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Sunday, 9 April 2017

Batiking in Swaziland

If you've been following along on Instragram you would have noticed a change of location for me over the last couple of weeks. I was off on a textile adventure in Swaziland learning how to batik. Yes, I know it's a long way to go for a new technique, but I love travel and love textiles, so this way I get to combine the two, without too much sightseeing, which I don't enjoy so much.

While batik originated in Indonesia, what we know as African wax prints began as an attempt by the Dutch to take over the textile market in Indonesia using a cheaper technique. Thankfully this didn't work in Indonesia, but the fabrics definitely took off in West Africa where local colour combinations and motifs were incorporated.

The wax prints are created a little like Indian block prints, but instead of using a wooden block dipped in ink to create colour, a copper block is dipped in wax then pressed into the fabric to create a resist when dyeing. Subsequent layers of wax are added, or partly removed, then the fabric is dyed further to create the wildly colourful wax prints we know today.

At Baobab Batik we were using a brush and the Indonesian tjanting (pictured below) to apply the wax and create our patterns. We had three special days, being taught by a wonderful group of women, how to apply wax, how to recognise when it was too hot or too cold, and how to apply the layers of dye and fix them to the fabric.
The first day I spent creating little samples and getting used to both the waxing and dyeing techniques. You kind of have to think in reverse being a resist technique and that takes some getting used to. The second day I made my apron with a modified version of the design I created in the navy and pale green below. You can see all the apron details over on Instagram.
On the third day I decided to make leggings using a technique and pattern that Baobab Batik created. In this instance you have to start with the dye, and that's what you can see me applying in the pictures below. Normally Baobab Batik use a rainbow of colours to create this pattern which they call stained glass. I decided to use pink, orange and red as I figured I was more likely to wear that (evidenced by my matching top in the pic!). This caused quite a stir in the colour house with the women calling others over to see what I was doing.
Bonsile watching on, with Busi pretending to help.
After the dyeing, the fabric is laid out to dry. When it's almost dry, caustic soda is sprinkled on, so some of the colour fixes better than the rest, creating a more mottled effect. Unfortunately this day was the only one of the three we were there, that wasn't completely sunny, so my leggings took a long time to dry...
Bonsile helping me lay out the leggings.
On this last day, we all had a picnic lunch together out on the grass. It was really lovely to sit and chat to the women we may not necessarily have spent so much time with over the previous two days and to hear their stories, learn about their families and their everyday lives. We were also treated to some fabulous singing and dancing after lunch.

When that finished I was promptly sent back inside to wax like a crazy person as it was our last afternoon at the wax pots. My pattern is slightly bigger and a bit more uniform than the way they are normally done, and there are sections where my wax was too hot. It's nice that I could also tell that on the day, but I didn't have time to stop and fix it – I was on a mission.

Our leaving time came and went, with everyone else being dropped at our next destination and the bus coming back to get me so I had extra time to finish, which I was super grateful for. And the result?
My finished leggings after waxing and their final dip in navy dye.
Do you know, these are the first leggings I've ever tried on that are actually long enough for me too. Win/win all round, I say. Now, before I head off, I just wanted to show you what the professional product looks like – drying in the sun, below. To see more of their beautiful work and learn the Baobab Batik story, head over to the website (link above first pic), or check out their Instagram feed.

Last, but not least, I wanted to mention that this is the third trip I've done with Ace Camps and I can't recommend them highly enough for anyone looking for a holiday with a difference – wonderful people, interesting locations, lovely accommodation and a learning experience to boot. And no, this post isn't sponsored, I just think they're fabulous – check them out!

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Jean pocket project

It's now been more than two years since I've bought any clothes* and the longer it goes on, the more I'm drawn to working exclusively with upcycled textiles. I've recently spent time researching options for getting hold of pre-consumer (ie cutting waste from clothing manufacturing) or post-consumer textile waste, but, as is usual, the options in Australia are fairly limited.

I look at other countries that have innovative textile recycling programs (or even old-school ones) that give artists and makers access to the waste stream, but in Australia waste is big business and it's incredibly difficult to insert yourself into the cycle. The few places I can find that allow for community access, only deal with building and construction materials.

In terms of post-consumer waste, I'd really prefer to focus on textiles that aren't deemed fit for secondhand store resale. I'm looking for jeans that don't contain elastane, cotton shirts, cotton t-shirts (without writing or slogans) and 100% wool items. When I talk to secondhand stores, they say that once they've sorted what they don't need, the rest gets bundled and sold to brokers who use a very small percentage for turning into other products, but send the bulk of it to third world countries for resale (which has its own issues).  I've also talked directly to waste management organisations. Over recent times, especially in large Australian cities, local tips, and their accompanying tip shops, have become a thing of the past. Large multi-nationals such as Suez now run the show, and while recycling is definitely one of their services – according to someone I spoke to there this week, textiles go straight to landfill with no options for someone like me to get access before this happens.

In a country that bins the second largest amount of textile waste per capita – this isn't ideal.
Anyway, while I continue my search, it has got me thinking about how fast fashion is contributing to the destruction of local textile industries, skills and techniques and how clothes that were once created for a lifetime of service, such as jeans, are now a staple of fast fashion – an item created for its sturdiness and durability now churned out in the millions by, often times, child workers in Asia.

The result of all this thinking, emailing and phoning around is a personal art project I'm going to undertake for the year. One jean pocket per week decorated using a traditional textile technique. Each week I'll be posting the result over on my Instagram account.
I'm starting out fairly simple with kantha, or running stitch. I have a heap of ideas for decorating the pockets, but probably not a whole year's worth, so if you have any ideas you'd like to share, please do.

