Wool Dyeing with Acorns – A Serendipitous Experiment

My second son, James, is a biologist/ecologist, a recent grad of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  He is at home right now, teaching biology and environmental science at Hebron Academy.  He also serves on the board of the Center for an Ecology Based Economy in Norway, Maine.   He is here until his Canadian girlfriend, Beth, graduates also this spring.  Then he’ll be gone to Canada to start his life with her.  But…for the time being, he’s home, and we have learned a LOT from him about nature, plants, soil science, composting, climate change, birds and animals, and more.

As a result, we were not surprised when he announced he was going to try to make a bread meal out of acorns, which is something native peoples did prior to the arrival of Europeans on this continent, and which people who like to try this sort of thing still do today.  It’s a long process.  The primary issue is that the tannins need to be removed from the acorns before they are fit for human consumption.  Tannins are found in every day beverages, like tea and coffee, but acorns are extremely loaded with them.  This makes them not only bitter, but prone to causing the types of gastrointestinal upset not spoken of in polite company or professional blog posts.

To get the tannins out, James needed to soak the acorn meal for an extended period of time and change the water frequently.  He told me that some people will even put their bundle of acorns in to a running stream to let the tannins be leached out over time in the moving water.  Before he could do the leaching process, he had to crack the acorns open, pull the meat out of the shell, and then grind it all up in the food processor.  When he reached the point where he needed, “a cotton dish towel, or cheese cloth, or something” to hold the meal, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea.  I said to him, “How about if we wrap it in white wool and see if it will dye it?”  Fortunately, he was game.  And I knew that the water would be changed so frequently (several times a day in the beginning) that the wool would not get weird or stinky on us.

So the process began.  The water was changed frequently over the course of weeks.  Every once in a while we tasted the meal.  Sure enough, the bitterness was dissipating, and the wool was getting more and more nut colored.  I knew that at the end of the process, when the meal was ready for drying and baking, I’d have to mordant the wool, but this could obviously not be done while the acorn meal was still wrapped in it.

Finally, one day, James declared the meal ready for baking.  He took it out of the water, and the wool, and dried it on sheets in the oven.  The dried meal was then frozen in jars until he baked a bread with it at Christmas time.  It’s…an acquired taste.  There was some residual bitterness, but it also had an earthy, nutty quality that I very much liked.  The reviews were mixed with the visiting brothers, girlfriends, cousins, and grandparents.  If you’d like to try processing acorn meal and baking with it yourself, there are many resources on the web that can guide you.

I took the wool, mordanted it as best I knew how in a hot bath of white vinegar (I know there are better mordants for a natural dye like this, but this is what I had on hand), rinsed it, and dried it.

I like the color.  It’s a soft, nutty, slightly mottled tan, a little darker and yellower where the meal actually sat all that time, and I have a half yard piece – or I can put it in to fat quarters if you prefer – to sell.  I will be pricing them at $14/fat quarter.  (Contact me if interested!)  This wool is truly one of a kind as I don’t think I’ll be processing acorns again anytime soon.  Or maybe I will.  Maybe I will find a process more suitable to dyeing specifically and give it another try.  This was serendipitous, kind of akin to the Thai iced tea dye I did a while back after noticing how brilliant the color of the tea was when it spilled on my counter top.

Natural dyeing is not my area of expertise.  I do not currently teach it, because I feel that I don’t know enough about it.  I do plan to invite someone wonderful who does, however, to the Parris House in the summer or fall, so keep an eye on “Classes & Events” for when I can get that scheduled.

Happy hooking!  – Beth

 

 

 

 

There’s Still a Short Time to Shop for the Holidays, Etsy Coupon Code!

Happy Holidays!  How is your gift shopping going?  Have you remembered to treat yourself to something nice too?  Here at Parris House Wool Works, we want to help.  First, be aware that between now and December 15th, we are running a coupon code in the Etsy shop.  You can save 15% off any order of $50 or more by simply using coupon code HOLIDAY2017 at check out.

Second, here are some great ideas for gifts, for you and your winter hooking/crafting, or for someone on your gift list.  While these are our top ten recommendations, remember that the coupon code is good for anything in the Etsy shop.

So let’s do our top ten!  Just click on the item title to find it in the Etsy shop.   Please note where quantities and time frames are limited.

Holiday Wool Fat Quarter Quad

Holiday colors, 1 fat quarter each, hand dyed, cut or uncut – your choice.  This is a great selection of wool to hook last minute ornaments for teachers’ gifts, hostess/party gifts, or just for your own tree.

Complete Beginner Rug Hooking Kit

We have two versions of this, so make sure you check the shop for both.  One comes with our 10 x 12 box frame and the other with our 12 x 12 folding frame.  Fantastic and economical way to get someone you love in to the craft you love.  You can also customize it with a different pattern if you so choose.  Limited number available.

 

Americana Baker’s Dozen Stash

Only one available! This stash is a great way to start off a new hooker or augment the stash of someone experienced!  Also works well for applique, felting, stitching, or other crafts.

10″ x 12″ Rug Hooking Lap Frame

This is a favorite frame of mine.  Almost everything I hook that is not really large is hooked on this frame.  I love its simplicity and portability.  This frame is hand crafted by Bear Pond Wood Works in Hartford, Maine in solid, quality, no-knot pine.  A great beginner frame, but also a great frame period.  Limited number available.

12″ x 12″ Folding Lap Frame

Another solid and super popular pine frame by Bear Pond Wood Works, this one folds nicely when you take the base off to fit in to your hooking tote.  Limited number available.

