Monthly Archives: March 2016

More adventures in plant dyed embroidery

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I still have some upholstery fabric left from having some chairs re-covered.  It is natural linen, a lovely fabric.  I have been wondering what to do with it.  One day I went to an exhibition of Papunya artists in the City Gallery of Flinders University (on the ground floor of the State Library) and I came home longing to embroider.  I can’t exactly say why.  Perhaps it is partly that some of these glorious paintings are such clear manifestations of the principle that many tiny marks can make a whole that is sheer wonder.  I marvelled at the capacity of these artists to hold entire desert landscapes and the stories of these places in their minds, and from these to create spectacular images which somehow communicate the story and the place. Even if I cannot begin to grasp all that they might have in mind in creating these works, I can still stand in awe.

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I don’t need to be able to create wonder.  I don’t expect to, and I don’t mind.  But stitches are tiny.  Perhaps the immediate thing was simply the invitation to begin.

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These threads have been dyed with indigo, pansy, hibiscus and eucalyptus.  I love their subtlety and the slight sheen of the silk thread against the matte texture of the linen.  I love the effects of uneven dyeing, as it turns out.  Even dyeing is overrated!  Once I had decided I was done (which is a com0plicated thing in itself, I find), I settled on yet another bag.

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The lining is made of patchworked silk scraps dyed with all kinds of plants.

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And then, just because I can never make just one… I made another with a different piece of upholstery fabric and some scraps of recycled fabric of different weights.

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Filed under Natural dyeing, Sewing

More autumn plantings and some plants in progress!

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On a cool, autumn morning I set out with yet more ruby saltbush plants and water to help them settle in.

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Some went in here replacing those who didn’t make it through the summer.

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The truly surprising thing is that many did make it through summer.  Some have held on with the tiniest of plant toenails.  But others have grown a good deal.  Even one boobialla (myoporum) made it in this inhospitable spot!

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Here are some of the many survivors.

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I also planted some more on the border of this space, which was bare earth when I started in on it.  It is so settled now I am considering putting some trees in quietly, among the ground covers and shrubs.

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After that, I headed off with secateurs to start some cuttings. These plants are thriving in local public plantings and they are regularly trimmed off the street by council workers or passing cars.  So I took cuttings from the street side and went home to put them in! Fingers crossed for spring planting…

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Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Transformations: Table cloth to top #64

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Once upon a time there was a linen tablecloth.   It was a round table cloth with an overlocked edge, gifted to me by someone who no longer had a round table.

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It went into the dyepot one week, but since the dye pot is only so big, I tore it into strips and dyed it that way, mostly with E Scoparia, but also with cotinus (smokebush) leaves and flowering heads picked when they poked out through a fence near our food co-op.  I really could not believe the purple from the cotinus and I am not sure why it happened.  Needless to say, I will try that again and see if it repeats.  I did also try woad leaves but that was less spectacular.  Pinky but not very leaf printy.

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Some time last year I had a sudden whim to turn it into Merchant and Mills Top #64 and pieced parts together to make that happen, and cut it out.  Then after a while it was rolled up.  Then it was parked for some months.  Just recently I did some cleaning up and thought maybe I should finish some things. I just sewed a seam or two a day in a busy time.

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Since so many readers here were interested in my recent discussion of interfacing, here’s what happened this time.  I cut the neck facing out of a piece of leaf printed calico.  I actually cut it back out of a piece of patchwork, also unfinished.

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The interfacing fabric is a piece of a much loved kimono that has passed beyond the mending interest of my mother-out-law. You can see it layered under the facing here after stitching teh layers together but before finishing the edge.

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I think my mother-out-law is rather enjoying being able to send me her raggedy, beloved things as they get past the point of original use and getting stories of their conversion into all manner of other things.  I stitched the two pieces of fabric together and overlocked (serged) the outer edge.  Here it is pinned on and ready to stitch.

