Craft room cleaning challenge part 2

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).

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On the loom

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Finished mat on the floor

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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.

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There is a little bit more space in there now, but I think I had better get making and crafting, especially spinning and weaving.

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Yes, that is all fleece

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So is that

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This is rags waiting to become rugs

 

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making little fulled knitting bags

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I have been spinning a lot lately (whenever there is time), mostly from a coloured merino fleece I picked up  somewhere. The yarn is lovely and fine, but what to do with it all? So I decided to make some little knitting bags; the kind you can hang over your wrist and knit from, or stick your needles into and shove in your handbag when you realise the bus is pulling over at your stop (or is that just me?). I will spin the yarn, knit and full the bags then pop a ball of my yarn and some knitting needles into it and sell my ‘knitting starter kits’ at the markets (offering a free knitting lesson at point of purchase). I don’t know if anyone will take me up on it given the heat at the moment, but we will see.

My little bags don’t really have a pattern, it’s more of a knit-by-feel affair, but I will try to explain the process (with photos of course). First I find some spare homespun wool that I have been wanting to use for something and turn it into a neat little ball by putting it on my yarn swift and winding it off with the ball maker thing.

 

 

I then cast on some stitches, enough to make a decent square. For this bag I used 20 stitches and knitted a square base using garter stitch (knit every row). The square has to be big enough to fit a ball of wool on plus about 40% (to allow for shrinkage when fulling).

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A knitted square. I just love this yarn; caramel alpaca plied with gold thread

I pick up stitches around the sides of the square, trying to pick up the same number as my cast on side. The number of stitches on each side is not really crucial to success, but it does make things neater and easier to finish.

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I knit in rounds to make the sides until the bag is deep enough to hold a ball of wool, bearing in mind that fulling (or felting) makes the piece shrink, so adding about 40% to all measurements.

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My bag is coming together

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Now comes the tricky bit; handles. I have just discovered the Japanese knot bag design, and it suits the knitting bag design I have in mind. All I need to do is knit handles with one being shorter than the other…right?

This photo from the internet shows the design I mean

My little bag is a mini version of the one in the photo (knitted rather than cloth too), so the longer handle only needs to be long enough to loop around the wrist. I knit the handles by casting off until I reach a corner, knit some handle stitches (in this one I made them six stitches wide) then slip those stitches onto a stitch holder. Now I continue casting off until I reach the next corner. I do this all the way around until there are four sets of handle stitches (on stitch holders). Then I knit back and forward on one set of stitches using garter stitch until it is long enough to loop over to the handle stitch set beside it (that is the next set along tracing around the perimeter). I graft the handle onto the handle stitches using the three needle cast off. The other two handle stitch sets are done the same way but this handle is long enough to go over a wrist (plus 40%).

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Now the knitted part of the bag is finished, it is time to full or felt it.

 

 

Fulling is easy; just throw the bag in the washing machine with some detergent (I use shampoo actually) and let it wash for a few minutes. Fibre felts at different rates, so the fulling process may be really fast (if I used Icelandic wool yarn), or it may be very slow (if I used Suffolk wool yarn), but it will felt (as long as the fibre is wool and is not super wash treated). Alpaca is a medium speed felter, so it took about 15 minutes.

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The bags I have made so far in the washing machine ready to felt

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The finished bbag with a ball of wool and needles inside, ready to go. As you can see the bag shrunk quite a bit.

So now it’s back to spinning more wool from that merino fleece.

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Making sourdough bread

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The starter is finally ready to make bread. Sourdough starters take time and feeding to grow a strong and healthy community of yeasts.  Pancakes, muffins, doughnuts and crumpets are all possible before the starter is mature but you have to wait a while before making bread or it simply won’t rise,

I went looking for a simple and (relatively) quick method this time, as part of the reason I don’t make a lot of bread is the time factor, especially while I am working. I found this You Tube video and it is amazingly easy to follow.

