Needlebooks

I do seem to run to quite a bit of repetition… and so here are more needlebooks for more mending kits. It’s such a great use of lovely little scraps of dyed blanket.

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Fresh cochineal dyeing

Back over a month ago now, I went to a class to learn how to carve a butter spreader. This was a way to learn some green wood carving skills, so that I could learn to carve a spoon (in the following class). The class was taught by Sam from the lovely Folk of all Trades. I had a great time and came home feeling empowered to use my tools. So much so, I carved my first spoon before the spoon carving class, where I built my skills and confidence and realised I had some incorrect ideas I was able to sort out–super important in learning new skills! Here is my butter spreader nearing completion.

At this stage you may be wondering what this has to do with cochineal. We arrived early for the class and took a detour so we could have a short walk, and what should I see but prickly pear infested with cochineal (a type of scale insect). My beloved kindly agreed to go back after the class so we could harvest some.

Prickly pear is an invasive weed in Australia. But not until I researched cochineal in Australia did I realise I had altogether the wrong idea about it. I had thought prickly pear came first and cochineal was introduced to predate on it. But I was so wrong. Prickly pear was introduced to Australia with invasion in 1788, (from Brazil) and it was brought to Australia in 1788 in order to begin a cochineal industry here. Spain and Portugal had a worldwide monopoly on cochineal, and (for example–but a non-trivial example–) the British army wore red coats, making the cochineal trade of great interest to the British.

So actually, we have prickly pear because of cochineal, and not the other way around. We have them because of the dye industry and dye trade of the 1700s, and their close connections with imperialism and militarism. And from there, to us harvesting cochineal from an invasive plant in Australia in 2022 with two keep cups, a fork and a teaspoon. Sorry about the poor focus in that photo! But not as sorry as I am about the colonisation of this land and the long term harm it has wrought–of which this is just one small example.

I have become quite prepared to try natural dyes out with little prior knowledge of the process needed. So long as I know enough about the plant or insect to keep it safe from my potential overharvesting (where relevant) and to keep myself and others who may come into contact with it safe–I am prepared to trial and error my way through the process if necessary. For one thing–I have a lot of lawn mower sheep fleece. If I have dye fails I have wasted time and dyestuff but I can overdye or compost the fleece without a lot of regrets. Many of my dyes are weeds, windfalls or on their way to “green waste”. And I always learn something, so even the time is rarely wasted. In this case I knew I had at least one book with a “how to” section (it was focused on dried cochineal though). I also thought I remembered India Flint blogging about fresh cochineal, so I took that as a encouragement (I found her post–enjoy).

I scraped the cochineal into a small, double layered bag I’d made from cotton voile, with french seams. I made a few bags from a scrap a while back for some other dye job with a strong risk of little tiny bits escaping into fleece, never to be removed–it might have been dried cochineal! Having a pre made dye bag on hand was perfect. I dug into my book collection for guidance and decided to modify with acid, as our lime tree is in full fruit and some of the limes are not ideal for eating but much too good for wasting–and lime would be traditional in Mexico.

From there I guessed just about everything from information about dried cochineal. In general, when guessing, I put in a little mordanted wool (if mordant is required), heat for as long as suggested, and then add some more wool, and then some more wool if colour is still coming, and so on. Dried cochineal is incredible stuff that gives and gives and seems impossible to exhaust, though it gives paler and paler colours. The fresh cochineal behaved the same way.

The first round of fleece was almost tomato soup level red. I don’t know if the change to purpler colours might mean I should have added more lime juice– but from there it went to watermelon and then to coconut ice and fairy floss shades of pink. I did laugh out loud when I remembered that when I was making coconut ice with my mother as a child–we were colouring it with cochineal extract!

After a LOT of dyeing, this is all that remained of the dye. And here is the wool ready to spin!

Oh, and a spoon!!!

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Quilt

Recently, a dear friend sold me her industrial sewing machine. It is fast and it sews through many layers with ease, and it is set into a fair sized table. Once I got past being very scared using it, it made me think of quilts, and when I made an assessment I thought I had at least 5 “in progress”. Which is a lot, although to be honest, most have not progressed very far! Classically, I had an idea about how to use up little scraps and I made some blocks, and then I stopped. I decided that the time had come to move some on. I had a lot of trouble photographing this quilt, with no genius ideas about how to get it laid out flat and also in decent light. In fact, no idea how to keep it from getting more and more crumpled waiting for its photo to be taken!

