Monday, April 26, 2010

Writing a blog

Writing a blog, or article, for someone who is an editor but not a writer is definitely a challenge. I find it easier being an editor, and running my online women's wellbeing magazine than writing an article. Why?

Often thoughts come to mind for topics to write about, and of course, when I am without pad and pen I can think of a whole section that would be good on paper, and then by the time I have them in my hand, the words are gone. It seems to come so easily to many people and here am I, someone who can spin, design garments, run a magazine, edit a manuscript, yet have so many headaches trying to write.

When it comes to writing about crafts I know, the writing comes easier as will be seen from my other blogs, but to write something of substance is a different matter; one needs to have a passion for the topic to create a good piece of writing that is both readable and informative.

Women's issues, particularly concerning abuse or suppression, is a strong subject with me and any way that I can help support and empower women I will, including write about a topic that I feel strongly about. This is what is all about. Getting the support out to those who need it, enabling and encouraging those women who are abused to recognise what is happening and to remove themselves from the problem. If it can help just one person, then its all worthwhile.

The magazine covers many topics from wellbeing to writing, and most people find something of interest between the pages. As I love knitting and spinning, I tend to add things here and there on those topics as can be seen when reading that area, but there is something for everyone - and it's still growing.

Those who have the gift for writing ought to use it regularly. If the topics are a little extrovert or controversial,  find an outlet that will accept them. If you are able to write a book - do it. Don't put it off, sit down and put that pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard, and start writing.

All in all, writing is an excellent way to express yourself, get your words out to the world, and most of all, have fun doing it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Property Managers - Can You Trust Them?

If you can avoid having to rent. Do. Its one of the most annoying, soul destroying things one has to go through, and you are often left at the mercy of unethical property managers that either do not do their job properly, or cannot be bothered.

Having experienced both recently, one can only say shame on them. One particular property manager decided to take it upon herself to put information forward and the application was declined without speaking to the previous rental property manager, but saying that she had. Big mistake. This time she got caught out. The story was that the previous property manager gave a bad reference therefore the application was declined. Not true. In fact, the said property manager did not even speak to the previous property manager at all. Upon checking and speaking with the previous property manager, the reference given out was good. Hence, this particular person decided to decline the property through false pretenses.

It goes to show that it pays to check with your previous property manager as to what they may give as a reference if you are declined for a rental property.

There are still some good, ethical property managers out there who do like their job and do it properly. If you can find one, hang on to them, they are worth their weight in gold.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Living with Alpacas

Alpacas are one of the most adorable farm animals you will ever come across. They are environmentally friendly, meaning their feet do not damage the ground, they eat only the tips of the grass and not pull it out at the root, they're easy to train and love being around children. Being easy to halter train gives children the opportunity to lead them around and be up close and personal with them. If you only have a few of them, and because of their nature, they tend to become part if the family and will follow you around, nuzzling your hands for that extra bit of feed.

My experience with these animals started back in the mid 90's when I had a few in North Queensland, Australia. Not having owned livestock before, I found it enlightening as to their behaviour between themselves and with humans. They are very careful when around people so as not to hurt anyone, but can also become quite antsy with their fellow herd members.

Back in the 90's, the Alpaca industry in Australia was very new, many vets had no knowledge of the animals so it was hit and miss as to how they treated them. I lost two because of this reason, as one of my Alpacas was pregnant and about to give birth but because of lack of knowledge by the vet, both died. Since then, the industry has grown tremendously, there is more expertise on handling and managing the animals, and prices have come down considerably making it more affordable for people to obtain and breed these delightful creatures.

When first thinking about buying an alpaca, bear in mind that you will need to buy two - Alpacas are herd animals and one on its own will fret, they need company therefore two is the minimum ownership. As they do not test fencing, it makes the job of keeping them in much easier - normal sheep fencing does the job quite well. Never use barbed wire as this will tangle in their fleece and can damage them.

