Sulphur-crested cockatoo peasant blouse

When we lived in Bunya during the millennium drought, we fed the beautiful white cockatoos on the deck. Until they woke us up at the crack of dawn one summer morning: a flock of over 20 cockatoos screeching, carrying on and biting every little lamp off the xmas fairy lights we had hung the day before.

When less of a good thing really is more. Photo: Mick, 2009.

In Mitchelton, the ubiquitous Australian cockatoos are still around, but they tend to fly over, screeching, rather than land in our wilderness garden. They prefer open woodlands like that surrounding our place on Mailmans Track in Bunya. In spite of their noisy and rather destructive habits, I love the cheeky large white birds and wish they would visit.

Photo: Mick 2004.

When my friend, Nonie, suggested I should try my hand at screen printing a black cockatoo, I was inspired. The yellow-tailed black cockatoo is more elusive than its white cousin, but still hang around in the she-oaks down by Kedron Brook. However, I realised I only had crappy photos and even crappier ones of the threatened glossy red black cockatoo from a show at Australia Zoo. But thanks to the friendly white cockatoos we fed in Bunya, I had stacks of great photos of them.

Moonlight grevilla was the inspiration for the flower. Lone:

So I worked up three birds, a grevilla leaf and flower for screen printing.

Planning three colour screen print of the birds. In essence I need to create negatives and the black of the stencil is really important because it is what blocks out the uv that exposes the emulsion. Photo: Lone 2022.

My bucket of emulsion had been sitting in the fridge for near on 18 months, with recommended lifetime after mixed about 9 months. Unperturbed I set to cover 80T screens, and expose them with my drawings.

Some failed, especially the very fine detail, and the times I put the emulsion on too thickly and the exposure failed to wash out or washed out the supposedly exposed emulsion.

In the end I had a patchwork of workable imagery across six screens that I could put together complete birds.

I create screens from timber frames bought cheaply in op shops or found during kerbside collection. You’d be surprised how many there are! Photo: Lone 2022.

I found a sewing pattern in Mitchelton Library’s generous collection of Love Sewing magazines (thank you, awesome librarians!)

McCall’s M8256. Photo: Lone 2022.

I had an umber-coloured piece of the now phased-out Vintage Finish Linen from the Fabric Store. I cut the pattern pieces and zig zagged to prevent fraying. I then printed a pattern of sorts, with yellow grevilla flowers and dark green grevilla leaf, and using white, yellow and a mixed grey for the birds.

Photo: Lone 2022.

I then assembled the relatively easy blouse, my only challenge being entirely self-made: I forgot to set the machine to long stitches when basting the neckline and had a really hard time unpicking the narrow stitches of contrast coloured cotton.

Check and double check before cutting and before sewing are relatively simple rules I in my eagerness often dismiss. So I must live with the consequences! Photo: Lone 2022.

I love the result. The sleeves are airy and flowing and the gathered neckline resembles what in Danish is called a ‘bondebluse’ (does it translate to ‘peasant blouse’? I am not sure).

The cool linen fabric makes this a perfect summer top for the Queensland heat.

From punch needle tufting to rya

Earlier this year, I saw Natalya Hughes’ The Interior exhibition at Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art. Hughes’ work explores the construction of women in psychoanalysis (hysteric?), through reimagining the consulting room of Sigmund Freud.

Artist talk with Natalya Hughes and curator Tulleah Pearce in The Interior exhibition at IMA. Phone: Lone 2022.

I was intrigued by the exhibition and its surrealist treatment of the artefacts in Freud’s room, 3D printed obscure versions of Freud’s antiquities and bizarrely shaped couches in which viewers were invited to sit.

Natalya Hughes worked with Max Athans to reimagine Freud’s antiquities as 3D printed objects with enlarged female features. Photo: Lone 2022.

What really took my fancy were the tufted rugs. They were bright in colours, featured bizarre shapes and images and beautifully executed as deep soft rugs.

Hughes told me that when she was invited to work with IMA to develop the exhibition, she did not know how to tuft a rug, but that it could definitely be learnt. So maybe I could learn it too! Unfortunately, I was too late to secure a ticket for the needle punch tufting workshop with Hughes.

