presents

Tis the season, as they say, and many are rushing around trying to find the perfect gift. One might suggest that presents often don’t come in the form of an actual object, but instead as a memory that returns to the forefront while your hands are busy knitting, for example.

A few weeks ago, I attended a knitting afternoon arranged by my fiber friend extraordinaire, Abigail Doan. She wanted to introduce a group of us to the “Turkish slipper.” After consuming soothing cups of tea, we seated ourselves in a circle, and received our kits containing the pattern for the “Sifa Silver Turkish Slipper” and balls of Figgi yarns.

Abigail explained that the pattern is designed by Catharine Bayar, a textile expert living in Istanbul, and is based on the traditional slippers her husband’s female relatives knitted for generations. Furthermore, the yarn, made from delicious, durable Turkish cotton, includes a strand of silver and is called sifa defined as healing in Turkish. We could not wait to start, and all cast on and began to work.

A pair of knitted lace Turkish slippers. Photo by Abigail Doan.

A pair of knitted lace Turkish slippers. Photo by Abigail Doan|Lost in Fiber.

When the event finished, we packed up our work and headed off, with promises to be wearing our slippers soon. I am adoring knitting my slippers, not only due to texture of the yarn in my hands as I work combined with the stitches that create the lace work of the pattern, but for the memory that it sparked, and this present to me is invaluable.

Knitted slippers. Like a bolt of lightening, I recalled Nannie, my grandmother, giving us presents of her hand made wool slippers at Christmas time. Each year we received a new pair, sometimes with pompons, others with reinforced-soles, always knitted perfectly in bright color combinations, and so warm.

It is a long way from Hickory, NC (Nannie & Papa lived there) to Istanbul in real time, but in memory time, the distance is quite short, linked for me by yarn. This holiday season, I am thankful for the cherished recollections of time spent with Nannie, especially when watching her hands transform yarn into slippers or sweaters and crops into delicious dinners. And I am thankful for my friends and their experiences and memories. A true present indeed.

Pattern for Turkish Slipper maybe found on Etsy.

Information on Figgi Yarns found here.

Information on Bazaar Bayar and their knitting retreats found here. Perhaps, this is something to put on your to-do or wish list for 2015!

sky strainer

The ephemeral often becomes useful–milkweed silks for candlewicks, cattail fluff for pillow stuffing, and spider webs for staunching wounds—as well as inspirational.

Glimpsing lacelike spider webs, fluffy cattails and silky milkweed on my morning walks spurred me to re-examine strands of fiber and sparked a series of work. The sculptures in sky strainer series are made from my handspun wool in the knotless netting technique. Some of the pieces are nestled in tree branches or suspended from the ceiling, as one might glimpse a light orb or a spider web out of the corner of one’s eye.

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In his book, Primitive Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Netting, Odd Nordland examines ancient textiles, including the beautiful milk strainers made from cow tail hairs gathered in the fall after the cows no longer needed their long tails to ward off flies. He further examines the many uses of the cow: for food (both meat to eat and milk to drink, often out of the horn of the cow), and for skin and sinews (providing material for sewing, often with needles carved from cow bones).

It is not only the magnificence of the lacelike milk strainers that influences my series, but also the industriousness of the farmers that used them. Early farmers depended upon their cattle in a wide variety of substantive ways. These cows were not being raised on industrial cattle farms and being fed corn and antibiotics, but instead were eating native grasses under the stars and sky.

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In our over-mechanized society, we can draw inspiration from the ancients who exemplified such resourcefulness and directness in their daily routines. Be it from the turning of the spinning wheel to make the yarn, or the slow methodical movement of the needle twining through the loops, the sky strainers hearken to an earlier age and push forward.

Odd Nordland, Primitive Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Netting (Studia Norvegica No. 10, Oslo University Press, Oslo, 1961), p.93.

Note: sky strainer #6 is currently on view until January 31, 2015, in the exhibition Circle Round at the KNOX Gallery, Monterey, MA. https://www.facebook.com/knoxgallery?sk=wall

illuminations

Last week, snow fell as forecast. A heavy wet whiteness outlined every branch and covered every surface. Trees laden with dense snow could not bear the load, and fractured limbs blocked roadways and downed power lines. We experienced a power ‘interruption’, as our utility termed it, for 36 hours.

