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Frida Kahlo and her skirt

And, we move ahead to the next piece of traditional clothing: The skirt.

Now, we should probably set our parameters right from the start: A ‘skirt’ is any piece of clothing that starts somewhere in the vicinity of the waistline and ends somewhere within reach of the knees and the feet. I realize this is a rather broad region, but if we are going to take in everything from a 1960s mini to today’s maxi, that’s what we’ve got to work with. Also, a ‘skirt’ can take in anything as simple as a sarong/lavalava (that is, a piece of fabric that is wrapped around the waist and held up either by itself or some sort of tie) all the way through 18th Century ‘structures’ which require wood, wire, padding, hoops, and probably a birdcage, and probably weighs somewhere in the vicinity of 30-50 pounds. “Skirts’ can include every sort of fabric manipulation known — pleating, gathering, ruching, gores, embroidery, slits, you name it. (more…)

Getting started with gardening

I hear more and more from people who want to get into gardening, feel overwhelmed, don’t know where to start and so on.

For the ‘I want to garden’ part, I say, “Hurray!! Another convert!”
For the ‘overwhelmed, don’t know where to start part,’ I say, “Ok, pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea and let’s sit down and talk about this a little bit.”

I don’t really care about why you want to garden (I’m a ‘find a hole and fill it’ sort of gardener myself and earned my stripes entering weasley looking carrots and droopy lettuce in a junior garden club show run by the local Men’s garden club when I was in the sixth grade. Somewhere, someplace, that white ‘honorable mention’ ribbon is at the bottom of a box in memory). I don’t care if the only thing you ever grew is a houseplant on a windowsill..or if you never grew anything at all but want to now. I don’t care if your interest is a whole bed of sweet corn, a year’s worth of broccoli or a tomato plant in a pot.

What I do care about is that you ENJOY it. A very short story to illustrate: Once, many years ago, the DH got super ambitious and decided that we needed a MUCH larger garden. Like, huge. And he decided to rip up a spot on the hill next to the barn that was probably 1/4 acre.

With a pick and a shovel. Not even a lawn tractor with a tiller on it. By hand. And he spent his entire vacation with this, hour after hour…day after day. The amount of sweat he put into that was amazing. And by the end of it, we had row upon row of tomato plants and pepper plants and potatoes and carrots and onions, all nicely planted, with the seeds just waiting to come up. And he decided to do just one..more…bit…of..a..dig.

And we ended up at the doctor’s with the DH, me pregnant with child number two, the 2 year old (who was grumpy at the time because we had interrupted her nap), and a completely useless arm. He’d ripped several tendons with all the digging you see. He spend the rest of the summer in a brace on his arm.

So, there we were with garden as far as the eye could see. I could only keep up with a rather small amount of all of that, so rather sooner than later, the garden disappeared under a jungle of weeds, squashes running rampant and goodness knows what else. We did not garden again for a very long time after that. When we did, we analyzed what had gone so horribly wrong.

First, location. The damn thing was so far away from the house that even just going up there was a chore. When we had first started gardening, at a different house, the garden was about 10 steps from the back door. We had a lovely time after dinner most nights just going out and taking a look at what was going on, pulling the odd weed, harvesting the odd bean or tomato. On weekends, we would put in a bit more work in terms of weeding, hacking back the spaghetti squashes with a lawn mower, that sort of thing. But the lesson here is this: Locate where you are going to grow stuff to eat close to where you are going to be, whether it’s on the deck in a planter box, next to the back door, next to the driveway where you are going to see it, a LOT. That makes it convenient and it also puts it where critters are not necessarily going to be able to get to it without being close to you (which they really don’t like).

Next, size. What the DH did was a case of ‘eyes bigger than stomach’ issue which put the garden into the range of requiring a team of people with gas-powered equipment to keep in shape. With him out of action and only one of me, we were defeated before we even started. Lesson from this: Keep the size of the thing, especially if you are just getting started, in the range of something you can get your arms around. This might be a couple of pots with tomatoes on the deck, or a flower box with collard greens and lettuce next to the back door, or some herbs. Or planting Rainbow Chard in the flower patch next to the back door (the stems are almost ‘glow in the dark’ so they are pretty splashy with the flowers). If you want to start with one bed, then make it something like 3 feet wide by 10 feet long. You can get a lot of production out of a space that big and as long as you keep an eye on it and pull the occasional weed, you can keep it under control and harvest things as you see them ripen. But, for the love of all things gardening, do NOT start with something 30 feet by 30 feet – after a month, you won’t be able to find a thing, trust me.

