I knew when we were getting near the Summer Solstice last year (2020) that it was time to harvest St. John’s Wort to make oil. I had recently signed up for Kami McBride’s Herbal Oils course and was excited to try to make it, but I had never seen the plant in person, and wasn’t sure where to find it since I was new to the Chico area. I posted on the local Permaculture FB page and asked about it. Friendly Froggiey (PASS-A-FIST permaculture | Facebook) invited me to pick some out on his property and I was able to make my first small batch of St. John’s Wort infused olive oil.

A week or two later Sean and I were out in the Mendocino Mountains escaping the heat and scoping out places to camp and I was able to recognize a whole field of St. John’s Wort growing. We stopped and while I was harvesting some a family of wild Elk ran by! Quite a sight. Amazing.

I was on the herbal oils kick and went on to make some Yarrow infused oil from a huge field of mountain Yarrow.

The unique smells of these medicinal oils is really incredible and is medicine in and of themselves I would say. Not only that, but the COLOR. Three months later and I was able to strain the oils. St. John’s Wort is the beautiful red color, Yarrow is the green.

I also made some tiny jars of salve with the oils.

I was able to make a bigger batch of St. John’s Wort oil this year. There was a lot growing along the outskirts of Paradise.

I also spontaneously decided to try to make some natural plant dye with SJW. It was staring to dry up and at the end of it’s fresh plant stage but I gave it a shot anyway. I had pre-mordanted some cotton fabric and wool yarn in Alum and just played around with the dye bath to see what color I could get. I used the flowering tops – a combination of the flowers and the leaves and stems.

This picture shows the contrast between the original color of the yarn and fabric before and after dyeing. I love it!

St. John’s Wort is a plant of many uses. The oil is incredible for muscle pain and inflammation. I still want to make a medicinal tincture as well as a simple cup of tea with it. It is known for its ability to lift the spirit and bring in the sunshine. It certainly has done that for me.

X-mas Stockings

I didn’t feel the crafting inspiration bug all year until a friend asked if I might be willing to make x-mas stockings for her newest family members. It was such a sweet idea and was the perfect skill upgrade project for me and I excitedly agreed.

I found a great video tutorial to guide me at Learn to Knit a Christmas Stocking – v e r y p i n k . c o m – knitting patterns and video tutorials.

Learning new skills like shaping a heel…

Finishing a toe…

And learning knit embroidery…

And I did a second one in green…

And now I have a solid foundation for learning how to make my own socks!

Sock mending

Not long after I first ventured onto Instagram in the Fall of 2017 I won a contest offered by The Far Woods for a small sweet mending kit that included a mending booklet and supplies.

I was so excited to learn the skills to save socks that I loved and that were perfectly fine except a little hole or two. I found some darning eggs on etsy and tackled my first pair.

You first sew a circle around the hole, then start to weave back and forth across the hole.

Then you weave back through in the other direction.

Then you tie it off and you are done. You have created a small weaving over the hole.

The reason this post is two years later is because life happens and mold happens and health issues happen and moving happens. I eventually finished the other sock and only recently finished another pair of socks.

I like the contrasting red.

Now I dont have to buy new socks to keep my feet warm.

odds and ends…

Well, in the almost year since my last post I haven’t been up to making exactly nothing, just not enough to really blog about, but the accumulation of all of the odds and ends, bits and bobs, kind of makes up a proper blog post.

I ended 2017 by indulging my inner poet by reading at my first open mic poetry night, sharing my whimsical word patterns with the local folks.

I would say that the main all consuming project of 2018 has been the clutter clearing.  It has mostly happened in small unassuming, invisible, ways.  Truly, clutter clearing goes so deep, and I feel I have barely scratched the surface.  I have been inspired by Karen Kingston‘s books for many years, and this year I actually took her online courses to really get things moving.

Some of the visible clearing…

The clutter clearing actually inspired me to dive back in to my meditation training, which is another deep ongoing project.

Which inspired me to work with a particular space clearing flower mudra morning practice for about a month where I made a flower and candle offering each day.   I needed to buy lots of flower bouquets for this practice.

I then felt inspired to save all of the flowers as they faded and put them on my drying rack to dry.

