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Saturday 27 September 2014

How To Make Leather

Feeling skinny? Making leather can be a way of honoring an animal that has perished and is a lost art that can turn something gross into something really beautiful. Today, leather is produced in factories using powerful chemicals, but you can still safely make your own beautiful leather and buckskin at home with a little bit of work. I must warn you that this craft is not for queasy people and if you are vegetarian or vegan this will be TMI.

The first thing you need is the fresh hide from an animal that has been recently "dressed."

This is the gross part - okay, its all kind of gross. The skin has just been removed and will be covered on the inside with bits of meat and membrane. This step is called "fleshing" the hide, and all of that meaty stuff has to be scraped off with a knife. I use a little kitchen knife that is not dull but not overly sharp.

One method of preparing a hide for fleshing is to nail it, stretched, to a piece of plywood. Small roofing nails around the outside are perfect because they are easy to remove once the hide is dry.

Here Noel scrapes the hair from a cow hide that has been soaking in a solution of hydrated lime, wood ashes, and water.
Once it has been fleshed there are a few options for tanning, including bark tanning, where the hide soaks for weeks to months in a tea made from bark and/or leaves with a high tannin content. Trees local to me that are good for tanning include Acacia, Hemlock, and most nut trees. Soaking the hide in a solution of wood ashes or hydrated lime for a few days will make the hair pull off easily.

Another method of tanning is to rub animal brains into the skin. I've never tried it that way, but hides have been tanned traditionally with brains for thousands of years. Sometimes the raw hide is stretched to make drums or doggie treats. Yet another method of tanning is to cure the hide in a smoker. All of these methods produce different results, colors, and textures of leather, but the method I use is Salt and Alum.

After the hide is fleshed and before it starts to dry out, sprinkle a generous amount of salt over the surface, and then sprinkle alum everywhere, and you're ready to rub it all in. I use a grill stone for this, but any old pumice stone meant for your feet would work. It takes some elbow grease but rubbing in the alum will tighten the pores, and the stone will scrape off any membrane missed in the fleshing.

Now the hide should be allowed to dry out. When it has dried and stiffened, the nails are removed and the hide is washed with warm water and soap. Then the hide is also allowed to dry - but not fully! Before the hide dries there is a window for working the hide into soft and supple leather. At this stage the hide is conditioned with oil, massaged into the soft underside of the hide. Neet's Foot Oil is the best for tanning but cooking oil that has gone rancid will work fine, as will skin conditioners and lotion.

Working or "currying" the hide is the last leg of effort. The more the hide is stretched, twisted, pulled, and rubbed as it dries, the better the leather will be. My best piece of leather is a goat hide that was soaked in lime to remove the hair, and then steeped in a bucket of chestnut leaves for 2-3 months and worked for hours as it was finally being finished. Soft buckskin requires an extra tanning step, there is a membrane underneath the hair that must be removed, therefore the hair side of the hide must be scraped as well.

I hope none of these pictures were offensive and for anyone interested there is much more information on the internet and youtube. Now you have a general idea of how to turn an animal skin into something beautiful that can then be made into all kinds of practical items! A bag, wallet, drum, rug, belt, jacket, pants, football, et cetera. My friend Noel makes cargo belts, plush rugs and even vests and stoles from beautiful raccoon and beaver pelts.

Thanks for reading about hide tanning at home, the stinkiest craft I can think of.

Denim, Peppers, and Chickens

Now that the garden is starting to be put to bed, the chickens are allowed to run free in the yard.

The birds are happier with the run of the place and we are blessed with a super awesome rooster. He is gentle with us but protective of the hens.

Big Mac was a little yellow chick in my first batch of chickens. For some reason, the other chicks pecked on him and he developed a wound that the other birds wanted to peck at even more. We treated his wound and also isolated him often from the other birds by picking him up and playing with him. He became our favorite chick and grew into this grand and beautiful rooster.

Some of the younger, upstart roosters liked to fight. One of them even attacked David when his back was turned and got a one-way ticket to the chopping block.

Lots of apples are ready to fall and I love tasting all the different varieties. Having an orchard with variety is important for production and pollination. Some of the little ones are really juicy and crispy and the best fresh eating apples, some others are tart and good for pie.

Other varieties like this King Apple are larger and store well. They are also good for eating fresh but I usually put them away to eat later in the year.

In the Hedgerow: this Portuguese Laurel tree is a favorite food for wild birds.
One thing that makes our homestead unique is the use of hedgerow plants. Many people do not plant along their fenceline and prefer to leave it open, but it can be a great place for certain trees and adds diversity to the landscape. Traditionally hedgerow plants were trained to grow into a living fence, and in our yard it has become a living trellis for edibles like grapes and kiwis.

David is tall enough for these little juicing apples that are just coming into ripeness.

We found a warty pumpkin in the garden and David is getting excited for Hallowe'en.

I can't complain about the crop of beets and parsnips.

We enjoyed the world's smallest watermelons that were juicy and sweet, despite being smaller than a baseball!

As for Denim, I have been cutting up pairs of old jeans into 5" squares to be used with some of my charm pack fabrics. For my non-quilty friends, charm packs are pre-cut bundles of 5 inch squares of coordinating fabrics. I have a few beautiful charm packs full of busy little patterns and I think they'll go well paired with plain squares of blue. Do I have pictures? Next time ;)

I have wanted to make a blue jean blanket for years!
Thanks for reading my blog, wishing you a day full of delight.

