Retreat to Tin Can Bay 3: On how one thing grows out of another

In the tropics, there is abundant evidence of one thing growing out of another.  Of one thing being transformed by and into another.  It makes vivid what is always true–that these processes of transformation are constants.

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This is a strangler fig which is gradually growing around and supplanting the tree it is growing around, on and in.

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Here, a tiny seeding grows out of a pocket in the side of a huge tree.  Who knows where that will lead?  It isn’t hard to understand why so much magic and mystery has been attached to transformation and shape changing through so many cultures.  The way that fungi and insects and still smaller creatures help convert dead trees into soil is a thing of wonder to me.  No less that one tree can become another or that a tree can become so much mistletoe or so many wasp galls that the tree ceases and something else takes its place.  I am constantly impressed by watching confusion transform into understanding and ignorance change shape into new forms of knowledge.  I think these are the things that hold my love for teaching safe in the face of the difficulties that face my students and myself.

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I was constantly delighted by the ways that India and Roz think beyond mere function–and many of my companions on retreat clearly have the same approach.  It shed light on the places where I tend to focus on function and not even to consider whether the same function could be achieved with greater beauty.  And not necessarily through the application of immense effort.  Why should things not be lovely as well as functional?  It’s not the first time I have noticed this tendency of mine, but it continues to intrigue me and I clearly feel a strong pull back to the spare and sombre.  Some of it comes from all that childhood training about being neat and tidy and about skilfulness involving doing things in the ‘one right way’, I’m sure.  I come from a family history of thrift that was not leavened by loveliness a great deal.  Love, yes.  The evidence of love and generosity in my family is beyond question.  In times of great hardship I think it must have been these things precisely that held people together.  Loveliness, not so much. I don’t think this has been the aim for the makers I grew up around.  I can feel I share their lack of confidence in their ability to make things glorious as well as sharing their confidence that I can make things that will do the job and last.

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I have been so interested by watching my own horizons expand (creaking with the effort) over the years.  I notice that others don’t share my perceptions of the things I make.  But I also notice that others are on completely different journeys.  I have spent long months and years watching in fascination in the way that the internet now makes possible (and that books make possible in a  different, slower way), the unfolding of textile processes and finished objects that I find wonderful–intriguing–beautiful–but that break so many of the rules of ‘good sewing’ and ‘good mending’ I learned.  India Flint is one example–in comparison to the straight lines and carefully symmetrical curves of traditional dressmaking, her garments look more like ‘an artists’ sketch’–full of flowing line, gesture and movement–as one of my friends recently said.  I have linked to a post with a picture of several dresses hanging in space–scroll down to see what I mean…

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Jude Hill is another example.  Whatever happened to properly finished edges and using matched clean, fabrics here?  This is quilting unlike anything in an instructional manual–and I have been enjoying slowly taking one of her online classes, which is also very unlike a traditional manual. The link is to a blog post where she speaks about her current thinking on a quilt that I have been watching develop over a lengthy period, with a profound sense of awe.  And also speculates aloud about why and whether it is important to call some forms of textile work and stitch ‘art’.

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All of which is to say that my ideas and practises keep growing from one thing into another, even if that is a very slow process.  I have been re-reading Eco-Colour and noticing how many things I have slowly taken up since I first read it…I have also been noticing that India reasons from cooking practises to the development of dyeing practises and I have tended to take a breadmaking approach, in which something apparently labour intensive and time consuming can be broken down into many small steps with long intervening periods in which I just let the dough or the dye do its own magic, or simply rest. In case you are wondering what these images have to do with it… I think they show sand transforming into sedge, mangrove and spectacular pink flowering plants… Sand always seems so unpromising as a place for a plant, and yet plants adapt to do exactly this, grow in sand.  It reminds me of the ways that limitations and constraints generate unique forms of art and creativity.  That even extreme poverty can generate something as ingenious and beautiful as boro.

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The diversity of creativity was evident in our little retreat crew.  But also in the landscape.  Here is a little more of Tin Can Bay.  The crumbling remnants of vegetation leaving a pattern as the tide recedes across sand.

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High tide had left a wave of mangrove leaves and other decaying plant life a little further up.

