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  • Writer's pictureKaren Selk

Lipstick and Earrings When Spring Goes Stepping Out

Spring in the Pacific Northwest is a wonderfully long, slow emersion. It starts in January with snowdrops, crocus and cyclamen. Sunshine flushed daffodils, champagne pink cherry blossoms and lapis tinted grape hyacinths are a visual banquet while the sweet scent on the air sends you in search of daphne or lilacs. With eyes to the ground in the forest, sweet yellow wood violets are seen blanketed in thick moss and delicate pink calypso bulbs orchids play hide and seek along paths between fallen branches and lichen. In late April and early May spring really steps out with lipstick red rhododendrons and catkins hanging like earrings on birch, hazelnut and big leaf maple trees.

The air is fresh and sweet smelling, blooms of intense colours and the striking chartreuse of new deciduous leaves are invigorating, the frogs are singing their love songs and the robins enthusiastically welcome each morning with spring melodies. I delight in this renewal of energy and hope each year. It sends me in search of new seeds or plants for the garden, innovative ways to serve up the first harvests of rhubarb and asparagus and inventive experiments in the studio. Everything seems possible.

After my book was sent to the printers last year, I treated myself to an on-line botanical printing course with Irit Dulman ( My quest in the studio is always finding ways of connecting my love and reverence for plants with my work. Irit's methods to this technique held true to how I strive to live on this planet. Like humans, plants have their own unique method of eating, breathing, and communicating, producing diverse chemical properties. With minerals, tannins and alchemy we learned how to coax the plants to release their own pigments permanently onto cloth. Some plants give colour, some act as a resist, some have both colour and resist making them look spotted. Many experiments are done to learn the qualities of each leaf: which ones you will retain in your repertoire and which ones will be left behind. True designing can take place when one has an educated guess of the imprint flora will impart. I was obsessed and manic last autumn as the leaves continued to wither and fall. I worked until the frost making rolls of botanically printed fabric to stitch and embellish brightening the dark days of winter. Now much of that cloth is completed and being readied for exhibitions.

I am zealously experimenting with plants this spring season. The learning curve is steep and I am starting all over again - different plants, varying amounts of their own special juices or tannins, more rain, less heat and on it goes. The choice of fabric to print adds another level to the result of the print. I work specifically on silk. There are many types of silk fabric. Some is dull and rough while others is shiny and slick. This is due to the methods of unravelling of the cocoon to release the fibre, producing a variety of qualities. Add to this mix a wild silk, eri, that is off-white in colour and the diversity just with silk will keep me engaged for a very long time. The clarity and essence of the prints I make are unique to each type of silk.

The unveiling of each print is distinct because of all the variables, but always a wonderful gift. It is the opposite of weaving, which I have done for many years. Weaving is structured, calculated and done in a grid. It takes many hours and lots of math just to set up the loom, so planning is essential. Botanical printing requires time and minimal math to prepare the cloth with minerals and tannins. The process is more immediate and spontaneous than weaving, with the acquired knowledge of the plant materials being essential for design. Colour, resist, contrast, shape and texture are in mind while gathering leaves and flowers to lay the pattern on cloth. The collection is rolled around a dowel wrapped with string for a firm contact and put into a pot to steam. When this is done, I fold my hands as if in prayer, bow my head and say, "I am grateful for what you give me." (Press arrow to view more)

The Vancouver Island chapter of Surface Design Association is hosting a conference in June in Duncan, BC. Our group is having an exhibition of our work at CVAC gallery in Duncan for a month during that time. We have a few spaces left in workshops and lectures. We are excited to be having an in person reception for our exhibition on June 15 and welcome you to join us and chat with the artists. The reception is followed by the opening slide lecture that evening give by me: In Search of Wild Silk. It is a glimpse into the fascinating world of wild silk in the jungles of India. Please pass the following information on to anyone you think may be interested in joining us.

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1 Comment

Hansraj Singh
Hansraj Singh
May 06, 2022

Great 👍. Karen, your knowledge and experience is awesome.

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