handmade

REFLECTIONS ON A YEAR OF MAKING

 

A colossal year. January came in quietly and exited to the sound of newborn cries and, if there can be a sound attributed to new parent delirium . . . that sound, too. On this, the last day of 2018, we are flooded with gratitude / surprise (that we survived) / calmness for a year that was hardly easy, but so deeply important. It was the year our lives changed forever, whereby now we wear the indelible mark of parenthood. Being lost for words on the subject, we have thusly decided to share the tangible markers of our year: the things we made with our hands. May this final post of the calendar year offer a dash of encouragement, as well. And, let us just say: If you’re reading this, you made it to see another year. Whatever storms you weathered, rainbows you rested under, or multitudes of circumstances you were brave enough to see through, here you are. Well done! Truly. Here’s to another.


There was beer brewed.

Nine of them, to be exact. It was a year about harping on familiar styles, while tweaking the ingredients so that the same beer was never brewed twice. There were four pale ales—each of which were dry-hopped with a novel combination of hop varieties; two saisons—one brewed with dandelions, and the other with cranberries; and two farmhouse ales—one a “base beer” for future experimentation, manifest in a second iteration featuring rhubarb from our neighbor’s garden. And then there was the proverbial black sheep, a lager made with hops from the experimental hop yard at work, which (tragically) became my first batch to be dumped after becoming contaminated with wild yeast. All in all, roughly 50 gallons of beer made its way out of the fermenter and into our bellies over the course of the year—not bad at all.

rhubarb farmhouse ale homebrewing beer by samantha spigos
homebrewing pale ale beer by samantha spigos
pale ale homebrewing by samantha spigos
homebrewing beer farmhouse ale by samantha spigos
homebrewing cranberry saison by samantha spigos

There were garments and woolens made and mended.

This was the year knitting took on real importance. I knitted fewer things, but each one served a purpose and filled a gap. At the beginning of 2018 I vowed to not buy any new yarn, instead focusing on making do with what I had. (Which, by the way, was in no way a measly stash. My coffers are blessed with wool.) This was in an effort to curb my own consumerism and truly contribute to my family’s needs in a cost effective way. I ended up purchasing three skeins of wool to make two hats with, and I bartered for a reduced cost of the yarn for Rosemary’s Christmas stocking. You can peek the whole of my knitting pursuits over on Ravelry. Upon realizing Mark and I were wearing through all of our best (and expensive!) socks, I took up darning. For a week in the summer I did nothing but darn socks in my spare time, managing to teach my sister along the way. One summer afternoon, we darned socks at the library for a few hours. A real small town, simple pleasure sort of day if there ever was one. Our pile of to-be-darned socks continues to grow, but I know I will get to them, slowly. Mending and making do. Finally, I sewed two dresses for my daughter: Easter and Christmas. This is a tradition I hope to continue throughout her young life.

+ Learn how to darn a sock — it’s easy!
+ A big book devoted to mending.

knitting fringe field bag camel wool by samantha spigos
wool diaper cover soaker yarn scraps by samantha spigos
wool baby blanket knitting handmade by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe peppermint geranium dress by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe knitting hand knits by samantha spigos

There were fermentation experiments, vegetables grown, and sourdough loaves.

Mark’s farm job meant our kitchen table was always graced with tomatoes in the summer. We canned dozens and dozens of pounds of tomatoes, which we are delighting in now. One day he came home with thirty pounds of carrots. It seemed… a lot of carrots. We promptly put the lot of them into our three gallon crock under brine. Fermented carrots were easily my favorite experiment this year, though it turns out thirty pounds was not enough! To borrow one of my dad’s favorite turns of phrase, by autumn’s end they were “all et up.” Together with my sister and her kids, we managed to ferment around fifty pounds of cabbage into sauerkraut — just in time for New Year’s day. The lacto-fermentation projects were great, but 2018 was the year of sourdough. Baking weekly loaves of bread to slice and to share was the best practice I took up this year. Grounding, familiar, good.

