Monday, May 02, 2016

how your blues went away and died

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It's already been almost two months since Womadelaide. As ever I had a wonderful time in my happy place and even made time to get to an incredible, overwhelming non-womad gig as well.

'Sacrilege' bouncing stonehenge

One curiosity we heard a bit about in advance was the "Stonehenge jumping castle". This life-size, bouncy version of Stonehenge is a work called 'Sacrilege', by Jeremy Dellar. It made its first appearance in Glasgow in 2012.

I once visited the real Stonehenge. It was so long ago that I can't even link to a blog post, as it was in the dark ages life-before-blog. I remember I was disappointed at how far away the stones were, behind the protective fence. I believe they open it up to some groups at solstice times, but other than that, you just have to admire it from a distance.

Sacrilege

The name of this work, Sacrilege, sort of puzzled me a bit. I mean, I get it, but it also seemed a little bit strong relative to the level of religious/cultural significance Stonehenge has for modern people. But maybe I am way off and being unfair to modern druids. In any case this discussion naturally brought to mind Uluru, and the ongoing controversy about climbing it.

I wouldn't climb Uluru. The Aboriginal people of the area have ask people not to: end of story. I can see that a bouncy Rock - if that was even possible - would be quite a strong statement. And I'm not necessarily suggesting someone should do that. I was also reminded me of another jumping castle/sculpture we saw as part of the 2012 Sydney Biennale, this one made by an Indigenous artist: Brook Andrew's Jumping Castle War Memorial.

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It had been a really long time since I'd been on a jumping castle, and it was big fun. The surface was very hot underfoot though, so the ten minute session was plenty. That time limit also meant the wait to get onto it was not too long, even when there was a queue. (Last year I didn't end up bothering with the big-thing-you-had-to-queue-for, cause the queue was crazy most of the time).

Acrojou's "The Wheelhouse"

This was a slightly impenetrable show called The Wheel House. To be fair, I did arrive in the middle of the show and maybe didn't get the whole storyline. I quite like a post-apocalyptic theme, anyway.

Calexico sunset

This was Calexico. Second time I've seen them at Womadelaide and their set was one of the best all weekend. Funny thing is I realised later (via Instagram I think) that they had also done a show in Canberra earlier in the week, as part of the Enlighten festival.

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Below, Chinese duo Tulegur, experts in Mongolian folk music and throat singing, and also into grunge rock. I'm always fascinated by the different kinds of throat singing. Another cool group at the festival this year was the Jerry Cans, with a female throat singer, Inuit style.

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Anyway, Tulegur. Let me place you at the scene. It was quite late, we were tired/relaxed, digging the music. Of course, it's pretty common at a festival for people to come and go casually and sometimes talk during gigs. Usually I'm happy to just move further forward into the crowd if the people around me are too disconnected from the music. But this was a large, hushed, and mostly captivated audience, and it was one of the smaller stages, so not a lot of space to spare, and not the biggest sound out at the edges, either. A young guy standing behind the sound tent was drinking beer and talking with a friend. The friend knew how to keep his tone low but this kid had one of those piercing voices that really carries and he seemed to be in his own world. People kept turning around and staring at him. It was a bit like someone's phone beeping audibly in the cinema. Just so wrong. Three separate people went up to him at different times and asked him to be quiet. And each time he seemed kind of amazed. Really clueless. Some time after the third intervention he finally moved away, and there was a whispered cheer from all the people near us.

Ainslie Wills

Above, Ainslie Wills, a singer-songwriter from Melbourne. For me, there was a bit of a Clare Bowditch feel to some of her songs.

John Grant

I guess I didn't plan ahead well enough across the weekend and on the Monday found myself splitting my time in this one time slot between John Grant (above) and Malian up-and-comers Songhoi Blues, below. John Grant I had heard about, though I had never listened to his music. As soon as I did it was an instant connection for me and though I only stayed for a few songs, I grabbed the album later on. I was reminded a bit of earlyish solo Scott Walker, also Divine Comedy and that chamber pop style. The funny thing is when I got home I found that Kam already owned his two previous albums. I really need to do a better job of keeping up with the music in this house!

