Grackle & Sun

Song of Toads (aka Pool Party)

I love toads.

Absolutely love them. Mating season has been in full swing here at the farm, and I got a few close-ups with the local toad residents, most of which I think I’ve correctly identified as both Eastern American toads and Dwarf American toads.

Our conservation department has a great little pdf that describes many of the 26 species and subspecies of frogs and toads found here in Missouri.  For most of the toads, mating season is in March, April, and May. It is the male toads who sound the mating call, the unmistakable trill that announces both the arrival of spring and the season of love.  Here are the links to some short clips that I took of male toads calling (wordpress was uncooperative with imbedding):

#1

#2

The males tend to be smaller than the females, as you can see in these amphibious bow-chicka-wocka-bow pictures below:

Unlike frogs, whose eggs tend to form clumps or masses in the water, female toads release their eggs in long continuous strands. These strands can range anywhere up to 60 feet long! Here you can see the toads laying eggs in their natural habitat, a lake. They also like the still water of ponds, low ditches, and large puddles.

And now you can see the toads laying eggs in their preferred habitat, our swimming pool cover. It gets filled with rainwater and melted snow, and since there are no fish to eat the tadpoles, the toads congregate in this giant, safe “puddle” every spring. On this particular day, the toads were many. I stopped counting at 50. You can clearly see the long strands of eggs in this photo.

Approximately 1-3 weeks later, depending on the temperature, the eggs hatch into tadpoles. Many, many, many tadpoles. I’m pretty sure there are about 8 million of them in the swimming pool right now.

And even a few in the lake, lol.

Not all of them will live. In the lake, many will be eaten by fish, turtles, and other predators.  Much of the water on the swimming pool cover will evaporate in the warming sun before the tadpoles fully mature. In the past, I’ve collected all that I can reach and transported them down to the lake. Of those that do make it out of the water on four little legs, many will fall prey to snakes, turtles, and small mammals. But the quick, the cautious, and the lucky will survive to complete the cycle again next year.  And potentially, the next 40 years after that. Toads can live for a very long time.

There is a lot of lore surrounding the toad. In Europe, toads were believed to carry the spirits of witch’s familiars and to be symbols of the devil. In China, the three-legged toad, Jin Chan, was seen as a symbol of prosperity and was associated with the full moon.

This male toad doesn’t actually have three legs, he just had one tucked back underneath him. And since he doesn’t have any gold coins falling out of his mouth, we can safely assume he is not Jin Chan. Pity.

My favorite author of Ozark traditions and lore, Vance Randolph, wrote down a number of the superstitions surrounding toads that he collected from the locals in his book Ozark SuperstitionsHere are a few excerpts from that work:

“It must be admitted that some of the items in this collection are folktales rather than superstitions proper. That is, they are not really believed by intelligent adults, but are repeated to children just as parents elsewhere tell the story of Santa Claus or assure their offspring that rabbits lay parti-colored eggs on Easter Sunday. The old sayin’ that killing a toad will make the cows give bloody milk, for example, is probably just a way of teaching children to let toads alone; the farmer knows that toads destroy insects, and he likes to see them around his doorstep on summer evenings.”

“There is a very widely known superstition that to kill a toad will make one’s cows give bloody milk. Most people think that nothing can be done about this, once the toad is dead, but Otto Ernest Rayburn found hillfolk in Arkansas who claim to be able to repair the damage, particularly if the toad was killed accidentally. “Get seven pebbles,” says Rayburn, “and throw them over your left shoulder into an open well at sundown. The milk will be all right after that.”

Randolph recounts a few ways for getting rid of warts, one of which requires this gruesome deed:

“Or one may kill a toad, rub its intestines on the wart, then bury the entrails under a stone. All this must be kept secret, otherwise it won’t work. The boy who acquainted me with this method still had several large warts ; when I asked why the toad’s guts hadn’t cured them, he explained that he had told his mother what he was doing, in order to escape punishment for killing the toad. The mother was opposed to killing toads in the dooryard ; she said it was an unlucky and senseless practice and might make the cows give bloody milk.”

