The analog meat thermometer we were working with in the dye shed only began at 60 degrees, so there was a bit of guesswork and warm water listening involved in keeping the lupine baths at 45. A few of us had read that 45 degrees was the sweet spot for receiving blues from the flowers, so we were hyper-fixated on maintaining that temperature. Soy milk mordanted fabrics also tend to fair better when dyed at less than 60 degrees, so these two paired beautifully. Slower processes at cooler temperatures. Never wishing the dye bath were hotter to unlock latent dye potential.
It was charming that the community pool posted laminated temperatures for each pool and tub. 29 degrees for the main one, 34 for children’s pool, 37-38 for the cooler of the two hot tubs, and 39-40 for the hottest. The sauna ranges from 40-55 — depending if the steam is on or not — and the cold tubs are a crisp 5 degrees. I would sit in the hotter of the two tubs and begin overheating around 15 minutes. However, I could sit in the 38 degree pot almost indefinitely. For any frequent hot tub goers, this must sound so rudimentary, but there was new touch and temperature knowledge to be gained from moving between pools.
Back in the dye shed, I lower my hand into the warming lupine bath. Slightly hotter than the hottest pot. Hot but not scalding. Not painful in the way 50 would be if you let your fingers linger, but also not the kind of tub you would chose to walk into. Sweet familiarity. Sweet knowing.
𝄡𝄞♩♪♫ … tiptoeeee through the lupinssssss, by the lupinssss thats where ill beeee …. ♬♭♮𝄢
Tapestry with Ragga! This is where it all started… I found this amazing sample of Lupine in Raggas glorious tapestry thread basket. It immediately struck me- like Lupine lightning- that I needed to make a uranium glass tapestry using this color. Uranium glass, also known as vaseline glass, is glassware from the depression era that was made for very cheap using small amounts of uranium. For the past two years I have been collecting it, using a UV light in thrift and antique stores to hunt it down. It is a very addictive scavenger/detective-esque hobby!
I asked Ragga if she had any more of the wee bit of thread, and she said that it was the last of a Lupine dye batch that she had possibly modified with something, but that she couldn’t quite remember. I immediately made it my mission to do absolutely anything in my power to recreate this magnificent magical pigment!
At our dye bath lesson with Deborah, I brought her the sample and inquired as to what she thought it might have been modified with to get the color. She came to the conclusion that it was probably Soda Ash, and after seeing the samples we all made together, I decided I would get to work on my first mission and theory: to make the most potent, most minty blue Lupine bath ever, and then modify it ever so slightly with Soda Ash to get that effervescent glow.
I found a glorious Lupine patch just before the big Lupine hill by the ocean, and only picked the darkest more purple-y stalks. My theory for this was that the more pigmented the purple would be, the more pigmented the green. This patch I found was also ideal because it didn’t have as many spiders or flies as the Lupines by the river Blanda (it was a whole rescue mission every time a spider was caught in the pot!) I also used the water from Alex’s first Lupine dye bath, to emphasize the extra strength of pigment.
After putting in my Protein fibers, the silk velvet sucked up all the blue within seconds. This was my first ‘mistake’. I later learned, after talking with Gen, that silk is a little bit of a textile shapeshifter, and that it will not only snatch up all the pigment in a dye bath first, but also, generally it is hard to predict what shade it will decide to become. In this case, it turned a mysterious light blue, and, very pleased with the colour, I decided to take it out after the first hour. I left the rest of the wool in overnight and for the whole day we were in Skagastrond. Also important to note- I kept the temperature at 45 degrees celcius the whole time, just under the recommended 60. I think this helped, too, in getting the eerie blue color, and a more blueish green pigment.
I was quite happy with my spoils, however, my quest did not end here. After treating a small sample of the Lupine Lopi with Soda Ash, and getting a really true, bright green, but not the bright mint I had hoped for, it was clear I still had work to do. It then occurred to me that I hadn’t yet rinsed out my protein fibers after the bath. (I had not initially planned to do this, but it was in the dye instructions). This is where things took a turn. Without realizing, I accidentally threw the small soda ash sample in with my other wool that I was rinsing in a large basin. I then dipped my silk in the same bucket for a mere few seconds before rinsing it under the tap. When I returned a few hours later… I was struck with an experimental HORROR!
