Christmas gifts

Somehow the year is coming to a rapid end.  Especially as I plan  an overseas trip for the first three weeks of December!

I don’t usually inflict my manipulations on people but this year I thought, probably in error, that it might be timely to send some hand made things to some of my young relatives. Specifically brooches, although every one of them can be pinned onto a ribbon for around a neck or converted to a hair ornament.

Starting a few days ago, my efforts were given a bit of drive by the televised Ashes (Australia v England) Test which is one of the very few television watching experience I am interested in….

So, here’s the start and here are some of the results that will be wrapped and sent off to unsuspecting recipients this Christmas…


Now I just have to pack away the yarn left over…….. 

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Exhibition Opening 3: Catering- What Works?

The Story So Far

Recapping the two previous blogs on this topic: serve  6-8 clean and tiny things per person over two hours.


It’s time to think about vegetarians, vegans, coeliacs, dairy intolerances, and whatever else manifests itself in a typical gallery gathering.

I am not a vegetarian but I always think that vegetable hors d’oeuvres are safer to serve than non-vegetable ones. I’ve never met anyone who was not able to eat a vegetable only nibble!

Bear in mind also that your servers will probably not be professionally qualified wait staff.   As such, plating up a range of exotic offerings that they either can’t pronounce or have never heard of will result in unhappy guests who don’t know what they are (or are not) accepting.

So, another  set of “rules” we have made for ourselves: importantly, none of these is incompatible with the 10 simple rules in the second blog on this topic.

1. Keep recipes simple.  No need for haute cuisine here.  What matters is that servers know what they are serving and guests know what they are eating.

2. Based on experience, we would recommend that at least half of all the canapés are vegetarian. We usually go higher.

3.The balance of non-vegetarian nibbles should lean towards fish rather than meat.

4. At least one quarter of the total number of recipes used should be gluten free.**

5. At least one quarter of the total number of recipes should be dairy free.

6. Provide at least two vegan options, unless you think there will be a high proportion of vegans in the attending group, in which case definitely up the proportion!,

7.  For all recipes, keep added salt to a minimum.  Guests with high blood pressure will appreciate it and it will keep the drinks bill down.

**For accuracy I should say here that I am just talking about omission of wheat, barley and rye.  True gluten free cooking requires a strict regime not really feasible in the average home cook’s kitchen.  If you made something with chocolate in it and  the chocolate had malt in it from a barley source, you could not technically claim it was gluten free. However, many attendees will be looking for reduced gluten rather than no gluten.

How Much to Make

Consider a worked example: say we are expecting 150 at our opening which will run from 6-8pm on  a Friday night.

150 guests @ average 7 bites/person = 1050/12 = 87.5, say, 88 dozen bites needed.

88 is a number that (to me at least) conjures 8×11.  Propose we have 8 dozen each of 11 different types of “bites” including some packets of pretzels (you knew I’d mention them again!) as a  vegan/dairy free option.

So ten recipes are needed. In total they will need to meet Rules 1-7 above, and, of course, the 10 simple rules set out in Blog 2.

Here is a hypothetical table, but it’s just like those we use:

V Vegan GF Dairy free
GOAL (from “rules” above) over 11 items 5-6 2-3 2-3 2-3
pretzels Y Y Y
Mini Greek salads Y * Y *
strawberries Y Y Y Y
Sundried tomato pinwheels Y N N N
Herbed pinwheels Y N N N
Salmon balls N N Y N
Meatballs N N Y Y
Curry relish on toasts Y Y N Y
Cheese biscuits Y N N N
Mini muffins w. olives and capsicum Y N Y N
Cucumber, capsicum and chilli jam on toothpicks Y Y Y Y
*Mini Greek Salads are very simple.  Feta cheese cubes; (deseeded) cucumber cubes; pitted kalamata olive slivers; and red capsicum cubes. Take a toothpick and put any three of these at random onto it.  This results in tasty nibbles that vary so that an olive hater, or a cheese avoider, can still select one to eat. Some will therefore be dairy free and vegan. 



