nine05

life in balance


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Rummage and Lye, and a tutorial

Amy's dining room table

After a busy week of canning and soapmaking and rummage sale goodness, I’m gearing up for another trip out of town, this time up to NYC with friends for the weekend. One of my favorite parts of my job change has been having this time to travel without having to plan around paid leave, and I feel an obligation to really take advantage of this opportunity to go out and explore. I’m not a great traveller and I’m not a great homebody – I’m always wanting to set down roots, always wanting to move on, always at the same time – so travel tends to make me profoundly uncomfortable, but it also speaks to some sort of deep-seated need within me, a craving that seems to just get bigger the more I feed it.

Canning applesauce at Amy's house

For my last few trips, I’ve found myself frantically packing in the entryway at midnight the night before I’m set to leave, so yesterday, I sat down to get my backpack ready and make a packing list, determined to be prepared this time, and to my surprise, I found that all of the hullabaloo didn’t seem necessary anymore. After all of this travel, how much do I really need to think about it? Toiletries, clothes, a book to read and a book to write in. My camera and some knitting to occupy my hands. What else is there? I know now what’s essential to me and what’s just dead weight – no lists required. Ten minutes of packing later, and I’m ready to go.

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As usual these days, the week before I head out of town is packed with projects and people to see before I go. We drove out to Leesburg this weekend to attend the Ladies Board rummage sale for the first time, in search of treasure – aka cheap sugar bowls for my new shaped sugars from Provisions – and had an absolute blast. We went on Sunday, when the staff were starting to really mark things down for the second day of the sale, and got some incredible bargains. My favorites, though, were a little green sugar bowl for a dollar, and some amazing vintage hankies to use as foundation pieces for embroidery.

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And today I got to host my wonderful friend Amylynn for a drink and a chat at my place; she kindly offered to drop off the cured soap and sealed jars so that I wouldn’t have to take them with me on the Metro ride home from her house. Oh, boy, that house. I want to sneak in and live in the basement. Her kitchen has vintage metal cabinetry in a lovely subdued robin’s egg color, and there’s light everywhere you turn. Quilts handed down through the family, well-loved and in use all over the house? Yes please. And we haven’t even talked about the studio space in the basement, or the late 1800s canning jar on the kitchen windowsill, or the collection of kitchen dishtowels… or the light. Most of the photos in this post were shot at her place while we worked on our applesauce.

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I thought it might be fun to share a little tutorial for the soap we made – a goat’s milk soap with a few drops of lavender and rosemary oil and some dried lavender buds on top. The recipe is adapted from a how-to on Martha Stewart Living. Note that the percentage of goat’s milk, which was what the original recipe emphasized, has been changed drastically. If you refer to the Martha Stewart site, you’ll definitely be preparing a different batch from what Amy and I put together.

Scented Herbal Goat’s Milk Soap

Supplies you’ll need; note that if the supplies come into contact with the soap mixture, you shouldn’t use them for cooking afterwards, so you will need separate utensils from those you use in your everyday kitchen.
– Candy thermometer or laser thermometer
– Immersion blender
– Spatula
– Large heatproof bowl (a Pyrex works really well and bonus, has a pour spout; you really want a bowl with a pour spout so that it’s easy to transfer your mixture to your mold)
– A mold to pour your soap into (this can be as unsophisticated as a cardboard box lined with freezer paper or parchment paper, but can also be fancy soap molds if you like)
– Cookie racks
– Digital scale
– Plastic wrap

Ingredients you’ll need for the batch:
– 7.43 ounces goat’s milk, partially frozen
– 2.82 ounces lye
– 4.25 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
– 5 ounces coconut oil
– 12 ounces vegetable or soy shortening
– Essential oils (one or more; optional)
– Dried herbs (optional)

Before we begin, an important safety message! Any time you’re working with lye, it’s important to take safety precautions. Make sure you wear a respirator mask, safety googles and rubber gloves at all times and be very cautious as you work. Also, while we’re getting started, note that all temperatures here are listed in Farenheit. Now, onto the fun stuff!

Begin by putting the partially frozen goat’s milk into the bowl and slowly add the lye. Stir with your spatula until you’ve got a nice, smooth, lump-free mixture. Be very careful to go slowly; you don’t want to splash yourself. The contents of the bowl will get very hot, between 95-100 degrees. Set the bowl aside to cool down.

While your lye and milk mixture is cooling, melt your olive oil, coconut oil and shortening together and heat them to 90 degrees. This can be done in a pot you’ll continue to use for cooking as all these ingredients are food safe.

