Thursday 28 November 2013

giving thanks

giving thanks for things

thank you for all the friendly emails from folks who assure me that they do like to swing by this sometimes vacant lot in the hope of a story and for the kind words they leave in return

giving thanks for kind friends who have loaned me a baritone saxophone for the rest of my stay here in Portland

though the squirrels in the ceiling are not impressed.

giving thanks that i had done my yoga on Sunday morning
so that when i was affected by gravity on these stairs

and landed suddenly at the bottom
bent the wrong way and with my head making contact with the door jamb
i was properly flexible and nothing broke. not even the spectacles that fell out of my pocket

also thankful that i had a bag of frozen leaves in the ice-box
[frozen leaves make a much better ice-pack than frozen peas]

i think it was the Dogs Above telling me
slow down
look before you leap in
a timely reminder that we are really about as durable as a splash in the river

giving thanks, too, that i will be going home at the end of next week
home where my folks are
home to a long-overdue reality check
where my chillun will poke me if i get too full of myself
where my cat will [i hope] leap on to my suitcase
and glare at me, defying me to touch it [the suitcase, not the cat. she will require pats]
and where i can go and sit down in a paddock at sunset
knowing that sooner or later
a certain chocolate coloured someone with big feet will wander up behind me
blow warm grassy breath down my neck
and then rest her big velvet muzzle on my head

it will be summer
and warm
and i am going to spend most of it in this dress
that i have worn so much, the cloth along the seams was disintegrating

it is cotton, the kind that is fuzzy inside
bought for a song from a purveyor of remnants
because it was stained. [chuckles]
so after mending
and before dyeing

i drew on it with remnants from the kitchen

a turkey baster is useful for writing
[and for transferring indigo if you are attempting to emulate Hiroyuki Shindo's pool-dyeing methods]
and you can make moonstones
i love moonstones

even the ones that don't last

the dress turned out rather nicely
with a pleasant contrast between the SilkyMerino repairs, the silk stitching
and the worn cotton background

even the interior is nice [above and below], so it is now reversible as well

i dyed some cloth for labels in the same pot
ready to stitch with my name and a numerical code
that identifies the garment. something to do on the long plane ride.

the traditional Japanese saying "never throw away a piece of cloth big enough to wrap three beans" translated here to "use the little leftover bits for labels"


and before you ask
i have no idea what made that mauve

words of wisdom
found at Imogene and Willie

i'm taking that one to heart.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday 23 November 2013


the internet is a lot like gardening except the weeds grow a good deal faster and you don't get any tomatoes

yesterday i began to wonder whether it might not be totally self-indulgent to be keeping a blog at all

and turned it off to think about it for a while

unfortunately blogger doesn't come up with a message to say "the person who is responsible for the guff on this page is having a bit of a think"

instead [as rather a lot of emails informed me] it rudely slams a door and tells the potential reader that they have not been invited to the party.

so please accept my apologies if the door hurt your toes
i've turned it on again [but i'm still having a bit of a think]

on notebooks and writing and revisiting things

sitting by candlelight this morning
feeling very grateful to the Oregon College of Art + Craft
for having gifted me this residency

an opportunity to slow down, contemplate, revisit
and apply myself solidly to the work of making
with the possibility of working in other media

exploring some things i had begun a few years ago
during a series of classes at the Jam Factory in Adelaide
except that at that time i became completely seduced 
by the exquisite luminosity of blue glaze

being in one place for a period of time
allowed me to make things that need time 

as well as wander back through notebook pages
re-read and re-examine
although i WILL say

that my chillun are right.
my handwriting is appalling
[unless i am writing in upper case architectural style lettering,
then it goes into auto-pilot and looks much neater - although i won't vouch for legibility]

it took me a good nine minutes to work out that the word i had written near the top right [just under the line] of that image was supposed to be "timeless". the words are from Sandra Brownlee, let fall during her "Tactile Notebooks and the Written Word" class that it was my joy to participate in during my recent stay in Scotland.

which brings me to some exciting news for my compatriots
Sandra Brownlee will be teaching a class at Goolwa in South Australia
during the last week of October next year
at Jenni Worth's beautiful [former*] brewery home

if you'd like more information on this
please drop me a line through the contact page on my website
and i shall forward you email to Jenni

meanwhile i'm going back to my notebook
to practice writing with my non-dominant hand
it seems to be more legible than the one i usually use

* 'former' applies to the brewery bit, not the 'home' bit...

