Saturday, May 23, 2020

I Thought I had Done Little

It has felt like I have done very little this last month- stay at  home , stay at home, home quarantine for 14 days so I can see my mother, a bit of stitching, but nothing much really.  But there is a theme developing. And today when I pulled together various drawings over the past 3-4 years ( since going to Atauro Island in Timor Leste and visiting the women of Boneca de Atauro) and a visit to the Aquarium in La Rochelle and things I have been  working on in the last month or so, I seem to be preoccupied with the sea and the creatures that inhabit the sea. When I visited the Aquarium with a friend last year I was not prepared for the delight  of all those fantastic creatures and corals- the colours , the luminescence- it was a little like being inside a fantasy.

That thought- that  this was something fantastical has stayed with me and perhaps needed the austerity of the present moment to bring it out again. I have always loved rockpooling and the creatures that inhabit rockpools, but some of the fish , jellyfish, sea horses,urchins and anemones that were in the Aquarium were  just amazing.

So I have been building a book of the sea from things encountered in the past couple of years. But I wanted to start with a little piece from way back when- I think maybe 1996 or 1997- inspired by rockpools and of course sea urchins. This urchin was beaded.

Then I did a whole series of work inspired by a piece of coral which I made into a linocut and printed onto lutradur. I sold many of these little pieces.

I regret not having gone snorkelling when I was on Atauro I sland- but both times I had an open wound, and though small can easily get infected on a tropical island-  and especially one where medical care is basic. I erred on the side of safety. I did some drawings and linocuts last year  after my Aquarium visit.

This  was a small linocut block I made meant to be a kind of repeat. It is not truly a repeat but the block can be placed having the anemone pointing toward the centre or pointing out to the sides. Just a bit of fun really.

The little block stitched with perle8 weight thread.

And then I made this much larger linocut. I am still  stitching the printed  piece- it has taken time and I will probably fill in the anemone arms with solid colour- just have not got around to it.

 Then I found my drawing book I had with me on Atuaro Island and though I did not snorkel I walked along the shore every morning as it was too hot to walk any other time of the day. There were many sea treasures to be found on the shore . Every morning I would  come back with pockets filled with sand and shells ( I put all of them back eventually except for a few small pieces which I brought back with me). They sat in one of the lovely baskets woven by one of the women.. Many of the shells were battered and broken but somehow that made them more beautiful.

When I came back from overseas last year I went to visit a friend in Tasmania- and she had one of my silk dyed pieces that I made quite sometime ago. The brief had been to be inspired by the sea. I had almost completely forgotten this method of working, but when I saw the quilt hanging in her home I determined I would revisit  this method of dyeing. (it's taken a few stops and starts as of course I did not write the method down)

 So after some trial and error, and the magical process of dyeing in this way, I am always surprised by how wonderful the fabric is after seemingly being monotone. I tied rocks and chick peas to see if there would be a difference in the outcome, but  on the whole there is not a lot of difference.

The fabric will be more patterned once ironed and i was trying to achieve the effect of rockpool, shallow water.

I overdid the purple dye a little but as it takes hours and hours to do the tyeing it will have to wait a little until I do some more tyeing. Though this will give me something to go on with.

And then all of a sudden the sea bug had bitten me. I started a fabriano skecth book for the sole purpose of pulling together all the sea things from over the years and the making of new drawings and linocuts inspired by the visit to the Aquarium last year.. The octopus I made earlier this year
and made into a linocut print.

The turtle from the aquarium- who kept on swimming towards the window, to the great delight of a little girl who was totally excited by his/her manouevres toward the window close to her.

The turtle and seaweeds and ripples printed onto some hand dyed fabric. I love the work of Barcelona artist Pablo Salvaje and have his book Animalkind and also did an on-line course at the beginning of the lockdown that he teaches on Domestika.  He often makes his linocuts shapes which allows you to build scenarios/vignettes. I am in love with the technique and so have been revisiting my drawings and photos to find shapes and elements to make into shaped linocuts..

Some small water colours I did last year whilst I was staying at a camp ground in the cabin of a friend and I had to buy some water colours.  I love how all of these disparate elements are starting to come together. And I am finding my old drawings and putting them all in one place because in the end I have made quite a lot of drawings inspired by sea things.

