Alkanet and pomegranate

A friendly natural dyer (and highly accomplished spinner and weaver) from the Guild gave me a gift a while back.  Alkanet root! This is a dyestuff I had not expected ever to be able to use, and a welcome gift: very generous of him!

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Once it went into the bottom of the dye pot, its purpleness became ever clearer–albeit with some camera help!  Jenny Dean clearly doesn’t like the smell of alkanet, and I have seen other dyers suggest it is especially unpleasant.  For me, it evoked a rotting tropical fruit.  The kind of thing some people find delicious and others find appalling. I do prefer the lovely smell of madder or eucalypt, but wasn’t troubled by the alkanet root bath.  Mind you, I dye out of doors.

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As it happened, this was the same day I made a delectable juice from the last of the season’s pomegranates.  Years back, I  noticed just one pomegranate tree in all the streets of the neighbourhood where I walk that never, ever, had a rotting fruit fallen underneath it.  The tree was always in superb condition–clearly loved, tended and cared for by knowledgeable people.  One day I found the people from that garden in the front yard and asked what they did with the fruit, because at that point, no one I knew had ever served them up to me (all this has since changed).  The man I asked went into the house and brought me out a sample of the pomegranate juice he had made for his dinner guests!  And then explained how to make it by releasing the jewel like seeds from the skin and then putting them in a food processor and straining the results.  So.  That’s how I had used the fruit.  And this is all that was left.

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Jenny Dean came with me again for the ride, and some of my cold alum mordanted fleece-of-Viola went into the pots.  Once I had carried out Jenny Dean’s alkanet instructions, I threw more fleece into the pot to see whether there would be any additional colour in there.

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On the left, the alkanet purple.  Upper right, alkanet exhaust, which I would call a pale brown.  Bottom right, the pomegranate yellow.  Subtle but pleasing.


Filed under Natural dyeing

Solstice planting

My family of choice have started a seasonal celebration tradition that we are happily invited to.  Winter solstice usually involves a progressive dinner, and we hosted dessert this year.  We started out with some planting in the neighbourhood in the afternoon.  I loaded up the wheelbarrow with about 40 plants.

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My beloved pushed.

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We planted out an unloved patch of earth beside a tram stop, and for good measure, weeded the bed next to it that council had planted with grevilleas.  Hooray for grevilleas!  The hori hori got another outing and no one was injured in the process, always a good thing, especially with the assistance of so many keen people with tiny fingers.


Who knows what the public transport catching public and people driving past in cars thought… but I thought it was wonderful.  There was a bit of chat about a recent tree planting that I missed because I was sick.  One of the folk who was planting quoted another one of our number as saying something like ‘our loyalty is to the earth’.  Which perfectly sums up my feeling… that planting saltbush in the city is no less worthy than planting elsewhere.  That said, planting a forest and rehabilitating land where there isn’t a pile of asphalt nearby is a happy thing too!  It was a complete delight to be planting in such joyous and plentiful company rather than kneeling in the dirt on my own in the chill before work.


I have become a person who attracts native plants!  That day I was gifted a volunteer eucalypt in a pot, and a month before, two others that had come up in someone else’s vegie patch.  The gifted volunteer eucalypts went in alongside the tram line, along with a feijoa or two that friends brought along.  I was speaking with a friend this morning who had been past and watered them—I checked on them this morning and they were looking damp.  Now I know why!

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Needless to say, all this planting meant that more propagation was needed, and right on cue these ruby saltbush seeds planted improbably in May (because, how will I learn if I never experiment?) had germinated rather fulsomely.  Now that I know pricking them out works really well… I went ahead and pricked them out.

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I have also been planting creeping boobialla, so some more cuttings went in too.  The regular form:

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The fine leaved form:

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And some of the plants the council has been putting in!

