Friday, 30 January 2009

ticket number 2

a little while ago [it seems like months but was only January 9] i asked my readers to supply a few pearls of wisdom to my whirled. in return i would put all the names into a hat and then pull a name out. that person would receive a hand-felted ecoprint gift.
luckily i pulled out a second the original winner, Suzan, hasn't written to claim her prize. i guess not everybody wants such objects.

the second name [as Martha in her role of scrutineer will confirm] was that of my dear friend Rachelle who lives here in Aotearoa [where i have been for the past two weeks].

if only i had brought said object with me, just in case!

Suzan, i hope nothing untoward has happened in your life and that it's merely a personal aversion to felt that has stopped you replying....and Rachelle, i'll be posting a parcel to you next week - providing i can overcome the battle of the suitcases and get my abundance of thrift store materials packed and on to that plane for the land of Oz...

and in case you were wondering why the post opened with a dog picture? that's Mollie, who [along with baby Knuckles] joined us for the week.

we run a pretty flexible's Mollie [below] enjoying some cuddle-time on our last field trip for the week, when we visited a beautiful local garden and dyed our cloth maps with windfalls [AND were treated to morning tea which grew topsy-like into lunch]

one of the conversations during the week touched on the subject of masterclasses. although i do have an MA - which, in the absence of being qualified by a Guild as a Master would, I imagine,  permit me to conduct such things - i choose not to label my classes as such.

i'll confess to having thought about it...but i'd rather keep the door open to anyone who wants to learn about plant dyes than put up a virtual wall and keep a percentage of potential participants out, if you see what i mean.

these past two weeks i've had several participants who might not have come had the course been labelled a masterclass [which it could well have been, as 'mapping country' is pretty challenging]...but it's been those not directly from textile backgrounds who have brought other wonderful skills to class and very kindly shared them. 
these coupled with long-standing textile practitioners in a range of specialisations, along with polytech students on summer 'holiday' and workshop students who have been in my classes before [some several times!] have made the past two weeks absolutely fantastic. 

a highlight of the second class was Rachelle discovering hitherto undocumented colours [so far as i can tell] -  glorious pinks and rich reds from the leaves of an indigenous New Zealand plant - but i'll let her tell you more about that [if she wants to]

Thursday, 29 January 2009

edgewater sewing circle

today it's the day of the wandering sewing circle...which begins quietly in the morning-fresh classroom, develops the odd ripple and bubble over lunch and finally arrives in a fairly effervescent state [except perhaps for the recumbent figure behind the central gorse-bush] at Edgewater Park on the Waikanae River.
we use river pebbles tucked into the work as guides to stitch patterns adding richness and texture to the surface of our cloth maps.

much later, in the Wellington Botanic Gardens i stitch happily in the looming dark, listening to wild banjo music under the ghostly fingers of the tall trees... 

Monday, 26 January 2009

mapping country at kapiti

we began mapping country today under benevolent skies, taking mindful walks with concertina-folded pages, collecting marks at trig points determined variously by birdsong, distant dogbarks, the triumphant crowing of the pompous rooster next door or just the song that was playing in brainspace at the time.

each participant had their own system for wandering and stopping - all wandered in the same area, but each sheet of collected marks turned out quite differently...

and today for the first time ever we had a boy in our midst! not only the first male student but also the youngest ever...

Sunday, 25 January 2009

replenishing the soul...

at the conclusion of last week's EcoColour workshop i was packing my gear when my attention was distracted by the sound of sprinklers clicking away....on the astro-turf at the Kapiti Bowling Club. 

words fail me.

in my somewhat stunned state i wandered in the direction of Wellington and on the way was lured off the beaten path by Rachelle and Cleo

who took me to Titahi Bay and to Aunt Daisy's fabulous boatshed caff where we drank cocoa-chili tea...which was very good indeed. but when i asked where one could buy said tea the answer was non-committal. later i searched the street where rumour had it the Purveyor of Tea might be found, but no luck. grrr. it's a bit far to dash down to Aunt Daisy's when one is teaching class at Kapiti!

here's some of the wallpaper in the ablutions block...

after that pleasant diversion we went for a lovely walk on the beach and then back to Rachelle's house where her beloved was minding Cleo's brood and wee Knuckles [if you've been following Rachelle's blog you'll be au fait with all this!]

i was given a small sleepy armful [Knuckles] for extended auntie time while being shown the many dyed treasures that Cleo and Rachelle had been producing.  after that we shared fish and chips and then Rachelle [bless her] took me off to Trash Palace. every town should have one.

this [above] is the magical view from Trash Palace...and this [below] is what it looks like...

at Trash Palace treasures were found and acquired. Knuckles slept soundly despite the squeals of delight.

waking in Welly on the next day i pootled off to Te Papa Museum to visit one of my favourite paintings. actually tis a series of 8 paintings, the Northland Panels, by Colin McCahon.

