This’ll probably be the last sewing post for the year. First up, a short-sleeved shirt I made from one of Late Lucy’s choir dresses. I’d attempted to make a peasant top and failed, but the pieces of fabric were just big enough to test a vintage shirt pattern, though it did mean there’s a seam down the back. I left out the waist darts, and somehow this made what was a rather traditional floral pattern now look, at first glance, like a Hawaiian shirt. The pattern instructions for the collar are strangely complicated and the button band facing doesn’t sit properly, but that’s why I do a test sew of ‘new’ patterns. I wound up unpicking and resewing the collar the old fashioned way, which made for a much neater finish.

In the middle of the above project I stopped to make a fidget blanket for Mum. It contains fabric from two pieces of clothing she made years ago. I made a couple of additions since I took this photo. The ‘curtains’ are fixed apart and there’s a duck in the middle of the sky background. And there’s a stuffed velvet heart attached by a ribbon to the inside of the denim pocket.

It was fun to make the squares, and was a great excuse to use the lettering embroidery function on the machine (text obscured in the photo) so that was interesting. Assembling and quilting reminded me that I’m not that keen on quilting. I showed my Dad some photos of it, then the next day he called to say that a couple of fidget blankets had turned up at the home. They’re very basic – the squares are just sewn to a fleecy polyester backing. Mum’s will probably get lost among them and I’m trying hard not to worry too much about that.

Projects of 2022

Making this post has been a bit of an eye-opener. There’s so little to report! It’s not because I wasn’t being creative. For the first seven months, most of my time and energy for making were going into the 8-shaft weaving course. So much that I’ve had a big case of post-course apathy since. The remaining creativity went into my daily art challenge, which left me inspired and energised, and then the ink-making course, which was SO much fun and has me exploring calligraphy and fountain pens (but not, yet, producing actual projects using either). It didn’t help that a very wet Spring brought on a crazy amount of weeds in the garden, and the Parental Drama consumed a month. What I’m intrigued by most is the fact that, when I managed to squeeze in a bit of craft time, I mainly tackled sewing projects.

A month-by-month list isn’t going to work so I’m switching to subject-based observations.

Sewing: I made a pair of pyjama pants, a pair of plaid shorts, two night dresses, two 50/50 skirts, several cotton knit tops, a wrap dress, a test shirt and a fidget blanket.

Art-related: I made a backdrop for a 007 party, redesigned a french easel, and fashioned a wet panel carrier out of a hamper box.

Weaving: The only woven project I did outside of the course was the Wonky Blocks tea towels, which were a very late Christmas present.

It may not have been a big year for projects, but it was a huge one for learning. Not only did I explore weaving, ink-making and art, but quite a bit of life assessment. I’m not going to push myself to do more projects in 2023. The tasks I’d like to get done aren’t all shaped like projects, easily photographed and described in a blog post. But there will be creativity of some kind, because that is the best kind of de-stressing activity I know.

Pausing Can Be Exhausting

Almost everything crafty and arty here stopped a month ago when my parents caught Covid and at the same time I had a bad case of food poisoning. Mum wound up in hospital and then in a nursing home. When I finally saw her she was in a pretty bad state and it became immediately obvious that we were going to have to find a better nursing home. After a lot of emotional turmoil, encounters with amazingly compassionate and helpful people, and way more running around than I’m used to, Mum is in a good home. We still have a lot of tasks to get through, but if all goes well the main chunk of work and stress is over.

Before this all happened, I’d just finished making frames for the first batch of Nature’s Remnants paintings. And completely forgot to photograph them before I gave them away. They looked good though. I hope I can remember what I did when I come to frame the rest!

In the early days of the drama, I ordered a French dip pen, nibs and ink set from an eBay seller as a kind of me-present to cheer myself up. I got the usual emails from the post saying it had arrived, but there was no sign of it. So I reported it missing, and they called and said it had been delivered 3km away. They said they would try to retrieve it, but I suspect they never tried, it being a very busy time of year for post.

So when I’d given up on them and requested the seller seek compensation, I used a rare free morning to go into Zeta Florence and buy the set full price. It was, after all, supposed to be a cheer-me up treat. Trying out the different nibs and a non-natural source ink was interesting. The ink doesn’t like the notebook I’ve been writing and experimenting in – it bleeds drastically. The nibs are very different, some good for tiny writing, some better for larger. The handle was the main practical reason to buy the set because the handles I’ve got have rusted. I didn’t know I was supposed to remove the nib before washing it.

