More journals

This weekend I sewed together the last of the books from the Young Lovers Knot warp. Three have blue 10/2 tencel for the pattern weft (the color is called Moroccan Blue from Textiva Yarns) with black 20/2 tabby weft. One has a copper-colored 10/2 cotton pattern weft (a UKI color called Mead) with black 20/2 tabby, and one has green 10/2 tencel (Emerald Green from Textiva Yarns) pattern weft with 20/2 black tabby. copper and black bookblue tencel book cover

 

 

 

 

Here are a few more details about them. The coptic binding lets the journal open flat as you write. This is an advantage because you can write anywhere (e.g., sitting snug in bed with your journal propped on your knees). Also, you don’t waste any paper because you can write all the way to the edges. journal opens flatThese journals are meant for writing, rather than drawing or painting. The paper is smooth, so you can write without bumps and lumps. Any kind of pen will work (except Sharpie bleeds through). I prefer old-fashioned ball points, my pen of choice for decades. The paper isn’t too plain, though, it has visual texture, with little flecks of light brown against the cream-colored paper.

The spines are exposed so you see the folds of the signatures, and the coptic stitch is decorative. I like how the stitching extends the feeling of the threads in the cloth on the covers. It makes the books feel connected, like the covers and pages grew together.blue tencel spinespine close up

 

 

 

 

Matching the color of the waxed linen thread with the yarns in the cover is fun, though not straightforward. I bought certain colors of waxed linen thread specifically because they matched the yarns I have. But when the cloth is all woven together, interactions between the pattern yarn and the tabby yarn create new color effects. This is always true with weaving, but it happens in a particular way with overshot because of the interactions of the tabby weft with the pattern weft, as well as the warp. Because of these interactions, two colors that were similar when compared one-on-one no longer look alike. I prefer the color of the waxed linen thread to blend into the cloth on the covers. To me it adds to the feeling that the cloth and the stitching are one process or one structure.

My journals are no longer available at Food for Thought Books, since they are in the midst of textbook rush and the space is filled with books for classes for the new semester. For the moment, I have them here at home. Here is the description I posted with the books at the store:

“These books were handmade by Michelle Parrish of Local Color Dyes and Wood Thrush Weaving – Amherst, MA. I hand wove the cloth for the covers using cotton, tencel, and cotton-linen blend yarns. The pattern is a variation on a traditional overshot motif called “Young Lovers’ Knot.” I sewed the books with a Coptic binding using waxed linen thread. In addition to being decorative, the Coptic binding allows your book to lay flat as you write. The writing paper is 50% post consumer recycled, acid free, and FSC certified. Though all the books in this series share the same pattern, each book is one of a kind.

I made these books so that people could write in them. Writing helps me make sense and meaning of my life, to re-tell and remember, to think, plan and decide, and to create continuity and a sense of personal history over time. It connects me to myself. I have kept a journal since I was 7 years old.

The overshot pattern on the cover holds a story of its own, and is connected to a longer history. In times past, these patterns were woven with linen or cotton and wool, and made warm, durable bed covers. Many old coverlets were made entirely by hand and represented months of work: the linen was grown, processed, and spun, and the wool sheared, washed, spun, and dyed, by the weaver and her family. There are hundreds of traditional overshot patterns, many with evocative names. Each of us lives a unique story of our own, but we are all connected to one another, past and present, through the fabric of life. I hope one of these books will connect you to others who labored, created, lived and loved, and passed their stories to us in the form of these traditional patterns.

And I hope these journals offer a space to write some of your own story.”

Chuang Tzu and Huck Lace Hearts

In anticipation of Valentine’s Day, I’ve been weaving bookmarks with heart motifs in huck lace. I really like them. They have a sweet, old-fashioned feeling.three huck heart bookmarksHere are three next to a yardstick to show length. Click on the photo to see more detail. The weave structure of huck lace creates floats that pass over five threads, and these reflect light more than the plain weave background. The reflectivity or sheen helps differentiate the pattern.

I’m using 40/2 linen that I dyed with madder root last summer. The warp and weft are slightly different colors, and came from two successive dyebaths. The madder roots were leftover from an excellent, inspiring workshop last summer with Joan Morris at Long Ridge Farm (unfortunately a “what I did this summer” post that never got written). By the time I dyed these linen skeins, the roots had been extracted twice already, hence the light colors.

The warp is slightly more salmon colored, toward the orange side of red. The weft is lighter pink, more toward the blue side of red. To my eye the colors and values blend smoothly;  except along the hemstitching, I don’t see the difference. I was surprised to see in this photo, though, that the camera picked up the differences in color.

pink and salmon madder tonesThe threads going across are the weft, and the ones going up and down are the warp. The sett is 36 epi (ends per inch), sleyed 3 per dent in a 12 dent reed. The bookmarks are two inches wide in the reed, an inch and three quarters after washing and ironing, and range from 10 and a half to 11 inches long including the fringe. I have woven 20 at this point.

Mostly these bookmarks have been fun and satisfying to weave. The only difficulty I’ve encountered is the hemstitching. The yarn untwists as I work and starts to disintegrate. Re-twisting and wetting it helps a little, but it’s still a tricky business, even though the bookmarks are only 2 inches wide. By the time I get to needle-weaving in the ends, there’s not much left to work with. That’s problem number one.

Problem number two is that, at 36 epi, it is hard to see what I’m doing. So, I’ve been using a magnifying glass to help. magnified hemstitchingIt would be more efficient to have one on a stand so I could keep both hands free, but I do OK with a handheld one. Sometimes the hemstitching goes smoothly. I feel skillful. Other times there’s fraying and lumps and wispyness. I feel inept.

