Peppers, Paper and a Peculiar Sunset

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Why is it when you are all fired up to do something creative a situation arises that gets in the way? Yesterday I had planned to do some writing for this blog when our washing machine decided to overflow from the top as well as developing a leak underneath, probably from one of the hoses. Much of the day was wasted with moving the steel bench and it’s contents out of the laundry so that we could get behind the machine to see if it was fixable then trying to find a repair person.

We could not get anyone to come before next Thursday. A plumber had told us to hang onto this older machine for as long as possible because it was very sturdy and he said that with many new models, you were lucky if they lasted 5 years so we want to have it repaired if possible.

As the dirty clothes will pile up, what could we do until then? Luckily Ellie found that we could do our washing if the machine was partially filled and set to the final rinse and spin cycles. This took ages because the leaking water had to be mopped up all the time. After all the things that had been drenched by the overflowing machine had dried out, it all had to be put back into the laundry. Luckily it was a day of 35°C which was great for drying things but not wonderful for staying cool in a crisis. Sometimes life gives you hot Chile peppers like the lethal ones in our garden.

Modern technology can be trying at times but it would be much more time-consuming to do the washing by hand. There was nothing we could do to prevent this annoyance, so I had to accept the fact that it was necessary to focus on the task in hand rather than to do what of had planned. On top of this I could feel the onset of a sore throat (probably from the heat) so decided to have a relaxing evening and not to stress.

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On a more productive subject, the papermaking has been going well. We have found that mixing colourful bits of cotton fabric, which has been put through the washing machine and the blender, then mixed with the paper pulp, creates lovely decorative sheets. Below are some examples of Ellie’s work.

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If you put some pieces of thread on the surface of the paper after it has been couched onto the wet cloth, press and dry it, then iron the sheet under a damp cloth, when you peel off the thread it will leave an embossed effect.

Putting loosely shredded cotton onto the paper while it is still in the mould will create surface decoration that is pressed in when the paper is couched onto the wet cloth. Here are some of Ellie’s.

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In Australia it is now autumn and we have been having some beautiful sunsets. I photographed one of these from the studio last week and once I downloaded the photo onto the computer I noticed something that was not there when I looked out the window. There seemed to be a large UFO hovering in the sky with another one in the distance. How could this be?

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Then I realized that the lights have been on in the studio when I took the photo and were reflected in the window. It was just a trick of the light.

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Seeing is not always believing.

Kat

Here is a fun song, UFO, from Australian band Sneaky Sound System from ten years ago. It still sounds great.

Distractions and Culinary Delights

You know the feeling. You start doing something and you find yourself going off of a totally different tangent that leads into different but fascinating territory. This week I was looking for a favorite recipe (flourless chocolate cake) that my mother used to make and found myself looking at an old cookery book that has been in the family for generations. Now I’m not really a cook, Ellie being the one who inherited that creative ability, but I like to eat and am fascinated by unusual dishes of the past and this old book took me on quite a journey.

Cookery For Every Household by Florence B Jack was published in the UK in 1914 just before WWI completely changed the world. It is a reflection of the previous Victorian and Edwardian way of life, where many people still had maids and cooks to do a lot of the domestic duties. Some of the elaborate recipes are heavily influenced by French cuisine and reflect the old style of entertaining of the wealthy. Our copy at same stage lost its original cover and was rebound in red. The book has over 3,000 recipes and is quite a tome. The book is full of line drawings to illustrate the recipes and as well as basic cooking, there are some culinary dishes that seem quite strange by todays standards.

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It is also amazing that cooks could produce such complicated cuisine with gas rings, simple stoves and equipment.

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Here are some illustrations of the latest technology of the time: The electric stove.

I had to laugh at the mention of low electricity rates. Some things were better back in the early 20th century.

Ingenious contraptions were designed to make cooking easier. The Hutchings’ Patent Cooker was a tall steamer which could hold an entire meal to be cooked all at the same time. Imagine having this towering on your stove. I suppose it was the microwave or Thermomix of its day. Great for the busy housewife.