Hand Dyed Tie Dye Wool Scarf

Only one available! Need something for someone who doesn’t hook or craft but loves wool?  Hand dyed tie dye scarf with hand fringed ends.  Toasty warm and a good length to tuck in to a coat collar.

Reach for the Stars Snowman Pillow Kit

Great winter project!  Reach for the Stars snowman pillow (or wall hanging, table mat) with all the wool you need to hook it!

Gossip in the Pines Pattern

Gossiping cardinals.  We see them every winter.  Who says females are the biggest gossips?  These two gentlemen chatter away all winter long.

7″ Snowman Ornament Kit

Need to hook something quick?  This kit is for you.  Cute snowman can be easily finished by using fabric bonding material for the back.  No sewing required.

Antique Hair Receiver

Only one available!  I pick our local antique shops for the prettiest, most unusual Maine items I can find.  I love this antique hair receiver.  Originally used to hold hair from combs and brushes, this could also be a jewelry holder, contain small silk flowers, or whatever your imagination comes up with.

So those are our top ten recommendations, but again, HOLIDAY2017 gets you 15% off any order of $50 or more on ANYTHING in the Etsy shop.

Please note that this sale runs through Friday, December 15th.   Some of these items need to be made and/or assembled so anything ordered after the 15th is not guaranteed for holiday delivery.  If we have an unexpected number of orders on the frames, it may also be difficult to have those in time for holiday delivery as well, so if a frame or a kit that includes a frame looks like the thing for you, please order right away.   First come, first served.

Thank you and I hope you have a holiday filled with happy memories and  happy hooking!  – Beth

 

2017 Paris Hill Hook In – Thanks to All Who Made It a Great Day!

 

On Saturday, November 4th, we had our Fifth Annual Paris Hill Hook In and I would say it was a great success.  We changed things up quite a bit this year.  Responding to feedback from hook ins that I’ve been an organizer and/or a vendor for, we reduced the number of guests from 62 to 50 this year in an effort to give everyone more space.  We also went from three vendors to four.  These are, to be honest, risky steps to take from the business side of conducting a hook-in, however, I would say that a good day was had by all and we plan to continue with these changes in coming years.

I would like to extend a bunch of “thank-yous” to the many people who made the day a success.

  • Firstly, I’d like to thank our guests for once again supporting this event, supporting our vendors, and being the reason the Paris Hill Hook In exists at all.  Thank you, all!
  • My husband, Bill, and 24 year old son, James, gave a herculean amount of assistance in setting up and then breaking down the hall.  They did lots of hauling, moving, and configuring on both ends of the event and I am very grateful for the help.
  • I’d like to thank the First Baptist Church of Paris and its Pastor Mary Beth Caffey for once again welcoming our event to their beautiful venue.  Given the choice between getting a larger venue to make space or scaling down, I chose scaling down because I believe traditional hooking events, in venues with history, character, and grace are becoming rare.  Our hooking heritage includes gathering in small, community spaces and supporting our home towns and villages.  Because First Baptist Church is willing to have us every year, we can continue that tradition.
  • For the Love of Food & Drink, our caterers, knocked it out of the park again with an outstandingly delicious breakfast and lunch.   Their kindness, conscientiousness, skill, and culinary excellence are a major part of what makes this event successful.
  • Our vendors are amazing!  A huge thank you to Connie Fletcher of Seven Gables Rug Hooking, Ellen Marshall of Two Cats and Dog Hooking, and Cherylyn Brubaker of Hooked Treasures.  And, of course, I was vending there too, and am very appreciative of everyone who shopped at my table yesterday.  Did you miss the event this year?  Click on all of our shop or web pages and shop the wonderful wares, just in time for the holiday season!

I am never able to get really great pictures at an event I’m personally running, so please excuse the lack of precision here.  However, you will get a feel for how the event unfolded and hopefully see some faces you are familiar with.  (To advance the slideshows, click on the arrows to the sides.)

Here are the pictures from setting up the day before.  The church was so silent, in contrast to the busyness that characterizes the actual event.

And here are the pictures from the day, complete with beautiful sunrise over Paris Hill.

Finally, here are the rug show pictures.  I was concerned that by scaling this event down the rug show would suffer, but no.  Our guests delivered with a great number and variety of rugs.  It goes without saying here that any design you see may not be copied without the artist’s/designer’s permission, so if there’s one you just love and want to track down ownership of, send me a message and I can try to get that information.  Some of them I know right off because they are either my design and/or hooked by one of the Parris House Hookers/Tuesday Group members, but others I’d need to make a few contacts on.

Were you there at the Fifth Annual Paris Hill Hook In?  We’d love to see your pics and hear your comments too.  Remember, if you are using social media to post about the event, include the hashtag #parishillhookin so that we can all find one another’s posts.

Thanks to all, again, and keep an eye on the website’s Paris Hill Hook In tab for information about next year’s event.

Happy hooking! – Beth

Playing Catch Up – News and Important Dates

With Corgi Tru. She was the canine love of my life.