Tufted rug by Natalya Hughes. Photo: Lone 2022

Necessity is the mother of invention. As I researched tufted rugs, I realised they are probably not a genuine part of my cultural heritage, more associated with the ancient Persian cultures.

Then something in this research made me recall that in grade four – in a class called handicrafts – we learnt the Scandinavian practice of shaggy rug making – also known as rya. Pinned to the wall in my childhood home, was a large rya rug in brown and orange colours, right out of the 1970s, and I thought I should give it a go.

On Youtube I found a creative with an instructional video which did not involve a loom. Very helpful for my frugal creativity!

In grade 4, I remember the backing as corse, scratchy hemp stramaj, with large woven holes to aid looping – I think this style of holed fabric is called aida in English. I could not find anything useful that resembled the stramaj I remembered. So I cut a square piece of white linen tablecloth that I had found in the secondhand store. I had a enough leftover from the rather failed attempt at creating a pair of fitted linen pants from it, at least to try out rya technique.

Because it was much finer than any aida fabric, I drew red lines on the fabric so I could create the shaggy loops in fairly straight lines. I realised that the thinner the rules the denser the shagginess would be. I drew no particular pattern or image, thinking this was too advanced for this early attempt.

I had a bunch of cotton yarn that I had bought for knitting dish cloths, in colours I fancied to have a go with. I recalled using wool rather than cotton, but I thought cotton would create a softer result than scratchy wool. I found an old wooden ruler and a large headed needle and off I went. Loop after loop, changing colours along the way to create streams of colour with organic jagged edges.

It was a long and painstaking process that I undertook during the evening as we watch various SBS series (and particularly difficult to follow when I needed to read subtitles). Yet, in the end it was done.

In the second hand shop I found a pillow I thought would fit within the final cushion cover. To complete the cushion cover, I used some cut off legs from a pair of Dickies pants, which seemed just the right quality for backing.

I created a line of buttons in the centre and stitched the cushion cover together. I have to confess that I made a mistake – the buttons were meant to be visible on the outside, not hidden! But I could not bear unstitching the thing again once I realised.

As I created the backing it turned out my square was not quite square and was on the small side for the cushion. I had to unstitch some of the stitches that went too close to the edge. Fitting the pillow in was a bit of a battle, but the result is ok and fun, I think.

Thank you to Natalya Hughes and your art for making me recall a traditional craft from my homelands and my childhood.

Foxy flares

The red fox is endemic to the northern hemisphere and ubiquitous in Europe and my mother country, Denmark. In Australia, they are considered the most damaging of invasive spieces and about 7.2 million of the carnivorous four-legged animals roam the country. Red foxes were introduced to Australia in the 1830s for the purpose of fox hunting. The appetite for a ‘nobleman’s’ sport in ‘the new world’ was not only barbarous and inhumane to the foxes, it continues devastate native Australian wildlife and ecosystems today, like so many features of colonisation.

Foxy found object – a baby toy. Photo: Lone

If red foxes do not belong in our environment, they do look pretty cute as a stylised design. For some reason foxes feature frequently in Australian toys, as these two found objects attest.

Foxy found object – a toy bag. Photo: Lone

I was pretty happy with my op shop find of a double doona cover with a pattern of rows of orange foxes with black noses. Closer examination confirmed it was 100% cotton with no polyester. At a price of $2.50 there was nothing to lose.

At home I discovered that the right side was adorned with a pattern of larger foxes identical to the little ones. That’s for a future project, yet to be determined, so it has gone into the growing fabric stash. The current project called for some flares and flow.

The Mitchelton Library has a wonderful and expanding collection of the UK Love Sewing magazine and in one of these I found a pattern I thought suitable for the fabric: McCall’s M8167. Photo: Lone

I traced the right sized pattern onto tissue to create my own pattern pieces – after all, the original belongs to the people of Brisbane. I transferred the pattern to the doona cover. The pattern was directional and I wanted the foxes to run horizontally across the dress, so I had to ignore some of the grain direction instructions. To my peril, perhaps.

Using the old Elna serger I inherited from my mother-in-law, I secured the fragile edges of the cut pieces, and then I set to sewing.

