Monthly Archives: April 2015

Retreat to Tin Can Bay 2: Wonderment is only natural

The retreat seemed to me to be organised around creating the space for profoundly noticing and being inspired by the wonderful place we were in.  It was a homage to the natural world and to Tin Can Bay as a specific, special place.  And what a place it is! When we arrived, we first went out onto the mangrove mudflats.

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I love mangroves.  They grow along the coast by Port Augusta, where I spent a lot of school holidays as a child, so for me they hold many happy memories as well as hours of experiencing mangroves.  Being on them and among them, finding the shells and sea plants that get trapped in their branches and roots as the tide recedes, peeling their seeds and even burying treasure in a biscuit tin beneath a particularly special tree.  These did not seem exactly like the mangroves I played among as a child.  I realised at Tin Can Bay that I had somehow imagined all mangroves were sisters.  But it seems that they might be cousins.  There is an extended family of mangroves.

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There were many different invitations to go out into the scrub or the mud flats or the paperbarks with a small set of creative constraints or a little imaginative task. Invitations to focus closely on the wonderment that is nature, and the mangrove flats and the Wallum in particular: to be with and among it, to be inspired by it.  I was fascinated by this process.  It seemed as though others had encountered it before–but many of my companions have had training as artists and I have not. I was in awe of others’ skills and imagination.

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I love being out in the world as an ardent admirer.  Queensland is a tropical, fecund, damp place by comparison with the place where I live, which is dry and bare by comparison.  Here, fungi were everywhere. In all states of growing and decomposition.

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Springing up in all kinds of shapes and places.

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Apparently from every kind of direction.

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The variety of texture was amazing.

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There were flocking fungi and solitary fungi.

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And some extraordinary colours.

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I took many out of focus pictures of orchids and butterflies and spiders but mostly I just gazed in awe and marvelled at sharing a planet with such wonders. I found this skink basking one afternoon.

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I was amazed by soldier crabs.  I have not manipulated the colours at all.  They really are blue, with burgundy elbows and knees!  These creatures can vanish under the sand and pull the back door closed behind themselves in a very short span of time.

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There were many small wonders. There were tiny orchids and tiny plants and tiny flowers.  Because this isn’t my part of the world, I couldn’t always tell weed from wild plant. This could be a problem in other contexts, but it was quite pleasant to have awareness of environmental devastation slightly further from the centre of my focus awhile.

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There were scribbly gums!

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India says these are Eucalyptus signata–which is wonderfully poetic in itself, to my ear.

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Banksias… tree sized banksias!  I am growing prostrate banksias and the coast in my state is home to shrub sized or low growing banksias.  They are lovely. These were immense.  Even the shrubby banksias were blessed with wonderfully large leaves.  It did have me in mind of May Gibbs’ banksia men, despite my adult critique of them as caricatures of a questionable sort. Non-Australians and maybe even younger Australians should know I am referring to a book by  Australian writer and illustrator May Gibbs called Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, in which the banksia men are inevitably villains–there are no banksia women. I will let you draw your own conclusions about Australian attitudes to hirsute and dark skinned men, particularly in the period in which she was writing–the early 1900s.  If you’re curious, google images will show you what I am talking about with a few keystrokes.  Her illustrations entranced me as a child.

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There was another workshop participant who squeaked in glee at sundews–so it wasn’t just me! Insectivorous plants–some even in flower.  Wonderful.

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Roz and India offered all manner of paths into considering how we might be inspired by nature, including videos by artists speaking about or simply showing how they work.  There was the wonderful example of these two artists themselves speaking about their own ways of working and showing some of what they do and think.  And there was poetry and writing as another pathway into how other imaginations might think the natural world and our relationship to it.  Simply wonderful.  It certainly did inspire creativity in all its diversity. But as always this close focus on the natural world inspired in me, first and foremost, awe.


Filed under Natural dyeing

Retreat to Tin Can Bay 1: Things made

This last week I have been away from my day job and away from home at the Retreat to Tin Can Bay with Roz Hawker and India Flint.  What a wonderful opportunity!  I felt as though planetary alignment must have occurred when it turned out to be possible for me to get there, and I managed to get a place.  There is a lot I would like to say about this week.  There will be a little series of posts, if you would like to stay with me a while on this theme.

