My grandmother was a sewer. Inevitable with 6 children, the eldest born during the Great Depression. My mum was the baby, and often tells how every stitch of clothing she owned until she got her first job at 16 (including her underwear!) was made by Nanny. One of my aunts became a professional seamstress, and my mum always had a sewing machine set up in our house.

One of Dad’s birthday or Christmas gifts for Mum was a proper sewing desk/cupboard contraption that he picked up at a clearing sale. Mum made my sister and I a lot of outfits, usually in coordinated fabric. One of my favourite outfits was a retro circle skirt. She made it from her old honeymoon dresses. She sewed us coordinated bike shorts outfits in the early 90s, and I think the last thing she made me was a blue pinafore dress. I wore it to our Year 7 disco and copped such horrendous teasing I never wore it again. I’m trying to remember the last time she sewed us something, and I’m thinking it was probably as I entered high school, and my sister and I started complaining that she was making us look daggy and embarrassing.

Mum used the sewing machine as an office after that, typing up church flyers and newsletters. I spent most of 1995 in Mum’s sewing room, making costumes for a Christmas play. I made outfits for my baby cousins. The effort this required my aunts (from the other side of the family) never fully understood or appreciated. I think this was my final sewing project. After that I started senior high school, we got a computer and the room became my assignment room.

I don’t know where any of the clothes she made are now. Probably handed down to the cousins, and subsequently discarded. Shame.





Back to my idea of blogging the good, bad and ugly of China.

GOOD: Taobao

Wuzhen indigo fabric. We visited Wuzhen last time we lived in China.

Taobao is China’s ebay, except cheaper, poorer quality, and all in Mandarin. Taobao requires a significant level of dedication, but once your account is established it can prove mightily addictive. I’m not even going to go into the drama that was involved in setting up my account (or the Alipay account that goes with it for payment), but here’s a handy blog post for foreigners on doing this. I followed their instructions in September and it was all still relevant (things change quickly in China).

I find using Taobao on my phone can be easier, and it has more functionality (the QQ chat function works but I can’t seem to load it to my  laptop).

I managed to purchase a sewing machine soon after we got back in August, but it has taken me since then to finally locate fabric. I searched: material, cotton, linen, fabric, cloth, sewing cloth, blanket, curtain, diy, dress, sewing, dress making, clothes… and finally stumbled on “fabricotton”, which produced most of what I required (rather than wads of small pieces that seem to be used like doilies to cover tables).

I have to search with my brain wired like I’m Chinese – what words might they use to describe the product (it’s never what we’d use). Once you lock on to 1 sample, it becomes very easy, as there are 3 or 4 different levels of adverts that are calling you off into the depths of Taobao. I followed the same procedure trying to find printmaking equipment and materials. I managed to locate the rubber roller, inks, and woodcarving tools, but for love or money could not find linoleum. Our art teacher told me it wasn’t available in China (although I did find Aliexpress offering minimum orders of 1000 pieces). Even having Chinese staff search for me produced nothing but random plastic carpets (who? why? argh).

So, now we have fabric, a sewing machine and no excuse… (except no tape, no tracing paper, bias binding, zipper or fabric scissors…)

My only sewing book (so far) is Simply Sewn by Michiyo Ito, reviewed here and here by proper sewers (i.e., not me). Came across it in Asia Books, Bangkok and was drawn to the simplicity of the design and seemingly easy instructions. I’m aiming to use some of the trashy linen I’ve found from Taobao to sew the summer wrap dress (below, centre):



If I’m going to start sewing and printing and making paper, I need an apron. At first I thought I’d just buy one, but then I searched apron on Pintrest and now I have a serious addiction. Who knew aprons were so beautiful?

It wasn’t that long ago that an apron formed a staple part of women’s wardrobes.

The Waldorf Apron

Free pattern and tutorial

Random article about the Waldorf Kindergarten apron

Japanese aprons

Beautiful selection

More Japanese crossed-back patterns


Last day in Chiang Mai today! I managed to track down a leather making workshop. Suranat is a leather artist, a brilliant teacher and a really lovely guy. I was the only student in his little studio in Moo 10 (on the other side of the airport from Old City), and chose the half day intensive course making a passport wallet. 

I’m beginning to wonder about my primary school years as I have strong memories of doing leather work (as well as papermaking and pottery), but anyway, I’m still an absolute beginner but managed to finish the wallet, and although some of the stitches are a little awry (Suranat says it is ‘handmade style’), it looks amazing!

It was hard work, and my hands are still cramping, but Suranat’s instructions were very easy to follow. We even managed to have some philosophical discussions about the growth in Chinese tourism and the state of the Tasmanian devil, and survive a hilarious intrusion by 3 substantially sized guys from Florida who had made Suranat’s studio their first stop off the plane.


PhD in Paper – downgraded

Initially the plan was to head straight to Germany where they let anyone study for free (fantastiche!), but I’m so excited about this research, I want to start yesterday!  I don’t want to wait until September. Also, after hours – days – months of searching, it seems the courses offered in Germany are rather inflexible, and nothing aligns with what I have in mind.

Frustrated, I started searching Australian unis, and was surprised to find lots of options. Also, Aussie unis start NOW, and (who knew?) research degrees are currently government funded. If I did enrol in Australia, we could travel back to Oz when we finish in China at the end of June. Ms 10 would be ecstatic to spend a month or so with family, which means I could travel to my uni, meet my supervisor and (hopefully) get some practical experience and advice in their studios.

After months of sifting the interwebs and emailing prospective supervisors, I think I have 3 possibles:

  1. University of Newcastle (NSW) – MPhil in Fine Art
    • Pros: one of their Fine Arts lecturers (a textile artist with experience working with paper) is keen, but has explained I will need a second supervisor in the social work or humanities areas. They have a paper mill on campus (!!!). Newcastle seems to have a vibrant arts/crafts scene, and it’s closest to home.
    • Cons: none, really. I guess it just doesn’t have an added bonus element like the other two locations.
  2. UTas (Tasmania) – Master of Fine Arts
    • Pros: Tassie is renowned for commercial papermills, which could form part of my research. There’s also a vibrant arts scene. And it’s the home of Creative Paper Tasmania  – making paper from sheep poo AND wombat poo.Climate is a little similar to Scotland too, so could be some tips. Plus I just love Tassie..
    • Cons: it’s a long way from Queensland, but that’s actually a plus! I think only Con is that they won’t reply to me. I’ve emailed course coordinators, research units AND individual lecturers and had no reply.
  3. CDU (Darwin) – Master by Research (Visual Arts and Crafts)
    • Pros: I came across CDU through the work of Winsome Jobling who has links to  Indigenous Australians and papermaking. This is intriguing, and could be an interesting sideline.  I have friends in Darwin from my stint as a Teacher Librarian up there, and it would be great to catch up with them.
    • Cons: perhaps not as well-recognised as the other universities. Actually, for this reason I thought CDU would be the least competitive, yet they have been the hardest nut to crack so far. I STILL haven’t got any leads on an actual lecturer.

It’s hard to draw comparisons when I haven’t had any replies from lecturers at UTas or CDU, but perhaps that is a sign in itself? It is summer in Australia, so many staff are still on holidays. Not sure whether to hold out or pursue Newcastle…except for the random location, they do have the best course offering. And after looking through the work of Brett (the  Fine Arts lecturer), he seems to be active in the arts / crafts industry. This is a little intimidating, as the art/craft element is not my strength, but at the same time he will hopefully be a lot of help!

*Update* had an email back from a 2nd supervisor at Newcastle this morning. He sounds keen, so it might be the way to go.