Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Solstice Mitts

 This year my journey of learning herbal wisdom, and my love of fiber crafts are set to collide! I've decided to really dig into the art of plant dying, hopefully getting some wonderful colors in the meantime.

One of my inspirations was this layout of plant colors from Ireland, bought on my trip last fall. From left to right - Mature gorse, young gorse, heather, sorrel root, tormentil root. All with alum and soda.

Of course I wanted to keep this gorgeous rainbow effect, so I created a chart of Scandinavian style diamonds that slowly shifts colors. I must say, after working with sock and lace yarn for many months, worsted on size 8s knits up SO FAST!

So here we have, a gentle range of yellows and greys, just like the solstice sun poking out of clouds. It was fast, simple, and just interesting enough to keep you going. I'll be making a matching hat with the rest of the yarn, tho maybe not for much summer use. And if you think I won't use these in the summer, you've obviously never been to Colorado!
Here's the pattern I created, it could have extra rows of single color inserted to stretch it out a bit. What are you knitting for the summer? Blessed Solstice everyone!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Spring Strawberries

Aw yisssss... homegrown strawberries! It's the season for first fruits from the garden, I've already enjoyed my radishes, spinach and arugula are gracing the plate, and now the crown of early foods.

No matter how misshapen, no matter if they are still white on the bottom, no matter that they are small and bear the marks of hungry birds; homegrown strawberries are the sweetest nuggets of goodness on the gods green earth.

This, I feel, is the truth of local, seasonal foods. I have grown used to enjoying many crops for only a few short weeks each year. I do it to support local growers, and to know where my food is coming from. I do it to reduce my environmental impact. It's a win-win to avoid those tasteless plastic packs from California and Mexico.

But mostly, I do it for the taste. Sure, I can enjoy strawberries 12 months of the year, and I do at restaurants and friends gatherings. But I don't truly enjoy strawberries until they come from mother's yard, warm from the sun, ripe on the vine. The same is true for Palisade peaches and Rocky Ford cantaloupe, accept no imitations, wait for the real thing.

What's your favorite seasonal treat? What do you wait all year to enjoy?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Beltane Fires

Blessed Beltane! Merry Mayday! Happy Walpurgis, International Workers Day, Valborg or any other excuses you have to build a bonfire and party with your comrades.

Beltane is an interesting transition time, officially spring begins on Eostre, the equinox, but around here the cold weather is clinging on. Colorado is notorious for unpredictable climes, and I know well enough to not put out the tomatoes until May Day as we can get snow 10 months of the year here in the city. So we are now moving into a steady warm season, with ever lengthening days and the greening earth.
Flower crown tutorial.

Traditionally Beltane was celebrated throughout the British Isles, honoring the sun god Bel. Great fires would be built and the livestock was run between two fires on their way out to summer pastures. This practice may have arisen from attempts to scare away evil spirits, or the more practical scaring off of predators and competition. Walpurgis and all it's relatives were also based around bonfires and merry-making.
Photo by Roddy Macd

In the earlier days of Industrialization and socialist movements May Day became International Workers Day. Besides being a day of celebration, it has been suggested that the largely rural farming workforce that was transitioning to factory work still enjoyed the holiday even after the older traditions (like running livestock) had dropped out of it.

No matter the focus of your celebration, this is a time of new awakenings and fresh starts. As we in the northern hemisphere enjoy the coming bounty and fertility of the land, raise a glass to the fire, to the land, and to the people who work it!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Plant Dying in the Kitchen

In preparation for Eoster my Grove will be dying and decorating eggs, and I decided it was time to experiment with some plant dyes. Our ancestors, of course, were able to coax a rainbow of rich and lasting colors from plants and minerals. My past attempts however, have yielded blah brown, slightly greener blah brown, and dark blah brown.

 I decided to start therefore with some of the more tried and true vegetable based colors. Onion skins (yellow and purple), red cabbage, red beets, and fennel. For the beet dye I used the stems and skins of the beets, steamed the root over the mix, and have been eating the beets while stirring the dye stuff. For the Onion skins I saved up a few months worth (we eat a LOT of onions, so that was a large quantity.) It was suggested that one use only the top of the fennel to get a nice yellow, I got nothing from it. Upon further research, the fennel bulbs one gets at the grocery store are NOT the right variety to make dye. Oh well, at least I get to eat it!

