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.

Friday, January 31, 2020

And the Fires Keep Burning

It is hard to imagine that bushfires have been burning in various parts of Australia since September and still continue to put many communities at risk, including the communities so badly affected by the fires around New Years.  Today the smoke haze has returned and though where I live there has been no fires close by ,at times the smoke haze has been so thick I could barely make out the houses across the road. There has been an incredible outpouring of donations, stories of hardship, but also stories of amazing survival, and yet our government refuses to accept that  climate change has had an impact on the dreadful drought being experienced by  much of Eastern Australia, or the ferocity and sheer magnitude of these fires . And still the government  sells off water to mining conglomerates  despite the fact  that it is much needed by the people here. I sometimes feel like there are two parallel universes- half of the people want to do things for the good of their fellow man and the other half who obviously don't give a damn. How did we get to this? I am pretty certain the media and the ownership thereof has not helped one little bit.

I have finally got around to finishing working on the third bedroom and hallway in my house. After mum was resettled  at her home it has still taken a lot of my time going back and forth and attending appointments with her- and making sure she has what she needs as she is not driving- though she wants to. We will have to speak to her GP about that next time we visit him. The hallway and third bedroom in this house were covered by ugly wallpaper- which I think might have been there for 50 years, so it took a good deal of elbow grease to get it off the walls and to get residual glue of the walls as well. But finally the work is done. My painting job is not as good as that done by my friends who helped me last year, but it's a great improvement on what was there. So I am getting to the stage where a lot of the cosmetic renovation has now been done ( just a few things to still do, and still thinking about the woodwork doorways in the hallway), but I feel better knowing my house sitter will have a nice fresh room to sleep in whilst she is here.

 The bedrooms and hallway as they were and the transformation.

And after

My vegie garden has been chugging along (  I am afraid there is a lot of weeds in the rest of the garden as the  prepping for painting took way longer than expected) and I can say that I have had several meals out of the garden. The plan is to make the food production side of the garden much much bigger, and I have been trying to find like minded local people who have permaculture ideas, or at least food growing ideas ( but  that has not been as easy as one might have thought) In any case tonights meal will be mostly from my garden and my herb patch is doing really well especially the thyme and vietnamese mint and the lemon verbena. But I need to get in there and do some work, apparently no one lived in this house for 8 years which means a number of things have gotten out of control in the garden and explains why stove and heater were not working  at all.

I have printed up more bush maddonnas and slightly different colours. Some people were interested in the colour of trial print I had done on craft paper so I have dyed fabric to as close to the colour of the craft paper as I was able to and in the process also made an avocado green. I also made a sort of powder blue colour and grey ( bottom left- it looks blue in the photo but is a bluish grey). they are for sale for $25 AUS inclusive of postage and measure 18 cm x 45 cm. I will be donating $5AUS for every panel sold to Wildlife Victoria ( I will be making a donation tomorrow in relation to the panels I have already sold and I will continue to do so on the first of each month)

And on a really lovely note. The Berry Quilting Retreat is celebrating it's tenth year this year and Elizabeth Dubbelde the organiser for all those years has offered to put on a display of the Bush Sentinelles as her community , though spared fires is right in the middle of the worst of the fires of the NSW south coast. So if you embroider a Bush Sentinelle panel we would love to display it in Berry on August 15-16 2020. I will add a page to my blog in the next few weeks with details ( there will be a small administration fee to pay which also covers return postage to the maker) But lets see if we can make this a  wonderful moving display, full of whimsy, heart and community for that is what makes us strong! This is always a great weekend with inspiring tutors and great displays!

I have also been working on my own Bush Sentinelle. I found a piece of fabric I dyed many moons ago and it seemed to perfectly suit the current state of things in Australia. She is just in the beginning stages ( I actually got a blister on my middle finger from the painting brush so it's been a bit difficult doing any hand stitching these last couple of days)

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Bush Sentinelle

I posted  this new sentinelle on Instagram and Facebook but I thought I would also blog about her.
In 2012 I started a series of work entitled Sentinelles. The series depicted my concern for the environment and was a reminder to myself to be proactive and to do what I could. I chose the humanid form with an halo because it occurs in many cultures. I made a little catalogue to go with the series explaining each piece and in all I made ten life size sentinelles ( they were  supposed to be the same height as me, though there was some minor variation between each one). I also made a sentinelle linocut because people asked me if I had any small ones, that they themselves could work on. I was gobsmacked by the response and the beauty and thought people embroidered onto the  printed panel. It ended up becoming a touring exhibition with 142 pieces which travelled in Europe and Australia. I still have some of the large pieces ( one hangs in my bedrooom- Tracks Across the Land) and I still get asked if I have any more small sentinelle panels to sell.  I don't as the lino has become too fragile to print with and I want to keep it for the archive of the series of work.

I thought the series was done and dusted- I don't exhibit the large ones any longer but I woke up a few mornings ago with a sentinelle demanding to be drawn.

And so this sentinelle encapsulates all the concern for the people, the wildlife and the land that has been so damaged by the recent bushfires ( which are still burning but at present not out of control) She looks straight out into the world as all the sentinelles did, as a challenge to each one of us, because we have to find a way forward out of this nightmare because the political system is incapable of doing so. There are good guides and custodians out there and science that tells us this is not normal and there are things that can be done. We have to love our land beyond everything because without that love there is nothing, no  bush, no wildlife and no people, and lets face it big business is not in it to help in this matter- they are just corporations for the profit of their shareholders and the owners. The koala is the face of the wildlife that was devastated by the bushfires ( there were many in different states), the gum leaves and flowers the bush, the banksia the babbling of many. 
I then transferred the drawing onto  the lino- she changed a little and things also changed a little as I carved the lino.

She is challenging us to work together because we have to get it right and we have to do way better than what has gone before. She measures 18 cm x 45 cm . Her price is $25 AUS inclusive of postage.( $5 of every sale will be donated- see below)

I will donate $5 AUS for every panel sold to  Wildlife Victoria. I have done a bit of research and found that Wires in NSW have received  more donations than Wild Life Vic because a number of celebrities were  organising funding drives. It is great what they achieved, but I suspect  almost as many  animals are and were affected in Victoria. I  also know that many people, including myself ,have donated to recognised organisations like the Red Cross, and Vinnies. But for me this sentinelle is about our land and our country and its wildlife which is unique and precious and also needs our help.

I have printed the sentinelle on a number of different colours, if you see a colour you like let me know. I will add a Paypal button but if you are in Australia it is easier to pay by internet banking and it is better to email me . I will be dying more fabric to print more panels in the  next week- just have to wait for the air to clear a bit as, air quality outside is not good because of the smoke from the fires on the border.

The beige coloured one in the first photo is actually a trial print on craft paper. I will try and dye a colour similar to it as a few people asked me about it.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Mojo Seems to be Returning!

My mojo has been missing in action for quite awhile- it returned here and there a few times, but in all reality i need alone time to develop work, without interruptions. I don't answer my phone or emails. during the day, I just work away at stuff. Sometimes  I will leap from one thing to another- but it also  sparks ideas. It's hard to explain but I find it difficult to create new work if my mind is wondering elsewhere, I mean if my mind is wondering around other things than creating work.

The good news is I have found a house sitter, which  is maybe  the reason my mojo has been returning- it is one less thing to worry about, though now I do have to repaint my spare room ( which is presently wall papered in dire stuff). I will just have to get onto it. Thankfully my  electric wiring in the ceiling for the lights got rewired the other day- it was a great relief to know that it reduces the risk of a house fire enormously.

A few people expressed interest in purchasing the  octopus linocut so I have printed up some more on different coloured fabrics. The linocut measures 24 cm x 30 cm and has been printed by hand onto hand dyed fabric. I can see that  the octopus will be fun to stitch- and I am chomping at the bit to get going on one but first I have to finally finish my sea scene.

Octopus Linocut Printed panel.
The price of the panel is $23 AUS inclusive of postage. In the photo below is the range of colours I have at the moment.

I have taken  shots of  single panels so you can see the detail.

I have added a Paypal button for the octopus  if you are overseas or simply email me  if in Australia and I can give you bank details , and to tell me the colour you would like.

And I have been working on another linocut  inspired by the original sentinelles- whhcich were about my concerns about the environment. I get  asked every now and then whether I still have sentinelle printed fabric, but the linocut itself has become so fragile that I do not want to print with it any longer as I want to save it as part of he archive of that body of work. So I decided to make an entirely new sentinelle ( which I will reveal in the next few days, I am still refining it a little, making sure it will be interesting to stitch. Meanwhile here is a photo of the original sentinelles.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

What to say ?

The country in which I live has been devastated by horrendous bush fires that has resulted in death of people and volunteer fire fighters, loss of property and decimation of forest and wild life, not to mention the loss of business and livestock. I live about 100 kms from the worst of it, but my house has been shrouded by the smoke from the fires, so that I could barely see the houses across the road- and yes that is uncomfortable- but nothing like what people have had to endure in affected areas. I refer you to an article by Jackie French in the SMH about what it has been like for people. I have friends who have lost houses , whose health has been affected by the inundation of smoke, who are still desperately preparing their properties for the onslaught of tomorrow which is predicted to bring more terrible conditions.  The pain and stoicism of people is palpable. Even if you do not believe in climate change, what is exactly wrong with trying to make the planet a better place? And then there are the trolls- why in a time like this are there such negative horrible people out there ? It is like social media unleashes the worst in some people- and yet on the other hand good things  come out of social media too- knowing people are safe, sending support because you know what is needed, the donations to help recovery. And people who have been dealt this blow are so incredibly brave, their stories remarkable- their sense of community so strong, their willingness to help others worthy of hero worship.

My heart blanket became more and more about the bushfires as the days went on- how we need to have empathy for people who struggle not only through disasters like this, but in their daily lives through illness or circumstance. We are a community of humans, we have to live together and to do so we need to have empathy for those who live next to us, across the road , across the city, across the sea, on the other side of the world- and we need less of the " I am alright Jack attitude"

Background stitching is going in, with a very lightweight thread.

I am still working on the "one World" blanket although progress on it has been a bit slow- there have been distractions  worrying about friends, my mum, and my country.

I seem to have acquired a rescue cat, Portia Bull's Eye ( because of her patterning). It is lovely to have a creature here but the timing is a bit awkward, but she needed rescuing and I have missed having a cat in my life. So I will definitely need a house sitter. So if anyone is interested in living in my house for 2 months from April until June you are most welcome. Unfortunately I cannot afford to pay you ( to be perfectly honest i was a bit shocked that people get paid- I have done house sitting for nothing in the past unless people insist on paying me. )

And I have finally hung the gum leaves I created for the Aussie bush project in my windows in the lounge. I think I need to make some more for  the other window as well- I quite like the effect

 And I have made a new linocut of an octopus- they are such fascinating creatures and I believe the health of our sea has a lot to do with the health of our land. I will be  printing this linocut on different fabrics- print measures 24 cm x 30 cm  and if you are interested in purchasing  email me.