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.

Winter Solstice 2015

I made more of my little wash cloths for family this winter.  And paired them with small bars of locally made soap.


This was the first time I’ve used the technique of blocking.  After knitting a washcloth the tension was all wonky (I forgot to photograph this wonkiness.)  Blocking is the process of washing a new hand knit and then laying it out to dry, carefully shaping it to make it all symmetrical.


more about making my first washcloth here.

the garden grows

I have been negligent in my blogging duties.

The garden right now is actually quite sparse as we have been pulling out and cutting down spent plants, weeding, and pruning back overgrowth.  Also planting seeds for our Fall crops.  And many plants have gone to seed so we have been seed collecting.  SO much abundance with seeds.  Amazing.

But I do have pictures from the Spring and Summer growth I’d love to share.

IMG_2165                  DSC_0123






fig tree

fig tree


Borage - the bees LOVE it

Borage – the bees LOVE it

Bees also love Basil

Bees also love Basil

new furniture

new furniture









baby zuchini

baby zuchini

crafter's gourds

crafter’s gourds


Happy Autumn.


hemp knit washcloth

I have very basic knitting skills – knit, purl and decrease.  So making this simple washcloth actually introduced me to two new knitting concepts – “yarn over”, which is basically an increase, and “binding off”, which I had learned before, but since the only knitting I have been doing over the last few years have been hats, I never used it, so I lost it.  Also, I got to knit on the diagonal for the first time.

I had bought a hemp knitted washcloth years ago, but never used it because it was not what I was accustomed to.  I finally decided to get over my resistance and just try it, and I quickly liked it.  It is very different from cushy absorbent cotton cloths.  It is actually quite rough to the touch when dry, but when it gets wet it becomes quite soft and pliable, and I have grown to appreciate the texture so much.  So I decided to knit a bunch more, and this is my first attempt.








Surrounding myself with beautiful, functional hand-made things.

Living out on the ranch is truly inspiring us to get our hands dirty and get a garden going.  Sean has been connecting with his inner carpenter and building our garden infrastructure.



This was what it was like in the back yard in September when we moved in.


The Autumn rains started greening things up.  We got some cow manure compost from the land owner.


The first big task was to tackle the evil weed (not sure what it is called, but it is viney with purple flowers and completely invasive and tough as rope.)


Then to tear down that silly fence and connect the side and back yards.  And keep tackling that evil weed.


Sean had the brilliant idea of using scrap pallets to build a functional walkway.


From the other direction  – before…


…and after.


So beautiful.


He also built a compost bin.


Then he built some raised beds and we sifted the rocky soil into them.


Then we got a mountain of free wood-chips from a local tree service.


Sheet mulching is a process that uses layers of cardboard and wood-chips to smother weeds and create a thick insulation for the soil to keep in moisture.  The wood-chips also help attract healthy fungal and microbial life to the soil to build up a healthy foundation to a garden.  Healthy soil equals healthy plants.

IMG_1177IMG_1210laying down wood chipsIMG_1227IMG_1232

more beds.


and more beds, including a modified hugel-type bed (in the middle surrounded by bricks), which contains lots of woody materials actually layered into the soil in the bed for more water-holding capacity.

IMG_1765 IMG_1673

We eat a lot of squash and Sean started saving our squash seeds to start our garden with.  Just to see what would happen – since he hadn’t planted a seed before – he planted one squash seed in a tiny pot on our windowsill.  It took off.


And so did many others.


That squash seed planted in the ground.


Then we bought many many more seeds and seeding trays and started planting them too.

Then potting those seedlings up into larger pots.

After setting up a table in our house and having seedlings taking over our tiny home we decided to get a small greenhouse.  Sean built the base for it.


And assembled the structure.


It’s cozy in here.


and he made a little step for it.


It sure feels good being here.


Staghorn love

I love Staghorn ferns, and for this past Winter Solstice I decided to try mounting them on scrap wood pieces as gifts.

I ordered eight baby plants on amazon, followed some google tutorials, and threw my first one together.  Basically I made a circle of nails, nestled the fern in a pile of Sphagnum moss, and tied it all together using fishing twine.  As it grows it will eventually adhere to the wood on it’s own.

double staghorn


IMG_1375 IMG_1374

I can’t wait till the “antlers” grow on this skull.


I potted up the extra babies and will let them grow larger before mounting them too.


A new year, a new home…

our new home

Yes, it has been a little over a year since my last blog post.  I unintentionally took a sabbatical because I was unknowingly getting ready to make a big move.  One month missing a post turned into two, then three, then a year.  I kept telling myself that I needed to use the time that I was not blogging or crafting to start getting rid of years of accumulated stuff in preparation for moving out of the city, which we intended to do someday, even though we were not actively looking at the time.  But I felt the urging.  And did I heed that urging?  Not even a little bit.  I just kept looking at my garage full of boxes of who knows what and thinking I must shed, but not one box did I open.  Nope.  Not until the day in August when we went to look at a cottage for rent on the property that friends of ours had also been renting at – a large cattle ranch in unincorporated Novato, Ca.  That day we knew that this was the place that would get us out of the city, and we had two weeks to pack up everything and make the move.  I guess I need a deadline to get things done.

Sean and I

We’ve been living in Novato since September 2014 and are loving it beyond our imagining.  Getting really settled of course took a while, but now it feels like we’ve been here forever.  In terms of indoor space we did have to downsize to make the move, but even so there is actually a tiny room big enough for a lovely craft space.  And let’s be clear, in terms of outdoor space, we have monumentally upgraded!  We have access to 900 acres of rolling cow pasture and native woodlands.  Right out our back door (the buildings in the picture at the top are where our house is.)

out our back door

out our back door

We also have permission to tend and care-take the immediate space around our cottage, and I have a feeling many future posts will be about this space and the work we do there.

the back yard

Another deadline that I set for myself was to get my craft room up and running by January, and get the blog posts going again.  So here I am honoring my commitment to myself and getting things in motion.

craft room

My new craft space.  It hasn’t been actually utilized yet, just getting organized and ready for use.left side craft room

I was worried about both treadles fitting, but they just do.

gourds craft room

gourd art made by my mama. basket by me.

serger craft room

The treadle-powered serger is quite the contraption.  There have been many steps in the process of getting it all together, but it is still not working yet.  I have all the hardware needed – bought the thread stand online – but I was only able to get two of the threads successfully threaded.  The third is a mystery.  I will have to search out a sewing machine expert to come and help me figure out the threading.  So complex.  There will be a whole blog post in the future all about the serger saga.

The photo of the hands was taken by my aunt Amy Cantrell and is of my grandmother’s hands when she was slowly being crippled by Alzheimer’s disease.  Lillian was a prolific sewer her whole life, and I have a blog post about her here.

treadle craft room

The framed image on the right is a Seasonal Color Wheel of plants that grow in the SF Bay Area used as plant dyes, during different seasons and with different mordants.  You can read a nice blog post about the artist who made it here.  ‘Make Art Not War’ is a print of a piece by Shepard Fairey.

craft room corner

right side craft room

I recently got my dream sheepskin from Meridian Jacobs at the Fibershed booth at the Temescal farmer’s market

shelf stuff craft room.

Pictures of my parents and grandmother.  Leaf bowl by mama.  Collage cigar-box by Judy Beck.

back door craft room

Let’s hope the space will be as functional as it was fun to decorate!




Body Butter

My Solstice gifts this Winter were tins of a very special body butter – literally.

The simple ingredients are:

50% coconut oil, 50% grass-fed ghee, beeswax, and lavender & vanilla essential oils.


I first melted the coconut oil and ghee separately.  Then mixed them together 50/50 and added the beeswax into the warm pot to let it melt.



Then added the essential oils and poured into the tins to cool.



It is a very sweet yummy smelling balm.  It can be slathered lavishly on any part of the body.

The ghee provides plenty of important fat soluble vitamins for direct absorption into the bloodstream through the skin, as well as enhanced healing on the skin.  Coconut oil is high in anti-oxidants, lauric acid and medium chain triglycerides.  Lavender is calming and vanilla is warming.  And the beeswax is magic.

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