Thursday, 1 January 2015

And more about Africa - Cape Town

Whenever I  travel, I'm always on the lookout for dyeing and printing, and such. The first thing I saw in the Company Gardens, in the middle of Cape Town was a tree called a wild plum, also called the Kaffir Plum, which is traditionally used for dyeing. Its botanical name is harpephyllum caffrum and I thought the dyeing part might have been the fruit.  I've since found that the bark gives a mauve or pink colour. That's quite unusual and I'd love one in my garden! But I've also discovered that it's something of a weed in Australia and many councils have it listed as a problem species, so I won't be adding it any time soon. I guess I could go walking in the bush with my identification sheet - no-one would mind if I stripped some bark off a tree that they don't want there in the first place, would they?

I also had a close encounter with a squirrel in the Gardens.
I know a lot of people think they're cute but I regard squirrels as an interesting variety of rat. I sat down on a seat to watch the world go by and this squirrel clearly saw it as invitation to join me. I don't just mean sit and beg.
I mean, "I love you, I'd like to sit next to you."

Then it was, "May I just sit in your lap?"  (No photo of this moment, strange to say.) I was busy saying, "No, you may not! Scat! Boo!" It was quite convinced I didn't really mean it, so I had to get up and walk away. Mobbed by a squirrel, such is my life.

One thing I loved about Cape Town was the remnants of Dutch architecture. You have to remember to look up. We're so used to seeing modern towers and there are plenty of those too. But, hiding in plain sight, there's also this:
 and these:

I wanted to take lots more photos of the details but they're on a busy street and it was hard enough to take just these. They seemed so striking, squished in between modern tower blocks.

The other building I loved in Cape Town was the Castle of Good Hope.
It was built by the Dutch in the 1660s and 70s, so it's the oldest building in Cape Town. It reminded me of the forts of Vauban that we saw in France (like the Citadelle de Belfort - sorry, link is in French) and, to a lesser extent, the Henry VIII Device forts we saw in the UK. There is something about ancient enclosed spaces like these - they have an atmosphere, almost a tangible feel of history. There are several small museums within the castle precinct, but photography was generally not permitted.
Of course, I have photos of stones in the wall and cobblestones and such, which I won't inflict on anyone!

In the upper photo of the Castle, you can just see Table Mountain, covered in cloud. It was such a looming presence over the city, it was impossible to unaware it, wherever you went. Along with Devil's Peak and Lions Head, it encloses and towers over the centre of the city. It's about the same height as Mt Victoria in the Blue Mountains, so it's not that tall by world standards, but it's like building a city at the bottom of the Grose Valley, looking up Banks Wall, which is roughly the same height.  The terrain reminded me a lot of the Blue Mountains and, without spending a lot of time on checking, I think their formation was probably similar - sedimentary rocks uplifted and weathered. It makes for spectacular scenery!

Enough about Cape Town, let's go see the animals!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Arty stuff in Cape Town

On my free day in Cape Town, I was lucky enough to see an exhibition at the South African National Gallery called Print in the Spotlight: Impressions of Rorke's Drift. This had nothing to do with the famous battle; it referred to an almost equally famous artists' colony. More properly known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church Art and Craft Centre, it operated for only twenty years, from the early 60s, but produced some of South Africa's most influential artists. Mostly working in black and white linocut, these black South Africans were able to comment on South African society at a time when few other options were available.  The prints were incredibly powerful and moving. Photography wasn't permitted but you can get the idea if you look at the work of my favourite of the artists, John Muafangejo.

I also lucked on an exhibition of ishweshwe cloth (also called isishweshwe and shweshwe) at the Slave House, now a gallery space. This cotton cloth, traditionally dyed in indigo, was brought to Africa by French missionaries and became common throughout Africa.  Again, photographs weren't permitted, so click this link to see some images. If you know anything about the history of cloth printing, you'll know this story already.

Once upon a time, in India, there were some clever people printing cotton fabrics, which came to be known as chintzes. These fabrics were imported into Europe and became hugely popular. They were so popular that the French King tried to have them banned to protect the French textile industry, on the pretext of Indian shipping having brought disease to Marseilles. The English also banned the wearing of it, for the same reason.

In the 1730s and 40s, a couple of Frenchmen had sent home samples of printing at each stage, basically pinching the Indian process.  The resourceful burgers of Mulhouse, now in eastern France but in those days an independent entity, decided to set up shop themselves. In 1745, they set up their own print works, and France followed suit a decade later. Block printing began and then printing with roller presses, and the patterns moved away from the large chintz patterns to smaller repeat patterns. Printworks set up all over Europe.

Pretty soon, everyone was wearing this very useful hard-wearing cloth.

Right at the same time, indigo was beginning to be imported into Europe in a big way. Before this period, it was rare and expensive, but now, with the spread of colonialism, it flooded into Europe in a big way and got way cheaper. The result was blaudruck or blue cloth - the ubiquitous clothing of the working class throughout Europe. (Incidentally, this is the source of the equally ubiquitous denim jeans.) It was this cheap cloth that the missionaries brought to Africa - a kind of round trip since indigo dyeing had always been important in West Africa. (This information, and the images, are from my visit to the Musee de l'Impression sur Etoffes de Mulhouse back in 2008.)

