Tuesday, 21 March 2017


The first of my three indigo workshops will start this weekend - An introduction to Organic Indigo vats and shibori. This workshop will give a great grounding on how to set up and care for your own indigo vat in the future.  No harmful chemicals so safe to use with children as well! There are two places left if you are interested!

My workshops will be at the Campbell Scout Hall, and I am often asked why I don't run workshops at the studio I have been renting at Pialligo for the last ten years.  Apart from only having one small sink with water access, the photo below may give you another reason why! The bins in the photos are actually my two indigo vats I have been caring for - one for nearly two years and the other just over 6 months.
'Russell' the snake - perhaps he wants to learn indigo dyeing...

Tuesday, 14 February 2017


I Love Indigo!

Happy Valentine's Day to all you romantics out there in love with life, the joys of nature and, hopefully, textiles!

My husband and I have a tradition for Valentine's Day....you must make the card yourself, and preferably also the gift. This tends to be easy for me, less so for my husband, so we set a limit on bought presents for under $10. As you can see from the above image, he received a couple of indigo dyed hankies this year!

The recent spate of over-40-degree days has meant my indigo vats are at optimum performance so it was the perfect technique to make those presents the night before (I love indigo...its soooo quick!).

Having just run an intensive workshop on indigo vats at the Sturt Summer School in January, I am now taking bookings for a series of indigo workshops covering all the aspects of organic vats, shibori and resist paste dyeing. in Canberra. You can find out more information on each workshop here.

These workshops are suitable for beginners and also those who have had indigo experience before. So, no need to be blue - come and join in the fun!
Mastering the art of building up colour in Indigo

My indigo vat is at optimum health for dyeing right now!
Learn the art of resist paste printing with Indigo

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Seriously AWOL....!

Woops!...what happened to last year???.....I got so caught up finishing off the NMA residency, ensconced in further research; and then sucked into the pandemonium of house guests for Christmas and New Year,  I somehow didn't find the time to write any posts for several months.  I had good intentions of starting afresh at the beginning of the year....but obviously that didn't happen either! I guess we've all been there, so here's a quick update.

After a fantastic NYE with my husband and friends at the Arboretum I had to drag my sorry self out of bed the next morning to drive to Sturt Summer School in Mittagong, where I was teaching an intensive week on organic Indigo vats. I had a full class of new and returning students from all over Australia, some who had already done short courses on natural dyeing with me in the past. This intensive week was all about ensuring beginners to the organic indigo process had a complete understanding of how the indigo fermentation process works; what occurs during the different stages of fermentation; and how to read the vats in order to keep them balanced so that our subsequent indigo dyeing would be successful. I also stress the importance of correct fibre preparation before dyeing, something I think is analagous to flossing teeth - its a bore to do but so worth it for healthy results!

I have recently seen some textiles by a Sydney duo who sell their indigo work for a lot of money and yet after only a few months, the indigo has faded to a pale wishy-washy grey-blue.  This could be indicative of a vat that has not been at optimal conditions for dyeing. Sure, you may get an indigo blue intially, but if the vat has not been balanced correctly at the point of dyeing then this is what happens - the indigo has not been fixed into the fibre of the fabric and therefore it is sitting on the surface and fades very quickly.

I first learnt how to dye with indigo back in the late '80's with my dye teacher, Virginia Harrison, however in those days we used synthetic indigo and chemicals such as caustic soda and thiourea dioxide (TUD).  It wasn't until I attended a class with Catherine Ellis and Joy Boutrup over in the US back in 2012 that I learnt how to make organic vats so that these harmful chemicals did not have to be used. Catherine and Joy's knowledge was immense and I am grateful to them for re-igniting my love of indigo dyeing.  However, it wasn't until I started keeping my own vat going for well over a year that I really understood how to care for it during different seasons, through winter dormancy,  and then balancing it and reviving it again. Indigo vats are like temperamental teenagers at times and you need to pay a lot of attention in order to get the best out of the vat, ensuring you do not waste the indigo that is in there because you think it has been depleted. Catharine has an excellent blog and is constantly pushing herself to know more about the process, questioning the status quo in order to try new methods and materials.

Anyway....I was keen to try some new reduction materials with my class as well, so we made up individual vats with lots of different summer fruits in order to test their ability to reduce the vat. For those of you not acquainted with indigo, it is not soluble in water and therefore cannot enter the fibre or fabric.  It must be reduced first under strict pH conditions in order to become soluble.  Then as it oxidises after dyeing it becomes insoluble again, but by then the indigo molecules have been trapped inside the fibre, forming one of the most fast dyes known to mankind. This has been proven by archeological research on grave goods from almost 6,200 years ago from Huaca Prieta in Peru.

