Category Archives: Making things

A Day in Knitter’s Paradise

When you give Barbie a haircut with someone, you form a lifelong bond. Even when you fall out of touch for, oh, twenty-five years and then reconnect through a mutual friend and Facebook, the ties remain strong. And that bond is reinforced when you discover that you share a passion for knitting.

Theresa was one of the folks who inspired me to take up knitting, and of course, her abilities far surpass mine. In fact, she is a knitting rockstar. She also spins and makes her own dyes from organic sources like mushrooms and such, and she even embroiders (check out this guitar-pickin chickin she made for me!).

The first time I mentioned to another knitting pal that Theresa of “Techniques with Theresa” on Knitty.com was a childhood friend, I thought I was going to have to scrape her off the ceiling, she got so excited. Now I get a thrill out of impressing People Who Knit with, “Hey, guess who I know . . . ?”

You can imagine, then, my joy when Theresa, who followed her heart to Europe many years ago to marry herself a handsome Norwegian, moved back home a few weeks ago (bringing said handsome Norwegian) — not just to the U.S., but to Franklin, North Carolina, where she is now nestled in the heart of her extended family on some beautiful, hilly farmland in the Southern Appalachians (she and I grew up not even a mile apart in Rabun Gap, Georgia, about 20 minutes south of where she now lives).

Last week I drove up to the mountains for a few days to visit with my family and reconnect with Theresa in person. Our plan was to indulge our shared fiber fantasies — from raw material to finished product. We began our day with a visit to an alpaca farm.

Merritt Farm is ten acres surrounding a lovely 100-plus-year-old log cabin in Otto, North Carolina, situated just between Rabun Gap and Franklin. Liza McArthur, farmer-in-chief, left police work in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to pursue her dream there in 1996 with her kids. She spent the next several years restoring buildings and land in preparation for an alpaca herd.

Liza acquired her first alpacas in 2000. She breeds them and maintains her herd using environmentally sustainable methods (diatomaceous earth instead of toxic chemicals for pest control, for example), and her fiber is supple, soft, and strong. When Theresa and I visited, she had just received a supply of yarn back from a mill where she had sent off a batch of raw fiber. I bought two skeins of creamy, lustrous laceweight stuff, and Theresa bought some beautiful roving.

We sat on the porch of the cabin for awhile, listening to Liza’s story and running our fingers through her yarn. She could tell us the name of each animal from which each yarn came, just from the color and lustre of the stuff (mine came from a gal named Mawatta). Then we walked through her morning chores with her — feeding, weighing the cria (that’s what you call a baby alpaca), and just saying hello to everyone. Alpacas do spit, but only if provoked. Liza’s animals are gently handled from birth and therefore are very friendly. One even offered to style my ’do.

Liza also has a small flock of chickens and the beginnings of an orchard, plus like me, she nestles food gardens in every sunny spot she can find. She has several dogs who guard the female and gelded alpacas in shifts throughout the day and night, and a guard llama named Solomon protects her breeding sires.

Yes, you read right: a guard llama. I was fascinated to learn that llamas, it turns out, are very alert and have this fierce call that will sound an alarm if an intruder or threat comes around. They will even go after it kicking. Some guard llamas will draw their flock together and herd into safety, just like a herding dog. Who knew?

Theresa had visited with Liza before and had told her of her vision for her North Carolina farm home. Which may have been part of what she had in mind when she offered a couple of seven-year-old male Alpacas for Theresa to adopt! I squealed like a llama when Theresa provisionally accepted the offer, explaining that it would probably be wise for her to check with her family before bringing home two large mammals. After making plans to return to the farm in early May for Liza’s shearing days (fun!), off we went to Theresa’s house to check out her fencing and barn — both for the alpacas and the flock of chickens she’s planning on getting. I’m living vicariously through Theresa’s hoofstock acquisition, since City of Decatur ordinances prevent me from having my own.

Later we drove a little further north into downtown Franklin for lunch and a visit to the yarn shop there, where I got to witness a real rockstar moment. A woman ahead of us in the register line kept turning around and looking at Theresa — “I know I’ve seen you somewhere . . .” — and finally realized it was from her knitty.com column. Then the shop owner spoke to Theresa about teaching a few classes there. Hello, mushroom dyes and kitchener stitch!

Determined to find an excuse to stay in touch with Liza, who is someone you just want to know, I talked with her about starting a yarn CSA. She thinks it would work, especially if she recruited a few other producers in the area (llama, angora goat, and wool, maybe) in a cooperative effort. Knitting readers, would you have an interest in participating in such a thing? Liza thinks she might be able to handle 20 subscribers. Let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll share details as we work on them.

Here is an example of one yarn CSA.

5 Comments

Filed under Community and Citizenship, Making things

Things that make me go “Yay!”

