Creative in the Countryside: The Home Paddock
Nicola: Can you start by telling us about The Home Paddock and how you came to start your own business?
Sarah: I’ve always had a strong desire to own a little business of my own. As a teenager I wanted to have a shop filled with rustic furniture and beautiful things. I had a lovely dream of spending my days restoring furniture and arranging the shop to look amazing! Reality is a big leveller, but the desire to have a creative business never left.
Over the years I have had an endless string of ideas that never felt quite right or got off the ground. I had started making children’s clothes under a label called Clancy and Belle, but when I fell pregnant with Eleanor (now 5 months old) I quickly realised it wasn’t a sustainable venture. So instead, inspired by the very talented Rebecca Desnos (@rebeccadesnos), I began to dabble with natural dyeing as it was more flexible and family friendly. I am now totally hooked!
I rebranded my online store to The Home Paddock, in reference to the farm/country location and my products being for the home. Everything fell in to place and I had a positive response to my launch just before Christmas last year. I have been dyeing non-stop since.
Nicola: I know you come from a family of makers and that you learnt botanical dyeing from your Grandmother. Can you tell us what botanical dyeing is and the process involved in making your products?
Sarah: Botanical dyeing is a process that has its roots in the earliest days of textile production. Essentially it is the gathering of natural materials such as barks, leaves, flowers, lichen or even soil to create colours for fibre and textiles. The gathered materials are then boiled in water and left to seep, to draw out as much colour as possible.
Some plants and materials are more suitable than others and create more lightfast and intense colours. Eucalyptus leaves and bark is a good example of this. Usually plants that are high in tannins make great dye plants. Herbs are often great for dyeing with as well. I only work with natural fibres such as wool, cotton, Linen, hemp and silk.
Before the material goes into the dye pot it must be prepared so it can absorb and maintain as much of the dye as possible. First there is scouring, where I boil the fabric for several hours to remove the chemicals from processing. I then soak the fabric in soya milk to mordant the fabric. Mordant means ‘to bite’. The mordant allows the fibre to take up and retain as much dye as possible. It also assists with the fabric maintaining as much colour for as long as possible. The fibre is then put into the dye pot and heated. It is then left to sit and absorb the dye for a day or two. This is when the magic happens! The fabric is removed, given a quick rinse and sometimes an afterbath (to alter the colour) before being dried. At this stage it is always exciting to see what colours and markings have been revealed.
There are always subtle differences when working with natural dyes. There are so many variable elements that can alter the colours you achieve. This is one reason I love this process so much, as nothing is predictable and you get something slightly different each time. The fabric is them left to sit and cure for at least a week before a final wash and iron. Then it’s ready to go!
Nicola: Can you tell us where you draw inspiration from for your work?
Sarah: As long as I can remember I’ve had a strong attachment to the Tasmanian landscape. I grew up on a beautiful sheep farm in the midlands of Tasmania and would spend my days helping on the farm, or walking and riding around the farm making things and collecting natural treasures. It was a very idyllic childhood rooted in nature, and very much influenced by the weather and seasons.
This desire to express my attachment to the landscape and place continued through my university art degree where I studied textiles, print making and painting. Painting was my major and I continued this for a long time after university. But with a busy family life I found it increasingly difficult to find the time or headspace for it, so I returned to my roots of textiles and dying.
It is immensely satisfying to use raw and natural ingredients to make something that will be used and treasured by others. I also love the fact that textiles are such an integral part of our everyday life. Their humble domesticity can be such an expression of status, culture and shared histories.
Nicola: You live on a rambling cottage on a family farm in Tasmania, Australia, which is a beautiful part of the world. Can you tell us more about where you live, your family life and why you love living here?
Sarah: We are very blessed to live in Pipers River, which is in the North East of Tasmania. It is located in the heart of a world renowned wine region, thirty minutes north of the city of Launceston and close to many pristine beaches. I refer to it as the land of milk and honey!
