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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Hand-Dyeing Wool Yarn with Procion Dye

Did you ever fall in love with a colorful yarn, but it was out of stock, or see something that was almost perfect and wish you could make your own special color mix? Well, I decided to try it for myself. 

I had a bunch of procion dye already in-house, from tie-dyeing and Shibori dyeing last summer. I loved the colors and wanted to use what I already had! But the tie-dyeing method I'm used to uses soda ash as a fixer and activator for the dye. Soda ash can break down and even disintegrate wool fibers, so I had to use something else. It turns out, white vinegar can be substituted as a fixer when dyeing wool. With vinegar, procion dyes act like acid dyes; pretty cool!

The yarn I chose is Cloudborn Superwash, which is Craftsy's own brand. It's soft, squishy, and does not break off. I'm knitting with it now, and I've handled it a lot and I like it so far!  For this project, I got both DK and Bulky weights, to go with two sweater patterns that I'm going to use. 

Here's what I did:

* Keep the yarn tied up in skeins! If you cut the threads that hold them together, the yarn will get all tangled up. Swish gently and try to keep the skeins neatly in tact. You'll be glad later, when you're ready to wind the yarn into balls!

* I recommend wearing gloves, to avoid dyeing your hands. 

1. First, I soaked the yarn in warm water with about 1 tsp of Synthrapol added. After about 30 minutes, I squeezed out the excess water. 

2. Then I soaked it in an acid solution: equal parts water and white vinegar, plus 1 tsp of Synthrapol. After about 15 minutes, I squeezed out the excess water. 

3. During the soaking times for steps 1 and 2, I mixed up my dyes in little squeeze bottles. I put 1 tsp of salt in each bottle, then added 1 tsp of dye powder (I used a plastic spoon that I keep with my dye equipment - please don't use anything that you will use for food later!). Then I filled up the bottles with warm water, put on the lids, and gave them a shake. I refilled them a few times during the dyeing process. 

4. I put the yarn into plastic tubs and squirted on the dye, working on two skeins at a time, moving the yarn around. If you don't shift them around, the centers of the skeins will stay un-dyed. 

5. After applying the desired dye, I kept the skeins in the tubs and covered them with plastic wrap. The yarn and dye should stay wet for 24 hours or longer, so cover it somehow.

6. After 24 hours, I rinsed the first batch. I filled the plastic tub with warm water and Synthrapol, letting the yarn soak for a couple hours, swishing and draining the water periodically. When the new water stayed clear, I knew the rinsing was done. 

7. For the final rinse, I added 1 cup of vinegar to the water and swished the yarn around for a few minutes. Then I squeezed out the excess water and draped the skeins over my laundry rack to let them dry completely. (I dried them inside, in the bathtub - it's better to keep them out of the sun so the colors will last longer).

I waited another 24 hours to rinse the second batch of yarn, just because I didn't have time to do both batches at once. It is fine to leave the dye on the yarn for longer than 24 hours and rinse it at your convenience. 

Here's how my yarn turned out:

For the orange batch, I used the colors Orange Crush, Watermelon, Clear Yellow, and New Emerald Green.

To dye the blue batch, I used Turquoise, Clear Yellow, Sky Blue, Forest Green, and Blue Gray.

The orange DK yarn will become a Martine sweater, designed by Julie Hoover. 

And the blue bulky yarn will become an Il Grande Favorito sweater, designed by Isabell Kraemer.  

Have you dyed your own yarn? What process did you use? How did it go?  

Monday, June 20, 2016

Lavender Iced Coffee: Make It From Scratch Herb Garden

The lavender I planted this year is still small, but the plants from last year are blooming. I decided my first lavender recipe of the summer would be a flavored iced coffee. Yum!

 I cut a handful of sprigs and removed all the buds. This turned out to be twice as much as I needed, so I saved the rest of the flowers in a basket where they could dry out to be used later. 

Then I made lavender simple syrup. Here's how:


1 cup water
1-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 tsp lavender flowers (fresh or dried)


 Place all ingredients in a pot and simmer on the stove.

Stir occasionally, watching for the syrup to turn clear. Below, the water is cloudy since the sugar is just floating in the water. When the water starts to simmer, the sugar and water will combine into a syrup (the sugar won't fall to the bottom anymore). When the syrup is clear, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool. 

 After the syrup is cool, strain out the lavender flowers and pour it into a bottle for storage. 

Then get a tall glass.

Add ice cubes. I made ice balls using leftover coffee and this mold.

Pour in 1-2 Tbsp of syrup, depending on how sweet you like it.

Add cold coffee. This time I used cooled drip coffee, but here is how I like to make cold brew concentrate, which would be perfect in this drink.