A selection of our different baby organic indigo vats, happy in the warmth
During the week we tended our baby sample vats to see what fruits worked well with reducing the indigo.  Some of them were like sprinters - they gave colour very quickly initially, but then petered out over the week, needing rebalancing in order to optimise the indigo left in the vat.  Others were like long-distance runners - slow to start but still active at the end of our intensive week.  I was very impressed with both mango and banana  (cooked and uncooked),  and at certain times of the year you can buy them very cheaply from the markets when they are too over-ripe to sell.....perfect for the indigo vat.  I also think freezing the over-ripe fruit and then defrosting may also contribute to their efficacy, helping break down the cell walls quickly.

Whilst we kept our eyes on the baby vats, we had two larger vats with which to dye bigger pieces - my 18 month vat which I took with me, as a mid-blue vat, and a new henna vat which we made up and used for a stronger colour.  I wanted students to slow down and explore the ideas of using shibori together with indigo resist paste to build up colour and texture for their work. It is easy to just make a dark vat and get the blue-on-white wow factor, but in order to really understand the beauty of indigo it is best to attempt repeated dippings, overlapping shapes and textures to create many shades of blue in one cloth.

Some of the work on display during Open Studio Day

Beautiful resist work by beginner, Sue

Christine used a series of cut stencils with resist paste and
several immersions in the indigo vat to build up the tones.

Lynda concentrated on dyeing different silk yarns to use on
the handles for her ceramic tea-pots, and explored drawing
natural objects and pattern with resist paste onto cloth 

Sue produced  a simple yet effective shibori on
a thrift store linen shirt. She managed to keep
the rest of the shirt perfectly indigo-free as well!

Claudia painted freehand with the resist paste on one side of
the cloth in a technique she loves - zen doodling.

Towards the end of the week we experimented with over dyeing some indigo blue and white cloths made earlier in the week with some natural dyes, to demonstrate how you get natural, and colourfast shades of green. Compare the original indigo and white fabric at the back of the sample below, with the front fabric which has been overdyed with iris leaves, (these were growing nearby, so that's why we used them) giving a clear bright yellow and several shades of green. For a truly fast yellow, weld (Reseda luteola), would be my dye of choice.

Adele's itajime sample overdyed with iris leaves.
We had a great week and although the weather wasn't that kind to us (raining most days ....good for the garden but not for dye classes!) I am sure the students learnt a lot, and considering the majority were beginners to indigo, I am very proud of the results.

I will be running another indigo class in Canberra this year - if you are interested in attending please email me for details.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Undercurrent Market this weekend

Its that hectic yet creative time of the year again, where markets and studio sales keep popping up to ensure there's no downtime between now and Christmas...! This weekend it is the successful Undercurrent Market at the National Portrait gallery, run by The Curatoreum.


Last year was a fantastic buzz of selected top designers from all over Australia taking part, and this year it will be bigger and better than ever. I am looking forward to sharing some of my new seaweed inspired designs as well as the ever popular hand-dyed superfine merino socks. If you missed out on getting to my studio sale a few weekends ago, now is the last chance of buying those gorgeous stocking fillers.

SAT: 10-5pm
SUN: 10-3pm

Wednesday, 2 November 2016


As part of Design Canberra, Kirstie, Lisa and I are opening our studios once again this coming Saturday, 5th November.  We have been sprucing up our work-spaces, printing till the wee hours and putting out leaflets and corflutes to encourage you all to come along! Hope to see you at The Hayshed!

Kirstie Rea........................Julie Ryder........................Lisa Cahill

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Phycologia Australica in the NMA Library

After researching the early collection of seaweeds in Australia and overseas, and actually venturing out to collect and press seaweeds myself (I will write new post about this soon), I finally requested to view the five volumes of William Henry Harvey's Phycologia Australica.

Naomi, Librarian at the NMA, preparing Vol 1 for me to view.