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They have drip watering and they are really thriving.  Three cheers for thriving plants, whomever may plant them…  Meanwhile, India Flint’s wonderful Solace project made its way from a pile of parcels from all around the world into the crisp air of Andamooka, also on the solstice.  Please do go and see for yourselves…

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Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Just knit a hat!

After the chicken hat, and before the kind lesson in white balance from a knowledgeable friend and reader… I decided something simple was called for.  This is the swatchless watch cap from Knitting from the Center Out by Daniel Yuhas.  Locals may recognise that I am casting on, on the train.

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This hat went a few places, from our house…

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…to solstice dinner with a big bunch of friends large and small.

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This is a small amount (66g) of luxury handspun merino/yak/silk naturally dyed by A Verb for Keeping Warm in ‘sticks and stones’.  I bought the fibre from someone else’s destash and it struck me as a delightfully soft and understated hat for someone.  Done.

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Filed under Knitting, Neighbourhood pleasures

Indigo fructose vat

I am determined to learn to use Michel Garcia’s fructose indigo vat rather than the very simple but clearly toxic and stinky hydrosulphite vat. I am also on a mission to create handspun, plant dyed yarns for colourwork, and I have a pattern in mind which requires some greens.  Also a plan about sock yarn in which this previously undyed, now (osage orange yellow) skein of BFL/silk becomes a variegated green.

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I prepared the vat and waited for a bronze sheen and yellow-green liquid below as signs reduction (the removal of oxygen from the vat) had been achieved.  I have a Ph meter to ensure the Ph is within range.

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I had success with reducing the vat but a lot of difficulty in getting the Ph into a range suitable for wool.  In the end, I decided to make the most of it and dipped my ugly cotton bags several times.

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In all I dipped them three times and they are now an old denim colour which is a decided improvement.

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Once I had managed the Ph, next came fleece from Viola, previously dyed in coreopsis or osage orange.

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Finally, in went the gloriously yellow sock yarn.  That yellow was so awesome I was tempted to leave it as it stood.  But I was looking for yellows and various shades of green, and here they are, ready for the next stage of my cunning plan….

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Filed under Natural dyeing


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I still have some dyestuffs that have been given to me… and before I dig out my home grown madder, I thought I would use the last of the dried madder root I have.

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First, the boiling water soak and pour off (saving the poured off liquid for another bath, in my case).  Jenny Dean is my guide in the case of madder though I also read Jim Liles and Rebecca Burgess…

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I decided to try to manage the madder (as opposed to having little particles distributed through my fleece and yarn) by putting it in a recycled nylon stocking–which you can see at the bottom of the picture poking out of the dyebath.  First I added alum mordanted BFL-silk sock yarn.  The first fibres to enter are those likely to be most red.

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Over time the shade really does deepen.

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Eventually I decided to add fleece, as you can see.

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I did several exhaust baths, including one or two some days later.  Then I did one a week later and still got apricot!  I also tried a different method by which Jenny Dean (in her rather lovely new book A Heritage of Colour) achieves aubergine.  I was sceptical about this method.  Not because I doubt Jenny Dean really gets purple in this way–I am sure she does!  But because it calls for using judgment in the matter of mordanting and modifier, and I know my judgment is nowhere as refined as hers.  I further prejudiced my chances by using the poured off first bath rather than using the most powerful dye bath I could.  I had, you know, only so much madder, so many plans, and only a modicum of confidence to be going on with.  I kept looking at this brownish bath and thinking it was not succeeding.  To my surprise though–once the fleece actually came out of the bath and I pulled it from the rinse bucket, it clearly was a shade of purple.

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The sock yarn–made me happy.  It came out of the dyeing process all scruffy looking, reminding me to always do my own skein ties.  But I love the colour!

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Filed under Natural dyeing

Himeji Gardens in autumn

I love the Himeji Japanese gardens, which are in the parklands that surround our city, on the southern side.

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I was passing on my way home from something, in the daytime, by myself (no passengers to convince)–so I pulled over and went in to see what I could see.

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The gingkos had turned yellow and begun to drop their leaves.

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The maples were in various stages of colouring and falling.

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The camellias had begun to flower (the same is true at home).

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The water features were as glorious as ever.  I managed to glean a few dead daylily leaves which made lovely string.

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I collected fallen leaves and the odd twig that had come down in the wind.  At home, I added prunus leaves from trees in the neighbourhood and some dried eucalyptus leaves… and rolled experimental bundles too.

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I love the maple prints on linen.

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The prunus leaves came out pretty too–and in some places I did get gingko leaf resist prints.  If you look carefully!

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This bundle was an experiment–maple/prunus/eucalypt on some gifted silk fabric.

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I tried woad leaves (and japanese indigo leaves and the odd soursob leaf for good measure) but clearly I’ll have to try that again!  The fabric is wet here and by the time it dried there was almost nothing to see.  On the other hand… the woad is leafing up, and my woad seed is germinating!

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Filed under Dye Plants, Leaf prints

For the love of chickens. And wool. And eucalypts.

In the latest issue of Knitty, there is a stranded colourwork hat featuring a Rhode Island Red chicken design by Pam Sluter. I don’t know Pam, but clearly we share a love of chickens, wool and knitting.  In short, I had one of those moments, and decided to cast on RIGHT AWAY!  Because, I have these handspun yarns.  Mmmm.  Polwarth, my friends.  Soft as anything. Perfect for a little hat.

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I had an early period of doubt, because provisional cast on, and then three circular needles in play for a while.  I held my nerve.  I consulted a  book on cast ons and bind offs.  I love a good book.

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I tried to talk myself out of taking it on the bus.  Because charted patterns are not really ideal for bus knitting and I have a perfectly charming sock on the go.  No hope of resistance.  I kept wondering if the woman on the other side of the aisle could really be staring at me as intently as she seemed to be from the corner of my eye.  How can my eye possibly be following the chart, keeping track of two yarns on the needles, and still noticing a total stranger?  Eventually as we neared our destination I looked over.  Yes!  She was utterly intent.  It appeared we didn’t share much common language so I showed her the picture. She grinned.

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Here is the finished hat, being blocked over a big jar.  But you know, not a jar as big as my head.

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I did not do a gauge swatch.  Risk taking knitting, I tell you!  I went up a needle size as even when not using two colours, I tend to be on the tight side with knitting, and stranded colourwork has a tendency to mysteriously come out smaller than planned.  Especially in the hands of a novice.  Especially with long floats.  Well.  Not truly a mystery, then!  This is the medium size and I have to say, nowhere near fitting on my head.  I didn’t swatch because I was quite prepared to give this hat to whomever might like it and fit into it… and I am thinking of starting out with one of my very small friends.  Who would look cuter than any button in this…

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Filed under Knitting

Saltbush in, weeds out

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The earth hours of guerilla gardening have been continuing quietly (and a but more slowly in the chilly mornings lately).  Earlier in the week I had a couple of interesting conversations with passersby who wondered if I might be responsible for certain things that had happened in the neighbourhood (sometimes but not always) and what had happened to those big trees on the nearby corner (cut down after tree protection legislation was changed to remove protection from them).  There have been some lovely recent happenings in the neighbourhood, including installation of some wooden barriers that will stop cars parking over the root zones of a group of large eucalypts we still have, and from killing smaller plants altogether.  Then, new plantings went in to replace those killed by careless parking and midsummer planting.  Wonderful.

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This morning there was a rainbow as I went out with my ten saltbush plants, my trowel and my fiendishly effective Japanese weeding tool.  And these fungi had appeared.  Some time later, I returned with a bucket full of weeds.  More mulch has been appearing at random all over the neighbourhood, and it has become apparent that smaller plants are at risk of being buried (some I planted earlier in the week were buried the same day!)  If weeds grow near little plants they are also at risk of being treated as weeds, since the poisoner doesn’t get out of his ute to check.  As if to confirm my perception that now is the season for weeding, the poisoner’s truck passed twice as I worked, drawing attention to itself with the sound of its pump, and the driver was not the reluctant poisoner I’ve spoken to recently, so there is no guarantee he will recognise small saltbush as in need of protection.

