Tag Archives: hemp

Japan: String and yarn

Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Japan with my beloved, who had a fortnight long work commitment in Kyoto.  I took annual leave and went for the ride.

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If I’d had the chance to choose where to go, I might have chosen Kyoto. It is a historical wonder even in Japan.  It was not bombed and has retained ancient sites of global significance.  It is one of the textile centres of Japan from historical times into the present.  And it is beautiful.  I had less opportunity to prepare than I would have liked because of my own work commitments.  But I did what I could and since I have not been much of a traveler, I expected to wander about with my mouth open in awe.  Only my attempts to be polite prevented this, and I’m hoping to write a series of posts about this experience, in which some topics will be bigger and some will be smaller, because I was fascinated by small things no less than big ones.

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On our last day in Japan, we went the shrine sale at To-Ji Temple, which is a famous flea market and antiques market. There is a lot to say about this amazing event! But I’m going to begin with the string seller.  There is a link at the end of the post to the very interesting www site for Aoni Textiles given to me by the man in this picture.

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Just quietly, Kyoto was sweltering through record heat the entire time we were there.  Australians know what 39C feels like, and it was at least 39C every day we were there. We had the sad experience of sharing the hottest day Kyoto has ever had.  I hope their media is not like ours and that it was saying CLIMATE CHANGE.  Being in Kyoto did make me think that the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in Kyoto surely at least in part because in Kyoto there is much to be lost and therefore much to be gained by concerted international climate action.  Anyway–the man in this picture is hot! And he is selling “string”.

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By the time we found this stall, I’d been to the Museum of Traditional Arts and Crafts with our friend (who shared one of the weeks we were there), in which string is an entirely different category to thread that would be used, for example, for weaving garments.  It seemed to encompass things I would think of as rope (for industrial use) as well as things I would think of as strapping or narrow weaving.  But of a quality unknown in most contexts where any of these things are used where I live.  This was (mostly) not string in any sense I have known it. Some of what was on sale here was extremely fine and came with example knitted lace garments. Some was robust and quite thick. Some was plied, quite a bit was singles (not plied). While I don’t doubt the complexity of translation is part of it, and so is my ignorance, I think string is treated with more respect in Japan. I have not seen such quantities of rope made from natural fibres since I was a child, and perhaps not then.

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Some of the fibres on sale seemed to me to be one of the lesser known silks. The cocoons (if indeed I have understood what I was looking at) in the bowl at bottom left in the image above were huge by comparison with those for regular old silkworms, and the yarns made from them were relatively thick and coarse.

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This might be hemp or ramie fibre (and just look at the way it comes wound, with a waist on the “ball”–something I’ve never seen before). After some time with the three of us muddling our way through conversation and speculation, the stall owner put down his fan and pulled out a guide to the fibres he was selling that confirmed some were ramie, some hemp, some banana fibre (but not as I have previously known it), some pineapple leaf fibre–and there was more I was unable to understand, and the pressure of time and heat and the enormity of the flea market. The bunches of strappy materials visible hanging from the canopy in the first image were mostly hemp which I assume was being sold for other people to spin or use for basketry and other crafts/purposes.  But perhaps this is all my imagination!

Should you wish to see more, the www site can be found here. As I write it is in Japanese, and Google translate helps a little but in a poetic rather than an entirely informative way. It is richly illustrated and there are some amazing videos.  There is also an inactive button/link that makes me think they intend to translate into English but haven’t quite got there yet.  So if, like me, you speak English but not Japanese–maybe more will be revealed in the future!

 

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Filed under Fibre preparation

Culling the cupboards, AKA Upcycling

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As people who read this blog regularly already know, I make a lot of bags, and I almost always give them away.  So when Boomerang Bags started up in Adelaide (and it wasn’t started by me–woot!) it seemed entirely logical to join their end single use plastics interventions by making bags for them.  I made an initial 6 and gave 5 away.  This time I committed to making bags for a stall on World Environment Day and one of the sweethearts from the local group dropped 12 labels at my place.