All of these photos were taken over a three day period. Everything is waking up!

Baby apple tree with new growth

Parsley by the mound

Fungal goodness

Stir fry with my broccoli and mushrooms

 

Big, fat, hairy chives

Arugula without end

Sweet potato-apple muffins (my sweet potatoes, dad's apples)

Camelias on my table

Good egg production on organic feed

Yoga socks (what a great idea!)

A giant pot of wheat straw pasteurizing on my stove (for more mushrooms)

Salad greens and cilantro

Flats of seedlings in my house, away from marauding rats

The last of last fall's collards

Sugar snap pea sprouts

1 Comment

Filed under Feasting, Flockkeeping, Gardening, Making things

Making Merry

As you may have read in an earlier entry here, I took up knitting about a year ago. It wasn’t pretty at first. I made a hot mess of some ugly, difficult yarn with some tiny needles I happened to have, cussed at my mother and sister-in-law for laughing at me, and quit in a huff.

But then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And then one day in early January as I was running errands, I found myself inexorably drawn to the local yarn shop, where I picked up some beautiful dark chocolate-colored worsted yarn (yes, I am a yarn ho) and some #9 needles, all of which proved easier to manage. I started anew and quickly became addicted to the skill, and over 2010 I have been a crazy knitting fool. Lots of scarves, washcloths, caps, and fingerless gloves for starters. I found myself contributing to the return of leg warmers into fashion. And I upped the skill ante with two sweaters.

I really found my groove, though, with socks. Back in the spring my dear friend Dusty, a lifelong knitter, helped me master a few tricks (picking up stitches, knitting in the round, heel turning), and suddenly I was on a roll. There is something just plain magical about knitting socks. I think it’s the heel turn–you do a few funky decreases and slip-slips, and voila! There is a heel. So I started cranking out pairs of socks. (Sock projects are also marvelously portable, so I took them everywhere to work on them.)

This turned out to be a great idea for Christmas gifts. I found the coziest of baby alpaca sock yarn in bright, funky multicolors and went to town. Here (above) are some of the results of my two-month-long sock knitting frenzy.

Once the socks were ready, I turned to the jars of jams and butters that I had produced during this amazingly fruitful year. Dusty (she of the mystical knitting advice) also sent me a link to this marvelous blog for directions on topping and labeling jam jars. I got all crafty with my bad self, and here’s what the final product looked like.

Finally, I was especially glad to have found an excellent stash of straw baskets at a yard sale in my neighborhood a few months ago. I cleaned up a couple of the baskets and packed them full of Southern Urban Homestead goodies for my neighbors: fatlighter (seasoned sap-soaked pine my father collected last year), Mr. Pat’s sourwood honey, jam, and snuggly knitted objects.

Merry merry!

2 Comments

Filed under Making things

These Are a Few of My Favorite Trades

Last fall I wrote here about my fondness for a good trade — for creating a microeconomy of goods and services that bypass the almighty greenback. I mentioned the exchange of eggs for honey, eggs for dog food, rosemary for eucalyptus, compost for compost. And since then, I have been making an effort to cultivate more good trades. Here are a few.

Eggs for wild game

Eggs for Wild Game. A neighbor of mine is a deer hunter, and we have worked out an excellent exchange of venison bologna for eggs. I even have a pheasant in my freezer as a result of this barter.

Apples for sweet potatoes

Apples for Sweet Potatoes. Another neighbor recently was given a bucketful of sweet potatoes from a farmer over near Athens. Yesterday, my parents brought me two bushels of apples from their trees. We traded apples for roughly equal the weight of sweet potatoes. Yum!

Eggs for homemade tempeh

Eggs for Tempeh. A regular egg-buying customer of mine responded to my call for interesting barters with the offer of some of her homemade tempeh, now in my freezer awaiting a stir fry.

Music for art

Music for Art. A few months ago some friends and I played an arts festival organized by a network of local artists. Instead of paying us cash to play the event, the artist friend who hired us paid us in art. Here is the sketch that now graces my home as a result of this barter.

Guitar Lessons for Make-Up. I’ve been working on my second CD of original songs, and soon I will be organizing a photo shoot for the CD cover and publicity materials. A friend of  mine was a make-up artist in a previous life, and we have agreed to a barter of guitar lessons in exchange for her doing my make-up for the photo shoot. I plan to look fabulous!

Concert Tickets for Doggie Daycare. Recently I won some concert tickets in a raffle I didn’t even know I had entered. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the concert, but I mentioned my prize to the owner of the doggie daycare where Caleb goes a couple of days a week to get his ya-ya’s out. Turns out she’s a huge fan of this artist, so she took the tickets in exchange for a bunch of doggie daycare dates. I’m happy, she’s happy, and most importantly, Caleb’s happy!

