Tuesday 27 December 2016


this year I was invited to participate in an exhibition being held for the Latvian Cultural Festival that has been held around Australia between Christmas and New Year since 1951 

the exhibition title "past present future" prompted me to create this autobiographical piece.

loosely based on traditional Latvian costume it includes an apron, a striped wool skirt, a wool blanket, a found antique linen blouse and rather a lot of bones. 
the stitched text translates poetically as "I'm walking and wondering why I leave no footprints"  and is borrowed from a poem by Janis Elsbergs 
(the literal translation is somewhat more specific)

dyed with eucalyptus, local colour infusing into something from elsewhere, from the ground up. 
the apron was reconstructed from a linen shirt and other items sourced during a trip to Latvia in August this year. 
thank you Lufthansa for the nice cotton napkin you left in my lap, which somehow became attached as well and which serendipitously made sense, as my background is Latvian and German.

the pockets full of whitewashed bones represent the cell memories we each carry within us and which I am convinced are handed down from one generation to the next.

I was born in the late 50s, and raised as a "European in exile", a child of two displaced persons from two different cultures.  

but the Australian landscape got under my skin.

I installed the work yesterday.

it was the last piece to go in, the rest of the exhibition had already been  hung.

frankly my work looks rather 'out of place' compared to the rest...everything else is precisely formed/woven/wrought/cut/stitched/shaped...I think it sticks out like the proverbial bull terrier's testicles.
I guess that's the truth as well.
and if it isn't true, it isn't worth doing.

Wednesday 7 December 2016


it's nearly 9 years (next March) since Eco Colour (a book i wanted to call 'botanical alchemy' but was told the title wouldn't sell) hit the bookstores. in that time what i initially referred to as 'ecoprint' has spread far and wide. thousands of people are making a living by printing with plants.

hilariously, though i was the first to publish the technique* i usually see myself referred to as an "also ran" in various media. a recent book about natural processes in textile art listed me merely as a "practitioner" of the technique (though instructions for ecoprinting are scattered generously throughout its pages).

i've seen colleagues absorb my work into their teaching practices, and observed "fashion labels" created after people have taken classes....sometimes only a one day class.

and there are so many people out there teaching "ecoprinting" (though much of it is not ecologically sustainable at all, as toxic adjuncts are increasingly employed) that i no longer offer basic "how to" classes. it would be like having to play "twinkle, twinkle, little star" over and over again.

not much fun for me, and ergo less for my students.

which is how 'being (t)here' took root and has grown into a retreat class that embraces being fully present and at the same time exploring the poetics of place.
it gives me such joy to be able to offer something more than just a class about printing with leaves.

for me, 'being (t)here' is a way of experiencing the whirled that helps open the cracks that let the light get in (thank you Leonard, for that phrase) no matter where you are. it offers a pathway to beauty that can be rolled out whether you're in a verdant forest, a shimmering desert, an urban wasteland or your own private paradise.

we observe and see, write and draw, print and dye. we fold paper into books...  the island book fold and its bigger cousin the river book, making a journals from single sheets of paper :: without having to thread a needle.

together we make discoveries, in ourselves AND in the dyepot. the other lovely thing that's been happening is that many of the students keep in touch with each other after the workshops. sometimes they make a facebook group, sometimes a blog. others just wrestle with an email list. but they maintain the connections and forge deep bonds. it's wonderful.

i've been teaching less through institutions (though i remain loyal to a select few), and more in beautiful and sometimes unusual places. the Yellow Ferry is one of these. there is something deeply magical about being on a boat, which is why i will be back there in February 2017.
i've reduced the class numbers and though the feedback from many people is that they consider the fee too high, the investment for the class is actually the same as for the first one, it's just that i have sourced a richer collection of materials for each person to work with, with treasures such as a limited edition silkymerino dress to take home.
 as a business proposition it is laughable because the expenses won't balance against the income...but to me it is absolutely worth it for the experience we will all have.

because it is the journey that matters, in the end.

and i am loving the ride.

