Making it Easier – April

This was supposed to auto-post. Well, better late than never!

For the first third of the month it seemed like I was only making life more complicated. I volunteered to arrange the plein air/still life sessions while the organiser was on holidays, which wasn’t helped by sudden and inexplicable email problems, and the weather switched to winter mode so it was cool enough to do the weeding… at the rare moments it wasn’t raining.

Making things easier seems to require ongoing work. A while back I realised that if I always paint on the same sized canvas sheets I can just swap then around in inexpensive frames from IKEA or Kmart. But I’ve started participating in exhibitions where the art is on sale, and those works are supposed to hang from a string or wire. The cheap frames only have a ‘hook’ on the backing board, and the composite board the frame is made of is too weak to hold a screw and wire. I’ve found a framing shop that sells wooden frames that look the same. They’re more expensive, of course, but at least I can still switch art around.

We went away for a long weekend, which disrupted my sewing momentum and I came back in what my painting mentor used to call “right brain mode”. The wardrobe got a mild cull and that was made so much easier using Stylebook ap. I started preparing for the weaving guild’s yearly sale, which was a very tiny bit easier for having already culled a heap of rug yarn and some dyeing materials, then harder because I figured I ought to cull the rest of the stash and suddenly I had a LOT of items to tag and record on forms.

At that point I started seriously considering forgetting the Bazaar and having a big studio clear-out sale. It might just be less work overall.

Making it Easier – March

What did I do to make life easier in March? Well, mostly small things. The trains to the Melbourne CBD have been partially replaced by buses, so I changed plans and took a friend out for her birthday in the suburbs instead. We cleaned the outdoor furniture and put most of it inside the house so we wouldn’t have to clean it again next Spring. I culled and rearranged my art and ‘wet’ craft supplies (dyeing, printing, etc) so the things I reach for most often were in easier places to access.

Future plans? In the garden, I’m doing the same thing with the vege beds as last autumn – all but the strawberry bed left fallow until Spring returns. I’m over having disappointing results with most winter crops, and doing a big clear out of weeds then covering the beds for half the year means less weeding overall.

Making it Easier – February

In late January I seriously considered buying a property a friend was selling. On a block a quarter the size of ours, with a three bedroom house on it but with room to build my dream studio and Paul’s dream garage, it would have made life easier… once the work required to fixed it up was done. But there was an issue with an easement. And the thought of all that work and moving house was deeply offputting. Still, it had got us thinking more about what we will want when we inevitably downsize.

Buying the more portable Jenome Juno will definitely make going to sewing days easier, though buying another sewing machine isn’t exactly downsizing.

We also gave away our organ bar.

I seem to have developed a mild intolerance to alcohol, and Paul isn’t interested in making cocktails, so we spent a couple of days redesigning the interior of the old TARDIS pantry. It has been a wine and whisky cabinet since we made the bar, and now it has a three tiered spirits and liqueurs shelf.

The organ bar will go to a friend who loves it, which I am glad of because I do still think it’s the most quirky, fun piece of furniture we’ve made. Apart from the TARDIS, of course.

Making it Easier – January

In my summary of craft for 2023 I noted that I seemed to get into a culling frame of mind after getting Covid, but when I think back, I reckon the urge was already simmering in the background. It started after Mum went into care, but not in a ‘you can’t take it when you go’ sort of way. Instead it was in reaction to seeing how bad Dad’s hoarding was getting. I know when he passes away I’m going to have a lot of stuff to get rid of, but I’ll want to keep some things too so I feel the need to ‘make room’ at home to make those decisions easier.

So I tried again to pass on the Passap, and this time was successful thanks to a very helpful person at the Machine Knitters Association. Honestly, I was almost as excited to find it a good home as I was when I bought it, ten years ago. Our ironing board now occupies the space. Not particularly exciting, but I am sewing more often now and it’s been set up in one room or another, always in the way, for most of the last few months. Now it has a permanent home, and that makes one small part of domestic life easier. It even led to Paul ironing the button bands of his shirts!

In non-crafty areas of the house… well, this is the tenth year we’ve been here and our usage of the house has changed quite a bit. When we first moved in we had big parties. Our friends had young kids, and people often stayed over. Now our friends are exhausted from wrangling teens and ageing parents simultaneously, and for the first time nobody stayed over on NYE. So in the days after, I culled a lot of things related to entertaining that are too much trouble, we don’t use now or we are just tired of.

More recently, we watched The Gentle Art of Death Cleaning on tv, then I read the book, which were fun and enlightening. The tv show takes the concept much further than the book, especially in regard to my new favourite term “reverse robbery”. Since I don’t have kids or nieces/nephews, if I die it’s going to fall to friends or even a stranger to sort out my possessions and I’d rather they didn’t have a huge mess to clean up. And since we do plan to downsize eventually, it’d be less of a shock if we don’t have to cut back our possessions all at once.

Well, that’s what I tell myself anyway.

