Worm Towers in the Potager

Originally I set up this area of the garden with two big beds of mixed annual vegetables, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 is a huge inspiration.

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.

A Driftwood Christmas Tree

Something a bit different this week as it’s Christmas (well nearly).  We did need a new Christmas tree this year.  I have been putting it off for a few years.  Ours is a bit pathetic.  Although I would like a real tree it didn’t seem right to cut down a living tree that had been growing for years just so that we could decorate our home with it for a couple of weeks.  So I looked around for a nice-looking artificial one.  I was slightly shocked at the prices, to say the least.  We definitely did not pay that much last time!  So I decided to make my own.  Home made stuff is better anyway.

We’ve had a few storms in Cornwall recently, so, perfect for beach-combing which is one of our favourite things to do.  Gradually, over the past few weeks we have collected loads of driftwood and sea glass to make a Christmas tree and some tree decorations.

We went up onto the north coast one morning after a storm and found, amongst other things, a heavy piece of sawn timber which was not quite as heavy once it had dried out, but did fit in my husband’s backpack which saved me from having to carry it!  It proved to be just the right size and weight for the base of the tree.

After several trips, and several storms, I sorted out all of the bits of wood.  I wasn’t overly hopeful I would have enough as a lot of the driftwood in Cornwall gets used to fuel fires and barbecues on the beach and sometimes when you collect it it is not always clear whether the wood looks a dark colour because it’s wet or because it has been blackened from a fire.  This time I was lucky and it mostly dried out a lovely pale, driftwood colour.

The only things I bought to complete the tree were a metre long threaded metal rod, some washers and nuts.

The tree was not difficult to make.  Basically, I drilled a hole through the middle of the longest piece of driftwood and through the base, slotted a long threaded metal rod through both and secured underneath with a nut and washer, counter sinking the nut to ensure it did not stick out from the wood.  (The tree would not stand up otherwise.)  Then I drilled the centre of the next longest piece of wood and slotted it on top of the first and so on until the tree was tall enough.  Regarding the tree, when I say ‘I…’ I really mean my husband as he does not trust me with power tools!

Due to breakages, we managed to end up missing the vital top piece so had to go out beach-combing one more time (shame).

Then for the tree ornaments.  Again, really simple; I wrapped some silver coloured wire around the pieces of sea glass and hung them onto the tree with cotton thread.  I added to a couple of them by attaching them to some more wire shaped into angels.  They’re not going to be that strong as the wire was quite thin so I will have to pack them away carefully to save them for next year.  I didn’t manage to make as many as I could do with but I have plenty more pieces of sea glass and can make some more decorations when I have a spare minute or two.

Our old Christmas lights would have been far too big for my new tree so I bought some very cheap battery operated lights.  I’m not sure what their lifespan is but they’re exactly what I needed for now.

I already had the cute clip on white bird, and my favourite fairy that I’ve had for about

ten years went on the top.

I’ve saved myself a lot of money making my own tree.  (In total I spent about £7 and the trees in the shops were all over £100.)  I think a unique, hand made item is so much nicer at Christmas as well and I hope we get to use it for many years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

How To Wash Wool

Why buy items made from wool or spend hours making things from wool when it is so high maintenance and there are so many synthetic ‘easy care’ ready made items of clothing/ carpets/ rugs out there?  Well, the manufacturers of the synthetic products have done a really good job of advertising those products and they’ve made a lot of money.  But I think more and more people are becoming aware of the short comings of these fabrics and how good our natural fabrics actually are.  Maybe you can’t just throw your handmade woolens in the washing machine and tumble drier – or can you?   I’ll come onto that in a minute.

Why Wool?

Wool is actually quite awesome.  Completely natural and renewable.  Anything you wear made from wool keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer.  It does not need washing nearly as often as any other fabric.  Even socks can be worn for several days without washing as long as they are aired at the end of each day, and your wool carpets will not need a coating of chemicals on them to resist the dirt.  Wool does that anyway.

Wool has a memory;  it’s elastic.  It takes dyes easily, even completely natural ones and it already comes in a range of colours straight from the sheep!

