I was wandering around the internet one morning and I found this scarf;
A little digging (well…clicking) produced a blog post, an Etsy shop and a whole new interest level. The technique is free form overshot; where some weft strands (the bits that go from side to side, not up and down) are doubled with a thicker yarn. Basically, the weft weave is plain while you add a thicker yarn every second pick (one pass through the warp is called a pick), while going over some warp strands out of order to make a pattern.
I decided to give it a go…on some plain, throw away yarn that I wouldn’t miss too much. The technique looked complicated and mistake prone, so I didn’t want to tempt fate by using a good silk yarn or some of my hand spun Icelandic wool.
I warped up with a grey cotton yarn I had left over from making tea towels and chose a pink woolen yarn that should puff up nicely when washed.
I tried to weave it in the advised way; by alternating both wefts right across the warp. That was a disaster. Too much pink showed through and I could not see the pattern, and I kept messing up the warp count.
Next attempt; I kept the alternating threads idea, but only used the pink on the pattern area (sort of like tapestry weaving). This worked really well but I needed to use about five separate thread ends to make it work. I eventually got the pattern done, after a fashion, it is not as smooth looking as I had hoped, but I think it will fluff up in the fulling process..
On the way to finishing the scarf I found another Youtube clip by Pipyr Dooley about making inclusions in weaving. Suddenly this scarf became a project for a friend (don’t ask me why the design just popped into my head, I just work here).
A few months ago, around Midsummer, we had a medical emergency among the sheep. I haven’t blogged about much from that period of time until now because of a series of hard-to-deal-with events. First my father was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer and died shortly afterwards (not the best start to the year), then I had to have some abdominal surgery which slowed me down considerably. Our old dog Spot had to be put to sleep during this period too. To top that all off, we had to evacuate our humpy because of a bushfire threat to the area and we lost two of our sheep to an unknown predator in the bush.
During the week after I came out of hospital (on strict orders to stay in bed), Sid; our wether (and companion to Shaun in the past) began to act as if he had colic. I rang the vet and was advised to keep him walking and get him to drink water. So despite having a very painful stomach and being depressed I spent many hours following the poor boy and keeping him moving and drinking for two days (my partner and daughter took many shifts also). On the second day I drove over to a nearby town to get some pain killer for him (against doctors orders, but we do what we have to), I injected him, but it seemed to have little effect. On the third morning we decided to take him to the vet, so my daughter and partner got my little car ready to cart a full grown sheep (tarp on the floor and bedding towels) then we all spent an hour catching Sid and moving him into the car. We had to lift him in, which did not make my stomach happy at all, and he had no fight in him at all once he was in the car.
My daughter and I drove to the vet surgery, a trip of two hours, and unloaded poor Sid into their yards. He was in so much pain he didn’t seem to care what happened to him. After a few hours and many examinations, the wonderful vet discovered that he had a bladder stone and had not urinated for two days (I felt so bad about trying to make him drink). She gave us the option of putting him down as the operation to fix this is very dangerous and the recovery is long and involves a lot of nursing (oh and expensive). I just couldn’t imagine life at the humpy without Sid; his single minded attention to getting his food, his demands for a chin scratch and his afternoon greetings to my partner when he came home from work (to the tune of pleas for more food). We decided to give him a chance at surviving and said go ahead.
We went home then and left him to be operated on. The vet rang much later that day to say he had survived the operation but she had been forced to put in a stint to drain urine. Sid had to stay in hospital for a further two weeks, before coming home to be nursed by my daughter and I.
This is where the sex change comes in; the stint bypasses the urethra and penis altogether and exits the body in roughly the same place as it does in female sheep. Sid now pees like a cat; the urine squirts out in a stream behind him. We try not to stand behind him in good clothes these days.
Sheep and goats of the male persuasion seem to be prone to bladder stones if they have a high grain diet. We did not know this previously and had fed poor Sid many grain based meals in the past. He has been confined to hay and chaff since the operation though. Apparently he is very likely to suffer from this again so we keep a close eye on him to be sure he is peeing.
His post operative care consisted of bathing the operation wound twice a day to remove built up urine dribble, putting paw paw ointment on the existing rain scald and spraying pink stuff around (but not on) the wound to discourage flies. In the middle of his recovery we had to evacuate the animals to my Mum’s place because of a bush fire. This set back his recovery a lot because of the stress of moving and because he and his friends escaped their pen and decided to walk home. They made it to my uncles house and had to be collected from there. Eventually the scabs dropped off and the wound healed, and now we only inspect and wash the site about once a week. We still watch him closely to be sure he is peeing though.
