Experiments, Paper, Studio practice

The seductive qualities of raw materials


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.


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.


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.


Mulberry bark with Spanish onion skins


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.


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…



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…