I also succumbed to a ‘flex nib’ fountain pen sold by the same eBay seller. I’ve been watching YouTube videos about fountain pens, and everyone seems to regard this one (Noodler’s Ahab) as smelly and contrary. The smell – some kind of biodegradable resin – reminds me of old 70s textbooks, but is faint enough not to bother me. The pen did stop working briefly, but I think that had to do with it having only a small amount of ink left in it at the time. It does make a nice variable line, and I think I’ll have fun seeing what I can do with it.

My interest in fountain pens came out of wanting to write and draw with ink while watching tv with less risk of ink drips and spills. I dug out my Lamy pen, which I used as my book signing pen. I’d changed the nib to ‘medium’ because a thicker line is better for autographs, but found that wasn’t so great for drawing and writing. So I bought a ‘fine’ nib and replaced it. Then I found two older Lamys – one of which had an ‘extra-fine’ nib – so that’s also been adopted as a drawing pen.

Paul dug up a fountain pen that was a gift and gave it to me, so I now have five fountain pends. I don’t intend to become a fountain pen fanatic. I admit I’ve looked up when the next Pen Expo is on in Melbourne (November 2023), but only with the thought of selling my oldest Lamy.

The only other bit of craft has been a little bit of sewing. I’d already cut out the pieces of a shirt before the drama started, and I took advantage of a few moments I had time and energy to put most of it together. And earlier this week I suddenly decided I needed to make Mum a fidget blanket. I’ve signed up for another Maiwa course and have been gathering materials and tools for that, but it doesn’t start until January.

Ah, 2023. I’ve had a lot of thoughts about next year too, but that should go in another post.

In the Frame

After a year of daily art, I have a LOT of artwork to frame. I decided October would be Framing Month. Then at the end of October I decided November and December would be framing months too.

Fortunately, not all of the themes are framable. The flowers, food, car, hands & feet, and faces artworks are all in books. I have cut a couple of pages from the cars book for people who wanted them, but the rest will probably just stay in there. The books I drew the faces and hands & feet in are only partially used, so I intend to fill them at some point in the future.

In October I concentrated on pet portraits and toys. All but three pet portraits went to the pet owners and were very appreciatively received. The other three were pets of Paul and I, so they went into an IKEA frame together.

Half of the toys went into $10 IKEA frames. Unfortunately the paintings are 10×10 cm and the mat that comes with the frame has a 12×12 cm hole. So I had 30 custom matts cut with a 10x10cm hole. The paintings in the IKEA frames get to have a fancy ‘double matt’ look, and the rest have been taped to the backs of the remaining custom matts and wrapped in cellophane ready to sell or gift.

In November I intend to tackle the chairs, Nature’s Remnants and kitchenalia themes. A friend wants a 3×3 set of the chairs, so I bought some black mat board and Paul found a black frame still in its wrapping from an abandoned project. A few weeks ago I bought a mat cutter partly with a voucher I got for my birthday. It’s rather nifty, I have to say. Makes the job very easy, but it has limitations. The guides only work for single hole cutting, so to cut the nine holes for my friend’s set I had to use it more like a ruler – pressing down and hoping the board didn’t shift mid-cut. But it worked just fine:

When I posted a pic to show my friends, another put her hand up for a collection – this time just five.

The leftover fifteen made a 5×3 grid, bigger than the first one, and to get them to fit in a standard sized frame I made the holes smaller, cropping each artwork to show only the chair and background papers. That meant I had to redraw two that were too large, so it took most of a morning. When it was done I wrapped it in cellophane.

Next I tackled the kitchenalia theme. Theses were much easier to frame because the artworks are all in sheets of six.

The Nature’s Remnants series is going to be a much bigger challenge to frame, involving a bit of woodworking. I’ve looked at the tools and accessories artworks and they’ll require the same preparation as the toys and kitchenalia. It’s makes sense to get them out of the way first while I have the right tools out, so it looks like I’ll be changing the order I’m tackling the themes again.

Pen to Paper

Part of the Maiwa ink-making workshop is a brief lesson on writing with a pointed pen. I learned calligraphy as a teen at my local library, which had a wing for pottery and art lessons. I also remember having a book-and-fountain-pen set of the sort that used to be available at newsagents. Mostly of what I learned involved a flat-ended nib meant for medieval style writing, and later I was lucky to learn a bit of sign and ticket writing at TAFE before computers rendered those skills obsolete – well, until the hipster revival, that is.

I’m not sure when I learned pointed pen calligraphy. I know the way I was taught to write at school had roots in cursive script, but with simplifications that made some letters look more like printed type. The ‘r’ in particular has really changed, and capital letters are much simpler. The result of all this is my handwriting is a weird hybrid of styles. While I didn’t expect the workshop to teach me anything new about calligraphy, I did hope it would iron out those inconsistencies.

