My first adventures into mosaic were under the guidance of the wonderfully talented and eccentric Evi Ferrier in 1998. She facilitated a workshop series in which a whole lot of volunteers helped to mosaic the front of the art shed at Glyde-in Community Centre in East Fremantle. That’s me in the purple tie-dyed shirt and hat, creating my very first gecko mosaic, with Evi sitting alongside me filling in some of the background and offering encouragement.

Some years later I attended another workshop with Evi, this one at her home in Mosman Park. She introduced us to a book called The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. It’s a rather cute children’s picture book and Evi read it to us to encourage us to be bold in our creations. The main character in the story is Mr. Plumbean, a man who paints his house to reflect his dreams rather than fitting in with the rest of the neat little box-houses in the street.

It was clear from Evi’s (very unusual) decor that she had taken Mr Plumbean’s example to heart. The house is mosaiced from top to bottom, inside and out, and it clearly does reflect her dreams. The bottom of the swimming pool, the garden walls, the sides of the house, internal walls – it’s a visual overload. That day, I came home and created my own orange splot house mosaic – both as an homage both to Evi and as a reminder to myself to remember be more like Mr Plumbean.

Having said that, I must confess that my own house is actually pretty mundane. It’s my garden that reflects my reluctance to be boring. It’s random and untidy and completely at odds with my oh-so-tidy neighbourhood – and I revel in it. This even extends to the verge outside our garden wall, where I grow sweet potatoes, loquats, strawberry guavas, rosemary, pigface (carpobrotus glaucescens) – and the grass I can’t quite seem to get rid of.

Every season brings something new in some part of my garden. Most days I go outside at least for a while, sometimes with a cup of tea and a book or (more often) to play with the hyper-active dogs. I inevitably see something I can tweak: a branch to prune, a plant to move or repot, some herbs that need picking, or a flower to photograph. The whole thing is an ever-evolving work-in-progress that makes me smile every single day. No exceptions.

Do you have dream – and does your house or garden reflect that vision?

GenghisCon is a project that’s been dear to my heart since it’s inception in 2001. I’ve watched it grow and blossom from a fledging idea hatched in our lounge room into a full-grown, successful annual convention.

It’s fun to see what the changing committees come up with in terms of ideas for convention activities each year and how much the Genghis-community pitches in to help out.

With the 2o17 GenghisCon on the horizon, I’ve volunteered my services to be ‘Market Day Liaison’. This is really just a fancy (and short) title for trader-wrangler and organiser of fun stuff associated with the market day.

I want to make the market day to be a draw card and have some cunning plans in mind. I’m thinking that having some entertainment to entice people into the market area would be fun. Perhaps a few different items/events, each running just enough to be entertaining and draw the crowd in. We could have some roving minstrels, a fairy floss machine, random juggling, handouts of cookies (baked by moi and other lucky ‘volunteers’), a raffle… and whatever else I can come up with.

This will take a little while to plan, so I’m starting now to avoid the aargh-factor later on. What I’d REALLY like is to get some help from anyone with ideas / time (just some) / creative spirit / musical and/or juggling abilities. Help?

GCon Traders 2017

A couple of years ago I took part in a one-day linocut workshop in the Swan Valley. I headed home on a high of creative inspiration, full of plans to print up a series of Xmas cards. I’d get some lino and carving tools, create a couple of designs, then print them up in various colours… Voilà!

linocut wkshop_25oct14

But, when it came time to carve, I found that the lino I’d bought was very different to the medium we’d used in the workshop. Silk Cut Lino  is advertised as being ‘easy and pleasurable to use’ – but I found it significantly harder (stiffer) than expected and really quite tricky to carve. It may have simply been my novice technique, but the cuts were disappointingly wobbly.

Of course, in my excitement, I’d bought quite a LOT of the lino… the not-so-easy-or-pleasurable to use lino. So I ended up simply put the whole idea on hold for later…

Time passed… and then a friend sent me some information on a (free) linocut demonstration at Jacksons Art Supplies last week: “Printmaker Shana James will be in store this Friday to demonstrate how to carve and hand print a lino block. Come and see how Shana creates her beautiful whimsical lino prints.”