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And finally…

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Here is the back view:

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And some closer views…

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It is rather stiff at present, after its preparatory baths in soy milk mordant.  But that will change with more washing.

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All the little bits and pieces were, needless to say, so interesting to me that I patched them together months before I sewed the garment!

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Filed under Leaf prints, Natural dyeing, Neighbourhood pleasures, Sewing

Transformations: Towel to pot holders

There was just a strip of towel left from my previous effort in towel transformations.  One day I was looking at our very sad pot holders (we call them pot grabbers here!) and it occurred to me that we could have some new ones. Pretty soon I had two layers cobbled together from my towel ends.

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The old ones were made the same way and in the end I washed them and re-covered them. This one obviously had a moment in the flame, and a hard life!

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The first one got a new cover stitched by machine and hand finished with some embroidery thread that was a really good match!

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The next one got a new cover with E Cinerea prints. You can see what an improvement it would be…

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Then finally, in a week focused on finishing things… and after my beloved asked if we would ever get them back…. I covered the final pot grabber.

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I know it’s traditional to have a loop or a ring on a pot holder’s corner.  Last time I sewed on curtain rings.  This time I have faced the reality.  We are slatterns who just throw the pot grabbers into the cupboard with the saucepans.  We have no hook for them and clearly we’re not bothered by its absence.  So here they are, done at last!

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Filed under Natural dyeing

Guerilla gardening after the rain

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We had some quite substantial rain overnight last week, the first of autumn.  I took it as a sign!

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These little ruby saltbush plants are destined for a spot along the tram line where contractors have planted tiny plants into deep mulch, so that their roots never touch the earth below (which is packed hard).  It is amazing that any survived, but some did.  And there are lots of barren patches.  The mulch is starting to convert to soil.  So… in they went.

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And then some more.  I would like to expand out from this point into an area that is colonised by pest tree seedlings and weeds at present, but it gets poisoned.  So I am thinking it might need to be done slowly, edging out rather than interplanting the whole patch and risking losing all those seedlings when the weeds get poisoned.

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Some of the little eucalypts that went in here are doing well.  They are almost as tall as I am now.

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Ah, the joy that is rain!


Filed under Neighbourhood pleasures

Let the sock yarn spinning begin!

Classically, a hand spun sock yarn is made with a combed, rather than carded, preparation of fibres. I started out with my kilogram of Suffolk fleece, and divided it up.  Some has been dyed with legacy unnatural dyes and some with plant dyes.  I started in on combing some wool dyed in shades of blue and green.  I dyed some tussah silk along with the wool (the silk did not take the dye well at all), and have local kid mohair that is plain natural white, and some that has been dyed with dyers’ chamomile, and some I bought dyed by the seller in shades of blue and purple.  I am blending in the silk and mohair for strength and durability.

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I have ‘English’ combs.  I am not sure what makes them English (they were made here in Australia)–I am sure there is a historical reason for the name.  But they are vicious looking things.  When I take them to Guild, there are always onlookers commenting on the fiendish tines.  Unfortunately, I am yet to find a Guildie who can offer me advice on better use.  This seems to be a minority preoccupation at my Guild, or perhaps I’ve just been unlucky.  So.  Step 1 is ‘lashing on’, loading the stationary comb with fibres.

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Step 2 involves combing the fibres off that comb and onto the other.  Done!

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Now, transferring the fibres back to the stationary comb.  It could go on… but this is the extent of my patience at this point.

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Then, pulling off ‘top’ through a diz.  I do love spinning terminology!  This produces a preparation in which the fibres are in alignment, ready to be spun into a dense, hard wearing yarn.

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Some of my top shows that I tried to blend fibres of different lengths.  This is a vice to be avoided in combing.  Combing does a great job of removing short fibres (and burrs and grass seeds…) but if the fibres are of differing lengths, the top will have (in my case) all mohair–the longest fibre–at one end and wool predominating in the middle, with the shortest silk fibres predominating at the other end.  I cut some of the kid mohair locks in half (another spinning crime!) to resolve this issue in some cases, and in others, spun top from both ends to blend the fibres as I spun them up.

