Sunday, 26 July 2015

Group Exchange – The 2nd Tamworth Textile Triennial

This week I'm on a deadline – I've committed to having my cochineal-inspired quilt pieced and ready for quilting by Friday morning. The front is done, and the back is more than half done, so I feel a break is in order to show you a glimpse of this textile exhibition currently touring the countryside.
Make.Shift Concepts, Cloudscape 2014, Digital print silk organza
For the Group Exchange, 22 artists were invited to explore the theme of collaboration and the meaning that is created through relationship. The end results are as beautiful as they are diverse. Needlework, knitting, embroidery, digital printing, weaving, felting, machine sewing and sculptural structured textiles are all represented.
Louise Tuckwell, Detail from 11 works of cotton on linen, collaborator Trish Ritchie
It fascinated me to see the range of works that could flow from a single theme. Obviously I can't show you all the pieces in the exhibition, but I've picked a selection that hopefully shows the breadth of work on show. Each piece had its usual title tag, but interestingly included comments by the artist that gave you insight into their thought and/or working process, so you could see how they got from the theme to the finished piece.
Mandy Gunn, Centro-Polis 2014, Recycled shopping bags and wrappings on cardboard construction
It was really refreshing to see an exhibition focussed on textiles as art. We don't seem to get much of that in Australia where textiles are largely seen as functional or decorative and bound by the disciplines of fashion or craft.
Monique van Nieuwland, Detail of Ocean Scape 2014, Cotton linen warp, fishing line, fishing net, shopping bags,
rubbish bags, onion net, rope, audio/video tape
The exhibition has already been to Gosford, Sydney and finished in Melbourne today, but venues still to come are:

Port Pirie Regional Gallery, SA
22 August – 4 October 2015

Western Plains Cultural Centre, Dubbo, NSW
17 October 2015 – 17 January 2016

Wangaratta Regional Gallery, VIC
30 January – 13 March 2016

Craft ACT, Craft and Design Centre
7 April – 15 May 2016

Wollongong City Gallery, NSW
28 May – 28 August 2016

Glasshouse Regional Gallery, Port Macquarie, NSW
3 September – 30 October 2016

It's definitely worth checking out.
Penny Evans, Stranded 2014. Cardboard, acrylic paint, raffia, cotton, paper

Sunday, 12 July 2015


First off – after six months of buying no clothes, I may have to break the run to buy myself some thermal underwear – either that, or stay in the house until Spring. It's so cold in Melbourne at the moment. I'm currently trying to rationalise this decision by convincing myself I'll use less electricity wearing my thermals...

Anyway, that's not really what I wanted to talk to you about today. At the moment I'm knitting cardigans for my nieces. It was all going really well until last Sunday when this happened...
I ran out of wool about ten rows from the end of the last sleeve. I knew it was possible – I wasn't using the recommended yarn for the pattern and I was adding length everywhere because she's so tall. I used every scrap I could find but I just couldn't make it work. It seems there's only one ball of this stuff left in the whole world, and it's in Canada, and they don't ship to Australia. Luckily my sister is married to a Canadian, so it's all sorted and the lone ball of yarn is now heading south across the ocean.

I think what annoys me most, is the large amount of yarn I'm going to have left over, and this has me thinking about all my other leftovers. The yarn from the littlest niece's cardigan, the whole plastic tub of leftover yarn in the spare room, and don't get me started on the leftover fabrics.

I have my eye on a few projects to deal with the leftover sock yarn on Ravelry here and here. And one day I'm going to start a giant hand-pieced hexie project with all my scrappy fabric bits, something like this. But let's face it, those projects are really long term and unlikely to make use of leftovers anytime soon.

So, the next idea is experimental textiles, which I'm studying this semester. I reckon that's going to make a dent in the random leftovers – things you don't want to throw away, but you really have no idea how to use. This week it's going to be shredded paper and embroidery scraps!

Next, I Googled some local charity knitting places. The leftovers from the littlest niece's cardigan will make someone a bright winter scarf and there are plenty of places in need this time of year in Australia. I think nearly all the leftovers in the spare room tub could be made into something useful to keep out the cold. 
The charity places I found online were Knit One, Give OneKnit 4 Charities and, of course, Wrap with Love. The local handknit guilds also had links. 

