The making report, February 2017 edition

In rounding up the content for this post, I was rather surprised to find that I’ve made more in recent weeks than I would have guessed. Which makes sense, with this winter hanging on as tenaciously as it has, but it has all been a bit stealth, lots of bits here and there without a feeling of focus and progress on a singular project.

The closest thing I’ve had to that singular project is this hoodie for a certain friend aged 2 1/2 I started way back in November. It got set aside for December while I knit yulekuler, and then approximately every other week when my frustration with superwash wool overwhelmed my interest in getting it done. I still have to install a zipper and wrap up some other finishing details, but the knitting is complete and I’m feeling pretty relieved.

This is my very first garment for a small being, and I was pretty excited about the prospect of combining all the satisfactions of garment knitting with the speed of knitting them in mini. Of course I didn’t really get the “speed” part because I couldn’t help but choose this pattern that was full of details that I loved (and that would double the work). There are toddler-size pockets knit into the sides, that hood, and an i-cord edging around the entire front. But I had all sorts of time so I decided to go for it.

I’m not sure if I would do it again. Definitely not in superwash – somehow the process of making wool washable removes every property I like about wool and leaves you with this slippery, splitty substance that lacks any integrity. And there’s just no joy in knitting with it. I fully understand that parents don’t want to deal with a hand-washable garment for a toddler, but I might have to admit that my potential knitting audience is limited to those that love real wool enough to deal with its care requirements.

All that said, I think this is a pretty sweet little red hoodie. The color was surprising hard to capture, but it’s a classic bright red. (Honestly, this one got left out of previous reports just because the photos of it were always so crap.) Here’s one more attempt, included mostly because it was my first use of the blocking mats I received for Christmas and they made me very happy.

While I was taking breaks from the hoodie, I knit a few hats for my local knitting group’s charity hat drive. I used the opportunity to play with a hat pattern that had a lot of potential but had been a miss on my first attempt. After four goes, I think I’ve got the pattern modifications sorted to my liking. The colorwork still needs some help, but really I just need more contrast. I was knitting entirely from stash, and it turns out that I only ever choose mid-tone shades. So predictable, I am.

And here’s the start of my current project: a cotton baby blanket in a super-simple pattern. I had decided months ago that this baby would be welcomed with hand-knitting but not a blanket and then a few weeks ago I decided that it would maybe need just a little stroller blanket and then I cast on and knit a few inches and it is very much a full-on baby blanket size. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but given this little one is expected in just a few weeks, I should probably think about that while I keep on knitting.

And finally, a little evidence that the wool rug project continues on, ever so slowly, but onward nonetheless.

Wool news

In the thick of December making, I was full of daydreams about the projects that would emerge from the vast expanses of time in January. So far, though, January has produced very little evidence of making, let alone those mythical expanses of time. And the limits of January light means there is even less photographic evidence.

Predictably, as I was reaching the end of the holiday knitting, I desperately wanted to knit something simple and mindless. I rummaged through my stash and picked out a pattern and held on just long enough to crank out the last couple christmas balls, and cast on this simple ribbed hat as soon as the last one was off the needles. The color is impossible to capture, but it’s my favorite part. I used a skein of hand-dyed that was a little too bright and with the very short color changes you get with hand-dyed. So I held it doubled up with a plain light grey, which muted it beautifully. The effect is hard to describe, but somehow all the color changes just blend together in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.

I’ve also been making progress on a toddler hoodie for a pretty great two-and-a-half year-old friend. It’s very red, which is great for mid-winter knitting. It is also knit out of superwash wool and every time I knit something out of superwash I hate it and I swear that won’t do it again and then a little time goes by and I manage to convince myself that THIS version of superwash will be better. But I think, unfortunately, they are just all horrible. So the hoodie is progressing in fits and starts.

There has also been some mindless sock knitting and a charity hat knitting project, perhaps to be documented next time.

In other wool news,  Dean and I picked up the rug project after a long holiday hiatus, and it feels like we’ve made it over a hump of sorts. This is the whole pile of wheels remaining to braid:

And this, my friends, is the start of something possibly recognizable as a rug!

A someday rug

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This wool rug project has been in deep hibernation for about two years, a fact I know for certain only because this blog is now old enough to have documented my exuberant start before it disappeared into the depths. And by depths, you understand that I mean some horizontal surface in the sewing room where it doesn’t quite belong but stays for six months or so until it gets shuffled again. (See what I did right there? The guest bedroom just became the sewing room, which is great news for justifying its general state and less good news for future guests. At least the ghosts of unfinished projects are generally friendly.)