There are literally hundreds of breeds of sheep all of which produce wool with different characteristics.  Some produce really fine soft wool to make baby clothes from (obviously, that’s not why the sheep produce fine wool), some produce wool that is suitable for outer clothing like coats while others produce wool which is really tough and can be made into bags, rugs and carpets.  The others fall somewhere in between.

Caring for your woolens:

So, first of all what to wash it with?  You could use just water!  What you must not use is your standard chemical laden biological detergent, however tempting that maybe.  Biological detergents contain enzymes which eat and destroy wool.  So, unfortunately, you do need a special cleanser made for wool – they have a woolmark symbol on them:

If you don’t have any in or don’t want to buy one just for your woolens just use water; it should work fine.  There are lots on the market such as Eucalan Lavender 100ml No Rinse Delicate Wash.   I use  NIL Ecover Delicate 500 ml which has the woolmark image on the front.

Can you put your woolens in the washing machine?  Well, yes and no.  It depends.  (Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.)  Some wool is ‘super-wash’ treated.  Most shop-bought wool garments will be super-washed and can be put in the washing machine.  But always put it in a netting laundry bag first to stop it stretching.  Many people also partially tumble dry these items on the lowest temperature setting.  Personally, I have never been brave enough to do that so couldn’t recommend it.

Also, some sheep produce wool that does not felt easily, such as wool from the Perendale sheep, so items made from their wool should also be fine to put in the machine without it felting.  Oh yes felting.  You know the ‘felt’ fabric we’ve all used (especially as children) to make small items or to add decorative applique to things because it does not fray.  It’s the same thing (in fairness nowadays most felt is synthetic but traditionally and in my house felt is made from wool) and you don’t want your gorgeous wool jumper turning into that!  Most wool will felt, though, if you subject it to too high temperatures, sudden temperature changes, or just by agitating it.  This sounds scary but is actually a really good excuse to do less.

Washing wool is really easy:

  1. Pour slightly warm water into the sink and add a cap full of wool wash.
  2. Drop your wool item onto the top of the water.
  3. Go and have a cup of coffee or catch up on your emails for twenty minutes.
  4. When your wool garment has sunk to the bottom, you know it has absorbed enough water and cleanser.
  5. Drain the water and refill with water of the same temperature to rinse without agitating your woolen. (Some wool cleansers do not even require rinsing.)
  6. Rinse once more then drain.
  7. Very gently squeeze out the excess water.
  8. Roll your wet garment up in a towel and squash to remove as much water as you can.
  9. Gently pull your garment back into shape and air dry flat, out of direct sunlight.  I have a Leifheit 72408 Mesh Clothes Drying Rack Sensitive Air which is a folding, pop-up net hoop which is very good for this as it can be rested across the bath.

Remember to make sure it is completely dry before packing away as wool can feel dry but still contain over thirty percent water!

Moths are attracted to wool so you do need to protect your woolens from attack.  Traditionally cedar chests or cedar lined drawers were used to store items to prevent insect infestation and this is still the best method today.  Most of us don’t have cedar chests of drawers, though, and have to resort to sealing them in plastic bags.  I really don’t like plastic but it is very effective in keeping out moths.  It also doesn’t hurt to have a few draw string bags or bowls of wood shavings impregnated with drops of lavender or cedar essential oils nearby. Just like our grannies used to do.

 

 

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.

Tourmaline Birthstone

There has been no time for sewing this week (I haven’t even started on my outfit for the graduation which is in two weeks) and I’ve only managed about two rows of knitting.  It’s that time of year again when I start to get the garden ready for winter and it is a big garden.  But I know that if I get it all done now it should stay looking good until the spring, apart from the lawn which will not stop growing all year here in Cornwall.

We have a birthday party to go to on Sunday and I was really struggling to find a suitable present. One of my girls suggested giving her one of the necklaces I’ve made, which would have been the easiest thing to do. But I decided to look up the birthstone for October which happens to be both tourmaline and opal.  A few items in my shop do have tourmaline and opal stones but I thought I would make something just for her.  (Why do I do that?  I am pleased with every item in my shop and any one of them would have been fine.  But it wouldn’t be me if I took the most obvious route!)  I decided to go with the tourmaline birthstone in a pretty pink and white.  Tourmaline comes in a huge variety of colours making it difficult to choose.  I was very tempted with some of my various shades of green tourmaline and there was a gorgeous peach coloured one.  The pink ones are my favourite, though,  so that’s what I opted for and hopefully she’ll like it too

It was very enjoyable to be hammering some silver again; it’s been a while.

