Monday, 29 October 2012

Spindles and Spinning

Have you ever tried spinning fibre on a wheel or on a spindle?  It is a very relaxing hobby that fills me with a sense of satisfaction that I have taken something from its raw state right through to a knitted or crocheted item of use.

A friend in the Middle East taught me how to spin on a spindle using a variety of wools as each can be very different.  Some have a very short staple and are more difficult to spin without breaking the thread, and others have a very long staple.  The staple is found by pulling apart some fleece and seeing how long the tiny hairs are.  Practising with a variety of fibres will soon reveal which suits you best.

This is my collection of spindles.  Left to right they are an 'Ashford Beginners Spindle which is the one I was taught how to spin on, next is a 'Golding' considered by many to be the cream of the spindle crop, the next two are Turkish spindles from the souks in Qatar and the last one is an antique Turkish spindle my husband bought me in Izmir, Turkey.

This is where they usually live, in my bedroom as decoration on my dresser.  I think it's past time they were bought out and put to use again.

During my first few lessons on spinning I was told how relaxing spinning was and I can tell you that for those first initial weeks I was really doubting that this was the absolute truth.  Sorry Tracy :)

When you first start you are learning how to draft the fibre, spin the spindle and drop it but without breaking the spun yarn thread and smashing your spindle on the floor.  The 'park and draft' method helps and I would recommend any beginner to look up how to do this first.  You'll find videos on Youtube.  Basically you draft some of the fibre and spin that bit then 'park' the spindle between your knees while you draft the next bit.  Eventually you will be able to keep your spindle spinning while you are drafting and all of a sudden you've got it!  

The photo above is part of a display in one of the shopping centres in Doha, Qatar where they were showing traditional life in an Arabic country over the generations.

Spinning is a quiet and mesmerising hobby that relaxes the body and mind, a bit like an active meditation.  I am at a place where I can now admit that this is true.  It is also very portable as it will fit in your handbag, and a few minutes here and there throughout the day can amount to quite a lot of hand-spun yarn in a just few days.

I have kept my very first skein of yarn that I spun, plied and formed into a usable yarn, although I use the word 'usable' very loosely.  Any spinners will tell you that it is unbalance, over spun in places and under spun in others, but I like it as a reminder of how far I've come.  This is it on the spindle.

And this photo shows the completed skein after it was plied, washed and dried.  You can see it is has come out looking better than first though when viewing it on the spindle, however I won't ever knit it into anything, it is just 'souvenir' spinning now and I'm kind of attached to it.

Do you spin, either on a spindle or a wheel?

Friday, 26 October 2012

Warning - Rant Ahead!

Dear readers,

I'm taking this opportunity to get on my soap box for just a minute or two and I hope that you will join me up here.  I promise it won't hurt much.

Please consider signing the petition at asking that Coles (and Woolworths) increase the price of their generic branded milk so that our dairy farmers get a fair price for their milk and can support their families.  Click here to go to the petition.  

Even if you don't live in Queensland or Australia you can join with me and send a message that you don't agree with local farmers being forced out of their livelihood to satisfy a price war between the big supermarkets.  (Which is only there to lure us in as customers.)  I'm sure that there are farmers in your area who are suffering a similar fate.

In Queensland alone 45 dairies have had to shut down and leave the industry since this price war began in January 2011.  That average is 1 dairy every 2 weeks!!  Farmers and their families are being pushed to the brink, striving to run their businesses and make ends meet.  Farmers are hard working men and women trying to support their families just like you and I, often on farms that have been in their family for generations.  

When dairy farms close down it doesn't just affect the farmers, it also affects a large number of regional and urban towns with job losses in all the businesses our dairy farmers support.  Vets, feed lots, fuel companies, machinery sales, mechanics, tyre companies, fertiliser companies, and the workers associated with these companies.  Other small businesses like local contractors, fencers, hay cutters & carters, farm hands and their families are also affected.  As with nearly everything in life there is a ripple effect of consequences to our actions.