As promised on the pattern (facile), this was not too hard. I added pockets with contrast colours to the sides.

Pockets were not in the pattern. So I just copied some from a different pattern and attached them at an appropriate height. Photo: Lone.

The flared sleeves are just as funky as I expected, though the direction of the foxes were necessarily messed up.

Lovely flared sleeves. Photo: Lone.

The V neckline was surprisingly difficult for a rookie like me. My fabric bulged and was too much. My neighbour, Birgitte, and partner in sewing crimes alerted me to the brilliance of the zig zag scissor (pinking shear to those familiar) to cut light fabrics in circumstances like these, and I happened to also have inherited one of these. And this did help some, but not all of the awkwardness in the turn of the V.

All that fabric in the bottom of the V. No amount of ironing will remove this flaw. Photo: Lone.

Though I am happy with the end result, I am not sure if I don’t look like a demented woman in a nightie when I wear it. What do you think?

Foxes by the fish pond. Stay away from the frogs and the chicken!

Froggy deconstruction

You know when you have a favourite piece of clothing, which is comfortable and makes you feel good, and so you wear it until it falls apart? I had such a summer dress, bought for $20 at Eumundi Markets in July 2016. It was a blue-come-turquise cotton with a repeatable golden print, and had a flattering fitted cut to show off my waist, made in India (possibly by an underpaid and undervalued seamstress) and sold under the label Inspired. Best of all: the dress had pockets that fitted the mobile phone perfectly. I especially enjoyed wearing it for walks on the beach, and also at art galleries in London.

Selfie in my Eumundi dress in Christopher Baker “Selfie Seer” in Saatchi Gallery “From Selfie to Self Expression” 2017. It may be a smile, or slight concern in the eyes of my cousin Anja.

After 8 years of wear, it is probably no surprise it was faded, worn out and torn in various places, in spite of my handy and ongoing mending. It was time to rethink my favourite dress in time for summer 2022. But the Inspired label was nowhere to be found. It was not likely I would be able to find this dress in any shop, on or off-line.

So I deconstructed it.

Taking photos of detail, I carefully analysed its construction. I had never done a consealed zipper before, but undeterred I unstitched it.

Bit by bit I took it apart, unstitching the stitches and labelling each bit of fabric as I went, and making note of the sweing techniques applied.

I used the deconstructed dress pieces to develop the shapes for a pattern. Some would call it stealing, but like Superflex I subscribe to the mantra: If value, then copy. And if any reader knows who owns the intellectual property from the Inspired label, please let me know so I can acknowledge and seek permission, post copy, of course.

The window of Danish Art Collective Superflex on Blågårdsgade, Nørrebro, Copenhagen, 2015.

At an opshop, I bought a second hand sheet for $2, which I cut according to the pattern pieces to test how I would put together the pieces and to test its fit. A key problem turned out to be the pockets, taking me some goes at figuring out how to construct them so the right side of the fabric ended up in the right places.

Meticulously I documented each step so I could figure out how to complete the dress on more valuable fabric. I wanted to print my newly designed frogs on a length of sand coloured Vintage Finish Linen from The Fabric Store.

I made a few changes to the design of the dress. The original dress had three panels making up both the front and the back boddice. I decided to cut the back in one piece, which lent itself better to the handprinting and removed an unnessesary complication.

The original dress used piping to finish seams. Though this made a nice structure for the repeatable pattern, I decided against this for my printed fabcric. Perhaps I had trouble figuring out how to do it too.

Armed with the dress pattern and learnings of the sheet fabric dress, I set to cut and print the fabric. I decorated the cut fabric pieces with my newly designed set of frogs in a relatively random pattern to fit the look I was after.

For the interfacing I printed some leftover contrast-coloured teal Vintage Finish Linen, using a less successful full colour frog screen.

I more or less successfully created some Hong Kong seams for the shoulders, adding to the structure of the shoulder straps.

In spite of my careful documentation of process, I had endless trouble with the pockets. Perhaps this was because an unpatterned fabric is somewhat forgiving with right and wrong sides. I also had issues with the concealed zipper. Thankfully Kenneth D King from Threads Sewing explains it well on Youtube for all to see.