*you'll see references to "nature printing" that are earlier, but that is a technique where the plant is dipped in paint or dye and pressed against a substrate of some kind

Friday 11 November 2016

look deep into the heart of a flower

photo by Christi Carter

if you bother to follow this blog then i probably don't need to spell out my thoughts on politics...suffice it to say that given my family history
and the stories i have been told by both sets of grandparents
each of whom chose exile over compromise
the results of the American election
coincidentally announced in Australia on the anniversary of Kristallnacht
fill me with foreboding.

what can i do about this? not a great deal
continue to live life to the best of my ability
continue to be care-full for my fellow humans
continue to hold true to the path that has been given me

now, i am surer than ever
that bending my work to the poetics of place
paying attention to being present, in 'being (t)here' as a way of life
rather than simply teaching "how to print leaves onto things"
is the way i must go.

yes, it means continuing to fly about in planes (windsurfing takes too long and my journals get wet) but that also means planting more trees at home to mitigate my share in the emissions
and because so many of you have kindly told me, both to my face, in emails, and increasingly in beautiful hand-written letters
that giving yourself the gift of time
(in a place that is not necessarily home)
to explore the small wonders of the whirled
through dyeing, drawing and writing
has made life better and richer for you,
i plan to continue doing this work.

because it gives me hope, too.

this past month i wandered to the remote western isles of Scotland
found deep magic there
took time to re-examine aspects of what i offer in 'being (t)here'
sat on the wild hillside and sang aloud
walked barefoot in the cold waters and refreshed my soul
brewed dye samples from gatherings around me

and thought about the return to my beloved Bay in February.
decided to make it smaller, more intimate
and to give the participants and even more beautiful collection
of things to work with, to experience and to take away with them

there will only be spaces for seven people this time
working with me, being fed by our chef (my daughter) Violette, and being guided in Yoga and breathing by my friend Shelley Boles

three places are already reserved.

please contact me here if you'd like more information

i'm also returning to New Mexico in 2017....in the spring and in the fall

and now, if you've made it to the bottom of the page, give yourself a beautiful moment. take a deep breath. look deep into the heart of a flower.

Wednesday 21 September 2016


as those of you who have spent time in a class with me in recent years will know, I have a daily practice I call "mindpond". 

one of you even went so far as to suggest I write a book about it. I duly drafted a manuscript while on the train from El Paso to New Orleans earlier this year. 

but yesterday, flying down from Vancouver to San Francisco 

I decided against that. No point in pulping trees when I can publish it here. 

The practice is simple, and has its roots in a workshop I took in 2009, learning to throw porcelain on a wheel. it struck me that the process of coning and centering clay offered possibilities for someone (like me) whose brain often scampers off somewhere else when it should be concentrating on things that are closer. 

Here goes. 

Stand with your feet nicely apart (tadasana :: mountain pose - as I understand it, is good). 

Breathing in, raise your arms slowly in a wide arc until your hands meet above your head. Stretch your 'wings' as far as they can comfortably go. 

Lower your arms (still in an arc) while breathing out. 

Roll out your shoulders, let your arms go soft and your hands heavy, let them sink towards Mother Earth. 

Imagine a beautiful pond in your mind. Give it whatever surroundings you like. Take a lovely pebble and toss it in. Watch the splash, and watch the ripples spread. 

After a while, imagine the ripples coming in to the centre again. 

Take your time. 

Watch as the water in your pond becomes still and calm. 

Take a few good deep breaths, open your eyes again (I find mine tend to close during the practice) and step into the day. 

I begin and end each day with this practice, whether alone or in the company of a class. 

I offer it to you. 

Monday 19 September 2016

blue seas blue skies blue daze

from Mukilteo i took the ferry to Whidbey Island
and discovered
to my great delight
that our studio space was positioned in a most romantic place
Camp Casey
on the coast, by the Salish Sea
with a forest behind
and remarkable fortifications to explore
the buildings were spare and beautiful, white walls, wooden floors
and with a room above the studio that we could use for installations, poetry readings, the occasional dance...and a good space in which to practice my lovely Native American flute

the beach proved a marvellous studio space as well
and falling leaves from the forest behind coloured cloth as well as paper

and such beautiful stones

from Whidbey I came to Vancouver, which seems to be a city of stone stackers

at Maiwa East we worked on our aprons, wrote poetry, received the blessing of blue