And lastly I've been making some knitted necklaces. These were inspired by Mexican thread necklaces I saw on my trip last year. The bindings are leftover from last semester and the knitted parts are leftover from various projects over the years. I've got some in cream and some in navy and they'll be up in my Etsy shop later this week.
So, I think that's at least my yarn leftovers sorted. How about you? Do you have any yarn scrap project ideas or are you drowning in leftovers?

Sunday, 28 June 2015

A sustainable wardrobe – Part 2, Raw materials: Manufactured fibres

Welcome to Raw Materials 101. This will be the first of two posts on this subject, so strap yourselves in people, we have a lot to cover. If you remember back to Part 1, I'd just done an audit on my wardrobe and was looking at the sheer quantity of stuff I own. Today we're going to look at what it's made from and whether I could be making better choices... I'm sure you can guess the answer there!

Before we get to the inside of my cupboard, I want to talk about the categories of fibres. At the top level there are two – natural fibres and manufactured, or man-made, fibres. Natural fibres are then split into another two groups – protein, or animal fibres, such as wool, alpaca, silk, angora, cashmere, etc, and cellulose, or plant fibres, such as cotton, linen and hemp.

The man-made fibres can also be divided in two. First are the regenerated fibres – these were a natural material at some point. Examples include viscose, lyocell and acetate. And last, there are the synthetic fibres – these are pure chemical constructions derived from sources such as petroleum, coal and gas. Some examples are polyester, nylon, acrylic and lycra. Yep, that acrylic that you're knitting with is made from natural gas and petroleum! Before starting this, I knew that polyester and acrylic were man-made, but I guess I'd never thought about what that really meant...

Now, back to the fibre content of my wardrobe. I did this chart in a pie shape so you get a better idea of percentages.
From here on in, we'll ignore the 'unknowns'. They are clothes so old that I can't read the labels anymore. To break it down, my wardrobe is 74 percent natural fibres/blends, 15 percent regenerated fibres/blends, and 11 percent synthetic or synthetic blend.

A quick word about blends. If you look at a clothing label, it will very often list a blend of fibres. The fibre making up the largest percentage will be listed first, followed by the others in ever decreasing amounts. My pie chart would have been unintelligible if I'd listed every blend, so they are grouped by the predominant fibre. The wool blends in my wardrobe include some that are 70 percent wool/30 percent cashmere, where others are 50 percent wool/50 percent nylon.

While only 11 percent of my wardrobe is synthetic, or synthetic blend, I was interested to go back and check what these items were. Unfortunately there were a couple of recent purchases – the easy way to fix that will be to look at the label before I buy next time – but a number of my going out/event dresses are also polyester – in particular, jersey wrap dresses. It only took a couple of minutes of Googling to find that my preferred style of dress could easily be made from something else.

The big-ticket polyester item in my wardrobe is an all-weather outdoor jacket. This will probably last me a lifetime, but I could have made a much more sustainable purchase by buying from Patagonia. These guys are pretty impressive and are doing a lot to lessen their environmental footprint. One of the good ways to buy polyester is when it's made from recycled water bottles, which is just what Patagonia is doing. Not only that, they take back their clothing that has reached the end of its life to recycle it again. While polyester might be made from a non-renewable resource, it can be recycled endlessly.

Another way synthetic fibres sneak into my wardrobe is through linings (which I didn't take into account in my audit), and the small amount of elastane, polyester or nylon added to nearly every T-shirt, pair of underpants or socks. I can find T-shirts without added synthetics, but even the organic cotton underwear I can find online still contains a small percentage of elastane. Maybe this is one of those least-worst choices I have to make for now.
fabric label fibre blends
Clothing from my wardrobe containing a blend of natural, regenerated and synthetic fibres.
The last thing I'll talk about today is regenerated fibres... These can be made from a surprising number of materials – wood, corn, soybean, milk and even coffee! The issue for me with these fibres is the chemicals needed to create them. Viscose (rayon) – which, bar one item, is the predominant regenerated fibre in my wardrobe – is made from wood pulp (or other cellulose fibres) dissolved in chemicals (sodium hydroxide, then carbon disulfide) until it becomes a liquid form, this is then run through a spinneret (that looks a bit like a shower-head) into a sulfuric acid solution that starts a chemical reaction to form the fibre filaments. The waste by-products aren't that fabulous either.

