Saturday, 2 December 2017

Indigo reflections

I have been doing a lot of indigo dyeing now the weather has warmed up, and it has been really satisfying to wake up my three vats, warm them up and attend to their individual needs. These vats are all natural vats mostly using henna as the antioxidant, although one of the vats which I have had for a few years now, got a dose of over-ripe bananas last summer after my indigo workshop at Sturt Summer School.
This year I will be teaching Introduction to Natural Dyes and Mordant Printing, and there is only one place left, so if you are interested, go to the Sturt website and enrol!
Two weekends ago I ran an Indigo intensive Workshop from my home, where I am in the process of planning a purpose built studio. I wanted to test out how everything would work running classes from the downstairs space, and I had 8 eager students as my innaugural students.
Unfortunately our hot summery day disappeared and we had rain for most of the day but that didn't dampen our creativity or good humour! I ran through the process of making up an organic indigo henna vat from scratch (which then gave us the luxury of 4 vats to work from) and some beautiful pieces were made as you can see below.
One thing I stress to students is the attention paid to preparing the fabric before dyeing and also after dyeing in indigo. The finishing process is very crucial to ensure that the indigo is fixed inside the fibres and not just sitting on the outside, where it will quickly crock off. After rinsing in cold water several times after oxidation, and then neutralising in a vinegar rinse, it is important to then place the cotton fabric into very hot soapy water. As Joy Boutrup explained, this serves the dual purpose of getting rid of any excess indigo pigment on the surface of the fabric which has not been trapped inside the fibre, and at the same time swells the indigo molecule that is inside the fibre, ensuring that it is now trapped and cannot escape. In a recent Instagram post Aboubakar Fofana also stresses the importance of correct finishing of the indigo dyed fabric.
I'm off on a short holiday to Singapore and will post something on the textiles while I am there.
Cheers for now!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Mordant printing frenzy!

I really enjoy teaching workshops on natural dyeing because I get such a buzz from inspiring people to look at nature in a different way, to learn more about the plants they use and exploring the many and varied ways to utilise natural colour for our enjoyment. However, when I am teaching I rarely get time to explore new techniques myself.  So it was with great anticipation that my good friend, Sylvia Riley from Sydney, came up to Canberra for a long weekend so that we could have a print-fest at Megalo! Having her there enabled me to print the full width of fabrics on my textile screens - around 140cm wide.
Squeegee passing with my print-pal, Sylvia, at Megalo
Megalo is such a great place to print because it has a full-width 8m table 👏 We both managed to get metres of fabric printed, although we were exhausted at the end of it.  My meterage is to be used for one-off naturally dyed and stitched scarves for the upcoming Open Studio Day.
Different mordants printed onto cotton
The only trouble with mordant printing is that when they dry, they are almost invisible, such as the alum above.  The slightly stained part of the design is a very weak iron and alum mix. All the mordants are printed and aged before dyeing.
Process from print to dyed fabric using a range of mordants.
The first dyebath I put this mordant-printed scarf length into was Acacia catechu, or Cutch. This gave me a lovely range of browns and tans, however I felt the scarf was a little 'dull' so once I washed and ironed it, I over-printed with some alum and another iron mix.
Adding more detail to the scarf with new mordants

Barely visible now but will show up in the next dyeing.

These small prints will add further highlights once I dye in my second dyebath, Rajentot.  I am waiting for this mordant to dry as we speak and will show the finished cloth in a few days time.
By the way, I am teaching an intermediate class on repeat printing at Megalo for the next two Saturdays, more details click here.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Over to the Dark Side....

Wow, I have no idea where July and August went but we are almost into September and I thought I had better do an update on my blog. A couple of weekends ago I ran an Introduction to Natural dyes and Printing with Mordants workshop in Canberra which was well attended, including several participants who have continued to come along to build up their knowledge and skills of natural dyes. It was especially lovely that Pirjo came all the way from Darwin and braved the Canberra winter, lucky it wasn't the weekend just gone because we had both hail and snow here on Sunday.