That treatment is only to be outdone by the cure for a goiter. The instructions said to bake a toad in the oven until “the oil ran out of it” and then to apply that oil to the goiter daily. Ew with a capital EW! I mean, not only to kill a toad like that, but then to ever use that oven again for anything ever. Just say no to baking toads, people.

On a happier note, it was auspicious if a newlywed couple saw a toad immediately after the ceremony. And I do like this little saying that someone mentioned their father always said,

'Safe as a toad in god's pocket.'


Toads are also seen as symbols of transformation and secrets. This I can understand. They really are quite remarkable.


Knit|tinK: Parkour Handwarmers

I actually have been knitting. ;)  I whipped up these handwarmers for my son over the winter holiday break. He asked for a pair of handwarmers and had a few specific requirements for them—that they be grey, and fit a certain length on the fingers. We have the same size hands right now (yeah, my hands are the size of a 14 year old boy’s) so it was easy to measure as I knit along. They were a fun, quick knit and fit really well. Full notes are on my Ravelry page. While I made up the formula for the mitts from my very own brainz, the thumb increase was a pretty close interpretation of the gusset in Kim Christensen’s Garden Mitts. I used a different weight of yarn, and my gauge (and therefore my math) was totally different, which required me to rework her instructions somewhat. I also completely changed how the thumb was set in, just ’cause I was playing around with ideas. However, the basic gusset method is hers, and I think it’s awesome. Very clever.

 

 

I tink therefore I am. ;)

 

Morning Meditation

I was feeding the horses one morning when I saw this stump in the ground.  I went kicking around the stump and found that someone had, at some point, tossed several big rocks around it—probably when it was still a tree leaning over the paddock fence. Now they were half buried in the dirt and covered by tall grass. I began to dig them out.

What is it that makes a person meddle with things? What is it that gives us the desire to put our hands on nature, rearranging, ordering, moving and creating? I’ve long been captivated by the simplicity of balancing rocks, warmed by the familiarity of the form and message of inuksuks, and indelibly inspired by the art of Andy Goldsworthy. I am fascinated by art made from the most natural of materials. And so I lifted each rock and began to balance them on one another on the surface of the wood.

I was clumsy at first. Impatient. I stacked, the rocks fell. But after a bit, my hands understood the weight and heft of them. They began to call out their placement. Unmistakably.

The rocks speak. That is what my gut tells me, how I understand my interaction with this form and matter. Matter and spirit.  My cynicism argues, is it really the rock communicating its balance point? Or is it my small mind powering down and allowing intuition to hum into action, to pay closer attention to physical details? Is it my brain finally shutting up that lets me listen, to concentrate on a deeper level? Or is this a rare moment of experiencing the connectedness of all existence? Yes. Yes to all those things. That is my answer.

As I stack the stones, I move beyond my animistic awareness to the complexity of what is actually happening in front of me, what I am participating in:  balance. I move carefully, minding my breath, my posture. I am balance to create balance to have balance returned to me. That is the gift of stacking the stones: the act of balancing the external form creates balance within.

This exercise was so satisfying as I worked at it, that I told myself I would do it everyday as I waited for the horses to finish eating. I would explore all the different ways those same rocks could be balanced. But then after the last rock was placed, I stood back and thought instead that maybe I would not do this every day. That I would only balance the rocks when they fell down. In part, this was out of curiosity to see just how stable my structure was. To see if the balance achieved was precarious or sound.

And in truth, I liked the stack and didn’t want to take it down. Now, a month and a half later, it is still standing. Through the snow, rain, thunder storms, strong wind, and with horses galloping by.  They remain balanced as though some force stronger than physics holds them in place. Not that I think that, physics is enough for me, I am just amazed that I got them to stand for any length of time. So now I contemplate taking the rocks down, or going out to the field one morning and finding them on the ground. The magic dissolved. The lesson transformed. Now instead of balance, I contemplate impermanence. :)

 

Easter Light & the Scent of Boxwoods

The light in Spring is different. Brighter, whiter. The kind of light that sparkles and snaps. Together with the kite-inviting winds, it is what brings the Spring, what wakes the world from the cold sleep of winter. As a child I disliked what I called “Easter light”, because it meant Easter was coming. And other truisms, as well. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Easter. Love for rabbits. Love for dyeing eggs. Love for baskets full of crinkly fake grass and sweet smelling sugar-coated marshmallow. Hate for scratchy, uncomfortable, hideously pastel Easter dresses, lacy Easter socks, and stiff, binding patent leather Easter shoes. And good lord, the flipping hats. How I hated Easter hats. Then there was the whole church thing, and that was the end of it for me. Easter was like a siren, promising sweetness, mystery, and fun, and then coming in for the kill with teeth and claws and dresses and resurrections. All of this together with those transitional Spring winds making me itchy and restless for change… well, I never liked Spring.

