kate riley

printmaking | drawing | knitting

thoughts on eucalyptus, re-use and generosity…

There has been a lot happening in my world and life, lots of action but not much movement. Or maybe the other way around? Either way, there is not a lot of progress on projects to share with anyone. Except for this little one…

finished shawl

made from the following components:

  • a shawl/blanket given to me by a friend;
  • an old dressing gown;
  • leaves from a spotted gum tree that had recently died;
  • water from my water tanks;
  • electricity from my solar panels;
  • some rusty nails and the water they had been stored in for a month or two;
  • cotton yarn reclaimed from an old jumper;
  • thoughts from rebecca of needle and spindle, and from mazzaus of local and bespoke.

The shawl/blanket has been sitting in my pile of wraps for years. It had come to me after the death of a friend of a friend. My friend was dispersing her friend’s belongings to those she thought would appreciate and use them the best (this was also the source of the silver gray wool I dyed in my first eucalyptus experiment). I would drag the shawl out occasionally, feeling guilty about not using it, but it always went straight back into the pile. It was just the wrong colour for me, a pale acid yellow.

Last weekend the stars came together. My partner and I grabbed an opportunity to run away for a weekend alone on our south coast block. I remembered the tree I had seen that had inexplicably died, grabbed the shawl, and there was my project for the weekend.

As I got the shawl ready for the eucalypt dye bath, I realised I had mis-read the label on it. It was not made from 70% wool, 30% cotton as I had thought, but rather in reverse ratio. But I was very pleased to see that it had come from a Tasmanian woollen mill. With such a high cotton content the colour was not nearly as deep as I had hoped, but it was still a lovely cool grey.

When I got home from our weekend, I started going through a suitcase of stored fabrics and old clothes (for another project). I found a dressing gown I had bought from a vintage clothing store back in 1985. I loved that dressing gown. It is made from a soft, unspecified fabric printed with a paisley pattern in browns and black, and had come originally from an iconic Sydney store, Gowings. The gown had been much loved before I acquired it, with careful patching on the collar, and alterations on the sleeves. I remember wearing the dressing gown as evening wear, with chunky jewellery and a Greek fisherman’s cap (it was the 80s, don’t judge me!) and thinking I was the coolest, ever.

The dressing gown is now quite worn and falling apart. So I cut a panel from the back and sewed it to the shawl, using yarn I had collected from another suitcase find — a cotton sweater in a faded eucalypt-green-grey, another garment that I had worn obsessively during the late 80s.

As I stitched this together, I thought about all the pleasure, friendship, generosity and time that had to come together to produce what I hope will become another much-loved, much-used part of my wardrobe and life. I thought about the changes I am trying and striving to make to my life and the way I live it, and the considered and insightful thoughts that others have been prepared to share about how and why these changes are to be made.

This shawl isn’t art. But it is made from the components that I hope to use to create my art. Which I had better get back to doing…

eucalyptus dye pot results

The yarn I dyed with my own eucalyptus dyes has now been knitted into a scarf/stole/shawl/thing. As many people have commented, the joy of creating your own dyes from natural sources is that the hues and tones you create (however haphazardly, in my case at least) work so harmoniously together. And so, even though these are not colours I would necessarily have chosen if offered them in a yarn shop, I find the result extremely pleasing and satisfying.

termeil scarf

And so onto the next part of the experiment — using the more concentrated dye on paper as a substitute for ink. Again, the resulting colours are not necessarily wildly exciting, they are certainly not vibrant! But I am very pleased with the result, and these subtle earth tones suit my purposes very well for now.

soft tones in dabs and drips

soft tones in dabs and drips

What I don’t know is how long these dye solutions last. Will they ‘go off’? At the moment (and after a couple of weeks in their bottles) they still just smell pleasantly of gum leaf and earthiness. I will just have to wait and see. Now to try dyeing my paper yarn…

first dip in the eucalyptus dye pot

Over the Easter break, we took our customary trip south – three and a half hours drive from Sydney to Termeil, tucked into the hills behind the beautiful south coast beaches of Bawley Point. This time my focus was not on capturing images of the beach (although there was a little of that) but on capturing the colours of our bush block. Specifically, I wanted to try my hand at natural dyeing. All the stars were in alignment: I needed a ready supply of eucalyptus leaves and bark, rainwater, old stainless steel pots, some copper plate and rusty nails, and an open space under cover for my workspace. All of these are supplied by ‘Tant Pis’.

As this was my first ever go at natural dyeing, I was reluctant to invest in a large quantity of lovely wool to experiment on. Luckily, many years ago I inherited a stash of very nice, if scratchy, Rowan Light Tweed wool in a pale silver grey. Perfect.

I chose the two most significant trees on our block, both by size and emotional value, as the source material for the dye stock. ‘Big Tree’, the tree that first attracted us to the block, is a giant Spotted Gum (e. maculata) that we have positioned our house to face. ‘Laundry Tree’, in whose shade we camped for the first few years before the house was built, is a lovely specimen of Ironbark (e. fibrosa fibrosa).

By the end of a week of foraging, drying, boiling and experimenting with the addition of rusty nails and left over copper plate to the dye pots, I had achieved seven distinctish shades of yarn. The colours range from tan (the most ubiquitous dye shade produced by eucalypts) through mustards, cool and warm greys and finally some rather lovely chocolates (possible milk and 70% dark?). The yarn is currently being knitted up into a wrap which will be used to warm me when I return to sit on the deck at Termeil and contemplate my trees.

