What’s in the water?

I promised in the last post that we’d spend more time talking about various chunks of water chemistry, a very broad overview, as it relates to dye chemistry. In specific, madder dye baths. Well here we are, another post about water. Today we’re going to have a quick look at Total Dissolved Solids, or TDS.

Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

I measured the TDS values out of all of my samples with a basic meter (acquired off of Amazon), and gave it a rinse with distilled water between each sample. It was the meter that gave me the least grief throughout the entire experience, so gold star to my little TDS meter.

When we’re discussing things that are dissolved in our water, that is exactly what the TDS measure is. Total Dissolved Solids, which describes the both the inorganic salts and the small amounts of potential organic material present in the water. This could be a while assortment of things, but are usually calcium, magnesium, sodium cations and carbonate, chloride sulfate anions, amongst others. While TDS is often assumed to be a measure of quality, it is less discriminatory than that. It only measures that something is there, not what that something is, nor if that something is harmful, or unpalatable. The WHO has very general guidelines on palatability of drinking water with less than 300 mg/litre being considered excellent, good, between 300 and 600 mg/litre; fair, between 600 and 900 mg/litre; poor, between 900 and 1200 mg/litre; and levels greater than 1200 mg/litre being considered unacceptable.1 In our water survey TDS was measured in ppm (parts per million), which is approximately equivalent to mg/litre. The lowest TDS measured (outside of controls) was sample 37 at 27ppm, which falls in the excellent category and the highest was sample 26 at 559 ppm, which falls in the good category. A copy of my water survey results can be found linked in my google drive.

Inkbird TDS meter

Often, it is assumed that TDS is a measure of hardness, but TDS is too generalized a measure to mean only that. While it includes the minerals that are part of what is referred to as ‘hardness’, primarily calcium and magnesium, that is not all that it includes. The TDS values of the iron samples are a prime example of that (samples 63, 65-68). Those samples are distilled water with the addition of ferrous sulphate, no minerals associated with hard water present and they not only have TDS values, but it is proportionate with the amount of ferrous sulphate added. In our water samples, it is overly simplistic to assume that TDS refers to hardness, but in absence of good detection of other minerals, it is an assumption I am generally willing to make, with caveats. Certainly I do not assume TDS references hardness when the composition of the solution is known (ie the ferrous sulphate solutions). Water in Ontario is extremely variable in hardness, although we do have some of the hardest water in the country, but that is not consistent.2  Madder, as a dye, appreciates hard water, it usually promotes a deeper red colour, although interestingly, we got an exceptional colour from distilled water (sample 60), so clearly no one told my madder bath that day.

Modern dyers, when looking to augment the calcium in their water, tend to add chalk (calcium carbonate) directly, or a crushed up tums tablet or two (which is calcium carbonate, but with handy fruit flavours!), so if you aren’t super happy with the colour you get from your madder pots, give that a try. Calcium carbonate is very mildly basic, so it doesn’t affect the pH of the dye bath to any great extent.

Next up, we’ll have a look at iron, which can be contained in the TDS measure, but is interesting enough to talk about all on it’s own.


References

  1. Total dissolved solids in Drinking-water; Background document for development of
    WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality
  2. Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality: Guideline Technical Document – Hardness

Water Survey results pt 1

I’m not going to bury the lead on this one, now that I’ve taken my many many skeins of red yarn to show people at last weekend’s Kingdom A&S in Ealdormere, I’m happy sharing it with the blog world too. This is going to be a series of posts over the coming weeks. Starting with the pretty colours today, but then continuing into the water chemistry that affects the dye baths over further weeks. We started that last time with pH, but we’ll also touch on dissolved solids, iron and chlorinated water (and whatever else comes to mind as we go).

I detailed out the premise of the experiment in this blog post, but long story short; in late 2021, I had a hare brained scheme to request water samples from all over the kingdom (and beyond!) to do a selection of dye baths from to illustrate the variation that could be obtained while only changing one variable, the water. Note that photos do not do any of these colours justice, come see my samples at in person events!

Methodology

With 68 samples to work through, it was clear that a traditional ‘pot on the stove’ style of dyebath for each one was not at all going to be feasible. I have used a water bath method to do batch samples before and it is very effective.

