I’ve been meaning to post this for ages, as it’s finally been sent and received! The hazard of working on gifts, you finish them and then have to wait to post about them.
For those unfamiliar, the Trillium Exchange is an artisan exchange here in Ealdormere where you get a little survey on what sort of things your giftee might like, and then sometimes there’s a theme (usually optional) and sometimes there isn’t and you get to send someone a gift! You get a gift too, and that’s always nice, but honestly? I prefer the giving.
So! The theme this time was bees, and that wasn’t really inspiring me, I ultimately decided to make her a new beaded veil as the first part of her gift. Some silk-cotton blend fabric (out of stash! Win! There’s a quite limited spending cap on these exchanges, which is good darn it.. but most of us have a quite extensive stash to pull from), and some glass beads and some inspirational photos.
This is a detail from the Last Judgment Triptych painted by Hans Memling in about 1471 or so. Very considerate of her to have a light veil with lovely little bead details in just about exactly what I wanted to use.
Mine looked a little more colourful, with green and gold glass beads (sewn on with silk thread).
Once I got the veil done, I wanted to aim for the stretch goal.. so I decided to make some veil pins to go with. I do not work with metal. I play with string, but after consults with people who know far more than I (Thank you!), off I went to gather up brass wire and pliers and a hammer. A little wonky perhaps, but I learned about how to work harden metal, and file points onto my little pins and even a little wonky, I am chuffed to bits with these silly little things.
At the last minute, just before it got popped into the mail, I couldn’t help myself but add a wee bee in the corner in silk as a nod to the exchange theme that I had ignored through the rest of it. One beaded veil with a half dozen veil pins that arrived safe and sound to its new human. Now we just need to be able to have events, darn it!
I know, it’s been a while, my productivity stinks at the moment, along with a lot of other people’s. I’ve spent far too much time in Zoom, I’ve played far too many phone games, and I’m almost 2000 strips into a webcomic archive. (Questionable Content.. I’ve read since the beginning, but I got behind and I started back at the beginning. Go read it, but pace yourself. It’s worth it, and the art gets better.) I’ve knit a lot of doilies and some blackwork stitch along and puttered and piddled around and I can’t get my brain around anything big and complicated and I’m not working up to my usual obsessive perfectionist standards.
And then I was chatting with a friend today, and we were lamenting about the unholy levels of stress going on in that blackwork stitch along group about having perfect work. People (almost always women) are posting extreme close up photos of perfectly reasonable stitchery and you can hear the anxiety in their post about ‘my stitches are a little woobly, should I re-do it?’ And they.. they AREN’T woobly. They might not be up to digital calliper 10th of a mm straightness, but that is, quite frankly, ridiculous levels of expectation.
Then she said something profound and I came to ramble at you all about it..
The difference between ‘doing’ and ‘excelling at’ is one that is getting increasingly blurred.
– wise friend on Discord
There’s been memes running around the internet about this, but today, this hit like a ton of bricks. We, as an artistic community, have put all of our eggs in the ‘perfect’ basket. To the point of most people feel it is better to not do at all, than do something imperfectly.
I am the first one to admit that I am not immune to this, not even the tiniest little bit. I’ve been shoving projects into the UFO bin like crazy because I don’t have the patience or temperament right now to work to my ‘usual’ standards, except in my most routine and familiar crafts. My embroidery tension is off kilter? Toss. My weaving sett got arsed up? Into the UFO bin. New craft to try? I can’t even convince myself to watch the how to video, because somehow I’ve already progressed to the ‘but I’ll run out of time and fabric when I screw it up!’ when the (much more than I need) fabric is still in the package! Why is it not okay to do anymore? Why is perfection the only available option? Looking to make nice and good things is fine, but there’s a point at which it’s too far. Where good enough is not good enough, where any level of imperfection is too much. And that’s CRAZY, and it’s crazy making.
I think on some level, it’s a thing that we can control, so we try to. There’s so much imperfect in the world, that adding more feels wrong. There’s a level of ‘but if I’m not good at this, then I’m a failure at everything’, because goodness knows the stress levels of existing at the moment are pretty sky high. Even in places where the pandemic is just worrisome and not rampaging. I don’t know how to tell my brain that people won’t think I’m a fraud if my embroidery isn’t perfect, but I think I need to start figuring out how to do that. Its okay to enjoy things you aren’t good at, I do not need to master everything I try. It’s also okay to screw things up. Remind me of this now and then, would you? We hold ourselves to ridiculous and unreasonable standards.