Once the goat’s milk and lye have cooled to about 90 degrees, add the oils to the lye mixture. Blend them with the immersion blender to combine. Note that if you’ve never used an immersion blender before, you may want to familiarize yourself with it before you use it for soapmaking. It does have a tendency to splash when used improperly – not something you want with lye! Be sure you understand how it works before you start blending your lye with it.

You’ll want to blend the oils into the lye and milk until you begin to see something soapmakers refer to as “tracing” – basically, the mixture becomes thicker and, if you turn the blender off and lift it out of the mixture, its drips will leave behind a noticeable trail in the bowl. Amy told me it would look a lot like a pancake batter, which indeed it did.

At trace, set the immersion blender aside and stir the mixture just a little bit with a spatula to eliminate any air bubbles. At this point, you can also blend in any essential oils you might like to use. In this batch we used about 25 drops of lavender and rosemary essential oil, but Amy recommends a full teaspoon’s worth of your essential oils for a stronger smell in the finished bars; ours came out a bit subtle. You can also blend in dried herbs at this stage – the amount you add is up to you.

If you’d like to top your soap with dried herbs (we used lavender, both on top of and mixed into the bars), sprinkle the herbs into the mold.

Pour the soap mixture into your mold or molds. Tap the bottom of the mold firmly but gently against the counter to even out the mixture’s distribution in the mold and place a piece of plastic wrap against the top of your soap. Leave your soap to set for 24 hours with the plastic wrap on; remove it and let the soap set an additional 24 hours with it off.

After 48 hours, you can remove the soap from the mold and, if needed, slice the large brick of soap into smaller bars. Set the soaps on the cookie rack to cure. They’ll need to cure for 3-4 weeks until they’ve hardened. While they’re curing, be sure to flip the bars every couple of days to ensure that both sides of the bars are getting the proper ventilation.

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On the Road: Knack

Knack storefront, Easthampton, Massachusetts

Knack storefront, Easthampton, Massachusetts

I mentioned a couple of weeks back that I would be writing a separate post on Knack, the amazing creative re-use center I visited recently while I was up in Massachusetts. I confess, it’s mostly because I wanted to share a ton of photos of the shop, but this first post also inaugurates a new feature on the blog: creative or culinary spaces in other cities that are worth visiting while on the road. In other words, commerce-tourism. I’m definitely trying not to buy more than I need these days; on the other hand, one of my favorite parts of getting out of DC is temporarily gaining access to creative supplies I can’t get (or can’t get cheaply) at home.

Inside Knack

Inside Knack

Knack is a great first space to write about; to put it simply, the shop is just fantastic. I had never heard of creative re-use centers before stopping by Knack, and if I had, I’m not totally sure I’d have been into the idea. I confess I’m not much of a thrift-shop girl. As much as I love the idea of thrifting and rehoming materials that would otherwise go to waste, I’ve had some bad experiences (including rotting wool) that have scared me off the notion of getting my supplies secondhand. Knack has completely turned that around for me; the shop was so clean and well-organized, and its stock so esoteric and well-priced, that I couldn’t help but fall instantly in love.

Yarn, lounge and miscellany at Knack

Yarn, lounge and miscellany at Knack

Polly, Jill and I more or less scattered throughout the store as we discovered stashes of supplies to dig through. I was blown away by the stock of beads and bead storage – they had received a large donation of high-quality beads sometime before our visit and were selling them for a great bulk price – $4 for a small scoop’s worth of beads and $6 for a large scoop. Turns out you can get a lot of the small beads I use for talisman necklaces into one of those scoops. Seriously, utter heaven.

Bead table at Knack; the bins continue under the table and onto a second table too

Bead table at Knack; the bins continue under the table and onto a second table as well

I was also really into the scrap leather bin; I bought several pieces for 25 cents each, which I’m using for the neck clasps on my talismans. Ordering leather strips new wouldn’t have been expensive, per se, but I was still pretty psyched to be paying 25 cents per piece in person versus the $6ish plus shipping I was seeing for strips of leather through Etsy.

Silverware with the business ends cut off

Silverware with the business ends cut off

Knack also had a fun bin of wool fabric scraps, perfect for making needle books; I’m working on an original needlebook tutorial and round-up for y’all and hope to have it ready in a few weeks, so watch this space for more details! I’ve since visited a couple of other creative re-use centers; while not as spectacular as Knack, leather and wool scraps do seem to show up pretty regularly, so it’s worth checking out whether you have a center locally if you’re in the market for either.

Pre-made goods and supplies near the register at Knack

Pre-made goods and supplies near the register at Knack

In addition to standard supplies like fabric, buttons, beads, thread and yarn, Knack also sells handmade goods by local artists and more outside-the-box supplies, like wine corks and Scrabble tiles, also pretty common finds at creative re-use centers generally. I loved the burgundy Scrabble tiles at Knack; Jill and I both bought some to take home to our families, though I went boring and traditional with my message. Nobody hurl, but even after eight years together I still love saying I love you to my husband. Never gets old. Especially in Scrabble tiles.

