Monthly Archives: May 2015

In Situ: Murray Bridge Regional Gallery

Last week a carload of us made our way to Murray Bridge to see the opening of in situ and Ngarrindjeri Expressions at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery, where both exhibitions will be open from May 22 to July 19 2015.

The night’s events began with a series of dances and songs by Uncle Major Sumner and some young Ngarrindjeri dancers.  It was a great opening for two exhibitions so powerfully about land and place.  Ngarrindjeri Expressions brings together works by Damien Shen and portraits by local Ngarrindjeri people who came to community workshops to learn Damien’s drawing process.  The exhibition also includes lithographs and photographs by Damien Shen and a video of Damien drawing his uncle (in both the literal and Indigenous sense) Major Sumner–25 hours of drawing condensed into 15 minutes of video, which had many people transfixed.  I didn’t have permission to photograph Ngarrindjeri Expressions–but I was kindly granted permission to photograph in situ.

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Behind the dancers and speakers hung two large works that drew my eye more and more as the night wore on. This is Looking Up/Looking Down by Dorothy Caldwell (Hastings, Canada).  It brought to mind a landscape seen from above, in which massive features of the landscape below appear as much smaller shapes and patches of colour.

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Indoor lighting doesn’t suit my skills or camera–so these pictures do not do justice to the colours of the originals.  But the smaller details in this work in contrasting colours have been stitched in ways that reminded some of us of rain and others of the stalks/trunks of plants in the wind.

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This patch had me in mind of a dam receding in the face of drought. You can see more of Dorothy’s work and read about her approach at her web site here.

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The Story Blanket by Imbi Davidson (North East Coast, New South Wales) is indeed based on a blanket which has been embellished, patched and augmented over time.  The eco-prints of leaves on the left and right panels managed to evoke footprints travelling through sand for me, despite clearly being leaf prints.  The central panel had been stitched with concentric semi circles that are not obvious in this photo–these and the panels of buttons on the mid and lower right side brought to mind some of the familiar images of some styles of Indigenous art, without appropriating them.  I loved the contrasts and the sense of this piece building up layer by layer, as stories often do. There is more of Imbi’s work and process at her www site here.

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Roz Hawker (Bunya, Queensland) contributed Holding Close.  You can follow the link to much better images and her own account of these works.

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This wonderfully embellished, subtly dyed dress is an ode, or perhaps a love letter, to her grandmothers.  I loved the whimsical plants sending tendrils up from the cuffs, blooming upward from the hem…

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and even subtly travelling up the back of the dress.  The dress hung beside a collection of smaller works in silver and silk… a little gathering of treasures which reminded me of nothing so much as the small collection of found objects (mostly from nature) that a child–or a grownup in my case–might bring home from a holiday in a special place.  Conjuring points for memory and wonder.

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India Flint (Mount Pleasant, South Australia) contributed sheep fold: a semicircle of bundles which look like stones… or like bundles tied around rocks: in either case, the mystery of what is inside is maintained by the outside of the stone/bundle.

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These bundles are full of all the wonderful diversity that rocks have–folds, crinkles, smoothnesses, varied and sometimes mottled colours.  But they did smell rather more wonderful than your average stone.

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On the wall, inside what I pictured as the wall of the sheep fold, hung an empty wire box, its base pointing out toward the room.  As a receptacle for feed might, perhaps.

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Collecting Cards is also by Dorothy Caldwell.  This really is a group of cards with images of textiles and stitching on them, for the most part.

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I loved looking at these and wondering over their arrangement and their subtle colours and textures.

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This exquisite, heavily stitched work is Ten Thousand Leaves, by Isobel McGarry (Adelaide, South Australia).

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Leaves have been eco-printed onto the silk as well as appliqued onto it. Isobel was kind enough to answer a lot of questions about this piece–since she was there for the opening.

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The back of the work was rather plainer–eco-printed silk edged with words in English and (I am guessing) Japanese.

