Susan, the artist and Gary, the Greenhand (after the hobbit in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings) live in a restored heritage homestead, first constructed in 1896. What could be more picturesque than than? Susan Curran works with clay to create pots and sculptures and holds eco-dying workshops while her husband, Gary Brill, grows organic fruits and vegetables.
When the couple moved into their 3-acre property, in 2000, they enjoyed restoring the 1896 Burrill Lake Schoolmasters’ residence as their abode, christening the property, The Bunyas as it is surrounded by five huge Bunya pines. They are both experts in heritage restoration and so the house still retains much of its ancient charm. They operated an antique shop, Bunyas Organics and Antiques, out of Milton New South Wales, for nearly 30 years and retired from it only in August this year.
Gary and Susan have separate workshops at the Bunyas and to go from one to another you will pass many varieties of fruit trees and vegetables. The main vegetable patches are right at the back where Gary utilises permaculture methods to produce the most nutritious vegetables.
However right at the front is a stone wall encircling a watermelon and pumpkin patch that lay empty during my winter visit, but it has produced some winners. At the 2015 and 2016 Milton Show, Gary took the first prize for the biggest and heaviest watermelon grown in this very patch at the front of his house.
While Gary is the one with the green thumb Susan is the one with the “clay” thumb. Wandering into her workshop is a voyage of discovery as you find finished and unfinished pots and sculptures everywhere. I made the mistake of shaking her hand in greeting and found my hand all white from clay. We both looked at our hands, then looked up at each other and laughed.
I was actually there to speak to Susan about her other artistic passion – eco dyeing. Eco dyeing uses plants to create print on fabric. Susan uses no chemicals to obtain the colours on her fabric but relies solely on the colours extracted from plants through natural methods. Susan holds regular workshops to teach eco-dyeing.
She showed me a nuno-felted silk dress that had been dyed with onion skin and gum leaves.
“I like to take the students in my workshop for a walk around my property to familiarise themselves with the many different plants. We would pick up fallen leaves and talk about flowers and what colours we can expect to extract from them. Many of them didn’t know that even the lichen on the rocks can give out good colour,” said Susan.
“At the workshop just gone by I used persimmon leaves that were bright orange in colour. If you boil these leaves you will get a dye that turns out either yellow or olive green, depending on how many times you boil it. If you boil it for half-an-hour it is yellow. Boil it again and it turns green.”
The persimmon tree that contributed the leaves for her workshop is over a hundred years old as it was planted when the house was first built.
Susan discussed how she used onion skins to create patterns and give colour to her designs. “This takes time because you have to save all the skins from the onions as you use them in the kitchen. I have a paper bag full of onion skins that I have collected to use in eco-dyeing. I would arrange the skins on half the fabric and then place a stick at one end and roll the fabric up really tight around the stick and bind it with string or linen so it does not open up. Then I boil this stick.”
The fun part of eco-dyeing is not knowing what to expect when you unravel your cloth. To a degree you can control it but there is also an element of surprise as there always is when you work with nature. Other colour schemes used by Susan would be indigo which she obtains from indigo crystals that are made from indigo plants. Interestingly, argyle apple leaves produce a bright red orange.
“I like to use my hands and use what is around me for tools such as a stick, shell or stone. I rarely buy tools for my crafts.”
The great part about Susan’s workshops is that she is also an expert in felting and weaving and so she not only makes designs on fabric but has in-depth knowledge of them. “Although I love being a potter I have actually made a living out of textiles for 15 years and so when I hold eco-dyeing workshops, students are oftentimes dyeing on fabric I have created. As such I have the unique skill of being able to teach all three skills from weaving, felting and dying which are all related.”
Anyone can participate in all three workshops for weaving, felting and dyeing which are taught separately in each respective workshop. No prior experience is needed. It costs $100 for a 6-hour workshop that is held from 9:30 – 3:30 pm. All materials for the workshop are supplied as are morning tea and organic lunch too. Contact https://www.bunyasorganicsandantiques.com/workshops to find out more and sign-up for the next workshop