Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rusting and experimenting with natural dyes at Wormfarm Institute

(Above:  Three infant garments dyed or rusted at Wormfarm Institute, an art residency program in Reedsburg, Wisconsin.  The one on the left is slightly peachy pink and was exposed to a brew of rapini blossoms.  The one on the right is slightly yellow and was exposed to a brew of comfrey leaves.  The one in the middle was rusted.)

I've been living in the barn at Wormfarm Institute for over a week.  Thankfully, the weather improved from the very cold spell with overnight lows hitting thirty-seven degrees and the torrential downpour and fierce winds that plagued Memorial Day weekend.  In spite of the conditions, I have been working ... a lot!  There's a vintage garment buried in the first stage of the compost system and another in the hoop house's algae laden potted plant irrigation system.  I'll be pulling these up on Saturday ... just to see what has happened.  I've also got two lengths of old cotton fabric wrapped up in plastic ... rusting old nails, horseshoes, and assorted scrap metals ... which I'll also unwrap on Saturday.  It's hard to be patient.  In the meantime, I've been brewing up other plant life and rusting other garments.   

(Above:  A pile of naturally dyed and/or rusted vintage garment ... freshly ironed.)

Photographing the results is a bit tricky.  I'm in a barn, after all!  I was able to snap images of my "In Box" pieces finished earlier by setting up an extraordinarily strange setting using a section of the barn's floor ... that just happened to be where sunlight shone through a large, open window.  This wouldn't work for the garments.
(Above:  Naturally dyed and/or rusted vintage garments hanging on the clothesline.)

So ... what's a fiber artist to do on a farm?  Well ... use the clothesline!  These pieces aren't wet.  In fact I'd already neatly ironed and folded them.  (See photo above).  For the sake of sharing my progress, I simply hung them on the clotheline!

Of course, it was lots of fun trying to get a semi-decent picture!  The wind blows in both directions here in Wisconsin!  Still ... don't they look great with all that movement?

(Above:  Me with an armful of Rapini blossoms ... about to brew them up!)

Every weekday morning here at Wormfarm is the time to be either planting, cultivating, weeding, or harvesting.  I learned that "cultivating" is different from "weeding".  One cultivates using tools!  One weeds by squatting down and using one's hands!  One morning we were in the front hoop house.  A bunch of rapini (also known as broccoli rabe) had past its prime.  Stalks of blossoms had grown up and were up for grabs.  I grabbed ... all of them ... and cooked them up.  The results weren't great.  Yet, there's a subtle peachy tint to several of the garments ... including one of the little infant dresses pictured at the top of this blog post.)  Who would have guessed that green stems and pretty little yellow flowers would have this result?  I'm not sure I'm done with the garments dyed with this plant.  I might rust them too!

(Above:  The night gown with the heavy tatted trim was dyed in the rapini blossoms.)

I exposed three, large dinner napkins to rusty gears ... baked up in a cast iron pot that my mother gave me!  They look GREAT!

Some of these garments probably look "white" but none are.  I got a dishwater grey tone from one brew and a slight yellow from a potful of comfrey leaves.  What I do like about all these subtle colors is that the garments no longer look pristine.  They show their age, the hardships of life, the struggles of aging and the difficulties experienced by so many women.  The imperfect coloring suits these imperfect garments.  None were in excellent shape when I bought them at auction.  All of them have rips, holes, stains, and other problems ... making them excellent for these experiments and wonderful for future installations and other projects.  My aim is simply to experiment and build up a collection of these pieces.  A final "product" may not happen here at Wormfarm ... but the pieces created will figure into many ideas I have for the coming year.

Now ... in my last blog post I showed a photo that looked like a round, bumpy ball of fabric.  It was a vintage skirt into which I tied nearly 250 pebbles from the driveway.  I used old rusty picture framing wire brought from home.  I promised to show the results ..

... and here it is!  I'm very, very pleased with this skirt and will have to tie up my pebbles again on another garment!

Here are a few more photos from earlier this afternoon!

Check back on Sunday for new results from Wormfarm Institute!  I am linking this blog post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber artwork.  I'm doing this from the Reedsburg Public Library!

