Saturday, 2 December 2017

Indigo reflections

I have been doing a lot of indigo dyeing now the weather has warmed up, and it has been really satisfying to wake up my three vats, warm them up and attend to their individual needs. These vats are all natural vats mostly using henna as the antioxidant, although one of the vats which I have had for a few years now, got a dose of over-ripe bananas last summer after my indigo workshop at Sturt Summer School.
This year I will be teaching Introduction to Natural Dyes and Mordant Printing, and there is only one place left, so if you are interested, go to the Sturt website and enrol!
Two weekends ago I ran an Indigo intensive Workshop from my home, where I am in the process of planning a purpose built studio. I wanted to test out how everything would work running classes from the downstairs space, and I had 8 eager students as my innaugural students.
Unfortunately our hot summery day disappeared and we had rain for most of the day but that didn't dampen our creativity or good humour! I ran through the process of making up an organic indigo henna vat from scratch (which then gave us the luxury of 4 vats to work from) and some beautiful pieces were made as you can see below.
One thing I stress to students is the attention paid to preparing the fabric before dyeing and also after dyeing in indigo. The finishing process is very crucial to ensure that the indigo is fixed inside the fibres and not just sitting on the outside, where it will quickly crock off. After rinsing in cold water several times after oxidation it is important to then place the cotton fabric into very hot soapy water. As Joy Boutrup explained, this serves the dual purpose of getting rid of any excess indigo pigment on the surface of the fabric which has not been trapped inside the fibre, and at the same time swells the indigo molecule that is inside the fibre, ensuring that it is now trapped and cannot escape. In a recent Instagram post Aboubakar Fofana also stresses the importance of correct finishing of the indigo dyed fabric.
I'm off on a short holiday to Singapore and will post something on the textiles while I am there.
Cheers for now!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Mordant printing frenzy!

I really enjoy teaching workshops on natural dyeing because I get such a buzz from inspiring people to look at nature in a different way, to learn more about the plants they use and exploring the many and varied ways to utilise natural colour for our enjoyment. However, when I am teaching I rarely get time to explore new techniques myself.  So it was with great anticipation that my good friend, Sylvia Riley from Sydney, came up to Canberra for a long weekend so that we could have a print-fest at Megalo! Having her there enabled me to print the full width of fabrics on my textile screens - around 140cm wide.
Squeegee passing with my print-pal, Sylvia, at Megalo
Megalo is such a great place to print because it has a full-width 8m table 👏 We both managed to get metres of fabric printed, although we were exhausted at the end of it.  My meterage is to be used for one-off naturally dyed and stitched scarves for the upcoming Open Studio Day.
Different mordants printed onto cotton
The only trouble with mordant printing is that when they dry, they are almost invisible, such as the alum above.  The slightly stained part of the design is a very weak iron and alum mix. All the mordants are printed and aged before dyeing.
Process from print to dyed fabric using a range of mordants.
The first dyebath I put this mordant-printed scarf length into was Acacia catechu, or Cutch. This gave me a lovely range of browns and tans, however I felt the scarf was a little 'dull' so once I washed and ironed it, I over-printed with some alum and another iron mix.
Adding more detail to the scarf with new mordants

Barely visible now but will show up in the next dyeing.

These small prints will add further highlights once I dye in my second dyebath, Rajentot.  I am waiting for this mordant to dry as we speak and will show the finished cloth in a few days time.
By the way, I am teaching an intermediate class on repeat printing at Megalo for the next two Saturdays, more details click here.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Over to the Dark Side....

Wow, I have no idea where July and August went but we are almost into September and I thought I had better do an update on my blog. A couple of weekends ago I ran an Introduction to Natural dyes and Printing with Mordants workshop in Canberra which was well attended, including several participants who have continued to come along to build up their knowledge and skills of natural dyes. It was especially lovely that Pirjo came all the way from Darwin and braved the Canberra winter, lucky it wasn't the weekend just gone because we had both hail and snow here on Sunday.

