Monday, February 11, 2019

Maquili Rapan Hirik Weavers visit Boneca

We had a real treat last Saturday when the rapan hirik weavers walked the one and a half hours from Maquili  to Vila Mau-Meta to show the Boneca ladies and myself how they make the fibre for the weaving as well as the weaving of Rapan Hirik. The woven fabric is a form of tais but is woven with fibre from the rapan hirik palm. It makes a fairly coarse thread, but makes a fairly supply cloth. Rapan hirik was traditionally woven on Atauro Island until demand for it diminished with the availability of cheaper thread and synthetic materials , and cheap tais from the much larger Indonesian market. Fortunately there has been a bit of a revival happening in the weaving of the fabric due to Boneca de Atauro using the fabric for a number of things they make, like bags, wall hangings and pencil cases/wallets. And younger women are involved in the weaving of the rapan hirik as they see some economic viability in producing this most traditional of fibres and woven fabric.

I will share some photos of the process and I am very grateful to the Maquili ladies for allowing me to photograph the process and themselves in the making process ( we will also have some videos of the process at AQC in Melbourne in April)

The first part of the process is to sort the leaves from the Rapan Hirik palm and split them into individual fronds, ready for stripping down to the best fibre part of the leaf. This process was demonstrated by  Tereshina Lopes ( who also helped with the making of the fibre thread).

The next part of the process involves stripping the actual fronds as not all of the frond is suitable for making the thread.  This process was demonstrated  Ermilinda Freitas. If you look closely you will see the bottom part of her leg  has been wrapped with some cloth with a frond strapped to it as well. This acts as base for stripping the fronds ( at first I though  Ermilinda had a wound on her leg and wondered whether this was a traditional wound dressing, however I soon discovered otherwise)

The next photograph shows Adelia Saldalha shredding the fibre into thread thickness with the help of Ermilinda ( the fibres are joined by a barely discernable knot and certainly not a knot you can see in the woven  cloth)

The next photograph shows Luisa Ellu Setting up the warp on the back loom, which was made by placing spikes in the ground. The process of creating the warp took all morning to make roughly 1.25-1.5 metres of fabric.

Then it was onto weaving of which only a small amount could be done because the rain decided to arrive. It is the wet season at present so when the rain comes if buckets down and everything has to be packed away.

The lady on the right is Herminia de Costa, who wound the thread into balls of thread to facilitate the weaving process and also helped out with other tasks in setting up the back loom.

I am just amazed with how little  these women can create such wonderful cloth  and  it is an ode to the creativity of the human and women really. We had to have a group photo at the end of a wonderful day and  of course we had to have a little rungu ranga in the photo, because everyone needs a little craziness as part of their creative day! 

Fund Raising Progress: I am still fundraising for the  two airfares  ( and insurance)  but thought I would update you as to how the fundraising has gone so far and am extremely grateful that we have reached the point of almost funding one airfare. Thank you for helping us reach this point!

 I hope we can reach a sum of money for both airfares and insurance. I must admit I was not sure how this fundraising would eventuate but am so grateful for your support, as are the ladies at Boneca de Atauro. When I told them that we had almost reached the point of funding one airfare they decided that they would like to reward donations of $50 or more with a  small gift of their appreciation ( it will include a small piece purse made with rapan hirik and a small surprise)- which I will send once I return to Australia, because the postal service in East Timor is all but non-existent.

I will place the donation button again, and we appreciate any amount that you are willing to donate ( there is information about what we are fundraising for in my previous post)

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Boneca de Atauro, Atauro Island, Timor Leste

I am back  at Boneca de Atauro for an artists residency, but  mostly to help  the ladies from Boneca to prepare for AQC in Melbourne in April. When I say an artists residency, this is very much a "community" based residency,  in that I am here to help upskill techniques, teach some new things and brainstorm some new products  that can be sold.

