Showing posts with label craft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label craft. Show all posts

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Producing peace silk- the moths are emerging

After only two weeks of cocooning the moths are beginning to emerge. At the point of writing this I have two male moths with many more to come. Males are easy to identify because they have well formed wings and smaller bellies, they also hold their bottoms in the air and flutter their wings regularly to attract females (they make a sort of twerking motion with their bottoms too). At this point I am just trying to keep the remaining worms fed and find a place for the emerging moths, but I did find I couldn't resist processing just two of the now empty cocoons.

This is the hole in the end of the cocoon  made by the emerging moth

Many more cocoons waiting to be emptied.

I got so excited that I didn't take photos, so words will have to do.
First I made sure the cocoons were empty by checking for the hole in the end. Then I heated some water on the stove in an old saucepan. I added a teaspoon of my home made laundry gel (more on this recipe at a later date) which is basically pure soap and washing soda with a few drops of eucalyptus oil. The teaspoon was more than enough for my two cocoons, I will add more cocoons to the next lot I  process.
I let them simmer on  the stove for half an  hour (alongside the steaming veges for tea) then turned the heat off and let the water cool until I could reach in and scoop out the mass of silk. The two cocoons turned into a mass of tangled fibre in no time. Next I rinsed this mass under the tap until all the gel was removed and the yellow colouring had left the strands, I also picked out the left over skin and stuff from the cocoons at the same time. I haven't organised a frame to stretch the cocoons onto yet so I just spread the fibre out as best I could and left it on the sink drainer to dry.
When it was dry and a bit fluffy I took the opportunity to admire my first bit of peace silk fibre. Then I wacked the little mass on the carders and carded away for a few minutes until I had a passable rolag.

My first silk rolag

A close up of the fibre
Of course my moths are now busy mating and laying eggs for next year.

Next years silk worms.

The whole silkworm story is fascinating; from the huge effect silk has had on world trade, politics and even exploration to the interesting fact that there are at least three genus of silk moth and not all of them eat mulberries and the many myths surrounding the discovery and production of silk.

Here is an interesting article about the effect silk had on world trade in history.

I am finding this journey of discovery very interesting; silk is an amazingly beautiful fibre and like all fibre sources it requires a bank of specialised skills and knowledge to produce. There is so much more left to learn. Once all my moths have emerged and lay eggs I will be experimenting with processing the cocoons, I might even try to unravel some hatched cocoons in the traditional manner and see why it's not considered to be viable.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Producing peace silk- from eggs to hankies

Lately I have been thinking about learning to spin silk. I bought myself a small lot of beautiful roving and spun it up on my wheel. It was smooth and easy  to spin, it produced a gorgeous, lustrous yarn that took the bright orange dye so well it looked almost glowing. So I decided that silk is my new love (when it comes to fibre) and ordered some cheaper silk hankies, because the roving is anything but cheap.
Me being me, I wanted to do the whole process from scratch, not just buy roving and spin it. I want to be the whole machine, not just a cog in it. First I had to find out the details...

I did my usual research and read heaps of books and articles, watched how-to videos and discovered that the beautiful roving I so badly wanted to make came with a price even bigger than money; the pupa are boiled alive so they don't damage the cocoons when they emerge as moths.That put me off the whole deal, until I discovered that there is a movement called 'peace silk' who's practitioners let every moth hatch and process the cocoons into silk hankies or slubby (rough) roving.
While the peace silk method does sound better as it doesn't involve boiling babies it does leave me with another quandary; what to do with all those eggs. If every female moth mates and lays up to 500 eggs, then those eggs will either need to be destroyed or given away. I thought long and hard on the subject and decided that letting the moths emerge and lay eggs then destroying the eggs is more ethical as science does not consider eggs as living things (they are considered to be non-living things with the potential for life) although there is a lot of contention about this classification. Maybe this train of thought is just hair splitting, but I have to form an opinion one way or the other in order to proceed. Who knows, a better method may present itself in the future.

I found a listing on Gum tree for free silkworm eggs so my silkworm adventure began. The eggs came in the mail and as it had been a warm few days they immediately began to hatch. Luckily I had also ordered some silkworm chow (dehydrated mulberry leaf mush) as our mulberry tree was only just beginning to put on leaf. I made up some of the chow and fed the early arrivals.

The new babies are so tiny they are hard to see.
They grew fast, eating day and night until they were in danger of exploding out of their little box. When my tree had full leaf I began to feed them real leaves instead of the mush, they loved it and grew even faster. I found that the worms are more active and healthy when they eat leaves. So began a period of feeding twice a day on a big pile of mulberry leaves.

As you can see there are different ages in this lot. The eggs took a total of two weeks to hatch.

