It’s been a while since I was here. I’ve been sprucing up the Wildcraft online shop this week. Here’s one of the new banners I put together for the home page.
I’ve recently started bullet journalling to keep myself organised. It’s working very well so far and some time soon I may blog about the system I’m using. But today’s post is about the new journal cover that I made.
I’ve been using a home-made midori style traveller’s notebook, with several booklets and a diary inside it, for a couple of years now. I love the traveller’s notebook cover dearly, but for my bullet journalling I wanted to use A6 size booklets rather than the little Fieldnotes books I already had. So I decided to make a new leather cover that would fit the bigger booklets.
I should really show lots of in-progress photos, but I forgot to take them, so instead here’s a picture of the finished journal.
I used untanned leather for the cover itself. I’ve treated it with neatsfoot oil and a beeswax polish, but otherwise it’s as it came. I’m hoping that it’ll develop a natural darker brown patina over time
You can’t see them, but inside it has three elastics, to carry my three booklets. I’ve also added some of my own lampwork beads as decoration. This lentil-shaped bead is for the outer band.
And I’ve made some charm/book marker thingies with some more of my beads.
I love this new journal setup and the A6 booklets are working out really well. They’re just a bit wider than the Field Notes booklets, which makes it much easier to fit my weekly page layouts etc. onto one two-page spread.
If you want to try making your own journal cover, there’s a great video tutorial here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCYAnmQnn6w
I bought a new macro lens for my camera last week and since then I’ve been filling up my Flickr album with close-up pictures of many things.
If you’re interested in the technical side, I’ll put a bit of info on the photographic kit that I use at the end of this post. In the meantime, here are a few of those close-ups. Clicking on any of the photos will take you through to a larger version in my Flickr album.
For a while now for everything but my studio product photos (where I still use my old Nikon D90), my preferred camera is a Nikon 1 V1. The V1 is a mirrorless camera, so it’s much smaller and lighter than my D90. I have a few 1 series lenses, which fit directly onto the V1 body, but I also have an FT-1 adapter, which allows me to put any Nikon lens onto the V1.
Using an SLR lens on the V1 with the adapter produces a magnification effect. Don’t ask me how, it’s something to do with the V1 having a smaller sensor than the SLR bodies. I read all about it and then promptly forgot everything except for the bit about the 2.7x magnification. So using a 40mm macro lens with the FT-1 adapter gives the same effect as using a 108mm macro lens on my SLR, which is perfect for photographing tiny things like mosses, fungi, and glass beads.
I also have a 55-200mm telephoto zoom lens for my ‘big’ Nikon, and that absolutely shines on my V1 for bird and wildlife photography as the magnification effect means I get an effective maximum focal length of 540mm. That’s plenty enough for taking photos of puffins, as you can see below.
To cut a long story short, I absolutely love this combination of camera and lenses, especially now that I have the macro. Sadly, Nikon are no longer producing the 1 Series mirrorless cameras. They’re rumoured to be developing a new mirrorless camera system, which I suspect will have a different lens mount, so my lovely little 1 series camera will soon be obsolete. That said, the V1 does everything I want it to do at the moment, so for now that’s what I’m sticking with.
This weekend C and I visited a friend in the New Forest, who’s borrowing Murphy, our Ryeland ram, to use on her little flock. After we’d introduced Mr Murphy to his new ladies, my friend and I got chatting about what it’s like to live in the Forest. She was bemoaning the fact that people don’t seem to observe the natural world around them as much as those who’ve grown up in the woodland have learned to do. It was a particularly busy day in the Forest, since the weather was lovely and the autumn leaves were at their best. But as I watched people strolling by on a nearby bridleway, I couldn’t help but agree. Admittedly, many of the walkers in the New Forest this weekend probably just wanted a chance to let their kids and dogs run around, make some noise and use up some energy. But I thought it such a shame that in doing so, they were missing an opportunity to look closely and quietly at some of the finest sights that nature has to offer, right under their footsteps.
You don’t, however, have to travel anywhere to observe nature. We are, after all, part of nature ourselves, and even a half-hour or so of people-watching on a busy high street or city centre can be as interesting, if not more so than bird watching or looking for interesting plants on a country walk. We’re certainly easier to spot than some of the rarer species!