This group of women, who live on a relatively isolated island formed a co-operative 11 years ago  with help from Ester Peira Zuercher-Camponova and David Palazon, but also with a lot of their own initiative and determination. Atauro Island lies 25 kilometres off the coast of Dili, and it is only reachable by boat ( unless you happen to fly a single engined Cesna and are prepared for a rocky landing). The ferry takes 3.5 hours, and the Dragon boat and hour and a half. On this island which is r secluded from most of the tumult of the western world, making a living is incredibly difficult. Mostly life is subsistence and reliance on tourist dollars, which  don't always come ( for example February is wet season and there are very few visitors). The island is a paradise for divers, but they are busy diving not spending tourist dollars. So it's remarkable that the Boneca co-operative manages to employ 62 women , of all ages and all skills, to be able to earn a sustainable living on their island and to have set up a shop in Dili and to now venture to Australia to show off their work and to hopefully sell their work so they can attain their dream of setting up a school to learn languages and other skills. They have vision and passion and are by far the most egalitarian organisation I have ever encountered.

But we need help. I mentioned it in my last blog and will again. We are trying to fund raise two airfares and travel insurance for two of the ladies to come to Melbourne. We would like four ladies to come to Melbourne. We hope we have funding for two ladies already, but feel for them to get the full benefit of the experience we need to have four ladies  at AQC so they can also enjoy the event a little as well as show you what they do. It is also incredibly important to reinforce the english language skills that they have been studying at an adult school in Dili- they are determined to be the best they can. Also they have never been to an event like this. They have been to a Tourist gift fair at Macau, but never to a textile industry specific fair. I am sure they will be amazed by what they encounter at AQC- simply the quilts will be inspiration.  Looking on-line is not really an option ,as internet access is expensive comparatively and it is also 3G so on the slow side. Plus  you need to remember to charge your phone at night because the generator that powers the island only runs from 6pm until 6am- so no power during the day.

I was surprised to find that airfares from Dili to Melbourne have roughly increased by about 30-40% in the last year which is substantial- airfares are around $1000US flying with a reputable airline. This is a significant sum of money as you no doubt will have guessed. Already some of you have donated and I send you  heartfelt thanks on behalf of the Boneca ladies. All monies donated will be put towards their travel expenses. It has been suggested I do a Go Fund Me campaign, but to be perfectly honest, my head was not in the right place to set it up , given I wasn't sure how I would cope with radiotherapy ( which did not finish until 8 January). And also internet access is varied on the island. The other thing about such campaigns is the platform does take a small percentage of donations ( which is fair enough given they provide the platform) and you have to reach your target. So  we will try and do it this way and we would appreciate it of you could spare any amount of your choice, you simply click on the donate button.

And to show we have been doing things since I have arrived ( my goodness the heat and humidity have been challenging, but I think I am getting the hang of it. I don't know how the Boneca ladies do it every day)

I work with a small group of women with the idea that they will teach some of the other women what they learn. Jacinta da Costa worked with me previously was incredibly motivated and  an adept learner ( remember that exposure to anything art or textile at school is non-existent). She is also creating really wonderful linocuts  and senses how some of these will translate with the application of stitch. She is also a very careful printer,  a skill she has passed on to Agida in the photo below.

 I try to  get the women to use their environment as inspiration and am constantly surprised and delighted with how they interpret their world. I love how their linocuts reflects them. This isn't about creating perfection but creating from the heart- from their island from their lives.

The fabric in the image above is known as Rapan Hirik  and is only made on Atauro Island ( the tais on "mainland" Timor Leste are made from cotton fibre and lately also with syntehtic fibres). Until about 5 years ago there were only a few women on Atauro Island who made the rapan hirik fabric ( it is quite stiff but suprisingly pliable and can be stitched) in a village on the other side of the island .The island measures 25 km x 9km, and has a quite a big hill, well mountain smack bang in the middle of it. However  since the women at Boneca have been using the rapan hirik fibre to make bags and pencil satchels there has been more weaving going on. The fabric is woven on back looms.

Maturina Aruajo is the head designer at Boneca- and her vision is big. This is her latest creation- the colour you see ( apart from the turquoise) is all stitching- all done on a treadle!!!! And it measures at least 2 metres long by 1.8 metres wide.

