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

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Learning to make wine



Over the last three months or so I have been learning to make wine. Several people have expressed the opinion that my timing is not great; given that I am learning to drive at the same time. You don't have to worry yet though...wine making is a long, slow process.

Having always been interested in the process of fermented foods (or transformation in any guise really) I began by learning to make sourdough bread. This led to thinking about how wine is really just rotten fruit water (that tastes good) and how amazing that is. After a lot of reading on the internet and a visit to the local library I was ready to get fermenting.

Wine makers seem to range from those who elevate the process to an art or a science to those who accidentally left some juice out and found it had miraculously become wine by the time they got around to cleaning the kitchen. I figured that since we have been making the stuff for the last 6000 years or so, you probably don't need to build a lab to do it.

My first batch was apple cider, made from store bought apple juice (so I could get an understanding of the process). A demijohn (big glass bottle), some yeast, Campden tablets and a bung/airlock were duly ordered from an online shop and when they arrived I began the learning journey.

I didn't photograph that first batch (or the honey mead and the blueberry wine that came after) so I thought I would show you the process with a new batch (and because putting a new batch together is just so exciting I will take any excuse to make more wine). This batch is made from store bought juice again, I used grape juice with a little bit of apple thrown in for flavour.



The only immutable law in wine making is that everything (and I mean everything) has to be clean and sterile. I made up a sink full of sterilizing fluid by crushing two Campden tablets and dissolving them in water. I was a little worried about using sodium metabisulfite (which is a sulfur based material) in our system as anything designed to kill yeasts and bacteria will affect the health of soil and water. However the risks are very low when using it as infrequently as I do.

I didn't take a photo of the sink (you all know what that looks like). This is my beaten up pack of Campden tablets.



After everything is sterilized (equipment, counter tops, hands, stray pets) it is time to activate the yeast. This is just a matter of mixing the yeast with warm water and fruit juice in a cup and putting it somewhere it won't get spilled. Wine yeast is sold in neat little sachets containing dehydrated powder. When the yeast is mixed with liquid it starts to wake up and look for food, just what you want in a yeast.

My neat little yeast sachet and a bowl of apple juice and water.

This is the yeast when it is first mixed into the juice.

This is the yeast after about half an hour. Some is missing because I forgot to take a photo before beginning to pour it into the juice.


Next the juice (or fruit mush) is mixed with sugar in a pot on the stove, I used five cups of sugar in this batch. I heated the juice gently and stirred (not so gently) to dissolve all the sugar. When all the sugar was dissolved I poured the lot into a sterilized demijohn, added a teaspoon of yeast nutrient (don't ask me what that is, the books said I needed it) and popped on an airlock and bung.

Speaks for itself really.

 Most web sites recommend taking a specific gravity reading with a hydrometer before you pour in the yeast. I bought a hydrometer to do just that, then forgot to use it. Next time I will definitely do this though as it apparently gives you a better idea of how alcoholic the final product is. I guess for now I will have to rely on the tipsy test (you know...how many glasses does it take to make you tipsy).


The airlock and bung are the funny bits at the top of the big bottle. Airlocks let gas escape but don't let gas in.


 The general idea is to wait until the bubbling stops (between days and weeks) then rack the wine into a clean, sterile demijohn with a new sterilized airlock leaving behind the dead yeast (called lees) which forms a sludge in the bottom. I use a food grade hose (sterilized of course) to siphon out the good wine but leave the lees behind. The wine is left in this demijohn for another month or two until it is clear (apparently you should be able to read through the bottle) then bottled and stored for a further few months or years. After all that you can open a bottle and have a taste.

This is the batch, bubbling away producing alcohol.

My first batch of apple cider. I started it three months ago and opened my first bottle with a friend a week or so ago.

As you can see, the process of making wine is long and slow. The fact that it has taken so long to make and involved so much sterilizing, washing and general fiddling makes every bottle special. If someone gives you a bottle of home made wine they must really like you.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Upcycling old tiles into wall art



Coffee, craft and off colour jokes.
A while ago my dad bought down a pile of old mismatched tiles he had found while cleaning out his shed. These little beauties sat on the useful pile for a few months waiting to become something. Yesterday inspiration hit... the girls are home for a visit and we were having a craft day...fueled by ill-advised internet searches (damned Pinterest). We made Popsicle stick bracelets,tile wall art and did some applique.

