For the love of simple embroidery

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This is the last in my series of three little bags rendered much more lovely through embroidery (and indigo).

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I have been really surprised to find that I can embroider on the bus (and of course, at the bus stop).  Admittedly, there is nothing complex about my embroidery!

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Also, it is easier than I thought to travel with simple embroidery, once you decide that is what you want to do. I have been tucking a reel of thread or two into the bag along with an old dental floss sample (for the cutter), digging my needle into the work, and wrapping the whole lot around the needle.  Then into bag or pocket and we are away.

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It has slowed down the public transport sock knitting somewhat.  But I am back to the regularly scheduled public transport socks now!

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I ended up virtually covering this bag in stitches dyed with indigo, indigofera australis, plum pine, eucalyptus, osage orange and random other local plant experiments.  I realise this is super simple embroidery… but for most of my life I would not have considered doing it, and nor would I have thought it possible I would enjoy it.  I do love the plant dyed threads.  I have enjoyed turning this lowly calico bag from a container for soap nuts into something worth looking at twice.  But I think I have to credit India Flint, Roz Hawker, Jude Hill and Isobel McGarry with persuading me that hand stitching is pleasurable and worthwhile.  Not that they were trying to do this…  But sometimes people rub off on one another, in a good way, even at considerable distance!

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Filed under Natural dyeing, Sewing

More guerilla plantings

One relatively fine morning last week, out I went with ruby saltbush, a couple of feijoa trees gifted by friends for just such a purpose, and some olearias also gifted for neighbourhood plantings by a friend. Plus, tools and water!

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Those saltbush went in as sweetly as ever, right beside a parking lot on one side and a railway line on the other.  Bless them, ruby saltbush are growing bigger all round the place.

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This year I have managed to get them to sprout all winter.  It is a thing of wonder to me, and evidence of the tough and adaptable nature that allows ruby saltbush to grow so well in such tough places.

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The feijoas went in too.  I have chosen a place where there is a fair depth of decent soil in hopes that they will make it to grow and fruit.  I happen to know there is at least one person who lives nearby who would love two more neighbourhood feijoa trees!

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Just the same, this is a challenging spot.  The neighbours have been tipping out the contents of pot plants onto this bed.  So I thought I’d better plant things big enough to yell ‘don’t bury me!’ in case this happens again.

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Seedlings out, weeds and rubbish back to our place, together with an empty watering can.  Perfect.

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Since I had empty pots again, I decided to prick out bladder saltbush seedlings.  And since I had pricked out all those that had sprouted, I planted some more.  Here are those seeds, with their ‘bladders’ wrapping them wonderfully!  Hopefully they will enjoy the warmer weather and sprout up ready to be planted around and about…

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Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

On the delights and satisfactions of mending

I like mending.  I find it satisfying to have the skills to be able to render something useable when it is in danger of becoming unusable.  I like being able to give something lovely, or simply beloved, a long life rather than accepting that it will have a short one.

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I learned to use a sewing machine primarily in order to be able to mend things, jeans especially, and I am still doing this by machine as well as by hand.

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I do think it is a privilege to be able to take pleasure in mending.  I have choices about whether to mend or darn.  I can afford to buy new things rather than mend them, and this is a privilege that has not been available to most of humanity for most of history.  It’s privilege most people don’t have now.

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I have noticed that I mend sometimes because the thought of shopping for another something is very unappealing.  I love the idea of shopping for books, but clothing, not so much.  If I like a garment, I like to keep using it.  This is my favourite [black] turtleneck for work.  It sprung a couple of small holes this winter and I have stitched patches on the inside of the arm and the front to prolong its life of keeping me warm and unremarkable in work contexts.

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I hope it might make its way through more winters as a result of this patch and the one below.  These patches were so successful I also mended another skivvy that I like much less and that has descended into gardening and being an under layer.  I don’t even like it much.  But it’s warm and serviceable and somehow that was enough.

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Occasionally I branch out. I restitched a spot on my shoes that was coming undone and threatening the structure of the back of the shoe this winter because I couldn’t see my way to getting it to a shoe repairer now the one nearby has closed down, and I thought I should be able to do it myself.