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Day seven starter, ready to make bread

The basic recipe

3 cups of flour (plain flour, bread flour, spelt, rye, it doesn’t seem to matter)

1 cup water (plus a little dash more sometimes)

1/2 a teaspoon of salt

Sourdough starter

Just mix the flour, water and salt together into a dough. Watch the You Tube video to get the knead-in-the-bowl technique, it does make things less messy. When the dough is a sticky mass that sort of sticks together cover it and leave sitting on the bench (or in an esky with cooler bricks like she does on the video).

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My sticky mess….er…mass of dough

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Covered over and left on the bench while I go out and rake leaves

After the bread has risen to about double the size of the original lump it is time to knead it a little bit more. Once again I used the knead-in-the-bowl method. It is also time to find a Dutch oven or a big baking dish with a lid (a camp oven would be ideal), you could also use a bread tin for the second rise.

I kneaded the dough for about two minutes then I plonked it out onto a piece of baking paper that had been sprayed with water and lifted it into a bowl to rise…again.

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The big yellow thing is an enameled cast iron Dutch oven, it’s a heavy piece of equipment

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My dough on wet baking paper rising in its bowl

After a few more hours sitting on the bench (covered of course), the dough had risen to roughly double the original size again. I preheated the Dutch oven to about 200 degrees Celsius then put the dough into it, still on the baking paper. I baked the dough for 30 minutes with the lid on the Dutch oven then took the lid off and baked it for another 15 minutes to get a brown crust.

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The final loaf

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Close up of the final loaf

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It made a fine textured, very flavourful bread

Making bread takes time, but not a lot of effort. Most of the action happens in the quiet bowl lurking in the dark corner of the bench. This is one of the easiest methods I have found so far. I think this will be my go-to recipe for this cycle of bread eating at least. Hopefully I can find time to make bread during the working week as it makes lunches so much easier to organise.

Things to do with sourdough starter

I don’t eat a lot of bread, because the rest of my family prefer that foam rubber white stuff. I really don’t like the flavour or texture of white bread so I just do without most of the time. I do like the flavour and texture of sour dough bread and it is really easy to make too. When I am in the mood for bread I make myself a sour dough starter and make bread every few days. I am usually the only one who eats it (besides the chooks that is) but it is still worth the effort. My starters tend to go great for a few months then die from neglect in the back of the fridge when my bread craving passes. I thought I would do a post documenting the process of making a bread starter and making bread using it so the life and inevitable death of yet another starter isn’t in vain.

Making a starter

It’s as easy as mixing up a half cup of bread flour with a half cup of warmish water and leaving it on a kitchen bench (away from insects and critters) covered with a damp tea towel. If you need precise measurements you can find them here, but they really don’t have to be precise. I can see that the discovery of bread came from a happy accident made by a less than fastidious cook at some point in human history; maybe someone left flat bread dough out and forgot about it, decided to use it anyway and discovered that it tastes better that way. So much of our staple foods seem to be created by being left to their own devices.

I have read a few posts about starting the yeast with pineapple juice to kick start the yeast production (something about acidic conditions and extra sugar); I don’t have pineapple, but I do have apple so here we go on another experiment (I just can’t follow a recipe to the letter can I?). Apple juice isn’t particularly acidic but it is sugary, so to counter that I decided to add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (that was sitting in the pantry).

So the starter recipe is;

1/2 cup organic plain flour

1/2 cup apple juice

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Dump it all into a seal-able jar and mix it up well. Leave it on the kitchen bench covered with something.

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Ingredients collected

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The starter all mixed up and ready to go

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Day one

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It can sit up on a shelf away from animals (maybe not flying ones though) next to my sprout jar

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Day three

On day three I start to see bubbles in the mix so I fed it with a quarter of a cup of flour and a dash of water (just enough to keep it liquid). Then back on the shelf it goes. Maybe on day four I can divide the starter and use it to make something (it’s not bubbly enough to make bread yet but maybe some pancakes?).

