Saturday, 28 May 2011

Sufficiently advanced

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Arthur C. Clarke

Wednesday was Towel Day. Coincidentally it was also my birthday and that of the Boy. I love that my Beloved's birthday is Star Wars Day and ours is Towel Day! While the Boy was delighted with a mountain of Lego, my Beloved indulged me with a Kindle. Wednesday and Thursday were so busy one way or another that I hardly got a chance to play with it, but yesterday and today have been Kindle days. And it is completely indistinguishable from magic. I've become quite blasé about technology - well, the rate of technological advance within my lifetime has been so quick that you do take new things for granted after a while. But the Kindle has had me saying 'this rocks!' so often that I sound like a second-rate character in an American sit-com. It's just so cool! And for the following reasons..

Cool Thing no.1. I can read on the Kindle while knitting (it has to be propped up slightly, but that's okay). This is fundamentally exciting for me! I'm like Nanny Plum but the other way round:

Cool Thing no.2 . Now I can buy and read books instantly on a whim - ah, this may not be so good. Fortunately several other presents from family were Amazon vouchers and money!

Cool Thing no.3. I will never be on holiday in the rain without anything to read again! As long as I'm organised - I have the wi-fi version, not the 3G.

Cool Thing no.4. I can look up interesting/unfamiliar words in a dictionary as I'm reading. Granted I occasionally did this before, either with Chambers perched next to me or looking up on the 'puter. But this brings up definitions on the page I'm reading.

Cool Thing no.5. Changing font-size!

So, a good birthday for me, despite the fact that it was one of Those Birthdays that get you depressed! And bear in mind that I got engaged on one birthday and had a baby on another so I've had some pretty euphoric birthdays to compare it with! These more than make up for the I spent doing one of my Finals..

I'll leave you with a picture of the Boy blowing his candles out while preventing his sister from 'helping':

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

the wind blows

It was a bit blowy yesterday - and obviously anything strong enough to blow chunks off trees is strong enough to wreck my mini-greenhouse. In fact it was in quite a sheltered spot, wedged in next to the playhouse, so it fell over scattering all my seedlings rather than shredding completely. I'm trying to be 'glass half-full' here - I had to dismantle it and fling it in the garage but at least I should be able to put it back together again. However the seedlings took a battering. I just salvaged as much as possible, and put as many as would fit in the playhouse, crossing my fingers that it'd remain standing - it was here when we moved in five years ago and has been rotting gently ever since. It's on its last legs really, and while I was trying to jam the door shut to protect the poor seedlings the door-handle came off, leaving me standing staring at it like a cartoon character!

I couldn't get them all in the playhouse so the rest got put in the garage with the wheely-bin.

Poor plants. The rest of the garden was mostly okay though. I'd put most of the pots jammed together by the windward fence so the only place they could blow was against each other and the fence.

Today the weather is very mixed - I just saw the poor postie being blasted by a heavy shower - but when the sun comes out the garden looks surprisingly cheerful.

My honeysuckle is really taking off now and the nepeta at its base is getting very bushy:

I've been watching some of the coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show and wondering how on earth they make such temporary gardens look so permanent!

This is a phenomenally dull post isn't it? I've just been reading the news - the soft fruit growers were hit really badly by the strong winds. I think I've got off lightly with battered seedlings.

Sunday, 22 May 2011


Oh my, a week without blogging - it was just such a quick week. From the Eurovision Song Contest last Saturday (ah, how I love the Eurovision..) until now has seemed like no time - time flies when you're running round like the proverbial fly, though I can't really recollect what I've been doing, mostly stuff with the kids I suppose, plus the car's MOT and so on. I did a bit of mordanting the other day though before rounding off the week with some dyeing - unseasonal this time, being supermarket blackberries. Mad whim when I was shopping - I'd meant to try wild blackberry dyeing last autumn but didn't get round to it. So that's my blackberry 'soup' above, pretty isn't it? And below is the yarn freshly rinsed and hanging on the kithen tap while I figured out where to hang it to dry, given that it was bucketing down outside again (yes, it's been that kind of week).

I'm completely delighted with the result, it's the most gorgeous pinky lilac, much more intense than I expected. Quite often the colour looks quite strong when wet but as it dries it looks a lot weaker, but this looks hardly any different wet to dry. Water's a funny thing.

I'm so enamoured of this I couldn't stop taking photos of it!

Oh - 'science bit' (to resurrect a prehistoric meme) - as usual I mordanted with alum and cream of tartar. I crushed the blackberries (ha! so satisfying!) , simmered them for about an hour then sieved out the mush and added wet yarn when the dye liquor was cool. Then I brought it back to the boil, before simmering for just over an hour. Then I left it to soak overnight.

