Wednesday, 26 August 2015

the year to come (and where to find me)

I’m sitting at my table here in France writing while at the distant edge of the fields the sun is beginning to think about rising. Outside a lone bird witters away to itself and about twenty big paces away from my window a brook continues its mad rush over the rocks. Today is day four of our class here – past students will know what that means. Time to bring out the chocolate!
It’s a good time of year to be dyeing in Europe. Elderberries and blackberries are ripening in the hedgerows. The first walnuts are almost within reach. The last of the St John’s Wort, that ubiquitous little yellow flower that rewards us so beautifully in the dyepot, lingers along the roadsides. Evenings are long and soft, washed clean by the occasional rainstorm.
The St John’s Wort reminds me that a few places still remain available in the two retreats that will be held in Mansfield, Victoria, Australia this year....both are limited to nine participants and are one-of-a-kind events unlikely to be repeated elsewhere.
November 9-12 'bloomin lovely' making beautifully dyed, hand-sewn bloomers, slips, scanties and undies 
November 14-17 'spring sewing circle', working on your own project with guidance from me (and support from the rest of the sewing circle – always a source of much wisdom, not to mention a good deal of laughter)
You’ll be supplied with delicious lunches, wine, fruit, chocolate and a package of useful treasures to supplement the materials you’ll want to bring. We’ll work in the light-filled garden studio at Crockett Cottage and gather our dye materials from the abundant eucalypts in the district. Poetry and drawing will add further richness to our days. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the odd small book didn’t appear and dive into the dyepot as well!
2016 is shaping to be a very full year for me with two solo exhibitions (USA and UK), a residency at the Arid Lands Botanic Garden in Port Augusta (South Australia), a tour of New Mexico, workshops in Canada and the USA, a return visit to bonny Scotland AND my mother’s 80th birthday – so these (and the two classes at Beautiful Silks Botanical Studio) will be my last workshops in Victoria for the foreseeable future.
And why did St John’s Wort remind me?
Because most years the Mansfield district has an abundance of it. In Australia it’s a noxious weed and can be gathered with impunity, whereas in Europe it's a wildflower that I gather either with permission on private land OR when it is clear that it is about to be mown from the roadside
Please drop me a line though the contact page here if you think you might like to give yourself the reward of a retreat to Mansfield in November. I think it will be a very fine time indeed.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

music to my ears

two trees entwined

moss hat

sweet meadow

one of the 490 varieties of hypericum

beautiful Austria


on the way from Scotland to France i spent almost exactly 90 hours immersed in my first language and emerged somewhat astonished at how very much being surrounded by the sounds of my childhood/adolescence/family life affected me (in a good way).

don't get me wrong. i was born in Australia and love it dearly but when push comes to shove there is no denying that all of my DNA (including the dash of Kazakh that gave me my brown skin) is northern in origin.

so when the steward on the Lufthansa flight to Paris asked me whether i was German or American (darf ich fragen, sind Sie Deutsche oder Amerikanerin) it was with a wee chuckle that i replied "weder, noch" (neither)

i rather like being a citizen of the whirled and being able to meld into various cultures as required (even if only as a walking replica of the local compost heap). whether my rusty French will allow me to do so for the next week or so is a matter for speculation.

guess i'll report in due course.

Friday, 7 August 2015


Returning to Newburgh is like coming home

The class might carry the same name

being (t)here

But just as the meadows bloom differently each year
So the class evolves

last year I introduced the "island book", this year I added the "river book"

- two new folded no-stitch books I have been working on in recent years

The riversingers made spectacular work

No mordants. No layers of plastic.
Just the honesty of paper, cloth, leaves, water. 

We spent time by the river and time in it. 