Making the mordant mixtures for printing
The lovely part about running the workshops is that we have a large kitchen with an open fire blazing away, so we can relax and eat yummy lunches and chat about our natural dye experiences. These conversations always seem to come back to the same gentle admonishments of why I am not on Facebook/Instagram etc etc etc..... order to keep Belinda, Jess and Ellen quiet....I now have an Instagram account : #julierydertextiles. And to be perfectly honest, I am enjoying connecting with other people, although because I am new to Instagram I am still learning Insta-etiquette. As Ellen commented, I have now crossed over to the Dark Side! So I am determined to show them I am not the luddite they think I am! Actually its more about finding the time to upkeep, but please connect with me on Instagram if you can.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Australians "love" their beaches!

Redhead Beach, NSW
I have been up in Newcastle for a couple of days to organise some professional photography of my work in Stitched Up at Timeless Textiles (see previous post). I am staying at Redhead which is about half an hour south of Newcastle itself, about 200 metres from this gorgeous beach. So of course I have been walking along the beachfront everyday, seeing what seaweeds there are to collect, and catching glimpses of whales heading north.  And just to put it into context for those of you in Canberra now....yesterday was about 24 degrees!!

The seaweeds collected from the tideline
It has been my idea of heaven just slowly wandering up the beach, eyes peeled for small pieces of seaweed that have been thrown up by the high tide. Most of what you find on the beach is predominantly Ecklonia sp., so pickings were few and far between along the 5kms I walked.  Luckily I took a plastic bag with me though......

What I found on 'pristine' Redhead Beach
I was shocked to find that rubbish outnumbered seaweeds on the beach, and I was glad for the plastic bag I took along with me to capture it all.  Whilst I was walking along I would estimate there were about 50 other people wandering backwards and forwards with their partners/friends/dogs/ipods.  Not one of them bent down to pick up the obvious rubbish off their beach. So it amazes me that people have the gall to say how much they love living by the beach and what it means to them but they don't bother caring for it.  Here's what's inside the plastic bag.....
A full bag of plastics and rubber picked up from the shore
What you can't see in this photo is the metres and metres of fishing line that littered the shore. Not too far from a man fishing from the beach......I was also shocked that the most prolific plastic item, apart from plastic bags and cigarette wrappers, was Chuppa Chup sticks....I mean seriously over a dozen of them, along with quite a few plastic straws.

Apart from dismay at how nobody else seemed to care about picking up rubbish, it also started me thinking about how items end up on shore and applying this thought to seaweed, shells and other natural objects.  If plastics can be washed up miles from where they enter the sea, and we know they do not originate from the ocean, then do the seaweeds I find on the beach originate from that area, or have they too been in circulation from another beach until they are washed up?  When I collect my seaweed I press it and label it with the date and location, as did Charles Morrison back in the 1800's. These details enable us to see what species were growing at a particular place in time.  Or do they? If you are not dredging the seaweed from a location, then how reliable is it to posit that what you find not the shore comes from that particular beach/body of water?? This and other things to mull over whilst I collect seaweed......and rubbish.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Stitched Up

Stitched Up opens tonight at The Lock Up in Newcastle and unfortunately I can't be there, however I will be going up to see the exhibition in a few weeks time to get some professional photography of my work, "Liberty". In the meantime, Anne Kempton has sent me some images of the work so that I can share it with you.  As mentioned in my previous post,  I think my work will be very confronting for some viewers, and this is probably exacerbated by it's position in the Lock Up venue - the leather padded cell......

Julie Ryder, Liberty, 2017. Photo: Anne Kempton
Yes, it seems a bit grim, but the work is not about deaths in custody, nor even that Mary Jane Wright, the girl I based my work on, hung herself.  In fact, it appears that none of the girls committed suicide  from reading the histories of the 193 girls that Jane Ison has documented here.  So why the noose?

