Waysides: Walking

A sense of place results gradually and unconsciously
from inhabiting a landscape over time,
becoming familiar with its physical properties,
accruing history within its confines.

Kent Rydon | Mapping the invisible landscape

In early 2015 I began a collaboration with Rebecca in Australia. On opposite sides of the globe, in opposite seasons, we would both gather wild dye plants as we walked about our neighbourhoods and 'map' our home grounds in local colour. I wrote, here on the blog, about 'thinking across boundaries", "parallel practice", and "reciprocal illumination" ... and the 'Waysides' project was born. Unexpectedly we have travelled quite different roads pursuing it.

The summer was a difficult one for me and mine, the kind that presses too heavily upon you and stretches you too thin. I've been overwhelmingly short on time, desperately short of energy*, and nursing injuries incompatible with hand making much of anything ... my dye pots have rarely seen the light of day and the 'Waysides' yarn I did dye has yet to meet my knitting needles. But I've wandered the paths of my nominal square mile - in Welsh, y filltir sgwar, a phrase that describes the circumscribed stamping grounds of childhood - seeking dyestuffs, and I've returned with an altered sense of what that 'square mile' is. What began as a search for hidden hues has become a peripatetic investigation of belonging (on which more sometime soon).

As a child I ran about and explored with a sense of entitlement. If this was my place then the daisies, and the conkers, and the sticklebacks I caught and carried about in jam jars of stream water were mine too, at least until I put them back from whence they'd come. As an adult I walk attentively, guided by an embodied knowing I did not have back then (or was entirely unaware of), finding my way to this plant or that almost instinctively ... I must read clues along the way but I can only guess at what they are ... the ground feels different, even sounds different under my feet, in places where it's often wet, or always shady, or mostly sheltered from the wind.

I walk as a dog walker, alert to the possibility of barbed wire in the undergrowth, bogs, and steep drops (the whippets run too fast to stop quickly). I have walked as a parent and will walk as a grandparent, slowly, stopping often, with eyes on the ground for trip hazards and treasures. I walk as a photographer, seeing as the camera sees, even when my camera's at home. And I walk as a wild dyer, one who forages, noting for future reference the fallen birch tree with its bark peeling away, the unexpected patch of Lady's bedstraw, the oak galls I will return for with a taller companion in tow.

Walking deliberately for Waysides however, setting out purposefully to collect enough of this or that to dye a sample skein, I have come to see how often I unnecessarily deprive the invertebrates and birds of a little extra lunch, how easy it is to slightly alter nature's balance, how close to the presumed entitlement of childhood I still in fact am. I have plenty of glorious undyed yarn in every shade of black and grey and brown and cream, why colour it?

Almost since the beginning of our collaboration, fuelled perhaps by thoughtful conversations with Rebecca and our shared understanding that we would be openminded about outcomes, I've been pondering other ways in which walking and mapping the colours of a place can be combined. Bundle dyeing cloth with leaves and petals can be done with less plant material than any of the techniques I've employed thus far on yarn. And just as different chemical mordants will coax a variety of colours from dye stuffs, applying filters to the digital photographs I've taken as I've walked will extract and extend the visual information those images hold. As you can see above, I've made a start on experimenting with the latter, although the process needs considerable refinement. Digital art ... work in progress ... and of a kind more dependent on the feet than the hands!

Read Rebecca's companion post to this one. Or read my previous Waysides posts, which do include pics of dyed yarn, I promise.

* If you're thinking, 'Didn't her doctor tell her to take the summer off?', she did, but things didn't quite work out that way.

Each place is its own place, forever (eventually) wild.
Gary Snyder | Practice of the Wild


The Colour Collaborative: Market

I've struggled with this one. Sure, markets can be colourful places, but so can tips (or household recycling centres, for those who speak UK local council-ese), and much of what is bought in the former finds it way to the latter, sooner or later. Markets, by definition, involve trade, which generally means sales and purchases*, and most of us buy way too much stuff. We're even buying too much food ... every year UK householders throw away 7 million tons of it, and half of that they could have eaten. The more I thought about it the more it seemed that the only colour that really matters in the context of markets is green. And what a can of worms that opens, not least because this could rapidly become a boringly worthy offering.

Arguably the greenest way to shop is not to shop at all, and as reducing our consumer footprint** is high on the agenda here, and there really wasn't much we needed this week, no markets were visited in the making of this blog post. But I did pick up sunflowers for pennies at a farm gate stall, forage cooking apples from a hedgerow tree across the way, and trade some yarn I'd dyed with marigolds from my garden for a share in a friend's tomato glut (giving me an excuse to use the lovely Edward Bawden linocut, Autumn - the link is to a V&A article about how, unusually, it was printed dark to light. For gorgeous photographic images of gloriously colourful fruit and veg just visit my fellow collaborators.)

Markets gather people together, they were the first one-stop-shop, some evolved into malls (boo!), some support local producers (hurrah!), few don't involve money. But there are other kinds of exchange, other ways to connect with the people who have spare stuff you want or want stuff you have spare. In a world where it sometimes seems that almost everyone is trying to sell us something, small acts of resistance like sharing and swapping and finding food for free can colour our lives, and I don't just mean green.

* Unless it's a barter market. Have you heard of The Mercado de Trueque?

** Want to know your water footprint, the water footprint of a product you plan to buy, or your slavery footprint ... we have the technology.

Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below ...

CJ at Above the River

Sandra at Cherry Heart

Sarah at Mitenska

Gillian at Tales from a Happy House

Jennifer at Thistlebear

What is The Colour Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.


Reevaluating Instagram, and a readalong

Instagram, I think I get it now.

It began with this post from Sara at Me & Orla. Revisiting the square crop helped. And then some great advice from Elise and Scott of Hey Sweetpea sealed the deal. I've challenged myself to share a photo most days, first up, a square version of the image above.

But I do feel a bit like the new kid at school. Okay, I've popped into Instagram before, but I've never hung around long enough to get a feel for the place. How do you find your tribe? And the whole etiquette thing ... what if I don't want to follow back? And phone camera or DSLR, does anyone still care? And why is almost everything shot on grainy old wood? Help me out here people, any tips?

I'll come clean, life changes offline have got me thinking about making changes online, shaking things up a bit ... not too much, don't worry, but enough to bounce me out of the rut I'm in.

Unchanged is the Girl in a Green Gown readalong, the page for which was published yesterday as promised. My apologies for being so tardy with the link. Happy reading!

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