I never stopped liking the idea of this rug project, or wishing that I had the finished rug, but it was slow going and something else always seemed to be more urgent or more gratifying or just easier. Then this fall I had a stroke of brilliance. I realized that this rug was a two-person project, and I recruited Dean.

I braid, he sews. Sooner or later it will become I braid, he laces.

To be honest, the idea was initially more of a ruse to convince him to keep me company so that I would spend more time working on it. But it’s actually a really good two-person project for us, because there are so many little tasks that Dean can switch between and not get bored while I just keep braiding which makes for momentum and actual progress.

We still have a long way to go, I think we’re about 30% done with the braiding. There haven’t been any marathon sessions, just an hour in the evening here and there. I’m thinking that maybe if I don’t look it straight on, we’ll have a rug someday.

St John’s wort magic

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St John’s wort in olive oil, just after filling the jars
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The same oil jars a couple days later, along with a jar of tincture (alcohol infusion)

The St John’s wort is in peak condition for collecting, just on schedule according to the commonly held belief that it is named after the feast day of St John on June 24. I filled my basket with bright yellow flowers twice in the past week.

The best part of infusing St John’s wort is watching the yellow and green tops magically transform the oil or alcohol into a rich dark red. It looks like alchemy, although if you take another look at the flowers above, you’ll see some hints of it.

This is only the second year that I’ve collected but it’s locally abundant and both the tincture and oil became fast favorites this past winter. Feeling rich to have those jars of midsummer healing on the shelf once again.

A bit scattered

 

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I had a birthday yesterday. A 39th birthday, to be precise. And I thought I might have something to say about that but none of my thoughts seem witty or profound or even moderately interesting. Maybe I’m getting some perspective on this decade of my thirties, the threads that run through it all and how it fits into this big puzzle. But mostly, the occasion of a birthday seems to have tossed me into the gap between my experience of how life is right now and how I imagined “the life of a 39-year-old” would be. And by gap, I mean the light years separating universes. To which you’re all thinking, “um, duh” or some much more articulate version of that.

So, moving along… how about a craft project update? I’ve been pretty scattered on the making front of late – my hands regularly doing something, but no one project or medium really inspiring or holding my attention.

On the knitting front, my striped tights stalled out again so I cast on a blanket project that has been sitting in my stash for years. I bought 10 balls of this Rowan Scottish tweed chunky (the color is gorgeous but it confounds my camera) on super closeout a few years ago and from the start it was a cozy lap blanket in my mind. The simple lace pattern I chose is excellent mindless knitting for busy summer days, which is good because admittedly the big heavy blanket is less good for warmer days. I haven’t knit much with bulky yarn but I see the seduction. It goes so fast! I’m just past the halfway point and feel like I’ve hardly tried.

I’ve also been doing more sewing of late. Last weekend when it was bucketing down rain again, I cut out a cross-back apron from this pattern. I’m learning that working from free internet patterns means the cutting process is a bear – all the measuring and drawing required makes me want to beg for a shape to just cut around. But after it was finally cut out, the sewing part went well and now it just needs a hem to finish it up. And you might recognize that I’ve had the clothesline out again as well for some mindless zigzag satisfaction.

Finally, I’ve been playing with herbs. The dehydrator has been on low more often than not, slowly drying down my regular little collections of treasure from the herb garden or wild surrounds. The calendula jar is slowly filling up with brilliant orange petals, and the chamomile is trickling in. I made a couple big batches of salve this week with oils infused from last summer’s St. John’s wort and the winter cottonwood buds, good inspiration for collecting as much as I can now while there is so much to be had.

Doilies for rocks

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Look! I taught myself just enough crochet to have covered two rocks!

I’m completely in love with the whole concept of doilies for rocks. They serve no function, but seeing them makes me happy, which seems like more than enough reason to keep playing.

As you can see, I upgraded from leftover sock yarn scraps to actual crochet cotton. I also invested in a crochet hook of the size suggested by the pattern instead of the unlabeled one that I found in the bottom of a basket of yarn I picked up at an estate sale years ago. Both of these helped immensely but the process is still very much a mix of feeling reasonably competent and fits of cursing.

