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.
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.
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…
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!
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 HookIn 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.
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.
One of the things we promised to do in 2015 was offer more educational classes in a variety of great crafts and skills. So here we go! Here are some brand new offerings for April. Space is limited for each class, so please contact me (Beth) at 207-890-8490 or at ParrisHouseWoolWorks@gmail.com to sign up!
Saturday, April 11th – MAKE A MAY BASKET WITH MASTER BASKET WEAVER KAREN ELLIS
10 am to 3 pm. Who doesn’t want to make an adorable May basket just in time for Spring!? This basket can be made in a variety of colors. Karen will bring many colored reeds to choose from!
The $30 class fee includes all materials needed. Just bring yourself and a bag lunch! Snacks and beverages will be provided. Space is limited to 12 students, so sign up soon!
Tuesday, April 14th – PENNY RUG/APPLIQUE WITH FIBER ARTIST MARY DELANO
Mary goes beyond the blanket stitch in this class suitable for beginners and also those who want to learn new stitches and techniques for penny rug making. Mary will provide her expertise, embroidery floss, ribbon, and other notions as well as some wool materials. Students need to bring the wool for the background and any scrap wool they might like to incorporate in to their design, and a pair of scissors. We also have plenty of wools and scraps at the Maine studio to choose from.
Class is $45. Please RSVP to secure your spot!
Saturday, April 18th – INTRODUCTION TO WOOL DYEING WITH BETH MILLER
9 am to 12 noon. We will introduce pot dyeing, microwave dyeing, and casserole dyeing in colors of your choice, and maybe make new recipes with experimentation! Class including materials, $32. Space is limited to four students. This one is almost full right now, so don’t hesitate!
I will continue to post class offerings here, but you can also always go to our Workshops & Classes tab to see what’s scheduled for the year. Hope to see many of you in the studio!
I will be teaching our first beginner dye workshop at the Maine studio on Saturday, January 24th from 9 a.m. to noon. For time, safety, and instructional purposes, I have to limit the class size to four students at a time, and will run the class only if I get at least two signed up. This is experimental as we have not taught dyeing here before, so let’s see how this time and format works for everyone!
This class is best suited for those who have either never dyed wool before, or who need a refresher before trying it again after a long time away from it.
We will be learning three basic types of dyeing in this class:
Basic pot dyeing gives a single color to a piece of wool. This technique can be used nonetheless to get a variety of shades of the same color, and you can put a variety of wools in to the same pot to yield different results, but essentially, there is one overall color in the pot. This color may be made from a single dye or a recipe of several dyes mixed to achieve the desired color.
Remember tie dyeing at summer camp? It’s a little like that. Multiple colors may be used on a single piece of wool for a variety of great effects. Fun, fun, fun.
Sorry this photo is blurry! Think of looking at steaming wool! We are going to use an electric skillet for this. It is another method for dyeing multiple color pieces, but I find that the blending of the colors is a little softer from color to color in the casserole than in the microwave technique.
We will be using Cushing Perfection Dyes which come from Kennebunkport, Maine and are available in a very wide variety of colors for use alone or mixing and matching.
Cost of the class will be $32 per student which will include the class, printed handouts for reference at home, 3 fat quarters of plain white wool to dye, plus 1 fat quarter of textured wool of your choice to try an overdye with.
If interested, please call me at 207-890-8490, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a private message on our Facebook page! First come, first served. We will do dye workshops in Maine quarterly and the next class will be held on April 25th.
Hope to see some of you for a fun day of dyeing! – Beth