The wall tiles were so easy and so much fun. I don't usually make decorative things; I prefer making useful items, but my daughters convinced me. I must say the process was easy and very satisfying.

Three of my finished tiles

First we found a tutorial that we understood; The Crunchy Betty blog is written in easy to understand language (just follow the link). Then we dug around and found all the essential ingredients we needed;

tiles
photos and/or diagrams
Mod Podge
foam applicators
Spray on varnish
felt sheets
hot glue gun and glue
Super glue
picture hanging hooks

 I didn't take any photos of the ingredients gathering, but the list isn't long.


 Then we spread out some newspaper and painted Mod Podge onto our tiles. This step required making a new pot of coffee and telling off colour jokes (just to keep things interesting). We glued our pictures onto the tiles; one of my daughters had to re-glue hers as it wasn't exactly straight and she couldn't live with it. The next step was to wait for the first layer of Mod Podge to dry clear...so we started decorating some Paddlepop stick bracelets we had made previously (ADHD is rampant in my family).

Spreading out our first layer

Decorating our bracelets

This fox design is burned into the wood with an old soldering iron.

As an aside....we soaked our Paddlepop sticks in vinegar for about 15 minutes then bent them into coffee cups (as in this photo) and left them to dry by the fire. When they were dry we took them out and decorated them.



Our tiles with the pictures glued down and the second coat of Mod Podge on

 We coated our tiles with Mod Podge a total of three times, waited for them to dry between each coat, then sprayed some varnish over the top. We put the tiles in the sun to dry for an hour or so and did a spot of sewing.

An applique blanket as an ode to my eldest daughter's favourite TV show.

As a finishing touch we super glued some picture hooks to our tiles and covered the backs with felt squares (hot glued on).

Super glue will hold the little hook things on the tiles...we hope

Felt squares glued to the back finished off our tiles.

Our craft day was a lot of fun and we learned a couple of new things;

Don't allow free roaming birds on the craft table when using Mod Podge (Barry was very interested) and;
Get your pictures straight the first time (or you have to reprint them).

Now I have to make a wall to hang my new tiles on.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Hawser ply yarn- An accidental discovery

Sometimes happy accidents happen, and this is one of them.
I am currently completing the last two units of a Bachelor of Education (primary), these last two units are hard and require a lot of brain space. I usually spin, weave or knit in the evenings (after a long day at the computer) to relax and do something productive. So last week I decided to try a new plying method for making fingering weight yarn (plying is when you twist two strands together to make a stronger and thicker yarn). The usual method is to spin singles in a clockwise direction and then ply two together in an anticlockwise direction. My new method involved winding the singles into a centre pull ball and plying in the usual anticlockwise direction from both ends of it to make a two ply yarn.
This time I was distracted by thinking about my current assignment (teaching fractions) and plied the whole 100 g of singles in a clockwise direction (without even noticing; yes I was that distracted). The result was a really twisty yarn that could not be used for anything and looked sort of wrong. So I went looking for advice on the internet (as I always do) and found that other people have made the same mistake (unsurprising really) and decided they liked it better that way. This plying method is called Hawser ply and it is used to make super stretchy yarn for knitting cuffs on sleeves, socks and hats. The catch was that I had to make another 100 g of clockwise plyed yarn then ply them both together in a clockwise direction.

The first skein of twisty yarn.
 I found some great tips and pointers in a The Spinners Book of Yarn Designs; keep the yarn tight while it is plied and give it a good hot wash when it's done.

Two balls of mistake yarn ready to ply up. You can see how twisty it is.

After I made my mistake yarn again (on purpose this time) I plied them together in the recommended anti-clockwise direction and got a very stretchy DK weight yarn. I can't wait to knit something up with it now to see if it does make better cuffs.


Hawser yarn on the swift

The finished Hawser plyed yarn

I ended up with 200 g of  Hawser ply yarn

It's exciting to make mistakes and discover new things isn't it. I think I will make more of this type of yarn in the future, just because I can. It has also got me interested in exploring different plying methods (there are so many) and getting a bit more variability into my yarns.

