When we bought our land - hey, well before we bought our land - we knew that we would build our house from straw. Building my own house has been a steadfast bee in my bonnet since the age of about 15 when I visited the mud brick home of a friend of my dad's. She'd built it herself, and it was small, imperfect and, in my mind, absolutely beautiful. Mud brick, however, with all its attendant labour, waiting, labour and more waiting, was most definitely not the medium for me. Strawbale, on the other hand, is for me, and for many many other people, the most perfect building material imaginable. Strawbale building is quick, easy for the novice owner-builder, super Earth friendly (local, waste material with fab, off-the-scale insulation qualities) and kinda cheap, amongst many many other outrageously endearing qualities. In other words, I'm in love.
While working at the Watershed, I was lucky enough to meet Tracy, a building designer with the awesome double-whammy skills of strawbale and working-with-council experience. Tracy, you see, designed the award-winning Nalawala hall for Fairfield council. Yep - awesome.
We knew that it would be incredibly beneficial for us to have some input and feedback on our humble house plans, so approached Tracy to be our plan-drawer-upperer and general sounding board, though the scale of our project was positively minute in comparison to the Nalawala phenomenon. Over the last 5 or so months, though, our relationship has evolved into something more. Tracy has absolutely gone above and beyond our expectations, and she has done a brilliant job, not just of drawing up our plans, but also talking us down from crazy, rash decisions, helping us through the not-super-fun DA process (actually, she pretty much did it) and, most specially, totally accepting our budgetary limitations and general low-fi approach to home planning and building. Early on we negotiated a bit of a half-barter for the work. Tracy needed some sewing and gardening done, and we needed some house designing. Cool. What ended up happening though, was that Tracy got so into our project we ended up doing the whole thing as a labour exchange - LETS style, and crikeys were we grateful! Being as we were in the midst of relocating our entire life to a little town over 300km away, our families pitched in too, my Nana and mum taking their share of the sewing and mending work, and Pearlie's little sister Meg helping me with garden makeovers and chook-shed building. And you know what? I think we all got something out of it, though I have to admit that the stunning drawings Tracy did for us are, ultimately, the awesomest.
So, after all that rambling back-story-creating, I finally get to the crux of this post, which is the felt leaf collar that, in addition to the mending and sewing and planting and weeding and building, formed part of Tracy's trade.
The collar is going to a wedding this weekend, teamed with a black dress and some flash shoes, I believe. And suitably so, too, because it was, let me tell you, a labour of love. So many felt leaves!!! But I actually kind of liked the process. It was like building. You layer, and stitch and layer and stitch, and all the while the collar gets bigger and stronger and more able to hold itself together and then finally, one night, it's done. It's strong and, I reckon most excitingly, it's totally dimensional! I utilised Florence's neck, and actually kind of moulded the leaves into the shape of a neck as I stitched them together. Not as easy as it sounds! But all OK, because the end result is pretty great, I think, not least of all because it looks like something out of Wildwood, Olive's and my current fave to end all faves. If you haven't seen and/or read it, do yourself a flavour. It's simply stunning.
So, here's to trading skills, keeping it real, getting the Fams involved in your bartering shenanigans, felt and the mighty strawbale.