Alas, the red socks!

Once upon a time, I cast on a lovely pair of red socks, from possum wool.  They had an intended recipient and unusually, I had told her they were coming.


Here we are on the way to work on the bus. I am known to some in my workplace as the parsley fairy.


Here they are on the way to the Newcastle Local Court, out of focus on the window ledge of the plane.  And then, one day I went to a long series of meetings and was one and a half socks in, past the heel and on the home strait toward the toe… I remember seeing the bag with the socks in it on my office desk and thinking I should pack that to take home.  I caught an usual series of public transport home, and when I stopped to change from bus to tram and the tram was late, I got out my knitting.  Well, I would have, but it was GONE!!!!  I know you will understand I hunted high and low and contacted several different possible places a lost sock might be handed in.  But I think I have to face the fact that my one and a half socks, wool, needles and bag… are GONE to who only knows where?  But quite likely, somewhere where those socks will not be completed or warm anyone’s toes, sadly.


Filed under Knitting

In guerilla gardening this week

…there has been some bad news.  First the evidence that the poisoner had come through mounted.  Then, concrete pipes were delivered to the neighbourhood (which is a good thing–they are intended to improve drainage and prevent flooding) and placed on top of quite a few plants.  Then the workers who installed the pipes drove their car up onto more plants, killing quite a few.  Then they took out an entire bank of saltbush that were a really good size when they installed the pipes.  And as I assessed the damage I realised that someone had come through and pulled out all of the wallaby grass.  I am sure it was done in error.  They didn’t realise it was wallaby grass and no doubt wondered why the poisoner had left it untouched.  So anyway.  I planted these this morning.


The neighbour whose place is next to the new pipe and I had a chat about how unnecessary all the damage was, but agreed we could fix it in time.  Otherwise it has been a week of weeding the neighbourhood (I have no idea how the poisoner’s route is determined–but mercifully, it isn’t complete coverage). As I was headed over to tend to my friends’ chickens, I spent an hour nearby grubbing out this awful invasive grass.  I had spent all spring pulling it every time I passed, but it’s called ‘invasive’ for a reason.


On the way home, I collected rubbish.  May as well.


I planted this rather lovely specimen only last summer, and now it is looking very much at home. And, now there is less rubbish and less invasive grass in the neighbourhood. I can feel good about that.





Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures


Some time ago–you know, about the point when I finished the major jumper project–I started making a pair of jeans.  Please understand I finished that jumper in June.  Perhaps I started the jeans in July.  But it is now October.  Say no more.  This is the one picture I took of the process.  I do usually think of the blog when I’m making something, and try to take the odd photo.  This was quite a fail.  But here is a freshly applied pocket, with bonus chalk marks.


These jeans arose from a few different motivations.  I am still asking myself whether I can buy less, and whether I might just stop buying new clothes, certainly the mass produced kind.  It’s a thought experiment, don’t panic.  One of the things that makes me feel this goal may be over ambitious, is jeans.  I love them, I wear them whenever possible, and you know, I have made them, but I find it difficult and even more than that, I find it a bit scary.  On the other hand, two pairs of jeans have made it to the gardening only department (which takes a LOT, in my case).  And one more is only just behind them.  I am running out of jeans while not buying jeans.  This winter it led to my wearing woolen pants I had made to work quite a bit–no bad thing.  But jeans.


I decided after listening to a friend about the benefits of craftsy, that one approach to my confidence issues would be to do some training.  So I enrolled for a class on craftsy and surprised myself by not really liking it much even though it seemed like something I should enjoy.  And for all kinds of irrelevant reasons that I myself thought were silly reasons not to have the benefit of the learning.  I learned a couple of things that really helped (and I can still finish the class one day and learn more!) But I also had a pile of new thoughts.  I remembered all over again that many of my feelings about clothes are really feelings about my body, and how sad it is that there is so much money to be made making us feel bad this way–because there is a lot of invitation to feel less than loving toward one’s own body in this society.  Especially if you grew up female.


