Petalplum

creating slow

craft as therapy : different crafts for different moods

Creative ProcessellieComment

Being a creative maker can be hard. Being an artist. It's not easy. Well, let's be honest. Being a human is actually hard isn't it. Showing up every day again and again, and trying to do our best. Some days we just want to stay in bed, yet we can't. Some days I just want to write all day, other days I just want to walk in the forest, or cook nourishing warm yummy things. 

I find that with my moods, my emotional ups or downs, those flimsy ebbs & flows of life sometimes I don't want to do any creative work at all. I want to sit in a slump in the sun drinking tea. Or gin. Gin would be good sometimes wouldn't it! 

But there's only so long that I can indulge in this. Some times I need to push and propel myself out of this feeling. Force myself to start the process of climbing out of the hole*. I do find that by forcing some form of creativity upon myself it does help. Craft as therapy, in a sense. 

But not everything I do (I'm a multi-creative, so I DO A LOT) works in every situation. I just wanted to share a few different ways I work through a creative slump, or a down moment... using my creative skills to help me. 

  • Things that don't require patterns or perfection are good, nor counting of stitches.
  • Things that are repetitive, such as my basket making (pictured) rather than my loom weaving
  • Things that give an outcome are sometimes good; like cooking a meal, or making my lunch look extra special, but not like needing to present a perfectly styled photo for a client
  • Hand stitching lots and lots of straight lines work for me. Not patterns or shapes or anything particular, but just straight stitch on and on, back and forth across my fabric
  • Something that doesn't have a deadline, or even need to be finished; but could indeed sit in a basket of things waiting for the next 'slump' moment
  • Something you know how to do, and don't need to look up the how-to instructions
  • Something that connects you hands and head, and makes you stop over-thinking everything, makes you slow down into the moment again.

What things work for you? What do you do when you're feeling down?

You can learn simple basket weaving here, and add it to your basket of makings, for when you need. It's also lovely for sitting on the verandah in the sunshine with the kids playing beside you. My raffia is dyed using avocado, turmeric and my not-working-so-well indigo vat (just another temperamental fermenting thing really...). And I do wish I had a photo of my little ones with their Lego spread out around them, but I was too in the moment to even think about that!

* I am very aware that my holes are much smaller than many other people's. Some people need help, to talk with someone, to be given a shining bright torch. If you are someone who needs are torch to shine you way through a fog please DO DO ask for help. And don't listen to the friend who says 'they don't do sad', find someone who is there for you. 

Weaving Journal Notes :: The Space Between

Creative ProcessEllie BeckComment

Many of my weaves over the past few months have had a lot of feelings of angst, dealing with internal issues, working through ideas, overcoming emotions / working on emotions. You might not see or feel that when you look at my works, but that's what I know I'm weaving. The stories that evolve while the threads are pulling through my fingers. 

That's the way I weave.... a story telling itself to me, bit by bit. Thread by thread. It unfolds on my loom. Sometimes it changes during the weaving process, it resolves itself, has a beginning, middle and ending. Sometimes it's just a section of the story, and the story continues on in my mind. At any rate, I know when I'm weaving that it's not just stitches and yarn - for me... it's so much more. 

This piece -- I spent three full days ( as full as full time mother with a child beside her can) at the loom. I've tended the yarn, listened to the story, thought about the end image... what it might look like. At the end of the day, regardless of how much I talk about process, I need to finish these pieces and remember that I'm hoping for someone to love them enough to buy them. That really is what it comes down to - alas my financial life doesn't really allow for much languishing of weavings and yarn.

These whites and naturals and blues are feeling much less angsty than previous works. A little more resolved in themselves. Of course, not all smooth sailing as such... but gentler somehow. And then I realised how and why. 

I am weaving myself. Well, always I'm weaving myself. A version of myself. A story of myself. A story of how I view the world, how my emotions and thoughts and feelings and ideas fit into it. I can't help but do that. My art is a self-portrait I suppose, to a degree. Well, this self-portrait I'm currently weaving is a good one. She's content, she's at peace with herself. She's feeling sad and that bittersweet emotion of the looming death-date of her moth. But she's also feeling good about her space in her environment. 

Life is not easy, golly it never will be, but somehow things are in a settled space in herself. Even with external issues (children, friendships, finances, vulnerability about 'being an artist'), there's something that is right inside. There's something that is glowing, and blooming. The depth of the blue that I'll be dyeing in my indigo vat is the depth of my soul - it's a good depth... it's not scary or wrong or too deep. It's the space to feel things, to know things, to discover things. It's the space to feel connected to self, to space, to earth, to landscape. 

Natural Dye Journal : eucalyptus leaves & seedpods

DIY & How-tos, conversations with cre..., Natural DyeEllie Beck1 Comment

Here's some pieces from my dye pots lately. I created this piece using fresh eucalyptus leaves and the green unopened seedpods that had fallen (due to a lot of wind and rain) on my dad's driveway. I started thinking about a piece of cloth my mum had, with lots of little bumps all over it. A Shibori pattern, that I didn't know the name of then, but which I think is closest to kanako shibori.

I do wish I knew the different species of eucalyptus trees around our property, but there's a lot. And sometimes I don't know which leaf has fallen from which tree. But this is one my goals for the coming years, to better document and understand the trees in my region. It does make it a bit hard when often I only get versions of brown and brown and brown from the eucalyptus leaves. 

But then - of course, that makes the oranges and purples that much more dramatically wonderful and exciting. 

Here's what I did:

  • Gathered windfallen leaves and green unopened seedpods
  • Arranged them in a pretty pattern, which to be honest doesn't really matter too much as it shifts about, but some version of a pattern still evolves in your final piece, so do keep that in mind. 
  • Roll the bundle very very tightly, the tighter it is the better because you get the direct contact of print onto fabric. 
  • Place it in a pot and simmer for quite a while, sometimes it might take an hour, often I leave it (heat turned off, lid on to contain the heat) over night for the colour develop more. Other times I'm too impatient and simply have to peek at it after an hour or so. *It is generally always better to leave it overnight, allow it to cool down before opening. You get better colour and print transfer, but a few hours is enough as well. 
  • Hang it up to dry, with the leaves and seedpods still on it - they'll fall off as they dry. Don't wash it straight away, once it's dried then you can wash it. I find this helps the colour to set a little more, rather than washing it out straight away. 

Eucalyptus works best with animal fibres such as silk or wool, rather than plant fibres, but it doesn't mean you don't get some results on cotton or linen. Give them a go, but don't expect the colours to be as vibrant or dramatic. You can also experiment with thick (watercolour) paper for fabulous contact prints. 

If you'd like to try more natural & botanical dyeing I have a whole online course, with videos and downloadable pdfs, as well as unlimited email access to me for any extra help you might want. I talk about mordants, local colour, different dye techniques. 

Things about today ~ the ocean as metaphor for life

creative lifeEllie Beck2 Comments
Ellie Beck Petalplum blog - waves, ocean, sunshine, beach, girl in water.JPG

It's Tuesday today. It's raining today. My (youngest) son is home from preschool today. I thought I'd share some things that are happening at the moment, not so much these actual "things", but perhaps more the thought and emotion things that are happening..... 

I feel like I'm on the edge, watching the ocean pounding around me and trying to find the right moment to jump in without being washed out to sea of thrown back on the shore. That elusive somehow middle space, the balance that doesn't actually exist. 

At the moment I'm blocking things out, in my head and my to-do list. Like a blinkered horse I'm ignoring the things aren't calling as loudly as the other things. I'm pushing things away that I know will either wait, or slip by and be forgotten. I'm trying to remind myself to do the things that matter the most, I'm trying to remind myself to make sure I don't overcommit and that I follow through. I'm trying to remind myself, above all else, that what I am doing is just the very best I can do. And that in being just the very best I'm sure to let some people down, to forget some things, to take longer doing something that I reasonably should but actually have to. 

I'm trying to remind myself simply to breathe.

When you don't plan, and let yourself drift about lovely things can happen, but also other things take over from the important things. Other things push their way in and make themselves feel important. Or yell at you more than the whispering things. I think I want the whispering things..... 

