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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Crazy Things are Happening!

Power through
As Women's Empowerment Month winds down, I still have some of my small, indoor signs for individual strength and power through community connections available for sale. These are limited edition signs for 2018, and when they are gone, they are gone.

That IS a
picnic table!
Meanwhile, we have been working with the result of two nor'easters in two weeks, with little usable melt. In one way, it's a good thing, as I can currently walk the snowshoe-trod path to the truck without putting the "big feet" on. However, it's not so good for Tractor Guy, who still does not have snowshoes (they are really hard to find for really big guys!) so he has to bulldoze through. We now have two paths down to the truck, one for each of us. It does make it easier for me not to have to avoid the chasms his breaking through make.

While the snow has slowed the arrival of spring (to the minds of many, at least; I know it never really springs until later in April) I have been busy with fiber fun. Ply magazine has a newly released issue all about flax and linen and I have been browsing through it a bit. This is in complete contrast to my usual way of doing something I have never done before. Usually I totally thrash around and learn by what happen, and what doesn't. I think the bit of reading I have done constitutes more research on this one topic than on all the other things I've done for the first time, in the past! I am anxious to be able to plant my 4 varieties of flax seed but meanwhile I have been planning and building some distaffs.

Birdcage distaff, complete
except for fiber!
The distaff -- so common in the olden days as a tool for spinning, that it came to be used as a word for womankind, in general -- is not often seen nowadays, nor featured for sale nearly as often as spindles or even spinning wheels. There are free-standing distaffs that are used with a wheel and a multitude of smaller designs to be held in your hand or tucked into a belt and laid over your arm when spindle spinning, or spindling as I have seen it called.

They can be used with wool, though are often considered essential for spinning flax. One of the things I have learned in my recent reading is an alternative way to hold strands of flax, wrapped in a dish towel in you lap and I may try that when I get to that stage of my flax project... many many months from now. For now, playing with distaffs is proving to be fun.

The style that most appeals to me is called the "birdcage" distaff as seen above, and I have thus far made that one, am working on a second and have a smaller third one on my mind. The first two, shown at the right in their initial stages, are 3/4" and 5/8" dowels, with thin wooden disks, 6" in diameter, from the craft store. We located the exact center of the disks and drilled holes of the exact size to fit snugly onto the shafts.  I used a heavier basket weaving reed for the "cage." It needed soaking before being formed around the disk, just as one
Distaff in process - and a
metaphorical self portrait, too!
would if making a basket. The reeds were held in place with pipe clamps until they dried into the proper shape. then the excess was trimmed off, and the reeds were glued permanently in place. I used the pipe clamps, again, to hold them securely.

After this glue dried, I wanted to wrap the top and bottom of the cage area with raffia for decoration, which I did. I secured it with Titebond, as I had the reeds. I felt the wrappings needed a bit of help to stay in place, so I rubbed some of the Titebond into and over the strands, which -- unfortunately -- still shows when it is dry.  I had to hold the ends of the raffia in place until
all of that dried, too. A little tension on the wrapping from tying the ends to the animal crate on which I was working did the trick!

In case you are curious as to what creature is currently inhabiting the crate, let me introduce Buttermilk, the house
chicken! Buttermilk is a Red Ranger meat rooster who managed to elude the "bus to freezer camp" on a friend's homestead. She is a softhearted soul who, each year, had wished to not have to butcher all of the meat birds they raised, so when this one managed to avoid capture, she convinced her husband that it was fate. Buttermilk has been living with their flock, but was having issues with the rooster in their laying flock. After having him and getting to know him so well, they could not bring themselves around to the "delicious solution" and I offered to help them out. They know what his eventual fate will be... and it must be so. These meat birds, also a crossbreed like the better known Cornish cross, are able to forage and are much less likely to develop leg issues and be unable to walk like the Cornish if carried past 10 weeks. However, they do eventually develop issues and being crossbreeds, would not breed true if kept. And we have our new crop of Freedom Rangers chicks coming on April 4. They will need the space in the house that Buttermilk is currently occupying. So, between now and then... a delicious solution will be found.