For each water sample the pH, TDS and iron content was measured and noted down. The sample then had 600 ml measured into a clean (rinsed with distilled water) glass jar, if the sample contained less than 600 ml, it was topped up with distilled water to a total volume of 600 ml. Each of these jars had 3 g of madder powder added to them. The water bath was set up to hold 15 jars per batch, and the water temperature was held constant at 65C with a sous vide appliance. The dye liquor was brought up to temperature, and then held at 65C for two hours.

The yarn had been skeined off, weighed dry, mordanted in batches with alum at 10% wof and dried. Before dyeing, the skeins were soaked in distilled water to ensure they were fully wet.

After the dye liquor had steeped for two hours, the wet wool was added and stirred with a disposable bamboo skewer. The wool was held at temperature for an hour (stirred again at 30 minutes for Batch 2-6), and then was removed from the water bath after the hour had passed. The wool remained in the dye bath to cool naturally overnight. After 12 hours of cooling, the wool was removed to a drying rack to dry. The wool was left to dry for approximately 10 days before rinsing with distilled water and being left to dry again.

Everything was recorded in a giant spreadsheet that you are welcome to have a look at here.

Equipment

We had a quick look at the equipment that I used over in another blog post, go have a look there for all of my meters and strips and the like. The only addition to that list is my newest toy, a Color Muse colour meter. This little gadget is designed for interior designers to be able to match paint to fabric swatches, but also very helpfully provides a standardized reading of colour. The one that I’ve chosen to use is the CIE L*a*b* colourspace, which is specifically designed for comparisons. More on that in a future blog post, I have done little beyond take the readings at this point.

Results

The main form of showing my results is the photo at the top of this post. I embroidered a map of the relevant section of Ealdormere and then tied a loop of wool in the approximate location of its water. (Linen map, outlines in walnut dyed silk, compass point also in silk dyed with indigo, cochineal and mystery yellow.) The sample cards are a little bit easier to look things up and compare numbers and those are arranged by dye batch, shown below.

We’ve started talking about the water chemistry involved, looking at pH first in this post. We’ll move on in future posts to talk about total dissolved solids, iron levels, chlorine in city tap water and ultimately the results of the colour meter, but I’m aiming for this post not to turn into a thesis. When all is said and done, I’ll gather everything up into one document and stick it on my website such that people don’t have to scroll through blog posts to find the information. For the moment, however, stick around for the serialized version. Questions and comments are very welcome!

Let’s talk plants: Madder

I’ve talked about dyeing with madder more than a few times. I’ve written up documentation about some of my early madder experiments. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to know that I am really rather fond of playing with madder. So let’s do a little bit of a wander down the botanical path with the plant.

NB. I am a terrible gardener. I managed to kill a mint plant, that’s the level of terrible we are talking here. I do not grow my own. I let professionals (or awesome friends) do that for me and reap the bounty of their labours with gratitude (and/or payment.)

Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Right, we’re talking about Madder. Most commonly, when the word madder is tossed around in the dye world, folks are meaning the dried and ground roots of Rubia tinctorum. Also referred to as common madder or European madder. It is, however, not the only madder plant out there that has dyestuff for us! It’s not even the only madder plant we can buy. The other one that’s easy to find at the dye supplier is Rubia cordifolia. Also referred to as Indian madder, or munjeet. But yet again that’s not the only other madder out there, there’s more! Wild madder, Rubia peregrina and Japanese madder, Rubia akane and there are others in the Rubia family.. but the first two are the most commonly used.

R. tinctorum is a perennial that was cultivated throughout Europe and the Middle East, with the highest quality coming from Turkey, Holland and France. It is native to western and central Asia and naturalized itself in central and southern Europe. Munjeet (R. cordifolia) comes from moutainous regions of Asia, from the Himalayas to Japan and also in tropical Africa. Wild madder (R. peregrina) is a native of Europe, Turkey and North Africa as well as the coastal regions of southern England and some bits of Wales and Ireland. The roots of wild madder are smaller than that of madder, requiring more dye stuff to gain a strong colour than one would require from madder, although that can be mitigated by waiting longer to harvest the wild madder roots (five years, rather than three for R. tinctorum)

Madder dyed wool

All of the various versions of madder have been used since antiquity, with evidence in extant items from Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus vally (approx 3000 BCE) and mentions in Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia and recipes using madder are found in the Papyrus Graecus Holmiensis (approx 4th century) Assumptions about which madder was being used are usually based on geography. The East was more likely to be using R. cordifolia, the West more likely to be using R. tinctorum or R. peregrina. Local traditions using local plants, as the Rubia plant family is happy to grow in so very many different places.

