Monthly Archives: October 2015

More ruby saltbush!

I know… so many pictures of my watering cans and so little crafting.

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This time, ruby saltbush had its turn again.

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These little treasures are going into a narrow mulched area between a wall and a pathway.  The mulch is a saving grace, that and the fact I walk this way when I get home on the bus.  My niece came along to the planting as she was staying with us again, and we had a decent chat as I dug and she watered. The previous plantings in this truly harsh spot are all but one, still alive.  Fingers crossed for the newbies!

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Then it was home to prick out more little seedlings.  Seedlings and seeds… couldn’t be any better if they were magic.

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Japanese Indigo is coming along slowly but at least I have sprouts!

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And actually there has been quite a bit of stitching too…

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Even if the lighting lacks a little.  More news soon!!

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Filed under Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Guerilla gardening of the day

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In another pre-work bout of guerilla gardening, I stepped out with three fine leaved creeping boobialla and 17 ruby saltbush plants.

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The saltbush went in to a bank where weeds thrive in the cooler months.  It was only after I had them all in the ground and was pondering whether to invite the person whose driveway adjoins this patch to water them…  that I remembered there was a reason I hadn’t planted here before.  Occasionally a car parks here.  Hopefully that won’t be an issue until next year’s royal show, when perhaps by then these plants will be bushes big enough to fend off stray vehicles.

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The boobiallas went in beside some plantings that are barely managing to survive.  They may fare no better, but I gave all the little stragglers a drink.  Maybe one day they will be understory for these ironbarks.  As I watered in the last of them, the umpteenth cyclist pedalled past and this one called out ‘thanks!’ so I called back ‘thank you!’  It was a pleasingly cheering exchange.

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Home again empty!  I have so many little seedlings pushing up I will need all the pots I can empty.  I realise that on Game of Thrones the chilling call is ‘winter is coming’ but in this part of Australia, the killing time is summer, and it’s coming faster and harder than usual, I think.  The more plants I can get in the ground in this relatively cool week, the better.  I planted lettuce and beetroot and dill this morning too.  The chickens were made happy by poppies and parsley and kale and calendula and assorted weeds plus a few flax plants that had gone to seed.  Even the plants they don’t enjoy eating are full of delectable caterpillars and other passengers, so it’s sure to be a happy day in the henhouse.

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Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Hard rubbish provides

I believe it was one of my nearest and dearest who coined the phrase ‘hard rubbish provides!’  This week there was a little hard rubbish about. It’s spring here and clearly some people have been moved to clean up and clear out. Hard rubbish (I am sure it doesn’t go by this name all over the world, even the English speaking parts) is when you put rubbish too big for regular collection out for council to pick up.  Depending on your council area, there is either a time of year this happens and there is hard rubbish all over the neighbourhood, and people cruising around looking for loot–or, as in our area–you call the council and request a pick up.

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I was very surprised to find the water well pictured above on someone else’s toss outs. This is a device invented in Australia for making sure that a newly planted tree gets water to its roots.  Here is one in use on our baby quince tree.

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I mostly make my own from large plastic pots (because hard rubbish provides those too).  or, just build up soil around the trunk in a suitable small dam shape and call it done.  But the proprietary version has handy features, like a seam that comes apart for removal from a large tree.  So all I need now is a tree to plant, and as it happens I have one of those I prepared earlier!

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BUT this is the real reason for the hard rubbish post.  This is a window blind I picked up off hard rubbish years ago.  I remember thinking it would make a great banner, and finally it has!  A beloved friend drew the lettering and we painted it in.  So for a while it was awaiting a picture she has the skills to draw.  And then, our crew of climate change activist-singers Rise Up Singing Adelaide took it along to a controversial bike lane in the city (in case you are wondering, the bike lane is awesome!), and sang to the cyclists to thank them for doing their bit to reduce our collective carbon footprint.  It was fun.

And did I mention that it is spring?

