Thursday, April 27, 2006

Seasonal Disorientation Disorder (amongst other problems)

Havoc continues to reign at, hence, no banner and few images. It seems I’ve done the digital version of skipping out of a rental apartment leaving all my furniture behind. Except that I continue to pay rent, but the locks have been changed behind me, and I want my furniture back. (There’s been much gnashing of teeth in the technical services department, I can assure you.)

Today was textbook Autumn (Fall.) As I crossed the Yarra by train this evening, there was a rising pink haze at the horizon, and although I didn’t actually see any, I imagined piles of dry leaves and smoke tendrils drifting lazily from chimney stacks. The autumn is lovely here, free from fear of a precipitous drop into a Midwest-style winter. It feels like Halloween, which means it’s a just a short step to Thanksgiving, then no time at all before the full-bore tilt into Christmas.

Except it’s not.

I miss those seasonally-appropriate holidays. I suggested to Isaac that we host a slap-up Thanksgiving in June this year, only to be met with horror. But it feels right, just as a roast and stuffing and pumpkin pie felt oh so wrong last November.

I’ve been wearing my False Entrelac scarf. By the time I finished it last year, I was over winter and her attendant knits, so I don’t think I even bothered to tell you I was done. I’d forgotten how soft this scarf is, and how much I like its pointy edge. And remember how freaked out I was about the mistake I made right at the very beginning? I haven’t thought about it once, except now, as I read back through that post and think, you thought that was a problem? Let me tell you about problems…..

(By the way, I don’t really look like that crazy person in the photo above. Similar, but far more normal-looking.)

Saturday, April 22, 2006


Apologies for the lack of images: I've exceeded my bandwidth, and am trying to work out how best to manage my hosting plan. Perhaps now's the time to move to Typepad?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Company She Keeps

Left: Woven fabric
Right: Agnes Martin, 'White Flower' (1962)

During the 1950’s, my mother-in-law lived in New York City, in a loft on West Broadway. As a fan of Dawn Powell and Mary McCarthy, there is almost nothing cooler in my imagination than life as a single woman in post-war New York. The clothes, the optimism, the real estate: this was my time, only I wasn’t in it.

You can be sure, however, that if I’d lived in a loft on West Broadway before Anthropologie and Smith & Hawken moved in, you’d never hear the end of it. Naomi isn’t me however, and it was a long time in our acquaintance before I heard about the West Broadway place. At the time, she was working for a Thai silk importer. For reasons I’ve forgotten, it was decided that someone in the company needed to learn how to weave. Naomi was a Parsons graduate, but, more importantly, she lived in a loft. An enormous loom was installed, and a private teacher engaged at the company’s expense to teach Naomi to weave.

She wove one length of fabric, of marled and heathered grey wool. The piece is about 1.5 x 5 metres. A couple of years ago, Naomi gave it to me, unsentimentally, because if I didn’t want it she was going to throw it out. I’ve moved it from California to Ohio to Australia, wondering what I should do with it. A coat? Bolsters? A Fifties-inspired cape? What do you think?

When Naomi moved out of the loft, she sublet it to Agnes Martin. But that’s a whole other story.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Window dressing

Astute readers will have noted little to no progress over on my To Do List. Other projects have gotten in the way, like pushy shoppers who yell out their orders at the deli counter without taking a number first. At least one project has been subcontracted out: courtesy of my generous mother I should have new pyjamas before the onset of winter. But as summer winds to a close and the sun is too low to penetrate our living room windows, we’ve begun firing up the (faux) woodstove on a regular basis and item #5 takes on urgency once more: we need curtains.

Last year, our tenancy was far too new to make such an important aesthetic decision. I casually fell in love with Osbourne & Little prints (at $160 a metre: ouch!) and flirted with a Florence Broadhurst design. I dawdled regularly at the Cloth site, stymied by the fact that they were closed when we visited in January. More ambitiously, I imagined commissioning textile designer friends to screenprint a custom pair, with wild weeds growing up from the floor. But by the end of August, light was creeping in again, and curtains were put on the backburner.