Winter Door Curtain

Winter is nearly here again.  All the apples from our old Bramley have been turned into jams, chutneys, crumbles and sauces.  I’m even attempting cider making at the suggestion of my brother in New Zealand.  I asked him for ideas as he’s a really good cook and expected some exotic recipe to come back.  But he just said ‘make cider’ and actually that’s a really good idea as that requires a lot of apples and my pile of Bramleys wasn’t diminishing very quickly.  The Christmas cake, pudding and mincemeat have been made and stored away to mature.  I’ve even made a few Christmas presents and have been looking forward to lighting the wood burner again now that the evenings are drawing in.  I love this time of year but it is becoming apparent that the house is not that warm so I’ve decided to draught proof the front door with a new  interlined curtain.  I do realize it will take a lot more than that to make this house warm, but it’s a start.

This curtain is really easy to make.  I’ve made a few over the years when I’ve decided I needed a new colour scheme as they are quick, simple and inexpensive.  We have a portiere rod above the door which we leave turned away from the door during the day (and all through the summer) and we swing it shut across the door in the evening during the winter.  So I will be making a channel in my curtain for the rod and I won’t need any heading tape or rings to hang it.  But, because you see the front of the curtain during the day and the back of the curtain during the night, I will be using the main fabric on both the front and the back.  My summer curtain does have lining on the back because it is really for decoration only.  If I actually used it I would be able to see the lining at night when the curtain was across the door.  Shop bought curtains do not often have interlining so if you have an old draughty house it is worth tracking some down and having a go at making your own. The interlining I bought is made from cotton and feels soft and fleecy similar to quilt wadding.

To start, I need to measure the height of the portiere rod that the curtain is going to hang from.  Then I add 15 cm (10 cm for the hem and 5 cm for the frill at the top) and double the total to get the amount of fabric required.  As well as the curtain fabric I need some thread and one length of interlining.   The height of my portiere rod plus 15 cm came to 2.4 m.  So I need 4.8 m of curtain fabric (2.4 m for the front and 2.4 m for the back) and 2.4 m of interlining.

First I need to fold the main fabric in half with right sides together and with the interlining placed on top.  Then I will sew down either side leaving a 5 cm gap, 5 cm from the top on each side.  If you do not want a frill on the top, just start sewing 5 cm from the top and continue straight to the bottom.

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After hand sewing a 10 cm deep hem all the way around, the curtain needs to be turned the right side out.

Lastly I will sew a line of stitching right across the curtain 5 cm down from the top and a second line of stitching 5 cm further down to form the channel.  If you are not putting the frill on the top you will only need the one row of stitching 5 cm from the top to form the channel.  If at this point you realize you forgot to leave a 5 cm gap in the side seams, it’s not the end of the world you can easily unpick the few stitches from the ends after sewing the channel.

Now all that’s left it to thread the portiere rod through the channel on the curtain.

 

 

Homemade Food Wrap

More Christmas presents.  This time some safe, re-usable food wrap.  I’m going to be making some round versions to cover food in glass bowls in the fridge and I’m also going to be making some food wrap that can be used to wrap sandwiches.

WARNING: if you are making these during the summer, close your windows and doors prior to melting any beeswax.  Bees are attracted to the smell of beeswax (ask me how I know)!!!  I should have thought about it a bit more as I have looked into keeping bees and have several books on the subject and the thought of getting a free swarm of bees by putting beeswax around the ‘door’ on the beehive has always appealed to me.  A memo to self: think things through.  (Fortunately my hubbie came home for lunch at just the right time to save me.  I know, a bit pathetic and girlie, but there were far more of them than me and maybe bee keeping wouldn’t be the best thing for me, after all.)

