Cocoons – they are multiplying – I am sure

14 09 2016

I have been dyeing various silk products for over ten years now and never cease to be amazed at how well the colour is absorbed by the silk fibre.  Each different silk ‘bit’ has different dye absorption – more or less dye sites for the dye to lock onto and each, therefore, is a little bit different, even when dyed in the same dye bath.

Silk fibre is an animal or protein fibre, so generally would be dyed most effectively with acid dyes.  These dyes need to be boiled or steamed to create the reaction and to set the dye.  That does not work with the cocoons very well as a cocoon still contains the sericin – the protein that makes the cocoon hard and strong.  When cocoons are processed into silk fibre, they are boiled or at least softened in very hot water to break down the sericin and release the fibre, ready to be spun.  If the hard cocoons are boiled or heated extensively in the dyeing process, there is a strong likelihood that the cocoon will loose the sericin and thereby damaged.  For this reason, I use Procion dyes which are generally optimal for cellulose or plant based fibres, but work well on silk too.  Procion dyes are a cold water process so the risk of breaking down the sericin is almost non existent.  You may often read that you need to use an acidic mordant with the Procion dyes on silk, but I still use soda ash – an alkaline and it works fabulously.  Here are some photos and a brief description of my process.


I get these in big boxes, by the kilogram.  They are not yellow, this was a product of the flash on the camera. The cocoons come cut.  This means that the original occupant is no longer in situ, which is a good thing.  Cut cocoons clear customs much faster than uncut ones and are generally cleaner, though you pay more for them due to the processing.  Once I have these, I work out how many colourways I need to dye and how much, weight wise, required to dye each colourway.  I then take the cocoons and weigh them into bags:  one bag per colour needed.  My cocoons are sold in mixed packs of three colours, so what ever I do needs to be divisible by 3.  In the case of this dye run, I needed to do ten colour ways, so 30 different colours in total, so 30 different bags of cocoons.


I mix my dyes and pour them into each bag, sealing the bags as I go.  Each bag gets about a litre of dye and I move it around to try to give all the cocoons a fairly even coverage.  Consistency in colour and coverage is not essential to me in this process, but I do like them all to be well coloured and the colour saturated.

After the dyeing and batching is completed, I rinse them in warm water until the water runs clear.  When the rinse water is clear, it indicates that all of the dye molecules are either permanently locked into the silk fibre cells or flushed out in the rinse water.  Here are some of my colours soaking.


If you look closely, you can see that they are in sets of three as I try to keep my colourways together.

I dry these one of two ways, sometimes in a combination of both.  Firstly, if the weather is good, I put them in fabric bags and hang them on the line, again keeping the sets of three together as best I can.


If weather and space allows, depending on how much I have dyed, I spread the cocoons out in baskets, on netting and even on old screen doors to dry.  This takes up a lot of space if I do all the colourways and will only work on warm, dry days.  It is not uncommon for every horizontal space in the house to be covered with trays of drying cocoons when the weather won’t play nicely with me.


Once completely dry, I combine the three colourways in a big tub, remove knotted or loose silk fibre and give them a big mix.



This is the “Cools” colourway.  From there, they are weighed very carefully into 10 gram lots and packaged into either cellophane bags or clear pillow packs.  Every pack is a little bit different.  They are not easy to photograph in the pillow packs, but they look terrific like this.


I get asked constantly what to do with them.  Well, the short answer is anything your feel like.  You can stitch onto and through them, so they can be embellished and sewn to anything, strung up or added to pretty much any project that you think would benefit from three dimensional elements.  Try embroidering or beading into them, adding them to embroidery or felt projects, turning them into flower buds, snails, fairy skirts, and so much more.  Add them to collage or sculptures, or like the example below, make jewellery.  There is no limit to how you can use them; only a lack of ideas.  Here is a very simple necklace I made.


I have fifteen different colourways, all of which are on my website –  Search for cocoons if you want to have a look.

Ice Dyeing with Procion Dyes

14 03 2016

I love dyeing fabric.  I do, I just love it.  I could easily spend all my waking time making things colourful with dye and yet, I have resisted the growing trend of ice dyeing until quite recently.  Why have I avoided it? Why have I ice dyed lately? Let me explain.

What is it?

My observation is that ice dyeing morphed out of snow dyeing.  Snow dyeing became a thing when the dyers in the Northern hemisphere started experimenting on how they could feed their dyeing addiction in the middle of great drifts of snow.   Snow or ice dyeing gives a very different effect than the traditional Procion dyeing techniques.  The chemistry is a bit ‘wrong’ and on one level, does not make a huge amount of sense.  As a result, ice dyeing gives softer, more drifty colours.  Also, the dye powder is dispersed by the melting ice, the colour distribution can be very loose and ad hoc; organic almost.  It is an interesting technique to play with.