Friday 22 November 2013

a tangled web

today i was planning to write about what i'd been up to this week
that i needed to make a new scarf [gave the last one away to my uncle who drove from Colorado and back again to visit with me on the weekend]

with the added confession that i was missing the fragrance of home so much
that i actually went and bought some bunches of eucalyptus to play with [sound of hand being firmly smacked]

and that i then quite unexpectedly found a friend here in Portland
whilst wandering the Hoyt Arboretum [with aforementioned uncle]

it's a snow gum and so is an excellent choice for its location [in the wintergarden]
except that it may get bigger in this protected locality than at home in the Australian Alps
[where it would be clinging to a hillside and subject to horizontal ice storms]
and crowd out its neighbours

Eucalyptus pauciflora : snow gum

that it is getting cooler by the day
and so some armies were needed to keep my gathering paws warm
prints from windfall snowgum leaves
and the other side

note : the slender leaf prints are quite a different colour to those on the SilkyMerino shown in the photo at the very top. this is because the sleeves were snipped from a sweater that had been washed several times and thus had been premordanted with a sodium-rich substance

i was also going to mention that there are easier ways of straining bananas
than putting them through a pillowcase
the straining part is fine
it's the washing of the pillowcase that is the tedious part.
bananas have fine stickability and if even minute parts are left attached are almost impossible to dislodge once dry

wandering in the Japanese Garden again yesterday
i betook myself to the small shop there and leafed through a few books
one devoted to furoshiki offered a the perfect answer
reminding me that a piece of cloth can be used to hold all sorts of things
so i tied a piece of cloth to the handles of the strainer by the ears
because there were too many bananas to stuff into a sock

it does look a little as though i have just regurgitated my porridge
but more of that later

continuing my stroll i found an exquisite pond

in which leaves and fir needles were floating
here's a closer look

and then when you take the colour away

it looks curiously like a fusion between the hands of Dorothy Caldwell and Christine Mauersberger
which is kind of sweet, because i first met Christine when we both took Dorothy Caldwell's class in Ohio back in 2009

which was around about the time, or a little after, that i remember receiving a number of emails from Cassandra Tondro with questions about various processes described in my book Eco Colour

so it was a bit surprising to read in Handeye today her description of the ecoprint idea as coming to her from the pavements. maybe she had indeed previously discovered the technique that way [zeitgeist and all that], but if so she didn't mention it in the correspondence.

Christine  kindly said a few words which provoked a comment on her blog suggesting that i in turn had purloined the technique from Karen Diadick Casselman. actually, i didn't.

to set the record straight :

Karen Diadick Casselman's dyeing in bundles that i experienced [as her assistant] at the time she visited Australia in 1998 involved wrapping leaves and cloth together with a range of what i consider to be toxic mordants [as well as household substances such as cleaning sprays and perfumes]. She also did some very fine work with lichens and barbed wire.

We corresponded for a long time and I've always squirmed when people describe my work as 'eco-dye' because Karen coined that particular phrase and it really belongs to her. 

The descriptor 'ecoprint' came into use through my thesis work with eucalyptus as i considered at the time that being able to test the leaves for dye potential by steaming a leaf in a bundle for a short while as opposed to the energy-hungry process of boiling out the leaves for an hour and then heating the cloth in the resultant liquid for an hour [where the dye colour was going to be changed by the water quality anyway] to see what the colour might be [was more sustainable]. 

But I suppose i should have called it Latvian-Easter-Egg-Dyeing-But-On-Cloth which is where i got the idea from myself [before I met Karen]. My family has been dyeing eggs that way for at least 150 years [that's as far back as the handed-down-memories go] and so have many other European folk.
that would be the truest attribution. except it's a bit of a mouthful.

and as for printing on paper, my great-aunt, Master Bookbinder Ilse Schwerdtfeger was doing that back in the 1930s except that unlike her great-niece, she used pressure and time [and a few "eye-of-newt" mordants] whereas i use a cauldron. i wrote about her work in IAPMA Bulletin 52

and now if you've read this far you deserve a gold star. and what i had been planning to mention somewhere along the line and now comes just as you're dropping off is the hot news that Christine Mauersberger has recently been confirmed as teaching down-under next year at the Geelong Textile Retreat, that splendid annual event organised by Janet de Boer and her tireless team and TAFTA

the event also features other luminaries including Dorothy Caldwell and Sandra Brownlee [but i think their classes are already full]

and before you leap to the comment box and tell me to get back in mine...i'm not criticising Ms Tondro. i just found it curious that the appellation 'ecoprint', as well as the process should serendipitously appear from the pavements.

that's all.  and i think it should do for a while.

Saturday 16 November 2013

how to run a workshop

every so often i get an email asking for advice on how to run dyeing workshops. sometimes people will ask me quite specifically [and i may say, audaciously] for teaching plans or class outlines. often i wonder whether they are writing to the right person, especially if they refer to dying workshops. i do not feel competent to instruct anyone about that.

sometimes they tell me that they've been to a dye class somewhere [not necessarily with me, i might add] and now they want to teach too; or that they "have the book" and are "ready to teach" but are wondering where to begin in terms of running a workshop.

in general i respond as follows :

dear 'X'
I have been working on developing my workshops over some thirty or so years and I'm beginning to think they are at last moving in the right direction.

But what works for me may not necessarily work for you. My teaching is founded in my history, informed by research and practice, enriched by continual re-examination, research and further study.

