Bird in Hand Farm

Bird in Hand Farm is an imaginary place.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Meet Rebecca and Molly

I have no idea what we are doing, but they have been here 3 days and have not gone belly up yet.  The red one is Rebecca.  The blue one is Molly.  Happy Birthday kiddo!
 Oh, I finished the shawl.
That is a LOT of ribbon.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Test Knitting

One of my Saturday Knitting buddies wrote Fire In The Head, a pattern for fingerless mitts.  She recently re-wrote the pattern and asked for test knitters.  I have never test knit before.  It was an interesting experience.  It made me realize how many times I read a pattern and use my own technique to accomplish a pattern element.  This time (at least for the first one) I knit it exactly as directed.  I found a few minor typos, but otherwise it was very well written especially the bits that make the pleats.  She included a photo tutorial, but I did not need it.
I chose to use up a partial skein of alpaca that has been hanging around my stash.  As you can see, I used all but a few yards.  It does not show the pattern well, but it works well with all of my jackets and coats.  These were also a very quick knit.  It is very satisfying to make something in an evening and wear them while driving to work the next morning.  I love fingerless gloves.  I love mittens too, but with the gloves, you have warm hands while holding the cold steering wheel and I can use my hands.  With mittens I find that I have to take one off and that is a pain in the tuckus.
Hopefully, in a week or two I won't need them anymore for the season.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cate O'Leary's Cow Soap

Farmer Hoggett knew that little ideas that tickled and nagged and refused to go away should never be ignored. For in them lie the seeds of destiny.

Babe (1995)
Photo of Chicago after the fire from:
The idea of Catherine O'Leary's Cow Soap refused to go away.   I know the best way to get one of those nagging ideas out of my brain is to just go do it.  I made it with the Olive Oil, Coconut, and Lard recipe from The Everything Soap Book.  I added 2 spoonfuls of lanolin in honor of the knitters who may use it.  I also added half a cup of ground oats.  Do cows eat oats?  It is scented with a fragance oil named: Grass Stain.  That seemed appropriate.  I was originally planning a rosemary-lavendar-lemongrass combo but I must have used up all the lemon grass and rosemary last season. 
Photo from:
The trick with making milk soaps is to use frozen slushy milk.  Otherwise, the lye heats it up to much and it curdles.  You add the lye a spoonful at a time so that the milk heats and tempers slowly.  I know this and yet for some reason today, I dumped the lye in.  As I stirred, a bright yellow spiral appeared in the lye bowl.  I stirred faster.  It darkened to orange and then a caramel brown.  I stirred more.  The whole bowl turned orange and there appeared to be little white flecks of cottage cheese floating in it.  Crap. 

I should have taken a picture, but at the time I thought I needed to work fast.  I could have started over with a new lye solution.   But, I'm inpatient and I did not want to wait for more milk to freeze; so I dumped it into the oil pot and blasted it with the stick blender.  The blender obliterated and incorporated the curdled milk solids.  It traced fine and I dumped it into the wood mold.  I put a piece of wax paper over it and insulated with 2 dish towels.  40 min later it hit gel stage, and I took the towels off and put it on a rack for it to cool.

I cut it tonight and oil leaked out.  There are little caverns inside the bar.  It overheated in the mold.  I guess I did not catch it soon enough after the gel phase.  I tasted it to make sure it was not lye solution and there was no sting.  It was oil.  Milk soap is prone to this but is stinks.
I considered melting it down and starting over.  I decided instead to cure it.  I will chop it up and use it in a cobblestone batch down the road.

Damn cow. 
Image from:

Friday, April 15, 2011


A picture really is worth a thousand words.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Stash Busting

Knitty Spring is up!  Better yet, they changed the Pattern Archive so that you can see thumbnail photos of each pattern.  It makes browsing soooo much more fun.  I want a summer shawl.   As soon as I saw Bob and Weave, I knew I had to make it with the alpaca that has been waiting patiently in my stash for the past 2 years.
I pulled out five skeins of hand spun alpca.  One is a partial skin of this beautiful blue-gray.  I got it at the Empire Alpaca Association's Extravaganza a few years ago.  Then there are four skeins from Sunshine Alpacas in Phoenix, NY.  I wish she had a website.  They are all undyed from an alpaca named Snowman.  One is a slightly heavier weight than the others.  I used the soap scale to divide the blue and the heavy one exactly in half.  I will use them for either end so that the ends are identical. 
I made two gauge swatches and then cast on 91 stitches on size 11 needles.  Four inches later I frogged it.   I cast on again.  This time only 77 on size 13s.   I made it 9 inches before I frogged it. I now have 53 stitches on size 15 needles.  It is a little looser than I would have liked, but I think it will be a good contrast for the ribbon once that gets threaded through.

