Monthly Archives: March 2014

Things learned 3

Have I made it sound as though there was no real making at Second Skin, and it was all about the thinking?  Well, I was surprised by how pleasurable hand stitching and the odd spot of thinking were, but of course, there was making.

It began with string. This was part of an extremely cunning method of having all your measurements to hand without any numbers attached to them.  Hand twined string is further evidence of human genius, from my point of view.  I first learned how to make it from a basket weaver and was delighted and intrigued from that point forward.  Usually I make it from daylily leaves.  But this application of it struck me as further genius.  I know I always hate the part of pattern using where I have to compare my measurements to those contemplated by the pattern drafter.  Let me tell you, “The Vogue Body” and the one I am getting around in have little in common!  So many women’s feelings about clothing are really just feelings about our own bodies in the context of an environment where very few of us have the idealised shape and there is a lot of unwanted critique of female bodies.  What genius to sidestep a large part of that drama and along with it, simplify the process of design.  My string is made from tired old cotton that didn’t improve in some dye bath or other, but there were glorious examples of silk string, beautifully crafted by my fellow workshop participants.


Then there was the infinity scarf.  I made two, because when I modelled a plain cream version for my daughter she liked it so much I stitched all evening to hem hers and bundled it next day along with the frocks… and promptly forgot to take a picture.  Mine, of course, still needs one hem!  But it has been touched by indigo as well as leafy goodness of other kinds:


I like it very much!  I’d better finish the hem…

We had the good luck to be at Beautiful Silks in the aftermath of workshops on Indigo.  The bag below has also been dipped…  India said that this style of bag revels in the name tsunobukuro (I hope I have that right), which evidently translates as ‘horn bag’, because, of course, it has horns, which you tie together to create a handle.  Japanese design is so often beautifully economical–I did not fully grasp the geometry of this bag, but made it anyway and finished it a few nights ago.

I am not sure I can explain the feeling I have about ‘hornbag’ as an Australian…  and perhaps people who haven’t encountered Kath and Kim won’t be able to understand even if I try to explain this Australian phenomenon.  Those want to try could start with Wikiquote’s take on it.  I won’t trouble you with a critique of Kath and Kim right now, after all, we’re talking about things learned and things made!  Anyone in Melbourne could still take advantage of the fermentation indigo vats at afternoon sessions using them at Beautiful Silks.  The vats were set up when master indigo dyer Aboubakar Fofana was there recently.  Our getting to use them was an unexpected bonus.


And finally, there was a dress.  It features E Crenulata leaves, happily found in a park near where I was staying.  India said: ‘everything will be beautiful in the end.  And if it isn’t beautiful, it isn’t the end.’  I think this is a beautiful piece of fabric, and I learned a lot from turning it into a dress.  Partly because of my feelings on the subject of myself in a dress, and partly because of the inevitable features of a first attempt (in my case), I think this isn’t finished.  Or perhaps it is finished, but I haven’t found its true owner yet.  But I am still glad to have made it and learned from it.  That’s enough for me.


My eyes popped out when I saw the number of hits on this blog for today, (it’s usually a friendly but low traffic part of the glorious online universe) and then I realised there was a link in from India’s blog.  Thanks for stopping by if that is what brought you here.  If it wasn’t, and this workshop sounds like it’s for you, India Flint is running this workshop in Victoria later in the year, and there may still be places if that sounds like the holiday for you!


Filed under Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures, Sewing

Things learned 2

Continuing on the theme of things learned at India Flint’s workshop recently…


I thought a good deal about the nature of knowledge.  How it is built up, a bit like sediment at the bottom of a river, microscopic layer by microscopic layer as information passes over and small deposits become part of the riverbed.  Once in a while comes a big event: a boulder of new thinking crashes in and becomes part of the muddy bottom, changing all that comes later and some of what came before.  A flood comes through, sweeping away some of the old and perhaps replacing it with new.  Some learnings feel like sludgy algae: they might be temporary and tentative and may or may not last.  Others have been there so long under so much pressure they are more like sedimentary rock and can only be eaten away by a lot of water passing by over a long period of time.  Troublesome if that ‘knowledge’ was inaccurate or those beliefs were unhelpful.


