Sunday, 1 March 2015

Stitch and Yarn – a week in photos

Since quitting my job a lot of people ask me what I do with my time. While I readily admit I'm taking life at a more leisurely pace – finally having time to exercise regularly, eat proper meals and even read books (!) I also have classes for about 14 hours a week and around that I work on Stitch and Yarn most days. This might include projects I'm turning into patterns, working on samples, researching, designing and of course, keeping up with various social media platforms – my own, and others I'm following. 

Anyway, today I thought I'd show you my week in pictures – all projects in progress that will turn into patterns, samples and products somewhere down the line.
Last Sunday I worked on my Mexican-cochineal-inspired quilt. I finally got the last of the colours in the mail, but sadly this was the last time I got to it for the week. I'm aiming for a mid-April finish, which seems utterly reasonable at the moment...
Monday was a new Mexican blouse. I'm trialling a few more bodice patterns that can be stitched faster than the all-over ones I've designed to date. I'm happy to say that I'll be teaching 'How to Make a Mexican Blouse' (that sounds a bit like How to Make an American Quilt... am I showing my age here?) with the Handmaker's Factory from the middle of April. Click here for further details.
Tuesday was documenting day. Inspired by Alabama Chanin and their gorgeous sample library, I'm taking Natalie's advice and starting to document my own work. This folder will include all the projects that were influenced by my trip to Mexico. Besides the blouse and the quilt there are three other ones in progress.
Wednesday was weaving, which really isn't worth showing you. I'm a bit behind and still warping my loom. Maybe in a couple of weeks there be some samples to show you. I did also go to the Melbourne library on Wednesday – what a find that is. I've recently built some bookshelves and I'm finally unpacking all my books from my last move. It's fair to say I've been overwhelmed at the number of books I own. I'm increasingly disappointed in the quality of fiction too and have so many books where I've only read a chapter or two and then put them down out of boredom or frustration. So, in the interests of saving money, precious natural resources and shelf space, I've joined the library. These gems are research for my India trip later in the year.
Thursday was machine knitting. Despite this photo the day went pretty well – better than last week anyway. I'm not totally sure I like having a machine between me and my textile creations – be that the loom or the knitting machine – but I'm persevering nonetheless.
Friday was a bit all over the place, some bodice stitching, some planning, and I started my fibre cataloguing. Who knew camel down was so soft?
And that brings us to Saturday, which was a day off. My sister and nephews were staying, so we went spent the day out and went to the beach. Then last night I cooked up a big veggie curry made from many of the vegetables my sister brought me from her organic CSA.

So there you have it folks, this is how I'm spending my days, and I can tell you that, for now, it suits me well. Hope you all had a lovely week!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Sustainability in the world of textile design

One of my subjects this semester is about sustainable textiles – I think this subject has come along at just the right time for me. The sustainability of the textile industry really bothers me. Actually maybe it’s more than sustainability, maybe it’s purpose, or more specifically, my purpose, that I’m questioning (AGAIN).

For the past ten years I’ve worked for an environment/communications consultancy whose commissions were mostly for large infrastructure projects. The company owners believed that it was often better to work for an organisation that wasn’t doing the greatest job sustainability-wise, and help them move 10 per cent in the right direction, than it was to work for an organisation that largely did the right thing already, and help them shift maybe a further 1 per cent.

While my role fell more on the communications side than the environment side, I felt, for a lot of the time I worked there, that I was doing something with purpose – and while moving into the world of textiles, gives me the opportunity to nurture my creative side – the sustainability aspect, and sometimes even the ethics of the industry has me wondering how I’m going to find that same sense of purpose.

Knowing how unsustainable cotton production can be, or how environmentally damaging some dying methods are, or how treacherous the conditions textile workers in third world countries operate under, has me thinking about how I can find a place I'm comfortable in, gives me meaning and doesn’t just contribute to the ever-growing mountain of ‘stuff’ that none of us really needs.

Tonight in class we watched this. I’ve seen it a few times before, but it’s through the eyes of a textile designer I’m watching it again and trying to navigate my way towards a new purpose.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

My next textile travel destination!

Along with my passion for textiles, you've probably noticed that I love to travel, and combining the two is my idea of perfection. But the world is wide, and there are so many countries with rich textile traditions, that picking one to travel to can be a daunting task. Last year, I used the Lonely Planet list of Top Ten Countries for 2014 as a starting point. This list comes out every year in the previous October. Last year's top ten consisted of Brazil, Antarctica, Scotland, Sweden, Malawi, Mexico, Seychelles, Belgium, Macedonia and Malaysia. What a selection, filled with textile options!

I did a lot of research, made a shortlist and then narrowed it down before applying to the residency in Mexico. And, before I knew it, I was on my way.
The state of Oaxaca from the air.
This year's Lonely Planet list was a different story... Singapore, Namibia, Lithuania, Nicaragua, Ireland, Republic of Congo, Serbia, The Philippines, St Lucia and Morocco. Don't get me wrong, there are a few countries here with amazing textile traditions – Morocco, Ireland, Nicaragua, etc, but once I started researching I realised there are a few more criteria that need to be considered.

First, the textile tradition has to be one I can learn. So, as an example Morocco has the most wonderful textile tradition in making woven rugs, but weaving a rug is really beyond me at this stage.

Second, the textile tradition has to be alive, flourishing, being celebrated and taught. Ireland is famous for its linen and wool – think of the Aran jumper (or sweater if you're American) – but last time I was there, I really struggled to find a way in to an exploration of this tradition beyond museums and tourist shops.

