Sunday, April 28, 2013

Weekend business..

The business of the weekend goes a little something like this:

Hubby works at home instead of his usual commute. He likes to take a break by making a barbecue for lunch. Nice and simple, just some good quality sausages and bread. A little homemade relish, you know, the typical barbecue kind of business..
T(w)een girls try their hand at 'smores'. The youngest is always content to keep a stick burning so she can make 'smoke signals'..

Flower chains are highly important weekend business. This is the eldest's thing.

 After adorning the (amazingly co-operative!) pooch, she turns her craft to her own locks..
Isn't it a funny thing to wish for a garden full of flowers so one can make daisy chains?

Although I suppose having a mother who wishes for a garden full of flowers so that she can dye wool must seem equally funny to her at times too..

This weekend was the time to attend to the business of spinning wheel maintenance. A good clean and polish all over and a thorough oiling in all of the moving parts has seen this wheel fit for a winter season's use..
Along with the business of reading up on different spinning techniques. I never knew I had a technique, but apparently I do and it is referred to as a 'short forward draft'. Recently however, I have been playing with what I discovered was termed a 'medium backward draft' with some varying degree of success. I can see with a little practice this being a great timesaver!

Pulling out rhubarb and gifting some to a friend..

..who was kind enough to share some of her family's homegrown apples with me last week is all part of weekend business here..

What to make, what to make? I think we both are thinking of apple and rhubarb crumbles for our dinner tables. Good, hearty comfort food made with fresh, local ingredients. I can think of nothing better for the business of weekend baking. What's your favourite way to cook with rhubarb?

Pausing a game of practice netball to attend to the very important task of picture taking is nothing unexpected here. Thankfully it only takes a moment and the game is quickly resumed. First to shouts of happiness, then the usual sisterly bickerings and then, with a little intervening, back to team play once again. This age is certainly proving to be a roller coaster ride, both for those going through it and those on the sidelines! *sigh*

Fires are happening and it's a nice feeling to have a good amount of homegrown timber to use. This wood has been cut and split by hubby after we had several large trees fall down last year. We have four rows of firewood just like the one above. Yes, a good fire is very important weekend business here! Maybe the most important of all!

I hope the weekend was good to you out there!  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Fruit tree: unknown. Dye potential: known!

Over the weekend I found a good excuse  valid reason to have myself a little campfire. You see, we have a self sown fruit tree growing that I thought was in desperate need of a pruning, so hack at it I did. The leaves are very much nectarine or peach like..I'm not sure which, being self-sown and not having fruited yet. It was bushy and besides tidying it up, I was curious to try using the leaves as a natural dye.

My little campfire was lit in the morning and a generous amount of 'leafage' crammed into the pot. It was then topped up with regular tap water and left to bubble away..

The second pot that was going that day was a eucalyptus leaf dye experiment which didn't turn out how I expected but still provided an interesting shade of grey/brown. A story for another day..

It felt very 'witchy' having two big pots cooking away over an open fire all morning. 

Several hours later, still not sure if the nectarine/peach leaves would do anything, I decided to throw caution to the wind and add the pre-soaked yarn (which had been mordanted with alum) to the steaming pot. 

I left it in there for around 50 minutes, giving it a gentle prod every now and then, ensuring the water didn't come to a boil, so as not to felt the yarn. A quick rummage in the (organised!) craft room yielded a tiny skein of handspun that I also decided to toss into the pot.

Below, the results:
4ply commercial baby merino on the left and handspun alpaca/wool on the right
The dye had worked! Even after rinsing several times, both skeins retained their colour. The commercial yarn seemed to really absorb the colour and was a lot more saturated than the handspun, which gave a softer, more subtle shade of the dye.

I still have no idea exactly what kind of fruit tree we have growing, but knowing that it produces this shade of dye, right here in our own backyard, is cause for much excitement!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In the home - creating usable spaces

 Over the Easters holidays we had a bit of a shuffle around with furniture here. The Teen was feeling a little put out as her bedroom does not boast a wardrobe of any sort. And being typically..well, teen, she was in a state of devastation because she had nowhere to store her clothes. She had been 'sharing' her sisters wardrobe for several months but with her increased pocket money and as a result, increased number of clothes this was no  longer working. There simply wasn't enough space in that little wardrobe for two lots of girls clothing, no matter how hard one tried to shove the door closed after retrieving something!

It got to the stage where she had plans to do a whole bedroom re-shuffle in the hopes of gaining The Wardrobe in her sister's room. As we usually do these massive types of room rearrangings in the summer holidays,  the youngest was now feeling particularly put out that she would be evicted from her bedroom all for the sake of The Wardrobe!

The solution?

A loft bed for the teen with sleeping up top and desk and wardrobe down below. It has been a lifesaver, this loft bed. Mind you it wasn't easy. Opting for a used one we had to find just the right one, making sure it wasn't too far away. Getting it home was fun in itself as was putting it together. We felt particularly fortunate that we hadn't been the ones to assemble it entirely from scratch had we bought it new! Still, it was quite a job and took the better half of two days to completely get up and into a functional state.

