This is a flash back to a few years ago of a natural dyes class I took at Maiwa Handprints in Vancouver, BC. I was fortunate, not only to get into the class (competition can be fierce), but also to be able to study with Charlotte Kwon - owner, filmmaker, designer and much more, of Maiwa Handprints. Charlotte, along with her team have created a bit of an 'empire' you might say, by way of travelling the globe working with cultures to encourage and preserve their traditions of natural dye work, teaching natural dye workshops all the while maintaining - back at home (in Vancouver, BC) their supply shop of natural dye stuff as well as workshops and a clothing store on Granville Island.
It was a four-day intensive workshop and covered a lot of ground in terms of fabric preparation (mordanting) and working with all the different natural dyes. Different fabrics require different preparations. For example, cellulose fibres, such as linen, cotton and hemp require different mordants and absorb the dyes differently. Fabrics such as wool and silk - protein fibres, require their own speciality for preparation.
Silk-rayon velvet sample swatches dyed with natural dyes.
More silk-rayon velvet samples of natural dyes.
Cotton and linen samples - dyed with natural dyes.
An impressive array of beautiful colours - all with natural dyes, on silk, linen, cotton, hemp and wool samples; a joint effort with my 'sister' class members.
As I wandered home to my lodgings on the final day of the workshop, this is what appeared as I turned the corner. How delightful and how appropriate - the Colours of Nature were right in front of me.
It was a fun night last night at the 'Black Gold' event hosted by the University of Saskatchewan's African Students Association. The organizers asked if I would like to have some of my designs in the event - of course I said "Yes!". Here are a few photos from the evening.
Silk taffeta is one of those exotic fabrics - sturdy and elegant at the same time, usually reserved for wedding and ball gowns. I have often admired it and being 'old school' still love the 'crisp' and 'royal-ness' of it. One of the things I love about taffeta is that it has sound. It has swish when you walk and provides another dimension to make this fabric so exotic. After admiring several pieces one day at my studio, I said to myself "No one wears fabric like this anymore", how can I make it more accessible to those who love beautiful fabrics? , how does one incorporate this she-she fabric into the easy-care "soft" fabrics of our day and fit into the lifestyle of convenience that so many fashions fit into now?
What I decided to do was to put it in the washer and take the starch out of it. Initially I was a bit disappointed because all the sizing (starch) had been removed, which produced a somewhat, if not very different fabric, but then I saw how much more wearable and accessible garments would be with this approach. It was already shrunk and it could be worn over and over - even with the wrinkles, which I think add their own certain charm.
Here is a detail of the indigo fabric that I used for the appliquéd circles on the front and back of the tunic. They were cut out of the left over fabric and green silk organza backing was added. This backing gives the circles added definition and 'dimension'.
Here I am with the large vat; soaking the taffeta fabric before dying.
One of the pieces of silk taffeta before I dyed it. There were different pieces I dyed. Some were striped and others were checked.
Immersing the fabric in the indigo.
Taffeta fabric hanging to dry on the beautiful wooden racks. After drying I gathered the different pieces onto the grass to see how they all looked together.
Light shining through the dyed taffeta to produce a 'cathedral window' image.
In the mid-80's I lived in Osaka, Japan for about two years. During my time there, I would often take the train on weekends to Kyoto. There was a family - Mr. and Mrs. Takeda, whom I got to know, and they kindly took me 'under their wing'. Mrs. Takeda knew that I had a passion for indigo fabric and so, one day she took me to a shop in Kyoto that specialized in collectable fabrics. Indigo fabric was and still is a big part of Japanese culture. Traditionally and historically there was much indigo dying in Japan. There has also been a world-wide revival of indigo dying.
Here we are in Kyoto at the collector's shop. In the background you can see several woven cotton pieces that are dyed with indigo. Mrs. Takeda (in the floral dress) explaining to me some of the intricacies of the fabric.
The shop owner showing us a prized piece of indigo fabric.
A close-up of a small section of the fabric that has been repaired. There is a name for this in Japanese called boro, which means to patch a worn piece of fabric using another piece of fabric. Boro came about out of necessity in the nineteenth and early twentieth century as cotton fabric was hard to find in Japan. Rural workers would use pieces of fabric to patch their kimono and pants worn in the rice fields.
A larger piece of this very special fabric. I don't know what the reddish dye is, but it may be madder root. This piece is woven with cotton, and I assume is dyed with natural dyes, but am not certain. Nonetheless, it is a collector's piece.
A close-up of another specialty piece in a more delicate weave. Delicate colours, from natural dyes.
A close-up of a cushion cover. Delicate colours in natural dyes with alternating indigo.
Well, I am not in Athens right now, but it is Christmas eve and I have always loved this card. I recently found it in a box of precious papers collected from my travels over the years.
I arrived in Athens, somewhat bedraggled from a 3-day bus ride from England in the mid-80's, and it was here that I spent my first Christmas away from home. I decided to stay in Athens for a time and lived right very close to the famous Acropolis where this image was painted. I would walk through the Plaka every day on my way to the shops and the market, and I remember the special baking and pastries being made in preparation for the Christmas season. I bought this card in a small shop there, as it seemed to aptly capture the mood of the season. For me that time was magic; being in a remote and foreign land far away from home; sharing time on that special Christmas day so many years ago with my friend that I shared a flat with, and other expats visiting Athens. The quiet of this ancient city and this watercolour captured for me the spirit of that time.
