Monthly Archives: July 2014

Festival of mending, continued…

I have had plenty of occasions to get out my darning kit this week. Wendi of the Treasure’s comment on the post about moths and mending recently helped me decide to get organised for colour darning. I began by winding some of my silk embroidery threads onto reels.  Oranges from madder, tans from eucalypt and onion skins, purple from logwood, and fuchsia pink from cochineal.  I have other colours but ran out of reels!

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So… now that woollen items are being subjected to rigorous scrutiny before return to the cupboards… I give you indigo darning.

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Onion skin darning.

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And logwood darning. This may well be the place I failed to eradicate a couple of moths last year, as this top already has a series of darns dyed with Plum Pine.  As a washfastness test, those darns have continued to show that I have not found a way to make Plum Pine washfast–it is fading, but that has worked well with the mauve of the top.

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While I was on a roll, I appliqued a patch over this hole where two pieces of recycled fabric in the lining of a bag parted company.

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I don’t rate my applique but I have been practising!

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Then there was the worn through section of my quilt (made of recycled linen garments)…

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Now repaired with a piece of linen collar from a test-dye.

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Well.  My mending queue is getting plenty of attention, but it remains to be seen whether it will just continue to grow as washing exposes where the maws of those moth larvae have been…


Filed under Natural dyeing, Sewing

Peach leaf dye

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It seems a long time since I was admiring the rather lovely green another dyer on Ravelry had achieved using peach leaves.  She sounded a little apologetic when she explained that the leaves she used had fallen–but I was delighted, since that meant we were both Australians, experiencing autumn at the same time–and my peach tree was also dropping its leaves too.  We moved here less than three years ago and planted about 8 fruit trees in the first autumn, so our trees are, as yet, on the small side and my leaf harvest was similarly small.  Then I became distracted.  It is now midwinter and those leaves have been hanging off a chair in the dyeing area in a calico bag since then.  They are now quite dry.

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Recently, I spent time bagging dried leaves, sweeping and cleaning up–and it seemed like the right time.  Into the pot they went with some of the lovely rain that has fallen lately.  It is always wonderful to be blessed with rain here.  The leaves gave a rather soft and beautiful yellow, which you can just about see through the steam in this picture.

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Now for the next step.  I added about 50 ml of copper water.  This jar sits in the garden along with my rusty iron water jar and a few other chemistry experiments.

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There was nothing of the dramatic change in colour I observed with the Choisya Ternata bath, which made me wonder if I added more copper water to that bath and had simply forgotten quantity.  I returned the heat to the dye pot and added another sample card.

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I tried longer heating and more copper water–and the dye itself turned greenish–but the wool hardly moved from yellow.  Perhaps fresh leaves next time?

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Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

Many moths and much mending

This week, there has been a rather sad revelation. Followed by a lot of mending.  In fairness to the grubs who ate my woolens–they only made small holes.  It’s just that they made a lot of them.  It began when I found another hole in this garment that I mended only a few weeks back.

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Soon mended.

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Then another wooly item with a few little holes in it.  No sooner did I mend the first hole than I see this one nearby.  That telltale ladder is the sign that ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ is going to be the story of this fabric from this point onward.

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Oh dear.

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Rather more sadly, this newer garment has come to grief too.

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I’m still deploying my mother’s favoured approach to darning: first secure the edges of the hole.  Then stitch across in one direction, creating lines of thread across the hole, leaving a little loop at each end of each line.  This accommodates the fact that this is a woven darn inserted into a far stretchier knit fabric.

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Then, stitch another row of lines in the other direction, weaving with your needle tip when you come to the gap to be filled.  This is an undergarment, so I sometimes just darn on the outside, loops and all, where I can see the finished effect.

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But there were more holes, so I kept going on the inside, first stitching one way across the holes and then changing direction and stitching across the first row and weaving threads across the hole itself and any ladders and weak parts.

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Mum taught me during Busy Bee Week, a fundraiser for the Brownies (so I was about ten).  We were living in a small mining town in the middle of Western Australia: Kambalda, then one of the hubs of the nickel boom.  One neighbour keen to use my talents gave me a white cotton tennis sock to darn and my mother set me to it with cotton machine thread and a needle!  She didn’t own a darning mushroom.  This is a tool I have discovered since, and it is a lot easier to use than Mum’s improvisation, a Vegemite glass (upturn a small drinking glass and insert into sock, proceed to darn).  The handle is the key feature for ease of use. A glass, or even making a circle of your own curled fingers, will do the job.

