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.



Thursday, 21 April 2016

A kitchen floor - or The brown snake story


Several months ago now I had an exciting adventure with a HUGE Eastern brown snake. Anyone who knows me, or reads my blog knows that I am very tolerant of all manner of creatures who share my space. However this encounter scared the pants off me. The entire story goes like this;

I was studying away at my desk when I decided I needed to stretch my legs a little. I took a clothes basket with me out the door to do some useful housework while I enjoyed the yard. Sitting in the sun enjoying a peaceful moment was the biggest Eastern brown snake I have ever seen, she saw me an promptly shot off into the chook pen. As they don't commonly eat chooks I wasn't too worried about them, but it did suddenly occur to me that there are gaps all around the base of our walls. I dropped the clothes basket and hurried inside to rectify this problem.

I stuffed towels into cracks and sheets into holes all around the walls and went back to studying (not too effectively) jumping up to peer out widows every time a chook squawked. I had the dogs in the house with me as even though they do not commonly chase snakes I was not taking chances with this girl. My daughter had spotted this snake around the house a month previously and even managed to get a few shots of her, but until I was face to face with her I didn't really understand how BIG she was.

This is her front half...this doesn't actually give you the full picture of how BIG she is.

About 2.00 pm I got up to make myself a coffee and noticed the snake playing under the bathtub (yes, I had forgotten that our bathroom wall behind the bath is only a tarp) and immediately put the dogs on leads tied to the bed to keep them away from her. At that point a really loud and low plane went over our house and either the vibrations or the surprised squeal from me frightened her out into the kitchen area. I of course retreated to the bed holding the dogs on short leads so they couldn't get off the bed. 

SHE (yes, she deserves the capitalisation) cruised around the humpy looking for a way out (which I had inconveniently blocked) and seemed not to remember where the bathroom was. I watched her as best I could while frantically dialling numbers on my phone (which was conveniently beside the bed). My mother and father's phone was not answering (and later proved to be out), my partner was at work and had his phone turned off, my neighbours were all either out or not answering, so I resorted to ringing the WIRES hotline. After explaining to the woman who answered, where I live; in a tin shed in the Northern NSW bush, how the snake got in; there are a lot of holes and what that awful noise was; Barry alerting me and the person on the other end of the phone to a snake in the vicinity, she informed me that my closest snake carer was in Tweed Heads and probably would not make it. 

Barry, the snake alarm; checking his look in the mirror

After hanging up from that very unsatisfying call I rang my partner again (and had lost sight of the snake completely) he was on lunch and answered the phone. I explained the situation to him (stuck on the bed with the dogs, big snake in the house) and he said (and I quote..) "I will just finish mowing this block and come home". So I hung up the phone and settled down to wait, I cruised Facebook and posted an update about my situation, I joined Pinterest and put up some boards, I talked to the dogs, I bargained with the by now invisible snake and I planned the snake-proofing of my humpy. I rang our local Rural Agents and ordered snake repellents and cement, they were very helpful and slightly amused at my predicament. I made repeated attempts to call my partner and see how much longer he would be, but he had turned his phone off.

When my about-to-be-in-a-lot-of-trouble partner walked in the door it was 6.30 pm the dogs and I were desperate to go to the toilet. I put the dogs in the car (after we had all had a supervised wee) and we searched the humpy from top to bottom (mostly bottom, brown snakes don't climb much) until 1.30 am. We didn't find her, so we bought the dogs in, tied them to the bed and went to sleep amid chaos.

The next day we both had the day off work and removed the entire bathroom, down to the dirt, so we could put in a floor and a wall to keep the snakes out (at least the ground based ones). We still hadn't spotted the snake and assumed she must have left during the siege the day before.

Where the bathroom used to be and a very confused Spot (the old dog)
We dug out and sort of levelled (by eye) the floor, began laying pavers for the new floor, put a new section of raised floor on the adjacent lounge room floor and cleared the area to put in the wall panel. When we stopped for lunch and sat down in the lounge room, we spotted the snake sneaking out from under the lounge room floor and heading out the gap (obviously relieved to have escaped from the mad house) she slithered off down the yard and into the gully, while we resumed putting up the wall with renewed vigour and no lunch.


The beginnings of the new kitchen floor.

We eventually called up some younger backs to give us a hand as we were getting very tired by that time (thanks Jesse and Meeka). In three days we got the wall frame in (prefab aluminium) and cladded with corrugated iron (buried at the base to stop snakes), paved and cemented the kitchen floor (quick set cement in the gaps we had no pavers for) and a new section of tire supported floor. We also went around and blocked off a lot of holes in the lower wall.


The new section of lounge room floor, yes she came out from under there.

Kev and Jesse beginning to cement the floor



The floor almost done

I love quick set cement

The floor almost done (and Meeka having a break)

The new floor, sink moved and most importantly the wall clad.


A more agreeable visitor in the pumpkins; a carpet python.

Now back to study.

What an exciting way to get a new kitchen. We are back to bathing with a bucket outside for a while until the new laundry/bath house is built, but the encroaching winter chill will make that happen I'm sure. It's amazing what we can afford and find time to do in the face of a crisis isn't it?

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?


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.