Archive for the ‘History’ Category

a short jaunt

June 28, 2015

A short jaunt to New Bern, North Carolina’s first capitol, was enlightening. I could have stayed longer but we had a little further to go. Still, we had a chance to examine some of the old gravestones around Christ Episcopal Church and what I thought were stained glass windows.


in the churchyard

Viewing the windows from the outside was a draw, of course.  I wasn’t leaving that town without seeing them in full color.


So, I did go inside and learned that they were not stained glass, but hand painted.  The guide said “museum quality”.

Then, we drove on to Beaufort, where we caught a ferry to Shackleford Banks where the wild ponies roam.

We didn’t see them this trip, but the fresh air, soft sand and other natural aspects of the island were refreshing.  Another return trip for sure.

Home again – working on my son’s curtains and preparing for 2 weeks of youth camp at Artspace.I will make a point of finding time for my personal explorations. Definitely. It’s still June, after all – my month.


a short jaunt

December 11, 2014

Last weekend, a short jaunt to Charleston put me in “indigo country”. When I’m there, the draw is history and of course, anything that might speak of indigo and its past.

found this on a morning walk

found this on a morning walk

the old slave mart museum

the old slave mart museum

Time was limited and I didn’t have a set agenda, so anything that turned up was serendipity. Also, in many respects, if indigo was the focus (it wasn’t), historic, downtown Charleston would not have been the place.  Still there were some little treasures to be discovered.

owned by Eliza Lucas Pinkney

owned by Eliza Lucas Pinkney

not historical, but authentic - serendipity

not historical, but authentic – serendipity

One of my most satisfying experiences, though, was visiting the Joseph Manigault house. Our guide was gracious and extremely informative about its former inhabitants, architecture and its significance through the last couple of centuries.

family entrance

family entrance

unusual rounded aspects on either side of the house

unusual rounded aspects on either side of the house

I was surprised to hear that at one point that it came close to being razed for a gas station. Fortunately, it was rescued and has been able to serve other and better purposes.

leading up to the 3rd floor

leading up to the 3rd floor


wreath of cotton

Now, home again and with “things to do” with holidays approaching. The “studio” beckons – the idea of a little focused quiet would do just fine.

ginko & spanish moss

ginko & spanish moss

considering the season

December 13, 2013

When did the season begin? Was it last week at the Carrack, going to an exhibit where a friend had a piece on display? Those handmade books were (quite the eclectic collection) inspiring.


Or, maybe it was at the  Joel Lane (oldest house in Raleigh). Maybe. I certainly enjoyed the simplicity of the greenery, sipping a cup of wassail and the sounds of a dulcimer.


Or maybe it was gathering with some very favorite people for a potluck luncheon and “gift exchange,” which is more of a “clean out the ‘junk’ from your studio and share” it!   We have a lot of fun with this – not to mention the food. I baked some bread.


A commission/ special order is complete. It’s wrapped and soon to leave the studio. It’s also a gift.

Now, I’m considering the Gunma silk that made its way to my studio earlier this year (summer? Fall?). It has been waiting and I’ve been thinking. Things of this quality and beauty feel quite precious. Explorations are finally afoot. We’ll see what comes.



January 15, 2013
Tatewaku Shibori

Tatewaku in shibori and indigo on linen.

More often than not, I seem to return to traditional patterns. There’s much to be learned  there in the seeming simplicity.  There is also another aspect, the terminology – what it means, the stories behind the words.

Recently, because I was working on a small tatewaku patterned furoshiki I looked up the term in Yoshiko Wada’s Shibori where it is defined as “undulating lines.”

The kanji isn’t in the text,  so on a search using「たてわく] found「立枠」 in the context of kimono patterning ( illustrated).

Looking more closely, 「立て」(tate) means “to stand” or “rise” and 「枠」(waku) means “frame, framework, spindle, spool” and “bounding-box” (Jim Breen).  Mary Parker, in her book, Sashiko, says that it’s called “rising-steam” and that it dates back to at least to the Heian period. By the Edo (Tokugawa) period it was used as a framework for floral and circular patterns in textile work.

In other searches, other words and expressions rose to the surface:

のたり のたり(notari notari)- an expression meaning gently swelling and rolling.

はせん・波線 ・hasen is a wavy line.

なみがた(namigata) and はけい(hakei)波形 define as a wavy form or rippling shape.

Then “serpentine” came to mind (recalling the serpentine wall on Cincinnati’s riverfront) –

えんえん(en en) which refers to the feeling of meandering, winding, and zigzagging….

