Friday, December 28, 2012

Blossoms in a vegetable garden

Thornless blackberry, like tiny rosebuds
The blackberry a few weeks later, developing drupes

Southland Sno Pea, a heritage pea generous with its sweet crisp pods and pretty as a sweetpea.

A brown onion getting ready to burst into bloom (these were supermarket onions that sprouted, so I planted them in a pot to see what would happen).
Sweet smelling jasmine, one of the few 'proper' flowers round here.

Borlotto bean blossom (with fennel)

Celery going to seed

Chive flowers

The rambling red rose that I was so grateful flowered before anything else, and is now rain battered to death. When the rain finally stops I'll cut it back and see if it comes out for another round this summer.
Nasturtium for my salads

Pretty potato flowers
Mine is not a 'flower garden' but at this time of year it is full of blooms. I wouldn't pick most of them though as they promise fruit and vegetables to come.  Many are small and subtle- I'm letting spinach and other greens go to seed in the hopes they will self seed around the garden and save me some planting work later.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rocket Stove firing up

Rocket stove blasts off
My sun oven stays hanging on the wall on overcast days, of which there are many in a Hamilton summer.  Even on bright hot days my shabby old model is not efficient enough to bake or roast- its more of a slow cooker specialising in leftovers, rice and stewed fruit. For the pleasure of cooking outside and in the interests of minimising my dependence on the electricity grid I've been wondering what kind of outdoor cooker to bring into my new place.  Barbeques are ugly and getting a gas bottle refilled via bicycle would be a challenge.  Pizza ovens too big and inefficient, and besides I want to be able to boil pots not just bake bread.  No, the cutting edge of sustainable low-tech cooking these days is rocket stoves.

Feeding sticks into the rocket stove.
Rocket stoves are apparently easy to make, and I was starting to research designs and gather materials when my friend Chris Fairly brought around his new one for me to try. Chris is a talented potter and and he's just finished making this elegant stove entirely himself, right down to the glaze on the mosaic tiles. I think its by far the most beautiful and streamlined stove of all the examples I've  seen on line (which are mostly ugly industrial or gigantic hippy earth buildings).

The first stages of setting up a summer kitchen on the back porch (the sun oven is hanging on the back wall waiting for the sun to shine again)
This is Chris's first rocket stove, and now he's seen it in action he's planning to refine the design of the next one.  But I'm finding its a pleasure to cook on as well as look at. The stove had its first run cooking steak at my housewarming party in the weekend.  Since then I've been cooking simple meals every day using just a couple of handfuls of twigs.  I'm out of practice with lighting fires and while I am getting my skills back up that's the most difficult part of the operation (and its not that hard!). Once the fire is going you just have to keep feeding twigs and sticks in through the fuel magazine, so its not the kind of cooking you walk away from for long (but really, most cooking requires regular attention anyway).

Cheese toasty with spinach picked while I was cooking on the rocket stove

The fuel is the kind of twiggy wood that is not good for much else. I might have used it for kindling the woodburner, or more likely left it to slowly compost.  It's free fuel that I can collect in my garden or just walking around the neighbourhood.

 The pieces of wood or other material burn at their tips, increasing combustion efficiency, creating a very hot fire, and eliminating smoke. The low-mass stove body and insulated chimney ensure that the heat goes into the cooking pot, not into the stove.  (Solar cookers world network)

Rocket stove fuel (in the background you can see the potatoes I'm growing in sacks)
Now that I've got comfortable with the basics of rocket stove cooking I'm ready to tackle some more complicated dishes. Check back for results over the next while.

