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Dreary Days Make Me Think Too Much

Just a bit of snow the other day. If those grey clouds are going to hang around and block out the sun then they might as well do something besides rain, rain, rain.

The grayness gets to me. It gets in my head and I have enough in there already.

My hands continue and I am now on the third one. Lee stopped driving to the dump/garbage/recycle place here in the area. And I think with his increasing leg pain every time he feeds the deer and birds at dawn that the chore will fall to me as well. Recently I just had to remind him but now I will load the pails and head out and climb the hill myself. I can do it. They count on feed being there and it gives us such pleasure to watch them.

Second hand filled in and the start of a new one….garbage bags and reading menus.

And I finished the long scroll of the bits of things around the studio to put in a wine bottle.

Here is what I wrote at the end of the scroll.

 

These are the things that

lay around my artist studio.

 

I am older and do not

rely on them so much anymore

to inspire,

assist,

and fill my hands with desires

to give them a place

in my work.

 

So I leave them for you

in the only way I can.

 

Listen to what

they can tell you.

S. Webster 2019

 

It was a fun thing to do and now the scroll is rolled very tightly to fit into the perfect bottle neck. I am thinking a single malt or chardonnay….and then of course, an ocean.

Yesterday I ordered some new clothes. It is the only way I can shop now. Order online and then send back if they are not what I had hoped for. I will spend some time at the sewing machine as well, altering and changing up some of my own clothes. It won’t take much to fill a small suitcase for March’s trip to Australia.

I would like to take a cab to Havana Blue while in Melbourne. Something about all those drapey linens and stunning neck pieces might just warrant a closer look. I will pass on the hats that make all their mannequins look like mushrooms. Also I need to get to Melbourne Etching as a trip to that town is not complete without picking up the latest Imprint magazine and more small vinyl etching plates. And they might just have a tool that I will think necessary.

Today is a good day to prepare the next scroll for a bottle. Maybe a short story this time. A friend posted a picture for me on facebook and before I could stop myself, a whole story about who lived in the cabin set out in the middle of a paddock starting fermenting. Maybe I will put that bearded red-haired man and his loneliness in a bottle for someone else to figure what to do with him.

I am finding it hard to shut my mind off at times. Funny that my brain muscle does not wear down with age like the rest of the parts I rely on.

Here’s another picture of the snow from the front door.

We are so looking forward to tiny green buds on those trees.

I was going to wait to post this one….but why bother. Here it is.

Til next time.

A Remarkable Australian Basket Maker

I have wanted to talk about an extraordinary basket maker in Australia for some time now. Judy Gray-Gardner. In the above picture there are five of her small pieces that she gave to me a very long time ago. It was so generous of her and I would seek her out whenever attending a basket conference over there just to see what she was up to. Sometimes we would sit and weave together and other times she would show me a technique.

I will talk about each of the five pieces and what I remember about them in a bit but first to the other things on the shelf. The assemblage next to the basket box (which is actually an old drawer) was made by a charming man who bought a church in Campbelltown, Tasmania and turned it into a restaurant. I don’t think it is still a restaurant but when he owned it he collected bits and pieces to make into art. There is a fairy penguin bone perched atop a bit of wood, some bit of leather with eyelets, a bit of barn wood with an old brooch of turquoise pieces on brass. He was grey-haired, bearded as I recall, a good cook, and charming so how could I not purchase an artwork of his to stuff in the suitcase.

Below that piece is a student’s clay olive bottle. I bought it from him at a student show at Arrowmont more than ten years ago. Never used it for oil but keep it next to this gourd voodoo basket from Africa. All the beads on strings jiggle when you pick it up and when opened reveal all the strings hanging inside.  I bought it at a fiber conference for my daughter and when I gave it to her I said, “It’s a voodoo piece. Let’s write the name of someone we don’t like on a piece of paper and put inside then give it a good shake at midnight. In the morning we will give them a call and see how they are feeling.” Her response…..”Why don’t you just keep it, mom.”  I never did try that exercise but with our present white house occupant, I might reconsider.

Other pieces in the box are Toni Rogers’ sticks with burned patterns. These were the first ones I acquired as a gift and bought several more from her over the years. Toni is another wonderful artist using natural fibers in her work. Other than those sticks it is just a magnolia pod and some driftwood.

So now back to Judy.

I know, I know there is quite a bit of dust on these. But I do not let my cleaning lady take them out and I really did not see how much dust there was until I moved the photos from my iphone to here. So just overlook it. This one I always thought she told me was rosemary. Maybe in the middle. It no long smells of anything but maybe dust. But what I like about her technique here is this grass looking crochet type of lashing in different directions to hold it all together.

And this random woven vine ball.

And coiled jacaranda stems. Judy’s stitches are so even and I think it took a bit of strength to keep this shape and control over those stems. Here is the other end that might be the starting point.

