Tuesday, August 31, 2004

"Fabulous dye job," she said modestly.

Yes, the fabric turned out beautifully. Much credit is due to Peggy for her patient guidance. Rinsing the excess dye out of the fabric was a horrible job, though, and I spent hours Sunday afternoon bent over a bucket in my backyard plunging the fabric in and out of water which I had to refresh constantly. (Before anyone gets upset about the dye going into the ground, Peggy assured me that it would not be harmful.) We used red, purple and orange to paint the fabric, but orange seemed to be all that was washing out of it. I actually became discouraged towards the end, thinking I had done something wrong and it would bleed until the fabric turned white, but that didn't happen. (Although I may have cheated and done the first machine wash a tad prematurely ... no harm though, it turned out, as I've said, beautifully.)

The actual result is an earthy mix of red and orange and tan with swathes of purple and blues(where did they come from?) floating through. I had originally wanted to cut it up and embroider lap labyrinths on it, but I can't do that now, it is too pretty by far. So I will make a dress or perhaps a large shawl. It happens that I have a lovely macrame necklace that an ex-roommate (Marilyn Meinheit) made for me (or perhaps I bought it from her ... who can remember?) in 1971 or 1972 that matches the fabric so perfectly you'd think I planned it. I didn't. The necklace is on a gold torque and is kind of triangular, hangs down about 6 inches, and has burnt orange and brick red beads on it. So I think I'll make a dress with a nice scooped neckline to show off the necklace. As soon as Michael, my husband, gets a minute, I'm going to have him take a digital photo and post them on my website. If anyone has a pattern to suggest, let me know. I've been on the pattern websites looking for just the right thing. I have less than 2 yards though, so nothing flouncy.

Around 1982, I participated in a charity fashion show and wore a chamois-colored dress with a scooped neck that looked really great with that necklace. People suggested strongly that I buy it, but the dress was quite pricey and I didn't feel I could afford it, so I passed. I've never found the right thing again. And I hardly ever wear the necklace, although I like to look at it. So I must seize this moment!

On to another subject, I've decided to quit combing my hair. This is a direct result of rinsing the dye out of the fabric on Sunday. Houston is hot, I sweated copiously for a couple of hours, and my hair got, naturally, very damp. I have wavy hair. Clarification: Now that I live in Houston, I have wavy hair. When I lived in North Dakota and California, my hair hung as straight as a stick. I usually blow it dry to get it straight here, too, then comb or brush it neatly. I am a tidy person. Most days, I would have showered when I came in from the yard, but I had to run my fabric through the washer twice to finish it and I didn't want a cold shower, so I did the Sunday crossword and waited. Surprise, surprise, my hair dried out wavy and lovely and full. (This is important because I have lupus, which has thinned my hair over the years, a sad development I can't do anything about.) So I decided I would stop blow-drying or even combing my hair except for finger combing. Michael thinks I'm nuts, but I can prove I'm not. I had brunch with a friend today (haven't combed my hair since Sunday, although I've washed it) and she exclaimed, "You look so good! I love your new haircut." So I think I'm on to something here. Why do we treat our hair so harshly, anyway?

Ciao for now.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Good Book, But I'm Still Confused

I finished "The Jewel in the Crown," but I'm still confused about who the mysterious stranger is. I thought by the end we would know who cared enough to investigate the twenty year-old events depicted, but no, the author kept his secrets, with a hint or two that are just too subtle for me. I guess if you have a four-book series, you have to do something to keep people reading.

The book is well worth your while, though. It's an older novel and probably not in print, but check libraries or used book stores. It deals with the end of the British era in India. This is referred to as the "Raj," a term I had not heard applied in this way before, so I will probably learn a lot reading the books. (I should thank my friend Teri for loaning the set to me.) It is written in a very formal British style that I rarely see in contemporary fiction.

The book reminded me of "The Years with Laura Diaz," a panoramic view of Mexican history through most of the 20th century written by Carlos Fuentes. I learned more about Mexico's history, especially its political history, in that book than I ever did in school (and I've spent a lot of time in school!). Of course, the history takes second place to the fine writing Fuentes provides. Don't you just love to read a good book?

Note: Tomorrow afternoon I get to unwrap my dyed fabric and see what my results are. Wish me luck. If it's really good, I'll put a photo on my web site and tell you how to get there.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Colorful Day in the Country: I Dyed!

What an interesting day. I drove over 60 miles, to the other side of Houston, to visit my friend Peggy's design studio. It's located in the converted loft of an old barn on her property and rigged up for her work as a fiber artist. She primarily does surface design, which means that she takes plain fabric and turns it into something spectacular. Two years ago she invited me to "play" in her studio and I dyed a piece of white muslin with yellow dye. We scrunched the fabric around a huge tube and the dye made swirls and ripples. It actually came out brownish with a faint earthy yellow background.

Peggy told me to come back and finish the piece by "over-dyeing" it, but somehow two years slipped away and I never got around to it. But now I want the fabric for a special project - creating lap labyrinths - so I off I went. The technique we used today was surface painting. After soaking the fabric in soda ash water for ten minutes, we wrung it out and laid it wet on Peggy's huge work table, which had plastic sheeting across the top of it. My fabric is at least a yard long and 60 inches wide, so it hung over the edges a little, but during the process we moved it around so everything got painted.

I really didn't understand the process. I'm a writer, not an artist, and I kept wondering what I could possibly paint that would look any good. I decided on red, purple and orange dye and Peggy showed me how to make it with "chemical water." We used a foam brush about two inches wide for each tub of dye and just had at it, painting in swoops and swirls and dabs and splatters, making sure that each color was balanced on the fabric. By the time we were done (Peggy had to make more red dye!) the whole piece of cloth was soaking wet and vividly colored, with dyes running together to form interesting new colors.

Peggy surprised me then by rolling up the yardage in the plastic like a sausage, then rolling it again into a tight pinwheel. She wrapped that up in more plastic, double bagged it in plastic shopping bags and told me to let it sit at home for two days before opening it. So on Sunday afternoon I get to find out what I made. I'll have to rinse it a lot, then wash it twice before the outcome is certain. I'm sure I'll like it, but I'm told that if I don't, to just come back and we'll try something else. Apparently you can "discharge" the dye from the fabric with the right technique and start again. It stimulates my creativity to learn new things. I certainly have renewed respect for Peggy and all artists doing surface design.

I'm still trying to finish "The Jewel in the Crown." I only have 50 or so pages to go. Then three more books in the series ... Oh, well, I love to read. I am doing a lot of writing these days, too. I have been very prolific since I took a creativity workshop from my friend and artistic collaborator Kay. That's another post.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Books I'm Reading

Right now, I am reading "The Raj Quartet," a HUGE book that consists of four related novels by Paul Scott about India and its quest for independence from Great Britain. I'm currently in "The Jewel in the Crown" which is the first of the four. Character-driven, it shifts viewpoints from chapter to chapter, thereby giving the reader an excellent perspective on the different ways that the same events were viewed by different people. There is a mysterious "investigator" who is the prompt for several of the stories and I am wracking my brain trying to figure out who he is. (We do know he's a he.) I'm on page 325 of 450, so I may be in suspense for a while.