Monthly Archives: February 2014

Well Made Guildhouse Members Exhibition

This week I had to go into the centre of the city for a work related event, so I left early and went to Well Made, an exhibition of members of the Guildhouse at the Light Square Gallery.  India Flint is one of those members, so I thought I’d go along.  I thought of you, blog readers, while I was there, and wished I could take you along–especially those who live outside our fair city.  I just wasn’t sure it would be OK to take pictures inside the gallery.  In fact, I thought it probably wouldn’t be OK and that I should err on the side of refraining, even if only because the artists undoubtedly have better images of their work than my photography would create.  So I took pictures of the building, and found you links to follow to see the works–or other works by the artists concerned.  Click away!

The Centre for the Arts is a great building, and the day was glorious.

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I can’t pretend to be an art critic (or for that matter, an educated art appreciator) of any kind.  I am an art ignoramus.  So when I go to an exhibition I am just curious and interested.  I know there are all kinds of things to know about and think on, as well as skills I know little about, that underpin the artworks.  I am aware of only the tiniest segment of all that knowledge, skill and thoughtfulness.  On the other hand, it’s a shame to say nothing at all… and thus not invite others to go along and wonder at what there is to see, no matter how ignorant we each might be!

There were all kinds of forms and media represented: painting, sculpture, leather cutting, glass, ceramics and of course, textiles.  Among the works that caught my attention was a glowing and almost–but not quite– geometric oil painting with gold leaf: ‘Golden Ochre’ by Megan O’Hara.  Beautiful images of her artworks, including this one, can be found here.  Two sets of intriguing glass mushrooms were ‘growing’ from wood: ‘Fungi’ by Roger Buddle. Seldom has glass looked less like glass to me.  Blue fungi on wood are there to be seen and admired on his home page today for anyone who wishes to see them.  There was a striking 3mm mild steel sculpture: ‘Feather’ by Anna Small (more of her work here). Pamela Kouwenhoven contributed ‘Muddy Waters Murray River’, a wall-mounted sculpture of faded plastic (car) battery cases.  There are images of this sculpture and others in the same series here.

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India Flint’s contribution is called ‘The Wasteland in Bloom’.  A more than fitting title.  It is a silk and wool dress, hand stitched in silk thread, to judge by the sheen of those stitches.  It is flowing, floor length and sleeveless.  It features a striking eco-print design of orange/red leaf prints alternating with bands of darker colour, which are almost black (iron, I assume) and striped by the resist created by the ties used in bundling the fabric.  It has slanting, curved side seams, creating a very interesting draping of the garment.  One of the seams had some… pleats is the closest term I know, but it suggests something crisp and vertical while these are soft and horizontal … creating further interest in the drape of the fabric toward the hemline.  The hemline is a feature in its own right, a separately stitched band with its own embellishments.  I don’t think India has published a picture of this work, but you can of course see many glorious garments she has created here.

So if you can… go along and see what you find interesting!

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Filed under Leaf prints, Sewing

Sock yarn overdyeing progress and an indigo update

Socks are one of my go-to projects.  I’m sure you’ve noticed.  They are portable and don’t require a pattern (for me, any more) and so they accompany me on public transport, to meetings and conferences, picnics and TV shows. Admittedly, I am not usually making fancy socks.

A couple of years back I acquired a lot of pre-loved patonyle (this is a wool/nylon blend and probably one of the best known Australian sock yarns).  Patonyle has been around a long time.  When I found this lot at a garage sale some of it was in 1 oz balls (Australia gave up imperial measures in 1970–to oversimplify).  I’ve been working my way through this haul for quite some time.  Today I pulled out all my ball bands.  Some have that souped up 19760s-70s styling (in lime green and purple–at top right), the pallid specimen in the top left corner is the current 100g format, the only ball I bought new–and those ochre coloured wrappers surely predate the 1970s.  And … there are quite a few of them!

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No wonder it has taken awhile to turn it all into socks.  I’ve used this wool with all manner of natural dyes, with greater and lesser success.  After the recent indigo saga began (update below), I looked at the remainder.  Some dyed with eucalypt, some with plum pine, which I now know won’t last long, a leftover black bean ball and some in the original grey.

