Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Glaze testing...

I've been testing pottery glazes these past few months. 
Initially I mixed up small amounts, tested them, then narrowed it down to the examples that seemed to show the best results. I mixed a large tub of a white that looked promising, but now I'm not so sure... It's a rather fickle glaze I think. 


Lovely smooth finish on this - no pit holes, even, and good coverage:

By contrast, a pretty rubbish finish on this house with the same glaze - small pit holes and overall uneven coverage. Why??


Better, but still pretty average. The coating is more even, but there are still signs of pin holes and some unattractive breaking over the edges. 


The white glaze continues to misbehave. I was so excited to see how it looked on the uneven little pot, it was as close to my perfect while as I've ever come! But then it came out so average on everything else:  too thin on the large pot, but it might be that I should have just dipped it twice, but also slightly rough, with tiny pin holes. Same on the 'onion' pot, and perhaps worse on the little house, which felt quite rough to the touch. More testing needed I think...

I also tested a couple of transparents and a dark blue. Really liked how the blue came out:


I'm also really happy with the G3 transparent, though, which has come out very even, smooth, and without pin holes. Less so with the G0001 on the small vessel.


Monday, February 04, 2019

It's an ant infestation!!

Soooo....

we've been pretty into ants these past few weeks. 

It was boy #2 who started it. He found this youtube channel, called AntsCanada, which is run by some completely ant-mad guy who is presumably Canadian but lives in the Philippines. Let me tell you, he's got some serious ant-geeking going on! It's kind of mesmerising to watch. He has huge colonies of different types of ants, in different set-ups, some natural, with plants and even running water, and some more 'artificial' if you like, with a formicarium where you can lift a lid to watch the colony in their nest. He's really rather entertaining to watch because he's good at spinning a yarn - he makes you care for these ants the way he clearly does. He has made me care for a colony of probably well over a million fire ants. Me! Fire ants! (I swell up like a balloon animal when an ordinary red ant bites me). 


And look at this gorgeous set-up!


The kids and I have been watching this channel so much these past few weeks, it's bordering on obsessive. And obviously it was only a matter of time before the boys decided that they clearly needed to keep ants too. 

It's not the first time they've done this. A couple of years ago we had one of those flimsy plastic ant farms that they sell for kids, so we caught a few ants in the garden and they dutifully made some tunnels and lived in there. It seemed kind of wrong, though, because we didn't have a queen, and they seemed sort of ... lacking in purpose. It didn't seem far-fetched to think of them as forlorn and sad, because for an ant the primary purpose is the colony and the queen - remove those two things and there really isn't a lot left for them. We eventually released them back into the garden near their old nest and judging from the way the guy at AntsCanada explains it the chances are pretty good that they made their way home and, due to the pheromones that ants communicate with, were accepted back into the nest.

This time, inspired by the AntsCanada guy, we are doing things differently. First it was boy #2 who decided that with the money he had left over from his birthday he would invest in a proper expandable ant formicarium. Boy #3, always eager not to be left behind, quickly followed suit. So we researched it and ant formicariums were ordered from AntKit UK. Look at them, don't they look great? There are extra exits that can be connected to extensions of the habitat. 



We also ordered two mated Lasius Niger (that's the common black garden ant) queens in their own test tubes. They are basically sandwiched between two cotton wool wads with a water reservoir at the end that will allow them to drink and also to keep their eggs moist.


I was initially a bit iffy about the test tubes - wouldn't that be cruel? But it turns out that actually they like it because it's very close to how a mated queen would sequester herself to start a colony. They make a closed-off dark chamber and they basically stay there until they have enough workers with them to get going on actually making a nest. 
Our two ant queens currently live on my bedside table in a cozy dark cardboard box and I've told the boys they are not allowed to check on them more often than every other day because they don't like to be disturbed too often.

Once they have around 15 workers they can move into their new homes.

Obviously now that the formicariums and ants are here, boy #1 has decided that he wants ants too. Unfortunately he has hardly any birthday money left because he's spent it all on his scooter, so D went into the shed and they  found a clear plastic box that they drilled a few holes into for future expansion. I found an online tutorial of how to make an ant hill out of clay and plaster of Paris so he can observe them in a nest through the clear plastic. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Sourdough bread making...

I'm not much of a baker, usually.



It's not that I don't like cake - after all, who doesn't like cake?! I'm just not that much of a domestic goddess and while I enjoy eating (a lot), I don't really enjoy the process of cooking and baking all that much. I can do the occasional thing, sure, but the routine task of putting food on the table is not something I particularly relish and I don't usually strive to spend any more time in the kitchen than I absolutely have to.

That said, there are certain things I just miss, and one thing that I have missed ever since I left Germany and settled in the UK nearly 20 years ago now is a good loaf of sourdough bread. Whenever family or friends come to visit from Germany I ask them to bring some, and they usually oblige, but it's not quite the same, because they obviously have to buy the bread in advance, and by the time it gets here it's already not that fresh anymore. Still good, sure, and one of the fabulous things about sourdough bread is that it keeps much better than a normal yeast loaf, but I miss that taste of crusty fresh bread with butter on, baked that day, and dug into as soon as I get it home. 

