Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Making Something Useful With Plastic bags

I was quite excited to find this tutorial: Fusing Plastic Bags with the Etsy Labs. I reuse my plastic carry bags, but they pile up faster than I use them, and none of the previous "crafts" I've tried on them has been fruitful. Knitting and crocheting with plastic bag strips works, after a fashion, but the result has no earthly use I could ever find. In contrast, this Etsy store tutorial includes some examples of products offered by Etsy sellers, including tote bags ans small purses. It appears that the fused plastic bags produce a "fabric" that can be cut and sewn and used as waterproof "fabric."

Do you have one zillion plastic drugstore and grocery bags under your sink, or perhaps smushed into a drawer? Ever wanted a cheap and easy use for them? One that leaves you with an intriguing and useful homemade craft supply? Do you have an iron? Why don't you fuse them together?

What you'll need:
Plastic bags (thin, flimsy ones work best)
Parchment paper, freezer paper or plain old copier paper
Iron (and your favorite ironing surface)

I'll be trying this as soon as I can find a little time!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Monongahela Wilderness Area Expansion

I read this bit of good news in the West Virginia Gazette: Massive forest preserve planned by Ken Ward Jr., January 20. There's a map showing existing and proposed wilderness areas accompanying the article.

In August 2006, Rep. Nick Rahall hiked through the Greenbrier County woods, scrambling over fallen logs and rock outcroppings. Rahall joined members of the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition to scout out new areas of the Monongahela National Forest to protect. The West Virginia Democrat wanted to see firsthand some of the spots being considered for designation as wilderness areas. This particular hike took him through Big Draft, a 5,200-acre oak and hickory forest just five miles from White Sulphur Springs....

"It was a reaffirming experience, in that it underscored to me just how fortunate we are to still have such primeval settings like this in our state, and how, in the blink of an eye, they could disappear," Rahall recalled last week. If Rahall has his way, that won't happen to Big Draft, or to six other areas that he proposes to give wilderness designations.

Rahall plans to introduce his "Wild Monongahela Act" on Wednesday. He's billing the legislation as "A National Legacy for West Virginia's Special Places." Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., are expected to be co-sponsors. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., are also expected to support the plan.The areas would become the first new wilderness areas in West Virginia in nearly 25 years....

In general, the Wilderness Act prohibits commercial activities, motorized access and roads, structures and facilities. Hiking is allowed, but logging is prohibited...

Rahall's plan calls for expansion of three existing wilderness areas, Cranberry, Dolly Sods, and Dry Fork. It would also create four new wilderness areas: Big Draft, Cheat Mountain, Roaring Plains West and Spice Run. By adding 47,000 acres to the Monongahela National Forest's 78,000 acres of wilderness, the plan would increase the forest's wilderness acreage by 60 percent.

The plan includes three additional areas covering nearly 20,000 more acres of wilderness than was proposed by the U.S. Forest Service in a plan issued in September 2006. The Rahall plan is also less ambitious than wilderness expansions being promoted by various state environmental and conservation groups.

Matt Keller, spokesman for the West Virginia Wilderness Coalition, said his group supports the Rahall plan, but had hoped it would include additional areas....Keller noted that Seneca Creek and the north and east units of Roaring Plains...are not part of the plan. Neither is the East Fork of Greenbrier area..., he said.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pocahontas County Textile History

Here's an addition to my "local history of textiles collection" from William T. Price's Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County. (1901) Price includes many discussions of "how they did things in the old days," but one can't tell when these are based on personal recollections (his own or other local people) or on books he had read. The lack of detail makes me suspect Price referred to published sources here.

In the early times now under consideration it was an essential matter that about every thing needed for comfortable use about the home should be home made or at least somewhere in the immediate neighborhood. Thus it came that pioneer wives and daughters were not only ornamental but exceedingly useful in promoting the comforts and attractions of their homes by the skill of their willing hands. Every household of any pretensions to independence or thrift had a loom, spinning wheels, little and big, a flax breaker, sheep shears, wool cards, and whatever else needful for changing wool and flax into clothing and blankets.

Sheep were raised on the farms and were usually sheared by the girls and boys. The wives and daughters would thereupon scour, card, spin, weave and knit the fleeces into clothing.

The flax was grown in the "flax patch," usually a choice bit of ground. When ripe the flax was pulled by hand, spread in layers until dry upon the ground were it had been pulled, then bound in bundles, carried away and spread very neatly over the cleanest and nicest sod to be found, most commonly the aftermath of the meadow. Here it remained with an occasional overturning until it was "weathered," or watered. After an exposure of three or four weeks, or when weathered completely, the flax was gathered, bound in bundles, stored away in shelter until cool frosty days in late fall, winter or early spring would come, when it would be broken by the flax breaker, then scutched by the scutching knife over an upright board fastened to a block. Then what was left of the woody part by the breaker and scutching knife would be combed out by the hackle, and was now ready for spinning and waving as flax or tow. The tow could be held in the hand and spun for coarse cloth, "tow linen." The flax, being the straight and finer fiber, would be wrapped to the "rock," attached to the little wheel and spun for the finer fabrics. The rock was a contrivance made by bending three or four branches of a bush together and tying them into a kind of frame-work at upper end. Flax was most commonly put through the entire process from planting to wearing without leaving the farm on which it was grown.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Natural Selection of Creationist Museums

Last month Sherry informed me that Kentucky's Creation Science Museum is in some financial hot water. That's why, when I came across this article about a Texas creationism museum, I began to wonder if there was a trend. Creationist museum auctioning mastodon skull.

