Redmon Woods

Potato Planter Bags

The garden is coming along nicely, and it's time to start the potatoes. We grew some last year, but didn't get a large crop. Charlie bought some "potato bags" to plant in this year, to keep them contained and have space for them to grow upwards.

Bags

Potatoes don’t grow like other garden plants. Seed potatoes are planted in fairly shallow soil, then more soil is added as the plant grows up. The potatoes grow off the roots and stem of the plant, under the dirt. Because of their weird growth style, people will often plant them in buckets or bags. That way, as the plant grows, it’s easy to add more soil. Deeper soil = more potatoes.

Charlie ordered the bags online, and when they arrived I thought, "I could have made those!" The first thing I noticed was that they were made of material very similar to our feed bags. I’ve already had practice making feed bag totes, and I figured I could put my stash to good use. Because I have a lot of them …

feed bags

I was a little worried they may not be big enough, but when I compared them to the potato bags, they’re actually quite a bit bigger.

Both

What you need:

  • Empty 50-pound feed bag – the kind that is made of a sort of woven plastic-y material

  • Heavy duty thread

  • Heavy material needle

  • Scissors or rotary cutter

The first step is to cut the bottom off the bag.

Prep

Turn the bag inside out, smooth it out, and stitch across the bottom. I used a double seam to make it stronger. The seams are at 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch from the edge.

Bottom Seam 

This next step can be a little tricky, and it’s hard to explain. Hopefully, the photo helps. Fold the bottom corners so that the bottom seam lines up with the crease down the side. The bags measure 20 inches across, so I am going to make my corner seam 5 inches from the corner.

Again, I did a double seam for strength. The black line is at my 5-inch measurement, then the two seams are 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch from that line.

Corners

While you’re at the machine, fold over the top edge 2 1/2 inches and stitch it down. I only say 2 1/2 inches because I didn’t want to fold the chick’s head in half, you can fold it over as much as you want. But 2 1/2 inches seems to work well. No need to double stitch here.

Top

Charlie said handles would be helpful. The bags he purchased had little straps sewn onto the sides, which promptly broke the first time he tried to move the bags with soil in them. Along the piece I just folded over, I drew a line 4 inches across, on each side of the bag. Feed bags have a fairly sharp seam down each side, so it’s really easy to figure out where to place the line.

Handle Line

Now, I basically made a giant buttonhole. I had to redo this a couple of times because I tried to use my machine’s buttonhole setting, and it wasn’t big enough. With the machine set to a zig-zag stitch, just go around your line, with the edge of the presser foot running alongside the line. I wanted the stitching to go continuously around the line, for no other reason than I wanted it that way. Since I couldn’t turn the bag to go up the other side of the line, I put the machine in reverse and backed it up the line. (So, in the photograph, I sewed down the right side, across the bottom, then backed up the left side, turning again to go across the top.)

handle

Back to the cutting table. Cut the corners off the bottom, and cut along the line inside the “giant buttonhole” to create the handle.

Cut corner  handle cut

Last step, cut some little holes in the bottom for drainage. The store-bought version has little round holes, but my little diamond shapes were easier to cut out.

drainage

Ta da! Bags to plant potatoes in! They’re a little taller and even a little sturdier than the store-bought bags. Charlie’s excited because now we have a place to plant even more different kinds of potatoes. I guess I’ll be making a few more bags.

Complete

Garden Net Frames

TracyWe work really hard setting up our garden every year, and want to get as much out of it as we possibly can. Since we're on the edge of the woods, we have lots of little critters who love our garden as much as we do. We also have chickens that have been very helpful in getting our beds ready for planting, but we don't want them to eat everything we plant. 

After we lost so much to the critter buffet last year, we started researching the best way to prevent it this year. We've seen plastic tunnels, fencing and netting, but nothing that looked like what we needed. The idea of netting made the most sense, but we have a pretty darn big garden, with several raised beds. Charlie designed these awesome garden cages, using PVC, and they work great! They're easy to make, inexpensive, portable, and do what we want them to do.

netting

What you need:

  • PVC – 8 pieces for top and bottom (cut 6 inches longer than sides of bed), 4 pieces for sides

  • 90-degree side outlet elbow

  • Snap clamps (to hold netting to PVC)

  • Garden netting

Most of the supplies can be found at your local hardware store. Snap clamps can be found online, if they aren't available nearby.

supplies 

corners 

Our raised beds measure 4 feet by 5 feet, so Charlie cut four pieces of PVC to 4 1/2 feet, and four pieces to 5 1/2 feet. These will make up the top and bottom of the cage. He then cut four pieces to 30 inches to make the vertical supports. (PVC pipe is sold in 10-foot sections, so five pieces of pipe will make the cages for this size.)