I hesitated to add ‘January’ to this blog post title. It makes it feel like I’m setting myself a challenge to do at least one thing to make life easier each month, which actually makes life harder. My intention is just to remind myself of this year’s motto at the end of each month, and note any new ideas I’ve implemented.

Motto for 2024

For the last few years I’ve come up with a motto for the coming year. Last year it was “Make it Fun”. 2022’s was “Evolve and Simplify”. 2021’s was “Be Flexible”. It doesn’t look like I had one before that, though I reckon if I’d had one for 2020 it would have been “Try Out This Retirement Thing”.

Did I manage to live by my 2023 motto? Yes, but not in the way I’d intended. It was meant to be a way to motivate myself to tackle tasks I’d been putting off. Instead it became a survival strategy. A way to find calm. Mental health maintenance.

So what about 2024? What kind of motto might carry me through the next year?

Lately I’ve been considering what a healthy amount of time and space is for each of the aspects of my life. Art. Craft. Time with Dad. Time with friends. Gardening. Especially gardening.

Mum’s move into care and death, and our growing physical limitations over the last few years, have me wanting to downsize. We love our house and don’t want to move, so I’ve been simplifying the garden and making small changes to make cleaning the house easier. Whenever there’s a physically demanding task, I try to hire someone to do it, or buy a tool that can make it easier.

Our holidays were short and domestic and fuss-free. The weaving projects I did were less slow and complex. Painting on canvas sheets rather than stretched canvasses made framing simple and inexpensive. Going out with friends for lunch rather than having to cook a big dinner was less exhausting. More simplification of the garden this year made maintenance more manageable.

I really want to make sure I continue looking for an easy way to do something, so 2024’s motto is going to be “Find An Easier Way”.

WIP Wipeout

These dishcloths were on the loom for fourteen months. Fourteen.

And now they’re done.

They’re the last of the major WIPs I decided to finish a few months back. While not as old as the Pin Loom Blanket project, they had definitely fallen into a Black Hole of Mehness. They seemed like a good use of the supplemental warp beam – and they were – but I couldn’t help wondering why I was spending so many hours weaving and hemming an object that I can buy for around a dollar each and will toss in a year or so when they get too stained and threadbare.

Eventually I decided I wasn’t allowed to start any new weaving project until they were off the loom. I suspect my dive into air dry clay was partly a subconscious rebellion against that decision. My brain was desperate for excitement. So it was kind of ironic that the gloss went off air dry clay so quickly, and that on the same day I packed away the clay supplies I also finished the last dishcloth.

I was seriously considering just cutting the warp off the loom to get it over with, but decided to finish the last cloth and see how much was left. Turns out, not enough for another cloth. Which means I don’t feel like I gave up on them, or that they defeated me.

But I sure as heck won’t be weaving dishcloths again!

SketchBOX July 2023 & Lord Howe Island

Initially, I wasn’t sure if I was excited by the July SketchBOX contents or not. I have plenty of portable watercolour sets, water brushes and water soluble pencils and don’t really need more. But then, the reason I have plenty of watercolour sets is I am a sucker for them and the SketchBOX Signature one certainly looked very portable and had good colours. While I have one quality watercolour grade hardcover travel sketchbook already there’s always room for another.

Possibly my hesitation was because July is winter in Australia. Melbourne’s winter is for the more dedicated urban sketcher, and I have not even managed to become a fair weather urban sketcher. Painting with the art society, visiting my mother in aged care and seeing friends was taking up most of my energy, so it wasn’t likely I’d be making a start soon.

Then my mother passed away and things got busy and stressful and I found myself longing for a holiday. We’d abandoned plans for an interstate car trip in Autumn because her health was deteriorating, but now we were free to travel I was too drained for something that adventurous. I just wanted to sit on a beach, read, and maybe do a small painting if I felt up to it.

So we went to the travel agent who was our hero when lockdowns forced the cancelation of a big Europe trip, with nine days until the start of the week we wanted to travel and a vague idea that Lord Howe Island would suit.

It did. There was only one accommodation venue available, but it was the off season and a room was available. So we took our first flights since 2019 and found ourselves in Paradise.

Well, Paradise in winter, when it’s too cold to swim and accommodation isn’t built for chilly nights. However, daytime temperatures were ideal for walking, so we did a lot of that. I did get to sit on beaches, read and do a bit of painting, however, so those aims were achieved.

I packed the SketchBOX July supplies, apart from the watercolour pencil (which I was concerned would get jostled about enough to break the lead). They fit neatly into an old travel wallet. The only adjustment I made was sewing along the righthand pocket to make a section that held the watercolour set perfectly. The lefthand pocket was the ideal size for the sketchbook with the water pen tucked in beside it:

I also took a small plastic box with acrylic gouache paints in it with the idea of painting separate artworks on card, but realised when I got there that most of the plein air painting I do takes two to three hours, and that was a bit much to ask of the other half. Instead I used it back at the room to paint coral, leaves, seeds and shells.

