Opening the first experimental jars

I finally decided I could open some of my stuff, steep and store jars.  I have to say that all three of the first I decided to open are experiments–not just my experimenting with India Flint’s preservation dyeing process (I have shown myself a poor follower of instructions many times so everything is an experiment in one sense)–but using this method to try out plants that have no dependable dye properties I know about.  India Flint seems a genius to me, but even she can’t convert a plant with no exciting dye properties into a gem on my behalf.  I find India Flint’s process exciting, and I am loving using it with experiments using small quantities.  But naturally, India hasn’t stood by my side and saved me from my own mistakes.  Speaking of my mistakes, I want to say: One total sealing failure which resulted in mould.  So far, 24 jars that sealed in spite of some of them being re0used many times.

1. Rhagodia berries.  These are the fruits of the seaberry saltbush, gathered on holiday.  I learned a lot from this jar.  Its contents began to ferment while we were on holiday and before I could get it to a place where I could try to seal it.  Ahem.  Next time, I’d put it in the fridge while it waited, because this was totally predictable.  I failed to think of these berries as essentially, just like a jar of any other fruit.  After all, they are a (small) fruit. And it was summer.  Next, I had sealing trouble and decided in the end that we re-use jars a lot, and that if I want a really good seal, perhaps I should try using jars I know won’t have lids that have been bent out of shape.  India kindly assisted with a re-sealing strategy (I’d forgotten about it, but there it was tucked inside the lid!).  13 months after they went into the jar:

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And here are the contents! Including some respectably orange-brown silk embroidery thread.

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2. Hibiscus flowers from the Himeji gardens. The trees in Himeji gardens have purple leaves–very pretty.

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By coincidence I found these trees growing at West Lakes when I was there supporting three friends doing a triathlon (there is a lot of waiting if you’re a spectator)–a man saw me taking a photograph of his tree and told me it was a cottonwood hibiscus (H tiliaceus–more here).

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This is the most unappealing looking of all my dye jars.

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The contents are no more spectacular but the thread in this jar is quite a deep brown colour.

3. Finally, the camellia flowers.  Hope springs eternal!  I had all kinds of experiments with the camellia flowers  when they were plentiful. This jar looked almost grey.  This one had only been in the jar since August 2014.  Not really enough time for a full result, maybe.

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Actually the colour on that silk thread is pretty good. But nothing like the colour of the flowers from whence it came.

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If you are curious, there is a lovely post on using this method here.  Another here.  Another blogger has some glorious results to show here.  Go visit and be inspired!  There is a wonderful online pantry of people’s experiments kept by India Flint with links to the book and all here.  You can find my jars as they looked once sealed up there.  Now to wait until some more jars have had a good long wait.

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Things learned so far:

  • use a jar that has a good chance of sealing–an undamaged lid is a good start.
  • treat contents with care if they have to wait for sealing.  Duh.
  • jars that appear not to have sealed completely may still be fine.  I selected three of these jars because I had concern about sealing despite multiple attempts.  The contents smelled pleasant.  Nothing mouldy, smelly or rank at all.  They were not bulging at the lid (which would suggest fermentation) but they didn’t have any indication of having vacuum sealed either.  Perhaps I conceded too quickly! I have a madder jar that contains some mould, which Deb McClintock on madder dyeing says can provide good colour even if it happens to go mouldy…I decided to re-heat and leave the steeping madder on the strength of these jars having sealed.
  • be bold.  What if I’d had a little more boldness and some bigger jars?  I would now have more than thread to show for my efforts.  Timidity has its place, but not every place!

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Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

In they go…

This time it was a weekend morning jaunt out into the neighbourhood with a dozen ruby saltbush.

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I have had my eye on this spot where mulch has been laid but nothing has been planted.

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Once I got my trowel into it I could see why–some parts are concrete, some are all bluemetal and gravel.  But in others, there was some very clay soil.  Not ideal.  But I am not planting anywhere ideal really.  I wished them luck.

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Hopefully they will make it in spite of the soil and this massive fence with one of the tallest olive trees I have ever seen peeping over it.

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I’ve pricked out the bladder saltbush.

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To join their larger relations, soon to go out into the suburban wilderness.

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And I planted seeds of New Holland daisy and more ruby saltbush and bladder saltbush.  Then, I worked over the E Scoparia fruits I have been gathering.

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I hadn’t been feeling optimistic about gathering seed, but actually once I started rolling them around, seed started to emerge.

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I think there will be plenty to make good on my sharing promises and try planting some myself!

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Filed under Natural dyeing

Laptop sleeve


It all began with a whirlwind surprise visit from my daughter. She was not especially interested in going out or doing anything special.  The special was spending time together, and I shared her point of view, so we ate from the garden and lurked about.  She asked about this:


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It’s part of a pram, or perhaps a baby carrier for a car… abandoned by the tram line some time ago.  I picked it up a week or two ago thinking I could at least put it in our bin.  But then I got to thinking about whether there could be re-use for the straps at least, and recycling of some of the parts (there is quite a bit of aluminium).  Picturing the effort required  led to delay!  However, since we were sitting chatting and the weather had turned warm, out came scissors, screwdrivers, the hacksaw… and soon I had three piles for rubbish, re-use and recycling.  Company and conversation are wonderful.

