That Gardening Review Post I Wrote Before the Hail Storm Last Year

I visited Cloudehill Gardens in the Dandenongs for the first time last year. It occurred to me afterwards that, while it’s a lot larger and more elaborate than my garden, the lie of the land is has similarities. Mine is also a tiered slope, though it faces east not south. Cloudehill also has its buildings on the middle-to-top tier, like mine. Their practical gardens are higher up while decorative ones are lower, as they are in mine… sort of.

Every corner of Cloudehill has a purpose or theme. It got me thinking about some of the ‘dead’ zones here. While weeding the upper embankment a few months back I paused to rest and realised it was a nice place to sit and look down on our yard. Since then I’ve been thinking of putting some kind of rustic seat up there.

I bought Jackie French’s “Backyard Sustainability” at Cloudehill’s garden shop and read-skimmed it over the following weekend. (You know, where you skip the bits not relevant to your climate/garden/ambitions.) I’ve been filled with inspiration and enthusiasm for growing food plants since. Growing more food plants, that is.

After looking through my gardening scrapbook, updating my garden plan on the computer, and plotting future projects, I made some changes to my garden ambitions.

The kitchen garden:

Jackie advocates planting veges all mingled together, forgetting about succession planting and filling the gap the moment something is removed so that weeds don’t get much chance to establish. She claims to spend only about two days a year, bar harvesting, on the garden. I suspect that also doesn’t include making compost, applying it and mulch, buying mulch and seedlings (or raising seedlings), watering, making and applying powdery mildew spray or other natural remedies, putting shade cloth on and off during searingly hot days, and writing blog posts about it all. But still… ways to build a garden with the philosophy of less work are worth noting.

Having successfully grown veges in my wicking beds for just over a year (let’s ignore the failures) The three square cheapie wooden beds we put in the cat run for Slinky to poo in are the most abundant part of the whole block, overflowing with herbs and unintentional potatoes (I added the soil from the old potato drums when I filled the beds, and despite me removing all sign of spuds they sprang up the next year. Don’t worry, the cat only uses one corner of the beds and we cook the spuds well!) I’ve also been growing radish, basil, parsley and peppermint in polystyrene boxes filled with potting mix, as well as two metal drums of mint and another big post of parsley.

Despite all this, there’s plenty of gravel-covered ground in the cat run that could be used to grow more food. So I’m going to add another two square cheapie beds to make a ‘U’ shape herb bed and move the parsley, chives and mint from the polystyrene boxes and metal drums into them. Then I’ll grow spinach and radish in the boxes. When the weather cools I’ll get another wicking bed.

On top of all that, I want to grow pumpkin out near the lemon tree next spring. But tha’t a while away.

The poolside and shade garden:

All the plants I put in the shade garden are going well. Seven of the ten creeping boobialla plants I put under the trees in the poolside garden are still alive, though not growing as fast as I’d hoped. Still, the faster they grow, the sooner I’ll have to start cutting them back.

Down at the end of the house, where the pool pump is, is another ‘dead’ zone. It floods during heavy rain. The ground level needs lowering. The grass there grows through the fence into the gravel driveway, too. I want to replace the grass with a lower gravel area and a higher garden bed behind a retaining wall, containing cannas. Or ginger.

The native garden:

The day before the hail storm I printed a copy of the plan I used to plant out the native garden and crossed out anything that had died. About 20% has gone. Which is not surprising when I planted them into mulch-covered clay with just a bit of gypsum and native fertiliser, and no watering after the first three months. Only two species died across the board however: correa reflexa and chamomile sunray. Others died in one spot but lived in others. The dry spot under the tea tree had the most deaths, but two plants there are thriving. So I know which plants to add more of – and which to avoid. I’ll get some more in next Autumn.

The front garden:

This year we should (hopefully) be able to connect to the sewer system, which means we can cut down two sick trees, plant their replacements, make the garden beds they’ll be part of and finish our driveway. Just waiting for the go ahead… yeah, well they said it would happen in two weeks six months ago, so I’m not holding my breath. If they haven’t given us permission by the beginning of March, I’m going to tackle the tree removal and replacement part.

Also, when the soil is wet and soft enough to dig again we’ll join up the lower garden beds. And some point I’d like to get a barrier type of garden edging in rather than a ditch, but there is so much of it to do that even the cheapest option will be expensive overall. That’s a winter task, anyway.