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Quite neat really.  But.  Nothing can make a darn right smack bang in the middle of the front of your top flattering.  Just as well this one won’t be on public display while on my body!

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A friend who has been similarly afflicted (and is in the Heroine category of Menders) told me about the CSIRO guidelines for managing this kind of problem.  I’ll be making use of her research as well as the sticky pheromone traps that let me know I had a problem last summer.  For now I am considering whether re-bundling these tops might make those silky darns blend in better… or whether I should wear them with pride, as recommended by Tom of Holland and his Visible Mending Programme.  I can recommend this post of his on one major commission, mended with love, thought and skill.

I admit, I’ve been wearing mends with pride for my whole adult life–but there are limits. I have to say that while my darns will do the job, they are not up there in the Tom of Holland category of mending as an artform!


Filed under Sewing

Crafting locally…

I made these socks on many bus trips and on a trip to a conference interstate where I had more knitting time than usual.  But they are for a small friend who loves very close by.  He pulled them on with glee within minutes of taking them out of their package, which made me feel pretty gleeful too!  They’ve been indigo dyed on patonyle superwash sock yarn.

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There were a lot of comments about my knitting at the conference. People who are surprised to find my hand made sock looks just like a sock from the shop!  People who aren’t sure if that is knitting or crochet.  People who think knitting is too complicated for them.  Seriously!  It’s not rocket science.  I do find it hilarious when people who have written books, can operate computers, can drive car or can raise children–think they may not be able to learn to knit.  Most don’t really want to, which is fine.  But I don’t readily accept that people don’t have the capacity.  Willingness, and for that matter, quiet time,  is a whole other thing.

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When we went to do the local shop this week, there was evidence of other people crafting locally.

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These were in the planters on the nearby main road.  So cute!

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I suspect the Viva La Broad Bean yarn bombers, who have a made a project of decorating our neighbourhood. One of them t0ld me a while back she had saved one of my yarn bombs when the pole it was stitched onto was removed and it was thrown to the ground and treated like rubbish.  She took it home and washed it ready to re-apply it.  What a woman!  So–shouting out to VLBB, who made me smile at the shops this week 🙂



Filed under Knitting, Neighbourhood pleasures

Dyeing with camellia flowers

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It’s camellia season here.  We have two camellias, a red flowering variety and a more compact white flowering variety.  I put up a jar of camellia flowers a while back using the Stuff Steep and Store method… I couldn’t resist trying!  For those who don’t know what I am talking about–this is a method of ‘preservation dyeing’ developed by India Flint and published in this book.  There is also a rather wonderful online pantry of people’s dye jars to peruse and become inspired by, should you wish.

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However, I had no idea whether camellia flowers give reliable dye when I stuffed those blooms in the jar.  So I felt heartened when I found Aphee showing her camellia dyes on Ravelry.  She has posted about them on her blog a few times, too.  She was inspired by a Japanese blog.  My French is not very good, but my Japanese is non-existent: I enjoyed the pictures though!!

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Aphee’s posts suggest that camellia flowers give colour, that the contents of my jar are a promising combination, and that the nature of the dyestuff is exactly the kind India Flint says Stuff, Steep and Store works especially well for.  This, I had hoped for, but not expected.  I decided that while the camellias were blooming, I may as well try dyeing by more usual methods.

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I gathered all the fallen blooms and tried to rinse the mud and mulch from them.  Meanwhile, our chooks were out wandering the yard–and the camellias are their favourite dust bathing spot.  The edge of the bed must be in the rain shadow of the verandah, so the soil there is still dry while the whole garden has been generously rain watered lately.

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They left big circles of earth on the paving where they shook out the dust once they were finished!  The camellias soon turned brown though I kept the heat low.  This is one of the reasons the preservation dyeing method seems so promising for dyestuffs like these.

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Well… the result in this case was not impressive.  This test sample was barely nudged out of the cream and white it was before dyeing.  Longer heating didn’t change that at all.  So–let that be another example of the mysterious in natural dyeing for the time being.  Aphee is doing something differently to me and I have no idea what it is!  I’ll put the next clutch of fallen blooms in jars until I have a new thought… who knows what I might learn between now and next camellia season?

