project – lava silk painting

holuhraun, or nornahar as they’re calling it in iceland, the new lava on top of holuhraun, which is actually old lava.  from bardarbunga, a volcano that erupted JUST AFTER i left iceland this summer.  waaah.  i’ve been watching it on the web, tracking its progress.  and one day i came upon this picture:


and couldn’t wait to put it down on silk.  it’s going to be one of my icelandic series of silk paintings, and by far the most difficult of them all.  i had to make three test scarves before i could be sure of the process.  and the next thing to do is make a production run of four.  but here is a sample of the irritations involved in creating a scarf way out of your own league.

the big technical deal about this scarf is that the warmest, most glowing and purest colors are right next to the most murky black, and the texture is something i can only consider sugar syrup for.  fine water-soluble resist on most of the other details, fine.  but for lava, only a smear of syrup over color is going to work.  but how?


the first thing is always a template, unless i’m feeling bold, and if it’s a successful first try i’ll still transfer it to paper for a proper template.  once a scarf design is down and proven to be good, i roll it up and use it over and over for as many scarves as i feel the need to make.  usually i go for multiples of two, because i steam them side by side in a tall steamer.  in this case i’m trying to make a bunch of scarves for the giftshop in olafsfjordur (ugla (owl) gallery), so i’ll try for 4 of them.  but first i have to get it right.


this is the first step of the first test scarf – put on the boldest orange where the lava will go.  and while i was at it, i put in the flames of the lava fountain above the growing cinder ridge of new lava.  the dark, gummy stuff on top is sugar syrup, squeezed from a bottle in rings, and then mushed and spread with my finger.  you can see a fingerprint in the middle.  i have already drawn in the resist lines – you can see this in the white of the bottom of the scarf.  and i have put syrup on top of the resist line for the lava, but i still drew it.


here’s a closeup.  the purple is one of the streams of water that the lava is encroaching upon, which accounts for much of the smoke.  you can see the lava’s upper resist line well in this photo, with the flames above.


this is how the first scarf turned out.  the good part is to find that the dye formula i’m using is washfast.  the bad thing is that i got the lava too black, and the black washed right into the lava color when it was wet, and ruined the effect.  because i made everything run after painting it all in, as i usually do.  the runs look cool everywhere else but the lava.  so i’m on the right track.


the second scarf should have turned out beautifully, except i was experimenting with the steaming method.  i want to switch to my little steamer for travelling, and i also want to use fabric to steam, rather than paper.  but fabric is way too absorbent, and paper is less so.  the fabric (an old sheet) got wet, the scarf got wet instead of steamed, and ran all over my fabric.  so very little of the dye was retained on the silk.  it’s cool looking, but not what i need.  but i can see i was on the right track with the lava.


so, third try is the charm.  this time i put in a bunch of colors before bothering with the sugar syrup.


then when i stuck the syrup on i used a palette knife to smear it, and put it on rather more thickly in spots where i wanted more lava to shine thru.


the black only went on where i didn’t want to have burning lava, and i had to make sure i was seeing the negative space when i put it on.  i will be careful not to let this part get wet so it doesn’t bleed.  usually when i use sugar syrup i want it to bleed later, for that ferny mixing effect of the colors.  but in this case, i’m using syrup because of its resistive properties, and don’t want to mess with it and dilute the color balance.


okay, here i’m getting a little dark for my tastes with the surrounding night and reflections on the river.  to tell the truth, the dyes i mixed up were very strong, and didn’t flow the way i’m used to, so they streaked and i had to scrub the colors in while the surface was wet.


then lots of red and everything finished and ready for water.


and this is what heppened.  the blue bled the red and everything but those awful red lines in the foreground blended right down to atmospheric.


but, this is the finished test scarf, all washed out and ironed.  it turned out fine.  i want to make the lava more orange, rather than yellow, but the techniques are solid, and i can start into production with the assurance that i have a viable design.

i think it’s lovely.


scarves for sale

jim yarbrough
jim yarbrough

in order to help fund our upcoming trip to venice, and coincidently because i have come across a bunch of scarves i made and hadn’t sold, i’m going to put up about a dozen scarves for sale, here on this blog as well as in our new etsy shop.  both jim and i will be selling the things we make in venice.  in his case, he’ll be making a pastel painting a day, and in my case, i’ll be making watercolor paintings and silk scarves, all with venice as the theme.

