Saturday, January 28, 2017

How to create a nuno felt abstract design with prefelts

I was commissioned to make a cover for the top of a piano to coordinate with a painting hanging next to the piano.  The magical, abstract impressionistic painting with vivid colors of greens, oranges and purples of a woman wearing a hat standing in a field of flowers sets the mood for the small, intimate music room. My goal was to make the felted piece have the same feeling as the painting by creating organic, textural, abstract flowers. 

This is the painting in the room.  One of my ponchos currently sits on the top of the piano.  I was commissioned to make a larger felted piece to coordinate with the painting.

Although the felted piece was made to be a piano cover, it also makes a terrific shawl worn right side out or inside out.  There is no right or wrong way.
 I began by dyeing white silk fabric and white wool roving to coordinate with the colors in the painting.  Click here to see how I did the dyeing.  
Wool roving is carefully added to the acid dye.  
Acid dyes were created by mixing various Dharma colors togerther.
Finished silk fabrics
White wool roving dyed with acid dyes

Once the silk fabrics and wool rovings were dyed and dried, I compiled them along with other fabrics and textiles that I planned to use on the piece.

Before I started my design layout, I first created pre-felts with silk fabrics and one layer of wool roving.  I rolled it about 200 times until it was substantial enough to pick up but not completely felted. I later cut these prefelts into various shapes and placed them on both silk fabric and wool roving.  They will adhere to silk fabric since they are backed with wool roving.  
I laid silk fabrics for the reverse side of the piece.
I added one thin layer of roving using both white and dyed roving.
Here's the work in progress layout on my felting table.  Staring size was 444" x 92".
Work in progress showing prefelts cut into abstract flower shapes.
Work in progress
To the bottom layer of silk fabric and wool roving, I created my design by cutting the prefelts into various shapes.  I added layers of fabrics, new and repurposed textiles including vintage sari silks, and wool roving to create my desired design which starts off as an rectangle.  

The felted piece shrunk about 35% overall ending up at about 31" x 53".  The drape is amazing and it looks terrific as a couch cover.
I think my felted piece captures the essence and feeling of the painting.  

It can be worn as a shawl inside out or right side out.  Try it upside down and how about as a wrap skirt with a shawl pin.  The drape is amazing. 

A felted piece meant as a piano cover but it can be a wearable piece of art as well as a flat piece.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

How to dye wool roving and silk using acid dyes

I did some silk and wool roving dyeing today with Dharma acid dyes in preparation for a large piece I am making for a piano cover. Some of my colors were straight from the Dharma container and some I combined by mixing several colors.
I dyed pieces of silk gauze and silk chiffon the same color as hunks of wool roving.  I used Ball jars and separated the silk fabric from the wool roving.

I first soaked the silk fabric in a combo of vinegar and water for about 15 minutes.  I did not soak the roving but added the vinegar later as explained below.  

I put 1 tsp of acid dye powder into a quart Ball jar and then added 16 oz of very hot tap water (I used my instant hot water faucet)using a chopstick to stir. It was really handy since the Ball jars show the measurements on the side. I then poured half of the mixture into a another Ball jar; this way I have two batches of the exact same dye, one for silk and one for roving. I then added more hot tap water filling each of the two jars almost 3/4 full.  I then placed the silk fabric in one jar and the wool roving in the other.

Repeat the process for as many jars as can fit into your pot.

I used a big lobster pot with a inside steamer.  I placed the jars into the steamer and added water to come up about 1/3 of the way around the jars.  I put on the lid and let the jars steam/simmer about 20 minutes.  I then added 1 T or so of vinegar to the jars with the wool roving, gently stirring with a chopstick.  I then let the jars simmer another 20 minutes.  After that I shut off the burner but let the pot sit until the jars were cooled...or somewhat cooled since I am always in a hurry.
The water remaining the jar should be somewhat or completely clear when you remove the fabric and the roving.  I rinsed the silk fabric but did not rinse the roving since I did not want to take the risk that it would felt.  

I drained the roving on a dish drainer in the sink and then put it in my spin dryer.  I put the silk fabric in my machine dryer.  
Love, love these vivid colors.

Wool roving on the left and matching silk fabric on the right.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Cochineal dyeing in Oaxaca, Mexico

One of the highlights from my trip to Oaxaca, Mexico was being able to take a two day one-on-one natural dyeing workshop with the family of master dyers at Porfirio Gutierrez Studio in Teotitlan, Oaxaca, Mexico. I had met Porfirio earlier in 2016 at the cochineal exhibit at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California and therefore very interested to learn to make red dye from the cochineal bug.  So I was excited when I entered the outdoor work area and spotted the cochineal infested prickly pear cactus paddles hanging from racks.  

I learned that after a few months, the bugs are scraped off of the cactus.  A colander is used to sprinkle the powdery babies on to new cactus paddles where they attach and feed.  After two months, the males get wings and fly away to find mates after which they die.  The remainder of the bugs on the cactus are female which hatch new babies. In the colander remain the female bugs which are then dried in the sun and later ground with a metate grinding stone to reveal the red dye source.

Cochineal before grinding 
Here's a crushed cochineal bug in my hand

Josephina is using a metate to grind the bugs
Josephina's young daughter Maria Louisa already knows how to use the metate to grind the bugs

Several vats were heated up to prepare for the dyeing process.  The wool was first washed and then most of it was mordanted in alum.  A nixtamatic (corn grinder) was used to grind the alum.  We dissolved the alum (15% to the weight of wool, i.e. 150 grams of alum for 1 kilo of wool) in a bit of hot water and then added more water.  The wool was added to the pot, simmered for 1-2 hours, taken off the heat where the wool sat in the covered vat overnight.

Alum + cochineal = purple red

Alum + yellow + cochineal = brighter red

YELLOW:  We made a yellow dye by boiling pericon (tarragon) equal to 15% of the weight of wool for 1 hour (100 degrees C) to extract the color.  Then remove the plants, add the pre-mordanted wool, simmer for an hour or so.  Remove from heat, cover and remain in the pot overnight.      

RED:  We put the cochineal bugs (15% of the weight of wool) in a small mesh bag tied at the top and added boiling water to dissolve the bugs so that the shells would not touch the wool. Add this to the pot of boiling water, add the wool, boil one hour.  Remove from the heat and let the wool remain in a covered pot overnight. 


After the dyeing, there is a lot of washing in 3-4 different vats.  Ring out each time and then hang it to dry.  

Here's a video of me and Juana washing the dyed wool.  And as she said, "mucho travajo, poco dinero" - "lots of work and little money"!
IMG_6292 from Beth Marx on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Natural Dyeing Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico

 Earlier this year the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California hosted an outstanding exhibit called "The Red that Colored the World".  This exhibit told the cochineal story from the precious bug juice used by dyers and painters for centuries to find the color source to rival the best reds of nature and its use in art from Mexico to Europe to the US and beyond.  The exhibit highlighted over 100 objects including textiles, paintings and clothing dyed using cochineal to reveal reds expressing spirit, symbolism and sustenance for life.

As part of the cochineal exhibit, select featured weavers and dyers had been invited to the Bowers Museum Exhibit Hall to display and sell their woven wares all of which included beautifully dyed reds from the cochineal bugs.  I stopped to talk and admire the rugs made by Porfirio Gutierrez and his family from Oaxaca, Mexico who are one of the few remaining families to keep alive the Zapotec tradition of natural dyeing. I  took his business card never dreaming that within the year, I would be in Oaxaca taking a two day one-on-one workshop with his family. What an amazing, unforgettable and excellent learning experience with the most wonderful, gracious family.  

For more on cochineal dyeing, CLICK HERE 
Beth and Antonio with a rug natural dyed and woven by Antonio and family at Porfiro Gutierrez Studios in Oaxaca.  It's called "Caminar de la Serpiente" (Serpent's Path).  It was woven with over 16 different naturally dyed wools including:  Cochineal, Zapote negro, musgo (tree moss), pericon (tarragon), marush and indigo. 

Wool hanks naturally dyed by Juana and family at Porfirio Gutierrez Weavers
Porfirio Gutierrez Studios feature a family of master dyers and weavers located in Teotitlan, Oaxaca.  In the Zapotec tradition, they painstakingly prepare and then use bugs, plants and flowers to dye the wool hanks prior to weaving.  

I arranged for my workshops with Porfirio Gutierrez before I left home in California for my Mexican adventure.  I stayed in Oaxaca City for five days and took a taxi 45 minutes each way for my two day workshop with the Gutierrez family in Teotitlan.  As the taxi drove through the small town, I noticed that most homes had large looms on their covered decks. Teotitlan is the rug weaving center in the state of Oaxaca.

Juana and her daughter Josefina cooked me and the family a traditional, delicious breakfast and lunch and I even got to try chapulines, the traditional fried grasshoppers.  Fried with garlic, chili and lime, they were surprisingly good.   

The view from the roof of Porfirio Gutierrez Stuidio
The looms at Porfirio Gutierrez Studio
Master weaver Antonio takes several weeks to weave a gorgeous rug using naturally dyed wool.

Cacti with the cochineal bugs hang in the background
Juana with wool dyed in indigo
My terrific instructors.  All instruction was in Spanish with English translation.

In the forground is marush, the orange flowers are used for a green/yellow dye.  On the right, hang the prickly pear cacti harvesting the cochineal bugs.

Dyeing wool in metal vets heated by fire burning logs

Me with Portfirio's mom and dad who stopped by to wind the wool.

I was put to work dyeing, washing and wringing out the cochineal dyed wool

Wringing out the wool is hard work!

Me with Juana who dyed all the wool for this rug woven by her husband Antonio.  I couldn't resist buying this rug with over 16 naturally dyed colors.

Zapotec woman with flowers

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