William Henry Harvey (1811-1866) was an eminent phycologist who wrote many books on the algae and bryophytes of Britain, America and South Africa.  He first described Australian algae that were sent to him by Joseph Hooker, in Nereis Australis  (1847-1849) and later contributed to Hooker's Flora Tasmaniae (1860).  Harvey himself came to Australia in 1854, and spent just over a year collecting seaweeds and connecting up with other well-known collectors in many states such as Ferdinand Mueller, Ronald Gunn, George Bennett and William Archer. Whilst in Tasmania, for example, he stayed with the Reverend Fereday and his wife, Susan Fereday.  I have been following the Feredays (especially Susan) for a few months as part of my research into 19th century women botanical collectors. I will write more about this research in a later post....time to get back to Harvey. Harvey has dedicated each volume of Phycologia Australica, to collectors who showed him hospitality and whom he respected as a collector, and their knowledge of the habitats of Australian algae. I was delighted to find that Volume 4 was dedicated to the Feredays. In addition, Harvey named two seaweeds after them, including this one below.

Dasya Feredayae

In the accompanying text, Harvey writes "This species is named in compliment to Mrs Fereday, of Georgetown, in whose collection I first saw some fine specimens. Subsequently I collected it in considerable plenty in the Tamar, above Georgetown, where it is occasionally drifted ashore in large quantity."

Similarly, he has also named this species of Haliseris after Ferdinand Mueller

The five volumes contain beautifully drawn images that were printed using lithographic techniques by Harvey himself, and here are a few more illustrations to whet your appetite.

Hydroclathrus cancellatus, found near Fremantle WA
Halymenia Cliftoni a rare specimen also found at Fremantle
 The delicate Halymenia above was collected by Harvey himself and named after George Clifton, a noted collector who was of great assistance to Harvey when he was in Australia. Harvey writes "To George Clifton, Esq., R.N., of Fremantle, Western Australia, whose name occurs so frequently throughout the volume and in the synopsis, I am indebted for some thousands of beautifully preserved specimens, including many species collected by no one else. His contributions commenced in 1854, whilst I was resident in Western Australia, and have been regularly continued at short intervals up to the present time (Sept., .1863). Three new genera, Cliftonaea, Bindera, and Encyothalia, besides many new species, prove the zeal and success with which Mr. Clifton has conducted his researches."

The five volumes of Phycologia Australica are very fragile and I could only gimpse at a section or two of Volume One which was handled by Naomi, one of the lovely librarians at the NMA. There are special bean-bag type pillows for resting the books in, a beaded weight that holds the spine of the book firm, and gorgeous tiny suede weights for holding pages down.  it was such a challenge at times to manipulate the book with respect and to try and photograph with my ipad that I only took photos of the plates that really caught my eye with regard to both aesthetics and information that was important to my research.

Happy to hear some comments if you have had the pleasure of viewing these books firsthand.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Seaweed Collecting

After having read so much about 19th century seaweed collecting, and examining the two seaweed books first hand, I thought it was about time I started my own seaweed collection, just so I could experience working with the material itself and also the technique of seaweed pressing. This may be easy if you live by the sea, but in Canberra it's at least a couple of hours journey to a beach! Luckily I was given several bags of seaweed from two different locations by friends and family who spent a weekend at the north and south coasts respectively, and who took time out to gather a variety seaweeds that had been washed up by the tide.  Each state has rules regarding the quantity of seaweed that can be collected off its beaches, so it is advisable to check these limitations before you start collecting.
There are a variety of instructions available on how to press seaweed over the internet but basically the seaweed is 'floated' onto a sheet of watercolour, or other heavy gsm paper, and then further arranged using a paintbrush and tweezers. This is important for seaweeds that have feathery fronds, so that they do not clump together when pressed.
Seaweed floated onto paper before arranging.
Sometimes it is necessary to trim the seaweed so that the fronds at the back do not create too much bulk for pressing. This could lead to uneven drying of the specimen and possible mould if not pressed properly.

A few of the seaweeds found on MacMasters beach, NSW

It is important to ensure that the papers separating the pressed seaweeds are changed regularly and that the stacks are aired to avoid drying issues.

As mentioned in earlier posts, some seaweeds will adhere directly to the paper under pressure, however others will dry and come away from the mount.  In this case it is usual to use herbarium mounting tape to ensure that the specimen remains fast.  Specimens were also stitched to the mounting papers with a fine linen thread in past herbarium samples.

I expected the process of sorting through a few bags of seaweeds to take me an hour or so, but to my surprise the more I looked, the more varieties of seaweed I found.  I think I ended up pressing over 40 specimens that day, no two of which looked the same. The challenge would be to now identify them, and I guess this puts me firmly in the same category as those anonymous 19th century women strolling along the beach, observing and collecting then becoming entranced with the beauty to be found washed up with the tide, and wanting to find out more about them.