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?


Saturday, 23 January 2016

Local insects and animals - Blue faced honey eater



video


Meet another new addition to the family; Barry. He is a blue faced honey eater,

Barry came to us from the little girl next door; she rescued him from a group of noisy miners who were beating him up after he fell or flew from his home nest. His parents were nowhere to be seen so she bought him to us. He is living with us until he learns to feed and defend himself, then he will be free to go where he pleases. The usual progression with social birds is that they hang around the humpy, getting the odd free feed when times are hard until they meet a group of their own kind and head off with them (kind of like teenagers).




Blue faced honey eaters are a social sedentary species who eat insects, nectar and pollen. They are like a large family gathering; loud, hilarious and lots of arguments. The adults have a brilliant blue around the eyes (very 70s disco queen) but juveniles have a greenish tint around the eyes, they aren't allowed to wear eye shadow until they are about one year old.

An adult with full disco battle paint. I found this photo here


Barry is a little camera shy, but you can see his greenish eye shadow.

Barry is a late sleeper, often not waking up until well after I have fed all the outside animals, he sits with his head tucked under his wing and mutters curses at me if I poke him (gently). Once awake he demands breakfast in a loud squeaky voice until I give him some honey eater mix and meal worms. He is a playful little fellow; hanging upside down on his branches, flying in tight formations in his cage and fossicking under the newspaper on the cage floor for lost meal worms. At the moment he is spending part of each day out of his cage, flying around the humpy. Soon he will decide it is time to go out into the big world and explore the trees flowering around the place. 
This is the danger time for release birds as it is easy for them to go too far and get lost or be taken by a predator. We can't keep them in cages forever though, they are mean't to be free. It is with mixed feelings of joy and trepidation that I watch each one learn to live independently (much as I felt when my kids went off to uni) but most times it is joy that wins out.


On an unrelated subject, we planted a tree on Shaun's grave. It's a mandarine and every time I pass it I think of my little mate.

The Shaun tree

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Local insects and animals - Christmas beetle





Around the end of November we start to see a gorgeous type of scarab beetle here that we call a Christmas beetle. There are 35 species of Christmas beetle and their numbers are declining all over Australia. When I was a child we would have so many of these beetles invading the house that we would collect them in a jam jar to relocate outside.

 They fly into the humpy like a World War Two bomber, droning around the light with laborious care. They usually end up stuck behind furniture or in the track of a little opened window. If we find them alive, they go outside in the daylight so they can at least have a chance at breeding.

The average Christmas beetle lives about two years and starts life as a curl grub in the compost heap or under a log. Once they emerge as beetles and begin the search for a life partner (or at least a decent one night stand) they eat the roots of grasses and some trees. If they don't become a meal for something (my chooks love them), they mate and the females return to the ground to lay eggs.

Lots of native animals (and exotics too) eat Christmas beetles: from currawongs, Kookaburra and herons to goanna, small snakes and possums, they all love a good crunchy beetle. The baby ducks will snap them up and run away, squeaking excitedly, to find a safe place to eat them. Beetles of this kind (Scarabs) also play a role in pollinating. They are a very important part of the food chain. While the decrease in numbers  may make sweeping the floor and cleaning behind furniture easier it is a sad testament to our lack of understanding about the importance of all those tiny lives which support our own.
To boost the numbers of these beetles you can plant trees, mulch gardens and leave open areas of grass and shrubs. Leaving curl grubs in the ground in some areas can also boost numbers; we harvest all manner of insects from our soils to feed animals in care, but we also try to leave some areas alone so that we don't accidentally make any species extinct on our land.

Do you remember Christmas beetles when you were younger? Have the numbers declined in your area too?





Monday, 11 January 2016

An up-cycled wardrobe - a simple top

 I finally got around to making some tops, not that I've been running around topless. I've been wearing my hand made pants, skirts and undies consistently for a while now and people have got used to seeing me in them. Kids have stopped asking me if I wore my pyjamas to school, adults have stopped looking startled as I approach and animals react as they always have (because they generally don't care what you are wearing, or even if you are dressed at all, as long as you carry a feed bucket). Time to introduce a new twist.....

My top is a really simple sleeved shirt, made from an old quilt cover. I love this material, it has a little bit of shine to it and a subtle pattern. I think it's a man made fibre of some sort (hard to get that shine on natural fibres) but it is up-cycled.

The finished product.

My first step was to find a pattern. There are a lot of free patterns out there for tops, but most of them are for stretch material so I decided to make my own.

I found a handy tutorial (here) which is for stretch sewing but I modified it. I followed the instructions but made the pattern much bigger, allowing for a longer sleeve too.  I made it for half the top (as you can see in the photo) and cut on the fold so it would be symmetrical. In the end I cut a square neck line into it too.


This is my 'pattern' pretty simple huh?


Next I cut out two pieces using my pattern and sewed the top of the sleeves together using French seams to minimise fraying.

I love the colours in this fabric.
 Then I sewed the side seams and hemmed the sleeves and bottom. The neckline got a special treatment. Because I cut the neck opening too big (forgot to halve the measurement for the neck opening) I sewed some edging elastic around it to create a gathered edge (the same way I put elastic on undies (see here). I really like the finished result.

I made sure I used French seams on the whole lot.

Ta da

I like this pattern so much I made another one straight away from 100% cotton.