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Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

Bundle dyeing–and a new book

After the recent massive vat dyeing project, and with so many Eucalyptus Cinerea leaves lying around drying slowly, I was itching to dye some bundles. After a full day of mordanting and dyeing and sewing in windy overcast weather… here’s the view over the back fence and up into the sky.

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I had a piece of silk twill left when one of my workshop participants didn’t appear. In it went.  I also had a linen shirt and a cotton t shirt sourced at op shops and ready for renewal that I had mordanted in summer.  By the time I tied those bundles the sun was setting.

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I filled the pot with madder exhaust, and topped it up with some of my very-much reused alum pot. As the remains of the madder rose up the fabric and the temperature rose, the sun went down.

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When I opened these first two bundles the impact of the chalk in the madder pot became clear.  And despite having allowed the leaves to dry for days, it is midwinter here.  Those leaves would have started out full of water, and they are drying very slowly.  Interesting results… This is the silk twill.  The round green shapes are from dried E Cladocalyx ‘Vintage Red’ leaves.

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This is the t shirt.

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Here is the part of the t-shirt bundle that was in the madder exhaust/alum blend.  So little colour from the E Cinerea!

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I decided to set the third bundle (linen shirt) aside and give it some more time in the pot, which I did after work later in the week. Front view:

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Back view.

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If you wish you could try this method and have experiments of your own and bundles to untie at your place–but you’re not sure where to start, India Flint has just published ‘the bundle book’.  It is a concise introduction to her technique on fabrics and on paper.  You can see an extensive preview if you follow the link.  This book is unspeakably cute–being both small and exquisitely illustrated with photos to inspire.

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It presents information about techniques (such as dyeing paper) not covered in her earlier books, strategies for sustainable and safe dyeing and a history of the eco-print method.  It also addresses fresh ideas developed since the publication of Eco Colour and Second Skin.  And, it is full of India Flint’s inimitable voice.  I am old enough to remember when recipe books were sold on  the basis of recipes and not celebrity cooks, and when the writing was bland and spreadable.  I don’t miss the bland and spreadable writing, though I’m less sure about the cult of celebrity cooks.  No danger of bland here!  I very much enjoy the sense of a unique intelligence at work on subject matter I think about a lot that is a feature of India Flint’s writing.  It is a rich addition to her insights and strategies about harvest, recycling and dyeing.

This book is published on demand, which is a no waste, effective way of publishing a book for something short of a mass market. I suspect it also means that the book you order in Australia is printed here, but a book ordered in North America will be printed there, and not have to travel the seas or skies to reach you.  The printed versions of the book are fairly expensive, however.  If your wallet is up for it, it’s a great way to support an independent artist and the end product is delectable.  If your wallet isn’t up for it, the downloadable pdf option is instant and very affordable, and still a great way to support an independent artist.

I’m looking forward to trying out dyeing paper… perhaps when the rain pauses (I went out to figure out why the gutters were overflowing mid-edit on this post–and fixed the trouble with my dyeing tongs!).  While the rain continues, I’m having a knitting jag suitable to the weather…


Filed under Book Review, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing

Dyes of antiquity: Madder root

Three cheers for dried madder root!

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You may remember that I acquired some through the Guild.  I set out by pouring boiling water over it twice, and draining off the resulting liquid.  This is a strategy which is usually described as a good idea in order to help separate some of the brown and yellow pigments in the root from those which might produce red.  The resulting liquid was very dark brown.  I saved it for later experimentation.  I’ll get back to that!

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Every long term reader of this blog knows I can organise orange dye in a heartbeat, so I was hoping for red from madder.  When seen at the workshop I ran at the Guild, it was looking rather orange.

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However, time is needed.  And gentle heat.  This pot produced some light reds at the Guild. Once again, the cold processed alum, long steeped sample gave the most intense colour. Rhubarb (the two samples on the right hand side), not so much.

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I didn’t think it was done, however, so I took the whole dyebath home.  Happily, no mishaps en route.  Since then, I’ve been happily trying to exhaust this madder. I have overdyed grey corriedale. The fleece took up the dye differently in different parts of the locks (the weathered paler tips most of all).

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I turned it into roving while I kept dyeing…

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When I ran a dye bath with the rinse water… to my surprise it gave a strong red, stronger than the exhaust dyebath by far.  Here it is on the left, with the original dye bath on the right for comparison.

