There are a lot of herbs in the garden at the moment and I the need to use them (of course). I have made a few tea mixes (made by drying herbs and crumbling them together) and dried some culinary herbs, but there are still a lot of herbs I haven’t used… enter smudge sticks.
Smudge sticks can be used as part of a ritual cleanse of a space or person, they can be used to encourage sleep, or dreams or even love, but the smudge sticks I felt moved to make are for protection.
Herbs have many layers of use to humans; they can be used as food, as medicine, in the production of other things and most also have a magical use, it is the magical use I am tapping into to when making smudge sticks.
I wandered around the garden harvesting herbs… today I was drawn to the mugwort (or cronewort), lavender and rosemary. I looked these up in my handy magical herbal to find that all three can be used in protection spells.
I used three leaves or sprigs each of the three herbs to make a total of three smudge sticks. Three is a special number, and it gives me a nice sense of completion to use three of everything.
I stacked my bundles together and tied the ends with cotton thread.
Then I wrapped the string around the bundles from bottom to top and from top to bottom again. The wrapping needs to be fairly tight and the end knot is tied using the loose tail of the first knot.
The neat little bundles are then dried by putting them on a tray in the griller of the stove (not going), so that when I use the oven, the heat rises up into the griller and dries the bundles. It only takes a night to dry herbs for tea making, but I think it will take two (or maybe three) days to dry these little wrapped bundles.
Finally the bundles are used to burn and waft smoke around the humpy while I hold the image of our home being safe from all things harmful.
I have always had a habit of wondering how random common household items are made, it drives my partner nuts. I will stop doing something to wonder (sometimes out loud) how something is made and if we can make it too. Sometimes I wonder how the process was discovered in the first place. In the kitchen, it is amazing how many everyday items can be made by neglecting them. It leads me to think that the greatest discoveries in culinary arts were probably made by very bad housekeepers. Vinegar is one of those things.
Vinegar is a double fermented product that uses yeasts to make alcohol then bacteria to turn the alcohol into vinegar. Apparently the process can be completed in the same container by adding dried fruit and water to a bucket or jar, stirring it every day and keeping it covered with an air permeable cover (like a cloth). The acetobacter in the air will turn any alcohol into vinegar. It can most usefully be used to turn bad wine into good vinegar.
Vinegar has been made and used for about 5000 years in most parts of the world (maybe longer). It has been used to disinfect and preserve food (the original use of marinade was not to improve taste, it was to make old meat safer to eat), it has been used to clean wounds and treat digestive complaints (and as a base for delivering medicine). It has been used as a cleaning and disinfecting agent in household cleaning and to preserve specimens in the lab. Here at the humpy, we use it for all the above uses (well… not too many specimens preserved). I buy a 15 litre tub of white vinegar twice a year and many bottles of apple cider, balsamic and specialty vinegars as well. If I can make my own, there is one less thing I need to buy, as well as the satisfaction gained by knowing how to make something myself.
For my vinegar experiments I used some of my home made wines that didn’t taste very good. I had a batch of mead (honey wine) that tasted harsh and had a faintly musty flavour, so I knew I wasn’t going to drink it. Instead of wasting the hours of work that went into making it, I decided to have a play at making vinegar.
The mead was poured into a smallish kombucha brewing jar that I had spare. Then I added a bottle of apple cider vinegar I picked up at the local Co Op to the jar and put a cloth cover on it. The apple cider vinegar was raw, meaning it had living bacteria colonies in it. That is it really, I put the jar up on a shelf and left it for two months.
When I had a minute, I just poured the vinegar through a filter and bottled up the results. It tastes mild and smooth; I think this would make a great vinegar for shrubs. It is good as a salad dressing and in marinades too.
The Mother was left in the sieve, so I poured a new batch of old wine into the brewer and added the Mother to it. This should get the vinegar making off to a good start again.
