July and August are always busy months for us at the Maison Conti, but this year they were particularly intense. Of course everyone wanted to get out of town and most of them were headed straight to the beach. Our house is conveniently just about halfway along most of our clients’ trajectories. We generally work seven days a week from morning to night trying to keep up with the comings and goings of our guests. The work is quite physical. Of course each year I get a little older and this year I really noticed the physicality of muscling large quilts around and carrying huge stacks of laundry and dishes. In fact I pulled something in my right shoulder one day while stripping the bed linens and I am still in pain.
September, however, brings with it a real sigh of relief. For one thing the weather cools way down, and for another the clients arrive in smaller numbers and less often. It gives me some time to focus on other things and to spend more hours in the atelier.
I hadn’t done any of my usual cyanotype projects or eco-dyeing this summer. During this last week I rectified that.
My favorite material to work on, for any of these mark-making activities is silk. It takes the colors so beautifully. I happened to have a few little pieces left over from my wall hanging project completed last spring, and I painted one of them with the photosensitive concoction used to make a cyanotype exposure. The chemicals, when painted on paper or fabric, must be left to dry in the dark before the support can be used.
When the silk had dried over night, I arranged some flowers on it, clamped it into a glass frame and brought it outside to be exposed in direct sunlight.
It takes about 10 minutes for the exposure to be complete. I then developed the image in running water for another 10 minutes. I love the way the flowers turned out looking almost like x-rays. The parts exposed to the sun turn blue.
My next activity was to do a little rust dyeing. I have lots of rusty objects which make interesting red patterns on fabric or paper if left in contact for a few days. I used a piece of cotton, a piece of netting and one of silk. I wrapped them in different ways. I spray the rusted object and the fabric with a mixture of 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water, put them in tight contact with a rusty object, cover them in plastic, so they don’t dry out too quickly, which I hold down with river stones, and simply wait 2 or 3 days for the rust to do its magic.
I have a beautiful decorative object I got at a local antique store which I have tried using for mark making before, with limited success. but this time, when I took the plastic off, my piece of silk, which I had laid over it, was very richly rusted. Again, I think the silk itself is the special ingredient, since the cotton fabric I used on another rusty object, wasn’t nearly so affected.
The front of the silk, on the left, almost looks photographic. The back, on the right, is even darker. I found that curious.
Next up was to do a little eco-dyeing, using flowers from the terrace. I had intended to use the rust dyed fabric as the base for the eco-dyes, but since the silk was so deeply rusted, I couldn’t and didn’t want to use that piece. The net fabric failed, as the rust washed out completely when I rinsed it, but the cotton was rusted only around the edges, so it was perfect for my experiment.
I liked the result very much. The rust adds a color you don’t usually get from a plant and the purple petunias, which make a fairly strong purple impression once dyed into the fabric, look good with it.
Another piece of cotton, not rusted, was eco-dyed using Virginia Creeper and some little bright pink flowers we have in our planter this year. I don’t know what they are. They almost look like little begonias or perhaps malvia. They turned out to release a blue color.
Ah! The mysteries of plant dyes. The results are always a surprise. I haven’t found too many species of plants that I can rely on for the results I want. I prefer plants that leave a strong impression of their shape.
The one thing my experiments convinced me of is that working with silk is my preference. Why screw around? I sent off for a nice piece of my favorite satin silk, from my favorite online vendor, Ma Petite Mercerie. A package arrived yesterday presented, as always, so beautifully and, as always, included a piece of Carambar which Rick does appreciate.
Speaking of wonderful things arriving in the mail, this week I got a letter from my son who lives in California. He sent it on March 17th. It only took 5 months and a week to get to me! Inside were some spring flowers and they were in amazingly good condition, dried and pressed to perfection. I really enjoy looking at them.
The last thing I have to share for the week is a gift given to us by our dear friend Nelly the last time we saw her a few weeks ago. She is the master of old papers and old paper markets. I have been the grateful recipient of many of her historic documents. On one of her recent expeditions she found a very old map of our departement, la Sarthe, and she bought it for us.
This is a marvelous object, obviously handcrafted, dated 1836. The cover is made of some kind of thick paper that feels lusciously soft, almost felt-like. The map inside has been cut into nine sections and carefully mounted so that the user could fold up the map and take it with them. It is a road map in origin, but for roads with horses, carts and carriages, not cars. Someone has gone to the trouble of adding their own elaborate cover, presumably to preserve it for strenuous use. The label on the outside is lettered in that beautiful old fashioned script and then cut by hand, obviously, as the shape is not symmetrical, and pasted onto the cover. And why label the map “Sarthe” at all? Unless this was not the owner’s local area? There was meticulous effort extended to make the map durable/portable, suggesting to me that the map users were on a pursuit, not just a one-time journey. And what were they after? It is a mystery. There are little handwritten notes sketched on the top right, bottom left and middle right. They are mostly faded, or erased and difficult to decipher. At least some of them are directions. Some red route lines have also been added by hand to the map, to show that the users were going somewhere special, doing something important. A few red “x”s are also scattered here and there, some in the middle of nowhere, looking, for all the world to my imaginative mind, like spots to hunt for buried treasure. “X” marks the spot. Montmirail was not one of the places they seemed to be interested in, but I do want them, whoever they were and wherever they’ve gone, to know that we value their map very much, and are thinking and wondering about them!