When I was visiting Timeless Textiles for my Chromophilia exhibition there last year, I walked through The Lock Up one morning before it was open to the public in order to get a sense of the place with a view to producing  work for Stitched Up. Prior to this Anne Kempton and Wilma Simmons had organised for Jane Ison to talk to artists involved in the project about her research on the inmates of the Newcastle Industrial School (NIS) and together we walked up to the old site and discussed how it would have been in the late 1800's and how daily life was for these girls. It was a really informative session, and Jane's passion for research and her plea that every girl deserved to be remembered struck a real chord with us. Particularly with Wilma, who made 193 dolls to represent every one of the 193 girls incarcerated in the school.   You can see images of Wilma's work in a newspaper article here.

Anne and Wilma have been passionate about organising this exhibition over the past couple of years and together have helped bring Jane's research to life.  They have also spent time researching the types of materials and clothing that were worn by the girls at the NIS, and also by the people in local community at the end of the 19th century.  They sent out swatches of fabrics and information to all the artists involved so that they could produce work that was authentic as possible.

So....back to the noose. The girl I chose to represent was Mary Jane Wright, and her story can be read online here. When I was alone in the Lock Up I had a very strong sense of the desperation and hopelessness that  must have been experienced by any inmate there. The small, cramped dark rooms with graffiti on the walls seemed to have absorbed the misery and sorrow from bygone days. I don't know what I had been thinking but I had an immediate vision of a noose - not as a device for death, but as a metaphor for 'hanging around, endless waiting to be released, a sense of foreboding and doom, as in "a noose hanging over one's head". And when I had that vision, I almost immediately realised that the noose would have to be made of human hair to symbolise the fact that many of the girls were incarcerated because of their femininity - locked up for their own good because they had no visible means of support or were living from hand to mouth through prostitution. The girls in the NIS often sewed clothing or mended clothes for the local community, and I had the idea of the hair noose ending with a hair-embroidered word, "Liberty", on an antique irish lace handkerchief. 

Detail of 'Liberty' hair embroidery on antique Irish lace handkerchief

Because Mary Jane was arraigned for her own protection, I imagined what she wanted most was freedom – Liberty – from the school, from her mother, and her mother’s devious boyfriend, and from her circumstances in life. Her family’s bad influence seemed like a noose around her neck, dragging her down, ensuring she stayed in limbo between one authority and another. The noose can symbolise intimidation, fear, condemnation and the suspension of time. The green ribbon that binds the plait of the red hair rope/noose is stitched in hair with the initials MJW and on the other side "saoirse" - Irish for freedom or liberty. The irish word is something familiar and personal and therefore attached to her body (hair)  whereas the work she was made to produce – sewing – is in English denoting the cultural and physical relocation Mary Jane underwent from Belfast to Australia.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


The scarf exhibition Wrapped is about to open  at Barometer in Paddington so I just thought I would share a few photos of some of the install to whet your appetite and for those that can't make it tonight.
Click here for more details.A big thankyou to Barb Rogers for organising the exhibition (and everything else...!!)

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Wrapped....and Stitched Up

Two group exhibitions that I am involved in will open this week, one in Sydney and the other in Newcastle.

A selection of my naturally-dyed and degummed scarves in Wrapped
Wrapped is an exhibition of scarves by Vivien Haley, Sylvia Riley, Barbara Rogers, Julie Ryder,
Liz Williamson, Tradition Textiles and Deborah Emmett at Barometer Gallery, 13 Gurner St Paddington.  Opening viewing and drinks are on Wednesday night 21st June 6-8pm.
Gallery hours are Wednesday - Saturday 12-5pm.  The exhibition is open from 21 June to 22 July.