Shana’s linocuts are lovely – and whimsical, my favourite being the charming hand-coloured pink and green tricycle. It’s such a joyful, light-hearted image 🙂

Shana James linocut tricycleWe didn’t actually get to see a print being carved, but she did demonstrate the printing process, using one of her existing designs. She also showed us a process for adding colour to lino prints called Chine-Collé. Using a glue stick, Shana rubbed some glue on one side of a small piece of very fine, hand-inked rice paper and then placed the glue-free side directly onto the inked-up linocut block.She then added a second layer of (different) coloured rice paper over the top of the first.

Shana James Chine-collé1The next step was to place the printing sheet (plain paper) carefully over the top of all this, effectively sticking the coloured paper to the printing sheet. Shana then used the back of a spoon over the whole design to transfer the ink to the printing sheet before lifting it off the linocut. Magical!

Shana James Chine-collé2Shana’s pro-tip re carving lino that’s really stiff? Warm the lino to soften it. She suggested a number of ways of doing this: iron the lino, using a low temperature setting, with a layer of paper or fabric between the iron and the lino; warm a wheat bag in the microwave oven and lay it on the section of lino you’re about to carve; or leave the lino in the sun for a little while. So simple!

This means that linocuts are  back on the agenda – possibly even for Xmas cards this year. I’ll start with a test piece next week and see how I go.

Having completed puppy school last month, we enrolled Cassie in the beginners obedience classes at the Southern River Dog Club for the next step. The class is quite large (about 30 dogs), so it’s demonstration/instruction-based for the most part and there’s not a lot of individual attention. But that’s okay, since the class is as much about exposing Cassie to lots of dogs and people as anything else – and our young lady is already up to speed with a few commands (sit, wait, leave, come) and walks happily (albeit a little too enthusiastically!) on lead. So class one was mostly about Himself and Cassie familiarising themselves with clicker training.

The only gotcha of the evening was that the trainers had requested that we bring along a training-specific toy. They suggested something along the lines of a simple tug-toy that was to be used at dog school – not at home. Since we hadn’t bought one – and pet stores were closed by the time we realised this – we had to come up with a last minute cunning plan.

Himself described what he was after: a woven or plaited fabric rope, soft enough to not hurt Cassie’s mouth but sturdy enough to withstand her piranha-teeth. So, with precious little time to spare, I hunted through my fabric scraps and found a narrow strip of fleece that looked like it might work. Step one was to cut it into strips… but then we were faced with the problem of how to turn those into some semblance of a tug-toy. This is about when I had a Eureka! moment…

I remembered a knotting craft that was all the rage when my own kids were at primary school:  Scoubidou (Scooby-do). It’s a cheap, colourful, useful and, above all, quick and easy way of creating a woven item. To minimise craft-talk confusion, I hunted down a simple instructional video and Himself got to weaving. Since the fabric scraps I’d scrounged up weren’t very long, the toy turned out a little shorter than we’d hoped – but it was well and truly ready in time for school. A recycling win – both the fabric and the weaving method 🙂

Yesterday I took it one step further. I scrounged through the bargain bin at our local fabric store and, for the princely sum of $8, acquired a couple of pieces of fleece fabric offcuts. Next was a quick interwebs search to see if anyone else had ever made such scoubidou-style fleece tug-toy.

I was astonished to find that not only have (many) others made similar toys, many of those crafty-folk have shared their techniques on blogs and in videos. I perused a couple and then, Scoubi-muscle-memory refreshed, I knocked up two slightly longer, snazzy-looking tug-toys whilst watching TV last night.

DIY tug toy

If you’d like to try one yourself, this is what I’d suggest:

  • Scrounge down some fleece offcuts – ideally these should be at least one metre long or your toy will end up more of a cat toy than a puppy toy.
  • I’d suggest you check the bargain bin at your local fabric store unless you’re feeling super precious about colours/designs.
  • Tip: the weaving will be a lot simpler if you have two different colours to weave with.
  • Cut four strips of fleece (two of each colour), about 5cm wide and as long as the fabric.
  • Tip: You don’t need to be too precise about the width – it’s not super important.
  • Line up one end of the strips and knot them together really firmly.
  • Now start your fleece-scoubidou tug-toy. It’s done in square (box) stitch, the building block of most scoubis.
  • Essentially, the trick is to isolate the individual strands (strips of fleece). Do this by pushing one to the back (1), one to the front (2), and one to each side (3,4) – and then keeping track of them.

