- Published: 26 January 2014 26 January 2014
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Written by Ellen Chahey
ELLEN C. CHAHEY PHOTOS
AL DENTE? – That’s not weird spaghetti that Corinne Lilie of Black Sheep Studio is pulling out of the kettle. It’s homespun wool, dyed with natural materials at a workshop that benefited Meetinghouse Farm in West Barnstable.
Corinne Lilie was in Appalachia to teach people how to read. Then they taught her how to dye.
On Saturday, Lilie, of Marstons Mills, was at Meetinghouse Farm in West Barnstable to lead a dyeing workshop as a benefit for the farm. The event, that featured natural ways to color wool, attracted people from Buzzards Bay to Eastham.
There was plenty of laughter as the group gathered. Many had needed to explain to their friends during the week that “I’m going to a workshop on dyeing” meant a lesson in fabric arts, not in terminal illness.
Click here to read original story in the Barnstable Patriot
The farm’s greenhouse became literally a hothouse as cloudy skies yielded to an intense Leo sun. All around the building and scattered about the farm, the purples, chromes, blues, and reds of late summer vegetables and flowers expressed the pleasures of late summer. They also hinted at the task to come: learning how to use plants to dye wool and fabric.
Lilie had laid out an array of nature’s coloring agents. From the plant world, there were indigo, rhubarb leaves, madder root, logwood, walnut hulls, marigold, and tansy. Cranberries, a Cape Cod staple, have less dyeing power. Even Quen Anne's lace is stronger.
What does give a lovely red, said Lilie, is an insect. The cochineal, she explained, lives on the prickly pear cactus and produces “the brilliant red of the British redcoats,” the liturgical scarlet of cardinals’ robes, and even coloring for “hot dogs, cranberry juice, Jell-O, sodas, and cosmetics,” she wrote in a handout.
Lilie said that she grinds her cochineal in a coffee grinder – “not the same one I use for actual coffee.” Even the leftovers from cochineal dye get recycled as what she said is an “excellent fertilizer.” Farm director Judy Desrochers proved the point by dumping the dyestuff on some of her flowerbeds after the workshop.
The other essential to dyeing besides the coloring agent, said Lilie, is the mordant.
This is a mineral that makes the fiber receptive to the dye; the combination of the choices of mordant and dye affect the final color of the yarn or fabric. Lilie said that she uses primarily alum and iron. Other mordants are copper, tin, and chrome. At one time, dyers even went around to pubs to collect the urine in the chamber pots, she said.
The chemical properties of the chrome require it to be used in the dark. “I wonder if that was part of what led to the witch thing?” Lilie mused of the traditional women’s craft of dyeing. As she spoke, several cauldrons were heating with their dye solutions, and participants, all women, were taking turns stirring them.
So many factors affect the outcome of dyeing that Lilie keeps “recipe cards” – actual index cards that record the dyeing agent, where the plant grew, the season, the mordant, and, in the case of mushrooms (which can yield pinks, yellows, browns, and greens) even a photo. Attached to each card is a small sample of the finished yarn.
Once the samples of wool that Lilie gave to each participant had steeped, she lifted out the strands and let them dry – a quick process – to reveal their soft yellow, coral, and brown shades. Some left the workshop wearing their mementoes as necklaces.
Among the participants was West Barnstable artist Jean Carbonell, who as the fundraising chair for Meetinghouse Farm suggested that Lilie could do the workshop. “She refused to take even reimbursement for her expenses,” Carbonell said of Lilie.
But Carbonell did not attend only from obligation. “I’m a perpetual beginner in the world of knitting and crochet,” she said, “and I love yarn,” which she said gives her an alternative to what is for her the more “cerebral” act of painting. So she wanted to see how yarn can be dyed in traditional, natural ways.
She and her husband moved to West Barnstable five years ago, Carbonell said, and she perceived it as “definitely an artists’ village.” As she looked around for a way to get involved, when she laid eyes on Meetinghouse Farm, “I said, ‘This is it. There’s so much potential.’”
She praised Desrochers’ skill in developing the property, a former nursery on Route 149 near the West Parish Church, into a community place where people can come to learn and to enjoy nature. Among the farm’s offerings are a bird and butterfly garden; an herb garden; community gardens; rhododendrons; and a walking trail. A “floral quilt” flower garden is visible from the street.
A possible future project would be some raised beds that would be wheelchair-height, said Carbonell.
Then there's the notion of fixing the barn on the property. “We’d only need about $10,000 for that,” she said, adding that any contributions would be welcome.
Meetinghouse Farm will be abuzz with activities through December, according to publicity available at the dyeing workshop. In coming weeks, there will be a carved pumpkin display Oct. 29-30, and a pie sale the day before Thanksgiving at the West Barnstable Fire Department building across the street from the farm.
Last year’s pie sale sold out almost before it opened, said Carbonell. “There is,” she observed, “a vast pie hunger in West Barnstable.”
Meetinghouse Farm is located at 2135 Meetinghouse Way (Route 149). Its mailing address is PO Box 330, West Barnstable, MA 02668. westbarnstable.org has a link to Meetinghouse Farm. Corrine Lilie’s business is Black Sheep Studio (www.blacksheepstudiocapecod.com). The Cape Cod Spinners Guild will hold its 28th annual Wool Fair Oct. 2 and 3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Dennis Village Green off Route 6A.