Herbal tea and turning into my parents

 

bl1007cI realised a couple of weeks ago that I turned into my parents. Thankfully in my case this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but still, it’s very surprising. This realisation occurred to me when I started making some Comfrey infused oil. My parents are always concocting some natural remedy or other, juicing, making tinctures, harvesting leaves for herbal teas… They also have vineyards and keep bees. In fact I still recall, with some horror I might add, the onion and honey tea that I was given for a cough as a child. I can’t remember if it eased the cough but I very clearly remember it tasting disgusting. I should probably add that I love onions and cook with them almost daily and I also love honey, especially as it comes from my parents’s bees but together this two ingredients are not for the faint hearted.

I have always had an interest in herbalism because of my upbringing and even remember taking part in a regional competition at school where you had to recognise plants, know their latin names and some main uses. I can still recall some of the latin names!

This interest has been rekindled recently or maybe it came on gradually as a need to know more about the plants I use for dyeing, I’m not entirely sure. When I closed Eaden Yarns, my main intention for whatever was to follow was that it should be guided by more thoughtful, more responsible (ethical and environmental) choices.  Switching from synthetic to natural dyes, paying more attention to where my materials come from and even switching to different packaging materials, like switching to biodegradable plastic mailing bags. This new-found interest in herbs made me recently rethink my choices about tea. We drink a lot of herbal tea here. My husband’s favourite is peppermint tea and chai. I don’t have a favourite as such and tend to try a lot of new things. The ones I buy are usually the Pukka and Heath & Heather brand. They are excellent quality, Fairtrade and organic. My only problem is the packaging. Every tea bag individually wrapped… Yes, paper can be recycled but still, it seems like a lot of waste. These thoughts and the interest in herbs led me to the decision to switch to loose leaf tea. Less packaging and well, you do get more for your money as well. With this in mind, I will be attempting to blend my own herbal teas and share they (succesful) recipes with you all.

In ideal world, I would like to grow all my herbs myself and forage some but I live right in the middle of a city in an apartment with no outdoor space. We are always trying to grow things on the windowsill, we have pots of mint, basil, strawberry and my bedroom windowsill is packed with succulents, including an aloe vera plant. In fact, in ideal world I would like to grow all our food and live on a farm and not right in the middle of the city but that’s a story for a whole other blog post, so for now, back to tea.

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I ordered a batch of herbs from a UK company, Starchild. They stock a big range of organic herbs. I got Elderflower, Elderberries, Comfrey, a big bag of Nettle, Marigold, Red Clover, Oat Straw, Ginkgo Biloba and Lemon balm. The first thing I mixed up was The Cleansing and Nourishing Tea from Handmade Apothecary‘s beautiful new book. There are a lot of recipes I would like to try from this book. I have also started a Comfrey infused oil to make a salve for bruises for my little boy.

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I have since tried this Cleansing and Nourishing tea as a cold brew as well and I think I like it even more. My main reason for trying it is that it’s meant to help with premenstrual breast pain which I suffer with very badly every month. For at least one week every month, I cannot even wear my normal bras but have to wear a sports bra. I will let you know in a couple of months if this tea has made a difference.

This post is a bit of an introduction to what is hopefully to follow. I am setting myself a challenge to learn more about plants, from identification to their healing as well as dye properties. I am going to focus on one plant a month and try to learn about it as much as I can and share what I have learnt. Now, we all know my blogging track record is terrible but I would really like to keep this up. Instagram used to be my main social media outlet but in the last year or so, that has gone completely downhill and I need to get away from it for my own sanity’s sake. The time I spend just mindlessly scrolling through every day, without reading or even looking at photos properly is ridiculous. I fully intend to use this time to learn instead. This is not to say I will be completely staying away from IG, just being more mindful about the time I spend on it.

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Pictured here you see an excellent Slovakian book titled Liecive Rastiliny, which translates to Medicinal Plants. My parents bought it for me last summer. I would love to add to my book collection on this subject so if you have favourites to recommend, please leave me a comment.

The plant I will be focusing on this month is Peppermint.  I thought it will be a good start as I use it a lot and I have managed to successfully grow it on the windowsill for a couple of years now. Look out for the next post on that subject. Thank you for reading my ramblings!

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Changes

It’s been a while. I haven’t written a blog post for ages. In fact I have been quieter than usual on all my social media sights in the last couple of months and it has taken me a while to make sense of things. Just a heads up, I am definitely no writer, so this may be somewhat incoherent, but I hope it explains well enough what has been going on. Heads up number 2, this is all about work, not my personal life. My personal life is great, the husband is great, the boy is great and doing very well at school, etc. This is all about work and I guess me as a person and the way I approach my  work.

