batch, when the pulp was very thin. I laid down one thin sheet, sprinkled these pressed maple leaves from last fall, and then laid another thin sheet on top. The leaves are bleeding brown into some places, so I may be painting this sheet with a wash.

4. All the above ingredients, minus the rosemary, plus a small batch of recycled paper pulp from my blender. I added onion and garlic skins to the blender.

So here is what I did with the last batch. I had saved and frozen some #2 pulp. I made the recycled pulp (#4). In the meantime, Susanne had made the pulp for #3 for me. So I began with #2, added #3 and #4. As the #4 pulp ran out, the paper became lighter and lighter as I added more of the cotton-based pulp. I’ll never be able to reproduce it, but it is one of the prettiest batches that I’ve done. I will be using more onion skins in my paper.

The cotton and corn shuck paper (with tiny flecks of the previous batches throughout) is very thin. I have another bucket of it, which I will use without any additions. It should be slightly green and creamy colored, almost white. I’m going to try to make this batch thicker.

art, coffee pot posts, fiber art, papermaking

Saturday morning coffee pot post

Wow, at 10:20 a.m. the heat index here is already at 105 degrees. It will definitely be an indoor weekend for us. Sandy is not supposed to go out for long in temps above 85 and I’ve never been able to take the heat. One of many reasons I’d like to move to northwest North America, but it would be a extremely slim chance that I would give up my great job willingly. Something terrible would have to happen, like what happened at Greensboro College, and I can’t foresee that possibility at all. I loved my job at Greensboro College, too. It’s just that its leader at the time didn’t care about his employees. I’m so glad that they have turned things around, but I’m sad that it was after so many good people either were fired unjustly or driven out by outrageousness.

Whoa, how did I end up there? Well, the coffee pot post is supposed to be stream-of-consciousness, an exercise in writing constantly until my little 4 cup coffee pot runs out. I do it on weekends or holidays when I have plenty of time and I try to do it at least weekly.

Now that that lil bit of angst has been blown out of my system, I can report a much better week with the hand problem.

I’m planning to make paper today if Susanne can make my pulp this morning. It’s so hot and the mosquitoes are so bad that if she can’t do it, I’ll hope to do it tomorrow. Lifting vats of water is the only problem here, and Sandy can help me with that. The rest I should be able to do without much pain as long as I take lots of breaks, because I’m doing it with both hands in balance, rather than holding a needle and my hands in tension.

I’ve been preparing okra stalks all week. These are stalks that Charlie brought to me last fall when the Montessori school garden was cleaned up for winter. I broke some up to store in the studio, but most of them I left on the ground on top of pine needle mulch under the pear tree to break down over the winter. Then I forgot about them.

So, the first step was to remove all the ants and pillbugs that had taken up residence in them. I busted them up into pieces small enough to fit in my canning pot, and didn’t notice the ants until the frantic exodus when I filled the pot with water to soak the stalks. So out they went to the deck for the first night, ants carrying the eggs of the colony to find a safer place. I hate ants, and I love ants. It’s complicated.

I noticed a few paper fiber-capable plants around the deck to add: joe-pye weed stalks, day lily flower stems, and a dracaena-like houseplant that never made it through repotting. So I added those to the mix. The black fibers on the outside of the okra stalks were literally peeling off on their own.

I soaked the stalks the next day, and boiled them that night with soda ash for a couple of hours. Inside, so it was stinky even with the range hood fan on. It was too stormy outside to do it, and I was determined to get this done so that I could scratch my itch to do something art-wise. Sandy helped me put the pot on the deck, and I left them to soak in the soda ash water for the night and day.

The next night, I rinsed the stalks and poured the soda ash water out in a part of the yard where I’m trying to kill the undergrowth. You do not want to pour soda ash water in your garden, too caustic. I did this just until the water ran mostly clear, as I could not deal with the skeeters having me for supper any more.

The next night, I took the stalks inside and worked on them in my kitchen sink. I cut the tender stalks down to pieces of 1-2 inches and pulled the outside fibers off the tough stalks, then rinsed them until the water ran clear through a screen. The tough stalk pieces went into the compost pile.

Last night, I took them to Susanne, who will beat these along with some abaca fiber into pulp in her hollander beater for me.

That’s the saga of the beginning process. Now maybe you know why I charge so much for my handmade paper books! Recycled paper is much easier, but there is something appealing to me about getting down to the essentials of a thing. I love the earthiness of natural paper.

Pictures later? Maybe. Stay cool, y’all.


I made a very tiny batch of paper last night – only six small sheets but that’s better than nothing! It didn’t bother me so I think if I use a small vat so that I don’t have to carry a heavy container of pulp then pulling and couching the sheets should be okay. I even found that I could wash out my equipment in a dishpan and toss the rinse water outside or in the houseplants, so I will be able to do it inside on cold days too. I can press the sheets with weight on top of cardboard on the floor and now that I have this drymount press my paper is flat and even and I can dry it in 15 minutes. Making small batches will be easier on my back anyway. So I’m pretty happy about this.

I think that I’m going to try acupuncture for the pain in my hand if it takes a turn for the worse but actually last night was the first time in a while that it didn’t wake me up in the middle of the night, so maybe it is getting better.

I haven’t tried bookbinding since Journalfest but will give that a go some time in the next few days. Thank goodness I’m starting to see some progress!