Worm Towers in the Potager

Originally I set up this area of the garden with two big beds of mixed annuals, flowers and herbs which left a nice sized area for the chicken arc to be moved around.  A few years later the chickens moved to a larger ‘permanent’ area under the old Bramley apple tree, making way for a wildlife pond and three raised beds.  We lost the beautiful old apple tree last year which gave my husband the opportunity to build a workshop.  So the chickens moved down into the forest garden, a joint workshop and potting shed (for me) appeared, and I gained two new cold frames and an extra three raised beds.

These beds were mainly annual vegetables, edible cutting flowers and some herbs, so over winter they are nearly empty and I top them up with home made compost.  Gradually, though, the annuals are being replaced with perennials: ocas (a lot of ocas) rhubarb, fennel, chamomile, lavender and mint along with self seeding edible flowers like borage and nasturtiums.   There will be even fewer annuals next year.

Recently I’ve noticed that quite a few permaculture and forest garden blogs mention worm towers.  I was inspired to make my own after reading a post in one of my favourite ones  Our Permaculture Life which is based in Australia, but the principles can be applied to edible gardens in Cornwall, it’s just a case of researching the suitability of plants.  Surprisingly most will adapt to our climate very well and it is not too tricky to find alternatives.  (eg Morag uses some varieties of perennial spinach which would not survive here but there are perennial spinach plants such as Caucasian Spinach and Good King Henry which will do well.)  The worm towers seem a really good idea.  They are basically mini compost bins which do not need emptying as the worms carry the goodness down into the ground for you.  Composting in-situ!CIMG4916CIMG4916

For each worm tower I used a length of  150mm x 500mm plastic pipe  and a terracotta saucer for a lid.  I then (by ‘I’ I mean my husband as I can’t be trusted with power tools) drilled some holes randomly around the bottom 30cm of pipe to allow worms, moisture and goodness through.

Next I dug a hole approximately 30cm deep and ‘planted’ the pipe vertically into the hole and refilled around to keep it upright.  All the drilled holes are hidden below the soil and the top 20cm of pipe is sticking out of the ground.

I half filled the worm tower with kitchen scraps, cardboard and newspaper and added some worms that I collected from the compost bins.  Most people recommend buying composting worms online as you need about fifty for each tower.  However, I thought I would initially try to find enough from my own garden as they have found their own way here, so are suited to the conditions and they will multiply by themselves.  Hopefully I won’t have to resort to buying any.  Then I just watered the tower well and covered it with the saucer.

I ended up making one for each raised bed in the potager, and I think they look quite cool sitting in amongst the vegetables and herbs.  (Apologies if you are unable to see all the pictures, I am trying to rectify that)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hand Dyed Rare Breeds Fibre

I just love dyeing.  It is so self indulgent to be able to use all those colours.  It’s something I never tire of and I like to think of all my lovely hand dyed yarns going to other people’s homes for them to enjoy (although I have to admit I sometimes struggle to put them in the post as they can sometimes be difficult to part with).

Up until now I have stuck to only selling hand dyed merino, alpaca and BFL yarn as they are gorgeous fibres to work with and to wear, and they are the best known.  However, the UK has over sixty varieties of sheep all with their own attributes, but you don’t often get the chance to use the fibre from any of them.  This has resulted in many of them becoming endangered and being listed as rare breeds.  I do believe this is only due to people not knowing about these fibres and not having access to them.  The Shetland Sheep were on the list of Rare Breeds but a concerted effort was made in breeding and promoting them.  They are no longer considered to be a Rare Breed and a lot of people are benefitting from their high quality, soft wool which comes in a large variety of natural colours and is excellent for making lace shawls, warm jumpers and strong socks.

I have very sensitive skin and I have to be honest and say that if I am knitting or weaving something to wear next to my skin I am likely to still use BFL because it is exceptionally soft, has a fantastic lustre and, as an added bonus, is also British.   Other British wools are useful for different things, though, so I thought I would give people a chance to sample some of them by stocking some hand dyed tops from Rare Breeds in the ‘Hand Dyed Combed Top’ and ‘Hand Dyed Locks/ Fleece’ sections of my Etsy shop for spinning or felting.  Each listing has information on the Rare Breed the wool came from and gives you some ideas for what that particular fibre is good for.