In the end I had probably given myself a bit too much seam allowance, for the finished dress seems to be for a fuller figure, in spite of the test piece fitting quite well. Or maybe I lost some weight…

My completed, deconstructed and reassembled frog dress at the fish pond where the frogs have recently deposited a clutch of eggs in the reeds, in celebration of spring.

The Joy of the Butcher Bird’s Whistle

Like many suburban Brisbanites, we have a family of Australian butcher birds hanging out in the back garden. Periodically, when the chicks are young, they become very tame around lunchtime and are willing to pick food held in our hands – or indeed steal it from the table on the deck!

Buther birds have a lovely song, and I agree with someone I heard say: Buther birds seem to sing for no reason other than joy. This is one reason I love the butcher bird, with its rather unflattering name – it seems to understand what joy can bring to an otherwise brutal world.

My first attempt at lino cutting printing involved a butcher bird (or perhaps it was initially a magpie). I cut the vinyl to expose an outline, hood, wing and tail – reaching its beak up to sing its joyful whistling song. I printed a few cards, but abandoned the project. It was simply not that good.

I was looking for a new motive for screen printing for a new garment design, when I remembered and pulled out the butcher bird. It seemed an ideal design for screen printing, with its clear lines. So I re-drew the outline bird on transparant paper and exposed a screen.

It worked well, but the fabric I wanted to print was deep orange, rather than white, which would not work for the black outline – it would make the bird look black and orange, not black and white.

So I created another screen for the white beak, eye and body of the bird, and voila, a new bird came to life.

One of the key issues I face in exposing screens is that I cannot seem to get the template black enough, and I either underexpose so the emulsion washes out or I overexpose so the template outline fails to wash out. This time I tried using Uni Posca pens that you use to draw on metal, stone and ceramics. I did not have a black Posca pen, and found red more successful than blue, which I had to double up with black Sharpie on the back to avoid gaps. What is your tip for creating the best templates for screen printing?

Fairy Wrens

I delight in seeing the small native birds in their natural environment. I have learnt to hear the shrill whistle of the wrens long before I spot them in the low grasses and shrubs. First the flicker of brilliant blues or scarlet reds of the male before spotting the less conspicious buff and brown of the females and juveniles. When we lived in Bunya, they had moved into the scrub by the pond, together with finches. Here on the flat lands we see them in the tall grasses by Kedron Brook.

Once I had mastered screen printing two colours for the Ibis, I was keen to try to more complex motifs. After the superb fairy wren stole the limelight as the Guardian’s 2021 Australian bird of the year, I chose its showy cousin, the varigated fairy wren which seems to be more frequently spotted in South East Queensland. Matching the male’s four colours was certainly challenging without a jig, but not impossible, though I probably made it harder by exposing all of the design elements on the same screen. I printed one colour at the time, in the right order so the black eye would show over the blue. Once the screen was dry again, I matched the next element onto the previous print as best I could through the screen. It is fair to say there was a fair bit of slippage, but the result was satisfactory.

Not one for resting on my laurels, when it came to the female wren, I chose to print her with five colours, adding the green of the grass she would sit on. Again, complicated by all of the design elements on one screen.

But the colours were not right. She was much too yellow and without a Permaset buff on hand, I ended up mixing my own brown from cheap Chromacryl colours and textile medium; thankfully it has not washed out and I am quite happy with the final result. She goes well with her partner on the top I sewed. I used a teal blue Vintage Finish Linen from The Fabric Store by modifying the Tilly and the Buttons Coco dress pattern. Another learning: This match was when a pattern calls for a jersey fabric, a rigid linen may not be the best choice! I had to narrow the seam of the arms, and I actually quite like the result.

But these birds were capable of more. I used the Simple Sew The Raglan Dress pattern to create a dress from yellow Vintage Finish Linen, again from The Fabric Store. I modified the neckline and back so I did not yet have to try my hand at a concealed zipper in the back. I love the wide sleeves of this pattern, and added a baby wren cartoon design, cutely cuddling together on a perch, to the end of the sleeve to shift it up a bit.

