Three-day retreat


N.B. I wrote a long blog post about this, right after it happened, but failed to save my typing and lost it all when my browser crashed.

In early October I spent three days, two nights, with the glass artist Meng Hoeschle and her delightful, multilingual husband, Herb. I was put up in a second, smaller house on the other end of their 5-acre property, and told to “relax”.

It was quite funny, me not knowing how to do that. I hadn’t brought any current project (as I didn’t realise I’d be in a separate house, and who wants to unload a heap of things onto someone else’s dining table, engage in something as unsocial as painting, or make a big mess?) so I was rather at a loss for ways to spend my time, while I was alone. I don’t watch television, so didn’t even check to see if it was plugged in. I had a lot of showers, they were definitely luxurious—the bathroom was as big as my bedroom/workspace on the boat!—and I took Nana naps! I tried to draw a little bit, but this was early days for my sketchbook pages and I lacked confidence.

The best part of my time there was, of course, the hours spent in conversation with Meng, and with Herb. If I wondered, on the first night (lying in the white cotton bedsheets, in the air-conditioned bedroom, surrounded by the deep silence of a night on the rural outskirts of Darwin) what the heck I was doing there—in a spotless modern cottage like a resort’s—I had the answer by breakfast the next morning.

Life sends you teachers when you need them. Both Meng and Herb were reservoirs of wisdom and joy, and I cried often during our conversations.

Meng and I talked late into the night, in her studio like an alchemist’s laboratory, while she moved briskly about the room, cutting sheets of glass, enameling them, then putting them into the kiln to slump. We talked about art, about craft, about putting yourself into your work, about the value of such work beyond measuring sticks like money or time. From the rafters, tinkling glass discs and globes trapped or threw ensorcelled lamplight out into the darkness of cycads and gum trees surrounding the house.
sea wall by Meng Hoeschle

I fell in love with one of her pieces, that I have named Sea Wall, because looking through it is a bit like looking at a cross section of foaming ocean, and I love the submarine light that filters through it. The next day, Meng chose another of her works to give me…this one a turquoise tumbler that looks like the moment when a drop hits the surface of a tropical lagoon, frozen in time. It was still warm from the kiln, from the night before, and she wanted me to have something whose making I had witnessed.splash by Meng Hoeschle

Twice, during my stay with the Hoeschles, I was given the bulge and nuzzle of the sea to hold. Precious, precious pieces, representing their two radiant souls, and the gifts they gave to me, of courage and curiosity, of essence and message.

Today, because I cannot take them with me, I took these photos, and then wrapped each piece up in layers of bubbles and brown paper, for when we get back.

Thank you, Meng & Herb.

Handcrafted, come what May.

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The first ETSY Territorians’ Pop-Up Market was a success beyond our expectations…some 400 visitors descended upon the Darwin Botanic Gardens throughout the day, and we ETSY sellers were on our feet, meeting interested people and selling our handmade creations without cease from 9 a.m. till 3 p.m., when an afternoon thunderstorm showered our first ever craft event with blessings and tropical relief from the heat! Most of us didn’t mind, we’d all done so well that we were quite ready to pack up and go home.

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Encouraged no end by this, I’ve rolled the day’s takings into making more journals, getting more art prints done, and improving my stall’s wares for the two ETSY Territorian Pop-Up markets happening in May:

May 3rd, Saturday & May 4th, Sunday…


May 18th, Sunday…

etsy may market

At our “regular” venue: the beautiful George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens…pavilions and pompoms and dainty stalls under the leafy outspread branches of great-grandfather trees, across from the fountains of the water lily pond, and within desiring distance of the Botanic Café and their organic coffees and luscious cakes…

You’re invited!

A Pop-Up Upmarket : : ETSY Territorians

ETSY Territorians Pop-Up Upmarket 2014

I’m pretty excited about this new pop-up craft market that’s coming to the Territory…the ETSY Territorians Pop-Up Upmarket.

Happening only during the 6 months of the Top End’s cool and gorgeous Dry Season, this once-a-month boutique-style array of handmade loveliness is different from most of the markets to be found in Darwin, in that it features only Top End craftspeople and artist/makers who also have shops on ETSY, and whose work is of the highest quality. ETSY sellers bring experience with global markets, internet savvy, marketing and styling panache to the local market scene…no mass-produced touristy tat, or poorly-made tchotchkes flown in from someone’s holiday in Bali, here! This is the market where you’ll find something handcrafted, unique and precious—for yourself, for your home, or to give as an outstanding present to someone very special.

The first Pop-Up Upmarket is happening on Sunday the 13th of April! If you live in Darwin (or even further out but don’t mind the long drive into the city on a Sunday), please come to the very first ETSY Territorians event—set under the massive old trees of the George Brown Darwin Botanical Gardens from 9a.m. – 4 p.m.—and help us start this new market with a flurry of discovery and delight! The market is officially supported by ETSY Australia, and by the Northern Territory government.

We aim to grow this market into a popular Top End tradition and you could, years hence, be telling everyone that you were there from the beginning! :)

For more information and to help spread the word about the very first pop-up upmarket, please visit the official ETSY Territorians facebook page, or share  event invitations to April’s market with friends and family who live in the Top End.

To find out who our local ETSY craftspeople are and see what they make, check out the ETSY Territorian team.

Fabric Bunting Beads

at a Darwin craft market

what some people can do with a ball of thread

greeting card by Zim & Zou
It’s always worth paying a visit to Behance when French designers Zim & Zou post new work. I admire their paper-fuelled creativity, their wicked skills with a scalpel, and their colorful, simple designs that champion handmade elements, without the digital artifice.
exhibition book by Zim&Zou

These three items (a greeting card, exhibition book, and portfolio) are part of a personal project promoting their work. All incorporate simple thread geometrics stitched on paper. Something childlike and retro about the designs (maybe I am thinking about Spirographs, again) but also something faintly oriental (and it’s probably the Japanese binding, and echoes of temari)
portfolio by Zim&Zou

Speaking of temari, I suppose everyone’s seen the My Modern Met article—about some extraordinarily intricate temari balls by a Japanese grandmother—that has been doing the rounds on facebook?

temari by Japanese Grandmother, via mymodernmet

While each design is stunning enough, in its complexity and perfect construction, it’s also mind-boggling to see how many of these traditional hand balls, once a child’s toy, Nana Akua’s 88-year-od grandmother has made: over 500 of them! Every ball, or so it seems, is documented on Nana Akua’s flickr stream.
Apr2009_my 88yrs old grandma's works : TEMARI

über embroiderers: Chloe Giordano

Chloe Giordano

I’m trying to keep up a sort of regular ‘feature’ on über embroiderers on The Smallest Forest: These are the big kids, the crème de la crème, the leet of needle and thread…that runts like me long to play with, but will never even exist in the same universe with. *stabs herself with a #24 chenille* Oh, crewel world!

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Chloe Giordano

Admiring Chloe Giordano’s fine handiwork this morning: delicate little animals rendered in minute embroidery stitches and subtle colors, miniature 3D forms that don’t sacrifice any detail or cut corners in the making. They are quite dazzling, in a calm and self-possessed way…the mark of a professional.

Chloe is an illustrator, like many of the über embroiderers I’ve featured here, and I continue to be intrigued by the slightly different ‘feel’ of embroidered works produced by artists who have come to the craft from some other area of the visual arts, using thread and stitches as though they were paints and pens. Their work seems to be less constrained by the rules that one tends to follow when trained strictly as an embroiderer. I like the freedom with which these visual artists manipulate thread, and the expressiveness that their stitches have. I’ve also noticed that they tend to stick to simple stitches…no fancy, exotic knotted and looped moves that stand out on the fabric.

In traditional embroidery it sometimes seems that the medium is the message and not a lot of imagination or creativity goes into the actual design (pay a visit to the craft pavilion at any Royal Show and you will see the judges flipping fairly boring embroidery designs over to inspect and fuss over the threadwork on the back). These contemporary approaches to the craft allow the subject to shine, and have stitching play a supporting role (not that any of this nitpicking matters, they are all beautiful, wonderful, and our lives could use more of both approaches!)

Here’s a portion of the brief FAQ on her blog page:

How did you learn to embroider/sew?