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Some of the labels were apple green (hard to colour co-ordinate), and I’ve noticed that many of the bags the group creates are made in floral prints.  I’m going out on a limb assuming there are other folk like me who would prefer a not-so-floral bag.  So–I checked to see what relatively plain fabrics I might have and decided the time had come for some unloved trousers made by me over ten years ago.  I’ve worn them a lot over about a decade, even though I had to face the hash I made of the welt pockets every single time.  Never again! Here they are cut into their constituent parts, and below–as bags.

A pair of hemp pants that have never really fit, and are so badly made I’ve mended them several times in a life of few washes and wears.  A couple more pairs of trousers that I won’t wear again.  Two pairs of op shop jeans saved for a day I need denim, and a pair of op shop linen pants, ditto.  Orange linen picked up at the tip shop outside Hobart for a song (because who wouldn’t take their mates to the tip shop if you were passing?) Some repurposed canvas cushion backing dyed with eucalypts.

Oh, the pockets!  It’s a shame to let a well constructed pocket go, so these are now features!

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Needless to say there was constructive piecing on the outside, and where the outsides were pieced together, there are linings (often pieced too).

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So now my thirteen bags have gone to Boomerang Bags, and I have more labels.  I inherit fabric and have fabric dropped off at my place faster than I can re-home it.  I still have unloved wardrobe items and clothing past use by date.  I have clothing that is upwards of 20 years old, some parts reclaimable and op shop items salvaged for repurposing.  So, I believe I can keep at this project for the foreseeable future without concern for supplies and with benefits for my cupboards.

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Filed under Craftivism, Natural dyeing, Sewing

Standing here

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Last week I sent off a small collection of squares for the Standing Here public art installation.  I was just delighted (even if also saddened) to hear that the location for the installation–Tree Place–commemorates the place an ancient tree was felled.  I am glad others recognise this as something to be marked and responded to.

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This one is a patchwork of raw silk scraps I dyed at Summer Dye Camp.  The very last of a raw silk suit a friend bought me at an op shop.  I added one of the indigo dyed–bedsheet–napkins for good measure, and this piece, which is a piece of hemp/silk with borders of cotton, dyed with eucalyptus leaves in different ways.  Wishing Jenai Hooke and Anne Harris every success with this project!

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Filed under Natural dyeing, Sewing

Making trousers

Over the holidays I decided to sort out a pair of shorts I made some time ago.  I copied a pattern from some shorts I had bought at the op shop and made the new pair very carefully.  And from an unsuitable fabric.  They parted way at the seams in crucial places almost immediately and I pouted and put them away.  I took them out in summer and realised I could easily mend them.  They were a great fit–I loved them and wore them all summer, and decided right away that I could use the pattern to make summer weight trousers.

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This appears to be the only in-progress shot.  Setting up for topstitching the fly on the ironing board, using a sticker from a campaign I spent a lot of time on, in the 1990s.  I was still not sure about letting that sticker go–but the stickiness doesn’t last forever.  The fabric is a silk that my mother-out-law gave me.  She keeps claiming to have given up her lifelong sewing career, but I don’t believe her.  I was intimidated by the gift and have never owned silk pants.  Suddenly I knew how to use it, and I now have silk pants!

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I regret that I don’t know how to make an image of trousers that looks any good, as they are so much more complex to create than anything else I make!  One pair was not enough.  I looked at some hemp fabric I bought years back and all of a sudden–I knew what to do with it.  I am sure I always planned something like this for the length of fabric I bought…

I used an old shirt (the apple print) for interfacing.  I used a sunny fabric I already had  for the inside waistband and the pockets.  My stash, as you must have realised, is far too large.  And I used a zip I already had rather than buy another one.  In doing that, I may have made a bad call–it does sometimes peek out  little! One less zip–yes–but this one is really not a match.  I also used thread on hand rather than buy more. It’s not a perfect match but it is just fine.

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The hems used some of my former tie bias binding.  I had to laugh when I went to look for that post–because ‘beguiling details’ is just what I did with the bias binding–using the yellow and black binding in the second-last photo.  I am really happy with these trousers.  The fabric is lovely and they are a pleasure to wear.

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So many hand made bags!

When I turned that pair of Thai fishing pants into bag linings a while back… it had the predictable effect of setting off a bag jag. Since then, there have been dozens more.  In fact, I gave some away without ever photographing them.  I lost count.  One had a silk panel of E Cinerea leaves and a hemp base, with purple sheeting lining.