Here's what whispers to me, and what I want to pay more attention to:

  • my loom weavings
  • my daily stitching - particularly Fearless Quilt
  • being present with my children, in a joyful & honest way
  • communicating with my community in a real & raw way
  • quietness for self - mind & body
  • walks in the garden or forest
  • daily writing - be it small and simple poems or longer parts of prose or whatever shows itself

Here's what's talking quite loudly to me that I would very much like to not partake of much more:

  • the daily arguments about washing up, with my children
  • feeling like if I don't upkeep my Instagram I'll loose something (a certain 'following' you might become paying customers is the biggest worry, rather than other things... but other things creep in)
  • doing all the other things because they're important and necessary to some aspects of our life - ie P&C commitments at both preschool and school can't happen, aren't viable
  • guilt at friendships and not staying on top of keeping in touch
  • body issues about having a little more weight than I'd currently like
  • our house endlessly being messy
  • the giant list of things I want to do down the track (have a studio space people can visit / workshop / stay at being a big one)
  • money issues... always, again and again

So - how do we work around and past and through things. How do we make important things important and other things not so. How to we tune into the whispers when the loud talking and yelling gets too loud? Finding space, time, energy, motivation, momentum to have breathing space in life is important. I know when I don't give myself that space then I spiral out of control. Lately - with workshops in Melbourne and Sunshine Coast, being away two weekends in a row... it's hard for us all. River didn't want to go to preschool because I think he needed to give himself breathing space. What a wise little creature - the tears this morning when I went to drop him off where what I knew I needed to shed as well. I'm glad he is wise enough for both of us, to give us both space. And I'm glad my parenting journey how shown me it's ok to drive into town to drop him off at preschool (Which he usually loves), and then bring him home again. 

Listening to whispers. That's what I'll be doing this week. What about you?
What's whispering to you? 
What's yelling at you, that you'd prefer to not be hearing? 

hot pink + inky blue // the greater the artist

ellie1 Comment

I made this crochet bowl / vessel last week*. It just started and happened, I added pieces and cut scraps to size and crochet-worked them in as I went. I love this. I'm going to say it again. I LOVE THIS! If you want to make your own, it's similar to this tutorial I shared here.

I am so loving the inky blue at the moment. It's scraps from my screen printed fabrics, that were sewn into purses and cushions - the edges of stitched and snipped corners, the left over snipplets / scraplets. I am always collecting scraplets from my sewing floor. I love the raggedy frayed edges and the half unraveled stitching.

I make a lot of little bits of things in my making time. Some bits sit unfinished, half finished, not complete. Ideas formed and run off before they fully evolved. I know that's an okay thing. Totally ok. It helps other ideas to progress. Sometimes ideas don't form and work through to the end for a while. But when they do. When it happens as my mind's eye imagined. 

Isn't that just like the biggest thing ever. It's ego-boosting. And I mean ego in a good way. I am not afraid of my ego, when it's being good. I think and artist ego has a sharp edge to slip either side to full-on ego "I'm better than you", or real-ego "I'm the best me". I aim for that one. The other-ego of me, the best of me. It's sometimes a hard line to walk. Between loving what you do, and showing off and then gloating. 

And then. The other option is the doubt. I love this quote about an artist having doubt. It's taken me a long long LONG time to slowly, quietly, sometimes, call myself an artist. I wonder if I am an artist, or a maker, or just a wanna-be. I wonder what's the difference. Anyway. This quote makes me feel like I must be an artist, Robert Hughes is a man who knows his artists.

*This post was originally published on my old blog (which is now lost in past domains) in July 2013. I still love the colours of this piece, and how it makes me feel. Sorry the formatting is a little wonky, importing my blog posts meant that the images come in as they are and I can't re-format the look of it.

The Artful Mum - advice, words, thoughts and essays with Creative Artist Mothers. A new book by Rachel Moodie.

Ellie BeckComment

Motherhood and maker. Mother & artist. These are intrinsically linked in who I am. People talk often about the balance or the divide of being an artist vs being a mother. I'm not sure there is a balance, and I'm not sure I like the idea of dividing those two aspects of myself. I do, by way of keeping some sanity about my work and my self, set boundaries and limits on where and what and how, but by nature of my work, the way I live, my creative outlets and self, as well as who my children are and their own creativity.... well - it's a jumble sort of colour crazy mess some days, while other days it's beautifully combined to create one of those moments that all creative mamas long for. 

Some time ago I met, online only so far, a beautiful woman who was pregnant with her second child. As all mamas, we're reaching out and looking for ways that other mamas work through and around and within this big vast difficult amazing way of being a mother, being a person, being an artist. How we make it work. The real logistics of it, the daily rhythms and rituals and routines that work or don't work to help us out. Rachel and I chatted, via email, about many things... but mostly about being artist mothers. She was curious, as was I, how we each did over. 

Over a few months, we chatted out some ideas. And Rachel told me she was wanting to write down, in book form - that other mamas could hold and reference and connect with - about artist mothers. And she has. I am so honoured to have been involved in this project, and to be asked to be included as one of seven mamas in the book The Artful Mum

In this self-published book, Rachel has asked different Australian creative mamas about their life, their practice, their mama-ing... and how they somehow make it all fit together. There is so much inspiration and information, little snippets and ideas of mothering and arting. 

Rachel is self-publishing this book, which means as creatives and mamas and makers and artists.... let's support her. While also getting something very thoughtful, beautiful, meaningful, inspiring. Pre-orders are available for The Artful Mum now. If you use the code ARTFULMUMELLIE at the checkout you'll receive 10% off the price of the book. 

The other mother artists in the book are Fiona Barrett-Clark, Emily Besser, Kirsten Duncombe, Bianca Harrington, Emma Simmons, and Rachel Moodie, and me Ellie Beck. 

We'll also all be part of an exhibition in Sydney opening early May - that I hope you might be able to come to. I'll share more about that later.

*below is just a small snapshot of some of the pages. You can see more on Rachel's website too, or better yet buy the book, support an artist mum.  

practicing balance :: Slow Your Days

ellie1 Comment

My baby will be one* in only a couple of short weeks. I'm feeling like time and days and years are whirling away from me, at an increasing speed. I want to grab hold of those moments - not to stop time, but to live within it, to appreciate it, to acknowledge it; rather than existing around it and constantly chasing time. I'm guessing this is something we all aim for, wish for….hope for. 

I know we can't stop time; but we do have the mind power to slow time. I believe anyway. To be present and conscious is slowing time. To live inside time slows time. But how? 

I'm working on this, slowly slowly. As a parent, as a creative artist and as a small business owner. 

A few Slow Your Days tips ::

  • When you have a baby or small children, don't fight the hard days. Give in to those days where they just need endless cuddles and lots of hands on active play. Pack away the jobs list, cause it ain't going to get done anyway, and you'll just end up feeling frustrated. Get down on their level, and play - really play with them.
  • Go for a walk. Oh golly - this solves most any problem and hard day in our home. If baby won't sleep, or kids feel frustrated or I'm wound up I gather everyone up and out we go. It doesn't matter if you live in the forest or the city or near the beach. Just getting outside of your normal routine, slowing down and observing whats around you will help. Holding hands with little children, talking with them and noticing the things they show you. A half an hour walk will bring a feeling of fresh air and joy back into your home and help calm the crazy hour. 
  • A happy, well entertained baby will (theoretically, hopefully) sleep better. Spending time with little one should result in a decent nap which gives you quiet time for your own creative space or jobs list. 
  • Ask for help. With older kids, I think it's totally acceptable to expect them to contribute in a real way in the home. If you're working full or part time, and tending small children, running a business and trying to find time for your creative outlet - there isn't much time left for you and those beautiful cups of tea. Talk with the big kids about doing daily jobs - washing up, clearing the table, hanging washing,  folding clothes, those every day jobs that the mamas tend to mostly end up doing. I think of it as training my kids for when they leave home. If I don't have to wash up every day, it gives me more time to spend doing other things, which in the end gives me more time to be with them. 
  • Journal - take small moments to write things down that you want to remember, or simply to get it out of your head.
  • Remember the important things - step away from the computer or your device for just a little while.... look up at the sky, down at the grass, into your child's face, or your loved one's eyes. 
  • BREATHE - deeply, slowly, gently... right down into the bottom of your stomach, through your nose, not your mouth. 

This one isn't easy - it's hard. Some days it's simpler to just do the job yourself; but in the end that won't help your kids learn. This is one of those ones that takes time, build it up slowly…. understand that some days you'll have to re-do their job, or they'll take four times longer than you, or you'll just have to do it on your own. 

You will discover slowly, step by step, that you're finding moments to slip outside and breathe the evening air, or five minutes to sip your cup of tea while it's still warm. Those two things bring me more peace and calm, which carries through my whole day, than anything else. If you can manage a half hour yoga session yay for you. But five minutes with a cup of tea and the birds calling, and my family respecting my peace, me as a person - that slows my day immensely.

I'd love to hear your tips for slowing time, or finding time, making time….

* this post was originally published on my previous blog (which can now no longer be accessed) on 13th October 2015. My baby is now over 3. 

tutorial :: weaving on sticks and walks in nature

ellie4 Comments

"Teeny twiglet loom weaving using hand dyed silk thread"

For me, creating with my children is a natural extension of my own making and we do lots of crafting, but even I can be known to think of crafting with them as too annoying. Often we put crafting with children into the too hard basket because we think we don’t have enough time, it’s too messy, a perceived lack of skill, or it will be expensive.

I have some news to share with you – crafting with children can be as simple and beautiful as tying some yarn around a stick and hanging it in their bedroom window, or outside in a tree. Sitting beside you with your full attention is just as important as the project itself.