What can we do now?  Obviously this petition is not going to make a difference anytime soon.  These things take time before the effect is realised and put into place so in the mean time try to buy dairy products, or at the very least your milk, branded from a small dairy company local to where you live.  IGA supermarkets support their local industry and business but if you shop at Coles and Woolworths and don't want to change then look for the local dairy company products in store there too.  If you don't see any ask if they can get them in.  The more people asking the more likely that they will take the idea into consideration.  

The best way to send a message is through your wallet or purse.  If you sign the petition but still buy the cheaper milk when you shop then that is where the profit figures will show in the large supermarket chains.  That is the petition they read.  

Hopping off my soap box now.


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Free e-Books and Magazines

Every so often I blog about some free e-Books that I have come across and think the readers of Monarch Place might also like.  This is another one of those posts.

If you have never delved into the world of e-Books before and think that because you don't have one of those new 'fandangled Kindle things' or another type of e-reader, don't dismiss the idea quite so quickly.

E-books can be read on many devices, one of which is the computer you are most likely reading this post from right now.  You can also download them onto smart phones and iPads and other tablets.

I subscribe to an emailed newsletter from 'Interweave' and this month they are highlighting some free e-magazines.  Just click on the link in the names of these books to go to the page and download them.

This one is Sensational Knit and Crochet patterns.
I particularly like the cabled scarf in this book and can see that in my knitting future.

I like the look of this free e-booklet on Tunisian Crochet patterns and tips.

I'm basically a knitter but I have been known to crochet from time to time.  I'm not great at it but wouldn't mind getting better and I have always been interested in learning Tunisian crochet because I like the linen weave look it gives.

Do you spin?  I learnt on a drop spindle when I was living in Qatar in the Middle East and was told how relaxing it was.  Well it certainly doesn't start out that way but as you go along and get better at drafting and spinning it really is a very relaxing pass time.

I haven't done much of it lately but I think this little book on 'Drop Spindle Spinning' might just give me the nudge I need to dust off my spindles and use them for more than just decoration.

And for any quilters out there or beginner quilters here is a handy book on Free-Motion Machine Quilting Techniques plus a few other tips and tricks.

This 'Sewing for Beginners' book I've put in here for my daughter, and others like her, who have maybe just bought their first sewing machine or are relearning the basics of sewing.

I taught her how to sew when she was growing up and as a teenager how to do basic mending, hem her jeans and make simple garments but a refresher course is never a bad thing.

Now she has a baby of her own and her interest in sewing has rekindled as she learns to sew for her own family.

These last few are from the Kindle Store and as you can see are Kindle-reader books but if you have an Amazon account you can still download these to your computer and read them on there.  When you click to buy one (they are free remember) you can choose which device it downloads to and one of the options is 'transfer via computer'.

At the time of publishing this blog post these books are offered free on Amazon but they can and do change, sometimes quite quickly.  As with many free items, these are most likely a limited offer.

How to Utilize Vegetable Superfoods for Health, Book 2.
Victoria Lancer talks about superfoods that are packed with nutrients to help fight diseases

Live Organic - Information on organic cleaning solutions, chemical-free clothing, natural foods and organic plants and flowers.

A Step by Step guide to home canning
This one looked particularly interesting as I've noticed more and more people going back to preserving their own foods.

The blurb about the book reads.......
This guide is intended to provide you with the essential information to make your first small jars in a safe and enjoyable way. It will guide you through all stages from preparation to storage of your products.

You will discover the principles of conservation for different types of food, the benefits of home canning, the recommended methods as well as the ones to avoid.

Then you will learn the two proper methods of treatment: the boiling water bath and the pressure canning methods. You will find a list of essential equipment and the detailed steps for a successful canning experience.

And finally some light entertaining reading 'Letters of a Woman Homesteader'

Book Blurb.......

Grade 7 Up–After deciding that city life as a laundress wasn't for her, Elinore Pruitt, a young widowed mother, accepted an offer to assist with a ranch in Wyoming, work that she found exceedingly more rewarding. In this delightful collection of letters, she describes these experiences to her former employer, Mrs. Coney. Pruitt's charming descriptions of work, travels, neighbors, animals, land and sky have an authentic feel. The West comes alive, and everyday life becomes captivating. Her writing is clear, witty, and entertaining. The 26 letters are brief and tell about her life on the ranch in the early 1900s. The author frequently and unnecessarily apologizes for being too wordy; she begs forgiveness for many "faults," like being forgetful, ungrateful, inconsistent and indifferent, all without apparent cause. On occasion, language reflects the racial prejudice of the time. Many times, Pruitt attempts to portray the culturally diverse characters she meets by writing their various dialects as they sound.

I hope you find something here that you are interested in and enjoy some reading time or learning a new technique.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Purple People Eater - Knitting

Yay it's finally finished!  Introducing my 'Purple People Eater', a big, sloppy, comfortable sweater knit by your's truly.  It was the look I was going for but slightly bigger under the arms than necessary.

I used a very unusual pattern for this project called the "Incredible Custom-fit Raglan" by Pam Costello.  Pam has kindly offered this pattern up for free so if you are interested click on the link above and check it out. However, it's not so much a pattern but a recipe to create your own sweater, cardigan, vest etc and you modify it as you go to suit your own tastes.

On Ravelry it is amazing to see all the different projects people have created from just this one pattern.  They range from baby sizes all the way up to very large sweaters like mine and all because it is done by taking your body measurements and adjusting stitches to suit.

I decided to knit the entire sweater in stockinette as I wanted to just knit away without much thinking after work at night, but you could incorporate a pattern or cables to make it more interesting.  I did a simple ribbed band for the bottom to draw it in because it was so baggy, and easy rolled hems on the sleeves and neckline.

The yarn is Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino yarn and it was lovely to knit with but even more gorgeous now that it has been washed and blocked.  However if you look carefully at the photos you will see little knitting sins that this yarn just emphasises so a lesson to be learnt from this is to always hide your yarn joins in the seams.

I'm off to do some stash diving and searching through Ravelry's pattern database for my next project.  It will have to be something smaller and cooler to knit now that Summer is on it's way as I don't like to have heavy woollen things draped across my lap at this time of the year.

Now that the sweater is finished I have a severe case of 'cast-on-itis'.


Monday, 15 October 2012

Saving Seeds

It seems I have gardened all my life, and kept a vegetable garden for most of that time too.  I was bought up in a family where my mother was always pottering around the garden and as a child I would sneak out into the vegetable garden and hide behind the rows of peas and nibble away.

My grandparents lived on an acre of land in a small country town and they grew every kind of fruit tree and vine you can think of.  Grandma made all her own jams and relishes and preserved fruit each season to last them through until the next growing season.  I have memories of having very purple feet as I climbed the mulberry tree to snack away on delicious sweet mulberries.

Despite all my gardening and life experience, I've never had a lot of luck with raising seeds in trays because I let them dry out and they died, and while most of the ones planted directly in the garden sprouted and survived, others were carted away by the ants, so saving my own seeds was something I haven't done very much of in the past.  I had however given it some thought, read about others who recommend this practice and I knew it would save me money but I still favoured buying punets of seedlings.  I guess I'm a bit impatient and like to see results quickly.

However just recently I decided that this was an area of gardening that I needed to upskill myself in and like most things, when you put your mind to it, finally success is mine!

These Marigold seedlings were raised from seed straight from the dried flower head in the garden bed and into the seed trays.  A few weeks later and they are now ready to go back into the vegetable beds as an insect deterrent.

These tomato plants sprung up out of the compost and I transplanted them straight into the garden and they are growing beautifully.  These are also the tomato plants that I am experimenting with trench planting in this post here.  I think they are doing very well.  I wonder what type of tomatoes they are?

I have also saved all these seeds from this years crop of Sweet Peas.  I am drying them and will try replanting them for next year.

This is a really good method of drying your tomato seeds.  I must admit I have tried this before and failed but with my new found confidence in seed raising I thought it was a good idea to have another go.  Never give up right?

You simply slice your tomatoes onto some paper towel and let them dry.  When you are ready to plant them you plant the seeds paper towel and all.  If you spread the seeds evenly along the paper when drying, the seedlings should shoot evenly spaced and you don't have to separate them out and possibly damage their delicate roots.

