project: foram / paisley silk scarf

this is for my buddy sam, who sent me a specimen of foraminifera recently collected in antarctica, which is somewhere i’ve always wanted to go, and about which i’ve done loads of research for a novel i’m writing. in thanks for his giving me my own little piece of the south polar archipelago, a sort of mascot for my novel, i’m making this scarf for him, for his next trip to antarctica, where he will be advised to wear it around his neck.

foraminifera, as you probably don’t remember from high school, are small, and they’re in limestone that comes from old sea bottoms.  actually they look just like bigger things, like seashells and the patterns in sunflowers, but that’s either because everything is fractal or because everything obeys a certain geometry in its form.  or some other reason.

anyway, sam studies these things, and they’re interesting, and beautiful.  and they reminded me of little seeds, so i decided to put them inside paisley figures, because they’re like little gourds.  the idea suggested itself.

now, i love paisley, and love to paint paisley patterns, even tho i don’t ever really get them right, because i don’t really understand their complexity, so i can’t really render them.  but i’ll keep working on it.  i used a silk shirt from the 80s, on top, and a faux pashmina shawl from the saru store, bought this year.

the next few pictures show in agonizing detail how silk dye flows on dry silk, and the way the resist lines contain the flow.

now, you never want to go hard up against a resist line, because you risk violating it, and then the dye will flow outside the lines (o happy accident, o production disaster).  you can see how i’ve come in a tiny way from the resist line of this plantlike foram, and then i’ve fudged where the lines are to the right, because frankly i can’t see them.  they’ve dried, and disappeared unless i’m at the right angle.  which i’m not, because the thing is stretched and in the middle of a table and it makes my back hurt to bend over that way…  but the point is that you can hedge if you don’t know where the boundary is.  you can put in a tentative line and let it spread, and then come in closer and closer until it spreads around a barrier.  and then you can come in and add more dye in the interstices, once you know where they are.  the brush should come to the finest point imaginable, and that means you can get into the tiniest cracks, if your eyesight is good enough, and your hand steady enough.  neither of which obtain in my case….

anyway.  i’m going to show one end of the scarf all the way thru, just as i did for the milky way scarf.  however, you should know that i took pictures of both ends and the middle, as well as a long shot of the whole scarf, for every round of development.  it’s just that i don’t feel like sizing 40 photos for the web.  so.

hard to see; sorry.  this is sodium alginate water-based resist applied from a squeeze bottle with a metal tip.  first i’ve drawn the forams, spaced out over the scarf and somewhat symmetrical.  then i’ve drawn teardtop shapes around them, and then gourd shapes around the teardrops, and probably another layer around that.  like a gourd cut in half.

then i went in and put leaves around each gourd, and as i went on the leaves got more and more fancy.

then i went in with sugar syrup and put in some interior details, mostly on the leaves but in this case on the capsule of the gourd.

first an orange (mostly yellow silk dye with a splash of magenta) around the foram, applied with a brush.  then a nice bright red (mostly magenta with a glob of yellow), and then a purple (duh magenta and cyan).  the red bled thru the resist in the middle one, and i went back in with the bottle and redrew the lines, which are dark because they’re still wet.  see those dots in the red areas?  they’re sugar syrup dots.  the dye flows around them, and when wet, the syrup flows into the dye, and makes cool runny effects.

now a green (mostly yellow with a touch of blue) on all the leaves.  this is still wet.

now a darker green (more blue_ over the sugar syrup lines, and down the middle of teh leaves.  and i filled in the little stones and details of the forams.  they use these tiny little bits of sand to make their shells, and this one in the middle sticks out pseudopods to nab food from the water.  too cool.

then a nice dark blue (cyan and black) background, and while it was still wet, i sprinkled rock salt all over it.  the salt draws the dye, making these cool splotchy marks.

and then i hit it with water.  very carefully, with a brush instead of a spray bottle like the last two scarves.  and carefully not on the blue background.  clear water over all the insides of the forms, over the leaves, and then over the gourds, making sure to wet the sugar syrup so it could flow, and violating the resist lines inside the gourd so that the colors of the layers would mingle.

and here it is, finished.  the salt is still on it.

since i took this picture, it has sat like that for a couple of days, and then got rolled up and steamed this morning, along with the second milky way scarf.  they’re hanging on the front porch now, airing.  and in the next day or so i’ll wash out the lot, and see what i’ve got.  very likely the colors have faded, and maybe past what i can tolerate, which means i will be repeating the process.  but until then i can bask in the light of my creations, and dream of running dye.


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