I still have some upholstery fabric left from having some chairs re-covered. It is natural linen, a lovely fabric. I have been wondering what to do with it. One day I went to an exhibition of Papunya artists in the City Gallery of Flinders University (on the ground floor of the State Library) and I came home longing to embroider. I can’t exactly say why. Perhaps it is partly that some of these glorious paintings are such clear manifestations of the principle that many tiny marks can make a whole that is sheer wonder. I marvelled at the capacity of these artists to hold entire desert landscapes and the stories of these places in their minds, and from these to create spectacular images which somehow communicate the story and the place. Even if I cannot begin to grasp all that they might have in mind in creating these works, I can still stand in awe.
I don’t need to be able to create wonder. I don’t expect to, and I don’t mind. But stitches are tiny. Perhaps the immediate thing was simply the invitation to begin.
These threads have been dyed with indigo, pansy, hibiscus and eucalyptus. I love their subtlety and the slight sheen of the silk thread against the matte texture of the linen. I love the effects of uneven dyeing, as it turns out. Even dyeing is overrated! Once I had decided I was done (which is a com0plicated thing in itself, I find), I settled on yet another bag.
The lining is made of patchworked silk scraps dyed with all kinds of plants.
And then, just because I can never make just one… I made another with a different piece of upholstery fabric and some scraps of recycled fabric of different weights.
While we were travelling on holiday, I was really surprised to find that I regretted leaving my stitching kit at home. In the end, I rootled through an op shop on the Mornington Peninsula (Victoria), and then another in Melbourne, and managed to lay in a few needles, some ancient cocktail napkins, and some leftover thread. And even a perfect little box.
I had been doing inspiring reading for the year of activism ahead, and had some ideas for embroidery which I began to put into stitches. First, pencilled on.
Some time later, I ended up with this, embellished with some small findings from the beach. These may make it deeply impractical, but I figure the worst case is that I cut them off again.
It’s scruffy, like all my embroidery. But, I like it. I find it a constant struggle to think about the deeply painful challenges that face each of us, and the planet and all who live upon her (human and otherwise). I notice that for many people, facing the trouble we are in is so painful that they would rather look away or that they simply can’t find hope. I keep trying to make another decision: to face the trouble we are in, and to stay hopeful and active. Which is not the same as living without contradictions or mistakes, of which I feel sure, there will be plenty more!
My needle and I moved on to another little indigo dyed bag that arrived at our house as a printed calico bag full of bath salts. Here it is on a table in a coffee shop, in progress.
I love the way the silk thread has a little sheen over the matte background of the calico.
This one is stitched with silk thread dyed with cold processed austral indigo (silvery grey), indigo, eucalyptus cinerea exhaust and plum pine.
I like these subtle colours, even though some of them felt really disappointing when first they emerged from the dye. They work beautifully in this context, I think. Another lesson in life from the dye pot!
Somehow I have fallen down another rabbit hole… I seem to be stitching. A lot. Still with the project of making what is merely functional, more beautiful. I started out with three calico drawstring bags that had held bath salts and soap nuts. I had a spectacular dyeing fail using eucalyptus. Go figure. Certainly not an improvement!
I dipped them in the indigo vat a few times, a while back. Better.
Then one day I suddenly saw what to do. I started and then kept going. Here I am with it in progress on my lap on the bus to work.
Threads dyed with madder, grevillea robusta, and eucalyptus.
It’s so much better!
Last night it went home with a friend. It is going to become home for a deck of tarot cards. And I have started on the others…
Making string from scrap fabric is so simple and pleasurable (and satisfies my love of using up every last scrap so well) that I’ve found myself making more string this week. I have been thinking, since Second Skin, that it is not so much that I come from the zero waste school of sewing as that I come from the austerity school of sewing. I do draft so as to avoid creating waste, and I watched my mother dothis as a child, often starting with less fabric than her pattern called for. Then I take all the remnant fabric from previous projects and turn it into something else, even if this requires a lot of patchwork. Little of what is left beside my overlocker is wide enough to make string, even. When I tried carding ovwerlocker waste into batts a while back, most of it fell out because there was so much thread cut so short!
Anyway… I’ve been turning a pair of jeans and a pair of linen pants into a bag, and although that process will use almost all the fabric in each (since I’m piecing together even relatively small sections), there are some scraps left. I cut them all to suitable widths for string making. It began with this little pile.
By later in the week, I had three lengths of… well… cord? Light rope? Very shaggy string?
I’ve been creating small banners for trees in our local neighbourhood, and so string–cord–rope will come in handy.
There’s a plan for these banners… involving other people… and brought into being by the enthusiasm of my fairy godson. I’ve made several so far from a calico sack I scored from a local business, together with recycled eco-printed fabrics and eucalyptus-dyed embroidery threads. On the inside, the interfacing is a set of damask napkins which saw their glory days long ago and have been rendered threadbare by long use. My mother-out-law sent them down to Adelaide last time my sweetheart visited her. I hope she’ll approve of this way of using them!
My second ‘banner’ has gone up another neighbourhood tree. This one is my favourite E Scoparia. It was the first really promising dye eucalypt I discovered. It used to be home to a pair of piping shrikes, who nested there in their little mud cup for many seasons. In the last year it has acquired a nesting box and we’ve seen rosellas coming in and out of it.
