Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Silk painting with gutta

I had an opportunity this past weekend to take a class in a different style of silk painting than my usual wet-in-wet salt sprinkled fare. See, I'm involved in a historical recreation group, and one of the trends recently is to fly silk painted heraldic banners. They add so much to the atmosphere, and are lovely to behold!

The banners we did this weekend used silk scarves, black gutta, and Dynaflow dye bought from Dharma Trading Company. The class was taught by the very talented Dorothea M'Queyn. She had made us stretcher frames from pvc pipe before we got there, so we could get right down to the creative part of the fun.

Here's what we did:

Habotai silk scarf
Dynaflow dye
pvc stretcher frame, a few inches larger around than the scarf
straight pins
rubber bands
water color or sumi brush
black gutta in a metal tip dispenser
ironing cloth

Dorothea set up the frames for us. We put a straight pin diagonally in the hem in each corner of the scarf, and used the rubber bands to go around the pin and the frame to hold the scarf onto the frame by the corners. Then we went down the sides of the scarf, putting pins in the rolled hem. They lined up point to head all the way down the sides.

Then we used the rubber bands to go around the pins and the frame, stretching the scarf taut on all four sides. We would put a rubber band on one side, then do the one on the opposite side, working back and forth across the scarf to try to keep it more or less squared on the frame.

Here is a good shot of how the rubber bands worked. Once the scarf was stretched on the frame, it was time to figure out our design. You can do this part free hand, but we found it easier to pin a paper pattern underneath the silk. The silk is thin enough to be able to see through it to the pattern.

Then we lightly traced over the pattern with pencil, right on the scarf. We needed to do this very lightly, because the pencil lines might show through on the finished banner.

Then we traced over our pencil lines with the gutta. Why gutta? When you put silk dye on the silk, it spreads until it either runs out of oompf, or runs into a fence. Gutta is your fence. So when we put the gutta down, we needed to be very sure not to leave any gaps in the fence where the color could sneak free. Once we got the pattern drawn in with the gutta, we left the project to dry over night.

The next morning, Dorothea had an array of colors for us to choose from. You can use the dye straight out of the bottle or you can mix your own custom colors. (That is what the little containers were for.) She uses an eyedropper to measure the colors into the mini containers. A little dye will go a long way.

And now, it was pretty much a paint by number type of day. With some of the colors, we went over each area two or three times to get a vibrant and even coat of color.

Some of the work got very intricate.

Very, very intricate!

When the work was done, it was time to take the scarf off of the stretcher frame. Underneath the pins, there were spots that the dye hadn't been able to get to. So we went back and touched up these spots.

Once everything was dry, we ironed the scarves to set the dye. We put the scarves gutta side up, and covered them with a muslin ironing cloth. Each section got ironed for about 9 minutes. When we moved on to ironing the next section, we either flipped the cloth or got a fresh cloth, so the gutta lines wouldn't transfer to other parts of the banner. After this process, you can spill Pepsi on the banner and the dye won't run. (Yes, I know this.)

Here's how mine turned out. I'm very pleased with it! Since it is heraldry, I made my pattern 'big, bold, and butch', so you can make it out from a distance. The charges read left to right, from the higher ranking items to the lower. (Kingdom of Atenveldt populace badge, then the Barony of SunDragon populace badge, then my own heraldry, then my motto with laurel leaves denoting my highest ranking award.) I still need to sew ribbons onto one side so I can fly it. I so look forward to seeing this one fluttering in the breeze outside of my pavilion at an event!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Spinning Wheel Deals and Silk Painting

"Pssst.....Hey lady! Wanna buy a wheel??"

I had to laugh yesterday. See, my daughter has her own place up at college these days, and wants to set up her own studio. (Go Michelle!) She's been borrowing my Ashford Traditional spinning wheel and loves it, but I won't let her steal it entirely. (I need that here for when I model for art classes in period costume. My Kromski Sonata is a marvelous wheel, but it doesn't look like what most people think of as a spinning wheel.)

However, she is convinced that I have a Secret Super Power. I can find things. She confidently gave me her budget for a working used wheel (no more than $200), and I hunted around for awhile. I eventually made a contact on Ravelry with a lady who lived not too far away, and who had an Ashford Scholar for sale that was in my daughter's price range. So we set up a parking lot exchange, since the lovely lady with the wheel had a knitting group meeting nearby later that afternoon.