Other gardening thoughts for beginners:
What do you want to grow? What do you already like to eat and eat a LOT of? When you first start, it is completely easy to have things get out of hand. Like tomatoes? Then start with one, maybe two plants and make them two different things – like a cherry tomato and a plum tomato for sauce. You’ll get more cherry tomatoes than you can possibly dream of ever having, and you’ll have enough plum tomatoes to make fresh tomato sauce (which is heaven) and to freeze for winter sauce making and eating (take them out a little bit before you make a salad so that they are defrosting and you will have something that will beat any tomato you can find in the store, trust me). Like peppers? Buy a six-pack of sweet pepper plants and plant those. Take my advice and don’t buy a six-pack of hot pepper plants – you will end up with more hot peppers than you can ever use. Do you eat a lot of Italian (or Greek or Spanish) food? Then get plants for basil, oregano, cilantro and grow those (either in pots on the deck or in the garden). You can never have too much in the way of fresh herbs and eating a fresh tomato from your garden with fresh basil and olive oil is (well, I’m going to start there so I don’t start to swoon). What you don’t want to do it this: Grow a lot of stuff that you don’t already eat. Get your gardening legs under you so that you feel confident about growing the stuff you DO like to eat and then branch out from there. What you don’t want to do is finish the garden season with the thought that you threw out a lot of stuff that you couldn’t get your family to eat.

Something else: Don’t think that you are somehow some sort of weeny if you don’t grow things like tomatoes, peppers and so on from seed under lights inside your house. There is absolutely nothing wrong (or weak or silly or evil) about going to your local home and garden center and buying your plants there. Find someone truly local (not the big box national chains) to buy your plants – they will be growing things that they know will grow and grow well for you in your climate. You’ll be able to get a tomato plant in a big pot for the deck, for example – it might even already have flowers on it (woohoo!!). Much more enjoyable for someone just starting out.

Huipil-style, final thoughts

Now, usually, your Aunt Toby is one to say, “In sewing, fit is everything,” but in a case where there is no ‘fit’ per se, fabric is everything. OK, in these two cases, it is not only fabric that determines the look, but also one other thing: One inch. Literally one inch in the width measurement makes a huge difference in the look. I did not think it would make that much of a difference, but it did.

First up – the top above, made of quilting cotton. The fabric was washed before I made it and I followed my formula from the last post – biggest measurement, divided by 2, plus 5″. This is also actually a couple of inches shorter, but no bother. I actually like the look better in this incarnation than in the next one, but I’m good with both, actually. Again, this top and this style top is going to have some action in my wardrobe this summer. Certainly the easiest thing to sew, EVER. No buttons, no zips. Each one of these (minus the time for washing, drying and ironing the fabrics and cutting the contrasting strips out) took a couple of hours and most of that was placing, pinning and sewing on the contrasting strips. Perfect ‘fiddle around in the evening’ project.

Second up. This on literally is one inch bigger on the width measurement and a little longer. It is also made of cotton voile. Boy, what a difference that fabric makes, doesn’t it? On the other hand, it’s literally ‘light as a feather’ and will be great for wearing when it gets hot and sticky later. But I think I will take it in a bit at the sides for a little bit less ‘blousy’ look on me.

A couple of thoughts:
In doing a bit more research on Frida Kahlo and her huipils, I found out that most of the decoration on these is actually very dense embroidery, which means that these were a real ‘economic development’ project for her – she bought the fabrics themselves but paid indigenous artisans to make them for her. These were not items which she just picked up in a shop or off a stall in Mexico City. I’m also fairly sure (though again, I’ve never seen one of these in person and so have not held one in my hands) that these weigh a good bit; all of that dense embroidery would require a fairly solid fabric to support it and between that and the embroidery itself, these were not lightweight tops.

Another thought is this: Am I, by using this concept and basic design, indulging in what is referred to today as, ‘cultural appropriation’? That’s a good question and one I continue to go over in my head as I go through these exercises on traditional clothing. I’m not trying to pass off what I’m doing here as a real huipil from the Tehuana region in Mexico; no one looking at them can be in any doubt of that. I feel also a tremendous amount of respect and honor for the artisans who produced the garments for Frida Kahlo to wear and who continue to produce them today. These garments, from skills and time they take in the weaving, embroidery and sewing, are worth every penny of the hundreds of dollars that are being asked for them (though I sometimes wonder if the artisans themselves are being paid that much for all their time and skill). But, from the viewpoint of ‘if I want to make a garment which is simple and sparing of fabric and resources’ standpoint, I think the huipil is an excellent basic traditional garment to use as a model.