DALLAS, Texas (AP) -- A Texas museum that teaches creationism is counting on the auction of a prehistoric mastodon skull to stave off extinction.

The founder and curator of the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum, which rejects evolution and claims that man and dinosaurs coexisted, said it will close unless the Volkswagen-sized skull finds a generous bidder.

"If it sells, well, then we can come another day," Joe Taylor said. "This is very important to our continuing."

Heritage Auction Galleries says the skull is estimated to be 40,000 years old, and projects it will fetch upward of $160,000. The artifact discovered in La Grange in 2004 is believed to be the largest of its kind, Heritage spokesman David Herskowitz said....

Claims on the museum's Web site include that Noah took dinosaurs aboard his ark...."We've struggled so long here just to keep this thing going," Taylor said. "We're kind of losing interest. You can just tread water for so long."

In the struggle for natural resources, some museums succeed and leave progeny, while unfit museums perish without offspring. Natural selection does not seem to smile upon creationist museums these days. Of course, if Noah had taken them on his ark like the dinosaurs (really? I thought that was why they died.), they would not have to tread water.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

January "Take It Further Challenge " Complete

Here's my January Take It Further Challenge project with the ink jet transfer images, lace, and a little machine embroidery added. I believe it's complete (at least, for now). A real artist would explain the significance of the various fabrics in terms of Emma Bell Miles, her life, and art, and I'm sure I could produce such a statement. My years of writing grant proposals taught me something, after all. However, what I'd rather tell you is how I did the best I could with what I had on hand, and how I'll enjoy looking at Ms. Miles, her book cover, and her painting of the Fox Sparrow when the quilt-curtain is finished and hanging in my house.

Here's a list of all the posts I wrote about this particular project and the things I had to learn to complete it. Goodness, I was chatty!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Foundation for Taking It Further

Foundation-pieced base for Take It Further Challenge quilt block

This is the latest step in my Take It Further Challenge window quilt block on Emma Bell Miles. I tea-dyed small pieces of hand-dyed cottons I had on hand, but mostly I used my rayon and polyester dress-making scraps, sewing them to a 13-inch square muslin foundation.

I'd planned to include the ink jet transfer images, at this step, but I couldn't work out a pleasing layout, so I pieced the scrap foundation, and sewed the images on in a third layer of fabric. The ink jet images, printed on a thin, white cotton, are rather translucent, and I've found this translucence gives interesting effects in window quilts.

On my first project, I used squares cut from a printed cotton tablecloth as foundation pieces, and backed the quilt with plain white flannel. On sunny days, the rayon scraps look like translucent gauze, and the table cloth's printed flowers are what you see. At night, with the light hitting the quilt from the inside, the tablecloth patterns are invisible, and you see the rayon scraps' patterns. I'm hoping I'll have a similar double-vision phenomenon with this technique.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Little More Spinning

Teal handspun wool from local sheep

Here's a little more of that troublesome local fleece, dyed, carded, spun, and re-washed. It's interesting how much color difference there is between the carded bats and the spun wool. While I'm not using up my fiber resources, I am making them much more compact!

Close-up of teal wool

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tea Dyeing to Take It Further

I've been working on the Take It Further Challenge project for January, although I have no pictures to show my progress. I successfully transfered the ink jet printed images of Emma Bell Miles and her illustrations onto a thin, bright-white cotton. I've decided to make 13-inch quilt blocks, and I've found that there's only room for one image per block, even though I thought I'd made them quite small. I intend to use the quilt blocks to make window quilts, so they must be soft and thin enough to drape like curtains. That means avoiding embellishment or quilting that would make the resulting fabric too heavy or stiff to drape well.

I'd planned to use my rayon and polyester fabric scraps, and also my hand-dyed fabrics, but I've found I don't have many hand-dyed pieces left, and what I have are bright floral colors that overwhelm the delicate, vintage images I've transfered to fabric. I'm not going to have time to replenish my hand-dyed collection this month, so I thought I'd take a few small pieces and mute them with tea dye. Because I always check the Web for directions, here are some links with a wide variety of (sometimes contradictory) advice on tea and coffee dyeing.

Friday, January 18, 2008

January Spinning Round-Up

Yarn spun and washed in January, so far

The last few years, I've made an effort to make my fiber supplies more compact. I've sorted and used scrap fabrics in big projects and small. After visiting a going-out-of-business sale, I haven't had to buy yarn since 1992 (although I swapped work for a huge horde of dyeable New Zealand wool last summer.) I don't really need to go on a fiber diet anymore; in fact, I need to find sources to buy fabric for clothing and upholstery, and I've run very short of hand-dyed fabrics.

I do have a backlog of dyed, carded fleeces waiting to be spun, however. Since the first of the year, I've been spinning a little bit every day, and these are the results. These fleeces are from local sheep, Suffolk-Dorset crosses raised in pastures full of burdock. With short cuts, mats, neps and plenty of "vegetable material," most hand-spinners throw stuff like this away, but I always need to find out what I can do with the materials at hand.

