Saturday 27 September 2014

on indigo and roses

before y'all get too excited that i'm straying from my windfall path...i'm not using indigo for commercial purposes, just for the luxury of overdyeing my clothes after mending so that the mends will blend in better.

and because i love blue.

it's organically grown and i paid a fair price for it so the grower wasn't exploited.

indigo vats are like people. they need to rest in between working, are not keen on being cold and they get bored eating the same stuff all the time.

it's cold here in the deep deep southern winter so from time to time (when i want to dye) i warm my vat with twigs using this very simple heater. 

although indigo can be boiled when in its blue form, overheating when it has been reduced can destroy the colour. so the heating is something i pay careful attention to

feeding my vat some honey (that had come to the unwelcome attention of some ants) made the indigo flower go bright blue. 

it worked hard yesterday so in the evening (feeding the donkey after work as the indigo master, Michel Garcia suggests) i gave it a treat. boiled bananas strained through an old sleeve. the button at the cuff is handy for attaching the bag to a "dripping stick".

the squeezed contents might look absolutely disgusting but there are people in my family who really enjoy them

more please! it's hard to get a clear pic when Kowhai is wriggling with delight. She loves pignanas especially when they have been boiled to mush

i worked a lot with indigo during my residency in Portland last year. one of the happy side effects of overdyeing ecoprints with indigo is of course that the leaf prints of (particularly) deciduous species are enhanced by the alkali that is a necessary component of every indigo vat. that said, some yellows (such as coreopsis) are quite likely to turn red. and eucalyptus can become quite sulky. you can use almost any alkali to develop ecoprints (ash water, seawater, fermented urine) but you'll find that the prints seem to blur if you haven't bundled tightly enough, as the alkali will develop ALL of the colourant that has bonded with the cloth (not just the bits you can easily see)

i also found to my delight that Persicaria tinctoria literally grows before your eyes. a bag of fresh indigo in the refrigerator had roots from most of the nodes within 48 hours. 

which offers the opportunity for selective propagation if you're into that kind of thing. or just wanting to grow a lot of indigo from a limited seed source. 

speaking of propagating, a few months ago i had to rescue a rose (Francis Dubreuil*) that had been trashed by one of the goats and used a method i had learned from a copy of French Vogue (yes, I was surprised to find it there myself) that someone had left in the pocket of an airplane seat back in 1976

the method is ridiculously simple and works every time.

fill a pot with good quality potting mix (does not necessarily have to be cutting mix, you actually want it to retain a bit of moisture). trim your cuttings in the usual way (i like to have a bit of firm growth, nip back anything that's too soft at the tip and trim the leaves from three sets of nodes at the business end)

poke them into the pot (if the cuttings are firm enough i don't even use a dibbing stick), give it a good water and when the pot finishes dripping put it into a plastic bag (yes, i know some of your will fall into shock at the mention of a plastic bag from this quarter) and tie the top up
then ignore it all until the plants inside are begging to get out

thinking now that a row of really big pickle jars will make very fine miniature greenhouses for this method. just as long as the openings are big enough to admit pots and to allow for easy retrieval of the plants once they grow

* Francis Dubreuil was a tailor from Lyon who became a rose breeder later in life. Among his abundant output was also Perle d'Or, a completely adorable rose that has so far survived our goats (touching woods as i type). He was also father to Claudia Meilland who married Antoine Meilland (who bred the Peace rose which in France was named Madame A.Meilland...but the Peace rose story is a long one and you can find it here).

Tuesday 23 September 2014

chance is a fine thing

when i consider that i could as easily have been manifested as a morsel of moondust, a custard pie...or a cockroach...i remember [despite the odd dark moment when i reach for a combination of exercise, chocolate and a zinc supplement to drive away depression] just how fortunate i am to have taken the form of a human bean instead.

even if that form was not endowed with the talents of such as Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren or Judi Dench and had its thespian aspirations thoroughly quashed by being cast as a walk-on witch in no less than three successive school productions.

but back to the bean.

it was a matter of chance that two people [both from European families but different countries of origin that had been displaced as a result of the misplaced ambitions of an Austrian housepainter] happened to meet on the other side of the whirled at Melbourne University over half a century ago.

and that despite being ridiculously young at the time they plunged headlong into parenthood.

one of the two has since been re-absorbed by the universe. the other is still with us. she has a birthday on Thursday.
you might like to pop over and wish her a happy one.
i'm pretty sure she'd be quite chuffed [i would].

clicking on the image below will take you there

Wednesday 17 September 2014

an invitation

We live in troubled times. The news is frequently dismal.  Sometimes it seems our beautiful blue planet is under threat from all sides and I for one feel helpless when I hear of plans to send more and more young people to foreign countries as cannon fodder.
Spending a week in the arid lands of South Australia, revisiting a place I left nearly 24 years ago, gave me quiet time away from the depressing news bombardments. Time to think. It gave me solace.
And it gave me an idea.
Reflecting on Emily Dickinson’s “Gorgeous Nothings”, on the beauty of Tibetan Prayer Flags, on Claudia Grau’s lovely wishing trees and on the aleatory [impromptu or randomly generated] poetry that plays a role in my teaching I came up with the solace project. 
The notion of a collective impromptu poem, recorded on cloth, to sing in the winds.
Participation is open to anyone and is quite simple. 
Make a triangular flag or pennon [meaning a personal ensign, derived from the Latin penna meaning a wing or a feather] preferably using a piece of pre-loved cloth.
Stitch on it a word or a phrase or a sentence that might act as a wish for peace or an acknowledgement of beauty, imply a sense of stillness or simply something that  gives you solace. It can be as brief or as long as you like. A haiku, a snatch of song, a word that takes you where you want to be.
Attach ties to the tethering end of your flag as in the sketch below.
Post the flag [preferably packaged in paper* not plastic] to :

c/- The Observatory
PO Box 96
Andamooka 5722
South Australia

and what happens next?