I haven’t posted anything on the blog since May of this year, after being reasonably consistent about popping something new up for you at least a couple of times a month.  May was around the time small and a few big things started to go wrong around here, starting with my Corgi Tru being diagnosed with terminal liver disease and cancer.  Tru was my steadfast companion for the past eleven years and the dog our four sons were raised with.  To watch her sicken, with one capability after another taken from her by the cancer, was both heartbreaking and demoralizing.  On June 13th, it was clear that prolonging her life was not in her best interest, and I had promised, from the day she arrived to our home, that she would know nothing but love and care for all of her days.  Our amazing friend and veterinarian came over that evening, and Tru passed away very peacefully outside on the grass with many of her loved ones holding and surrounding her.  I didn’t really get off the sofa for about three days – not for any length of time anyway – and from there it’s been a summer of more minor mishaps, from the annoying to the comical.  I will spare you most of those, but if you’ve been following the Facebook page you know that it’s included one of my bee hives swarming, having a lot of my inventory damaged in a microburst at a show in Portland, and then coming home that same night to find my favorite witness-tree birch on fire from a lightning strike, necessitating its felling.  A friend of mine said, “Girlfriend, burn some sage at your house!”

I feel like I’m starting to recover now.  Things are going a bit better and my spirits are always lifted as fall approaches.  It’s my favorite season here in Maine by far.  For a variety of reasons, summer is my least favorite season, plus, for me, fall is like my new year.  Instead of spring, or January, my new beginnings often happen in the fall.   This year especially, I am feeling the need to get back to learning, growing, changing, and moving forward.

So, let’s do a little catching up first.

Tovookan’s Honey

One good thing that happened this summer was that we bottled our first batch of Tovookan’s honey from the Parris House beehives.  We had about sixty pounds altogether and while I have sold quite a lot of it, I do still have some jars left.  If anyone is interested in a one pound jar, they are $10 and available at the Maine studio, OR they can be shipped.  Be aware, however, that shipping is running around $7 – $9, so I leave it to your discretion as to whether or not you’d like a jar from a distance.

I have also had the privilege of working with three publishers who I have long admired.  Down East Magazine currently has some of my rug hooking kits and finished pillows in their Summer Pop Up Shop at their headquarters in Rockport, Maine.  If you are traveling along the beautiful Maine Midcoast for the remainder of this summer and in to September, please stop in to the shop right on Route 1 to peruse not only my things, but a great selection of Maine Made products.

The holiday issue of Rug Hooking Magazine will also feature my pattern and project article as the centerfold pull out.  I remember when I first started hooking thinking it was a really big deal to have that role in an RHM issue, and now here I am.  As always, linen patterns and kits will be available for purchase through RHM when the magazine comes out.

Finally, I have a really lovely and fun project coming out in the fall issue of Making Magazine, assembled and edited by the talented and hard working Carrie Hoge, a fellow Mainer.  I don’t want to put any spoilers here, but the theme of the magazine this fall is “Lines” and my project was designed accordingly.  I loved making it and loved working the Carrie, whose outstanding photography truly captures the beauty of any project she’s shooting.

My work is also on display in the Maine Made kiosk at Bangor International Airport.  It’s so fun to know that busy travelers going in and out of the airport can take a moment to see my bee pillow in the kiosk.  It’s my hope that it brightens someone’s day.

I also just launched two new hooked pillows for Beekman 1802, a bee and a pink pig, continuing with the theme of animals you might find on the farm.   My Instagram post of the bee is the most liked post ever in the history of my IG account, so I’m expecting it to do well in the Mercantile.  It was also “liked” by one of my hooking heroines, who I will not name here.  🙂

So, let’s look forward to what’s coming up the last few weeks of the summer and in to the fall…

Project for The Stitchery

I have a beginner rug hooking class coming up at The Stitchery in Portsmouth, RI, this Sunday, August 27th that you can still sign up for!  We will be doing a double heart scented buckwheat pillow; this is the prototype, to the left.  For more information and to sign up, click HERE.

On September 2nd we will have another of our SUPER FUN beginner dye classes here at the Parris House.  To sign up, click HERE. 

Once again, I will be participating in the Sharon Springs Harvest Festival on September 9th and 10th in beautiful Sharon Springs, NY!  I will not be down in the vendor area this year, but rather I will be at Beekman Farm demonstrating and teaching rug hooking for our Beekman Neighbors who come to the farm tours.  I hope to have some of my exclusive-to-Beekman 1802 pillows for sale in the Mercantile, however, for any neighbors who want to shop for them on the spot at Harvest Festival. Normally they are made to order and purchased online with a 2 week completion time.

I will also be having a beginner class at Scarborough Adult Ed (Maine) starting at the end of September.  Follow the website and FB page for more information on that as it becomes available.  We will be doing Maine forest/camp themed projects, so this is not to be missed!

Learn to make soap with us!

On October 7th, we will have a soap making class again here at the Parris House.  To sign up for that, click HERE. 

The Hampden Hook-In, sponsored by The Keeping Room, will take place on October 21st this year and I will be there again vending.  Hope to see many of you there!

Last, but not least, for events, the Fifth Annual Paris Hill Hook In is set to take place on Saturday, November 4th.  If you have not signed up already, please do soon.  I have reduced the number of participants this year to fifty.  That’s a reduction of about a dozen spots because I am hearing so very many complaints at hook-ins about inadequate space.  If the majority of hookers feel that more space is needed at these events but still want to enjoy the more down-home and charming venues, then the sacrifice has to be made in the number of attendees.  Therefore, I only have a limited number of spaces left.  For all of the information on this event, click HERE.

Some of the garden harvest so far.

The Parris House gardens were not their best this season.  In speaking to a friend of mine who is literally a professional farmer about how relatively poorly I think my tomatoes are doing, she said right away that the nights have been too cold and the days of high heat too few.  I will say, though, that the Parris House apple trees are absolutely loaded, so let’s keep our fingers crossed for those!