Monday, May 25, 2015

First Week's Work at Wormfarm

(Above:  Detail of vintage linens ... washed, soaked in alum water, and drying on the clothesline at Wormfarm Institute, an artist residency in Reedsburg, Wisconsin.  Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)

So ... I've survived my first week on the farm!  I've planted rutabaga, basil, and scallions.  I've helped trellis peas.  I've laid tubing for hose-fed irrigation.  I've harvested scallion too!  I slept tight under an electric blanket when temperatures dipped to 37 degrees and made friends with the two barn cats, Crooks and Spike.

I've also had potluck dinner with the co-owners and founders, Jay Salinas and Donna Neuwirth, and their residency manager Betsy Arant.

(Above: In Box CLXXXI.)

During the first few days it was unseasonable cold.  There was absolutely no way I was going to jump into experimentation with rusting and natural dyes.  So, I turned to something that required the use of a hot iron! LOL!  Besides, the Earthwood Collections and Earthwood Gallery in Colorado placed an order for more artwork!  Back in Columbia, my husband Steve couldn't fill the order unless I made additional work.  So, I did.  I made eight small In Box Series pieces and one Lancet Window.  At home, this would have taken a long time.  At an art residency, I can work all available hours!  Tomorrow I ship these back to Steve.  He'll frame them and ship them.  (Each one is framed to an outer dimension of 19 1/4" x 15 1/4".  These measure approximately 15" x 11".  The other seven pieces are at the end of this blog post.)

(Above: Lancet Window LV.  This will end up framed to 31 1/4" x 11 1/4" ... but the actual size is 27" x 9".)

(Above:  The large box of vintage linens I shipped ahead of time.)

Finally, it warmed up and I opened the large box of vintage linens shipped ahead of time.  I also shipped the old cast iron pot my mother gave me and a bunch of rusty nails and wire ... in a smaller but heavier box.


First, I washed, rinsed, and soaked several items in alum water ... and hung them on the clothesline outside the barn.  They looked so pretty!

Even the clothespins were the old-fashioned wooden ones!  Just look how appropriate they are with the tatted and crocheted edging!

So ... experiment #1.  I've put one vintage garment in the hoop house's irrigation system.  I have no idea what will happen.  The garment is under the rack on which potted plants sit.

I arranged some of the the random plant life and algae on top of the material.  The second garment is buried in the first stage area of the compost system!  (I forgot to snap a photo.)


I also got out pots and pans ... brewed up onion skins from the compost pile and all sorts of other things.

By today, several garments are finished ... perhaps.  I might add something else.  I'm thinking about rather crudely plied cross stitches with dangling end threads on the one skirt.  The rust, scorched iron marks and those threads might conceptually lend themselves to a piece on domestic violence.  I'll think about it.  The hanging nightgown was also rusted ... after I wrapped 325 pebbles from the driveway into the material.  I used rusty wire and hence the marks.

This isn't the nightgown but I did use most of the same pebbles ... on this eyelet skirt.  I'll have to see what happens to it tomorrow.  I'm leaving it to rust for a longer period of time ... and I exposed it to another brew made from last winters walnut hulls ... already eaten by squirrels.  (This isn't the time to harvest black walnut hulls for dyeing ... but ... I'm not here all year so I used what I had!)  I'll blog more later.  Below ... the other "In Box Series" pieces completed this week!

(Above: In Box CLXXXII.)

(Above: In Box CLXXXIII.)

(Above: In Box CLXXXIV.)

(Above: In Box CLXXXV.)

 (Above:  In Box CLXXXVI.)

(Above: In Box CLXXXVII.)

(Above: In Box CLXXXVIII.)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Wormfarm Institute Art Residency in Wisconsin

 (Above:  Wormfarm Institute, an art residency on a working organic farm in Reedsburg, Wisconsin.  Click on any image in this post to enlarge ... although a few might not work as they were taken on my phone! LOL!)

I arrived at Wormfarm Institute on Monday afternoon, after teaching a two-day workshop at the Craft Alliance in St. Louis.  (I'll blog about that great experience later.)  I had all day Tuesday to get acquainted with the place, set up my studio, and get to work.  Yesterday, Wednesday, was my first day to work a couple hours in the garden.  I did so again today.  The experience of planting crops on a farm is part of the deal at this program.  Since I've never done anything like this (even basic gardening), this is an adventure!  I'm up for a good adventure!

First, let me take you on a tour of the place.  This is the entrance to the barn.  The window looks into my bedroom.


