Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Some other 2014 stuff

I'll come back to Africa in a bit. Here are some things I've done in 2014 that haven't made it to the blog.

Fibrecircle had a Birthstones challenge in 2014. The idea was to build up a resource that might be useful later on. I'm not sure it's going to work like that for me but it was a useful discipline, making pages on a specific theme all year.

I didn't want my book to be all about geology or folk myth, so each month I looked for a story about the stone. Sometimes it was a culture or time period in which the stone was important, which took me down some interesting byways!

My pages about garnet were mostly geological, but I found lots of fantastic examples of Roman garnet and gold jewellery.

My pages about amethyst also began with geology, but then I looked at all those websites that tell us the significance of birthstones. Amethyst was particularly valuable in many, often conflicting ways! I also found some beautiful amethyst amulets from ancient Egypt.

Bloodstone was commonly used for stone axes in Chalcolithic sites in Europe.
When I came to diamond, I was interested in the many different way of cutting them. There are also so many famous diamonds. I focused on two, the Koh-i-noor and the Regent Diamond, both of which had a bloody past that reflects the history of the times and the great value placed on diamonds.


The story I found about emeralds was fascinating. It led me via the Romans, especially Caligula, to an emerald mine in Egypt near the Red Sea. In turn, I learnt about a French explorer called Frederic Cailliaud, whose amazing discoveries in the region were dismissed as fantasies until recently, when his claims have been confirmed by archaeology. I also investigated who wore the emeralds that were excavated from the Egyptian mines.

Agate was often used for bijoux like snuffboxes, cuff links and small vessels, but throughout history, it was also used for administrative and personal seals. I found some images of ancient seals and then used this as the springboard to create my own seal.

My Ruby pages documented a group challenge to create a Ruby artwork. I made a small book, which I've already talked about here, here and here.
I had a choice with this month so I just had to choose sardonyx, probably the birthstone of the sarcastic. I found out all about cameos, which frequently use the layers of the stone to create wonderful colour effects. 

In September, I found that sapphires were often used for brooches. I became interested in medieval amuletic brooches, a subgroup of the ubiquitous cloak brooch found across all levels of society. These brooches were from the wealthier classes and often had magical or mystical meanings. These symbols were drawn from the medieval lapidaries, which explained the "scientific", "magical" and "symbolic" meanings of gems. Most of these lapidaries are not more, but their contents have been referred to in later texts.

When I came to opals, the most interesting aspect for me was opalised bones found in Australian opal mines. Lots of different fossils have been discovered but the most amazing was the Addyman Plesiosaur.  The remains of this 6.5m long creature are on display in the South Australian Museum.

 Topaz came into its own in the 18th century. I was fascinated by the "stomacher" or "devant de corsage", a triangular brooch on the chest of a dress, ending in a point on the stomach. The other  great user of topaz was Faberge and I just had to record his little piece of two cockatoos. He apparently kept one as a pet himself.
 Turquoise was the last stone of the year. Like diamond, it was used throughout history, famously in North and South American cultures but also in Europe, imported from Iran via Turkey (hence the name). A few years ago I made a small work based on the mosque at Isfahan with it's beautiful turquoise tiles, so I included an image. I also found examples of religious and later secular jewellery in Europe, from the 17th century onwards.
I really enjoyed the process of working so systematically in my journal, and I certainly learnt about a whole lot of different things!

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?