I am considering, since I usually skin the birds and his plumage is so lovely, of trying to tan his hide, feathers-on of course, to make a hat. We will see if that happens. But meanwhile, it is really a joy to have him for an organic alarm, encouraging me to arise with the dawn, which is quickly receding into the early morning hours. These last couple of weeks, and the next few coming, are one of the two parts of the year when the rate of change of day length is the greatest. And even if you don't mess with the clocks (I don't) it tends to throw everything off. Maybe I need to plan on a house rooster each spring!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Hex-y Fun and Work

24" Abundance, Prosperity and Smooth Sailing though LIfe
on its way to Kansas today!
 The hex sign orders continues to roll in -- and out the door to their new homes. I am currently beginning work on three signs for some new construction in Florida, two at the 24" size and one custom that will be 36" diameter.

At the same time I am gearing up with an unusual "limited edition run" of pre-painted signs. My work is typically by commission only, both on account of the size of much of the work, but also the expense of exterior plywood. However, I was asked by one of the organizers of a local event for Women's Month, to have a small selection of unusually small signs (4-6 inches) relating to women's empowerment, as impulse purchase items at the event.  The top design, looking like a group of dryads communing and quietly channeling a hint of maiden/mother/crone energy is a sign invoking strength through community connections.  The bottom sign, featuring a modern take on the traditional symbol for woman, helps build personal strength and power. I have several color variations in process, which I will share in a later post.

For now, it's time to get back to work while I wait for the predicted late winter snow (10-16" today and tomorrow with a potential for a couple more the following days). For your listening pleasure, I offer "This is Maine, It's Gonna Snow" by local singer/songwriter and Bangor Daily News writer, Troy R. Bennett.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Internet Seduced Me!

I do not recall, now, how I ended up finding it, but I did.

"It" is a spindle, a tool for hand spinning called the "Bristlecone Goddess." Now, you have to understand that spinning is not just a craft I enjoy. I consider it a "witch craft" for those of us who
"goddess" phang spindles
walk and work with the northern Goddess, Frigga. And while this particular shape does not specifically reference the All-Mother in my mind (in trying to describe the shape to a friend, I said it evokes thoughts of an rather elongated Goddess of Willendorf, minus the tits, which would make it spin rather oddly through imbalance, yanno?) And the leap from primitive Earth Mother to northern All-Mother by way of yarn... well that just fits for me. These spindles are, apparently, no longer made.
Spinning with a rock

The discovery of the "Goddess" form sent me on a long and winding journey looking at phang spindles. Phang spindles are a type of support spindle, with no whorl, often a bulge in the middle or two points and a low center of gravity. I have no idea of the origin of the name, nor the original ethnicity of these whorl-less spindles. In point of fact, though, one doesn't even really need a spindle to spin wool, though it does make it much faster! All that is necessary is having fibers more or less aligned and then applying a twist to them. This can be done by rolling on one's leg, twisting between the fingers or using even a straight stick or a rock!

The phang was not the first whorl-less design to catch my eye.
Dealgan in process. Pencil line
indicates the head when finished.
Blood sacrifice included but
not required.
Some time ago I saw a video
of the the Gaelic Dealgan and got Tractor Guy, who has always loved working wood, to try to carve one.  The dealgan is still in process. The first one fell victim to a bad place in thewood. A second is in process (right).  After sharing my new passion with the spinners at a local group, it turns out a friend has a small lathe sitting, unloved, in the attic of her barn and she has offered it to us! And Tractor Guy, having worked, long ago, in a cabinet shop under the direction of a wonderful master wood worker, is excited to be able to find a way to enjoy working wood and supply my curiosity as well! So expect to see many experimental and traditional style worl-less spindles in the future!

One thing I learned along the way is that, apparently, "drop spindle" is an American term. To most of the rest of the word they are just spindles used with a variety of techniques. The term "suspended spinning" most correlates with our drop spindling. I have seen a single whorl-less spindle used with support, suspended and with a technique called "grasped" spinning.
So, yeah, I am curious. And charting new territory, as I have never been one to learn well, easily or with much enjoyment from the video format. I have a local mentor for supported spindle technique, but none that I know of for the more European suspended or grasped methods. So I am attending class with "Professor You Tube." I didn't like, or learn easily from all of my teachers in college either!

Center, bottom whorl made from CD
Left, right top whorl commercial spindles
I currently have three "American style drop" spindles. displayed here on the Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign that I am painting! (shameless self promotion du jour) I am planning to add several non-whorl spindles as time goes on and we have tools... and when TG gets the hand carved one done it may be the first of those. Unfortunately, he rather damaged his hand today using a miniature spokeshave -- which worked well on the dealgan but less so with big fingers. Once we get the lathe here we will begin playing with easily available, mostly soft woods. Acquiring specialty woods and appropriate chunks of hardwoods will require day trips to one of two sources on the coast.