The vet seems to think he will last another two years, we hope he does, we love our Sid. Our main concern now is making sure he has a good life in the time he has left. He is living with the rest of the sheep herd (sheep are very social and need constant companionship), and seems to be enjoying life again.
The time has come to bite the bullet and get a new fridge. At the moment we have an aged gas fridge gifted to us by my partner’s uncle. It is at least 30 years old and doesn’t really keep anything cool any more. It is capricious about keeping things frozen and seems to find amusement in allowing greens to turn to slime overnight.
We need to do something about the fridge; which leaves us with two options. We can buy a new gas fridge at the cost of around $2000 plus ongoing gas costs…or we can spend around $15000 on an upgraded solar system and get an electric fridge. Our current solar system can not produce enough power to run a fridge.
The gas stove seems to be the cheaper option, but the solar system upgrade also has other advantages. We have needed new storage batteries for a very long time as the old batteries are over 15 years of age and like to give the fridge a run for it’s money in the capriciousness grand finals. The extra electricity can be used to run our various pumps and filters on the ever increasing fish tank collection and means we can literally turn on the fan whenever we want to…without checking the battery charge levels first (an almost mythical luxury here).
We decided, eventually, after much argument and discussion (in which fan use figured heavily), to go for the solar upgrade option. This involves getting a personal loan (something we have been trying to avoid) and many hours of work putting the new system in place.
After securing a personal loan (groan) and shopping around for the best deal, we picked up our new solar system.
The solar panels, batteries and other associated bits have been stored in the shed waiting for time to put them together. Several jobs need to be completed before the new fridge can be installed.
First; the generator needs to be moved closer to the shed so the batteries can be attached to it for charging when there is no sun (they will need to be charged on the generator until the solar panels are connected too).
Second; the batteries need to be arranged in their box in the shed and wired to the regulator and other bits of technology that keep them balanced and operational.
Third; the solar panels need to be connected to each other and then to the batteries (via the regulator).
Fourth; the fridge can be put in the kitchen and turned on. This step involves putting down a cement pad to make sure the fridge is level (our kitchen floor is NOT level).
My partner has done the majority of the work on this project, between working and fixing things I break. He has done a great job getting it all going and is now able to enjoy turning on the fan any time he likes…just in time for winter. Having a fridge that seems to enjoy keeping things cool and having a LOT more freezer space has allowed us to cut our shopping down considerably and we no longer have much food waste. The chooks don’t like this turn of events, but there is a downside to everything.
I have been learning how to get along with my four shaft counterbalance loom (who I call Wanda), she is an old lady who likes her own way. Recently I decided to make a scarf for a friend, my planning for the project went like this; I wanted to use Wanda to make a project, so I needed a four shaft, counterbalance friendly pattern (one that lifts two frames at a time, because counterbalance looms don’t open a big shed when only lifting one frame at a time). My friend reminds me of a Viking Shield Maiden (fierce and determined) so I went looking for Viking weaving patterns. I found one meant for tea towels (ie. much finer fabric than I needed), I decided to give it a go with soft wool rather than cotton as an experiment. Clutching the simple weaving draft, I went looking for wool in my stash to do the job. My friend loves red and black, so that’s what I looked for. I ended up with some black wool/acrylic blend warp and red/purple wool/acrylic blend weft (which means she doesn’t have to hand wash the scarf).
After threading up the warp using the draft… a new skill I am very proud of… I began to weave.
The weaving part of the project took two weeks of after work and evening weaving to complete. The finished scarf is lovely to look at and has a nice texture. I will have to soak it in hair conditioner as it feels slightly course (which often happens with woven yarn). Then it is off to the post office to send it on it’s way to New Zealand.
Every scarf needs a fringe of some kind, so I went looking for something nice to finish the ends. I found a tutorial on making twisted fringes on Youtube (where else?) and gave it a go. I think it came out really well.
By the way; I eventually finished the tea towel warp and ended up with 8 tea towels total from that warp (my calculations were out). I used as many treadle patterns as I could think of and a variety of cotton yarns I found in my stash as weft.
Lately I have developed an interest in aquaponics; the art and science of growing vegetables in a hydroponic system using fish waste (poop and dirty water) as the fertiliser and growing fish in an aquaculture system using plants to clean the water (hence the name). For years I have been against hydroponic growing; I have always believed that the plants do not contain all of the micro-nutrients we need as they rely on a chemical mix for food and it is wasteful when it comes to water. The idea of using the water fish live in to feed plants really made sense to me when I read about it; the fish poop has many living bacteria and lots of micro-nutrients (depending on what the fish are eating of course) and the nitrite (from ammonia produced by the fish) is converted to nitrates by bacteria in the system. The nitrates are then used by the plants to grow.