This project took over the entire kitchen for the day, I simmered the plant stuffs in water with salt and vinegar. then strained them and poured off half into jars to keep for egg dying day. I added pre-washed wool roving and left them to simmer for several hours.
When I was adding the wool I also put Alum as a mordent. Alum is usually considered to be a relatively "neutral" mordent that doesn't change the colors as extremely as other harsher chemicals. However, when added to the red onion skins, black magic happened! I kept reading that red onions made a "jade green", and I kept thinking that people are freakin' crazy. I've dyed cotton with red onions before and never gotten anything but a light pink! Buuuuuut, then I added alum and shit got cray - instant change to deep green. Science... or something?

After simmering for a while, and sitting to cool for several more hours, the wool was rinsed out and hung to dry. The colors seemed to lighten up a good bit in the drying process, but the colors are still fairly vibrant. It's true the old observation, that plant dyes have more depth. After spinning the wool has a nice luster, with almost shimmering layers of subtle color!

This summer I plan to gather more wild plants for dying, and keep experimenting with different species and mordents. Have you ever tried plant dying? What is your favorite kitchen color?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

WIP - Dragon Boats and Baby Blankets

I decided to start the New Year with a sweater project - and epic sweater project.

The Viking Boat pattern has seen many iterations over the years, but  it always seemed a little dumpy to me. I have a bias against drop sleeves ( get it? Bias? Haha..ha... ok it was bad.) I noted a version of the project, that was fitted! A raveler had incorporated designs from other patterns, color changing yarns, and a Led Zeppelin quote. In other words, she made it AWESOME.

So I set out to recreate the feat. I got many skeins of yarn from the sale bin, this is Tracie from Imperial Ranch, and each skein is never-ending! I first had to find a yoke pattern for a comfy shaping, and re-chart the dragon boat. The original is hand-scratched x's on a grid, headache city. Both patterns turned out to be entirely in Norwegian... but since I was only concerned with the charts it was OK. I've picked out a few more patterns to complete the bottom, and charted the Elder Futhark runes to add more Old Norse flair!

And then... I will have to knit the sleeves. *Scream of despair *

I've also been distracting myself with a pair of baby blankets. Last year I started a year long afghan class, with a new crochet pattern each month. I, needless to say, fell behind in my crochet. I picked out my 10 favorite patterns, and made 5 iterations of each, all in different colors of green. I'm now divvying them up into two piles, to create two different baby blankets, one trimmed in bright yellow, and one in sage grey.

When I started this project I was simply planning ahead, assuming abstractly that I would need baby blankets eventually. Now there are two alien parasites gestating, so I have to stop slacking and get them done...

What are you working on?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Firestarters How-to

 It's winter, but at our house that does NOT mean that we aren't hanging outside! It does mean that our supplies of dry tinder are dwindling, and fire starting is getting trickier. (I rarely have piles of waste paper around, first world Druid problems.)

I do, however, have a box of old candle stubs and half empty tea-lights. ( Double boiler of course, with an old pan you aren't fond of.)

I also have a box of dryer lint, saved for just such an occasion. Some notes on that - the suitability of dryer lint for burning is dependent on the fiber content. Wool does not burn well, synthetics smoulder and melt. Fortunately, most American wardrobes have a high percentage of cotton, which makes rather flammable lint. To test your lint, pinch off a bit and try lighting it ( don't hold it in your fingers directly!) If you get a smouldering melting mass, it will not serve as good firestarters. To be clear, even a "pure" cotton lint will not burn clean and bright, as it likely has lots of dyes, dirt and foreign bits in it, but it will burn fine when covered in wax.
 I created a "mold" with a waxy advertisement paper, and filled it with a layer of lint. It's not terribly tall, it's easier to work with relatively narrow strips of firestarter.
 Wax is poured over, and a stick was used to ensure that all the fiber was covered in wax. When the block had cooled enough to solidify, but was still warm and pliable, I used a knife to divvy it up into blocks.
It takes a moment with a lighter to get each block going, but it then burns like a candle covered in wicks, and will light even damp or stubborn fuel!
Happy Bonfires!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bread for Brigid

In addition to crafting woven crosses for Imbolc, I also made some more short-lived honors. As Brigid is a hearth goddess, bread seems rather apt. I used many other ingredients that I associate with Ireland and Imbolc - Honey in the yeast starter, Oats soaked overnight ( I should have added whiskey to them! Next year...), Butter and cream, and the last of the fall apples from our CSA.
 I did a sponge in the usual manner, then added all the yummies except the apples. After a first rise I added chopped apples with a little bit more honey.

Step three was to make two lovely loves and brush them with a little bit of milk on top, and let rise.
Step four is to Bake.

Step five is to offer some up to the goddess, still steaming hot and smeared with butter.
Step five is to eat the rest up with honey and butter so quickly you don't have time to take a picture...

Bread is the perfect way to warm up a chilly kitchen, How do you keep your house toasty?