Thursday 30 October 2008

on a rather lighter note

homeward bound from Bangalore i had a day to wander about in Singapore before a pumpkin-time flight back to South Australia. there's nothing that excites me less than a day spent trawling the shops so whenever i'm in this island state i hop on the free SIA bus, head into the city and find my way into the Botanic Gardens. here i spend a happy day inhaling orchid perfumes and reading the labels on the spice trees. 

curious things abound in these gardens and there is much to be learned. did you know that bananas belong to the Ginger family?
i didn't as well.

these brilliant blue berries/fruits are from some sort of ficus

and this delicious flower is that of the vanilla orchid. i have trouble believing there are sufficient of these precious plants in the whirled to support a certain soft-drink company's output of vanilla-flavoured stickiness

on the way to the Bot this time i became somewhat distracted by these delightful windows, so much more beautiful than all the motor spareparts shops at streetlevel below...

much later while walking back to the city along Nassim Road, i discovered leafprints on the pathway, stains from the heavens above. 

wished i'd taken my tiny travelling dyepot (recently acquired at a thrift shop in Ararat) with me. it's a miniature deep-fryer, electrically heated (airlines won't allow camping stoves in ones luggage) and just the right size for making small bundled dye samples. Unlike the Adelaide Botanic Gardens where one isn't permitted to pick up so much as a feather, many other such institutions have no problem with modest windfall collection for research purposes.

Singapore and Wellington (Aotearoa) are two such friendlies....and i'm looking forward to taking the travelling cauldron over there again in January! 

Tuesday 28 October 2008

a thought

if public transport in India looks like this (much like public transport in St Petersburg, Russia) what do the nuclear reactors look like? and do they really, truly, think they'll plant a flag on the moon (a possibility suggested in the Hindu Times last week). just wondering...

BTW those of you who've signed up as case you're wondering why I haven't signed in return, well, I don't really need to....I can just click on your icons on the side of my page and make a quick visit, thank you!  (and so can others who visit this page)

scheherezade smiled enigmatically and continued

the colour schemes in India are seductive. no prizes for guessing who likes green and shades thereof..

one evening we were all invited to partake of nourishment in one of the village houses. and before you all start muttering about the quality of the image...YOU try taking a photograph when there are 31 people milling about in a room about 8 by 10 feet. i don't like having my retinas burned out and assume my fellows prefer to maintain their vision as well; so the flash on my camera is permanently turned off.

but back to the story. we all assembled at the home of one of our hostesses (forgive my lamentable memory, their names have escaped me - this is why all my former students are addressed variously as Blossom, Petal, Beloved and Sweetness) about an hour late for dinner.

we were late because of India time. those of you who have been there will know this means that the transport either didn't arrive at all, was late arriving or arrived early and then hid in a bush until we went searching for it. in our case it was the latter.

after the greeting and handing over of various offerings we were invited to sit. this is fine for those of us who do yoga or ride horses but i swear i heard sotto voce mutterings about the probable need for a crane in order to regain vertical positions later. but i'm not saying who (which would be Blossom, Petal, Beloved or Sweetness anyway so you'd be none the wiser)

our hostesses did the rounds with a jug of water and bowl, followed by a cloth for the ritual washing of hands (a custom it would do no harm to introduce over here!) and then the onslaught of food began. i use the word advisedly.

coconut dosas were served (delicious) accompanied by a hot sweet spiced milk. i skipped the milk, being a farmer means i have too much information about the sorts of diseases local dairy cattle are likely to carry. Listeria and Ovine Brucellosis are only two of the potential suspects.

then came dahl, all manner of vegetables doused in chili and spices, enormous scoops of rice (both plain and spiced), more dosas, pappadums, salads (skipped by old Missus Unadventurous again) and finally an enormous plate of boiled eggs. i was well defeated long before they did the rounds. our hosts didn't eat with us, simply stood and watched us munching their lovely food. 

goodness knows how they rustled up so many plates (suspect the whole street lent theirs for the evening). neighbours and friends kept popping in to inspect the visitors cackhandedly scooping well-sauced rice grains into their mouths. better than television.

eventually we all staggered out to the bus, shaking hands (like the Queen) with a guard of honour along the way. even the village idiot (sounds cruel but is simply the truth) stood by the bus with a benevolent air dispensing farewells.

a night to remember.

i found this denizen of the forest (who too closely resembles a former Australian Prime Minister) in my happysnaps, reminding me of another incident of consumption which happened some nights later. i didn't actually see the event but am assured that a monkey nicked a bottle of coca cola from an outdoor eating area, shimmied up the nearest tree, ripped the top off the bottle and downed the contents before hurling the emptied vessel to the ground. wonder where he learned that behaviour?