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Then we had a chat about whether there was anything she would like me to make and she asked for a laptop sleeve.  So some of the polyester batting came back out of the bin!

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She chose some of the upholstery fabric offcuts I still have lying about, and a cotton flanellette covered in little birds that must once have been a cot sheet for the lining.

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There was measuring calculating and and ironing and quilting of the most basic sort and mitre-ing of corners.  Pretty soon, there was a laptop sleeve.

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It fits and it will protect… and she loves it!

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Filed under Sewing

An outbreak of bags

Apparently one bag leads to another.  At least, it does for me! Part of this rash of bags was brought on by a bit of op shopping–I found a packet of venetian blind cord and having such suitable cord made my fingers itch.

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These are linen scraps gifted to me some time ago. The lining is recycled, eucalyptus printed raw silk.

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Maple leaf prints paired with scrap denim from making jeans.  One pair of jeans led to several others–but that was some years ago now and I lost my nerve!

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The lining is from the lining of a second hand jacket.

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Can I stop at three???

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Filed under Leaf prints, Sewing

Jaywalkers in osage orange and indigo

First, there was some undyed wool and silk yarn.

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Then, there was osage orange sawdust. The colour was so sunny and lovely I considered leaving it at that.  But there was an indigo plan.

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The fructose vat, no less.

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So one fine day there was  variegated yellow-green-green-blue yarn.  (Yes, that is madder on the left).

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Jaywalker seemed the obvious pattern for the job.  Here we are at the bus stop after work.

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And at a coffee shop waiting for a delicate operation to be performed on my guitar across the road.

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And out for dinner at the central markets with our friends.

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We even went to a conference in Melbourne.

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This Melbourne arcade was so splendid I took photos just for the pleasure of it.

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Here is the sock in the foyer of the unglamorous conference venue, with its best feature (the flower arrangement).

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And here, at last, are the finished socks!

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I like the way this pattern zigs and zags.

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I like to use a reinforced heel stitch.

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And I’m pretty happy with the dyeing.  Hopefully the recipient will like them too when she returns from her current extended travelling.  They’re going in the mail today, with about 2 metres of leftover yarn.  Phew!  Just made it!

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Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing

Stitching up a storm

It began with a beloved tree banner for a tree that lost its long standing banner during the Royal Show.  Hopefully it went to another beloved tree.  The whim took me one night, so I found some calico gifted by a friend and interfaced it with a handkerchief that had passed the point of no return.

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Pretty soon, I had a banner ready to tie on. The silk thread was dyed a little while back, wrapped around a piece of E Scoparia bark from the very tree this banner is destined to adorn.  Before:

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And here’s the banner!

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Somehow the same night I machine stitched the banner together I decided to finally break out the glorious Japanese indigo dyed cotton thread my beloved brought home from a recent trip to Japan.  With pictures of the master dyer and his family, and of the workshop.  And some hand woven indigo dyed fabric.  Oh my!  It could take me years to decide what to do with it!

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Pretty soon I’d made this panel and started to have all kinds of ideas about what might happen to it next.

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But in the meantime I was keen to make a gift for a friend who had recently given me all the linen, canvas and cotton left from her days in art school.

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It’s lined with part of a raw silk suit a different friend found for me at an op shop.

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Done just in time to see her today!

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And… here is the banner in situ.

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The tree is in the process of shedding bark right now.  And just as beautiful as ever.

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Filed under Craftivism, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures, Sewing

14 more ruby saltbush plants

Gentle readers, there has been knitting and spinning and stitching going on but there has also been an overwhelm-ment of day job and a distinct lack of photo taking. I will try to sort myself out soon.  Meantime, post-work planting began this week.  The days are lengthening and I have seeds coming up ready to be pricked out, but no empty pots to plant them into. The queue seemed to require I get onto the planting!

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14 ruby saltbush ready to go into the ground.  Plus my leaky watering can.  In the end I stood it next to a plant so the fine but steady stream of water squirting from its side could go to use while I was digging!

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The darker patches are the places where I have watered and planted.  They are around the edge of my previous plantings.  This is a patch where people and dogs can choose just to walk through (and of course, people walk through at night when small plants are not so obvious), so I am trying to allow the existing plantings to be larger and then for the planted area gradually to grow wider and wider. I am hoping that I’ll manage to sprout some larger shrubs this spring and summer that I can plant into this understorey.

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At one end of this patch my earlier plantings are now quite a decent size.  Some of the conversations I’ve had while working here have started to show that people can tell what I’m trying to do.  The Olearias along the wall further toward the street are now quite a good size and the leaves are a pleasing silver grey.  The E Nicholii is still alive!

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Home again after a little weeding.  Time for dinner and music…


Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

This week in guerilla gardening the neighbourhood

This morning I headed out before going to work with some fair sized ruby saltbush and a bucket of earth.  The spot I had in mind has been thickly mulched, which is great–but it means there is little soil for small plants to get their toes into.  2015-09-22 07.30.25

The last round of planting here (by myself as well as by council’s contractors) did not do well, and I think the lack of soil was one major reason.  So this time I brought my own to help things along.  In the six months or so that have passed, the mulch has begun to convert to soil and that might help too.  The earth beneath is compacted from being parked on and contaminated with concrete components.

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It doesn’t look promising, does it?  But I think it will be lovely in time. There are trees here and more understorey will help.

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I came away with empty everything.

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But then I realised I had missed the rubbish, so I brought that home.

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Fingers crossed for long term success.  If this patch of twelve can make it, I can spread out from here and provide cover for ground that now only grows weeds.  I like that idea.

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Meantime, it is spring here and the garden is really showing it.  Woad and weld are coming along and the madder is up again.  I have been sharing plants at the Guild and planting vegetables and flowers.

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So, I decided to put in the native plant seeds I collected earlier in the year and late last year.  Let’s see if I can grow enough propagating skills to stop the neighbourhood turning into a ruby saltbush monoculture!  I make my tags from a yoghurt tub.  I quite like the look of the bit that’s left.  But have been carrying the thought that plastic is forever higher than usual lately and finding that hard knowledge instructive.

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I’ve noticed that lots of gardeners are keen re-users and recyclers, and I am among them.  I do love using this method for growing seedlings learned from Linda Woodrow’s book on backyard permaculture.  It uses milk bottles and styrofoam from hard rubbish.  So at present I am still a re-user with aspirations.

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Cross your fingers for sprouts!


Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Can I spin a rainbow?

I have already had a vote of confidence in my abilities.  A brother and sister (plus Mum) team of my precious friends made me a little book of knitting. Their confidence in my capacities is exceedingly high!   If I can knit a rainbow, maybe I am good for dyeing and spinning one first?

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And I have been dyeing and dyeing.  Viola the sheep wouldn’t know herself.  Eucalypt with tamarind, rhubarb leaf, citrus peel brews (thanks to India Flint for genius on this front).  Madder exhaust.  Coreopsis, osage orange, indigo overdyes, woad, madder with iron, alkanet.  It has been a fun few months with the dye pots.

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And now… I am spinning up a rainbow and loving it.  Watch this space!


Filed under Natural dyeing, Spinning

Learn to spin day

We have friends with a farm they are revegetating and rehabilitating in a most thoughtful and wonderful way.  They have alpacas keeping their sheep safe, and the time came for shearing.  And the question came whether I would be able to teach people to spin.  Of course!!  I love sharing the joy and the skills, so my friends organised the event and eventually informed me there would be 14 people.  Some of the alpaca was washed and picked in advance, and I brought along sheep fleece in case the alpaca proved a bit challenging for beginners.

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We considered all the possibilities from spinning straight from the animal’s back (in the case of alpacas, this brings me out in hayfever, so I don’t do it anymore), through carding and dyeing and such.  The carder got a fabulous workout. Some people created their very first ever batts.

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We ran a dye pot of eucalyptus leaves in the background and pulled it out to show off at the end of the afternoon.  I mostly forgot to take pictures of most things and also forgot to ask permission for people’s images to be on the internet!  I organised a display table so people could get a sense of how different preparations and fibres look and feel and behave.

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We separated out guard fibres and talked about wise use of different fibres.

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Big people had their first attempts at spinning.  Some had spun years before and rehabilitated their wheels after years of disuse.  One father hadn’t spun since the day his son was born (a few years ago now).

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Some small people had their first attempts at spinning too.  Spinning is made a lot harder when you can’t keep yourself on the chair and reach the treadle at the same time and have to choose between these two activities.  I clean forgot the spindles, which would have simplified this process…

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There was spinning…

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And more spinning… and cups of tea and cake and baby snuggling…

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And in the end, there were first skeins of yarn of all manner of types…

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Plain and fancy!  Lots of people made yarn.  And I have to say, lots of people made alpaca yarn even without prior experience of spinning. I have been told that alpaca is too hard for beginners… but maybe, like everything else, it all depends.  I am always interested by talk of what beginners can and should do at my Guild.  Because I learned so much by myself before I found the Guild and joined up, I didn’t know what was easy and what was hard.  I knew I was a beginner, and therefore I expected to find things difficult at first.  But I didn’t have preconceptions about which skills were basic or advanced and as a result I learned some things quite early on that other people think are hard to learn or should only be attempted by advanced spinners.

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It interests me that people bring so much to the learning process, and so much of what they bring is unhelpful to learning. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we could leave more and more of that fret and fear of failure and worry and impatience and feeling stupid out of it, what learning would be like.  Perhaps it would be like learning to yodel was for me. Charley Pride did it on Mum and Dad’s records, so clearly it could be done.  I don’t remember wondering why I had never heard anyone else do it.  I just assumed that I would be able to do it.  I didn’t ask anyone else’s opinion, so no one told me it was difficult, and as a result, I’ve been able to yodel since I was a small child with a lot of land to wander about in singing at the top of my voice, yodelling optional…


Filed under Natural dyeing, Spinning