WAFTA Catering 5 (170) Abigail Harman

L-R: curry relish on toast; herbed, and sun dried tomato, pinwheels; strawberries; and cheese biscuits at WAFTA Altered States exhibition opening 15 September 2017. Image by Abigail Harman Photography, Perth.

Delivering our hospitality

OK, we have worked out how many nibbles, and the specific recipes, that we are preparing and delivering to the opening venue. It sounds enormous to be talking of eight dozen each of eleven recipes! It is. Believe me, though, you won’t have many left overs!

How to deliver these to guests?  It’s an option to put it all attractively on a nicely draped table as a kind of buffet.  There are three good reasons NOT to do this although I am not saying that it would never be a good idea:

  1. Guests who go to the table for a nibble are leaving the group/person they were talking to and this is disruptive and not to be encouraged.  It’s not about the food; it’s about the art appreciation and the talk!
  2. In the kind of small openings I am writing about, the involvement of servers who are often also artists is a bonus contribution to the bonhomie  and the talk about the works on exhibition; they should not be cut out!
  3. While not a big consideration, some simple hors d’oeuvres dry out rapidly and loading them onto a table to sit for a couple of hours is to condemn them to death.

So, clearly, I favour using volunteer servers at openings.  If they are the artists, all the better.  What a great opportunity for shy artists to meet their viewers!  What a good opportunity for guests to ask questions!

WAFTA Catering 4 (169) Abigail Harman

Top to bottom: Salmon balls; herb, and sun-dried tomato pinwheels; strawberries; and meatballs.  Image by Abigail Harman Photography, Perth

Pacing the service of platters

Servers hate going around with platters of food no one wants.  They are volunteers, usually, so we want them to be welcomed rather than waved away…..

The secret is to ensure they go out with their platters at the right time.  

The right time is determined by the kitchen co-ordinator.  This is the person on the catering team who oversees plating up of platters, briefs the servers on their ingredients  (GF, V, dairy free, etc), and controls the rate at which platters go out to guests.

The kitchen co-ordinator (KC) plays a vital role in the success of the event. They send out food “just in time” so that guests have enough, but not too much, food offered to them over time. They ensure that servers can answer questions about the content of different items, especially about dairy, meat and wheat content. They ensure that the available food is served fairly evenly over the entire time period scheduled for the opening so that it is still being served to latecomers who walk in close to the end.

Or to put it in more negative terms: the KC avoids pushing food to guests at too high a rate; avoids running out of food; and (hopefully) ensures no one gets sick as a result of eating something to which they are allergic.

WAFTA Catering 1(156) Abigail

L to R: Tuna and egg spread on toast; ricotta mini-muffins; and cheese biscuits.  Image by Abigail Harman Photography, Perth

Scheduling Platters

This is only a guide for novice Kitchen Co-ordinators.  You will rapidly find that it is best tempered with judgement  based on observation of the progress of the event. Until you get there, however, and actually feel the appetite and flow of the gallery, you will want to have the backing of a formula!

To go back to our worked example, we have 8 dozen each of 11 different items,.  We want to serve them over two hours.  Consider two hours as 8 x 15 minutes.

Every 15 minutes we should be sending out 11 dozen nibbles. Think 4 platters with 33 items each on them or two platters with 66 items on each. The latter is preferred. Remember these are bite-sized nibbles! Two servers per session is easier to achieve than four!  (Of course, if in the first couple of fifteen minute periods there is only one man and dog present, you will not send out two platters!)

At this rate, with mixed platters of 66 items each going out to the exhibition crowd at the rate of two every fifteen minutes for two hours, you will serve 2x66x4x2=1056 or 88 dozen items!!! [See How Much to Make – it’s always good when the arithmetic works!]

It’s Time Gentlemen, Please!

One good thing about pacing the delivery of platters well, is that you can influence the recognition by guests of the time to go home. By ensuring more or less even distribution of platters of food throughout the evening you will have conditioned guests to that stimulus. They will recognise, consciously or unconsciously, that the platters have ceased and will be influenced to take their departure. Happily, without coercion!