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We use wheat bags in place of hot water bottles, and they sprang leaks, shedding a few grains of wheat here and there, this winter.  I mended them using a stitch I learned as a girl guide, for mending tents–and then mended a new leak and another one.  That sense of history and skills passed on is part of what I enjoy in mending. Years ago, I decided to be one of the keepers of darning for future generations, and I have taught a lot of people how to darn since my mother taught me.  But in the end, I recovered the wheat bags to see if I could, and of course, I could.  Instead of corduroy I now have a wonderful print on hemp left over from having our chairs re-upholstered and an eco print on pre-loved linen.

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I enjoyed being able to extend the life of these jeans for my beloved, even though I could see it would be temporary–and not a very long temporary at that.  I have tended to the favourite clothes of many of my friends and some of my relatives over time.

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I have been having a thought experiment about what it would mean if I never bought a piece of new clothing ever again.  Some of the mending recently has been driven by this thought experiment lurking in the back of my mind this very dry winter.  In previous times when I asked myself if I could never buy a piece of new clothing again, I was often thinking of it as a challenge to my skills as a maker, and as a way of contributing less to the exploitation of people who make clothes under awful conditions in parts of the world with little protection for workers’ health or industrial rights.

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More and more, I am thinking of it as a response to the need to consume less in order to reduce my carbon footprint in the face of climate change.  When I think of Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, I find myself thinking about the idea that we could keep climate change to a degree which might be consistent with a liveable future for the planet if we returned to the degree of consumption of the 1970s and if everyone was part of the effort.  She points to the mobilisations that supported the war effort (here in Australia, we hear and see most about the mobilisation here and in England) as an example of a time in which the entire society was organised with a relatively common goal and a sense that everyone was part of it and that any privation on the home front should be shared in a relatively just way.  Let us concede before going further, as I am sure Naomi Klein would, that here is nothing just about war and no way of justly sharing the many forms of suffering it creates.  A just sharing of the costs of responding to climate change is utterly crucial–and unlikely to happen without a huge movement of people from everywhere demanding exactly this.

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My mending and darning can’t make the world just and it can’t stop climate change.  But it is a point of meditation about how resources might move from me to other people or vice versa.  It is one of many things I might do that might make a difference, however small.  I intend to keep thinking about it and seeing what difference it makes.  I am already imagining how I might plan ahead enough to avoid suddenly deciding I have to buy something I really could make.  I already notice that I wear different things if I think I might never buy a new pair of jeans again.  And I am asking myself, often, and not only in relation to clothing, do I really need to buy that?  Because–there are a lot of people on the planet who need the resources represented by that purchase more than I do.  And the planet needs a whole lot less consumption going on, and especially by people like me–from the overdeveloped world.  So let’s see how this thought experiment comes along!

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Filed under Sewing

Common Threads: Weaving Community Through Collaborative Eco-Art

Some time ago, I discovered the wonderful blog of artist Sharon Kallis.  I think it was one of those moments of serendipity that the world wide web enables so marvellously–she stopped by this blog having found a post about processing nettle fibre (unsuccessfully, I might add) and left a trace of some sort–like a kind comment–and I wondered what she was writing about and went to find out.

Her blog is a trove of inspiring writing and action. She is part of a multitude of projects I find really exciting–when I first found her blog, she was using basketry techniques with weedy species to control erosion, raise consciousness about weeds, and build community.  Since then, she has been involved in community gardening projects, including communally growing and processing flax to make linen.  She has been working with parks using what would otherwise be waste vegetation or prunings for basketry, dyeing, sculpture and other community projects.  She is spreading awareness about bees and building bee habitats in the suburbs.  And so on.  Many of these projects have educational, celebratory, musical and film aspects that make them all the richer and more exciting.

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Imagine my delight when I realised that she was writing a book!  I pre-ordered Common Threads (New Society Publishers, 2014) and was so utterly delighted by it I remember wondering if it was possible I could quit my life-eating (though in many respects wonderful) day job and take up community art instead. Somehow months have passed without my writing a review.  But here it is at last.  The book is rich in sources of inspiration, full of ideas, imagination, interviews with other community and eco-artists whose work inspires and informs.  It is divided into three sections: Places, People and Plants.

