Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I've got a headache, courtesy of running around like a mad thing as husband is schmoozing with his Irish clients for a couple of weeks (read trying to recover from jetlag and tonsillitis in a bar or two in downtown Dublin! I'm not sure if I'm jealous or not...). Anyway, I'm just back from taking darling daughter to her swimming lesson and can report that my little 'bridge' book has been accepted for the inaugural East Gippsland Gallery artists' book awards. Hooray! You can take a look at the book again if you want to here.

The extra-observant among you (I know you're all observant really) might notice that I've succumbed to a new technical trend: TinyURL. WHAT????! Yup, I'm a Luddite when it comes to technology (I like printing presses designed 100's of years ago and I still think mobile phones are a nuisance except for vehicle-related emergencies). However I have cottoned on to Twitter because I'm informed it's a great way to get people interested in your blog/Etsy shop/life and I'm having difficulty pruning my witticisms down to the necessary 140 characters. Hence TinyURL which is a magic little utility that condenses enormously long website addresses into tiny little ones that don't deplete Twitter's 140 characters too much in the telling.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A whale of a time

Those of you who read Mostly Up will know that I spend Monday and Thursday mornings bending myself into unfeasible positions under the stern gaze of Paola, my Italian Pilates teacher, in the Botanic Gardens. This week we endured a lesson under the fascinated gaze of ont of a year group from a local primary school... One of my fellow-sufferers is Cristina, another Italian woman; we roll eyes at each other while Paola comes round adjusting our posture as we strain to bend and breathe correctly.

Sadly Cristina will soon be departing Australia's fair shores to return to Italy, courtesy of her inept Immigration Agent who has completely mucked up her family's visa renewal to the extent that they have been threatened with deportation and ordered to leave the country. They won't even be able to return as visitors for three years.

Feelings in the group, and in Cristina's family, are mixed. We feel outraged at the iniquity of her situation: her agent very clearly mucked everything up and I, certainly, feel that s/he ought to be brought to book over the whole affair. Cristina's devastated husband has started a business in Coffs Harbour making beautiful hand-turned wooden archery bows from local timber and he's employing local people so one might have thought he was an asset to the country rather than a liability. Their two children are ambivalent. After a year of trying to settle in to local schools and being old enough to remember life in Italy and miss their friends I think they would like to 'go home'. Cristina can't work on their visa so her life has been curtailed: she has had to make new friends and find herself something to do and it hasn't been the best situation for her. In addition she has left elderly parents behind and, although my surviving parent is far from elderly I, too, recognise how difficult that can be.

Anyway, in acknowledgement of the fun we've had together the Pilates group wanted to do something or make something for Cristina to say farewell, and I volunteered to make a book.

I don't think anyone knew what the outcome would be, least of all me! I thought making a blank book would look a bit pathetic: we're not so close as a group that we'd be likely to fill it with photographs and reminiscences, so it seemed more appropriate to make something small that would remind Cristina of being here, just big enough for us to sign and write our good wishes.

I decided on a concertina binding and cut into the upper edge of each page, then realised that I could increase the effect by ensuring that the resulting images could be 'read' with the pages folded up as well as spread out. A folded cover allows the book's pages to be extended while properly protecting them when closed.

The images are local ones: a breaching humpbacked whale (especially appropriate as now is peak whale-watching season as they migrate northward to calve in warmer waters), a surfer, a parrot in a eucalyptus tree, pandanus branches and the lighthouse on South Solitary Island.

I hope that when Cristina looks at her book she'll remember the warmth and the sunshine as well as Paola telling us to keep our shoulder blades together as we try and kick the sky!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Some felt, a post and a deadline

I was talking about prevarication in my other blog, Mostly Up, in relation to the fact that I've spent the day doing anything other than the things I should be doing i.e. reading financial reports, doing the accounts and preparing cash-flow forecasts. Well, just reading that little list can you blame me? I can proudly say, though, that by this hour (10pm) I have at least read all the financial reports, made copious notes, prepared myself for tomorrow's Board meeting at school, iced the cakes I made earlier, put aside a box full for the aforesaid Board meeting (if I have to sit in a room for over 4 hours debating school policy I need a good mug of coffee and some cake), had some 'family time' and put our darling daughter with her horrible, horrible cold to bed. So now I'm entitled to take photos of rusty metal poles and the finished slippers.