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A few had ikat fabrics salvaged from the op shop.

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There were fabrics from my friend’s mother’s stash.  Her mother has now passed on, but I think she would be pleased to know they were being used and appreciated.  There were fabrics from my stash acquired with other purposes in mind, or perhaps no purpose at all.  Those red flowers mystify me.

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E Cinerea leaves on calico and hemp fabric left over from making a pair of shorts.

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Bags with dragonflies.

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Bags with flowers. I remember acquiring this fabric in Melbourne! There are two-handled models and over-the-shoulder models.

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On the lining front, I used up a lot of manufacturers’ waste sheeting offcuts, and not before time (having had them for perhaps 20 years).  But scraps from recent sewing went into the mix too, along with random findings of patch-worked flour-bag-scraps.  Apparently this strange fixation with sewing little bits together has been going on longer than I imagine.

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There was a series of bags made with fat quarters (at least, I think that’s what they were) acquired when I made a quilt panel for a community quilt project.

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I still love these fabrics, and a friend let me see hers peeping out of her backpack on the bus to work recently.  It evaded photography apparently–and I see these are also lined with Thai fishing pant fabrics!

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But honestly, linings both fugly and lovely (to my eye) have been created.  Some fugly fabrics became lovely linings.

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Somewhat faded batiks from a garage sale.

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Screenprints of a cockatoo, from the same garage sale!  One of was destined for a friend whose taste is deliriously nineteen eighties even now, bless her. She loves it.

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Oh my.  Well, that was a major incursion into the stash.  Lots of bags were gifted over afternoon tea with a clutch of friends, which was great fun (I like it when people can choose what they really like and will use).  Then more at another celebratory lunch with a different bunch of friends. Others have been stuffed with handspun wool and handed to a friend undergoing horrible cancer treatment who still finds knitting a pleasure; stuffed with yarn for a knitting obsessive who is excited about my most outrageously strange yarns; wrapped around an awkwardly shaped birthday gift for another treasure in my life; and taken home full of clothes by my daughter instead of her using some random plastic bag.  Some have been handed to people who seem like especially strong candidates for some sentimental reason or because of a sense of taste or the sheer wish to give a gift.

As I neared the finish line and my puff started to recede, I realised I had a hessian potato sack with a hole in it awaiting attention.  Converted to a bag, mended and embellished all in one step! Then I tidied up remaining scraps by making the final two bags and called it the end of this particular bag jag.  A pile of bags has gone to Port Augusta to be shared with Adnyamathanha women through her work.  And there’s an end of it, until next time!

 

 

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Filed under Leaf prints, Sewing

Spring Sewing Circle 3

This time: garment construction.  It was a  sewing circle, after all!

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To begin, for those who haven’t worked this out for themselves, let it be understood that I am a pretty plain sewer.  I like sewing, I have some skills, I’ve been doing it a long time. But, I tend to use patterns, amend patterns created by others,  make changes driven by sheer lack of cloth or my own mistakes, or construct a pattern from an existing garment.  I don’t just look at a piece of fabric, form a concept and apply scissors.  India Flint does, and she has written a new little book about the underpinning concepts which I hope will be available to others at some stage… I’ve been kindly gifted a stapled copy. Some of her approaches to creating new garments from old (‘refashioning’ to some) are also set out beautifully in Second Skin.

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But the thing is, having the concepts doesn’t get me from here to there.  Practice would be needed, of course!  But confidence, too–and these two things have a relationship to one another.  I know when I went to the first workshop I did with India I listened and watched and was inspired as she demonstrated and explained.  I remember wondering why I hadn’t organised my life so I could do exactly this every day. And then I had my own expanse of cloth and my own scissors and my heart sank just about immediately.

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It’s a statement of the extremely obvious that India has spent a lifetime thinking about art and garment construction and honing her skills at all related things, and I have not. This knowledge and experience cannot be transferred from one mind to another like a thumb drive plugged into a hard drive. For one thing, it would be more like the hard drive being plugged into the thumb drive!  But more than this, I experience doubt that my mental architecture could ever equip me to do this kind of design work.  Which is fine.  The rich diversity of human minds and creativity is part of what makes life wondrous.

