Tuesday, 28 March 2017

learning life lessons

it was a splendid road trip
pootling across Australia with Kubbi the One-Eyed Wonder Dog
nine hours on the road (punctuated by frequent stops to
wander in the bush and gaze at flora)
is a lot of thinking time.

there and back again is twice that.

I always learn something new from teaching workshops
what became crystal clear to me during the three days at Beautiful Silks Botanical Studio
is that the work I do
is also my own big life lesson.

that the act of teaching is my personal journey to be the best person (in this life) that I can be.
it isn't all roses, and it's hard sometimes to resist being catty about the way that the "ecoprint", a term I optimistically coined in 1999, has been hijacked to be anything but "eco-friendly" or sustainable.
because when I hear of the mountains of plastic and the bucket-loads of adjunct mordants being used out there I do become quite despondent.

but then I read this

"Thank you, for another brilliant, creative soul feeding workshop, that brought a group of strangers together but leaving as friends"

and it warms my heart because it reminds me of what is really important.

it isn't the brightness of the colour (though we certainly had that) or the volumes of product ... it's the connections we make when we gather together around a cauldron.

in this instance, a "second skin" class, it was also about the empowerment that comes with the simple skills of making.

I'd probably have made truckloads of loot over the years if I had just kept the botanical contact print process a secret and churned out yardage or silk pyjamas and a squillion printed wool scarves, but for me the greater satisfaction comes with seeing the happy smiles that bloom when dresses grow using simple running stitch, lovely threads and beautiful cloth. (all all we need, really, is 'enough')

in "second skin" we make string, measure with it, make a few marks with graphite and then boldly cut and sew.
no clatter of machines, just the quiet ebb and flow of conversation, and sometimes simply gentle silence.

and magic happens.

in this last class people shared so many life skills beyond just sewing and dyeing.
friendships were forged, wisdoms exchanged.

and that makes my life worth living. with bells on.

and then (fresh from the cauldron)
I was given the most magnificent present hand-stitched
with so much love, and dyed in my favourite colours.
 thank you, Robyn.
it's going to wander with me.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

reira he makutu i roto i tenei wahi

I cheated.
I used google translate in the hope that it would find the correct Māori words for
"there is magic in this place"
(although I will confess that when I pasted the answer back in, and asked her to detect the language,
Granny Google came up with 🌸 Hawaiian)

forgive me. 

there IS magic in this place

...the place being the wonderful garden in the lovely Lud Valley that Judy and Michael Keylock have been opening (along with their hearts) for over seven years now, to let me play with leaves and words, paper and cloth while Chloe cooks up the most delicious food. 

we eat the food that has been grown in the garden while making colour from leaves that drift underfoot. 

there is a particularly special plant, Griselinia littoralis, that doesn't get a mention in any of the traditional New Zealand dye books...but contains a rather fabulous colour (first discovered thanks to my friend Rachelle, who bundled leaves from it during a class I taught in the Whitireia Summer School at Kapiti in 2009).  cooked in water it turns the colour of tea...but bundled it delivers the sweetest pink.

only two species occur in Aotearoa, with a further five in South America. 

sometimes they are epiphytes and live on a friend.  rumour has it they arrived with the Māori (apparently a decoction of the bark could be of use against venereal disease. hmm.)

at the end of each day I went to my favourite place (in the whirled) for a swim. there's something about diving into cold water and bursting up into air again that makes me feel like a new woman. 
and that experience is not only fabulous, but free!

wandering in the Suter Gallery on my way to the airport, I encountered a painting of Huria Matenga who looks astonishingly like my maternal grandmother

even flying in and out is a wonderful experience, as the land and the sea unfold below

though it's so very hard to leave.

which is why there four of us made sure to find a time that suited us all for a return, which looks like being in the third week of April next year (when we can once again have an open fire)

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

group theory

we are on beautiful Maui
a sacred island where time slows down and turtles wander up the beach
where the days seem to drift gently but the week
has rushed by

we have written poetry
made drawings, stitched, dyed
made things new to us that appear to have taken up some ancient island essence
gathered shells and made string

there are thirteen of us + me
which makes fourteen (+ our fearless leader, Sharon)
so fifteen in total

nine are recidivists, four are new to me
there are three sets of friends (in two of them, one of each has met me before)
and a mother and daughter (there were nearly two family groups, but my Ma didn't make it)
there are five Australians, ten Americans
two dual nationals (one American Australian, one Latvian Australian), and two Australians who emigrated to America
among the returners, three came to New Mexico , one to Whidbey Island
one to Inverness, one to Santa Barbara, one to Odessa and two to a class in Australia

my mathematical genius (and conscientious objector) grandfather would have had great joy in devising a Venn diagram.