And so we move forward.  Not every year is our best year, but in looking back over just what I’ve written here, I realize that some very good things have happened.  And just about two weeks ago, one other very good thing happened…

Meet Wyeth, our new five month old Rough Collie.  (Yes, he’s named for NC, Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth – I’m an art geek.)  My husband grew up with Collies and loves them, and since we have had the good fortune to live with my favorite breed for the past eleven years, I thought it was his turn to live with his.  Wyeth was born in Georgia right around the time his breeder family (Morris Oaks Farm) was making a move to Maine, and that’s why he came to us so relatively late for a puppy.  But this is perfect for me as he is already so well trained and socialized and best of all, housebroken!  He already loves the attention of our Tuesday group hookers, although I do my best to keep him both out of their hooking bags and away from their lunches.  Dog lovers everywhere will know the complexity of my feelings as I fall in love with this new puppy.  I still shed tears for Tru, and at the same time find joy in getting to know Wyeth.

I will be getting back on the regular-blogging wagon.  Tell me in the comment thread any topics you would like to see covered on the blog (can be fiber art, travel, gardening, beekeeping, whatever!), and if I choose yours I will give you an online or in person coupon for $5 off any purchase of $25 or more.   Also, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter, which I will also be getting back to, by using the sign up box at the bottom of the web page.

Happy hooking and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

A Gray Gardening Day in May plus the Parris House’s Honey Lemon (or Lime) Mint Tea Recipe

Today I put in most of the plantings for the Parris House vegetable and herb garden.  As some of you who follow me on social media may recall, around the time I was planning to start my seedlings, our local water utility burst an underground water main directly in front of our home, sending thousands of gallons of water in to the basement.  Unfortunately, this is the area where I usually have seedlings set up with grow lights.  The basement was a complete wreck and the cleanup and recovery have taken a couple of months, so…this year…no seedlings.

Fortunately, Smedberg’s Crystal Spring Farm in Oxford, Maine always has a huge variety of vegetable and herb seedlings, so this year, that was my solution.  I am usually picky with my seeds, selecting a lot of heirloom varieties, but this year growing my own plants was off the table and, having used Smedberg’s plants at times in the past, I know I will not be disappointed with my harvest.

I got the following in to the garden this morning, even though the weather on this Memorial Day is gray, cold, and frankly miserable:  tomatoes (three varieties), bell peppers, banana peppers, swiss chard, kale, eggplant, slicing cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, lavender, basil, thyme, rosemary, and oregano.  I have a good sized spearmint plant potted and over near the kitchen door, because let’s face it, that’s an invasive and if I put that in my raised beds it will party on until it’s filled them up.  Also, our rhubarb has come up once again and it’s really time (maybe past time) to cut some of that and make something delicious with it.  There’s still work to do, even though it’s getting so late in the season.  I still plan to add some dye/flowering plants to the herb bed and also to the container area near the house.  My husband put up the electric fence for me again this year and our stalwart plastic owl is standing guard as he has for many years (successfully) now.   In looking over my plant selections I’m pretty sure my Italian DNA is showing.

Here are a few pics of the fledgling vegetable garden.  I assure you that in a month or so, this is going to be lush and just starting to put off some food, that is IF it’s ever warm and sunny for more than a day or two at a time this spring.  I’m starting to wonder.

I really couldn’t resist taking some of the spearmint, even though the plant is relatively young and small.  I love mint in my iced tea and I make my iced tea a particular way.   The recipe is right here for you, if you’d like to give it a try.  Let me put forth the following caveats.  I do not like my iced tea very sweet (sorrynotsorry to those of you in the South; I know this is considered an abomination down there).  In fact, the only reason this recipe has honey in it is because a) I like the flavor of honey and b) I have bees and am about to extract my first load of honey (it will be called Tovookan’s honey and will be for sale – watch for it) in the next few weeks.  It wouldn’t be ok for me to not use it in my tea, after all.  Since I don’t have my own yet, the honey shown in the pic is from Beekman 1802, and it’s delicious.  What I do not like is for sweetness to obliterate the flavor of a really good tea.  Second caveat is that I like my tea like I like my coffee – so strong you could stand a spoon in it.  Please adjust for your own taste.   Third caveat (hello, Canadian friends!) – I am using King Cole tea which my son James dutifully picks up every time he goes to visit his girlfriend in Nova Scotia.  This is a very popular Canadian tea that has ruined me for most other everyday teas, but if you can not procure this, just use your favorite.  Each King Cole tea bag is made to brew 2 cups, so you just have to double how many you use in your recipe.

1 half gallon Ball canning jar or a half gallon container of your choice  (but let’s face it, the canning jars are really cute)

3 King Cole Orange Pekoe tea bags OR 6 tea bags of your favorite tea

2-3 tablespoons honey or to taste (go ahead Southern friends, pour that jar upside down and count to 100)

1 lemon, cut in to quarters (lime is also tasty)

1 sprig of fresh mint, cut in to slices and put in to a tea ball

About 4 trays of ice (the Parris House icemaker broke about ten years ago, the repair guy said $600 to fix it – we use trays)

Fill your kettle with hot water and start it on the stove (or plug it in).  Meanwhile, put the honey in the bottom of the jar, and cut up your lemon and mint.  I don’t worry about the lemon seeds, but if they’ll bother you, remove them.  I put my mint pieces in to a tea ball so that I don’t have to fish them out of the tea later.  This may compromise the diffusion a little bit and you can certainly just put them in whole.  However, do NOT put them in the jar yet.