That said, if you want to look for other species, where better to start than right where you are now? If you’re indoors, do you have any house plants? If it’s daytime, have they turned their leaves to face the light? If it’s night time, perhaps they’ve folded away some flowers, they’ve certainly dropped their rate of photosynthesis (the mechanism by which plants turn light energy into food). Do they have bugs on their leaves? Is there perhaps a tiny earthworm in the plant pot? Do you think your plant is content to be indoors and is flourishing in its spot, or is it struggling? Try imagining what it must be like to be that plant, living in one spot all the time, responding as its surroundings change hour-by-hour.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been caring for one of our bantam chicks who broke its leg. We’re not yet sure if it’s a he or a she, but until we know otherwise we’ve assumed he’s a boy. He’s been living in a box in our living room while he heals, and I’ve been gradually introducing him to an outdoor pen, increasing the time he spends there daily. I check on him every couple of hours or so, but because I work in the studio for much of the day, the little bantam has spent some considerably time in his box without seeing us. Lately I’ve been wondering what it must be like for him, with only my cat for company. I know he twitters away about things, because sometimes I hear him at night. But it’s interesting to think of what it’s like for him, when he’s been settled quietly for a while, and then I come in and bustle him about, checking he has food and water, perhaps moving his legs for him to make sure he doesn’t seize up. Are those moments good ones for him, or does he prefer being nestled asleep? He certainly doesn’t seem unhappy, but then I’m not sure as he’d let me know if he were bored, he is a chicken with only a little brain after all. It’s been an interesting thought experiment imagine myself in his place for a while, and one that’s worth doing for any of our pets.
The ‘imagine you are a’ thought experiment is a great way of thinking about our natural environment too, one which helps us to develop some sensitivity about our surroundings. Just recently I’ve been thinking about what it must be like for the bees in my brother’s beehive, as they rush around preparing food from the last flowers of the season to last them the winter. Or what must it be like to be my lemon tree, which has been flourishing in a plant pot all summer, and I’ve now brought it indoors for frost protection. Or how about those big black house spiders, which scare us by running across the carpet, but are actually engaged in an epic mating tournament with males racing each other to be the first to find an unclaimed female (spoiler: even the males who win die shortly afterwards).
It’s all too easy to imagine the natural world as being something that’s ‘outside’ and separate from us. When we close the door on a dark chilly evening, it can feel comforting to have shut out the wild things, the creepy-crawlies, and in our case here on the farm, the screeching owls, the howling foxes and the persistent winter mud. But in reality, our homes are as much a part of ‘nature’ as anything else in the world. Our homes, made of brick, plaster, plastic and pressure-treated timber, aren’t ‘artificial’, they’re human. In a way we’re like the bees, who manufacture their highly-structured homes from beeswax, we simply use materials other than beeswax to make our living quarters. In short, we, and all the things that we make or synthesise, are very much natural things.
The skill we need to learn is to notice ourselves within nature. When we catch that spider (in my case safely under a glass) and throw him out of the door, we’re not throwing him ‘out’, we’re simply moving him away from us. We’re also probably scuppering his chances of finding a mate, but that’s another issue. When I shut out the noise of the screeching owls at night, is that how they feel when they hide in a tree hole in daytime away from human children playing? What kind of influence are we having on our natural companions? How would we feel if they did the same to us?
So my suggestion: on this scary Halloween night, try a thought experiment. Imagine that you’re a tree by a roadside, or a rosebush, or a tiny little weed in a pavement crack, and you’re watching all the trick-or-treaters go by, with their big trampling feet, their cackling and their oh-so-bright torches. Isn’t it they who are the scary ones?
Yesterday we had a beautiful sunny day in our little corner of Dorset, so I took myself off for a walk with my camera.
In the lane I spotted a few Brimstone Butterflies, who were fluttering around looking for ivy blossom to feed on. Ivy is one of the last wild plants of the year to bloom, so butterflies and bees tend to make the most of it when it’s in flower. The Brimstones are perfectly camouflaged amongst the shadows of the ivy leaves.
I took the chance to check on our little flock of rams en route. Our badger-face Shetland (named Mr Badger of course) is looking particularly well at the moment.
Although on closer inspection of this photo, I found he was rudely sticking out his tongue at me!
In the hedgrows there were some very pretty wild Bryony berries. They’re poisonous to humans, but I believe that birds can feed on them without a problem.
Back along the lane, my cat Maia was preoccupied with watching something in the hedge.
And on to the ewes’ field, where there were many Red Admiral Butterflies fluttering around the hedges and over the grass. I think they were feeding on the horse manure. Pretty as they are, Red Admirals do have some unsavoury food preferences…
Here too there were red berries in the hedges, but these were Rosehips which, when cooked into jam, are tasty and packed with Vitamin C. I think I’ll have to return here to collect some for jam-making.
