Wednesday, October 22, 2014

aspen & nettle

     The dye vats were calling to me after I finally finished a pair of custom gloves I've been sloooowly working on for the past few weeks.  I can't wait to show them to the person who asked for them. They're a longer version of the striped gloves I usually make for craft shows, but the requested yarn is also bulkier. This made them much warmer and makes me think more of hiking/biking than typing but they turned out beautifully all the same.
     The vats of aspen and nettle I have going are not beautiful. I let them ferment as they cold-process, leaving the dyestuffs in for as long as my nose can stand it. They've reached peak smelliness with that scuzzy mold on top. The nettle is the primary offender. The word putrid comes to mind before I even lift the lid. While that sucks for air quality in my kitchen, it also means that the pigments and the fiber are getting along famously. I finally cracked and cycled the first round of fiber out of the nettle and aspen this morning.

     I worked outside on the porch to minimize any lingering zombie stench, not to mention the mess. These chickadees were hanging out with me the whole time. Well, they were mostly hanging out in the aspen trees and the bird feeder. But, when I stopped for a bit to watch them one did get curious enough to investigate my shoes.

     Specific fibers interact with natural dyes in differing ways for lots of reasons. One thing I've noticed is that silk will take up color with vibrancy while wool is more subdued. This batch was a good illustration of that general rule. The silk and alpaca came out of the aspen bath dyed a bright acidy yellow and the hampshire wool came out of the nettle a pale sort of greenish yellow. There was still one more step. I started bottles of copper and iron tea last fall for afterbaths and mordanting.  This was my first opportunity to play with them. On the aspen-dyed silk and with the copper, at least, the effect was pretty magical. It went from that acid yellow to deep green. The It was a deeper, kaiser green last year but then I also pretty much forgot about it for a month or two, leaving it in the closet. And I used scottish blackface wool, which takes up dye almost as greedily as silk does. Maybe I'll try that for round two.

From left to right, the aspen-dyed alpaca and silk with alum moradant, then iron afterbath and copper afterbath. The next photo is the nettle-dyed hampshire wool with the same progression: alum, iron afterbath, copper afterbath.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

a field full of ferrets and flowers

     All I can seem to do today is look out the window and stuff black licorice in my face. I've got plenty on my list of things to do, like turn these skeins of yarn into a pair of gloves. But some days end up becoming devoted to daydreaming and roving around in the yard planning my next move there.

     My mom bought me some flower bulbs and some garlic to plant. They're in the mail now and I'm pretty sure its not too late to put in the ground up here. Its not like the ground is frozen or anything. It's just so much more fall-y up here than most places right now. I was down in Boulder yesterday and there are so many trees with green leaves, it seemed unfair. But, on the other hand, we have a longer growing season up here at 9200' than I thought we would. A permacultural set-up isn't going to be an impossible dream, there are plenty of fruit tree varietals that will make it and with a greenhouse even tomatoes should be attainable.
     There are just so many things to build and get going to get there. I finally rallied and spent part of today scattering flower seeds I had been collecting in random spots in the front and back yard, then cultivating some of the prairie dog mounds out back with rye. Neither of these tasks is sure to result in either flowers for the table or grain for bread/beer but I'm more than willing to experiment a little with the year's leftover seeds. Especially if they do take and it means self-perpetuating soul food in the form of poppies and calendula and bachelor buttons and a less violent means of giving the white-tailed ferret food the boot. Oh, how I would have loved to sponsor a few black-footed ferrets on our property. But you have to have thousands of acres for that, not slightly less than one. A girl can dream though.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


We went to visit family last weekend and brought home what's become a regular assortment of veg and dyestuffs. There were even a few immature cotton bolls to play with and a surprise patch of japanese indigo. The kids splashed around in the ditch and picked popcorn and ran around with the dog. Most of what came home has been eaten or processed by now. The tomatoes were roasted and canned up, the green beans were munched like edamame with leftover ham the first night we got home. There was even a baby ladybug that hitched a ride in the squash and got transplanted to an aphid-ridden artichoke I'm attempting to overwinter.


The dyestuffs have been put to work now, too. All of these are hanging out in various canning pots and those giant pails you use for beer brewing, tucked into a corner of the kitchen to ferment and soak up the color. Some were heated beforehand to draw out the dye, some were not and some don't even have fiber in them yet because I haven't quite made it to that step. I'll get there...eventually. The only plant I haven't harvested yet is rabbitbrush. I'm not sure what I'd put it in, I seem to be out of large pots. Maybe I'll skip it this year, unless I run into a good patch of it out there. There's no shortage of it, but sometime soon it'll all have gone brown for the year. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

backyard wildcrafting

  Before the wind and frost take them all away I recruited the kids to help me gather up some of the aspen leaves. They have a little grove of quakies that surrounds a digging spot of their's and last week it practically glowed yellow. It didn't take long before they found other games to play but there were so many leaves on the ground that it only took a few minutes for us to fill the pot.