The thing that still throws me about crochet, more than anything else, is how you have to figure out not just HOW to make each stitch, but WHERE to make it, too. With a reference book on hand, the series of wraps and pulls that make up the how is pretty straightforward to me. But I twist and turn my existing stitches and can’t tell up from down or front from back until I finally just give up and guess on just where I’m supposed to attach the new stitch. And if I have to hook into a chain stitch (which seems like it should be the easiest option), I’m definitely in trouble. At which point it’s helpful to remember that it’s a doily for a rock.

In knitting news, the shawl is still unfinished. It’s been two weeks and I’ve managed to weave in almost fifty ends. Which means I have just under a hundred to go. It has spend most of the last two weeks in a ball shape in the bottom of my knitting basket while I pretend that the long johns I abandoned on the thigh of the first leg over a year ago are suddenly very exciting and require my immediate attention.

Windfall

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Do those jars not look amazing? I could stare at them forever, I just find them endlessly fascinating. That is fresh cottonwood buds in (l-r) alcohol, oil, and oil after it’s been steeping for a week.

I first read about cottonwood salve several years ago now and I have wanted to try my hand at making some for just as long. But while it’s a simple process, you need to source your own raw material. Fresh buds require locating the trees, visiting during winter or early spring, and then reaching them (most easily achieved by collecting branches after a good wind, cottonwood is brittle). A simple task once you get all the conditions lined up, but no mean trick to put it all together for the newbie.

About ten days ago I went out with a generous new friend and she showed me the ropes. We spent a couple hours pleasantly wandering a couple nearby parks and I managed to collect a nice bag full of tips which I trimmed up to fill the jar on the right. And I was really excited.

And then Dean and I stopped back at the park a week later and found that a couple of cottonwood trees had been knocked over. The very definition of a windfall. Trees covered in swelling buds, a whole crown full of them, all easily within reach. In half an hour the two of us collected enough to fill two more jars.

So now we wait, anywhere from six weeks to a year, for the buds to slowly give up their goodness to the oil. And then I’ll add in a little beeswax to get the consistency I like and I will have an excellent all-purpose salve, good for pain and soreness, minor cuts and burns, and the like.

It really is folk medicine at its best, which I think is why I’m so drawn to it. It’s simple to make but not exactly scalable to any level of production. It’s useful to have on hand. And did I mention how fabulous all that resin smells?

A man sweater

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I finally finished the sweater for Dean! And I’m not sure which one of us is more relieved that it fits and is a generally normal-looking garment. Which shouldn’t be shocking, it’s not like I’ve never knit a sweater before. But this was my first sweater for someone else, and while Dean is a very gracious knitted gift recipient… he’s also particular about his clothing and especially how it fits.

I told myself all along the way that it didn’t matter how much I had to rip out and re-do, I wanted to make something that would actually be functional and not just keep the closet monsters company. And I know Dean was bracing himself for the fact that we was going to feel obligated to wear whatever I produced in all those hours. After the false start, it actually went pretty well. I added a few inches to the length of everything and modified the collar to fit his preference, but otherwise just followed the pattern and all went smoothly.

Knitting details are here on Ravelry.

And after three months of knitting on (mostly) one thing, I’m free to knit anything I want! Which means it is full steam ahead on this shawl that I just barely got a start on last fall before the sweater yarn arrived and it has been (mostly) sitting in the basket waiting ever since.

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So far it feels like the perfect project – a bit more interesting than endless plain knitting but not so interesting that I can’t listen to a podcast or watch something while I work on it, big enough that the end result feels substantial but small enough that I can imagine finishing it. And a new shawl at the end. My go-to shawl started feeling a little… worn of late, which is probably reasonable given that I knit it about four and half years ago.

So it’s happiness all around in the knitting update (and yes I am choosing to be blissfully ignorant of the absolutely absurd number of ends to weave in on that shawl).

Start growing the willow

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I just came in from digging holes in wet ground, planting basket willows. Yes, basket willow! The hope is that in a couple years, I will have four brilliant colors of willow shoots to twine into baskets.

Which seems like a bit of a leap from someone who has made exactly one basket in her life. One basket that is uneven in every way, full of inelegant transitions and signs of clumsy hands – everything you would expect from a first attempt. Honestly, I’m really not sure when I will get to a second. It may be a couple years from now when I have willow to harvest, or it may be in a couple weeks if I have a pocket of time and the motivation. Either way, I’m confident that there will be many more in my future.

