Sunday, July 24, 2016

Living to Dye -- Part 2 The Wonders of Cochineal

In June, Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild continued our exploration of natural dye possibilities when Michaela McIntosh shared the history and properties of cochineal -- which typically produces a range of vibrant red - rusty orange/reds- brownish reds.

She brought along a mixed-up dye pot and we got to see the results of dipping different fibers in cochineal. While indigo comes from a plant that can be, and is, grown locally, cochineal comes from the dried bodies of insects (ee-ewe) native to South America. Today, Peru is the main source.

Here is how the dye is sold -- you can order it from Amazon!
A mesh bag of these pellets of the dried insect bodies are placed in hot water to make the dye bath.
There is a "recipe" for the amount of dye in an amount of water, and it was found that adding lime peel helped the dye take-up into the fiber. 
The story of cochineal's history is a page-turner that is hard to put down. It involves conquistadors,  money, power, subterfuge, international espionage, brutal murder, piracy, and controversy among the food safety people. Read on for the quick version:

Far back into history, Europe had access to a red fabric dye. But when Cortes invaded Mexico in the early 1500s his army found red fabric and paints far more vibrant and vivid than any they had seen before. They also discovered the source of that color -- the dried bodies of the cochineal -- an insect that lived on and was harvested from the pads of prickly pear cactus. Cortes took this wondrous stuff back to Spain and by 1600, cochineal was the country's 2nd most valuable import from Mexico. Only silver was more valuable.

Following the laws of scarcity, fabric dyed using cochineal was expensive; affordable only to the elite. Hence, red garments  - or even garments trimmed in red, were a sign of wealth and status. Think robes of Cardinals in the Catholic church, think flags, think garments for Kings and Queens. . .

Most Europeans thought the red dye came from a plant and because it was so valuable, Spain made sure the true source of the red dye was kept a secret -- to the point that many Mexicans who worked in the cochineal fields and knew how to produce the dye were murdered to prevent the secret from getting around. Other countries either had to buy cochineal from Spain, or steal it (this is where the pirates come in). Cochineal was a very profitable for Spain.

For years, other countries invested great effort to find out how to get their own cochineal, but these efforts were thwarted because they thought they were looking for a plant. After 300 year, in the early 1800s, French and Dutch adventurers figured things out and were successful in smuggling live cactus pads covered with insects out of Mexico.

So then cochineal production went international with cochineal ranches being established in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. Conditions proved to be ideal in the Canary Islands and in 1868, the Canaries exported 6 million pounds of cochineal.

In the late 1800s, just as things were booming, synthetic dyes became available and as a result, world-wide cochineal production plummeted. This created a major finalcial crisis in Spain as a huge, 250 year-old industry faded to almost nil within the span of a couple of decades.

Today, cochineal is produced primarily in Peru (where the Mexicans got it to begin with) and is used in medical tracers, artists' paints and microscopy stains. It is the only natural red food coloring approved by the FDA. Indeed, as food producers continue to switch back to natural colorings, more and more of what we eat and drink will probably be dyed with dead bugs. There are some people who are squeamish about that.

Fun Fact for travelers:  Cochineal can be found in side canyons of the Colorado River, appearing on prickly pear cactus heads inside match head size white fuzzballs. If you see this, mash one of those fuzzballs between your fingers -- a bright red ooze? Yep, that's cochineal.

If this quick romp through history has piqued your interest, find more at these two websites that elaborate on the details on the story:  The Bug That Changed History and Putting the Red in Redcoats

Back to current times and PFAG's experience with cochineal. Here is some 100% silk dyed with cochineal at Michaela's right after she brought this topic to our June meeting.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Living to Dye -- Part 1, Enough Pie, the Mobile Vat Shack, and Community Dye Days

In May and June, Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild meetings focused on natural dyeing.

First, Cathryn Davis Zommer from Enough Pie shared their big project -- the mobile indigo vat shack and Community Dye Days. Then Michaela McIntosh had us dyeing fabric and yarn with another natural dye -- cochineal.

