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A Day Off

Hope you get a chance to put your feet up and enjoy some sunshine today.

See you all tomorrow! ♥

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The Fabric of Society

Last year, when I was tidying up, I came across a bolt of grey wool gabardine that I no longer needed.

When I mentioned it to my friend Amanda, she commented that her local quilting group could use it for making waggas. And when I enquired what a “wagga” was, the darling woman sent me photos of some pages from The Fabric of Society, Dr Annette Gero’s brilliant book about Australian quilt history. I was hooked. I cheerfully sent the bolt of wool up to Amanda in rural NSW.

Before we go any further, I should point out that I am not a quilter. I have a surprising number of friends who are amazing quilters, but I know my limitations. Any hobby that gives me an excuse to hoard small scraps of fabric must be avoided at all costs.

But I am a mender and I do love all things vintage, partly for the aesthetic, but mostly for the wonderful stories an old piece will have to tell. So when I was at the Sewing Basket recently, I bought three very torn and battered old quilts to see if I could mend them. I’ll do a separate post about them – I’m still trying to take decent photos. But here’s a sneak peak…

Working on the quilts reminded me of the book Amanda had mentioned, and I thought it might be an interesting read. It turned out to be a great deal more than that!

It wasn’t an easy book to find – being published a decade ago meant that most bookstores no longer stock it. I finally tracked down a copy from Dr Gero herself…and ended up spending a glorious hour showing her my old quilts and talking excitedly about all things textile related. Of course, I also purchased a signed copy of The Fabric of Society from her, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I’m enjoying it.

As a quilt historian, Annette has researched the provenance and backstories of the quilts she showcases, and her writing style brings their stories to life. The book provides a unique insight into Australian history and a glimpse of the everyday lives of men and women from the early 1800s to 1960. Annette has kindly given me permission to share a few pages with you.

This quilt was made by convict women en route from England to Australia in 1841. This was a common practice, but the Rajah Quilt – named after the ship transporting the women who created it – is the only one of its kind to have been uncovered to date…

Mary Chubb Tolman’s humungous hexagon quilt was made sometime prior to 1857. It boasts 6,063 hexagons and an estimated 750,000 hand stitches. I’m including the story that accompanies the quilt so you can get some sense of how the book is laid out.

I laughed out loud at the last line – the patterns which accompany the book include one for this quilt, but anyone who is willing to undertake a project of that magnitude now (or even back then) has my utmost respect…

The quirky quilts of Mary Jane Hannaford are featured and they’re just too fabulous for words! One of Australia’s most famous quiltmakers, she didn’t start quilting until she was in her 80s (!) and all of her works are delightfully whimsical and deeply patriotic…

And then…there is an entire chapter on waggas!

Waggas are the quintessential Australian quilt. They appear in the stories of Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson (1890s), and the term was originally used to describe crudely sewn together sacks (or other found fabrics) which were used as rough blankets. There is a country town in our state called Wagga Wagga (it’s a Wiradjuri phrase meaning “the place of many crows”). The “wagga” name for these blankets is thought to have come from the Wagga Lily Flour sacks which were used to make some of the very early ones.

I adore everything about them – the frugality, the make-do spirit, the uniqueness of every single one. I love that they were almost always made from upcycled fabric and clothing, and that they were meant to be true workhorses, designed to keep folks warm during hard times. I love that the ones which survived did so as family treasures – being so coarsely assembled and heavily used meant they didn’t have any value as objet d’arts. However, like many items of this ilk, they carried with them the memories and stories of hard times and sacrifices made by earlier generations.

This one made by Joan Williamson in the late 1940s was filled with old clothes. The clothing had been well darned, and when it had passed the point of no return, it had been turned into quilt padding. Many waggas were created using re-purposed materials at a time when resources were seen as too precious to discard. Our planet would be so much healthier if we all viewed clothing that way today, because in reality, our resources are still too precious to discard, regardless of what they cost to buy…

If you’re a quilter, the book comes with paper patterns for 29 of the vintage quilts in the book…

. . . . .

The Fabric of Society is an expensive book, but at the same time, it’s also excellent value for money.

It’s weighty, the photography is stunning, and the stories are joyous and fascinating. Published by fine art specialists The Beagle Press, the pages are thick and glossy, the quilt photos appear to have been taken under natural light (my old iPhone didn’t do them justice), and the book is bound in such a way that it sits flat when open, so you can read it while nursing a cup of tea (a very important consideration).

At a time when we’re all trying to stay at home as much as possible, it was a no-brainer for me to spend the dollars I’d been saving by not eating out on something that will provide hours of enjoyment and distraction.