I began to try and draw one, but it turned into a paeonie.

the marvellous thing is that this group melded remarkably quickly into sisterhood.
the talk is easy, the laughter flows close to the surface :: I feel deeply blessed that the work I do brings me together with people whom I hope I see again

I am also hoping to return to Maui, but who knows where or how the winds will blow, the way our precious whirled is going...

Tuesday, 27 December 2016


this year I was invited to participate in an exhibition being held for the Latvian Cultural Festival that has been held around Australia between Christmas and New Year since 1951 

the exhibition title "past present future" prompted me to create this autobiographical piece.

loosely based on traditional Latvian costume it includes an apron, a striped wool skirt, a wool blanket, a found antique linen blouse and rather a lot of bones. 
the stitched text translates poetically as "I'm walking and wondering why I leave no footprints"  and is borrowed from a poem by Janis Elsbergs 
(the literal translation is somewhat more specific)

dyed with eucalyptus, local colour infusing into something from elsewhere, from the ground up. 
the apron was reconstructed from a linen shirt and other items sourced during a trip to Latvia in August this year. 
thank you Lufthansa for the nice cotton napkin you left in my lap, which somehow became attached as well and which serendipitously made sense, as my background is Latvian and German.

the pockets full of whitewashed bones represent the cell memories we each carry within us and which I am convinced are handed down from one generation to the next.

I was born in the late 50s, and raised as a "European in exile", a child of two displaced persons from two different cultures.  

but the Australian landscape got under my skin.

I installed the work yesterday.

it was the last piece to go in, the rest of the exhibition had already been  hung.

frankly my work looks rather 'out of place' compared to the rest...everything else is precisely formed/woven/wrought/cut/stitched/shaped...I think it sticks out like the proverbial bull terrier's testicles.
I guess that's the truth as well.
and if it isn't true, it isn't worth doing.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016


it's nearly 9 years (next March) since Eco Colour (a book i wanted to call 'botanical alchemy' but was told the title wouldn't sell) hit the bookstores. in that time what i initially referred to as 'ecoprint' has spread far and wide. thousands of people are making a living by printing with plants.

hilariously, though i was the first to publish the technique* i usually see myself referred to as an "also ran" in various media. a recent book about natural processes in textile art listed me merely as a "practitioner" of the technique (though instructions for ecoprinting are scattered generously throughout its pages).

i've seen colleagues absorb my work into their teaching practices, and observed "fashion labels" created after people have taken classes....sometimes only a one day class.

and there are so many people out there teaching "ecoprinting" (though much of it is not ecologically sustainable at all, as toxic adjuncts are increasingly employed) that i no longer offer basic "how to" classes. it would be like having to play "twinkle, twinkle, little star" over and over again.

not much fun for me, and ergo less for my students.

which is how 'being (t)here' took root and has grown into a retreat class that embraces being fully present and at the same time exploring the poetics of place.
it gives me such joy to be able to offer something more than just a class about printing with leaves.

for me, 'being (t)here' is a way of experiencing the whirled that helps open the cracks that let the light get in (thank you Leonard, for that phrase) no matter where you are. it offers a pathway to beauty that can be rolled out whether you're in a verdant forest, a shimmering desert, an urban wasteland or your own private paradise.

we observe and see, write and draw, print and dye. we fold paper into books...  the island book fold and its bigger cousin the river book, making a journals from single sheets of paper :: without having to thread a needle.

together we make discoveries, in ourselves AND in the dyepot. the other lovely thing that's been happening is that many of the students keep in touch with each other after the workshops. sometimes they make a facebook group, sometimes a blog. others just wrestle with an email list. but they maintain the connections and forge deep bonds. it's wonderful.

i've been teaching less through institutions (though i remain loyal to a select few), and more in beautiful and sometimes unusual places. the Yellow Ferry is one of these. there is something deeply magical about being on a boat, which is why i will be back there in February 2017.
i've reduced the class numbers and though the feedback from many people is that they consider the fee too high, the investment for the class is actually the same as for the first one, it's just that i have sourced a richer collection of materials for each person to work with, with treasures such as a limited edition silkymerino dress to take home.
 as a business proposition it is laughable because the expenses won't balance against the income...but to me it is absolutely worth it for the experience we will all have.

because it is the journey that matters, in the end.

and i am loving the ride.