Now I know how to make basic vinegar, I think I will branch out to making fruit vinegars too. For me, the vinegar making answers a question I had about how the product is made, and it allowed me to use a product that had no other use. I will continue to make vinegars at home and eventually I would like to make enough to use for cleaning too.
Everyday life holds so many small but important mysteries; how is vinegar made? How was it discovered? What can be added to vinegars? What can I make from my vinegar? These are just the questions I had about vinegar, I have many more questions to be answered and each day brings new wonderings. There is no room or time for boredom or stagnation of the mind… life is just too interesting.
I don’t know about you, but I love incense (it hides a multitude of house wifely sins). We have many, many animals living in our humpy, both by invitation and without; we have the chooks and ducks in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) who are inside while being healed from various bodily woes, or are long term guests because of an injury or birth defect, we also have an indoor aviary that houses many small birds (rescued and found) who can’t be released for one reason or another and we have three dogs who are no longer young, we have skinks, geckos, mice and the odd snake, finally we have three humans (who may be the smelliest of all). Although the animal enclosures are cleaned regularly (daily for the messier ones) and we do our best to keep our own mess under control, the humpy still smells like a zoo (naturally). So, every now and then I like to burn a heap of incense to lighten the mood.
Incense is expensive and I am never sure what it is made from, so I guess it is time to find out how to make my own. I have been making loose incense for many years, but that requires a charcoal block to burn it on. Charcoal blocks can be hard to find in our area and tend to absorb moisture from the air and be hard to light. Incense cones seem like the obvious solution, and they can just be set on a plate and lit, so are convenient too.
I found this easy to adjust recipe at Permacrafters.com and decided to give it a go as it uses easy to find in my kitchen/garden ingredients.
Traditionally, incense is made by mixing herbs, resins and oils with a powder called makko (which is made from the bark of several trees). I haven’t got any makko as it isn’t used in making loose incense, but I feel that the ingredients need a bulking and binding agent to help make my cones. This is (of course) different from the recipe. The principle attribute of makko powder is that it is made from an easily combustible bark that does not smell strongly when burned. I reasoned that gum tree bark is also very combustible (as the annual bushfires prove) and the smoke has a pleasant smell. I trotted off outside and picked up some shed gum tree bark.
This bark was popped into my trusty coffee grinder (which needed a good scrub after the ordeal) and ground into powder. Ta Da!!!, true Australian makko.
Next I ground up my incense in the coffee grinder;
5 tspn makko
1 tspn frankincense gum
1/2 tspn acacia gum
1 tspn cinnamon powder
1 tspn cloves
2 tspn dried rosemary leaves
Then I added;
2 tspn raw honey
3 tspn water (I added the water a tspn at a time and mix until I could see the consistency)
The mixture was kneaded in the little bowl until it could be formed into cone shapes that stick together well. This lot made 12 cones of fairly large size.
I left the little cones on a tray to dry out in the kitchen. They apparently take a week to dry enough to use and need to dry very slowly to avoid crumbling.
They smell like honey and cinnamon sitting on their tray, a not unpleasant smell to have hanging around the kitchen. I hope they smell as nice when they are burned.
I know the recipe is different from the one I found, I really just used that as a guide to make my own recipe.
I will post a note here to let you know what the results are…
I couldn’t wait, after just one night I decided to try out the incense. It took a long time to light up (probably because it’s not fully dry yet) and had to be relit twice. The smell is really pleasant, weirdly it smells sort of vanilla like, I really like it. The gum tree bark doesn’t add a bushfire smell to the incense, so I think that is a success. I guess I will have to wait a few more days to see if the extra drying time will make it easier to light.
Our mulberry tree is loaded with fruit this year; the branches are groaning and sagging towards the ground (much to the delight of the chooks and ducks). I think the huge crop is due to the tree having access to the chook compost for years while the chook pen was beside it, and also the application of a fair amount of washing water and dirty water from duck watering pots. Whatever the cause of the crop, I am thankful. I spent a half hour picking ripe mulberries and there are still plenty left for the birds, later cooking, eating fresh from the tree in passing and freezing for later. That time under the tree, hearing the birds calling all around me, feeling the gentle breeze on my skin and thinking about what I can make from the riches provided by this tree, were a rare moment of peace and contentment… I am deeply grateful. So, to celebrate, I am making mulberry wine.
