Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Craft Sessions 2014–a round up

Belinda's Modern Weaving with Traditional Techniques.

I’ve been so busy with making, working and life since my modern weaving workshop at The Craft Sessions in September that I have not shared a round up of the weekend. So here it is!

Firstly, I want to say that I had an absolutely amazing time. Two and a half days away in the Yarra Valley with around 80 other women who shared my love of learning, sharing and craft (with all of my food and accommodation taken care of) - I cannot think of many other ways that I’d rather be spending a weekend. I caught up with people I already knew, met people I’d been chatting to online but never met face to face and made new friends with people whom I’d never encountered before. We laughed and ate and knitted together. Some people even did all three of those at once – clearly they were people who have children and therefore awesome multitasking skills. Personally, I took the opportunity to relax, enjoy the natural surrounds and meet new people. I guess that is the beauty of a weekend like this – you take whatever you want out of it.

The weekend started on the Friday afternoon. Well, for me it started about three weeks beforehand when I started preparing for the workshop I was teaching, but the fun part began on Friday. After picking up our goodie bags and settling into our rooms, we headed off to our first workshop. For me, that was Embroidery From The Natural World with Melissa Wastney.

I was so excited about doing this workshop in the lead up to the weekend that I had actually been having dreams about the native flowers that I was going to embroider. As I had very little embroidery experience beforehand, the dreams were slightly different to the reality of the workshop (especially with regards to technique!), and the reality was that the workshop was even better than I had dreamed it would be. We started off by wandering through the native flower-filled gardens of the venue, sketching and collecting flowers as inspiration. As it was already well into spring, the garden was in full bloom. Not surprisingly, I found it very difficult to restrain myself from picking everything that I saw. I did make some attempt, but still returned to the workshop room clutching handfuls of tiny flowers and leaves.

Photo of Alichia from Melissa's embroidery class at this year's retreat.

This fabulous embroidered wattle is not my handiwork. It belongs to the very patient Alichia.

After we returned inside, Melissa ran through the basics with us and we got busy stitching. We continued across the afternoon and again on the Saturday morning. She encouraged us to experiment with the techniques that we used, and it was fascinating to see the different ways that each person interpreted the same flora (both in illustration and the way in that they embroidered them). As I daintily stitched away with Melissa’s hand dyed embroidery thread on the exquisite linen that was nestled in my vintage embroidery hoop, I have to say that I felt very content. It felt almost as if we were in some kind of story book: a group of women sipping tea and quietly chatting away, wildflowers strewn all over the table as we sketched and stitched as if we had not a care in the world. I felt more zen than I would have if I had spent those 6 hours in silent meditation (I can say this with some authority, having done the latter on more than one occasion).

This relaxed state of mind prepared me well for what was on for me after lunch: an hour of talking and weaving to a room full of enthusiastic, curious women. With a partially finished weaving project in hand (this one, actually), I shared stories of my inspiration and creative process, shared some of my weaving tips and tricks and had the opportunity to hear some of the craft (and life) experiences of the other women who came along. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon, and afterwards I took a walk in the surrounding bush (followed by a little nap), before heading to dinner.

A bit of sparkle for dinner.

Now I haven’t mentioned meal times yet, but this is not because they were not a major part of the event. In fact, they were one of my favourite parts of the weekend. It was at meal times where we really got an opportunity to chat with each other, and it was during this time that it became clear to me that, for most of the women who were there, this was a chance to connect with other people who were passionate about using their hands to make beautiful things. It was also a chance to learn new skills, but I got the feeling that, although this was the most obvious reason to attend a weekend of craft workshops, it actually wasn’t the main reason that most people came along. The only thing that I didn’t enjoy about meal times was deciding whether to sit next to someone with whom I’d already had a great conversation with or someone new with whom I’d not yet had a chance to connect. In the end I went with a bit of both, depending on the mood, and found both rewarding in their own way.

I’ve spent so long talking about the weekend as a whole and I haven’t even gotten to the part where I talk about my own workshop! This is partially because my workshop was at the end of the weekend, but also because, as a teacher rather than a student, I don’t think I’m the best person to talk about it. For this reason, I’ll share my own story of the experience but I’ll keep it brief.

Belinda's weaving class.

