Whispering White

cuello bordado
In the What-If Diaries, we have started with white. Thinking about white…its associations, its significances, its definitions. Words started to multiply in the forums: snow, angels, virgins, brides, sunlight, linen, home, moon, stars…

I wrote down some of the things that I think of when I think about white, and found it rather telling that, for me, anyway, white is not such a light or gentle thing. Could not relate to snow or anything frozen or cold. Thought of things like angels or glowing brides with a vague distaste. Realized that, in the tropical Philippines, white (fabric, anyway) was completely unnatural. White was introduced from somewhere else. Our own fabrics were earthy and strong-colored. It was the Spanish, coming along in the 1400s and colonizing, then Christianizing us, and turning the islands into a trading and military outpost  for their empire, who insisted on white clothing and white linens, who wore white because it was cooler in the tropical heat.

So, for me, white is the color of colonial history, of Catholicism and the Church. I think of bleaching. I think of erasure. It’s hints at occupation, oppression, an elite ruling class comprised of uncomfortable, over-dressed foreigners, gasping like pale fish in the liquid air of the tropics.


Looking at white in other ways, too…taking my cue from Jude Hill. White as translucence or transparency. As negative space. As absence. As the opposite of shadows and darkness. And yet, without one, there is no other…Daemon est Deus inversus.

Jude Hill asks, “What if light could be created by dark?” And vice-versa, I’m thinking.

shadow of lace

I took photographs of this embroidered head-covering. My mother made this, when she was a girl. She wore it to church, in the days when all the women covered their heads before entering a church, and the priest stood with his back to the congregation, talking intimately to God in Latin.

I’m not ready to cut it up for any fabric workshop, yet, but I let it inspire ideas. The embroidery on the veil used to be white, but when I was small I kept stealing this veil from her dressing room drawer, and she kept taking it back. Finally I took it with me up a mango tree, and tucked it away “safely” in a hollow in the tree trunk. Then forgot about it. It sat in leaf mould and beetles through a whole rainy season, balled up in that tree’s cavity. When I found it again, the white had yellowed. Distressed fabric. Distressed mother, too. She finally gave it to me just a few years ago.


Against the sun, the veil casts a shadow that is its opposite…the black net lets light through, the white embroidery blocks the lights, casts the darker shadow. Transparent darkness and opaque whiteness.

No projects gelling yet. Just a random eruption of little ideas…a flurry of fireworks, stars and bokeh when I close my eyes and look through the skin of my eyelids. I’m finding white difficult and prissy to approach.


I don’t own very much meaningful white fabric at all. We didn’t use white fabric at home for linens or curtains or anything like that…and I am not sentimental enough to drag away all my mother’s old fabric, even if we had. Leave the past where it is, I say, it’s just an encumbrance, something we carry around with us to make the ego feel more substantial, to give it more of a story to tell.


What can I use for this workshop? Back to the idea of trying to please our colonizers (who thought we were dirty, because we were dark) by whitening everything—fabric, skin. Today, many Filipinas still buy products with “skin whiteners”, and hide under umbrellas from the sun. And bathe three times a day—maybe because they hear that voice in their heads that tells them their skin is brown because it’s thick with dirt? Wash, wash, wash. “Out, damned spot! out, I say!…What, will these hands ne’er be clean?”

Thinking I may force my whites, by bleaching the life out of the colored fabrics that I do have.

Spirit Cloth

I am doing Jude Hill’s “What If?” textile workshop this year. If you aren’t familiar with Jude Hill, she is the author and maker behind the blog Spirit Cloth.

I have followed Jude’s blog for years and years…drawn to it by the photos of Jude’s powerful, storied textiles (she dyes, weaves, embroiders, and layers bits of raggedy, salvaged, vintage or distressed cloth into works that seem to embody so much more than aesthetics and a set of skills. They aren’t flashy, slick, or neat cloths, and you don’t see many of the gaudy commercial printed fabrics in her pieces. Instead you find these rich, frayed layers of earthy colors, and hand-worked stitches that are more like the sensitive, exploratory marks made when drawing, rather than the frilly, showy, vivid, loud stitches of, say, today’s crazy patchwork creations.

But more than Jude’s works, I am drawn to her words (and to the silences that pool, gathering like moon or morning light, around her words). She seems so earthy, and yet so unaffected by the frantic energies of the world. For me she embodies the archetype of the wise woman who lives in a forest outside of time…there she sits, dyeing her cloths in copper pots, stitching her beasts and her moons and her paths and her stories, watching the seasons change, feeding the stray animals that circle her home (drawn perhaps by her serenity and openness) and taking that Life, and incorporating it, so simply and yet so, so wisely, into her spirit cloths.