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Day five…yes, I forgot to take a photo when I fed the starter on day four

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This is a photo of the side of the jar (badly lit), you can see the bubbles go right through the starter

On day five I decide it is time to make the baby starter work for a living (and I hate throwing away half the mix every time I feed it), I decided to make sour dough doughnuts. I have made these from spare starter for a few years now, I  don’t make them often, but often enough to be considered a staple recipe. I use the recipe I found here.

The recipe is in two parts; the first afternoon you mix the basic dough and leave it overnight. The recipe says leave it on the counter, but since one of the ingredients is milk the fridge is a better place for the covered bowl in our hot Australian climate.

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This is the dough mix after sitting in the fridge overnight. You can see that the yeast has done a great job starting the rising process

I totally forgot to take photos of the doughnut making; all I did was spoon the mix into oiled doughnut pans and bake them at about 200 degrees Celsius (the recipe is in Fahrenheit). Then I rolled the little darlings in cinnamon sugar and left them to cool. They didn’t rise as much as I had hoped, but they taste really good.

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Next time I make them I think I will leave them to rise a little in the doughnut pans before cooking. The starter can be moved to the fridge and only taken out to feed it or make something. Bread is the next thing on the menu…..next post.

 

Craft room cleaning challenge

I’m not a hoarder, I just need a bigger craft room.

This holidays I am setting myself the challenge of cleaning out and organising my craft room. At the moment there is so much stuff stacked in there that I literally can’t get into it. So while the family is away I am going to take everything out, sort it and re-organise it all. This will take days and I may need to go to the dump once or twice as a result. So here we go;

First  of all I emptied out the wardrobe affectionately known as ‘The wool cupboard’. I had no idea I had amassed this much fleece…remind me of that when I am tempted to say yes to further offers. There is enough raw wool here to keep me washing and spinning for a couple of years (full time). I want to re-purpose the wool cupboard to hold my market stock and gear, reasoning that there is about the same amount of space in it as there is in my car so if it won’t fit in the cupboard, it won’t fit in the car. Also I won’t be tripping over the market stuff blocking my entrance to the craft room any more.

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This is the pile of feed bags holding raw fleece from my wool cupboard.

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This is the pile of market gear and stock which blocks my entrance to the craft room (yes…the junk in the middle of the room) and results in me putting everything on the pile as I can’t get to the shelves to put it away.

My first move was to hang an old bed base from the ceiling by chains. This creates a rigid hanging shelf to store a lot of stuff (just think about how much stuff you can pile on your bed). The bed base is a single, but it fit really nicely in the space and it’s hung just high enough for me not to bump my head.

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The majority of the raw wool is now in containers on my suspended shelf.

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With the market stuff in the former wool cupboard there is now some floor space to work in.

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Now to start going through the boxes of stray crafting stuff and making use of everything

Cleaning out the craft room is going to be an ongoing project (just like the shed). Given the huge amount of fleece I have unsuspectingly amassed, I think my focus for the near future will be on spinning as much as possible. I can see a huge yarn sale in my future.

Spinning Icelandic wool

For my next adventure into rare and/or old breed wool I decided to give Icelandic a spin (pun intended). I bought about 200g from a lovely lady on Facebook, it arrived as a neat little plait of combed roving with a picture and some breed information on the label. The skein smelled delightfully of sheep; warm, earthy and somehow mouth watering (the artist in this article had the same reaction to the smell of Icelandic wool).

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The good old Vikings seem to have really loved their sheep and took them everywhere they went. It seems that once they landed in Iceland they had very little contact with the wider world (the sheep not the Vikings, they went on to conquer other countries and found more sheep breeds) and the breed has remained ‘unimproved’. The Icelandic is known as the oldest and ‘purest’ breed of sheep because cross breeding has been banned in Iceland for many generations, keeping the genetics the same as they have been for the past 1100 years (except for naturally occurring mutations of course).