So back to the task in hand.  This food wrap is made from safe, natural products.  They can be hand washed in cold water.  All you need to make food wrap is some cotton fabric, some pinking shears, a baking sheet, some grease-proof paper and some beeswax.  I bought my beeswax in a pellet form but if you can only find a block of it, you’ll need to grate it.  You’ll also need access to either an iron or an oven.

So, for the bowl covers you first need a template.  Turn your bowl/ dish that you need a lid for upside down on some paper and draw around it.  Then draw around the whole shape again but at least five centimetres further out.  Cut this template out and pin it (or use weights) to some nice cotton fabric and cut the shape out with pinking shears.  As you can probably tell, I didn’t use a template and had my usual problems with inaccurate measuring and cutting.

Place some grease-proof paper onto a baking sheet and put your fabric on it.  Sprinkle beeswax sparingly onto the fabric.  Then either put another sheet of grease-proof paper on top and iron it or put the baking sheet in the oven at about 110°c for ten minutes or until the beeswax has melted.  If you have any patches without beeswax, just repeat until the fabric is covered.

Once cooled the fabric is pliable but stays put when folded over the top of your container.

The sandwich wraps are made in exactly the same way except that you need to be able to wrap them around a sandwich instead of making them bowl shaped.  I experimented using a piece of paper (and a sandwich) to make sure my fabric would fit around my sandwich leaving no gaps. Amazingly these do not seem to open when you don’t want them to, but to make sure you could put a button and loop on them.

I am secretly very pleased with how these turned out and will be making more for myself and my family.

Mug Rugs

It’s that time of year again when I start to think about making Christmas presents.  I like to be organized.  Last year I wasn’t, as we went to visit our son and my brother in New Zealand for a month and ended up having about two weeks to sort Christmas and, frankly, that’s not for me.

So, I’m starting my first presents today and I’ve decided on some mug rugs or coasters.  I’m not sure where I got the idea from initially but they really appealed to me as they are basically just mini quilts.  I love making quilts and a mug rug miniature version would be far quicker and easier to do.  I’m making my mug rugs smaller than the ones I’ve seen online but bigger than a coaster would normally be – just big enough for a mug of coffee and a biscuit.  These could be made in different sizes and used as place mats and coasters for a dinner table.

First, I cut out  a rectangle of wadding in the size I wanted for the finished mug rugs and two rectangles the same size in cotton fabric for the front and back.  For my applique (you don’t have to put an applique on it) I chose a cupcake and a cup and saucer.  I drew rough templates on paper and then cut the individual pieces out of cotton fabric.

Then I stuck the pieces to my mug rugs’s fronts so that they would stay in place as I sewed.  I used an iron on ‘Bondaweb’ but you could use any temporary fabric adhesive.  My sewing machine has a really good stitch to attach applique which looks like a hand sewn blanket stitch, but today I decided to use a zigzag stitch around the edges of the appliques.

Next, the fun bit; the quilting.  Using a long stitch and my walking foot, I stitched around the edges of the appliques to make them stand out a bit more and then sewed some random, slightly wavy lines.  Much easier than straight, evenly spaced lines and you really can’t go wrong!

For the binding I cut a long strip of fabric about 6 cm wide ( it wasn’t necessary to cut on the bias as the edges of my mug rugs are straight) and folded it in half lengthways and ironed it.  Matching the raw edges, I pinned the folded binding to the edges of each mug rug front and sewed it about 1 cm from the edge.

Lastly, I folded the binding over to the back of the mug rugs and, again, using my walking foot, top stitched around the very edge of the binding being careful not to catch the binding on the front of the mug rugs.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the binding on these mug rugs is not my finest work (I am usually very fussy with my corners) but I think they’ve turned out quite well.  The first of my Christmas presents finished!

Machine Embroidery Art

I’ve always loved to embroider, it’s something I was taught to do when I was very young.  Over recent years I have seen more and more embroidery done on a machine.  I did think this was cheating to start with and have continued doing it by hand, although a lot of my quilts do have applique that is machined.  But I have become more aware of local Cornish artists such as Poppy Treffry Freehand Machine Embroidery: Learning to draw with your machine who uses machine embroidery to sew seaside scenes onto items such as bags and cushions with ancient Singer machines and thought that maybe I should give it ago before dismissing it.