so in order to tweak my settings, i’m trying to download a paypal thingie, and trying to mark all my scarves with their own paypal ID, and all that stuff.  i’m a newbie, so this is going to be ugly until i catch the hang of it.  so please pardon the rudeness of actually trying to make money off my art.  it’s crass, but i want to go to venice, so i’ll beg.  or something.


this is an abstract scarf. i did a whole series of them when i first discovered the use of sugar syrup.  i’m not sure, but i might well have soaked the scarf in sugar syrup and let it dry, then twisted it lengthwise and dashed yellow and red, and maybe a bit of black onto it, and let it sit forever until the dye finished spreading into the syrup.  it’s a wonderful way to put color on silk, and this is the only one i have left of a whole batch of scarves that have flown with the wind.


this is one of my nebula series.  this one’s the eye of god nebula.  you can see the stars of the galaxy in the darkness, and then a nebula, outshining all the suns in the sky.  the stars were made with dots of resist, and the features of the nebula were made with sugar syrup for the spots of white, painted around with blue, then bands of purple, black, and red.  the crenellations of black in these rings were probably made by running clear water along right beside the freshly laid black.  and the texture in the inky blackness was made by pitching salt onto the fresh black dye.


my dragon series.  actually, jim did the drawing for the dragons, as he does so much else of the scarf designs i use.  there are two or three dragon drawings that i base my scarves on, and i’m not sure which one this is.  i still have all the dragon design templates, and can pull them out and make another batch any time.  they’re very popular, and this is only one of two that i still have (the other one is in green).  for this one the outer lines of the dragon’s form are in water based resist (sodium alginate), while the crest and the scales are outlined in sugar syrup.  to color the scales i first take red, and put just a dab inside the round top of each scale.  then i put a dab of yellow inside each scale right in the middle.  finally, a drop of blue goes right at the sharp tip of each scale.  after i’ve laid in all the colors for the head, the tale, feet, and crest, i lay in the background, using salt for texture.  and then, with careful abandon, i run clear water over everything, one section at a time.  so the head becomes blended, also the feet.  and with clear water i violate all of the syrup lines, running water over each one of them and wetting the dye so it runs all over the place.  you can see this best along the crest, where it’s obvious where the sugar line was overwhelmed by water and dye, which emerged from the crest and turned the surrounding background red.


this is one of my most complicated scarves.  jim designed it of course.  i asked him to draw this scarf after going off to south carolina’s beaches one summer and just missing a nestfull of loggerhead turtles on their run down to the water.  my sister has several of these scarves.  the sand was done using a resist paste and a sponge, dabbing the pebbly design down on the white scarf and then coming back in with light blue or light brown.  the turtles and shells were outlined with sodium alginate resist, and the waves and tracks, as well as the details on the turtles, were put in with sugar syrup.  everywhere the syrup was put, water was put afterwards in order to make the colors bleed.  a really wonderful scarf, and the last one i have. iIt was a labor of love, and has more details than most of my scarves, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. you’ll want to frame it, but I hope you wear it.


because a friend of mine had a pair of russian blue cats, i made this design from a photo i shot at her place one afternoon.  they’re sleeping on top of a stuffed dog figure on my friend’s couch.  i made a run of these and this is the last one.


too bad i can’t show this right side up, but it would take up too much of the page.  when i designed a set of kimono for my sister’s wedding, i also made the designs into scarves that went along with the kimono.  this one was based on my sister’s kimono, and there’s a standing dragon for her husband’s, which i don’t have a sample of.  but for this one, taken from the idea of japanese scrollwork, cranes hang out along a meandering stream enjoying the irises and wiggly fish in the wiggly water.  this is one of the only scarves where i left a lot of white.  the water was done with sugar syrup, and some of the internal features of the birds.  everything else was put in with alginate resist, or painted on freehand.  you will notice some places where the water has escaped the banks of the river.  we call that a happy accident.  as with all these scarves, there aren’t any more left of this particular run of scarf designs.  but i still have the templates.


this cheshire cat is significantly altered from the disney version, while still resembling it.  it’s actually a color chart that i developed to use in my silk painting classes.  one version, which isn’t for sale, is all marked up with color directions in resist, and runs the gamut of colors.  this one plays with a gradation of blue from full strength at the head to very light at the tip of the tail, and goes from blue purple thru red and all the way to yellow on the body.  the background texture was done with salt.  i’ve never done a production run of these scarves, only the class examples, such as this one.


