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.

In My Kitchen, February, 2019. Ten Years Ago.

There’s a lot on my mind this week as we approach the 10th anniversary of Black Saturday, the monstrous bushfire of February 7, 2009, that redefined my life and that of more than 2000 other Victorians. I’ve started to look through my old photos today, the first day of February, to renew my acquaintance with my old house and kitchen from 10 years ago. I’m still coming to terms with why things changed so much. In the end, it’s not really about the possessions, the things. Something else happened on that day, an indefinable sense of loss. Was it the house itself or the setting, the way it incorporated the rising moon through the kitchen window?

Front door near kitchen and hand built pizza oven, 2008

We began work on the building of our old house in January 1980, and moved in around August that year, just before my youngest son, Jack, was born. No electricity or running water back then but we didn’t care. The initial house, constructed in mudbrick, consisted of one huge central room with a soaring ceiling, a hand crafted fireplace, old Victorian four panelled doors, leadlight windows, and a staircase leading to our mezzanine bedroom which was neatly tucked into the ceiling at one end. It was, in many ways, an impractical design, hard to heat in winter and rather hot upstairs in summer but we loved it. We were idealistic, young and ready to embrace our new life. The house came to symbolise everything we were choosing ( and rejecting) at the time. This was not a suburban house: its design and quirkiness grew out of the mudbrick movement that was prevalent in the Shire of Eltham, a romantic building style that began with Montsalvat and was developed further by Alistair Knox. This local style was adapted throughout the 70s by other mud brick builders. The house reflected our new life in the bush which centred around the ‘back to the earth’ ideology which incorporated self-sufficiency in food production, small-scale farming, wood gathering for heating, and a building culture based on a preference for natural and recycled materials, mud, straw, large old bridge timbers, Victorian doors and windows, second-hand red bricks, and any other ‘found’ materials that could be recycled. The more modern notions of ‘tree change’ ‘sustainability’ and ‘repurposing’ had not yet enjoyed linguistic currency. The materials used made each house in the area quite unique. Many of these houses were destroyed on Black Saturday and current building regulations now make them too expensive to replicate.

Hopes and Dreams. A new vineyard planting of Albarino grapes struggled with the drought of 2008.

As the children grew, so did the house. The first addition was a small two roomed mud brick cottage out the back of the house. Each weekend friends arrived to help on the construction: they soon mastered mudbrick wall building and rendering along the way. I pumped out the pizzas and other goodies from the kitchen in the main house. Then in 2004, we added a new modern kitchen and dining room to the main house, an expensive project that took more than a year to complete. That huge farmhouse style room became the focus of my life as a cook and a grandmother for the following four years. It was the place to bath a baby, celebrate a birthday, enjoy a wine, stroll out to the BBQ and terrace, make a mess, play guitars or listen to music. It was a kitchen dedicated to my family. I’ve never really found that life again: the disruption after the fire was too great. Of course I see the family in my current home, but that old ‘hearth and home’ feeling has been lost. The moon rises in the wrong place. I know my children feel this too though they say little.

Most of the internal shots below were taken in my old kitchen. It’s a media file so you can scroll through these by clicking on the first pic in the collage.

These few photos of my old kitchen and pre-fire life have been acquired thanks to friends over the last ten years. Of course our PCs died in the fire on that day, and so did the history of our life in that house, but there were a few pics on an old laptop, and others have been sent to us. 

Today’s post is the beginning of a little series I have been working on to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Black Saturday. Words and stories have been swimming around in my brain at night for months, keeping me awake. I hope these see the light of day and finally get transferred to the digital page. I know more thanks must be given, more pictures aired, some myths dispelled, and some anger vented too. And after this year, I might let it all go.

Funky old house.

Thanks Sherry at Sherry’s Pickings for hosting the monthly In My Kitchen series. I know there’s not much kitchen stuff going on in this post, but at least I’ve made a start on my memorialisation and for this I thank you.

