Bread, yarn, German cuisine…and Nutella.

It does not seem like I last posted only two weeks ago. It seems like maybe six weeks ago. Staying at home…working from home…not leaving the house…all this seems to be playing with my sense of time. Which might not be a bad thing? I like routine, to be sure, and schedules are important so that I actually get things done, so I am so grateful to be able to work from home. But not having the same routine I’ve had for years is making me pay more attention to the detail of the overall shape of my day. It’s interesting.

In any case, I’m still on the Bread Experiment. Guys, I have baked some really awful bread. The first couple loaves were okay. The third loaf was pretty good. The fourth loaf had holes so large, not even cheese stayed on. There was more empty space than bread in that one. The fifth loaf was so bad, I think I’ve eaten maybe two slices from it, and it’s still on the counter and no one else has touched it. (It’s going out for the birds tomorrow.) And then….!

Yesterday, after a few days of No Bread and Extreme Frustration at Baking, I decided to try again. I had mixed some leaven the night before and I left it until late morning to use any of it for a new loaf. This time, I replaced 50g of AP flour with some coarse ground rye, because…I dunno. I’ve heard that rye is good at promoting starter growth, it’s got good microbial stuff. So, okay. I thought maybe this would help my dough and the finished crumb. The result was a very, very wet dough, because, I suspect, the rye didn’t absorb as much moisture as the AP flour, and I didn’t know this would happen because I am a Bread Baking Newbie. I stretched and folded, but not really according to any set schedule, just as I thought of it. And when about 7:00pm rolled around, I decided it was time to bake it. I very gently folded and shaped the loaf. OMG so carefully and gently. And because it was so very soft, I put it in a Dutch oven and ended up having to snip the dough with shears rather than score it. A razor blade won’t even do it. This dough was so wet, I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to amount to an edible loaf at all.

BEHOLD! Pretty liquid-like dough. And the resulting loaf was not at all what I had expected. This time, the holes are small enough to not let much Nutella or brie drip through!

I tell you, I was so surprised. My housemates have practically showered me with compliments.

This is today’s loaf. So, because the last one was so wet and I have not been able to score any of the loaves properly even with a razor blade, I thought about adding more flour or reducing the water. For this one, I reduced the water by 50g, and boy was it dry. But this one was started last night with leaven I had started yesterday morning. I think I managed to stretch and fold once before bed (so. dry.), and then I just put it in the fridge until this morning. Miraculously, the dough was so much nicer and Not Dry. (Not sopping wet either, though.) Then, sometime this morning late, I started stretching and folding, again without any set schedule. I think there might have been an hour or so in between S&Fs, and after four times, I just stopped. About 4:30ish, I shaped it very gently, preheated the oven, and put it in the Dutch oven. Still unable to score it – argh! I wanted a firmer loaf so I could score it! Why is it not firm enough? – I snipped with kitchen shears and put it in to bake. Today’s loaf is on the left in the picture above, compared with yesterday’s loaf on the right. It’s a little lighter, but still looks gorgeous, doesn’t it? I suspect it’ll also be tangier due to the longer proofing time (overnight). The dough certainly smelled tangy when I put it in the oven.

The moral of the story is: neglected sourdough probably results in pretty good bread.

In other news, I am still spinning that grey fleece.

I plied those two bobbins I talked about last time. I have no idea how many yards I have – I still need to measure – but there’s a lot. I’m okay with how this turned out, except there’s a lot of energy in one of the skeins, which I think means I put too much twist in the singles. Sigh. Probably it’ll be fine, but the next two bobbins I’m spinning with slightly less twist in the hopes that the resulting yarn will be a bit fluffier – maybe not too fluffy because I want to weave with it. I think. (I’m not sure, to be honest. I’m mostly considering this fleece to be practice yarn. But we’ll see.)

The spinning guild is going up to the farm in Northfield where I got this fleece to get more fleeces in May, so I need to make ROOM.

I’ve been cooking, too! I don’t know why, but I wanted Spätzle so badly, and I wanted to share it with the house. I ate Käsespätzle so often when I lived in Germany. The noodles are available for basically pennies there, but the last time I looked, the same bag of noodles is sold here for $8 at the grocery store. The sad part is that it’s dead easy to make from scratch. SO EASY.

When I was in Germany last visiting my dear friends Eva and Martin, I asked Eva if she had a good recipe for Spätzle as I hadn’t made it before, and she ended up pressing a whole book of Spätzle recipes into my hands with the promise that I’d use it. I picked up a Spätzle press at the grocery store there, too.

Yup. So easy. So delicious. I cooked up a huge amount, and it was enjoyed by all. Of course, to be more authentic to my college days, I also opened a bottle of cheap red wine, and we all had a little with supper. (It was really awful wine – I mulled it later and it’s much improved as well as being without alcohol now. Woo!) Anyone who wants to know how to make Spätzle from scratch, let me know. I can send you a recipe, and if you’re nearby, we can get together and I’ll show you how it’s done (when we’re not all under quarantine, of course). These noodles were made with AP flour and duck eggs. I think I want to try it with a little semolina flour and put some fresh herbs in too. YUM.

And of course, I am making masks so that my housemates and I are as safe as we can be when we are out shopping for groceries. The New York Times had an article on which fabrics have been shown to be adequate. The suggestion was good quality quilter’s flannel and heavy quilting cotton. I chose batik – it’s a fairly high thread count, and it seemed to be the only cotton I had that (gulp, I hate to admit it) I felt I could sacrifice. (Yes, much of my cotton is earmarked for projects.)

Flannel on the left, batik and some other quilter’s cotton on the right.

I haven’t quite finished them yet. I still have a couple with the swirly green fabric and blue flannel to sew up. I did cut elastic for them, but I’m thinking I’ll just make bias strips and make ties.

But I’m trying not to think about making masks and why too much right now. The news as well as the certain level of ignorance and not-critical thinking in people online right now have made me angry, so I’m trying hard to spend a little while concentrating on crafty stuff. Stuff that makes me happier. And Nutella. There’s not a lot that chocolate + hazelnuts cannot help.