I'm a bit of a bread snob I think.

A while ago a friend of mine gave me a bit of her sourdough starter and I proceeded to occasionally bake with it. All was well, but the recipe I had was quite time-consuming - sourdough, it turns out, needs a fair bit of hand-holding. It's not at all like the bread maker loaves that are so easy to just put in the machine. Instead you are talking about kneading, rising, more kneading, in a seemingly endless cycle. I did a few loaves, then gave up. And because I forgot to feed the starter regularly it eventually died. 

At Christmas I wished for another starter. I'd seen one on Amazon of all places, and thought I'd give it another go. D got the starter for me and I have been feeding it, more or less once a week. This seems little (a lot of recipes insist on you feeding your starter once a day at roughly the same time), but it turns out that a well-established starter can live in the fridge and, if kept cold like that, only needs feeding once a week. I take the starter out and feed it, then leave it on the worktop for a good 12 hours so it can warm up and get going. Then back in the fridge it goes.

Up until yesterday that's all I did with it. Christmas is busy, and to be honest, I felt a bit daunted by attempting another sourdough loaf. 

Then I found a recipe on Pinterest that I thought I should try. It is simple in terms of ingredients (but then, all basic bread recipes are - you are just talking about starter, bread flour, water, and salt after all), but it asked you to mix up a fairly liquid dough at first, then cover it and let it do its magic in a warm place in the kitchen overnight, for 12-17 hours. That's easy, I thought.



After that point you end up with a sort of sour-smelling bubbly thin dough. You then start mixing and kneading, adding as much flour as it takes to produce a stiff dough that isn't sticky on the outside anymore. The whole thing goes in a floured proving basket for another 1 - 1 1/2 hours and then it goes straight in the oven at around 230 degrees C. for around 50 minutes. The recipe suggests baking in a Dutch oven, but I don't have any such thing, and it turns out a normal baking tray works just as well!



I can tell you, the result is awesome! I'm so pleased with my loaf! It's crispy outside and fluffy and soft and aromatic, with a sour tang on the inside. It's delicious.



I can see a lot of sourdough loaves in our future!

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Friday Photo Journal


Thursday, January 24, 2019

yet another blanket...

Another (very old) FO - I made another blanket!

This was some time ago, but somehow I never managed to take pictures and blog about it. 


I made this one in thin strips, with alternating colours, then edged each strip with dark blue and finally sewed all the strips together. 


It was a stash-buster project because I'm still sort of drowning in acrylic and I don't use it for anything other than blankets (they do work best with acrylic yarn  because they need to withstand a fair amount of wear and tear and also get washed frequently). 

It's not a favourite and I don't consider it a particularly good-looking blanket. The strips were awkward, there was far too much sewing in of yarn ends, and the sewing together creates ridges that never look quite as good as you hope they will. 


It's OK, though, because it's soft and warm, and it's on rotation with all the other crochet blankets in the living room so it gets used all the time. All is well. 


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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Studio time...


We've had a busy past few months, and our fair share of ups and downs, but just this past couple of weeks or so, since Christmas and the school holidays, things seem to tentatively be looking up. It's still too early, too fragile, to think much of this in the long term, because we've been here before, and this is bug season, and the school term has only just begun, but we are feeling hopeful and just a little lighter, so we are trying to just enjoy this for now.

In the spirit of this uplift I've clocked some much-needed pottery studio time. I've been dreadfully slow with this, because I knew my next task was glaze testing, and there always seemed to be some reason or other to delay - it was too cold (but my new heater is in now, so this is not an excuse anymore), I didn't have enough time to get started (mixing glazes is time-consuming), I am still waiting for some glaze component or other to arrive in the mail (it's amazing how much stuff you need if you are testing, because there are so many different ways of putting together a working glaze), my studio is too chaotic (this was a bit of an issue for a while, because stuff had migrated in there on a temporary basis, but it's mostly sorted now)... So many excuses!


There are still fairly important things to sort out to make my little studio space work - I don't have a source of running water, so that is an issue,  because I don't like the idea of bringing potentially toxic pottery materials into the house via brushes or buckets. We are now considering installing a washing-up sink outside with a trap to catch heavy particles that I don't want going down the drain. Hopefully this summer...  I also need to repaint the concrete floor in my pottery space, because it's crumbling and therefore generating dust. This also does not allow me to mop the floor, meaning that any spillages will also dry and generate dust, which is a potential health hazard, particularly long-term. I also want to paint the brick-work on the walls because I get so much dirt falling down and contaminating my work space.

That said, it's a good little studio by now. My lighting is sorted out, and I have my awesome little heater, which means I feel less like an extra from La Boheme when I'm working in there at any time other than high summer.

I've even managed to get some of the dreaded test glazes mixed up the other day and I managed to pour only half a bucket of glaze over myself. I call that a win!

Now hopefully one of these testers will generate the glaze that I'm after, because I'm still struggling with that. I want a pure white glossy glaze that covers well and doesn't break over the edges of the little houses that I make. Once I've achieved that I want to make a big badge of glaze and create enough houses to put on Etsy or Folksy to sell so my pottery endeavours become a bit more cost-neutral at least.