In Places, Sharon writes about the imperative to use what is local, including what is invasive and weedy in a local landscape.  In relation to weeds, her approach centres on problem solving from the troublesome features of invasive species toward using them as resources for sustainability.  The projects featured engage members of the community in learning about invasive species as well as learning basketry and stitching techniques to work with plants.  She writes about building change with other members of the community, introducing the concept of ‘backsourcing’: ‘the process of re-claiming what we outsourced when factories took over the production of goods to satisfy the general needs of a developed country’s population.’  Her case studies include the Means of Production Garden, a community garden in which artists grow the plants needed for their art practices; and the Aberthau project in which people grew their own flax in community gardens and household plots and then learned to process it into fibre, thread and eventually, garments.

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The People section deals with strategies and processes for building community through engagement with the plant world and the process of growing, harvesting, making and celebrating the seasons.

The final section on Plants provides a wealth of practical information for working with invasive species (many are recognisable in Australia even though Sharon is working in Canada).  It then moves on to techniques for basic basketry, netting and string making.  The basics of plant dyeing are covered, and the section concludes with the logistics of managing green waste as a source for community projects, accessing funding and partnering with public parks.  I am in awe of the reach of this book–all the way from how to turn leaves into string through to how to organise large scale projects utilising the green waste from parks and managing relationships between artists and community workers and public sector authorities.

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Each section of the book includes interviews with other artists involved in organising the featured community art projects.  I loved these insights into the how and why of these projects.  I have my own sense of why these projects might be valuable and interesting, but inevitably other people’s sense of the importance of the local, the environment, and making are diverse and wonderful. I found lots of resonance with ideas and processes that I use in my own small way—but such a profound sense of building community and of building up strategies for change and engagement made vivid and visible.

As the chapters unfold, a critique of consumption and materialism builds up.  A sense of the value of all that is impermanent and biodegradable in the face of a society that is structured to require and encourage consumption and which creates disposable packaging that can last for centuries develops.  And a sense of what might be done to address these questions opens up.

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Filed under Basketry, Book Review

Preparing for the Royal Show

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I have decided to enter the Royal Show this year.  I decided to enter last year but missed a step and prepared (several) entries that I couldn’t enter in the end.  Oh well.  It isn’t as if I baked a cake and it ended in mould. I am not all that interested in the competition part, although of course it is flattering to get a ribbon, if I get a ribbon.  But really, I like to be part of showing the crowds that come along that spinning and dyeing are still alive and happening nearby, that these crafts are creative as well as traditional and I like to give my friends at the Guild someone to compete with.

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The hardest category for me to prepare is the ‘spinning perfection’ category.  There are much better spinners than me at the Guild, and some of them are sure to enter.  I count it a privilege to be beaten by people with such fine skills (and I hope it makes winning sweeter for them, that there is someone else entering).  But this is an opportunity to build my skills and spin intentionally–because sometimes often I just spin for serendipity, which is a different kind of pleasure.  Even when I spin intentionally, I sometimes get surprises. Spinning is like a lot of crafts–it is simple enough to learn the basics, but you could spend an entire lifetime acquiring skill and still run out of time! This category requires three skeins of 50 g each, one fine, one medium and one bulky.  Traditionally, it is presented in natural wool, even though this is not a requirement of the category.  I have never seen a dyed skein in this category.  This is fleece from ‘Viola’ –a gift from a friend of a friend.  Viola’s breed was unknown to the giver but the consensus at the Guild (whew!  there was consensus!)  is that she must have parentage that is English Leicester and some other kind of heritage too.

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Once of the previously mentioned Guildies of extreme spinning skill washed this fleece for me, which was such a generous and kind thing.  It is beautifully clean and did not take me hours of backbreaking effort.  She has a simpler method than the one I use, but I lack the equipment to do it.  I carded up batts for the medium and bulky skeins and weighed out sections of the batts for each skein–2 ply for the medium skein and three ply for the bulky one.

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Then I lashed on some locks and combed top for the fine skein.  I am still pretty inexperienced at combing, but I am definitely improving, and top is a gorgeous preparation to spin.  I have to say, the long locks on this fleece and the not-so-fine character of the fleece makes preparation a breeze.