Third, the language barrier. It helps enormously if someone has gone before and is providing the link between me and the maker. Both Lithuania and Serbia seem to have richly detailed embroidery traditions, but finding anything in English to connect me to it proved difficult.

And lastly there are the usual travel and interest issues. I don't feel comfortable putting Africa at the top of my travel list just now. Even though the continent is huge, there are plenty of other options to consider this year. Parts of Africa, however, are absolutely on my dream textile travel list for the future. Nicaragua also got crossed off this year due to its similarity to Mexico in terms of textiles.
A sea of bags in Oaxaca, Mexico.
So, where did this leave me? Losing hours and hours researching on the internet is where it left me! But, as is always the case, once you start seeking them out, opportunities appear. There were two trips that started to look like possibilities for India. I was hesitant at first because it seems that every man and his dog is going to India to block print textiles at the moment, but the more I thought about it, the more the trips seemed ideal. There's no way I'd head off to India on my own, and both of these options were with textile groups, meaning I'd learn a lot and meet contacts along the way.

This week I ended up having to make my mind up in a hurry. I got an email saying one of the trips would be open for booking at 9am PST (which is 4am my time!) and I knew it would book out fast. The second trip is still very much in planning stages, so I had about 24 hours to make up my mind...

Even though I felt dreadful the next day from a very restless night and little sleep, I can happily announce that it's done. I'm heading off on another Ace Camp with Angela Ritchie (the first one was with Maura Grace Ambrose of Folk Fibers back here), led by Heather Moore (wow, do I love her work! Check out her website here and her Instagram feed here) and leaving early October.

What an adventure it's going to be. I've already started my research and it's very likely that most of my projects this year will have a strong Indian influence. I'm getting excited already.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Resolution for 2015 – the dreaded mending pile

I don't know about you, but I have this steadily growing pile of clothes in my wardrobe that makes me feel guilty every time I look at it. It's the mending. Many of the pieces only require small fixes – a hem that needs reattaching, a seam that's come undone, a small tear that needs sewing together. I won't lie to you though, there are some things in the pile that require a mammoth effort – the cardigan with a sleeve that needs to be removed, undone and partially re-knitted is one that comes to mind.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

My textile year in review – 2014

I've just taken a look back at 2013's year in review, and I'm blown away by all the projects I managed to complete last year. This year I feel like I've done an incredible amount of textile work, but it doesn't seem to have amounted to very many completed projects. One skirt, a couple of surface designs, a knitted baby blanket, a knitted summer cardigan, and a hell of a lot of assignments.

I think I probably took on one too many courses this year. While I've been learning different embroidery stitch techniques in one of them – and it was worth it when I was still working and looking for textile projects to keep me focussed while I waited for that long period of the company sale lock-in to finish, it's probably not something I'll continue in 2015. I'd rather focus on projects of my own design. Anyway, that's something to think about over the next couple of weeks as we head into the new year.

There is one project I've just completed (in time for Christmas) that I can share with you here – a Mexican blouse that I made for my sister. It's a pattern I modified from the one I learnt to do in Mexico. I used a more Autumn-like palette, added a mix of fabrics and designed the floral bodice for the stitching.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Making a Mexican blouse – Join me at Craft's Inaugural Summer Workshop Series

A couple of months ago I put in an expression of interest to tutor with Craft Victoria for their summer series of workshops. I thought it might be a bit of a long shot, but you have to put yourself out there sometimes don't you?

First I found out I'd been shortlisted, then I attended an interview, had a few more phone calls with questions, and then, before I knew it, the event was launched (on Thursday), and there was my face on the Craft website as one of nine tutors taking part – what a thrill!

So now that it's all confirmed, I thought it might be useful to have some more detailed information on my blog about what's involved. The classes will go over four weeks and will cover the areas of construction, embroidery, crochet and 'hazme si puedes' (a type of smocking).

Obviously the most striking part of a Mexican blouse is the embroidery. The blouses in my class will be in the style made by the women of San Antonino Castillo Velasco. It's astonishing how each area of Mexico has its own type of fibre art, and the range in stitching styles is equally broad. All the elements that make up the embroidery though, are quite simple, so I've been designing various templates for the class. People can choose a design, or indeed draw their own, based on how much homework they want to do. A full bodice of embroidery can take a number of weeks if done in fine detail, as shown below.
I think the hardest challenge, but the most fun part, is deciding what combination of colours to use! While the Mexican blouses are all pretty bright (see below), I've been experimenting with some less traditional combinations as well.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Making, making, making

Since my return from Mexico, it's taken me a little while to get my head around the fact that I don't have to go to work each day. I get a grin from ear to ear when someone asks me whether I had to go back after long service leave – it's such a wonderful thing to be out of there.

I certainly haven't been sitting idle – in fact I'm not sure I'm very good at doing that – and I'm realising that if this working-from-home thing is going to be permanent, then in the long term, a studio is going to be essential so my apartment doesn't look like a fabric store has exploded in it on a daily basis.

The first project I had to get finished was a cardigan for my sister's birthday. I did knit this on and off during my trip so there wasn't a ton to do when I got back... still, it always takes longer than you think it's going to. I'm not super-happy with the lace-patterned edges on this one. They have a tendency to curl and I think I'll have to look at sewing a strip of grosgrain along the inside bottom to keep it flat. All other details for this project are on my Ravelry page.