And a coiled corn husk ball. Again look at those even stitches.

And my favorite, a red hot poker boucle coiled piece.

You can see that same cord lashing the coils together. Judy showed me how to make this boucle cordage at a basket conference in Tasmania. We had set aside some time for her to show me and she had the red hot poker stems all soaked and ready. With two pieces of the wet leaf in your left hand held tight with the thumb and forefinger, you use the right hand to twist away from you and before you cross it over to the left and pick up that part with your right, you over twist until it turns back on itself. Brilliant! It takes quite a bit of the leaves to do this as it is curling back on itself, but I love the look of it. And it would have taken so much time for her to make the materials for this small ball that is so much fun to hold in your hands.

The last time I experienced Judy’s generosity was when my daughter (same one who declined ownership of the voodoo basket) and I stayed with her in Adelaide. Judy showed us how to eat big lumps of avocado on wheat toast and call it breakfast. With her friendly neighbors Judy taught us how to play Hoy. It was a game with cards or bingo bits, I don’t remember exactly because it was twelve years ago. But the best part was if you were the winner, you got chocolate and if you were one of the many losers, you got hard candy, or lollies as they say over there. How fun is that!

Anyway, I just wanted to show Judy’s work and say how much I love these pieces and her generosity in just insisting I take them. And her time showing me how to do something with basket materials. I will not be attending the National Basket Conference in South Australia this year. It will be near Adelaide and if anyone sees Judy there, please give her my best. And if she has left this world to gather materials somewhere else…..well, she was certainly one of the best that was on offer down under.

Til next time.

Weaving Grasses

In attempting to clean out storage areas two months ago I came across bundles of sweet grass dating back to the early eighties. Back then at the Michigan basket conferences some Native Americans from Maine would arrive selling their sweet grass. The smell of this was simply divine. I used mine very sparingly on small coiled baskets or inserted into inner and outer rims on splint baskets….especially those having to do with sewing.

In the above picture are two coils of my attempting to ply the sweet grass into cordage. Both thumbs protested after about one hour in the tight gripping and twisting action necessary to hold a good ply. I used the shorter of the sweet grasses that I harvested myself in Michigan or out in Washington state many years ago.

I found another bag full of this shorter one tucked into the studio near some shed snake skins. What in the world am I going to do with those!

Anyway, Here is one of the small sweet grass baskets I made from looking at a Native American sewing accessory. The ring fits over the wrist so that the “ball” that holds the yard is not dropped. The thread to be used is kept inside the ball that is latched shut. The thread feeds out the small hole in the upper part of the ball.

I had braided the sweet grass to use as the weaving element over cane spokes. The rims are lashed with cane as well. I think cane must have been the only small pliable material I had back then. Native Americans used ash splints for their spokes/lashing.

A loop of braided sweet grass came off of the rim from one half of the ball and looped over a knot of sweet grass on the other half to keep the sewing ball closed. I thought this was a rather ingenious way of keeping small balls of threads/yarns close to what you were crocheting/knitting/wrapping. I made only one….who would ever need more?

Here is another small basket I wove with the sweet grass.

You can tell it is small by the anise pod on top for a handle. It is a wonky little thing but I am sure that at the time I was more than a little pleased that I could make a lid that fit over the top.

So it is the eighties remember, hay day of craft experimentation.  Here is what good coiling is supposed to look like. The Gullah baskets of Henrietta Snype. This one I bought from her during a demonstration she was giving on Gullah work.

She uses the sweet grass harvested on the coast of South Carolina and it is much coarser than the sweet grasses of the northern United States. The darker parts here are pine needles for contrast and the palmetto fronds are prepared and sized to be used as the lashing material. She gave me some to try back in 1992 when she was demonstrating and I still have them!

The lighter sweet grass in the picture below is the sweet grass from Maine and was the one I used for the small sewing basket and coiled piece. It is on the left and one and a half times longer and more uniform in shape and size than the grass harvested in Michigan and Washington.

I would also use these grasses in baskets made on the loom.

That one in the top picture from an article I wrote was woven using a popular overshot pattern…Johann Speck’s #33 to be exact. The pattern weft was the sweet grass. The warp was a fine mercerized cotton. The rims were hand peeled ash from log pounding with a tribe native to Michigan. Finished it is 24″ x 16″ x 16″. It smelled wonderful.

Here is another small sample of using the grasses on the loom.

And the last one done about eight years ago going all out making connecting covers for a “Nature Journal”.

Collected grasses from here, pine needles saved from the nineties and palm inflorescence.

When the sweet grass was dampened the smell was wonderful. My grass and my nose are older. When I finished due to sore thumbs the other day, my fingers looked like I took up rolling my own. The stains are still there.

If I could I would pack the whole lot up and take it to basket making friends in Australia. But I can’t. I don’t know many basket makers any more so maybe I am stuck with warping up the loom in the studio and making a very long table runner.

