Monthly Archives: March 2013

After Bendigo

Last year I went to the Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show with a friend.  We had a great time, and I spent plenty!  Just recently I decided to spin some of the prepared fibre I bought there.  This is grey merino/llama/silk dyed by the Thylacine in Evandale.  It was luscious to spin and inspired me to get back to dyeing over grey fleece. I chain-plied it to maintain distinct colours.

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I bought some Raxor batts: Corriedale x English Leicester and Blue-faced Leicester in ‘Before dawn’.  Clearly also from my grey period.  I core spun these over a crossbred grey wool core. The pink skein is chain plied merino/bamboo dyed ‘berry lush’ from Kathys Fibres.  All a delight to spin.

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Eucalyptus Orbifolia

Alas, poor Eucalyptus Orbifolia.  I grew this plant from a small seedling to a still small, but perhaps 50 cm high plant hardly worthy of the title ‘sapling’, in a large pot.  It seems to have been a casualty of the hot summer and perhaps its far flung location at the back of the yard.  Despite all the watering it received, poor old Orbi gives every impression of having curled up its toes.  So, I’ve cut back and harvested the leaves for the dye pot.  Perhaps there will be regrowth, but I’m not letting all the leaves fall while I wait to find out.

I bought this plant and not some other believing it to be a dye plant for some reason I can no longer remember.  I’ve been to the place I thought this idea generated but it isn’t there!  And now I can break the news to you, dear reader.  It isn’t going to join the list of truly exciting dye plants anytime soon.  Here is the dye pot after some hours of simmering.

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The dye liquor is still quite clear, with an amber tint.  The leaves are still the glorious shape that gives the tree its name.  I have leaf printed with them in the past and the result was definitely a print, though not any really impressive colour.  And here is the result of a dyebath test. The handspun with no mordant: orange.  The millspun superwash with alum mordant: brown.  What was I thinking mixing and matching fibres on my test cards in this batch? Silk thread, nothing of significance to report (E Orbifolia is in the middle). And for comparison, handspun Finn X dyed with E Scoparia bark at the bottom of the frame.

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Random harvest

In the beginning, when I’d read the Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria Dyemaking with Australian Flora (1974) and perhaps Jean Carman’s Dyemaking with Eucalypts (1978) and knew just about nothing about identifying eucalypts, I used to just choose a tree at random and try it out on some wool.  Sometimes that is still the thing to do!

Last week I had a testing trip home from work by public transport.  It took one and a half times as long as doing the trip by bike would have done, partly because I travelled on a bus route further from home and walked a good way.  So I looked for entertainment on my walk.  This rough barked tree was in flower (small, cream-white flowers) and hanging through a park fence.

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Lots of fruit in several stages of maturity.  I took a small leafy sample. 

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I kept walking.and came across this tree with its spectacular peeling bark and bronzed trunk by the tramline.  There was a broken branch still hanging suspended from the intact branches, so I broke off enough dried leaves to make a meaningful test dye bath.

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Along the tramline closer to home, I saw this beauty with coppery bark (suggesting it might be a mallet, I believe) but quite a broad leaf by comparison with the family member I know best, the swamp mallet, E Spathulata. A few more leaves selected.

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Finally, I passed a friend’s place.  His neighbour’s house had been demolished that day and part of the crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia Indica) on the street had been a casualty, so I picked a sample of that, too, and when he came out of his garden, there was a chat to be had as well. Crepe myrtle turns out not o be an indigenous species.

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And now for the (dyeing) punchline.  I won’t be losing sleep identifying these trees! That’s the crepe myrtle to the left.  You can see the leaves have acted as a resist to the iron in my bath, with some tan patterning from the leaves themselves.

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And… here is the result from the dried leaf dye bath from the tree with bark peeling in strips.  Tan or brown, depending.

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Eucalyptus Leptophylla; Eucalyptus Gillii

I love botanical gardens, where the trees are helpfully labelled.  In Adelaide, this is true even of those outside the grounds… which is how I came to take a few leaves from E Leptophylla.

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For lovers of brown, this might be a viable dye plant.  I’m still working on loving brown for most applications.  I tend to think brown sheep are made for creating brown wool.  But I’m blessed with access to coloured sheep fleece, and not everyone is so lucky.

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I have to say that it is more of a dye prospect than E Gillii.  A friend has this beautiful plant growing in his backyard, so I tried it out some time ago and got smudgy tan marks and no more.  It’s best admired for loveliness of leaf and flower in my view.  I also tried Chinese elm–no colour at all.

