Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Simon goes to Oz

OJust arrived home in Bhuj after a whirlwind trip to Australia. What a fab place. I went with my friend and other Bhuj resident madamehall who suggested that I accompany her.  We started off in Sydney at Doyle's for a slap-up seafood dinner.... DEEEELISHHHHUSSSSSSSDS

Then whizzed off to Adelaide to meet her folks Barry Hall, his wife Linda, and Lisa's sister Tania, and check out some potential clients

Lisa and her very talented father the fan Barry Hall. Like father like daughter πŸ‘

Then we whisked off to Kangaroo island to stay off the grid with Lisa's artist friends Pamela & Ian

Then back to Sydney.... 

I was staying at my frien's and his FiancΓ©e's place in Coogee overlooking the ocean .. How blessed am I . I even saw a whale !

Got down to the serious business of meeting new clients, but this is Sydney, and everybody is so informal and friendly
Made new friends: thanks Ross Longmuir at Planet Furniture; Susie Loudon at The  Bay Tree; Chee Soon & Fitzgerald; Terry Kaljo at Medusa Hotel; Anastasia & Tim at Rouse Phillips

Louise Olsen at Dinosaur Designs; Keryn James at Adventuress in Adelaide old Port; and the divine Margaret Fink and Bill. 

Not to forget my fabulous old friend Eden , and his gorgeous talented fianceΓ© Miss Tania Templeton who hosted me royally . 

Had a divine day at the Art Gallery of NSW

Where I discovered an amazing Australian artist I never knew about. Love finding out new things πŸ’œ Margaret Preston.... AMAZING 🌟🌟🌟

And the gob-smacking inspirational native Australian Art

Fab food

Great bars

Wonderful people πŸ‘―

What a wonderful time. Thanks Lisa for asking me to come πŸ’‹πŸ™πŸΎ

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Tales of a colour fiend !
Can be a bit of a headache this one..... Natural Red colour.... whether using  Dyer’s Madder (rubia tinctoria)

 Al / Mengkudu / Tiba / Kombu (morinda citrifolia),

 or the several varieties of Indian madder all coming under the general name of Manjeeth, Manjeestha  (rubia cordifolia / rubia sikkimensis), to name but a few.

Once you’ve sniffed out rumours of where the precious colour is still being made, you have to get there and that’s only the beginning of the fun...planning to travel to somewhere new, the thrill of what adventures the journey will offer-up , is there anybody in the rumoured place still actually dyeing ?   Will they let you in on their secrets and share a precious recepie ? Will they actually talk to you at all, & if they do - more to the point - will you understand them or be able to communicate at all ? Is it the right season to be able to find the dyestuffs used ? Do the people that do the dyeing have the materials to hand when you are there to demonstrate ?

Do they have enough of the ingredients so that you can buy some to take with you ? Can you take photos ?  
On & on it goes....a quest for something that will hopefully give a certain extra something 
With all this in mind when I was in India recently I heard that the laws restricting foreigners from visiting Naga Land - a state in the North East of India - had been lifted . As things go, I luckily met in Kolkata a wonderful woman from Naga Land called Bano who kindly offered to help me out by putting me in contact and organising hook-ups with people who might know about natural red dyeing still being done there.
I had 3 days to go there... a speedy reccy, as I had to be back in Bhuj. I was VERY excited..  NAGA LAND...I had wanted to go there for years with the tales of head-hunters, indigenous culture, great jewellery, wood carving & traditional blankets.

traditional Naga blanket

A new friend of mine and prolific professional writer, Madame J, agreed to come along with me for the ride & so we found ourselves meeting up in the waiting-room at Guwahati Train Station in Assam at 11.30pm at night.

We poured ourselves into the jam-packed train to find  our berths in the second-class sleeper-carriage. We then peeled ourselves from the train the next morning & after an auto-rickshaw and a rather bumpy 5 hour maruti taxi ride softened by several shots of whisky, we arrived in Mon in Naga Land in the afternoon.

