Monthly Archives: February 2017

And now to consolidate the indigo learning…

I came home from the summer dye camp at Beautiful Silks‘ Botanical Studios in Allansford determined to maximise my learning, and with an indigo dye kit in my bags.

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I teach for a living, and it’s very clear from watching other people learn that many underestimate the effort required to really build understanding and judgment.  Not that I don’t!!!  However–I try to be alert to this learning pitfall.  I decided that I’d make use of my last few days of holidays–and the very suitable warm weather–to try to make sure I could make use of the boost in confidence and understanding I received from Jenai Hooke in Allansford to move my dyeing forward.  First step: mixing up my starter.  I know–that’s what you say when you make bread.  Let’s admit between us that I’ve made more loaves of bread than indigo vats.

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I changed the container I was using for my vat and my strategy for keeping it at suitable temperatures, using ideas gleaned from Jenai and some creative problem solving.  I prepared my materials for dyeing properly.  Yes, that’s my reflection with the hat, looming over my soaking materials.

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In short–success!  And even better than that, I dyed over three days and returned the vat to happiness (technical language, this) after that as well.  I’d run out of fructose so decided to experiment with honey.  My beloved is on a low fructose diet so the fruits, vegetables and substances that contain most fructose have been quite a study at our house. Nevertheless, guessing is necessarily involved and I’ll have to do this again to be confident I understand what is taking place and can reproduce it.

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A friend brought a large scarf over and that had a very successful dyeing on the first really good day for dyeing in the vat.  I dyed a cotton scarf I brought home from Allansford too (it was white when I left Allansford).  I did a lot better on achieving a nice deep blue than I did before the workshop, and I was in no doubt extra dips deepened the colour, which had been something I felt didn’t always happen previously.

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As usual, I treated this whole process as an experiment which meant I dyed all kinds of bits and bobs of pre loved linen, overdyed things I thought could bear improvement, and dyed some bags, because bags.

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I cut out a pair of shorts from three tired old T-shirts headed for the rag bag and overdyed the pieces.  Finally, as the vat seemed to be exhausting, I turned the leftover t-shirt strips into yarn and overdyed them too.

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So–success!  I have definitely learned something about the fructose vat.  I know more about strategies for tyng and clamping fabrics for dyeing, even if I am still a beginner.

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A little guerilla gardening

This morning I went out in the grey dawn for a little guerilla gardening, wearing a flour-bag shirt that has been dipped in indigo!

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Evidently I was in a hurry, and so the blurred image… ruby saltbush and a type I have not identified yet, that I call scrambling saltbush.  It’s already fruiting in the pot.  The days over 40C killed so many plants at home and in the neighbourhood that I have not been planting for weeks. I’ve just been weeding and picking up rubbish and thinking about autumn.  The season of cuttings and root division.  The season when the plants that are in pots now might be able to make a go of life in the big wide world.

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I took the seedlings to a site a street over where a big ironbark came down in a storm.  The trunk was cut away and removed but much of the crown of the tree as well as the root mass has been left as it fell or was cut.  I’ve begun carting it away.  The conversation I had with a neighbour I don’t really know when I was doing this recently was very funny.  I was strolling down the street towing a big green bin on wheels.  This is the way “green waste” (anything that can be composted) is collected in my council area. It gets chipped and composted commercially.  He said to me “most people take a dog out for a walk” and laughed a bit at my taking my bin for a walk instead.  I decided to maintain the mystery (I am not sure people really want full disclosure at times like these) and joked back.  He was still there when I towed it back up the street full of dead branches, so I made a joke about whether the bin enjoyed the walk as much as a dog would have.  I thought maybe I had a better time than the bin.

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I had started planting out one end of this site before the tree came down, so I planted some more, and continued moving branches off plants and shifting big branches back toward the driest area where nothing will grow.  Then picked up the rubbish, removed an old yarn bomb that had descended to the ground and begun to rot away, and came home again.  Off to work in the Very Hungry Caterpillar shirt.  I think the print is so cheery no one notices the size of the shirt (or if they do, they are way too polite to say anything about it). I can live with that!

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar Shirt

Some time back I bought the pattern for the Jac Shirt (Tessuti Fabrics).  Finally, the time came to make it.  I chose size XL.  Let it be said that what follows is no critique of the pattern but only of my own ways.  I was defeated by the difference between myself and the listed measurements. I just went for the biggest size and, well, how bad could it be?  I can always make the next size smaller if it turns out this was not the right call. I made some adjustments.  And really, I should have known while I did this… that once again I was picturing myself as even bigger than I am, in real life.  How many garments have I made way too large?  (Ahem, for those new to the blog… a considerable number).