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I am prepared for so much bread in my life.

(I understand there are people who dislike hazelnuts and/or chocolate. I am not one of those people. Not even a little.)

How are you? What have you been making?

Definitely not bored.

So the seams of the world are starting to come apart. Things are weird, everyone agrees. We’re all living in a dystopian science fiction novel, and very probably, nothing will ever be the same. I am hoping there will be a silver lining for the United States when the worst is over: universal healthcare, better welfare, less emphasis on capitalism, more emphasis on helping everyone. We are all human and we are all in this together; this life on this planet.

But. That is not the topic for right now. Right now, I want to blather on about all the things I am doooooing! (Or trying to do.)

When it looked like the proverbial sh*t was going to hit the fan and the BossMan declared we should all work from home for the foreseeable future, I drove over to my friendly baker and asked for a cup of sourdough starter. The bakery is LOVELY and they want to encourage people to bake bread, because they’re makers and makers want to encourage other people to make. I also got 12 pounds of bread flour. I figured while I was working from home, I could also wait for bread dough to rise, and learn the ways of baking sourdough bread. (The crew at the bakery agreed this was a most noble cause.)

I’ve been eating a LOT of bread.

Behold the leaven made from the starter!

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This sat on the counter all night – 100g of it will be used to make the bread dough. IT’S ALIVE!!

My first loaf looked so promising right up until it came out of the oven…

So weirdly crooked. I have no idea why it does that – I’m still learning how to do this and what it all means.

Loaf #1 compared with loaf #2. The second loaf was baked at a slightly cooler temperature. I cut the first loaf right open as soon as it was cool. Lots of holes!

But, as oddly as I thought this bread looked, it tasted WONDERFUL. So, success! Of course, I kept going:

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Loaf #3. So. Tasty. And slightly denser, which holds in the Nutella more easily.

Today’s bread:

Which I had high hopes for! But, the oven was slightly too high, and it’s a lot darker than I wanted, and very tall. (No picture yet…) I’m positive it will taste wonderful. Positive.

I’m going to need more flour soon. This is very compatible with working from home. The schedule isn’t strict – I can get up and have a five minute break to go stretch and fold or shape a loaf.

So, a friend gave me the basic recipe, but she got it from the book Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson, which was recommended to me by the baker at Henion Bakery in Amherst, MA. (Where you should totally go for all your bread and pastry needs!) I failed to get the book, and up until now, didn’t have the time/circumstance to learn about baking bread. My friend did – she was frustrated, so amassed knowledge and then practiced for a year. I will totally buy that book when I have the opportunity!

A few weeks ago, I was working on another project. It was cold, still below freezing at night and above freezing in the day. I have a bucket and spile, and there is a line of totally tappable maple trees in the front yard. Of course I tapped one. Of course, I totally forgot to take pictures of the bucket on the tree – it’s a big bucket.

It was bit complicated. For a week, I got a lot of sap – about 5 gallons – which I did not expect, and at the weekend, I started boiling. Twelve hours of boiling later, it was almost there, and I sat down to supper. Unfortunately, I should have stayed by the pot because I missed it by about 3 minutes. Smoke rose from the pot, it had cooked to just about the hard crack stage. People, if you’re boiling sap and you get down the the end, for goodness’ sake, stay by the pot and watch it. I had to throw it all out. But! I left the spile and bucket on the tree for another week, and amazingly got another two and a half gallons of sap. At the weekend, I boiled again.

I did stop short of actual syrup. It’s more like maple juice, and still in the fridge. I think this weekend, I’ll pour it back in a (smaller) pot and cook it down some more. Watching it very closely.

I also had supper with my dear neighbours from when I lived in Hatfield!! I miss them so, they are such kind people. And they have the most beautiful fish!! I got to see them in their huge tanks – they’re so beautiful, I’m awfully tempted to plan my own tank one day.

They’re discus fish, about 4″ across. Sooo beautiful.

Aaand, on with projects.

It’s spring, and my spinning guild has plans to visit at least two farms this year for fleeces. I still don’t have a single whole fleece spun up. So I’m determined to try to get as much of the two Shetland fleeces spun up as I can. The tendonitis is so much better and I can wield the combs again and spin.

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Lovely hand-combed Shetland top! Sooo soft!

Combing is slow because this fleece has some dandruff, and I’m having to brush it out first. Some bits are faster than others, but it’s mostly slow. However, the results are so wonderful to spin.

This is as of this morning! I’m planning on plying this weekend. Other crafty friends of mine and I were planning another Crafternoon – people show up at one of our houses, sit around with crafty projects to work on, eat snacks, and chat. Or just work on projects, sitting quietly working and not talking like a room full of cats. Well, in light of the corona virus, we can’t do that. But we can get together virtually, so a bunch of us are going to try it out with video chatting and see how that goes. I’m really looking forward to it.

I have been in the house for two weeks – my brother came down with something that was suspiciously like the symptoms of the corona virus about a week ago, and I had hung out with him a week before that, so I stayed home. It turned out that his oldest daughter had been sick with a different virus at college a couple of weeks before, but hadn’t said anything until just recently. So. I’m safe. And today was the last day of the two week quarantine anyway. Tomorrow, I am going to venture out for a few groceries and maybe try to get some stamps at the post office. Maybe not. Things are weird out there.

And finally, I realized that my ‘home office’ right now is pretty great. Here’s the view:

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Yep, it’s messy. But it’s full of sunlight and craftiness! The only thing that’s missing is the pot of tea. I had drunk that earlier.

I have heard many people say that they are bored in their self-isolation at home. This is not a thing I can relate to. If anything, I no longer have to commute anywhere, so I have nearly a whole extra two hours in the day that I can devote to practicing cello or gamba, or I can work on weaving, spinning, drawing, baking, sewing, etc etc. It’s wonderful!

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Part of this month’s practicing for cello!

I hope you all are well and that you stay well.

