Sunday, 27 December 2009

Christmas comes but once a year.....

and thank goodness for that!

Santa bought me a fridge (reconditioned, secondhand) to keep my cocoons in as the household fridge space was getting a bit tight.

No moths or cats at the moment, but two gorgeous little grandsons, visiting from Australia and loving everything, most especially the snow.

I have to weave three cushions, spin a basket of yarns and make some storyboards by the end of next week and am not sure how I am going to do it, but adrenaline has always been my friend in a tight spot!

A very Happy 2010 to anyone who reads this blog.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

A long silence!

Well, a long silence indeed! The caterpillar season is nearly over - should be well over - but I have 6 cats that are persistantly refusing to spin. They look about fit to burst and really need to get going because the oak trees are really beginning to shut down for the winter. I dread to think what will happen if we exhaust the leaf supply before they have cocooned.

Today I added to my collection of wheels - I need another one like a hole in the head - but this is special. It is an 1840s (approx) double flyer flax wheel. My good friends Amanda and Welmoed already have double flyer wheels, so we are going to try and crack the mystery of how they work - well, no mystery, but requires a good deal of technical skill. Spinning with one flyer, this little beauty goes like a bomb. A picture will go up in due course. The long dark evenings aren't conducive to photography.

I have a list of things to do that grows hourly but I must have big mordant session, followed by a series of dye sessions, really soon.I have design work to do , three commissions to weave, spinning to do, workshops to teach.....

Better go and do some, instead of sitting looking at the computer screen!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Two cats, and you can see the silk on the left under the back feet of one chap

Well, what a few weeks I've had! I've been very busy getting the coursework for the new term's classes running (dyeing starts on 24th September, 13.00-16.00, at The Duchy Square Centre for Creativity: Spinning, weaving and textile design will be along in the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, the caterpillars are spinning up with a vengence. My silkworms and moths are going to be the subject of a book that is being written by Elizabeth Bailey, and bound in a handmade cover. Elizabeth came for one of her regular visits yesterday and it was frustrating for me because I knew at least one of the Robin cats was thinking about spinning, but he just wouldn't settle down and get on with it whilst Elizabeth was here. This afternoon I got home from a course standardisation meeting (very exciting, I don't think!) and the little so and so was not only spinning, but trying to entrap one of his siblings in the cocoon. Escape was possible, so I won't be getting a dupion cocoon after all, as the trapped one is also now spinning but as an individual and not as a pair. I shall be glad when this year's cocoons are all in the fridge, as I have three weaving commissions to complete, plus work for an exhibition in the late autumn to produce.

I will post some pix of the spinner, and possibly one of the two worms entwined, but the focus is not brilliant as I was using a macro lens, and the area was a bit too big for it all to be clear.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Time marches on!

I must now go and see if I can work out why one of the lams on my loom has popped out - wondered why weaving my indigo silk scarf was suddenly such hard work!

I'm continually frustrated by being unable to capture the wonderful turquoise of these caterpillars, but this picture isn't too bad as far as colour goes.
Close up of moth pairing

Not much has appeared on here recently as I've been extrememly busy with all sorts of interesting things, including two wonderful days in my studio with designer Luiven Rivas- Sanchez (, dyeing fabrics with natural dyes. He had explored yarn dyeing but was interested in fabrics and we produced some gorgeous colours on silk muslin, ramie, linen and cotton velvet. He has posted about what we achieved on the blog page of his website.

Before Luiven, I had a lovely time (and this is work?!) with two Dutch ladies, Dineke and Alet, who came and did creative yarn design with me. They achieved some really excellent design work and yarns with me, did some monoprinting with David Lister, a fellow artist at Duchy Square Centre for Creativity, and we spent a relaxing and fascinating day with Lesley Prior at her farm ( admiring her wonderful Bowmont sheep, cashmere goats, and angora goats.
Mustn't forget to mention the highly successful Fibrefest
either. Despite the weather and the very soggy floor in the marquees, it was a tremendous event and Coldharbour Mill is such a good setting for a textile event.

