Thursday, November 5, 2015

Market prep... the truth

It's come around again, so quickly that I haven't managed a blog post since the last time. This weekend is the Spring/Summer Brisbane Finders Keepers market, and I've been preparing for it like a demon for weeks!

The truth is, though, that there's still way too many things not-crossed-off on the to-do list. There's outstanding orders to fill,  and lists-within-lists which feel a bit insurmountable.
There's stuff everywhere. Cupboards are uncloseable.
There's a cat shedding all over my stall setup, and every time I try to put something on it he either lies on it or knocks it off with utmost nonchalance.
There are concerns. Where are my new business cards that I ordered last week and paid 'Express' for? Will I have enough stock, and if not, what will I do? What can I do about my sad fingers? All the sanding and sawdust and plaster has given them a mummified appearance that is, frankly, starting to get painful and is too yuck to photograph! Is it going to rain? What on EARTH am I going to wear!?


I know it's going to be okay. I will find something to wear, and I will ultra-moisturise my hands. If I run out of stock, well... I will give people one of my new business cards. It'll be exhausting, but it'll be great fun. It always is!
So, do come. The markets are opening at 9am for the first time, and as there's no stalls lining the veranda this time, busy times will feel far less frenetic! I'm planning on making a jolly good start on my Christmas shopping... perhaps you will too?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Finders Keepers preparation

A big Wintry hello to you! Here, the days have been filled with woodsmoke and wearing slippers, and my belly filled with macaroni cheese and chicken pot pie. It's the only little sliver of the year when sitting in the sun in Brisbane is an attractive proposition. It's also (gasp) only three weeks until the next Finders Keepers market, and I'll be there!
I've been attempting a slow and sustained approach to my Finders Keepers preparation this time, as it can get a bit frenetic, and I'd like to avoid that. Plus, because my things often involve quite a lot of fiddly and repetitive finger-work, I'm trying to prevent my hands turning into cramped immobile claws. So far, things are going well, and I'm amassing a promising-looking pile of wares. It gives me a very nice warm feeling, that growing pile of wares!

So, I thought I'd share some of my new things that will be making an appearance that weekend. The delivery of a batch of new postcards always gives me a thrill, and is a reassuring thing to have crossed off the to-do list.
These cards, printed on uncoated recycled cardstock, feature my latest enormous cast plaster gumnut wall hanging, which I have listed in my Etsy store as a 'made to order' item. I have moulds of only eight of these little spotted gum nuts, so this wall hanging involves lots of rounds of casting and hand-finishing. I'm planning for it to take pride of place at my Finders Keepers stall, but in the meantime it's up in our bedroom!
Oliver Kitten seems to become very interested as soon as I try and take a photo of anything around here. He put himself right in the middle of the bed with no prompting from me!
I've become quite focused on gumnuts lately, probably because the beautiful ornamental gums around here have just finished flowering. The lorikeets and parrots all love to feed from the blossoms, and so the ground beneath every tree is often littered with buds, flowers and nuts. On my morning walks I've been coming home with handfuls of them, and some of them have been made into new moulds. The resulting new plaster casts have provoked the development of lots of new wall hangings, some of which feature gum blossom petals made out of unraveled hemp twine. I'm super excited about these new little gum blossoms with petals!
I've also been making the gum blossoms and their 'bud' versions into some little flowery sticks, a handful of which I'll have available singularly at Finders Keepers.
So, things are chugging along. Right now, my worktable looks like a plaster garden of delights!
Lots yet to do, but I'm tackling it in a methodical and very 'listy' fashion. Here's hoping that the next  three weeks are calm, and then maybe I'll see you at the market!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sticks and dust and bugs and hot, hot water!

I've started using some spotted gum branches in my wall hangings. I've never used spotted gum before, and one thing I have noticed about it is that it can be a bit buggy. If there's one thing you don't want to see as a person working with timber, it's this:
This branch, which had been sitting on top of my workroom cupboard for a month or so, ejected the most wonderful pile of borer dust, and got me thinking. Specifically, "Oh no!"

Until recently, I've only ever been using casuarina or she-oak branches in my wall hangings. I harvest them green and allow them to dry naturally for many months before stripping off the bark, and I've never seen any sign whatsoever of insect infestation. Perhaps the casuarina is naturally repellant, but there's been no sawdust or telltale 'exit' holes.
Green-harvested casuarina sticks. Dried naturally.
Now that I no longer live close to a reliable source of casuarina (waaah!), I've been eyeing off the timber to be found locally - here on the shoulder of Mount Coot-tha in Brisbane, it's predominantly eucalyptus, and we've loads of trees in our garden, regularly shedding lovely sticks. I've been casting lots of plaster gumnuts lately, so it's a natural progression to start using gum branches - if only it weren't so full of borer! It seems that borers love spotted gum, and it doesn't seem to matter whether the timber is green or dry - it's all full of holes.

Now, I love the holes. I do. They tell a story and can leave some lovely markings on the surface of the timber. But it would be pretty poor form of me to pass on some hungry passengers in a work that someone may purchase from me... eeek!

Much research on woodworking forums ensued. It seems that the most reliable way of ensuring that any timber-munching critters (and their eggs) are dead is to heat treat the timber. Big mills do this in 'kilns' which, these days, are actually giant industrial microwaves. Some woodworkers rig up  wood-fired 'kilns' where the timber can be baked. Some bugs can be killed by freezing, although the northern hemisphere people scoff at that idea - for don't their bugs come back every year after being under ice for months? Some treat their wood using steam. Others swear by boiling - and this is the solution I'm going with. Just a few weeks ago, C said to me, "I'm going to sell my mum's old copper on Gumtree, unless you want it?" At that exact moment I was boiling up a test batch on our gas stove in my biggest and most expensive saucepan!

So, the copper has been fired up quite a few times since then. It's basically a very large electric coffee urn, and it fits loads of sticks in it at once!
The general gist of heat treating timber is that it needs to be kept at boiling temperature for at least an hour and a half. Super easy! And the smell... it's incredible. A steamy gummy tang (curiously, nothing like eucalyptus oil) whenever I open the lid. Afterwards, the water is stained a dark brown colour (from the tannins in the timber, I think) which I imagine could be used to dye something... I may try that in some future batch!

For my new gumnut wall hangings that I am working on (which use the thicker branches in the photo above) I then dunk the sticks in a mild bleach bath. After a soak, this gives them a lovely pale glowing quality that I'm really enjoying working with... stay tuned for an Etsy shop update in the coming weeks!
Incidentally, my gumnut stick bunches in my Etsy shop are now heat treated, too. Previously, I've found that these smaller sticks tend to break when I'm sanding them, if they have been weakened by having a borer munch through them. So, I've been able to weed any possible passengers out - the heat treating will doubly ensure that any critters are inactive!