Tasmania, after the fires

This design arose from the wonderful opportunity to create a design for the first Dark Mojo Retreat in Hobart, Tasmania in June 2022. Kerrilyn Packer at A Stitch in Time has been a fantastic support for Australian designers, dyers and needleworkers and working with her has been a delight. After I suggested doing a design for her, she had the genius notion of creating a retreat alongside the annual midwinter Arts festival, Dark Mofo, put on by MONA.

Looking back on past festivals, we initially planned doing something dark, gothic and super-weird (I once taught a course on ‘heresy and inquisition’ and had a teenage goth phase, so it wasn’t completely unfamiliar territory). Kerrilyn told me wonderful stories of how the entire city of Hobart is decorated and lit up at night with red lights and bonfires during the festival.

However, when the theme for the 2022 festival was announced as ‘resurrection’, I had to rethink. And to be honest, after the past couple of years, focusing on rebirth, regrowth and recreation seemed a welcome, positive focus. Like much of Australia, Tasmania has experienced devastating bushfires in the past few years. As terrible as these are, I always remember that a lot of native Australian flora actually need fire to germinate, and so there can be a great flourishing after the fires have gone.

This seemed the perfect focus for a design and for you as you stitch it: I hope after these hard times, you flourish and grow.

This design features endangered flora and fauna that are native to beautiful Tasmania and that bloom, breed and blossom after fire. I’ve included some information about these wonderful animals and plants, as well as links for further reading if you’re interested. Some are quite rare and for those where there are no royalty-free images that I can use here – by following the links, you can find images there.

I adored learning more about these amazing animals and plants, and the design came together really quickly. Using the format of a traditional band sampler, I created a series of borders and vignettes that can be stitched as a whole sampler, or pulled out for you to use in smalls.

The Cottage Garden Threads palette used for Tasmania, after the fires

It is designed to feature the beautiful, unique colours of Cottage Garden Threads, as these best recreate the colours of our landscape. The chart includes DMC and Weeks/Gentle Arts/Classic Colorworks conversions, but I really recommend using the CGT if you can. (I’ll be doing a separate post on some ideas for getting the most out of Cottage Garden Threads in cross-stitch, which will focus on this design.)

The design is exclusive to A Stitch in Time in Hobart, and is available as a hard-copy printed chart, or a PDF. Both are printed fully in colour, as the design features some French Knots and long, single backstitches for texture (these are both easy to do), as well as full crosses over two. The design has a stitch count of 142 x 178 and my model was stitched on 36-count ‘Bush Tea’ by JaysXStitch on Etsy. I used 1 strand over 2 threads of linen, and thread packs of the Cottage Garden Threads are also available from A Stitch in Time and my Etsy store.

The different stages of the Silver Banksia

The top and bottom bands of the sampler feature the Silver Banksia Banksia marginata, which was my initial starting point for the design. Like all banksia trees, these slow-growing beauties flower alongside spent flower cones, and seem to sprout life long after looking almost dead. When researching the Silver Banksia in particular, I was fascinated to find out that traditionally, Aboriginal people use the dried cones as water strainers and that the long, thin leaves were used as needles! The Powerhouse Museum collection contains a sturdy walking stick made from this plant too.

The Silver Banksia is an important nectar source for birds and insects and individual trees can live over 100 years. In the design, we see the flowers both side on and from above, with the new growth alongside the burnt.

Under the top band of banksias, I’ve placed the Long-Tailed Mouse Pseudomys higginsi, which are endemic to Tasmania. They are thought to spread seeds through their feeding patterns, and so are an important aspect of re-greening the landscape after a fire. They are shy creatures, that can apparently leap 30 cms if startled.

The Long-tailed Mouse being unreasonably cute.
Image under Creative Commons Licence from Wikimedia Commons.