Making the mordant mixtures for printing
The lovely part about running the workshops is that we have a large kitchen with an open fire blazing away, so we can relax and eat yummy lunches and chat about our natural dye experiences. These conversations always seem to come back to the same gentle admonishments of why I am not on Facebook/Instagram etc etc etc..... order to keep Belinda, Jess and Ellen quiet....I now have an Instagram account : #julierydertextiles. And to be perfectly honest, I am enjoying connecting with other people, although because I am new to Instagram I am still learning Insta-etiquette. As Ellen commented, I have now crossed over to the Dark Side! So I am determined to show them I am not the luddite they think I am! Actually its more about finding the time to upkeep, but please connect with me on Instagram if you can.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Australians "love" their beaches!

Redhead Beach, NSW
I have been up in Newcastle for a couple of days to organise some professional photography of my work in Stitched Up at Timeless Textiles (see previous post). I am staying at Redhead which is about half an hour south of Newcastle itself, about 200 metres from this gorgeous beach. So of course I have been walking along the beachfront everyday, seeing what seaweeds there are to collect, and catching glimpses of whales heading north.  And just to put it into context for those of you in Canberra now....yesterday was about 24 degrees!!

The seaweeds collected from the tideline
It has been my idea of heaven just slowly wandering up the beach, eyes peeled for small pieces of seaweed that have been thrown up by the high tide. Most of what you find on the beach is predominantly Ecklonia sp., so pickings were few and far between along the 5kms I walked.  Luckily I took a plastic bag with me though......

What I found on 'pristine' Redhead Beach
I was shocked to find that rubbish outnumbered seaweeds on the beach, and I was glad for the plastic bag I took along with me to capture it all.  Whilst I was walking along I would estimate there were about 50 other people wandering backwards and forwards with their partners/friends/dogs/ipods.  Not one of them bent down to pick up the obvious rubbish off their beach. So it amazes me that people have the gall to say how much they love living by the beach and what it means to them but they don't bother caring for it.  Here's what's inside the plastic bag.....
A full bag of plastics and rubber picked up from the shore
What you can't see in this photo is the metres and metres of fishing line that littered the shore. Not too far from a man fishing from the beach......I was also shocked that the most prolific plastic item, apart from plastic bags and cigarette wrappers, was Chuppa Chup sticks....I mean seriously over a dozen of them, along with quite a few plastic straws.

Apart from dismay at how nobody else seemed to care about picking up rubbish, it also started me thinking about how items end up on shore and applying this thought to seaweed, shells and other natural objects.  If plastics can be washed up miles from where they enter the sea, and we know they do not originate from the ocean, then do the seaweeds I find on the beach originate from that area, or have they too been in circulation from another beach until they are washed up?  When I collect my seaweed I press it and label it with the date and location, as did Charles Morrison back in the 1800's. These details enable us to see what species were growing at a particular place in time.  Or do they? If you are not dredging the seaweed from a location, then how reliable is it to posit that what you find not the shore comes from that particular beach/body of water?? This and other things to mull over whilst I collect seaweed......and rubbish.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Stitched Up

Stitched Up opens tonight at The Lock Up in Newcastle and unfortunately I can't be there, however I will be going up to see the exhibition in a few weeks time to get some professional photography of my work, "Liberty". In the meantime, Anne Kempton has sent me some images of the work so that I can share it with you.  As mentioned in my previous post,  I think my work will be very confronting for some viewers, and this is probably exacerbated by it's position in the Lock Up venue - the leather padded cell......

Julie Ryder, Liberty, 2017. Photo: Anne Kempton
Yes, it seems a bit grim, but the work is not about deaths in custody, nor even that Mary Jane Wright, the girl I based my work on, hung herself.  In fact, it appears that none of the girls committed suicide  from reading the histories of the 193 girls that Jane Ison has documented here.  So why the noose?

When I was visiting Timeless Textiles for my Chromophilia exhibition there last year, I walked through The Lock Up one morning before it was open to the public in order to get a sense of the place with a view to producing  work for Stitched Up. Prior to this Anne Kempton and Wilma Simmons had organised for Jane Ison to talk to artists involved in the project about her research on the inmates of the Newcastle Industrial School (NIS) and together we walked up to the old site and discussed how it would have been in the late 1800's and how daily life was for these girls. It was a really informative session, and Jane's passion for research and her plea that every girl deserved to be remembered struck a real chord with us. Particularly with Wilma, who made 193 dolls to represent every one of the 193 girls incarcerated in the school.   You can see images of Wilma's work in a newspaper article here.