Why I avoided it.

There are a number of reasons for this:

  • it does not feel safe – measuring out large amounts of dry dye powder and leaving it on top of the ice until it melts means that lots of loose dye particles can become airborne;
  • it is not very efficient – you use more dye to get a less vibrant effect than all the more common techniques;
  • it can be costly – both in dye and ice.  Unless you have a large ice making capacity and don’t have access to lots of snow, you will go through a lot of ice and it can add up.

Why I gave it a go.

I have seen the results others were getting and they can be very beautiful.  Ice dyeing has become very popular in the tie dyeing community.  I am not a fan of the full on, 1970s tie dyed mandalas, etc, but I do like a slightly modified, less planed version of ‘tie dyeing’.  (And I don’t actually tie unless I am doing shibori as this creates work)

This post is not going to be a comprehensive tutorial on the technique, but I do want to show you the results I got.

Fold, scrunch, pleat or bundle your fabric or items to be dyed.  Place on a rack of some sort with a vessel underneath to catch melting dye.

ice dye process 1

If you want to, create a cuff either with your bucket/vessel or with foil.

ice dye process 2

Cover in ice.

ice dye process 3

Cover with dye.

ice dye process 4

Walk away and leave it alone until all the ice has melted and the dye distributed.  I left each batch over night and rinsed out the next morning.

Here are some of my results.

ice dye romper 3

blue rompers

ice dye romper 4

If you would like to learn a lot more about dyeing fabric, check out my very comprehensive Almost Alchemy online dyeing class.  We start with Ice Dyeing.  Details can be found here:—almost-alchemy—dyeing-for-the-traditional-and-art-quilter.html

I am part of the Fibre Art Connection – and a blog hop!

8 03 2016

Hello again.  Two days in a row.  I will blog more, I will blog more, I will blog more.  I promise.

Yesterday’s post was all about the past.  Today’s is about the immediate future.

Today is my turn to be part of the Fiber Art Connection Blog Hop.  Hooray.  I am so honoured to be part of this group.  It is proof that opportunity opens up more opportunity.  I would not be part of this group if I did not meet Desiree when filming QATV.  I would not have filmed QATV if I did not meet and get to know Susan Brubaker Knapp (and take her to the zoo to see Platypus).  I would not have meet Susan if I did not bring Judy Coates Perez to Australia and so it goes.  Life is full of opportunities and you must seize them.

So I really hope that you will want to be part of the Fiber Art Connection.  Who knows where it will take you….

Fiber-Art-Connection logo

Desiree’s vision is that this forum is a completely new type of online class, it’s taught by a group of amazing (if I do say so myself!) fibre artists and we want to build a community.  There are 10 weeks in the session, each week a different teacher runs a different class, with material presented across the week. Format for each class is determined by the teacher and will vary.  There’s a great FAQ here: that explains how it works. Your access to all the content never expires, but our intention is to provide 3 months of artist synergy and inspiration to the members of the class, so jump in and get started.

Registration CLOSES on March 15, you must be registered by then in order to be a student in Session 1!  Don’t miss out.

So, I am about half way through the blog hop.  If you have not looked at what the others are doing, it is not too late.  Just follow the links below and learn more about some amazing women artists.  How cool is it that I can share amazing women on International Women’s day!  I tell you.  My life is charmed.

Blog Hop Schedule:

The Blog Hop is about more than just meeting new artists.  We want you to find out about our course and if you can, join. We also would like your help in sharing the information and excitement.  So, we have put together an phenomenal bundle of goodies.  Each of us have put in a big pile of textile art materials which will support all the classes or any project.  This bundle is amazing and you will want to win it.  You can enter to win in a number of ways:

  1. Join the online community, registering for the classes – MUST be before 15th March or you will miss out;
  2. Leave a comment at the end of this blog post;
  3. Share this post or course details on your own social media and tell us (here works) that you have done it

You can comment or share up until midnight US time 14th March 2016.  To make it easier for you, I have added a comment question at the bottom of this post.  Here is a picture of the bundle. Don’t you want it?  I know I do.



If you want more information on what we are doing, go to the website:

So, now a bit about me.

1) What draws you to the fibre arts? Why do you work the way you do?

I LOVE the freedom and creativity of fibre art.  I love to use paint and dye to create a unique surface or background.  I love to draw inspiration from nature and reflect the world as I see it.  I love that I can use fabric and fibre to tell a story, make a statement, express myself.  I also love traditional and modern quilting.  I like the maths and precision in that, but I love the FREEDOM of textile art.  I started hand dyeing wool and silk fibre and fabrics such as silks and velvets (and felt and wool and anything else that does not move fast enough) because I wanted my colours, my way.  I wanted texture and I wanted it all at my finger tips NOW.  Creating layers and texture, that gets my blood flowing!