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This work is a meditation on peace, with the stitched crosses symbolising those who have died in war.

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The imagery of mending is available here, but the overall effect of this stitching is quite different–or perhaps an homage to the beauty as well as the necessity of mending, its capacity to build up a whole composed of so many tiny actions and scraps and make it gloriously whole without hiding the need for repair or the fact of many pieces having been brought together to create a new, entire fabric.

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365 days at Tickleberry Flats (Desiree Fitzgibbon, Dodges Ferry, Tasmania) held a year in a specific place in 356 small vessels, each with red lines traced around it.  Intriguing and beautiful.

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John Parkes’ Sampler (Dead Two Years Now) remembers his father in a moving sampler constructed from two of his father’s shirts.

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Raw edges called to mind for me the raw emotions grief can provoke as well as the fragility of memories referenced in the stitched words themselves.

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Sandra Brownlee (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) contributed Untitled artist book, a work that made me long to pick up and touch.  The stitched binding exposed at the base of the book is intricate and rather wonderful.  Sandra’s workshops on tactile notebooks, clearly based in her own practice, are famous–two accounts with images here and here.

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Judy Keylock (Lud Valley, New Zealand) contributed a work of layers and shadows, which was all the more lovely for the way it floated gently in the small movements of air as people passed by or looked at it.

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Although this work is called ‘Dirt’, I found it rather ethereal. (I had to laugh when I found exactly this word in Judy’s artist’s statement).

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Subtle colours and subtle shadows flow through it.

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And perhaps there is a message here about the wonders of dirt, which is, after all, not only the place we might all eventually go–but also the place from which everything emerges.  You can see more of Judy’s work (in this case, with schoolchildren) here.

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At first sighting, Sandra Brownlee’s Nighdress with text seemed austere.  It appears handwoven and plain.

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But on closer examination, proves to be a canvas for words which can only just be made out on closer inspection, winding their way across the interior surface and any body that we might imagine wearing it.

Of course… there was so much more!  I know that many readers will not be able to get to Murray bridge, but India Flint has created an online exhibition of these pieces.  How glorious to have the work of artists from such far-flung places brought together locally… and to have the chance to be there and celebrate its opening!  We were the last to leave, and wandered out into the night for some of us to tell stories and others to snooze as we headed back to Adelaide…


Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing

Rhubarb leaves and tamarind

I haven’t found a lot of joy with rhubarb leaf mordant so far… but I do grow rhubarb and often wish I could use the leaves somehow before they reach the compost heap. One chilly day I wondered whether they might just be good in the dyepot–if I heated them surely they would release oxalic acid into the dyebath and even if that is all that happened, raising the acidity level of the bath can be a good thing.  Why not?

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Then, in with E Scoparia bark.  And eventually, two mesh bags full of polwarth fleece.  In fact, the last two!  I seem to have reached the end of the polwarth fleeces, which seems well nigh miraculous–though they have been just lovely to work with, these are BIG sheep.

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The rhubarb leaves did produce a deeper, burgundy shade–than the citrus acidifier in the other pot.  Is this a quantity effect, sheer luck…?  I am not honestly sure, but I will certainly try it again.  The water has to be heated for the dyebath anyway and letting it steep a little before removing rhubarb and adding eucalypt is not too difficult.

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In another acid experiment, I have been cleaning out the kitchen cupboards (well, some things over a decade old are leaving the cupboards)–and found this:

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Wasn’t I in Brisbane at least 12 years ago the last time I cooked with tamarind??  I put it into a big jar and topped up with water.

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Then, into a dyebath with E Nicholii and some of ‘Viola’s’ fleece–she’s a local pet sheep who seems to have some English Leicester parentage.  Another gift fleece.

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Tamarind on the left, citrus acidifier on the right.  Curious!  I have another bath with the exhaust dye baths and a second round of leaves steeping (also known as waiting until I have time and inclination…) now.