The tops in my little plait is a mix of both inner and outer coat (or tog and thel if you prefer) making my yarn a lopi type yarn. Lopi yarn is made by blending both layers of Icelandic fleece together and lightly spinning them to produce a soft, airy but long wearing yarn. The yarn I produced is not particularly loose-spun, I tend to make firmly twisted yarns, but it did blend into a lovely uniform grey and is fairly soft.

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I decided to card the tops again to blend the colours together a little more

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The rolags are very springy and soft

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Icelandic spins up into a hairy yarn. I did try to  spin with less twist, but my instinct is to add more

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I plyed my yarn loosely and ended up with a lovely soft grey yarn

I did discover that Icelandic wool felts very easily; I carried my plait of tops around with me to various locations while I was spinning and it seems that rubbing up against the plastic bag felted some bits of the outside. The felting carded out…thankfully, but it did remind me to be extra careful when washing my finished yarn.

 

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I don’t know whether to sell my yarn on my stall or…

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knit it into something to sell on my stall

 

Producing peace silk- the moths are emerging

After only two weeks of cocooning the moths are beginning to emerge. At the point of writing this I have two male moths with many more to come. Males are easy to identify because they have well formed wings and smaller bellies, they also hold their bottoms in the air and flutter their wings regularly to attract females (they make a sort of twerking motion with their bottoms too). At this point I am just trying to keep the remaining worms fed and find a place for the emerging moths, but I did find I couldn’t resist processing just two of the now empty cocoons.

This is the hole in the end of the cocoon  made by the emerging moth

Many more cocoons waiting to be emptied.

I got so excited that I didn’t take photos, so words will have to do.
First I made sure the cocoons were empty by checking for the hole in the end. Then I heated some water on the stove in an old saucepan. I added a teaspoon of my home made laundry gel (more on this recipe at a later date) which is basically pure soap and washing soda with a few drops of eucalyptus oil. The teaspoon was more than enough for my two cocoons, I will add more cocoons to the next lot I  process.
I let them simmer on  the stove for half an  hour (alongside the steaming veges for tea) then turned the heat off and let the water cool until I could reach in and scoop out the mass of silk. The two cocoons turned into a mass of tangled fibre in no time. Next I rinsed this mass under the tap until all the gel was removed and the yellow colouring had left the strands, I also picked out the left over skin and stuff from the cocoons at the same time. I haven’t organised a frame to stretch the cocoons onto yet so I just spread the fibre out as best I could and left it on the sink drainer to dry.
When it was dry and a bit fluffy I took the opportunity to admire my first bit of peace silk fibre. Then I wacked the little mass on the carders and carded away for a few minutes until I had a passable rolag.

My first silk rolag

A close up of the fibre

Of course my moths are now busy mating and laying eggs for next year.

Next years silk worms.

The whole silkworm story is fascinating; from the huge effect silk has had on world trade, politics and even exploration to the interesting fact that there are at least three genus of silk moth and not all of them eat mulberries and the many myths surrounding the discovery and production of silk.

Here is an interesting article about the effect silk had on world trade in history.

I am finding this journey of discovery very interesting; silk is an amazingly beautiful fibre and like all fibre sources it requires a bank of specialised skills and knowledge to produce. There is so much more left to learn. Once all my moths have emerged and lay eggs I will be experimenting with processing the cocoons, I might even try to unravel some hatched cocoons in the traditional manner and see why it’s not considered to be viable.