The ewes were all present, safe and the right way up (always a good sign in a sheep!). Here’s Truffle, the Ryeland matriarch of the flock, with some of her gang.
And finally, on the way home, I inspected the hornet’s nest that’s being constructed on the roof of one of our workshops. Hornets are relatively uncommon in Britain, although we’ve usually had a nest somewhere on the farm each summer. Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t at all aggressive towards people, unless of course they’re provoked. We prefer to work around their activities, as I feel they have as much right to be here as we do. The nest they’ve built this year is large and particularly beautiful.
I’ve enjoyed putting this post together, so I think I’ll make it the first of an occasional series. It’ll be good to share my finds around the seasons.
You don’t have to live in the countryside to see interesting wildlife. I suspect that species such as butterflies linger out and about for even longer in urban areas where it’s warmer. Have you seen anything interesting recently? Do share in the comments below.
I went to a hugely inspiring silver clay workshop at the Metal Clay studio on Saturday, taught by Emma Mitchell of Silver Pebble. The class was on taking imprints of natural materials in silver clay, to make beautiful pieces for jewellery. I’ve never worked with silver clay before, so I was a bit worried that I was jumping in at the deep end, but I’ve long been intrigued by the beautiful nature-inspired pieces that Emma makes, so since the workshop was just a half hour drive away, for me the it was unmissable.
I needn’t have worried, Emma explained that the class was intended for total beginners and she went gently through every step of working with this new (to me) medium.
I’d brought some of the little ammonite fossils I’d collected on a recent trip to Charmouth, as I was very keen to replicate one of them in silver. I also used a little piece of oak moss lichen that Emma had collected, because I simply love lichens.
This is a photo of all the class’ projects.
And here are my two pieces.
I absolutely love how my little fossil and lichen pendants turned out. I bought more silver clay from Metal Clay while I was there, along with some tools to work with it.
Much as I loved the class subject matter, I was perhaps even more inspired by Emma’s approach to her subject and her ideas on the wider implications of teaching people to make things by hand. She explained how performing tiny repetitive movements with your hands, such as sewing or stringing beads has been shown to have an effect on the stress hormones produced by our brain, reducing cortisol levels and increasing dopamine. Put simply, making things has a stress-relieving effect.
Emma also explained that this effect might have originated from our human ancestors, who would have had to make many things by hand simply so they could survive. Clothing, hand-axes and knives, foods such as flours that were ground by hand, all would have involved hours of repetitive manual work to make. I can understand how people who enjoyed doing these things would have had an evolutionary advantage, as they would have been less stressed and more able to deal with the problems of every day life.
This has huge implications for us today. Even if we have a job that involves repetitive manual work, we’re still likely to be interrupted by phone calls, Facebook messages and so on. We rarely look upon a manual job that’s going to take a long time as a good thing, and yet the evidence is that this is exactly what benefits our mental well-being.
One of the jobs I most enjoy on the farm is the summer’s task of tractor-turning the hay crop. Haymaking is almost always fraught, as we’re often racing the weather to get the crop in safely. Yet turning is something that can’t be hurried. If you go too quickly the grass gets thrashed to pieces, and steering our 16 foot wide turner at speed is dangerous. So turning is a matter of patience, and of repetitive motions as you steer around the rows of drying hay. I rarely feel bored or tired after an hour or so of turning, instead I feel refreshed and creatively inspired, as my mind has had time to wander while performing a repetitive manual task. I know many other smallholders who feel the same. The commercial rush to produce larger tractors and speedier harvesting processes has reduced these benefits.
I’m not suggesting that we should do things in a slow slow or awkward way just because it’s ‘good for us’, but rather that we should accommodate projects that induce mindfulness, as they have unseen benefits on our psyche.
A long time ago I bought a beautiful grey Romney fleece at a fibre fair.
After some time maturing it in my stash, I blended it with some alpaca fibre (20%) and tussah silk (10%) on my drum carder to make batts.
Then I spun it on my Timbertops Leicester spinning wheel to make an aran/chunky weight yarn, a total of 1287 metres.
And now, I have used some of that yarn to knit a sweater for myself. I really like it
Details of the yarn spinning project on my Ravelry page.
It’s that time of year when many spinners’ thoughts turn to washing raw fleece, as sheep shearing season in the UK is at its peak in May and June. My flock were shorn early this year (at the beginning of May), and I now have a mountain of wool to sort.