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Filed under Natural dyeing


I know, I’m easily excited, and I shouldn’t shout at people who are kind enough to read this blog, but WOAD!  I hang about on a couple of natural dyeing boards on Ravelry and I think it was there I saw a link to this resource about dyeing with woad–entirely graspable (apart from the absence of a reducing agent).  And in metric, always a plus. A couple of other Australians were chatting on Ravelry about when to use your woad–and that had me thinking now was the time to do it.  So.  Here are my two plants (before).

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There has had to be some explanation about this not being a salad green, which ought to be a clue about the  variety of salad greens we grow here.

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I had a lucky find behind the woad… the last of the cherry tomatoes.

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There was more woad than I thought.  And for anyone who has been wondering, I now know where the snails live and prefer to breed. Which confirms my opinion that the trouble I have had growing woad from seed might be due to its being utterly delectable to snails and slugs and every passing nibbler.

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This is the harvest!  For anyone else who has been wondering why some of the silverbeet hasn’t been thriving, another duh!  Moment in the vegie patch.  Those are white beetroot.  I don’t remember planting them, but more than happy to eat them in any case…

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Chopped woad leaves.  Three litres of chopped woad leaves.  A lot of care was taken to ensure no snail was wounded at this stage.

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Into the boiling water.

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Straining through four layers of cloth.

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Measuring the hot liquid (about 2 3/4litres)–and a pinky-browny colour.

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The first few locks of wool went in and ten minutes later–that isn’t blue?!

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After a second quantity of wool which also came out mauve, another batch came out still silver-white.  I decided to try a smidge more ammonia, and out came some pale blue.

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I can’t say this is earth shaking colour, but it is colour, and it is a colour I don’t usually get from the garden, and it isn’t as crushing as the total incompetence and series of accidents I’ve had going with austral indigo.  It’s enough of a success to make me think I should try again.  Let it be said that having a much larger quantity of leaves has to be an asset, because while woad reputedly has a low yield of indigo, so does austral indigo and its leaves are much smaller.  The austral indigo drops a lot of laves at this time of year and… I think I will just let it be this year!


Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

Bundles of the week

One of the things I noticed at Tin Can Bay was that some people identify that something is less lovely or less suitable than it could be, and go about transforming it into something lovely or suitable.  I have been known to do this… but it made me conscious that often I just live with the ugly version or wish that thing was different every time I wear or use it.  I also realised I don’t have a lot of confidence I can improve on things.  What if my intervention makes them worse?

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So it occurred to me that I could change the little calico drawstring bags I have acquired full of soap nuts and the odd other item.  They are useful but ugly right now.  Why not dye them?  This idea happened along in a week when there was cow milk in the house (unusual these days), so I decided to try using it as a mordant.  If it doesn’t work–it won’t be too late to use soy another day, I decided.  Duly treated, I applied E Nicholii leaves.  The leaves my friend gave me are full of buds, splendiferous materials for leaf printing goodness.

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There were three bundles in all in this dye pot, and I chose this one to unwrap.  Nothing special had occurred.

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I’m not sure whether this was due to the mordant (poor application, for instance!) or whether I just paid too little attention and the bundle didn’t have a long enough, hot enough time in contact with the dye.  I had left it dyeing and gone out to play guitar and sing and generally be a flibbertygibbet–occasionally something suffers through this kind of neglect (but I had a good time)!  I was undeterred, because if at first you don’t succeed, try again later with tried and true processes you understand on a day when you are paying enough attention.

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I rewrapped, and decided to reheat the other two bundles as well rather than disturb them, when their companion had not done well with careless treatment.

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The other bundles were another calico bag and an infinity scarf destined for a friend who loved the one I made at India Flint’s Melbourne workshop.  I am seeing my friend soon and I have another gift for her too.

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This time, E Cinerea and E Nicholii…

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The other milk soaked calico bag–had rather nice beads on its drawstrings. Here are the bundles prior to heating.

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Here they are after the first heating–the silky merino looks good–but I had hoped for deeper colour.  The filthy artisanal plastic bucket in vibrant green is an extra special touch, I feel.

