Author Archives: admin

macro

I recently tried out my macro lens for the first time.

DSC_2251Denim

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Lichen speciesLichen

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Pea

dsc_2255Horehound

dsc_2275Grassflower

dsc_2280Grasshopper

dsc_2288Leaf Margin

dsc_2308Feather

dsc_2302Gold-tinged Feather

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dsc_2319Skink

So much fun getting lost in the tiny details of life but so much to learn and I definitely need a tripod. I’m thinking of doing a course covering the basics of photography as I know nothing about manual settings and basic photographic language but there are so many out there- I’d really appreciate any advice from anyone with experience and opinions about good teachers and courses…

acheron

We spent a couple of nights up at the farm where my sister and her family live. They were away so, while it was a real shame to not have time with them, it was such a treat to have the place to ourselves for a few days together before Scotto heads to Sydney for 11 weeks of study…

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Acheron

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Eucalyptus

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River Redgum

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Acacia

dsc_2138Grasses and gum

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Reeds

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Acheron river

Sneaking in between two very hot weeks, we had beautiful weather… We spent most of the daytime down by the Acheron River, which was fresh, fast and super cold! And the nights were so clear that we slept outside on the trampoline and watched the stars wheel across the sky, so much brighter and closer than they are at home.

The birds, mostly cockatoos, had the same idea and were out enjoying the gorgeous days.

dsc_1776Cockatoo and clouds

dsc_2025Cockatoo

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I didn’t do much but wander about with my new (old) camera, getting a feel for it and looking for small treasures in a way I haven’t for ages.

dsc_2183Grasses

dsc_2214Grasses

dsc_2208Dock

dsc_1905Brave beetle

Among the leaves of some of the eucalypts, I spotted quite a few of these delicate nests… I’ve got no idea who uses them but they are strangely beautiful and reminded me of a small child’s shoe. Anyone know what they are?

dsc_1879Webbed nest

dsc_1755Gum shedding

We hung about with the animals: they have chooks…

dsc_1993Settling down to roost

… a couple of Highland cows…

dsc_1925Wonderful colours

… and Damara sheep, who completed transfixed me with their wild horns, their ability to moult (they don’t need to be shorn), the ingenious way they store fat in their tails and their wonderful, beautiful faces.

dsc_2217Wee coos!

dsc_2058Wild boy

dsc_2069Beautiful girl

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Beautiful colouring

dsc_2112Black beauty

dsc_2103Soft and hard

dsc_2061Moulting

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Fatty tail

dsc_2059Soft belly

Thanks so, so much, Hen and Tim, for a magical weekend. It was just what we needed and more than we could have wished for xx

more dyeing classes!

Hello! It’s been ages since I’ve posted here about dyeing… it’s been a really busy few months and we spent most of our end-of-year break painting our house, so neither dyeing nor writing about it have had much of a look-in… I’ve also got into the habit of posting photos on Instagram, which is so quick that I’ve realized it’s made the idea of writing an actual blog post overwhelming! Of course, it isn’t- I just need to get back into the habit ; )

I ran another class on natural dyes in December, this time for the Handmakers Factory at the lovely Ink and Spindle studio in Kensington. I think I’ve said here before that I don’t consider myself a natural teacher- I get very nervous and compensate by being way too serious ; ) But I feel really passionate about the need for good classes and skill-sharing so I push myself to get better at it. But you know, teaching this class was an absolute joy! I think perhaps that my love for plants and colour managed to override my nerves- it was great!

This time, I played around with some basic sample sheets that participants could attach their samples to- it’s always so hard to remember what they are and how they were dyed so I thought it would be useful. Each one relates to a particular dye plant that we used on the day.

The first plant we dyed with was Oxalis pes-caprae (Soursob or Sourgrass), which is a widespread weed in Melbourne. I realize I need to start taking photos of the dye plants I use as an ID tool for the blog and classes but Soursob is small herb with a clover-like leaf and bright acid-yellow bell-shaped flowers in spring. I collected about 500gm of flowers in spring and then froze them for the classes I had later in the year (and, in case you’re wondering, I find I get the same results with fresh or frozen flowers).