This is a simple weaving project which uses found and low cost or recycled materials. Children as young as three or four will enjoy being able to master the technique while older children and adults can make their designs more complex or personal. It's a great way to explore colour combinations and textural differences - it's fun to mix and match different wools, cottons, fabrics and found objects.

To start this project you’ll need:

  • some twigs or sticks :

While paddle pop sticks will work, it’s much more fun, environmental and prettier if you use twigs collected from the backyard or a walk around your neighbourhood. Choose sticks that are not too thick but are strong enough they won’t break easily (eucalypts work well). If they have a wiggly shape or interesting details this will add to your finished piece. To make the most of spending time with your kids, think of the twig gathering as an activity in itself and enjoy the walk in the Winter sunshine, exploring and taking time to stop to look at things instead of the usual school-day attitude of hurrying curious children on. Take a gathering basket with you!

For our weaving we found some sticks with a natural fork in them, and used that as the edges of the loom. If you can’t find a forked stick you can create one by tying three sticks into a triangle. Your twigs can be as long as you like; experiment with different sizes, and shapes; try four sticks to make a square weaving loom.

  • some yarn, thread, wool cotton for weaving :

I use whatever yarn I can get my hands on, though I do prefer natural fibres. Children appreciate using beautiful crafting supplies – you will all enjoy the look and feel of interesting colours and textures. At markets and op-shops keep a look out for bags of wool, cottons or yarns. You can also make your own yarn using old sheets, fabric or t-shirts. I often find great yarny supplies at my local Environment Centre as well. 

  • a sewing needle :

You can use a larger eyed embroidery needle with a blunt nose, or find some plastic needles for children, which are excellent for learning to weave.

Tie the warp thread tightly onto your twig, then wrap around and around to create your loom.

Once your warp thread is fully wrapped and tied tightly at the other end, start your weft thread (the yellow thread above) and weave under and over. Depending on the thickness of your stick, you may find this easier or harder to get a smooth finish.

  • What to do:

Tie one end of the yarn to the bottom of one of the forks of your branch. Stretch the yarn across to the other fork and wrap it around once so you have bridged the thinnest part of your triangle. Take your yarn back to the first side and wrap around about 1-2cm above the first wrap (the thickness of your yarn will determine how far you make these strings/wraps). Continue wrapping the yarn between the two sides, until you get to the top of the fork. In weaving terminology you have now created the warp. Then, taking a new length of yarn (called the weft) weave across the warp threads. Start by knotting your weft onto the bottom warp yarn and threading the yarn over one warp thread then under the next one, then over and so on. When you get to the end, reverse direction and take your weft back down going under the warp that you previously wove over and over the ones you went under.

You can change your weft colour to create patterns or a random effect. Tie each new weft colour yarn onto the previous colour or onto the warp so the whole lot won’t unravel. You might also weave in leaves, feathers, grasses or flowers you found on your walk; or ribbons, lace or other found string-like items. There are no rules. 

I used a needle as the shuttle for these tiny twiglets that I worked on. It was so much easier than pushing the weft through the warp. You can also use some flat cardboard cut into a long 'needle-ish' shape with the end of your weft yarn sticky taped to it; this helps kids have something to work over and under the warp threads, and then pull it all through. 

The more you practice, the more even your tension will be – which means that the weaving will be tight and firm, not too floppy and not pulled out of shape. My children and I are slowly filling the bare Winter branches of a special tree in our garden with hanging weavings and yarn wrapped twigs. It makes me smile each time I look at it, and I'm wondering what the kookaburras think of it all! I think one of the most important things about being creative is not if it’s perfect or neat, but if you feel joy in the making of and looking at it. And if you can share your making time with someone special you just

might multiply this joy. It's important for children to learn that mistakes in creativity aren't a bad thing, and to be able to enjoy their artworks in all their wonky amazingness!

This one, made of op-shopped wools and fabric yarn, lives outside under our tree.

I can't wait to see your tree filled with yarn wrapped wonderful-ness. Please do share! Please contact me if you need any more pictures or extra info. {the children took over my creative space so the photo session was cut short......}..

I love the shadow play that was happening on the sunny day I was a-making. This makes me think of a weedy seadragon; one of my favourite of all animals is a sea horse.

*this was originally written / published on my old Petalplum blog, July 2013. You can still read my blog there, and see sweet photos of my kids as little ones. This weaving still hangs in my studio. 

you can do anything, but you can't do everything

creative lifeEllie Beck1 Comment

Hey Crafty Peeps! Those of you who love trying, testing, experimenting and exploring new things - you're my kinda people. You know what I mean - you need to try every craft available, experiment with new things, doing a bit of this and a bit of that. Yep. That's me. Some people call it flimsy, others say unfocussed, there's some cool names like multipotentalite or Renaissance woman... Whatever we call it, there's this need to try everything, and somewhere deep down a feeling that we (ok I) must master a fair few most all the things.

But what about when you find the things you're not so good at? I had a message from one of my Creative Year students saying she was trying and trying the crochet, but that it just wasn't her thing. And it got me thinking about something I wrote on Instagram the other day -

"You can do anything, but you can't do everything"

It's something I keep telling myself every single time a new idea pops into my brain. STOP brain, stop!

I think it's excellent to discover the things you don't want to do, the things that aren't 'you'. To be able to cross things off your 'I want to learn that one day' list, and know you never have to master that new skill. HOW excellent indeed. So, I decided to write myself a list, to remind myself about the anything, but not the everything - and I thought you might like this little keep it simple list too. It's a way to rein in all those tumbling thoughts of the things we might, maybe, could, possibly, should one day learn how to do. Cross  crochet (or the "nup, don't need to learn that!" thing) off your list once and for all! I have spinning and knitting on my "one day" list..... I'm leaving them at the bottom of the list, for that time when I'm a little old lady and have spare time to learn new skills. I used to knit when I was a kid, but I know that now isn't the time for me to invest into learning how to knit.

1: Try All The Everythingswrite your giant list of things you might do, give them a go. Hang out with friends who do those things and use their tools, supplies, expertise. Take a mini class at your local craft shop, library, or guild.

2: Be Ok To Say NO - Once you've given things a good and proper go, happily say no. If it's not for you, but your best friend keeps pestering you about it, tell her you love that she loves it, but you're letting her be the expert on that one!

3: Be Extra Pleased That You Now Have More Time- Now that you've crossed that thing off your list, smile at the fact you now have more time to a) dabble in other perhaps possibilities, or b) become more of an expert at your other loved up crafty skills.

4: Keep Writing That 'One Day' List - Never stop thinking about other things you might try, cause golly if we stop learning then we may as well stop thinking or living; don't ya think?!

5: Know That It Truely is OK to Not Do Everything - being the expert on things is cool, I get that, but truth is you can't be the expert or even highly skilled at everything. By giving up the things that just aren't you, you're leaving space and time to further develop the skills you already have.

Tell me, I'd love to know what are the things on your 'one day' crafty list, and what are the things that you'll probably never ever in a whole entire lifetime get to? 

Petalplum in Q & A with Think Thornbury - sustainable slow simple crafting

Creative Process, creative lifeEllie BeckComment

Later this month I will be heading to Melbourne to teach some workshops at Think Thornbury, a beautiful looking space that opened last year. I met Maggie when she attended my dye workshop in Melbourne earlier last year, and straight away I felt she was a beautiful soul, someone doing things her way with an intention, and also being open and honest about the challenges of creativity, business and life. Together, Maggie and her partner (soon to be husband) Josh, set about creating a space full of local handcrafted goodness that also included a workshop space. Maggie also works under the name The Middle Aisle for her beautiful bespoke Macrame pieces that she sells or rents for events, and she teaches workshops too. 

I answered a few questions for Josh, for their Think Thornbury newsletter, and I decided to share it here as well, rather than letting it drift away in people's inboxes. Sometimes I write, well I humbly think so :), words that flow well when I'm simply emailing or writing to someone. So here it is. If you want to come along to any of my upcoming workshops, check them all out here; I'm teaching Natural Dye, Slow Stitch, and Basket Weaving.


Think Thornbury: Our first newsletter this year will feature Ellie Beck, the incredible human behind the creative slow craft institution that is Petal Plum. 
Ellie has been a source of constant inspiration for Maggie and myself in starting Think and living fulfilling creative lives. Read on for an inspiring mini-interview that will give you an insight into her philosophy of slow creative craft. {*Thanks Josh, what lovely word}. 

Q. On your fascinating and immensely popular blog you talk a lot about 'Creative Slow Living'. What does this idea mean to you?

