Post #3254: A Breezier Week

It’s been a pretty good week over here. Post heat wave things seem manageable again, I’m recovering from the lethargy that was the second vaccine shot, and my B12 levels feel normal again (I can think!) This week also starts the beginning of a new quarter in the year, by which I organize my goal-setting and creative project goals for the next three months. It always feels good to turn the page on the last quarter even if I didn’t finish everything I set out to do.

One thing I did finish from last quarter this week was hemming the blue tea towels that came off the loom last month. You can see them in the photo at the head of this post alongside a bowl of peach plums I picked up at the mid-week farmer’s market on Wednesday. These might be some of the nicer towels I’ve made, my first time using a sett of 18 EPI on a twill weave – they turned out marvelously soft. It’s hard to believe that cotton can have so many faces, but as I work through my weaving study, I can see how much density and structure change the properties of the base material. It’s obvious if you think about it, but I’ve never given myself much chance to experiment and think this all through so it feels revelatory to me. More on my summer textile school in a post tomorrow!

Brian was in the city for three days this week which meant my puttering about was rather unbounded. I got some tidying done in the garden, planted some basil and peppers where the peas and lettuce came out, cleaned my kitchen, leant a hand to a friend with a piece of furniture to move, and went to the recycling depot to buy more pots for the dye studio. I did a whole lot of responding to people about the house concert we are hosting this weekend which is now booked to capacity.

I also returned to working out this week after taking a few days off. Last Tuesday, during the heat dome, I decided to squeeze in a morning workout before going to town for vaccination. Even first thing in the day it was pretty hot, and things were sweaty, but I thought I could manage it. Not so! Right after my warm-up, in my third round of bench presses, I managed to drop a bar loaded with 100 pounds onto my face. Normally when I have trouble getting out of a press, I can roll the bar away from me, but the sweatiness of my hands meant I couldn’t get enough grip and it went the other way. Fortunately I only sustained a minor injury when my tooth went into the back of my lip (bloody), but it scared me enough that I decided to take a few days off to recover and let my mouth heal up. I had already planned to take it pretty easy post-vaccine, and this just gave me another reason to do so. (And before you lecture me on the dangers of weight lifting, as someone already did this week, note that studies show weight lifting to be far less dangerous than running, cross-fit, and team sports, not to mention boot-camp style fitness classes which have very high injury rates).

The accident was a reminder that even momentary slips in attention can have serious consequences. When I got back under the bar yesterday, I was working on laser-focus more than cranking the weight up. The only other time I’ve had an accident like that was in the gym with my trainer when I fell during a loaded squat (falling in the squat rack is quite safe because the rack catches the barbell). That time my focus was compromised due to a bystander “giving advice” and it left me flustered when I went into the lift. Lesson learned: No more heavy lifting during extreme heat waves!

Work is pretty boring these days, I have a new research proposal in the hopper for one of my internal clients and my other projects continue to tick along, but I’m not overly inspired. Something about an election looming always throws things off a bit, not to mention summertime with people away throughout the months. It definitely feels like maintenance work as opposed to moving things forward.

So instead I turn to the house concert this weekend (Corbin Keep) and some impending house guests we haven’t seen for close to a year (friends who are building a place not far from ours), I’ve got cochineal to rinse out of some yarn, and a plan for the next steps in my weaving study. If only these were the things I made my living from! But then again, that would make them work and not pleasure – so I’m probably living the right way round.

Post #3253: Transitional

I took most of last week off of everything – work, working out, writing – an unplanned fallow week due to heat wave and 2nd shot effects which left me with a few days of lethargy. It was a relief to let go of my productivity goals for a few days and just putter around the studio, nap, and then host a musician playing at our local festival and some friends who came for dinner on Saturday. Though we’re all still tentative, the summer weather and second shots this week have loosened things up considerably around here.

The way the transition out of the pandemic is happening, it almost feels like a new year full of potential and promise. Last weekend we held the first house concert on our outdoor stage in almost a year and I’ve never seen an audience so giddy arrive at our gates. This upcoming weekend’s show, two weeks later, has seen an even greater flood of interest (it’s a good thing we aren’t capped at 50 people outside any longer). We’ve had visits over brunch and dinner, friends are coming to stay, and the tension that permeated every interaction is dissipating bit by bit. Sure, we’re all worried about Delta, but we’re also ready to have some fun again.

I’ve been thinking about this transition for awhile, what I miss and want to return to versus the aspects of “normal” I have no interest in reintroducing into my life. While I have missed dinner parties, I don’t miss union travel. I have longed for spontaneous visits with friends, but I haven’t wanted to return to obligatory social functions. A quieter life in the last year has meant less scheduling and more time in my studio, more depth in my explorations, more time in the woods (and still I don’t feel like I have enough time for all of this). I’m trying to figure out how to maintain that, while allowing some of the social back into my life. I expect come fall, there will be another piece to figure out when in-person work meetings start happening and people expect me to be there. I have a union-related investigation I must be present for at the end of this month, and that will be just the beginning of having to come and go from my small island again.