Last week, I imagined a plain linen pair, embroidered with a single line of couched text across the two windows at sill height. Something like my back-tack project last year, on a large scale. Mum found out about a discount furnishing fabric place and we headed out to investigate. Large tables were piled with $5- and $10-a-metre bolts, but it only took a second to realise that there was nothing to interest me there. Instead, we left with a quarter metre of faux fur for a mini giraffe project, and this sample: a medieval-inspired tapestry straight out of Musée Cluny. It’s about as far from my minimalist or nouveau fantasises as one could get, but I’m tempted. Not just tempted, but tempted to use the reverse side. Stop me now, or forever hold your peace.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ui Nakabayashi, Part II

I hope you didn't rush out already and order Happy Sunday? Because Journey, Ui Nakabayashi's 2003 book (ISBN 4-579-10969-4), is equally lovely, if not more so. I had such a hard time selecting images to post: I love them all. The styling is absolutely masterful, even by Japanese standards.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ui Nakabayashi, Part I

I'd tell you about Ui Nakabayashi, if I could read Japanese. Unfortunately, all I can tell you is that she designs the most lovely bags I've ever seen: simple shapes embellished with embroidery, applique and ink stamps. Her bags tell stories as rich as any spun out of mere words.

The following are from Happy Sunday, ISBN4-579-10914-7, purchased from yesasia.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


I’m fussy with socks. I like stripes, preferably including red. Only certain proportional relationships between the stripes please me. I don’t like bunching in the leg, or looseness about the heel. I like a bit of stretch with my cotton and wool, so a little bit of lycra in the mix helps. But even the perfect stripe won’t convince me to buy a nylon pair: I like my feet to breathe.

So you can see why I’ve been reluctant to knit socks: all that work, only to find that they don’t make the grade? No thanks.

But recently my attitude has started to soften. All over the web I’ve been reading about the joys of a handmade pair. My mother’s grandmother made all my mother's socks and they carried her through harsh boarding school winters in comfort. So I bought this lollipop pink Trekking (colour #5) on impulse thinking I’d whip up a pair for my mum for Mother’s Day.

Last year, I wrote to Felicia about the pattern she used for Iris’ socks and she generously sent it to me. I was on my way to becoming a sock knitter.

I worked my way down the leg without incident. Or rather, few incidents: I’m not quite the experienced commuter knitter that Di is, and I ended up tinking back a few times. Only at the heel flap did I get an inkling that something wasn’t quite right. Shouldn’t this garter-ish fabric be on the wrong side? I wrote to Felicia, who confirmed that yes, I was knitting the sock inside out. (She signed off “teehee, Felicia” but I took it on the nose and tried not to indulge my wounded pride.)

This website illustrates how one makes this mistake, and how to quickly rectify it, but this is where I find myself stumped. I wasn’t knitting inside out. The sock was behind my needles the whole time, and I was knitting on the outside. However, my outside was the wrong side.

I decided to forge ahead. Turning the heel was a thrill. Picking up the gusset stitches: check. Now it occurs to me that in order to knit the “outside” I’m going to have to purl around, instead of knit, but ok, I can wing it. But then: the patterned instep. Progress grinds to a halt at this point because I can’t seem to work out how to reverse the pattern to match it to the right side of the sock. Now, at this point, all the non-knitters have dozed off, and the knitters are knocking their foreheads: D’oh! If, by any chance you are still reading this and can identify the point at which I left the road, do call out. I’m over here, in the underbrush, waving a garishly pink half-sock.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Not your average sports coat

Corduroy is a divisive issue. I’m always surprised at how often it’s referred to perjoratively. But perhaps it’s not the fabric itself (which, after all, is just a fabric) but the kind of people who wear corduroy? Stereotypically cranky, old professors and snotty-nosed little boys come to mind. But blaming corduroy itself? This seems grossly unfair.

Miles Rohan, founder of the Corduroy Appreciation Club, is a champion of corduroy. The Club “…wishes to cultivate good fellowship through the advancement of greater awareness and understanding of corduroy through the dissemination of information about the fabric and related items.” Like many of my good blog post ideas, a preliminary web search on the topic reveals that the reason corduroy has been preoccupying me these past few months is this article in the New Yorker, which I read and promptly forgot, preferring to believe that I myself dreamed up a piece bringing together Wes Anderson and the development of the horizontal wale.

I do, however, have something to add in support of corduroy. I am a huge fan of printed corduroy. More specifically, vintage Clothkits printed corduroy, circa 1970-80.

Clothkits was an English clothing company that sold garment kits to home sewers. The pattern outlines were screen-printed onto the cloth and the garment pieces themselves were printed with elaborate, multi-coloured designs. The children’s kits often included a matching doll-sized outfit for Cloth Kitty, the Clothkits doll, in the surplus fabric around the main garment pieces. The company issued catalogs that featured models lazing about on haystacks or out tramping through the English countryside.

I pored over these catalogs as a child. My mother continued to order the kits after we moved back to Australia, until import taxes made them prohibitively expensive. In addition to the kits, Clothkits sold wonderfully coloured woolen tights and patterned knitwear. I’m convinced (without proof or justification) that both their garments and catalogs have been a heavy design influence on the Dutch company Oilily.