The rocket stove heating leftover ginger-garlic rice with freshly picked snow peas (this was before I moved it onto the porch so I can use it in the rain)

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Eating from the garden every day. Is it possible to overdose on leafy greens? Because I've never eaten so many in my life before, I'm sure.
Oh dear, I keep forgetting to blog. And then remembering but not knowing what to say. Or having some idea but not feeling ready to share it here. The growing and changing is not all in the garden right now.  There are lush developments inside and out that are still too new and tender to expose to the harsh environment of the internet. Also I'm really really busy and not often by my computer.

before (a polyculture of carrots, mesculun and red onion;
with dill and beans coming on in the background)
after (a month later, thinning for salads every day)

Growing things (seriously) is still enough of a novelty for me to feel like I am witnessing miracles daily. I am awestruck by seeds germinating.  Every leaf and tendril is a wonder. The humblest blossoms delights me. Fruit forming from flowers is amazing.  Consuming food that I've grown feels like a sacrament.
Pretty pea flowers by the borage
I love sharing my yield with friends and family, nourishing them with the unqualified goodness I have nurtured.   If you come by, you will find a bag of salad pressed upon you, as the race is on to harvest before this unseasonably hot weather makes all the greens bolt.  Soon there will be peas, beans, zucchini and tomatoes to share. But the strawberry harvest is just (almost) enough for me (and the birds and slugs). Only my beloved father gets to also eat one now and then.

One of the daily salads of 15+ different leaves and flowers, all picked a minute ago.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Not faking it anymore

Last week the fragile crown on a front tooth snapped for the third time in three years.  I was eating toast, which had the crusts cut off as usual in order to minimise the risk to that very tooth, but it broke anyway.  It's a familiar feeling by now, the veneer coming loose, and I calmly spat out my mouthful, extracted the detached chunk of fake tooth and carried on with my breakfast.

Every other time this has happened I've essentially panicked- not because it's painful or dangerous but because I'm worried about how other people will react to my gappy smile.  Fearful that I would look ugly and weird and worse, that I could not pass for middle class professional just by putting on nice clothes and makeup.  Losing that option has always felt untenable before, while piecing together contract work, moving from housesit to sharehouse or establishing new friendships in new cities.

This time its different.  I'm secure enough to know that now my livelihood,  my home and my social networks are not at risk because I resemble a caricature of poverty.  Oh, I know its ugly, especially with the steel post and grey amalgam filing exposed on the remaining half tooth.  There are no photos on this blog for good reason.  I'm vain enough to put my hand over my mouth when I laugh, but not vain enough to beg an emergency dental appointment.

The irony is that my dental health has never been better. I just had a A+ checkup a few weeks ago which amazed my dentist who is used to doing multiple filings every time he sees me. I showed him the book I'm following: Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel and he was very impressed with the results. Remineralising my teeth through my diet is so empowering that when this crown broke I was able to understand it as a purely cosmetic prosthetic.  The absence of half an incisor has little or no effect on my chewing (the two molars missing on the other side have a far greater impact and I've left that gap for a decade because its not visible).

Nothing screams 'poverty' like a space in the front of your mouth, and I don't think of myself as that kind of poor. But I have higher priorities this month than to find another $400 for a crown that I have to mollycoddle with crustless toast and which will break off again within a couple years.  I certainly am not going to borrow thousands to remove the existing tooth and get an implant.  I can no longer be bothered with the pretense that I am financially middle class. In my new neighbourhood, which has a 30% unemployment rate, missing teeth are not unusual.

Learning to speak clearly around the gap is an interesting challenge that makes me sympathetic towards toddlers. It's actually quite demanding have to shape tongue and lips in unfamiliar ways while thinking and communicating at the same time.  I spent the weekend with a group at Lake Tarawera and practiced talking lots, mostly inconsequential chit chat.  My good friends graciously did not comment on my changed appearance at all (except once, to say how it enhanced my Billy Idol impression). The people newly met didn't seem repulsed by a woman resembling a grafitti'd photograph and engaged me in some of my most thought provoking conversations of the weekend.

