Monthly Archives: September 2014

Week 5 silkworm update with bees

It has been a big week for the silkworms.  The stage of audible munching has been reached.  I come out in the morning and there is just about no leaf left.  I now have 3 trays of silkworms.

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Minutes after I add more leaves, holes appear and heads poke through them.  keeping up the supply is a big job.

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Meanwhile, the critter action in our backyard ramped up to a swarm of bees, hanging from a metal arch with a rose bush on it.

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I found a friendly beekeeper who agreed to come and collect them.  I didn’t realise I would be a participant.  He took pity on me and lent me a cover for my head and face and upper body.  He was wearing shorts and a t shirt!  I shook the archway and he held up a box and caught the swarm as it dropped in.

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They seem to have settled in.  Here they are heading in and out in the morning sun.

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The beekeeper noticed a second swarm in next door’s tree.  We hoped they might be two parts of the same swarm, but apparently not.  That koala shaped blob silhouetted against the sky is a mass of bees to high to reach.  They might be with us for some time to come.

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Meanwhile in backyard news, the biggest carrot ever grown at our place.  I guess I still think of myself as someone who does not grow carrots, and forgot to check on them.

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And the leeks and rhubarb are in.  Rhubarb with ginger and vanilla and orange this week.  Mmmm.

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Neighbourhood pleasures


In the last few weeks there has been a small outbreak of hat knitting.  It began with the Eleven Cloche and a skein of eucalyptus dyed grey corriedale.


Check out that leaf shape all the way from stem to brim!  Such a clever design!  I don’t believe I understood the full glory until I’d finished knitting it.  When I chose the pattern I was attracted by its asymmetry and missed out on being charmed by the leaf connection until later.  There was quite a bit of my skein left so I cast on again…


Things being what they are, I knit way too far during a movie and had to rip back, and pretty soon I had a Turn A Square for a person with a lot of hair, a big head, or both. Note to self–when adjusting needle size, also adjust stitch count.  As if I should need that lesson yet again!  Another clever but simple design.


My heart wants to knit more hats (for some reason the cochineal over grey wool has my fancy) but my hands have been at the sewing machine, knitting slippers when I have counting-type-knitting time and I have also begun a plying frenzy…


Filed under Knitting

Week 4 Silkworm update

It’s well and truly spring,  Our native orchids are in bloom.

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So is E Torquata, the Coolgardie gum.  The bees are happy about the whole thing.

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I’ve been out demanding action on climate change, with people all over the world (and hundreds locally).

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Fledging birds are getting in strife all over the metropolitan area (and many more are flying without difficulty, I hope)!

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The nettle harvest is in, such as it is.  I have gathered the largest nettles from our backyard, my parents’ garden and the local verges.

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And the silkworms are growing.  The small ones are still very small, and there is still only one mulberry tree with enough leaves to pick in the neighbourhood.  I’m picking fruit as well as leaves.

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The silkworms are stripy in some cases and creamy in others, just like last year… and I still have no idea why.  We’ve done our 12km City to Bay run!!  And work has been overwhelming.  Hopefully, less so from this point forward–so there might be a bit more crafting and posting.

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Neighbourhood pleasures

Week 3 Silkworm Update with bonus Quilt and Gusset updates

The munching goes on.  Stone fruit are in blossom and coming into leaf, the Manchurian pears in our suburb have been snowing white petals and growing leaves… and I live in hope that more mulberry trees will do likewise very soon!  The one I am depending on is fruiting already.  The worms are getting bigger.


And, I am delighted to announce that confiding in you has moved me to actually do something with my quilt parts.  I have confirmed that I have 20 nicely trimmed panels.


I chose one of my stash fabrics for some sashing.  It’s black, but you know how it is with mood lighting, like the stuff my sewing machine provides in an indoor setting.  I calculated.  I cut.  I stitched it to two sides of each block!


