Tuesday, May 31, 2022

A Happy Encounter of Objects: The Poetry Jar


Sometimes when I am in the creative doldrums I simply wander around my house and stop to dig aimlessly through old stashes of stuff — objects that looked like they might turn into something interesting given the right inspiration and a little luck.

The Poetry Jar is the product of my latest wander. The objects that found each other in this piece include: 

• Mormon Glass Grapes (read all about these fascinating artifacts of Americana here);

• A lovely glass container from the flea market that was originally used to create a spordscape, back when I was into cultivating mold;

• Glass slides with lettering on them (and all the verbs in red!), from a kit from the 1950s intended for use in schools. The idea was to use these with an overhead projector to teach students about word endings in poetry. Another flea market score and one that I have been trying to figure out how to use for three decades or more.

And the result of this creative play turned out to be the perfect gift for a poet: The Poetry Jar. Now these are no longer objects looking for a purpose in life; they have morphed into a gift looking for the perfect recipient.

The Poetry Jar



Sunday, May 22, 2022

Upcycling: The "Ta-Dah" Nightshirt

Front view

Back view

Introducing the Ta-Dah! nightshirt — guaranteed to help you make a noteworthy entrance at any pajama party. On a recent visit with my sister, she began to covet my nightshirt (Exotic Upcycling: Indigo Dreams), and put in a request for one of her own. Because that first shirt used such unique materials, including a length of West African cloth, I was dubious about replicating the effort. My solution was a trip to the thrift store where I scored three recycled men's shirts for a total cost of $8. The name of the shirt comes from the embroidered initials on the hem of one of the shirts.

How the shirt got its name

I find it delightfully absorbing to figure out this kind of textile puzzle, and the two photos below offer an idea of how the three shirts melded into one.

Guide to the puzzle pieces - front

Guide to the puzzle pieces - back


Note that I use the term "nightshirt" loosely. While wearing this garment assures you will look incredibly stylish if you encounter someone in a hallway in the middle of the night in alien surroundings, it also doubles as an entertaining shirt during the day. Below, a photo of me modeling the shirt before shipping it off to a sister in need.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Spontaneous Stitching: Spirit Cloth

This piece is the result of itchy fingers and an overwhelming urge. It combines scraps of eco-dyed fabric, fabric printed with pounded flowers, and fabric from random projects. The scraps are connected using sashiko stitching, and some are hand-stamped with my current thoughts regarding the meaning of life, death, and the universe. It is 3 inches wide and 21.5 feet long.

I have no idea what it is.

A friend came over when it was close to completion and after fingering it thoughtfully said, "This would be perfect for wrapping a dead body." In the past she created a tasteful shroud for her own mother, so in my immediate crowd she is certainly the expert on such matters. It is an idea rife with possibilities. I pictured hearing of a death and then discretely sending them a lovely small bundle of spirit cloth (see first photo above).

My own vision, as I stitched away until the scraps ran out, was to drape it artfully over the branches of some large piece of gnarly, picturesque driftwood on the beach and set it alight. My 10-year-old grandniece was so horrified by this idea that I dropped it, at least temporarily, out of consideration for her sensibilities.

So currently it hangs in my dining room from vintage French wood sewing spools while it awaits its ultimate, unknown fate.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Eco Dyeing Mania #2: Hyper-Local Couture


Test-dyeing to see what works

Hyper-Local Couture

The ongoing experiments with eco-dyeing and the heightened focus on my own limited environs during the pandemic led to this concept of hyper-local couture. Hyper-local couture is clothing made from recycled natural fabrics and eco-dyed using plants that can be found in the immediate neighborhood of the wearer.

The Lake Merritt Top

The Lake Merritt top is comprised of scraps of fabric dyed using plants foraged during walks around my neighborhood. By the time I made the top I was well versed in which plants would work, and used copper and iron mordants to vary the colors of both the cloth background and the plant prints. Copper gives a greenish yellow tone while iron offers a rich, earthy, reddish-brown to black tone.

Lake Merritt shirt: front




Me wearing the Lake Merritt shirt

The Northeastern Connecticut Top

This next top emerged from an ad hoc eco-dyeing workshop I offered to a few friends at a lovely rambling house in northeastern Connecticut with equally lovely rambling grounds bursting with foliage — much of which I was unfamiliar with. As a result, the first part of the workshop involved foraging and testing plants and trying to figure out which plants lent themselves to eco-dyeing (see top photo in this post).

All participants, including myself, walked away with pieces of eco-dyed fabric. What better way to say thank you for a wonderful interlude in the Connecticut countryside than to use those scraps of fabric to create a piece of hyper-local couture for the hostess, based entirely on plants found in her own backyard.

Connecticut shirt: front view


Detail: lining from recycled men's shirt



Modeling the shirt before sending it off

For more about ongoing eco-dyeing mania and some helpful how-to links, see Eco Dyeing Mania Part One

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Eco Dyeing Mania - Part One


Foraged leaves and bundling sticks

One strategy I have been relying on heavily to survive the Covid-19 pandemic is eco-dyeing - a practice tailor-made for plague times. During the height of the pandemic I was essentially restricted to roaming my walkable neighborhood near Lake Merritt in Oakland, and once home I found myself with plenty of time on my hands and no visitors in site. I used those walks to forage for leaves and the time at home to experiment, and two years in there is barely a textile surface in my house left untouched by eco-dyed prints. I will be sharing those over the next few posts, but in response to requests I am including in this first post a couple of handy eco-dye how-to links. 

How-To Sources

Just click on the headline of the source to reach the link.

India Flint: The goddess of eco-dyeing and author of the book Eco Colour (Murdoch Press, 2008). A great grounding in techniques and possibilities.

Dye Plants: Figuring out which plants have leaves that produce strong, crisp prints can be an ongoing experimental process, or you look for a little help. This link is a guide to dye plants in North America complete with photographs of both the plant and the dye print they produce. Look for the plants that grow in your neighborhood. And do experiment on your own as well.

Mordants: The key to successful eco-dyeing, this link offers clear-cut, simple instructions on how to create both a copper and an iron mordant (you get different colors and results depending on which you use).

Sample Works: Household Textiles


Here is a gallery of pillows created during the pandemic via eco-dyeing.

Pillow One

Pillow One Reverse

Pillow Two

Pillow Two Reverse

Pillow Three

Pillow Three Reverse

Pillow Four

Pillow Four Reverse


These eco-dyed curtains use a magnetic fastening system I invented. Little magnets are sewn into the top edge of the curtain, and metal washers have been fastened to the window edge using removable museum wax. These bay windows look out on Lake Merritt and most of the time I want the view unobstructed. However, at night when guests sleep on the front daybed, or when I would like an afternoon nap, this system allows me to put curtains up in seconds, and then take them down again even more quickly.

The curtain storage box

The curtains in a lovely jumble

Small magnets sewn into top curtain edge

Corresponding metal washers on window ledge

Curtains hung in bay windows

Closer view

Detail view

Detail view

Detail view


And here is a throw-away bonus: a photo of a cloth throw in progress which was gifted away before I had a chance to further document the item.

Eco-dyed throw in progress

Stay tuned for one more post related to eco-dyeing which focuses on hyper-local couture.

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