The thing about this broken tooth, now that I'm not freaked out about the social consequences, is that it actually feels pretty good. It is such a relief to eat hard crunchy food without fear, because the worst has already happened.  I quite like the hiss of air across my tongue.  And best of all there's a sneaky sensual pleasure in the way my tongue caresses the silky inside of my lip through the small gap.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A bit of bunting

Bunting is very fashionable in the crafty-internet world and I have succumbed to its charms. These are fairly large flags that I patchworked together from a variety of scraps of fabrics too good to stuff into a pouf.  My second pouf is sewn but only half filled, its yawning mouth greedy for more stuffing but there is a hierarchy to fabric scraps and only those which can't be used more visibly go into the pouf. Also manky old t shirts and anything polar fleece (as I'm trying to do my bit to remove polar fleece from circulation where it sheds plankton sized flecks of plastic into the waterways every time we wash it).

This bunting is making itself useful by helping as a privacy screen. When I had the large pittosporum removed to let some sunlight onto the main vegetable beds, the back deck suddenly was suddenly opened up to the neighbour's main door and hanging out spot. It will take more than one strand of bunting to achieve the level of privacy I'd like from it, and I'm already working on the next set using a different set of attractive scrap fabrics.  

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Antarctica Unpacked

There's a lot of gaps in my new house.  After years of dedicated anti-consumerism, simplicity and travelling I simply don't own enough possessions to fill all the shelves and cupboards now at my disposal.

One thing I do have in sufficiency is art to hang. I have taken My Antarctica out of its storage box and placed it in my small blue bedroom where it does much to lighten the intensity of the dark walls.

Note the almost empty book shelves! I need more stuff
My bedroom also features sections of an installation that I've shown a couple of times called Membranes. (The other half of Membranes is hanging near the dining table, also providing some privacy towards the same neighbouring property.)  It looks a very dark room in these morning photos, but in the afternoon sunlight streams in (not onto the wall with My Antarctica- I don't want it to fade- or melt ;-)).

I like living with Antarctica for the first time since I finished making it about two years ago.  I finally have enough distance to really feel it as a whole object, rather than a series of imperfections in my work.  Despite being such a big strong piece it actually works really well in a bedroom, where the blankets feel right at home.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Planned Pouf

I have planned this pouf for at least three years.   I found the pattern online so long ago that I've lost the link and it no longer comes up in a search, replaced by other, more recently posted, pouf patterns.

Since I moved back to New Zealand I've been saving every snip of thread and scrap of blanket and other materials for the stuffing.  Filling the cavity this afternoon was a trip through nearly four years of stitching projects.  I packed all the scraps in so tight that the overflowing bale in which I'd been collecting scraps is now almost empty.

I spend ages looking for the right cover fabric and eventually found a couple of metres of this sturdy cotton print in an op shop for just a few dollars. Then there was a long wait to find a home big enough to use the pouf, as I didn't want to make it just to put in storage (as happened to so many projects created in my last place).  Finally, after moving to my new spacious home  a few weeks ago, I needed some dedicated time for sewing something so long anticipated.

Finally today was the day it all came together.

I'm not completely sure why I sustained such a long engagement with this pouf.  As a person with almost no furniture of my own, a pouf is affordable (mine was about five bucks) and versatile (it can be a seat/footstool/coffee table/yoga bolster).  I do love to look at poufs in shops, especially those Indian import shops where each cushion is a luscious patchwork of colourful silks.  But more than I coveted the owning of those beautiful imported poufs I wanted the gratification of making it myself. Indeed, so gratifying is this pouf, both in the making and the sitting, that I think I'll start planning another one.

Introducing Shine, my flatmate's dog and my regular daytime companion

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Poems of the Plateaux

I'm sorry that the blog  is being neglected even more than usual. I'm moving right now (well I moved last weekend, but its taking a while to sort myself from one room into a whole house). So no time to blog.

Besides I'm not making any art at the moment, just making home which is itself an art. When things look a bit nicer I promise I'll give you a tour. Right now there's not much to see but piles of boxes and stray bits of furniture sitting forlornly in odd places waiting for their new assignments.

