Shadows and Reflections

Fog • rain • snow • sun…we experienced them all this week. The saying around these parts is “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes.” It’s true that weather plays a big part in our lives here, whereas in California it was rarely a topic of conversation at all.

This time of year I really notice the changing light. The situation of our house, the decorative grills on the windows, the many mirrored surfaces and the low sun throughout the day, create interesting visual moments.

I notice the reflections and shadows as I move through our rooms. I find them very pleasing and, being a visual person, little pleasant visions are like candy to me. It makes for sweet days.

Reflecting in a more metaphorical sense is also a favored pastime at this time of year. Looking back, looking forward, taking stock, making resolutions, trying new things, planning adventures.

Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind. – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The rhythm of our year at Maison Conti follows seasonal cycles, which has allowed me to be more aware of the passage of time and of the cadence of life. Certainly most of us long to feel a part of the natural world, but with the constant noise, the electronic devices, the demands and deadlines, it is difficult to find time, and time is so rarely dedicated to actual quiet and contemplation.

Time is what we want most, but…what we use worst.  –William Penn

At this moment in our year, we are more or less forced, or at least invited, to spend quite a lot of time in quiet and contemplation. Speaking only for myself, I can say I feel tremendously grateful for that.

Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend. – Theophrastus

Winter Sun

While a sunny summer day is nothing to scorn, and sun on a spring or fall day is sweet, a sunny winter day offers something even more special than in any other season. Perhaps it is the clarity of the light, the crisp long shadows or simply the relief after a week of overcast skies to see the crystal blue above us again. This week we have had several sunlit days. My heart has been positively singing, which I attribute to the cloudless skies, although I’m sure my ginseng morning energy boost drink probably helps a lot too.

We took some nice walks into the woods, through allées I have never actually been down before (probably because we had to trespass) and saw some pretty ruins.

As usual I collected some leaves along the way. I really can no longer go past a plant without having a good look. I still don’t know all the names of my local vegetation, but because of my new interest in eco-dyeing, I am learning. Anything that opens my eyes wider to the world around me is okay by me. I notice myself noticing and I like that.

There are various “recipes” for making eco-prints from plants. On YouTube you can find many ways to go about it. I experimented with a lot of them until I found the technique that worked best for me. Basically it involves scouring my fabric first and then dipping it into a mordant of alum and washing soda mixed with water for a few minutes. I put my plants into a bath of vinegar and water and afterwards into a bit of iron water. I wrap the plants in the fabric then steam it for an hour.

I did get a lot of bleeding when I followed this procedure last fall, so when I read something entirely new that suggested that soaking leaves in water for several weeks might solve this issue, it got my attention. Since my terrace was full of fallen leaves, I gathered them together at the end of December and put them in a big pot of water to soak.

During this week I tested out the new technique. My rose branches, for instance, were none the worse for wear after their extended soak. The theory is that the breaking down of the cell walls allows the color from the plant to release more easily and thus create more of a leaf outline rather than a pool of color. I arranged roses, berries and a few wisteria leaves onto a piece of cotton which had been dipped in iron water and allowed to “cure” for a couple of days.

This procedure involved boiling the bundles in plain water for 45 minutes.

After less than an hour, I lifted the steaming bundles from the pot and allowed them to cool. Then I unwrapped them.

The roses made a nice print, it’s true, although I don’t think the results were extraordinarily different than my usual technique. The berries printed as usual and the wisteria hardly printed at all.

I did think this little leaf and its branch printed very much more richly than usual. Of course it all goes to show, as I have already discovered, that each leaf variety responds differently, and the time of year can profoundly influence results. The nice thing about eco-dyeing is how much more there always is to discover about it.