Monthly Archives: June 2016

Ngarrindjeri Basket Weaving Retreat 3

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I can’t leave the weaving retreat without some more images.  These are eucalypt shoots coming out from the lignotuber at the base of the tree, along with mosses and lichens.  Now this is the way to experience lichens.

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Who can believe fungi grow in pure sand?  I was amazed… maybe it is just me.

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Samphire remnants beside a Coorong rock formation that must have been formed by millennia of shell deposits.

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Samphire. I love the plant and I think the name is lovely too.

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I think these (much magnified) tubes might be all that remains of tubeworms.  But I don’t know, I’m guessing. They were on the edge of the water in drifts, crunching underfoot unless you walked around them.

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For scale, here is a ruby saltbush growing beside them.

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Plants growing up right by the water.

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Cushion bush in the sand.

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And a bit more of the view across the Coorong once the sun came up!

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A photo of the entire retreat arrived just in time for this post, along with permission to share it.  Here we are in all our glory!  A huge thanks to the Aunties who so patiently and generously taught us, and the the Staff of the Ngarrindjeri Lands and Progress Association/Camp Coorong and the South Coast Basket Cases who organised the retreat. It was a privilege to participate and a delight to be among so many wonderful women.

Ngarrindjeri Retreat 2016 participants

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Ngarrindjeri Basket Weaving Retreat 2

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On the second day of the retreat, we went on a field trip. We went to collect ‘the rushes’, a native sedge that grows in wet areas.  Each–leaf?– is cylindrical and perfectly shaped to be used for basketry.  Here is the place where we gathered rushes for weaving (they will be used in the future, while we wove with rushes gathered and dried previously).

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The sedge in question has a three-pointed tip, and tiny sedge plants begin to grow at the end of each rush until they weigh it down to ground level where they can take root.  Plants are so extraordinary!  We learned about how Ngarrindjeri gather/ed the rushes and encourage/d them to thrive and how colonisation and the weeds and land practices that came in its wake have affected their availability.  It was a privilege to hear stories of people’s lives and families, as well as receive instruction from those who know. The retreat had begun with a brief history of the wider picture of suffering, family dispersal and cultural disclocation wrought by colonisation in this specific part of the country, as well as the present and future for Ngarrindjeri people, who are actively involved in revegetation and cultural renewal.

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On the way back we stopped at Meningie, looking out over the Murray River. Different kinds of rushes grow here and there is a set of interpretive signs about Ngarrindjeri history, culture and futures, in which the weaving plays a central part.

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From Meningie we went back to Camp Coorong and returned to our weaving. I learned three different starts for a basket (oval, round and square), as well as the main weaving stitch and how to create handles, finish off, and shape a basket.  We made some small pieces to be part of a larger collaborative piece. That might be my square start in front.

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There were a lot of experienced weavers at the retreat from different traditions as well as some like me with little experience.  There were Indigenous women there from many generations and from different places.  Some women had come a long way to have the privilege of learning from the Ngarrindjeri aunties. And they were fabulous, patient instructors.  As always, it was a treat to be a learner. But the straightforward and understated, but completely direct way Auntie Noreen patiently corrected me and set me on my way was a special treasure in the way of teaching.

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There were plenty of interesting conversations and plenty of different perspectives on culture, tradition, basketry and life.  And spectacular food as well! I made a somewhat misshapen basket, but it is certainly a basket.  I also made a somewhat more skilful disc–I love the way when you are starting to learn you can see your skills leap forward!  On the final day I put it down before lunch and never saw it again.  I assume it accidentally went to another home, but happily, with someone who can finish it.

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A lot of people grow the sedges for weaving, and I have come home with some in pots ready to plant and some more just beginning. Here they are sitting in water to grow roots (my bathroom is a strange but wonderful place, evidently).

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I have examined my neighbourhood and discovered one patch of these sedges and many more patches of a different sedge that the  weaving book says is also used (though less desired) for the weaving. I will research whether my suburb is a suitable place to plant more or whether these will go into the garden rather than the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, sedges are drying in the lounge room…

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Ngarrindjeri Basket Weaving Retreat 1

Recently I went to Camp Coorong for a weekend of learning Ngarrindjeri  basket weaving techniques with some of the Ngarrindjeri aunties who are keeping this tradition vigorous and sharing it among their own communities and further afield.  On the first morning of the retreat, many of us went for an early morning walk in Bonney Reserve, a beautiful scrubland adjoining the Coorong.

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We walked through several different plant communities, including some marshy areas where sundews were thriving.  These insectivorous plants never cease to fascinate and delight me. Look at those jewel-like beads of nectar, no doubt calling out to passing insects like a siren hailing a passing sailor…

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These sundews had managed to grow right beside a plausible food source (that hole looks like an ant nest to me!)

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The tiny flowers of the scrub were everywhere.  Birds were calling across the treetops and in the undergrowth.

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These are correas.

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I believe this is a flame heath.  In full flower at midwinter, when the rain is falling.

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Some of the eucalypts were in bud but this one was already flowering.