I recently asked my mother, who rarely throws anything away, if she still had her Clothkits catalogs, but, alas, I was only months too late. A few items still exist, including our Cloth Kitty dolls (both black and caucasian) and two printed corduroy pinafores (details above.) While in Sydney over the new year, I found this flowered corduroy at the Tessuti outlet, now earmarked for a skirt and some bag linings. And I’ve signed up for membership of the Corduroy Appreciation Club, and hope to meet up with this other tribe of mine somewhere, sometime soon, on the eleventh of the month.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Gallery hopping included as sport for London Olympics 2012

Leavening the dominant sports-centricity of the Commonwealth Games, the accompanying cultural festival held in Melbourne last month was brilliant. And the best part for laggards and procrastinators like me is that many of the cultural events have extended beyond the official ten days of the Games.

Thanks to the Commonwealth Games, I have made a start on my bid to learn crochet. The Buddy System, at ARC One Gallery in Flinders Lane, is a performative piece in which interested visitors are taught how to crochet a flower, which, when completed, is attached to a grid-lined wall, connecting it to others made before. At the completion of the project, the flowers will be sent to persons nominated by their makers, extending the gestures of teaching and making beyond the gallery walls. During my half-hour visit, I made a small flower, but I neither felt all that welcome nor did I find my teacher all that willing to teach. Demonstrating at full-speed (you do this, this and this) isn’t teaching. (Nor is taking the work from me and finishing it yourself.) In her defense, the day was hot and the gallery stifling. And, I guess, it must get tiring justifying your activity as art all day long. But I made a flower! So I left happy.

My next stop was a quick one to fortyfivedownstairs to visit the Ghanian fantasy coffins. Gracia mentions that Louise would like to be buried in a motorcycle-shaped coffin. Myself, I’m not so sure. An ampersand? A typewriter? A Fiat 500? (Personally, I don’t think a coffin in the shape of the object that may have led to your death is such a good idea. Unless, however, you need wheels in the afterlife.)

Next was Threading the Commonwealth at the RMIT Gallery. Particularly wonderful in my eyes were the Nigerian costumes and the accompanying photographs and video footage of the Yorubaland ritual performances. These strange costumes with their eyeless headgear disturb and fascinate me. One costume in particular was as foreboding as the others until up close I noticed it was pieced together with the most wonderful geometric and floral prints: prints that would make Denyse Schmidt swoon.

And the best for last: the Karachi tram. Gracia’s post reminded me of it, and I spent a fruitless hour criss-crossing the city trying to catch sight of it. Luckily, I caught it the next day and circled the city reveling in the cacophony. If I wasn’t so worried about exceeding my bandwidth, I’d post a very silly Quicktime movie of dancing passengers and smiling conductors. It made me long for a trip somewhere completely other, and sad that the most foreign place I’ve ever been is France. If you missed it, post a message here urging the city to bring it back. We need to be transported now and then.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Walking away

The electronic side of my life (blog writing/reading, e-mail) has ground to a halt over the past week or two. I’ve been pushing, pushing, pushing on the studio front, trying to make things happen. I allowed myself to get excited. The equipment mover was booked. I have a small job lined up, on exquisite Japanese paper. I made enquiries about signing up for this year’s ReadyMade market. I signed the lease Monday, paid money and met with the electrician Thursday about installing ten new power outlets. Hooray!

But the landlord didn’t sign. Unhappy about the number of new outlets, he baulked at the cost. I suggested we meet halfway, all the while prepared to pay for the whole job. But something wasn’t right. When we met by chance at the space Thursday morning, he refused to speak to me or meet my eye. He’s a young guy, snappily dressed, driving a Mercedes Benz. Later, his non-English-speaking father pulled up in his well-worn truck, smiled and waved. The agent, also flummoxed, informs me that the landlord has reneged on their management contract and, were I to take up the place, I’d be dealing directly with the owner, who, for whatever reason, cannot bring himself to say hello.

Do you ever find yourself wanting something so badly that your only recourse is to leave the shop, get some air, count to ten? In the space on Thursday morning, it felt like mine. I could imagine my equipment set up, where I’d place my desk, where I’d hang my art. Remember how I wrote how strong I’ve been not getting too emotionally attached? Here is a recent fantasy:

I’m walking to work with my child.* We stop in Barkly Gardens for a minute or two on the swings before school. After school, she and her little friends cross the park to my studio and play at their cut & paste table. We print images from their drawings and auction them to raise money for the school.

[*Note: I’m currently, and most likely permanently, childless.]

See what a hard-headed negotiator I’ve been?