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Friday 29 November 2013

Natural Dyes: Onion Skins and Tumeric

I needed "autumnal" colors for a knit blanket we were working on for a friend that was in the hospital. We were thinking warm yellows, burgundy, oranges, and browns. I had no yellow yarn, but I had lots of yellow onions in storage from our garden so I gave them all a little "shuck" and came up with enough  papery onion skins to make a dye bath for a couple skeins of yarn.

My yarns were of a natural fiber - one was 100% wool and the other was a wool and cotton blend. They were both white so I knew that they at least would be tinted in the right direction on the color spectrum.

Yarn should be clean and un-wound for easier drying. If you dye yarn in a ball, it will probably take so long to fully dry that your yarn will develop a musty smell. It is worth the time to unwind it around your arms (or you can get a friend to help you)

I basically made onion skin tea. I added a few tablespoons of vinegar to help the color set and miraculously for this dye I did not use a mordant. I strained off the onion skins before I added the yarn.

Generally speaking with natural dyes you need an additional agent known as a 'mordant' to prevent the color from fading out of your material. I took a chance because I didn't have any alum and I tested some yarn with a light wash and the color stayed. Hooray!

After the dye bath I gave the yarn a heavy rinse and hung it to dry. (No, it did not smell like onions!)

Yes, it turned a nice warm brown color. Beautiful and within the color scheme, but I was thinking YELLOW. So I turned to the agent in my kitchen that dyes everything yellow even when I don't want it to -Tumeric!! 

David is modeling the turmeric-stained cotton as a turban.

Tumeric root also has amazing anti-inflammatory properties and is delicious in curries. I had powdered tumeric and I made a strong "tea" with hot water and a generous amount of tumeric powder (about a cup of tumeric into a few litres of  hot water) I also did not use a mordant for this and it worked very well. 

 Here is one square I was crocheting with my tumeric-yellow wool. I enjoyed a glass of my homemade blackberry apple wine as I continued to admire the beautiful yellow that tumeric makes.

This was our finished blanket, made with love and intention for our friend who has made a full recovery! I don't know if I ever told her how many onions went into that blanket.

Purple onion skins also make a beautiful purpley color when used in this way. Most other natural dye plants must be used with a mordant, otherwise they will fail. Queen Anne's Lace, rhubarb, beets, marigolds, most nut tree leaves and bark, dark berries, and many other garden plants can yield beautiful colors.

*Alum can be bought at certain drug stores - call and ask if they carry it. Alum is also useful in tanning hides, and is a caustic mineral that can harm plants. If you use it be sure to dispose of it properly - ie, not in your compost or garden.

Monday 25 November 2013

Photos: Morning Milking

David often comes to help with the goat chores. Lately he has been wearing his fireman helmet and sometimes we go for a nature walk while drinking fresh milk.

I included a photo of my most recent apple pie. I have been putting apples into everything. Sliced thinly into salad or coleslaw, in porridge, yummy crumbles and pies, and lately I have baked them with root vegetables. I still need to make applesauce and do some canning!

Feeling thankful for such a bountiful harvest from the fruit trees this year. Amazing pears, asian pears, and more apples than I know what to do with!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday 21 November 2013

Baby in the Bed

The idea of "co-sleeping" or "bed-sharing" has gotten a lot of bad press in the last few years. Maybe I have just been paying more attention because I have a child now. Still, it really bugs me to hear "doctor's reports" that say that under no circumstances should babies be allowed to sleep with their mommies, citing statistics of SIDS and relating baby deaths to bed sharing. I understand that doctors and researchers have an obligation to share facts and warn people about the dangers of sleeping with their babies, but saying "don't sleep with your baby because your baby might be smothered and die" is like saying, "don't hold your baby! you might drop her!" Seriously, come on. Who is not going to hold their baby? Furthermore, what mother is going to DROP her baby? Sure, it happens. But is that a good enough reason to put your baby in a carrier all the time, or a crib? For me, it wasn't. David is 4 months in this photo, still sleeping through every night and barely waking up to have some milk before falling asleep again. I didn't have to get up, and neither did my baby.