I have a pretty full week of teaching coming up, so thought I should update the progress of the caterpillars. The Robin babies are growing very fast now and are almost ready to spin - at least the older ones are. The a.yamanai have all eclosed and are a bit slow about mating - I have males and females, but they don't seem to want to do what comes naturally - maybe the unseasonably cold weather has had some effect? A. peryni, on the other hand, have been pairing with enthusiasm......

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Blue babies

No, not those poor little souls with heart problems, but the Robin babies. They have this most gorgeous turquoise tinge to them at the moment, particularly fetching with their blue spiky bits - they are like multicoloured punks! I h ave a couple of photos that, though slightly out of focus for most of the cat, the blue is quite true to life.

I went to feed the mob the day before yesterday and was thinking that probably it would be a good idea to put the Japanese Oak Silk Moth cocoons in the fridge till spring - telepathy must have been in play because as I looked in the cage, I noticed a male has emerged, hanging hopefully onto a cocoon that I assume holds a female. She is taking her time about emerging! I think the Chinese had better all go in the fridge as I don't really want to be overrun with moths just at the moment! I have a baby of baby Chinese cats coming along nicely.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Well, time marches on and all the Japanese cats have spun, as have most of the a.pernyi - just the last two huge chaps to decide they've eaten enough.
The Robin Moths are changing daily, most have gone through their black, hairy stage and are beginning to enter the "yellow with red knobs on their head" stage!
I have passed some of the Robin babies on to a friend and I hope she will enjoy them as much as I do.
I have some Chinese Oak moth eggs that arrived in the post this morning from Worldwide Butterflies (, so I hope they will hatch - this will be the last lot of eggs for this year - I hope the moths that are pupating will emerge and mate and I can store some fertile eggs for next year.

I'm going to post 4 photos, one of the three stages of the Robin cats, a serendipitous opportunity as I was cleaning them today, one of the larger of the small black cats up against an almost fully grown a.pernyi cat (the Robins are usually slightly larger than these!) and a close up of the current instar of the Robin babies

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Found a huge (easily 15cm ) green caterpillar trotting - well, ambling, really - across the dining room chair last night. I put him back on the oak and he seems to be fine. They have masses of food, so I don't think he was hungry, more likely looking for a quiet spot to spin.

The Robin Moth babies are getting bigger by the minute and I expect some of them to shed their first skin any time now.

The remaining H. Maia has gone into a sort of trance - I'm not sure if he is about to spin, or if he's just feeling a bit gormless. I'm fairly sure he isn't unwell, though he seems not to be eating the available food. I hope he's considering cocooning, but we shall just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Thought you might like to see these two Cherry Moths that emerged from the three cocoons I had.
I am overrun with tiny little Robin Moth babies - they are chomping merrily away on the lilac.
The a. yamamai are all cocooned now, so I'm hoping for both sexes to emerge in a few weeks and give me some fertile eggs for next year.

When I have a little time - I'm not only doing masses of spinning and dyeing tuition but also upgrading my teaching qualifications - (not to mention racing up and down the hill to gather armfuls of oak branches for the caterpillars!) I'm going to do a comparison of all the silks from the varieties of saturniids I have raised over the past few years. I've got bombyx mori, the Indian and American Moon Moths, Robin Moth, Japanese Silk Moth, Chinese Silk Moth, Tree of Heaven Silk Moth, Giant Atlas Silkmoth, R. Fugex, Cherry Moth, Emperor Moth, Spanish Peacock Moth, and the Emperor Gum Moth cocoons. Most are broken cocoons, though I have one or two I could reel as the occupants have never emerged .