*you'll see references to "nature printing" that are earlier, but that is a technique where the plant is dipped in paint or dye and pressed against a substrate of some kind

Friday, 11 November 2016

look deep into the heart of a flower

photo by Christi Carter

if you bother to follow this blog then i probably don't need to spell out my thoughts on politics...suffice it to say that given my family history
and the stories i have been told by both sets of grandparents
each of whom chose exile over compromise
the results of the American election
coincidentally announced in Australia on the anniversary of Kristallnacht
fill me with foreboding.

what can i do about this? not a great deal
continue to live life to the best of my ability
continue to be care-full for my fellow humans
continue to hold true to the path that has been given me

now, i am surer than ever
that bending my work to the poetics of place
paying attention to being present, in 'being (t)here' as a way of life
rather than simply teaching "how to print leaves onto things"
is the way i must go.

yes, it means continuing to fly about in planes (windsurfing takes too long and my journals get wet) but that also means planting more trees at home to mitigate my share in the emissions
and because so many of you have kindly told me, both to my face, in emails, and increasingly in beautiful hand-written letters
that giving yourself the gift of time
(in a place that is not necessarily home)
to explore the small wonders of the whirled
through dyeing, drawing and writing
has made life better and richer for you,
i plan to continue doing this work.

because it gives me hope, too.

this past month i wandered to the remote western isles of Scotland
found deep magic there
took time to re-examine aspects of what i offer in 'being (t)here'
sat on the wild hillside and sang aloud
walked barefoot in the cold waters and refreshed my soul
brewed dye samples from gatherings around me

and thought about the return to my beloved Bay in February.
decided to make it smaller, more intimate
and to give the participants and even more beautiful collection
of things to work with, to experience and to take away with them

there will only be spaces for seven people this time
working with me, being fed by our chef (my daughter) Violette, and being guided in Yoga and breathing by my friend Shelley Boles

three places are already reserved.

please contact me here if you'd like more information

i'm also returning to New Mexico in 2017....in the spring and in the fall

and now, if you've made it to the bottom of the page, give yourself a beautiful moment. take a deep breath. look deep into the heart of a flower.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016


as those of you who have spent time in a class with me in recent years will know, I have a daily practice I call "mindpond". 

one of you even went so far as to suggest I write a book about it. I duly drafted a manuscript while on the train from El Paso to New Orleans earlier this year. 

but yesterday, flying down from Vancouver to San Francisco 

I decided against that. No point in pulping trees when I can publish it here. 

The practice is simple, and has its roots in a workshop I took in 2009, learning to throw porcelain on a wheel. it struck me that the process of coning and centering clay offered possibilities for someone (like me) whose brain often scampers off somewhere else when it should be concentrating on things that are closer. 

Here goes. 

Stand with your feet nicely apart (tadasana :: mountain pose - as I understand it, is good). 

Breathing in, raise your arms slowly in a wide arc until your hands meet above your head. Stretch your 'wings' as far as they can comfortably go. 

Lower your arms (still in an arc) while breathing out. 

Roll out your shoulders, let your arms go soft and your hands heavy, let them sink towards Mother Earth. 

Imagine a beautiful pond in your mind. Give it whatever surroundings you like. Take a lovely pebble and toss it in. Watch the splash, and watch the ripples spread. 

After a while, imagine the ripples coming in to the centre again. 

Take your time. 

Watch as the water in your pond becomes still and calm. 

Take a few good deep breaths, open your eyes again (I find mine tend to close during the practice) and step into the day. 

I begin and end each day with this practice, whether alone or in the company of a class. 

I offer it to you. 

Monday, 19 September 2016

blue seas blue skies blue daze

from Mukilteo i took the ferry to Whidbey Island
and discovered
to my great delight
that our studio space was positioned in a most romantic place
Camp Casey
on the coast, by the Salish Sea
with a forest behind
and remarkable fortifications to explore
the buildings were spare and beautiful, white walls, wooden floors
and with a room above the studio that we could use for installations, poetry readings, the occasional dance...and a good space in which to practice my lovely Native American flute

the beach proved a marvellous studio space as well
and falling leaves from the forest behind coloured cloth as well as paper

and such beautiful stones

from Whidbey I came to Vancouver, which seems to be a city of stone stackers

at Maiwa East we worked on our aprons, wrote poetry, received the blessing of blue

and made string
some of the string found itself transformed
and all of it became blue in the course of time
eucalypts, as ever, seem to be incurably fascinating, and a student was very happy with her work (below)
especially when combined with local colour
in our class at Maiwa we had a songbird
here's one of the songs she sang for us (or rather, to the indigo vats)
unaccompanied and with the voice of an angel
and may i say
her version eclipsed the original, and the Sarah Mc Lachlan cover