I picked over these fleeces as best I could, washed them in Dawn dishwashing detergent in garbage cans in the back yard, and dried it outdoors. Then I picked the locks open and threw away more short cuts and burdock seed heads. I dyed the wool in an old crockpot. My technique involved dissolving Jacquard Acid Dye in a small amount of water, pouring it in the crockpot, and stuffing in as much wet wool as possible, finally adding enough water to cover. (This over-stuffing makes the dye take unevenly, giving a nice, heathery effect in the spun wool.) After the water and wool got hot and had simmered for an hour, I added 1/4 to 1/2 cup of white vinegar from the grocery store, and let the wool simmer until all the dye came out of the water and went into the wool. It's easy to tell when acid dyes are exhausted--the water clears!

The great thing about dyeing this sort of dirty wool before carding and spinning is that the burdock, dirt, and other vegetable materials fall out more easily, and you don't have to wonder what zoonoses you might pick up from the sheep.

After the wool dried, I carded the colorful locks on my drum carder, making bats. At this point, one can blend colors, but the uneven dyeing technique actually makes this unnecessary.

Close-up with rose-colored wool

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Class Conflict In Pocahontas County, 1892

Sherry Chandler has an interesting series of posts on how the "ruling elite" of America identify portions of our population as "The Other," a dark underbelly that must be improved, chastened, or ignored. Sometimes "The Other" is the American South, sometimes it's the American proletariat, and often it's Appalachia's hillbillies. Think John Fox, Jr. and Deliverance. John Hennen's article Benign Betrayal: Capitalist Intervention in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, 1890-1910 catches our own Andrew Price identifying Pocahontas County's "Other"--the drunken, gun-slinging hillbilly come to town. I find it chilling that Mr. Price quotes with approval the Bluefield editorial praising the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency soon to become famous for strikebreaking and murder.

In addition to his interest in fostering industry in Pocahontas County, Price and other modernizers were obliged to cultivate a moral framework compatible with the new age. The social stresses which accompanied rapid population increases and new economic relationships mandated greater regimentation and social control than did traditional mountain culture. The personalized relationships of preindustrial economies were not well-suited to the competitive demands of the commercial marketplace. To guarantee the benefits of economic modernization, local elites set out to reshape the provincialism of traditional society. Since mountaineers had gained a reputation for violence and traditional ways, boosters had to prove that local citizens were peaceful and willing to welcome industrialization.

Price used the forum of the Pocahontas Times to promote a modern, functional moral code for his neighbors.... While Price extolled the resourcefulness and honesty of a people who had "prospered . . . in a quiet way" before capital came to the county, he admonished his readers to seek the self-discipline necessary to profit from new opportunities. For example, Price equated education with success and good moral fiber....

Like many other modernizers, Price contributed to the negative mountaineer image by focusing on the damage to order and efficiency caused by whiskey consumption and latent violent tendencies. Whether drinking and violence were actually increasing is debatable, and in any case they could arguably be attributed to the social instability of emerging industrialization.

Nevertheless, Price cautioned repeatedly that "disregard for law and order [is] a real menace; at present there is an era of lawlessness which we must consider seriously. The root of it is the illegal sale of whiskey." Concealed weapons, another social menace feared by Price, should be controlled by the vigilance of the people: "When you take a revolver away from a hasty youth it is like clipping the claws of a tiger. . . . The condition is such that every endeavor must be fostered and endorsed by every good citizen."

Price's admonition on rowdiness may simply have been the moralizing of a Calvinist reformer. But it may also reflect his reaction to widening class divisions in Pocahontas County, just as in other developing areas, a crisis which escalated after the timber boom. His warnings were identical to those of modernizers in other mountain regions where rapid structural changes were taking place. He occasionally reprinted comments by other editors on the moral crises, including an 1892 testimonial to Baldwin agency detectives by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph:

The Organization of West Virginia Railway and Mine Police, under the management of our intrepid townsman, W. G. Baldwin, and his able assistants . . . will soon cause the toughs of the Tug and other points of the Ohio extension to amend their ways or move on to Moundsville [location of the state penitentiary]. The better class of people in these regions fully appreciate the great work they are doing and lend their aid and influence in every instance.

Andrew Price played an important role in Pocahontas County by establishing a foundation for the region's chronic dependence on a national economy that relied on the resources of local economies, but treated the economic health of its constituent parts as secondary and peripheral. Industrial society realigned social relationships and class orientation in the mountains, resulting in the potential social upheaval decried by Price. The traditional agricultural social order, based on the kinship and geographic ties of independent farmers, had included a flexible and tangible hierarchy based on wealth and status. The industrial order, however, mandated rigidly defined class roles: absentee owners determined patterns of development and received the profits; local elites depended on the absentees for their own prosperity; and most mountaineers increasingly became wage earners in the timber and mineral industries.

