Category Archives: Craft

Ring pulls, rabbit knees and cream of tartar

Larissas_cushion_aI’ve finally finished Larissa’s cushion: a zebra finch in the middle (she’s doing a PhD on animal personality); her four kelpies around the edges with decorative guppies (Larissa has also studied the personality of guppies). All rendered in Hobbytex. The blue and red edging is old bias binding tape found in a sewing box inherited from her paternal grandmother. That’s one for the Completion files. Completion feels good.

And there were rich pickings on the ring pull fields today. I went up to the top of Mount Panorama late this afternoon. It was all grey and gloomy. The earth was damp with fungi rising. Some hoons had been through, leaving two great circular patches of rough dirt. The grinding motion of the tyres had turned over the top centimetre or two of topsoil, bringing long-buried ring-pulls to the surface. They lay there in the poor light, ripe for the picking. I felt like one of those birds that follow tractors, going for the worms.

I struggled with my bad right knee. I bent down and rubbed at it and tried to ease the kneecap into the right spot. That seemed to help. I told Steve about the knee book I’m reading. It’s the memoir of a man who buggered his knees cycling up hills and eventually found his own way to a cure. His thesis is that a lot of light movement is better for bad knees than heavy intermittent workouts to build up the quadriceps. To support this he quotes a study in which three sets of teen rabbits were treated for bad knees in different ways. (The rabbits did not show up in the lab with bad knees; they were given them. Under anaesthetic, they each had small holes drilled directly

Rabbit knees

into the cartilage.) When they woke up from their operations, the rabbits were either in a plaster cast (immobilisation) or rigged up in a contraption that lightly, continuously, bent and unbent their bad knees. A third group was given heavy, intermittent exercise (simulating a regular workout at the gym). The group that had their knees gently bent and unbent for them did a lot better than the other two.1 This was discovered by killing all of them and pulling apart their tiny knees to examine the rates of healing of the cartilage. I told Steve about this tragedy and he said, “Well, you want good knees”, as if to say, “To make an omelette you have  to break eggs.” Or: “Cartilage research has its costs and benefits.”

Earlier in the day, I rested my knee on the coffee table as I spoke to my old school friend, Tricia Fong. She asked what the thing with the green dresses was all about. Oh yes, the Invisible Bodies performance, only a week ago but now rapidly receding in my mind. I told her about it, and she said the teal dresses had made her think of the fund-raising stalls we’d had in primary school. For one of these, Mum had made tiny teal dresses for Barbie dolls. These were simple affairs involving a bit of shirring over the ample plastic bust creating a gathered skirt. I said I couldn’t remember this at all, but as I said it, the hint of a possible memory began to awaken. These are little gifts,  bits of my own life given back to me. Which brought us around to toffees, also sold on these stalls, which I do remember. I used to love making them. Tricia said she remembered how, at my house, we added a pinch of cream of tartar, but that her own mother didn’t have any in the house and toffees made there weren’t as good. So after our phone call I went on a cream of tartar research mission. Cream of tartar is the acidic crystalline substance that spontaneously forms during wine making. In cooking it can stabilise whipped egg white and it prevents crystalisation in toffee. Yes. Our cake-stall toffees were the clearest, purest red, like thick glass.

 


1. Salter, R. B., Simmonds, D. F., Malcolm, B. W., Rumble, E. J., MacMichael, D., & Clements, N. D. (1980). The biological effect of continuous passive motion on the healing of full-thickness defects in articular cartilage. An experimental investigation in the rabbit. The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, 62(8), 1232-1251.

Channeling my mother

I’ve been channeling my mother. Let me hasten to add that she has not gone over to the other side. She’s alive and well and doing some renovations. I’m channeling an earlier incarnation of my mother, the one in her 20s and 30s, the one that used to lay out yards of fabric and, with a pair of giant, sharp, impressive scissors, would cut and cut and cut.

“I want to go cut cut cut like thaaaat!” I apparently whined at a young age. I wanted to get my hand on the scissors. I watched as well-dressed, sometimes perfumed, ladies came to the house and Mum got down on her supple knees to do their hems. And then there’d be the staccato runs of her green Singer sewing machine.

Mum, Dad, Deb and me at the Carnarvon Pool, c. mid '70s.

Mum, Dad, Deb and me at the Carnarvon pool, c. mid ’70s.

She made her own clothes and the clothes worn by my sister Deb and I. Even our knickers and bathers. In this pic Mum’s wearing a crisp white dress with blue flowers that she wore for years and we’re wearing the red bikini bathers she made. (Everyone said these were cute, but we yearned for shop-bought ones.)

By the late ’70s she’d switched from ladies’ frocks to curtain contracts to earn a living. Nice straight lines. A lot easier, and more lucrative, than shaping fabric to women’s bodies.

calico_bodiceNow I’ve got my own hands on the scissors. I’ve made a calico toile for a set of three turquoise fifties dresses with big gathered skirts. We’ll be coming on stage in our lovely frocks, only to disrobe to our taupe “undies”, in which we will do some physical jerks while someone else reads out our True Confessions. As I whined last week, this is outrageous behavior for me, especially the physical jerks. But I think I may be on top of skipping backwards. As long as I don’t think about it too much.

But making the dresses … that’s beautifully familiar. The movements of scissors, fabric, machine, pulling gathers – they’re all body memories. Apparently when you watch something, the same parts of the brain are triggered as if you do the actions yourself. As I sew, I channel my mother’s movements.

***

Carbon_dioxide_Waste_2_Art_2015Meanwhile, this year’s Waste 2 Art project is ready to ship. It just needs to go down the road to the Flannery Centre today at 2pm, and then it just does its own thing. I’ve finished fiddling with it. It’s in its cardboard box, waiting to go out of the door. I really enjoyed painting the ring-pulls red and black. The finished piece is a bit of mess, really, but it’s nice to simply participate. The exhibition will be open from May 1-10.

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Meanwhile, the world goes on being convulsed by trauma; now Nepal. And before that the Kenyan university students. But Bathurst is absolutely gorgeous at this time of year. The trees are yellow and red and orange; there are leaves everywhere. The air is crisp.


 

APPENDICES

Waste 2 Art Artist’s Statement

Title: Carbon dioxide, 2015.

Artist: Tracy Sorensen

Media: Recycled items: Found vintage ring pulls; recycled lamp frame; red, black & blue paint from 1970s Hobbytex tubes; lid from old storage canister; found toy car. New item: Beading wire.

Measurements: 36 x 36 x 24

Place of execution: Bathurst, NSW, Australia

When you pull back on a ring pull on a can of beer or soft drink, you can hear and see and feel – in the tiny droplets of water – the action of carbon dioxide. It’s the CO2 that makes the fizz.

When I walk my black Labrador, Bertie, around McPhillamy Park on the top of Mount Panorama I keep an eye out for ring pulls. I only collect the old-style ones that were discontinued in the 1980s. I like the way their twisted, folded shapes recall the hands that originally tore them from the cans. Delightful moments of fizziness and pleasure are frozen in time in these found ring pulls.

In this piece I have used ring pulls to represent carbon dioxide. It is often represented in three-dimensionally as two red spheres (oxygen) attached to one black sphere (carbon). I painted the ring pulls with Hobbytex paint recovered out of old tubes. (Hobbytex was a fabric-painting craze in the 1970s.) Anyone who has used Hobbytex would have noticed its powerful petrochemical fumes.

Carbon dioxide provides more than fizz; it’s an essential part of all life on this planet, and it helps to create the greenhouse effect – a global blanket – that keeps the earth warm enough for the human life we’ve grown accustomed to over the entire course of human development.

You can have too much of a good thing. Since the industrial revolution, when we began burning fossil fuels in earnest, the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere has grown by about 30%. Now, our global blanket is getting a little too warm. I’ve represented this by using the curve of the lamp frame to suggest the curve of the atmospheric blanket over the surface of the earth.

I found the metal toy car, encrusted with dirt, in the back yard. It has been painted in the black and white Marlboro livery of motor racing legend Peter Brock’s cars. Carbon dioxide molecules trail out the back of it like a bride’s long train, and ascend into the overarching atmosphere.

Lest we forget

Every year at about this time, I think of Simpson and his donkey. I’ve known the story of this courageous pair – how they toiled up and down the cliffs at Gallipoli, taking wounded soldiers to the hospital ships – for as long as I can remember. It’s a fragment of a bigger story that encompasses poppies and mud and the opening scenes of George Johnston’s My Brother Jack, where there were gas masks and crutches in the hall and strangely disfigured men lurking out the back.

The earliest Anzac Day ceremonies were personal; they evoked particular young men that people had known and loved. Now, a century later, those young people are more abstract to us. But because of the stories woven round them, they will not be forgotten.

What about the young people a hundred years from now? They don’t yet have names or faces. But they’ll be just as real as we are now. And it may be that they will look back at us and wonder how we could have forgotten them. How could we have had so much information about climate change and yet done so little?

Perhaps, unlike the Anzacs, they just don’t have a good enough story. Social scientists tell us that information, by itself, doesn’t make much impact on people. Stories, on the other hand, have sticking power. And the stories we don’t tell each other – the silences – are just as important.

Anzac stories can be told simply, powerfully, emotionally. There’s a boy from the bush, running into enemy fire, legs like springs. Climate change offers some scientists writing papers full of maths equations that nobody else can read and a vague sense of guilt about not switching off the power at the wall. For most people, climate change just thuds quietly to the bottom of the brain.