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I’m going to start small, with some of the things we made.  I call this starting small both because some of the things we made were small–tiny, even!  But I also say this is starting small because, as these posts from Roz Hawker and India Flint both make clear–the things we made are, in important ways, the least of it.  I was delighted to be among other folk who clearly felt the same way–that the growing of relationships and the creaking and whooshing sound of minds expanding and the beginnings of new ideas that will grow and develop and become larger and different… are so much more than these little packages of wonderment.

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Not that I would wish to trivialise little packages of wonderment in the slightest!  Naturally, there were some bundles.

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Here is one of mine as it emerged from the dye pot.

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Weeds can give some great colour on paper, clearly!  I got another lovely print from cobblers’ pegs (Bidens pilosa), a plant with very sticky seed heads well-known by all who have worn socks in Queensland.

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There were little books and little packets cunningly folded from paper.  I know I’ll be making these again.  Small, achievable acts of genius please me immensely… and I think any regular reader knows that I am completely capable of finding repetition pleasurable.

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There was coiled basketry of a kind I hadn’t tried before, shown here prior to dyeing. It was glorious to see how different people did different things with the same concept and even with the same materials.  I have had little exposure to the kinds of exercises we did some days–using a set of constraints that paradoxically demand and therefore set free creativity.  It was rather lovely to see that process work out with a group of different minds and different skills sets and personalities.

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There was drawing and playing with ink and graphite and making marks with plant materials and… so much more…

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There was a little etching on silver.

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There was the sampling of new and sometimes unidentified windfalls.

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There was a dyepot over a glorious wood fire (the smoke came in handy considering the array of insects keen to nibble on any exposed skin–Queensland would not be Queensland without critters).

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I was surprised to get a leaf print from one of the local banksias.

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And also to get green from one of the local eucalypts.  It doesn’t show as well here as it does on my new silk bag!

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This was one of my favourite things… a small collaboration  between leaf, insect and eucalpytus-dyed silk thread.

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But there was so much more… feet in the sand and the mud.  Banksias and mangroves.  The pleasure of being nourished by poetry wonderfully read and collectively created.  Admiring the creativity, beauty and thoughtfulness of my companions.  Time to play and time to delight.  Friends to make.  Leaves to be twisted into string.  And so much smiling.


Filed under Basketry, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing

Seat cover from local sheep hides

I apologise right now to vegans and vegetarians.  This post is about my latest engagement with my friends’ nose-to-tail approach to the sheep that they have working on a bush block they are rehabilitating in a rather wonderful way.  Confronted with the option to use hides from local animals tanned by a local craftsman… how could I refuse?

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These are Wiltshire Horn sheep hides–Wiltshire Horns are not famous for their fleece, in fact they shed rather than requiring shearing, which can be a distinct advantage in the climate these sheep live in.  The skins do not have a lot of fleece on them at all.  The question for me was whether I could stitch leather–but these hides were quite supple.  So I decided to try,

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I have been making my own car seat covers for some time.  The bought kind involve underpaid labour in China, far too many fabrics that will never biodegrade, ugliness and… let me count the things I don’t like about them.  Having a car is enough of a problem.  I cut a seat cover up for a pattern years back and since then have made and worn through several made of upholstery scraps and recycled curtains and suchlike.

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It was easier to make the cover than it was to take a decent photo on an overcast day.  I did apply a razor near the seams to get the pile as low as I could prior to stitching–and I did measure three times before applying the scissors–that was about it for special techniques.  Next year I might even make a mate for this one, as I think my friends have found takers for all the hides they had this year!  Please feel free to suggest what I might make with the small scraps that remain.  I am all ears!

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Filed under Sewing

Still more bags…

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Once I started, it was hard to stop.  In fact, I have held this post so as not to bore you, dear reader.  I have so many higher priorities, but somehow bags are simple and satisfying and so is using up all those scraps… I found this Marimekko print in an op shop one day going for a song.  I knew it would come in handy and one day I realised that I had a friend whose favourite colours seemed to be orange and pink… and whose beloved mother had cherished Marimekko.  I am guessing she would have especially loved the Marimekko prints of this period.  So I made my friend a shirt.  There was guesswork involved for it to be surprise, but it worked out really well.  And this is the very last of that fabric!

