January 30, 2008

The Elegant Sycamore

I am an amatuer naturalist, a sort of self-trained botany dilletante. I know a bit about classification, a lot of trivia and fun-facts-to-know-and-tell, and am pretty good at distinguishing what's edible and useful from what's poisonous and not. I can identify many common and some uncommon garden herbaceous plants, native plants, and introduced invasives here in the gardens and woods of Pennsylvania. With trees, it's a bit trickier. When they are in leaf I do well, but in winter, when you need to rely on habitat, size and form, bark, and so forth, I can be at a loss.

I can always spot a sycamore, however, and I suspect most people can. Their branch structure is elegant and unique, but it's the lovely mottled bark that's the dead giveaway. As an added bonus, to my way of thinking, they have large leaves. I'm a sucker for large leaves; I can't resist making heliographic prints of them:

With a big leaf like this, it's important to make the print on a hot sunny day with low humidity, so that the paint wicks out from under the leaf quickly and leaves a good image. You can see I was successful in this instance; the leaf is drying out and lifting up from the fabric, and you can see the outline of it, especially on the right side of the photo.

I'm currently working on a large quilt featuring the sycamore tree, and utilizing the print shown above. Here's the same print as part of the work in progress. The heavier pink lines that define the veining are done with hand embroidery. I do the bulk of my work by machine, but I still enjoy sewing by hand. It's very meditative, and the minute variations from stitch to stitch provide a lot of texture and interest when you get up close to the work.

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