Sunday, 20 July 2014

An end, and a beginning

It's been a long two years, but it’s finally here.

Back in 2011, after 7 years in my job, I started to get a growing sense that it was time to move on. A great project opportunity; uncertainty about how I would resign, given I was also a shareholder; and the time needed to decide what I might do next, meant the year came and went with my job unchanged.
My workplace for much of the last ten years. Photo by Bob Peters.
At the beginning of 2012 a couple of things happened that strengthened my resolve to leave. Unfortunately, about two month’s later, we were told the company was being sold and those of us who were shareholders would need to stay put to realise the value of the firm.

Things got worse from there, as we found we’d not only have to stay until the sale, but we’d be locked into a two-year contract with limited access to leave. Being a relatively minor shareholder, I didn’t have a lot of say in the matter.

The next six months were hard, really hard. On the whole I’d loved my time at the original company, we'd had a strong set of values that we lived by, we were treated as adults and given autonomy over our work, and I was given opportunities that I found exciting and challenging. The new company was a global entity that gave me none of these things.
Our lovely studio and two of my favourite team mates. Photo by Mel Koutchavlis.
After grieving the loss of the original company, I decided the only way to get through the two years was to take matters into my own hands.

“Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.”  – Victor Frankl

I had often thought about doing a particular textiles course in Melbourne and I also knew that of our three company offices in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, the Melbourne one was least affected by the sale. So, I applied for a transfer, and got it. It didn’t hurt that my managing director has been extremely supportive of me through all this, and that one of my closest friends was running the Melbourne operation.

The move was good. It gave me a place to hide out and regroup, and while last year meant a lot of frustration and uncertainty, these last six months have been full-on, as everything I applied for came to fruition, along with a major work project and a house move.
The camaraderie was part of what made the original company so special. Photo by Mel Koutchavlis.
And now, yesterday, Saturday, marked the end of the two years. Our final share payment is in the bank, and tomorrow I will hand in my resignation. It’s a bittersweet moment. The original workplace was quite easily the best job I’ve ever had, I grew so much in my career and met some wonderfully inspiring people, as well as making some lifelong friends. And part of me is terrified at the step I’m taking – quitting my job and heading off overseas for an artist’s residency. Even this week I’ve had someone say to me “You’re so brave. I wish I had the courage to do that”. And in that moment I have a clutch of fear in my stomach and wonder what on earth I am doing.

In the end though, I know have an opportunity that many dream of, but few get – and despite the trepidation, I'm so looking forward to this new beginning.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Ten months later it's finally on Spoonflower

I just checked back through the blog and realised it's ten months since I did my screenprinting porfolio course. After adding some additional patterns and creating another colourway, it's only this week that I've finally got the swatches of the collection back from Spoonflower. Not that Spoonflower took that long to print and send it to me, but more that between major tenders, starting studying again, moving house and preparing for my trip to Mexico, it's taken me that long to upload it!

You can see the original screenprints way back here.
Blomma range, manlig colourway.
I can't believe everything is getting so close now... A week until I can quit my job and three weeks until I fly out – first to Spain for a bit of a holiday, and then onto the residency in Mexico. Very exciting, but also slightly terrifying!

I've been really lucky, in that my class teacher is letting me use the residency in Oaxaca as the basis for my major project this semester, meaning I haven't had to take a complete leave of absence and I get to keep pace with my classmates. I'm really happy about that as they're all lovely.
Blomma range, kvinnlig colourway.
My final assignment from last semester was all based around Mexico as my inspiration, so I'm hoping to get that up on Spoonflower at some point too. It's definitely not looking likely before I leave though. I had big plans to build myself a little light box to photograph it in, but the bits of wood are still lying on the floor (along with most of my possessions, still waiting to be allocated a new home after the move).

I've got a few tweaks to do with a couple of the fabrics in this set – some of the backgrounds aren't working quite how I'd like, but most of it you can now find here and the rest will be up tomorrow evening. I'm looking forward to making something out of the swatches – maybe a big patched cushion or two? Or any other suggestions welcome!

Have a great week peeps! Once I've found the right pile of stuff on the floor I'll be back in a week or two to show you how my embroidery course has been going.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Enormous and inspiring – Textile art from the web

There are two projects I've come across this week that are so massive in their undertaking that I just have to share them. The first one was a yarnbomb my Dad shared on Facebook! Not that he took part, but he did go and visit it and then send me the pics. It's the Holbrook yellow submarine yarnbomb – the largest yarnbomb in Australia to date.

Holbrook is a small town of about 1,200 people that's 80km south of the town I grew up in. It was the last town to be bypassed as part of the Hume Highway upgrade between Sydney and Melbourne, and the yarnbomb was a way to attract visitors to the town.
The Holbook yellow submarine yarnbomb.
The reason there's a whopping great submarine sitting in the middle of rural NSW is that the town purchased the Otway when the Royal Navy decommissioned it to honour its namesake Lieutenant Holbrook. In a nice bit of synchronicity, a string of knitted bunting was sent over for the yarnbomb from the town in Scotland where the HMAS Otway was built.

