The annual residency bed has transitioned into a perennially planted area for dye plants. Search for Community Garden Dyers Coop on the earthand(dot)com website for more info.
We have two artists in the community joining us at MOP this year, Gloria Tsui will be growing Japanese Indigo on site, with mentoring assistance from senior artist and gardener Catherine Shapiro… Gloria first fell in love with fibre based work in high school when introduced to batik, tie dyeing, resist dyeing and weaving. In 2008, she attended a multi-week course in France on textile art techniques that ranged from silk painting to embroidery. and at the time fully recognized the wonders of art as therapy. In 2013 she completed the Certificate of Fine Arts at Emily Carr. There she fell in love with printing and collage.
In the past year with funding from Neighbourhood Small Grants she hosted several events that promoted art in the community. Such as a mosaic tile making workshop at Clinton Park in East Vancouver where participants made a tiled footpath for a community garden and a natural dye workshop led by Sharon Kallis, that provided participants with an opportunity to explore dyeing with natural ingredients.
Joining Gloria in the annual residency bed is Sarah Eby.
Organic and local food, natural plant dyes and paper-making. Sarah uses these mediums to connect and empower learners with ecological literacy. As a certified visual arts and outdoor educator Sarah has a specialty in place-based community education. With community she combines art and nature in fun, experiential ways to help promote self-discovery and well-being. New to Vancouver she has recent experience coordinating a food-gleaning project and eco-art workshops in Thunder Bay.
We are thrilled to have both Gloria and Sarah join us in the garden and look forward to seeing what transpires!
Here is Sarah’s residency bed aka The Rainbow Garden!
- 25g alum acetate
- 2 tsp cream of tartar (optional, an acid modifier used to brighten colour or some natural dyes)
- 1 litre water, or enough to cover
- *Plant-based fibre-See my post The Sumac Project to read about making tannin solution with sumac leaves.
- Wash and soak the fibre: Weigh dry fibre, wash with a ph neutral soap and soak for 1-2 hours in water.
- Prepare the mordant solution: Place the alum and cream of tartar into the pot with a little boiling water– the heat helps the compounds dissolve. Stir until completely dissolved. Add enough water to cover the fibre and stir thoroughly.
- Add the yarn: After washing and soaking the fibre, squeeze the excess water and transfer to the pot. Heat the liquid slowly and simmer gently for 1 hour.
- Leave the yarn in the pan to cool slowly: If you’re using superwash-treated yarn, you can safely cool it quickly by adding warm water, then cool water. With untreated yarn, it’s best to leave it alone until it reaches room temperature.
- Squeeze the excess water from the fibre: I can either be transferred to the dye-bath right away, or left to dry and stored for later use. If the latter, tie the skeins with a coloured thread to mark them as mordanted– it’s easy to forget!
Learning to use natural dyes is like cooking with colour. And just like cooking, it takes practice and care. Attention to detail will give results you are proud to call your own!
The Sumac Project: making a tannin solution and preparing cellulose fibres
Connecting with Community and Land: Eco-Printing
When Xyla Grey and I met at MOP garden as artists-in-residence, we were amazed by how much we have in common! We have a drive to share how plant technology heals land and communities. Naturally we wanted to collaborate on a community-engaged environmental project to offer our low-income neighbours a free intergenerational workshop series. But we needed funding. As eco-artists interested in experimental natural fibre dyeing we combined our permacultural knowledge and leadership training to propose an eco-printing quilt workshop series to Neighbourhood Small Grants with Vancouver Foundation.
The Eco-Printing Workshop series has been an enriching experience so far! Our workshops happen in the Greek Tank at Trillium North Park on the south edge of the Strathcona neighbourhood. This central location is an active site for inspiring community environmental art and education with access to shelter, water, electricity and a perennial garden.
The second workshop last Sunday (November 8th, 2015) was a part of the Heart of the City Festival which celebrated the non-profit organizations that respectfully manage the land. This includes eartHand Gleaners Society with the intention of teaching skills in sustainable harvesting, crop management and hand skills in using the plants harvested from the park. With help from the Vancouver Park Board: Arts Culture and Environmental Team, Environmental Youth Alliance also does pollinator related programming here. We are thrilled the be hosting the last workshop in the Green Tank again this Sunday (November 15th, 2015) between 9:30-1:30pm, rain or shine. We will be unravelling our eco-printed bundles and hand sewing the panels into a quilt/wall hanging with wool Xyla hand-dyed with elderberries.