Then, a friend came over with her gallabeya-in-progress.  This is a flowing long-sleeved dress for Egyptian dancing (and, no doubt, other purposes depending on the wearer).  It’s a relative of the caftan.  There was a small problem involving ‘a rhomboid gusset’.  I was afraid when I realised that this pattern piece needed to be reverse engineered and that it wasn’t only a matter of inserting the fiddly little rhomboid…. I had agreed to help on the basis that two minds are better than one on almost every day.  With some help from my stash of retro sewing manuals and the interweb, we sorted it out.  The somewhat random prize goes to this YouTube video by Niler Taylor (who clearly knows her sewing) and Gertie’s blog, which I’ve enjoyed before–just in case anyone out there is having a gusset problem of their own!


Filed under Fibre preparation, Sewing

DIY ironing board cover

Why buy an ironing board cover when you can make one of your own–from fabric you like–in very little time?  I knew it was time when the tip of the iron went right through this (faded and sad) one.


When I pulled it off the board to rip out the elastic and cord holding it onto the ironing board and use them again, I discovered the one below had been in such poor shape I had to mend it to cover over it neatly!


Step 1: choose your fabric.  In this case, a gift from a  friend who has evidently noticed my peaceable inclinations.  I like to use cotton, and I like not to pre-shrink it if that is an option, as having it shrink onto the ironing board is helpful.  Unlike having your newly sewn jeans shrink and become too short and tight, despite having pre-washed the denim twice–but let’s not talk about that–clearly I don’t know anything about it.


This is the time to figure out whether you want any upgrades.  If the metal edge of the board creates grief in your ironing life, now is the time to find a padding layer.  This board has several old covers on it for softness, and also has a padding layer of the ugliest woollen fabric I have ever seen, which I inherited from someone else’s mother.  It has vastly improved my ironing life despite being unseen.  I would never willingly wear anything made of that combination of green, red and black–perhaps my friend’s mother reached the same conclusion and that is why it came to me.

Step 2: Trace your pattern.  I use the complex method of upending the ironing board onto the fabric, tracing around it with a nice allowance all round and cutting out.


You can either sew a casing all the way round the edge (in which case you need to cut generously enough for this to be possible) or sew on something that will allow you to tighten the cover over the board by some other method.  In the past, I sewed a casing and threaded a piece of twine through it, which works.  Having discovered a large quantity of elastic with a cord running through the middle in an op shop years ago, I have been using that instead, and it also does the job.  Here it is freshly ripped off the old cover and ready to be applied to the new.


Step 3: Finish edges, if you like.  I overlocked mine.


Step 4: Sew casing for twine/cord or apply alternative.  Here I am sewing on my elasticated cord thingummy by mood lighting.  This may look rough and ready–and it is–but this will not be visible when the finished item is on the board and I have other things to do 🙂


Step 5: Get the whole thing nice and wet.  Here is a worked example in my bathroom handbasin.  It only needs to be damp, so wring it out and prepare to apply to your board.


Step 6: Tighten and coax into a nice smooth edge, tie the ends securely, –and you’re done!




Filed under Sewing

What? More slippers?

I know, I know.  There are repeating themes in my knitting life.  Socks and slippers. Credit where it is due, these are knit from a new-to-me pattern, the Trim Clogs by Katie Starzman.  More or less… since, with no provocation at all,  I ignored her yarn suggestions, substituted an Australian alpaca yarn in a different gauge to the one she proposes, held it double instead of single, and changed the needle size.  I also knit 5 instead of the required 4 since I had a monumental pattern reading failure.  Needless to say, I cursed the pattern a lot and could not understand what the problem was.  The short version is that I failed to grasp that two named sizes were being knit in the same identical manner, until I had managed to knit an entire slipper.  Once I’d worked it out, it was obvious.

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The penny dropped eventually and I think these are rather lovely.  I also had a colossal felting surprise–the kind of thing you know can happen, but that I nevertheless did not expect.  These slippers all came out of the washing machine one chilly night after the same amount of time in the machine, together.  They started out the same size and were knit in different colourways of the same yarn.  What’s with that?

