On a recent late summer afternoon, I spent a little time on our back deck doing a little harvesting.

Plenty of wearable, out-grown kids’ clothes go to our local op shops. Some are too favoured to be let go. Some are just too full of possibilities.

The beauty of taking my time to do this is letting the look and feel of the fabric shift my view from ‘this was a shirt’ to ‘this could be…’

I cut up a complimentary spring green shirt and wondered about a cot quilt. Some softly worn trouser fabric as backing, perhaps.

What’s not to love about this kind of harvesting? It’s thrifty, eco-friendly and gets the creative juices flowing.



This is not our backyard

I’ve yet to meet a Dutch canal I didn’t like.  This one is in Delft, home to the pottery, the memory of Jan ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ Vermeer and gentle Dutchness.

Just don’t spoil it by going to the university. Serious ugliness.


In exciting developments ’round our place, the recipe for home-made deoderant (Hayley at Sew Green, via soozs) is an instant hit for me. I don’t like aluminium-based anti-perspirants but I do very much want something that works and this combination of cornflour, arrowroot powder, bicarb soda, coconut oil and essential oil is very definitely working. The Bloke has been gently puzzled by my insistence on trying this out and has delicately said that he has never noticed a problem before.

The recipe makes approximately 175ml which should be sufficient for 4-5 months (I suspect that might vary considerably depending on personal use and the season). Coconut oil is shelf stable for two years, so there’s no concern that it might go rancid. I did have some problems tracking down an Australian supplier of pure coconut oil and eventually found some here at Heirloom Body Care.

One last thing: the recipe calls for ‘several drops’ of an essential oil. Of a 12ml bottle of bergamot oil, I used 3ml and believe me, that’s a lot more than several drops. If you’re concerned about how much essential oil you’ll need for scenting and not keen to find out that you’ve used most of an expensive bottle, I’d recommend ti-tree, lavender or eucalyptus oils as strongly scented and cheaper oils.

A small glimpse of my other eureka moment last weekend:

From left to right: eucalyptus overdyed with 50/50 eucalyptus and brown onion skin; eucalyptus overdyed with 100% brown onion; eucalyptus only. The wool – New Zealand merino acquired from a destash a few years ago – has retained a soft hand and a delicate eucalyptus scent. I have about 350gm of the palest shade and about 50gm of the other two shades. I’m planning a stole, beret and perhaps some wristwarmers, each with some fair isle detail to bring out the different shades.

It was only after the skeins had been placed in the dye bath that I remembered a small but clearly important piece of advice: tie the skeins in at least eight places and not the standard four. Believe me, that shot does not convey the full tangled spaghettiness of all those skeins.

The last bit of eureka is Agence Eureka, a treasure trove of vintage French book and paper goodness. I particularly liked the old school book illustrations of ugly little Englishmen being soundly defeated by upright, tall, good-looking Frenchmen at a 1:4 ratio.

Lancefield steam punk

I’ve been at home with the kids for the last week of the school holidays, with plenty of play dates for all of us. I subscribe to the theory that if you have your kids’ friends over, all of the kids occupy themselves quite happily, leaving you free to do housework or whatever it is you do to avoid housework.

We took a day trip to visit innercitygarden and her lad and went for a country drive. There was some location scouting and photo shooting for the lad (scenery designs for a role playing game), op shop scores all round and some steam punk for me.


It has definite design possibilities…

Getting the ball rolling

My head has been in other places for the last little while and it’s made me realise that I need to be a little more regular in my posts. It clears my head (good thing) and helps me keep track of things I’ve seen, done, want to try (also a good thing).

So, for a small start, here’s a couple of things to look at:

  • Colour Lovers: a site for sharing personal palettes, looking at trends and trying your hand at colour combos;
  • Purl Bee: for a tutorial on a saw tooth patchwork block – I think this might be the block I use for my lad’s doona cover;
  • Origamisan: a Turkish/English site for beautiful and functional origami;
  • feeling stitchy: for embroidery eye candy.

I’m going to take photos of my adventures with the overlocker to share with you – the fun! the stuff ups! the loooong list of things I want to do!

Well, yes. I shall take a deep breath and not count the hours until I’m back at home with my love.

Creativity and freedom

You know, I was looking at the referral letter I have for a specialist because I am losing my hearing in interesting circumstances, and right at the end of the list of ailments that I remembered was “2006 – DEPRESSION’. I wish that was the only time. And it prompted me to think about all the times I’ve had bouts of depression and they all revolved around identity: adolescence, getting married, two lots of post-natal, the struggle to assert my academic identity, and the absolute spin dive, finding out my partner had bipolar (manic depression) and that I was trying to be mother, father, carer, professional full time, and that I no longer knew how to be me. And under the gentle yet insistent prodding of my therapist, quite unsure what ‘me’ really meant.

