Saturday, 14 February 2015

Home made toothpaste- an adventure in reducing waste

Having recently discovered a great website called 'Trash is for tossers', I decided to have a go at making and using one of their recipes; a toothpaste alternative (even less rubbish for the dump bag). The 'Trash is for tossers' website has some great cleaning alternatives and tips for reducing waste. Of course some of the suggestions and tips seem very self evident too, but that is to be expected as the writer lives an entirely different lifestyle to me; she lives in New York, in an apartment, and I live in the Australian bush, in a humpy.

Toothpaste recipe
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 1/2 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda
25-30 drops peppermint oil (food grade)

Instead of peppermint I used orange oil (That's what I had).

original toothpaste recipe

My ingredients

The ingredients in the container, still quite hard

I added hot water to the saucepan, but didn't have the hotplate on as the container is plastic.

We have toothpaste.

I used about a teaspoon for my first brush.

As the instructions stated, this toothpaste is much saltier than commercial paste and it doesn't foam, but my teeth are clean and my mouth feels refreshed and strangely cleaner than usual. I think I will persevere with this new paste and see if it helps clean my chronically coffee stained teeth. Maybe I could add a few drops of peroxide to the mix.
What do you think of this simple recipe? Will you try it?
If you do, I would love to hear your experiences and improvements.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Dyeing yarn with indigo

Indigo dye vats have fascinated me for a while now; the magic that happens when you add fibre to a yellow green dye pot to get a blue result puzzles and excites me. Recently I found the time (and courage) to have a go at it; thank you Sandy for the push.
First I did a fair bit of research about how indigo is made from the plant. Indigo is made from the leaves of indigo plants which are fermented, soaked in a caustic solution and then dried to produce the blue 'rocks' or powder that comes in the mail for me to play with.
Once I had my little pots of powders and chemicals, I downloaded the instructions for use and got to work...

I decided to dye some hand spun cotton as I had an order for cotton gloves.

I gathered up pots, scales, utensils, indigo, caustic soda
sodium hydrosulphite, yarn and a sense of adventure as per instructions 

I added the caustic and hydrosulphite to the 15 litres of water

I added the indigo to the dye pot

It made a big pot of blue at first, so I put the lid on and waited.

Until the pot was yellow/green with a copper scum on top.
This photo doesn't show the copper scum to full effect, but it is there.

I decided to experiment with cotton, merino and suffolk yarns (because I had those lying around).

Better late than never, I found a pair of rubber gloves.

I made a tiny skein to test dye first, this one is cotton.

Well, it came out blue.

So I tied the skeins to a bit of wood and lowered them into the pot.

They went a lovely shade of dog vomit green/yellow at first.
 The copper scum shows up much better in this photo.

I lifted the yarn out and waited for it to turn blue

Which it did

Then faded to a much lighter blue as it dried.

That was the batch that worked......the story of the vat that didn't is much the same until the 'lifting the yarn out' stage then I found that my four skeins of cotton yarn (which take forever to prepare and spin) had turned into a big blue jelly fish in the bottom of the vat. I eventually figured out that the 150g of caustic recommended in the instructions was just too much for the yarn and it melted. The second lot I cut the caustic down to 15g (about a tablespoon) and it worked well; must have been a misprint.

In ancient times indigo dye vats were made using stale urine (because they didn't waste anything). The processed indigo was stuffed into a cloth bag and lowered into a big tub of stale urine and left to ferment for a week. Cloth and fibre was then soaked in the vat for various lengths of time then rinsed (really well, I would think) and left to dry in a breezy place. This kind of dyeing vat is called a sig vat. I will try this method at some point, when I can afford more indigo dye.
Maybe I should try growing some indigo plants, what do you think?
Have you tried indigo dyeing? What was your experience?

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Happy Lammas to all

Lammas is the sabbat of first harvest; the time of year when we pick the last of the summer fruits from the garden and preserving for the winter is in full swing. At this time of year the animals are usually fat and healthy, the young ones have grown into that awkward teenage phase and the harvesting of staples like wheat, corn and potatoes begins.

Lammas is also known as 'loaf-mass' as this is the time when the first bread is made from the newly harvested grain. The Corn Lord gives up his life for the ripening of the grain at this sabbat and to celebrate this we eat newly baked bread and honey.