+ Fermenting crocks to get you thinking of putting food by next season.
+ Sourdough wisdom shared here.

sourdough country aurora bread loaves by samantha spigos
tomatoes organic sourdough bread loaves by samantha spigos
fermented carrots fermentation by samantha spigos
buttered bread tomato sandwich by samantha spigos
rye challah loaf baking bread handmade by samantha spigos

There was a laundry line built.

I wrote about laundry and air drying on the line back in July, but it bears repeating. We love our basic pulley line, and if you fancy yourself interested in line drying, that summer post is merely one among many that can help get you started. I have not taken the plunge into winter air drying outdoors. I tried it once and the clothes never did dry, but all of our Amish neighbors do it, so there must be a way! (If anyone has helpful information to share, please do!)

clothesline laundry air drying by samantha spigos

And that’s sort of, we suppose, a wrap! Our hats off to you, 2018.


—M+S (and Rosemary, underfoot during the writing of this post)

TURKEY | THE ART OF THE HANDWOVEN CARPET

 

As it stands today, visiting Turkey is taboo. We have become accustomed to the news that yet another unexplainable act of violence has been carried about by yet another terrorist. We keep tabs on the ongoing refugee crisis, mildly aware that hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing their homes and crossing countries for fear of their safety. We look with skepticism upon a government that appears increasingly totalitarian and inhumane. Ultimately, most of us decide to keep our distance. In fact, when we planned our trip to Greece this spring, we opted for a more expensive flight so as to avoid a route that would take us through Istanbul. It was a choice we made out of fear. Little did we know, our aunt & uncle were planning to surprise us with a wedding gift: an Aegean cruise, which just so happened to be dropping its anchor on the Turkish coast for a day.

After perusing the wondrous ancient ruins at Ephesus we piled into a bus, believing our stay to be done. The experience had been a pleasant one: Turkey did not seem so different than Greece, actually. Perhaps that is why they have always struggled to get along throughout the ages; cursed by their similarities. But rather than heading back to the port, the bus took a turn for the mountains. It crawled up the slope, teasing spectacular panoramas of the world's most beautiful sea and the Greek islands that reside in it. The bus came to a stop. Peering out the window, I could see a courtyard with low-hanging trees and flowering plants spilling over the stone patio. Underneath the red-tiled arcade was a line of brilliant, handmade rugs. A man strolled out to greet us.

We had arrived at a Turkish carpet weaving cooperative—one of several state-sponsored enterprises funded by taxpayers around the country. In an era that has seen the demise of so many genuine handmade goods, the people of Turkey moved to protect one of their great cultural symbols: the carpet.

We were ushered into a workshop free of mechanization. Absent of an assembly line, the room was filled instead with antiquated looms and natural fibers. Three women sat on low benches, each of them weaving their own carpet with impossibly skilled hands. They worked with swift and concentrated movements. The man who had welcomed us explained that all of the rugs produced there were made from wool, cotton and silk. Depending on the size of a rug, it would take months or even years to complete. Hanging on the walls and lying on the floorboards beneath us were rugs whose creation undoubtedly spanned several years of my life. 

Taking a break from her work, one of the weavers led us to a vat of warm water with egg-shaped objects floating all along the surface. She brushed the objects from side to side; then suddenly, reaching down with cinched fingers, she pulled hundreds of spindled fibers upward. The circus-tent-like spectacle that she had produced before our eyes was made entirely of silk. The egg-like objects floating in the vat were silkworm cocoons. These were the weavers' hardworking companions in the workshop; a sustained source of invaluable material to be made into products of great value. The magic of Turkish carpet weaving had dawned on us.

We are true believers in the ethic of handmade. The same goes for our feelings on hospitality. The people who ran the cooperative, bringing these gorgeous rugs to life, took great pride in the what they were doing. They also took pride in sharing that with us. They made us feel at home and at ease as their guests. Turkish tradition dictates that no guest should leave your home without having a drink: the host always offers and the guest always accepts. So, we were invited to delight in the local beer & wine (we decided to skip the raki) and experience the fine touch of the carpets with bare feet. One after another, the carpets were rolled out and layered atop one another. Tantalizing floral and geometric patterns danced beneath our bodies; colors rich and subtle beckoned the presence of our heels and toes. Some of the carpets were brand new, while others were aged & weathered—which, in fact, makes them more valuable. A metaphor for life, no doubt.

It seemed that our fates were sealed. We were going to go home with one, however small it had to be on our budget. As it is, Turkish tradition also involves haggling—a practice that seemed foreign and difficult to us Midwesterners. And whether or not we truly got a good deal on the humble little cotton-wool blend carpet that we picked out, we believe we made the right call. We felt honored to be supporting such a pure embodiment of culture and artistry. So, as we get set to officially move into Pink Cameron, we do so with a little piece of Turkey beneath our bare feet. 

As they say, "a room without a rug is like a body without a soul."


—M

OUR WEDDING: PT. 1 | THE ETHIC OF SEASONAL

 

On a not-too-cold, overcast January day, we were married. With only our nearest and dearest family and friends present, George Harrison, Marvin Gaye, and Duke Ellington sang + played all day long. We foraged, found, or borrowed everything, and we had eight pounds of coffee at the ready. There were tears—my word, so many tears—and a smooch to seal the deal. Our send off was a full group circle singalong to 'Rocky Raccoon'—a longtime dream of mine. With these things and with so much more we were wed. While I simply cannot describe the day in full, I do intend to write on the facets that made it so rich. Our inclination was correct: simplicity and joy marry quite well with sustainability and seasonality. Excuse the pun.

Save for the disposable cameras lying about, there was nothing disposable about our wedding. We spent many hours ensuring nothing—except people—traveled far to join us for our celebration. Our ethics as a couple are deeply centered around seasonality. It is our ardent belief that choice in life should be dictated by nature. Only in recent years have we even had the option of deviating from Mother Nature's seasonal offerings. The myriad of expectation that wedding websites, Instagram, and American culture place on the engaged couple are unbelievable. As for Mark and I, we are surrounded by family who believe in the ethic of small, of simple, of paring down to the necessities. Our top priorities were to remain local, to source seasonally, and to spend money on a new product if and only if it was made by an artisan we got to know personally. (To that point, I cannot wait to share in a future post about our shoes and our rings.)

leah with flowers

A branch that Mark had found out in the woods hung with prominence. Hops that I'd gathered off the table at a conference lined the table and accented my flower crown. Mark and I made french presses using locally-roasted coffee and served our loved ones as they held their mugs out. Pieces of honeycomb from our hive lined the windowsill. My mama and I picked out each plate and bowl from Goodwill, and have since donated all of them back. 

There were a smattering of cloth napkins in my great-grandma's market basket, which sat atop a wooden chair built by my great-grandpa, her husband. My new mama-in-law baked our wedding cake: her famous coconut cake, unassuming and perfect in form. All greenery and flowers were 100% in season—most everything was picked up from a nearby flower grower, and some of it was foraged. With the help of my mama-in-law and her sister, we made gorgeous, fragrant, textural bouquets. Below, I've listed everything we used to do so, just in case you get the hankering to build your own wedding / party / bouquet.


WEDDING BOUQUET: HOW-TO

In lieu of listing formal steps, my recommendation is to check out a few books on floral design from the library, try to use color and texture to accentuate your centerpiece, and play around! Take it slow and do not give up. Make floral wire your friend. Everything we used came from Karen Geiser's farm in Kidron, Ohio, unless it has an * next to it, in which case it was purchased at Local Roots in Wooster, Ohio. Working with Karen was a dream. She let my mom and I tromp around her farm in muck boots, picking out anything we wanted to use for our January wedding. She is creative, and open, and authentic. If you're an Ohio bride... I cannot recommend her enough. Email me if you're interested in working with Karen or would like to learn more about my experience.

TOOLS
floral wire - in multiple sizes
garden snips or scissors
burlap or floral ribbon
twine

 

 

GREENS + FLOWERS
kale
scented geranium
curly willow branches
dried lavender*
rosemary*
dusty miller
bamboo
scotch pine


—S
other pieces pictured: pinched cups | french press coffee paddle