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Filed under Craftivism, Neighbourhood pleasures

Carrot top dye

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Having a hank of silk embroidery thread that has already been through a long, cold alum soak has been going to my imagination.  Usually when I think about local dyes I am thinking about eucalypts, but one recent weekend I went to the farmer’s market and when I cut the tops from these treasures, I was struck by the urge to dye with them.

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Into the pot they went without delay.

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Once the water went in, I saw there was a passenger.  Can you see it (her, probably)?

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I did get her out of the pot eventually, and yes, with a long handled wooden spoon.

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Here, a photo of the dyer reflected in her pot, a day later.

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The thread is a greenish shade of yellow.  I have plans already!

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Filed under Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures

Bladder saltbush out into the world

Daylight savings has started here, so long evenings have come into existence and spring is upon us. I arrived home from a weekend away where I had a lot of conversations about climate change and the prospects of halting it. What better way to celebrate such a happy and inspiring event than by planting?!

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This time, I planted out mostly bladder saltbush.  I think it is a really pretty plant, and I’ve had some success propagating.

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They went into a triangle of land where I have planted dozens of shrubs and saltbush and a tree, beside a footpath.  Most are doing remarkably well.

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I clustered them together so one day they might make quite a display of silver foliage.  I did a bit of weeding too.

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Next stop was inside the fenced off area for the railway.  Don’t tell.  I wasn’t ever near the line.  There is a spot where lots of tall weeds are growing, which shows something could grow there.  I ripped out the weeds as best I could and found they were mostly growing in blue metal. May the saltbush and boobialla I planted sink roots down to the places the weeds were finding nourishment!  That was some tough digging.

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Finally, home again with weeds and rubbish and empty containers ready to receive the plants that are sprouting now!  My spring native seed planting has begun to produce seedlings. Not to mention the vegetable and Japanese Indigo plantings…  Spring is an exciting time, especially if you don’t think about summer too much!

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A few days after I did this planting and drafted the post–I arrived home from work about half an hour before sunset to find the whole triangle had been mulched.  This is great news for weeding and for water retention, as this is really exposed land that has had no cover for a couple of years now.  However–about twenty plants had vanished, including the E Nicholii I had planted.  I hurried home, changed into gardening kit and started scrabbling in the mulch trying to retrieve plants.  There is now a watering system (or at least, pipes for one), in there under the mulch, so there must be planting plans (other than mine, of course).  So I assume some plants were destroyed in the process of putting the watering system in and others just buried–but I wasn’t able to retrieve many.  Dozens are still there and had been carefully mulched and left standing.  Now to wait and see what else is going to happen after this surprise event!


Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Small sewing achievements

I had a triumph with the rolled hem foot for my sewing machine recently.  (I celebrate all victories great and small).  I weakened on my pledge not to buy more fabric when I saw William Morris lawn, and bought 40 cm.  Home made hankies.  I haven’t made any for years.  I remember hand hemming handkerchiefs as a project with my grandmother.  She knew children should be seen and not heard!  But she also liked to share her skills and upgrade ours, and I think she loved the fact that I was keen to learn.  My sisters were less enthusiastic, and better at sport than stitchery.  The other grandmother thought playing in the garden was a fine thing for children, and her garden had chooks and passionfruit in it, always an incentive!

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Another recent project has been dealing with the ironing board.  How did it spring a hole???  No one here is claiming responsibility.

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The new one is a bark cloth I’ve had for years since it came home from an op shop.  I can’t tell whether it was a little curtain or perhaps a cloth for a small table.  It was hemmed in a very parsimonious way, presumably by someone else who thought this was a pretty lovely fabric.

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So easy and satisfying!  Instructions can be found here, and demonstrate that my last cover lasted only a year.  Hopefully this fabric hasn’t been pinned over a window… or I will be making another cover all too soon.

