The Trusty Sewing Needle

I have a pretty specific style.  Oh, sometimes it changes depending on my mood, from Santa Fe diva to vintage rodeo queen, but I typically wear a mid to long skirt, top, and apron.  I have six Mennonite aprons that are my absolute favorite.  I have worn them nearly every day for so many years, I cannot believe how nice they still are.

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When I first starting writing this blog, a fellow blogger and I decided to make each other aprons and send them to each other.  It was a fun experiment and the one she sent me was from a pattern her Amish neighbor gave her.  Her neighbor then made me five more a few years later.  I adore their pinafore style and roomy pockets.  I still have a shy six year old hiding under my apron when we meet people.  I use my apron to wipe my hands on, carry in fresh produce, bring in eggs, and any number of other household tasks.  I get more compliments when I venture out in my flowy skirt and apron- most of the comments coming from young people.  I am bringing the apron back!

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My skirts are so worn that any day now they may just disintegrate off my hips while I am working in the garden.  Broomstick skirts and the like run $30-$100.  I would love some nice A line skirts.  I made a lovely, yellow print, long skirt before.  The elastic was a little weird, and I had to wear a shirt covering the top of the skirt at all times, but who cares?  I made it and wore it until it tore on a fence.  I really ought to get out my old Viking sewing machine and stitch some things together.  I am no sewing expert- my patience and lack of perfection just make everything “good enough.”  But who cares?  The chickens sure don’t!

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I have many aprons.  Some were precious gifts from friends.  Others belonged to my dear friend’s grandmother (both have passed away) and are close to a hundred years old.  I sewed quite a few myself.  But those Mennonite aprons, they are my favorite.  My blogger friend recently sent me the pattern to that apron.  Intimidating for sure!  But I can do it!  Right?

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Learning to sew is a wonderful homestead skill.

  1. You save money on clothes.
  2. You get exactly what you want.
  3. You help save the earth from cheap China clothes overload.
  4. Mending brings new life to clothes.

Sewing also leads to quilting, making cloth napkins, dresses for the chickens…

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Anyways, get yourself a sewing machine and a sewing kit and start on your creative journey!  Homesteading is incredibly satisfying, especially when you can create so much beauty.  We had a little fun with camera yesterday at my daughter’s house.  Here are a few pictures and a few other blogs I wrote over the years about this subject!

Farmgirl Swap

Love Wrapped Up in Stitches

How to Become a Homesteader-Part 2-Skills

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We try to learn two new skills each year.  There are some skills that are imperative to the survival of a homesteader.  Actually, not just for homesteaders, anyone who is trying to live as simply and on as few funds as possibly (less work for a paycheck=more freedom to live life how you want).  It is nice to have more than one person living on a homestead (doesn’t have to be a spouse) because generally what one person can’t do, or doesn’t care to do, the other can.  And for the things that neither are very good at, bartering with someone that has that skill set is invaluable.  Here is a rough list of important skills to learn to be a homesteader.

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1. Cooking– I have been cooking since I was quite small and Doug was a bachelor for some time before we got married so we both know how to cook.  That doesn’t mean that restaurants weren’t our worst vice!  We haven’t sworn off restaurants completely and we do go out more than our other homesteading friends.  I do, however, cook the vast majority of our meals.  And if I am too tired to cook in the morning Doug will fry up a delicious hash (fried potatoes, onions, garlic, eggs, and any vegetables or fish we have).

Cooking is not only obviously important to the modest budget required in a homestead, but it is better for you as well.  You need to stay strong while doing farm chores!  It is also much more ecologically friendly.  You can decide how many pesticides to put in your body, how many miles your food travelled, and how many boxes you put in the landfill.

We rarely buy anything in a box.  We use whole ingredients and in bulk if possible.  Grains, fresh vegetables fruits, or the ones we canned or froze, fish, legumes, eggs, milk, and cheese, make up our various meals along with a lot of great spices and flavor.  It is easy to put together meals with so much selection.  And because they weren’t in boxes, but rather larger bags or serve yourself, they were cheaper too.  I can add my own flavorings without all the additives.

