WINTER: perversely in the winter time when it is dull, grey and dark, I find myself wearing blacks and greys- likely an urban camouflage- yet I am greedy for colour for my eyes.
Right now I am getting my colour fix as well as a colour theory refresher from going through my fibre stash and spinning up all of my wool bits that have accumulated over the last number of years. Now that various wool bags are mostly spun I am having fun just moving colours around and seeing how they relate to each other.
The last few years I have led a program called the Dyers Garden Coop, where we grow, tend, harvest and dye as a collective- everyone commits to participating in 10 of 15 possible garden work sessions and then we have a number of studio dates with wool for spinning as well as silk and wool for scarves and some linen strips. Besides the wool fleece from the coop, I also have a habit of sticking wool fleece handfuls in random plant jars for solar dye experiments- and have ended up with a hodge podge of coloured bits and scraps that tend to get forgotten after initial excitement over results.
Usually I sit down to spin when I have a project in mind and know what I am aiming for but this time I wanted to just spin lots of 2 ply mid-weight and see what that inspired.
I started by just creating fibre mountains of similar toned or coloured wool that I wanted to work with in a colour run for a skein. I also had lots of Viola’s (Romney X) second sheering that is now a wonderful charcoal that came from the Russell’s on Barnston Island.
My first colour lesson was learning to not grab miscellaneous yellows when spinning in the evening.
Using good daylight, I realized how valuable it was to sort my yellows first into cool and warm tones. When they get mixed up at random in a skein I find it a much less interesting and also harder to find the colour that sits beside it to their mutual best advantage…. when it is off it is like the colours are engaged in a quiet pigment battle among themselves – the eye can’t quiet place it – but your brain knows that something is wrong.
But the cool yellows from lady’s mantel, willow bark and tansy leaves read as an amazing light green when spun up together and placed against this lavender toned wool and is one of my favourites to pair with a good grey.
This one pictured is from mixed hollyhock, black hibiscus, elderberry, mahonia berry pokeberry exhaust, and other jars long forgotten.
This partnering above was feeling like a family member was missing yet in the colour run until I added the variegated on the far right. After a mushroom dye foraging trip with friends I had the desire to keep the colours from that day all together in one yarn, so I did 2 variegated runs of the yellow, orange, red, green, red- and then plied them together…. I was hoping for more unity in how the colours aligned but as I didn’t use a scale to measure fibre ounces, what can I expect?
What is interesting to watch in action when choosing blending options is how colours opposite each other on a colour wheel when placed beside each other can be more vibrant, but blended or twisted together will result in dull tones or browns. It becomes the ultimate colour journey to explore heathering tones in a colour range to setting colours up to pop with more vibrancy – it all comes down to the method of carding and prepping dyed locks for spinning. It is crazy nerdy to just play and observe these changing colours -as fibre in process of becoming yarn right down to the skein pairings for knitting or weaving. Then of course that is its own particular journey of discovery…
SPRING: Daffodils! Finally there is colour popping on the landscape. And I am very lucky to live in a temperate rain forest where we rarely lack for green, but the spring green is its own special bright new-leaf green… I don’t want rose coloured glasses, I want new leaf green ones please.
Spring becomes for me a time of looking forward to the colour to come- garden work begins in earnest as new garden paths are made, fences are tended and of course, annual dye plants get started and planted. Elsewhere sheep are sheared and our new fleeces are washed and prepped for dying.
Spring is when EartHand’s programs begin- there are always new people who join as well as familiar participants who have become friends. The community that grows around the fibre work we do – and the colours we brew from the landscape -have become an integral part of how my monthly work pattern is formed. Time in the garden with others is always good, always therapeutic, even when plants have been vandalized or someone has had a particularly hard week- the coming together as a group to work, talk and witness the fast changes that transpire in the garden this time of year is a delight that seems to lift us all.
SUMMER: Outdoor studio time, dye pots galore and solar jars aplenty.
Why is yarn in jars of coloured liquid so pleasing to behold?! Jars to take home and have sitting on window sills, flower bouquets from the garden and a handful of blueberries and raspberries to fuel our work. In the summer I am always thrilled to witness familiarity creep in to the group. A new comfort of knowing where all the tools are- knowing what is growing in the beds without a reminder- awareness of each other’s needs and lives as friendships have begun to form. Dyer jokes become common, because it doesn’t really madder- we will live to dye another day anyway.
The garden growth is slower and we respond by moving slower- picking flowers for future pots, enjoying fantastic pot luck lunches on our studio days while pots simmer in the background
AUTUMN: Late harvests and cooler days, slowing down as the season ends and time for contemplation.
I always have that one moment each autumn where I find myself taking a big breathe and thinking, phew, survived that chaos somehow… keeping up with the everything can be daunting. But, when the natural world goes dormant that means I get a break too, though I have realized even though our nights come early and there isn’t lots to do in the garden there is still late harvests of some good colour such as clear cool red from pokeberry or oranges and greens from the dahlias and coreopsis. For 2019 I am adding time and a studio date later fall so we have the ability to keep the colour party going just a little longer.
I have also learned that having a potluck fibre component for sharing in the pots is an important part of what we can each take from our time together learning and sharing the garden bounty, so this year the potluck fibre will be introduced early for the group.
As the leader of the group, having this regular format as well as the accountability to the group has meant that I actually make time to dye my own fibre instead of buying natural dyes from a store. The commitment to the additional time and energy demanded by growing my own dye plants means that I have more than just the dye pots and yarn as my colour therapy- but indeed get colour boosts, nature time and human contact with incredible people not otherwise in my daily routine.
This will be my third year running the Coop at Means of Production Garden, and oddly it might be my last- I have learned about myself I only like doing things when I am in research mode- as soon as it becomes routine or too easy I tend to move on to another idea to tackle. I am super excited about what I have learned from last year to bring to the program this year- and then we will have to see where the winds blow for other programs that inspire in the garden. I am as always, so grateful I get to learn from this Coast Salish land- and there are so many lessons to be learned!
How do you get your colour therapy- is it something a bit ephemeral like mine that changes with the seasons?
If you live in the Vancouver area of British Columbia think about joining me for the 2019 MOP Dyers’ Garden Coop if you like learning in a community format- or wherever you are, I encourage you to try some solar dyes this summer and add a few dye plants to your garden for value-added colour therapy…. eventually those little tufts of coloured wool can add up to something.
Special thanks to Alison, Belva, Catherine, Ella, Sarah, Becca, Bea, Chantelle, Czarina, Eden, Gail, and Johanna who joined me on this learning journey in 2017 and 2018.