The third time is the charm right?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Prohibition Soap?

One of my knitting buddies is an indie dyer and owns Cosmic Fibers Yarn.  She has clubs where each month's colorway is inspired by a villain.  She asked if we could pair up and she could include a bar of soap into one of the summer club shipments as swag.  The challenge is to come up with a soap that can tie into some kind of scoundrel.

I originally suggested Catherine O'Leary's cow and I could make milk soap.  The lantern that cow kicked over set the fire that killed 300 and left thousands homeless.  Not nefarious enough.  Then I suggested some kind of goat demon for goat's milk soap.  As it turns out there is a demonic goat figure named Baphomet.  Maybe too close to the occult.  Sooooo.  I think we are going with Al Capone. 
Prohibition Soap is made with three different kinds of Michelob beer, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, shortening, and lard.  I used Dr. Bob's Basic Three Oil Soap recipe as a jumping off point but I did not have enough shortening, so I used the last of the palm oil too and then added lard until the recipe was back in balance.  I also added a squirt of honey.   The fragrance is cranberry sweet from Bramble Berry
I did not insulate it because I did not want it to overheat due to the honey.  It went to gel stage, but not all the way to the edges.  Interestingly, where it did not achieve gel developed ash.  I still think it looks okay and the house smells good.   
Hooray for soap making season!

Monday, April 4, 2011

April is the cruelest month.

At least that's what T.S. Eliot wrote in the Wasteland.  As far as I am concerned, March is not much better.  There is hope that the weather will warm and the world will wake up and become green again.  But on the gray days of late march and early April, the hope seems dim.  Shadowed with it is my creative spirit.  There has been some unhappiness on the farm and I have not felt much like writing, cooking, or making anything.  You know it's bad when I don't knit.
The kid did make a scarf.  I had picked up a toy knitting machine at the consignment toy store and we put it to good use, though my pom poms stink.  I think I am pom pom impaired.  She likes it anyway.
Okay, I am knitting a little.  I am working on a pair of fingerless gloves, and bit by bit, the sock yarn blanket grows.  The small squares are just about the right size.  The brightness of the clown barf minis helps.
Right when I finish the gloves, the weather will finally warm and I won't need them.  It will get better.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dreaming of an organized garden...

This is the time of year when I am filled with good intentions.  The snow has all melted away for the second time.  The sun has returned.  I cannot plant much of anything for 6-7 weeks, but I can dream.

I dream of neat rows of plants.  There are bright red tomatoes hiding in the leaves. Basil plants look like bushes.  Pumpkins the size of beach balls are waiting to turn orange.  There are no weeds in my dreams.

The farmer rototills the garden for me on Mothers Day.  He hates doing it, but he will do it for me as a Mother's day gift.  I spend a few glorious days playing in the dirt.  Then we wait.  And wait.  I mulch.  I weed. I mulch some more.  I do pretty well until about mid to late July but then invariably something happens and I get behind.  The weeds explode.  It's all over.  Sometimes I launch a counter attack, but by early August I admit defeat.  I was too embarrassed last year to post a picture.  You could not see the paths between the beds.  There were pumpkins out there but we needed a machete to hack the way to them.  Well, not quite, but it is  still the stuff of gardener nightmares.
Each year we do one thing to upgrade the landscaping.  Last year it was apple trees.  This year it is raised beds.  I have spent the last 3 weeks looking at every conceivable I method for purchasing or constructing raised beds.  Finally, we made a decision and went with cedar bed kits from the folks at Natural Yards.  The garden is 25'x17', so we bought 4 beds.  Each one is: 3'x12'x11".  It is an investment.  Raised beds are supposed to be wonderful in increasing crop yields, allowing the soil to warm faster, and make the garden easier to maintain.  Best of all the farmer will no longer need to use rototiller.   I am hoping it all will be worth it.  I can dream, right?