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I decided to overdye the black bean, grey and plum pine yarn with eucalypt and made my way past one of my favourite E Scoparias, collecting fallen leaves and bark on my way back from the shops.  On went the pots. One contains the fruit of past harvests… mostly E Scoparia bark.

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The other contains what I collected the day I started writing this post: E Scoparia leaves and bark.  We have had sudden rain and wind after a prolonged hot spell, so there were leaves and a few pieces of bark from other trees in there and the smell of E Citriodora wafted up from this pot as soon as it came to a simmer, then died away.  The nearest lemon scented gum is only a few metres from where I was gathering.

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Meanwhile, I cast on with the yarn that is already in the classic eucalypt colours…

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And here are those blue, plum and grey yarns after their trip through my dye pots…

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On the indigo front, here are the yarns after soaking in soy and drying.  They are lying across a nodding violet in a hanging pot so you can get some sense of how stiff they are!

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I let them dry out really well and have since been soaking and rinsing.  The soy milk soak has meant that more indigo is washing out of the sock yarn, which is what I had hoped for.  I am reasoning that the soy has bonded with some of the loose particles of indigo, rendering them capable of being washed out (rather than coming off on my hands, since I couldn’t rinse any more of the indigo out previously).  I am going to keep soaking and rinsing until that stops… and then try knitting again!

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Filed under Eucalypts, Natural dyeing

Cool spectrum gradient yarn

There has been some plain Jane spinning.  Three ply natural Polwarth, finaly plied after a long wait. Not my best work, unfortunately.  One of the singles is plumper and fluffier than the other two.  Just the same, it’s yarn and it’s a true three ply made from three singles.

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In the not-so-plain stakes, there has also been plying of some of the holiday spinning.  This one is Malcolm the Corriedale, dyed yellow with osange orange and my mother’s coreopsis flowers (she is generous enough to collect her dead flowers for me and such a committed gardener that she deadheads her coreopsis).  I overdyed with indigo to create greens and, of course, blue.

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No sign of crocking, just in case you’re wondering!  I have several more flour sacks of this fibre carded, pulled into roving through a diz and ready to spin.  Mmmm!

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The yarn is three ply and I’ve chain plied it so it will stripe… and just for the sheer pleasure of it.  Because I met internet spinners before I met many in real life, chain plying never seemed to me to be an unusual skill.  I took it up quite early in my spinning career and expected it to be challenging, because I was beginner and most things were challenging.  While I was plying this yarn at my regular Guild group, women who have been spinning for decades were commenting about how easy I made it look.  Ah, the warm glow of competence…  I admire all the things they can do that I find difficult, and there they are, doing just the same thing in reverse.

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Natural dyeing, Spinning

Where do I find the time?

I was at a wonderful birthday picnic today, celebrating my friends turning 7 and 40, respectively.  There was all kinds of interesting chat, of course, and in the midst of it another friend who reads this blog was marvelling at the way things seem to happen at my place, to judge by the blog.  I had to break the news that I write posts at all kinds of odd times and that their sequence isn’t always entirely mapping the way things happen at my place, and that I auto scheduled posts to load every two days while I was on holidays…  I guess I think the way that things really do happen is not quite such a good story!

But just in case…   here’s the story of my Saturday.  We were up early to go to an exercise class.  I was ready in plenty of time so went outside, removed the sock yarn from its eucalypt dye bath, put it to soak in rainwater and hung the soy-soaked-indigo-dyed sock yarn up to dry.  Then there was exercise, a ‘coffee’ (I don’t drink coffee so for me it was yoghurt and hot chocolate).  I knit a few rows on my sock.

Then there was grocery shopping and visiting an upholsterer who had calico flour sacks and hessian sugar sacks on the wall that had come out of old chairs he was refurbishing (I like him already).  Then preparing food and gifts and off to the picnic.  I knit more on my sock there.  Another friend was appliqueing on a pair of jeans which were her gift.  Then home.  Cleaning up and a short pause.  So many ideas in my head! I have a couple of hours to do what I like and so… I have samples of two trees collected yesterday.

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Dealing with them requires two empty dye pots but my two are full.

