I am so excited that Caitlin Ffrench is joining us for this month’s edition of Ten Things! I have been knitting Caitlin’s beautiful pi shawls and assorted patterns for a few years now, and I quite often marvel at her wildcrafting adventures on Instagram– so I was wonderfully intrigued when she mentioned she’d be writing about her favorite tools that she employs in her various practices. I interviewed Caitlin in November of 2017 for Haute Macabre, and it was such a treat to work with her again for this piece.
Caitlin Ffrench is a Canadian Fiber Artist and Forest Lurker working with wildcrafted pigments from within the land bases she visits. Ffrench gathers discarded stones, bricks, weeds, and other waste to grind into useable pigments to make paint and dyes. ffrench paints with wildcrafted pigments as a way to find the connections between place and memory.
10 Tools That I Use Most Often
Explaining what I do for work is a hard thing. I make paints from earth and botanical pigments, I write knitting patterns, I’m an artist, and I teach natural dyeing. I’m sure there are other things too, but at the moment I can’t think of them.
The tools I use are well worn and loved dearly. These 10 tools are the most important in my arsenal, but there are many more I could name. (If this was a list of 100 things I think it might cover my most important tools… maybe.)
This well-worn basket has been across the continent with me. I use it for wildcrafting dyes and dirt, as a purse when puttering around town, to carry objects back and forth to my studio, and to store my knitting in while at home. I think it is most useful because I can take it outside and hose it out if I’ve left wildcrafted plants in it a little past their prime, and it can be reshaped while it dries. This one is 9 or 10 years old, and the bottom is starting to give way- but I won’t let it go that easily. A repair is in its future.
Books are my most dynamic tool. I think that as a teacher I need to be constantly learning, and books are the easiest way to study new things. Last year I took on a reading challenge to read at least 100 books (I hit 110 last year!) which means I almost always am carrying a book with me.
Out of last year’s books The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St Clair was in my top 5, and I showed it here alongside The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar and Colors from the Earth by Anne Wall Thomas. These books are three of my most prized possessions, and I’m constantly rereading them to glean knowledge.
(Note: Today I finished my 86th book- I may make it past 100 books again this year!)
Shooting film photographs is a great love of mine, and this camera is my favourite out of my collection. It is a medium format camera that is really simple to use. I got it at a camera swap a number of years ago, and I bring it on most of my travels. I shot a book of knitting patterns in Iceland on it- a feat I’m not sure I’d repeat. There is a nuance in shooting medium format film that you can’t get any other way, but shooting a book halfway across the world on film was a ballsy move. (It is called The Darkness Fell and you can find it, along with my other patterns, on Ravelry.com)
A Silk Scarf
I naturally dyed this silk scarf using the eco print method with Trident Maple leaves and Iron, and then overdid it with homegrown indigo. I wear it as a neck scarf or have it jammed in the bottom of my purse almost every day. I use it when gathering earth pigments–silk is sturdy. I used it yesterday to collect ochre while hiking (the dirt shown in the photo).
Mortar and Pestle
I have two granite mortar and pestles that I use for grinding earth pigments; the one shown here which is the larger of the two, and a smaller one I take traveling. I use the granite ones because they’re a very hard stone, and can break up almost any stone I gather. Using these tools makes me feel like the witch I dreamed of becoming as a child. Some real Baba Yaga vibes.
I am a scissor hoarder–and I don’t regret it. I use scissors in my studio and at home all the time and have a pretty lovely collection. The shears shown here though are my absolute favourite because they’re the burliest ones I own, and they’re sharp enough to get through many layers of denim at once.
I feel naked without my sketchbook. I use it to take notes, to design knitting patterns, for painting and drawing, and for reminders to remember things for later. I use the Moleskine brand and the ‘sketchbook’ paper one. The paper is tough enough that I can use watercolours on it. I use the same size every time, and they sit on their own shelf in my studio. They look quite handsome all in a row.
When I start a new one I put the start date in the front cover so it’s easy to look back at ideas from older ones. I go through between 5-8 a year, and they’re always a little rough looking when they’re finished. I think they’re an intimate glimpse into the workings of my brain.
Shown here is a drawing from a hike I did yesterday, and pigment samples from the side of the lake I was at. I even remembered to put in the date on the drawing. Past me likes to leave helpful notes for future me to look back on.
As I child I made potions out of plants and dirt, and it seems that nothing has changed–I’m still making potions out of plants and dirt.
As a natural dyer, anything you use for dyeing is no longer food safe. You need separate deepest, spoons, lids, scales, etc because the things you’re dyeing with may be toxic. I have a bunch of dyepots, but I prefer to think of them as cauldrons. Be the witch you want to see in the world!
Oilcloth Tool Roll
My friend Kassy at Old Fashioned Standards made this custom tool roll for me this summer. It is a riff on a tool roll she already makes, but with a pocket large enough for my sketchbook, and a zippered pocket. She makes things from Oilcloth, and they’re sturdy as hell. (And water resistant!)
It was made for a residency I did in Iceland, and it needed to hold all of the drawing and painting things I would need while traveling.
Cassy also makes jackets, pants, hats, bags, witch hats, and other magic. Look her up- she’s badass.
My hands always look rough, are stained or cut up, and I love them. My hands are my greatest tool, and when I came into my 30’s I realized that stretching and physiotherapy would make a world of difference on them. They’ve been tattooed by my friend Nomi Chi (The roses on each hand), and by my partner Arlin ffrench (all the things on my fingers.) Having them tattooed was a way of making them fancy- to thank them for their hard work. I also wear Bloodmilk rings on my left hand, and a moonstone ring made by my friend Janet Harrison on my right hand every day. The amber ring on my right hand comes and goes- but the others are always there.
‘I am not what I am, I am what I do with my hands.’ -Louise Bourgeois
Find Caitlin Ffrench: Website // Instagram