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In complete contrast, the basic meat safe was still in use for storing perishables. This hanging example was very common in Australia to stop ants and other creepy crawlies from getting at the leg of lamb for the Sunday roast.

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Improvisation was encouraged if you did not have the right equipment. If you did not have one of these for straining soup.

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You could do this.

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The book contains recipes based on ingredients that are no longer common in modern books. Take for example Fried Smelts. It made me wonder about the smell. Apparently it is a small fish, which smells like a cut cucumber and should be eaten as soon as possible. Yeah it probably smelt if left too long.

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Another unusual dish is Salsifis. These are a root vegetable similar to a parsnip and are either black or white. Taste wise these resemble asparagus. In America they are called Oyster plant because they were thought to taste similar. The drawing of the dish shows that the pureed salsifis were placed in scallop shells to look like seafood complete with lemon segment bow ties.

I noticed that many of the recipes followed a similar line. No food should look like its original form. For instance Stuffed and Baked Cod resembles a pair of eyes. I don’t think that this is any better than having a fish on your plate looking at you. Quite odd.

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Vegetables were presented so that there was no sign of any leaf. With Dressed Spinach the cooked leaves were put through a sieve, then butter and seasoning was added and the dish was decorated with triangular croutons of fried bread and segments of hardboiled egg. Anyone who had an aversion to spinach would never know that this plant was on the plate. Maybe not such a bad idea after all.

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There seem to be a lot of recipes where the food is dressed. Dressed Crab is another example. It involved the complete dissection of the crab then a mixture of the flesh and mayonnaise was put back into the shell with some claws on top to remind the diners that they were eating what was once a crab. No struggling with a naked crab.

Prawns (shrimp) got a similar treatment. In the Prawn Salad it looks like the two garnishes are dancing in a sea of prawn flesh, lettuce and sliced radishes, a reminder of their origin.

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Meat dishes also seemed to disguise the form of the original animal. The traditional Game Pie with its raised pastry case contains a variety of bird meat. The illustrated example is decorated with the feet of birds in the top hole that seems to be saying “let me out of here.” Not very appetizing.

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There seemed to be an obsession with molding things into cylinders or cones so that they became architectural structures like the following example.

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In those days cooking leftovers was a whole art form in itself. These dishes were not merely an afterthought. Here are a couple of extraordinary recipes.

Proper table linen was as elaborate as the food. There were a myriad of ways to fold napkins. Although the bishop’s Mitre seems a bit sober for a jolly night of feasting. Maybe that was the intention to avoid excess.

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To me it is the elaborately decorated desserts of this period that are incredible and make my mouth water. You may not have lived in a castle but you could eat a Castle Pudding (I think it must be a smear of pudding on the page).

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Nothing defines the period like Jellies. Great wobbly mountains of Jelly. The following recipe for Coffee Jelly could still be made today and would certainly liven up a party.

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The name of this dessert says it all. Tipsy Cake is an elaborate form of the classic Trifle. Layers of sponge cake, custard, strawberry or raspberry jam doused with a cup of sherry and decorated with cream and toasted almonds. Yum.

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For those with delusions of grandeur there is always the Princess Cake with it’s pink royal icing.

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Invalid cookery is where things take a down turn. No wonderful desserts if you were sick. It was a drab world of steamed food, soup and broth. The following advice in the book tells the sorry tale.

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Many of the more elaborate recipes found in this book are the type that nowadays would be made by chefs and are not the sort of food you would have everyday, although there are hundreds for normal meals for the ordinary housewife to feed her family.

I think that old cookery books from the past can still inspire and provide useful information for those interested in creative culinary skills. They also tell a story of the lives of our ancestors and the kind of society in which they lived. You often learn something new when you get distracted.

Kat

Truly Inspired by A Guy Called Bloke

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The Three Graces (detail)

My blog had the privilege of being featured on fellow blogger A Guy Called Bloke‘s Truly Inspired series.

Here is the link: Truly Inspired: The Artist’s Child

Check out his wonderful poems and writings while you are there.