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And here is the finished skein.  It is abut 5 ply (fingering), a little thicker than many sock yarns–but after my last effort, where I produced something thinner than sock yarn and have been too overcome to knit it up–I think that is OK.  I have chain plied it, which is not strictly speaking recommended for durability–but this seems to be a much debated point and I chose colour happiness over potentially reduced durability on this occasion. So–I am not quite ready for the knitting to begin, but I am getting closer.  One sock down to the toe on the current pair in progress…

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Filed under Fibre preparation, Sewing

So many hand made bags!

When I turned that pair of Thai fishing pants into bag linings a while back… it had the predictable effect of setting off a bag jag. Since then, there have been dozens more.  In fact, I gave some away without ever photographing them.  I lost count.  One had a silk panel of E Cinerea leaves and a hemp base, with purple sheeting lining.

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A few had ikat fabrics salvaged from the op shop.

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There were fabrics from my friend’s mother’s stash.  Her mother has now passed on, but I think she would be pleased to know they were being used and appreciated.  There were fabrics from my stash acquired with other purposes in mind, or perhaps no purpose at all.  Those red flowers mystify me.

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E Cinerea leaves on calico and hemp fabric left over from making a pair of shorts.

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Bags with dragonflies.

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Bags with flowers. I remember acquiring this fabric in Melbourne! There are two-handled models and over-the-shoulder models.

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On the lining front, I used up a lot of manufacturers’ waste sheeting offcuts, and not before time (having had them for perhaps 20 years).  But scraps from recent sewing went into the mix too, along with random findings of patch-worked flour-bag-scraps.  Apparently this strange fixation with sewing little bits together has been going on longer than I imagine.

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There was a series of bags made with fat quarters (at least, I think that’s what they were) acquired when I made a quilt panel for a community quilt project.

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I still love these fabrics, and a friend let me see hers peeping out of her backpack on the bus to work recently.  It evaded photography apparently–and I see these are also lined with Thai fishing pant fabrics!

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But honestly, linings both fugly and lovely (to my eye) have been created.  Some fugly fabrics became lovely linings.

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Somewhat faded batiks from a garage sale.

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Screenprints of a cockatoo, from the same garage sale!  One of was destined for a friend whose taste is deliriously nineteen eighties even now, bless her. She loves it.

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Oh my.  Well, that was a major incursion into the stash.  Lots of bags were gifted over afternoon tea with a clutch of friends, which was great fun (I like it when people can choose what they really like and will use).  Then more at another celebratory lunch with a different bunch of friends. Others have been stuffed with handspun wool and handed to a friend undergoing horrible cancer treatment who still finds knitting a pleasure; stuffed with yarn for a knitting obsessive who is excited about my most outrageously strange yarns; wrapped around an awkwardly shaped birthday gift for another treasure in my life; and taken home full of clothes by my daughter instead of her using some random plastic bag.  Some have been handed to people who seem like especially strong candidates for some sentimental reason or because of a sense of taste or the sheer wish to give a gift.

As I neared the finish line and my puff started to recede, I realised I had a hessian potato sack with a hole in it awaiting attention.  Converted to a bag, mended and embellished all in one step! Then I tidied up remaining scraps by making the final two bags and called it the end of this particular bag jag.  A pile of bags has gone to Port Augusta to be shared with Adnyamathanha women through her work.  And there’s an end of it, until next time!




Filed under Leaf prints, Sewing

An outbreak of hats

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This is an oatmeal Blue Faced Leicester dyed by The Thylacine and spun three ply by me.