First, the mulberries need to be frozen while I collect enough for a large batch of wine. Freezing the fruit before making the wine seems to help in the fermentation process anyway. So I bagged up this pick; I need about two kilos of fruit for a decent batch of wine, maybe one more pick of the same size.
Next, the fruit is thawed out and the bulk ferment tub was sterilized.
Two kilos (about) of mulberries and five litres of water with one and a half kilos of raw sugar stirred in were added to the tub, along with a sachet of wine yeast, 300ml of fruit juice ( raw blueberries in this case) and some yeast nutrient. An airlock was added to the tub and the long wait begins.
The fruit was stirred daily with a sterile spoon. The ferment started within a few days. It fizzed and bubbled when stirred.
After about four days, the bubbles started rising from the airlock and it is time to remove the fruit must from the wine. I carefully scooped out the fruit with a slotted spoon, then poured the new wine through a sieve into a jug. The new wine was poured into a demijohn and an airlock fitted to complete the ferment process.
After a total of about two weeks, I siphoned off the liquid bit (the wine) and bottled it in a new demijohn with an airlock attached. I set it to age for a month or so to clear the sediment from the wine and let the flavour develop.
Lastly, I bottled the wine into sterile bottles and stored it to drink and share with friends over the next few months. I bottled 12 bottles from 2 demijohns of wine. I refilled the demijohns from the fermenter and put another batch on to ferment. In total I should get 36 bottles of mulberry wine from this year’s harvest (as well as a heap of baked goods, syrup and cordial); that tree deserves all the washing water I can throw under it.
The mulberry tree is still giving us a bountiful harvest, and supplying the chooks, ducks, guinea fowl and various wild birds and possums with enormous amounts of food. I pick an ice cream container (the 4 litre size) every day, and knock off a lot of ripe fruit in the process. Nothing goes to waste in nature; the wild birds fly in for a feed at various times of the day, they knock fruit off onto the ground in the process of eating. The chooks and ducks camp out under the tree in the shade and eat the fruit that drops from the birds, the wind and me picking fruit. No fruit sits on the ground to rot. My harvest so far has led to mulberry cake (a basic yoghurt cake with mulberries added), mulberry pie, the first batch of mulberry wine, a lot of smoothies and fresh fruit snacks and now I am making mulberry syrup. The syrup will be stored in the fridge to use as a topping for waffles, ice cream and to use in milkshakes (and other as yet unthought of things). I think I will make a batch to freeze too (for later in the year).
The formula for making syrup is fairly easy to remember; make your fruit juice, then add sugar to it in a ratio of 1:1, cook it down to get the right consistency and you have a great syrup. Of course you can jazz things up a bit by adding spices and herbs, or a dash of a good vinegar to bring out the fruit flavours, but the basic syrup is just juice, sugar and water cooked down into a sauce.
To make the juice; I filled a pot with mulberries, 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water and put the pot on a low heat to start the berries breaking down. The juice starts to run out fairly soon, and when the berries are heated through, I turned the heat off. The sugar starts the process of drawing the juice out of the fruit (osmosis) and the heat weakens the walls of the berries so that they are easier to juice.
The entire pot is blended up into a pulp in the blender and the juice drained out using a sieve. Then I measure the juice yield in my handy jug.
The juice and an equal amount of sugar are added to the pot and the beautiful purple potion is bought to a simmer for about five minutes. You could simmer for longer to get a thicker syrup, but I like the runny effect.
Bottle into sterilized jars or bottles and seal straight away. Once it is cool, the syrup can be stored in a cool, dark cupboard, in the freezer (for a longer shelf life) or in the fridge. Once a bottle is open, it should be stored in the fridge.
I have plans for using this syrup to flavour a batch of kombucha, and to make a Lebanese night-time drink called Sharab el toot.
