the craft sessions v2.0

If you’re at all into craft and interact with any social media out there, you’ve probably seen and heard the recent buzz surrounding this years Craft Sessions retreat- I’m so happy that it’s happening again (how could it not after such a wonderful response last year!) and am feeling incredibly lucky to be asked back to teach again, alongside so many talented, lovely craftspeople… In anticipation of tomorrow’s opening of registration, I just wanted to remind you that, if you are thinking of coming (and really, there are classes to accommodate pretty much any skill level in such diverse crafts that you’ll definitely find classes that will work for you!), you need to get in soon. There are limited places available and last years success means that this years event is guaranteed to fill quickly…

There are so many classes that I would love to participate in- in fact, I’d love to sit in on them all… but especially Georgie’s grading for knitwear design, Belinda’s weaving, Leslie’s tote bag and Melissa’s embroidery from the natural world. At the end of last year’s weekend (especially after arriving back from Iran a few days beforehand!), I promised myself that I’d allow myself time to do a workshop but, when it came time to put forward ideas for my classes, I had too many ideas to allow space for that ; )

This time around, I’m teaching two half-day sessions, one on stranded colourwork for beginners (based around a new hat that I’m designing especially for the class) and the other on steeking (cutting- yes, cutting!- your knitting to make knitting garments in colourwork and other complex stitch patterns easier), which will work really well together or as stand-alone classes.

Colourwork hat class

Colourwork hat class

Steeking!

Steeking!

And then I’ll be out with the dyepots, running a whole-day class on dyeing with natural materials… we’ll be working from a single dyepot (made from one of the exotic, ancient dyestuffs) and learning how to use the mordanting and modifiying processes to extract 25 shades of colour from that one dyeport. Exciting!

Multi-shade dyeing

Multi-shade dyeing

I’m super excited about everyone’s classes and also by the extra space that Felicia has created over the weekend to absorb what’s been shared or go for a walk or spend time with mates… and I hope that those who take part in the weekend will gain some really practical skills and feel invigorated by being surrounded by such a great, creative community…  I hope you’re inspired by what you see over at CS headquarters!

Posted in community, dyeing, knitting and yarn, outdoors, teaching | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

macro

I recently tried out my macro lens for the first time.

Denim

Denim

Lichen

Lichen

Lichen species

Lichen

Pea

Pea

Horehound

Horehound

Grass flower

Grass flower

Grasshopper

Grasshopper

Leaf margin

Leaf margin

Feather

Feather

Gold-sprinkled feather

Gold-tinged feather

Seedhead

Seedhead

Skink

Skink

So much fun getting lost in the tiny details of life but so much to learn and I definitely need a tripod. I’m thinking of doing a course covering the basics of photography as I know nothing about manual settings and basic photographic language but there are so many out there- I’d really appreciate any advice from anyone with experience and opinions about good teachers and courses…

Posted in creatures, outdoors, plants | Tagged | 7 Comments

acheron

We spent a couple of nights up at the farm where my sister and her family live. They were away so, while it was a real shame to not have time with them, it was such a treat to have the place to ourselves for a few days together before Scotto heads to Sydney for 11 weeks of study…

Acheron

Acheron

Eucalypts

Eucalypts

River Red

River Redgum

Acacia

Acacia

Grasses and gum

Grasses and gum

Reeds

Reeds

Acheron River

Acheron River

Sneaking in between two very hot weeks, we had beautiful weather… We spent most of the daytime down by the Acheron River, which was fresh, fast and super cold! And the nights were so clear that we slept outside on the trampoline and watched the stars wheel across the sky, so much brighter and closer than they are at home.

The birds, mostly cockatoos, had the same idea and were out enjoying the gorgeous days.

Cockatoo and clouds

Cockatoo and clouds

Cockatoo

Cockatoo

Cockatoos

Cockatoos

I didn’t do much but wander about with my new (old) camera, getting a feel for it and looking for small treasures in a way I haven’t for ages.