Michelle and I were giggling at the cliche of a shady parking lot deal. (Michelle says that of course it was shady! Have you ever been to Phoenix in the summer? 105F in the sunshine is waaaay too hot.) And then we met up, and Michelle was test driving the wheel before buying, and lo and behold security came driving up to see what these three suspicious looking ladies were doing with a strange contraption in his territory. I tried to explain, but he really was rather bemused. Finally I just said, "It is one of those weird parking lot deals." He shook his head, and asked if I remembered the show "Hogan's Heros". I nodded. He said, "Sgt. Schultz". I laughed and quoted, "I know nothing!" He nodded, shook his head once more, and drove off. I don't know if he ever did figure us out.

But cash exchanged hands, and Michelle is absolutely thrilled with her new spinning equipment.

In other news, I'm experimenting with the silk painting again, in two different ways. First, I have a class coming up this weekend that I'm taking on how to make Medieval style silk heraldic banners. I'm quite looking forward to that one!

Second, I decided to branch out from just making scarves, to making other types of wearable art clothing. I had an idea... If I took two large panels of silk and painted them in the same color scheme, wouldn't it be possible to sew them half way up one side and make a light weight silk ruana? I ordered a couple of larger scarves from Dharma Trading Company, and I'm giving it a try.

I painted the two panels today. The second one is currently drying on the stretcher frame. I'll let them sit for a day or so and then steam them to set the dye. Then they sit another day or so before I can wash them, iron them dry, and sew them up.

I look forward to the sewing part! I really want to try this out, and see if the pattern idea works. In my head, this will be a spectacular piece of wearable art--all colorful and fluttery and soft on the skin. But I'll need to wear it out a time or three to see how well it actually wears. I want it to stay firmly on the shoulders.

So, look for another post on this next week. I can't wait to see if this works or not!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Orange Mint Tea

This is a follow up to this post on drying my garden mint:

So, last week I harvested some of my overgrown mint and hung it in the window to dry, with the thought that I might be able to make my own mint tea instead of buying it at the store. I hadn't tried drying my own herbs before, so it was a bit of an experiment. It seemed simple enough in theory. And in fact, it worked beautifully. A week of hanging in the dry Arizona air, and the mint leaves were crumbly.

I stripped them off of the stems, and sealed them up in an air tight container. There was enough to almost fill the container!

Now, yesterday we were juicing up the last of the oranges from the back yard tree, and I had a thought. I did a bit of a web search and sure enough, dried orange peel is also a good tea ingredient. And I know that there have been no pesticides sprayed on our tree, and the peel hasn't been waxed like the store bought fruit often is. (If I make this with store bought oranges, I'll be sure to wash them very well first.) So I had my sweetie take a vegetable peeler to the outside of the orange to slice off just thin orange rind part. I put the shavings on my food dehydrator, and put them on low for a few hours until they also became kind of crunchy. I let them sit over night to cool, and today I packaged them up too.

So tonight? I took a handful of the dried orange peel, and broke it up into smaller pieces.

I took a handful of the dried mint, and crunched it up too.

That all got added to a tea infuser.

I heated up some water, and then added a dollop of honey.

Then the mint and orange peel went in.

And then I let it steep for awhile.

And now? I am sipping at a perfectly delightful cup of tea! It is gently fragrant, very tasty and mellow, with no hint of bitterness from the peel. And I know exactly where the ingredients came from.

(Hmm...except the honey. I don't suppose the dogs (or the neighbors!) would appreciate hives in the back yard, dang it. I'll have to find a local bee keeper next.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Annular Eclipse through the Arizona wild fires

Late this afternoon, I decided that I was going to ditch my evening responsibilities and chase after the annular eclipse that was going to be happening around sun down. Now, I looked on line about how to photograph this type of eclipse, and the sites all said that you absolutely needed a special filter for your camera, otherwise you'd do damage to the camera (and your eyes if you looked through the view finder).