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After some further cooking, the calico bags all looked darker but still pretty awful and the whole bucketful was strangely blurred (joke, Joyce!).  Back to soy mordanting for now.   However, that big bundle in the middle is the infinity scarf–looking good.

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The calico bags still require improvement.  They look better here than in real life!

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I really like the way the scarf turned out.  The colours are rich.  There are some nice ochre and deep grey sections for contrast.

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I really like some of the details–as I had hoped, the E Nicholii buds have left their mark as part of an overall pattern.

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Now to see if my friend likes it–but I have some quiet confidence that she will…



Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

What making string has taught me… so far

This decision I have made to use string making as a way to contemplate connection to the earth and plants, a way to think about Indigenous law… is teaching me a lot.  Not all of it as expected.  Which is the way learning goes, when it goes well!  I am noticing potential string-plants in the neighbourhood a lot.  And as I do that, noticing so much more. 2015-05-12 14.11.16

I have been learning some more about the supposed divide between public and private.  It turns out that if I take up my damp leaves and it is light, and so I think perhaps I’ll go and commune with a tree (or try to imagine what communing with a tree would involve)–or even just stand beneath it in admiration and enjoy the birdsong–I can just about never manage this alone and without comment.

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If I take my wet leaves up the street and round the corner to check on the latest little saltbush plantings, I end up listening to one of my neighbours who spends a lot of time on the street himself.  I hope it helps him to talk, because in all honesty, it isn’t that relaxing to listen to him.  But the string does help me and he doesn’t notice it.

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Other people do notice it.   People do not expect you to do anything when you are out in the neighbourhood other than walk, or walk your dog.  Knitting while walking is a spectacularly attention grabbing thing to do.  I have known this for years, I admit.

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So is gleaning (picking up fallen bark, leaves or spent flowers).  So is weeding.  So is planting.  So is picking up litter.  Walking a dog is fine, but walking a wheelbarrow stands out from the crowd.  I now discover that fidgeting with strips of leaf in the street is also worthy of comment.  A friend who had been to Central America once said to me that I was the only white woman she had ever met whose hands were never still.  I took it as a compliment.  I am not sure why being passive is a desirable thing.  Rest, I can understand.  Sometimes stillness, too, is desirable and necessary.  But not all the time.  I think making and gathering and tending the commons, even in the suburbs, is much more fulfilling.

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I am also learning about the uses of plants.  I hadn’t realised that this would be such a simple way to assess the qualities of a leaf.  I thought this plant looked like a cordyline (a plant known to basketry and a member of the family whose leaves I happily turned into string at Tin Can Bay), and so I gleaned a single dead leaf.  It is extremely tough.  Even after 24 hours of soaking, when I could split it with my nail and pull it apart along the length of the leaf, it felt dry and tough and hard to twine.  But the fibres were exceedingly tough and there was no fragility with twisting.  This made me think that this plant would make a great stitching medium.  You could thread a strip through a needle and use this to stitch.

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This plant had tough leaves that I soaked and split.  I managed to create string with it but it felt unpleasant–simultaneously slightly sticky and as if the fibres had a square profile–and I strongly disliked the smell–which made me wonder whether long term skin contact was a good idea.  From now on, it is safe from me. But the string was… stretchy!

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I took this photo over the top of a tall fence, as this plant is tree sized–taller than I am.  I haven’t tried it out yet but if it is useful–it has many dried and dead leaves falling off onto the footpath.  Gleaning goodness. I have also been learning about my own skill levels… as wearing the string means I can see which fibres break first and where the weak points in my work are,  and I can see the different thicknesses and finenesses of string I am able to make, too.  The learning continues…


Filed under Basketry, Neighbourhood pleasures

Earth hours

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These plants are the smallest form of statice I know.  It isn’t native.  I gathered the seed from a  spot where this plant is growing in fine gravel beside the tram line.  I hope if it can do that, it might manage in a spot where there is about 10 cm of mulch and earth over concrete beside a footpath.  It’s inhospitable terrain for any growing thing.  Just the same, burr medic is already volunteering to hold that earth in place, and in spite of my antipathy to burrs, I have to admire nature’s ways of getting the job done.  I am hoping that the more I plant and mulch, the less weeds will grow here and the less the council poisoner will apply his weedicide.  Now that I have spoken with him, I realise he prefers not to poison , and that he is aware I am planting out this patch.  I’ll put some bigger plants in nearby to make it easier for him to recognise these are not weeds.

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This is the ‘garden bed’–you can hardly see those little plants!

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On the day I put the contents of these ten pots into the ground, I realised a further 12 plants had been stolen from public land just around the corner (they even stole some of the saltbush I have planted).  Heartbreaking,  The chalked message ‘STOP STEALING OUR PLANTS: They belong to all of us’ featured in a previous post lasted only 48 hours before being painted out when other graffiti was removed.  Painted out–when a wet rag would have done the job. I was at a railway station the previous day thinking that in just over 200 years this continent has gone from being inhabited by far fewer people with land management practices which, by modern standards, were extremely low impact–to a place so thoroughly covered by roads and railway and concrete and buildings and… I don’t think I am entitled to give up because of these small losses.  Entitlement is an interesting thing to think about. So I went home and pricked out more saltbush into the empty pots.

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I mentioned my angsty moments to an exquisitely thoughtful friend, who offered the perspective that this was a harsh way of thinking about it.  She’s right, of course.  She told a fabulous story about one of the Australian permaculture thinkers, who planted a fruit tree as a street tree and had organised for the council to fund this.  The tree was stolen.  They planted another.  It was stolen.  they planted another.  It was stolen.  They took to just putting a tree out on the footpath, until one day it wasn’t stolen and they planted it.  He evidently told this as a success story about how to get fruit trees out into the neighbourhood!  What a great perspective. At least it makes me laugh in the face of plant theft.

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I made two other sorties out into the neighbourhood in that week.  Having saltbush big enough to plant now it is raining is a great development.  There have been gains and losses.  In the gains department, someone has mulched near a beloved tree my friends and I have been building up understorey for.

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Our efforts have really paid off here despite early plant losses to dogs, dryness, vandals and accident.  The mulch looks like it might be from the council chipper.  No matter where it is from, clearly this now looks like a spot where some mulch might be helpful, where previously I made my own from street tree leaves and we wheelbarrowed in mulch council had abandoned some distance away.  Now there is decent soil under this tree and the new plants have a much better chance.  There is a wattle seedling coming up and some of the saltbush have begun to self sow.  Now that is exciting!

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Over a week I believe I planted nearly 60 plants out and about.  Plants out, rubbish back in.

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In one of the spots I have been planting out (beside the statice), a concrete pad has appeared.  No plants have been destroyed while this happened, but it doesn’t inspire confidence, as I have no idea what the next step will be.  So I chose a new barren spot under a bottlebrush tree and planted that out.

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On the next trip I decided to plant a little triangle where a lot of bluemetal got dumped.  Some weeds managed to come up just the same, and they were poisoned by council.  That weeds could grow struck me as promising.  I pulled out the dead weeds and out came this spider, menacing me with its front legs.  I spoke reassuring words and then dug holes for the saltbush.  I have some in bigger pots (which is to say, they come with their own little patch of soil).  They will need it.  The bluemetal was deeper than I had believed and I can only hope the plants can get their roots down into the ground below.  I was heartened when my friend offered an explanation of why this might actually work–gravity and water are friends!

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So–plants go out and poisoned weeds come home for disposal.

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These pots have been in constant rotation for ages now, and it feels good. 

