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cindy in cotton vest - BLOG

Cindy Conner in her homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton vest

Have you ever wondered if it would be possible to make your own clothes from what you could grow in your garden? Well, I have done that and would like to teach you how to go about it. I am talking about growing cotton and flax for linen in your garden, processing it for fiber, spinning it, and weaving it into fabric to sew into clothes. Or, if you prefer, you could knit or crochet what you spin. In order to pass on what I have learned, I am giving a workshop on June 8, 2019 at my place, Sunfield Farm, near Ashland, VA. It would be just for that day from 9am-4pm.

The day will start with a garden tour. That is a big deal because I don’t normally open my garden to the public. You will see cotton and flax growing there and the flax will be nearing harvest. You will also see the other crops I have growing, including grains nearing harvest and the compost piles that are in the rotation on the garden beds. I will explain the growing conditions for cotton and flax.

flax straw and line-closeup - BLOG

flax straw and the line flax it becomes

Everyone will receive a pound of retted flax and have the chance to work with it on flax brakes, scutching boards, and hackles. You will produce the line flax that you will learn to spin in the afternoon. You will also collect the tow from your flax and learn how to make it into something useful.

There will be an hour lunch break at noon. Iced tea and water will be provided, but you will have to bring your own lunch and snacks. I am located only a few miles from the small town of Ashland. If you don’t pack a lunch you could get something to eat there. Of course, if you don’t need the whole hour for lunch, you are welcome to go back to working with the flax after you eat.

spindles for workshop - BLOG

spindles you will receive in the workshop

The afternoon will be filled with spinning and learning what to do with the spun yarn. You will receive raw cotton and a metal tahkli spindle to spin it with. Spinning on a tahkli is not something you learn quickly. It will take a lot of practice to get proficient at it. However, the lesson and practice you receive that day will get you started. You will also receive a wooden spindle to spin the flax you processed yourself. Once flax is spun, it is called linen. In the future you can use that spindle to spin tow and to ply the cotton that you spin on the tahkli.

homegrown-handspun- cotton shirt 2016

closeup of Cindy’s homegrown cotton shirt

There is much more to learn besides spinning before you can weave and sew and you will be exposed to all of that in the afternoon. I will be showing the garments I have made from my homegrown, handspun, handwoven fiber. You will also witness fiber being scoured, learn about shrinkage during scouring and weaving, see the looms I use, and learn about the equipment I have acquired and how much of it is actually necessary.

white cotton warp linen weft shirt - BLOG

Cindy’s shirt with white cotton warp and linen weft

That is the tentative schedule for the day. Of course, if it rains, the schedule of events will change, but we will get it all in. Canopies will be set up outside for the flax processing if rain is threatening. The garden tour can proceed during a drizzle, so dress appropriately. Spinning lessons will take place inside or out, but the show-and-tell for equipment will be inside the house, which will be open all day for participants to use the bathroom when the need arises.

The class is limited to 15 students. The cost is $115 for the day, including the spindles, retted flax, and raw cotton. To hold your spot, I will need a check from you for the full amount. If you prefer to pay in two payments, the cost will be $120 with $60 due as a deposit to hold your spot and the remaining $60 to be paid by May 8, 2019. Email me (Cindy) at cconner@HomeplaceEarth.com to let me know you are sending a check and I will tentatively put you on the list and give you my mailing address.

If you are coming from a distance, the charming town of Ashland, VA offers services you may need. There are a variety of hotels and restaurants near Interstate 95 and Rt. 54 at the edge of town. The historic district includes restaurants and the train station where Amtrak stops daily. If you should choose to arrive by Amtrak you could stay at the Henry Clay Inn and we could arrange to pick you up for the class. I have no connections with anyone there, but mention it because it would be convenient if arriving by train.

I am giving this workshop because of the interest that has been shown in my work growing cotton and flax/linen from seed to garment and I want more people to join in the fun. Unless you have acquired some of these skills on your own already, you won’t be able to go home and do all of this right away. However, you will be exposed to the process and learn what equipment you may or may not need. Although you may eventually move up to using a spinning wheel, you will have the spindles to get you started. I spun all the fiber for my first garment, a homegrown cotton vest, on a tahkli spindle. For a preview of what you will experience at this workshop, check out my blog posts about cotton and flax/linen.

I am looking forward to a fun-filled day and hope you will join me. Since the class is limited to 15 people, don’t procrastinate. Once it is filled (everyone’s check clears) I can only put you on a waiting list in case a spot opens up.

See you in June!

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Cassie Dickson teaching how to turn flax into linen.