Oh and I did eventually get to making some fingering weight yarn.

My second attempt at fingering weight yarn; merino this time.



Friday, 8 April 2016

Natural dye experiments - gardenia powder and alum




My natural dye experiments have continued into the garden; I recently tried gardenia powder to dye some 100% wool yarn, and the results were spectacular. I found a listing for gardenia powder in my favourite dye stuffs shop (for the bits I can't make myself); KraftKolour, and having a few dollars to spend (thanks to selling some home spun cotton yarn) I bought it. I was really curious to see what sort of colour I could get from a common garden plant. My mother recently found a mixed bag of pure wool in a second hand shop in white which she gave to me (thanks Mum), so I had a decent amount of yarn to play with.

The process is really very simple; weigh your fibre; mine was 123g, gather your equipment and off you go.



My equipment and supplies.

The yarn my mum found in a second hand shop.


I decided to mordant my yarn with alum at a rate of 15g per 100g of yarn (and yes I did use a calculator to do the maths).

I weighed up my alum and popped it into my yard dyeing pot with some water.

Once I had the alum mixed in fairly well with the water in my dye pot I plonked in the yarn in handy skeins (all tied up with cotton yarn so I didn't end up with a tangled mess). I bought this pot to a simmer then turned it off and let it sit while I made up the dye.

My dye was mixed at a rate of 6g per 100g of yarn (yes...calculator again) in a big stainless steel pot. The dye comes as a sort of bluish powder but the dye pot goes a dark blue colour. I heated this water up almost to a simmer (close enough to the same temperature as the yarn in the mordant).

Then I fished out my skeins (using my trusty serving fork, that is only used for fibre work) and lowered them into the dye pot.

The yarn going into the dye pot. How pretty is that.

After about ten minutes it was this colour.

I turned off the heat on the dye pot and let the yarn sit until it was completely cool. Actually it sat in the dye until I remembered what was in the big pot on the bench while I was washing up that evening.
Then I rinsed the yarn in cool water, wrung it out and whacked it against a post to separate any felted strands (force of habit) and hung the skeins up to dry.

Drying skeins
As you can see the different brands of yarn took the dye up at varying rates. I love the different shades though and they are all very pretty.



My dried and wound up gardenia dyed yarn.



I am so impressed with this colour I think I will get spinning and make some merino home spun to try it out on; maybe I can get enough of a single shade to make a jumper or something.



Friday, 4 March 2016

Natural dye experiments- onion skin + iron = green




I've been interested in natural dyes for a while now; I read a lot of blogs and endlessly wonder what colour I could get from plants I pass on a daily basis, but this is the first time I have systematically experimented with them.
After reading about how easy it is to make natural mordants at home and how they can give different colours to dyes, I decided to take the plunge.

First I needed a dye journal (of course) to record all my recipes in so I could repeat a colour if I wanted to.



My new dye journal.

I had a refillable cover made already (see this post for how I did it) so I whipped up some saddle stitch signatures to fill it with and away I go.

Measuring the holes out very precisely (sort of) with another signature.

Punching holes so I can stitch the pages together.

 Natural dyeing is a huge subject, so I won't try to explain it all in one post. The basics are simple though; natural fibres such as sheep wool, alpaca, cotton and silk can all be dyed using plant and animal products. The general method is to boil stuff and soak fibre in the resulting liquid. Most dyes obtained from plants need a mordant (which helps the colour stick to the fibre), mordants are usually salts or metals such as alum, iron, copper, salt and vinegar, so I read up on how to make some at home and had a shot at it.

 I made iron and copper mordant by filling two old jars with water and a half cup of vinegar then throwing (well placing carefully) copper pipe in one and iron in the other. I left both jars on a shelf and used the iron mordant with great results two weeks later.

The one on your left is iron and the one on the left is copper.
Of course I wrote it all down in my dye journal.