I remembered all the ill fitting and less than perfect jeans I have owned and worn to rags.  Why do the jeans I make have to be perfect?  Maybe they don’t.  And so on.  So, I made the jeans.  I already had two patterns that I had bought in the past and not made.  So speaking of not buying stuff, I chose between them and settled on Vogue 7608.  I like the level of instruction offered by the designer and they sounded like the kind of jeans I might like to wear.  I made the pockets.  No problem.  I set the zipper and constructed the fly (those instructions were awesomely good).  Then, sewed the whole thing together to try-on-stage and found that these ‘below waist’ jeans were only below waist if you understand that they were half way up my ribs at the front.  Below waist as understood in the late 1970s or early 1980s, perhaps.  Not below my waist, however.  Perhaps I am not the shape contemplated by the designer, and indeed, I have had this pointed out to me when buying jeans in shops…. which has occasionally had me in tears.  So, in a genius move that long time readers will recognise, I put them aside for weeks.


Then came the afternoon I did all the adjusting I could do.  When I measured the curve on these jeans I found it was 5 cm longer at the front than my current favourites.  Quite a bit!  Note to self, next time try measuring this before cutting out.  I did all the adjusting I could figure out, and my overlocker suffered a discombobulation that required a trip to the shop (for a new belt).  Then, I put them down for some more weeks until one day a friend came over.  She is a tailor with loads of experience.  I tried them on and actually, she pronounced them very good, complimented my topstitching and we both agreed that the adjustment had been quite successful, and that I could make the ‘waistband’ (it isn’t really a waistband) narrower and help things along.


So over the course of the following week, I finished them.  Not perfect, but wearable, and jeans.  Made from denim I already had, with thread I already had, and a brown zipper (who will see it?) and an op shop jeans button from a pack that made it sound like I needed a patented tool.  No, I just needed a hammer and a block of wood.  Good outcome!  A further realisation was that I always make pants that are too big.  Even when I measure and compare with the pattern.  In this case I feel sure there is a lot of ease to allow for adjustment.  But for some reason I am allergic to making things that fit.  So… it seems I need more practice!  Perhaps I should try the other pattern…


Filed under Sewing

Planting the weaving rushes

This is one of my newer planting sites. I’ve weeded it over a couple of times, collected rubbish and planted some things here to see what could make it.  Then this grille appeared and there was a flood.  So there were just a couple of plants left.


I started out by weeding and collecting more broken glass. I’d just been to a workshop on weeds and their uses, and so I took it to be interesting that this place has pink flowering fumitory rather than the more common (but not so medicinal, evidently) white flowering fumitory.  Noted.  I continue to find it funny that when I was still in school in the early eighties I would read Mrs Grieve’s (English) Herbal and wish all these amazing plants might be growing anywhere I would ever meet the.  Well, dear reader, many of them do, but it took me a long time to realise that they were weeds!


In the clean up I found more intriguing rusty stuff (on the left–I realise my trowel has seen a lot of use!)


So out came weeds and in went plants.


Even more saltbush and sea fig on the upper parts pf the site…


And into the banks where so much water had so recently passed, I put some of the Ngarrindjeri weaving rushes that have grown up quietly since the weaving workshop. If there is a year they might make it, this year of flooding rains might be the one.


A portrait of the gardener…


And time to head home.



Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Uh oh… bags…

For those who have followed this blog for a while, this story will sound familiar.  Those who have started reading more recently (welcome!) may find my capacity to start with one bag and then somehow end up with dozens quite a few, a little puzzling,  Never mind.  I feel puzzled myself.  But this is how it unfolded this time.


It always starts like this: I think I’ll make one bag.  Often it just seems like a piece of fabric is calling out to become a bag.  In this case, some plant dyed calico (Eucalyptus Cladocalyx bark vat with Eucalyptus Scoparia prints and some clamping…).  Then I think I’ll make another one.


I believe I bought this hand printed fabric at a garage sale run by an artist.  To me, this design seems to have a vine and some Indigenous fish traps on it.


Somehow once I have made one, it seems logical to make another.


And another…


Until I’ve used the whole piece of fabric and used most of a pair of jeans so worn out and tired they can no longer be mended and cannot be made into anything else, to interface bag openings and handles.


In the end I took the bags to the Seed Freedom festival along with bunches of parsley and other goodness from the garden and left them at the festival food swap (I picked up some grapefruit).  Here’s a seed mandala in progress at the festival…


But… the bags did not end there! A curtain was transformed into four more bags (one got given away before I took a picture)… and now I had better sit on my hands for a while.




Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing

With words and without words

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I regret to say that this is a report on an exhibition that has since closed.  The wonderful (and local-to-me) Isobel McGarry exhibited during winter at Gallery M in Marion.   Isobel is a dyer who uses eco-prints in her works.