That's the roots of ishweshwe. Pretty soon, Africans were printing their own versions of the cloth and it became part of their traditional culture. Actually, pretty much the same thing happened in other parts of the world, where missionaries went. For example, missionaries also brought the blaudruck to the South Pacific, which developed into the "Mother Hubbard" dresses.

The difference with ishweshwe is that it became part of the social events of the time. White women began wearing the traditional cloth and international designers began to use ishweshwe cloth in their designs, as a way of showing solidarity with black Africans under apartheid.  Now, modern South African designers are wowing the world with the cloth too.

I had a brilliant time in the exhibition. I spent so much time there that the museum guard came to see what I was doing. "You must really like this!", he said. Yes, yes I did.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Busy busy

Who'd have thought I'd get busy in December? Can't imagine why...

However, I'm glad to say that I have managed to make a few things in the midst of the crazy.  First the things I'm most proud of...

I recently became a great aunt, twice over. My only nephews and their respective partners produced offspring within a few days of one another. That was pretty clever of them and the boys are called Caleb and Callum, as befits their almost-twin status. (Of course, that's also going to be a nightmare for the old and confused at family gatherings, but they are already demonstrating their individual personalities, so I guess we'll cope.)

In honour of this splendid news, I made the sprogs a toy each. Yes, I could have made them quilts, but at least one grandma is a quilter, and I am 100% sure she's got that covered! So, despite my general aversion to making small fiddly things, as a result of making far too many Cheltenham Girls High pink signature elephants as fundraisers for The Shack back in the day.... tada!
 ...or if you prefer...

Yes, I admit it - the overalls are reversible. I didn't have to do that, but I thought it might be fun. The face is embroidered - no buttons to be chewed off and choked on.

I didn't make up the pattern or anything - it's from Hop Skip Jump by Fiona Dalton. I made mine brown-faced monkeys, as the wool fabric I used for the bodies was fairly light. The original also had a pompom on the tail, but I pondered on what a pompom is going to look like once it's been chewed and sucked a few times and decided against it!

And now for Idea No 2. As I scrabbled about to find in what sketchbook I'd written an interesting idea I came across, I had an epiphany. What if I had a special book for writing down all these Very Useful and Clever Ideas? Enter My Little Book of Clever Ideas. It's just an A6 sketchbook but it already has several Clever Ideas in it. I made it a pretty cover from my breakdown printing.

I liked this idea so much that I made each of the Fibrecircle girls a Little Book of Clever Ideas too.

I also made a little pincushion for the ATASDA display at Epping Creative Centre this month. I loved the brilliantly coloured birds in Africa and I figured they needed brightly-coloured nests.

I do plan to put up more Africa images and stories over the coming weeks - it all got a bit derailed by ATASDA admin and Christmas presents.

Speaking of which, hope you all have a great Christmas!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

I've been to Africa!

And yes, like others before me, I've eaten great food, seen wonderful things and had an all round fantastic time.

Don't panic, I'm not going to bore you to tears with stories and photos. I'll just share a few things that strike me anew as I work my way through the (literally) thousands of photos I took.

First up, I took these photos of the flower market in Cape Town because, as you all know, I'm fascinated with colour, especially the colours Nature creates.

Who'd have thought there were so many different proteas?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

And more about the knitting...

Meanwhile, I've been going great guns on my knitting. It's amazing how quickly it grows, when you do a couple of hours every evening. I don't think I could knit much more than that - my hands would get too sore!

I've finished the back, the two fronts and one sleeve now, and I'm halfway up the second sleeve.
It's still unblocked, of course, hence the rolling edges but I wanted to show you how it was progressing. I'm glad I used the yarn this way, as I think it might have just looked like stripes otherwise. And one doesn't need to buy variegated yarn just to knit stripes. I could probably make a multicoloured striped jumper just from yarn I have on hand.

As one does, I've been looking ahead to the next knitting project, even though I probably won't get to it until next autumn, unless the weather stays very cool. I bought some yarn for dyeing a couple of months ago but that's waiting for me to get the dyes out one day. So in the meantime, I bought some of the new 1984 range in 8-ply Colonial yarn from Bendigo Woollen Mills in #286 Maroon. It seems to have been a hugely popular shade, because it's no longer listed on their website!

It's hard to photograph well! It's not really what I would call a maroon, as it's really closer to cherry. It's also not very close in colour to the maroon jumper I am replacing after years of sterling service, which is in a shade that's often called cranberry these days. I don't think I'd even seen a cranberry when I made it, so I don't suppose they had yarns called that, back then either!

Whatever the name, I love the colour of this yarn. I had a jumper in this colour back in the seventies, which I also wore to death, so I'm expecting great things from this one too.