As I move ahead with all this exploration, it has become obvious that I "need" a distaff! One has been on my list for a while, and I even bought some heavier basket making reed to use to form the "birdcage" in the style I favor (shown being "dressed in this video).  Today I picked up some dowels, but realized once I got home that I need a light weight wooden disk to drill and slip onto the dowel to help form the shape. I will pick that up in town on Friday.

And that is the report for the week from hex central, under the sign of the Fussing Duck...where the snow is melting, the maple sap is running (so my friend with trees tell me) and talking heads at the weather desk are calling for another nor'easter.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

No-Comfort-Zone for the Win

I just received photos of the willow tree custom PA Dutch hex sign installed on the owner's home.

They love it and I think it looks great, mounted on this brick building. I really like it when my clients send in situ photos!

Out of the Comfort Zone

Custom hex sign - protection and abundance
for the family that uses a weeping willow
as a family symbol
Do you like to be outside your comfort zone? I don't and from what I have read, most folks are in the same boat. But sometimes one gets pushed overboard and -- for me at least -- at that point I flail around like a drowning person for a bit and the, finally, get with the program and swim.

That is always the case when I get an order for a custom hex sign that focuses on a more realistic depiction of something. Usually that "something" is an animal in one of the livestock or companion animal protection signs. Previously, I had done the dog, above left and the cow, to the right...both with much trepidation. But I had never been asked for a realistic tree before this most resent offering, above.

I do think it turned out ok and it has actually inspired me to try to draw, if not paint, some of the trees I have been noticing this winter.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

It's THAT Time of Year Again, Folks!

You know who you are... those who have been pouring... dreaming... drooling over the seed catalogs. Bankrupting yourselves putting in order, perhaps, though I hope not. Moderation in all things... remember! But it's time, here in Maine even, when the potting mix hits the flats and you can almost hear the announcer's voice coming over the aethers: Gardeners! Start your SEEDS!

Or maybe not... maybe you are not sure when to start. Maybe your family tradition has been to put everything out on Memorial Day Weekend. Maybe you have moved and are not sure WHAT your seasons will be like.  Well, wonder no more. I am going to share some of my favorite go-to sites for plotting and planning and learning you seasons.

Your calculations need to start with your last spring frost and the first frost in the winter, in order to choose varieties that will ripen in your climate. This is especially important for us northern dwellers, but folks at altitude have this issue as well, perhaps even more so! is the source for this info. You can enter your zip code at the upper left (pay attention! it is in the immediate upper left! the lines numbered 1 and 2 and in large print just below are ADS!) and get an overlay on a Google map base of your area with the climate zones color-coded and first and last frost date averages listed below.

When your seed packet tells you to plant "after all danger of frost" then you are golden, most years. And we all know that gardening or farming is -- always -- a calculated risk. However Johnny's Selected Seeds, one of my favorite suppliers from long before moved to Maine and became their neighbor, has used their and their customers experience to develop a series of interactive tools to help take a bit more of the guesswork out of planting.

They have an online calculator to help you decide when to start seeds indoors for future transplant. The tool also suggest when it will be safe to transplant them after you have hardened the seedling off.

If you have ever considered succession planting -- perhaps when your lettuces have all gone to seed and your tomatoes are signaling the beginning of a bountiful BLT season -- you might find this this tool handy. It is a spreadsheet that can be used with Microsoft Excel, or if you do not have that program, the free and open source OpenOffice Calc program runs it as well. That is what I use. Johnny's says "This spreadsheet calculator allows you to input the date of your first planting of each crop, then it calculates the dates for later plantings. It also allows you to input your first frost date, counting back the appropriate number of days to determine the last date to plant and still get a crop before frost."

They also offer calculators that will help if you want to aim for a specific harvest date (though I know it will not all ripen at the very same time, I have also grown many varieties of paste/sauce tomatoes with the Heinz name that seem to really try to hit that goal! It was a family joke for years.) And if you want a real challenge, a calculator for when to plant crops for a fall harvest.

Another very useful offering is the seed quantity calculator, with which you can work from either the crop, to determine the number of seeds or young plants that you need for a row of given length or from the seed spacing and row length you plan to use, to determine the number of rows.

Based on this last tool, tomorrow I will be making up 300 mini soil blocks, in which to plant 300 onion seeds (plus an additional 40 or so that I will be starting for a friend. Plus shallots and leeks.