Stay home! Knitting/spinning/weaving/baking/reading can help save lives.

 

I’m still here!

Wow. It’s been a while.

Things got really busy with doctor’s appointments and general exhaustion. I am better now! I had a lumpectomy on November 14th and radiation therapy for the entire month of January – my last day of radiation was also W. A. Mozart’s birthday, so there was a lot to celebrate. It wasn’t until about two weeks or so ago that I realized exactly how tired I had been because all of a sudden I wasn’t that tired. I still am tired, and my joints are creaky, but that’s the tamoxifen. But hey, as far as I know I do not have cancer, and that’s a win.

I’ve tried to keep up with practicing and making things, but tendonitis struck again. I’ve had it since about this past September in my left elbow, and I did not do what I was supposed to do (rest, heat, NSAIDs), but kept practicing both cello and gamba. The result was that I stopped cello the end of October until mid January, and I stopped gamba in the first half of December until the very end of January. I couldn’t button my sweater or braid my hair anymore, and I still can’t believe I let it get that bad. It’s sooo much better now, but it’s still there, so I’m being careful and doing what I need to do to make it better.

This also meant that all that hand work I was doing wasn’t possible anymore. Spinning for any huge length of time made it worse. Knitting has been right out for months and months. Combing wool was only possible in about 3 minute chunks. And then my friend Lee started a make-a-thing-daily project and invited everyone to join in. Her process of choice this time was embroidery.

Well!

I have been itching to embroider for some time, and Lee’s rules seemed simple enough: gather all your materials ahead of time, set the bar so low you can roll over it (quick and dirty, Kate, quick. and. dirty.), and do not fret about what you are making. Quantity over quality. Okay, okay, so I naturally fret over quality. Always. But I also recognize this is a thing that I need to maybe let go of now and then. So. A daily thing for February. The Short Month! Yes, I thought, I can do this. As long as it’s in tiny chunks.

I found all my embroidery floss and hoops and needles. And I began.

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Week 1. These are Very Small, which keeps to the quick-and-dirty principle.

I had no patterns – so I just doodled. And doodled. Some I like, some not so much. But I did start to look at embroidery online and got to thinking about flowers. Lee presented me with tiny laser-cut frames she made. I love them.

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Week 2, plus one. Moar doodles!

I re-learned how to do French knots, I learned the bullion stitch, and I learned that some of the yarns I spin are perfectly suitable for embroidering with. The purple flower (there’s a bit of charcoal on that one from the frame – the frames were laser cut, and so had carbon on the edges) is a silk/merino blend I spun up, as well as the purple in the octagonal frame. The grey sheep/mouse (it was supposed to be a sheep, but didn’t quite work) is a bit of Gotland I’d spun.

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Week 3, plus a bit? Feeesh, flowers, and…more flowers?

I am really enamored of French knots. And embroidered flowers. And in rayon floss! I really wanted silk yarn (because who wouldn’t?), but all I could get quickly and on the cheap was rayon, so I settled (for now). The tree I’m especially happy with – that one is all in cotton floss, but from three colors I kept pulling out and staring hard at. I’d been looking at pictures online of tiny, gorgeous embroidered flowering trees made from satin stitches and French knots. Eventually, I knew I’d get to it. And I did. And I’m happy with it. And I think this particular tree with this particular color scheme will inspire Something Else (stay tuned?). The dandelion was a doodle to see if I could do it. I have a skein of variegated yellow cotton and I thought, “O, that reminds me of dandelions.”

I’m telling you, I have so much appreciation for those professional embroiderers who can create depth with needle and thread just through the use of color and stitch direction.

Late in the game, I ran out of white linen, so reached for a scrap of blue. But you know, it just wasn’t working. I love this shade, but I just wasn’t happy with how the colors of the floss were working with it.

Well. In any case, you’ll notice that there are fewer than 29 embroideries. I framed the last batch (Week 3 and a bit) yesterday, and while trying to start another wee embroidery to catch up on the last day of the month, I realized that the tendonitis really did not like it. I practiced a ridiculous amount of cello yesterday (yay, Vivaldi [except I can’t play it yet]), but the thing that made the tendonitis really painful was holding the embroidery hoop. Argh. The embroidery can wait. There will be other months, and an almost endless supply of floss and handspun yarn.

This is not to say that I did not make nothing prior to February. Spinning did aggravate the tendonitis, but as long as I did it in small chunks and took care, I spun. The spinning also helped with the mental stuff going on – a repetitive task that I don’t have to think overly much about and at the end, I get soft, squishy yarn. That I can squish.

I’ll try to go in order.

 

This was a bit of dyed Leicester Longwool and I got from a destash pile at one of the spinning guild meetings that I spun up in late December. I’m pretty happy with it. It was very easy and very mindless to spin, and there was a lot of it. I believe this is 8 ounces – each skein is 4 ounces. The only thing about this project was that the dye still hasn’t finished washing out, and I washed that skein about four times. I had used some cotton weaving yarn as ties on the skeins, and those picked up some of the dye, which leads me to believe the dyer used fiber reactive dyes rather than an acid dye. Which is aggravating. It would explain the lack of luster one would expect in this breed of wool. So, I’ll have to be careful when washing whatever project I use this for. (I’ll likely get a dye magnet or another fresher bottle of Synthropol to remove the rest of the excess dye.)

At some point, I realized I needed to start making progress on the Shetland fleeces. Because I have way too many fleeces and need to get through them! Especially if I want to buy more fleeces to make into more fabulous yarn to weave fabulous cloth. I’d been spinning samples for a bit (pretty sure this was January), and this one was one I was reasonably happy with. It’s got a bit more twist than I think the Shetland really wants, but I would absolutely weave with it. And let me tell you, Shetland is a joy to spin. It almost spins itself, it’s so very soft, and it’s so very lustrous. Can you see the shine?!

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FLUFFFFFFY SHETLAND!