It seems to me that this is close to the natural system; fish living in a farm dam rely on the plant life in the same dam to clean the water for them and the plants love the nitrates the fish provide…isn’t nature amazing?
I have done a fair bit of research and reading about setting up a system;
To build a simple seat-of-the-pants system you need; a tub to hold fish (big enough to house the fish you plan to put in it), a tub to grow plants in soil-less media (at least 30cm deep) and a way to move water from the fish tank to the grow tub and back again. The two kinds of bacteria needed to make the system work will apparently colonize on their own if the system is operated for a month or so with no fish in it (I will have to put fish food in though, to attract the bacteria).
After looking at some kits for complete set ups at home, I decided to try a cheaper (much cheaper) small system first to see if I liked it.
A trip to town yielded two tubs, and an online shopping session yielded a bag of growing media (clay balls) and a small, cheap solar pump.
An hour or so of fussing around and I have a small aquaponics system. Now all I need are some fish.
Recently we have been baby sitting some fish for a friend who is moving house and among her collection is a fish affectionately known as A*****e, because he attacks any other fish he lives with. While we have had him here, he has eaten the tail of a silver dollar and killed a crayfish. We put him in an outside tank for the moment, but I will move him to the aquaculture system when it has gone through the start up cycle.
The start up cycle. as I understand it, is a series of biological cycles which make the water livable for fish. First I add fish food which produces ammonia as it rots, this attracts the bacteria that converts the ammonia (toxic to fish) to nitrites (still toxic to fish) which attracts the bacteria that converts nitrites to nitrates (not toxic to fish and available to plants for nutrient). This takes between two and six weeks.
I have added plants (in the form of lettuce and spinach) to the system and have also added water from the indoor fish tanks to provide some nutrient to my baby lettuce while they wait for the cycle to complete. I will post an update when I add the fish to the system.
Warning; the following post will not make sense to anyone without a passing knowledge of weaving or a PhD in physics and Quantum mechanics.
Don’t worry though, there are a lot of pictures. I will put a glossary thingy at the end of the post to try to make sense of it all too. If the word is in bold I have tried to explain it in the glossary.
A friend recently gave me an old floor loom she had been storing in her studio; she had been planning to take up weaving when she retired, but discovered a love and talent for painting instead. The old loom looked like it just needed a bit of TLC to be usable, so home it came (thank you Evelyn).
I looked for a makers mark (so I could identify parts for her), but there isn’t one. I can only assume that she is a hand made loom. After a good clean up with soap and water, a polish with my home made furniture polish and a scrub down with kerosene for the metal parts, I discovered that she really needed her cords replaced and the heddles were a bit too rusty for use.
When I had saved up enough to buy some Texsolv cords and 500 wire heddles, I ordered them online (good old Ebay) and waited for what seemed like forever. While I was waiting I developed an interest in weaving tea towels, they seem so pretty and sophisticated when they are hand made (and I may develop an interest in washing up if I had them), so I found the best deal on very thin (8/2) cotton yarn I could find (still very expensive) and bought some.
When the parts for my loom arrived I spent many hours taking her apart, bit by bit and replacing cords, heddles, heddle guides and making sure everything was adjusted just right. In the process of doing this I discovered a lot about my new loom;
She is a four shaft, counterbalance loom; this means that each of the four sets of heddles on their timber frame is lifted by the actions of a roller, meaning that the opposite set of heddles is lowered at the same time. These looms were the first type of floor loom to be developed, they are the loom version of a Ford Falcon; easy to understand, effective and fixable.
Once the loom was back together, I put on a warp of 8/2 cotton in a standard twill threading. If you are one of those clever people who can read weaving drafts, see my threading below.
After weaving one tea towel (of a possible 4 from the warp I put on), I discovered that 3 threads were wrapped around their heddles, one thread was broken and some of my heddles were back to front…so…off came the warp (well, the towel was cut from the loom and the warp was left wound on but not in the heddles or reed). I fixed up the heddles and re-threaded the heddles in another pattern, this time a pointed twill draft (I figured I may as well try out something new).
The plan is to try the bottom treadle pattern on the last tea towel on this warp. I am enjoying the technicality of weaving, and the variety of patterns I can make on a loom with more than two frames. I hope my explaining hasn’t made it seem very complicated, it really isn’t. There are just some amazingly cool words used for weaving and I am in love with the jargon.
Maker’s mark– a badge or brand that tells you who made the loom…the brand name. Some common brands are Ashford, Grimalka and Louet.
heddles– The string or metal bits that the thread passes through to make the weaving pattern. They are attached to a frame, my loom has 4 frames with 100 heddles on each frame.
