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Dye Days


To answer Robbin’s question, there will Not be plaited braid stitch instructions in the needle-gold thread kit, so go ahead and order Linda’s from Calico Crossroads. There’s a link in the upper right portion of the blog home page. Go to her searchable catalog and look for plaited braid stitch. That should bring up the $6 + shipping packet of full-color instructions. If you have any trouble you can email Linda through the contact page on her website.

Thanks for the note about the comment box being overrun by text. Unfortunately we’re between Webmanagers right now; I sent Rich a note about it on his last day. I don’t think he laughed, but only because he’s not that kind of person. He did say that issue was already on the list for the interim guy to work on, but I have a feeling the interim guy had a lot more on the list….cross your fingers that another talented webmanager wants to work here and we find him/her soon.

Looks cushy, but hot, hot, hot - dyeing outside the Crafts Center, July, 2008.Here are two tantalizing pictures of the excellent stuff Penny, Emily, Lacey, and two volunteers from the Landmark program did here on Tuesday and Wednesday. I know Pen, Emily, and Lacey want to blog about the whole experience, so I hopefully won’t be treading on their toes by posting these two. The first is their cushy setup outside the Crafts Center. Chairs! And a tent! It looks comfy, but it was scorching hot those two days.

The second is some yarn gently simmering in madder, I think. Yarn in the dyepot and flip-flops!

They all had an excellent time, worked really hard but said it didn’t feel like work; the visitors loved it, the other Crafts Center artisans loved it, and Penny’s so pleased she’s already talking about doing it again in September. That much makes it a ringing success. But they also got loads of gorgeous yarn out of the deal, and that’s just gravy. They all three looked really tired on Thursday, though.

Dye Workshops and Departures


Emily is guest-posting today.

As someone who takes great pleasure in all things weird and wonderful, I am extraordinarily pleased with my blue right thumbnail. That’s right. It’s blue. Navy on the edge, fading to a gentle sort of sunny lakeside-ish color in the middle.

I haven’t taken a nailbrush to it because I tend to be pretty lazy when it comes to general fingernail maintenance (although they all get a good weekly biting), but also because I’m not sure I want it to go away.

I’m not sure I want to go away.

This weekend (August 9th -10th ) is the weekend that the intern house bids farewell to two of its six occupants. My counterpart in the Wardrobe Department, Lacey, is one of the young ladies departing, and the whole department is sad to see her leave.

In the past few days, Ms. Lacey, with the help of Tricia, has been making a web of numbers she should call in order to find out what becoming a textile conservator would be like. In this line of work, I am told, a certain amount of chemistry is necessary. Lacey proved her aptitude for working with potentially volatile elements during our dye workshop (Figure 1See Figure 1) and was pleased and proud to see her work come to fruition. She was fascinated and frustrated by the exactitude necessary to produce both the solution for the madder (See Figure 2)Figure 2 and the solution for the indigo (See Figure 3).Figure 3 You can see the beauty produced by her meticulousness was well worth her effort.

I was just psyched to put bugs in a coffee grinder.

Lacey handed me a little container of dead insects (cochineal bugs), and I crushed ‘em up and boiled ‘em, dumped the wool in, and when I took it out, it was a dashing, daring shade of red (See Figure 4), whereupon I did a little dance of joy.Figure 4

Through those two days of wool dyeing, Penny (or “Big Grasshopper”) imparted her knowledge of natural dyestuffs upon us, making sure that we had a good handle on what we were doing and surreptitiously checking over our shoulders to keep us on the right track. She was very pleased by the end of the workshop, and it was very pleasing to see her, a fiber artist I love and respect, that pleased. And she brought us chocolate croissants when we were done, too, which was pretty bomb.

Lacey’s farewell gift from Penny was a little hat made out of some of Penny’s handspun yarn, which Lacey had dyed with madder during the workshop. If I were the kind of person who could knit more than a straight line (I make a mean scarf, but anything else? Forget about it), I would be all over this yarn. Seriously. And I’m not just saying that because my second job is in retail.

I’m just thankful that Penny let us make up a second indigo dyebath, exclusively for cotton. With characteristic precision, Lacey dipped and dipped her button-down shirt until it was a stunning shade of midnight blue. I went all art school and dumped my shirt in, relishing the air bubbles that made odd striations and pockets of color all over the garment. We both went into the indigo dyebath after our clothing (and skein upon skein of yarn) with bare hands, hence the blue fingernails.