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2. Gardening– Being able to grow your own food is a wondrous thing.  The cost of seeds is much less than the cost of groceries with the added benefit of being in the sunshine, knowing where your food came from, having all the nutrients still available, and helping out the bees.

One can successfully garden in a plot, the front yard, in five gallon buckets on the porch, anywhere really!  I combine all of these to get enough space!

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3. Canning– After World War II, women wanted a different life.  Canning, cleaning, country living, many normal ways of life were shunned in favor of city living, jobs, packaged food, cleaning ladies, and the earlier ways of living were thought of as mundane and peasant, if you will.

Canning is a great way to survive on a fixed income.  By putting up all the produce the summer brings (even if that means buying a bushel from a nearby farm) we don’t let all that glorious produce go to waste and come winter we scarcely ever need to go to the grocery store!  Just look in the pantry!

Canning is enjoyable as well.  It is a great sound when those jars click shut.  It is particularly fun with margaritas and other women to help!

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4. Fencing– This was one of the first things Doug had to learn and quick.  Come two squirrely, runaway goat kids, we had to learn to reinforce and put up good fencing on the cheap.  We have found that T-posts and pasture fencing are affordable options and moveable if necessary.  We will easily be able to fence in a large area off of the current goat pen for the goats and new arrivals.

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5. Building and Fixing– I grew up in a home where my mom taught us girls how to do every domestic chore.  I am grateful for that.  I have never pushed a lawn mower or changed my own oil though.  My dad built their house by hand.  He can fix anything, my brother can too, but I was not taught these things.  Doug grew up in a house where if something broke, they called someone in.  So, when we first got together and something would break, I’d say, “Aren’t you going to fix that?” and he would look at me like I was crazy.  We spent a lot of money on hiring people over the years and we needed to learn how to build and fix things.  This is a skill we will work on more this year.  This is one that we barter classes or computer support for.  I traded a class for a fabulous cold frame.  We would like a better milking shed too.  Neither of us even know where to start!  That is where knowing how to barter comes in handy.  But we also need to learn for ourselves.

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6. Animal Care– Animals are an important part of a homestead.  For many they are a source of meat, but for this vegetarian farm, they are a source of food, fiber, and comedy shows.  We love our chickens and their eggs.  We love our goats, their milk, and the dairy products that we make from the milk.  We can sell their kids and milk shares to help cover costs of feed.  We are looking forward to our new sheep and their fleece as well as the new alpaca, Buddy the Cotton-headed-ninny-muggins.

We have needed to learn how to trim their feet, and how to know when they are sick, and what to give them.  How to put an animal out of its misery (still working on that one, we are getting a revolver this year), and how to house and feed them.  In my opinion, animals make the homestead.  Sharing your life with other creatures makes things more complete.

After the kindling catches, add small pieces of wood, then a larger log.  Blow into the fire to make it catch more.  Once the log has caught, close the flue.

7. Fire starting– We heat our house with wood and a propane heater.  We got the bill for the propane.  Next month we are putting in another wood stove that our friend found us so no more propane!  We have a lot of wood stacked up and Doug learned to wield an axe.  It keeps him in shape, helps him blow off steam, and keeps us in wood.  But it took us a bit to figure out how to get the fire started easily!  We weren’t scouts and we never needed to do much else but throw one of those ready to burn logs into an outdoor fireplace at a party.  We learned quick!

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8. Sewing– Being able to mend old clothes or turn too old of clothes into quilts and projects saves you from having to purchase it at the store.  Remember, anything we currently purchase at the store we want to learn to do ourselves!  I can make the baby dresses, sew a semi-decent quilt, and mend but I would like to learn this year how to sew more elaborate clothing, like men’s shirts and dresses for myself.

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9. Fiber Arts– Being able to knit a pair of warm socks is high on my list of skills I would like to master this year.  Along with animal shearing, carding, spinning, and dying yarn.

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10. Learning to Entertain Oneself– Being able to not be bored easily.  To be able to rest and entertain oneself is high in importance.  We can’t very well run off to see a stage production downtown anymore or away for a week in New Mexico.  We also don’t have a big cable package or media entertainment.  We read, write, draw, walk, have folks over, visit others, play with the baby, and sit outside in the sun.

