Category Archives: Homestead

WIP Wednesday

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I am taking the bull by the horns lately.

This week I finished the hair accessories that have been cluttering up my cutting table for the last month or so, whipstitched together the patchwork a-frame tent cover I’ve alluded to from my collection of antique table linens, and made myself a new seating pouf for the studio.

Today I’m wrestling with a former fitted sheet to attempt to make a sister to my favorite skirt.  So far, so good, but I haven’t gotten to the difficult part yet, which is to attach some kind of stretch knit (I’m thinking interlock?) waistband to this woven skirt.

Then I need to finish up a stack of petticoats, make myself some summer sandals, do some more mending (it’s always more mending), finish the faux Victorian baby gown I’ve been working on since January, and then I have a great idea for a new shirt that I’d like to try.

And in the meantime, there’s more knitting (it’s yarn sale season), some crochet (I have a peacock finger puppet in my Ravelry queue that’s been there since 2012), apothecary work (new mouthwash for me, experiments with duck fat vs. palm oil, and I’m out of laundry soap), gardening (carrots have to go in this week), bushcraft (I have to find a way to dry manroot pods and a way to make bamboo baskets), organizing (I’m in the middle of a bathroom storage overhaul), plus all of the normal stuff I do around the house like cleaning, baking, laundry, dishes, canning, homeschooling, etc.

Robert says that I treat homemaking as if it were several full-time jobs, and most of the time I think he’s wrong.  I feel like I spend most days catching just enough sleep, trying to remember to feed myself, and being angry about things I read on news blogs.

But sometimes, when I’m cleaning out the studio or looking back on all the things I’ve done recently (only a very small fraction of which ever make it onto the blog, which is strange to me), I catch a glimpse of all the work that goes into my life and it is stunning.

And frankly, it seems a bit unfair to expect me to file taxes and go to the DMV and return my mother’s e-mails and other adulting on top of everything else.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Make a T-Shirt Quilt

I had a great idea last week.

I have this lovely, flat-topped steamer trunk that I inherited from my grandparents.  I’ve been using it to store my fabric upcycling, next to the regular upcycling in the sunroom.  My idea ran like this:

We could really use a small table or chest in the library.  Like maybe another steamer trunk.  

OMG I love steamer trunks!  Let’s see if there’s a good one on Craigslist…hmm…not really.  

Damn.  I really want a flat-topped steamer trunk.  

Like the one I have in the sunroom.  The one I have in the sunroom doing basically nothing, full of stuff that should be sorted, condensed, processed, and after all that would probably fit in the cedar chest in the studio anyway.  

I could empty it out, put the fabric upcycling I want to keep into the cedar chest, scrap the unusable crap, and spend a couple of days making jersey yarn.  Then I could put the chest under the window in the library and use it as a worktable for my computer during the day, and it could store baby toys and a throw…

And that’s how my studio came to look like something off of “Hoarders”.  Piles of fabric, old clothes, t-shirts, stacked up in the middle of the room making it difficult if not impossible to access and use the space.  Bits of lace, trim, zippers, upholstery foam, etc. spilling out into the hallway.

Gross.

So first I pulled out all the synthetic knits good for nothing more than making jersey yarn.  And I spent a few days using a seam ripper and an assortment of scissors to strip off the useful stuff (buttons, lace trim, elastic) and cut the remainder into strips.  I rolled the strips up, and stuck them in with my yarn stash.  Someday they’ll make awesome storage containers, like this one I made last fall to hold dishwashing tools:

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Then I went through what remained, and sorted out all of the woolens (sweaters, vests, etc.) and packed them up in old rice bags with cedar blocks.  Someday they will be made into diaper covers like this one, modeled by an impossibly tiny baby Ithilien:

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Or longies, like these, modeled the same day by an impossibly chubby baby Númenor:

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Yes, these two pictures were taken on the SAME DAY– Númenor was almost 1 year old, Ithilien was just over 2 months old– in retrospect it’s no wonder we never had time to cook in those days.

The notions and embellishments I put away in the correct places.  Zippers waiting for the next time I have to make a new hoodie for the smalls, lace to be re-used on hems or as insertions, elastic ready to be stuffed into casings, buttons making a satisfying “plink” sound as I add them to the button jar.

