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.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Our dog pack

A lot of people have a dog or dogs; where we live most people have at least three. Many years ago I met a man who had a beautiful blue heeler, she was a young dog at the time and was very friendly. He told us we couldn't pat or talk to her as she was being trained, so we didn't. He used an authoritative manner with her and often spoke roughly to her, he never hit her in our presence and I don't believe he did out of our sight either. He was very proud of the tricks she could do (sit, lay down, roll over, climb a ladder, etc), but never praised her for them. She had to stay in the car when at our place because she attacked other dogs. That blue heeler was later put down (by her owner) because she bit a child. This was a lesson for me as I had watched her go from a social, friendly pup to an antisocial, insecure, watchful dog. I know heelers can be nippy and often have social issues, but I believe her problems were caused by lack of socialisation and not being secure in her place. I took this lesson to heart and changed the way we live with our dogs.
We don't 'own' our dogs, they belong to our pack (or we belong to theirs); we all live together and have our roles to play within the family. People are often surprised that our dogs don't fight with each other or cause trouble among the other beings that live in and around our humpy. They assume that we must have a training program and keep the dogs (who are after all predators at heart) under strict control. The truth is far stranger and less exhausting than that; we simply treat them as part of the family (because they are). They are supported by the other members of the family and have the same expectations placed on them, they have to contribute to the well being of our home and they have become used to cross species co-operation. The rules in our humpy apply to everyone and are fairly vague, in general boiling down to the simple phrase 'do what you want as long as it hurts no-one'. We don't make rules about dogs on furniture, they sleep where they want, but they are not allowed to chase any living thing with the intention of harming it. They are confined to the yard unless we are with them, which is a rule designed to keep them safe, however they do come for a wander through the bush when we go walking. They can socialise with anyone who visits the humpy (and I take special note of those they choose to avoid), whatever the species.

We have three full time dogs and a part time dog in our pack. They are part of our family and help us live busy and fulfilled lives (sometimes by creating the work that makes us busy). They each have interesting life stories (well, interesting to me) which I would like to share.

First we have Jessica,

Jess...our one obedient dog.

Jess is a rescue dog...with a twist. One morning, many years ago when my kids were small, my youngest daughter came to me and said she had dreamed we owned a dog who was black with white around the neck, short hair and a white tip on her tail, her name was Jess in the dream. The day after this one of my good friends text me and said that a dog had wandered up her driveway in a terrible state. This dog was very thin, had hair missing and a wound on the back of her head like she had been whacked with a pipe or something. She was looking for a home for this dog, when I told her about my daughter's dream she said that this dog matched the description. Of course we set off to meet her and see if my daughter somehow had the ability to dream things into reality (and if so to implore her to dream up a Lotto win).
When we got out of the car the dog, who was very timid, poked her head out from around a corner. My daughter called softly "Jess?" and Jess trotted over and sat on her feet. After this miracle we naturally took her home, fed her up a bit and treated her head wound. She came with some fairly serious neurosis though.
Jess is a compulsive eater, we think because she was starved at some point in her life (perhaps all of it); she can't go past food and will eat until she is sick, then come back for more. This has led to her becoming very over weight. Before she joined the family we fed our dogs from one central bowl which was kept full at all times. People would ask us why our dogs didn't fight with each other and I would point to countless David Attenborough documentaries about pack feeding habits; in the wild the alpha dogs will eat first followed by the betas then the pups. That's the way our dogs fed...all lined up to wait for their turn at the bowl. After Jess became dangerously overweight we had to change to individual feedings so we could limit her food intake. She also chews wire fences, gets obsessed with individual beings (a guinea fowl was the main one until last year) and is allergic to preservatives in her food (her hair falls out). We love her though and she is the most loyal and best behaved dog in our family.

Then we have Spot.

Spot...the dementia patient.