The Teen is happy. She has her wardrobe at last! The youngest is happy. She didn't have to be relocated! And this mama is happy because the furniture re-shuffle meant that she finally got a computer desk for her craft room.

At last, she doesn't have to have the laptop in the midst of sewing fabric on her work table. She can do emails and craft simultaneously - well as much as can be expected anyway!

But you know what the addition of a new desk meant?

Yes, the job we all dread doing..clearing out creative spaces of unnecessary STUFF.

Uggh. it wasn't pretty but now, sitting on the other side of the craft room overhaul, I'm feeling very comfortable. Perched at my 'new' desk, in the sunny corner by the window, where once stood a chest of drawers, now typing away I am satisfied. Making this space usable has been long overdue.

Having several interests makes the organisation of such a space a little more...challenging. 

Sewing, knitting, crochet, spinning, dyeing, herbal concoctions and soapmaking all require STUFF. And that stuff needs a place to stay when not in use. Not to mention the reading material that goes with such interests. It all requires space and the one thing I have learned the past couple of weeks is it pays to have each 'interest's stuff' in zoned spaces. 

Books are the obvious, requiring little else but sturdy shelving.

Fibre of the dyed sort is now destined for the top shelf. Not having a place to store this previously was a challenge to say the least. Now, with the repurposing of some clear plastic bags, I can see exactly what is up there at a glance and be inspired just by passing by... 

The girls with their rearranged furniture are spending more time at their desks being creative, so it was time to cut down the storage space in the craft room for tween craft supplies. One shelf of 'stuff' with another below for paper and pencils is more than enough for them to come and help themselves to..
See my new e-station by the window? It's pretty comfy over there..(here? I'm getting all confused now!)
Suitcases and baskets are a favourite for storing yarn and other crafty oddments. One case for each 'interest' so what's in there makes sense when the case is opened up..

A chest of drawers holds small amounts of fabric for odd projects. I'm finding the trick to using this type of storage is not to overfill the drawers. One needs to be able to open them with ease, you know..
 Ahh, there it is! It may not be much or even that pretty, but it's made an awkwardly set up space...usable. Sitting by the window is so nice too..I don't know why it's taken me this long to figure it out!

There is still plenty of room on shelves to have soap curing and enough storage space (just) for an increasing amount of dye 'stuff'..

And the most sensible thing of all..a sizeable work area! Luckily, the room is quite large and lends itself to having two tables backed onto each other for an increased work area, which is worth it's weight in gold while sewing..
While re-organising this space I found myself stopping and thinking about how I was going to use the space, where I would move and which areas would have easy access. Being in a 'through' room, that is, one which has traffic to another room beyond also had it's challenges. As tempting as it was to block up the through-way, it just wasn't an option.

Now I am finding myself looking at other areas in the house that could function a little more efficiently. That cupboard at the end of the hallway filled with old sheets  that we never seem to use - this could be ideal as a storage area for jars of preserved food. Perhaps a hanging ladder or something similar in the kitchen for utensils and the some odd pots or pans would free up space in the cupboards that always seems so cramped. The for tools - spades, shovels etc, and near the pizza oven, imagine having everything needed for a spontaneous firing within easy reach! The options are endless when I come to think of it..

Have you had any room shuffle arounds lately? Do you have any tips for creating usable spaces in the home or office? 

Friday, April 19, 2013


The teen has been baking. She is on a mission to find the perfect recipe for Red Velvet cupcakes. Personally I am a little confused as to what exactly makes a 'red velvet' cupcake. Is it the frighteningly lurid red colouring obtained from that section in the supermarket? Or perhaps the cream cheese icing that makes the 'velvet'? I say little, preferring to watch instead as she finds her way on this baking mission she has chosen...

Beans have been plentiful this year. Both Blue Lake and Purple King have not disappointed us. I think there is only one kind of way to grow beans for such generous cropping and that is UP! No longer will I be on my knees tending the dwarf variety, climbers are definitely the way to go for those that are seeking abundance..
Our tomatoes are finishing up and I confess to being rather neglectful at bringing them all in lately. Isn't that silly that we plan and hope all year for a generous crop and right when they hit their peak we get a little lazy and smug at their seemingly endless fruiting..tsk tsk, shame on me I know.

On the plus side however, the new dehydrator has been christened well with a batch of semi dried tomatoes. 

I have put them in a light olive oil and in the fridge. Do you make semi dried tomatoes? Do you add garlic or herbs to the jar? My two preserving books had contradictory advice on this..

