Sunday, July 3, 2011

Course reflection, by Liz

At times life may not be all that stressful. Then there are the days when you don’t want to get out of bed. Farmstead arts is one of those classes that you want to get up for because you know that you are going to be learning a new craft, or outlet for stress and creativity. The course is not full of lab reports and reading. You work with your hands and create novelty items, foods and salves (among other specifics). Most of these items are used completely free of any harmful or toxic chemicals, making them environmentally friendly and suiting the conservation ecology degree I am going for.

Learning how to use different locally harvested fiber sources for baskets and paper was a great way to get in touch with the land and create a sustainable product from a renewable resource. When you feel the muscles ache in your arms from pounding black ash logs and harbor your stress into making each strip of weaving material perfect you turn negative energy into something positive, like a basket.

Some classes may not be so clear to some people why they are important but by the time you finish you realize that the skills you gained and the lessons learned in taking time to create something you are proud of and focusing on a goal can be very rewarding. Many other students do not yet have a child and have not gone through the few weeks where its sheer paranoia over everything that could potentially harm them. This class gives an introduction into safe products for babies and children.

The salve that we made in class is great to use on chapped knees of a baby just learning to crawl and walk. The dyes are made from natural sources so the leaching of chemicals into skin isn’t a worry. The process of dehydrating is a lifesaver when you need snacks for on the go. Drying fruit and mixing it in with some cheerios or whatever trail mix you create is a great way to make the food go farther and satisfy the sweet tooth in a healthier way.

There is no doubt that the skills I gained in this class with stick with me throughout my life. There have also been seeds planted for further study and exploration. These sorts of introductory classes get your mind reeling and your eyes are opened to many possibilities of value added products, healthier options and sustainable alternatives.

--posted on behalf of Liz--

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Dems some shiny rocks!

I had so much fun working with the lapidary equipment! I had been doing the wire wrapping in finished stones, but actually getting to polish the stones was so much fun! I'm going to work on more gravel and wrap it, maybe sell it at the farmers market. Its amazing what a grubby stone can turn into! I also thought it would be really difficult and complicated, but the swap top machine was sooo easy to use! I hope I get the chance to play with it more!

Natural dyes

WOAD! I wanted to experiment with the smelly bucket of woad, but I didn't out of consideration for other's sense of smell. Ive always been curious about woad and its use by the Picts, and I want to learn more about it. I knew that woad was used to dye the skin and was used in actual tattoos, but I was unaware that it could be used on fabric. I also was under the impression that the plant used in the dye had become extinct...but the bucket of pigment and urine proved me wrong. I was also interested in indigo, my theme here seems to be some point I hope to dye my comforter blue, but I think I need to consult more with Jody and read more before I try anything

Friday, July 1, 2011

Turning gravel to gems

This was perhaps the activity I had been looking forward to most this class. I got turned on to lapidary arts by Jody when she was experimenting over break, and definitely see myself pursuing this activity in the future, weather for hobby, use or sale. I was able to cut a limestone embedded with  layers of quartz to three pieces. one piece i shaped and buffed to make a pendant for a necklace, another i am trying to shape into a stamp. There are so many different applications, both ornamental and practical, my head is teaming with ideas. I also like a lot that you only need one machine to really use all the different shaping and buffing tools, so both cost and clutter are kept low. The really great thing is that the resource itself, the rocks, are both abundant and individually unique, so you can get a very high value out of a free commodity that requires no effort or investment in producing.

Again with this craft there is a lot of science to consider, and the composition and hardness of the stone will determine how easily it will be manipulated. I was surprised at how easily and quickly the stones were shaved down and reduced in size. You really need to be careful not to overdo the shaping and lose too much mass. I started experimenting with the carving tools and they do take time to adjust to too, but luckily if it doesn't work i can just shave off a piece and start over.

This was our last farmstead arts class. Through the semester we not only learned how to create specific things, but learned to expand our minds and look at everything around us in a different light. weeds are not longer an annoyance, but potential paper or dyes; orange peels are not only compost, but can be used for essential oils; trees and their bark are baskets, and pebbles are jewels. I am eager to find other things that seem insignificant and can be converted to useful and beautiful objects! Thank you to Jody and to all my class mates for an amazing experience of learning, growing and fun!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lapidary Arts - Cutting and Polishing Stones

Today we fashioned some rough pebbles into smooth, beautifully polished stones. The best stones to use are relatively low on the Mohs scale of hardness such as soapstone (2), and serpentine (2.5). If you can scratch the stone with a piece of steel it should be soft enough to work with. You do not want a stone that is too soft though such as talc (1 on the Mohs scale) because it may break apart.

To work with stone it will help to have a machine. We used the "Inland Swamp Top All-In-Wonder Lapidary Machine." It is a basic wet saw as would be used to cut tile but the top flips over and different attachments can be added for different purposes. From the middle ages up until the industrial revolution slabbing and polishing wheels were powered by water wheels in rivers. In Vermont, marble, slate, and granite are abundant and have been mined from the hills for hundreds of years. In fact, the first marble quarry in the United States was on Mount Aeolus overlooking East Dorset, Vt. Here is a description by Ronald Robinson of the marble quarries of Vermont in 1890:
"In the great pits, yawning wider and deeper every year, men and engines, in sunshine and in storm, delve all the seasons through. When the landscape is bright under the summer sun they may be seen, like ants toiling in their cells, hundreds of feet below the surface. Now and then an ant grows into a burly, grimy man, climbing the giddy stairs; or a small watercarrier, bearing, with careful steps, his heavy bucket to the thirsty workmen..."