 He joined us 17 years ago when the people we sold our TV to said they would pay our asking price if we took the last puppy from their litter. We said yes and a tiny bundle of black and white shaking fur arrived the next day. He has been my elder daughter's closest friend for such a long time. In his long life he has been dressed in doll clothes, pushed around in a pram, made to complete obstacle courses and been the companion of many a long walk. Now he is old, he has lost most of his sight, can't hear much and mostly forgets to go out to pee. People sometimes ask me why we keep him in the house when he makes so much mess and needs to be led wherever he goes, which is a lot of extra work. My answer is always; "Would you make your grandfather live outside just because he's a lot of work?". Spot has given us his whole life and I believe he deserves to be loved and treated with respect for the rest of it. He is still always the first to eat and barks at random stuff just like the other dogs even though he has no idea what he is barking at.

Bandit is the final full time dog in our family.

Believe it or not his parents were both black.

 His family line has been with us since we became a family. My partner thought that buying me a $10 miniature poodle puppy who had been rejected by her mother and had to be fed every two hours with an eye dropper would be a romantic gesture, he was right. Gizmo (as that pup came to be named), grew up and got pregnant to a local Silky terrier named Ambrose and had Pucky who in turn grew up and got herself in trouble with a Chihuahua cross Pomeranian named Chopper (who dug under the laundry foundation to be with her). The result of Pucky and Chopper's union was Busy, who lived with us for 16 years and had one puppy with a friend's dog (after a proper wedding arranged by the kids), that puppy is Bandit. He is the smallest and the loudest of our dogs, he is very sweet about taking Spot out to the toilet; he walks in front of him and leads him out the door then waits for him to be finished and leads him back in.

Our part time dog is Val, the product of a marriage between Spot and Jess arranged by the kids.

Jess had 14 pups but we could only afford to keep one. It broke my heart to have to find homes for the other 13 pups, and I often wonder if they are OK. Val is my eldest daughter's dog and lives with her most of the time. She still visits now and then and lives with us when my daughter is working or away.

Out in the yard

These two are good friends.
 Our dog pack works like any pack; we have an alpha male (Spot) who thinks he's in charge and an alpha female (Jess) who is really in charge, we have two betas (Bandit and Val) who just try not to get in trouble. We have no fights and very few behaviour problems (aside from Jess' issues) despite not having a training program or being in total control. What are your dogs to you? family pet, or just plain family.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Dye wool with fungus

We have had a lot of rain recently (and our tanks are full) so of course all the fungal spores in the soil have taken advantage of this and popped up mushrooms and shelf fungus everywhere. There is a lot of information online about dying wool (and other protein fibres) with fungus, so I decided to have a wander around and see what I could find to experiment with.

In the bush around our humpy I found many kinds of fungus after just a cursory look; I haven't tried to identify them as I am mostly interested in using them for dye. It's not a great idea to eat mushrooms you aren't able to identify, and I won't do it. I will also be using gloves to process my collected bounty, just in case they prove to be toxic.

Below is a collection of photos of the fungal and lichen life I found in my little adventure.

The plan is to dry most of the current harvest for later experimenting. I couldn't resist trying one little experiment though.
I used a lovely brown shelf fungus I found on a dead tree with two tablespoons of washing soda to make an orange/ yellow dye pot. I simmered the pot of water, fungus and washing soda for an hour. Then I plonked in some merino home spun yarn and let it all cool overnight.
After rinsing and drying I ended up with a golden yellowish coloured yarn that my daughter has named 'You dirty sheep', the name doesn't do justice to the colour which is actually quite beautiful. I can't wait to do some more experiments to see what I will get.

The little shelf fungus on the left gave the muted golden yellow of this yarn.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Matching the wine to the fibre

Recently while wandering about in Etsy (in a cyber sense), I found a shop that sell wine holders for spinning wheels. I immediately wanted one of course, given that I have recently learned to make wine and I love spinning it seemed a perfect match.

I know it's not a wine glass, but one would fit in the holder.

That started me thinking about matching wines to fibre types. We match wine to our meals, why not other sensory feasts? I thought about it for a while and came up with the following list. You may find it useful if you purchase one of those wine glass holder things for your spinning wheel.

Chardonnay- One of the most common white wines, chardonnay should taste oaky, fruity and have a velvety feel in the mouth. This sounds like good old merino to me. Match your chardonnay glass with some hand dyed merino tops for spinning and you have the perfect spinning binge.