It's occurred to me that messing around with natural dyes reminds me a lot of when I was about eight or nine, and my friend Yvonne and I loved the Worst Witch books and used to spend hours down by the burn below her house making 'potions' - pondweed, mud and goodness knows what else mixed up in old bottles.

I'll end with a picture of a few of my results - left to right: horsetails and marigold heads; blackberries; brown onion skins; not sure about the far right one as the label has come off but I think it may have been onion skins too (my first dye attempt).

I'm surprised by the range of colours I've achieved actually. I'm not sure I'm still sticking to the shallows with this now, I may be in up to my knees!

Friday, 13 May 2011

There I was a-digging this hole

Hole in the ground, it was big and sort of... rectangular*.

So yes, I was digging a hole today. The rain stopped so I seized the opportunity, and only moderately reluctantly. It turned out to be quite a lot of work and partway through I had to stop for a coffee and a biscuit in the sunshine.

After something like two hours effort I had managed to remove a layer of turf from a corner of what we generously call a lawn (it's really so small and scruffy) to create a new flower bed. I didn't have anything sensible to edge it with, hence the strange fencing offcuts around the edge. The netting is to keep birds from eating the seed and even more importantly to keep cats from digging it all up. I'm quite proud of how thorough I was in removing as many traces of grass and dandelions from it as possible, but oh boy my legs are aching now. I should really stretch befiore gardening!
To my delight we've got honeysuckle creeping through from next door - I love honeysuckle, I even have honeysuckle perfume. I have a honeysuckle growing on the other side of the garden but this section of fence was rebuilt last summer (hence the fencing offcuts lying around) so it's quite bare so far, but next-door's honeysuckle and, towards the other end, clematis are spreading happily.

* With apologies to Bernard Cribbins, national treasure. One of the things I like to watch on Youtube when I'm feeling low is the Dr Who episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks featuring, among others, Bernard Cribbins being brilliant.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Mixed bag

I'm starting with that just because it's pretty!

I got a postcard this morning:

It's from my parents who are back up in Shetland for a family wedding (congratulations Steven and Emma!) - they know what I like! It's from the Shetland Museum and is titled 'Rowers, ready to spin into yarn c. 1920' A brief explanation found on the RLS website- 'Rowers are what you end up with when you are carding wool for spinning. The wool fibres are carded so as they are all parallel, then by reversing the direction of the cards, these fluffy rolls of wool are made. ' These look to me to be the natural sheep colours - gorgeous aren't they? I love the abstractness of the postcard - I might frame it actually.

Meanwhile in the mini-greenhouse things are growing beautifully. Time to pot on some and plant out others but I'm too busy today - Miss Mouse and I are heading up to the school this afternoon for a 'pre-school session', meeting the other kids who will be in her class when she starts school in August, seeing round the school and so on. Of course she's fairly familiar with the school anyway since she's often been with me when I've been there for the Boy's school stuff - they always do lots of things at that school that can get the parents involved if they want to be. Nevertheless, she's really excited that she's the reason we're going up to the school this time!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

It's an odd hobby

Those are dandelion roots. And I'm sure you know how much fun digging those up can be. It took me ages to dig up a reasonable amount but curiosity made it worthwhile.

I started with a 50g skein of undyed 4-ply wool, mordanted with alum and cream of tartar.

For my dandelion root experiment I used approximately 60g of chopped dandelion root, which I simmered in water for about an hour. Then I added the wool, dry - I should probably wet it first but I always forget. I didn't bother removing the bits of root, deciding that it'd probably be easy enough to pick the bits out of the wool.

I simmered the wool gently for an hour then had a look at the resulting beige and decided it was too boring and I ddn't want another beige. So I added fresh dandelion leaves, unweighed but a big handful which I simmered for another hour then had another look. Still beige though a little more yellowy, so I turned the heat off and let it steep overnight.

The next day I decided it was still just too boring (there's subtle and there's plain dull) so I drained the dandelion liquor and picked out the bits of root and leaf.

And it was time to bring out the big guns in the form of brown onion skins. I'd been saving these all winter and had loads so stewed up a bagful for an hour.

Instant colour! Gotta love onion skins. I simmered the wool in the onion skin juice for an hour (onion skins removed this time as slimey onion skin is a pain to pick out of the wool) then allowed it to cool and left it overnight.

And here it is, still damp, on the washing-line. Glorious rich colour..

.. and partially dry, still a rich rusty gold.

