Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Natural Dyeing and Rusting Vintage Garments and Material

 (Above:  My guest bathroom ... hung with some of the results of a hair-brained idea.  Click on any image in this post to enlarge.)

During the past month or so I've been enjoying the collision of several hair-brained ideas.  First, I've been thinking about the upcoming, February invitational art show Art From the Ashes which is being sponsored by Jasper Magazine.  This exhibit and literary publication will commemorate the sesquicentennial of Sherman's burning of our town during his infamous "March to the Sea".  I attended four lectures presented by expert authors and historians. Surprisingly, I've found the topic most inspirational. Lots and lots of work has come from this. 

Perhaps it is because the focus for this exhibition is NOT on the famous people involved.  As artists, poets, and writers, we've been asked to consider the marginalized people, the ordinary citizens and folks that lived through the night when cotton bales went up in flames and the morning brought piles of rubble in which only brick chimneys and iron nails remained of the former structures.

 (Above:  Pecan shavings ... after our 100+ year old pecan tree had to be cut down.)

The inspirations for the upcoming event collided with inspiration from my own backyard that was ignited when we were forced to take down the 100+ year old pecan tree.  I hated doing it but most of the tree was already dead.  What remained standing threatened the house.  Well, there was a pile of pecan tree shavings.  Most was turned into mulch but some went into an electric roasting pan I bought at Bill Mishoe's auction for $7.50.  (The lid was bent and didn't fit ... but otherwise it looked brand new.)


Honestly, I didn't know what I was doing at the time.  I just boiled up shavings in water, soaked threads and miscellaneous vintage fabric in the results, and wasn't particularly impressed with the results.  Later I read India Flint's Eco Colour.   It was an amazing book but I still haven't the faintest idea what I'm doing.  The book, however, gave me some rudimentary knowledge about alum being used as a mordant and that I ought not use the same pots and pans for cooking.  The book let me know that different parts of plants can produce different colors ... that different times of the year and different soil conditions can produce different results ... that some plants don't really produce a color at all ... and, most importantly, there was no mention of almost any plant growing in my backyard.  Basically ... I don't need to know much of anything.  Experimenting is a perfectly fine thing to do, especially since I'm not trying to reproduce any particular result!  I can just "go for it" !

 (Above:  Steve in our backyard.)

Conceptually, I started thinking about vintage garments stained with the colors of Columbia's soil ... Art from the Ashes ... visible indication of what it might have been like to experience a night of invading troops, drunken marauders, and flames spreading on the high winds of a winter night.  My mind imagined distressed, vintage sleepwear and undergarments.  I own these materials ... and now was the time to experiment with plants from my own, downtown Columbia backyard.
 (Above:  Two iron cauldrons and a roasting pan ... filled with 1) magnolia, 2) kutzu and oleander, and 3) rosemary.)

By this time, I'd acquired two antique iron cauldrons from Bill Mishoe's auction.  It's been so much fun to "play witch" during the month of October, brewing up the plants in my own backyard.  I also cut down Steve's two "pet weeds", which we learned were poke berry.

 (Cauldrons with vintage garments inside.)

The poke berry turned fabric an exciting fuchsia ... which mostly didn't stay pink. Everything else turned sort of black.  Eventually, all my separate solutions were mixed together.  Yet, black and shades of grey aren't too bad if one is trying to create a distressed look that emulates a night of fires!  Because everything was so dull, I brought out a cast iron lidded pot that was already starting to rust.  (Thanks, Mom!)  I'm good at rusting!  Just add white vinegar, sea salt, water, and old rusty things ... like nails ... my very favorite symbol.  Soon, I was getting the distressed look I wanted.  I'm still at it.  I'm hoping that these garments and damask tablecloth will inspire a larger installation.  Who knows?  It is during the process that the bigger picture occurs to me ... so I'll just keep going!

 (Above: Afterward I.  Scrap of a damask napkin with rusted nails, magnolia dye, and scorching.  Matted 20" x 16".)

Into the vat of magnolia dye I threw some scraps onto which I'd previously rusted nails.  I liked the results and started ironing them ... and then scorching the fabric.  Eight pieces were finished, matted, and are now shrink wrapped.  Will they be part of the Art from the Ashes show?  Probably not.  They were simply "accidental" pieces that got made along the way.  I like them.  They truly show the "burning of Columbia" in a visceral way ... abstracted, symbolic, distressed, and now part of my inventory!  Below are the others!