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I cut the pattern out, and sacrificed one of my tablecloths for the interfacing.  In an absolute first, embroidered interfacing.  The tablecloth must have been gorgeous for many years of its life but it is now threadbare and stained, the embroidery coming away. I spent some time figuring out how to feature the large designs on the print and how to use the all-over printed matching fabric I had bought some years ago.

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The pattern has very good instructions.  I descended into mystery in a couple of places where mitred corners were so different to the shirt constructions I am accustomed to that apparently I could not accept the evidence of the pattern at some deep level.

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And finally, I have a very lovely shirt with some recycled buttons.  It is… oversized.  I think no adjustment was necessary, apart from to my own personal beliefs!  I will try to remember that next time and plan to make this pattern again, in a different size. Maybe one of the sizes on the envelope?

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Summer Dye Camp at Beautiful Silks

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Over the holidays, I went to a summer dye cap at the Botanical Studio run by Beautiful Silks, in Allansford (near Warrnambool) country Victoria.  I stayed in a cabin at one of the caravan parks by the beachfront in Warrnambool because the on site accommodation was booked out.  I haven’t been to Warrnambool since I was a child.  It was just beautiful.  The frisking around of many small people on skates and scooters and bikes had me in mind of childhood holidays at the beach.

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I arrived early and had beach walks and runs before dye camp each day and long strolls through town too.  My photos of scenery are a bit rubbish and really don’t reflect the glory.  Like me, my photos are largely focused on small lovelinesses such as lichen.

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After dark there was spinning and some experimental printing on paper.  Since I had the car to myself, I came with wheel and dye pot! I converted carding waste to yarn and knit some yarn bombs. One night I had a wonderful dinner with a couple of the other dye campers.  I taught one of them how to cast on a sock and how to turn a heel with short rows, and we talked blogging and dyeing and, well, everything.  Awesome and lovely.

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All round, it was a fabulous holiday.  But dye camp!  Dye camp was focused on indigo and woad.  We had Jenai Hooke from Eudlo in Queensland as our expert guide and instructor, and I learned so much.  There were some big fructose vats.  The method I really do want to learn. Perfect.  We learned how to start them, how to feed and tend them, how to dye in them.

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There was making of little vats so we could grasp the principles.

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There was a massive pot with leafy bundles in it. E Crenulata sent its spicy notes through us all on the first day.

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Who doesn’t love leafy bundles?? Some of my companions had brought along leaf printed samples, their own indigo dyeing, their hand made and dyed scarves and bags, samples of their wild and creative experiments in dyeing yarns, and of course their genius, skills, ideas and energy.  There was hand sewn and hand made clothing, spontaneous pattern drafting and people’s own clothing designs. There were three other women from Adelaide, hurrah! In short, I was among my people, and this seemed to be a shared feeling.

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There was ice-dyeing with fresh woad leaves.

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There was shibori.  Jenai is a shibori expert and teacher, and taught the basics to some of us with spectacular results (the others were too busy dyeing to stop for that!).  In short, there was dyeing.

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So much dyeing.  I could not believe the number of garments and other things that turned blue.  Light blue, mid blue, blue-black. Turquoise-green colours from the ice dyeing.   Oranges and browns from eucalypts.

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We ran out of drying space.

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I dyed bags.  I know, shocking.  I got deeper blues than before.  I believe I deepened my understanding. And it was good to be reminded of the complexity of the skills, the complexity of the process and the years of apprenticeship that would have been undertaken by historic dyers. A little humility is a good thing in the face of a large learning curve.

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I even dyed a linen shirt.  I pulled it out of the cupboard where clothes go awaiting reincarnation, and felt moved to try it on (it was an op shop find).  I decided it just needed a new button, and it was clamped and dyed and has been out in public several times already!

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Immense thanks to Marion Gorr and Elephant at Beautiful Silks for a wonderful learning opportunity and fabulous catering and company, and to Jenai Hooke for such wonderful education!

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Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Possum wool socks

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These socks, made from possum wool purchased in Aotearoa/New Zealand, began slowly and suddenly leapt forward when I travelled to Sydney for a family occasion and then a holiday in December.  I think the slowness was due largely to the loss of the previous sock in progress, needles and all. It somehow made me feel like I might be losing my capacities in some way, rather than seeming like an unfortunate accident.  I can’t say why I adopted this kind of interpretation but I hope to get over it!

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Here is the first sock, in the very incongruous setting of a public lecture theatre at Sydney University.  It is in an old building and has all wood seating, all wooden desks and steeply raked benches with wooden doors.  But of course it also now has fluorescent lighting and computer projection screens.  Outside I wandered off and away past beautiful Moreton Bay fig trees.