Once your water is boiling, fill the Ball jar to about a third with it and then stir the honey from the bottom until dissolved.  Add your tea bags, fill to about half with the hot water, and steep with the lid on for as long as you like.  As I said, I like my tea super strong, so I let it get plenty dark, about 10 or 15 minutes (ok, sometimes longer – yes, I know it can get bitter – yes, I kinda like that).  When steeped to your liking, remove the tea bags and add the ice.  Notice that I have not yet added the lemon and mint.  This is because I do not like the lemon to take on that “cooked” flavor that can happen when you’ve put the lemons in while the water is still too hot.  I also think it alters the freshness of the mint.  So I wait until most of the ice has melted and cooled and diluted the tea.

Once the water is not hot enough to alter the freshness of the lemon and mint (about room temperature), add those to the jar.  Let these flavor the tea for at least an hour or two.  I recommend getting them both out of the jar the same day, though, because I think the lemon starts to take on an odd flavor if left in the jar too long.   I store the tea in the fridge so that the flavors stay fresh and so that when I use it it’s very cold.

Unfortunately, today is not an iced tea day.  Today is a hot tea, hot coffee, or possibly even hot chocolate day here in Maine, replete with wood stove burning to knock the chill off.  But…I have to think iced tea days are coming, so try making it this way and let me know what you think.

Happy Memorial Day and happy hooking.

P.S.  I have not failed to observe Memorial Day; in fact, I am always deeply reverent of its origins and meaning.  If you follow me on Facebook you will have already seen a Memorial Day post I wrote for the Paris Hill Historical Society today.  Take a look by clicking HERE.  Thank you!

Depression Era Poor Man’s Cake, Courtesy My Grandmother (and a Coupon Code For You)

My grandmother, Mary Barnard, with my niece, Rose, my son, Robert, and my husband, Bill, circa 1991, at her Little Sebago Lake cottage in Gray, Maine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother lately.  I often think of her in challenging times for so many reasons.  At the moment I am realizing that I can no longer realistically run Parris House Wool Works as alone as I have been, because I am running myself ragged (no, threadbare) keeping up with all of the wonderful opportunities I’ve been given.  I have one fantastic helper, a virtual assistant, already started, and two other people waiting for me to get my act and timing together in a smart enough way to hand them some work.  So really, not catastrophic, but the overwhelm is a bit much right now.  Additionally, and more actually truly sad, the canine love of my life, Corgi Tru, was diagnosed with cancer last week and is not expected to live the summer.  She is twelve and she’s had a fantastic life, but I wasn’t ready to face letting her go so soon.

I think about my grandmother in stressful times because I loved her so much and she was such an enormous influence on who I am today.  The very best times of my childhood were spent at her summer cottage on Little Sebago Lake in Gray, Maine.  I was a stressed out child, mostly due to circumstances at home but also because, well, I seem to have been born Type A (I’m working on it). The summer cottage time in Maine with my grandmother was the antidote to that stress.  There were no crazy expectations at the cottage.  I was always good enough.  In fact, I was great, or so my grandmother told me.  We played cards, swam in the lake, climbed hills to find wild blueberries, hiked to an abandoned cellar hole and cemetery, and ate.  We ate ice cream every night at 8 o’clock on the dot.  My grandmother didn’t scoop it out like most people do.  Nope.  She took the paper wrapping off the half gallon – a true half gallon back in the ’70s – and then cut the ice cream in to perfectly even bricks.  I will never know whether she did this just to have nice equal servings or because she had been a Depression era mom and this was the most efficient way to divvy up a box of ice cream.

As I said, my grandmother had been a Depression era mother to three children, my Uncle Courtland, my Aunt Dorothy, and my mother, Elizabeth, all born between 1920 and 1928.  She knew what difficulty really meant.  She lost both of her parents before she was forty herself, and she survived the indescribable worry that must have come with having a son and son-in-law serving in combat during World War II.   As a child I never gave any of these things a thought.  I just knew that this was the sunny grandmother who made my life a dream in the summers and had introduced me to Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll, Grape Nut ice cream, daily diary keeping, Canasta, and, perhaps most pivotally, Maine.

I would often awake in the summer time to the delicious aromas of whatever my grandmother was already baking in the kitchen.  Sometimes it was homemade fried donuts, or cookies, or the recipe I’m going to share with you now, Poor Man’s Cake.  Poor Man’s Cake was a Great Depression recipe and I’d bet there are variations of it, if not this same recipe, in your family too.  It may even be older because my copy of the recipe from my grandmother says, “Poor Man’s Cake, World War,” which may indicate World War I.  Her brother, my great uncle Winfield Martin, had fought in France during the Great War and nearly died.  Thankfully, he recovered in a hospital in France, came home and lived a long and good life.  You will notice that this recipe has no milk, no butter, no eggs.  But don’t be put off.  Either this cake is the most delicious and addictive old recipe ever, or…it just is to me because so many memories are attached to it.

Here it is for you to try.

1 pound raisins in 2 cups water, boiled 15 minutes

Add to the raisins…

3/4 cup shortening and mix together

2 cups sugar

1 cup cold water

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp baking soda

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp salt

4 cups flour

1 cup chopped nuts

1/2 jar candied fruit (I don’t know what 1/2 jar measures out to, but feel free to wing it)

Mix all ingredients together.  Bake at 275 degrees for one hour in 3 greased and floured loaf pans.

I know that sounds like a very low oven temperature, but that’s what my grandmother did.  What you end up with is a very soft, very dark raisin/fruitcake, very unlike those doorstop fruitcakes often found in the supermarket during the holidays.  Sometimes she left out the candied fruit and it was more of a raisin spice cake/bread.

This week (May 22nd to May 29th) I’ll offer coupon code POORMANSCAKE in the Etsy and Shopify shops for 10% off your order of $25 or more, and let me know if you try the recipe!

Happy hooking – Beth

 

First Belfast Hook In Sponsored by 207 Creatives – Our Heartfelt Thanks to All

 

After much preparation and anticipation, the first Belfast Hook In sponsored by 207 Creatives went off on Saturday, April 22nd at the First Church of Belfast, Belfast, Maine.  We’d like to thank everyone who came out to this first 207 Creatives event and everyone who assisted in what turned out to be a very nice day.   I took what photos I could of the day, but since I was an organizer and a vendor, I have to admit the photos I got are limited.   (Note to self: assign photography to a helper next time.)   I did, however, get quite a few rug show photos by taking a quick block of time to record the amazing work of our attendees.

For those who were not in attendance, 207 Creatives is the collaborative effort of Connie Fletcher of Seven Gables Designs,  Ellen Marshall of Two Cats and Dog Hooking,  and myself.  Here they are at their respective tables at the hook in!  (To my knowledge, there is no picture of me from the day…which is ok.)

First and foremost, we want to thank our 120 guests who made the day a success, provided us with useful feedback via their comment cards, provided rugs for truly one of the most impressive hook in rug shows I have ever seen, and who came from as far away as Canada to join us for this special event!  The tradition of the hook in is so important to our craft, and our attendees came out to support this new event with enthusiasm, creativity, and good ideas for future events.  Thank you, thank you!

Our special guest speaker was artist and teacher Rose Ann Hunter, who was accompanied by her daughter Kristin who helped immensely with the projector for Rose Ann’s presentation.   Rose Ann’s table was continually visited by inquisitive guests looking at her work, asking questions, seeking demonstrations, and learning new techniques.   We are so thankful and happy that Rose Ann agreed to join us and share her expertise with all.

As an extra service we invited Neill Peterson, a knife and scissors sharpener, to provide sharpening for our well used scissors.  I did not get a chance to take mine over to him, but it seems as though he was busy during the entire event helping to keep everyone’s tools in tip top shape.

We have so many people to thank for a successful day.  Shops in Belfast, Heavenly Socks Yarns and Fiddlehead Artisan Supply offered discounts to our attendees.   Local lodging establishments offering special packages to our guests were the Yankee Clipper Motel, Belfast Bay Inn, and Loons Call Maine.

Our outstanding food was provided by For the Love of Food and Drink, just as it is at the Paris Hill Hook In.  These folks prepare the food fresh right there in the venue kitchen and they do it with smiles on the entire time.  I’m not this cheerful in my own kitchen when I’m not serving 120 guests.

More helpers included Mike Fletcher and Michelle Silveira, Connie’s husband and daughter respectively, who did anything and everything to help, as well as Roberta McCusker, friend and hooker extraordinaire who came over from New Hampshire.   I do not have a picture of Mike, but I do have Michelle and Roberta here.

Very special thanks also to Edna Olmstead, who goes above and beyond in service to everything she commits to.  Edna ran our rug show and is also an extremely prolific and accomplished hooker in her own right.   Also, those gorgeous fluffy frame covers you buy from Parris House Wool Works and other lovely shops/vendors in the area?  Edna makes those.  I personally have three or four now, because I can’t stop myself from collecting them.

As I said, the rug show was absolutely stunning.  I can not remember the last time I saw a hook in rug show of this quality and again, I thank our attendees for bringing in their beautiful rugs.  The variety of styles, techniques, and subject matter was mind boggling.  I have assembled my rug show pictures in to a click through gallery below.  It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway:  these rugs are the property of their makers, the designs are the property of their designers.  No image here may be copied for a “new” design without the express permission of the designer.  Time constraints did not permit me to record the makers and designers of each of these rugs, however, IF there is a design that you see and would like to have the pattern for, I will do whatever I can to research the rug to determine its rightful owner and designer for  you.

At 207 Creatives we are already brainstorming future events, so stay tuned for more news on those.  Additionally, there is still space left at the Fifth Annual Paris Hill Hook In sponsored by Parris House Wool Works, scheduled for November 4th, 2017, but it’s about half full already.  If that is an event you are interested in, click HERE for more information and to sign up.   If you’d like to stay on top of everything happening here at Parris House Wool Works, by all means also sign up for our newsletter, The Street Corner, using the sign up box at the bottom of this page.

Thank you, happy hooking, and we hope to see you at future celebrations of our craft!

 

A Sneak Peek at the First Hookers Circle Project and How You Can Join Us!

Not everyone can join us in the Maine studio to hook together on Tuesdays.  In thinking about how we could create an online community to bring people from all over the country (and possibly the world) together in a common project, I came up with the Parris House Hookers Circle. 

As some of you may know, we shipped the first pattern for the Parris House Hookers Circle in March of this year.  If you’re not aware of it, here’s how it works. Every quarter (March, June, September, December) I will send out a new surprise pattern or kit (you choose!).    You can pay all at once up front and receive a 5% discount on your subscription, or you can pay in installments.  The details are explained on the shop listing HERE.  