Woven Baskets: A Living Tradition

I noticed that there is a Lost Trades Fair in Kyneton, Victoria in March. Amongst the crafts featured is basket weaving. I had not realized that this craft was in danger of disappearing. I can remember a time when mum would order handmade wicker baskets from a craftsperson to be used for food hampers that were raffled at our school’s fetes. After doing a Google search, it seems that these traditional basket makers are no longer around in Melbourne (or very hard to find) and most available cane or willow wicker baskets seem to be imported from overseas where such materials are common and still used by craftspeople. Nowadays it appears that many Australian basket weavers are now using local materials and traditional Indigenous techniques. Hand woven baskets are useful and wonderful to collect.

Basket weaving is a skilled craft undertaken since the Neolithic period. Most cultures have some form of basket weaving tradition. These hand-woven articles are really useful for storing all kinds of materials and tools. If they are beautiful that’s even better and the colours and textures of baskets are also very inspiring.

In Australia Indigenous weavers make wonderful baskets. Sometimes these are the only items of women’s work that have survived from past centuries. Luckily this knowledge is being passed on to future generations and to non-indigenous women at local cultural centres. The materials used are more sustainable because they are found where the weavers live. Here is a video of a workshop that took place in Victoria.

Many indigenous fibre artists have made some incredible artworks using their basket weaving techniques.  I wish I had an example. Their work is influencing other non-indigenous craftspeople and basket weavers who are now incorporating indigenous techniques and using local materials to create their own original designs. Here is a link to some of the magnificent basket work you can see on The Basket Weavers of Victoria website (link).

Ellie and I have a collection of traditional and decorative baskets, some bought in stores specializing in handwork from other cultures, some found in charity stores, others inherited from relatives. They are a terrific form of craftwork to collect that you can use while you are working or can be filled with all kinds of things to organize your space. We also have some interesting fibre objects that show the ingenuity of weaving with plant materials.

If we see an old wicker or willow basket in a charity shop, we snap it up and have kept those that came from family. Our collection includes a large bread basket; shopping baskets; large round baskets; a huge wood basket; a picnic basket; laundry and dog baskets and various small baskets, all of which we use. Modern storage baskets are also useful and as they are not made of plastic, better for the environment.

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Baskets are usually made from plant materials that are readily available to the weaver. The following Asian baskets are made from split bamboo. The largest one with a lid is really old and come from a relative who used it for her needlework. It is an example of Chinese basketry work which I use to store craft materials. The other shallow round basket is Japanese and was found at an op shop. Also made from bamboo using a delicate, open lattice pattern. I have seen similar baskets attached to ivory figures in  antique Japanese carvings. Judging by what I have seen on Google it is probably from the mid twentieth century. I use this basket for holding weaving threads so that it does not become damaged.

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The small oval bamboo basket was a gift from our grandmother. A local craftsperson glued the shells to the lid and lacquered the surface. We have several of these baskets in varying sizes and they are great for storing small items. I don’t think that they were very expensive baskets and would be good for decorating in all manner of ways.

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We have several African shallow baskets that are perfect for holding tapestry bobbins while you are working. These are all from Zimbabwe and we bought them at local store that sells African wares. The medium-sized basket is a binga basket made by the ba Tonga people. It has the characteristic herringbone edge. The smallest one is a tightly woven Ukhomane basket with a checkered rim. The largest basket, which is a type used to sort and clean maize and is similar in design to the Ukhomane but has a herringbone rim so seems to be a combination of the two styles. What I like about these are the abstract patterns and earthy colours and are not too dissimilar to the look a woven tapestry. They are a pleasure to use. African baskets are available online.

Another op shop find is a large old picnic style basket with folding handles from the Philippines. It is great for storage in the studio with an inner tray for smaller items. It is unusual and I could not see a similar one on Google. My guess would be that it’s from the 1960s or 70s.

A very small, lidded basket that was inherited is a bit of a mystery. It was a gift from a relative who was an intrepid female traveller in the early 20th century. It looks like it could be African but is also might be woven from pandanus palm like some of the work of Australian Aborigines, but it is hard to be sure. Apparently she was quite a character. We have a photo of this relative seated in a canoe on the Zambezi River where she visited Victoria Falls. She may have found the basket while on this trip.