As a prominent representative of the local elite, with the ability to communicate easily with the mountaineers, Andrew Price helped set the stage for the patterns of exploitation typical in the Appalachian Mountains. He parlayed legal acumen, family heritage, social graces, literary skills, self-discipline, and a firm belief in the moral rectitude of free-market liberalism to promote the capitalist penetration of Pocahontas County. While local elites such as Price consolidated their control of the legal, social, and economic framework of mountain communities, they handed over the wealth of their region to men with no cultural obligation to preserve or renew the sources of that wealth. As absentee capitalists sought to expand their corporate empires, the exploitation of rural areas became a "prerequisite of industrial growth, resulting in unequal economic development between commercial centers and peripheral areas." Sadly, the Sage of Pocahontas, together with other industrial agents, arranged the benign betrayal of the land of his fathers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Olive Tilford Dargan

Dave Tabler's Appalachian History blog is active and always interesting. Recently, he posted about poet, playwright and novelist Olive Tilford Dargan (1869 -1968). I'm not sure how I missed her, but I look forward to reading some of the books Mr. Tabler mentions. Here are the links of interest:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dance the Black-Eyed Girl

Dance the Black-eyed Girl

Last week I got Sherry Chandler's poetry book, Dance the Black-Eyed Girl. I'd been enjoying her poems for free on the Internet for some time, and ordered it with a trace of guilt for freeloading. It's a beautiful book, and a pleasure to look at. The poems are wonderful, and you can have a virtual sip of Sherry from the links below.

The thing that startled me was how much more I got out of her poems on the page. I have some trouble reading text on the computer screen--I insert words that aren't there, transpose words and letters, and read backwards. I'm left-handed, and my perception is a bit "non-standard." When I was about 12, I read about Leonardo da Vinci's journals of mirror writing , and decided I would do that too. I kept my personal journal in mirror writing until college, and gave it up because I was having trouble remembering how to read and write the "normal way."

My reading anomaly on the backlit screen is most troublesome with poetry, where words matter most. Clearly, I need to read poetry as "hard copy."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Babies In the Mill

Babies in the Mill

I came across a collection of American child labor photographs by chance, and thought they'd make a good follow-up to Mother Jones: Child Labor in America (1908-1912): Photographs of Lewis W. Hine at The History Place. While I've some of these moving photos before, I didn't know the name of Lewis W. Hines before. From the Web page:

Photographer Lewis W. Hine (1874-1940) was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He studied sociology at Chicago and New York universities, becoming a teacher, then took up photography as a means of expressing his social concerns.

His first photo essay featured Ellis Island immigrants. In 1908, Hine left his teaching position for a full-time job as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee, which was then conducting a major campaign against the exploitation of American children.

From 1908 to 1912, Hine took his camera across America to photograph children as young as three years old working for long hours, often under dangerous conditions, in factories, mines, and fields. Hine was an immensely talented photographer who viewed his young subjects with the eye of a humanitarian.

In 1909, he published the first of many photo essays depicting working children at risk. In these photographs, the essence of wasted youth is apparent in the sorrowful and even angry faces of his subjects. Some of his images, such as the young girl in the mill glimpsing out the window, are among the most famous photographs ever taken.

During World War I, he documented the plight of refugees for the American Red Cross. He later documented the construction of the Empire State building in 1930-1931 and even hung upside down from a crane to photograph workmen.

One of Hines' photos was used on the cover of a favorite CD, Babies in the Mill a re-release of the 1962 record album featuring Dorsey, Howard and Nancy Dixon. The recording includes a few of the Dixon Brothers' 78 rpm recordings from the 1930's, a little dialogue with Nancy and Dorsey, and Dorsey singing some of his compositions, including Babies in the Mill, below. Dorsey wrote this song in honor of big sister Nancy, who went to work in a South Carolina mill at age 8. (I learned this song from a Hedy West recording, and these may not be the exact words Dorsey Dixon wrote.)

I used to be a factory hand when things was moving slow,
When children worked in cotton mills, each morning had to go.
Every morning just at five the whistle blew on time
To call them babies out of bed at the age of eight and nine.

    Come out of bed, little sleepy head,
    And get you a bite to eat.
    The factory whistle's calling you,
    There's no more time to sleep.

To their jobs those little ones was strictly forced to go.
Those babies had to be on time through rain and sleet and snow.
Many times when things went wrong their bosses often frowned.
Many times those little ones was kicked and shoved around.


Those babies all grew up unlearned, they never went to school.
They never learned to read or. write. They learned to spin and spool.
Every time I close my eyes, I see that picture still
When textile work was carried on by babies in the mill.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Most Dangerous Woman In America

Mother Jones

I recently found two articles about Mother Jones in West Virginia: Labor's Blue-Eyed Angel Part I and Part II by Claude A. Frazier, M.D. and F. K. Brown. West Virginia Historical Society Quarterly, 11:3(August 1997): 2-5.

