Desert Varnish

I have always loved the desert. I love the wide open space and long views. I love the tough, spiky, slow growing, plants with their gorgeous blooms. Most of all, I love the immense, towering rock formations with the burnished reds, oranges, and tans with mystical black and brown streaks – desert varnish.

I did some research about desert varnish to find that it’s a coating formed by bacteria that oxidize iron and manganese. Of course, being a microbiology geek, I’m fascinated by this and the research to determine which microbes are responsible, but I won’t bore you with more details. But it’s a good reminder that when we’re admiring the immense views and life at the macro level, that much of that beauty and life is dependent on the work of the greatly ignored microorganisms.

But back to weaving. Prior to our trip, I worked through one of Liz Gipson’s weaving classes ( with instruction on how to set up a clasped warp and thought this would be a perfect technique to capture desert varnish in a woven piece. So with that in mind, on an overcast day in Moab, UT, I stepped into a lovely, little yarn store ( I picked up some wools that were hand-dyed by a woman who lives in southwest Colorado and were perfect to capture the beauty of those southwest colors (

I just finished weaving my second desert varnish scarf. The first was for my husband (scarf on right). I used two yarns, light brown and dark brown, for the desert varnish. For the southwest rock, I used a beautiful hand-dyed, variegated wool.

For the second scarf (left), I used a black wool, silk, and mohair blend yarn for the desert varnish. For the rock, I used a combination of six yarns with various blends of wool, silk, mohair and alpaca. One of the yarns also has a gold highlight that adds a little sheen. Since the wool is doubled in the holes and slots, I used an 8-dent heddle and a single-ply hand-dyed wool for the weft in both scarves. The variegated yarn that I used did a great job mimicking the layers of colors in the rock. That combination of yarns produced scarves that are warm, soft and have great drape.

The second scarf is available for sale on my Etsy shop.

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