Intentacles

Part X

Arms with affirmation. Limbs without limits. Feelers with feeling? Current project: how do you hold hands with someone 2,700 miles away?

Hands are complicated. There are drawing classes where students focus on heads, feet and hands for an entire semester. Our fingerprints are unique and our palm markings change over time. We can support our entire body weight on a few fingertips. Hands have one of the highest sensory capacities of the body. Our hands can embody an entire language.

Do you know what else has some impressive appendages? The octopus. They use their tentacles for locomotion, fighting, tasting and exploring (They also have three hearts, but that’s a project for another time). Yet no matter how exceptional hands and tentacles are, I still cannot reach mine across the U.S.

I had to pretend a little. I also went with the octopus, because a pointed tube is easier to shape out of fabric than digits. I drafted a pattern of a tentacle and sewed a mock up so I had a good idea of what the finished product would look like. I made a few adaptations, and then cut out my pieces, leaving a generous seam allowance (just in case). After a soda ash soak, I used Rit and very old (vintage!) ink to stain the fabric. For the back side, I used a shibori technique that involved wrapping the fabric around some rope and then compressing it. The representation of the suckers was produced by dropping ink onto damp fabric.

 

Next, I used fabric paint to accentuate the existing dye patterns.

 

I sewed the pieces together, leaving a space for stuffing. I fitted the bottom with a piece of cardboard and a weight to add stability. I glued neodymium magnets to the inside of each tentacle. I also included a reminder to share my heart.  The tentacles were stuffed with shredded memory foam and fiberfill.

 

Although pleased with the outcome, I didn’t leave quite enough room to hold hands in the chaste way I envisioned. They ended up being a bit more intimate than anticipated.

 

Part O

My counterpart took a more literal approach to the hand holding quandary. After a few tutorials in casting, he used alginate to make an impression of his hand and used silicone to fill the negative space. The result was an accurate reproduction of his left hand with exceptional detail regarding skin texture, nails and palm lines.

He did magic things with wires, a circuit board and battery (actually the process was explained to me several times, but, magic). When the battery is engaged, the hand glows red. According to B., it didn’t work out like he planned. There are a few components he wants to redefine. Ideally the hand responds to computer commands, all of the hardware is hidden within and the silicone has swirly sparkles (that’s mine). Considering that this was the first time B. worked with these techniques and materials, I think it was a successful first attempt. It is wonderful parts creepy and techy. I love it. And I will be boarding a plane at the end of the month.

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Pokeberry Ink

Say “Gumbi.” Pokey! Or, in this case, pokeberry.
Pokeweed is a toxic (yet edible if prepared correctly) perennial plant with a bright pinkpinkpink stalk and dark purple, almost black berries. The berries produce a vibrant fuchsia juice that can be used for dye and ink. Unfortunately, the color, although striking, does not have good longevity. Since I’ve been on an ink making kick with the black walnuts I decided to try a pokeberry ink recipe I found through the The Fountain Pen Network (there is also an interesting discussion of the process and the ink results). It uses yeast to ferment the berries in order to preserve the ink (although denatured alcohol might do the trick).
Materials: Pokeberries, 2 20 oz clean plastic bottles, cheesecloth/coffee filter, gloves, rubber band, package of yeast, large bowl, gum arabic (if desired)
Pick and wash 8 ounces of ripe berries (I did a triple batch) and funnel into a 20 oz plastic bottle. Screw on the cap and shake vigorously until the berries are pulpy.
Remove the cap and pour one package of yeast into the bottle. Replace cap and shake again so the yeast is dispersed. I also put two teaspoons of gum arabic (found in powdered and solution form in most art stores) in my ink in order to emulsify the dye and help the ink bind to the page.
Remove cap and replace with a square of  cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Place the bottle in the dark at room temperature for at least 24 hours.
Using a larger piece of cheesecloth, strain the contents of the bottle into a bowl.
Place a coffee filter in a funnel and the funnel into a clean bottle. Slowly pour the unfiltered liquid into it. This process can take a few hours. If you are impatient you can squeeze the filter, but be gentle- the fiber breaks easily.
Transfer ink into a container of your choice and store away from direct light.

Dye, dye, dye, my darling

It’s autumn! The days are getting shorter, the squash is ready to harvest and the black walnuts are staining the roads of Central Pennsylvania. Not only do they stain the roads, but anything else they come in contact with, which makes black walnuts a popular and easy source of natural dye and ink. There are many recipes floating around on the interwebs but as long as one has walnut husks, water and heat, there should be success.

Here is one more ink recipe to add to the mix:

Materials: black walnuts, plastic bucket/bag, stainless steel 2 gallon pot, stirrer, gloves, cheesecloth/coffee filters, funnel, rubberband, denatured alcohol, large bowl, clean 20 oz bottle, gum arabic (if desired)

Collect the desired amount of black walnuts. I used about 20 walnut husks (more will increase the concentration, less will decrease it).

Put the fruit in a bucket, or bag and let it break down (I filled a bucket with water left the walnuts in it).  It is ideal when the outside husks have oxidized and are completely black. The green fruit will give dye, but they are difficult to peel.

Wearing a pair of disposable gloves, peel the walnuts and reserve the husks. Meanwhile fill pot about two thirds with water (I used the water from my bucket) and heat until boiling.

Put the husks into the pot and simmer for an hour. After the hour is up, begin checking the color of your dye. Black Walnut gives anywhere from a pale sienna to a rich dark brown (adding iron, like nails, results in a brown-black color).

When you are satisfied with your color, remove pot from heat and allow it to cool. At this point the contents look like black sludge.

Place cheesecloth over a bowl and secure with a rubberband. Slowly pour the pot’s contents over the cheesecloth. The sludge will remain on top, while the liquid filters into the bowl. Wrap up the cloth and squeeze to release the remaining liquid.

At this point I added 4 teaspoons of gum arabic to act as an emulsifier and help the ink bind to the page.

To filter the liquid more finely, place a coffee filter into a funnel, the funnel into a 20 oz bottle and slowly pour in the liquid. It takes a few hours for the liquid to drip through. If you are impatient, you can gently agitate the filter, but the fibers break easily.

Add 5% denatured alcohol to the resulting volume of ink (for example, I ended up with 32 oz. of ink, so I added  1.6 oz. alcohol). Denatured alcohol is available at any hardware store in the paint section. This keeps mold and bacteria from growing in the ink.