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Filed under Knitting

An invitation, a week 2 silkworm update and some random happenings

Let me begin with some dignity, because it won’t last. Soon we’ll be back to silkworms and other silly stuff.  Anne Harris of Annie’s Workroom would like to invite you to her exhibition.  It’s in Brisbane, Queensland–I am sorry to report this means I won’t be able to see it.

Invite Back & Front

Expressions of Love: Lovingly Interrupted brings together established contemporary artist Kim Schoenberger’s collection of treasured memories assembled from the humble teabag. And introduces emerging artist Anne Harris’s work of naturally dyed, painted and stitched images exploring the emotions of love. Official Opening 14th September 3.30pm. Closes 28th September: Gallery 159, 159 Payne Road, The Gap, Brisbane.  There is a special bus to make it easy for sunshine coast people to attend. Please call  Anne 0433 162 847 for more information or visit her on the web.

And now… for the silkworm update of the week.  OMG, as they say in the classics, the silkworms are still hatching!  I have been struggling to figure out a cross-national item to give a sense of scale (US coins don’t work for me).  Here is my trial object.  Let me know how I’m doing!


Here is a close up of silk worms in several stages of growth–with more hatching every single day two weeks after they started!  They were all laid as eggs within a couple of days of one another, I hasten to add. What more can I say? There is still just one mulberry tree with leaves on it in the neighbourhood.


On the weekend, there was lemon preserving (the salty kind)… inspired in part by an anonymous donation of a bag of Meyer lemons left on our porch.  Three cheers for the grower and the tree!


I had the urge to cast on, a lot.


I also had the urge to dye and since it was warm and sunny, took advantage by mordanting fabric for future leaf prints.  I had the realisation some time ago that I had somehow managed not to find a section on mordanting cellulose fabrics, with quite specific instructions, in Eco-Colour.  I had always wished there was a section like that in there.  Happily India Flint has indeed put it in her gorgeous book and if only I had paid more attention… Anyway, since I can’t change the past, I have been waiting for sunny weather to dip and dry and dip and dry on a principle somewhat different to the one I have been experimenting with–and now the sunshine is here I got to it!  Good dyeing times are coming…




Filed under Fibre preparation, Knitting, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Blog Hop Around the World

Leah from Seattle Spinner has generously nominated me as the next person in her blog hop around the world.  If you’ve stopped by because she mentioned my blog, a special welcome!  For regular readers of this blog who don’t know her… Leah says:

Spin, knit, weave…I LOVE these areas, for a multitude of reasons. … I am fascinated with things that go to the root of who we are–things or ideas that existed before the world of modern technology. Instead of being pastimes, these were things needed for our very survival.

She has an Etsy shop: all proceeds (after costs) go to to support a non profit organization in Peru called Awamaki which ‘is a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers rural Andean women with skills training, connects them to global market opportunities, and enables them to earn an income to transform their communities.’  Such a sensational idea…

And now for my answers to the blog hop questions!

1. What are you working on?

I always have more projects on the go than makes any kind of sense.  Some lie around for extended periods until I can find the right amount of time or mental space to move them forward.  Right now I am knitting a pair of socks… these travel with me on public transport and to meetings.  I am practicing my picking and Norwegian purling, since I think this would be a far more efficient way to knit than the throwing, ‘English’-style knitting I learned first.  I just need to build up some skill by doing it enough…


I have a quilt in progress.  Must get back to it!  All the blocks use India Flint’s eco-print technique to showcase a eucalypt species and I’ve embroidered the name of each tree onto the block in eucalyptus-dyed silk.  And stopped, having dyed the fabric for the front and pieced the back… apparently there is something about cutting the sashing I can’t face… or some part of me that thinks I need a week to do it in!


I am spinning a lot, in several different fibres.  I went to a weekend away with members of my Guild recently and carded a lot of naturally dyed wool.  It must be time to do some plying soon!  These colours include indigo, logwood and cochineal. Many came from exhaust dyebaths after a dyeing workshop where I used old dyestuffs donated to the Guild.