Place the corner pieces at the ends of one length of PVC, then connect the other length to make the top and bottom frames

first step assembly 

top and bottom

Add the side supports to the bottom frame, then connect the top to the bottom.

sides

Then, wrap the netting around the frame and use the snap clamps to attach the netting around the bottom of the frame.

garden net

That’s all there is to it! You can make your cages any size you need. They’re lightweight and easy to move. When it’s time to harvest, the cages can be tipped up on their sides to get to the goodies. After growing season, they can be stacked out of the way. What we’re going to try early next spring is wrapping the cages with plastic to make cold frames. If all goes well, it will extend our planting season by several weeks.

beds

Farm to Yarn: How to Process Raw Fiber Into Yarn

TracyHave you ever wondered how fiber from an animal ends up as a sweater? I can now do all the steps from home – if my spinning was better, and if I could knit a sweater – so I thought I’d share how it works.

When I first started spinning, I used roving. That’s fiber, all combed into one direction, then formed into strips that make it easy to pass into the spinning wheel. Charlie and I had seen raw fiber, and then roving. The big question was, “How does it get that way?”

The first step is to select the fiber. Wool is the most commonly used, but there are so many more! My favorite to spin is alpaca, but it tends to need to be blended with something, like wool, to add some body and stretch to the yarn. Llama can also be used, but I haven’t gotten my hands on any yet. Angora rabbits produce angora fiber. Easy enough. Angora goats produce mohair. Seems like they should maybe call them mohair goats, but no. There are also a lot of more “exotic” fiber, like silk, yak, buffalo. All kinds of cool stuff.

Sheep are pretty clean, compared to alpacas. Alpacas love a good dust bath. Either way, the fiber needs to be skirted and cleaned. During skirting, the fiber is spread out on a screen. All the yucky fiber, guard hairs, dirt, and grass/hay are removed. Well, as much as possible. Some people like to spin it right from this point, but I need it to be more organized, and I’m not a fan of my hands getting all sticky from the lanolin on wool.

fleece 

Once the fiber is skirted, it’s time to wash it. It would be super easy if the fiber could be thrown in the washing machine, but that can’t happen. Too much agitation – which is very little – will cause the fiber to felt, and then there isn’t much that can be done with it. Instead, the fiber is put into nylon laundry bags, and submerged in a tub of hot water, with dish detergent. Allow the fiber to soak long enough for the water to soak all the locks of fiber and break down any dirt. After 30 minutes or so, drain the tub, gently squeeze water from the fiber, and do the whole thing over again. I find that three times is usually good. Each time the water will run cleaner. Some people will lay their fiber out at this point to dry. I’m in Washington, and it’s wet and cold right now. I run the fiber through just the spin cycle to remove a lot of the water, otherwise it may not actually get dry until spring.

Raw alpaca

drying

When the fiber is dry, it can be carded. Once upon a time, people would use hand cards, brushing the fiber from one brush to the other, until it was fluffy and all facing the same direction. Some people still use hand cards today, but a drum carder makes it so much easier. I recently got an electric drum carder and it's wonderful! I feed in cleaned fiber, and it comes out neat and ordered.

carder 

carder

The carder can process quite a bit of fiber. When the big drum is full, the fiber can be separated horizontally, and the fiber just lifts off. This is called a batt, or batting. The batt can be used to make felt, spun directly from this point, or pulled into strips to spin.

carder 

batting

Fiber is spun into singles on the bobbin. Using a Lazy Kate to hold individual bobbins, the singles can then be plied into what’s recognized as yarn. I typically use two singles, but some people will use three or four to make a chunkier yarn, or even ply strands of doubles, then ply those together.

spinning fiber  bobbins

When the yarn is spun, it’s removed from the bobbin, onto a Niddy Noddy. (Half the fun of the fiber world is the names of some of the equipment.) The Niddy Noddy also serves to help measure how long the yarn is. I’m not at that point yet, so for me it’s just a way to get the yarn off the bobbin in an organized fashion. The yarn is tied in several places to keep it from getting tangled, removed from the Niddy Noddy, then submerged into cold water. This “shocks” the yarn, and sets the twist.