I’ve learned mostly from trial and error, usually I’ll draw out what I want to sew first and try to work out in the sketch how I would stitch to get the effect I want. I also try to look at work I admire and figure out how they did it – this especially helpful when I’m working on something 3D

How long does a piece take you?

Anything from a couple of days to 2-3 weeks. Usually the planning stage takes the most time, once I’ve got everything hammered out the actual sewing doesn’t take long.

What materials do you use?

I mostly sew on an off white calico, if its dyed I use powder dyes. Generally I used embroidery thread for text and sewing thread for everything else, but it’s not set in stone.

Where/what did you study?

I studied Illustration at the University of the West of England, in Bristol.

Have a look at Chloe’s Tumblr, and keep an eye on her (hopefully only momentarily empty) ETSY shop  for more work by this sensitive and soulful young artist.

Found via Mr X Stitch

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uber embroiderers: Jazmin Berakha
uber embroiderers: Jazmin Berakha
über embroiderers: Tilleke Schwarz
über embroiderers: Tilleke Schwarz
über embroiderers: Maricor/Maricar
über embroiderers: Maricor/Maricar

über embroiderer : : Takashi Iwasaki (again)

über embroiderer : : Mister Finch

Textile Toadstool by Mister Finch

These are the big kids, the superstars, the crème de la crème, the leet of needle and thread…

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You know, I wish I could start this post with “I’m jealous of Mister Finch…” because I am, I really am, but that opening line is totally the domain of The Jealous Curator, who has the best artist feature blog name and trademark opening line in the world.

So I will have to content myself with telling you that I am dumbfounded by Mister Finch’s delicate and slightly dark or melancholy textile creatures.

I’m a bit late to the party—these days, his beautiful furry moths, bumble bees, poor little dead birds, awesome spiders, and his frilled and rustic mushrooms are finding their way into Anthropologie stores and Selvedge magazine. He’s a stitching superstar, baby, and many of you have probably seen his breathtakingly beautiful work before, on less gawky blogs than mine.

Not me. I was just doing a routine internet search for fabric fish, because I’m currently designing my own pattern for a stuffed fish and wanted to see what had been done on the subject, how people had tackled details like fins or gusseted heads. Somewhere amongst all the dross I caught sight of some dreamy, iridescent fish that seemed far better than all the rest of the cartoonish fish out there, and I followed the image to Mister Finch’s web portfolio.

Soft Sculpture Fish Made From Textiles and Translucent Plastic

His many, many wonderful fabric sculptures make me so very happy—I’m delighted simply that he is there, with all his genius for making patterns of three-dimensional forms (and an impeccable eye for decorative detail), his devotion to perfection and to getting things exactly right, his uncompromising dedication to pushing the made object so that it realises the artistic vision—they also make me green with envy, but I will master that unworthy and self-destructive feeling!

More impossibly, he’s also very cute. AND he’s penned a sweet, funny little “About” page that makes me wish he were my brother, or at least somebody I could send postcards to, and who would send postcards back.

My name is Finch – it’s actually my surname… everyone calls me it and I like it.
I’ve called my business Mister Finch so its clear from the start that I’m a man and one that sews.

We are a bit thin on the ground but we are out there!

You couldn’t possibly move to see his portfolio quickly enough…it’s a feast for both senses and sensibilities. He also keeps a blog, and an ETSY shop (probably never stocked with creations for long, his pieces must fly out the door as soon as they are posted, and it’s no wonder, really.) Tarry not here! Go, quickly! You must meet the fabulous Mister Finch!

Have you seen my other Über Embroiderer posts?

happening in 19 hours…

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You’re all invited to the Tactile Arts’ Members Exhibition tomorrow (Friday) night.

For my part, I’ve put my six Islands postcards into the show. Should be heaps of interesting stuff to see—and, unusual for a craft show, lots to read!—by the Territory’s best glass artists, potters, textile artists, metal workers and jewelry artists, painters, sculptors, papermakers, and so on. Maybe something really special for some super-important someone on your Christmas gift list?

Hope to see you there!

Tactile Arts, Museum and Gallery of the NT grounds, Conacher Street, Fannie Bay, NT