I'm also open to ideas on getting hold of textile waste. I have had some luck with the pre-consumer waste, so I'll share that with you in the coming weeks, but if you've got ideas for post-consumer waste, beyond shopping at charity stores, I'm all ears.
*except for the forgotten gym clothing episode.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

New year, new quilt

Introducing the Blue Giant! This quilt has been quietly plodding along in the background for well over a year now – but just as 2017 was getting underway I stitched the last stitch into the binding. Let's face it, a quilt top with pieces that big took no time at all to construct. It was the decision to hand quilt that dragged it out by months and months. I'm so glad I did it though, the larger stitches created with indigo-dyed sashiko thread really suit the aged and worn jeans. I just can't imagine that machine-quilting would have suited it as well.
The quilt front is made entirely from upcycled jeans collected from friends and family or bought at the local op-shop. I'm making a real effort to work with textiles that have enjoyed a previous life rather than buying into the whole cycle of new fabrics released each season.

There were a few jean pieces I wanted to use for colour balance that were worn through, so I patched them to add extra interest. They could just as easily have been patched from behind boro-style and stitched over to create even more texture.
Theoretically, you could make this quilt top from 12 pairs of jeans, and I've created a pattern over in my Etsy store so you can do just that. The quilt pictured here is 85" across (216 cm) and fits nicely on a queen-sized bed (pictured below). To get a quilt this size you need to use extra large men's jeans to make that centre star, but if you have a stash of old jeans and want to try this pattern out, I've provided instructions for you to be able to resize the pattern to suit whatever jeans you have handy.
It's so exciting to finally be able to show you the finished quilt. For the last month or so it's been schlepping backwards and forwards with me from Melbourne to Sydney as I rearrange my life to accommodate more day job work. Luckily it was just about done when I arrived at my Mum's in Wagga (the halfway point when I drove between the two cities), as it was the perfect place to show it off from the back verandah.

I hope everyone had a safe and happy break over the Christmas period. I'm looking forward to a 2017 filled with inspiration and more creative adventures.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Festival fun

Every two years the town of Wangaratta, in the north east of Victoria, hosts the Stitched Up Textile Festival. Part of the fun for 2017 is a group exhibition with the theme of 'Seasonal Stories'. Of course, most of us in my textile gang, Tenfold Textile Collective, signed up to participate when the call went out this past May.

We have to produce a work every three months using our preferred textile technique, with the only requirement being that the pieces must be A5 (21cm x 15cm) in size. The first deadline fell just after our exhibition so we all requested an extension. However, I was determined that Winter and Sprint would arrive in Wangaratta for the next deadline.

I've chosen to make a series of mini quilts – probably no surprises there. I could have gone with embroidery, but the time investment is just too great for me at the moment. I've had a pretty clear vision from the beginning, with the intention of trying out some new textural techniques and having colour palettes reflect the various seasons.
I started with Spring partly as that was the season we were supposedly in (but having reached the end with barely a day above 20ÂșC, I think we skipped it) and partly because I prefer working in colour. This one was really just improvising as I went, and apart from a change in binding approach, it was pretty straightforward.
'Spring Planting' mini quilt detail.
Winter was originally going to go the same way, but the reality of working with such a small size for the first one, made me try plotting Winter out on graph paper first. It's the most formal of the pieces, so it was definitely worth it.
It's been a while since I've been on the sewing machine – I needed a break after the exhibition prep – but these little pieces were a lovely way to get back into it.

I don't think I'll post images of the finished pieces until after the festival, but I promise to keep up to date with progress as I make Summer and Autumn. It's been very satisfying finishing a quick project as I stitch away at the denim beast... More on that soon too.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Keeping my clothes out of landfill

No matter how well I look after my gym T-shirts, they are, inevitably, going to wear out. I've been thinking about how I can keep this kind of textile waste out of landfill for a little while now, along with the textile waste from my making processes. So, I've started a few ongoing projects to ensure that everything can be repurposed.

First off, the T-shirts. Even if they're worn through in areas, or the elastic has gone, they can still be turned into T-shirt yarn for other purposes. There are plenty of online tutorials on how to do this. My favourite is from Mollie Makes. Ignore the bit about needing a T-shirt without side seams – for most purposes, it doesn't really matter if your yarn includes seams.

At the moment I'm making a mat, but I could just as easily knit, or crochet the yarn into something else such as a bag or even a new garment. Again, there are oodles of tutorials and ideas online – you can start here with Pinterest.
Lately, I've been making a lot of toiles (or muslins for Americans) for my pattern drafting class, as well as having quite a few leftover bits from screen printing, so these pieces are being turned into waggas (make-do quilts). They're improvised with whatever is at hand and I'm just adding to them when the mood strikes.
I also have a pair of pyjamas that are about to be worn through across the back. Buttons will be removed and kept for another project; the worn back area will have to be turned into strips that can either be made into a woven version of the T-shirt mat, or perhaps used for weaving; and the still-intact parts of the top will be cut into pieces that will eventually become a postage-stamp quilt.

I also have a pile of long, thin strips, mostly of denim, leftover from a quilt I'm making from repurposed jeans. I have plans for weaving these, but they're a little way down the 'to-do' list at the moment.

Last, but not least are the tiny scraps – too small for making anything useful – along with the thread offcuts, yarn ends etc that are the detritus of making. These, I'm turning into thread beads. The pic below shows the ones made mostly from the leftovers of my exhibition quilt – 10c piece for scale.
I hope this has given you some ideas for repurposing. If you want some background on the reality of the world's used clothing check out this Newsweek article that I found via The Fringe Association (the blog of Slow Fashion October's founder, Karen Templer).