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The weeds I pulled hadn’t been poisoned (our street came later and it was shocking to see how much poison was lavished upon it). There were lots of sow thistle and lush prickly lettuce among them, so there was chicken happiness at our place, and I treated that Japanese weeding tool to a loving handle oiling while I tried to imagine what its name might be.  I failed completely to imagine what a Japanese mind might call this tool, and having bought it at the Royal Show years ago and never seen another, I don’t know its English name either, should it have one.  ‘The uprooter’? ‘Stabber, foe of weeds’? ‘Defier of nutgrass’?


Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

I’m just a girl who can’t say no to knitting slippers

It is that time of year again here in Australia, when slippers are called for.  Just when I think I can’t bear to ever knit another one, I whip a few out.  I had a virus that made me so stupid I had a couple of days off work doing mindless knitting and watching appalling daytime TV.  That helped.  And, completely charming stories of people’s slipper love come my way and make me weaken.

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The red pair are for a friend who is struggling with cuts to public sector services in her workplace.  It breaks my heart to see people who want to contribute to making things better for people whose lives are very hard indeed… and who have committed their skills and passion to this task… being treated so badly.  By sheer happy coincidence, I got these to her in the week of her birthday.  I am so glad she got born and I got to know her!

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Her last pair of slippers had been worn to holes and shreds, and hopefully the sheep hide soles will help this pair go the distance.  yes, this is the left over local sheep hide in the previous post.  The green pair have gone to a wonderful organic gardener who runs a farm, and a pale blue pair that didn’t make it into the sunshine to have their photo taken have gone to her beloved co-farmer.  The two of them do an amazing job.  I handed these two pairs over at the farmer’s market where they have a stall, and right back at me came mandarins, pak tsoi, silverbeet (chard) and such. They are so generous!

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A very discouraged friend gave me a sleeveless vest a while back.  She had already knit it twice and I perhaps also partially felted it in an effort to get fit and finally given up in frustration.  The wool is handspun and hand dyed.  In all likelihood, by one of my Guild friends.  I wanted to honour all the work that went into this wool, now a little past its prime.  I tell you what, when you unravel a garment you learn a lot about the design and about the knitting skills of the maker.  My friend has a very thorough and diligent way of darning in ends!  I feel so sad that her vest didn’t work out after so much effort.  I don’t think I have developed the patience to knit the same garment twice.  Evidently, knitting the same slipper pattern dozens of times is different…

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Eventually I got the vest apart and decided I really did have to wash the wool to unwrinkle it a bit.  These photos are the ‘after’ photos.  And now, all that wool is a pair of slippers for a young father, teacher and farmer, whose sheep hide is going to be sewn onto the soles. I have one more pair on my mental queue and needles and then I can make a pair for the mother, community development worker and farmer side of their partnership… so the season of slipper knitting isn’t over yet.  I made slippers for both parties for their wedding, and I had in mind to make them fresh pairs when their second child came along recently. But my intentions didn’t get turned into actions very quickly… best keep knitting!

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Filed under Knitting, Sewing

A patch of potato sacks

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I scored more potato sacks from the organic food co-op we belong to.  It has been running for many years, mostly because of the hard work of a few trusty and amazing people–and one of my friends in particular.

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I turned these into fully lined bags.  The printing isn’t designed to last but I like to honour the humble hessian sack, while there are still some of them left to honour.

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I am planning for these to go back to the co-op where other members might like them.

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Needless to say lining them brought on a little bag breakout.  I managed to finish one more sheet offcut collection! And provide yet further evidence that there are some things about my camera I don’t understand after all this time.


Filed under Sewing