I was blessed to have spent a full day with 12 truly lovely women who were all excited to share some of my tapestry weaving knowledge. Similarly to the embroidery workshop that I had done with Melissa in the days prior, it was a day of joy and laughter. The learning was a bit more intense than the other workshop that I attended, especially as most people had no experience with weaving at all and the techniques they were using were quite different to those used in other commonly practiced crafts. They were all open and eager to learn, though, and after they got the hang of the basics they created their own unique pieces. I loved watching the way that each person took the basic techniques, the enormous pile of yarns that I brought along (and their own yarns, twigs and leaves that they’d collected across the weekend) and their own imagination and created a dozen really different pieces. As they cut their pieces off their looms, obviously very satisfied with their work, I thought I might burst with pride. Thinking about how they had come from knowing almost nothing to creating something that was really a little piece of themselves was an incredibly satisfying thought for me. Even now, I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy in my belly as I type this and look at the photo below. Look at those smiles! What a gorgeous bunch. And those beautiful weavings!

After my workshop ended, the weekend was almost at an end. Everyone was feeling a bit weary but our hearts were full and we each had a few little completed projects, some new craft skills and at least 25 ideas for what we each wanted to make next. After hugs, phone numbers, blogs and instagram accounts were exchanged, we hopped in our cars and headed back to our lives. And just like that the weekend was over – well physically it was, but in my mind and heart I was there for at least another fortnight. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to next year’s event (for which dates have recently been announced!).

As I was just having too much fun to take photos, all of these photos are courtesy of the brilliant, passionate, kind woman who brought this event to fruition – Felicia Semple. You know it’s a good weekend when you don’t even get a chance to take photos! You can see more photos of the event and read Felicia’s honest, funny accounts of her journey through life (told through the language of craft) on her blog.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

New weaving and more Eco Weaving Kits

Montmorency in deep winter woven wall hanging by Alchemy
(Photo by Pierre Curry)
I recently completed this woven wall hanging using yarns that I dyed naturally using compost and foraged flora collected from a property in Montmorency that I spent this past winter on. I find it so satisfying so be involved in as many parts of the process of making an item as I can and it makes the finished product really special for me. It’s a very slow way to complete an artwork, but it means that I can create the colours I want and I know that dyes I am using are locally, ethically and naturally sourced. And let’s not forget the immense pleasure that is derived from being involved in a process from start to finish! This piece is now being enjoyed by it’s new owner, fellow natural dyer and textile lover Deborah O’Toole.
I’ve also been busy making a few more Eco Weavings Kits that will be available to purchase in my online store in the next couple of weeks. I had originally intended to make only one batch of these kits as they are very time and labour intensive to source the sustainable materials for and make, but I have received hundred of emails since that batch sold out asking if I will be making any more. I get so much pleasure from the meditative craft of tapestry weaving and I love seeing other people enjoying this craft, so I will be listed another very limited batch of kits. I’m not able to make one for everyone who has requested one but a few more of you will be spending this summer (or winter!) and beyond weaving away on one of my lovingly handcrafted looms with some amazing organic cotton plant dyed yarns.
The four colourways will be the same and, as before, I will be making extra plant dyed yarns available to purchase with the kits so you don’t have to miss out on all of the colours that you love. I also intend to list some more of the hand turned bobbins and some textured hemp and cotton fibres so that you will be able to purchase extras with your kit if you like.
I’ll be announcing the sale date of these kits here and on my Instagram. I’ll also be sending out an email to anyone who wants to be the first to know when they will be available to purchase. Email me at alchemybotanicals@gmail.com if you would like to go on this list.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Botanical alchemy

I recently spent a few days with Dylan and Priya (and lovely Olive) of PALATE while they documented my natural dyeing and weaving process. From start to finish, we spent time together while I foraged, collected, dyed and weaved to my heart’s content while they followed me with a camera. We also sat down and talked about the process of and philosophy behind my creative process and way of life. The result of our time together was this seven minute video.

Dylan and Priya have a passion for living a thoughtful, meaningful life and connecting with other people who share this passion. Through PALATE, an online monthly magazine, they capture the lives of people whom they find inspiring. If you love slow living, community, nature art, food and design, you’ll enjoy PALATE. It features regular snippets of beautiful and inspiring stories, recipes and DIYs – I follow them on Instagram to keep up to date with what’s new (and they also have their own website and are on Facebook, if that’s more your thing).