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Luckily dinner was on the table when the lights went out. The candles illuminated our plates (heaped with warm, soothing polenta and greens), but not much beyond that. Looking outside, I could no longer see the neighbor’s lights far in the distance. Our world was quickly shrouded in darkness.

Over the next day and a half, there was time to contemplate and consider, as we inhabited a world without electricity and modern conveniences and connections it affords. No heat or running water; these two became the most missed and needed. No stereo nor internet; while it was refreshing to step away from instant access, the quiet became more accentuated and appreciated. Our old-fashioned rotary phone, stationary at that, plugged in; no more walking and talking or otherwise multi-tasking.

Being inside a true colonial home, these hours allowed me time to contemplate the following:

Weather forecasting—What range of natural signs did our early inhabitants rely upon? Thickening clouds, changes in wind direction and speed, the moistening of air, the up-turning of leaves, or changes in the feel of one’s body? No NOAA weather advisories to harken a blizzard. Almanacs would serve as a reference, as well as handwritten daily weather diaries kept in some households.

Time telling—Perhaps they could not afford a clock, but the sun’s position relative to the western mountain range provided a constant reference–a large sundial, if you will. Furthermore, if they had a flock of chickens, the light sensitive rooster heralds the coming of dawn and gathers his hens in the coop at dusk.

Water—Where was the water source in relation to the keeping room? And how did they stop it from freezing? How much water did they take in knowing a storm was imminent, and how did they decide the duration in which they might not be able to access the water before conditions improved?

 Entertainments—Quiet descended on us, both outside and inside. M’s returning from feeding the chickens was announced by his beautiful whistling underscoring the stillness. No wonder Laura Ingall’s family rejoiced when Pa brought out his fiddle, breaking the silence and bringing in felicity. I wonder about what other entertainments they may have engaged in.

Chores—-All outdoor work was done in a timely manner and at the right hour of the day. One would take advantage of the natural light, for when darkness arrives without flashlights and headlamps, it would be onerous, if not impossible, to work. No wonder the harvest moon was so appreciated, not only allowing extra time and more illumination.

Light sourcingCandles and a few flashlights became more treasured on the second night of the ‘interruption.’ At first, I could barely discern what was in the bottom of the pot on the stove. Soon I grew accustomed to the dimness, and realized how hard it was to read, sew, knit, whittle, write or sew or do anything at night.

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I attempt to envisage what it was like to inhabit this house over 200 years ago, and being without power for an extended but certainly endurable period allowed me a glimpse into the quiet, strenuous past. It is often difficult to step out of the modern and try to feel and see days of yore. Visiting historic sites and reading well-written biographies or first hand accounts and history books gives one another peek into a past world, as often does a transporting film; one may be brought closer to this past, however, when one “loses” our modern conveniences, whether by choice or by circumstances.

NOTE: The harsh realities depicted in the new movie “The Homesman” offer a glimpse of unrelenting Nature and human striving. We are with Mary Bee Cutter, the heroine of the film, and her moral and physical dilemmas of the 19th century American prairie.

nutmeg

Pumpkin pie season is upon us. Time to pull those familiar, readily accessible and relatively inexpensive spices off the shelf—-cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg.   In my mother’s kitchen, whole nutmegs were stored in a bear-shaped glass jar once filled with Domino ‘Sugar ‘n Cinnamon.’   She liked the bear container and reused it, not as a matter of thrift, per se, but for pleasure. If she lived in New Amsterdam in the 1660s, she would have locked her precious nutmegs away, according to the historian Janet Zimmerman.

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Indeed, the nutmeg tree was

“…native to only a single spot on the planet: the tiny volcanic island of Run in the south of the Banda Sea [surrounding a large part of the Indonesian archipelago]. Hyperbolic western herbalists credited the nutmeg with prolonging life, health, and youth; depending on one’s written source, the nutmeg was the ultimate aphrodisiac or the complete cure-all. All of Europe’s seafaring powers hoped to obtain their own nutmeg tree with which to start plantations outside the Dutch-controlled Moluccas.”