Most farmers will say there is no market for wool but any knitter knows that is not true.  Yarn is very expensive (and imported from the other side of the world) and what is available to buy is limited.  That is not to say that wool is only useful to knitters and spinners.  It is the best product out there for stuffing pillows, duvets and mattresses.   It has been used for centuries for making carpets, coats, rugs and curtains and is a really good form of insulation for the roof, floor and walls of your home.  Useful in the garden too in the compost heap and also as a mulch.  Wool is fire redardant, anti bacterial, heat regulating, natural and renewable.  It has excellent insulating properties and is highly absorbant.  It is the perfect fibre.  We have an adundant supply here in the UK and we should be using more of it!

Hopefully, in a few years time all our native British breeds of sheep can be removed from the Rare Breeds list and our wool industry will be revived to what it once was.

 

 

Art Yarn and Ribbon Bundles

Recently I was looking through some shops on Etsy when I came across a shop selling art yarn and ribbon bundles.  They looked so lovely.  I was really taken with them and thought it was a good way of using up some of my stash.  (The Etsy shop that gave me the idea was based somewhere in Europe so I wouldn’t be taking any of her business.)

The art yarn and ribbon bundles consist of handspun and hand dyed yarns, hand painted recycled sari silk, lace, burlap ribbon, eyelash yarn and organza ribbon.  They can be used for so many different things:  Crafts such as collage, felting, scrapbooking, embroidery, embellishing, tassle making, braiding, card making, toy making, spinning, crochet, knitting, weaving, jewellery making and many others.  They would be excellent for stylish gift wrapping.  The colour coordinating fibres in each bundle can be used all together or in any combination.

They look so gorgeous wound up together, though, that you might just want to look at them.

I had a lot of fun choosing the colours and textures for each bundle and I’m really pleased with the results.  However, they were far more time consuming than I had imagined, so I probably won’t be making up any more.  There are just two of each bundle in five different colour schemes.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone!

You can find them in the Art Yarn/ Ribbon Bundles section in my Etsy shop.

 

Felted Spinning Fibre

This week I had my first dyeing disaster.  I have had many occasions when yarn or fibre has emerged from the dye pot looking completely different to what I had intended but this has always been either a nice surprise or something that can be easily rectified by over dyeing.  So this week I was dyeing four lots of spinning fibre and three came out perfectly, but the fourth (a blue faced leicester and silk fibre) felted really badly for some inexplicable reason.  Well, I say inexplicable but we all know it’s because I overcooked it!  (Next time I will use a thermometer. Probably.)  I initially thought the fibre was destined for the bin, as I couldn’t even pull pieces off it so drafting was definitely out of the question, which would have been a shame as the colours were perfect.

So what to do?  Well, I could have used it for a felting project, either on my felted art pictures or on a nuno felted scarf.  Or my favourite idea, at that point, I could prise the fibres apart width ways and make it into a cobweb felted scarf.  Before starting any of these projects I thought I would first try to see if there was any way to revive the fibre and still use it for my original spinning project.

I have to warn you that I did not exactly treat the fibre in the way I normally would and I’m sure a lot of people will be horrified by this, but I didn’t really have a lot to lose.  Fortunately, it did work out very well and I didn’t damage my carders.

First I pulled the mangled, felted fibre out width ways as far as I could (it was still all in one long piece as I was unable to pull it apart lengthways)  and I carded the end off and rolled it into a rolag.  I spun this first rolag before bothering to make any more as it was quite hard work and didn’t want to go to all that effort if the finished product was not going to be up to scratch.  It spun up very well; a few tiny bumps occasionally which I could twist flat with a finger and thumb or just pinch off.

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Disaster averted, I continued to card all the rest.  To keep the variation in colour I tried, where possible, to only card each section twice.  I wanted to avoid the colours from completely blending together.

CIMG3552    CIMG3555

The singles were not as smooth as I would normally expect Blue Faced Leicester and silk to be but once plied they became much better and I don’t think anyone would suspect its origins and journey to that point.  The real test will come when I have knitted it up but so far it’s looking good.

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So, felted spinning fibre can be revived and spun.  Obviously it would be preferable to treat your fibre better and not to felt it in the first place.  It would save time too!