I tried another sample of the Shetland, this time with slightly less twist, and look at the difference! It’s much puffier than the stuff in the previous photo, and it’s so, so squishy. I loves it, I do. I want so much to weave with this, but I’ve had two people (experts in weaving and spinning, actually) tell me that this yarn is Really Suitable for Knitting. Sigh. I mean, it’s a sample. I can’t quite knit yet (tendonitis), but I might be able to weave it into a sample. Maybe. A tiny one.

Honestly, I love that yarn. I have never loved yarn I’ve spun so much as I love this one.

At some point in January, I decided to try out R.H. Lindsay Wool Merchants. I follow them on social media, and some of their pictures of wool are just so delicious. They sell wholesale, but they’ll also sell by the pound to whoever wants it. And I did. They’d posted a picture of super bouncy Dorset/Polypay roving from New England sheep. For $8.50/lb. I ordered two pounds. (The shipping was nearly that much, so I did briefly consider getting three pounds – I have no where to put it!) It came lickity-split and I pulled some of that off to spin:

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Super springy! Super bouncy!

Yep. That’s pretty springy and bouncy! I gotta say, I really like this. You can’t beat the price, even with the shipping, and the roving is not carbonized. There were bits of VM in there, which I very happily picked out.

And then!

Gotland

Look at that luster! Look at the color! Ooooh! Aaaaah!

I’m putting in a full size photo of the Gotland. I mean, how could I not?

This was my first attempt at spinning it. It’s not easy to spin. This is from commercially prepared roving that had sat in storage for some time, so was compressed some. There’s no crimp, there’s no wave. It’s a bit like spinning mohair, except it’s a bit less slippery. Getting the right amount of twist was a challenge, but I am pretty happy with this. It’s a two ply and if I can, I’ll weave a tiny sample out of this and full it to see what happens. But, on the other hand, I have more roving, and really what I should do is spin up the rest of it, and weave that into a sample, but cut the sample into three pieces, and go to town with experimental fulling. “Why all the trouble?” I hear you ask. The answer is that I want so much to sew myself a grey wool coat, and, believe it or not, I cannot find the right grey wool. It’s either not the right color, not the right weight, or some combination of wool and synthetic fibers. Or some combination of those three. And it pisses me off. So, I’ll just weave my own cloth, and spin the yarn if I have to. Dammit.

I know this is a huge project. I’d like to get it done in the next three years (before I’m 50).

Here’s another snap of that yarn:

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I guess all that practicing spinning really paid off. I seem to be improving!

And then!

My friend Rachel (over at Spotted Sheep Studio) found some Gammelnorsk fleeces. I bet you had no idea there was a breed called Gammelnorsk, did you? Well. There is. And it’s rare. And she found a person in Norway who raises this breed, and got to buy a bag of fleeces from her. And Rachel and I stool around in the Webs parking lot after a spinning meeting opening the bag and smelling the delightful fumes of Norwegian barnyard and lanolin. And, of course, fondling the Gammelnorsk fleeces. The colors are amazing.

This breed is a dual coated breed, which means it has hair and a downy undercoat (tog and thel, respectively). I do not know much more than this, but Rachel is a fount of knowledge and will impart all her wisdom if I ask – also I’m going to be helping to prepare these fleeces for spinning, and then with the spinning. So I’ll have to know.

And the very last picture I have to show you is a bit of yarn I spun up yesterday. I have been learning about spinning and preparing the fibers via some Interweave videos. And so I tried combing the alpaca batts I have, because who doesn’t want alpaca top? Well. The batts are made from garbage alpaca. Or they were carded into oblivion, I’m not sure. In any case, the batts are only suitable for felting. The fibers are way too short for even spinning yarn. I even tried to card it and spin it. So aggravating. So, then I decided to turn my attention to a red Spelsau batt that Rachel’s husband brought back from a recent trip to Norway for me (and Rachel too, you should have seen her haul!). I tried combing a bit, and I got some top off it, but I think this batt is really suitable for carding. However, the color is AMAZING. Behold:

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And lo! The Perfect Red!

And you know what? No dye came out of this when I washed it. None. Not even a little.

I love this red so much I want to roll around in it.

Really, what makes it so gorgeous is that it’s a tan or brown fleece that has been dyed red. The brown deepens the color and brings it over to the orangey side rather than the blue side. I’m thinking about experimenting with dyeing some of that brown Shetland – I have a white fleece too, but man, this red…

 

Unexpected things. Mostly brown.

This past weekend was full of unexpected things. But good unexpected things.

I did not know there were going to be house guests, but breakfast out was really nice! We went to a local café on a farm down the road from us. The building is a strawbale construction, a simple design, with rustic decor. The food is tasty and plentiful. And the owners know my friends (of course). During the course of chatting with the owners, I happened to look out one of the side windows and noticed a walnut tree laden with nuts, so at an appropriate moment in the conversation, I changed topics and asked about their tree. Would it be possible to collect some of the walnuts I had seen on the ground? I wanted to make a dye. Of course! was the answer. The one tree I had seen turned out to be part of four trees. I was given a small paper bag and after we’d finished, I went outside and around the corner to the walnuts. And lo! there I saw so many walnuts. In fact, I’d never seen so many walnuts, and I wanted all of them. However, not knowing how many I’d actually need to making dye, I happily filled my paper bag and asked if I could come back if I needed more. The owners were more than happy to oblige. I can come get as many as I like. Woohoo!

(Sadly, I did not get a picture of the trees.)

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I counted them – about 60. But I had to toss a few that ended up being full of worms.

I must say, black walnuts smell delightful. The hulls have a sort of earthy citrusy fragrance that makes me so happy. I can’t quite adequately explain it.

The hulls will also stain your hands brown like crazy. We got home, and I put the rest of my day’s plans aside for a few hours so I could peel the hulls from the nuts – the hulls are used for making dye. The shells are too, but if I’m going to use the shells, I want to save the nutmeats, so I spent time separating everything into two buckets.

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Nuts in the left bucket. Hulls in the right. Unexpected fun with walnuts!