Then add almond milk, or your creamer of choice. 

All it needs is a straw, and a quick stir, and it's ready to drink!

Store the rest of the syrup in a covered container in the refrigerator. It will last for a couple of weeks. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Grainline Studio's Willow Tank and Dress

Hi guys! I made a new dress and tank top: the Willow Tank Dress from Grainline Studio. Want to see?

First I used double gauze gingham to make the dress version. I had some trouble with the shifty fabric. I should have sprayed it with starch to keep it from stretching, since the gingham lines became a bit crooked. It was too wonky for me, so I cut off the serged side seams and re-serged it, hoping there would be enough ease to still fit. 

I think it looks pretty good now. The back is still a little crooked, but Jason says no one else would notice. I'm not sure about that, but I like it well enough to wear it. I may try again with a different kind of fabric, or a double gauze without a straight design on it. I think I can figure out how to add pockets, which would make it perfect.

I love this fabric! Double gauze is awesome for summer. It seems like it will be see-through, but then it isn't. It's such a breezy, lightweight thing to wear, and you don't have to layer on a slip underneath (at least that's been the case with the few that I've used). I don't want any extra layers when it's hot out!


My second version is a tank top made of rayon challis from Cotton & Steel. This is a perfect summer top for me. It looks pretty fancy, but it's super easy to throw on. It doesn't cling, but it has a nice drape. For this one, I decided to remove the darts, and I think I'll make it like this in the future. I don't really need bust darts, so this works for me.


It goes together quickly. The longest part is the bias binding, of course. The more I use that technique, the quicker I get. 


I can definitely see myself using this pattern again. It would be nice in a bunch of different fabrics. Have you tried it?

Books I've Read So Far In 2016

Hi guys, 

My reading goal for this year is to read or listen to 45 books. I'm well on my way to reaching that number. Here are the 31 books I've finished so far, either on paper books, on Kindle, or listening to audio books. Audio books contribute 16 to the list. I'm out of the habit of reading a paper book all the time, but I almost always have my phone near me, so I can listen any time I'm cooking or washing dishes or weeding the garden. It's a great way to "read" more books!

1. Grow Herbs by Jekka McVicar. Great information on herb gardening!

2. And Then You Dye by Monica Ferris. This one's a cozy mystery about crafters who help solve a murder.

3. Herb Gardening from the Ground Up by Sal Gilbertie and Larry Sheehan. This one has good info on each herb, plus some really fun themed gardens: Home Bar, Bread Garden, Tex-Mex, etc... 

4. Homegrown Herbs by Tammi Hartung. I love this one! Hartung leads you through every step, and then has lots of great ideas for using the herbs.

5. Herb Society of America's Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs by Katherine K. Schlosser. This book has tons of recipes for using the herbs you grow or buy. 

6. Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving. I love John Irving. This is typical of his work: long and sprawling, with unusual, fun characters. A boy from a garbage dump in Mexico eventually becomes an American novelist. If you listen to the audio version, know that there is lots of sex talk. You may not want your kids listening in.

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling. Oh Harry Potter, how I love to hear your story. I binge-listened to this whole series. The narrator of the Audible version is great, and he reads the whole series. 

8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling.

9. Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman. Katy Bowman is a biomechanist, and she is so smart and so, so cute and friendly. I loved listening to her reading her own book. She is really into moving a lot all day long, not just for an hour-long workout each day. 

She looks at how bodies work, all the parts interacting with each other, down to the cellular level, and every cell needs us to move around more, and in a bunch of different ways, but not all of a sudden! Work up to it. Then maybe get rid of all your furniture and pillows and processed foods - or just do what works for your own life and move as much as you can.

10. Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie. I read this one while we were on vacation in the Caribbean! I love Agatha and this is a fine story. 

11. The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths. This series is really good. The main character is an archeologist and professor who becomes a single mother. She helps the police solve murders by dating the bones they find and then somehow always getting more involved. I like the character and will definitely read the whole series. 

12. The Walking Dead Volume 23 by Robert Kirkman. Is a comic book a book? It has the word "book" right in the title, so I'm counting it. As usual, disturbing, yet irresistible.

13. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling. 

14. Falling to Pieces by Vanetta Chapman. I got this really cheaply on Kindle and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It's about a woman who moves to an Amish town and runs a quilting shop while hanging out with her new Amish friends and helping to solve murders. 

15. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline. I already knew that shopping at Old Navy meant that poor women in China, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam were being overworked and underpaid so that I could have too many short-lived t-shirts for $7 each. And in this book I learned that donating my cast-offs to charities probably isn't really helping anyone. There are too many cast-offs, thanks to fast fashion, and many of the clothes don't even get to needy people. So I can't use that as a guilt-assuager and have to just stop buying crap that I don't need; only buy what I will actually wear a lot and then wear it out. That's my take-away. I recommend this book if you're at all interested in the subject. 