Ever since I closed Eaden Yarns last year, in fact, exactly a year ago, I have been drifting from one thing to another. I had a good run with Eaden Yarns, a successful 4 years but I have not for a second regretted closing the business. However, I spent the whole of this year wondering what will I do for work, beating myself up for the fact that I just can’t settle on one thing. After Eaden Yarns I decided to carry on dyeing yarn but only to use in my projects. I was weaving with it for a while, making awesome bags and scarfs. I gradually made a switch from synthetic dyes to using only natural dye materials which was a huge step and the best one yet. Natural dyes are magical and love learning all about them. Unfortunately as much as I love weaving, my wrist simply can’t take it. I’ve struggled with wrist pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis for the last couple of years and weaving made it a lot worse. I wasn’t able to knit for months with the last bout of tendonitis and even now I can only knit about 5 rows a day. For someone that loves wool and has knitted obsessively since the age of 5 this is very hard. Spinning is once again completely out of question as well and so are many other things. Anyway, I won’t dwell on the things that I can’t do, moving on…

I picked up sewing again but I have not been completely happy with almost anything that I made for some time.Hence the reason why I haven’t been posting much on my IG and facebook. Nothing I made has been good enough, nothing is neat enough. I’ve always been a perfectionist. My husband always tells me that I have impossibly high standards when I show him my work and complain that it’s not good enough. My answer has always been the same to this: ‘I don’t see the point in doing something only half heartedly, either I do it really well, or not bother at all’. See, the thing is, it was drummed in my head as a child that I was really smart. I was really smart and therefore the only reason I got an A- or a B was because I didn’t try hard enough and/or I was lazy. That was pretty much the narrative I was brought up with. So even now, as an adult, if I make something and it doesn’t come out perfectly, in my head that means I didn’t try hard enough and I need to try again. And again, and again. ( parents, hey! They can sure f%@k you up).

Something changed in the last few weeks. I kept seeing mistakes in my work even more than ever, redoing every bit of stitching, deciding not to sell something yet again because it was not good enough and then being annoyed with myself for wasting all the fabric and time on it. I felt anxious all the time, I couldn’t sleep. Last week I finally cracked. I realized that I spent approximately 12 hours sewing one zip. One zip. Sewing it over and over again, unpicking as it wasn’t neat enough, sewing again, unpicking again…I finally realized this is pretty crazy, even by my perfectionist standards. So I decided enough was enough, I can’t do this. After some reading online, I came across Personal Excellence and the articles on Perfectionism and realized I fit all the 11 points mentioned perfectly. That could have practically been written about me. So here it is, I am a Neurotic Perfectionist. And I had enough of it! I carried on reading and the 80/20 principle and the law of diminishing returns made perfect sense to me.  I won’t go into too much detail, but if you are interested, you can find the articles here.

For once, I didn’t procrastinate and write to do lists and made plans on how I am going to do things and waited for the perfect moment to do them, I just started changing things right away. There are a few things I will be changing. One of them is to stop obsessing with my hand dyed solid fabric not coming out perfectly even coloured. They are not meant to be even, there will be lighter or darker sections and if I can’t deal with this I might as well stop dyeing and buy factory dyed fabrics.

The whole obsession with perfect stitching and perfectly matched points made me realize that I don’t actually enjoy quilting and sewing anymore. Not like this. So out go the patterns and blocks and I am going to just embrace it all and improvise. Just pull some fabric out, follow my intuition and cut and sew and see what happens, no plans, no to do lists.

I got started right away on this and begin piecing some of my hand dyed fabrics together. As I stitched some strips together, they started forming a semicircle shape, so I  thought why not make it into a round zipper pouch. I pieced, trimmed and a bag happened. That’s another thing about me. I can’t just make something, stitch for the sake of it, I always have to make a functional object, a bag, a cushion cover…Anyway, here is the result.

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Normally I would have sketched out an idea, took accurate measurements, drawn a pattern, calculated the amount of fabric, written a step by step to do list, had a coffee while recalculating the measurements again because I would be terrified that I might waste the fabric if I make a mistake and only then I would have gotten going.

I haven’t had this much fun sewing in months, sewing like this is so liberating! Even my husband exclaimed ‘ Look at you cutting into fabric with scissors!’ when he saw me do it. I don’t think he has ever seen me cut fabric without a ruler and rotary cutter. Over the weekend I pieced more fabric and made another couple of pouches and they look great. I am actually happy with them, I am proud of them.  And now I want to make quilts and cushions and explore dyes and learn again and I can’t wait to show you what I have been making! My love of textiles finally returned and it all feels right. Maybe, just maybe I have finally found my thing.