One thing Alapcas do love is Lucerne - they will keep eating as much as you give them. I used to keep this feed for special feeding times, as with the grain mix I used to hand feed them every day.

North Queensland is known for its humidity and that is one thing Alpacas cannot handle, so twice a day in the summer season, you would observe my 'pacas' standing spread-legged with me hosing their bellies. They loved it and would stand still indefinitely allowing me to hose them down and cool them off. The bald area of the belly is the one place where heat can escape.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of alpacas are their 'cria' - the babies. The word cute barely measures up to the adorable character and antics these babies get up to. Like most animal babies, they run, jump, frollick and get into all sorts of mischief - as alpacas are highly intelligent, it makes for an interesting exercise watching these cria learn about the world around them.

One word of warning - alpacas are totally addictive. Once seen, never forgotten. They will permeate your life, weedle their way into your thoughts and constantly remind you they are around. Especially at night, if they see something that disturbs them, a high-pitched squeal emanates from these usually quiet animals, sounding like nothing you have ever heard before, and leaving one wondering what on earth created that noise.

If you are intending to create a breeding herd, genetics are all important, and good bloodlines cannot be beaten. Research is necessary to learn about the founding stock, who were to best breeders, and follow those lines to obtain alpacas with some of the best genetics of the industry. There are twenty-two colours of alpaca, and many shades inbetween, so its personal choice as to a coloured or white herd. I feel a mix is the best approach, that way there will be natural colours for spinning, and also white fleece for dyeing. Caution needs to be taken when examining the animal and fleece for purchase. A soft, dense, crimpy fleece will always outweigh a shaggy, coarse-haired animal unless you are looking at the fleece for rug making.

In conclusion, the alapca is a good all-rounder on the farm. Stable, easy to handle, a small eater, good watchdog, good with children, and best of all they produce the best fibre in the world. Have fun.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Latest Project - Knitted Cable Jumper

As its impossible for me not to knit or spin, I decided to create a jumper for my partner. But, not being satisfied with simple stocking stitch, I thought I would create something a little different - A V-neck long-sleeve jumper with cables and pattern front and back.

The fleece is a pale grey and spun as double knit. Then came the patterns - a trip to the library and I came back with at least three books of stitch designs. After much procrastinating I decided on a wide cable - Twisted and Crossed Cable, narrow four stitch cable and a middle block Little Cable Fabric , which I  scanned separately into photoshop (see pic left) then I created into one design to see what it would look like.

Next came the tension square, which was trial and error as I discovered the pattern pulled the work in enough to make a difference, so had to allow extra stitches to compensate for this. After starting the back and working about ten centimeters I saw that it was not wide enough, so the lot was unpicked and restarted. Once the process was computed into the brain, the patterns were easy to work and each pattern was divisable into twenty-four rows (twisted and crossed cable) so had the number of rows for each pattern written down to be crossed off as each row was knitted. The system worked brilliantly.

Throughout the knitting there were only two occasions when I 'mis-knitted' the pattern and had to unpick a number of rows. Apart from that the progress was smooth, if a little slow due to other circumstances getting in the way. I chose to use a book with 'Master Patterns' to save time - Teach Yourself Visually - Knitting Design. A very good book for all sizes from baby to extra large, with variations on neck design, sleeve tops, and body shape. This book I would recommend for beginner or experienced knitters to use.

The jumper is nearly finished and I will post a picture of it when its complete. The object of the exercise has been achieved - a unique garment, the only one of its design in the world.

The next project?  A scarf and beanie for my grand daughter. She chose the wool and colours - white scarf, black beanie. Hmmmm... that will be interesting.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dyeing Wool with Food Colouring

There is nothing quite like experimenting with new ways of doing something.

I recently promised a new baby blanket to a member of the family; they are having their first baby early December. She asked for a green blanket as they chose not to know the sex of the child before birth.