It's about being present in my creativity rather than rushing through the process of making something to have a finished thing. The joy and pleasure of making & creating is in itself a mindful practice, that I feel is similar to beginner mediation. When I'm slow in my creative projects, I find that I also am able to bring slow into my days, which means bringing it into my role as a mama to three noisy, creative active children. Taking the slow craft philosophy into daily life is what my practice and my teachings are about - it's no use being slow & mindful when you're stitching or dyeing or doing crochet, if you can't take that thought and feeling into how you live your other moments. So, I focus on what I'm making and how I'm making it, using my breath and a mindfulness. It also means that my whole life is a slower way of living, in a creative manner. We don't rush through life waiting for the next exciting event, instead being joyfully content with each day - even if that is sipping tea while playing with kids, stitching or cleaning up after endless meals.  

Q. How does your craft reflect this philosophy?

My craft and slow living philosophy tie into each other in the way that each plays off, and responds to the other. My craft or creative life is not separate from my whole life. I don't have a work / life balance because my work and my life are one, everyday evolving and merging together. Being creative in life is more than doing some crochet or sewing, it's seeing the simple moments and how you can take those moments to become the fullness of your life. In my craft & art practices I use sustainable, thoughtful materials - and in our daily living we aim for a simpler way of eating, and being. My loom weaving or basket weaving is made with organic or environmentally thoughtful materials, and the food I feed my family is made from whole real ingredients - sourced locally, mindfully, as low-waste as possible. Both of these ways of living are connected. When I learn more about my craft or art supplies, I also find that propels me to discover more about my food, clothing or living needs, and visa-versa.

Q. What kind of effect has this practice had on other areas of your life?

I find that the more I write and talk about my slow craft practice I am ever more mindful in my everyday life. Being a parent (I have a 13, 11 & 3 yr old) means finding new ways to work through new everyday challenges. By having the quiet and mindfullness of my creative practice I'm better at responding to the noise, mess, bickering or needs of my children. Teaching myself to breathe with my slow stitch work or the simple joyful process of creating colour in a natural dye pot, reminds me to breathe through parenting or other daily moments. It also gives me a wonderful space to step away and refresh my mind and spirit in my creative practice. 

"Taking the slow craft philosophy into daily life is what my practice and my teachings are about - it's no use being slow & mindful when you're stitching or dyeing or doing crochet, if you can't take that thought and feeling into how you live your other moments."
 

Q. What is your teaching philosophy and what do you try to convey to workshop attendees? 

My aim in my workshops is to open my student's eyes to new ways of thinking, seeing and feeling. I don't want to be the expert in the room, but rather be a guide for someone along a journey where they may be at the beginning or already started, to show a different path that we can take, not the same well-worn track. I hope that I can remind or show people that everyone is creative, that imperfections and our own way of sharing our vision with the world is vital, but that we don't all need to be full-time artists to share this. I want to dispel the myth that making art or being a crafter is hard, and to remind people to learn new things, to make mistakes - in fact to enjoy the process of making mistakes and see where that leads. I encourage always for people to do things their own way. I offer ideas, insights, processes and ways of working, but my recipe might not work for you, and I urge my students to create their own recipes; their own ways of working. I share as much as I can about the way I work and the things I know. I'm not interested in holding onto ideas for fear that someone might steal them. Instead, I remind people to take the information, advice and teachings, and put their own voice to it. I talk about fears, copying, sharing, being part of a creative community, as well as my environmental & sustainable thoughts on crafting, and my practices. I open the conversation for listening to others, and am always open always to learning from my students.

Q. What is the effect of your local environment on your craft?

I live surrounded by forest and nature. Directly outside our home are trees overflowing with inspiration from the shape & colour of the leaves, the birds that come and sit on our verandah, or the mushrooms, sticks and found treasures from our garden. Being so deeply connected with the peaceful joy of nature guides me in slowing down even more - we live a different life than many, where we're content to stay home rather than go into the outside world everyday. I live and work in this environment, and soak it all up. My creative pieces are coloured directly from the plants, flowers, trees, leaves around my home / studio, through my botanical dye pots. And this I then turn into woven artworks or hand stitched fabric pieces. The emotions of living in this environment filter into my work through visuals. For example the scribbly bark of a tree in the yarns of my weaving, or the way the moss & lichens grow create shapes in my threads. While it's not pictorial for others to see, it's part of my process and the story I tell. It is also a constant reminder to take care of what I use, how I process my yarns or fabrics, what materials I use, and consciously making sure I'm not putting rubbish into my environment.

The seasons of our creative lives

creative lifeEllie Beck2 Comments

Last week I sat down at my weaving loom for the first time for many months. And bleeping hell did it feel good. Really really good! And I'm suddenly addicted to loom weaving all over again. And it got me thinking about all the creative pursuits I have, and how I fit them into my days. But actually it got me thinking even more about how sometimes I feel desperately like basket weaving, or dyeing fabric, or stitching, or crochet, or loom weaving, or photography.... or sometimes none at all. And how this is all good and ok. How sometimes I simply don't feel like sitting at my weaving loom, or sometimes I don't feel like sewing or picking up a crochet hook. And I started to think about how I personally have different 'seasons' for my creative making. And I wondered if you might too? What I mean by this is that at certain times throughout my days, weeks or even in a year I'm drawn to different types of making, different ways of making, different techniques & processes & materials & even outcomes. I realised that rather than ending up being inconsistent in my creative practice, what I've been doing is going with the flow of life, and allowing myself to slip easily within the different things that I enjoy and not be held tied up to something that can't fit into life at that moment.

Being a mother and an artist is a whole conversation of it's own. Well it's actually more than one conversation. It's a motherhood-lifetime of thoughts, words, ideas, anguish, conversations, turmoil, joy, overcoming, working through, pondering. And maybe once or twice actually getting down to doing some making. So it's with this motherhood / artist juxtaposition that I've realised it doesn't have to be a fight, a divide - perhaps it can be more a yin / yang. Finding the unbalanced balance, the imperfect perfect. That idea.

Ellie Beck Petalplum Seasons of our Creative Lives Loom Weaving

So. The actual true and real reasons I haven't sat at the weaving loom is because of family life, and the smallest child mainly. When he was a baby he lay quietly beside my loom while I wove (and it made for sweet pictures too!), but as he grew and became more active I couldn't tied to a loom that sits rigidly still. And as he became quite aware of what I was working on, he wanted to be part of it too. And not having my own proper studio space always meant weaving in the lounge-room, where he loved to pull at my yarns (which of itself is ok), but pulling at my weaving, disturbing the tension of my warp, destroying the stitches I'd stitched. All aside from constantly climbing on me, and dragging me outside to play and jump in muddy puddles. Picking up and putting down my weaving became harder and harder. Eventually my loom sat in the corner of the lounge-room for a few months, with spiders building homes in the fluffy yarn, before I packed it up and stored it away. I tried a few times here and there. But the reality of having children, of being a stay-at-home mother before I'm an artist, meant that smaller more portable crafts and creative moments needed to be picked up.

Which is where the seasonal aspect comes in. Each time in my months as a mother has given new breath for different making. New space depending on the busier or slower aspects of the children's ages or activities. Sometimes I can only crochet something the size of a pebble, other times I carried around blankets that I crocheted stitch by stitch. Lately (the last 9 months) I've been working on basket weaving because raffia is easier to pick up and stitch one slow stitch at a time. Without having to count stitches or remember a pattern, or worry about finishing a row before you're dragged away.

And like the seasons in each year, when we really stop and simply enjoy where we are, without longing for the past or the future - then the present season is exceedingly special. It brings what we need in terms of nourishment, being propelled outside or brought inside, of quietness or noisiness, of slow or fast. We're headed slowly into Autumn here, and I love this season as much as the Summer we've just left, and the Winter that will follow soon enough. I love it not for being in between, but for being it's own self. For teaching new things that Summer can't teach, nor Winter can show. And if I apply this thinking to my different creative spaces I've found that being in my season of crochet or my moment of basket weaving, or my year of natural dye - then each one teaches, gives, shows, provides different things.

One of the remarkable side-effects of all this seasonal time, means that when I'm in my off season my brain is thinking and tumbling and processing and pondering. Wondering & wandering. And that sort of thing. So that when I finally sat at my weaving loom last week, with the yarns I've been dyeing in my botanical dye pots. And I had the quiet time I so desperately was craving. And the small baby isn't so small anymore. When all that happened. And the season of weaving came around again. You know what! I think it's going to be quite an amazing season. I think after all this waiting, and getting on with enjoying all the other makings and time, and realising the other seasons are just as beautiful. Well - suddenly things are blossoming because like the lemon or orange trees in our garden that begin as buds last Spring and spend all year growing slowly slowly slowly. Everything is helping and working with that fruit, towards Winter. The fruits soak up everything the tree gives it, while the tree still nourishes itself. Or the magnolia that seems to take almost a whole year before those buds open to reveal the most magnificent bloom you may ever have seen. A whole year of growth the create something. Where most of the growth is quiet, slow, hidden. And then BOOM! You're hit with the season when everything is ripe and ready and blooming and glowing.

