Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Planthunter: Growing a dye garden

http://theplanthunter.com.au/gardens/growing-dye-garden/I've written another article for The Planthunter, this time on one of my favourite topics - natural dyeing. Like any practice, this ancient technique can be done in a quick, easy, chemically assisted (!) way, or it can be done a slow, laborious, natural way. Personally I choose the latter (for various reasons) and I'm drawn to other people who have chosen the same path. We seem to be kindred spirits, people who create for pleasure, discovery and to reduce our environmental impact.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Myf Walker, one such kindred spirit, about her thoughtful, holistic natural dyeing process and amazing natural dye garden. She took my on a tour of her garden in the Dandenongs and shared her thoughts on natural dyeing and how she came to grow this impressive collection of dye plants. You can read my interview and see photos of her garden on The Planthunter.

The top photo here is native Australian indigo (Indigofera australis) leaves and an indigo dye vat, naturally fermented with honey and lime, and below are some of the textiles that Myf has dyed with plants from her garden. I'm really inspired by the way that Myf uses locally grown and foraged plants to dye with, and her commitment to a truly natural (chemical free) dyeing process. It was great to sit down with her, share a meal and chat about our mutual love for slow, laborious, pleasure-filled natural dyeing. You can find out more about Myf's process and her work on her website and Instagram.


New at ART&ARTICLE

http://www.artandarticle.com Photo by ART&ARTICLE

These wall hangings are now available at ART&ARTICLE: Salt Lakes, a triptych inspired by the incredible salt lakes that I encountered while camping in northern Victoria earlier this year. They featured a variety of lovely soft pinks, taupes and whites and the most amazing textures.I cuold not have asked for a more inspiring landscape!

These pieces are hand woven with cotton, bamboo, linen and vintage yarns and fibres, some being plant dyed and undyed, and hang on Australian hardwood rods.

There is also an interview with me on the site, where I talk about my creative process, favourite things and (slightly unusual) life.

New at Otis & Otto


Photos by Otis & Otto
These two Alchemy products are now available at Otis & Otto: Point Addis woven wall hanging and a limited number of wild harvested Australian native smudge sticks
Point Addis is a one of a kind woven wall hanging, inspired by a warm spring day spent on the beach at Point Addis, Victoria. It is hand woven using pure Australian wool yarns and fibres that are naturally dyed using locally foraged eucalyptus leaves and barks.
The wild harvested Australian native smudge sticks are a generous bundle of wild grown eucalyptus, casuarina, melaleuca, callistemon and acacia that have been hand harvested, naturally sun dried and bound with organic cotton thread. Use them to fill your home with the scents of the Australian bush.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Shop update: modern Australiana botanical dyed linen tea towels + wild harvested Australian native smudge sticks

Modern Australiana botanical dyed linen tea towel by Alchemy 1Modern Australiana botanical dyed linen tea towel by Alchemy 2Modern Australiana botanical dyed linen tea towel by Alchemy 3

Now in my online store: a small batch of pure linen tea towels that I designed and made as a modern, minimal interpretation of the classic Australian wildflower souvenir tea towel. I love Australiana and the souvenir tea towel is something that I love the idea of owning, but it just doesn’t work well with the clean, organic aesthetic that I have in my home. These botanical dyed linen tea towels do.

They have been handmade and naturally hand dyed with foraged flora that is native to the coast of Victoria, Australia. Plants used to dye the linen used for these pieces include varieties of eucalyptus, melaleuca, casuarina, callistemon, banksia and acacia. The flowers, leaves, bark and seed pods of these plants have all been used to create subtle colours and patterns.

Each piece is completely unique, takes approximately two weeks to make and has been prepared and dyed without the use of chemical ingredients. As I’ve continued to explore dyeing with new fibres and plant materials, I’ve noticed that it’s a common practice to use chemicals to prepare and mordant dyes and I have decided that this is not the road that I want to go down. It takes a lot longer and is more difficult, but it doesn’t feel right to me to use chemicals that are toxic and powdered dyes whose source I can’t be sure of and call it natural dyeing. So all of my naturally dyed products, including these tea towels, have been made using foraged and waste plant materials and natural, non-toxic mordants.