Teenettes have been 'parking it' over the holidays. A few days of glorious sunshine made it an obvious choice for picnics. We did the rounds visiting three good parks in our area whenever we got a chance...
Someone mentioned to me recently that their girls, aged in lower primary school, were "too old for the park now". I've thought about this a lot and am really sad for those girls. How can anyone ever be too old for a park? I sure hope my girls never are! I for one am not too old, still managing to squeeze into the swings anytime I'm there. I imagine when I'm a wise old women, I'll be sitting on the seats in the sunshine still taking it all in, watching wannabe youthful mamas squeeze themselves into the swings..yep, never too old.

A Punch and Judy show! Have you seen one? Apparently it's a must for everyone to see at least once in their life. The slapstick humour from yesteryear had some kids in the audience scratching their heads but overall I think they warmed to the spirit of comedy that is Punch.
I still get a chuckle when I recall scenes from the show or remember the voice of the puppeteer!

And back into the swing of the school term, our veggie group resumed today in spite of the chilly winds that saw beanies pulled out from cupboards and jackets brought out again.
Having the sun peep out while we worked was most welcomed. It IS meant to be Autumn after all, right?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Dyer's Day Out

Yesterday was huge! It was our local spinning group's annual dye day. It takes place in a member's home - or more accurately, carport. Where once vehicles sat, pots and cauldrons now steam away over portable camp stoves. Trestle tables are out along with everything possible you can imagine needed to apply colour to fibre and make it stick!

A mixture of wool specific commercial dyes along with natural dyes - think branches into a pot - were all part of the day. So many colours, so many combinations, I'll let the pictures tell the story...

Above, the eucalyptus dye pot. Nicholii is the species that seems to be the favourite here, turning everyday cream and fawn fibre into the most vibrant burnt orange shades. Eucalyptus dyeing does not require a mordant I have since discovered. Just ask me how I know - I learned the hard way!

Below, mordanting in alum in preparation for natural dye baths including indigo, peach leaves and logwood.

The peach leaf dye bath takes several hours of steaming to release it's colour..

..but the results are worth it! First up is a lemon yellow and then, with the addition of another mordant, the fibre turns a delicate shade of green, below..
Gorgeous! It's making me eye off my nectarine tree in a whole new light. I wonder if peach and nectarine leaves are interchangeable...
Seeing everyone's creations come out of their pouches, pots and net bags and hung up to dry would have to be my most favourite part of these dyeing days..

Indigo is my new favourite dye! Seeing the fibre turn from a yellow-green to bright blue once it hits the oxygen outside of the simmering dye water is really a sight to behold. Amazing!!
How can it be possible that nature can provide us with a colour such as this?

My humble collection to take home. The handpainted bluey green skein second from the left is my favourite of the bunch.

You can read about last year's dyeing day HERE. 

Do you dye things? Maybe you use natural dyes? Which one is your favourite?

Seven Hills Organic Farm Open Day - Take Two

A quick shout out to anyone who was planning on visiting Seven Hills Organic Farm open day recently but didn't get there because of the weather postponement. The family are holding another, smaller open day for the people that couldn't make it THIS SUNDAY, 21st April from 11am - 1pm.

BYO picnic lunch for after the tours!

For more information, follow link below:

Read about my visit HERE.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Feel Good Sunday

"It's going to be a really cool event with music and good company, right in my neighbour's garden. There'll even be a stage for the performers along with a handmade stall run by the kids!"

These words, or thereabouts, were spoken by a dear friend as she was eagerly telling our veggie group one Friday about the upcoming event in her street.

Held in a picturesque garden setting, this muso event was labelled as 'open mic' and was held to raise funds for The Thin Green Line, a foundation formed to 'Protect the Protectors', those working on the front lines of conservation all over the globe; from India to Columbia, the Congo to Cambodia and more.
From their website:

"Many of the world’s Park Rangers work in extreme conditions while protecting our endangered species and ecosystems.
Low pay, lack of equipment, poor living conditions and the threat of severe violence is the daily reality for many of these frontline conservationists."

Yes, it did indeed sound a very worthy cause.

Besides enjoying a fun day out, I was feeling extra good that 100% of the donations taken on the day would be going to this cause. Not 10%, not 30%, not even 50%! Nope. One Hundred Per-Cent!!

Definitely a feel good day out..

One always has to stop and admire a vintage caravan done up in the sweetest way! (Yes, that 'one' would be me).

The lovely homemade lemonade stand which was run by the local girlies, my daughter among them..

Feeling very much like a 'day on the green', or how I imagined one would - never actually having been at a 'day on the green', the scene of picnic blankies and baskets gave me the warm fuzzies. That along with the fireplaces strategically placed around the garden!

Performances ranged from upbeat to soulful. Boppy to positively operatic. 

Dogs were welcome, too! 

Sean Willmore, Founder of The Thin Green Line Foundation
There was much cool merchandise to peruse..
I came home with the CD which I'm really looking forward to listening to..soon! It even includes Gotye!

I felt totally chilled after spending the afternoon lounging on the grass with good friends to talk to and soothing music washing over me.

Yeahhhhhh, a real feel good Sunday!

For more information, visit: The Thin Green Line Foundation