Experiments, Paper, Studio practice

The seductive qualities of raw materials

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Dyed mulberry bark

Sometimes (well, frequently actually) I get sucked in to materials. Their various qualities zap onto something in my subconscious and I acquire them, often letting them sit in the studio for a ridiculously long time before knowing what to do with them.

Often it’s a time issue because there are occasions I know exactly what I want to do with a certain material and by the time I do get around to using the thing I’m almost salivating while handling and making with it. This exact thing happened last week with three pieces of Japanese mulberry bark paper I bought late last year.

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Boiling the avocado pieces in muslin

First, I dyed two pieces of the (very white) paper with avocado.  I wrapped about 1 kilogram of chopped avocado pips and skins in muslin and boiled the bundle in my big aluminium dye pot, with about 4 litres of water (enough to cover the bundle) for about an hour and left it overnight. Next day I heated the pot again, popped in the loose paper sheets and left them in for about 45 minutes.

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Post dye pot – Beautiful textures of the bark

The result was a lovely soft, goldy-pink colour with the beautiful surface sheen of the mulberry glowing through. I’m always amazed that you get pink out of avocado but there you have it. Note the beautiful, gnarled spiderwebbiness of the bark.

Looking for deeper colour I tried adding Spanish onion skins that I know can produce a very appealing rosy-pink. I really love the colour of these onions (and beetroot, which I understand is hopeless to dye with) … and purple carrots, by the way. With the uneven openness and quite firm body of the paper I knew the bunding method would be unlikely to work because it couldn’t be tightly rolled. However, I thought the result might be some pretty rosy blotches on the lighter background shown in the picture above.

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Mulberry bark with Spanish onion skins

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Loosely bundled for the dye pot

After bundling with rubber bands (being careful not to break the paper) I put it in the heated avocado dye pot, which now had only about two litres of dye water, simmered it for about 45 minutes, then left it to soak for a while.

The result was a richer, darker, fairly evenly distributed, dusty rose-pink with a lovely unevenness due to the bark’s construction. No rosy blotches, but a happy result nonetheless.

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The lovely deep pinky brown result

I intend to stitch with these pieces, either individually or sewn together into one larger work.

Something sculptural.

Watch this space to see what happens! And whether or not it works…

 

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Japan, Residencies, Textiles, workshops

Investigating pigment, process and imperfection: authentic Japanese textile methods (part 3)

Finished silks.jpg

Silk. Synonymous with Japan, and rightly revered. Another beautiful project we tackled during the residency at Japanese Textile Workshops in May.

Dipping the silk half and half in dye baths made from both gardenia pods and madder, the colours were brilliant yellow and fire engine red. I used a ready made undyed scarf and a length of organza for these projects.

Silk gardenia madder

Then, dipping the lot in the indigo bath changed everything. A few extra dips here and there produced moody, seductive greens and purply browns.

Silks drying in sun 2

Silks drying in sun

The shimmery sheen of the silk reflects the colours so beautifully. Food for thought for future projects…..

Silk scarf

 

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body

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I’d also like to acknowledge the assistance of the Copyright Agency Creative Individuals Career Fund for this project

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Japan, Residencies, workshops

Investigating pigment, process and imperfection: authentic Japanese textile methods (part 2)

Mokume at studio

The finished mokume piece drying in the sun.

Mokume. A Japanese term for a woodgrain effect that is insanely time consuming but so beautiful on completion that it sucks you in to do it again (and again).

My residency at Japanese Textile Workshops in May opened my eyes to a few things. First – the homework (to be done before arrival in Japan). Using a lovely lightweight crinkled linen the chosen design had to be marked out on the cloth with a special marker pen (that doesn’t affect the indigo). A brief Mokume prep rundown:

1. Draw lines across the cloth 2 cm apart, and design lines over that.

2. Use a double-threaded running stitch along the drawn lines with long ‘skip’ threads over the design shapes. BIG knots at each selvedge to prevent the threads pulling out.

3. Stitch three lines of running stitch between the 2 cm lines (yes, 5 mm apart). Varying the stitch length and distance between the rows will give a more natural woodgrain appearance.

4. Lose count of the hours (weeks) you’ve spent stitching. Be amazed at the mesmerising effect of the repetition.

5. Fold up neatly, put in suitcase with all the other projects and fly to Japan (if that’s where you’re going to finish the project of course).

Mokume stitch close up 3

Mokume stitched close up

6. Arrive in Japan (see above). Carefully pull the threads down one side of the cloth as tightly as you can. You’ll find you get some intriguing sculptural forms appearing.

Mokume pulled dry

Mokume pulled wet 1

7. Soak the entire thing in water (it must be thoroughly wet) and squeeze out the excess. Now pull those threads even more to make them as tight as possible. Tie tight, big knots with several threads together to form a tight, fairly rigid form. Cut off excess threads (they’ll just get tangled otherwise).