Monday 27 October 2008

why and wherefore

the purpose of the passage to India was to bring a group of women from Australia to work together with a group of women at Vikasana training centre in Mandya village in order to try to establish a range of products that could be hand-crafted there for eventual on-line selling so that the makers could have the chance of earning an income.

the tour was organised by Marion & Jon Gorr (more familiarly addressed respectively as the Bird and the Elephant) of Beautiful Silks, the Melbourne-based company where I purchase silks for my costume work. While most participants paid their own way, the Bird and the Elephant covered travel costs and expenses for Nalda Searles (West Australian textile artist) and your correspondent. Nalda was along to teach string-making and netting techniques; I went along to assess the potential for a plant dye project.

the Hapa-zome technique proved popular.

teaching in a crowd requires inner calm (and very careful stepping)

my usual practice of stacking a dyepot and leaving it to its own devices was sabotaged by eager participants who insisted on jiggling the bundles as if they were teabags...

the Bird and the Elephant organised for bales of "silk waste" to be delivered to Vikasana. Calling the material silk waste was to my mind a complete misnomer. The bales were stuffed full of jewel-bright silk loom ends, weave & dye samples and silk pieces up to 4 metres long.  At Nalda's suggestion, participants began making dolls as well as metres of beautiful silk string and netted billum-like bags. (the doll pictured above was made by me as a souvenir for the Bird...but for some obscure reason somebody later signed their name in ink right across the delicate pink leaf-print on the apron. it's an odd world)

this doll came home with me, bearing a red leaf-print from the teak tree (see earlier post)

and this one was made by the Bird a a souvenir for Nalda (click on the label 'string' below to find a much earlier post mentioning her work)

Sunday 26 October 2008

of red rags and bovines

whilst sojourning briefly near Nagarhole National Park i collected these beautiful and sweetly scented windfall flowers and bundled them for a dye test. that rich golden patch is the result from one flower. locals call it Siuli/Seuli/Shouli/Shephali (depending on who is offering the spelling)....Linnaean convention labels it Nyctanthes arbor-tristis (the sad tree?). 

one woman told me the dye is used to dye sarees for a girls' educational festival...simply by scrunching the flowers in a bucket of cold water... and here's a blog that details a list of healing properties attributed to the plant 

the print above was a complete surprise, from a young leaf of the teak tree, a plant that is rejected as unpalatable by the ravenous roving ruminants with which the Sub-continent abounds.  in fact i think one can safely assume that anything growing by the roadside in a country where stock roams at large (giving a whole new perspective to what we in Terra Australis call "the long paddock") has a self-defence system that involves at least an unpleasant flavour and probably some kind of toxin.

rummaging for information on the Tectona genus (to which Teak belongs) has however enlightened me as to the possible source of the revolting and persistent leprotic rash i developed whilst in Mandya... there's no such thing as a free lunch and those red leaf prints came at a cost too.

it's a fantastic colour (and washfast) but common sense, practical experience and now the wisdom of hindsight dictate that if it gives one a rash and is sufficiently toxic to prevent its devouring by the rib-thin ruminants then it certainly isn't the plant to fuel a cottage dye-industry; especially not in a region where scant attention is paid either to the safe disposal of waste material or to the separation of dyemaking from the cooking of food

reflecting on a passage to India

herewith the first of an abundance of images snapped whilst hurtling through the whirlpool that is southern India. it's a country of strong contrasts; beautiful and terrible at the same time. exquisite flowers with rich perfumes, jewel-coloured houses, clouds of dragonflies and rainbows of sarees struggle for memory space alongside plastic-infested soils, sad-eyed dogs, terrifying traffic and skinny cattle.  somewhere in there is also the hint of the shadow of a passing  leopard. 

the purpose of the excursion (organised and financed by Beautiful Silks) was to assist the people at Vikasana to establish a training program that will eventually allow presently un-waged and homeless women to earn money and build ecologically sustainable housing amid organically managed vegetable gardens. it is a good dream.

my specific role there was to determine the feasibility of developing a natural dye project there. more on that later. it's taking some time for the wee brainchip to process it all...

Saturday 11 October 2008

off with the tumbling tumbleweeds

your correspondent is taking passage to India, where she will be mac-less (but not immaculate) for a fortnight. she hopes to make up for the absence of posts with a selection of wanderstories on her return. 
joining the happy band of followers on the sidebar will ensure the next contribution hits you hot off the press...

meanwhile take these magic beans

and mind out for the ogre....