Also in my store: a few wild harvested Australian native smudge sticks. I use smudge sticks regularly to cleanse my home and last month I made a few sticks with wild harvested flora. They were so beautiful to use and the smell was magical, so I decided to make a few extras from wild grown eucalyptus, melaleuca, casuarina, callistemon and acacia and make them available for other people to enjoy. Both the tea towels and smudge sticks are now available in my online store.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Eco Weaving Kit is now available

Eco Weaving Kit by Alchemy 1
As promised, a limited number of Eco Weaving Kits are now available in my online store. Inspired by the Australian natural landscape, they are available in the same colourways as the last batch: Eucalyptus Forest, Summer Wildflowers, Dream State and Seaside Holiday.

This kit includes a beautiful hardwood loom (handmade by me), a hand turned wooden bobbin (made by a local wood turner in my design), six plant dyed and undyed yarns and fibres (all vegan), my detailed beginner's weaving guide, plus all the other bits and pieces that you need to make your own woven wall hanging (you can see the full list in the product listing).
You can also purchase extras that will ship free with your kit: extra plant dyed yarns (for more colours) and bobbins (in case one is not enough), plus natural unspun hemp and cotton fibres (to add extra texture to your weaving). These extras are also limited and are only available to purchase with the kits.

If you’d like to receive emails about Alchemy store updates and workshop news, sign up on the right sidebar and you’ll be the first to know about these and any sales or promotions I have coming up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Craft Sessions 2014–a round up

Belinda's Modern Weaving with Traditional Techniques.

I’ve been so busy with making, working and life since my modern weaving workshop at The Craft Sessions in September that I have not shared a round up of the weekend. So here it is!

Firstly, I want to say that I had an absolutely amazing time. Two and a half days away in the Yarra Valley with around 80 other women who shared my love of learning, sharing and craft (with all of my food and accommodation taken care of) - I cannot think of many other ways that I’d rather be spending a weekend. I caught up with people I already knew, met people I’d been chatting to online but never met face to face and made new friends with people whom I’d never encountered before. We laughed and ate and knitted together. Some people even did all three of those at once – clearly they were people who have children and therefore awesome multitasking skills. Personally, I took the opportunity to relax, enjoy the natural surrounds and meet new people. I guess that is the beauty of a weekend like this – you take whatever you want out of it.

The weekend started on the Friday afternoon. Well, for me it started about three weeks beforehand when I started preparing for the workshop I was teaching, but the fun part began on Friday. After picking up our goodie bags and settling into our rooms, we headed off to our first workshop. For me, that was Embroidery From The Natural World with Melissa Wastney.

I was so excited about doing this workshop in the lead up to the weekend that I had actually been having dreams about the native flowers that I was going to embroider. As I had very little embroidery experience beforehand, the dreams were slightly different to the reality of the workshop (especially with regards to technique!), and the reality was that the workshop was even better than I had dreamed it would be. We started off by wandering through the native flower-filled gardens of the venue, sketching and collecting flowers as inspiration. As it was already well into spring, the garden was in full bloom. Not surprisingly, I found it very difficult to restrain myself from picking everything that I saw. I did make some attempt, but still returned to the workshop room clutching handfuls of tiny flowers and leaves.

Photo of Alichia from Melissa's embroidery class at this year's retreat.

This fabulous embroidered wattle is not my handiwork. It belongs to the very patient Alichia.

After we returned inside, Melissa ran through the basics with us and we got busy stitching. We continued across the afternoon and again on the Saturday morning. She encouraged us to experiment with the techniques that we used, and it was fascinating to see the different ways that each person interpreted the same flora (both in illustration and the way in that they embroidered them). As I daintily stitched away with Melissa’s hand dyed embroidery thread on the exquisite linen that was nestled in my vintage embroidery hoop, I have to say that I felt very content. It felt almost as if we were in some kind of story book: a group of women sipping tea and quietly chatting away, wildflowers strewn all over the table as we sketched and stitched as if we had not a care in the world. I felt more zen than I would have if I had spent those 6 hours in silent meditation (I can say this with some authority, having done the latter on more than one occasion).

This relaxed state of mind prepared me well for what was on for me after lunch: an hour of talking and weaving to a room full of enthusiastic, curious women. With a partially finished weaving project in hand (this one, actually), I shared stories of my inspiration and creative process, shared some of my weaving tips and tricks and had the opportunity to hear some of the craft (and life) experiences of the other women who came along. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon, and afterwards I took a walk in the surrounding bush (followed by a little nap), before heading to dinner.

A bit of sparkle for dinner.