Niddy Noddy 

setting the twist

That’s it! Once the yarn is dry, it’s ready to use. I have the most beautiful brown alpaca fiber (the fiber shown drying, above) that I was planning on sending to a fiber mill. This is my dream yarn, and now I get to do the full process right here. I will have a whole blanket, made from the fiber of animals I’ve actually met. It doesn’t get any cooler than that!

finished 

Felted Soap

TracyI've been looking at felted soap at craft fairs for a year, and wasn't sure it was something I wanted to try. After speaking to one of the fiber artists who created felted soap, I decided to give it a try. I Googled "felted soap" to get some ideas, and decided I wasn't quite ready for the fancy stuff. Fortunately, there are some basic techniques to follow for simple felted soap.

Like everything else I've tried, I hope to get better at making felted soap. For now, I’m happy to learn that the basic process is super-easy. (“Super-easy” seems to be a theme for the projects I like.) The general idea is to wrap wool or alpaca around a bar of soap, get it wet, and rub/agitate it until the fiber attaches to itself, around the soap.

The key to felted soap is the soap. You can use homemade or store-bought soap. It takes a good amount of lather to work its way through the felt, so you want a soap that gets good and sudsy. I found Kirk’s Natural Soap at the grocery store at a cost of three bars for under $5. It suds up really well, and works great for felting!

Soap

What you need:

Bar soap
Carded/combed fiber
Colored felting fiber for decoration/design (optional)
Baking pan or shallow dish
Warm water with small amount of Dawn dishwashing liquid

Felting Supplies

A few weeks ago I dyed some alpaca fiber with turmeric. It made a really pretty yellow, and I used that for this project. (Check out how to dye with turmeric here.) I wanted a basic rainbow of color around the soap, so I used small fabric strips of other colors, also.

The first step is to lay out the fiber. The first layer will be the outermost layer on your soap. I set the bar of soap in the pan to get a look at how far across the fiber needs to be. Once the outer layer of colored fiber is laid out, add your main fiber on top of that, in the same direction.

Felting First Steps 

First Layer

Continue to lay out thin layers of fiber in opposite directions. Three layers works well.

Second Layer 

Third Layer

Wet the fiber with warm, slightly soapy water, and lay the bar soap on top. Then, wrap the fiber around the soap, as tightly as possible.

Wet Fiber 

Wrapped Fiber

Wrapped Tight

Gently rub the “design” on your soap, in order to get it to felt, without moving it around too much.

Agitate Design 

After 10 to 15 minutes, the outer design will be attached enough to hold into place. Now, you can rub the whole bar, gently at first to get it loosely attached. Once the fiber doesn’t lift up, you can rub it vigorously, just like lathering up in the shower. I spin it in one hand, while resting the end in the other hand, for about 10 turns, then flip it and spin in the other direction. This takes about another 10 minutes. The soap will start working through the fiber and gets lathery enough that I stand over the sink so I can fling the excess soap off my hands as I work.

Felting

The fiber will form itself around the soap and become like a solid piece of fabric. Once everything is sticking together, set the bar aside for a day or two to dry.

Drying

The final product is soap, wrapped up in its own, natural fiber, washcloth! As you use the soap, the fiber will continue to shrink around it.

Finished

Notes:

You can make your outer design whatever you want, or nothing at all.

Lots of people like using liquid body wash with a scrubby. This gives you the soap and scrubby in one.

Felted soap works great for traveling! No need to worry about getting liquid soap through airport security.

Easy-To-Make Soap, No Lye

TracyI want to learn how to make felted soap. I'll probably practice with inexpensive, store-bought soap, but ultimately, I want to make it with homemade soap. This weekend I made orange-ginger soap, and by the time it's ready, in three weeks, I should have the felting part down.