There are no guesthouses in is a relatively new town created after independence to serve as the administration capital for the area, but thanks to Bano we were able to stay in the local magistrates house.
We got a car , aided by the Headmaster of the local school and off we went with an ex student of his as a guide to one of the local Naga Villages where I heard there was a red-dyeing technique. We arrived just before dark, in time to be shown the plant that is used for dyeing red. 
Unfortunately they are no longer dyeing in the village, so after meeting the Chief of the village & his merry brother, declining to see the human skulls or buy trinkets, we beat a hasty retreat as it was now dark.

naga manjeet

On the way back to Mon in the car , we started to accelerate wildly, and Madame J and I looked ahead to see that we were chasing a red-haired animal.....oh cool I thought..they are trying to catch up with it so we can take a photo. WRONG !!!! The ex-student turned to me and said “ Fox.. Fried, roasted , very very tasty ", and both he and the driver burst into peals of laughter. Luckily for the fox it managed to dart into the hedge and escape its fate as a road-kill dinner.  
After a less exotic dinner than fox...vegetables and rice for me, Chicken for Madam J, we found ourselves round the open  hearth in the kitchen for an after dinner chat with our hosts and their household.

Next day we went off to the village where our hosts were born, right on the border with Myanmar, this was a traditional village without many of the trappings of tourism. 
No natural dyed cloth in sight, but some fantastic body adornments and a monkey-skull bag.

The village houses were amazing, together with some of the hand-carved massive doors and drums. People were so friendly here.

We raced back to Mon to pack, say goodbye to our hosts & sign in with the local constabulary, who were I must say some of the  handsomest, most helpful, friendliest & cheery  agents of the law that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. 

Then it was onto the local bus for what turned out to be a 14 hour bone shaking journey back through Bhojo (time for a quick snifter or two) and on to Dimapur where Bano had most kindly arranged for us to stay in her family home. We arrived early in the morning, were served a delicious breakfast , then went off to Khonoma with a relative where I was told there was still some red dyeing going on.


Khonoma is extremely beautiful, in a valley ripe with flowers and vegetation.

Siesalie Khate

We were introduced to Bano’s cousin: Siesalie Khate from the Angami Naga  tribe who still makes the spears - riingu, shields - pejii,  breast-plates - terhiihu,  large earrings -sani, small earrings - tenhnie, necklaces & cane leg bangles - pisos,  used for ceremonial wear.  

spear - ringu

small earrings - tenhnie
   Dyeing plays an integral part in the making of ceremonial wear accessories. 
Goat hair - tenii mia is used to decorate the spear shafts & make the earrings                                                                                                                          

Three colours are used : yellow, black, & red. All from natural dyes.
The yellow is obtained from leaves known locally as maguii 

goat hair dyed with maguii leaves

The dark brown/ black is obtained from a mixture of berries known locally as tsomhu & either the bark or the skin of the fruit of the walnut tree : khfii   & paddy-field mud

The red is obtained from a special strain of Indian madder/ manjeet called Naga madder( rubia sikkimensis )known locally as tsinhii which Siesalie has to go up high into the hills to gather.

rubia sikkimensis

We were then treated to a most delicious lunch by Bano’s uncle  Khrieni Meru and his wife at their house in Khonoma. After which we raced back to Dimapur. 

Khrieni Meru

So no red for textiles, but  very happy to have found some Nagamese madder & be told the recepies for traditional dyeing techniques on goat-hair & to have met such great people. Thanks Bano.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Handspun Yarns. Natural fibres.

It’s a pallava. A whole lot of effort & then more some.
I often ask myself why am I doing this ? I must be daft.
Yes. It is so much easier to buy machine-spun yarn imported from China, use chemical dyes and machine looms. Faster. Easier. Definitely cheaper to make. Certainly cheaper to buy.
But to my mind it’s just like eating processed cheese & bread. Bland and tasteless. Some people like that taste. I prefer something that’s full of flavour, texture, and interesting. Made with fresh & natural ingredients that are delicious and good for you.

Finding all the different components is an adventure as I see it, and as important as the finished product itself People.Yarns. Dyes. Weaving. Determination, focus & luck in equal measures. Travelling to places off the beaten track, meeting craftspeople.

Silk cocoons

This all takes a bit longer for sure, but I get to meet artisans who make yarns from natural fibres. They show you what they can do, you look, sometimes give it a go, sometimes staying a day or two, you ask if there is anybody else, they give you a telephone number and off you go again. It a quest for the perfect ingredients.

