Monday 30 November 2015

the need to know

unless you know what it is
unless you know what it is, it's legal and it isn't going to make you sick.

during a class last week at the Beautiful Silks Botanical Studio somebody asked the question
"what does oleander do?"

which reminded me that when i pootled across the ranges to Rockford in the Barossa Valley earlier in the month to pick up bottles of assorted nectars (with which to enhance the lunches at Mansfield) i drove past a group of young gentlemen assiduously stripping flowers from a huge Oleander (Nerium oleander). it occurred to me about a 100 metres later that they had bare hands. 
so i did the grandmotherly thing, made a u-turn and went back. 

poor things, they thought i'd come to give them a talking-to for stealing flowers. not so. but i DID give them a talking-to about health and safety.

they had no idea of the name of the plant, or that it was poisonous.
so i told them. 
i also suggested they would want to wash their hands before consuming their next meal (or rubbing their eyes)
their plan was to scatter the flowers at a wedding...but if i were the bride i wouldn't want bushels of  toxic plant matter tossed at me.
i'd also be concerned about small children picking up the flowers and putting them in their mouths. as small children so often do.

i tell my students time and time again "identify the plant, at very least by genus, before gathering". because it's just common sense.

somebody told me in the USA years ago how she and a friend had been hospitalized with anaphylaxis after lifting the lid on a pot full of boiling poison ivy. the genus name Toxicodendron tells me to stay well away from that one. i was so stunned by the story that

i completely forgot to ask "and what colour did it dye?"

so what DOES oleander do? i have no idea. and i don't plan to put it in a dyepot because even the smoke from burning oleander is poisonous.

while i'm on the subject
there have been a spate of images of "ecoprints" from castor oil plant leaves floating about the internet. call me old Mrs Unadventurous if you like, but i would be a bit nervous about bundling leaves from the plant whose derivative was used to kill Georgi Markov. admittedly using it in a dye bundle may not get the stuff into your bloodstream (which is where it is most effective) but there's very little research about the effects of inhaling steam from boiling such bundles.
once cloth is rinsed and dried it won't be a longterm poisoning device (unless you were to soak it in a poison before offering it for use, not a pleasant thought).

so given about 80% of ornamentals in suburban gardens are poisonous in one way or another, i recommend caution.

simple errors like confusing colchicums for crocus and hemlock for angelica have led to tears before bedtime in the past.

i'm not scare-mongering, i just think it's important to know what you're dealing with.

one of the reasons that green became the colour of bad luck in the theatre was that actors who regularly wore green costumes became sick and eventually died...if the colour green in the cloth was dependent on the presence of orpiment (arsenic trisulphide)
they may not have known why, just that you became ill if you wore green.

but that's another story.

ps thank you everybody who offered a word (or two) in response to the previous post...i'll be working with those words and shall hope to find them some friends soon

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