Slippers with rosettes, plus an almost-finished pencil case

I've included the photos of the post to remind myself that in the back of my mind I actually do have various ideas ticking over for printmaking. My dearest husband was forced to intervene in my felt fetish the other day, gently asking if I have any 'art' going on in my head..? It clearly isn't evident in all the fun I'm having with fibres!

Luckily for me the answer was 'yes', in a long-winded sort of fashion. I did feel rather knocked back by the CPM show (and golly I'd better remember tomorrow to organise a courier to pick up my entry because I'm damned sure it hasn't sold and the show ends on Saturday) when I got home... It's been good and healthy to have a few weeks to reflect on things but he's right, I actually do need to get on with some work. Although I've scrubbed out a couple of shows I was thinking of entering I do want to put a new artists' book into the Southern Cross Acquisitive Artists' Book Awards this year and the deadline is creeping quietly towards me.

The post is a bit of a decoy because it has nothing to do with any printmaking that will end up as part of an artists' book for the SCU show, but it was a reminder to me this afternoon of how much I enjoy texture and how I tend to see things in the real world in a fairly abstract way.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fun with felt

I may have mentioned a slight obsession (can you be slightly obsessed or only completely obsessed, I wonder?) with felt, having been introduced to felt making at our daughter's Steiner primary school where the children create lots of things that they need out of felt that they've made. Felt making, and creating small items from the felt that we've made, consumes a large part of the energies of the small Tuesday morning craft group I belong to at the school and slowly my technique is becoming more refined. One of the women who sometimes comes to the group has found a 'Master Feltmaker' in Bellingen and begged classes, and I've been a bit jealous of the people who have gone off to learn feltmaking in the redoubtable Eileen's garage. For the next few weeks, however, I have the opportunity to join in because one of her regular students is going away for a month or so and Eileen has kindly agreed that I can take her place.

Two cute slippers, soon to be adorned with a flower each!

I have to say I felt a bit nervous turning up yesterday to who-knows-what! But Eileen is a real character: she must have been making felt and felt things by hand for about forty years, and what she doesn't know about the process probably isn't worth knowing. Have deconstructed the samples I took with me (she managed to be only slightly scathing...) she allowed me to jump a couple of lessons and start by making some slippers for my darling daughter. If you're familiar with feltmaking techniques you'll probably know that making these lovely little slippers involved laying out wool tops over an oval plastic resist, turning the whole assemblage over, wrapping the edges around the other side of the resist and laying more layers of fleece over the top and then felting the whole thing together. A small slit is then cut in the resulting envelope of gradually felting wool, the resist is removed and hand-shaping turns the slit into an opening for the slippers and shapes the toe, heel, sole and instep.

You can see where the inner and the sole are different colours

I'd only read about the technique in books and so, being very careful with my laying-out technique under Eileen's watchful eyes, it took me about 3 hours to make these slippers. 2 hours' work got me to the stage where I could bring them home, and I finished them off this afternoon.

I'm supposed to practice by making another pair as 'homework' this week but frankly I don't want felt slippers, so I'm cheating: our builder's 18 month old daughter would, apparently, love a pair and if he can get me the pattern in time I might be able to make up a pair of toddler bootees in time for my next lesson with Eileen!

These may look too flimsy to be worn regularly, but in fact there are four layers of fleece in the felt and they are surprisingly sturdy.

A wine-red flower, a bit like a Dahlia, with gold beads in the centre

Eileen wanted to see samples of my work so I took along some pieces of flat felt plus these two flowers which I worked out over the long weekend. They are a development of the small flower and bird brooches I was doing before Christmas, and I was deliberately trying to make something bigger.

Unfortunately Eileen was a bit bemused by them: why, she wondered, did I go to the trouble of cutting out all those petals, and why are the petals so narrow? I didn't really catch her meaning until she brought out her own box of flowers-in-progress and I saw the light. Her flowers have fewer petals, but they are bigger and she works the individual petals, stretching them and making them warp a bit so that they look very realistic. She showed me gorgeous orchids and roses, carefully shaped and then painted on both sides with dilute PVA glue to strengthen and stiffen them. Once dry, she then assembles layers of petals and beads/embroiders a centre before sewing them to a brooch pin.

I still like my flowers and I want to try making bigger corsages too, but I must say that her flowers are just beautiful and I will try a modification of her pattern and see what I come up with. When I have a spare moment.

The centre of this flower is an antique button


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