Monday, September 1, 2014

Sanctuary II

It's parrot time! The 'Land of Parrots' enclosure was definitely the highlight of our trip to Healesville. We were a little nervous feeding the birds (with birdseed and 'nectar') at first, because they're pretty rowdy and are as likely to land on your arm/hand as on the feeding dish. But we soon got used to them, and had a great time admiring their colourful feathers close up - and taking zillions of photos! Make sure you click to enlarge the ones below. :)

These green-and-red Scaly-Breasted Lorikeets were the busiest and noisiest birds there:

Feasting on flowering wattle

Nectar party!

Posing with parrots
My favourite birds were the Regent Parrots, who were a little more reserved than the lorikeets. I love their colours, and cute faces...

Such a cool colour combo!

There were also budgies and finches flitting about, and popping in and out of holes in the tree trunks. They mostly stayed out of the way of the lorikeets, and we didn't manage to lure any down for a feed.

Budgie meeting

In an adjoining enclosure, we found the bigger birds. The keeper was trying to lure some of the parrots and cockatoos down for the 'Spirits of the Sky' show, but they had other ideas! This Red-Tailed Cockatoo eventually cooperated, and got a treat for his trouble:

A well-camouflaged bird with a bright blue eye

An Eclectus Parrot eating out of Willie's hand

I definitely want to visit again! Birds are so cool. :)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sanctuary I

Last weekend we made a trip to the Healesville Sanctuary, which is a large native-birds-and-animals sanctuary about an hour and a half out of Melbourne. It was really nice to get out of the city, and be around trees and birds that aren't pigeons or crows! Even the drive was nice - I liked seeing a bit more of the surrounding countryside.

When we arrived, Celena made a beeline for the dingo pups (she adores dogs of all kinds). Willie and I hadn't been to the sanctuary before, so we strolled around exploring.

One of the highlights for me was seeing the koalas in various states of wakefulness. They look like such characters...

Munching on eucalyptus leaves

Waiting for the keeper to bring in more leaves

Lunch time!

Siesta time :)

I was also very taken with the echidnas. They're so cute! Kind of like giant hedgehogs, with long snouts.

Two echidnas snuffling about


There are lots of different areas in the Sanctuary, connected by paths through trees and across streams. Some of the animals are separated from the public (like the Tasmanian devils and emus), and some roam around in the same space (like the other birds and wallabies).

A Tasmanian devil checking us out

An emu

Synchronised pelicans

The wetlands area

I couldn't resist posing on a sculpture. ;)
Another really cool thing was the 'Spirits of the Sky' bird show, which Chloe had told us not to miss. A couple of bird-handlers showed off various parrots and birds of prey, tossing food for them to snatch out of the air and letting them glide right over our heads - some people had to duck! A big owl with alarming-looking eyes passed us close enough to touch...

My favourite part of all was the parrot enclosure, where you're allowed to feed the birds by hand. They were amazing and totally cheeky! So stay tuned for part two - I've saved the best for last.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Dyeing with lichen

(Photo by Dad aka Jos)

On the way back from Napier, Dad and I collected some Old man's beard or Tree Moss lichen (possibly Usnea arida) from the roadside, so I could use it for dyeing yarn. The old fallen pine branches were practically dripping with lichen, so I couldn't resist grabbing a few handfuls...

(Also by Dad)

I've dyed yarn with lichen before, using what I was able to scrape from Mum and Dad's birch trees. I like the fact that there's no need to use a mordant when dyeing with lichen (less hassle), and I like the earthy/salty/woody smell of the simmering dyepot. On my first attempt I got some lovely warm golden tones, which I used to make a Fibonacci-striped scarf:

My Baktus scarf, from September 2009

Unfortunately I wasn't able to track down the book I'd used as a guide last time, or the notes I'd taken, so my method this time around is probably a bit different! It's a more straightforward process than I used for last year's eucalyptus experiment - I decided to 'cook' the lichen and dye the yarn at the same time, rather than making the dye liquid in advance.

What I did:

I started with 28g of lichen, and a 200g skein of undyed yarn ('Naked' Organic Merino 4ply from Skeinz).

I used a big square of cheesecloth (thanks Mum) to make a lichen 'teabag' tied with string. I poured 8L of cold water into a big stockpot, threw in the 'teabag', and let it soak in the cold water for 1 hour.

Then I added the skein of yarn, let it soak for 20 minutes to make sure it was wet through, and turned on the heat.

I slowly (over the course of about an hour) heated the pot to a very low simmer. I kept the pot at that temperature for an hour and a half, giving the lichen 'teabag' the occasional prod and squeeze with a smooth-sanded stick (thanks Dad), and gently nudging the yarn to ensure a more even colour-distribution.

The yarn didn't seem to be changing colour any more, so I turned off the heat.

The colour was much lighter than I'd hoped - I think didn't use nearly enough lichen for this quantity of yarn! So Dad and I collected more lichen, this time from the birch and prunus trees in the garden. This batch weighed 77.7g (about three times as much as the first batch), and it looks like some of it might be a different variety.

I switched the old lichen in the 'teabag' for the new batch, and left it soaking in the old dyebath overnight (minus the yarn).