Scrabble ILYs

Scrabble ILYs

Some final notes:
-Because living in cities makes me paranoid about parking, I’ll take some time to let y’all know that Knack has a great location, in a fascinating building with ample parking available.
-There are creative re-use centers throughout the US, so if you’re not in Massachusetts, by all means, check out what’s locally available to you. I found one local to me via a quick google search.


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Taproot at Squam: The Heart of the Thing

Squam Lake in the morning, from the Eldorado dock

Squam Lake in the morning, from the Eldorado dock

So. Two posts about the fall Taproot Gathering. That’s enough, right?

Not nearly – at least, not for me. I’ve been searching for a way to express how far I’ve come in the past year – a year’s space that’s bookended in my mind by my first Squam and this most recent one. I remember crying on Camille’s shoulder in the fall of 2012 that, in all my rush to feel safe in adulthood, I had forgotten how to be human, how to really be alive. I remember so clearly feeling incapable of speaking openly with other women that first year, like a baby learning how to walk and falling down again and again.

Me, left, with Dixie at the Taproot Gathering; photo by Dixie's roommate Katie Snyder

Me, left, with the amazing Dixie at the Taproot Gathering

And now only twelve months have gone by, and in the weeks leading up to the Taproot Gathering, there I was, sewing handbound books and crocheting bracelets and making earl grey marshmallows to give away. I felt full to the brim and so powerful, standing in my new ability to provide for other people in a way that had nothing to do with the paychecks I earn. And I saw my old full-time job in a new, more forgiving light, too, as I prepared to travel. When I look at what I did in the near decade I spent in IT, I feel a lot of pride at all the love I gave away – that I was able to not just resolve my clients’ problems with their computers and servers, but comfort them about problems they experienced in their careers and in their home lives. To me, it was always about much more than just technology, and I think that was why the last year I spent in management broke my heart. You have to cultivate a certain level of detachment once you rise up the ranks; that’s not me now, and I don’t know that I would ever want it to be. I want to be fully connected to other people, even when it hurts me, even when it takes from me, even when there’s a price to pay for it. But it was such a gift, as I geared up for the retreat, to have that giving space freed up within myself – to choose to bring love to my cabinmates and to the women I drove out from the airport, not because they were asking and I felt called to respond, but because I freely chose to give some of my energy to them. To be well enough to simply be of use to others is a beautiful thing, the greatest and most profound experience, and something I haven’t had access to in a very long time.

Handbound book, bracelet and packaging - made one of these for each of my Squam passengers this fall

Handbound book, bracelet and packaging – made one of these for each of my Squam passengers this fall

And what lovely women I met – though it’s hardly surprising to meet wonderful folks at a Squam retreat, I felt like my own openness and availability this time allowed me to connect more deeply and more easily than in previous sessions. Beautiful Dixie and Erica, who I drove out from the airport. I’ve loved being able to drive new attendees into Squam these last two sessions; I think of it as doing my part to bring new women into the fold, and each time as we leave I remember how utterly freaked I was my first year, with my delayed flight and way-more-expensive-than-planned shuttle, and I try to do what I can to make the transition into retreat more gentle for them. These two were so brave and open in sharing their lives with me and I really treasure the time I got to spend with each of them.

Erica on the dock - I hope someone snaps a photo of me like this sometime. It's so very Squam.

Erica on the dock; photo by Dixie’s roommate Katie Snyder

And then there were the amazing women in my cabin, from those who expressed such beautiful gratitude for the things I did to those who did for me. My roommate Cori and cabinmate Jenn, who kindly taught me everything they had learned in their crochet class and even supplied me with the tools and yarn I needed? Such wonderfulness. Every time I wear my shawl I’ll think of their kindness in passing their knowledge along. As much as I love classroom instruction, I think I love the informal cross-pollination of knowledge that happens when we gather together even more, and this session was such a shining example of that.

Eldorado cabin, seen from the lake

Eldorado cabin, seen from the lake

If I had to pick my favorite moment, though, it would be a moment on the dock. On Saturday Julia Shipley conducted a very short and casual lesson in our cabin; the instructions were to find an isolated place outside and really take in what our senses had to tell us about where we were – sights, sounds, smells – and record it via sketches and words. I lay on our dock on my stomach and listened and drew what I heard and saw. Deeply immersed, at first I didn’t notice the voices calling out to me as groups of women walked past my dock – and then I heard Erica from two docks over, calling my name and waving at me and smiling. I recorded these sounds too, waving at each group in turn and explaining that I was in the middle of a writing exercise and would catch up later.