I realised after some months of painful reflection, anger, sadness, indifference, passion, determination and hurt that I needed to do what I understood about myself. I couldn’t simply say, ‘I am an academic in my bones and any other kind of work is not good for my soul or my health’, I had to be an academic. I’m nearly there; working in an academic position outside of my field. I’m applying for positions in my field and doing the publishing thing and hoping that it’ll all come good soon.

I realised that I couldn’t satisfy whatever creativity was inside me by making very nice utilitarian clothes for myself or my children. I had to think about why I wanted to do these things and then follow that through. So now I still make clothes for me and the kids but it’s about customisation, bringing out each personality for self-expression, making choices about fibre and colour for the joy of texture, hue and value.

I realised that while I might not be really good at drawing, I did some okay stuff at school when I had the time to observe and practice and the freedom to explore. Slowly, I’m coming to that again, giving myself the time and space to make marks on a page and think about what I could do with them. I think that will be the most difficult one because it’s about what I see in my head and how I see things and being sure about what I see and mark. But a start is better than being frozen.

There’s a bit of a conversation going on over at innercitygarden about creativity and motherhood. And I listened to a conversation between Alan Brough and a philosopher, Damon Young, about a type of freedom that is gained by avoiding distraction. Making our choices about who and what we are and how that gives us a personal freedom that cannot be legislated for or voted against. But it can be trampled by what we expect of ourselves and others, by believing that our creative and passionate selves should always be subordinate to social norms. In short, by being distracted from what is true of ourselves.

There have been ups and downs since 2006 but being sure of myself is a good foundation.

Finding Joy

I read a post a few days ago by six and a half stitches about a group project called ‘finding joy’. After an overful April, I liked the reminder to pause long enough to find what is joyful. I’ve thought of three things to linger over and rediscover the joy and the simple pleasure they give. One was food: mindfully stepping out of the rut at least 2 or 3 times during the week to try something new. The other was photography: remembering to take my camera for a walk around different places and give myself time to stop and look. The last was my studio – a crude little hut, really – that is still ‘going to be’ organised. I was down there last weekend, picking, cutting and arranging fabric and remembered how joyful it is to touch and look and discover again. So, more organising for the delight of rediscovering the possibilities.

And already I’ve found myself pausing to enjoy what was happening right now. I took the lad to a cross country run and drove him back to school. I’d cheered, chatted and knitted while the lad ran, cheered, and chatted. We were sharing a companionable trip back when I pulled in at a wayside milk bar. It surprised the lad and I just smiled and said, you must be starving, how about something to eat? It was just couple of (yummy) hot potato cakes that we munched but it was about us sharing a little time together.

Last night was a quiet no-TV night so we pulled out books or knitting and settled ourselves around the couch and cushion. The lass was very weary after her swimming lesson and just lay on my lap, watching me knit, stroking my arm or belly, following the wool, all like a drowsy little kitten. She fell asleep curled up as she must have been in my belly – all tucked up with her thumb in her mouth (we have the ultrasound to show off at her 21st). It was quiet and still and good.

A fair day

This last month has been very head-ful for me. Lots of thoughts about the work I do, which is good, but has a tendency to keep my brain going even when it should be asleep. And quite a bit of preparation for the school fair yesterday. Mostly it was because I decided to take the plunge and have my own stall with my own handmade goods and a little bit of being the volunteer coordinator of the other stalls.

We had the most glorious autumnal weather that just to be outside made you feel good. I love those days. There’s a little warmth in sun but no so much that you want to hide from it, and just a hint of a cooling breeze. The kids have a fine time running around their school out of hours with its familiarity and one off strangeness as parents and family gather to eat, listen, craft and bungy trampoline.

I’ve been thinking for a little while about dipping my toe into the craft market business, mostly as a means of funding my fabric and yarn habit rather than as a serious business proposition. I went with the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ theme of the fair and refashioned garments, made fabric cuffs out of remnant fabric and did up some iron-on transfer sheets. From a trading point of view, it wasn’t successful (I sold two items, but there wasn’t a great deal of buying going on for most of the stalls). I did learn heaps, though.