They are voracious eaters

Just when I was congratulating myself on keeping them all going...disaster struck. Stray cattle ate my mulberry tree down to the bare branches (including a very promising crop of fruit). Which left me begging friends and neighbors for leaves from their trees. Luckily this stage is almost at an end as my poor tree is growing more leaves. The worms eat about a shopping bag full of leaves per day, which is not small amount. I think I will have to plant a few more trees to keep up next year.

Some worms began making silk about eight weeks after the first hatching, this is a very long time to stay worms and I can only guess at the cause. Apparently the worms should start to spin after four weeks (or there about), but not having enough to eat and or colder weather can slow down the process. Maybe the silkworm chow was not enough for them, or maybe the weather was too cold. Possibly they have been bred to be worms for longer as they are now considered as pets by some people. Either way, they have begun to spin cocoons, so I built a spinning retreat for them.

My spinning retreat box. The toilet rolls are perfect for worms to spin in.

New residents getting ready to spin.

One worm decided to spin in an already occupied tube, but it's best not to disturb them once they start to spin.

You can see the sheen on the cocoons

The sheen or glow stays with the yarn

I don't know why my worms spin yellow cocoons, but apparently it washes out.
So far the silk making adventure has been fun and very satisfying. Once the cocoons hatch and I can process them the learning will really begin.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Making a yarn bowl

What is a yarn bowl? I hear you ask.'s a decorative piece of knitting or crochet equipment whose sole purpose is to stop the yarn ball from running away under the lounge while you work and getting covered in dust bunnies (and who knows what else in my house).

 Yarn bowls can be made of anything really; wood, clay, plastic, felt, or any number of other materials. The important thing is that they hold the ball securely inside and have a yarn guide that keeps the yarn from getting really tangled as you pull it through.

I pulled these photos of yarn bowls straight from an internet search. Some of them are so pretty.

 While not strictly required for knitting or crochet, they do add a touch of class to the whole thing. I love the look of them and can imagine a row of yarn bowls on a shelf, each with it's own little ball or cake of yarn sitting patiently in it while I decide what I will knit today, or sitting on a table beside my chair as I effortlessly and smoothly knit Fair Isle patterns without tangles, snarls or swearing.

The ones with lids have the advantage of being more dust proof I suppose, but there is something about seeing your yarn while you work that is so soothing and satisfying.

Home made yarn bowls here we come...

I decided to use what I had in my craft supplies (not really a choice when getting extra materials means driving two hours), I had air dry clay left over from previous projects and it is relatively cheap to buy. Next I needed a template for my bowl (not owning a potting wheel or even knowing how to use one). I found two bowls that might do among my stash.

Air dry clay from my stash

A mat, a bowl, a rolling pin, coffee and a water bottle...I'm set

Oh, and a knife for shaping

Cut a chunk off the clay and mush it up until it's soft.

Cover my chosen bowl with cling wrap

Roll the clay out flat with the rolling pin and mold it over the bowl.

Cut the spiral shape into the clay (carefully) and be sure to leave a gap wide enough for yarn to pass through

Sand the rough edges off the bowl once it's dry, especially the spiral bit

Another possible mold

I decided to try molding inside this one

Before sanding the bowl down, you can see how rough the spiral is

Using my new yarn bowls

While I don't actually need them to knit, or even to keep my yarn from getting tangled, the little yarn bowls are fun and decorative. I think I will make some more to sell at the markets and on Etsy. Maybe I can add paint to them, or use different coloured clay to make them.

Friday, 14 April 2017

New crayons from old

I have been in a real crafting frenzy this week, it's school holidays and for the first time in almost five years I don't have uni assignments pending. So I am taking this opportunity to make a heap of stuff for my Etsy store and markets, clean out some of the junk from my craft room and just plain enjoy not having to limit my time on craft stuff to get work stuff done.
When I go back to work (as a teacher this time!!!) I will be back to the daily struggle of trying to find time to do any craft, but for now...let the good times roll.

Today's offering is making new crayons by melting old ones. I cleaned out the crayon boxes at school and ended up bringing home a bucket full of broken old crayons and pastels. They have been sitting in my craft room for a term or two and today is the day I do something about it.

Lots of old crayons.

First the research;  
I found instructions for melting them directly into ice cube trays.
How to make crayons from scratch.
How to make play dough using old crayons.
How to make candles from old crayons.
How to make lip gloss from old crayons.

There is so much you can do with broken crayons that I started to wish I had more of them. 

First I tried to melt them in a silicone mold to make cute little duck shaped crayons. That's when I discovered that different brands and colours have a different melting point. Some melted and some didn't. So I melted them in a double boiler to avoid the lumpy duck outcome.

Some melt faster than others.

I spooned the melted wax into my duck mold and waited...
The resulting crayons were cute but a bit brittle, so I decided to add a little bit of beeswax to each melt to give the crayons a softer, smoother texture.