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A visit to the botanical gardens, even when I am really outside the gates, is never wasted.

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India Flint at Murray Bridge Regional Gallery

The weekend that just was, was a long weekend for us.  Adelaide Cup Day honours a horse race–a strange reason for a public holiday, but we welcome public holidays!  5 of us went together to see India Flint’s exhibition in Murray Bridge.

It was an hour long trip each way with Totally Gourdgeous sing-a-longs, word games, a ‘how many songs connected to Africa can you sing?’ game and I-spy.  I highly recommend Totally Gourdgeous.  Where else can you hear orginal Australian music on gourd instruments?  And find reviews which actually are plausible when you’ve heard the band, like:

“Joni Mitchell meets James Brown in Bob Marley’s pumpkin patch via the Muppets!”  There was a picnic under some river red gums, with climbing on old trains (which was the highlight of the day for one of us).  And there was a fabulous almond and rice banana cake. 

But… the exhibition was very much the reason for the trip.

By way of introduction… because I feel a little odd saying anything at all about this experience, but at the same time, I’d really like to share it a little… as a musician I have been fascinated to hear people speak about songs I’ve sung. Sometimes the listener has complete confidence they know what the songwriter had in mind.  As the singer, sometimes I’ve been in conversation with the songwriter about interpreting that song from when it was half-written, and know that the songwriter was quite emphatically not thinking what the listener believes s/he heard.  I believe that art succeeds when it moves people and makes them think.  But the feelings and thoughts that result from encounters with art may be only loosely connected to what the artist offered, let alone intended!

The exhibition spans two rooms in a lovely gallery–in one of them, the lighting is bright and the dominant colours are white and– it was a subject of conversation between us–orange–red? India Flint has offered a preview on her blog for those far from Murray Bridge.  The long span of fabric suspended on hooks which dominates the room is extraordinary: brilliant colours and shapes.  It is a spectacular sight hanging in space looking fragile and gauzy yet vibrant and strong.  In the same room hangs a work called ‘waterbag’.  I just loved this work but struggled to explain why.  One of my friends theorised my fascination with bags–using, giving and making–might be part of it, but even with that suggestion I’m not sure.  I was drawn to its complexity–the dyeing, the form of the bag, the vivid stitching.

In the second room was a poem about New Orleans seven years after the storm painted on the wall in mud, together with an arrangement of paper and silk boats in a range of subtle colours. We spent a lot of time looking into individual boats as well as admiring the effect of the boats from a distance and reading the poetry.  Then there was a selection of eco-bundles wrapped around various pieces of pipe suspended in the air–also spectacular.  It made my fingers itch to unwrap them!  There were a series of works on the wall… one of them a single piece of fabric in purples and greys with a spectacular repeating compound leaf eco-print on it.  The others were rich and complex: pieced, stitched/embroidered and plant dyed in a multitude of different ways, using different fibres and mostly in dark colours–greys, browns, blacks and blues.

It gave rise to a series of conversations.

One was about the extraordinary source of inspiration that India Flint and her work have been.  Her work has been so generative.  In its showing the possibilities of eco-printing as a process.  In its incitement to experiment–explicit and implicit.  In its focus on local and native plants (eucalypts for us, of course–but clearly people in other parts of the world have taken up the invitation with plants local to them).  In its deployment of mending and boro and patching and darning as skills, aesthetics and practices.  In its use of a wide variety of materials.  In its uses of stitching.  In its invocation of the natural world and the potential of sustainable dyeing practices that would respect that world.

Another conversation was about the hoary old question of art and craft.  Naturally we did not resolve it (or try to), but we spoke about the phenomenon of people like India Flint, who are gesturing at larger ideas, images and aesthetics in their chosen media.  Who carry ideas into their works and express ideas through their works.  And then, there are people, me for instance, who seldom do this and have more of their attention on the process of making and the function of the ultimate thing/s made.  This is not to say that they don’t overlap or cannot coincide. They must, they clearly do… but they are not exactly identical processes or intentions and they affect what might be understood as an interesting outcome, too.

There was a lot of interest and speculation about process–how was this done?  What could have produced this shape/colour/amazing thing of wonder?

There were a number of conversations about which works or parts of them drew attention viewed from close up and which were fascinating from further away.

It was a lovely adventure.  Thanks to India Flint for inspiring it, and so much else besides.