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They are the ones the sock yarn came out of at breakfast time. I empty, rinse and refill them. One with my friend’s street tree in case it might be E Nicholii (I live in hope, but not much!!)

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The other with leaves from a tree that has intrigued me every time I’ve driven to her house–but yesterday it was in flower and I was running early, so I stopped. Put the heat on them. While dealing with that I’ve remembered the sock yarn.  That bucket isn’t very clean, is it?  Better keep rinsing.

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Thank goodness we’ve had rain and the whole place is on rainwater at last. Must deal with the sealing fail on my dye jars.  That requires another free dye pot I don’t have.  Next.

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I decide to try to identify the eucalypt. Oh, remember to rinse the sock yarn.

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Uploading photos for this post takes a while, so I set about turning saved cardboard into tags to clean it off the desk.

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Miraculously I manage to find some of the lovely pre-used string and thread I’ve been saving… some of it with attached safety pins, and that gets reuse too.  It puits me in mind of clearing out my grandfather’s shed after he died.  String saved for re-use, straightened out nails, screws that have been saved from previous applications…

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Now these tags can join the ones that are already in the drawer made from last year’s calendar.  Out comes my favourite euc book.  If that tree is in the book it is E Stricklandii, which means I probably should have recognised it.  Mmmm.  A friend comes over.  More chat and then my beloved and said friend head off into the shed.  Rinse the sock yarn.  Put sample cards into the dye pots and turn them down.  One looks promising, the other not so much. Back to the computer, to check out my euc.  These leaves are not glossy… and so on….

Some work on another blog post.  Go to the bin to put the cardboard remains in the recycling only to find my beloved has put some greeting cards in there that surely shouldn’t be so readily disposed of… three new postcards created, one card saved for potential use as a stencil (lovely cut out design).  Check out my files for the last time I identified E Stricklandii.  Clearly I did try it out as a dye plant so there will be a comparison… Re-file craft books and fabrics. Check dye pots. Looking good.

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Empty sock yarn rinse water.  Tidy up in the laundy and see those slippers I finished ages ago but haven’t felted.  What the hey?  Put them in the washing machine and get out a timer so I won’t forget they are there (sure sign of overreach but always a good idea with felting).  Put timer in pocket.  Set up India Flint’s suggested fix for hard to seal jars (I think mine suffered from being heated too quickly despite using the lowest heat on the stove, but may as well add insurance).  Now they will be ready when the dye pot comes free.  Or tomorrow, if it comes to that!

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Timer rings.  Check slippers.  Not ready yet.  Go to find traced shape of my friend’s foot.

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Take drum carder and the vacola jars Dad picked up secondhand out to the shed.  Check dye pots. terminate the less interesting dye pot ready for the jars, pour the dyebath into a bucket.  Put the knitting nancy (french knitting kit) I found at an op shop in the box for delivery to friends who might use this, plus things from the picnic that need to go to their place.  Decide to make another dye jar with the pelargonium petals, since the pelargonium has stopped flowering. I must have been so optimistic when I started gathering them in this jar!

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Timer goes.  Slippers look about right. Take them out to cool.

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One slipper pair is perfect.  The other, back in for ten minutes.  Finish sorting out those jars of stuff, steep and store goodness.

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In they go!

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The dried avocado peels from the kitchen finally make it out into dyestuff storage land.

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Slippers come out just after our other dinner guest arrives (with dinner! bless her!)  I shape the slippers over chat with crackers and avocado and cheese.  And put a load of the really dirty dyeing stuff on to wash.  I need to keep an eye on the stuff, steep and store jars during the evening.  I am pronounced a nerd with glee…  After main course, one of our guests says she wants to ask a technical question, which is whether I could draft a pattern from a simple vest she has so that she can make one on a ‘trashed and treasured’ theme… Out comes the recycled tissue paper and we give it a go and find a vest pattern that might help with conceptualising construction.

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Well, it’s bedtime.  After heating extremely slowly (the dye burners win over the gas stove in the kitchen for slowly heating, clearly) my jars are now a little too hot… I turn them down and leave them to the dye pot timer.  Goodnight!

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Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Knitting, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Let’s try that again!