Stitched Up is an exhibition featuring 24 contemporary international and national textile artists on show at The Lock Up from Friday 23 June 2017 until 6 August 2017. It coincides with the 150-year anniversary of The Newcastle Industrial School’s opening; and is resulting from a partnership between The Lock Up and Timeless Textiles galleries.
This exhibition conceptually provides a voice for the 193 girls who attended the Newcastle Industrial School, translated into contemporary fibre art.

A detail of my work in Stitched Up. Photo: David Paterson
Above is a detail of part of my work for Stitched Up. It was hard to choose one girl out of the 193 that historian Jane Ison had researched, but eventually I decided on Mary Jane Wright, an Irish girl born in Belfast in 1853. According to her biography she had red hair and blue eyes, and more about her and the other 192 inmates can be read about here. Some of the stories are shocking to read, reflecting the harsh and often brutal way of life for young girls who fell foul of the law, often punished for crimes they did not commit. I wanted my work to convey the sense of hopelessness Mary Jane must have felt, and so the rest of the work which is not shown in the photo above I hope will act as a metaphor for the stark reality of her plight. I believe my work is to be installed in one of the cell rooms and this should provide the right atmosphere for the piece.  I will be going up to Newcastle to get the work photographed in situ and will then post an image of the entire piece once the show has opened.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Out of the Box

Last Thursday and Friday were spent at the University of Canberra's Out of the Box symposium which aimed to share strategies for accessing natural history collections.  It was a perfect arena in which to give a lightning talk about my current research on the Charles Morrison seaweed albums, and to introduce to others the way I work with natural history collections and objects.
Part of my presentation
It was a bonus that Dr Christine Cargill, my scientist-collaborator, also gave a talk about the artists-in residence she has hosted at the Cryptogam Herbarium at the ANBG, including myself, so double exposure on my artworks!
Christine Cargill's presentation
There were some very interesting talks from speakers who were involved with different aspects of natural history collections - conservators, researchers, writers, artists, curators, scientists, taxidermists etc - but the symposium itself was engineered so that everyone who attended could participate in discussions and workshops on how to make natural history collections more accessible, both in the physical and virtual sense.

These discussions raised issues about increased non-scientist access and security; the increased value of physical collections in a digital world (and also the importance of an online presence); the role of volunteers; the idea of establishing an Australian Natural History Museum; who the stakeholders of these collections are; and how and who we can lobby effectively for an increased  awareness about the importance of these collections.

There were tours of three CSIRO collections: The  Australian National Insect Collection; the Australian National Wildlife Collection and the Australian National Herbarium.  I chose to go to the Herbarium again as I haven't been for a few years.  The ANWC was fully booked as there were limited places and lots of delegates who worked in the fields of taxidermy and conservation of animals and birds.  ANIC was also a very popular tour but I had been there not too long ago.

Brendan Lepschi, the Curator of the ANH, spent an hour taking us through the various aspects of the collection, which was greatly appreciated by the students and interstate visitors who had never been behind the scenes before.
Brendan Lepschi in the ANH showing how specimens are kept

Herbarium sheets showing how small orchids are mounted

Small plants can also be preserved in jars although they tend to
lose colour

Specimen of Eucalyptus collected by Joseph Banks on
Captain Cook's first Voyage

There were also three practical workshops that you could register for : Conservation of physical specimens with Sheldon Teare (Australian Museum); Digital Sharing with Ely Wallis from Museum Victoria, and Creative Responses to Natural History with Erica Seccombe. I chose to go to the Digital Sharing workshop and it opened my eyes to online resources for collections I didn't know existed. It also gave me a broader understanding to other sites such as the Atlas of Living Australia, Trove as well as providing insight into how I could contribute online as a citizen scientist to several other websites.

As with most conferences, the highlight is always meeting like-minded people, finding common ground and talkking about collaborative projects that could be realised in the future.
A very big thank you to Alison Wain for not only organising the conference but ensuring everything ran smoothly over the two days so that maximum time was spent sharing information and strategies for ensuring natural history collections are seen as vibrant resources of information, not dusty old exhibits locked away in dark cabinets of curiosity.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Creative Canberra Weekend

Despite the warnings that the weekend in Canberra was going to be heavy rain and freezing, my Indigo resist workshop was a wonderful way to spend the days indoors with a lovely group of women eager to extend their knowledge of resist prints and indigo dyeing.  We kept our strength up with delicious lunches and morning and afternoon teas in front of a raging open fire in the kitchen, just the perfect antidote to the crisp temperature outside. We explored many types of printing and monoprinting onto fabrics with two types of resist pastes and I encouraged students to layer their fabrics so that different intensities of indigo could be achieved.
Submerging the resist printed fabric into the indigo vat

Exploring cut stencils and screenprinting rice resist paste.

Creative use of clay resist using the leaves from outside.

Our happy group proudly showing off one of their samples
produced over the weekend.
If YOU would like to explore your latent creativity with textiles, my current list of wokshops is available on my website here

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Lights, Camera, ACTION!

The Old Post office building in Picton with Seaweed Album artwork
Just thought I would share some photos with you from IlluminARTe in Picton last Saturday night.  The two buildings I was asked to provide artwork for were the Old Post Office and the Old Bank buildings on the corner of Menangle Street. My inspiration for the Old Post Office was the Charles Morrison Seaweed Album from the NMA that I have been researching. The image above is reconstructed from the intricately tooled leather cover of the seaweed album that I have reconfigured to fit the building.

Animated seaweeds gracefully floating across the facade.
I worked with Jerome Pearce from Just Pixels in Sydney who animated the images on both the buildings.  The Old Bank Building on the opposite corner was inspired by the beautiful lithographs drawn by William Henry Harvey, the noted Irish phycologist,  for his five-volume Phycologia Australica that he wrote after his 18 month visit to Australia, New Zealand and the Friendly Islands in 1854-5.
Underwater discoveries with HW Harvey lithographs

I think Jerome had fun with this one and I thank him for taking some underwater stills off the beach near his house.  This building was a little more difficult to read as the lower portions of the building could not be lit because they were so recessed, so a lot of the imagery towards the bottom got a little lost with people and signage etc getting in the way.  

During the day the other artists and myself manned the pop-up gallery where we showed are our artworks and I thank Susan Conroy and Wollondilly Council for making this all happen.  It was a great night, lots and lots of people and plenty of food and stalls to while away the hours.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

IlluminARTe @ Picton

A one-day-and-night event is happening at the tiny town of Picton this coming Saturday, called IlluminARTe. Readers of my blog may recall a post on my images projected onto several of the historic buildings there in 2015. This year I was one of the invited artists to develop work specifically for the old Bank and Post Office Buildings in the main street and my theme this year will be all things seaweed, following on from my NMA residency and recent discoveries.  There will also be a pop-up exhibition (details above) showing two large works on paper of mine.  I will be manning the exhibition from 1-3pm on Saturday, and the other artists will also be minding the exhibition at some point during the festival.  Picturesque Picton has a population of around 4,500, but I have it on good authority that nearly 20,000 people attend the illuminations! Should be a great night out.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Last chance......

Last week was spent helping deliver 'The Nature Collector' school holiday workshops for children at the National Museum of Australia, as reported in an earlier post. Despite thinking I might be out of my depth trying to inspire four-year-olds in the joys of making rocks and seaweed out of tissue paper, it was actually awesome!

Firstly, the children and their adult escorts went to view the two seaweed albums held by the NMA that I have been researching - The Port Phillip album and The Port Arthur Album. Although these were housed in a glass case, everyone really responded to the colours and fragility of the preserved specimens. Then everyone headed back down to the main foyer where the workshops began.

Welcome to the Workshop! - Ally, Sasha and Amanda from NMA
This program was so engaging we had parents and children, grannies and friends all exploring different ways of representing nature - from sitting and drawing, looking at details through a light microscope, developing sun prints (cyanotyping) of nature arrangements, and helping to make a collaborative underwater collage of seaweeds.

