Category Archives: Natural dyeing


I’ve been continuing to use up my leftover sock yarn. That is going so well, that I’m almost out of sock yarn.

This pair accompanied me on a trip to support my beloved through a very tough period in her life, and the life of her parents. I don’t remember deciding on photographing the sock on top of a Webster (medication) pack though! Thank all that is merciful on the universe, for being able to knit in times of stress.

I have been very entertained by how like and yet unlike, this pair are. The recipient does not want matching socks, but individual socks, like those made by the father of the family in a book they’ve enjoyed. The book sounds very fun, though the idea that all members of a family could fit into the same socks and just pull them indifferently from the same pile of socks when the wash is done? Seems quite implausible (though entirely joyous) to me!

I just kept going from this pair to the next, for the same sweetheart recipient.

I actually got so low on yarn that a friend gave me some of her leftovers, including some Bendigo navy blue.

I remember buying that hand dyed yarn at the Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show. The dyer is a local, Kathy’s Fibres. And I think my friend might have bought some too (we went to teh Show together that year)–so it entertained me some more to find I now had two different sock blends and two different colourways from the same indie dyer… which arrived in time to be part of the same non-pair of socks!

Ooops! The hot chocolate is in focus and the sock is not?? What was the smartphone thinking?

I am really enjoying this project… and beginning to wonder how to tap what I do not doubt is a reservoir of unwanted scrap sock yarn out there somewhere… or return to spinning sock yarn. Or maybe both??


Filed under Natural dyeing

The worm farm insulating blankets

This is a picture from someone on my local Buy Nothing group–of her worm farm, now insulated by a custom blanket I made. I love that statue, which I didn’t see in the original post because it was just too small!

I noticed that folks on our Buy Nothing group were requesting worms, because theirs had died over summer. It seemed sensible to offer strategies for keeping worms alive over our hot summers. Now, to be honest with you, my worm farms are tastefully (*cough*) draped with a couple of old towels, or a cut off piece of “dog blanket” (see below). “Dog blanket” is an entire category in some Australian op shops/thrift stores, covering stained blankets and those that have met with careless washing or other mishaps rendering them unfit for polite human company in the estimation of the op shop volunteers. I cover my worm farms to insulate them and because they are made from black plastic, which is a bad choice for our summers.

These deluxe worm farm insulating blankets were driven by a bit of desperation about the sheer quantity of end-of-life textiles I’ve been receiving from a friend. She and I are both keen to keep as much as possible from landfill. But some textiles are capable of being re homed and others really are not–and I am not managing to give away rags at the rate they are coming into the house.

Only some fabrics can be made into things for show—like bunting. Others really need to be hidden if at all possible!
Sad as it is, even really lovely jumpers can be so worn and moth eaten that I’m not up for rescuing them (especially in the absence of an excited recipient)… and here are some, cut open and laid out as the insulating layer for a blanket.

And here are old singlets doing the same job! I constructed the outside covers of these little numbers from old curtains, gardening jeans and other workwear… worn out clothing… even an old cotton tarpaulin that would no longer keep the weather out. I pieced together the useable parts of all these elements to construct enough fabric for the job.

The end result is a bit like this, designed to sit on the worm farm and drape over it, as in the opening image.

After I made several rectangular models, I got a request for a round one. I have two round worm farms. One, I bought new many years ago. The other was offered to me by someone down the street who thought I looked like the kind of person who would want a worm farm!? Who knew that was so obvious to a passer by?

The lining on this one was all old corduroy pants, whatever remained viable…

The seams in these suckers were a bit of a challenge, I admit… in the end I sewed a layer of old nightie or t shirt over the main insulating layer just to control all the bits before sewing all the layers to each other.

And here it is awaiting collection…

And here is a photo the new owner sent of it in its new home, keeping worms happy!


Filed under Natural dyeing

Drawstring bags

I make a lot of bags. I’m guessing you’ve noticed. I made some for a person who was seeking some on our Buy Nothing group, when none appeared. Then I made these for an “adventure” themed birthday, to hold “survival kits”, also for the Buy Nothing group. They are all made from upcycled fabric–worn out workwear and jeans mostly. They are lined with old shirts and sheets. Perfect for the job!