There is NO way you will roll over on your baby in the bed unless you have taken sleeping pills or lots of hard liquor before bed. I had our bed against a wall and never let baby get close to the edge of the bed so he could never fall off. I encourage all new moms to at least *try* to let your baby sleep with you. For me, cuddling with my baby was not only good for me (I got way more sleep) but I know that my baby loved it and felt safe and snuggled in the place where babies belong - with their mothers. I was skeptical on that first night when I wondered where to put my baby, not knowing what it would be like with a newborn, worrying that he would fall out of bed or get covered up with blankets. I tucked him into my arm and he slept there all night long - through the night, the first night of his life! And then began a wonderful journey of having my baby with me during the night - since then I had an easier time doing midnight diaper changes, nursing my baby without having to get up at all, and then when he was potty training I would pick him up in the night and sit him on a little potty next to our bed. Now he is 2 and 1/2, he doesn't wet the bed, and we haven't worn diapers for almost a year.

I try never to tell other mothers what to do, unless I hear someone asking for help. But I want to say things like "Keep nursing! Its all about the latch! You can do it!" or "Let your baby be naked! The diaper rash will go away!" or "Let your baby sleep with you! He will actually SLEEP!" So here I am on my blog with a little advocating for sharing a bed with your baby. Maybe it is not right for you and I respect other mothers for doing what is best for them and their babies. But if you know some new parents, feel free to let them know that this option is socially acceptable and may be a wonderful solution to sleep deprivation and a "colicky" baby. I encourage all parents who have been discouraged from doing this to try it and see how it is. It might just feel like the coziest, safest, most natural thing in the world.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Meet the Herd: Barney

Barney is the billy goat I bought this year to do his thang with my girl goats. Without baby goats, there is no goaty milk. Those ladies need to get preggy and I hope that Barney has done his job and that we'll have lots of little Barneys jumping around next April.

I got Barney from Coombs, from a nice guy that raises French Alpines. I got to see Barney's mom, which is always important in checking out breeding stock because the billy's mother's udder will give you an indication of the genetics you've got for future milking goats. Also it will give you more of a clue what your baby goats might look like, which is always a fun guessing game.

Big, beautiful teats! It makes a big difference when milking.

I also got to see Barney's dad. This guy is some sort of prize-winning stud who drove out from Manitoba and he is the biggest goat I have EVER seen. You can't tell in the photo but this guy is like a centaur. He was super stinky. Isn't he handsome?

And then of course there is dear little Barney. He looks like a small fry but he is almost as big as Ken and would someday grow to be as big as his pops. 

Barney rode the ferry like a champ. He is rather a gentleman, except for when the food bowls are out and apparently when I go away. I believe that all my girls went into estrus while I was away for 5 days and nobody has shown any signs of heat in the last six weeks, which means that they are probably pregnant! Yay! What am I going to do with all those goats?

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Meet The Herd: Ken and Nemo

What wonderful creatures goats are! Friendly, smart, affectionate, and so rewarding. A goat is kind of like a dog that doesn't bite and also makes delicious milk and produces pounds of fertilizer every day.

Right now I have 4 lady goats and a young buck. All of these goats have distinct personalities and are each really special in their own way.

This is Ken (alias Lena Horne). She is our bossy, foot stamping, fearless leader of the pack. Ken is not the nicest of my goats but she is the most outgoing and always steps up to protect the herd. She is a great mom and has consistently produced multiples. Last year she had triplets! Ken is a Nubian and French Alpine cross. She has one curly horn growing on her head because she was not fully disbudded as a kid. This is considered a potentially dangerous mistake but it also qualifies her as a UNICORN which is just totally awesome.
Here is Lena nuzzling her three babies.

Yes, Lena Horne has two names. She came to us as "Ken" and we tried changing her name - but Ken just stuck. Ken lives up to the awesomeness and hilarity of being named Ken. Lena has become her nickname. She also has been known to go by 'Big Momma', 'Kennedy Kinghorn', and of course, "Goaty Gooooat".

Ken has a lot of personality and is reliably fertile, which makes up for the fact that her teats are not huge and her milk supply really dries up this time of year. I stopped milking her last week because I was getting less than a cup of milk. (In the summer she readily gives a litre every morning.)

This is Ken's daughter Nemo. Don't they look like twins? Except Nemo has two horns. Nemo was the smallest of the three, but the tamest and sweetest. She was bottle-fed a few times and I think that really earned me her trust. She doesn't shy away from me and is always curious about my clothing with her soft and goatylicious lips. She will hopefully have kids of her own next spring!

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Photos: November Flowers

Happy Autumn. Isn't the rosemary beautiful?

From top to bottom: Rosemary, Johnny Jump-Up (tiny, perennial, self-seeding pansies), Calendula (also edible), Carrots x 2, our yard, some of my embroidery, and lastly... David and me.

Saturday 9 November 2013

New Machine!