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I also dyed quite a bit of merino roving I happened to have put by, achieving three different shades. And some more grey corriedale… not bad going from madder root that might have been in those jars for decades.

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Filed under Natural dyeing

Of shoes, and ships, and sealing-wax. I mean, of silk, and string, and bias binding…

Sometimes you need a lot of Jabberwocky genius to join disparate elements into any kind of intriguing whole.  Or perhaps you just need rhyming couplets. I have neither, but I do have string and bias binding. I blame India Flint for infecting me with her enthusiasm for twining string.  I loved doing it with plant leaves, but it required pre-planning.  String from fabric shreds… you just decide it’s time and get going!

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I have shaggy string from my pyjama-making jag a while back.

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However, Wendi of the Treasure suggested silk string.  And then along came an opportunity to dye silk all kinds of wild colours.  I took up some silk paj that was among my very first Eco-Colour adventures. It took colour then, but not in any really riveting way, and it has been in the cupboard awaiting a new idea for some years.  Wendi’s was the new idea.  When it hit my workshop dye pots, the original onion skin and eucalypt dyed portions created all kinds of interesting effects.

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Thanks to Wendi and India, I now have logwood-dyed string so deep purple it is almost black, madder-dyed orange string, and cochineal pink string.

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But there is more… I have had some ties unpicked, ironed and ready to be made into bias binding for years.  What can I say?  I have been engaged in a task in relation to my day job so mind numbingly dull that I realised the time for bias binding making was upon me, all of a sudden!  The existing collection of tie-bias binding was getting low.

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I now have this…

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And this… so if I am struck by the urge to create garments again soon, I’ll be able to create beguiling interior details in a heartbeat.

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Mercifully, my marking is over, too.


Filed under Natural dyeing, Sewing

Eucalyptus Nicholii

On a public holiday some time back, I had a picnic in the Wittunga botanical gardens with a friend.  It was an overcast day, and my phone was in for repair, so I took my Mum’s old camera.  In case it isn’t obvious, I am apologising for the quality of the photos.   Last time I went there thinking about dye plants was a long time ago.  This time, we parked and almost as soon as I stepped out, I could see that there were trees that could be E Nicholii all around the carpark.  They were indeed E Nicholii and they were many and very large!


I couldn’t really get a picture that gave a sense of scale.

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These were huge trees with many little leaves.


Luckily for me, they had dropped twigs and leaves on the ground below…


And later… into the dye pot they went!


Lovely–and justly famous as a dye plant, I think.



Filed under Dye Plants, Eucalypts, Leaf prints

Spinning, mending and a gift of hand-knit eucalyptus-dyed socks

I keep thinking I’ll get knitting on some big project or other… but I seem to keep spinning instead. Alpaca dyed with eucalyptus keeps happening…

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There has been some random polwarth spinning from batts I prepared some time ago (and full of nepps they are too!) Love that maidenhair fern, a gift from my mother that is really thriving at present.

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There has been dull mending that doesn’t warrant a picture, but I seem to have had a small release from my usual functional approach.  This extremely utilitarian apron must date back almost 20 years… it is that long since I made my living baking and kitchen-handing.  I think I bought it second hand.  It had been discarded because one of the tapes was missing.  I long ago replaced it with some bias binding sewed in half, which I assume was on hand at the time.  It certainly isn’t a match for the other tape!  And the apron itself has had a hole for a very long time.

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Not any more.  I now use it for spinning–to catch all the random fibres and dirt and little bits of dried plant that drop from any fleece I have prepared myself, no matter how many rinses.  I also mended this wool knit on the train one morning, beginning as I waited at the station.  Just a little hole up by the neckline.

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I bought this garment years ago from Soewn Earth.  It has faded quite a bit, but I am still enjoying it… and considering whether it might be time for a re-bundle. First–across (with eucalyptus dyed silk thread)…

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Then in the other direction…

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Maybe later some embroidery for sheer decoration?  And finally, some socks for a friend with several new jobs and rather small feet.  She hasn’t had a pair from me in ages.  I put these in the mail to be a surprise parcel.  Sorry about the office desk pictures on an overcast day.  Once I finish a gift I get impatient to have it meet its intended recipient.

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They succeeded in being a surprise and she sounded delighted.  It’s midwinter here and they arrived in the week prior to the longest night of the year.  Perfect for chilly nights.

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Filed under Knitting, Sewing, Spinning