Earlier this year when I prepared to dedicate a worship stole I made for my brother in his memory, I talked to some of his ministry associates about how much I enjoyed creating the piece. There was so much meaning in planning, weaving, dyeing and sewing a stole that would be used for something as important as a church worship service.

I could see Dave’s former associate, Marla, a Lutheran Deaconess, sitting there thinking during the conversation.  “You know,” she said smiling, “I could really use a stole for the Advent season.”  And so it began.

I told her I’d be happy to make one for her.  It would mean a lot, since she and Dave had successfully partnered in a collaborative ministry at St. Paul’s.

It took a few weeks, just to think about the design, but I finally settled on a dyed warp in blue (those are the Protestant colors of Advent).  Over the summer, I painted the warp with three colors of dye and was struck at how much it looked like water, so I quickly named the design “Living Waters.”  While Advent was the goal, this stole could easily double for baptisms.

One of the challenges in making a deaconess stole, is that it is worn across the body and pivots on the hip downward toward the leg. It needed a dart, but it couldn’t show.  So I played around and finally settled on a dart inside the stole which would be covered over by the extra fabric.

I used one of Marla’s other stoles to make sure the dart was deep enough to pivot properly.  It ended up being about an inch.

For the symbol, I settled on a spiral I had seen on the Canadian deaconess website.  The spiral indicates outward movement and activity, something all deaconesses are known for.  They are very active in their communities.  And as the spiral moves out, it bursts forth in love, hence the symbols on the outside.

I used some pale yellow stash yarn and dyed it a deeper yellow on my stove one afternoon. Then I made a crochet chain and stitched it on. The biggest challenge was finding a proper fabric for the spiral bursts.  I wanted metallic, but it was September at the time and nothing was out for Christmas yet in the fabric store.  I wandered for a long time, and then I found it.   Pleather!  Can you believe it?  That cheesy fabric from the 70s was exactly what I needed.  I cut it in triangles and glued it with fabric glue.

A couple of weeks ago, my family and I attended worship services at St. Paul to celebrate the First Sunday in Advent.  Marla talked about the stole and even let people touch it (although she joked that she doesn’t usually encourage that sort of thing). But handwoven fabric begs to be touched and she got that.  It was a great morning to see the stole on the altar.  I know Marla will make good use of it in her abiding ministry.

I belong to a small weaving group that sets a challenge every year to make us better weavers.  This year we are supposed to make a bag based on a color palette of our choosing.  We can get our inspiration from the lining we choose, the inkle bands we wove this summer for straps, or other sources.

This year, I spent a lot of time natural dyeing fiber and I have spun up most of it into weaving yarn; so I know what colors I’m using.  The sticking point for me was the type of bag to make.  The last thing I need is another tote!

So recently, I started coming up with ideas during a long weekend vacation in Washington D.C.  I just got a new Canon EOS T2i camera and was forced to carry it in a backpack purse of mine.  It was certainly not designed for camera carrying.  Hmmm.  I need a bag for that.

My project is now a backpack to carry my camera and lenses during my travels. Now the challenge is the design–the structure of the bag and the weave structure of the fabric.  On a visit to the National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian), I had a field day taking pictures of some of the incredible weaving that inspired my vision of a backpack design.

I just love the colors and the design of the bags, basket and clay pots. Each one gave me great ideas on some of the motifs I’d like to try. Ever since I started weaving, inspiration seems to be everywhere.  I will go back to these pictures when I’m ready to start sketching out my ideas.

It’s amazing how productive you can be during a period of unemployment.  In fact I’m busier now than when I was on the job!

While organizing my sewing/weaving studio and going through all my supplies, I happened upon the last bits of a natural dye kit I bought from Carolina Homespun years ago.  There were small bags of about 4 different dried dye plants, mordants, some plastic mesh bags and a number of other goodies. In addition, a check of my freezer revealed frozen avocado dye (from the pits and skins). I started with the avocado.

I’ve heard mixed reviews of results with avocado.  After an alum mordant and a couple of days in the dyepot, now I know why.  It turned into a lovely shade of puke.

I certainly couldn’t leave it like that! So the madder root called to me. “Send me your tired, your poor fiber yearning to be free. I will give you beautiful shades of red!”

That’s more like it.  I dyed half the fiber (in plastic mesh to keep it from felting) with an alum mordant and then another round of fiber mordanted with iron (never tried that before).  Madder just gave it’s heart out for me. I soaked each round in a cool dyebath for 2-days because Wild Color by Jenny Dean says it gives the clearest shades.

I saved the final batch of fiber for a plant I had heard about in my guild.  It’s a weed around here called Queen Anne’s Lace or wild carrot.  When my husband and I were working out at our local fitness center, we spotted a patch of it out the window.  The director gave us some scissors and a bag and we gathered about a pound of the stuff.  She thought we were crazy. I cooked it up the next day and plunged the fiber into a hot bath for a couple of hours.

It turned a crazy wonderful greenish yellow color. I was thrilled.