I found several flat bed sheets left over from before my family discovered the Wonders of the Duvet, which is lucky because the fitted sheets for my bed have all decided to quit in the last six weeks and we need more.  I found some flannel receiving blankets from Númenor’s NICU days that will see the light again as baby wipes or a lovey.  I found some church linens my mother gave me when her church couldn’t use them anymore and easily assigned them– a toddler’s poncho, handkerchiefs for me, more linen baby shirts.  Some antique cocktail napkins and a tablecloth with one of my ancestor’s cutwork and embroidery skills demonstrated tolerably well on them I set aside to make a play tent this summer.

Then there were the oddments– a ripped and stained leather motorcycle jacket Robert wore when we were dating that will be cut up to make soft shoes for babies learning to walk, bits of upholstery foam for which I have no particular plan but that stuff is way too expensive to throw away, socks and gloves and mittens to be made into doll clothes and soft toys or unraveled for yarn, a few synthetic knit pieces that weren’t suitable for anything but ripping up for stuffing, and the interesting pieces of boning, interfacing, facings, and other elements I’ve cannibalized from various storebought goods.

All that effort sorting and assigning and putting away, and the studio floor is still positively awash, partially because we have about 30 (THIRTY?!?!?!!!) t-shirts waiting for the muse.  T-shirts that have too much sentimental value to make into yarn.  T-shirts in colors, designs, or themes I’m not interested in seeing my children wear.  T-shirts that vastly outnumber my lifetime’s conceivable use of rags and bags.

T-shirts, in short, just begging to become one of those ghastly t-shirt quilts.

So fine.

I surrender.

I’ll make one.

And I’ll probably even like it.

But I’ll do it because I want to, not because the internet tells me to.


 

P.S.– The chest works beautifully in that spot in the library, just like I thought it would.

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Salt is a Miracle

Yesterday I went on a major cleaning binge.

I suspect that this is one of the MANY ways that I am broken, but I have never in my life been able to clean sensibly, on a schedule, as part of a routine.  I know that Ma Ingalls did, but I just. cannot.  Instead, I clean in compulsive spurts that snowball from “doing the dishes” to “cleaning the whole kitchen on hands-and-knees, including scrubbing leftover sticker residue off the fridge and wiping the grime behind the stove knobs away.”

You know, because as long as you have the vinegar out, why the hell wouldn’t you just wipe that door frame off really quick?  And as long as you have a rag in your hand already, you’d be crazy NOT to use up its last clean surface wiping tomato sauce off the stove top, right?

This is the way it goes for me, especially when I’m nesting, and then suddenly I look up and realize that it’s been two hours and I really wanted to work on the mittens I’m knitting for the baby today.

I had one of these cleaning binges yesterday.

And, as part of it, I started boiling down the salt water we brought home from the beach on my birthday weekend.

As I poured what looked like regular, slightly sandy water into my biggest pot and started it cooking, it suddenly occurred to me what an act of faith it is to make salt.

Think about this.

To make salt, we take water, pretty much indistinguishable from the everyday stuff that we are blessed to have running in our taps courtesy of the city infrastructure, and treat it with deep reverence, and we are rewarded with a magical transformation.

Robert wades chest-deep into the freezing northern Pacific to collect our seawater.  We haul it home in the trunk of our car, carefully sealed up in food-safe buckets.  We schlep those heavy buckets up the stairs to our house.  We hoist them onto the kitchen counter, inevitably covering it with sand.  We gingerly transfer just the right volume to the pot– just enough to completely cover the rivets securing the handles– and then?

Then we crank the gas up all the way and set it to a rolling boil, filling the house with steam and warmth (not a bad thing on a chilly October morning, but torture in July), and we wait.

For hours, over the course of days.

Boiling and boiling away.

And we have faith that we’re not just wasting our time.  Because contrary to all appearances, we know that somewhere in that normal-looking water is enough dissolved salt to run our household– preserving pickles and accenting crackers and getting used at every meal by the pinch and the spoonful– for several months.

Now, I have studied chemistry at the advanced college level, folks.  I am perfectly well aware that the salt is in there and that boiling will separate it from the water.

But I also know that the concentration of seawater varies greatly based on several factors totally or somewhat out of my control and observance, like how recently it’s rained, the tide, the temperature of the air, the humidity, and the proximity of freshwater deltas.

So I can’t say that I’m not always a little relieved– even a little amazed– when the time comes for the finishing pans to come out of the oven and they are positively encrusted with those sparkling white pyramidal crystals.

It’s wondrous.

And just a little bit miraculous.

A Pile Of Sticks

A couple weekends ago, my parents delivered a pile of old sticks to our house.  This is all that remains of the apple trees that shaded the house I lived in when I was a teenager: a pile of dirty, muddy, twisty sticks.

apple wood crib posts in the process of being stripped and cut to length

Since then, we’ve been slowly transforming this mass of dead trees into something rather beautiful and yet completely ordinary: a place for a tiny baby to call hits own.

We don’t really use a crib, not as a place where our babies sleep.  Our babies share the “big bed” with me and Robert for the first couple of years.  But we need a crib anyway.

Because sometimes, when you are the youngest member of a household, everything is too big, too loud, too rough, and too generally dangerous.  Sometimes your parents want to put you down so they can go take a shower or do something dangerous or dirty.  Sometimes you have inquisitive and entirely overwhelming older siblings.

Our crib is simply a dedicated space that belongs to the baby.  It’s a spot where we will be able to place that precious tiny human with a couple of interesting objects and a minimum of supervision for a while.

We had a crib that we used with Númenor and Ithilien.  But it never really felt like it was ours.  It was some cheap, commercially-produced thing that was only attractive before the fragile finish started to rub and scratch off, and was never stable.

father and small children stripping and measuring logs for crib

This crib will be our crib.  Hand-hewn.  Cut from my parents’ apple trees.  Rustic and unexpected, but also classic and clean.

me stripping bark off one of the logs that will become our crib

A former pile of sticks.

Looking for Bats

If you’ve been following the weather news in the US this summer, you know that we’re having a strange year in the PNW.

Let me tell you what it looks like out here in Hood River:

Cicadas and katydids everywhere, but no grasshoppers or praying mantids.

No frogs, no salamanders, and the lowest water levels I’ve ever seen.

Hot, hot, hot, and as dry as old bleached bones.

Early pears and late tomatoes.

Eight solid inches of dry, shifting dust before my trowel turns up fertile soil.

Forest fires and droughts and worry, worry, worry.

Spiders EVERYWHERE, people.  EVERYTHING IS SPIDERS.

Blond freeway shoulders and crispy tree branches.

Algal blooms in lakes and even in the sluggish parts of the mighty Columbia.

Last month’s fire-blackened hills, still dark and barren and dry nearly six weeks later.

The mountains bare-faced and black on the horizon, ominous and brooding.

In short, it’s been a year for making sure that small children know the emergency preparedness plan, and scratching out anxious lists of evacuation supplies, and conserving every drop of water, and looking out of car windows and wondering how our beautiful home will survive this.

My touchstone through this trying season has been putting our flock away for the night.  In the cool breeze of dusk, I slip my feet into a pair of Robert’s old shoes, comically large on me, fill a quart jar nearly to the top with sweet-smelling scratch, and climb the terrace steps to the chicken yard.

I listen to the crickets and the calling of the poorwills and the nighthawks, I smell the neighbors’ barbeque cooking away, and I fill the hopper for the hens, who add their gentle berka-berka-berka chattering to the vespers.  I refill their water bottle, the cool liquid on my fingertips nearly salvation after a day of pseudo-desert living, and slot it back into place.  “Goodnight, chickens.” I murmur as I secure the henhouse roof, completing my task.

I put away the jar and the shoes in the sunroom, and as I walk barefoot across the deck to go back into the house, I stop and rest for a moment on the bench.  Often one or both of the smalls will join me, and we keep a steadfast vigil on the little patch of twilight sky to the northeast, over the confluence of the Hood and Columbia rivers, with its little border of aspen and pine.

Breathless and silent in the fading light, we wait.