Each of us finds our own way into our own reality. The one sure thing I can tell you is that your work will be a clear reflection of you.  

go well



today as i was happily bundling away and stitching on my blue cloth while waiting for the billy full of bundles to boil i found myself pondering the subject of teaching in more depth [one of the great benefits of an artist residency is being given the gift of time, not just to DO, but to THINK] and so i made a few notes that i thought might be worth sharing

the first classes i taught were at remote communities out along the East-West railway line that crosses the middle of Australia. at the time i was employed by the Arts Council of South Australia [now a mere shadow of its former self] as their exhibitions officer.

together with South Australian artist Yasmin Grass and R.I.C.E. i travelled out on the Tea and Sugar train with an exhibition of colourful clothing set up in one end of an old railway carriage and a lino-printing workshop at the other. at night we unrolled sleeping bags and slept on the floor of the show. that was back in the 80s. sadly the Tea and Sugar doesn't run any more.

we taught at places like Tarcoola, Cook and Barton. at the first stop, Tarcoola, there was a one-teacher school and as i recall the teacher disappeared off to the pub after unloading all of his 15 students on to us. i guess he didn't get many days off.  it was "seat of the pants" flying and a good learning experience all round.

at the beginning of the day all i really knew was "more about lino printing than any of the students". by the end of the day i was beginning to get a grip on crowd management, had learned to make sure that we would have a first aid kit next time [cellophane tape and toilet tissue aren't the best emergency response for cut fingers] and had developed a mildly ridiculous comedy routine that helped get the clean-up done at the end. nobody bled to death, everyone had a printed T-shirt they were happy with and we had managed to foil the class clown who was busy carving an expletive into a piece of lino with the intent of inking it and placing it underneath fellow students as they were about to sit down. it was a creative idea but he'd forgotten to reverse the letters so it would have looked pretty silly anyways.

but back to the to run a workshop

know your subject inside out. that means understanding things yourself before you attmept to present them to others. in the case of dyeing with plants it means being able to identify the plants you plan to work with, knowing their properties and understanding the chemistry.
taking a few classes or reading a book does not make you an expert. practice and research and study will help.

prepare. i have a good friend whose motto is "luck is for the unprepared". i find it takes me at least a day of prep for each day of teaching, and a good bit of time spent after class thinking about what went well, what could have been improved and what really needs to change before the next time 

take care of your students and help them to learn how to do things safely and sensibly.

repeat things from time to time [we learn to remember by repetition]

be a student yourself. i take at least two classes each year as a student. they may not necessarily be classes that are obviously related to WHAT i teach, but they help me to learn HOW to teach in a more engaged [and i hope engaging] and effective way

if you want to use something in your teaching that you've learned from someone else's class, ask their permission first. and when you do share it with your students, acknowledge the person you learned the skill from. #

listen to your students. you can learn a lot from them, not only interesting information but about how they understand [or don't understand] things

keep on reading, researching, experimenting and learning in your chosen field.

and keep on asking questions.

the truth is you can never know too much about your subject. and the last word [for now] goes to Bill Shakespeare.

to thine own self be true.  

and while we're talking about workshops...there's a three day class with me near a beach on the Otago coast on new Zealand's beautiful south island at the end of April next year that still has fact, so many places that they're thinking about pulling the plug on it. if enough people sign up in the next few weeks it will go ahead, otherwise i'll be spending more time at home in the studio...polishing up my skills!

# i shall be forever grateful to Nalda Searles [who taught me how to make string] and to Sandra Brownlee [who kindly let me borrow her idea of a "clothesline talk"] ... by combining the two ideas i've derived a useful and amusing means of presenting information to students and keeping it available to them for the duration of the class

Thursday 14 November 2013


a while ago i made myself a hoodie
because i knew i was going to need it at Haystack
and then
it left me
for someone else.

now the temperatures are sliding southward
i needed something to keep me warm
[i do have my coat but those sleeves are not practical when hovering around a cauldron]

so i cut and sewed [by hand, with silk]
added pockets here and there [but DANG, forgot to add one for a poem at the back. ah well]

made an enormous hood
that has buttons on it so i can play with it as a collar
and dyed it with leaves that had found their way into my pockets
on a favourite hill a month or so back [relax, they didn't cross any borders and went from pocket to boil-up, now in freezer in case of re-use]

the materials were from the red,white+blue thrift store in New Orleans
and included a duck-egg blue cashmere, a lilac silk, a brown merino [that brown was really too fuzzy for clear prints but so warm] and some rather paler scraps that had been cut from cardigans i am re-shaping

so this hoodie
like the other
is constructed and dyed with special magic.
the warmth comes not just from the physical materials...

i'm not good at self-portraits
so these pix will have to do

i added a good bit either side. hips, ya know?

sideways. ah well. here's the hood down, as collar

hood in roughly a hood-shaped arrangement

you'll just have to imagine the face peeking out

buttons on the hood opened

i told you the hood was enormous.

delicious detail...mostly hidden on the hood. but i know it's there and that's what matters

looks like something that Ötzi might have worn