While I can say no to some things, I can’t forestall them all. I am expected at a wedding in New York next June, there are disciplinary hearings I must attend with people who need support. How can I retain some of this quality of depth and quiet I have cultivated in the last year while also attending to the world outside my home again? I expect the answer to that lies in a more rigorous meditation practice, setting limits on my willingness to attend things in person when it’s possible to do otherwise, and creating space for non-productive/non-screen time during the day or week.

It’s hard to imagine now, but when the Covid shut down happened in March of last year, I had two solid months of on-the-road meetings and conventions ahead of me. Brian had a similarly packed agenda and we both felt overwhelmed by our schedules and the fact we would barely see each other for the upcoming months. As I took things off my calendar one by one, I felt a lot of relief at not having to undergo the gauntlet of obligatory work and union meetings, offset by a bit of sadness at not being able to attend my friend’s swearing in as a judge and missing a trip to New York. As much as I will keep adding things onto my agenda and be “fine” I realized then that I was increasingly *not* fine with the external pressures that had me filling up my day planner year after year. Fortunately, this was also the year I had planned to announce my retirement from union life in 2022, which will take a lot of things off my plate automatically (and not soon enough). Still, I’m going to have to be careful at my propensity to fill my time up with something else.

I am staying home for most of this summer, which is typical for us as I see no reason to leave my home during the nicest months. I have a trip to another island booked with a friend in a couple of weeks, and will go to our cabin in the interior in the fall (hopefully the fires will have passed), but otherwise we are hosting friends and house concerts, and in between I am working and hanging out in my studio. I am thinking about how to get deeper into the creative work I do, not allowing this moment of transition to yank me back into a life I don’t want to return to.

I think it will be easier to break the old habits now that I’ve had a long timeout from them. The question is how much my ego tells me I “have to” dive back into all the old behaviours of before.

Post #3252: Yellow and Brown Natural Dyes

Above photo illustrates colour comparison in yarn left to right: Cutch, Lobaria Pulmonaria, Myrobalan, Osage orange, Fustic – all using Knitpicks Gloss, fingering weight as base. Details on each below.

Today I am cooking up a pot of red dye (madder) as I shift into the next round of natural dye experimentation. The last eight days or so has been devoted to browns and yellows which I round up for you here.

Cutch

Dyed at 30% WOF. Left to right – Alum mordant on cotton, Alum acetate mordant on Cotton, Shifted with Iron at 4% WOF. Yarn mordanted with Alum.

Myrobalan

Dyed at 25% WOF using extract. Top to bottom: Cotton mordanted with alum acetate, cotton mordanted with alum, soda ash rinse (golden sample), shifted with iron @4% (brown-grey). I plan to overdye most of this with Indigo to get teal. We’ll see how that goes.

Osage orange

Dyed at 30% WOF, whole dyestuff soaked overnight. Cotton mordanted with alum on bottom, with aluminum acetate in middle. Had black flecks on the fabric which I believe is due to contamination from ferrous sulphate. Plan to shift this with indigo to get greens.

Fustic

Dyed the least amount of stuff with fustic which turned out to be my favourite colour by far! Dyed at 30% WOF using whole dye stuff soaked overnight. Am definitely going to dye more fibre with this – a couple skeins for a fall knitting project at least.


Lobaria pulmonaria

I somehow did not manage to record the WOF here, but I made a dye pot with 50 grams of dried lichen wildcrafted by my friend Jennifer. As you can see, the fabric didn’t take up much dye but the yarn sure did. Shifted with iron, the cotton became a beautiful grey (I reused an iron bath here so I don’t have %WOF). 

Post #3251: Summer Textile School Week 4

Week four and I’ve finally started dyeing things!

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Cutch dye, fibre and fabric in the dye pot.

While I find the preparation process highly meditative, I was eager to get to the dye pot.
Being able to eventually make garments from ethically sourced fibre and fabric, dyed using methods that are gentler on our ecosystem is hugely motivating to my learning process and so I’m taking care with each step to be careful with water, reuse materials when possible, and ensure I’m disposing of things appropriately.

I also plan to start harvesting dyestuff from around our place this summer – dhalia and tansy are both poking up right now – and a friend brought me a huge bag of Lobaria pulmonara that she collected in the fall. I am excited to use the extracts I purchased from Maiwa as well as the whole stuff available to me. 

Having never done any dyeing except a single indigo workshop last spring, this exploration feels very potent and like it’s coming at the right time in my life of textile-making terms of time/access to materials and the fact that I’m able to approach it from a place of inquiry as opposed expectation or end result. 

