Dyeing Silks and Playing with Light

I’ve been weaving a lot of white lately, mostly silks that Iinherited from Ethel Aotoni when she died. I had the intention to dye them. The silk threads took the light differently whether you looked at them warps wise of weft wise. This fabric is a white 12-end satin. I tried to see if I could make it completely warp face with strong colored wefts. i.e white on one side and red or black on the other. When I had the fabric in hand I noticed that it changed color accoring to whether the warp or the weft was vertical. You can only see the borders and center when the light is just right. (You can see bits of white showing the warps peeking through on the edges of the squares I cut). These are works in progress, nothing is set yet. [ click to enlarge any photo ]

Here is what the red and white pieces look like when looking straight on–no borders or center color change.

This piece I dyed with black walnuts. Weaving the 12 end satin going in 11 stages from warp face to weft face. It didn’t look very interesting as a whole but I liked a lot of the sections. That is why I decided to cut the squares. Then I realized the light-play and came up with this design.

Another satin warp of silk dyed with black walnuts. I dyed the weft silk before weaving. Then I dyed the whole piece again in a light walnut dye with iron after bath. This photo shows how the light changes the darks and lights.

This was the first white warp satin I did and I couldn’t bear to dye it. It feels gorgeous, and I love the way the fabric takes the light.

Neddle Cushion Details

Here are the needle cushions as they were woven, before cutting them apart. After sampling, I was happy with the way they looked. See below for some of the problems that needed solving.

I hated the spaces between the pattern threads as seen here. Read how I solved that below. I chose different colors of the pattern threads and doubled the number of threads to make them thicker. Then I was satisfied.

I went to my bible on Overshot techniques, Helene Bress’s book. On page 206 in the Overshot chapter was my answer! Her book has such depth with many ways to think about how one can design things. There must be thousands of images.

© 1981 Helene Bress



Needle Book Mania??

I wonder if I have a “thing” about needle books. The first one I had I made in 4-H when I was 10. I never saw the use of it and never used it. Then I saw one my friend Mary Rowe had when I was in New York. I think it was her mother’s in New Zealand. It was the cutest thing I ever saw so I made one for my best friend’s 40th birthday years ago. She still uses it a lot of years later. [ click photos to enlarge ]

Last month or so a weaver/friend died and I took care of finding homes for her loom and stash. I found the most wonderful needle “cushion” in with her things. (The colorful one full of her needles.) It now lives on my new dobby loom. I had to weave some of my own! I’ve been dyeing with black walnuts so I thought I would dye the cloth and the pattern threads–what whimsy and fun that was. I made a lot for gifts when I travel. On the rest of the warp I had fun designing 4 new fabrics without changing the threading.

These are needle books I have lying around–in my sewing box at home and near my looms in the studio. In 4-H I learned that one needed protein fiber for pins and needles so they won’t rust. So all the pages are wool fabrics. (The new needle cushions are made with silk).

The round yellow crocheted needle book is like the one I saw in New York and made for my friend. The inner “pages” are made from scraps of wool overshot fabic I wove when I was an apprentice with Jim Ahrens.  The tiny heart shaped one I found in a sewing box at a thrift store–lovingly crocheted. The round, fat pin cushion with sashiko stitching I got in Japan and couldn’t resist it.

The last is a pin cushion I made and use now. We wove yards of this wool fabric in a production weaving class with Jim Ahrens at Pacific Basin School of Textile Arts in the 70’s. My inspiration was a pin cushion I got in Whales at a weaving mill  made from their scraps. The red book came from there, too.

Crafts Fair Not to Miss at Beautiful Windrush Farm in Petaluma

Here are pictures I took at the fair over the weekend. Don’t miss it–rain or shine–it was glorious to be around a variety of crafts people. Most people don’t get to see this part of Petaluma–a real farm with animals in gorgeous countryside. The last day is this Sunday, Dec. 2 from 10:00-4:00 at 2263 Chileno Valley Road, Petaluma 94952. www.windrushfarm.wordpress.com 

Yarns of course from the farm’s sheep as well as a booth with unusual yarns from Japan. The ball of yarn in the photo is made from fiddlehead fern fuzz and the brown skein is made from the stems of wild silk cocoons. This is a small sample of the unique things not found in yarn shops. 

These fibers are hand dyed ready for spinning or making felt.

Here are a variety of goodies made by this happy woman.

Delicious pizza was made to order and baked in the outdoor oven. I had two!

Fun for the kids, too. These LEGO experts were having a grand and vigorous time on a bench where they found a box full of pieces.

These boys are having a great time on a wood structure.

Here’s a curious cow wanting to know what I was doing as I left for home.

Shopping at Windrush Farm in Petaluma

On that glorious day at the farm where I showed the sheep in my last post, Mimi was asked: “Do you have any wool available?” Here is a woman on her way home with enough wool yarn for several projects–sweaters I think she’ll knit. Different breeds have different types of wool not just different colors. I think I overheard this woman discussing exactly what kind of wool she needed for a special white sweater she was going to knit. 

