Thursday, August 23, 2007


These are two stories out a kids' book I started writing in about 1992... I was going for the medievally-aesop's fable kind of look. One of these days I'll get around to finishing it...

Thursday, August 2, 2007


I inherited an old floor loom (and the training to use it) from my paternal grandmother who was a weaver. She mainly wove kilims (Google it) which allows a fairly free design to be woven. A religious (Catholic) woman, many of her commissions were from churches and one of her tapestries was gifted to Pope John Paul II (probably her proudest moment?). She was a prolific artist and her works spread to all corners of the world, but close to home can be seen in the University of Queensland's Women's College and the Bendigo Cathedral (to name a couple that immediately spring to mind). My Dad build me a loom seat (in the front of the picture) that doubles as a storage box for yarn, and the girlcat has adopted it as Her place.

One of the earliest things I wove (as an adult, not under her tutelage) was a small tapestry depicting two fish. It's quite small, about 20 cm wide and 30 high, and very handmade - I spun the wool and plyed it myself, then skeined and dyed it using food colouring and alum (from the chemist) as a mordant. A valuable lesson learnt was that if you intend to dye wool, it has to be spun very evenly or you end up with a mottled effect as the tightly-spun bits don't take up very much dye while the loose bits soak up more than their fair share and go quite dark. Good if that's the effect you're looking for, but not so wonderful if you want a constant, solid colour. As the colour I had this problem with was the blues and greens in the background (i.e. the 'water'), it didn't matter much and actually added interest to the piece. Serendipity!

The birds I wove a few years later, being much taken with the intense tropical colours in Queensland (which haven't come out in the photo goddammit), and this time I used acrylic knitting yarn from the supermarket. It's very different from wool to weave with in that it's springy (wool for tapestries/kilims has very little stretch) because it's actually intended for knitting jumpers (that's pullovers if you're English or sweaters if you're from the States). The good thing about all that extra elasticity is that there's much more room for error - one of the main problems in weaving kilims is keeping the tension even, because if you don't one end will be narrower than the other or it will get pouches or 'bubbles' in it and never lie flat...

This considered (and the time and the price), I chose acrylic again
to weave my most recent one, a heraldic snake, which took ages because I lost interest in it for a couple of months. Tapestries take much longer to weave than fabric - even on a comparatively small one like this (it's about 55cm wide and 95cm long) it was taking me about an hour to do a centimetre of weaving. 95-odd hours later...

The interesting thing about kilims is their structure - the pattern is made up of little squares - you draw it up on graph paper - and one square equals, say, 4 warp threads and 10 weft threads. Then you might move the colour over one more square and so on and the pattern grows. It was only towards the end of my grandmother's life (she died in 1994) that you could draw pictures on computers using pixels - exactly the same principle!

Monstera Deliciosa

The glass paint also came in handy for decorating the bedroom window - I chose monstera deliciosa leaves to keep in theme with the one growing outside. My bedroom is decorated in a swathe of saris and scarves - having bought the house, I can't afford to paint the walls yet (and boyoboy do they need it!) and the pretty cloth hides a multitude of sins...

The bedroom is also the computer room - less far to stagger late at night when I suddenly realise I've once again spent way too much time on the World Wide Waster, but less conveniently close to the kitchen when it comes time to get more coffee. Maybe I ought to invest in one of those USB coffee maker thingies... and a USB fridge... and a missile launcher... an' a 16-port Century hub to run them all!

Back to the real world... I've yet to find the 'right' fabric to do the ceiling. In one of the other places I lived, I had my bedroom ceiling totally covered in cloth (thin, floaty stuff), gathered in at the centre of the room which, incidentally, helped it fit around the light fitting. It was very effective and I intend to do it again in this house, as soon as I find copious amount of (cheap) gauzy cloth in the right colour (or in the wrong colour and cotton, in which case I'll just dye it). And then I'll never have to paint!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Glass Painting Madness Part the Third

One of the bigger projects was the bathroom window. Because it is made of textured glass, I wasn't sure I could make the picture on the plastic sheet and then expect it to stick to the widow, so I removed the window (which just fit on my desk) and painted it there. Halfway through I had an SES callout, so the project took longer than expected, but the end result was worth it - it gives the bathroom a very cool, green feel (which is great in the summer but not so welcoming in the winter - Queensland houses aren't designed for the cold and the inside temperature frequently gets down to 10 degrees C... ick!).

The glass painting technique is pretty simple: find a design you like, go over it with a permanent marker (what you in the States call a 'Sharpie', I believe; and what we often refer to as a Nikko pen), place the design under either the glass itself or the plastic sheet (it's a special textured one you get at the same craft shop you get the paints at) and trace over the design with the liquid leading onto the glass/plastic. Liquid leading is fun stuff- it requires a steady hand, because you have to apply constant pressure while squeezing the stuff out of a bottle; and it comes in traditional dark grey, gold, and silver. Once the leading has dried (a few hours in summer, overnight in winter) you fill in the spaces with the paint. Avoid bubbles (pop them with a bamboo skewer); mix two different colours together (bamboo skewer again) for interesting effects - the colour don't actually combine completely but you can get some really cool patterns; let the paint dry, and that's about it.

