I Wet My Plants

The news over the weekend resulted in lots of Americans shaking their tailfeathers. ‚̧ Talk about Dancing in the Streets! The news was so exciting, some of us might have even wet our plants ūüėõ

As we turn the page of this epic election, we focus on the holiday season. That silly quote and image inspired me to “borrow” the idea and dissect it to teach in a program. ‘Tis the gift-making-season and lots of us can settle our nerves by transforming into Crafting Elves.

While I can’t give credit to the original maker of this adorable project, I can guide you to create one just like this. Give a shout if you want to play along. I’ll find a date to create and we’ll Zoom through the tutorial.

Creature Comforts

We Zoomed in October. Just a few weeks ago, we made Clay Birds with Wynn Yarrow for our monthly installment of Maker Monday. Using air-dry clay, round a ball of clay, then hollow it like making a pinch pot. Form a head and body, then create texture on the surface. I like to believe mine is a strong E.A.G.L.E….(oops!…Philly girl, here) or a Phoenix, similar to Fawkes in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If you would like to experiment with this process, there are still packs of clay and instructions to pick up at the library. To create one of your own comfort creatures, just send me a message or comment and I’ll set aside a Take and Make kit just for you. Remember: the Southeast Steuben County Library offers Curbside Pickup for your convenience.

Register Today for Shining Stars

The next Maker Monday is on November 23 from 4:30 to 6pm. Click here to register. If you miss the event, but wish to join at a later time, I can help make that possible. This project will surely brighten the dark days of the Ember Months. These might deck your holiday decor with handmade flair. If you wanted to make a galaxy of these stars, you can schedule an appointment to use the Cricut precision cutter in the makerspace, Creation Station.

As we creep into the colder season and are still forced to isolate ourselves, our Maker Team is dedicated to keeping us crafty throughout the long, cold winter. Keep on the lookout for Page Kits, take and make craft kits for adults. They will be packed with care by our loving mascot, Page the Owl.

Tiny Trees for Take & Make kits

Tiny trees with LED lights are being 3D printed daily as we prepare for the season of giving. Expect to see some LED Christmas Card kits, too, recycling cards from Christmas Past. The spirit of the season has struck and we are following suit. I hope you can sense the excitement!

Exhibit of original art by Jennifer Fais

In case you visit the library, take a peek at the newest art installation of original art by Jennifer Fais. The hanging system was a generous donation from our new neighbors across Denison Parkway. First Heritage Federal Credit Union invested in downtown Corning and just opened their new Headquarters building across from City Hall. Shout out to the new kids on the block! They are big supporters of the local art community. The bank offers artists quarterly solo-exhibitions through a partnership with The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes. I highly recommend stepping through their doors to check out the art exhibit, Lost and Found by Megan Walsh.

Lost and Found, a solo exhibition by Megan Walsh

Since we are striving to get by, yet stay inclusive in this isolated, digital world, really cool options are popping up. Anyone can virtually visit this exhibition! Just click here to take a stroll through the gallery. Lots of credit goes to the Head Curator and Grants Gate Keeper at our unique arts council, Chris Walters. It’s fun to see how each creative person can reinvent or adopt the wheel, while some of us just wet our plants.

That’s a wrap for this stationary moment. I’ll check you on the flip side!

Nature’s Palette

I studied Textiles in college, which gave me the spark to capture the season’s colors as natural fabric dyes. I’m wild about nature and creating from natural objects. I work at turtle speed with some ideas. Some of you will likely identify. An idea strikes, you fervently collect all the tools to to begin, but life gets in the way. It might take 20 years to recognize those tools are collecting dust, having never met their purpose. There are really so many things to make and experiment, but also so many excuses we can create to hold us back. You can get caught up in the investment excitement, then lose the steam or opportunity to investigate further. Time is of the essence; no time like the present– that gift we are given each fleeting moment.

