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?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Finds - Winter Ice

Winter has hit Colorado hard, and even after a respite from sub-zero temperatures it still seems unlikely to disappear soon. Why fight it? Fill up the tea pot, pull out the knitting, gaze thru frosted windows onto snowy streets and grey skies. Relish each chill morning, you will be missing them come July...

Photo by SpiritHelpers

Settle in with a nice delicate cuppa, from CenterCeramics.

Get a warm project going with a snowy flair - Ice Queen yarn from Folktale

If you do fancy savoring the ice, this set from OrioleStudio captures the feel of frozen evergreens on a frigid February day.

If you wish to brave the chill, dress for it! This little portable ice will bring winter flare to any outfit. Made by Chymiera

Whatever the weather, remember to enjoy each season for what it brings, even if that is ice and snow! How are you keeping warm?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Making a Brigid's Cross

 Imbolc (also known as Imbolg, Candlemas, St. Brigit's Day etc.) is a traditional time to celebrate the winter's passing and look forward to spring. Stories say that Imbolc was when livestock began to give milk again, heralding the birthing season. This milk helped families that were running low on food to survive the winter. The name Candlemas may mark this as the time of year when the sun rose early enough that one no longer needed candles to do early and late chores.

Tradition dictates that one makes a new Brigid's cross each Imbolc, and burns the previous year's. (It's also time to burn other Yuletide greenery, goodbye tree!) Brigid's blessings are beseeched, and the cross offers her protection thru the year. Here you see last year's cross hanging above the doorway, it's made from iris leaves as that is what I found in the garden last winter. Next to it is a reed cross I made on my pilgrimage to Ireland last fall. Lesson one - You will never regret adding more rounds!

This year my garden is covered in a wonderful blanket of snow, so I was forced to seek out some more traditional supplies. Wheat and dried (and dyed) reeds were found in the floral section of a big box craft store. They were rather expensive, and I will try to remember next fall to squirrel away some sheaves! I did soak the materials overnight to soften them up, the reeds never really got flexible, but the wheat was very pliable.

I also spun up some Irish wool to use for tying. Really, any twine, string etc. will do.

 Start by learning a square four-armed cross. This style reminds me of a sun-wheel!
1. lay out a stalk upright, slide another stalk underneath.
2. fold it over to the right.
3. rotate the entire thing clockwise, lay out another stalk, sliding it below the first. Fold it in half to the right.
4. Rotate the entire thing clockwise, slide a stalk under the upright, closer to your body than the center, fold it in half to the right.

 Repeat until you have a large core. remember to keep rotating the same direction, always adding on the side nearest you, always fold to the right. After a few rounds the center will be easy to see, and you will notice problems easily. Tie each arm up, be sure to wrap a few times around and pull tight! As the cross dries it will shrink. You can now easily tidy up and tighten the cross.

To make a three-armed cross, follow the directions above, but when you get to adding the fourth stalk, bend the first stalk (upright in the first photo) around to the side to make three evenly spaced arms. It's a little trickier to start, but after a round or two it gets to be just as easy as a four-armed.
Now ask for Brigid's blessings, light a candle for her, and hand them up around your house! I hope you all are staying warm in these lovely winter storms!

Thursday, December 26, 2013


This year I signed up for an ornament exchange thru Aunt Peaches' Blog, the theme was something pink and fabulous - Flamingos - how could I resist? I kicked around a few ideas of how best to create a one-leg-standing critter, and settled on felted wool.

Needle felting is time intensive (and a little dangerous!), but it offers lots of control and a chance to add little details.
First I had to find a good inspiration image, the typical flamingo we all wish to have on our lawn. I then started the body with a wet-felted ball. Just took some roving and dipped it in soapy water, then rolled it in my hands. It looks like a hair ball? Good, that means you're doing it right.
I decided that felting skinny little legs would be futile, and I want them to be posable! I used a paper clip to make leg wires...
And thinner jewelry wire for posing the neck. One wouldn't want to have a flamingo without that perfect neck curve! I wrapped the roving around the wire to create the neck, fortunately it doesn't seem to hurt the needle to graze the wire inside the wool.

Adding the feet to the wires was trickier, in the future I would use sheet felt for that. Finger stab count was still only one!

Finally I added little details - The beak and eyes, and some streaks of lighter pink and white on top. I tried to leave the ends un-felted for a 'feathery' appearance. I also added a little bit of pink yarn for hanging - All ready for the tree!
And I was rewarded for my efforts with an ornament for my tree! This girl has sparkles and marabou feathers, plus pink wire legs! I'm not the only one who solved the leg question this way. Here she is hanging with the sacred rutabaga...

Merry everything readers! And a Happy New Year as well!