Material Witness will focus on extreme textile process. Images will be posted here showing the history of my work, new work, developing projects and inspiration.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Paper Trails

We have paper!
Yes it's true. It may have taken more than a week of labour and experiments but it is possible to make one tough, rough paper from Scottish Broom. The sculptural possibilities are enormous.

passive solar cooking and fermentation
Add 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar and whizz it up in the blender
Cook stinky swill by boiling ten minutes and a two hour simmer.
 Make paper in the usual way by adding to a water bath and using a deckle. Sponge and allow to dry for a few hours.
Place wet paper on a drying rack and allow to dry out of the direct sunlight. I made mine with a window screen on a lawn chair to allow for air circulation on all sides. It still buckled but it can be ironed to flatten.
More paper making materials just waiting to be transformed.  Onion skins and rose petals.
The resulting paper can be used as is or torn up and mixed with other various vegetation and papers for  resulting very different paper pulps. There is absolutely no odour.

Sometimes art making requires a whole lot of stubborn. It is worth experimenting to find an easier way.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Britannia Mining Museum on The Express Sept. 26, 2011 Part 1

This was one of my favourite shows. One of the most delightful showing experienced ever. Imagine getting to play and show in the mine.

Please excuse the "jazz hands". I was unaware the camera was still on.

And brace yourself for the tattooing session at the end of the video. It was filmed on the same show and is not my work. Not for the faint of heart. It will removed  when I develop a few more editing skills.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Continued Paper Experiments With Broom

EEE YUCK! My house is wafting the smell of fermented broom.

It is on the stove again for two hours. It would be outside on the fire pit but there is a fire ban in this hot and dry weather. Outside it would only smell a little.

I tried to blend it and it nearly killed the poor blender. So I took it out and set the soaking vegetation outside in the sun for 2 more days. It fermented which was a promising sign until the jar lid was removed.
Phew! It smelled like a pool of effluent from Hell. Hard to describe but not like broom. Thrilling because fermentation breaks down lots of difficult fibers.

The broom was blended it again. It broke down a little. And again and it broke down enough for me to make a very fibrous paper. But I want a finer tooth. So the stinking swill went into the biggest pot I had and was put on the stove on hard boil for 15 minutes and simmered for two hours. Oh! Awful. All windows and doors open.

I suspect two things. One is that the broom paper made before used new spring growth. With a whack of caustic soda but  didn't this time because the enamel pot is in Vancouver. Caustic soda is very corrosive to aluminum pots. It is also known as lye.  Soap is made with it but used in smaller quantities and in glass pans and bowls. Lots of soap will be needed when this project is finished.

The nature of experimentation is that if you record what has happened  a failure is as useful as a success. Trust me this will be recorded. Time, dates, ingredients, weights, outside and inside temperatures  and all equipment. Just like I was educated to do. And then I will try, try again.

More later.

I love science. 

To be continued.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Swearing Powers Most Models Of Sewing Machines.

Rae learning to address an issue.
I swear. I have always sworn. It pops out like little exclamation points to my already exaggerated expressions. I swear like a dock worker.

My mother raised me to be a lady. Ankles crossed, book on head, demure downward glances, modesty, death before a gas bubble from either end. My mother very rarely swore. My paternal grandmother only swore once that I remember. She had stuck a fork in the toaster and it launched her. We children were sitting on the porch and came flying into the house with the commotion.. Not so much to help but to see if she would do it again.

There were curse jars in my grandparent's house. They were pried open because we were all little larcenists. And there was almost nothing there. In my house the jars provided bus fare and treat money if coupled with that from the inside of the couch. Because my children swore like troopers. Blond angelic cuss monsters. Father Tim hardly swears unless seriously provoked.

There are pictures of me in full curse as a youngster`. English and French. Hands on hips and flipping a finger or thumb.

My sewing teacher in high school gave me a machine off to the side because the sewing machine set me off like a Gatling gun. I cursed and swore through every needle threading and every dart. Under my breath as I wrestled the effing cloth to submission. The teacher, who was a lovely tolerant being, would laugh softly and twinkle my way. She'd pat my shoulder and tut me if I got too frustrated.

My typing teacher noticed the same expressions of frustration. She called me in the office and asked me why I was so angry.  I told her that I didn't really feel that angry but that I had double jointed fingers and was flipping all over the type writer and that I was hopeless at typing. She asked me if I wanted to type.
I cried and said, "No but girls needed to learn to type so they could become secretaries". She looked at me shocked, laughed and said, "Some girls aren't made to be secretaries, some girls are made to be Queens or better things." She kissed my head and kicked me out of typing class forever. Lovely feminist Ms. Carol. Who also taught me Lysistrata on the summer lawn of my high school. And introduced me the writings of Emma Goldman and Mary Shelley. And never once told me not to swear.

I still swear when I am sewing. It allows me to dominate my machines. It works the sting right out of my day.
The murderous thoughts from my mind. The kink out of my neck. An Irish deep breathing exercise. So much more relaxing than an OOOOMMM! Did yoga for two years and stopped. I lived with an Indian woman who could curse me under the table in at least three language. Louder and more passionately. Like Maa Kala Ratri cursing demons away.

I was playing with Baby A, my granddaughter, in the pool last weekend. She looked at me, picked up a stick
 and fiercely shook it while she let her first curse word rip. Perfect enunciation, perfect tone, perfect fierce glance. I said nothing. And continued with the water task at hand. But I was thrilled. Gramma and Baby A are compatible. And besides I know now that if I last long enough I will be able to teach her to sew.

I also remembered my wee round Irish Nanny fiercely and loudly cursing while killing flies with a newspaper. She hated flies. She was leaping around while wildly swacking with the newspaper. And swore in the most mean, most guttural way. A thrilling event! This sweet demure creature who was my mother's mother. Full of venom and energy. My three year old hands rolled the newspaper and joined her. She looked down and me and grinned. Together we conquered the most oppressive control of women. We found our mouths!

So I sit here and reflect that despite life's disappointments that there is a way to be a little fierce and still giving. Good teaching isn't formal and that my sewing machine is still powered by my own personal word fumes.


Capturing Moments

Scott capturing  moments of fleeting beauty ... A lovely, contemplative walk on Mayne Island.

Friday, July 12, 2013

And The Day After That

Phew! Some days are more difficult than others but that can all be fixed by preparing a good feed of Les Pied Du Cochon. Hot and peppery like made in Quebec when I was little. Talk about foot in mouth! Nothing polite or Calvinist there. Thank God! I am still stinging from the last appendage I ate.

So the broom jar finally cooled down after 2 days basking in the sun.  It had also started to turn into a bit of a strange brew and bubbled and hissed when I twisted the lid open. I'll have to remember this for my next batch of hooch. A solar powered still has never occurred to me before but turning the kiddie pool into a hot tub might be easier than I thought.

So the broom brew cooled a little and I could stick my hand in. So I did. And took a colander and rinsed the brew. I left it for awhile and caught up with my soap opera. I won't do that again.

Then I threw it in a big pot to steep away. gently simmering for two hours. And cooled my lunch. Took a phone call from the lovely Viking and my realtor who are both coming to the Island to drink my wine.
Hopefully on different days. Because I hate mixing metaphors. And in the meantime the broom softened to the point I could pick up the more fibrous, dense bits and put them aside to beat with my mallet. When I am in a ferocious mood.

And...wait for it...  I put the sludge in my blender on the freaking, shrieking high. And blended it until it looked like a delicious,watery, fine ground pesto. I will leave it until tomorrow and blend it again.

And voila!!! Paper pulp in just a few days.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Scottish Broom Paper Making Continued

Just checking.

To Be Continued in this case requires a few days of watching and waiting.
The jar is too hot to touch so the broom is cooking away with the passive solar method.

Reminder again. Plant materials, additive and water in a big jar that is placed under the unrelenting sun and patiently left to steep. Very patiently. Now stop peeking and go weed that garden.

I sprung awake last night and remembered that the drained broom water is a dye. It works that way if you don't add the other ingredients like salt , soda or caustic acid. You use the additives in the dye bath.The best dye is from the flowers, of course, but my intention is to show as many uses for the broom as possible.

I will use this particular paper for my sample book for the Mayne Island Conservancy and for my journal pages for the Arts Wells project.

Paper Making With Scottish Broom

road to Sweethaven being used to dry broom

lots of cutting and stripping branches

 fibrous material packed in a gallon jar

add the baking soda 1/4 cup

passive solar cooking on the garden bench after adding water

Photos to be continued through ths process. Keep checking for new posts.

Scottish Broom is everywhere here and there is no beating it into submission.
But there is the possibility of using it's tough fibrous qualities for purposes other than incineration.

The first project is paper making.

garden gloves
safety glasses
paper face mask (to keep dust and debris from being inhaled)
garden sheers
3 large food grade buckets
large pots
large spoons (wooden are best)
water source like a garden hose, rain barrel, sink or river
soda ash, salt ,caustic soda or weeks of soaking
large glass jar
deck or table
absorbant cloth
drying rack

1. Cut down a medium size to tall plant. Rinse it to help deal with the dust and any debris.
2. Cut the smallest branches and strip them from the bottom up using your gloved hand.
3. Save the longer, thicker branches to make fleece with . Tie them in bundles of six soak the in water with soda ash or caustic soda for a few days. Instructions later.
4. Put branches, leaves, salt or soda ash for papermaking in a large glass jar for a a passive solar cooking. Leave them in the sun for a few days to soften. Or use your stove top and a large pot. Keep simmering until they start to soften. Ventilation should be adequate because of the oils in the broom. Many people are sensitive to it. Let the soaked plant material cool.
5.Rinse well. 
6. Snip the cooled plant material in 1/2 inch pieces and simmer for about two hours
7. Throw the mess in the blender and blend into a paper slurry using water. It can be combined with
khadi papers, junk mail or other papers as an option.
8. Use your slurry as with any other you work with.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Chapter One: Book of Loves and Hates