Now I haven’t mentioned meal times yet, but this is not because they were not a major part of the event. In fact, they were one of my favourite parts of the weekend. It was at meal times where we really got an opportunity to chat with each other, and it was during this time that it became clear to me that, for most of the women who were there, this was a chance to connect with other people who were passionate about using their hands to make beautiful things. It was also a chance to learn new skills, but I got the feeling that, although this was the most obvious reason to attend a weekend of craft workshops, it actually wasn’t the main reason that most people came along. The only thing that I didn’t enjoy about meal times was deciding whether to sit next to someone with whom I’d already had a great conversation with or someone new with whom I’d not yet had a chance to connect. In the end I went with a bit of both, depending on the mood, and found both rewarding in their own way.

I’ve spent so long talking about the weekend as a whole and I haven’t even gotten to the part where I talk about my own workshop! This is partially because my workshop was at the end of the weekend, but also because, as a teacher rather than a student, I don’t think I’m the best person to talk about it. For this reason, I’ll share my own story of the experience but I’ll keep it brief.

Belinda's weaving class.

I was blessed to have spent a full day with 12 truly lovely women who were all excited to share some of my tapestry weaving knowledge. Similarly to the embroidery workshop that I had done with Melissa in the days prior, it was a day of joy and laughter. The learning was a bit more intense than the other workshop that I attended, especially as most people had no experience with weaving at all and the techniques they were using were quite different to those used in other commonly practiced crafts. They were all open and eager to learn, though, and after they got the hang of the basics they created their own unique pieces. I loved watching the way that each person took the basic techniques, the enormous pile of yarns that I brought along (and their own yarns, twigs and leaves that they’d collected across the weekend) and their own imagination and created a dozen really different pieces. As they cut their pieces off their looms, obviously very satisfied with their work, I thought I might burst with pride. Thinking about how they had come from knowing almost nothing to creating something that was really a little piece of themselves was an incredibly satisfying thought for me. Even now, I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy in my belly as I type this and look at the photo below. Look at those smiles! What a gorgeous bunch. And those beautiful weavings!

After my workshop ended, the weekend was almost at an end. Everyone was feeling a bit weary but our hearts were full and we each had a few little completed projects, some new craft skills and at least 25 ideas for what we each wanted to make next. After hugs, phone numbers, blogs and instagram accounts were exchanged, we hopped in our cars and headed back to our lives. And just like that the weekend was over – well physically it was, but in my mind and heart I was there for at least another fortnight. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to next year’s event (for which dates have recently been announced!).

As I was just having too much fun to take photos, all of these photos are courtesy of the brilliant, passionate, kind woman who brought this event to fruition – Felicia Semple. You know it’s a good weekend when you don’t even get a chance to take photos! You can see more photos of the event and read Felicia’s honest, funny accounts of her journey through life (told through the language of craft) on her blog.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

New weaving and more Eco Weaving Kits

Montmorency in deep winter woven wall hanging by Alchemy
(Photo by Pierre Curry)
I recently completed this woven wall hanging using yarns that I dyed naturally using compost and foraged flora collected from a property in Montmorency that I spent this past winter on. I find it so satisfying so be involved in as many parts of the process of making an item as I can and it makes the finished product really special for me. It’s a very slow way to complete an artwork, but it means that I can create the colours I want and I know that dyes I am using are locally, ethically and naturally sourced. And let’s not forget the immense pleasure that is derived from being involved in a process from start to finish! This piece is now being enjoyed by it’s new owner, fellow natural dyer and textile lover Deborah O’Toole.
I’ve also been busy making a few more Eco Weavings Kits that will be available to purchase in my online store in the next couple of weeks. I had originally intended to make only one batch of these kits as they are very time and labour intensive to source the sustainable materials for and make, but I have received hundred of emails since that batch sold out asking if I will be making any more. I get so much pleasure from the meditative craft of tapestry weaving and I love seeing other people enjoying this craft, so I will be listed another very limited batch of kits. I’m not able to make one for everyone who has requested one but a few more of you will be spending this summer (or winter!) and beyond weaving away on one of my lovingly handcrafted looms with some amazing organic cotton plant dyed yarns.
The four colourways will be the same and, as before, I will be making extra plant dyed yarns available to purchase with the kits so you don’t have to miss out on all of the colours that you love. I also intend to list some more of the hand turned bobbins and some textured hemp and cotton fibres so that you will be able to purchase extras with your kit if you like.
I’ll be announcing the sale date of these kits here and on my Instagram. I’ll also be sending out an email to anyone who wants to be the first to know when they will be available to purchase. Email me at alchemybotanicals@gmail.com if you would like to go on this list.