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However, the thing that strikes me as really central to her work is her embroidery.  She uses an extraordinary number of tiny stitches.  She often embroiders on silk, and her work shows a fascination with Japanese textile traditions and culture.  I loved the combination of these gorgeous works with Japanese poetry.

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As always in these techniques, the splendour of lovely details is part of the pleasure.

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Every little detail has been attended to and embellished.

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Isobel’s longing for peace seems to me to be accompanied by meditations on all that war has caused us to lose… and so the themes of fallen leaves and of the crucifix evident in so many cemeteries in this part of the world are persistent.

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A small posse of us who are admirers of Isobel’s work were privileged to go and admire the exhibit together one winter’s weekend, and it was good to spend time appreciating all that detail.

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I am sorry that you can’t go and see this lovely exhibit… but here is our departing view…

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Filed under Natural dyeing, Sewing

Woad extraction

After my last, less than successful, adventure with woad, I considered the situation. I discovered thanks to the commenters on this little blog (thank you!) that my chickens enjoy woad leaves just like theirs do.  Then I finally figured out that some of my woad is in year 1 and in spring in spite of everything I have done/not done/failed to understand.   I decided to try Teresinha Roberts’ method of extracting the pigment from woad.  I figure this way, I know if I have any pigment before I go all out with complex methods of deoxygenating my woad vat.

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So from left to right you have woad before haircut; woad after haircut, a (big) bucket full of woad, and…


half that woad washed.


After that it gets less pretty.  Woad that has been added into hot water, now ready for the compost bin.  Since adding it to the compost I find not the appalling ‘pinky-tan’ I have been promised by some but some very nice pinks online.  Never mind.  Life is long and I can try all the things if I live long enough.  Goodness knows it seems that is my project!


Woad liquid after straining out leaves.


Wow!  Can that stuff make froth!!  I had acquired a stab mixer at the op shop last week and employed it until I feared for its health. Teresinha was pretty clear that you should use soda ash and not washing soda because it causes less froth.  I only had washing soda and slaked lime in the alkaline substances for indigo line of supplies and was not prepared to go out and find soda ash having given my last lot away to indigo dyers a the guild.  Next time, I might be more diligent!


I gave it all night to let the foam subside, but there was still (very deep blue) foam next morning). Surely this is promising?  But why is the blueness floating, rather than sinking to the bottom of the liquid as in Teresinha’s pictures?  Have my washing soda crimes ruined everything?  (I know, I need my own soap opera).


The first cut. Fingers crossed! This looks like blue to me.  But… Teresinha Roberts has the blue pigment settling to the bottom.  To me it looks like mine is all floating on the top, still.


I thought time would sort it out but actually, two days later as I am trying to continue the process I still have this: the concentrating jar on the left and a jar of ‘discard’ woad solution on the right.  I say ‘discard’ as I am not throwing anything away just yet.


And then… wonder of wonders!  I began to form an impression on day 3 that I might have some blueness.


And closer up…


Is it promising?  Is it??








Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

Knitting Nannas & Skills fest

I interrupt the regular diet of guerilla planting round here lately, to mention an upcoming event that local folks may wish to attend and people further afield may enjoy hearing about:the famous Knitting Nannas Against Coal Seam Gas (Fracking to some) are coming our way!


These women are my kind of crafters… they came to the Newcastle Local Court to support those of us arrested at the Break Free protests against fossil fuels recently and I had a great chat with a Knitting Nanna.  I was knitting a sock, which impressed her, and she was a Knitting Nanna who is not a grandmother and can’t knit, which impressed me!  The Knitting Nannas are active all over the country wherever fossil fuel extraction threatens waterways, agricultural land and the climate.  They work with Lock the Gate (to oversimplify, farmers and rural people against fracking).  And for those wondering why the fuss about fossil fuels, I’ll summarise a bit more, on a day where we are facing a once in 50 year weather event right here at home and floods threaten houses on our quiet street for the second time in two weeks.  If we want a viable climate for the future, and we don’t want an escalation in droughts, floods, tornadoes and extreme weather in general, we have to stop taking fossil fuels (coal, gas and such) out of the ground and burning them.  The clock is ticking faster and faster and reaching even the targets agreed at Paris is fast becoming unrealistic. If you’d like more information, here is a very bracing, readily understood summary by Bill McKibben.  If thinking about climate change scares the wits out of you and you need some help with your despair, try Rebecca Solnit on optimism, first.