It most certainly will not be warped at twenty plus threads to the inch….my eyes have aged at the same rate as my thumbs and nose.

Here is how all the hand peeled spints ended up.

Sure I used up all the splints and more, but I still have the eight foot boat. I am not sure I have got the hang of downsizing. Maybe a match really is the answer.

Til next time

Drawing and Drinking Stories

I am this far with the first scroll to put in a bottle and set free. Just about eighteen inches to go. Then I am thinking about doing some writing for a bottle. What about a short story? Wouldn’t it be fun to break open a bottle and find a story!

There is no shortage of wine bottles or paper here. And I can imagine that whoever receives these bits of me will be happy they found it. So much better having that thought in my head than someone giving a work to someone who really wished they hadn’t. This way I can continue to make up my own narrative.

But on the subject of wine and other spirits, I don’t think I have ever properly talked about my ever increasing set of books of collected labels and memories of those I shared drinks with.

I just finished putting together the fourteenth book, all ready for labels to be pasted in with comments. On the book shelf they look pretty innocuous.

I started in 2000 by peeling off the label from a bottle containing something alcoholic. Once stuck in I would write something about the drink and company I drank it in. There were to be no repeats of labels but repeats of companions was of course just fine.

Each book had to have the cover made using the bag that alcohol bottles are put into at the shops, or wineries, or distilleries, or….

So here are some of the first ones.

Liquor Control Board Ontario….nice bags. A bag from a winery visited in New Zealand. And Hanging Rock Winery in Victoria, Australia…..just across the road from the famous site and story of Miranda and her fellow boarding school girls that go missing.

And some others from Australia ( LiquorLand….love that shop name). Buffalo Trace right from the distillery in Kentucky. And the Sticks winery in the Yarra Valley that has since fallen a bit short of its hay day. The black one from YarraWood is the latest book filled with more blank pages than I think I can fill…..but maybe not. The first one is placed with the story yet to be added from dinner out the other night with a good friend who came down to spend a couple days with Lee and me.

That Pinot Noir was nothing less than stunning.  Thank you, David from the Copper Door for suggesting it.

And here are some other pages from the other books.

Seems I drink more in Australia or maybe they just have more new labels to collect.

A wine from two former workshop students who came here. Lin is now gone and I like how she is often remembered by me in the studio and when I peruse these books.

Others who have passed have their funeral papers kept in the book with the wine they chose for our last dinner together. John here got a page of remembrance in The Spirits Bar book as well. Some people you just like having a drink with.

And more pages.

And I can hear some of you more discriminating connoisseurs saying, “Why would she drink that swill?” Well actually I will drink almost anything in good company and it all needs recording.

I even cut apart a thin aluminum can to get it pasted in the book.

And favorite scotches….one because it is the one my friend, Moe, always brings down and the other because it is my own personal favorite single malt.

I can not tell you how many times I have sat in restaurants refusing to let the waiter take the bottle away until I have worked off the label. Or stuffed it into a purse to soak later. One time while teaching in Australia, I forgot that I left it soaking in the sink in a shared bath and flooded the whole place. No one suspected because I used everyone’s towels to soak it all up. And the label was easy to remove.

And when you are traveling, you must have tissues or napkins or scraps of paper to stick the label onto. When home they must be removed and given a place in the book, along with the story. I still find some stuck to papers that have been lodged into safe places and I have no idea who I shared the drink with….but I am sure it was good and so was the company.

It is an obsession to have this physical evidence of a shared conversation, a shared meal, a shared laugh.

Here is a couple of tips for removing labels….removing friends is not so easy.

Beer bottles invariably need to be soaked…it is a paste that is not the clingy plastic type and needs be be soaked for quite some time. You are forgiven if you just let the memory go into the trash with the bottle. Beer bottles can be tedious and so can the company for that matter, so just let it go if you do not have the patience.

Wine bottles need only to have their glass heated either for 20 seconds in the microwave, (remember not to put any metal parts in there and that includes those fancier labels with gold leaf on them). If not heated in the microwave then fill it with very hot water and take your razor edge to the side of the label and slowly peel away. I keep an old razor blade paint scraper in the kitchen for this purpose only.

Spirits bottles can have anything as an adhesive. If it won’t peel off when the inside of the bottle is heated with water, then start the soak. I personally find the soaking well worth the time on spirits bottles because I am quite sure that the company was worth the wait.

And I realize that because of iphones it might be tempting to just photograph the bottle and stick a copy of the image in a book. This is not the same! Your companions are worth more than this. The flavor of the drink and its linger on the tongue and in the mind are worth more than this.

If and when you make a book to house all this good time memory, remember to put in spacers to accommodate the addition of the thickness of labels.

That is it for today. Art Group was postponed again today, so I am stuck with the wine and no memory to go with it.

Til later.