Sunday, May 31, 2009

I like tat

I can go to a store and buy a piece of lace for $2 or I can spend a week making my own by hand. Naturally I choose the more difficult way, I make by hand.

I've been long fascinated by lace and wanted to learn how to make it myself. There are several ways to make lace. You can knit it, crochet it, tat it, make it with a bobbin and you can knot it. When I spied classes to learn how to tat lace, I signed up. That was March and since then I've completed my first project, a simple bookmark for my grandma.

Tatting turned out to be not too difficult once I got the over-under part right. I'm in love with the process and can't wait to try more. I brought a book to learn some more patterns and will go for another class but here are the results and process of my first project.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dyeing Results

The results of my last batch of dyed wools and cottons.
Top Row (L-R): (all wool) Blueberry, Ginger Flowers, Green Tea, Spanish Onion Skin.
Middle Row (L-R): Ginger Flower on bamboo, Bouganvillea on wool, Spanish Onion Skin on wool (new!) Carrot and Tomato on cotton and bamboo, Green Tea on cotton.
Bottom Row (L-R): Pandan on cotton, Blueberry on wool, Spanish Onion on Wool, Balsamic Vinegar on cotton, Balsamic Vinegar on bamboo.

The green from Orange Ginger Flowers and the yellow from Red Spanish Onion Skins are my favourite.

(edited 07/06/09 with new photos, with new deep gold wool)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Weekend Sewing

I did say that I was not going to do any clothes shopping this year. I pledged for myself a year of no-shopping. So far I've not kept my pledge! It started with a really cheap grey wool flannel dress (too cheap to resist!) and has lately ended up in a soft grey jersey dress, 1 grey shirt and two grey t-shirts. (Yes, you saw correctly, those were all grey items!). Other than that I've been good, I promise. To supplement the shopping urge I've been trying to make instead. I've had my eye on this dress by Heather Ross from 'Weekend Sewing'. I've drafted out the pattern and am now just thinking about fabric. I think grey is good. I keep adding more grey things to my wardrobe. I'm not sure why, but I have the urge to surround myself with grey things. I guess grey is soothing for me or something. But grey would be nice for this dress don't you think? A soft grey in a shiny fabric and a contrasting patterned and coloured belt. Maybe I could make a few belts to interchange. My faithful old black wrap dress is falling apart, so I think this would be a good replacement.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dyeing Love

I recently spent some more time experimenting with natural colour on different materials. I brought balls of natural un-dyed and un-chemically-treated wool, and some cotton and bamboo. I had sample pieces of silk that were already coloured so I over-dyed those too and I also used piece of natural un-dyed cotton fabric. All were mordanted with alum dissolved in hot water and simmered for at least one hour. The wool had cream of tartar in addition to the alum and had 2 hours in the water. I found that for some reason the wool just soaked up all the colour and the other materials much less so. I don't know if it is the cream of tartar or the timing or the dye or the material! I'm the most happy with how the wool turned out but the silk was quite nice too. The finished colours are like home-made icecream sorbet.

I used India Flint's book 'Eco Colour' and Gwen Fereday's book 'Natural Dyes' for tips on how to mordant and the amounts and timing. I found that alum is the only real 'safe' mordant unless you use a copper/aluminium/brass pot etc (which I don't have). Obviously my interest is keeping things as environmentally friendly as possible, so I don't want to work with anything that could be toxic. I got my alum from a 100% crystallised alum deodorant that I crushed into a powder. I also used their tips on how to scour the material before colouring but I suspect that the cotton and bamboo needed more scouring as they gave off a real ammonia smell when I washed them. Each material was washed in soap powder 2-3 times and rinsed thoroughly.

As dye substances I used spanish onion skins, carrot/sweet potato/tomato, ginger flowers, blueberries (frozen), bougainvillea flowers, various greenery from around the garden, pandan leaf and balsamic vinegar. The results vary but I love the onion skin and ginger flowers on wool and the ginger flowers on bamboo. Interestingly the ginger flowers made green on wool and grey on bamboo but were orange flowers!

The blueberries produced nice subtle purple spots on the blue silk which is quite lovely.