On her blog, she doesn’t screech her own ego all the time, doesn’t blow her own trumpet, doesn’t pull stunts to draw attention to herself. There are no blogger awards badges. There are no giveaways or product endorsements. There are no animated GIFs of pulsing hearts (thank God). There are no OMGs or LOLs in her posts. She doesn’t GUSH over every new thing that comes along…she doesn’t squander her love or her language on mere THINGS. Her words are few, and choice, and simple. Unpretentious.

All that. I am drawn to all that like you wouldn’t believe.

So I went to her, this year, at last…perhaps to learn a thing or two about the way she works…but mainly just to be able to sit, as it were, at her feet, like a student, like a disciple, and be very quiet, and listen to her. And hopefully learn a little bit more about how to become such an unaffected, meditative, imperturbable and self-possessed woman…doing my quiet thing, in the forest of my spirit, still in the world but no longer excessively of it.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Week 7 of Designing a Creative Travel Journal

This entire post was copied and pasted from my assignment submission page on Coursera.org…just to let you know where I am at with this project. This was the last assignment of the course…supposed to be the ‘Beta’ of my product, though it’s clearly nowhere near the beta stage yet! But this was all I could do in the one day I had to finish it all.
It’s midnight, I’ve work tomorrow, so this has to go up on the course site tonight…hence the hastily chosen “brand name” and the lousy photos taken with camera flash because it was long past sunset when I took most of these.
Travel Journal and JacketREISE is German for “journey”

The journal is bound using Longstitch/linkstitch (aka Limp Binding) The pages are stitched to a spine of strong leather, with plenty of space between them for the gradual inclusion of ephemera, postcards, photos, and other souvenirs of the trip. I cut slits into the leather spine to form “loops” through which the elastic strap of the jacket can be threaded.

This view of the inside of the jacket shows the elastic strap for attaching the journal, as well as three pagemarker ribbons, which are part of the jacket.

The elastic strap weaves in and out of the journal’s leather spine…

and is held down by a snap on the outside of the jacket:

Some features of the journal itself are a 20-page fold-out photo album:

A plastic template for square petal envelopes, to make your own little pockets for small things…

using interesting papers (newspaper pages, magazines, decorative papers) that you collect along the way.

Stick these petal envelopes down wherever you need them.

Also, you can rate your travel experiences and flag your entries using the three stamps that are attached to the ends of the page marker ribbons.

When your journal is full, undo it from the jacket, and strap down a new one.

IWWMW design a travel journal (and case) that conveniently combines an artistic/creative traveler’s tools and materials for collecting/recording during a trip, and the finished works of art and memory?

Primary needs:

  • Journal integrates collected souvenirs, and records (in the form of writing, art, photos)
  • Journal has storage space for art materials and journaling tools.
  • Journal is strong, hard-wearing, long-lasting and keeps contents secure.
  • Journal is customisable to a great degree.
  • Journal is convenient to carry.
  • Journal is easy to use/deploy.
  • Journal is a pleasure to use.
  • Journal is comprised of “artist’s grade” materials.
  • Journal has pages of information that is useful while travelling.

Submit a one paragraph description of what the next steps would be to further refine and develop the artifact:

I had one day in the entire week to do my journal prototype, so there are a lot of things that have been left out as I simply did not have the time. Obviously, the actual printed pages of the journal are missing—sections for foreign words & phrases, packing checklists, To-Do or Must-Visit list pages, shopping info (bought what, where, for how much) as well as cultural and foodie notes, and lots of important travel information (itinerary, time and currency conversion, contacts, and so on) It’s also missing customisable page tabs, for different sections.

I did not get around to putting a closure on the jacket. I hoped to add small D-rings for a removable bag strap. And I would have liked the final journal case to be made of very thin but strong leather, instead of linen. A range of designs for the journal jackets (or at least diferent colours) would have to be considered.

Other ideas I had at the start of this project, and which I think are still good, are:

  • a small pamphlet with 50 fun ideas for fresh, quirky, creative ways to fill your travel journal…exercises and such
  • a website where REISE users can upload pictures of their journal pages, share their drawings, photos, collages, doodles…and engage in forums with a community of other artist-travelers.

I know this isn’t “one paragraph”, but I have learned so much from this course, the journey really has been the destination, and its own reward. I don’t think I’ll even bother to find out what my final score is, now, or download some meaningless certificate of completion! What was of real value here, I have already received.

Thanks and good bye!

◊ ◊ ◊

Week 6 of Designing a Creative Travel Journal

Travel Journal alpha

What happened to Week 5? I didn’t do my homework. :( The load was light, anyway, because of Thanksgiving in the U.S.

