Monthly Archives: May 2015

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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