I got lots of positive comment on the refashioned garments. I can now tell you that one large machine-knit turtle neck jumper can produce a beanie (the turtleneck, with one opening seamed up), leg warmers or toddler’s leggings (the arms, plus some extra fabric from the torso for a rolled waistband), and a size 4 girl’s skirt.  I’d pinned them up on a dividing screen so they were laid out for viewing and it was easy for people to stroll past, pause, get enthusiastic (and then walk on). I had some totes made from vintage fabric or refashioned items – a cotton knit halter neck in an oriental print make a great looking hobo-style bag. Trust me on that because I forgot to take the camera. For the record, a bright orange tote and the leg warmers got sold.

The fabric cuffs and iron-on transfers were directed at the pre-teen demographic. They weren’t things I would plan to do at a craft market since they’re fiddly and pricing needs to stay reasonably low to attract the smaller budgets of the audience. Again, a lot of interest but no sales. My lass, who had invested her own time and energy in making a large sign, and helped out beautifully on the day, wistfully wondered why nobody was buying our things. I was wondering too.

My guesses are that a lack of regular foot traffic meant fewer  (no) sales. The stalls were away from the main action and required a special trip – they weren’t on the way  to anything – so that meant fewer opportunities to wander past and reconsider a purchase. I think this was most true for the older kids who are encouraged to have a small budget to manage on fair day. I also think that the fair is seen by the school community as a time to get together and have a bit of fun. So food and drink were popular, obviously, and especially so since that was arranged around our little ampitheatre while students and a parent/teacher band performed. Grown ups and kids alike were happy to have a go at the lucky number spinning wheel and to get into the few carnival games we had. Craft activities seemed to do well and is particularly popular with the under-6s. And as this year’s external stalls coordinator, I’m very happy to argue that we shouldn’t have any. Or only a couple. The more we focus on helping the kids have fun and their parents relax and join in, the better.

But back to the learning curve. For refashioned garments, I got the most comment on articles that were dissimilar to their original form, such as the toddler’s leggings. That might mean people are more interested in those things that go beyond the ‘I could do that myself’ thought. For new or different items, demonstrate their purpose. It would have been easier for my potential customers if they’d seen a hand mannequin wearing the fabric cuffs or a model t-shirt with an iron-on transfer. For totes and bags, variety and volume may be the go. I didn’t really expect to see the bright orange one go because it was such an individual piece. But someone came along and saw that it fitted her style – with more bags there may have been more customers drawn in to browse. And as ever, good signs and display.

I think I will do a real craft market. But I’ll do it just a few times a year with a more focused product line with more of my particular style in the goods.

And I’ll remember a folding chair. Because standing up for seven hours is not fun, even in glorious autumnal weather.


I’ve had a good couple of weeks with craft and design. Last weekend I spent a few hours at the Stitches and Craft Show; this weekend the lass and I drove up to Bendigo for the Golden Age of Couture exhibition.

I haven’t been to a Stitches and Craft show before, despite best intentions, and this year’s show was a major revamp of previous shows. It had a definite ‘yoof’ edge to it. Which means it appealed to people under the age of 45. I think this is attributable to the involvement of Living Creatively, an online magazine. They got the indie designers and the bloggers (usually one and the same) and put them together in an area that just felt vibrant and enthusiastic. This part of the main exhibition was noticeably lively, with lots of chatter between exhibitors and visitors. That part of the crowd covered a good age range – 25 to 45 – and that will no doubt warm the cockles of the hearts of the organisers. What is really fabulous about this incubator concept is that there’ll be regional variation between the Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney shows. I know that some indie designers are going to two or three shows but there will be a spot for the local designers that have built their own customer base and will be able to meet those customers.

Among the main displays, I really enjoyed Kelani Fabric and Amitie. Kelani had brought in their gorgeous range of Japanese cottons and linens as well as sharing space with Aunty Cookie. We could have a good look at the beautiful, hard-to-find, usually order on-line fabrics and Shannon Lamden had brought new designs to the show. That stall just rocked the whole time I was there.

Amitie had some of its most popular fabric available on bolts but had decided to go for kits and small pieces of fabric. It was a great idea that worked really well. They were selling 30cm x 110cm strips of fabric, arranged by colour, for $6.50. Some of the designer pieces were $8 and you may recall the flap bag I made for the lass – that was a piece I bought at Amitie. I wasn’t the only one enjoying the range of colours and prints – the stall was buzzing and the poor staff had barely any time to scratch themselves.

