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.