This year we had a quiet, gentle ritual with a few examples of our harvests on the altar and feasted in the evening by the light of an almost full moon.

A very fruitful Lammas to you all. May all your harvests be huge.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Making a refillable traveler's journal

As most of you already know; I am a witch. I celebrate the Wheel of the Year, I follow the basic commandment of 'An it harm ye none, do what thou wilt', I believe in the three-fold law and I collect information. Being a witch is (for me) about learning new things and exploring new ways of looking at life. Being a crafty witch, I make my own tools.
One of the most important tools a witch has is her (or his) books, they hold the tiny crumbs of wisdom and knowledge we manage to gain in our life and can be passed on to another witch to use once we die. I make my own books; one for every new 'subject' (although they all interlock in some way); I made a massive, red leather, hard covered, parchment filled tome for my Book of Shadows (tools, correspondences and rituals); I made a cute little upholstery fabric covered book to record my life changing journey through the Sacred Cord (sort of like a rosary that takes two and a half years to complete); I made a black suede, hard covered slim lined book to record my divinations and dreams (Tarot, runes, iChing, scrying, etc); I made a decorated hardwood, post bound tome for my Tarot learnings (meanings, correspondences, Kabbalah and, layouts, etc) and now I have made a versatile, refillable, black leather traveller's journal for my Kabbalah learnings.

My first Book of Shadows

My Sacred Cord book

My divination book

The cover of my Tarot book
Inside my Tarot book

Because I used what I could find about the house, my journal is a rough item, but I am fairly pleased with it. The first thing I did was; make a cup of coffee (essential to the creative juices), then I got down to business. I wanted the pages to look old and worn so I found a ream of photocopy paper, carefully folded each page in half (not the whole ream, only about 32 pages), dipped each one individually in strong instant coffee and laid them out on a towel to dry. This makes the pages unpredictably brownish yellow with blotches (perfect for that aged look).

My instant coffee bath

Some of the pages laid out to dry

You can see the difference in colour between the new paper on the left and the coffee stained stuff on the right.

While the pages dried, I dug out an old leather skirt (it was the eighties OK) and cut a piece that was  2 cm or so higher than the folded A4 paper (A5 size page) and 6 cm or so wider than an open sheet of A4 paper (A4 size page). The leather was fairly thin and would have been too floppy for a book cover on its own so I also cut a piece of heavy duty interfacing and some pretty orange material the same size as my leather.

Old leather skirt

Heavy duty interfacing on top of the material square

These three sheets were glued together with the interfacing in the middle, clamped and hung to dry for a while.

My cover drying in the breeze.

While the cover dried I began making the note book to go inside this cover. I followed the clip below to the letter, but my finished print block was much messier than hers. Undeterred, I decided it added to the antique-y charm of the project and used it anyway. Unfortunately I didn't take photos of this step (I got lost in the process and forgot what I was doing).

I then trimmed the outside edges and punched some holes in my cover and threaded hat elastic through them in the sequence described in the clip below.

Here is the inside of my cover with the elastic in place.

Next I simply threaded my text block into the elastic holders and it was finished.

Spot the dog loved it; a leather paw rest, how innovative.

Then I started filling it up with collected bits of understandings and knowledge.

The three elastic bits mean I can add another two text blocks as I fill the original one up.

I loved making this project, I think I will make some more soon.

Somewhere down the track, I have plans of making my two daughters a book each and fill them with little snippets of information I think they may need, the sort of thing you ring your mum;
'How do I unplug the bathroom drain..without putting my fingers in there?'
'How do I make pancakes?'
'Is it better to close the windows in a wind storm or leave them open?'
'Where do I go to register to vote?'
'How do I make soap?'
'What herbs are good for a cold?'

and many others.

Maybe one of these journals would be appropriate for that, new books can be added as more questions arise.

What do you think of this project?
Do you like the old and battered look for books and journals?

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Mowing the lawn with sheep

The lawn has become a bit wild over the last storm season; with waist high grass in some places. In contrast outside the home yard is mowed like a bowling green to a distance of 30 metres or so. The reason for this is sheep. My girls (and now three boys too) mow the fire breaks for me by simply doing what sheep do; eat, poop and do complex mathematical equations in their head while chewing cud. The sheep have not been allowed into the yard for months because when they are in there they eat everything they can get their hooves on; the vege bed in an old trailer, anything in pots, fruit trees and I have even caught one licking the rabbit (she looked very guilty when I caught her). However, the lawn needs I have put wire covers around the trees, moved the pots and let the vege bed go to seed, something may survive.