Knitting With Cotton

Most of the clothes I sew are made from woven cotton.  I love it.  You can iron it into really sharp creases, pleats, hems and seam finishes.  It stays put while you sew it.  It behaves.  Cotton fabric does exactly what you ask it to.  Cotton yarn does not!

Yarn made from wool is just great to knit with.  It feels nice and soft.  Wool yarn seems to merge together hiding any joins and inconsistencies.  Cotton yarn does not.

I long ago learnt various ways to join wool yarn in my knitting and whichever method I choose (and I am always changing my mind as to which one is best) there are a few rules I always follow: never join in new yarn at the edge of my knitting, never ever knot my yarn and one of the most invisible ways to weave in ends is to use a duplicate stitch from the right side.  Each wool garment I make has fewer mistakes and looks more professional than the previous one but I was close to giving up with the cotton ones until I discovered that the rules I needed to follow were exactly opposite to the ones I use for wool: only join in new yarn at the edge, you need to knot the ends or it will unravel and don’t attempt to do duplicate stitches when weaving in ends because it will be very visible!

So, knowing the rules, I have now completed a couple of cardigans that I am really pleased with.  I still don’t really like knitting with cotton, it’s hard going and quite tough on your hands.  But it is nice to overcome problems and learn new skills and I refuse to be beaten by a ball of cotton.

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I was so pleased with the little shrug I knitted for my new niece that I decided to make one for myself.  The small version was from a pattern called Entrechat by Lisa Chemery that I found in One Skein Wonders For Babies and the adult sized one is called Madame Entrechat which you can find on Ravelry.  Rashly, I chose some purple cotton from my stash and it’s not turned out too badly, except for one minor hiccup.  It was knitting up really quickly and three quarters of the way down the back I tried it on for fit (perfect) and was quietly congratulating myself on creating such a lovely garment (mainly because I was following the simple, but essential rules for knitting with cotton) when I made an error in judgement and decided to play yarn chicken.  Why do I do these things?  I am normally very cautious and, frankly, it was obvious I did not have enough yarn left in the ball to get to the end of the row.  But I did it anyway and only got half way across.  So, obviously I undid that row…  No, I did not!  I decided that the reason the shrug was looking so good was because my knitting had miraculously just improved and that I could cope with a join in the middle and carried on knitting…  I can see the join, so everyone else can see the join!

The reason my recent cotton garments are successful is because I followed the rules.  The second I decide not to do that – disaster strikes.  I will not make that mistake again.

 

 

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.  This post also contains links to other products, websites or patterns.  I do not receive any reward for mentioning them.  I only recommend books, patterns or products I use personally and believe will be of value to my readers.

My Majacraft Aura

Our antiquated boiler has given up and we need to replace the whole central heating system (not something you can avoid when you live in a 1930’s house in Cornwall – not that it gets that cold here but the houses all suffer from the damp without some background heating during the winter months) and the ten year old car is not going to go on forever.  It’s great for taking the kayaks to the beach but you wouldn’t trust it to get you to the Lake District and back!  I have been dragging my heels on both counts as it will involve a large loan.  So I might have been a bit rash this week.  I was extolling the virtues of the Majacraft Aura (I blame Ravelry) when my husband said: ‘Just buy one, you know you really want one.’  So I did!!!

Now I have a Majacraft Aura.  I can’t believe it is actually sitting in my house.  Since spotting one of these being used in a market in New Zealand I have coveted one.  It is a carved work of art (a seriously expensive carved work of art) and I just love it!  It has beautiful markings in the wood and is signed by Owen Poad.

My Majacraft Aura (well actually all of them) is made from New Zealand Rimu and has a bamboo wheel.

My Aura spins beautifully, the treadles are really smooth and the adjustments are infinite.  I’ve only just started to experiment on her but in theory she can spin art yarn, lace weight yarn and anything in between.  Although it’s probably not the best time to try out a new technique such as cable plying the first time you are using a spinning wheel that works so differently from any other you’ve ever used!  My cable plied Corriedale turned out OK for a first attempt and the hand dyed BFL given to me by Ruth Robinson from The Wheel Ewe is spinning up quite nicely:

 

It will be far easier to take the Majacraft Aura to my spinning guild as it folds and has a handle.  But I might be a bit precious about it and worry about it getting damaged.  Also, I have always had the cheapest wheel at the guild which I am totally fine with and it might be a bit embarrassing to turn up with the most expensive wheel.  But I might get over that.