Part of the collaborative seaweed collage
In the first week of the holidays I was in Ballarat at a fibre retreat, but also investigating another seaweed album, at the University so my good friend, sculptor Mary Kayser, started off making the seaweed collages with the children.

There were two workshops a day and there were 30 children per workshop (plus adults and littlies).
Each panel of the seaweed collage measured approximately 2 metres x 90 cm and each day we stuck the panel up onto clear glass barriers so the light could filter through.  By the second week we had started attaching the panels to the other side of the glass, so it became much more layered and complex.

Part of the final collage - thanks to everyone who contributed!  

It was an exhausting week, but I was surprised at how quickly the time went during the workshops - we just became absorbed in the task, and I hope I have inspired some up and coming marine biologists, phycologists, scientists or artists through my own artworks on display and also the workshop.

MOST IMPORTANTLY......The seaweed albums are only up for 2 more days at the NMA, so its your last chance of seeing them before they are housed safely back in their archival boxes. Who knows when they will be on view to the public again?

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Flowers of the Sea

Bridie Smith's article in yesterday's papers.

Yesterday was very exciting for me, because I could finally "come clean" about what I had been  doing during the final months of my arts residency at the National Museum of Australia, supported by the Australia Council. Those of you who have been following my residency and blog may have wondered why suddenly all went quiet....!
The above article, written by Fairfax journalist Bridie Smith, featured in The Age, The Canberra Times and the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, reveals that I had found the identity of the collector of the anonymous "Port Phillip Album" of 19th century pressed seaweeds, collected predominantly in the Port Phillip Bay area of Melbourne between 1859 and 1882. The full article can be read here

Not only did I discover that the album was made by an elusive and little known collector, Charles Morrison, but that there were also 6-10 other albums by him in other institutional collections throughout NSW and Victoria. This was a great coup not only for the NMA, who now have provenance for their album, but also for me as an artist in residence working within a museum, and researching historical collections, which is where I realise my passion lies. Although that is quite obvious to many who follow my work and exhibitions that usually inspired by  botanical collectors, scientists and objects with social and cultural history. I feel it is also a great validation for all of us who work as artists in residence within scientific or cultural institutions - many people still do not understand what real benefits an artist can bring to the institution, scientist or researcher, and we are often seen as merely capable of delivering decorative outcomes that do not impact upon the serious work done by the institution. 

I am now in the process of writing an academic paper for publication and inspired to keep researching these and other collections from the 19th century, so stay tuned! 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

The Nature Collector

As many of my readers will know, last year I spent 6 months at the National Museum of Australia as an artist in residence with the PATE department, which was documented here and in earlier blog posts.

Two of the objects I was fascinated with were seaweed albums from the 19th Century, one from Port Arthur in Tasmania, and the other from Port Philip in Victoria. There have been some exciting developments with these albums, which will be announced this weekend in The Age and possibly The Canberra Times.
Alone with the Port Phillip Seaweed Album!

Being photographed at the NMA Repository by Alex for
the upcoming Bridie Smith article for The Age 
However, as a direct result of my residency and research the albums themselves will be on display for the very first time from 8th April until 22nd April at the NMA.  This will co-incide with the school holiday workshops  called The Nature Collector that start next week.

Amanda and Kate from Education admiring my pressed seaweeds
The Education team at the NMA have been working hard to
collect natural materials in preparation for the workshops

In front is a cabinet filled with my pressed seaweeds and in the
background are the notebooks, papers, cyanotyping materials
that have been prepared by the Team for each workshop. Awesome!

Unfortunately I will be interstate for the first week, but my good friend, Canberra sculptor and artist Mary Kayser, will be inspiring children to create an enormous collaborative seaweed collage at the Museum.  I will be back for the second week to finish off the program. Children will also get to start a nature Journal that they can take home with them, and create some cyanotyping with natural materials. More information and bookings can be found here.