8. Dip in the indigo bath. I did ten dips, oxidising between each. Unfortunately my gloves leaked on this occasion but I did manage to get it off my rings without much trouble. It was a different story for my hands and nails though….

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Mokume finished

Linen takes up the indigo beautifully. A close-up of the finished goods – and the intricate woodgrain pattern. A very inky piece with lovely bleeds.

 

 

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body

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I’d also like to acknowledge the assistance of the Copyright Agency Creative Individuals Career Fund for this project

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Inspiration, Japan, Residencies, workshops

Investigating pigment, process and imperfection: authentic Japanese textile methods (Part 1)

 

Farmhouse

Front door

I’ve been very fortunate to receive two artist grants (from the Australia Council for the Arts and the Copyright Council Creative Individuals Career Fund) to learn about indigo shibori and other Japanese textilial processes with Japanese Textile Workshops in the mountain village of Fujino in Japan last month.

Living in a charming 150 year old traditional silkworm-farmhouse/barn I stitched and dyed from early morning until late at night for most of the ten days of instruction by Bryan Whitehead, with eight fabulously interesting women from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Chile, Brazil, Canada and the US. An intensive crash-course in shibori techniques was interspersed with intervals of silk cocoon processing, spinning, cord weaving, stencil dyeing, resist-paste making, artisan studio visiting, and antique textile examining, and, as if that’s not enough, we were treated to wonderful Japanese (and occasionally not-so-Japanese) meals cooked by the multi-talented ikebana expert, Hiro.

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Bryan prepping the indigo vat.

Stitching and folding for shibori is so very time consuming! There were a few blisters and wounds to contend with (from stitching, but mostly from pulling the threads), but the results made up for all that pain. It was a joy working with like-minded people, learning while reinforcing the value of time and care in making something (and believe me, time is necessary) – and laughing a lot while getting to know people.

Indigio samples

Various shibori manipulation techniques, and the first products.

I loved the pole wrapping technique (shown above). It takes nearly forever and is, like the others, so worth it! I especially love the watercoloury bleeds of the indigo, and the not-quite-controllability of the whole process.

Finished work 2

Finished work 1

A selection of my finished work.

The techniques I learned have given me lots of ideas for making work. I’ll be showing works in progress as they develop and would love your feedback, but in the meantime look out for a couple of other upcoming posts on other techniques from the workshop.

Lunch

Not forgetting lunch! Always served with an awesome salad from the vegetable garden outside the kitchen window, with beautiful locally sourced pottery.

 

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body

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I’d also like to acknowledge the assistance of the Copyright Agency Creative Individuals Career Fund for this project

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Residencies

Gunyah artist residency

I’ve just returned from a wonderful short residency at Gunyah (Port Stephens, NSW) – a peaceful, serene environment for working, thinking, and re-evaluating.

Sunset from the balcony

Sunset from the balcony

A wonderful, if too short, residency that was a real delight. Pluto the dog was very impressed too, what with all those intriguing bush smells to check out. The family came to visit for the weekend and we took off to the sand dunes (which had moved so much closer to the road than we remembered – no doubt due to the recent storms), had morning tea at Tillerman’s in Tea Gardens, and lazed around the Gunyah living room, enjoying the fireside, world map jigsaw puzzle, art magazines and the views. We had a great time checking out the jetty (Pluto does love a swim), discovering charming little beaches, and walking around exploring – and baking bread.

Wet day activities

Wet day activities

I used the time to play around with the local flora (luckily readily available because of those storms) and making dyes for the silk lengths I brought with me. Pluto and I went on daily walks collecting interesting bits and pieces to include in the process.

Pluto eyeing off our collection

Pluto eyeing off our collection

We washed the cloth down by the jetty before and after the dyeing – a serene and meditative process at Gunyah (it is so quiet). The lovely golden colour of the water no doubt contributed to the final results. Photographing the fabrics in the water was fascinating for me – I couldn’t get enough of it. The colour of the water, the rocks beneath, the swirling cloth, beautiful light….

Clockwise from top left: washing the silk by the jetty; bundled with petals & foliage; finished cloth; dyepot with bark, flower petals & orange fungi

Clockwise from top left: washing the silk by the jetty; bundled with petals & foliage; finished cloth; dyepot with bark, flower petals & orange fungi

Washing dyed silk

Washing dyed silk

I also used up some of the waste threads and string to make experimental ‘lace’ samples.

Hand stitched 'lace' experiments using waste string and frayed silk threads from the dye bundles

Hand stitched ‘lace’ experiments using waste string and frayed silk threads from the dye bundles

Evaluating some work

Evaluating some work

A big thank you to Kath Fries and the Gunyah team! What a peaceful and laid back thinking/working environment! And the house is sooooo charming…

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