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Monday, 23 January 2012

Spider Frosting

A topical little post this, as we're in the frozen north of Scotland - which it actually isn't at the moment, just a bit frosty this morning and lovely blue skies.

Here are a few photos I took in our garden over a week ago when we had a couple of hard frosts in the morning.  My fascination with spider's webs again (must be the spinning half of my brain)!

These were all taken around our log pile,

and they were all frozen.

This is the one that caught my attention first, it was a real spaghetti junction of webs.

The weed seed heads were all frozen too, but they just couldn't compare with the spun ice webs.

Sunday, 22 January 2012


Well, here we are in sunny (?) Aberdeen and I didn't even tell you we were leaving.  We're spending 10 days with Dan (wicked stepson no. 2) in the frozen north to check out his new house, spend a little time with numbers 3 and 4 (no. 1 is back in Dubai flying big airplanes), see friends (the ones who want to come and see us anyway - we didn't hire a car this time) and indulge in a little retail therapy.

The weather is actually not too bad this trip - no snow at any rate - and we've even had the sun put in an appearance once or twice.  If only it weren't for the lazy wind (I'd forgotten about the lazy wind) - so lazy it can't be bothered going round you, so it just goes right through you.

Not sure if I can post any photos from here - my computer doesn't have anywhere to plug in my SD card and the external SD reader we bought doesn't seem to be compatible.  At home I use another computer to transfer the photos onto a memory stick which I can then plug into this one, sounds a bit long-winded, but it works.

However, I can show you our progress (well, Eric's really as he's done most of it) on my greenhouse.  It's now complete and ready for tidying up in time for spring sowing and planting.

Ok, so it's not pretty - I didn't say it was pretty.  It still needs cleaning, the walls need rendering and painting, but it's in one piece, blocking out the weather.

Note the stepping-stone path which leads into it!  That half will eventually have a roof on it too, so water won't be able to accumulate.

Again, there's a lot of clearing up, cleaning, rendering and painting to do inside.

There's now a door in that hole!

So we're looking forward (!) to getting stuck into that little lot when we get home.  Already we can feel the potential when we go in there as it's certainly warmer than outside, and so far the temperature hasn't dropped below 2.2 deg C during the night, even when we've had hard frosts.  Can't wait to actually get growing in there!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Mousie Mousie

Finally got around to making Jak's mouse :-

He's made with camel wool, knitted and then felted.  I stuffed him with slightly smelly sheep's fleece, which Jak seems to like to suck (yeuch!).

It was a tense moment when I gave it to him.  He looked, twice, sniffed, turned away and went to his food bowl.  After he'd finished eating, he came back and actually played with it for about 10 minutes.  He loved it!!  Success.  He even cuddles up with it to go to sleep - after giving the tail a good old chewing (still in one piece though!)

It worked so well, I decided to make some for a friend (not a cat!, but a cat person), but filled them with clean fleece and lavender.  I thought she could put them in her undies drawer, hang them in the wardrobe, or slip one inside her pillowcase to help her sleep.

Monday was Katharine's 50th birthday so I decided to give them to her then.  She did not have a good day.

Poor soul not only had to go to hospital because of an ear problem, but also her car broke down on the way back.  She waited two hours for the breakdown truck to take the car to a garage, then got a taxi home (quite a distance).  She finally arrived at her party (at a local restaurant) over an hour and a half late.  In the meantime, the guests (us included) partook of aperitifs and the local wine.  Thankfully, she soon caught up with us - must have been the champagne!

One very blurred photo of Katharine opening her presents :

Too much champagne obviously!

Happy birthday Katharine.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Dabbling with Dyes

Told you I'd got the bug again for lichen dyeing, didn't I.  We were out the other day and I went for a walk at the edge of a forest.  I'd taken a carrier bag in anticipation and wasn't disappointed, there was lots to collect.

The first interesting thing I found was this :-

This is orange peel fungus which was growing on a dead branch on the ground, so I didn't feel bad about bringing it home.  In fact everything I collected was on bits of dead branches which were lying on the ground.  Don't know if I'd ever get any colour from this, but there wasn't enough anyway.

The following two lichens both went into the dyepot yesterday

I don't know what this one is called because it's very similar to lots of other lichens.  I think it's a pretty common one though.

This one, I think, is oak moss lichen and there was lots of it.  Quite a lot had blown out of the trees and was just lying on the ground.  After I'd cooked up this one and strained it, I was left with quite a pale green coloured liquid and didn't have very high hopes for it at all. When the wool was put in it gradually became a really nice pale sage green which I was very happy about as I haven't managed to get green from natural dyes yet (other than dyeing blue and then yellow).  When it came out though and was rinsed, it turned quite a pretty yellow.

It actually doesn't look like this at all - it's much yellower.

The green lichen almost had a very sad end . . . I almost burned it!  I'd put the pan on very low to simmer quietly for a while, then went into the garden and did a bit of weeding. Unfortunately, I got carried away and did a bit more than I'd planned - completely forgot about the pan.  When I went back to the kitchen the pan was almost dry and the lichen had stuck to the bottom.  I put some more water in and gave it a good stir and let it cook for a bit longer.  Luckily, I hadn't lost the colour, and this is what eventually came out :-

It looks a bit patchy here, but when it's carded up and spun that patchiness will disappear.

While I was at it, I decided to put the wool I dyed last week back into the apricot bark dye bath.  It did absorb more colour this time and I'm much happier with it now.

Again, it'll look a lot different when it's spun.

After I'd finished the afternoon's dyeing, I went for a walk in the garden to see if there was anything else to be gathered.  I found quite a lot of a quite insignificant looking lichen so brought some inside to identify.