I am loving the harvest of fresh food at the moment, this is what makes life feel abundant and rich; the ability to eat from the garden.
I have a big fibre project on the go (really I just started planning it) it is a really long term project that involves a lot of different fibre crafts. To get the ball rolling, I washed a kilo of fleece from Eli. Now it needs to be carded before I can start to spin. To card this much wool with a set of hand carders would take a very long time…hours of carding every evening for weeks. Luckily, I have recently (within a year or two of the current day anyway) bought myself a drum carder and wool picker set. A drum carder is a nasty looking contraption that cards huge amounts of fibre in one go, simply by turning the handle (well…there is a bit more to it than that).
First I need to run the wool through the picker. This is a chute with nails sticking out in all directions inside it. The wool is passed through the chute and is pulled apart and fluffed up in the process. This breaks off any brittle bits, catches most of the short cuts (little lumps of fleece that are too short to spin) and shakes out some of the vegetable matter.
Next I take tiny bits of the fluffy fleece and pass it through the drum carder, being careful to only put in small amounts at a time. During this I use a brush to push the fleece down onto the drum so I can fit a lot of fleece into the batt (a batt is a big mat of prepared fibre for spinning).
Lastly, I break the circle of fibre on the drum and slowly peel the batt off. I can either put this batt back through to get a smoother finish (or add some other colours to it) or I can go straight to spinning it.
The drum carder does make it easier to process large lumps of fleece into spinnable batts, but the end product is not as smooth and easy to spin as when I card with the hand carders. The fibre choice probably makes a difference to the outcome as well. This new bit of equipment has helped me process the fleece to yarn more quickly, so has been worth the money (they are fairly expensive), but I think the hand carders will win out for fine fibre or special projects.
My youngest daughter recently sent me a present which included three beeswax wraps, which I put into immediate use. I use them to cover the bowl while I proof bread, while resting pastry, I use them to wrap lunch for the day, to wrap cheese in the fridge and to wrap the bread in the cupboard. I love them, and three is not enough for the various uses I put them to. So I am making more for myself (of course).
First, I need cotton fabric. The wraps need to be made from 100% cotton, so I looked at old shirts, old sheets and in my fabric stash. I found some likely candidates, but nothing that stood out as 100% cotton; it is very hard to find something second hand that is all cotton (at least in my house). Next I went looking at Spotlight online, and I found some very colourful (school themed) fat quarters. I ordered enough to make piles of new wraps.
Next we need beeswax (as a starting point), I have always got organic beeswax on hand as I use it to make soap, hand creme, furniture polish, etc. I did come across some tutorials that recommend using ingredients such as pine resin and jojoba oil to help make the wraps more antibacterial and longer lasting. Eventually I came across a kit that was for sale locally. I ordered a test kit through Ballina Honey The kit came in record time and contains everything I need to make my wraps except the fabric. There are some beeswax chunks, a bag of pine resin and a small pouch of jojoba oil; I am now ready to go…
The instructions in the kit gave three options…
As I was looking for the simplest method, I chose to heat up the required 2:1:small splash ratio of (respectively) beeswax, resin and jojoba oil in a pot on the stove. I floated the pot in a larger pot of water to make a double boiler.
Then I tried to paint the wax mixture on with a paint brush. This was not very sucessful as the wax seemed to take forever to soak through. I speculated that this was because it was a fairly cool day. The surface of the fabric was left lumpy and caked. So on to method two.
I put the fabric between two pieces of baking paper and ironed it with my tiny little 12 Volt sewing iron. This worked to a degree, but because it takes so long to heat up it was a very slow process.
When I was sick of ironing (it doesn’t take long), I put the fabric on a baking sheet and popped it in the oven for a few minutes. This worked really well and I decided this was the way to do it.
So for the next several hours I popped pieces of fabric in the oven with the premade beeswax mixture.
I love using these wraps, and they will reduce our use of cling wrap and aluminium wrap. I wonder if I could make some oiled cotton to sew bags and things out of?