It’s interesting to examine these feelings as an adult, to pick them apart and reassemble them with more understanding. It is a type of rebirth. Fitting for the season. I am doing this now—examining my feelings for Spring outside the context of my childhood tribulations, lol. Examining these feelings in a place of autonomy  of thought, belief, and body. I am realizing that I like that sparkly hard white light and that restless snapping wind. I like watching the world wake up and realizing that it only ever sleeps with one eye closed.

The farm is greening hard this week. Blossoms and cotyledons abound. Here is to autonomy, rebirth, and the spirit of Spring!

Violets

This huge, old quince has been here for at least 30 years. It is home to all the rabbits.

Reminds me of Duncton Wood.

Grape hyacinths that I cannot bring my self to pick for dyeing.

Jonquils. Daffodils. Jonquidils.

Dandelions and violets and other assorted weeds growing happily in the crook of a tree root.

I think I could grow happily in the crook of a tree root, too.

Plum tree blossoms.

Redbuds.

A tiny mystery flower.  It is very wee.

One evening after a light rain, I was walking in the front yard and smelled the most gorgeous fragrance. It was sweet and fruity—kind of reminded me of grape Kool-Aid. I couldn’t figure out what it was. The next several days, I continued to smell this amazing sweet-fruity fragrance, but couldn’t find any flowers that it could belong to. Then I realized the source was hidden right in front of me—a hedge of boxwoods blooming with their little inconspicuous flowers. I’ve never thought of boxwoods as anything other than a nice evergreen bush. Now I have learned what their secret gift is. They smell absoluteley divine. I feel like I should have known this ages ago, but I won’t complain about learning it now.

i am thankful for the gifts of Spring.

Morning Meditation

We want togetherness. In all its forms. Love, friendship, company, companionship, brotherhood, sisterhood, camaraderie, rapport. We seek ways to be together because we need togetherness, whether we know it or not.

This week I am in the heart of missing. Missing my husband, missing my kids. Missing togetherness. It is strange to me, not usually in my repertoire of feelings. These last few months I’ve felt it non-stop, had a great deal of time to examine it. What is missing but a longing for togetherness?

I’ll see them tomorrow and try hard to fill myself up with their presence so that I can be sustained until next weekend.  It’s only for a short while longer, and then all will be put back to right. For now, this is a great lesson in cherishing togetherness whenever you can. We take it for granted when those we love, whose company we love, are around us frequently.

This is also a lesson in remembering that we are connected even when we’re not close. Proximity is just distance. Togetherness is measured in the heart.

Chicken Fever

So, um… this might have happened today:

Two new chicks. What can I say? I had to stop for more chick feed, and there they were. Calling to me. Peep, peep, peep. My mom wanted leghorns, but they didn’t have any. In fact, they were almost out of chicks entirely (but they had a ton of ducklings and goslings—don’t even get me started on ducklings and goslings—you cannot even begin to know the strength of my restraint from that absolute cuteness), but they did have some Delawares. And wouldn’t you know it, but Delawares are on my list of chickens that I’d like to raise (along with Australorps, Buckeyes, Dominiques, Javas, and Sussex). How perfect!

They are only about 2.5 weeks old, but the guy who heads up the poultry section assured me that there would be no problem introducing the new chicks with the older Buff Orpingtons, and indeed, they get along just fine.  These two are actually very self-assured, curious, and not intimidated by the bigger chicks at all (not that the other chicks are that much bigger). And they are so pretty.

But you know what I’ve learned about chicks? They are super messy. Like, messy on steroids. I cleaned out their brooder pen and put everything in fresh—new bedding, new water, new food, new dish of dirt, and then I put all the chicks in. 5 minutes later (and not a minute more), their pen looked like this. So imagine what it looks like now. For realz.