McCahon and his contemporary Doris Lusk are two artists who seem to have really come to grips with the astonishing landscapes of Aotearoa New Zealand.
i went back several times over the weekend to gaze at the Northland Panels. the image doesn't do them justice - hanging in the museum, casting shadows on the wall they're absolutely marvellous.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

precious little

it's been an interesting week...we've made some lovely samples and had some delightful excursions. 

yesterday we visited the Nikau forest, for a mindful windfall walk collecting windfalls found within arms reach at node points in the walk. these nodes are determined by each individual so it means that although 12 people walked through this forest and 12 samples were made, each of these samples was different. it's a matter of choosing when to the end of the verse of your favourite song playing in headspace? the next time you hear a birdcall? counting to tweny? [that one's a last resort] 

today we went to the Waikanae River where we collected exotic weeds, bundling them in cloth around river stones and giving them a  good soak before taking them back to the studio to be steamed. which brings me to my point. the Waikanae River seemed extraordinarily low to me.
looking around the Kapiti community i don't think i've seen a single house with a rainwater tank.
in a country with such clean air [well at least during the non coal burning months] and documented rainfall  of 977 - 1091 mm per year this is frankly astounding. 

instead here on the Kapiti Coast the Waikanae River is pumped into pipes so that water flows into sinks and baths when taps are turned on. 

but think about this. the Kapiti Campus buildings of Whitireia Polytechnic offer at least [and this is based on an estimation of the roof area] 
(12 x 90 x 2) + (2 x 12 x 30) square metres of roof catchment area. maths ain't my strong point but multiply this by the potential rainfall and that's a pretty substantial puddle.

if that resource were stored in concrete tanks instead of being diverted into the stormwater system it could supply the campus easily. AND we'd have brighter colours in the dyepots!

if every new house here were required to install rainwater tanks then the river wouldn't run out and they wouldn't have to pump out the groundwater. keep going at this rate and they'll be in the same pickle that we are in across the ditch.

go figure.

Monday, 19 January 2009

brilliant beauty [though i say it myself]

ooh and aah seem to be the predominant noises we're hearing in this workshop. the colours from plants seem to be particularly brilliant here on the Kapiti coast. somehow the combination of climate, soil, flora and water conspire to send forth jewel-like brilliance...

above, a bark sample on an old wool blanket, made by a student

a bundle on wool gabardine, by another student

and those last three, details of a fragment of merino jersey, dyed by your correspondent...

Sunday, 18 January 2009

more bundled magic

you'd be forgiven for thinking this image was taken in Mexico...but no, it's actually New Zealand. i'm back across the ditch teaching summer school and [bliss] it's raining! 

my hosts [Whitireia Polytechnic] have kindly accommodated me in supremely comfortable digs at the seaside in Raumati so mornings and evenings are elevated by delightful tramps along the beach - where treasures await the dyer. beautifully polished driftwood in bite-size lumps, just right for wrapping dye bundles...seashells for use in a version of itajime shibori...and of course an abundance of seawater, an excellent mordant for cotton t-shirts 

each little bundle will unfold to reveal the alchemical magic of plant dyes, all without using aggressive adjunct mordants - just simple substances like ash, seawater, soymilk and a bit of vinegar in association with found metals and reactive pots that help to influence the dyebaths...

Thursday, 15 January 2009

and the winner is...

thanks everybody for your delightful pearls of the midst of packing to leave for Aotearoa [at the crack of dawn in about 3 and a half hours time] i've indulged in a little procrastination by writing all your names on a piece of paper, tearing it into bits, scrunching them and putting them into a handy hat.

i pulled one out...and it says Suzan...

so if Suzan would care to email me her postal address, i'll pop the ecoprint merino scarflet [the one on the right] into the mail for her. it's hand-felted using 14 micron merino then ecoprinted with Eucalyptus cinerea 

mezmaja[at]gmail[dot]com   will find me...