Glass Painting Madness Part the Second

At the beginning of this year, I decided to renovate the kitchen (trials, tribulations and photos in a different post). After the major work was done (the installation of a new sink, the tiling, the benches) came the fun part - the decorating, the putting the icing on the cake. Okay, the putting the glass paint on the anything that would vaguely be improved by the addition of a little colour... The kitchen, incidentally, now has pale yellow walls, black tile splashbacks all the way round on the walls that have the sink and the stove, black tiled benchtops, dark wood cupboards, and the most marvellous cast iron red enamelled double sink, and lots of red accessories.

Thus, I now have a pleasantly garish kitchen window (decorated on one side only, as it's usually open), unique
sugar and tea containers, and a set of flour and dried goods canisters that not only cause comment (mostly good) but also keep the bugs out. Even the kitchen clock didn't escape!

Well, I wanted a kitchen like no one else's, with
strong and unsual use of colours...

Glass Painting Madness Part the First

Years ago, one Xmas, I fooled around with that fake stained glass paint and liquid leading - I think I was trying to make stained glass fairy light covers using clear plastic balls and they proved to be difficult/impossible and the whole project got chucked in a box and ignored. When we moved house I rediscovered the box (and the dried up glass paints) and was Inspired. Dear gods, not again...

Well, the house now boasts a selection of art naif-style, brightly coloured decorations on all sorts of surfaces. I started with the bathrooom mirror. As the house had been a rental for the last quarter of a century, the fitting were, well, somewhere between basic and crumbling. There was a shitty little (read 20cm square) mirror pinned to the bathroom wall which absolutely had to go! In its place I hung a larger one I'd got at a second-hand shop which, unfortunately, had no frame to affix hangy things to so I tied a couple of pieces of sturdy wire around its ends and hung it from those. This, as you can imagine, looked pretty fugly; so it got the 'stained glass' treatment.

The next project was very small - I found an 'oyster' light cover in the garage (in amongst a huge amount of junk which I evidently bought with the house itself) and figured that if it were prettier, I could use it (most of the lights were missing shades). At this stage, I still had only half a dozen different colours...

Then came the shower screen (a sliding glass one) and the new
knowledge (acquired from my sister-in-law) that one could paint designs on a special plastic sheet and then peel them off and stick them onto the glass surface (having given it a bloody good clean!). This opened up a whole lot of options (for one, it meant that I didn't have to take down the shower screen for 48 hours and paint it horizontally and hope no one got water all over the bathroom floor when showering...) and the shower recess became an aquarium. I guess it didn't help that a year or so later I continued with the 'fish' theme on the bathroom ceiling by covering it with an old hammock that looked fairly much like a fishnet and from that suspending small resin fish, plastic aquarium plants, and shells.


My decor, as such, is a cheerful mish-mash of things I've made and collected over the years, with heavy influence from 12 years of medieval re-enactment and a pathological dislike of bare walls and spaces acquired in my years as an army wife, moving from house to house and only being allowed a couple of pictures on each wall (which were usually painted a colour the army referred to as "mushroom" - that colour you get when you mix all the leftover paint together and then add white).

Finding lamps and shades that would even vaguely fit in proved to be a bit of a challenge, so I did what I usually do and went on a second-hand shop crawl. I found a couple of black wrought iron lamp stands (complete with wiring - YAY!!!) and two horrendously ugly lampshades that were about the right size - I only wanted the wire frames from them, after all. I took great pleasure in removing the ugly covers from the lampshades, and re-covered them in white and burgundy shantung silk (scraps left over from re-enactment days!) and stitched the new shades on by hand (uber boring!). Then I painted the white bits, using waterproof inks and an acrylic wash for the background.

And they fit in with the 'decor' very nicely indeed!

The Mosaic Table

A couple of years ago I came across some bags of tiny pieces of coloured mirror in a craft shop, and decided to make a mosaic table. This was heavily influenced by a couple of mosaics at my Grandmother's house: one was of two fish, built from pieces of lino in blue and beige shades, and hung above the stove; the other was a print of that famous Roman mosaic depicting a large octopus. As a child I was very impressed by the concept of being able to create curves and shades of colour simply by using little squares (you have to remember, this was before computers and pixels LOL), and so I though, "How hard can it be? I'll just get the materials together and spent a few hours glueing Part A to Part B, and I'll have a mosaic coffee table!" I should know by now that any bright idea that starts with the though "How hard can it be..." should filed in the Too Hard Basket and left well alone, but The Blonde Has No Learning Curve and I forged womanfully ahead with the idea. It took two whole weeks and I had to use tweezers to place the pieces of glass... Never again. Until next time. Hmmm, how totally KOOL would a mosaic kitchen floor look?!

Anyway, I found a very acceptable table frame at the local dump's recycling outlet, gave it a couple of coats of paint and ran a piece of timber down the middle as extra reinforcing; then I glued the little (about 5mm square-ish) tiles to a piece of black masonite. Once it was finished, I
filled the gaps with black grouting and then splashed a few coats of polyurethane varnish over the entire thing in a vain attempt to make it waterproof (well, coffee-proof..). And it's pretty... and it's original... and the boycat loves it...