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Tribeca shirt

At last, the piece of lovely fabric I was speaking about toward the end of this post has become a garment.  The fabric is a silk/hemp blend from Margaret River Hempco.  The pattern is the Tribeca Shirt from the Sewing Workshop.  The leaf prints use India Flint’s techniques and Eucalyptus Scoparia leaves.

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I invested in this pattern because I have been making the same unisex shirt from McCall’s for years in different fabrics.  It is an oversized shirt with collar, collar stand, button bands, plackets and cuffs.  I’ve had great value from that pattern, making it for myself numerous times and for other people from time to time. Sometimes I’ve made it with collar stand and no collar, or a differently shaped collar.  I’ve made it from recycled linen tablecloths, lovely quilting fabrics and even a screenprint from an Indigenous business on the Tiwi Islands.

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I wanted something different and I decided on this.  It really was different.  No facings, no cuffs, the funnel neck involves no collar, and the whole shirt is designed for french seams. I had a failure of nerve prior to setting in the sleeves using french seams and had to set it aside for a couple of days!  The buttonholes are placed over a patch sewn to the reverse side.  Shaping is achieved with darts.  This is really interesting but also really efficient sewing.

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The level of instruction in the pattern worked well for me.  As usual, the bodies contemplated by the pattern measurements and my own body seemed to have little in common.  My pattern adjustment skills are better than they have ever been but could still use improvement–just the same, the result has me feeling really happy.  I had enough fabric leftover to cut out a second, simple shirt which is now waiting for my attention. Now all I need is the right occasion for a first outing.

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Leafy pillowcases

A while back I leaf printed a length of seedy silk noil.  Today I turned it into two custom fit pillowcases for a small and contoured pillow I find very comfortable. One part of the fabric I printed wth E Scoparia–but you can see faint prints of E Cinerea leaves coming through too.

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The other, with E Cinerea. Interestingly enough, the lingering smell of eucalypt is very faint and the smell of raw silk overwhelms it: I’ve tried this before and it will last only a few washes. The colours are muted but the leaf shapes are clear.

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I love a simple sewing project… I’m one of those people who can make the same thing over and over again.

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Leftovers

I had a few leftovers from a spinning workshop I held recently.  I made sure workshop participants took away all the roving I’d dyed and braided and all the batts I’d made, so they could practice at home. And we made more batts as part of the workshop and that was fun too.  But there were little bits left from demonstrating techniques.  Sometimes leftovers are the best part of a meal, and I really enjoyed spinning up the pink and purple end of a piece of roving, and corespinning one gloriously red batt–merino, silk and green sparkly stuff.  And that meant I found the neglected bobbins of eucalyptus-dyed merino that I had blended with some commercially dyed merino/silk in golds and reds.  So those singles finally got plied.  It’s nice to be back at the wheel.  It’s been too hot for dyepots!

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Eucalyptus Leucoxylon Megalocarpa

Eucalyptus Leucoxylon Megalocarpa--what a hefty title for the South Australian Blue Gum!  Well, that’s what people call it where I live, but it is native to Victoria as well as South Australia and in Victoria, it is more likely to be called Large-Fruited Yellow Gum.  The fruits are large compared to other blue gums I know, but by comparison with seriously large-fruited gums such as E Erythrocorys, not so big.

This is possibly the most popular street tree in my city.  There are loads of them.  So it’s a shame that this is not an exciting dye plant (tan again!)  On the other hand, at the moment it is coming into flower everywhere and the lorikeets and bees couldn’t be happier.  As eucalypts go, it is a small-medium size tree (to only about 8 metres).  Here it is with a house for comparison.

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It is shedding bark in lots of places at present–I haven’t tried dyeing with the bark as yet.

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The flowers are a major attraction for those who plan parks and streetscapes, and also for lorikeets, honeyeaters and bees.  Cream is one of the most common colours…

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Red is the other, and these trees are profuse. There are also specimens that have been grafted or bred for other flower colours.  I saw a peach-coloured display of flowers yesterday.

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The lorikeets just went higher when they saw my camera, but the bees stuck with what they were doing.  Moving fast!  But this one allowed a partial photo.You can see buds, immature fruits and flowers all present close together here.  On some trees, fully mature fruit that have released seed are on the tree as well.

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I have to say this specimen had the most extensive infestation of whatever insect produced those little galls I’ve ever seen. Clearly it’s providing habitat for a lot of baby insects of some kind as well as bees, ants and birds.  I can’t really complain that it gives tan in the circumstances.

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