In the split seconds that it was in the same dye bath as the Soda Ash sample, the silk had soaked up the Soda and turned KERMIT GREEN! A transformation taking place partially as the fabric was drying. To be completely honest, I was on the verge of tears. How could I reverse this? What went wrong? Woe is me!
Then, Tiana had the completely genius idea to try reversing the chemistry. This was another huge learning experience for me! We tried treating the fabric with 7% vinegar and BOOM. It was like magic! The old color came back.
After successfully reversing the damage, I was overwhelmed with relief and experimental delight. These Lupines were so determined to show me all the tricks up their sleeves! As a final ruse, when I returned later to see the dried velvet, it had changed color AGAIN to a gorgeous, pearlescently pale minty green.
This time I didn’t even feel upset, I was simply in awe of the Lupine’s magic. In the sunlight, as pictured, the velvet had a nearly aqua glow, like the coolest shade of the river Blanda.
Still, after this, my Lupine quest wasn’t over. I dyed some cellulose fiber in an even stronger extra strength dye bath, and did another mini protein bath (but still very potent) to try to see if I could get the blue color that the silk had slurped up in the first dip. This theory did not stand, and the result was very similar to my first dye bath, although maybe a teensy bit more blue. It was then that my Lupine quest got a bit side tracked, as I put together pieces for my costume.
The grand Lupine finale part one was revealed while I was filming my performance on Super 8 with the help of Julia and Alex. It was extremely misty, and part of the performance involved me digging in the sand to bury an hourglass I had constructed. I made some sleeves for my costume out of Lupine dyed linen, and as I dug, they slowly started changing color, from the cool blue to bright green (but just on the areas that came into contact with the sand). It is likely that the sea salt took effect on the fiber. I’ll have to add more documentation to this post after I develop the film.
Grand finale part two was finally getting to the bottom of how Ragga got that zingy mint color. After showing her my experiments and explaining the journey I had been on, she remembered that she had potentially dipped the Lopi into the dregs of an Indigo bath, and THEN modified with soda ash. Aha! So it was the magical powers of the Lupine and Indigo combined that created such a delight. I will have to try it some day, but for now I’m happy with where my quest took me. What a precious experience to witness the full blooming cycle of these twinkly flora. I’m already missing my green fingernails, and the tender waggle of the Lupine’s in the wind.
We set out to find thrown away things, forgotten duds.
We looked for lost remnants, known to some as garbage. We were happy to fill up bags for an afternoon out of the studio. Looking for detritus and finding inspiration all around.
Blönduós is an orderly town. Still, some garbage lurks in the cracks, windswept under bushes, or in the most tucked away of crevices. So we looked and peered on.
At first, we found mostly horses. Greeting us, cheering us on with snuffs and gurgles. I wished I could fit one in my bag and carry it around with me, if only for the afternoon.
Continuing on, our bounty was cigarette butts, water bottle caps, and stray garbage bags with rhubarb growing every which way.
Pitter patter, continuing our steps as the rain sprinkled on and off.
Thinking about colours and footsteps and what is left behind.
Baring witness to the resilience of plants growing in the least fertile of places. The same spots where garbage loiters. I wonder if the plants mind their occasional debris companions, fluttery as they may be.
Wandering with our noses gravel-bound and squinting eyes. A pause to look at our surroundings and we were at the steps of a church where an old brass door hung ajar. Colour, magic, and reverence awaited us when we were looking for discarded things.
Standing before us, an artists dwelling nestled within a spirited structure. A magnetic pull. Inconspicuously tucked next to a mossy hill in a sea-coloured church. The home of a warm welcoming artist, Reynir Katrínar, who weaves tapestries of trees, dries herbs, makes paintings, and grows strawberries in his rainbow windowsill among other things. A rich life – overflowing.
To linger there forever crossed my mind. Courteously, we continued on with gratitude for the unexpected welcome and quench of inspiration. out in the elements we went. Rain rain, ever so gently. Onwards to the destination that inspired this outing. A pathway tucked between the beach and the hill’s slope. A destination destined for rubage.
Garbage-bound. We set ahead on our pursuit.
The entire way, we had a trustee companion by our side – Cat.
We managed to fill two large garbage bags with debris in just a short jaunt. The rain started to barrel down on us and the wind intensified.
It was challenging to say farewell to this creature who so valiantly led us and saw our efforts through. Teddy, Cat and I meandered together for over an hour.
Bittersweet and gleeful, we trod our path home, bidding farewell and leaving Cat by the sea. Clad with two heavy bags and an armful of drenched cardboard boxed, we set forth. With an oncoming storm brewing, we were misted by arctic winds looking perfectly foolish to parsers-by as our mystical bags of garbage-harvest flapped in the wind.
We took pause to pick a Lupin bouquet to enliven our nest once we got home.
A spiralling day this was. Something about setting out to find garbage and encountering a heard of horses, hardy plants, an artist’s nest, and a sprightly cat guide is utterly fortuitous.
We also found garbage.
This world houses debris all about. Sometimes I do not have the heart to look around me. It is often lonesome and disheartening to witness garbage unfurling its talons . However, what I learned from this day is that when I went to look for trash, I did find it, but I also found plenty of magic. I would not have happened upon the delights of this day had I not gone out with my original intent to look for things in the deep crevices, under the twisting elms, and in the shadows. We are all here, on this earth, in this vessel. I will hold onto this knowing: musings, magic, and muck ferment in the same vessel.
Dès mon arrivée en Islande et pour la durée du séjour, j’observe la beauté saisissante du panorama et j’écoute attentivement les sons qui en émergent. Ils m’interpellent tous. Un calme s’étend sur le territoire où je circule et m’abandonne. Le silence n’existe pas, mais il se révèle pleinement par l’absence de pollution sonore.
C’est bien connu que les sons aux basses fréquences de la nature apaisent. Ils informent et instruisent. Ils invitent à nous mettre naturellement au diapason avec eux.
Dans les ateliers du Ós Residency, nous entendons au premier plan le son omniprésent des vagues océaniques. Il y a aussi le vent qui percute la structure du bâtiment sur toutes ses façades. Le bruit du ressac et le sifflement du vent au contact des fenêtres entre-ouvertes s’accompagnent extraordinairement du chant des oiseaux marins. Cette symphonie grandiose, aux modulations variées, constitue l’écoute centrale qui guidera mes réflexions pour la réalisation d’œuvres textiles, en ce mois de juin 2022.
Je m’engage à saisir les rythmes et les bercements des sonorités de Blönduós. Je tente de les traduire par un jeu de lignes et de textures produites avec les fibres de laine et des papiers que je file, tisse et brode sur la surface d’autres papiers de lin fait main que j’ai apporté pour l’occasion.
As soon as I arrive in Iceland and for the duration of my stay, I observe the striking beauty of the panorama, and I listen closely to its emerging sounds. All of them call out to me. A calmness spreads over the territory where I wander and abandon myself. Silence does not exist, but it is revealed fully by the absence of noise pollution.
It is well known that low-frequency sounds of nature are soothing. They inform and educate. They invite us to naturally attune to them.
In the Ós Residency studios, we hear the omnipresent sound of the ocean waves in the foreground. We also hear the wind hitting the structure of the building on all its facades. The sound of the sea surf and the whistling of the wind as it hits the slightly open windows is beautifully accompanied by the song of the sea birds. With its various modulations, this grandiose symphony constitutes the central listening that will guide my thoughts for creating textile artworks during June 2022.
I am committed to embracing the rhythms and lulls of the sounds of Blönduós. I try to translate them through an interplay of lines and textures produced with the wool fibres and papers that I spin, weave and embroider on the surface of other handmade linen papers I brought along for the occasion.
Parfois, je documente simplement, à l’aide d’une application sur mon téléphone, les sons entendus à l’extérieur et à l’intérieur de l’atelier.
Sometimes I simply use an application on my phone to document the sounds heard outside and inside the studio.
Cet après-midi-là, nous marchions sur un sentier tout près de l’océan. Nous avons subitement fait halte pour ne pas importuner les oiseaux nicheurs situés un peu plus loin. Nous nous sommes assises à une bonne distance de leur emplacement. Le vent s’était calmé. Un élégant chevalier gambette s’est perché tout près de nous. Il nous à offert le plaisir d’écouter son chant.
That afternoon, we were walking on a trail near the ocean. We suddenly stopped to avoid disturbing the nesting birds a little further away. We sat down at a safe distance from their location. The wind had calmed down. An elegant common redshank perched near us. He offered us the pleasure of listening to his call.
J’archiverai ses enregistrements sonores pour y revenir plus tard lorsque je quitterai Blönduós. Ces sonorités exceptionnelles font partie, d’une certaine façon, de mes œuvres produites dans le cadre de cette résidence.
I will archive these sound recordings and return to them later when I leave Blönduós. These exceptional sounds are, in a way, part of my works produced during this residency.
My great-grandmother was considered a master embroiderer during the late 1800s. She made most of her living embroidering fine silk and occasionally clothes for the high ranks of society in China. Her specialty was silk butterflies. However, during the cultural revolution in China, Chairman Mao wanted to create a new visual culture to communicate his ideologies. Much of the traditional art and culture were either destroyed or suppressed. This included embroidery and traditional silk-making. To survive, my great-grandmother and her family focused on weaving instead. This is the story I was told by my grandmother.
Part of the appeal to apply for the Iceland field school was to search for lost connections, histories and new narratives to reconnect with my great-grandmother. Growing up, my sisters were given the opportunity to inherit most of the familial expertise, while I sat watching them. Being the only male child of my parents, I was discouraged from needlework and weaving as it is seen as women’s work. I can’t definitively say this is the reason, but I never subsequently considered incorporating fibres in my artistic practice.
Since my move to Montreal, I’ve been thinking a lot about familial legacies, recalling my childhood memories and my sense of belonging. I started to re-imagining what my family’s life would be like if my great-grandmother had passed down her embroidery knowledge. This curiosity led me to re-trace my family’s history (“her-story”). Multiple attempts led me to many oral stories, but examples of work and records were nowhere to be found; this was partially due to the lack of public historical records in China. I tried to connect the available stories to make sense of it all, hoping to connect to my Chinese roots. In attending the Iceland Field School, I saw an opportunity to create work as an ode to my great-grandmother, a woman that I never met. Additionally, being embedded at the Icelandic Textile Centre, with its rich history as a women’s college, is the perfect location to celebrate and pay homage to all the strong women in my family through my art-making.
Fibres is a beautiful art form used and respected across all cultures, with records spanning over 1000 years. Embroidery connects narratives, builds solid communities, and reimagines threads and yarn into art. With this mindset, I knew I wanted to create a connection between my Chinese Canadian identity with the Icelandic landscapes using fibres. One of my main objectives was to explore and research Yue (Guangdong) Embroidery, a process from the region where my family originates, and its aesthetics as a tribute to my great-grandmother. This exploration led me to discover 7 characteristics of Yue Embroidery:
1. The themes are diverse. The classical theme incorporates landscape painting as its main focus, rendered in light colours. The “Five Ridges theme” is prestige rendered in colour, with symbols of auspicious fruits, animals, flowers, birds, dragons and phoenixes. The “Western theme” is mainly embroidered with gold thread to emulate the Rococo style borrowed from 18th century Europe.
2. Images that incorporate flowers and birds are specialties in Yue Embroidery.
3. Compositions are always symmetrical, composed of negative spaces that allow for more room to add finishing touches.
4. The lines are diverse, and the needles are varied.
5. Colours are contrasted between light and dark.
6. Gold threads are used for the outline of the embroidery pattern.
7. Yup embroidery was traditionally utilized for a wide range of applications, including clothing, quilt covers, pillowcases, scarves and so on.
Taking on these principles, I was really inspired to embroider the orange lichen on the Blonduos’ sea wall. A lichen is a life form that has a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae, similar to the relationship I have with my Chinese and Canadian identity. The bright contrast of the rocks and orange lichen also caught my eye, and it reminded me of my home in Vancouver.
The lichen became the connection between my home and Iceland, so I decided to embroider the lichens on rice paper. Rice paper is a material I’ve been using in my practice and I specifically bought it to use on this journey. One might say rice paper acts as a second skin with water, moulding to the contours of an object as it becomes moist. I wanted to utilize the properties of rice paper to ground a part of myself in the landscape along with my Chinese heritage. I would dip the embroidered rice paper in the Icelandic waters soaking and washing it almost like a ritual. Once the rice paper is moist enough, I found a rock with orange lichen near the sea wall, laid the paper on it and let it mould into shape. The final artwork is both performative and durational, as the rice paper and embroidery decompose and give back to the organisms, nature and the land.
As an artist I believe it can be really important to once in a while take a step back and re-set your making. As we move through our practice over many years, it can be only too easy to become reliant on certain modes of making, certain familiar materials, and the constant need to “perfect” what we do. Instead, I think it is really important not to loose sight of art practice as an endless process of lifelong learning, where you are constantly in conversation with your materials and never entirely master of them. After a recent period of intensive making in paper-based collage, I knew that for my work here in Iceland I wanted to push myself out beyond my usual area of material comfort. Coming to Blonduos was an opportunity to try something completely new and see what came out at the end.
I cannot deny the that process has been something of a struggle. At first I found myself overwhelmed by inspiration, then somewhat “scared” of my unfamiliar materials. Later came indecision about the conceptual direction I should take, then hesitation about tackling my final idea. The final intensive period of this journey has been characterized by experimental making, trial and error, and dipping my toes into new technology that I would probably run a mile from in my usual practice.
As my major project here I have decided to create a quilt documenting my own/the collective experience of the Field School. This, I happily admit, is a slightly bonkers idea, since I have never made a quilt in my life. So far the process has been a learning curve, during which I have worked my way through material set backs, acquired new skills, and come to several realizations I would never have otherwise. The following are several points of advice I now find myself ready to impart based on this experience:
1. Trust your first instinct, it’s usually the right way forward.
2. Sewing machines aren’t nearly has complicated as they seem. Feeling intimidated? Just sit down and sew. The worst thing that can happen is that you have to un-pick the stitch and start over. Its not that big a deal, just sew something! Incidentally the infrastructure of a sewing machine is astounding. Have a close look at one someday…whoever thought up that machine was a genius!)
3. The process of quilting is as easy or as complicated as you choose to make it. A perfectly patterned, perfectly assembled quilt is all fine and dandy, but for now I think I will happily stick to my slightly wonky sewing and uneven squares. The evidence of my hand in the making, of recording trial and error and the process of assembly is far more interesting to me than creating something “technically proficient” on the first go. There is something beautiful to be found in the mess, trust me. The “right way” and “perfect” are overrated.
4. Try new technology if you have the opportunity to, you never know what might happen. If it works then that is great, if not, you learnt something and can now go back to your usual way of doing it. It is a win/win either way.
5. Never try to hand embroider finicky detail at two o’clock in the morning. If you are tired, you loose concentration and end up spending 45 minutes embroidering the wrong part of your work. Again this is simply a case of unpicking the stitch and starting over. It’s not a global crisis, but it can wait till the morning…go to bed!
6. When all else fails, there is nothing that a cup of strong black tea brewed 4 minutes with oat milk can’t solve. It is fantastic and a balm to all life’s ills. You should try it.
That is all! Happy making!
Jacob Le Gallais, MA, BFA (Student, Ph.D. Art Education)