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No blood was lost!  Two passes of the combs and I had lovely looking fibre ready to draw off into top…

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Through a diz.  I tell you, a person could take up spinning just to have tools with such wonderful names.  It has helped me at Scrabble and Bananagrams no end!  I do not bother with the list of two letter words with no discernible meanings but I pull out spinning and dyeing terms whenever possible.  I pre-drafted the batts in their weighed-out sections and had a day of spinning and a second day when I did all the plying.  It was quite a contrast to the last time I entered this category, when I seem to remember I was spinning for months.  Perhaps I didn’t weigh out just enough for the entries.  I seem to recall spinning an entire bobbin of each single last time, which is a significant amount of spinning.

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Well, three months have passed since I was carding and combing Viola’s fleece for those ‘spinning perfection’ entries.  There they are on the left.  Then there is a skein of merino with dyed silkworm cocoons gifted to me by a friend (novelty category).  Then an entire issue of The Guardian cut into strips and spun slowly on my wheel (novelty category).  That’s right, since you’re asking, without glue.  Then two skeins of Viola’s fleece which I’ll tell you more about in posts to come.  Those who have been around a while will recognise some of those colours. Finally, two skeins of Malcolm the Corriedale dyed and spun a while back.  These sets of two skeins are my two dyeing and spinning category entries.  The entire pile of woolly goodness is sitting on top of a quilt I am entering.

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I finished this a little while ago and it has a set of blocks on the front, each with a print of a species of Eucalypt, with its name embroidered in eucalyptus dyed silk thread.  The back is a patchwork of pieces of eucalyptus-dyed cottons.  It is machine quilted over an old flannelette sheet well past its heyday and ripe for a new life out of sight.

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So–my entries are finished.  They have their little labels attached.  The quilt has a hanging sleeve hand sewn onto it!  Most of the entries have the additional things required (accounts of dyes and breeds, samples of fibres) and a few do not. I’m just not well enough organised, and in the end decided to submit the skeins I want to show and not worry about their compliance with rules.  I won’t be crushed if they don’t get a ribbon because I didn’t do all that was required.  All I have to do now is take them in on the right day, and all should be well!

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It isn’t a really wonderful example of quilting.  I’m quite dedicated to patchwork and loved the dyeing and stitching, but I am less enthusiastic about quilting.  Perhaps that is yet to grow on me!  This quilt marked the beginning of embroidery growing on me for the first time since chiildhood, so it’s possible.  I decided to enter partly to honour the admiration of a friend who thinks this is the best quilt ever. And partly just to speak back a little to all the floral frou-frou that dominates quilting exhibits I have seen with a little leafy goodness.  And there you have my entries.  Local wool, mostly local dyestuffs, local spinning and stitching–with some cotton and silk and indigo and osage orange from far away, grown and processed and woven by the hands of other people unknown to me.  Showtime!

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing, Spinning

Beloved tree banners

I am a tree lover.  If you’ve been visiting for long, you already know this about me. This week these banners went out into the world.  Framed by eco-prints and embroidered with eucalyptus dyed silk thread… perfect for the job, I think.

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The first went to a river red gum we managed to save during railway works in the neighbourhood.

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It is immense.

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But the second banner went to a much larger tree.  This one has been here since the Kaurna people were the only people living here: since before colonisation.  It is now in Wilberforce Walk, and it is threatened by flood mitigation works which will widen Brownhill Creek, in which it stands.  It has a massive trunk.

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Friends and neighbours have been at work on making sure this tree stays safe.  We have been writing letters and submissions. We have been lobbying.  One ingenious friend has commissioned a beautiful painting of this tree by local artist Laura Wills which he is planning to give to Council.  Other ingenious friends had a famous eucalypt specialist come and examine the tree to assess its age and state of health and write a report.

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This banner has been requested several times by various other people who love this tree, and now it is in place.  I don’t think it can hurt for passersby, or the Council’s arborist, or whomever might be charged with deciding how to treat this tree, to know that it is beloved.  It has been wonderful to meet with so many people who love this tree after years of visiting it and treasuring it myself.  Along with the other tree lovers: in this case, friends, neighbours, insects, honeyeaters, sulphur crested cockatoos, bees and tawny frogmouths.

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Filed under Craftivism, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures, Sewing

Birthday gift

It came to my notice that a niece who was shortly to visit us also has a birthday approaching. I put on the dye pot.

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I went out to visit a favourite tree.

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I had ordered the scarves with this kind of occurrence in mind, so I pulled one out and pulled out the new silk thread as well.