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Here is the sock in progress beside the beach at Coogee.

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And here is a (random, bonus) rainbow lorikeet in Sydney, sighted when I was out for a run.  I am not sure if this one was feeling bold or sleepy, but after all the times I have tried to photograph one of these birds and barely succeeded in getting a blur in the distance… here it is!

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Some weeks later…

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Here they are in all their dark chocolate brown glory, ready for the feet of my beloved, when the summer ends and the autumn begins to ebb. She tried them on, the day I handed them over (yes, it was 41C) and they came off again pretty fast!!!

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41C in Adelaide

It’s 41C in my town the day I am writing. Things are much worse in other parts of Australia–where it has already been above 40C for over a week. And here’s what I did to prepare for 41C.

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Step 1: recommit to action on climate change.  This country (among others, some already going under the sea) will not be habitable for future life unless we succeed, and there are some rather specific signs of inadequate action both here and in other first world nations right now.  If in doubt, ask the Climate Council.  You know: scientists who know their stuff and know how to communicate.

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Step 2: water plants deeply.  Freeze water for the worm farms.  Ensure ample water and shade for the chooks (hens).  Put water in the fridge.  Make sure cool air can get into the house, if there is any, during the night. Invite friends who can’t cool their homes to come over.

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Step 3: wash fleece, because wool drying weather this good should be taken advantage of.  Dye fleece with heat-activated “cold pad batch” dyes and place in the right spot to maximise the heat it will get on the big hot days.  I have mixed up the last of these dyes I own and given away my fixative.  It’s been fun but I’m committing to plant dyes and just seeing out the chemical dyes I already have.

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Step 4: harvest woad.  Could you tell that was woad steeping in hot water in the first picture?  Extract pigment.  That second image of the blue froth with a coppery blue swirl in the middle? The most exciting thing that has happened when I’ve tried to extract pigment from woad to date.  I’ve read high summer is the best time to get blue from woad, and–this is high summer.  Add woad to indigo vat.  Rebalance Ph.  Do your best to create conditions for reduction. Stir carefully. That’s where things are at in image 3. Image 4 is some hours later. Keep warm overnight.  Place vat in a sunny spot first thing.

And on the day… stay inside except when tending living things and hanging loads of washing.  Check as the temp of the indigo/woad vat rises to 35 and then 45C.  Enjoy the sound of the inverter for the solar panels as it cranks out power from the sun.

 

 

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Patch bags

My beloved returned from a trip abroad with a gift for me.  Patches made from recycled clothing scraps!  I love them!  And then, a familiar tale unfolded.  Long time readers will feel like they have read this post before.

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I realised that a bag was called for!  Apparently my year of scrap patchwork cross pollinated with my bag lady tendency, and behold.  These patches spoke to me of a friend who describes themself as non binary–not enthusiastic about being understood as male or female.  Disinterested in the whole sport of there being two rigid ideas about how to organise humanity.  You know.  ‘There are two kinds of people…’.

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As a person who wants to be able to do anything–knit and fix the washing machine, embroider and ride a bike… be soft and be loud and be courageous and … you know!  I support my beloved friends in their journeys outside the box.  These bags include scraps from trousers and shirts I’ve made, leftover denim from making jeans, fabric that has been ‘stuff steep and store’-d with madder root, leftover quilt fabric.  You know.  Then some of the patches called to me about another friend and their journey lately.

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I like the denim aesthetic for a nice solid bag, and soon I was digging into the cupboard where garments that are ripe for their next incarnation live.

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Pretty soon the linings were getting pockets. I used to do this with jeans in the 1980s! (More or less).

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A pair of jeans went past the point of mending and were cut up and added to the pile of bag materials.  An old pair of hemp shorts got the cut. Some webbing from goodness knows where became a strap for this zippered bag. You know, variety.

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And, I admit it, I gave one bag away before I took its picture. I loved seeing my friend wearing it on his bike!

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And… I still have some patches and some ‘blocks’.  Watch this space!

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Shibusa: India Flint at the Onkaparinga Woollen Mills, Lobethal

India Flint is exhibiting at the historic Onkaparinga Woollen Mill in Lobethal (for those of you far away, this is a small town in the hills outside Adelaide).  A dear friend and I made a date and went to see the exhibit last weekend and there is one weekend to go!  21 January-12 February, Building 20, 11.30-4.00 pm on weekends only.  Check details here.  Yes, friends, this exhibit (part of it, at least) has been on show in Texas, and now–we have it to see and admire right here (I know, lots of you are not here)!

