29 January 2008

cake, knitting, beaches. it's all good.

Well the kidlets return to school tomorrow to begin a new school year.

They're mostly excited to see their friends again and settle into new classrooms. In Son #2's case, it's a whole new school, and he is sooo excited to be going where his big brother is. (No, he's not at high school yet, he's in Class 6, but he got offered a place at the school and we couldn't be more thrilled. Son #3 will remain at the local primary school, in the Steiner stream, where he is doing brilliantly and has a fantastic class and teacher).

Speaking of the golden boy, (Son #2) he turned 12 the other day. How the heck did that happen?

He requested chocolate cake, of course.


It's been a good summer. We've had a couple of beach breaks, one blogged earlier with an appalling lack of detail, and the other just this past weekend, this time just me and my dear friend L and our five boy-children. By golly it was good.

The boys boogie boarded constantly and when they weren't in the water they were holding a three day Monopoly fest. L and I walked, swam, read books, I cast on a pair of socks for Son #3, and on the final day we went out for coffee without the children, who preferred Monopoly to the local cafe. Apart from a brief moment of panic when, upon returning to the house, we saw a plume of smoke coming around the bend and thought the house was on fire (it wasn't), it was an entirely restful and nourishing few days. (The smoke turned out to be a band of fastmoving, thick mist coming around the headland, but it looked like it was emanating from our house. I've never seen L move so fast as when she sprinted up that hill).

When I can locate my camera cable, I'll show you a picture of the view from the balcony. You might just weep.

What else? Heaps. I just haven't found the computer time to blog or download photos. I've got lots of books and knitting to report on, and also, a most generous gift to show. Very exciting.

I did manage to finish Mr Soup's scarf, finally.


Pattern from here.

And now it's back to the clothesline. The worst bit about coming home.


24 January 2008

rainbow woollens

So, 100 grams of dyed-by-the-boy rainbow yarn yielded a hat ...


... and enough yarn left over to make a teeny baby scarf, or wee neckwarmer. Complete with funky wooden toggle. I had a mental block about how to make a button loop; thank heavens for crafty bloggers and their tutorials. Honestly, how did we survive before the interwebs?

hat & neckwarmer


See the 'lawn' in front of him? That's the result of Stage 3(a) water restrictions.

Sigh ...

20 January 2008

How to dye yarn with food colouring (and small children)


I've been busting to show you this, but it's hard finding blogging time during the school holidays with children demanding food and water at regular intervals.

You may remember that last year I was voraciously collecting information and resources regarding natural dyeing with plant materials. I've dyed fabrics with chemical dyes many times, but never with the children around. I became obsessed with the idea of natural plant dyeing (and even joined the Plant Dyeing Group at the craft cottage at the Bot Gardens last year), but was turned off by the need for toxic mordants. (Yes I do know that there are some dye materials that don't need mordanting. I'm still experimenting. But with young children, you don't always want to experiment, you need guaranteed results. And preferably bright colours).

Then I found out about dyeing with food colouring. Perfectly safe to do with children, apart from the brief microwaving bit which needs adult supervision.

Son #3 (aged 8) was dead keen to dye his own wool which I would then knit into an item of clothing for him.

In case anyone's vaguely interested and thinking of doing this with their kids, I present to you (da na na na ...) my very first tutorial.

How to dye yarn safely, with small people.

You will need:
white, cream or light coloured wool yarn
white vinegar
food colouring

First, if your wool is in balls, you will need to unwind them and form into a skein. Use the arms of a small child or the back of a chair (the latter is more reliable and less prone to whining that its arms ache) to wind your skein. We used two 50g balls ($1 each from the op shop) to create a 100g skein. Make sure you use pure natural yarns - wool, alpaca, mohair or silk. Cotton won't work with food colouring apparently, and neither will acrylics and synthetics. Tie your skein loosely in two or three places with waste yarn.

Next, you will need to mordant your yarn. Soak the yarn in a basin of half tepid water and half white vinegar for anywhere between half an hour and overnight. Gently squeeze out the yarn and lay out the damp skein ready to dye. Protect your kitchen bench first with layers of newspaper/old nappies/plastic rubbish bag/old towels.


(Our skein is messy as I went the small child route rather than the chair. Trying to foster enthusiasm and participation, you know.)

Don your rubber gloves and an apron and start to paint your yarn! This is where the small child generally stops whining and gets interested.

