Monthly Archives: August 2012



Who will walk the dog-walkers?  Me as it turns out.  Luckily the pooch is amiable and sedate, so no running along behind was required of us.

The local woodland looks tired from the stressful summer. It is a pity you can’t send a small forest on holiday.  Failing that, the trees look as if they are longing to get on with autumn and enter their hard-earned sleep.

You know you are in good hands


–  when the ‘Acknowledgements’ page at the beginning of a book makes you chuckle.

This was the other book I borrowed from Nottingham, which I have been saving up for a treat.  And luckily it was.

Simons is an academic with a sense of humour who has decided to write something merely because he wants to, and what he wants to write is a view of Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelites and indeed Victorian society as seen through the prism of a wombat who briefly resided in Rossetti’s home.  (The metaphor is a little mixed, but  I am reading a book about physics, which suggests a cosmos so strange that a wombat might easily act as a prism if his sub-atomic particles hopped about a bit.)

There’s a fine gallery of other eccentrics, including a cleric who rejoiced that he could buy a lion just around the corner from his parsonage, a Rothschild who took thirty kiwis with him when he went up to Cambridge, and a tailor who taught his parrot to insult Carlyle.

The sheer zest and enjoyment of the writing makes it a consoling read when you are tired, and perhaps, as Simons himself says, ‘Victorian subjects are always best when you’re convalescing’.

Things to do when you can’t sleep: xviii


xviii : Slug hopping

This is a game played when you go out for a breath of air in the middle of the night and discover that the damp has brought out the entire mollusc nation to promenade across your path and driveway.  Step.  Step.  Squelch.  Step.  Hop.  Crunch.

The worst are the slugs so big that you just bounce off them.

Non-stop Sunday


It’s been busy.  The highlight (or maybe the lowlight) was the moment when the switch on the handle of the lawn mower exploded into a shower of sparks.  With help from next door, the switch was re-wired in ten minutes.  It then took both of us 35 minutes to pack the wiring and switch mechanism back into its plastic pod. The mower is working again, there is a hole in my shirt and a small scorch mark remains on my stomach.

One of the great first lines


Forget that you are no longer twelve and open the first page.

‘It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.’

It’s one of the most economical scene-setting first line hooks I’ve ever read.  Some of this novel’s other virtues:  admission to a strange world, and a distinctive authorial voice.  There are borrowings, but also many original and often very visual touches – the Engineers in their white rubber coats, the deep rutted plains created by the cities, the Wall of Batmunkh Gompa.

Most of the people are good too: the ambiguous Valentine, Chudleigh Pomeroy, Anna Fang the aviatrix, Shrike, and the splendidly named heavies, Pewsey and Gench, as well as four separately and attractively characterised heroes and heroines.  But don’t get too attached to them.  The outcome of this story is not a foregone conclusion.

Ruin to saucepans


The stitched shibori-style scarf I made last night went into the dye early on.  It’s slow to produce the fine stitching for this, and nearly as slow to cut the stitches out after the dye process.

Then I tried the paper resist on several different fabric swatches and got completely different results each time.  The scaled-up version of this was on a different fabric again, and this time came out looking rather frantic.  i should have dunked it again to calm it down, but time was up.  Home to boil all the wax out of the fabric and iron the pieces.  It’s not good for one’s saucepans.

Any colour so long as it is blue


Today we’ve been working towards what is alarmingly called our FINAL PIECE.  Something tells me that mine is going to be blue.  I spent much of the day in the indigo vat, which still stinks, but was moderated by a blackberry dye seething on the ring (yum).

Old cotton sheet, very old silk, new oyster-coloured self-striped silk, and random balls of cotton and wool yarn

Top to bottom:  shibori on cotton; shibori on silk; batik on cotton;  batik and paper resist and tying on cotton;  shibori and batik on self-striped cream and beige silk;  hanks of cotton and wool yarns to right.

I didn’t manage to take photos in the workshop today – too busy.  This afternoon I’ve been washing, winding and ironing out wax (good job the ironing board already needs a new cover).

Remembering to use enough newspaper and kitchen paper to blot up wax as you iron…

Now it is time to do some homework and prepare the FINAL PIECE.  Trouble is, there are at least two things I want to try before the end.

For anybody into such things, I’ve put in some close up photos.  Click for the detail.

Silk shibori before dyeing: found objects tied into fabric (in this case, rawlplugs) and rows of different kinds of stitching pulled tightly into rolls and gathers and tied off.

Shibori on silk after dyeing; you can see the stitch patterns and the marks left by the rawlplugs and ghostlike prints where the fabric folds touched

Cut out paper resists stuck onto cotton with batik wax; variable penetration of wax into cotton depending how much the paper resist allowed to pass through



Halfway through a crafty holiday, it’s starting to get interesting.

Yesterday was preliminary instruction in the preparation of natural dyestuffs and how to modify colour in various ways, so that one dye bath can produce various shades.  plus an exercise in rust printing.  The day was very warm, the reek of boiling vinegar and uncontrolled chemical reactions was powerful, and if I never dye anything else the smell will be responsible.  In mediaeval times dyers were not allowed to have premises inside town walls, an early instance of environmental health intervention, and quite right too.  It was interesting, though.

Today we began with eco-printing.  I am unable to become excited about this, as it is my personal conviction that all we will produce is some brown smears and pinkish blots.

The second part of the day was given over to shibori, a kind of very sophisticated tie-dyeing using indigo and folding, clamping, twisting, sewing, and using random objects to resist the dye.  The indigo is a peculiar brew, smelling gross but more tolerable than yesterday’s acrid vinegar (and it was a breezier day), and with a magical quality – the vat is de-oxygenated by adding a reducing agent, the cloth is dipped for only a few minutes, and emerges a yellowish green.  It then develops like a photograph, your fabric turning blue as it meets the air and warmth and the indigo is re-oxidised.  I think this is the dyeing equivalent of raku – no hanging about, be quick, be careful, be surprised.

It has mileage as a technique as I can already think of about twelve different things I would like to do with it if I had time.  And a lot of indigo.  And a peg on my nose.

Click below for the gallery.