Filed under Natural dyeing

What to do with printed fabric packaging

I often think about the balance between individual action and collective action. I don’t place a huge amount of store by individual action. It is important, yes, up to a point. But if we want to rise to the collective challenge of the climate emergency we will need collective action as well. On the other hand–individual action is about engaging one’s own ethics, and it is highly educational. When I think about the amount of effort I put into avoiding plastic, I can see how thoroughly entrenched the fossil fuel industry is, in every aspect of our lives, and how hard it is to disengage from that without wider policy change. My diligent efforts have never extracted me from this. And nor can I find enough hours in the day to address all the textile waste going on around me.

I have been helping a dear friend with the textiles left in her family home after her parents died, and despite their extreme frugality, their mending and care for clothing, their dust coats and pinnies (aprons–) there is a lot of work to be done to attempt to deal with what remains in any ethical and thoughtful way. I have a lot of knowledge and capacity in this area these days and even so, I’ve found myself profoundly challenged. If I can keep to posting regularly, more on this later! But for now–all this is to say that it is heartening to see things that are thoughtfully packaged. Such as some soap nuts that a friend had bought, that came to me for some reason. These are just what they sound like: the fruit of a tree that contains a soap-like compound, that you can use to wash your clothes (and depending on your commitment and your assessment of the outcome–so much more!) They came in a nicely made, calico bag printed with the details of the contents. To my mind, really overpackaged. That is a biodegradable package (apart from the thread, as it turned out)–but quite a precious one in terms of the resources and time needed to create it.

This creates a different kind of issue: what to do with this calico bag? In the end, I decided to overdye it with indigo, so that the printing would be less visible. The images above are pictures of my indigo vat, living in a barrel gifted to me by generous friends, and in health after a year of dormancy. This took weeks of daily thought, learning and adjustment, and an epic day scouring my city for needed ingredients! My dyeing efforts were only partially successful. The printing resisted the dye. So then, to stitching.

This image doesn’t do justice to the colours involved, but you can see my problem with the printing!

I had wanted to try this kind of stitching for ages, and as usual, a low stakes opportunity like a recycled soapnuts bag is just the kind of opportunity I will grab with both hands and lavish hours of effort on! The thread is silk embroidery thread dyed with all kinds of plants over a considerable period.

Little by little, the text on the bag largely disappeared (and certainly drew the eye a lot less), and to me it now looks more like a treasure pouch and less like a piece of packaging.


Filed under Natural dyeing

When to stop mending

I do so much mending, and have posted about it so much, that people ask me how I know when to stop. People also ask me what to do with clothes that are beyond repair from their point of view. There is no simple answer. However, I’ve reached that point with a few things in my wardrobe recently.

I made this shirt in 2009. I bought the fabric from a First Nations business at the WOMAD festival with birthday money my parents gave me. There was not enough fabric to make the yoke facing from the main fabric so, as you can see, I made it from something else I had in my stash. The buttons were reused, and when I looked closely–one of the cuff buttons is not a match. This is something I’m often prepared to do. I must have liked the buttons enough to use them for all the parts that really show and accept one cuff not matching.

It has had a LOT of wear and given me a lot of pleasure. But it shows! The collar has worn through. The yoke and yoke facing are either worn through or so close, that turning the collar is not a solution. The plackets and vents are threadbare in places and worn through in others. There are holes in random places, some from thorns or wire and others from sheer wear and tear.

It is an entirely different colour than it was when new. This is the scrap pinned into my 2009 notebook, with a rehearsal buttonhole for good measure.

And… in terms of mending, this shirt has been on gardening duty for some time and almost reached the end when it tore most of the way from hem to the point where the sleeve joins the body under the arm. I couldn’t part with it yet and patched it on the inside up the main tear (with some not so pretty machine stitching), and on the outside where I had to, near the vent. With black fabric! It is a tribute to how closely people are not looking, that I’ve had compliments on this shirt even since this mend. They see what remains of this fabulous print, and look no further.