Next, the design focuses on the beauties of native Tasmanian orchids, many of which are endangered and whose growth is stimulated by fire. I portrayed the Lizard Orchid Burnettia cuneata, The Red Beaks Orchid Pyrorchis nigricans, the Rabbit Orchid Leptoceros menziesii and the Southern Leek Orchid Prasophyllum australe. These flowers are so delicate and rare, and you can find many stunning photographs (and tips on what’s flowering) at https://peterallan.net/ and the Tasmanian Orchid Society Inc.

Under some ants (that seem to flourish everywhere!), the centre band of the design features a majestic Tasmanian White Gum Eucalyptus viminalis. A specific type of landscape known as the Tasmanian White Gum wet forest is valued for its biodiversity and critically endangered. Currently, there are numerous projects to protect it. As one of the tallest Eucalypt species, these are also known as the Manna Gum, from the resin it exudes. You can learn more from Tasmanian Geographic.

The magnificent Tasmanian White Gum

Under its branches fly the Forty-spotted Pardalote  Pardalotus quadragintus, searching for manna and insects. Endemic to Tasmania, but now extremely rare, this tiny lovely can sometimes be seen in the suburbs of Hobart. I’m hoping to be lucky enough to spot one on my visit!

The Forty-spotted Pardalote
Image under Creative Commons licence, from Wikimedia Commons.

On either side of the White Gum, I’ve represented a different type of landscape that also flourishes after fire. The 66 species of grass trees Xanthorroea are iconic images of the Australian landscape after a bushfire, when they bloom spectacularly, shooting enormous flower spikes high into the air. They are adapted to survive bushfires, as much of their structure hides underground. Two species, Shiny Grass Tree (X. bracteates) and the Sand Grass Tree (X. arenaria) are endemic to Tasmania and endangered. You can learn more about these amazing trees at Bush Heritage Australia.

Grass Tree species – amazing survivors

Underneath these hardy survivors, I’ve represented a specifically Tasmanian landscape, the Buttongrass moorlands. Buttongrass Gymnoschoenus sphaerocephalus​ is a small, grass-like plant that is specifically adapted to fire, thriving in soil that has been depleted by bushfires and growing back quickly.

Buttongrass moorlands

The moorlands that the Buttongrass create form a unique ecosystem, including the freshwater Burrowing Crayfish (species of the Engaeus genus, several of which are endangered), which live in muddy tunnels and peaty areas. These species seem to be little studied, with very few images of them online. I only discovered these engimatic creatures existed by researching for this design – I’m amazed to think of these creatures hidden in burrows beneath our feet!

Under a border of Tasmanian Ray Flower Cyphanthera tasmanica, we have the iconic Tasmanian Devil Sarcophilus harrisii. The Tassie Devil is a carnivorous marsupial, and as a carrion-eater, is vital for the health of the ecosystem. Brought to the brink of extinction due to a contagious facial tumour disease, there are concerted efforts underway to protect the species. They look cute, but were named ‘devils’ for the unholy screaming noises they make while feeding (which you can find here). Imagine hearing that walking through the bush late at night! Oh, and the babies are called ‘imps’…

The Tasmanian Devil in a calm mood

While researching what these ravenous creatures feed on, I discovered the Tasmanian Native Hen Gallinula mortierii, and immediately decided that they had to be shown running away from being a devil’s meal. It was only after showing Kerrilyn the finished design, that she told me these are known locally as ‘turbo chooks’, for the way they dart and run – they have a top speed of 50 km/hr!

The Turbo Chook…

Lastly, among the Silver Banksia at the bottom of the design, I included some of Tasmania’s butterflies, including the MacLeay’s Swallowtail Graphium macleayanus moggana and the endangered Chaostola Skipper Antipodia chaostola subsp. leucophaea. You can learn more about these and other Tasmanian butterflies here and here.

MacLeay’s Swallowtail

To me, the butterfly is the perfect image of rebirth and transformation. I hope stitching this design helps you focus on shaking off hard times, and flying out anew.

All images from Canva unless stated.