I’m always on the lookout for more good barters I’d like to know. And I have new stuff for the marketplace: since the fall, I have become one crazy knitting fool. Scarves, hats, socks, washcloths, fingerless gloves, shoulder bags, I’m even on my second sweater. What do you have? Let’s make a deal . . .

2 Comments

Filed under Community and Citizenship, Making things

Meat

As a little girl I used to stand in my pajamas at the utility sink in the laundry room and watch my father clean fish after an evening on the river. He would empty a creel of eight or so trout under running water into the sink — brookies, browns, rainbows. Sometimes they were still faintly flapping and gasping. Dad would take a fish in one hand, and with a sharp knife in the other, he would slit its belly from gills to tail.

He would slip his finger in, and out would slide the guts and organs into the sink. Sometimes we’d find eggs close to the tail of the females. He would scrape scales off the skin and cut the head off. Then he would pack the cleaned fish along with several others in an old milk carton or plastic bag, which he would fill with water and stash in the freezer.

I watched my father catch, kill, and clean a lot of trout, and I would feel sorry for the trout. I also ate a lot of fried trout. I have long lived with an awareness of the conflict, but it has never kept me from eating trout (or fishing for them myself).

Lately I have been greedily devouring a wonderful book by Novella Carpenter called Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. Ms. Carpenter lives in a section of Oakland, California, that is so beset with poverty, homelessness, drugs, and crime that no one seems too worried about the goofy white girl who has taken over a vacant lot next door to her apartment and planted an organic utopia of fruits and vegetables and is keeping a slightly illegal array of chickens, bees, geese, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, goats, and (once) pigs.

Her story is compelling and funny. Ms. Carpenter is earthy in many senses of that word — from her impressive growing abilities to her language to her fearlessness with livestock.

She is raising animals for meat. Ms. Carpenter is not insensitive to the full implications of breeding and caring for a creature for the purposes of killing and eating it, and her telling of the life and death of Harold the Thanksgiving turkey is detailed and unflinching. In the course of the book she kills and eats other animals, too. There is always a moment of breathlessness, in which she seems to step outside of herself and watch her own actions with horror and fascination. It is not unlike the sensation I experienced watching my father clean trout.


While she seems unresolved about the act of killing a sentient being and consuming it, I would argue that Novella Carpenter  is courageous — more courageous than most of us. Generally speaking (and faithful vegetarians notwithstanding), we modern carnivores don’t want to see, don’t want to know about that moment when a creature’s throat is cut, or when a body shudders in death throes, or when the eyes cloud over. We don’t want to know about plucking or flaying or bleeding out or viscera. Yet those moments have occurred so that we may eat what we crave. What we want to know is cellophane-wrapped protein that is completely disconnected from its life source — cold and bloodless, with little resemblance to an actual animal.

Foraday (background), Lucy (the redhead), and her sidekick, Ethel (blonde) enjoy a sun-dappled dustbath

My chickens have names and chickenalities. I know them, I nurture them, I even love them. People sometimes ask me if I would ever kill one of my chickens if I got really, really hungry. The answer is yes, I would. I have considered raising birds for meat, but I’m not sure how my neighbors would feel about the bloody mess the process entails. And truth be told, I’m not sure I’m up to it yet. I still see the fish flapping and gasping, but those were my father’s hands, not mine.

Angora Bunny

Recently I have been thinking about rabbits. Some say that rabbits are the new backyard chicken. I’m not so sure the analogy holds up, but then I got to thinking about knitting, and yarn, and spinning, and angora rabbits. So I’ve decided to do a little research. A couple of friends have offered to help me learn to spin fiber. Wouldn’t it be interesting to harvest angora and spin it into yarn?

Whether this would be a step closer to meat or a step further away I am not certain. But it is a step closer to an awareness of the interconnectedness of all life — and death.

1 Comment

Filed under Feasting, Flockkeeping, Making things

My exciting laundry

Resurrected!

Today almost felt like spring. So I did almost-springlike things. I started a flat of seeds, fixed the Squirrel-Proof Net Tent after its unfortunate collapse beneath the weight of snow last weekend, and weeded and harvested a few bits of yum from inside it.

I hunted around for helleborus and other signs of almost-spring.

But my most ambitious act in celebration of almost-spring involved laundry. I have been excited about laundry this week.

Why, you ask, would I be excited about laundry?

A few months ago, a friend of mine gave me a recipe to make my own laundry soap. I’ve been meaning to try it and finally got around to it this week. It’s easy, and my laundry detergent now costs $.01 per load. This is the kind of thing that really excites me.

You can get all these ingredients (except the lavender oil) at most any grocery store.