That's how I feel. I've spent the season of lying breastfeeding River, pondering while slowing slowing growing. And now. I'm ripe. I'm ready. I'm blooming! The weave I just took off the loom feels like something different to me, for me. A few way to working. A new way of expressing myself. Like I've been hiding and planning, and then I finally had the right space - the right season - to say 'hey, here I am. THIS is me!'. Do you ever feel like that? Do you know what I mean? Or am I just rambling again.....?


This blog post was originally published on my old blog, which can now sadly not be accessed due to internet things..... , in March of 2017.

Ellie Beck Petalplum Seasons of our Creative lives Story.jpg

Crochet basket FREE tutorial and how I film my videos

my weaving stories, Creative ProcessEllie Beck1 Comment

I finally have my giant crochet basket tutorial up ready for you to make your own! Yay. And I thought I'd share a little of the behind the scenes of how I film my video tutorials. As much for keeping it real, but more to remind you - and show you - that you don't need fancy or expensive equipment, you don't need to know everything or be the most best at something, you don't need technical skills, and you don't need to wait around for someone else to help you. You can do what you want right now, with the simple tools that you have. 

 

Do what you can,
with what you have,
right where you are.
— Theodore Roosevelt

 

This past year and a half I've taught myself how to film videos and get them uploaded to my website. How to make sure they're the right format, size and all that. I spent a little while wondering if I might need some help, some better equipment, some know-how from someone experienced in such technical aspects. But only a little while pondering and wondering. Because - like a lot of things I do.... I know I can do it; I just have to jump in and try. 

I continue to surprise myself by the things that I can do. By simply trying, by making mistakes, learning as I go. Many things do not work out, many are wonky and totally "not professional", many have my own personal quirks, many are not what most people might put into the world as part of their business. But - you know what. I will not, ever let that stop me. I am not many, indeed I am not even a few. I am just one, just me. And if I wait around for the perfect everything, for the perfect filmed how-to video with all the right edited moments and perfect overlay of music or slide-ins of my logo or something.... If I wait for that - then I know it'll never happen. I mean; the whole tutorial in general will never end up on line. 

I am very much a 'done is better than perfect' person. But I am also, in my business as well as my creative practice, eager to show that things don't need to be perfectly edited, slickly finished, immaculately presented to be right or beautiful or interesting. That the world in fact needs more 'do it your own way' or 'make mistakes happily' attitudes towards getting things done. That a downloadable template needn't be so pretty that it goes viral, or gets all the re-pins. It just needs to meet its purpose of inspiring someone, showing someone, sharing something, offering something.

Anyway.. all that. Here's a couple of behind the scenes of the way that I film my videos. I use my phone, because I can't get the microphone on my camera to do anything (it films, but it's all silent), and using my phone makes it easier to then get it onto my computer to edit and upload. The tripod I have is for a camera, not a phone - so I need elastic bands and some rigging up of different systems to make it work. I need to legs of the tripod anchored with whatever to hand; sometimes a pile of books, sometimes an old metal tin. Sometimes my phone memory runs out, and the video stops filming before I'm finished talking - I have to either re-film or add another video, or simply write some extra bits and notes for you. 

I hope that these funny behind the scenes moments can remind you to go off and do things that you've been a bit too scared to try..... that you've worried you don't have the right tools, or the right knowledge to make it work. Just go ahead give it a go, make that mistake, step over the bridge. I promise that once you start you'll find it gets easier and easier to keep on going. 

Here's the FREE tutorial for my crochet basket. If you love my online work, and would like to support me in a financial manner, I have a Patreon page where you can donate as little as a $1 every month to help me create my artworks, write my writings (blog posts, stories, etc etc), film my videos and more. 

I'd love to hear about your just making it experiments. What went wrong? What went right? What did you learn? Did you have fun? 

The Fearless Quilt : as story unfolding for life

Creative ProcessEllie BeckComment

The Fearless Quilt came to be quite unexpectedly, as does the nature of some things. Divine Inspiration, being open to the muse, listening & actioning, being guided..... or simply following along a path (however wonky & meandering it has been & will be) that you set out on some time ago. It doesn't matter how a thing comes to you, I think what matters is how to receive it and what you do with it, and where you take it, and how you hold it. 

I began on the first of the new year by writing a letter to my future self. I have planned to put it away and read it again in a year's time. What I wrote was nothing too dramatic, but just the putting into words - onto paper - what I have been telling myself all the past year. That I want to make art, create art, practice art, do art. So I wrote - every day this year I will sit and practice art. I will not worry what "art" means, or by what medium I work with. But I will practice at something artfully every single day. 

So, then I sat down with my fabrics and my stitching. And starting my hand sewing. I started slowly, simply enough. The beginnings of a quilt that I have been toying with for a little while now. The fabrics have be unfolded and folded, piled and stacked, sorted, placed, arranged, re-arranged, some stitched over, others the scraps from dye pots. Some ironed, others crumpled. But a smallish collection to begin something, with an intention. 

As I sat working, my mind started pondering. Making art for me starts to work towards the reality of what and where - where does my art go? I live a simple life, in a small home. We do not have space for more things. In my life I often ponder of putting more "stuff" out into the world, of people needing it (I always come round saying people want it, why shouldn't they have my beautiful stuff instead of shop bought stuff). But never-the-less there is that overarching ponder-ment of what happens to it afterwards. Which is why I decided on a quilt. Because a quilt is practical. The bed or person it drapes on becomes the wall for showing off the artwork, but the work takes on a new life by being used, loved, enjoyed. Not simply hung on a wall and looked at (I know that that too is good and important .... but we have so few walls I can't keep making wall things!). 

And as my brain oft does... it starts to ponder how will I be able to support this art making. How will I support my family through this art making. Making art everyday is vital and necessary and good for the soul - but the body and tummy needs nourishment too... which comes in the way of selling the art. And my mind goes off on tangents of selling art quilts... which I would so love to do. To have someone using, loving the work I create with my hands. But the realist in me knows that there's no way I can hand sew enough quilts to make a living, without wearing my fingers raw. 

And while I'm stitching - most importantly - I'm realising that the process with which I'm working / using isn't giving me the scope for the vision I have talking to me. The way that a quilt (bits of fabric sewn together) must work, weren't giving me the right format / blank space for the art aspect. I come across this in my loom weavings sometimes too - where the process of warping and then weaving means that I have to negotiate the vision, that it can't always be as I see it. A painting on canvas is a different way.... a quilt or a weaving has a different structure.

I had wanted to hand quilt the whole piece, but then... due to this aspect I decided to machine sew some sections together, which I can then hand quilt. This putting together will give me a different 'canvas' structure to work with, to begin with. The base plate will give me space for the vision, in a different way. I am not sure if this makes sense at all.... perhaps it doesn't matter ---- because it's all the underpinning for what came next, and then what came next from that. 

So : yesterday, I got out my sewing machine. I laid the backing piece down and started creating the pieces of the quilt top. I worked the colours, patterns, shapes, pieces - like a puzzle. But in small sections only, not like a traditional quilt that thinks about the whole piece as one thing... indeed just a bit here while I worked on that. Then I'll add more while I work on the next bit. And some sections I've left blank at the moment, until I come back to them - to add in other bits as needed. To build the vision, the story slowly slowly as it evolves. 

I am sewing fabrics together with different weights and weaves - some soft flimsy silks beside thick velvet, linen beside wool felt. And the pieces are not the same size or shape, and as in the traditional way of sewing seams and edges of fabric together -  some extend past others, some stop short. The structure of sewing seams together means this is a little wonky, and tricky, and totally "wrong" in any sense of how you machine sew. 

And this.... right here is where it all began!!! The magic of just jumping in. Of starting without an end picture in mind, I do not even have enough fabrics to complete it at the moment, I do not have space on my table to lay it all out. I do not have the inclination to lay it all out as one whole - but in fact to work on one section,  machine sew those pieces together, then hand sewn them onto the quilt backing (Which is a piece of linen). Then add on the next sections, and some will be hand sewn and some machine sewn. And some bits will be wonky, overlapping, there's gaps where the fabrics won't join or match up - I'll simply sew another piece over that to fill the space. 

A combination of all that I am, and all that I know. The straight lines and "rules" of machine sewing, the patched mendedness of boro or kantha, the quiet solitude of sashiko, and the wild fearlessness of my mother!

This morning I got up, the quilt on the kitchen table. (Remember I am home alone for three whole days - no-one to ask me for things, no need to push aside my projects for family meals). And I began playing with the fabrics again. An excitement welling up. But my mind is not one to quietly sit by while my hands work..... 

And so - from there... the notions of pulling my scraps, my precious saved collected stitched loved hand dyed fabrics, combined with my wild notions of making mistakes and just giving it a go, added to my underpinning of understanding the structure of making a quilt / sewing something, joined with the quietness of days at home alone... And I come to this ::

The Fearless Quilt is the story of my life. We all know that quilts are stories of things, and lives.. Traditionally the way they're made, stitched by women around family, life, hardship, joy. Quilt patterns have names that relate to something. Well - here's my quilt pattern, and here's what it relates to.

