Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Magical Fruit

Spent the day yesterday picking and shelling beans from the garden.  This is one raised bed's worth.

Some of the yin/yang beans, many in fact, have little personalities.  It will be hard to eat them!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Sourdough Experiment: Part II

This is the second loaf I've made from the vintage sourdough yeast.  The first was unremarkable but this one is like those overfed Chinese watermelons.  It split!  But it's so yummy.  It's amazing what complex flavor you can get from a culture of yeast, flour, water and a little salt.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Spring Onions

A bunch of spring onions(walking onions) from the garden, chopped.

That is all.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Short Pictorial Fiber Story

If you ever wondered why handspun yarn is so expensive, here is an extremely quick overview of what goes into creating a ball by hand.  It's a lot of dirty work but the rewards are great.  It's hard to put a dollar sign on something so personal.  Typically I grow attached to the yarns after running the soft, lanolin-smelling-feeling wool through my hands so many times.

Raw wool, skirted.  That means picked through for short bits and other undesirables (veggie matter, VM for short).  I like to find local wools from small farms.  This fleece is a columbia/rambouillet cross.
Scoured wool, washed.  Sounds harsh but it's just a soaking in hot water with mild detergent and rinsed repeatedly.  This step takes an entire day to wash and dry, sometimes two but is very important and tricky.  One misplaced agitation and your wool can be felted into an irreparable lump.
Flick-carded wool, cloud.  This step removes extra dirt and VM while opening up the locks.  It's time consuming and best done while watching a good movie.  I use a pet brush for this step.
Carded wool, batt.  Carding aligns the fibers for spinning.  This was drum-carded twice.  My carder handles one ounce at a time and my spinning wheel bobbins each take two ounces.  Having a sensitive scale is a must!
Hand Spun Wool, natural.  This was spun on my antique spinning wheel.  Worsted weight, 2 ply.
Hand-dyed wool yarn, hank.  This was dyed in Sandalwood (of the incense variety) and Onion Skins.  The wool needs to be mordanted before dyeing in the case of natural dyes.  That means boiling gently in alum and cream of tartar before adding to the yarn to the dye bath. 
Balled and knitted yarn, the final product!  Hand-knitting is another labor of love, all of itself, so a knitted product made of handspun yarn is one of a kind and priceless.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ghost Town

I love this yarn so much I decided to share.  It started with this Merino/Romney/Mooritt blend I bought from a farm on Madeline Island on Lake Superior (in Wisconsin).  It's a blend of fiber from sheep with names like Twill, Tweed, Tattersall and Tapestry.  That was reason enough for me but when I received the package and opened it...  It smelled like a ghost town... really.  Now, that might have turned some people away right there but to me it was like catnip to a cat.  I want to roll in it!  Seriously!  Indeed, you can find me with my face buried in it, breathing it in. 
Merino/Romney wool and silk noil

But what to do with it?  Well, I had this bag of natural silk noil laying around just waiting for a project and I couldn't see dyeing either perfect ingredients so... blend them!  Silk noil, if you're not familiar with it are the left-overs from the carding process.  They're nits and nubbins and bits of papery cocoons that are basically undesirable to the fine silk fabric industry - great for spinners though.  So I carded them together and got this soft pillowy blanket of smell-good fluff.  Yay!

The batts of Ghost Town, ready to spin

Spinning was delightful as it simply slipped through my fingers.  I plied it, a rather thick yarn for my antique machine.  It is absolutely beautiful and soft and has that smell...  like an old restored building, a hundred years, thousands of memories, humanity and decay.  I can't really describe how much it affects me, words seem trivial and I wonder if I'll be able to sell it.  

The finished yarn.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Day of Strings

Our school system is very fortunate to have a wonderful string program!  Every year they gather up the students during school and bus them over the high school for some intensive practice, feed them and then end the day with a massive concert and a special guest.  Last year they featured a local composer.  This year it was a Bedford Alumni and musician, Matthew Bell.  His skills are amazing and he began by serenading us with a round of 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia' on his amped up violin.  Just amazing!  Overall it was a great concert and we're very proud of Andy.