So, even if you  have, as I have recommended, over-catered, let your Kitchen Co-ordinator pace distribution of platters so as to send the appropriate “lights out” signal.  You will all go to bed happy and fulfilled !!!!

Since this is the final of three parts on catering for an exhibition opening, I would like to thank again my colleagues: my friend Julie Devereux and my sister Prudence Ford.


WAFTA Catering 3 (165) Abigail Harman

L to R: Mini Greek salads; herb, and sun-dried tomato pinwheels; salmon balls; and curry relish on toasts. Image: Abigail Harman Photography, Perth













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Exhibition Opening 2: Catering- How Much and What Not To Serve?

Thali meal Bigstock photo

A delicious Indian Thali dish- great for a restaurant; potential disaster at an exhibition opening.

Picture this:  It’s opening night and the best art piece in the show is a long, suspended, drift of silk, painstakingly resisted with stitch, and dyed in several dye baths. As it wafts on the currents of enthusiastically breathed oohs and aahs, it brushes over an exquisitely presented platter of hommus being passed around among the guests.  Oooh!  Aaah! indeed.

Better still, look at that party pie which has just been so extravagantly anointed with tomato sauce.  Oh, dear, it’s bled on that embroidered box…..

WAFTA AS blog stock-photo-australian-meat-pie-and-tomato-sauce-80724895

Think of the pain of realising that the excited textile loving guest (it could be you), unable to resist lightly touching a small embroidered bowl, has just finished one of those delicious, albeit greasy, crispy fried chicken wings.   And watch the fellow who leans down to look closely at the detail of a  small work just as he bites into that succulent slider whose contents promptly disgorge onto the plinth below him!

Hard to believe?  Then I reckon you’ve never been to a catered event and had it almost, if not actually, happen to you or your work! None of the people featured in the above vignettes actually intends to damage the art, of course.  Far from it.  They are at the opening because they are art lovers. But if they are given greasy or easily shattered or overly large items then accidents are entirely predictable.  Moreover, even the lucky guests who don’t cause any damage are probably distracted from their enjoyment of it all by the need to be hyper-vigilant when biting into something!

Horace food fight DSC_8512-web

Food fight: It won’t be as bad as this but it could be bad!

Fear not, however.  If the task of catering for the next exhibition opening has fallen to you and a couple of friends there is a way to do it without tears or smears.  I know because I am part of a now quite seasoned small team of three.  One is a close friend and the other is my sister. We had all done a lot of “white glove” type duties at exhibitions and shows so we got off to a good start in terms of a shared understanding of what we were up against!

Horace rules logo images

We have developed a simple set of rules about  what not to serve.  It’s so simple, in fact, that I hope it’s not insulting to you the reader:

  1. All hors d’oeuvres must be able to be put into a mouth whole; no burgers or shashliks!
  2. No dips, no sauces, no soups, no cream, no loose garnishes that can drip or fall off
  3. No wet or oily surfaces that will stay on fingers- few will go to the other end of the gallery to fetch a napkin. Even if you dispense napkins with the hors d’ouevres the “glass in the other hand syndrome” makes them difficult to use consistently..
  4. Encourage guests to place any devices such as toothpicks or small spoons back on the server’s tray immediately by providing a suitable and obvious receptacle for them
  5. Generally avoid having hot canapés as these require more planning, vigilance and management from the kitchen throughout the opening period
  6. If you must serve some  heated items, ensure they are served warm rather than hot to avoid risks of burning. This is especially a risk  with liquid (fatty or sugary) centres,
  7. Likewise, avoid nibbles that need to be served frozen or chilled as these are harder to manage correctly so they remain solid and palatable.  See Rule 2.
  8. Avoid seafoods both because of their allergy potential and because they can be a food safety risk if improperly handled.
  9. No peanuts or peanut products eg satays.  You have no way of knowing who has allergies and no guarantee that your servers will remember to tell people what is in each canapé.
  10. Have food available as soon as alcohol is poured.  If you want to delay food service until after the official proceedings finish, keep the corks in too.


