Monthly Archives: January 2014

Harvesting the finger limes… with recipes!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programme of fibre related crafts and natural dyeing for a dessert special.  Not interested?  You are, of course, allowed to leave the kitchen and I hope to see you back soon!

We have a little finger lime tree (Citrus australasica syn. Microcitrus australasica). This is a native plant but it certainly isn’t native to any place near me: it’s a tropical plant.  A friend was growing it in a pot in a seaside location that is windy and cold in winter and it was judged to need rescue by her horticulturally knowledgeable friends, who proposed me as a suitable new host. Colour me flattered by this! We’ve struggled to find it a spot in which it can manage through winter, and this year it behaved less like a deciduous plant through the colder months and we have had a bumper harvest.

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We have dozens of fruit this year instead of the three or four of the last two years. In the past, we would share the small harvest in a single special dish with the tree’s previous host.

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There aren’t a lot of cookbooks with recipes for finger lime on my shelf, so I made some up.  We had ten people for dinner and a very interesting and complex conversation one night and these dishes were so well reviewed I decided to share despite the absence of wool or eucalyptus.  If you have traumatic English boarding school memories of sago (tapioca), avert your eyes now! If, on the other hand, you love bubble tea, I am cooking with the baby sister of those bubbles. These dishes are gluten and dairy free and vegan as well as delicious….

Finger lime sago jelly for 10

Cook 1 cup of sago (seed tapioca, tapioca pearls) in 5 cups of water with 3-4 cardamom pods (to be removed when the cooking part is over).  Cook until the sago is clear.  I prefer to do this by bringing to a boil, stirring vigorously while the heat is on, then turning off the heat and putting the lid on for about 10 minutes.  Repeat 3-4 times.  The sago will absorb a lot of liquid this way with little energy being used and little attention from you.  Then, add the zest and flesh of 8-10 finger limes, juice of 2 lemons, 1 cup of sugar, vanilla and some ground cardamom if you didn’t use the pods.  Now is the time to take them out if you did use them.  Cool, refrigerate.

The flesh of a finger lime is like a mass of tiny spheres of tangy, sour, almost resinous flavour.  I cut the fruit lengthways in quarters to extract the contents with my fingers.  Mixing this with sago is like having the textural experience of sago (which I find sublime) paired with tiny explosions of intense flavour.

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Coconut custard for 10

Heat three 400 ml (13.5 fl oz) cans of light coconut milk–that makes a total of 1200ml (40.5 fl oz) coconut milk–in a saucepan.  Reserve a little to use in the next step.  In a separate bowl, blend the reserved coconut milk, 3 tablespoons of sugar (or stevia), 4 tablespoons of cornflour, ginger and vanilla until smooth.  When the coconut milk is warm but not boiling, remove from the heat.  Stirring vigorously, add the thickening mixture in a stream.  When it is mixed in, return the saucepan to the heat and continue to heat, stirring constantly, until it begins to bubble.  Cool. Serve with your finger lime sago jelly.

I hope some of you are lucky enough to be able to try finger limes!

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More socks for happy feet

More socks were completed over the end of year break. These are for my daughter, who got to try them out for fit and taste while we were visiting–and what a pleasure it was to be visiting!

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The pattern is Jaywalker, by Grumperina, and the yarn is Kathys Fibres Wool/Bamboo/Nylon Sock in Stained Glass.  Jaywalker is not a very stretchy stitch pattern, but it is simple to memorise, a couple of stitch markers make it easy to execute, and it is dramatic in a suitable colourway.  I always love wearing them myself.  I thought the yarn called out for something more than a simple rib.  The lary colours raised eyebrows while they were in progress… but it’s all a question of what the recipient will enjoy, and hopefully she will enjoy these for years to come.

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Leaf prints of the week: Pecan and Eucalyptus on cotton

Last week there was some leaf printing. Eucalyptus Scoparia leaves, one of my favourites.

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Pecan leaves, inspired by Lotta Helleberg (when I went to her blog to insert this link there was an especially delectable pecan leaf printed fabric on show, by complete coincidence) and by a wonderful lunch with friends who have a pecan tree. The leaves have been patiently waiting in my freezer.

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Let me admit right here and now that I had some alum and tannin mordanted fabric which took no colour at all–I must have made some kind of mistake there!

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As always, the thrill of seeing good things begin to emerge.

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Then waiting to unwrap bundles.  I saved these until I had a friend over for dinner who I realised would enjoy the reveal as much as I do.