Songhoy Blues

Tree lights

Friday, April 15, 2016

Dyed shirt

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I found this very nice quality, fine cotton, boring shirt at the Green Shed underground - where almost everything is priced at $4 - a good deal for nice clothing pieces (not such a good deal for pillow slips - so I left some behind the other day).

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Even though the colour was not very me, and I don't normally wear buttoned shirts, it was a good fit and the truly lovely fabric - so fine it was almost like silk - sold me on it. At this point I hadn't dyed my t-shirt yet but the idea was on my mind that day, so it occurred to me that this shirt could also be a contender for a dye treatment.

dyed shirt

I could have just overdyed it in a single colour, but after the fun I had with my t-shirt I decided to give this one the jar treatment too.  First I tried just the wine colour. I was careful to make it somewhat symmetrical in the way I folded and twisted it, but the dye really only took on the collar and tails and cuffs. It was patchy and looked a bit like something I'd been wearing as a painting smock rather than a deliberate all-over effect. I left it for a while like that, not sure what to do. Then when I got around to doing the final round on the weird grey tablecloth, I did the same thing with this shirt - damp fabric and sprinkled black dye powder and salt. I didn't have high expectations but was thrilled with the result. Once again there appeared out of the black, bits of other colours, particularly blue, and some yellow. And much more than on the linen tablecloth, some quite delicate patterns and shapes emerged. I think this is because of the fineness of the fabric. On the back yoke where there are two layers of fabric, you can even see different overlapping patterns where the dye has taken differently on the two layers.

I'm so happy with this shirt and have been wearing it all the time. Mostly with jeans but I did also pull it off as office-appropriate (at least I think so), with a grey pencil skirt and pale pink pearl necklace.

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Can't stop jar-dyeing

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I only recently came across the idea of jar dyeing, over on Refashionista. Of course I knew about tie-dyeing, and this is similar, a type of low-water immersion dyeing. And you can choose whether to include some tying/rubberbanding or just scrunch or fold the fabric - see also shibori dyeing - into an enclosed space like a glass jar.

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What I liked was the idea that instead of mixing up a dye bath, you could sprinkle the powered dye - and more than one colour - directly into the folds of the fabric as you fold/squash/twist it into the jar, then slowly add hot water, and the whole mess ends up neatly contained. Well, maybe not perfectly neatly: while handling powdered dye so often I did end up with a couple of contamination incidents in the laundry!

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My first try was impulsive. I had this t-shirt that I never wore, because I don't really like white tops. From my limited dye stash, mainly packets I had picked up at half price when Lincraft was closing down in the city last year, I chose 'wine' and 'grey'. I thought these might play ok with the orange print on the t-shirt. It seems obvious with hindsight but I got a shock when I saw the water in the jar turn so pink! The end result was quite pink'n'purple. Not my favourite colour combination and not great with the orange either. The t-shirt was a bit of a mess but I really liked some of the patterns. Later on I overdyed the whole thing with orange, with the background ending up kind of peachy, and I think it is more coherent now - sorry, no final photo though.

Soon after I shared a few pics of the t-shirt on Instagram, my aunt got in touch. She was planning the food photography for her next recipe book, and wondered if I would dye a piece she could use as a background. Though I protested that I didn't know what I was doing, she really liked the idea of having that family connection in her book (she was also using a tea towel embroidered by my sister) and I agreed to have a go, because I do love a bit of a collaboration.

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I combed the local op shops looking for tablecloths or other suitable textiles to dye, and I found a lot of white and light coloured cotton pillow slips to practice on. I though some might sell on my Suitcase Rummage stall, or else all my family could all receive them for Christmas. Some of them turned out pretty nice. I think the purple and blue one above was my favourite (and it was one of the ones that sold). I tried a variety of folding, scrunching and stuffing techniques and different combinations of dye and salt. The texture of the fabric seems to make a difference. for some of them I experimented with some contrasting crochet trims, too.