As predicted, the lounge recovering is going slowly. This weekend I managed to cover the arms of one armchair. I don’t mind taking my time with the job though, I am learning so much along the way. The fact that the whole pile of work-in-progress is sitting in everyone’s way is annoying, but we are coping with a minimum of snarky comments and stubbed toes.
The inside arm covering was not without it’s challenges. There was a broken piece of frame to be fixed and a lot of tucking and stapling to do…
I do love the wheat colour of the fabric, but I am learning that I have to go very slowly on this project or I make silly mistakes like putting the wadding too far forward over the front of the arm. Oh well… on to the inside back next.
After getting all excited about the Sunbrella fabric in the last upholstery post, I went home and measured up the lounge and chairs to see how much I needed (lots of complicated measurements there) only to discover that I would need approximately 24 metres of fabric. At $50 a meter, that ended up being $1200; way too much for me. I am not willing to spend thousands on a piece of furniture, especially when I am new to the hobby and don’t know what I am doing.
I ended up going to Spotlight (online of course) and matching the colours as closely as I could (probably not that close, given the nature of digital monitors and human perception) and buying $500 worth of fabric. I also ordered some bits and pieces such as cardboard strips, upholstery nails and thread and a huge load of wadding (oh and a little upholstery tool kit) from an online upholstery store based in South Australia. Then I waited…
During the wait I discovered (by watching even more YouTube videos) that I would need another staple gun as the two hand operated ones we own do not have staples long enough for upholstery. The staple gun and a big box of staples was purchased before the fabric arrived.
Then I received an email informing me that the cotton wadding I had ordered was out of stock and no suitable natural alternative was available. I searched all over the internet without finding what I wanted, until my accidentally genius partner said “Can you use pure wool as wadding?”, some research revealed that you can indeed use pure wool batting to pad out upholstery. This little discovery may have saved me $100 dollars and cleared off half a shelf in my craft room. Wool is commonly used to wrap seating and back cushions as it compresses to a much greater degree than cotton, meaning that if I use it on the deck (the base that the cushions sit on) and back rest areas of the lounge I will need to use much more of it to get the same amount of padding. I will also need to put a fabric cover over the wadding to help prevent felting.
In my craft room at present I have about a wool bale of various fleeces, some are too fine and beautiful to use as sofa stuffing, but others are a bit course and hard to spin. I will use a pile of these fleeces, washed and carded, to stuff my lounge. I also have a lot of cotton fabric from sheets and quilt covers in my fabric stash that can be used to put a layer over the wool batting before I cover it with the final fabric. I knew there would be a way to up-cycle or re-use things in this new hobby (there always is).
In the process of researching this project I discovered a great YouTube channel on natural upholstery. This channel is dedicated to using natural materials to reupholster furniture (right up my alley). I found some really interesting ideas and tips here.
So the fabric began to arrive in bits and pieces; the red came first. It is very red…almost iridescent, luckily it will be used for the deck and for the stripes on the inside backs, so the really bright colour will not be over powering (I hope).
I followed the instructions on the various YouTube clips and used the old fabric as a template to cut the new piece. Then I stitched a seam across it to sew the seam between the deck and the front padded bit. This little strip at the front should be slightly higher than the deck behind it (to help hold the cushion in the seat), so I padded it out with raw (scoured and carded) wool and put two layers of cotton batting over the lot. I decided to re-use the cotton and wool felt (the grey stuff) that was already on the chair and to just add a bit more padding to the thin bits.
Of course, after I had sewn the seam, by hand, with a curved needle, I discovered that the fabric was not quite wide enough (I made it a bit bigger than the template on all sides, not sure why it was too short). So rather than undo the sewing and cut another piece, I hand sewed some strips of scrap fabric to the short edges and continued on. The deck for the next chair will be cut MUCH wider than the template.
Lastly, I stapled the fabric down tight with my trusty new staple gun. It took a lot of pulling, snipping easement cuts and smoothing fabric, but I think it came out alright.
