May 28, 2013

A week with Dorothy Caldwell

I spent a week earlier this month in a workshop with Dorothy Caldwell at Nancy Crow's Barn.  The name of the workshop was "Human Marks," and we spent the week making a variety of marks on paper and fabric, with all sorts of implements/methods.  The final project was to make a small book with the products of some of these exercises, plus anything else we wanted to add, and to do that we also learned a simple book-binding method.  The workshop was both stimulating and fun, and it was a great group of people--more diverse than most workshops, as it drew people from a variety of backgrounds, including people whose main work was in weaving, collage, installation, dyeing, quilting, and more.

The small pieces on the left (the shorter ones, about 4x13") were done by putting soy wax as a resist on fabric and then discharging color with bleach.  The four smaller pieces all started out as black fabric (top two on a black that discharged to tan, and the bottom two on a black that discharged to yellow, the lighter background from leaving the bleach on longer.  The long piece on the right started out as orange, discharging to black.  My favorites are the top two on the left.  Upper left done by stamping wax on with a stamp I made by glueing string to a wooden block; upper center done by brushing on wax.

 This is a small segment (about 8x10") of a piece done by putting a very large piece of paper on the ground, taping a brush to a 3-foot long stick, dipping it in India ink, and painting.  The big piece then got cut up to make a book.

We spent a day learning about kantha embroidery stitching, and the rest of the week worked on small pieces.  I've wanted to learn this, so was glad for the opportunity, but the intensive work was hard on my hand, so I didn't get too far.  Dorothy has spent time with women who do this work in Bihar, India, and had a number of pieces to show us--quite amazing.  You can see some examples here.

 Here are a number of the small books that students made as a test of the binding technique, made by cutting up the paper we'd used as a desk-protection when doing various exercises.  (Double-click for a larger view.)  The two with lovely black and white covers are Dorothy's own samples.  Mine is towards the center with the turquoise spine. I really loved making this little book.  I used to study medieval books, so I've long known what a "signature" is in bookbinding.  But I'd never made one myself.  Something very appealing about putting the signatures together and weaving the threads for the spine.  I may be looking for things to put together into little books. . .

Much of the week was spent in alternation between working very carefully (bookbinding, kantha) and working without control (painting with a long stick).  One of the most interesting exercises in working with less control was in blind stitching:

We cleared our tables, threaded up five needles and laid them to the right of the fabric.  Then we each put on a blind-fold.  Dorothy would read out a word related in some way to design, and we were to make a row of stitches with that word in mind.  I love what happened in my second row, where the word was "dialogue."  My intention was to make two stitches close together, but sometimes I couldn't remember if I'd done one stitch or two, hence some triplets as well as the pairs (detail below).

I can imagine working with this stitching motif in some way in future projects.  It will be interesting to see if I can make the stitches with this combination of order and casualness if I have my eyes open. . .

One of the major lessons I took away from the workshop was reinforcement of the idea to slow down and look carefully.  To be open to accidental beauty.  To look for serendipitous adjacencies/relationships (this last most in play when we were making our books, looking to arrange pages with interesting juxtapositions).  For example, on one of my cloth-book pages, I sewed a trapezoidal piece of fabric I had brought with me.  But when I turned the page, I found I was more enchanted with the line of stitches that showed on the back:
Thank you Dorothy, and thanks to all my wonderful classmates!


  1. I have taken this class and it was wonderful. Dorothy is an inspiring teacher.

  2. I think you'll be tapping into what you learned at this workshop for a loooooong time.

  3. I'm very impressed on how successful you were at opening yourself to new experiences! The creativity gene definitely skipped me in our family...