As always, this isn’t an ad – I don’t have any affiliation with Annette, but she’s incredibly kind, extremely knowledgeable, and huge fun to talk to. At one point in our conversation, she mentioned that she has trouble walking away from vintage doilies at markets. “Someone put so much work into them and they’re selling them for just a few cents each! I have to buy them…otherwise all that hard work isn’t getting the respect it deserves”.

I told this story to Pete. My husband is very used to me coming home with handcrafted items I’ve “rescued”, citing the exact same reasoning.

“I think I’ve found my spirit guide”, I told him. “You are not allowed to go shopping together”, he replied.

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of The Fabric of Society, please email Dr Annette Gero directly via her website. ♥

. . . . .

Folks, Annette just asked me to let you know that she is selling her latest book Wartime Quilts for $89 (which is 30% off RRP). She will also pay the postage to anywhere in Australia. You can read all about it here – it’s a spectacular book and filled with stunning quilts, many made by soldiers, some containing up to 9000 pieces of wool. (Umm. I might have come home with a copy of this one too. Don’t tell Pete.) Please email her directly for more info.

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We’ve just spent three weeks with our friends in San Francisco! And as it was our third visit, Pete and I skipped the usual touristy sights and opted instead to explore the amazing vintage stores and markets during our visit.

Of course, “vintage” meant a visit to Haight-Ashbury…

I keep trying, but Pete’s never let me buy a WWII flight helmet from Held Over Vintage…

But I did score my find of the trip from Decades of Fashion! This 1960’s patchwork suede poncho was irresistible…

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We visited Stanford University in Palo Alto where my niece is studying – it’s full of magnificent old buildings including this ornately painted church…

…and some of the best icecream I’ve ever eaten, made from coconut cream!

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I had a delicious lobster roll at Treasurefest – a monthly market held on Treasure Island, the midway point on the Bay Bridge between Oakland and San Francisco…

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No trip to San Francisco is complete without a visit to Paxton Gate! This completely bonkers store continues to carry everything from taxidermy giraffe heads to rare fossils to quirky souvenirs. Insect chocolate or a dessicated pufferfish, anyone?

I was very taken with this knitted dissected pig but didn’t buy it…

. . . . .

On our second weekend, we bravely explored the Alameda Antiques Faire. Sprawled out on the military runway formerly used by Mythbusters, it boasted over 800 stalls, no shade and no running water. We bought very little, but it was a huge adventure…

. . . . .

We arrived the week before Halloween, which led to a mad scramble for costumes. The nice thing about the celebration in the US is that there’s no requirement for it to be gruesome or spooky – it’s really just an excuse for fancy dress. I found a Jack Skellington onesie in the thrift store (op shop) for Pete, and a mad hatter’s hat and bowtie for me – each piece only cost $1. My armadillo shirt cost a bit more, but not much. And in case you’re old like me and can’t figure it out, my friend Dan with the green hair is dressed as Billie Eilish…

It was difficult though to top the Ghostbuster’s outfit she’d made (and yes, that IS Bob Ross in the background)…

I’d toyed with the idea of a unicorn head, but decided that $30 was too much to spend on an outfit that I couldn’t bring home…

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SF always has the most amazing street art, none more glorious than the Women’s Building in the Mission District…

We also wandered through the Clarion Alley Mural Project off Valencia Street…

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We ate a ridiculous amount of excellent Mexican food…

…and spent time baking in Dan’s fabulous kitchen…

Lovely Obi Dog Kenobi kept us company for three weeks – I resisted feeding him for the first two days but was baking him his own meatballs by the time we left…

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Let me conclude with a funny story – we had surplus baggage allowance on the way home and I had this brilliant idea to bring kosher salt back with us. It’s often specified in recipes for smoked meats, but you can’t buy it easily in Sydney. And yes, I KNOW I have a lot of salt, but it’s slightly different and the “experts” all maintain that it clings differently to the meat yada yada. So I picked up a few boxes at Safeway for under $3 each. These didn’t fit into the suitcases, so we packed them into a separate box.

When I picked the box up from the luggage carousel at Sydney airport…dodgy looking white crystals trickled out in a steady stream from the corner of the box…

Thankfully, we declared it and border patrol let us through. We laughed the whole way home – it was an hilarious ending to a truly wonderful holiday! ♥

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Happy Moments in Singapore

One final post on our Singapore trip, but this one’s a doozy, so you might want to grab a cup of tea and pull up a chair. It was a busy, family-filled two weeks with too many happy moments to recount, so let me just share some highlights with you.