Eva is working on some of the linocut printed fabrics with the linocuts the women made when I was here in 2017. Again this is a treadle machine that Eva is working on, and her stitching skill- free motion is amazing!

There are still a number of traditional houses on the Island ( I am staying in the town of Vila-Mau Meta) and this is one I encounter on my early morning walks.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A New Year

Wishing all of my readers a happy, healthy and safe 2019!

I am glad to say 2018 is behind me and that 2019 is offering things to look forward to, that sometimes seemed  too far away when I was undergoing treatment. But all things are improving. I even sold my block of land and shed in Gellibrand, and  we have spent the time since radiotherapy finished getting the block and shed ready for hand over. The weather was hot and thank goodness my daughters were there to help- I could not have done it on my own. The forecast fatigue after radiotherapy did set in, so there was only so much I could do. I was too late to organise removalists, so we had to hire a truck and paid two  men to come and help. But in the end it all got done to my great relief! It does mean I have to find another place to live once I come back from Europe in June and at the moment I am thinking Gippsland, around Morwell/Churchill as my budget is extremely modest. if anyone has any views about those areas would love to hear them! So goodbye Gellibrand- I will miss the birdsong, the pristine air and the environment, but it was also a place of broken and smashed dreams- and that I won't miss!

Goodbye shed and block!

So now it is back to work, I am slowly regaining energy and feeling able to tackle things again and I have some  lovely things to look forward to .

Next Monday I fly to Dili, East Timor, and then onto Atauro Island to help the Boneca de Atauro ladies prepare for AQC in Melbourne in mid April. Until this week ( and after moving all my things) I could not really envisage myself being there, but as energy has returned  I am so looking forward to it, and remembered to buy lino and  printing ink so they can print up fabric with their fabulous designs. I will also be starting a Kickstarter Fundraiser to help fund  airfares for these delightful women to show their abilities and goods in the very near future. However if you feel inclined to contribute to their airfares ( and travel insurance) let me know. I am hoping we can bring three women ,maybe four to  show what they do in April at AQC. Their story is pretty uplifting and I am in awe of what they have managed to achieve on a very isolated  island  25  kms off shore from Dili. They do everything they do on treadle machines ( there is no power during the day) and through sheer hard work in less than ideal  conditions- but they make up for that with spirit and laughter and song- they are amazing! Any support would be greatly appreciated!

Then after three weeks with the Boneca ladies I will come back to Australia for a week and then head off to Europe for teaching in Belgium, and then onto ChARTres Croisement des Arts to exhibit some of my work again. Always  happy and delighted to be a part of this multi arts event in Chartres and I feel fortunate to call Chartres home for 2 weeks of the year. There are many different arts on display as well as music and lectures- it truly is a multi arts affair!

I have been busy preparing samples, as of course it is impossible to teach the whole travellers blanket style of stitching and story telling in a day long class, so I have tried to show some variations for circles  in the sample piece in the photo- the effects of light and dark thread, the texture of the stitches, and the effect of embroidery as opposed to  applique and embroidery , the use of patterned and unpatterned fabric.

I must admit I love circles and I am always surprised at how different they look depending on thread, stitches and pattern, and then there is the whole thing of adding a story to the whole.

And I did start working in a hand made paper journal that I got last year from the Stitching Project, but unfortunately moving all my belongings has impeded progress. But the idea was to stitch something, anything really and then see what thoughts it brought forth, or visa versa, sometimes you have thoughts but are uncertain how to express them and then you just start stitching and see what happens. I must admit it combines my love of words and mark making and stitching and I can see myself doing more of this.

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Year That Was, Excited for Happy New Year!

Progress has felt slow but in all reality  the health professionals are saying it has been really good. I have 6 days of radiotherapy left to face and so far very few side effects but they say, towards the end it is wearying. I have been keeping very quiet  due to the neuropraxia of my right leg and my broken left wrist so it has meant enforced rest as I could do very little, which of course has had economic repercussions as well. I have had to stay with my daughters since 16 October, as I cannot drive and treatment is in Melbourne in any case. I am now able to walk without a crutch and have been ramping up the walking to build strength again, the goal is to walk a couple of 10,000 step days a week if not most days. I am also able to use my left wrist a lot more, but there is still a way to go, to get full usage back. I think I might be game to drive again in the next week ( i have an old manual car and as my left wrist was broken, gear changing will be an issue)

                            Walking at Brighton Beach yesterday- heading toward the new year!