This one began with some blocks I’d pieced in the 1990s. With curved seams! Then there were squares cut for a quilt that I decided not to complete (because my colour and fabric choices were just not good enough for it to look good). Its other component parts have long since been turned into other things.

I had quite a bit of calico, and that seemed a plausible foil for all those prints. So I began to create the quilt with lashings of calico of several different weights and shades of cream. Most of it has come from op shops, but some from friends and some has arrived at my place already made into things. Some arrived washed and some did not.

Then when I had a central panel, on with figuring out how to frame it.

More calico, a dead red sheet, and some scraps from my Mother-out-law. A few squares of a scrap I picked up at an op shop years ago. More calico!

The batting–is an old flannelette sheet, mostly. It had already had the edges turned to the middle (a common strategy for extending the life of sheets in generations before mine). So there was a seam down the middle. Some of it was so threadbare even so that I patched it with a nightie, and then sewed on an ancient pair of pyjamas and something that might once have been a sling (for a broken arm), since they were all made from flannelette. And so, to the back.

A feature panel with a great deal of calico and other random roughly cream fabrics, and some more red sheet. I am not much of a quilter, so there are some straight lines of stitching holding all the layers together. I made the binding out of what was left of all these fabrics, and there you have it. A quilt that will warm the lovely friend whose family linen press yielded all that flannelette and some of the calico.

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An indigo dyed bag

Long, long ago, a friend travelled to Japan. When she came back, she brought a small pack of indigo dyed scraps that she gave me as a gift. They look like the work of a contemporary dyer. I thought they were absolutely lovely, but I couldn’t figure out what to do with them. Years passed. When I signed up for Soul Craft Online, it turned out there was a lovely project included in the event. It was a drawstring bag. One night I realised this was what those scraps could become!

Apparently I am quite incapable of making a project just the way that the designer proposes… and so this one is not exactly as designed . But I am just delighted with it, and with having found a way to enjoy those beautiful fabrics from my cherished friend.

Thinking about the climate emergency and climate activism a lot has had me thinking more about the interconnectedness of everything that makes life possible–the air we all share; the water cycle in which water circulates constantly but it is all the same water forever and for all; the stolen earth on which I live; the way that even as it dies and decays everything that was once alive creates the circumstances in which new life can grow. It is on my mind a lot and it appears in conversations and images so that others show me what I’ve missed, add richness to my thoughts, and share their thought with me.

I love that tiny scrap with the leaf print on it! On the inside, a small but lovely (to me) leaf print on cotton. It looks like E Crenulata to me, so perhaps it was a print made away from home.

And also inside, on the lining, I’ve recorded one of the best compliments ever. Tucked away where occasionally I’ll find it and be reminded of it, and strengthened by it.

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Welcome, new menders!

I had a lovely time teaching mending at the Unley Repair Cafe this morning, and there were some completely new menders and even some new sewers present. Welcome, friends! I was way too busy answering questions and explaining things and generally enjoying the company of fine humans and the sharing of skills to take a photo of anything–but I thought I might take this opportunity to provide links to some content on this blog, and some other collections of mending resources online. There are also links to upcoming mending workshops I will be running.

There is a Tutorials tab at the top of this blog where you might be able to find what you are looking for. But here are some specifics.

How to mend threadbare clothing (the example in this post is a shirt that now has a lot more mending and embroidery on it–seen in the picture below). The linked post was written when it first began to wear very thin.

How to patch your jeans. There are so many ways! Patching on the inside, by hand and with visible running stitches. Patching jeans with a sewing machine–more or less what my mother taught me. Lots of different ways to patch jeans with a machine. Mending a jeans back pocket hole, by hand. Mending the “rear end” or between the thighs on jeans.

Patching threadbare machine knits–like fine merino clothing that moths have nibbled at–with hand sewing and running stitch. Here is another, detailed explanation with lots of pictures, on a cotton knit. This is the way I mend leggings, t shirts, and even machine knit cotton socks (you can see a t shirt and a sock example in this post–and the picture above is a patch cut from an old t shirt that is about to be sewn into that holey sock).

How to bring together the edges of a tear with hand sewing. I use something I call “tent stitch”. The picture above is a high-contrast example of tent stitch.

There are fabulous resources available at Repair What You Wear and there are so many keen sewers and menders on the internet you can find a video, blog post or image of just about any mending technique you want to try! So–go forth and mend your favourites, your treasures, your gardening jeans, or your underwear–whatever needs a bit of love and care to keep it functional.