In the kitchens of New Amsterdam, nutmeg found its way into both savory and sweet dishes. In his latest informative, exquisite book, The New American Herbal, Stephen Orr provides a recipe for “an old Dutch spice” Koekkruiden,

2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, preferably freshly grated
2 teaspoons of ground ginger
4 cardamon pods, crushed,
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground aniseeds 

When preparing your Koekkrudien, take a moment and roll one of those tiny nutmegs around in your hands, as I just did, recalling how cheap and easy it was to purchase, as are many commodities in our day and age. In contrast, I remembered that the prized nutmeg once commanded a ridiculously high price and precipitated bloody battles on the far-flung island of Run (part of modern day Indonesia).

Janet Zimmerman, The Women of the House: how a colonial she-merchant built a mansion, a fortune, and a dynasty, (Harcourt Books, 2006), pg.23.

Glynis Ridley, The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: a story of science, the high seas and the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, (Crown Publishers, 2010), pg. 199.

Stephen Orr, The New American Herbal, (Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2014), pgs. 37

mended

The thermometer’s mercury slid to a new seasonal low this morning, 16 degrees F.  Thankfully, outdoor chores—putting the garden to bed, storing onions and garlic, drying goldenrod and mugwort, raking leaves, and storing hoses, etc.—have been completed and my mind turns to the roster of indoor tasks: mending, sewing, weaving and knitting.

My friend Audra Wolowiec sent me a treasure in the post—a piece of fabric purchased at a yard sale with lovely mending. What causes one to repair, and once darned, to save, store and cherish? Earlier generations were trained to mend and darn; an exquisite 1711 darning sampler found in the Cooper Hewitt’s collection provides visual testament to both skill and beauty. The description reads like a poetry: “…fifteen mending crosses and two corner mends, with picot edgings, a center GD 1711, surmounted by a crown.”

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Even though I received my Girl Scout badge for sewing and attempted many embroidery stitches as a teenager, my hands lack the skills to complete the delicate inter-lacings of thread. Proudly, I recently completed my Alabama Chanin D.I.Y. skirt, and although there are thousands of stitches on this skirt, their lack of consistency compels me to become more proficient in the needle arts. Where do I find a school that will teach me the stitches outlined in Catherine Beecher’s 1843 book, A Treatise on Domestic Economy:

“Every young girl should be taught to do the following kinds of stitch, with propriety. Overstitch, hemming, running, felling, stitching, back-stitch and run, button-stitch, chain-stitch, whipping, darning, gathering and cross-stitch.”

If I lived in United Kingdom, I would register for Tom van Deijnen’s darning class in just two day’s time in Dalston, London. Van Deijnen started The Visible Mending Programme, which:

“…seeks to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture. By exploring the story behind the garment and repair, the Programme reinforces the relationship between the wearer and garment, leading to people wearing existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn being worn as a badge of honor.”

Indeed, why not accent the mending on one’s beloved sweater, for example, with contrasting thread, thus reinforcing both metaphorically and literally, its importance? After all, does a garment really need to be discarded due to a hole or rip?

“Darning Sampler, 1711.” https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18345433/, Accessed on November 19, 2014.

Mirra Bank, Anonymous Was A Woman: A celebration in words and images of tradition American art—and the women who made it, (St. Martin’s Press, 1979), pg. 24.

“About Tom Holland.” http://tomofholland.com/about/, Tom van Deijnen, accessed on November 19, 2014.

seasonal

Our beloved CSA comes to an end this week, at least for this season. Since June, we have made weekly pilgrimages to Indian Line Farm, which is situated in a verdant valley below the Taconic Mountain range. Once your feet hit the earth here, and you look up at the mountains, stress seems to wash away and your mouth begins to water as you glance at the current week’s offerings. Most of the produce is picked and ready for us, but we also go out into the field to pick green beans, cherry tomatoes and husk cherries, as well as stunning bouquets of flowers. At the farm, and then when we sit down at our dining room table, we give thanks to Elizabeth and her crew for their efforts.