All of them contain similar dye molecules, although different plant species have them in different combinations and concentrations. This chart from “The Colourful Past” by Judith H. Hofenk de Graaff is an excellent summary of who has what, with some extra plants that also contain anthraquinones.

Forgive me for being the kind of person who casually drops words like ‘anthraquinones’ in conversation, but in a nutshell.. those are the dye molecules that provide the red colour. For the curious, these are their structures (why this graphic is missing alizarin, I have no idea but it’s below):

Mohd Yusuf et al., “Eco-Dyeing of Wool Using Aqueous Extract of the Roots of Indian Madder (Rubia Cordifolia) as Natural Dye,” Journal of Natural Fibers 10 (March 13, 2013): 14–18.
George B. Kauffman, ed., Coordination Chemistry: A Century of Progress, vol. 565, ACS Symposium Series (Washington, DC: American Chemical Society, 1994), accessed February 18, 2021, https://pubs.acs.org/doi/book/10.1021/bk-1994-0565.

Phew, okay.. still with me after the brief foray into chemistry? (If you’re interested, the handout for my class on dye molecules can be found here. If you have a virtual event you’d like me to teach it at, just ping me.)

At the end of the day, if you have madder, munjeet or wild madder, you’re getting a dose of very similar dye molecules and just enjoy the ride. All of them function pretty similarly, and the reds are just so much fun to work with. I have an experiment in progress comparing R. tinctorum with R. cordifolia, through a collection of exhaust baths, so look for that coming soon!

Bibliography:

Hofenk de Graaff, Judith H., Wilma G. Th Roelofs, and Maarten R. van Bommel. The Colourful Past: Origins, Chemistry and Identification of Natural Dyestuffs. London: Archetype Publ, 2004.

Dean, Jenny. Wild Color: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes. Rev. and Updated ed., 1st rev. U.S. ed. New York: Watson-Guptill, 2010.

Cannon, John, and Gretel Dalby-Quenet, eds. Dye Plants and Dyeing. Repr. London: Black, 2002.

Yusuf, Mohd, Mohammad Shahid, Shafat Khan, Mohd Khan, Shahid Salam, Faqeer Mohammad, and Mohd Khan. “Eco-Dyeing of Wool Using Aqueous Extract of the Roots of Indian Madder (Rubia Cordifolia) as Natural Dye.” Journal of Natural Fibers 10 (March 13, 2013): 14–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/15440478.2012.738026.

Kauffman, George B., ed. Coordination Chemistry: A Century of Progress. Vol. 565. ACS Symposium Series. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society, 1994. https://doi.org/10.1021/bk-1994-0565.

Water quality and your dye pot

I’m in the depths of getting wool skeins dyed, and don’t have any of that ready to show to the world yet. Its a lot slower and more complicated to get from water sample to dyed wool when taking measurements at every step on the way, but it’ll be good in the end. Hopefully I can remember to stir the next batch more so they are less blotchy. <sigh> But I digress! There’s three main things I’m looking at in the water: pH, Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and iron content (ppm). Let’s have a chat about each of those in turn and today we’re going to chat about pH. There’s a lot of complicated chemistry involved in water, and there’s quite a bit of interplay between all three (and temperature, and and and).. I mean, you can get a whole university degree in water, so know that we’re aiming for broad strokes here and big picture.

The pH Scale of Common Chemicals

The one that most people are familiar with on any level is pH, the measure of how acidic or basic something is. It’s measured by looking at the free hydrogen ions (H+) in the solution. (Inversely proportional, as a note: More hydrogen, lower pH.) It’s a scale that runs from 0-14, with acidic things down low and basic things up high. Pure water is the control, and it sits at 7.0. A few things people don’t realize (or remember from high school chemistry) is that the scale is logarithmic, which basically means that the distance (or number of hydrogen atoms) in going from 7 to 6, is not the same as the distance from 6 to 5. There’s 10 times as many in that second chunk. That’s trivia level content more than super relevant to anyone reading, but if you ever wanted to try and count hydrogen atoms.. well we can talk about new hobbies, hmm?

