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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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Natural Dyes with Mimi and California Country Magazine…

It is nice to be connected with people who promote my photography, since I don’t do a good job of promoting myself. Ever since I returned from London, I have been meaning to take my portfolio around to magazines in the area, but I just haven’t gotten to it yet.

But luckily, Mimi, my soon-to-be-mother-in-law, is an amazing person with a wonderful lifestyle that magazines want to write about. So when Brandon, from California Country Magazine, called her and said they wanted to do a story about her and her natural dying process, she said, “I have just the photographer for you.”

It was so fun to have a taste of what real magazine work, and budgets, are like. The magazine gave me a shot list and an exact number of photos that they wanted… and when Brandon asked me if I would be “ok” with their day rate… I had to try and remain cool and not act surprised…. yeah, I guess that’ll do.

These are just some of my favorites from the day and what I learned about natural dying…

First… collect your plant material… Mimi uses black walnuts, dahlias, onion skins, marigolds and tansy (shown below.)

Here is a super simplified instruction list for making your own natural dyes:

Put your material in your pot…

bring it to boil…

cook for an hour…

strain it…

let it cool…

add a mordant (Mimi uses nontoxic mordants like alum and cream of tarter)…

add your pre-soaked wool…

bring to boil again…

cook for an hour…

cool in dye…

rinse until water runs clear…

and hang to dry.

Thanks to: Mimi for promoting me, and to California Country Magazine for giving me the opportunity to work on this project. I hope it is just the beginning of my magazine assignments.

You can buy Mimi’s beautiful natural dyed wool at the Pt. Reyes Farmers’ Market in front of Toby’s Feed Barn on Saturdays, or she will soon be at the Marin Civic Center Farmers’ Market on Sundays.

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!

Featuring Bulky Knits

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These are some of the fun shots from our Wool Farm Fashion – Shoot #2 (to see session #1 click here.)This time we were doing product shots, which isn’t as fun for me as working with farmers/models, but it is still pretty fun. It is much harder than you would think to make everything look perfect but natural and beautiful at the same time. But I think we are off to a good start.

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Marlie was inspired by the rows farmers make in their agricultural fields near her home in West Marin for this sweater.

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Not only is Marlie a fiber artist, but she is also a fantastic ceramicist. So it is really cool that she has found a way to combine her two arts into one, like in the sweater above.

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And finally Cassie, the love-monster, helps us out by doing what she does best. Although, you can’t tell from the photo, Cassie is completely stressed out at this moment. I saw her sleeping there and decided it would be a good photo… and of course as soon as we starting moving unwanted background objects out of the way, she decided she should move too… so we had to convince her that staying still was a better idea. In the end, I think she understood us when we promised her lots of diet breaking treats as soon as it was all over.

To find more of Marlie’s handwovens and ceramic creations go to her store in Pt Reyes Station… Blackmountain Weavers.


More Sheep Shearing with the Rollei…

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I just got around to scanning these, they are from the sheep shearing day I wrote about earlier. Those photos are digital and these are from the beloved Rollei.

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Look at the detail in the ringlets…. I love it. But as you can see, I still need to work on how to use the Rollei because…..

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….. you look through the top lens, but photograph through the one below, so you don’t get exactly what you see in the viewfinder and therefore I don’t have the sheep’s feet. I guess that means I have to practice. That word practice used to make me cringe when it was said by my childhood piano teacher or my basketball coach but now it makes me excited, so I think that is a good sign.

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