Sourcing excellent reference materials (BOOKS!!) to gain the knowledge has been key to unlocking the uncertainty of the process. Luckily, our hero STARCat offers a selection of books to borrow from any of the members libraries of the Southern Tier Library Sytsem. There are also wonderful sources on the webs. I’ve linked to several throughout this post, but some of us just need a little down time from the screen, you know what I mean?! Finding the bounty of free dye sources within my own neighborhood made this project even more enticing.

Gathered Goodness

Grabbing color at the height of the season is imperative to a gathering of goodness. Each week provides a new source to test. Late summer into late fall offers revolving resources to keep a dyer inspired. The trick is to ensure you have enough time to do the full process of gathering the dye stuff, preparing the dye stuff for processing, extracting the color from the resulting mash of expired plant materials, having your fibers ready to dye, then choosing a final mordant. The whole endeavor can be a little more to chew than most makers are willing to practice, but I choose the slow, and sometimes complicated, road almost always.

Alum Bath

Did I say chew? Fibers need to be prepped so they can chew on the dye colors. Mordant is to bite, so a mordant is required for the fibers to take bite of the natural dye. Aluminum potassium sulfate is suggested for animal and protein fibers, such as silk or wool. Aluminum acetate is suggested mordant for cellulose fibers, or those coming from a plant, such as cotton or linen. I highly recommend referencing Botanical Colors for precise information on this process. They’ve put their knowledge together in a very clear format for anyone to follow. My preferred source book is from my personal library. Wild Color by Jenny Dean can be a secret weapon to this magical process. It’s a easy to follow for any beginner or advanced dyer. The author clearly sets up the reader to prepare the right tools and provides color swatches to know what to expect with each plant they use for dyeing. I’ll be certain to get that book added to the Southeast Steuben County Library collection.

Extracting Tannins from Sumac Leaves

Cottons need extra attention. A recommended prerequisite for dying cellulose fibers is prepping them in a tannic bath. This acidic bath helps the alum better adhere to the fibers. Some leather workers might be familiar with this technique, as leather needs to be tanned. Tannins can give a color to your fibers, so be aware of the options. Suzanne Dekel gives you extensive information in her blog. Extracting natural tannins can be done with oak galls or tree leaves. Jenny Dean suggests using sumac leaves to create a tannic bath. You can also use sumac berries to create a dye bath, among other edible creations, but I couldn’t reach the fruits on my trees!

Wild Grapes, Goldenrod, Blackberries

I processed my fiber collection in 2 major phases. The stack above from the top are results of cotton organza in wild grapes, cotton muslin in goldenrod, and silk in blackberries. The wild grapes give a blue-gray hue after the complete wash and dry. Colors are brighter in the pot, but certainly fade or oxidize after the dye process. You can an iron mordant to gain more somber colors. I experimented with using the post as the mordant.

Horse Chestnuts and Wild Grapes in Iron Pot

Pot as Mordant is a technique I favor. Copper, aluminum, and iron pots will all provide a mordant effect. Since the mordant is not measured to precise percentages to account for the weight of the fabric, this is not a precise method. Weights and percentages play important factors in creating enough dye for the quantity of fabric you wish to color. I love irregular dye batches, so the experimentation was worthwhile. The horse chestnuts dye bath on the left in the photo above oxidized to provide a lavender hue! I did not anticipate that result when I took that shot.

Horse Chestnut dye results in Iron Pot

I used rubber bands to create some dye resist techniques, many know this as tie-dye. The stripes above are created by accordion folding the fabric, then biding just the ends and middle with rubber bands. The lighter areas were the hose chestnut dye results in a steel pot, then I bound the fibers and worked a resist dye in an iron pot. The results meet my personal palette, so now I just have to decide what to sew with these special stacks.

Stacks I Flip For

Some folks flip for stacks of cash. I flip for nature and simplicity. This subdued rainbow of flavor in my basket warms my heart. I finally tested that idea I considered over decades ago and have really just scratched the surface. I look forward to a time when we can all meet in person for a program to share this method of preserving the season in fiber–then paper—or basket reeds –there are so many options to go from here. I might try to dye pines cones with a leftover grape dye bath just to see the effect. I promise to share the results.