But what I enjoyed most of all was the two hours I spent as a volunteer in the Wardrobe Refashion area. Nichola Prested (Wardrobe Refashion and BurdaStyle) had set up a reconstruction zone with sewing machines, overlockers, cutting area and tables full of op shop clothes, as well as thread, trims and buttons. It was free to wander in, choose your garments and then let your creative juices flow. During my stint there were two women who had never touched a sewing machine before. One produced a bag out of an old pair of trousers and the other sewed an apron and a baby sheet with applique. There were quite a few mother/daughter combos, one guy and a couple of sets of friends. The average age of the refashionistas would have been 20. I had a ball!

They also had craft bars in the main display area, where you could sit at a bar stool, select your craft cocktail of choice and be served by experienced crafters. There was one each for embroidery, knitting and crochet. These seemed to have a regular turnover of under-30s trying their hand, especially at the embroidery bar where they were serving up Sublime Stitching patterns. I really liked the idea of a craft cocktail bar but I’d suggest a cozier setting next time. It was all white and stark and maybe I’m showing my Melbourne bias but I was thinking of baroque, smoky, hidden in a laneway and up the rickety stairs kind of look.

The Golden Age of Couture finished on the weekend so we made a dash for it on Saturday (after my plans for me and the lass wagging a day on Friday came unstuck). Although I had forgotten to buy my tickets online and therefore condemned us to an hour long wait at the gallery, I had looked up the details of the exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s website. This meant I’d read all the stuff beforehand and didn’t have the hassle of trying to read labels in a very crowded space.

It was a great deal of fun. The lass thoroughly enjoyed it and I found it more enjoyable because she was there. We zigzagged across the rooms going from one display to another, pointing out the fabulous and the ridiculous and marveling at the intricacy of some creations. The lass pointed out a number of suits I could wear to work and we tried to pick our favourite dresses. It seems we both like minimalist lines in our frocks but the lass likes more bling on her shoes than I do. I suspect that she was slightly disappointed at the lack of pink but the pale blue cape made up for that loss a little. The choice of colours was interesting – all these dresses had been made for clients, so they reflected the client’s colour preferences. Beige was popular, a few greens, a couple of yellows, and a few dramatic reds. Beading and embroidery were popular and dark blue made a good showing. It seems that I like Dior (the original) quite a lot, followed by Givenchy. In terms of design I thought the suits were the most interesting since it was these that embodied the ‘New Look’. I particularly liked the use of diagonal lines in construction, often in the form of an overlapping collar piece or in the line of the jacket’s front placket.

If you missed the exhibition, tootle around the V&A’s website. It has all the info and a great deal of the costumes.

Edited to add: if you pop over here, scroll down a little until Nikki starts writing about the Stitches and Craft Show. The very happy lady showing off an apron is one and the same lady I’m talking about! And if you hop over to Nikki’s flickr set, you’ll on the second row the apron and bag ladies (!) and on the third row you’ll see the back of me (shoulder length brown hair wearing the yellow safety jacket).

Further edited to add: I’m here!

Fashion jamming

In an unexplained fit of excitement I put my hand up to host a stall at the kids’ school fair. The theme this year is ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ so I’m going to sell stuff that I’ve made from vintage fabric or repurposed clothes. I also mentioned fashion jamming. Apparently when the fair coordinator read this, she started squealing and had to be provided with mild sedation.

Fashion jamming is refashioning or repurposing clothes – the Craft Cartel in Melbourne staged one last weekend at Fed Square. I figure kids love doing stuff to their clothes, given half a chance, so I’m going to put on two demos during the day. One will be for Cycle 1 (3-6 yrs) and the other for Cycles 2 and 3 (7-12 yrs).  It needs to be simple and still fun for the little kids so fabric paints in the forms of textas or pastels will be the way to go. For the older kids, I’d like to show them photo transfers, sewing accessories, cutting, re-modeling, templates for patches and reverse applique, what to look for in the op shop, that kind of thing. Tip sheets to take away at the end of the demo seem like a good idea.

Once I had the photo transfer idea, I started playing around with some of my images and this is what I came up with. This is the original shot:


This image was a tree silhouette at sunrise. Using an online photo editor, I inverted the image so the black branches became white and then chose different colour rotations to get the background colours.


Then I played around with the fluoro options:



And you can do nightvision as well:


Some of the items I’ll be selling are my own photo transfers; neck pads for guitar and saxophone straps (old t-shirts, quilt batting and velcro); reading cushions from soft, old denim; wristlet bags; simple totes; and fashion jamming kits for the kids – little packets of choose your own template, fusible interfacing, and choose your own remnant fabric; and pick your own buttons and embroidery threads. If you have any ideas you’d like to share, do tell!

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