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Gathering Color… and Portraits of Fiber Artists…

I attended a natural dye workshop in Missouri with Rebecca Burgess, for her book on natural dyes. While the landscape and the plants were definitely pretty…

…I often found myself distracted by the other people in the workshop.

I know that these portraits will not make it in this book, but maybe the next book can be about Natural Dyers… because I have found them to be a pretty visually unique group of people.

This is how we do it, and you can do it too…

Nature created amazing plants.

Rebecca Burgess dyed wool into cool colors… with the amazing plants that nature created.

Heidi Iverson designed patterns and knit fun gloves and a blanket… with the wool that Rebecca Burgess dyed into cool colors… from the amazing plants that nature created.

Beautiful ladies and cute children modeled the fun gloves and blanket that Heidi Iverson designed and knit… with the wool that Rebecca Burgess dyed into cool colors… from the amazing plants that nature created.

I took photos of the beautiful ladies and cute children… who modeled the fun gloves and blanket that Heidi Iverson designed and knit… with the wool that Rebecca Burgess dyed into cool colors… from the amazing plants that nature created.

All of this teamwork is for Rebecca Burgess’s book about creating dyes with native plants from the different regions in the United States. Her ultimate goal is to help people become more aware about their fiber-shed, which means thinking about wearing clothes that are made locally, just like the food we eat. Through her book, Rebecca hopes to show people how easy it is to create vibrant colors and cool clothes from the plants that are in our own environment.

It has been a fantastic project to work on and I can’t wait to see how all this teamwork comes out in the end.

Gathering Color in Arizona…

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For the next year, I will be working with Rebecca Burgess, ecological artist and writer, on her book Gathering Color. The book will teach people how to create natural dyes, from native plants in their region, for their fiber arts projects. In order for the book to have national appeal, we are traveling to as many different geographic regions as we can, to work with locals who use native plants for their own fiber creations.

Our first adventure was to the Navajo Reservation in Window Rock, Arizona. It was my first time in the Navajo Nation, so I did a little more documenting than was necessary for the book, but I couldn’t help myself. Not only were the urban and natural landscapes so visually interesting, but also it was Inter-Tribal Ceremonial weekend and National Navajo Code Talkers Day, so there was a lot going on.

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Our adventure was divided between two days. One day for hunting and gathering, and one day for dyeing.

Our day of plant hunting began bright and early on Friday morning and it involved lots of driving, climbing under barbed wire fences, digging for wild carrots, walking on endless plateaus of sage, and discovering Navajo Tea in an incredible Navajo Veterans’ cemetery at sunset.

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To link the traditional Navajo plants with the traditional Navajo wool, we also went on a search for the rare Navajo-Churro Sheep. We found a herd at the Hubbell Trading Post, where we learned how the US government almost killed off the breed completely, on two different occasions, and consequently devastated the Navajo people, who depended on the sheep for survival. It is absolutely amazing that both the Navajo and the Churro still exist today.

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Day two…our dyeing day, was spent at Rose’s house, where we were welcomed by a chorus of cute dogs and a few of her fourteen grandchildren, who she is raising with the help of her husband, Henry.

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When Rebecca and I arrived, we found Rose already getting the pots ready over the fire pit. Once the water started to boil, it was on. Everyone had to work quickly in the heat and smoke. I learned that dyeing wool with natural dyes is about finding the perfect balance between plant matter, wool, time, heat, and water, in order to get the perfect color.

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If you are curious to know more about the people, the process, and the plants, visit Rebecca’s blog: http://ecologicalartist.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/desert-harvest/. Rebecca took lots of good notes about Rose’s story, and about the plants that Rose’s family has been using for so many generations.

It is really really nice to work with writers who focus on the details, while I get to focus on the visuals. I wish all my projects came with talented writers. Thank you Rebecca and Kitty for this amazing opportunity.

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Ecological Arts – Simple is Better

Recently I received a phone call from a young woman who asked if I could photograph her textiles. My immediate response was, “Well, you may want a studio photographer. Someone who is better at making things look perfect. I only use natural light and my favorite studio is a barn.”

And she said, “Perfect.”

Then she went on to describe what she does and I said, “Perfect.”

Rebecca Burgess is her name, and Ecological Arts is her business. Rebecca creates textiles with fiber that is produced and dyed using sustainable practices. An example of a sustainable fiber that she uses is vegan silk. Vegan silk is made from cocoons after the worms have emerged; instead of the traditional silk that is made by boiling the cocoons with the the worms still in them…. a fun new farming practice to add to the list.

So Rebecca is doing super cool work with communities around the world, including the community she lives in, and she is making beautiful works of art that she wanted photographed in a natural way…. so we went to the barn. I tried a couple of other spots first, and they were ok… but the barn was the best. Simple, complimentary colors, and without wicker furniture to move out of the way.

This last photo is cool, because she is dying the wool with native California plants like coyote brush and coffee berry. She wanted this photo to demonstrate how protecting our native plants and planting with our native plants is not only beneficial for the soil, water table, and native animals, but it also can be fun to use for your next sustainable wool creation. Yay Rebecca!

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