Friday, 9 January 2009


it's suddenly dawned on me that it's nearly a year since i began this lark...storytelling in fluffy space...and so i thought i'd celebrate by giving someone else a present.

there's a catch though...first you'll have to read some pearls [possibly of wisdom] and then you'll have to contribute a few of your own.

post a pearl in the comments and on January 14th [South Australian that'll be the 13th for you Statesiders] Martha-muu will help me to pick a lucky-dip winner from the hat [felt, of course]
i'll then post the name of the winner, who will have to supply me with their postal address so that i can send them an eco-print surprise... a present from the Prophet of Bloom.

so here goes

"never chase men or trams...there'll be another along in five minutes" -  Grandma

"a little dirt never hurt anybody and besides, it keeps you warm" - my favourite Auntie

"a little of what you fancy does you good" - British actress Joan Collins [i apply this theory to chocolate although i suspect Ms Collins applies it to other amusements as well]

"i'd rather dye regretting something i've done than something i hadn't done" - my youngest child [then aged 14 and still a fount of wisdom]

"save the planet, it's the only one with chocolate" - some bright but nameless soul

"knowledge is the realisation the tomato is a fruit. wisdom is not putting it in the fruit salad" - my son

"a change is as good as a feast" - me

so there you are...and now it's your turn. post me your pearls in the comments and who knows, you may find yourself the lucky dip winner of an eco-printed textile object...which i'll be making this coming weekend... 

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

shear delight

remember a little while ago i told you about my lovely friend Rae? i had an email from her a few days ago telling me that they were off and away on an excursion to a farm and that she was intending to try her hand at shearing.

i giggled and rushed off to tell my Three that this was on the cards and hazarded a guess that Rae would be tackling said activity dressed in something gorgeous, wearing red lippy and probably fabulous shoes as well. 

as you can see i was right! 

here we have the latest woolshed fashions...plant-dyed silk [dress coloured, designed and sewn by Rae] worn with matching sandals and of course cherryred lippy and nail varnish.

Rae has now set a new woolshed standard...we'd better not show these pictures to our sheep otherwise they'll be expecting something other than a torn pair of jeans, old Blundstone boots and a blue cotton singlet...

eucalyptus enterprises

my googles alerts have ben casting up a few interesting tidbits of late. i noted with some amusement that an enterprising real estate seller in Udon was advertising a eucalyptus plantation for sale. in order to make the proposition more attractive they have listed the dye properties of the genus. unfortunately they simply lifted the entire text from the addition i had made to the Wikipedia eucalypt entry some while ago....

All parts of the eucalyptus may be used to make plant dyes that are substantive on protein fibres such as (silk and wool) simply by processing the plant part with water.[citation needed] Colours to be achieved range from yellow and orange through green, tan, chocolate and deep rust red. The material remaining after processing can be safely used as mulch or fertilisers

....pity they forgot to edit out the citation bit...

oh, and earlier today i had a call from somebody in Queensland wanting to know about the use of eucalyptus dyes as paint for fabric. i tried to explain that the colours will be quite different when painted onto the surface from those in which the fabric is immersed and then heated, but i'm not sure it got through. they'd need to be steamfixed after the painting is complete...if the steam were hot enough they might even change colour....who knows, that's a tricky one!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

fragile objects

this week i had a bit of a hiccup in my work and somehow [by which i am still mystified] managed to run out completely of my favourite thread. maybe i've just given away too much for others to try... it's delicious stuff, a mix of cotton and silk [so it picks up colour no matter what] that i buy from Beautiful Silks.
i usually get it by the kilo...but now the cupboard is bare...

so i've had to resort to stitching with some linen thread.

this, quite frankly, is not at all the same! the silk/cotton flows through cloth so smoothly...but the linen pulls and catches and during the struggle i began to think of the late Elsje van Keppel who [when working on pieces for the "fragile objects" exhibition] said:

there is nothing pleasant about this stitching process. It make me very edgy. Using this rough rawflax thread is like trying to stitch thread with grass. But it is this physical incompatibility which is the essence of the fabric. Its awkwardness reminds me of the spinifex.

mind you, in the excellent catalogue which accompanied the exhibition, Philippa O'Brien also wrote

"Stitching can also be a comforting activity. It shows that making and thinking exist together in a unity that is a pre-requisite for creative work. Hand stitched fabrics convey a sense of time and labour, of creating order, of seeing a new pattern emerge."

'fragile objects' is a wonderfully evocative name ...and even though it has been appropriated by others still remains inextricably linked with Elsje van Keppel's work...

among her many indelible footprints is the series of legendary bush camps she and her colleagues at Edith Cowan University established. i never knew her but like so many other Australian textile practitioners cannot deny her influence on my work...

the exhibition 'fragile objects' toured Australia from 1998 to 2000. if you're lucky you might still be able to get your hands on a copy of the catalogue. here are the details.

ISBN 0 959340440
O'BRIEN Philippa 1997 published by CraftWest