i'll be on my way home soon
dreaming blue dreams way up in the sky

Sunday, 4 September 2016

september one, lived twice

the journey begins oddly
filled with portents and signs
all too curious to mention
and best not taken seriously
(but they'll be in my novel)
even the man whose eyes tear up
because i remind him of his mother 
which i think may just have been
the effect of too much inflight firewater
otherwise it makes me old
and possibly also dead

after thirteen or so hours aloft
we reach the California coast
blanketed in fog except for
one significant hill above Pescadero
the sight of which always kicks my heart into gear
leaving SFO the taxi driver asks me if i have had any
terrifying experiences in the air
nothing too awful i say
which is his cue to launch into a litany
of gut-wrenching near disasters   

negotiating my release i 
take my encumbrances to the welcome center
where for a financial consideration they 
relieve me of my physical burdens for the day
outside the pavements swell and
roll under my feet - fortunately it is
not the earth, quaking, but my body
set to vibrate mode by the hours of fettered 
rumbling, strapped to a seat
in the flying sardine can

i have things to collect today
some materials for class
a large bag of unruly thoughts 
a ring, and some made-to-measure workboots.
the latter have turned out rather too small
or maybe it is just me, too big for my boots
which could be another sign.
maybe next time cos
good things take time
further up the same street at Macchiarini's
the doorbell won't ring, no pun intended 
but the ring i have come to receive
is truly beautiful with a moonstone
like a drop of Bay water balancing on
a beaten band that looks as though it has been 
pulled from the rubble of a burning building
and so is exactly what i had hoped for.

i do the usual round of favourite places
get my coffee at Trieste, sit awhile on Russian Hill
wander to the park above Fort Mason
snack on cheese under the gum trees there
then walk back to collect my luggage
and drag it across town, giggling inwardly at
the comments that passers-by feel entitled to articulate,
of which the loudest and most critical, oddly enough,
are made by those who share my first language.
they have no idea they are so generously
giving me laughter therapy
and i resist the temptation to say
"schönen Tag, noch!" 

train stations are no longer the romantic places
depicted in Brief Encounter
or in films about Anna Karenina
the temporary transBay terminal is a holding room
for souls desperate to be elsewhere and
the station at Emeryville even more so
where the vending machines make wild promises
but will only sullenly disgorge diet pepsi
filthy stuff that is strictly for cleaning copper
though, once used for that purpose, has impressive 
mordant qualities
i find a tourist map and mark my day on it in thick black pencil

eventually the train pulls in and we fall aboard
i tip myself gratefully into my tiny sleeping closet 
and give myself up to Morpheus for what seems like days
though only a few hours later i awake as we are 
passing through mist-covered desert spiked with piñon and juniper
and wonder if i'm in the right state
then water on which sunlight flashes and blinks
perhaps the merpeople have forgotten to turn their twinkle lights off
somewhere else a broken umbrella hangs batlike
from a bush on the side of a cutting
in Portland i look up and down river as we cross the Willamette
looking for the iron bridge...then realise we are on it

except for the garbled announcements over the tannoy
(there is a special training centre for railway announcers,
run by somebody who teaches them how to 
make announcements in a Turkish accent. 
the same school also supplies the people for 
the Flinders Street Station in Melbourne, Australia)
the Seattle train station is like stepping through 
a time machine into another era
or like stepping deep inside an angel-food cake 
for a white wedding with all the trimmings

i choose the easy way out
and though a braver woman might have 
tackled further public transport
rain is imminent and so i take a taxi.
the driver is old-fashioned and reassures himself 
as to our destination by the simple means of leafing 
through an actual street directory, though i have explained that 
i am heading for a helltell overlooking the ferry dock just
across from Whidbey Island. kindly (and perhaps unusually)
he only switches on the meter after he has closed his book

72 hours give or take a quarter after leaving home 
i enter a room that is not moving and discover to my delight 
that not only does it overlook water, but the doors can actually
be opened wide to the whirled outside
i drift off to the crash of waves and wake at dawn to flat calm
in the distance a ferry hovers in a silver cloud
seabirds stitch their songs across the place where the sealine might be
if it were clear
it's only September 3 but i feel as though i have lived a week 
since the month began
had September 1 twice
and will lose the equinox to the international dateline
but that
will be another story

because now i am here
re-reading a marvellous book i bought at Shakerag in 2010
and soon i shall be 'being (t)here'
but on Whidbey Island, and with slightly longer hair


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