(Above: Afterward II.  Scrap of silk with rusted nails, magnolia dye, and scorching.  Matted 20" x 16".)

(Above: Afterward III.  Scrap of silk with rusted nails, magnolia dye, and scorching.  Matted 20" x 16".)

 (Above: Afterward IV.  Scrap of silk with rusted nails, magnolia dye, and scorching.  Matted 20" x 16".)

 (Above: Afterward V.  Scrap of silk with rusted nails, magnolia dye, and scorching.  Matted 20" x 16".)

 (Above: Afterward VI.  Scrap of silk with rusted nails, magnolia dye, and scorching.  Matted 20" x 16".)

 (Above: Afterward VII.  Scrap of silk with rusted nails, magnolia dye, and scorching.  Matted 20" x 16".)

 (Above: Afterward VIII.  Scrap of silk with rusted nails, magnolia dye, and scorching.  Matted 20" x 16".)
 (Above: Detail of a scrap of silk with rusted nails, magnolia dye, and scorching.  Showing how each piece is simply stitched to the mat on which it is place.  Matted 20" x 16".)


Judy Ferguson said...

Either you are some kind of genius or you are out of your mind crazy. ha ha. The scorched iron imprint is outrageous.

Ann X said...

You can use differnt chemicals. For really true feel, you can try urine, which was videly used. Ashes (from birch seems to be the most popular) is other natural option. After that there are chemicals - CH3COOH, KAl/SO4, AlCl3, NH4Cl, NaHCO3 for lighter colours; CuSO4, K2Cr2O7, FeCl3, FeSO4, ZnSO4 for darker, deelper shades.
About plants – this time of the year you will do better trying out different roots and barks, they offer most intense colours.

Unknown said...

Ann X is totallt right in all she writes, but PLEASE do not use environmentally hazardeous chemicals; avoid at least everything containing chromium!

Susan Lenz said...

I will not be using any hazardous chemicals as the entire concept for this is NATURAL dyeing using things in my own backyard! To the best of my knowledge, there's nothing chemically hazardous out there (except, perhaps, if you actually try eating some of the plants, especially the mushrooms and fungi that occasionally grow). I am absolutely not going to invest time and focus into learning the chemical names and reactions needed to be a "real dyer". I hated chemistry in high school ... never really understood it. My current experimentation is simply attempting to stain vintage garments and fabric with the visceral marks from the earth, specifically my own backyard here in Columbia, South Carolina. I doubt that I'll continue down this path in years to come. It is a current "hair-brained" idea associated with making visible the fears and insecurities that locals must have felt 150 years ago when Sherman's troops burning the city. Thanks! Susan

Mosaic Magpie said...

How is it your "hair brained" ideas turn out lovely???? You even make scorch marks art!


Sorry about the tree :(

Unknown said...

Hi Suzan,

I did not direct my "Please do not..." to you - your blog clearly shows that you are environmentally friendly! It was directed to Ann X and all others who might like "darker, deeper shades". I should have been clearer, my apologies to you!

I just LOVE the work you show and the "iron" effects are spectacular! Want to try... we found some old (pre-electricity) irons in the shed (at our cottage/cabin) some years back and we have a wood stove in the cottage/cabin kitchen.... yesterday, we lit the first fire in it since before summer! So one of these days...

My mother did a lot of plant dyeing of wools in the 60ies. She was very careful in collecting plant materials, most came from the cottage garden or the nearby forest (e.g. she collected lichens from felled trees/tree limbs only). She totally avoided mushrooms, since the ones that give the best colours are highly toxic (in Sweden) - but she used chromium salts and other salts to get more and different colours/shades. Her "colour weel" of wool samples now is the first thing you see when you visit her at the retirement home. When people ask her about it, she points out that she regrets using some of the chemicals...

I really like your "hair-brained" idea and your eco-friendly appraches!

Wanda said...

HA! And I use my iron to, well, IRON!!! Your sense of color has always been awesome, to say the least. I might have inherited Dad's sense of things in that direction. Is the dress you are wearing while hiking in Flying Dutchman Park made from your dyed materials? You make me want to quilt again!

Anonymous said...

Reading about your process in this has been wonderful. Playing and experimenting at the start, and yet layering in all the things you wanted to reference. They are fabulous!