Every night I wonder if they won’t come, if something has happened and they’re all dead somewhere or fleeing to better hunting grounds.  But every night, they come.

Fluttering across the clearing so fast our limited human eyes can barely see them against the darkening sky, the bats make their first forays into the night air.  They are most likely long-legged myotis bats, we have learned, this swift-winged vanguard of the night, but it doesn’t really matter what kind they are.  What matters is that they’re there.

Every night, without fail, the bats come out to feast on the crepuscular insects and spiders that have overwhelmed us this summer.  Even though these temperate bats are sensitive to human disturbance, and rely heavily on imperiled forest habitat and fleeting, drought-banished dew to survive, they have never failed me.

The piping voices of the tree frogs may be silent this year, and the afternoon frighteningly devoid of the chipping whir of grasshopper flight, but the bats are still here, and doing fine.

And, as I wait for rains that may never come, or may totally overwhelm the parched soil and wash away houses, bridges, cars, and human lives into the rapids, the bats bring me some fragile reassurance.

I look up, with faith and trembling, and when I see those tenacious flying mammals racing silently and chaotically through the dusky sky, I know that I am seeing part of that wild invisible web that sustains our fragile lives on this planet.  I know that I am watching nature take one of her courses, albeit a tiny one, and I feel a corresponding, wicked-winged speck of hope flash across the clearing of my heart.

Because maybe, just maybe, if the bats can make it, there’s some hope for the rest of us, though we are truly grounded and insensate by comparison.

And that is why I take time out of my busy day and away from my life of artifice to look for the bats.

What do you look for, to give you hope in these dark days?

MT: The Mending Basket

This is an installment in a series on mending techniques.  For a full index of posts in this series, please click here.

IMG_3086As I have mentioned before, I use a mending basket as the basis of my mending system.  It is a large bolga basket that I originally bought to use as a laundry basket in my freshman dorm, but it has served many purposes over the years and answers the role of mending basket very well.

It was not the first object called a mending basket in my household; the first such container was a lidded basket the size of a large shoebox, which was totally insufficient for the quantity of mending work produced by a family of four, but also too inconvenient for the frequency of additions to the mending pile.  It took some thought and experimentation before we settled on the bolga basket.

If you don’t yet have a mending basket, I would recommend finding a container that can reasonably accommodate 4 articles of adult clothing, 10 articles of child clothing, and has some room left over for miscellaneous things (such as bed linens or organizational supplies or toys)that might overwhelm a smaller container.  A standard plastic laundry basket, although not the most attractive option, would be about the right size for most families with small children.

When I am not actively working from it, I keep the mending basket in my studio, where it is the first thing reachable upon entering the room (this keeps small children who are adding something to the mending from staying too long or meddling too much).  Collecting the mending in the laundry room or scullery is also an excellent option if you can be sure that your storage spot isn’t too damp.  Many families keep a pile of mending near where the sewing machine or the sewing supplies are stored, and this works well, too, although sewing machines are generally not as well-adapted to mending as hand sewing is.

I’m going to re-iterate a general rule of homemaking here, just to be totally clear: whenever something is not in active use or in the laundry, it should be clean.  Do not allow soiled articles to be added to the mending basket.  Body soil attracts pests, and dirt and grime will contaminate your storage spot, not to mention that attempting to repair dirty clothing or home linens is an unpleasant sensory experience at best.

The first step in my mending routine is to exchange my usual work bag (containing whatever my current handwork project is, my pattern or notes, tools and notions, and also my wallet and keys) for the mending basket itself.  I like to take this opportunity to clean out my work bag– it’s refreshing to take the time to put all the random fabric scraps, spools of thread, knitting needles, and snipped threads it accumulates in the course of its use away into their proper places.

The second step is to empty everything out of the basket, making a colossal mess, and inspect each article for what work must be done.  If the spot that needs mending is difficult to find, sometimes I will mark it with a safety pin.  This is also the step when I ask the owners of the items about their preferences for mending (e.g., “what color would you like this patch to be?”, “is this too tight?”).