It is a class for dreamers and wanderers

and happily I am able to return on an annual basis

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

last minute mending

while packing for foreign parts
i discovered that my favourite silkymerino skirt
had worn rather thin
was letting daylight into where the sun should not shine

and had also become shorter
not through shrinkage
but because parts of me have gone sideways
is a little embarrassing.

as you know
and to paraphrase A.A.Milne
"a bear, however hard she tries, grows tubby without exercise"
and i seem to have reached the age where 
three times as much exercise is needed in order to work off 
half the calories i could consume as a young 'un 
and still remain a size 12.
math has never been my strong point
[that's why i prefer string to numbers when it comes to measuring]

so the long and the short of it was that i needed to extend the hem
to allow for what was going sideways

the skirt has been mended before

some of the stitching was a little rushed
i shall add more when i have a moment

but meanwhile
it's been reinforced, mended, extended
and overdyed so it's all singing off the same songsheet
to strengthen the fibres
because that's what eucalyptus does
much better now

meanwhile today is the last day for earlybird registrations for the Mansfield classes

because i'm off.

 meanwhile if you like 
happy snaps and sparse words [until the next blog post]
you'll find me on instagram
which is an amusing place to play

Friday, 10 July 2015

a tutorial (of sorts)

yesterday i received an email which said "tutorials, how natural color really stays on fabric, please". i'm pretty sure i've covered that topic (the 'why' as well as the 'how') comprehensively in 'Eco Colour', 'Second Skin' and 'The Bundle Book'

but i was still thinking about it in the shower this morning and then fell into a puddle of verbage. so, from the bear who (almost) never writes rhyming poetry, here is a tutorial. in verse. in my somewhat dodgy handwriting.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

where did this year go?

cumquat marmalade. yum.

suddenly it's July and i'm on the brink of a two-and-a-half month wandering.

i shall miss my furred friends, but this is how life is - and it is what puts the food in their bowls as well as mine. 

the postcards for Solace have been designed and are being printed this week, using vegetable inks on recycled stock. i should be doing my income tax but have made marmalade instead.
i have made progress on my new dives into the dyepot this afternoon.

a hen.
that same hen, gazing at my new apron in wonderment. clearly a critic.
random stitched morsel from a journey some years back, now happily at home on the front of the apron

it has four visible pockets (so far) and one hidden

and i have purchased a pair of waders that will probably take up residence at Big Cat Textiles in Newburgh.


well, i have some interesting plans for the 'being (t)here' class in Scotland. if they succeed you'll see pictures here in a couple of weeks time. if they don't succeed it will probably just be an amusing story involving me flat on my face in river mud. fingers crossed i won't drop the camera.

in the meantime i'm trying to sort out my plans for the rest of the year, which is why i am (for the first time ever) offering an early bird discount for the two classes in Mansfield, Victoria.  internet access is going to be intermittent while i am wandering and i was hoping not to have to schlepp my computer along.

so if you register before July 22 the cost is $800, later than that it will be $870

and remember Marion of Beautiful Silks is offering a 10% reduction on any materials you purchase from her for the class

please drop me a line here if you'd like more information about the classes

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

it's not business, it's personal.

every now and then there's a flurry of correspondence from folk demanding to know why i am continuing to destroy the planet by flying about in planes, teaching face to face instead of simply offering classes online.

it was the subject of lively discussion with my son this morning as we shared several portions of delicious caffeine. i wish i had taken notes as i've already lost half the words he offered (all of which were deeply insightful).

i had mumbled something along the lines of it probably being easier to stay at home ecoprinting mass-produced garments and plenishing the bank account than teaching instead except that this would go starkly against my life philosophy. and would be quite lonely. and i would miss the wandering.