I even managed to motivate boy #2 to help me paint the planters that he got for his birthday so they can be moved out of my studio onto the patio. Boy#2 is our green-fingered child, and he loves planting things, so we are hoping to grow some vegetables in his new boxes.
 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Knitting Wishlist...

We all have one, don't we? A list of patterns that we would love to try out and make. And a list of yarns to match it. 

Pretty high on my wishlist at the moment are those Icelandic sweaters with the lovely patterns around the yoke. I would love to make one, and look how pretty they all are.



This one is highest on my list, and I just love the colour combination, but look at all the other pretties...

Afmæli


The Fluffy Feather Sweater






I love them all!! 

It's all so tempting, but I've promised myself that I wouldn't add more WIPs to my list before I've finished at least two of my current projects. 

I'm not on track...

Knitting and crocheting has been pretty slow recently, and if I continue at my current pace I may get to my pretty Icelandic sweater when I'm ready to retire. 


Saturday, September 22, 2018

100 of 10 - Day 26 - Leeds Urban Bikepark again...


We had another trip to the Leeds Urban Bike Track today - it's such a fun place, and the cafe isn't shabby either! ;)  

Friday, September 14, 2018

100 of 10 - Day 25 - Anemone


Another shot from yesterday's impromptu photoshoot. Anemones are probably one of my favourite flowers. I have a weakness for that daisy-shape anyway, the simplicity of it appeals to me, but Anemones in particular have such a delicate beauty, and they come so late in the year, when a lot of the other perennials are already starting to die back. 

I never actually planted these Anemones. When we moved into our house, the garden was a huge wilderness of  brambles and nettles, with just one narrow path through it, from the back door to the orchard at the end, flanked by brambles that came to over head-height. It took a long time to make  sense of the garden and to reclaim it from all the weeds, but when we did, there they were - a few big, well-established clumps of Anemones and a few rose bushes, all of which somehow survived underneath all those brambles. They've come  back every year since, and have even spread. 

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

100 of 10 - Day 24 - Hello Ladybird!


Boy #1 and I had a mini photo expedition in the garden yesterday to try out different manual settings on the camera and I found this little guy, having a rest. This is such a late-summer image for me, the dying perennials, but there is warmth and sunshine, and the garden is still very much alive and buzzing with life. 

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Glaze Firing...

It's been a long time since I've done a glaze firing. I did a couple of biscuit firings but that meant that things were really piling up in the workshop and I was pretty much running out of space to even put things down. I needed to get on with it and glaze some things so I could make some room, you know? 

Glazing is not my favourite task. I obviously love the look of nicely glazed ceramics, but it's such a fiddly job, and so prone to going wrong, that I dread it just a little, because the danger of ruining a much-loved item is so very real. 

Take that, and add to it that glazing materials are hazardous and best not used around children, and you've got the perfect playground for some heavy procrastination. ;)    It's taken me months to get to the point where I could shut the heavy kiln door and programme my controller.

That said, once it's done and everything is loaded, it's all very exciting. A kiln firing takes a good 12 hours, and after that it takes another 48 hours or so for the kiln to cool down to ambient so it can be opened safely and without danger of cracking any pottery or glazes due to thermal shock. That's a whole lot of nervous waiting, because you never quite know what you are going to find once you crack that kiln door open - is it all going to  be shattered, or will it have worked?!

This firing was to stoneware,1220 degrees C. I switched the kiln on at around 8am in the morning and because Betty is quite an old kiln I checked on her several times that day to see if she was doing her job. She was, and by the afternoon when I checked once more, there was the tell-tale glow from the air hole at the top where I'd removed the bung to help the kiln breathe. Can you see it? 


Closer look...


The temperature at that point was 1147 degrees and rising.


It's always fascinating to me how the inside of the kiln starts to glow once it gets to the really high temperatures. This is the glow through one of the ceramic bungs in the door, which, by the way, are not normally transparent. 



Betty reached temperature at around 8pm that evening and then started to cool down. It was a loooong wait, because after the initial fairly quick drop in temperature down to around 600 degrees, which she managed overnight, things slowed down and it took a further day and a half to get to around 45 degrees, at which point I couldn't take it anymore and cracked the kiln door open. It was still a little early, and there were a few ominous pings (that's the glaze cracking...), but nothing too dramatic happened, and I don't have anything in there where a few minor cracks in the glaze should matter in the least. 

I forgot to take a shot of the kiln right when it was opened, so in this picture a few items have already been moved. 

 

Overall it was a  very successful firing, but a few things did go wrong - right on the top shelf I had a big plate that I had glazed in white, with small chips of blue glass to melt in all the little indentations in the plate. That part went well, but apparently I had not taken off enough glaze at the bottom of the plate and the whole thing got stuck to the kiln shelf and, because it couldn't expand and contract the way it needed to during firing, cracked in several places...



Ah well, you win some, you lose some...

On the other hand I had a few things that turned out quite lovely:










I think, overall, I'm pretty pleased with this glaze firing! 

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