So far, we have had three brave hookers sign up, and two of them, Pam Congdon Springer and Carolyn Cooke, have been participating regularly on our Hookers Circle closed Facebook group.  They signed up without having any sneak peek at all at what they might receive, but lucky you, you’re about to get a look at the first pattern we shipped in March and what two of these lovely women did with it.  Keep in mind that they chose the pattern-only option, not a kit with cut or uncut wool, so the color planning was all theirs.

When I set about designing a pattern for the March shipment, we were in the midst of some serious winter storms with spring nowhere in sight.  I thought it might be nice to do a pattern inspired by some of the woodland plants we see here in Maine in spring and then in to the summer, so I chose lady slippers and trillium.  On any hike in the woods of Maine you are pretty sure to see trillium, but the lady slippers are rarer, so much so that it is literally illegal to pick them.  I’m not sure why anyone would, but the state actually protects them as a relatively rare plant.

So here’s what my hookers circle members got in the mail…

Each member received an image of the original sketch as a jumping off point for their own color planning and hooking.

Each member also received a pattern drawn on the grain on high quality linen with 4″ edges all around.

They also received a special little extra in their packages, which for March was a bar of our handcrafted soap.

It took Pam and Carolyn no time at all to get started on their projects, but they posted progress pics throughout their hooking that were fun to see.  We were able to bat ideas around as the projects developed and offer constructive opinions and kudos on the work.  Another benefit of joining Hookers Circle is that mutual support as the projects unfold.

So, what did the finished projects look like?  Of the three members, I have finished pics of two, and permission to post so…without further ado…

This is Carolyn’s finished rug. She chose unconventional colors and a beautiful whip stitched binding that coordinates with the primary background. Her use of purple on the stems of the flowers, and then echoing it in the corners of the design, I thought was brilliant. I think she achieved a really beautiful result here, thinking outside the box.

This is Pam’s finished wall hanging. I absolutely loved the way she incorporated a natural object that you would absolutely find on a walk in the woods as part of the hanging apparatus. She used a coordinating button flaps to attach to the twig and then set the whole thing off with the proddy fringe along the bottom. I think her color choices are lovely. This is another spectacular result I would never have imagined when I was sketching the pattern.

So, this is our fledgling start to the Hookers Circle, a group I hope to grow to at least one hundred members.  No, I’m not kidding.  I really want to get Hookers Circle to at least one hundred members.  I know that that would require employing several people for about a week or so a quarter to draw, assemble, and ship the kits, but I think it would create a big version of the camaraderie that is already developing on our Hookers Circle Facebook group.

If you like this pattern, it will be available for general purchase one year from when it was released, so March 2018.  Hookers Circle members enjoy exclusive access to every pattern for at least one year.  Members can join at any point in the year and subscriptions will run on a rolling basis.  Want to join us in time for the June shipment?  Join here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek at what’s been happening in the Parris House Hookers Circle.  I think spring is finally arriving here in Maine.  There’s still snow on the ground, but I think its time is short, and I will have to start thinking about warmer days and summer sun to inspire the June pattern and kit.

Happy hooking! – Beth

In to the Hands of the Next Generation

Last Friday I left Maine early in the morning to head out to Rochester, NY for the weekend. It’s not a trip unfamiliar to me because my third son, Peter, is an engineering student at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology), but I wasn’t visiting Peter.  In fact, I could not visit Peter this trip because he is on co-op semester working for a company in North Carolina right now and through the summer.  No, I was visiting the RIT Hooks & Needles Club to teach them rug hooking.

Saturday at lunch time I was greeted at the local Macaroni Grill by Mirjam, Felix, Elizabeth, Theresa, and Cathryne, the executive board of the club.  We had a wonderful Italian lunch and got to know a little bit about one another.  One thing that was completely clear was that these young women, from different parts of the country (even the world), studying different college majors, and with a variety of interests were all avid fiber artists.  Between them they knit, crochet, cross stitch, needle felt, and engage in other creative pursuits.  They talked about their oversized yarn stashes (some things are universal) and about what fiber art meant to them in their lives.  By the time lunch was over, I knew I was going to have an interesting and good day with them.

They had reserved a great classroom space for us on campus and they helped me set up the room.  It was Accepted Students Day at RIT, so there were a lot of visitors on campus, and some of the students we were expecting for hooking had gotten commandeered to serve as volunteers for the day.  As a result, our class size was smaller than anticipated, but I did not mind.  The mission of getting rug hooking in to the hands of the next generation is worth the trip, whether there are five students or twenty five students.

I felt that having these young women create their own designs would accomplish two things.  One, it would give them a chance to learn how to get a pattern on linen, on the grain, correctly.  Two, it would guarantee that their patterns were things that they could relate to and be excited about.  Their design efforts did not disappoint.

Brightly colored flowers.

 

A purple goat!

 

A woolly sheep.

 

A pig being abducted by aliens!

 

A design from a popular show (I am dying here that I can’t remember the name of the show now!)

My students immediately realized that the Beeline cutter was essentially like a pasta making machine for wool.  They were somewhat disappointed by the price of such a cutter, but I explained that used cutters are very find-able and that I’d keep an eye out for one for the club.

We only had a single afternoon to try to get in a lot of information and the fundamentals of hooking.  Naturally, the projects were not finished by the end of the day, but we did go over finishing techniques on some example pieces and I have promised them that I will start making videos (which people have been asking me to do forever now) on steaming and on each finishing technique we talked about.