If this post sparked an interest, here are some experts to follow and get inspired. Joan Morris will get you going. Kathy Hattori will give you the skills. The Dye Kween will color your word FANCY! Feel free to check out the social media of Spider Stitchery ‚̧ You might recognize some of her samples….

That’s a wrap for this stationary moment. I’ll check you on the flip side!

Saving the Season

We are facing the last vestiges of summer, which makes most gardeners busy saving the season by preserving their bountiful harvests. I know many of our community members already store their foods in jars using a hot bath method, but there are many ways to preserve food. Considering the national shortage on Ball Jars and all food preservation goods, the more ways we learn to preserve our food, the better. As I searched the internet to hopefully source a secret jar-hoarding-vendor, repetitions in history seem to pop up. This scarcity of mason jars last occurred in 1975. See any similarity with mason jars to the lack of TP in 2020 to the last great toilet paper scare of 1973?

Sterilizing Jars for Preserving Blueberry Jam

IF you are fortunate to have stock of some canning jars, but need a little pep talk through the process, here goes! Get yourself a large pot. There are specialized canning pots with racks to hold each jar in position during the sealing process, but any pot large enough hold your jars and cover them with at least an inch of water will suffice to create a successful hot water bath. Place enough clean jars and 2 -part lids to hold the quantity of food you are storing into the pot, fill it with enough water to cover the jars, then heat the pot up to a simmer. Allow the jars and lid to sanitize in this simmering bath for at least 10 minutes as you prepare your batch of food.

Jarred and Ready to Seal

Have no FOMO if you lack the jars or fresh fruit at this moment. I happened to have too many berries stored in my freezer, so fresh or frozen is optional. Therefore, when we hopefully see jars in stock again in December, you can still can for the holidays. ūüôā You may need to wait that long to find Sure-Jell pectin, too! I stocked up on pectin in the good-old days of 2019. Handy-dandy canning instructions reside inside each box. Follow this website for inspiration and recipes to exclude sugar. The boxed instructions call for equal amounts of berries to sugar and one packet of pectin. Once the food was prepared according to those instructions, the jars were removed from the hot bath to get filled. Wipe down the rim of each jar to remove any debris between the glass and the sealing compound of the lid. Cover and screw on the second part of the lid, then place jar back into the simmering pot of water. Fill all the jars and repeat until the batch is depleted. Process the jars at a rapid boil for 10 minutes, then allow to cool overnight. You will hear popping sounds– the delightful music of a successful canning bath. By the next day, each lid should be sealed down with no movement. Easy-Peasy. Just get to the dishes right away before the food remnants stick to the pot!

Pectin’s Purpose

Pectin’s purpose is to create a thicker substance, so the jar can be overturned and the contents mostly stay in place. I have never used pectin before this year, but my family thinks there is something wrong with that viscous type of preserve I usually make, so pectin fit the needs this year.

Freezing, if you have the space, is a very quick and simple preservation method. Too much of most anything can be stored in the freezer for later usage. Properly removing air from the container is most important to reduce freezer burn. I lack the space, so freezing foods is not an option.

Dehydrating is Delicious!

Dehydrating food is an optimal way to secure your food supply, while saving space and resources. Properly dehydrated foods can store for many months and weigh much less than their original form, since all the water is removed. Dehydrated foods require no jars or electric to keep on a shelf. No specialized equipment is really required to dehydrate food, although a quality food dehydrator can save a lot of time. Since I love to collect kitchen gadgets, I have a large dehydrator that transformed over 10 pounds of fresh zucchini into 4 ounces of dried food. I used a mandolin to slice the zucchini into thin rounds, and refused to use oil. I wanted a natural flavor with no seasoning and fat to add calories. The mistake was my lesson to share with you. Lightly oil your pan or dehydrator tray to avoid sticking food. I will store this bag of chips in my pantry to use as I wish. The food will reconstitute in stir-fries or soups. These chips are even delicious right from the bag. Your pup might even like them better than a store-bought treat!