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Previously, I’ve been slower and less successful at propagating–so I feel as though my skills are a whole lot better and I’m acting on my intentions more.  In the places where it is working, having plants is creating soil as my friends and I coax these plants along and as they create something that can hold fallen leaves in place so they can be mulch and the soil can build fertility.  Thinking about how bare and sad and weedy that patch under the beloved tree was when we started and how I lost about 5 plants for every one that grew to begin with–reminds me to be hopeful.  And so do all these seedlings coming up under an established saltbush in the garden.  I thought it would be too cold for them to germinate–but maybe not.

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If saltbush have a lesson to teach, perhaps it is ‘when your life’s work is to grow in harsh conditions, put down roots fast and deep, before poking your leaves out into the sunshine.’


Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Winter dyeing

I had some rather pallid silk embroidery thread. That bag it is sitting on came from an op shop and has been through eucalyptus dye pots so many times it is a very deep shade now!

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I had some white and tan polwarth fleece.

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Eucalyptus cinerea leaves… I have sacks of them and decided it was time to get them moving!

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With wool going in a bit later…

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Then a gift of E Nicholii leavea arrived from a fried whose keen eye and quick wits diverted council prunings from going directly to mulch.  Thanks!

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Here they are after some serious cooking.

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My tour of the dye stash also uncovered these, sitting in a bag I used to use for gleaning the neighbourhood.  Perhaps I could use it again if it wasn’t storing these leaves…

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I thought I remembered them being unexciting.  They are clearly ironbark leaves, but presumably I confused my ironbarks.  I wasn’t sure and decided to try them out.

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There has also been E Scoparia bark dyeing.

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And here we have, fresh from the dye bath (a day later): E Nicholii at the top left; the unexciting ironbark, and E Scoparia bark at the bottom.

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Later still, some of that polwarth fleece sitting on the piano like a fluffy flame…

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First pass through the carder…

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Second pass… ready to spin!

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And now I have some thread with a bit more colour in it, too!

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Filed under Eucalypts, Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing

Autumn and winter activity

I found more caltrop growing in the neighbourhood in a spot I have been keeping an eye on (I found some there last year).  Out it came!

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The autumn propagating season continued.  This time, fine leaved, purple creeping boobialla.  I know, it isn’t very purple.  There is a lot of mystical thinking in plant naming to my way of thinking.

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Here they are, next to the baby saltbush.  Hopefully they will grow.

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There was a gift of late figs from an old friend who came to visit.

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Pretty soon they were fig and ginger jam…

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And since then as the cold weather has real ly begun happening, rhubarb harvest!

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Japanese Indigo ready for the freezer (yes, that is the whole crop unless you count the seeds, which are still the real crop at this stage).

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And many more limes, thrown from the tree in gale force winds.  There may yet be more marmalade!

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Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures


Dear Readers, today there is no craft content.  Make your own choices about reading on or coming back another day.

My country has quite a thing about a specific day in April.  On 25 April, we commemorate the landing of troops from Australia and new Zealand at Gallipoli (on the coast of Turkey) during World War One.  That day began a protracted period in which massive numbers of soldiers died on all sides and immense suffering was endured over a long period.  Needless to say, it was not only soldiers who suffered.  Eventually the Australian and NZ soldiers who remained were evacuated.  As a feat of military strategy, the landing at Gallipoli was an unqualified failure.  This year was the 125th anniversary of that awful day.  I am not all that overjoyed with the idea of the nation, and I like the idea of war even less.  One of the things I don’t like about nations (as a concept–nothing against my nation or yours) is that they have rather tended to go to war with one another.

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I know there are other people who think that ANZAC day is an occasion for mourning. That makes sense to me. Lots of people I know, and members of my family went to the dawn service–the traditional event on this day. This is what I used to do as a girl guide in high school.   I had a turning point in my understanding of the meaning of ANZAC day while I was still in school, when I first heard The Band Played Waltzing Matilda–written by Eric Bogle.  It caused me to revise my understanding of ANZAC day and of nationalism. For non-Australian readers who want to listen to the song–it will help you to know that Eric Bogle is a Scottish Australian (he has a Scottish accent but he is writing about Australian experience, which is often also immigrant experience).  It will also help you to know that ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is a folk song that many Australians think of as an unofficial national anthem.  It references the experiences of swagmen–itinerant, male rural workers who had not even a donkey or horse and carried all their belongings on their backs.

