Making

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After a month or two away, we brushed off our Bodgery membership and headed back to our makerspace for the very best sort of homeschooling day.

A full day of making is truly our bliss. Honestly — what could be better? 

Between marveling at some experienced woodworkers (one pictured above) who were tinkering away at everything from furniture to cutting boards to ukuleles and guitars; to Sage's metal work (more on that soon!) and Lupine's handwork, we had no shortage of creative fuel. I spent much of my day at the laser cutter, completing some LüSa projects that have been in my docket for ages. Possibly not the most creative day, but certainly satisfying. 

Back home, Lupine cast off her first major knitting project (and her first on double-pointed needles!), a hen she's named Henny Penny, the pattern from fellow Wisconsinite Susan B Anderson, from Taproot: WEAVE. What a magical moment it was when she bound off that final stitch! 

It's profound how fulfilling these small acts of creating are to our hearts.

And, if my car trunk is any indicator, we'll be back at the Bodgery again very soon. (We're already loaded up with wool felt, sheet metal, and plywood.) We're certainly ready for a bit more making… as soon as we can break away from the maple cooker for more than an hour at a time. For those of you who live in or near Madison, the Bodgery is open to non-members on Friday evenings, and in our experience families are made to feel incredibly welcome in the community there. Come and join us! 

What's in your project basket, friends? 

 

 

Those buttons!

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So many projects have gone onto my needles in the past few months. And—perhaps more surprisingly—even with our busy calendar, a few have actually been cast off! It's a miracle, I tell you.

This little sweater though, I admit to casting this sweater off ages ago. (2014? Really.) Due to a lack of baby girls in my world, I only had a reason to add buttons last week, then promptly mailed it off to a friend with a sweet new babe.

The pattern is Carina Spencer's Gift Wrap Sweater – my favorite go-to baby sweater. I adore Carina's patterns without exception. The construction is clever, and the worsted weight yarn she's partial too for most of her patterns always makes for a satisfyingly fast finish.

As for the yarn choice shown above, I nearly always work with hand wash only wool yarn. I make an exception, however, when knitting baby gifts (at least for non-knitters of those I don't think have a stash of hand wash only clothing to tend to). I can't help but remember back to the profoundly exhausting days of early-motherhood and am certain of how I would have felt about "hand-wash only" gifts when my kids were small. I doubt they would have seen much use, since they'd be awaiting a hand wash until they'd been outgrown.

So this sweater (along with mittens for my own kids and hats for Pete—both of whom have a knack for discovering hand knits in the laundry after the spin cycle) I use this wool blend (afflink).

It's brilliantly soft, the colors are lovely, and it can survive the occasional trip through the washer. I pick it up at my local yarn shop, but buying online is an option too if you don't have a local option!

The buttons, of course, are those that Pete made for me for Solstice from the beach pebbles for Ireland. I couldn't resist. 

And now? I'm back to knitting away on a much bigger sweater: one for me, knit from homegrown, hand-dyed wool. It's the Barn Sweater from Taproot Make. Perhaps some larger stone buttons are in order…

 

What's in your work basket these days, my friends?

  

DIY Fairy Wings tutorial

Every few years this project finds its way back onto our costume to-do list. This year Lupine is putting together a "winter fairy" costume, so we need ice blue wings. Obviously. 

Since I was pulling this tutorial up for myself I thought some of you might enjoy it as well. So fast, so easy, and a costume with lots of play-value long after the candy is gone.

How to make gorgeous fairy wings in under two hours!

 

How to make gorgeous fairy wings in under two hours!

I'm betting a few of you are still getting ready for Halloween. (We sure are!)

I made these wings a few years back and I loved them so much I could hardly stand it. The tutorial is as simple as can be, and start to finish they take under two hours.

For. Real.

So grab your glitter and some hangers and let's get crafty! (If nothing else it's an excuse to use the word "panty hose" again.)

Here's how.

I woke in the morning with a random plan to be Rollie Fingers for Halloween. (I was a huge Brewer's fan as a kid and this guy's mustache has always been a source of strange fascination for me.) But my own kids were freaked by the idea of their mother in a baseball cap and a wool handlebar mustache. And then I couldn't find my baseball cap and the whole plan unravelled. I had to be something else.

But what? My costume stash is pretty lean these days, consisting of a too-tight-for-me-now wedding dress, a pair of cowboy boots and an Amish straw hat. And that combination was scarier than the mustache, so I needed a plan-B. A fairy! Of course. But Lupine's wings were too small.