Dyeing Activities

Learning

  • Watched the third section of caitlin ffrench’s Natural Dyes course at the School of Sweet Georgia. 
  • Read the study notes of other participants in the Natural Study group and wrote my own notes
  • Started dye sample pages in my design notebook

Materials prep

  • Made a tannin bucket, an alum acetate bucket, and a chalk bucket for plant-based fibre mordanting
  • Scoured and mordanted cotton fabric for dye experiments – 12 napkins, a cotton shawl, and some random linens.
  • Scoured and mordanted 2 yards of hemp/cotton yardage that I plan to dye with Lac to make a shirt from.

Dyeing

  • Made a dye plan for yellows and browns. Plans to dye samples with Lobaria pulmonaria, Fustic, Osage, Myrobalan and Cutch. Other than the Myrobalan and Cutch, these are whole dyestuffs. I will overdye many of them with madder or indigo since I’m most interested in yellow as a base for other colours.
  • Starting with Cutch extract from Maiwa I finally got my dye pot going! Dyed 1 small ball of yarn (100 yards), 1 napkin and a fat 8th of cotton fabric. Total weight 139.76 grams. Used 30% WOF – 41.91 grams of extract. Cooked for an hour at temperature and then left in the dye pot overnight. I shifted a piece of the dyed fabric with iron afterwards as well.
  • Did a run of Myrobalan same as the Cutch – 2 small balls of yarn, 1 napkin and a fat 8th of cotton fabric. Shifted some of the cotton post-dye with iron (result: dark grey) and some with a soda ash rinse (result: more golden). I will likely overdye the yarn for my reds project, and some of the fabric I will overdye with a single dip of indigo to produce some teal.
  • Completed a run of Osage Orange dye (derived from sawdust) this morning and articles are rinsed and drying now.
  • Featured image at the head of the page shows articles dyed with Myrobalan and colour shifted with iron or soda ash.

Weaving Activities

  • Finished setting up the 20+ system. It’s ready to go whenever I find time to warp that loom.
  • Warp for JST Episode 2 sample (Asymmetry) threaded. It’s taking me forever to get this on the loom, but I’m beaming the warp this weekend for sure. I’m going to be working through the JST material slower than I initially planned, which means I’m going to be doing that course into the fall – which is fine with me!

Next week I start getting extra days from work for the summer so that will help me advance on the weaving. 

Post #3250: Heat Wave

Apparently we are heading into some of the hottest temperatures on record over the next few days which terrifies me a little bit because I don’t like heat much, and I’ve already lost one freezer this week. On the other hand, we have wind and lots of it, coming right off the ocean so where we are is going to be much less exhausting than many other parts of the coast and interior.

I’ve become more productive at work this week, after a long slow spell of recovery from a hectic spring. I have developed a research plan, an inventory, followed up on project approvals and finally feel like I’m waking up intellectually again. I think part of my issue was a lack of B12 since I stopped taking my supplement and that pretty much gums everything up after a few months. I never used to have to worry about it, but something changed a couple of years ago and I started testing dangerously low on the B12. It makes me feel like I have some form of dementia, and that my brain has stopped working. It’s gradual so I don’t notice it until I’m deep in the fog and then it takes me some time to figure out why my brain isn’t working right. By then I’ve been losing brain productivity for some weeks or months. At least it only takes a couple weeks of supplement to start feeling more normal again. The shots work immediately, but since I can get along with the sublingual tabs, it’s just as well I do that.

Anyhow, feeling a bit sharper means I get more done, and its relieving because I hate the feeling of falling behind, even if it’s just in my writing or textile studio, the non-paid labour I feel called to. I managed to get Issue #21 of Comfort for the Apocalypse out the door this morning, with a poem instead of an essay this morning. A poem! This feels much more vulnerable than my usual offering because I haven’t written a poem in a long time and it seems much more interior to me. I had forgotten how poetry makes you reflect on language differently, and how difficult it is to get it right.

I’m going to put up a full Summer Textile School post tomorrow with pictures, so I’ll save the craft chit-chat for that except to say that I am fully into the dye stage of things and it’s exciting! Pictured at the head of this post is some Osage orange sawdust being strained after making dye with it. I am learning so much these last few weeks, and the idea of getting to weave, sew or stitch with what I’ve dyed over the summer is ridiculously compelling at the moment. More compelling than almost anything else (I am side-eyeing my untidy studio as I say this).

At Birdsong this weekend we have our first outdoor house concert since last September – and then a whole series of them coming up in July and August. We have a lot of RSVPs for the show (but not too many for the current health restrictions) and I’m looking forward to seeing many faces I haven’t seen for awhile. When we first booked this show months ago I wasn’t sure if Covid or the weather would allow it – but at the moment we seem to be good for both (unless the heat tomorrow fells people) and there is really no better place to be on a hot summer night than outdoors with a beer listening to music.

We’re also starting to book shows for the fall, with fingers crossed that we will be able to have indoor shows by then. Everything still feels so tentative even though second shots are happening and case numbers are way down. I look at the rise of the Delta variant and think – who knows what fall will bring. But for now we can meet outside and the warm weather will facilitate that nicely.

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