Category Archives: Homestead

10 Things I Need to Make this Fall

Now that we’re mired in the part of summer that’s too hot for much of anything– certainly unseasonable for having a big pile of flannel in my lap– but about to leave the last heat wave of the season, I’ve been looking forward to some cool-weather crafting and giving some thought to what needs to happen.

Here’s my list, necessities and fripperies in no particular order, of the top 10 things I need to make in the coming season:

  1. Tea towels.  The flour sack towels that wrapped a few of our favorite kitchen gadget wedding gifts are finally sprouting holes and wearing out.  I’m thinking the new ones are going to be mid-weight natural linen, but the same dimensions as the old ones.
  2. Coat for Númenor.  Another year, another coat.  This one is definitely going to be lined with some of that gorgeous Portland bridges fabric I picked up a few years ago, but I’m not sure what the outer fabric will be like or what pattern I’m going to use.  I might draft my own pattern.
  3. Hoodie for Númenor.  Something fun and slightly funky, as usual.
  4. Twin-size comforter for Ithilien.  In the depths of winter, the nursery gets pretty cold in the middle of the night.  At the moment, we have only one twin-size comforter, and that can cause strife.  I’m planning to whipstitch together a couple of old flannel top sheets, fill with some fluffy recycled fiberfill, and tie it down to quilt it.  The only trouble will be that the sheets I have are green and green-red plaid, and Ithilien is a red-loving kid who might object to the forest tones.  But it’ll be warm regardless.
  5. “What Lives Here?” picture book.  This is one I’ve been puzzling over for some time.  The smalls are always asking what kinds of animals live in our area, especially when we go on drives.  I’m currently working on a collage-style picture book showing different ecosystems and settings and filled with the different animals that might live there.  It’s a huge undertaking, even limiting myself to a 20-mile radius around our house, since we live in a transitional zone between at least three climates.
  6. Toy ankylosaurus for Ithilien.  I made a stegosaurus for Númenor a while back, and Ithilien demanded an ankylosaurus.  How one knits an ankylosaurus I am not sure (possibly with lots of bobbles?), but I’ll figure it out.
  7. Autumn leaf babies.  If you’ve been around a while, you might remember my spring raindrop babies.  I’ve been trying to work up to a whole four-seasons set: snowflakes, raindrops, fruit (or maybe sunshine?), and autumn leaves.  I love dollmaking, and these little felt-and-wood sweeties are downright addictive in their simplicity and appeal.
  8. Altoid tin boredom busters.  We recently inherited a big box of mint tins.  They are the perfect size to tuck in a pocket or purse and you can fill them with anything.  So I’ve been trying to develop a set of toys and activity kits inside Altoid tins for when we travel or waiting at restaurants.
  9. More petticoats for myself.  Hopefully at least two more cotton ones (black, I think) and if I can find room for it in the budget, I would love a woolen flannel one for winter wear.
  10. Halloween costumes.  This year the smalls have both decided on light-themed costumes, which means getting creative with LEDs and possibly wearable circuitry.  Númenor’s might yet be merged with his hoodie, but we have yet to have our first formal design meeting, so it’s very much still TBD.

 

 


 

What about you?  What are you looking forward to making as the weather changes?

Go Outside and Breathe

I know it’s late.

It’s hot.

It’s buggy.

You’re tired.

You just want to sit inside all day and do nothing, run out the clock on this day, and maybe try again tomorrow.

That mosquito bite on the sole of your left foot is driving you crazy and has made you shy away from sitting outside in the gathering dusk or the rising dawn or the fleeting midday shade.

Your stomach aches, whether from too much food or too little or the wrong kind you’re not sure, but it’s uncomfortable.

Your children are wild and full of evening energy, and their whooping and leaping makes you anxious and unnerved.

The thought of the sun on your skin reminds you of your uneven tan, its obvious lines, and how, if you were a responsible person, you probably would have bought sunscreen before late July.

I know.  I understand.

But sometimes you need to go outside anyway.  Even though it’s not easy.  Even though you’d rather plug in and tune out.

Because the grass is dried to hay-blond and its susurration in the breeze tells a secret.

Because the mourning dove is trying out his gentle call from that oak tree, right there outside the kitchen door.

Because the hills seem so close you could reach out and touch them but also a part of a golden fairyland in the lateral evening light.

Because the cross orb weaver on your tomato plant is just putting the finishing touches on tonight’s silken net.

Because the sky is still so blue.

Because the hens are clucking softly to themselves as they forage for a few last bites.

Because the blackberries are so ripe they stain your fingers no matter how tenderly you pick them.

Because the butterflies are chasing each other over the brambles and across the fences.

Because the wind smells sweet with hay and spicy with cookfire smoke and fresh from the river.

Right now, a Steller’s jay is stopping off in your fir tree to select nesting materials.

Right now, a train whistle is echoing off the ridges and over the water.

Right now, the breeze is freshening just a little and the sky is ocean-deep.

Right now, the scent of warmed earth and crushed blackberry is more summery than anything you’ve ever known before.

From out here, the children’s cries are muted and distant, and you can love them for their untamed nature.

From out here, you can’t hear the big bad world– or those mean-girl voices in your head– at all.

From out here, the work piled up on your desk doesn’t seem quite real, and you can have faith that there will be time enough for everything.

When you’re outside, you can breathe.

Try it.

Breathe in deep through your nose.  Open your mind wide and be present.  Breathe out slowly through your mouth, open your chest and release your spent and troubled air.

Breathe.

This is but one day of a lifetime.  Nothing has to be finished nor perfect today.

Breathe.

This is where you are now, and it is good.

Breathe.