I searched Pinterest for ideas and came across two useful tutorials (this one and this one.) I read them each over once, got a little overwhelmed, and just went for it on my own.

And they were so easy. Ridiculous. And because of the amount of glitter I used, extremely satisfying as well. (I don't know what it is about glitter. I wish I could put it on my food I like it so much. Okay, not really. But unlike most adults I actually adore the stuff.)

These wings took me less than two hours from start to finish (including a trip to Walgreen's for nylons when I realized that I simplified all of my tights right out the door last spring).

So easy and so much cuter than a handlebar mustache.

How to make gorgeous fairy wings in under two hours!

Here is what you need:

Four metal coat hangers or equivalent amount of other very strong wire

Duct tape (packing tape also works in a pinch but isn't as strong)

2 pairs of nylons of preferred color, mine were size large-ish and full length, though in retrospect thigh-highs would work great.

Fine glitter

White glue or Mod Podge

Paint brush

How to make gorgeous fairy wings in under two hours!

1. Shape each of the four hangers into a wing shape. My top and bottom wings have a slightly different shape giving a distinct top and bottom, but go with whatever you like.

2. Cut off the hooked part of each hanger and tape together your left and right wing pairs, as above.

3. Slip a nylon leg on each wing segment and cut it off at the appropriate length. Knot on the back. (Feel free to call them "pantyhose" if you'd like to channel my grandmother during the process.)

4. Tape together the left and right wings to make a connected set. You're almost done!

How to make gorgeous fairy wings in under two hours!

5. Using diluted white glue (1:2 water to glue), paint the edges of your wings and sprinkle with glitter.

Paint designs on the wings and add more glitter. I did simple swirls and dots and allowed the excess glitter to add to the design. Remember: it won't be perfect, and it is a law of physics that glitter will not stay where you put it. Knock the surplus glitter off of the wing and onto a tray or newspaper and reuse.

Tip: Don't rub the glitter into place or you may smear the glue.

Allow to dry while you admire your work.

How to make gorgeous fairy wings in under two hours!

How to make gorgeous fairy wings in under two hours!

Your house. Will be full. Of glitter. But that's okay. Because now your house is magical instead of messy.

6. Hide your packing tape under ribbon or fabric and hold the ribbon in place with glue and a safety pin hidden on the back.

7. Attach a super long length of ribbon (the long cream-colored ribbons below) for straps at the center point. Cris-cross over your chest and tie in the back or at your side.

Tie them on and say to your reflection, "You are so magical I can hardly stand it. Mwah!"

How to make gorgeous fairy wings in under two hours!

 
Originally published in 2012.
 

Pokeweed & Wool

Thank you for your beautiful enthusiasm regarding the Women's Herbal Retreat that I shared with you this week. There is room available for seven more women, so if you haven't already done so reserve your space today.

I can't wait to gather with you! 

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On our return trip from Maine last October we made an unplanned stop in a state park in Indiana. It was a spontaneous overnight after I got worn out from driving a little camper through high winds all day. I decided it wasn't worth pushing on and we'd add one night to the journey. We pulled off of the interstate and found a campground.

The first thing I noticed as we rolled through the park wasn't the beautiful rolling hills or the hiking trails or that we had the place to ourselves.

What I noticed was the abundance of pokeweed.

I had been wanting to dye with poke berries for some time but it doesn't grow in my region, so I was delighted to stumble upon it – and in full ripe fruit no less!

As we were near the end of our trip I rationalized I could tuck bags of the poison (yes, poison) berries in the cooler and transfer them to the freezer when I got home. And since it's a toxic plant that the park was already trying to eradicate I didn't think the'd mind if I helped out a bit.

We harvested berries and brought them home where I plucked the vibrant, juicy berries off of the stems and tucked a jar into the back of the freezer.

And there they sat. For nearly a year while I awaited first my homegrown yarn, and then the courage to dye it.

This weekend it was time.

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While the color is not what I was expecting (honestly, it never really is with plant dyes, except for predictable yellows) I am absolutely smitten with how it turned out. Along with black hollyhock it's my favorite color yet. 

And the many surprises that plants bring to the dye bath? That's just part if the fun for me.

As for what I was expecting, I would say a bit less orange and a bit more red – In the pastel pink to deep magenta range. But truly, this color suits me even more than those.