While it doesn't make an appearance in my wardrobe, I wanted to mention bamboo, as you might not be aware that it's often made using the process just described. It can be made in a similar way to linen, a mechanical process, but it's cheaper and easier to make it as a regenerated fibre. The US and Canada have ruled that bamboo made by regeneration can no longer be labelled as bamboo – in the same way you don't label rayon as wood fibre – but in Australia "there is no national mandatory information standard presently in place for fibre content labelling" according to The Council of Textile & Fashion Industries of Australia website, and much of the bamboo product here is regenerated. So, be extra careful when buying bamboo. While arguably, bamboo is more sustainable than farming trees, the regeneration process is definitely not sustainable, and the properties that are so often spruiked in regards to bamboo eg anti-bacterial, are completely destroyed using that production process.

The most sustainable of the regenerated fibres is lyocell. You may know it better by its trade name Tencel. Remember those jeans you had in the 90s? Turns out they're reasonably sustainable. Lyocell is made from farmed trees with a non-toxic solvent that can be 99 percent recycled during the production process, making it an almost closed-loop system. There are some issues with the chemicals used in the next stage of production ie turning them into garments, but we'll look at that in Part 4 – Fibre to fabric.

I guess the thing with all these new fibres coming onto the market is to do a little research before you purchase. I know it takes time, but the internet makes the research process a whole lot easier and faster than it used to be. Just make sure you're taking your information from a credible source.

Next month I'll look at the biggest fibre change that's going to have to happen in my wardrobe to make it sustainable – the removal of conventional cotton. I'll also give you some resources for choosing more sustainable yarns and fabrics for your crafts, along with more clothing links.
acrylic fibre
Some rare acrylic in my stash – thankfully, as a whole, the stash is largely natural fibre.
In the meantime check out the Pinterest pages I'm building for this series – I'll be adding to them every month – A Sustainable Wardrobe, Sustainable Textile Supplies and Sustainable Fashion movement, which will provide links to stories, news articles and campaigns.

Today's resources

Waterproof jacket from Patagonia or Nau.

Underwear from Pact or Bhumi – Target in Australia also stock organic cotton underpants.

Organic cotton T-shirts (and other things) from Rawganique, and in Australia – Etiko and The Organic T-Shirt. There are a ton of other suppliers out there for organic cotton tees, but I've kept to the plain T-shirts, as I don't really do clothes with stuff written on it.

Replacement jersey wrap dresses could be found at:
  • Australian brand Audrey Blue, who are Fair Trade and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified.
  • Australian brand Smitten Merino.
  • Conscious Clothing, based in Michigan US and dedicated to using the most eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics, dyes, inks, and products available.
  • Or I could buy organic cotton jersey from Alabama Chanin and make it myself!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Talking, seeing, reading, thinking

This week I've been catching up with friends in Sydney which has involved large amounts of coffee and talking. I didn't even plan it this way, but there were an awful lot of textile things going on in Sydney while I was there. First was 'Flash in the Dark' the 2015 winter collection from the textile makers of Craft NSW. There is some amazing and inspiring work in this collection, including that from Meredith Woolnough, but it's difficult to find amongst the sheer amount of stuff on display. Every time I visit, I keep hoping that Craft NSW might have taken a leaf out of its more progressive, southern cousin's book, but it hasn't happened yet...
Winter at the Warey
Next, I visited the Craft and Quilt Fair. I guess all the quilting fabrics are released by American companies, so they concentrate on the big Quilt Con events that happen each year over there. This leaves very little that is new or different emerging at the craft shows in Australia. Maybe we should be using these events to celebrate Australia's contribution? I saw very little in the way of this – where was Gardenvale by Jen Kingwell, and her new book Quilt Lovely, or Emma Jean Jansen's most recent range? They are both based in Victoria so maybe they wait for those shows? Anyway, I left feeling like I'd just visited a large shop, rather than seeing anything inspirational that was going to spark creativity.

