Judy asked for an update on the red onions, and here it is:
They’ve lost most of their red color, but they haven’t yet started to mold. I’d say they have another few weeks to go.
In the meantime, here’s what’s happening with the purple cabbage:
A lot of the purple stain is still there, but something is turning yellow and brown, and I’m getting those black spots that I dislike. I’m not sure if the black spots are mildew or mold.
The clamps are beginning to rust, leaving rust stains on the fabric. I’m thinking of using this effect later by folding fabric and clamping it to get intentional rust marks.
The good news is that bugs haven’t eaten holes in the canvas yet! That’s always a concern.
Judy asked if these are known techniques. They are ancient techniques of applying color and pattern to cloth, and there are a handful of artists, primarily fiber artists, who have resurrected them for modern use.
Stephanie Sabato and Christopher Leitch were the first people I heard about who used mold to apply color to silk. There was an article about their work in the November/December 1994 issue of Fiberarts magazine. They let fruits and vegetables mold on silk to create fabrics for wearables and interior design use. I couldn’t find any information about them on the Internet, and I don’t think they are doing this type of work anymore.
I read about German artist Inken Woldsen in the Fall 1998 issue of Surface Design, the journal of the Surface Design Association. Woldsen buried pieces of scrap metal wrapped in fabric to create fiber art pieces.
Kimberly Baxter Packwood uses a process she calls compost dyeing to create fabrics for quilts. She wraps organic materials in a fabric bundle, and buries them in a compost pile until the matter stains the fabric. She also sometimes adds colors from natural dyes.
There may be other people working in this medium, but these are the only ones I know about.
My use of the process is different. I am using heavy canvas and will stretch the pieces as fine art when they are done. I plan to do a series of stains on each piece to achieve a layered effect. Each “dyeing” or staining of the fabric takes several weeks to several months, depending on the weather, and completing a piece can take a year or more. I carefully arrange my organic materials on the fabric before sandwiching them with clamps between sheets of Plexiglas and letting them sit in the yard to mold.
Judy also asked about the toxicity of moldy fabric. (Judy asks all the good questions!) At the end of the dyeing or staining process the moldy matter is removed, and the mold is neutralized and completely washed out. It leaves behind permanent stains on the fabric in unusual patterns.
Dyeing or staining fabric using mold, oxidized metals, and pigments in dirt is an ancient technique, similar to the use of natural dyes. I feel that it is a timely process because of the growing concern about our environment and the toxicity of art materials.
When doing this type of work, I am in collaboration with nature. I decide which materials to apply, what type of fiber to use, how to prepare the fabric, and how long to let it sit. Nature does the rest.