Tag Archives: string

Needle books

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A while back, I managed to find second hand woolen blankets, many of which were partly felted and sold for the warmth of dogs.  I am in favour of the warmth of dogs, but was delighted to take some home.  A couple have gone to the dye table where they insulate dye vats (today there is an indigo vat wrapped up in wool out there in the chilly morning).  This one, though, was a perfectly good blanket, if a little threadbare and dating back at least to the 1960s.  I can’t fit a whole blanket in any of my dye pots, so I had to take scissors to it in order to dye it, and this seems to have been a high barrier to clear.  Clear it, I now have.

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This piece dyed with E Cinerea leaves, (and a little of something else I don’t remember) has become needle books.  I left the edge stitching in position because I like it, then added my own blanket stitches in plant dyed threads. The string is hand twined silk fabric dyed with madder root.  I learned string making from Basketry SA and applying it to fabric rather than leaves from India Flint. She recently posted a video of stringmaking 101 here.  I know someone will ask, and the video is beautiful: it manages to convey the peacefulness of stringmaking somehow.

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One went to my mother.  She is on her way north for some months of warmth and adventure with my Dad (in Australia we call people such as my folks ‘grey nomads’). When they were over for dinner last week, Mum said she would like to take a project.

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She liked one of the projects I have underway and she soon had a version for herself!  I have a little stack of tins I have been saving to make mending kits.  She chose one, chose a needle book, and then I gifted her an indigo dyed bag to stitch on and some embroidery thread to stitch with, and some needles.  I hope she uses her little kit, but even if it was a passing whim, she will enjoy having it with her.  I’ll be keeping her company in some small way. Another needle book and mending kit went to my daughter when she was passing through recently and turned out not to have amending kit (!!)  The other needle books are destined for mending kits.  Their time is sure to come.

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Filed under Basketry, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing

String in Brisbane

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I went to Brisbane for work late last year, and Brisbane is really different to Adelaide.  It’s a tropical place.  On day one I found this pineapple just growing alongside the car park of the place where I was staying!  Public gardens in Brisbane are full of plants that require special treatment to grow in a pot in temperate Adelaide, or grow to only a fraction of the size.

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Strap-leafed plants grow everywhere you look.  Which is good, because I have taken up making string as part of a process for being in a place and thinking about its people and laws; more to the point, considering my obligations under Indigenous laws.  I do this at home, but I also do it when I travel. So I harvested dead leaves from various plants, left them soaking in the hand  basin while I was out, and had quiet contemplative evenings twining string.

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I also managed to visit the Gallery of Modern Art, and it was celebrating a big birthday.  This is one of the works commissioned for it, now located just beside the entrance.  It is by Judy Watson (Waanyi people, 2016) ‘tow row’.

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String was a theme (for me) as I wandered through the gallery.  This is a small part of Lena Kurriniya’s ‘feathered bush string’ (Kunjunwinku people, 2002). The string itself is made from Kurrajong inner bark, with bustard feathers.

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This exquisite mat was very nearly black and hard to capture in the light.  Maraana Wamarasi (Fiji, 2016) ‘Ibe Nauri’ (round mat).

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I loved the way the centre had been constructed.

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Richard Gandhuwuy Garrawurra (Liya Gawumirr people) ‘Waistband’ (1999).

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This string is made of bark fibre, and the entire work also uses cotton thread, human hair, feathers, native beeswax and natural pigments.

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This next work drew me back to ‘tow row’.  Its creator is Dorothy Bienanwangu Dullman (Kunjunwinku/Dangbon people) ‘Wollobi’ (standing fish net) (2007).  It is made from knotted sand palm leaf string and wooden struts rather than metal, but gives a strong sense of what is being referenced in the sculpture pictured above.

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I was utterly enchanted by ‘from here to ear’ (v. 13) 2010 by Celeste Boursier-Mougenot (b. France).

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This was an installation taking up a huge room and a soundscape driven by dozens of finches, making their own sounds but also triggering sounds by landing on parts of the installation. I had a lot of time on my own in the room watching the finches and surrounded by sound as they flew, ate, and nested in little baskets. Delightful!