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And here are a pile of the blue and purple scraps.  Parts of recycled garments.  Leftovers from sewing new garments.  The hem of some pants I must have taken up for someone.  Pieces leftover from a quilt made years ago.  Oddments of lovely prints.  Strips of sheeting or quilt covering bought as offcuts.  Out of the stash and out to new homes at last!

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Leftovers from a quilt.  Op shop offcuts.  Parts of a skirt.

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Op shop find.

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Inherited fabrics and sheet offcuts.

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Then I found a piece of patchwork created from many small pieces cut to create quilt blocks.  Clearly I couldn’t bear to waste them and made crazy patchwork .

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I had to fully line these bags to manage all the seams on the inside.

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Batik scraps. The better part of these sarongs was turned into two shirts and a pair of pants.  And another bag…!

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And finally, all that remains of a blue print from so many other bag projects, and at last… a bag using the print that started this bag jag.  It’s the top half of that bag on the right, and a fine strip in the middle as well.  One came wrapped around a birthday present and the other was tied around it as a ribbon.  Perfect.  Finally, I put all the fabrics back in the cupboard and vacuumed the floor (cutting out so many pieces had made rather a shower of threads and fluff),  And hoped that might back of the bag thing for a while.  Or until next time.


Filed under Sewing

Saltbush and friends

Since I’ve had a few questions about saltbush, here’s a little more information for the curious.

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Ruby saltbush (Enchylaena tomentosa) is my big success story in propagation so far, so most of what I have been planting is ruby saltbush.

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This one is bladder saltbush (Atriplex vesicaria), named for the seed capsules which are like soft blobs with a seed inside!  I love the silver grey leaves and this one grows a little taller than ruby saltbush.  Dad collected seed for me and one of the plants I grew from the seed he gave me is now large enough to be seeding.

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I am not entirely sure what this plant is, but I have succeeded in propagating it a couple of times and now it is seeding freely. It is widely planted or native to the parklands here.   I think it might be Maireana enchylaenoides (wingless blue bush)–or Maireana brevifolia (Short-leaf Bluebush).

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This one is still a mystery!  There’s a lovely guide to plants in parks here, beautifully named Parks for Us All–and the saltbush and similar plants are in the Chenopodiaceae if you scroll down from here.


Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Autumn leaf prints

I went to a wedding in the hills recently… a very pleasantly relaxed and extremely celebratory occasion.  On the way home, I stopped in a small town because… many European trees grow in the Adelaide Hills and it’s wonderful to see.

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And of course, I had hopes and plans.  If you don;t want to look at pictures, stop now.  This is a post of MANY pictures.

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I collected leaves…

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I made bundles…

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I made experiments…

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I tooled around the neighbourhood on my bike collecting tried and true leaves.

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I unwisely tied my bundles with coloured string for the first time ever.  I sorta kinda knew this was stupid but did it anyway and was rewarded with blue lines, most of which happily washed out!

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I applied heat as the sun set…

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And the next day! These images are of fabrics still damp and freshly unwrapped.  Even the flannel rag I had used to create a bit of ‘padding’ on one bundle took dye.

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Oak leaves on silk

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Maple leaves on silk.  So green!  they are still green after washing and ironing.  This silk is from a pantsuit a friend scored for me at an op shop. It is well washed and work raw silk.

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The ever faithful E Cinerea on linen.  A friend gifted me linen offcuts and these are the first that have made their way into the dye pot.  Am I ever blessed with generous friends!

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Maple leaves on linen.

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E Scoparia is awesome yet again on cotton.

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Sheoak from the neighbourhood on linen.   This has so much potential…

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A happy day all round!


Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Of shawls and string and celebration

Manja wearing Shawl 2015

The colour affection shawl  I knit a while back finally found the perfect home as a birthday present for a dear friend–here she is in her gloriousness, modelling it.  With the Gleaners in the background for added wonderfulness. I am delighted that she likes the shawl. I can’t think of a better place for it to be than with her while she is working in her very demanding job (and perhaps even playing).  Long may it warm and comfort her.  Happy birthday!!

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In more prosaic news, it’s the season for making string from our daylily leaves. When I strip off the leaves that have died, I make string from them.  I’ve been doing this for a few years now.  I’m not terribly good at it but I love it.