The header photo shows apples baked by bushfire. See also my In My Kitchen post on this topic from 6 years ago.

 

 

 

 

Sourdough Panmarino. Memory and Beatrice d’Este

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.

Ophelia, Act 4, Scene 5, Hamlet.

The most exquisite and evocative bread of my sourdough repertoire is Panmarino. Now that’s a big call I know but it might have something to do with the fragrant mixture of Rosemary and Salt, the soft comforting texture of the bread, or the dramatic diamond encrusted star on its baked dome. I have only recently converted this yeasted bread to sourdough, and must make sure that I don’t make it too often. I prefer to think of it as a festive bread, perhaps best associated with reminiscence and memory. It would be a lovely bread to make for the anniversary of a loved one. Pray you, love, remember me.

This bread was first popularised by Carol Field in her classic work, The Italian Baker.¹ According to Field, it was invented by a baker named Luciano Pancalde, the baker with the perfect hot bread name, who created this bread as the encapsulation of one he had read about in a biography of the d’Este family of Ferrara. I really like this idea on many levels. That he read about a Renaissance bread, visualised it, then recreated it makes it rather special but that this bread was eaten at the courts of my favourite historic family makes it even better. I plan to come back in my next life as Beatrice d’Este. In the meantime, I’m enjoying a virtual memory. Rosemary does that. It’s the time traveling herb.

Beatrice was here. Castello Sforzesco. Vigevano.

The recipe listed by Field is for a yeasted bread: it is easy to make, and it tastes good too. But to my mind, the bread made in the Renaissance courts of the d’Este family would have been made with something like a biga or lievito madre. Using my standard sourdough starter, a very fine traditional Panmarino can be made. Some of the recipes I have drawn on suggest a long gestation time of 4 days. I’m happy with a 24 hour time frame, given a ready starter, one that has been refreshed over a day or so. I also like to add a little wholemeal to mine, in keeping with a loaf of the past.

Slices and keeps very well, if it lasts.

Sourdough Panmarino, un pane per la bella Beatrice d’Este.

I have simplified this bread for speed and ease of making. I’ve played with the proportions of starter and am happy with the results so far. If you would like to follow one source of this recipe, see here. Before making this recipe, refresh your starter three times over a day or so, then start the process in the morning.

  • 150 g bubbly active sourdough starter
  • 150 g water filtered or tank, at least not chlorinated
  • 150 g whole milk
  • 500g baker’s white flour or a mixture of baker’s white flour, ie 400g and wholemeal plain flour 100g
  • 5 g diastatic malt 5g  ( optional)
  • 10 g sea salt
  • 40 g olive oil
  • 20 g or less chopped fresh rosemary
  • salt flakes such as Maldon for the shaped loaf

Directions.

Weigh the the starter, water and milk then add to a large mixing bowl. Add the flour (s) and malt and mix roughly with your hands. It will look like a shaggy pile. Cover with a shower cap or plastic film and leave for 20 minutes or so.

Mix the chopped rosemary, olive oil and salt and work this through the dough with your hands. You will feel the gluten begin to develop. Cover with cap. Leave the covered dough at room temperature.

Do some stretch and folds every 20- 30 minutes, inside the bowl at least three times. You will feel the dough become smoother each time. Now leave the dough on the bench, covered, for 8 hours. It should be well risen by this time.

Place the covered bowl into the fridge for an overnight rest, coinciding with a rest of your own.

In the morning remove the dough from the fridge, have a peep at it, then let it come to room temperature, again still covered.

Using a bread scraper, place the dough onto a large silicon mat or good bench top, adding a small amount of fine semolina to the work surface. Stretch and fold the loaves a few times again, then shape the dough into a nice boule shape. Let this sit for 30 minutes or so, then place the boule into a round shaped and dusted banneton. Cover for 30 minutes to an hour. It will rise a little more.