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Meanwhile I had to get on with my aunt's photography props. I had found a linen table cloth with some relatively plain hardanger embroidery. I thought this would take the dye ok, and it had decent-sized areas that weren't embroidered so I thought she could probably avoid showing the embroidered part if she preferred.

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She wanted deep blues and purples - I hadn't been thrilled with the purple I had on hand, so I only used a little and mostly relied on the blue dye.

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First round - I quite liked this result but quickly decided it was probably too 'busy' overall for a background textile.

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Next I threw it in a grey dye bath to tone it down overall, but that didn't do a lot. I still wasn't happy, so I tried again, laying it out flat, while damp, and sprinkling both powdered black dye and salt all over it. Then I rolled and scrunched it up into my bodum coffee plunger, added the hot water and let it sit like that.

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The tablecloth is the grey piece in the middle in the photo above. The final step, while darkening it and toning it down overall, also added tiny speckles of many colours - yellow, green, blue - even though I only used black dye. Of course the dye is designed to be mixed with water and salt before coming into contact with fabrics, and using it that way you would never see the speckles of other colours. I had this happen with some of the other dyes too - not sure if those specks of other colours are meant to be there. I like it though!

As a whole piece, the grey tablecloth was now a pretty strange object, kind of an ugly mess really, but I thought it might still work as a photo background. But to give my aunt more options (and I've said I I don't mind at all if she doesn't end up using any of them in the book), I sent a couple of other options too - one of the pillow slips, the wine-coloured piece in the picture above, and I also dyed a couple of cotton placemats with blue. These were so thin that they could be folded up to look like a serviette as well.

Slicerolls garlic beef

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Watching the dancers

Tango feet too

I spent a little more time than usual watching some of the dancers at the National Folk Festival this time. Well, of course that's apart from the Morris dancing which I always have to stop and watch!

Tango feet

We noticed that the tango is all about the legs - the upper body is relatively still. The performing members of Tango Social Club of Canberra were attentive to this and all had great shoes! I'd never paid too much attention to tango before, and found this group beautiful to watch. My friend pointed out that the Obamas gave it a red hot go on a recent visit to Argentina.

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Brisas del Peru

Brisas del Peru performed several Peruvian folk and modern dances.

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With several costume changes.

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And below is the Irish set dancing - which they described in their introduction as "not Riverdance - but Irish social dancing".

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Friday, April 08, 2016

Fun times at the folk festival

Mànran

New Scottish favourite: Mànran - I now have their two albums and I am playing them almost all the time. It's a great modern, high energy interpretation of traditional music - a lot of the songs are in Gaelic - sometimes really fast Gaelic.  

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Their late Saturday night set at the festival was such a great time that when I came back on the Monday and saw that they were on again, I convinced my family to come with me and they loved it too. Their sound was was loud, full and very rich, especially when the the highland pipes join in with the Irish ones. My niece even came down the front with me for a song or two.

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I could already pretty much call myself a fan of Steve Poltz - I had only seen him once before, at the Polish Club last year, and didn't really know of him before then, but he completely won me over. He does that. He's known for his songwriting but perhaps even more for his storytelling. And without being a stand-up comedian, he is very very funny. (He's actually currently performing in the Melbourne Comedy Festival so there you go.)

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I saw him twice during the festival. The first time he told a story I had already heard at that gig last year - about the time he had a stroke on stage. And I can tell you it felt very wrong, but somehow ok, to laugh almost until I cried while hearing him tell this story! He makes it so funny but in a warm and life-affirming way, without any schmaltz....leading perfectly into the song "I want all my friends to be happy".

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On the Monday morning we were sitting right at the front in the Budawang Pavilion, on the floor. My niece was eating raw carrots. Steve started talking to her from the stage, riffing about how great carrots are and how he loves carrots and when he flies he always takes a carrot for a snack....carrots carrots carrots, I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking here was her cue to hop up and offer him a carrot...finally out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman emerge from the audience with a carrot wrapped in glad wrap and hand it to him. And the show went on. (My niece wasn't shy - she just really wanted to eat all her pieces of carrot. She had a long day ahead of her)  


East Pointers

The East Pointers from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Fast and furious and exciting.

