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Silkworms: 6 week update

We still have a few silkworms.  28, to be exact.  The largest are now 7 cm or about 2 3/4 inches long. It’s hard to make photos of silkworms exciting, but here they are:

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Here is a picture of one silkworm starting its cocoon, or to put it the way we’ve been putting it around here, ‘becoming silk’.

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We have cocoons in two very distinct colours.  Mysterious.  All of the cocoons last year began pale and became golden very quickly–within the first 24 hours.  Not these.  Some are pale silver-white, with a slightly green hue in some cases. This is the view from above, looking down on a tray of paper and cardboard tubes.

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We have quite a few.  And about 28 still to add!  Luckily, I gave away about 70.  Some of which have been delighting schoolchildren, apparently.

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I am feeling deeply grateful to the friend who told me there was a mulberry tree behind the Japanese garden in the parklands.  It turned out there were three trees, two varieties of mulberry, and one of them was trailing leaves on the ground and down at head height across a path.  Begging to be pruned when I happened to pass with secateurs and a big bag, I tell you! I even ate a couple of mulberries that were almost ripe.

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Pecan leaf print bag

Pecans do grown in this part of the world, even if they are not terribly common.  A long while back I wrote about leaf printing with pecan leaves from our friends’ tree.  I have had it in mind all the while to make them something from those leaf prints.  Finally I have made good on this idea.  In fact, my beloved saw one of our pecan-growing friends yesterday and told her I’d made them a gift… so this bag is destined for the post sooner rather than later.

I started out with this sun-faded linen frock–the shades of colour you see are not effects of the sun falling on the fabric but the impact of fading.  I think I paid $2 for the frock at a red cross op shop.

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The lining has a pocket from a recycled ramie shirt, and a patchworked panel of leaf printed silk offcuts from another recycled frock.  Here are the inside panels ready to be stitched to the rest of the lining.

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The remainder of the lining is yellow.  A  long time ago there was shop in our neighbourhood that just sold offcuts from a sheet manufacturer, and having made entire quilts, bunting and bags from those offcuts I still have some left!  Here is the finished item on top of my madder patch.  The madder is appreciating the warmer weather–at least until it gets too hot for it to enjoy, and I am hoping my friends will like their present.

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Cortinarius Archeri

The gifts of mushrooms continue!  My neighbour the mycologist came around with a gift of Cortinarius Archeri in many shades of purple.  He had heard they could be used for dyeing, would I like to try them out?  Aren’t they glorious?

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I have read about European dyers using Cortinarius semisanguineus, and Leena from Riihivilla has written extensively about how she uses them. So I weighed my mushrooms and put them to soak on 30 June.  Well, after 9 days the mushrooms were fermenting.  Let’s not discuss the smell.  And, on second thoughts, they were so beautiful when they were whole, perhaps I won’t share a picture either.  I regret to report that no colour resulted from this experiment.  On the other hand, when I reported this to my neighbour, he offered me something else…

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Socks at last

It seems to me as though I’ve had three pairs of socks on the needles for a very long time.  At last this pair have emerged: 50/50 silk and wool from Kathys Fibres, a dyer local to me, in Forest colourway.  The sock is just the plain ribbed one that lives in my mind, but I’m hoping they’ll be warm and comfy for a fellow knitter and dear friend who is facing a tough time.  No one has ever knit her socks before, though we’ve compared notes on lots of pairs she has knit for other people.  It’s about time.

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Tie-dye

A friend from work told me her 6 year old had said he wanted to try tie-dye.  So I invited them over!  In the end there were two 6 year olds and a 3 year old, and 4 adults of varying ages and stages.  We were spoiled for colour choices but had only two pots, so after some lovely parental problem solving we ran a red pot and a blue pot and transferred one garment from red to blue to make purple.  I believe this t shirt was worn to childcare every day for some days after emerging in all its glory onto a towel designed with a tie dye aesthetic in mind.

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My random collection of op-shopped craft books came good when there was a request for a tie dyed square and after three readings of the instructions in Hilary Haywood’s Enjoying Dyes (1974) this emerged:

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Fancy having a Dad who is not intimidated when you say you want a monkey face on your tie dye and instead creates this!

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And of course, the classics reinterpreted:

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I think the last time I tie dyed in this style would have been with Mum, in the 1970s. Just once.  It was an honour to be in charge of the dye pots and watch such fine parents encourage and be encouraged by their lovely children.

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A story of a quandong and its mistletoe

One weekend recently we went to visit a friend who lives near the Aldinga Scrub. While I was there we went for a wonderful walk on the beach, making the dog and ourselves happy.  So I collected a couple of samples while we were out, as many local people, like my friend, are planting as many local species as they can around their homes.  I decided to try a quandong and its mistletoe.  In case you’re not from around here, dear reader, let me advise that in Australia, mistletoe is a big family of parasitic plants which will eventually (but usually slowly) kill their hosts.  It isn’t so much the romantic plant under which people kiss at certain festivals.  There are lots of mistletoes, and they are cunningly adapted to a narrow range of host plants.

I have a fabulous book on mistletoes, Mistletoes of Southern Australia by David M Watson, published by the CSIRO.  It has me in awe of these extraordinary plants, but has convinced me that I am unlikely ever to be able to identify them with confidence.  There are only 46 to choose from in this part of the continent, though, so the task is a good bit smaller than learning Eucalypt identification.  There are some mistletoes in the book that this plant is clearly not.  But as to which one it is… I have several candidates in mind.  And I don’t know which of the quandongs this is, either.  It doesn’t look like the favoured bush food species Santalum acuminatum to me.  But Wikipedia lists a lot of other varieties all called ‘quandong’!