Then I got the idea to put the dried flowers in a frame that I had that could hold them.

and then I made one for a friend…

I made my first flower essence from the beautiful wild rose bush on the property.

I clean houses for a living and listen to a LOT of podcasts all day long.  A recent favorite is the Medicine Stories podcast. When my neighbors let me harvest the dried flowers from one of their spent lavender plants I enjoyed the bouquet for a while but then was inspired by Amber Magnolia Hill and her podcast to make some lavender infused oil for the soothing practice of body oiling, which she talks about on this episode.

I also got the treadle going again after some neglect.  I made a pillow case for a small pillow I use in bed out of an old sheet that had ripped.

Most recently I attended an open weaving lab at the Fiber Circle Studio in Cotati and got my first introductory weaving lesson.

and then the following images are just hints of things to come as I learn techniques and strategies to bring some ideas into form…

a barn quilt…

A barn quilt?

What’s that?

Good question.

On a drive through Sierra county last fall, Sean and I came upon some interesting art on the buildings of the small town of Sierraville.  Brightly colored geometric shapes painted on a square piece of wood hung near the doors of the local café and Mexican restaurant.  You can see some of this local art here.  Driving through the farmland on the way to the next town we saw a very large square painted in bright geometric colors on a barn.  Quite a striking sight.  At the gas station in the next town I asked the attendant about the art, wondering if it was by a local artist?  She said no, that they were made by different people and were part of a barn quilt trail.

A Google search clued me in to a robust folk art movement that began in 2001 in Ohio.  Barn quilts started off as a community arts project spearheaded by a woman, Donna Sue Groves, who wanted to honor her mother who was a quilter.  It was also a way to honor farms and farming, women’s work and contributions, and to revitalize depressed farming communities through tourist attraction and community beautification and pride.  The idea caught fire and spread all across the nation and up into Canada.

Suzi Parron was a fan of the movement and has dedicated many years of her life traveling and interviewing folks along the barn quilt trails, getting their stories, taking pictures, and writing two books on the subject.  Her Barn Quilt Info site can be found here.

Well I pretty much immediately wanted to make one.  So I did.

My Aunt Amy had given me an old quilt a few years ago made by the women in my family.  I chose a quilt square from that blanket.

One of the easiest to acquire and cheapest materials to use to make one is called MDO Sign Board.  It is a plywood with a smooth surface on one side.  It comes in 8′ X 4′ panels.  A full size barn quilt is usually 8′ x 8′.  I bought one panel, had the folks at Freidman’s cut it in half, and then cut one of the halves in quarters, so I had one 4′ x 4′ square, and 4 2′ x 2′ squares.  I made some mini barn quilts to hang outside on my house and to give as gifts.  I would like to use the 4′ x 4′ panel to make a barn quilt to put on one of the barns on the cattle ranch I live on.  We’ll see what the owner thinks.

I first put three coats of primer on them, then drew the pattern with pencil, then used frog tape to tape around each area I wanted to paint a particular color.  I bought the least toxic outdoor paint I could find.  Unfortunately the frog tape did not work as well as it claims.  Paint did leak through so the lines were not as perfect as hoped.  I was painting outside, then bringing them in at night, so the temperature changes might have effected its functionality.  The precise taping was definitely the most labor intensive part of the process.

Then three coats of paint, fully drying in between.  Step by step, it was a process, but with a simple pattern it was pretty easy.

Joy is a barn quilt on your house.




a broom…

In November I took a broom making workshop at Ink Paper Plate in Point Reyes Station, a warm and cozy printmaking and art class space.

It was taught by Bethany Ridenour of Bristle and Stick.

We gathered our broomcorn (aka Sorghum) provided for us.

We collected it in piles at our feet and got to work.

The angled binding of this broom is what makes it so beautiful.

Once you get started you can’t stop because you need to maintain the tension the whole time.

Ready to chop off the handle end with pipe cutters, and then trim the tips with scissors.


I was so inspired that I bought some extra broomcorn from Bethany to try my hand at making another one on my own.  I also wanted to try using a different binding material.  The black twine is coated in some kind of petroleum product that leaves a strange smell and feel on the fingers.  I got some beeswax-coated hemp twine (meant for candle wicking).  It was much more pleasant to work with, but no where near as strong.  In fact it broke immediately upon the first pull.  So instead of using the foot bobbin as we were taught, I had to use hand pressure to keep the tension.  The stickiness of the beeswax helped to keep the twine in place as I worked.  As a result, I have a broom that is functional and beautiful, but certainly not as sturdy and long lasting as the first.  This one I left untrimmed.

Bethany has an email zine on her website that is lovely, called Swept Away.  In the most recent edition she posts a link to an article on the history of brooms.  It’s a great read.










a basket…

Back in September (2017) I went to a two day basket making workshop at Kule Loklo in Point Reyes, a recreated Miwok village, taught by Julia Parker and her daughter Lucy.

Julia is a national treasure.  She has worked diligently her whole adult life to learn, preserve, teach and creatively express her craft and skill of basketry.  A beautiful book has been written about her called “Scrape the Willow Until it Sings.”

Her daughter Lucy teaches with her, and during this workshop her grandson was also there to help.

We used willow branches and tule reeds.


She made a game with walnut shells and sticks.

After lots of fiddling, unweaving and maybe struggling a bit, I finished.

So much gratitude for these teachers and the beautiful outdoor location on the Marin coast.  Good dirt time under the Oaks.

Knitting Our Hearts Out

Sean was so inspired at the Fibershed Symposium back in November (2016) that he decided he wanted to learn how to knit (and weave, spin, felt, etc.)  So I promptly taught him how to knit and he worked on his first scarf over the next many weeks.

At the same time I decided to knit him a hat.  My first time knitting a ribbed anything, and making it was part of my tutorial for learning how to use a “magic loop”.  I found this tutorial online by Liat Gat of Knit Freedom, and it was excellent.

My knitting basket…

…and Sean’s manly knitting basket…

Just in time for the warm weather of Spring.

For Winter Solstice this year I made small jars of handmade lotion as gifts.  In the past I have made salves and hydrosols.  Making lotion is like combining those two things.  And this is where the magic of emulsification comes in.  Mixing fat and water, which doesn’t usually work well, works beautifully with the added emulsifier of beeswax.

Sterilization is always essential for this kind of work to make the lotion stay fresh for as long as possible, since there are no added preservatives.

The basic ingredient list is:  3/4 cup oil, 1 cup distilled water or hydrosol, and 1/2 oz. shredded beeswax.  Combine the oil, I used Olive, with the beeswax in a heatproof container (I used a glass pyrex measuring cup).  Sit it in a water bath with the water height just above the level of the oil with the heat on low until the beeswax completely melts.

While you are waiting add your hydrosol (or water) – I used my homemade lavender hydrosol – into the bottom of the blender.  James Green says in The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook – “There must be enough water used to cover the blades, so they can engage the liquid sufficiently to generate this emulsion”.

When you take the oil/wax mixture off the heat you let it cool until you see a faint rim of hardened wax forming on the side of the cup.

When the oil/wax mixture is ready you can turn your blender on medium with the lid off and slowly pour it in.

You can use a chopstick or rubber spatula to carefully stir the top edges of the lotion down as it mixes.  When the magic of emulsification has created a silky smooth lotion you can turn the blender off.  At this point I added in my essential oils. I used 30 drops of lavender. You want to be careful not to over-blend.

Use a small spatula or spoon to get it into your jars, and viola!

I look forward to playing around with more mixtures using different carrier oils and essential oils.  Fun.




Making Hydrosols

Alice Duvernell

Alice Duvernell is an amazing herbal body-care teacher currently working in the Bay Area.  She taught a Handmade Hydrosols workshop at the local herb store Gathering Thyme in San Rafael, Ca.  This was truly low-budget DIY distilling in your kitchen.  But she did bring a beautiful copper still from Portugal for demonstration purposes.

copper still

The basic tools were pretty simple.

hydrosol supplies

A stainless steel  multi-cooker would be the biggest investment, unless you already have one, which I did.  But she recommends that you gather supplies that you will use exclusively for making hydrosols because sterility is so very important.  Other than that you will need a ceramic or glass bowl to fit in the cooker, a glass Pyrex measuring cup, a stainless steel funnel, ice, zip-loc plastic bags for the ice, and unbleached coffee filters.  And you will need 91% rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle to sterilize EVERYTHING.  Disposable gloves and paper towels are also necessary.  As well as tinted glass spray bottles to contain your hydrosols.

hydrosol bottles

Again, STERILIZE EVERYTHING.  I sterilized the spray bottles in the oven at 175 degrees for 45 minutes.  Then rubbed everything else down with the alcohol.  Make sure your space is well ventilated for this part.

Now I am going to insert my own home-made hydrosol process in my kitchen.  I gathered my supplies –

home kitchen hydrosol supplies

Now the last and most important thing you will need is the plant material.  Alice recommends 1/2 to 1 lb. of dry plant material or 2/3 to 1 lb. of fresh.  She says using fresh usually gives better results.  I ordered a pound of Helichrysum (Immortal or Everlasting) from Mountain Rose Herbs online – a wonderful anti-inflammatory for the skin.  You will need about a gallon of distilled water.  The herbs go into the bottom of the pot along with the water.

herbs and water in pot

Then you will put in the shallow multi-cooker insert.

multicooker insert

Then place the ceramic dish inside.  It needs to be large enough to capture the water, low enough to fit under the lid, and small enough to allow space for the steam to go around it.

dish in multicooker

Then you will place the lid on UPSIDE DOWN.

lid upside down

lid on

The lid here is acting as the condenser.  Once the water comes to a boil you will put a bag of ice on top of it.  When the hot steam hits the cold lid it will condense and drip off of the lid into the bowl.  The handle of the lid is actually important here.  You want the lid to have a heat resistant knob handle, not a long handle handle.  This will facilitate the dripping better.  Also, if your lid has a tiny hole in it meant to let steam escape, like mine does here, you want to fill it with something.  I used a piece of cork from a wine cork.  You could also cut off a tiny piece of a silicone spatula.  You want the lid to be properly sealed.

You will then put your pot on the stove and bring the water to a boil.  Watch it carefully because as soon as it starts to boil you will place a bag of ice on the lid and turn the heat down to medium-low.  Alice says that the softer the distillation process, the better quality of the hydrosol.

ice on pot

Again, you need to keep an eye on things because you will likely need more than one bag of ice.  I used four.  As one bag melts, add another.

You will know you are done when the ceramic bowl is full of water.  Then you will turn off the heat and leave the mixture to cool and gather the final drops.

This process of making a hydrosol is exactly one and the same process of making an essential oil.  Essential oils, however, require VAST amounts of plant material.  For example, it takes 700 lbs. of rose petals to make 1 oz. of essential oil.  That is why it is so expensive.  And essential oils certainly have their place and profound usefulness, but hydrosols are, as Suzanne Catty who wrote a book on hydrosols calls them, “The Next Aromatherapy”, meaning an aromatherapy that is economical and conservative of precious plant material and one that is safe and doesn’t carry most of the health concerns with using pure essential oils (see this article for further discussion).  It also has unique therapeutic qualities all it’s own.  Hydrosols are slightly acidic, with a PH of 4.5 – 5.5.  This matches the slightly acidic mantle of our skin, which makes it very bio-assimiliable, and particularly hydrating for our skin.  It is a great alternative to incense for those who do not want to breathe in smoke.  Hydrosols can also be used in plant propagation because plant roots really like water that is slightly acidic.

So here we are back in the classroom with our chamomile hydrosol.  You can see the blue essential oil forming on the lid:

EO on lid

and the drops forming on top of the water:

EO on water

You can use a dropper to try to extract some of the oil, but it is usually in such a small amount that it is often not worth the effort.  At this point you will pour your water through a coffee filter nestled in your funnel into your measuring cup.  The oils will soak into the filter.  If you want you can throw the coffee filter into your bath or a foot soak to use those oils.  Then you will pour your hydrosol into your prepared spray bottles.  Voila!


Because we were so good about sterilizing everything, then we should not need any preservatives.  Keep any unused hydrosol in the fridge to extend freshness.

A hydrosol mist can be a relaxing or stimulating self-care routine.  Mist, sit and breathe.

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