Now I’m not going to be spending as much time spinning on my trusty Ashford Kiwi I might finally get around to decorating him (not entirely due to feeling guilty at replacing him).  Previously I was too busy spinning on him to decommission him long enough to paint.  I won’t be going overboard with that.  I’ve decided to paint the wheel in an off white and then I’ll paint ferns onto the treadles and behind the kiwi, (again in white) to keep in with the New Zealand theme.  When he’s up and running again after his overhaul I think I will put the super flyer on him and leave him set up ready to ply anything I’ve spun on my Aura.

The Aura is almost too beautiful to use.  Almost.

 

 

Felt Art

Recently I have been working on creating felted textile pictures to put in my shop.  I had never thought I would be making felt of any description, it just didn’t really appeal.  Then I discovered felt art pictures and nuno felting and cobweb felting.  There are some really talented felt art artists out there like Moy Mackay who wrote this book to allow us mere mortals in on her secrets so that we can attempt our own felt art: Art in Felt and Stitch: Creating Beautiful Works of Art Using Fleece, Fibres and Threads.  Some of the nuno felting and cobweb felting scarves people have shared online are just awe inspiring.

Wet felting is really, really hard work, but I love it.  It’s got everything, colour, texture, creativity, wool fibre, embroidery (both machine and hand) and it saves me from going to the gym – not that I ever intended to do that anyway.

These two are based on local Cornish scenes.  The first one features the lighthouse at Godrevy with thrift and corn coloured grasses growing on the cliff and the second one is the engine house at Chapel Porth near St Agnes with bright purple heather in bloom on the cliff.  I just love the different blues, greens and turquoises in the sea.  I lined both of these with calico and sewed a ring on the back so that they can hang on the wall, but they would also look very effective framed under glass (I just wouldn’t want to risk putting them in the post like that).

This one was inspired by the gorgeous paua shells which you find strewn about the beaches in New Zealand.  This seems amazing to me as the shells on our Cornish beaches are very tiny and less colourful in comparison.  I have sewn it to some mount board ready to be framed.

Very different again is this field of foxgloves.  I enjoyed the free motion machine embroidery on this one and decided to sew pockets to the back to enable it to be hung with a piece of doweling.  This could easily be removed allowing the picture to be framed.  Again, it just makes it easier to post.

These were all fun to make and they are looking lovely decorating my walls until they have a new home to go to.

 

 

 

 

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.  I only recommend books or products I use personally and believe will be of value to my readers.

So, Not Purple Lichen Dye

I’m not really disappointed.  I did want purple but natural dyeing is all about experimentation and sometimes (or mostly in my case) it doesn’t end up as planned.

Three months ago, yes that was a whole three months, I collected some lichen to use in dyeing.  Now, lichen is a protected species and can only be picked up if it has fallen and unattached itself from its host.  I have to say that it is very abundant here in Cornwall but, even so, I did collect all my lichen from the road where it had fallen following a storm.

Lichen can be used as is to make browns and rusts, but I wanted to attempt purple.   (Apparently the orange coloured lichen you see on stone is the best one to use to make a purple but the green/grey lichen is the one I found and the orange variety does not normally detach itself so was not really an option, although I will keep a look out for any on our walks.)  To extract a purple dye the lichen has to be soaked in ammonia for three months.  So that is what I did, giving it a shake every day.

It did appear to turn purple initially then it went an orange brown.  After three months it was still an orange brown and dyed my Kent Romney handspun a light beige.  So, not purple but it is a colour!  Sadly, I suspect that if I had just used the lichen straight away without fermenting it I might have achieved some brighter rust colours.  Maybe next time.