Grasses

Grasses

Grasses

Grasses

Dock

Dock

Brave beetle

Brave beetle

Among the leaves of some of the eucalypts, I spotted quite a few of these delicate nests… I’ve got no idea who uses them but they are strangely beautiful and reminded me of a small child’s shoe. Anyone know what they are?

Webbed nest... bird?

Webbed nest

Gum shedding

Gum shedding

We hung about with the animals: they have chooks…

Settling down to roost

Settling down to roost

Wonderful colours

Wonderful colours

… a couple of Highland cows…

Wee coos!

Wee coos!

… and Damara sheep, who completed transfixed me with their wild horns, their ability to moult (they don’t need to be shorn), the ingenious way they store fat in their tails and their wonderful, beautiful faces.

Wild boy

Wild boy

Beautiful girl

Beautiful girl

Beautiful colouring

Beautiful colouring

Black beauty

Black beauty

Soft and hard

Soft and hard

Shedding

Moulting

Fatty tail

Fatty tail

Soft belly

Soft belly

Thanks so, so much, Hen and Tim, for a magical weekend. It was just what we needed and more than we could have wished for xx

Posted in creatures, family, outdoors, travelling | 8 Comments

more dyeing classes!

Hello! It’s been ages since I’ve posted here about dyeing… it’s been a really busy few months and we spent most of our end-of-year break painting our house, so neither dyeing nor writing about it have had much of a look-in… I’ve also got into the habit of posting photos on Instagram, which is so quick that I’ve realized it’s made the idea of writing an actual blog post overwhelming! Of course, it isn’t- I just need to get back into the habit ; )

I ran another class on natural dyes in December, this time for the Handmakers Factory at the lovely Ink and Spindle studio in Kensington. I think I’ve said here before that I don’t consider myself a natural teacher- I get very nervous and compensate by being way too serious ; ) But I feel really passionate about the need for good classes and skill-sharing so I push myself to get better at it. But you know, teaching this class was an absolute joy! I think perhaps that my love for plants and colour managed to override my nerves- it was great!

This time, I played around with some basic sample sheets that participants could attach their samples to- it’s always so hard to remember what they are and how they were dyed so I thought it would be useful. Each one relates to a particular dye plant that we used on the day.

The first plant we dyed with was Oxalis pes-caprae (Soursob or Sourgrass), which is a widespread weed in Melbourne. I realize I need to start taking photos of the dye plants I use as an ID tool for the blog and classes but Soursob is small herb with a clover-like leaf and bright acid-yellow bell-shaped flowers in spring. I collected about 500gm of flowers in spring and then froze them for the classes I had later in the year (and, in case you’re wondering, I find I get the same results with fresh or frozen flowers).

We poured hot water over about 2 handfuls of flowers and left them to soak for an hour while we did other things- I don’t like to apply much heat to flowers as heating them too high or for too long can destroy or alter the dye compounds. We then strained the flowers out and placed the dyebath onto the stove on low and added two sets of samples of alum-mordanted yarn (wool, wool/ silk and bamboo) and fabric (silk velvet, silk, coarse cotton and unbleached linen). We left them to heat for around 45 minutes and then took them off to cool. We then removed the fibers, put one set aside, added some washing soda to the dyebath (which changed the pH to alkaline and instantly turned from yellow to bright orange!) and replaced the other set back into the bath. You can clearly see the difference in colours achieved from the different fibre types and pHs; interestingly, this plant seems to have more of an affinity with protein fibres, like silk and wool, whereas the cellulose fibres (especially the cotton) didn’t take up as much colour.

Soursob

Soursob

Next up, we used Eucalyptus cinerea (Argyle Apple), which is found though the south-east of Australia and is often used as a landscape tree in streets. It yields far better colour when heated and cooled multiple times so I took it into the studio already soaked and heated over several days to maximize the depth of dye we could achieve. We simply brought it up to about 80C, then added a set of alum-mordanted yarn and fabrics and a piece of iron-mordanted yarn and took it off the heat to sit for 2 hours. I would have liked to keep it in the heat but my second stove refused to work on the day so we had to juggle pots! The dark brown yarn at the top right was iron-mordanted and took up colour very differently to the same yarn mordanted with alum.