this is a fish scarf of my own design, based on the vast seaweed and kelp forests just offshore of most stretches of coast i’m familiar with.  the fish were outlined with water based resist, the seaweed was put in with sugar syrup, and after the background was put in (an ombre of blue and black fading to light blue at the top), the seaweed was washed over with clear water to make things run.  you can see how the blue shifted in the lower middle of the scarf.


this is my only planet scarf.  mainly, i’ve done planets in encaustic, and some of them quite big, showing the curvature of the planet as well as the gunge layer of atmosphere and space junk (in our case), and maybe a couple of stars beyond.  many of my planet encaustic paintings are 3 or 4 feet wide.  these scarves are tiny by comparison, and don’t lend themselves to roundness, so i decided to make one showing the planet all stretched out, the way you’d map a sphere.  it was done mostly with sugar syrup resist; no, i’ll say it was all sugar syrup, and parts of it were probably painted with syrup and let dry before using dye.  and then washed with clear water to make everything run.  i only did one or two of these scarves, because of the amount of work that went into them.  they’re really beautiful up close.


this fish painting was a mix of the sea turtle idea and the seaweed idea.  i made wavelike forms with sugar syrup and colored them with vegetable and ocean colors, and then soaked the background to make all the colors mix.  the fish were protected from this chaos by water based sodium alginate resist, and weren’t soaked, but gently blended inside the lines.  except one or two places where the resist line got wet and broke thru.


and this scarf, not the last one i have, but the last one i’ve photographed.  it’s a fall theme, with the outlines of a bunch of leaves i picked while on a dog walk, colored in maybe somewhat like the leaves were colored (i made a bunch of these scarves, and got all fanciful with the leaf colors, but it started out with portraits of the actual leaves in their fall colors.  i put in sugar syrup wind gusts, and then drew a plaid pattern in the background, with lines of red, yellow, and blue, running clear water over the whole background and making the sugar syrup lines run along with the lines of dyed plaid.


as for the buy it now idea, funnily enough, i’ve got the wrong kind of wordpress blog.  i should be paying for my blog, and then i can install paypal and other plugins.  all i can do is put up a contact form.  but i can refer you to the etsy site, and link to each item from here, so i guess that’s what i’ll do.  not quite as crass as big BUY NOW buttons, but i guess that’s okay too.

i hope you enjoy the scarf designs.  they are all 11×60 inches, made of 10mm habotai silk bought as blanks from dharma trading.  these are all old scarves at this point, and their templates are rolled up in a largish box, ready to use for another batch, if the whim takes me.  however, at the moment i am making icelandic themed scarves, and working up a production batch of the three – no, four – designs i came up with based on my travels this past summer.  and during the next few months, i will be working up a whole mess of venice themed scarves.  so this will likely be the last of these scarves for some time, and once they’re gone i will have to be very whimsical indeed to run another batch of them.  except for the dragon scarves.  i always make them.

new scarf designs

i’m designing a batch of scarves to send to the folks in olafsfjordur.  i’ve got three ideas.

one is the northern lights scarf i already do.


the others are from photos i took while i was there this summer.  one up on the eastern valley where there’s still lots of snow and plenty of rocks,


and the other of the vatn of olafsfjordur and its ring of mountains, taken from the bridge over the river (on the very day i saw a hidden folk jogging toward me on the bridge, and then he wasn’t there).


here are the first tries at these designs (except for the northern lights one).  i am also testing my formula for making silk paints from mx dyes when i’m doing this.  and when i am done, i have three presents to send off to people.

now i have to refine them or reject them, and then do a production run of about a dozen or 1.5 dozen in all.  and preferably before xmas.

please let me know what you think of this latest batch.

troll sweater design

i’m probably not doing it right.  i’m using graph paper, and filling in a little square for every stitch.  and now i’ve found a website that works with my computer, and i’m designing a generic knit pattern, and will leave the lopapeysa complexities alone for awhile.  i’m not even there yet.

i’m working on designing a little gryla figure, holding a wooden spoon and a bag full of naughty kids.  she’s in profile, stalking around on her mission.  it’s one figure, repeated over and over around the yoke of the sweater.  but i’m not sure how big to make it, or how many stitches to use, or any of those final details.  i’m just trying to make an icon at the moment,

it’s a pixel thing.  it’s like creating a new font.  you have to get into character map and draw the thing one pixel at a time.  and it only looks like a thing when you back away from it.  and every pixel alters its shape, its gesture, its attitude.

so i’m only starting.

first i drew a bunch of figures, and then jim did his version, and i drew all over his and then he drew another one, and then i spent a lot of time making them smaller, all on a piece of notebook paper.


then i got out the graph paper, and then i got online and found a pattern generator that you can trace imported pictures on.  so then i took a photo of my drawings, got rid of the lines, and transferred to the online pattern workgrid.


here’s how it looks filled in.


i worked up a few of them, filled them in with color, and saved them to show jim and discuss where to go from there.



you can perhaps see subtle differences between the versions.  i’m messing with the tail and the arm holding the bag.

grylafilled 1

tailarm 2



i’m not sure what i’m doing, so if you have a clue, please let me know.

project: troll sweater design

i need to design a lopapeysa using a troll design.  and after that modify it for an elf design.  i know nothing about lopapeysa (sweater made of icelandic sheep wool), but all the locals wear them in iceland because everybody’s mother in law knits, and quite a few guys knit as well.  so there are skeins of wool available even at the grocery store.  i came home with two of them when i returned from iceland.  one was a gift, and one was bought for 1/10 the cost of a new one at the red cross store in akureyri.  they are magnificent sweaters, but it’s 96 today in atlanta, so i’m only going to look at them for now, and wash them and put them up until winter.

one of the goals of the trollagerdi project is to open a gift shop, and develop a line of handcrafts to sell in this gift shop.  this is actually part of a much larger plan, which i heard about in reyjkavik, to open a handcraft giftshop that doesn’t sell the same horrid crap from china as every other giftshop in the country.  there are lots and lots of artists and artisans and craftpeople in iceland, and their sense of design is so individualistic and creative, so there’d be no lack of handcrafted souvenirs to sell.  they can easily be organized into themes, and then the medium left up to the artist.  it would be easy to work up a range of products across such themes as puffins, trolls, elves, northern lights, nature, using such materials as wood, wool, clay, stone, painting and photography.  i’ve left out whole categories – such as food, and books.  but pretty much everything people make by hand that is the least little bit touristy – lopapeysas, handmade elves, troll recipe books – would be welcome.  and i know a bunch of artists whose work would do just fine.

anyway, i am working with my friend kristrun to come up with some sweater designs.  right now people are producing puffin sweaters and horse sweaters (that i could find on the internet), and there are no doubt many variations of the lopapeysa design that include native animals and plants.  i’m not a knitter, but i have done surface design on scarves, and have made a few of my own designs to wear.  so i only know a little about the process as a whole, and nothing much at all about icelandic design.

here are some of the designs out there now.

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i love these because they show how creative you can get with the basic design.

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these are standard peysa designs with the figures in the body of the yoke.


as are these, but they’re larger photos, so i had to separate them.  sheep.

no elf sweaters?  no troll sweaters?  can’t find any.

here’s a good site for designing a sweater of this type.  i don’t currently have the ability to use it on my computer, but somebody else might.  i’m going to have to do it on a piece of graph paper, i think.

here are a few more examples i found just now.


this one is running hares.  they’re standing upright, like i want the trolls and elves, and tho they’re all the same, they have different attitudes depending on the stress on the wool.


here are more horses.


and some nice fish bones.  i’ve also seen this idea done in plant leaves.


and a different use of puffins


finally, a herd of reindeer.

i’ll post my progress on designing this sweater, but i have so much on my plate right now it might take awhile.  please comment with your suggestions.  perhaps i can mix trolls and elves, holding hands perhaps and facing forward, or in profile walking around the shoulders of the sweater.

silk painting workshop day 2

this is the result of two days of silk painting workshop.  i told the students it was the shortest 6 week class i’d ever taught.  because usually my silk painting classes are that long, but i showed them most of the content in only 2 days.  and it wasn’t even gruelling.  below is a sample of the range of scarves they produced: fran’s on the left, lara’s in the middle, alice’s on the right.  these haven’t been steamed yet, and your results may vary.  btw, most of these pictures came from the students, because i didn’t have time to take any photos during the class.


