Testing Times

Back in December I made this shirt:

It was a test of a vintage pattern and I wasn’t all that impressed with it. The shirt came out okay, but when I went to wear it I found the facing fabric in the button band and collar was much too stiff and uncomfortable, so I cut off the buttons and sent it off to a clothing recycling company.

Just about that time, Tessuti released a similar shaped shirt with a collar, so I bought it, and recently did a test version:

The fabric is a rayon sarong I bought in an op shop. I used a very light facing in the collar and under the buttonholes. It’s very wearable, though the weather here has suddenly grown too cold for short sleeves and single layers. The pattern has some annoyances like teeny tiny photos of very busy cloth that you can’t make out the seams on, and the collar method seemed needlessly fussy.

Nothing bad enough that I wouldn’t use it to make the shirt I was testing patterns for. That one will be made from a piece of fabric I painted in the Maiwa class, plus some black and white linen I bought to go with it. I’d have probably started that project this week if I hadn’t come down with a bug that had me sleeping half of most afternoons. Not Covid, but probably the one spreading among friends with sinusitis as the main symptom.

I’ll get to it soon enough. And I’ve thought a lot about art and hobbies, how much of my time I want to dedicate to either, and how the reality is the opposite. I decided to try limiting hobbies to weekends and art to weekdays. This will be helped by finally getting a workable set up in the new studio side of the laundry. The last piece of the puzzle was a still life “box” that controls the direction of light on the subject.

I was happy with how the trial artwork went. Maybe tomorrow I’ll squeeze in another piece.

Drama #2’s Silly Purchase

During Drama #1 (Mum-Covid-to-Aged-Care) I spontaneously bought a second hand dip pen and ink set on eBay that didn’t arrive until a month after I reported it missing and a few weeks after I’d bought the set new and at full price. During Drama #2, having distracted myself with a lot of fun and silly YouTube videos of artists and crafters trying out art hacks, products and subscription boxes, I decided to try out one of the latter.

I did do a bit of a shop around, comparing past boxes for each subscription and watching unboxings. The craft ones were interesting but it was the art materials ones that appealed the most. I tried to sign up to ArtSnacks twice but the order form wouldn’t work. Then I went to the site of Scrawlrbox, but that ones is based in the UK but they were having problems with international postage. The next one I tried was Palletful Packs. Figuring it was better to test things out by ordering something before committing to a subscription, I ordered one previous subscription pack, and a pack of brushes.

By the time I realised I should have checked the postage, it was too late. Oh boy. A friend who has a US craft box subscription says hers only costs $15 in postage and I’ll be generous and assume that’s US dollars. This order cost me US$63 in postage. More than the more expensive of the two packs cost.

It was, however, worth it. I can’t imagine buying all the contents for under the $200 for boxes and postage, mostly because that’s a LOT of brushes. The acrylic inks, markers, single brush and cute mini watercolour pads were in the past subscription box, the rest was in the brush box. I was expecting the brush cleaner to be the mini version, but it’s full size.

So I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got, but I’m not sure about subscribing when I don’t know how much that’d cost in postage. There’s another art subscription box that looks pretty good and it says $15 for postage to Australia, so I might try one of the previous pack from that before deciding whether I want to go the full sub.

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Using Stuff Up

So I may have mentioned the multitude of jars the workshop required. There came a point around week 6 where I decided I needed to use up paint rather than buy more jars. I dug through my bag of clothes to dye and found two long-sleeved tops that I’d attempted to dye before but wasn’t happy with the result.

Putting my newly acquired knowledge to use, I scoured them first. That removed some but not all of the old colour. Then I mordanted them with gallnut, alum and soda.

In the 6th module we’d made some iron solutions for painting, and the tutors suggested using them up by dyeing fabric. I decided to dye one of the tops, which had come printed with stripes. The white areas came out a nice, soft grey.

The second top had a few indigo leaf prints that hadn’t come out strongly enough to look like more than mistakes. So I lined the inside with paper and laid down lines of narrow masking tape, then painted it all over with the mixed colour dye pastes, figuring that I can always mix up more from the pure colours if I need to in later classes. I had to mix a little bit more of a few colours, but managed to empty six jars overall. The indigo leaf prints still show, but come across as a bit of extra patterning.

Steaming was a challenge. After the top had tried I replaced the paper inside with clean pieces, then rolled the sleeves up first, then the body from the bottom up, and continued by rolling the sleeves inside the body. It needed a few patches of paper where the odd shape made tears and I managed to curl it into a neat but open parcel.

Then I had to buy another level for the bamboo steamer and get Paul to remove the base to make a spacer level. That allowed enough room for the parcel. I dyed it for an hour rather than 40 minutes to make sure the heat penetrated.

When it was done I washed it in warm water twice, but it’s still a bit stiff from the gum. I’m going to let it cure for a few weeks then wash it in soapy water.

I’m pretty chuffed with both of these tops, and was ridiculously pleased by emptying six (SIX!) jars ready for future workshop modules. Painting a whole garment was quite time-consuming and fussy, so I wouldn’t do it except in this circumstance. Much easier to print the fabric then sew the garment.

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.

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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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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Plein Air Wanderings

The main aim of our recent holiday was to visit friends in Adelaide. I wasn’t keen to risk the chaos of unreliable flights and understaffed airports, yet my back wasn’t going to stand up to long hours of being a passenger in a car. So we planned to take a meandering route there and back, staying two nights at each location in case I had to lie down for a day to heal.

We stayed in the Euroa campground first, where a bunch of our friends had arranged a weekend away. It’s a nice spot. A pretty creek winds through the place. People were fishing or kayaking, walking dogs or riding bikes down the path alongside. Paul and I stayed in a cabin, and I was so keen to get painting that I did this not long after we arrived despite a cranky neck headache.