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Since I think the appropriate roles for ANZAC day are grieving and remembrance, I have been appalled by the way ANZAC day has been treated as an opportunity for marketing and the glorification of war, and this year it has been worse than ever.  The number of special offers and steak knives involved has had me in mind of Manfred Mann’s song about what would happen if Jesus returned (I will summarise: HUGE marketing opportunity!)  For those who wish more, I can’t believe that an album I acquired second hand at a time when I must have been a young outlier among fans of Manfred Mann is now available on youtube. So you can hear it yourself if you fancy it.

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Some years we organise our own ANZAC day remembrance.  Just the two of us.  Sometimes we have invited friends along.  We’ve made our own wreaths, sung songs we think are relevant, listened to the small folk among us speak about what they know of war and perhaps what older people in their family experienced.  Then we walk to one of the local suburban war memorials and place our wreaths, take time to reflect, and head home.

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I have been taking an(other) accounting of how I think about war.  As a white Australian I have been checking in on whether I am still participating in dominant ideas about war in white culture, like the idea that Gallipoli is the template for what counts as ‘war’.  I find it to be a persistent feature of racism in a colonial context like Australia that I can think two things on the same subject even though they cannot possibly be reconciled with one another.  I think it is my responsibility to become aware of these places in my mind and address them. On ANZAC day I decided I wanted to think about all people who died in all wars, and that the invasion of Australia, and the subsequent genocide of Indigenous people through violence, starvation, introduced disease and mistreatment of so many kinds would be a good place for me personally to begin that process of reflection.  I began at a sculpture that stands on Wirranendi (a Kaurna word ‘meaning “to become wirra”, which means grove or forest’) beside what is now Sir Donald Bradman Drive–an arterial road out of the city leading westward.  It is called ‘The lie of the land’, in reference to the idea that grounded British claims to sovereignty and ownership over this continent: that it was ‘terra nullius’–land belonging to no one–when the British arrived.  In spite of the people who were living in every part of the continent they went to. The artists are Aleks Danko and Jude Walton.

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The dominant Australian account of ANZAC day is that those tragic events at Gallipoli speak in some profound way to our national character.  I am not sure why this conclusion is obvious. Why do we not draw our national character from Indigenous conceptions? Or from the fact of colonisation, for those of us who are descendants of that process in some way? I can see that Gallipoli is seen as evidence of Australia as a fledgling nation independent of Britain.  I can understand that people think courage, sacrifice and heroism might be virtues, and that they were in evidence at Gallipoli.  It’s less obvious to me why we would select out this particular battle in this particular war, why we would choose a battle at all (and not peacetime examples of the virtues we aspire to).  It isn’t obvious to me, either, what Indigenous people, or people who came in the many waves of immigration to Australia that didn’t come from the former empire of Great Britain can make of this, and it doesn’t offer a lot of purchase for women in the national character either.

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I spent time thinking at Wirranendi, with a heavy heart.  And decided that when contemplating genocide, a heavy heart is probably appropriate.  Then I decided one constructive thing I could do was collect all the rubbish lying around.  And replace the stones that have fallen or been pulled from the sculptures.

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I rode back toward the West Terrace cemetery, past many native plantings and a poem by Kimberley Mann, an Indigenous poet.  The line ‘swallow memory and learn/ The wind chases ghosts through here’ stayed with me.

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Then I pedalled over to the Imperial War Graves Cemetery.  I run through this cemetery and the imperial war graves form a rather striking part of it. This time I stopped. I passed through that entry you can see in the first picture above, with the flag at half mast.  There are so many graves here. And yet these are only the graves of local soldiers who fought in the world wars, and women who served (as nurses, for the most part) and returned to Australia, later dying here.  In almost every country town and in many suburbs there stand memorials for all those young men who died in these and other wars Australia has participated in.