and made string
some of the string found itself transformed
and all of it became blue in the course of time
eucalypts, as ever, seem to be incurably fascinating, and a student was very happy with her work (below)
especially when combined with local colour
in our class at Maiwa we had a songbird
here's one of the songs she sang for us (or rather, to the indigo vats)
unaccompanied and with the voice of an angel
and may i say
her version eclipsed the original, and the Sarah Mc Lachlan cover

i'll be on my way home soon
dreaming blue dreams way up in the sky

Sunday 4 September 2016

september one, lived twice

the journey begins oddly
filled with portents and signs
all too curious to mention
and best not taken seriously
(but they'll be in my novel)
even the man whose eyes tear up
because i remind him of his mother 
which i think may just have been
the effect of too much inflight firewater
otherwise it makes me old
and possibly also dead

after thirteen or so hours aloft
we reach the California coast
blanketed in fog except for
one significant hill above Pescadero
the sight of which always kicks my heart into gear
leaving SFO the taxi driver asks me if i have had any
terrifying experiences in the air
nothing too awful i say
which is his cue to launch into a litany
of gut-wrenching near disasters   

negotiating my release i 
take my encumbrances to the welcome center
where for a financial consideration they 
relieve me of my physical burdens for the day
outside the pavements swell and
roll under my feet - fortunately it is
not the earth, quaking, but my body
set to vibrate mode by the hours of fettered 
rumbling, strapped to a seat
in the flying sardine can

i have things to collect today
some materials for class
a large bag of unruly thoughts 
a ring, and some made-to-measure workboots.
the latter have turned out rather too small
or maybe it is just me, too big for my boots
which could be another sign.
maybe next time cos
good things take time
further up the same street at Macchiarini's
the doorbell won't ring, no pun intended 
but the ring i have come to receive
is truly beautiful with a moonstone
like a drop of Bay water balancing on
a beaten band that looks as though it has been 
pulled from the rubble of a burning building
and so is exactly what i had hoped for.

i do the usual round of favourite places
get my coffee at Trieste, sit awhile on Russian Hill
wander to the park above Fort Mason
snack on cheese under the gum trees there
then walk back to collect my luggage
and drag it across town, giggling inwardly at
the comments that passers-by feel entitled to articulate,
of which the loudest and most critical, oddly enough,
are made by those who share my first language.
they have no idea they are so generously
giving me laughter therapy
and i resist the temptation to say
"schönen Tag, noch!" 

train stations are no longer the romantic places
depicted in Brief Encounter
or in films about Anna Karenina
the temporary transBay terminal is a holding room
for souls desperate to be elsewhere and
the station at Emeryville even more so
where the vending machines make wild promises
but will only sullenly disgorge diet pepsi
filthy stuff that is strictly for cleaning copper
though, once used for that purpose, has impressive 
mordant qualities
i find a tourist map and mark my day on it in thick black pencil

eventually the train pulls in and we fall aboard
i tip myself gratefully into my tiny sleeping closet 
and give myself up to Morpheus for what seems like days
though only a few hours later i awake as we are 
passing through mist-covered desert spiked with piñon and juniper
and wonder if i'm in the right state
then water on which sunlight flashes and blinks
perhaps the merpeople have forgotten to turn their twinkle lights off
somewhere else a broken umbrella hangs batlike
from a bush on the side of a cutting
in Portland i look up and down river as we cross the Willamette
looking for the iron bridge...then realise we are on it

except for the garbled announcements over the tannoy
(there is a special training centre for railway announcers,
run by somebody who teaches them how to 
make announcements in a Turkish accent. 
the same school also supplies the people for 
the Flinders Street Station in Melbourne, Australia)
the Seattle train station is like stepping through 
a time machine into another era
or like stepping deep inside an angel-food cake 
for a white wedding with all the trimmings

i choose the easy way out
and though a braver woman might have 
tackled further public transport
rain is imminent and so i take a taxi.
the driver is old-fashioned and reassures himself 
as to our destination by the simple means of leafing 
through an actual street directory, though i have explained that 
i am heading for a helltell overlooking the ferry dock just
across from Whidbey Island. kindly (and perhaps unusually)
he only switches on the meter after he has closed his book

72 hours give or take a quarter after leaving home 
i enter a room that is not moving and discover to my delight 
that not only does it overlook water, but the doors can actually
be opened wide to the whirled outside
i drift off to the crash of waves and wake at dawn to flat calm
in the distance a ferry hovers in a silver cloud
seabirds stitch their songs across the place where the sealine might be
if it were clear
it's only September 3 but i feel as though i have lived a week 
since the month began
had September 1 twice
and will lose the equinox to the international dateline
but that
will be another story

because now i am here
re-reading a marvellous book i bought at Shakerag in 2010
and soon i shall be 'being (t)here'
but on Whidbey Island, and with slightly longer hair


if you've managed to reach the bottom of the page and would like to read something more important
then you could go here

Wednesday 31 August 2016

ripples in the mindpond

clouds in sky and field
one way
another way
and one more
stars underfoot
possibly too beautiful for words

there's something particularly lovely
about being able to wander
without shoes

and also
about being in place
taking the time to be fully present
feeling the wind on my skin
listening deeply to the music of the birds and the sea 
and the grasses and the small stones
and a flower opening slowly

more and more i feel this kind of slowness and mindfulness 
is where my work is leading me

discovering years ago
that eucalypts could print vibrant colour
(it was 1991 that i found eucalyptus leafprints on an eggshell
and began to put two and two together)

put me on an extraordinary path
and the longer i walk it
the more it seems that really
in the end
it's all about paying attention to this beautiful whirled
wherever we are
and no matter what other agenda is being perpetrated

just being (t)here,
it works for me.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

everything we need is here

For the first time in ages (a scant week in Aotearoa doesn't really count) I'm making a substantial journey that doesn't involve teaching; having come to Europe primarily in the role of carer for my Ma, who despite falling and cracking her hip four weeks ago decided she would rather come on the trip anyway than languish in a hospital bed.
I came away thinking I might knit or write in any spare time. 
The Dogs Above had other ideas. 
First I accidentally found a silk shirt at the thrift store. 
Then I was poking around a ruin and found a dyepot. 

I hadn't even brought string...so I made some.

There was a barbecue arrangement but no matches. So I purloined a glowing coal from a nearby sauna. It was that, or use the toaster. Don't ask. 

The twigs were all a bit damp. Happily I had some firewater with me (thank you Schlosshotel Kronberg!!) and a piece of linen rag. It proved an effective combination. 

I gathered some old friends from the roadside 

At first the brew (unusually) turned green. 

Rather an idyllic location, don't you think?

Holidays. Gotta love em. 

Monday 1 August 2016


i get a lot of questions about the laundering of contact-printed cloth...should it be dry-cleaned, is the dye washfast, what's the best way of cleaning it etc

the answer, in short, is to treat your plant-dyed cloth as you would treat your own hair.

not too hot, not too cold. no harsh detergents, no greasy soap. because if you use either of those you'll need to rebalance the pH with a vinegar and water rinse afterward (which is kind of what conditioner does for your hair. they only make it gluggy so it won't run off your hand in the shower)
be gentle.
wash by hand or using the wool cycle on a front-loader.

i recommended Aesop's APC Fine Fabric Care on my labels, cos it smelled divine and was wonderfully gentle on cloth. so gentle, in fact, that i could have used it in the shower.

sadly though i seemed to be the only customer buying it and so they discontinued the lovely stuff.

their animal wash does the trick, but doesn't smell as nice.

the other important thing is to dry your cloth in the shade.
unless you are washing sheets, in which case peg em out in the sun and the wind.
they'll be crispy white and smell like heaven.

just remember to avoid the dry-cleaner like the plague. the process is neither dry nor clean and will have your favourite silk negligible sloshing around in a vat of petrochemical nasties along with the filthy trousers worn by a travelling salesman for four weeks and somebody else's vomit stained car seat covers.


and have a nice day.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

The oddness of blogger

I have no idea why blogger published the last post twice (after I edited one word from my Batfone )
But I'm leaving them as removing either one would delete your amusing comments. 

Image above from recent new work, to be shown in the SALA exhibition 

Threads of Industry
Changing Place :: Making Place
at the Onkaparinga Woollen Mills, Lobethal. 