I was cleaning out my bags today from my latest trip and found the paper from that day. Covered in hearts calling my name.

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Mixtapes and Talismans

Did I ever tell y’all I was a college radio DJ? Probably – I tend to bring it up a lot – definitely one of my favorite parts of my college experience. Right after I got back from Squam this fall, I found out about 8tracks. Awesome for those of us who love the mix tape genre, it lets you upload songs, create album covers and publish mixes to the web. I decided to test out the site by making a re-entry mix for this season’s Squam returnees and am so happy to share it with those of you who are reading the blog. Just click the image below to load the playlist.

playlistcover

Those of us who go to Squam refer to the process of readjusting to everyday life as “re-entry”, and I’ve found it such an apt term that I apply it to every travel experience now. I’ve had a bit of a rough re-entry this past week as I get used to being home from Snow Farm, which has taken me a bit by surprise. I wasn’t expecting to feel this challenged; for me, Snow Farm was pretty business-like. No messy personal epiphanies, just a good time art-making. But it’s been tough not having criteria in place that push me to work nonstop. I’m finding that I’m best suited to an aggressive schedule, producing a lot of work very quickly. Unfortunately it’s also physically taxing to work like that, so now my challenge is to find a happy medium, and it’s a tough thing to do.

The perks of being home again - my happy sunshine sheets and the beautiful window light

The perks of being home again – my happy sunshine sheets and the beautiful window light

Today I got some great catharsis by finishing a project I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks – though perhaps “mulling over it” is more accurate? I’m a Creativebug subscriber and have been enjoying Alix Bluh’s tutorials on the site lately. She has really interesting ideas, but is also able to simplify things so that the projects are easy to understand and quick to execute. I took my time working on this necklace and really enjoyed dwelling on it for a while, but it does feel great to have it finished.

Necklace in progress (with cider and homemade granola in the background)

Necklace in progress (with cider and homemade granola in the background)

The pearls came from one of my college jobs as a jeweler’s assistant, and my husband bought me one of the charms while we were at Cardiff Castle in Wales. The leather came from Knack in Easthampton, where they sell scraps of leather for 25 cents a piece. It’s really neat to look at this necklace and see how the pieces all came together to form the whole; Alix calls these talisman necklaces, and it’s definitely that sort of piece for me.

Up close with my Talisman necklace

Up close with my Talisman necklace

Some notes:
– The class that outlines how to make this necklace is here, if you’d like a little guidance to make your own. I really love Creativebug and recommend it as a self-care treat; their prices are low, especially for the subscriber packages that let you watch unlimited videos.
– One tip for any of you who do the leather closure and use multiple strands like I did; be careful when you string your strands through the leather. A couple of my strands don’t lie in the same order on both sides. It’s hardly an earth shattering problem, but I like things orderly so it sort of bothers me. Check how your necklace hangs before you glue your knots and make sure all the strands are hanging the same on both sides.


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Taproot at Squam: Taking back healing

Squam Lake sunset

Squam Lake sunset

I’ve been back from the Taproot Gathering for almost a month now – it’s crazy to me how much time has gone by. While I was able to start canning pretty quickly after I got home, the random combination of procuring supplies for herbal medicine making plus my trip up to Snow Farm have led to a slower rollout of what I learned about in my other class: herbal apothecary.

Herbal apothecary class space in Longhouse

Herbal apothecary class space in Longhouse

Originally, I signed up for the class because of my interest in using flower spritzes and essences for emotional health. I was introduced to the concept when I attended Squam for the first time in fall 2012; I was enrolled in a photography class and our teacher, Thea, shared a brand of spritzes by Lotus Wei with us. I found them really effective at calming my nerves and became interested in the idea of customized formulations that I could develop for myself. When I saw Holly Bellebuono’s class on the schedule, I thought it would be the perfect way to dive into custom blends.

Classroom space in Longhouse

Classroom space in Longhouse

Holly began class by showing us different formulations she had made, including in-progress infusions, herbal honeys, cordials, tinctures and oils. I loved this part of class; it really opened my eyes to the scope of what we could do with herbal medicine. Next she showed us how to use a distiller to make hydrosols, herbal water with a tiny amount of essential oils, after which we moved on to blending our own spritzes. Mine was designed to help with all the residual stress in my system from my old job and includes clove essential oil, basil essential oil, rose hydrosol and hyssop hydrosol made in class with Holly’s distiller. Holly also blended a custom essential oil for the class before we took our lunch break.