Eucalyptus cinerea

Eucalyptus cinerea

And we used chlorophyll as our last dye, as I wanted to demonstrate dyeing with a weed (Soursob), an indigenous landscape plant (Argyle Apple) and a vegetable and I couldn’t get hold of my favourite purple carrot (more on recent experiments with that next time). I sacrificed some of the chlorophyll extract from wonderful French natural dye house Renaissance Dyeing that I’ve been hoarding since my lovely friend Mel gave me a pack of them.  It’s produced from organically grown spinach and nettles and was very simple to work with, giving us lovely, soft green, that most elusive of colours when it comes to natural dyes!

Chlorophyll

Chlorophyll

As I said, it was such a joy to teach this class and I think everyone got a lot of confidence to get out and try dyeing with natural materials, which is mostly what people need, as it’s actually pretty simple! If you are keen to learn about the process in a hands-on session, I have some classes coming up at the Handmakers Factory, the first one at the beginning of February- you can find all the details here. I’m also playing with the idea of running a class on how to get 25 (or more) colours from one dyebath, so let me know if that sounds like something you’d be keen to do.

I’ll be back soon with exciting and not-so-exciting results from recent dye experiments…. And for those in Melbourne, enjoy the cool change that is just blowing in!!! Too many days above 40C this week!

Posted in community, dyeing, plants, teaching | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

iran: textiles

One of a series of photo-based posts documenting a trip that my mum and I recently took to Iran. My excitement at being in that beautiful country meant that I sometimes missed the details in our guides talks, so apologies for any incorrect info or mislabeling of photos! Also, I took my old Pentax K100d with me but was unable to get more memory for it so had to use a low-quality format- I hope that doesn’t stop you from seeing the beauty that I saw everywhere…

While in Tehran, we visited the national carpet museum which houses the largest collection of Persian carpets found in Iran and possibly the world. The building was designed by the last queen of Iran, Farah Diba Pahlavi, and its flanked facade not only resembles a carpet loom but also creates shade in summer, helping to regulate the internal temperature to protect the carpets.

Carpet museum, Tehran

Carpet museum, Tehran, designed to resemble a carpet loom

Carpet loom

Carpet loom

Traditional dyetuffs used for carpet yarns

Traditional dyestuffs

It was wonderful to see samples of the dyestuffs traditionally used to dye yarns used in Persian carpets. Some of them were familiar, such as indigo, madder and cochineal, although I would have given a lot to learn the secrets of the incredibly sophisticated Iranian dyers responsible for extracting such a wide range of colours and shades from them. There were others, such as black curd or mud and unripe grapes, that I’m keen to try when the opportunity presents itself…

I learned a little about the history and tradition of Persian carpets; there are two major types, the tribal carpet and the city carpet. Tribal carpets are those woven by nomads and inhabitants of small rural villages. They are made of medium-to-coarse wool on a cotton or wool base and some, such as kilims, have a flat surface, rather than a pile formed by knots. Tribal carpets are generally considered inferior in quality to the ones made in the cities, but the materials, such as the wool and dyes used, are often of excellent quality and can result in a beautiful carpet. Because they’re often made in fairly primitive conditions, tribal carpets are not always perfectly symmetrical and often display subtle colour variations that give them a wonderful depth. The dyes used in tribal rugs are still mainly natural vegetable dyes, which adds value for the producer.

City carpets are made in workshops in towns and cities across Iran and are made from fine wool and silk on a wool or cotton base. They may contain up to 160 knots per cm2, creating a super fine pile with incredible texture and luminosity. Even excellent-quality city carpets include intentional imperfections- the old Persian proverb that says “a Persian rug is perfectly imperfect, and precisely imprecise” stems from the religious belief that God is the only perfect being and that attempting absolute perfection would be claiming the position of the Almighty. These imperfections are what give these carpets their character and authenticity.