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I spent a joyous afternoon exploring Chinatown, Arab Street, Haji Lane and Little India on foot. I started at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum in Chinatown…

I stopped to listen to the call to prayers at Masjid Sultan in Muscat Street.This national monument was built in 1824…

The Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple (Hindu) was hard to photograph against the bright sky, but it was wonderful in person. I walked past it in Little India…

Arab Street and Haji Lane run parallel to each other, offering amazing textiles and ceramics, as well as fabulous street art…

On Big Boy’s recommendation, I had lunch at the legendary Zam Zam restaurant on North Bridge Road, where this enormous beef murtabak and teh tarik set me back a tiny $6.20…

Little India was less touristy than Arab Street, selling essential food supplies…

…and wonderful handicrafts like these dabu ink blocks. The streets were filled with sari shops, grocers, eateries and gold merchants…

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The following day, my lovely new niece Rachel (we were in Singapore to attend her wedding to our nephew Nick), took me to the National Gallery of Singapore.

We had fun posing in front of Anish Kapoor’s mirror creation…

Tatsuo Miyajima’s Mega Death is always stunning, but it was particularly interesting to see it installed in a different space to the MCA

My favourite work of the day was Passages and Bridges (2018) by Filipino artist Mark Justiniani. It was structured as a perspex bridge that the viewer walked on, over a seemingly bottomless abyss filled with books and other memorabilia.

I loved it so much that Rach had to drag me away. The photos below were taken looking straight down as I walked over the bridge…

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Sentosa Island in Singapore has one of the world’s largest aquariums! It can get very crowded, but if you pick your time carefully (go early), there’s a great deal to see and do.

If for no other reason, go to see the amazing Open Ocean habitat, which measures 36 metres wide by 8.3 metres tall. It’s hard to comprehend just how large that is, so I took these videos to show you. We’re talking full size manta rays and sharks…

 

 

 

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Being in the tropics meant that fascinating wildlife was everywhere. We saw tortoises and monkeys and hornbills and sea eagles and colourful, noisy parrots. And peacocks, just wandering about…

While on Sentosa Island, we visited a butterfly park – Pete found it a bit underwhelming, but Small Man and I loved watching these Rice Paper Butterflies emerging and drying off their wings before their maiden flights…

The park also had scarlet macaws and tortoises…

And how often do you get to pat a green land iguana? (Yes, I really did pat him)

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I have, of course, left the best for last. Food! Singaporeans seem to live for food! Coupled with the country’s diverse cultural and religious influences, the result is an astonishing array of cuisines at almost every price point.

Having said that…are you sitting down?

Singapore is reputed to have the best Japanese food outside of Japan. My sister and brother-in-law very kindly took us to Kuriya Dining for the finest sushi I’ve ever eaten…

Then this came out. And I tried it. It’s cod sperm. Raw cod sperm. Well, technically, the whole male reproductive tract.

It’s a rare delicacy and I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to taste it…just once. And in case you’re curious, it has a texture similar to a raw oyster…

Then we had monkfish liver, which was actually very good…

The following day, we went to Outram Park Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh (which is no longer in Outram Park) to try their traditional pork rib soup. Proper, delicious hawker fare, eaten in an open air setting, served family style for sharing…

That evening, we went out for a feast!

Possibly the best thing I ate in Singapore (big call, I know) was the dry prawn noodle (har mee) served from a stall at the Zion Riverside Food Centre. It’s so good that it’s been awarded Michelin Bib Gourmand status. This is my niece Sweet Pea and her dad’s favourite – they always order the dry version, which comes with separate chilli noodles and large prawns in the most flavourful broth imaginable…

Finally (not really finally, as there was so much more to tell, but I’m exercising restraint), we ate some amazing Teochew food during our visit. My brother-in-law CC was appalled that I’d never been to a Teochew restaurant before (as it’s our native province), so he took us to one on our second night there.

Suckling pig is a regional specialty…

I can still remember my grandmother making ngoh hiang – minced pork and prawn wrapped in bean curd skin and deep fried…

That really is just a small sample of our two weeks of manic eating – we also had an amazing Peranakan meal, oodles of awesome street food and delicious home cooking, but I was too slow to take photos. It was hard to hold back the eaters long enough to frame a shot!

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My niece Baby Girl has been completely obsessed with my fudge brownies for years now, so I taught her how to make them. And yep, she’s wearing one of my rescued denim aprons

She nailed the brownies on her first attempt!

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This trip to Singapore was our first overseas holiday since the start of our waste reduction plan, and I was curious to see if we could stick to our goals while travelling.

