Snow as a filter for fabric dying
Art's Corner by Miriam Pickens
By Miriam Pickens
Winter is a pretty season, but I long for color in my life, so I was glad to see that the Finnish American Folk School at Finlandia was offering a snow dyeing class by Emeritus Professor Phyllis Fredendall and instructor Hannah Smith-Grannis. You may have seen the cute photos of flowers painted in food coloring on the sides of the snowbanks, in an attempt to usher in spring, but this is completely different. It’s a technique for dyeing fabric that is particularly suited to our winters.
There were four of us in the class, and we each had a few yards of cotton. One student brought linen, which was fine because cotton and linen are both derived from plants. The first step was to soak the fabric in a soda ash and water solution, which is alkaline. Dyeing with protein-based fabrics like silk and wool requires an acidic bath.
The wet fabric was then folded, wrinkled, or twisted and placed on a screen above an area like a sink that could get really wet and messy. While Phyllis prepared the dyes, we went outside to gather fresh snow. This was really easy since the class was on Wednesday, Feb. 23, right after a massive snowfall. We each piled three inches of snow on top of our fabric, and then gathered to check out the dyes. We learned that some dyes, like the fuchsia and the turquoise, are solid colors and will stay faithful to that color through this procedure. Certain dyes, most notably the black, however, will separate into their component colors and “strike the fabric differently when chilled”. This makes them particularly interesting for snow dyeing since black is made up of several different colors. This art form is not like painting, where you, for the most part, apply the paint in very specific locations and expect it to stay there. This is more a collaboration between the artist who chooses the colors and the placement, and Heikki Lunta, the Finnish Snow God, who decides the rest.
Intentionally and unintentionally, we dripped colors all over our mounds of snow and marveled about how pretty it looked. Then we had a tour of the cool weaving projects going on in the studio and headed home.
On Monday we returned to the studio for the big “reveal”. Hannah helped us wash the fabric, and then into the studio washer for a spin. We took it out and hung it on the classroom clothesline. The fabric was beautiful; swirls of color with flower bursts everywhere, and the black had broken up completely. I’d love to make mine into a dress, but then I’d have to cut it, and that would break my heart.
The Finlandia University Gallery at the Finnish American Heritage Center is featuring the Alumni Exhibit 2022. Twenty-one graduates of the International School of Art & Design have their recent works exhibited. The show is spectacular; such a wonderful diversity of works! Abigail Tembreull, Paige Lewandowski, and William Thompson all have ceramic works displayed. Thompson has a large display of intricately carved vessels that he creates and sells at his studio on 5th St. in Calumet. Tembreull, currently living downstate, has opened a business called Gailea Design, where she creates and markets art prints with sustainability in mind. Also working in ceramics, she created a ceramic snowflake that was selected by the famous Pewabic Studio downstate as one of the three 2021 snowflake ornaments for that company.
Lewandowski teaches art at Jeffers High School and is well known locally for her very painterly ceramics depicting fantastical nature images. Each year, there is a purchase award, and Lewandowski’s collection was selected for that, now to be in the permanent collection at Finlandia. The show includes paintings, photography, videos, fabric, and much more; well worth the visit. I was so happy with the exhibit, but also with the wonderful gathering of supporters and friends of the arts. This show will run until March 16, and the Gallery — located at 435 Quincy St. in Hancock— is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Another exhibit I’m really looking forward to is the upcoming show at the Copper Country Community Arts Center in Hancock. March is Celebrate Youth Art Month, and the Kerredge and Youth Galleries will overflow with wonderful works by local kids. Their winter hours are Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Check out this show, and while you’re there, check out the new slate of class offerings including an Indigo & Shibori Natural Dyeing class with Mavis Farr, scheduled for Saturday, April 16 from 1-3 p.m., so you can have your own adventure in fabric dyeing.