Knowledge is profoundly social.  We accumulate it consciously and unconsciously from the people around us.  Sometimes the path of acquisition is hard to trace.  In some ways, for example, I am very different from my parents.  But in other ways, I think I am very similar to them: I have taken values and inclinations from them at a very deep level but transformed them into a very different approach to the world.  There are profoundly common themes articulated in very different ways through our lives.  I just loved the learning environment of a workshop in which there was such a lovely balance of  overt instruction, observation, casual commentary, questions and answers, storytelling and demonstration.  I also loved learning from and about the other women in the workshop–sitting next to one another seeing other people’s ways, hearing people’s stories, coming across them in the street at lunchtime or turning up next to them in a cafe.


I also thought about forgetfulness and originality.  The conversation about originality in art and craft (as in other fields of life) is always interesting to me, but so often, also distressing.  The online world has created so many new ways for ideas and images and concepts and techniques to be shared, displayed, and passed around with and without agreement or awareness, that it raises new issues for originality.  But some of these issues are very old.  I found it fascinating to listen to accounts being exchanged of egregious or perhaps merely irritating uses of others’ ideas, terms, techniques or concepts.  At the same time, there were a couple of moments when I realised that something I thought I discovered for myself though years of trial and error had already been discovered (by India, for example), with the strong likelihood that I encountered it in her work and at some later point it came into my mind as a thing to try out, without any stamp attached to mark it as hers.  A bit like those moments when I struggle for the name of a person or a plant.  Sometimes, if I have time and can avoid panic, a name floats into my mind.  I haven’t invented it: I have learned it previously and retrieval from the archive is proceeding mighty slowly.  It seems like magic, but I am sure it could be explained by someone with a scientific approach to the brain. But it does open the way for making mistaken claims of originality, or just failing to acknowledge the work and ideas of others.


There’s another thing I notice about forgetfulness.  I have read Eco Colour more that once.  But I overheard a couple of questions India answered in part by saying “I wrote about that in Eco Colour in some detail” (or something like that).  In my mind, that thing just isn’t in that book.  It’s not a natural dyeing phenomenon: sometimes I start a detective novel and recognise the beginning but can’t for the life of me remember who the murderer turned out to be or what the crucial clue was.  I think it is extremely hard to remember things, even useful things, when you don’t yet have enough of a scaffolding of knowledge to fully understand them.  I am sure I have had this experience in dyeing hundreds of times already.  Perhaps more!  I notice my students having it in my classes every single day I teach.  I get something new from Jenny Dean or Ida Grae or India Flint every time I read them.   Always Coming Home by Ursula LeGuin has repaid every single reading I have given it with new treasure.  Each time I find new awareness of what is in these works, new understanding of how the parts form a whole, new insights or realisations, new inspirations.


I am not sure there is a conclusion to the question of human knowledge, forgetfulness or the matter of originality.  I don’t have one, at any rate!  Second Skin turned out to be a great opportunity to think new thoughts and hear what others are thinking on these questions, in an in-person setting and not in the online world, rich and interactive as it is.


I do like Elizabeth Zimmermann’s idea of unvention:  “ One un-vents something; one unearths it; one digs it up, one runs it down in whatever recesses of the eternal consciousness it has gone to ground. I very much doubt if anything is really new when one works in the prehistoric medium of wool with needles. … In knitting there are ancient possibilities; the earth is enriched with the dust of the millions of knitters who have held wool and needles since the beginning of sheep.”  (Knitter’s Almanac).  It isn’t an answer to every issue of intellectual property or livelihood for craftspeople and artists.  It doesn’t resolve every ethical conundrum, or even try–and these are vital issues that can’t be skirted around.  I like unvention, though, because it offers up the possibility of humility in the face of human ingenuity and the scale of time.


Finally, a little gratuitous street art from Melbourne, and an arbutus fruit.  Dear Commenters, this one was out of season on a tree in Melbourne while all the others were tiny and green (arbutus are in flower in my own neighbourhood)–and it was delicious!  Thankyou for your tips and encouragement!



Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

Things learned 1

I finally went to a workshop with India Flint: Second Skin, at Beautiful Silks in Melbourne.  It’s an extravagant thing to go to another city and spend three days doing things you enjoy for the sheer pleasure of doing them and learning more–and what a treat it was!