Our summer subscription starts off with many delightful greens, and we eagerly await the almost ripe tomatoes grown in the long tunneled hoop house. We mark the season with the farm, embracing zucchinis and eggplants, and now we appreciate root vegetables and hardier greens.

Eating seasonal food in the season it is produced is nothing new, for prior to modern methods of canning and freezing, one either ate food directly from the garden or from the stored vegetables in the root cellar. Though one can purchase Asparagus officinalis and Fragaria x ananassa at the grocery and consume these all year along, we instead cherish the long fresh spikes of asparagus in May and the plump red strawberries in June.

my collection of Ambrose Heath books

my collection of Ambrose Heath books

Persephone Books has just published Ambrose Heath’s The Country Life Cookery Book with illustrations by Eric Ravilious. Heath (1891-1969), a much renowned British journalist, wrote over 70 cookbooks as well as countless newspaper columns on food. In his preface to this new edtion, Simon Hopkinson notes:

“Seasonal is simply how it was. Those of my grandparents’ generation, as well as that of Mr. Heath, knew nothing else other than, say, the purchase of a pound of leeks from the greengrocer in winter; followed by no leeks at all, all summer long……seasonal cookery writing is all the rage, now, but this was not always so. “

Already we look forward to next year’s progression of vegetables with Indian Line Farm, and for now, we will turn to our hoop house for winter greens and lettuces. Now on our trips to the grocers, I try hard not to eat out of season.

 The Persephone Biannually, No 16 Autumn/Winter 2014-15, pg.4

NOTE: Persephone Books publishes “reprints of neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers.” Each of their 110 books is a delight to hold in your hand with its elegant “dove-grey jacket, fabric endpaper” and matching bookmark. I adore those bookmarks and cherish them. If you are in London, a visit to their store at 59 Lamb’s Conduit Street is a must.

 

saving time and making light

Sunday marks the beginning of ‘Daylight Savings Time.’ DST is an early twentieth century concept supposedly implemented to use electricity more efficiently, to utilize more of the natural light and otherwise encourage more daylight activities; just how it does these things is the subject of some controversy. What most of us would agree on is that it is disruptive.

Thankfully, we are not ‘in the dark’ whilst M is deep into a major home project. For this particular one, involving the complete re-cladding of one portion of our home, power to the house was removed and re-routed from the garage to run back to the house. We still have enough amperage to run the refrigerator, lights, furnace, and our computers but not the clothes dryer and the dehumidifier. Furthermore, we have to monitor what is running and not over-load the new power source; i.e., we turn off some lights and then run the washing machine, but we can’t use the toaster while doing a load of clothes. No big deal.

Our monitoring of lights, heat and electricity has left me pondering methods of yore most likely sparked by my first foray into candle-making a few weeks ago. My friend Jody has dipped thousands of candles, being the former proprietoress of Wax Poetic. She taught me the multi-step process: first, cut the wicks to the same length; attach six wick strands to one piece of wood; dip each group into the warm wax; hang and let dry; and then continue dipping until the desired size. This process is not much different than the one employed by the colonial housewife described by Alice Morse Earle in Home Life in Colonial Days:

“Every thrifty housewife in America saved her penny as in England. The making of the winter’s stock of candles was the special autumnal household duty, and a hard one too, for the great kettles were tiresome and heavy to handle. An early hour found the work well under way. A good fire was started in the kitchen fireplace under two vast kettles, each two feet, perhaps, in diameter, which were hung on trammels from the lug-pole or crane and half filled with boiling water and melted tallow, which had two scaldings and scimmings. At the end of the kitchen or lean-to, two large poles were laid from chair to chair or stool to stool. Across these poles were placed at regular intervals, like the rounds of a ladder, smaller sticks about fifteen or eighteen inches long, called candle-rods. These poles were saved from year to year, either in the garret or up on the kitchen beams.”