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Zipper pouches, improvisational piecing, fabrics dyed with avocado stones, walnut leaves, goldenrod and lac

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Improvisational piecing

It feel weird and kind of silly sharing all of this. I don’t normally lay out my problems for the world to see, I talk to my friends but I am not one for sharing personal stuff online. I did however feel that I  needed to explain why my work is going to take a drastic turn. This isn’t about lowering my standards. I still want to do the best quality work that I can, I will just remind myself every now and than that I am not a machine and work in an intuitive way rather than forcing things to be constantly perfect.

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I’ve added some bundle dyed Luna pouches to the shop, if you fancy taking a look. These will be the last of the kind. My shop will close on the 18th of December for the holidays and reopen in the new year, hopefully full of new and exciting work.

Thanks for reading.

 

Bundle dyeing

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From left to right: Onion skins, rose petals, chamomile, dry weld, pomegranate powder, cut eucalyptus, black tea. All on soy mordanted bamboo fabric.

Ever since I tried bundle dyeing a few months ago, I have been hooked. I first came across it some years ago when I bought India Flint’s Eco Colour book but only just recently tried it. She makes the most beautiful eco printed textiles with eucalyptus leaves.

In a nutshell, bundle dyeing/ eco printing is a method of dyeing cloth where the dye materials are placed directly on the cloth, which is then rolled up or folded, tied and steamed or simmered in water. This direct contact can create wonderful patterns. You can also get colours that may not otherwise be achieved with immersion dyeing.

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Bundle dyed fabric

This method is one of the most economical ways to dye cloth. First of all, very little plant matter is needed. All the natural dye books I have read always recommend a 1 to 1 ratio of dye materials to cloth or yarn for a saturated colour for immersion dyeing. I must say I have never used this ratio. I am more of a ‘this is how much dye material I have, let’s make a dye bath and see what happens’ kind of girl. With the bundles, just to give you an example, for a fat quarter of fabric I might use a handful of dried rose petals or a tablespoon of cut eucalyptus leaves. A little goes a very long way. Another reason why I like this method is the fact that it uses very little water. I only use about half a litre of water when steaming a batch of bundles.

This week I did two rounds of bundle dyeing, one with soy mordanted fabric and one with aluminium acetate mordanted one. I used yellow onion skins, pomegranate powder, black tea, cut eucalyptus, rose petals, weld and chamomile.

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Another reason to love bundle dyeing: fun to do with children. Rose petals on bamboo fabric

Generally, I follow the same process for all my bundles. Pre soak cloth, squeeze excess water out, place dye materials on half of it, fold other half over, roll up tightly on a dowel rod and tie. I like the almost symmetrical patterns this method creates.

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Yellow onion skins on bamboo fabric

I have learnt that patience really pays off with bundle dyeing. Actually this applies to all natural dyeing. Well, it probably applies to anything one does, doesn’t it? I have read instructions where the bundles were steamed and opened after an hour. As hard as it is, I really recommend leaving them for at least 24 hours or longer if you can bare it. I tend to steam mine in the evening, for about 20 minutes. I use an aluminium pot with a steel rack. As I mentioned before, we have an electric cooker and the plates stay hot for a long time. This is a pain when cooking and trying to regulate temperature but in this case it works quite well. I can turn the heat off but the plate is still hot for a while and the steaming process carries on but with less energy used. I will then leave the bundles overnight, take a peak in the morning and sometimes turn them around and steam for another 20 minutes. Once they are cool, they can be removed from the pot. I would then leave them until the next morning. This way they can dry a bit, which makes it much easier to remove the plant matter.

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Bundles on the steaming rack

This week I conducted some tests to compare soy mordanted and aluminium acetate mordanted fabric. Both work very well with most materials I used so far. The only significant difference I saw was on the fabric dyed with rose petals. The soy mordanted fabric didn’t retain the colours as well. The aluminium acetate mordanted fabric however came out great. I am not after clear petal or leaf prints, I aim for watercolour-esque, organic patterns and this one I absolutely love. These are the very same rose petals you see on a previous photo, with my son’s little hand placing them on the fabric. I collected the fallen rose petals in my parents garden everyday while we were staying with them and brought two big bags home with me.

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Rose petals on bamboo fabric

 

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Rose petals on bamboo, soy mordant on the left and aluminium acetate on the right

I also like the way the chamomile fabric turned out. The speckles look fun and you can even see some of the buds.

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Chamomile on bamboo fabric

After unbundling and removing the plant matter, I machine wash my fabrics on a cold wash on a short 20 minute cycle. All the fabrics pictured are post machine wash. They are now ready to be cut into. I am hoping to do some sewing with this batch next week. I did some hand sewing with previously dyed fabrics and really like the effect. Here are my hand sewn, paper pieced hexagons.

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Paper pieced hexagons

These kind of chaotic, irregular patterns are probably not to everyone’s taste but I personally find them really appealing. I am off to transform this one into a cushion cover.