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And finally, all the bits and pieces of upholstery weight fabric that have been slowly coming together into this

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I mean, this… (we have this cat on loan. Most of the time she is delightful, though she has different ideas than I do about what should be done with paper patterns, yarn, thread, fabric and other things that cause us both excitement).

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Have now become yet another bag, of suitable heft and gloriousness.  I have a feeling it won’t be warming my place for long.

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Filed under Sewing

Dyes of antiquity: Opal Cochineal

Some time back, I started a series of posts using dyes that have been gifted to my Guild–or perhaps just abandoned there!  Among the haul of amazing dyes of unknown provenance and considerable age was quite an amount of cochineal.  It had so many forms of packaging and so many forms that I brought together all those with similar labels and packages… and this left small quantities of ‘opal cochineal’ (12 g) and ‘ruby cochineal’ (36 g).  I was absolutely unable to figure out whether these were marketing terms or actual descriptions of the dye qualities of the dried bugs themselves, and finally I decided to find out.

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Step 1: weighing the opal cochineal, consulting the dye books (I went with Rebecca Burgess on this one), and stitching my dried insects into a pouch.  I abhor stockings, so they only come my way from other people’s discards.  I found an antique nylon curtain in the stash and stitched up a double layer bag for the dyestuff to be sewn into.

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Into the dye bath!  When the mount of colour released almost immediately is so stunning, it’s easy to understand why this dye was so sought after (and of course, still is in some quarters).  I added small quantities of silk embroidery thread at different stages in the process, along side several batches of fleece from ‘Viola’, a silvery-grey English Leicester Cross. The thread looks just great.

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I love the colour from the first bath best, but tried to exhaust the dye, with three batches of fibre.  Total dyed weight: a whopping 72g.  Is it ‘opal’ in some special way??? Let me know if you have a view.

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Here is my little nylon sachet after its many steepings and soakings, heatings and coolings.  I had a chat with a friend at the Guild and she’s been cochineal dyeing too.  Maybe all our exhausted insects will go into one final exhaust bath.

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Filed under Natural dyeing

Opening the first experimental jars

I finally decided I could open some of my stuff, steep and store jars.  I have to say that all three of the first I decided to open are experiments–not just my experimenting with India Flint’s preservation dyeing process (I have shown myself a poor follower of instructions many times so everything is an experiment in one sense)–but using this method to try out plants that have no dependable dye properties I know about.  India Flint seems a genius to me, but even she can’t convert a plant with no exciting dye properties into a gem on my behalf.  I find India Flint’s process exciting, and I am loving using it with experiments using small quantities.  But naturally, India hasn’t stood by my side and saved me from my own mistakes.  Speaking of my mistakes, I want to say: One total sealing failure which resulted in mould.  So far, 24 jars that sealed in spite of some of them being re0used many times.

1. Rhagodia berries.  These are the fruits of the seaberry saltbush, gathered on holiday.  I learned a lot from this jar.  Its contents began to ferment while we were on holiday and before I could get it to a place where I could try to seal it.  Ahem.  Next time, I’d put it in the fridge while it waited, because this was totally predictable.  I failed to think of these berries as essentially, just like a jar of any other fruit.  After all, they are a (small) fruit. And it was summer.  Next, I had sealing trouble and decided in the end that we re-use jars a lot, and that if I want a really good seal, perhaps I should try using jars I know won’t have lids that have been bent out of shape.  India kindly assisted with a re-sealing strategy (I’d forgotten about it, but there it was tucked inside the lid!).  13 months after they went into the jar:

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And here are the contents! Including some respectably orange-brown silk embroidery thread.

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2. Hibiscus flowers from the Himeji gardens. The trees in Himeji gardens have purple leaves–very pretty.

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By coincidence I found these trees growing at West Lakes when I was there supporting three friends doing a triathlon (there is a lot of waiting if you’re a spectator)–a man saw me taking a photograph of his tree and told me it was a cottonwood hibiscus (H tiliaceus–more here).