This year, making soap with lye is on my list of things to learn. For now, I'm still afraid of lye. I have a habit of sticking my fingers in boiling water to see if it's hot enough, and other spacy brain types of things. The thought of sticking my hand in lye, or getting it on my fingers then rubbing my eye, is enough to keep me on a safer path. Hand-milled soap, made from white, unscented soap (think Ivory) is a great way to start. This may feel a little bit like cheating, but it's sort of like grating cheese for lasagna, instead of milking the cow yourself.

For this soap you need:

2 cups grated soap
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup water
Essential oils
Cheese grater
Double boiler
Wooden spoon
Soap mold

grating soap

Grate your bar of soap, and gather your other ingredients. For this recipe, I used 1 tablespoon orange oil, and 1/2 tablespoon ginger. Experiment with scents you like, and make this your own.

Grated soap   grated

Put the grated soap, coconut oil and water in the top of a double boiler, and melt away. (Note: Coconut oil is moisturizing and makes a rich lather. You can substitute palm oil to make your soap harder and get a fluffier lather. Palm oil does little for your skin.) 

I added the ginger at this point, because I wanted it to really cook through the other ingredients. Usually, scents are added after everything is melted.

melting

The next directions said to melt the soap until it “looks like marshmallow cream.” Descriptions like that make me crazy. Maybe what I think looks like marshmallow cream isn’t what someone else thinks. No problem here. After about 5 minutes, it looks a little like rice pudding. In 10 to 15 minutes, it really does look just like marshmallow cream.

melted  marshmallow cream

Once the soap and oils are melted, add whatever else the recipe calls for. In this case, I added orange oil. I also added a little more ginger because I wanted to smell it more. This is my favorite part. The oils in the hot soap mixture smell so good!

add oil

soap in the moldsSpoon the soap mixture into silicone or plastic molds. I used a silicone muffing pan, but you can also use a loaf pan, then cut the soap to the desired thickness. (I chose round for this batch because it is supposed to be easier to felt than something with corners.

After about 5 hours, the soap can be removed from the molds. It is sort of soft and foamy feeling at this point, but will continue to harden. Soap needs to cure for three weeks. Once it's ready, I'll get to work felting it.

finished soap 

How To Make Lotion Bars

TracyWith farm chores, gardening, working with fiber and playing in the kitchen, my skin takes a beating. Every time I walk through a door, I'm washing my hands. My hands get so dry, they crack until they're painful and bleeding.

Lotion works if you can take the time to let it absorb, and don't mind leaving lotion-y handprints all over everything. It's hard enough to keep my fiber piles under control, without having it all stick to my hands. The answer to all my problems is Lotion Bars! This is lotion that is hard, almost like soap, and that seals and protects your skin from all those things that dry it out.

I've seen lotion bars at farmers' markets and craft shows, but just didn't get what the big deal was. This year, halfway through the cold weather days, my hands were bad enough I had to give it a shot. I bought a little bar at a fiber show and loved it! Of course, like everything I see at craft shows and such, I figured there had to be a way I could make them myself.

I've taken on enough little projects at this point, that I'm used to learning things are a lot easier than I would have thought. That being said, lotion bars are REALLY easy. The hardest part is gathering up the ingredients, because these aren't things most of us have hanging out in our homes. Some items you can find at the grocery or local craft store. Anything else, you can find easily online.

Ingredients

Here's what you need:

  • Coconut oil or palm oil
  • Shea butter, cocoa butter, or mango butter (or combine them)
  • Beeswax
  • Optional: Vitamin E oil, essential oil fragrance
  • Double boiler (or large pot and glass measuring pitcher)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Silicone mold, plastic deodorant container, or plastic lip balm container
  • Medicine syringe or dropper

I keep all my soap/candle/lotion items in their own box, so I don't ruin everything else in my kitchen.

Add equal parts of coconut oil, shea butter and beeswax in your glass measuring pitcher. I use 3 ounces of each, or you can use 1/3 to 1/2 cup of each. (This makes 4 bars, fills 2 deodorant containers, and 4 lip balm containers.)

Melting

Place your pitcher in a pot with one inch of water – double boiler style. Heat on high to melt all ingredients. The beeswax does take a little longer to melt, so don't worry. If you want to add a meltable dye, do it now.