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Filed under Basketry

Just mend it: Getting started

In preparation for the upcoming mending workshops, I’ve created a directory of mending tutorials.  I’ve also been beetling away creating mending kits. Friends have been handing over their spare unwanted haberdashery and tins.  I have raided local op shops.  At one of them I was offered a motherlode of  unwanted notions that were seeking a new home. Here’s a partial view.

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Such treasures.  Including a lifetime’s collection of travelling mending kits from hotels and airlines the like of which I have never seen.  Now, it is going to new homes. I’ve even sewed little covers for thread snips from lino samples I seem to somehow have acquired.

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There are pincushions and measuring tapes, thimbles and safety pins and many reels of thread.  Amazing collections of needles, pins and such.

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The creation of the needle case gallery has been ongoing. Scraps of fabric with a lovely button and all manner of little bits of ribbon, string and cord I have saved for a special occasion (or just a use) have been converted into needle books.

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Lovely little bits of hand embroidery on fabric that has gone well past original use, now adorn a few.  Beautiful Australian print remnants have been  turned to use too.  Some have buttonholes and some have loop closures. Some are plant dyed and some are tied with cord too short to form a drawstring on a bag.

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I am very fond of my own needle case, so eventually I made some just like it.  Well, sort of like it. We started here (mine on the left, and pieces of dyed blanket on the right).

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Eventually, there were about eight.  I stitched at triathlons and in front of the TV and on the train.  I finished some with fancy buttons, beads or little bells saved from Easter bunnies.  I tied some with cotton string that has also seen the dye bath, and others with some hand twined silk string, with a thankyou to India Flint for allowing me to see this was possible and that string was not only to be made from plants.  I was thinking about the fact that I had saved all these improbable things, while others had been handed on to me by relatives and friends with similar habits–

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It brought to mind my mother’s parents, two people who lived in poverty their entire lives, scaling up to indoor plumbing and heated water during my lifetime.  My grandfather left countless pieces of recycled string, pre-loved screws and straightened out nails when he died. My grandmother had a drawer where special treasures lived that I was allowed to admire as a child.   There was a special safety pin in there she used to pierce a hole in the filter of her rare cigarettes for some supposed health reason.  There was also a little black cat made of plastic.  I knew it had come from a box of Black Magic chocolates.  I had seen the boxes for sale but never had any.  Like her, I thought this little creature was a treasure worth saving when the cardboard box and the rather amazing papers surrounding each chocolate might have passed on.

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My life is utterly unlike Millie’s.  But it is good to have things in common with her. It warms me to carry these memories of her along and hold them in my mind as I craft these little books for future menders who will share some fraction of the skills she had.

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Filed under Leaf prints, Sewing

So much string

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Part of our holiday was spent staying with a long standing and treasured friend in a beachside suburb of Sydney.  It was a wonderful time but also an unseasonably cold, wet and windy one, so there was more walking than swimming and more knitting time than I anticipated.  The plants along that coast are just perfect for basketry.  Or in my case, string making.  Here, dianellas growing right by the sea.

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Here, a garden that could not have been planned with more care if landscaped by basket weavers.  For the first time ever, I made string from pandanus leaves, while a bunch of us did a long cliff top walk.  Just glorious! I gave it to one of our lovely companions immediately she commented on it.  First she tried it as a necklace, and then she settled on adding it to her rather gorgeous hat.  Those orange parts are the base of the leaf… she liked them, and clearly they fit with her hat’s colour scheme

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I also made string with cordylines from here and there, picked up on walks, beginning when we were on the Mornington peninsula staying in a place with immensely long leaved cordyline.  I tried twining pieces of shell and coral picked up on the beach into the string (successfully!  I will do that again)… I taught someone else to make string.  I gave string away.  I left string in people’s homes to be found later.  I made string while sitting, chatting and walking.  I came home festooned with string.

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Then one night after we arrived home I was playing guitar and the string was very much in the way.  So I gave away all the looser string on my wrist and now I have just this left as a holiday memento.

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More lessons from string

You don’t need as much as you think. A message that I can never hear too often as a first worlder.  Only a few leaves will make many metres of string if you twine it right!

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What you might need is all around you.  This is dianella, which we are growing, and so is the council.  Eventually dead leaves come away from the base and even these make decent string!