Most of the instructions I found online made it seem like getting the nut out of the hull was really hard and that I needed to drive over them, whack them with the claw of a hammer, or find a mallet and whack them until they yielded the nut. None of that was necessary. I got a steak knife and just ran the blade around each walnut, neatly dividing the hull into two hemispheres. Then a twist released one hemisphere, and if it didn’t, then one more cut to divide a hemisphere in two did the trick. It was a bit reminiscent of pitting all those peaches I canned a while ago.

So, the staining. Because black walnut hulls have so much tannin in them, they stain things pretty permanently – the tannin is the mordant. Cloth, skin, any natural fiber…brown. All the sources I found online told me to wear heavy rubber gloves. I didn’t have any, but I did have some disposable food service gloves at hand.

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Yeah. So, all this brown? Still got through, and my forefinger and thumb are a bit brown.

I got them all hulled! But what to do with them then? Most instructions say to simmer them for an hour or so, but I do not want to have an accident in the house and stain the kitchen. It is not my kitchen after all. So, I’m trying what I think is a far more likely historical recipe (even though I have no proof at all): I’m soaking the hulls in that bucket in water for a couple of weeks. Then I’ll strain everything and maybe might see if I can find an outdoor cooking arrangement so I can simmer it and kill any mold that might have formed. Or not. Maybe I’ll put some in quart sized mason jars for later.

This dye is also apparently an excellent wood stain! I loves me a multitasking thing I can make! So, after a little experimentation with some wood scraps and some research, I may do any final prep and put some in jars for my woodworking friends. (And I am filing this knowledge away for later when I want to build bookcases for whatever house I end up with!)

I’ve got a couple of white skeins of two ply yarn I’ve spun – one skein I really have to run through the wheel again to give it some extra twist. And I have so much more white (Down breeds blend) that could be dyed with local black walnut dye handmade by me. The dyeing process itself is apparently super easy. You simply put the yarn or cloth in the dye and leave it there until it’s brown. If simmering it, I think you simmer for something like 30 mins to 1 hour. I will likely try just soaking it for a day and see what happens. (I do have to look into some sort of outdoor cooking equipment, though…)

I was also thinking of dyeing some bamboo rayon yarn and/or cotton yarn for weaving cloth or towels or something. Because why not?

But, don’t you need more walnuts for dyeing all that stuff? I hear you ask. It turns out, everyone seems to agree that you only need 12-15 walnuts per gallon of water. For just the hulls. So I have 4 gallons of the stuff. That’s a LOT of dye. Even 2 gallons is a lot if some of the water is supposed to be lost in cooking it. I am planning on also getting the shells, which apparently yield a darker brown. (Of course, that may not work, but I will try.)

 

I filled up the bucket with the hulls with water. I’ve set it in the garage with a piece of wood on top to soak for a while. The bucket with the nuts got filled with water, and I started scrubbing the remaining hull gunk off. I had read that the gunk could rot and mold and make a mess, but most importantly, it would dye your hands dark brown. I don’t feel like walking around with dark brown hands and having to explain that I have been playing with dye everywhere I go, so I elected to scrub. The two floaters were thrown away – I suspect if they float, there’s probably a problem with them.

I got about half scrubbed before I ran out of time and energy. So I drained out the water, put a tiny bit in so the ones that were left were only barely covered, and set those in the garage too to wait until I have some time to resume scrubbing. I’m hoping the soak will help to soften up the remaining gunk.

The real work to this project is going to be actually cracking the nuts. A quick read about black walnuts online seems to show that I’ll need to use a vice as a regular nut cracker will not do it at all. Woo.

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Excuse the messy counter – my first attempt at waffle production!

I also unexpectedly found an as-yet-unused, brand-new-in-the-box, three-year-old electric waffle iron in the house! Of course I tried making waffles. This is the first time I’ve tried making waffles. It was an adventure. Definitely an unexpected adventure.

I thought I’d double the recipe, because ultimately, I wanted waffles in the freezer that could be toasted in the toaster for near-instant waffle goodness. But then I accidentally put in twice the amount of butter for a doubled recipe, which meant I either had to throw everything away and start over, or end up with a quadrupled recipe. I went for the quadrupaling.

We have a LOT of waffles in the freezer. The house guests tried the waffles the next morning in the toaster, and declared them delicious. Successful experiment! I think the recipe needs tweaking – it needs a little sugar, and the optional cornmeal actually sounds good, so I might try that. And they were a little dense, probably because I didn’t whisk the egg whites nearly has much as the recipe said I ought, so maybe I’ll try that next, but with some cream of tartar to help things along a bit. So many tweaks. Or I could try another recipe.

In weaving news, I have a crazy idea involving 60/2 silk and some very fine baby alpaca and an overshot pattern. First, I want to make myself something beautiful like a shawl or scarf, but it occurred to me that I could sell one, and the pricetag would be fairly high – this would be a very time-consuming project with excellent and expensive materials. The bulk of the cost would reflect the labor involved. I wonder if I could sell one or two (or three?), because then I could buy a cello. It looks like that experiment has been successful enough that I’m close to outgrowing the cello I rent. Do you guys have any thoughts on this? Advice? Suggestions? Is this an idea worth pursuing?

(I can rent a viola da gamba, it turns out, and it is affordable. I kind of hope that I don’t love it as much as I think I will, because there are almost not enough hours in the day for adequate practice…)

 

Fixing things, making things, hanging things

Time marches on too quickly! Oh boy, have I been busy.

After house and pet sitting for a couple of weeks, I slept for a couple of weeks. I finished the grey towels – more to come on those. Then I discovered that I had a sticky brake caliper on one side of my car. Drat! Having come from a family that just fixes things and has most of the tools to do it, my brother came over and we replaced rotors and pads on both sides, and the caliper on one side. (It goes so much faster with two people.) After a long afternoon, I have fully functioning brakes now! Woo!