 Having read that onion skins (usually a yellow dye) with iron mordant can give greens I just had to try it. So I broke out my supply of saved onion skins and boiled up a batch of dye; just throw onion skins in a pot of water and boil away (be aware that your partner or children may erroneously believe you are cooking dinner as it smells like soup). Meanwhile I poured two cups of iron mordant into a big pot of water, added 50g of washed merino wool and put it on to heat. When the mordant pot came to the boil I turned off the heat and let it sit for an hour. After that I strained the onion skins out of the dye pot and dumped the liquid dye into the mordant pot. The fibre immediately began to go a dark greenish brown, so I just let it sit.

The colour started to go into the wool straight away, so exciting.

 After a couple of hours (while I was forced to study and do house work) I fished the wool out of the dye vat and took it outside to dry. There was still a fair amount of colour in the pot so I just threw in another 50g of merino to see what colour I would get with no mordant except what was left in the mix.

I'm fairly happy with the result.

Hope it keeps it's colour as it dries.

It's the same colour as Barry's wing feathers.
I dutifully wrote it all down for later perusal.
 The colour is so deep; maybe because it's natural dye it has the same look as Barry's wing feathers, they sort of glow with colour. I hope my wool keeps it's colour as it dries and I can spin up some beautiful green yarn to make a hat or something.

Next I'll look for a recipe that uses copper mordant and makes purples or blues.
Any suggestions?


Friday, 25 September 2015

Learning to card weave

Another journey of exploration for me... card weaving. Also known as tablet weaving, this art has been used to make straps and decorative edges for centuries (there is nothing new under the sun). I first read about it while researching naelbinding (or needle binding) and other Viking textile methods. I have yet to perfect the art of making socks with a horn needle and wool (naelbinding) but I did give tablet weaving a go. I made a short lead for Shaun and a long lead for Sid and am now in the process of making a collar and lead set for my daughter's dog; Val.


The basics sound deceptively easy; just make some cards with a hole in each corner. I used old milk bottles to make mine, the plastic is thin but strong and I can write on them with a permanent marker. My cards are two and a half inches square with the holes a half inch in from the corner.

Then thread them up according to the draft pattern. I decided to start with a really simple one that gives ovals.

The warp (the long bits of yarn you weave through) is tied to two fixed points (or one to your belt and one to your toe) and away you go.

Simply turn the cards forwards or backwards (depending on the pattern) to open new sheds (the gap you put the weft [the bits of yarn that goes from side to side in weaving] through).

I have learned some lessons on this journey...

My cards, made from cut up milk bottles

First and most importantly- don't let your warp threads get twisted or you end up with a huge mess and a red face (possibly high blood pressure too). Eventually I figured out that cutting each card's worth of warp and pegging them individually to a coat hanger was quicker than cutting big numbers of each colour then sorting them out later.

My first mess of warp strings...waiting to be sorted out.

Now I just cut them and peg the until I am ready to thread.
Secondly- It is much easier to move when you aren't tied to a door, or life is easier with a loom. I made a simple frame for my card weaving warp after my first weaving session. This simple loom is made from PVC pipe and 90 degree angle joiners. It works really well and I no longer take ten minutes to get free of the warp so I can answer the phone, check on a squawk from outside or go to the loo.

A really simple card weaving loom
Thirdly- keep your cards all together with a clip when you advance the warp to weave a new bit. If you don't you could end up having to untangle a pile of warp threads all over again (I did).

This handy clip keeps the cards all aligned and neat when I'm not weaving and when I move the warp up.

Lastly- be prepared to be endlessly awed by the beautiful bands you can make with just a simple warp and some bits of plastic.

Shaun's lead on the loom



The finished lead, I love the patterns and it is so strong.

The second attempt at a lead. I made a few mistakes in the card turning, but it's strong and useful anyway.

Sid loves it, because it's longer than Shaun's and he can graze as we walk.

The third attempt. This will be part of a collar and lead set for Val; my daughter's dog.

As you can see I'm far from an expert, my selvages are still messy and I miss threaded one card on the latest warp (the pink dot in the green circles), but I am getting better at it and enjoying the process. Life is good when I can learn new things.

Oh and Book Book (my youngest daughter's hen) is sitting on a nest in an old chest of draws, no...not in the house. She will hatch some lovely champagne frizzles soon and I will have chickens to watch again.