This is all you are, this moment in the setting sun, this place full of hay-scented grasses and straw-colored hair on little heads, all bowing to you in recognition and shaking irreverently in the breeze.

Breathe.

 

You are the breath of your home, your family– you, too, must go in and out.

Regularly.

Deeply.

Consciously.

To release the toxins, and let the trees worry about recycling them.

To take in what you need to live, what the mosses and the weeds give back to you.

So go.

No more excuses.

It can’t wait until tomorrow, not this time.

Go.

Go outside, and breathe.

 

No

I can’t write about knitting or sewing this week.

I can’t.

Too much has happened to me this week.  There’s too much anger and sadness in me to compose a few blithe paragraphs about handwork right now.

I want to share with you what’s on my mind instead of what’s in my work bag today.

Today is the first day after the heat wave here on the west coast.  I know that the majority of media sources in this country have just started to cover the record-breaking heat, because, as with most things, if it doesn’t happen at least as far east as Chicago, it might as well have happened in another country.

Don’t get me wrong, I love living on the frontier.  I love standing knee-deep in the Pacific, looking west, and feeling the wilderness around me.

But I didn’t hear about the oil train derailment that happened a scant 10 miles from my house for hours after the fact, and even then it was only because I went to a local news website trying to figure out why there was so much traffic stacked up on highway 30.

We were so very lucky in Mosier.  If the train had crashed the day before, the winds would have made the fire worse by orders of magnitude.  If the explosion or fire had been bigger, Mosier would have lost a school, homes, lives.  If it had been raining, which it frequently does in early June, there would have been no way to mitigate the spill of oil into the Columbia.  If the derailment had happened 10 miles further west, it might have taken out a freeway overpass, a number of local businesses, or even my house.

My house.  Where my children live.

I’ve been fighting against the bomb trains for years.  And this one nearly got me.

By contrast, I was quite physically safe from the Stanford rapist.  But as I read the victim’s statement and the letter the rapist’s father wrote to the judge, I wept the angry, familiar tears of someone who has lived her whole life embroiled with rape culture.

I remembered the first time I was sexually harassed– in line at the drinking fountain, in kindergarten, age 5– and I remembered how embarrassed I felt.  How I stood there stupidly and let him keep touching me even though my stomach was knotting up and my legs wanted to run.  How the words he said were permanently etched into my psyche.  How I never told anyone.  How I felt ashamed by the incident, like it was my fault.

The little boy who groped me and made sexual comments about my prepubescent body probably doesn’t even remember that it happened.

I remember him, though.  I remember his name, his face, his hair cut, even though we moved across the state the summer after I finished first grade and I haven’t seen him since.  And when I hear about men who are so assured of their right to touch women, who feel as entitled to their sexual attentions as the Stanford rapist obviously does, I think about that boy and I wonder if he ever learned about consent.  If he became the kind of guy who tells rape jokes and makes his sexual partners feel obligated to engage in acts they don’t enjoy.  If he went on to rape someone at a frat party in college.  If he became one of the relatively few men who are serial rapists– how many victims would he have by now, at nearly 30 years old?

I think it’s that survivor’s sensitivity that made me uncomfortable with Bernie Sanders from the beginning.  I wanted to like him.  I bought into the hype of his being a challenger from Clinton’s left who would force her left during the primary at least.  But then, I watched him debate with her.  I heard the dogwhistles when he accused her of “yelling”, tried to paint her as manipulative and dishonest, insinuated that she could be bought.  I read the things he wrote about women and sexual relations when he was younger.  I watched him treat his wife with incredible disrespect onstage at a public event.  I heard the contempt in his voice when dealing with female reporters.  I heard him insist that people who didn’t support him didn’t know their own best interests.  I watched his campaign double down on the idea that supporting Clinton because she’s a woman is stupid, wrong, even traitorous.

I watched him lie and cheat and steal and take no responsibility.  I watched him blame everyone else for his problems.  I watched him allow his supporters to run wild, threatening women and disrupting events.

I voted for Hillary Clinton.  Because women’s rights are human rights.  Because she listens to people and genuinely cares about them.  Because she plays by the rules.  Because she cares about indigenous people’s issues.  Because she has been a tireless advocate for the rights of children and women for her entire life.  Because she’s always been ahead of the curve on LGBT issues.  Because her staff is diverse and well-trained and highly skilled.  Because she admits it and apologizes when she is wrong.  Because she says the word “abortion”.

Last night Clinton became the presumptive nominee.  The first female major party nominee ever.  EVER.  I watched her speech.  I watched the commemorative video.  I cried.  I was so proud to have been part of getting her this far.  I was so excited for the general election.

This morning I read the news and learned that at his event last night, Bernie Sanders, who has repeatedly claimed that he’s an advocate for women, allowed 15 seconds of booing and hissing directed towards Hillary Clinton, the nominee of his party and the first woman EVER to be a major party nominee for president.  He didn’t even recognize the glass ceiling she shattered this week.

I realized that he doesn’t see her.  He doesn’t see women.  He doesn’t see ME.

And I’ve had about enough of being trivialized and ignored.  I’m done being relegated to the sidelines.

I have no more patience for those who marginalize me, be they east-coast-centered mainstream news sources, legislators who insist that shipping oil by rail is safe, teary-eyed rapists who think they’ve done nothing wrong, or political candidates who think it’s irrelevant whether they actually have a good record on women’s issues or just say they do in interviews.

My life is too wild and precious to spend it legitimizing all this bullshit.

So I am renewing my declaration of war against the patriarchy this summer.

gracedchin / Via etsy.com

And that is the work I have in progress this week.

 

 

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:

DSCN4618
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.