The next morning I took a little longer to paint one of the bridges.

On the Sunday we bid our friends goodby and headed to Boort in central Victoria, where Paul spent most of his childhood. I didn’t paint anything as it was only a one-night stay, but if I’d had the time I’d have painted the lake.

The next day we headed to Mildura, managing to catch only the leftmost edge of a storm as we left, then later just missing the top of a long ribbon of rain. There was a little extra blob of rain on the weather radar that didn’t look substantial, but when we and it reached Mildura at the same time it turned out to have grown into a full-on thunderstorm with torrential rain and large hailstones that had me seriously worried our car would be damaged – as mine had been in a storm several years ago. Fortunately there was no damage and we made it to the campground.

We had arranged to stay in a cabin on the river, and it was a lovely spot. The next day we went for a walk around town and the riverbank and stumbled upon the art gallery of the local artist society, where I was told I could buy art supplies from a local hairdresser. (I needed some linseen oil.)

That afternoon I did a painting of riverboats from the cabin. The sun kept going behind cloud, so it was easier to paint something that was in the shadow of trees.

Our next drive was to Adelaide. I’d noted that our windscreen had hardly any bug splatter on it, and I hadn’t seen many birds so far – mostly carrion-eaters. Now there were no bugs and no birds, and the roadkill lay bloated by the side of the road. Perhaps it was because were were passing through the fruit fly quarantine area, and all the bugs were being sprayed out of existence.

We also noted people were jumping fences and trampling canola fields to take photos, and figured farmers might not be too keen about that. Sure enough, this week there was an article about the biosecurity risks and nuisance it causes. Filing that under “The stupid, inconsiderate things people do to follow the latest Instagram trend”.

Once in Adelaide the only painting I did was my daily art. We stayed with friends, visited friends, had dinner at friends’ places, and spend many hours chatting with friends.

When the time came to farewell our friends we headed south, following the coast to Robe. Just before we arrived we learned a couple at one of the dinner parties had Covid. So we spend the rest of the holiday staying away from people – eating takeaway rather than going into restaurants, not going to touristy attractions where we’d encounter people, and cancelling visits to two friends living in places on the route home – and monitoring ourselves for symptoms.

Which we never manifested, thankfully. I did a painting on a Robe beach, but it was terrible and went in the bin after a failed attempt to fix it when I got home. The next stop was Dunkeld at the southern end of the Grampians. The day we arrived the weather was good but the sun was in the wrong position and my back was not happy. The next day it rained. The day after it was sunny, but we were heading home. Before setting forth, however, we drove around to take some photos, and when I saw the view from the Arboretum I had to stop and do a final painting. And I’m glad I did.

Despite the near-brush with Covid, it was a lovely break. There were moments when my back did get cranky, but nowhere near as much as I’d feared. We saw our friends, I got some plein air paintings done, and really benefited from a break from routine and familiar surrounds. It had been four years since our last trip, and I’m glad we travelled locally rather than set off overseas. I’d like to do more trips within Australia. Maybe next year.

Daily Art: Tools

Deciding which theme and medium to use for August was a bit trickier than usual, because I was going to be travelling at the end of the month. Since I would still be travelling in September I needed both themes and mediums to also be relatively portable.

The two themes left were tools and kitchenalia. I guessed that kitchenalia would be easier to find than tools in the cabins and motel room we’d be staying in. That was right, though mainly because it was harder to find tools while travelling. Paul’s car had surprisingly little in the way of drawable tools in it. I even bought a spanner in an op shop purely to draw it.

Since I was aiming to do some plein air painting in oils during the trip I knew I’d have that medium on hand, but I preferred the idea of doing kitchenalia as oil paintings. Instead I chose colour pencils for the tools. Water-based ones, because I like how creamy they are.

For a portable, folding backdrop I stuck two pieces of card on the back of a sheet of white paper. I took two lamps (warm and cool). Fortunately this was a car trip and we have a station wagon, so there was plenty of room for my art materials.

I was constantly surprised how effectively I was able to depict the material the tools were made of – especially metals – when white highlights are hard to create in pencil. Some of these bend the definition of ‘tools’ somewhat, but they were all fun to do.

Even after the month was over, the pencils and pad of cartridge paper I used came in handy on the holiday when we had a rainy day and nothing to do. We went for a drive and found an old rusty cart to draw from within the car.

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Daily Art: Continued?


Two months shy of finishing the daily art challenge I started to think about what I’d do once it was over. I want to continue to make art every day, but not in the same format since I’d be scratching to find twelve more different themes or mediums to tackle.

A couple of of ideas have me interested. The first is to depict a different material each month for six months. Glass, metal, wood, ceramic, paper and plastic seem like the most interesting and practical. But in what medium? While it would be good to try depicting each in different mediums, that would involve a lot of messing about putting one medium away and getting out another. There are a handful of mediums I didn’t use in the daily art challenge, and a few I did use that I don’t fancy going back to. I could just pick a shortlist of favourites and revisit them.

It also occurred to me that most of the daily art I produced in the last year is still life, and the materials challenge fits that category too. What if I took a similar approach to portraiture, and narrowed in on eyes, noses, ears, mouths, hands and clothing? Or concentrated on aspects of landscape by depicting sky, water, rock, buildings, vegetation, figures and animals?

I seem to have come up with another year and a half of daily art challenges!

Well, I’m not going to decide until I get to the end of this challenge at the least. As I near the end I am growing more and more in favour of taking a rest for a month before considering anything.

And then there’s all the framing…

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