The approach was more along the lines of basic principles – more an explanation of how pointed pen writing works than fussing over letter shapes – which you can apply to handwriting. There were seven Spencerian script pen strokes to practice:

I found the second ‘O’ felt quite awkward, which explains why so many capital letters feel wrong to me. But overall I find it quite meditative and have done quite a few pages of alphabet practise now, so the awkward letters are starting to feel more natural. A bit of research told me that a desk slope of 20 degrees is better, and since I am all about ergonomics these days I decided to make an adjustable ‘writing slope’. Fortunately, before I went to the trouble I checked to see if IKEA had something suitable and, of course, they did. Adjustable from flat to 20 degrees to 30 degrees.

On which my glass slab fit nicely, giving me a deeper writing surface so I can get my whole forearm onto it.

The last module was about making ink from anything. There were lots of tips and a few recipes. One was white ink, and since I happened to have just bought some Titanium white pigment with the intention of making gouache, I mixed some up. At the same time I’d bought some ground walnut to make ink out of, but haven’t tried that yet.

The question of what to use all this ink for is constantly in the back of my mind. Last week I took the indigo and carbon black inks to life drawing class and they were really nice to work with. I’d like to do more pen and ink drawing, too.

And I snapped up seven notebooks with dot grids at the local trash and treasure for $15 – perfect for pen practise, but also they’ve got me thinking… maybe I’ll use one to give journalling a try.

All Wrapped Up

You know how it goes. While at the fabric store buying something needed something else pops into your shopping basket. That’s how I came by this navy flowering gum Jocelyn Proust organic cotton knit. At the time I thought I’d make a top or pair of leggings, but when I’d finished the test version of the wrap dress the navy fabric caught my eye and I thought it would make a nice finished version. That meant buying more fabric, of course, but at least that time I didn’t succumb to extra fabric temptation.

The waist is rather high on me, but I’ve reached a point where I need the belly-skimming that a high-waisted dress achieves. I’ve lengthened the sleeves and skirt, and omitted the cuffs. I wore it to a friend’s Cup Day gathering. It’s very comfortable and, unlike other wrap dresses I’ve had the past, doesn’t gape in the chest area or fly open at the skirt wrap at the slightest turn or breeze.

I might make another one of these one day.

I’ll Ink to That!

The Maiwa ink-making workshop is done and it’s been a blast. Best online workshop I’ve done. Really. The videos and instruction sheets were clear and informative, the q&a forum was friendly and helpful, and none of it was done via Zoom. Well, there was an optional Zoom session at the end, but I skipped that because…

The last two inks we made were indigo and iron gall. The indigo recipe was simple and quick, and the resulting ink is really dark to write with while giving lovely shades when applied with a brush.

The iron gall ink was more involved but not complicated. I’ve seen YouTube videos in which gall nuts were fermented, but this lesson kept it simple (and probably less fragrant) by using extract-ready gallnut powder. It is fascinating watching the ink slowly deepen from grey to black as it oxidises.

Since there were no more inks to make in the workshop, I began tidying up, removing anything that hadn’t been useful from the work area. That’s when I found a bag of onion skins I had collected with the intention of dyeing cloth. Onion skins contain tannins, so I decided to see if I could make an ink from it. The process was as simple as simmering the skins in just enough de-mineralised water to be able to stir them for about 20 minutes, filtering out the skins, then reducing the liquid to intensify the colour. It smelled like French Onion soup as I was cooking the skins, so that became the name.

Here are all the inks, in little jars for storing airbrush ink that Paul bought for me. Of all the things needed for this workshop, suitable jars were the hardest to find in Australia. I had bought some bottles with droppers, but the narrow neck makes it hard to dip the pen without getting ink on the handle, and you have to find somewhere safe to put the dropper while you’re working.

The next ink I want to make is walnut ink. So far I haven’t found a fresh source of husks, so I’ve ordered some dried ones from the art store. I’ve also collected some bark from one of the big eucalyptus trees here. I’d like to try the bark and leaves of all the eucalyptus trees here. Next Autumn it’ll be time to harvest madder and forage for acorns.

But I’m also aware that I’ve not exactly used up ink very quickly in the past. In fact, when I gathered all the ink I had ready for the accessories month of the daily art challenge I found that a third or so had dried out – which is probably the most common way I ‘use up’ ink. My back protested after I did some calligraphy exercises on Monday, which was no surprise. I can’t do more than an hour of anything that involves sitting. So it doesn’t make sense to keep manufacturing more and more ink. However, it is cool to know I can whip up a batch when I need to, or when an interesting source material comes along. And the accessories month showed me that drawing with ink is really satisfying, so hopefully I’d do more of that, too.