We only had the tiny little bottles of food colouring, but I've since seen them in 50ml bottles in the supermarket, dirt cheap. You will need about 50ml for every 50g of yarn. This was a 100g skein, so we could have done with more dye, but we just made do as a trip to the supermarket with three children on a very hot day was not an option. Our finished yarn has several white, undyed bits due to our dye shortage, but as we were going for a multi coloured, variegated effect, it didn't matter. Gently squeeze droplets of dye onto your yarn and use your (gloved) fingers to work it into the wool. Don't rub.


It's fun and messy but being food colouring, it'll still wash out at this stage if you get it on surfaces or clothes.

When you've used all your dye or achieved the effect you were after, whichever comes first, lay your painted yarn in a ceramic, glass or plastic bowl, cover loosely with a lid or clingwrap, and microwave for five minutes on the highest power setting. Let the yarn cool completely, but do not touch or rearrange the yarn. When the yarn has cooled, zap it for another five minutes on high. Don't let the yarn dry out during this process, so mist the yarn and the underside of the lid or clingwrap with a little water from a spray bottle if it's looking too dry.

This cooking of the yarn, together with the earlier mordanting of the yarn with vinegar, is what sets the colour. (See how in print it looks like I know what I'm talking about? Impressive huh?)


When the yarn has cooled, rinse it thoroughly under a running tap of cool or tepid water until the water runs clear.

Squeeze (don't wring!) the excess water out and drape the skein somewhere out of direct sunlight to dry.


Admire it close up ...


from both ends ...


and proudly take lots of photographs.

When the yarn is thoroughly dry, do the 'twist into a skein' thing (not terribly successfully in my case) and you'll feel like a real pro.


When you're ready to knit it up, wind the skein into a ball and admire the rainbow effect from all angles.


This will make a small child very happy.


This ball of wool pictured has already been knitted up into a hat for the boy. (He's even been wearing it occasionally on these hot summer days). We're both ridiculously proud and excited. He can't wait to show it off to his schoolmates and tell them he dyed the wool himself and then Mum knitted it up.

The whole project was so successful that the other two children have each demanded a turn, and Son #2 and I have already dyed two skeins of yucky beige op shop wool into a beautiful forest green for a future pair of fingerless gloves. Photos to come.

Can you tell I'm addicted?

Updated: for those without microwaves, try the stovetop tutorial here.

13 January 2008

Seasonally inappropriate activities

I promise I won’t go on about the heat much longer.


Greyhounds do sensible things when it’s hot. They stroll down to the river and cool their heels. Smart creatures.

chenille scarf

Other, more deluded souls, knit scarves.

socks for Son #1

And socks.

socks for Son #1

Woolly wintry socks for their children.

socks for Son #1

Who make appreciative noises and even model them graciously, despite it being a blisteringly hot day. (He’s the eldest; he strives to please). Note I didn’t model my scarf. I’m the parent and don’t need to please anyone.

Holeproof. Ha.

This is why I knit socks for my boys. Because bought ones don’t work. Can you see the brand emblazoned boldly across what remains of the bottom of these socks?


They’re less than six months old.

Vital statistics (not of the crappy Holeproof socks):
Scarf: knitted in a simple garter stitch from chenille cotton yarn, blogged about here. Cath, have you knitted up your chenille yet?
Socks: 2.25mm dpns, using the very basic Opal Sock Pattern. The yarn however is Lincraft sock yarn.

Oh yeah, that hot day on which I finished both the socks and scarf? I also made two litres of the world’s greatest chicken stock (says she, modestly). Because there’s nothing quite like a huge pot simmering away for hours on a summer’s day, is there?

12 January 2008

linen leaf mobile

Quick, I need a happyshiny picture post to get that whinge off the front page, so to speak.

Inspired recently by this, (scroll right down) I dug through my stash of op shop linen clothes purchased specifically to cut up, and made ...



They are a gift for someone else, but I am so in love with them that I’m going to make us a set in the same teals and creams (with one or two leaves in chocolate brown felt) and hang them in the kitchen.

decoration closeup

The photos don’t demonstrate how beautifully they twirl in the breeze every time someone walks past. Quite magical.