I have continued to work on my little  thoughts for each day since i first went to the doctor on August the 31st and received the cancer diagnosis a few days later. It has been 123 days since then, and it has had it's dark moments to be sure, but I also discovered that I am looking for and experiencing joy quite a lot, and that I am looking forward to the next year with a quite different mindset and one which is a lot lighter than I might have expected. I really feel working on the little thoughts has helped me focus and has helped me to search for whatever is good in this and has been determined to give everything my very best.

I haven't quite worked out yet, how I will mount them- I had thought of a continuous scroll though the thoughts aren't in any particular order, however that makes it difficult to display. And there will be a few more to add as well. I also though of making an accompanying handmade book that  might also incorporate favourite motifs.

There are quite a few exciting things to look forward to in 2019. I will once again  part of the ChARTres in March of 2018. I will come back to Australia for AQC  in Melbourne to help the Boneca de Atauro ladies showcase their work at a special Invitational stand ( and hopefully sell lots of their work). Depending on how i recover from radiotherapy I will be going to East Timor to help with planning for AQC  in early February and I am  looking very much forward to working with these talented women again. Then it is back to France to show my Traveller's Blankets as invitational artist ( Plaids Nomades ) at  Pour L'Amour du Fil in Nantes and any new work I manage to create by then. So i will be available for workshops in Europe from late April until the end of May.  When I come back from all that I will look for a new place to live- it is too difficult to do it at present and I will put most of my things into storage yet again.

So I hope that 2019 brings the best of everything for the readers of my blog and that you remain in good health and spirit! And again I thank you for all your good wishes- they have buoyed my heart!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Stitching Has Recommenced

I am immensely grateful for all the good wishes I have received- you don't know how much it means and how it adds to my day!  A friend from Canberra, Libby Williams sent this delightful lady angel/woman she made, when I was first in hospital with the hysterectomy and whilst i awaited biopsy results. She has been with me the entire time and is a daily reminder of friendship and good wishes, so thank you Libby she greets me every day!

The neuropraxia in my right leg has continued to improve to such an extent that I am almost game to try and walk unaided- however after having a few falls  ( not recent) your confidence  gets a bit of a shaking up and I still go out with my crutch.

My broken left wrist was reset with a metal plate and it has been quite debilitating and of course I can't drive and am reliant on other people to take me places, as until now public transport has also been out of the question. I naturally do a lot of things with my left hand, though I am not left handed, it really put an end to stitching on my wellness blanket, though I did do some stitching with a frame. My wellness blanket records  the days since my diagnosis with cervical cancer and some of the intervening incidents and I will continue it until radiotherapy has finished and I meet with the gyno-oncology unit at the Women's Hospital at the end of the radiotherapy. The words record the thought for each day ; they are sometimes filled with fear and trepidation and others with hope and even joy and a reminders to keep creative. I have tried to use my own words rather than other people's inspiring quotes, and I have been doing  quite a lot of stitching this last week to catch up the days I missed because the wrist was too immobile to do anything. I should be caught up before Christmas I hope! But it is a funny thing, you simply can't catch it up all in one go, because well the mood of the day really  does play a role in outcome.

The blanket has been a way of focusing thoughts , even the dark ones, committing them to a mark, giving it a place, but not allowing it to overwhelm. I am surprised how well it has worked and  it has given me space to focus on being as positive as I can be, and has even somehow given me a bit of a creativity roadmap. The background in the photo will be changed- I have not quite decided which colour but there is still  4 weeks of radiotherapy left ( they only take off Christmas day) so it will continue to grow as well as catch up the missing days.

Another practice that I commenced at the beginning of the year which has also been quite helpful  for my present experience and is almost a meditative process is rewriting poetry. I rewrite the words of a poet by hand every morning: it's the first thing I do. It started out  as a sort of Book of Hours kind of thing  and getting to know some poetry better, but I have enjoyed the process of simply writing another's words and also feeling, by writing my way through, poetry I might not otherwise have read. So thus far I have worked through Rainer Maria Rilke ( Book of Hours), Wislawa Szymborska ( collected poems) and some poems from Halina Poswiatowska ( an unknown Polish poet to me but found through a poem dedication in Szymborska- and am now awaiting a book by her,  though unfortunately most of her work is in Polish- her work is  heart rending and poignant) and at present, Judith Herzberg ( a country compatriot). Its been a way  to take myself out of myself, and have the thoughts of another start the day.

And last but not least I have sold my shed and block. Now starts the search for elsewhere to live and find a home. My budget is limited, but  you can build a garden and  home anywhere really- just look at cities. It will definitely be in a country area ( i have missed the "bush" these last 8 weeks) My intention is to make it an "art" home filled with things that  inspire me, and warm my soul, and where I can work! My heart would love France, but the reality is that the legal stuff becomes a bit complicated- and i want things to stay simple and not get weighed down by legalities and residence issues.

Meanwhile onward.......

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Stitching One Handed

I want to thank everyone for their continued good wishes and  supportive emails. I am sorry I have not replied but just when I was feeling I was really on the mend last week and getting back to good energy, I fell when I twisted awkwardly and broke my left wrist. So after a night in emergency, the good news was that I would need to go back to hospital to have a steel plate inserted in the wrist as they were unable to set the break  cleanly. So last Sunday it was back to hospital to have the plate inserted, and now I am a one handed and one legged  operator. I must admit frustration at not being able to stitch or indeed do anything much on the computer except with one hand, so you will have to forgive the brevity of this post and also forgive my lack of replies to emails. My radiotherapy starts on 28 November and will go five days a week for 6 weeks.

I had been thinking how i could overcome this one handedness thing and still do some stitching, when I thought maybe i should try a  small freestanding quilting frame. The beauty of having textile friends is that someone was bound to have a frame, so that i could at least try. Sure enough Robina Summers had such a frame, and i have now installed myself on the couch to do some one handed stitching!

The beauty of this is that I have long been an admirer of what I call rough or wild stitching.  And especially so since seeing the work of Indian designer Swati Kalsi with Sujani embroidery. Normally my stitching is very neat, but being one handed means i have much less control as i have to leave a certain amount of slack in the fabric tension, to be able to push the needle under and up again. I am liking the roughness of the stitching and i can see myself doing more of this! I also like that it most definitely seems to have a mind of its own and is taking me whereever.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Life Goes On

Here I am nearly a week post operation and I am still in the hospital. I am recovering well from the operation apart from the fact that somehow a nerve in my right leg was affected which has meant I can't walk and will need rehabilitation. It is not so easy to find a rehab bed so meanwhile I am still in the Royal Women's Hospital.The nursing staff are lovely and work so hard to make all patients comfortable. The view from my window is pretty good and I can keep an eye on those builders on the building site across the road and make sure they are keeping their nose to the grindstone and I can watch the incoming weather. I feel well and will have biopsy results later today. So trying to keep busy awaiting those.

To try and keep busy I have decided to run another on-line  Traveller's Blanket Class which will start on 1 November. I am working on one myself- which  is turning into a bit of a manifesto in keeping to the  creating/art making state of mind whilst I recover. Occasionally I refer to what is happening but mostly  I find myself telling myself to stay alert, to "see", to draw from within and to just stitch. Of course there are many other reasons to make traveller's blankets, as in, recording journeys actually made, creating a memento of family memories, recording a favourite place. There are so many ways to stitch a journey. We are not all wordy people, and more and more I am finding that stitching is expressive of what is within and as I have watched people make their own blankets in various classes each is so different and so must more than simply recording.

If you would like to join please message me. The cost is $75 and I set up a private Facebook group for discussion and sharing your stories and work.