IMG_3087Then I sort the articles into the following categories:

  1. Mending that only requires a needle and thread (such as hemwork, re-tacking a lining or appliqué, or replacing a seam)
  2. Patching and replacement (such as applying knee or elbow patches to cover worn-out areas, felting over moth holes in woolens, darning, replacing lost or broken drawstrings or fasteners)
  3. Amendments and additions (adding guards or borders to cover frayed hems, extending knitted/crocheted garments, adding gussets or gores to better accommodate movement or growth)
  4. Upcycling and re-working (stripping down garments that have decayed beyond repair so that their materials can be used for other things, taking apart things that aren’t working well for their intended purpose to make major structural/design changes)

Once I have the mending sorted into these categories, I replace it in the basket by category, in reverse order from the list above (so that the needle-and-thread-only mending is on top in the basket).  Sometimes, when the basket is truly overflowing, it is not possible to fit everything back in, and I will instead leave the more complex mending in the studio temporarily and only put the patching and needle-and-thread mending back into the basket.

Finally, I add supplies to the basket: my needle book, sewing scissors, a thimble, and whatever thread types and colors I need for the first category of repairs.

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Now I am finally ready to start the actual mending.

Mending Techniques: a Series

Let’s talk about mending!

I’m going to walk you through the way I fix everything in my mending basket.  There’s no guarantee, obviously, that my way is the best way (and it’s certainly not the ONLY way!), but I wanted to make sure that what I have figured out for my family’s needs is available to anyone who might be interested.

I seem to do mending every few months, or whenever the basket is too full.  It would probably be better to mend things as they come in or have a regular time every week or two (Ma Ingalls did her mending every Wednesday), but I have yet to make that work in my life.

I will index mending series posts on this page as they are published.

The Mending Basket

Sewing Basics for Mending

Needle and Thread Repairs

Tips for Structural Seams

Stay tuned for more!

 

Find the Magic

We spent our weekend (our WHOLE weekend, friends!) cleaning and reorganizing the house.

Yep.

That means there was plenty of dust and laughter and reminiscing, and lots of frustration and more than a little yelling, lots of going up and down stairs and hefting and hauling, some sadness and some serendipity, and the smell of vinegar and the sound of the Pandora station I created to bridge the gap between Robert’s taste in work music and mine.

It also means that the smalls spent the weekend Being Tested: listening, following directions, performing difficult tasks, staying focused, managing their compulsions to derange sorting piles and run around unaccustomed places, being responsible for their choices, and proactively communicating their own needs.

Unsurprisingly, then, today everyone woke up feeling pretty grumpy and low-energy.

On grumpy, low-energy days, even ones that you have earned by dint of hard work and awesomeness, it can be difficult to find the magic in your life.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

So this afternoon, while I was feeling like ugh and yuck and blerg and blah, I walked around my home and captured these little bits of magic:

artwallAn updated art wall (now with figural art, perspective cues, symbols, and some child-written labels!).

knitting in progressA big project edging toward completion.

soft toys in a rowRe-discovered pretend friends.

new saltNew salt, white and pure and beautiful.

lettuceLate-planted seeds racing toward the sun.

garlic harvestThe first garlic harvest of the year, laid out to dry.

toys put awayCreative tools ready for new inspiration.

took and henhouseA laying flock.

reading nookA quiet, comfortable hideaway for book lovers.

spring raindrop baby dollSweet reminders of a spring well-spent.

blackberry blossoms and ripening fruitAnd the promise of blackberries to come.

Happy summer to you and yours!  May you find the magic wherever you look!

 


Stay tuned for more on the knitting!

Soft toys from L to R: homemade rocket ship (following this tutorial), sea turtle, warty pig, trilobite from PRI, and manatee from Sea World (from a trip I took in my childhood; I would NEVER go there by choice).

Toys from top L, clockwise: train, dragon, bushel basket, American maple hardwood school blocks, rocket ship, homemade storage cubbies.

Reading nook: The Hare and the Tortoise, Goodnight Oregon, C is for Cthulhu, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Basket is an old one from Ten Thousand Villages, shark bean bags are homemade based on this photo.

Spring raindrop baby was homemade, inspired by the work of a now-retired Etsy seller.