When reading the WHO Guidelines on drinking water (1) , a pH anywhere from 6.5 to 8 is considered acceptable. Pure water, remember, hangs out at 7 exactly, but there’s a lot of elements that affect the pH without making the water undrinkable. All of us who lived through the pollution filled 1970s and 1980s remember the screams about acid rain and how it was melting away everything, I think. Pollution can affect the pH of water, but by the same token, most ground water has absorbed enough minerals that it slides itself a little higher on the pH scale. (And you pay extra for all those minerals at the store when you buy spring water.. s’okay, they are generally what makes water taste better. Distilled water always tastes flat and weird.)

So clearly everything below 6.5 and above 8 is dangerous, right? Well, not so fast. Where it gets more complicated is that pH alone is not an indicator of safety. Common household vinegar has a pH of approximately 2.8, which is extremely low.. in the same range as stomach acid, but we think nothing of ingesting vinegar (ideally on a nice hot plate of fries.. mmmm.) It is a weak acid, a well diluted acid, generally sitting at about 5% strength. If it was full strength, it would be very dangerous indeed!

Further complicating matters is how pH and other measures interact. pH is extremely dependant on temperature (not much of a consideration for me, all of my samples were at room temperature), and the pH of water can determine its tendency to have picked up other ions. As the pH gets lower, the metals are more soluble.. they dissolve more easily in the water, so there tends to be more lead, copper, iron etc in water that tends towards the acid. We’ll talk more about metals in water when we have a better look at the iron testing that I did and how that affects the dye works.

Water chemistry is complicated and while I knew it was a big field to go poking into, it’s been a fast train into the depths. It’ll take a lot more digging to get myself out of these weeds.

References

  1. World Health Organization – pH in Drinking water (2007)
  2. Safewater.org TDS and pH (2017)
  3. Health Canada – Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality: Guideline Technical Document (2015)

Looking back at 2021

I realize that the vogue thing to do was to have written this a couple of weeks ago, but 2022 has been a slow and gentle easing into the year. More like the painful creep into too cold lake water for a swim rather than the enthusiastic cannonball of getting it all over with at once and then shivering for 15 minutes. So midway through January, I’m just about ready to consider what, if anything, I managed to accomplish in 2021. (Spoilers: It didn’t feel like much, but there were a few things here and there).

First off, full disclosure time: No. I have not yet finished all 12 samples for my 2020 sampler of embroidery styles. I got stalled at nine, and my brain has just been absolutely rebelling at the notion of those last three. In theory, two of which are my favourites (open work and needle lace). I know I hate lacis (so far), but the other two should be a delight, but I’ve had a pattern on my desk for 4 months for a needle lace piece and not even a hint of enthusiasm, just dread. So I’m accepting that reality and we’ll see when it gets done. That’s okay. Life is heavy right now, I don’t need to be a harsh taskmistress upon myself, so it waits.

I did a lot of SCA teaching in 2021 on zoom. Mostly dye classes, a class on saponification (the chemistry of soap making), round tables and discussions. I acted as moderator and TA and general helper all over the place online and it was good. I should do that again. I’m still mad that I missed the deadline to sign up to teach at University of Atlantia this winter, but that’s besides the point. I taught at least seven times in 2021, and in at least 6 kingdoms, which is not half bad, really. Only possible via online events, I would be hard pressed to get to six kingdoms in a year (our most in our craziest travel year was 5.) I’m expecting 2022 to look much the same, provided there are online events to be had. We shall see.

When I went tallying up my finished objects for 2021, my list got to 20. I’m hoping I forgot at least one, so that I can happily claim 21 FOs in 2021, but it’s not the most complete list. Highlights.. I’m very proud of two different projects where I started with plain white silk and dyed all the colours I needed and then worked the project. One was a knit heraldic pouch for an exchange, and the other was leafy trim for a friend’s laureling outfit. (Yes, even the underdress that no one saw had hand dyed silk trim.) A good mix of modern sewing, medieval sewing, modern embroidery, medieval embroidery and a lot of dye work. I kicked myself into making an effort to try new things. Some of which I enjoyed very much, a few of which that I learned that I don’t like it at all. Both pieces are important information. I expect 2022 to look much the same really.