Community Eco-Quilt: We chose to create a community quilt because it can be a metaphor of individuals creating collective community, secure in their identity within a multicultural society. People of many cultures and time periods have used quilting to pass down their traditions and history. Just as our families are unique when looked at separately, collectively we all contribute to the vitality of our community when woven together. The process of sewing our eco-printed patches together represents our journey of understanding interconnectedness in such a place with tolerance and unity in mind.
To celebrate the installation of the quilt in our community house, a free art opening happened at MPNH on Saturday November 21st between 5-9pm. Everyone grabbed a hand full of snacks and a drink at the cash bar to see community art and performances by the workshop participants! The show featured the Community Eco-Quilt, the Children’s Indigo Textile Workshop, the Means of Production garden “Fibre Libraries” and nature lanterns by Gloria Tsui and Catherine Shapiro, the Full Time Optimist, Emma Postl & Jeff Gammon, Tiddley Cove Morris Dancers, Wildheart Storytelling, Sarah FioRito, Chinook and the Legion of the Flying Monkeys Horn Orchestra. All for free with aim to build community.
It was the least we could do. Everybody involved had the chance to make a deeper connection with our community and land in the Strathcona and Mount Pleasant neighbourhoods. Through meeting a diverse group of different ages, race, economic status, language and physical or mental challenges, we learnt that connecting and respecting the land with community is one of the greatest tools we can share to gain a greater sense of place.
The rewards wouldn’t be possible without our Neighbourhood Small Grant and partnership with Means of Production (MOP), Environmental Youth Alliance, the EartHand Gleaners Society and Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House (MPNH). We’re astounded by your partnership and support! The community house highlighted our artist biographies on the cover of the MPNH newsletter, donated the east/west hall for the Community Variety Show and are featuring our quilt on the lobby fire mantel. Plus the Means of Production blog keeps you all updated. Together we continue to create collective community- the metaphor of our quilt. We couldn’t ask for more, thanks again!
If you have any photos, please upload them on this events page or Means of Production Artists Raw Resource Collective facebook page.
The Woad Project
What is woad? The woad plant (Isatis tinctoria), also known as Northern Indigo, is a famous natural dye and source of indigo. It has been used for several thousand years in Europe and the Middle East. Its spinach-like leaves produce an amazing dark blue-green colour. See more history here: http://www.woad.org.uk/html/woad_history.html
You will need the following: large stainless pot (I have a 10 litre pot); bucket; thermometer; rubber gloves; secateurs (curved pruning shears) to harvest leaves; pH test strips; soda ash; ice cubes for cooling water; colander for straining liquid; glass jars with lids; electric hand whisk, turkey baster, non stick baking tray; natural fibre.
- Harvest leaves closely to the base of the plant with secateurs: Using a scale I collected about 1250 grams to get a yield of 4grams of pigment.
- Wash them well under the tap: The leaves are rinsed, and chopped into large pieces. There is almost no blue dye in the stalks so you can remove the stalks if you have many leaves. *Storing: If you can’t process the woad right away, keep the leaves in a closed supermarket carrier bag in the shade. Do not put them in the fridge- I learnt this the hard way!
- Steeping the leaves: Fill the pot up to two-thirds full with rainwater or distilled water. Put on stove and cook water on medium heat until temperature reaches 194°F (90°C) . Reduce heat to bring temperature down to 176°F (80°C). Remove pot from heat and add the leaves into the pot. Allow leaves to soak and steep in water for 10 minutes. *Fill the sink with icy cold water while leaves are steeping in the pot.
- Put the pot in icy water to cool the temperature: According to Jenny Balfour-Paul, the liquid must cool down quickly, in order to prevent the woad from breaking down. Keep stirring the liquid to help bring the temperature down to 131°F.
- Straining the liquid: When the liquid reaches 131°F, place a colander or a sieve over a bucket. Pour the liquid and the cooked leaves into the colander and catch the liquid in the bucket. The soggy leaves are still quite warm to the touch, so put on rubber gloves and press hard on the leaves to extract most of the liquid. Pour the collected liquid back into the pot. The spent leaves are safe for the compost pile.