We poured hot water over about 2 handfuls of flowers and left them to soak for an hour while we did other things- I don’t like to apply much heat to flowers as heating them too high or for too long can destroy or alter the dye compounds. We then strained the flowers out and placed the dyebath onto the stove on low and added two sets of samples of alum-mordanted yarn (wool, wool/ silk and bamboo) and fabric (silk velvet, silk, coarse cotton and unbleached linen). We left them to heat for around 45 minutes and then took them off to cool. We then removed the fibers, put one set aside, added some washing soda to the dyebath (which changed the pH to alkaline and instantly turned from yellow to bright orange!) and replaced the other set back into the bath. You can clearly see the difference in colours achieved from the different fibre types and pHs; interestingly, this plant seems to have more of an affinity with protein fibres, like silk and wool, whereas the cellulose fibres (especially the cotton) didn’t take up as much colour.

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Soursob

Next up, we used Eucalyptus cinerea (Argyle Apple), which is found though the south-east of Australia and is often used as a landscape tree in streets. It yields far better colour when heated and cooled multiple times so I took it into the studio already soaked and heated over several days to maximize the depth of dye we could achieve. We simply brought it up to about 80C, then added a set of alum-mordanted yarn and fabrics and a piece of iron-mordanted yarn and took it off the heat to sit for 2 hours. I would have liked to keep it in the heat but my second stove refused to work on the day so we had to juggle pots! The dark brown yarn at the top right was iron-mordanted and took up colour very differently to the same yarn mordanted with alum.

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Eucalyptus cinerea

And we used chlorophyll as our last dye, as I wanted to demonstrate dyeing with a weed (Soursob), an indigenous landscape plant (Argyle Apple) and a vegetable and I couldn’t get hold of my favourite purple carrot (more on recent experiments with that next time). I sacrificed some of the chlorophyll extract from wonderful French natural dye house Renaissance Dyeing that I’ve been hoarding since my lovely friend Mel gave me a pack of them.  It’s produced from organically grown spinach and nettles and was very simple to work with, giving us lovely, soft green, that most elusive of colours when it comes to natural dyes!

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Chloorophyll

As I said, it was such a joy to teach this class and I think everyone got a lot of confidence to get out and try dyeing with natural materials, which is mostly what people need, as it’s actually pretty simple! If you are keen to learn about the process in a hands-on session, I have some classes coming up at the Handmakers Factory, the first one at the beginning of February- you can find all the details here. I’m also playing with the idea of running a class on how to get 25 (or more) colours from one dyebath, so let me know if that sounds like something you’d be keen to do.

I’ll be back soon with exciting and not-so-exciting results from recent dye experiments…. And for those in Melbourne, enjoy the cool change that is just blowing in!!! Too many days above 40C this week!

iran: textiles

One of a series of photo-based posts documenting a trip that my mum and I recently took to Iran. My excitement at being in that beautiful country meant that I sometimes missed the details in our guides talks, so apologies for any incorrect info or mislabeling of photos! Also, I took my old Pentax K100d with me but was unable to get more memory for it so had to use a low-quality format- I hope that doesn’t stop you from seeing the beauty that I saw everywhere…

While in Tehran, we visited the national carpet museum which houses the largest collection of Persian carpets found in Iran and possibly the world. The building was designed by the last queen of Iran, Farah Diba Pahlavi, and its flanked facade not only resembles a carpet loom but also creates shade in summer, helping to regulate the internal temperature to protect the carpets.

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Carpet museum, Tehran, designed to resemble a carpet loom

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Carpet loom

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Traditional dyestuffs

It was wonderful to see samples of the dyestuffs traditionally used to dye yarns used in Persian carpets. Some of them were familiar, such as indigo, madder and cochineal, although I would have given a lot to learn the secrets of the incredibly sophisticated Iranian dyers responsible for extracting such a wide range of colours and shades from them. There were others, such as black curd or mud and unripe grapes, that I’m keen to try when the opportunity presents itself…

I learned a little about the history and tradition of Persian carpets; there are two major types, the tribal carpet and the city carpet. Tribal carpets are those woven by nomads and inhabitants of small rural villages. They are made of medium-to-coarse wool on a cotton or wool base and some, such as kilims, have a flat surface, rather than a pile formed by knots. Tribal carpets are generally considered inferior in quality to the ones made in the cities, but the materials, such as the wool and dyes used, are often of excellent quality and can result in a beautiful carpet. Because they’re often made in fairly primitive conditions, tribal carpets are not always perfectly symmetrical and often display subtle colour variations that give them a wonderful depth. The dyes used in tribal rugs are still mainly natural vegetable dyes, which adds value for the producer.