Anne and Wilma have been passionate about organising this exhibition over the past couple of years and together have helped bring Jane's research to life.  They have also spent time researching the types of materials and clothing that were worn by the girls at the NIS, and also by the people in local community at the end of the 19th century.  They sent out swatches of fabrics and information to all the artists involved so that they could produce work that was authentic as possible.

So....back to the noose. The girl I chose to represent was Mary Jane Wright, and her story can be read online here. When I was alone in the Lock Up I had a very strong sense of the desperation and hopelessness that  must have been experienced by any inmate there. The small, cramped dark rooms with graffiti on the walls seemed to have absorbed the misery and sorrow from bygone days. I don't know what I had been thinking but I had an immediate vision of a noose - not as a device for death, but as a metaphor for 'hanging around, endless waiting to be released, a sense of foreboding and doom, as in "a noose hanging over one's head". And when I had that vision, I almost immediately realised that the noose would have to be made of human hair to symbolise the fact that many of the girls were incarcerated because of their femininity - locked up for their own good because they had no visible means of support or were living from hand to mouth through prostitution. The girls in the NIS often sewed clothing or mended clothes for the local community, and I had the idea of the hair noose ending with a hair-embroidered word, "Liberty", on an antique irish lace handkerchief. 

Detail of 'Liberty' hair embroidery on antique Irish lace handkerchief

Because Mary Jane was arraigned for her own protection, I imagined what she wanted most was freedom – Liberty – from the school, from her mother, and her mother’s devious boyfriend, and from her circumstances in life. Her family’s bad influence seemed like a noose around her neck, dragging her down, ensuring she stayed in limbo between one authority and another. The noose can symbolise intimidation, fear, condemnation and the suspension of time. The green ribbon that binds the plait of the red hair rope/noose is stitched in hair with the initials MJW and on the other side "saoirse" - Irish for freedom or liberty. The irish word is something familiar and personal and therefore attached to her body (hair)  whereas the work she was made to produce – sewing – is in English denoting the cultural and physical relocation Mary Jane underwent from Belfast to Australia.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


The scarf exhibition Wrapped is about to open  at Barometer in Paddington so I just thought I would share a few photos of some of the install to whet your appetite and for those that can't make it tonight.
Click here for more details.A big thankyou to Barb Rogers for organising the exhibition (and everything else...!!)

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Wrapped....and Stitched Up

Two group exhibitions that I am involved in will open this week, one in Sydney and the other in Newcastle.

A selection of my naturally-dyed and degummed scarves in Wrapped
Wrapped is an exhibition of scarves by Vivien Haley, Sylvia Riley, Barbara Rogers, Julie Ryder,
Liz Williamson, Tradition Textiles and Deborah Emmett at Barometer Gallery, 13 Gurner St Paddington.  Opening viewing and drinks are on Wednesday night 21st June 6-8pm.
Gallery hours are Wednesday - Saturday 12-5pm.  The exhibition is open from 21 June to 22 July.

Stitched Up is an exhibition featuring 24 contemporary international and national textile artists on show at The Lock Up from Friday 23 June 2017 until 6 August 2017. It coincides with the 150-year anniversary of The Newcastle Industrial School’s opening; and is resulting from a partnership between The Lock Up and Timeless Textiles galleries.
This exhibition conceptually provides a voice for the 193 girls who attended the Newcastle Industrial School, translated into contemporary fibre art.

A detail of my work in Stitched Up. Photo: David Paterson
Above is a detail of part of my work for Stitched Up. It was hard to choose one girl out of the 193 that historian Jane Ison had researched, but eventually I decided on Mary Jane Wright, an Irish girl born in Belfast in 1853. According to her biography she had red hair and blue eyes, and more about her and the other 192 inmates can be read about here. Some of the stories are shocking to read, reflecting the harsh and often brutal way of life for young girls who fell foul of the law, often punished for crimes they did not commit. I wanted my work to convey the sense of hopelessness Mary Jane must have felt, and so the rest of the work which is not shown in the photo above I hope will act as a metaphor for the stark reality of her plight. I believe my work is to be installed in one of the cell rooms and this should provide the right atmosphere for the piece.  I will be going up to Newcastle to get the work photographed in situ and will then post an image of the entire piece once the show has opened.