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:
Something to stir with
Something to strain with
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.)
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.
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.
Phew. Well THAT was a weekend. I’ve talked about FooL before (20162017), although not nearly as often as I’d thought! Fruits of Our Labours is usually a weekend long camping A&S weekend that is full of hands on experimenting and learning goodness. It was our investiture event, it was my beloved’s first event, it was where I got my AoA five years ago. There’s a lot of sentiment wrapped up in FooL for us. But this year we’re in a plague, and we can’t meet in person, so the FooL staff took it online. (Also.. apparently I’m even worse about pictures at home than at events. Goodness. I really do own a phone with a camera, I promise. Sheesh.)
Now, this is an event that lends itself to online. Sure, we miss out on getting to do things ourselves, but classes are.. by and large.. a lot more online friendly than say.. armoured combat tournies. It’s hard to demonstrate quite the same way, but the ingenious ways some of the teachers had for rigging up cameras to show their scribal desks and looms were nothing short of brilliant. (Zoom crashing world wide 15 mins before Sunday morning classes starting? Not brilliant, but so many kudos to staff and students and teachers in generally rolling with it and google meet wasn’t quite as slick, but we got there.)
Welsh cakes from the site token recipes
There was a social space for folks to drop in and out of, and loiter about and just chatter idly, classes all day and bardic each night. It was, very much like in person FooL except with no canvas to haul, and comfortable beds at night. Even the recipes for site token suggestions were posted. I got plenty of embroidery done listening to the social space, and the bardic on Saturday night, which was nice.
More site tokens. FooL was delicious.
That being said, everything was a little off kilter. I had no idea how much we respond to the audience when we’re addressing the populace until we were talking to a camera and everyone was muted. Surreal, utterly. I am quite certain that there has never been quite so many feline attendees at FooL as there were this year. Bardic circles online are 100% performance and 0% rowdy singing along with the whole crowd in the key of army. I mean.. nothing stops you from singing along at your muted computer (which I do often!), but there’s something about a whole campfire’s worth of people singing together that has a power that no Zoom meeting can ever replace. (Over and above the fact that our campfire was a vanilla scented pillar candle. No bardic circle smells quite that vanilla-ey /either/)
I still got bacon for breakfast. (And Zoom events are like work meetings, garb from the waist up!)
I am so incredibly proud the FooL staff for making it go, even through all sorts of hurdles and challenges. I am so delighted that we got to have people visit from all over the known world, not only as teachers, but as students and bards and just hanging out. Even folks from our own Kingdom who can’t make it out to many events poked their noses in, and that was awesome. (I also nipped off to Artemesia for a class about Viking Food before bardic on Saturday, which was awesome. Fastest commute ever!)
FooL 2020 was like no other, and it absolutely is one that will be remembered.
May is actually for a lot of things, woah nelly, this month is a busy one! There’s the ongoing Peppermint Purple modern blackwork stitch along that comes out every Wednesday. I decided to sign up for a band weaving workshop (mercifully only three weeks, rather than four) that started May 1 (thank goodness inkle weaving is quick!). There’s the Athena’s thimble technique a month plan that I’m still keeping up with AND May has Fool in it, now virtually! Wowsa, that’s more than enough.
(Not to mention that silly full time job thing, and the fact that the garland on my door is still Easter and apparently we need to cook and eat food, like every day. More on that later this week.)
However! We’re here to talk about counted work, the next alphabetically in the Athena’s Thimble category list. (Also.. can we talk about how it’s May and we’re still in the C’s? Embroidery categories are not well spaced in the alphabet, just pointing that out.)
I love counted work. It’s a happy relaxing place for me, and has been since the counted cross stitch hey day in the 80s. (Which is, to be fair, where I started embroidering, so it holds a happy space in my heart. Get the snooty outta your soul now at the 80s collection of cross-stitch. Much like the knitting phase that came after it, it got a bajillion people with needle and thread to hand, and while some moved to the next trendy thing when it came up, some became devoted and brilliant embroiderers. Just because it’s popular doesn’t make it suck. Alright, rant over.)