My second attempt

What do you think? I'm planning on making a few more tops using this design, then try something a bit harder.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Local insects and animals - White faced heron

Our new arrival

 A friend arrived at our house a few days ago with an enormous dog carrier containing a little blue/grey bird. He had been flapping about on the ground in their yard and they thankfully rescued him from the dogs and cats. After a quick exam I put him in a quiet place to rest while I hunted (literally) up some food for him.
He is a White faced heron; a common water bird in this part of Australia. This particular member of the species (who I decided to call Angel) is a fledgling, probably about six weeks old. At first I couldn't find anything wrong with him except he was reluctant to stand up and was very thin, so off I went to hunt food.


You can see that he is sitting on his knees to eat in this photo.

White faced herons eat lots of things; small fish, tadpoles, worms, crickets, beetles, but all of them are live and wriggling so his food needs to be live too. We took off to the river to catch some little fish for him to eat, coming home with a bucket full of tiny fish from the river's edge. We also gathered up a bucket full of tadpoles from large puddles on the way home. These were scooped out of the buckets with a net and dumped into a shallow container of water for him to 'hunt'. The two buckets of little animals lasted for the afternoon as he is a very hungry little heron.



After three days of living in his box and only coming out so I can clean his bedding, he was put out into the aviary during the day and bought in at night. The time consuming job of fishing for tadpoles, finding bugs and digging worms to feed him has become a shared thing for the three human family members currently at home, we take it in turns to fish in the dam with a net, catching tadpoles, small fish and various aquatic insects by the hundred, turn over logs and junk in the yard and dig holes in mulched areas to find bugs and worms. With four or five feeds a day, we are decimating our future frog populations to feed him. He also gets meal worms from the meal worm farm we keep for just such a need, and crickets (which we bought especially for him). I did build a cricket trap or two, but no luck catching any wild ones yet.


Rabbitto decided to come and say hello to our new guest.
Now he is strong enough to stand up by himself I see he has a bend leg, maybe it's a birth defect, maybe he had a break that healed or maybe he just stands funny; either way he is improving. He stands for longer and longer periods of time, hunts for crickets and things in the straw on the bottom of his aviary and is interested in life around him. I am hopeful that Angel will make a full recovery and fly off into the sunrise to live his own life.

You can see that his left leg has a definite extra bend at the knee.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Goodbye Shaun the sheep

It is with much grief that I am writing this post. On New Years Day we lost two very important beings in our lives; our close friend Geoffy, and Shaun.

Geoff died after a short battle with lung cancer; he never did things by halves that man. Having discovered he had lung cancer he shortly thereafter discovered a brain tumour and bone cancer, so his illness was short. Geoff was a surrogate father of sorts to my daughters when they were growing up, he was there for all the important events in their lives; birthdays, Yule, graduations, driving lessons, first boils, first boyfriends, first break up. He provided a sounding board for ideas and a release valve for venting, all mixed up with a wicked sense of humour and bourbon. We will miss him deeply.

The story of losing Shaun is a cautionary tale...
After his adventure in the wild he seemed his usual self, helping me about my daily business; following to the chook pen, around the garden, sitting by me as I spun, begging for rice crackers, but he was a ticking time bomb.
Several months ago we changed wormer from white to clear (there are three types of wormer for sheep; white, clear and organophosphate), we have been worming as usual but didn't realise we had clear drench resistant worms in our herd. Three of my girls were underweight, but we put that down to them feeding babies. When Nut died, I attributed it to mushrooms, but I now believe that was worms as well.

Shaun and Spot begging for rice crackers while I try to spin.



Shaun didn't eat breakfast on New Years Day, by that afternoon he was looking very sad and we decided to take him to the vet (always on a holiday). We got to the vet at about 8 O'clock, Shaun looked very sick by then and couldn't stand up. The vet wasn't hopeful but agreed (in the face of my tears) to try anything possible for him. He rang the next day to say he had died through the night. I am currently drenching the remaining 5 sheep once a day for three days with a new brand of white drench and hoping this will break the cycle, I can not cope with any more loss at the moment.

On the way to the vet, looking very sick.

If only I had thought of worms.

My heart is breaking; I have lost three close friends in the last two weeks and feel incredibly guilty about not picking up the worm problem sooner. On top of all that (yes...there's more), Big (one of our old roosters) got beaten up by one of his sons, one of Book Book's babies (our little frizzle hen) is not well, Spot (our 16 year old dog) hurt his shoulder and needs to be carried to the toilet and back every hour or so, and just because I like a degree of difficulty...a White faced heron baby has come into care (he eats live food, so I am catching fish and tadpoles in the dam for him three times a day).

Big getting his injuries documented for litigation (possibly)

Book Book's baby not feeling great

Spot, on doggie pain relief

Our new baby...a White faced heron

Spot ans Shaun.

No, I'm not complaining...I love my life and giving my heart to every animal that comes to the door ends in tears more often than not, but if I don't fall in love with them I miss the magical part of caring for them (without the magic it's just poop and feeding). I will fall in love with the next being who comes to the door looking for help too...it's who I am.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Up-cycled wardrobe - Last 2015 update (probably)

Back in June I challenged myself to make a weeks worth of clothes using mostly up-cycled materials.
So far I have succeeded making some items from my challenge list...

Seven pairs of underpants, in fact I made ten pairs.





Three skirts





Three pairs of long pants, I just can't stop making these.





At the moment I am working on making some tops from remnant materials I have found in my stash and at the second hand store. After that I will tackle shorts and socks (not together obviously). The hard things like bras and shoes will be left until last... I have a few ideas.

The prototype top, simple but comfortable.
More and more of my clothes are hand made now. I am really pleased with my progress on this challenge. I am wearing everything I make regularly and even making some things not on the list originally (like house dresses).