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In they went (and so did the stems that were left from the leaves I’d used)!

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The transformation is always amazing in the dye pot.

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But the contents are even better fun!

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Shown here wet from the dye bath…

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And here hung out to dry.

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Yes, she does like it….! And we took her out on a walk to see the tree that contributed its glory to her gift.

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Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Blankets Re-imagined

My dear friends were the ones paying close enough attention to realise that the launch of Blankets Re-Imagined was imminent. They also were the ones with the genius and generosity to organise a wonderful supper that must have made us the envy of most of the people who were there!  So last Friday on a chilly night after a long working week we ventured out into the hills to Lobethal. The exhibition (of over 40 artists and more than 100 works) was held in the shell of the once great Onkaparinga Woollen Mills, still a very impressive building.

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This is, indeed, a building in which many blankets were made and of course, there were many blankets on display.

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Some were being worn.  Others adorned walls and had been turned into all manner of art works, ranging from political commentary through multiple forms and techniques and into sheer whimsy. It was night, and indoors.  I can’t say the lighting was ideal for photography, even though I now have more understanding of white balance, due to another friend’s kindness and expertise.  So please bear with me on colour variations…

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India Flint’s work is substantial in every way: created from segments of eco dyed blanket and nailed to a massive piece of kauri with nails that would make my father proud.  (He is the kind of man who would never use one nail if four nails could do the job.)  The colours and leafy shapes are glorious, and the trails of eucalyptus dyed stitching form an understated uniting tracery that seems to me to be a signature of India’s.

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The variety of colour and leaf form was just lovely.

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There were a whole series of blankets from this mill in awesomely seventies oranges (lime greens and purples too).  I believe we have one in our very own home.  I love the way this section references that orange but does something that is absolutely not tartanesque with it.

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Here I am blending in to the artwork perfectly well in an India Flint original!  This effect gave rise to numerous comments from passersby as well as friends, and there were a few strangers who needed to feel my sleeve.  I completely understand the urge!

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It was a delight to see Isobel McGarry and admire her contribution even though I failed completely to capture its colours.  Her work, ‘Oppenheimer’s Suns’ carries her trademark close stitching and conveys her grieving for all war has cost humanity and the environment. The launch happened close to Hiroshima Day and Nagasaki Day–and therefore spoke to things that had been on my mind a good deal.

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But as always her work also conveys her longing for peace and healing…

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This wonderful work by Sandy Elverd was on display…   she has long used blanketing as a medium to fabulous effect.

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Indigo Eli contributed a piece commenting on the Australian government’s recent Border Protection Act and its silencing of criticism of the treatment of asylum seekers.

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There was plenty of whimsy… these by Victoria Pitcher.

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This echidna by Lindi Harris and Lisa Friebe.

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Then there was the blanket cubby.

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Unfortunately I did not record the name of the artist.

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There were also reminders of the machinery on which so much wool was processed into fabric.

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And there was the building itself to admire.

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Adorned for the event rather wonderfully.

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Such a wonderful evening. So much to think about and wonder over, admire and revel in. And such glorious company to do it in.

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Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing

Beloved trees

My very local tree loving friends and I have had a plan for a little while to plant more trees around here, and we decided to plant E Scoparia.  An opportunity came to buy some, so my friends bought some, and they were on special for $1 each!

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We took them, and some saltbush and boobialla… and even parsley.

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While we were out planting, and singing the tree planting blessing, this little banner went back onto its tree.

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It had been home for a wash and reapplication of string. It had fallen down or been pulled down.

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It is a huge tree!

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One of us had to climb it.

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When it was all over there was another shared lunch (I am blessed with generous friends!) and chicken happiness, and bit less rubbish in the neighbourhood.

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Filed under Craftivism, Eucalypts, Neighbourhood pleasures

Another bundle of beautification

I had another undergarment that could use improvement… here it is before.

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I liked the back better.

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E Scoparia got the job again.

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It looked so good afterward…

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While I was at the dye table I realised that the woad bundle I had left tied was still there… I unwrapped and this one had prints. Green leaves and contrasting stems.

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And here are the ‘after’ pictures… clearly the light was not as good as I thought at the time!  The front:

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And… the back.

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I’m not sure.  I might go again!

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Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing