Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Popular Pins and Harlequin Hits

Like so many people, I have a Pinterest account, with a variety of boards to sort the many, many pins of wonderful ideas that I want to do but probably never will. I even have the "Pin It" button on my toolbar so that I can pluck ideas off the internet as I browse - ephemeral scissors cutting out pretty pictures for my digital scrapbook from the planet-sized glossy magazine that is the Net.
But they are more than just pretty pictures. Somewhere, at some point, someone actually created those things. Ideas coming to restless minds in the middle of the night, tributes to people lost, memorials to events past, gifts for those close to the heart, labours of love painstakingly worked. Most of these things meant something to the people who made them - from the simple popsicle stick puzzle for toddlers, to the eco-house on the homesteading block that took a whole group of people to build. They were lovingly made, carefully documented in pictures, and proudly displayed. Shared with friends and family, and total strangers in the wider global community, on social networking sites, personal blogs, group newsletters, and online tutorials, eventually finding their way to someone's Pinterest board, and spreading out from there to a myriad of other boards.
20 weeks ago, I decided to do more than just collect other peoples creations, I decided to include my own creations. So I started a board called "Stuff Wot I Made - Personal", where I upload photos of things I have made for family, friends, and myself. As expected, there is a mild interest in it, mostly family and friends (the lovely, loyal people that they are), with the odd stranger (and by that I mean 'the odd number of strangers', not that the strangers are odd, although some of them might be, but then, so are some of my family and friends) - it has a whole 12 followers, and I'm cool with that. What did surprise me was the interest in one particular item. My Harlequin Afghan, a Tunisian crochet afghan that I made up entirely myself - no pattern. As of today, 20 weeks after uploading the photo, 100 people have repinned it (from my board - I don't know how many have repined it from those other boards). Surprising, wonderful, and gratifying. So, thank you to all, for taking an interest in my work.

My Harlequin Afghan

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit...

While our mornings are still quite cool, the days are summer hot, hot, hot - fantastic garden weather.
Now, corn is a heavy feeder, and requires LOTS of nitrogen. For the organic gardener there are two ways to achieve this - fish heads, and beans. Traditionally, many Native American tribes buried fish heads, then planted the corn on top, and of course planting climbing beans with the corn was standard practice. The corn provides a pole for the beans to climb up, and the beans provide nitrogen to feed the corn.
Even though the beans are planted when the corn is around an inch high, they don't provide the nitrogen for quite a while. It is not the bean plant itself that produces the nitrogen, rather a specialized bacteria that the bean plant plays host to. The bacteria invades the roots of the bean, causing nodules to form on the roots, these nodules are where the bacteria live. But it takes time for the bacteria to colonize, build up a population, and start producing good quantities of nitrogen. The nitrogen is actually a waste product the bacteria produces - essentially, it is bacteria pee/poop. Burying the fish heads provides the corn with nitrogen for the first part of its growing season, until the beans get big enough and mature enough for the bacteria to colonize and build up a good size population. 
So Friday before last, it was off to the fish shop down the road to buy a bag of fish heads, and back home to pop them in the freezer for a few days. They were big fish heads, so I figured it was going to be easier (less messy) chopping them when they were frozen rather than fresh and gooey. A few days later, there I am - like something out of a B grade horror flick - out back, early morning, with the fog lifting, honking great splitting axe in hand, chopping up fish heads. Cooool! That's OK though. All the neighbours already know I'm mad as a hatter and are fine with it.
After that, it was digging out the topsoil, to bury the fish heads far enough down that the local cat over-population wouldn't dig them up. A few days later, all was well, nothing rummaging around in the garden, so on Thursday I planted out the corn seedlings.
On Friday, much to my delight, the beans I bought online finally arrived. The average marathon runner is faster than NZ Post. A quick cup of coffee while sitting out surveying the garden, then the cute little beans were carefully tucked up in their nice warm (garden) beds - one bean next to each corn plant. We tuck our children into their beds to sleep, and our seeds into their beds to wake up - it has a nice symmetry. 
After doing my due diligence in research, I had decided on Selugia beans as the beans I wanted to plant with my corn. Selugia beans are not actually that common, and of course even common things are hard to get here in New Zealand. So I was thrilled to find, while Googling the various beans I was interested in, that an entry for a trader on Felt came up for the Selugia beans.
Felt is a New Zealand craft, artisan, and cottage industry online marketplace. It is like Etsy, but NZ only (NZ only to list - most quite happily ship International), and a lot stricter in what constitutes crafts/cottage industry - which I like. Unlike Etsy, a trader who lives in the US but runs a factory in China paying pissy wages to dirt poor peasants and shipping the goods from the factory in China, can't call themselves a crafter or list their items (I know that happens on Etsy because I have come across quite a few of them - especially in the clothing category).
Anyway, back to the beans. A very nice trader and fellow organic gardener, who goes by the moniker Big Bunny, had Selugia beans for sale. For those of you down in Christchurch, you can find Big Bunny at Anissa Victoria's Vintage Market, where he sells a nice selection of heirloom variety veggie plants that he grows himself from seeds. As I was browsing thru the seeds he had on offer online, I saw he also had Anaszi Beans. Ooooo! I've always wanted to try those! So I got a packet of those as well. According to Big Bunny, the Anasazi bean is halfway between a bush bean and a climber in in its growing habit, so I planted the Selugia on the inner corn plants, and the Anasazi on the outer corn plants, to give them a little more space to do their bushy thing.
Aren't they preeetty! They go nicely with my very cool blue corn and red corn (see Knitting Frustrations and Fancy Corn)

Selugia Bean
Anasazi Bean

Bean beans the magical fruit,
the more you eat the more you toot,
the more you toot the better you feel,
so eat those beans at every meal.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Teacup Pincushion

I have a lovely neighbour in the back flat who brings me old sheets, old clothes, and old costume jewellery, beads, and bits for my crafts. I thought it would be nice to give something in return, and she does a bit of sewing now and then, so I offered to make her a pincushion. As she also collects china cups & saucers, I decided a teacup pincushion would be the perfect thing.
After a day of going around all the Op Shops, I finally found a cute little china cup with delicate pink roses on it - it is getting surprisingly hard to find china cups & saucers in Op Shops anymore. More and more they are ending up in upmarket secondhand shops and antique stores instead. There was no saucer to go with it, but I did find a pretty pale pink china saucer that had a bold rose in the centre. The rose didn't match the ones on the cup, but when you put the cup on the saucer, it covered the rose, and the pale pink of the saucer went beautifully with the cup. I then stopped off at Spotlight to pick up some trim, brought my little treasure home, and set about making the pincushion.
I chose a lush dusky rose satin from my stash, sorted out the silk ribbon and silk threads for the embroidery, and attached pearl beads and gold seed beads to 2 hatpins to dress them up - what Victorian style pincushion is complete without a couple of hatpins. Here is the final result.

It was so adorable I was tempted to keep it, but of course I didn't. However I always consider that a good sign - if what you have made is good enough that you want to keep it yourself, then you know it is good enough to give to someone else. So now I am going to make one for myself, to go on my sewing desk.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Picture a Garden

On Sunday our lovely summer weather turned nasty. Winter nasty. We're talking multiple layers of clothing, hat, scarf, warm wrap, hot water bottle - and that was just to sit in front of the television knitting! Electric blanket on at night. And of course bugger-me-days (a great Aussie saying) if I hadn't just planted the corn seeds the day before. Corn requires quite warm soil temperatures to sprout. Poor corn! I was barely willing to sprout out of bed it was so cold!
This morning, after a few hours of a high altitude pushing and shoving match, the clouds finally retreated and we got some sunshine. Yay! So spent the late morning/early afternoon outside working in the garden and warming my bones, interspersed with sitting on the front step in the sun knitting.
For those who have been asking, here are photos of my little urban front-yard garden.

This one is the left side of the yard (when facing the street). Along the fence is the meadowfoam, two pepino plants, a gardenia, chrysanthemums, and chamomile, with assorted petunias, and marigolds in the front, and swan plant seedlings along the back. Only the meadowfoam and chamomile are in flower. The front plot has a variety of heirloom tomatoes, the middle plot has dwarf beans and eggplants (all very small plants at the moment), and the back plot has more heirloom tomatoes. At the very back along the (front) fence is an assortment of flowers and herbs, and two large artichokes. That splash of orange is the California Poppy plant I salvaged from a construction site in town the day before it was cleared.