I attempted some eco prints with leaves and flowers and onion skins but it didn't turn out so great. The colours are not strong as I unwrapped after just a few days as in this tropical weather it started to grow lots of mould. I will try again with different vegetation and things and try it in a ziplock bag the fridge to keep the mould down.

These are just pictures of some of the materials and processes... results to come soon

By-the-way, the jar of dark liquid is a concentrate of bougainvillea flowers made by soaking the flowers in hot water and squeezing them. It was then left in the fridge for 3-4 weeks where it started to oxidise and turn brown.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Comic Relief

My national newspaper stopped running Bizarro quite some time ago, which is pity. But I have discovered I can read it online. Cartoons are wonderful encapsulations of daily life. Everything that is going on in the world turns up in the comics. My favourite comics like Bizarro, Big Top (which concluded 2 years ago) and Get Fuzzy (still in my daily paper) even manage to include a little philosophical enquiry now and then. Bizarro is great because it is so clever, so political and sometimes just nicely silly. Big Top has the sarcasm that makes me smile. Get Fuzzy has the best characters and the most philosophical of questions coming from the very unlikely philosopher Satchel Pooch.

These are some of my favourites.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

When did we stop drawing?

I stumbled upon Mo Willems and his mission to get adults drawing again and I'm inspired. I used to draw all the time, every day. I drew everything from trees and birds (mostly birds!) to animals, scenes and people. I drew buildings and streets and maps. Now I tend to draw squares and circles and triangles in patterns when I'm stuck in an interminably long meeting and my life is being sucked away. I enjoy drawing and I love pencils, so why aren't I drawing more often? Have I too been hit with the curse of the mature adult that Mo talks about - drawing is for kids only?

Ps: Mo draws birds too - check out his Pigeon it is incredibly gorgeous and wonderful. I also have the urge to print out this flock of birds on really large paper for my wall. I'm off to the library now to see if they have his books!

Philosophy Podcasts

I've been listening to philosophy podcasts as well as design podcasts for a few years now. This one by Nigel Wharburton is quite good and his explanations are clear and concise. He examines the original texts and summaries them too. I've listened to only Aristotle so far, but will eventually go through the others. I also like ABC Radio Nationals Philosopher's Zone, where they interview academics and authors about philosophy and questions of the day.

Its good stuff for the brain in an age where we always just sit in front of the TV and receive easily digestible information. I'm privileged to teach philosophy and debate philosophical questions for a living but I need the reminder too, to fully engage with the world around me instead of being a passive observer.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Natural dyes have been a recent pre-occupation of mine. As an architect, colour is often a guilty pleasure. Grey is preferred if colour must be added to a design. The use of yellow is for road signs and kindergartens, not serious buildings. Red is too dangerous and pale blue is too pretty. Green is for hospitals. We wear black (unless you are a certain architect who wears all red!). I love colour, lots of it, preferably all at once. I love stripes and polka-dots and clashing colours. I love red shoes with orange trousers. But many of the colours I have taken for granted are not so kind on the environment. Blue smarties were axed then brought back three years later after a 'safe' blue was found. India Flint writes in her book on natural dyes that many of the colours of our clothes are not colourfast (ie: they leech colour slowly over time) and are toxic. The idea that my favourite clothes are slowly poisoning me is not a happy thought. So I started to consider natural dyes. Fascinating to me the mixture of exact science and happy alchemy of weather, water acidity/alkalinity and the ripe-ness of fruit or leaf. Working with natural dyes is unpredictable in a nice sort of way. You never quite know what the colour will be like.

These are my first experiments in natural dyes and my most sucessful. The things that make strong colours in water are not always the brightest of dyes or colour fast. So these are experiments. I've started to keep a journal of my experiments and record down details of the mixes, processing times, mordants and temperatures. The image shows cotton fabric scraps that have been dyed with variously: frozen blueberries (purple), aged red wine (brown red), spanish onion skins (gold) and coffee grounds (light brown). The depth of colour is so beautiful and so subtle. It seems to change with the light and fades so nicely over time. I have the urge now to surround myself with these beautiful shades, to soak in their goodness...