Horace loaves and fishes 2

There are a lot of online and printed catering resources that will tell you how much per person to serve.  The most common guidance for a two hour cocktail type event, such as most exhibition openings,  is to allow 6-8 pieces per person.  We have found this about right.  However, we sometimes finesse it a bit.

Some factors to consider when doing your particular quantities planning are:

1. the ratio of men to women expected to attend. The smaller the proportion of men, the closer the requirement will be to 6 rather than 8.

2. we emphasise bites rather than chunkier pieces, and this reduces the total weight of food unless you  provide more per person to make up for it.  Generally, I don’t let it bother me. See 4.

3. a function held just after normal working hours finish (say, from 6pm) will result in hungrier guests than one held just after lunch. See 5.

4.the purpose of providing refreshments is to foster a relaxing and interested vibe among attendees.  It is NOT to give them dinner!

5.that said, there are advantages in over-catering a bit,  not least because it removes the anxiety of possibly not having prepared enough!  Excess production often happens naturally anyway as you prepare particular recipes and the inputs go a bit further than you originally estimated. If the opening event is really swinging and sales are going nicely it’s good to have the option of continuing the hospitality.**

**(That is, of course, provided there are no other restrictions on extending the time, such as security officers going on overtime rates after a certain hour!)

So that’s our advice on what NOT to serve and how to estimate overall quantities.  The next and final blog will pass on some tips about catering in an inclusive way for a wide variety of guests.  It will also comment on  pacing the delivery of platters and on the role of the kitchen co-ordinator in bringing the event to a conclusion!


WAFTA Catering 5 (170) Abigail Harman




Posted in exhibiting, Exhibition catering | 2 Comments

Exhibition Opening 1: should we serve food?


There’s nothing like Exhibition Opening Night (or Day).

So you’re having an exhibition.  You and the other exhibitors and their supporters will have been toiling away for ages.  First you had to organise a space for the exhibition.  (that’s a whole separate blog!)

Then you all had to make the work (let’s pass over that one quickly; it’s easy, right?)

You  will have had a check list of things that MUST be done before the doors open on the exhibition:  photography; event promotion;  invitations to the opening;  curation, including props, plinths etc;  catalogue; bump-in, security……..

That’s already a lot of work.  So when someone asks:  “what are the catering arrangements for your opening?” it can be difficult to pretend you care.  Many of us will simply have our fingers crossed that there will be an  opening!  Or else we’ll be thinking “pretzels!!!”

Over the last four years I have been involved in catering for several group exhibition openings.  It’s been a wonderful learning experience which I thought I should share……

Will we feed them at all?  

There are sometimes very good reasons to decide it’s NOT necessary to feed and water (aka load up) your guests.


Horace Target-Audience-Splash

If your exhibition is aimed mainly at impressing gallery owners so you get future invitations  to exhibit at their lovely galleries, it might not be necessary to serve anything.  Busy “professional” exhibition goers are wanting to get in and out again quickly; it’s not as much a social event for them. (Apologies in advance if you are a gallery owner/manager who likes to linger over the food!)


Horace logofebmonthly-local-missions

Similarly, if your opening is scheduled for immediately after a usual mealtime, say, at 2pm on a Saturday, you can assume that attendees will have recently eaten.



Some other very practical impediments to serving food include:


Horace food safety logo stock-vector-food-safety-rubber-stamp-vector-illustration-isolated-on-white-background-379853683

.lack of space or facilities for the safe transportation, storage and/or service of food.  Some galleries have no kitchen or even a fridge.  If you have to transport food a longish way even before you get it to the gallery you will rightly be wondering if that is safe…




G-73 (3).PLT *

.food  not permitted by the gallery (although sometimes an initial prohibition can be negotiated into an agreement. Some galleries which are used to having student exhibitions are understandably cautious about committing to having to clean up afterwards.  Convincing them that you know what you are doing and will definitely leave the place cleaner than you found might be  a worthwhile effort.)


hurry up road sign illustration design

.too little time (for example, the space is only available for an hour and food and drinks would be a distraction)




Horace dollar signs.cost (in my view it’s better to spend limited funds on exhibition space, props and promotion of the whole exhibition period than on food for those who are available to attend an opening).