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My indigo dyed sock yarn emerged from its vinegar and water soak a little improved.  Instead of being able to see blue on my fingers after just twisting the skeins and then being sble to see the track yarn takes around my fingers when I knit in blue detail after only a row or two… it took winding the skein into a ball to produce this effect…

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I decided to try casting on.  After casting on 64 stitches…

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(That would be the long tail cast on for knitters who need to know!)  Well, it’s an option to knit and get blue fingers: people who seem to know on Ravelry say the resulting garment will not lose dye onto the wearer.  Why not, I wonder–as a sock will clearly be in friction with the feet it is on and crocking is all about dye loss through friction rather than washing.  Still, a little slower rate of dye loss would be my preference!  I’ve checked with the redoubtable J N Liles The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing (1990), and he would appear to be the source of my belief that if indigo crocks it will keep doing so.  He offers a method for addressing the problem that seems entirely logical but does involve some effort.  There is another simple solution suggested on Ravelry–a soymilk soak.  Since finding it mentioned on Ravelry, I’ve found John Marshall offering soymilk as a solution to crocking here.

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On the premise of doing the simple things first, I’ll try that before proceeding to take Mr Liles’ advice, which would have to wait for a day with some relaxed hours.  As it happens, there were two part-used boxes of soymilk in the tearoom fridge at work… they have been there a long while and no one is claiming knowledge (one of them is mine but I’m not sure which one!)  They smell fine but I think they’re past the point of safe human consumption. What an opportunity!  Now we wait.

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I made a little hat to match the big one.  Same basic hat, smaller, and top-down so I could use all the yarn.  I am sure it will fit a little person or perhaps a doll or a bear…

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And… I had a score at the op shop (thrift store) on my way home from work.  I could not resist all that thread for A$2 and there were so many examples of lovely embroidery I had to bring one home…

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Filed under Dyefastness, Knitting, Natural dyeing, Sewing

Leaf print of the week

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These are Eucalyptus Cinerea leaves on silk velvet. The velvet came from Beautiful Silks.  Just four small squares in a couple of scrap packs I bought along with whatever I was ordering at the time.  From my point of view this was lucky dip by post, and more fun than most lucky dips I remember as a child.  I would never have expected to enjoy velvet so much!  Here are both squares fresh from unbundling.

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Perhaps I’ll have to make a cushion cover… as proposed in the comments.  Finally, a little close-up.  E Cinerea famously has heart-shaped leaves, but this tree had been pruned (mostly by me) and the new growth has come out in quite different shapes, which suits me just fine.  For some reason, I love the leaves that have provided food to caterpillars at least as much as the intact leaves, if not more.

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Meanwhile, I still have at least 80g of indigo dyed sock yarn (enough for a pair of socks), so after all the cheering on from readers recently, I have tried the least difficult solution to crocking I found (start with simple!) and soaked it overnight in a vinegar solution.  No bleeding into the rinse water… and I’ve left the yarn out to dry.  Fingers crossed!

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Filed under Eucalypts, Leaf prints

Travel Knitting

I have been travelling for work… and then my oldest friend invited me to his birthday… so I have been extending my carbon footprint by going to Perth for work, then to my friend’s birthday on my way home (for those who don’t know, Sydney is not on the way home to Adelaide, when you start out in Perth).

Anyway… in the hurry to leave home I managed to remember to pack travel knitting.  I started out with a sock in progress.  Eucalyptus dyed patonyle, destined for the feet of my Blue Mountains friends.  The weather where they live calls for handknit socks.

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These colours are the result of overdyes, where I didn’t like the initial colour and decided to try again.  By the time I left for Perth, I had one sock knit and another underway and caused quite a bit of fascination among the project team by knitting in breaks and grafting a toe over lunch.

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I had overdyed the rest of my patonyle more recently.  It started out dyed with black beans (not as colourfast as I’d like) and plum pine (not at all colourfast).

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These yarns went into my first attempt at the Michel Garcia organic indigo vat.  I had reservations about my vat as I went… the Ph test strips I had bought turned out not to measure the part of the Ph spectrum I needed and in the end I ran out of time and should have left the vat to the next day.  On the up side, the preparation of the vat all made sense and most of it went really well.   I think my judgment about it was basically right, I just didn’t go with my judgment as I should have done.  My friend dyed a doily:

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I re-dyed the sock yarn, originally bought second hand at a garage sale.