 

Here’s where Chuang Tzu comes in. If you’ve heard of Taoism, you’ve heard the sayings of Chuang Tzu: he’s the guy who inspired it all 2000+ years ago.

While I was enjoying a happy hemstitching experience and contemplating its pleasures, a story from Chuang Tzu came to mind. It’s about a butcher, or cook, who never needs to sharpen his knife. I’ve been a vegetarian for about 30 years, but I still like this story. Here’s a little excerpt from the Burton Watson translation. Cook Ting is cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui, who marvels at his skillfulness, and Cook Ting says …

“I’ve had this knife for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room–more than enough for the blade to play about in.”

This is how it is with hemstitching. If you slip the needle through the spaces between the threads, it all goes smoothly. There is less abrasion on the thread, less interference with the structure of the cloth, and nothing wears out. I decided I needed a needle with less thickness. Voilá, easier hemstitching!  And the magnifying glass helps.

Cook Ting describes how he feels when he has successfully worked through a “complicated situation” …

“I stand there holding the knife and looking all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

One more bookmark completed. I feel satisfied, then I advance the warp. The Tao of hemstitching.

 

 

Weld on Cellulose Yarns

I have not been hibernating, but I am woefully behind on sharing my dye news. So, my first post of 2012 is actually a belated one that I began writing weeks ago.

Back in December, I decided to dye several skeins of cellulose yarns (linen, cotton, and cottolin) for future projects featuring naturally dyed yarns. So many colors to choose from…. I have tons of dried weld in the closet, which made yellow an obvious choice. To prepare for dyeing with weld, I went back through my old dye notebooks, and found a note that one summer some of the weld plants bolted and flowered in their first year, but only got to be about 2 feet tall. So, weld can flower the first year, but technically it’s a biennial.  In my experience, the plants get giant (5-6 feet) in their second year, hence all the dried weld in the closet. Hence yellow yarn.

There are a range of opinions about how to achieve the best results with natural dyes on cellulose (i.e., plant) fibers. Everyone agrees that a thorough scouring is necessary to begin. I washed the skeins in hot water with regular laundry detergent first, then used soda ash at 2% weight of goods and an anionic scour from Earthues (ordered from the lovely and inspiring Nancy Zeller at Long Ridge Farm) at 6% WOG.

Some folks recommend an alum-tannin-alum sequence using aluminum sulfate and a tannin source. Others recommend just aluminum acetate with no tannin. I decided to follow instructions from Earthues (maybe not their most current recommendations) and treated the yarns with tannin first (Earthues’ gallotannin, from oak galls) at 5% WOG, then the next day mordanted with alum acetate at 5% WOG. My yarns were 22/2 unbleached cottlin and 20/2 linen half-bleach.

I used 9.36 oz. of dried weld (stems, leaves, and flowers) to make the dyebath, planning to dye about 12 oz. yarn.

Here I must digress for a moment. Back in December I checked out Anne Bliss’ sweet little book North American Dye Plants from the library. In her preface she acknowledges the support of her family in tolerating the “odoriferous stews” her research required. In our house we call the same phenomenon “stinky pots,” though “odoriferous stews” sounds much more grand. Weld is a stinky plant. The flowers are stinky in a good way. The rest of the plant is stinky in a stinky way. I don’t mind it so much because I have a high tolerance for the smells associated with natural dyes. But I try to spare my love the worst of the stenches by dyeing outside when the weather permits. Our neighbor’s cat loves all my smelly treasures, and we have many funny photos of him enjoying my fiber and dye experiments. Here’s one of Hansel luxuriating in the weld harvest of 2009.

OK, so stinky pots happen outside when weather permits. But since it was a rainy, albeit mild, December, the weld dyepot had to be indoors while it was heating (I brought up the temp to 180, held for an hour, then cooled overnight before straining). Fortunately it was not very smelly when I first heated it. Afterwards, it got outrageous! I did not extract the plant material multiple times, though some people recommend this. Once was enough.

With weld, many people recommend chalk to heighten the color, and/or dipping the fiber in an alkaline afterbath. I decided to add both calcium carbonate (at 3%WOG) and soda ash (at 2%WOG) to the strained dyebath before adding the skeins. The pH was between 9-10. I always do a delayed rinse, meaning I let the dyed yarns dry completely before rinsing them. I got intense, though kind of weird, color.weld-dyed skeins I would describe the linen skeins (on the left of the photo) as mustard. The cottolin (on the right) are a lighter greenish-yellow. I put a color wheel in the photo for comparison.

Weld has a reputation for yielding the most pure or “clear” yellow but you wouldn’t know it from this batch of yarn. I concluded that the tannin affected the color, and the fact that the fibers weren’t bleached also made a difference.

Seeing how intense the color was, I got overly ambitious and decided to use the exhaust bath to make green by overdyeing some cotton and cottolin skeins previously dyed blue with woad. This was my first attempt to make green with cellulose yarns (though I have made many successful greens on wool and alpaca by dyeing the fiber yellow first, then overdyeing with woad). Well, my results were really pathetic and disappointing. Here’s a photo comparing them to a woad dyed skein that I wisely did not mess with.woad overdyed with weld Sorry for the blur, but the colors are pretty accurate. The woad dyed skein is on the far right. They all started out that color. I treated them with the same tannin-alum sequence as the yellow skeins, thinking the tannin might create a nice teal. Sadly, no.

I attribute my lack of success to two factors. First, the weld bath must have been exhausted, and the very little color that was left attached unevenly to the fiber. Second, I must have had a chemistry problem, even though I was pretty sure I wouldn’t. The pH of the exhaust bath when I put the woad-dyed skeins was 8, which I didn’t think it was high enough to strip the blue off the yarn. But clearly it did.