I’ve plans for 2022, a big dye project, some sewing .. currently a lot of nebulous uncertainty that fits well with the copious amounts of nebulous uncertainty swirling around the world in general. I do hope to share more projects here. Let’s see what the future holds! May it be colourful and gentle.

Plague Remedy

A quick diversion of the blog to post my plague remedy as found for the Lady Mary scavenger hunt, as posting it directly to FB was ending poorly. 🙂

There were many suggestions of plague cures over the three centuries that the Black Death periodically ravaged Europe. Some medical, most religious, but one enterprising German physician in the early 16th century decided to turn to alchemy to assist his patients. Enter Doctor Caspar Kegler (ca. 1461 – 1537) He was amongst the earliest to promote his ‘secret recipes’ as a sure fire (provided God’s will was with you) plague preventative, most especially his aqua vitae and his “Doctor Caspar Kegler’s Electurary”, made with genuine unicorn horn! Electurary refers to a paste like concoction, generally taken by spoon.

One of Dr. Kegler’s plague pamphlets https://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/~db/ausgaben/zweiseitenansicht.html?id=00028840&seite=1&fip=193.174.98.30

A 1529 plague pamphlet (shown above) of his offered this recipe:

First wash and cut the celandine and place the parts in a pot with as much wine or wine vinegar as will fit. Next take a different glass vessel that is specially fashioned so that it can be turned over on the first edge of the pot, so that its bottom stands at top. Make a gum from beaten egg whites and flour and seal it well. Set it near a fire’s coals so that it dries well at all places. Then place the pot in a circular fire so that the coals do not touch it but are at a distance of a half ell. Let it boil without interruption for six hours. When these six hours have passed, take it from the fire, let it grow cold, and break the seal. Place the plant with the root in a clean cloth and wring it out little by little until complete. Hold the liquid in glasses prepared so that no smell is allowed to enter. Keep this until it is needed.

Kegler, Eyn Nutzlichs vnd trostlichs Regiment (1529), fol. 20v

It is unclear on if this is a cure or a preventative, but he assures us that it has been used to help more than three hundred people over four epidemics and was recommended for monks and country gentlemen looking to treat large groups.

Celandine could mean either of two plants, Chelidonium majus (greater celandine) or Ficaria verna (lesser celandine). The former is part of the poppy family and has been used for herbalism as far back as Pliny as a detox plan. (The 21st century follows a long line of ‘detox plans’, nothing new under the sun.) The latter plant is part of the buttercup family, and was commonly used to treat hemorrhoids, and seems far less likely than the great celandine. The purgative nature of that plant fits in with the common themes of plague cures of the time, in preventing blockages of the natural flow of the body.

So clearly, if one is faced with the black death and you cant’ get your hands on some genuine “Doctor Caspar Kegler’s Electurary!”, you might just have to try some water of celandine, or preferably some antibiotics.

Reference: Heinrichs, E. (2012). The Plague Cures of Caspar Kegler: Print, Alchemy, and Medical Marketing in Sixteenth-Century Germany. The Sixteenth Century Journal, 43(2), 417-440. Retrieved May 5, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24245417

A Modern Herbal: Celandine, Greater https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/c/celgre43.html

Natural Dye along pt 1

Conversations in the last little while has prompted me to think that I should document the process by which I natural dye and bring the blog along for the ride. I want some new colours for this month’s embroidery, so I’m dyeing up some silk anyhow.

There’s a few caveats and comments required here. I dye exclusively on protein fibres.. wool and silk in my case. There are others who are wizards with cellulose fibres (cotton, linen etc), but I don’t play in that realm. I also dye almost entirely spun threads. Sometimes I’ll dye unspun fibre, but that’s rare, and I basically never dye fabric. I am a knitter, weaver and embroiderer and I generally work in tiny so my quantities are equally tiny which has some pros and some cons. (Seriously, a 50 yd skein of tiny silk feels like a lifetime supply at the rate I go through thread. Materials are never my cost challenge.) I generally only mordant with alum, copper and iron. Tin and chrome are not generally seen in period and more toxic, so I just don’t bother anymore. I have in the past, but I don’t generally anymore. I am also a one-off kinda dyer. I work with the colours I get rather than being super obsessed about getting a specific thing. Phew. Lots of caveats.