While you are waiting Bibliophila to resume regular posting I highly recommend this collection of poems about Denniston and Stockton Plateaux by the late Leicester Kyle. I have to thank Bronwyn Lloyd for letting me know about this site because the poems really resonated for me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


My Memorial to the 29 miners who died in the Pike River Coal Mine is finished after one hundred-plus hours  of stitching over several months. It was quite a sad piece to be working on and I'm glad its done now.  

I feel for the families whose sadness has no end, who are still waiting and wishing for the bodies of their men to be recovered.

I entered Memorial for an art award but it wasn't selected, so now its packed away waiting for me to figure out another way to share it out into the world.  Because it is an installation that takes up a lot of floorspace I guess its not easy to slip into a gallery programme.  

Despite the sombre subject and its political implications I think Memorial is beautiful to look at, with so many cones repeating, varied by subtle shades of grey and constructed with deliberately irregular stitching.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Denniston Sampler

In the spirit of the crocheted coral reef I made a few years ago, I'm working on a vocabulary of stitches to represent the mosses, lichens and ferns of Denniston Plateuau. The fragile and unique ecosystem, which seems likely to be lost to opencast coal mining soon, is too delicate for yarn. Instead, I'm working with embroidery floss and stitches, and fine crocheted lace. 

I've been playing around with the stitches on a felt rock that I made for the purpose, a deliberately misshapen slab imitating Denniston's flakey sandstone.  Most of my mosses are pretty straight foward knots, French and Bullion as they are perfect for imitating this kind of low velvety moss.

I also played around with a long looped stitch, cut like a shag pile rug for a spikey moss like the one in the centre of this little clump.

This is the little clump that Robin looked at while we were on Denniston in June, and she said, can you make me this? And I said yes but it turned out a bit sparser than the real thing. Partly as I was impatient to finish it for Robin's birthday (and then I missed it anyway) and partly because I've been distracted by the house and garden that I'm moving to in two weeks.

Also, my crocheted lace green ferns looked ridiculous on the felt rock so I'm using them for something else.  And I couldn't resist adding my own favourite bit of Denniston flora, this low white fluffy thing that I am not sure whether its a fern or a moss or a lichen. If you know, please tell me, I hate my ignorance.

Mysterious Denniston species 
My version of the Denniston white fluffy thing looks like this. It's crocheted lace in a stitch I invented (of course someone probably already invented it, but I was following my intuition rather than a pattern so I can't acknowledge anyone else's version).

Denniston lace on the rock
I made short lengths of the crocheted lace, then starched and pinned it to dry stiff, then ruffled it as I was stitching it to the felt rock base to get the clumpy effect of the original. I do think its a pretty lace stretched out and I might find some other use for this easy and attractive pattern which allows it to be seen better.  Perhaps a gift for a soon-to-be-bride that I know.

Denniston lace: starched and stretched.

Friday, August 10, 2012

How to make a flokati-style rug

Sewing  a Woolrest into a flokati-style rug
 I'm moving to a house in a few weeks. That's right, a real house with rooms with doors, a garden, an oven, a laundry, a bathtub and a separate studio.  I won't know myself after 2 1/2 years living and working in one room, making do without an oven or washing machine, turning my bed into a sofa every single morning, playing Rubics Cube with my possessions every time I want to find or make something.

I have such a crush on the idea of my new home that I think about it all the time. Since I found out about it in early June my imaginative, creative energy has been increasingly absorbed with planning the practicalities and pleasures of setting up my life and work in a much larger space. I've tried to be constructive with the imaginative power of the long lag between knowing and moving with various anticipatory projects such as my 'flokati-style' rug.

I want a warm soft rug in the living room on the polished wooden floor and looked into all sorts of options for making rugs, since buying a nice one is out of my reach.  I was considering various kinds of rag rugs to make with my stash of blanket scraps when I came upon an old Woolrest mattress cover in an op shop for $7.  And suddenly I saw a shaggy sheepy rug as the cosy centre piece of my new lounge.

Woolrest before washing

The single woolrest was a bit tired and grubby when I got it, so the first job was to wash it by gently stomping warm soapy water through it in a bathtub and then rinsing thoroughly with more gentle stomping. I drenched a few big towels squeezing the water out.  After being thoroughly air dried, it came up creamy, fluffy and inviting.   I love the fact my rug is New Zealand wool because I really didn't want an acrylic rug.

I trimmed off the elastic (in good condition so saved for future projects) and label.  Then I backed the woolrest with a heavy coarse woven wool blanket that I'd been given but which was too stained to use for art.  I cut the blanket about 5cm bigger around than the woolrest, which was lucky as during the sewing they magically ended up the same size with very little trimming required!

Woolrests are made of wool staples hooked through a loose wool weave so I could sew between the rows relatively easily.  It was slow going though because I had to make sure the long staples didn't get caught up in the machine foot, or sewn flat.  The weight and bulk of the rug meant I couldn't reach the middle of the rug with my sewing machine so I sewed three rows parallel to each edge starting as near the centre as I could get (about 30cm).I sewed two straight stitched lines inset from the edge and finally zigzagged around the perimeter (overlocking would have been even better).    I kept checking to make sure the blanket was flat and smooth, occasionally unpicking where puckers or bubbles crept in. I need the rug to sit flat and not be tripping hazard!

Stitching between the rows of wool staples
The final step was hand stitching wide strips of old yoga mat onto the back around the edges so it won't slip around on the polished wood. I put out a call on Freecycle if anyone had an old yoga mat, and was given a worn, stained mat that was almost ideal (a white mat would have been more perfect but lavender is good enough).  The yoga mat was molded with rows of tiny holes so I sewed through the holes, catching the blanket but not the woolrest.  I used an upholstery needle for a big running stitch and it wasn't as difficult or slow as I expected.

The whole project, including washing the rug and the yoga mat took about 9 hours (compared to 60+ for a rag rug). The cost was $8 including thread (real flokati rugs cost hundreds).  It will be a no-shoes and no-food rug because flokatis don't vacuum well and I don't want to have to beat it clean too often. It looks beautiful spread out in my tiny current home where I like to dig my bare toes into the pile and imagine lounging on it, in front of the wood burner of my future home.  22 sleeps to moving day!

My newly completed snuggly, cosy, soft and warm 'flotaki-style' rug.
 PS This is my first attempt at blogging a tutorial-style post. I am learning lots from generous tutorials on other people's blogs (at the moment mostly gardening, machine-sewing and DIY decorating). I want to contribute back to the amazing pool of shared knowledge. Since I couldn't find any tutorials already online on this topic this is my gift back to the internet craft/DIY community. Please let me know what you think, especially if you try making yourself a rug like this.

Thursday, August 02, 2012


A surprise in my letterbox yesterday: a beautiful little book published by Sanderson Gallery, looking back over its first 10 years.  The biggest, and most delightful surprise of the book, is that my Dispersant installation was the photo they chose to illustrate the section on their Outeredge Project.  The text describes Dispersant as "completely dazzling" which is very nice.

I will be showing work again at Sanderson Gallery this month in their 150x150x150 group show (opening on 7 August). The works are all 150cm2, all priced at $150. A great opportunity to purchase affordable contemporary art.  I used the show as an opportunity to experiment with stitching straight onto stretched canvas.

I blogged earlier about my Yellowcake Uranium piece, for which I couched curls of yellow yarn. I've actually made two of these and sent the second one to Sanderson as it is on the same kind of stretcher as the Asbestos, and I wanted them to be matching.  If you can't get to Sanderson's exhibition or miss out (I hear work sells quick at these shows) I might let you have the other Yellowcake which I actually think is prettier (its the one featured in this blog post)

I also made a piece of Blue Asbestos.  The Asbestos also uses the couching technique but this time with bundles white cotton crochet thread. Yes, I know its not blue, but I used as my model a photo of a kind of asbestos called fibrous tremolite which is in the amphibole blue category of asbestos.