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Comparing this string to that of earlier years, I can see I am improving!  This is much finer, more even, and my technique is better.  The twining (if that is the right word) is better executed.

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I even made myself a little bracelet.  I loved it… but it didn’t last forever, what with being washed and dried and rubbed over guitar strings.  In one way, this is perfect.  I have come to think that there are far too many things that last forever.  The more of them I pull out the council’s mulch the more I respect all that withers and dies and becomes soil again.  So perhaps I will make another of these and then another.


Filed under Basketry, Knitting


It is not too late to add your contribution to India Flint’s Solace project, should you wish to.  Here is further encouragement on India’s blog.  Here is the invitation to the project–which explains it all rather beautifully… and here is SweetPea’s collection of inspirational blog posts about worldwide contributions to the project, should you need inspiration.  SweetPea’s blog is rather spectacular.  I commend it to you.

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In the meantime, I’ve been taking solace in guerilla planting and native plant propagating. Earth hours are going well. I feel as though I should make some pennants that say ‘salt bush berries’ and ‘kneeling in the dirt’.  I still might.  It certainly is a source of solace in my life in the face of all the planet has to contend with.

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Ruby saltbush has kept coming up.  In fact, I think my success rate has increased as I have become more careless.  I thought over the way it comes up under existing bushes and just gathered up berries straight from the bush and threw them onto the top of the tubes where nothing had germinated along with leaf litter and saltbush leaves and whatnot.  So many seedlings this way!  Pricking these tiddlers out has been working, so I pricked out yet more.  28 more!

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I haven’t had so many of the stash of plastic pots in use for years.  My potting mix is basically compost turned by our chooks, sieved to get out the lumps, so there seems nothing to lose by potting up more.  Garden and kitchen waste goes out to the chooks, and eggs and compost come back. It is a fabulous arrangement.  Last week my Dad gave us masses of his guavas, and there was a separate collection of fallen mushy or rotten fruit for the chooks.  What a sweetheart.

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Meanwhile, it’s seedlings out into the neighbourhood (two different types here)…

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And rubbish from the neighbourhood back home to be dealt with appropriately.  There is less of it each time I go out to the new patch. It might not show, but the patch of planted and mulched earth is growing larger.  Nothing has been lost on this patch yet.  It seems there is not a lot of traffic of people wanting to walk across or dogs keen to dig it up. And we had rain. All good.

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One morning this week I thanked the chap from the council who was watering the council plantings.  We talked about the plant thefts and he thanked me for replanting those that were abandoned.  He asked me if I was the one who had planted the saltbush on this new patch as he had noticed it appear, and warned me that it might all get taken out if Council decided to do something in that spot–but when he had asked, they had no such plans.  I said I was prepared to take the risk. I managed not to explain that I think my time is better spent just planting than asking the council nicely–they haven’t been responsive in the past and quite a few of my plantings are doing well without their permission.  He had also noticed someone was weeding the spot where he was watering, and he explained a few things about why some plantings are thriving and others are not. It seems the council have some knowledgeable and dedicated workers and the contractors are not as diligent.  And I was happy to hear he thought myoporum (boobialla) was a suitable thing to plant in tough contexts–as that is the main focus of my cool weather propagating programme, as you know!


Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Happily spinning along…

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There has been actual spinning going on behind the scenes.  I bought this roving in a destash on Ravelry (along with some other treats…) a while back.  The roving image is taken under mood lighting (which is to say, after dark indoors).

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I think it turned out rather well…it’s corriedale, hand dyed by Hedgehog Fires

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I have also finished a huge skein of eucalyptus dyed local polwarth.

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And just could not resist taking pictures in the garden! One of my grandmothers used to have two huge pots of peanut cactus outside her front porch to match the two frangipani trees that framed her front door, and I am still mighty fond of peanut cactus.  And wool, but you know that already!

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Filed under Natural dyeing, Spinning


We had a gift of limes from a friend…

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And a gift of many mandarins from my parents…

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And in the time honoured tradition there never seemed to be time to turn them into marmalade.  So one night after work I chopped.  Soaking followed.  Then two nights later, we did the cooking part.

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The lime looked especially good!

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And in the end… they were both pretty lovely.

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It is definitely the time of year for it!

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Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures