Archive for August, 2013

Workshop: Weaving with Frances Djulibing

There was very little directly textile-related in my Top End holiday (see 29-Aug-2013). Happily the day after our return I was able to fill this gap partially at a workshop at the Museum of Contemporary Art, led by Frances Djulibing from Ramingining, in the east of Arnhem Land.

Frances showed us two techniques. The first was a basket weaving / twining technique using pandanus, similar to the class with Aaron Broad (15-Aug-2013).

banyanThe second technique was preparing and spinning a yarn or string from the aerial roots of the banyan tree. On the right is a photo I took in Darwin of a banyan known as The Tree of Knowledge. The Civic Centre was basically built around it. Some of those verticals are supports put in to help the tree, but most are the tree’s aerial roots.

Frances had a bundle of roots, each around 25 or 30 cm long and perhaps 2 cm in diameter.

Frances_Djulibing_03The first step was to scrape away the outer layer of bark and the green layer just beneath it, using a sharp blade. This was a fairly slow and careful process – you don’t want to go too far and take off the inner bark.

Frances_Djulibing_04Next Frances pounded the root between two stones. She kept turning the root, pounding on all sides and along the length. The fibres of the inner bark started breaking up, loosening from the root inside. Eventually Frances was able to slip the outer bark from the root, slipping the tube of bark off like a sock.

Frances folded up the tube of inner bark and kept pounding on it, further separating the fibres.

Frances_Djulibing_05With a bit more pounding the inner bark became a mass of long fibres. Frances was able to pull small groups apart quite easily.

On some of the photos you may be able to see the moisture on the rocks. It was released from the roots during the pounding. Frances created a pile of root fibres and let them dry out a little before moving on to the spinning process. They were still moist, but not wet.

Next came spinning, in a wonderfully clever and efficient process that created a balanced two ply string of whatever length you wanted with no tools other than your own body. It was also one of those classic things that look smooth and easy when done by an experienced person and turns out to be a physical impossibility when you try it yourself.

In other spinning I’ve done, using a spinning wheel or a spindle, you start by twisting your fibres together always twisting in one direction, gradually catching more fibres in and creating a length – “singles” or one ply. It’s quite unstable and if released from tension would just untwist and fall apart. So as you go you wind it under tension on a bobbin (if using a wheel) or on the spindle. If you look at the individual fibres in the length you can see they all slope in one direction as they twist down the length you’ve created. It depends on which way you twisted, but say for this example as you look at the length the fibres all come from the top left and move down to the right, like “\” or the middle line of a capital S (so known as S-twist).

To create a balanced, stable yarn that doesn’t fall apart you spin two bobbins of S-twist singles. Then spin again, this time with the two singles as input instead of individual fibres, and twisting in the opposite direction – “/” or Z-twist in our example. If all goes well you end with a nice length of two-ply yarn. The S and the Z twists balance each other out. With just a single length of S-twist, if you tried to put in Z-twist it would just fall apart, but because you have two lengths of S-twist they twist around each other in the Z operation and it all holds together.

Too many words, but with just a bit of practice it works and you can get fancier and fancier with variations.

Frances, almost magically, added both twists in one operation, using just her hands and leg.
Frances_Djulibing_06The diagram on the left shows the yarn as it is being created – like a “Y” lying on its side (and the S and Z also on their side). At points number 1 are the two bundles of banyan fibres coming in. At points number 2, S-twist has been added to the individual fibres. In the photo above on the left Frances is doing this by rolling the two ends down her leg under the palm of her hand. Where the twist is being added to the two bundles they are kept slightly apart under her hand.

At point number 3 the two S-twist bundles have been combined in a Z-twist string. In the photo above on the right Frances is doing this by rolling the combined bundles up her leg, held together under her thumb.

While working Frances always had the “Y” shape under her hands. The base of the “Y” kept getting longer as more 2-ply string was created. Frances kept adding new fibres to the arms of the “Y”, twisting them in with the fibres already in progress. So the rhythm was:
* add some fibres to one of the arms
* roll down the leg on the two separated arms of the “Y” to add S-twist
* roll back up the leg with the two arms together to combine them in a Z-twist
* give a tug to the newly created bit of string to check for strength.
* repeat

The focus of work was always just a centimetre or two right near the junction of the “Y”, converting just that little bit from bundles to S-twist singles to Z-twist two ply. Frances was constantly controlling where in the length twist was being added by pinching and releasing at different points. It was beautiful to watch.

Sorry this is all very wordy and unclear – more a reference for myself.

I keep wandering around the house, trying to find an equivalent material to use in creating a yarn. Even if I had access to banyan roots I wouldn’t want to use it for more than a try. winter_weaving_5It’s like using wire from a power cable and weed-trimmer line for my tiny basket – I want to combine these techniques with materials natural to my own, personal environment. I’ll have to keep thinking and looking…

Holiday to the Top End

NT_map1I’ve been on holiday – up to the Top End of Australia with my mother. The map shows our route – the flight from Sydney to Darwin (4 to 5 hours), then driving in a 4WD coach to the Mary River, through Kakadu, a few days in Arnhem Land, up to the Cobourg Peninsula, then a flight back to Darwin and home.

I’m finding it hard to package the experience into a neat blog post. Crocodile stories seemed a good place to start, but only a few days later a man was taken by a croc while swimming just a few kilometres from where we saw our first (see news story at There are warning signs all over the place, but a dreadful price for one poor decision.

There was plenty of other wildlife, although most of the larger (buffalo, wallabies, banteng…) escaped my camera.

The country itself.

And the art.

Click on any of the photos above to go to slide shows and larger versions. I’m not often lost for words, but this country is breathtaking.

Basket weaving workshop

winter_weaving_1A few weeks ago I went to an evening Winter Weaving demonstration and workshop at the Art Gallery of NSW. The workshop was led by Aaron Broad, an Indigenous artist from the south coast. Aaron brought in lots of different things for us to look at, plus all the materials we needed to have a go ourselves.

winter_weaving_2I’m not sure, but I think this might be the first basket Aaron ever made. Very, very nice. Unfortunately I just couldn’t get the idea of what to do. I kept trying to translate Aaron’s words into my own “weaver-speak” – pretty silly given I’m a loom weaver and can’t recall ever having tried basket weaving before.

winter_weaving_3This is the little “basket” I made. Line it with feathers and it might work as a nest for a really tiny bird, if it was willing to risk spiking itself on the way in!

winter_weaving_4The start was a particular challenge. By the end I thought I had an idea of what I should have done.

I should hasten to add that none of my struggles are a reflection on Aaron. On reflection I think it was my attitude, very goal oriented (after a long, demanding and goal-filled work day). Things got better when I became aware of my own tension and just relaxed and started enjoying the journey and the occasion.

winter_weaving_5It was really nice to be making something with my hands again. I’m enjoying the Art History course very much and putting all my available time into it. That evening I realised I need to shift the balance.

winter_weaving_6The next day was a non-work one. I decided to try again, but this time using some non-traditional materials I collected during Textiles 1: A Creative Approach. My foundation “canes” are wires stripped from an old computer power cable. The “weft” (not sure if that’s the right term in basketry) is a mixture of some polypropelene tubing and some weed trimmer line (that lovely translucent blue first used back in an exercise posted 22-Sept-2012). I rather like it. Even the bottom went well.

UA1-WA:P2-p1 Project 1 Review, plus some tutor feedback

Time for a brief review of the work done for Part two Project one: Mythology in the High Renaissance. Here I’ll follow the order of the course notes rather than as I attempted exercises.

Engraving Published by: Johannes Boel After: Marten van Cleve I Print made by: Philips Galle, Arachne (1574) © The Trustees of the British Museum,0520.436&page=1

Engraving Published by: Johannes Boel After: Marten van Cleve I Print made by: Philips Galle, Arachne (1574)
© The Trustees of the British Museum,0520.436&page=1

For a Research Point on paintings of a mythological subject I chose the story of Arachne and Minerva (see 8-July-2013).

Looking back now I see that I became somewhat distracted by different translations of the text – fascinating, but not the goal of the research. The two artworks I focused on were very different in their treatment of the myth. This print of the Netherlandish school uses the myth in a factual way as a personification of textile production.