It actually proved to be quite easy. As you can see from the photos above, the low cost of labour means that, in some areas, Singapore is much better at waste minimisation than we are – all the food courts and hawker centres serve their dishes on melamine crockery and provide non-disposable cutlery. Eaters bus their dirty plates to a central collection spot and stack them on either Halal and non-Halal racks.

In terms of shopping, we avoided the large malls and instead spent time exploring interesting and unique handicrafts. I picked up these hand painted teaspoons and pendant from a small Peranakan store on Bussorah Lane, and was so happy when owner Robert packaged everything in reused fruit wrap for me. The pendant is made from a fragment of an old Chinese vase…

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was thrilled to find these Iranian plates at 64 Arab Street. Hand beaten, hand painted copper, and very affordable…

I travelled to Singapore with my Keep Cup and cloth napkins, the latter making my sister laugh on several occasions.

She thought it was hilarious when I insisted that stall holders put items directly on to my napkin rather than into a takeaway box – after all, I planned to eat them straight away! I washed our napkins each night in our bathroom sink, and they were dry and ready to go the next morning. No ironing needed…

Lastly, I managed to attend all three weddings last year wearing as much eco-friendly fashion as possible. For Nick and Rachel’s, I wore my recycled sari jacket from Cash Palace Emporium, my Chinese vase pendant and the most gorgeous earrings, which I bought from Fold Formations at a Sydney market before I left.

Kirsty Gorman makes her jewellery entirely from reclaimed materials – even the hooks are recycled sterling silver. The fuschias were carefully crafted from rescued bathroom copper, anodized to create different hues and then trimmed, shaped and assembled. Best of all, they tinkle when I shake my head…

The earrings were labour intensive and therefore expensive, but I’ve worn them half a dozen times since I bought them in December. And I think it’s important that we support young artists who work so hard at being sustainable…

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What a long post – if you’ve made it all the way to the end, thank you! It was a lovely, fun-filled holiday and a wonderful way to end 2018! ♥

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My beloved niece Sweet Pea flew back early from London to Singapore, just to spend a couple of extra days with me. Later that week, still recovering from jetlag, the darling girl took me to Gardens by the Bay, a magnificent, sprawling green space filled with carefully curated horticulture and contemporary art…

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We began our explore on the 22 metre high OCBC Skyway in the Supertree Grove. No stairs – except for emergencies – just a comfortable lift ride up to the canopy and glorious views over Singapore…

I’m always intrigued by the colours of a country – whereas I think of Australia in terms of bright sunlight and red soils and distinctive blue skies and seas, Singapore is amazing shades of lush greens and brilliant orchid pinks…

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The outdoor spaces were filled with interesting trees and plants – I found these twirly cactuses particularly fascinating…

And cannonball trees! Walk underneath with caution…

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When the heat and humidity got too much, we escaped into the air-conditioned Cloud Forest. A multi-storey waterfall greeted us at the entrance – we quickly scooted past the scores of tourists taking selfies…

 

The exhibit is huge (0.8 ha) and filled with tropical highland plants normally found at 2000 metres above sea level. It was such a joy to see specimens that I’d never have the chance to otherwise, like these stunning Andean orchids…

An entire level of the Cloud Forest is dedicated to carnivorous plants…I squealed with excitement when I saw pitcher plants…

Venus fly traps, magnified under glass…

These metre-long leaves caught my attention…they have deep curved ridges to allow water to run off them…

Wonderful artworks are discreetly and appropriately placed throughout the exhibits…

As we were leaving the Cloud Forest, having descended from the top of the 35 metre mountain to the very bottom, we passed this beautiful secret vista beneath the waterfall…

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Our next stop was the Flower Dome. As you’d expect, it was also filled with magnificent flowers…

…and quirky art…

…but what I really wanted to see were the trees. Like this Australian Baobab…

The Argentinian Palo Borracho (Bottle Tree, also known as the Drunken Tree) belongs to the cotton family…

Elephant’s Foot plant – aptly named, I think…

And possibly my favourite plant in the Flower Dome, this South African Paddle Plant…

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After a morning of walking, Sweet Pea and I stopped at Satay by the Bay, a food court  located within the Gardens. It was full of stalls offering very affordable local fare, and I was chuffed to find my favourite popiah ($3) and teh tarik ($1.50) there. An excellent end to a truly excellent morning…

Thank you, darling Sweet Pea, for spending so much time with me! I love you to the moon and back! And if you’re a plant lover and find yourself with a little spare time in Singapore, then I highly recommend Gardens by the Bay. Try to go in the morning – most Singaporeans are night owls, so you’ll have a better chance of avoiding the crowds if you go early!

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