2. How does my work differ from others?

I am not sure it always does!  Over time, I find myself working further and further back along the process of creating things: over some years I went from knitting socks to spinning yarn to dyeing fibre to processing raw fleece and identifying local weeds and trees for dyeing and growing dye plants.  This doesn’t interest everyone.  Yet, I can’t claim to be all about process. I enjoy creating a finished thing that will be of use.  I am less excited about things that are just for display.


I also find that I like to recycle things… I am interested in using every last scrap of a piece of fabric or yarn, and I enjoy turning fabrics that would otherwise be discarded into something useful.  Sometimes I think this is a recent impulse, but then I look into my wardrobe where there are shirts made from flour sacks and old damask tablecloth… However–I also have a large collection of all manner of fabrics, yarn and threads and have become a collecting place for other women’s fabrics and notions. Happily, I am able to give a lot of things away to people who will use and enjoy them.  This weekend, I am mordanting these fabrics, mostly salvaged from a friend’s mother’s stash.  Most of the prints and plain coloured fabrics have gone to new homes but I kept the offcuts of calico and white sheeting for leaf printing…


3. Why do I create what I do?

I love to identify something that is wanted or needed, and the raw materials that would bring that thing into existence, and match the two.  Sometimes I make to request or to fill a need I perceive in someone else.  or I just imagine the delight a handmade item might produce.  I look for opportunities to make something special and think about the recipient as I stitch it.  But I also do things as they interest or inspire me and the look for the right home for them to go to.  I make plenty of mistakes and have become adept at turning mistakes into useful items and finding ways to use or refashion things that are not as intended, or seem at first not-too-promising.

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I also create to satisfy my fidgety nature, I think.  To fend off the possibility of wasted time or boredom, and turn what might otherwise be wasted to use.


4. How does my creative process work?

Gradually.  I have a substantial day job, which means that I don’t need to make a living from my craft, and also that I have limited time for crafting.  I do what I can, when I can, and I am motivated by having an exciting idea, wanting to meet a date for a gift, or seeking to meet a need for some specific item.  I don’t have a spiritual or romantic sense of creative process.  Rather, I see myself as part of a long tradition of thrift, skill and creativity–and this delights me.  So many people in the developed world are now bereft of the skills needed to meet simple, everyday material needs for themselves.  I would feel a great sense of loss at not being able to make or mend.  These activities are sources of pleasure and satisfaction in my life.


I have chosen to pass the baton to Barbro from Barbro’s Threads–from Australia to Finland! She says she is:

a handspinner who likes to work with many kinds of fibers in all forms. I’m interested in the history and cultural history of sheep and textiles. … Right now I’m spinning and researching for my master spinner title in my guild Björken at Stundars. I’m concentrating on three sheep from Finland (Finnsheep, Kainuu Grey, and Åland sheep), and three from Sweden (Swedish Finull, Gotland sheep, and Värmland sheep).

I am in awe of Barbro’s skills as a spinner and love reading about her textile adventures–learning new skills and visiting museums full of textile traditions quite different to the ones I can see here in Australia.  I am so impressed by her work toward becoming a Master Spinner.  This is something members of my Guild speak about but which my Guild can’t currently support.  Barbro also has a very handsome dog… I hope you’ll visit her blog and enjoy it as much as I do!


Filed under Knitting, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Sewing, Spinning


Do you read those articles that come out every once in a while announcing the words that have been added to the dictionary since the last edition (like this and this?) and perhaps lamenting those that have gone into disuse?  I do.  I have a long standing love affair with dictionaries that began when I was a primary school child.  I had the insight that I could never get in trouble for reading the dictionary under the desk during classes while I was still in primary school.  I must have been regularly bored, or gripped by the dictionary, because I read it a lot.  Strange events followed, like the time I used ‘annular’ in a sentence, in a primary school story.  At the time we lived in the middle of Western Australia, where this was evidently unexpected.  I had a teacher who was capable of raising just one eyebrow, a skill I wistfully hoped to master and practiced a lot, without much success.  ‘Annular’ caused those expressive eyebrows to rise much higher than usual!