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If you have the right leaf, and you use a pin or needle, you can get a nice, fine strip with which to make nice, fine string.  Just insert needle into leaf and pull it toward one end of the leaf or the other! I learned this method when I did introductory basketry, but had clean forgotten until just recently.  I’ve found with cordyline that keeping everything really wet helps a good deal.  Here it is stripped into fine lengths and sitting in a container of water suitable for indoor string making.

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Tough fibres are more resilient and make a more robust string, but pliable fibres are much more pleasurable to work and not so poky to wear (if you’re wearing string this season).  Cordyline and dianella have been my more recent experiments, and they make very resilient and strong string.  But it never gets as smooth as daylily, which is lovely and pliable when damp and smooth and comfortable to wear when dry.

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Imperfection is acceptable more often than you might think.  Basketry manuals offer excellent advice about how to choose and prepare plant fibres for optimal use in basketry and cordage but you can use non optimal fibres and less than optimal preparation and still make something that will please you and that might be more than adequate for use or need.  Here you can see the cordylines I have most recently tried making string from.  They are standing in a bed alongside the footpath outside a residential facility for frail elderly folk in my suburb.  Under the live red leaves, dead brown leaves are gradually withering and eventually falling to the ground.  Taking a few of the dead leaves is unlikely to worry anyone.  In fact, I’ve collected fallen leaves for mulch from the footpath outside this place and been thanked by the residents and applauded for my public spiritedness (little do they know!)  If leaves have been out in the sun, wind and weather for too long they will become brittle and degraded, but these leaves are so tough they have been more than adequate for use, and I have made a lot more string since I realised (with some help from Roz Hawker and some experiments with leaves wet from rain in my own garden) that much less preparation and care might work fine for at least some applications.

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The structure of leaves is every bit as intricate and individual and interesting as I had always suspected from looking at leaves but not trying to work out how to use the fibres in them.

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There are companions on the road.  There are always companions.  Helle Jorgensen; Patten project; Weaving Magic and clearly many Indigenous traditions.  Thanks to kind readers who have pointed me in the direction of some of these lovely makers.

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These galahs (can you see them?) kept me company making lemongrass string and some rosellas watched over me and dropped little bits of tree on me while I made green lomandra leaf string and lemongrass string.

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There and the lessons of string for the moment!

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Filed under Basketry, Neighbourhood pleasures

What making string has taught me… so far

This decision I have made to use string making as a way to contemplate connection to the earth and plants, a way to think about Indigenous law… is teaching me a lot.  Not all of it as expected.  Which is the way learning goes, when it goes well!  I am noticing potential string-plants in the neighbourhood a lot.  And as I do that, noticing so much more. 2015-05-12 14.11.16

I have been learning some more about the supposed divide between public and private.  It turns out that if I take up my damp leaves and it is light, and so I think perhaps I’ll go and commune with a tree (or try to imagine what communing with a tree would involve)–or even just stand beneath it in admiration and enjoy the birdsong–I can just about never manage this alone and without comment.

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If I take my wet leaves up the street and round the corner to check on the latest little saltbush plantings, I end up listening to one of my neighbours who spends a lot of time on the street himself.  I hope it helps him to talk, because in all honesty, it isn’t that relaxing to listen to him.  But the string does help me and he doesn’t notice it.

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Other people do notice it.   People do not expect you to do anything when you are out in the neighbourhood other than walk, or walk your dog.  Knitting while walking is a spectacularly attention grabbing thing to do.  I have known this for years, I admit.

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So is gleaning (picking up fallen bark, leaves or spent flowers).  So is weeding.  So is planting.  So is picking up litter.  Walking a dog is fine, but walking a wheelbarrow stands out from the crowd.  I now discover that fidgeting with strips of leaf in the street is also worthy of comment.  A friend who had been to Central America once said to me that I was the only white woman she had ever met whose hands were never still.  I took it as a compliment.  I am not sure why being passive is a desirable thing.  Rest, I can understand.  Sometimes stillness, too, is desirable and necessary.  But not all the time.  I think making and gathering and tending the commons, even in the suburbs, is much more fulfilling.

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I am also learning about the uses of plants.  I hadn’t realised that this would be such a simple way to assess the qualities of a leaf.  I thought this plant looked like a cordyline (a plant known to basketry and a member of the family whose leaves I happily turned into string at Tin Can Bay), and so I gleaned a single dead leaf.  It is extremely tough.  Even after 24 hours of soaking, when I could split it with my nail and pull it apart along the length of the leaf, it felt dry and tough and hard to twine.  But the fibres were exceedingly tough and there was no fragility with twisting.  This made me think that this plant would make a great stitching medium.  You could thread a strip through a needle and use this to stitch.