Distiller set up and ready for action

Distiller set up and ready for action

In the afternoon, we tasted several herbal tea blends Holly had made and then began work blending our own. We each made two blends. My two were a tulsi and rose blend (half and half of each) and a nettle, spearmint and lemon balm blend (50% lemon balm, 25% nettle and 25% spearmint). I was very focused on gladdening herbs and herbs to reduce anxiety in class as I blended, but would love to experiment further with more medicinal teas to treat cold and flu this season. I’m a big believer in echinacea for drying up fluids when I’m sick, so this felt like a natural extension of that. At the end of class, before going our separate ways for dinner, we also created flower essences, which was a really emotional experience for me and a powerful way to end the class.

Raw ingredients for blending teas

Raw ingredients for blending teas

I ended the day with a copy of Holly’s Essential Herbal in hand, really amped up to put what I had learned into practice. At one point in class, Holly said something to us about how women had traditionally been the keepers of herbal medicinal knowledge, and that reviving that knowledge would empower us as we treated chronic or routine ailments within our own families. That really resonated with me and got me thinking of areas where I thought our household was overly reliant on OTC pharmacy solutions.

One area that jumped right out at me was my over-dependence on ibuprofen for pain management. In class we tried out a massage oil intended to relieve inflammation, and it was really effective at reducing the tension in my shoulders, so I decided to look for a similar formula in Holly’s book to use at home, and I found two likely candidates. The first was an herbal infusion of arnica flowers that will eventually become a salve. The first step in producing the salve is to infuse the arnica in oil for two to four weeks. Since I had it to hand for a different remedy I used almond oil, but for a salve, I could also have used coconut oil, which probably would have been cheaper to buy locally. I do like the almond oil, though, and Bulk Apothecary has an excellent price on it. My oil is a little over a week into its infusion, and I plan to give it a full month to increase its potency, so in a few more weeks I should be able to make the infusion into a salve.

Dried arnica root infusing in almond oil

Dried arnica root infusing in almond oil

I’m expecting the salve to be the more potent remedy of the two I’m experimenting with, but since I was headed up to Snow Farm, I also wanted to make something I could put together quickly to use in place of ibuprofen while I was travelling. I opted to mix up a batch of the Deep Forest massage oil from Holly’s Essential Herbal; the recipe calls for ginger essential oil, which is said to aid in relieving inflammation and help improve circulation. Holly also says this oil aids in relaxation, which sounded like a great plus to me. I did find it effective, but the best part for me was seeing my mother use it. She had a pinched muscle in her shoulder the day I mixed the batch and also has chronic arthritis in her hands for which she gets regular cortisone shots. She was really into the idea of trying the blend and found it so effective that she ended up taking home half the batch. It was gratifying beyond words to see something that my hands made relieve a little of her pain.

Essential oils

Essential oils for formulating the Deep Forest massage oil

While using the oil at Snow Farm, I found that it definitely had its limits – not surprising, considering the hours I put in on my embroidery while I was there – but it did help a lot. It’s really key to use a lot of oil, more than you might think you need. I generally needed at least a quarter-size dollop applied twice (applying it all at once was too greasy for me; putting it on in two batches allowed the first batch to absorb before I added more). After I use this batch, I’m considering altering the recipe some to produce a more ginger-heavy batch, or perhaps infusing some ginger in the oil first before adding the essential oils. I would love to try first infusing the oil with some fresh ginger from our favorite market in D.C.; one of the vendors had some gorgeous plants last week and I’ll be looking for them again this week.

Herbal honey and tulsi rose tea

Herbal honey and tulsi rose tea

I also tried one more project, this time more for emotional health than physical – herbal honey. My parents have a big plot of land and are both avid gardeners, so when I need fresh herbs or flowers, they’re usually my first stop. For the honey, I used fragrant blooms from my mother’s rose garden. I wanted to use rose for its ability to soothe anxiety and thought the flavor would be great for tea. Since it’s late in the season we only got one bloom at a time, but saving them for a few days until we could harvest more was easy. To do it, wash the petals, cut out any bitter white spots, and layer them between the folds of some damp paper towels. Slide the paper towels into a ziplock and refrigerate the bag, and the petals will last for about a week. In this way, we were able to harvest three roses’ worth of petals for this batch of honey. Since I was about to leave for Snow Farm, I put the rose petals in a small 4 ounce jar, covered them with local honey from the Farm at Sunnyside, and let it sit for a week. Ordinarily a day or two would be fine to get the infusion, but since the bitter parts of the petals were cut out, leaving it for a week worked out well. To strain it, warm the honey until it’s lighter and runny, then cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth and pour the honey into a new jar. If it’s not straining through the cheesecloth, that means the honey isn’t warm enough; I was feeling timid about heating my jar and had to heat it three times before I finally got it warm enough for it to strain. Being careful is fine – you want to heat the jar safely so you don’t crack the glass. I got an extremely fragrant honey, rich with rose scent and flavor. I’ll be rationing it through the winter and making quite a bit more next season.

