Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Felmaking class at Orion Art Center

This past weekend I had the pleasure of teaching a scarf making class to a group of really amazing beginning felters. The OAS is a terrific little center, housed in an old Victorian in the center of Lake Orion, Michigan. It's a real gem, and does a great job of showcasing local art and offering classes for children and adults.

Our class was a lot of hard work, with some thoughtful artistic decisions and laughs mixed in. My students did an excellent job, and walked away with some stunning scarves and a new skill. Well done, ladies!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Raw wool. From the beast.

There's something really magical about wool. I love the warmth of it- you can feel it heating the moment you touch it and it begins to capture your body heat. I also love the smell if the field, the bits of stray hay (not so much the bits of manure, though!).

I was able to purchase this huge fleece from a farmer I admire greatly. She runs a grass fed beef and meat farm in the Ann Arbor area. Her animals are healthy and humanely treated. I really admire her. She also happens to have sheep- mainly heritage breeds- and so I buy her wool. This fleece came from a Navajo Churro, an ancient and wild breed. It was enormous, and it was a mess. In the end though, it felted into this wonderful, shaggy, textural rug. Or throw. I'm not sure I could put it on the floor. I just want to curl up into it. Dd I mention it's that big?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Eco dye scarves

As promised. Some colors from the garden. Reminds me of summer on this blustery and frosty day. The top is a close up of how the green eucalyptus changes to orange in the dye process. My favorite. Lots of goldenrod and purple basil in the second photo. It's a nuno felt scarf- a fusion of merino wool and silk. Really lovely. The first, and third photos are a length of habotai silk, with rolled hems. It's flowing, beautiful, and one of a kind. All (and a few more) can be found in my etsy shop. That's how I hold onto summer memories. What about you?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Savoring the last bits of summer

Autumn has me savoring the last bits of warm weather, considering reviving this blog, and chasing the frost from what's left of my garden. I'll give it another go here, and document, if only for myself, a record of where I am so I know where I'm going. I forget what my art meant to me at the moment of it's creation, or even how it looked. I'm terrible about remembering to take photos. And just like this past summer, those memories slip through my fingers.

To hold on, I've done a bit of eco-dying. Otherwise known as plant based dyes. I gathered some purple basil, rise leaves, annual eucalyptus, and wild golden rod, made a composition of them on wool and silk, bundled tightly, and simmered with iron. The results are beautiful, ephemeral, and translucent like late summer's ghosts.

I'll post the finished eco dyed felt and silk photographs once I take a better shot. Until then, here's some steps of the journey.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Why I like farmers and neighbors

I've recently read the speech given by Wendell Berry for the 2012 Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Have you read it? No? Then you can do so here. Grab some tea and get comfortable. It's long and worth every word. In it, he espouses the importance and necessity of rooted living, of affection for the land, and story. It's really gotten me thinking about community, and of course, about art. I think one of the things that draws me to feltmaking is its connection to land, animals, and the lifestyle that supports it. Shepherds mean a lot to me. However, many times I have no connection to the person who raised the sheep whose wool I use. They often are in New Zealand or Australia, land of merino.
 So, in an effort to connect more to those who inhabit my community, I've made my second visit to Old Pine Farm on the outskirts of Ann Arbor. It's really a special place. They do an excellent job making sure their animals are well cared for, enjoy grass and fresh air, and are ethically treated. Kris, who owns the farm, just happens to have sheep of my favorite variety: Navajo Churro. These are such amazing beasts, sporting many, many horns and looking absolutely feral. The Navajo Churro is one of the very first sheep brought to the new world, are super hardy, and factor importantly to the Navajo people's spiritual life. They are considered"threatened" by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.  I was lucky enough to have first pick of her fleeces after her animals were sheared. I have more than enough to keep me busy for the next couple months with this great long wool!


Tuesday, May 1, 2012


My life just isn't complete without ducks. The quacking has been pretty quiet around here since out last duck left us. We now have three new replacements- all female black runners. I love them :)

April Roundup- Urban Farm Handbook

April really took me by surprise! As a mother of three wee ones, a wife, an artist, and a teacher, I have a lot going on. As much as I wanted to finish the garden... feeding children and making sure they have a bath every once in a while just has to take precedence! Plus, there are furry and feathery babies around here, too.

If only my yard looked like this! Note: this
only LOOKS like my new greenhouse in shape, not context!
Here's the roundup report from my (almost!) failure of an April. Firstly, I send my husband off on an epic journey to purchase a Craigslist special of a greenhouse. I have always wanted one, but not one of the cheap plastic jobs for sale as a kit. This one is a compromise, not exactly my brick and glass house I might drool over, but not super cheap either. Imagine a Subaru towing a trailer with a large greenhouse strapped to the back, and you get the picture. At any rate, it's set up and has seeds actually GROWING in it.

The fence goal. 
We decided to have a larger, dedicated, garden this year. We have the sod out, and the soil tilled. I felt like a smarty-pants when I sprinkled chicken feed over the partially tilled ground and let the ladies have at it for a few days. Viola!  Just waiting on manure and the like before we plant. We live with wildlife, so I need a fence, and have made the decision (for better or worse) to make a wattle fence. We'll see if I can actually finish this... before winter! It probably won't keep the deer out, but it will keep out the chickens and ducks and dog.

Horizon Herbs- non GMO, no Monsanto!
This year, I started three different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, cukes, luffa (yes!), eggplant, basil, peppers, and... dye plants! I am a feltmaker, and the number one thing on my list to learn is use natural dye plants. I started madder, wild indigo, and purple basil from seed, and plan to get a few other starts to add to the dye garden this spring as well. I will also purchase some veggie starts to round out the garden, too.

We'll be getting together with some like-minded folks we know to start a sort of homesteading co-op buying club.. thing. Not sure what to call it. We'd like to go in on bulk buys from the Eastern Market in Detroit on grains, spices, coffee, and meats. Details to come! We'll also share our canned goods, garden starts, and produce/eggs.  Our family is joining a goat milk share program, so we're excited for the opportunity for fresh milk in a few weeks. As May begins to ramp up, I'm looking forward to getting this behind me!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Urban Farm Handbook- March challenge

March is finally over! Whoo Hoo! That means Spring Break around these parts, when I can finally commit to doing all the things on my growing to-do list. It also means I've finished up the Dairy Challenge in the Urban Farm Handbook challenge, hosted by Sustainable Eats. You can read about it here.

To get started, Annette suggested finding a good local dairy. Apart from getting my own goat (which I am want to do), I purchased milk from a farm a mile away. Cooks Farm Dairy is the only working, licensed, dairy in my county (sad). We get ice cream there in the summer months- because you get to pet cows while you enjoy your ice cream. How great is that? I am now buying our milk there, too.

I started with ricotta cheese. So easy, I'm embarrassed I've never made it before! Seriously. I needed ricotta for lasagna, and just whipped up some. I think it's really liberating to suddenly realize that all that stuff at the grocery store, yeah, I can pretty much make it myself. For cheap. It made it taste all the better!

I had been wanting to make mozzarella for some time now. I took a cheese making class (in which I milked a goat. So amazing!) and we learned to make feta and a soft farm style cheese. I feel pretty good about those, but it's mozzarella we use a lot of. So, with the links provided at the Urban Farm Handbook, I followed the 30 minute mozzarella recipe. Sort of a cheat I suspect. But, it was so fun, really good, and made a ton of cheese. I am hooked!

This month I also made homemade nutella with my extra milk, for my daughter who is thoroughly addicted to it. I hate the palm oil and junk in the store bought version. You can find the recipe here. Again, super easy.

 In all honesty, we drink nut milks around this house, and while it's not exactly dairy, I did whip up a few pints of almond milk. Hey, it's milk. And it's a beverage! I still plan on making more yogurt, and trying a few other things, like pudding, and cajeta. I am loving these challenges, learning so much, and feeling more independent.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dye Garden

source: Atticmag
As spring draws closer, I always start to feel anxious to get the gardens started. I really do need to wait. I know. But, I can put my pent up eagerness to work in planning. This year, we're hoping to expand the garden. Lately, I keep putting in more and more perennial flowers. I've crowded out all the viable room for our veggies. So, we're going to add beds for veggies, as usual. This year however, I plan on starting a dye garden. What is that you ask? Most fibers are dyed with synthetic acid dyes. I am deeply interested in natural dyes, sourced from weeds sustainable plants. 

Source: Eden Brothers
I want to own my art- and the production of it- from start to finish. Now, I have no plans on adding sheep. Not yet anyway. But, I have started purchasing wool from neighbors who have wool breeds. I think I'll always need merino for scarves and wearables, but for other forms, rougher local wools work great- even better! All this leads me to the acid dyes I use. Not friendly. And made in a chem lab. From my understanding, some of the plants in a dye garden need several years to establish themselves. So, it's time to get this going!

Here's my running list, as it's March and I'm feeling ambitions. 
Japanese Indigo
False Indigo
Purple Basil
St. John's wort
And... I have plenty of ragweed, walnut trees, and other wild species I can cultivate. 
I'm pretty excited... and can't wait to get this going. I plan on starting most of this from seed, which means I can get going in just a matter of weeks. Wish me well!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Urban Farm Handbook- February Challenge

My creative process is closely tied up with my life here on our property. It's as if moving to the country, to this little wild space we've preserved, has freed up something in me. I don't mean to only discuss feltmaking. Nor do I mean to only discuss farming. Forgive me if I seem all over the place. Really I'm not that crazy... well, usually. Maybe I am.

