Chad Alice Hagen

Life, Books, Resist Dyeing & Writing

boxes of fountains pens

Lordy, It’s been hard to maintain a daily writing schedule.  Maybe I’m not cut out to be a writer even tho I really, really love how I feel sitting here at my temporary desk on the screen porch (a rusty table that the antique dealer, knowing a rube when she saw one, told me it came straight from a cafe in Paris) listening to the catbirds in the maple tree and on my third cup of coffee.  I’m dressed in black so I could be mistaken for a real writer, say Neil Gaiman –  if he were a 70 year old red head hunting and pecking on a keyboard and occasionally looking for ideas by staring at the neighborhood cats stalking squirrels, the carpenter bees chewing the porch timbers or the wind moving the leaves.

I’ve spent more than a few dollars on writing courses and ordered dozens of used books from Amazon.  Maybe I should count how many.  My history and strength when considering a new project, home or career is to prepare.  Get all the books, pens, paper and instruction and then tell everyone I am doing this – becoming a writer (moving to Seattle, starting a garden, becoming vegan).  I follow the precept of pretend until one becomes.  I’ve read of that idea several times from different people.  I guess it is a way to fool myself until I become whatever it is… or not.

New sketchbooks with handmade indigo and walnut dyed paper

Last winter I decided to become an ink-maker.  I previously had made walnut ink and even sold bottles of it once at a family art sale.  Last December I went to the fabulous Big Crafty Art Show here in Asheville and wanted in.  I figured I could make cool new sketchbooks with my own indigo and walnut dyed handmade paper for the covers. Okay, made a bunch of those but I couldn’t figure out the final spine bit but before I could finish I was imagining my display as a Big Crafty artist and realized if I could add bottles of handmade ink to the mix it would be really cool and even for a moment or two – until I checked youtube and google – was thinking about making my own handmade brushes.

But handmade ink was right up my alley and I had the perfect space to create it in my dye studio. I ordered the new ink making book with the great looking cover that I saw on Instagram.  I spent hours searching for and ordering just the right clear bottles with little stoppers.  And then I ordered more because the first bottles looked too big. I almost ordered even more as I read that one should really use brown bottles but I had run out of shelf space. Over the next several days I wandered Goodwill and Habitat checking my list for used strainers, metal bowls and pots for cooking ink stuffs. Paper towels, coffee filters, labels, I was prepared.  

Walnuts frozen in time

Good premise – to create an value added product to my book line.  Good match with my long history of dyeing.  And even good planning as I had a freezer full of walnuts from at least two years of annoying squirrels by collecting nuts armed with my plastic bucket and hard hat (for the ever present danger of falling walnuts) (and angry squirrels).  I decided to start my ink making career with walnut ink…

My problem with pretending to be something until I become whatever it is, is that I tend to pretend to do a LOT of somethings until one or the other something clicks with a mysterious something – like a past life career of the same or the fact that I may have a talent for a particular something. And because I am interested in a thousand different somethings – like writing episodes for Doctor Who or becoming a navy seal without learning how to swim – I soon and luckily soon, lose interest in one something in favor of another. Only those somethings that last over time become who I am. 

SO that’s why when in the middle of the long process of simmering walnuts to extract the color,  I was given the gift of 12 yards of extremely heavy linen curtains from a friend who had unearthed a trunk from her garage in which she had, 25 years earlier, stored those curtains.  Aha, I thought, all that linen and a dye pot of simmering walnuts.  Maybe I could design a line of hand dyed garments. I spent days looking through Instagram for a simple jacket pattern, washed 12 yards of heavy linen, picked out the old hem stitches, ironed, measured, cut pattern pieces and when the walnut dye was dark, I submerged the cloth, cooked, cooled, checked the color and repeated the process until a good enough brown appeared.  Rinsed, dried, ironed, considered.  

Decided that I really wanted an indigo lining for the jacket. Decided that maybe I should return to my indigo dyeing days. Looked for my old indigo notes, cleaning the book shelves in the process and when not finding some particular notes from indigo master Micheal Garcia, settled on instructions I myself had written years ago when I taught a semester about indigo at U-Minnesota-St. Paul. Set up two indigo vats (for the only reason that I bought two buckets the day before at the hardware store because one just looked too lonely).  Cut more pattern pieces from the linen, dipped, dried, dipped again, rinsed, dried, ironed and was satisfied. 

Sewed the coat slowly as I disagreed with the instructions but finished it and wore it two times as it weighed six pounds when I stood it on the scale.  So it hangs on the back of the door. Abandoned those thoughts of revitalizing my indigo dyeing career, re-shelved the notes and let the vats die. Decided not to design recycled clothing. 

Making the indigo and walnut dyed jacket took a long time. And time faded my ink master passion as I walked by but barely noticed the shelvesof empty ink bottleswhen I used the dye studio or washed clothes.  It’s been months now.  I did strain and re-strain the left over walnut dye, put it in regular quart jars, added cloves and wintergreen oil so it wouldn’t grow icky stuff.  I bottled up two small jars, one from the 2018 walnuts and one from an earlier vintage (maybe 2017 or 2015)  that had been sitting so long on the dye table that it started to corrode the stainless dye pot. 

ink, books and rules

I did use the walnut ink with a dip pen for a while when I wrote in my journal but dip pens are slow going.  Then in my Master Class with Mr. Gaiman, he mentioned that he writes his stories with fountain pens and uses a different color ink each day so he can see how much he writes.  Hmmm. I also write only with fountain pens and have a drawer full of them.  But the only ink color I had was my precious walnut ink which was too corrosive to use in an ordinary fountain pen. This may have been where I realized that I had no interest in becoming an ink maker but perhaps could be a minor writer of sorts and I went off to the wonderful pen store nearby and bought a bottle of purple ink.

The next day I packed up all my lovely glass bottles in boxes for the neighborhood yard sale and returned all the strainer and pots to Goodwill.

Author pretending to be Crowley from “Good Omens”. Not working too well.

3 thoughts on “the story of ink.

  1. shelley147 says:

    You are a hoot! Thanks for sharing, and found the “pretending to be something until I become whatever it is” struck a chord with me, and sometimes it does work out. Looking forward to more of your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Judy says:

    Certainly reminded me of myself as well but what fun we have!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. barleybooks says:

    Hi Chad! It’s been a long time…
    I enjoyed this story; you ARE a writer!
    Thanks for dropping in on my blog.


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