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My friend Lee has asked me to weave a blanket for her out of bamboo yarn. She bought some yarn for a sample, and I doodled. It’s not great – there are so many mistakes – but the point of a sample is to find out how to work with the yarn, how it compares with other yarns, and what the end texture/weight/hand of the piece will be after wet finishing. I was not at all sure I liked it the whole time it was on the loom. It seemed to behave like a yarn somewhere between mercerized cotton and tencel, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it would just stay stiff and, well, like a kitchen towel. I don’t think I’d like a blanket that draped on me like a kitchen towel. But after washing, whoa nelly! It became a buttery soft cloth with the most amazing drape. Of course, it’s a kind of rayon, so I would expect fabulous drape, but I didn’t really expect the texture! It’s awfully close to resembling the hand of silk.

The yarn itself is a bit too light for a blanket, so we put that sample aside, and I’ve purchased a couple of cones of heavier yarn for another sample. I have enough of this new yarn to weave a sample that may also be useful, like a scarf. Stay tuned!


So there’s this international event that happens annually called Spinzilla. Basically, it’s a contest to see who can spin the most yarn (regardless of quality) in a week. There are teams and just random single people competing, and they just sit at the spinning wheel or carry around a drop spindle and spin spin spin. A friend of mine who has been participating since the very first Spinzilla encouraged me to join a team she was on this year, so I did. I even took a couple of days off work in order to have more time to spin, because that is the kind of person I am (coughcompetitivecough). I bought fiber for this purpose (which was REALLY silly – I had fiber). And I worried immensely about not having enough of my lovely fleece combed to spin (also silly – did I mention I had fiber?). So I combed wool.

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I still can’t believe how soft and luscious this wool is!

I combed a lot. 3-4 hours in one sitting for a couple of days. My shoulders really ached after the second day. And while I was combing, I suddenly remembered that I might have some roving around that would be easy to spin and I wouldn’t have to comb so much wool…

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Yeah. I found some fiber I had forgotten about. So much fiber. So. Much.

Okay, so fiber like this squishes, and I had quite a bit squished in a bin or two. So I stopped combing and started spinning. And ended up with this:

Left: wool/silk blend (colors), Southdown breed blend (white).

Middle: wool/silk blend, two batches, spun and plied. (These need to be plied a bit tighter/with more twise, so I’ll be running them back through the spinning wheel soon.)

Right: All the wool I spun in a week! One of the white skeins is more tightly plied, and it shows – that one is okay. The other will have to be plied with more twist.

In the end, I was VERY pleased with the amount I had spun and what I had learned. I also realized that I probably should be more social than I am because being with a group of people felt…kind of weird. But I did also come away with some very unhappy upper back and shoulder muscles. Sigh. No, Kate, you should not comb wool for hours and hours, and then spin for hours and hours without getting up and moving around after not having done it for a year.

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So happy with this! I learned a lot.

I’m especially happy with the combed wool I spun. The picture above isn’t a good one (sorry), but it records a pretty well plied two ply worsted yarn – this is the stuff I’d been combing in the pictures above. This close up above is before I washed it, so it looks darker and stiffer than it turned out after washing. The goal for learning to spin this kind of yarn is to be able to weave a good, hard-wearing cloth from it. I have plenty of wool to spin, so lots of practice with. This is from a lovely sheep living in Greenfield, MA (I hope he’s still there!) who I’m pretty sure was a Romney, but probably has other breeds in him as well.

And, by the way, I am very happy to announce that the team I participated with – Team Webs – scored second place with a total of 131,008 yards spun. Yay!!


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Harlequin. Shot in September 2018. I love this one, and I want to print it again so much larger.

For the last couple of months, I’ve been sort of getting ready for a photography show. It’s very informal – the photos were to hang at a local bakery in Amherst, MA. I had some photos already printed and framed, and needed to get others printed and framed – I went to a local print shop for the printing, but I framed them myself. On paper, this all seems pretty straightforward, but one can never properly account for how much time it’s going to take: LOTS.

I am kind of in love with some of the recent shots I took over the past couple of months. I love the paper they’re printed on, I love the colors, I love the clarity.

The end of a long push forward came earlier today when I hung eleven of my photos at Henion Bakery in Amherst, MA. I cannot describe how delighted I am to share them with other people, but in the same way I cannot describe the equal amount of terror I feel over sharing them with other people. Perhaps all photographers feel this way? I don’t know – this “hanging art” thing is very new to me, and wonderful, and deeply scary.

Prints of all of them are for sale. Most of the framed pictures in the bakery are also for sale. Stop by if you’re in town, grab a cuppa and one of Henion’s out-of-this-world pastries (seriously, try them – you will not be disappointed!), and check out the art hanging on the walls. They’ll be up until just before Thanksgiving.

 


I have also made a huge push to get an online shop going, which has been much more complicated than it at first seemed. I did get it done, and while there are still many tweaks to be made, I have an online shop at last! I have called it Waldenweave Studio. Currently, there are handwoven kitchen towels for sale, but I do intend to get my photography on there, and probably some of the little books I’ve been binding. There is also always the possibility I’ll put some other doodle or two up there – I may have to change the webpage up a bit to accommodate so many categories. Evolution will likely happen, as it tends to with everything!

So, the grey towels:

All done and I’m very pleased with them. You can find them in my shop – if you’re in a country other than the United States and you’d like to buy one, let me know at kate@waldenweave.com or via the contact form at the shop. I haven’t got a chance to investigate shipping rates to anywhere else, so I haven’t added that to the shop yet.

Please stop by my shop and let me know what you think! I will need to investigate sales and coupons, too. 🙂 I feel like readers here may appreciate a coupon.