Beeswax

Once everything is melted, remove pitcher from heat and mix in Vitamin E oil and essential oils, if you're using them. I made a batch of orange-honey. For oils that don't come with a drip-top, I use a medicine syringe. I used 10 milliliters of orange oil, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of raw honey. (If using honey, and it isn't melting well, return mixture to heat just long enough to blend honey.)

containersPour liquid into molds. Silicone cupcake molds work great, if you want to keep your lotion bar on a small dish, or in a small metal tin. Plastic deodorant containers or lip balm containers also work. The first time I tried them, I wasn't sure if the warm liquid would leak out the bottom, but it doesn't! The deodorant and lip balm containers make the lotion easy to keep with you and easy to apply. A 5-millileter syringe fills the lip balm container perfectly. (I use the lip balm containers so I can carry lotion in my pocket. Most lip balm recipes use twice as much beeswax as the oils and butters, but that's really the only difference. If you want to use this recipe as lip balm, you certainly can.)

Molds 

That's it! Measure, melt and pour. Easy peasy! The lotion appears to set up quickly, but give it a few hours to really harden up. When it's done, your lotion should have a consistency similar to soap. To apply, just rub it onto your skin. The heat from rubbing will melt it just enough to transfer to your skin. 

finished 

finished

What I like best is I can apply it to the back of my hands, without leaving me with greasy fingers. Because of the wax base, it also withstands a couple of hand washings before needing to be reapplied.

Needle Felting

TracyWhen I heard our spinners guild was going to offer a needle felting workshop, I was really excited. And really intimidated. I didn't even really know what it was, but one of the members shared a piece she had done, and it was beautiful. I had no idea how I was ever going to learn how to do something like that, but I was willing to try.

Needle felting is exactly what it sounds like – using needles to make designs in felt. (There is also 3D needle felting, but this is 2D.) Felting needles vary in sharpness, are flat-sided, and have barbs along the shaft. The barbs push the top layer of fiber through the felted piece. The scales of the wool hook together and lock themselves into place. This is the backside of the very first project I did, and you can see how much the fiber pushed through.

needle felting 

Needle felting fiber can be found online, and can be ordered in a variety of colors. If you buy rolls of roving, it will last a long time because it takes very little to complete a design.

Roving

I've never been able to draw. When I saw some of the others' designs, I figured I was out of the game. On a good day, I can copy, trace and even stay in the lines if I want to. Fortunately, that’s all I need to be able to do to needle felt.

It may sound silly, but I search for pictures using "coloring pages." This gives me a selection of simple illustrations that are easy to trace. Once I have the outline, I can add whatever colors and shading I want.

Quail Drawing           Sunflower

Print out your picture in the size you want, then trace it onto water soluble stabilizer. I was taught with Sulky, so that's the brand I use. The tracing will be used as your pattern, and once the design is done, the stabilizer simply rinses away. Be careful not to drip anything on your pattern or it will dissolve before you get a chance to use it. You also want to make sure whatever you are felting on is completely dry, for the same reason. Using a marker like a Sharpie makes the design easier to see through the fiber. These photographs are from a sunflower design I recently made.

Sulky

Sunflower 

When needle felting onto something flat, a thick piece of foam is placed under it to give the needle something soft to jab into – better foam than your lap. 

Foam Block

Pin the pattern into place, using straight pins. 

Felting

Using very thin pieces of fiber, start by pushing the needle through the fiber along the pattern line. Once it’s tacked down, you can fold the fiber back into the pattern and continue stabbing it within the pattern lines. Add small amounts of fiber at a time, until you have the thickness and color you want. Stab, stab, stab, until your shape is fairly smooth.

Tacking

Once you have your main color down, you can add other colors for highlights, lowlights, outlines, or to add depth to your design. If you don’t like the way something is looking, you can use your needle to pry up the part you don’t like, and pull it out.

Smoothing 

Before Rinse

When your design is done, simply rinse the pattern away. I usually find that once the lines of the pattern are gone, I see areas where I want to fill in a little better. Sometimes I decide I want to add a darker color to outline the design to make it stand out better.

Rinse 

Finished

That's all there is to it! I've made several pieces (see below) since my first lesson, and I continue to learn and try new things.  I haven't decided yet what my next project will be, but it will be fun.

Egg basket 

Slippers 

Quail