Monday, October 27, 2014

Wild Cucurbits in the Garden

Wild and out of control! Squirrels, as any gardener will know, love to raid the compost and deposit pilfered seeds about the yard. I am used to having a few volunteer tomatoes, sunflowers, and of course Cucurbits! The trouble with the cucurbita family is that the first few leaves are almost identical. One could play a guessing game - pumpkin or cucumber? Melon or zucchini? Most of them get (sadly) plucked out in order to maintain some semblance of order.

These two lovelies, however, decided to grow around the trunk of our recently deceased tree. I gave them no encouragement, I did instruct Mr. Crafty to mow around them. So, like any good guest, in exchange for a little yard space they have provided me with some mysterious squash yummies.

You see, across the Cucurbita family, cross-pollenation is to be expected. I have heard tale of pump-alopes, cuke-inni, and other hybrids. (Such as my Pattypan Ghost!) These two seem to be different decendants from an acorn squash, each diverging in it's own fashion. We will see if they maintain the tasty flesh of their ancestors...

Do you leave volunteer veggies in your garden? Have you had any delicious surprises?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Plant Dyes - Elderberry



I dedicated myself in the summer to building my repertoire  of plant dyes in the next year. Since one must gather as the year turns, it was time for Elderberries. It's the last of the season for berries, most had begun to wither and dry on the trees. Since I did some very large batches of syrup earlier in the year all the berries I gathered wen into the dye pot.

For the dye materials, I got into my Spinzilla stash. Irish wool, sock-weight Lincoln, and a loop of Lincoln roving. It was all pre-mordanted by soaking in alum and hot water for several hours while the dye bath simmered. Mordanting outside of the dye bath works better, as the mordant can bind up dye particles thus making them unavailable for binding to the fiber.
I left the fiber to soak in the residual heat from the simmering overnight. Plant dyes seem to need loooong soaking! Elderberry is usual considered a fugitive dye, that means that it is not terribly colorfast. (Despite how one's kitchen looks after cooking with it!) I have read some research which suggest that one can add vinegar to create a very acid bath and make a better, more long-lasting color. I thought that after one night the color was a little pale, so I placed it over low heat for another day, and let it set overnight.  I also added more white vinegar.
 The next morning the color was more purple, and had set in a little bit more. It still had a few elderberries floating around and adding in color!
 I washed the fiber, and it became disappointingly pale pink, not a bad color really, just a bit less intense than the dye water made it seem! After hanging outside to dry the color had matured to a more gray-purple. Nice and heathered. I'm planning to let the fiber sit for a while in a light room before knitting in case it fades completely!
For a first shot at this color it's not bad. Next up I'll be moving away from the food-based dyes (Which tend to be less colorfast) and into wild plants and trees. Bindweed seems like a perfect choice as there is no lack of it right outside my back door! How do you push your craft skills?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Making a Book

Greetings gentle readers, I'm back after a scheduled blogging break. (It was not intended to go this long, life seems to take over when you let it!) And so, to make up for lost time, here's a pretty intense project... Book Making.
I've gotten into the habit of using a date book lately. Not only to track events and days, but as a permanent to-do list receptacle. Lot's of research shows that organized people make list - most importantly to keep your brain from entering "Rehearsal Loop" and keeping you up all night. You ever had non stop dreams about what you had to do the next day? And always in a panic? That's your brain trying to prepare, and worried about forgetting. I started writing down all my to-do lists, and the stress dropped immeasurably! I won't say that everything on the list always gets done tho...

I made simple boxes, seen to a page. One of my big complaints about commercial day planners is that weekends get the short shaft! As I'm often busier on the weekends I need to give every day of the week the same space. It's only fair.

I printed only on one side, so that the facing page would have list space. At the center of each bundle the book switches sides, one for dates and one for lists. Notice there's no dates in it yet, much simpler to print it out then fill it in. 

Yes, that is a folder made of polished petrified wood. It's fantastic!
Each bundle is sewn into a booklet, holes punched with an awl. That's quilting cord I'm using. The registers are then all sewn together, I'm not sure I quite got that part right, but it's functional!
The cover was made with cardboard and old wallpaper. Beer boxes had the perfect light-weight corrugated - upcycling! The boards are of course slightly larger than the pages, I did make the center spine piece a little too wide. Taking note for future projects.
I used simple Elmer's glue for the covering, These binder clips are hugely helpful to hold the paper in place until the glue sets! It allowed me to make nice neat corners.
The inner booklets are glued to the cover, and the whole thing was weighted down to set overnight. Ah, look at that, just like the tacky upstairs at my folks house! I used the final page in my last planner and started filling in dates in this one, time for organization...
How do you keep organized? Have you ever made a book?

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.

Link
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?