The next day I repeated the heating process, letting it simmer very gently for an hour. I let the pot cool completely before retrieving my yarn. I gently washed it with wool-wash, rinsed it again, squeezed it out, and hung it up to dry. The second round of dyeing left the yarn quite a bit darker, as I'd hoped! It has felted a little bit after the abuse of being dyed twice - I must have been a bit too rough with it. It's still usable thank goodness, it was just a bit of a pain to wind into balls.

Not a bad result! I really like the semi-solid effect. I think it will make a very nice shawl or large cowl. :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Napier II: Yarn old and new

Napier's MTG (or Museum, Theatre, Gallery) was a big highlight of our trip, especially an amazing ceramic sculpture exhibition called Mudlark, full of curious animal and part-human figures. And as a pleasant surprise,  there was Bach music floating through the building, played by locals on the grand piano upstairs.

We found something really cool in the museum collection too - a display of old plant-dyed wool samples, each carefully labelled with the plant and mordant used. It's really worth a visit, if you're interested in natural dyeing or the history of fibre-crafts. I immediately started plotting a lichen-dyeing experiment...

I want to find a copy of this!

A small part of the 'Home Dyes from NZ Plants' display

Our last stop in Napier before heading home was the Skeinz yarn shop!
Mum and I zoomed around comparing colours and textures, and checking our shopping lists. Meanwhile, Dad took a few photos...

One of the neat things about the shop is the window through to the mill next door, where they spin the yarn:

I bought a big skein of organic merino yarn to dye with lichen, and a few more balls of this and that which I plan to use for new designs. :)

Napier I: Family and fauna

Mum and Dad and I spent the weekend in Napier, visiting my brother Jeff and his crew. The last time I visited Napier I was two years old, so it was an interesting trip! There are lots of cool old Art Deco buildings to admire, some great cafés and restaurants, interesting shops, and an excellent museum & gallery. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

On the way there, we found a waterfall. It was ridiculously windy!

After settling in at our motel, our first stop was Jeff & Co's place just out of town. I got to meet their three cute goats, who were surprisingly soft to stroke, and peer at the beehives they're hosting for a local bee-keeper.

Me and my bro (and Mandy the goat)

I met Jeff's partner's parents for the first time, and we all went out for dinner at a cool place called the Emporium. On Jeff's recommendation, I had pulled-pork tacos which were delicious (and rather drippy).

The next day, we went to the museum/gallery, and then to the Mission vineyard to have a look around. It used to be a Catholic seminary, where my uncles studied, so it was interesting looking around the building and all its old photos. A certain family wedding will be taking place there next year, so Dad was scoping out all the good spots for photos.

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Free pattern: On the Record

I made a batch of these crocheted record coasters as a house-warming present for Chloe and Celena, who have recently moved into a new flat:


They're quick and easy, require only small amounts of yarn, and they're reversible too! I used the half-double crochet stitch for most of the rounds, because I like the ridges it creates (perfect for a record). Each coaster is about 4.5" wide, which is big enough for a large mug. If you want smaller coasters, omit Round 5 in the instructions.
If you're new to crochet or would like a refresher, there are some good tutorials out there. I like the detailed photo-tutorials at the Attic24 blog (e.g. Flat Circle), the clear diagrams at
How to Read a Crochet Pattern, and the beginners' series Crochet School. As for actual books (gasp), my favourite is Debbie Stoller's The Happy Hooker.

Photos of each stage in this pattern can be found on my Ravelry project page: House-warming coasters.


On the Record 
by Amy van de Laar

This pattern uses US crochet terms for slip-stitch, dc, hdc, and sc.
A simple conversion chart for UK terms: Crochet Stitch Comparison Chart

  • DK or worsted-weight yarn in black plus one or more contrasting colours. I used Morris Norway 8ply in 'Black', and Bendigo Classic 8ply in 'Silver', 'Cherry Red', and 'Tasman Blue'. You will need about 16 yards of black for each coaster, and smaller amounts of the contrast colour(s).
  • a 4mm crochet hook,
  • a needle for weaving in ends.


Round 1 (Colour A): Make a slip-knot, chain 4, and join with a slip-stitch to start of chain. Ch2, and work 11 dc (double crochet) into the centre of the ring. Join to the top of the initial ch2 with a slip-stitch, and fasten off Colour A.

Round 2 (Colour B): Join Colour B, ch2, and work 1hdc (half-double crochet) into same place. Work 2hdc into each stitch of the previous round. Join to top of initial ch2 with a slip-stitch, and fasten off Colour B.

Round 3 (Black): Turn to other side of coaster, and join Black. Ch2, 1 hdc into same place. *1hdc in next stitch, then 2hdc in next stitch,* repeat from * to * until 1 stitch remains, 1hdc in final stitch. Join to top of initial ch2 with a slip-stitch.

Round 4: Ch2, 1hdc into same place. *1hdc, 1hdc, 2hdc,* repeat until 1 stitch remains, hdc in final stitch. Note: the 2hdc will fall between the 2hdc of the previous round. Join to top of initial ch2 with a slip-stitch.

Round 5: Ch2, 1hdc into same place. *1hdc, 1hdc, 1hdc, 2hdc,* repeat until 1 stitch remains, 1hdc. Join to top of initial ch2 with a slip-stitch.

Round 6: Ch1, 1sc (single crochet) into same place. Sc into each stitch of the previous round. Join to first sc with a slip-stitch.

Fasten off yarn, weave in ends, and block to help them lie flat.

A side
B side

© Amy van de Laar 2014.