Also, I believe I’ve found the answer to another question. I was so impressed with myself over the fabric-and-stitching Christmas cards, not to mention how seriously quick and easy it all was, that I searched my brain for a shape which could be stitched onto cardstock to create a stockpile of birthday cards for use throughout the year. Alas my pea-sized brain couldn’t come up with anything beyond circles (hard to cut successfully) and the birthday card project came to naught. And then I went to the beach. But now I have it!

Crikey that was a really longwinded boring way of saying I’m going to stitch linen leaf shapes onto thick paper and make a stash of birthday cards.


11 January 2008

25 things that shit me to tears

Herewith my contribution to the very classy 25 Things that Shit me to Tears* meme that’s doing the rounds of all the um, classy blogs right now. [Except I stopped at 11. It seemed wise].

* and it turns out that that’s an Australian phrase unknown to the rest of the world. Are we a stylish nation or what?

1. The heat. Oh god, the heat. OVER IT.

2. My stupid car. OVER IT. It died two days ago, luckily in a carpark in the village, but it meant two hours standing by the side of the road in the heat (see # 1). One hour waiting for the little yellow rescue van and another hour waiting for the big white tow truck to take me to the mechanic after the little yellow van deemed me beyond help. I am now $654 poorer.

3. Toilets at car mechanics’ workshops. (See #2). After two hours by the roadside, one has little choice in the matter.

4. Certain relatives who upon noticing small knitted items in my house feel no compunction at all about saying "Well I’m sorry but I don’t see any point in an apple cosy". I guess it’s my own fault for leaving it lying around. Really, I should know by now.

5. And then the next day when watching me undertake another craft project and fail miserably, instead of being supportive and encouraging, she says brightly "Do you wish you’d never started?" which of course makes me snarl Yes, say a very bad word and throw down aforementioned craft project in a childish fit. In front of the eight year old child.

6. Houseguests (see # 4 and 5). (Not you Sueeeus! You will be delightful because I’m quite sure you don’t own a thong and nor are you my mother a certain relative).

7. The heat. I blame the heat.

8. Rude people. To escape the heat I took the boys to the cinema this afternoon to see The Water Horse which was lovely and gorgeous and features more handknitted jumpers, socks and vests than you can poke a knitting needle at and was utterly delightful EXCEPT for the unbelievably rude family who sat right behind us and allowed their small daughter to talk all.the.way.through the film. In a high pitched voice with no volume control. What is WRONG with some people? The child shrieked continually (and I mean continually) What she doing?/What they doing that for?/Why he do that? and the mother ANSWERED her each time. I mean, this child spoke literally nonstop, with only brief seconds in between each utterance and the parents did not once shush her or show any consideration for anyone else in the cinema. Several people around us said Ssshhhh but to no avail. Finally, about halfway through the film I turned around (she was on her mother’s lap directly behind my seat) and said to her through gritted teeth firmly but not nastily Listen, we are trying to watch this film sweetheart, so could you be quiet now please? Thank you. To which she promptly burst into tears. So, isn’t that great? I made a three year old child cry. I blame the parents. (And the heat). If she keeps it up, one day someone far ruder than me who doesn’t say please thank you or sweetheart is going to turn around and growl shut up kid or abuse her parents or something. Anyway, she did shut up for the most part from then on, apart from the terrified sobbing, that is.

9. Insurance companies. Specifically that one whose jingle tells me I’m lucky to be with them. Because the glass panels on our solar hot water system got damaged by flying branches in a storm back in October LAST YEAR, and despite my many many telephone conversations regarding the small matter of a cheque with which to pay for new ones, they still have not obliged. Today I received a phone call from a very pleasant gentleman who informed me that he could come over first thing on Monday to assess the damage (despite the fact that our own guy already assessed it and sent in a report, which apparently was inadequate). We set a time and then I inquired as to his company’s name as I hadn’t quite caught it the first time? He’s from a pool shop. Yep. The insurance agency, despite being told that this is our HOT WATER SYSTEM that is broken, thinks it’s a solar pool heater. More angry phone calls and in the meantime we continue to stumble along with stuttering hot water from the electric back up service.

10. A bat got into the house. Bats are nocturnal you may remember, so its arrival was at approximately 3.00 am which was just great. Not that I was asleep or anything (see #1).

11. I think eleven is enough, don’t you? I’m not sure about you but I need a drink.

12. Oh wait. It’s also Day Two.

Life's too short to stuff a ...

mushroom erect

… toadstool?

Especially when it’s 41C freaking degrees (that’s 106F for those of you still working in old money).

mushroom prostrate

And especially when the bloomin’ thing won’t stand up.