Barns are massive.  Inside there's a stage area on one end ...


... and a view to the partitioned areas that serve as bedrooms and studios.  Please note the staircase to the lower level.  My bedroom is just to the right of this doorway.


In fact, my bedroom is behind the open door to the staircase ... right near one of the two barn cats, Crooks and Spike.  The cats are friendly ... but they are really just trying to convince people to let them in the bedrooms and studios because they aren't allowed in these spaces.  This is the view to the entrance door.  It slides open. 


This is the view in the opposite direction.  I haven't even looked to see if this door opens!

So ... this is my studio area.  It is screened in and has a blue plastic tarp overhead ... to keep Spike and Crooks out.  (One tried unsuccessfully to walk on the tarp.  It was hilarious!)

I've already constructed and stitched eight small "In Box" series pieces (melted four of them) and two Lancet Windows.  So ... I'm working!

There are four bedrooms ... all named.   There's the "Egg" and the "Cloud" which are currently empty but a printmaker from Oregon is supposed to arrive by the end of the month.  The "Truck" bedroom is occupied by the studio manager, Betsy, a writer from nearby Madison, Wisconsin.  I'm in the "Worm" ... which I selected because I like the "loft" bed and especially the name "Worm" since I'm at a place named for them.  Thankfully, I was provided with a down comforter and an electric blanket.  The first two nights had a low temperature of 37 degrees.  I think I would have died without the electric blanket.


As I mentioned before, the stairs (and hence my "loft" styled bed) are beside my bedroom door.  They lead down to the kitchen door ... another "pet free" zone and hence a screen door.


 This is the kitchen.  Just off the kitchen area is the former milk house.  After all, this was once a barn for cows.  Cows are milked.


Now the milk house is a bathroom with a sink and a nice, claw-footed tub.  No toilet.  I'll get to that later!


The rest of the lower level is filled with tools, an area with three ceramic kilns, a place for bicycle repairs, and a back section that appears still to be for cows.


This is the doorway out the lower level.  Yes ... the barn is built on a hill and thus there are ground level doors on both levels.  Please note the small greenhouse.  That's where seedlings are raised.

Here's the view of the greenhouse ... and a very special area just to its right!  This is a welding area!  Soon I'll be using some of the scrap metal to rust vintage garments and fabric.  Today I set up my soldering irons and industrial heat gun and melted four of my "In Box" series pieces in this space ...

... while surveying all the rusty farm implements ...

... which are certainly in abundance ...

... with great patina ...

... and some awesome shapes ...

... in all sorts of sizes!

Next to the welding area is one of two "hoop" houses for plants.

Inside is a cool irrigation system ... and I already have permission to see what this algae might do to fabric!

As I mentioned before, the other side of the barn includes the former milk house ...

 ... which is very near the old silo, granary, and the outhouse!


Yes ... this is the outhouse!

A little further is the tractor shed ... which doubles as a place to park cars.  There's a very old corn crib there which is totally falling over ...

... and another shed with fantastic patina ...

... and a bunch of this green drums by the tractor shed ... which I have no idea what are ... but then again, I have no idea about a lot of this.  It's a farm.  This is really the first time I've lived more than a weekend on a farm.  (The only farm I've ever really been to was my Aunt Janet and Uncle Howard's in Barboursville, WV ... and that was decades ago!)  This is all very new to me!

So ... let's walk up the road ... past this three part compost system ...

... past the chicken coup ...

... past one of the traveling stands that Wormfarm uses for various local events ...

... and into the pole building ... which is used to package crops ...

... and has a back area that was once a foundry.  One of the co-owners used to cast bronze here.

It is full of all sorts of things ... including more rusty metal!

Next is the garage (right), guest house (left), and the main house.

This is the Main House from the side that is generally used for coming and going.

This is probably the original "front" of the house.  It faces the Briar Bluff Road and overlooks several other beds in the garden ...

... including these beds.  The beds have several slightly raised rows for planting.  Each row is 36" in width.  There are 18" between the rows.

On the first day I planted white and purple scallions!

Today I helped trellis peas ...

... and went to other beds nearer the tractor shed ...

... where I planted lettuce and rutabaga.

So ... that's where I'm at.  Here are just a few more detail images from my walks on the property!

I am linking this blog post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber artwork.