Instead, I started working on my alpha prototype in Week 5, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it all in just the one week of Week 6. I have a new job (tell you about it when I take some photos!), but haven’t managed to slough off the old one, yet…I’m giving my old boss till the Christmas holidays to find a replacement for me. So I worked 6 days last week, will work 6 days every week for the next 3 or so. Not so terrible, I’ll survive, but I haven’t had time to do any groceries or blogging or even laundry…it’s just a big grey block of work and, when I get home at night, The Prototype is waiting. So then I make a coffee and sew pockets until 1 or 2 in the morning, because I am not going to drop out in the last quarter, I’ve done way too much to just let it all go.

Anyway, the idea is still to make both a journal “jacket” and a specially bound travel journal, and for these two to work together. I have run out of time to make the bound book for this week, so I will present that as part of the Beta model, next week. Here are just pictures, and some notes, about the journal jacket part, which was a lot harder to put together than I thought it would be, though I have to say that I am thrilled to have learned SO MUCH about stitching all sorts of pockets, zips, even an expandable three-part pocket that fans out to a 90-degree angle. Go, me! (Hey, I can pat myself on the back…I have been living on rice with soy sauce and an occasional tomato, from the plant on the back deck, for 5 days…)

The photos with annotations were the ones I submitted to the course, but I’m throwing in a few more for this post, to give you all a better idea of what’s been included, changed, etcetera…

By the way, the photo at the very start of this post is shows pages of our old marbling experiments journal. For a few years in the Philippines Kris and I marbled our own papers and fabrics for the journals we made; we weren’t using any of the proper stuff—there was no carrageenan, or special marbling paints, or ox gall. We used rain water, cheap local acrylic house paints, and manioc starch for the size. Still, we managed to get our patterns to a pretty good standard, amazingly. The green marbled fabric on the cover of the journal, in some of the photos below, is one of ours.


I envision a travel journal (book), together with a sturdy “jacket” that I can put the journal into. The jacket has multiple pockets to hold not only the maps and paraphernalia of traveling, but also the art materials he/she might use to create a more personalised and artistic journal. Unlike the journal—which I imagine will become an inactive but cherished receptacle for the traveler’s memories and impressions when it is filled—the jacket is re-usable.

I work 6 days a week, so I didn’t have time to hand bind the travel journal (book) itself…sorry! But I’ve done so much work on this thing, already, that perhaps I should be viewing this “Travel Journal Jacket” as a separate design from the actual “Travel Journal”! Maybe I’ll just finish off the book part for the beta prototype next week.

NOTE: The rubber stamps are a heart, a star, and an unhappy face, representing “Like this” (or “Love this”), “Important” and “Dislike this”. The stamps are meant to be used to flag entries where the traveller wants to rate an experience. I found this solution preferable to Moleskine’s use of symbol stickers which, of course, always get used unevenly, and run out too soon.

NOTE: There are three of these large pockets with zippers that run along the edge of the journal jacket…see first illustration for placement of all three.

Just a final photo showing where everything is, from left to right: a  green journal has been strapped in, some maps and papers are in the expanding pockets, pens and brushes fit snugly into elastic loops, and there is a stamp pad and a glue tape gizmo in the tool pockets at the right. Also, yes, those are my feet, spread very far apart! :)

Travel Journal alpha
Travel Journal alpha

Week 4 of Designing a Creative Travel Journal

10 journal concepts

I quickly revised my problem from last week, and drew 10 new concepts for this week’s homework, submitted yesterday. In them, I’ve re-focused on the journal, with most of the storage space for things like postcards, ephemera, trinkets, pressed flowers, and all the other little bits and pieces that one collects along the way when moving through an unfamiliar place. Some of the books still have a little storage built in for things like a small tin of watercolours or pencils, pens, but I stopped thinking in terms of an entire bag dedicated to rolls of tape, glue sticks, and big fat tubes of acrylic paints or whatever else a person uses to artfully fill his/her journal.

I had to do these concepts the same week that I was actually supposed to be building prototypes. It took forever to make the leap from a concept, on paper, to actually making something. I dawdled ever so much! I think I was scared of finding out that my concepts were impossible to make in the 24 hours I had left before submission deadline. I’d done so well, so far, that I hated the idea of slipping behind, now that things were really getting interesting. My two chosen concepts involved techniques I didn’t have much practice in. Much of what I thought I knew was theoretical…like I figured it couldn’t be too hard to stitch a zipper on a pouch! But I’d never really tried, before. Finally stopped faffing around yesterday and put concept D together in three hours. Amazing how much theory and preparation you can do without once you stop overthinking and just do it.