When I realised what I had promised, the thought patterns went into action… Not liking commercial wool too much, and being a spinner, I decided to make one – from scratch.

Searching through my fleeces, I found a suitable white one I could dye. That presented another challenge. Not being at home, one cannot use any old dyestuff in other people’s pots.

Again, the thinking cap goes on – How to dye the fleece… Experimentation was the only way.

Having visited a spinning guild open day recently, and coming across some fleece dyed with food colouring, I thought I would give it a go. Nothing to loose.

Off I trip to the local supermarket to buy yellow and blue food colouring. It was a nice surprise to discover they also sold green; now I wouldn’t have to bother about mixing colours to get what I wanted.

Next was a bit of research on the net to check out the formula, knowing that wool normally needs a ‘mordant’ to make the wool hold the dye. Discovery – white vinegar will do the trick.

Armed with ‘Dutch Oven’ size pan, vinegar, food colouring and washed fleece I get started.

First the wool needs to be soaked in water with about 1/4cup of vinegar to 1 litre of water, soak for at least half an hour, and for up to 24 hours.

I managed to last two hours – then it got the better of me!

Next step was to fill the pot with water and added 1 teaspoon of green food colouring, and some of the vinegar water (or add a splash of vinegar straight from the bottle). That will ensure the dye will grip into the wool. I added enough fleece so it wasn’t too crammed and slowly brought it to the boil, then simmered until the wool had soaked up all (or most) of the colour – about 20 minutes. Removed it to the sink and rinsed.

Imagine my delight when the newly dyed green fleece proved to be colourfast – an added bonus.

The pot wasn’t big enough to dye all the fleece in one go, so I repeated the procedure two more times, only this time adding only ½ teaspoon food colouring as the first batch turned out rather vivid! The fleece was then put outside on a towel on the ground to dry.

The next step was to obtain the ‘apple green’ I was looking for. Out comes the remainder of the washed fleece that I had left un-dyed. And out come my hand-carders that I use for blending.

By trial and error, mixing the green and white fleece I finally had the colour I had in mind.

Spinning into yarn is the easy bit. Then to decide whether to knit, crochet or weave the blanket. Knitting it out – it takes too long and becomes very heavy. I decided to weave the blanket, using a ‘weave-it’ square and join the pieces together.

Ummm… the blanket is still in progress, and the baby about to be born. I think I had better get a move on.

I’m sure baby will get lots of use and warm snugly cuddles out of the blanket – if only I can get it finished before the child grows up!

Precious Needlework - Creative Tapestry

If one is looking for a lifetime hobby that is easily portable, Needlework fills the criteria very nicely.

From ancient times to modern day, needlework has played a big role in society. Many pieces of art are still adorning the walls of homes around the world, many hundreds of years after their creation.

Needlework covers aspects of handcrafting from needlepoint, embroidery, bargello, cross-stitch to needle-lace to name just a few. There are many more avenues to be explored. It can be carried around in a bag and stitched in the most unlikely places.

The label ‘Tapestry’, although now mistakenly associated with canvas-work, is better known as being woven on a loom.

From small children to senior adults, needlework satisfies a creative need in many of us. We enjoy the hours spent working the stitches onto the fabric and creating the design in many different colours and threads.

With my own experience of needlework, the first piece of work I recall was a needlecase, worked on canvas in a very simple bargello design. It hung around for many years before finally getting lost amongst life’s busy-ness.

How does one decide which type of needlework to work with? Trial and error. Try different types and see which you enjoy the most, for that one will open up your creativeness. It can be the smallest of incentives that can lead in one direction or another – a picture of a famous work, chatting with someone who kindles an interest, a chance sample to work on comes your way. Whatever the inspiration, go with it, nurture it and learn more about your chosen needlework. And if that one doesn’t quite fit the bill – change it and try another one.