Yes, that is a Buff Orpington on top of the feed jar.

Speaking of cleaning and chickens. I spring cleaned the big chicken house yesterday and today:

All the old bedding (and chicken poo) went out into the compost pile (which is now mighty), everything was scrubbed down with vinegar/water with a little dash of lemon essential oil, and then aired out.  Two words to make your chicken house cleaning way better: hinged roost. Brilliant idea (thanks, dad!) Lift that baby up, lock it in place, and the worst part of the coop is completely accessible and clean in no time. Today, I sprinkled diatomaceous earth on the floor and in the nesting boxes, spread fresh new bedding, and added some lovely rosemary and lavendar to the nesting boxes.  Because apparently chickens love herbs. And that makes me love them even more.

I think the chickens approve of their clean house.

Actually, it was like an episode of Clean House, lol. I locked the chickens out in their yard while I worked, and so the whole deal was a surprise for them. It was fun watching them during the ‘great reveal’. They were all about exploring their new digs.

This was a big job. I don’t know that I would have been so excited about it, except that by chance I found a website 3 days ago that totally fired me up, and I feel the need to tell the whole world about my favoritest new chicken blog ever in the history of the history: Fresh Eggs Daily. Lisa has created such a lovely and wonderful site that teaches how to raise chickens and ducks naturally. I love, love, love this line-up of posts on what she calls ‘The Basics‘, which was the fuel and inspiration behind my chicken house clean-up supplies—the DE, and the herbs, as well as the minced garlic, dirt for grit, probiotics, and raw apple cider vinegar in the water. So much good information. I’m implementing all the things and already see happier chicks and chickens. In addition to the chicken and duck guides, Lisa writes about other favoritest topics: gardening and herbalism. I’m looking forward to reading her new book, Fresh Eggs Daily.

Chickens FTW!

 

 

Peeps and Peepers

The chicks are growing fast and feathering out more and more each day.  They are approximately 3 1/2-4 weeks old now and have a scruffly, rumpled appearance that is pretty darn cute.  It’s been a long, long, long time since I helped raise chicks, so I’m not sure if chicken temperaments differ greatly among breeds at this age or not.  These little Buff Orpingtons are chatty, curious, brave, funny, and friendly.

I love them.

This week in chick raising required some housing changes. We had a waterer malfunction, which soaked their big cardboard box.  So, both a different waterer and a different house were needed.  Also, these chickies are turning out to be surprisingly adept at catching a few feet of air when they want to—which is anytime they’re not sleeping or eating. I guess it’s not unlike a baby reaching its milestones—crawling, sitting up, walking—at some point, chicks want to fly and they want to perch. I discovered that they had acquired this new skill when I walked into the front porch and found one perched on the top edge of the box, which at 18 inches tall, I thought was high enough to keep them in. Wrong.

So, my dad and I brainstormed and decided that our large wire mesh dog crate would be just the right solution.  It’s roomy, which will allow for a few more weeks’ growth; it’s completely enclosed with strong narrowly spaced wire which will keep them in safely; it has a slide out tray bottom which is easy to clean; it is easy to safely affix their heat lamp and perch in; and best of all it repurposed an item that wasn’t being used.  Free is good.  Also, after reading some ideas for bedding, I switched from leaves/straw to old towels.  While they don’t get to have as much fun scratching, the towels are absorbent and easy to change and wash frequently to keep their enclosure clean, which is important not only for their health, but for ours since they are in the house.  The towels also are textured enough to give them some grip, which is important so they don’t develop spraddle leg, which can happen if their bedding is too slick.

In addition to their feeder, they have a little treat container where I put fresh greens, fruit, and the occasional bug or worm in.  They go NUTS over their treats. It is a riot. They also have no hesitation about eating out of my hand or perching on my arm.  In fact, if I talk to them or put my hand in the cage, they run up to me (presumably because I’m the treat dispenser).  I pretend it’s because they love me back.

Chicks need to be protected from drafts and also from small chihuahuas named Teddy, so I wrapped/taped some cardboard boxes around the cage.  It just so happened that the boxes I had on hand were Milk-Bone boxes.  So the chicks get to stare at dogs all day anyway, lol.  They don’t seem to mind.

