Wall Hanging

After several months, I finally finished my silk wall hanging, which I first stitched together last winter. I had bought some backing and some silk thread but did not get around to actually putting it all together until this week. I had thought I would do much more needle work on top of the ecodyed silk rectangles, but in the end, it seemed unnecessary. I quilted it very simply and put a blanket stitch around the perimeter and that seemed enough. The fabric is so beautiful, soft and shiny, that in this case, less seemed more.

I’m happy with the way it hangs in our entry.

I am ecodyeing our local plants as they come into bloom. Here is a poppy dyed onto paper.

Collage Fun

My friend Nelly came to visit this weekend, bringing with her a plastic baggie filled with letters and partial words she had cut out of magazines over years. She herself is an excellent designer and loves type faces so her challenge to me, to put some of them together, was a bit intimidating. We spent a day in the atelier playing around. She was working with circles, so they began to creep into my type design. This is what I came up with. She asked me if I was going to put my results up on my blog and I said “No…well, maybe.” So this one is especially for Nelly.

Projects from the Garden

When spring arrives, trees leaf out, flowers come into bloom and more possibilities present themselves for work in the atelier. I am happy that nature, the garden and the studio are intertwined. I appreciate the seasonality of my projects. This week I finished sewing together squares of leaf prints, cyanotypes on cotton. They were created in April, mostly from our little Japanese maple tree. I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the results, but it shows me a path that can easily lead to other more successful creations.

It’s the time of year when our peony gives us a profusion of huge red flowers. We had several large bouquets around the house last week. Once the blossoms began dropping their petals, I eco-dyed one of them onto paper and got a very lovely print.

Gathering (and printing) plants

We have had some Australian artist friends/clients staying with us during the last week. They have been coming every two years since we first opened the Maison Conti in 2008. Wendy is a very clever illustrator, who has made some wonderful etchings over the years in our atelier. Margot encourages, critiques and runs the press for Wendy’s creations. They make a good team. We always have a lot of fun with them when they come.

On one of the days of their stay we took them on a tour of the Perche, which they had never visited. It was a glorious day with extravagant spring flowers and green fields of many shades to delight the eyes.

Such outings always give me itchy fingers, and I couldn’t help myself from collecting a few leaves and flowers along the way to bring back home to my eco-dyeing station. I was happy with my results. The color that is extracted from the plants is often such a surprise. A deep purple tulip I gathered from our own garden turned turquoise blue and a bright yellow and orange gaillardia made a deep blue impression.

We had a happy week in and out of the atelier.

Wendy and Margot admiring a typical French country shop.

May Flowers

Inspired by the season and the garden, I’m back to etching. We have an entire wall of pink clematis in extravagant bloom at the moment, as well as a lavendar wisteria which covers the front of the house. Yellow roses are in bloom and the climbing roses are budded up and waiting for their moment. Peonys and Iris’ punctuate their corners of the landscape.

After enjoying an enormous bouquet of soft violet colored lilacs in our entry, as the blooms began to fade, this branch was eco-dyed and gave a soft blue shade

May has brought some rain, wind and cold, following a glorious and sunny April.

Experimenting with Mordants

pink clematis flowers, clematis leaves and Japanese maple leaves mordanted in alum/washing soda

Over the last eighteen months while I have been experimenting with eco-dyeing, I adopted certain habits that usually work well for me. I like a routine that I can follow without having to think too hard about the steps I’m taking. My process has become natural and easy for me to quickly set up. I mix up a mordant of alum and washing soda in water, soak my plants in vinegar water and dip them in iron water before steaming them on the stove for an hour. I can be fairly certain of what the results will be with one plant or another. However, trying something new always leads to discovery, so I try to mix it up.

I’ve read a certain amount about mordanting in soya milk. This has always seemed like more trouble than it was worth to me, until I read that soya mordant generally makes the color of the plants brighter, whereas the alum mordant brings out more detail. I decided to do a little experiment to see if I could detect a difference between the two methods.

I used the same paper and plants for both techniques (pansies of two colors and a Japanese maple leaf). I dipped the plants in vinegar and iron waters as usual and steamed them together in the same bundle for exactly the same amount of time. The results were striking.

The alum mordant created a nice ghost image of the purple pansy and a very nice outline of the leaf. I like the pink color very much. The orange pansy is less detailed, but the color is distinctive.

The soya mordant certainly did give richer color and some reasonable detail as well, however the color is not absorbed into the paper since the soya leaves a slick surface. I got that marbling effect, which I describe as the color swimming on the surface. I don’t necessarily like it less or better.

The fun of eco-dyeing is, of course, that you never come to the end of experimentation!

Signs of Spring

This week our hemisphere celebrated the spring equinox. Spring, of course, represents new beginnings and marks the moment when the earth tilts back towards the sun.

Who can ignore the poetic significance of this time of year? Well, probably most of us. Still, nature doesn’t seem to care how glum we might feel about the world, it answers us with delicate wildflowers and numerous shades of green.

Here, where we live, the hours of daylight change dramatically from one season to the next. Already, in this first week of spring, morning comes a couple of hours earlier than it did just a few months ago and evening falls much later too. The birds are migrating in and singing us awake in the morning. Their enthusiasm and lust for life are inspirational.

The countryside around us bursts with new life these days. You really do have to be half asleep not to notice it and quite hardhearted not to feel something stirring in the breast.

At the moment, taking a ride through the Perche countryside is about all that is required to put me in a very jolly mood.

Lille

At the end of our week with the grandchildren, we drove to Lille to return them to their parents who happened to be there. Jos, our son-in-law, was playing in an Opera and invited us to attend. We had never been to Lille, so we appreciated the excuse for this new adventure.

Lille is the fourth largest urban area in France after Paris, Lyon and Marseilles and is just on the border with Belgium, so-called “French Flanders.” Its architecture is very much influenced by that, reminding us more of Ghent than of other French cities we have visited.

We took this photo of Zinnie next to two posters, one of the show her father is in and the other of an art exhibit at a nearby museum which we also visited. The city is full of charming cafés and shops. We stayed in the old town and did quite a lot of walking. We enjoyed both eating and window shopping.

One especially nice feature of Lille for me was their daily open-air book fair, selling old and new, paper and hardback books in the portico of a beautiful building off the Grand Place, the heart of old town.

We took a train ride to Roubaix (the terminus of a famous French bike race Paris-Roubaix, known as The Hell of the North due to the cobblestone roads of Roubaix) where we visited the Piscine Museum, built in a repurposed art-deco indoor swimming pool. It was absolutely spectacular, one of the loveliest museums I have ever visited. The pool has been preserved, although reduced in width. It is surrounded by the original tiled dressing rooms and shower stalls, stripped of the hardware. Some of them are glassed off and used as display cases for the pottery collection which surrounds the pool and some lead to other galleries where there are paintings and drawings. We spent most of our time around the pool area.

The pottery collection was very effectively displayed around the pool which had the ceramic Belle Epoch decorations of the original building still intact.

Picasso, Matisse and Chagall all created whimsical pottery pieces and the Piscine has a nice collection, next to many other contemporary ceramic artists.

The main event of the weekend, was attending Trois Contes (Three Stories) at the gorgeous Lille Opera house. It is a contemporary work commissioned from Gérard Pesson, an award-winning French composer. Jos was asked to narrate the third section and to play a non-singing role in the second section.

The Lille Opera house, built in the early twentieth century is an icon of the city. It is quite grand. Emily, the children, Rick and I shared our own box in the second loge.

The first act was a retelling of the Princess and the Pea, with several variations.

The second act was a luscious enactment of a story called Proust’s Overcoat about a man who collected Marcel Proust artifacts after his death. The scenery was incredible.

The third act, with Jos as narrator, retold the Edgar Allan Poe story The Devil in the Belfry. It was quite magical. To see a short preview, you can go here.

The whole weekend was a very pleasant interlude.

Quinn riding through the streets of Lille on Jos’s new folding bike.

Vacation

Here in France kids go to school for long days and don’t finish their academic year until July, but they also get lots of vacations. In the winter they have a two week vacation, one of four such big breaks during the school year. It is often the grandparents that are on duty during these days, as most parents work. In our family it is no different. This time the kids went to camp for one of the weeks and stayed at the Maison Conti for the second one.

Drawing in the atelier is always part of the week’s activities, of course. Here the kids made a “museum book” which involves folding an 11 X 17″ paper into eighths and cutting up the middles leaving the last pair of rectangles attached. The paper can then be folded in various ways to make a book. They decided to create a “choose your own words” story.

Zinnie spent one day making suitcases for one of her dolls. She painted some boxes and tied on handles.

We also like doing science experiments. This one shows how atmospheric pressure works. You put a candle in the middle of a plate, you pour in some colored water, then light the candle. A cup is put over the candle, which puts it out, and soon the water begins to rise in the glass.

Another one involved having one glass filled with hot water and another glass filled with color water. One is colored blue, the other yellow. When you put the hot water on top of the cold water, the waters do not mix, but if you put the cold on top the the hot, they immediately mix together.

The week was mostly rainy and gray, but we found one afternoon when we could go to the lake, a favorite outing. We always play “Pooh Sticks,” the game Winnie the Pooh liked to play on a bridge with Piglet. Everyone drops a stick on one side of the bridge and races to the other side to see whose stick emerges first.

Sand castle building is also a long tradition. There are lots of nice sticks, rocks and leaves around for decorations.

Forts have been very elaborate in years past. This time Quinn made Mont Saint Michel.