Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Think Less, Make More : A #simplesummersewing Project

Ive had The Modern Natural Dyer book since it came out last year. It is just as great as everybody says, and when you see the beautiful images, you will want to make something just as lovely as Kristine Vejar immediately!

When I got the book late last summer I started enthusiastically collecting pokeberries, black walnut hulls, and goldenrod from our family farm. It gave me a satisfaction almost like gardening to think that I was going to put something from nature to a good and beautiful use. After that first burst of activity I got a bit bogged down in specifics. I wanted to make one spectacular thing, a thing that I could see very clearly in my mind, a thing that was so fully conceived in my head that I already knew what I would wear it with. One thing I did not have was the experience to actually make that thing. Rather than give myself the creative and educational benefit of trial and error, I dove right in with precisely cut pattern pieces, and good fabric. Naturally, it didnt turn out well.

My sad, muddy colors were surely a result of sloppy fabric prep, something I had glossed over in my hurry to get to the end. Next, I got mired in the online sourcing of just the exactly right mordant and scouring agent. Nothing is labeled fully or consistently, so I kept getting stuff that seemed close but not quite right. No matter what I did, or how hard I planned, I ended up at a rather annoying (and expensive) mental roadblock. I was thinking too big, and letting myself get overwhelmed by possibilities.
This summer when natural dye projects started blooming across the internet like flowers in the spring time, I used a strategy that often works for me when I am stuck: think less, make more.

Carefully sourced materials, and thoughtfully considered construction methods are noble ideals, but I had to put them aside for the sake of growth. I have just enough self-awareness to know that I rarely get anything right the first time. Its unrealistic to expect that my fully conceived expert level (okay maybe just advanced beginner) project was going to emerge dripping wet, and fully formed from my very first dye pot. I shook the far too specific first project out of my head, chopped up the fabric already cut to size, and made the simplest thing I could think of.

I used that almost right scouring agent, and close-but-not-quite mordant. I used the marigolds under the kitchen window, and a black walnut branch growing at the corner of the yard. I rashly raised the stakes on my commitment to process, and let the kids help. Were these legitimate prep chemicals or did I just boil my fabric in snake oil? Would the freshly cut black walnut bark taint my lovely marigold orange? Would the synthetic dye in the kids art box string leave a stain on my natural hue? Did I add enough water? Are the strings tied too tight? There is only one way to find out.
This little experience is indicitive of the uncertainty I wrestle with when Im looking at many of my favorite makers projects online. How is everything so perfect so fast? Do they just barf out beauty at will? Do they do everything right the first time? Surely not, but its easy to let those feelings drive you into a corner of self-doubt. This project reminds me that I am here because I love the process.
Im really just delighted with my little zipper pouches. It is certainly not the best, or most creative dye project, but it is a very important step in the right direction. More important than a successful finished product, is giving myself the mental space to screw it up, then fix it, then let the process unfold. Im feeling a little bit liberated.

Dye Process: Based on Flowers at My Fingertips Sewing Kit on page 79 of The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar
Base Fabric: Robert Kaufman Cotton Canvas
Mordant: Aluminum Solfate
Scouring Agent: Soda Ash Fixer
Flowers: Started from Hudson Valley Seed Library Marigold Medley
Pouch Pattern: Improvised, tutorial for similar here


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