Finally, I encountered へびのよう「蛇の様」・hebi no you – like a snake.  This of course, has no relation to tatewaku, or does it?  It was fun to meander through those definitions.

I am also reminded that it is the Year of the Snake – 蛇年!

the indigo trail

December 6, 2012

The vats

Originally uploaded by SOFennell

I’ve been aware of the Ortranto Vat for some time and wanted to see them. The marker calls it a vat, I might say “vats” as there are two chambers, the upper and lower.

The SC Dept. of Archives and History say that these are the only remaining structures like these in the state. That may well be true. I’ve seen suggestions that there may be others, but they could be remains or evidence of…so hard to know without actually seeing what’s there.

At any rate, this was probably my sole reason for making that trip to Charleston initially – to see some trace, some small evidence of that history.

Encountering Indigo

October 22, 2012

I contacted Artspace today and there’s still plenty of room…this is a hands-on experience and has so many implications in the classroom.  It’s unique and a great way to engage students with a memorable experience.

For Educators:




Artspace – 201 E. Davie St., Raleigh

educators must show ID upon registering

Through the experience of one dye, Indigo, students can connect their everyday lives with the history, geography and culture of the rest of the planet. Teachers will be introduced to approaches and resources in bringing this experience to their classroom as well as a hands-on activity.
Instructor: Susan Fennell
Tuition & Materials: $30

Upcoming: Indigo for Educators

September 11, 2012

Artspace just posted this and thought I should do the same.  I’ve also added it to my “Workshops” page.  I’m looking forward to this one – putting indigo into another context – as a product or topic for education.




Artspace – 201 E. Davie St., Raleigh

educators must show ID upon registering

Through the experience of one dye, Indigo, students can connect their everyday lives with the history, geography and culture of the rest of the planet.  Teachers will be introduced to approaches and resources in bringing this experience to their classroom as well as a hands-on activity.
Instructor: Susan Fennell
Tuition & Materials: $30

Introduction to A Perfect Red

August 2, 2012

grinding chochineal
Originally uploaded by SOFennell

It was a discussion of Amy Butler Greenfield’s book, A Perfect Red, at the NCMA where this all too brief first experience took place. I’ve been intrigued for some time, so this was a perfect way to begin, by reading the book on the topic (cochineal), then a short but sweet hands-on.

We had a lively discussion over a light summer meal, then went on to the actual experience of the color and dye.  We looked at natural dye samples, then samples of wool with various results using different mordants.  Finally we experienced grinding it and then with dye that had already been prepared, we dipped a few textile samples.  It was delicious!

Spring Hill House

December 15, 2011

Spring Hill House

Originally uploaded by SOFennell

Spring Hill House was built about 1816 by Col. Theophilus Hunter, an early leader in Wake County, NC. It’s listed in the national historic registry and is well preserved. Although it has gone through many changes since its early days it still retains the spirit of the times. It’s currently the home of the NC Japan Center where their winter exhibit is on display (including my indigo dyed Shibori).

The Women: Polly James Stidum

December 11, 2011

Polly James Stidum with grandchildren

“It takes a village” is a phrase that often comes to mind when thinking about personal development. Where would anyone be without his or her family or community? We need it apparently and I feel like in my case, it has taken just that to reach only my place of authenticity. Sometimes it even takes a lifetime of “raising,” supporting or nurturing to get there, just so that you can continue to do or be that person.

It begins with immediate family and then you realize that there were people before them, and so not only is it immediate family, but ancestry that also participates. So ultimately, it’s an ongoing flow. One can only select what seems to be influence, but then again, you can’t really be sure. On looking back though, there do seem to be roots whether they were really meant to be or not. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, just that they lived and in doing so taught, influenced and handed down.

One of my ancestors was Polly James Stidum. My paternal grandmother often told stories of her and finally one day when her sister visited (during college days) we sat and recorded their stories. It’s all I have and it’s limited. The rest I have to imagine from researching her  environment and history of the times. I’ll never really have the complete story.

The above shows her with my grandmother (the little girl at her knee) and her other grandchildren (my great uncle and aunt).

At any rate, my grandmother says that my great-great grandmother was a “very pioneering woman” in that she grew her own flax and wool, carded and spun them for weaving. She had a loom in her kitchen-living room from which she wove clothing for her family.

What intrigues me most is that she wove a coverlet and the colors she used are the same as the ones that I put in my own work.

I don’t know where her deep blues came from. It seems to me though, that when I look deeply into her threads, they are as deep and rich as any indigo.

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