this is only the paper towel that metta was using to see what colors she had mixed, along with part of the egg cup palette she used.


and this is ida’s first scarf.


that’s a demo of some advanced techniques, namely the use of salt.  the idea on something with that little resist on it is to work quickly so the scarf doesn’t have time to dry before the area is covered.  drying would mean edges.


we were able to steam only two scarves during the class, and i had to do the rest of the steaming at home.  fran bundled up 4 scarves into one roll, stacking them in two layers, and another 4 scarves into another roll, and it took me all afternoon to steam them in our homemade steamer.  the stovepipe was made of plastic, and the longer it was heated the more warped it got.  it’s still usable after this, but it’s not round anymore.  there was an accident at one point, and again the steamer fell over with the scarf bundle inside.  but the reason it fell over was because all the water boiled away, adn the last little bit of water must have popped and exploded, and knocked the pipe off balance.  luckily there was no water to spill down the pipe, and so it only fell over, and the bundle did not get wet.  i put more water into the steamer once i’d set it upright again, and gave it another hour.  all told, the scarves steamed for about 2 hours each bundle.

the problem with this was that there were 2 layers.  the outer layer steamed just fine, as you can see by the marks left on the paper.  when the scarf bleeds onto the paper, it means that the steam has reached the scarf, and that means it’s set.  the inner layer of each bundle was still unmarked, which means i had to go to plan b.


plan be was to get a towel wet and lay it over the scarf which was still sandwiched between paper, put the hottest possible iron on the wet towel, and steam it as well as i could.  after ten minutes of this over an 18″ section, i lifted the towel and saw the dye transfer, and then satisfied, i moved to the next section of scarf, rewet the towel in the sink, wrung it out and started again.  this took several hours because i had to do 5 scarves.  but i’ll be damned if i’ll see the scarves just wash out and fade away after all the effort the students made to make scarves they liked.

you can see all the marked up paper on the floor, the ironed scarves laid out over the transom, and the scarves i was still ironing on the table.  the steamer is the red tube sitting in the cooking pot and standing on top of a hot plate in the corner.  oh and there’s the iron in front of hte red tube.


and this is the towel i used to steam the scarves with.  and this is early in the game, as well.  it got much more stained.  it will probably wash out, since these are unset dyes on cotton.  we’ll see, however.  i might just turn into tie dye over the next few days…


these are the lengths of cotton that lara and i dyed after the students went home on saturday.  i’m not sure if i can identify the techniques at this point, but the leftmost is scrunch dyeing, or low water immersion dyeing, the one with the circles was tie dyed with rubber bands.  the next one looks to have been stretched and painted, and the right one was folded and dipped.  the colors turned out very nicely.


and then lara made pillows out of them right away.  very fast, lara.


and that’s all she wrote on the class.  i have still to wash out all the scarves i was responsible for steaming, and iron them so they’re pretty, and then i may well include them in the group exhibition we’re holding on friday, of the work all of us have done at the residency.  if the students don’t object.


silk painting workshop, day 1

i had five students for the silk class i’m teaching in olafsfjordur, iceland this weekend.  three of them have come out as artists, two are still hiding under a veneer of respectability, but i proved them wrong.  and it was very international, with one participant from china, one from the phillipines, one from denmark, two icelanders, and me, a yank.

based on the work i’d done preparing for this workshop, which involved taking notes (oh no) and experimenting with dye concentrations and methods of fixing the dye (see earlier posts), i had come up with this simple (hahaha) color chart idea involving 12 circles.  the idea was to mix up a range of colors using red, yellow, and blue, put the 12 colors into an egg carton, transfer the colors to the scarf in order, and painting something contrasting or whatever on the margins, meaning the top and bottom widths of the scarf you can see below, if that makes sense.

teaching a course in iceland is super easy because everybody speaks english except to themselves, and some of what they say i can understand.  “this is going to be a long day” sounds the same in danish as it does in english, funnily enough.

what distinguishes artists from, say, bored housewives that i sometimes teach, is that real artists never pay attention to the rules.  i set out to have them all do the same scarf, and made them distinguish one from the other right at the beginning by putting their names or some other identifying mark on the scarf.  but i needn’t have bothered, because every single one of them deviated from the sample scarf my studio assistant (thanks fran) and i had worked on the previous week as a trial run.

even tho i had done a dry run, mixing up the dyes and chemicals, making a scarf, steaming it, finding out that the blue washed mostly out and correcting it with another application and steaming with an iron, i was kind of unprepared for even more to go wrong.  first off, i hadn’t made up enough sodium alginate resist, so we had to switch to sugar syrup right in the middle of one of the scarves.  and the resist i had made up was just that much too thick to actually apply without making several people’s hands cramp with the pressure of forcing it out of its squeeze bottle.  also, i used up all my dye powder making up enough dye for the class, and i’m really glad we didn’t get to the end of the actual mixed dye, tho we ran really close to out with the yellow.  i’m fearful for how well the scarves will set now.


so this is alice’s scarf.  she mixed up the proper range of colors and then put them on the scarf the way she wanted, and shook off my offers of advice.  she wasn’t happy with a neat order of colors, either, and did her best to alter it using water and finally sprinkled-on dye.  anything to disrupt a neat, careful ordering of colors.  color charts are so boring.


fran, who had to suffer thru the scarf we did together as a dry run, decided she wanted psychedelic, or stained glass, and went nuts with her scarf.  she had to stop herself in the end, as it was getting too blended.


mette was the one who insisted she wasn’t an artist, but who then refused to go along with even the scheme for color mixing that i had worked out.  i don’t like that yellow, she insisted, and then used black, and made earth tones, and then made her scarf run, and then quickly did another scarf.  she worked quickly but carefully, and really knew what she wanted.  i was in awe of her ability to just take it and run like that.  turns out her dad is an artist, so it’s in her genes.  hah.


and here’s ida’s scarf.  she too declared she wasn’t an artist, and of all of them she was the one who followed the plan i had laid out.  unfortunately i saddled her with the range of colors i had mixed up as a demo, so i’m not surprised.  she was terribly unhappy with the resultant color chart, and was encouraged to go over the colors she didn’t like (those horribly acid yellows and greens) with colors she liked better, and tomorrow she will be making a scarf all on her own with no help from me.  those who know her insisted that the scarf she did today was nothing like she is capable of, so i’ll be really excited to see what she does in teh morning.


then there was lara, who also took no mind of the way i was planning to go.  she even voiced her dislike of the pattern i made them all draw, and after a very few minutes gave up on the colors she had mixed into her egg carton.  which is great.  and when it was still wet, she took it off the stretchers and hung it, so that it dripped and ran all over the place.  in the end she was very happy with it.


here is lara’s second scarf.  she took the sugar syrup resist and made her usual doodles, then slapped all sorts of blue and black dye on it, was surprised when the sugar syrup ran, which it’s supposed to do, ruining her design but giving her another design that she was just as happy with.  i like it when students are happy with their work.  it’s a good sign of a well adjusted personality.  me, i’m never happy with my work, but that’s something else again.

i’m afraid i don’t have a picture of my sample scarf.  but we’ll be steaming these scarves tomorrow, and depending on the results, we plan to exhibit them at the group show we’re having next week.  i’ll put up another post tomorrow about how it all came out.

in the end, the students ran right thru the scarves i had intended to take a full day to make, and half of them did two scarves.  the other half, ida i’m talking about you, need to make their second one tomorrow, and then i’ll do a demo of the advanced techniques, simply because we’ve run out of scarves.  they all left after a long morning session, and will be back tomorrow for the steaming, which i’m praying goes right for once.  often the colors wash right out, and i really don’t want that to happen because these scarves turned out so nice.

when the rest of them had gone and i’d had a little lunch and a wee short nap, i went back with my soda ash, and lara and i dyed a bunch of cotton fabric using as many techniques as i could figure out.  there’s the soda soak method, there’s the low-water immersion method, there’s the fold and dip method, there’s tie-dye, there’s adding the soda ash to the dye mix, and direct painting onto soda-soaked fabric.  when we’d done, we had one jar and 4 plastic bags to go downstairs and sit next to the hot water pipes all night, and one rolled up into plastic that we forgot to take downstairs and will therefore batch at room temperature all night.  we will unwrap and wash them tomorrow after everyone else is gone, jsut so they have a chance to batch (cure and set) the longest so the colors have the best chance to develop.