I have arrived in the wild winds at a beautiful old house close to town. Historic windows frame glimpses of modern art, and I see a painting of Frida Kahlo in a mirror’s reflection.
I struggle with my bounty of leaves, pots scarves and cans and carry also the feeling of meeting a gathering of unknown people, though I am comforted by the contact I have had with woman who as invited me to join her gathering this evening. I enter the hallway, greeted by the warming aromas of soups, mulled wine, ambient music and a chorus of voices. People glance kindly and curiously at me as I find a space is the bustling kitchen to rest my wares and seek out my host. I soon meet her, a woman with a strong and kind presence.
I am awash in a sea of smiles, names and connections until I meet the woman who this gathering is in honour of. For she will soon be marrying into this family. My host has invited me to hold a space to honour that passage, a bridal shower of sorts using eco-printing as a modality for sharing connections and marking change. Unaware that I have been invited to join them in this capacity this young woman takes the suprise and the gift in her stride. She already seems so at home in this family.
My clutch of curios eco-printing tools and flora that companion the making.
I invite this gorgeous cohort to gather around my host’s large wooden table. Before I left my studio that afternoon I hastily gathered a stack of old seashells that nestle snugly into one another, to bring a clutch of artefacts that connect me to soul of this process. I now draw these from my mess of curiosities on the floor and hold them in my hands. I take a moment to gather myself, connect with the moment that I find myself in and introduce myself and the process we are about to undertake together.
To embark on collaborative work, I find it grounding to land in the space the experiencing of those are present, so that we can orient ourselves to a shared intention in our dyeing. I pass the balance of shells to the woman on my left, inviting her to share what brings her here, and what is present for her.
It never ceases to marvel and humble me, the pathway of meaning making that people open themselves too. I hear stories of connections of women who found themselves adopted into family years ago, travellers from across the globe, finding a safe haven here as they wander Australia. I hear tales of women who were present at the birth of my host’s son, having watched the unfolding of his life and feeling they too have gained a daughter. Tears are shed as memories are recounted, thankfulness given for what is present and hopes for the future.
I open myself to the wonder of such dynamic connections, so deeply thankful to be warmed by these possibilities and honoured to have been a part of this marking of time.
I reflect to the group that the gift of eco-printing as a marker of time and connection is unfolding as we speak. Poems shared of the process of selecting leaves to contribute to the bundle reflect the timeless of a process that has began and will continue to unfold. I encourage attention to the joy of making, the beauty of laying leaves and intentions and the mystery of bundling this all away to transmute in the dye pot. Herbs are laid in honour of shared cooking connections, succulents from gardens and candlestick banksia symbolic of histories in Europe and Australia. I enjoy watching the delicate precision with which leaves are arranged and conversely how playfully petals are scattered.
I have also given each person a piece of card to craft an offering in image or text to pass onto the bride-to-be. These I hand bind using a Japanese book binding technique. We then layer the pages with flowers, herbs and metal, clamp together and immerse in the pot alongside the bundled scarf.
Later, after a generous dinner, we retrieve the bundles to be unwrapped. With eager eyes we watch as the bundle is cut open, and a layering of subtle colours and prints emerge. Hints of succulents reveal themselves, impressions of Banksia and strong patterns of metal. We notice how the tones compliment the colouring of the guest of honour. The prints are not particularly vibrant, and I wonder how people are feeling about the outcome. I choose to sit with the gift of the process and the knowings that attentiveness to the prints will reveal in time. Like marriage, it invites attention to an array of feelings and responses and an attitude of “staying with” to support the deepening of connection.
I am curious to see the voices revealed by the book, as are others. With a slow and reverent attentiveness, the bride-to-be un-clamps the bundle. As she turns each page and peels back botanical matter to reveal blessings, reflections, drawings and poems, “ohhs and ahhs” are sighed as prints that did not express themselves on the cloth are evident in the book. Some leaves easily peel away, others are more sticky. These she resolves to leave in place. Thanks are expressed for the mindful way she has engaged with the book, offering time for us to also see what has emerged on each page.
In a little while, I quietly slip away, leaving the party to their merriment and the open fire outside that awaits them. I leave with a complex array of feelings; joy for their happiness, hope for possibilities and a niggling sadness that my own family is very much a work in progress.
I remember that eco-printing invites me to attend to what is real and present. It offers not perfection, but gentle companioning through transitions. It gives voice to complexity- the subtle prints and the strong sit alongside one another. This is why I cherish the process and am ever thankful for the opportunity to share it with others, as I was invited to do this evening.
“Thankyou Jacqui, for a wonderful afternoon that was treasured by all. I know the precious women in my life were overwhelmed by the experience and grateful for the chance to mark such a special life transition in this memorable and unique way. Your energy, guidance and presence were integral to the success of the event. Heartfelt thanks.”