India began each day with a stretch and a lovely metaphorical invitation to focus on the here and now of our time together.  Each time we did it, I thought some more about how I don’t do this at the beginning of my days, but that they would probably go a lot better if I did.  I loved spending that little piece of time with my mind on an image, before leaping into the excitement or the sheer tasks of the day.  I managed to remember to do it again at work once this week so far…


I thought a lot about being a teacher at this workshop.  I make my living teaching.  One of the reasons I spend a lot of time learning is that I love learning and I think human beings are one of the few creatures who must, of necessity, learn for the entirety of our lives.  I think it is a skill for life as well as a delight.  But another reason is that as a teacher, it is immensely helpful to be a learner over and over again and be reminded constantly of the joys, frustrations, excitements and fears that attend learning for most of us.  To be confronted by places you thought you understood and suddenly realise you didn’t.  To see the bigger picture open up.  To feel fear of failure.  To find some things work for you and some don’t.  To notice you learn differently than others.


I always find it very interesting to be in the presence of a teacher whose approach is really different to mine.  I think that great teaching draws on the whole of who you are as a person, and it is only right and appropriate that there are many great teachers whose styles and approaches are exquisitely different.  India is unquestionably a deeply different teacher than I am. I have often thought that Eco-Colour and Second Skin are more inspirational than instructional.  That they invite experimentation rather than providing a step by step guide to anything.  I don’t mean there are no instructions in these books.  Of course, there are.  But I think the weight of India’s teaching strategy is on inspiring and challenging people to make techniques their own and to discover what is local and useful to them in their own lives and environments.  I am much more of an instructor, and this is, in part, because I’m a structured and linear thinker, comparatively speaking.  Freeform creativity… not so much!  I have spent quite a bit of time in the last few years honing my capacity to deliver a short, inspirational speech, because I notice that while I see usefulness in a technique or skill and set about practicing it until I’ve mastered enough of it to satisfy myself, many others do not feel moved in this way (at least, in my current context).  I love to be inspired, but I can accept less and still feel motivated and act on that motivation.  I notice a lot of other people can’t.


I was so impressed by India’s capacity to inspire.  Understand that I don’t wear frocks and went to a class where you make (among other things, but principally) a dress.  Understand that when I make a garment I usually start from a pattern or draft one from a garment because I don’t believe I have much capacity for design.  Also, understand that the expression “measure twice and cut once” was liberally applied in my childhood.  This is the base from which I watched India demonstrate zero waste drafting of a dress and then freehand cutting the design, with many examples of how this might be adapted or modified or experimented with.  I eventually found myself thinking that this was so exciting it was a shame I couldn’t just play with these ideas every day for the foreseeable future… I could picture all manner of things taking shape in my mind.  Curiosity, play, particular fabrics I have at home, shapes… then, a short while later, I was standing in front of a length of rather expensive and lovely fabric, with a pair of scissors and a hand-twined string.  Terrified!


It was pretty funny, and partly because I have watched people I teach having that sense of possibility and capacity, and then watched them attempt something new and feel their fear return and their doubts re-enter.  If you’re lucky, courage and inspiration win out until the first hurdle has been mounted, a sense of possibility begins to solidify and the hard work begins…




Filed under Natural dyeing, Sewing

Never look a gift alpaca in the mouth

I have been in Melbourne at a workshop with India Flint.  It was a great three days and I can’t wait to write about it…. but my phone steadfastly refused to cooperate woth WordPress–or perhaps it was the other way round–and it turned out sharing a computer wasn’t really an option.  So, writing about that will have to wait a minute or two!

In the meantime… maybe the proverbial instruction that you never look a gift horse in the mouth (implying you are checking whether it is an old horse and not a fresh, strong young one) only holds true for horses.  I’ve had gifts of alpaca that were full of moths, smelled of mould or were terribly short and full of guard hairs.  People making such gifts are well intentioned but have no idea what it takes to transform that fibre into yarn or how many hours I’ll spend touching and smelling it!

However, the two I have started in on recently are lovely.  They’re from friends who live in the hills–the people whose community was the former home of Malcolm the Corriedale.  There’s a white fleece that I am dyeing with eucalypts (so far).