 

How To Print Up a PDF Pattern

Most of us have printed up a PDF before.  It’s easy, you just click on ‘print’!  Unfortunately, most of us who have tried to print up a PDF pattern have found that if we just click on ‘print’ we get a printed PDF but it’s not the right size.  Most PDF patterns have something on them such as a shaded square that you can measure to see if yours has printed up correctly.  It is very tempting to measure this and think ‘Well, it’s almost right, it’ll be fine.’  With PDF patterns it won’t be fine.  A small discrepancy in that measurement will multiply over the whole pattern and you will end up with a garment that is totally the wrong size.  Very disappointing!

In the past I have spent hours getting advice about this online and altering all the settings on my printer and computer (like the incredibly clever IT geeks told me to do).  So frustrating.  Their advice would be fine for most things but every time it printed up just slightly off, only slightly, but over a whole pattern…  PDF patterns really do need to be accurate.

Finally I stumbled across the way to do it and it is so simple.  I mean really simple:

Do not alter the settings on your printer, do not alter the settings on your computer, do not even view the PDF through your browser or ANY programme that comes with your system (not even Adobe Reader if it came with your computer).

Download Adobe Reader for free.  View the PDF pattern with your downloaded version of Adobe Reader.  Set the size of your paper on Adobe Reader.  Set Adobe Reader to print up your pattern (only the front sheet initially so you can measure to make sure it is accurate before printing the whole pattern) with ‘no scaling’, ‘100%’, ‘no re-sizing’.  Each system varies as to which setting of fit and scale you require, so make a note of what works for you, but it will work.  Viewing your PDF through your browser and trying to get the correct scale will not work.  I know, I’ve tried it and wasted lots of time, paper and ink.

If you are conscious of the cost to yourself or the environment in ink and paper, you could choose to only print the pattern pieces and to view the instructions on your computer.  Again this is really easy to do.  View the whole pattern on your computer to see which pages are pattern pieces and when you go to print just type in the page number range with a hyphen in between or individual page numbers separated by a comma eg. ‘4-9’ or ‘2, 6-8’.  There are advantages to this other than saving money and the environment.  PDF pattern instructions are often much clearer on a computer and you can enlarge any pictures you need to.   Which brings me onto the last thing you need to know.  Most PDF pattern instructions consist of written text, diagrams and photographs.  The vast majority of these photos will have been taken with a digital camera and will be very detailed.  Most people, me included, have their printer set on a low resolution to print text and drawings/ diagrams (not photos) for speed and to save on ink.  So if you try to print without changing your settings your printer will only receive half the information it needs to print a clear picture.  If you were unaware of this you might think the designer has sold you a pattern with poor quality images which is frustrating when you’ve handed over your hard earned money.  (Also slightly embarrassing if you only discover this after complaining or leaving them a bad review.)   My printer does have several settings for this (again, I alter these settings through Adobe Reader not the actual printer) and it is worth spending a few minutes checking yours.  I set mine to ‘photo quality’ printing and I also set it to the type of paper I am using eg. ‘glossy’ or ‘plain’.  But in all honesty, mine prints up adequately on a low resolution setting (not perfectly, but good enough).

Hopefully, this saves you hours of experimentation leaving you time to make your beautiful creations!

 

 

Disclosure:  This post contains links to products, websites or patterns.  I do not receive any reward for mentioning them.  I only recommend items I use personally and think will be of interest to my readers.

 

Attaching A Facing

Facing a raw edge is a really great alternative to using a binding.  I have also used these techniques in my girls’ blouses.  They are similar to bias binding but they are completely on the wrong side of the fabric instead of being around the edge.

Facing A Seamless Neck Opening.

Cut a rectangle or square of facing fabric.  If you are using interfacing, cut it to the same size and attach it to the wrong side of the fabric.  Neaten the edges with a zigzag stitch.  Place and pin it onto your fabric with right sides together and draw a line to show where your opening is going to be.

Stitching really close to the line, sew down its length, across the bottom and back up the other side.  Cut along your drawn line, clip into the corners and turn to the wrong side.  Iron and top sew the edging if needed.

The dark coloured fabric I used so that you can see it easily does not do this technique justice.  It is really effective when you use the same fabric for the facing.

Using Bias Binding As A Facing.

Pin the bias binding to the right side of the neckline, armhole or hem.  Sew along the first crease.  Turn the whole strip of facing to the inside and top sew along the bottom edge.

Again, this looks a lot better when you haven’t got a dark colour showing through your fabric.