Pinot noir- This is a light red wine which is fairly common, it should be high acid, low tannin and taste of fruits and roses. One of it's defining characteristics is it is hard to make and is very easy to get wrong. This one sounds like cotton to me; both are difficult to get right and require exacting concentration. Spin up some naturally coloured cotton with a glass of pinot noir and see if I'm right.

Shiraz- This is one of the strong flavoured red wines, it should taste of peppers, cherries and maybe chocolate. It is known as a very long lasting wine as it remains stable and drinkable in a wide variety of conditions. Because it is such a strong, opinionated wine I think it would go well with border Leicester wool as both are strong, hard wearing and lustrous.

Riesling- This light flavoured white wine should taste of fruit and be generally sweet. Riesling is a high acid white wine making it long lasting, meaning it can be aged for a long time and still be drinkable. This quality makes me think of flax which is spun into the long lasting linen yarn. Linen also improves with age and is both sweet and crisp. 

Cabernet Sauvignon- This strong flavoured, high alcohol wine is one of the most common reds around, it should taste of vanilla and red currants. It is a very long lived wine and can be aged for centuries. This wine pairs very well with Lincoln longwool fleece which can also last for centuries in the right conditions. Grab a bottle of cab' sav' and some lincoln longwool fleece and get spinning.

Merlot-  This (relatively) light flavoured red wine is said to have a plum and herb aftertaste. It's low tannin makes it easy and soft to drink. This softness makes me think of silks. Sit down to spin some silk tops with a nice glass of merlot.

This is not a complete list of course, there are so many wine types and so many fibre types it could turn into a book, don't even get me started on blends (both wine and fibre). Can you add a wine-fibre pairing to the list?

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Keeping a happy cow

This is Reach; my house cow. She has been gone for many years now, but I still miss her.
It has been years since I had a house cow...and I still miss her. She was my friend and companion through many misty mornings and rainy afternoons. I have been seeing posts about the cruelty of the dairy industry lately on Facebook and other social media and while I agree wholeheartedly that the dairy industry is currently very cruel, I do not agree that we need to totally give up dairy foods (if you are lucky enough to be able to digest them). If you want to continue to eat dairy food but want to avoid the cruelty associated with it you have several options;

(Option A) If you have a few acres and an hour or so a day to spare, you can get your own cow (or goat, sheep or other lactating mammal) and have cruelty free milk, learn to make cheese and yogurt and enjoy the company of a truly amazing friend.

(Option B) Go dairy free...this is fairly easy, unless you are an avid cheese fan. I use plant milks a lot these days as I like the flavours and I have several friends who are vegan so having them on hand makes catering easier. There are dairy free cheeses and yogurts etc available too.

(Option C) See if you can source cruelty free dairy products in your local area. There are a few places which produce milk without taking the calves away from the mother or using other cruel practices such as artificial insemination or de-horning. Check out this Krishna dairy...

I unfortunately can't find my stash of photos showing my dairy cows. The cow in this photo was one I milked for a few years; her name was Beauty.

Many years ago I wrote an article for Grass Roots magazine about how to keep a happy house cow, I thought I would reproduce it here for your reference (just in case you want to try out option A). I have added a glossary at the bottom for those unfamiliar with farming jargon.