that when boiled down to the essence, what really takes me out into the world to teach is not business, it's personal. it's the being together with a dozen like-minded souls eager to learn and keen to share. 
it's the importance of making a connection, of spontaneously reciting poetry and breaking into song, about the burbling laughter and sometimes even the tears. it's that moment a face lights up with joy at the work that has come from a person's hands, the energy that fills a room when we collectively read the aleatory poetry created by sharing gathered words, the hilarity that follows an impromptu dressing up session (and sometimes simply knee trembling awe at the intangible presence of beauty) and when someone tells you that something in their life has been bettered or even healed simply by being present in a class. *

when we go online (as my son pointed out) we are (no matter how we try) dislocated from reality. people might sit at their computers, thinking they are being deeply social and being included because they can participate by pressing a few buttons but really (if they thought about it) being very much alone, no matter how many comments buzz back and forth or how many little hearts and happy faces are pasted into the screen. (i'm not being dismissive of those of you who live remotely and to whom the internet has been a boon, just trying to explain what i'm thinking)

to me there's little that beats being gathered around a cauldron or in a cosy sewing circle, sharing cups of tea and morsels of chocolate and above all, sharing community. and  it's almost impossible to recreate the satisfaction generated by the ceremony bundle-opening in a happy group through simply demonstrating to a camera in a "virtual" class 

signing up for a workshop (and i do this myself several times a year) means choosing to participate in a group of people who share your interests, being embraced, as it were, in a way that is non-threatening and nourishing to the spirit. being (t)here, being present.

it's why i am working at creating more opportunities for people to gather together in places where i can also prepare food for us all (i love that the roots of the word 'companion' are from a Latin word for "one who breaks bread with you") and i think that minds and bodies function better when fuelled on food that is delicious and healthy

sharing food communally for the duration of the workshop/class/retreat gives us the sense that we are truly companions on a journey, however brief

which is why the substance of my classes has stretched, shifted and broadened over the years. sure, i could simply continue to teach "an introduction to ecologically sustainable plant dyeing" in a purely academic way, but that's not how i want to experience my work with making colour from plants.

 i think plant dyes are situated at a kind of crossroads, a meeting place for art, craft, medicine, chemistry, botany and ethnobotany, geography, culinaria (why isn't there a more romantic word in the English language to describe cooking?), ritual and poetry. i think that paying attention to the natural world in this way (and of course it's not the only way) makes for a richer life experience.

i see life as a glorious adventure, over far too soon and often completely out of my control. heaven knows i'm not perfect but, like Phyllis in "The Railway Children", i mean extremely well.

so i'm going to keep walking this path, sharing the delight of the ecoprint but at the same time also hoping to make a difference in people's lives and doing the best i can. i'm aspiring to do it with grace. i hope to keep learning as i go and to keep playing, because so much of what i have learned has been through play

i was lucky enough to win the interplanetary lottery, not just to have been born but to have so much choice in what i do and, with that, to be in the position to (i think) do something of use...and i'd like to continue sharing that in person, not at the click of a download**

so i'm leaving the idea of online teaching (and also classes on DVDs) to those who do them well.
you'll find me out the back, piling twigs and thistle heads, blowing a flickering flame into life, wrapping a length of well-loved string around a bundle or three,
with my pockets full of leaves and my heart full of hope.

fingers crossed i'll see you there.


*in the interests of total honesty i will reveal that there have been about five people in all my years of teaching who haven't liked what i offer, or have found it not what they hoped for... at least, five that were brave enough to tell me.

**making the PDF of the Bundle Book is the closest i want to come to that!

PS thank you, all of you who have been part of my journey so far. i am truly grateful.

and lastly,
if you've made it down to the bottom of the page
i've decided to give an early bird discount to those who sign up before July 22 for either of my two classes in Mansfield this year (which is a saving of $70 per class)

Monday, 29 June 2015


i see to my surprise that this is the one thousandth post. i can't even imagine that many marbles. no wonder i haven't finished writing that novel.

i've been tweaking my website this evening, finally adding the class details for Mansfield in November...undies and bloomers (by demand) in one session, with another devoted to independent work (on the project of your choice) in which i act as consultant, keep a series of dyepots simmering for you and make lunch every day (gluten free vegetarian). there'll be some nice wine, good cheese and yummy chocolate as well.

those of you who have spent time with me before know how i feel about nourishing the inner bear.