If you would like to do a mending workshop with me, there are workshops coming up with the lovely folk at The Adelaide Remakery (book here) and at Fabrik in Lobethal. It would be a delight to see you there.


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Indigo bag

Last year, I participated in the online Craft Sessions. So interesting. There was a project as part of the event, and just recently I finished mine. I was committed to using what I had to make this, and eventually I settled on this piece of cotton dyed with Euclayptus crenulata.

While I was making this, a lovely friend paid me one of the best compliments ever. You know that feeling when someone else says something about you that you would like to be true?

So I’ve tucked it inside this bag to remind me in times of doubt. The outside is patched together from a package of indigo dyed scraps a friend brought home from a trip to Japan. I had been waiting for exactly the right thing for it!

So, a little bag with lots of loveliness to carry with me. Not quite what the author of the project envisioned–but I reckon she saw improvisation coming!

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Guerilla propagating: cuttings

I’ve had a lovely query about how to propagate plants for guerilla gardening. I don’t think I’m much of an expert. Maybe check here for expert advice! But here’s what I’m doing at this time of the year–the Australian autumn. I took pictures while I walked the neighbourhood, so come along for the walk with me.

Autumn is the time for collecting seeds, taking cuttings and propagating by root division. I started out on cuttings with karkalla/pigface/carpobrotus glaucescens. Being a hardy succulent, it propagates very readily, and as the first link states, it is edible as well as having a lovely flower. I have stopped propagating it only because it is so severely attacked by cushiony scale in my area that enormous plants I had established (and those planted by council) have all but died. My next choice was creeping boobialla (myoporum parvifolium) see image above. Some I propagated from my parents’ garden, and planted out in a street where council left bare earth for over two years. It propagates readily, survives in challenging soils and with no additional water in my neighbourhood. It can form a nice, dense, weed limiting mat of leaves and it flowers and fruits, providing food for insects and birds. I’ll explain how to propagate it below.

The other thing I look to do at this time of year is to save seed from anything seeding now–which is many of the plants that go by “saltbush”. This rhagodia (seaberry saltbush) has mature fruits that are beginning to dry on the bush–the perfect time to collect and dry them. This is another hardy bush that is native to the coast of SA and Victoria.

If you want to try root division, look for very dense clumps of dianella–like these. About 15 were stolen from this council street planting in their first week. I have gradually replaced them and filled the gaps in the planting by digging some (not a huge amount!) out each autumn, putting them straight into a bucket of water, separating out viable plants (each with some roots attached), and then straight into small pots of soil and a nice drink of water. I have found that of you let them dry out, they will not grow.

Walking through my neighbourhood, here are four other saltbush species that are ready to harvest for seed, plus native grass that is ready to give seed. I just head out with paper bags, or little jars/yoghurt pots/my hand and collect, then bring back and set out in saucers or dishes to air dry. But experiment! Look to see what can tough it out in local parks and gardens, and give it a try.

Myoporum parvifolium comes in fine leaved (bottom left) and thicker leaved (bottom row, middle and right) varieties, and in green coloured (bottom middle and right) leaves as well as what my father calls “red” (middle row, right side; bottom left). Most of these are plants I’ve initially grown from cuttings and planted out. If you look at the ones beside kerbs and roads, you will see that they are either cut back regularly by council or just run over by cars so often that they die back to the edge of the road. So, if I want to take cuttings I choose a nice big patch and then cut near the edge! And, just look at the picture in the middle of the top row! That is a self seeded eucalypt. I find establishing aground cover really improves the chance of anything bigger growing at all, and self seeding is especially exciting. Over time, a really convincing ground cover or understorey will cause people to stop walking through planted areas, allowing more plants to thrive and grow.

I favour cutting a long stem with decent sized side shoots. One of these will give quite a few cuttings.

Back home, I’ve pre filled my pots with 50% coir and 50% sieved compost or soil from the chookyard, and watered them.

I gently pull each side stem from the main one, aiming to bring a small “heel” from the main stem with it.

Then I gently strip most of the leaves from each. With no roots in the beginning, a cutting needs to have minimal leaves to support. If there are large leaves, I cut them back a bit, too. Then, into a teaspoon of honey. I can’t tell if it makes any difference, but it’s cheap and easy!