Making this first one felt like waking up some very old knowledge in my hands. I hadn’t the slightest idea how to go about making a basket but each step just made sense immediately. And even when my hands were clumsy, I could see exactly what they needed to do.

Now it’s true that I’ve been in love with just about every archaic handcraft that I’ve ever met. And I have slowly come to accept that there may not be enough hours in this life to learn them all, and that I might actually get more gratification from doing a couple well than trying to learn them all. But basket making always felt like it would find me at the right time and apparently, that time was this weekend. So while I am fully aware that picking up another archaic handcraft is possibly the last thing I need in my life, I also accept that some things are inevitable.

So I may as well start growing the willow.

A bit of color

DSC_3145 DSC_3147 DSC_31502015-04-25 16.34.58DSC_3161A few new bits of color landed this week. Little projects that, like most things in our life, seem to hang out in the “in progress” stage longer than you thought possible but then sneak across the line to “finished” eventually.

We’re always on the watch for wall art Dean and I can agree on, and those posters were an emphatic yes we when discovered them at an art & craft fair back in December. We even managed to buy frames in January, and get the posters in the frames in March. And yet they were still sitting in the closet, waiting for final adjustment and hanging, a week ago. But they’re on the wall now, making the kitchen a little more cheery.

I also picked up the unfinished pine dresser from IKEA a couple months ago. But “reorganize closet” didn’t actually make the monster list of things to do this spring, it’s more of a side hobby, so about weekly I would give the box a pat to let it know it wasn’t completely forgotten and then go back to other more pressing tasks.

And as much as I enjoy closet organization… And I really do. Dean made the mistake of mentioning he was thinking of tackling his closet several months ago and I badgered him for ages to actually do it. When he finally did, we negotiated that I would sit on the bed while he did it but would not helpinterfere. I was happy there for hours. But I digress.

The exciting part of the dresser project had nothing to do with closet organization, but my discovery of milk paint. Milk paint! Are you familiar with this magical substance? It is an old fashioned, utterly non-toxic paint that comes in powder form, and you mix it in your own kitchen to your desired consistency, and then it creates the most stunning finish. It dries completely matte, almost chalky in color. But after a coat of oil, it has some depth. Lots of people seem to also apply a topcoat of wax and some distressing details, but I skipped all of that. I absolutely loved the process, and the final look. I’m enamored with this whole palette and was scheming ideas for more projects on which to use it the whole time I was working on this one. I’m pretty sure there will be more milk-painted furniture in our house soon.

Oh, and it seems that I’m not quite done with that rope basket sewing jag, either.DSC_3158

Instant craftification

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2015-04-22 06.37.10I try hard not to pick up new hobbies, especially of the crafting variety, because there are already far more things that I’d like to make than time for making. But I fell down on the rope baskets last week. And I don’t regret it. This may be one of the most instantly gratifying projects I’ve ever done. I invested 3 minutes in watching this video and a few more in reading a couple blog posts. And then I started stitching, around and around and around. It’s really quite simple and completely enchanting.

The small bowl and coaster were my first attempts, the larger baskets my next. Everything you see, plus another coaster that got pressed into service immediately, was made from one 200-yard hank of clothesline. And thread. A lot of thread. But I don’t even feel bad about that, because I have a habit of picking up bags of thread from the thrift store when I like the old wooden spools, but there’s a limit to how many jars of old spools I need on the sewing shelves. Or more accurately, I can love them just as much empty of their thread.

And who can’t find a use for a few new baskets about? Or maybe more…

 

December day

It was nearly 9p last night when I sat down for what felt like the first time all day and my first thought was, “maybe this is what happened to the whole first half of December?”

These have been full days, no doubt. The beauty is that by this point in life I have freely abandoned any holiday-related expectations that don’t work for me, so my days are full of too much of all the things I love about this time of year. So it was that yesterday I was hanging ornaments and wrapping packages in brown kraft paper in between making plum jam and screen-printing cards and tromping through the National Forest tree hunting. A very good day in my book.

I have also studiously avoided shopping of just about every kind (even online), a craft show last weekend being my major exception. And that sentence goes a very long way in explaining how I have learned to manage myself through December.

Before I give the impression that I’m a shiny example of sanity amid holiday crazies, let me assure you that is not at all where I’m going. It’s much more about choosing forms of craziness that best suit.