Sunday, 28 June 2009

In the picture of the Indian Moon Moth babies, at about 11 o'clock above the 20 p is an egg
The Robin Moth babies seem to be doing well, munching away on lilac leaves. One of the H. Maia cats has gone walkabout - I dare say I'll find a cocoon somewhere at some point! The little a. luna, only two survived, are now out on branches and one of them has trotted off, too - I suspect it is in the oak leaves, with the a.yamamai, who have nearly all cocooned, and the a.pernyi, who don't look very far off and are eating massive quantities.

The little a.luna have been eating birch, one of the most common trees in the UK, but strangely pretty much absent from this corner of Devon. I rather hope, that like the a.pernyi who transferred themselves from hawthorn to oak when out "free range," the a.luna might be doing the same. If they are all eating the same food it makes life much easier!

I am about to upload two photos - one of the tiny Robin Moth cats, who are tiny as all silkmoth cats are when hatched, and one of the adult moth on its cocoon. These little black babies will eventually be the size and colour of the chap who adorns the top of the blog. I foolishly haven't put a coin into the box when photographing, to give the scale, but they are about half the length of an adult female pinkie fingernail, one cut short - not a glamour puss talon!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Great excitement! My Robin moth eggs, laid by the generation from last year who were overwintered as cocoons in the fridge and completed their life cycle this spring, are hatching! Lots of tiny little black cats are swarming over the lilac leaves they eat and it is rather poignant that the last of the adult moths was dead in the cage this morning - last night she was still just about alive and there were no caterpillars. Is this coincidence or did her death trigger the hatching? I have no idea.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Well, great excitement! I keep the silkworms "free range," on branches of their foodstuff. Occasionally we find one in a place it shouldn't really be. I have just been through to check on them and all was well. Looking up, something on the lintel of the doors to the conservatory caught my eye - a large green blob.

I got the chair, stood on it and my suspicions were confirmed - it is a Japanese silk moth caterpillar spinning a cocoon. So I rushed for the camera and will post the results. The cocoon is still at the transparent stage, so I can see the caterpillar moving its head in the characteristic figure of eight movement, as it weaves its little shell around itself. Miraculous!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

I got a really nice picture of and H.maia cat and whilst in a photgraphic mood, took a detail of the wing of the Robin Moth - beautiful, though my pic doesn't do it justice. They are - silkmoths generally - so furry. Quite different from butterflies and equally as attractive, if not more so.
One of the cats got himself into a fix today - he somehow managed to get himself inbetween two branches and looked as though he was performing some gymnastic trick. I released him, and seems to have not suffered too much so I hope no internal damage has been done.

Still waiting for those eggs to hatch!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Well, how disgraceful. I've let two months go by without an entry and the silkworms have been going great guns! The chap at the top of the blog is now a moth though obviously I don't know which of the emerging cocoons was his/ers. There have been two confirmed matings and now I'm waiting for some eggs to hatch. I have two opportunities, as I have also bought some fresh Robin Moth eggs - belt and braces!

The a.yamamai are just about to spin, by the look of things, the a.pernyai are growing furiously, and I have two h.maia cats that look to be on their last instar. I also have two a.luna cats that got off to a bad start but are manfully chewing away and getting bigger slowly.

My fugex eggs have not hatched, nor have I had any luck with the cocoons - three hatched but no male so far, and the girls are past it.

I have degummed a whole lot of cocoons - the smell doesn't improve! - and am wondering what to do with the silk when I have spun it.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The moths continue to emerge and mate but there are very few eggs appearing. This is a blow as I am giving a talk in mid May to spinners and weavers and would like some cats to show them...never mind, perhaps I will put the eggs in the fridge and see if a spell in the comparative cold gives them the illusion of winter followed by spring and therefore hatching time!

Fingers crossed

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Well, things have moved on. There are now five moths out of the cocoons and there are two pairings! The first pairing doesn't seem to have produced much in the way of eggs, but at least there is another chance with the second.