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I noticed all manner of things.  I have a few good ideas and only so much time, so while I get stuck on some things, I have more ideas than I can carry out already.  India had so many ideas about what I could do with the few things I had with me, that my mind boggled.  I couldn’t come close to carrying them all out.  But when it came to deciding which ones to act on, I found myself up against all kinds of things, from sheer inability to believe that I could carry that idea out, confidence that I would not wear the resulting garment, and sheer inability to conjure up what that would look like or how it could be done, in my own mind.

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I have the concept that many of the sewing ‘rules’ I have been taught are the kind that a more skilled person can adjust, skirt around or safely ignore because they know the exceptions and have superior skills. But I can feel myself clinging to them like some kind of misplaced sense of a lifebuoy. It’s only fabric, after all!

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Well. The thing is, a learning experience is about expanding your mind. Even if you can feel the strain!  So here I am modelling a linen shirt from the op shop, in the process of becoming–an apron?  A frock? I thought apron, but by the time it came home, my beloved felt that it was, essentially, a frock.  I can’t say she’s a real expert in frocks, but she has an opinion.  I am continually being struck by my own inflexibility about what I’ll wear.  I have courageous moments of branching out, but I am just nailed on to some core concepts.  For one thing, when India thinks of an apron, she thinks this (you’ll have to scroll down, but Sweetpea’s blog is a special place, so don’t hurry over it).  When I think of an apron I think of a rectangle of black cotton with two tape ties.  I have two, and have had them since I was making my living cooking, long ago!

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Anyway, back to the main story.  This strategy for shape shifting (shirt to apron) is set out in Second Skin, and I’ve read it a few times without feeling any inclination to try it out.  But here it is!  It ended up with some recycled raw silk sewn on so it became longer and more flowing.  More and more frock-like, one could say.  I finished sewing it in Mansfield and it has been sitting quietly at home waiting for the transformation of the dye pot.  I am still trying to figure out whether there is any chance of my wearing a shirt-apron-frock.  But you never know!  And if I can’t, well, I am sure someone else will.

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This process really made me think that when I run my fingers through the choices at a garage sale or op shop, I see something that could be taken apart ready to begin again.  Where I see a shaped garment that could become flat pieces and then from flat pieces be converted into something else, India seems to me, to see one three dimensional thing that could become other three dimensional things.  While we were working in Crockett Cottage, she was taking two pairs of men’s trousers and turning them into one long, glorious skirt of many pockets.  It was a thing of wonder to behold this process, let alone the insertion of a silk lining.  There is a sample of the finished glory here. Below, a garment made from hemp and cotton knit and the sleeves from the linen short that became a frock, with  sheoak leaf prints.

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On my way home I had enough time in Melbourne betwixt the bus from Mansfield to the Melbourne central railway station and the Airport shuttle to nip out and see some of Blue at the National Gallery of Victoria.  Let it be said that this adventure involved taking my public transport courage in both hands: two trams each way and half an hour at the Gallery.  It was so worth it!  I could not take pictures.  But see images here and here and here. There were fragments of Egyptian garments from many, many hundreds of years ago.  Examples of indigo work from a wide variety of weaving and embroidery traditions from China, Japan, Indonesia, India and Europe.  At one point I was surprised to find myself answering another wanderer who was asking out loud whether something was woven or embroidered.  Clearly I have acquired some knowledge about weaving from hanging about with weavers!  Garments ranged from elaborate finery to those constructed entirely from rags in the boro style, and a rather extraordinary rain- and wind-protective cape made of two layers of cotton or hemp, with a layer of waxed paper sewn between them.  They were constructed from cotton, linen, hemp, silk, elm fibre.  If you have the chance, I recommend this exhibition highly.  It can’t help but inspire and amaze to see such evidence of the skill and ingenuity and sheer hard work of peoples from past and (in some cases) continuing traditions and to learn a little about the significance of indigo and the creation of cloth and clothing to them.