So I mixed up a batch. Here’s the recipe:


  • 3 pints water (6 cups)
  • 1/3 bar Fels-Naptha soap, grated
  • 1/2 cup Super Washing Soda
  • 1/2 cup borax
  • 2 gallon bucket
  • 1 quart hot water
  • 6 cups + 1 gallon hot water

Grate the bar of Fels-Naptha as you would a chunk of cheese.  Mix the grated soap in a medium sized saucepan with 3 pints of water, and heat on low until dissolved.  Stir in Washing Soap and Borax.  Stir until thickened and remove from heat.  Pour one quart hot water into a two-gallon bucket. Add soap mixture and scented oil (optional) and mix well.  Fill bucket with additonal hot water and mix well.  Set aside for 24 hours until mixture thickens.  It will have a slight gel consistency.  Use 1/2 to 3/4 cup of mixture per load, depending on the hardness of your water (harder water, more detergent).  This is a non-sudsing, fragrance-free (unless you add the optional scented oil) laundry product.

I added some lavender essential oil I happened to have on hand. Here’s the result. (And a word of warning — if you try this, wash your hands thoroughly before putting them anywhere near your eyes. Trust me on this! But that’s a whole nother story.)

Turns into a very scoopable gel

The ultimate cheapskate: I store the detergent in a recycled cat litter container.

And then the most exciting almost-spring part. In classic Southern Urban Homestead style, I washed my laundry with my homemade detergent, and I hung it out to dry in the winter sun on my clothesline. I love doing this so much that I actually wrote a song about my laundry last year. Here, in case you don’t believe me, are the first few lines:

I like my laundry on the line;

Prayer flags in the spring sunshine.

When I get to heaven,

I’ll hang my laundry on the line.

It will be on my next CD, due out later this year.

6 Comments

Filed under Conservation, Gardening, Making things

A good yarn

Some weeks back, I reported on my feeble attempts at learning to knit. It wasn’t an easy start, but I am beginning to appreciate the zen of the craft. Once you figure out the pattern, it transcends thought. There is a grace and rhythm that visits your fingers, and all you do is relax and let them take over. And then you wake up, and you have a hat.

Entangled in texture and color

Or maybe three or four or more. Once I figured out the nifty hat trick, I lost all self-control. Partly it was the yarn. I love a good yarn. I found this super-bulky woolly stuff in great colors on sale, so I bought piles and piles of it. But I had a reasonable justification: this coming weekend is the Rabun Rendezvous, the big annual fundraiser for the Rabun Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a wonderful natural resource conservation organization that my family has been involved with for nearly twenty-five years. Every year I try to come up with some interesting and creative items for the silent auction — a gift basket, some homemade goodies, one year I contributed two dozen eggs. This year, it’ll be hats and fingerless gloves.

Energized by my purchase, I started giving my creations names: a red hat was “Ruby,” a green child’s hat is “Li’l Peahead.” Then I began mixing and matching colors and bestowing flyfishing inspired names: “Riparian,” “The River,” “Hemlock Grove.”

"Keepin' Warm Kit"

I decided I needed to put together a couple of gift baskets. One is called a “Keepin’ Warm Kit,” and it includes a bundle of fatlighter (courtesy of my dad, who found it in his yard and split it up so it’s just like the stuff they sell at L.L. Bean), hot chocolate, some spicy cheese straws and a jar of homemade green tomato relish to go with them, and a knit wool cap. The other is “Sweet, Spicy, Savory”: the muscadine jam I made this summer with plain cheese straws (the “sweet”), homemade roasted tomatillo and tomato salsa with chips (the “spicy”), and more of the green tomato relish with some rosemary crackers (the “savory”). Bounty from the Southern Urban Homestead.

"Sweet • Spicy • Savory"

I still want to make a few more hats — I can probably turn out two or three before the weekend: “Foam is Home,” “Out Past Hiawassee.” And I’m making fingerless gloves to go with some of them (I actually sold a pair of those recently to a very gifted artist friend whose studio is not heated). I am trying hard not to turn into Madame Defarge or one of those sweet but dotty ladies with cats and a house full of precious knitted objects.

That’s why I keep giving things away. I am blessed with understanding friends who have accepted my slightly eccentric creations.

The Rabun Rendezvous is this Saturday, January 23, at the Dillard House in Rabun County. The Dillard House smokes a whole pig, and we’ll pick at it starting around 5 p.m. Come on up and join us — there’s a ton of good stuff on the auction and raffle tables, incredible food, fabulous entertainment, and a superb program.

Friend with slightly eccentric creation

Plus, you’re supporting a grassroots organization that does great work cultivating the next generation of  stewards of our region’s trout fisheries and conserving, protecting, and restoring its treasures.

And you’ll definitely hear a good yarn or two.

7 Comments

Filed under Community and Citizenship, Feasting, Making things, Putting Up