Tribal carpets tend to have geometric designs with little detail and a limited palette of a few bright colors, while city carpets usually have more detailed, curvilinear or pictorial designs and more variation and subtlety of color. Designs are very regional, so an expert can can usually determine the origin of a rug  by analyzing the design.

Early silk carpet

Early Tree of Life silk carpet

Silk city carpet

Wool floral silk city carpet from Kerman, 1792

Detail, silk carpet

Detail, pictorial carpet

Detail, silk carpet

Detail, pictorial carpet

Stunning pattern, silk city rug

Stunning city rug

Geometric patterning on city carpet

Geometric patterning resembling the fruit from a maple

Detail of wool carpet

Detail of wool carpet with beautiful naive animals and plants

Despite the finesse and sophistication of the city carpets, my very favourite carpet in the museum was this incredible tribal carpet… it depicts the Persian pairi-daeza or garden, built around the central water channels and acting as an oasis for plants and birds, life of all kinds. The shades from madder and indigo are beautiful and the delicacy of the patternwork is completely captivating…

Stunning tribal rug reflecting the Persian garden or paradise

Stunning tribal rug reflecting the Persian garden or paradise

It is said that Iranians are born on carpets, live on carpets and die on carpets. I would have loved to be invited into some homes to see carpets in a domestic setting but we witnessed their central role in many other aspects of Iranian life during our travels…

Carpet in the Shah's summer palace, northern Tehran

Carpet in the Shah’s summer palace, northern Tehran

Rugs airing, Golestan Palce, Tehran

Tribal rugs airing, Golestan Palce, Tehran

A good use for a carpet!

A good use for a carpet!

Carpets on garden seats

Carpets left upside-down on garden seats, awaiting evening visitors

Carpets in the Pink Mosque, Shiraz

Carpets in the Pink Mosque, Shiraz

As a knitter, I always hope to see some evidence of a local knitting culture wherever I go… on this trip, however, I wasn’t expecting to see much- and indeed I didn’t! This must have been partly to do with the time of year but really, knitting is not part of the Iranian textile culture. Communities that raise sheep and other fibre-producing animals tend to develop either weaving, knitting or felting as a way of using that fibre to keep warm, and Iran took the weaving path… However, on our last day in Iran, we visited Jolfa, the Armenian quarter of Esfahan and, there, my prayers were answered! Over 150,000 Armenians fleeing persecution from the Ottoman Empire were moved here by force by Shah Abbasi in 1606; they were famous for being skillful craftsmen and it was hoped that they would further add to the beauty of the Persian empire. In the Armenian Vank cathedral, I saw this beautiful crocheted alter cloth…

Fine crochet altar cloth

Fine crocheted altar cloth

And then in the museum, very fine colourwork knitted socks! Just when I really needed another knitters’ arm to squeeze in excitement, I realized that Mum (who incidentally knits beautiful socks and, it turned out later, had missed these beauties!) had already left the building. So I soaked up the beauty on my own…

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Fine silk knitted socks, 19th century Armenia

Very fine, knitted socks, Armenia

Very fine, knitted socks, Armenia

I found the museum a very moving place. It holds relics of a time past and a people hugely changed since this earlier group of Armenians fled their homelands. Amongst its treasures are a historic printing press and the first book printed in Iran, Christian vestments, prayer books, chalices and other sacramental artifacts, tapestries, embroidery and carpets and an extensive display of photographs, maps, and Turkish documents related to the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Turkey.

Fine woven silk with delicate paisley design

Fine woven silk

Armenian knotted wool carpet

Armenian knotted wool carpet

I hoped that I’d find some fabric to bring home as a memento of our trip but it wasn’t until Esfahan, where our guide took us to a block-printing workshop, that I found my treasured piece. It is an old and very fine piece of cotton that has been block-printed and hand-painted in the kalamkari style that fused Indian and Persian techniques and design and used indigo, madder and other natural dyes.