Texsolv cords– These cords are made specifically for looms. They have loops along their length so pegs can be used to hold them together.
Weaving draft– The pattern or recipe that weavers use to make a specific pattern on the cloth. Or in my case…the pattern a beginning weaver uses as a jumping off point for all sorts of interesting balls-ups and ‘learning experiences’.
And for a change of pace, I am weaving a little scarf with scraps of hand spun wool on my rigid heddle loom.
We have lived with Spot for nearly 20 years, he is part of our family history. He came to live with us as part of a deal. When we moved from Toowoomba to Tabulam (in the far distant past) we sold all our 240 Volt appliances; one of the people we sold to had a litter of puppies (mongrel terrier crossed with Border collie) and offered to pay a good price for the TV if we took a pup…best trade we ever made.
Spot has been a loyal companion for those 20 years; chasing goanna, but never hurting them, sitting patiently by my side through various crafting adventures, staying in the car while we felled dead trees for fire wood, following at my heels as I walk through the bush. He became such a part of our lives that we thought he would always be there; a permanent fixture.
Last year he began to lose weight and sleep a lot, he also began to forget himself and pee in the house; the vet did an examination and found that he had prostate cancer and doggy dementia. He couldn’t be operated on because of his age and the dementia was untreatable, so we took him home and developed ways to deal with the issues. We never left him alone in the house if we could help it (sometimes this meant leaving someone out of a social event so he would be cared for (I never minded staying home). He was shut in a dog crate at night for the first time in his life because he would get lost at night and become very distressed (his crate was beside my bed so I could hear him if he needed me through the night). We cooked him meals of boiled chicken and rice and fed him 4 times a day when his kidneys and liver began to struggle (much to the disgust of the other dogs). Last week he went back to the vet for his 3 monthly ultrasound and she found that the tumour was now too big for him to be comfortable and that he had had a stroke at some point (which mercifully made it so he felt no pain). I made the hardest decision I have had to make in a long time and made an appointment for the vet to come to our house and end his suffering. Since then we have been keeping him happy and comfortable, just waiting for the inevitable end. Well, yesterday the vet came to give him a gentle passing.
We were all home, except my youngest daughter who doesn’t live here. I held him while the vet gave him an injection and he went quietly to sleep. I cried rivers and the vet had a tear in her eye too (probably in response to my tears). My daughter wrapped him in one of his wool blankets and I carried him out to the hole dug by my partner. We buried him and planted a fig tree over him.
He is buried next to his companion in life; Busy (one of our previous dogs). They were the best of friends in life and when Busy died a decade ago, at 17 years old, I promised to bury Spot with him when the time came.
He has left a huge hole in our lives, it seems he was always with us, always waiting for us to get home from work, always ready to go on an adventure with us. I will miss him more than I can say.
When I think about the relationship between old dogs and their humans I can’t help but think that the relationship lasts longer than some marriages; we spend more time with our dog than with our partner (or is that just me?) and I certainly talked to Spot more than I talk to my partner. There is a deep level of understanding built in that time; he always knew when I needed someone to sit close to me and listen and I always knew when he wanted to go on a walk or play in the yard. He knew what we were thinking a lot of the time too; I remember seeing him sneak off up the road for a little adventure on his own and frowning at him, which caused him to turn right around and come back to the house.
This is just a memorial post, for me more than anyone else, full of photos and memories, to remind me that we shared something very special and that is worth the pain losing him has caused; deep love and connection allow us to feel so much joy, and lead to so much pain when it ends.
It was worth the pain of losing you to know you old friend.
The craft room has filled up again. I know I said I wouldn’t let it, but I did. I didn’t even acquire any more fleeces! The jam up is all things that need to be stored elsewhere or just go to the various places rubbish goes in our house (compost, chook pen, recycling, dump or second hand store). So today is the day for making a start…again.
I have been spinning a little bit in the last few months, but obviously not enough, because I still have bins full of fleece. The fleece is the biggest space-taker in the craft room, I really need a better way to store it. Second place in the space-taker competition is the many bags of rags, old sheets, t-shirts, etc that are jamming up the shelves waiting to become something. Half way through the cleaning out process I decided to make piles of rag rugs with the multiple shopping bags full of fabric scraps left over from sewing projects. I warped up the loom and wove a quick rug for Freida to sleep on (look out for a later post on weaving rag rugs on a loom).
On the loom
Finished mat on the floor
Of course, she chooses to sleep on the pavers instead
In an attempt to make some more space I sold my second spinning wheel and moved all the looms, except the one I am using to the shed (where they will be eaten by white ants no doubt). I also packed about 7 boxes of second hand store bound boxes into the car and made a special trip to town to make sure they didn’t end up back in the craft room.
