Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'll Be Dyeing At Christmas, Reprise

I could probably retrofit these to Japanese motifs, but that's not how I found them.

Instead, I got bored and just started folding and tying.

The towel above was folded in half and then tied in a complex flower petal kind of fold. The top motif was on the outside when the towel was dyed, and displays the intended flower pattern. The bottom motif, surprisingly, delightfully, has lost both the upright and cross pieces almost completely and is a grand and glorious purple flaming X.

This is why untying shibori is like Christmas. Every piece turns out differently from how you imagined it. Wonderfully, gloriously different. (And sometimes, particularly when you're just starting out, disastrously "Wow, I just wasted my money on clothes I wouldn't be caught dead in" different.)

But then, I've seen normal and I don't like it, and my kids' mom dresses them funny.

A fairly decent chevron-y fold with pretty good pleat action.

I have no idea what I was thinking when I tied the above one. No clue. It was almost 2 years ago and I was at a party. The fold looked kind of like it wanted to be itajime, but it's definitely struck off on its own.

Not only that, but it uses two colors that I have decided I don't like but have therefore not quite managed to use up. The maroon bleeds well but is ugly with everything. The mustard is so ugly that even mixing it 3:1 with delicious golden brown could not dim its ugliness.

A candidate for overdyeing with something like turquoise.

Chocolate-covered cherries anyone?

Seriously, I like that fold. A lot. If I can figure out how I did it, I'll do it again.

And yes, I did go a little overboard on the hot pink. I like its bleed action.

I have managed to painstakingly imitate itajime without using a folding technique anything like it.

I could make a wicked Scottish flag with that fold. Or the crossbones for a skull-and-.

On the Origins of Paisley

The spiral fold is NOT a traditional Japanese shibori motif. I've never seen an example of it in Japanese resist dyeing, although it is in some ways similar to yanagi (weeping willow). Both types pleat around a point at the center of the fabric, although yanagi pleats come straight out from the center while spiral pleats swirl around it.

Be that as it may, the spiral pattern is easy to tie (once you know what you're doing), easy to dye, reliable, and very popular.

It also screams TIE-DYE! to people, so I never ever dye them in rainbow primaries or psychedelic colors.

I especially love the spiral pattern on beach towels -- great for surfers. Wave action right there on your towel.

And four of them on a tea towel make beautiful mandalas.

Love the ways the colors came together in that one -- crisp instead of muddy and with interesting bleeding from one color to the other.

While I was photographing these tea towels, I thought "Whoa, paisley."

Soft and blurry or sharply defined.

When you tie a spiral, you get a paisley.

Maybe my very favorite of the whole batch. Really crisp pleat-and-bleed action with a feathery/watery feel to it.

This is giving me flashbacks to the 60s even though they ended when I was 8.

Like wow, man.
Two renditions of yamamichi (mountain trail) shibori:

This is one of the most fun and most forgiving of shibori patterns. Just meander over the cloth, pleating in zig-zags, bind and then dye each section a different color. Always turns out beautiful, especially on women's shirts.

Now a selection of omasu (large square) motifs:

Omasu often reminds me of stained-glass windows.

The pleating and color bleeding in these three tea towels reminds me of rays of light scattered by the colored glass in a cathedral.

Concentric ne-maki (thread-bound ring) motifs doing another imitation of a cathedral window:

Dyeing for Christmas

Three samples of itajime (board-clamped) shibori:

With itajime, I prepare the cloth as meticulously as I can, dye very carefully, and hold my breath when it comes time to unwrap.

These three all came out very nicely, without missing motifs or excessive bleed-through.

Like many traditional Japanese dyeing techniques, itajime leaves a lot of white space. In this case, however, I'm happy to let it be instead of resorting to additional dye baths.

Next, the ultra-simple te-sup (thread-bound stripe) motifs:

Dyeing All Day

For the past 10 years, I've been dabbling in the Japanese art of shibori, a traditional shaped resist dyeing.

Traditional shibori artists tied bolts of cotton or silk into complex patterns and then vat-dyed them to produce beautiful fabrics for kimonos. Each bolt of cloth might be tied into one pattern, dyed, untied, and then tied into a different pattern and dyed in a different color. This process might be repeated as many as 30 times, after which time the cloth was ready to be sewn into a kimono and embroidered. The production of a special kimono often took decades of work.

I use traditional shibori techniques (and a few modern tie-dye techniques that do not appear to have been derived from shibori dyeing) with modern materials and dyes. I use rubber bands instead of silk thread (usually) and squirt the dyes on instead of immersing the fabric in vats. I dye finished items instead of raw bolts of cloth.

This year, tea towels for Christmas presents.

I've been tying this batch of towels for about the past 2 years. Yesterday was dye day.

The first one here is as close to traditional as I get: kumo (spiderweb) and ne-maki (thread-resisted ring) motifs on simple cloth dyed in a color rather close to indigo:

The second is a large kumo (spiderweb) motif dyed in a single color. The turquoise is the bleeding from the aquamarine dye.

The next three all all arashi (wind-driven rain) designs. The cloth is wrapped around a pole, forced into pleats and then dyed. In traditional shibori, each cloth would be vat-dyed in one color. I used three for each cloth.

The large white areas in this first piece cry for a second dye bath, don't they? Traditional shibori techniques often left much of the cloth undyed, the better to dye the cloth again with different motifs later on.

This piece also has white areas that might welcome embellishment over over-dyeing with a pale color.

Whereas this last one is good to go.


Merlin, cutting the dough for lussekaat

One of the truly lovely things about having older children is the way they run with family traditions.