Other online tools exist to help you figure out:
-- how much you will harvest per 100' row (you can calculate estimates for smaller gardens!)
-- companion planting, to save space and help your crops thrive
-- identify some of the weeds that inevitably plague us all
-- adjust planting times to avoid some pests and diseases (Maine based)
-- help identify nutrient deficiencies by reference to the plants leaves (You have done a soil test haven't you? Your local extension service can do this as soon as you can access your soil!)
-- how much to plant for your family. Ok, this is just one company's guess... and of course your mileage WILL vary, based on what you love and what you don't like as much, what you put by, and how you cook and plan your meals year round. But if you have never done a garden, and especially if you are aiming to learn to be more self-reliant, it can be a good place to start.

You will also want to become good friends with the folks at your local extension office (this is connection) as they have all kinds of help and publications... from soil testing services, to Master Gardeners who can help answer all kinds of questions, to classes in how to safely preserve your bounty!

Now, don't go broke buying seeds... connect up with friends and SHARE! And all this thought about spring has actually kicked me in the rear to finally get working on a spring-themed custom hex sign order! Watch for the final project photo on Facebook or Twitter.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Winter at Dutch Hex Sign and Fussing Duck Farm

After blizzard, before rain

The snow is piling up and without a tractor with good grip/functional chains or any other snow-moving machinery, we have opted to park the old farm truck, Artie, out by the road (do you see him there?). We walk/snow shoe out and back in, pulling goods on sleds or in "body bags" (large, extra heavy contractor type trash bags) or wrapped in a tarp. We had made a bit more path down the drive than in this photo, though even after a bit of melt, there was enough snow blowing to pretty much obliterat the trail.

I use snow shoes, and do not have to stick to the trail, though I will if it helps to tow my load. Tractor Guy, on the other hand, weighing in at over 300 lbs, has not yet gotten snow shoes. Most of the large (and of course expensive!) ones top out with a max weight of 250 lbs., so he "bulldozes" through. Not fun. And even less fun now that our weather has turned the tables from hovering in the minus-BRRR degrees to a predicted high of 50F with precipitation falling as rain.

Yes, there is melt, but come Saturday the temperature will drop again. After nearly 2" of rain has fallen (if the weather guessers are even close) it will freeze and stay frozen for a while. 

We often have a January thaw, mind you, but usually not this early and usually not with actual rain adding to the mess. And mess it was, yesterday, when I braved it for a trip to town. Plans were to meet up with a group of fiber folks for a bit, but there was no way I was going to pull my spinning wheel, bagged or not, down to the truck.  I took my drop spindle and ended up having a lovely time, even running some errands and getting home before dark. There was no need to use the snow shoes, as the rain and melt had condensed the snow sufficiently to walk on it, and I only sank in a bit. The driveway is not yet clear of course, so I backed in near the road. When I left the truck, at least one wheel was on actual gravel. With freezing rain and ice predicted for today and an early away mission on Saturday, I am hoping for the best.

The thaw did allow me to dump, clean and refill the water buckets for the herd and the dog, though the fowl water bowls were still too well encased in ice and compacted snow to get loose. Maybe today? In any case, the buckets for the four footed crowd are hanging a little higher on the fence which should make such projects easier as winter progresses. If I can't get the birds' bowls loose, I will at least remember to take rags along and a scoop to remove dirty water, as I did earlier in the winter.  And I see the "Christmas tree" appearing through the melt. It is actually the top of a windfall that I dragged home initially for the making of wreaths; our holiday tree is always one we can plant come spring.  If I can extract the windfall from the snow and ice, hopefully will give the goats something to distract them from trying to eat the sheep. I have a sheep blanket on order. 

Inside, I am thankful to be able to report that -- thus far and despite the massively deep and protracted sub-zero temperatures and even lower wind chills -- our pipes have stayed thawed and water running! Yes, we have had constant drips running during the coldest days, so I am not looking forward to the next couple of electric bills. The heat lamp under the house and two bulbs under the bathroom sinks have also been running 24/7. The water heater and well pump also got in on the action (drips often include both hot and cold),  but it beats hauling water up from a neighbor's place on the sled.

Frodo and Sam atop the indoor laundry
drying rack.
Life goes on, and this week will bring the focus around to the garden again. I need to inventory seeds and put in some small orders for things from which I do not save seed. Onions and leeks are at the top of the list, as they will be planted early next month, kittens willing or not! I fear that this seed starting season will be a struggle, to keep the plants safe from the marauding "itty bitty destruction committee," Frodo and Sam.