California Poppy


This one is down the centre of the yard. Right in the front is my sad little tray of corn seed - trying to warm up in the sun. The plot directly behind it is where the corn will be planted. Down the left side of the plot is the salsify, on the right is garlic, soon to be harvested, and not a moment too soon. I used the last bulb from my garlic string on Monday, and am now digging into the preserved garlic I put up last year. Sitting forlornly on its own trying to head is the last cauliflower of the season. 
The middle plot is yet another plot of heirloom tomatoes. I do like my heirloom tomatoes! And I am hoping to get enough to bottle this year as well as eating. There is also a row of tamatillos, some purple potatoes, curly parsley, and onions. In the back plot (which you can't see) are my little sweet pepper seedlings. There are 6 different heirloom varieties. You can never have too many peppers! I am on my last jar of pickled peppers that I put up last season. In between the pepper rows are red onions and borettana onions. Also more purple potatoes, and a single enormous cabbage, trussed up to encourage it to head.

This is a panoramic of the three tyre gardens. They were my original gardens. I put them in pretty much right away after moving in, and they were all I had for a while. I dug up the ground plots in the first year, but the soil was so poor they produced nothing - literally! The back two plots were left unplanted that year, and a year later not even weeds had sprung up in them. It took three years of conditioning the soil before I started getting anything. This is the first year that things have done really well. Behind the tyre gardens, in their own separate tyres, are the pumpkin plants. They are doing insanely well this year. They already have little "pumpkin" flowers (the female flowers), not yet pollenated though. I didn't get my first female flowers until after the 2nd week of autumn last year. In fact, the plants weren't even up yet last year this time.

The back tyre garden, by the lemon tree, has zucchini (already producing), oregano, mint, salad burnet, radishes, cucumber plants, a thyme plant spilling out onto the path, a few coriander, and a couple of melon plants at the back behind the trellis. There is also a white snapdragon poking out the side merrily flowering away. Along the front fence, to the left of the lemon tree, are a small blackcurrant bush and a small redcurrant bush, being somewhat overrun by the penstemon in between them.

The middle tyre garden has lettuces, mustard spinach, chives, bunching onions (left over from winter), spring onions, purslane (I just planted the seeds for that this morning), arugula, more cucumbers (different variety), and more (different) melons at the back, along with another thyme, and some alyssum and dianthus, and a couple of petunias growing in pockets here and there.
The front tyre garden has Italian flat leaf parsley, mustard streaks (a salad mustard plant), cress, rocket, miner's lettuce, more Greek oregano, garlic chives, baby dill plants, and horseradish. At the back is a lone silverbeet (swiss chard) nestled under a hollyhock that came up, and on the sides are pansies, a cineraria, some baby California poppies, and a self sown pumpkin of unknown variety, which I will let ramble down the path.

Turning around to face the flat, we see my flower garden. My big old enamel bath tub with tadpoles, nestled up against the flat, behind the asters. The pomegranate tree is going great guns, and I might actually get pomegranates this year. The blueberry bushes and strawberries are under the netting on the right.

This is my front step, where I often sit and knit, crochet, or embroider in the morning sun. Yes, that is an old toilet you see next to the strawberry patch. It has a marjoram and nasturtiums growing in it. The shelves are where I grow the seeds in trays. The passionfruit growing on the trellis has loads of flowers this year. One of the pots has some black cherry tomato plants in it, but most of the rest are full of self-sown lobelia. I love the lobelia, and one of this year's plants came up a most gorgeous soft lavender colour. I am hoping I will get more of those come up next year.

Lavender lobelia
So that is a tour of my garden. I hope you enjoyed it.

Monday, 11 November 2013

All Things Coffee - The making of a Treasury

Cathy is working hard trying to get all us CQIers who have Etsy shops organized to help promote our shops thru Treasuries - member-curated shopping galleries comprised of lists of up to 16 items. With Treasuries, the items are not supposed to be your own items. It is considered crass and the height of bad manners to use the Treasuries for self-promotion (there are plenty of other ways to do that). Hence, the getting together of a group of us to promote each other. It's a lovely, community-spirited idea.
I don't know how much my own shop will get promoted, as this is really a CQ thing, and I don't stock any CQ supplies (sheesh! I have a hard enough time getting them in the first place over here in NZ - I'm not gonna go selling them!), and I only have a couple of CQ finished items. My shop is more general handcrafts. But I like the idea, and am still more than happy to promote the shops of the other ladies in my CQ group. They all have such wonderful stuff.
Since I "signed up" to take part, I figured ... I had better figure out how this whole 'Treasury' thing works. So I created my first treasury. A themed one wrapped around my most favourite thing ever - the first thing I would horde in a Zombie Apocalypse, would gladly trade all my soap and toilet paper for, and would guard zealously wearing jackboots and toting a sawn off shotgun - coffee. Mmmmmm...... coffeeeeee!