Anyway, on to the leaf prints.  Quandong in flower, before:

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After cooking with iron, which left quite an impression:

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The iron may have made an impression, but this convinced me that this quandong isn’t much of a dye plant.  And now, the mistletoe, which is in glorious flower and will later create a rather impressive berry.  Before:

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And after.  I think this leaf print is a good bit less glorious than the plant, but this is definitely a distinct print.  So the mistletoe has dye potential.

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And that is the story of the quandong and its mistletoe for now…

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Things I’ve done with with plant dyed yarns…

When I was preparing for the natural dyeing workshop I ran recently, I mordanted a lot of Bendigo Woollen Mills yarn as well as some handspun in small skeins–25g or less.  Having all those small skeins of different colours in alpaca and wool and mohair, activated my imagination. Eventually it led to this…

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These are madder-tipped, logwood-stemmed crocheted coral thingummies, inspired by Loani Prior’s ‘coral punk’.  When I say ‘inspired by’, let me confess.  I bought her beautifully designed and entertaining book Really Wild Tea Cosies with a Christmas book voucher I was given.  So I had the pattern.  But even though only one, basic, crochet stitch was involved, my crochet skills are decidedly remedial and I don’t happen to have a crochet instructor on tap.

I turned to Maggie Righetti’s book Crocheting in Plain English (I don’t have the new revised edition, needless to say).  Apparently sometimes I just can’t believe what I am reading… or perhaps I just don’t understand on the first eight passes.  I see students I teach with the same difficulties!  By the time I had finished this tea cosy and started on the next, I’d managed to figure out that I wasn’t doing what Loani Prior must have believed was involved in the one stitch involved in her cosy.  Luckily for me crocheting badly still produces a fabric of a sort.  I also figured out that for me, improvising a knit version of the pot cover itself was going to beat freeform crocheting one as the pattern suggests with my inadequate skill set.  So that’s what I did, and Loani Prior shouldn’t be held responsible for the outcome.  I like it anyway.

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It has highly entertained people who watched me crocheting coral at parties (as one does) as well as those who have seen the finished object, many of whom thought immediately of a sea anemone.

Let it be said that at present coral punk is not alone.  Here is the present plain Jane of the tea cosy selection at our place: yellow from silky oak leaves and orange from eucalyptus–with the felted blobs spun into the yarn.  Pattern improvised.  Luckily, tea pots are just not that fussy about how you clothe them.

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I’ve been branching out and using up some particularly strange art yarn spinning experiments.  This next one is commercially dyed mohair with silk curricula cocoons spun onto it.  Scratchy for a head, perfect for a teapot!  I was surprised how many people liked the look of the ‘hat’ emerging as I knit this at a picnic, riffing off Funhouse Fibers’ Fast and Fun Cozy.  Once again, that is to say, dispensing with the pattern when it became inconvenient.  I guess the hat admirers hadn’t felt the yarn yet.

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And for anyone who is wondering, I have continued to dye with the logwood exhaust from the dyeing workshop.  I ran out of yarn for a while and dyed two, 200g lengths of merino roving.  This morning I pulled out another 100g of superwash yarn.  I think it might be just about done, and I only wish I had kept a record of the weight of fibre that has been dyed with what was a small quantity of logwood in the beginning!  This weekend, the second in a series of two natural dyeing workshops. I’d better eat my crusts and get my beauty sleep in preparation.

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Eucalyptus Erythronema var Erythronema

Riding along the railway corridor near Oaklands railway station, I passed one striking red-flowered tree I didn’t recognise and kept pedalling, but when I saw a second, I pulled over.  Here’s the tree.

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The flowers were especially striking: bright red, with stamens curling back up and around the base of the fruit.  The bud caps are bright red, coming to a pointed tip.

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Quite a sight.

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In her book Eco Colour, India Flint argues that eco-prints are a good way to test potential dye plants using minimal leaf material, and she is, of course, right. On the right, E Erythronema var Erythronema.  Not much of a dye specimen.  On the left, leaves from another E Scoparia, I believe.

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Eucalyptus Camaldulensis Bark Dyepot

The river red gums are shedding bark all over my city.  I was riding down to visit my parents passing a planting of these trees along the railway corridor near Marion station.  I couldn’t resist, so pulled over and took pictures and bark.  Under these trees, the ground is covered with thousands of tiny gumnuts (as well as bark).

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So of course, I collected some bark just to try it out… and yes, tan again.  Brown, with alum.  Often I can see almost no difference between wool with no mordant and wool with alum after dyeing, but this was a clear example of alum making a difference.

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Angophora Costata subsp Costata bark dyepot

Our lovely friend has an Angophora Costata subsp Costata (Sydney Red Gum) in her backyard.  When the bark is newly shed, these trees have a stunning rust-orange coloured trunk.  There were many to be seen and admired in and around Sydney when we were there in December.  The other day she came around with… a bag of fallen bark for me!  Here is my sample card and swatch before:

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And, after.  You could call it cinnamon, I suppose–the alum mordanted, superwash sample is really quite brown.  Or on the other hand, you could just call it tan, again.

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