It has been more than a week since we had our dye workshop, and I am still very happy with my subtly blue fingernails. I am less than happy about the fact that I will be returning to Bennington in three weeks, with a play to costume and a fashion show to complete. It was, however, brought to my attention that I should probably get my B.A. before I’m a contestant on Project Runway. Thus, it is with a brain laden with knowledge and a heart laden with sorrow that I leave the Plimoth Plantation Wardrobe Department. I will keep in touch and will hopefully be back to work on the jacket.

And I’m just going to let the blue in my fingernails work its way out.


Show and Tell August


Betty-Anne, Rosemary and Abigail all brought lovely show and tell objects to the last session. Wendy kindly photographed for me, as I had very cleverly “lost” my camera in the trunk of my car. We missed getting a snapshot of Rosemary’s gorgeous Victorian style beaded scissors case, with the beaded fringe and beaded neck cord.

Here is a photo of some of Betty-Anne’s doll beds. She has made eight or nine of them illustrating different historic styles of bed hangings. She brought these two to show.

And this is Abigail’s blackwork truly-a-sampler. She adds to it as she finds designs she wants to record, has used at least one (the double acorn on a garment) and in working another discovered she never wants to use it again. That’s just how samplers were used in the early 17th century.

And here is a picture of Lacey modeling her Plimoth souvenir hat and holding the coveted Janet Arnold book. Lacey dyed the yarn with madder and Penny knit it for her. Turns out the Virginia girl collects winter hats. I’ve been told it gets cold in Virginia. Mmm-hmm. (Lacey spent ten years in Germany, where it really does get cold. We just like to tease her.)

Lacey headed home about a week ago, and we all miss her very much. She’s promised to come back for the exhibit opening in May. This is Emily’s last week with us and today she’s fighting off a cold and valiantly soldiering on with the green canvas suit. She’s determined to finish it before she has to go home. I’m not liking the empty nest.

Our next embroidery session starts Friday August 22. We’ll have several embroiderers and a lacer or two. There’s still room if you have some time, come and join us.

Treats for Emily


Penny knitted another awesome hat, this one for Emily. The pink is yarn Emily dyed with cochineal, which are indeed little bugs. Penny duplicate-stitched a skull, because Emily has a pirate aura.

I suppose going back to school is an acceptable excuse for leaving us.

A Personal Aside


Look what I did this weekend!

I’ve wanted to have my hands decorated with henna, sometimes called mehndi, for a long time – about 12 years, since a colleague had hers elaborately done for her wedding (this was Joanna of the Embroidered Coif Kit, who will be joining us for the 9/26 embroidery session – yay!). I finally got a chance this weekend, at my twin nieces’ six-year-old birthday party, oddly enough. My brother had a magician/balloon artist for the children’s entertainment but also booked a henna artist, on a whim, and because he thought the girls and their guests would enjoy it. We certainly did – all the children (except the smallest and wiggliest) and most of the grown-ups got a design.

After all those years you might think the reality wouldn’t match my anticipation, but actually I am delighted beyond all reason. For the past couple of years I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how and why human beings decorate themselves (did you spot the massive understatement?), with clothes and jewelry and make-up. I think the impulse to adorn the important and special, to highlight attractive characteristics and hide the rest, is universal to human societies, or very nearly so. Personally, hands have always been special to me, more than special, almost magical.

You may have seen the photos of the embroiderers’ hands at work that I frequently post here. I love to watch skilled hands manipulate tools and materials. The urge to create, the ability to create, the process of creation even more than the end result is fascinating to me. I was captivated by the symbolism of decorating the hands, to call attention, to accentuate, to honor.

For a full 10 – 15 minutes each, the time it took Heather to decorate them, my hands were forced to be idle. I spent the time admiring her skilled hands as she drew the design free-form. Then for about 30 minutes, I waited, still with idle hands (pretty unusual for me) while the henna dried. It took hours for it to flake off, and Heather says the designs will last a couple of weeks. I think, as long as they last, I will be spending some time contemplating and appreciating my hands.

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Visiting the Silk


Justin has been working on weaving the silk for the lining for weeks at Eaton Hill Textile Works. They started last year indigo dying the warp silk threads and setting up the loom. Before I go into the current progress, a few words about Eaton Hill Textile Works.  They are a small textile mill in the Green Mountains of Vermont specializing in 18th and 19th century weaving techniques.  Kate Smith both weaves custom fabrics for reproductions and period rooms and teaches a wide range of hand weaving and dying techniques.  If you have ever been interested in learning about weaving, you couldn’t find a more interesting spot to work in.  And in the tradition of all those who love handwork, the food is great also! I was served a rare treat when I visited this week – plum pudding.  YUM.

I wanted to let you see some of the fantastic fabrics that Kate has produced in her workshop, along with the range of naturally dyed fibers hanging in the workshop.  Just scrumptious!