2) Tell us about your studio! Where in the world is it? Is it clean or messy? Is it hidden away or out in the open?

Firstly, I live in Canberra, Australia.  Most of you in the US will not have heard of it and I do intend to make you feel shame (in the nicest possible way) by pointing out that Canberra is our nation’s capital. Look it up.  It is a fabulous place to live.  By car, we are about 3 hours south west of Sydney and 8 hours north east of Melbourne. (Remember that Australia is an equivalent size to continental USA.)  See the A on the map below.  We are at the gateway to the Australian snow fields (truly, we do get some snow) and about two hours to glorious beaches.  Canberra is a great place to live and has been voted the most liveable city in the world by the OECD.  We actually don’t want people to know that as we like things here just the way they are.


My studio is my great disgrace.  We moved house 15 or so months ago and my studio space looked like this.

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It still does!  So I pretty much work everywhere in the house.  There are two rooms dedicated to my younger son which are out of bounds to me and our bedroom is seldomly used.  I have been known to rinse metreage of hessian/burlap in the bathroom, but mainly I keep that clear, but all other space and surfaces are fair game.

As I am running numerous online classes using dyes and paints, I have set up an outside work area to film these and keep the place clean.  I like it out there as I am surrounded by my roses and sunflowers.

3) What’s your favourite colour and why?

Oh my.  That is an impossible question to answer.  I love all the colours.  I dye my fabrics and fibres in over 40 colourways because I keep coming up with one I can’t live without.  I do like red for myself.  I wear a lot of reds; from pale pink to burgundy.  Some days I am very drawn to cool blue/green/violet colourways and am increasingly finding myself drawn to autumn tones and neutrals, but seriously there is no colour I can’t find a role for.

4) Tell us about the class you’re teaching in The Fiber Art Connection. What do you hope your students will learn from this?

I am teaching Riverbed.  I mentioned earlier that I draw a lot of inspiration from nature.  I love to capture life in art and I mean life in all of its non animal glory.  I grew up in far north Queensland, near the Northern Territory border.  (Mount Isa, Qld for those of you who want to Google it.)  This is very much our ‘bush’ or ‘outback’.  Not ‘country’ or farming, there is not enough water to grow much other than beef.  This is mining country – copper, lead, zinc and silver to be exact.  So, from the my earliest memories, a sense of country has shaped my identity.

So, Riverbed is a class on capturing your environment.  You can change the colours to suit your environment.  The sample, below, shows the colours I photographed in the Snowy Mountains whilst on holiday one time.


You can’t always get fabric the way you want it, so I show you how to make your own from silk and wool fibre.  I also show you how to make depth and three dimension with a range of embellishments.  I want you to experiment with things you may never have used and start to imagine the potential.  Step outside the comfort zone and you will be amazed at what you can do.

5) Where else can we find you on the internet?

I am all over the internet, lol.  Here are some:

  1. Website:
  2. Blog:  you are here.
  3. Facebook:
  4. or :

I am also running these online classes – details can be found on my website:

  • Almost Alchemy – Dyeing with Procion Dyes
  • Stunning Surfaces – A surface design masterclass and
  • Tremendous Textile Arts Techniques – an art quilt journey.

I am on Twitter and Instagram too, but not very good on either so join me on Facebook or this Blog.

Please leave a comment.  If you would like to, I would love to know what sort of environment you would like to capture in textile art.

Textile Art Retrospective – where did this all begin?

7 03 2016

I am in the process of finalising all the content for my first online comprehensive textile art class.  As I build the structure for the material, I find myself thinking back on the journey that bought me here.  Like many of you, I started sewing in my teens, did a lot of traditional hand embroidery and in the early 1990’s, morphed into patchwork when my babies came along.  In 2001, Unique Stitching was launched as a traditional patchwork business.  A number of issues brought me to the art quilt world.  First amongst them was a restlessness that made me want to try different things coupled with a strong sense of independence, demanding that I find my own style.  When I then could not find materials I wanted or if I found them the pricing was outrageous due to monopolies or restrained trade arrangements, I became determined to source and create my own products.

In 2005, I brought in Procion dyes and started dyeing ‘speciality’ fabrics: velvets, wools, silks and a world of different fibres.  At the end of 2005, I created my first sets of creative embroidery packs containing hand dyed velvet, silk jacquard, silk top, cocoons and thread.  I could have kissed the first person to buy one of my packs, such was my relief, at the Brisbane Craft and Quilt show where I launched that range.

