Monday, 22 March 2021

Back yard syrup

 One batch of maple syrup was too thick.   We do the main boiling of the sap outside and bring the almost finished syrup in the house for me to finish.   I think this particular batch was at or almost at the sugar percentage, or temperature that syrup finishes at.  By the time I brought it back to a boil in the finishing pan, it was too high a temperature.   I filtered it, then reheated to bottle and only half the jars sealed.   The sugar crystals started precipitating out by the next day.   

The thick syrup is absolutely delicious.  It is a wonderful ice cream topping, but it is crystalizing in the jar.   I took the unsealed jars, poured the syrup into a pot, and thinned it with some more of the crystal clear sap that is still running.    While the syrup was absorbing the sap, I washed and sterilized the jars.  When the sap was completely mixed in to the syrup, I reheated it to 219F, and rebottled.  This time, all the jars sealed and hopefully I salvaged the syrup.

On top of this, we started boiling sap on Thursday evening, then Friday evening and both weekend days for another 5 litres syrup.   The sap is running like crazy right now so you have to boil when you can.   With the weirdly warm weather we're having, the sap could stop being viable at any time.

I went outside to the chicken coop last Monday and found this. The tree was part of a larger maple tree with 3 trunks coming up.  Well only two now :). It missed the greenhouse and missed the chair my sweetie was using for last weekends syruping.    It fell right in between the two, only managing to take out the wheelbarrow.   It was the best place for one large maple tree trunk to fall.  I'm a bit sad because I know that shopping for a new wheelbarrow isn't likely on the schedule until after we're vaccinated here as we just aren't going out much at all.   It means a little more effort will be needed  to expend for gardening chores.      The tree trunk is already cut, split and in the drying stacks for future use.

I've moved the winter sowing containers from the deck to the edge of the garden, where it gets a lot more sun. They're on a bench in hopes of protecting the containers from chooks and curious other creatures, including a rather oblivious guy on a lawn mower, just in case we get to that before planting.

   Right now there are 2 containers of woad, 1 of chives, 1 of dyers coreopsis, 1 lettuce blend,  and 1 with just a couple of tomato seeds.  I still have a few more seeds to start outside and the rest of my tomatoes will be started indoors. 

 I like the winter sowing experiments though, because I get to plant things earlier than I can start things indoors.   My experience is that indoor started plants tend to get very leggy and weak stemmed if started too early, without enough additional lighting.  This year, I definitely don't have enough additional light.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Time consuming projects

These are the new tea towels on the loom.  They are a huck variation pattern.  Not only are they fairly quick to weave off, but they look much more complicated than they are.   The bonus is that the weft colour has a significant influence on how the towels look when done.  Each towel will look quite different depending on the weft colour chosen.

I'm betting lots of people have done these towels.  The pattern was in an issue of Handwoven Magazine a number of years ago, and here is a similar, if not the same project free to download.   I'm sure everyone and their sister has made these towels.  I even was inspired colour wise by a guild project a couple of years ago.  The grey and navy works with so many colours and the light and dark stripes add a lot of interest.     One towel down, and only 4 more to go.


A while ago I made this hat.  It's knitted and then felted.   I made some proddy flowers for a demo I'm doing and they were perfect to display on the hat.  It makes the hat really fun.  Right now the flowers are just  pinned on the hat with straight pins.  The hat is thick enough that the tips bury in completely.   Once I feel comfortable going out to get crafts supplies, I will get some pin backs and finish the flowers off properly.  Alternatively, I could just stitch the flowers down permanently.   

I wore the hat on my walk the other day and it was super warm, despite not covering my ears.  Like really, winter appropriately warm.    Yay for that!


We did our first sap boil this weekend.  We had about 120 litres of sap, which boiled down to almost 3 1/2 litres of maple syrup.  It should have been a full 3 1/2, but I misread the thermometer and I finished it at a degree higher than it should have been.   Sadly, only 3 of the 500 ml jars sealed, so tomorrow or Tuesday, I will empty them into a pot, re-heat them and then reseal them in clean jars.   

It's really good this year and my temperatures mistake means it's super thick.   I admit that I licked the spatula when I was done scraping the last of the filtered syrup into the pot for reheating, before canning.   YUM!

It feels like I should have gotten more done this week, but all of these projects took way more time than anticipated.  Well, the syrup boiling always takes a long time, but the flowers were part of a demo which will be done with a power point. It always takes me more time than expected to put one together.  Dressing the loom is always a bit of a slow project.   Too many distractions :)

Thursday, 4 March 2021

The sap isn't running!

 We've been having connectivity issues on and off for a while.  Last week it suddenly got worse and then poof, we had no connection whatsoever.   After rebooting modems, unplugging and re-plugging, turning off and turning on, we had to call for assistance.   We got the normal please turn off and then turn on.   Then the next step was unplug and re-plug, but using a lot more words.   By now, my sweetie was getting frustrated, because we'd done all that multiple times.  He went outside to check the dish and it was unplugged.   He plugged it back in, but the connection was obviously loose . Our connection lasted 3 minutes and was so slow.   Once he relayed this info, we had a repair guy here at 8 am the next day.  It turns out that because our dish was installed on a tree and not a post, the tree grows and loosens or pushes out the bolts.  In our case, it snapped 3 of the bolts, which put the dish out of position.  As well, the cable connector hadn't fared well either, and needed a replacement.  In all, the poor repair guy, didn't just do a simple repair, but pretty much had to reinstall the whole kit and caboodle.   It took him  a bit of time because it was a miserably blustery, cold day with snow squalls, but by mid morning, he was on his way and I got to check my email!   Yay!

I wet finished the blue striped tea towels. Everything that could go wrong with these, did so.  I ended up with only 4 towels instead of 5.  Not a huge deal because I'd planned for 4 but had enough loom wasted for a 5th because I'd tied on to a previous warp.   They are the same pattern was the pink and green, but using a series of different shades of blue.   I think  I like this better because the colours are less affected by the warp colour.  Also because they are blue.  :) or at least they don't have green in them.   

I over dyed the red and whitish yarn that I didn't like.  The white went a dirty colour with just a hint of peach.  I thought it was ugly.  I left it lying around the living room so I could get used to it and it still didn't appeal to me.   So I soaked it in some vinegar and water, and put some spots of dye on it.   I was going to do sprinkles of dry dye but realized that I didn't want to waste one of my good masks doing this.  If I'm going to sprinkle dry dye, I want good lung protection.   Instead, I found 3 packets of Kool-aid that I'd picked up on a whim when they were at the check out at the outlet store, ages ago.   I had pink lemonade, mango and blue raspberry.   The pink was pale and insipid, but combined with the other two colours, it made  a lovely combination.   I love the yarn now.   I want to use it as weft for a scarf, using a navy warp.

I spun some 100% merino and plied it.   This is 338 yards, wet finished and ready to go.  If I have enough after doing the numbers for the above mentioned scarf, I will dye it dark blue and use it as the weft for the scarf project.   I'll do it on a table loom though, so there is less loom waste.  I still have more merino roving so I can always spin up more if necessary.      

We checked the long term weather forecasts a number of times.  They kept saying we'd have lovely above temperature days and cooler nights, so we figured it was time to put the spiles in the maple trees.  As soon as we did so, we had a weather forecast change and now we have put our sap buckets out with a week plus of cold weather.  It's below freezing during the day, so no sap will drip.  :(  We should have waited a week.    We did have one day when the sap ran, but it's been so windy, we left the sap to freeze in the buckets to hold them on the trees.   There wasn't enough to do a boil anyway.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

quick update

 I've crafty things saved for the next post.  I'm still trying to decide if they were successful or failures.  The ramie I spun was thicker than I wanted, the cake dyed wool is bland, but is growing on me and it seems I may have tied on a warp to the last project and failed miserably in one little section.

  On the weekend though we went for short hikes on both Saturday and Sunday.   Even though our walks are usually less than 3 km, they are a highlight of each week.   It's amazing how being out trudging through the bush on frosty days, can lift one's spirits.   

  I almost wish I had a mask with me though, not because it was cold, but there were way more people out there than we had expected.    It would have been fine on Saturday, but we took the path to the right and everyone else took the one to the left, so we passed everyone on the trail.  On Sunday's hike, it was busy, but we took the correct path, so it wasn't so bad.    Both main parts of the trail were fairly well packed down, which made it easier to trudge through.  The one side spur we took was not so much and we slipped and dragged through that part.

We've had snow regularly over the past few weeks.   I've not had access to my car because it's better in the snow than the truck, so those heading off to work end up using it. It's not that I have any place I need to go, especially since we've just come out of another Covid lockdown.   It's sometimes nice just knowing you can go out if you need to.