A few years ago I discovered what is called in Australia ‘Creative Tapestry’, the art of creating a 3D picture with different stitches and threads. I completed a ‘beginners course’ to learn the basics, and away I went. Some of the threads include embroidery cotton, pearle, maderia (a shiny thread), medici (fine wool), wool, flower thread (a fine matt cotton), and soft cotton (a thicker matt cotton thread). Then you have the ‘speciality’ threads – hand-dyed, variegated, a blend of two different threads to create a specific look.
The possibilities are endless, only limited by your imagination. What can be created with threads, and hundreds of colours, is incredible.

My first attempted was a mare and foal at dusk. Using Pearle number 8 (thicker), Pearle number 4 (finer) soft cotton, and stranded embroidery cotton, I created a realistic picture. Stitches used were continental stitch, reverse continental, straight stitch, and candlewicking. It’s a very simple ‘plan’ to start with, but as one becomes more experienced, the level of difficulty increases.

With ‘traditional’ tapestry one uses just wool, and follows a chart or pre-printed canvas. Creative Tapestry requires a ‘plan’ to be made. The easiest way to start is to purchase a printed canvas with a fairly simple design. Then sit and look at it. Take in all the colours, shapes, and areas. Create a picture in your mind’s eye of how it will look when stitched with certain threads and stitches, then get to work writing your plan down. You will find you will need many more colours than the traditional stitching as shading comes into the picture, along with many different thread. A colour chart of all the threads is a must, then as you go along write down the colours, as well as the type of thread and stitches to be used.

To be Obese – Or not

With 1.6billion obese people in the world, its little wonder health is deteriorating at an astronomical rate. It’s a 'wake-up' call for civilization—and it had better take notice. This is one issue needing to be addressed immediately, before people loose sight of  what they are becoming and take it as ‘normal’ to be obese.

What is Obesity?

Obesity is not just being fat and over-weight, it’s much more than that. It’s also how YOU perceive yourself. If you think ‘fat’ that is what you will become. If you do not think about what you are putting into your body, you can also become obese.

According to the World Health Organisation, there are 1.6billion adults overweight in the world. That figure is projected to increase by about 40% over the next 10 years. Not a good future. A person with a BMI of  30 or more is considered obese, and a BMI equal to, or more than, 25 is considered overweight.

Admittedly, some people have no control over weight gain, especially those on steroid treatments or anyone with body malfunction. But, the rest of us CAN help what we are and what we look like.

Obesity is most likely a result of the ‘modern western diet’ way of eating and living, and lack of exercise. That can be changed.

A high carbohydrate diet and lack of exercise leads only to one thing – becoming overweight or even obese. By the time one has taken on board all the ads on television for bread, biscuits, chocolate, pizza, fried chicken, other fast-food commercials, rushing around grabbing the first thing that comes to hand, it’s not surprising there are so many obese people in the world today.

In the end, it all comes down to ‘diet’ – the way we eat and live. Until there is change in the way people ‘think about’ what they put into their bodies, the number of obese people will not reduce.

‘Diet’ – as in a way of eating and not a way of reducing weight, IS the be-all and end-all of common sense.  The saying ‘You are what you eat’ is very true. You eat rubbish, and rubbish will cling to you – literally, in the form of fat. The high carb and ‘added’ fat diet only serves to ‘hand around’. Some of course are more susceptible than others, as is the case with everything. Anyone with a slow metabolism and/or sedentary lifestyle the high carb eating is not the way to go as the ‘deposits’ will not burn off, and hence attach themselves to the fat cells in the body.

Being obese not only affects the size of the body, it also affects the whole lifestyle. Fashion clothes are out of the question, getting around becomes very difficult creating a tendency to stay home, except for having to go to work, which in turn raises the question of social activities and making friends. This in turn affects ones self-confidence levels, thus creating a ‘comfort eating’ pattern – and the cycle continues.