Enough Pie is interesting in and of itself. It is a non-profit organization located in Charleston's Upper Peninsula area that is doing all kinds of interesting things to engage the neighborhood and create a stronger sense of community. Arts are one of their main vehicles to this end.

The sociological term for what they are doing is "creative placemaking" and that means to leverage partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors to strategically shape the physical and social character of a place around arts and cultural activities. The place can be a neighborhood, a town, a city, or a region. Certainly we know "Charleston Proper" to be a place known for its thriving arts culture.
PFAG member Arianne King Comer is one of several local experts on indigo and dyeing recruited by Enough Pie to help members of the public learn about indigo's rich history, how it related to our "place" -- the Lowcountry -- and to experience the dye process at Community Dye Days at the mobile Vat Shack.
Enough Pie's idea is that the arts belong in every neighborhood and the arts should be accessible to every sociological strata. Their name means there is enough pie to go around for everyone. They endeavor to cut a larger slice (of the cultural arts pie) for residents, artists, creative entrepreneurs and diverse, local businesses.

Enough Pie looks for ways to "animate public and private spaces, rejuvenate structures and streetscapes, improve local business viability and public safety, and bring diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired." (taken from Enough Pie's website, taken from an executive paper on Creative Placemaking)

Earlier in the year, Enough Pie sponsored a "Yarn Bomb" of a tower at their neighborhood's community center. This meant bringing knitters and want-to-be knitters together on Monday nights for weeks to knit the strips and patches for the "bomb". We all know what a great way to build community that is!

Their latest project is the mobile Vat Shack -- a specially designed mobile unit -- equipped with heating units and vats and sinks and racks for drying -- all to celebrate and share the history and process of something so indigenous to Charleston and the Lowcountry -- dyeing with indigo.

Inside the Vat Shack
 The Vat Shack will travel to schools and youth clubs and events. Affectionately named "Den Mamas" (like our own Arianne King Comer), who have knowledge of dyeing and of indigo, will be there to teach and guide, and give the children a hands-on experience with the process.

On the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month until early November, there will be Community Dye Days -- a chance for everyone to get involved. On these days the Vat Shack will be stationed at Joseph Floyd Manor Park at 2106 Mount Pleasant St., Charleston, SC  29403. A small, square piece of fabric will be provided to each person to dip in the dye bath at no charge. There is also an invitation to bring something you would like to dye -- it must be 100% natural fabric -- cotton, silk, linen -- (not wool). For each garment there is a $10 fee to replenish the indigo vats. So get your skeins of yarn ready!

Enough Pie is an organization we will want to watch and support!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wedge Weave Workshop Scheduled for October

Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild is excited to be sponsoring a workshop on Wedge Weave on Oct. 14 and 15, 2016 with Connie Lippert. Connie lives in South Carolina's Upstate but she travels widely to teach and and exhibit. Wedge weave has been a primary focus for her for quite some time. In fact, she will be presenting a workshop at HGA's bi-annual Convergence conference this summer in Milwaukee that will be very similar to the one she will do for us this fall.
Wedge weave on the loom

 In contrast to most weaves which are woven in a plane horizontal to the loom, wedge weave is woven on the diagonal. This results in a weft-faced weaving with many distinctive characteristics and exciting design potential. The technique might be most familiar to us from certain Native American, specifically Navajo, weaving styles.
An example of Navajo wedge weave from the 1880s at a gallery in Scottsdale Arizona.
No one really knows how the Navajos happened onto the technique, which is also seen in Middle Eastern, Andean, and Scandinavian weavings, but they began using it extensively in the 1870s.

Fiber artists such as Connie Lippert have, of course, put their own spin on the technique, creating lovely designs and color plays.
Woven by Connie Lippert

Connie's workshop in Charleston will be a wonderful opportunity to learn and experiment with wedge weave in a very small setting with not only one of the modern weaving world's foremost authorities on the technique, but also one of the weaving world's foremost teachers of wedge weave.

The workshop will be begin Friday night, Oct. 14, and continue through the day on Saturday, Oct. 15. The registration fee for Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild members is $30. The fee for non-members will be $40. One scholarship is available for a PFAG member who would like to participate but finds the registration fee burdensome.

