It is the time of year in our part of the world when winter seems to have us firmly in its grasp. Fall is ancient history and springtime, green grass and frolicking lambs are still so far away. And, by the way, it does not help that it is also cold! Nonetheless the first week of January can also be a wonderful time. Even more predictable than the return of Bluebirds in March, the seed and garden catalogs all seem to arrive. They are like a warm breeze out of nowhere. It is time to plan and dream of next spring’s and summer’s vegetables and flowers. Our favorite catalog is often from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine. Like most seed catalogs available today, Johnny’s is available online. Yet somehow, having a printed catalog in front of you is akin to reading a good book, which you can pick up, read for a time and come back to later. The cover of Johnny’s catalog this year is especially “warming”: strings of red and orange hot peppers.
The arrival of the seed catalogs also has complemented the project that is nearing completion on the large Glimåkra loom in our studio. It is the fourth in a series of blankets which will be for sale in the Gallery. They are woven in blocks of warp-faced and weft-faced twill. The original blanket utilized various shades of our natural colored wool in the warp and white in the weft. The subsequent blankets have substituted various naturally dyed yarn for some of the gray shades. The dyes for the last two blankets have come from plants from either our vegetable and flower gardens, or from plants which grow wild somewhere on the farm. The current blanket includes yarn dyed from artichokes (three different shades), purple bearded iris blossoms, carrot peels and the berries from buckthorn (two shades).
Weaving the current blanket is a gentle reminder of last year’s gardens. In the case of each of the vegetables that we used for dying the materials were merely left-overs. We had great success growing artichokes in 2008; the dye stuff was merely the juices that remained after cooking the artichokes. The iris blossoms were collected after a strong wind storm knocked most of them over. We thought for sure that the dye color would be in the purple range, but surprisingly came out a bright yellow-green. The buck thorn is an alien shrub/tree, the spread of which we are trying to control. We can collect their berries without fear of endangering a native plant. In fact collecting the berries will, in a small way slow down the spread of the buck thorn. Their purple berries yielded lovely shades of brown, a pleasant reward for trying to control an alien plant. One of the wonderful characteristics of natural dyes is that their colors always seem to compliment each other (unlike many chemical dyes which can clash). As a result, the blanket is a warm mix of colors which, in its totality, is a pleasant reminder of summer.