I am very excited to tell you that my new sewing machine arrived yesterday! It is a Brother Sewing and Quilting Machine. There is a lot to play with on this puppy but the first thing I did after taking some practice stitches was to put on the free-motion quilting foot! I doodled on some scrap fabric and it was SO easy! I can't wait to do more free quilting.

One thing that I finally took the time to check on was the watt usage of my electric iron. Oh. My. God. Because we live "off the grid" and supply ourselves with all of our own electricity, I pay a lot of attention to our power usage. We monitor an inverter and batteries and you can bet that all the lights are turned off if nobody is in the room. A sewing machine is not a major concern because the power it uses is intermittent, and basically all it does is move a needle up and down. An iron on the other hand is a heating element and therefore is a HUGE electricity draw - a whopping 1100 watts!! That is a lot! Turn on every light in your house and then you still wouldn't draw as much as that thing. Yikes! What am I going to do? I have a couple of small projects waiting to be quilted and I'm dying to get going on them, but they MUST be ironed. And, of course, right now it gets dark at 5:30 and the weather has been rainy. Not much sun shining on the solar panels! I am officially on the hunt for an old-fashioned iron. As in, an actual piece of iron that I can put on the woodstove to heat up, without using any electricity.

The view from my sewing room window on this grey and rainy day.

In the meantime I am sorry to report that I have a sniffly cold, probably as a result of my Hallowe'en sugarthon. I am paying for my crimes and man I would trade ten of those sugar cookies for two clear nostrils right now. Little David has a cold, too. On the upside I enjoyed some delicious juice today, first carrot and ginger and then a blend of apple, ginger, and kale. The kale pretty much disappears with the sweetness of the apples. Highly recommended by yours truly. Here's hoping it'll kick this cold in the butt and we'll be breathing free and easy soon!

Friday 8 November 2013

Goodbye To A Goaty

Goats fall ill and die quickly. One saying I've heard is "a sick goat is an almost dead goat."

Any goat suffering from dehydration in particular has not long to live. The first thing I do for an ailing goat is to offer her some fresh water. If she is reluctant to drink, serve the water warm with some molasses. If she still isn't interested or if at some point I have to give an oral remedy, literature suggests "drenching" the goat with the solution. "Drenching" does not mean to splash your animal. It is a term that refers to using a large syringe -I use a recycled glass bottle -to force liquid into the back of your goat's mouth.

NEVER put your finger into the back of a goat's mouth. The back teeth of a goat are like cigar cutters, intended for cutting through branches and woody roughage. What I do to coax my goat to open her mouth is to straddle her neck, tilt her head back and offer some raisins to get her to open her mouth. Then i pry her jaws apart IN THE FRONT (where there is only a dental pad and some bottom teeth) until I can work the bottle in to her mouth and glug some liquid down her throat.

Over the last 48 hours I've been nursing one of our yearling does, Pumpkin. She only came to us a week ago so I can't help thinking that her decline was related to the move, and that maybe there was more I could have done to keep her healthy. Today we decided to put her down because her condition was getting progressively worse. After doing research and trying various remedies, I still don't know exactly what happened to dear little Pumpkin. A hard lesson learned: sometimes animals die and we don't know why.

A sad day on our homestead.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Sugar Cookie No-No

Ever since Halloween I have been on a real sugar binge. I ate most of my son's candy and then subsequently decided to bake Congo Bars, Sugar Cookies, and Butterscotch Brownies. Generally I love baking (even more than "cooking") and I often try to make things that are healthy and relatively gluten-free. I try and limit gluten intake but I also enjoy baking with it because of its springiness. I am notorious for making "almost" gluten-free goodies, that is, mostly rice flour, chickpea flour, or gluten-free mixes, but with an additional cup or half a cup of white, whole wheat, or rye flour, all of which contain gluten and therefore contaminate the dish for all of the many people who are truly gluten free or have allergies.

However, this last week I haven't even tried to be good. I have been using white flour and even white sugar and greatly enjoying eating the results. Most of all I enjoyed snacking on one of my favorite goodies, sugar cookies.

Every Christmas when I was a kid, we would decorate sugar cookies with different colors of frosting and in lots of Christmas-y shapes. We used sugar sprinkles and those little silver ball sprinkles and had piping bags for the icing and everything.

Well, it is not Christmas. I had no excuse. I found a recipe online linked to a picture of pink, sprinkled, heart-shaped cookies by 'Average Betty'. I made the cookies, and then made pink frosting with icing sugar, butter, and a bit of milk. It was decadent. I somehow thought it was acceptable to feed these to my child. I ate so many myself that I felt sick. Then I waited a little bit and ate some more.

