Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Obsession (A poem about beading)

Several years back I wrote a poem about beading. I submitted it to the 'Beadfairies' site online, and it was published there. I kind of forgot about it after awhile. But yesterday I was doing an idle Google search on my name, and found that the poem had been quoted on two web sites that I'd never heard of. Which makes me go 'hmmmmm...' on the one hand, with copyright and all that. On the other, I'm kind of tickled that folks liked my writing enough to pass it on. I really enjoy writing poetry, but I do it more for my own pleasure. It bemuses me (in a good way) when folks connect to my words enough to take something out of them for their own.

Anyway, I figured I'd reclaim my poem, and share it here again.



Cramped back cracks as I crinkle
into bed. Needle pricked
fingers gather soothing sheets,
and aching neck nestles deep
into 3 AM pillow. Light switch click,
itchy eyes finally close...
...and phantom bugles flash
cobalt behind twilight eyes.
Freshwater pearls shimmer,
swimming through my veins
as Delicas dance my spine.
Cool garnets slide memory
smooth through fingertips
twitching for pointed precision
as the beads stalk me deep
through the night...

By Melissa McCollum


And with that, I ought to get myself off to bed. I was weaving today instead of beading. Do you think I'll dream of cloud-soft fibers and interlacing patterns...?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Weaving Sunbeams

I love weaving in my studio in the late afternoon, when the setting sun streams through my open windows. I feel like I'm playing with soft strands of pure light...

I do so love my job!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tutorial: Steaming silk scarves

I've been painting silk scarves this week, and the dye I used needed to be steam set. So I cobbled together a silk steamer today, following the instructions that I got several years ago in a class given by Karen Leeds.

The bottom part of the silk steamer is a turkey fryer. I found a used one on Craigslist awhile ago, and had it tucked away in my storage shed for just such an occasion.

The upright part of the steamer is a 10" stovepipe from Home Depot.

I used tin snips to cut slits in the top of the stove pipe. The slits are directly across from each other.

Why slits? They hold the metal piece that will be used to suspend the roll of scarves. My teacher used an extra long drill bit. I used a shish kabob skewer that we use for grilling.

Ok, the steamer was ready. Now I laid out my scarves on a roll of craft/butcher paper. They need to be a couple of inches apart from each other so they don't touch and bleed on each other. And they need to be several inches away from one of the sides, so you have room to put the skewer through without puncturing the silk.

I started rolling up the scarves. I needed to smooth them out every bit or so, so they didn't wrinkle.

When I got to the end of one set of scarves, I just laid out another set and kept on rolling.

I've read that you can safely steam a bundle up to 6" thick. I got all 12 scarves into a bundle 4" thick, so I think I was doing pretty well.

Then I taped the bundle closed.

The bottom end of the bundle was capped with taped on tin foil.

The top carefully had the skewer punched through it.

Then I suspended the bundle in the stove pipe by setting the skewer in the slits I cut. You need to make sure the bundle isn't touching anything, and is well above water level.

What water? Oh yeah. Add water to the fryer.

Then use more tin foil, and close in the bottom of the contraption to keep the steam in. Leave a spot that you can bend back and peek in, to check on the water level and add more if you need it. On top put a layer of tin foil, then a couple of old towels, and a weight to hold it all in place. Now, crank up the fryer and let it steam away. The suggestions I read said to let it run for 3 hours, adding hot water as necessary.

After 3 hours, turn off the fryer and remove the lid. Let it cool for about 20 minutes. (Burning yourself is bad!)

Then take the bundle carefully out, unroll it, and hang each scarf up to cool and dry.

The instructions I have say to let the scarves hang for at least 24 hours. Then I can wash and iron them and they'll be ready to go. If I did it right, the colors will be quite permanent.

You can see the earlier and later parts of this project in these two posts:


Washing and Ironing:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tutorial: Silk Scarf Painting

I've been working (ok, playing) with silk scarf painting the last couple of days. See, I'm part of Celtica!, which is a choir that is associated with the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix, AZ. The ladies in the choir tend to wear all black for performances, but we decided that a touch of color would be a lovely addition. So I volunteered to dye up a batch of matching silk scarves for us. I ordered my supplies through Dharma Trading Company (, and they came in the mail within a short amount of time.

Here's the silk scarves, as they came in the box. This particular batch is 8" x 72", in habotai silk.

The first thing I did was pre-wash the scarves, to get any oils or residue off of them that might block the dye. I just tossed them in the wash, twice, with a bit of Dharma's textile detergent. Well, that was a mistake. The tossing them in the wash part--not the detergent. I should have put them in a lingerie bag instead of letting them run loose in the wash. You wouldn't think that silk scarves could knot up into a mass that would take a half hour or so to untie, would you? Well I didn't anyway. I know better now. I had to iron them after that, too, because they were all wrinkled from the knotting.

These are my materials, also from Dharma. (Well, I had the sumi brush hanging around left over from art classes.) These dyes will need to be steamed to set the color, which will be a bit of a pain. But I took a class on silk painting a few years back, and this is what the teacher used in her own art work.

I stretched the silk onto the frame that I picked up from (yes, you guessed it) Dharma a few years back. I wanted a very fluid, wet-on-wet- watercolor effect, so I lightly sprayed the silk with water.

I have four colors of dye that I'm working with. I want the colors fairly evenly scattered over the scarf. I started by laying out squiggles of the dark blue...

...then added the green for the second color...

