Category Archives: History

Cha-cha-changes – 4/17/18

Change is in the wind and boy oh boy has there been some of that recently.  Unfortunately, it has taken out the power several times for anywhere from a few minutes to 9 hours and the start and failure have taken a toll on our appliances.  The 11 year old appliances are not as sturdy as they were new and the microwave with stove vent failed.  It has been ordered and will be installed soon.  The most used burner on the stove top failed once and elder son shifted the back small one forward then replaced the back one when the one we ordered came in.  The front one has failed again (it is actually an original as we moved it) and another replacement has been ordered.  The big scary one though is the refrigerator.  Each time the power goes out for more than a blink, it doesn’t come back on.  At first it was just a few minutes, then a couple hours, now it is staying out for more than half a day.  The contents get shuttled to the old basement fridge and I even called for repair once, but it came back on before they could come and unlike a car, it can’t be diagnosed if it is working.

But that is not where this post is going.  The Cabin Crafted Soap and Yarn shop has been seriously short on product since the Holiday Markets in November and December, followed by a vending weekend at a Spinning Retreat and no real effort had been made to alleviate that situation.  Spring and summer give me plenty of opportunities to spin at Historic Smithfield Plantation but vending opportunities are few.  Spinning as a demonstrator at our Community Open House has been scheduled in May, but that is not a vending opportunity, though sometimes a skein or two of yarn is purchased.  A couple of days ago, a young intern from Smithfield who is a local high school student reached out to me to participate in her high school’s Heritage Day event in May as a historical demonstrator and I am allowed to also vend without paying a booth fee by participating.  It is a month off and it take soap a month to cure, so the cool windy days have keep me out of the garden and inside making preparation.

First on my agenda was to finally build the display stand for knitwear, for which the materials were purchased more than a month ago and they have been on the garage floor.

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It was measured, cut, and assembled on Sunday and today, it got the first coat of polystain.

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It is going to need to be sanded down with steel wool or superfine sand paper as the dowel cross pieces roughened with the stain and a second coat applied, maybe tomorrow.

Next up to resupply soap and all 4 soap molds were put to use with 4 different soaps made to cure for the month.  That is 36 bars of soap.

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Lavender; Cedarwood/White Thyme/Rosemary; Citrus all vegan soaps and Goat Milk/Oatmeal/Honey.  They will be unmolded and cut to cure tomorrow.  When son made me the wooden molds, daughter in law asked if I wanted silicone liners and I said no but wish I hadn’t as folding the parchment or butcher paper to line them is a challenge for me.  Today I ordered a very thin silicone baking mat and I am going to cut it to line the sides and seal the pieces with a tube of silicone caulk to make unmolding them easier.

My other project is one that has niggled me for a while.  The shop name is Cabin Crafted Soap and Yarn, the logo is an ink drawing of the main part of our log home drawn by our very talented daughter in law.  The display sign is natural wood slats with black wood letters.  All of this suggesting rustic, but my table covers have been a green paisley Indian cotton bedspread that was cut and hemmed and my display boxes are wooden shadow boxes that were painted on the outside with a pale mint green color and that wasn’t in keeping with the theme, especially if I am vending in costume as a demonstrator.  With our local JoAnn’s store having a major moving clearance sale, I decided to purchase enough unbleached duck cloth to make two table covers and some acrylic paint in “Melted Chocolate” color to paint the shadow boxes.

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The feel is more natural and more rustic with the wooden sign, pecan stained wood display, and reed baskets trimmed with dark leather (probably pleather) for the yarn,  if follows the theme better.

The very young clerk who assisted me was told the plan was to make covers for two 24″ X 48″ tables.  We discussed the fact that the width of the fabric was only 42″ so I decided to double it and just seam up the middle. so that it hung down over the table.  I left her to cut while I went to pick up the paint and foam brushes and returned to pick up my fabric and pay out to leave.  Upon getting home to work on it, I realized that she not only did not calculate enough  fabric to hang off the ends if I cut it to give me front and back drop, she didn’t even give me seam allowance to hem the ends and still cover the 48″ length.  I decided that the backs of the tables didn’t really need drop as I generally store my crates under the table from the back and used the extra to allow side drop.  I guess I should have done my own calculations.  She said she was getting off shortly to go to her afternoon classes at the Community College.  I hope she isn’t majoring in math or fashion.

 

Silence is Golden

It has been quiet around here.  It can’t decide whether it is spring with fruit trees, forsythia, and daffodils blooming, leaves developing on the lilac and some of the shrubs.  Or still winter in April with a recent foot of snow.

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The chickens are confused.  The weather warms and they start laying lots of eggs, then it gets cold and they use all their energy just staying warm.  The past couple of days have been mild and delightful, tomorrow, the high will be at 1 a.m. and fall all day to 29ºf by night and there are snow flurries in the forecast on Saturday and again on Monday.

I took advantage of the nice afternoon and evening to plant 66 garlic cloves and 100 onion sets and then to keep the Houdini chickens out of the newly planted beds and the just sprouting asparagus, three 25 foot rows of plastic chicken wire were purchased and staked around those boxed beds to try and keep them out so growth can occur undisturbed.  Even when the chickens are allowed to free range all 30 acres if they are a mind to, they tunnel under the vegetable garden fence to dig in the spoiled hay and the compost.  With four more  8′ X 4′ and 3 more 4′ X 4′ beds to plant, a better solution than the plastic chicken wire is needed to keep them out.  After not having much luck with root crops and me being the only one who likes dark leafy cooking greens, a change up in the garden is due.  Potatoes, greens, salad, radishes, carrots, and turnips are all readily available locally grown at the Farmers’ Market, so I’m not even going to mess with them this year.  Tomatoes and Jalapenos are always canned or frozen and used up by the time the next growing season comes around, so they will be grown.  Green beans and peas if I can keep the bunnies out of them this year will be grown.  A block of popcorn with some kind of pumpkin or winter squash interspersed will be there.  I have planted sweet potatoes for the past few years and then many don’t get used, so I doubt I’ll waste the space on them, but Kirby cucumbers will be added so I can make lots of pickles.  They disappeared quickly last year the the cucumbers were pricey at the market.

The raspberries never did get thinned or pruned last fall and other than trying to control their spread into the other beds, it is too late to do anything about them this year.  I would like to dig them all up and replant huge buried pots of them to control their spread.  I also want to add to the blueberry garden and look at other fairly small fruit options.

One cold March day I took a fruit tree pruning class and though I can recite the rules, having an idea of what the finished pruning should look like still eludes me, but I have taken a stab at working on our small orchard.  One of the Asian pears has gotten really tall and is thin and compact, not conducive to picking fruit and I have no idea how to deal with it.  The apple trees and the other Asian pear have a better shape and I think I have a handle on the peach trees.

The early spring brought a trip to a fiber retreat and my first and hopefully last encounter with bedbugs.  That put me on antihistamines and anti itch creams and salves for two weeks.  Shortly after my return, a new travel size spinning wheel entered my life.  It is a fun little wheel that fits in an extra large Land’s End canvas bag and only weighs 8 pounds.

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Spring has brought two opportunities to spin at Historic Smithfield Plantation in costume before the season officially opened, a 5K and a fun run one weekend in March and an Easter Egg Hunt this past Saturday.  Both of those events brought dozens of visitors into the Slave cabin/Summer kitchen where I spin, so it was fun and busy.  When a child shows interest in what I’m doing, I will ask them if they would like to try.  If the parent agrees, knowing that the child will have to sit on my lap or between my legs, they get to treadle the wheel while I draft the fiber and once they have helped spin a couple of feet, I double it back on itself to ply it and cut it off to give the child as a souvenir.  The parents are always thankful and a bit surprised that I not only let the child touch the wheel, but help.

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Brrrr – 10/25/2017

We have had three light frost nights, ice on the car windows when taking the grands to their bus, but so far, the remaining garden is hanging in.  That may end tonight.  We had an overcast day that never got above 45ºf and tonight it is supposed to get to freezing.  I may be picking small jalapenos in the morning and  quickly chopping the for the freezer.

Each night there are two or three young hens that have escaped from their late afternoon confinement in the run and gotten in the garden.  As night falls, they have to be wrangled out of the garden and carried to the coop.  Most are “squatters” that go into a submissive squat and are easy to pick up and relocate.  One Welsummer is a runner and though she is distraught that she can’t get to the coop (she can get out of the pen but not back in), she runs.  Once caught, she is calm as she is carried to the coop.  Tonight I was later being able to get to them and it was full on dark.  The runner and the  Buffy escapee were perched on the fence in the dark.  The other side of that same fence is their run and the open pop door.  Stupid birds.

I was late because tonight was another opportunity to volunteer for Smithfield House, but not at Smithfield House.  The Director and I dressed in costume and worked an Outreach event on the university campus.  It was an outdoor event and chilly.  We did get a bit of interest in volunteerism and internships, were fed huge bratwursts and fresh pressed apple cider.  I am still trying to thaw out.  I spun, she recruited.

Friday night, Jim and I will participate in another Smithfield event, the Spirit Hayride, but as participants, not volunteers.

The Spinzilla results were released and our team was about halfway down the list of winners.  For our team, I spun the most and our sponsor, Strauch  Fiber Equipment Co. generously offered an incentive prize of one of their awesome ball winders.

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I have wanted to purchase one for quite a while was was excited to be the winner.

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To test it out, I spun a bobbin of Hearts of the Meadow Farm’s Coopworth and wound it into a center pull ball and plyed it back onto the bobbin.  The ball winder is so smooth and quiet. Thank you Strauch Fiber Equipment Co.

More Smithfield – 8/16/17

Another opportunity to educate.  The teacher may retire, but never gives up teaching.  Today was a special event on a day that Smithfield is normally closed, but was booked for a USDA event in cultural awareness.  They specifically asked to have as many of the craft volunteers available as possible.  One of the blacksmiths and his wife who assists him are retired.  The lace maker was able to get the afternoon off, and I am retired, as are several of the docents that give the historical tour of the inside of the house.  Though there are several areas in which I can sit and spin, the winter kitchen in the main house, the large shaded side porch of the house, my favorite is the slave cabin that itself has a history, having been moved at least twice and houses the huge functional Appalachian Rocker Loom, a non functional weasel, a non functional great wheel, and the accouterments of the slave household.  This location allows a sharing of slave life on the plantation as well as history of spinning and demonstrating fiber prep and spinning on spindles and one of my wheels.

Today’s fiber for prep was some of the Dorset that I washed from raw and am still carding for spinning, and it was used with the drop spindles. Combs or a teasing board are going to be needed to get that done.  For spinning on the wheel, I used some of the Hebridean from Hebridean Woolshed in Isle of South Uist.  My bucket list contains a trip to Scotland to visit them.  One skein of that wool was finished last night so the visitors could see the unspun wool and yarn from the wool.

Each visitor from the group today thanked the volunteers for giving up their day for them and at the end of the day, each of us was presented with a thank you gift, a small burlap sack with bread, honey from Virginia, Peanuts from Virginia, and a few apples.  A delightful and pleasant surprise.

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Flag Day at Smithfield – 6/11/2017

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Today was such a fun experience.  All along the fence posts were flags from various battles, regiments, units.  There were two encampments of re enactors, the Rebs above with their formations and cannon which was fired off every hour on the hour from 1 when the activity began until 4.

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The Union encampment was up by the blacksmith shop.

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Under the trees was a quilt with period wooden toys and two of the re enactor’s daughters who would demonstrate the toys and let adults and children play with them.

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Josh was in the blacksmith shop pounding with heavy mauls on hot metal on the anvils.

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I held my usual station in the Summer kitchen spinning local wool and discussing slavery, the summer kitchen, the slave cottage structure, the slave garden, and the spinning and weaving arts and how they were used on the plantation.

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Day lilies blooming just outside my door.

The house tour and all of the other activities were included in the gate fee today, including a dance and concert from 4:30 to the end.

During the afternoon, a skirmish occurred using the back and sides of the slave cabin for protection with much blackpowder gunfire.  I had several of the blacksmith’s children trapped in the cabin with me by the “fight.”  At one point, the cannon was pointed down in the direction of the Union soldiers hiding behind the cabin and fired.  It was loud when it was across the yard and pointed away from the cabin and deafening when fired in my direction.  The Rebs came down as a unit and apologized to me after it was over for not warning me ahead of time that a battle was to ensue. They didn’t know anyone was in the cabin.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the dance and concert as after leaving a fun filled day, I drove to eldest son’s house and am now sitting by the creek where I will spend the next few days prior to our backpacking trip next weekend.

History Day

Today was the official season opening of the Smithfield Plantation House, the historic home of William Preston in Blacksburg, Virginia. This is the site where I have been demonstrating spinning for the past year when there is a special event. For a while, I will be going in and spinning in different rooms of the house itself while I learn the history to become an interpreter and give tours.  Last November for their final event, I sat in the dining room and learned the information for the school room/office of the house and that part of the house, but there are 4 other rooms that I have only toured once and not an official tour, so that information must be learned.

Today, being opening day, spinning was in the summer kitchen.  The site excavation showed that the slave cabin was erected on the summer kitchen area and until this year, it has been the Weaver’s Cottage with old wheels, weasels, winders, and a huge Appalachian Rocker Loom.  All of that has been removed except for the loom and a small work table and set up with crocks, pots, and tools of an 18th century kitchen.

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Today, I was in this cottage/summer kitchen spinning on one of my antique wheels in full costume.  Because it was opening day, just inside the gate was a Civil War re-enactors encampment, they spent the night there last night and will again tonight.  It smelled so good with bacon cooking on their open fire when I arrived this morning.

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As you can see from the lack of leaves on the trees, we are still in early spring and today was an early spring day, very breezy and cool. The cottage is drafty and by the end of the day I was pretty chilled through.  One of the hazards of the cottage is the very low doorways to the outside and to the lean-to addition.  This is the warning on the inside of the door as you prepare to exit.  It is at the bridge of my nose.  The door opening is only about 5 feet.

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During one of the sunny periods, I was sitting on the steps in the sun to warm and two horses were lead through the property. They were lead down to the cottage to graze while the owner and her friend went to use the facilities, I got to hold and provide some attention to the two beauties during that time.

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The turnout today was not very heavy, there were lots of other activities on campus and around the area and the day was chilly and mostly overcast, but it is so enjoyable to have this opportunity to participate in teaching and demonstrating this ancient art, to spread out my Scottish spindle, hand carders, fiber in various stages of preparation and get to talk about something that I have come to love.  Each visit provides me with some education too.

A Full Cold Saturday

It dawned clear and biting cold today.  Knowing that we were going to spend more than 4 hours on the road, we went for breakfast, picked up some greens, breads, and granola at the Farmers Market, but didn’t get any meat to thaw out during the drive time and took off for New Country Organics to pick up our chicks.  When the forecast was checked, the snow chance for Monday was all but gone, but it still seemed expedient to go on to get the chicks.  I failed to note that their hours end at 1 p.m. on Saturday and fortunately we got there about 12:45.  Sixteen adorable chicks, 50 pounds of feed, and a second warming table were loaded into the car and we were serenaded all the way home by a box full of peeps and chirps.

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Sixteen little noisy balls of fluff, 4 that look like chipmunks and a dozen little yellow balls.  They are bedded down in the 110 gallon plastic animal water tub in the finished part of the basement with food, water, and two heat tables to tuck under.   The tub has a bent window screen over the top to discourage too much handling and to keep curious cats away if they should get past the gate.

Once home, half of the adult flock had escaped and several had gotten in the garden, scratching the mulching hay all over the place.  With much effort they were removed from the garden, the temporary gate put back in place, and they were lured back into the safety of their run.  The dogs were let out during their foray to freedom and must not have seen them as no one was chased or caught.

Today’s mail brought the last piece of my costume for spinning at the Plantation.  It is a short gown to go over the petticoat and shift.

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This is about as authentic as I will get for this venue.  Please note that I will remember to remove the Fitbit before spinning there.

While getting the chicks and chickens situated and the costume photographed, the forecast is back to 5 inches of snow on Monday afternoon and evening.  We will see what happens.  Glad we won’t be traveling then.

Olio – March 3, 2017

Olio: a miscellaneous collection of things.

It is March, the most changeable month of our seasons.  Three days ago it was in the 70’s, then the rain came, the wind blew, trees around the region fell and with them the temperature.  Today it is barely at freezing and this. . .

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Yes, that is snow folks.  Only a light dusting, but this is what we expect this time of year, not 70+ºf.  Tonight it drops into the teens.  If the sun comes out, the garlic will get another blanket of hay or a piece of row cover to keep the 9 inch shoots from burning to the ground.  In town, the flowering almonds, daffodils, and forsythia are blooming. We have a young maple with flowers and tiny leaves.  It is weeks too soon.

The chickens fled back into their coop as soon as the flurries began this morning.  Those birds just don’t like snow.  The dozen new chicks get picked up in 10 days.  Their abode needs to be set up this weekend so that the warming table can get the environment right for them when they come home.  So far, Tractor Supply has done a great job of keeping me from buying a few Welsummers as the two times we have gone down, the bins have been empty.  It wouldn’t work out too well to have 4 chicks almost 2 weeks older than the tiny Buff’s coming home with us soon.  The brooder coop sides that remained plastic last year still need to be enclosed within the next 6 weeks.

Mother Earth News alerted me that the onion sets can be put out under cover.  To do that, another day of moving compost is in order.  There is still a big pile and 2 empty boxes to fill.

Over the winter, steps were taken to make spinning at the Smithfield Plantation House a bit more authentic.  Two antique wheels entered our home, both have had parts made or repaired by Bobbin Boy and returned.  The little Saxony style wheel, the older of the two spins.  The effort to spin on her is much greater than on the contemporary wheel, but yarn has been made.

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It is a bit rougher than yarn generally spun by me, but it is yarn! Yesterday an attempt to spin on the great wheel was made.  Something isn’t aligned quite right and the drive band walks off the back edge.  The wheel does not have a groove and it was suggested that a beeswax paste be thinly smeared down the center to help hold it, but it still moves off the back.  It is hard to learn properly when so much attention is given to keeping the drive band string in place.  Also during the winter, additions were made to the costume that is worn while spinning at the plantation.  A Dormeuse/Mob cap, Apron, and Fichu/kerchief were added to improve the look.  A gown should also be worn, but that is not in the budget right now, plus it gets terribly hot in the weaver’s cottage during the summer months. Here is the new look.

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One of the issues with the petticoat (skirt) was that it was one long panel with a single seam and a drawstring of ribbon.  It was awkward and bulky at the waist.  Some of the re-enactors and seamstresses on Ravelry, the social network for fiber artists, gave me some pointers on how to deal with that issue.  Yesterday, the drawstring was removed, the single panel split into two, hidden pockets added to the front panel and the side seams resewn to the bottom of the pockets.  Cotton twill tape was added to the tops of the two panels distributing the fullness and stitched in place.  The back twill is tied in the front, then the front overlaps the back a few inches on each side and ties in the back.  It is so much more comfortable and now I have pockets for my very nontraditional keys needed to get there and for my Hussif, a small needle book, that has needles, pins, thread, and my tiny scissors.

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The Hussif, a contraction of the word housewife, was carried my many people, women of the house, pages, soldiers, and sailors.  It is a small rolled sewing kit.  Mine doubles as both a small sewing kit and a tiny knitting notions kit with the addition of a cable needle, a few stitch markers, needle gauge, and a tape measure.

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Traditionally, each pocket was made of a different fabric and was used to contain the necessary tools of a sewing repair kit.

Participation as a historical spinner is encouraging me to learn more of the period, customs, and terms.  The location is beautiful, though earlier this week, a very old, maybe 300 year old maple tree on the property fell.  Not during the storm, which is probably a good thing, as with little wind, it fell away from the forge shop into the yard.  During the storm, it might have taken a different path down.  The lead blacksmith rallied a group and the trunk and larger branches have been salvaged and once dried, will be made into tables, benches, handles for tools and knives.  Saving a bit of the area’s old history.

 

Ash Wednesday Storms

In the early 1960’s I was in junior high school in Virginia Beach.  We were in school when the infamous Ash Wednesday n’easter hit the beach, taking out houses in the expensive north end and obliterating houses on the beach in Sandbridge.  The resort area of the beach had a boardwalk and two piers, all of which were severely damaged, putting large pier pilings through the lower floors of hotels and filling shops and hotels with sand and water.  They held us at school to assess how to get us home.  The military used amphibious vehicles to get people in and out.  My Dad at some point, because our house was on the Lynnhaven River, had taken a string level out from the lowest point of our house and nailed a bright red disk on a live oak at that height.  We watched the water rise closer and closer to that disk, wondering where we could go if we had to abandon our home.  The house was a split level and the garage, utility room, a work room, and my Dad’s office were on that lowest level, the rest of the house safely above the rising tides.  The water lapped on the sidewalk around the side of the house, barely reached the outer most corner and no trees fell on the house.  We were safe, but many others in our area were not.

Today is Ash Wednesday and the storms that ripped through Illinois, Arkansas, Kansas, and Kentucky last night are threatening us today.  Most of the threat is south and west of us, but local schools closed 2 1/2 hours early, we have secured items like we did on the coast for a hurricane, bringing what we could into the garage.  Wind gusts of 60 mph buffeted us as we went in to get granddaughter from preschool and back to pick up grandson from the school bus.  The roads are littered with branches.  We have not seen the predicted hail.  The temperature fell 15º as the front started through and we will see seasonable temperatures for the remainder of the week.  It is raining, hard off and on, the wind gusting at times.  So far we have seen no reports of tornadoes, but a few years back, a local community was devastated by one, so they do occur in the mountains.  We ride this one out, having a safe spot low on our basement stairs, interior away from windows, supplied with flash lights, water, and a battery/crank generated radio.  Hopefully this will pass with nothing more than a few downed trees and power outages in our area.

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Virginia Beach 1962

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Pulaski tornado April 2011