Sunday, October 05, 2014

Yarn Bombing the Environment Centre

Caitlin, quietly absorbed in yarn bombing
The Waikato Environment Centre recently located from a cramped, dark, upstairs office in the centre of town to a spacious, light-filled storefront plus warehouse in a busy shopping area near my house. To celebrate their new home they held an open day on Saturday.

I'd already visited a couple of times and noticed the big windows criss-crossed with ugly security bars. I'd also been thinking, since my epiphany at the People's Climate March, that I wanted to put some positive energy into this wonderful new resource in my neighbourhood.  I woke up Friday morning with the inspiration to yarn bomb the window bars, and turn a defensive, unwelcoming blemish (to my eye) into a fun, warm, quirky and welcoming feature.

 I turned up with a basket of brightly coloured yarn from my stash and offered my yarn bombing services, which were accepted.  Choosing the simplest (but slow) method of covering things with yarn, I was wrapping yarn in the corner by the worm farm display.  This was unfortunate, as people kept asking me questions about worm farming and my experience is dismal, having neglected my worm farm once I got chickens, until the worms disappeared.  Luckily the Environment Centre worms were vindicated when my friend Alice gave a well attended talk about worm farming at midday.

In turn, I asked everyone if they wanted to have a go at yarn bombing, but most of the adults declined. Eventually a little girl called Caitlin agreed to help and stuck with me for over an hour, completing a whole section by herself. She was patient and meticulous and persisted til the end. I was really impressed- not many adults I know have that kind of focus.  She also developed a nifty knotted variation on my simple wrap. We discussed the difficulties of sewing clothes to fit toys, how Skype baffles dogs and cats, Taiwanese pop singers and loom bands (I had no prior knowledge of the latter two topics).

Later, after Caitlin went home with her grandmother, I was joined by Brenda, who persuaded her grandchildren to join in, so there were four people working at once.   Meanwhile, I went and checked out all the other Open Day activities: live music, a talk about chicken keeping, sausage sizzle, the overloaded swap table*, badge making, seed planting and DIY cleaning and cosmetic products...  When I returned Brenda's family had made great progress with the yarn.

Brenda and her mokopuna yarn bombing
Altogether we covered about 20% of the window bars, so there will be more yarn bombing to do at future events.  We'll need more yarn, and I'd love more helpers, but it feels like a great start to a fun project. And, although it doesn't photograph well from the outside with all the reflections, the yarn bombed windows are eye catching, even speeding along the busy road. Look out for them if you are going through Five Cross Roads.

* I swapped in a bag of cabbage tree fire starters and came home with multiplying leeks, a rose geranium, comfrey roots and three lemons.

Monday, September 22, 2014

My beautiful banner

My appliqued banner is the lead photo in the Element magazine article about the Auckland People's Climate March on Sunday!

Photo: Liz Rawlings

I'm so glad I went on the Auckland march. Just as I thought it would, doing something positive and collective on Sunday has helped me to get over the disappointment and frustration of the Saturday night's  election result. The speakers afterwards each, in their own way, really helped to ground me, inspire me, give me hope, help me understand the election result in a constructive way and otherwise set me on a much happier path. 

 I'm not going to let a third term National government make me passively despair. I feel like the election result is an incentive to be more active in building a resilient community around me, and to be much more visible in opposition to climate-change-inducing activities. 

Today I feel hopeful and uplifted, even though I got a nasty cold from spending hours outside in shitty weather.  I've realised that making beautiful, unique, attention-grabbing banners is something that I can contribute to the climate change movement without any ambivalence (unlike my feelings about participating in almost every other form of activism), and I've started making another banner in anticipation of whatever march/protest will be next.  

My banners are all made of out of upcycled fabric from old clothes or remnants.  The parrot and floral embroideries on the Planet B banner were lifted from unwanted children's clothing.   My banner in-progress is a luxurious combination of velvet and silk applique which I think will really stand out in any gathering.  

Long time blog followers may recognise the appliqued letters made from the lower case Gil sans stencils I've used for appliqueing gauzy curtain projects in the past.  My sewing on these banners is machined and a lot rougher than my meticulous hand stitched art for galleries.  These are designed for long distance viewing and outdoor adventures.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Pretty Panniers

The moment I spotted this book in the library I knew I wanted to make these pannier bags. On my daily bicycle commute, on shopping trips, social visits, sessions of letterpress printing my pannier bags are stuffed full with changes of clothing, food, water, library books, groceries, gifts, anything that will fit all go in my panniers.  I've worn through two sets of pannier bags in five years and developed strong ideas about what would constitute my ideal form.  I have yet to see anything on sale that I consider good enough to spend what new panniers cost- and  my second hand pannier purchases have inevitably been disappointing compromises.

Pannier bags must be capacious and water proof. They should be stable i.e. not get caught in the spokes, bang into your legs or slide around unbalancing the bike. And I want bags that are both high visibility and pretty. I don't need them to be easy to remove from the bike, in fact for security reasons, I appreciate the opposite. I challenge you to show me panniers on the market that meet every one of these criteria.

I would never have dared to try making my own panniers without finding Lisa Lam's book with her detailed and well-illustrated instructions.  I might not have dared to tackle Lisa Lam's pannier pattern without roping in Anna, to make it a collaborative project. Lets spend your school holidays making ourselves pannier bags! I said.  It will be a good challenge, I said, we'll learn lots. And amazingly, Anna said yes.


 Poor Anna, I led us down a dark ally way of quite the most difficult project either of us have ever sewn, and we are both fairly experienced home sewists.  It was definitely a good call to do it together because I would have given up in despair at several points but Anna kept me going, and I believe, visa versa.  However, I would not recommend you try this particular pattern with out an industrial sewing machine: there was simply too much bulk for our domestic machines to handle. 

Capacious insides lined with beautiful brassicas.
We did alter the pattern somewhat: our bags are wider and longer, with a front end angled to avoid hitting pedalling feet and pocket flaps with a fitted velcroed lip, etc. Some of our changes made the sewing harder (extra reinforcing), and some of it made it easier (no buckles).  But the hardest bits to sew on our machines were straight out of Lisa Lam's pattern. One of the best things we did do was first to practice making a mockup from curtain offcuts to come to grips with the pattern's challenges and to test our alterations. 

My flaps are a little big and don't fit the pockets perfectly.  Don't look to closely at the seams please!
 We didn't save any money making our own panniers once you count in buying gorgeous laminated cotton from the USA via Etsy, lots of haberdashery*, a walking foot for my sewing machine and the cost of sewing machine repairs. Interested bystanders who casually remark 'you could make these to sell' invoke hysterical laughter as a response. I think it's meant as a nice, naive compliment.  But, the frustration and anguish of extending far far past our comfort levels as sewists; the moments of accomplishment not only at the end but intermittently when finishing some tricky bit and pronouncing the result 'not completely crap'; the ubiquitous wonky, wabi sabi seams; the passion each of of us feels for our own quirky choices of fabric; all these things bear absolutely no relation to the idea of making things for money.   I am inordinately proud and pleased with my home made panniers but I am under no illusion that they could be a commercially viable product.

Born of blood, sweat and tears (literally)  but aren't they beautiful?
*In the middle of the project we ran out of binding and when Anna went to buy more, the shop ran out of my colour, and when she ordered more, they lost the order. When she finally picked up my long awaited binding, they gave it to her for free, thank you Spotlight. Why does Anna do my shopping? That was part of our division of labour in this collaboration: I'm the one who can read patterns and she's the one who has a car. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Where are all the letterpress cats?

Inspired by the good times we had at the Hamilton Zinefest, Phil and I have made a new zine which we took up to the Auckland Zinefest last weekend. Our letterpressed zine, all set with moveable type and printed on the big proofing press at Black Fox Press, is called Anti Social Media.

Anti Social Media No. 1
It was a ridiculously rushed job which makes for some pretty rough printing. The limitations of the available type and (inevitable) lack of time were miraculously overcome by the magic of creative collaboration. Neither of us could have, or at least would have, made this on our own. We both contributed content, I chose most of the type and sort of set it, then left my loose arrangement to be finished up and printed by Phil in two passes through the proofing press- hand inking each one! I cut the pages, and we both glued, creased and folded, finishing up late the night before the Auckland Zinefest.

Early the next morning we set off through freezing fog so dense that we got lost getting out of Hamilton! But we arrived in time to claim more than our fair share of available space at the Old Folks Ass in Ponsonby. There we met up with our mutual dear old friend David Merritt, setting up his table of handmade books of original poetry and recycled book covers.  In fact all day long I was reuniting with decades-old friends, as well as new zine and letterpress buddies. As well as being a great social event, we both sold more than enough of our wares to make the trip worthwhile. We drove home in the dark, buzzing with all the connections and inspirations, planning our next zine and plotting our next Zinefest adventure.

Phil ready to welcome people to the Black Fox Press/Bibliophilia table.
Anti Social Media is a limited edition of 36. No more will be printed. Move fast to ensure you don't miss out on one of these rare hand printed, hand made zines. You can buy now on Etsy or contact me directly (email address in the sidebar) or on Black Fox Press' Facebook page.

You have to buy a copy of the zine to see our letterpress cat!
 In other news,  I've adopted a cat, well, a half-grown kitten.  Wallis is enhancing my life greatly with his warm purry companionship.  He's the perfect crafter's cat, because he's not bothered that my lap is usually occupied with a project, but when I do want to stop and have a snuggle with him, he's always available.

Wallis at six months

Monday, May 19, 2014

Shop's Open

Hey, I restocked and reopened my Etsy store. It's a been a good couple of years since I paid it any attention, but like so many things on the internet it was all still there waiting for me to click a few buttons.  Due to my camera problems I haven't added anything new to Etsy that I've made since 2012, like my fresh off the letterpress capitalism stickers. If you want any of those you'll have to contact me directly until I can get some decent pictures.
Happy Bus zine

Basic Book Craft Skills zine

Five Fossils

The Optimistic Heart

Boob Book

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Zine Fest!

I've been busy getting ready for the Hamilton Zinefest next weekend.  I've reprinted and sewn up new copies of the two zines I first published in 2009. Happy Bus and The Bibliophiliac's Little Book of Basic Book Craft Skills will be for sale to prove my zine 'cred'. I've also gone through my old artist's book stock boxes and pulled out a few stray copies of The Optimistic Heart, Boob Book, Cock Book, Five Fossils and Non-Linear Time (plus a few other surprises from my book arts past).

Inking up a silver ampersand on Phil's proofing press
 But it's not all old stuff! Lately I've been getting back into my letterpress groove, working  at Black Fox Press alongside Phil Guthrie.  He's got a big old proofing press, and I've got the speedy little Adana and between us we've got some (mostly wooden) type and all the kit.   Our backgrounds and skills are complementary, and I think we are both learning lots from working together.

It's appropriate to highlight the ampersand in our collaborative print.

Phil and I have collaborated to print a poster-sized quote from Flaubert as an aspirational motto for getting the workshop tidy to further unleash our creativity.  We'll be selling copies from this limited edition print, along with Phil's signature prints of poems and quotes in mixed wooden type.  

Inspired by the Zinefest, I've also printed a brand new edition of my Capitalism Cards, this time as stickers. The original cards benefited from the wide selection of typefaces, rules for printing lines and art blocks that I had access to in my first printing home at Te Kowhai Press in Whangarei back in 2007.  Black Fox Press is a much smaller operation and the stickers are thus a kind of austerity version of Capitalism, though almost as much fun as the originals I hope.  Who doesn't love stickers?

The stickers are printed on the Adana Press which, with its self-inking rollers and clamshell action, is perfect for making lots of little multiples. The Adana is also small enough for us to bring along to the Zinefest, where we will have it inked up for demonstrations throughout the day.  You might even get to pull your own print  of 'Drink Coffee' or 'For Fox Sake'.

Whatever I've got leftover after the Zinefest will be available to buy through the internet- I plan to restock and restart my lately languishing Etsy store (and you are always welcome to email me directly about buying anything).  Any profits will be going towards the purchase of a new camera: this one is on its sad last days, so that I never know whether I'm going to get a picture at all, but I can be sure that when I do, its probably not going to be very good. Apologies for the crappy photography. Come to the Zinefest if you can and buy some zines and stuff so I can start posting good pictures again!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Something new

Battery hens (detail)
It was the peak of my flu, when I spent most of a day lying in bed with the curtains drawn on a headache reverberating through my whole body, even between the agonising coughs.  I was missing out on a long anticipated weekend of festival going with a friend from out of town, and I should have felt more miserable than I did. But inside my fevered mind, half dreaming, half hallucinating, electrical connections were sparking between memories and desires, concerns and pleasures, requests and distractions, to become a roaring fire of new ideas for making.

It's not the first time I've been inspired with fresh art ideas in the past 18 months, but its the first time for a long while that I immediately upped tools and then didn't fizzle out.  As soon as I could lift my head and move from the bed  I grabbed fabric, threads and needle on my way to the couch.  Then I stayed on the couch for three more days, barely moving as my body worked through the flu's painful, tiring, disgusting symptoms. Whenever I had the energy to have my eyes open and my hands moving I was lying there, taking simple stitches and imagining more complex interpretations to come. Straight lines were the foundation for my feverish journey, inspired by photos of Kantha quilts, and practiced as distraction without direction to ease my social anxiety at a symposium earlier that week.

Four weeks later and several pieces are taking shape, as my embroidery slowly creeps across flat pieced blankets that I see as wall hangings, something like little woolly quilts. Simple, and not-simple, stitches are becoming a vocabulary for telling stories about industrial farming.  Here is a V to represent chickens, the shape of a beak or the scratch of their feet.  Here is combination of two uneven detached chain stitches pinned into parenthesis by another pair of small stitches- 12 piercings of the cloth by my needle to complete each hoof-print to signify cattle- and thus painstakingly slow.

Dirty Dairy (detail)
I am  interested to see that quilter Kathryn Clark is simultaneously developing another textile vocabulary of quilt patterns to address  "Issues like climate change, the digital era, migration, water and food security, etc." The same kind of issues I've been concerned about in my work for the past six years.  It seems as though there might be the possibility of the conversation I've been hoping for might finally be developing a language in which I can contribute along with many others.  Kathryn's intention is to create " something that could be used by others to generate new pieces and new ideas.    Her vision of creating  a body of work to start the conversation.  is so aligned with my own vision, yet expressed more explicitly that I am inspired by her generosity.

I know I said I wasn't going to blog anymore, but it seems that was no more likely than me saying I would blog every week. So, yes, here I am again but with a new blog policy of only posting when I have something compelling to share.  Right now, my desire that's been building for a month to share this new series is being shaped by a renewed desire for conversation through textile art, with makers like Kathryn Clark. And so I expect I'll be posting again, sooner than later

Sunday, January 05, 2014


One year ago this month, in my eighth anniversary post I vowed to blog more, but instead I blogged less. In fact, I haven't posted at all for several months.  What was apparently procrastination has become a deliberate decision to stop blogging, if not forever, then at least for quite a bit longer. So this ninth anniversary post is a formal farewell.

On one hand, putting the blog to sleep relates to my withdrawal from Facebook (to which I had become quite addicted) as well as most other social media sites.  I currently don't feel inclined to share photos or descriptions of my activities on the Orwellian version of the internet that was revealed to us in 2013. Not because I have anything to hide from the governments, but because I don't feel inclined to contribute more than I have to the Big Data that corporations are increasingly using to undermine the environment, human rights and democracy.  Yes, of course my banking, podcast listening, video watching, library borrowing, musical preferences, TimeBank activities, yoga practices, petition signing, online purchases, Google searches and dozens of other activities are feeding into Big Data, but I don't have to share my thoughts and emotions regularly as well.

For the past few years almost no one read this blog who didn't also follow me (and thus links to new posts) on Facebook. Thus it's entirely possible that no one will read this (unlinked to social media) final post. If you are reading: Hi! Thanks for stopping by.

What's filling the gap in my life left by blogging and social media?  Chickens and gardening for food, preserving my harvests,  face to face time with local friends and writing letters on paper to friends and family who are far away.  My creative energies are more focused on solving practical problems like designing and building a chicken coop. I'm committed to developing my nascent carpentry skills, and perhaps this might be another way my art may express in the future.

Right now, my art practice is low key and unexpectedly papery and collaborative. Frugal with the Bruegel, my altered book collaboration with Bethwyn Littler, seems to be taking a new and exciting direction this year: not just books anymore!  And I have added my Adana press and cabinet of lead type to the workshop at Black Fox Press and am excited about working alongside friends typesetting and printing text again.

So that's it, after nine years of Bibliophilia, I'm putting the blog to bed for the foreseeable future. The archives will stay online of course, but there won't be any new posts. So Happy New Year, and Goodnight! xxMeliors

Snoozing chicks at 2 months. They really have that green and mauve disco sheen to their feathers.