All of that being said.. the very first place to start is with equipment. You need to have pots and utensils that are dedicated to dye work. Yes, that’s a pain in the storage butt, and feels expensive to start. (although my equipment is all dollar store and thrift shop). Dye likes to stick, and while perhaps not immediately drop dead toxic, it is not something that you want to ingest on a regular basis. It is bad for you. If you use modern dye powders, those are also toxic and not for the eating. (Or the breathing. Wear a mask until it is in solution. Fortunately we all have masks now. 🙂 ) There is one exception to this conversation and that is if you work exclusively in food dye (as I did for many many years). Food dye is non toxic, a great way to dye with kids who might well stick things in their mouths and is quick and shockingly wash and light fast. I heartily recommend it, and there’ll be a whole big blog post about it soon. No, they did not have icing dye in the 13th century, but if they could peek into my box of dyestuffs they’d be super jealous that I have that luxury. (and super confused about the digital scale, but I digress.)

There’s a relatively short list of must have items:

  • A pot
  • A scale
  • Something to stir with
  • Something to strain with

The pot

I personally dye in thrift store crockpot about 80% of the time. My amounts are tiny and I utterly appreciate the reality of being able to set it up to simmer somewhere that isn’t in the kitchen because I’m married to someone who loves to cook. This is not a practical solution if you dye kilos of yarn at a time, or have a love for chunky weight, or are dyeing fabric. I generally am dyeing < 100g of thread sized silk or wool. On the rare occaisions that I am working on a bigger batch or something, I have a healthy sized stock pot. It got a little to beat up and bedraggled (and the lid broke) to be one of our ‘nice’ stock pots, so I adopted it into the dye stash. This is another place to keep an eye on yard sales, thrift stores etc. It does not need to be pretty, it just needs to be water tight.

The scale

While I’m quite certain that our medieval ancestors did not use a digital scale to calculate their dyestuffs, modern dye work does, especially for natural dye work. I prefer a digital scale and recently got a new super high detail scale (0.01g! Teeeny!) because I routinely need to measure things less than a gram because my full batch of silk is under 10 g. If you exist at sane quantities, then you do not need a scale that makes your friends think you’ve taken up an illicit sales side gig, but that scale you got for that diet is probably sufficient.

Something to stir with

This is seriously basic. For years, I literally used a scrap of 1″x2″ lumber that was convenient, now I’ve levelled up to a dollar store wooden spoon. If you are working over a fire with a large pot, you will want a longer handled spoon. I also like having a couple sacrificial plastic spoons for scooping out mordants and dyestuffs.

Something to strain with

I do have two here, a mesh strainer and a cheapo plastic colander. The first strains out the dyestuff (if it’s very fine, line it with linen or cotton or a coffee filter), and the second holds yarn while I rinse it. These are equally of dollar store vintage and nothing fancy. Thrift store, also an excellent choice.

Random extra bits

I also seem to always have a couple plastic pots (yogurt pots, or peanut butter jars, or ricotta or the like) to hold yarn while I weigh it, or hold onto sodden stuff, or be a little cup to hold my mordant or dye stuff while I weigh it, or to let some dye soak a while first, or other found bits and pieces just to hold things such that I am not getting my countertops red. (or blue.. or or or..) I also own gloves to keep my hands from becoming multicoloured, but I don’t always remember to wear them. Any gloves will do, I tend towards the dishwashing ones because I prefer reusing them and they hold up better to being used. I destroy a pair of disposable gloves faster than you can blink and then my hands are walnut brown anyhow.

What dye equipment can you not live without?