In my other spare time, I have been trying to measure out this new warp. It’s 100% linen, and really my first time weaving line linen, so I chose a slightly thicker-than-usual-for-me yarn to start with. I am pretty excited about this, though. Linen is a really wonderful fiber, and you don’t see a lot of quality linen cloth in this country. Most of it seems to be from China, and seems to be woven from the tow (short fibers, nice, but not as strong) rather than the line (long fibers, up to three feet long, very strong). The tow is nice, don’t get me wrong. It becomes soft and lovely, and still has many of the wonderful qualities of linen (breathable, anti-microbial, holds an awful lot of moisture before actually feeling wet to the touch), but it also sheds lint like crazy. And that means it’s much shorter lived than line linen. Line, I’m given to understand, will also get crazy, deliciously buttery soft, but will not shed lint, will last longer, and has a lovely sheen to it. Like antique linen sheets, if you’ve ever seen them (and by ‘antique’, I mean 100 years old – yes, you can actually have sheets that are 100 years old and they’re still good – welcome to linen).

This warp will hopefully become a couple of kitchen towels – I make a lot of those, but honestly, for samples of cloth, they’re pretty handy. You can beat them up and see what happens, you can wrap things in them, you can dry dishes, you can use it as a napkin, you can use it as a place mat, you can dry your hair with them…all kinds of stuff. Of course, if this works as well as I think it might, I have ideas about making some overshot linen things. Rugs maybe? Runners? Just cloth? Hmm. I could absolutely use a linen overshot rug in my life…

What about you?

 

 

 

Finally, an update

I really did try to update this blog before now. I really did.

Things and Stuff have been happening. I am (finally) nearly almost practically done setting up an online shop. I nearly walked away from my day job, but then didn’t (it’s all good). I went to VT to see a friend graduate from college, and to visit another friend there. I have been practicing cello like a fiend – because every month I have lessons may be the last. (There are some calluses on my fingers, yo.) And I’m trying so hard to get things made that need to get made and get things done that need to get done.

The extremely good news is that the tendonitis has been continuing to recede, and some days I don’t even notice it!

On to the visual proof of what I’ve been doing.

I had this idea for a series of mostly handwoven, hand-dyed sort-of panels that would hopefully be shown at a local library’s art gallery next year – or maybe just hang on the wall where I live. It’s still swimming around in my head and would be oh so

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The tannins in black tea turns the cloth black where the cloth has been exposed to iron oxide. Behold! Chemistry!

cool – I haven’t made any art in years and years. Part of it involved an indigo dye vat and another part involved rust stains. The indigo is straightforward, and the resulting fiber requires no special treatment afterwards. However, staining with rust means that there’s rust still on the fibers (I think), and my original plan involved staining the yarn and then weaving it – only the reed in the loom is stainless steel, and I’m betting it’s not that stainless when literally up against actual rust. So, I decided the cloth would have to be dyed. And then I read about overdyeing rusty cloth with tea, and instantly learned about iron mordants! I’m still thinking hard about this potential art. We’ll see if I get to it this year.

 

I finished the two cotton scarves. They were difficult in ways I didn’t anticipate – the weave was planned to be loose, which means paying very close attention to beat. The selvedges are a mess – that is, they’re not perfect or close to even, and it drives me a little batty. One could attach the label “rustic” to them, but I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m trying to decide if that should go to my shop or not. I do have a large-ish pile of things to sell.

 

I’ve been going to a knitting group at one of the local yarn shops again – it’s been about six months since the last time, but being in a space dominated by lovely yarn, knitting needles, and loads of people knitting was not conducive to the tendonitis healing, so I stayed away. When I finally went back the other night, a friend of mine showed me some really luscious fleece she’s acquired, and some examples spun up – she’s an excellent spinner! Apparently, she’s prepared at all times for any spinning emergency as shown in the above pictures of the contents of her car. There were six drop spindles in that plastic tote. The bags are full of fleece. (Even I’m not that prepared!)

 

The things I find in Amherst.

Sorry about not providing an update of Emily Dickenson’s grave – I’ve been back, but failed to take pictures. I will next time!

 

And here’s the next project! It’s tiny yarn (24/2 for those who want to know), and I’m hoping it will make nice cloth suitable for napkins. I didn’t sample (I know, I know, I’ll kick myself later), but I figure the resulting cloth will still be useful? I hope? The thing that really worries me is the selvedges. I recently found plainweave.net, and there were some helpful suggestions both for producing good selvedges and also for letting go of that selvedge perfection goal. Stay tuned.

 

OMGOMGOMGOMG!! I can spin wool again!! I can’t believe it. I have been positively aching to spin wool, and there’s still so much of it, and and and and! I had borrowed a couple of movies from the library (btw, The Shape of Water is a must see – really) and dusted off my wheel. It felt soooo good. I finished up the bobbin that was on there, and started another (pictured). Hopefully, a little every week will be spun and then I can weave the yarn. This project, of course, was supposed to be finished last October.

 

And finally, I CAN KNIT AGAIN!! Okay, in small doses. My thumb starts to get kind of tingly after about four rows, which is a sign of Overdoing It. So, as long as I’m careful to not knit more than about four rows at a time with a couple of hours in between (for now), then there will be slow progress.

I’m also reading up on some really exciting overshot patterns. The loom has four shafts on it now, but can accommodate up to ten shafts (I think – possibly twelve?), and I think the next step might be eight. My buddy Lee has asked me to weave a blanket for her, and so of course I’m thinking about a complicated, beautiful pattern with, of course, more shafts. Because New! Shiny! Complicated!

And I’ve been reading about bookbinding, because I’ve only bound one book and I’m weirdly itchy to make some more. This time, I have idea about weaving cloth for the cover (yes, I have ideas about making paper out of linen or cotton scraps and possibly also thrums and binding that into a book – that’s a long term project). I’ve got some really lovely cotton paper and some ethereal blue Japanese paper (don’t know what the fiber content of that is), and string…where would I find some string…..? The only thing I need is some Davey board for covers, and a Coptic bound book is mine.

Also, I got out my camera again. Oh boy. I forgot how lost I can get in photography. Whole chunks of time just whiz by without me taking any notice – what’s that sound? It’s my stomach! Why? I just ate lunch! Oh. No. That was nine hours ago. Oh. The sun has set. Oh. It’s actually time for bed. Damn.

One of my favourite pictures I have ever produced featured an orchid:

Grace

Grace

I love that picture more than I can say. And so I thought because I made such a pretty thing before with the help of an orchid, I would try again with other orchids (of course, none of my current orchids are blooming, so I needed new ones). I have to admit, they do add some lovely color to that room – I really miss gardening!

Yesterday, I found some peonies. The kitchen was transformed into a photography studio, and away flew several hours. I’m still in the process of editing, but when I am done, I think they will become prints and cards.

Did I mention I also bought a shoe pattern last month? Well, I did. With the intention of weaving the cloth that would become shoes. And if I could grow the fiber myself that I could use to weave the cloth, I would. Oh – of course, I will use some of that wool I’ve been spinning. And it may go into an indigo vat.

Hopefully, next time I’ll have news about stuff for sale! What have you been up to?

Experiments: success and failure

The month of November has been tumultuous. Some projects were ongoing, some were started and came to a screeching halt. As with all projects, and in my case, experiments, there were successes and failures.

I started and made a bit of headway on a weaving project.

Warp measured and wound. Currently, I have about 1/3 of the heddles threaded, but had to stop due to a very unexpected injury. And actually, I’m not at all sure if I’m happy with the pattern I’ve threading. It’s currently a bird’s eye twill, but something tells me I might be happier with a simple herringbone. I could do this with the current threading by just altering the treadling, but, oh, I’m waffling. Waffle, waffle. In any case, I can’t actually continue threading, so I’m just letting threading ideas waft around in my head for a bit. I have time.

The sucky part of not being able to act on this project right now is that I have nothing to sell, and no gifts made for winter gift-giving holidays. Argh.

I did attempt to do some spinning, but that didn’t work out so well either. There was a bit of a tangle.

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Argh. Argh, argh, argh.

I did eventually get this sorted, and spun the rest of the little wool nest, but had to stop.

Quite a few of my friends have birthdays in October, so around the end of the month, I attempted tempering chocolate for to make presents!

The chocolates on the left are solid. The chocolates on the right are squares of dipped squares of ganache. They look so good, don’t they?

Unfortunately, this was not well-tempered chocolate – a week later, I discovered it had bloomed. Which was super embarrassing because I’d already given some away. When chocolate blooms, it’s completely edible, but the texture is a bit different as some fats come the the surface and it looks ugly. Back to the drawing board. But not for a bit yet.

I did sell two dish towels! The last two green ones that I was thinking about keeping got snapped up.

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On the way to the post office!

About 20ish years ago, I planted some seeds from a lemon I bought at the grocery store. They took ages, and I nearly gave up, but eventually, after some weeks, they germinated. I only have one left, and that one grew and grew into a fine tree. It comes inside in the winter, and goes outside in the summer. About two years ago, I found a couple of blossoms on it, which was very unexpected. I’d read up on growing lemons from seed, and they often result in a tree that never blooms. This one did, but since the blossoms ended up growing at the end of the year, they’d fall off when the tree was brought in – there is no sunny place in the house, so it spends the winter under (mostly inadequate) lights and in a dry environment.

This year, it bloomed while outside when no one was looking, and the bees did their thing! I also have a couple of Key lime trees I grew from seed, and they bloom every year prolifically, so I imagine the lemon got help from the limes and the bees. Suddenly, there fruit on the lemon tree. Just one. And it stayed there. And it grew!

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A lemon-sized lemon! Organically grown in Western Massachusetts!

It fell off the tree a few days ago, so now it’s in the fridge while I decide what to do with it. Candy the peel? Dry the peel? Freeze the juice? Make lemonade? I suspect it’s not quite ripe, but close enough.

(For anyone wondering, the variety is likely a Lisbon. It’s one of the most widely grown commercial lemons and has truly mighty thorns.)

Of course, I want a greenhouse someday to grow my orchids, lemon tree and lime trees.

So. On to the injury. And my Sekrit Experiment.

On September 1, 2017, I started cello lessons. This has been a dream since I was about 9, but I’d never before been in a position where I could 1. afford it, 2. where I had space, and 3. where I wasn’t going to bother the neighbours. Sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake, but it occurred to me around August this year that I had all these conditions where I live now, and I might not by the spring when I have to move again. So, I thought I’d try it for three months to see if I really liked it.

I have never tried to play a stringed instrument before, and haven’t played any musical instruments regularly since I was about 18. I thought that part of my life was done. But I found a place to rent a cello and found a teacher. Three months. That was it. Then at least I could say I tried it.

What happened next was completely unexpected.

I set a goal of practicing one hour every day. Instead, I got lost in practicing and often went over one hour. On the weekends, it wasn’t unusual to practice for a couple of hours. Once I accidentally practiced for three hours – not all at once – but still. Oh, I’d set timers, and I’d blow right through them. The joy at working at this was (is) tremendous.

Was there progress? I think so. I can tell when I hit the right notes more often now. I hit that magical 100 hours of learning a new thing. I started learning a couple of very, very easy Baroque/Classical pieces.

I also acquired a shiny, new case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome/one hell of a repetitive stress injury in my bow hand due to a too tight hold on the bow and not taking enough breaks.

This means that for the last three weeks, I’ve been sleeping with a brace, I have appointments with an occupational therapist, I am typing and mousing mostly with my left hand at work, and I am completely unable to do any of my other hobbies. I carry heating pads with me. There are ice packs at home at at work. Bowing has come to nearly a screeching halt. There has been crying and sadness. There was a period last week where I was sure I’d have to just give it up because this kind of injury seems to not completely disappear in most other people. I steeled myself. Moar sad.

Which is ridiculous! It’s just a cello! I don’t need it more than food and shelter!

Sigh.

So, experiment successful. And a catastrophe. Right now, I’m hoping I will be able to wield a shovel when the snow comes. And then maybe weave again. And practice cello. I am plucking now instead of bowing, and setting a goal of bowing in two to three 5 minute chunks with 20-30 minutes rest for the next week, and will go from there. Maybe I can weave again in a month or so. And shovel snow.