There was roving ready for spinning or felting in one basket and a container full of balls of yarn from the farm’s sheep and dyed by Mimi. She has a stand during the fall and winter at our Farmers’ Market in Marin County on Sundays. Last week at the market she had balls of roving dyed in a wide range of colors that were being bought up by a woman who does a lot of felting.

Mimi’s assistant is balling up roving (wool from the sheep that has been cleaned and combed to be ready for spinning or felting). The balls are weighed then the price calculated. I was seduced last week at the market to buy a gorgeous ball of roving made of a mixture of grey wool. I plan to use it in felting art pieces.

In the courtyard there were two big tables with sheep pelts. The pelts were set out to dry in the sun. I wondered what the white areas were and was told it was salt to help with the drying. What a wonderful day it was with “thread-head” friends, good food, sunshine, beautiful country and sheep about to lamb! As a weaver I learned a lot, too.

A Fantastic Kasuri Fabric

Click any photo to enlarge

shoji-yamamura-tying-threadsWhile in Kyushu Island south of the main island of Japan near the town of Karume is a distinguished master craftsman kasuri dyer. Kasuri is a form of ikat and can be warp-wise or weft-wise. The threads are dyed in a pattern then put on the loom and woven. Here is a photo of Shoji Yamamura tying threads to make a pattern. Then the threads are dyed with indigo for the traditional blue and white kasuri fabrics we know. We bought one of his gorgeous pieces–a length of cloth for a kimono with the idea of splitting up the piece when we got home. 



On a Saturday afternoon the three of us met to divide the fabric–over 15 yards.

Here one third has been cut off and we are about to cut off the second piece.


This is my piece and I love it more each day as it hangs on my wall.













This is the end piece– it’s the signature of the weaver and is woven at the beginning of the length of cloth. Note that the unwoven area shows the ikat pattern that was tied in the threads.  Also notable is the dyeing of the warp stripes–a specialty of this artist.

Peggy’s India Trip 2015 – Day 9

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Day Two At  Aranya Naturals Exquisite Workshop
9.1 two women taking a cloth out of dye pot - Copy
It’s late after a fabulous day being tutored by the wonderful employees at the Aranya Naturals complex. Look them up on the web. They train and employ physically and mentally challenged adults over 18 in all sorts of fabric dyeing and design.  The workshop is so organized and each section has its own operation. I did stitch Shibori (tie dye) with several women and then had the pieces dyed by the indigo (blue) and madder (red) dyers. You can see how enthusiast everyone was. They and their families are given housing, schooling for the children and complete medical facilities. This is just a drop of information about this truly amazing place. The 10 of us in the group were taken in hand by the experts and we dyed, batiked, and block printed our own individual ideas in a day and a half. [click first photo]

Mexico Day 7 – A Day in Teotitlan

Dyers booth, samples - click to enlarge
Dyers booth, samples – click to enlarge

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We drove from Mitla in the morning in time to eat breakfast at the local market. This was the nicest market I’ve ever seen because it was not crowded or dirty. Every morning for a few hours the town people go to the market and socialize and fill their baskets. We ate tamales made by the woman in the picture. She served them on pieces of paper towel and they were delicious. I had an orange juice drink from a plastic bag knotted at the top with a straw coming out the top. A dyer had a booth with his samples and jars of dye stuff. All the women carried nice baskets and I hunted for a booth to find a small one I think I can fit in my carry on luggage. The seller crossed herself and kissed my money. I was told that it was because it was her first sale of the day.

Then we went to a weaving workshop in a large home. They do commissions from artists as well as their own designs for tapestry- woven rugs. The looms were huge as you can see. The wife is the dyer and we went up to the roof where the dye pots were cooking and skeins of yarns were drying. They used chemical dyes and do a big wholesale business in the US.

Then we went to see a husband and wife who do natural dyes on the wool yarn they use for their woven rugs. Dyeing with plants had not been done in Teotitlan for some years so they had to teach themselves. They now are world class dyers but he brags he never tries to match colors. I bought a runner that is like a sampler of many many natural dye colors. I hope I can get it home and I hope it will fir in my hallway! They dyed with cochineal today, not measuring a thing. The pictures show the before and after dyeing of the yarn.

Cochineal is like a scale or bug that grows on cactus. The dye is made from the dry bugs ground very fine. I smashed one on my hand and spit on it and got some red color. I had never seen the bugs growing on cactus leaves before. The dye had a huge impact on the economy in history. Maybe it was valued as much or more than the gold the Spaniards shipped back to Spain. I’m not entirely sure about the historical facts here.

The wife of the dyer had a wonderful expressive face. She was disagreeing mildly with her husband when I caught her lovely scowl. I loved her laughing face, too. They were young when they got married and couldn’t afford commercial dyes so began using local plants. It was a rags to riches story. Now they are quoted in books.

Our leader said there are 5000 people in the small town involved with weaving in some way. Our last stop was to the home of a candle maker who also had a big loom going. All around the loom were cactus leaves ready to be infused with cochineal bugs which will grow and multiply on them.

A young girl poured the melted wax on the candles to build up layers and layers. These long candles were made this way instead of dipping. The main candle maker is the older woman. Her specialty was fancy candles for festivals.
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