There is a little bit more space in there now, but I think I had better get making and crafting, especially spinning and weaving.
As part of our house planning adventure we have had to have a soil test done on the house site. This is quite an expensive exercise, but it is essential for council approval. As well as ticking off another box for council, this test will give us information about how reactive our soil is (this just means how much it swells or moves during rain or extra dry conditions) and will help us plan the foundation design. We are hoping for class A soil (which is of course the most stable classification) because this will make our foundation designs simpler and less expensive.
The soil test guy came out to the humpy a little late (even with Google Maps we can be a bit hard to find) but happy and friendly. He was met by four dogs, a sheep and various screeches from inside, which he took in his stride. I showed him the site and he paced it all out, marking the drilling spots with a neat little orange cone.
The drill rig on his ute was fascinating to watch and he was very professional. He even made some piles of soil at different depths for me to see the difference in soil types.
He also made mud balls for me to see if we had enough clay for cob mixes.
Eventually the test came back, and guess what? We have a P rating. Yes; that is P for problem site. The most expensive rating when it comes to building, because now we will have to have a beefed up foundation. Oh well, on with the plan, slowly but surely.
We named our property Swallow’s Nest, mainly because I wanted to build my house like swallows do; round and made from earth. I shouldn’t be surprised that a pair of swallows has decided to try building a nest inside the humpy…we did ask for it after all.
Yes, that is a swallow’s bum
There are many legends about swallows bringing luck to a household; they are a symbol of spring and the rain coming (although here I prefer to rely on the Channel Bill Cuckoos to bring the rain), it is believed that a building where they nest will not burn down and it’s occupants will be protected from disease and harm (I found an interesting book about bird myths of the world, if you want to read about swallows go to page 40 of this book).
Personally, I have always been fascinated by the way they build nests; they carry a cob mix of mud, hair, straw and anything else they can pick up in their beaks and build a tiny cob cottage to raise their young in. They work all day every day on their project and have it finished within a few days. We had them nesting on the verandah of our previous house and I loved to watch them repair the nest every spring and reline it with soft stuff like feathers and dog hair. The babies seemed to hatch so quickly and then to grow even faster. The first flight of each clutch was always an exciting time for the whole household. When we moved from that house, the next occupant knocked down the nest and put up rubber snakes to deter them (he didn’t like the mess they make, and yes, they do make a mess), he eventually killed them because they wouldn’t leave their ancestral home. When I heard this , I cried for days. Over the decade we were at that house the swallows had become family, we knew each one and we loved them all. I imagined that they must have felt betrayed by us for not protecting their home. So when the young couple arrived here this year and wanted to build their house inside the humpy I was ecstatic (although we will be taking steps to reduce the mess).
First we need to put up a shelf to stop bits of cob dropping through to the floor. At the moment we have a bucket under the area where most of the mud is dropping. Then we will have to make sure the nearby furniture and book shelves have cloth covers over them as protection from poop and dropped mud.
Dropped cob from the construction site.
The short term fix; a bucket to catch cob mix
When the eggs hatch (after 21 days) one of the parents will fly out with the egg shell and drop it away from the nest. Finding an egg shell is often the first clue that you have babies. For the first week, mum (and dad, to a lesser degree) will bundle up the poop in neat white packages and fly them away from the nest too. After the new babies learn to stick their bum over the edge of the nest is when the most mess is made though; the babies will poop continually and make streaky messy, smelly marks on everything. We are hoping that a shelf under the nest will catch most of this poop and can be occasionally scraped clean (between clutches probably).
If this is going to become a yearly event, and it will if they manage to raise a clutch or two in the nest, we will have to look at arranging the furniture so the whole thing is easier to clean. We are a little worried about the position they have chosen being close to a known antechinus highway, but they will just have to take their chances, unless we can figure out a way to block access (perhaps a privacy screen?).
I will try to set up my trail camera to take photos of the build and clutch raising as it progresses. It may be difficult once the shelf is in place though. At this early stage of building it is easy for them to decide to go somewhere else, so we are hoping that the shelf building doesn’t frighten them away.
The shelf is up. Now to see if they come back…
They came back and continue to build their nest. I am busily trying to think of a way to block off access to the nest by the antechinus. No ideas that are workable so far though. I have decided to try setting up the trail camera this afternoon.
Well the trail cam idea did not work out at all; the photos are just too blurry to be useful. My daughter did climb up and take some photos of our new babies though.
The babies are fine and the antechinus don’t seem to be able to get them. The babies are loud and very sweet at the moment. Let the mess making begin.