I have found that I can take raw alpaca fleece and dye it without pre-washing.  I can wash the fleece in the same step as rinsing out dyebath–saving water and getting the benefit of eucalyptus cleansing.  The dyebath no doubt has earth in it already if it contains leaves from a gutter or bark from under a tree.


Then there is a wonderfully black fleece.  Two kilogrammes of it.  By the way, I believe I did look into the mouth of this particular alpaca, and its teeth were mighty long!  We had enough rain weeks back that we have run the whole house on rainwater ever since.  The weather was still hot and dry most of the time until recently.  So it seemed seasonally appropriate to wash fleece.  Then I had the key thought: ‘I feel as though I could just wash half that fleece right now.  And maybe the rest tomorrow.’ If I ever have a thought like that about housework, I make it a habit to act on the impulse immediately, before it can get away!  Fleece washing is not really fun, but it makes other forms of fun possible, and it is necessary.  Alpaca is filthy because the animals roll and dust bathe, but it is not greasy, which makes washing it far simpler than washing sheep fleece.


So now: let the spinning begin…


Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing

Drive-by dyeing and mending

On my bike ride home from work (about a 40 minute ride), I pass just one Eucalyptus Cinerea. Well, there are two, but one is inside someone’s front garden.  A person has to have some boundaries!  The street tree had dropped a small branch.


I decided I’d better collect it.  Usually I carry a calico bag in my bike pannier for such contingencies, but this was what I found when I scrabbled about in the bottom of my pannier on the day, so in went all the stray leaves I could find.


This tree has had to contend with a lot.  It has had a  very strange pruning job designed to protect the electrical wires that now pass through its branches.  The pruning took out a lot of the canopy, but the tree is still standing.  For this, I am grateful.


Recent events have caused me to reflect on the way I think about trees on my regular routes… like old acquaintances.  I think about them as I pass, the way I think of people when I pass near their homes without visiting.  I notice what happens to them.  I check them over when I have the chance.  I remember how they were when they were younger, or before that accident befell them.  It’s not entirely unlike the way I notice people I don’t know well, but see out and about in the neighbourhood regularly.

Further along, I saw that my “thanks for cycling” bunting had been ripped and some of it was lying on the ground.  Soon it was in my other pannier headed for the mending pile.


A few days later, the E Cinerea made it into the dye pot and produced its usual dependable flamelike orange.  I also collected some ironbark leaves that had fallen in the parklands near where we had exercise class.  Once the E Cinerea was all but exhausted I reused that dyebath with the ironbark leaves, thinking I would save water and energy, but clearly this was not E Sideroxylon–it produced that sad, damp little pile of fawn alpaca on the right.


I have come to regard this as a sign: The orange leaves in the picture below are the E Cinerea leaves, which have gone from silver-grey-green to orange in the dyebath.  The ironbark leaves, on the other hand, have remained a robustly green shade even after cooking.


And, I’ve mended the bunting ready to hang it again on a suitable occasion…



Filed under Craftivism, Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Spinning up a storm. And some more newspaper.

I am continuing to ply the holiday spinning, but this is the last of it… This coreopsis-dyed yellow yarn has been waiting patiently for weeks.  The eucalyptus-dyed yarn is a new spin.


Of course, there is more eucalyptus-dyed corriedale spun on holiday and plied recently.  I elected to keep the two shades distinct.  When I began dyeing I preferred dyeing yarn and was afraid to dye fleece.  Now I prefer to dye the fleece, because it gives me so much choice when it comes to spinning (and I have learned a few things about controlling the temperature of the dye bath to avoid felting).


I also decided that I could probably refine my newspaper spinning skills, and you know, I think I have!  It’s possible to coax the newspaper strips into a tube as you spin, and I like the effect better.  I think I also succeeded in creating a lower twist single that still holds together.  More fun than I had ever expected…



Filed under Natural dyeing, Spinning

Several green things…

Thanks so much to everyone who has been part of the conversation about trees.  It is always good not to be alone.