This is the edge of the driveway outside the yard. You can see how low the girls keep the grass (except bladey grass)

Kraken hiding by the pond

Yes, it's a mess. No excuses, I just got lazy

Using sheep to mow the lawn is hardly a new idea; lawns were around long before mowers were, in fact lawns were created by the grazing of animals around a building. There is even a landscaping feature designed to prevent livestock from straying onto the garden while they mow the lawn, called a Ha Ha wall. Paris (the city in France, not the socialite) began the move back to sustainable lawns last year by introducing rare breed sheep as lawn mowers in some parks, if it proves efficient, the system will be extended into the city (and beyond).

Woodrow Wilson used sheep to mow the White House lawn during World War 2

The girls look a bit ragged at this time of year, they are in the process of shedding their wool.

So I am continuing, or rediscovering, an ancient practice which feeds the sheep, trims the lawn and fertilises the ground. If only I could train them to stay away from the garden plants all would be perfect.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

local insects and animals- Stinging flies

It's summer, you can tell by the buzzing noises all around. Flies are a common problem in Australia, especially in rural areas where livestock are kept. Here we have three sources of fly attraction; the sheep, the chooks (and other sundry poultry) and the toilet. The most common flies are the stingers, they feed on blood and lay their eggs in poop, so they have a double incentive to live with us.The most common stinger we have here is the horse fly (Tabanidae species) there are many different species but they all share common behaviours.

Around the humpy there are two main times when you will probably get bitten by a stinging fly; early morning and early evening. These flies seem to swarm together to feed before and after the sun hits the ground. They buzz around the sheep when I let them out to graze in the mornings and come back to the paddock with them in the evening, luckily the buzzing sound attracts the guinea fowl, who see them as an 'all you can eat' opportunity. The guinea fowl parade around the sheep making squeaky wheel sounds in an excited fashion as they snap up flies by the dozen. The chook pen is one place I rarely find stinging flies but not because they don't go there; they are attracted by the smell of warm blood and chook poop. I rarely find stinging flies in the chook pen because the chooks love to eat them too, in fact one source of constant amusement here is watching the young chickens catch a fly then run away with it cheeping like a maniac while all the other chicks give chase (also cheeping maniacally).
The toilet is the other place where you will probably encounter stinging flies; not only are there warm blooded animals holding relatively still, but nearby manure in which to lay's a stinging fly paradise. In response to this over-abundance of flies several bird species have taken to loitering around outside the toilet (and sometimes inside it too). The fairy wrens (both blue and red) always build nests on grass clumps or low shrubs nearby and are a source of entertainment as they hop about chasing flies and other insects. The welcome swallows swoop around the little tent that is our toilet building catching flies on the wing (and swooping very low to do it because stinging flies stay close to the ground). Our two old ducks spend a lot of time sitting in the toilet (well, beside the pedestal) because at their age they prefer food to come to them. They snap flies up as they buzz by.

Taken in balance, stinging flies are not such a problem for us, they provide a supplementary food source for both domestic and wild birds (and reptiles, I didn't mention the lizards and small snakes who eat them too) and a constant source of laughter and entertainment for us. All for the cost of a few drops of blood now and then and an itchy lump or two.

Do you have stinging flies?
How do you think of them?

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Local insects and animals - Garden orb spider

While tidying up a fallen branch recently, my daughter came across a pretty little spider. We had no idea what kind of spider she was (or if she was male or female, I'm just opting for female) so we did a quick search for a name. After a few hours of searching through sites and being gob smacked by the huge variety of spiders I decided to send the picture to an expert.

The lovely man from emailed me back within the hour with an identification. This lovely girl is a kind of garden orb spider. Apparently there are lots (100+) of species in this family of spiders (Araneidae) and her particular species wasn't known to him.

Orb weavers are spiders which build the traditional orb shaped web, they are non-venomous and generally beneficial to have around. The females lay their eggs in late autumn then die, leaving the next generation to fend for themselves through the long winter.

I am so glad I got the chance to meet this pretty spider and hope to see more of them in the future.
What spiders are common at your place?