There's still quite a bit of color left in the dye pot so I'm contemplating adding another skein to see what results. Perhaps a more pastel melon color? Or maybe that pink I was expecting.

We shall see!

 

P.S. If you are interested in exploring natural dyes yourself I'm quite taken by this book

 

Homegrown hollyhock shawl

 Or: sheep + flowers = happiness

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We became shepherds a few years ago because 1. sheep are fuzzy and cute and look adorable dotted across our hillside; and 2. because I really wanted to grow my own fiber for knitting.

It was a long and varied road that led to those first skeins of wool but we made it – and each stitch I make with homegrown yarn is more satisfying than I ever could have imagined. 

I planted black hollyhocks in my flower garden so that I could have a wider color palate of natural dyes. As a biennial (flowering only on the second year) even my dye plants were a long-game plan. 

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Finally this spring I dyed my first skein of hollyhock wool (the bottom skein in the photo above) and it was true love. A complex sage with an undercurrent of blue, it's mellowed to a soft sage green in the months since I dyed it.

And it is, quite possibly, my favorite yarn ever. Because squishy, gorgeous, and homegrown in every way? Yes, please!  

Despite my yarn being worsted weight, I chose to knit a Guernsey Triangle after being utterly distracted by my friend Meg's gorgeous version during a visit this spring as we discussed homeschooling, lambs in tutus, and doing yoga with goats. (Among other things.)

Yes, the Guernsey Triangle is designed for fingering weight yarn. Yes, I knitted it in worsted. Rules be damned!

To accommodate for the extra bulk of my yarn I simply cast on the small version with the expectation of it coming out roughly the size of a large. (It did.)

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Next up? A cowl with fiber from this cute bunny.

Game. On.

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Photos by the ever-helpful Sage. Thank's, bud.

 P.S. My project notes are here

Backyard forts (Or: Let’s not overthink this)

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

I spent one evening this weekend searching Pinterest for the perfect backyard tent to make with my kids.

And I found some charming designs. Wooden frames, hemmed fabrics, grommets, twinkle lights – the works.

Every one was picture-perfect.

And as I closed my laptop I decided that we wouldn't make backyard tents this weekend after all.

Because I had no bamboo poles, dowels, or 1×2's. I only had two grommets, and no yard after yard of perfect fabric to cut and sew into a tent. And frankly, no ambition to take on a six hour craft project after weeding eighteen thousand thistle plants out of my strawberry bed.

 

Don't get me wrong. I adore Pinterest. I find great inspiration there. But sometimes what I see is all a bit beyond my reach.

 

And then as I looked out on my kids playing in the backyard I realized what was happening.

It was the perfection myth bubbling up again.

The false idea that if it isn't photogenic it isn't worth doing.

That if it isn't perfect it isn't enough.

 

What nonsense.

I wasn't going to play that game.

We were building forts, dang it.

 

So instead of going back to Pinterest I went to the linen closet. I pulled out some old bedsheets, blankets, and table cloths.

I went to the barn and gathered all the bailing twine we pulled off the hay bales last winter.

I grabbed my pocket knife and we set to work.

Not Pinterest-style, but old school. Like what I built when I was a kid with only my imagination to guide me.

 

And we did it. In one afternoon.

Two fabulous, simple – and yes – imperfect play forts.

Total cost: $0.

Total time: 5 minutes for Lupine's, all afternoon for Sage's as he tweaked and modified and tricked his out again and again.

And the play value? Fan-freaking-tastic.

 

Want to make one, too? It's easy. Really.

You can squeeze it between the sidewalk and your garage, tuck one in the corner of your patio, or set it up in the woods. Be where you are and use what you've got.

Heck, you could even make one without a yard if you screwed a couple of lag bolts into your living room walls and anchored the corners with bean bags or duct tape.

And, of course, it doesn't need to be perfect. (But you already knew that.)

So grab your kids, some old sheets, and get outside.

Here's what to do:

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Make a simple backyard play fort | Clean. www.lusaorganics.typepad.com

Supplies

  • Large bedsheet, table cloth, or other sturdy fabric
  • Rope, twine, or clothesline
  • Knife or scissors for rope
  • Tent stakes or a few strong sticks
  • Four small rocks
  • Clothespins (optional)
  • Blanket and pillows for the ground (optional)

 

How-To

1. Find the biggest flat sheet you can spare for the day or the week or forever. (You can still use them for sheets as for this basic version there's not need to cut or sew it.)

