A few months ago, I won a of copy of Claire Wellesley-Smith’s Slow Stitch from TextileArtist.org. It has a soft, fabric cover with an image of one of her indigo stitched experiments. The photography is colorful and inspiring – a great picture book. I’ve found myself picking it up many times to read sections of it, but then I end up staring at the pictures instead because they are that good. It’s an inspirational journey book for textile artists, both new and experienced, and focuses on exploring historic techniques, repetition, and simplicity. Themes that surface here: beauty of weathering, time, ancestry, and location. She teaches artistic exploration and process for its own sake and the meditative states that can be entered while stitching. The process of creation is connected with the seasons – spring, summer, fall for planting, growing, and harvesting dyestuffs, and winter for stitching. Her use of simple, repetitive stitches helps to showcase the nuances created by the natural dyes of the fabric.
She encourages the reader in exploring these themes as well, which has led me to attempt dying fabric for the first time. I have some Swiss chard in my garden that I thought would work well for this. When chard leaves are sautéed, the resulting liquid is a meaty Merlot that I love. The other night I had steamed some leaves for dinner and the leftover vibrant stems seemed perfect. The book lists suggestions for dyeing, but I didn’t have any alum, so I decided to look for an alternative. For my recipe, I used these instructions: http://www.diynatural.com/natural-fabric-dyes/. I found that the stems do not seem to throw off as much color as the leaves and the dye bath began to lose its brightness after an hour of boiling. However, this is probably a property of the Swiss chard, so the next time I try, I’ll only use the leaves and heat them at a lower temperature for a shorter amount of time.
The result was a slight darkening of the linen, a subtle effect that gives it a more natural look. The difference is obvious in person, but not photographically.