One of the things I am doing in an effort to build a greener neighbourhood at present is sprouting saltbush from seed to plant around here:  sharing it with friends who want to plant native plants and planting it in the public spaces where the earth is bare or weedy.  They have gone from tiny baby plants a couple of weeks ago:


To the five or six leaf stage when I think I might start planting out.  I’ve scoped out the River Red (E Camaldulensis) that is still standing in our street and it looks like traffic beneath it has subsided and weeds have begun to fill the bare space.  The time might be right this weekend.


It has been a low knitting week. Just the same, a hat managed to reach completion and the intended recipient agreed to be photographed after we went running one morning.  He turned out to like the hat enough to have it… especially good in view of his recent birthday!  This is Jared Flood’s Turn a Square, a very spare and elegant pattern for just the kind of hat my beloved friend likes to wear.  The wool is handspun–from memory it was a merino/silk blend from Pigeonroof Studios that I acquired when someone else on Ravelry was destashing–the photo of the braid is years old!  It is an especially lush fibre, beautifully dyed–I held onto it for years before I felt I could do it justice as a spinner.


Meetings have been my knitting time this week.  I am one of those brazen hussies who knit in meetings.  I usually ask if people mind.  In big meetings, I ask the people nearby who are most likely to be troubled by my knitting, and they often tell stories of knitters they have known and/or loved.  I aim to have read the papers prior to going to meetings (if it’s that kind of meeting), choose knitting I can do without counting or pattern checking, and always let the knitting take second place to paying attention, contributing and note taking.  I attend a lot of meetings where I sit beside people who are following their email on a tablet or phone, so personally I think knitting is fast becoming less distracting by comparison with other things that routinely happen in meetings I attend!

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Filed under Knitting

Two more neighbourhood trees fall

When I got home last night I was in a  hurry.  It was a little while later that I saw what had happened.  One tree had vanished from the neighbourhood skyline completely.  Where previously there was a huge lemon-scented gum, now there is this.


The other tree has been severely lopped.  It is the kind of lopping that takes place when no care needs to be taken.  The kind of lopping that means this tree will not be there when I get home from work today. This one, too, we believed had been saved from being felled by a government department.  Now it is to be felled by the property owner.


This morning I came home from my run and there were many native birds flying through it and calling.  Tonight I expect there will be total silence and an uninterrupted view of the sky where once it stood.  Every single tree on that block will have been felled.  These were the two largest trees in the street where they stood.


Speechless and sad.


Filed under Eucalypts

Eucalyptus Macrandra?

I found this tree in flower in a park in  West Lakes (my sweetheart is a triathlete, and that is what you can see happening in the background).


The trunk was smooth and shiny with some peeled bark, and as you can see, the whole tree has been shaped by the prevailing wind.


The flowers were a yellow shade of green, with the older flowers turning brown.  There were two generations of buds on long, flattened peduncles (always a striking feature, especially with a name like ‘peduncle’!).  The bud caps were 15 mm long–much smaller than the Yates that I know.  Perhaps someone else can confirm or deny whether this is E Macrandra!  I will regain access to Euclid (the CSIRO eucalypt database) later this month after a long, long time when it wouldn’t work for me… and I can’t wait!  For the time being I’m depending on my trusty book collection, which has its limits–and so do I.


Results like these have me wondering why I would ever bother using walnut hulls for deep browns. I am blessed with great choices in oranges and browns, for sure.


Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Natural dyeing

Post #200

Euc dyeing and silk moths 005

Dear readers of this blog,

This is my 200th post.


When my daughter talked me into starting a blog I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I do, and I didn’t realise I would be meeting you all.  I have found the amount of traffic the blog gets surprising.  I find your comments encouraging and inspiring.  They make a difference.


I really appreciate the contributions that you make to my life.  It’s delightful to have a little posse of people I hold in mind when I’m doing crafty things. This is true of those who live nearby (I still get surprised when I realise you’re still reading) as well as those far away, whom I might never meet in person.

spinning 002

I enjoy dropping by the blogs of those who have blogs.  I think over what you’ve said.  I wonder who the silent passersby are and what they think.  I have been immensely touched by people’s comments at times, and cheered on by them at others.  I enjoy being among so many tree lovers.


Please accept my grateful thanks for your generosity in making this blog an interesting project!

all the best, Mary



Filed under Natural dyeing