Monthly Archives: September 2010

In stitches

Sewing:  a great radical homemaking skill.

The last few weeks I’ve had a little more time during the day to do things other than office hours and baby care.  This is due to having some day-long work commitments that took up nearly half of my week’s hours at one shot, which leaves me with a few hours in the day to fire up the ol’ sewing machine.

I grew up in a family of crafters.  For as long as I can remember my Mom (and my Aunts and Grandma) have been selling at craft shows.  For much of my child hood my parents were self-employed and ran their own business, operating two stores in Mitchell, SD, and selling at craft shows on the side.  They created all sorts of items, usually using vintage and antique materials.  Their main line was clothing made from fabric printed with reproduction feed sack labels.  We traveled all over with the business, and I grew up believing I too would be an entrepreneur like them one day.  I learned to sew at a young age and enjoyed creating dolls, pillows, etc .

As you can imagine, sewing fell to the wayside as I aged.  Sewing is um…some might say, “uncool.”  Especially if you’re like, 16.  But as I’ve aged a little I’ve gained a new perspective.  Sewing is um…like so cool!  If you know how to sew you can create what ever you want to.  You can tailor clothing to your body, you can create that baby blanket in the “perfect” colors, and you can repurpose old textiles and use them in a fresh, new inspiring way.

Well, with a tad bit of free time on my hands, I’ve been stitching up a storm.  I finally got my sewing area set up downstairs and am making good use of the machine.  Since last winter I’ve been sewing for my Mom’s business, Pieces of Olde, which sells through Etsy and the South Dakota Local Foods Co-op.  I sew her grain sack tote bags, which are made of vintage grain sacks and are perfect for farmer’s market, grocery shopping, etc.


Still available

Recently I was checking out Etsy looking at natural, soft toys for Harper.  Etsy is wonderful.   I absolutely love having the  largest network of artisans and crafters in the world at my fingertips and being able to buy from and support them directly.  As we’re on a limited budget around here I don’t get to purchase very much (however, I do have a birthday special order coming soon…), but I do find tons of inspiration from browsing the shops.

After checking out some adorable woodland creatures, I said “I could make that” and swiped a few felted  sweaters (the result of Wyatt doing the wash) off my craft shelf and whipped up this little guy:

What an unusual owl perched in that bush!

He has embroidered eyes and is made with soft, felted wool.  Felted wool is one textile I really like sewing with.  As a knitter, I find wool just to be a delicious fiber.  Felted wool makes an excellent “fabric” because it doesn’t unravel and has neat edges that don’t require serging when cut.  I like to felt old sweaters that I find at thrift stores.  Felting is an easy process.  You do exactly what you’re NOT supposed to do with your wool clothing:  throw it in the washer on hot and dry it in the dryer.  Many of you have probably unwittingly felted a sweater or two in your day.  Sometimes you can find “pre-felted” items at the thrift store…they’re those suspiciously tightly woven wool sweaters often found in the children’s clothing section…

After creating my owl, I thought I could branch out in the animal kingdom.  I wanted to create a little hedgehog or mouse for Harper.  I experimented by creating paper patterns to get a “3-d” body, but found I couldn’t figure out the construction very well.  I went online and looked for a free mouse pattern and quickly made this simple little guy out of some scraps of felt:


Yes, this was made using a "free cat toy pattern"

I wanted to create a bigger, more “pillow-like” animal using that similar construction, so I dug out a couple of thrifted baby receiving blankets that I had purchased for the purpose of using as fabric and threw together this friendly fellow:

Can you guess why he's named "Mr. Whiskers?"

Harper checking for quality control

Harper checking for quality control

After all of that I’d quenched my stuffed animal making thirst, so I moved on to clothing.  I had a few fabrics that I purchased a long time ago with the intention of making into a skirt, so I finally dug them out and whipped up this fun little number for myself:

Well, then I thought it was only fair to make Harper a little something, so after checking out a quick and easy tutorial online, I recycled a flannel receiving blanket and made him these cute little pants:



just chillin'

I’m definitely going to make some more pairs of these pants.  They cost next to nothing to make (I used 1/4 of a receiving blanket that cost $1.50).  They’re soft, comfy, and can be sewn up in about a half an hour.

I’m loving having a few more moments to do something creative.  I especially like making the items for sale through my Mom’s shop.  It’s a great feeling to make a unique and quality item and have someone order it for themselves.

Embracing my sewing heritage and stitching on.