Sometimes I think our society is headed back to the days of the Robber Barons, and I like to consider Mother Jones a relevant role model. Also, it pleases me to remember that her labor organizing activities were begun late in life. She was at least 60, and perhaps 67, when she first came to West Virginia in support of striking coal miners. An excerpt from the Frazier and Brown article:

Even though most of the strikes failed to bring workers immediate relief, the kind of publicity Mother Jones engendered, both good and bad, served to bring the desperate circumstances and terrible conditions in mines and mills to the attention of both the public and government. This was especially true in the coal fields of West Virginia where a feudal state kept miners and their families in practical serfdom. Mother Jones first turned up in this state of rugged mountains and deep valleys in 1897. She found her assignment of organizing the miners there a particularly tough nut to crack since most of the mines were situated in remote areas with few roads connecting them to larger settlements. This remoteness brought about the coal camp where mine owners built houses for their miners and provided a company store and a company doctor. Since they owned the camp as well as the mine, they were in fact the community's only government. They set prices in the company store, checked off rent and medical care from the miner's paychecks, evicted miners and their families at will, censored newspapers and magazines that were brought into camp, and kept labor organizers off their property, which often consisted of thousands of acres.

However, none of this daunted Mother Jones. Even though the 1897 strike failed, she was back in the West Virginia hills during the 1902-03 strike, organizing along the beautiful New River where the mines were especially remote and hard to reach. She wrote that the strike was vicious, for the owners had brought in armed Baldwin-Felts guards who beat and shot striking miners and literally threw their families from company houses. "Meetings had to be held in the woods at night, in abandoned mines, in barns."

Here are some other Mary Harris (Mother) Jones Web resources.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Amazing Paleozoic Annelid Fossil

Paleoblog points to an amazing fossil find, Prehistoric Armored Worms. The fossil in question is very lifelike, showing extensive soft tissue preservation. Check out the Press Release, which has an excellent photograph of the fossil, and a drawing to explain what you're seeing. From the press release:

First described over 150 years ago, armor plates of these strange animals have been found in marine fossil deposits worldwide covering the time span of their existence [from 485 to 305 million years ago], and indicating that they were an important component of ancient seafloor ecosystems....Previous patchy evidence was insufficient to reveal the relationships of the machaeridians to other animals and there was much speculation about their position in the tree of life. Different authors suggested relationships to groups as varied as mollusks (clams and snails), barnacles (crustaceans--including shrimps, crabs and crayfish), echinoderms (starfish and sea urchins) and annelid worms (aquatic bristle worms and garden earthworms).

This inch-long specimen that was recently discovered shows that, below the dorsal armor, the machaeridians had an elongate body with paired, soft, limb-like extensions on each segment, and two bundles of long, stiff bristles on each extension. The segmented nature of the body, and especially the presence of soft ¡Èlimbs¡É carrying bristles, unequivocally identified the machaeridians as annelid worms, say the scientists.

Here's the abstract to the actual article:

Machaeridians are Palaeozoic armoured annelids. Jakob Vinther, Peter Van Roy and Derek E. G. Briggs. Nature 451, 185-188 (10 January 2008)

The systematic affinities of several Palaeozoic skeletal taxa were only resolved when their soft-tissue morphology was revealed by the discovery of exceptionally preserved specimens. The conodonts provide a classic example, their tooth-like elements having been assigned to various invertebrate and vertebrate groups for more than 125 years until the discovery of their soft tissues revealed them to be crown-group vertebrates. Machaeridians, which are virtually ubiquitous as shell plates in benthic marine shelly assemblages ranging from Early Ordovician (Late Tremadoc) to Carboniferous, have proved no less enigmatic. The Machaeridia comprise three distinct families of worm-like animals, united by the possession of a dorsal skeleton of calcite plates that is rarely found articulated. Since they were first described 150 years ago machaeridians have been allied with barnacles, echinoderms, molluscs, or annelids. Here we describe a new machaeridian with preserved soft parts, including parapodia and chaetae, from the Upper Tremadoc of Morocco, demonstrating the annelid affinity of the group. This discovery shows that a lineage of annelids evolved a dorsal skeleton of calcareous plates early in their history; it also resolves the affinities of a group of problematic Palaeozoic invertebrates previously known only from isolated elements and occasional skeletal assemblages.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Pocahontas Pioneer Festivios

I've been working my way through Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, by William T. Price, (Price Brothers, Publishers, 1901.) My borrowed a copy from the Hillsboro library, has a lenders' card that tells me it was a staple of high school homework in the 1960's. Many stories I've heard about the earliest European settlers here seem to have this book as their source.

Here's a quote from William T. Price, a minister and newspaper publisher, on Pocahontas County pioneer social customs.

...But the typical "husking" was prepared for with some elaborate preparation. The ears would be pulled from the stalks, husks and all, and placed in ricks. This "husking" usually came off on some moon lighted night....While the fathers and sons were thus laboriously but joyously disporting themselves at the corn ricks, the mothers and daughters were gathered at the house, some cooking, others busy at the "quilting." About to or 11 o'clock the "husking" and the "quilting" were suspended, supper served and then came the "hoe down," wherein heavy stumbling toes would be tripped to the notes of a screeching unruly violin, such fiddling was called "choking the goose," or when there was no fiddle in evidence some one only "patted Juba" about as distinctly as the trotting of a horse over a bridge.

As a rule pioneer festivitos were orderly, yet once in a while there would be a few persons at the huskings who prided themselves in being and doing ugly. Somewhere about the premises there was some body or some thing that they would speak of as "Black Betty." After a few clandestine visits to where "Black Betty" was, the consequences would be that colored Elizabeth with her songs, yellings and a few fights would get in her work, and thereupon a fisticuff or two would impart interest to the gathering, and make the occasion the talk of the neighborhood until some other exciting matter came around.

Black Betty here is a bottle of liquor, rather than some of the other usages--a flintlock, a prostitute, a dessert, or a paddywagon.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Changing Landscape of Droop Mountain

Our maple tree then

I think the landscapes of our childhood are often the source of our idea of how the world "ought to look." Pocahontas County old-timers like Andrew Price wished for the virgin forest the railroad and loggers hauled away in the 1910's and 1920's. Subsequently, Pocahontas County has become nostalgic about the logging and railroad boom days, and preserved some bits of them in places like Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. (I grew up on the Burlington Northern line, Willa Cather country, and the sound of the Cass steam engines give me chills, too.)

At one time, Droop Mountain was mostly farmland, and those are the vistas many people my age long to see again. I got this photograph from my neighbor, who grew up in the house I live in now. It was taken at the corner of our house, perhaps at this time of year. Fashion history gives us a vague idea of the picture's age in the middle of the twentieth century. I believe this is the same sugar maple you see in the picture below.

Our maple tree now

This photograph was taken yesterday from approximately the same angle, although my picture catches the corner of the house, the deck we built, and the pear tree which has sprung up and grown old since the first photo. The big sugar maple took root in an old fence row down the hill. The pasture has grown up considerably, although the new trees are still rather scrubby. Is it the hopeful return of the Eastern deciduous forest, or is it the sad demise of a family farm? For the maple tree, it's plenty of sunshine and significant reproductive success.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Larmarck: Another Textbook, Another Bad Rap


Last month, I substituted for a seventh grade science teacher. The topic du jour was evolution. There's been no controversy about course content in Pocahontas County since I've been here, but I must say that the text explained evolution so poorly that it's no wonder many people don't believe in it.

Among other flaws, the text juxtaposed natural selection with the inheritance of acquired characteristics. "Lamarck believed in the inheritance of acquired characteristics, while Darwin believed in the inheritance of inherited characteristics." I paraphrase, but the authors should be ashamed of both the non-parallel comparison and the tautology they attribute to Darwin. In fact, Darwin knew of no mechanism for inheritance, and didn't discount inheritance of acquired characteristics.

This set me thinking of all the biology textbooks I've had to use through the years. Poor Jean-Baptiste Lamarck took a beating in most of them. I spent a little time tracking down articles about him, and I felt even worse about all the Lamarck abuse, as he had a difficult life, and was eventually evicted even from his rented grave. The University of California Museum of Paleontology's biographical sketch of Lamarck points out Lamarck's great contributions to the study of invertebrate taxonomy and anatomy, a field dear to my heart.

Aside from a stint as tutor to Buffon's son during a tour of Europe in 1781, Lamarck continued as an underpaid assistant at the Jardin du Roi, living in poverty (and having to defend his job from cost-cutting bureaucrats in the National Assembly) until 1793. That year, the same year that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette went to the guillotine, the old Jardin des Plantes was reorganized as the Musee National d'Histoire Naturelle (National Museum of Natural History), which was to be run by twelve professors in twelve different scientific fields. Lamarck, who had called for this reorganization, was appointed a professor -- of the natural history of insects and worms (that is, of all invertebrates), a subject he knew nothing about.

To be fair to Lamarck, we should mention that since the time of Linnaeus, few naturalists had considered the invertebrates worthy of study. The word "invertebrates" did not even exist at the time; Lamarck coined it. The invertebrate collections at the Musee were enormous and rapidly growing, but poorly organized and classified. Although the professors at the Musee were theoretically equal in rank, the professorship of "insects and worms" was definitely the least prestigious. But Lamarck took on the enormous challenge of learning -- and creating -- a new field of biology. The sheer number and diversity of invertebrates proved to be both a challenge and a rich source of knowledge.

Here are some links to biographical material, modern, well-informed discussions of Lamarck's ideas, and English translations of Lamarck's books. There's not an exposition of giraffe neck stretching among them.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Distillation Prohibited

The Washington Post ran a "local color" piece about Franklin County, VA today: Ingrained in Culture of 'Liquor Country': Va. Moonshiners, Agents Still Tangle in Cat-and-Mouse Game by Jerry Markon, complete with a slideshow.

I always like to make or grow things myself at home if possible, and I do have some distillation expertise from organic chemistry labs in college. Unfortunately, federal and state authorities are adamant about collecting their taxes on distilled spirits. I may ferment at home for my personal use, up to 200 gallons of beer and wine, but I may not distill a drop. That would be as illegal as these more ambitious projects:

Investigators said the Halifax distillery, much like all moonshine pipelines, operated like a drug organization. Tightly controlled by someone at the top, distilleries employ still hands and transporters, who move the liquor in vans or trucks with campers. It is then delivered to a wholesaler, or perhaps a broker, who finds customers.

Many moonshine consumers are in the District, Baltimore and other cities near Interstate 95, officials said, but cases are almost never prosecuted in the Washington area because the focus is on people who make the liquor, not those who drink it.