Although I am enjoying my first ever hand dyed yarn immensely, there was another reason for this experiment. I have also come home with four litres of more concentrated dye in four different shades. I am now going to experiment with using it in my drawing in the place of ink. And also with another project I am just beginning to play with, which involves paper yarn made from abaca… I will keep you posted.

I am indebted to several people and sources of information for this project. To Rebecca, of needle and spindle, whose ‘waysides’ project has been inspirational reading and whose meticulous preparation skills (as well as flair) I am in awe of; to the extraordinary body of work that is Jean K Carman’s Dyemaking with Eucalypts (a very lucky second-hand bookshop find); to eucalypso for a website full of good info and ideas generously shared; to my father for carefully identifying my trees for me; and to my partner for silently disappearing then reappearing with half a forest for which he then improvised a drying rack.

‘signs of trouble’ exhibition

Sheffer Gallery, 38 Lander St, Darlington, Sydney until 14 March 2015.

Open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 am to 6 pm.

Gannet Beach is a small beach on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia which has been an important part of my life since early childhood. Walks and swims on this and adjoining beaches always mark the highlights of my year, and I envy my parents who can experience it daily. This exhibition is made up of captured moments from Gannet Beach — my memories and experiences, digital images and physical objects — brought together and transformed through the various mediums I use. All summed up by this beautiful quote from Tim Winton’s ‘Lands Edge’:

Yet however comforting and peaceful beachcombing is, it ends up, like the sea, as disturbing as it is reassuring. In dark moments I believe that walking on a beach at low tide is to be looking for death, or at least anticipating it. You will only find the dead, the spilled and the cast-off […] The beachcomber goes looking for trouble, for everything he finds is a sign of trouble.

If you would like further information about any of the work in this show, or advance information about future exhibitions, please drop me a line through the contact page.


‘signs of trouble’

My first solo show (finally) is beginning to take shape!

It will open at the Sheffer Gallery in Darlington on Friday 6 March 2015 at 6.00 pm. The show runs from Wednesday 4 March to Saturday 14 March, so please drop by if you can.

The title of the show, ‘signs of trouble’, is taken from a Tim Winton quote that Megan Hicks shared with me. My work celebrates the joys of virtual beach combing on the beaches directly to the south of my parents’ place on the south coast of NSW. The shapes, colours and endless variation of the plants, shells, sea life, fish (and sometimes birds) that lie along the line left by the reach of the waves is a constant source of pleasure and inspiration to me. But as Tim Winton writes, I have to recognise that this inspiration comes from the often violent death of what I find so lovely — in the end I walk along the beach looking for signs of trouble…

jelly blubber (gannet beach) detail

knitting at white rabbit

A trip to White Rabbit Gallery in Redfern is always wonderful… come for the art, stay for the tea and dumplings (or the other way around, if you are my kids). Our latest trip to see ‘Commune’ was no exception. One thing I love about the exhibitions at White Rabbit is that there always seems to be something knitted. On show at the moment is another piece by Wang Lei, whose earlier work at White Rabbit, ‘Fabrication No. 3’ (two Imperial Robes knitted from the pages of a dictionary), I stood in front of in awe.

For ‘Everything from Nothing’ (2013) Wang Lei cut the faces from a year’s worth of a newspaper, putting them together to form the scroll you can just see in the background of my second photo. Then he painstakingly converted the remaining newsprint into yarn that he knitted into twelve bags, leaving their contents (nothing) to our imagination. The whole is a meditation on a line from the Tao Te Ching, and a fabulous piece of knitting.


Tiliqua Studio Group Show

And the next item in the diary…

Everyone in the studio, both the artists downstairs and the designers upstairs, has come together to bring you the first (but hopefully not last) Tiliqua Studio Group Show, titled appropriately:

Tiliqua group showon at the Chrissie Cotter Gallery, Camperdown from Thursday 14 to Sunday 24 August. The opening is on Friday 15 August, from 6.00 to 8.00 pm. Drop in!



1 Comment

well done ‘beach walk (murramarang)’

I was very excited (and proud) to find out that my drawing was awarded a Highly Commended at this year’s Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize. Which means that it will also be on show in Canberra later in the year.

So if you would like to see my work in the flesh (so to speak) visit the Waterhouse exhibition – at the South Australian Museum until 7 September, then at the National Archives in Canberra from 26 September to 9 November.

a beach walk to adelaide

I was very excited to find out that the latest, biggest beach walk, ‘beach walk (murramarang) viii’ has been selected as a finalist for the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize 2014. I have always been interested in the rich, fertile relationships between art and science, so it is very gratifying to be chosen for this exhibition.

My drawing is now down at the museum in Adelaide, and I wish it good luck!

beach walk (murramarang) VIII

a sign of trouble

Today I spent some happy hours dipping into this wonderful blog. Megan Hicks studies pavements and the messages on them with a passion that inspires. Her piece on the parallels between pavements and beaches (of course!) was what drew me in. And she shared this quote from Tim Winton’s ‘Land’s Edge’:

‘Yet however comforting and peaceful beachcombing is, it ends up, like the sea, as disturbing as it is reassuring. In dark moments I believe that walking on a beach at low tide is to be looking for death, or at least anticipating it. You will only find the dead, the spilled and the cast-off […] The beachcomber goes looking for trouble, for everything he finds is a sign of trouble.’


1 Comment