In 2007, I launched the Art Quilt Collection (AQC).  This was the first time in Australia, and possibly the world, where there was a monthly mail out of textile art materials.  Each pack had a product, an explanation of that product and how to use it plus a simple project to create. Since that time, many have adapted my idea in different ways.  I had no idea what I had started, but it was clear that my future was definitely more on the art side of the page.  When I launched AQC, I hoped to get about 25 people to sign up.  In 2009, when we peaked at over 2500 participants and I was spending three weeks out of every four preparing the packs, I decided it was time to move on.

Since that time, we have expanded our ranges; I have taught around the world; been published in Quilting Arts Magazine; and been on QATV in the US.  It is a charmed life.  Now I want to spend a bit more time at home and the future for sharing what I know is increasingly teaching: face to face and online.

I hope that you can join me as this year will see lots of exciting online offerings, from me as well as a collective I am part of.  To find out more about my first Textile Art online class, go here:

Tomorrow I will talk about the Fiber Art Connection as it will be my day on our Blog Hop.

In the meantime, I want to share a few pieces of my first Art Quilt series.  This was part of my AQC work and mainly focused on manipulating and distressing fabric, with stress and heat.  This is now only one of many tools I use and each piece is a small, simple example, but it is nice to look back on.  This is not the full series, but gives you a sense.  It has an environmental theme.

AQC1 - Under the Watch of our Ancestors

Under the Watch of our Ancestors

AQC2 - Acid Rain

Acid Rain

AQC3 - Home in a Concrete Jungle

Home in a Concrete Jungle

AQC4 - Through Rose Coloured Glasses

Through Rose Coloured Glasses

AQC7 - Interconnectedness


AQC5 - Erosion

Erosion (the lighting on this is not very good, sorry)

AQC6 - Cellular Breakdown

Cellular Breakdown







8 fabulous tutors, one online community

31 01 2016

I am very excited to tell you about my next venture.  I am part of the Fiber Art Connection.  This is an online class, but better – an online community for you to join and share.  I am so honoured to be amongst this amazing group of artists.

This series of workshops will have each of us taking charge for a week and sharing ideas, techniques and some projects.  You will have access to lots of varied, but complementary skills for you to take on as they are released or when ever it suits you.  As an online series of classes, you can do these at your leisure when and where it suits you.  You can even do it in your pyjamas if you prefer.  Most importantly, once you are registered, you have access to the material forever.

Here are the line up of tutors in the order of their material being released and where you can see their work.

  1. Desiree Habicht –
  2. Candy Glendening –
  3. Liz Kettle –
  4. Roxane Leesa –
  5. Ruth Chandler –
  6. me!
  7. Deborah Babin – and
  8. Rayna Gillman –

There will be a blog hop, give aways and great workshops.  We plan on having some fun!  Why not join us.

Registration opens on February 15th and the first class kicks of March 15th.  Follow this link to read more:

triangles, my favourite of all the shapes

15 01 2016

I do love triangles.  I particularly love them when they come together to form different shapes and patterns.  I could seriously put triangles into everything.  Here is one of my favourite old quilts built on triangles and appliqué.


These next three are also amongst my favourites of my more traditional quilts.

Aurora cmyk

windows cmyk

Oriental cmyk

It is all in the placement and the use of colour.  There are dozens of different rulers that allow you to cut and sew triangles, but I am a bit old school and like to use actual maths.  I have a handout that you can download to help with the calculations and sewing instructions which you are welcome to use if it will help.

Using Triangles

Patterns for these quilts plus more are available at

Out and About – Eumundi Markets

30 12 2015

If you are a regular follower of mine, you probably know that I am having some time off for the Christmas break.  We are on the Sunshine Coast, Qld and have been having a lovely time.

Today, we headed out to Eumundi for the Markets there. Now, many would have suggested that this is a complete act of insanity due to the crowds expected on probably one of the busiest market days of the year. And it probably was, but I thought it worth the time and effort.

The traffic, both foot and road was horrendous.




The Eumundi markets began in 1979 and it would have only been a year or two after that I visited as a child. A lot has changed in that time, but a lot was as I remembered it. There is no doubt the size is different. When I was there last, probably in around 1985, the whole market was on the pavements of the Main Street. However the feel of the market and the general mix of stall holders felt the same today despite being enormously bigger than I last saw.

If you want to see the website for the “original” market, go here:

There now is both the Original Market and about four other market areas, all maintaining the theme of hand made or grown.  In some areas you can find mass produced goods, but these remain in the minority.  There is also a lot of wholistic health products, loads of massage and reflexology, more palm or tarot readings than I have ever seen in one place and a simply huge array of food; fresh home produce and cooked food from around the globe.












I want that Paella pan!


The Tibetan Momos were delicious.

My favourite traders were in one of the newer areas, the Eumundi Square.  Here are some photos of them.



All in all, a nice trip despite the crowds.