I spent many hours yesterday making plum jam. Back in August we gleaned some Italian prune plums but didn’t have time to process them so just stuck them in the freezer whole. I had a vague idea of holiday baking with them because the flavor reminded me so strongly of the prune treats at my Grandma Axtman’s holidays of my childhood. I didn’t have a specific item in mind so we poked around and plum linzer cookies were added to the short list of holiday baking projects.

Now I could have made the jam anytime in the last couple months, but I didn’t. So the day before I hoped to bake said cookies, I pulled that bag of still-frozen fruit out, inhaled the sweet smell of summer, and set about cooking them down. It took about twice as long as I had hoped it would, so yesterday’s candle-making project became this morning’s candle-making project. But our house smelled fantastic all afternoon and the candles will get made and maybe even while we are snacking on jam-filled linzers.

So it goes, over and over again. Days filled to the brim, and then just evaporating.

You can’t fight instinct

crafting 2014nov04It feels like some primitive instinct. The natural world mostly stops growing things this time of year and my urge to make things, all sorts of things, jumps into overdrive as if to compensate.

The knitting was the first outlet to fall prey, but I’m already in so far over my head there that I had to employ defenses. So I spent untold hours browsing patterns and scheming about the next sweater/hat/scarf (depending on the day), but I did manage to stop myself from actually casting on any new projects. I’ve decided instead that what I really need instead is to actually finish one of the projects I have going. It sounds very reasonable, but I did try to convince myself that I could just sneak in the rest of the pickle sweater last week. After the better part of the week spent on the upper back I came to my senses and buckled down on the baby blanket once again. Just one and a half balls of yarn left on it now, so maybe if I keep on it I’ll manage to wrap it up by the middle of this month.

And that would be totally reasonable if I was just working on knitting projects. But last Friday afternoon I was struck with the sudden (and brilliant) inspiration to relocate my sewing table. And it’s such a superior setup that I really want to spend time sitting there sewing. (I’m sure that watching back episodes of the BBC’s “The Great British Sewing Bee” for knitting company has only a little to do with this.) I told myself that I would just start on the backlog of mending projects but it was a matter of hours until I broke out the wool braided rug. Right before it went away for the summer, I had ordered some rug-braiding tools and lo! tools are helpful! So I’ve made some progress and more of a plan and I’m quite excited about how it’s coming together. Last night I did do enough math to figure out that I have about 10% of the braid done, so it’ll be awhile until I have an actual rug, but I’m plucking away on it anyway.

I’ve also been playing with some herbs and such again and over the weekend I made a batch of lavender soap. From infusing the oil and then making it up and now the curing, we’ve had the lovely scent of lavender wafting around for days and I have to say I’m really quite ok with that.

So that’s most of the making that’s happening around here these days. Now that I write it out it really doesn’t seem like so much. Hmmmm…

Cozy satisfaction

hot water bottle cozyWhen I pulled my hot water bottle out this fall, it was obvious that its cozy wasn’t going to last another season. Or rather, it really didn’t make last season, but I was still using it. The gaping hole was the kind of special feature that meant you might shift a bit (maybe just as you were drifting off to sleep) and suddenly be scalded.

The window of opportunity for a mend had passed, so I set out to make a replacement yesterday. The objective was simple enough that there was no pattern or measuring involved. I started by felting an old lambswool sweater from my bin of thrifted supplies and then just cutting the basic shape and sewed the pieces together, making sure it fit the bottle as I went. Just my kind of project.

Since my sweater was a pullover instead of a cardigan, I made an opening at the back for easy installation/removal. A bit of strategic cutting meant that the sweater’s hem gave me a neat finish without any extra effort. I cannibalized a couple snaps from the old cozy to secure the opening and that was it. The felted wool is quite thick, but it was easier than I expected to work with. Of course it doesn’t fray, and my old sewing machine didn’t hesitate even when I jammed three layers through for the overlapping bit.

I’m really quite pleased about it – both with how it turned out and the satisfaction of actually tackling a project that’s so long overdue.

Mmmm… mustard

2014-08-029I don’t think I had ever considered making my own mustard, but then the most recent issue of Taproot magazine arrived and it became a certainty that I would. Somehow, it took me about two months to actually do this, but there was no good reason for that delay and I’ll be making more much sooner.