Where huipils meet the muslin

In our last episode, we discussed Frida Kahlo, zero-waste clothing and her wearing of indigenous, traditional clothing, as an introduction to making clothing which is less wasteful of fabric, less wasteful of resources, with the first example being what has almost become (besides Kahlo’s crown of braids with flowers woven in) the icon for Kahlo: the Huipil, her seemingly favorite form of blouse. Even in photographs where she is (gasp) wearing pants, she is still wearing one of these colorful, simple tops. (more…)

Where tradition meets invention meets flowers in your hair

Frida Kahlo Over the past several years, certain people/influencers have been having their ‘fashion moment’. My favorite (because it goes with my topic) is Frida Kahlo. The now very famous Mexican painter (she of the indigenous clothing, crown of braids and exotic flowers in her hair, the socalled ‘unibrow’, and the on-again/off-again stormy relationship with Mexico’s most famous muralist and sculptor, Diego Rivera), Kahlo’s daily ‘costume’ (and I use the term particularly) of mixed prints and Tehuana-based indigenous traditional clothing has captured the imagination of everyone from Neem Kahn to Givenchy to Lacroix to Karl Lagerfeld. Why is not the issue here.

What is the issue here is where Kahlo’s penchant (which really was a urgent suggestion of her lover and then husband Rivera, who was an ardent supporter of the movement to get rid of all Western European and colonial influences in Mexico which became active after the Mexican Revolution early in the 20th Century) for using indigenous clothing as a political statement (and also gaining the benefit of hiding her body cast and braces from a trolly accident). I’m not going to get into my own interpretation of this (after Rivera and Kahlo divorced, she painted a self-portrait where she had cut off all of her hair and was wearing men’s clothing, a visual ‘thumb in the eye’ for Rivera, I suspect), but Kahlo popularized Mexican indigenous clothing literally everywhere she went. She was even photographed for the cover of Vogue magazine, long-skirted, peasant bloused, standing in front of a giant cactus, with a red rebozo proudly raised above her head like a liberation flag. (more…)

Make hay while the sun shines

Getting good (i.e., not raining) weather in the early spring here at Chez Siberia is a rare enough occurrence that when we get it, and on a weekend to boot, it’s all hands out in the garden and get that work done.

Lots of work got done:
General cleanup in the vegetable garden. No, I did not get the plastic out on one of the beds; with any luck, I’ll get a chance for that this coming weekend.

Blueberry bushes got hauled out of their snug winter heeled-in spot and planted, along with compost, bone and a bit of blood meal, and wood chips. (more…)

Deer Ticks and Japanese Barberry: A match made in heaven?

Japanese barberry has gotten a very bad rap over the past 20 years for being an invasive shrub. Introduced into the US in the 19th century, in many areas, it has ‘hopped the fence’ and taken over rural hedgerows and woodlands. A lot of people like it, though, because it’s colorful, makes a great hedge and it’s something that deer won’t eat. It does, however set up shop in native areas and push out native plants – it’s a real bully.

But landscapers and home and garden centers keep selling it and home owners keep putting it in.

Well, if you need a reason to a) not put it in or b) to get rid of it if it’s on your property now (and to encourage others to get rid of it, including going to your town or city planning folks to talk to them), here you go:

University of Connecticut at Storrs has, through a multi-year study on their properties, found that Japanese barberry harbors white-footed mice (field mice), and black-footed ticks (aka: ‘deer ticks’, Lyme disease ticks), two out of the three pieces of the puzzle which have produced the almost wild-fire increase in the growth of Lyme disease (and the other diseases that black-footed ticks carry).

Wait a minute — aren’t white-tailed deer the villains of this disease-spreading piece? Yes, deer are one of the vectors, especially for adult ticks. But in terms of sheer numbers of tick nymphs (the babies) getting their first ‘meal’, being spread over wide areas and living to become disease-ridden adult ticks, white-footed mice are the real culprits. And guess what — white-footed mice love living conditions under Japanese barberry shrubs even more than deer ticks do.

Here is what research at University Connecticut found that the higher the density of Japanese barberry (such as would be found in Connecticut woodlands), the higher the density of all stages of ticks, nymphs and adults, infected and non-infected. The more control measures that were taken against the shrubs (such as chopping down, mowing, or burning), the fewer and fewer the density of all stages of ticks. In the area where the Japanese barberry was eradicated completely, there were few, if any, ticks. Lyme disease and Japanese barberry

So, what do you do if you have Japanese barberry on your property? Well, if you have a whole hedge of it, you might want to call in the landscapers and have them rip it out (if you decide to do this yourself, make sure to take precautions in terms of long sleeves, long pants, with perhaps the addition of an anti-tick spray (hopefully one that is pyrethrum based) and perhaps use a technique where you are pulling the bushes out with the use of a long rope to put some distance between you and the ticks. If you have only a few bushes, then University of Connecticut advises using a propane torch. Control Japanese barberry to control Lyme disease

Now, let’s say you are concerned but don’t have any bushes on your property but it’s prevalent in your area? Well, now’s the time to get active locally and go speak to your local government officials to establish an eradication program.

Lyme disease is nothing to take lightly. The health implications of being infected and going untreated are very very serious. Lymne Disease Complications

And if you can keep your family and pets safer by removing an invasive non-native shrub, why not?