But stories are made as much as they’re born. Historian Charles Bean worked tirelessly to promote the memory of the Anzacs at Gallipoli. The Gallipoli story caught on because it combined with the needs of a new nation hungry for stories to tell about itself. A century on, our political leaders are keener than ever to bathe in reflected glory.

It certainly beats talking about parts per million of carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere. We can know, and yet we can forget.

First published in the Western Advocate, April 25, 2015 as a contribution to the Sustainable Bathurst column.

 

 

Cockatoos, mushrooms and feral children

Crafty mushrooms in a quiet moment, Kandos Community Hall.

Crafty mushrooms in a quiet moment, Kandos Community Hall.

Yesterday I spent three hours companionably in the company of crocheted, knitted and otherwise crafted mushrooms. They were poked into a mesh bed, and under the mesh, it was a tangle of white string that made me think of neurons in trouble – the sort of image used to show to illustrate the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. The mushrooms were made during a community craft workshop led by Liz Day, and they were part of the Cementa 15 contemporary art festival in Kandos.

The tangled network below the mesh represented what really goes on in in nature. Plants talk to each other via the fungus internet.

I was scheduled to mind these mushrooms for three hours from 1pm to 4pm yesterday afternoon. Before I headed off to the community hall for my shift I picked up a Cementa 15 counted cross-stitch kit. I imagined sitting quietly beside the mushrooms, stitching contemplatively, nodding or chatting to the visitors coming through.

But when I got there it was all as noisy as a PCYC hall in full swing, with children shouting, people shouting at the shouting children and lots of other colour and movement. This was art outside the “white cube” of the art gallery. This was art in amongst it. Would it hold up to the thrashing? My job was to keep the kids off and out of the mushrooms. Two feral children (where the hell were the parents?) spent the afternoon going near, near, near, over, over, around, around but not quite touching. Apparently they’d been there all morning, too. They’d taken up residence near the mushrooms. This was their spot for the day. In a faintly aggressive manner they offered visitors wrapped Starburst lollies. (Lucky they were wrapped, because the fingers were grubby.) Some accepted the gift, others frowned. Eventually the kids spilled half a bottle of no-name Cola over the wooden floor and were sent out.

Merciful quietness.

One of them came back, hovering in the doorway. “Out!” I said, having had more than enough. But he had in his hand a fragrant double delight rose, obviously pinched from a nearby garden, which he handed to me. So I took the rose and let him walk quietly across the floor to the back door.

The room at the back of the hall also contained Christine McMillan‘s great big pile firewood. It looked like an ordinary woodpile except that each piece was nice and smooth on one side, showing off the grain. Men in particular liked this one. Women gravitated towards the mushrooms. For whatever reason – nature or nurture or an interesting combo – that’s what I observed.

There was a robot down the far end of the room that wasn’t working. “Robot’s off,” I’d say as people entered. This box, made out of pallets, the shape of a tardis or phone box, stood silently, unmoving. Some people, having read that it was supposed to follow you around, spent time with it, doing hopeful antics around it. But it stood there, blankly, offering nothing.

Before that, my friend Jacqui and I sat on a pew in the little stone church on the other corner to experience Jason Wing‘s sound installation. The sound was of cockatoos and other birds recorded in Blacktown and Kandos. The piece related to how stolen Aboriginal children and their parents would try to communicate with each other using bird sounds, because the missionaries forbade them to use their own languages. The screeching got louder and louder until we were all completely absorbed in this sound and then, as it tailed off, you heard the monotonous raspy cries of baby birds calling for food, and the beautiful carolling of magpies. Cockatoos speak directly to my soul.  “My true church”, I scribbled in pencil as I listened. I looked at the empty wooden holder for HYMNS and listened to the hymns of this country.

And then, after the cockatoos and the mushrooms and feral children, I went back to Karen‘s pom poms planted in the vacant block with the majestic escarpment behind them. Leanne, who lives in the house opposite, had composed a poem about them. She read it out so I could record it on my phone. As she finished reading, a small flock of parrots flew across the sky.

 

Bilby time

Bilby

Bilby/Australian Geographic. Photo: Mitch Reardon.

It’s Easter again. I’ve been thinking about last Easter, when I’d just had my second chemo session, and was whiling away a bit of feeling-nasty time by Googling the medical effects of crucifixion. That searing time seems remote, now.

I’m also thinking about my friend Sue who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer around the same time as me. We went through treatment parallel with each other, in different Sydney hospitals, and finished up at around the same time. We were both sent on our way in remission. But now, just a few months later, Sue’s cancer has come back. She’s back in the chemo chair for another grueling round.

For me, it’s so far so good. Somehow I’ve managed to go from nothing to too-busy, like a tap that can’t just come out slow but is either off or at full gush.

I have been resurrected. I’ve got back into the groove of teaching, which I enjoy.

This time last year I was working on my Waste to Art entry; I’m entering again this year. This year’s theme is waste metal, and I’m back on the 1960s and ’70s ring pulls found on Mt Panorama. I’m still finding a few every time we go up there to walk Bertie. He goes hunting for Maccas scraps and I keep my eyes peeled for ring-pulls. I was going to arrange them on a flat board with little hooks, but I’ve decided to hang them in a mobile. They’ll be painted red and black on the front, with the dirt of Mt Panorama left to cling to the back. They’ll be representing carbon dioxide, one black carbon atom attached to two red oxygen atoms. I might or might not include a found toy car.

On Monday I’ll be heading out to Kandos to help Karen Golland plant pom poms on an empty block of land for Cementa. Oh, the fun! Must take hat and loads of sunscreen!

Anyway, bilbies. An Easter mascot for a country that has a complex relationship to bunnies. A country overrun by rabbits, endlessly working to eradicate them. Better to find a different symbol of fertility and new life. Easter bilbies are cute, almost rabbit like, make nice chocolates. But they haven’t quite taken off, have they? Supermarkets are chockers with rabbits and eggs. The Easter bilby is struggling, like so much of our native fauna.

***

I’m feeling the need to add my two cents’ worth about Belle Gibson and the Whole Pantry and the whole sorry story. I’ve done my share of 2am trawling around the Internet on the cancer trail. The trail starts straightforwardly enough on reputable support sites (like the excellent Ovarian Cancer Australia) and then goes off into personal stories (I couldn’t get enough personal stories, at one point) and then, unless you’re careful, you find yourself in the wild and woolly world of wishful thinking. YouTube is bristling with them, these advocates of what a fellow blogger calls fantasy based medicine. Over the past few days I’ve watched a series of YouTube clips – a regular video blog, or vlog –  made by a woman who rejected conventional treatment for breast cancer. She described the arguments she’d had with her oncologist, who told her  flatly that without aggressive treatment, she’d die. Still, this woman decided to go it alone and try to heal herself through diet. It didn’t work. To her credit, she kept vlogging as things got worse, and eventually admitted she’d gone down the wrong track. “I’m a cautionary tale,” she told her viewers. The last clip in the series was a tribute made by a friend in her honour. And then we have Belle Gibson. Penguin publishers, a variety of women’s magazines, the Apple company … all so “inspired” by the miraculous story of a diet-based recovery from cancer by a photogenic young woman that they neglect to do a bit of basic fact-checking. I’m glad Belle Gibson was eventually outed as a fraud – it appears she never had cancer at all – before her cookbook hit the shelves. I’m glad because people with cancer deserve as much reputable, responsible information as they can get.

Hair and coral and brains

I’m thinking coral, I’m thinking brains. I’m thinking brain-like coral, and coral-like brains.

I’m part of the way through crocheting a brain. The small intestines I crocheted last year looked rather like brains, so now I’ve decided to deliberately make brains. This particular piece is all about the process, not the product. It is so satisfying to go round and round the knitting Nancy producing an endless stream of grey matter. I’m going to give this one to Ben Gelin. Ben Gelin is often to be seen in the Hub cafe here in Bathurst. For some reason, recently, we had a quick chat about brains, and how he’d like a new one, and I secretly decided that my new brain would be for him. Speaking of brains – it may be that I blogged about this not very long ago, and that’s why we were having the conversation and here I am repeating myself. Anyway, the French knitting has moved on, there’s more brain.

Meanwhile, the brain-like corals of the Great Barrier Reef were dealt a new blow by the forces of coal and climate change and all those making money thereby. The new Labor premier of Queensland has announced that dredging the reef for a giant coal port is both “sustainable and responsible”. So the corals will cop it from both the dredging process and, further down the line, from the carbon dioxide pollution created by the burning of the coal exported via the port. This morning I read that giant holes in the ground, thought to be the work of asteroids or aliens, were actually down to a much less exciting phenomenon: methane explosions caused by the warming of permafrost due to climate change. We humans may be smart but somehow we have no brains. We’re trashing our own living room.

As for hair … I went to the hairdresser and got myself a new hairdo. After chemo, it grew back seriously grey and I was dithering about what to do. Go with it, or attempt to re-assemble what I looked like a year ago? In the end I went for re-assemble, because I just wasn’t recognising the person in the mirror and I just didn’t feel ready to go straight from being a teenager to middle aged. Oh well, yes, I was a little older than teenage. I am in fact middle aged and in fact have grey hair. But not now. It’s been nuked. As soon as I did it, I began to regret it. I saw nothing but beautiful women with grey hair. So I am, as Anne Frank once said, a bundle of contradictions.