Producing peace silk- from eggs to hankies

Lately I have been thinking about learning to spin silk. I bought myself a small lot of beautiful roving and spun it up on my wheel. It was smooth and easy  to spin, it produced a gorgeous, lustrous yarn that took the bright orange dye so well it looked almost glowing. So I decided that silk is my new love (when it comes to fibre) and ordered some cheaper silk hankies, because the roving is anything but cheap.
Me being me, I wanted to do the whole process from scratch, not just buy roving and spin it. I want to be the whole machine, not just a cog in it. First I had to find out the details…

I did my usual research and read heaps of books and articles, watched how-to videos and discovered that the beautiful roving I so badly wanted to make came with a price even bigger than money; the pupa are boiled alive so they don’t damage the cocoons when they emerge as moths.That put me off the whole deal, until I discovered that there is a movement called ‘peace silk’ who’s practitioners let every moth hatch and process the cocoons into silk hankies or slubby (rough) roving.
While the peace silk method does sound better as it doesn’t involve boiling babies it does leave me with another quandary; what to do with all those eggs. If every female moth mates and lays up to 500 eggs, then those eggs will either need to be destroyed or given away. I thought long and hard on the subject and decided that letting the moths emerge and lay eggs then destroying the eggs is more ethical as science does not consider eggs as living things (they are considered to be non-living things with the potential for life) although there is a lot of contention about this classification. Maybe this train of thought is just hair splitting, but I have to form an opinion one way or the other in order to proceed. Who knows, a better method may present itself in the future.

I found a listing on Gum tree for free silkworm eggs so my silkworm adventure began. The eggs came in the mail and as it had been a warm few days they immediately began to hatch. Luckily I had also ordered some silkworm chow (dehydrated mulberry leaf mush) as our mulberry tree was only just beginning to put on leaf. I made up some of the chow and fed the early arrivals.

The new babies are so tiny they are hard to see.

They grew fast, eating day and night until they were in danger of exploding out of their little box. When my tree had full leaf I began to feed them real leaves instead of the mush, they loved it and grew even faster. I found that the worms are more active and healthy when they eat leaves. So began a period of feeding twice a day on a big pile of mulberry leaves.

As you can see there are different ages in this lot. The eggs took a total of two weeks to hatch.

They are voracious eaters

Just when I was congratulating myself on keeping them all going…disaster struck. Stray cattle ate my mulberry tree down to the bare branches (including a very promising crop of fruit). Which left me begging friends and neighbors for leaves from their trees. Luckily this stage is almost at an end as my poor tree is growing more leaves. The worms eat about a shopping bag full of leaves per day, which is not small amount. I think I will have to plant a few more trees to keep up next year.

Some worms began making silk about eight weeks after the first hatching, this is a very long time to stay worms and I can only guess at the cause. Apparently the worms should start to spin after four weeks (or there about), but not having enough to eat and or colder weather can slow down the process. Maybe the silkworm chow was not enough for them, or maybe the weather was too cold. Possibly they have been bred to be worms for longer as they are now considered as pets by some people. Either way, they have begun to spin cocoons, so I built a spinning retreat for them.

My spinning retreat box. The toilet rolls are perfect for worms to spin in.

New residents getting ready to spin.

One worm decided to spin in an already occupied tube, but it’s best not to disturb them once they start to spin.

You can see the sheen on the cocoons

The sheen or glow stays with the yarn

I don’t know why my worms spin yellow cocoons, but apparently it washes out.

So far the silk making adventure has been fun and very satisfying. Once the cocoons hatch and I can process them the learning will really begin.

Making a yarn bowl

What is a yarn bowl? I hear you ask. Well..it’s a decorative piece of knitting or crochet equipment whose sole purpose is to stop the yarn ball from running away under the lounge while you work and getting covered in dust bunnies (and who knows what else in my house).

 Yarn bowls can be made of anything really; wood, clay, plastic, felt, or any number of other materials. The important thing is that they hold the ball securely inside and have a yarn guide that keeps the yarn from getting really tangled as you pull it through.

I pulled these photos of yarn bowls straight from an internet search. Some of them are so pretty.

 While not strictly required for knitting or crochet, they do add a touch of class to the whole thing. I love the look of them and can imagine a row of yarn bowls on a shelf, each with it’s own little ball or cake of yarn sitting patiently in it while I decide what I will knit today, or sitting on a table beside my chair as I effortlessly and smoothly knit Fair Isle patterns without tangles, snarls or swearing.