Block-printed cotton

Block-printed cotton

I pored over many beautiful pieces but this one really spoke to me… it wasn’t as perfectly printed as some of the others and there’s quite a lot going on in it- almost too much… but I think that’s what I like about it. Perhaps the person who made it was still learning to balance design elements- or perhaps was just very enthusiastic! But I mostly chose it because it encompasses so many of the symbols and imagery that I saw in the Persian art that we saw (whether tilework, carpet-weaving, painting or other) and so acts as a lovely reminder of our trip.

Pomegranate

Pomegranate, representing fertility

Peacock, symbolizing royalty

Peacock, symbolizing royalty

Tiger- look at his handsome eyelashes!

Tiger and gazelle, perhaps symbolizing the victory of spring over winter- and look at the tigers lush eyelashes!

Pattern

Mountain, reminds me of our travels alongside the Zagros

Twirling vines

Twirling vines, representing nature and growth

Cypress

Cypress, representing immortality

It’s such a joy to look at it as I work in my room- so many happy memories!

Posted in dyeing, textiles, travelling | Tagged , | 5 Comments

iran: landscapes

One of a series of photo-based posts documenting a trip that my mum and I recently took to Iran. My excitement at being in that beautiful country meant that I sometimes missed the details in our guides talks, so apologies for any incorrect info or mislabeling of photos! Also, I took my old Pentax K100d with me but was unable to get more memory for it so had to use a low-quality format- I hope that doesn’t stop you from seeing the beauty that I saw everywhere…

Our journey covered over 2000km, following the jagged and beautiful Zagros mountain range through the centre of Iran, from Tehran in the north south to Shiraz and then Esfahan. Though this large area is semi-arid and arid desert, we spent our first night at Abyaneh, a remote village in the Zagros built near water so relatively lush with fruit trees, poplars and even a local clematis (see the fuzzy seedheads below in the bottom right corner!)

Valley, mountains

Verdant valley, Zagros mountains

Abyaneh houses

Abyaneh street and houses

Wherever you turn, there are mountains…

Mountains and poplars, Abyaneh

Mountains and poplars, Abyaneh

Dusk, Abyaneh

Dusk

View onto the mountains at dusk

Moonrise

Early morning view from our room

Early morning view from our room

The inhabitants of Abyaneh are almost all elderly… which makes you think about what will happen here when they are all gone. For the most part, they appear to survive on tourism but also produce dried fruit and fruit leather (which you can see drying on sheets on the roofs of many houses- see them in the photo taken at dusk?) which was tangy and sweet. A magical place.

Back on the plateau, the landscape was arid and very exposed but incredibly beautiful. A large area of this plateau makes up Iran’s main nuclear facility.

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Zagros

Quranic inscriptions

Land inscriptions

Caravanserai

Abandoned caravanserai

For many centuries, caravanserai or large roadside inns were refuges for travellers who made their way across this exposed landscape, offering shelter from the extreme heat of summer or freezing winter for both humans and animals. It was said that there were 999 of them across Iran, a incredible network that must have been essential to trade and movement of people. These days, with fuel so cheap, the relatively large distances are covered pretty quickly and so this network has become redundant. For all my environmental principles, I had to be grateful that I, and the many travelers on the road, had an easier way to travel!

Highway

Highway

Clouds

Clouds

Cyprus trees and mountains

Cypress trees

Truck and clouds

Truck

Jagged peaks and clouds

Jagged peaks

Towards Shiraz, the food bowl of Iran, the landscape softened and took on a bit of a greenish hue… which made it look like parts of central Australia to me.

Limestone peaks

Limestone peaks

Food production, Shiraz

Food production, Shiraz

Which then made me reflect that, even though parts of Australia are incredibly dry, as a whole it’s got nothing on Iran- we get twice as much amount of average annual rainfall and much less extreme weather… and yet many of Iran’s cities are found in far dryer regions than ours are. Luckily for them, the sophistication of ancient Persian hydrology allowed them to capture and move water via underground qanats and to sustain ten times more permanent cropland than we can. Most (or all?) of the qanat system has now been replaced with piped irrigation and Iran recycles far more water than we do, so it’d be interesting to know more about how those desert cities fare in summer and how they manage their water.