Concept D: Journal and Jacket

prototype D

It’s VERY ROUGH, but the gist of the idea is there. A flexible wraparound cover jacket, with pockets and pouches on every available surface,
prototype D

and a leather strap that hooks into the book, through the little hollow between cover and text block that all my hand-bound books have, and snaps down on the cover to hold it in place.

prototype D
prototype D

This snap was a serendipitous find. I didn’t have any snaps, nor a snap setter, but as I was rummaging through an old toiletries pouch of buttons and buckles for something else to use, I saw that the pouch itself had a snap. Took a utility knife to that pouch in a flash, and stitched it on with rough and impatient abandon.
prototype D

Concept C is almost identical to Concept D; the only difference is that the book pages are bound to the cover in C. This sort of binding (a limp, or longstitch/linkstitch binding) would allow me to space the signatures out a bit more, accommodating the things to be added in by the user. But the idea of the re-usable jacket and journal refills seemed, on the whole, a more considerate and practical solution. I can work out how to space the pages in the journal itself later, I hope!
 prototype D

Concept I: Dos a Dos book and box


I used two books, bought at the second-hand bookstore years ago, intending to use them in altered book projects I never started. They’re very faux elegant, pretentious things…fancy goldstamping on some horrible ‘leather-look’ textured paper, and only one edge of the pages is gilded: the top edge, which visitors are sure to see when this deep red set of Australia’s Great Books sits on a bookshelf. The other three sides of the text block are left plain.

I took the text block out of Adam Lindsay Gordon, and replaced it with clamshell box ‘jaws’. They’re uncovered, in these pictures, because I had to submit photographs an hour later, but I went and covered them afterwards. Then I simply glued the two books together, back-to-back and topsy-turvy, to resemble the binding format known as dos a dos (two to two).
prototype I

Some letters, photos, and trinkets in the clamshell box, to heighten that feeling of travel treasures…

And the completely indigestible, utterly boring pages of that great Australian classic—that nobody I’ve met seems to have read, but of whom everyone here speaks in hushed and reverent tones—We of The Never-Never on the other side. I read three chapters. I am thinking it’s time to do that altered book project now, and paint or draw on these pages.
prototype I

So, which one do you like better, D or I? And if you had to buy a travel journal, would you consider buying one of these (provided it was made properly, not out of placemats or old books)? I’m only asking to test how successful the designs were, but would love to hear what you think!

Designing a Creative Travel Journal 3 :: took a wrong turn, somewhere

decomp 10 concepts2

Week 3 of Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society, via coursera.org, introduced us to problem decomposition…you break a big problem up into small parts, and come up with all the possible solutions for each small part, independent of everything else. To give you an idea: if you were going to design a fabulous chocolate cake, with an experimental créme de cassis frosting, in the shape of a volkswagen, you would then go and make half a dozen kinds of chocolate cake, several versions of the alcoholic frosting, and also work out some plans for shaping and arranging pieces of cake into a volkswagen. Then you would try as many different combinations of the ideas in those three lists as was feasible, and ‘sketch’ them up as concepts.

I picked two latent needs to explore from my list in the last post:

First was that the journal could be carried on the body. Second was that it would have lots of pockets for all the souvenirs, plus the art materials, LED lights, ziplock bags for leftover curry, reading glasses, intra-uterine devices, USB drives, hypodermic needles, a spoon, a safety pin, pet hamsters, and all those other things friends as well as readers of this blog suggested. At about this point, snippets of the old fable about a man, his son, and a donkey, started to flicker behind my conscious thoughts.

decomp 10 concepts1

By decomposing each of these needs, I drew a lot of “attaches to the body” objects: backpacks, shoulder bags, belt bags (aka bum bags or fanny packs), things with hooks that could hang from your belt or your neck, stuff you could wear on your head, strap to your biceps or thighs, hide up your bum…

Then I tried to tackle the idea of storage, and found myself drawing boxes, a chest of drawers, zippered pouches, suitcases, pockets, envelopes, cargo pants, photographer’s jackets and other bits of clothing, even those shower accessories things, with pockets, that rolled up…all sorts of ridiculous things.