Meanwhile preheat your oven to 225c FF. Turn the bread out onto a sheet of parchment paper, then lift the paper with the dough and place inside an enamel roaster/baking tin. Using a lame with a sharp blade, slash a star shape on top of the loaf and sprinkle generously with salt flakes. Cover with the lid of the roaster and place in the oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the lid and continue baking for a further 20 minutes.

Remove the bread to a wire rack and let it cool completely before slicing.

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Panmarino, star burst greater on the sourdough version. Better crust.
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Yeasted version.

Thanks Maree for alerting me to the sourdough version of this bread.

Waiting for Beatrice d’Este, Vigevano

‘Then, when a memory reappears in consciousness, it produces on us the effect of a ghost whose mysterious apparition must be explained by special causes.’  Henri Bergson. Of the Survival of Images. Memory and Mind. 

Heaven and earth!/ Must I remember. Hamlet, Shakespeare

The Lost Photos

Many people who grew up in the pre-digital age will have a stash of old photos stored in shoe boxes or worn cardboard albums, memories fading with time, rarely looked at, but treasured nevertheless. On occasion, I remember mine too-. those chosen photos that made it into albums, occasionally flicked through by the children, who enjoyed re-visiting their childhood travels, or being amused by photos of their dishevelled, long-haired hippy parents. It was their past, our past. The shoe boxes of prints and yellow Kodak envelopes of negatives were in need of sorting and pruning, a rainy day task that I never really got around to doing. In February 2009, the Black Saturday Bush fires, a disastrous fire storm that swept through many rural areas close to Melbourne, destroyed them all, along with everything else I owned. After that event, I came to value my lost photos, even those packets of negatives and discards, and developed a clear visual recall of many old photos and the events surrounding them. The past is no longer a foreign country; I can step in and out of it quite comfortably. This visual memory has been a comfort.

The Lost photos. Girls on the way to Birethani, Nepal, 1979.
The lost photos. Girls on the way to Birethani, Nepal, 1978.

Recently my brother unearthed five photographs from the past, taken in Nepal  in January 1978. He is a great hoarder and collector of old images, and has spent hours digitizing old slide negatives and black and white shots from my parent’s albums. Along the way, he found a few negatives of our children, taken when they were around 6 or 7 years old, providing them with a record of their childhood, a patchwork of images that they can then pass on to their own children one day. Other relatives have unearthed images of our old mud brick house in the bush, and the odd party or Christmas shot occasionally turns up too.

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Andrew, in Tibetan scarf, Arto and Francis Brooks in the Swayambunath house. 1978

I was quite overwhelmed to see these Nepalese photos again. That trip was a magical experience: I recall my daughter’s words as we flew over the rural countryside of Nepal, breaking through the blanketing cloud cover,” It looks like fairyland”, as Tolkienesque villages emerged from the mist, followed by tiny mudbrick cottages clinging to the sides of deeply terraced fields.

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The lost photos. Andrew meets some donkeys in the foothills near Pokhara, Nepal, 1978.

In our time there, the children played simple games with the Nepalese children as we trekked in the mountains beyond Pokhara, children who had so little but seemed happy in their home on the roof of the world. We ate the daily Nepalese staple meal of Dal Bhat, rice served with a lentil soup and a few green vegetables or potatoes on the side, (still one of my favourite meals), frequented tea shops and smoked bidis. We met colourful Tibetan families and wild mystic sadhus, circled the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhunath and Boudhanath and had a wallet stolen by wild monkeys. We wandered through the medieval city of Bhaktapur, now severely damaged by the earthquake of 2015 and attended a Puja, a Nepalese house blessing ceremony in Patan.

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The lost photos. On top of the world, with Machapuchare ( fishtail) in the background. 1978

There were hundreds of photos taken on that trip, back in the pre digital age when photos were expensive to print. Some were enlarged and graced our walls in the old home. I am happy that I now have five. Like a time traveller, I am back in the late 70s, wandering through my past, and am enjoying the trip.