Since I wrote this post… we’ve put the two new low beds in the cat run and I transplanted parsley and chives. I bought a new mint plant, as the old was looking sad, as well as tarragon, dill, italian parsley and spring onions. I also put a pumpkin plant that was growing spontaneously in a vege bed into one of the old drums, hoping to train it up the cat run supports.

I’d have done more, but it’s been too bloody hot!

Books Read in 2017

It was a year of reading non-fiction, particularly about art. I managed to read more fiction during my five months break. It’s always easier to read it when I’m not writing it.

Steal Like an Artist Austin Kleon
Show Your Work! Austin Kleon
Art Before Breakfast Danny Gregory
Mage Sign Alan Baxter
The Handmaiden’s Tale Margaret Atwood
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact Alison Goodman
The Riddle Alison Croggan
The Crow Alison Croggan
The Singing Alison Croggan
The Mixed Media Artist Seth Apter
Second Skin India Flint
Art as Therapy Alain de Botton
A Journey Through Schmoo Jane Moss (manuscript)
Affluenza Clive Hamilton & Richard Denniss
Gemima Jay Kristoff & Aime Kaufman Denniss
Curing Affluenza Richard Denniss
How Art Can Make You Happy Bridget Watson Payne
Blood & Guts: a Short History of Medicine Roy Porter
Backyard Self-Sufficiency Jackie French

Titles that stood out for me were The Handmaid’s Tale for it’s bleak insights, Backyard Self-Sufficiency for inspiring me to grow more food and Affluenza (despite its flaws) for pointing out things like the reason shops have $10,000 bbqs.

Second Skin was also an inspiring read. But I think I may have reached peak ethical fashion reading. The books coming out now are just repeating everything I’ve read before. Weirdly, I now have a fantasy about writing my own. It will be about how decluttering is a conceit of the affluent and just another retailer ploy to get you to buy more stuff.

The Yearly Overview Post

My craft/art aims for 2017 were to paint more, try new weave structures, and dabble in other hobbies. Yeah, I did all of that. The first I managed because I held weekly art nights in January and February, and then monthly ones for the rest of the year. The second was achieved by doing the workshop with Kay in June. The third included trying basketweaving and mosaics on top of my usual secondary hobbies.

So what did I do?

In January I started the Photo Album Project, finishing the redo of my earliest album and all but the captioning of the 80s to 00s album. I still have lots to do for this, especially the holiday albums.

I made the Graduation Blanket, Pinwheel Tea Towels, Waffleweave Blanket, and Greenery Blanket. I finished the Denim Braided Rug, wove some fabric for the Tapestry Bag and a double weave blocks sampler. At the Ballarat Fibre Forum I learned to weave Summer & Winter. I went on a leftover warp using jape and made the Ikat Leftover Scarf, Scarf of Leftover Colours, the Plaited Twill Scarf, and the Falling Feathers Scarf, and then a thrum using jape and made Thrum Dishcloths, Spring Sampler Scarf, Anaesthetic-Brain Scarf and Thrum-Fringed Scarf. And finally there was my experiment with the Vari Dent Reed, producing three scarves.

My fave was the falling feathers scarf:

Loomwise, I tweaked the design of my Katie Loom, adjusted the height and pedal position of the floor loom and made laser cut heddles for my Vari Dent Reed.

I tried basketweaving at the Guild’s Summer School. But I eventually lost enthusiasm for it due to the non-spontaneous nature of the craft (because you have to pre-soak the fibre) and the wear and tear on my hands. I can see myself using non-soak-requiring materials to make baskets in the future, however.

My fave was the first basket I made at home:

For the Fibre Forum in Ballarat I stitched some embroidery artworks to sell for charity. Including a pair I liked so much I decided to keep them. I’ve not had the courage to try embroidery since eye surgery.

My fave was the Bathing Beauties:

I made a too small Viking Hat, then got the sizing right for the Tapestry Thread Hat, and the Graduated Nalbinding hat.

My fave was the Tapestry Thread Hat:

Paul and I turned an organ into a bar. We also renovated the laundry ourselves.

I had sessions of refashioning early and then later in the year, getting heaps of garments made, fixed or tweaked.

My fave was the red shirt to sleeveless top:

I did a workshop at Bulleen Art and Garden, and was hooked. Aside from the Kookaburra I did there, and the mirror mosaic kit from Bunnings, I went on to make patches for the ventilation holes in the bathroom and entertainment room, and then two mosaic spheres.