(Aside: I heard about Taproot when they were launching the very first issue and it sounded like something I would love. I looked into it then, but it just seemed a little too indulgent. I thought, “that would be a great holiday gift” and waited for someone else to bite on my behalf. Then in a fit of impatience this past January, I bought myself a one-year subscription. It is so worth every penny and then some. Every issue is packed with gorgeous art and inspiring stories and patterns and projects and recipes for things that I have actually made. I’m currently considering splurging on a full set of back issues, because I still hate that I missed out on nearly two years of that goodness.)

Right – we’re talking about mustard. I should probably hold this post because there’s no reason it needs to compete with the piles of late-summer produce that are no doubt looming in your kitchen as they are in mine. But on the other hand, it’s really no competition, more like a satisfying antidote. It’s nearly instant gratification compared to most ferments and it takes literally a few minutes to put it together.

I made two versions on my first go – a basic yellow mustard and a spicy horseradish mustard. As much as I love a spicy horseradish mustard, I think the basic recipe has great flavor and versatility, so that’s what I’m sharing here.

Yellow Mustard (adapted slightly from Kirsten Shockey’s recipe in Taproot magazine)

  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/4 cup brown mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 4 Tblsp raw apple cider vinegar
  1. Combine all ingredients except the vinegar in blender and blend until it reaches a paste consistency.
  2. Spoon mustard into glass jar, making sure to press out any air pockets. Cover with lid and leave to ferment at room temperature for 3 days.
  3. Stir in vinegar and move to store in refrigerator. Makes roughly 1 1/2 cups. Note that the half-pint jar on the left in the photo is a half-batch.

That’s it! This will mellow some over time, but it still has a bit of a kick from the brown mustard seeds. If you want something really mild, I would use a higher proportion of yellow mustard seeds. The original recipe also suggests that you could add a bit of honey with the vinegar which I didn’t do.

And now you have the perfect excuse for a round of my all-time favorite breakfast sandwiches: caramelized red onion, egg and sharp cheddar between two pieces of mustard-spread toast. Yum! I’m sure there will be some grilled sausages in our near future as well. What is your favorite vehicle for mustard?

Plans, shmans. Or feet, shmeet.

This weekend did not go according to plan. Which is ironic, perhaps, given how many times I was asked about my plans (given that it was my birthday) and the fact that each time I responded with, “no real plans, just a day to do as I please and take it easy.” In retrospect, I’d clarify that. I’d like a Saturday with a long run, some guilt-free crafting time, and some outside pottering followed by a very productive Sunday catching up on house and garden chores.

Instead, I got two days chock full of sitting with a bonus trip to the radiology department. Still waiting on word whether the anger in my left foot is strictly related to soft tissue damage or whether there is bone involved. I’m tempted to say it doesn’t really matter, although I guess one might heal faster than the other and that surely does matter a whole lot. Because I am really feeling quite over this sitting thing. Already.

At the least, I feel like I should have a good story of how I got into this mess. But I’ve got nothing. I was at physical therapy Friday morning (playing it conservative on the running issues), doing an exercise that involved running/stepping up and down from a wooden box quickly when I missed the landing on one step, hit the edge of the wooden box, and landed back on the ground. It didn’t feel like any trauma at the time, it smarted to a degree I attributed entirely to the intersection of bare skin and the edge of the box. But it’s been pretty much a downhill slide from there.

Since I’m searching for upsides I can report that I did indeed get some crafting hours this weekend. I knit a second sock to complete a pair I cast on as travel knitting back in December. They’re nothing pretty but I do love thick worsted-weight socks, even in the summer, so I’m happy to add a new pair to my drawer. I finally searched out some heavy sock yarn that is 80% wool/20% nylon so hopefully these will be a bit more durable than my current stock, which are lovely to wear but the yarn was never intended for socks and I am forever having to re-darn them.

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I also got a small start on the wool braided rug project. I’m still learning the best way to hold and fold the wool as I braid which is a bit trickier than the lightweight cottons I used on the last rug, but otherwise it’s going well.

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I’m working on the second sleeve of a cardigan that I started last summer and then the knitting works-in-progress will be cleared. Which explains why I felt the irresistible compulsion to rummage through my yarn stash this morning and scatter it all over the floor exploring ideas for what I shall cast on next. The possibilities of a new project never fail to cheer me up, at least for a bit…

Update: It’s just a flesh wound. (No really, x-rays were clear.)