I'm taking this year to really invest in my understanding of my gardens. I want to learn as much as I can, and hope that in doing so, I can increase their production. I want to produce more of what we eat here. I don't believe everything needs to come from a grocery store! And, since I have the property to grow it, and the summers off work, I need to start taking action.

So, I'm taking today to focus on the February Challenge from the Urban Farm Handbook. You can read more here. We were given the opportunity to read and view some excellent material regarding soil health. I learned a lot. Annette and Josh were very gracious. I focused on composting. We learned about active and passive composting. I admit that I already have a compost, but it's full and I haven't been using it much. It's passive. With the recent mild weather, I decided to see what going on in there, to give it a turn if I could, and get active in it's utilization. We built it out of reclaimed lumber and pallets. By "we," I mean my husband!

I was surprised that it was mostly thawed, and when I got in there, it was the richest, darkest, stuff we have around here. We've been using the outputs from the chickens (read "poop" and "shavings") and ducks, as well as kitchen scraps. It looks pretty good. But, I'm going to do as Josh suggests and turn it and water it. It's time to get this thing heated up! We also have a pile of wood ash I plan on using. So, it's compost time! I'm pretty geeked.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Finishing up some loose ends...

I finally got back in the studio today, to finish the scrim scarf from a few days ago. I thought I would share the process of nuno felting here... I recall when I was first learning to felt, I studied a lot of blogs!

After laying out the wool, thinly, on the scrim, I covered it with a sheer curtain, wetted it out with warm, soapy water, and rubbed. I use both my hands and a felting stone. It needs to develop a type of "skin," and hang together. You know when you're done if when you pinch the wool and it sticks together.
At this point, you roll it up in bubble wrap (or bamboo).

 Here's when I took a diversion. I felted in the dryer. It feels like cheating. Roll it up in the plastic, then roll it up in a towel. Secure it, and pop it in the dryer for ten minute increments. Air dry. No heat. Pull it out and re-roll the bundle after every ten minutes. I did this four times. In the meantime, I layed out another scarf! Trying to make good use of time!

After it appears to have firmly migrated and felted, it needs to be fulled. I like to use a washboard with hot, soapy water. Then I throw it until it looks pebbly and has shrunk. 

After it dries and is ironed, it needs to have a photo shoot. I have a dress form I made myself from papier mache. I love her. All told, felting takes me several hours, from layout to finished product. A labor of love? Yep. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Michael Pollan

A big passion of mine is food sustainability and food justice, both for the consumer and the farmer. I believe in organic, bio intensive production, in paying our organic family farmers a living wage, and ensuring that our livestock are treated humanely. We decided that our family deserves organic food, grown as locally as possible. We have to sacrifice a larger portion of our paychecks to purchase the whole foods our family enjoys, but the rewards are worth it. It's a matter of priority. I just cut back in other areas. 

 I believe that the extra money I pay now for excellent produce actually saves me money (and heartache) later in life, as my health is better, my kids are healthier. Cheap food is expensive in the long run. We garden, we raise chickens and ducks, we go to the farmers market weekly, and we buy organic from grocers. I came across this stop motion animation from Michael Pollan, an author I admire. It sums up a lot of my thinking on the matter... and it's pretty entertaining!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

nuno felt with cotton scrim

I've been working with cotton scrim lately. It's a nice change from silk... I love the texture it offers. As the wool felts to the surface, it changes the structure of the scrim, and adds a lot of surface dimension. You can see some for sale on my Etsy page Here and Here.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

“Beware of artists – they mix with all classes of society and are therefore most dangerous“. ~ Queen Victoria

My lovely feltmaking guru, the artist Dawn Edwards, is being featured in a new interview on the blog of Felt United. Her words are lovely, and inspiring. I love what she has to say about taking on the weight of the moniker, "Artist." Such a heavy word. Dawn is a warm, and kind hearted person, and she really shines in this interview. Find it under "Featured Artists- U.S."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Winter branches

I find inspiration in small details. With winter- and spring- the landscape is harsh and monochromatic. However, I love how I can see into the trees in this season. With the leaves gone, the trees expose their languid branches. I worked with Alpaca for this scarf. It's so amazingly soft. The natural colors in the fleece look like stone. I laid out the fibers like the trees outside my studio- long, thin, bare, and dark. You can see it's Etsy listing HERE. Today, I took her out for a photo shoot- spurred on by the afternoon sun casting shadows on the bare lawn. I love the textural contrast between the felt and the birch bark.