From the response to the Mother Earth News article about my homegrown cotton shirt in their April/May 2018 issue, there seems to be much interest in growing your own clothes. For those whose weather is not conducive to cotton, you might want to consider flax. Cassie Dickson is teaching a Flax to Linen class at Snow Farm in Williamsburg, Massachusetts June 10-16, 2018. If a week is too long for you, she is teaching a shorter version of that workshop on June 16-17. Cassie taught the Flax to Linen workshop for Clothos Handspinners here last summer.  Find more information about these events at https://www.snowfarm.org/workshops/topics/fiber-baskets/flax-plant-linen-cloth and https://www.snowfarm.org/workshops/topics/fiber-baskets/spinning-delight-flax-linen-thread.

Whether you are growing flax for linen or cotton, and turning it into clothes,  it is an exciting adventure. You could grow both! My latest shirt is white cotton warp and linen weft. I’ll tell you about it sometime. homeplace earth logo

My homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored, cotton shirt is in the latest issue–April/May 2018–of the Mother Earth News!

Seed to Shirt-article - Copy  Mother Earth News April/May 2018

You can access the article online here, but it is prettier to read in the print magazine.

Enjoy!

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Christmas Heirloom wallhangingLast December I finally got around to making a wallhanging using my old jewelry. It was an idea that had been bouncing around in my head for years, but I never took the time to act on it. If you know me, you know that I wear very little jewelry, but that didn’t prevent it from accumulating over the years.  With my mother’s passing in 2014, the calling to do this became louder.

I began to think of what I would leave behind. The jumble in my jewelry box would be just that, a jumble, to whoever got the job to clean it out. That jumble, however, was full of stories. Everything had a story, just like the patches on a quilt. Not that I plan on leaving this earth any time soon, but if I passed on, the stories would go with me if I didn’t do something about it. By putting these items into a wallhanging, they would get out of the box and the stories would be told. You could make any sort of wallhanging to decorate with your jewelry. For me, decorating a Christmas tree made sense, since the family gathers here at Christmas and the stories can be told to all. In fact, our grown children may have their own tales to add.

I had bought a yard of green batik fabric for a project that never happened and one day I saw it with new eyes. It was the exact piece I needed for the Christmas tree on the wallhanging I envisioned, so maybe it was time to get started. In my mind, the background was a blue batik fabric with stars. Sure enough, that is what I found at the fabric store. Batik fabrics are made with a wax-resist dyeing method and come in many interesting designs. If your local fabric store doesn’t carry them, check with a quilt store.

cow pin and rings

We kept a milk cow for 7 years.

There is a layer of quilt batting between the blue background and a backing fabric and between the green fabric and the blue. I cut the Christmas tree ¼” wider for a seam allowance to turn under. The tree is hand-stitched to the blue background. The pins from the “ornaments” and the thread from items I sewed on quilt the tree, background, and backing fabrics together. The red used on the side borders, also a batik, helps to set off all the colors. The gold cords used to hang it with are what I wore at my high school graduation to designate I was in the National Honor Society. They have been cluttering up my jewelry box since 1969.

typing pin-osu ring-red heart

Typing 50 words/minute with minimal errors on a manual typewriter earned me the winged 50 pin in high school.

Necklaces are great for garlands. Our class rings are here, as well as the pins I received as recognition for activities over the years. Back in the day, charm bracelets were the thing to give girls so that you could give them charms on gift occasions and you didn’t have to think of anything else. I had two charm bracelets and many more charms that never made it to the bracelets. I never pierced my ears or else there would be earrings on this wallhanging. There are numerous 4-H pins from my days as a 4-Her growing up and later as a 4-H leader.

Snyder B-I love to garden pinThis wallhanging tells stories from my life, beginning at birth. There is the small beaded bracelet that was put on me in the hospital when I was born. I was Snyder B and my first born twin sister was Snyder A. Other relatives and friends are recognized in this wallhanging. One summer when we were in high school, my friend Dixie went to France and brought back an Eiffel Tower charm for me. Dixie and I still keep in touch. The pin my husband received for having donated 100 pints of blood over the years is here. What else do you do with something like that? The base is a souvenir given for participation in the Heritage Village at the Virginia State Fair. We were the family that looked like we lived in the log cabin for the first two days of the fair. It is sewn on at the corners with my homegrown handspun brown cotton yarn.

charm bracelets-D pin-blood pinThere are a few pins that belonged to my parents and a large heart-shaped ”D” pin that had belonged to my great grandmother. I never knew her name was Delia until my aunt passed that pin on to me. The angel at the top of the Christmas tree is a pin given to me by the same beloved aunt many years ago. You may not have a collection of old jewelry to do this with, but maybe you have your father’s old fishing lures or a button jar from your grandmother. I’m sure if you start looking around at what odds and ends you have been saving, you will find a use for them in a wallhanging such as this. Before I decided on the size, I laid out what I had on a large piece of paper to see if it would fit, then drew the tree for a pattern.