There was one exception to this – the NSW Embroiderers' Guild installation 'Stitched Circles'. This pic is via the guild's Facebook page, and if you click on it, you'll be sent over there to see each of the circles in all their glory. What an amazing effort. Mary Brown gave all the guild members a brief and a colour palette to work with, but the variety of textile art that has resulted is astonishing.
My last crafty visit was to Winter at the Warey – check out that hashtag on Instagram. These markets are the brainchild of Cath from Prints Charming and Caroline from Allitera, who throw open their shared studio in Annandale to a bunch of independent designer/makers selling their wares in a bi-annual market.
There I met Genevive Edmonds from 5 Stitches who creates fabric stitched cards, and printmaker Fiona Roderick. I have to confess I was attracted to her work on behalf of my bird-obsessed niece, but I love her use of colour and line.

I also had a stickybeak at the work of Michelle from You Are Brave – sadly she wasn't manning the stall when I was there, and the blueprint ceramic series from Lesley Hunt of Huntseek Design. Of course I also had to pick up a few things from Prints Charming... I feel some embroidery coming on!
Follow Cath or Caroline online to see when the next market will be – in about six month's time. Well worth a visit and perfect timing for the Christmas shopping.

And have I done any work myself? The short answer is 'no'. But I've been doing a lot of reading along with the talking, which has led to a lot of thinking about the rest of this year and beyond, the direction I want to go and the work I want to do.

I've been reading 'Art Inc' by Lisa Congdon and 'This Changes Everything' by Naomi Klein. Lisa’s book is about all the ways you can make a living from your art. It’s a great resource for anyone starting out, or a bit stuck for new avenues to explore. It covers all aspects of running an arts-based business and includes a ton of case studies which always help me to see how I could do the same. Lisa also has a great Instagram feed if you're interested.

Naomi Klein’s book answers the question why, when we know what climate change is doing to our planet, and the majority of us agree that we’re causing it, we seem incapable, after thirty years of talking about it, to do anything to stop it? At the heart of her thesis is the argument that doing something about climate change threatens the very consumerist, economic-growth-at-all-costs, capitalist system we now take for granted as the only way of doing things.

It’s a powerful, if dense, read and is really bringing together a lot of the things I’ve been thinking and writing about lately – slowing down, minimalism, experientialism, and the shocking damage being done to people and our planet by the textile industry.

You can see why I might be paralysed about where to go from here. The paradox that the very act of creating is adding to the pile of stuff that nobody needs.

Is it possible for me to make a living out of teaching and writing about my craft, or can I feel comfortable creating quality pieces that take time and use the greenest materials available then release patterns that allow others to do the same?

Stay tuned while I figure my way through this one...

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Weaving of a different kind

I've had this sari silk for a long time – Mum bought it for me years ago – so this year since I'm all about India, with my trip planned for October, I wanted to find an opportunity to use it.
I've also been learning how to use a table loom for the last few months – following on from my experience with a backstrap loom last year . So here were the beginnings of my latest project – a woven scarf. I wanted to use the colours of the sari silk (which is looking mostly green and red above, but believe me, contains a multitude of different hues) balanced with something more neutral. The sari silk was to be the highlight rather than the focus.
I decided on a navy cotton for my warp, along with threads of the sari silk, and for my weft I wanted to create a checked effect, with blocks of colour broken up by smaller sections of plain navy contrasted with the sari silk. I left myself some room on the warp for testing, and these were the colours I eventually settled on for the weft.
And so to the weaving... The scarf was to be nearly two metres long, all in a plain weave, and it took me a couple of days. I'm still pretty new to this weaving business, so the selvedge varies in width a bit, and it was quite surprising how differently that hot pink felt to weaving the other colours as it's a different type of cotton. Overall though, it was turning out just how I'd hoped.
I cut the scarf off the loom – a bit of a scary business – on Wednesday, tied all the ends, gave it a wash and a press, and here you have it. It was quite stiff and crinkly when it first came off the loom, but it softened a lot with the first wash, so over time I expect it will feel very different.
It also has a nice sheen to it that doesn't come up very well in the photos, but the weft cottons are all mercerised so have that nice lustre to them.
Given the colours in my wardrobe, I expect it this will get quite a lot of wear!