The workshop will be limited to 20 participants. Registrations must be in no later than July 16 and will be handled on a first come first serve basis. The location has yet to be finalized.

Participants should have warping and weaving knowledge. Some weft-faced weaving experience is helpful but not critical. Participants will need to provide their own pre-warped table, floor, or tapestry loom, and a supply of several colors of weft wool.

A list of needed supplied and specific warping directions will be sent to participants after registration.

If you would like to attend, please print and complete the registration form found here. Include payment (checks should be made out to Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild, or PFAG) and mail to: Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild, PO Box 31341, Charleston, SC 29417. Questions?, contact Luann Fischer at luann.fischer@yahoo.com.
Woven by Connie Lippert

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Sad News

Mary Kelly, artist, scholar, and teacher, most recently of Hilton Head SC, has died. See her lovely obituary here.

Mary did a wonderful program for Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild in June of 2014 on the topic she is probably most well known for -- Goddess Cloth. This was her academic area of study and she shared with us her recognition of common goddess design themes (related to feminine power, fertility, and protection) in "folk textiles" from widely dispersed geographic areas, eras of time, and cultural heritages.

See more about Mary's fascinating work here.

Mary Kelly was a fiber artist in her own right, as well as an academic. She wove, and spun, and dyed, and taught all of the above. She was an active and valued member of the nearby Fiber Guild of the Savannahs . Our shared fiber arts communities have lost a treasure. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Shell Chain Chain Shell, Shell Chain Chain Shell

Aretha sets the stage for this post.
We had a great meeting in March where Ashley Schifano guided us through steps to crochet granny squares. Our goal is to make a lot of squares and put them together as blankets or lap robes later in the year to donate. Several national and local organizations were mentioned as potential recipients -- research on this continues.

Comments heard around the room:
  • "My grandmother/mother/aunt tried to teach me this when I was little, but it didn't go well/I've forgotten everything."
  • "God Bless the child who gets this blanket!" 
  • "And we thought weaving was complicated!" 
  • "This is humbling."
One former school teacher said that when she was teaching, she and other teacher friends would make it a point to get together and learn at least one completely new thing each year. She said it helped them all remember what it was like for their students every day. What a great practice for a great teacher! (But I digress.)

All this talk about the awkwardness of crocheting for the first time. . . Here's what I made:

The nice tight parts were mostly done by Natalie by way of showing me how. I was mesmerized by her beautiful hands flying and looping, then patting down the new line or corner. "See, Like that." she said. The wonky parts were done by me by way of trying. Needless to say, my hands did not fly.

Ashley shared two good videos. This one shows how to do a granny square in a single color:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxW4k-8moRs

And this one goes at a very slow pace (which I found helpful) and shows how to change colors every row.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_5nIpXg8OM  (This is how Chain of Fools started running through my mind -- she kept saying "Shell, Chain, Chain, Shell. Shell, Chain, Chain, Shell", my brain shifted to Aretha Franklin.)

Thank you Ashley.

Here's what I was able to do after watching videos:
Thank you You Tube. This square still has some tension issues. There's definitely some loosey-goosey going on. But it's better. . .  A lot better! At least it looks more like a square!

Here are a few more tips to remember  from Ashley:
  • There are lots and lots of ways to make granny squares. If you have another way, or if you find a video that shows a different way and it works for you, Go With It.
  • Ashley (and the "Jayda in Stitches" video) does one chain stitch on the sides and 2 chain stitches at the corner. Some people do two stitches on the side and 3 between the "shells" at the corners. Either way can work. Pick one and stick with it.  
  • A blanket can be lot of granny squares put together (that's another lesson). Or you can just keep crocheting around and around (single color or changing colors) until you get to the desired size.  
  • 36" x36" is a small blanket for a child. "40 x "60 is crib sized, or could be a lap robe for an elderly person in a wheel chair. 
  • More experienced crocheters -- do your favorite thing within these size parameters.
Send pictures of your first square to sandee63@bellsouth.net and we'll post them here. Fun! Again, thank you Ashley for getting us going on this! (And thank you Nancy for letting us meet in your garage!