My life this year will be fearless. I will take all that I know, and jump headfirst into all that I do not know. I will take the precious saved things from our of the boxes and use them, love them, make mistakes with them - maybe even ruin some of them. I will take the knowledge combined with the emotions and create things. I think this is how I run my business, and how I creatively work. But to have the word form in my head - to show me what I have been doing without realising. This year I will take everything and put it together. It will take time, it will be slow and sometimes hard. There will be bursts of inspiration, and moments of having to push through. I'll have to make some new pieces to add in, and borrow some pieces as well. I'll have to find extra bits, ask for help, teach myself things again and anew. 

I received an email this morning that added to all this. That was perhaps like the binding on a quilt - showing me how to make it all as something that can be used. I have an quilt with binding... it's usable but not so practical or pretty, and it looked a little funny, and didn't fold up neatly. And always felt not quite loved enough to be finished. This year I will bind my Fearless Quilt and I will bind my Fearless life, ready to be used, loved, perhaps worn a little, enjoyed, appreciated......

Right now - there's the working it all out. Seeing how it can happen. But the ideas are bubbling. And so here's what I know how :: this year I will write two books. One I already have begun, and have an editor and publishers for. One I will write myself... I will hope to find someone - but maybe publish it myself. It will be based upon my Fearless Simple Creative living, and based upon my Unfurl & Bloom course, and based upon the notions I have inside me that I have so much to give to others... to help them find their creative selves.

Day 1 :: Fearless Quilt

Creative ProcessEllie Beck3 Comments

I'm going to call this my Fearless Quilt.

Because I am fearlessly doing it wrong,

Because I am using the precious special fabric,

because I am not measuring nor ironing (unless absolutely dire).

Because I am making it up as I go along, adding pieces here & there... some will be machine stitched together others will be hand sewn together. Some will have finished edges, others may have raw edges.

Because I am fearlessly hoping it'll be finished and ready to be enjoyed on our bed before Winter is here.... or even Autumn... could it be ready by then? 

 

Day 1 -- I have narrowed that I will use mostly only blues & whites, with just a few pinkish additions. I will see how it goes. I think I've already run out of suitable fabric; so I will need another indigo vat and to dye more pieces, scraps, remnants......    

but to begin is the best beginning >> without worrying too much about the end result, or the perfection of it all, or if indeed I have the right materials. Or more importantly if even I will finish it!  

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ignoring the expert's rules & making things your own way : an eco-printed art journal

Creative ProcessEllie BeckComment

When I was in high school, my older sister showed me how to make my own simple book for an art project. It was a concertina process that housed all my little artworks to create an overall ‘picture book’. I loved it – the making of it and the outcome. It was simple in construction but to make your own books changes the way you think about your work, words, pictures, stories, ideas, thoughts…… To be able to stitch or glue your own paper into a form that you can carry around and add content to the insides. That’s sorta pretty special.

In form a simple book can be as rudimentary as you like, or as technical as you know how. Most book binders (like traditional quilters) are precision people – with the paper being perfectly torn to just the right size, and the stitches being immaculately formed. I’m far from being most bookbinders or a traditional quilter – I’m messy and eager to jump in and create something without making sure it’s perfectly formed.

Someone recently heavily implied to me (ok, basically told me) that because I'm not an expert bookbinder means that I shouldn't push the boundaries, ask questions on the way to tear paper, or assume that I know enough to bend the rules. I have complete respect for expert bookbinders and the craft that they practice, but I also know that once upon a time there were never books, and someone made the first one ever, and they weren't an expert and it was probably wonky and wrong, but probably also beautiful and amazing, and heartful. 

To say that because someone is not school-trained, or an 'expert' in that field means they can't try new ways, ask questions, look for different options. To say this is, in my mind, rigid and strict and stuck in your own ego, rather than allowing the creative practice to come out. A book perhaps only needs to be held together for the purposes of writing, reading, drawing, enjoying. If it does this job then isn't it a book. Does it matter if the paper is torn the wrong way, or the stitches aren't the right ones? Does it matter? (I love this post by Felicia about using the wrong quilting fabric). 

Imperfectly perfect. Embrace the wonk. Make mistakes. Push boundaries. Ask questions. Assume nothing. Upset the rules. Test yourself.... test the experts too... 

So when I sat down to create a Hand Stitched book as part of The Creative Year, I knew I wanted it to be something that fulfilled the brief of being a thing of beauty to hold in your hands, and be practical to use, but I also knew that I didn’t want perfectly cut pages, and I didn’t mind if the stitches were measured accurately. I wanted to create something that felt like it was instinctual made, formed rather than forced, evolving rather than traditional.

To begin I put my pages in water and cooked them. With smelly leaves and delicate colour-staining flowers. That was the best part – creating an eco-dyed paper that was filled with personality before I even started forming or stitching the book. Then I used a cover that has been created in a similar manner – cloth rolled and bundled in leaves, left to felt and was tattered.

This felt like a book that didn’t need perfectly formed words, didn’t need “artist” lines, but simple mark-making or rambles of thoughts, or tumbles of words. The pages were already marked and stained and patterned – whatever I add afterwards with my pen or paintbrush is simply adding to the work, rather than staring at a blank page.

I am more than in love with this book – nature-printed pages, hand stitched spine, eco-dyed felt cover…. and slowly slowly it’s being filled with whimsical words, and half-caught thoughts, and scattered marks across the page. And it feels full and rich and warm and like me.

Here photographed are two different books I made as part of my online course – the Eco-Printed Pages and the soft-fabric cover using my Shibori & naturally-dyed silk fabrics. The pink and blue book has plain pages inside, and the cover is soft to touch (with padding underneath the silken fabric). It’s deliciously special book, with a ribbon binding that I made up and share with you on my videos.

I’ve made these books using tools and materials at home – I didn’t go and buy new bookbinding supplies; I’m more about creating from what I have rather than needing to buy more to make things. Being a multi-creative with many interests, I need to use tools in an unusual manner rather than the perfect right tool for the job. Sometimes it makes you be a little more inventive not having the exact right tools.

If you'd like to make your own art journal book, making mistakes, learning new things, understanding yourself in a new way - I have shared my experiments, processes and thoughts to make your own book. With step-by-step videos and lots of sharing of my story and encouraging you to share your own story. I can't really quite tell you how much you'll love using your own art journal. It will free you up in your words, your making, your process. Showing you that while the experts can be useful in certain times, their advice doesn't always have to been heeded. Have a look here

8 tips for creative mamas to find your voice in the family noise

Mama-ingEllie BeckComment
Ellie Beck Petalplum Crochet large bowl - parenting & artmaking & coffee.JPG

Doing what I do – being an artist, an indie business owner & a mama to 3 noisy kids – is big, hard, mentally exhausting work. I know I talk about slow a lot, and I do live it in my everyday life. But the reality is you need some tricks to get through being in the noise of mama and finding your way to being the artist. Don’t you think?

I’m still learning, and slowly on a journey of how to make it work best… but I thought I’d share what is currently working for me in the hopes it’ll help you too.

Having one kid or four kids, it’s all the same – ok it’s not the same at all, but what I mean is having kids is having kids, so it’s not a competition or guilt thing of saying oh she only has two kids, and I have five…. everyone has different journeys and one noisy kid might be more intense then three calm kids (wish I had the three calm kids!!). Anyway, what I’m saying is stick to your family, your mothering, don’t beat yourself up because you’re not doing what other mamas are doing – everyone has different skill sets, and different family set ups (including extra help or not from extended family).