Hospitality is Good!!

WAFTA Catering 2 Abigail Harman

Terry Devereux serving hors d’oeuvres at the 15 September opening of WAFTA’s Altered States exhibition , 16-23 September 2017, Perth Town Hall, in front of work by Diane  Binns (left) and Janie Matthews (right) . Image by Abigail Harman, Perth.

Having said all that, if you have the time, space, permissions and money it is nice to be able to provide hospitality.  When you want your potential buyers and supportive friends to enjoy a relaxing couple of hours, and tell all their friends what a great exhibition it is, food and beverages will help enormously. Plus all the hard workers like yourselves can treat it like a well-earned opportunity to party!

Get a Caterer?

So, if the answer is “yes, we will serve food and beverages” the next step is to decide whether finances permit outsourcing to a caterer?  If you can do that you save yourself all the hassles of menu planning, quantity estimation, ensuring food safety, doing the food preparation and presentation, and organising with the venue for access and delivery.  Caterers can often handle arrangements for alcohol licensing and service too.


Horace I'm broke person-holding-i-broke-sign-studio-shot-child-made-white-paper-handwriting-48500062

However, if like many of us, your organisation or group is effectively doing this on the smell of an oily rag, you need to do the catering yourselves.



In the next blog I will outline some tips for self-catering an art  exhibition opening.


rsa logo green

One Golden Rule: if you serve alcohol then you MUST serve food with it!!



Posted in exhibiting, Exhibition catering | 1 Comment

A Coreopsis Opportunity

A couple of weekends ago WAFTA ( was invited to an Open Garden in Victoria Park here in Western Australia.  The organisers had the foresight to ask us  to complement the beautiful garden beds with demonstrations of how fabric can be enhanced with plants.  Several of us went on both days and had a ball boiling and steaming our fabrics with the materials we had collected (no, NOT from the gorgeous garden!).

Visitors were surprised to see how much colour can be wrangled from plants such as onion skins, Eucalyptus sp. leaves and purple carrots.  I wonder if any will try it themselves?  Probably not. One of the common comments made to me was “I am so looking forward to retirement!”.  I completely understood this; my textile output was quite limited when I worked full-time.  It’s quite limited now, as a matter of fact, but that’s because…[insert excuses here].

I came home from that garden with a small bucket of dried coreopsis flowers that had been boiled up in a pot.

My work coreopsis image

What the coreopsis flowers look like before they are picked and dried. Photo from

Well, the above was a long-winded introduction to the next short piece.  Yesterday afternoon  I suddenly rose, newly energised,  from the couch after a long dreary  weekend  with a “lurgie”.

I assembled a small bucket of vinegar water, the aforementioned bucket of coreopsis, four torn pieces of silk fabric and assorted plant matter, principally some purple carrot and various species of  Eucalyptus leaves which had been soaking in water for the past two weeks.  Each piece of silk was first soaked briefly in the vinegar solution. I made four parcels of fabric plus plant matter, spraying half of each piece with iron water and folding it over the top of the plant matter like an iron blanket and then tying the bundles tightly together with either string or between tiles.  Two of the bundles had onion skins added to the mix; the remaining two contained purple carrot and eucalyptus only. In addition to the iron present in the sprayed-on iron water, some of the tiles were clamped with what I call “bulldog clips”, which of course contain metal and rust easily after even one use in a dye bath.

After one hour simmering in the coreopsis bath the fabric bundles were left overnight to cool before being unwrapped, dried, then washed an ironed.