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Someone is pupating in here, I suspect!

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Then, we went back to Camp Coorong for a day of further inspiration and instruction.  This is a part view of the table of special treasures people brought with them to speak about with other weavers.

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The winter festival of mending continues!

I am in a little band, or perhaps it is an ensemble. It’s modest, and it is unlikely to ever achieve fame.  But we do rehearse.  At one rehearsal the drummer asked me if she could bring me in some knitted things that needed mending to look at.  Maybe it was my knitting in periods of waiting that made her ask.  The long backstage wait before our one significant gig to date, fro example.  I had my sock along, as you might well expect if you have been to this blog before!

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It’s my usual practice to offer to teach people to mend rather than mending things for them without debate.  But she is just so charming.  She brought her two garments in the following week and I took them home.  The first is a cardigan which looks to me like a hand spun and hand knit treasure made of relatively coarse wool by contemporary Australian standards.  It had already had some mending (above) in a couple of places, and had those signs of long wear–a cuff and hem where the entire edge is on the verge of giving way.  I wonder if the drummer knows the knitter and/or spinner? [When I returned the mended item she told me her grandmother had made it but she wasn’t sure whether her grandmother had spun the wool].

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The biggest holes were in the elbows.  Generously sized and sporting some long ladders in both directions.  Happily, the ladders are easy to fix with a crochet hook, so I picked them up, stabilised the edges of the holes and set about knitting up some patches.

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Remarkably, I had some matching wool–same colours, handspun and marled.  But not the same gauge.  She had said she was up for a visible mend, so I just went ahead and knit some patches in.

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She will now be able to wear her cardigan again, just as she said she wanted.  Next, a merino jumper.  It’s a style that is readily recognisable but a little bit complicated to match.  The complex nature of the machine knit had limited the size of the holes, so I tried for a woven mend in something pale enough not to yell out.

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Two more mends..

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And we’re done.

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And lest you think I’m only mending away from home, followed up the next week by darns to the elbows of one of my beloved’s possum wool jackets.

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These darns show a bit, but not nearly as much as her shirts were showing underneath through what remained of the elbows!

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Dupion silk

Oh. My. Goodness.  Dupion silk isn’t really my cup of tea.  I made my beloved a beautiful shirt from it for a big event once, but my one venture into wearing it myself was a brightly striped waistcoat made from a minimum amount.  But recently I went to the Guild and there were leftover dupion lengths on the trading table.  I walked away with the palest pieces for $3.  They were a lot bigger than I expected but with some sun damage.  The Guild was full of cheery folk eating cake and chatting on and admiring all manner of knitting and felting and spinning exploits.  There were conversations about mordants in which I broke the news about how toxic many of them are and turned down offers to give me some toxic variations on the theme.  I explained about the toxic waste dump where my Guild has been disposing of such chemicals for years now. I accepted a gift of some alum and cochineal extract (the kind my mother used to use for icing).  Then there was quite a conversation about woad, cultivation and uses, which was good fun–and I gave the person concerned (who was new to the Guild) the alum!   Anyway… I rode away feeling all activated and cheerful, and on my way home picked up a bucket from a skip, and from there the world was my oyster. Here’s the bucket on the back of my bike.

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I rode through the lovely park lands and sampled all kinds of likely looking eucalypts as well as a sheoak. This one, with interesting bark and at least three different kinds of leaves.

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This one I think is E Platypus.  I have heard of others getting colour from it: me, not so much, so far.

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And some lovely silver-leaved varieties too.

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Finally I collected E Cladocalyx bark and filled my bucket to capacity.  Here is the tree up close-ish.

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Here it is from further away with the bike still there for size and a lot of the tree still not in the picture.

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As I rode along the corellas were out grazing on one of the playing fields in the parklands (they are the white spots on the grass), with the city centre sprouting up in the near distance.

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I arrived home and bundled up…

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So pretty!

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And then into the pot.

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The various eucalypt samples from the parklands gave little colour (left), but my dependable friend E Scoparia dyed the silks a treat (right).

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I soaked the bark and saved it for later. The prints are lovely and detailed…

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I put the not so successful silk in for another bundling…

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And remembered that my last experiments with clamping went better with less than maximum pressure… after the results were in!

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Dyes of Antiquity: Coral lichen and Sticta Colensi

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Quite some time ago, I became the beneficiary of natural dyes that had been abandoned at, or gifted to, my Guild.  Among them were some very old looking bags of dried lichen.  I was appalled by this discovery, to be honest.  Lichens are slow growing, increasingly threatened, complex organisms.  I hear they are plentiful in some parts of the world but I am not living in one of those parts. People far more articulate and knowledgeable than I am on this subject, such as India Flint, have explained why harvesting these plants for dye is not a good idea.   However, clearly there was a point in the past when these lichens were harvested and it is too late to make that unhappen.  So I have done some research into the lichens that have labels on them.  Some of them are so old they have imperial labels on them rather than metric labels.  Wikipedia says Australia began metrication of weights and measures in 1971.  So you know what I’m saying.