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This plant had tough leaves that I soaked and split.  I managed to create string with it but it felt unpleasant–simultaneously slightly sticky and as if the fibres had a square profile–and I strongly disliked the smell–which made me wonder whether long term skin contact was a good idea.  From now on, it is safe from me. But the string was… stretchy!

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I took this photo over the top of a tall fence, as this plant is tree sized–taller than I am.  I haven’t tried it out yet but if it is useful–it has many dried and dead leaves falling off onto the footpath.  Gleaning goodness. I have also been learning about my own skill levels… as wearing the string means I can see which fibres break first and where the weak points in my work are,  and I can see the different thicknesses and finenesses of string I am able to make, too.  The learning continues…

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Filed under Basketry, Neighbourhood pleasures

Returning home

I decided to celebrate returning home from Tin Can Bay with some local bundles… and knitting, and a visit to the saltbush plantings… and time with my beloved and our friends, and music… but here I’ll focus on the bundles!  If I can restrain myself that far…

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I took my new found knowledge and experience of bundling paper, which built on my reading of India Flint’s Bundle Book.  There is a cheap and simple e-book version available –or go for the glory of a solid object!  I tried a different kind of paper, acquired in the last few weeks, and I used scrap metal my Dad cut me.  I tried op shopping for flat metal with remarkably little success in previous months.  But there are quite a few priorities on my personal list and some progress slowly.

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Happy results!  These are E Cinerea leaves–different to what I would get on fabric and very lovely. Like all bundle dyeing, part of the mystery and part of the joy is trying out what is local and seasonal. Everyone’s selection is different.  My garden is heavy on calendula and marigold right now and I had some lovely little geranium flowers and all sorts of local leaves to try too.

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I decided to use my flanellette string for bundles despite it being unnaturally dyed.  I loved seeing some of my retreat companions loving their bundles enough to use handmade string to tie them.  And my much re-used string collection is getting to the end of its tether.

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I used all kinds of fabrics–raw silk from a recycled garment, calico, linen offcuts, and a little piece of silky merino given to me by a retreat companion (should she be reading, thankyou again!)

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The silky merino gives such vibrant colours, but actually the linen was a bit of a standout too.

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Meanwhile, the string making continues.  I have decided to try using this process of making string as a point of reflection on my obligations under Indigenous law–and of so many principles of earth care that might come under that set of principles.  The importance of things that will biodegrade and that will not last forever, the way plastic will.  The intertwining of all life.  The cycles by which nature does its magic.  Our dependence on plants and water.  the way things and beings come into closer relationship with one another.  I keep sharing the string–as people admire or ask about it, I have a little stash right here by my hand and I can give them some.  Sharing is a primary principle too.

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I have in mind something like what Grackle and Sun might call atheist prayer.  But different, of course.  Do read her post and be inspired.  I love her idea of chantstrands, but my experiments along those lines didn’t work for me the way taking a few wet leaves out to a tree to twist together into string and considering things has so far.  So I have taken inspiration from her and begun to make cordage from it…

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A few people have been asking about how to make string.  I have put a link to an online tutorial in the How To tab at the top of the blog, but you could learn from a basket weaver (as I did) or from any basic basketry text.  Or put yourself near India Flint, who shares string making everywhere she goes, as far as I can tell (having learned how from Nalda Searles).  Or go to YouTube and be among survivalists who do something similar!  Meanwhile, the garden is growing as rain begins to fall.

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The first poppy of the season is out and beyond lovely.

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And I had a new insight about this especially beautiful saltbush which I have so far not managed to propagate.  It has taken a lot of observations to figure out when I might be able to collect seed, but one day at work recently I pulled out a seed envelope I happened to have with me (as you do) and amused bystanders by rubbing the ends of these silvery stems gently into it.  Who knows what might come of that?  I have high hopes…

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Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Of shawls and string and celebration

Manja wearing Shawl 2015

The colour affection shawl  I knit a while back finally found the perfect home as a birthday present for a dear friend–here she is in her gloriousness, modelling it.  With the Gleaners in the background for added wonderfulness. I am delighted that she likes the shawl. I can’t think of a better place for it to be than with her while she is working in her very demanding job (and perhaps even playing).  Long may it warm and comfort her.  Happy birthday!!