It took me a while to get the hang of the watercolours. Results improved when I worked out that I didn’t like the way water brushes continually feed water into a brushstroke so that the paint dilutes, and makes the whole page more wet than it needed to be. I switched to a normal paintbrush from the acrylic gouache set and was much happier.

Overall, I think it is my favourite of the SketchBOX contents so far. Either this one or the liquid graphite one. When we were considering which island to visit we also looked at Norfolk Island. I’m now keen to go there… but maybe when it gets a bit warmer!

Post-Workshop

For a few weeks up to the end of the Maiwa workshop, and Dad getting the go-ahead to drive, I felt like I was rolling toward a cliff edge, in that I knew there’s be new terrain over that horizon but I couldn’t see it yet. It wasn’t that there isn’t lots for me to do. It was just that a part of me expected that whatever I decided to do would be scuttled by another big drama.

What I ended up doing was lots and lots of sorting stuff out. A large part of that was post-workshop tidying up and using up dye pastes. After going through the leftover dye pastes to see what colours were left and tossing anything moldy (surprisingly little) I planned some projects to use it with.

I also tried using a new dye source – white mulberry – on a piece of leftover fabric from the workshop. It was supposed to be green with paler leaves created with stencilled discharge paste, but I forgot that the cloth hadn’t been mordanted and only got a faint difference in greens. So I tried mordanting, and dying again and redoing the discharge paste. No change. So I overdyed with the last bit of logwood I had and the result was the opposite to what I expected: the discharge areas took up the purple more than the background. It was a lesson in why the workshop creators chose the dyes they did – reliable results.

For the last a square of workshop cloth I did a print of a layered leaves with mordant-dye paste.

I’d already been through my fabric stash, and only found a scrap of heavy twill cotton to play with. I tried out a dip pen stamp on it.

There was a bag of bits and pieces in my old dyeing supplies that included a cotton scarf from when I made sun-printed scarves as presents a decade or so ago. Of the dye pastes I had, the colours with the most paste left over included myrobalan/iron and two shades of madder. The myrobalan steams up to a nice olive green and the madder becomes pale pinks, so made them into mordant-dye pastes and painted roses.

The bag also contained a white t-shirt. I wanted to try doing two fabric dyeing methods on one object, so I dyed it with iron, used discharge paste to remove circles around the neckline, chalked and dried it. Then I painted the circles with lac and madder mordant-dye pastes.

There’s plenty of dye paste left and I still have ideas I’d like to try, but I’ve run out of fabric and I really want to start painting still lifes. While I was doing all the above I was also sorting through all my art, printing, dyeing and paper-making materials and stowing them away in the laundry cabinet. We removed a chest of drawers (you can see the unpainted area in the pic below) and installed shelving to make a little art nook.

The printing surface has a new, clean cover (blue) and has been stowed behind the table, and I’m starting to set up for painting.

I also made ink out of madder from my garden, caught up on gardening, made tomato chutney and relish. caught up with some friends. sorted through a huge pile of accumulated fabric and clothes belonging to a friend and myself to send to recycling. did my quarterly tax, and finally went to plein air and portrait workshops.

And suddenly I realised I was on the other side of that cliff edge, and everything was fine.

Intentions vs Reality

Seven weeks were left of 2022 when I began thinking about my intentions for 2023, which felt early but maybe only because the weather felt like Winter right up and into December. When I asked myself want I wanted to do next year the words “get my sh*t together” flashed into my mind. So I wrote a list of what sh*t needs getting together and noted that most items were tasks I’ve been putting off for a long time. I considered and dismissed various reasons why and was left with one: because they aren’t much fun.

So I asked myself if I could make them fun. Perhaps take a different approach? Maybe break them down into more enjoyable tasks? Possibly reward myself when they’re done and have that be the fun part?

The idea inspired me to decided that my motto for 2023 was “Make it Fun”. However, so far 2023 has had other ideas. Getting my sh*t together took a major back seat behind just getting through each day.

After the first drama passed a gloomier sense of clarity set in. There’s nothing like dealing with elderly parents to make you review what you need to let go, be that possessions, activities or people. Getting my sh*t together was suddenly about more than just a few neglected tasks I hadn’t done, but ones I’ll need to do in future, and ones I should avoid having to do. It also felt like an illusion. Like housework: something never finished and harder to get to when there are dramas in your life.

I thought… perhaps a more realistic motto might be: “Remember to Have Fun”. So it was in that spirit that I decided not to delay doing the Maiwa “Print and Paint with Natural Dyes” workshop I’d signed up to, but get stuck in. Being busy and distracted meant I didn’t always get results I like, but so long as I was learning something and had something to occupy my mind that was fine. It was truly art as therapy.

There are two weeks of the workshop to go. I have one day free. I’m going to create a few posts and set them up to self-publish just in case another drama happens. Thankfully, I did keep records of what I did to remind me of what I did. So here goes…

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.