One of the dilemmas I faced with my chicks was whether or not to feed them medicated feed to prevent coccidiosis.  After reading a lot about this, and all of the semi-contradictory information about what to do, I decided that I would do the medicated feed this time around while I get comfortable with chicken issues.  My hope for the future, however, is to only use medications on an as-need basis.  Next up: getting the big coop ready for chicks. Oh, and we dug the incubator out of the barn for kicks… I’m on the fence about using it, though.  I figure, why bother trying to do a job that a broody hen will not only do happily, but better than I could ever do?  We’ll see.

So, that was the peeps.  And here are the peepers.  And pickerels and leopard frogs and toads.  Now you, too, can enjoy the sound of the Ozarks in spring! I took this film real quick on my way out to put up the sheep for the night. I love the sound. Love it, love it, love it.  And so I want to share it with you.

Be well.

A Healthy Dose of Gratitude

I was recently asked by Dr. Mario Trucillo of the American Recall Center  to participate in their Who Keeps You Healthy? campaign. The American Recall Center is a new website dedicated to providing information on medical device and pharmaceutical recalls and general health information.  I really like their values: Educate, Trust, Empower, Advocate, and I appreciate their vision not only to inform, but also to be informed by the community that shares their stories on the site.  Thank you, Dr. Trucillo, for considering Grackle & Sun for this campaign.  I am happy to support health advocacy in any way I can.

Who keeps me healthy?  My first thought was I do!  I am my own health hero (hear me roar)! Tru fax to be sure.  However, although I am proud of my hard work and effort, it is only a small fraction of the whole in my wholistic health journey. With closer reflection, I realized that I was experiencing a knee-jerk reaction—a defensive response after years of learning the hard way that I had to be a hardass, lookout-for-number-one advocate for my health in a system that frequently leaves patients confused, frustrated, and unhealed when they should be informed, confident, and above all, cared for.  It was this last bit that got me thinking.

Care is the heart of it all.  Healthcare. In my struggle to find solutions to illness, I often wished that health and healing could be more straightforward, more systematic: do A, B, and C and voila! Healthy! But it doesn’t work like that.  We are human, and we are more complicated than any amount of kale can fix.  We are human, and we do not need maintenance.  We need care.  It is not only our own caring that starts the healing process, it is the care that we receive from others that truly heals.  It is this caring that supports us, nurtures us, and shows us that our good health matters.

I’ve been very fortunate to have incredibly supportive family and friends—people who have not only cheered me on and even joined me as I changed my diet and started working out, but also many who, through their own actions, research, and advocacy, showed me a better way.  I am thankful for all of them.  Most of all, I am thankful to the one person who has held my hand through good times and bad, sickness and health—my husband, David.  He has been a spring of encouragement, compassion, and support.  So, in honour of the Who Keeps You Healthy campaign, I am writing a thank you letter from my heart to my heart. With gratitude and love.

Dear David,

Thank you for encouraging me to always strive to be better and healthier, and thank you for always loving me as I am no matter what. 

Thank you for being supportive of my countless hours of research and not ever rolling your eyes when I tried something new in my quest to not be sick.

Thank you for trusting me, even when the doctors didn’t, that Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism really was jacking me up that bad and that the connection between diet and auto-immune disease is for realz. 

Thank you for all the steamrolling (massages) when my migraines made me want to curl up and die.  Or hurl.  Usually all three.  

Thank you for cooking amazing food for our family, and for never, ever complaining about my crazy food intolerances.  Not even when I did the raw thing.

Thank you for getting on my ass about exercising and being patient with me even when I whined and complained and maybe even stomped my foot, not that I’d admit it.

Thank you for telling me how proud you are of me doing the whole awesome workout thing.  And for not mentioning it when I slack off.  And for happily commiserating with the pain of working out again at our age.

Thank you for doing the whole Paleo thing with me.  It has helped more than you can know.  

Thank you for being compassionate through my struggles with anxiety and depression, which have been many and terrible.  And thank you for always being there at the other end of the tunnel, smiling.

Thank you for always reading the labels to make sure our food is safe for me to eat.

