Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Canada geese over the May Arboretum, Reno on Thanksgiving morning.

Friday, November 04, 2011

House Matters

I love my home. It is small - a whole 1210 square feet according to the official records (and some of that taken up by hallway and heater closet), but exactly what I need. The more I customize it, the more it becomes an extension of me. Although it is not as small as the homes showcased by the Small House Society, it is only a few steps from anywhere to anywhere. Over the few years I have owned it, I have carefully considered the optimum use and utility of every nook and cranny. Over time I have concluded that I don't need a guest room (the trailer can serve that duty) but I do need a library. I don't need a front hall coat closet, but I do need a pantry. I don't need a bathtub, but I do need a waterproof place to keep a very large litter box. And I don't need a dedicated dining room space, but I do need a large table for messy art projects. A friend once suggested I get rid of all the bookcases in the living room so I could put in a second couch and have more folks over at a time. She meant well, but didn't understand that I would rather be surrounded by books 100% of the time than be visited by a crowd 5% of the time. I love my friends, but a few at a time is sufficient crowding. I can pull in a few kitchen chairs on the rare occasion that I need to seat more than the 5 the living room currently accommodates.

My goal to get rid of at least something everyday of 2011 is still in force. I don't think I have missed a single day, and hope to keep it up until the end of the year. For those who don't know about this project (or don't remember my nattering on about it before) every day from January 1st on, I have gotten rid of something that has been cluttering up my house. In many cases it has been a lot more than one something. The rules are simple:
1. It must be a long-term clutter thing - not just normal taking-out-the-trash stuff.
2. I can give it away or trash it, but I can't just replace something.
3. Although I can't get to Salvation Army every day, once it goes into the "give away" bin (or trash) it does not come out.
4. No building up - once it is identified to go, it counts only towards that day. Even if I get rid of a mountain of things on Monday, I start again on Tuesday.
5. I do not count days when I am traveling.

I honestly did not think I would still be doing this in November, but now it has become a bit of an obsession. It took months before I saw much difference in my home's environment, but it is really evident now. The house is by no means austere, but the items I love are far more evident when not surrounded by all that other stuff. As the year went on and I had to become more choosey, I came to a better understanding about what I value vs. what is just mass-produced, and what I use vs. what just gathers dust. And the off-loading of items has really affected what new items I purchase. When considering a purchase I find myself thinking, "Is this something I will still care about a month down the road?" and "Is this item really worth devoting that many square inches of my small house to?" and my favorite question, "Is there a non-mass-produced way I could accomplish the same thing?" More often than not these questions cause me to reconsider the purchase.

So the more I get rid of, the better my small house becomes a reflection of the things I love and the things I do.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

More Sewing

Yes, I can! OK, the stitches look a little wobbly in the picture, but the coarse, loosish weave cotton is a bit stretchy to work with. I promise it looks fine in person.

In other sewing news, I made an apron out of a vintage linen tea towel. (Thanks, Heidi, for the towel!!) The strips at top and bottom are doubled and top-stitched at each edge to keep them flat. The bottom strip adds enough weight to make the apron hang nicely when worn. I like that it has a vintage feel, without being ruffly. This was super easy and only took about a 3rd of a yard (plus the towel). I'll be keeping an eye out for other likely tea towels with a "landscape" design.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I have been threatening to start sewing for a long time now. I have bought fabric. I have bought inspirational books of vintage fashions. I have collected bits and bobs of remnants and buttons and trims. I have even, recently, bought a new sewing machine. Yes, I was going to launch into sewing my own clothing any time now. My friend Jen, master seamstress and awesome teacher, offered to give me some instruction. Still it took a long time to get to the point of finding the hours to do it. Finally my underlying need to create clothing boiled over and I found myself spending a weekend with the ever-patient Jen, constructing a corduroy skirt.

My first step was to deconstruct a linen skirt that had been worn to the point of threadbareness. I used the pieces to make a pattern out of heavy paper.
Despite having a bin full of fabric already, I purchased four yards of gorgeous deep purple corduroy. Yes, four yards is a lot, but it was all that was left on the bolt and I can always make something from the leftovers. I also bought thread, zipper, etc.

The original skirt was elastic-waisted lightweight linen. I didn't want to do the same with the corduroy because it was heavier weight and, most particularly, I felt it would be good for me to install my first zipper. Skill building is good. Because my pattern was too wide to cut on the fold as I originally intended, I had to seam up the front and back. I took advantage of this and angled the fabric so the cords in the corduroy make an inverted vee in the front and back. Adding a waistband gave me a chance to learn to install a buttonhole. There was a slight speedbump in the zipper installation when it was discovered I had brought the Spanish version of the sewing machine manual. Happily the English version is just a Google search away.

I can only say that, despite being occasionally scary, and requiring slight plan changes during the process, I am very pleased with the results. In some ways, the scariest part is throwing it in the wash at the end. Will the whole thing disintegrate or shrink funny despite having preshrunk the fabric? It held together and I was able to wear it to work without anyone snickering.

If I hadn't been working under Jen's watchful eye, I would probably still be contemplating the instructions in the zipper package. The next big test: Can I make another skirt all on my own? Stay tuned and find out.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nevada History in Metal

John Mackay - 19th century silver baron who struck it rich on the Comstock Load. Nevada has a history of doing well by (some) gamblers. That day he was wearing a tie. Statue by Gutzon Borglum, who is best known for destroying a perfectly good mountain to make Mount Rushmore. Tie added by business students.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sewing with Cats

Sewing with feline assistance can be problematic.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Vintage Trailer Fun

Last weekend was the Tin Can Tourists Northern California Regional Rally at Coloma, CA. There were 40ish (I didn't count) vintage trailers parked along the bank of the South Fork of the American River. Events included chili cook-off, potluck, open trailer hours, and lots of visiting. This is only my second year, so it was good to get to know these super-friendly people better. The main event that everyone looks forward to is the trailer open-house. Just like an upscale "Parade of Homes", folks prepare their trailers to be seen, setting out their collections of vintage place-settings and period artifacts. The trailers ranged from the 1940s to the 1970s, and from tiny teardrops to 25ft-plus in length. Although many were meticulously restored with period-perfect details, others were projects in process. Mine was one of the least period-conscious, since she is renovated rather than restored, but still managed to earn plenty of positive feedback on her artsy coziness.

I, of course, took lots of pictures, particularly of interior details. You can see the whole set HERE.

As you can see, vintage trailer buffs are great fans of eBay. There was much talk of scores they had made. I brought along my vintage bicycle and enjoyed tooling about the campground until Sunday, when I sadly suffered a tire blow-out.

I returned home Monday morning, just as the weather turned cold. As I type this it is raining, expected to turn to snow before morning.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Spinning Retreat

Spent last weekend at the annual retreat of the Carson Sierra Spinners and Weavers, camping at Davis Creek County Park. I only sort of retreated, since I spent most of the meeting day off in Reno at the UNR Ag Field Day, but I had fun none-the-less. Always great to camp with fiber friends! And I have become quite the old hand at hitching up and towing about the little trailer.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Forever comes to a close

I finally finished the "Forever Socks" while camping at the Gathering at Sage Creek Farm over Labor Day Weekend. I called them that because I started them almost 2 years ago and thought they would never be done.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Capturing the Sun, Round 2: WBB

I am continuing my experiments with natural dyeing. My second big experiment was to simmer up 12oz of very fragrant Perovskia blossoms to dye 7oz of wool roving. I expected that even if the reported blue was unattainable, I should at least be able to achieve a lavender or pink. Consider that when the blossoms are dropped from the plant they maintain a dark purple even after being bleached by the sun for a month. I carefully simmered the plant material and the water turned a dark reddish color. I strained the plant material out through a pillowcase and returned the liquid to a simmer. I gingerly added the alum-mordanted wool, and simmered it gently for an hour. I carefully monitored the temperature. Nope - no blue. No lavender. Not even pink. Just paper-baggish brown. I even tried putting some of the fiber into a high pH afterbath, with no color change. I only managed to add an ammonia tinge to the pungent aroma pervading the house.

I hereby name this new color WBB, short for Why Bother Brown. Several folks have given very good suggestions on how I could alter the process and try again. I don't think my sinuses are ready for another go. There are so many other plants to try. And as Laura always says: I could overdye it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Getting ready to get started to do more dyeing

My available natural dyestuff collection has expanded. In addition to the already collected Lingularia flowers, Arborvitae seedpods, Mahonia berries, and cherries, I have been collecting more Coreopsis, and have also collected large bags of Perovskia blossoms and dried blue Hibiscus flowers. These last two were readily available and I have seen vague mentions of their suitability as dye plants. The Perovskia is from the humongous shrubs in my front yard and the Hibiscus flowers are from the University campus (I swear I only took the dropped flowers!). I had to compete with the bees to collect the Perovskia, yet managed to collect 12.3oz without stripping enough branches to make my harvest even noticeable (or getting stung). I may go back and collect more, since I have no information on how much is required to get usable color. The Perovskia is so aromatic that my eyes hurt for the rest of the evening. I don't think I will be simmering it inside.

