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Follow my adventures in natural dyes

Solar: A Harvest Dye Study

Megan Roach

I'm so excited to be in the third day of Solar: A Harvest Dye Study!  Here's some information about the most recent dye study that Elyse Welcher and myself are doing.  You can read our Solar Notes for more information as Artprize progesses.

        The artists of Team Solar, Megan Roach and Elyse Welcher, are Grand Rapids, MI fibers and traditional craft artisans that have been practicing in natural dye work and installation art together for the past 5 years. They also are owners of handcrafted artisan accessory businesses, where they put their craft practices to use creating functional goods from fiber and leather.

        “Solar: A Harvest Dye Study,” is a culmination of research and experimentation with natural dyes that have been previously utilized in the creation of functional goods and fine art in their making practices.  For ArtPrize 7,    Megan and Elyse wanted to bring this long-time study and accumulation of knowledge to the public in a way that engages with their audience for the duration of the event, and shares the harvest of our region’s natural color palette beyond creating products. 

        Traditional natural dyeing is done on the stove-top, and is a relatively quick procedure- solar dyeing, on the other hand, is an ancient dyeing technique that requires extensive soaking of the fibers, and can last for weeks to months, depending on the desired results. Thus, “Solar: A Harvest Dye Study,” is a time-based work that is particularly suited to the structures of ArtPrize; with 18 days of time for the dyes to soak with the yarn, the requirements for daily open venue hours where the experiment is happening, how it falls during the prime of autumn harvest season- all of these things provide an ideal scenario in which this artful science can take place.
By taking samples and documenting them via the loom and our combined physical and digital notes, it is both science and art, a cross-over study between two arenas that are often considered disparate by the general public.
Via ArtPrize, we seek to share our knowledge, educate our audience, and demonstrate our passion for this ancient craft of harvesting color. 

The Experiment:

The power of the sun will heat up the glass
jars of dye matter, and change the color of yarn
throughout the 18 days of the Artprize competition. 

Michigan harvested dye matters used (90 grams per jar)
    + Marigold
    + Daylilies
    + Hibiscus
    + Goldenrod
    + Crushed walnuts
    + Crushed acorns
    + Inner birch bark
    + Apple bark

Other Materials:
720 grams of merino wool
8 gallon sized glass jars
4 stainless steel bowls
stainless steel utensils

Solar dyeing is a process
in which the sun is used to heat up
jars that contain natural dye matter and yarn in order
to release the color from the matter to dye the yarn. 
This is a slow process for dyework in which
dye jars can be left in the sun for a few days to a
few months in order to obtain complex colors.

Nine, 10 gram skeins are placed in each gallon glass jar.
These skeins have been soaked in an alum mordant bath in order
to open up the fiber to accept the dye.  The jars are filled with
90 grams of dye matter and filled to the top with cool water. 
This recipe allows for equal weights of dye matter to yarn while
allowing for plenty of space for movement in the jars.

The jars are then placed in the window of Parliament the Boutique
for the duration of Artprize.  A 10 gram skein will be
pulled every 48 hours from the jars and left to dry
before they are woven on a four harness loom.

    The results will be shown through a
series of nine weavings that will be woven throughout the course
of Artprize.  Each weaving will represent a 48 hour period in which
a sample from each jar have been pulled out, washed, and dried.
These samples will be woven in the same stripe pattern every time to
show the progression of color throughout the 18 days of Artprize.

Union No. 36

Megan Roach

I recently purchased a new loom.  Yes another loom to add to my collection and yes I may have an addiction to acquiring looms.  It is often a temptation that I resist when my weaver’s guild sends out an email showing off a loom for sale, but this one I could not pass up.  

I like the idea of breathing new life into a  loom that has sat dormant in a corner of a basement for decades.  Looms are fascinating machines that haven’t changed much over time.  A simple foot powered pulley system allows for the change of sheds, and the beams and wheels allow control over the perfect tension. They are sturdy, made of wood and metal accents, and they last a long time.

My new loom is a Union No. 36 rug loom from the mid 1930s.  The Union No.36 was built in Boonvile New York out of an abandoned high school that was converted into Union Speciality Works in 1911.  The Union loom was made to be efficient and economical, perfect for the housewife that wanted to make a little extra money.  A union loom could be purchased for $39.95 and that included 10 yards of warp already wound up on the wheel!

The user manual for this loom was fascinating.  A few pages discussed overall set up of the loom followed by a couple pages discussing color and patterns, but the most interesting part of the manual was the last half that discussed the process of creating your own weaving business.  

I enjoy learning about the personal history of a loom as well as the history of its production.  This loom was bought by a mother of six children in the mid 1930s.  She used the loom to make ends meet and to save money while her husband was at work.  She made rugs for neighbors and friends who would bring their old rags to her to weave.   I love the idea of  contributing your own rags and sheets to a weaver and getting a rug made of the rags, it just makes the rug and the connection to the weaver more personal.  My loom was later passed to the daughter of the original owner, and the person that I bought the loom from.  For a decade or so she made and sold denim rugs that were made on the loom with her sister, and then the loom was put in a corner of a basement with little to no use.  

This brings us to the loom’s new chapter with me!  I bought this loom less than a week before my collection release, and I have to say that I have the best studio mates/business partners/ friends around because Jake and Elyse  helped me bring this loom to its studio home.  Not only did they help me move this loom, but they helped me completely dismantle it in a basement and reassemble it in the studio.  I’m sure there would have been pictures of the process if we hadn’t been excited to get the loom put back together so we could get back to work on our collections that were due in a few days!

This loom is now a part of my growing fleet of looms.  It only has two harnesses and two pedals but it has a sectional warping beam perfect for very long warps (it currently has a baby warp on it of  only 10 yards). I’m excited to start offering naturally dyed rag rugs made on this loom and be a part of the next chapter of women who have used this loom to create beautiful rugs.

2015 Adventure Textiles Collection and the Marsala Series

Megan Roach

The 2015 Adventure Textiles collection has been released!  I created a few new pieces to go with the popular bandana cowl and side snap cowl.  I designed a baltic style woven bow set and a woven cuff.  I've also begun to learn how to card weave and now I have a woven belt and key clip that utilizes that technique.  A new cotton summer cowl has also been added to the line up and it features an open work leno style weave.  

I've decided to work with different color series within the 2015 collection.  The first color series is the Marsala Series.  This series was inspired by the the large dye study that Elyse Welcher and I did in January.  We achieved our goal of finding a natural marsala as well as discovery 23 other beautiful natural colors.  I used six of those colors on four different materials to make each piece in this series.  I plan on introducing a new special edition color series in the fall that will features harvest dyes so stay tuned for that!

Keep an eye out for future posts on the 2015 Parliament Tour and new posts in the Natural Marsala blog series.  

Hope you enjoy my new collection and color series!