Sunday, 1 May 2016

Work getting in the way

I think I'm getting close to chucking it all in and finding myself a tiny cabin in the bush so I can spend my days stitching and knitting. This work business is not all it's cracked up to be. I know I'm only back doing four days a week, but it's not just the hours – it's the mental energy that eats away at my precious textile time. That's why this weekend has been so glorious. Three days of fabric, thread and yarn. I have a lot to catch you up on, so let's get started...
First the denim quilt. Let's face it, I'm not really a quilter. It's the part of the process I like least, which is why I usually send it off to get quilted. With this one however, I wasn't sure there'd be too many people up for quilting denim, and the idea of machine quilting didn't appeal. So, that left me with hand-quilting it myself. It wasn't the quilting part I found daunting, but rather the basting. Hundreds of safety pins through thick denim? That didn't sound like fun, so I decided to give spray basting a go. In general I'm not super-keen on the idea of spray basting. As a designer I've used enough spray adhesive in my life to know sticky lungs, sticky furniture, not to mention the aerosol-can waste, go along with the more professional finish.

Anyway, I headed down to the car park in my building on a Monday (when I figured no-one would be driving in and out), and went down the far end which is open to the outside for ventilation and away from the cars to avoid incidental spraying. I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of fumes – I'd still recommend wearing a mask – and the result was enough to make me a spray-baste convert! Honestly, I'm never happy with pinning – it's never as flat as I'd like it, and because it takes me so long to quilt anything, the whole thing just becomes more uneven as I go. With spray-basting however, I've been rolling this quilt up, chucking it on the couch or in a corner, and it's still perfect. I'm also really enjoying the process of hand-quilting. I'm using sashiko thread and pretty large stitches (a bit under a quarter of an inch), but it's very cathartic. The deadline for this quilt is Christmas so I think it's going to spend many a winter's night on my lap while I work my way back and forth across it.
Next, is the exhibition work. Our application is due in about 20 days, but we're hoping for a slot later in the year. I've done some little test pieces, had all my fabric, but there was something about the design that didn't feel resolved. It all came together however, on a plane on my way back from a work trip to Brisbane, so yesterday I started the piece proper.
Woo hoo!
I actually got five of the 11 panels together this weekend – much more than I thought I would. And at least I've set myself up with some no-thinking, hand-stitching to do between now and when I'll have time to have the machine (and my mathematical brain to figure out the next panel) out again.
Last, there's the knitting. So close on this one now. Fronts and back, blocked and seamed, sleeves knitted, and now I'm just making my way around the bands... I'll be wearing it in no time! Pattern details all on my Ravelry page if you're interested.

Hope life is treating you all well, and leaving you plenty of time for the things you're passionate about.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Cobalt, indigo and my own adventures in blue

Blue: Alchemy of a Colour is a small exhibition currently on at the NGV. It opened in November and runs until the beginning of April, and explores the artistic use of cobalt and indigo in pieces dating back as far as the seventh century. The works were mostly ceramic – cobalt pigment – and textiles – indigo dye. No prizes for guessing what I was there to look at!
Blue: Alchemy of a Colour, Chinese formal court robe.
Chinese formal court robe from the mid 19th Century.
Silk, fur, silk and metallic thread, gilt; slit tapestry weave.
The works are from Asia and Europe, and for a small collection they showed an impressive range of techniques from ikat and batik, to boro, shibori and supplementary weft weaving. Since learning to do the latter in Mexico, I always take particular interest in those. Given it took me about a week to weave this, I simply cannot get my mind around weaving something like this ceremonial piece below. How on earth would you keep track of which threads you were putting under, and which over?
Blue: Alchemy of a Colour, Indonesian tampan - supplementary weft weaving.
Tampan (ceremonial textile), Paminggir people, Sumatra, Indonesia.
Cotton dyes; supplementary weft weaving.
One of my favourite pieces was this Japanese boro kimono. It's a bit hard to see in the exhibition because it's lit from behind, but I love the mending upon mending – layers on layers stitched together with sashiko stitching for extra strength and warmth.

This rag kimono was probably worn by a poor rural worker, as blue cotton garments were commonly used in Japan at this time to signify the working class. 
Blue: Alchemy of a Colour, Japanese boro kimono, sashiko stitching
Rag kimono, 1900-50 Japan. Cotton, indigo; resist dyeing (kasuri), quilting, sashiko stitching.
Which brings me nicely to the project I'm currently working on. It's a quilt made from recycled jeans I've been collecting from friends and family as well as the odd op-shop. I'm cutting really large pieces which means I need big, tall mens' jeans for the biggest of them. I think I'm about a week away from finishing the top, which is currently spread all over the floor. 
Stitch & Yarn, making a quilt from recycled jeans
At this stage I'd usually photograph it so I can put it away and then lay it out again the same way, but given all the pieces are essentially the same colour I'm not really sure that will work. The alternative is normally numbering the pieces, but I can't quite figure out how to do that either. I guess it's just going to have to live in this very inconvenient spot until I'm done!
I suspect I'm going to have an awful lot of denim leftover too. Often it's only the backs of the legs that are wide enough for what I'm doing, so I already have plans for a Maura Ambrose, Folk-Fibers style improvised quilt after this one. Let's just say, I think I'm going to be vacuuming up a million tiny denim threads for a while yet.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Showing our hand

I'm a bit hesitant to put this out into the world – but I think it's time. For a little while now, my textile gals and I have been kicking around the idea of putting on an exhibition. In December last year we decided to get serious, and yesterday we had our second planning session – with plenty of food to keep the ideas flowing.