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Although I was happy with the finished colours, it turned out that I had hurried the indigo too much and I was left with crocking… the blue rubbed of on my hands a lot as I was knitting in Perth.  This made it certain the finished socks would leave the wearer with blue feet and I finally decided to abandon them after a few centimetres, frogged and left the yarn in a bin in Perth.  Sigh!  That must be the fiirst dyeing fail I have pronounced irretrievable.

I had an alternative plan.  I pulled out yarn I intended for a hat and chose one of the two patterns in my bag, Jared Flood’s Turn a Square.  I wound the ball in my motel room and cast on. Here it is as I wait for the taxi to the airport in Perth.

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The time difference between Western Australia (Perth) and the rest of the country is considerable, so even though the flight was four and a half hours, I left Perth at 10 am and arrived in Sydney at 5 pm, and here is the hat in the Sydney airport:

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Here it is in Sydney about to depart for Adelaide next day…

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I finished it on the way and started a second hat with the rest of the skein, top down. I’d call that a productive trip on many fronts!

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Filed under Dyefastness, Knitting, Natural dyeing

Holiday spinning

We had a fabulous holiday at Port Willunga.  In spite of the warm weather, I did a lot of spinning. I have three fat bobbins of naturally dyed wool waiting for plying and I three-plied this rather lovely wool and silk blend by Wren and Ollie, a relatively new local business.

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Here is the resulting yarn.

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It came with a tiny lucky dip batt. I spun it up finely and three ply was the theme of the moment. I could’t resist using the photo opportunities of the lovely beach shack we were staying in. The low turret on the front right seems to be an acorn cap, for those wondering about scale.

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Finally, I had several small batts of alpaca that began in natural shades of grey which I then dyed with eucalyptus, leavng the deepest grey in its natural state.  I turned them into a gradient yarn.

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One final photo just for fun…

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Filed under Natural dyeing, Spinning

Trying out Stuff, Steep and Store

I mentioned a while back that I let out a squeak of glee when I got my copy of India Flint’s new book Stuff, Steep and Store… and it was only a matter of time before I’d try it out.

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I’m trying out the following.  I can’t pretend to think they are especially well suited to this method but there it is… time will tell, as it always does!

  • Brown onion skins, aluminium foil, E Scoparia dyebath with vinegar (I hope I wrote some fibre or other on the label!!)
  • E Scoparia leaves, bark and dye, aluminium foil, silk thread, vinegar
  • Dyers’ chamomile flowers, aluminium foil, silk thread, water and seawater and finally
  • Red onion skins, silk thread, copper and vinegar water, seawater.

Entertainingly enough, while India Flint says she has been inspired in this dyeing process by years of food preserving (and that’s evident from the book)… After my first batch of dye jars I was inspired to pitch a round of food preserving to my beloved.  We put up a dozen or so jars of white peaches and yellow plums for later enjoyment.  I am not sure why this is called ‘canning’ in the US, but in Australia it’s usually called ‘bottling’ because it is done in glass jars.  I have a massive collection. I have been the receiving point for others’ Fowlers Vacola preserving kits for so long I now gift or share them with friends who are not so well endowed.  Perfect, really!

Since filling these jars I’ve been on a seaside holiday.  I set the blog to load scheduled posts while I was gone… and being lazy at the beach is the reason for slow responses to comments lately.  WordPress and my phone have an on-again-off-again relationship, which doesn’t help.  Since I was by the sea and pedalling around the neighbourhood, I collected seeds of hardy native plants for later propagation and planting in the abandoned waste parts of my own neighbourhood. Plantings on public land just call out for seed collection, don’t you think?

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One plant, the seaberry saltbush (rhagodia spp, probably rhagodia candolleana), was in such profuse fruit that I collected enough to fill a small jar we had finished using.

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I can confirm that rhagodia fruit ferments quickly in heat like we’ve had lately (41C today)… and began to do so before I managed to get it home and process my jar properly.  Ooops!  That really should not have been a surprise.  The fruits are smaller than a currant but very pretty…

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Another experiment, since if anyone else has tried dyeing with this plant I don’t know about it and have only a foggy memory of the Victorian Handspinners reporting they got some colour from saltbush fruit (saltbush is a big family).  I happened to have embroidery thread with me… and into the jar it went with chocolate-bar-foil.  And now we wait.