I don’t wash a lot of raw wool myself, as much of our clip is sold as raw fleeces, or sent away to Halifax Spinning Mill for processing. However, when I do wash fleece, I prefer to do it with the least possible fuss. I’ve developed a method that works for me, which uses minimal hot water and very little handling of the wet wool – all of which helps reduce the risk of felting the fibre. I use a great detergent, developed specifically for wool scouring (Unicorn Power Scour), which is the key to this method’s success.
When I wash fleece, the first soak, the one with detergent, is the only one I do with hot water, all the subsequent rinsing stages are completed after the wool/soap solution has cooled, and with cold water. Many spinners prefer to rinse their fleece while the wool is still hot, with hot rinse water. The theory being that if wool grease (lanolin) is allowed to cool in the soap solution, the lanolin will redeposit back onto the wool fibre. In my experience however, if you use a really good wool scouring product, cold rinsing doesn’t leave the fleece feeling appreciably different from that rinsed hot. I don’t want to totally strip the grease in any case, as it make the fibre feel nicer for carding and spinning. Handling hot, wet, soapy wool carries a risk of felting it, no matter how gently you handle the fibre. Cold rinsing much reduces this risk. I do a fuller, more strenuous scour of the yarn after it’s been spun, when it’s better able to withstand agitation in a soapy solution, and indeed benefits from the slight felting it gets then.
This part’s a little technical, and I emphasise that these are only my (unscientifically proven) thoughts on the subject. As I mentioned before, the key to the success of the cold rinsing method is down to using a specialised wool-scouring product. I use Power Scour. As I understand it, the detergents in Power Scour bond exceptionally well with the wool grease during the hot soapy soak, and lock it away as a detergent/grease suspension in the water. My theory is that the high temperature only serves to melt and release the grease from the wool fibres, so that it can bind to the detergent molecules. Once the grease/detergent molecules are trapped together, the grease can’t redeposit back onto the fibre, as its bonding sites are attached to the detergent. From what I recall and have read about detergent chemistry, the way a detergent works is to form a grease/detergent structure called a ‘micelle’, which is a ball-like structure with grease on the inside and detergent on the outside. The outside of the micelle loves water, and would prefer to float around in water than to reattach to wool fibres (see this for a fuller description of the chemistry involved). So, once that has happened, it doesn’t matter whether the rinse water is hot or cold, the grease/detergent suspension merely needs to be rinsed out of the fibre mass. The detergent has to have a really strong affinity for lanolin for this to work, which is seems the detergents in Power Scour evidently have. Suffice it to say, I’ve tried this method with other kinds of soap such as washing-up liquid, human hair shampoo and animal shampoo, and the results weren’t great, the fleece remained tacky and unpleasant to handle afterwards.
I’ve yet to discover whether wool washed this way suffers from being stored for a long time. Some say that scoured wool that hasn’t had the lanolin totally removed (i.e isn’t so degreased that it squeaks), can’t be stored for any length of time. Over time, the little remaining lanolin can harden and become near impossible to remove, even with vigorous scouring. Since I tend to store my fleeces in the grease, and only wash what I need prior to spinning, I haven’t encountered this as a problem. I do usually use a rinsing conditioner (Unicorn Fibre Rinse) in the final rinse solution, to reduce static when processing the fibre, perhaps that helps with storage too. Wool that I’ve washed does seem to be fine even after 6-12 months of storage (I don’t get a lot of time to spin these days!).
Anyway, enough preamble, here’s my method for scouring raw wool:
To Wash Raw Fleece using the Cold Rinsing Method
You will need:
You will also need:
For beginners a breed with low tendency to felt is easiest, eg. Downland (Suffolk/Ryeland/Southdown etc.), or another medium-stapled wool such as Texel, Cheviot, Lleyn etc. British breed fleeces that are more likely to felt include Shetland, Mule and some longwools such as Bluefaced Leicester and Wensleydale. For this tutorial, I’m using some of our homegrown coloured Ryeland fleece.
Step 1. Tidy up your fleece a little, removing any mucky (poopy) bits and any double cuts (short bits of wool where the clippers have run over the fleece twice). You can pick out some of the VM (hay/straw etc) if you like, but you can also do that later. Put your fleece into the net bag. Putting two colours together is fine. Zip it up and set aside.
Step 2. Fill your bucket to ¾ full with hot water, as hot as your household tap will produce. You want your water around 45-55 degrees Celsius If your tap water is below 45 degrees C, top up with hot water from the kettle (be careful, you don’t want to get scalded!).