   Beloved Arachne, master weaver, Sweethaven porch dweller

Love...Mango Chutney
Love...the sound of laughter across the water
Hate...plastic sea debris
Love...copper wire
Hate...standing water with mosquito larva
Love...truthful, stubborn men
Hate...tinny beer
Hate...people who think it is funny to trick, lie and manipulate to get their own needs met
Love...invasive plants to kill without mercy
Hate...car seat belt warning bells
Love...temper tantrums as an expression of frustration. Mostly in two year olds
Hate...people who diminish another's self worth by mocking
Love...diaphanous white curtains blowing in the breeze
Hate...people who send back restaurant food for unknown reasons
Love...lavender hedges
Hate...smart women who use their appearance as currency
Love...blue, blue eyes ( like Tim has)
Love...learning things
Hate...magical thinking and religious silliness
Love...belief in people and this wonderful planet
Hate...plastic garden surrounds
Love...empathy and compassion
Hate...scrapping metal sounds
Hate...leaky pens
Love...baby buzzards
Hate...pictures of cute kittens, puppies or babies used to define the adorable
Love...white walls
Hate...destination focused traveling
Love...meandering and discovery
Hate...oppressively positive thinkers and faith healers
Love...just being here with breath and a beating heart
Hate...bad endings in books,songs, love and life

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Beach Picnics, Fermenting Things and Real Brooms.

The Scottish Broom taking over Sweethaven and Mayne Island. Summer 2013
Tim has been taking the chainsaw to the most seriously invasive vegetation at Sweethaven. There is a proliferation of  Scottish Broom on this island. Broom was brought to West Coast Canada by a homesick Scottish woman in the 1800's. It is tall, strong, almost impossible to get rid of and chokes out local vegetation.There are broom removal crews from the Mayne Island Conservancy. I pulled the small plants out by the roots with fervour and managed to pull less than an acre all spring.

Karen Barnaby is my favourite chef in Vancouver. (www.karenbarnaby.com) I love her and would move her next door in a minute! She also works with textiles and loves to spin. She sent me the most incredible link from a group she is working with in Vancouver. And may have changed my hate relationship to broom forever.

Sharon Kallis is an environmental artist and has been an inspiration to me many years. She has been working with invasive vegetation and dyeing for years. But her latest project using broom as a community exploration has reminded me that every problem can be reformed, reworked and reinvented.
Check out her web page www.Sharon Kallis.com. There is a great video on how to use broom there and a link to one in Spain.

The research has got me pulling out the big pots and caustic soda. Tim has placed cut broom for dyeing all over the  road to the house.  We are learning the broom dance to loosen  the fibres.I am looking for extra strong retting tools to breakdown the fibre. And the drop spinner is going to have a new life. It will go with my new obsession for wild culinary pleasures like stinging nettle and dandelion pesto, mushrooms, sea weeds, wild rose jam and wild sorrel soup.

Oh and there is a broom dance in the future. Like the Tarantella but with more chance of falling on one's face.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


I am in Vancouver for chemo. Yiiiish it is hard this month!
Nausea, nausea and more of the same. Just don't do heat very well
with my Nordic genes. And it is hot!

Tim and I will take a weekend with no company or extras. Just the garden and us.
Lots of sleep. Clearly will have to slow down now.

Maybe there will be the quiet and lack of distraction to make art.

Good news is that a paper wasp nest has been built on the Widow's Walk. Poor Scott opened the trap door to go up and he faced it right in the eye.

Made rose petal jam last week and found a few wild patches needing to be picked and turned into paper, rose water and rosary beads. Thought of Kyd Campbell who made my last string which fit considering we both lived as children in Quebec. Both Irish backgrounds with that tinge of Catholic tradition. She is climbing mountains in Peru this week because I told her to. Living the great big life.

Recipe for Rosary Beads.

Gather four or more cups of roses, 1/2 cup of water or wine and a strong rose essential oil (20 drops) and blend it until it makes a very thick but smooth paste.  Roll into little balls with your fingers and put a pin in the center of each ball. These can be pinned to a Styrofoam sheet or a cork board until very dry.
Leave them to dry in a shady but warm and dry place.

String the beads when very hard and dried according to traditional rosary patterns or according to your taste. String with a matching coloured waxed linen or thick silk thread.

Catholic stringing is based on "tenners" or five groups of ten beads divided by a separation bead and space.
That equals 50 rose beads(Hail Mary) and 4 cedar or wooden beads(Our Father). Spaces are created between 10 beads for "Hail Mary's" and "Our Father" beads.  So knot, string 10 rose beads, knot, space, knot, cedar bead, knot, space...repeat.

Anglican stringing is based on seven rose beads.

Buddhist Mala stringing is based on 108 beads to keep track of prayers and chants. 111 for Tibetan Buddhists.

Muslim Misubha stringing is based on ninety nine beads divided into groups of thirty three.

Greek Orthodox, Traveller's and Bahia all use rose or scented prayer beads.

I often think about this while stringing beads. It is one of those fundamental acts like wrapping. Very meditative and transforming.