It is the beginning of fire season in Arizona, and we have a couple of wild fires burning a bit north of the city, up in the mountains. So I packed my camera and my tripod, and took off chasing the smoke. I figured that maybe there might be enough smoke to act as a natural filter. About the time I got up the first real hill out of Phoenix and up to Sunset Point, I hit the bulls eye!

So, here is a sampling of the 70+ shots I took today. I am so tickled!!

EDIT: And here is a shot my daughter took of me while I was distracted taking my own pictures.
Last photo by Michelle McCollum.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Felt baby booties

I've been making a pair of seamless wet felted baby booties again. (I did a tutorial on this awhile ago, here: .) With some input from the lady who received the pair in the tutorial, I've added a little ribbon weaving in and out around the ankle. This is a nice decorative touch, and helps to keep the booties from slipping (or being pulled) off.

So, yesterday I made a pair of blue felt booties. I didn't have any ribbon handy, but I know how to do finger loop braiding and I have a large stash of weaving yarn. ( ) I made up two braids that I thought would go with the booties, and pondered my decision.

The bottom braid was the first one, made of two strands of white cotton crochet thread, and three strands of white/blue variegated crochet thread. I like it, but the white was a bit too bright against the blue felt for the look I was going for. So I tried again with blue and rust cotton cone weaving yarn. The blue is 8/2 cotton, and the rust is...something thinner. The cone wasn't marked. Anyway, this one worked better.

I tried poking a hole in the felt with an awl, but I had a hard time getting the knot at the end of the braid through the tiny hole. I threaded the braid onto a tapestry needle, but when the eye was big enough to take the knot in the braid, it was too big to go through the awl hole.

So, I gave up on the awl and found a tiny pair of embroidery scissors. I used them to snip a small slit in the felt.

This worked much better! I was able to poke the knot through the slit.

Now, I cut another slit a little further on, and poked the braid back through to the outside.

I kept doing that, until I got back around to the front of the bootie on the other side. There were a total of 8 cuts. I evened up the ends, and tied the lace into a bow.

Yup! That ought to do the trick. The booties are finished, and ready to ship out to their new home.

Monday, May 14, 2012

First try at drying mint for tea

My mint pot out front is getting just a bit unruly. (Actually, I have two pots that look like this, but I can only get one in the picture at a time.) I've been harvesting the mint to flavor my cold drinks, but obviously I haven't been keeping up with it nearly well enough. The stems are long and getting woody, and there isn't enough room for new and tender growth.

I am also out of mint tea bags. I thought about it...and figured it was absolutely silly to go out and buy commercial mint tea when I had a perfectly good batch of leaves out front. I've always just used the mint fresh out of the garden, but it should be easy enough to dry some for later use as well, right?

I remember when I was a young girl, my folks volunteered on the weekends at the Miller-Cory House in New Jersey. It was a restored colonial farm house, and it had an herb garden out front. I remember being interested by the bundles of fresh herbs being hung up in the cook house to dry. I don't know if they ever actually used them, though there was often something tasty coming out of the kitchen pot. And they did smell wonderfully good. Anyway, I hunted around the web to refresh my young girl's memory on drying herbs, and headed out the front door.

I cut a nice big basket full of mint stalks, and brought them inside.

They got washed well...

...and picked over. Any leaves that I wouldn't want to eat, I figured I don't want to drink either. Browning leaves got tossed into the bag headed for the compost pile.

Then I tied some kitchen twine around the stalks.

A rummage around in the junk drawer turned up some curtain hooks that looked like they would do the trick.

Herbs are supposed to hang in a dark, dry place. I'm kind of short on those, but the window over my kitchen sink doesn't get much in the way of any sunshine coming into it. And I was never fond of the frilly little valance that was on the curtain rod there. I ditched the fabric, and hung the bunches of mint over the curtain rod. In this Arizona climate, I'm not really worried about any excess humidity from the sink.

I've got five bunches hanging (and you can't really tell that I touched the mint plants out front). These will hang until the leaves dry out and get brittle--probably a week or two, maybe less in this desert climate. Then I'll strip the leaves off of the stems and store them in mason jars until I want a cup of tea. At that point, I'll grab a tea ball and crush some leaves into it, and have myself a very organic cup of mint tea, courtesy of my own garden.

At least, that is the theory. I'll let you know how it goes in reality!

Edit: It worked beautifully! See this post: