Dyeing Wool With Black Beans, And Take Two With Avocados

Well, I tried black bean dyeing. Another hue of light beige. I even mordanted this time! I did some research, and then promptly ignored it. Do not make your black bean juice too alkaline!

Greenish beige. Bleargh.

Greenish beige. Bleargh.  

Here’s what I did. I weighed out the skein, added 10% of its weight in alum to some water, simmered the yarn, let it cool overnight. In the meantime, I put a pound of black beans in a BIG bowl, and soaked them for 24 hours. You can soak them for longer, but then you can’t eat the beans, as they start to get really tough, and may even start to ferment or mold.

I strained the beans, kept the juice in the bowl and the beans in my cookpot. (I cooked them in the leftover liquid from the corned beef my mom made when she was up… YUM!) Once the solids had collected at the bottom, I poured the top into quart jars. I’ve read that the stuff that settles at the bottom will keep the dye from being as vibrant.

Since I wanted to get all fancy, I amended three of the four quarts.

Beans after sitting for only a few minutes. What a color!

Beans after sitting for only a few minutes. What a color!

If only the color had stuck...

If only the color had stuck…

The vinegar turned the bean juice pink, and the wood-ash water turned it green. I saw over here that modifying with copper will intensify the blue, but the only copper I have is some pennies soaking in vinegar. So that ended up really being another vinegar modification. She also mentions in the VERY SAME POST that ammonia, aka a basic solution, will turn the yarn brownish-olive-drab. But I saw that lovely green and forgot all about that. Oops.

This is when it started to go wrong… Instead of letting things sit for several days, as one is supposed to, I couldn’t resist tweaking… and re-adjusting… and fussing… and in the end, after losing a good portion of the dye by making a volcano with some baking soda in the vinegar-modified jar, the entire thing went into the big bowl with some greenish looking bean juice. Sigh. Patience is a virtue I need more of, I guess!

BUT! On to the avocado pits!



This was after just 2 hours of soaking. This is about 200g of chopped avocado pits in water, with a half cup of wood-ash water added. It’s now been sitting for four days, and I’ve heated it twice now. The jar is too big for my microwave (it’s a 2-quart jar) so I used a bain-marie, which is a fancy word for “sitting it on top of some canning-jar rings in a pot of simmering water.” Apparently cooking it too hard is bad, alkalinity is good, and patience is best! The skein I want to dye is less than 100g, so I have hopes for this jar. The red has deepened, hasn’t turned brownish, and the pits look like they’ve lost most of their color. I think I’ll stick some yarn in it in a few more days.

I also bought some more black beans. I’ll get vibrant colors someday!! In the meantime I’ll keep reading the natural dyeing threads on Ravelry and dream of summer. Carrot tops! Jewelweed! Buckthorn! Hooray!



My apparatus: New tea brewing on the left, 2 different types of bottles I've collected for home-brews, and the 2-qt jar I use as a fermentation vessel, with the remainder of the finished kombucha waiting for the tea to come to room temp. The SCOBY is in the plastic lid in front, and there's the straw I use for sampling.

My apparatus: New tea brewing on the left, home-brew bottles, and the 2-qt jar I use as a fermentation vessel (with the remainder of the finished kombucha waiting for the tea to come to room temp). The SCOBY is in the plastic lid in front, and there’s the straw I use for sampling.

I’d been thinking of trying kombucha for a little while, but I didn’t know anyone who made it, so I would have had to actually leave the house to buy some, or else send away for a SCOBY, and I’m entirely too lazy/cheap for those options. Heh.

But then, at a friend’s Solstice party, I noticed a jar with a towel rubber-banded to the top. Hmm. Sure enough, kombucha! So she set me up. I’m still pretty new at the whole thing, but it tastes yummy and purportedly even has health benefits.

Here’s how I do it.

For a gallon of kombucha, you need:

a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast)

6 black tea bags (regular or decaf)*

a cup of white sugar**

and of course, a gallon of water.

Brew your sweet tea, let it cool, add the SCOBY, cover with a towel secured to the top, and wait. It’ll take about a week, but you can taste it to see how sweet or dry it is. When it tastes how you want, it’s done. Take the SCOBY out (along with 1/4 to 1/3 of the finished kombucha, for the next batch), pour the brew into whatever container you’ll store it in, and put it in the fridge. If you leave it on the counter, it’ll grow a new SCOBY, and continue to ferment. (And it’s REALLY WEIRD to feel a newly formed SCOBY in your mouth! Bleaahh!)

SCOBY close-up

SCOBY close-up

If your fermenting container is smaller than a gallon, just use proportionally smaller amounts. I use a 2-qt mason jar, but I’m on the lookout for a larger dispenser-type jar with a spigot on the bottom. SCOBYs don’t like metal, so use only glass, wood, or plastic to handle the SCOBY or what it will be in contact with. The SCOBY will add a layer on top for every new batch, so when it gets too thick, just peel off the bottom & toss it. Or give it to a friend! The SCOBY will take the shape of the top of whatever container you use. It may sink in a new batch of tea, but even if the old SCOBY stays at the bottom, the new one will form at the top.

To taste it as it ferments, stick a plastic drinking straw down the side, plug the top with your finger, and empty it into your mouth or a glass. I like mine fairly dry, some like it sweeter. It’ll taste more & more like vinegar as time passes, because the yeast takes the sugar, turns it to alcohol, and then the bacteria takes the alcohol and turns it to acetic acid, aka distilled vinegar.

The finished kombucha can be treated a number of different ways– it’s really good with fruit in it, or grated fresh ginger, or you can do a secondary ferment for more bubbles. If it’s still pretty sweet, just put it into a stoppered bottle for 24 hours on the counter, or if you let it get fairly dry add some sugar before stopping the bottle. The residual yeast will make the carbonation for you. Once it’s bubbly, refrigerate, or you could end up with broken glass all over your kitchen. Hasn’t happened to me yet, but I don’t doubt it could if I weren’t careful.

And enjoy!

*For a couple batches I added a lemon-ginger tea bag, but I couldn’t really taste the additional flavors once it was done fermenting. My friend also told me that it’s only black tea that has the right nutrients for the SCOBY– you can combine it with green tea, but there has to be black tea in there somewhere or the SCOBY will get too weak.

**White sugar is it for this stuff. Other sweeteners won’t work, apparently. I haven’t done any experiments yet to try out other kinds of sugar, though. Maybe someday.

Dyeing Wool With Avocado

Spoiler alert: I need to try a different method next time.

Spoiler alert: I need to try a different method next time.

I’d heard you could dye yarn or fiber with avocado skins awhile back, so I’ve been saving them for a year or so. When I remembered. Then I heard the pits could be used too! And when I finished spinning this little skein of wool, Jacob asked if I was going to dye it, so naturally my first thought was of those dry skins in the cupboard and the four ripe avocados on the counter. I chopped up two pits, added 24 grams of dried avocado skin, 1 cup distilled vinegar, and 3 cups of tap water. I simmered that for about 40 minutes, let it cool, and added my skein, which I had washed in dish soap, rinsed, and soaked for several hours. I brought it back to the simmer, let it cook until Brian told me it was starting to smell (I have a cold), turned off the heat and opened it the next morning. Humph.

I’d heard of & seen such lovely colors from avocado seeds & skins, but all I got was tan. Light tan. Not a bad color, but… Eh. I have some pennies in a jar of vinegar water and some rusty nuts & bolts in another, so when those solutions are done I’ll try them out on the yarn. They say iron makes things blacker, and copper can bring out green, yellow, or bluish tones. We’ll see. I also should head to the store to get some alum, as that makes a good mordant for wool. This summer I want to try out buckthorn bark and berries, and I just put some birch bark (the inner bark) in a jar. Supposedly it gives pink shades… I’ll have to do some research.

Even though my first results were so-so, I’m definitely inspired!

(A Love Letter for) October

As the weather cools, my mind slams inward in an abrupt transition from ‘doing’ to ‘thinking’, and as the thinking-months go, October has my heart. It may seem like an obvious choice for artistic affection and October’s popularity has the potential to redirect the part-time deep-thinker toward barren November or stoic January for philosophical inspiration. But, like that popular girl in school–the one with the winning smile–I am still smitten and powerless against her charms.
Because, within the melodrama of October’s 31 days, I find surprising truths and remarkable depth.
Yes, the brilliant yellows of twisting, paintbrush birch trees saturate the skyline and contrast beautifully with crisp blue, but below the birch and the showy maple, the undergrowth of the forest has gone yellow as well. It glows and illuminates the floor and as leaves fall, paths are clearly seen; nooks of the woods that rarely get noticed when covered in all-green, all-brown, or all-white are now exposed briefly for exploring eyes.
So too, in the artificial terror of Halloween that we’ve learned to commoditize as we’ve grown up, there is reality and humanity waiting to surprise us. Whether or not we know what we’ve done, we’ve created a fun way to bring death to light; to take a good look at it, face-to-face. We learn not to be scared by it because it’s just a mask, after all. But fear does persist and it teaches, gently, through these darker nights and earlier afternoons. A brisk and rattling 8 o’clock wind still makes me walk faster. Colder, greedier waves still make me watch my feet closer as I navigate the rocks.
And, in all the fun of a great pile of fallen leaves, as I sink down into them (unable to stand for laughing) their nostalgic smell catches me, pulls me further down until I’m covered. I’m not able to stop a brief detour into mortality as the sounds of life around me become background noise to the reality of this slowly-dying enclosure. My throat may catch and my heart may pound, but when a child’s hand reaches into the pile, searching for mine, I shake my head, snap to, and start brushing off my leaf-coat. Smiling again, I rejoin the other reality, and in one deep inhalation of October air, I distill both death and life into a single, beautiful autumn moment.


Upholstery Tote Bag

Super easy! Use up scraps! Ok, maybe not everyone has upholstery scraps on hand… but there are always remnants at the fabric store for cheeeep.

Did I take a picture of the finished product? Of course not! Good gravy. I'd forget my head if it weren't screwed on. It just looks like the bag I based it on, so pretend that one is made of the lovely gold fabric instead of the lovely blue.

Did I take a picture of the finished product? Of course not! Good gravy. I’d forget my head if it weren’t screwed on. It just looks like the bag I based it on, so pretend that one is made of the lovely gold fabric instead of the lovely blue. Toddler toes for scale.

So, take a bag you like, or pick your own dimensions. It doesn’t have to fit a body part, so the pattern is easy to draft! Your rectangle should be twice the width you want plus two seam allowances, and the length you want, including half the bottom, plus extra for hemming the top and a seam allowance at the bottom.

Cut some strips for handles, these should be twice the width you want (no S.A. this time), and as long as you want them, with some overlap to sew them to the bag.

IMG_0615 IMG_0628

Fold the strap sides in to the middle, as shown, and zig-zag down the center. I also added some straight stitches down the sides, for insurance I guess.

I like to finish the edges of the main bag with zig-zag so it doesn’t fray. Fold the big piece in half and stitch across the bottom & up the side.


I had a helper… Awwww!

Open up the seam allowance, fold over the top, and sort of finger-press in place. Decide where you want the handles, and pin them in place. Sew around the top, which will sew the handles down at their bases, then reinforce the handles however you’d like– I did a square-with-X kind of thing, but really two lines of straight stitching would be sufficient.


Now for the bottom of the bag– obviously this is for a “box” type bottom, but if you don’t want to futz with this then you’re done. On the inside, open up the bottom seam allowance and press it up against the side of the bag. This is easiest on the side that has a seam, but you can always find the right line on the other side by laying it flat and marking that spot with a pin.

If the seams along these corners are short, it’s pretty easy to eyeball a straight line, but if you’re sewing a larger bag you’ll want to measure to make sure the lines are straight and even.


If you want, snip the corners and finish the raw edges, and that’s it.

Lining up the corners and sewing the flat bottom is the most time-consuming part, so if you leave that off, it’s a really short project!

Feminism for Young Parrots

I was listening to All Things Considered the other day, when all of a sudden I heard the phrase “men’s rights.”* You can bet my ears perked up. Apparently there is a movement out there of men upset by certain unfairnesses in the world, in which men happen to get the short end of the stick. The factors cited in the story included the fact that boys and men commit suicide more often than girls or women, dropout rates are higher for boys and men in high school and college, and custody disputes are by and large decided in the mom’s favor.

Of course I started thinking about these issues. These are all facts; they are all not good. Do they need a movement?

Yes, yes they do. Suicide is a mental health issue. This needs a movement. Mental health care in this country is atrocious; men & women have different mental health care needs because they are biologically different. There are many diseases that affect men and women differently, and sexism, “reverse” or not, doesn’t have anything to do with that.**

I don’t know what to make of the different dropout rates. It may be, again, different biology, or, to tie in with the points made below, doing well in school may now be seen in some quarters as effeminate and therefore to be avoided.

This is the one that gave me the “well, duh” moment: Women are awarded custody in most cases, even if the man fights for it, even if he is a perfectly fit parent, because… wait for it…  children are a woman’s responsibility. In this society, they get the burden– and the custody. This is how sexism hurts men and boys.

