Trial and Error: In Celebration of Mistakes

November Thoughts from Heather Gallant, 577 Executive Director

A couple of weeks ago I met a new pottery student who was giddy to come to the pinch pots pottery class. This adult learner was so overjoyed that her happiness couldn’t be contained. She was hopping from one foot to the other in a little happy dance. “I’m so excited!” she exclaimed. “I’ve never done anything like this before!” she said with glee. “I’m going to make a lot of mistakes!”

“Good!” I responded. “That’s the point!”

When was the last time you were so excited to make a mistake and try something new that it made you dance?

It’s not really something that is celebrated these days. Expectations, popular culture, camera filters, airbrushing, and social media present an altered, “perfect” interpretation of how life is supposed to be. But is that real?

You may have heard the phrase, “practice makes perfect.” Hogwash, I say. Practice is doing something repeatedly to get better at it. Practice makes progress unless you give up. Practice takes repetition. Trial and error. Trying something, having it not work out repeatedly, and then trying a different method. It’s problem-solving and feeding your curiosity, two activities we love at 577.

Over the past two years, we’ve been experimenting with different types of plant-based dyes that can be used for other things. Like many things at 577, the inspiration for this project started with the phrase, “wouldn’t it be cool if we could….?”

This time, the question was, “wouldn’t it be cool if we could grow indigo from seed, turn it into some kind of dye, and use it in a fiber arts class?”

We started to run the experiment. In 2020, we researched how to grow indigo and bought the seeds. In 2021, we planted the seeds. Nothing grew. Nothing happened. The seeds were duds.

This year, we bought different seeds. We researched a bit more. We planted those new indigo seeds and it grew! Progress! When the leaves were ready to be harvested, we confidently plucked them, mixed them with a few chemicals as instructed in our research, and waited intently for it to turn into indigo dye.

Nothing happened.

Then it started smelling really, really bad, as if something died in the dye. We imagined a very blue chipmunk had met his demise in the vat. (That hadn’t happened, but if it had, we decided we’d call him ChipPunk and give him a little memorial service fit for a rock star).

Here a few photos of the process.

We’ve tried a few more experiments with indigo, have made some mistakes, and have learned from them. Our organic landscape horticulturist, Bennett, has let the indigo flower so that we can collect seeds from this batch and plant them again next year for round three of our experiment.

Flowering Indigo in the greenhouse at 577

In the meantime, we’ve hatched a plan for making dyes out of other plant materials. In fact, on Friday, November 4, John, our program intern, was in the Log House at 577 making natural ink from black walnuts. This ink will be used in his upcoming class ~ Exploring Handmade Inks ~ taking place this Friday, November 11, from 6pm to 8pm. In this class, students will gather in Virginia’s House to use this 577-made Black Walnut ink and onion skin ink to learn tips and tricks for writing and drawing. Traditional pens and nibs will be available to use during the class, and students will work to create a hand-drawn greeting card. All supplies are included, but students are encouraged to bring a sketchbook for practicing. Each student will take home a bottle of 577 Black Walnut ink and their completed card. If you are interested in registering, there are a few spots open. Click HERE for more info.

We are also experimenting with other flower dyes and paints for future classes. We asked ourselves, “wouldn’t it be cool if….” we could teach classes from seed to plant to dye to fiber (fabric or paper) to make something new? We’re working on it. We’re learning from it, and it’s a lot of fun.

Practice makes progress!

Enjoy the process. Enjoy the practice. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. The best learning and creativity can come out of it!



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