As you can see, I have had a full life, with more adventures to come. This blog has been quite an adventure, and one that I am happy to have had. In my last post I wrote about balance in your garden. We need to keep balance in our lives, also. Life continues to be busy here and there are other things I want to turn my attention to, so I am going to step back from the blog to keep that balance. Don’t worry, there are no broken bones or other health problems, just lots to do. Everything will still be here for anyone to find. My website at HomeplaceEarth.com will continue to be active with my books and DVDs for sale and the Events page that shows where I will be speaking.  I have had a great time sharing what I know with you through this blog. My wish is that you build on what you learn here and make even better adventures yourself.  Most importantly—have fun!
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taking a soil testOver the years, whenever anyone asked me for advice on organic gardening, my response has always been Feed the Soil and Build the Ecosystem. Often they were expecting recommendations on what amendment or pest control product to use. However, you need to look at the whole system, rather than addressing symptoms of imbalance as they pop up. Now that permaculture is becoming more widely publicized, whole system management is more well known

Feed the Soil—Now is a good time to take a soil sample. I send my soil samples to Waypoint Analytical, formerly A & L Eastern Labs. If you are not good at interpreting the results that they send you, you could contact John Beeby at www.growyoursoil.org for organic fertilizer recommendations. Check with his website for which test to request and where to have it done. You will need to sample the soil from many places in your garden, then mix everything together for your sample to send in. The soil you see in the photo looks really good, but remember that I have been working on my soil for many years.

Correcting imbalances in your soil is the first thing to do if you are not receiving the results you want in your garden. Sometimes, well meaning actions can lead to imbalances, including adding a lot of manure to your garden every year without testing first. Sometimes people lime every year because they assume it is a good thing. It is only good if your garden needs more lime. Even if you do not do a soil test each year, you should have one to use as a baseline, then do one a couple years later to see how things are going. Make cover crops a part of your soil building efforts. The organic matter they add with their roots, and with the plant matter you harvest and use as mulch or compost material, is a tremendous benefit.

Build the Ecosystem—Well-nourished soil cannot go it alone in producing good crops. Malnourished plants will attract insects that will take them out, for sure. However, even well- nourished plants need pollinators. Also, if there are any insects munching your plants, you want to have beneficial insects taking up residence in your garden to eat them. In order for the beneficials to stay, there needs to be some other insects around as food. Buying insects to add to your garden is not as effective as attracting and naturally growing your own,

Chemicals, even those approved for organic production, can harm beneficial insects, as well as the not-so-desired ones. Furthermore, you have to acquire and apply the chemicals. If you include plants that attract the good insects into your crop mix, all you have to do is to stand back and watch the show. That’s what happened when I planted mountain mint, as well as other plants in the margins of my garden. I had visitors to my garden this summer who stopped in their tracks and asked the name of the plant when they saw all the buzzing around the mountain mint. It was an insect frenzy! Tansy is also well-documented as attracting beneficial insects.

goldenrod with honeybees and butterflies

Goldenrod with honeybees and butterflies.

The best time to witness beneficial insects on your plants is between 10am and 2pm in your garden. Goldenrod grows up in the wild areas of my garden if I don’t cut it down through the season. Since I am getting interested in natural dyes, I cut some for a dyepot recently. When I went out with my clippers, there were so many insects buzzing around it that I backed off. I did take some where there was little action going on, but left the rest to the beneficials.

leatherwing on spearmint

Leatherwing on spearmint.

You can also experience all this by letting some of your regular garden plants, such as basil, flower and go to seed. Spearmint, which can take over if you are not careful, attracts many beneficials if you let it flower. I like to have celery come back each year and go to seed. On the way to making seed that I save for culinary use and replanting, the flowers attract an array of good bugs–and all I have to do is watch it happen. Besides the insects you see in these photos, you will see bumblebees, wasps, beetles, spiders, and more in your garden if you allow it to happen.

Assasssin bug babies

Assassin bug babies.

Learn to identify insects you find in your garden so you don’t freak out and destroy the good ones you see that might surprise you, such as the assassin bugs in this photo. I found this young family on my cowpea plants. Although I’ve found ladybugs on other plants, my favorite ladybug photo is one I took on a cowpea plant of a ladybug eating an aphid.

ladybug eating an aphid

Ladybug eating an aphid.

To attract many of these good insects, you need to have permanent plantings. Weedy fencerows can provide  habitat. Not tilling all your garden at once will help, as well as having permanent paths. A border with permanent plantings will provide overwintering habitat. These things will enhance the year-round beauty of your garden and will be less work for you in the long run. The book Great Garden Companions by Sally Jean Cunningham is a good reference to consult if you want help deciding what to plant to attract specific insects to help with certain pests.