I was also really inspired by the work of a freehand machine embroiderer called Abigail Mill ( not Cornish) whose embroidered artwork I discovered online.  (I do make it sound as if I spend all day looking online for inspiration which isn’t the case.  Well, maybe it is.)  She uses a white piece of organza for the base of each piece and then layers it with different organza to create the background sky and sea.  This gives a real illusion of depth and it’s something I had to try for myself.   Despite spending a lot of time looking at her art work online I couldn’t quite see how she achieved her results.   So I bought her new book  Applique Art: Freehand Machine-Embroidered Pictures (The Textile Artist) .  This book is beautiful.

I began my machine embroidery with layers of organza and even before I had done any embroidery it looked really effective.  I am not entirely pleased with the background now that I have embroidered it with my machine.  Maybe machine embroidery is not quite my thing!  However, I shall reserve judgement until I have added all the details and have a completed picture.

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The initial plan with this one was to applique a seal onto this and maybe a Cornish gig .  However, when we were walking home from lunch the other day we saw a pod of dolphins stranded in the creek next to our house.  Several people had gone in to swim them back out to deeper water and didn’t look in any rush to get out (any excuse really).  It was a hot day and I wouldn’t have minded going in myself but walking home in wet clothes wouldn’t have been as much fun!  So I think I’ll have to put a dolphin or two on my embroidery – when I get around to it.

 

Solar Dyeing Results

So, the moment of truth.  A whole month has passed since putting my solar dye jars out in the sun and at last I can find out what, if anything, has happened to my fabric.

A couple of days in: To start with the spinach dye smelt like farmyard manure, so I thought it was probably best not to put my lovely fabric in it, so discarded that solution.  Fortunately my fennel plant had grown enough to harvest some leaves.  I just put them in a net bag on top of the sea water and soya mordanted fabric in a jar and added water.  Even the next day I could see the fabric had turned to a lovely pale green/ yellow – perfect.  The avocado one has gone a peachy colour – not quite the ‘flesh pink’ promised.  The plum skin dye has already turned the fabric a gorgeous dusky pink.  I hope that lasts and I’m not really sure about the purple onion skins in the last jar.  The water is a red colour, but the fabric looks taupe?  The onion skins were the replacement for the black beans.  I researched them some more and discovered that they prefer a cold dyeing process.  So, I put some more beans in a large dye pot with cold water and left it for 24 hours before removing the beans (which were in a net bag) and adding some fabric which had had an alum and soda crystal mordant the previous day.  I left this for another 24 hours.  After a few hours it turned a beautiful mauve (gorgeous and I probably should have removed it at this point) but when I checked again the following morning hoping it would be more intense, it had turned a vibrant blue, still lovely but not what I wanted, so I added bicarbonate of soda and it changed to a sage green.  Very pleased with that.  I know it looks grey in the pictures but it is sage green.  Actually, in these pictures the blue does look really nice.

So, a month on:

The jars all look lovely.

I hung all the fabrics up to dry in the shade and decided not to wash them until after they have been stored for a few months.  The first jar I emptied was the purple onion skins – a very strong onion smell!  I’m not sure what you would call the colour, (an orangey brown?) but I like it.  I painted a pattern with an egg resist onto this fabric before it was dyed and this shows up as a dark brown.  It will be interesting to see how this alters when the fabric is washed.

The avocado dyed fabric, which also had an egg resist painted on came out a lovely pink colour with dark pink flowers and it didn’t smell too bad.  The third one, the plum skins, was the slightly disappointing one.  It had faded a bit from when I last checked it and was even paler than the avocado dyed fabric, but was still pretty and it had a really lovely plum smell.  Now, for the fennel.  Maybe if I had added more fennel foliage it would have turned out  with more of a green tinge, as it had appeared after the first day in the sun.  As it is, it came out pale yellow and slightly mottled.  I will definitely use this fabric if I can get rid of the aroma of fennel combined with eau de farmyard manure!!  I think I might need to store it separately from my other fabrics.