Tallow, from “…deer suet, moose fat, bear’s grease…” as well as “…every particle of grease rescued from pot liquor, or fat from meat…” was used to make candles. Beekeepers saved the wax from their hives, for this wax did not smoke as much as tallow. Earle reports that wicks were made from “…spun hemp or tow, or of cotton; from milkweed.” Over the past few weeks, the milkweed pods on our land have been spreading their seeds and their silk-down and have given me pause, for I wondered what would have been done with this resource. Today, in the daylight, I will gather some silk-down and try my hand at spinning wicks to be used for the next batch of candles in my own effort to make light.

Alice Morse Earle, Home Life in Colonial Days, (Grosset & Dunlap, 1898), pgs. 34-35, 38.

colonial town

This morning, I am loading up my ‘wagon’ and heading over to a nearby colonial town, Monterey, MA. My journey will end at their library where I will install my exhibition, underfoot, at the KNOX Gallery. While in town, I will of course visit the Monterey General Store, as any prudent homesteader would have done; catch up on the latest news and procure some victuals. If invited, I will continue up the hill and pay a visit to the amiable ghosts of Rev. Adonijah Bidwell and his family.

On one of my earlier visits to the Bidwell House, I read Rev. Bidwell’s 1784 death inventory. These probate records are invaluable to the researcher. From these possession lists, one can posit much about a family—their wealth, literacy and social standing.

Of course, we are continuing to look for any probate records and journals tucked in the walls of our colonial home. M’s work on re-cladding sections of our old home has not revealed any particular treasures, other than the frequent walnut stored by a little critter between studs or in the crevasses of crossbeams. Over the past year, I made and stitched many books dyed with materials from our land. Some of these books are yet empty, with lines, awaiting text. Since we cannot find any writings from Taphenese, Abigail, Lucretia, Mary, Sarah, Elizabeth or Elenora (the women of this house), I might just have to write it for them.

Note 1: underfoot is on view from October 31 until November 29 at the KNOX Gallery, Monterey Library, Monterey, MA.  Opening reception November 1 from 6-8pm and I will give a brief talk at 6pm. For visiting information, Knox Gallery/Facebook.

Note 2: Recently, I was interviewed about underfoot by Amy DuFault for the Botanical Colors Blog .

 

page turner

In my current reading, I am deep into an engaging mystery, but there is another book that has me glued to it: Nelson Coon’s Using Plants for Healing. In my continuing search for finding value in and uses for ‘weeds’ that we tread upon, yank out, openly discard and cannot even identify, I stumbled upon his book and feel lucky for it.

Methodically, he takes us on “a detour into history” tracking the use of herbs in medicine from the Pharaohs of Egypt; Hellenic Greece, where Theophrastus wrote An Enquiry into Plants in 370 B.C; Renaissance Venice where De Agricultura was printed in 1471; then the new world where the medicine of the Aztecs was “discovered”; and finally, to ‘New Netherlands’, where “…a reporter found some thirty plants which he said were valuable to the Indians, including polypody, sweetflag, sasafrass, mallow, violet, wild indigo, Solomon’s-seal, milfoil, ferns, agrimony, wild leek, snakeroot and prickly pear.” The colonists, indeed, relied upon their European knowledge, folk-remedies and Indian practices well into the nineteenth century by gathering plant material and making medicines from them. As cities and towns began to expand, access to the woods and fields for gathering became more difficult. The Shakers of New Lebanon, NY, however, planted a ‘physic garden” and “…in one season 75 tons of medicinal plants were grown, dried, pressed, and packed, and shipped to every state.”

Coon devotes a page to each medicinal herb, with an illustration, its botanical name, family name and common names, and then a lengthy description of the plant, its history and uses, and some basic recipes.

mugwort

mugwort

Charged with my new knowledge, I took a walk outdoors and discovered a huge crop of mugwort (Artemisis Absinthium) and gazed again upon bountiful spreads of plantain, mint, yarrow, nettle, sorrel, burdock and golden rod. Other plants, I noticed, were past their prime and would have to be gathered next year. Maybe it is time for me to make a ‘gathering calendar’, so as not miss out on any of the beneficial plants. Fortunately, though, I am member of an herbal CSA, Wild Wind Herbal. Marybeth and Ashley seasonally gather and dry herbs and so-called ‘weeds’ and make tinctures, salves, teas and balms, and then distribute to their shareholders for four months (July-October).