And the result! The skein is a bit untidy because partway through simmering the wool in the onion dye I snipped a length of wool for a little afterdip experiment. I cut the snipped length in half and made up two jam-jars of afterdip - one acid (white vinegar diluted with water) and one alkaline (2tsp of soda-crystals dissolved in water). In the picture below you see the strand results on the lolly-stick. The left-hand one is from the alkali afterdip and the right-hand one is the acid one, which as you can just about see is a bit yellower.

Friday, 6 May 2011


Today was meant to be a dye post. Yesterday I started dyeing with dandelion root for no other reason than curiosity as I'd never tried dyeing with roots before. But it was only looking like a boring beige so I added dandelion leaves to see what happened - and now it's another boring beige! So I'm just stewing up some onion skins (I've been saving them all winter!) to overdye the beige and see if I can perk it up a bit. But for today I have nothing to show for my efforts so I'll show you some of my favourite pictures from Tuesday when Miss Mouse and I took a quick trip to Kittochside (that is, the National Museum of Rural Life) to see how spring is doing on the farm.

All my pictures of this calf are blurred because he kept stretching towards us - the Ayrshire calves at Kittochside are so friendly. They get used to lots of visitors and love the attention.

And the Pyrenean valerian is on its way up (and up - it gets quite tall eventually). There's loads of it there. From what I've read it was a plant that was introduced, presumably for ornamental reasons, by Scottish landowners and did well, so you'll find it on estates and in the planted woodlands of southern Scotland. Kittochside wasn't farmed much after the 1950s and so never underwent the big changes of modernisation that other farms did. As a result the plant life is particularly rich and you get oddities there that perhaps would have been cleared out elsewhere.

And finally the bluebells (or harebells, if you must) are looking gorgeous. *happy sigh*

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Shed Two

You know what I forgot in my shed post? The best shed of all - Percy the Park-Keeper's shed! Who wouldn't want to live there? Okay, in reality it would be freezing cold due to draughts and no insulation, and there'd be no loo or sink, but other than that perfect! I notice there is a little chimney at the back there so presumably he has a wood-burning stove at least!

Miss Mouse loves the Percy the Park-keeper books - and I approve because I love the illustrations. We got this one for £2 in a charity-shop, how lucky was that?

It's birthday month in our household - my Beloved's was yesterday, Star Wars Day, appropriately enough for a geek of his standing. The kids and I made cake:

Mmm, cake. My Beloved is not actually that bothered by cake though he'll no doubt have a slice or two, but it's the principle of the thing - and the fact that I like baking and the kids love helping. The weather has turned wet and cool here after something like a fortnight with no more than a shower which is very unusual here, and the Boy's school is shut as it's a Polling Place (Scottish Parliament elections today as well as the voting reform referendum) so the kids and I are having a lazy day in the house and the garden is enjoying a drink. The cats keep going in and out the kitchen door, convinced each time that the rain they see through the window must be in some way optional, and every time I open the door I get a whiff of green and fresh garden.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Garden

As you may have guessed from the shed post, my garden's been on my mind a lot. Actually my mind (and the rest of me) have been in the garden a lot so there's been no escaping thoughts of it.

There are two reasons for this - 1) the weather has been great and 2) we've been working hard to make the garden more attractive to our cats in the hope that they'll spend more time in our garden and less time messing up our neighbours' garden.

Also it's spring and I've been planting loads and loads and loads of seeds.

Our garden is small - there's a bit of patio, a bit of grass, borders along two sides and a raised bed. Taking up more space are, in order of decreasing size, the kids' trampoline, the playhouse, the mini-greenhouse, the compost bin and the washing-line. This means that attempting to tart the garden up takes a bit of planning - we can't just shove a new plant or feature into a spare space because there just aren't any.

Our efforts to make the garden cat-friendly do seem to be working though. In fact the other morning there were five cats (including our own two) in the garden, studiously ignoring each other and apparently playing what Terry Pratchett calls cat-chess*.

The two nepeta plants we put in last year, nepeta nervosa 'Blue Moon' and nepeta 'Six Hills Giant', have proved more appealing to neighbouring cats than our own (they're just beside the white and ginger cat in that picture), but I'm growing nepeta cataria from seed this year in the hope that it'll appeal more.