During June next year I will be in residence at The Observatory. 
I shall spend time connecting each of the flags in the sequence of their arrival, recording the words on them as one complete circular poem.
Following this I shall prepare an organic indigo vat and on the day of the southern midwinter solstice in 2015 will overdye the flags in the blue of the heavens before installing them as a circle. if there are hundreds, then a series of concentric circles :-))
The flags will be documented photographically over time and the images and text will be available online as well as in a limited edition book. It may even be possible to make a short film. While I do not have the financial resources to distribute free books to participants, each person who makes and sends a flag will receive a limited edition postcard image of the installation, personally addressed to them and posted from the Andamooka post office. [remember to include your address if you hope for a postcard!]
It is important the flags be made from natural fibre fabrics as they will remain in place following prayer flag tradition, to dispense blessings and good wishes to the four winds...any shreds that part company from the whole must be bio-degradable. Additional decorations such as stone or glass beads, shell or wooden buttons are welcome, but please, no plastic.
Some of the proceeds from book sales will be donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the remainder will go toward maintaining The Observatory. The solace project might not solve any of the world’s long-term problems; I see it more as a simple and beautiful collective gesture of goodwill...a glorious blue installation in the red dust lands.
and I hope you join me.
Yoda-san has.

*paper-based packaging from flags will be used in a subsequent project

Monday 15 September 2014

observations from another edge

this week past i had the joy of a roadtrip to the beautiful Arid Lands Botanic Garden at Port Augusta [South Australia]
where i installed 'elegy' 
a sculpture composed of bones
for the Arid Sculptural Exhibition
[in turn part of the wider Arid Festival]

the bones were from cows who had died on our paddocks
mostly due to age and infirmity
one of them from snakebite

the exhibition [and festival] takes the theme ‘life on the edge’  and i had proposed an installation created from animal bones gathered while walking on the edge of the land, the edge that is the surface where the land meets the sky. these collected bones seemed to me to celebrate the lives that have passed while providing nourishment for future life.
i have for some years now undertaken the stacking of found rocks as a meditative aside to my work in textiles and writing. these bones are a softer material. i planned them to form an interlocking cairn, using white clay as a bonding medium. the bonecairn, a placemarker intersecting the edge between earth and sky, would mark the edge between life and death and be devised to respond to the elements. rain might soften the clay, wind might influence the form, wild animals could likely create interventions of their own. to all this i was open. 
arriving at my allocated site it seemed to me that a cairn was not appropriate.
i felt [rightly or wrongly] that it would be too intrusive, would pierce the sky
and so i worked just a few feet to one side of that spot. 
laid the bones out in a big curve and sat in its gentle arc, listened to the land
and then one by one
bone by bone
built a circle. no clay required.

and after that
i wandered off again

Sunday 7 September 2014

on the western edge

last week i was on the western edge
[although i will confess now that i did not find time to dip my toe in the ocean]
for another workshop in Jane Flower's splendid shed

this time our work involved shapeshifting
transforming pre-loved garments into celebration dresses
cutting and splicing
delighting in transforming two-dimensional cloth
into something much more complex
Lizzie giving her lovely dress a quick field test
Rona making some adjustments in our 'fitting room'

each afternoon we fired up the cauldrons
so there would be presents to open in the mornings
[thank you Jonathan for collecting all those armfuls of twigs]
the wildflowers at this time of year are spectacular
i think they are [top to bottom]
Diuris brumalis
Caladenia sp
Drosera sp
Anigozanthos manglesii [which happens also to be the state floral emblem]

other local colour was also pretty stunning
work above by Chez
not sure whose the sample above was - but i DO know the roots were harvested on private property as 'salvage botany'

 the south west of our beautiful red island is home to something like 70% of all of the plant varieties on the continent.
but before visitors to this country [or locals for that matter] decide to leap in and avail themselves of this wonderful resource it is worth becoming familiar with the law as regards plant collection.

it is illegal to harvest native plants in the wild anywhere in Australia
- even though the irony is that timber fellers and builders of airports and freeways are permitted to completely destroy forests, wetlands and anything else that gets in their way

in some circumstances it is also illegal to harvest wild plants on private property [unless you can prove that you are a traditional owner...or that you planted them yourself]

and some places that you might think are private property
are actually leased Crown Land [this includes pretty much all of the outback] in which case you can't pick there either
the only plants you can legally take from the wild in Australia are weeds.
or windfalls [but not if they are rare or threatened species]

and if you think you can get away with it, think again
ecoprints make for indisputable evidence!

on the bright side, tip pruning street trees in urban areas
especially where they are overhanging or obstructing paths
might be seen as a community service
[unless, of course, there's a local bylaw...]

i found some of my favourite weeds growing in abundance

my visit to the far west was all too brief
due to an over-filled dance card
next time i wander that way i hope to make a much longer stay
...i'd have liked to see those dresses unbundled, for one thing