 The Ontario Hooking Craft Guild is having their annual convention on-line this year.   Our local guild is doing a virtual rug display.    I was taking a photo of my entry, or trying to.   Phil had been zooming around the house like a crazy cat.    I barely had this rug set down to photograph and he came out of nowhere to plop himself down on the wool rug, as if I'd laid it down specifically for him to check out.    He does look quite at home there.

He had been racing around the house for about 10 minutes or maybe 15 and then popped himself down on the rug.  After I shooed him off, he settled himself on his favourite sofa blanket and slept for hours.   He is a real sweetie though.

Spring is coming.   We have temperatures forecast for above freezing.   This means the sap will be running and hopefully we'll be syrupping for the next couple of weekends.


Monday, 15 February 2021

Weaving and wool cutting

The pink tea towels are wet finished.   They washed up nicely, although there was a bit more shrinkage than I anticipated.   I don't imagine it was any different from other towels I've made, but just that I haven't woven tea towels in a long while so had forgotten.

I just piled the towels up, without matching the outside colours.  Still, it's easy to see the difference that the weft colours made on the towels.   I wasn't fond of the changes that the darker green made on the colours.  My favourite was using the pale pink.  I ended up weaving the extra towel in the pale pink as well.  I think it kept with the intended colour scheme better.

The next set of towels is on the loom.  I tied on to the old warp.  Usually this is fairly quick and effortless to do.  However, I managed to find a sleying error and had to resley about 1/4 of the warp.  Luckily it was near the last stripe so it wasn't too fussy or overly time consuming.  When I was winding it on, I came to the end of the roll of cheap watercolour paper I'd been using as packing paper.  It worked really well for weaving, pattern making and anything else, except of course when I tried it for watercolours.   But there was something icky on the inside of the roll and I didn't want it touching the yarn, so I snipped it off.  All was good until I couldn't reach the end properly.  A few threads caught on the paper and yep, I snipped them off when I trimmed the last bit of the paper.  After doing a rough measuring, I simply knotted the cut ends together as it was right in the general area of the end of the second tea towel.  We'll see soon if I was correct.

Here you can see the end of the first towel, with the light grey warp of the first stripe and the start of the second towel with the medium blue of the third stripe.  It sure makes a huge difference!

This is a Fraser cutter, used for cutting wool strips for rug hooking.    I have been looking for one for a while so that I could stop cutting my strips by hand.  That is pretty tedious.   My first choice would have been a Bolivar or a Townsend, but neither was in the budget, so I had to wait.  Over the summer I found a Fraser, but it only had a # 4 wheel that worked.   The wheel number determines the width of the wool strip which is cut.   A #4 is 1/8 in. wide.   It makes for a lot of detail and is a little more difficult to work with than a #6 which is 3/16 in. wide or a #8 which is 1/4 in. wide.   My favourite so far is the #6, which seems to be the hardest cutter wheel to find second hand.  But our local Hooking guild had a silent auction and they put their spare cutter up with a 3, 4,5,6 cutter wheels included.   I bid and won this for about the same price as a single new cutter wheel would cost.   It works well and I had a lovely time playing with it to cut strips for the rug I'm working on.

The cutter came in this box, which is likely the original shipping box.   It was originally destined for a rug hooking class at a secondary school.  I looked up the stamps and they are from 1956.  The stamps were issued to honour the chemical industry and the pulp and paper industry.  I wonder if they'd do the same today.  

  I can't find the original price of the cutter from that year, but I know that a friend purchased one in the 70's for $66.   So these cutters hold and increase their value!  They cost about $600 and up new and still look almost exactly them same.  The cutter works beautifully regardless of it's age.    I'm really happy that I got this as it means I can get some work done on my rug. 

Friday, 5 February 2021

New Tea Towels - Kevin update

 I finally cut off the scarf project that I hated, wound a warp of 2/8 cotton for tea towels and dressed the loom, in quick order.  The pink and green warp had 2 colours I wasn't fond of, the greens, plus the pinks aren't colour I often use, for weaving at least.   I had grabbed a cone of the pale pink and challenged myself to build a tea towel project around it.  This colour combination felt very spring time to me.