Anyway, getting to the point at last, as our little tortoiseshell-and-white cat is particularly attracted to our neighbours' pond we've built a pond of our own. This was quite an epic project for us, despite being such a small pond. It's really just a plastic tub sunk in the ground, but neither of us was really sure what we were doing so our first attempt produced a very small swamp. My Beloved is of the 'ah, sod it, it'll be okay' school of gardening whereas I'm more cautious and, being more of a Hermione by nature, inclined to read up on a subject endlessly before tackling it. Together we usually balance each other out. Our first tub sprang a leak - possibly not surprising as it had previously been used for mixing cement and we'd discovered as we dug the hole for the pond that our garden is full of rubbish. I mean actual rubbish. Like many an archaeologist we discovered pottery when we started digging - only ours was 1980s kitchen tiles. The spot we'd chosen, bearing in mind the limitations of a small garden, is where the one annoyingly mismatched wrong-sized slab was in the patio. So we gain a pond and lose a minor niggle!

We went and bought a new tub, lifted the aquatic plants and so forth out of the old one and put the old tub inside the new tub - in retrospect the other way round would have been more sensible. This time we added gravel after the aquatic compost (as suggested on the compost bag that obviously we didn't read until too late last time) and avoided the 'instant peat-bog' look. Plants and pondweed were replaced and it started looking actually pondlike. A few days on and it's settled and you can actually see into the water. The cats are fascinated by it especially now that insects are being attracted by the marginal plants.

We left the handles on the tub just in case we have to lift it again but if everything looks okay we'll cut them off soon and start planting things in among the pebbles so it looks less temporary. Looking at it as others might see it now I'm feeling faintly embarrassed by how amateur it is, but hey, we can't all be Titchmarshes and from what the books say, ponds always look a bit rubbish until the plants are established!

Inspired by Simone of Linden Grove's 'sowing and growing' list and Mother of Purl's inspiring allotment posts, I think I'll list what I'm growing - it's as well to keep track of these things..

From seed - nepeta cataria, nasturtiums, sweet peas (lots and lots - our neighbour gave us a load of seeds she didn't need), sunflowers (ditto), marigolds both tagetes and calendula for dyeing purposes, anthemis tinctoria for dyeing, night-scented stock. Also strawberry plants from some seeds I found in the garage - I don't know if anything will come up but we already have strawberries in the garden, so these will just be an added bonus if they do.

Plug plants - more marigolds (tagetes I think) , pinks.

Yet to plant - carrots, potatoes, salad things. Buddleia 'Buzz' (dwarf buddleia) ordered. I've ordered some more marigold seeds (calendula 'Lemon Zest') too, because they look pretty and I think this gorgeous flower I photographed at Kittochside a couple of years ago might be Lemon Zest:

And I'm about to cut out of a section of the lawn for a new flower bed so I've got a whole lot of flower seeds to sew for that - poppies, nigella, cornflowers and whatever else I have to hand. I've got my fingers crossed that we'll have a very colourful summer this year!


* See The Unadulterated Cat. Somebody lent me this book last year, I can't remember who (I thought it was my brother but he denies it), and nobody admits to it. It's all very strange, and having read the book I suspect it was a Schrodinger's cat nipping round the corner from next Tuesday to ensure that I have all the important cat behaviour books. One of this morning's cats appears twice in my photos, at both ends of the garden without apparently having moved. Just goes to show, Pratchett knows his cats.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

My first mosaic

It's blossom euphoria time and I've been taking loads of photos of it! So what better subject for my first mosaic? I've admired other people's mosaics but hadn't the foggiest how to do them until somebody (Silverpebble possibly, I know she did lots of gorgeous mosaics of the Splash of Colour pictures) included links and instructions on a blogpost.

Another time I'd upload the pictures in a more sensible order and get the colours more balanced but I'm quite pleased with it nevertheless. Blossom and blue sky - what could be nicer?

Monday, 2 May 2011


It's dyeing time again! As the weather has been so good the dandelions have been blooming in every sense - blooming nuisance in my garden, but I'll admit they brighten it up no end! I didn't dye with dandelions last year or not properly anyway, so this year I planned to take advantage of the proliferation of dandelions in our neck of the woods. I suspected I'd need a fair few for a decent colour and there just weren't enough in the garden so Miss Mouse and I set off on an expedition..

She looks very purposeful there, doesn't she? She was delighted at being allowed to pick flowers for once and we got loads, half a carrier-bag full. When we got home she happily helped me take the stalks off and put them into a measuring jug. When I weighed them I found that we had more than twice the weight of the yarn in dandelion heads so working on the assumption that more is more we boiled the lot up. It was a bit smelly to be honest - nothing like the boiled cabbage of last year, but a bit swampy-smelling. Thank goodness for good weather and having the kitchen door open!

So here's the ta-da!

As is often the case with natural dyeing the ta-da is a muted one - a ta-da if you like. It's a nice pale yellow, maybe slightly stronger than it shows in the photo.

You want a brighter ta-da?

I finished the Boy's socks at last! Yay!