This is the tree my friends and I have been mulching and weeding and we have planted in an understory of native ground covers, mostly forms of saltbush, which are now doing really well. If you have been reading a while you will have seen this tree protected from passing Royal Show foot traffic in earlier posts here and here. Those images show how much the groundcover project has progressed in the last 18 months or so. In the beginning, people would remove plant guards, pull out small plants soon after we put them in or just trample young plants by accident. Not any more. I think the evidence of care and the success of the surviving understorey plants generates more thoughtful treatment from passersby, and it’s clear that lots of local people now understand that their neighbours are making efforts that are transforming an almost bare patch of hard earth scattered with weeds and rubbish, into something lovely. I collected the rubbish that had landed under it this morning and maybe that is ebbing a little too.
So, four of us stood and admired this tree, delectable breakfast smoothies in hand, and tied on this little banner of admiration and appreciation.
And here’s the full length picture…
While I was in Melbourne, I found Sarah Corbett’s A Little Book of Craftivism. Yes, it is literally small, but inspiring out of proportion to its size. It is about the work of the craftivist collective, together with proposals about how the reader might engage in their own craftivism.
For those who might be wondering… one definition of craftivism: ‘Craftivism is a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite.’ More at the link.
I loved this little book from the beginning. This is activism of a gentle, slow kind. It isn’t the only kind of activism the world needs. But every social movement needs a variety of approaches–I’ve participated in many–and gentle is one of them. This book is packed with organising wisdom, clear instruction, pictures that inspire and make you wish you had been there and examples of projects from the small to the enormous that offer plenty of scope for DIY.
For a view of the book and its content, click here. For a brief review with links to multiple other reviews and ways to purchase online other than through amazon, click here. To purchase from the craftvist collective itself, click here and check the sidebar.
Did I mention finding this book inspiring? I think it’s one of the highest compliments that you could pay to a book of its kind to say that I immediately wanted to go out and make some of the projects in this book and could immediately see places that could happen to good effect. Not only that, I tried my ideas out on my nearest and dearest and then created them. My ‘mini protest banner’ is a little different to the cross stitched versions in the book–but nevertheless the same concept.
- a calico sack from a local business for my banner background (I offered to take the offcast bags from a shop and they accepted)
- some not-so-glorious leaf print experiments for backing
- some leaf-printed collars and cuffs for my frame
- some eucalyptus dyed silk thead and
- some secondhand bias binding… and…
Before long I had made two banners. We hung the first one today. One of my friends offered the view that every day was a good day for this kind of event (I guess we’re friends in part because we agree on things like that!) so we had cool drinks of water and cherries and chat and then went out to admire the tree and tie on. The 6 year old present wants to make more banners, which is additionally promising.
This banner celebrates a river red gum (E Camaldulensis) that we managed to save from being cut down last year, with help from other local people and our local MP, Steph Key. It has a legally mandated 3 m exclusion zone around it to protect the root zone, but this is not being observed very well lately and I want the people responsible to know that we care. I had to measure the tree to be sure I had stitched on enough tape: 3.6 m (11′ 9”) around the trunk, well above the ground. To give you a sense of its size… and the relative size of the banner (which is in the picture), I give you the full view.
One of my friends is a poet, and a social worker. She has spent years dedicating herself to the wellbeing of the people in the locality where she works, a place where poverty and violence have taken their toll, creating tough lives. She witnesses people’s skills and talents in the face of difficulty and enables the bringing into existence of new connections, new skills, new capacities and new lives. She helps those who must escape violence to make that difficult, vital journey into new lives without abuse. I am full of admiration for all that she can do and all that she is.
She has been facing some powerful challenges of her own in the face of government budget cuts and policy changes. I have been thinking of her a great deal. There is one poem in particular that brings her solace. I decided to embroider it for her. It has been a pleasure to spend so many hours thinking of her, holding her in my heart and wishing her well. I’ve stitched the words on hemp dyed with indigofera australis and thread dyed with indigofera for blue and silky oak for yellow.
I have been so inspired by other dyers’ work with naturally dyed embroidery thread that I decided a while back that perhaps I could include some silk thread in my many dye pots. I dyed a large quantity of wool in small batches over the last few months, so there have been quite a few opportunities. Really, I had friends who like to embroider in mind at the time. I thought I could gift them my little lengths of dyed thread. However, a vast new plan has sprung into my mind. I dug out the embroidery hoop I brought home from an op shop years back, but have never used. It helps enormously but also makes embroidery rather louder than I had anticipated, as if the fabric were a drumhead! I did not expect to find embroidery so thrilling, or so noisy.
This new project has had me out and about in the neighbourhood visiting species of eucalypt I use less. There have been some surprises. The two spindly E Websterianas with their minnirichi bark and their heart-shaped leaves are gone! They were not thriving in that location just a few blocks away, I admit. But I am sorry to have lost them (let alone that someone probably took all that leafage to the dump).
Another day I went to two different E Scoparias, walking further to get to the one which dependably hangs low when I couldn’t reach the leaves of the closest. Gone was the lush straggly undergrowth that used to surround it, and gone was the low hanging branch. I am not sure whom it had offended.
At least the tree is still there, snuggled up to an equally large carob tree. Since major infrastructure came to my neighbourhood and trucks became a constant form of traffic through streets large, medium and small, the low hanging branches of many of my favourite trees have been removed. Apparently no one was considering the suburban gleaner at the time…
On a subsequent trip, I discovered that the largest, most luxurious E Scoparia in my neighbourhood, whose tree hating neighbour had me worried when I was collecting bark, has been pruned with a chain saw so that no longer do its lovely leaves hang anywhere I will be able to reach them without a ladder. Luckily, the bark will fall where I can reach it, and the tree is still there despite having such a determined human enemy.