Bovine Motherhood
Keeping a milking cow is one of the most satisfying experiences in life in my humble opinion. Not only do they supply milk and keep the grass down, they also supply meat, in the form of calves, manure, food for guinea fowl (mine parade around a seated cow picking off ticks and lice), companionship and endless amusement.
Management of house cows is a tricky, much discussed subject (like climate change or the best way to peg out jeans) but surprisingly easy. All you need to do is keep in mind the needs of your cow. By needs I mean the  emotional or psychological needs rather than physical. There have been many wonderful books and articles written on the physical needs of cattle already; Keeping a house cow by Jim Wilson is one of my favorites.
Cows are motherly creatures; they live to fuss over a new calf, so don't deprive them of it. When your cow calves leave them alone for a week. This gives them the chance to get to know each other and gives the colostrum a chance to clear. Then bring them both in, she might be a bit reluctant to share her baby at first, food will help though. If your cow has been handled quietly and calmly  she will eventually allow you to handle her calf too.
 Most cows will have more than enough milk for you and the calf. Sometimes you can milk the cow while the calf runs around you both, I usually do this for the first two weeks, I just take out my bucket, stool and some hay, plonk them down by the cow and away I go. As the calf gets older you will have to lock it up for part of each day.
I have found that locking the calf up in the morning and milking in the afternoon works for me, but the other way around will work too, it just depends on whether you are a night owl or a morning person. Either way allow room for the calf to run and play and pasture for grazing in the calf pen. I leave our calf in the mesh lined cow paddock beside the house and turn the cow out to the larger part of the property to graze, that way I can keep an eye on the little...darling. I run a daycare center for my cows; they go off to graze while I watch the kids. Cattle in herds do this naturally, one or two cows can often be seen minding a mob of calves, sometimes an old bull will fill in too, while the mothers graze over the hill. Older daughters will help look after calves too, if you keep a heifer calf off your cow, she will take on some of the care of future calves.
While you milk, talk or sing to your cow. This may sound silly, but I've found it really does help to calm them, especially singing nursery rhythms. Maybe they are too busy giggling to worry about you playing with their udder, the rest of the family certainly are. Always remember to leave some milk for the calf after you milk, sucking of teats by the calf after you milk prevents mastitis and stimulates greater milk production.
 It also helps to have two cows in calf six months apart, so you can leave the cow to feed her calf at six months and still milk the other one. When your second cow is ready to milk you can simply swap them over, it is simplest to have them all running together. There is no need to fuss over weaning, most cows will wean their calves themselves about a month before they calve again, of course there is always the exception to the rule. Some cows like to keep their calves tied to their apron strings by feeding them into adulthood (they are so human) you may have to intervene here.
It seems to be a common misconception that you need to get 10-15 litres a day from your cow. Unless you have a huge family, or make cheese every day, you don't need that much, just take what you need. Cows will regulate their milk production to meet the demand, so the more you take the more she makes, but you will have to feed her more to keep her in good shape while she does it.
Using this method you can go away for a holiday or skip days, just leave the calf with the cow while you are away. I have left my cow out for a month, bought her back in and milked four litres off her the first day. Mostly the yield will drop, but it can be built back up within a few days with extra feeding and regular milking.
Cows also need company, of the bovine kind if possible. If you only have room for one cow and have no cow keeping neighbors, then maybe a goat would fit. Cows will make friends with almost anything and a goat is a good substitute as you can milk her while your cow is dried off. If the old girl is quiet you can go out and sit near her. Cows give off such a calm vibe they can soothe a troubled mind almost instantly. She will come to regard you as a kind of honorary calf, and as such as part of the herd.
This method probably sounds a bit erratic, but I assure you it has worked for me for eight years now. I have had no mastitis, fat calves and both I and my cows are happy. So good luck keeping a house cow, just remember; it's fun. 

Calves- Calving refers to the process of giving birth for a cow. Also the plural of calf.
Colostrum- Colostrum is the substances all mammals produce immediately after giving birth which conveys immunity to disease and concentrated sugars, minerals and vitamins to the young. If calves don't get colostrum they will be thin, sickly and not unlike famine victims for their entire life.
Bring them both in- A phrase meaning to bring the animals closer to the main base of operations in order to handle them. Not related to spy craft in any way.
Heifer- A juvenile female bovine, or a teenage cow. Often seen to be overly concerned with grooming and the activities of the bull in the next paddock.
Mastitis- A bacterial infection in the udder, causing pain, swelling, pus and general crankiness in the cow and any other mammal unlucky enough to suffer from it.
In calf- Sort of like 'with child'. Farmers refer to a cow as being 'in calf' when she is pregnant, even though the calf is in her.
Weaning- When the calf is persuaded it doesn't need to feed from the mother any more. Usually cows will begin to wean their babies by moving away when they try to feed, if the calf doesn't get the hint she may try gently butting her calf with her head when they try to feed. If the calf is particularly persistent (or dim witted) she may kick him/her in the head every time they try to feed. If nothing else works I have seen cows outright attack their teen offspring to get the idea across.