So here goes:
8 ways to make the “balance” of mama & artist just that little bit easier (why 8? cause that's just the number I came up with right now):

  • Be where you are – in your current season / situation. If no baby-sitting is coming and the kids are being crazy, there’s no way you’ll get that deadline finished without causing yourself a panic attack. Put aside your work for half an hour and be with the kids. Give them your full attention – that’s all they’re actually asking for. Do something super fun and high energy – running in the garden, having a dance party, watering the plants. Anything that gets your mood elevated, and the kids using up their crazy energy. Being outside does often help. Then you can (*fingers crossed) settle them down with popcorn and a movie, or reading books quietly and do some work.
  • Be gentle on yourself. The reality and truth is that parenting is your number one job right now. For the next 10-15 years. Sorry, but it’s true. Realise that you’re not going to achieve every single thing that’s on your list right now – so look at your list and prioritise the most passionately important or (if this is more an importance right now) the things that are actually bringing in money compared to the dreamy things. Put those things on a next year list, and let them leave your heart for a little while. I promise you’ll thank me for it when you do that. This has been the biggest thing to free up my working creative self.
  • Live in a messy house – ok, not really…. but when you have kid free time, DO NOT TIDY THE HOUSE. Do I have to repeat that?! Kid free time should be spent focussing fully on your arts practice or business work or talking with your partner or quietly sipping tea. Find a spot where you can’t see the mess and ignore it. How ever much you keep tidying, it keeps getting messy anyway; so do your work and then do a quick 15 minute tidy once the kids get back.
  • Eat cereal for dinner, or toasties or pop corn or plain pasta with cheese. Not every night, but when it gets to that point where you simply can’t stop working (hello Muse thanks for finally turning up!) in order to make dinner for the family. Realise that one or two nights of not proper meals won’t kill anyone. Actually the kids will probably love it. If it’s happening too often, then you’ll have to look at ways to create simpler healthy meals that you can prep quickly and easily.
  • Get real with yourself. Call yourself an artist, and then others will. If you walk around telling your friends and family that you’re not really an artist, then why should they value it. Be clear with family members what your creative practice means to you, and how important it is that you have child-free time. Even if you’re not bringing in an income – your art is valuable to your sanity as a person, which carries through to your mama-ing energy.
  • Get the kids creative too. Set up a desk beside yours filled with easy to use paints, craft supplies, glue, etc. Make it help-yourself easy and allow (expect) mess. If you have to keep stopping to open a lid or fill more paint it will stop your flow. So choose activities that require minimal hands on from you. Three paint colours and a giant stack of paper, with a line to peg things on.
  • Work out what your noisy & quiet activities are. For me, there’s some things I can do with kids climbing on me and demanding things of me – emails, packing orders – and other things I know that I need quiet time for. So I do what I can while the kids are around me, which gives me the space and freedom to do the other things as soon as they’re gone.
  • Be prepared and organised. As soon as those kids walk out the door get working. (Yes, I’m telling myself this as much as you – I always want a nice quiet cup of tea before I settle down for arting). If my studio is tidy (sadly rarely) then I can jump into creativity straight away. I hate spending kid-free time simply tidying up yesterday’s mess.

I feel like I need to go into depth on a couple of these, as they’ve truly been eye-opening for me this past year in making big changes to how I work, which has resulted in bringing in more money for our family, feeling more fulfilled into myself and less head-in-the-clouds about everything. It’s given me focus and clarity. 

I feel like we’re all bumbling along trying to make it work somehow, and fighting it. Whereas I don’t want to divide my mama and artist self, I want to make them a beautiful cohesive part of me. It’s not a balance, never will be – that much I know. It’s more like yin & yang : a little of this inside a big part of that, but it flows around and works because you allow it rather than aiming for balance.

I’d love to know how you fit mama-ing and creativity into your life, your soul, your mind & heart. Please give me any tips you have, as well as any scary things you keep coming up against. How old are your kids? Do they go to school or care? Do you consider yourself a full time artist or a hobbyist or something in between? I’m so curious about how everyone makes it work in different ways. 

Ellie Beck Petalplum Crochet large bowl - parenting & artmaking2.JPG

 

 

Tools & Materials: thoughts on using only sustainable fabrics & what to do with the "other stuff" in the craft cupboard

Natural & Botanical Dye, Slow & Sustainable Living, Creative ProcessEllie BeckComment

One of my ecourse students recently emailed asking me this:

ok, I'd like to share a personal questioning and reflection

REFLECTIONS ON Natural or synthetic materials

Between my visual art materials (gathered for years and years) and my textile materials (gathered mostly during the last 10 years), I have a lot of natural, ecological and sustainable stuff and a lot of synthetics too. The thing is, I have always this eco-living-thinking philosophy and it's getting very hard to use non eco-sustainable fabrics and threads.. At the same time, keeping all that in boxes and shelves is neither useful nor ecological or Feng-Shui attitude. So, what to do? Just thinking aloud.... 

 

I'm glad you asked this, because it's something that I ponder a lot too. And I'm pretty sure we're not the only ones. There must be many others who start their creative journeys, which then evolve through to deeper meaning. And while we're learning we use more and different materials than we might today. 

I myself have boxes and cupboards of materials and tools and.... stuff.. that I used to use. I even have books that I've bought over the years, that I no longer need or want. And piles of fabric that no longer fits my aesthetic, or needs (either personal, creative or business). I have boxes of threads and zippers and tags and labels... All the things I've thought I might need, or used to use long in my other creative outlets. I have tubs & tubs & tubs of screen printing paint / ink from when I used to make and sell homewares.

I think one thing many of us creatives most often have in common is that we like to dabble and discover new things, which means new tools and material required. Am I right?  

So... now the ethics of it all. 

What I personally think is this:

  1. If you keep it stuck in boxes, piled into your storage shed or garage then it's doing two things - a) being wasted and hence adding to the environmental problems by not being used or re-used. and b) making you feel overwhelmed and guilty by the fact you've spent money on it, it's taking up mental, physical space.
  2. If you get it out and use it in any way possible the environmental factor doesn't come into play, because the product already exists and needs to be used, not become landfill (even if not for another 30 years... it's still landfill).
  3. If you don't want to use it - due to changes in your aesthetic - that's absolutely totally ok. Makes sense to me. But I know that there is a big probability that there's someone out there in the world who might be able to use it. Or perhaps you can re-think a way to re-use it.. to change it, alter it to fit closer to your personal ethics, creative looks. 

Here's what I'd do:

  • Sell it or give it away - consider (before sending it to an op-shop) places like pre-schools, primary or even high schools (who have a small art budget), GumTree or Craigslist or Facebook buy, swap & sell groups for your region. I recently sold a heap of beautiful craft books that I no longer needed and were taking up space in my home, through an Instagram page I set up - I made over $200 and other people got some fabulous books at excellent prices.
  • Use it! Is it horrible fabric that you can't imagine using or wearing? Perhaps you can cut it up and weave or crochet it into a new fabric. Perhaps you can overdye it or print or paint it. Or turn it into fabric gift wrap. Or tear it up into strips of fabric and weave with it, or crochet or knit.

I don't think you should guilt yourself about what you have, but rather find a solution for moving it from your life. And most importantly, learn the lesson from it (whatever lesson you want to learn).. think clearly before you buy new supplies, look at those same places to see if you can buy someone's cast offs, and research your new purchases to know if they fit your current ethics. 

I'd love to hear what you're hoarding in your art, craft cupboard (shipping container, garage, loft..)...... 

weaving process photos & dyeing with eucalyptus leaves

Creative Process, my weaving storiesEllie Beck1 Comment
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This is the weaving that's been on my loom for over a month now. I keep coming to it, to finish it, and being dragged away by something else. I long for the day when my loom weaving can be my full time income, but the truth is I also know that I have lots of other stuff that I need to share with the world as well. 

I thought I'd talk a little about my process of beginning a weaving. I feel like my loom weaving has come to a point in my creative outlet where it's more than just weaving. To me, for me, it's my voice speaking out. My artistic creative voice. Sharing itself with the world. 

Some of my work is my craft, some my writing & photography & teaching. Weaving is my artistic voice. It's not about stating it's goodness or quality in the art world, it's simply how I feel about the work.

Mind you - some one just received one of my weaves in the post and her thank you message was utterly mind-blowing in she felt upon looking at my work. Comments like that make me truly feel like a real artist. Whatever a real artist actually is!

I spend a fair bit of my creative process actually in my head. Due to be a full time mother, with a 3yr-old, 10 & 13yr-old needing me regularly constantly emotionally physically... Well.... due to that, and the fact I don't have full time set aside for loom weaving (or any of my creative practices) I do much of the pre-planing, thinking, emotional work in my mind. 

A story comes to me, an idea, a vague visual reference. Or often an emotion that refers to something. It's never solid or concrete, but also fleeting . Very emotional I think. Very possibilities, potentials, maybes.. 

I start with a colour theme. Because I dye almost all of my yarns myself, I begin my process with the colours. That in itself is a long process of gathering the dye materials, wrapping & binding my threads and yarns, extracting the colour from the plants or flowers. I have an idea in mind, but I know that natural dye is never an exact outcome - so I am open to allowing the process to evolve and be part of the work. 

With this piece I knew I wanted deeps darks greys, blacks, purples, mottled effects. I used eucalyptus leaves gathered from around my property and with the addition of rusty iron (nails and bits of rusty metal), I knew I'd get some blacks or deep greys, with a purple-ish undertone. Maybe a few pinkish underhues if I was lucky. Lots of browns came through - very predictable from the eucalyptus from my region (I don't get much reds or oranges as you can achieve down south). 

Without going into full emotional detail about this weaving, it's a story on the ongoing dramas of life with my daughter. Wonderful, wild, crazy, emotionally big, black, white, pure innocence combined with the depth of drama of troubles & challenges. On the brink of teenage hood, yet still in fairyland. 

I find weaving to be very meditative as well as emotional therapy. For me, a lot of my weaves have this feeling of working through my stories, emotions, challenges, joys. Sharing that in a visual, textural, tactile way. 