Miscelleny

I had plans, cunning plans, to write up a nice detailed and functional blog post about dye work with food dyes, and that’s still in the pipeline, but this month has been so scattered, I thought I’d just succumb to the inevitable and make another mish mashy post about the bits and bobs I’ve been up to. Some SCAdian stuff, mostly not. Come back next week for something with meat in it. 🙂

img_20200529_082257790.jpg

I did muse at the beginning of the month that it was crazy busy, and I was not wrong. I’m going to put it out here right now that in spite of the fact that there are two days left in the month of May, short of a time turner and a clone, May’s counted work is not going to get done in May. A heady mix of too much else needing my time and attention, the fact that I chose a very ambitious amount of stitching and the acceptance that the garden is rather particular about when it goes into the ground, and embroidery really doesn’t mind waiting a week. Or three. I’m still working on Autumn and have Winter left to do.. and it’ll get there. Eventually. I’m not super stressed about it, and honestly my back will appreciate doing it in shorter stretches rather than a marathon.

I made myself hand cream (adapted modern recipe) and I really rather like it, and then started researching how to make it more SCA period. (I also then promptly misplaced my adapted recipe, so I’ll share it when/if I ever find that bit of paper. Someday I will learn that recipes on bits of paper are destined to be lost and stop doing that.) I should have stirred a bit more, but beeswax, coconut oil, shea butter (unless it was cocoa butter.. hrm.. really need to find that paper) and almond oil. Greasy as all get out, but my hands are still able to work with silk even when I chronically forget to put on gloves to work in the garden.

I made another silly garland for the door, and remembered in the process how much I hate crocheting. But it’s cute and it’s done, and ideally I don’t come up with anything else that needs crocheting anytime soon. Also.. flowers really cover me ’til autumn, I do rather win on the longevity of this one. Pattern is this one, I found it relatively straight forward, but there was a time when I taught crochet (I do like it better at tiny, surprising no one.)

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I’m generally caught up on the Peppermint Purple modern blackwork stitch along. I haven’t done this week’s yet, but it’s only been out for two days so I hardly feel as if I’m behind the pack yet. That has been a lovely respite from thinking. Every Wednesday there’s a wee bit of stitching waiting for me, already patterned out and ready. I choose a colour and listen to a podcast (Currently Runelanders, getting my gamer fix on.) and just stitch. It’s been a balm in the chaos, I’m very glad I decided to do it. I heartily recommend it, and you can start anytime. There’s no deadline for finishing, if it takes you until 2030 to get it done, so be it. 

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I also participated in a reddit needlework exchange, and while Canada Post says that my giftee’s pressie is still in transit, I got a mystery package last week. Amazon decided to make it properly a mystery and include not a whit of a clue that it was a gift package, nor anything. It took Penn reminding me that I’d signed up for the exchange to make me clue in that this was probably it! For someone just going on the vaguely sketch details of my interests provided, they did really really well! The embroidery book is super weird and quirky and kinda awesome. (Embroidery pattern for a dissected frog or skinned rabbit anyone?) The metallic thread is lovely and I really adore the little needlecase. They totally won! 

Phew, I think that mostly catches you up on the bits and pieces I’ve been working on, there’s more I’m sure, but I’ll leave myself something to ramble about next week when a real post eludes me then too. 

Sourdough brain dump

So, the world has gone crazy for sourdough. Which is cool, and honestly pretty awesome all in all. I’ve played with sourdough before, and I’ve had some failures and some success and every time I go out playing with sourdough, I learn more. This time, no different.  This is a collection of brain dump items that I shared with a co-worker who was working on his first starter, and I’ve no clue if any of this is useful to anyone else, but he found it interesting, so now I’m sharing it with everyone.

 

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Sourdough starters

Flour choice

I don’t fuss too hard about what flour I’m feeding Fred. (Fred’s my usual starter name, I have had Wilma in the past, but I’m back to Fred, I don’t know why.) All purpose, whole wheat, rye. Those are usually my choices, and it seems to be whichever is closer. This house is fully glutened, so I have never experimented with GF flours.