Save the Seeds

If preserving food is not in your cards this season, you can secure some future food for next year by saving seeds. These seeds are from an uber-tiny cantaloupe I harvested from my garden. Seeds need to be dried and protected from pests. I spread them onto a towel and set them on my working dehydrator to dry, covered by a screen. I leave the goo on the seeds and have never had an issue with this process. Some seed savers swear that the seed needs to be washed, then dried. You choose your avenue to this venture. Either way is truly rewarding when you have control over the cycle of a seed’s life.

Seeds from Lemon Balm

Seeds come from all plants. If vegetables are not your game, flowers might be your ticket. I enjoy saving herbs for tea. Lemon balm is the bomb in my opinion. I made sure to let the plant shoot out flowers, then dry on the plant before I harvested the leaves. As I crushed the leaves and dried flowers, the precious seeds fell into the towel. These seeds will get planted in that Sacred Herb Spiral we made this year. The excess seeds will be entered into the Southeast Steuben County Library‘s Seed Library for your enjoyment.

If you enjoyed this post, but crave further knowledge, put knowledge to work with Cornell Cooperative Extension. I encourage you to engage with this our your local cooperative extension to understand myriad ways to appreciate nature’s abundance. Nature is the best Maker, after all.

Celosia and Cockscomb

I’ll close this post with an image of my most prized flowers from the season. Their unique construction is intoxicating to view. When there was a frost last week, I rescued these flowers for one final bouquet. A friend told me they can be dried for the winter to provide pops of color to cheer up any room. Wow, another way to save the season! To my surprise, I thought those black specks were bugs emerging from the drying plant, but they are SEEDS! You can count on me to share these babies in the seed library, too.

That’s a wrap for this stationary moment. I’ll check you on the flip side!

Still Workin’

Some days things take longer than others. You know those times, when the internet lags, but all the work you need to do is online with approaching deadlines and then the power goes out. Yep, that’s how these days can feel. Some folks complain about the weather being too hot. Some folks give their opinions over politics. Some of us just keep on truckin’. I find that I’m still working on some ideas and projects that never seem to end. 2020 holds that theme of never-ending. When will Covid-19 “end”? When will the political banter “end”?

The Neverending Story

Perhaps we all need a winsome Luck Dragon like Falkor to take us away from all the woes of the world. OR maybe we can use some creative outlets to break the tension, anxiety and uncertainties. Then, those outlets might allow us to think more clearly and solve the quandaries of today with less quarrel. I allow my creative outlets to produce results that hopefully inspire our readers. Whether in the garden, kitchen, studio, or makerspace, it is my goal to keep us positively motivated. We are all in this time together. Let’s make the best of it!

Seize the Season

One way to make the best of life is to use that which is at hand. BLUEBERRIES are now at hand, or should I say in season at this very moment. I made a beeline to Peek-a-Blueberry Farm in Bath, NY to get my hands full of these azure colored gems. Since our most local berry farm in town is closed due to Covid-19, I had to do some research. If you have never picked your own fruit, promise that you will put this on your bucket list. That sweet farm I found even provides a picking bucket and I overfilled it. With all that abundance I tested a scrumptious Blueberry Lemon Loaf recipe from Isa Does It by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. If you are local to the Southern Tier Library System, please check out the book for all the vegan inspiration. If you are a reader from a far-off universe, test this recipe from V is for Vegetables. This recipe far surpasses the old adage of making lemonade from life’s lemons.

Masks are Lemons

If you read Work with Whatcha Got, this mask was in progress. It certainly has become a Lemony Snicket! I wanted to test a different pattern in an extra large size to compare it to our Face Mask Pattern and Tutorial. I wanted a slouchy effect that felt more like a bandana tied around my head than a close-fitting face mask. This tutorial is one of the most popular on YouTube, so I wanted to give it a whirl. The pattern size is slightly larger than the one Tangled Hangers provided, but after a few tweaks and retries, I struggle with the design. It’s just too big on my face. Dastardly Device! Luckily, the majority of my Work with Whatcha Got ensemble is complete and ready to reveal.

The headband I created out of the excess fabric from the skirt hem. It fits very well and holds down those stray hairs on a hot day. To make a similar one, follow this tutorial and share your creation in the comments. I wanted to accent the tank top with some fabric from the skirt to tie the two together. There was a sheet of paper towel closest at hand, so it became my pattern paper. I creased the paper in the seam gap on the shoulder strap and cut out an abstract shape. The pattern was traced onto the fabric, then pinned in place on the shirt. I decided to alter the shape just before the final application.

Tell me what you think of my work. I enjoy this comfortably cool “new” addition to my wardrobe as much as I enjoyed the journey of upcycling the “lemons” from my closet. Although some parts of the project took longer than expected, it feels great to meet my goal. While we can’t control what comes at us tomorrow, we can Keep Calm and Create.

I’m still working on creating new programs for the (dare I say) Fall season. In the meantime, I have to return to this free (until August 31) Anti-racism Training. There is a lot of work ahead of us. The work begins with you. The work begins with me.

That’s a wrap for this stationary moment. I’ll check you on the flip side!

e’Scape Plan

My escape plan each evening tends to lead to my garden. Warm weather leaves me craving fresh air and birdsong. A mindful gardener is always at the ready to harvest and process their bounty in preparation of the pending seasons of cold.

It is by virtue of living in the Finger Lakes (#FLX) region that I discovered the delicacy we will discuss today. This type of tinkering is far from the electronic tech stuff we explore in our maker space, Creation Station, but I dare you not to geek out on the genetic code of garlic. It’s a super food and I told myself I’d marry it one day. (Ha!) I believe I’ve achieved that marital status, as the crop is the easiest to maintain and provides two harvests per planting. Garlic is the double duty power plant you need in your homestead (and when I say homestead, that’s anything you call your dwelling—my first “homestead” gardens were in pots and tin cans on a curbside in Philadelphia). Space is not a major concern for this allium. Give a clove a six inch dirt covering to rest inside in the fall and it will show its gratitude as the first green shoot to pop out of the ground in spring.

Garlic in May, before the Scapes Soar

While I’m busy prepping and planting my remaining garden beds in spring, Garlic is growing and showing off. By late June, the flower stem begins to develop and curl. That is the scape. Once the scape curls, I harvest it by cutting it off of the plant a few inches above the leaves, which allows for more nutrients to go directly to the bulb.

More than 2.5 Pounds of Garlic Scapes to Process

Once washed and dried, I weighed my bounty to assess just how much I could make of each recipe I found in this video. I really love the Garlic Scape Powder recommendation, but Pesto and Pickled Scapes are a favorite in our home, so garlic powder will wait until I harvest the rest of the plant in a few weeks. I decided to put up a batch of pickled scapes to eat throughout the year and process a couple cups of Garlic Scape Pesto to enjoy now.

Fresh Garlic Scape Pesto Process

I used the New York Times recipe for this batch of garlic pesto, but there are many options to choose. You can omit the cheese to keep this recipe vegan. The flavor is still wonderful. What I also love about this recipe is using inexpensive sunflower seeds in place of pine nuts. I have replaced pine nuts for walnuts in pesto recipes previously , but am aware that practice is not safe for nut-free homes.

Check out that fresh basil in the lower middle frame above. THAT basil is from a hydroponic plant I got at the grocery store in April. Remember when we made Chunky Knit Planters? Recall that plant in the final product?? Yep, that’s the one! Harvesting from my kitchen table is incredible.

Prepping the Pickles

In order to can the garlic scapes for pickling, I cut off the tips of the harvested end and the flower. Some people prefer to cut their scapes to straight lines for ease of packing, but I prefer to preserve the spiral. We think the curl is the most unique feature of this delicacy, so a little more time in preparation makes for a beautiful presentation.