City carpets are made in workshops in towns and cities across Iran and are made from fine wool and silk on a wool or cotton base. They may contain up to 160 knots per cm2, creating a super fine pile with incredible texture and luminosity. Even excellent-quality city carpets include intentional imperfections- the old Persian proverb that says “a Persian rug is perfectly imperfect, and precisely imprecise” stems from the religious belief that God is the only perfect being and that attempting absolute perfection would be claiming the position of the Almighty. These imperfections are what give these carpets their character and authenticity.

Tribal carpets tend to have geometric designs with little detail and a limited palette of a few bright colors, while city carpets usually have more detailed, curvilinear or pictorial designs and more variation and subtlety of color. Designs are very regional, so an expert can can usually determine the origin of a rug  by analyzing the design.

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Early Tree of Life silk carpet

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Wool floral silk city carpet from Kerman, 1792

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Detail, pictorial carpet

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Detail, pictorial carpet

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Stunning city rug

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Geometric patterning resembling the fruit from a maple

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Detail of wool carpet with beautiful naive animals and plants

Despite the finesse and sophistication of the city carpets, my very favourite carpet in the museum was this incredible tribal carpet… it depicts the Persian pairi-daeza or garden, built around the central water channels and acting as an oasis for plants and birds, life of all kinds. The shades from madder and indigo are beautiful and the delicacy of the patternwork is completely captivating…

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Stunning tribal rug reflecting the Persian garden or paradise

It is said that Iranians are born on carpets, live on carpets and die on carpets. I would have loved to be invited into some homes to see carpets in a domestic setting but we witnessed their central role in many other aspects of Iranian life during our travels…

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Carpet in the Shah’s summer palace, northern Tehran

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Tribal rugs airing, Golestan Palce, Tehran

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A good use for a carpet!

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Carpets left upside-down on garden seats, awaiting evening visitors

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Carpets in the Pink Mosque, Shiraz

As a knitter, I always hope to see some evidence of a local knitting culture wherever I go… on this trip, however, I wasn’t expecting to see much- and indeed I didn’t! This must have been partly to do with the time of year but really, knitting is not part of the Iranian textile culture. Communities that raise sheep and other fibre-producing animals tend to develop either weaving, knitting or felting as a way of using that fibre to keep warm, and Iran took the weaving path… However, on our last day in Iran, we visited Jolfa, the Armenian quarter of Esfahan and, there, my prayers were answered! Over 150,000 Armenians fleeing persecution from the Ottoman Empire were moved here by force by Shah Abbasi in 1606; they were famous for being skillful craftsmen and it was hoped that they would further add to the beauty of the Persian empire. In the Armenian Vank cathedral, I saw this beautiful crocheted alter cloth…

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Fine crocheted altar cloth

And then in the museum, very fine colourwork knitted socks! Just when I really needed another knitters’ arm to squeeze in excitement, I realized that Mum (who incidentally knits beautiful socks and, it turned out later, had missed these beauties!) had already left the building. So I soaked up the beauty on my own…

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Fine silk knitted socks, 19th century Armenia

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Very fine, knitted socks, Armenia

I found the museum a very moving place. It holds relics of a time past and a people hugely changed since this earlier group of Armenians fled their homelands. Amongst its treasures are a historic printing press and the first book printed in Iran, Christian vestments, prayer books, chalices and other sacramental artifacts, tapestries, embroidery and carpets and an extensive display of photographs, maps, and Turkish documents related to the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Turkey.