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Some pecan prints were better than others, but the good ones are lovely.

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And the Eucalyptus leaf prints were all I hoped for and more.

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A Community Celebration

As I read The Little Book of Craftivism, ideas kept popping into my head.  This one took a little longer to execute than the mini banners. There is a row of immense, sugar gums (Eucalyptus Cladocalyx) over 100 year old in our neighbourhood which were scheduled to be cut down due to changes in the railway corridor.  Many people in our neighbourhood were part of a campaign to save them.

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We managed to save these trees (albeit very severely pruned) while dozens of others were cut down.  People have been saying to me when they visit the nearby local neighbourhood centre how awful it looks now that all the trees that used to stand between the neighbourhood centre and the railway have been cut down.  They often say how relieved they are that the ones we saved are still there–but they do not realise what went into saving them.  They don’t even know those trees were threatened.  There are still all night works and daytime works and continuing campaigns and about noise going on and many people in the area feel very discouraged living with the aftermath of all the infrastructure works.  So I imagined bunting that read ‘these trees saved by community action’ and a bit of a celebration of our having actually succeeded in this part of what we have tried to do.

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Well, I made the bunting.  And another member of our local group emailed out the most beautiful invitation to come and hang it up and celebrate the continued existence of the sugar gums.  And so a small local celebration, complete with our local MP Steph Key and our local councillor, Jennie Boisvert, who both put considerable effort into supporting our campaign.  I wanted to thank the woman who stared the campaign and was its mainstay, so I made her a little leafy bag.  Here it is filled with rolled up bunting ready to go and celebrate.

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And here we are, after a highly entertaining hanging of the bunting.

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I’ve made a tutorial on how to create this kind of lettered bunting, which you can find in the how-to page (link at the top of the blog) or here, if you’d like to try your own.  I already have another plan, personally….

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What to do with silk cocoons 3: Spin them onto a yarn!

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I used Jacey Boggs‘ techniques to do this…

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I feel a tea cosy coming on!  Big thanks to the friend who gifted these cocoons: you know who you are!  This is really what I had planned all along to do with my home grown cocoons, but they turned out to be rather thin.  I guess I am raising silkworms of uncertain parentage, not silkworms that have been bred for their fine silk or silkworms that have had optimum treatment!  Their cocoons are certainly not as strong or as thick-walled as the cocoons in this picture.  So… perhaps they are not suitable to this use.  There have turned out to be many others!

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What to do with silk cocoons 2: Spin raw cocoons

On the last Guild meeting day for 2013 I wandered into the library intent on borrowing for the coming 2 months–including holiday time.  One of my loans was A Silk Worker’s Notebook by Cheryl Kolander (Interweave Press, Colorado USA 1985). She describes spinning raw (softened in water but not degummed), degummed whole and cut and degummed cocoons.  Choices, choices, choices!

She instructs the reader to soak the cocoons to soften them.  I soaked them cold and nothing much happened.

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I double checked and Cheryl Kolander says to soak in warm water.  I did, and by bedtime, I had spun a very small number of cocoons over a considerable amount of time with great effort and decided soaking until the following evening would be necessary, since I do in fact have a job to go to…

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Kolander’s instructions make gradually drawing out fibre from one end of the cocoon sound straightforward.  Bless her heart, if she can do that, she has greater skills and/or strength than I do!  I have never applied so much sheer force to draft anything.  I found I had to snip the cocoon to make a start, enlarge the hole by pulling, remove the chrysalis and then tear or stretch the cocoon far enough that I could grab one half in one hand and the other half in my other hand and create a bridge of fibres I could attenuate and attempt to join to my thread.  All while still wet.

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Kolander promised a stiff thread and mine did not disappoint. Can you see the end of the thread heading off to the upper right in the next picture?  No wind or special effects were applied to this image!

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This was the smallest reel I could find.  But I am delighted to have managed to spin a thread.  I drew the line at plying and left it as a single.  As always, experiments like these give some finger-and-muscle-understanding and not just a vague intellectual sense of the tremendous skill and sheer hard work and time commitment of people who create fine reeled silk and all manner of silk yarns and fabrics with the most basic of equipment. I won’t be giving up my day job anytime soon!

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What to do with silk cocoons 1: Spin the blaze!