Andy, just to the right of Mr. Koch
Matt Bell and his electric violin

The entire assemblage, fifth grade to high school (off camera to the right)

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 'Snow' Showers

This is not completely unexpected - it's happened before.  I have photos from when we lived in Jackson of snow covering our hyacinths and forsythia.  But it is still a rare occurrence and always worthy of photographing.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Musical Masterpieces

Last night, my middle child had a concert at his school with his fellow third-graders.  It was awesome!  The idea was this: they chose a painting, painted a backdrop and wore costumes to recreate the piece and then sang a song they felt was related to the painting.  For instance, my child's picture was Baile an Tehauntepec by Diego Rivera.  So the girls dressed in red and the boys in white and posed in front of a backdrop painted by a student and sang La Bamba.  Logan insisted on sewing his own costume (he would have tried it himself if I hadn't intervened) so I taught him the basics of sewing and I'm proud to say he pretty much sewed his own pants.  Pretty clever, this concert and definitely complex.  Kudos to the teachers for putting this all together.  There were 13 paintings and songs all together.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Logan is on the right, in yellow


Baile an Tehauntepec, Diego Rivera

The Lantern Bearers, Maxfield Parrish

The Drinkers, Vincent Van Gogh

Buying Ponies in the West, Frederick Remington

The Umbrellas, Renoir

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Indoor garden: April, 2011

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and tomatillo
So far, the garden is growing well.  I have much to plant this year and only a fraction of it is started indoors.  I have here both my dyer's garden and my vegetable garden.  I save up plastic trays that I get at nurseries for my transplants and make other pots out of newspaper (see the tomatoes).   As per usual, I've planted more than I can grow and probably planted things that really ought to be directly seeded outdoors but after our long, dreary winters, I can't help myself and plant extra just to see green.  If they don't make it to planting time, I will simply direct sow and play the taps at the compost heap for the ones that didn't make it.

Weld and chamomile

Other veggies I will plant this year are corn, squashes and beans.  The strawberries that I planted last year from seed are doing well and are growing already, even though the weather has been fairly cold.  The salad garden that I planted in March is up as well.  I'm still waiting on the asparagus and horseradish to sprout.  The rhubarb is growing (I planted more too).  The grapes this year seem to be holding off, which is good considering they usually sprout leaves and bunches well before the last frost date and get frozen.  Hopefully they hold off a little longer.  We still have until mid-May before planting time.


I have a ton of plants for dyeing too.  The Calendula is already planted and growing outside. Madder, weld, indigo, anthemis, coreopsis, calliopsis and dahlia are some of the others.  I'm sure some of these won't fare as well as others but it is experimental so we'll see.

More weld and dahlia

Indigo vat dyeing

This is my first time experimenting with indigo vat dyeing.  I followed the instructions in my natural dye book.  Next time I will likely follow a different set of instructions as I'm not particularly fond of spectralite.  I've heard of methods using simple fermentation that sound much more appealing to me.  I am, after all, versed in wine and bread-making so it should be no issue. Following are some images of my efforts. 

It is important to remove all of the oxygen from the dye.  This what the spectralite does.   Reduced indigo is yellowish or bronze.  Oxygenated indigo is blue.  Other additives are salt, dish soap, and soda.  Pretty common stuff.
The stock jar of reduced indigo.  It has a distinctive smell.

Straight-up indigo-dyed muslin rag yarn

Exhausted indigo vat
Stained yellow gloves
Columbian cross wool dyed with weld and indigo to varying degrees

Columbian cross and llama dyed for different lengths of time in the vat.
Indigo and tea-stained muslin rag yarn
This dyeing method also varies from other traditional methods in that it requires no boiling and cooling, etc.  One simply dips the fiber to be dyed in the vat until  the desired shade is achieved.

I found myself dunking in anything I could find, including some old pink towels that didn't match our "decor".

One of the most beautiful greens can be achieved with the use of weld, another plant dye.  Then the wool is put through the indigo.  Yellow and Blue make GREEN!

Tea-staining gives the indigo a nice faded blue jean coloration.

Sandalwood, which I have grown fond of for it's
easy pinks, makes a great (albeit unpredictable)
color combination when dyed with indigo.  I found that the spectralite tends to remove the pink if it is pre-dyed.  I'm hoping the fermentation method will eliminate this side effect.
Sandalwood and indigo-dyed muslin rag yarn

The sourdough experiment

I love sourdough but it's really hard to find decent sourdough out there, that isn't flavored.  I once made my own starter out of store-bought yeast but just didn't find it that special (though admittedly better than Kroger sourdough loaves).  So I found this company that sells vintage yeasts from around the globe   They had San Francisco sourdough yeast so I purchased some of that.  Now I have embarked on a journey to raise, feed, breed and sustain this pet yeast and then slaughter it ritualistically for my bread.  I can't wait!  With special care, it could last my lifetime and it all starts with activating the little yeasty beasties.  They recommend building a proof box but I've managed to rig my oven to maintain a steady 90 degrees Fahrenheit with only the light and a wooden spoon propped in the door for ventilation.  The initial 24hr proof is almost complete.  THEY'RE ALIVE!  Eat up little creatures, eat up!

It will likely be a week or more before I will have my first loaf but I believe it will be well worth the wait.  This is how it's done folks - slow, honest to goodness food.