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Being a homesteader doesn’t mean that one does less work.  Nay, you might end up doing doubled!  All of these skills take time.  Time is what you will have and it is much nicer to be doing what you would like on your own time and schedule wherever you please.  It is all good, pleasant work.  And learning to rest and play is important as well.  This is a great lifestyle.  I highly recommend it if you are thinking of living this way!  A good skill set makes it all the easier.

How To Make Homemade Soap

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Alright, let’s make soap!  It is easy, you can make it however you like, and you will never buy another bar of drying, chemical laden soap again!

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First, gather your ingredients.  You can buy these items online at places like Brambleberry or Essential Depot but I like to support local business so I head down to Buckley’s Homestead Supply in Old Colorado City and pick up what I am missing.

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You will need a digital scale to measure your ingredients.  Place the digital scale in a plastic freezer bag to protect it.  When dealing with the lye use safety glasses and rubber gloves.  But don’t be overly scared of it to the point that you scare yourself out of using it.  I have licked my finger thinking I had coconut oil on it, rubbed my face, dropped it on my bare foot….a bit of good lotion (like my Lavender Lotion) and a washing gets the sting out really quick.  You will also need a plastic pitcher, a plastic spoon, a plastic mixing bowl, and a plastic spatula (see the pattern here?).  I get mine from the dollar store and only use them for soap making.  You will also need a red solo cup, a measuring cup, and a soup pot.  Only the things that touch lye need to remain solely for soap.  My soup pot and measuring cups stay in the kitchen.  You will need an immersion blender and a laser thermometer as well.

You can purchase molds or you can chop the top off of a paper milk carton and use that.

16 oz. of liquid.  I use goat’s milk.  I have also used half goat’s milk and half wine and one time I did half goat’s milk and half coffee.  That was a great bar of soap!  You could use beer, water, or store bought milk.  How about beet juice for the color or green tea?  Just don’t use anything acidic like orange juice or pineapple juice as the lye will react to it.

7.4 oz. of lye.  Pour this into the plastic cup when measuring it on the scale and simply rinse out afterwards.

16 oz. of olive oil

16 oz. of coconut oil

16 oz. of palm oil (I am not crazy about using palm oil but it is what makes the soap hard.  Later we’ll learn to make lard soap and then we won’t need the palm oil.)

2 oz. of castor oil (This is what makes it sudsy.)

2 oz. of essential oil.  Now don’t get crazy and get 2 ounces of cinnamon or something, you don’t want the soap to be super hot!  Try vanilla, or lavender, rose, maybe orange and peppermint, a combination of oils, or pine for Christmas, or maybe just coffee scented if you used coffee as your liquid and skip the essential oils!  I am not a proponent of multi-marketing oils, just find a good essential oil at the local health store at an affordable price and use it.  Don’t use fragrances!

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1. Now that we have everything assembled let’s get started!  Place the liquid in the plastic pitcher and put the plastic spoon in it.  Put your glasses and gloves on and pour the lye into the cup.  Now put the laser thermometer in your apron pocket and take the pitcher and the lye outside.  Make sure there are no chickens around to tip the thing over or curious dog noses!  Slowly pour the lye into the liquid while stirring.  It will get super hot, about 175 degrees and will change color.  We have this outside so we don’t asphyxiate folks in the house.  Outside it will cool faster as well.

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2. Back inside measure all oils, except the essential oils, those go in at the end of the process, and place in a pot.  Warm on a wood cook stove (or regular stove) until the oils have just melted.

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3. Taking temperatures.  Now here is where we get our workout.  Check the temperature of the oils.  You can alter the temps by sticking it in the snow or fridge or reheating it.  The oils will cool down faster than the lye.  Once the lye cools down there is no reheating it so this is the point that you have to be rather diligent about watching temps.  The goal is to get the oil and the lye to 105 degrees at precisely the same time.  There can be a three degree temp difference.  But ideally, 105.  Bring lye in when it is 120 degrees to slow it down while you work on the oil temp.