May this Holiday Season be filled with precious memories, peace and good wishes to all.
We are so lightly here
It is in love that we are made
In love we disappear
- Leonard Cohen
It has been several weeks since Leonard Cohen’s death and I have found myself waking each morning with the thought, “Leonard Cohen is gone”. I know this sounds silly, but it’s true. I haven’t been able to write about his passing until now, and so writing this post is my way of finding some closure. A small gesture of “Thank you”, along with a piece of my artwork for Leonard. Somehow ‘blue’ is right for Leonard Cohen.
In the days following my first knowledge of his passing, I was in the throes, like many people, of the post-US election. Although the actual date of his death was Monday, November 7th, the media announced it on Thursday, November 10th, the day before Remembrance Day. How wisely done, I thought – to wait until the election was over rather than have his passing (and the enormity of it) over-shadowed by the election.
I found comfort in focusing on Leonard Cohen, along with the rest of the world. His music gave meaning and a ‘sense of place’ to hold and process the madness. “Leonard will get us through”, I thought – or me through. Leonard Cohen’s work made it right; the pain, the loss, and the sorrow of what seemed now, to be a collective entering of an uncertain, new, world order; a changing world, marked by political, economic upheaval and climate change (for those of us who believe in it) on a grand scale.
Over the past weeks I found myself sifting through digital media, re-posting numerous photos of him to the likes of my Pinterest and Facebook page, and listening to as many radio talk shows as I could about his life. Sending myself numerous emails and links from interviews and articles; devouring as much as I could.
In the mid-eighties I stopped in Athens on my European travels, and ended up staying there for a year. During my time in Greece, I knew the island of Hydra that Leonard Cohen spent time on.
After my year in Greece, I went to Japan in 1984. One afternoon I went to see a play and as I sat in the audience waiting for the show to begin, the house music was playing this amazing song with the sounds of Greek music intertwined within it. I was intrigued by it and had to know who it was. I quickly got out of my seat to ask someone “Who is this music?” They told me it was “Leonard Cohen – Dance Me”. It was so Greek and I had just come from there!
In 2012, back in Saskatoon after being away for 15 years, I was able to get tickets to see Leonard Cohen in concert. For anyone who has ever had the rare opportunity to see him in concert, they will know what a special and sacred time it is. What a concert.
While living in Greece, I had a Greek boyfriend who lived on Hydra. He told me that Leonard Cohen and his girlfriend, Marianne would have parties - he remembered the parties. Hydra, at that time, had no cars on it, only donkeys for transport, aside from one vehicle for garbage collection. I would like to return to Hydra one day and I will. I will visit the island of Hydra and know that Leonard Cohen lived there.
Thank you Leonard Cohen, for all you gave us.
I first heard of Aboubakar Fofana about ten years ago when I lived in Seattle. My friend, knowing how much I loved indigo, showed me an article in Home Design magazine. A striking man from Mali, he was featured with his signature indigo-dyed pieces. She said to me, "Someday you will go to Africa and meet him"! Well, I did go to Africa, but independently of taking a workshop with him. Since then, I followed him occasionally. When I heard about his three-day workshop in Oakland, California at A Verb for Keeping Warm I signed up immediately; a workshop with Aboubakar Fofana may be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I was accepted to the class - yes!
Bogolanfini is the name given to this traditional practise from Mali. What was so special about working with this mud from Mali, was that it is sourced from the Niger River in April and May when the river is lowest. Aboubakar discovered a particular region of the river and travels once a year to collect it. Workers dive for the mud and bring it up in pails. The river has crocodiles, so it is dangerous work. Aboubakar collects enough mud for one year's supply (and a little extra) for his work.
The 'master' drawing a catfish, that has special symbolism in his culture.
Samples of organic handspun and woven cotton from Mali. Mordanted fabric with progressive layers of Malian mud.
Away we go...busy painting and dying.
Mud-dyed samples drying.
More samples drying. Love the wooden drying racks!
Student's work. Gorgeous!
Drying in the hot California sun.
The 'master' and I with a photo of my work.
There were three sets to the evening with ten models of different ages, from 15 - 58 years old. This was an intentional choice to convey that my clothing is not defined by age, but by lifestyle, and for those who appreciate quality and good styling that goes beyond the latest trends of the day. The first set was called "Spirit of Indigo" and focused on just that: indigo garments of found and collected pieces from my travels. From the photos below, you will see indigo from Laos, India and Africa mixed with contemporary designs.
Grey hemp-silk blend vintage-style slip dress. Worn with ikat silk bolero top.
Button-down classic blouse of navy cotton/linen blend and wrap navy skirt. Both with Nigerian indigo accents.
The second set focused on "Slow Clothing". The term "slow clothing", appears more and more in mainstream vocabulary and is the opposite of fast fashion. Slow clothing is about being more intentional in the clothing we choose to purchase as well as taking into account the bigger picture of the globalized world of fashion.
This is a re-purposed men's suit worn with the 'harem pant'.
Wrap Apron Tunic of 100% linen.
The third set - "Natural dyes" focused mainly on pieces I had dyed with natural dyes. Several pieces were from my travels in India or acquired pieces from Africa.
Scarf of 100% Linen. Made in Canada, dyed with marigold.
100% linen scarf, dyed with madder root. Made in Canada.