My recent newsletter!
Consistency and Ecoprinting
Let’s tackle the number One question I get in messages and emails pertaining to Ecoprinting. And that is Consistency!
“I am so unhappy with my current results, what am I doing wrong?”
“I simply cannot get it to be consist! It is very frustrating!”
“Sometimes my prints are beautiful and sometimes they are bad. How do I change that?”
I am fortunate that my world of art is pretty all-encompassing-from making a living as a fine art portrait artist (working in all mediums) to leatherwork , woodcarving and the fiber arts. In all my years as a professional artist only ONE art form, for me, has tested my need to control the medium and that is Ecoprinting or Botanical printing! Now I am content to simply understand some of its idiosyncrasies!
Let’s face it, with most mediums, from start to finish, the artist is in control and pretty much knows what is going to happen. The artist knows the packaged paints to choose and apply, the best wood to carve, the right clay to make his pottery, the steps to make the jewelry, the colors warped into the loom or stitch length in the sewing machine, etc. Predictable, comfortable and with expected results!
Then we come to Ecoprinting. Wanting to control the outcome of using leaves to enrich cloth or paper surfaces is the main reason for dissatisfaction among so many Ecoprinters. They seem to have lost sight of why this art form appealed to them in the first place. The sheer excitement and awe of unrolling a bundle every single time to discover a surprise is part of its huge appeal!
But after a while, something like dissatisfaction can happen. Maybe it’s that innate human nature to feel someone else’s results are better than yours! (I see this a LOT in teaching painting classes) And it’s hard not to browse Facebook and Instagram and see results that make you feel your work is inadequate. Suddenly, no longer content with serendipitous results, you want to master and control this Art form of Botanical printing. And usually those first questions of doubt are the results: “Why are my leaves not giving me the same results as before?” Or “How come my maple leaves do not print like So and so’s?”
I am not a scientist. But thanks, I believe, to years as a painting artist and observing Nature in all her seasons, and my years of hiking and horseback riding on trails, there is an intuitive understanding of what is happening within my particular environment! So let’s step back to the basics of understanding what influences Nature’s green growth.
It’s hard not to sound like an encyclopedia when mentioning facts but if you do a search for trees you will discover there are roughly four primary factors that affect plant growth: light, water, temperature and nutrients. These four elements affect the plant’s growth hormones, making the plant grow more quickly or more slowly. Changing any of the four can cause the plant stress which changes growth. Now those are the basic influences! One of my blogs from my website talked about Planting and Harvesting by the Signs of the Moon.
Think about those basic four elements. I really had to dig back to my high school biology to remember the wording but in the end, I love Google haha.
For me, the crucial element is Light: “Plants need sunlight for a process that we call photosynthesis. … Plants contain a molecule called chlorophyll, and the chlorophyll is what absorbs the sunlight. The chlorophyll absorbs red and blue light, and they reflect green light. In addition to giving plants their green color, chlorophyll is vital for photosynthesis as it helps to channel the energy of sunlight into chemical energy. With photosynthesis, chlorophyll absorbs energy and then transforms water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbohydrates. The process of photosynthesis converts solar energy into a usable form for plants.”
That is why the same genus of tree in Alaska will print differently than its counterpart in Florida- Sunlight. Or weeks of rain in your area limit the sunlight for your favorite trees and bushes. Summer drought and weird cold patterns influence the nutrients and growth pattern. Even the time of day influences your results. Watch which plants furl and unfurl their leaves during certain times of the day.
The interesting thing about all these “scientific” explanations is that I know they are true based not on laboratory experiments but plain common sense and field work.
I just returned from a Fiber Show in Michigan and those factors of light, water, temperature and nutrients are among the important factors related to the quality of wool from the sheep farmers. Everything that grows in fact, need those elements!
So all this begins to make sense when you wonder why those leaves from a particular tree are suddenly “not working”. Apply those four elements. What is happening to stress or change the growths process of the leaves this month that did so well before? I had stunning results with the leaves of my pecan tree one year and the following year, not so great. I get beautiful green results from plants that I once deemed “not so great” such as fruit tree leaves and wisteria by not using the leaves during the height of fruiting season.
But wait, you say! What about those fall leaves? They are dead and those four elements do not affect them anymore right? Well…. imagine my surprise in a recent workshop where I brought my Fall 2018 maple leaves for students to re-hydrate for use and watched the normally strong red color print almost black! The tannins had “aged.” I keep the iron strength in my gallon containers the same and experiments since have proved me right so I learned to mix weaker solutions for old leaves 😊
So I did not want to turn blog into a science paper. I love the spontaneity of ecoprinting and do not want to turn it into a science. No matter how many formulas you are given, you are still reliant on the leaves and they cannot be controlled like tubes of paint. I tell my students to take notes however to help them understand what is happening. While taking photos of the leaves you used when they have been laid out on the fabric or paper (recommended!) Note the time, the weather and even the outside temperature (if you work outside like I do) and whether the leaves are fresh or dry. If you make a note of where the leaves came from that can be a huge advantage. And if you want to dig deeper—check out a Farmer’s Almanac!
I teach a lot of workshops and I remind my students “Your results today are based on what Mother Nature has chosen to give you! Be happy with her gifts!”
Felting has become a popular medium with fiber artists! Depending on your personal knowledge of felt in general, most people think of those multi-colored felt pads you see in all the craft stores when someone mentions felt. According to Wikipedia ” Felt is a textile material that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together. Felt can be made of natural fibers such as wool or animal fur, or from synthetic fibers such as petroleum-based acrylic or acrylonitrile or wood pulp-based rayon.” It is an ancient craft and felt is used in art, fashion and industrial applications.
My alpacas Bella, Virginia and Kicho, supply me with much of the animal hair that I use for my kind of felting. But I supplement much of their black and white hair with the beautiful shades of wool from my friends with sheep. Fiber shows supply the additional wools dyed in a variety of beautiful colors.
After the shearing and the summer heat, 2 of the girls enjoy a spray bath!
There are a number of types and techniques of felting (nuno, knit, wet, sculpture, hats, etc.) and since a complete “how to” is beyond the scope of this newsletter, simply google “felting” and that will bring up a huge array of sites for you to further research! I do “Needle Felting” which basically is the only felting type that does not require wetting the fibers beforehand. Needle felting simply hooks onto fibers with specially placed barbs (felting needle) and forces fibers to tangled as you punch through the fabric!
Fiber shows and craft stores carry the basic tools for Needle felting. Crucial of course are the needles.They come in various sizes-either single or as groups. And a surface on which to place your fabric to begin the felting (poking) process. The image shows several gathered from various suppliers. All I use is in the image. Both the “brush” surface and the “Styrofoam” offer the necessary cushioning effect plus allow you to easily carry your lightweight supplies anywhere. Most needle felting done as a painting or scene use a sheet of wool as the “canvas” on which to begin an image. Below is a first result from a student of mine who first painted this very same scene on canvas before using the wool as her canvas!
Since I am a painter, my needle felting takes on the feel of painting. I mainly use it to embellish my ecoprinted silk noil (also known as raw silk)
I use raw silk for many of my garments and wall hangings as it feels very different from what we think of as silk…it has a pile (noil) is much heavier and is created with much shorter strands of silk. After ecoprinting a piece of yardage I look at it awhile and can envision where my embellishments such as birds, flowers or my Woodland Fairies might go to enhance my vision. Raw silk takes the use of the needle far better than regular silk.
One of my earliest needle felted pieces was a felted bird on a silk handkerchief. I had to be careful of over stabbing the silk as it can damage the area in which you work 🙂
My original photos do not do it justice but I learned that if I wanted to use my Habatoi silk stash I had to switch from felting on Habatoi silk to hand painting on it! SO you will see my raw silk wall hangings embellished with needle felting and my charmeuse or Habatoi silk embellished with hand painting.
My Woodland Faeries series are all hand painted onto the smoother silks! But below is a closeup of one of the birds being felted onto the raw silk.Most are created on large pieces ranging from 20-30″ wide by 36-48″ long!
I collect driftwood from oceans, lakes or rivers and have quite a stash as eventual hangers. I love the feel and texture of the old wood. In many of the hangings I have added backings ranging from cotton fabric to raw silk to burlap. The figures that I use to embellish are my own. You can use a pencil to lightly draw in your bird or flower or whatever. A lightbox can make it easier to lay your fabric down (if it is light colored) on top and trace out a darkly outlined image.
It takes practice but if you are familiar with shading techniques in painting, it is essentially the same! Use dark to outline and use lighter and lighter pieces of your wool or hair to show tonal changes. I predominantly use the 3 needle and switch to single use with outlining. The point is to make sure they are thoroughly adhered.
My “Bluebirds” (sold) attached to a burlap backing.
The fun to me is to “attach” whatever images I am using to the previously ecoprinted piece to make it look as though it was planned in advance lol. The ecoprinted piece comes first. I like to make my birds bold or hide them among the foliage and it all depends on how the original ecoprinted raw silk design looks. And wall hangings are not the only decorative piece that can be needle felted on!
Daises felted handbag
Needle felting is an art form that varies with what you are creating, what you want to achieve and how involved you want to be! Like all needlecrafts, it’s relaxing, easy to learn and only gets better with practice!
On the road again!
My workshops usually involve travel. My most recent was teaching participants how to ecoprint on leather and paper and creating leather journals from our efforts :-). My car was packed and it looked like I was moving! Air travel was impractical and the drive meant I could stop over with neglected relatives enroute.
But there’s a good reason people go to Florida during the winter 🙂 I’m back now from a 2 week jaunt down there (and Georgia) and I made time to actually turn it into a working vacation! Anyone who is a self employed artist knows how hard that can be!
I have taught workshops for a long time. You can’t be a painting artist and not share tips and techniques with big and small workshops.
So when the opportunity came from my friend, Suzanne Connors, to teach my ecoprinting techniques on leather and watercolor paper at her Aya Fiber Studio in Stuart, FL, I said “sure!” I chose leather and paper because once the techniques were mastered, my students would have the skills to create beautiful art journals for friends or for sale.
Not all workshops have such exotic locations! In this case, Florida’s weather was a far cry from what was happening in NC.
The 4 day workshop kept us busy! My students learned about the leathers that worked best for my technique, the papers that worked, leather tools, end products and created some amazing journals.
Not all workshops end with finished products. But I felt it was important that they have finished pieces to refer to when back home in their own work spaces.
Additional techniques added a WOW factor to the leather and everyone had gorgeous results!
Workshops do not have to be held in inspiring places. I’ve been in dusty expo buildings, recreation halls and similar places. My North Carolina studios are in the country and I share them with my artist hubby, Stephen Filarsky. It offers a different ambience-just as inspiring-but in a totally different environment in the country!
Below is a busy workshop I held in an Expo building in Michigan. My participants were just as enthusiastic!
Below is the art studio transformed into a workshop space for my participants (we also hold painting workshops in here of course)
April and May are the time the heirloom “rescued roses” bloom at our location!
A few alpacas provide not only fiber but entertainment for little ones who often mistake them for camels lol!
As long as people wish to learn new skills and techniques and involve themselves in the beauty of art, there will always be classes and workshops :-). Embracing the unknown in the arts broadens the mind and fills that creative space in your soul that just waits for some kind of inspiration!
And as a bonus to my teaching trip to FL we took a sunset cruise recommended by the studio. I missed the manatee that swam up to the studio docks but not on the hour long cruise! I had never seen one before!
So I am off to unload my car, (which looks like I moved half of my studio!) but adding
a parting image of what is called “The Golden Hour” on the water. We were able to enjoy it from the quiet puttering of the electric boat (and also why we could silently come close to the manatees)
Until next time!-Theresa
So this should have gone out in Nov….and it did in my newsletter but not on my blog! SO here it is (after my Christmas one lol!) But Enjoy
Hi fellow artists!
So finally, Fall in the US has stopped procrastinating and has arrived! And for those of us who ecoprint or use leaves in our art, there is that slight panic that the leaves we took for granted for months will now disappear. Or will they?
My botanical printing goes back a ways and over the years I have tried all kinds of techniques to gather and store leaves. Quite frankly I look for the least labor intensive methods that make it easy for me to pull out leaves in January.
So let’s start with the basics-gathering your leaves. No need to make this a production! If you’re not on your own property you can find leaves anywhere-in piles by the side of the roads, unraked in yards or parks. I have never had anyone tell me NOT to collect leaves in public areas so go for it! Carry a rake, paper and plastic bags. The paper bags sit open easier and you can dump your leaves from there into your plastic bags.
My Honda Fit is a little workhorse and can carry whatever I put it to!
With the hatch up, the back of my Honda holds bags of leaves, rakes, snips and assorted objects for carrying and scooping. I keep the tops of the bags open or lightly tied.
In municipal areas, the leaves are yours for the taking. I often hit areas where my “magic trees” are on a Sunday when businesses are closed.
But perhaps the best part about collecting leaves is this-back roads! Unless you have experienced the fun and excitement of discovering new plants, winding roads and abandoned farms, you can’t imagine how well that interacts on a fall day! Sunny skies, chill in the air and Nature calling to you! It helps to take photos along the way-and one main reason other than recording a grand adventure, is the remember where you were when you collected certain leaves. Ones that prove to be amazing printers are ones you will want to find year after year.
It was on such an abandoned road recent;y that we stopped at several abandoned house-to collect and to take photos of the past. Forgotten stone walls with sumac beginning to enclose them.
This abandoned homestead below bears further exploration as has an old mill-somewhere back in the woods.
But down out long winding dirt road we saw what we thought was a fox or cat dart across the road and disappear into the woods.
I stopped the car and peered into the woods and realized it was a beagle. As I got out and approached her with dog biscuits in hand, her tail wagged furiously while she crouched behind bushes and peed submissively. I picked her up and that was that. Back roads-dirt or paved- are good places for people to dump their animals and this thin little thing was just a puppy-maybe 5 months old judging from a few puppy teeth left.
My husband and I are cut out of the same piece of cloth so we just put the little girl in the car and continued with our journey!
Now really! Could you have left that little face behind? Someone did. So relax, we took the puppy my husband named Tuppence to the vet that same Sunday pm, had her vaccinated, micro-chipped (we searched for a chip first), and introduced her to the other 3 dogs. Yes, she is settling in nicely!
So back to the leaves…..let’s say you have collected bushels. After all, you don’t want to be left leafless right? 🙂 Now what. Where and how to store? Take a look at a few solutions I have tried!
2 old screen doors are a good solution depending on how many you have-the advantage is that they dry flat, air circulates on both sides and the screens prevent the leaves from blowing away! But I had way too many leaves for this to work long! Also this was not very portable. If it rained you had to start over.
So here I tried screens from the thrift store. Easier to move but still I would need too many screens.
So here I got clever and made my own baskets-I could hang them in the barn or under a shed and they would air dry. Well they did but the lightweight leaves began to compact all on their own (they did not seem that heavy!) and the bottom ones might as well have been onion skins! Now you have to understand that I use a LOT of leaves. I do not have the time nor the space to systematically stack leaves encased in newspaper on coordinated and marked shelving units!-that all sounds good and looks so nice in posted photos but the reality is very different. 🙂
So my solution now for the last few years? Yep-keep them in their bags! I sit them on the ground under a shed and leave the tops open. I stack maples in one area, oak in another, etc and some are mixed anyway!
In the end-do things YOUR way. Your prints will turn out whether you toss them into bags or iron and press each one into a book!
And I’ll end this narrative with a parting image of Tuppence, the abandoned puppy. She looks like she is settling in nicely doesn’t she? No telling what you’ll find on those back roads!
Who doesn’t love the Holidays? And the optimism a new year always brings?
Regardless of how you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or whatever your Holiday, the message is the same. And my message is for Peace, Happiness, Good Health and Prosperity for all my followers (and non-followers!) and their families!
I did not initially make the decision to create and sew my own garments with my hand dyed or ecoprinted silk. The creation of the fabric designs alone is labor intensive but I enjoy the process and it is no problem to roll up my shirtsleeves and hand paint, dye, collect leaves and botanically print them onto my fabrics. But how many scarves do you need at a show? You have to offer more than one thing and clothing was perfect! My skills were adequate-I had sewn clothing off and on for years. But hiring sewers to do the construction work seemed to make sense while I concentrated on creating the fabric designs. What I had not considered was my deadlines. No one will ever work as hard as yourself and eventually I knew that in order to compete and have clothing ready for my shows, it was time for me to bite the bullet!
Thus was born my own clothing lines. No matter what it is called, my own Slow Fashion, Artisanal Clothing, Hand crafted….it fits with what I do now and what I create! Low impact dyes (both natural and synthetic)sustainable and organic designs and clothing created entirely by hand and by me 🙂
So what IS “the “Slow Fashion” movement?” In a nutshell:
“Slow Fashion (Clothing) is the antithesis of fast fashion. It considers the ethics and sustainability of garments, values provenance and artisan skills while focusing on timeless style, comfort and connection. It is about thoughtful, ethical, creative and sustainable ways to enjoy the garments we wear every day while minimizing our material footprint on the world”-from Textile Beat
It does not get much slower than how I do it! I choose certain days to collect my leaves and ecoprint my fabric. (Weather plays a part in this) I choose other days to hand paint my fabric or create designs on the silk. Then I will choose yet another day to sew. In that way I slowly but steadily work on creating my fashions for the shows I attend or for the custom orders I receive.
So the logistics of sewing with silk are simple. It’s hard, it’s slippery and I discovered that no amount of YouTube videos was going to teach me like just doing it! I dusted off my Brother CS6000i. I should add that as a self employed artist I am rich in art and poor in cash. So this very cost effective sewing machine is under $200. For most of us, whether your machine has 16 or 600 stitches starts to become irrelevant in basic, good construction. Re-homing my old skills meant a lot of practice and learning new things in new machines.
But perhaps the best bang for my buck was the Brother 1034D serger I purchased a few years ago! I was determined to master it (my earlier sewing skills never included a serger!) and how quickly you learn anything depends on how badly you want to learn it! This Brother Serger was another “under $200” super investment and I have been able to double my output with some of my garments in the time it saves! I will add that there are some great YouTube videos on using both of these machines from threading to cleaning them. The best ones I found came from Sewing Mastery. (that tip will save you getting lost for 8 hours on YouTube!)
Serging is no longer the “to do before hemming” part of sewing. (ie: serge, fold up hem, sew again) A good tight, serged edge IS the hem!
But there are a few other workhorses now in my arsenal of machines. Nothing beats an older machine-all metal and sturdiness for additional, harder sewing. For instance, the Brother CS6999i cannot handle my leather. No problem.
I bring our my 1954 Singer featherweight. These little workhorses have become expensive and the darling of the Quilting world :-). But you can find them reasonably priced if you look hard enough. With a leather needle, mine can handle basic leather trim and embellishment on my clothing. But when I move into heavier leather and my ecoprinted hides, I pull out the super workhorse! My 1908 Singer 29-4! These were built to last! A table makes it easier to work flat but with only foot power to run it, well, it can be used anywhere! This is for my heavier leather such as my shoes and handbags.
I found that with patience and practice, the silk I most worked with could be easily managed. From 8mm Habotai to 12mm charmeuse to the much heavier silk noil, all require some machine adjustments and tweaking.
But the end results are beautiful garments designed to showcase not just talent but determination, perseverance and pure hard work in an ethical, slow clothing movement. And nothing feels better than to have accomplished it all by yourself!
Saturday Dec 16 from 11-3! Come see the art studios of 2 long time working artists and see the variety of, dare we say, amazing art! A perfect place to pick up those last minute hand crafted gifts 🙂
Meet our ponies, Helen and Shadow, feed a peppermint to Bella, our alpaca…yep-the chickens will visit you as well as our dogs!
Enjoy some light refreshments in the large studio (our painting one) and do some shopping!
Kids are fine, leave your pets at home though please..rain or shine.
Located at 2109 Old Mill Farm RD., Franklinton, NC 27525. Email Theresa@thesilkthread.com with questions.
(Note-see 2018 update at end)
When I was an art major in college at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, I lived in a small place on the Tar River near my family’ s farm. Driving home late one night after an evening class, I slowed at a little home to turn into our long dirt drive and noticed my neighbor in her garden. She was silhouetted against a bright moon and was obviously at work picking pole beans. The next day I asked my parents why our neighbor was in her garden at 10:30 pm. They said that she planted and harvested by the phases of the moon. I was intrigued as no one’s garden compared to hers! She grew more in an half acre of land than anyone could and her corn grew to Iowa heights! We talked several times about her planting methods and I’ve never forgotten her or her garden.
Fast forward to the here and now and as we approach a total eclipse near our area on August 21, I found my mind turning back to my long ago neighbor harvesting from her garden. And I started thinking.
Ecoprinting on paper is something I have done since my college days. Ecoprinting on silk has been the past 5 years. But as I said in an article I wrote for the spring edition of “No Serial Number” magazine, my immersion into ecoprinting involved far more than the finished design! As incredible as the designs are, it is the “hard to explain” part of being one with Nature in her moments of giving me her bounty of design and color. I like to forage for the leaves. I like long hikes in back woods, hearing the birds, absorbing the colors. The artist in me has been involved with Nature since my teen years of solitary cross country skiing through birch forests in the Catskills and even earlier with years of horse ownership and trail rides. They are peaceful places for me.
Collecting right now, as I practice it, has been more a case of going for a drive through the countryside or on a cool enough day (it IS summer here in the south!) to collect from my own farm. But I started to wonder, just recently, what IF I harvested and processed by the phases of the moon?
I have collected enough to know that the day, the time and the maturity of the leaves and plants I collect influence my final result. The same rose bush today might give me different colors than from a week ago. I totally get that.
But what would happen if I thought about both harvesting and processing based on the ancient principles of the phases of the moon? I think it was the Mayans who had a comprehensive calendar for their crops.
What if I tried my idea for several months? Studies moon charts, kept notes on the results, collected my usual way from the same trees or plants and did a test study? Tried to make sense of something that for our forefathers was as ingrained in them as breathing? I quote from a web page called “Planting by the Signs of the Moon”
Pliny the Elder did it, and so did Benjamin Franklin and your great grandma as well! They all planted gardens by the phases of the Moon, using a method practiced in rural communities for over two thousand years. It was so well established in the first century AD that it became part of the “natural history” that Pliny wrote about in his series of the same name. A method proven successful over that length of time deserves more than a label of folklore. It warrants a trial in our gardens too.
So I’m going to start this Monday during the total eclipse that will be seen at 92% in our area and 100% in places like South Carolina, Great Smokey Mountains, Oregon and elsewhere. The small window of opportunity for me will be around 2:00 pm (EST)
I am curious to see if my free range chickens will think it’s time to roost, or if the brief twilight will have an effect on my other animals (ponies, alpaca) But what I do know is that I’ll later watch the eclipse on NASA’s station (since I don’t have proper eyewear) and concentrate on the experience while I collect my pecan, rose and maple leaves to test.
In the end, it is not as much about results. I am not a scientist. It’s about the experience. My collecting is natural, my results sustainable and beautiful. I enjoy the time it takes to create each piece as much as the time I spend communing with Nature in her environment. I have loved ones that have passed that I often talk to as I gaze up at the moon or stars (funny how it’s not during the day) and somehow I find the idea of an art form I know they would have loved, being practiced during the moon tides to be kind of appealing. So for me, it would be an additional experience added to a process I already enjoy. And what’s not to like?
Sept 3 2018 UPDATE!
I never got around to posting results from the days of the eclipse. But this year, while ecoprinting the same leaves from the same plants (pecan, maple, rose, etc.) exactly one year later, there WAS a difference! Prints in 2017 were crsiper and clearer and expecially so with the pecan leaves. As soon as I find those photos (sorry in a rush here, I will share those. Below are a few as from that period as well! But I DO have better graphics-be patient 🙂