Steamy Stockpot of Sterilized Jars

Before I start preparing the garlic scapes to be canned, I sterilized the jars in a stockpot with at least an inch of water covering them. I learned from a rustic homesteader that a rack is not required under the jars to protect the glass, so I go rogue. You might choose to follow more strict processing rules at the Ball Jar website. Once the water comes to a boil, I know the jars are sterilized and safe for use. I take them from the water bath to dry and fill each one like it is a work of art.

Filling the Jars

Using a chopstick that I sterilized in the hot water bath, I gently push down each garlicky curl. I work to keep the flower end of each curl up, so that it acts as a handle for the person who grabs it. I ensure no curls are tangled and continue to fill the jar, leaving a half inch of head space. Any straight portions of scape get stuffed in the center to completely pack the jar.

Scapes and Scraps

The bounty of scapes I harvested equaled 6 pints for pickling after making the pesto. The bowl of scraps will go to the compost bin for fertilizing the new crop this fall. Once the jars were filled, I made the brine. This Pickled Garlic Scapes recipe from Home in the Finger Lakes was very helpful and the first recipe I tried several years ago. If you don’t have pickling spice mix in your cupboard, use approximately 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns and 1 teaspoon of dill per pint. If you are a pickling guru, you may have a favorite brine recipe to share in the comments. I put the spices into each jar for equal proportions, then pour the brine over everything, allowing a 1/2 inch of headspace per jar.

Chopsticks help keep down the Scapes

As the brine fills the jar, the scapes tend to also rise, so I use the chopstick as a stopper. I hold down the scapes for a few seconds and watch them blanch into a vibrant bright green. At that moment, they seem to back down from the rise, which allows me to wipe the jar rim and place the lids on top for sealing.

Sealing it Up

We learned in our Homesteading Series at Bluebird Trail Farm in 2019 that the best way to seal your jars is to hold down the lid with one finger, while applying the screw ring with the other hand and twist to close. Then grab a towel to hold the hot jar and tighten the lid with the other hand.

Spicy Pickles

Two jars were reserved as spicy pickles. I added 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper to each jar, then realized I needed a way to mark these separate from the rest of the batch. Using chunks of fresh garlic, I used this as my marking system, which worked better than labeling the jars with marker that could contaminate the water bath.

Get in the Bath!

Each jar was then gently placed into the bubbling water bath and processed for 10 minutes. This gave me time to clean up the kitchen and prepare a pasta meal with pesto and fresh veggies. After the jars boil for 10 minutes, they can be removed from the pot of water and allowed to rest for 24 hours, undisturbed. The best part of the whole process is hearing that distinct “pop” of a lid sealing properly outside of the water bath. It’s like perfect science.

Fresh and Fermenting

I usually take the pot off of the hot burner and allow everything to cool overnight. Once I’m ready to put them up, each jar will be labeled with the ingredients, so we know what’s inside. These jars make perfect gifts during the holidays and are a great addition to any barbecue or pot luck meal. A recent study found that consumption of fermented foods are linked to low Covid-19 mortality. Pickles could be the perfect food, after all.

Zoom on Saturday

Pivoting from the e’Scape plan, let’s talk about future things. There are still a few hours to register for Photo Fun with Dan Gallagher. This class will guide you through using an interchangeable lens camera or SLR. The Southeast Steuben County Library hosted a similar class last summer and all attendees proved better portfolios and family photos with credit to Dan’s excellent teaching.

Work with Whatcha Got

Check out this video, in case you missed the first of a three part series for #SeWednesday. Jesse Bearsdlee guides viewers on how to upcycle or repurpose old clothes into a new ensemble. We learned how to make a bodice in part one. Follow this link to join us for part two on July 22 at 6pm EST. Learn how to Work with Whatcha Got, Upcycled Dress Waistband or Separate Belt.” This video series is made possible in part by the QuickARTS grant program administered by The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes and funded by the Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes, Inc.

That’s a wrap for this stationary moment. I’ll catch you on the flip side!