Nootka rose

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A new discovery! Our native wild rose is the Nootka rose. You tend to find them in the unkept edges – growing along a fence or lane or such. I had been admiring the blossoms on the neighbors property recently and then yesterday I spotted a patch in one of the neglected corners of our place.

My first thought was rosehip jelly but we’re a few months out from that so I did some quick internet research on other uses and decided to try harvesting some petals. The picking went better than I expected; I was actually able to nearly fill a quart container in about half an hour or a little longer. Then I dropped it into a waist-high collection of grass, thistles, and brambles. It landed perfectly upside down. Some choice words were uttered, and what you see above is what I was able to salvage. I’d like to report that I really learned my lesson from that experience but I picked another spot this afternoon using the same container and lo, the same thing happened except I got luckier and only a fraction dumped out. Maybe next time?

A couple hours in the dehydrator on the lowest setting (95°) and the petals had shrunk impressively. I decided my first experiment would be to infuse some honey. So that’ll sit and meld for a few weeks and we’ll see how it turns out.

It was so satisfying to go from idea to identification to execution in less than a day. The second batch is drying now. Not sure what those will be – probably just stored as dried petals for a future tea blend or bath product project. I’m also intrigued by rose water but don’t think I’m that ambitious (and I’d need a whole lot more petals).

Homestead wildcrafting, continued

I have continued reading up on the various uses of our local native plants and scouting around our property to see what’s growing where and such since the folk school course a couple weeks ago and the initial burst of herbal making I wrote about. Late spring is a good time for harvesting many things, so I’ve also added a few jars to the shelf of experiments.

During that course, the instructor mentioned that thimbleberry leaf can be used just like red raspberry leaf, which is so popular in herbal teas. We have loads of thimbleberry around, and it’s just putting out lots of young leaves so I harvested a basketful yesterday and filled the dehydrator. When I came back to check on them, I was caught off-guard by how good it smelled so I’m looking forward to trying the tea.

I’ve also harvested two batches of horsetails. With each, I dried most of them and simmered a handful fresh for a hair rinse. Most references I’ve found focus the benefits of a tea preparation, but I’m mostly interested in the hair rinse potential. Dean assures me that it’s a placebo effect, but I think my hair feels smoother, so I’ll keep playing with it.

I started a jar of willow bark tincture yesterday as well. I wasn’t planning on this one but when I was thinning saplings for woodchips, I ended up with a few young willows in the mix and couldn’t resist. So I stripped a few branches and snipped the bark to fill a jar. I still feel a bit hesitant, like there’s a bit more possibility for screwing up with this one. But I’m also intrigued by homemade aspirin, so we’ll give it a try with a bit of extra caution.

I walk by my tinctures in the pantry every day and give the jars a gentle turn/shake. It’s fascinating to me to watch them slowly change character. A couple more weeks and the first batch will be ready for decanting and trial…

Homestead wildcrafting

I’ve been drooling over the course descriptions of our local folk school ever since it started about two years ago. This weekend, I finally took my first course on “spring tonics and northwest wild medicines”. It was fantastic and of course I’m kicking myself now for waiting so long.

We spent the day learning to identify and harvest local plants with medicinal properties and then extracting those properties and creating a few finished products. I came home at the end of the afternoon exhausted but way too excited not to head out with a bucket and pruners immediately. It’s been 24 hours and I have jars of yellow dock, dandelion, oregon grape, and blackberry roots tincturing (is that a verb? if not, it should be) along with a jar of dried nettles and a bowl of nettle pesto in the fridge (ok, half a bowl – it’s really tasty). I also scoped out the best patch of horsetails but didn’t get back to harvest them yet… All from a couple of short walks around the homestead. How gratifying is that?

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Completely unrelated… I’ve been derailed from my running routine for almost two weeks but I finished a full run today so hoping I am back on track. For weeks I was pleasantly surprised that my body seemed to be adjusting to running again and then suddenly it wasn’t. It was mostly some lower calf issues – not tightness, but knots so persistent that it felt like they would just cramp and give way when I tried to run. After a week and a half of arnica and ice and ibuprofen and heat and rest (and more rest), I finally saw a chiropractor and got my hips adjusted. And then figured out I could use a tennis ball to attack the knots. Sweet relief. It’s interesting how my old self-knowledge of my body as a runner is coming back in fits and starts. After more than a week of being completely mystified, a lightbulb went off about my hips and the quick knee-lift test that I used way back when. Bingo – still works!