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To see how others are working with this process, visit the delectable ‘pantry’ India Flint has set up, or if you’re so inclined, have a look on facebook.

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Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Natural dyeing

What to do with silk cocoons 4: Spin degummed cocoons

For those who have not been following the silkworm saga… I raised a good number of silkworms last year, starting with the hatching and ending (after riveting weekly updates, believe me), with the very last silkworm creating a cocoon. Since then there has been a small series of ‘what I did with my silk cocoons’ posts… and I think this is the last one for this season of silk.

With  A Silk Worker’s Notebook by Cheryl Kolander (Interweave Press, Colorado USA 1985) as my guide, I moved on to my final experiment.  Cheryl describes the potential of spinning from degummed cocoons as ‘unlimited’ (page 71).  In fact, she goes so far as to say: ‘Direct spinning from degummed cocoons is the classic form for handspun silk. In fact, there is no easier fiber to spin.’

As it happens, I bought 25g of degummed cocoons last time I visited the Victorian Guild, (they have a lovely shop and gallery) for the princessly sum of $3.20.  It’s a good thing I did, because these are the only degummed silk cocoons I have ever touched. It can be difficult to embark on a process (such as degumming) when you have never seen anyone do it (other than on YouTube perhaps) and you have never seen or touched the finished product–and you have only a paragraph of text as your guide.

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Degumming is a way of releasing the sticky substance that holds the strands of silk together to form the cocoon, so these are still roughly cocoon shaped but fluffy by comparison with their intact counterparts.  Now, I have to begin by saying that Cheryl Kolander has skills that far exceed my own, but for me this was not the easiest fibre I have ever spun!

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Just the same, I managed to spin it, extract most of the chrysalis remains that were included and produce yarn, even if I was quite unsure how to turn it into something even and lovely.  I didn’t really expect to do that on my first attempt–but I would not object to being surprised by beginners’ luck at some point in my life. I re-read the relevant part of the book to discover that even from Cheryl’s skill level and point of view, some parts are not spinnable, and they were the ones I struggled with most.  Here is what I produced:

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The next thing to do was to follow Cheryl’s advice on how to degum silk cocoons and try this process with my own.

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There were two accounts of how to degum in the book, one of which implied that the cocoons were degummed with the chrysalis intact (since it was extracted at a certain point in the spinning process).  The other advised cutting the cocoons up the side and removing the chrysalis before before degumming,  In the end, I decided to do that because the idea of a well simmered chrysalis did not excite me.  Call me unprepared to pick small insect parts from my fibre–stronger insults have come my way!

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So, into the pot went the white cocoons, the yellow cocoons and the parts left over from spinning raw cocoons, just in case more could be done with them.  There were mysterious elements, as there often are with instructional texts from the US–for me, at least.  What is Ivory dish detergent?  Does the brand matter?  What would count as a big squirt?  This complication in understanding what others actually do is particularly entertaining in reading online discussion of washing wool–I recommend the thousands of accounts of the ‘only’ and ‘best’ way to clean raw fleece that you can find in any forum where this issue is discussed as fine entertainment!

As usual, I resolved these mysteries with the judicious application of guesswork.  Some time later I had this, a circular mass of silk fibres with quite a bit less structure, much less colour and some yellow water:

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I rinsed–and had something decidedly mangy and sad looking at the end of the process.  So I drew it out into a longish lumpy mass and hung it out to dry.

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Then, the struggle to spin began.  I think the temperature on my degumming pot may have been a problem… in that my burners maintain temperature by intermittently heating, which sometimes produces bubbling. I think this introduced a level of tangling that the cocoons I bought from the Victorian Guild did not suffer from.  But of course… this was probably only one of my beginner mistakes. My cocoons did not contain as much fibre as those I had purchased either, so the ratio of spinnable silk to fine inner layer was different too.

In the end, there was some yarn.  Not very much, and not very lovely.  But there was yarn.

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Time to put my feet up until next September, I guess!

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Spinning