My fave was the kookaburra:

Machine knitting:
I did only one project – the Scarf Jacket.

An artist friend came to stay and we made concertina sketchbooks.

I made an owl.

Just before Christmas I made a couple of new pieces.

Of course, this list doesn’t include partially finished or abandoned projects, like the fabric I wove to make a skirt from, the mosaic clock I started or the longstitch embroidery I added dinosaurs to but disliked and threw out. Nor have I included all the gardening I did. I’ve left out artwork, too. I’m going to do a separate post on that.

Looking at all these things I made, I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I got done, especially of weaving. It wasn’t because I took five months off work. I did less craft than usual in that time – just the mosaic and weaving workshop. All my creativity went into home DIY and renovation projects, and gardening.

Setting achievable goals for the year worked. I had a secondary goal of making clothing from handwoven cloth, that I’ve partially achieved (the weaving part mostly, but also a little sewing). Of the new things I tried, basketry was fun but it was mosaics that really got me hooked.

I won’t be attempting to learn new crafts next year, but I will continue to try new weave structures and I’m organising a weaving week with a tutor for a small group of weavers for early next year – the first time I’ve tried something like that. I have an art project in mind, too. Overall, my craft/art aims are pretty much the same as those for 2017: paint more, try new weave structures, dabble in other hobbies.

It’s a Breeze Scarf

So for my next Vari Dent Reed experiment, I tried matching up the heddles that came with the kit rather than using my laser cut ones. For the twisting method I need at least six of the smaller size ones. It could be done with four, but since it makes a lacy effect it’d be a rather mean narrow scarf.

I figured that if I put the 5dpi and 10 dpi half ones together, and threaded every second slot and hole of the 5pi, I’d effectively have four heddles. Or do the same with the 7.5dpi with the 15dpi ones.

How to get an extra two? You might recall that the larger size 15dpi heddle was warped when I opened the kit.

Though my hot water trick lessened the problem, it wasn’t a perfect fix. When putting the half size heddles with the larger, I noticed that the larger one is more than twice the width of the smaller. I figured “what the heck, it’s already ‘broken'” and cut it up. This got rid of the warped end, and gave me two more small heddles.

For the warp I used a grey and white self-striping sock yarn. For the weft I used grey Patonyle.

Neither were sticky, feltable yarns, but I wanted to try another method for keeping the weft in place… Danish medallions:

This worked. It did make it more fiddly, because I had to sew in the ends of each section, but it kept the weft bound together. The resulting scarf is lightweight and lacy and delicious.

And it gave me yet another idea. But first I wanted to make another attempt at a scarf using the chocks. But that, yet again, will have to be another post.

Ocean Swell Scarf

So having had some success with my first idea using my homemade heddles, I threaded the loom to try another. This time I wanted to use the chocks I’d had laser cut at the same time.

Sock yarn had worked very well, but there had been the weft shifting issue. I wondered if using a sticky, feltable wool would help threads stay put. So I warped up the loom with a graduating yarn I bought in Denmark last year. I started with three gaps:

After 20 rows I slid changed the existing chocks with smaller ones, and added little ones where I wanted to grow the new gaps.

After 10 rows I changed them again.

And again…

I kept on this way until I had two gaps, after which I wove 20 rows, then reversed direction. This method took longer than the first, since I was wasn’t leaving gaps between sections of weft. But it was less fiddly because I didn’t have to remove the top of the Vari Dent Reed in order to manipulate the heddles. I just loosened the screws, added and removed chocks and slid the heddles into place.

When I was done, I rubbed the scarf gently between my hands when I washed it, hoping to full the threads into place. They do seem to be staying put. But I wasn’t as happy with the final result. Why? I don’t think the slowly changing colours of the yarn worked as well as the self-striping sock yarn had.

The method worked fine, though, so I want to try it again. But in the meantime I’d had an idea for fixing the wandering weft problem. Also, one of the laser-cut heddles had cracked while I was threading it. Though I’d had spares made, the plastic used in the Ashford ones is clearly much more flexible. I wanted to see if I could modify their heddles to enable me to try the first method again.

I did wrangle a solution, but that’ll have to go in another post.

Twisted Warp Scarf

Some weeks back I posted about the laser-cut heddles I had ordered for the Vari Dent Reed. Of course, as soon as they arrived I immediately threaded the loom and tried my idea. To my relief, having spend a good sum on the heddles, it worked. The result is a featherweight, lacy scarf.