Thursday 9 October 2008

waste product alchemy

some years ago i taught a dye class in
Adelaide, South Australia. this city is like the curate's egg, good in parts. some lovely parks and gardens, some appalling and desolate suburbs and arguably one of the most disgustingly flavoured reticulated water on the planet
as a child (and this is going back to the sixties) i considered the revolting stuff coming from the tap second only to that supplied in Montreal. taking a bath in Montreal as a child i remember feeling nauseous at the smell of what was essentially the St Lawrence River filtered through a stocking and laced with a considerable quantity of chlorine salts in the hope of slowing down some of the dancing bacteria. the water in  Kรถln (Cologne) wasn't far behind. 

but i digress

South Australia's Premier Thomas Playford (who ruled the state in the middle of the last century) had clearly been bitten by the same bug and is famous for installing pipelines to suck water out of the Murray River so that Adelaideans (and a host of unnecessary irrigators) could have the water delivered to their taps. never mind that twice as much water annually falls on Adelaide as it needs to operate, which is simply allowed to run out to sea as stormwater. they consider it too nasty to drink and would rather drink a substance that has already been filtered through at least seven sets of intestines.

one of the pipes passes through our district on its way from Mannum to Adelaide. it comes up from the river flats, over the eastern shoulder of the Mount Lofty Ranges via a large concrete tank where the hunchbacked gremlins spend their lives shovelling in chlorine as fast as they can go. this putrid cocktail (remember the Murray is also loaded with agricultural chemicals, dead fish, whatever was swept from surrounding streets during the last storm, car wrecks, the grannies who couldn't afford the nursing home etc) is then pumped into the River Torrens.

the River Torrens, my friends, is our Significant River around here. 

it flows through the middle of Adelaide (the state's capital) and thence out to sea. the water authority uses it as a convenient aqueduct to move their reeking brew from the pipeline to the northern reservoir, Kangaroo Creek Dam. driving along the Torrens Valley on a summer's eve when the flow is in full swing should only be done in Grandfather's World War 1 gas mask, such is the concentration of evaporating chlorine gas.

but back to the story.

at this workshop i was talking about i confidently predicted we would get a lovely red dye from Eucalyptus sideroxylon. we got bright green. pondering the reasons why, we speculated that the only strongly variable factor (given the leaves were from a source i'd frequently used and that proved red at home in rainwater and in the same dyepot) must have been the tap water we'd used for the brew.

we wondered if the Copper sulphate application that annually takes place to prevent algae from growing in the reservoirs might have had an effect. bear in mind the water levels were about half their normal capacity at the time and that the reputed 40 tonnes of pure Copper sulphate (per reservoir) is a pretty big heap in anyone's book. a reasonable hypothesis given copper is known to influence many dyes toward green.

and now to the actual point of the ramble. yesterday i decided i needed a new travel blanket for the upcoming Passage to India. i seem to make a lot of these (mostly out of fine merino jersey) but they wind up sold or (more often) simply given away. they're travel blankets, after all, and have wandering hearts.

so i cobbled together some merino jersey, added some fine felt to the edges (cos the jersey wasn't quite long enough, being a remnant) stitched some silk over the bits where La Motte had been nibbling and popped it in the dyepot. thinking red would be a cheery colour for the road.
Mother Nature had other ideas. when i peeked in the dyepot this morning, i discovered the outer bits of my bundled blanket were a lovely green. not red.

it dawned on me that the vague copperish shimmer i'd noticed on the surface of the aluminium when loading the pot with leaves had not just been pure imaginings, but had been a deposit of copper (albeit thin) on the surface of the pot. 

and where did this come from?

i'd been making brews recently (from such things as stinging nettles, genista and solidago) to which i'd been adding a splash of my favourite 'green enhancer' - a brew made by soaking copper fragments in stale urine for a few years. it's a fantastic peacock/teal colour and just a few drops will often boost greens. the copper fragments don't completely dissolve, they just look a little cleaner but clearly there's enough in the solution to leave a deposit on the pot.
which was then enough to push my red brew to green.

so the theory about the Adelaide workshop is probably close to the mark.

or maybe it's just all magic.

Monday 6 October 2008

red blanket wagga

for those of you who won't make it to Geelong, Victoria in the next few months, here's a picture of my eucalyptus-dyed wagga (click on that word for elucidation) presently hanging there at the National Wool Museum.

and here's the statement that sits next to it on the wall...

not all those who wander are lost - in the forest a body sleeps camouflaged in treeshadow, woolwrapped in a leafstained wagga; enfolded, hidden, warm and secure

materials : salvaged wool cloth, silk and wool stitching, eucalyptus dyes 

Friday 3 October 2008

stepping into the light

and here they are, dancing in their beautiful hand-sewn costumes (for elucidation read previous post) made entirely from salvaged materials...

and thank you Llawenyth for sending me the images...