Friday, 20 November 2015

words words words

i love words
i keep a bowlful in the studio at home
to dip into
and to play with
when far from home i choose words with my eyes shut from whatever publication is to hand
and i learned (from poet Naomi Shihab Nye in a "new works" session at Haystack) that one of many delightful ways to begin a piece of writing is to harvest a collection of phrases from books randomly selected from an available shelf and then begin to dance with the words

in recent years i have begun classes by asking participants to write down their favourite word of the moment (never fear, it won't be set in concrete and i don't ask people to read it aloud or write it on their foreheads in lipstick...and it's likely to be something quite different in five minutes)

then the words are put into a vessel
(boat, bowl, bag)
along with a few others

and then we each take a lucky dip and begin to write 

the word that repeats itself time after time for me is


what's your favourite word today?

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

a strong contender for new favourite skirt

after my students all packed their bags and headed back into the whirled
I spread out my bits and pieces and began work on a few garments, pieced together
from bits of other garments

this evening I unbundled my new skirt...realising too late that I hadn't made any "pre-dye" pictures.

the dyestuffs are all locally gathered.
predominantly eucalyptus with a little casuarina and the odd acacia pod tossed in to spice the mix

the skirt is made from two pairs of mens trousers. the labels on both stated they were a silk/wool blend.
the dyepot says otherwise.

still, I'm fond of silver greys and taupes so I'm not losing any sleep over it

the skirt was stitched by hand using merino+silk thread. it's picked up the colour rather nicely

there are eleven pockets on the skirt, so it will be an excellent wandering garment
room for leaves and drawings and poems and a clean hankie or two
along with a small notebook, a pencil and the camera that thinks it is a telephone

the picture above shows the lining. it's a silk+linen mix I had from Beautiful Silks

something in the chemical history of the cleaning of the pants that make up this skirt has pushed the usual red tones of the Eriococcus coccineus infesting the twigs of one of the eucalypts to yellow

two patches of silk stitched on to the skirt show that the fabric of the original trousers was either not what it stated on the label OR had been drycleaned so often that it responded oddly in the dyebath

this bright bit WAS wool. it's part of a jacket I was cutting up, now a nice detail on the hem of the dress

part of the waistband of one of the trousers became pockets

and unfortunately I didn't have a real body to hand so this shot of the skirt on the dummy will have to do for now.
I'm planning to wear it on the New Mexico adventure, just in case it snows. but not with that top (which is really an apron in gestation)

for the record : no plastic or ferrous sulphate used, but there were bits of iron in the dyepot - which is all you need, really.

Monday, 16 November 2015

when only mac and cheese will do

I love cooking
so last night I went to see 'Burnt'
mostly because I wanted to loll in a beanbag at Mansfield's Armchair Cinema
and partially because I was curious to see what fresh horror had been brought to the table (pun intended)
...remembering what had been done when one of my favourite food movies, Bella Martha, had been translated into Hollywoodese and become a parody of itself in No Reservations

anyway Burnt began quite well with the hero hopping onto a streetcar in my beloved New Orleans (and the movie trailer kept cutting back there so I had nourished high hopes) to go to work as an oyster shucker (I'm an oyster shucker, I'm an oystershucker's daughter, I like shucking oysters cos....well, ah whatever) but after he scribbles 
in a lovely suede notebook, he storms away from his station (leaving his workmates in the lurch) and is then for some unfathomable reason filmed walking across the Crescent City Connection (formerly the Greater New Orleans Bridge) towards the city (from Algiers) when there's no way he could have taken a streetcar to the West Bank

 it's all downhill from there, garnished with far too many hairy borage flowers, plastic mandolines and a lot of plate throwing (though I must say it was fun to listen to Bradley Cooper speaking French - if indeed that was his voice it was most commendable) and I do hope they paid the divine Emma Thompson a LOT of money to appear in that ridiculous tent dress

but in the end all it did was make me crave mac and cheese for dinner. 

so this evening I boiled up some gluten-free penne, made a sauce using potato flour, butter, garlic and milk.
slung in a lot of cheese and a whisper of creole+Cajun flavours, sprinkled the mix liberally with well-buttered gluten free breadcrumbs and slung it into the oven to think about the sins of the whirled while I wilted some greens with garlic and brown butter to serve as a side. 

damn fine stuff, though I say it myself. sadly I was too eager to dive in to remember to photograph the plate. 

but here are the dregs. tomorrow's breakfast. nom nom nom.

and here are some of the other things I've been photographing today : gorgeous work by my friends Audrey Fittal, Anne Collins, Jan Barker and Mary Heath
made here in Mansfield, Victoria

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

a confession - with a postscript

i've been feeling very bad 
on the last day of my class in Vancouver I was given a card from my students
i put it away to read later because my attention was being called to something in the next room
thought i had gathered it up with the papers from the clothesline 
and have been looking for it ever since

so if there was something in it that i haven't responded to
it's not because i am ignoring you

it's because i've lost it

and i'm sorry

that's all. 

not quite all

am delighted to say that as i was packing for the Mansfield workshop series...the card magically appeared (from a place i had looked in before) and so all is well. i could have deleted this post but hey i figured it might as well stay


Sunday, 1 November 2015

keeping it simple (2) and dark and beautiful

what, so soon? yes.

eucalyptus is pretty much the instant gratification genus. once it's been boiled all you need do is wait for it to cool...unless you have metals present such as copper or aluminium or iron. in that case giving it time can yield further magic

if you're working with leaves from what i would call deciduous exotics (when i'm home) aka the deciduous plants of the northern hemisphere
then giving the bundles a week or two
(or longer in a preserving jar) will well repay your patience

i'm loving how this quite stiff and hard-edged weave has softened in the dyepot
the warp and weft have relaxed
and it feels lovely to the hand
(no scouring necessary, eucalyptus did the trick)

that very open weave allowed colour to travel between layers
and of course capillary action sucked the black of the pre-loved pot
through everything

exactly as i had hoped

(if i had not wanted that i could simply have layered the cloth with paper)

it will dry a little lighter
and is perfect for all seasons

the fragrance is delicious
and will make itself known whether in San Francisco fogs
the mists of Scotland
or a Singapore downpour

i can wear it in layers with a big wool wrap
or roll it around some beads
if i want to dress up
dressing up is fun

want to see a rapid fire film of the unbundling?  go here.

PS the pix are unedited and straight from the batfone... WSWG

Saturday, 31 October 2015

keeping it simple (1)

take a piece of

(a gift from Marion of Beautiful Silks
a handful of leaves (swept up from the studio floor)

something to wrap them around
some string with which to tie them

snug as a bug

introduce them to a pre-loved brew

topped up with rainwater from the tap

give them time to become acquainted 
and some heat to help seal the friendship

keeping it all sweet and simple 

like this beautiful poem by Mary Logue


and do swing back in a few days if you're curious about the result
or just follow the simple steps above
to write your own poem on cloth

Sunday, 25 October 2015

out (t)here

last Saturday the Dog and i filled the ute with supplies, lashed down the tarpaulin (on the first rainy night here in months!) and set a course for the North

arriving just before sunset

Wirrealpa Station is a wonderful place. it's bigger than some European countries i can think of
the light is astonishing

birds witter and warble and squark and chatter all day long
kangaroos thump past, emus make deposits on the doorstep in the dead of night
lizards visit at lunchtime 
now that my friend Janet* (who came along to help me by peeling, chopping and slicing as well as setting tables and doing endless piles of dishes) has introduced them to strawberries i fear they'll find the ruby saltbush berries a little sour

my days began with wood chopping and firelighting to ensure there was hot water for showers in the bathhouse

the 50,000 year old petroglyphs of Chambers Gorge inspired works on paper and cloth
coloured with roadside ochre harvests and windfallen leaves

we wrote, drew, dyed
gathered leaves and interesting objects
twined string, folded paper
composed collective poems
and made many bundles

Lily, Snip and Kubbi dispensed dog-love to anyone in need (and kindly didn't howl when i played my saxophone)

the beauty of a live-in retreat like this is that work can continue as long as participants have energy. we fired cauldrons most evenings
and sometimes even in the early morning
it's a place for walking, dreaming, thinking, observing and absorbing

too soon we were making our farewells
i boiled up a last dyepot, packed up the kitchen, washed all the sheets and then sat down to a hot footbath and a cold gin
immersed in the Great Silence on my last night there

today Kubbi and i made our way home, via Eurelia and the World's End Highway,
a little sad that our retreat out (t)here to Wirrealpa was already over.
i will be back. even if it IS a long way to the shops for a sausage roll.

* i have to say i could not have managed without you, Janet...and i am deeply grateful to my medical team (Janet and Isobel)  for being present, patching grazes and building the odd cardboard splint!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

eco, schmeco...ranting about plastic, rust and other things

i'm beginning to wish i hadn't given the name 'ecoprint' to the contact print that results when eucalyptus leaves are heated together with cloth in a damp environment.

since i first observed the phenomenon back in the early nineties the word 'ecoprint' has been adopted by countless commercial printing houses

and these days it seems everything is 'eco'

what concerns me too is that the method i've been teaching [which does not employ synthesized adjunct mordants] has been adopted by others who seem to be less concerned than i am about environmental concerns and student safety

if you teach, you have a duty of care

the bottom line is : printing with leaves using toxic adjunct mordants and layers of plastic is not environmentally sustainable*

and students participating in classes where fabrics pre-mordanted with Ferrous sulphate and layered with plastics for "clear leaf prints" may like to consider that as these bundles are heated, the vapours given off comprise a toxic cocktail of polyethylphthalates as well as the poisonous mordant in combination with whatever plant matter is being used. it is to be hoped that the latter has been identified and that toxic plants are being avoided but either're breathing it in. i worry too about those teaching these methods...  Ferrous sulphate is a cumulative poison.

not all eucalypts are safe to use either...some contain cyanatogens, others offer small quantities of arsenic and E. nitens has been implicated as a possible carcinogen

remember that if you can smell something, you are breathing it in...and that the surface area of your lungs [if they were opened out] allegedly approximates that of a tennis court

i know that microscopic amounts are used to treat anaemia but overexposure to Ferrous sulphate can cause 
is it worth it?

i use found iron as co-mordant to achieve dark colours. archaeological evidence supports this. time and again you'll read in texts about discoveries that cloth found in proximity to metal in the absence of oxygen was best preserved. whereas traditional plant dye advice was always to be cautious about using Ferrous sulphate  as it makes cloth brittle

iron soaked in an acid solution [vinegar, fermented fruit waste or an exhausted leaf-based dye bath] makes a safe mordant for dark colours

the current craze for rust has me worried too. rust particles are sharp and if breathed in, can cause bleeding of the alveoli [those little things in your lungs that take up oxygen]. be careful with it. and avoid wearing cloth that has been 'rust printed'. remember that your skin is your biggest and most absorptive organ

do your homework, make sure you are well informed and stay safe. 
and if you want clear leaf prints, put recycled paper between the layers. you'll have the bonus of making something gorgeous to write on.

* yes i am aware that my extensive travel is not sustainable. that's why i plant trees. lots of trees.