I have also enjoyed this shirt. But not for long. I bought it about a year ago, when I was scouring op shops for outfits for civil discobedience (you know–looking for sequins!) do follow the link–it’s fun! It is made of a beautiful fine cotton with a glorious print. It was very faded when I bought it, and very soft as things that have been much worn and washed often are. I made an exception buying something so pink, because I loved the print so much and it felt so good. It’s beautifully made. When I got it home I realised one of the plackets had a big tear right beside the placket binding. I patched it on the inside, and with no hope of matching the print, matched the weight of the fabric instead with another well worn shirt that had made its way to me in pieces. Poor choice of vintage thread made the mend less elegant than it could have been. Never mind! But now–I can see the interfacing on the collar, which is all that is holding it together, and the fabric has worn right through under the arms. Unless I want to apply an A4 sized patch… (it won’t be lightweight and cool and lovely after that), it’s reached the end.

And so–with a clear use for bunting having come my way, I decided these much loved shirts could finally finish their lives as garments. They are well past the point where they could become bags or lining. Bunting is a great application, where the beauty of the prints can be enjoyed and no more wear and tear will be applied to them. And, so, with my gratitude for those who grew, wove, printed and in one case stitched them, they have entered their next lives as elements of celebration.


Filed under Natural dyeing

Transformations: Raincoat to bunting

A friend recently observed that I spend my life engaged in transformation. Such an interesting way to think about the things I do! Today’s transformation began with a raincoat that no longer keeps out the rain. After many years of great service, a friend gave it to me hoping I could reclaim something from it (like the zipper!)

I managed to reclaim two zippers, some wire (keeping the edge of the hood in a defined shape), and the cord and closure for the hood. The once-high quality fabric is a fine shade of red though no longer waterproof, and all the seam seals were pulling away. But… another friend wants bunting for a birthday party for several people to be held outdoors. After that, for a conference.
I still had a cardboard template from my last round of bunting. So, I cut out as many entire triangles and part-triangles as I could. Then pieced a lot of triangles together. And then, out with some bright green curtain gathering tape I was given years ago.
In the end I had 7 metres of red and green bunting, and very little raincoat left. Success!

Leave a comment

Filed under Natural dyeing

Indigo dyed Cornell shirt

I decided to make the Cornell Shirt from Elbe Textiles. Then my friend Marion from Beautiful Silks gave me a length of linen she had dyed with indigo. Wow, what a gift! I decided to bring these two together.

Best to concede right away that I had so much trouble getting a picture with an accurate sense of the colour of the indigo! I loved the level of instruction on this shirt. I’ve made a lot of basic shirts but still learned things from the level of instruction provided in the pattern, which is a happy thing.

The indigo dyeing is not uniform across the length of linen, and I love the way this shows up at seams…

Once it was done, I stitched in the year and the place of making (Kaurna Yarta). And then some words inside the collar, like little wishes for myself. And then it came to me that perhaps it wasn’t finished after all. And then one day I started stitching in a quote about hope, by Rebecca Solnit. I am an admirer of her fine mind and beautiful writing. And I have been thinking about hope a great deal in the context of the climate crisis. So I took the #10minofmaking prompt from Felicia at The Craft Sessions, and began stitching and photographing in earnest.

Until one fine day…

It was finished. And I managed to take a number of blurry pictures!


Filed under Natural dyeing

On a roll with failure

Tonight I looked into the “drafts” folder on the blog and found some surprise items. So here come a few posts started quite a long while ago. I do remember writing this one, but how did I not post it? Looks to me like I could not get images sorted out once I had the text drafted. It’s a thing that stops me posting sometimes!

Every once in a while, I feel like I get on a roll with getting things wrong. Like having a reverse superpower. Yesterday (the day before I started writing), I was feeling glum. I’d had some boring old virus (not the new pandemic one, which is good). So I’d been feeling a bit stupid the way a person can under the influence of pathogens. But even so. I’d made a very misshapen zippered pouch. Surely that shouldn’t be hard? I made the awesome zebra finch hat and thought I might make one for myself, lined with fabric I had been saving for, well, years. What did I even do wrong? I don’t know, but it is too small, and awkwardly misshapen. It cannot be a hat for an actual person. This slowed down the pace of my sewing, I will admit. And then, my 6 km walk in a national park grew to 11.5 km which was a bit much for me that day. The next day when I was perhaps a little weary, I realised my first batch of olives had grown mould. That was discouraging!

Well, these things happen. And don’t you love the way these things are all different, and happened over some weeks in which I maybe made an entire jumpsuit with great success, did some perfectly excellent mending, made sauerkraut and some pickled wombok and pickled ginger and enjoyed jam and pickles I’ve made without any mould at all. And I also grew vegetables, made compost, sang songs and walked places where I never doubted I was on the right path, kilometre after kilometre. So I gave myself a talking to about my sad sack yesterday and decided I could just crack on with doing stuff and everything would be fine. I put Australia’s Biggest Singalong on, and half watched it as I enlarged a piece of patchwork from the stash to create a banner for #stitchitdontditchit. Then cut out the letters from a pair of dead jeans a friend gave me. Then double checked I had the hashtag right and corrected it. The singalong finished and on came a film I had heard about but not seen. Well, I stayed up late sewing and watching Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep as the lead, a wealthy woman who appears not to realise she really can’t sing, and is supported in this belief by those around her for various reasons. And who ultimately puts on a concert with herself as the star, in Carnegie Hall.

So just imagine me getting up the next day, finishing the last few letters on my banner, and then looking at it and going wait… is that right? And you know what? It is NOT RIGHT. In fact, it is dead WRONG. Hilarious. Not. Hilarity requires a bit of time! My daughter said to me, well, can’t you just cut it up and sort it out? So in the end, that’s just what I did!

Leave a comment

Filed under Natural dyeing

Floor Cushions

I admit it. I have a weakness for books. I also have a little job in which I am paid in book vouchers, which does not help me stay away from my weakness. Some time back I decided to invest in Quilting: 20 Mindful Makes to Reconnect Head, Heart and Hands, by Elli Beaven. I can’t quite remember all the details, but I think I saw her floor cushions on instagram, a place where I very seldom feel moved to buy things. Or perhaps I saw some other project obviously made from recycled materials, and checked the book out. But the floor cushions were the deciding factor.

If I saw this book in a physical store, I would never buy it. The cover is not exciting (to me–YMMV) and I don’t personally feel drawn to the idea of mindful crafting. I think some of my craft is mindful, but perhaps not in quite the way I feel is implicit here? Never mind. The book is really pretty fabulous, and the waste not floor cushion is right up my alley of interest. Elli Beaven’s cushion is beautiful. It is not made from denim, but everything about this book invites reuse and upcycling, and denim is what I had and felt I could make work. And (tiny, or otherwise unusable) scraps were the category of textile I was looking to keep out of landfill. That is just what she uses to stuff her waste not floor cushion. I was there. I made the inner cushion stuffers from a stained tablecloth a friend had given me for reclamation, sheeting scraps, and ticking salvaged by another friend’s Mum.

The cushion stuffers. Before stuffing.

Also, I made a little modification and mitred the corners. I can’t help myself, apparently!

I had collected a lot of discarded jeans one way or another, as long term readers know. I turned them into a yoga bolster, lots of bags, two shirts (at a friend’s request! that is how it all started), and now two floor pillows. I have been collecting my scraps in a drawstring sack made out of an old tablecloth, and from time to time, a solution appears (like a friend doing weaving with school children, who wants a lot of them–or a friend making an art piece out of many tiny scraps). Here’s an idea of what I mean. Sheet hems, bits of dead pyjamas, elastic from fitted sheets that have gone to their next incarnation, trimmings, seams, thread, the odd discarded shoulder pad.

I actually had to wait for enough scraps to accumulate to make these! I waited so long that I think I turned the cushion back panels into bags (not recognising them as special or different to the random denim patchwork to be found in my room) and had to make a second set. And then another friend who sews brought over a polyester fibre quilt with a disintegrating poly cover that she had acquired on Buy Nothing, in her quest for materials to make pouches for rescued animals. It was clean but awful and… I cut it in half and used it to create a soft layer around the random, lumpy, heavy scraps inside these two pillows. You can see it under the coloured parts above. And here is a little video of the final step…

And then I sewed them up. Like a minor miracle of textile waste salvage.


Filed under Natural dyeing

Stitch it don’t ditch it, Adelaide

Our second street mending event was bigger than the first. Perfect!

So many people took part…

So many different kinds of mending and stitching.

Such a pleasure to see everyone who came!

Please do join us next time… and if you would like to see a great little video of this action, here is the place to look!


Filed under Natural dyeing