One of my more knowledgeable friends (who loves working with silk) told me that the loose fluffy fibres around a silk cocoon–where the silkworm was just getting started on anchoring themselves in space and creating a scaffolding for the eventual cocoon–is called the ‘blaze’. She was planning to try spinning the blaze–and I decided to follow her example.  I had never seen this feature of a silk cocoon before growing my own.  I guess it is removed or destroyed when cocoons are dyed or prepared for sale.  But this puffy little cloud of fibre is rather lovely.

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I tried spinning it by just drafting it away from the cocoons.

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This sometimes meant several cocoons were caught up in my drafting, and occasionally one was dangling in mid-air, hanging from a filament so slender as to be invisible.

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Here are the cocoons, now without their blaze.

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And here is the resulting tiny three-ply skein with some cocoons for scale.

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It’s pretty but tiny!

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For the love of mending

My favourite bag has already been mended rather extensively, as some may remember. But it was not to be expected that would be the last time. Not only that, but it had an encounter with a Moreton Bay Fig tree which dripped sap–or perhaps some other sticky substance–on it (the black splodge you can see below).  It was very hard to get that sap out of my hair, too, and let us not speak of my shorts… But sap was only a side detail in a glorious solstice celebration my friends organised, complete with one in a series of phenomenal home made papier mache pinatas.

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I had a few cuffs and collars from recent dye pots. They are much redder and blacker than the pieces which made the bag up until now.

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Cuffs and collars often come out best of all.  Proximity to iron? Three layers give better mordant absorption and/or better capacity to get a good contact print?  All that random interfacing? Tick–all of the above? I’m not sure, but it has always been this way for me.  Anyway… it began with a hand sewn patch at the solstice event, just so the bag could travel to Melbourne next day without suffering major trauma.  Then I ripped out the lining and went for it in all the necessary places.

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While I was on the job and pondering the unexpected benefits of interfacing, I raided my stash of intefacing of yesteryear–who knows where I inherited this pre-iron-on interfacing from? I have beena  receiving point for other people’s haberdashery for years now!  I interfaced the opening, which has worked out well in spite of my general suspicion of interfacing and the synthetics out of which most of it is made. And here is the resulting bag on a beachside bench.

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I know I’ve heard the philosophical debate over whether a boat whose every plank has been replaced is still the same boat. If I’d been the philosopher in question I would have had to ask about a patched pair of jeans–the place my love of mending really took root and my skills with a sewing machine seriously began to develop–or perhaps, a bag of patches.

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A squeak of glee and a visit to the beach

I was in Melbourne when I saw that India Flint had put out a new book: Stuff, Steep and Store.  Yesterday (well, the day before I wrote this post–) it arrived in the mail and I gave out a squeak of glee.  It is short but lovely, so there was one reading before bed and another over breakfast.  I happened to be heading out to an early appointment at a suburb near the beach.  Inspired as I was, and consequently full of exciting plans, I decided to go to the beach to dip some fabric (the last of a roll of cotton sheeting from a church fete) in the sea and  collect seawater for later use.  And, of course, for a walk.

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I am my father’s daughter, so my walk was accompanied by the collection of glass shards from the sand.  There was also the greeting of a lot of dogs and a smaller number of humans.

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A great start to the day, and multiple dyeings to come.

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More tree loving craftivism

My second ‘banner’ has gone up another neighbourhood tree.  This one is my favourite E Scoparia. It was the first really promising dye eucalypt I discovered.  It used to be home to a pair of piping shrikes, who nested there in their little mud cup for many seasons.  In the last year it has acquired a nesting box and we’ve seen rosellas coming in and out of it.

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This is the tree my friends and I have been mulching and weeding and we have planted in an understory of native ground covers, mostly forms of saltbush, which are now doing really well.  If you have been reading a while you will have seen this tree protected from passing Royal Show foot traffic in earlier posts here and here.  Those images show how much the groundcover project has progressed in the last 18 months or so.  In the beginning, people would remove plant guards, pull out small plants soon after we put them in or just trample young plants by accident.  Not any more.  I think the evidence of care and the success of the surviving understorey plants generates more thoughtful treatment from passersby, and it’s clear that lots of local people now understand that their neighbours are making efforts that are transforming an almost bare patch of hard earth scattered with weeds and rubbish, into something lovely.  I collected the rubbish that had landed under it this morning and maybe that is ebbing a little too.

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So, four of us stood and admired this tree, delectable breakfast smoothies in hand, and tied on this little banner of admiration and appreciation.

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And here’s the full length picture…

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