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I digress, but I am sure you had noticed.  I believe it was in Richard Rutt’s history of hand knitting that I found the word ‘scogger’. One of the happy moments of my young adult life was coming into possession of a Shorter Oxford dictionary, and ‘scogger’ is in it, right beside ‘scofflaw’.  It is defined in the OED as ‘A footless stocking, or a knitted article of similar form, worn either as a gaiter or as a sleeve to protect the arm; also the foot of a stocking worn over the boot to prevent slipping on ice’ and attributed to a northern dialect.  The examples listed go back to 1615: ‘R. Brathwait Strappado 130:   Fute-sare I was, for Bille shoon had neane..Nor hose-legs (wele I wate) but skoggers aud, That hardly hap’t poore Billes legs fra caud.’


Anyone who is wondering–especially anyone who has a native language other than English–should understand the meaning of this statement is not self evident me either.  At a guess: ‘I was footsore, for I (Bill) had no shoes… Nor leg warmers, but only old scoggers, that hardly kept my (Bill’s) poor legs from the cold.’  ‘Wele I wate’ has me puzzled even after some digging around. ‘Wele’ could mean ‘we will’ or  ‘choose’ according to OED or ‘weal’ according to one online source.  ‘Wate’ could mean ‘wait’ or ‘what’.  So this phrase might mean ‘while I wait’ and require context… or might mean something completely different!  The wonders of the internet make the whole poem available!  This makes it clear Bill is describing his rise from poverty and wretched, inadequate, hand-me-down clothing to rather finer garb.

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This scogger is for a friend who has a plastic elbow joint.  She feels the cold in it rather badly, though unlike poor Bille in the example from the OED, she certainly does have shoes!  This scogger is destined to warm her elbow on chilly mornings when she is tending to the hens and donkeys and on cold evenings when she’s checking on them again.  That’s me modelling it (ah, the challenges of taking a photo of my own arm!), and I admit, she is a different shape–but she’s tried it on and declared it suitable. It’s made of dependable sock yarn and shirring elastic, knit into the ends to ensure snug fit, as requested.  It comes complete with a heel an elbow for maximum movement, and needless to say, since I knit it in meetings, on buses and in queues, quite a few folk have been introduced to the scogger: both the word and the article.


Filed under Natural dyeing

What to do with hessian sacks

In my childhood, hessian sacks (I think these are burlap sacks in North America) were a common feature of life. They were the packaging in which all kinds of supplies for the garden and from the hardware arrived, and they also carried potatoes and large quantities of other eatables.  They were routinely re-used to carry things (mulch or wood) as mats (for example, in the shed or the boat or outdoors) or as linings (for example, in the boot of a car).

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Many things that once came in hessian now arrive in plastic sacks–chook food being the most obvious example in my life.  Happily, the organic fruit and vegetable co-op we belong to still gets potatoes in sacks. Some are particularly cute.  This one features a wombat, in case this is not obvious to those from far away places!  In the past, I used to get spud (potato) sacks with spud man on them, a little animated potato chap.  I a made a lot of bags for co-op members from them.  The cute ones are especially motivating.  I think they make great lined carry bags.

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First wash your sack, inside-out, to remove the mud that is great for growing vegetables but particularly unfortunate if it finds its way into your sewing machine.  Choose shape and size of bag.  Stitch side and bottom seams, fold over a top hem, and then square the corners if you like a flat bottom (I do).  (Not sure what I mean?  scroll down to ‘stitch miter seams’ in this tutorial).

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Next, make a lining of similar size from whatever scraps you have and seam it up the same way.  No shortage of scrap fabrics at my place! If in doubt, make it a fraction smaller than the hessian outer.

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Next, choose fabric for handles, iron hems, fold in half and stitch. Finally, slip the lining into the outer.  Check for fit.  Pin lining to outer, and pin handles into position,  Stitch around the top of your bag, with some reinforcing stitches to keep your handle in good order.  And there you have it!

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I have one more bag in progress.  This one is posing in the potato patch, quite shamelessly… unfortunately, the woolly caterpillars have rampaged through the garden for weeks, munching everything they fancied in the process, and the potato plants themselves are looking less glamorous than they might.

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Filed under Sewing