And while we are talking gardening I thought I would give you an update on the lettuce basket too.

It's only 3 1/2 weeks since planting but here it is looking fabulous and healthy and must be high enough that the bugs can't find it as I haven't used any of my home made sprays on it at all. Who wouldn't want to get one of these as a gift for Christmas?  The lettuce is just at the stage where I can now start to pick leaves for salads.  There are only 3 of us to cook for in our family now (well most nights) so one basket should be enough but I would recommend two baskets if you have a larger family.

So if you have ever been a bit reluctant to save your own seeds why not give it another go?  What have you got to lose except the opportunity to save some money on those store raised seedlings.


Thursday, 11 October 2012

Ah!! the Busyness of Life

Sorry I haven't got a post for you today I've been "Flat out like a lizard drinking" to use an Aussie phrase that my Dad often used.  I'll be back soon.


Friday, 5 October 2012

A Head Start on Christmas

I have been diligent to put my plan into action and have made a start on making some of the gifts I will be giving to friends and family come Christmas.  Usually I don't get started until I'm nearly out of time, so it feels good to know that this year I am more organised.

I love Christmas baking.  We have developed some traditions in our family and as the kids have grown older they still like to retain those traditions as a lead up to our Christmas celebration each year. Making and decorating gingerbread men and houses is one of these, decorating the house inside and outside and of course everyone has to be present to decorate the tree all together on 1st December or as close as possible to it.  Being organised with my gift making will allow a much more relaxed time for the other traditions, and enable us to enjoy them more.

Since my post on 100 Days until Christmas last week, I have made a start on some items.

These Christmas cards were made in an afternoon and I had forgotten just how relaxing it is to sit quietly and be creative.  I have accumulated quite a lot of craft supplies and particularly scrapbooking and cardmaking supplies, which I don't do as much of these days with working full time outside of the home, so I am trying to use up what I have rather than buying more.

I've made good progress on knitted washcloths.  I knit at night in front of the TV and since I've been on holidays this week I have managed to get quite a few done.  These will go into gift baskets with some homemade soaps and perhaps some natural brushes or knitted scrubbies.  Again I am stash busting and using what I already have.

I also made a couple of batches of soap, some of which is to stock our cupboards as we are getting low but I will use some of these for the soap gift baskets, or individually with a knitted washcloth as a small gift. I still need to make more batches of soap before Christmas and for our own stock pile.  The cream one is Pachouli and Sandalwood and the green one is green clay, lemon and thyme.  Both are a very unisex fragrance and make a good mix in a basket.  I blogged about how to make your own soap and the recipe I use here if you are interested in trying it for yourself.

I also had some potted plants that seriously needed repotting and the cuttings will have grown nicely by Christmas for gifts.  These haven't been designated to any person on my gift list yet but while I was busy potting I thought I may as well make a few extras.  I can always donate them to a charity stall if they are not used as gifts.

How are your Christmas preparations coming along?  Do you make some of the gifts you give?


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Nana's Brag Book

Oh Happy Days!  Our grandson has just turned one year old and there was a party to celebrate the occasion.

One is such a lovely age in a child's life. He is walking, just starting to say a few words, gives lots of smiles and spontaneous hugs and has an enquiring mind to know everything about the world around him.

The bubbles were a bit hit with kids and adults alike.
Taylor loves to sing and dance and watches Sesame Street.  In particular he loves Elmo and so a Sesame Street theme was chosen for the decorations.

My daughter is very artsy and creative and she made all the decorations, food and cake for the party herself.  You might remember her nursery art I blogged about here.

I thought I would show some photos of the day as they tell a far clearer story than my words ever could.
Cookie Monster and Elmo Cupcakes
He loves books most of all and so was more than happy that he received quite a few as gifts.
Some more of the food, a nice health choice, rainbow fruit skewers

Having a nice big drink of water after devouring a Cookie Monster cupcake
It was a lovely day and I'm sure everyone who attended had a great time.

A proud and happy Nana, Chez
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