(Photo at the top, courtesy of Vastateparkstaff)

Getting things started in the garden

Well, spring really sneaked up on us here at Chez Siberia (and probably a lot of other places as well). One moment, we have six inches of snow with freezing temperatures and the next… 50 degrees and sunshine.

Nothing like that to wake up the ‘we’d better start the tomatoes’ feelings.

Now, all long-range weather forecasts are telling your old Aunty that this summer is going to be not very warm (of course, all things are relative) – they are calling for temperatures in July and August to be 5-10 degrees cooler than normal. Which means that I needed to choose tomatoes that have a note on them saying something like, ‘cold tolerant’ or ‘will set fruit even in cooler temperatures’, because tomatoes are one of those tricky beasts. Most of them require warm night-time temperatures to set fruit. If temperatures are going to be iffy, then this is the way I hedge my bets.

Starting tomato seeds is really pretty simple. You need all the usual things – seed starting mnix, something to put it in, some warmish water, the seeds and a source of bottom heat. I use a heating mat, but I also got a metal grill to put on top of it to hold the box above the wwarmth a little bit. If I put the box of soil right on the mat, the soil mix gets to a temperature of over 80 degrees. Yes, I want warm soil but that will cook the seedlings, so I hold it away. If I didn’t have a metal grill to raise the box, I’d put an old towel on top of the mat to do the same thing. I also am a keen re-user of those plastic boxes that you can get salad mix in at the grocery store. They are relatively sturdy and have a lid that snaps on tightly to hold in the warmth and the moisture for the early stages of growing the seedlings until I need to transplant them out into bigger pots.

Now, this really is something you can do on the window sill at home as long as you have a sunny window, though you do need to keep watch to turn the seedlings so that they don’t grow all in one direction. I have an unheated greenhouse (and right now the temperature in that is 36 degrees – once the sun comes around the corner of the house, it will go up nicely into the 70+ range), but between the warming mat and my covering up the box with a big clear plastic bag, the soil is warm enough to keep the seedlings going.

Something that I am doing new this year (and I realize this sounds a bit daft at this point in the game) is that I am not putting any sort of seed identification markers IN the box. I’ve actually ended up numerous times with mold and other issues inside the box with the wood tags that I’ve used, so I’m doing something different this year. The humble piece of masking tape on the outside of the box.
I figure I can just write on the tape and won’t have as many issues inside the box until it is time to transplant.

Speaking of temperatures (digression), this year’s long winter and very cold temperatures have set me way back. Usually I can get out, put clear plastic or glass over one of the beds and get the soil up to 50 degrees so that I can put in cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Chinese cabbages, beets, chard and lettuces. Not this year. I went out this week and took the soil temperature and it was still under 40 degrees F. Not warm enough for me to encourage it with a piece of glass or plastic, I’m afraid. I’ll try taking the temperature again today since we’re supposed to have a nice warm sunny day (again, all relative; it’s supposed to be 50 degrees F). Perhaps I’ll have better luck today.

In other areas of the garden, we’re starting to see the leaves from some of the many bulbs I planted in the fall. The crocuses are up, bless ‘em, but nothing else so far. It will be very interesting to see how the bulb patch looks once it’s in full flower mode. The patch, frankly, is a supremely ugly spot under which is our new septic system. So, of course, in the digging, installing, and filling in, we lost all of the top soil (despite our begging the contractor to set it aside on a tarp that we oh-so-thoughtfully put out for him) and have nothing there but horrific weeds which we have been assiduously yanking out and replacing with hardy perennials, in the hope that they will beat the nasty guys back (I know, wishful thinking). In the fall, I planted several hundred bulbs of various sorts and we shall see if that gives us a little bit of pleasure in the next couple of months.

Hope your spring gardening is coming along! Anything new and exciting in your garden?

The Pillow Project: Zips, Snips, and Done

So, let’s get down to business, shall we?

First things first: How are we going to close up the pillows? Well, yes, I can leave one edge completely open, stuff in the pillow form and then whipstitch it closed. Which I hate because it frankly requires me to keep the pillow form under some sort of control while I’m doing it. Very tiresome. I could also do a double flap and put in buttonholes and buttons. But I’m not going to do that either; I’m just going to put in a zipper. This makes stuffing the pillow very easy and it’s a neat and tidy closure. There are two ways to do this – in one of the seams (and if you follow directions on the package the zipper came in, then you are home free). Or, I can split the back into two pieces, make a seam there and insert the zipper in that seam. (more…)

The Pillow Project: Ideas

Sometimes, it’s actually quite overwhelming to try to get your arms around what you are actually going to do. Of course, the simplest thing to do is to just go out and buy pillows or pillow covers, but perhaps you can’t find anything that is either in the budget or that you like or that fits the decor/colors and so on. So. (more…)

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