 Given a bit of heat and then some time to ferment, I've found that aspen gives up a yellow almost as bright as the leaves are right now. (That and an afterbath in iron tea will tip it over to green.) I plan on making up a few vats before the cold sets in and dyeing some alpaca and tussah I have on hand. Having our own yard now makes this plant dyeing stuff so much more convenient. Last year's aspen leaves were gleaned from the old Georgetown Cemetery.
I had a late start this year, but as of right now there is a vat of white sage hanging out on the back porch (soon to be brought in from the cold) and I have some nettle to harvest before it freezes. It probably won't give up as much color as it would have when the weather was still warm. But I bet I can still coax a pale Kaiser green out if it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

sales and sensibility

Proof that I am still alive and spinning. My daughter and I will be selling bath salts, lip salve and yarny stuff in Boulder in a few weeks. We are also going to be donating part of what we make to the Xerces Society, a group that raises awareness for invertebrate conservation. We found them after Anais put on a change jar fund raiser "For the Bees" at our then local library and needed to find a place to donate the proceeds to. I haven't decided yet about the amount, maybe 5% of sales?  I don't know if that's high or low or what but given what I usually make at these things it should end up being a respectable amount and that's what I am aiming for.

Changes are coming for my yarn, too. In the interest of streamlining and the development of reproducibility in my work (in some ways my evolution as an artisan has been all about me fighting this aspect of best business practice) I am toying with the idea of shifting to straight up colorways instead of limited run micro-batches with individual names. One unexpected side-effect of our moving from the apartment to a house in the woods has been that my precious routine has been shattered. Little things have become big stumbling blocks despite the fact that I now have a whole studio to myself. Making my process as automatic as I can is what builds the momentum that gets the job done.

Blah, blah, blah. What this really means is that I'm having a sale on the micro-batch Sukoshi. I'm reducing them from $20 to $15 per skein at this upcoming show. I'm also going to have a pattern to give away with each purchase. Probably for those stripey fingerless gloves that I can never keep on the table at these things.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Getting through

I've been reading Permaculture: a Designer's Manual by Bill Mollison along with some other folks at this winter. I'm actually a little behind. Okay, a lot behind. Despite my lack of devotion it's a very interesting book. Lots of sciencey bits you don't normally run into in other books about growing things. Like, now I kinda know how a thermosyphon goes and why the wind gets all crazy around here toward the evening. The Permies site is my new favorite place to find anecdotal answers to whatever neo-hippie question pops into my brain these days.

This is one of Anais's drawings. I'm not sure why it ended up on a paper towel. We blow through art supplies, but not that fast. It's now the background image on my iPhone. She seems especially fond of drawing funny little animals and eventually I'd like to print up a bunch of them up for her via Artifact Uprising or something. So I've been collecting them like this for a bit now. We've officially decided that the kids are going to the school the next town over next year. I have forms to fill out and everything.

Part of the reason being that we are set (knock on wood) to move out of this teeny space and into one space both inside and out. I've been planning what to do with all that space outside. It's hard because I have to be realistic about what will grow here instead of just growing all the things. I have yet to coax a significant amount of tomatoes to ripen before the end of the season. I've only had two tries, but still. One of my goals is to grow the kind of food we can store, the staples of our particular diet like rice and quinoa and potatoes and beans. I'm also going to test out several medicinal and dye plants. And there may, MAY be a chicken or two involved. Possibly also a fluffy rabbit. I'm am almost certainly getting too excited about it, what with it meaning a bedroom for each kid and not living on the second floor. But there's also the fact that its at the base of a mountain, which means a constant deluge of chilly air in a region that doesn't have its last frost until June. So excited, but trying to stay realistic...I think.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Plants and post-apocalyptica

This is that time of year when I'm so unbusy it starts to stress me out as much as when I am trying to get ten things done at once. Its also the time of year for snow, that fluffy blanket of oppression, both metaphorical and not. So much of it that I'd give in to my hermetical tendencies and stick to the indoors rather than buck up, bundle the kids up and get our butts outdoors. Last year this was a (literally) depressing combination that I mistakenly tried to remedy with tons of books on growing things. The result was that by the time spring rolled in I was on the verge.

When I was little I thought I'd grow up and live in a mountain town. I loved visiting my aunt and uncle in Breckenridge and it all seemed so cozy and fun and interesting. Living in one now...I miss my city anonymity and having more that three places to go besides the apartment. There are awesome bits like hiking in the woods, meeting people who've known Gerry since he was a kid or feeling comfortable letting Anais semi-free-range around town. But there just isn't enough awesome to outweigh or even balance out that resigned feeling of ick I get when I think about being here for another year. Where to go from here has become one the the chief occupations of my brain in the past few months. Because beggars can't be choosers. Not even this one. What I thought was a serendipitous solution turned out to be not so much. I'm back at square one with more ideas than ever, but no real plan or means for actualizing them.

And yet, I'm not nearly as close to circling the drain as I was this time last year. I think part of that has to do with me being more focused on self-care (st. john's wort and immunity boosting blends of spices in my coffee, etc.) and not caring if its a placebo or really working. My mom and rest of my family have been extra supportive lately, too. That and for as much as I've done less this year, in some ways I've accomplished more. I didn't get back to Austin for the Renegade Craft Fair, but I did have a art batt included for a display at the Denver Art Museum, which led to getting a consignment deal with the gift shop there over the summer. And I may have done fewer shows overall, but I seem to have made more at each than I would have otherwise. I'm slowly adding more stockists to the fold and the whole Eat Agar thing is more cohesive product and brand-wise. My ethos and my output have become conjoined twins. Little bits of the over-arching plan I came up with three years ago are coming together. I'm even back to researching what would've been my thesis. Because who needs the approval of a committee to put a book together, anyway? Pfftt!