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Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing

Laptop sleeve

 

It all began with a whirlwind surprise visit from my daughter. She was not especially interested in going out or doing anything special.  The special was spending time together, and I shared her point of view, so we ate from the garden and lurked about.  She asked about this:

 

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It’s part of a pram, or perhaps a baby carrier for a car… abandoned by the tram line some time ago.  I picked it up a week or two ago thinking I could at least put it in our bin.  But then I got to thinking about whether there could be re-use for the straps at least, and recycling of some of the parts (there is quite a bit of aluminium).  Picturing the effort required  led to delay!  However, since we were sitting chatting and the weather had turned warm, out came scissors, screwdrivers, the hacksaw… and soon I had three piles for rubbish, re-use and recycling.  Company and conversation are wonderful.

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Then we had a chat about whether there was anything she would like me to make and she asked for a laptop sleeve.  So some of the polyester batting came back out of the bin!

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She chose some of the upholstery fabric offcuts I still have lying about, and a cotton flanellette covered in little birds that must once have been a cot sheet for the lining.

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There was measuring calculating and and ironing and quilting of the most basic sort and mitre-ing of corners.  Pretty soon, there was a laptop sleeve.

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It fits and it will protect… and she loves it!

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Cushion covers

A while back, I had some second hand chairs re-upholstered with a beautiful set of fabrics from cloth. I was in the upholsterer’s shop, faced with an enormity of choices, many of which didn’t look promising.  Then I saw a small swatch from cloth, and suddenly, I was faced with only decent choices, and a manageable number of them. The upholsterer was happy for me to use any of their fabrics.

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Shame about the mood lighting in this photo. Like so many sewing projects, it was finished after dark.  I asked the upholsterer to keep any scraps of fabric, no matter how small, and had plenty left over to make cushions.  I was stuck for a while, not wanting to buy polyfill to stuff them with but not able to think of a really good alternative.  Then it came to me at my local op shop.  I bought these three cushions for a song, laundered them, and gave them new covers.  No more polyfill comes into existence, these items don’t end up in landfill for a whole lot longer, and I get cushions.

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I gave them envelope backs. At first I had made the covers a little too large, so I corrected the sizing to make them suitably plump.

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I gave them nice little mitered corners…

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And now I have mostly small scraps left to turn into something lovely…

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Drawstring bags

I have been using up smaller scraps of indigo dyed fabric. I decided on lined drawstring bags. The kind I like to use when carrying small knitting projects around. The linings allow the use of all kinds of little scraps.

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These outers use some of the hemp I dyed with indigofera australis as well as the last of my wax resist indigo dyed fabric, and some with a delectable Australian designed print.

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Here is the other side:

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And here they are with cords drawn through their casings:

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I also made some larger bags with small pieces of leaf printed recycled linen and another Australian print.

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Surely this is the last of the famous brown ramie shirt and those hemp jeans! And I have found use for some pre-loved cord as well.

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Filed under Eucalypts, Leaf prints, Sewing

Leaf print bags

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The bag making has been continuing.  This is a simple, unlined bag made from recycled heavyweight garment fabrics–parts of an old pair of hemp shorts and some recycled men’s cotton twill trousers.  Last year I went to a huge Red Cross sale where entire secondhand garments were $1 or $2.  I acquired all kinds of stained and/or worn pale coloured garments which I have been transforming.

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This, on the other hand, is a lined bag made of silk.  When I first bought and read India Flint’s Eco-Colour, I was immediately inspired and keen to try out her ideas and techniques, but finding silk and wool fabrics was quite a challenge.  I had been dyeing sheep fleece and woolen yarns.  I started out eco-printing with some fine gauzy silk and that was exciting enough to keep me going, though I was less than clear about how I could use it.  Then I found a length of Thai silk clearly purchased in Thailand and brought home to Australia which had somehow found its way to an op shop I like to comb through.  Many experiments followed, and they have been sitting rolled up in the sewing room for years now.

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The darker colour on some sections is red wine.  The splotchy random pattern–clearly not a leaf–on one piece really had me puzzled until I ironed it.  The smell was a giveaway.  Ah!  Onion skins!  That is what you can see on the top right of this bag.

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And the other side (with red wine on the strap)…

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I have constructed the linings from samples and less successful printing efforts on cottons…

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It’s very satisfying finally to put these samples to use.

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Filed under Eucalypts, Leaf prints, Sewing