Next time, I’d love to visit the cooler, forested regions to the north of Tehran towards the Caspian Sea. I think that, in many ways, it would feel like a very different Iran…

Posted in outdoors, travelling | Tagged , | 4 Comments

iran: glass and ceramics

One of a series of photo-based posts documenting a trip that my mum and I recently took to Iran. My excitement at being in that beautiful country meant that I sometimes missed the details in our guides talks, so apologies for any incorrect info or mislabeling of photos! Also, I took my old Pentax K100d with me but was unable to get more memory for it so had to use a low-quality format- I hope that doesn’t stop you from seeing the beauty that I saw everywhere…

After flying into Tehran, we spent our first day wandering the streets surrounding our hotel, which encompassed the wonderful Abgineh Museum of glassware and ceramics.

Glass and ceramics museum, Tehran

Approaching the Abgineh glass and ceramics museum, Tehran

With little idea of what to expect of Iranian museums, we were astonished by the beautiful curation and display of the collection… the lower rooms housed objects, both ceremonial and everyday, from up to 3000BC to the Mongol invasion in the 11th century AD.

Glass amulets

Glass talismans, 4-6th century BC, northern Iran

Glass seals- or were they coins?

Glass stamps

Glass and gold necklace

Moulded glass and gold necklace, 4th century BC, Tehran area

Glass jug
Glass flask, 2-4th century AD, eastern Iran
Ceremonial vessel

Rhyton or ceremonial vessel, 1st millenium BC, Markil

Many objects showed an overwhelming sophistication of both functional and aesthetic design…

Beak-spouted tea-pot, 2nd century BC, Tehran area

Beak-spouted tea-pot, 2nd century BC, Tehran area

Cut-glass bowl, 3rd century AD, Gilan, northwest Iran

Cut-glass drinking vessel, 3rd century AD, Gilan, northwest Iran

Cut-glass bowl, 3rd century AD, Gilan, northwest Iran

Cut-glass drinking vessel, 3rd century AD, Gilan, northwest Iran

as well as great finesse in decoration.

Detail of glass vase, Uzbekistan?

Detail of glass vase, Uzbekistan

I particularly loved this four-sided glass display unit with its many little “rooms”! It housed hundreds of small glass objects from a variety of styles and periods.

Glassware display

Glassware display

Glassware display

Glassware display

And I was surprised at how familiar the shapes and motifs were…

Chevron glass bowl

Chevron glass bowl, possibly 3rd century AD

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Stippled glass bowl, possibly 3rd century AD

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Ridged glass bowl, possibly 3rd century AD

How sweet are these little perfume bottles?! They are only about 2cm tall!

Tiny perfume oil bottles

Tiny perfume oil bottles

Upstairs were diverse pieces from the 11th century onwards- some were beautifully simple and functional…

Blown glass bottle

Blown glass bottle

others were whimsical and fantastical….

Childs ceramic whistle

Child’s earthenware whistle

Painted ceramic vessel, unknown

Detail of ceramic vessel decorated with fascinating human/ bird figures

Tile

Cobalt star tile depicting animals, 13th century AD, Kashan

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Bowl with birds and figure

or dramatic, filled with symbols and meaning…

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Bowl with red edging pattern

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Bowl with arabesque decoration, Islamic period, Neyshabour

Earthenware bowl inscribed with blessings in Mandaic, 11-13th century AD, Shooshtar

Earthenware bowl inscribed with blessings in Mandaic, 11-13th century AD, Shooshtar

Bowl with Islamic calligraphy, 13th century AD, Neyshabour

Bowl with Islamic calligraphy, 13th century AD, Neyshabour

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Plate with calligraphy, 13th century AD, Neyshabour

Bowl with Islamic calligraphy, 13th century AD, Neyshabour

Bowl with Islamic calligraphy, 13th century AD, Neyshabour

But all were so incredibly beautiful that we knew this trip into Iran was going to be more than we could have anticipated! Back tomorrow with Iran’s food… or landscape… There’s so much to show you that I can’t decide what to post next!

Posted in family, travelling | 3 Comments