The operation Smith is accused of heading "wasn't little Snuffy Smith with a little old still coming out of the woods, and I'm making four gallons of liquor and me and mama are sharing it on the porch," McEntire said. "This was putting out over 1,000 gallons of a week. That's a significant amount of liquor." Agents estimated that the operation probably cleared at least $6,000 a week.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Quantitative Hippie Analysis

You are 35% hippie.

You're in the middle, leaning towards the non-hippie side of things, but you're not afraid to try out some hippie philosophies. Good going! An open mind is all a person really needs to lead a happy life.

Are you a hippie?

I took the test; I'm about 1/3 hippie. Next time somebody asks, I can give them a quantitative response. Because I moved to Pocahontas County from somewhere else, people here often ask if I'm a hippie. In the 1970's, a back-to-the-land movement drew many people here. Donald McCaig, of neighboring Highland County, VA, was part of this influx. While many people moved on, others are still here, and my questioners want to know if I "belong" to that group. (I don't. I moved here in 1999, long after the "real hippies.")

Besides the individual "hippies," Pocahontas has attracted some groups which could be considered outside the mainstream. A few of these have Web presences. Here are some links to give you a sense of the variety.

Zendik Farm is either an intentional arts community or a cult, depending on whether you're talking to a member or a disgruntled former member. Since they've moved here from Asheville, the group has made a commendable effort to get along with the neighbors.

If I lost control of a bowling ball in my yard, it would roll downhill to the Gesundheit Institute. This has been the future site of Patch Adams' free hospital for over 30 years. After years of apparent inactivity, the group has started to hold workshops and training sessions on the property.

The people behind the Center for Bioregional Living appear much too young to be original hippies, but their Web site suggests they share that outlook.

You could call these folks the Anti-Hippies. The Neo-Nazi group National Alliance mails out its magazines, books, and recordings from my local post office. I'm not aware of any recent activity at their Mill Point compound, but they always did keep a low profile locally.

Bear Hunting Recollections--Pocahontas County

Here's a video of one of our neighbors: Argile Arbogast Tells How to Bear Hunt. Argile's an interesting fellow, and has hunted our part of Pocahonats County for a long, long time. E-tater has plenty of Pocahontas County history on the Web, although you need to dig for it. I found this recent video by chance, while looking for something else.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Sweet and Sour Muffins

For years, I made muffins every Sunday morning. They were cheap, quick, and easily varied, depending on what ingredients I had on hand. These "Cranberry Wheat Bran Muffins" were, and still are, a favorite, although I usually can't find unprocessed wheat bran in the grocery stores hereabouts, and cranberries are an infrequent treat. Back in the day, I could get wheat bran extra-cheap in the bulk foods section of my local grocery, but now it seems limited to packaged organic (expensive) product lines, available in rural West Virginia only sporadically.

Recently, a fortunate convergence of circumstances allowed me to make four batches of these muffins. The bran means they don't rise big and fluffy, the molasses and cinnamon give them a strong, sweet flavor, and the cranberries are a sour surprise when you bite into them. As you might expect, they are not a favorite with children.

Cranberry Wheat Bran Muffins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup milk
1 egg
2 Tbsp. molasses
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup unprocessed wheat bran
1 cup flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, washed and stemmed 

Combine oil, milk egg, molasses, and sugar. Mix. Add combined dry ingredients. Stir just until completely mixed. Add cranberries. Grease a 12-muffin tin and spoon batter into tin. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Image Transfer to Fabric: Link Collection

While researching fabric transfer techniques for the Take It Further Challenge, I accumulated these interesting links. There are so many pages offering advice it can get very confusing. I'm lucky Dharma Trading Company Web-publishes directions for the product I'd bought from them, because there exist many products and many different instructions. I've saved the links I found most helpful and/or inspiring below.

  • Image Transfer techniques from art-e-zine compiles amazing techniques for transferring ink jet printer, color copier, and photographic paper images onto all sorts of stuff--lots of fabric directions, but also paper, rocks, leather, ceramic tiles, polymer clay--all sorts of cool stuff! Some of the techniques require specialized equipment and supplies, but others use odd things like fabric glue, "Orange-Glo" cleaner, and freezer paper. There are inspiring photos of the various artists' works.
  • Live Studio: Image Transfer Techniques by: Tiffini Elektra X. A variety of transfer techniques for fabric and wood, with inspiring photos.
  • Inkjet Transfer Group on Yahoo.
    This discussion group originally started for artists using Lesley Riley's method of ink jet transfer (see Files Section for original instructions). Now it is a free-flowing exchange of all sorts of techniques and tips for making transfers with your ink jet printer.
  • Transferring Digital Images to Fabric With Ink jet Printers--notes by Wilma Kinder, who makes miniquilts for doll houses. She has quite a few tips that other sets of directions leave out.
  • Transfer Tutorial for use with laser-printed copies, from Juliann Wasisco of odd-goddess.
  • A massive list of links on printing images on fabric includes many commercial sites. This is a companion page for printing on paper, which can also draw you in for hours of browsing.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Taking it Further With Software For Linux

The Take It Further Challenge is already doing what I'd hoped--it's pushing me to try new things and learn new skills. Today I learned how to shrink jpg images, put them together on a single page, and print them onto ink jet transfer paper, so that I can iron them onto fabric. These weren't the skills I had in mind, but they are new and useful.

