Retiring a journal

Twist and Shout

Running out of pages in one’s current journal is not the only reason for retiring it and moving on to a new journal. It has been a very long time, in fact, since I filled a journal right up to its very last page. The way it usually happens, with me, is that I will sit down to my semi-regular ritual of journal-keeping, and feel a powerful aversion to writing in that journal. As though the things I want to write about don’t belong in that particular book.  My journals usually span a period of 5-7 years…a good chunk of time in which major life situation and personality changes might occur (I’m not talking about the fanciful myth that claims we generate completely new bodies every 7 years!) that find me a different person, at the end, from who I was when I started the journal.

Soon after we arrived in Australia (sailing from the Philippines, stopping along the way in Timor L’este for a month, all in all taking three months to get here) I found that I could not bear to write in the wooden-bound journal (the one named, no kidding, Tagebuch) I had brought with me. Tagebuch, and everything within it, belonged to the tropical archipelago of small limestone islands where Kris and I had lived for 6 years, in a fisherman’s ramshackle beach house an hour’s walk from the next cluster of human beings. There was no internet, mobile phone, digital camera, or laptop. We didn’t have jobs. We had no electric power of any sort—no lights at night, no fans, no television, no music—nor plumbing, and the little bit of money we had, we made by selling our paintings and handbound journals at galleries, exhibitions and craft fairs elsewhere in the country. There had been a huge tropical garden (my pride and joy) surrounded by 2 hectares of coconut plantation, and a jungle looming behind us that rustled with the movements of monkeys, pangolins, civets, pythons, tree shrews, sea eagles, mysterious night birds, and the rare, endangered local peacock pheasant, tandikan.

I wrote my journal in the mornings, at a table standing among hippeastrum lillies in the garden, or at a desk in the bedroom on wild monsoon nights, with half a dozen candles burning for light. We would sit in the doorway of our bamboo shack, senses alert in the total darkness of the night to every firefly or leafy crunch, every susurration of the sea in its different moods. We spent our days painting, marbling, reading or binding books; we took breaks to comb the beach for tumbled glass or chambered nautilus shells, or walk the twisty dirt roads of the surrounding countryside. We moved through cycles of making art, making love, making coconut curries, making strong loaves of peasant bread. This was the real world for us, and we seemed to exist outside of time.

How could I, arriving in Darwin—a whirlpool of working & earning & spending, of material culture, of social interactions, of self-assertion and ego-building, of status anxiety, and the never-ending struggle to establish one’s meaning or worth in empirical terms—continue to use my jungle book, my turtle-moon-hippeastrum-poetry-green-glass-seasnake-soulmate-candlight journal? It felt like a desecration, and that’s how I knew it was time to make a new journal.

Twist and Shout, 2007-

Twist and Shout has been my Darwin journal since 2007. The name was actually printed on the selvage of a quilting fabric I had used to make the covers’ patchwork with. It seemed to fit with the way I felt about Darwin at the time…the teeth-grinding busy-ness of the place, the commerce, the social and racial tensions, the clashes between individuals brought on by drunkenness or just selfish intolerance, the big hurry that everyone was in to get someplace else.

It contains the story of finding my place within this small city, of meeting friends and carving a small niche for myself, of making a home and coming to belong here. It cobbles together what I have learned about Northern Australia and the things I have come to love about the place. My very first fresh peach, apricot, raspberry, pomegranate were experienced here. My first fresh fig (a moment worth many chapbooks of poetry) and my first octopus (a moment worth many cookbooks). My encounters with crocodiles, flying foxes, frilled lizards, wallabies, kangaroos, and a Clydesdale horse so big that I thought of Norse gods.

something did after all

It might mention some of the new toys and tools that living here made it possible to acquire. My job experiences as cleaner, as gardener in a plant nursery, as kitchen hand, as back-to-uni student, as craft teacher. My delight in bicycles and the daily love I feel for Darwin’s meandering, tree-lined bicycle paths through shady parks full of ibises, plovers, and sporty types, appears everywhere in its pages. It includes the year I rented an art studio, and the fun of putting together my first two solo exhibitions. The accounts of trying to learn a third language, to study printmaking, silkscreen printing, and doing a dressmaking course, are here, too. I made my own clothes for the first time here, on a 70-year-old sewing machine that I bought within a month of arriving in the country. Of course it documents the continuing importance of the sea in my life.

events of great intensity

On the whole it has been a good companion, this embroidered and patchworked book of 500 pages (400 used)—so full of paint and inclusions that its covers are permanently agape—although I did not write in it as regularly nor as copiously as I did in the last journal. I was much more bound by time during this period of my life…well outside of the standard rat race, but a rat on the sidelines, nonetheless…with unexceptional jobs, keeping regular hours, having bills to pay and other financial commitments, watching in growing anxiety as the days, months, years flew by because my attention leapt from payday to payday as across stepping stones…the rest of the days falling, unremarked, between them, and flowing away like water.

Last week, although there was plenty I wanted to write, I felt unhappy about having to write it in Twist & Shout. I’ve learned to recognise this feeling immediately, and so put away my pen and ink bottle, and re-read the journal, instead. The signs were unmistakable: some entries were fun to read, and a little bit was of continuing importance, but most of what I had written was already obsolete. No longer useful or even relevant to me, the person I was in 2007 had been left behind. I had moved on, and at some subtle point had turned a corner, from which my 2007 self could no longer even be seen or remembered, and the way back had been rubbed out behind me.Like a hole in the head

Only the present moment is real, though I have some vague ideas about the way ahead.

In my next post I’m going to write about making the transition between an old and a new journal. I suppose one could just drop the old journal, and start in the new immediately, but it seems a shame to treat an old friend and one-time constant companion that way. It seems ungrateful, somehow. There are rituals of gratitude and farewell for tools and objects—as there are for friends and loved ones—to soften the sharp edges of change and to prepare oneself for what might lie ahead. I thought I might share my own practices here, not so much for you to follow as to help you think up rituals of your own.

roll your own year...

painting makeover, part 2

green gemstone journal

Hmm, so there isn’t really all that much left to show for this Part 2 except what I did with the finished painting/embroidery: a simple handbound coptic journal.

green gemstone journal

A quick shlip-shlop of blue-green paint on the back cover, and some fine lines of gold paint made with a syringe and hypodermic needle, sort of echoes the front cover design. Stitching of the book was done in DMC soft cotton yarn. Endpapers in teal. That’s all there is to it, really.

In other news, tonight I impulsively bought flights to and from Manila, departing at he end of January, returning in mid-February…in the hopes of catching my Mom alive one last time. Hopefully she will live that long. I’m due for a visit back, anyway.


That means I’ll be spending my birthday and Valentine’s Day in Manila. Should be a good trip, actually…good to catch up with my dysfunctional but fun family, and I have really missed my friends. Can’t wait to see them.

That means I’m dead broke again…by the time you pay the taxes, add some checked-in baggage, pick a window seat…what was an incredibly cheap couple of flights nearly doubled. I came within 10 dollars of my total bank account balance. Was feeling like such a scrooge as I neared checkout that I actually clicked “Remove” on the options “Travel insurance” and “Donate $2 to change a child’s life”. LOL Someday, maybe, I’ll change a child’s life; right now I’m just trying to keep my head above the water. You have to laugh at the things life throws at you…laugh or go crazy.

Rubbing my hands together over the next handmade gift…I have tonight, tomorrow night, and a few hours on Saturday. Unlucky co-worker # 5 may end up getting an origami boat. Not even a crane, but a crappy origami boat. Out of newsprint…

*this is how it always happens with me: I make a casual joke, and then ask “How can I run with that idea, and still make something awesome?“* Origami boat, huh? Hmmm…….

Painting makeover, part 1

green hill

As my weekend comes to an end, with two handmade gifts yet to make before Saturday night, I started to play dirty. Took a small painting I was never happy with (green, hairy lump of Lord-knows-what)…

WIP green rock

Took it off its stretcher and punched tiny 1 mm. holes all around the outline of the shape, and then randomly punched holes inside the shape, too.

WIP green rock

The punch is a Japanese drill or screw punch…the smallest hole punch I’ve found, yet. I got mine from Hollander’s. (Crafting is such a delight when you have the right tools for the job!)

WIP green rock

Then I started to “connect the dots” with lengths of variegated DMC Perle #5. No plans, no sketches, just running up and down and inventing the paths as I went…

WIP green rock

Couldn’t resist and added some dots and filled some areas with gold or glitter paints. Probably shouldn’t have, but what the heck, I’m leaving it in. (Running. Out. Of. Time…*gasp* Must. Keep. Crafting…)

The piece will go onto the cover of a simple coptic journal. I started binding the book today, but it got dark before I could take photos, so this post will be continued tomorrow…

Hope this has given someone some good ideas…

Mermaid (a handmade gift)

Be a Mermaid design

Taking UPPERCASE magazine’s advice to heart, I threw myself at some new projects on Monday: making Christmas presents for the people I work with (our informal Jacksons holiday party is in four days’ time).

Decided on a mermaid-themed present for the first project, because my manager collects mermaids (and doesn’t surf the internet, so I think this post is relatively safe to put up) and is pretty much a mermaid, herself.

I picked that ubiquitous craft and design saying: Always be yourself. Unless you can be a mermaid, etc… You’ll probably groan and argue that there are too many versions of this “Always be yourself” saying floating around, and that it’s shallow and twee. And I would agree with you. But I am pretty sure my recipient hasn’t heard it yet, and it fits her perfectly. So that’s what it’s going to be. I promised her a handmade gift; I never said it would be urbane.

The finished piece measures 36 x 46 cm (14″ x 18″). It took me nearly two days to make the whole thing, but I dawdled a lot, and did other things, besides. The drawing/painting took up the whole Monday, but all the embroidery was done before lunchtime the following day.

I used a pre-stretched and pre-primed canvas. Made the letters and doodles in acrylics using brushes and a mapping pen. The font I used (just as a guide…freehanding, and then painting the letters, has changed it a lot) is Le bain au milieu de la fin d’apres-midi vers by T N 2. Used only yellow greens, turquoise, and blue paints and inks.

ink detail

All those greeny-blues and lime colors needed a little bit of red-violet for punch, so on a scrap of pink marbled fabric (our recent marbling show has left our home littered with bits of marbling everywhere) stretched in my smallest hoop, I painted in the dots and squiggles of a sea urchin.

painting urchin

While waiting for the paint to dry, I stitched a small starfish straight on the drawing’s canvas, just weaving back and forth between two laid threads that formed each arm.

stitching starfish

The urchin was ready to be embroidered. I used stranded cotton embroidery floss, working buttonhole circles, eyelet stitch (when I got tired of buttonholes), french knots, and backstitch.

stitching urchin

Not shown are the steps where I cut the urchin out and placed it over a thin circle of card with some pillow stuffing, gathering the edges of the urchin fabric at the back using running stitches and pulling tight (sort of the way I finished the back of this embroidery in a hoop…) I was too excited to see the thing made. I stitched a button to the center of the urchin…again, pulling tight to form a dimple in the puffy shape. I stitched the base of the urchin to the canvas.

And these are just close-ups of the embroidery on the finished piece:


starfish detail

a peek at my work

Musa volatilis Haas

A quick look at some of the things I’ll be taking to the gallery tomorrow:

A dozen Flying Bananafish…not at all like the drab, digitally altered photo above of a whole fish, but brightly colored, with iridescent wings and beads and glitter and EVERYTHING. Party fish, these guys.

Musa volatilis

I’ve also made half a dozen embroidered marbled fabric works, stretched over frames like paintings.

Embroidering onto marbled fabric was a lot harder than I thought it would be—and, as I found when I searched the internet to see what other stitchers had done with the combination, I was not the only one who hesitated, when faced with the densely patterned fabric. Even the great embroidery blogger, Mary Corbet, balked at the task.

When you think about it, it’s just printed fabric, and you should be able to stitch over it with wild abandon, right? Except that, with an actual marbled print, you become painfully aware that every stitch or appliquéd piece or attached bead and sequin is going to cover up marks that are unique and can never be re-created in exactly the same way, again. That gorgeous swirl of hairline stripes and feathery loops, a serendipitous juxtaposition of colors that look so incredibly luscious they seem to glow…marbling is dense with little gorgeous patches like these, and an embroiderer really can feel like she is gilding the lily by trying to add her comparatively chunky stitches and clumsy solid color blocks.