Herbal honey

Herbal honey

Final note: herbal remedies are not recognized by the FDA as medicines and can’t be guaranteed to treat any particular illness or injury. The information provided here is intended to be an anecdotal account of my foray until holistic medicine and shouldn’t be substituted for consultation with a physician or other licensed medical professional.


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Snow Farm

One of the studios at Snow Farm

One of the studios at Snow Farm

I’m just back from Snow Farm, and I’ve got so much to share about my week in western Massachusetts.

I took the train up from DC and really enjoyed the journey; I thought it would be tedious to be on a train for almost eight hours, but I was pretty exhausted and enjoyed having the time to just veg out before arriving at Snow Farm for the week.

NYC as viewed from the Vermonter

NYC as viewed from the Vermonter

I headed north last week for a class with Rebecca Ringquist, whose work I’ve admired for about a year now. This was my first serious art retreat and I was blown away by how different it was from my retreat experiences at Squam. Having an entire week to focus on one thing was a gift; it really allowed me to dive deep into the medium and connect with it in a way that’s hard to pull off in a one-day class.

Across the fields at Snow Farm

Across the fields at Snow Farm

I actually didn’t know I could become immersed in sewing or painting this way; prior to this workshop I’d only felt that kind of immersion in my writing. Surprisingly, I was rocking out pretty hard with my embroidered pieces by mid-week. There we were at midnight on Wednesday – the new Frightened Rabbit album, some mild headbanging and my hoop and needles. It was epic. Great, powerful creative energy; I felt wild with it for a while.

Midnight stitching

Midnight stitching

I wish every artist I took classes from was as professional a teacher as Rebecca; she’s got a superb ability to lay out a class and keep it on track. I was shocked at the amount of ground we were able to cover each day. It’s tough to think of a way to describe the coursework she took us through, but in a nutshell, we translated drawing exercises into embroidery exercises, and in the process learned to think of the needle and thread as a pencil or pen. It’s a tough alchemy to describe, but when I did embroidered work previously, I was very pattern and stitch focused. In this course I felt I was able to be much more expressive, and although I have a powerful mental block where drawing is concerned, the drawing exercises really helped me push through it and find lines in my work that I liked. I’d like to carry that momentum forward with an Art League class this winter; for a while I’ve been feeling that my inability to sketch out my ideas is holding back my creative development, and I think a drawing class will help with that.

sf7

Snow Farm itself is a beautiful campus. The studio space allotted to our class was expansive, with a room for hand sewing and a room for machine sewing. Our studio was in the oldest building on the property, a 1757 farmhouse, and I loved working in a space with such a sense of history behind it. We often worked in the studios together after class ended; my classmate Jill put on some sweet music each night, and we listened to it and sewed and talked together late into the evening, all of us tired but too into what we were doing to stop working. It actually kind of reminded me of college in a lot of ways. For example, this moment:

tellmewhoyouare

That’s me about a decade ago, pulling an all-nighter to assemble a completely extracurricular room-size series of wall hangings for an unauthorized library installation that seriously pissed off almost the entire faculty body of my department. I hung it up in our primary study space and the students were too busy trying to figure it out to focus on their declensions, so it didn’t stay hung up long. While it did, though, it looked pretty badass. So, it was like that. A whole lot of effort, push it to the limit effort, full-immersion effort, just to suit myself. My favorite, and a way of working that I haven’t had the energy for in a really long time, so it felt great to come home to it again. And in a seriously wicked studio space, with tons of room to fling supplies everywhere.

Machine sewing workspace at Snow Farm

Machine sewing workspace at Snow Farm

I worked on three pieces while I was there; the first two were blind contour drawing exercises, one done directly on fabric the way those exercises are usually done and then sewn over, and one more of a loose interpretation where we embroidered following the contour of an object.

My embroidered contour line drawing and the leaf that inspired it

My embroidered contour line drawing and the leaf that inspired it

The third was meant to just be an exercise in loosening up and playing around with my sewing machine, but once we got to alphabets on Thursday, I found that I’d created the perfect background for some text play, so I added some words to it – please and thank you, which in my head were a play on gratitude, asking and taking in romantic relationships – probably not something that translates well on the piece, though I do think some mild anger comes across in the red lettering of the thank you. I’m adding an acorn to it, which is totally not related to my original concept at all; I just like acorns. (Snort, giggle, etc. I love “I just like acorns” as an artist statement for this piece.) Jill actually drew the acorn arrangement for me, and then I changed some of the acorns around, so I like the idea of adding an image that was a collaborative activity with a classmate.

My please & thank you piece on the clothesline outside our studio

My please & thank you piece on the clothesline outside our studio

This was the piece I got the most response to, which is interesting to me but not totally surprising. The larger pieces are a lot more in-progress just due to their scale, so though I have a whole map in my head for where I’m going with them, they don’t necessarily look exciting to others when they’re not finished. And the little one’s colors and letter shapes interact well – plus, “please and thank you”? Extremely open to interpretation. I like how it could mean lots of different things to different people. Messages that can grow beyond their original intent are one of my favorite things in all kinds of artworks.

Ivy-covered building in Shelburne Falls

Ivy-covered building in Shelburne Falls

We had Wednesday afternoon off, and while most of us stayed in the studio to work, Jill and I decided to take a trip over to Shelburne Falls to see the glacial potholes and flower bridge. We left after lunch and took a detour by an antique stove repair shop – amazing stoves, we were fascinated. Jill scored an amazing price on possibly the largest inkle loom I’ve ever seen; the shopowner told us it came from a local business that had closed thirty years ago, and when it closed, all the inventory was locked up inside for decades until the building got reclaimed. Thus the loom was still in its original box, with its original starter yarn, all of it in shockingly perfect shape. I’m glad she got there before me because I have no idea how I’d have gotten it onto the train home. From there, snacking on some salt and vinegar chips donated by a friend of Jill’s, we went on to Shelburne Falls.

Glacial potholes at Shelburne Falls

Glacial potholes at Shelburne Falls

Once there we found one of the best used bookstores I’ve ever been in, and our plans to explore the town at a nice slow pace fell by the wayside. Instead we spent two delicious hours poring over the shop’s various elderly field guide manuals, looking for volumes with good drawings of plants to use in embroidery tracings. I found a great book on weeds in winter and some eccentric books for my growing mythology collection, including a collection of creepy and slightly theologically confused gypsy folktales. The woman working the counter couldn’t have been nicer – I wish I lived in the area, I would go to this shop all the time. After the shop, we walked over the flower bridge and saw the boulders, with a brief detour by Molly Cantor pottery; adorable pieces and an interesting technique. It was a lovely afternoon and a great break from working non-stop.

Flower Bridge in Shelburne Falls

Flower Bridge in Shelburne Falls

Snow Farm does host evening activities, but I found it pretty much impossible to tear myself away from my work long enough to participate in them. I was also having a weirdly antisocial week – I had a big work contract prior to Snow Farm, and after I close a project I’m always a little bit squirrely for a while afterwards while I relearn how to talk to people who aren’t clients or other engineers. So it was nice to be able to immerse myself in my artwork and not feel the pressure to make it to the evening programs.

At Snow Farm

At Snow Farm

On the last day I did go with Jill and Polly to a creative re-use store in Easthampton that was so photogenically awesome I’m planning a separate post on it, just so I can share more photos with y’all. And on the last night several of us got together to have a bonfire; one of the guys in the woodworking class got it started, and then we roasted apples and told jokes around the fire to close out the week. The warmth of the fire against the cold night air was biting and fabulous and the roasted apple smell? Incredible. I’ve always been kind of scared of fire; as a kid I had a preoccupation that our house would burn down and take all my books with it (what can I say, I was into archival preservation even as a kid), but as an adult, I’ve come to appreciate how much fun it can be to light stuff on fire… in a very controlled manner. It was a great way to end the week.

Diana, Me, Steph, Jill, Rebecca, Loretta and Polly at the gala on Friday night

Diana, Me, Steph, Jill, Rebecca, Loretta and Polly at the gala on Friday night

Some notes on the Snow Farm experience:
When I was planning my trip, there wasn’t much out there on what the experience would be like. If you’ve come across this post searching for information about Snow Farm, I have some tips for you.
– There’s a section in the planning documents they send that recommends bringing your own pillow, bathrobe and slippers. This sounds way high maintenance, but it is not. Bringing a real pillow is actually important. I never thought I’d ever meet a pillow so flat that I’d wish I had travelled with my own, but the Snow Farm pillow was like sleeping on a hand towel. You’re going to want a genuine-article pillow from your own personal home. The bathrooms are communal and the walkways are open air; you can walk there from your room barefoot, but you might wish you had slippers. The bathrobe is just for cosiness. If I had to pick one of the three, were I to go back again? The pillow, hands down.
– It’s worth springing for a single room if you’re on the fence about it. Our session was very small so many of us had singles; I can’t imagine staying in one of those rooms with a stranger. They’re pretty spartan – very little furniture, very small space. The rooms do have space heaters, while we’re dancing around the subject of what the rooms are like.
– I took Amtrak and Valley Transporter to Snow Farm and it worked out great. The Valley Transporter drivers are extremely prompt, friendly and professional. That said, I think I’d take a rental car so I could get off campus at will if I came back and the money was there in the budget for a rental car. The campus itself is pretty small and the surrounding areas are interesting, especially for a city girl like me who doesn’t see much small town life these days. I would have regretted it if I hadn’t been able to leave campus to explore all week.


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Around here: Crafty Bastards and Kinfolk canning

I’m just back from Snow Farm and I have so much to share, but I haven’t gone into the Kinfolk canning event my husband and I attended the day before I left yet, or talked about the amazing Crafty Bastards art fair we attended. So, soon, a post about Snow Farm, but first, some more local D.C. area loveliness.

Mitts from Sardine Clothing, board from Blue Ridge Cutting Boards

Mitts from Sardine Clothing, board from Blue Ridge Cutting Boards

I had no idea how amazing Crafty Bastards was. I’d heard a lot of buzz about it from friends who participate, but was totally unprepared for the extremely high quality of the goods being sold. I’m used to art fairs with more of a blend of good, bad and ugly – at Crafty Bastards, even the stuff you aren’t personally into still seems objectively great. We had a blast and will block off both days to go next year. Among our favorite finds: a gorgeous cutting board from Blue Ridge Cutting Board Co., recycled cashmere mitts for me from Sardine Clothing, and a map of D.C. with a sea monster in it from Alternate Histories for him. Had a lovely chat with the woman who ran the Sardine Clothing booth and she told me that they make larger size skirts for those of us with a little more junk in the trunk; I think I see a custom order for one in my future.

Kinfolk event dinner table

Kinfolk event dinner table

Immediately after Crafty Bastards we headed out to Leesburg for a Kinfolk Magazine canning event, hosted by Rebecca Gallop from A Daily Something. I loved her aesthetic and knew she would throw a gorgeous event, and I was totally right. I didn’t take the DSLR and wished I had; there were so many great photographic subjects to be had and I felt handicapped with just my cell phone camera. The event was held at Faith Like a Mustard Seed farm, a lovely place with a great kitchen and tons of room for everyone to work. We made pickled red onions, dilly beans and apple maple butter – a task made easier thanks to the presence of lots of helping hands.

Cafe aprons from Shop Fog Linen and little spoons from Olmay Home

Cafe aprons from Shop Fog Linen and little spoons from Olmay Home

Rebecca had lined up some truly wonderful sponsors for the event, so we got some great goodies to take home. My favorite contribution was a set of matching cafe aprons (one for me and one for him, and we just happened to get two that matched – so us!) courtesy of Shop Fog Linen, whose products I love; so excited to finally own one of their lovely products. West Elm also sent us home with some nice big Weck jars, which we’re going to try canning in once we have a few more rounds of canning under our belt. Kinfolk sent us a lovely canning print, and Olmay Home sent us some adorable little wooden spoons – not sure if they truly are jam spoons, but that’s what I’m christening mine. We had a lovely casual dinner outside, with lots of canned products to enjoy, and spent the rest of the evening in the kitchen eating cakes made with canned preserves while we worked. Lehman’s sent our canning jars and I discovered a new favorite jar style – this one, in the half-pint size – that I’ll be ordering soon for pickling. Love the small size and wide mouth on this one.

Pickled red onions in my new favorite Kerr jars

Pickled red onions in my new favorite Kerr jars

I think my favorite part of the event was how inspirational the recipes and the setting were. I’m still pretty new to water bath canning and loved seeing all the pickled produce; it gave me tons of ideas for things I could do at home. And it was a pleasure to eat, socialize and cook in a setting that had been so beautifully dressed by Rebecca and Holly Chapple Flowers, who did the arrangements for the event. Holly herself was such fun; I’m a pretty dedicated introvert and loved talking to someone so bright and bubbly who made conversation truly easy. I’ve got a black thumb and loved hearing her take on gardening over our dinner.

Lovely dinner table arrangement by Holly Chapple Flowers

Lovely dinner table arrangement by Holly Chapple Flowers

We had a beautiful drive home (okay, maybe a couple of near misses due to my exhaustion, but since they didn’t turn into car accidents, my nervous driver self is calling it a win). I’m really happy that I’ve learned that I am capable of driving into at least some of the NoVa suburbs; should expand our options when it comes to acquiring produce to can next season. It was a great way to spend the day before heading up to Massachusetts for Snow Farm.