My girl has this way, that I've read in some books about sensitive children, of being pure beauty & joy when we're out in public. What she shares with the world vs what she allows her family to see. The exterior of white, and inside this depth of learning, unknowing, discovering, challenges. A darkness. 

Perhaps the darkness that we all keep hidden from everyday society. 

In my current work I'm using a lot of exposed ends, rather than weaving the tails in. There isn't a finished neatness in the life. My woven stories are about life. About those realness moments. Where we have rough parts beside smooth refine areas. 

Using finer threads combined with some fluffy roving, I also like the combination of soumak alongside plain weave. The way they sit together. My soumak is never neat and tidy, I like the way it can be large and messy, or small and neat, pushed together or stretched wide to give space. 

The gaps in the weaving - where you can see warp only - are those parts where her light gets in. I feel like there's the jagged edges of a crystal, the beauty that is formed deep inside the earth, that's often hidden beneath the smooth shell. 

I barely every draw my designs down on paper. I have an idea in my mind - a visual, but mostly a story. I'm weaving the story stitch by stitch, colour by colour, the same way I'd write a poem or a book or a letter. ..... an idea of what I want to say, but until I get to that part I'm not entirely sure how it'll look, sound or feel. 

With this style of weaving I start anywhere, add bits here and there all over. Not in a lineal manner, but a haphazard process... as the story shows itself to me. 

Through this weave, which is almost but not yet finished, I've gone through some deep thoughts on being a mother to a wild emotional daughter. Also, on not having my own mother around to question her, or ask advice (I'm sure her story will always come up in my weavings). I've also found I've come to a peace about my daughter, about her emotions and her depth of character, her challenges in who she is and who she'll become. 

You can view some short videos of me weaving this piece on my ellie.beck.creative Instagram account here. I'll see if I can get videos to upload to this page as well (I'm thinking one day my Instagram account will cease to exist and I'll have everything saved there and nothing anywhere else...).

gift wrapping - environmental impact and sustainable (beautiful) options

Slow & Sustainable LivingEllie Beck2 Comments
hand painted fabric Websize.jpeg

When we were growing up wrapping paper was a special thing in our house. By this I mean - we didn't buy endless rolls of wrapping paper just because, my parents bought beautiful special paper and we made it last. Every gift that was given was wrapped with care (often without sticky tape), and unwrapped with even more care. There was none of that tearing paper open on Christmas morning; we'd gently unwrap and then fold the paper ready for it's next use. I remember one particular special piece of paper that lasted in our family - being gifted around and around - for years, and by years I mean more than 10 or 15 years. 

This is just one small part that makes my family different to many other families, but it's something that my siblings and I appreciate and respect (then and now), and now our own children follow the same 'care for the wrapping paper' ways. Yay for that!

It's these small, and often un-thought-of environmental changes that you can make in your daily life. They don't take a lot of extra effort, just a new way of thinking, training your brain in a different way. Change like this is good, slow and small, but hopefully long lasting and trickles down to the next generation. 

Another way of wrapping your gifts with a sustainable and environmental underpinning is the Japanese art of Furoshiki. Those Japanese are super clever aren't they - with their origami ways, their artful ideas, their simple beautiful thoughts.

Furoshiki is, in essence, a piece of cloth used to wrap and tie around an item. We have a book in our bookshelf called How to Wrap 5 Eggs! Fabulous. Basically using the right size you can wrap a present for a friend, lunch for your kids, a bottle of wine to take for dinner, a pot plant, even make yourself a handbag or a new top to wear. 

I will admit that gifting special fabric to everyone in your life might not work, especially school friends who won't even know what to do with it; but if you re-think the whole gift then the wrapping can be part of the present. 

Gifting environmentally thoughtful presents sparks a conversation. It allows you to educate your friends or family on how small things can make a big difference. I did a little googling, just so I could shock you a little.... 

            Environmental effects of wrapping paper - The UK alone uses more than 8,000 tons of wrapping paper a year, that equates to 50,000 tress being cut down. In the USA about half of all paper products consumed is wrapping paper, which is thrown away after one use. Consider also that many gift wraps (especially cheaper bulk buy ones) come wrapped in plastic wrap, and many gifts are secured with sticky tape and plastic bows and ribbons, while some wrapping options aren't even paper but cheap foil that isn't or can't be recycled. Attach a gift card and you're looking at more than 100,000 trees being cut down (in USA) each year just for throw away gift wrapping. (I'm not even going get into the environmental impact of the gifts that come inside the wrapping paper!).

But it can be different. t's estimated that the average American gives 42 gifts each year, if only 3 of those are wrapped in recycled options it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields! This shows that small change is effective and powerful. That your actions do in fact help. And that as a community - or country - we can make change.

Here's a few simple alternatives for gifting:

  • A scarf and use that as the wrapping for some chocolates or flowers
  • A sewing kit and use a piece of linen as the wrapping and also as the project
  • A toy and use the wrapping as a play mat or a doll blanket
  • Homebaked biscuits in a upcycled jar with a tea towel as the wrapping
  • A bottle of wine with a tea towel or linen placemat as the wrapping
  • A bunch of flowers with fabric wrapping that can be reused for flowers again
  • A book or CD (remember those things?!) with fabric that can become the book bag

 

You don't need to use expensive linen or beautiful silk scarves, but can indeed op-shop (thrift-store) some sheets, tea towels or fabric pieces for very little money and cut it into sizes suitable for various objects. You could pre-make some furoshiki wraps or make them as needed to match the size of the gift. 

Here's some ideas to customise the fabric - art it up perhaps:

  • get the kids to paint a giant sheet before you cut & hem it, or leave the edges raw
  • dye it - simple kitchen scraps make beautiful dyes. (I'll share my onion skin dye recipe in a few days, once I get all the pictures finished)
  • do some fun random stitching on the fabric - either by hand or machine. Random machine stitching in bright colours is super fun to do and very effective
  • find some of that crazy funky fabric you'd never use for clothing; I bet it's perfect for gift wrapping
  • make sure you include a printed instruction sheet for people to pass on the wrapping tradition to someone else. Here's a great downloadable from the Japanese government website. (until I find or make a better one). 
  • If you want to learn how to make some like I have pictured here, I share the how-to on my fabric printing online course

naturally dyed fabric and reasons that I blog

Natural & Botanical DyeEllie Beck2 Comments

Sometimes I wait for the right story, or perfectly composed messages to share here. Once upon a time I used to just share words and images, as they happened. I didn't worry about them needing to be 'on brand' or fit within a theme or category. I just wrote what I felt, thought, saw, made, wanted to make... You can still read my old blog  from all those years ago. I am planning on bringing some of my old blog posts over here, but as always time is time and mostly I want to play in the garden with my little ones or sit and sip tea and stitch or weave. Or chat with my husband. So... it might take a while, or it might never happen. 

At any rate. Here's some lovely photos I took of some of my botanically dyed fabric pieces. And they're so pretty I thought I should share them here, rather than only always sharing things on Instagram. 

I dyed these with a combination of my bundle dye method and hot dye methods (both of which I talk about in my online course). Using gathered flowers and leaves, as well as kitchen scraps. I wish I could tell you what each one was individually coloured with, but this is a selection over time, and my dye note keeping isn't that excellent.

The piece below (on the right) was dyed wrapped around an old tin can (we barely ever buy these, so I've not had them to experiment with before. Now I'm saving whatever I find, because I love the way it dyed - the colours and the patterns). The yellow through the middle was from dried sweet pea flowers. I didn't get them in the dye pot while they were still fresh, but I'd like to try that because I think the purple blooms might have given a purple colour. One fell, while still fresh and juicy, onto a piece of cloth and coloured it .... a stain or not, I'm not sure. 

These were all bundled up, tucked into the fabric and then wrapped around the metal tin (what metals do they put in those tins?). And then cooked on and off over a day. This silk had no mordant, the metals in the tin and the iron (rusty nails) that I had in the water would be enough mordant, especially on silk. Plus I won't be wearing this fabric or heavily exposing it to sunshine.

I took these photos as part of some styling videos for my upcoming Unfurl & Bloom online course. I shared some of the ways I style my creative work, especially for Instagram. I'm thinking of writing a little ebook thingy as a free download, would you be interested?

I've been looking back at my old blog this past week, and it made me sad that I don't blog regularly anymore. And that all the "rules" of being in business, combined with an increasing want for privacy, I don't share photos or stories of my little ones any more. Especially as they're getting bigger. My blog used to be a diary; I don't keep a paper diary, or have a very effective photo archiving system. My blog did a good job of that. 

So... I might start blogging again, maybe less of the kids, but more of my thoughts and processes and the things I'm making / made / working on. And not worry too much about the rules of blogging for indie business that say you must tag all your photos to be pinterest worthy, or you have to think about seo in the post heading and first sentence. And you have to be on brand, or why would people visit. My favourite blogs to read (not that I read as many as I used to), are simply the ones that share the stories and life and what we're all going through as humans together in this funny world.