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Other woven items include a Zimbabwean Gudza (fertility) doll that I received as a gift and a woven cup that Ellie found at an op shop. The latter looks African and is very decorative rather than functional. We also have a lovely woven figure holding a basket. It could be woven from some kind of palm leaves, reeds or banana fibre. We don’t know its origins but it is still a testimony to the weaver’s skill. I have placed the figure with some bird’s nests from our garden, examples of the first woven baskets.

Basket weaving techniques can be used for all kind of objects like this woven football that is used in the kickball game of Sepak Takraw, in Malaysia and Thailand. We have three in the studio and they are beautiful, sculptural objects.

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Textures of baskets can influence and inspire tapestry weaving. Here is one of my samplers with areas of raffia and natural string fibres that show this influence.

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Baskets and objects woven using similar techniques show the diversity of the weaver’s craft in different cultures and make an interesting collection. It is wonderful to see that there are still craftspeople rediscovering ancient methods and using them in a sustainable manner. Whether they are old or beautiful, all baskets are great to use.

Kat.

This song and video of Buffy Sainte Marie’s Changing Woman weaves magic. (You Tube took down the wonderful psychedelic video I had before but here is the song).

Picnics, Stories and Iconic Places

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Is there an iconic place in your state or region where you have never been? Just outside of Melbourne is the famous Hanging Rock, so integral to Joan Lindsay’s book Picnic at Hanging Rock, which was made into the beloved Australian film directed by Peter Weir in the 1970s. I have never been to Hanging Rock and really regret this. The story is soon to be released as a Television series. Here is a video showing the rock with the fateful ascent by the schoolgirls, Miranda and her friends, before they disappear on Valentine’s Day, 1900, which is set to the original music.

Hanging Rock is definitely one place I want to visit. It has been the setting for outdoor concerts and picnic race meets at the nearby racecourse. I wonder if you don’t get around to seeing local sights because they are easy to get to and you know (and hope) that they will always be there, while distant places draw you away. It has often taken me ages to get around to seeing renowned locations in my state, such as the Grampian Ranges.

While Joan Lindsay’s story is not fact it has become a part of Australian folklore. Hanging rock seems a mysterious place because of that story and has become a little bit intimidating. Not to mention the snakes that would lurk amongst the rocks in summer. Judging by the following video Hanging Rock is a maze and it is not hard to believe that it would be easy to become lost or trapped within the monoliths.

There is a flash dance mob of massed “Mirandas” planned for the rock on February 25, which will be filmed for You Tube (click info link here). Again the place will be swarming with young ladies in white turn of the 20th century dresses. This might become an annual event like the Kate Bush Wuthering Heights red dress dance that happens all over the world. With that rock it will be very dramatic and the new TV series is sure to bring more fans to the story and the site.

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I guess I’d better go and see Hanging Rock before it is overrun by wafting, wannabe Mirandas. Autumn would be a good time to visit when there are fewer snakes. And if you do see a ghostly Miranda coming towards you from amongst the rocks my advice would be to run.

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Every country has its iconic locations that are often associated with a work of fiction or local legend. This is a very good reason for visiting such places and maybe having a picnic. Just be careful if you wander off amongst big rocks or other mysterious features.

On another tack, Ellie and I made some more paper last weekend using shredded magazines mixed with a paler pulp. Here are mine.

We will try new combinations of paper and cotton to create decorative effects until we have a good stash. I don’t fancy doing this in the winter as you make a lot of mess and need to be outside so we’ll make the most of the nice summer weather.

Kat

The Tipping Point

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When you are doing something creative have you noticed sometimes there is a point where everything can suddenly go wrong if you don’t immediately adjust to the situation? I guess this is also echoed in our way of life. In many areas we have reached the tipping point for our planet. This is a good reason for artists to use recycled materials.