Monday, April 27, 2020


I  take the isolation and social distancing very seriously and  have avoided all human contact so my mother is not inadvertantly exposed- though it seems some folk  do not think things are as serious as they are, or because they live in a rural area they are not at risk. The hoons in Morwell also seem to need to hoon around as much as ever and well and truly into the small hours of the morning. At least most people are doing the right thing. I don't actually need to go out to shop in the fortnight that I isolate. I visit my mother and then stay the night and then the following day do her shopping. I must admit though these times seem to  bring about strange cravings in people including my mother. My cupboard is always stocked with strange stuff according to some but because of the fresh produce in my garden seems to be mostly a mediterranean diet.

I have been doing some work. Made some small commissions for friends. In slowly ( very slowly) tidying my workspace I found one of the old sentinelle panels- I must have held onto it as the printing was not very even, but that is easily fixed with stitching and I finally found a use for some lovely wooden beads I bought at a Perth Craft Fair quite some moons ago.

It felt lovely to work on one of these sentinelles at times like this- she is so much a reflection of our need to take greater care for earth and each other.

I had made a small banksia commission for a friends mother for mothers day- and then my mother wanted one I made this little piece up with one of my babbling banksia  prints.

I just have to finish the binding which I think I will make satin stitch. I used up  bits of fabric from my stash- it's amazing what I have been finding now that I actually have a dedicated workspace again. I just need to tidy it more- and find a better way to store things and it doesn't help that I have many books, but can never find the one I am looking for. At one stage I had books arranged in sections or areas of interest- but with moving etc that order went by the way side. 

I have been stitching on my "One World" Traveller's Blanket. It is taking a long time because this piece is big to stitch by hand. The colour of the back ground looks more orange that it is. Each circle takes about 3 hours to stitch so it is definitely not a speedy project. I know a lot of people talk about slow stitch as a thing- but in all reality stitching by hand is of its very nature slow- so I prefer to call it hand stitch and as such it has a real rhythm , that can make time pass like no other thing. The rhythm also determines the shapes of your stitches just like the rhythm of writing determines the shape of your writing. Each stitch is imbued with an energy that you the stitcher give it. Is it any wonder that so many of us are mesmerised by stitching itself? I have stitched on this piece most days and have found it soothing. 

On-line Traveller's Blanket Class
There is still time to enroll for the Traveller's Blanket class starting on 5 May ( see the paypal button on my previous post) or message me. You can use any shape you want it need not be a circle- these ones are because I like circles and well our world is a circle- which is a thought- so many things are considered in a linear fashion and exponential but the very shape of earth is round- something that we seem to forget- it always comes back on itself. I have also been making videos which i share in the group.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Back in Self Isolation

Last week I came out of isolation to go visit my mother, take her to the doctor, and make sure she had enough supplies and medication. Thankfully one of her neighbours I very helpful as well. Anyway I did the necessary shopping for her- keeping distances and asking her to keep the  bought things sitting under her verandah for at least a day- except perishables which I washed.. Then I came home and did some of my own shopping and some posting out of things that had been ordered before going back into isolation. I am not  going outside the boundaries of my property ( though I did mow the nature strip today) and am avoiding all human contact so I can  go and see my mother again next week- as it looks like the need for isolation will continue for some time yet. So please stay home and stay safe.

I am extremely grateful for my small vegetable garden, most of which I have cleared up to grow winter vegetables. I had purchased some seeds back in January- just as well I did as it is difficult to get seeds or seedlings at present. So winter vegies have been sewn- and I made sure to have extra so I can put some in my mother's garden as she has great soil. Have been processing the last of the vegetables and also been baking bread ( as it is possible to buy flour and yeast in Morwell- unlike Melbourne).
  Tomatoes ready to be slow roasted using the recipe from the Paris Cookbook by Patricia Wells. These are so good but also freeze really well. Unfortuately I did not have masses of tomatoes but have managed to freeze a few small containers of these slow roasted tomatoes, whose flavour intensifies because of the slow roasting.

 I have also been sprouting alfalfa seeds. I used to do this years ago, also mung beans, but then stopped doing it for no apparent reason. Anyway it  is easy enough to do and it's not high tech- just have to remember to rinse them every day, but as I am not going anywhere , that is easy enough to do!

  The last of the produce from my garden. Two different kind of chillies and green tomatoes ( I do have a green heirloom tomato planted as well which does not seem to realise that tomato season is ending. It is still full of flowers and none of  the leaf growth has died back). And my mandarin tree  is producing  some mandarins which are sweet and juicy, and the lemon tree is also loaded with fruit, but I feel there is only so much lemon cyrry pickle and salted lemons I am likely to eat in a year.