Now is a great time to make your 2018 garden plan to ensure that you plant the desired cover crop, considering what your following crop will be, in each bed for next year. I locate my compost piles on my garden beds and rotate them, along with my other crops to contribute to soil fertility. The advantage of that is evident in the crops that follow. Managing your plantings to attract and maintain beneficial insects in your ecosystem will create a garden that is a joy to be in.homeplace earth logo

Conner family at table Easter 2014 - BLOGCome to the Newfound Gathering Place and Eatery in Ashland, VA on Wednesday, September 27 for a Farm-to-Table dinner and a talk on eating from your garden through the winter–all for $15!

The evening begins at 6 pm with dinner sourced from local farmers. The menu is:

Butternut Squash and Pine Nut Soup–Ashland Farmers Market
Microgreen Salad–Carrot Top Farm
Meatloaf (vegan and gluten-free option available)–Dragonfly Farms
Garlic Fingerling Potato Roast (vegan)–Delli Carpini Farm
Additional Vegetable–to be determined
Lemon Pound Cake with Raspberries (gluten-free)–Agriberry
Iced Tea or Fresh Citrus-Aide

carrots-collards-jerusalem artichokes-beetsAt 7 pm I, Cindy Conner, will present The Winter Garden: Grow to feed yourself and the soil through the winter. Learn about planting cover crops and garlic this fall and how to make a row cover to protect the greens and roots in your garden for winter harvest.low tunnel over fall greens

Okay, so the first photo is obviously not taken at the Newfound Gathering Place and Eatery, but is of my wonderful family having a meal in our home. Come to Newfound (formerly Ashland Coffee and Tea) at 100 N. Railroad Ave, Ashland VA on Wednesday and join other wonderful like-minded people for a great local dinner and learn how to eat from your garden through the winter. Call for reservations at 804-299-3604. Make sure to tell them if you prefer the gluten-free / vegan meatloaf option. I hope to see you there.      homeplace earth logo

Heritage Harvest Festival 2017The Heritage Harvest Festival is coming up September 8 and 9. It is a huge deal held at Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, near Charlottesville, VA. This event is sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Seed Savers Exchange. It celebrates food, sustainable agriculture, and the preservation of heritage plants.

Saturday, September 9 is the main event. Up on the mountain there will be booths with vendors, demonstrations on all sorts of stuff, and tents where talks will be held. For one admission price of $28 (children 5-11 $9, under 5 FREE) you have access to all the speakers that day. In years past, some of the talks were premium talks that required signing up ahead and paying a separate fee. Many of the premium talks were held at the visitor center. This year on Saturday there will be no talks at the visitor center.

flax to linen--retted sraw-strick-spun

Homegrown Flax–retted straw, processed fiber, spun flax (now called linen)

There will be premium talks at the visitor center on Friday, September 8 and that is where you will find me.  This is the 11th year for the festival and the 10th year that I will be speaking there. The Heritage Harvest Festival celebrates local food and gardening and usually my talks reflect that. I have given talks on cover crops, growing sustainable diets, garden planning, seed libraries, and how to transition from a home gardener to a market gardener. This year my talk is From Seed to Garment: Cotton and Flax/Linen in Your Garden. I am looking forward to sharing my work with fiber. Monticello is working on a textile exhibit that will open in 2018 to showcase the spinning and weaving that was done at the plantation, primarily to clothe the slaves. I am happy to bring a bit of textile production to the place ahead of that.

homegrwon handspun cotton shirt 2016

Homegrown, handspun, naturally colored cotton shirt.

I will still be around on Saturday and you will find me in the Homeplace Earth booth, #RR7 on Retailer Row. If you can’t make it to the talk on Friday and really want to take a closer look at my homegrown clothes, come and find me Saturday. I will have them in the booth, along with my DVDs and books that I have for sale. I won’t be selling any homegrown clothes, though.

This is a unique event. You get to hang around Thomas Jefferson’s backyard and enjoy so many things besides the great view. My friends Kim and Jimbo Cary will be playing music under the trees. They will have some gourds, washboards, and tamborines for you to use if you want to join in. They are great with the kids. When you are not taking in a lecture you can stop by the Seed Tent and do some seed swapping. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange will have their tomato tasting, as always. You can wander through their tent and try varieties of tomatoes that you probably never knew existed. I’m sure Thomas Jefferson is in his glory, having all of this at his home. He so much enjoyed experimenting with new crops at Monticello. When I am there I take the time to stop, look around, and marvel at what is going on. All of this celebration of agriculture and food in this particular place! Fantastic!

The Heritage Harvest Festival will expose you to many new and not-so-new projects around the region that promote sustainable agriculture. A word of warning to those like me who carry a pocket knife–this year they will be screening for things like that, so leave your knife in the car. Come for a day on the mountain, make new friends, and be sure to come by and see me!homeplace earth logo

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