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Not Quite Inktober

The second pair of inks we made in the Maiwa course was yellow from weld. This one did not go smoothly because I’d mistakenly bought ground weld, not weld extract. So the first batch went down the sink and I started again with instructions from the tutor on extracting colour from the plant material before repeating the ink-making process. The green is weld with indigo added.

The third pair of inks was extracted from cochineal bugs. Fortunately, I’d bought the right product for this one, and the process went smoothly.

In the middle of all this I made my own ink: Ash Pit Black. The source material was a chunk of charcoal I found where the ash pit at Boort Railway Station was back when they ran steam trains on the line. I ground it up in a mortar and pestle then mulled it for, well, aaaaageees. Maybe an hour. The resulting ink has a brown tone, which is probably because charcoal is not completely burned up fuel so the original source affects the result – in this case the fuel would have been coal. I was worried it would have oil residue in it, but so far nothing has come to the surface.

Of course, I had to try using it to make some art. Here is a drawing of the former Boort Railway station:

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Daily Art: Kitchenalia

The final theme for the Daily Art challenge was kitchenalia in oils on canvas paper. Though I had decided on that, I didn’t have a picture in my mind of what I would do until a day or so before September started. Continuing with the previous three month’s format of a small picture in the centre of an A4 page didn’t appeal, and would mean taking more canvas paper with me on holidays. A grid of squares would be a nice change. And then one of the friends we stayed with suggested circles. I looked at the roll of masking tape I was using to stick the canvas paper to boards and knew exactly what I wanted to do.

It would mean painting smaller images than I’d planned, but I was determined to only use the two small long flat synthetic brushes I’d bought specifically for the challenge. When they were new, it wasn’t hard to get lines and details, but toward the end of the month the hairs began to curl. I bought a third brush in the same size and tried to be gentler when washing but it, too, started to be like painting with a toothbrush. I even cut off the curl-ended hairs and then only wiped the brush clean after a quick tip in solvent, but the same problem occurred. So maybe it wasn’t abuse but the brushes themselves.

During the month the same pattern of exploration unfolded. I paint the same way for half the month, then suddenly want to experiment. In this case, I tried a black and coloured backgrounds. I started using short, small round brushes for details once the long flats started going curly, then stopped for the last six. The first twelve subjects were random – whatever I had around that appealed – but after that I began selecting items that formed a group and making sure the circles lined up.

By the time the last painting was done I knew what I wanted to do in October. As much as I’d like to continue painting daily to a theme, I need a break. I’m now attending art workshop during the week, and I have projects to do at home that I’d like to work on daily, but not feel obliged to finish on the same day. Hopefully I will end up painting most days anyway.

Overall it’s been fantastic. I’ve learned a great deal, truly woken up my visual artist brain cells, had something to bond with friends over, and got a whole lot of artwork to show for it.

An Inkling

A few months back a friend (hi Amanda!) recommended I do a natural dyeing workshop run by the Maiwa School of Textiles. When I headed over to the website I discovered they were also running an ink-making workshop. I’ve been wanting to try making my own paints for a while, and after enjoying doing a month of pen and ink drawings for the Daily Art Challenge I’m keen to go back to that medium. Making inks seems like a natural crossroads between my two interests in fibre (dyeing) and art (ink).

I signed up and after pricing the items in the materials kit I realised it was much cheaper to buy them locally – and I didn’t want to worry that the materials wouldn’t arrive in time. Well, it would have been much cheaper if the shop I used for my price research actually had them all in stock. I hadn’t noticed the ‘out of stock’ on one item, but the other had no warning until I went to buy it. Having most of the materials bought or on order already, it would make no sense point buying the kit for just two items, so I had to hunt around online and wound up buying those two ingredients from Israel (from Dekel Dyes, where you can also purchase an interesting little booklet on making ink that includes eucalyptus as a source). This meant not buying the kit didn’t save me as much money and I still got to worry about a parcel not arriving on time.

Luckily it did, and I gathered everything together before we went on our holiday. I also watched a lot of YouTube videos and reread a book I had on the subject (Make Ink by Jason Logan). Finally the workshop start date arrived, and I started working my way through the weekly modules.

The first task was to make sock solutions. I’d only found gum Arabic in solid and liquid form, not powdered, but figured I could grind it up myself in my mortar and pestle. Wow, that stuff explodes when you smash it. I had gum Arabic shards everywhere. The second stock solution was shellac, which was easy but time-consuming to make.

The second task was to make carbon black ink. An easy task, but I managed to make it complicated somehow when the pigment didn’t want to mix with the solutions. But I persuaded it to eventually, and without too much mess, and finished with two black inks: water-soluble and water-proof. Which I then put to good use:

Gum Arabic based ink on Rhodia ivory paper
Shellac based ink on watercolour paper with watercolour wash
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