Our theme is 'Background Noise' – as all of us have begun our serious exploration of a textile practice while holding down full-time jobs, having babies, moving house or changing careers. The exhibition is a chance for the textile work to move to the foreground – a celebration of our journey so far.

One of our favourite parts of working alongside each other, is hearing about the process each of us goes through to get to the act of creating. Yesterday was no exception. I'm constantly inspired by these women and amazed that one theme can bring forth so many different, yet fascinating approaches.

We have a long way to go in realising this little dream of ours, and a lot to learn, but I'm so excited that we're on the way!

Sunday, 31 January 2016

A sustainable wardrobe – Part 4, Opting out for a while

This past month has seen me return to work, albeit in a part-time contract capacity. Boy, was it a shock to the system in my first week. My shoulders hurt from sitting at a computer all day, my feet hurt from wearing grown-up shoes and I was exhausted by Friday afternoon after a week of early (relatively-speaking) mornings.

There have been lots of clothes in my wardrobe that haven't seen the light of day since I stopped work, so it's been interesting to get them out again and to notice the difference in wear between these and the clothes I've had on every day. This month has seen the end of a full year without purchasing clothes for myself. I don't want to say that I'm proud, because, in truth, it's been fairly easy. I had a pretty large base to start. And in the interests of full disclosure, I haven't stopped buying fabric or yarn, although I'm buying a lot more consciously when I do.
Originally this post was going to be about the sustainability issues in turning fibre into fabric, followed by a post on the social sustainability of the fashion industry – that is, the working conditions under which our clothes are produced – but right now, I feel the need to opt out of the system altogether for a while.

For starters, the industry is still very opaque and it's almost impossible to follow the supply chain. Often a company's head office has no idea where their fibres come from, so there's no way the customer can find out. And don't think high-end brand names are immune. Just because an item of clothing is expensive, doesn't mean it's ethically made. I'll still be active in contacting my once-favourite brands to see if they're making progress, but I'm not holding my breath.

Second, as a rich (again, relatively-speaking), white woman, there's not a lot I can add to the horror-story that is the conditions under which our clothing is made – beyond urging you to look into it, be aware, and make some changes in your own wardrobe.

Anyway, my current situation... Now that I'm into my second year without clothing purchases, I've noticed that some items are starting to become a little worn. I probably haven't let that happen much over the past ten years, as corporate jobs come with certain expectations about acceptable dress. What's particularly frustrating are the items containing elastane – and that's quite a few these days. I've got a fitted, black, knit top, that's in perfect condition everywhere except the neckline. The elasticity is completely gone and, because it's part of the fibre make-up, I can't see any way to restore it. Another thing to add to the list of no-no's when I do need wardrobe replacements.

Right now though, I'm still aiming to decrease my wardrobe to the point of not having to move a season's-worth of clothes out to fit the alternative season in. It'll still be some time before that happens, as I'm not one for purging perfectly good clothes just to go all minimalist. If you remember back to Part 1, I did a wardrobe audit, and there were 167 items were on my clothing list. I've decided I want to get that down to below 100 and then re-assess. I know there are some items that will need replacing as soon as they go – my gym pants for example – but there'll then be a long list of items that don't need replacing at all.

So, that's where I'm up to. Below, I've listed some links about the subjects I was originally going to write about so you can still look into them if you like. I have to warn you it makes pretty depressing reading and watching.

Turning fibre into fabric

  • Greenpeace's 'Detox my Fashion' campaign
  • Newsweek article on the shocking consequences of toxic chemicals used in the fashion industry and the conditions people using them work under.
  • The downside of waterproofing outdoor clothing.

Fashion factory working conditions 

  • China Blue – the story of jean manufacturing in China.
  • Sweatshop – Deadly Fashion – the story of three Norwegian fashion bloggers sent to work in Cambodian sweatshops. Five, ten minute episodes.

Friday, 1 January 2016

2015 in textiles

This time last year I was quite disappointed that I hadn't finished many textile projects in 2014. What a difference not having a day job has made in 2015. There's been knitting, stitching, dyeing, weaving, surface design, sewing and quilting. And I guess that's what I wanted this past year to be about... Experimenting, learning and improving my skills.

So here's a visual journey through the projects I completed this year.
This is one of my most recent finishes. Right now, Miriam, the woman who taught me how to make these blouses, and I are working on some blouse patterns to release in 2016.
Birthday present for a friend in April.
My nieces crayon drawings turned into Crayon Crazy fabric on Spoonflower and then sewn into skirts. 
Inspired by my trip to India – above and below.

Baby boy quilt with my new Stitch & Yarn tags.
My first quilt pattern was released in 2015. I'm working on a follow-up for 2016.
Patchwork cushions made from my Blomma fabric.
This was my first finish for 2015. I wasn't sure about it at first and there are a few things I'd do differently next time, but I really like it now.
Mother's Day socks. Mum dancing a jig in them can be seen on my Instagram feed!
Knitted necklaces for an assignment.
Juliet's cardigan was knitted in 2014, but the two on the right, Phoebe's and Olivia's were finished this year.
And my final item for the year – Dad's 70th birthday present. A Brooklyn Tweed Sawyer sweater. I'm super-chuffed with this one and it fits him perfectly.
Details for all the knitted pieces can be found on my Ravelry projects page.

2016 is going to bring more changes. First off, I'm heading back to work next week. I still have my list of projects on the fridge for completion during the coming year, but I re-did it after accepting the contract role. It's not quite so ambitious any more, but it still has its challenges.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, creative and handmade 2016 – I'm off to start on that list.
Happy New Year!