“Beauty spot on wing of Mallard Drake.”

tied and wrapped

This run of beautiful days, a gift after the cold winter. The forsythia is radiant and filled with bees. Last night, around dusk, I looked out briefly and the sky was that blue, the one I dream about, the one I endlessly try to find in textiles, ceramics, books about colour.

I thought of the blue that my eye had conjured within itself, the colour I try to find through dyes and other pigments (the ceiling in the room where I am typing is a deep blue, as close to the Scrovegni ceiling painted by Giotto in the early 14th c for which he used lapis lazuli ground and mixed with binding agents, as close to that blue as I could get, using a guidebook from the chapel and the scanner at the hardware store). I thought of the blue I dreamed, just out of reach when I woke next morning, and how I’ve tried to find ways of mixing it, recipes for it. In Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, we’re told that “Indigo Blue, is composed of Berlin Blue, a little black, and a small portion of apple green.” And Prussian Blue? (“Beauty spot on wing of Mallard Drake.”) Well, it’s “Berlin blue, with a considerable portion of velvet black, and a small quantity of indigo blue.” And Berlin Blue? (“Wing feathers of Jay.”): “Berlin Blue, is the pure, or characteristic colour of Werner.” Who was Werner, you ask? He was Abraham Gottlob Werner (1749-1817), a minerologist and geologist born in Prussian Silesia who developed a scheme for identifying minerals by key charactertistics. His work was furthered by Patrick Syme (1774-1845) who extended Werner’s charts to include natural history.

     When you fall into the rabbit hole of pigments and how they were developed, you could tunnel down forever. You’d find the origins of Prussian Blue, a story involving a toxic compound called Dippel’s oil (created by its namesake as an alchemical attempt to make an elixir of immortality, containing crushed animal bones and blood) accidentally added to a vat of red dye composed of crushed insects, iron sulphate, and potash. The result was a colour that the world was waiting for and embraced with such enthusiasm that it was used for everything from colouring tea to military uniforms to the palette of Picasso where it inspired his blue period. A slight variant of the pigment was manufactured in China, named Berlin Blue, exported to Japan where it appeared as the key colour of Hokusai’s beautiful views of Mount Fuji, in part because of its ability to lend depth to sky and water.

—from “The Blue Etymologies”, part of a work-in-progress….

“She wrote some of her captions in delicate seaweed.”

eel grass

Two passages from “blueprints”. a work-in-progress.

She wrote some of her captions in delicate seaweeds. Her blueprints are a hoard of perfect quilt blocks waiting to be arranged and stitched. They are like scraps of summer sky. They are a world made perfect, young algae, fruiting examples, a dreamworld, a blue heaven, where the tiniest plants float through a blue sea, nothing to damage them, almost two hundred years old and as alive as anything I’ve ever seen.

Fucus vesiculosus, Polypodium vulgare, Leucojam varium, Cystopteris dentaria, Asplenium septentrionale, Punctaria latifolia, Bortrychium lunaria, blue paper haunted with their images, as I am haunted by them, by a woman who sought, identified, collected, and dried plants, immersed sheets of paper in ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide, arranged the plants, set glass over them, positioned them in sunlight, timed, waited, rinsed the sheets in clear water, and left a vast garden of white on blue for us to wonder at centuries after.

He made the drawings. He sat at the desk overlooking Burrard Inlet after his teaching job finished for the day, putting aside his poems. He made marks, erased, used the three-sided ruler I sometimes take out for special quilt measurements. (Nothing is wasted.) He rolled the big sheets of paper with our house carefully imagined, no perspective, nor the distance from the eaves to the peak, but a way to see our way to building the platforms, the walls sheathed in plywood, the joists and beams to carry our roof aloft, and he took them to a place off Marine Drive in North Vancouver where they were reproduced by the process that replaced blueprint (not unlike the process used by Anna Atkins to preserve what she loved in white lines on blue paper, the negative image of what she placed on a page in sunlight). The term “blueprint” is still used for reproductions of architectural drawings and floor plans, though when John took our drawings to the office to have copies made, the process had become a form of xerography. No longer Prussian blue, no longer a page of sky showing how a house might be viewed from an angle impossible for me to apprehend. Now we’d probably hold up a phone or my small Samsung tablet, loaded with plans we could zoom in on, scroll, turn to see alternate views; looking at the little screen, we’d determine the dimensions of the lumber we needed to cut and piece together to make a house. A home.