- Add soda ash: Fill a glass jar with a cup of very warm water and add 3 teaspoons of soda ash (see how to convert baking soda to soda ash below). Stir well until soda ash is dissolved. When the woad extraction liquid cools to 122°F , stir in the soda ash (temperature is critical, if the liquid is to hot it can destroy the blue pigment). You will notice the liquid turns to a greenish-brown color almost immediately; at this point your pH test strip should be 9, when dipped into the liquid.
- Aerate the vat: The greenish-brown liquid is now ready to be aerated to precipitate the pigment. To do this, I whisked the liquid on high for about 15 minutes with an electric whisk until the froth turned blue, and then to green again. Let the liquid sit for about an hour or so, then gently spoon the froth from the top and discard. The solution in the pot is dark green in colour.
- Let woad pigment to settle: The liquid should be left in the pot undisturbed for a few hours, to allow the pigment out of the solution. Once it’s ready, gently siphon (with the turkey baster) the top third of the liquid and discard. With the help of a funnel, pour the remaining liquid into glass jars. Cover the jars and place in the shade or cool place to let the sediment settle to the bottom of the jars (this can take 12-24 hours). After another 24 hours, gently siphon (e.g. turkey baster) the top clear layer of liquid until it is within an inch or two of the layer with sediment. Be careful not disturb the sediment layer too much. Do the same with the rest of the jars, then consolidate the contents from each jar into one.
- Concentrating the pigment: Let the liquid in the jar settle for a couple of hours. You may see a blue sludge at the bottom of the jar. Carefully empty 2/3 of the jar or siphon most of liquid away with a glass siphon. Then fill it again with clean water. Repeat two or three times more until the water above the blue sediment layer is clear enough to see. This is very exciting!
- Drying the pigment: Carefully, pour the rest of the clear water away, leaving the blue sediment at the bottom of the jar. Place a piece of wet silk over the non-stick baking tray. Pour the contents inside the jar on to the lined tray. Leave this out in a warm place to dry, undisturbed. After a day, the pigment dries up and you can gently scrap the blue pigment into a glass container for storage.
**If you want to dye happy, embrace this experimental process with no expectation. Sometimes it forces you to let go. The pallets of botanical alchemy, the whole process will continue surprise you. It’s known living colour for a reason.**
This year the bed is being used as a part of the Urban Cloth Project. A small patch of the space is planted with common milkweed, to be harvested for the ongoing fibre processing and spinning experiments and most of the bed has been planted with flax- a different strain from what was grown last year. This year we planted Marylin, an heirloom seed better suited to traditional hand processing methods.
We planted in late May
early days need lots of watering to get the flax started, then watering is way less necessary. We did one strong weeding when the plants were about 8 inches high, and otherwise just the leave the crops alone. It DID take us several weeding sessions before sowing to remove chickweed, goutweed, morning glory and running buttercup that just LOVE this garden! Our apple tree has gotten rather large and is shading out a big corner of the bed, I didn’t plant anything here as there is just not enough sun.
After a good weeding, it is survival of the fittest- or who can grow the tallest… there is a science to getting the flax dense enough to support itself and discourage later lodging of the crop- and not too dense, which gives a weaker fibre. Every step has implications for the final cloth quality. I try not to be overwhelmed.
looking good in July! nice dense crop- alas the milkweed seems to be not taking off the way I had hoped for- even with the intense heat we are having this year.
a small part of the crop has lodged- it looks like someone has walked into the crop- so I decide to do a test harvest with some of our work party volunteers… Some data suggests an early harvest gives finer fibre so we shall check that out. Last year’s electra seed was to be harvested 10 days after full bloom, which put it at a 70 day crop, this Marylin seed is best harvested 30 days after full bloom- so a 90 day crop. we are going to harvest the rest on September 1st- our harvest party! you can see the round seed heads in the photo have formed, now we just need the plant stocks to begin to gold.
Our August work party I sent folks on a treasure hunt to find dye plants and stuff jars for fibre dye tests. We left the jars in the sunny spot where we had pulled the flax- let the sun heat the jars and do the work with no other energy consumption.
This year I was the person using the artist residency bed at the Means of Production Garden. I used it to grow a variety of flax that is used to make linen.