Yarn is the basic building block in weaving any fabric. It determines the weight, feel & texture of any cloth.Working with small cottage-based artisans in Indonesia  who hand-spin  silk, cotton, ramie(rosella) & abaca( banana fibre) means I  get to make things that feel and look different & support local home-grown industries by buying their yarns at what is a fair price.

This is an ongoing process. By steadily developing new cloth & textiles you not only get to create something hopefully gorgeous that feels and looks different, but the opportunity  to develop a continuing sustatinabale & mutually beneficial working relationship with the families that produce the yarns.

Pak Mukardani

Pak Mukardani lives in  Central Java near Prambanan just outside Jogya. After the volcanic eruption of Merapi last year his whole farm was practically wiped out by the ash which killed all the mulberry bushes & decimated all the Ramie & banana plants. He has a variety of silk yarns such as mulberry silk produced from the Bombix Morixs silk-worm eating Mulberry leaves, sutra mas  - a silk produced by the Keket silk-worm that eats avocado leaves, atakas silk produced by the Jedung silk-worm that eats mahogany leaves. 

Variety of yarns

He also produces Ramie yarn. Ramie(latin name) is the same plant as Roselle whose flower buds make a delicious tea.  Ramie is a bit like flax in that the fibres come from the long  stalks( a long staple yarn) which make them easier to twist into yarn and stronger, unlike cotton( a short staple yarn) which comes in small fluffy balls that need to be twisted more intensely & is easier to break. What I love about the Ramie yarn is it’s strength & versatility. 

Ramie fibres
Another fibre produce at his workshop is abaka- a fibre made from splitting the heart of the trunk of banana trees lengthways into very fine fibres. Each fibre is very strong and long(up to about 5 feet). I have yet to test how well it dyes or weaves, but will keep you posted.

Before the eruption he was employing around 20 women to spin all the different types of yarns, but know there are only about 4 young women spinning.

Spinning yarn, Prambanan

I love the fact that textiles, methods & ideas have been traded across the seas for millenia. It gives a sense of continuity and endless flow to what is now produced. Designs and techniques germinated in one place , take root and thrive in another. Sumba is a prime example of this where their ikats have a very strong and recognisible Indian lineage.

When I was in Sumba recently, I took some Ramie from Pak Mukardani to test out the colours and see how suitable it would be to be used for Ikat. It took to indigo dye perfectly, and the red was also very beautiful. The weavers & dyers I was staying with were very impressed by this new fibre. I look forward to making ikats with it there soon, and being part of the ebb & flow of textile cross-fertilisation. 

When on Sumba I also  luckily managed to get hold of 2 kilos of locally grown hand-spun cotton yarn. Due to the extremely wet rainy season last year there is a shortage of hand-spun cotton available. Especially cotton yarn that is strong enough to be used for a warp. The lady of the house I was staying in showed me her couple of woven boxes in which were carefully placed carded local cotton, waiting to be spun into yarn at a later date.

Hand spinning cotton yarn, Sumba

Ginning cotton, Sumba 
I get some cotton from near Tuban in North east Java. It comes from a village called Kerek. Kerek is known for it’s traditionally hand-spun cotton yarns woven on a backstrap loom called a gedog. My friend from Kerek who lives in Bali- Nofel put me in touch with a friend of his in Tuban, Zaenal Abidin who is one of several people in Kerek who still produces the handspun cotton yarn.  I comes in 2 varieties : natural off-white, and choklat - a delcious light nutty brown. I was quick to snap up some raw cotton  and some yarns to experiment with.

Tenun Imam is a wonderful workshop in Denpasar on Bali, run by a couple of the most helpful and nice people I have met Pak Wim Alfian and his father. They are specialists in silk, and weave pure mulberry silk stoles for me, which I then print. 

Mulberry silk printed scarf

Silk cocoons, Tenun Iman

I also love their waste-silk tussar yarn which I dye and handspin into balls ready for weaving on my antar - spinning wheel.

Yarns, dyed and spun

No disco dolly nights for me anymore....I spend most of my evenings twisting the soft lustrous silk into yarn after it has been dyed. Oh the glamour of it all !