But I gave it a whirl, anyway…sometimes I tried to fit my stitching in with the bigger picture, so that the marbling played a part in the story of the piece. At other times, completely defeated but desperate to have done something more than greeting cards for our marbling show, I treated the fabric as though it had been commercially printed…smacked a great big clumsy design onto it, and stitched it, and the marbling fell away into the background, losing meaning and pride of place. I think I understand a little bit, now, about what motifs work, and the feeling that I am after, but there is not time to start on new pieces. Hopefully the knowledge will still be with me for the next time I attempt to overstitch marbling.

island shack

The island shack piece you’ve seen (but in this pic it’s done), plus 5 others that you haven’t (because they didn’t exist until I embroidered them all today…my eyeballs feel like they’re trained on the tip of my nose, now!)

potted folly


Camp Nonpareil

cat & bunny in pink marbling


If I can squeeze them in, there are another three or four stretched marbled fabric pieces that I’d like to embroider, plus a few handbound journals of my own that I might, if I push myself and work till the wee hours of the morning, manage to get done in time for the opening night of Throwing Stones for Fun & Profit.

In case I forgot to invite you, everyone’s welcome…we’ve crammed a small room plus the foyer of the Darwin Visual Arts Association choc-a-bloc full of marbled works, most of them featuring our own imaginative twists and experiments with this ancient traditional craft.

December 6th, Friday at 6:00 P.M.Darwin Visual Arts Association (DVAA)
Frog Hollow Center for The Arts
56 Woods Street
Darwin CBD

DIY: : a simple softie pattern

Most softie patterns for sale over the internet specify “For personal use only, not for commercial resale“, and I am happy to comply because 1) I always think about how I would feel if someone took a pattern I’d designed and made dolls from it, and then put the items up for sale as her own creations, and 2) I like the challenge of coming up with something, myself…after all, if others can do it, so can I. It’s not about being born with amazing skills…skills are learned. Using a spoon, tying shoe laces, driving a car, making a softie pattern… 😉

My homemade softies are not as extraordinary as something created by a fabulous Mr. Finch, though I am sure that with practice and lots of time spent making, making, making, even I could get my softie-making skills up to that professional level. There is nothing stopping me from learning what I want to learn (and there’s nothing stopping you from mastering anything you want to learn, either!) It all depends on whether we want to invest a few months/years in becoming an expert—and, right now, I don’t fancy making stuffed dolls my life. Not really. I just want a school of handmade stuffed Flying Banana Fish to hang in a small gallery corridor for one night at the end of this week.

I looked at photographs of flying fish, and then drew the softie I envisaged, at the actual size.

making banana fish

I shaped a lump of plasticine clay into the body of the fish, comparing it to my drawing to get the scale right.

making banana fish

I cut an old T-shirt into a continuous strip (round and round the body, starting form the bottom edge of the shirt) and put it in a yoghurt tub with some PVA glue, and squished the glue into the fabric until it was all worked in. Then I wrapped the strip around my simple fish shape, using dressmaking pins to hold the ends in place. I let it dry.

making banana fish

With a fresh, sharp scalpel blade, I sliced the shape open along the lines where I thought the seams should go on a fish. These are easy to figure out: a fish is basically two fish shapes joined along the edges…

making banana fish

The fabric peels away from the oily plasticine easily…

making banana fish

I pinned the shape down to some board, and traced around it.

making banana fish

I smoothed the crooked lines out using a Flexicurve flexible ruler, though you can use a french curve, or just freehand the lines, too. I added the seam allowance all around.

making banana fish

To help with positioning my pattern piece on the marbled fabric (so the print resembles scales) I cut the body shape out of the pattern, leaving the seam allowance as a border. You can skip this part if you don’t need to know exactly where the fabric designs will be on the finished softie.

making banana fish

Here’s the finished pattern piece, and I have found a great area of marbled fish scales through the window to cut the fabric from…

making banana fish

Crude but serviceable.


I used the wrapped plasticine method to make my Nutmeg the Wren pattern, too. It took a few prototypes in fabric to get it, as there were more seam lines and I wanted the bird’s head to cock to one side, but it’s basically the same thing. You can’t beat patience—spending time making, adjusting, re-making—for getting a pattern that is just right. Seems like a lot of work, I know, but once you have it, the pattern is original, re-usable, and it’s all yours.

Go make something unique!