The uses for polished stone are wide and varied. One could make soapstone chess pieces, obsidian arrow/spear/axe heads, obsidian scalpel edges such as the Incas used for surgery, inlays for belts/staffs/knife handles, mosaics, jewelry, paper weights, decorations, the list goes on. Today we just made some nice polished stones that can be altered further for various purposes. Here is how to do it.

After you select your stone, examine it to find what part of it you think will look best. You may want to check for cracks and faults as well to help determine which parts you would like to eliminate. The first step is to shape your stone using the diamond trim saw. Remove the top of the machine and set the blade in. Make sure to secure the arbor nut and note that like a table saw, it is tightened using a left hand thread. The trim saw will essentially achieve "slabbing" on a micro scale. Fill the water reservoir of the machine and connect the drain hose to a waste bucket. Set the drip valve to have 1 or 2 drops every second falling onto the blade. Turn the machine on, wet the stone, and slowly feed the stone into the blade. The blade should begin to cut through the stone and you should notice water and stone dust draining out the tube into the waste bucket. You can continue cutting through the stone at different angles until you achieve your desired slab trim. Depending on your stone, you may start to notice some nice colors and patterns in the interior of the stone. If the saw starts to struggle you may need to push less hard, turn the RPM's up or down, or apply more water to the stone and blade.

Next you will need to take off the top of the machine and remove the trim saw with an Allen key. Attach the edger/grinder/shaper tool. Use this tool to remove or add corners and further refine the shape of your stone. This tool uses the opposite side of the top facing up as a water reservoir and a guard.

Next remove the edger/grinder/shaper and attach the 6" "master lap" which is a white plastic disc. Set the lap horizontally and allow it to touch the plastic below it and then lift it up just a scoce and secure with the Allen key. This lap will give stability to your polishing laps. Begin with a 325 grit lap (coarse grain) and attach it to your master lap. Next setup your dop station. It is an electrical heating element that had a reservoir for wax and shlack. Melt some wax in the reservoir and heat your stone on the edge. Use a small dowel and dip it in the wax. Place the wax tip on a side of the stone that you are not going to polish and press the wax down with your fingers to secure the dowel to the stone. The dowel will be your handle to keep your hands safe while polishing. Hold the dowel, wet your stone and apply it to the spinning lap at different angles. Turn the stone around to grind away divots and other imperfections. Repeat this process using 600, 1200 and finally 14,000 grain lap. Note that the finer the grain the faster the RPM's should be. During the last lap which is the polishing phase, the stone should be dry. You will begin to see a nice sheen develop on the stone that can make it appear almost precious. If you want to polish the side that the dop is attached to, freeze the dop stone and wax and the wax should break off very easily. Apply the dop to the already polished side and finish the job. The result might just surprise you with its brilliance.

The dop station with wax and rocks heating

Dop applied to stone

Using the dop stick to polish a stone

Some finished stones shining with brilliance!

More on Dyes

Today Jacob and I removed our T-shirts from the plant dye after 3 days of soaking. We used Genista tinctoria, known as Dyer's Greenwood and also called Woadwaxen. It boils to a beautiful yellow color that really takes well to a T-shirt. Mine was originally an off-white color with a green pattern painted on it. It looks a lot better now with the contrast between the green and yellow. I am going to have to dye more shirts using Dyer's Greenwood and other plants. T-shirt is too boring? No problem, boil some plants and add some color! I might have to try a natural tie-dye shirt. That would be really fun.

Here's the shirt with a sprig of Dyer's Greenwood on it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dying Vegetable Fibers

As part of the fiber dying class this week I took in upon myself to some of the blindingly white shirts I seem to own.
Dying vegetable fibers is more involved then animal fibers. This is because they are not made from proteins, which take on color easily. Instead, plant fibers are made of lignin or the cell wall. For this reason it is usually advisable to use a mordant to prepare the fiber for the dye.
A mordant is decried by Jenny Dean in the book Wild Color as "a substance that has an affinity with both the materials to be dyed and the natural plant dyestuff. Acting as a bond between the two, a mordant helps the dye become permanently fixed to the fiber."
After putting the shirts in a pot of water and heating it we used a per-mordant to raise the Ph. This helps the plant fibers maintain there strength. We used a solution of oak galls, 4oz per one pound of fiber and let the shirts soak over night (more then 8h is ideal). Then, we used the mordant alum, Aluminum Sulfate, again letting the shirt soak (8h+). While this is not something you want to swallow its less toxic then many other mordants. The alum solution was done proportionally 4tsp of alum to every 4oz of fiber and 1 1/2tsp of washing soda to every 4oz of fiber.
Tonight I add the shirts to the dye. I'll let them step over night and then we'll see how they turn out in class. Exciting!