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I walked among the headstones, reading them, wondering about the lives of these men and women and their families.  I hummed another Eric Bogle song (The Green Field of France)–which has the singer in a war cemetery in France similarly wondering about those who are buried there.  I wondered about all the civilians who died because war took away the means for their survival–usually more people die from hunger and disease in the context of war than die on the battlefields, awful as battlefields are.  Refugees,  prisoners, all those who suffer when an entire country turns all its resources to war instead of the wellbeing of its people. I thought about women and children.  I hummed Judy Small’s song Mothers, Daughters, Wives.  I thought about all those who have tried to resist war from inside the army and from outside.

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I placed the rosemary I had brought from our garden, thought about all those suffering through wars happening right now, and couldn’t quite believe it when this symbol of hope appeared.

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Filed under Natural dyeing

Returning home

I decided to celebrate returning home from Tin Can Bay with some local bundles… and knitting, and a visit to the saltbush plantings… and time with my beloved and our friends, and music… but here I’ll focus on the bundles!  If I can restrain myself that far…

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I took my new found knowledge and experience of bundling paper, which built on my reading of India Flint’s Bundle Book.  There is a cheap and simple e-book version available –or go for the glory of a solid object!  I tried a different kind of paper, acquired in the last few weeks, and I used scrap metal my Dad cut me.  I tried op shopping for flat metal with remarkably little success in previous months.  But there are quite a few priorities on my personal list and some progress slowly.

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Happy results!  These are E Cinerea leaves–different to what I would get on fabric and very lovely. Like all bundle dyeing, part of the mystery and part of the joy is trying out what is local and seasonal. Everyone’s selection is different.  My garden is heavy on calendula and marigold right now and I had some lovely little geranium flowers and all sorts of local leaves to try too.

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I decided to use my flanellette string for bundles despite it being unnaturally dyed.  I loved seeing some of my retreat companions loving their bundles enough to use handmade string to tie them.  And my much re-used string collection is getting to the end of its tether.

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I used all kinds of fabrics–raw silk from a recycled garment, calico, linen offcuts, and a little piece of silky merino given to me by a retreat companion (should she be reading, thankyou again!)

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The silky merino gives such vibrant colours, but actually the linen was a bit of a standout too.

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Meanwhile, the string making continues.  I have decided to try using this process of making string as a point of reflection on my obligations under Indigenous law–and of so many principles of earth care that might come under that set of principles.  The importance of things that will biodegrade and that will not last forever, the way plastic will.  The intertwining of all life.  The cycles by which nature does its magic.  Our dependence on plants and water.  the way things and beings come into closer relationship with one another.  I keep sharing the string–as people admire or ask about it, I have a little stash right here by my hand and I can give them some.  Sharing is a primary principle too.

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I have in mind something like what Grackle and Sun might call atheist prayer.  But different, of course.  Do read her post and be inspired.  I love her idea of chantstrands, but my experiments along those lines didn’t work for me the way taking a few wet leaves out to a tree to twist together into string and considering things has so far.  So I have taken inspiration from her and begun to make cordage from it…

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A few people have been asking about how to make string.  I have put a link to an online tutorial in the How To tab at the top of the blog, but you could learn from a basket weaver (as I did) or from any basic basketry text.  Or put yourself near India Flint, who shares string making everywhere she goes, as far as I can tell (having learned how from Nalda Searles).  Or go to YouTube and be among survivalists who do something similar!  Meanwhile, the garden is growing as rain begins to fall.

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The first poppy of the season is out and beyond lovely.

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And I had a new insight about this especially beautiful saltbush which I have so far not managed to propagate.  It has taken a lot of observations to figure out when I might be able to collect seed, but one day at work recently I pulled out a seed envelope I happened to have with me (as you do) and amused bystanders by rubbing the ends of these silvery stems gently into it.  Who knows what might come of that?  I have high hopes…


Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures