Darker Yarns, Part 2

Curating, Bricolage and Indigo

Those who feel an attraction to yarn probably have a similar relationship to fabric, matched with an irresistible urge to collect interesting textiles when they see them. The two really do go hand in hand, given that yarn is potentilly fabricated into a textile, but in a less industrial way for the home knitter. Those who collect beautiful yarns and fabric face only one difficulty, the issue of storage being the most challenging in terms of space and protection from deterioration from light, insects or damp. In this new era of fashionable minimalism and discard, I stand firmly in the magpie group when it comes to textiles. It is not hoarding. I am the curator of my stash. Sometimes innocent questions are asked by a non knitter. For example, I recently bought one beautiful hank of fine merino wool dyed in indigo, it’s colour hauntingly irregular. The pragmatic bystander asked “what are you going to make with that?”, immediately indicating a lack of appreciation of this lovely yarn or the slow art of design. There is no answer. The beauteous yarn will let me know when it’s ready to be incorporated into something, and that might be never, but in the mean time, the hank of dark promise carries intrinsic allure and delicacy, it’s colour evoking many memories of indigo textiles seen in the Far East, Vietnam, China, and Northern Thailand. Why let function get in the way of a fantastic yarn?

Fine Merino wool. 3 ply. Indigo. Lust worthy.

I recently read a wonderful book on yarns, a pattern book of sorts, but also with delightful chapter introductions. In the prologue, the concept of bricolage and it’s relationship to style is outlined. According to the British sociologist, Dick Hebdige,¹ the only way left to achieve originality is through the mixture of cultural referents. Many modern knitters, as well as crocheters and sewers, (or should I use the French couturiers, so as not to confuse that fine art with smelly drains ) are bricoleurs: they find creative inspiration in ‘the combination of elements from seemingly disparate cultural sources’ creating ‘energy that didn’t exist before’ thus producing more unique and idiosyncratic knits.² I am glad I found this book: this concept legitimises as well as describes some of my favourite pastimes.

Indonesian hand died fabric, small sample of Harris tweed, costume jewellery brooch with inlaid wooden tree, and fine silk German embroidery thread. Bricolage in textiles.

Darker Yarns and Creativity

My aunt was a keen collector of yarns and textiles. Her living room was overflowing with projects. At night when she tired of the sewing machine, she would return to knitting and crochet. She was surrounded by bags of colour: most of the textiles came from factory discards, usually swatches and samples for upholstery. She would mix and match these weighty fabrics, glossy heavy taffetas with tapestries, French imperial garlanded designs with plain textured fabric, lining the backs of her machine sewn patchwork rugs and throws with simple plain cotton. They were strong rugs, both in weight and design, and most suitable to use as floor rugs for babies. The money earned from the sale of her creations at weekend markets supplemented her old age pension. Along with rugs, she would knit or crochet small decorative items and children’s clothes. Her hands were always busy.

One of my many projects. It is a joy to make something from this yarn, a combination of merino and possum wool from New Zealand. A textured pattern would detract attention from the beauty of the wool. Simple fingerless gloves on the go.

I visited her in hospital 9 years ago. She had just had a stroke but seemed to be recovering well. She sat up in bed with her knitting, the pattern spread out on the bed, a lacy design from an old women’s magazine. She remarked with a croaky, almost jolly laugh that she couldn’t understand the pattern, that it made no sense at all, but this didn’t deter her knitting progress. She had similar problems with the words in the magazine. I’m not sure if she ever received any help with this cognitive problem.

A few months later my Aunt committed suicide by slashing her wrists. For a long time, I felt guilty that I didn’t visit her at home after her stroke, and angry that she chose such a dramatic way to exit. Now I fully understand. Like most people who suicide, she chose the quickest option that came to mind at the moment of her decision. Her hands did the work that needed to be done. My memory of her now sails back to a time long ago: she is 22 and I am 5. She is short, soft skinned and beautiful. We are laughing as we pick daisies together in the backyard. She is teaching me to make long daisy chains which we wear around our necks. To this day, every Spring, I make daisy chains.

These hand spun, hand dyed yarns found at a market in Corbost on the Isle of Skye. They will not be used for fear of destroying the magic they hold as hanks.

Yarns and Dementia

Before the fire, I curated a vast collection of fabric and yarn. The beloved stash included antique hand woven Indonesian Ikat and faded blue Sumbas, too precious to hang on our walls for fear that the harsh Australian light would fade their natural colour, womens’ finely embroidered supper cloths, French linen with fine pulled thread borders, hand worked Italian pillowslips no doubt made for the wedding glory box, filet crocheted cotton samplers and tray mats recording historical events such WWI and the return of the Anzacs to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth 11 and a vast array of other textiles and yarns. Among this collection was a modest little knee rug made of knitted squares sewn together, a common enough item, but this one stood out. It was worked in monochromatic colours, dusky shades of sunset pinks and pale orange. The tension was professional while the colours were worked in a most intriguing way, both within each square as well as the way each square related to its nearest neighbours, the whole row, and the whole blanket. It was the work of pure genius, a knitted Monet or Van Gogh in three shades. When we bought that little blanket in an opportunity shop in Beechworth for a few dollars, the saleslady mentioned in passing that the creator of that magic rug was completely demented. I’m keeping this in mind. Although I no longer have that rug, I have the memory of her genius and the knowledge that one day, my hands may be my only saviour.

Japanese silk remnants, shibori dots in silk, with hank of wool, Brigantia Luxury Aran weight, from Yorkshire in the colour of Pomegranate.
Used fabric from the hill tribes, Northern Thailand, found at a second hand fabric shop in Chiang Mai. Draped on Chinese cupboard used for the stash.
Another hill tribes piece, with Australian pale green pottery cigarette case with cicada, sadly cracked and needing some gold infill wabi sabi style.

¹ Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Dick Hebdige 1979

² Magpies, Homebodies and Nomads, Cirilia Rose, 2014

Yarns on Yarns, Part 1 may be viewed here.

Indigo House, Ubud. Textile Lover’s Paradise

Travelling from south Bali to Ubud, some routes pass through the juncture of the Monkey Forest and its famous shopping strip, Monkey Forest Road. If you arrive by car in that stretch of urban Ubud in the afternoon, you will join a notorious traffic jam that threatens to choke that town to death. The street travels one way, yet the traffic often grinds to a standstill. Even the pedestrians, all tourists, appear to be walking in slow motion, the footpaths on both sides congested with shoppers, walkers, diners and those just trying to get from A to B. Many are looking for that elusive gift among the colourful tourist jumble of goods on display in these tiny shop windows. Others, like me, are wondering why they have returned to Ubud at all. And then, while stuck in that motionless car, trying to curb my impatience, I spotted it, the shop of my dreams, a store devoted to hand dyed indigo, Ikat, and Batik. Like a pharos, its blue and white window display would lure me back.

Wall displays of Indigo cloth, Indigo House, Ubud
Indigo House, Ubud, Bali
Homewares in Indigo
Store display, Indigo House, Ubud

In order to take these photos, which are prohibited, I met with the owner, Kadek Wira. The shop has been open for three years now and things were slow at first. Kadek explained that the business provides valuable work for women, especially those who need part-time work or home based work, due to family commitments. The business also helps revive the traditional Balinese arts of weaving, dying, Ikat and batik- fine arts that are becoming lost as cheap, manufactured versions take over. In a sea of mass-produced baubles and trinkets, it’s wonderful to find someone ready to invest in and promote Balinese artisanal skills.

More indigo heaven
All the photos here were taken in the distance. Kadek asked that I didn’t take any close up photographs to protect the design process.

If you visit just one shop in Monkey Forest Road, let it be this one. One lovely indigo item will last you a lifetime, growing more beautiful with age. The antithesis of the throw away society, these textiles can be treasured now, then passed down for generations to come.

For lovers of textiles and indigo, including Maxine, Rachael, Sandra, Diane, and Jan Alice, and other secret admirers.

IKATBATIK, art  for nature. Jl Monkey Forest. Ubud, 80571, Bali, Indonesia. phone+62 361 975 622. www.ikatbatik.com

 

Chatuchak Market, Bangkok. A Good Match.

A trip to the weekend Chatuchuk market is one of the highlights of a Bangkok visit. The 35-acre market site is home to more than 8,000 market stalls. The market seems overwhelming at first and it’s easy to get lost. Make a plan before you go and stick to the areas that are appealing rather than wasting time in the general furniture, hardware or pet sections. Below are a few scenes from the market, included in this week’s wordpress photographic challenge, A Good Match. I have chosen these photos mostly due to colour matching or the juxtaposition of coordinated elements in the displays.

Beautiful matching blue and white ceramics.
Beautiful matching blue and white ceramics. Boring alone, great when massed together.
more antique matching cermanics
More antique matching porcelain.

You can get to the market by taking the sky train. Hop on at BTS and get off at Mo Chit station, then take exit no. 1 and follow the crowd until you see rows of canvas stalls selling clothes. Turn right while continuing to follow the crowd and you will see a small entrance that leads into the market (clothing section). You can also get there by taxi. It’s a great day out, with plenty of interesting options for resting when you get tired. Little cafes are sprinkled among the stalls and good restaurants can be found around the perimeter of the market, as well as fast food within it.

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Stalls dedicated to home dyed indigo scarves and clothing. I love Indigo.
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Matching Indigo dyed cloth, hand-woven and expensive.
some well matched deep fried items ready to go.
Some well- matched deep fried items ready to go.Not so appealing to eat, but visually well balanced.
A chance for a quiet drink within the bowels of the market.
A chance for a quiet drink within the bowels of the market. Nicely matched decor.

The Road to Indigo

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Fabric speaks to me. I collect it, stash it, feel it. Antique European linens, worn Irish cloth, functional and timeless, faded Ikat from Java, Sumatra and Flores, woven wall hangings from Myanmar, mid-century Japanese Kimono sprinkled with shibori, or little fabric offcuts featuring sacred cranes, plush velvet Italian betrothal bedspreads, alive with colour and kitsch cherubin, or hand worked pillow cases and curtains from the antique market in Arezzo in Italy, embroidered table cloths, ancient filet crochet edging with worked in stories, words or historical events, crocheted jug covers featuring Dolly-Varden shells and beaded weights, Indian silk saris and long dupatta scarves, visiting every floor of a Sari shop in India: fabric hunting is a central part of my journey. It is often the history of women’s work, or a window into a culture, or one that is about to become obsolete, that appeals so much.

indigo 4

Hand dyed indigo fabric is a recent addition to my textile addiction. I discovered some wonderful indigo fabrics at the Chatuchak ( Cha-Cha) Market in Bangkok in 2013. The following year, I toured an indigo factory in Dali, on the banks of Erhai Lake, Yunnan, China. And this year, I found another small producer of hand died indigo clothing on the banks of the Mekong River, in Chiang Khan, Thailand, as well as some lovely long lengths of deep indigo died linen in the back streets of the Warorot market, in Chiang Mai.

My next step is to learn this ancient art and dye my own cloth. I envisage drifts of indigo muslin, irregular in colour, floating in the summer breeze.Thanks Ailsa for this week’s travel theme, Fabric, at Where’s My Backpack. If I dug out all the representatives of my fabric collection, this post might fill a book.