Garry took the boys up to the farm up the road to cut our Christmas tree while I was at a conference. They did save the job of stringing the lights on the tree for me, but the boys did all the decorating.

We got together with homeschooling friends to make tree ornaments (another family tradition).  Malcolm also made snickerdoodles, a holiday tradition in this family. One of the children used to love to chant "snickerdoodle dough" and so it always makes us laugh when someone says "snickerdoodle dough."

On December 11, Malcolm and I mixed the dough for lussekaat (Santa Lucia day saffron buns). During the process, we had a long talk about yeast biochemistry, the importance of gluten, and how kneading and rising develop the stretchy gluten structure that makes wheat bread so wonderful.

As we were pouring the yeast into the warm oat milk, honey, and saffron mixture (heaven, in other words), I talked about how you can tell whether your yeast is still alive by seeing how much it bubbles up when you activate it. I asked Malcolm what gas he thought was in the bubbles.

"I don't know," he said at first.

"Well, yeast breaks apart carbohydrates to get energy."

"Oh. So the gas must be carbon dioxide then."

This led to a discussion about how the little air pockets in bread are from the carbon dioxide given off by the yeast, and how quick breads use a chemical process (which he knows well) to do the same thing that we're using a biological process to accomplish in yeast breads.

As we kneaded, I showed him how to gently pull the dough into paper-thin sheets to test to see whether the gluten was fully developed.

Malcolm has the science background now to visualize what's happening in the kitchen. This is fun and exciting for both of us; it gives us another way to connect over the creation of food.

He, Matisse, and Merlin rolled the bits of dough into kuse and lussekaat shapes.

I have really been enjoying the children and feeling blessed to be their mother.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reusable Trumps Recyclable

About 25 years ago, I got hip to the idea that single-use items are extravagantly wasteful. We switched to cloth grocery bags, cloth napkins, cloth handkerchiefs, and washable clean-up rags around that time. We also bought our milk in returnable bottles and tried to limit purchases of items with excessive packaging.

When the babies came, we used cloth diapers, even on international trips. We went through not quite one box of single-use diapers in the course of raising four children.

Recently, I've been looking to see if we can do just a little more. I've brought my own commuter mugs for purchased drinks for years, but decided that I can go the extra mile and bring my own to-go containers, too. I've carried my own cloth handkerchiefs and have just decided that each child can carry a cloth napkin in her backpack.

I've been replacing our old tupperware with glass and metal storage containers at home, and decided to move several old tupperware containers to the car to act as to-go containers.

The new to-go containers debuted at the local natural foods supermarket, where one was used to hold a deli sandwich. Several of the employees were enthusiastic about this, and I expected my family to be similarly happy.

I showed my husband the container I used for the sandwich, and explained the strategy to him. 

“No more wasteful paper sandwich wrappers,” I exulted.

“The paper is recyclable,” he noted.

About an hour later, I thought, “But reusable trumps recyclable!”

Sticker Shock

or How Much Is that Bimbo in the Mirror?

Something has happened to me over the past few months, just as I've been closing in on 70 pounds down, normal weight, and looking and feeling really good.

A couple of months ago, I had to go shopping for new pants. None of my pants fit any more, not even my 15-year-old “skinny” pants. So I went shopping, thinking that I would be delighted to get back into a nice pair of 14s.

The 14s were clearly too big, so I picked up a pair of 12s. The 12s were just a bit loose. Somehow, however, I couldn't bring myself to try a size 10. My daughters wear size 10, and it would be too much of a shock for my brain to go there.

I bought some size 12s, and they'll certainly do me over the winter, even if they are pretty darned loose around the waist.

I came home and saw my daughter's blue corduroys in the wash. I picked them up and put them on, and they actually fit. A bit tight just out of the wash, perhaps, but overall a good fit.

Then I put on some rocking tunes, my new jeans, and danced around the dining room. I reveled in my reflection in the sliding glass door, dancing. Could that really be me, there, that leggy curvaceous person with the impish grin on her face?

Another double-take. I catch glimpses of my own body — my figure striding by a shop window, my leg draped over my husband's chest, my naked shoulder out of the corner of my eye — and I think “Who is that? It can't be me!”

A while ago, someone casually mentioned that it's hard to know what your rear end looks like. That got me curious about the view of my current backside. After my next shower, I twisted around so I could see my butt in the mirror.

“Aughh! It looks like a come-on for a porn site!”

I made a face at the bimbo in the mirror and stalked off to get dressed.

Meanwhile, I've been essentially plateauing for the past few months. The moving averages show me losing about a pound, a pound and a half a month, way below the 3-pound-per-month pace that has been my average during the past 2 years.

162 gets me to 70 pounds down, and I think there's something about that number that just makes my brain go "Whoa! I can't deal with that! Hold up and let me catch my breath, will you?"

So I've been doing that, trying to stay with my program and not stressing too much about the current plateau. In this long journey, my mind and my body probably deserve the occasional rest period, time to re-group, catch up on any nutrition I've missed doing the slow starvation of getting weight off, and getting used to my new size.

I kept touching down at 163.8 and then bouncing back up again. I decided maybe I needed to visualize some numbers below 162, to re-set my brain so it doesn't wig out so much. I imagined 158, 154, 151, 148, 145, 142, 138. (Anything below 142 is probably too light for my frame. I've been 138 as an adult, but wasn't healthy at that weight.)

This week, I broke through the barrier and have stayed there.  Still, I need to reckon with the bimbo in the mirror, to adjust my image of myself to what registers on my eyeballs.

That bimbo in the mirror used to make trouble for me, back when I was a young woman engineer trying to be taken seriously. I can delight in her power and her lush sexuality, but she can also get in the way when I want to be seen for myself, and not my container.