Then, I make a narrow hole in my soil with the handle of the fork you can see in that image. I put 2 or 3 to a pot, improving the chances of success. Use what you have to make a hole for your cuttings–a stick, a chopstick, a finger. I place the cutting in and firm the soil around it. And then, a nice drink of water.

Now I will keep these moist until spring, when I hope most will have grown new leaves of their own, revealing that they have grown roots below the soil. And yes, there is some disphyma crassifolia (cut from a patch a few metres wide in a bed in the local park) in there along with a couple of different boobiallas. Fingers crossed!

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Stitch it, don’t ditch it!

Yes, we are coming to Rundle Mall (here in Adelaide, South Australia) once more for some socially distanced public mending. YOU are welcome to join us if you are anywhere nearby and have the means to get there. We will be mending as part of Fashion Revolution Week. And we will be outside H & M.

In case you’re wondering, yes–H & M do have some organic clothing, and they do have a clothing recycling programme that doesn’t come anywhere near addressing the immense number of items of clothing they produce every year, as the second biggest clothing manufacturer in the universe. But in any case they happen to be in the middle of the biggest shopping mall in our town. And it is Fashion Revolution week. So there we will be, at the intersection of Rundle Mall and Gawler Place, April 20, 12-1.30 pm. All the details are here. Do bring your mending and come and join us! You will be welcomed.

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Earth care

This photo is a record of a day I went into the local creek bed, prepared to collect a LOT of rubbish, and maybe a few figs. Afterwards I made three or four jars of jam. The really great eating fig trees were not ripe yet, but what my grandma always called “jam figs” or “Turkey figs” were ready to go and they do make good jam! And, isn’t it sad when even a feed sack is not enough for all the rubbish? Thanks for the bag, Hungry Jack’s. NOT.

And, here is the start of my autumn guerilla planting. Here, I am replanting a spot where myself and a friend have sheet mulched. Cardboard, and many, many street leaves. Imagine the hours that took us. So there are no head-high weeds here as would be normal by this time of the year. However, our first round of planting was largely pulled out or poisoned. Who can say why? I am trying again. Some things lived from the first planting.

The few ruby saltbush that made it are substantial now, most of a year on. The eucalypts that made it (some have mutated in response to poison) are now not-quite up to my knee. The kangaroo apples that lived are growing well and flowering.

And, creeping boobialla wins again! I am going to propagate A LOT of this plant again this year. In my experience of guerilla gardening, establishing a ground cover can be the beginning of good things. I much more often start here and move up to a shrub or tree–than being able to establish a tree and then put in understorey to complement it.

Anyway–this day I planted 30 or 40 ruby saltbush. Another of my favourites. Maybe more than 40. And now I have my fingers crossed. There is not a lot of soil in this spot for their roots to go into, and clearly a poisoner visits (though not very often). Go ruby, go!

I even planted a back row to make this look Very Deliberate, just like an Intentional Planting (which it is, natch), in case that helps. There is just no reason this blighted spot has to be full of weeds year after year, when it could be full of native plants creating food and shelter for small forms of life. And a green spot for passersby. And if I can establish some plants here, they will restore soil eventually. But meanwhile, I applied water and rode home. Wish them luck!

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Ah, mending

My mother-out-law runs to a very fine fabric. And these days, when one of her fine fabrics needs a few stitches, I provide them. Here, a seam pulling apart.

Sorted. But more mending usually comes! This beloved but unravelling jumper came my way.

I must say, I loved the way these unravelling cuffs came back with the application of a crochet hook to pull dropped stitches back into their previous locations–loop within loop within loop.

I love being able to make that much improvement, without even applying a needle or using any new yarn! I had no really matching yarn, and used what little I had, to address more minor damage reasonably invisibly. Here, I chose a visible re-knit to supply the fabric that is no longer there.

The new yarn has not been subjected to the washing of the rest, so I knit a little more rather than a little less in the expectation of some shrinkage.. Fingers crossed that was a good call.

Yes, both cuffs have been mended, just differently. Next, my daughter’s stretch jeans needed some help. The classic rear end mend really…

Apparently I lost interest in documenting that mend–two pairs of jeans! And here is one of the patches on my ancient pyjamas–oh dear, so out of focus. As of the date I’m writing, there are two yellow, one red, one pink, and one blue patch. I’ve been wearing them for years after my daughter cast them off in my direction–to bed, and occasionally to cover up at the beach. They are tired and faded but perfectly comfortable, and I think I’m mending them for my own entertainment, hence the colour scheme!

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