Sunday, July 26, 2009


There is something about buttons.

This is one of my most treasured possessions - it is one of those litle "dolly jars" that you used to be able to buy from Darrell Lea, filled with tiny boiled sweets. Now it is filled with tiny glass buttons. I bought them from an antique store a few years back, although they are not necessarily really old. Every now and then, I spill them out and run my fingers through them, and admire their delicacy, their smoothness and their glowing transparency.

But that is just the start of my love affair with buttons.

Over the years I seem to have acquired a few - well, a few thousand. In fact they are everywhere, in jars, pretty glass containers, plastic bags, tins, and several under mats, furniture and in hard-to-reach corners, from times I have spilled them and couldn't find them to retrieve them.I do not remember many occasions when I have actually bought any new buttons. Over the years, I seem to have been given a lot, and have 'rescued' a number from OP Shops. Sometimes I have even been given treasured handed down button jars from people who had no one to pass them on to. I have really valued those.

Most of us remember playing with buttons as children. My mother's button box was a real treasure trove for me as a child. As well as buttons, it contained things like the rubber button things from suspenders, buckles, and best of all, some old Cigarette silks.

This is a basket of very big buttons I give William to play with. I am told that in the old days, these big buttons were greatly valued. My aunt told me that when you had a new winter coat made, you took the buttons off the old coat and used them on the new one. Actually William will probably grow up to associate his granny with buttons. He is always handing me buttons he has found on the floor, where I have let them slip and roll.These are some of my favourites - Mother of Pearl buttons, both old and new. The old ones are getting harder to find now, but the abalone ones that have been used a lot in the last few years are pretty too.

I make good use of the M.O.P. (Mother of Pearl) ones, but the buttons I probably use the most are metal ones. I have a couple of biscuit tins of those. They are great for adding a bit of glitz to things. Strangely enough, they are also becoming increasingly hard to find. Many of them are just plastic with a metallic coating nowadays.

So what do I use these buttons for? Well, not to button up clothes I have made, that's for sure. I am not into making buttonholes! But they make wonderful decoration on arts and crafts.

But just in case you think I never use them for their intended purpose, I will show you my jar of trouser buttons, which I think I originally inherited from Bernie's Aunty Floris. Every now and then, one of my boys brings me a pair of pants to have a button replaced.

I found myself collecting pretty glass jars to keep buttons in.

Just lately I have started putting wooden buttons into their own basket.

Now these are some more of my most treasured ones - the glass buttons. I will never part with many of these on things I make to sell or give away. I just love the feel of them. And when you hold them up to your lips, they feel so cool and smooth. Only the "mouth test" enables you to distinguish between glass and plastic when it comes to buttons and beads.

What has made me think of buttons lately is my latest RR page for Jan in New Zealand. Jan's adjective was 'Inspirational'. I decided I was most inspired by colour, and aimed to produce a colour wheel, which I painted on silk. There did not seem anything more appropriate than buttons to pick up those colours - after all, I have been having fun with them from the time I first walked and talked! (And I still like to put them in my mouth!)

This is my "Bright as a Button" wallhanging I made a few years back. Most of these buttons were fairly old ones. Our friend Samantha, who had given me her button jars many years ago, said she still recognised many of her buttons on it as late as last year.

Now I am not a button collector in the traditional sense of the word. I don't go looking for special types, or old ones or rare ones - although I would not say "no" if you were to offer me some. But I think you will agree I have managed to collect a few. They have come in handy on a number of people have been looking for something special.

In this day and age when so few people knit and sew, there is not a great range of buttons available in the stores, and what they have are rather expensive. I have often been able to put together a set of buttons for someone for a particular project. It often involves sifting through the buttons in all the jars - but for me, that is a pure tactile pleasure!!

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Nowadays we have become accustomed to the fabrics from which we fashion our garments being either knitted or woven. The types of fibres we use have certainly expanded since my childhood, when, in sewing classes, we learned that the main fibre groups were cotton, wool, silk, linen and rayon. Soon after that, a whole range of nylons and polys exploded onto the market, but the methods of transforming them into fabric remained much the same.

Our ancestors, of course, made good use of skins and furs, before they learned to spin and weave, but how did the people of the Pacific Islands manage, when these materials were not available to them? We know they made use of feathers and foliage, particularly for ceremonial dress.

The art of weaving was well known to the Polynesians, but was used more for such things as baskets and even shelters. They lacked suitable fibres for spinning and weaving cloth.

A widely used cloth for bedding and clothing throughout Polynesia and the Pacific, and even areas of Asia, was the tapa cloth. The production of tapa cloth was more akin to the process of paper making.

The inner bark of various trees is stripped and beaten into a "fusion." In many Pacific island, the resulting cloth would then be further embellished by dyeing, printing or stamping, often using symbols belonging to the wearer or his/her tribe or family.

My friend Annette, who has spent time on Pitcairn, says the freshly-made tapa cloth is a little stiff for clothing, and was often used for bedding until it had become softer.

My task for last month's "Stitching Together" Round Robin was to interpret the word "Ethnic." I chose to interpret the ethnicity of my DH Bernie and my children, which is best descibed as "Bounty Tahitian."

Because we are a needlework group, and as such fascinated by anything textile, I thought I would feature the making of Tapa cloth.

