Saturday, 19 April 2008

Dying To Try Dyeing

Last weekend I paid a visit to my absolute favorite wool destination – Gaspereau Valley Fibres Farm Wool Shop in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. I had a Christmas gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket! The rustic old building is a perfect place to spend a misty spring afternoon, browsing the wide array of luxurious yarns, while the woodstove belts out comforting warmth. While Muffy and I shopped, Chi-Chi and Nanny fed Willie the sheep and chatted with the resident chickens.

Since I learned to knit, I’ve been itching to create a couple of sweaters for the little ones. I’m consistently attracted to the beautiful hand-dyed yarns available. I marvel at the organic mixing of rich colors and the lush texture of the fibres. With the boys growing like weeds, I am well aware that these little sweaters will experience limited wear. Although I’ve been known to drop a fair penny on a certain never-ending poncho project for myself, I wasn’t willing to spend $60 on a sweater that may be outgrown in a year.

I was admiring a creamy white merino wool skein, imagining how quickly it would become stained with mud and blueberry juice, when the friendly lady at the shop suggested I dye the wool myself. Eureka! I had not considered this! This sounded like a perfect project that would prove to be very economical. $13 was all I had to spend on enough wool for an entire sweater!

In my past days as an avid rug hooker, I had tinkered with hand dyeing my wool. I have an extensive set of dyes and recipes. These dyes, however, are very toxic! They must be if the instructions call for safety goggles, rubber gloves and a facemask. Somehow, it didn’t seem appropriate to use these chemicals on garments destined for my little ones. I’ve heard of people using both Kool Aid and Wilton icing color to dye wool and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to give it a shot!

With Chi-Chi and Daddy gardening, and Muffy enjoying an afternoon siesta, I set to work in the kitchen. Earlier in the day, I had set my skein in a bowl of water and vinegar to assist the dye in attaching to the fibres. Winging the rest was my approach on this project. I laid the skein out in a roasting pan and mixed up a couple of dyes with boiling water. I chose Wilton’s Royal Blue, Leaf Green, Moss Green and Sky Blue. I figured the colors would not muddy since they were all a combination of blue, green and yellow. I “painted” the skein using a sponge brush, alternating the colors along the length. Once finished, I poured boiling water into the pan so that the wool was completely immersed. I then set my stove on medium low and sat back with a cup of tea and waited. I dumped in another cup or so of vinegar and continued with the waiting game.

After about an hour, the water in the pan was clear and the dye was well “attached” to the wool. I parked it on the back porch to cool and made another cup of tea! Once cool, I laid the skein in some old towels and squeezed out as much water as possible. I hung it on the line to dry in the gorgeous spring sunlight. How beautiful it looked against the backdrop view of the ocean. Obviously, my color selection was ocean inspired. I’m so pleased with the results. My knitting needles are ready and waiting!

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Boys Will Be Boys

I’ve been fantasizing about this moment for months. The mercury finally started to inch its way up the thermometer this week. Being the conservative accountant type that I am, I feel it is only now safe to say that spring has arrived.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve spent far too many days cooped up inside due to stormy weather conditions and sickness. During this time, I devised an extensive list of “spring themed” activities for the family to undertake. To my delight, the weather forecast this week was full of sunshine and I was not disappointed. We flung on our rubber boots and headed outdoors to take part in one of Mommy’s fun-filled and educational activities.

I decided to introduce my young budding botanists to the miraculous life cycle of a plant. We grabbed an old bucket, a bag of potting soil and a handful of grass seed from the basement. Chi-Chi and Muffy enthusiastically filled the pot and not-so-carefully dumped in the seeds. They watered their dear little “garden” and we had an extremly brief discussion about how they would care for and nurture these seeds as they grew into plants.

I’ve been itching to clear up last year’s growth from my perennial garden. I decided to seize the opportunity to get my hands dirty in this beautiful weather. I grabbed a basket of cars to occupy my little companions while I set to work. Engrossed in my own activity, it was evident the kids were having fun as they squealed and giggled. I finally looked up to a rather messy scene. The lovingly planted “mini garden” ceased to exist. Chi-Chi was dancing in the earth, sock feet and all. Muffy was rolling around in it like a doggie. They gleefully scooped and carved paths for the cars and trucks. They spent a solid hour engrossed in this activity. Turns out I was able to accomplish quite a bit in my garden while the boys worked in their “dirt depot”.

Boys will be boys! That about sums it up!

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

There is no denying it. My two little ones are drawn to anything and everything with wheels. A large majority of their play activity centers around our family’s extensive fleet of vehicles. With two little boys in the house, I’ve made sure we have enough planes, trains and automobiles to keep everyone amused and content. Baby brother Muffy may be a mere 18 months old, but he’s a full participant in everything that goes on around here. He certainly ensures he’s a part of the action! One of Chi-Chi’s favorite toys has been a cloth play mat I picked up at the local thrift shop. He’s enjoyed hours setting up scenarios and driving his cars along the roads and paths of Teddy Town. I have to admit, it can often be a challenge to share with an active and enthusiastic 18 month old. Chi-Chi’s elaborate and carefully constructed buildings and roadways tumble in an instant with one quick pounce or pull by Muffy.

Luckily, I stumbled upon a great little piece of fabric that depicts a small town’s roadways and buildings. I found this at my local Walmart of all places. I had not been there in years, literally. I can’t even tell you what I was doing there on that cold and windy afternoon. Perhaps cabin fever and the absence of my very busy tax accountant husband led me there. I actually told Chi-Chi we were going to the “Wool Mart” as I headed for the craft section.

I picked up a fuzzy blue flannel at the little fabric shop up the road. The combination of these two fabrics created a fun and cuddly play mat for Muffy to call his own. His new mat plays double duty as a blankie to cuddle with if the mood should arise. Stuffed into a knapsack with a handful of cars, it also serves as a wonderful take-anywhere activity. Of course, I love the fact a quick spin through the washer makes it good as new . This is a must when it comes to Muffy who is often covered from head to toe in blueberry juice!

As would be expected, Chi-Chi’s big brown eyes turned green with envy when he spotted baby brother’s new mat. The second Muffy headed for his afternoon nap, Chi-Chi was quick to seize the opportunity for undisturbed access to the mat. As a second-child myself, I’ve always been sensitive to the hand-me-down phenomenon. I'm happy to offer Muffy his personal made-by-mommy activity mat. It was a fast, inexpensive, easy project that resulted in a great imaginative, open-ended toy for my little one. You can't be that!