I am enjoying this process and learning a new skill. The red is so much brighter than it appears to be on the screen, luckily this bit will be hidden by a cushion most of the time.
Yes…I know I said I wouldn’t take on another hobby, especially one that takes up a lot of space and time…but…
I was scrolling through Facebook Marketplace (as you do) and I saw a striking lounge (to me anyway) and it was free (my favorite kind). I messaged the owner, without much hope that it would still be available, only to find out that it was. Now I had to tell my reluctant partner that I wanted a new lounge.
After a medium amount of wheedling, convincing and outright bullying, he agreed to drive over and pick up our new hobby…err…lounge.
The lounge is old, faded and while the armchairs have good springs, the lounge itself badly needs re-springing or something. The fabric is thin and starting to rip in places, but I just fell in love (of the furniture persuasion).
We got the set home and unloaded it into the only open area in the humpy; beside the heater. I will work on the re-covering here, right in everyone’s way. I hope to complete it all during this school holidays, but I am probably fooling myself.
Several hundred YouTube clips later, I decided to start the project. If I start of the lounge chairs first I can learn as I go (in theory). The lounge chairs don’t need any structural work (probably) so I can develop my skills on them then move on to the big job of the lounge itself.
The clips all stress that re-covering has a sequence; the last piece on is the first piece off. So I looked over the chair and found the last piece on, which happened to be the bottom dust cover. To get that off, I had to remove the back wheels and their little timber bits.
Once the bottom was off, I could see that the chair is webbed and has coil springs in the back and seat, which apparently means my find is from the posh end of the furniture gene pool.
The next piece is the outside side pieces. The little cover plate things at the front were easy to pry off, but then things got difficult as there are cardboard strips with about a million staples under some of those folds. The piping (or welting as it is properly called…apparently) is sewn onto the red fabric and stapled onto the yellowish side pieces, meaning that there are a lot of staples to remove.
Up until now I have been using a screw driver and a pair of side cutters to remove staples, but then I ran into a problem; the pleats at the front of the chair (under the decorative plate thing) are held on with actual nails. These nails have proven themselves immune to screwdrivers and I can’t get the claw of the hammer under them as yet.
In the end, I used a hammer to gently tap the screw driver under the edge of each nail. This made a bit of a mess of the wood, but the nails (or upholstery tacks) are out.
Now that the front arm panels and both outside side pieces are off, I can work on removing the deck covering (the deck is the flat bottom of the chair that the cushion sits on). Once the deck covering is removed I can start putting new fabric on it. Of course, that means I have to choose and buy the new fabric.
Apparently, the recovering process happens bit by bit; first the deck (for this piece anyway) is recovered, then the arms are stripped and recovered, then the back. Doing it this way means I can avoid losing bits of loose stuffing and wadding as the piece sits there waiting for me to get some free time and energy to cover the next bit. It also breaks the process down into manageable pieces for me to focus on.
I am off to town today to see if I can find some upholstery fabric and assorted bits of hardware…wish me luck.
I found an upholstery shop, and it carries a fabric called Sunbrella. Sunbrella is an acrylic fabric made for indoor and outdoor use. I would not normally use an acrylic fabric on anything, but this time I decided to go with the hard wearing and easy care option. This lounge will have to suffer a lot of indignities in it’s life with us (not just dogs on the lounge here) so I think it is important that it be properly dressed for the job.
We looked through the samples of colours and found a few combinations we like, then we took down the details and went away to think about it. The fabric costs about $50 a metre and there will be other needs on top of that (wadding, piping, staples, etc), I don’t want to make a hasty decision. Besides it is fun to think about the possibilities before I commit to only one.
It will take a week to get the fabric after it is ordered, so I have changed my plan. I will strip the other chair (and maybe the lounge) to the same stage as the first chair in my remaining week of holidays, then when I have the fabric, I will cover them one at a time. That means work on the project really slows down because I will be working on other things.