I was thinking along this theme earlier this summer as well. Jacob has some pink Crocs, hand-me-downs from his cousin. I’m so glad no one has told him that pink is a “girl” color. As my friend Halee says, colors are for everyone. He also thinks it’s super fun to twirl a big ol’ circle skirt. Of course it is! He’s a kid! But when he goes to school, sooner or later, I’m positive someone will point out to him which things are for boys, and which are for girls. This is another way sexism hurts men and boys. Being told, “you can’t do that, that’s for girls!” is just as bad for boys as the reverse is for girls, and it springs from the same source. This is NOT “reverse sexism.” This is the same sexism, the anti-feminine sexism, that says: Masculine = good, Feminine = bad. Most of the time, this directly hurts women and girls. Some of the time, it directly hurts men and boys! The correct response to “You’re so girly” is not “No, I’m not!” but “Who cares?” WHY THE HELL IS BEING GIRLY A BAD THING? If a girl is boyish, she’s cute and edgy. If a boy is girlish, he’s a deviant, and in need of counseling.*** We’ve done a mostly decent job so far of making sure girls and women have the freedom to express their “masculinity” (if you’ll pardon the word), but that’s the easy part. If being masculine is good, then when women want to “emulate” men, that’s allowed. Go ahead and wear pants! Work outside the home! Be a leader! Name your daughters Sam and Alex! BUT! Since femininity is still bad, it’s ok for women, since they are just girls, after all, but not really ok for men, because they should be better than that. “REAL MEN don’t (fill in the blank).” And don’t name your boys Jody or Ashley.

When “masculine” and “feminine” traits, mannerisms, behaviors, jobs, and roles are TRULY equal, we will have conquered sexism. I won’t have to worry that either of my baby parrots will get teased for exhibiting behavior that doesn’t “match” their sex.

Raising children is burdensome. Most of this burden falls on women, historically as well as presently. Raising children can also be joyful and fulfilling! Many fathers know this, and really want (and deserve!) their fair share of burdensome, fulfilling child-rearing. The man who is upset that he didn’t get joint custody of his kids, even though he is just as good a parent as their mom, HAS a movement.

It’s called feminism.


*To be fair, the man being interviewed didn’t like this phrase, and compared it to the phrase “kings’ rights.”

**Sexism has affected medical research in various ways, of course, but the diseases themselves are unaffected by social constraints.

***William can have his doll, but only if he proves he’s good at boy things too.

Crabapple Butter, Bread, And Pumpkin Bread

So, it must be September.


Today the kids played nicely and I was able to get three things done! Yippee! I cooked and canned the crabapple puree I’ve had in the fridge for a couple days, I roasted a (really old) butternut squash and turned it into pumpkin bread, and I made regular bread. I really like making my own bread, I’ve done it often enough that I have a system, so it doesn’t take that much energy or thought. The other two, though, especially the canning… I’m just glad the kids stayed in the living room for the most part. All that hot water and hot apple puree makes me nervous to have the kids in the same room.

Here’s how I did the apple butter.

Washy washy! and cut, cut, cut.

Washy washy! and cut, cut, cut.

Pick a bunch of crabapples from the neighbor’s tree. These have such lovely red skin, I knew they’d make pretty apple jelly. Finally got around to it this year! Give them a quick bath in the sink. Then cut each one in half, no need to seed or take off the stems. My 8-qt stock pot was just slightly heaping when I was done. Then you cook with a little water, doesn’t matter how much, just so they don’t burn or stick. Cook till complete mush. Then glop the mush into some cheesecloth and strain off the juice. Don’t do like I did with chicken stock once, put a bowl under it so it doesn’t go down the drain! 

This is where it turned into apple butter: No juice was forthcoming. Out of the bag it went, and into my mesh colander.


  Much better! Smoosh it up with your hands until the good parts are in the bowl and the seeds, peels, and stems are in the colander. Repeat till your hands are slightly pink and you really wish you had a food mill.

Then put it in the fridge and forget about it for a couple days. Ok, this step is optional, but it’s what I did.

Cook the pulp up with some sugar to taste, and spices to taste, then can it up! This time I really did can it; most times I make jam or jelly I just make fridge jam. But this will be for Christmas gifts, so I wanted to make it last till then without worry!


Isn’t that a great color?? It’s slightly pinker in real life, but very pretty all the same.



12 half-pints, plus half a peanut butter jar in the fridge for us! Not bad!

The pumpkin bread recipe I used was the first one that appeared on Google, heavily modified, so it’s nothing special. I will share how I do my bread though, because I used to think making bread was about the most annoying thing ever. Let me just say, I HEART my bread machine. I use it only for mixing and kneading, though! I put my ingredients in there, let ‘er rip, and when the dough is finished, I take it out, shape the loaf, put it in my greased pan, and let it rise. When it’s done rising, I turn on the oven, bake that sucker, and done. It takes about 3 or 4 hours from ingredients to being done baking, but the total time I’ve actually spent hands on is closer to a half hour at the most, and that’s split into smaller chunks through the morning. It’s a great way to have fresh bread and keep your hands relatively clean! That kneading, that’s what always got me. I’d end up with half the dough stuck to my hands and the other half stuck to the counter, or if it didn’t stick it was because I used too much flour and ended up with ishy bread… Nope, bread machines are great. I just don’t like the shape of the loaf you end up with if you bake it in there.

I have so much stuff I want to make with apples… and I have to remember to take pictures of our cider party this year! Yay!