The yarnbomb was perfectly timed to match the 50-year anniversary of the Beatles tour of Australia and to coincide with world yarn-bombing day and world knit-in-public day too. Check out this great timelapse of the submarine being covered – it truly was a mammoth effort.


And in a nice segue from knitting in Scotland to embroidery, the next project I wanted to share is the Great Tapestry of Scotland. I came across it earlier in the week on Kate Davies' lovely blog.

This monumental piece was the brainchild of Alexander McCall Smith (what doesn't that man do?). He was inspired by the Prestonpans tapestry and contacted its designer – Andrew Crummy – to see if he would be interested in the project. Andrew said yes, and the whole thing took off from there.

The tapestry covers 420 million years of Scottish history and is worked in a similar style to the Bayeux tapestry, but is much longer. Its 160 panels were stitched by 1,000 volunteers working in groups, with each panel taking more than 400 hours to complete.


It's worth taking a look at Kate's blog too, as she's doing a series on the detail of each panel. It's not until you're up that close that you can see how truly stunning the work is.

Now I'm going back to my projects which seem quite small-scale and domestic after this lot! Happy week everyone.

Monday, 9 June 2014

The weaving tradition of Oaxaca

With my assignments all out of the way and work quietening down a bit, I've realised it's less than two months until I fly out for Mexico. With that in mind, it's about time I shared some of the tradition of the area and a little bit of what I might be learning over there.

While I'll be doing both weaving and embroidery residencies (three weeks of each), I've found it pretty hard to find information on the embroidery, even the education director at the textile museum in Oaxaca said there's not much written about it, so I might be better visiting them when I'm there to find out more.

Weaving is a different story – it's been part of the Oaxaca tradition since before the Aztecs. There are no textiles surviving from this period, but there are certainly images on murals, carvings and manuscripts showing women weaving on a backstrap loom, which is what I'll be learning on. I'm pretty sure I'll be working on a narrower and less threaded loom than the one shown below – I'm starting from nothing in terms of weaving.
Nicolasa Pascual is a weaver from San Bartolo Yautepec, Oaxaca. Image via Norma Hawthorne's Oaxaca Cultural Navigator site, taken by Eric Chavez Santiago, Director of Education, Museo Textil de Oaxaca.
The traditional materials used for weaving were native cottons, rabbit fur and feathers. That changed with the introduction of wool by the Spanish, who also brought with them new dyestuffs, embroidery techniques and, most importantly, the treadle loom, which enabled the production of much larger pieces of cloth.

Going hand in hand with the fibres used for weaving are the dyes used to colour them. Cochineal is the most prized red dye and much of it is produced in Oaxaca. Cochineal is a parasite that lives on the cactus plant and when used alone or mixed with other substances, can produce dyes from one third of the colour spectrum. Before the introduction of synthetic dyes, cochineal was Mexico's second largest export after silver. The Spanish forced a monopoly on its production during the colonial period and the punishment if you were caught smuggling cochineal was death. While I won't be doing the dye residency at Arquetopia, there are certainly options for me to do short courses at other places while I'm there.

I'll also have plenty of time to get outside Oaxaca to visit some of the smaller towns in the area. Many of them are known for particular types of weaving with up to 90 per cent of a town's income being derived from the craft. Probably the most well-known of these towns is Teotitlán del Valle, famous for its woven rugs. These are made on treadle looms, mostly from wool, and the community is returning to using natural dyes, as the importance of sustainability is recognised. Many are woven using traditional designs, although some weavers mix that up with more modern ones.
Textiles from Teotitlán de Valle by Wolfgang Sauber via Wikimedia Commons
As with the production of traditional textiles everywhere, the next generation aren't always keen to carry on the work of their parents, many preferring to move to the cities to earn better money. It seems that the towns around Oaxaca are doing better than most in this respect and it will be interesting to see it for myself.

A fabulous resource I've come across in my research has been the documentary Woven Lives, which profiled many of these weaving communities along with the products they're making and the processes they use. It also included a segment on the textile museum at Oaxaca – something else I'm looking forward to visiting.

Lastly, for those of you on Pinterest I've also made a Oaxaca Pinterest board. It's a bunch of images I've been collecting about the textiles from Oaxaca, wider Mexico, and some designers and artists who've been inspired by them.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Plain knitting as therapy

I know knitting can be a year-round pursuit, but I do find myself more inclined to snuggle on the couch with the needles during the colder months. I've got a couple of projects on the go, but a it's all fairly straight-forward knitting. At first I thought it was because I'm still recovering from the summer lace project (we won't mention that today as it's still not finished!) and that I should add something a little more complex to the works in progress, but then I realised that what I have on the go at the moment is just perfect.