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In more prosaic news, it’s the season for making string from our daylily leaves. When I strip off the leaves that have died, I make string from them.  I’ve been doing this for a few years now.  I’m not terribly good at it but I love it.

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Comparing this string to that of earlier years, I can see I am improving!  This is much finer, more even, and my technique is better.  The twining (if that is the right word) is better executed.

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I even made myself a little bracelet.  I loved it… but it didn’t last forever, what with being washed and dried and rubbed over guitar strings.  In one way, this is perfect.  I have come to think that there are far too many things that last forever.  The more of them I pull out the council’s mulch the more I respect all that withers and dies and becomes soil again.  So perhaps I will make another of these and then another.

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Filed under Basketry, Knitting

Basketry plans and prospects

Through winter and spring, I gathered some materials for basketry.  One fine day these iris plants were for sale at the Guild for a song.  I planted them in the garden, where they have struggled along but not actually died.  This leaves me with some uncertainty about what kind of iris they are.  I see them in various places about the neighbourhood, and there are some like these at work as well.   

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I decided to keep the leaves in case they might make good basketry supplies (I know varieties of iris are used in basketry), so I cut them off and deposited them in the trusty wheelbarrow where they could air and dry over a few weeks.

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I harvested Aunt Eliza (Chasmanthe Floribunda) growing at a deserted house.

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I dried them too.

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On a bike ride with friends I even gathered some leaf sheaths from philodrendrons at the Town Hall!  I saw these used (and had a go at it myself) at a basketry workshop and it was too good an opportunity to miss.

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Late last year, friends organised a kayak event on the Onkaparinga river, with a picnic. Here’s the river bend where we met. There were pelicans, shags (cormorants), even an egret.

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I volunteered to be on the picnic team rather than the kayak team, in part because a friend who wants to learn basket making was one of the main picnic organisers.  I called and said I could bring basket makings (and a cake)–and she was keen. It had been an inspiring week for basketry because one of our lovely visitors had been making this from weeds and wool.  She has communicated her enthusiasm to at least one other friend who has made a couple more already!

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(Clearly I did not notice the silhouette of my fingers when I took the picture…) So I soaked iris leaves and Aunt Eliza and prepared them, and packed a box of necessaries so we could each move our skills forward–mine, from rudimentary to less rudimentary and hers, from zero to beginner. Here are my efforts.   I taught my friend how to make string, and then we made a start on a coiled basket, each using a different kind of leaf.

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My friend took a big ball of linen yarn, a needle, her string and the start of her basket home, as well as the rest of the leaves… can you see the leaf tip sticking up from her handbag?

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What a lovely day.

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Dyes of antiquity: Carmine cochineal

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Cochineal is another of the dyes I received from the Guild and used at the workshop a while back.  In fact, there was a choice of cochineals.  In what I realise now was my ignorance, I chose ‘carmine cochineal’ because it was ground up and I was unsure how I could adequately grind the whole dried insects I also have.  As you can see, after an initial period of being dull ornage, the dye bath was an impressively shocking pink.  It turns out that ‘carmine cochineal’ is not a shade of cochineal but a preparation of cochineal boiled with ammonia or sodium carbonate.  I borrowed Frederick Gerber’s Cochineal and the Insect Dyes 1978 from, the Guild and found that the deeper red colour I had in mind when I saw the term ‘carmine’ could only be obtained from this preparation with the application of a tin mordant which I am not prepared to use.  the colours we achieved with alum were well within the range indicated by the included colour chart of wool samples (those were the days!)

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The colour range on this card (with madder beneath for comparison) is impressive even without tin. 

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We dyed organic wool. I dyed silk paj and twined string (the orange string was dyed with madder). 

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I brought the vat home with me and dyed a lot more fibre in an attempt to exhaust it.  Here is grey corriedale mordanted with alum and overdyed with carmine cochineal.

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And spun–three plied.  This is my first ever crocus flower, by the way!

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The magenta silk embroidery thread had maximum time in the bath, since I fished it out when removing the dyestuff (in its recycled stocking) prior to disposing of the bath!

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