Kevin liked the towels!  We've had a few sunny days and he would situate himself on the loom to enjoy the sun streaming inside.   Usually he just sits on the front beam, but this time he kept sitting on the towels as well.  Luckily, it didn't affect the tension of the project, although it did cut into my weaving time.  I realize I could have just shooed him off, but he doesn't get a sunny spot to himself too often.  Usually one of the ginger kitties bumps him away, so I let him enjoy his moments in the sun.

I planned the project for 4 towels.   I used 2/8 unmercerized cotton, sett 18, tabby weave.   I used only a single colour for the weft, but I rotated through the 4 main colours I'd used for the warp.  These towels flew off the loom.  Please note, there are 5 towels shown.  That is because I had so much loom waste left, I wove off another towel.  I had enough left for a napkin as well, however because I'm going to tie on another towel, with the same details and pattern, but in blues, I left the extra warp length to make tying on easier.

I stitched between each towel, on both sides of the dividing marker and at each end of the length of towels.  Interestingly, there was virtually no shrinkage off the loom.   They are 18 inches wide by 32 inches long before hemming and wet finishing. I've tossed them in the washing machine and will then machine dry them before hemming, which I will do by machine.

 I played around a bit with different warp tensions while weaving.  I learned a fair bit.   I did this because we have a jack loom in the Guild studio that people have complained about being really difficult to treadle.   A couple of us have had no issues with this though and I figured out that for that loom, if you ratchet up the warp tension too high, you can't easily lift the shafts and get a really small  shed.    With my counterbalance loom, the same issue happens but to a much lesser extent.  However, if you don't get the warp tight enough, the bottom threads in the open shed are too loose and skipped threads both upper and lower, happen more often.   I found tension more of a personal preference with the counter balance loom.  However, with the jack loom, tension definitely affects usability.

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Freezing Garlic

 We were able to get the last of the locally grown, hardneck garlic from my sweeties farmer friend.   Usually he sells it in 2 lb bags, but he had 1 lb left.   My sweetie ordered it and it came home with him a couple of days ago, with the warning that it wouldn't last long.  I figured that because the last of our garlic from the 4 lbs we had in the fall, was either drying up or sprouting.  I had the option of freezing it or dehydrating it.   I don't really like the smell or taste of commercially dehydrated garlic, although we have one of those multi-function pressure cooker/air fryer appliances, do dehydrating would have been easy.   Freezing though is fast, and the frozen garlic will last up to 6 months.

The biggest issue with freezing garlic, is actually peeling it.   I checked out a few websites and videos about mass peeling garlic.   Apparently if you put a bunch of the individual cloves in a bowl or container, cover it and then shake it vigorously, the papery skins just fall off.   I tried it.   I tried it several times, in several different containers and as this photo shows, only 2 cloves were partially peeled.  The rest of the cloves papery skins were solidly attached.     The other issue with this method was that a couple of garlic cloves started to get bruised.  I think that grocery store, soft necked garlic would likely work with this method.  It has smaller cloves and may be dried differently. 

I ended up using a large knife, and tapping the garlic cloves, to crack the skins.  Then they easily peel off.  It took a couple of tries to get the pressure correct.  I usually use this method for cooking, but I use a hefty bit of pressure to crack the garlic so that the peel is almost completely removed and the garlic cloves is flattened for use.

It really didn't take a lot more pressure to flatten the clove completely.   Here you can see that the garlic is starting to sprout.   If it were any larger, it would start affecting the flavour, but the garlic taste on this was still good.

It took about 20 minutes to peel all the garlic.  It was a bit over a pound of garlic.  Look at the big, healthy cloves!   If I trimmed the tough root ends off, the garlic oils and odor could possibly escape more easily, so I left the cloves intact.   I should be able to just pluck out a couple of garlic cloves at a time and after a couple of minutes thawing, start to slice them fairly easily.  They can be trimmed up as necessary then.

A few years ago, my husband decided he wanted to try taking his lunch to work in glass containers.  It didn't last long though, because the glass storage containers are pretty heavy.  But plastic can take on the odor of the garlic quite quickly so the glass storage container was perfect.  It does have a plastic lid, but it's supposed to be air tight.   Plus it was a good size.   There were around 3 cups of garlic cloves.     So far there is no residual odor in the freezer.  Yay!     Considering how much garlic we tend to use in daily cooking, I don't think it will last long enough to see if it does last 6 months in the freezer.  I'm happy that it won't be sprouting on the shelf though