I don't know what's going on with my camera, but this is actually yellow all over.  This is xanthoria parientina which is an orchil-bearing lichen.  This is treated quite a lot differently to extract the dye as it's fermented in ammonia and water for 3 or 4 weeks until the liquid turns red.  It's then strained and the wool inserted, which turns red.  When it comes out and is hung up in the fresh air, it then turns blue or purple.  How cool is that!!

This is actually a bit of a pain to collect as it has to be scraped off the branches and twigs, but I think it's going to be well worth it.  As you can see, I don't have enough yet, but hopefully tomorrow I'll go and collect more.

I had a root around on the firewood pile too and found some interesting looking bracket fungi.  I haven't photographed these yet because they're a bit inaccessible.  I'll pull some out in a day or two and then maybe see if I can get any colour out of them.  Lots of projects to come!

P.S.  The drum carder is back in action.  The drive band is fine, two of the little pulleys on the side must have become a bit dry and were difficult to turn, but after all the oil I put on there they loosened up again.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Sick Drum Carder

Firstly, results of the last few days' dyeing projects.  The lichen you've already seen, but this photo shows the colour a bit better, and the blue is merino on the left, and alpaca on the right.  The blue was done with acid dyes.

So, the next job was to get this little lot all carded up and blended.

So far, so good :-

First pass through the carder . . . and last!  The carder stopped working when I tried to put a second lot through.  It may just need a good clean, but I suspect the drive band has stretched and needs replacing.   In the meantime, I still had a heap of wool to card so ended up doing the whole lot by hand.

Done!  Now for the spinning.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Lichen Liken!

Here are the results of the lichen dyeing experiment.  I was rather pleased with these colours, but actually, the one I thought was going to give the most intense colour turned out the lightest.  I really like the darker one.

Perhaps not the best surface to photograph them on, but it was dark outside!

I carded a bit of the darker one and if anything it looks even darker.

I then showed it to Eric and asked him what colour he thought it was (when put under a light I was thinking maybe apricot, and when put on the table away from the light, maybe unripe pomegranate).  He looked intently, thought for a while, said it reminded him of something, just a minute, then thought for a loooong while, then said, yes, shitty butterscotch mousse!!

So that put me in my place, didn't it?

"Shitty Butterscotch Mousse"

Not a good photographic representation - I'll take another photo during the day (don't think it'll change the name though!)

P.S.  Apologies to American readers, the title rhymes in English, but not in American.

Thursday, 5 January 2012


Inspiration can come from many different places and people.  This week I was inspired by two of the websites I follow: firstly, the Italian Dish blog which you can find on my side bar (just click on the web address and it will take you to her site), and secondly from a fairly new dyeing and spinning blog that I've been looking at.

I'm tempted by lots of different recipes on the Italian Dish, and this week decided to make some of these :-

I'd never made any candied peel before and was really surprised at how easy these were to make.  The orange peel (including pith) is just cut into slices, blanched for 2 minutes in boiling water (3 times), and then cooked in a mixture of orange juice, sugar and water. After that they're rolled in sugar (I used caster sugar) and laid out to dry.  Next day they're simply dipped into melted chocolate and put onto greaseproof paper to solidify. They are delicious!  I'll definitely be making them again, especially as I made three baking sheets-worth and we've only got these left :-

Mind you, I did separate out a tubful for a gift.  On second thoughts, maybe it's not such a good idea to make them too often!!

The second bit of inspiration I had was really more of a reminder than anything.  I was looking at this site and when I saw that she was dyeing with lichen, I remembered I had two bags in my cupboard.  So today, out came the dye pots, in went the lichen, and hopefully out comes some really pretty wool.

I had two different types of lichen (they do look a bit the same, but one was green and one brown) so I kept them separate, but actually they looked pretty similar once I'd strained them and put in the wool.

The two pans are now cooling and I'll leave the wool in there until they're completely cold. Only when it's been rinsed will I know if there is any difference between the two.

I forgot to post the result of my dyeing experiment with the apricot bark.  It was a bit disappointing because, although there seemed to be plenty of colour in the dye, the wool just didn't seem to take up much of it.  The photos below don't do it justice really as it's a very pale peach with the tips a bit darker.

I put the pieces of bark back into some water to see if I could extract any more dye, so maybe I should just put this back in and have another go.  It's got the potential to be quite a pretty colour if only I could get some more dye into it.

I'll post the results of the lichen dyes in a day or two - I'm actually quite excited about these.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Exciting New Book

Happy New Year everyone, let's hope 2012 is a good one!

Look what the postman delivered yesterday, a new spinning book bought with a Christmas gift voucher :-

I was really looking forward to this book arriving - Spin Art by Jacey Boggs, published by Interweave.  It was only published at the beginning of December so I was hoping someone would buy me a voucher so I could order it.  It's a brilliant book, full of fabulous photos and very clear instructions on how to make the yarns - very professional.

They range from fairly simple single-ply, to more complex textures and multi-plies.  I can't wait to get started on them, just need a bit of time to devote to it.

One of the best parts of this book was the DVD which came with it

This must have been at least an hour long (maybe longer) - I sat enthralled watching it yesterday afternoon (and will probably watch it again a few more times).  Jacey shows how to make some of the yarns featured in the book, starting with simple ones and leading on to more complicated ones.  She's very good at explaining what she's doing and makes it look far easier than I suspect it really is.  She also shows how not to do it, which could save a lot of frustration and wasted fibre.

If you're a spinner, then this book is for you.  She also has a website you can check out here.