In the spring I seriously had no idea what I was doing. I have grown many types of plants and I grew up on an orchard, so I am no stranger to gardening… but growing my own plant based fibre crop is something I had no real life experience with. Luckily there were a bunch of other people in the city doing a grow-a-long for flax this year.
In early spring we wedded the garden, and the next few weeks we wedded a few more times. When the bed was ready, and I was told by others in the time had come to seed, we threw seeds out! Netting was put up to protect the seeds from the local crows, and then it was just a matter of watering the garden until the plants were tall enough to harvest. (There was one day of weeding in there!)
The harvest- it was brilliant. The root system of a flax plant is very shallow, and they pull up easily. It really took no longer than thirty minutes, and it was ready to dry.
Since the harvest, the plants have been hanging outside my house on the porch to dry. In November I started the process of retting (rotting the stalks), and then processing the plants into fibre at the Urban Weaver’s studio. I have spun some of my fibre, and it is the best thing. Spinning fibre that I grew myself is an incredibly liberating thing!
Now it is just a matter of figuring out what to do with my linen yarn!
Art is Land Network Throughout the spring and summer of 2012 the MOPARCC residency garden became Art is Land’s “Live Lab” for artists’ co-collaborations with the soil.
We started by weeding and breaking up the ground then added a clam shell spiral and continued to test fresh ideas on a drop-in basis.
Two artists worked in the top annual garden bed this season.
The Natural Horn Project
For eight years, Vancouver artist, Mr. Fire-Man has been constructing large chambered, experimental woodwind instruments (mostly horns) from locally sourced materials.
Until recently, his most reliably found, lightest, most acoustically perfect material has been the dried stem of the giant cow parsnip (heracleum mantegazzianum). Giant cow parsnip, or Hogweed as it is locally known, is, unfortunately an aggressive invasive with one bad characteristic – skin contact can lead to a very nasty rash called bullous photodermatitus, basically a bad sunburn. (Some of us found this out the hard way but learned to wear gloves and a raincoat during harvest.)
Fast forward to the last few years. The City of Vancouver and most of her neighbouring cities have embarked upon a Hogweed Extermination Plan with crews sent out to chop down all potential horn harvests long before this author can respond and collect said stalks. Even private properties are being targeted. Watch some propoganda:
The resulting lack of available potential horn chambers has led to two new directions for Mr. Fire-Man’s work at the Means of Production Garden. The first, visitors to the park may notice, is the pollarding of one of the Empress trees in order to grow hardwood, lightweight, chambered new growth, an excellent horn source that should be very straight and desirable. The other plan is to build trellises and grow extra-long handled dipper gourds that dangle down from said trellises and form into lovely, horn shaped fruits. Stay tuned for updates!
Jardin Biologique #9 – Potager de Resistance
After more than 30 years of clinical and academic work as a psychiatrist, I am beginning a new career. I obtained my Bachelor in Fine arts at the Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver and my Masters in Fine Arts (Sculpture) at Concordia University. Science and Arts share the goal of furthering our understanding of human existence. My projects draw on Bio Art, installation and Relational Aesthetics. In Root Laboratory Project I form sculptures with roots.
In May 2009, I planted my first potager de resistance in the courtyard of the Visual Arts Building of Concordia University The concept was inspired by Gilles Clement’s Jardin de Resistance. This project introduced a collaborative dependency with living food to investigate sociopolitical and spiritual issues. Its’ beauty emerged and asserted itself over the polluting objects. Paradise is here, despite us. Its simplicity and economy questioned the need for our complex interventions in nature.
In April 2011, I will plant my second potager de resistance in the Means of Production Gardens.This vegetable garden will express itself and change unpredictably and continuously. It cannot be controlled precisely yet it depends on us. We feed it and protect it. It will feed us. We share decisions but it has the last word. We can watch it transform, smell and taste it. I will plant vegetables in containers found in recycling bins. They are not planted in rows but intermingled without a specific pattern. Found objects and wooden posts support them with text on them, such as: nothing is lost – nothing is created- all is transformation. Their fruits will show their scars, blemishes and are proudly unique. Beauty is edible. Some of the vegetables will be trapped in found plastic containers. Some rebel and break out of the containers. Some submit and shape themselves to the forms. The potager de resistance does not care about market economy and produces the most with the least, for the people close to it; mindful of their relationship with it. Nature recycles everything. Resistance is futile.