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Sunday, 21 August 2016

We did it!

'Background Noise', First Site Gallery.
It’s hard to believe that opening night has been and gone. The last few months have been a whirlwind since finding out our application was successful … for a show six weeks earlier than we were hoping for! So much work has gone into every piece, but the results were beyond anything I think any of us were expecting. It all looks so amazing in the space – thanks to Lou, our fellow artist and curator, and the guys at First Site Gallery who helped us hang and then lit it all perfectly.

And opening night was a huge success, the gallery was packed and it went off without a hitch – we were all exhausted, but on such a high and I think it’s taken me most of the week to come down from it.

So, to finally show you my finished piece…
Tara Glastonbury, 'What's your time worth?', 2016. Shot cotton fabric, pieced, embroidered,
hand and machine quilted, 65 cm H x 150 cm W (Picture by Sarah Lay Photography).
“The background noise to my last few years has been figuring out how to make a living from my passion. ‘What’s your time worth?’ is based on the background pattern of a $50 note and is a meditation on surviving as an artist in Australia where the median income for those working on their practice full time is $22,500 per year*. In the textile arts there is then often a perceived layer of illegitimacy, as the work is written off as ‘just craft’ or disparaged as a hobby, particularly as it’s largely undertaken by women, who often undervalue it themselves as a secondary source of income, thereby making it that much harder for makers as a whole.

As a comparison, the estimated hours spent on this piece in my day job would have earned me approximately $15,000.”

This show has been such a learning curve – both as a group, and in my personal practice. We’ll be having a debrief in the next little while but I thought I’d take the time here to document some of the things I’d do differently next time.
Sarah Williams, 'Rose Tinted Glasses', 2016. Linen, wool, cotton, nialin. 8 pieces at 41 cm H x 14 cm W.
(Picture by Sarah Lay Photography).
First off, I’m not usually one for making tests and samples or studies – partly because once I’ve done something, I don’t really feel the need to do it again, but I also don’t like the waste of making samples. Well, that’s all going to change from here on. I did make a few little tests for this work, but I really wish I’d made more. Rather than looking at them as tests or waste, I’m going to see them as studies and small works in their own right. I think it would have saved me enormous amounts of time, especially at the pointy end, and there are certainly things I would have done differently if I’d been able to see them in advance.
Ana Petidis, 'Lost in Transmission', 2016. Dyed cotton/linen, salvaged copper and electromagnetic tape,
600 cm H x 70 cm W.
Second, I’m going to think a lot more about my thread. Machine quilting is my least favourite part, and something I’d normally get someone else to do in a non-art quilt, so I just didn’t think about the thread until it was time to quilt. That really didn’t leave me a lot of room for exploring options, ordering online, swapping to a different weight or changing my mind!

And this brings me to the last thing… Maybe it’s time to get another machine. I’ve really got the most basic of the basic. It doesn’t have a wide mouth for quilting, no option to regulate stitches, no extra bit I can add on to make a quilt rest. If I’m going to keep stitching like this, then maybe it’s time to update the tools? There’s nothing wrong with my existing machine and I’ll certainly hang onto it for sewing clothes, but it would have definitely stopped the nightmares of a machine breakdown!

Rose Kulak, 'Rust Never Sleeps Project', 2016. Back to front 'Mossy Stepping Stones', 'Street Party Pavement' and 'Clay Brick Path', hand woven.
In the grand scheme of things though – these are minor, as were things to do with the exhibition as a whole. I do know that I would never have had the courage, tenacity or resilience to see it through without these awesome women by my side – Lou, Ana, Rose, Jem, Sarah, Lisa, Korina and Morgana – I'm so proud of us!

I’ll be showing you some more of the photos I took throughout the week on Instragram, but if you’re in Melbourne and you get a chance, the exhibition is still on from Tues to Fri this week at First Site Gallery, Storey Hall Basement. Opening hours are 11am–5pm and Ana is doing an artist’s talk on Friday at 1pm.


*Madeleine Dore, ’How artists really make money’, ArtsHub (http://performing.artshub.com.au/news-article/career-advice/performing-arts/madeleine-dore/how-artists-really-make-money-250320)



Average income for full time employment in Australia from May 2015 – May 2016 was $78,832 (ABS)

Thursday, 9 June 2016

It's official! Our very first textile exhibition

Sarah Williams, 'Delight in the Everyday', preparatory study, 2015
Such exciting news this week – we got confirmation that our application has been successful and so our first textile exhibition is becoming a reality! We're all part over the moon and part terrified at how much work we still have to do. Personally, this has been such a dream of mine so I'm thrilled to bits that it's actually happening.
Korina Leoncio, 'Hum', detail, preparatory study, 2016
For the nine of us taking part – the fact of studying together hasn't necessarily led to us exhibiting together. While we naturally share a passion for textiles and we're champions of each others' work, as individuals, we have wildly differing tastes, aesthetics and favourite techniques. What draws us to work together is our shared commitment to a sustainable textile practice, a striving for social justice, a love of natural fibres, and a devotion to the process of our craft.
Louise Hicks, 'Eight Hour Lullaby, detail, work in progress, 2016
The images I'm sharing with you here are taken from our application. I've just used a selection of the 15-odd we submitted – those that best fit on the blog really. Some are preparatory studies, some works in progress.
Tara Glastonbury, 'What's your time worth?', detail, work in progress, 2016
Our exhibition is titled 'Background Noise', and as we shared in our application, it "showcases nine textile practitioners whose development of practice occurred while studying together. As part-time students, study is the background to their everyday lives, but also a chance to bring a passion to the foreground. Noise is a disturbance, a signal not quite received. This time together has allowed the artists to pay attention to what normally lies in the background and bring it into sharper focus.
Rose Kulak, 'Rust Never Sleeps', detail, preparatory study, 2015
The background noise that informs my piece is something I've been thinking about a lot over the past year or so – how I can make a living from my passion for textiles – or how anyone does really. I'll share more about that another time, but in terms of progress, I'm feeling mostly OK about meeting deadlines. I'm making a series of panels that are stitched together and will then be quilted and I've done about six of nine panels with ten weeks to go. I might start setting myself some weekly targets to keep on track.
Jem Olsen, 'Iron Curtain Agreement', detail, preparatory study, 2015
'Background Noise' will be showing Tues–Fri from 16–26 August at First Site Gallery, Storey Hall Basement, 344 Swanston Street, Melbourne. We're taking out gallery one. If you're based in Melbourne, we'd love to see you at opening night – Tuesday, 16 August, 5.30–7.30pm.
Until then, you'll find us stitching, weaving and printing like crazy.
Ana Petidis, 'Lost in Transmission', detail, preparatory study, 2015

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!