Thank you for never thinking I was crazy even when I started to wonder if I was crazy trying to figure out all this crazy migraine/thyroid/allergy/IC business.  

Thank you for knowing when I need greens.  And when I need chocolate. And when I think I need chocolate but really need greens.

Thank you for being in full command of mad cooking skillz. 

Thank you for being awesome.

Thank you for being with me.

Thank you for listening.

Thank you for caring.

Love, 

Wife

 

 

Vernally Obliged

Happy day after the vernal equinox!  Here are some perky and punctual jonquidils that opened up just yesterday.  Even though the world still seems half asleep, everything is stirring.  The sap is rising, metaphorically, and circulating literally. I feel this in me, too. A few weeks ago, I was compelled to visit my favorite local herbal shop for some spring tonics. I’ve been drinking blood cleansing teas made of nettle and burdock, red clover and violet leaf.  I am craving all green things, to eat all the green. I often eat according to what colours I’m hungry for.  It’s a fun and pretty darn informative way to get intuitive feedback on what one’s body needs. Just listen. It will tell you. This year is all about listening.

Usually, I notice spring first with the change in the angle of the sun and the restlessness of the breeze. This year, though, spring has rung in with sound.  The frogs are out in mighty chorus—the spring peepers, pickerels, and southern leopard frogs—announcing that spring has arrived. The toads will be next, and then later the bullfrogs will add their baritone to the summer sound.  A pair of barred owls have been conversing like love struck teenagers every night for the last week.  Wild ducks have been visiting the lake, and just today, we saw a blue heron circling above.  And what else has come to roost at the farm this spring?

Chicks!

Meet the 4 Buff Orpingtons. Question. What do you do when you spend several years dreaming about raising chickens and reading books on raising chickens and deciding that the perfect chickens to raise would be Buff Orpingtons, and then one day you go into the local farm store for some Sav-a Lam and see that they’re stocked with all manner of poultry and waterfowl—which you are, of course, obligated to peruse—and amongst the countless pens of countless Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds and sex-linked this and thats, lo and behold there are four lone Buff Orpington chicks tucked in a tub in the corner?  This is not a trick question.  Clearly I was meant to take them home.  The end.

I will go back for some Leghorns.  Lol.  In a week or two, they will go live in the chicken house with the rest of the flock, but for now they are in their cozy box in the front porch where I can listen to them peeping as I work on various projects. What else? Gardeny goodness. I planted a millionty seeds and am curious to see how they fare starting indoors.  I will bore no one with photos of a table full of little cups of dirt. Garden plans are being tilled in the fertile fields of my mind. These plans involve raised beds, fencing, and part-time garden-wandering chickens… If I’d been here in time, I would have prepped the garden in the fall. As it is, I am very late and will have to make do with what I can get done in the next month. No need to feel bad about it though—something will grow.

The sheep are enjoying the first nibbles of spring grass.  Here you can see a very chubbeh Phillip in the forefront. He is such a pet.

We are very seriously considering adding a couple wool sheep to the farm to try out. (By which I mean for me to play with their wool). I’m looking at Clun Forest, Romney, and Cheviots, but am listening to any and all advice from those with wool sheep raising experience.  A shepherd/spinner friend has also recommended Montadales and Coopworths.  I am unfamiliar with both.  So far, I am most interested in the Cluns as a hardy dual purpose sheep, but have never seen or felt Clun wool.  Anyone?

Finally, Ronin is a happy farm dog.

Be well and listen hard.

Fiber Retreat

This last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a Fiber Retreat with a dear friend of mine, E.  You might remember E from our pokeberry dye fun.   We had a blast. Mad skillz, friendly people, and more homegrown fiber than you could shake a weaving stick at.  I think that was my favorite part of the whole weekend—meeting all of the local fiber farmers who set up in the market.  I believe in supporting local, sustainable, and small farmers, crafts-people, and artisans, and I love attending venues that focus on local rather than commercial goods.  Besides, small batch homegrown wool has so much character and life—once you’ve worked with it, you don’t want anything else.  The market was packed with luscious wool, alpaca, llama, and mohair.  It was also really cool to meet so many highly talented fiber artists from my state—many of whom live in small towns and out of the way places where the unsuspecting might be surprised to find such artistic genius.