2. Run a strongish rope, clothesline, or spliced lengths of bailing twine tightly between two trees, a tree and an eye bolt on your house, or your fence and playhouse. Whatever you've got that will hold the weight of a sheet. Be creative! Set the height based on the size of your sheet (smaller sheet = lower line). Ours is a full sheet and set set it at waist/chest height.

3. Suspend your sheet along this rope. The sheet above is centered but you could also hang it off-center for a more one-sided shelter. If needed use spring clothespins to secure your fabric.

4. Sage suggests tucking a small rock into each sheet corner and tie a rope or piece of twine tightly around the rock. (The rock will keep the corners from slipping out.)

5. Secure to a tent stake, root, tree trunk, or stick pushed into the earth. Angle the stake back toward the tent to keep it from pulling out.

6. Trick it out with doors, windows, walls, tree branch supports – whatever inspires you or your kids. (Optional)

7. Line with a blanket or pile of pillows if you wish, and get in there and play!

 

There. Now aren't you glad you didn't get disouraged by those pretty, fancy play tents?

Me, too.

 

Take that, perfection.

 

Originally published in 2014.

Natural dyes

Naturally dyed home-grown wool : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Naturally dyed home-grown wool : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Naturally dyed home-grown wool : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

Naturally dyed home-grown wool : : Rachel Wolf, Clean

And to cast on a project where you know not only the story-line of the fiber but the dyes as well? It's downright magical.

And to cast on a project where you know not only the story-line of the fiber but the dyes as well? It's downright magical.

Being a shepherd, a gardener, and a forager it was only a matter of time before this happened.

Foraged and home-grown dyes on yarn made from the wool of our sheep.

I grew this. All of it! The yarn, the dyes – even the kid who's arms they're in. This is a delight in so many ways.

And to cast on a project where you know not only the story-line of the fiber but the dyes as well? It's downright magical.

The dyes we used on these skeins are invasive garlic mustard and black hollyhock blossoms. The garlic mustard we pulled from a nearby roadside; the hollyhocks I have been dreaming of dying with for years and planted them in my garden three springs ago, collecting blooms all throughout last summer.

In the photo below the skeins are (top to bottom): garlic mustard, garlic mustard over-dyed in hollyhock, and hollyhock.

Inspired to dye your own? We love the book Harvesting Color. We used her process for hollyhock and adapted her basic instructions for the garlic mustard which was our own creative experiment. All fibers were pre-mordanted in alum.

And now I think I have another shawl to cast on!

 

 

 

DIY giant bubble wand tutorial

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Yesterday I found myself inexplicably edgy. Grumpy, jumpy, terse, and sour.

So I did what any reasonable person would do in this state.

I mixed up a batch of gigantic bubble juice, made some bubble wands with my kids, and got over myself.

I laughed. I played. I watched my kids laugh and play.

In short, I got a much needed attitude adjustment. Because with six to eight foot bubbles floating across my yard – well, I couldn't stay crabby even if I wanted to.

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

And it didn't cost us a penny. Our supplies list was scavenged up between our basement and our workshop, our kitchen and our brush pile.

Insane, super-sized bubble fun.

And a cure for crabbiness no less.

We ended up making a dozen of the wands in the afternoon to take to our homeschooling potluck. And they were a hit! By the end of the night a full gallon of bubble juice was gone and I think everyone had as much fun as we did making bubbles.

I suggest you stop whatever you had planned for today and do this instead.

Especially if you're grouchy. 

Here's how.

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Make Your Wand

All you need are two sticks (any size), two screw eyes (any size – ours were around this big – afflink), a washer or other smooth weight (any size), and some yarn (any kind). See how flexible this is?

You could replace the sticks with purchased dowels but I ask: why uses dowels when you have sticks? Because sticks are free. And they grow in your yard. (Or your neighbors yard…)

Cut two branches, trimming off any side branches or pokie bits. Shoot for around 12" to 24".

In one end of each branch attach a screw eye. (I pre-drilled my holes with a small drill bit to make this easier.)

Cut a length of kitchen twine or yarn (mine was cotton) approximately 6' long and thread through your sticks and your washer. Tie with an overhand knot anywhere you like.

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Make some bubbles!

First, make your bubble juice.

I used this recipe. It was fantastic. My favorite recipe yet.

You can also use my more basic recipe if you don't have some of her ingredients, like corn starch or glycerin.