Nelson Coon, Using Plants for Healing:Featuring a Guide to over 250 Medicinal Plants, (Rodale Press, 1979), pgs. 11-23 for history.

Note for further reading: Dina Falconi, Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair: Natural and Healthy Personal Care for Every Body, (Ceres Press, 1998); many recipes for the mugwort I am harvesting today to make both a tincture and a vinegar for future uses).

revolutionary actions

Revolutionary actions take on many forms. The colonists started by tossing casks of tea into Boston Harbor; in turn, this action spiraled outward to spinning bees on town greens and the production of “homespun.”

On January 1, 2014, a ‘revolutionary act’ took place in another Massachusetts’ town—The Tailor Project. Can you imagine not buying an item of clothing, a pair of shoes or any jewelry for a year? Amy DuFault, fed up with the ‘fast fashion’ industry, decided to take on the challenge. Armed with clothing already in her closet, she teamed up with her local tailor, Kathryn Hilderbrand, of Stitched. Over the past months, Kathryn has been giving new life to garments–nipping, tucking, revamping, redesigning and tailoring them to fit Amy.

Does your town have a tailor and if so, have you ever taken a garment there? In previous decades, tailors or mantua makers were an essential part of the community.

“The early dress-makers were known as mantua-makers. Their work was supplemented by the seamstress and the tailoress. In “Recollections of Old Boston” a woman born in 1848 states, “All dresses were made in the household; the stuffs were bought in the shops…” “Sewing-women came to the house, and worked as seamstresses do today, but these women not only made the dresses for the women and girls of the household, but a tailoress came also who made the coats and trousers for the boys.” “One good dress of silk or satin or damask for best (which usually lasted for many years) and a very meagre wardrobe of gowns for daily use.”

Marla Miller describes the ‘interconnectedness’ of communities in her book, The Needle’s Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution:

“In the give and take of rural exchange, New England needleworkers, as much as cabinetmakers, housewrights, and headstone carvers, created and sustained communities of commerce imperative to the continued health of that equilibrium, to systems as important to continuity and change in the social, economic, and cultural order as that which existed in the larger commercial world.”

The Tailor Project is both a small town and global project. DuFault seeks to bring attention to the way our clothing is made (“…garment workers rights, fast fashion, toxic effluents in the waterways, textile waste, pesticides…”) and by whom. She invokes “…a call to arms for old friends, new friends and colleagues to join in supporting their local tailor, a profession being pushed out for cheaply made and priced clothing that are much easier to throw away than to mend.”

Aren’t our closets filled to the brim? Take on Amy’s challenge, ‘shop’ in your closet, visit your tailor and sport a garment, perhaps “used” and then fitted for you. Moreover, when purchasing any new item, take note of where and who made it, and only buy from designers that support fair trade and wages. Changes in the industry and our habits start with us, one garment at time.

 

b(RE)ce for The Tailor Project

b(RE)ce for The Tailor Project

NOTE:  Recently, I participated in two Tailor Projects. First, Kathryn shortened a dress purchased in a thrift store years ago, but I had only worn once or twice due to its length. Now, it is one of my summer go-to dresses. Secondly, I eco-dyed a silk shirt for Amy, dyeing it with natural dyes.  This shirt falls into a project that I have been working on for the past two years–b(RE)ce:  the revamping of thrift store garments through the act of eco-dyeing (using homemade natural dyes with hand gathered leaves and flowers).

Elsa Shannon Bowles, Homespun Handicrafts, (Benjamin Bloom, Inc, 1972), pgs. 108-9.

Marla Miller,  The Needles Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution, (University of Massachusetts Press, 2006), pgs. 228-9.  Miller thoroughly examines the global trade world in the last chapter, The Romance of Old Clothes.

Amy DuFault, http://www.amydufault.com/?p=137529, Read on 8/8/2104.