Pauline is a Norfolk Islander of Bounty descent. She is married to George, who is a Tahitian Tattoo artist. They have been living in Tahiti for some years, but have now relocated, with their two children, to Norfolk Island.

Bernie (right) with George Barff, Pauline and young Mauatua

Pauline is one of those wonderful people who has committed herself to being a type of custodian of those values and skills of her Polynesian cultural roots. She was happy to help me out with my page.

This picture was taken in Tahiti.
It shows Meralda, who is a Pitcairn Islander of Bounty descent, and, like Pauline, very proud of her roots. The little girl is Pauline's daughter Mauatua, who is named after Fletcher Christian's Tahitian wife. Together, Meralda and Mauatua are beating some bark with a wooden mallet to produce a piece of Tapa.

This is a piece of tapa made by Pauline from the bark of the Pacific Banyan, and displayed at our Community Arts Exhibition this year.

Pauline very kindly produced a small piece of tapa cloth for me, and I attached it to my page using a strip of cloth produced by Sue, another Norfolk Artist of Bounty descent. Sue produces wonderful lengths of printed cloth, using Polynesian style designs.

The background of my page is a piece of marbled fabric that I made a while back.

I added some shells and black pearls (faux, unfortunately) to add to the symbolism of the page.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


We do not import fruit or vegetables into Norfolk Island.

We grow what we eat.

We may have to "go without" at times, but what we have is always fresh and seasonal'

Many of us have fruit trees, and we usually have more than we need, so we share what we have with family and friends.

There is plenty to go round, and there is the added bonus of knowing it is grown without lots of chemicals, ripened naturally on the tree, and very little in the way of carbon emissions in transporting it!

This year we are having a great citrus season. We do not have a lot ourselves - just a bush lemon ot two, an old orange tree that has just started bearing again after we cleared around it, a very sour mandarin, and a "Mary B" grapefruit (named after me) that has refused to bear after an over-severe pruning a couple of years ago.

There is also a young Meyer lemon, and an Egyptian lime which are still very young.

But we have been given lots of lovely fruit - Vanuatan grapefruit from John and Jan, yellow grapefruit and mandarins from Edie, tiny limes from the other Edie (they pack a punch!), oranges and mandarins from Shirley. And I have been able to buy plenty from our new Growers' Market.

And I have been making lots of marmalade!I really love cutting the peel. It is so therapeutic. Grapefruit peel is my favourite. It stays firm, but is not as chewy as orange peel. These pink grapefruit were a surprise and made a fantastic batch of marmalade. But as the season, and progressed, the flesh went a yellowy-green - but the marmalade still turned out great!

I must have made more than six or eight different batches - grapefruit, mandarin, sweet orange, 3 fruit, 4 fruit, chunky, fine shred. I even took the squeezed orange shells from Matt's stall at the markets and made a really lovely orange one.

Fortunately our bush lemon tree is loaded with fruit, because I always add the juice and pips of a couple of those to help with the setting.
Here are some of the jars in our old food safe.
There is no mystique about making marmalade. Some of the recipes make it sound complicated. I must admit my technique and process is a little different from most recipes. I always strain both the peel and the flesh really well.
Quantities? Well I must confess to "eyeballing" and fudging, but it always seems to work. And I have won first prize in the local show for the last two years, so I must be doing something right!

I suppose most people would steer clear of misshapen and black-skinned fruit like this in supermarkets on the mainland. But a bit of a scub with a pot scourer brings them up nice and clean. The fruit inside is not affected.
And we are so grateful for our lovely fresh and safe that we enjoy in such abundance here on Norfolk Island.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

RAU-TI and other garden friends
The other day, Bernie and I were sitting on the front verandah, and noticed that the Rau-ti bushes were all in glorious bloom.

I was about to get my camera, but was distracted, and did not think of it again until the next day. Unfortunately some wind and rain had meant that the blooms were past their best by then, but they are still so very beautiful.
The Rau-ti plants, members of the Dracaena family, are found throughout the Pacific Islands, and are extremely useful as well as decorative. The Polynesians have used the long, broad leaves for making "skirts". leis and headgear, and other decorative purposes. I notice that our Fijian friends favour it to line serving dishes.

They can be used to wrap around food that is to be baked in an oven or on a fire. The root can be used as a food, but it is far more popular when fermented to produce a highly potent alcoholic beverage!!

Devon has many Rau-ti plants scattered around, both the red and green variety. This is partly because it was one of Bernie's mother's favourite plants. She always had a cutting or two sitting in water in a big jardiniere in the kitchen fireplace. They are easy to strike, and as soon as they had developed roots, they would go out into the woodland or the garden.

Bernie and I have carried on the tradition, although we tend to place the stalks in a garbage bin of water at the side of the house. Gradually we have spread them further through the woodland, as well as the road frontage and some of the bushes have become really big.

You can imagine how the bees love these blossoms!

But yesterday, I saw a lovely butterfly enjoying them too!

I don't know if it is the time of year, but the 'Nutmeg' bush (Iboza)in front of the house has burst out into very similar fluffy blossoms!

Meanwhile, I was ready last month with my camera to capture the old Persimmon tree, beside Devon Cottage, in all its Autumn glory this year. I am usually too slow to get it at its best, but I managed to get this shot before the wind and rain produced a carpet of red and gold on the ground!

Related Posts with Thumbnails