(A note about dish soap: I have tried making bubbles with more natural dish soap to no avail. These babies are Dawn, all the way. We don't use it on our dishes, but for bubbles we keep it on hand.)

Second, dip your string.

Hold the screw-eye and yarn ends of your two sticks together.

Completely submerge the yarn in the bubble juice. (The first dip is the fussiest.)

Lift the wand slowly from the juice, then separate the sticks to open the yarn loop.

Walk slowly backward into the wind and watch your bubbles soar!

You can encourage smaller, (thought still huge!) bubbles to break off and fly free by bringing the yarn loop back together to snip off a bubble here and there.

The bubble below floated clear over our house and was bigger than the biggest watermelon.

Giant bubble tutorial. [Clean.]

Note: if your bubble juice gets frothy on the top from use give it a few minutes to settle down. It works best without foam. Also, one wand in the juice at a time unless you want to spend your time untangling bubble wand strings.

And if you or your kids love to learn about how things work, check out this explanation of bubbles. It was fascinating to my kids.

Enjoy!

Love,
Rachel

P.S. For younger kids the handmade bubble wand tutorial I wrote here is the best. So beautiful and fun.

 

Originally published in 2013.

 

Upcycled Selkie (at long last!)

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Let's begin here: I love this cape.

Partially because I made it (which is always satisfying), partially because it's recycled, but mostly because of the love-hate relationship I have had with this yarn for the past five years. Wearing this cape means I won the battle.

This cape began in 2011 when – with a burst of ambitious upcycling spirit – I purchased (then unraveled, then dyed) a women's XXL wool sweater with an American flag emblazoned across the front. It was exceptionally ugly. But the yarn was promising and at $6.00 I couldn't argue with the price of a sweater's worth of wool.

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At the time I remember being rather proud of myself. I thought that upcycling sweaters was a great way to acquire sustainable, affordable yarn. And it's true. But the other truth is that yarn became a bit of a thorn in my side soon after unraveling began.

Because there were knots (so many knots!) and no matter what pattern I tried I could not get gauge to save my life. This yarn defies sizing estimations.

And finally, the wool looked more enticing knitted (American flag and all) than it did once it was skeined up and waiting in my craft room. Don't get me wrong, it's nice thick soft wool. It's just not very pretty when you look at a ball of it up close.

But I set to work anyway to find a pattern that would accommodate with a chunky yarn whose only mission it turned out was to defy gauge. I make and unraveled several swatches that resembled knitted cardboard (so! dense!) and a vest the size of my Volkswagon.

And so (with a slight huff) I gave up for a few years.

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But when I left for Vermont and Maine with a camper-load of fiber to drop at the mill I knew it was now or never. If I didn't make something out of this yarn before my own yarn came back from the mill I never would.

And then I found it. The Selkie. The perfect bulky pattern for my burdensome basket of grey yarn. And I got gauge! Oh, happy day.

And the truth is I really fell in love with both this pattern and the yarn (knots aside) as this knit came together. It was a fast project (believe it or not) and I finished it with a set of my great grandma Nellie's antique buttons. A nice touch, I think.

It's warm and squishy and I feel a little bit like my high school art teacher when I wear it. (That's a good thing, I promise.) Or maybe some sort of crafty superhero. Because it's a cape! That I made. Out of an ugly sweater from the thrift store.

If that's not a superpower worthy of a wooly cape I don't know what is.

My project is here on Ravelry.

Farm chore mitts

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I know. I know. More knitting.

But since you all liked the homegrown shawl so much I thought I'd share another project that just came off the needles.

I've had a string of more complicated projects in my knitting basket for the past year or more. Lots of cables, lace, and complicated "no-one-talk-to-me-or-I'll-lose-my-place" kind of work. I needed a "talking project" for my birthday weekend. Something that requires no pattern or little attention to it. So I spent a night wandering around on Ravelry looking for something to knit. When we left for our overnight I grabbed this yarn and a set of DPNs as we set off for the woods.

And thus the farm chores mitts were born.

I picked the lovely yarn up at Green Mountain Spinnery last fall, and loosely based my knitting off of Pinecrest. (Without, um, following the pattern. Because: talking.)

And since we're having another cold snap here in Wisconsin they've been in use everyday since I cast them off.

The truth is, I'd like to spend more time gutting and downsizing every room in my house. Or cleaning. And planting my garden. But here I am, knitting. It's my simplicity and garden avoidance plan. It's working.

What's on your project list this week?