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4. Prepare the bowl, set up the immersion blender, have the tops off the essential oil ready to pour in all at once and have some paper towel on hand.  Put gloves and glasses on.  When the oil and the lye are ready pour the oil into the bowl, then slowly pour the lye mixture in.  Keep the immersion blender below the liquid line or you will spray soap everywhere!  Blend until the mixture starts to feel like pudding.  When you can swirl the blender (turned off) over the top of the mixture and it makes swirly lines that is called tracing.  Add essential oils, and any additions for exfoliation (oatmeal, coffee grounds, poppy seeds…) and continue to blend until almost cake batter consistency then pour into mold.

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5. Place a piece of cardboard over mold and wrap in a towel.  Leave for 24 hours.  After 24 hours peel back paper or take out of mold and slice with a kitchen knife into desired size.  I generally like one inch thick pieces of soap.  Place small side down on dresser and let cure for four weeks.  Wrap and give as gifts or store in a zip lock bag to retain scent.

Homesteading skills like making soap are fun, save money, and will always come in handy!  Look at our Homesteading School on the menu to see what fun classes are coming up.  We’ll start anew after the holidays.

 

 

 

How to Make Chokecherry Wine

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A year from now we’ll have a tasting.  The tiny sip I had of the dregs was delicious.  Not vinegary at all and I am excited to see how it transforms itself in the next year while resting in the back of the closet.  I have wanted to make wine for some time.  It’s been on my Homesteading To-Do List of skills I must learn.  And in homesteading fashion I used what I had…some nice Pinot Noir grapes?  Nope, chokecherries.

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An old recipe in my friend Sandy’s book read as so:

Grind fruit.

Add 1 1/2 parts boiling water to 1 part fruit.  Let stand overnight.

Strain juice and add 3 pounds of sugar to 1 gallon of juice and 1/5 of a package of yeast.

Put in wine thingy (not its exact words) and there you go.

I was stuck on the first part.  Grind the chokecherries (which are mostly pits) with what?  I changed the recipe right off.

I prepared the chokecherries as I do for jam.  Boil in 1 1/2 parts of water until pits are showing and the color is a glorious pink/purple.  Then let set so that the sediment falls to the bottom.  The first batch I set overnight and it is a more vibrant color.  The other is lighter in flavor and color that set only a few hours.

I strained it and true to original recipe added slightly less than a pound of sugar to slightly less than a gallon of juice so that it would fit in the gallon jug I purchased for this event.  I poured it in.

The back of the yeast label said to only use about a 1/5 of a teaspoon for this whole mix so I minded and followed the yeast’s instructions rather than the original recipe.  I added that to the juice and sugar mix and placed the cool looking top on (the gallon jug and top contraption cost me seven dollars).  One pours a smidge of sanitizer into the curvy contraption.  I opted for rum.  I like to know what is possibly dripping into my wine.

I did two batches.  The first one was with the juice mix that sat overnight.  Richer in color and flavor I used brown sugar instead of white and red wine yeast.  The second one I boiled with a slice of ginger and used white sugar, adding a bit more sugar than the other batch, and used Champagne yeast.

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They then sat for six weeks.  The red wine batch bubbled incessantly and really gave a good show while the lighter one bubbled modestly.

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I am indebted to all the folks that work in homebrew stores.  They are your best sources for getting around the world of homebrew without making you feel like a complete idiot.  I could not fathom what I would brew the wine in or how on earth to bottle it or how to keep the air out or….they set me straight and sold me $70 worth of equipment to bottle with.  A dozen old fashioned looking bottles, a siphon, a pump, and a siphon valve.

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Place the siphon valve in the bottle.  This is attached to a tube that leads from the bottle to the gallon jug of fermenting wine.  Attach the end of the tube to the pump and hand pump the wine into the bottle.  I didn’t hold each piece firmly to the bottoms of the bottles so I got more air in than I would like but perhaps it will be more like Champagne…or something.  Once the bottle is full, pull out the siphon valve from the bottle and it leaves the exact space needed in the neck.  Close up the bottle (or insert cork) and let sit for a year.

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There are many books and recipes on how to make wine.  You can make wine out of anything from apples to dandelions.  For an investment of $80 I have seven and half bottles of wine.  I can reuse the bottles, the jugs, and the equipment so next time the cost is limited to the two bucks for yeast.

Now I do need to get a vineyard growing here….

The Can’t Do It All Homestead

At the beginning of this venture, I truly believed that Doug and I would be able to learn, complete, and excel at every  homesteading skill.  We could be self sufficient!  We don’t need nobody.  We would be so busy chopping wood and weaving clothes, sheesh, we’d do even more than the pioneers!  We’d learn everything and do everything.

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Hmmm.  I made a list.  Remember my list making post?  I do excel at making lists.  They open my eyes and help me figure out what my next step is.  This is a list that I would encourage you to fill out as well.  It can really help your life move in the direction you want it to, see what you is no longer important to you, and what you downright don’t like to do.  Let go of old hobbies and open the door for new things.

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Make four columns.  In the first column write out the things in your life you LOVE to do.  These are things you do without putting them on a to do list.  Things you don’t have to even think about, you love doing them.

  • Raising babies; chicks, goats, kittens
  • Milking
  • Making soft cheese
  • Making food items; vinegars, oils, etc
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Collecting eggs
  • Making things as gifts
  • Preserving
  • Entertaining; being with friends and family
  • Sitting in the sun, working outdoors
  • Making herbal medicines
  • Writing
  • Reading

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Now that you have your list of the things that you need no prompting to do and that you still enjoy, write in the second column the things you like do doing once you get started.

  • Yard work, domestic chores
  • Painting (on canvases)
  • Sewing (not intricately)
  • Yoga
  • Farmer’s Markets
  • Making body products

I was surprised to see that painting was on my once I got started.  I keep planning all these fine paintings.  I am to show my work in a coffee shop next month.  I have nothing new.  Perhaps I am not as into it as I used to be.

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On to the third column.  List everything that you put off.  Things you make every excuse in the book before doing.

  • Training animals
  • Calling customers
  • Filling orders
  • Spinning
  • Crocheting
  • Piano
  • Fiddle

This was an eye opener for me.  I have such a strong vision of Doug and I wiling the hours away playing good country music together.  We love the idea, but hate to practice and don’t really want to get any better.  We want to be magically better.  I used to be quite a good pianist when I was a kid.  It doesn’t come natural to me.  I quickly forgot everything I learned and would have to start over completely.  I took a piano lesson Wednesday to try to get back into it.  I fidgeted on the piano bench worse than any six year old she’s had.  I looked at the clock to see when it was time to go home.  She gave me lots of homework.  I came up with every excuse yesterday why I couldn’t practice.

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I put my fiddle, piano, Doug’s mandolin, and my spinning wheel on Craigslist.  These things require dusting, and moving when we move, and are never used.

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I do not like training animals.  My alpacas will not come near me.  They are not lovey creatures.  I do not like to spin.  These have become expensive stand offish pets.  Cute pets, don’t get me wrong.  I will try to sell them back to where I got them.  This farm is way too small for animals that don’t fit in.

Doug’s list complemented mine.  He enjoys the same things as I do.  He also loves talking to customers and filling orders.  He doesn’t even mind dishes.  We just need to rearrange our chores.

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Now the fourth column is for what you want to learn.

  • Beekeeping
  • Green house growing
  • Making hard cheeses

These are this year’s projects.  If I don’t like them, then I can move on to the next venture.  I do not have to know how to do everything.  I do not have to do everything.  This is still a homestead.  There are plenty of homesteaders out there that enjoy knitting.  I can support them by purchasing or bartering for their wares just as folks out there love my herbal medicines but don’t have a passion to make them themselves.  We all work together to make homesteading successful.  Not self sufficiency, community sufficiency!

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This list can be used in any aspect of your life.  It’s important to stay on top of our goals and release what is no longer important.  I love homesteading, this whole journey, all the learning and hands on projects.  Now, it will be that much more enjoyable!