Nan from White Gum Wool kindly supplied all of the yarn and fibre for the making of this video. I specifically chose White Gum Wool for this project because of the high quality yarns and fibres that they produce, and because of their openness about and commitment to a humane and sustainable farming and production process from start to finish. White Gum Wool yarns and fibres are produced from sheep that graze on native pastures in the high midlands of Tasmania. The sheep are not mulesed, nor do they have their tails docked. They are allowed to live in naturally formed social groups, and no fertilisers, pesticides or fungicides are used in the farming process. Additionally, the yarn is certified sustainable under the NewMerino Chain of Custody certification process. All of this makes this exquisite quality yarn really special for me. I love that I have access to such an amazing quality, thoughtfully produced yarn that allows me to feel good about my creative process.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Eco Weaving Kit–the extras

Eco Weaving Kit by Alchemy - all components

This is the last post about the Eco Weaving Kit: the extras. I think that the extras in life are often forgotten, and it is sometimes these little things that can be the most environmentally damaging. It’s important to me that everything in this kit is thoughtfully made and/or sourced so I’m going through each component piece by piece.

As well as the artisan made loom and bobbin, plant-dyed yarns, beginner’s weaving guide and wooden rod, the kit also includes a tapestry needle (handy to have), warping thread (very important) and an organic cotton tote bag to carry everything around in (so you can weave to your heart’s content in the park, in the car, on the couch, on the beach – anywhere you like).

The tapestry needle and warping thread are both unused industry surplus (which I talked about in my post about the wood elements of this kit), so although they are brand new, high quality and perfect for the kit, by buying these I actually saved these from going to landfill (and avoided materials being pulled from the earth to create new ones). I’m a huge fan of using industry surplus products as they are usually cheaper than the ones you buy from a regular store, and they are often better quality because they are the products that professionals use (rather than the cheaper, craft store alternatives).

I had a lovely woman who sews from home make up these bags using an undyed, organic cotton fabric that I’ve laundered using eco-friendly laundry detergent and line dried so that you’ve got a nice, soft bag in which to carry your Eco Weaving Kit.

One of the other factors that I considered in putting this kit together is not including things that you need to complete your weaving but that most people probably already have at home. A perfect example of this is scissors. You would find it quite difficult to use this weaving kit without a pair of scissors, but I think it would be wasteful of me (and an unnecessary extra expense for you) to include them in the kit. Any everyday items that you’ll need to complete your weaving are listed in the beginner’s guide that is included with the kit.

Find out more about what’s included in this kit.

Find out more about the sustainability credentials of the kit.

Please contact me at alchemybotanicals@gmail.com for high resolution images and a media release.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Eco Weaving Kit–the beginner’s weaving guide

Eco Weaving Kit by Alchemy  - Beginner's Guide to Tapestry Weaving

The Eco Weaving Kit is designed for beginners and more experienced weavers alike; someone at any stage of their weaving journey will appreciate the artisan-made loom and bobbin, luxurious plant dyed organic cotton yarns and handmade organic cotton carry bag. But I suspect that the part that beginners might appreciate the most is the 19 page beginner’s weaving guide that is included.

I developed ‘Modern Weaving Using Traditional Techniques’ for my full day workshop of the same name. In this workshop I take participants through the tools, terminology and troubleshooting of tapestry weaving, choosing appropriate materials to weave with, show them how to set up their weaving, teach them basic and some intermediate tapestry weaving techniques as well as how to finish and hang their weaving. I share with them the tips and tricks that I have learned over the years (that you don’t find out on blogs or Pinterest!).

The guide gives the instructions that I give in the workshop, with full colour, step by step photos. My aim was to provide a comprehensive guide that would allow people who learn better by reading (rather than listening or watching) to get a better grasp on the workshop content, as well as allow everyone to refer to the guide along the way, both in the workshop and when they are weaving at home. I don’t want to leave anyone guessing about how to warp their loom, tie a complex knot or keep their weaving straight, for example.

This detailed guide, which took months of preparation, weaving, photographing and editing, is included in the Eco Weaving Kit.

Eco Weaving Kit by Alchemy - booklet detail

Find out more about what’s included in this kit.

Find out more about the sustainability credentials of the kit.

Please contact me at alchemybotanicals@gmail.com for high resolution images and a media release.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Eco Weaving Kit–the plant dyed yarns

Plant dyed yarns for Eco Weaving Kit by Alchemy
I have a special passion for natural dyeing, sustainable materials and discovering the Australian natural landscape, so I knew that yarns in the Eco Weaving Kit would have to be inspired by my travels and grown, spun and dyed thoughtfully.
Being an experienced tapestry weaver, I have used MANY different new, vintage and found yarns in plant, animal and synthetic materials. Some are beautiful, some less so. Some are easy to work with, others are a nightmare. I tried several different natural dyed yarns for inclusion in this kit and after much consideration, these plant dyed organic cotton yarns are the ones that I’ve included.
I selected these yarns and fibres for their colours, quality, easiness to weave with, colour fastness and sustainability credentials. The kit comes with six different yarns and fibres that are either naturally dyed, undyed or colourgrown organic cotton or soy silk/bamboo roving,
The yarns contain only plant materials – they are made of cotton, soy or bamboo (no wool or silk) and dyed only with plant dyes (no animal or insect dyes). They include:
- 100% organic cotton yarn that has been hand dyed using traditional methods with chemical free, non toxic, plant dyes to create beautiful, vibrant colours and tones. This yarn is Fair Trade and organic certified. 
- 100% organic cotton colourgrown yarn.
- Plant silk roving made using soybean byproducts from the tofu making process. This fibre is processed using only natural products.
- 100% bamboo roving that has been unused and reclaimed as industry surplus
- 100% cotton yarn that has been unused and reclaimed as industry surplus.
- 100% handspun banana silk yarn.
They come with the kits in a choice of four colour schemes inspired by my travels across Australia: summer wildflowers, eucalyptus forest,  seaside holiday and dream state.

If you are after a few extra colours with your kit, the coloured yarns are available to purchase individually in addition – you just add each extra yarn that you want to your order and I’ll send them together.
Find out more detailed information about these yarns.
Find out more about what’s included in this kit.
Find out more about the sustainability credentials of the kit.
Please contact me at alchemybotanicals@gmail.com for high resolution images and a media release.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Eco Weaving Kit–the idea and the woods

Eco Weaving Kit by Alchemy - all components

I created these kits after searching for the perfect weaving loom for myself. After years of weaving I knew just what design would be the right size, shape and quality for me to use (as well as being truly environmentally sustainable), but I was unable to find exactly what I was after. So I decided to put many years of woodworking and weaving experience to good use and, after trying several difference prototypes, this is the design that I found works best for me. It’s based largely on the design of professional tapestry weaving looms that I’ve used, scaled down for portability and constructed in a PEFC certified sustainable local hardwood. This timber is strong, has beautiful natural texture and colour, and each loom has been hand cut, drilled and finished by me.

Eco Weaving Kit by Alchemy - process shot 10

The kit idea grew from there. I made a few more of these looms for friends and family and got such positive feedback about their quality and ease of use for beginners that I decided to include them as part of my Modern Weaving Using Traditional Techniques workshop. It seemed a natural next step for me to make a few more and make them available for people who want to start weaving, like using beautiful quality materials (like I do!) but can’t make it to my workshop.

Eco Weaving Kit by Alchemy - process shot 8

I knew that I couldn’t make every part of the kit myself, but I wanted to be sure that everything that was included was guaranteed to be as produced in a way that was thoughtful, ethical and environmentally sustainable. My experience working in environmental sustainability for over a decade has taught me that in order to achieve this, a product has to be certified by a reputable organisation and/or I have to speak to the maker myself. Not easy but, with a bit of extra effort, certainly possible!

Next I worked with a local wood turner to create the second wooden element of the kit – the bobbin. I designed and he hand turned the most exquisite bobbins out of fallen melaleuca and grey gum timbers. (see top photo). I love them! I’ve included one of these in each kit (and kept a couple for myself, of course).

The last wooden element in this kit is the hardwood rod (see top photo), which allows you to hang your woven masterpiece on the wall after you have finished it. I sourced this hardwood as unused industry surplus. It’s wood that, while being absolutely new and perfect, it is not suitable for use in the industry from which it came (in this case, probably because it was cut too short). Industry surplus products are not always easy to find and require a bit of time and effort to source exactly the product you are after, but they are out there. My two favourite places to purchase industry surplus materials in Melbourne are not-for-profit organisations Resource Rescue, and Reverse Art Truck.

Find out more about what’s included in this kit.

Find out more about the sustainability credentials of the kit.

Please contact me at alchemybotanicals@gmail.com for high resolution images and a media release.