It’s absolutely critical to pass rug hooking on to the next generation, and we have to pass it on in a way that honors and respects the fact – the glorious fact – that they will want to make it their own by bringing their own aesthetics, experimental techniques, and unexpected styles to it.  There is no question that every generation also works to preserve the heritage of any art, but if we encouraged them to do only that and not grow and adapt the art to the modern world, we would be contributing to the stagnation and death of the form.   I believe in teaching good fundamentals so that the craft moves down generations intact in terms of the overall quality of the work, but I do not believe in restricting students (of any age) to one genre, one color palette, or any one anything.   At RIT the students are innovators by nature, and it was exciting to talk to these young women about how they might innovate in their fiber art lives as well.

Toward the end of class, one of the students asked me how I got in to rug hooking.  As many of you know, I took up hooking after my mother passed away and I desperately needed a grounding, zen, creative activity as a mode of healing.  This story opened the door for the students to share what their art had meant to them, and the aspect of healing came up in their stories as well.   What a beautiful thing we have here.  It turns out that art transcends age, especially if we allow and encourage the young to make it their own.

As I was starting to pack up my things, I was presented with an absolutely gorgeous pink crocheted throw that the women had made for me as a thank you gift.  I will treasure this forever.  I put it to use as soon as I got home, wrapping it around my shoulders as I worked at my desk.

It was truly a privilege for me to teach these young women.  I want to give a heartfelt thanks to Mirjam, Felix, Elizabeth, Theresa, and Cathryne for spending their Saturday with me and I can’t wait to see their finished projects.  When I have pics of those, I’ll share them as well.

Who can you pass hooking on to?  Make a list of at least five young people to approach.  Rug hooking can survive for centuries more.  It’s up to us.

 

Always Do Your Best, Even When It’s Not “Enough”

Something happened this past weekend that made me think about intent, process, and outcome.  We can not always control outcomes, but we can control our own intent, our own decision making, our own process.  Here’s what got me started down that thought path.

This is my son Robert’s girlfriend Tracy, getting eye to eye with a stray cat.  While they were vacationing for his 27th birthday in Virginia this past weekend, they encountered a cat by the side of the road.  Being cat people, they stopped the car to make sure the cat was ok.  He wasn’t.  It was clear to them that he was injured and sick.  Because it was a Sunday, they had to search high and low for an animal hospital that was open, and finally found one in Charlottesville.  Transporting the cat to this open animal hospital involved several hours of driving for them (on my son’s birthday), and their feline passenger pooping in Rob’s car.

I wish I could say this story has a happy ending, but it doesn’t.  The cat was found to have FIV, which made adoption by Rob and Tracy impossible because they have other cats at home.  More importantly, the cat had a serious brain/neurological injury from what was likely being hit by a car, along with other injuries.  When Rob last spoke to the animal hospital, it was the vet’s opinion that the most humane thing to do would be to put the cat to sleep.

I felt bad for Rob and Tracy.  They love animals (in fact, so much that they build cat beds for their Etsy shop) and had done everything within their power to save this one, to no avail.  I also felt bad for the cat, because I love cats so much and, of course, we have our own crazy orange tabby, Tesla, here at the Parris House who is part of our family.  I told them that they had at least provided this animal with affection and kindness when he was so sick and injured, and that they had sacrificed their own vacation time in an effort to save his life.

This is just how life is sometimes, and we need to remember it.  If we are always obsessed with a safe and assured outcome, we will never take chances.  Sometimes – often – we’re going to win for our efforts.  But sometimes we’re not, and sometimes there’s no accounting for the difference either.  It’s just how it is.

There is a fair amount – more than we’re willing to admit – of uncertainty in life, actually.  It’s why I hug my sons tightly when we have to say goodbye (which is often; they are all grown men now).  It’s why I drive back to the house if I’m not 100% sure I unplugged the iron.  It’s why I take nothing – absolutely nothing – for granted.  It’s also why I do my best and leave the outcome to take care of itself, because it’s going to and maybe not in the way I thought.

Of course, the flip side to all of this uncertainty resulting in disaster is uncertainty resulting in success beyond our wildest dreams.   Life is filled with those unexpected results as well.  For example, I knew that when we approached Beekman 1802 with our work in 2014, there was an off chance they’d say “yes” to it, but I wasn’t really expecting it.  That trip went, and that relationship continues to go, so well that I could never have imagined it beforehand.  From that one chance we (my then biz partner, Jen and I) took three years ago has come many happy pillow recipients, new friends for me, and opportunities I could not have dreamed of.

The same could be said from my experiences teaching at Squam, or from an online friendship that resulted in the recommendation of a publisher for my as yet still a dream book (the proposal is in though…I’m taking a chance…).

We don’t know what’s going to happen in our lives, good, bad, or anything in between.  But we can control the intent, the process, and our own effort.  Therefore, with this one life – this one, brief, amazing, limited time only life – we have to just do our best.  Doing our best creates better odds for the outcomes we want, and better handling of disappointment when things don’t go our way.  When we do our best we have fewer regrets, knowing we gave it all we had.

Next Monday I’ll have a more fiber art related post (although this topic also applies to the way we approach our art), as I am traveling to Rochester, NY this weekend to teach a pretty large group of RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) students rug hooking.  When I interact with high school and college students I see young adults engaged in doing their best to make their dreams come true, and that’s inspiring.  I’ll have the whole story for you a week from today!

Have a great week, and give it your best.  – Beth