And bread baking. This is a low yeast no knead recipe which gives a very good result. You  have to prove it for 12-18 hours and then you actually bake it in a dutch oven.

I thought I would get lots of stitching done but the reality is a little different. Getting bits and bobs done but nowhere near as much as I though I would.. I have been working on my One World Traveller's Blanket, and I planned to get lots done every day- but that is not happening. Still it is growing. And I am reworking my Florence Traveller's Blanket by adding more stitching to the  angel panel, which makes me feel much happier.

The angels always  looked sort of unfinished because the rest of the piece is so densely stitched.

I have also been teaching the on-line Traveller's Blanket class- and have to say this group is really using the time to make great progress. The stitching takes long time but it is so worth taking the time- as each one is so individual and unique. I have had quite a few enquiries  whether people can still join- but in all reality we are well and truly started  and then it will seem like you are a long way behind.

On-Line Traveller's Blanket Class May 5
So I have decided to offer the class again starting Tuesday May 5. The cost of the course is $75AUS and  you work at your own pace. I set up a private FB group for sharing photos answering questions and sharing the stories you are encapsulating. I also send out pdf notes which are quite substantial. I realise many people are offering free content all over the internet but the reality is ,that this kind of work is my livelihood and has been for 25 years this year and I do not have a significant other to help with support. So work continues as it always does except I cannot post items to many countries overseas and like many people  quite a lot of work has been cancelled or postponed until  somehow we come out the other side of this. I am also adding video content to the class as visual  explanation  is as important as notes- I just needed to come up to speed with some of my videoing skills- and have now found a way to trap my small camera tripod in my top so I can film from the same viewpoint from which I stitch- it is taking a bit of practise to be able to hold the camera still enough whilst I stitch. Email me if you would like more information.


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Self Isolation

 Last week I was teaching at Grampians Textures and it felt like we were in a bit of a cocoon far from the maddening world , until you walked around the town and realised how many visitors there were ( not just at Textures) in this small town and how many were from overseas. The caravan parks were jumping full.  I had lovely  students who took good care to wash their hands frequently and keep the suggested distances which we were able to do as we were in a big class room space. But  on driving home I decided I would place myself in self isolation as I could not go and see my mother  if by some chance i had picked up the virus somehow because in all reality I was amongst people, even walking in the town. And then talking to my mother on the telephone- she tells me people are still seeing  her. What is the point of me self isolating if other people don't adhere. My mother says she is lonely- I understand, but it is the same for everyone and she normally lives on her own and does not associate with many people. I think it is the idea  that we are stuck in our houses that torments us- the idea that we can't go out- but please do not go out. It is ultimately for the greater good She has also refused to get a mobile phone or tablet which make things a bit harder for her still because social media does keep us connected.

And it is not all bad news- there are a couple of interesting groups that have started to focus on creativity and giving prompts to help facilitate making work or sharing work that might have been made in the past appropriate to the theme. It has made me learn a new thing- zoom- which is great if you want to have a virtual group gathering- it really is almost  as if you are sitting in a room with like minded enthusiasts. The group was started by Anne Kempton from Timeless Textiles  and is called Together, We Play It is directed at all people with a creative bent , whether it's fibre, clay , paint, words, poetry. I think it is important to think of alternative ways that we can distract each other from  a period when we are going to have to withdraw from the physical world and yet technology can provide us with opportunities to still connect in real ways. I can also highly recommend Zoom- it's not difficult to use and it is an opportunity to "face" time talk- for example I held a meeting this morning- only one person attended and though I had never met the person before except  in an on-line class- I could see her and her lovely cat and work space- it  returned some sense of normality.

I have been doing quite a lot of stitching and tomorrow promises to be sunny so I will do some silk dyeing. I have been working on my One World Traveller's Blanket- which seems rather apt at this moment.

Of course all my exhibitions and teaching for the next months have been cancelled which makes me super glad Grampians textures went ahead. One of my daughters and her partner work hospitality and they have no jobs at present because of the shut down- so it is tough times for many people- and I don't think our government realises just how many people are in casual employment ( because they have been demounting labour protection laws so the casual workers have no protection, no holiday pay)

I am super glad I made the small vegetable garden that I did. I built it big enough for one person but did plant quite a lot of tomatoes. My cucumbers curled up their toes and disappeared , the zucchini produces small zucchs  which get end rot if not picked when small (one big one and that was it). I thought the capsicums had also gone  the way of the zucchs but have lately decided that they might produce something after all. I had hoped for bumper chillies to make chilli sauce- but whilst I do have chillies they had been a tad restrained. It has not been a great tomato season but I did manage to get enough to make some green tomato chutney and even some passata. We had also remembered to net my mothers blood plum tree so I was able to make her plum confit to have with her yoghurt in the morning and there was a little left over so I could make chilli plum sauce which tastes good on its own with vegetable crudites, goes really well with roasted meats and can be used in stir fries. I also made a lemon chutney as I have a lemon tree in my backyard which has welcomed me with open arms (many lemons). And tonight I am slow roasting tomatoes to make a tomato confit which can be frozen or bottled and added to  all kinds of sauces.

But somehow we have to rethink, and keep making and find a sense of community that helps us all get through this, and be open to doing things differently.  I send all of my readers a huge virtual hug and please let's all do this together!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Traveller's Blanket On-line Class

The month has flown since I last wrote a blog post and the intention had been to post a lot earlier as I am running the on-line Traveller's Blanket class starting 18 March. The class consists of pdf notes and the setting up of a private facebook group for questions and sharing. The idea is that you make your own story blanket with ideas from travels,  remnants of fabric that hold special memories, memories, anything really. It is a very slow process, but the notes take you through the  stitches and ideas I use step by step. it is a very giving process and in the end it's surprising how fast it grows. After my exhibition last year I thought I was over  making such hand stitched pieces for awhile, but then another one itches to be made- which is the heart piece from the previous post.

 I am heading off to Grampians Textures tomorrow to teach a linocutting class and then the Traveller's Blanket class. The event is going ahead thank goodness, because I must admit since my mothers' stroke not much  work got done the first three months as I tried to visit her as much as I could to help with her recovery and now this last month has been all sorts of appointments to really try and work out what is going on and to stabilise her blood pressure. None of the appointments are close by as she also lives in a country area. And really I was only just getting back into full work mode myself after recovering from  the radiotherapy and moving into my house.

  I am also supposed to travel to Russia on 6 April for a Quilt event in Moscow and the following week in the Netherlands at Quilt Dagen in Rijswijk- but the news from Europe does not sound too good and I am wondering whether these events will go ahead. So at present it is a waiting game and it is really affecting my ability to work wondering what will happen. Of course once I know it's a different matter, but it's the waiting that is difficult. Every country needs to do what is best for its people- and flattening the bulge of spread of the virus is very important so that proper medical care can be given.

In Australia some of the logic of people is really questionable- panic toilet paper buying, hand sanitiser, soap- leaving none for those less able  or the more vunerable to shop at supermarkets and  so they miss out- where is that Australian egalitarian ethos ???? there is enough for everybody- just share and think of your neighbour- we have to get through this together! I mean the supermarkets themselves have  had to set limits as to how many packs of toilet paper a person can buy and I heard from an supermarket employee the other day they will not be reiumbursing any money for excess toilet paper packs once things calm down a bit- so I guess there are some  Aussies with a bedroom full of loo paper!

The last weekend in march I am off to the Slow Stitch Retreat in Ulladulla- for a shorter version of the Traveller's Blanket. Here are the details if you are interested :
Marilyn’s “Slow Stitch Gathering” at the Dunn Lewis centre in Udallulla, Friday 27th set up and welcome dinner with classes on Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th March. I will be teaching my traveller's blanket class,and helping you, create your own story cloths. We will use simple stitches to create a blanket full of the work of your hands and heart. I will bring many of my stitched pieces for inspiration and linocut printed fabrics for sale and my "scrap"bag for class use. Contact Marilyn Stewart on M. 0404061163 or

I still have Bush Sentinelle's available  and remember there is still plenty of time to join this project for the Berry Quilting Retreat in August
I have finished stitching my bush sentinelle, and then I decided I need to make a life size one- she is the sentinelle for Climate Justice.

  So this one is  human sized , and I have made her with lutradur and machine stitch.

Other than that it has been trying to do as much stitching as possible to make new work for the events in Europe- although today I lost gas plot a bit- what if it all gets cancelled???

Sunday, February 16, 2020

And Then the Rain Came

In the media it is being reported that the fires are now out and that some are still smouldering but no longer a threat. That is until things dry out again. The rain that has come seems to have come out of the weather conditions  created by the fires themselves, with smoke particles in the air and the balance of ions in the atmosphere. At the moment here at Morwellia things feel positively wintry!

I am trying to work hard at the moment- but some days it feels like I am not getting anywhere very fast. It is such a long time since I have done experimental dyeing (at the shed I did not have running water or power or a washing machine)- so I have created a few fails where I forgot an elemental steps in the process. I also now remember why I had a hair dryer and it was not for hair, and was useless at the shed because of a lack of power so I must have given it away. I also have a lack of table lamps and lights- again they weren't much use without power. Anyone have any table lamps they could spare?

I am still trying to organise my workroom-  emptying all the plastic tubs I had things stored in to keep the ants and bush rats at bay in the shed, not always entirely successful- I have found a few "nests", no wonder it sound like party time in the middle of the night at times! I feel guilty at the amount of plastic but there was really no other way of storing things unless I wanted to turn the shed into a bush rat breeding centre, and home to the odd possum and serpent! Plus I am doing some culling.  That said I am no Marie Kondo- what artists could ever be- you never know what you might need something, for????

And then there are books. I am afraid i love books almost as much as fabric- i love collecting books from independent publishers who often publish what the mainstream will not- there is all sorts of treasure to be found. I scour websites on sunday mornings- chosing very carefully as I allocate myself a small budget to choose wisely. I purchased a little book called "Path" by Louisa Thomson Brits last year when I was going through radiotherapy. It was such a delight, but I also found, instantly that it is a book you gift and I wish I had the resources to leave it in public places and watch people engage with it.  So after  enjoying it for some weeks I gave it to a friend only to discover that I actually wanted to live with this book so I purchased another copy. It's a very quiet book, but beautifully worded with many forgotten  words to do with walking and wayfaring. I love this little phrase- poetic lines:

"I am the pace and pause
of wayfarers,
drovers and dreamers,
dawdlers, soldiers
of ramblers and radicals,
poets and pilgrims."

The book is available from the Do Book Company and it beautifully bound and illustrated with photos and art work to illustrate the  morning path the author walks with lots of idea clouds.

And so the Heart  blanket is finished- actually on the day it was announced that the fires were now under control. I left all the threads raw on the front-  because in the end I think most Australians were  very affected  by the rawness of the experience- none of these things are ever neat or  controlled- in fact it is the complete opposite- there is no control whatsoever - just the bravery and willingness of  humans to help each other and be there for each other and if that  was not possible to send what we could to help.

And i have been sewing hundreds of gumleaves as I want to create a "bush" experience for my exhibitions in Russia and the Netherlands- this suddenly sprang to mind as something I needed to do at the beginning of last week. Now they all need to be cut out and somehow suspended in a "quilt" like way. A job whilst waiting for other things.

 But it also  started me thinking that I want to make a life size sentinelle again, but this time the bush sentinelle.  I used to have photoshop  on my laptop but since they  require a monthly payment and constant updates  ( which was difficult as I was only hot spotting from my mobile phone in Gellibrand ) and they no longer have elements available I did  not have a program to tile an image ( i don't have a printer any more either- the bush rats decided it made an excellent composting loo), until I found Rasterbator where I could tile an image of my linocut bush sentinelle- set the dimensions, paginate the resulting tile sheets and  create a pdf- voila a life size bush sentinelle!. I am now trying to decide whether I create background fabric as dark and moody as the fabric on the smaller hand printed one I have been stitching on. You can make a small donation to Rasterbator  for the use of the service as it is a free program unless you decided to donate the small donation which I did as I am sure I will use it again. I was able to take the resulting pdf into Officeworks and have it printed up in black and white.

And I am now stitching the background of the bush sentinelle. I am also keeping a diary of sorts with her which I will take to my exhibitions for people to write their own thoughts in. I feel like she has a message and  that voices need to be listened to to try and find the right direction- not dictated to but listened to! It's quite apparent that there is and was a failure somewhere along the line- so we have to find new ways to keep people engaged about what is the best way forward.

The cover for the diary made with free motion lace probably about twelve years ago.

I still have printed panels available for sale . they are $25AUS  inclusive of postage and $5 for every panel sold will be donated to Wildlife Victoria as it struggles with the immense destruction of habitat and rescuing and resettling of native animals. ( there is a paypal button on the post before last or send me an email) And if you are so inclined please do embroider the panels and send them to me to exhibit at the Berry Quilting Retreat in August 2020.

Some different colours I have printed up since my last post.