My family moved to a small farm here about twenty years ago. The property which is named ‘Laroona’ had previously been a dairy farm, but had been let go for many years. My parents tackled the huge task of renovating and restoring the old farm cottage, which was built in the 1900’s. My mother, who was a passionate gardener (she is no longer with us but her spirit is very much alive in her garden), created a beautiful cottage styled garden around the few established trees. My father had the huge task of clearing the farm of weeds, restoring fences and planting native tree belts.
My husband (also from a farming background) and I took over the lease of the property a few years ago, and now run a mixed operation of sheep/cattle and some cropping. It is such a beautiful place to live, and we are so blessed to be able to give our children the privilege of a country childhood just like our own.
Nicola: You obviously have your hands full with three young children, the farm and your business. Tell us what a day in your life looks like at the moment?
Sarah: Busy! We are a family of fowls (early risers) so our day begins early. We have wriggly cuddles in bed with the children before getting started with the day. I always have a cup of tea in bed to get me going, as once my feet hit the ground its pretty non-stop! Depending on whether it’s a home or school day determines the pace and flow of the morning.
Home days tend to have a slower, gentler start. The children will often play for a while before breakfast, while I potter and get as many jobs done as I can. If the weather’s fine we like to get outside before it gets too hot. We love spending time in the garden, feeding animals, going on bush adventures (and foraging for dye plants!), or playing under the trees on the trampoline or in the cubby house. On the weekend we often head out on the farm with Chris to tend animals, feed out hay, or help with other farm jobs that need doing. Both Annabelle (5) and Clancy (3) love doing creative activities like painting, craft and creative play. We are always on the lookout for natural bits that we bring in to use in our craft and play.
Midday is usually lunch followed by rest time. This often gives me an hour where I run like a mad chicken tending to my dye pots, sewing or packing up an order. I have discovered the power of working in small blocks of time! Before I had children I always felt I needed a great chunk of free time for my creative pursuits, but now I realise that I can achieve a lot in little blocks of time throughout the day. This is another reason why I love the dyeing process, as it is so flexible and can be tended to here and there as it suits. The children love my dyeing and I try to involve them in the process as much as possible. I am a firm believer in passing down traditional skills to the next generation. They often bring leaves and flowers in from the farm or garden for my ‘dye pots’, and love creating their own dye concoctions in their role play!
Afternoons always fly by with play, jobs and dinner preparation. We try to eat dinner together (depending on what time Chris, a plumber, gets home) at the table every night. We discuss our day and talk about our best thing and not so good thing that happened. I really encourage gratitude and we talk about things we are grateful for. Evenings tend to be a quieter time with baths, play, lots of books, songs and cuddles. Once everyone is settled I usually try to do bit more work in my studio before collapsing into bed!
Nicola: What is your favourite way to connect with nature?
Sarah: My garden;
Bush adventures. In the winter we love to have bush picnics and make billy tea and cook sausages on a campfire;
Just sitting on a mossy bank and breathing and observing;
Foraging and gathering things for my dye pots. It has made me see the wealth of resources that I am surrounded by. I’m always on the lookout for different plants to try dyeing with; and
Stopping on the roadside to gather great big bunches of leaves to take home.
And lastly, if someone reading your story were inspired to follow their own creative dream, what advice would you give them?
Honour your creativity! For a long time I felt as if I had to put my creative pursuits aside or second to ‘real life’. As if having time to be creative was a luxury. But I learnt the hard way that being creative is like breathing for me. It is an essential part of who I am, and how I interact with others and the world around me. I feel incredibly lucky to have the support of so many beautiful friends and networks such as Instagram. I finally feel like I’ve found my tribe.
Find something that you love doing, that way it is play not work. The best way to do this is to experiment with different mediums, crafts and art forms until you find what fits. My family roll their eyes at all the different ‘projects’ I’ve had over the years!
Be creative in some way every day, even if it’s something small like arranging flowers for the table. It will allow your creativity time to play, give you freedom to experiment and say to your creative soul, ‘I love and honour you’.
Baby steps! It can be overwhelming starting a new business. So start small and work towards the bigger things. It’s amazing what you can achieve in ten minutes! I no longer have the luxury of blocks of clear time, but it’s amazing how much you can achieve by doing things in little spurts throughout the day. It also feels great to tick a couple of things of the list each day, no matter how small they are!