They were so good, they were bad. Very, very bad. It reminded me of a book I read once where an obese woman made a double batch of shortbread cookies, ate several with great enjoyment, and then continued eating them until they were all gone and she couldn't even really taste them anymore. Yeah. It was bad. Its over now. I gave some away and finished them off to save everyone else from their sugary badness. And through the process I got my mother's recipe, which I will make sure to share as we get closer to Christmas.

I had fun trying to cut out some letters and I exhausted our supply of crappy cookie cutters. (Some of them were actually intended for playdough). The tiny little men turned out brown but David loved eating off the arms and legs.

Another wonderful perk to all this baking was that I got to use my new measuring spoons! My friend Ingo is a carver and we have done several trades. I have put together a few videos of him demonstrating his carving techniques on Wooden Spoons, Bowls, and Ladles, and most recently we made a Tribute to Don Dillon, the blacksmith who made many of Ingo's hand carving tools. The tribute video is my favorite because Ingo let me interview him personally. And, because I film and edit videos, I get gifted with beautiful carvings!

These little spoons are an exact tablespoon, teaspoon, 1/2 tsp, and 1/4 tsp and I love using them!

After all that sugar it felt really good to make a simple meal from the garden. 

Thank you for visiting my blog and feel free to leave a comment or email me at

Saturday 2 November 2013

Knitting With My Mom

I moved away from home at 18 and didn't go back for years. When I finally came home for the holidays in 2008, my mom taught me to knit. The first thing I made was a brown tweed winter hat. Here in Canada it is called a "toque" (pronounced "tew-k"), down there in Georgia we call them "toboggans". I started from the bottom, knit on circular needles and knit/purled the ribbing. I didn't know what I was doing but I persevered! When the hat was finally done, I was so proud! I couldn't wait to make something else. Thus began my journey with yarn creations. All thanks to my mother, and her patient instruction. I wonder who taught her to knit and crochet? I'll have to ask. Knitting is something that connects us even though we live very far apart.

I searched through my photo archives and found a few shots of me wearing my first hat.

Left: My sister, Caroline. She is special ;) Here she is wearing a scarf knit by our mom.

I am wearing this hat in almost every picture from that visit. I was really into wool that winter. Wool jackets, wool pants, wool blankets. It has been the secret to surviving the wet Pacific NW Winters!

Now when my mom and I visit, we go yarn shopping. When I am far away she sends hats for me and my son, and also beautiful yarn, fancy needles, and fun patterns. In this photo we are in Victoria after visiting The BeeHive Wool Shop and I am wearing a headband from some of my favorite yarn that we bought.

Knitting is easy, fun, and meditative, and plus you get cool stuff to wear and give your friends. If you know someone who can knit, see if they will share their skill with you. You'll never forget that first person who showed you how.

My baby wearing a hat made by his Nana.

Interweave is offering a contest for a "First Knitting Project" story. If I were to win I would choose:

1. Inktense Blocks 12/Pk
2. Wash-Away Applique Sheets
3. Back to Basics Quilt Pattern + Fabric Kit
4. Fosshape 300
5. Quilt Improv

                             My First Hat.

Friday 1 November 2013

Halloween 2013

I went a little crazy with the sewing machine and made some Hallowe'en costumes. David wasn't sure what he wanted to be and so I talked him into being Buzz Lightyear (we have a set of Buzz jammies, thanks to Nana, and even a helmet -- all the costume required was some purple cardboard wings) and he asked me what I was going to be. His suggestion was, at one point, "You be a big whale, mom."

Yeah, um, no. (This was when he wanted to be a shark) Anyways I had some fun with colorful fleece and made myself a simple costume based on Evil Emporer Zurg, Buzz Lightyear's nemesis. My son loved my costume so much that he wanted to wear it himself. And that is how this Halloween turned into a Zurg-a-thon.

The pumpkin was Zurg, I was Zurg, and David was Little Zurg. I was kind of disappointed in our hats, because of the way I sewed on the horns. They were not as upright as I had hoped they would be. But, David spent this Halloween being kind of terrified (people in our community REALLY know how to dress up) so it didn't matter. We had some goodies, sat by the bonfire, watched some fire spinning and went home. It was a great event put on by the school and some dedicated moms who did a great job decorating and setting everything up.

Little Zurgy eating a pumpkin cookie and trying not to be scared!


Happy Halloween. Don't forget to brush your teeth :)


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