And here's just a bit of Show and Tell:

Luanne had been to a workshop learning a new paper piecing technique. Look at those sharp points -- Beautiful!
And Sandy had a car trip to Florida to see Spring Training baseball games -- so this is the "Baseball Shawl" made in the car down and back. (Donna Griffin's Summer Flies, available on Ravelry, made with a variegated silk/acrylic/cotton/rayon blend. The ruffle is an undyed raw silk).

Sonia admits she usually just spins to "get it done" and doesn't focus too much on the end result. But this time, she purposely slowed down and intentionally tried have this skein turn out the way she wanted it to. She was quite pleased with the result of this "mindful" technique -- not for all the time, but a good tool for the toolbox.
Next month we meet in new space for the first time -- Looking forward to settling in at Fabulon in West Ashley!

Monday, February 29, 2016

PFAG Tries a Surface Design Technique

LuAnn Fischer was our presenter in February -- She brought everything we needed and helped us jump right into a fun surface design technique that resulted in a marbled design on fabric and/or paper. 

First, it was recommended that we wear aprons for this one:


Here's what we did:  

 1.)  Cover a paper plate with a smooth layer of shaving cream. Yes, that's right, shaving cream. We used Barbasol.

2.) Add drops of fabric paint to the shaving cream surface. There doesn't have to be any art to this. It can be totally random. More than one color can be used, but most of us found that more colors had a tendency to become muddy quickly.

3.) With a wooden stick, cut through each dot and swirl the color in the shaving cream -- much like you do when you make a marble cake.

4.) No image of the very next step, but you place a piece of fabric (or paper) on top of the shaving cream. Pat it gently so that the fabric makes contact with the paint, but don't move the fabric or it will smear. Place your hand on top of the cloth and your hand's warmth helps the color transfer to the fabric.

5.) Then, carefully peel the fabric/paper away. It will look much like this picture:

6.) Place the fabric/paper on a hard surface and scrape off the shaving cream with a paint scraper or similar tool. (LuAnn had us using discarded electric switch plates. They worked just fine.)

Here are samples of our work, drying just a bit before the final step -- heat setting.
(All are fabric, except for two postcard size pieces of paper in the upper left corner, and the two narrow cards to the far right)

7.) LuAnn's iron was on a low setting and parchment paper protected the painted cloth.

What Fun! What possibilities!

It could have been a messy, gloopy disaster -- but LuAnn thought of everything -- plastic to cover the tables, cloth squares, paint, wooden sticks for us to use for "twirling", a bucket for trash, a different bucket for throw away today, but take it home to be cleaned up and used again, pretty, hand-dyed "rags" for dealing with excess shaving cream, the ironing board. . . I'm glad I didn't have to pack her car to come to this meeting!

She gave instructions and a quick demo and let us have at it. . . when we whined "I don't like the way this came out." she would just wave her hand and say "Make another one!

Thanks for a great time, LuAnne! 


Luann is just incredibly talented and prolific -- she quilts, she dyes, she designs, she teaches, and she blogs about it all at Let's Create Today.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Happy New Year -- Out with the Old, In with the New

January's program at Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild helped everyone with their resolutions to de-clutter their lives and their art/craft studios.

A fiber swap is the ultimate "one person's trash is another person's treasure" event -- so that's what we did. In the end, we might not have less "stuff" but hopefully we all went home with more of the "right" "stuff".

It would be interesting to see what a color theorist would do with this selection of odds and ends.

Betty says she has a great idea for this piece of fabric.
Michaela is pleased to find this nice skein of variegated wool.
Otherwise our year is off to a really good start. The new board members are already putting things in place for the coming months (see several months of programs already posted in the right hand column under "What's Coming Up")

It's membership renewal time. If you haven't taken care of this, please send a check for $30 made out to Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild (PFAG) to P O Box 31341, Charleston, SC  29417. We'd like to get our roster out early this year -- and plans are underway for a Member Handbook -- so you definitely want to be on the active list!