(Is it really sad of me to be able to remember all the jumpers I've knitted and loved, in the past forty-something years? There has been a lot of knitting, as I was taught to knit at age 7 and allowed to knit my first actual jumper a few years later. I guess that amazing sense of achievement, the "I made that!", stays in the mind long after the creation has been worn to shreds.)

Friday, 15 August 2014

And while we're talking about books...

Here's a book I made for Fibrecircle recently, as part of a challenge I created for them.

Running challenges for that group is always interesting. We all work in very different ways and we pretty much know how we want to work, so there's no good setting a challenge that requires people to work in a specific way. Experimenting is one thing; making work is another.

The challenge was a Scavenger Hunt. Each person had to bring along:
a second-hand piece of paper - i.e. paper that has been used for something else, by someone else (not you). It can be newsprint, advertising, an envelope from a letter, a page from a magazine... whatever you like.

2. something from a plant - leaves, flowers, roots, twigs, fruit, tea leaves.... use your imagination! It has to have come fairly directly from a plant, without much processing - mulberry leaves are fine, mulberry paper isn't. You don't necessarily have to incorporate it into your work, but you do need to use it in making the work.

3. words - three words from your life during these three weeks, i.e a book title you've read during the time, a sign you've seen, a headline... anything from these three weeks. Be prepared to explain!

4. something, anything, blue

5. three embellishments: beads, buttons, metallic elements, small samples or embroidery, stamping ... to become part of your work. It doesn't have to be three of the same thing.

6. an insect. Any insect. (No, spiders are not insects.) This can be a picture, a fabric, an embroidery, a three-D model, a stamp, a real insect....

7. something long and thin. Yarn, ribbon, braid, paper strips, embroidery thread.....

The idea was to make something from your elements on the day, in whatever way you like to work. A finished item or a part of something else...

I brought along used envelopes, a twig, the words "dancing in silence", blue card, dragonfly and gold brads, a dragonfly punch and some wire. I also grabbed some net yarn that Helen was trying to rehome.

The cover was a monoprint from a glass board, using acrylic paints and drying retarder. I marked the paper size and painted quickly on the plate in blue, black and white paint, mixing the colours a little on the plate. Then I printed, burnishing with my fingers and a spoon. I touched up a couple of areas on the print while the paint was still wet.

I made the envelopes into book covers, with the patterned side out. I added a layer of gesso, which, I was told, can make the blue stand out more. 

I'm not sure it did, but it was an interesting effect, especially once I added a layer of folded blue card inside them. I made some signatures and used more blue card as a concertina spine. Helen, who had nothing to do, sewed the booklets into the spine with a simple pamphlet stitch.

 I also made an envelope as a place for more private things.
 I added some words from a song by Leonard Cohen that seemed particularly resonant.

I'm really happy with how this one turned out, which is unusual, since I'm usually not happy with things until a little time has passed!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Day 3 - finished!

Apologies for the delay - I was struck low by a Very Friendly Coughing Bug, who leapt from son to husband to me in as many days. I've been keeping myself to myself since it arrived, hoping not to let it leap to anyone else.

I have finally finished my little treasure, though I think it may need a little dab with the hot glue gun, as a couple of spots are determined not to stay glued. Me and glue... sigh.

First, the inspiration... this gorgeous little High Renaissance objet from the collection of the Walters Art Museum.

The manuscript dates from about 1550 A.D. and, at 1in x 7/8in (2.2 x 1.67cm), is so small that it's been mounted with a chain for wearing as a pendant.

It's made of gold sheet and an enamelling technique called champlev√©. The stones are rubies or spinels. The artisan who made the book is unknown but it's "in the style of Giulio Romano", Italian, probably made in the years 1499-1546. The tiny manuscript inside (identity unknown but I assume a religions text of some kind, perhaps a Book of Hours or a missal) was created by Jacobus Romanus, (1515 and 1560). Sadly, this item isn't on regular display at the museum, though it has featured in several exhibitions.

Mine isn't that tiny, I hasten to add! Mine is roughly double size, 5cm x 4.67cm or about 2in x 1 3/4in and that was quite fiddly enough, thank you. And needless to say, mine isn't actually made from gold and precious jewels.

I photographed it with the catches open, so you can see that they actually exist and do work. That was the hardest part. Sadly, my "jewels" are the wrong colour, since the available options were a wishy-washy purple, this red or hot pink!
The hinges are actually brass. I was going to make piano hinges from paper when I found these ones, designed for jewellery boxes, at the hardware store. I even found tiny 12mm ones for the catches, although this meant that the catch shape couldn't be curved like the original.

The tangs for the catch are square brads, larger than I wanted but I couldn't find anything else small enough to suit.

I painted cartridge paper with a pale brown watercolour wash and cut it into signatures. Because of the size, I could only put three signatures into a pamphlet, so the book is made of 12 individual pamphlets, sewn together with pamphlet stitch. I attached the book block by adhering the front and back pages to the inside covers as end papers.

I painted the page edges with gold paint, as there seemed to be some traces of gold paint on the leading edges, perhaps from illumination on the pages. But no, I haven't yet illuminated my pages.
I like my little book, although it offered me quite a few challenges to make.