I hope the oak decides to get a move on - the leaves are still just buds at the moment and I would be grateful not to have any offspring from this pairing having to spend their egg days in the fridge!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Well, at last something is stirring in the silkmoth department! I put several cocoons into breeding cages yesterday afternoon and this morning, to my delight, I have found a lovely fat, furry moth. a.pernyi, hanging from the top of the cage. She looks as though she has a tummy full of eggs, so I hope a chap will emerge to fertilize them, and that her companions will begin to emerge and we shall have some beautiful silkworms to look at during the coming weeks. Very appropriate for Easter Saturday!

Next week I shall start taking the overwintered eggs out of the fridge. The oak and lilac are beginning to show signs of life, but I don't, as yet, have any bombyx mori eggs, the mulberry silkworm, which is as well, as the mulberry looks a bit feeble at the moment. A week of sun might help...

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Well, the early signs for the Easter weekend aren't good weatherwise - we have a dull, rainy day and it is likely to get worse according to the cheerful chappie on the weather forcast.

I have just put some wool yarn on to mordant with alum, no cream of tartar, because I have soft water and am going to test Deb Bamford's suggestion that the reds are bettere in soft water areas without the cot. Will report back.

Yesterday I dyed some wool with mylobaran extract and modified two of the skeins with lemon juice and washing soda - they aren't dry yet but the modifying seems to have made no difference at all! I'll post a pic when they are dry.

Am thinking about taking my Robin Moth cocoons out of the fridge - the chap at the top of this blog is one of them, and seeing if they have survived their hibernation....

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Well, here I am again. Silence has been deafening but I have been very busy and don't know where the time is going.

I am trying to get all the colours in the Pure Tinctoria range up in my studio, as well as working there and at the day job and am at that awful stage with half the stuff I need to do a particular project in one place and the other in another! It will work itself out...

I am watching the leaves still and expect to take the first batch of eggs from the fridge after the Easter weekend. Also I have to be in the studio for the start of the tourist season, and tidy the house (a mammoth task!). Additionally I need (want) to get on with the online guild workshop this month which is dyeing the reds, lead by Deb Bamford, an outstanding dyer. Perhaps I should just give up sleep. On the other hand, I am like a bear with a sore head if I don't get my full 8 hours, so that's probably not a good idea either.

More soon, but maybe not ttomorrow!

Monday, 30 March 2009

Wonder how long I'll keep this daily addition going! Bet it won't be long before the habit fades...

Today I rescued some exhaust dyebaths: cutch waste, cutch and marigold. I've put the three of them in one solar jar with some Corriedale top and it is looking very interesting. The colour is a gold-y yellow with a distinctly green tinge. What it will look like when I take it out is anyone's guess, but it will be a few weeks before it is "cooked." I have put it in the display window at the Duchy, but might have to give it a blast in the conservatory at home - the windows are polychromatic and go black at the slightest hint of sun. They are far too sensitive, because the architect over-corrected on the specification! Still, it helps the building's carbon footprint.

I have almost finished warping my Kombo with a silk acid dyed warp that has been waiting to be woven for longer than I care to remember, so will be able to get on with that next time I am in the studio. Won't be tomorrow, because I will be teaching art and craft to my two groups of learning disabled adults. I hope to get a big batch of mordanting done, too.

Now I shall toddle off to wind some silk chenille for wetting out - yum!

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Welcome to my world!

Well, I have started on the blog route at long last.

I am currently watching the oak trees and lilac to see when the leaf buds are going to burst and then I can take my overwintering eggs from the fridge and have teeny weeny caterpillars, I hope.

I am very tired as I have been using my new studio at the Duchy Square Centre for Creativity - mini-opening on Friday evening, open to the public on Saturday and Grand Opening to come sometime in May when the building might be finished. Haven't done much work, but there is a wonderful creative energy there - will I ever want to come home at night?! I will put a link to the website up, but just at the moment there only seems to be the July 2008 posting.....