Spiro

Spiro, English folk group - I saw them at Womadelaide too. I had waited too long there and missed out on a CD there, then was disappointed to hear that there had been some sort of mix-up and they didn't have any CDs at the folk festival. I will be tracking them down though. Apparently they have been playing together for over 20 years! Yet their sound is very fresh.

Wheeze and Suck Band

The Wheeze and Suck Band - one of those names I've seen on the program each year and finally managed to see - well worth it.

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Women in Docs was another festival stalwart I had never actually seen, and I'm glad I did. They were lovely, really funny together, and yes, both wearing docs.

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And Canberra's own Black Mountain String Band - this band is a relatively recent combination I think, but they are all excellent musicians who have been around the festival and the Canberra music scene for years.

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Monday, April 04, 2016

Felted tree

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Last weekend was Easter, and that always means the National Folk Festival here in Canberra. Being an early Easter, the weather was great. Not that bad weather would have stopped me anyway. I spent two glorious days at the festival, one with a dear friend who had never attended before (new convert, yay!), and one with family. And I was happy to see that my felted tree from last year was back on display, with many other knitted and crocheted bollard covers.

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On site during the 2016 festival

Last year the festival organisers held a competition asking people to make knitted/crocheted covers for the many bollards around the site. I didn't like the idea until I started to think of it as a kind of sculpture, rather than 'knit graffiti' or 'yarn bombing' (each to their own: but not really my scene).

I've tinkered before, on a much smaller scale than this, with ideas for a felted version of the Moreton Bay Figs I love so much. I've worked out how I can do the trunk and roots but not yet a satisfactory canopy.

For this project I needed a simpler shape. Apart from my canopy problem, I also imagined the beautiful spreading Moreton Bay roots being stepped on and tripped over. So I settled on a sort of stylised pencil pine.

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On site during the 2015 festival. On the Monday it rained and the bollard covers didn't come out at all.

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It had to be a design that could be sculptural and have a bit of body, but also be built onto a hollow sleeve that could slide over the bollard. The good thing was I didn't have to worry about getting the tree to stand up on its own because the pole would take care of that.

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At home I made a rough cardboard mockup of the bollard it was to sit on. The brown felted part for the trunk could simply wrap around the pole but the body of the tree was going to need stuffing. So I made a ribbed sleeve out of horrible acrylic yarn to serve as an inside lining, and sewed that on to the trunk section. I added texture to the trunk section post-felting by hand sewing with thread, which pretty much disappears into the felt.

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And then I got out all the greenish wool I could find, and started making these leafy bits. They were not meant to be individual leaves, but more like whole branches of greenery/pine needles in that upward sweeping shape some pine trees have.

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The ones at the back of the picture have been felted, and those at the front, not yet.

After I had made a lot of these, I felted them and started sewing them together. And I kept finding that I needed to make more and more and more. A stuffed, three-dimensional shape like this has a lot of surface area. I think I was still knitting the last piece of two only days before it was due to be submitted.

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I knew that there would be many more detailed and clever bollard covers entered - and there were some amazing ones including Rapunzel in her tower (pictured below, though I think there were actually two different interpretations of that theme), an amazing pair of parrots sitting on the edge of a birdbath, and an elaborate pink sculpture of a Hills Hoist style washing line - pretty sure that was by one of the Sparrow-Folk ladies.

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So I wasn't surprised that mine looked very plain by comparison. I could have "put a bird on it" or something like that but I didn't feel it would be my style. Seeing it again this year, I wish I had thought of something to add but I'm still not sure what it would be. Christmas tree lights?

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The other problem - this one really bugs me - is that I really didn't make the trunk long enough. It really should go right to the ground. Each time I have visited it during the festival (when the volunteers have been - understandably - too gentle installing it) I have to run over and tug it more firmly onto the bollard.

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I'm still a little sad that it can't come home with me. Perhaps I need to make another large, huggable sculpture. Part of the deal with entering was that it would become property of the festival. I did sew a nametag inside and though they said they wanted to display them in future years, I mentioned that I would be happy to have it back if they are getting rid of it or if it should need mending.

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