Marion of Beautiful Silks has very kindly offered a 10% discount on materials for class participants. we've been good friends for at least a decade and a half now so i'm also very happy to be going back to her lovely Botanical Studio on my way home from Mansfield

i'm also offering a paper dyeing day at Poet's Ode on my return from the USA early in October, before i head up to Wirrealpa to prepare for our wonderful outback retreat there later that month.

maybe i'll see some of you at some of these...

meanwhile, if you are an Australian size 10-12 and interested in acquiring the garment above, do please drop me a line (i love it and would wear it myself but i'm just too sturdily built). it's silk, dyed with eucalyptus

Friday, 26 June 2015


dear friends.
thank you.

 i've just returned from the Observatory
i observed the solstice
by hanging the solace pennants

opening each parcel i travelled around the country and around the whirled
many of you enclosed letters with your work
letters of joy, hope and sometimes sorrow
moving me to tears at times

as i held each piece in my hand i felt the love you had put into it
i learned some new words
(and will need to relearn long-forgotten morse code to decipher one flag)

you sent wishes for peace
blessings for the natural world
prayers and hopes for friends and family in need
and for loved ones you had lost.
you told stories of gathering to share food, talk and stitching
shared memories and stories
shared precious fragments of cloth that held personal significance
i thank you all.

you'll have noticed the indigo dip didn't happen.
the water situation at the Observatory is tenuous
(it all stil needs to be carried in)
and so i had to abandon that idea
which was as well, i think
as they are beautiful exactly as they are


i shall be building a website for the project
carefully typing out your collective poem
and will leave the postbox open
in case there are more to come
in which case i shall add them to the circle
whenever i visit the Observatory

in the meantime, my gratitude goes to

(and in no particular order)
Heidi Monks
Cherilene Chan
Donna Kallner
Frances Westwood
Bodil Møller Larsen
Jo Roszkowski
Denise Fordyce
Isobel McGarry
Cassie Gibson
Mary Heath
K O'Donnell
Joy Hopetoun
Cynara Mori
Jenni Worth
Shari Bubner
Arija Schwerdtfeger
Nicole Howe
Wen Redmond
Amanda Holloway
Gerdi Schumacher
Dorcas Pennyfather
Penny Crompton
Evelyn Parkin
Louise Plint
Therese Swift-Hahn
Mo Crow
Cathy Wycliff
Celeste Hansel
Liz Ackert
Beth Brennan
Cindy Monte
Maya Sara Matthew
Jo Ann McGeever Metzger
Yvonne Habbe
Malin Sjöstrand
Suri Vangolen
Morna Crites-Moore
Janet Tobler
Susi Bancroft
Lajla Nystad
Holly Story
Diane Kingsley
Christi (Possum) Carter
Wendi Trulson
Jenny McHenry
Indra Stephenson
Tracy Duddridge
Eva Rodriguez Riestra
Lotta Helleberg
Emma Riley
Sue Fisken
Jane Flower
Kathy Wonderlin
Tina Meakin
Helen Trejo
Carola Heptinstall
Donella Wilson
Sue Gilbert
Fiona Burchell
Lynn Jones
Ronnie Ayliffe
Kathy Jolman
Jessica Grantley
Eileen Schramm
Nanette Gilbert
Jo Brook
Deb Cocks
Jan Rowan
A Sibson
Robert McCulloch
Mary McCulloch
Lorraine Meeks
Carrie Vartarandi
Emma McWilliam
Pat Morrissey
Margaret McCathie
Diana McPherson
Parvin Morrissey
Kate Bowles
Bridget Ely
Barbi Crisp
Jo Britt
Suzanna Klein
Nancy Thorne
Lindy Frayne
Jyah Gage
Tricia Copeland
New Zealand
the USA


Christi has kindly been gathering some of the backstories here


some screenshots from my batfone below
you can see i have a bit of editing to do
and then
i need to choose an image of the whole circle for the postcard....

there's a bit of blue creeping in, conditions for photography were not ideal and sunshine/wind/shadowdancing were the orders of the day