I took three classes at the fiber retreat:  weaving sticks, continuous strand weaving, and wet felting.  Three things I have never done before.  The classes were lively, the teachers were wonderful.   So let’s go on a little photo journey of newly acquired craft knowledge:

Weaving Sticks

The history of stick weaving is not well defined online.  Some claim it was used by Native Americans, others that it was brought to Europe by the Crusaders, and yet others claim that it was actually developed as recently as the 1940′s.  However, I’ve seen no actual proof in any of these assertions—no references or photos of any kind, and it seems that the same information about the history of stick weaving is simply being passed around from site to site.  My thought, however, is that we know weaving has been around for many thousands of years, and this method is so simple that surely somebody somewhere used it.  In conclusion, I have no idea what the real history of stick weaving is.  If any of you weavers out there do, I’d love to know!

Stick weaving is a very simple form of weaving.  It is essentially the same process as weaving on a peg loom, only instead of the pegs being fixed, you hold them.  This can be done with as few as two sticks or as many as you can hold.  Each stick has an eye, and like a needle, is threaded with what will become the warp.  Our warp yarn was too thick to go through the stick holes, so an extra string was threaded through those to create a bigger loop that hung down below the stick.  You can this this in the photo below.

The the working yarn is woven in a figure eight (for two sticks) or a serpentine (for more than two sticks) fashion around the sticks.  This is the fun part.  It is very soothing.  Mindless and rhythmic.  As the weaving is done, it is pushed down on the stick to keep a nice even tension.

When enough woven yarn is on the sticks, it is pushed down onto the warp yarn. This process can be more difficult than it sounds.  It took a lot of wiggling.  Smoother, polished sticks would be the way to go. This is done over and over until you have the length you want for your project.  Of course, shorter sections can be joined together in a project, as well.

Here you can see the long strand in progress, including the colour changes and unwoven ends.

This is what my finished mug rug will look like if and when I get around to whip-stitching it together.  Our teacher recommended doing the whip-stitching on both sides of the piece so that it maintains its shape without splaying out.  It is fairly fugly, but it represents new skills and a lot of fun, so I am happy.  I can see how with a little measuring, the colour changes could be coordinated in cool ways.  Because the strip is stitched together coiled along its flat edge, the finished piece is as thick as the width of the strip.  This makes for very thick, cushy rugs or cushions. I’d also like to try stitching the strips together lengthwise to make a flatter rug.  This could be easily done with wider strips woven on 4 or 5 sticks.

Continuous Strand Weaving

My only experience with weaving is with basket weaving using bark and plant fibers. I’ve never woven on a loom, not even to make a potholder as a child. I am fascinated with woven fabric.  It is beautiful.  Now that Ravelry has added weaving to the mix, I find myself looking at a shawl or scarf wondering what gorgeous stitch pattern was used to create that texture—and discovering it was woven.  Happens all the time.

Continuous strand weaving is interesting in that rather than pre-warping the loom,  it warps and weaves the loom as you go.  It is also interesting in that the weaving process occurs symmetrically from two opposite sides as you go.  I know next to nothing about weaving, and so cannot articulate this in any way other than to say it is magical.  There are many tutorials and videos online if you search “continuous strand weaving” or “triangle weaving”.  It can be done on rectangle and square looms, also. Our class did a travel size triangle and then a travel size square.  Below you can see the triangle loom weaving in progress, with the weaving happening on both sides and working in toward the center.

And then before I took it off the loom.

Here is the finished triangular piece:

And the finished square piece.

Fact:  My weaving in of ends leaves much to be desired.  And despite triple-checking my work before I took it off the loom, the square piece has a glaring error in it.  Ain’t that the way.  I won’t point it out as I’m sure the weavers out there have already spotted the mistake.  For everyone else, it can be a fun search puzzle.  :P

Weaving FTW!

