The stuff nightmares are made of.

Today I’m editing a chapter of my book which is in part about the American Bullfrog, Rana catesbiana. It is our largest frog here in North America, impressive for its size (its hindlegs alone can grow up to ten inches long!), but especially for its appetite. In the words of Mary Cynthia Dickerson, author of The Frog Book, the bullfrog “is the green dragon of the pond,” and “will eat almost any moving object that it can swallow or partially swallow.” This includes birds, snakes, rodents, fish, young turtles, and even baby alligators. Opportunistic cannibals, they will also freely partake of the tadpoles and adults of their kind. You can see how these clawless, fangless, and venomless creatures are able to hunt so successfully in this excellent little video from National Geographic. It’s more than a little unsettling to think that if I suddenly shrank to four inches in height I would be eaten without a second thought if ever I were to wander about a pond in the summer. And judging by their treatment of birds, I’d go down tiny hair, tiny clothes, tiny shoes and all.

Quilted parking lots

The DOT Straigtens Things Out

After Erin’s lovely post I was thinking of how unfortunate it is that there are so few artists that so cleverly address urban landscapes and the wildlife (and wild plants) within. My gloominess about this didn’t last long, though, as I chanced upon the brilliant fiber work of Terese Agnew on the PBS’s Craft in America. Her segment (the last on the show, from 39:10 on) features two quilts: “Cedar Waxwings at the AT & T Parking Lot” and “The D.O.T. Straightens Things Out.” Both are wonderful pieces that deal, at least in part, with the precious tension that lies between humans and the wild world around us.

I especially love this quote, for it puts beauty and interest into one of the most common blights of the urban landscape: the parking lot.

Every fall flocks of cedar waxwings would come to the parking lot and eat berries from the trees in the median strip…and sure enough, there were hundreds and hundreds of [them]. And while I was sitting there I realized: a bird’s eye view of a parking lot is so…quiltish.

And so I thought – I’m going to make a quilt about this.

Cedar Waxwings at the AT & T Parking Lot

Doesn’t it make you want to do something wonderful with some scissors and scraps and thread? I’m abuzz with inspiration.

Watch Episode VIII: Threads on PBS. See more from Craft in America

Images thanks to The Milwaukee Public Art Museum & KPBS.

Colorful woolgathering in the prickly cold

Introducing Spokes and Petals’ first guest blogger, Erin Therrien! It’s a snowy morning and it’s warm inside, so pour a fresh cup of tea, pull up a chair, and enjoy.

Hello readers of Jenny’s blog! Please forgive my tardiness in posting this Q & A about my current and upcoming book. Between renovations on our 120 year-old house and over-booking myself with other projects, time to sit and write about myself has been scarce. I have finally carved out some time today, as it is -17 F, and I am hunkering down for a cozy day of reading, writing, and snuggling with my dear pup, Fido. I am honored to be a guest blogger, so a million times thank you Jenny!

What is the working title of your book?
I’ve already self-published a very small book on natural dyes, focusing on the Upper Midwest, but am in the process of expanding it into a more in-depth book on the subject. My working title is Wild Dyes: Expanded. It is unimaginative, but everything needs a name. I hope to find a more arresting title as I get further along.

Where did the idea come from?
I was asked to teach a small workshop on natural dyeing and wanted the students to have a take-away with recipes, notes, images, etc. Once I began the layout, I realized that for all of the work I was putting in I could just publish it as a small paperback through Blurb. Time was what kept me from going full-on with the first iteration; I had to leave out a lot of information and imagery.

What genre does your book fall under?
My first book is 100% DIY instructional.  The current project will be 70% instructional/guidebook and 30% nature writing.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’m not so sure it would work so well as a movie. Perhaps Martha Stewart could do an episode.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
An Upper Midwest guide to natural dyeing, covering the plants that grow through the cracks in the sidewalk to those found in the Northwoods of Minnesota.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I am hoping that one year will be sufficient to get all of my ideas assembled.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes by Sasha Duerr: hers is a more project-based book, but I can see she has a love for experimentation, layout and texture, as do I. Also, Eco Colour by India Flint: such an in-depth guide to dye plants, processes, and colo(u)r.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
While starting to use natural and plant dyes in my work, I had a hard time finding information specific to my region.  As any gardener out there knows, many of the fun and showy plants are reserved for those who reside above zone 5. The same goes for North American dye plants. Through more research and experimentation, I found that nearly every plant will yield a dye, however faint. I slowly built my own palette of natural color from foraged plant material, spices, and food waste bound for the compost (and even the compost itself).

What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?
After obsessively seeking out new dye plants and correctly identifying those that I hunted, I began looking at all plant life around me differently– especially in my urban Milwaukee neighborhood. The scrubby plants in vacant lots and along highway embankments began to attract my attention as I went about my day. I started taking note of when the goldenrod started to bloom, the staghorn sumac showed its first fiery leaves, and the curly dock dried up and turned that wonderful maroon-brown that transfers itself almost identically onto silk. Toward the end of summer, I feel like I am on a constant treasure hunt. I hope that my book will give readers this same feeling.

When and how will it be published?
I plan on self-publishing my book through Blurb once again. Being a visual artist, I like having that hands-on control over the layout and imagery.

Thanks again, Jenny, for inviting me to share your splendid online space! And thank you, readers, for doing what you do best.

Color-full ball jars!

Sun-dyeing in the summertime…for the really hot days. Credit: Erin Therrien

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