Peter Paul Rubens, Pallas and Arachne (1636–37) Image used with kind permission of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,_Sculpture_+_Works_on_Paper/Rubens,_Peter_Paul_58_18_Pallas_and_Arachne.aspx

Peter Paul Rubens, Pallas and Arachne (1636–37)
Image used with kind permission of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,_Sculpture_+_Works_on_Paper/Rubens,_Peter_Paul_58_18_Pallas_and_Arachne.aspx

The second work was painted around sixty years later and is a dramatic and emotional moment in the story. I’ve now started reading in the course textbook (Honour and Fleming, 2009) about Baroque painting in the seventeenth century, including quite a lot of information about Rubens. For some reason I’ve had fixed in my mind an association of Rubens with Italy, but although he spent some time in Italy and diligently studied the works of the masters there he trained and lived most of his life in or near Antwerp. This geographical link makes the contrast between the two works seem even more pronounced.

Nicolas Régnier Hero and Leander (c. 1625-1626) Image provided by NGV

Nicolas Régnier
Hero and Leander
(c. 1625-1626)
Image provided by NGV

Working on an annotation of this painting of Hero and Leander drove home to me the value of seeing the work in person (see post 23-July-2013). There are few overt symbolic “clues” to the myth given here, and one I completely misread in the web image – sea shells, not garlic! That direct, personal experience also helped me to build a connection to the work, in some sense to experience it as well as look at it. In his report on my first assignment my tutor commented favourably on my increasing use of emotive language. I’ve been trying to push that further, to respond to artworks and not just analyse and dissect them in an intellectual way.


Plate: Europa and the bull
Pesaro, workshop of the Zenobia painter
c. 1552-60

My choice of subject for an exercise on analyzing a sixteenth-century Italian painting felt a little dangerous, although I believe it meets all the stated requirements. I gave my rationale in my post (see 28-July-2013).

Wanting to do some more in-depth research on this piece led me to another great local resource, just downstairs from where the plate itself is displayed – the Edmund and Joanna Capon Research Library at the Art Gallery of NSW ( Not only is this a treasure trove of information, I just loved being there – quiet and calm, surrounded by interesting books, light flooding into my study carrel from the windows above, in a new corner of one of my favourite places in Sydney.

ngv_03In fact my local art gallery felt so much one of my safe and familiar places that I deliberately went elsewhere for the required visit to an art gallery. For that I travelled down to Melbourne, to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV – see 21-July-2013). In that report I focused on the International building of NGV. I didn’t mention the clever way NGV co-ordinated exhibitions. While I was there the Monet’s Garden exhibition was on in the International exhibition space (, showing works from The Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris. In the Australian exhibition space was AUSTRALIAN IMPRESSIONISTS IN FRANCE ( I spent a morning at the Australian Impressionists exhibition, but will delay writing about it until I reach that period in my studies.

That Australian content remains a major goal for me in as much of the course as I can manage, and my tutor was happy with my adaptation of assignment one tasks to Australian conditions. When in Melbourne it was an amazing experience to actually hold and leaf through the Book of Hours at the State Library of Victoria (see my annotation of 22-June-2013 and the story of my visit posted 17-July-2013) – something so unexpected and that I still can’t quite believe, and certainly impossible if I hadn’t kept that local focus. It was an incredible bonus on a trip that was aimed at the older artworks displayed in the NGV. Scale is an interesting thing. Seeing that Book, how it fit into my hands, enforced the idea of its original purpose and the people who used it. Being small also made it more precious, more jewel-like. In contrast, having Régnier’s Hero and Leander fill my field of vision intensified the emotion of the captured moment.

I received my tutor’s feedback on Assignment One very quickly, just as I was beginning this project. Overall it was very positive and encouraging. Unfortunately the Assignment essay itself was a complete miss – I totally misread the question (a review of the textbook). I focused on the practical usability of the book, ignoring the content and issues such as any prejudice or assumptions in the selection of material included. Perhaps my situation as a female non-indigenous Australian with a particular interest in textiles led me to expect and accept a bias in any “comprehensive” textbook, with little attention given to my direct concerns. My current plan is to return to the Assignment before assessment but after I have completed reading for the course – who knows, perhaps I’ll find mention of Australia beyond the tiny page and a half allocated to indigenous art.

Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.

UA1-WA:P2-p1 Project 1 Review
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part two: From the High Renaissance to Post-Impressionism
Project one: Mythology in the High Renaissance
Topic: Review


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August 2013

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