...then the third color...

...and the fourth. That gave me the underlying movement to the pattern, and made sure the colors were fairly evenly distributed.

Then I went back and filled in all the white space. I paid special attention to the edges, to make sure the rolled hem actually took the color. Since I'm not really wanting hard edges in this scarf, I took just water on my brush and scrubbed the color edges, blending them together.

Then I scattered salt crystals on the still damp dye...

...and very lightly spritzed the scarf with water to make sure the dye could bleed and blend during the drying process.

Why salt? It sucks in the surrounding dye, which makes really cool patterns and textures. This is a watercolor painting trick.

After the scarf was dry I brushed up all the salt, and set it aside to use again. The salt is lightly blue now, but as long as I am working on the same color way I'm not too worried about dye transfer.

Here's the finished scarf! Well, it is finished with the painting process. Now I need to let it sit for at least 24 hours. Then it will be time to steam the silk to set the dye. 24 hours after that I can wash and iron the scarf and it will be ready for wear. (You can bet that I'll be using the lingerie bag this time around!)

I really like the way these turn out. I love the watery, organic patterns that this technique gives. It is a combination of color choice and placement, with a healthy dose of serendipity thrown in with the blending and salt. Each time I make one, I decide part way through that process that this particular scarf is my very very favorite one. This could get to be very addictive! I think once I get this batch done (I'm working up a dozen of them) I want to get some more variety of colors, and make up some for the Etsy shop. Because I don't want to stop playing!

You can see the next parts of this project in these two posts:


Washing and Ironing:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dyeing with Weld and Indigo

This last week my daughter and I went to another Wooly Wednesday in my friend Leticia's back yard. It was a wonderful afternoon playing in the colors! Leticia is a master gardener, and has dye plants growing. She needed to harvest her weld, and let us help.

Of course, when you visit her back yard, you really need to take a tour of what she has going currently, and say hello to the chickens. She had them penned up this time, so they wouldn't jump in our laps to see what we were up to. Hello, Ladies!

Then we put our yarn and roving in to some water to pre-soak while we got to work.

Leticia and Rose went back to the corner garden.

This is the plant they were looking for. Weld looks kind of like a weed, but has been a prized dye plant for centuries. It was used in Medieval Europe, but was known at least as far back as the 1st century AD, when it was mentioned as a dye plant by the Greek writer Dioscorides.

They cut the leaves off the plant, and then we tore it up into bits. It felt kind of like we were making salad, except we weren't going to be eating this mess of greens.

We tossed the weld salad in a stock pot, filled it with water, added alum, and set it on the stove to simmer for a half hour or so.

Then Leticia pulled out a bucket that was left over from a class on indigo dyeing that she took last October, I think she said. She removed the lid, and we peered inside. Down at the bottom of the clear water were particles of blue.

She put that pot on the stove to simmer too, adding a tablespoon of this stuff to revitalize the pot.

Then we gabbed and spun yarn and toured the garden and generally killed time while the magic happened on the stove.

After awhile, we remembered that we were supposed to be playing in the colors, not just trading stories and goofing off. We took the lid off of the indigo pot first. There was a yellow/green tinge to the water, and an iridescent purple sheen on the surface. That was what we were looking for!

We dipped yarn into the pot, swirled it gently to make sure it all got wet in the dye bath, and pulled it right back out again. Sure enough, we got to watch it turn blue right before our eyes as the indigo oxidized in the air. I love indigo! Pretty soon we had some beautiful skeins of yarn dripping dry on a nearby tree.

Then it was time for the weld. We strained the leaves out, and found that the water had turned a vibrant yellow/green color.

The leaves went into another bath of water to simmer again, to make a lighter color dye bath. That left the first pot of dye open for business. In went the yarn to simmer for awhile. If you notice, in this picture one skein is dangling over the side of the pot. That is my sock yarn. I dunked it in the weld pot for about 2/3 of the skein.

Then I flipped the skein over, and dunked it about 2/3 of the way into the indigo pot. (You can dye indigo over other colors, but don't try it the other way around. Putting indigo dyed yarn into the weld would contaminate the weld pot.)

Yellow + blue = green, right? I ended up with a beautiful variegated skein of sock yarn. I can't wait to see how it will crank up.

I also made some solid colored skeins, which will be stripes in a hand woven scarf. On the left is the indigo dyed skein. On the right is the weld dyed skein. The middle skein is indigo over weld. Can you believe that all three of these colors are appropriate to the Medieval time frame? No, they didn't all dress is in drab earth tones.

By this time, our planned projects were dyed, and we still had color left in the pots. So we went a little crazy, dyeing anything we could get our hands on: cotton head scarves...

...arming caps...

roving for spinning...

...and even long suffering dogs who happened by at just the wrong time. Yes, her tail ended up lightly blue. But at least we made sure the pot was cool to the touch before she got dunked in.

My daughter snapped this shot of me with my afternoon's work. The lighter color blue skeins were from the indigo pot after we had dyed several object in it. You can get several different shades from the same pot as the color becomes exhausted.

In fact, here are the skeins from Estrella and from this Wooly Wednesday hanging in my studio window. From left to right: cochineal shifted with vinegar, cochineal, indigo, exhausted indigo, exhausted indigo over semi-exhausted weld, indigo over weld, cutch, exhausted cutch, weld, and exhausted weld.
Aren't they beautiful? Natural dyes are wonderful fun to play with!