Wet Felting Boots

Actually, the class was wet felting boots or mittens.  I chose boots, because BOOTS! I enjoyed this class a lot—not only for the fun people, great teacher, and neat new skill, but because wet felting is a very physical craft.  You can’t sit and demurely make wet felted boots—you have to put your whole body into it, and I really liked that.  If you are not familiar with wet felting, it is the process of causing the microscopic scales on wool fibers to lock on to each other through heat and/or agitation, and is often done in conjunction with a healthy squirt of soap.  This interlocking of the fiber’s scales creates a dense woolen fabric called felt.  Wet felting is done with wool roving or batts.  When heat/agitation is applied to already knitted goods, it is called “fulling”, although the two terms are often used interchangeably because the final fabric is still called felt. My good friend Laura over at Mommayaya makes the coolest felted (but actually fulled) slippers, and it was talking to her and watching her work that got me interested in this whole felting/fulling thing and taught me the difference between the two.

The first step to making our boots was creating the resist or form that would give the shape of our boots.  In order to do this, we traced our shoes on a piece of paperboard.  After our shoes were traced, we added an inch all the way around. Since felting shrinks the wool, we had to make our resist bigger than the final size we wanted.  So we traced our left and right foot on the same piece of paperboard.  With me so far?  Because this is where things got funny, and I’ll explain why in a minute. The next step was to join the left and right feet with a “leg”.  Here you can see the resist–two feet and a central “leg”– cut out and ready for wrapping:

So basically, we would be making both boots at the same time, and the “leg” we drew in the middle would form the ankle part of each boot.  “But wait!” I hear you say.  The foot is drawn flat on one axis, and the leg on another. Yup.  I asked about this, too, because you see, on the day I took this class, I was wearing a pair of crunchy granola Birkenstock foot-shaped shoes.  You can see in the photo above that my shoe has a definite left and right toe rather than the generic roundness or pointiness of most shoes.  And if you’re wondering what the point of that is, we simply have to rotate the picture:

This orientation shows the actual shape that the boot will take when it’s felted.  And because of my funny shoe shape, I highly expected a funny boot shape outcome.  However, my teacher reassured me that it would be fine.  So I went with it.  What the heck, I was having fun.

The wool was arranged on the resist in two directions, layer by layer—toe to heel and side to side.  We sprayed the layers down with soapy water as we worked and flipped the piece over to cover each side, wrapping the overlapping edges to secure each side firmly.  Below I’ve completed two layers on the one side of the resist and have flipped it over, wrapped the overlap, and am ready to begin applying the first layer on that side.  The most difficult part of this step was keeping the wool wrapped as tightly around the resist as possible.

After all the layers were done, the piece was ready to felt.  We resprayed the whole thing with soapy water, put a layer of tulle around the piece, and rolled the whole thing up around a 1″ dowel.

Then the fun began!  Rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling, turning, and rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling, flipping, and rolling and rolling and rolling.  We rolled, flipped, rolled, turned, and rolled for AGES.  And then magically…

There was felt.

A  little more rolling and soapy water for good measure, and then, with a few snips, there were boots.

You can already see that my boots had a little more going on up in the toe region than they should have.  After the resist was removed and the ankle seam snipped (I made mine too narrow to put on without a snip), the final step was to put the boots on and finish the felting.  The last bit of felting is what does the final shrinking and shaping to the foot, and this is done while wearing them.  So, the flat shape becomes a three dimensional shape.  And since mine had Birky toe, they looked pretty funny when I put them on.  In the picture below, you can see all the extra material gathered into a flap.

I debated about just cutting it off and seaming up the toe like this, but then while playing around with it, I pulled the flaps over and realized that it was actually a kind of a neat design element.  It was a fun and quirky class, and I made a pair of fun and quirky boots.  They fit, too.

My teacher had a great idea to tack them down with buttons, and so I picked up some cute buttons in the market at the retreat.  I haven’t stitched them on yet—been waiting for the felt to dry—but here’s what it will look like:

I’m tossing around the idea of adding some needle-felted designs to the boots.  E loaned me her needle-felting needles to play with.  I’ve never done that before either. Or I might try my hand at some crewel embroidery.  I’ll show you when I finish them up.

So, a great weekend was had with nice people, great teachers, fun classes, and happy accidents.  All good things.  It was a nice jump start into crafty creativity again after  a year of still hands.  And, the best part is that I learned that there are more of these little (and not so little) local fiber and craft workshops all year long, many of which only charge nominal registration and class fees.  I’m looking forward to more.

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