Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Thursday!, or, I Totally Want To Be My Great-grandmother When I Grow Up

New masthead made from photo of great-grandmother's quilt top


Happy Thursday to you!

In celebration of this particular Thursday (for no particular reason than it is Thursday) I have finally taken the time to understand Blogger's new template design options, created a new masthead, made some delicious food and marveled at what came out of my dye pot yesterday.

The new masthead features part of a quilt top made by one of my great grandmothers (Dad's mom's mom). I'm not sure about the fabrics in this particular shot, but she was a master of reusing and re-purposing textiles. She would dye items that weren't to her liking color-wise, making use of onion skins and other kitchen scraps as well as walnut husks and other natural dye sources. Many of the fabrics in her quilts were meticulously hand cut, using tiny templates, from feed and flour sacks as well the occasional bit of still serviceable cloth from otherwise worn out shirts and dresses. I have many photos of quilt tops, embroidered tablecloths and a smocked pillow cover my great-grandmother made; taken while I was in Arkansas mid-June for a family reunion. They will be going into a post entirely of their own in the near future.

On the delicious food front: Why, oh, why did I wait until now to try making fried squash blossoms!? So delicious! And I had to wait until I was 28 and lactose intolerant to figure this out. Oy! Perhaps they would be equally as delicious filled with a spiced tofu-based mixture as they were filled with marinated feta. I basically followed the linked recipe when most of the HUGE container of feta Corey bought at GFS was consumed and the mostly unoccupied tub was taking up too much space in the fridge. Minus the peppercorns and the fresh herbs part as mine were all dried.


Stuffed with marinated feta, fresh squash blossoms are battered (top left) and fried (bottom left) to go with breakfast including scrambled eggs and pumpernickel bread.

I used the 3 male blossoms that opened this morning; cut them off even before the bees got to them as the plants have been treated for squash borers and I would prefer they spend their energy healing themselves and sprouting new roots where I had to cut them open instead of putting up new flowers. If the squash borers won the battle I will not be getting any squash anyway as the plants will die off, but if I won then a few days' delay in zucchini production is worth it. I'll know who won in a week or so.

And now for the most exciting part of the day so far: Dye pot results! I have been collecting yellow onion skins since March. We go through an average amount of onions I suppose. One or two a week on average though sometimes many more depending on the menu. Once I had accumulated a spaghetti sauce jar full enough that I couldn't cram any more skins in, it was time to set up the crock pot overnight (outside on a night with no chance of raining) to make onion skin dye.

Onion skins soaking in crock pot to make dyebath.

After cooking in the crock pot overnight, onion skins were skimmed out and fabric was added. The camisole is 100% nylon and took a bright, mottled yellow from the dye. The other item is 100% cotton unbleached muslin that was mordanted with alum. It took darker yellows, golds and light browns from the dye. Both were submerged and soaked in the dyebath (which I conducted in the crock pot in order to apply heat without scorching) simultaneously. The crowding of fabric is what led to the heavily mottled coloration of both items. The nylon camisole was not mordanted at all and, frankly, I am surprised it took the dye like it did. I was under the impression that nylon, like most synthetics, was not dyable without special chemicals and equipment.

Onion skin dye on unbleached cotton muslin mordanted with alum and on unmordanted nylon camisole.

Surprised at the effect onion skin dye had on a nylon camisole, I rummaged through dresser drawers until I found a neglected slip. I don't get to wear dresses very often, but I'm not really a fan of white or (in this case) very pale pink in general so I tried a graduated dye from the bottom up. This one did not photograph nearly as well no matter what I tried. It is difficult to see in the first photo and the second is out of focus but gives an excellent idea of the overall dye effect and coloration. This one doesn't have a contents tag (consequence of being thrifted) but I would guess if it isn't 100% nylon it is still a very high percentage as the cloth feels approximately the same as that of the camisole. The slip was also mordanted with a mild milk solution as I read somewhere that onion skin dyes work better on protein-based fibers and fabrics than anything else. I don't think my current result support that, though, as the nylon camisole took the dye fabulously and by the time I dyed the slip most of the dying power had been used up already.

Hand dyed slip




Gorgeous graduated color dyed onto bottom hem of slip.

It was so exciting (!) pulling these out of the crock after leaving them to sit in the vinegary, salted water of the onion skin dye. I imagine the feeling of exuberance and wonder over watching something so pretty and changed emerge from a pot has not changed much over the centuries that people have been dying things. I used to tell people I wanted to be an adult when I grew up. Now I have a new answer. I totally want to be my great-grandmother when I grow up.

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