Meeting our Meat

Rebecca Terk over at Big Stone Bounty saved me the trouble and wrote a great blog about the chicken processing skill session I attended at Glacial Lakes Permaculture with the Farm Beginnings students on Saturday.   Check it out!  Also, there’s a photo album here that provides highlights of the whole day, including a canning demonstration and a tour of the Glacial Lakes Permaculture demonstration plot.  Wow, hyperlink overload!

It was really a great day, despite the fact that I had been dreading the chicken butchering all week.  It went very well and was done a tidy, respectful manner.  All the students and mentors were able to participate in the various stages of processing.  It gave me confidence that perhaps someday we could raise our own meat birds if we want.

The permaculture demonstration plot is fantastic and it’s been interesting for me to watch it evolve over time.  GLP founder, Karl Schmidt, is doing an awesome job converting his property from lawn to an edible, perrenial landscape.  I hope one day we can implement some permaculture design at our own farm property!

By the way, if you’re intersted in the Farm Beginnings class, DRA’s still accepting applications!  Classes start at the end of October.

Chicken Escapades

Look what I found in my backyard!

Our first summer raising chickens has proved to be eventful.  While we purchased our chickens for the explicit reason of being able to provide ourselves eggs, we’ve waited all summer to begin reaping the rewards of our $12 investments from Tractor Supply.

Finally, our pullets started laying around labor day.  We’re getting two eggs a day from our four pullets (one of which we’re thinking may be a rooster [see pic below]…so maybe three pullets).  Our one-year-old Plymouth Rocks that we acquired at the beginning of the summer stopped laying sometime in July.  We’re hoping that with the cool weather they may start laying again.  After the drama one of these birds has inflicted on us, I’d say she owes us big time.

Hello, Ms. Rock...doing anything in there?

Say...who's that handsome fellow on the left?

One of our Plymouth Rocks has proved to be a crafty little bird.  Throughout the summer this bird has found numerous ways to escape from the chicken run and head into the garden.  This really became a problem when our tomatoes starting coming into full production.  Once this chicky realized there were fresh tomatoes growing nearby it was like nothing could keep it contained.  Throughout the day we would spot it through the window bobbing its head up and down as it poked holes into the reddest, ripest tomatoes.  After hastily running out to capture the escapee we would look again at the run…making sure the gate was latched, checking for signs of fencing weakness.  But shortly the chicken would be back in the garden wreaking havoc.  I would find myself frequently staring intently out the window like a madwoman, squinting my eyes with suspicion, muttering to myself and trying to spot whether or not a bird was hiding behind the tomato vines or camouflaging itself in the bean patch.

The face of evil?

The blatant defiance of this animal quickly grew old for Wyatt, who started talking a lot about needing to know how to butcher a chicken. I kept having to intervene on behalf of the critter each time a frustrated Wyatt went out to chase it back into its coop.   One weekend a farm tour I had scheduled for work was canceled last minute and I ended up staying home.  Wyatt sulked around the house for a while before finally admitting he had planned to have a home-grown chicken in the oven for me when I came home.

Chicken on the run

Later on, while we were harvesting out in the garden, Wyatt said “LOOK!” and I glanced over to see the Plymouth Rock fly up to the side of the fence and then carefully climb up the rest of the way and hop over.  And she made it look so easy!  We hastily made plans to modify our fence.

After a trip to Tractor supply for extra fencing we erected something of a “chicken maximum security prison,” with chicken wire curled ourwards in a razor wire style from the the top of the fence.  “Chicken Gitmo” is what Wyatt called it.  We enjoyed about four days of escape-free bliss.  Then we started noticing the chicken in the garden again.  Again, during harvest we witnessed this bird’s escape tactics.  This time it was climbing to the top of the chicken house, then flying to the top of the gate (which did not have chicken razor wire), and hopping over.  Arg!  Outwitted again!

By this time the Plymouth Rock had grown fat on its steady diet of garden produce.  She was easy to distinguish from the other of its kind due to it girth.  Maybe baked chicken wasn’t such a bad idea after all…

Plump n' Juicy

For those of you who raise chickens I’m sure you’re laughing at how long it took us to realize an obvious solution that fell a little short of offing the bird.  Finally someone suggested a simple solution.  While at a potluck we were sharing our  chicken saga with a farmer friend who told us, “You know, you can just clip its wings.”  Wow.  What a revelation.  We came home, looked up a diagram showing where to clip the feathers, walked outside and in about 10 seconds solved the problem.

Now that our tomatoes are finally free to grow they’ve decided to stop ripening.  Vines and vines of safe tomatoes sit hard and green.   Go figure.

Oh, by the way, I spent yesterday learning how to butcher and process chickens (I’ll blog later).  So for your own sake, chicky, don’t try any more shenanigans.