Baby wren cartoon design and insignia

With the mask mandate returning in December 2021, I created matching masks with the male bird. Over the top? Yes perhaps! But with the seriousness of COVID-19 still with us, we all need something to make us smile behind that mask.

Peaceful resistance and xmas

In 1864 Denmark fought and lost a war. As a result, the southern part of Jutland – the Duchies of Holstein and Schleswig – ended up under rule of Prussia and the Austrian-Hungarian Emperor. The Prussians forbade the use of the Danish language, flying of the Danish flag, Dannebrog and other symbols that indicated Danish sympathies.

Earlier in the century, a German tradition introduced the xmas tree to the Danes. Well-off burghers would cut a suitably sized pine tree and drag it into the living room to be decorated with live candles and cookies. You get the picture if you know the HC Andersen story The Little Girl with the Matchsticks.

With characteristic warm humour and crafty fingers, the Southern Danes took advantage of this German tradition. They substituted banned flag flying with red and white decorations, including woven hearts in red and white colours that were hung on the tree.

I learnt of this story of peaceful resistance against ideology and dogma from an instagram post by the Danish National Museum. I have always loved to weave these hearts and always preferred the red and white version from those of other colours, but I had never known this story.

I was inspired to reflect the story in a lino cut, which I have called ‘Dressed up as Dannebrog’. Merry xmas and happy 2022.

Wearing wombats on my sleeve

My fascination with wombats resulted in a wombat design on lino for prints. I tried printing the wombat on fabric using the lino design, but this turned out a bit harder and not as neat as screen printed designs. So I designed three wombats, some lomandra, eucalyptus leaves and rocks for transfer to silk screen.

Unfortunately, the silk screen I had bought was not fine enough for the detail of the wombat and I struggled with several attempts and a new pot of emulsion before I realised. Having found the ARPANSA UV website I find sun exposure a bit more predictable, though any slight overcast here or whereever the UV measuring occurs in Brisbane makes the reading inaccurate. One day I might invest in a UV exposure lamp.

Meanwhile I was thinking about the garment that was to be adorned with these cute wombat shapes. A dive into my neighbours archive yielded another Marcy Tilton design (V9122) with an interesting cut and challenge.

Never content with just following a pattern, I modified it to give it short sleves rater than bare shoulders. My sewing friends warned me it would be too hard, but I thougth I’d try anyway.

To see how it worked I found an old sheet and mocked up the design with sleeves. I am glad I did because I realised it was necessary to lengthen the shoulder piece to not make it look like I was being squeezed around the shoulders.

This time I decided to cut the fabric before printing. This was similar to the technique I used for the Ibis shirt, but was different because I had a pattern, rather than four discrete images. The fabric is Vintage Linen from The Fabric Store.

I printed the major pieces, front and back using the pattern, but then decided the garment design really lent itself to a different look for some of the pieces. So I created new silk screens with the three wombats and printed them in a pattern straight onto the fabric.

As I was sewing the garment, I realised that a couple of pieces of fabric had been printed so the wombats would be upside down, so out came the screens and screen print again

Finally, I got to the collar. The design has a pretty unusual collar, ruffled and large, almost like a scarf has been attached. I was not happy with the collar on the mock up I made. It seemed unfinished somehow. I decided to create a collar without a wrong side, so the front piece could fall down without showing seams on the back. It made the seams pretty bulky, but I trimmed them and finished them with a liner, and I think the result is pretty cool. Now I can literally wear my love of wombats on my sleeve.

Have you had success with modifying a pattern?

Ibis on vintage linen

The ibis is much maligned by Brisbane urbanites. They have adapted to survive on human detritus and people object to their behaviours, scavenging discarded fast food and other morsels left behind. This has earned them their nickname, bin chicken.

