Well-washed recycled cotton fabric, soaked in sea water, is my first experimental material.
I wrap pieces around rusty areas on Edna’s bow. To include a connection between place, Ava Tapu, and material, I add some plant material growing here, such as Casuarina needles and the nicely-shaped leaves of a weed that looks similar to dandelions. These are wrapped up in the wet fabric and the ‘sausage’ wound around the rusty metal.
When I return the next day to check, nothing much has happened. Ironically, the best rust stain (left) has appeared on the banner (above) that I have attached to alert possible viewers to the purpose of these wrappings. I pour sea water over the wrapped areas and cover them with cling film to keep the moisture in while the sunshine heats the wrapping. These are left for a couple of days. Once I can see the first rust stains, I unwind the fabrics and take the bundles home with the plant material still inside.
Atiu women use Ava Tapu beach to prepare kiriau, Lemon Hibiscus (Au – Hibiscus tiliacea) bark fibres for their dancing skirts. Long stems of young Au trees are shaved; the wooden cores with the inner bark still attached are then bundled and submerged in the sea. Heavy coral rocks serve as a weight to keep them there for a week so that the fibres can ret. Retting is a microbial process that aids in separating the bast fibers from the wooden core by breaking the chemical bonds that hold the stem together. If the sea has not stolen the bundles, the loosened bark is bleached a beautiful white. Women take the fibres home and usually leave the sticks on the beach. They have been useful for many of my projects…
At home, pre-soaked Eucalyptus bark has given me a reddish brown dye. Together with some rust flakes collected from Edna and a dash of vinegar that I add to the dye pot, I hope it will result in a black ink.
I wind the rust-treated fabric-leaf bundle around a lemon hibiscus stick and simmer it in that concoction for an hour. As expected, the bundle has turned black (or charcoal rather…) due to chemical reaction of tannic acid in the Eucalyptus dye with the iron oxide.
I know that opening the bundle the next day is early, as the plants have not had much chance to deposit their colour magic on to the fabrics. But with this first bundle I can’t wait. The result is promising. The casuarina needles have printed visible traces, the dandelion has left a resist print.