All Things Coffee Treasury

"All Things Coffee" Treasury
I had lots of fun doing it, since it is one of those activities that caters to my obsessive need to organize and group things. I can see doing more in the future. Click on the photo, it will take you to the Treasury - there is more to coffee than just coffee.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Knitting Frustrations and Fancy Corn

Well, here we are, three weeks since my last post. It has been really hectic, but for the life of me I can't really think why - I haven't gotten a lot done.
Desiree (the neighbour who's garden I sporadically tend to - when it gets out of hand for her) decided she didn't want the lime tree that was in her garden. I noticed it sitting there behind the fig tree she planted, and asked if she wanted it moved, which is when she said she didn't want it and asked if I wanted it. Oooo! Not going to turn that down! So spent and hour or so digging out a 3ft lime tree and lugging it across the road home. The only place I had to put it was in the driveway/kitchen garden between the kitchen window and the lounge window. Which of course was EXACTLY where my much prized 4yr old heirloom variety marjoram plant was. So I had to dig that out, and moved it into the front garden. I really hope I didn't kill it as I haven't come across another one like it anywhere! So now I have a very sad looking marjoram in the front garden, and an even sadder looking lime tree with wilted tips and dropping leaves in the kitchen garden. The lime tree will make a comeback (hopefully), but I will lose all this year's blossoms and tiny fruits that were on it. However next year should be great for it.

I went into town early last week looking for yarn to crochet a gorgeous Victorian style ruffled neckwarmer that I bought the pattern for a while back. Spotlight was having a sale, and I picked up several balls of the most scrumptious variegated Moda Vera "Tarantino". It is normally priced at $11.95 a ball but was down to $4.00 a ball, and with my Spotlight card it was reduced even further to $2.60 a ball. I was totally thrilled at my little haul. Immediately upon getting home I dug out my crochet hook and got started - which is when I realised crocheting this wonderful knobbly kinky yarn was going to be impossible. The type of yarn it was meant you just couldn't distinguish the loops or yarn from the knobbly kinky bits that made up the yarn.
Not to be deterred, I spent the next few hours trolling the internet looking for a suitable knitting pattern for the yarn, that used a knitting needle size that I actually had. Invariably most of the patterns called for needles in sizes I didn't have, and I wasn't about to walk the several miles back up town (and back home again) a second time just to get some needles (which I didn't have the money for anyway). Finally I found a cute little basic Victorian neckwarmer pattern as a free pattern. I dug out my one and only set of size 9 needles - a vintage pair from my grandmother's collection. A few evenings of knitting, and I was getting close to the end. However all the increases meant the rather short needles were getting very cramped, but I was determined to get those last few rows out. Unfortunately old plastic needles aren't that robust and one of them snapped into four pieces as I was trying to push the stitches down to make room. Arrrrrggghhh! Only three rows to go!
Well, only one thing to do. Spend an inordinate amount of time transferring around 260-odd stitches onto a smaller needle (to get them off the proper size needle I now needed, to be able to knit the right size stiches with), then transferring them all again to another needle, because after the first transfer the knitting end was at the wrong end of the needle. And no, I didn't have a circular needle which would have solved that problem. Now I could knit that row with the proper size needle. One row down, two more to go. Sigh.
Finally, I finished, and I really like the neckwarmer. It is a lovely little pattern. By this time the next payday had arrived, so I bought some nice hand crafted wooden knitting needles (which are actually cheaper than the crappy plastic ones available in the local shops) from an online trader whom I have bought from before, and when they arrive I will knit a cowl/snood to go with the neckwarmer.

On the garden front, everything is going insanely well. I am already snacking on the odd strawberry during my morning rounds. The blueberries - which normally don't come ripe 'til January for one variety and March for the other, are already plump, and both will be ripe by December. The tomatoes and tamatillos have been flowering madly for several weeks - two months early, the zucchinis are already producing their first zucchinis (they were only 3 leaves big last year at this time), and the pumpkins are also flowering (didn't even have plants up yet this time last year).
My most exciting garden thing though, was the arrival of my heirloom variety corn seeds from Koanga this morning. The three varieties I will be growing this year are Blue Hopi, Blue Aztec, and Bloody Butcher - all varieties originally grown by the Native Americans. The Blue Hopi and Bloody Butcher are flint corns, grown for drying and grinding into flour. I am looking forward to making blue and red tortilla to serve with my homemade chilli. The Blue Aztec is a dual purpose corn, grown for eating when the cobs are younger, and also for drying and grinding when they are older.

Blue Hopi

Blue Aztec
Bloody Butcher