Right now, all my other textile pursuits are full-on and deadline driven, they involve lots of hand-stitching and lots of things I've never even tried before. You'll get to see all of that soon, but in the meantime a little bit of plain knitting is just what I need to switch off and keep me sane – so here goes...

First up is a finish! It feels like forever since I've done a ta-da moment on here. This is a blanket I knitted for my sister, or more accurately my new little nephew. It's done in Koigu I bought in New York last year. I learnt a big lesson in keeping my Ravelry up-to-date with this one. Unfortunately the blue skein ran out about 5 rows short of the other colours, which was pretty frustrating. I contacted Purl Soho and they kindly offered to send me another, but I couldn't find the tag so I guessed the colourway. I didn't like what came back in the post and I've found the receipt and colourway since (doubly annoying, and note to self – you really need to keep Ravelry up to date!) so I just went with the shorter blue strip in the right colour. Let's face it, nobody else will probably notice except me (and now all of you!)
The next project is another summer-weight cardigan I'm knitting for my sister (different one). The pattern is in bamboo, but I'm doing it in a cotton blend. It took a lot of swatching to figure out which needle size I should be using, but I think it's going to be OK now. For some reason I keep twisting stitches on this one. Maybe I'm subconsciously sabotaging myself to break up the monotony of plain knitting?
And last but not least is this project. It's for me and it makes me very happy knitting in this colour! It's going to be a navy, cream and yellow winter cardigan/jacket. It's a Milla Mia pattern and you can find the details on my Ravelry page – I've managed to get that bit up to date.
Right now though, I need to get back to that stitching! Hope everyone has a great week.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Putting one stitch in front of the other

Oh it feels like such an age since I sat down to write a proper post! The major project I've been working on in Sydney was finished at 4am last Monday and then lodged at lunchtime. As soon as was seemly, I excused myself from the client thank-you lunch and got my backside on a plane to Melbourne to my very own sweet bed for the first time in over two weeks.

It's taken me some time to catch up on sleep and even longer to get my head on straight, but I think I'm nearly back to normal. I've been at class this week and slightly panic-struck at the work I need to get through, but I think it's just residual panic from the tender, rather than necessary panic, as things really are in hand.

Some things I've been meaning to share with you, for a few months now, are my adventures in embroidery. At the beginning of the year when I still didn't know whether I'd gotten into the textiles course and Mexico was an utter fantasy, I decided I needed a back-up plan. Some textile thing to keep me going if the others fell through. And so I signed up to a three-year correspondence course with NSW Embroiderer's Guild. About five minutes after paying my fees, getting my place at RMIT, being accepted into the residency in Mexico and landing a massive tender project at work it was more like "what the HELL were you thinking?!?!"

Anyway, it was done, and I forged ahead. I'm into Module 3 now and really enjoying it despite a few hiccups and random late night stitching sessions. So, I thought I'd take you back to module 1 and show you a bit of the process. Obviously I won't be sharing the whole course on here, but this module is fairly common knowledge (it's given out as an example when you enquire about the course).

First, there's what arrives in the mail – basically a pile of threads. Along with the threads come instructions for the stitch you're to use – in this case it was running stitch (it is Module 1 after all), and your theme which, for Module 1, was leaves.
At the time our assignments in class were all based around botanicals (loosely), so I went on a leaf-collecting mission on my way to the coffee shop. Who would have thought that an 800m round trip could yield such a collection. This is just a small sample below.
From here I was a bit at odds... I was really attracted to doing something with the eucalyptus leaf shape, but it didn't suit the Autumn colours since gum trees are evergreen. I did quite a few little sketches at this point, playing around with shapes and how the stitches might work.

In the end I settled on negative space, that way I could use the gum leaf shape and have the threads more reminiscent of tree bark.
It was a bit of a marathon to get it finished in time – I had no idea how long it would take me to stitch the space! I've been a bit more organised since, now that I know how long each one takes. We get a month to do each module, but the thing that takes the longest for me is living with the threads and colour palette for a bit and coming up with a design, not necessarily the stitching.

So, here's the finished piece from Module 1. I've also kept a Pinterest board for inspiration if you're interested.

I think we need to talk knitting next week – I've got a real pile of projects stacking up. Hope everyone has a great week!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

A sneak peek of things to come

While I'm still beavering away on this tender deadline, I thought I'd share some photos from the textile artists' residency I'll be doing in August and September.

Arquetopia put these photos up on Behance this week, and they were just what I needed to keep me inspired until this seemingly never-ending work project is over.
The photo above shows the central historic district of Oaxaca, which is only two blocks away from Arquetopia Oaxaca. The image below is one of the artist's studios at Arquetopia.
The next two photos are from the instructional artists residencies. The first is from the weaving residency and the second from the embroidery residency. I am lucky enough to be doing them both back-to-back.
To see the full set of images including more from Arquetopia and the surrounds of Oaxaca, take a look here. I can't wait to get there!