16. The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow. This is a novel about a woman who was locked up in an asylum for many years, and about the quilt she made, and the truth about who wanted her locked up and why. Really good.

17. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling. Oh my gosh, I think this is the one that became way too long. Where was the editor? J. K. became too powerful and no one would tell her that the books were including too many details that didn't further the plot! Okay, or the fans were clamoring for as many details as possible and would kill to have whatever pages actually did get cut.  
18. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling. 

19. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling. 

20. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling.  Holy cow, could this one have dragged on any longer? The first time I read it, I tore through my giant hardcover book. This time, several years later, I could be more discerning and say that multiple hours of this book should have been condensed. So many pages, not much happened. There was a lot of non-exciting stuff here. And then the good stuff - why not just have the good stuff?

I still love Harry Potter! I have a new appreciation for the movies, which have to cut out some of the extraneous scenes so they're not 15 hours long apiece.

21. The House at Sea's End by Elly Griffiths. More from this series! This was good, too. I have a couple more already on the shelf to read, when I finish up some of the other books that I've already started. 

22. Bonk by Mary Roach. Intrepid science reporter investigates the historical study of sex. Fascinating! I also liked her book on digestion: Gulp. I'd like to read the rest of her work someday. 

23. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Oh man, I don't get the hype about this book. I liked the historical fiction aspect of it, and the time travel element. But I totally hated and dreaded all the torture and rape. I'd love for someone to tell me what happens in future books, aside from the further torture and rape that seem inevitable. Is there more time travel? Why/how did time travel increase fertility? Is the future changed by her actions? 

24. A Perfect Square by Vannetta Chapman. I don't know why, but I like these Amish cozy novels. It's fun to read about people choosing to live outside the mainstream, and rejecting most of modern technology. 

25. Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. I listened to this one, and I think I would have liked it better on paper. The narrator is a child, and the reader seemed to be doing a bit of a plaintive voice the whole time, which I sometimes found intolerable. The novel takes place in the 1980s, when a girl's uncle dies of AIDS. She secretly gets to know his boyfriend/life partner, against her parents' wishes. It's pretty good, and might be great on paper. 

26. A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn. I loved the reader of the audio version of this one! The narrator is a spunky, modern-sensibility feminist butterfly hunter, but it's set in 1887. She's an orphan, with no idea who her parents were. After her elderly aunts die, she will have to find out her parentage, with the help of a couple of other interesting characters. On Amazon, some reviewers hated the narrator, finding her smug and intolerable, but I thought she was funny and very fun to listen to. 

27. The Playground by Ray Bradbury. A short story which is very unsettling, about a dad trying to protect his son.

28. The Collectors by Philip Pullman.  Another short story, in which a mysterious painting and a sculpture always end up together, regardless of having been sold to different people.

29. The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell. I love Sarah Vowell, and I always learn a lot of U.S. history when I read her books. I listened to her reading her own book, and I thought it was a little flat, but I still liked it. 

Do you remember what you learned in elementary school? She was talking about her childhood lessons and I really don't have any memory of learning about the presidents. I have, like, a vague picture of what it might have been like, based on tv shows wherein kids wear Lincoln hats and beards or dress up like pilgrims and Indians. But not any actual memory of dressing up like anyone.

30. Fellside by M. R. Carey. Did you read Carey's The Girl With All the Gifts? It was great. Fellside is pretty darn good. If you like a mystery, and you like an unreliable narrator, and you're okay with the possibility of something supernatural or sci-fi, read both of Carey's books! 

31. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I just listened to this one, and it was okay. I didn't totally love it. There's nothing wrong with it. Some of it's pretty fun. There's a bookstore, and a somewhat aimless protagonist, and a secret society that reads encrypted books, all of which I like. But overall, I didn't feel completely satisfied with it. 

That's it! The year is not yet half over, and I've read 31/45 books, so I'm sure I'll meet my goal. I may have already started all 14 of the books I still need! I'm in the middle of a bunch that are spread out around the house. My ability to focus has not been strong since I had my second baby, so I just pick up whichever book appeals to me in the moment. 

What are you reading? 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Herbs Are Growing: Make It From Scratch Gardening

Hi everybody,

Let's check in on our herb and beauty garden and see what's growing. Okay, so actually I spread out these plants among my vegetables, fruits, and flowers. I like to mix it up, like a cottage garden. 

Here's what I planted this year:

Calendula - my seedlings are very small. I planted them with my vegetables. 

Catnip - my cat totally ignores it! I will still dry it and put it in some cat toys and see if he likes that. I can also use it to make tea for humans.

Chamomile - looking pretty! I planted this in my strawberry, asparagus, and rhubarb bed. Some potatoes came back this year (I must have missed digging up a few last fall) and even though I want the space for other things this year, it's hard to get rid of them! I also planted fennel, leeks, garlic, and artichokes in this bed. It might get a bit crowded, so I'll have to feed and water well and trim down or pull up anything that gets too big and overshadows other plants. I always tend to pack them in! There are so many great things to grow.

The bed in question:

Cilantro - re-seeds itself and returns each spring in my garden. I have to pull up some plants as there are just too many. Later in the summer I may plant more so it will mature in time for tomato season.

Cumin - still super tiny!

Dill - this is a self-sowing plant that comes back strong every year at my house. I have to pull up hundreds and hundreds of frilly little seedlings each year. It would take over the whole yard if I let it. The only thing I've used it for is pickles, so far. 

Fennel - planted with my vegetables. I discovered this year that I love the taste of roasted fennel. This plant is also called Anise and it smells and tastes like licorice, which I hate. You can imagine my surprise that I like to eat fennel!

Garlic - planted with the strawberries. 

Genovese Basil and Lime Basil - they love to grow near tomatoes, and be served with them. I planted the seeds in between my tomato plants. 

Down the center of this bed is a chicken wire wall that sugar snap peas can grow up. I planted them a bit late, but hopefully we'll be snacking on some soon.

Greek Oregano and Rosemary - I planted these in pots. That way, I might be able to bring them inside for the winter. Pots also expand my growing space since my garden beds are pretty full!

Lavender - I placed this where it can live long-term, coming back each year.

Mint - be sure to plant this in a container. Mints will spread and take over your whole garden or yard, if they get the chance. I have mine on the deck, close to the kitchen.

Sage - planted with vegetables. It's still pretty small, but it's in this bed:

Thyme - planted beside my garden beds. It does not seem to be doing well, so I'll spare you the photo of dirt!

Instead, here are some pretty dutch iris and columbine flowers.

How are your gardens growing?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Dye Plants Are Growing: Make it From Scratch Gardening

Hi everybody, 

Today I thought we'd check in on the natural dye plants. Here's what I planted:

Pink dye 

Hollyhocks: These come up every year in my yard, so I didn't do anything to plant them. They are growing happily without any interference from me. 

Red dye 

Madder: I planted 5 seedlings in a sunny spot. It's supposed to take 3 years to grow big enough roots to harvest for dye purposes, but I'll be checking in on them before then! In the photo below is a little madder plant, surrounded by wood chips. So far, they all seem happy. 

Onion: Planted with vegetables.

Yellow dye 

Dyer's Chamomile: Planted in a flower bed. In the photo below, it's the ferny looking plant.

Marigolds: Planted in the middle of the vegetables.

Onion: (can be used to make red or yellow dye) Planted with vegetables.

Rosemary: Planted in a large pot.

Rhubarb: This already grows in my garden, with the strawberries and asparagus. The only thing I have to do is cut off the flower stalks when they grow. Otherwise, it doesn't need any attention from me. The large-leafed plant in the center of the photo is the rhubarb. The rest of the visible plants are mostly strawberries and potatoes.

Sunflowers: Planted near the fence with corn, pumpkins, squash, and melons.

Thyme: Growing near the vegetable beds.  

Zinnias: Planted in the flower beds.

Green dye

Celery: Planted with the vegetables.

Marigolds: I planted seeds among my vegetables. I may buy a couple larger plants from a nursery if they don't take off soon. Marigolds are nice companions to vegetables as they attract pollinators to the garden bed. They also repel some harmful-to-vegetables insects, helping to keep the plants healthy. You can plant them in between vegetable plants and they'll brighten up your garden and help the other plants.

Rosemary: Planted in a large pot outside (the one on the right). These pots don't look that nice, but they've served me well for several years. As they continue to break down and get bigger holes in them, maybe I'll replace them with better-looking pots. I know it will be worth it, since I've used them so many times. 

Blue dye

I planted three right in my vegetable garden and one plant in its own large pot. I'll see what works better. 

Pansies: Planted in my flower beds.

Red cabbage: Planted in the vegetable garden.

Purple dye

Pansies: Planted in flower beds. 

Sunflowers: Planted along with good companion plants: corn, pumpkins, squash, and melons.

Above, you can see my three vegetable beds. The one on the right has been overrun by strawberries! It's great to have tons of strawberries, but I actually remove some every year so I have room to plant other things in that bed. 

So far I think everything has survived being transplanted. If anything dies at this point, I will probably buy plants at a nursery since it's too late to start from seeds again (for many things). 

How are your gardens doing?