Thursday 25 September 2014

Happy Equinox!

 Happy Autumnal Equinox! I am loving the recent rain and the shorter days that leave more time for dreaming and being creative. I didn't do much sewing over the summer but I have sorted my stash into coordinated bundles for future projects and I am so excited to start making more quilts this winter and finishing up a couple of big ones from last year.

I wanted to show off this doll that we found at the Free Store, it was immaculately crocheted! The classic Mickey Mouse is so cute with his wobbly nose.

 This time of year brings the stinky billy goat to the farm to do his special duty. I am on a quest to breed the perfect dairy goat, with a gentle temper and a big soft udder. The two goats I am breeding this year are Firefly and Nemo and they are easy milkers with big udders, and Barney is the stud I used last year.

I can't wait to meet the babies he will make with my milking girls.

 I had some better photos but my ipod fell into the ocean on the boat while we were bringing Barney home! I miss it mostly because I love the camera on those things. It is by far superior to my old camera. I am okay with losing it because I have so many more important things to be grateful for!

I left my flute at the community hall after a gig a couple weeks ago and when I went back to get it, it was right where I left it. I am so glad it was not stolen. I think somebody played it a bit but thats all the better. I should play more often myself.

 We had an amazing year for grapes of all kinds. David and I made jam from the seedless ones and jelly from the big purple concords with big seeds. Those ones taste like grape candy.

Sometimes growing the food seems easier than dealing with it when it is ready. The garden is full of food right now and the picking, canning, and juicing cannot be put off for too long. And firewood, as I've been reminded this month as I lit up my woodstove for the first time this season. A lot of work but well worth it for quality of life! The work makes me strong, I feel close to the earth, and my food is of the finest quality on earth. Homemade salt, fresh squeaky cheese curds from my own goat's milk, stuffed peppers from the garden, fresh Asian pears and Italian Plums... you get the picture, food is my worship.

 Just in case I haven't posted enough baby chicken photos. They are bigger now but still get tucked under their mama's wing, which is so cute! I wonder when they will outgrow their mama?

 A friend gave me some homemade butter and I baked a Happy Un-Birthday Cake for my boy. He loves rituals, especially the ones involving treats. Still haven't decided what kind of costumes to make for Halloween.

 I haven't posted much this summer, hence being busy running a homestead! I do have some projects to show off, once I stop long enough to take some pictures. I am also coming up on the one year anniversary of my blog! I am glad I have kept it going and I have so much more I want to share.

Have a great day wherever you are.
Thanks for visiting!

Saturday 13 September 2014

Harvest and Farewell

The garden is great this year in spite of the drought and neglect it has suffered.

Our overgrown cucumbers get fed to the chickens and are one of their favorite treats.

 David loves to play in the garden and is particularly fond of the little frogs that live in the water barrels.

 Beans are so easy to grow! We made three teepees of bamboo and planted beans at the bottom of each pole. I am particularly fond of a recipe shared with me by my friend Judy, for szechuan beans. Deep fry beans for 4 minutes, layer in a dish with minced raw garlic, crushed red pepper, and soy sauce. So good!

 Our darling Silky mama has hatched her chicks! She is doing a wonderful job with her babies and David loves to handle them and "put them back with their mommy" when he is done holding them.

 peep peep

 I have been harvesting like mad and canning pickles, tomatoes, jam, juice, and applesauce. I harvested part of this year's lavender crop which makes me think of my Aunt Peggy who grows lavender in her garden down in Georgia.

 We also had the pleasure of sailing a few times this summer.  When I first moved to this island I was really interested in sailing and having a boat, an idea that was shuffled aside in favor of having pets and a garden.

I had forgotten what it feels like to sail.

 On the crafting front I am getting excited about quilting now that the weather is starting to cool and the smell of Autumn is in the air. I finally used up my fabric scraps and stuffed them into a pillow.

Forgive my shoddy portraits, I had to twist someone's arm!
 It is heavier than a pillow stuffed with polyester or feathers but it is super comfy, and I got to revisit fabrics from almost all of the quilts I've made. A friend of mine said that her grandmother had an ottoman stuffed with fabric scraps, and occasionally she would open it up and rummage for scraps for sewing projects.

 Would that we could eat like this year round. The garden is full of ripe peppers and tomatoes, the chickens are laying, the goats are giving milk, the apples are starting to fall, and the grapes are incredible. In January I am going to be very grateful for a can of tomatoes and a jar of homemade grape jelly.

Because it is starting to be too cold for David to swim in the ocean, we lit the old pasteurization vat hot tub to warm it up enough for David to keep learning to swim.

The tourists are mostly gone and tonight our community is gathering to honor and celebrate the life of one of our brave sisters who has ended her battle with cancer. Just last spring I was blogging about how great it was to sing with her and showing pictures of the love blanket we made. Her gift of friendship lives on in my heart and I am going to do my best tonight to sing some of the songs we sang together, without crying.

Love you Constanze.

Thank you for visiting my blog and please come back for more. I have more time to post with the days growing shorter. 

May joy be with you all...


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