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This is the most unappealing looking of all my dye jars.

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The contents are no more spectacular but the thread in this jar is quite a deep brown colour.

3. Finally, the camellia flowers.  Hope springs eternal!  I had all kinds of experiments with the camellia flowers  when they were plentiful. This jar looked almost grey.  This one had only been in the jar since August 2014.  Not really enough time for a full result, maybe.

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Actually the colour on that silk thread is pretty good. But nothing like the colour of the flowers from whence it came.

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If you are curious, there is a lovely post on using this method here.  Another here.  Another blogger has some glorious results to show here.  Go visit and be inspired!  There is a wonderful online pantry of people’s experiments kept by India Flint with links to the book and all here.  You can find my jars as they looked once sealed up there.  Now to wait until some more jars have had a good long wait.

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Things learned so far:

  • use a jar that has a good chance of sealing–an undamaged lid is a good start.
  • treat contents with care if they have to wait for sealing.  Duh.
  • jars that appear not to have sealed completely may still be fine.  I selected three of these jars because I had concern about sealing despite multiple attempts.  The contents smelled pleasant.  Nothing mouldy, smelly or rank at all.  They were not bulging at the lid (which would suggest fermentation) but they didn’t have any indication of having vacuum sealed either.  Perhaps I conceded too quickly! I have a madder jar that contains some mould, which Deb McClintock on madder dyeing says can provide good colour even if it happens to go mouldy…I decided to re-heat and leave the steeping madder on the strength of these jars having sealed.
  • be bold.  What if I’d had a little more boldness and some bigger jars?  I would now have more than thread to show for my efforts.  Timidity has its place, but not every place!

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Filed under Dye Plants, Natural dyeing

In they go…

This time it was a weekend morning jaunt out into the neighbourhood with a dozen ruby saltbush.

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I have had my eye on this spot where mulch has been laid but nothing has been planted.

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Once I got my trowel into it I could see why–some parts are concrete, some are all bluemetal and gravel.  But in others, there was some very clay soil.  Not ideal.  But I am not planting anywhere ideal really.  I wished them luck.

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Hopefully they will make it in spite of the soil and this massive fence with one of the tallest olive trees I have ever seen peeping over it.

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I’ve pricked out the bladder saltbush.

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To join their larger relations, soon to go out into the suburban wilderness.

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And I planted seeds of New Holland daisy and more ruby saltbush and bladder saltbush.  Then, I worked over the E Scoparia fruits I have been gathering.

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I hadn’t been feeling optimistic about gathering seed, but actually once I started rolling them around, seed started to emerge.

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I think there will be plenty to make good on my sharing promises and try planting some myself!

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Filed under Natural dyeing

Laptop sleeve


It all began with a whirlwind surprise visit from my daughter. She was not especially interested in going out or doing anything special.  The special was spending time together, and I shared her point of view, so we ate from the garden and lurked about.  She asked about this:


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It’s part of a pram, or perhaps a baby carrier for a car… abandoned by the tram line some time ago.  I picked it up a week or two ago thinking I could at least put it in our bin.  But then I got to thinking about whether there could be re-use for the straps at least, and recycling of some of the parts (there is quite a bit of aluminium).  Picturing the effort required  led to delay!  However, since we were sitting chatting and the weather had turned warm, out came scissors, screwdrivers, the hacksaw… and soon I had three piles for rubbish, re-use and recycling.  Company and conversation are wonderful.

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Then we had a chat about whether there was anything she would like me to make and she asked for a laptop sleeve.  So some of the polyester batting came back out of the bin!

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She chose some of the upholstery fabric offcuts I still have lying about, and a cotton flanellette covered in little birds that must once have been a cot sheet for the lining.

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There was measuring calculating and and ironing and quilting of the most basic sort and mitre-ing of corners.  Pretty soon, there was a laptop sleeve.

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It fits and it will protect… and she loves it!

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Filed under Sewing