I quite like the ibis. I find it both graceful and a bit bizarre, with its long beak, fluffy tail feathers and naked neck. As usual, I empathise with the underdog, the less fortunate, the more vulnerable of beings. In my mind it is not the ibis’ fault they now roam our urban spaces. Their habitats – precious wetlands where their long beaks could ferret out crabs and mussels – are progressively shrinking, paved and turned into carparks, roads or housing estates for humans caught up in their aspirational life. In pursuit of their aspirations, humans will work long hours with long commutes so they become time poor and, to compensate, spend their hard earned money fast – fast food, fast fashion, fast cars, instant entertainment. It is sweet irony that if humans enjoyed a slower life, they wouldn’t have to spend time on earning all that money required for fast living. Rather time could be spent on the slower things in life like being, cooking, gardening, creating, parenting, walking, enjoying the nature that is still right at our doorstep. And maybe then the ibis would have enough natural habitat to stay away from bins in urban areas.

My latest piece pays homage to the ibis. Initially, I found it difficult to draw the shape of the bird. In our archive of photos taken over the years, I found photos of ibis. I copied the shapes of four ibis and drew them again and again until I was happy with the result. Then I transferred the black beak, tail and legs onto on piece of transparency, and the white body onto another for each of the birds.

This let me expose 16 silk screens, a left and right version for each bird with a black and a white screen, eight birds in all. I had difficulty exposing the screens as the UV was low, but ultimately, I found the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency’s UV radiation index, which has let me develop a bit more science around exposure times.

I visited my neighbour’s pattern archive and found a suitably extravagant pattern for my ibis top – a Vogue top by Marcy Tilton (V9089).

Previously, I have handprinted entire lengths of fabric with a repeating pattern, for example, the Graffiti Bird wrap. This time I wanted to give the ibis – and this top – deserved a different, more distinguished approach. Using contrast cotton, I marked the pieces from the pattern out on a beautifully woven grey vintage linen from The Fabric Store.

I created a map of which birds I wanted where on the final garment, and started printing, one bird at a time, first white and then black once the white paint was dried. I used little templates to place the birds and give me a sense of spacing, meter and rhythm

I finished the middle back piece and realised that I needed to be able to see the other pieces to align the pattern across them. So cut the fabric pieces before continuing to print the other two back pieces. This particular fabric is quite fragile, so printing was stalled while I cut pieces and zigzagged the edges.

Printing the birds in this way made slow progress, yet every time I felt confident enough to try to print multiple birds at one time, I made mistakes. Patience is indeed king and I continually told myself that it is all about the process more so than the end result.

Once I had printed enough birds on the relevant pieces, I could start sewing. It was not a difficult pattern, though the cuffs on the sleeves caught me out, in part because I had put a bird on the back of each sleeve, but miscalculated the distance from the raw edge. I invented a work-around; I don’t mind it too much.

I am happy with the result – I really love the wide flowing back that lets the birds move and fly. I am looking forward to taking it out, when it is again safe to venture back into the community with the Delta strain of Covid-19. The matching face mask may still come in handy.

Knitted colour

A few years ago, on one of our pilgrimages to the Danish homeland, a friend gave me an abandoned knitting kit. The finest spun wool in a multitude of tiny bundles, two-ply and wonderfully diverse colours. The Garnguf kit was for knitting a woollen, short sleeved summer blouse, suitable for the Danish summer.

It took me some years to figure out what this kit might usefully be used for the Queensland weather. When winter kicked in this year, I realised that I needed a woollen jumper to keep me warm in the studio.

Probably a decade ago, another friend had taught me to knit ‘Fanø strik’, a type of fair isle knitting made popular by Christel Seyfarth. I realised the Garnguf kit was just right for this technique.

My first attempt at Fanø knit

I needed a base yarn of a single colour to stretch the short sleeved kit to a long-sleeved jumper. Unfortunately, the local speciality yarn shop, Yarn Over, closed some years ago, so I felt rather treacherous turning to its warehouse competitor, Spotlight, where I was left ferreting through revolting acrylic, nylon and poly yarns to find some rare pure wool. There was no two-ply that would match the kit, so I bought some Patons four-ply, grey baby marino wool, thinking it would be ok with the two-ply.

I looked at the pattern to see how I could modify it, thought “what the heck, I will just give it a go”. And then I started knitting.

And now at the end of winter, I am chuffed with the result – it is colourful and soft, and probably only I will see the errors and knitting sins committed along the way. And all those yarn endings? I just tied them together, taking a leaf out of Lærke Bakker’s book.