Because I plan to scan and manipulate some images, I've been studying Gimp tutorials. (Gimp is the Open Source image manipulation program that has many features people pay a lot for with Photoshop. It's available for Macs and Windows as well as Linux.) While searching for Gimp instructions, I found another Linux program that does exactly what I want to do, and is easy and intuitive to use.

The program is called Gnome Photo Printer, and it allows you take several images, shrink them to fit a sheet of paper, arrange them, and send them to the printer. I found this program in GNOME Photo Printer: A nifty little app--a review and how-to by Joe Barr at Linux.com. Bless his heart, Joe uses Debian Linux, so I just followed his directions to install the program. It took me about 10 minutes to figure out how to use it, and I was a bit slow on the uptake this morning. Gnome Photo Printer is meant to send your image directly to the printer, but my printer is Linux-unfriendly. No problem--I just saved the output as a pdf file, sent it to the eMac, and printed from there.

I wanted to print my images onto some ink jet transfer paper I'd bought several years ago, but the instructions for using the paper were long lost. I vaguely remembered how to use it, but I was delighted to discover that Dharma Trading Company (where I bought it in the first place) has the directions posted on their Web site: Helpful hints when using Transfer Paper. They have many other intriguing image transfer techniques, including ink jet printing directly onto fabric, and "sun printing," but I'll start with the supplies I already have on hand.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Looking Up to Emma Bell Miles

Emma Bell Miles painting, 1912

I've been working on my Take It Further Challenge this cold snowy morning. January's theme, "Who do you look up to?" made me think about making a memory quilt, with each block devoted to a different person. Aside from a family memory quilt, (which is what people usually make, and for which I've been saving fabric mementos for many years), I think a quilt devoted to my favorite naturalists would be fun.

I picked Emma Bell Miles for my first sampler block. She haunts me for several reasons. She had a short life of trouble. Only surviving child of Yankee missionaries in the South after the Civil War, she never fit in with her parents' set, the poor mountaineers they evangelized, or the more prosperous "artistes" who may have stolen some of her work. She seems to me a sad shadow of her contemporary, Pearl Buck, who prospered in spite of her missionary parents and the difficult road they set her on.

Spirit of the Mountains Book Cover

I have copies of Miles' books, Spirit of the Mountains and Our Southern Birds, as well as Kay Baker Gaston's biography, Emma Bell Miles. I want to use images from these books in my sampler block.

These are "Web-ified" versions of the images I selected and scanned for my project. The first is a photo of Mrs. Miles, in her early thirties, taken in 1912. The picture is printed on the back cover of Ms. Gaston's biography. The second is the cover of Spirit of the Mountains, and the last two are from Our Southern Birds. The frontispiece is the painting of the Fox Sparrow, and the "Bird Map" is meant to teach descriptive terms to the young birders for whom the book was intended.

Fox Sparrow, from Our Southern Birds Emma Bell Miles Bird Map

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year's Vague Aspirations

Instead of New Year's Resolutions, I have more modest expectations--call them New Year's Plans, or Projects. One year, I decided to spend one hour each day dealing with clutter. At that time, I had quite a mess--Important Papers from former jobs, a dissertation's worth of books and reprints, and many, many boxes left over from clearing out my family's farm house. This last batch of stuff included boxes my mother had cleared out of her mother's family farm house in 1963, and stuck, unopened, in a closet. It was an overwhelming tangle, but because I could quit after an hour, I worked through it, day after day. I can't remember if I logged a full 365 hours or not, but by the end of the year, rooms and closets had appeared where there had only been piles of cardboard boxes before. In the process, I sold a bunch of stuff on eBay for cold cash. It was very rewarding, in several ways.

Last year, I planned to "do more" with my blog. It was not the best-defined project, but I "did more"--I posted 323 entries, substantially more than my 147 posts for 2005. I got more interested local flora and fauna, and began compiling "mini-guides" to accompany my photographs. I also watched which posts got most page-views, and found that Google most often served up my knitting and sewing "how-to's," recipes, and link compilations.

The best part of "blogging more" has been an increase in the number of regular readers who comment or e-mail. If any of you have read this far into a rather self-absorbed post, thanks so much for reading and coming back!

For my 2008 New Year's Projects and Vague Aspirations, I've joined Sharon B's Take It Further Challenge, where I hope her monthly project prompts will push me to try new fiber arts techniques and styles. I have several ideas for January's prompt, Ask yourself who do you look up to and admire? Why? What is it you admire about them?. For several years, I've been playing with the idea of photographic images on fabric, and this looks like a good topic to push me in that direction.

I also intend to "do still more" with my blog and my neglected Web site. Vague has been working for me so far, so I'll continue with it. I've got some "health and welfare" resolutions as well, but I like to handle these on a month-by-month basis, so if something isn't working, I can revise and start over.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Prosperous New Year

1913 Christmas card

Another card from my grandma's album. Her school friend wished her a "Prosperous New Year," meaning 1914. Her neighbors were still speaking German at the store, as she spoke to her family in Bohemian. No one in Prescott, Iowa thought much about Kaiser Bill that Christmas.

1913 Xmas wishes