Grandma skill share

And, while we are on the theme of Nannas, it seems that grandparents are the new black!  I taught mending at this event a few weeks back and it was such a pleasure.  I also joined my friend (below) who spent hours teaching small people how to sew a button on.  I was just astonished how many small people wanted to learn from us.  But my friend had such a winning strategy, opening with, ‘You get to choose which button, what colour of thread, and which piece of fabric’!  I followed her lead (she really is a Grandma, and clearly the best sort) and taught quite a few young ones how to sew on a button… and some came back for a second one.  Then my friend would finish up with explanations of how that button-on-fabric could become a brooch… a patch… a feature on your t shirt…



Filed under Activism, Knitting, Sewing

More guerilla planting


One weekend, out I went with pigface, also known as Carpobrotus glaucescens or sea fig.  It has an edible fruit which is quite delicious.  These started life as cuttings in autumn but now a couple have started to flower.  The world is wet around here, time to get them into the ground.


I walked up to a tram stop where I have planted a lot.  I spoke to the poisoners last time I was there and weeded to try and help them not to poison saltbush of various kinds, boobialla and wattle… One of them told me that ruby saltbush don’t absorb the poison.  How I wish that were true, but it doesn’t appear that way to me  I have had many turn black after the poisoners pass through.  When I went back recently to catch a tram I could see lots of weeds and few plants.  Some of the larger ones, rhagodias in particular, had made it and were doing well.  This time I arrived to find the whole bed deep in mulch.  The mulch was only a few days in place, and all over the plants.  Three cheers for mulch, three boos for burying the living.  I spent time excavating sedges, boobialla, correas, pigface (the large one thriving here drove my decision to plant the bed out with these highly recognisable and quickly spreading plants)… and everything else I could find.  I managed to find a few leaves sticking out and dig some plants out that way.  Others I found by accident, parting the mulch to plant other things!


In went the sea figs. Then home again, collecting a  lot of rubbish after the Royal Show and the storms of recent weeks.


I scored some promising rusty stuff, and had a chat with a chap smoking a cigarette by the road who clearly knew what guerilla gardening was, asked me if that was what I was doing, and was generally approving and cheerful toward my project.  I put a few more plants in along the route home, and then it was time for clean up.



Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Spring in the dye garden


I had a query from a lovely reader recently and it caused me to consider what was in my dye garden, which is also the flower and vegie garden, really.  So here is a little taking stock.  Woad is showing its capacity to self sow.  I have gone from struggling to get a seedling out of a hard won pack of seed, to finding I could get it to grow, to this… self sowing in the veggie beds.  Let’s see if these plants manage the summer.


The one-year-old-woad is pretty big.  Pity I didn’t harvest it at the right time.  I still might have another go… but meanwhile some of it is sending up flower heads and the seeds will dye too! This is the woad-and-potato bed beside the peach tree.


This is the woad-greens-rhubarb-you name it bed.  Flower heads rising in the middle top of the picture.


The new raised madder bed, with added pansies, evacuated to this spot when their pot fell apart without warning.  I think the madder already likes this spot. Californian poppies are doing well in the old one.


Speaking of pansies, I’ve been dead heading these regularly to use India Flint’s ice flower method on them.  They are in a yoghurt pot in the freezer, accumulating. I love my pansy dyed thread and have faced the fact that I don’t need kilogrammes of silk thread at this stage and therefore can happily use quite small quantities of dye stuff.  I have also been known to deadhead pansies in public plantings.  But it goes so much better when I don’t have company, as this kind of weirdness may offend one’s friends. In the top of the picture, the weld. Some of it died months back for no obvious reason–the main stem seemed to rot or be nibbled away.  Mysterious!


And there are these pansies too. Only some of them make sense for dye but they are all lovely.  I am in favour of loveliness.


Our E Scoparia has made it through the skeletonising caterpillar season and is now my height!


Black hollyhocks old–


–and new.


Marigold seedlings coming up in a metal tub I salvaged off hard rubbish during winter.


I do use rhubarb leaves to create acidic dye baths, but mostly rhubarb is for eating and not dyeing in our parts! And the rest of my dye garden is out in the suburb and other people’s gardens… I am a dye gleaner.



Filed under Dye Plants, Neighbourhood pleasures