The method is really fast, too, because you’re only weaving a narrow section between the twists.

But I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the integrity of those sections. The first and last shots are inclined to wander, which doesn’t secure the ends as well as I’d like.

Still, it was a start, and proof that the concept had legs. I went on to try another idea, all the while thinking about how to improve the first method. But that will have to be another post…

Briefly Beading

Happy New Year!

I’ve still got a few posts from last year waiting to be published. Aside from this one, there are three weaving posts to come. Better get to it!

Having banned the phone from the bedside table, I’ve noticed some interesting benefits. Aside from an improved memory and sense of calm, I got to looking at the jewellery pinboard hanging over the dressing table. There were pieces on it I didn’t wear or needed altering. That led to a bit of jewellery-making, refashioning and repairing.

In the process, I noticed a bead in my jewellery making supplies that I’d bought at a Viking museaum in Denmark last year. Matching it with some cones led to this very simple choker:

I also saw a resin pendant from a necklace I’d bought on another European work trip. It had been culled a while back because the wire it came on wasn’t comfortable to wear. I noticed the metal in it was copper, and I had a length of copper chain. And some medallions. So I got this:

And the leftover chain was long enough to make a matching bracelet.

Finally, I tackled a more complicated piece. I used the beads from a string I’d culled and some others in my stash to make this:

It was the perfect Christmassy bangle to wear to lunch with my parents.

Bathing Beauties

I finished these months ago, but I didn’t want to post about them until they were framed. Today I finally had all the elements to do that.

I still haven’t had the courage to try embroidery since my eye operation. There’s a fairly complicated WIP waiting beside my tv watching armchair for that moment.

New Loom, New Weaver

Among my closer circle of friends I am the only weaver. When I was a knitter I was the only knitter for a long time, but that changed as I made and remade friends with knitters. Many of those friends are creative, crafty people, too. Sewing is probably the one thing we all have in common, but I am only an occasional sewer.

A friend’s daughter has always been interested in the creative things I do – particularly art and weaving. Last Christmas I gave her a pin loom, which was a great way to familiarise someone with the basic structure of weaving. A month or two back I persuaded her to try plain weave on the Knitters Loom, and she took to it easily, so I knew it was time…

To give her a SampleIt loom, and a lesson.

Apparently I am now the most awesome gift-giver in all eternity.

Coincidently, I taught her to crochet a few weeks before, and she had really taken to it as well. It’s so gratifying to spread the fun of creativity!

Hail to the Neighbours

Last week I wrote a long post about the garden. It’s looking pretty good and I’d been inspired by a book and a visit to a famous garden. All I needed to do was take some photos and I’d be ready to publish.

Then the storm came.

The laserlite roof of our deck is full of holes, and there’s a mysterious leak in the toilet ceiling. Those are both being handled by the insurance. But the flood of water runoff from the neighbour’s tennis court that washed out part of the embankment and flooded the kitchen garden and studio is another matter.

We’ve soaked up all the water in the studio with old towels and ran the aircon for a day to dry it out, and there doesn’t appear to be any damage. But preventing this happening again isn’t easy. Water runoff from the neighbour’s tennis court has caused problems before. The main event happened a few weeks after we moved in, over three years agao, washing mud and mulch into our pool. We paid for a pile of drainage work to be done in to prevent it happening again, and that seemed to be working. But dirt has washed down from the neighbour’s place and silted up the drain.

I called the neighbour on the night, an they came over with extra old towels and looked at everything. They’ve promised to get advice and a quote to fix things on their side. They want to wait until we get permission to connect to the sewer, so whatever needs doing can be done at the same time.

We’ve dug and raked back the silty dirt that’s washed down (which has given us a pile of free soil to use elsewhere, so there’s a small up side at least). I’m considering putting a second retaining wall in to try to draw away the water. But there’s no guarantee anything we do on our side will work if the neighbour doesn’t sort out their drainage. If it doesn’t and we’re not at home, it’s bad news for our studio. Paul is raising the cupboards and filing cabinets up on pavers.

I can’t help thinking we should just brick up the back door, where the water came in, and raise the level of the floor, but it’d be expensive and mean emptying the studio. We’ll just have to see what, if anything, the neighbours end up doing. And hope we’re home next time we have a big storm.