The ones with lids have the advantage of being more dust proof I suppose, but there is something about seeing your yarn while you work that is so soothing and satisfying.

Home made yarn bowls here we come…

I decided to use what I had in my craft supplies (not really a choice when getting extra materials means driving two hours), I had air dry clay left over from previous projects and it is relatively cheap to buy. Next I needed a template for my bowl (not owning a potting wheel or even knowing how to use one). I found two bowls that might do among my stash.

Air dry clay from my stash

A mat, a bowl, a rolling pin, coffee and a water bottle…I’m set

Oh, and a knife for shaping

Cut a chunk off the clay and mush it up until it’s soft.

Cover my chosen bowl with cling wrap

Roll the clay out flat with the rolling pin and mold it over the bowl.

Cut the spiral shape into the clay (carefully) and be sure to leave a gap wide enough for yarn to pass through

Sand the rough edges off the bowl once it’s dry, especially the spiral bit

Another possible mold

I decided to try molding inside this one

Before sanding the bowl down, you can see how rough the spiral is

Using my new yarn bowls

While I don’t actually need them to knit, or even to keep my yarn from getting tangled, the little yarn bowls are fun and decorative. I think I will make some more to sell at the markets and on Etsy. Maybe I can add paint to them, or use different coloured clay to make them.

New crayons from old

I have been in a real crafting frenzy this week, it’s school holidays and for the first time in almost five years I don’t have uni assignments pending. So I am taking this opportunity to make a heap of stuff for my Etsy store and markets, clean out some of the junk from my craft room and just plain enjoy not having to limit my time on craft stuff to get work stuff done.
When I go back to work (as a teacher this time!!!) I will be back to the daily struggle of trying to find time to do any craft, but for now…let the good times roll.
Today’s offering is making new crayons by melting old ones. I cleaned out the crayon boxes at school and ended up bringing home a bucket full of broken old crayons and pastels. They have been sitting in my craft room for a term or two and today is the day I do something about it.

Lots of old crayons.
First the research;  
I found instructions for melting them directly into ice cube trays.
How to make crayons from scratch.
How to make play dough using old crayons.
How to make candles from old crayons.
How to make lip gloss from old crayons.
There is so much you can do with broken crayons that I started to wish I had more of them. 
First I tried to melt them in a silicone mold to make cute little duck shaped crayons. That’s when I discovered that different brands and colours have a different melting point. Some melted and some didn’t. So I melted them in a double boiler to avoid the lumpy duck outcome.

Some melt faster than others.

I spooned the melted wax into my duck mold and waited…
The resulting crayons were cute but a bit brittle, so I decided to add a little bit of beeswax to each melt to give the crayons a softer, smoother texture.

My duck mold has seen a lot of wax today
I added grated beeswax to the pot

That did the trick and the crayons were lovely little coloured ducks. My next refinement was so obvious I completely missed it while perusing all those tutorials; I decided to crush the crayons before plonking them in the double boiler to melt. I put them into a plastic bag and whacked them with a hammer until they were mush. So satisfying, and they melted faster and a lot more evenly.

My crayon crushing system

More colours.

I wiped the pot out between colours, but a lot of staining remained, this made the colour outcome somewhat…exciting and unpredictable. Just the way I like it.

My end result is some cute, but not really crisp and neat, duck crayons.

Some of my finished ducks. They are fairly neat on one side but very rough on the other.

But they work.

I am thinking of making up little packs of recycled crayons for the markets and my Etsy shop. What do you think? I have no idea what to charge for them, given that they are a waste resource, but someone may as well be using them rather than just throwing them in the bin.
I am also thinking that this activity might be fun to do with the kids at school, we could make little hearts for Mother’s Day.

I wonder what else I can make from these old crayons?