My duck mold has seen a lot of wax today

I added grated beeswax to the pot
That did the trick and the crayons were lovely little coloured ducks. My next refinement was so obvious I completely missed it while perusing all those tutorials; I decided to crush the crayons before plonking them in the double boiler to melt. I put them into a plastic bag and whacked them with a hammer until they were mush. So satisfying, and they melted faster and a lot more evenly.

My crayon crushing system

More colours.
I wiped the pot out between colours, but a lot of staining remained, this made the colour outcome somewhat...exciting and unpredictable. Just the way I like it.

My end result is some cute, but not really crisp and neat, duck crayons.

Some of my finished ducks. They are fairly neat on one side but very rough on the other.

But they work.
I am thinking of making up little packs of recycled crayons for the markets and my Etsy shop. What do you think? I have no idea what to charge for them, given that they are a waste resource, but someone may as well be using them rather than just throwing them in the bin.
I am also thinking that this activity might be fun to do with the kids at school, we could make little hearts for Mother's Day.

I wonder what else I can make from these old crayons?

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Making resin drop spindles

I have been wanting to try molded resin for quite a while now; I see all those gorgeous You Tube videos about embedding wood or flowers or dead butterflies in resin and it gets my creative nature going. So off I went to order some resin online...

I did the usual internet search for tutorials and such, You Turn TV had the best information and explanations I could find about how to choose, mix and embed items in resin. Armed with this information, my resin kit, a few molds I bought on a whim on Ebay and piles of otherwise useless junk from around the house I set about making some resin stuff...

The resin and hardener that came in my kit.

Too short pencils, beads and glitter, my test embedding materials.

Resins all have a two part mixing system; you add a chemical hardener to a resin base to make a liquid which will harden to a solid over time. The time it takes to harden varies wildly due to resin type (there are three main types), brand (many, many brands) the weather (faster setting in hot weather) and quite possibly the way you hold your mouth while mixing it (from my own experiments). My kit said to mix two parts resin with one part hardener, all the kits I looked at had a different ratio or measurement method; some measured by volume, some by weight, the one I bought measured by volume so it was easy to do. Epoxy resin (which is the kit I bought), has a long pot life, meaning it takes a while to harden once the resin and hardener are mixed together, this allows me to fuss around with it quite a bit.

My first step was to find a few molds to hold the resin while it sets. I had a couple of pendent molds and a set of ring molds that I bought on a whim so I dug those out of the overflowing craft room. I also found some round takeaway containers that had formerly held tartar sauce; these little beauties sparked the idea of making spindle whorls because they were exactly the right size and depth. So I now had a project in mind...resin drop spindles.

Second step was to prepare all the junk to be embedded, I just cut up some pencil stubs and mixed some glitter and stuff. I collect the pencil stubs from work (schools use a huge number of pencils every year and when they are too short to be sharpened again they are thrown out, unless I'm there), the glitter and bits were saved from craft activities I had done with my daughters in the past. I then mixed up my resin and hardener; this took a while as you have to make sure the two are well combined then wait for the bubbles to clear, it took about five minutes to do this part.

Third step was to pour the resin into the molds with the embeds in them. I made some spindle whorls with pencil stubs, glitter and beads in them.

That is one of the little takeaway pot filled with pencil stubs beside my resin ready to be poured.

Some filled molds, yes I did spill some resin and make a HUGE mess of the table. The little round things are the ring molds.

I tried the bottoms of plastic cups as molds too.

 The next morning....after the resin had all set I took everything out of the molds. Only breaking one whorl in the process. I also scrapped up all the bits of resin left sticking to the table after I spilled one of the molds. It had embedded the newspaper onto the table top (luckily nobody here notices a new scar on the table) but it peeled off eventually. I ended up with three usable whorls, five rings and a couple of pendents.

I borrowed my partner's drill and drilled some holes in what I thought was the middle of the whorls. As it turns out they are all slightly off center due to my poor measuring skills, but that has worked to my advantage as the finished drop spindles keep spinning for much longer than my more balanced ones (that was a happy accident). I stuck some dowel through the holes and screwed in a tiny little cup hook at the end, I also strung them up with a leader thread so I could test them.

All the pieces I made had to be sanded down to get rid of any sharp edges or lumpy bits, but it didn't take too long. I just used the sanding attachment on the drill.

Drilling a hole in the whorl

 They work really well and look kind of pretty too (at least I think so). I will be selling these little spindles at the next market stall, or maybe on Etsy. Making resin whorls was so much fun I just might include it on my list of permanent craft activities. It uses up all those little bits and pieces of stuff that I seem to collect, like too short pencils and a half cup of mixed glitter. It makes a surprisingly beautiful whorl for a drop spindle and it's a lot of fun...on the down side though, it can make a mess, it's basically plastic and needs constant purchases of resin and hardener. is a lot of fun.

What do you think?
I will post pictures of the rings I am making in another post. I'm trying to figure out how to embed fabric scraps and feathers into rings and bangles.