Then I tried to take something from list A and something from list B, and draw the concept. What I ended up with were a bunch of weird, bulky bags and rolls and things that looked like stuff an arctic explorer would take on an expedition. Once or twice I tried to lighten the load, and put more emphasis on the idea that somewhere in all this junk there was a journal…yes, a book! Most likely suffocating. One concept looked like the bibles carried around by missionaries in the jungles of Borneo. I threw in a modified medieval belt book (it’s wrapped in fabric like a big scarf and I added zippered pockets…there’s a knot or knob on the end that you slip underneath your belt, which is just a length of rope, because hey, it’s the 11th century, and you’re a Franciscan monk, okay?) and, in a kind of hysteric desperation, even drew an apron with some pockets. And ruffles. Called it the “Writer’s Apron”, shed a few tears of self-loathing, and went and got miserably drunk on the back step near the outhouse. It would be funny, except that it’s…not.
decomp 10 concepts3

Learn to make six different books in 24 hours

Term 3 Introduction to BookBinding

Six different bindings—from the very simple pamphlet to a hardcover case-bound book with ‘made’ endpapers—in just 24 class hours!

Great value for your time and money, the Introduction to Bookbinding class covers six of the most useful binding techniques—often split by other teaching institutions into individual curricula—to give you a firm foundation of skills that, for most students, will be all they’ll ever need to know about the craft. No previous experience necessary, and beginners are most certainly welcome.

By the end of the term, students will have made a small stack of beautiful and diverse journals, and often take home an abiding and passionate love-affair with the craft, as well.

Use your handmade blank book as a personal diary or perhaps a travel journal on your holidays. Record your secret recipes for future generations, or keep an intimate history of your child—from birth to 18th birthday—as a testament of your love. Gather your favorite quotes and poems into one volume. Use it as a sketchbook in which to express those creative ideas, or as a scrapbook for ephemera, clippings, photos.

In an age when most store-bought presents will get thrown out when they lose their novelty, a handmade and personalised book just gets more and more precious over time and with use. While most things become ‘junk’ after a few months, a book filled with years of your handwritten words, fragments of art and snippets of life becomes an ‘heirloom’.

I will provide the paper for all of the books, as well as book board. I always have plenty of extra tools that you can borrow, and often can supply thread and adhesives, as well.

You will need to provide your own fabrics to be used as covering material for each of your books, and any decorative papers you might want to use as endpapers…don’t worry about that now, I’ll explain it in detail on the first day of class.

For a list of the basic bookbinding tool kit that you will need to get together (many of these items are probably already within your home, but the ones you don’t have on hand can be purchased cheaply from Spotlight, or possibly borrowed from me) click on the link to download a PDF:

Basic Bookbinding Kit (PDF)

Introduction to Bookbinding starts on Tuesday, the 7th of August 2012, from 6-9 P.M. and runs for 8 weeks.

For more information, or to enrol, contact the Casuarina Senior College Adult Night Classes office at (08)8920 1200

photo of finished books by my students, via the CSC ANC website

Red Rooms: A model accordion book for teaching

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Made this little accordion book in a few hours yesterday, because I wanted to give my bookbinding students ideas for their own. What fun! I haven’t been able to open up and play with my own work the way I did when I made this…a reminder to not take anything too seriously, and treat everything as though it were just a playful model for something grander.

My first meeting with the new class is tonight, and I’m nervous, as usual…don’t know why, every class has been wonderful, so far, and past students have always enjoyed themselves. Better scared and prepared, than overconfident and careless, I guess. Many of my students went on to bind more books at home, and I am now thinking of doing a follow-up class of more difficult bindings, as well as some fancy-shmancy techniques, that we didn’t have time for in the Introduction to Bookbinding.

Folding an Accordion Book
These steps are for folding half of your paper strip; to finish the book, turn it over and repeat steps 2-7 with the other half of the strip.

Into one valley of the accordion, I stitched a 6-page pamphlet made from old magazine pages:

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I painted up a page of the accordion book (left) with acrylics and glitter paint (on the right is the first page of the pamphlet, from a torn-up Le Gun magazine):

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A very basic pop-up, using a postcard from Phaidon’s Art Box:

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(From left to right)

A felt heart stitched directly onto a page of the accordion, with rubberstamped borders…

A red “snowflake” wall sticker and an artist’s stamp (scan of my work…reduced, printed onto photo paper, and cut with wavy craft scissors) mounted on a smaller piece of foam board…

An “envelope” of red silk dupion, pamphlet stitched into a valley fold…

An old yellow and orange lino print attached to a page of the book by making diagonal cuts in the black paper and sliding the corners of the print into these cuts.

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Played with the pamphlet of Le Gun magazine pages, too, by cutting windows in the pages and adding my own paint and doodles to the illustrations…

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A pocket made from some junk mail holds a painted-up paper tag; more rubberstamping and wall stickers fill the empty spaces between one page and the next…

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Some upholstery fabric from my stash makes a quick front covering material over pieces of thin book board…nothing flash, just something to get the class thinking of ways they can jazz up and use the accordion books they’ve made.

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♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