Here are the results:



Silk, purple carrot, red and brown onion and eucalypt wrapped tightly on itself and “cooked” for one hour in coreopsis bath


Silk, purple carrot and eucalyptus leaves folded and clamped between tiles and simmered in coreopsis bath for one hour.


Silk, purple carrot and eucalyptus leaves rolled on itself and tightly bound with string before being simmered for one hour in coreopsis bath.


Silk, purple carrot, eucalyptus leaves and red and brown onion skins folded into a small bundle and clamped tightly between tiles before being simmered in a coreopsis bath for one hour.

I have deliberately left plenty of the background play grey design board showing in the images to indicate how bright the colours are.

The surprising thing to me was that the pieces are so different from each other in tone when all went into the same pot!  Another curiosity is the lack of much yellow given the bath was a yellow one.  One of the above pieces shows some of the expected olive-green which is a product of the coreopsis and the iron but the others don’t even seem to show that.  I did notice that the rinsing stage yielded a lot of yellow in the rinse water.  That’s handy.

Finally, since I like to fussy cut these prints into larger pieces here are some details:





Posted in dyeing with red onion, Eucalyptus cinerea as dye, Eucalyptus sp as dye, Iron mordant, Natural dyeing, purple carrots as dyes | 1 Comment

Dyeing vintage silks

It has been so long since I blogged that I feel I need to do a “bridging” story.  That is, something that connects  my last post on my work in Stitched and Bound (see some photos at and my recent activity.

The connection is natural dyeing of vintage (aka old and used) silks, cottons and linens.

First, here is an image of my piece Windfall Wrap which was juried into S&B 2017.

Stitched and Bound Windfall Wrap full

Windfall Wrap, 2017, 60cmx176cm,silk, linen and cotton. Image by Josh Wells Photography,

The vintage fabrics came my way via a WAFTA “Spring Fling” – an artist in residence  fund-raising stash sale.   WAFTA is the Western Australian Fibre and Textile Association   ( I am a proud member of it.

Naturally I cleaned out my stash to contribute to the sale.  Equally naturally, I bought more than I’d contributed (well, that’s probably an exaggeration but I did bring home a lot of stuff)

A prescient WAFTA “Spring Fling” organiser assembled a lot of the donations into bags of fibres and fabrics suitable for dyeing. I bought several bags, some filled to the brim with cotton and linen fabrics (mostly used clothing) and some stuffed with delicate and no longer usable silk garments.


These much washed garments got yet another thorough wash at my place…


Windfall Wrap detail, sleeve placket included.


Windfall Wrap detail, shirt pocket included.

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Stitched and Bound!

Yesterday I blogged about giving a short lesson to members of WAFTA on natural dyeing and eco-printing.

What do I  do with all the fabric I produce?

Today I am recording my absolute pleasure at having had my entry into Stitched and Bound 2017 selected by the jury! Stitched and Bound is, as the title suggests, a quilting exhibition but over the past few years the criteria have been broadened to feature a wide range of textile art works that no longer have to be “bound” and only need to comply with  a requirement that somewhere in them there are two layers held together by stitch.  You can read all about this year’s exhibition here.

Stitched and Bound preferred detail of Windfall Wrap

A small detail…

I can’t show you the whole work of course until the exhibition opens.  It is a 2m long piece called “Windfall Wrap“.  The name comes partly from the fact that I have coloured and printed the fabrics with  plant materials found on the ground in my local wetland during my walks.  The other “found” element is that many of the fabrics are recycled, even vintage, linens, cottons and silks.   These fibres take natural dyes beautifully when they have been washed lots of times. The wrap is designed to be worn with either side showing and is also semi-transparent, allowing light to come through.

14 July can’t come soon enough.  I am so looking forward to seeing all the innovative work in other entries at Zigzag Gallery in Kalamunda!

Posted in casuarina dyeing, Design, Eucalyptus sp as dye, exhibiting, fabric collage, Geranium leaf printing, Iron mordant, kangaroo paw as dye, Murraya paniculata (orange jessamine) as dye, Natural dyeing, patchwork | 6 Comments