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Annai Silk Botanic Scarves

Home > Brisbane > Fashion | Craft
by Marina Marangos (subscribe)
Published April 8th 2017
Take a leaf out of her book
I met Vicki at an event which celebrated International Women's Day. She had a stall displaying some of her fine silk and woollen scarves. I took one look at them and was immediately drawn to them. Gentle colours, natural and pure fabrics and delightful designs. I got in touch as I was eager to find out more. This is my interview with Vicki.

Annai Silk Scarf
Annai Silk Scarf

I love a good story so would appreciate you telling me a little about where you were born and raised.

I grew up in Melbourne in the 60's and 70's, in the Warrandyte area which is situated on the Yarra River. Lots of Eucalypt forests and freedom to wander and explore. When I was mid teenage my family had a sea change move to coastal Queensland; from bush to beach.

Annai Silk Scarf
Annai Silk Scarf

Did your family, the place you were born and brought up have an impact on your thoughts, expectations and values?

Yes, I think all of these affected me. Being surrounded by natural bushland was really positive for me as a child. This location, my mum's appreciation of natural beauty, and my dad's interest in gardening all influenced the way I see the world. Despite living away from this area for so long, it still feels like home when I visit.

My grandparents lived close to the city and even though they were on a suburban block they lived quite a self-sufficient lifestyle. My Gran sewed clothing, the garden was overflowing with fruit trees and vegetables, items were reused, mended, upcycled, composted. I think these helped shape a respect for our natural world and our environment. Connection to the earth through nature and nurture!

Annai silk bundle ready to heat
Annai silk bundle ready to heat

Annai silk bundle ready to open
Annai silk bundle ready to open

You have successfully married two of my favourite things - creativity and nature. Please tell me what started you off on this journey? Who or what were your mentors or persons you collaborated with? Why Annai Silk - does the name meaning anything and where do you get your silk or materials from?

I've always been interested or involved in arts and crafts in some form, photography was my first creative pursuit. I was influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French photographer well known for his ability to capture 'the decisive moment', a term he coined. He was patient and had a great attention to framing and composition which inspires my own work.

My mum was definitely my biggest influence, mostly by her own example. She dabbled in many areas of art and craft, especially natural textiles. She spun her own wool, knitted, felted hats and dyed textiles with Eucalyptus. She taught me felting and nuno-felting; combining silk and wool. This is a beautiful technique developed by two textile artists in New South Wales , Polly Stirling and Sachiko Kotaka, in 1994. ('Nuno' is the Japanese word for cloth). I first heard about eco-printing through my mum too. It's a method of creating a contact print with eucalyptus leaves on fabric, a technique developed around 1998 by India Flint, a textile artist in South Australia. These women have all influenced my practice.

Late in 2013 mum and I began working together, combining Mum's extensive knowledge of natural dyeing with the eco-printing, and we loved it straight away. It was very exciting unrolling a new fabric bundle, like opening a present where you have an idea what might be inside but there's always an air of mystery and surprise around the event!

During this time my mum became unwell and was diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Since then I've continued to explore natural dyeing and printing using Australian flora, trying new ideas and combinations, working in a sustainable and environmentally conscious manner with materials recycled or composted, and plastics avoided.
I purchase silk from a Melbourne based company, unfortunately there's no Australian produced silk available. I'm yet to run out of wool – Mum had a huge stash of merino wool collected over the years.

Anais was a favourite name of ours, for different reasons. It seemed appropriate to incorporate into the business name.

How long have you been doing this?

I began experimenting with eucalypts and dyeing fabric in the latter part of 2013, and this has progressed into creating the silk scarves and nuno-felt wraps, and some smaller sidelines.

Can you tell me a little about the process of creating your beautiful scarves?

Patience and curiosity are central to my process. It begins with the collection of leaves, mainly windfall leaves gathered when walking. I do have some favourite local gum trees I visit. After storms, there's always fresh leaves scattered. Older leaves I usually soak in water first to make them supple again, then lay them out on damp silk or wool.

This fabric is rolled around a stick and tied tightly as a bundle which is then heated in a large pot. I use two different methods to heat the bundle; immersion - where the fabric is warmed in tannin rich water (gum leaves, bark and gumnuts and maybe some rusty nails from the shed), or steamed. The heat allows the natural dyes from the leaves to transfer onto the silk/wool as a contact print, or ecoprint. I also use natural dyes made from avocado skins and seeds, various local flora, onion skins, nuts and mulberries. After opening the dye bundles, I then get to photograph the scarves as well!

Unrolling a dye bundle
Unrolling a dye bundle

Was it a voyage of discovery ? Did you get it wrong ? What were the pitfalls if any ?

Some of the leaf detail
Some of the leaf detail

Oh absolutely, and it still is. The botanic dye is affected by many variables. The pH of the water, the age of the leaf, how long the leaf has lain on the ground, the season, which side of the tree it grew on and therefore how much sunlight it received. I can get quite different results from the same tree at different times of the year. The leaves I collected last month will not have the same dye availability as the ones I collected yesterday after 10 inches of rain.

I've had many surprising results, both slightly disappointing (momentarily) and joyous. I don't think there is a 'wrong' result, it's all learning, experimenting, finding what technique works for you.
Hmmm.. pitfalls… probably it's falsely assuming that dyes will be permanent. No dye is permanent, and native flora chronicled on textiles is not eternal. I mostly use Eucalypt leaves as they offer the most reliable and long lasting natural dyes.

How do people respond to your work?

Most people are really interested in the process, they're surprised that the leaf itself gives the dye, pleased that it is a natural non-toxic process, and they especially like the range of colours and simple beauty of the scarves.

What does it mean to you?

I love that I can work from home, spend time in nature, create unique wearable art, and be surprised regularly by the results.

Including my family and friends in this home based business has been a wonderful extension; discussing ideas around the dinner table, and allowing me to honour the essence of a lifestyle my parents and grandparents nurtured.

I look forward to deepening my understanding of natural dyeing and integrating new learning and textiles. Working with natural dyes is a lovely combination of unpredictability, (im)perfection and daily inspiration. For me, there's a fair amount of emotion and shared experience woven through this process. These memories form an important core of knowledge and grounding.

Have you got some other ideas you can share with us?
I have many ideas to explore, and that's the lovely thing… there is no end to creativity. I'm interested in exploring the webs woven through our lives, looking at the interconnectedness of life, and the invisible threads that hold us together.

Where can people find you?
I have a website:
Instagram: annaisilk
Facebook: Annai Silk

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