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It is rather fine, but I decided to knit a hat anyway and settled on one from Barbara Walker’s Knitting from the top, which is more of a concept plan than a pattern.  Perfect for handspun.  And then it turned out I could use the DPNs a friend surprised me by giving me a while back (I had helped her out with i-cord, and it was sheer pleasure, but I think that may have triggered the gift in some way).  They are a rather unusual size, delectably pretty and perfect for the job.

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While this hat was on the needles, I decided to cast on another in grey corriedale, dyed with eucalyptus and spun three ply and about 10 ply (worsted).  I made a rolled brim hat from Knitting for Peace. Easy and fast.  My picture taking was interrupted by our house guest, who turned out to be camera shy.

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At about this point, there was a hiatus and that first hat sat on the needles until holidays rolled around.  And then, there was an absolute outbreak that continued for some time after we returned from holidays.  There were some with oddments of experimental yarns (some early corespun in this case).

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Here is some handspun natural polwarth with some Noro sock yarn for contrast. Blocking wouldn’t hurt it a bit.

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Indigo dyes, logwood exhaust dye, eucalyptus bark dyes…

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Mohair, alpaca blend… you name it!  I even used up random commercial black yarn.

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I made some doll and bear hats. What else are oddments for?

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Then came the day I cast on with some super thick, super soft eucalyptus dyed wool of mystery and stopped.  Last night I managed to finish, finally.  I lashed out and blocked this one just to show I can.

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Most of these are Jared Flood’s Turn A Square.  More or less.  That first hat–I did finish it, and it was claimed by a friend while we were on holiday.  I don’t think she would really want her photo on the interwebs, so you’ll just have to trust me about it being finished.  However, half the skein remains so there may yet be a reprise. If I can ever bear to knit another hat!  I am the person doing all these repetitive series of makes, and even I find it hard to understand…

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Filed under Knitting, Natural dyeing

Adventures at Mount George

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Recently I was invited for a walk and blackberry picking at Mount George with dear friends.  We began by going past the ‘fairy’ homes.

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Clearly some small people have had a lot of fun here.  There were even letters for the fairy folk.

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Then we were passing through the creek where the blackberries ramble.  They are an awful pest in Australia, intentionally introduced initially (and still a source of free food) and then spread by every bird and beast, by water and trouser cuff and so on.

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I have many happy childhood memories of searching for free food of various sorts.  Clearly my parents had special talents in this area!  We picked many blackberries along the banks of the Yarra when we lived in outer Melbourne and there was a suburban block sized bramble at the end of our street, where Melbourne then ended.  And since then, in so many national parks and otherwise beautiful spots.  They are delicious but horribly invasive.

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Then, off up the mount to a favourite picnic spot of my friends’ in a rock formation.  I found evidence of other spinners at work.

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Right at the top, some austral indigo (indigofera australis) which I did not realise was native to our state.  And a spectacular picnic!

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Then on the way back, a stand of St John’s wort.  I picked a big bunch, and probably should have done the bush a favour and taken it all.

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It was a week of time poverty, so after some days in the fridge, I decided it was now or never and bundled up my St John’s wort, wrapping some thread in with the fabric for later use.

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On a whim, I put dried prunus leaves in the bath, and then began some days of cycling between slow cooking and wrapping in my trusty dog blanket in time with my schedule of many other things to do.  I am delighted to say that I think I really learned something from India about dyeing with this kind of plant, at Mansfield.  Where once I was experiencing an awful lot of mystery, now I’m able to apply a little knowledge and judgment–even if cramped a bit by other commitments.  With understanding, I find I can often manage those to my advantage.

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When I finally unbundled, there was some lovely purple and green.  The prunus bath was less exciting and quite brown (not a bad effect, but not purple either).  I decided to replenish the leaves and go again with some alum mordanted wool and see what happened.

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My hurried bundle has left a landscape of wrinkles and plant prints on some parts of the fabric.  I think I can have some fun times sewing this into something snug for winter…


Filed under Dye Plants, Leaf prints, Natural dyeing