6 January 2008

an apple for Twelfth Night or, Seasonally Appropriate Craft

I can't think of a link between apples and Twelfth Night**, or apples and Epiphany.

But I needed a break from knitting strawberry bookmarks (a friend of Mum's wants to buy six and I am kind of over them). So, turning to one of the loopiest knitting books borrowed from the library in recent times, I present to you, the knitted apple cosy.

knitted apple cosy

Speaking of loopy, I borrowed this book initially because I Googled knitted+fried+egg+pattern only to discover that the fried egg pattern within the book is crocheted. As is the pattern for the pint of Guinness. (Last year I spent far more time than is fitting for a grown woman in researching how to knit a fried egg).*

Yep. Loopy.

Anyway, the apple cover. This little dear was a quick, fun knit and I can highly recommend it, once you ignore the pattern and knit it in the round on dpns rather than the straight needles called for, because there is nothing more tedious than sewing up one's knitting. Particularly sewing up something as daft as an apple cosy, or apple protector as Rachel Matthews calls it.

I might knit a matching green one and give them to the two little boys of a family we're seeing soon. They're a Steiner family, so they'll appreciate bizarre handmade things I'm sure.

And of course my own three now desperately want one each for their lunchboxes ... ahem.

Vital statistics:
Pattern: apple protector from Knitorama: 25 Great and Glam things to knit by Rachel Matthews
Yarn: 8 ply pure wool from Bendigo Woollen Mills (I lost the colour chart, so let's call it, um, Red)
Needles: 4mm dpns
Cast on, knitted and cast off in one afternoon.

* I think I have it though: cast on 20 stitches and knit a white square in garter. Cast on 10 stitches in yellow and knit a square in garter. Run a thread around each square and pull gently to round the edges, sew the yellow square on top of the white. I'll let you know how it goes. (I know you're dying to find out).

** Updated - thank you Jane and Diana!

Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare

Act I, Scene V
Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy;
as a squash is before 'tis a peascod, or a codling, when 'tis
almost an apple: 'tis with him e'en standing water, between boy
and man. He is very well-favoured, and he speaks very shrewishly;
one would think his mother's milk were scarce out of him.


Twelfth Night is also the traditional day for wassailing apple trees. I was being seasonally appropriate without even knowing it.

5 January 2008

ORGANISATION is my middle name

handmade Christmas cards

Every year after Christmas I cut up the cards we've received, saving pretty bits and stashing them away into a ziplock bag. The bits that are blank on the back get a hole punched in the corner and are used as gift tags for the following year's Christmas presents, while those that have writing on the reverse are saved. Saved for that magical, organised, crafty year that I use them to make our own cards to send out. So far that year hasn't arrived.

handmade Christmas cards

Until now.

This year I did actually make cards but using fabric, not my stash of little Christmas pictures. Even managed to write and post them. And then, because I was on a roll, I dug out the ziplock bag full of pictures and cuttings, dusted off the little guillotine found when I accidentally wandered into the scrapbooking aisle at Kmart the other day (and that's a scary aisle, let me tell you. If ever I am tempted to take up scrapbooking you have my permission to shoot me), and I made cards. Real life homemade Christmas cards, ready for December 2008, people! Like NOW. In January 2008.

handmade Christmas cards

The word smug doesn't even begin to describe it.

Added to that, the missing box of purchased Christmas cards turned up, et voila, I have enough cards stockpiled to see us through to 2010.

Laughing, I am laughing, baby. Oh so pleased with myself.

3 January 2008

and so it begins [again]


I'm not sure I can say I'm refreshed and relaxed, but I'm back from the brink beach anyway.

It always amazes me how productive I can be when on holiday. I finished up several outstanding knitting projects from the year, embarked upon and finished new ones, read two whole books (an abominable book on Troy, plus Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris) and embarrassed my children by ripping the surfboard from their arms and making enthusiastic but ultimately unsuccessful attempts at standing up while riding in to shore. Great fun, and I don't ever need to do it again thank you very much. Knitting on the beach is more my style. God I'm turning into such an old fart.

And so we begin another year of blogging knitting sewing studying working mothering being. Thank you to everyone who stops by here to read, lurk, comment, look, converse and engage. I feel very very lucky to be a little part of this online community. I love all the observations, the conversations, the participation, the support.

Love it.

Thank you.