Capturing summer

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The seasons are so dramatically different here, the changes are less like a marker of passing time, almost a sort of temporal amnesia.

I remember in spring — May, specifically — when the lilac that climbs the fence along our driveway began to bloom. The day we first looked at this apartment, the lilac was like a row of garlands below the windows as we walked through half-empty rooms, trying to picture ourselves here. By the time we moved, it had all but disappeared, the greenery no less spectacular than the abundant leaves and shrubs of the neighborhood. When it returned, I was giddy like it was our own private fireworks display, unfurling and completely unexpected.

Even in summer’s peak humidity (and this one, oh, it was humid) I would catch hints of our former, wintry life. Brushing up against my wool coat as I reached for the bucket of indigo vat below. An incessant bug bite on my hand nagging like dry knuckles.

This isn’t about lilacs, but about remembering — bringing a little bit of summer sunshine with us into the depths of winter.

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I didn’t get a chance to plant as much of a dye garden this year as I’d hoped. I started some indigo seeds in a tray, generously gifted by a friend from California, and some weld too, which didn’t take. I kept meaning to sprinkle a pack of marigolds and coreopsis in the front yard, but I couldn’t keep up with the weeds long enough to clear space.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to tend my indigo patch, which has been low maintenance thanks to well-timed rain showers, but found myself envious of the yellow and orange blooms all around, my eyes peeled to distinguish coreopsis from black eyed susans from the car window, spot tansy on my bike rides, or catalogue all the marigolds along my running route, mentally weighing the volume of goldenrod plumes.

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Picking a few here and there wouldn’t hurt, I told myself. But you can’t clear cut your neighbors’ wildflowers, even if they don’t love them like you love them. (I told myself.)

An ecoprint seemed like the perfect way to honor summer’s colors and my neighbor’s property lines.

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Several months ago I found a perfectly crisp and white cotton sheet at the thrift store, and though it’s not the drapiest fabric, I knew it would be a cost effective way to get the amount of yardage needed for the double window behind our bed.

I roughly followed the ecoprinting instructions for the Flowers at My Fingertips kit in The Modern Natural Dyer: I cut the sheet down to size, weighed it, scoured it in the washing machine, mordanted with alum acetate, and gave it a wheat bran bath dip. Then, I strolled through my neighborhood and picked a few flowers here and there in streetside planters and the edge of the community garden. I focused on plants I’d heard were good dyeing: cosmos, marigolds, goldenrod, black eyed susan, and a yellow flower that looks like a version of coreopsis.

My goal was to try to make a geometric print by plucking out petals and leaves and laying them out like mandalas. I knew the whole bundle had to fit into my dye pot, so I measured the full width of the pot and then used that to determine how to fold and layer the fabric — essentially I divided width into quarters and only placed flowers on the middle half, then folded the blank edges over to meet in the middle.

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Some tips: use freshly picked flowers, keep the material damp, and put down a tarp! It took me most of a day to lay out the flowers along the length of the fabric, since I had various errands and things to do periodically, so having the tarp underneath was important to protect the floor, and a spray bottle of water helped keep all the pieces in place.

The result is a bit of a kaleidoscope blur, swirls of yellow and orange, petals and leaves dancing across the surface. This was my first time attempting a pattern with bundle dyeing, and I love the result but I also had an ‘aha’ moment when unrolling it: to achieve a more defined pattern, you actually want to avoid repeating the same placement (for instance, the mirrored goldenrod blooms, above) and place the material in a staggered arrangement so that when you roll it up the elements will overlap very little or not at all.

Already I feel the days shortening and the quality of light shifting, but stitched into curtains and backlit by sunrise, this print lets me hold onto summer just a little bit longer.

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Jess

making things & asking questions

4 thoughts on “Capturing summer”

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