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We each make our mark in our own unique way.The wind, the water… and… I am not sure if you can see the pinprick-tiny footprints of an unknown being that passed this way.

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Even those that live in the sea can leave evidence of where they have been

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And of course… so can everyone that crosses damp sand!

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Scribblers on the sand.

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Scribblers on bark.

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So many scribblers, human and otherwise… including me, of course.  Some new people have decided to follow the blog recently–welcome to the newcomers!  Thanks for stopping by in this usually sleepy nook of the internet.  I warmly encourage you to join the conversation in the comments should you wish.


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19 responses to “Retreat to Tin Can Bay 3: On how one thing grows out of another

  1. Thanks Maz I’m enjoying your reflections on this workshop immensely. It has been well over a decade since I was in the far north and this is bringing back many rememberies ( I think I just made up a new word! ). Maybe I should think about heading north again.


    • The North is full of loveliness, Leonie, and they may be calling your name! Glad you’re enjoying the posts. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.


  2. purplejulian

    a beautiful post, thank you 🙂


  3. mstery

    Your comments provoked my thoughts about making. My grandmother taught me how to make things: habits she learnt through need and necessity in the early 1900s. And she willing taught me to sew, knit, crochet, mend and how to make do.
    (She used to check my seams as she always told me the inside of a garment should be as beautiful as the outside.)
    It has also been a great joy to me in recent years to see and explore other ways of creating that are very different to these methods. Thank you India and Jude.
    I also ponder that maybe a grounding in the old ways deepens the appreciation of the different.
    May I always meet people who do things differently to me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I absolutely concur. Diversity is such a rich resource for growing and learning and wonderment, isn’t it? Lovely to hear these ideas resonate for you too–with that rich history of makers grounding you.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Yes Yes Yes…. some times it feels like we need permission to break the rules… and yes i love french seams …. for me it is the ability for textiles to be artistic, it means i am sated.


    • mstery

      Agree.. I just finished a linen top using the lovely selvedge as a feature on the cuff. … And it felt rebellious! Delicious.

      Liked by 1 person

      • How glorious! I also find using the selvedge a little step away from the straight and narrow path. But… isn’t it good to know what the risks or arguments against are, and to decide for yourself when in fact the selvedge is perfect–too lovely to be hidden?

        Liked by 1 person

    • Wonderful… sometimes it might be rule breaking, and at others maybe just having a different relationship to the rules. I must say that the editing function on WordPress always wants to tell me I have invented words or should use z instead of s… and while happy to have my typos pointed out, I am quite prepared to use s rather than z and believe I may know more about it than an algorithm… I, too, love French seams 🙂


  5. Susan

    Again you sent me in so many directions I never would have thought of or found! From Little Things, Big Things Grow!! Why shouldn’t textile work and stitches be called ART…….that quilt on the wall truly blew me away. Please keep ‘scribbling’ !


  6. eagerly awaiting the day you publish a book. You tell stories so engagingly…

    Liked by 1 person

    • My goodness! I don’t think there is an ‘LOL’ for ‘my superpowers of blushing are working as well as ever…’ Thank you so much. Fine praise from such a wonderful raconteuse!


  7. So much in this post felt familiar. It is one in the morning here and I should be in bed and instead you have me all fired up and wanting to dig deeper into what I think I know about myself as a dyer and artist/maker (I love your bread maker analogy!).


    • Thanks for your lovely comment! I am sorry to hear of your sleepless night–but how much better are nights spent sleepless with excitement, than those spent in useless fret? Happy digging and happy dyeing!


  8. This keeps getting better. What an amazing experience, and what amazing reflections. Thank you for sharing.


  9. Love reading your posts and all the comments too (though not sure wordpress is acknowledging that I am “liking” them all ) I can remember, many years ago, what a revelation it was to me that there were many ways of doing something not just ‘the right way’. Scary yet freeing LOL


    • Hello! Thanks so much for your kind comments–Your comments show up but not your likes. Very odd! I think the biggest thing I ever learned was that the way dad thought was just one way, and not the only way. That opened the door for everything else I have ever learned (from anywhere other than him), I think! Absolutely–scary yet freeing.


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