All this natural dyeing doesn’t take very long and it’s pretty relaxing too.  I sit by the dyepot reading or get along with my other work while it sits happily turning colors.  Here’s the results.

From left to right: iron mordant-madder dye; alum mordant-madder dye; alum mordant-Queen Anne’s Lace.

So now I need to spin it up for a weaving project and I think I’ll use some yarn from the Indigo workshop to go along with it.  Plus, since the job market is still looking pretty bad, I’m sure I’ll have time to use the last of the dyes from the kit- brazilwood, osage, and the roots of an old barberry plant we dug up and dried years ago.  I’ll keep you posted.



I’ve had quite a summer of natural dyeing.  In June, Nancy Zeller of Long Ridge Farm in New Hampshire conducted a 2-day workshop for my guild on Indigo Dyeing.  It was wonderful!

First she brought samples of indigo dyed textiles.

Then we got to work creating our vats. Nancy inspected Karen and Betsy’s vat to make sure it had the proper pH, temperature, and low oxidation.

My partner Amanda, a biology professor (lucky me) and I had a great time working together at the workshop. She was very adept at using pH paper and understanding the reading.

Before the workshop, I took some cotton gauze fabric and shibori stitched it all over.  I got some great results after I dyed it in indigo and then after removing the stitching, dipped it in a woad vat (another blue dye we got to play with).  I was pleased.

Indigo was magic.  I came home with enough of a vat to reinvigorate it and dye some more.  In the meantime, I spent this last weekend experimenting with the lovely yellow dyes of Queen Anne’s lace.  More about that in the next post.

I’ve been away from this blog for a number of months.  It’s been a Spring that has left me at a loss for words.  In fact, “loss” has been something I was forced to confront on a number of levels.

The most heartbreaking was the death in late March of my older brother Dave, a vibrant 55-year old Lutheran pastor who was taken very suddenly by an aortic aneurysm. It’s hard to explain how devastating this has been to the entire Smith family. He was deeply loved.

If you’ve been following this blog, you might remember that about a year ago, I posted some pictures of my preliminary work in making a worship stole for Dave based on the season of Pentecost.  It was some woven shibori work I decided to tackle.

I finished the stole last Fall, but Dave was between calls, meaning he was not serving a permanent congregation at the time. He was an interim for a short time and he wanted to wait to receive it when he found a new church home. I kept the stole in my drawer waiting for that day.

It never came.  When he died, we placed it near him at the visitation; then the Bishop brought it up to the altar during her funeral sermon. That was in April. 

When we neared Pentecost, I decided it would be a shame for the stole to go unused.  I called the church he served for most of his ministry and last Sunday we dedicated it to St. Paul, Sharon Center, Oh.  I presented a powerpoint of slides similar to those in last year’s blog post.


Pastor Judy McGuire took off her own stole and put on Dave’s.

 Then we said a prayer and wiped away some tears.  It was a wonderful tribute on a beautiful June Day.

I’ve been on a learning binge lately which has been fun. Recently I signed up for an on-line class in Shibori techniques. I’ve done some woven shibori in the past, but never the traditional techniques on silk.

I’m in the second week of a 5-week session and it’s been a blast.  Not only is Glennis a wonderful teacher, the class of people from all over the world has been enthusiastic and very creative.  Glennis designed the on-line class to be a weekly uploaded teaching pdf document with embedded videos and a blog where we all share ideas.

The first class was about using clamped resists on silk samples using ColorHue Dyes.  I wasn’t thrilled with the pale results.

The itajime technique was difficult for me with all the clamps and shapes, but fun nonetheless.

Last week in Lesson 2, Glennis introduced three different techniques using hand stitching–mokume (rows of running stitches, similar to woven shibori), makiage (pattern within a motif), and orinui (overcast stitching on a fold).  This was more my style. I love to sew, these techniques give me much more control, and an additional video gave me much more information on how to increase the intensity of the color.

The photos show the initial stitching, everything gathered and dyed, and the unveiling which I’m crazy about!

I’m very pleased that the color was so intense.  The blue sample was simply dyed, but the other two were immersed up to a point and the rest of was painted.  Fascinating how it all works.

This summer I’ll be attended an indigo dye workshop and I’m sure I’ll be bringing plenty of work from the techniques I learn over the next few weeks to place in the dye pot.

I will continue to post with each new technique learned.  Stay tuned.

My husband and son went away this weekend to indulge their auto racing interests.  My other two kids were off doing their own thing at various times.  Which left me on my own for the first time in a long, long while.  What to do?  There was a plethora of choices, but in the end, fiber won out.

I usually have several projects going simultaneously, but they have languished while I launched the Craft a Guild website and book last month.  Now that it is going along nicely, I returned to unfinished projects and started another.

A spinning group has just been started in my guild and it met for the first time at Cornerstone Yarns in Richfield.  Five ladies and I had a lovely time spinning and talking for a couple of hours.  I hope I’ll be able to make it a regular activity.  Especially since I was able to use some fiber I’ve had for several years.

Then, Saturday, my daughter and I attended the Lakewood Arts Festival where many talented vendors had items for sale.  I ran into my friend Deborah Yorde of Craftsman Hill Fibers in Mt. Vernon, OH.  She had lovely silk scarves for sale and they were selling at a good clip.

Last night, after a full day out, I finished the socks I’ve been working on for so long.  They are now in the back yard, blocked on a towel and drying in the breeze.

Finally, I managed to do the first dyeing step on the woven shibori stole.  I let the colors batch for almost 24 hours and they came out much brighter than my sample from earlier this summer. Today I decided to use water from my rain barrel to wash out the dye.  That worked out beautifully!  I used about 10 gallons to rinse.

Let’s just say, I was exhausted.  But in a good kind of way.

I’d like to announce a new venture I am launching today called Craft a Guild.  This name respresents both a website and an e-book that I have put together to serve the fiber guild community.

Many of us belong to a guild and invest our time and energy into serving it while also enjoying the learning and fellowship that it represents.  Craft a Guild was written to help people have healthy vibrant guilds in their fiber-focused areas.

If you’re a knitter, sewer, weaver, spinner, dyer, felter, lace maker, or beader this site is for you. You’ll find information about starting a guild, finding a guild that meets your interests, or advancing the mission of your existing guild.

On the site, I am offering the book for sale plus the chance to subscribe to a monthly newsletter.  If you subscribe, you’ll get a copy of my 12 Tips for Effective Craft Workshops.

Here’s a look at the front page.

I hope you’ll take the time to visit Craft a Guild and see what you think.  Feel free to leave comments and suggestions.

I will still maintain Between the Threads.  This will always be the place where I can talk about my personal fiber pursuits!

I’ve been away on vacation but prior to my departure last week, I was very busy exploring a technique which is new to me in weaving and dyeing.  Undoubtedly, many of you have heard of woven shibori, a Japanese dyeing technique that Catherine Ellis so brilliantly adapted for the loom.

During the painted warps workshop, Kathie Roig mentioned that I might want to think about trying shibori using paints or dyes.  I began to get a vision in my head for a worship stole for my brother who is a Lutheran pastor.  An upcoming dye day at the Cleveland West Weavers gave me the opportunity to plan for a sample to explore the possibilities.

First I warped up the loom with a combination of rayon and cotton with the idea that I would weave the pattern threads in a pointed twill in five different treadlings with plain weave in between.  After it was finished, my brother David and I could choose the most effective look.

The entire project was based on the colors of Pentecost; the tongues of fire could be dramatic. So I wove the cloth and then at dye day I chose two different yellows to dye the open cloth.

The purple threads in the cloth separate the different treadling patterns. The small green threads are the pattern threads thrown from a separate shuttle to create the pattern later.

After the dye was set, rinsed and dried, I pulled on the pattern threads to draw the cloth into a tight gather.

Then I had to soak the cloth again in a dye activator.  After an hour or so, I took the cloth out to my picnic table where I applied a thickened red dye to the tops of the folds to create a dramatic pattern. Here it is just waiting to be revealed.

Shibori is a process that takes patience.  After this top dye is applied, it must set for at least four hours, but I wanted to be absolutely sure, so I wrapped it in plastic, had dinner, went to bed, off to work the next morning and then came home to rinse it thoroughly and let it dry outside.  Then the threads were cut and pulled out.  I was so pleased.

You can see that the treadling changes show an enormous difference in each pattern.  Plus the fact that on the right side, I changed my weft from an 8/2 cotton to a flake cotton.

Dave chose the pattern on the lower right and I concurred.  I think it will made a dramatic presentation of Pentecost and other special liturgical days when he is on the altar.

I now know what will occupy my loom for July.  I will post the final project when I finish later this summer.

Every year, both of the guilds I belong to host summer dye days.  The Medina Guild features natural dyes and protein fibers and the Cleveland West Weavers focuses on cellulose fibers and fiber reactive dyes.

Last weekend, I went to the Cleveland event at the home of one of the members in Oberlin.  The day was quite hot and humid with a little rain sprinkled in, but otherwise was a wonderful day.  This is the closing meeting of the year so we always discuss next year’s study/challenge and we bring in finished projects.

Here are just a few of the lovely projects our members brought in the meeting.

One of our members, Mary Louise, likes to weave pipe cleaners into her cloth so she can turn it into a vase with wire structure.  Ruth made the tea towels on the right and Sara experimented with our study subject Summer and Winter on the left. 

After the meeting and a potluck lunch, we moved outside to dye our fiber or fabric. Betsy, our hostess, worked with Elizabeth to mix all the dyes.

The table was full of many colors suitable to an array of design possibilities.   Annie chose some great colors which were admired by Betsy.

The day was quite a success.  I brought a length of fabric woven with 5 different shibori patterns.  I dyed the fabric flat and then brought home some other dye to use after the threads are pulled.  I’ll explain it all with pictures in another post. 

Let’s just say I’ve found another exciting new way to approach my fiber passion.  Dyeing is a fun way to design projects.