What can be done about it? That depends on how you would like to be, think and feel…

The first step is to make the decision that you want to be smaller and loose the weight to become a size that is comfortable to you, be it 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 or whatever. Then look at what you have been eating. A good idea is to write down everything you eat for two weeks – and no cheating. You might get quite a surprise.

To burn off the fat, one does not continue to eat the same as that which put it on in the first place – most likely being a diet high in carbohydrates, fried foods, takeaways, sweets, and alcohol. The science of nutrition is another subject and too complex to go into here but it can be simplified. And to simplify it, cut out all of those foods, increase your protein and eat more vegetables, salads (and not just lettuce, tomato, cucumber but a variety of foods to make it fun to eat, some fruit (many fruits have a higher carb level too),  and plenty of water. Another fun way to drink water is using Fruit herbal tea; they can be drunk hot or cold and iced. Both ways are delicious. Fresh vegetable juices are excellent and also health-giving at the same time.

The above is not a ‘diet’ just to loose weight, but a way of living. It’s about making changes, even small ones, to your lifestyle. The weight will come off naturally, without even thinking about it.

It pays to know what you are eating, and if you wish to learn more there are numerous books to assist and courses that can be undertaken, depending on the level of knowledge you wish to acquire.

But above all, it’s about being able to live a long, healthy life – and enjoying the way you are.

It’s about being happy with yourself.

Afghanistan – Where Men Rule and Women Are Legally Raped

With the latest advent of the law advocating ’legal’ rape against married women, is there such a thing as democracy and women’s rights in Afghanistan. Apparently not, judging by the law that was passed on 27 July 2009 giving men ‘legal’ right to refuse maintenance to their wives if they refuse to be raped. This law is a further demoralisation for women in Afghan society.

If women refuse to be raped, and are harmed or starved in the process, who will feed these mens’ children? Will they pull out the pots and start cooking? I don’t think so, they are far to chauvinistic for that! They deem themselves God. They are in for a big surprise.

Afghanistan, instead of moving forward, is returning to the dark ages with this law. It seems the end of the Taliban reign in 2001 is worth nothing, they are still ruling the country by violence and infiltrating the government. Karazi cannot hope to satisfy them or the clerics until the whole country is back to where it was when the Taliban were in power.

What really is to be achieved by creating an even more abusive society? Are men THAT afraid of women that they have to force them into rape and slavery? Again, it would seem so.

Where in the Afghan constitution does it give men permission to rape their wives? Nowhere. Where in their religion does it give permission to make women slaves? Nowhere. The Afghan constitution states that "the citizens of Afghanistan - whether man or woman- have equal rights and duties before the law". Where are the equal rights with this new ‘law’ that has recently been passed?
  • Every 30 minutes, an Afghan woman dies during childbirth
  • 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate
  • 30 percent of girls have access to education in Afghanistan
  • 1 in every 3 Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence
  • 44 years is the average life expectancy rate for women in Afghanistan
  • 70 to 80 percent of women face forced marriages in Afghanistan
(Statistics: Afghanistan online)
Forthcoming election or not, someone has to speak out on this archaic situation. It is about time the donor countries found their guts and stood together to help these women – they deserve it.


It’s nice, sitting here, feet up against the post,
a cup of coffee at my side.
No one around, just the sound of cicadas,
and the noise of traffic behind a massive fence,
which I manage to shut out – most of the time.
The tree overhanging the roof and side of the
house is huge – protecting from the sun and
shading my Bonsai trees that live on the
front verandah.
Sunlight filters through the leaves,
creating patterns on the bare ground,
Moving and fluttering around as the breeze
stirs the branches.
A small, bright blue bug hovers around,
looking for a spot to land;
Birds chirrup, hidden amongst the leaves
of the vast tree.
It is a beautiful day,
Clear blue sky, warm, with signs of
Autumn already on the way…
A hot summer this year,
Bush fires blaze through wooded areas,
Taking the old and making way for the new.
The cycles continue, as I sit and watch
the shadows dancing…