Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Spinning My Tiny Dye Lots

teal and pink yarns

Here's what I've been up to the last few days--dying some local (burdock-laden) fleece in the crockpot, carding, spinning and plying it. I've been experimenting with series of color intensity, trying to get pretty pastels. The more intense colors continue to work better for me. It is encouraging, however, that the colors consistently look better in the spun yarn than in the fleece after carding.

assortment of pink yarns

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Shitake Mushroom Harvest

shitake mushrooms

We've been growing shitake mushrooms for several years now. Some of the innoculated logs seemed to be on their last legs, and we were expecting to cull a number of them this fall. We have been pleasantly surprised--all 56 logs have produced like the ones below. We're currently drying them as fast as we can. This is in contrast to the garden--the vegetable garden, where all sorts of insects have been more fecund than most of my seeds and plants. Looks like we'll have something homegrown to eat this winter.

three shitake logs

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Death Trumpets

Earlier this month, we found these chanterelle mushrooms, which W.C. Roody's Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians calls Black Trumpets or Death Trumpets. Once I'd convinced myself that "Death Trumpets" referred to their funeral aspect and not to the results of ingestion, we tried cooking them. Although we had just a small handful, these chanterelles didn't reduce in volume when cooked. Their taste was very strong--much too strong to eat as a dish on their own. Our tiny handful should probably have been dried and used a teaspoon full at a time to flavor soups and egg dishes. Live and learn. I wonder if we'll ever find these again.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Riddle of the Sphinx Moth

Droop Mountain sphinx moth, front view

I see this sphinx moth species often this time of year. I don't have much lepidopteran expertise, and without the specimen in hand I'm not going to attempt an identification, but isn't it handsome? In the hope of a dumb-luck species identification, I googled around a bit, and stumbled on Pocahontas County, West Virginia Sphingidae. I don't see my front porch pet on that sight, but what are the odds of my finding a collection of Pocahontas County sphinx moth photos on a Prince Edward Island lep farmer's Web site?

Droop Mountain Sphinx, top view

Monday, August 14, 2006

Imperial Moth, early August, 2006

Imperial Moth, Top view

This beauty was sitting on the corner of the house last week. I've always been a big fan of the giant silk moths. I don't see them every year, but besides this lovely Imperial, there have been a few Lunas fluttering around the windows at night.

Imperial Moth--side view Imperial Moth Eacles imperialis (Drury) (Saturniidae)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Our Wicked Frontier Ways

A few weeks ago I finished Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer by John Mack Farahger. It attempts to separate fact from fiction and speculation, while treating the Daniel Boone folklore as an interesting phenomenon in itself. I learned that Boone had at least two West Virginia connections. His first "long hunt" was on Shenandoah Mountain, in West Virginia's Ridge and Valley region. Later, he and his family lived at Point Pleasant, home of The Mothman.

Boone seems to have been tarred with the same brush James Dickey used on later day natives of the back country. Here's a fascinating, wry quote from page 60 of my edition. (Note well the dig at William Byrd.)

Boone was...condemned by a number of his contemporaries as a man who "didn't live happily with his family, [and] didn't like to work." Such sentiments were akin to the criticism leveled by cultural outsiders at long hunters for the neglect of their families. In North Carolina backwoodsmen "live with less labor" than anywhere else he knew, said the Virginia aristocrat William Byrd, a man who knew whereof he spoke. They made "their Wives rise out of the Beds early in the morning, at the same time that they Lye and Snoer, till the Sun has run one third of his course, and disperst all the unwholesome Damps." Frontier men did "little of the work" around their farms, complained one missionary in the Yadkin settlements, leaving it all for their wives and children to perform, while they enjoyed themselves hunting. Consequently, the work around the home place was "poorly done," animals had to fend for themselves, even in winter, and Indian corn grew where there should have been good European wheat. It all added up to a pattern of "irregular living." "There are many hunters here who work little," wrote another preacher, but "live like Indians."

As this last remark suggests, the complaints amounted to the rejection of a way of life and had much in common with the European criticism of American Indians. The French emigrant Michel-Guillaume Jean de Crevocoeur described backwoodsmen as "new made Indians," "half cultivators and half hunters" who lived a "licentious, idle life." In the rush to commercial farming in the nineteenth century these criticisms were transformed into a cant, in which frontier ways were made to seem the very essence of barbarism and backwardness. In this climate of opinion, Boone supporters both inside and outside the family attempted to salvage the reputation of the Boone household by claiming that it had been run on solid Victorian principles....The most unfortunate thing about such special pleading was its anachronism, its irrelevance to the real conditions and dilemmas of frontier life.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

An Adventure in Knitwear Design

lamb's ear baby jacket

Last week, I got paid for writing a knitting pattern for this cute little sweater. Appalachian Baby Design sells this organic cotton Lamb's Ear Jacket as a ready-made item, and they wanted to add kits for knitters to their line of products. Ironically, the designer they paid in the first place provided a hand-knit sample; their production expert redesigned it for machine knitting; and last month I redesigned the machine knit sample and wrote hand knitting directions.

I'm not entirely sure what's going on with the company these days, but their Web site still describes them thus:

Appalachian By Design, the non-profit development and marketing company that markets Appalachian Baby Design, has devoted itself to making machine knitting a sustainable, home-based industry for women in rural Appalachia.

I've done work for them in the past, and found them a little "lethargic" in the check-cutting department. This time, I offered to take payment in product, and I was delighted to get over 10 pounds of white sport weight New Zealand wool yarn. I plan to dye this myself, and expect it could make about 40 pairs of Fair Isle socks, or heaven knows what else. It promises to keep me busy for years.

I was so excited about this wool that I found myself agreeing to other projects. That is why I am currently knitting garter stitch baby blanket in the same organic cotton. I'm ashamed to be "designing" something so boring, but it seems there are many happy knitters who make garter stitch scarf after garter stitch scarf. This kit is intended for people too timid to try a simple baby sweater. I was never a timid knitter, but by the time I started knitting, I had years of sewing experience under my belt, and, swaggering teenager that I was, I thought I could make anything out of fiber. At any rate, it is quite soft and pretty, and perhaps people will like it.