Tuesday 26 July 2016

another gem

good heavens.

look at the date. it's been over a month this time.
that's because i have been away here

making food influenced by the landscape
and also some big splashes

and revelling in the light

now i am home where between storms and howling winds i am momentarily taking a break from trying to discover why (although the sky has been falling) we have no water in the tanks; to deal with the emails i haven't tackled on my batphone while i was away from the magical all-surrounding wifi.

and in the inbox i found this ::

1. How would you describe your work? 2. What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given? 3. When do you know/decide when a piece of artwork is finished? 4. How do you organise your time, what is a typical day? 5. What kind of environment do you work in? 6. In what way does the natural environment inspire you? 7. What advice would you given aspiring textile artist about to embark on their career? 8. Which artists inspire you, and why? 9. What books have you found useful and would recommend? 10. What would you say is the best natural mordent when eco printing on cotton? 11. I am looking to dye recycle fabrics/clothing what advise do you have?

sic. as in, i have pasted it here, unedited.

i did attempt to write back politely, if briefly...but now, fuelled by caffeine and cold weather and the rage induced by a nameless person stealing a pile of wood (cut laboriously with a chainsaw by my daughter) before it could be gathered in 
i am going to give it a proper go.

1. How would you describe your work? 
 this is copied and pasted from my website. i think it's pretty clear.

i use ecologically sustainable contact print processes from plants and found objects together with walking, drawing, assemblage, mending, stitch and text as a means of mapping country, recoding and recording responses to landscape - working with cloth, paper, stone, windfall biological material, water, minerals, bones, the discarded artefacts and hard detritus of human habitation, the local weed burden. the work has been described as using " the earth as the printing plate and time as the press"

2. What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
 if i may quote Maggie Smith's character from the Second Best Marigold Hotel
"never to give any"
3. When do you know/decide when a piece of artwork is finished? 
 if i had the answer to that i would have become a successful painter
instead of working into my paintings until they became mud and then giving up in disgust

4. How do you organise your time, what is a typical day? 
i wake, gently, in the morning and the housekeeper brings me a cup of tea. the resident masseur rubs my toes with fragrant oils. i luxuriate in a hot bath for a few hours, dress in some romantic and frivolous outfit, pick roses until it's time for lunch and then loll on the porch swing in a pile of cushions working my way through a pile of books. later i put on a freshly starched apron and totter into the kitchen to create a three course meal made from food gathered in my walled garden. 
(much later someone else does the dishes)

5. What kind of environment do you work in? 
everything is perfectly organised and easily found. there is not a speck of dust, no cats have played wildly with my best silk threads and nobody has peed where they should not. the fridge in the studio magically restocks itself, a pile of fresh dry kindling is always to hand and the interns are up before dawn sorting windfall leaves into neat piles, arranged by colour and size.
6. In what way does the natural environment inspire you? 
in every way. 
(today it is mostly inspiring me to go back to bed where it is warm.)
7. What advice would you given aspiring textile artist about to embark on their career? 
 think twice about supplying work on consignment to boutiques in glamorous locations that expect you to post it to them free of any charges, then put 250% commission on the work and when it finally sells, pay you at their leisure up to 12 months later. consider becoming a lawyer. or a gardener. it pays better.
8. Which artists inspire you, and why? 
those who make a living from their work.
9. What books have you found useful and would recommend? 
'Eco Colour' and 'Second Skin'. theOxford English Dictionary. also 'Holidays in Hell' by P.J O'Rourke and pretty much anything by Rebecca Solnit
 10. What would you say is the best natural mordent when eco printing on cotton? 
'mordent' is a musical ornament, a little wiggly thing that indicates the way a note should be played. i think i would find it tricky to use in a dye process 

11. I am looking to dye recycle fabrics/clothing what advise do you have?
hmm. as i understand it that is an acronym for a department in the US Homeland Security division.
if it's advice you're after, then here goes ::

know the plants you are using, and their properties

do not be seduced by toxic adjunct mordants

think carefully about wild harvest and whether it's worth risking a plant population just because you want pink. or some other colour.

do not steal all of the red/gold/purple leaves from underneath trees in public parks in the autumn/fall. they are there for everyone to enjoy (and usually taking leaf matter from a Botanic Garden is illegal anyway)

develop your own style.