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Fine woven silk

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Armenian knotted wool carpet

I hoped that I’d find some fabric to bring home as a memento of our trip but it wasn’t until Esfahan, where our guide took us to a block-printing workshop, that I found my treasured piece. It is an old and very fine piece of cotton that has been block-printed and hand-painted in the kalamkari style that fused Indian and Persian techniques and design and used indigo, madder and other natural dyes.

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Block-printed cotton

I pored over many beautiful pieces but this one really spoke to me… it wasn’t as perfectly printed as some of the others and there’s quite a lot going on in it- almost too much… but I think that’s what I like about it. Perhaps the person who made it was still learning to balance design elements- or perhaps was just very enthusiastic! But I mostly chose it because it encompasses so many of the symbols and imagery that I saw in the Persian art that we saw (whether tilework, carpet-weaving, painting or other) and so acts as a lovely reminder of our trip.

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Pomegranate, representing fertility

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Peacock, symbolizing royalty

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Tiger and gazelle, perhaps symbolizing the victory of spring over winter- and look at the tigers lush eyelashes!

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Mountain, reminds me of our travels alongside the Zagros

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Twirling vines, representing nature and growth

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Cypress, representing immortality

It’s such a joy to look at it as I work in my room- so many happy memories!

iran: landscapes

One of a series of photo-based posts documenting a trip that my mum and I recently took to Iran. My excitement at being in that beautiful country meant that I sometimes missed the details in our guides talks, so apologies for any incorrect info or mislabeling of photos! Also, I took my old Pentax K100d with me but was unable to get more memory for it so had to use a low-quality format- I hope that doesn’t stop you from seeing the beauty that I saw everywhere…

After flying into Tehran, we spent our first day wandering the streets surrounding our hotel, which encompassed the wonderful Abgineh Museum of glassware and ceramics.

Valley, mountains

Verdant valley, Zagros mountains

Abyaneh houses

Abyaneh street and houses

Wherever you turn, there are mountains…

Mountains and poplars, Abyaneh

Mountains and poplars, Abyaneh

Dusk, Abyaneh

Dusk

View onto the mountains at dusk

Moonrise

Early morning view from our room

Early morning view from our room

The inhabitants of Abyaneh are almost all elderly… which makes you think about what will happen here when they are all gone. For the most part, they appear to survive on tourism but also produce dried fruit and fruit leather (which you can see drying on sheets on the roofs of many houses- see them in the photo taken at dusk?) which was tangy and sweet. A magical place.

Back on the plateau, the landscape was arid and very exposed but incredibly beautiful. A large area of this plateau makes up Iran’s main nuclear facility.

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Zagros

Quranic inscriptions

Land inscriptions

Caravanserai

Abandoned caravanserai

For many centuries, caravanserai or large roadside inns were refuges for travellers who made their way across this exposed landscape, offering shelter from the extreme heat of summer or freezing winter for both humans and animals. It was said that there were 999 of them across Iran, a incredible network that must have been essential to trade and movement of people. These days, with fuel so cheap, the relatively large distances are covered pretty quickly and so this network has become redundant. For all my environmental principles, I had to be grateful that I, and the many travelers on the road, had an easier way to travel!

Highway

Highway

Clouds

Clouds

Cyprus trees and mountains

Cypress trees

Truck and clouds

Truck

Jagged peaks and clouds

Jagged peaks

Towards Shiraz, the food bowl of Iran, the landscape softened and took on a bit of a greenish hue… which made it look like parts of central Australia to me.

Limestone peaks

Limestone peaks

Food production, Shiraz

Food production, Shiraz

Which then made me reflect that, even though parts of Australia are incredibly dry, as a whole it’s got nothing on Iran- we get twice as much amount of average annual rainfall and much less extreme weather… and yet many of Iran’s cities are found in far dryer regions than ours are. Luckily for them, the sophistication of ancient Persian hydrology allowed them to capture and move water via underground qanats and to sustain ten times more permanent cropland than we can. Most (or all?) of the qanat system has now been replaced with piped irrigation and Iran recycles far more water than we do, so it’d be interesting to know more about how those desert cities fare in summer and how they manage their water.

Next time, I’d love to visit the cooler, forested regions to the north of Tehran towards the Caspian Sea. I think that, in many ways, it would feel like a very different Iran…