Water choice

Guelph water is only chlorinated, not treated with chloramine. Lemme pause here for a quick chemistry lesson, I promise it won’t hurt. There’s two main ways that city water can be treated to kill off bacteria, chlorine and chloramine. (NB: it is not the same chloramine as in swimming pools.. do not try this at home.. related but not the same.) There are other options for killing off pathogens in water, but those are the two most common in cities. While most use chlorine to disinfect initially, it is the wee bit of residual disinfectant that we care about. Chlorine is quite volatile, it doesn’t really want to stay in the water, it has places to be and things to react with. Chloramine is a much more stable molecule and hangs out in the water allll the way from the treatment plant to your tap. Now, we are attempting to start a yeast farm here, and by rights, that disinfectant that is trying to keep the water clean and safe is also kinda trying to kill our yeastie beasties. By and large, there is not enough residual disinfectant to cause huge problems, unless your tap water smells like a swimming pool. (If it does, I expect you’re not drinking it either.) That being said.. chlorine is volatile, and if you let a clear jar of water sit on the counter for a few hours, it arses off. Chloramine does not. I emailed my city’s water department to ask them which they used (This website has a chart for Canadian cities,  but they are trying to sell you stuff, so take with salt as needed, you may want to just email your public works department) and Guelph uses chlorine. So I just have a jug of water that sits on the counter and my plants and yeasties and cat gets that.

Feeding schedule

I feed Fred once a day, generally and equal parts flour and water. That keeps him at 100% hydration (What does hydration mean? It is what ratio is your water to your flour.. and hey look.. mine are the same.. 100% water for my flour. It’s the most common if you’re looking at technical sourdough pages.) You can measure your flour and water by weight (my preference, but that’s how I bake as well), or by volume. Up to you. I only discard when he’s getting too big for his jar, otherwise I feed him up to have enough to bake a good batch of bread from and still have some left over to continue Fred. There are oooooodles of recipes online for what to do with sourdough discard, but I throw it in to muffins as often as not, or fry it up as griddle cakes, rarely does it hit the compost. It’s just flour and water and some yeasties in there, there’s no reason not to use it somewhere you need flour and water. If there’s a weird layer of liquid on top, that’s alcohol and you can mix it in or toss it. (I toss it, I don’t care for the taste, but it won’t hurt you.) and it’s a sign that your Fred is going too long between feedings.

Temperature

Yeastie beastie like to be warm, but not tooo warm. (They are very much like me in that regard, actually). Where Fred lives needs to be in the 20s C, and honestly.. my house isn’t from about Oct – June, so he usually lives on top of the fridge or on top of the router (make sure he’s got PLENTY of room in his jar before putting any jars of goop on computer equipment), or in the oven with the light on. I seriously thought about getting one of those plug in mug warmers, but I thought that might be too warm for Fred. This is a major spot I’ve struggled with, and too cold for too long has mucked with my starters in the past. Keep Fred cosy!

Baking

​When it comes to baking with sourdough starter for yeast.. it’s all a waiting game. Timing on recipes are vague guidelines. Your yeasties will take as long as they need to double your dough, and they didn’t read the recipe to know what it said. I like two rises, and I don’t generally stick any in the fridge, but my house is cold enough already. Accept that you are going to be eating a lot of bread while you figure out what your favourite baking style is, and that’s it’s a good and delicious thing.

Uh Oh

Sourdoughs are mostly really forgiving. If they get pink or green fuzzy bits, they are compost. That means the turf war between bacteria and yeast went to the wrong kind of bacteria. There are good guy bacteria in there too, they provide the sour flavour (IIRC.. this is where my research is sketch, so correct me if I’m talking out my butt), but really you aspire to keep yeast happy enough that there’s just not /room/ in there for the other guys. Stirring is good, yeasties like oxygen, the sour making bacteria do not, so it might keep things milder too. (This is all WAAAY oversimplified, eventually I will get myself together to do a fermentation class as part of my modern alchemy series.)

More resources

I really like the King Arthur Flour site about sourdough: ​https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/guides/sourdough
I really like their site for most baking things, actually. Clear, scientific based information and the recipes have been tasty too.
I turn to Serious Eats a lot for other things and they did a day by day starter-along a few years back: https://slice.seriouseats.com/2010/11/how-to-make-sourdough-starter-day-0.html
If you’re interested in current sourdough research, there’s a woman looking for information about your starter: http://robdunnlab.com/projects/wildsourdough/
Most of the internet currently is waxing poetic about starters and sourdough everything, give it a go! Eat more bread!
Any grievous errors, let me know!