Although the usually procedure is to dry dye plants, unless using them fresh, I am putting everything in the deep freeze. This is entirely a matter of practicality - I have ample space in the freezer and it is safe from bugs and felines. Not so much, space for drying stuff.

Adding to my collection, I have recently received my first Nature's Cauldron Dye Plant CSA shipment. Inside was a tantalizing array of lodgepole pine bark, fennel, comfrey root and lichen, as well as a lovely skein of rhubarb-mordanted wool. I am especially looking forward to trying the lichen.

So my next effort will be to spin up and mordant some fiber. And to get my dye journal going to record my experiments.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Cookbook for the Little Trailer

I was recently gifted with this wonderful little cookbook. It was produced by the National Museum of Forest Service History and includes about 150 recipes from rangers, Forest Service newsletters, and other sources from the history of the Forest Service. Name an ingredient, any ingredient, and this book will probably tell you how to cook it in a dutch oven. Although I don't expect I will be making 'Great Basin Rattlesnake' or 'Depression Bologna Gravy', and I can't imagine wanting to eat 'Campsite Lima Beans' while on vacation, there are some wonderful looking simple hearty dishes described. I am puzzled by the recipe that starts with "Make mashed potatoes the way you usually make them on a camping trip" (really?) but can definitely see myself making the 'Spoon Bread' which includes corn muffin mix, blue cheese crumbles and bacon, or the 5-ingredient dutch oven 'Chili Verde'.

What makes this book absolutely wonderful though, is that it is packed with historic photographs of campers and campgrounds, most from the 1920s through 1950s. (Even a few showcasing 1950s trailers!) And scattered throughout the recipes are historical notes and stories about the rangers, foresters and fire crews that have protected our forests for the last hundred years.

I love this book!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Capturing the Sun, Round One

I have been fascinated lately with natural dyeing. It is a reasonable outgrowth of my other fiberish and gardenish pursuits. I am an inaugural member of the first natural dyestuff CSA, and am on the edge of my seat awaiting the first magic box. Meanwhile I have been reading up and gathering some potential dye plants from my own environment. So far I have collected from my garden: Coreopsis flowers and seed heads, Lingularia flowers, Arborvitae seed pods, and Mahonia berries. All of these have been labeled and put into the deep freeze. Along with them went several pounds of slightly-rancid bing cherries. (Yes, Laura, I do know that cherry pigments are fugitive, but I have an experiment in mind.) I have also set up 2 one-gallon jars of iron-water starter. Sort of like sourdough starter, feeding small rusty objects into vinegar-laced water will provide an unending supply of iron-rich mordant. I created 2 jars, because one of the jars contains rusty baling wire which, if it was galvanized, will also contain zinc. Different trace metals can greatly affect dye results. The other jar contains iron railroad spikes collected about 25 years ago along the former route of the historic Atlantic Coast Lines in Wilmington, N.C.

With some exceptions (most notably indigo) dyeing with plants is a 2-step process. Plant pigments don't really want to stick to fibers unless they have an intermediary, known as a mordant. The most common mordants are metal salts and are REALLY poisonous. Alum is one of the least poisonous (small amounts are food-safe) and brightens colors without modifying them, so it is the home dyer's mordant of choice. Iron is also commonly used, but it darkens or "saddens" the color. Using an aluminum or iron pot can be a substitute but may not provide the trace metal in high enough concentration. Everyone with me so far?

For my first experiment I divided 10oz of handspun Blue Face Leicester superwash wool yarn into 3 batches and simmered each batch in a separate solution: alum, RR spike iron water, and baling wire iron water. Note: be careful not to boil the iron water if you don't want your kitchen to smell like a machine shop. After copious rinsing, the alum skeins looked just like they had started and the iron skeins were a dark tan.

Mordanting is a bit like writing with invisible ink: the magic is revealed after the second step. I just couldn't wait until the weekend. Dreaming of sunny yellow socks to brighten up the depths of winter, I filled up the dye pot with water and tossed in the 12oz of Coreopsis flowers from my garden. The water started turning yellow almost immediately. I simmered the flowers for an hour. Along the way I tested the temp, and since it was too low, I turned it up, and gave it an extra 30 minutes. Then I poured the whole thing through a pillowcase to filter out the solids and returned the sunny yellow liquid to the dyepot. I added all the (presoaked) fiber and simmered for about an hour.

Each time I peeked, it became more evident where I went wrong. I should have dyed the alum-mordanted and iron-mordanted yarn seperately. Despite all the rinsing I had done, enough iron was floating loose to sadden the color of the alum-mordanted yarn. Still, I expected to get gold. In the pot all the yarn looked a uniform brownish color. It was not until I removed it from the dyepot that I could see the final two shades of deep bronzey green. I own eight books on natural dyeing, and none of them would lead me to expect this color of green with Coreopsis mordanted with alum and iron. That is the magic of natural dyeing! (For those technically inclined, the pH was lowish, 4.5, and I was dyeing with tap water in a stainless steel pot. Wonder what's in my tapwater...)

There was still plenty of color in the dye bath, but I didn't have anything else pre-mordanted, so I tossed in a half cup of alum and some white BFL and light grey Shetland roving. Those came out much closer to expected, but on the light side.

So this winter I will have the sunny green socks of summer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Today at the Nevada Museum of Art

From the "To Live Forever" exhibition of Egyptian artifacts.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fire at the Foot of Peavine Peak

Last night. Too much cheat grass this year. It is out now.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Pictorial Progress Report...

I still need to paint the little desk for under the window and replace the big black chair with something smaller, and a host of other small details.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Consider the Marmot

This one lives under some boulders in the park down the street.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lucky to live in the high country

Dawn at Fallen Leaf Lake, near South Lake Tahoe, CA.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Something green

It has been way too long since I have accomplished anything house-wise. Yes, I am pleased to say, I am still offloading an item a day from my cluttered home. Except for travel days, I have been consistently identifying something (or more than one something) every day since January 1st. Funny how my house is still cluttered, but it is getting trickier to identify likely candidates to be evicted from the island. Still, it is high time I got back to home renovation. So, at the prospect of a three-day weekend, I decided it was time to get on with converting my unused home office into a library.

I have been planning to do this ever since I switched to a laptop and started doing any and all word processing in other locations. The office became a place to stack things or to occasionally print something. Winifred Gallagher's interesting book, "House Thinking: A Room-by-Room Look at How We Live" encouraged me to think about how I actually use space daily, and to consider my individual habits and needs. And what I need is more bookshelves and a cozy spot to read, rather than a dysfunctional office that doubles as a guest room for guests that almost never visit. Should someone visit, there is always the trailer. When I envisioned this project, the plan was to move the filing cabinet and all the computer peripherals into the closet (taking off the awkward sliding doors) and have nothing but shelves and chair in the room. Showing how a project can evolve, even before it gets off the ground, I have shifted to 2 large walls of bookshelves, and a small desk under the window on the 3rd wall to eventually house an iMac for photography work.

In keeping with my theme of "technicolor cottage", and particularly inspired by this image on a blog I follow, I decided to paint the room bright lime green with white and ocean blue trim. The choice of green might seem a bit overwhelming, but remember two walls will be covered by tall white bookcases and a third is mostly door and closet.
With this project I decided to experiment with the Behr Premium Plus paint and primer in one. I can report that, to my surprise, even the deep green covered well with just 2 coats. (The buglight yellow bedroom got 4 coats and still could have used another.) However, the white was a pain to work with since it was thicker than ordinary paint alone. And cutting in and rolling overly thick paint onto a ceiling was not a joyful job. I assumed the green was thinner due to the amount of added tint, but the deep blue trim paint was also very thick. Weighing the annoyance of the thick paint against the convenience of just 2 coats on deep colors, next time I'll use regular paint for the ceiling and the primer/paint combo just for the deep color areas.

In the future, I would also avoid painting when it is 95 degrees, 10% humidity, and there is no air conditioning. The paint kept drying on the brush faster than I could get it on the wall and the roller kept shifting in my sweaty hands. On the plus side, stray paint does not stick well to sweaty skin.

As always, I added a few coordinated wood-burned accessories. I'll post more pictures once I have acquired the shelves and set everything up. Incidentally, the white paint splotches on the hardwood floor date from well before I purchased the house - I may not be Michelangelo, but I do use a drop cloth when painting ceilings. I did, however, get the green paint on the outlet and plug. I was also working that weekend and needed to paint without unplugging the wireless router.