Spread Joy with a Heart Tree

In 2010, I read an article in StyleBlueprint about a heart tree created by my smart and beautiful friend, Martha Ivester. I’ve been thinking about “hearting a tree” ever since. Last week, Martha posted instructions for how to make the heart pillows on Facebook. It was just the inspiration I needed to get started.

The tradition of hearting a tree started at Martha’s former church, The Parish of the Epiphany, in Winchester, Massachusetts. At first, parishioners hearted a tree by their church. Soon after, parishioners started hearting trees anonymously at night at the homes of friends and shut-ins who needed a boost of good cheer.

“The most important aspect of making hearts is to gift them to someone,” said Martha. “One of my favorite memories of Nashville was the year eight moms and their children gathered together for two mornings of heart-making for friends who needed cheering up. We hearted a tree for a friend who lost a parent, for another who had a sick child, and for another who was going through treatment for cancer. The experience created a sweet moment of community and connection.” Martha currently lives in Copenhagen and still hangs hearts in front of her house for Valentine’s Day.

Thus inspired, I decided it was a good weekend to spread a little winter cheer on my street. My first task was to find a heart template; Google to the rescue! I chose two different sized hearts- a stout one and a long one. The stout heart image came from here.

I printed the hearts onto 8″ x 11″ sheets of card stock.

By the time I made the hearts and filled them with fiber, they looked like this sizewise.

Next, I searched the house for fabric. I recycled a bright orange tee-shirt,

a few of my husband’s tired-looking cotton shirts,

my kids’ old bandanas, and leftover fabric from various craft projects. The only item I had to purchase were the three bags of polyester filling.

To get started, lay out a piece of folded-over fabric with right sides facing each other. Trace the heart image onto the wrong side of the fabric with a marker. I aimed to get 3-5 hearts from each piece of fabric.

Next, use straight pins to hold the two pieces of fabric together before cutting them.

Sew the hearts together, leaving a two-inch opening on one edge of the heart. Be sure to double back over the stitching, so the stitches don’t unravel.

Using sharp scissors, cut little slits into the seam allowance around the heart’s curved edges to make it easier for the heart to lay flat once it is turned right side out.

Do the same around the pointed edge of the heart.

Turn the fabric right side out. Use a slim, smooth, pointy object to push out the point of the heart. I used the dull end of a paintbrush.

Fill each heart with polyester fiber.

Sew up the opening from where you inserted the filling.

I traced the heart image onto 15 hearts, then pinned all of them, then cut, sewed, snipped, turned them right side out, stuffed them with fiber, and hand-sewed all the openings shut — assembly-line style. It helped speed up the construction process.

Cut 36-inch strips of heavy-duty string to hang the hearts on the trees. I chose a thick cotton yarn that would not snap when tugged at. I used an embroidery needle to poke through the pillow and make the knot.

Martha likes to finger knit or crochet a chain-stitched string with colorful yarns when she makes hearts.

Attach a pillow to each end of the string.

Hang them on a tree and brighten someone’s day, including your own!

PS: No worries if your fabric print comes out upside down!

PPS: You may notice that the heart-opening is at the top of the heart in some of the photos. After I made the first few hearts, I moved the opening to the side of the heart. It was much easier to sew up that way.

Related Stories:
My Favorite Rollout Butter Cookies

 How to Make Royal Icing and Decorate Cookies

Chocolate Birthday or Valentine’s Day Cake

Lily’s Red Velvet Cake

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© 2014-2021 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may not be reproduced without the written consent of Judy Wright.

Group Project: A Shibori Dyed Quilt

I love learning a new word and suddenly having it pop up all over the place. It makes me wonder about all the words I simply gloss over in life. Shibori is one of those words. It comes from the Japanese word “to wring, squeeze, or press.” Also known as resist-dyeing, shibori is a design technique for creating patterns on fabric. The idea of bunching fabric tightly with ties to resist the penetration of color when it is dunked in indigo is a technique that has been around for centuries. Many of us know it as tie-dyeing.

Japanese artists raised the art form to a high level. From the book, Shibori, the Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Wada, Rice and Barton: “Here [Japan], it has been expanded into a whole family of traditional resist techniques, involving first shaping the cloth by plucking, pinching, twisting, stitching, folding, pleating, and wrapping it, and then securing the shapes thus made by binding, looping, knotting, clamping, and the like. The entire family of techniques is called shibori.

In May, the staff of The Nashville Food Project, a non-profit close to my heart, came up with the idea of making a shibori print quilt as a group wedding gift for beloved TNFP Meals Director, Christa Bentley. It was to be a surprise. The Executive Director of TNFP,  Tallu Quinn, has a degree in art (in addition to her MDiv) and learned the technique in college. She wrote out directions for the project, sent them to participants, and provided pre-cut 12-inch squares of muslin fabric for staff and volunteers to create their tied designs. Here is a partial collection of what was created.

The How-To
The first step was to tie the fabric to create a design. I used marbles, corks, and rubber bands to create patterns on the two squares I contributed.

This is how they looked after I tied them,

and when they were dyed,

and then after they were dipped and untied.

Here is another set of pre and post photos.
 

I wish I had taken more photos of the before and afters. It was exciting to see how each manipulation affected the final design. The design below was made by folding a cloth many times and using bull clips to hold the folds together. I think it is my favorite.

Although, I do love this one.

I thought this technique was interesting, too. The white area is where the fabric resisted penetration of the dye due to compression by a block.

Actually, I love them all, as I imagine Christa must since they were each made in the spirit of love and friendship.

D-Day: The Day We Dyed the Squares of Cloth.
Tallu prepared the dye vat using an all-natural indigo powder she ordered online. She invited me and another volunteer, Paiden Hite, to come over and help dye the squares.

This is the dye vat.

She prepped the tied cloths by soaking them in plain, warm water.

One at a time, we submerged the cloth bundles gently into the vat being careful not to add extra oxygen (in the form of air bubbles or drips) into the liquid. It’s a chemistry thing. I wrote a story about growing indigo, harvesting the leaves and making a dye vat in the post, How to Make Indigo Blue Dye.

As we pulled each tied cloth out of the dye vat, we watched it transform in color from a yellow-green to green-blue, to deep indigo-blue. This transition in color seems magical each time I see it happen.

Here are the squares after their first dipping. A few were dipped twice to intensify their color. Color is added in layers, by a redipping process, not by letting textiles soak for a longer period of time.

After the squares dried and were ironed, TNFP staff members sewed them together, backed the quilt, and then began the task of hand sewing the layers together.

The quilt was presented, in a semi-finished form, to the delighted couple, Christa and Todd, at a wedding shower given for them by the ever thoughtful and generous TNFP staff.

Here is a gorgeous photo of the newlyweds on their wedding day. I love it because it expresses hope and love within the beauty of nature. The Bentleys grow food and flowers at Sweeter Days Farm using sustainable practices. They sell their goods at farmers markets and through CSA shares. You can follow their vegetable and flower-growing pursuits and their muster of gorgeous peacocks at @sweeterdaysfarm on Instagram. 

I love when projects, whether they be craft-making, cooking, or planting seeds in a garden, are made in community and in the spirit of caring and fun. For me, it is a way of experiencing and expressing love and joy.

Soon, Christa and Todd will have the finished quilt to wrap themselves up in. Hand-quilting takes time!

A few of my favorite maker-projects:

How to Make Cork Bulletin Boards

 

 

Knitting Neck Warmers with Mom’s Stash

 

 

 

How to Make Gorgeous Birdhouse Gourds

 

 

Homemade Whole Milk Ricotta

 

 

How to Make Indigo Blue Dye

 

 

 

How to Make Plant-Based Dyes

 

 

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© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

How to Make Indigo Blue Dye

Three summers ago, I was cruising the Nashville Farmers Market when I spied Hill and Hollow Farm’s vegetable, flower, and hand-dyed yarn stand. What drew me in was the color blue. Indigo blue. 

On that June morning, owner, Robin Verson, was selling Japanese Indigo plants; the plants she uses to make indigo dye for her gorgeous yarns. The yarn is milled from wool shorn from her own flock of Jacob sheep. I wanted in on this exciting blue action. I bought four of her seedlings and planted them that day. By September, the plants looked like this.

As the plants matured to the flowering stage, I was surprised to see there was no blue in sight. The leaves were green, the flowers were pink, and the stems were a bronzy-red. With winter approaching, I left my small crop of indigo to die, in situ. Little did I know how easily they would self-seed here in Tennessee. Three years later, I had a bumper crop of volunteer Japanese Indigo plants.

During the summer, I noticed there were hints of blue on some of the bruised leaves. Hmmm. The color was in the leaves. I read up on how to extract indigo pigment from leaves, and I saw words like alkalization, oxidation, and reduction in the directions. Principles of Chemistry– the only course in college that made me call home crying.

Back I went to the Farmers Market, now three years later, to find Robin to look for the help I needed.

It turns out every summer when Japanese indigo plants are ready for harvest, Robin hosts all-day long indigo workshops at her farm in Breeding, Kentucky. I signed up for a Sunday in late August.

Upon arrival, I immediately fell in love with her farm and her sheep. I wanted both!

Robin explained the steps we were going to go through. Two weeks later, when I went to try it myself, I texted her to ask for a quick cheat-sheet version of the directions. Here is what she wrote: strip leaves, steep in water to 160º (measure water first), alkalinize, oxidize and reduce water, wait for reduction to be complete, dye and send me pictures! Robin had walked us through all these steps with humor and grace … and hospitality; she and her husband, Paul, fed us every step of the way.

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Harvest and Strip Leaves
Our first job was to strip the basil-like leaves from the 24 pounds of indigo stems harvested that morning. To create the brightest color, the plants are picked just before they start to flower. Once cut, they need to be processed immediately before naturally occurring enzymes in the leaves start to decay the indigo pigment (aka indican).

The black buckets were full of fresh stems, the red baskets held the stripped stems, and the two 80-quart stainless steel pots held the fresh leaves.

2. Make the “Indigo Tea,” aka Dyebath
Robin placed the pots of leaves over propane burners. She poured 12 gallons of tap water into each pot (enough to cover the leaves with water) and lit the burners. The water was heated to 160º over a two-hour period. We used a long compost thermometer to keep track of the temperature.

At 145º you could smell the wilted copper-tinged leaves and see why the dyebath is referred to as “indigo tea.” When the tea was 160º, we cut the heat. We put on heat-resistant gloves and used a short rake to scoop out the leaves and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. The leaves went into the orange compost bucket. The tea stayed in the kettle.

We poured the tea through a sieve to remove dirt and debris.

Robin scooped up a jar of the tea to show us the desired color. The indican molecules had broken down into blueish-indoxyl and sugar.

The indoxyl will not stick to cloth in its current state. It needs to be chemically modified by alkalinizing it with ammonia, oxidizing it with oxygen until it becomes blue-green in color, and reducing it by adding sodium hydrosulfite and allowing it to rest until it becomes neon yellow. Here’s the play by play of that:

3. Alkalinization of the Dyebath
We raised the alkaline level from 7 (the pH of water) to 9 by adding household ammonia at the rate of 2 tablespoons/gallon of liquid used. Some people use baking soda, wood ash, or lye to accomplish this.

4. Oxidation of the Dyebath
Next, we oxidized the dyebath by introducing oxygen in the form of air. We scooped up and poured bucketfuls of dyebath over and over again for 20 minutes to add lots of air bubbles. The liquid turned a deep green-blue. During this process, the indoxyl is transformed into very fine insoluble blue particles. They still won’t stick to fiber in this state, but we’re getting there.

I found this image of workers in Asia adding oxygen to an indoxyl-laden dyebath at http://www.industryofallnations.com/Jeans-At-Industry-Of-All-Nations-ccid_80.aspx.

5. Reduction of the Dyebath
The next step is to reduce the dye molecules in the dyebath. To do this, a reducing agent like sodium hydrosulfite, Spectralite, or Rit Color Remover is added at a rate of 1 tablespoon/gallon of water. Robin had us gently stir in the first two tablespoons of the reducing agent and sprinkle in the rest to not introduce more air. Reducing agents absorb electrons and transform the blue insoluble particles into a neon-yellow color that is now considered in solution. Cover the pot for the two hours it takes the reduction process to happen. The dyebath will look like this when it is ready to dye fibers.

While the mixture reduced, we had lunch. Lunch and dessert were prepared by Robin and her family. The amazing farm-to-table meal was scrumptious. Everyone was gushing. The meal included slow-roasted tomatoes that I loved. Here’s the recipe for them.

Time to Dye!
Before coming to the farm, Robin had asked us to wash the textiles we wanted to dye to remove all dirt and grease. She soaked them in warm water before we dyed them.

The pre-soaked textiles are now added slowly to the warmed dyebath (100-120º). Absolutely no stirring is allowed (to prevent another oxidation). The garments or yarn stay submerged for 15 minutes. It is during this soaking period that the textiles lose their color and become “indigo white” which is in fact, more like “neon-yellow.” The items are removed slowly along the side of the pot to diminish the chance of drips introducing air bubbles.

6. Re-Oxidation
As the textiles are removed, the yellowish indigo particles adhere and penetrate into the fabric’s crevices and transform into insoluble indigo blue as the air mingles with the dye and re-oxidizes it. To intensify the color, let the textiles rest and then redip for another 15 minutes to add more layers of color. Never leave items in the dyebath for more than 15 minutes per dip.

As the re-oxidizing is happening, you’ll see the fibers turn yellow, then green, then green-blue, and ultimately indigo blue. It’s kind of magical.

 

Give the yarn a bath in clean water and vinegar to set the color and then allow to dry. As an aside, notice the four ties spaced intermittently around each skein of yarn. That’s what keeps yarn from getting tangled while dyeing. In all of my years of knitting, I never considered why those ties were there.

I dyed yarn and this shirt.

I can’t thank Robin enough for her instruction and hospitality while we were with her. I urge anyone interested in learning more about this artform to sign up for one of Robin’s classes next year. You can find her here.

And so what did I do with my crop of indigo? Did I try this at home? You Betcha.

I harvested, weighed, and stripped the leaves, and stewed them in water to 160º.
  

I removed and strained the leaves, alkalinized the dyebath, oxidated it for 20 minutes, and finally, reduced it for 2 hours in the kitchen sink.
  

I unwound a ball of yarn, rewound it around a chair, and loosely tied it (so it wouldn’t leave marks), soaked it in the reduced dyebath for 15″, and later, rinsed it in a vinegar and water bath to fix the color.
 

The results were terrific. I dyed both skeins of blue yarn in the photo, one with indigo dye made at Robin’s workshop using her super fresh indigo leaves and the other, a lighter blue, in my sink using my not so fresh leaves (they had already flowered). I also over-dyed a gray linen shirt I had made for me in India. I love it!
 

Once you get started and have a sink full of dye, you start searching the house for things that would look good blue. These muslin dish towels painted for me by my beautiful friend, Mary Carter, were dingy and stained. Now they are a pretty indigo blue.

If it wasn’t time for dinner, I would have re-dipped everything to add another layer of color, instead, with a roomful of hungry family looking at me (it was now 6 pm – this took all day!), I opened the drain and let the dye go.

My favorite, most satisfying days are the ones where I get lost in a project and lose all sense of time. Trying my hand at making dye extracted from plants I grew in my yard provided for one of those exciting and memorable days. Please write a comment if you have anything to add to this epic post. I still have so much to learn about growing plants and making natural dyes.

A Good Book
For a good read about the history of indigo farming and dyeing in Colonial America, I suggest, The Indigo Girl, by Natasha Boyd. The book tells the story of Eliza Pinckney, who, as a young, industrious farmer learned to successfully grow indigo in South Carolina. It’s a page-turner.

One last indigo image: the inspiration for this indigo journey started during our trip to India in February. Little did I know, when I took this photo of an IndiGo Airlines bus from our airplane window in New Dehli, how far my curiosity about this rich color would take me.

Related Posts
Making Homemade Plant-Based Dyes
Group Project: A Shibori Dyed Quilt
Morning Rounds in the Garden, July
To Dye For: Making Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs
Learning How to Block Print in Jaipur (India, Part 2)
Shopping for a Saree in South India

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

How to Make Plant-Based Dyes

This is a story about how one thing led to another.

In April 2015, I wrote a post about using vegetables to make homemade dyes for Easter eggs. It seemed like everyone on Instagram was doing it and I wanted in on the action. You can read about it here. It was exciting to produce gorgeous colorful dyes from “scratch.”

These are the colors I made by boiling vegetables in water.
Red/Purple cabbage produced the blue color. That was a nice surprise!
Yellow onion skins made the orange.
Red onion skins made the brownish-red color.
Red beets made the deep fuschia.

One analogous cooking tip I was able to learn from this egg-dyeing project was that yellow-skinned onions impart a nicer golden color to a pot of chicken stock than red onions.

Over the years, I invited my nieces over to dye eggs and we added ground turmeric to the mix. It produced yellow eggs.

I used some of the eggs in these Italian Easter bread baskets, a recipe I need to post!

One year, I didn’t make vegetable dyes and instead used powdered indigo I had purchased for another project to over-dye already colored eggs. I loved the different shades of blue that resulted. The commercial dye was lightfast, too, meaning the colors didn’t fade the way many of the eggs did.

This past February, while touring a block-printing factory in Jaipur, India, I learned from a young man named Ali, that their factory printed with natural dyes made from plants like tomatoes, pomegranates, turmeric, sugar cane, and indigo.

My takeaway was that you could pretty much make fabric dyes from anything that ever stained your clothes, aprons, or dish towels while you cooked.

Two months later, Easter 2018, was the year I went a little cuckoo with the egg dyes. I poked through my kitchen spices, vegetable bins, backyard garden (found daffodils and forsythia), and the grocery store, looking for foods and flowers I could potentially use to make dyes. In the end, I chose pomegranates, dark grapes, blueberries, tomatoes, cranberry juice, red cabbage, spinach, turmeric, yellow and red onion skins, paprika, apple skins, used coffee grounds, daffodils, forsythia, and tulips.

I was all in.

Crazy as this all seems, I got into the zone on this project. I laid down a long sheet of brown paper and filled fifteen bowls with food and flower samples, some of which I had pre-cooked. I couldn’t cook them all because I didn’t have enough pots or time.

I filled each bowl with boiling water and let the materials meld for a few hours. Afterward, I mashed the plant materials in each bowl, heated them in the microwave, and strained out the pulp.
 

I added hot, medium-sized, hard-boiled, white eggs into the strained warm liquid and let them sit for a while longer.

The results were mixed. Some of the dyes produced rich dark colors, some were pale, some were lightfast, some were not. My favorite new colors were a lovely chartreuse from the pomegranate, a golden yellow-brown from the daffodils and forsythia, a pretty mocha-brown from the coffee grounds, and a light orange from the paprika.

While I used the dyes for eggs, in my head I was thinking about how they might dye fabric. I could see how some of the colors in the swatch below could be created from the colorful dyes I had made over the years.

 

Making Dye from Indigo Plants

In my garden, I am growing a patch of indigo and hoping that this will be the year I finally try my hand at making dye. There are many complicated steps involved, including the addition of chemicals in calculated amounts and resting periods, all of which have kept me from taking the time to focus and learn how to do it.

Today, I signed up for a class at Hill & Hollow Farm in Breeding, KY, to learn how; how to harvest indigo leaves and create dye. When I went to sign up for the class, I realized I had bought my first indigo plants from Hill and Hollow at their booth at the Nashville Farmers Market. I started with four plants and those plants have self-seeded to create the plot I have now. It was an omen. Stay tuned for that post.

Coincidently, in May, my artist friend, Tallu Quinn, showed me how to make patterned blue and white fabric squares using an ancient dyeing technique known as Shibori. That process will be described in another story, too. As a teaser, here is a photo of the still wet squares we dyed.

Working on this Shibori project with Tallu sealed the learning-how-to-make-indigo-dye deal for me. Once the fabric squares are sewn together for a quilt, a group wedding gift, I will write a post.

Like I wrote in the beginning, one thing led to another.

Related Posts
Learning How to Block Print in Jaipur (India, Part 2)
To Dye For: Making Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs
Morning Rounds in the Garden, July
How to Tell If an Egg Is Fresh or Hard-Boiled

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.