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‘Shibusa’ is a Japanese concept which is described in the exhibition documents as ‘a way of being that contrasts elegance with imperfection, spontaneity with restraint’.  Clearly an extremely good fit with India’s way of working and aesthetic.  ‘The seven elements of shibusa are simplicity, implicity, modesty, silence, naturalness, everydayness, and imperfection’.  Here, shibusa becomes an organising principle that brings together natural fibres, the imperfections of clothing that has been well-loved and well-worn, plant dyes and an immense imagination and a huge body of technique and skill.

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There is a very striking piece that felt as though it was greeting us or calling to us on our way into the space.  It draws on Latvian clothing traditions and includes embroidered Latvian text.  It drew our attention immediately.  India Flint has written about this piece herself in a rather wonderful way right here on her blog.  She has many more images of this work in her post, and explains its autobiographical references.  Despite its obviously tactile, material, concrete form, this aproned figure bearing words of such significance that they have been stitched into her surface nevertheless conveys an impression of ghostliness, one that it seems was intended by the artist herself.

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Like all of the works in the exhibition, the details are wonderful: dense stitching, reconstructed garments pieced together in ingenious ways, resist marks as well as leafy details.  And always the generous number of pockets that a wanderer–by choice or without alternatives–might need, no matter the occasion.  Hidden pockets, tiny pockets, pockets that contrast, former cuffs and sleeves transmogrified into pockets, front, back and side pockets.  Pockets full of bones.

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Garments dominate the space, a quiet but rather elegant crowd.  It is only in getting close to them that themes emerge.  Some of these dresses are rich in strips: torn pieces of silk; plackets that have become separated from their original garments and restitched, ribbons, shreds of lace.  Some have pockets in even greater abundance than others.  Some are gathered and pleated and feature gathers and pleats that might once have formed the front of a short or the feature on a jacket.  Some bear text: they are signed, or stitched with song lyrics.  It is only when you get close to them that you form the sense that their elegance has been formed from elements that are rescued, sometimes threadbare, newly transformed into new shapes, for the new purposes of new wearers.

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The ingenuity with which India reshapes garments never ceases to fascinate me.  You could say that transforming old garments and other textiles is something that also consumes my sewing life.  But the ways in which India undertakes this kind of shape-changing is utterly different, full of whimsy and genius. And always, full of leaves.

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We studied the garments in some detail, and I struggled to capture what it is I find interesting and lovely about them in images.  But I was rather riveted by two other parts of the exhibition.  One, a wall of trouser legs, separated from their previous partners.

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Needless to say, they were also dyed in rather spectacular fashion.

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Then, there was the wall of sleeves, severed from their former bodies and transformed by eucalypts and perhaps a few other plants.

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The shapes and colours and details are just so wonderful.

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We stepped out into the afternoon and went on to visit the India Flint made- and/or dyed-clothing and cushions available at Poet’s Ode in Hahndorf in what I understand are the last week or two the shop will be open.  And to talk up our plans for dyeing and stitching, inspired and delighted.  I hope some of you can also visit while the opportunity is still available!

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Filed under Eucalypts, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

Lime marmalade

Dear Readers, it seems this post was overlooked when written, and here it is somewhat belatedly!

When life sends you limes?  You know you’re having a pretty good life, I think!

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I had saved pips from some variety of citrus and kept them in the freezer.  You can see them here in the mesh ball, contributing their pectin to the mix, as our limes are seedless.

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After lime slicing and then lime cooking by mood lighting… the finished marmalade seems like a fitting end to the last lime season.

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Wandercards

Some time back, I invested in India Flint’s wander cards for wayfaring wonderers.  I’ve had fine times pondering the packs for ‘in the mind and ‘in the armchair’ and left them in their original state for quite some time, but over summer the time came for the blank ones to slide into the dye pot.

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As always (for me–others have more experience and skill, naturally) some blurred into watercolours and some came out crisp and amazing.

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I like them all very much.

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So now I have a pack of extra lovely cards, and of course I had another look at the silk they came wrapped in.  Once I really looked at it, and at the cards… it clearly needed to become a drawstring bag for them to live in.  And so it now is.

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Here is  the other side, under the cards, looking all chocolate and caramel. Well, that says as much about me as it does about the silk!

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A few weeks after that, when I was writing down yet another quote I might like to embroider, and wondering when I will actually make the time to embroider all the inspirational wisdom I might need to carry me through each and every day of the current times, I had a thought.  I will not abandon the embroidery plans, but now I know what is going onto these cards.  Maya Angelou… Maya Stein… and others, of course!

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