DIY tug toy showing strands

  • Tip: make sure you pull the strands tight after every weave row – this keeps the tug-toy firm.

DIY tug toy showing weave

  • When you get to the length you’re happy with, tie the strands off in a tight knot and trim them.
  • Tip: leave a reasonable amount at the end to tie your knot – it takes more fabric than you’d think.

Of course, if you don’t want to make one you could just ask me to knock one up for you… especially if you already have some suitable fabric. Although, since I only used a very small amount of the fleece I bought, I’d be happy to use that up 🙂

Have you ever had one of those moments when, no matter how logical it may be, something you’ve heard or read or watched simply didn’t make sense? At our place we call it being ‘hard of understanding’ – it’s a polite way of telling someone that they’re being slow on the uptake.

This week I had just such a moment – or, more to the point, a series of moments. I tried using YouTube to learn how to do something called a provisional cast on. It’s a knitting thing – and is touted as being a most cunning cast-on technique with many applications. Whilst I’d heard about it from time to time from extreme knitters, I’d never found any need to figure it out. Until now.The fabled back room at Bendigo Woollen Mills

To make a short story long, I’ll rewind to July last year for some context. That’s when I trotted off to the Bendigo Sheep & Wool Show with my sister (an extreme knitter). She’d talked wistfully about wanting to go to Bendigo for a number of years and had waxed lyrical about the Aladdin’s cave of the fabled ‘back room’ at Bendigo Woollen Mills. I confess I was curious – particularly about the cave – and it seemed a good way to celebrate her retirement. So off we went for a few days of woolly, touristy fun.

On our second night we had dinner with a number of other knitters, many of whom were originally from Perth and stay in contact via email, Ravelry and the Bendigo weekend. I ended up sitting next to Nan Bray, the force behind White Gum Wool – and not from Perth. She told us a little about her journey from marine science to sheep farming and luxury wool production while we tucked into some local fare. Nan mentioned that the scarf she was wearing was an example of her new range ultrafine 12ply bouclé yarn. Although she explained that it was made from 14.8-micron lambs wool, I didn’t really grok what that meant until I felt it. It was silky smooth, delightfully soft and so squishy and touchable that if she’d had any for sale I’d have bought it on the spot – and I am not an impulse purchaser by any means.

So the next day I made it my mission to hunt down the White Gum Wool stand at a woolly-event. I was disappointed to find that the colour I’d fallen in love with (hawthorn) was sold out, but decided that I really needed some of that yarn – just to pat and cuddle. So I simply chose the next best option and bought a single 100g ball of Ultrafine Quarrystone Bouclé – and cuddled it all the way home 🙂

Now, a year later, cuddling the ball whenever I hunt through my stash of yarn is not enough. It was time to knit something that I could actually use. Luckily Ravellry came through (as usual) and  I found a pattern that uses exactly one ball of bouclé.

soft and swift cowlBut…. the starts with a provisional cast on… Fortunately there’s a veritable plethora of short instructional videos available on this topic online. I watched seven, yarn and needles in hand, pausing, replaying, pausing – until my brain overheated. It’s not that the technique is especially tricky, but it is fiddly – and the flying fingers and rapid instructions from the demonstrators, with no slow-down option available, made success problematic and reverse knitting my forte.

Much time, all (!) the videos and several scrapped attempts later, I eventually achieved success. But by then I’d concluded (a number of times) that I was a)definitely hard of understanding on the instructional video front, and b)never going to be an extreme knitter! Nevertheless, my deliciously squishy scarf is almost halfway there – although this does mean I’ll meed to revisit the land of scary how-to videos at some point to remind myself how to do Kitchener stitch to join the ends together… I see more hard of understanding moments ahead this week.