I read on a local news site yesterday that China is no longer accepting waste materials from Australia for recycling (link to article). This means all the plastic and paper that was to be sold to China will go into landfill if it cannot be recycled here. Councils are now asking ratepayers to cut down on the amount of waste for their recycling bins. This is the result of sending our problems overseas and not finding a creative solution for recycling large quantities of paper and plastic in our own country. If we are to prevent turning our environment into a tip and being swallowed by mountains of rubbish, it will take a change of mindset for our society, which won’t be easy. At the very least, as artists, we can recycle materials in our work.

Many local artists and designers have already been using recycled items to create works of art and are trying to make a difference no matter how small. It is also good for the soul to turn rubbish and junk into something beautiful, as well as unique. Here is a link to an exhibition Turning Trash to Treasure held at the South Melbourne Market in September 2017.

Reusing old materials is a source of inspiration and often requires a lot of rethinking when you run into difficulties. Ellie and I have been learning to make paper from old cotton rags and clothing for use in artwork. We have been having problems with making a very fine pulp, as mentioned in recent posts. This requires breaking down the cut-up rags in the washing machine and repeated processing in the blender.

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It is quite time-consuming so we decided to mix this with a pulp made from shredded computer documents and other paper of a reasonable quality. We found out that if you add calcium carbonate powder, also known as whiting or chalk, this will make an acid free pulp (here are the instructions: How to make Acid Free Paper). We bought some from our local art supply shop as it is used in printmaking. We have also decided to size the paper with a clear artist’s gesso after drying rather than adding starch to the pulp.

 

Papermaking is a really good way to use up old paper rather than putting this in the recycling bin. Last weekend we started making paper with paper pulp on its own to get a feel for the process. This was totally different from the cotton pulp. The first day that we tried this the pulp was a bit lumpy and so some of the sheets were a little thick. When dried this it looked like the recycled molded cardboard used to separate wine bottles in the carton, which was not what we were going for.

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We had also obtained a smaller A5 mold and deckle to make cards, which was easy to use and required less pulp. As the lumps disappeared from the pulp mix the paper became thinner and smoother.

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When we began doing this outside under some sun umbrellas it was quite warm. Just as we were starting to get the hang of the process the sky darkened and there was the sound of distant thunder. With the storm getting closer it was quite hard to concentrate. Not wanting to be stuck outside with lightning imminent we hurriedly packed up and put the paper in the press under the car port then dried it flat inside. After drying the paper was pressed under a pile of heavy books because it had curled a bit.

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The next day it was even hotter and we decided to continue the process under the car port just in case the weather changed. The pulp had softened even more and was a better texture. Because it was thinner we had to be careful when getting it off the deckle. The cleaning cloths that we use for separating the paper sheets need to be really wet or the paper won’t come off the deckle. The hot weather didn’t help and we had a lot of disasters before getting this right. If you sponge the back of this once it is upside down on the cloth the paper comes off more easily.

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We noticed that there was a variation in thickness of the paper but it was better than the day before. If the pulp mixture became too thin the paper was more likely to fall apart when transferring it to the cloth so it was necessary to add more pulp when this was starting to happen. You had to watch out for this tipping point to avoid failure.

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When we had finished we pressed the sheets between our plywood boards with bricks on top and dried them by pegging the backing cloths on a drying rack. This worked better than trying to dry them flat on a surface. Some sheets are better than others but we can experiment with the sizing on some or use them for collage so nothing is wasted and we can always re-pulp sheets that are too horrible.

 

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Next we are going to try some shredded magazines together with recycled computer paper to see if we can make some interesting decorative paper. After we have reprocessed some of the colored fabric we can include a small quantity of this fibre in the mix.

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Individually we might only be using a relatively small amount of recycled material but it’s better than doing nothing. It’s a pity that more local manufacturers are not doing their own recycling of plastics and paper for their products. So much has been done overseas and now that this is no longer sustainable we will all have to be aware of the amount we consume and how to cut this down. This will not be easy so the more people who can come up with creative ways to reuse recyclables, as in artwork, hopefully we can avoid the tipping point.

Kat

There are quite a lot of songs with “Paper” in the title. I love this one from the sixties, Paper Tiger, performed by Sue Thompson. It’s a live version but she is miming and obviously enjoying herself.

Wildlife Close Encounters and Other Garden Ponderings

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After having a several close encounters with some of Australia’s native creatures in our garden over recent days, it has made me realize just how important such oases are for the preservation of wildlife. Another house and established garden is about to be demolished in our street and a habitat for native birds and animals will disappear. Our place is fast becoming an island of greenery and haven for small creatures.

A week ago on a morning with a forecast of 42°C (107.6°F) I noticed a little Marbled Gecko had hidden inside one of our garden umbrellas. He had to be moved or he would not have survived the expected heat so I carefully maneuvered the umbrella so that he climbed into the foliage of our fernery where he could hide in a cool, moist place. Stupidly I did not take a photo of him so here is a video of one in the bush. These geckos are native to South Eastern Australia.

The only other reptile residents of our garden are tiny Garden Skinks. These small lizards hide between rocks or in woodpiles. If the dogs see the little lizards they go crazy trying to catch them. They are harmless and quite shy so you are lucky to glimpse them at all. The following video shows one found in a You Tuber’s back yard.

Our two citrus trees attract the largest butterfly found in Victoria, the Orchard Swallow Tail. All summer I have been seeing these flitting around our garden. As many butterflies are becoming less common, gardens without trees will not do their numbers any good. Just to show how beautiful these butterflies are here is another video that feature the both the dark male and lighter female.

A few nights ago we were putting out the rubbish and there was a large Garden Orb Weaver Spider making a web attached to large shrubs across the driveway. I rushed to get my camera to photograph the process. Ellie focused a torch (flashlight) on the spider but even then the shutter speed was very slow and as the Orb was moving really fast, the photos were quite blurry, but you can get the gist. These webs when completed are quite large and the spider will sit in the middle waiting for its prey. Ellie said she had seen this spider for a few nights in this spot. Unfortunately we had to detach one side of the web to put out the bins, but I’m sure the spider rebuilt it after we had left. They are very persistent creatures.

Here is a video of a similar Orb spider in daylight.

This morning I came inside from the garden and felt a tickle on my arm and there was a green Preying Mantis. I love these insects and they do a lot of good in the garden. I flicked him off, but rather than having him eaten by the dogs, quickly got him onto a piece of paper, took him outside and deposited him on a leaf. I managed to take some photos but he was moving quite quickly so they were slightly out of focus. I wish I had a good DSLR camera to be able to take good close-ups of small creatures but this is the best I could do.

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Our garden always has resident native birds. The Little Wattlebirds are constantly chattering and singing as they fly around or look for nectar in flowers. Their song ranges from squawks to beautiful chortles. In spring I often see them feeding their young. They are quite aggressive birds and will chase off food competitors, especially parrots like Rainbow Lorikeets, making a lot of noise in the process. Here is one enjoying some Banksia nectar in someone’s garden.

The only birds that the Wattlebirds don’t mess with are the native Little Ravens, a misnomer because they are quite large birds. Unlike Ravens in the Northern Hemisphere, which have black eyes, all Australian Raven and Crow species have white eyes. They are very handsome birds and a group of them visit our garden often in the spring making themselves at home in the large tree next door. Because they move so quickly and perch high up in the trees, I have never been able to photograph them successfully but I found a great video of a Little Raven taking a bath in country South Australia.

Where will city’s the native birds, animals, reptiles and insects live when their garden habitat is destroyed? So many people are building houses that take up most of the block and replacing established gardens with the minimalist designs favored by local developers. These don’t allow for the native wild life’s need for places to hide from predators, the hot summer sun and the winter cold, as well as abundant food sources.

It’s unfortunate that many homeowners value lifestyle over wild life. At the rate Melbourne’s established gardens are disappearing, future generations won’t have all these beautiful native creatures on their doorsteps for their children to learn about nature and will have to travel miles for such an experience.

If you do have a garden make the most of it and it’s wild inhabitants while you can and never take it for granted.

Kat