Step 3. Put on the plastic gloves. Dispense two pumps of Power Scour into the hot water. Swish it around, not too much, you want it mixed, not sudsy. The water will look a little opaque at this stage.
Step 4. Dunk the whole net bag with the fleece into the bucket of hot water, all in one go. Push it gently under the surface of the water. You can move it slightly, but DON’T STIR or mix vigorously pummelling or kneading the fleece at this stage will give you felt!
Step 5. Lift the bag gently once or twice, to ensure that the hot soapy water has penetrated through the fleece. The water will look a muddy brown colour at this point. That’s normal. The Power Scour is doing its work, removing the dirt and lanolin from the fleece.
Step 6. Leave the fleece to stand in the bucket of hot water until the water is cool, or tepid. DON’T prod it or swish it about. Handling fleece in hot soapy water is how felt is made, so unless you want felt, don’t touch it at all at this stage. You’re best off walking away and forgetting about it, as the temptation to poke the fleece bag can be very high!
Step 7. After an hour or so, or ideally overnight, you can return to your bucket. Now that the water’s cool, your fleece is much more able to withstand a bit of handling while wet (i.e. without felting it). Ideally, find an outdoor drain, with a relatively clean surface nearby. I found a drain grill on our lawn, which was ideal. Gently lift out the fleece in its net bag and allow it to drain over the bucket for a few seconds. Then put it aside on the ground. The remaining water/soap/lanolin solution will look a dirty brown colour. This is normal.
Step 8. Pour away the used soapy solution from the bucket into the drain. Our drains lead to a septic tank, which is fine as Power Scour is fully biodegradable, and can be safely drained into a septic tank system. You could do this in an indoor sink, but be aware that if you wash a lot of fleece, over time you’ll risk blocking the drain with wool grease as it cools.
Step 9. Fill the bucket with cold tap water. Dunk the fleece in its net bag into the water and swish it around. You’ll see some opaque water flowing from the bag.
Step 10. Drain the water and repeat the cold rinse until the water flowing from the bag is clear, or nearly clear. The number of times will depend on the kind of fleece and how dirty it is. Wool from our sticky Shetlands takes 3-4 rinses, while our nicely behaved Ryelands take just 2-3 rinses. The picture below shows how the water looked after the second cold rinse of my Ryeland fleece.
Step. 11. This stage is optional, but it does leave the fleece with a lovely scent and little static when dry. Once the water runs clear, fill the bucket once more with cold water. Now dispense one or two pumps of Unicorn Fibre Rinse from into the bucket. Swish to mix. Dunk the fleece in its bag in the Fibre Rinse solution and leave it to soak for 5-10 minutes.
Step 12. Drain the water away. Squish the fleece bag a little to extract the remaining water. If you have a spin dryer, now’s a good time to spin out the net bag with the fleece in it, the
wool will dry much faster if it’s been whizzed through a spin dryer for a minute or so. If you don’t have a spin dryer, you can try the spin cycle on your washing machine, only make absolutely sure that the program doesn’t add any water. Alternatively, you can get a good amount of the water out by swinging the bag around your head for a few minutes, on a lawn is ideal. Make sure you do this safely away from people, pets or anything else that you don’t want to get wet!
Step 13. Fluff up the fleece a little, then hang on a washing line or airer to dry. The fleece will dry faster if you can take it out of the net bag, but outdoors it tends to blow away, and indoors you’ll find that it’s a pet and/or child magnet. It might still feel a bit tacky at this stage. That’s ok, you want a little oil left on the fleece as it makes it more pleasant to spin. It’ll feel much less sticky once it’s fully dry.
Step 14. Once the fleece is dry, remove it from the bag, fluff it up again and appreciate the woolly cleanness of it. It’s now ready to comb, card or spin from the locks. (No picture of that stage yet, it’s still on the line, drying).
This pretty much sums up what’s been going on around here lately:
The ewes are really making us wait for their lambs this year – Esme (the first expected) is several days overdue now. So I’ve been keeping myself entertained with book-keeping (boo!) and a little jewellery-making (yay!).
Here’s today’s creation, a bracelet made with memory wire and seed beads. I added a little beaded charm at either end. It took perhaps half an hour to make, and was a great way of using up the random seed beads I had cluttering up my jewellery bench.
I’ll probably make some more of these over the next few days, as I think they’ll look lovely worn in multiples. They’re also really simple to make while my brain’s fried with late night/early morning lamb watch…
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