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I decided to start with some of the lichens whose labels suggested they should be treated using the boiling water method.  The simplest, and the one achievable in winter. First, a soak in rain water.  Coral lichen above and Sticta Colensi below. I gave them a 24 hour soak in rain water, and then started the heating.  Then there was straining out.  Then a contest between dye baths on the go.  In the end I decided that since Karen Casselman’s book on lichen dyes pretty clearly recommends long processing, perhaps this was a dye that could spend some time wrapped in a blanket to stay warm between heatings.

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The whole time I was working on these two dyes I was thinking about why anyone would harvest lichens to get the colours suggested on the labels which say things like ‘boiling gives gold’ and ‘boiling gives pale olive green’ or even ‘boiling gives warm beige’. And the outcome: Sticta Colensi is the yellow on the left.  Coral lichen pale brown on the right.  So now we know. Leave them where you find them, my friends. There are faster growing ways of achieving these colours.

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Slippers old and new

Warning.  This post contains many images created in poor lighting conditions! Apologies in advance.

Oh dear.  A much loved and well worn pair of slippers came back to me from a friend for examination. I thought I would have matching yarn but I really didn’t.  In the end I went for visible mending of this pair and also decided to knit her a new pair. #Menditmay I thought!

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Here they are about to be returned to their owner over breakfast (in May), with big mends in the heels.  The inside sole is black so these darns will be less visible when they are being worn, perhaps!  I cast on the new pair…

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The next step was knitting a new pair.  Two pairs for different people, in the end, and two dinners with associated felting (no end to the thrills when you visit us!)  With appalling photographs to match.  This pair are a rich purple and they are on a blue background, not that it shows.

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They went to a new home with a cherished friend who has been feeling the cold terribly.  She also scored these hand warmers, knit from the remainder of a ball of Noro sock yarn some time ago and awaiting the right moment.  They look better on!

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Then, my beloved negotiated handover of a small pile of pre-loved and partially felted socks that will fit my friend better than my beloved at this stage.  Some required running repairs.

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Some were too felted for anything other than brutal patching.  No way to knit a patch in.  Can’t find any stitches to pick up! Some of these socks were knit before I really understood the kind of yarn that was suitable.  But pairs like this, made from Bendigo Woollen Mills 8 ply alpaca, were such a hit among my friends I made a lot of them anyway.

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I’ve since had an email about blue socks being worn at Pilates class and a photo of my friend’s ankle as she heads out to dinner in handspun, handknit socks!  Too good.  These are the people for whom hand knits should, indeed, be made.  And finally, the friend whose slippers I was darning at the top of the post came over and I felted her new slippers to size.  She arrived wearing hand knit socks… perfect!

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Carrot tops and carding

When a moment arises and there is an opportunity for dyeing, I dye, my friends, I dye.  One such moment came a little while back when we had lovely organic carrots from our friends’ farm… and they came with lovely organic carrot tops, of course.

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Fixing carrot top dye requires alum, but I am well prepared.  I have sheep fleece sitting in cold alum solution in buckets in my driveway.

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Into the dye pot they went!  This went so well that I am doing it again as I write.

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In the mean time, undyed fleece from the same sheep, Viola the pale grey crossbred, is also being prepared for spinning, because… I have an ambitious plan that will require some more undyed yarn…

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Hand spun, hand knit socks

Remember this hand spun sock yarn?

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It had a long journey toward becoming a pair of socks.  Here we are early on, on the train…

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On my way to a meeting at work.  Five minutes early, enjoying the sunshine and shrubs… knitting down the heel.

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Visiting a friend in hospital (and past the heel flap on sock 1)…

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Here we are on our way to Newcastle to blockade a coal port–second sock started.  I got a lot of knitting done during train travel and nonviolence training (for an entire day–some climate change activists don’t muck about!) and there was another knitter in the training, too!

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Then I noticed late in the life of sock 2 that sock 1 and sock 2 were a bit different.  I made some adjustments.  Finally, I went over to my friend’s house for a try on. Turns out that the stretchy factor in knitting sorts out a multitude of small spinning and knitting crimes. It’s common ground between us that if he doesn’t care, I don’t either.  Usually he goes further than not caring and is pretty pleased about the whole woollen sock thing. Fantastic attitude.

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Here he is showing customary forbearance as a sock model.  Note hand knit sock on other foot.  Come to think of it, note hand spun, hand knit jumper in use years after being dyed with eucalypt. This is the attitude to hand knits that gets you another pair of socks in my circle of beloveds!

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Filed under Knitting, Neighbourhood pleasures

Last of the autumn guerilla plantings

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I got home from a work a little early thanks to a lift from a friend, and decided to get out into the neighbourhood while it was still light.

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Saltbush going in beside the tram bridge and bike path.

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Wattles and more saltbush going in on the other side of the tram bridge in a particularly desolate patch as the light fades.

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I came home with one bucket full of empty pots, gloves and rubbish, and the other full of fallen leaves.

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Just enough time to plant beetroot in the back garden and admire the lemon scented gum over the back fence.

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