Friday, 29 November 2013

Week 75: Adobe Illustrator

Chortitza oak leaves © Karen Thiessen, 2013
I've finally started to play with my "leaves of significance" a bit more. This Chortitza oak leaf is very expressive. Over the summer I collected some here and there and my kind uncle mailed me a bouquet from his tree, so I have plenty to work with. It's clear that until I started this project (a.k.a.healthy obsession), I had never looked at leaves this closely. What I've learned from the leaves that I've collected, is that each one is slightly different. Until now, I assumed that all the leaves on a particular tree were pretty much the same. Thank goodness I was wrong because the world has become an even more fascinating place. Each of my Chortitza oak leaves is different in size, shape and surface markings. At the moment, I'm mostly interested how the shapes vary.

Normally I look at the leaves with the stems facing down. By chance I flipped this leaf and it immediately made me think of Japanese calligraphy. Do you see what I mean?

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Amsterdam: Notions of textiles

Wooden Button; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
In June my husband and I visited Copenhagen and Amsterdam. I've written about Copenhagen, but haven't been able to write about Amsterdam because there was so much to process. At first I didn't like Amsterdam. Not at all. Copenhagen was ordered: I knew how to cross the street. As a pedestrian, I had my space, separate from bikes and cars. Not so in Amsterdam. Yikes! There are no stop signs in the canal district.
Buttons; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Once I wrapped my head around the busy, narrow chaotic streets, I then experienced a deja vu that I had been there in a previous life. Strange. I have never felt this before. Some of my Mennonite ancestors may have lived in Amsterdam. At one point half of the population of Amsterdam was Mennonite and they had a role in building the canals. Personality-wise, I could relate to the Dutch: some reminded me of my mother. Let's just say that the Amsterdam trip was unexpectedly eerie.
Lainsburgh sign; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Over the next few weeks I'll share highlights of Amsterdam. I was taken with the very old buildings, the street art, design, and the house boats.
Denham Jeans sign; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013

Monday, 25 November 2013

Insect embroidery

Insect embroidery; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Day In & Day Out is three years old!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Week 74: Adobe Illustrator

Birch 1 © Karen Thiessen 2013
Birch 1 is for my late brother. On his birthday I picked a few leaves from the weeping birch that shades his grave. I love the negative spaces. This week I played with my "leaves of significance" collection in Adobe Illustrator. There'll be more leaf patterns to come in the next few weeks. 

I confess that I've been rather lazy in my AI practice. Although I've continued to practice, it hasn't been rigorous enough to advance my skills. Right now I'm in a curiosity rut: I'm creating designs to suit my current passions instead of moving through the book.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Oma's quilt textile pattern

When I first began making quilts, I assumed that I was drawn to make them because it was in my Dutch/German/Russian Mennonite DNA. My NSCAD professor, Naoko Furue, challenged me to look into this, to explore my aesthetic heritage. What I discovered, after interviewing over twenty women who had immigrated to Canada from South Russia (present-day Ukraine) that I was wrong. I asked each of these elderly women what they slept under in the old country and I learned that they slept under Federdecken (duvets) or Wolldecken (wool blankets). When they arrived in Canada in the 1920s, they were given quilts by local families and they didn't know what to do with these strange "English" textiles. 

Thanks to Naoko Furue, I learned that Russian Mennonites only started making quilts upon their arrival in Canada and that unlike the Swiss Mennonites who are known for their gorgeous pieced quilts, they mostly made whole cloth quilts in the early years.
My dad's mother, my Oma, made several whole cloth quilts for our family and I slept under this one for about ten years, until I left home to go to university. The quilt was probably made in the early 1970s and may have kept my parents warm at night before it was passed down to my bed. It remains in my parents' collection. The fabric is timeless.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Studio Series: Mordants

Pomegranate skins soaking; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
India Flint's Eco Colour has been keeping me company lately. It reads better than some mystery novels: I can't put it down. Over the past few weeks pomegranates have been on sale (3 for $5). I buy them partly for the novelty, but mostly for the skins which are tannin rich. According to India, pomegranate skins are useful for mordanting fabric. She also gently preaches that the longer the mordanted fabrics have a chance to cure, the better. So, now I wait. Not so easy for a redhead.
Two ingredient soy milk; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
My husband bought me a trio of my favourite Leucadendron the other day and in the bouquet was a flourish of eucalyptus. Our florist knows us well and he included the eucalyptus because he thought I would like it. I do, but not for the usual reasons. India writes about dyeing fabrics with eucalyptus. I was pretty excited about trying this until I learned that it binds best with protein fibres. I only work with cellulosic fibres (cotton and linen). She then talked about mordanting cellulosic fibres with soy milk (a protein). 
Fabrics soaking in soy milk; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
So I did. The first day it smelled fine. By the third day (with a second batch of cloth) it didn't. I hung the fabric to dry and then I tucked it away to use later. Once again, India said to let it cure, the longer the better. I'm a redhead. This isn't easy.
Fabric soaking in red wine; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
This summer we had an outdoor party. A fly landed in a half bottle of Pinot Grigio. No worries. I've put it to good use. Red wine contains tannins. I like how tannins and fabric interact. My dad gave me four bottles of skunky red wine and I can't wait to put it to use (with the fabric, that is. I don't drink reds).
Red wine mordanted fabric; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
I don't really know what I'm doing, so I soaked the fabric in the Pinot Grigio for about ten days and then hung it to dry. I've decided to be a good girl and wait a while to over-dye it or wash it because India knows best.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Studio Series: Black Walnut dye results

Pearl cotton over-dyed with black walnut; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
For six weeks I've been exploring the potential of natural dyeing with Black Walnut. At first I got a lot of deep browns and now, as the vat approaches being exhausted, I'm getting tans. At first I dyed with the 18 pounds of walnut hulls and set the 9 pounds of walnuts aside for eating. I let them dry for 5 weeks and then cracked 4 open with the help of our vise and toasted them. The smell was divine. The taste was disgusting. They tasted like what acrylic paint smells like. No worries, I was then free to use the walnuts in the dye vat. 

Originally I was going to pass on using the walnuts since I read that they only yielded tan, and who wants that? To my surprise, tan is very useful for over-dyeing commercially dyed materials. Above are 5 skeins of pearl cotton over-dyed with a weak black walnut dye. My friend Michelle popped these into my mailbox last week and immediately I soaked them and plunked them into the dye vat encased in a mesh bag. If you look carefully, you'll see a small strand of each of the original colours. I can't wait to stitch with them.
Linen napkins over-dyed with black walnut; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
I dyed the linen napkins in early October, when the vat was still fresh and strong. They were originally pale yellow. I was surprised with how well the linen absorbed the black walnut.
Cotton fabrics over-dyed with black walnut; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Above are before and after samples. Black walnut dyed over indigo yielded gorgeous greys. I've been keeping a dye journal where I record the process, but there's no space for samples. The past six weeks of tending dye vats has been wonderful. Dreams of natural dyeing invade my sleep and each day I wake up eager to get back into the garage. Many evenings I've got my nose buried in my dye books. I've added India Flint's Eco Colour to my collection. I can't wait for next year's black walnut crop.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Studio Series: Behind the Scenes

Gessoing tags; Photo credit: © Karen Thiessen, 2013
All of the paper shipping tags that I use for my Composition and Continuum series need to be laminated and then coated with several layers of gesso before I can paint or collage over them. It's a time-consuming process but worthwhile. Early collaged and painted tags have a slight curl because they weren't gessoed. I use the plastic lids from boxed salad greens as drying trays.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Book Design: 100 years ago

Inscription on endpaper of book; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
During the Thanksgiving weekend I attended a family gathering at the Mennonite Heritage Centre in Leamington. As I was leaving a box of discarded books free for the offering caught my eye. I took all but one. They were old and beautiful. Isn't this inscription beautiful? One hundred years ago penmanship was gorgeous.
Endpaper of book; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Back then, endpapers were marbled or patterned, as in the case of this book, which appears to be a book of German poetry, published in 1911. The cover of this slim volume is a non-descript green linen.
Old German book cover; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
Isn't this book cover a thing of beauty? It belonged to my husband's late grandmother.

I took a break from my Adobe Illustrator practice this week. Natural dyeing is occupying my studio time and I'm taking advantage of the mild weather while we have it. Soon it'll be too cold to tend dye pots in our unheated garage. 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013


Crown crock logo; Photo credit © Karen Thiessen, 2013
According to some online trolling, this logo is from a Robinson Ransbottom Blue Crown 3 Gallon Stoneware crock, made in Roseville, Ohio. I snapped this pic on a recent visit to my parents' place. Mom used the crock as a planter for a large aloe vera plant that, according to family legend, my klutzy brother sat on. The plant, although broken, survived, as did my brother. Isn't the logo a beauty?

Monday, 4 November 2013

Studio Series: Composition in White

Composition in White © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Now that my Unit(y) show is over, I have time to develop more Composition pieces without the threat of an impending deadline. Well, maybe not. I created Composition in White specifically for a province-wide juried show of fine craft. In the process of making it, I raked the yard, swept the porch, cleared my office desk. While the collaged tags were drying, I tended my natural dye vats. Basically, I was aware/afraid that my newest work would not be understood by the broader fine craft community. It's different from my previous work and it excites me to no end. As I was making C in W, I started tags for future Composition pieces that will incorporate natural dyeing of both textiles and paper. When I submitted the piece, I felt empowered and energized to create more modular work, regardless of its acceptance into the show.

The good news is that Composition in White was accepted into Carnegie Craft 2013 and that it won an award!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Week 73: Adobe Illustrator

Oak leaves 2 © Karen Thiessen, 2013
How did November sneak up on us so quickly? Wasn't it August just the other day? I continue to play with oak leaves and I like the irregular negative spaces and the colours in this pattern. Fall is definitely in the air and the smells remind me of camping with my late grandparents.

Remember that Daylight Savings Time ends Sunday November 3 at 2 a.m. here in North America. Turn your clocks back one hour before you go to bed on Saturday night.