I went poking in some favourite and beloved model books from period. Because the late 1500s totally had printed pattern books, and they literally had charts of flowers and critters and edgings and whatever else your little heart desired to stitch (or knit, or weave, or .. that’s a different blog post!). The one I decided on was Federic Vinciolo – “Singvliers Et Novveaux Povrtraicts” . It was first printed in 1587, although this is a copy of the 1606 printing. I’ve already embroidered five of the critters in my sampler in 2016, and I solidly considered doing one of those again (I really did enjoy them!), but in scrolling through I found seasonal deities. And well, that decided it. So my counted work for the month is going to be all four, because I hate having free time.
Nitty gritty details for those curious about such things, I’m working in a single strand of 60/2 weaving silk on 30 count evenweave linen. It’ll be a snuggly fit into my 6″ square, but I’ve measured and counted and recounted and remeasured and it should fit. Two of the silks are dyed with cochineal (different mordants? I think? I wish I’d kept notes, but any tags on these skeins got lost), one with madder and one with weld. Everything has been dyed by me at one point or another. I have learned that 4 more years into middle age now requires a magnifier, where it didn’t in 2016. Woe. If you need me, I’ll be counting somewhere.
Pull up a seat and get a beverage, we’re going to wander off towards story time a moment. About a year ago, Master Brand and I got chatting at an event. The conversation wandered, as it usually does when we get talking (and often people back away slowly, but that is wholly besides the point), but it settled on the fact that both of us had blogs that were various degrees of neglected and how we both missed having that outlet to share what we’d been working on. So we came up with a challenge to each other. A blog post a month for AS 54! That seemed very reasonable, not terribly onerous, and well achievable.
Totally bribing you to read with cute cat photos.
It very quickly came clear that both of us were going to blow past a measly 12 blog posts in a year. I’m not sure how many Brand ultimately managed to write, but I was settling into something that was nearly weekly. So I thought to myself.. Self.. how about instead of 12 blog posts in AS 54.. we aim for 50 blog posts in AS 54! Assume that at least a couple weeks are going to be silly (Holidays, Pennsic..) but 50 is a nice round number, this seems doable.
And so.. off I went on my quest. And at various points, I was keeping up pretty well, and sometimes I got off track, but early in 2020 I counted up my posts and realized that I was nicely on track. I needed a couple extra beyond one a week, but that’s not /so/ bad.
How about cat and stuffie pictures?
And then the world kinda went a little off the rails and things got complicated. Not just in terms of working from home, and getting used to that, but it’s very hard to be creative and productive and to write about those things while most of your brain power is diverted off in other directions. So I assumed, like many things right now, hitting the mark was just not in the cards. Until I stopped and actually /counted/ last week and realized that I had 47 posts done. That was shockingly close to 50, and so you, dear readers, got inundated with three in quick succession so that I could hit my goal!
I have enjoyed this an awful lot, and I’m hoping you folks have too. I don’t post brilliant works of literature, and I never know if anyone’s actually interested, but it is a great motivator to work on things so that I have something to tell you about. I am absolutely planning on continuing in AS 55, even without a challenge from Master Brand. I’ve got some thoughts on new content, and there’s always the monthly embroidery pieces to share. May is counted work, and I’m super excited to tell you all about it. I periodically muse on joining the many people doing podcasts or youtube channels, but besides the fact that I am the least photogenic human, I’m not sure many of my tasks and projects are well suited to live streaming or video taping. There’s an awful lot of ‘and now we do this for 50 hrs while it doesn’t seem to change much’, which is not the most compelling of viewing.
One last cat picture, I promise I’m done.
Comments, critiques, suggestions and topic requests are always welcome. I appreciate when folks take the time to comment either here or on Facebook where I post the link. Onwards and upwards!
You know, there are so many layers to that title, considering so many of us have spent April quite literally on our couches. (Not everyone, I know, and kudos to those keeping society running right now!) However, April was also all about couching and laid work in my year long sampling of the East Kingdom’s embroidery guild categories. There’s a classic extant couched piece, and it seemed a no brainer to just run with it. Enter the Bayeux Tapestry.
I went digging through, really giving a good look at the tapestry for the first time in a long time, possibly ever really, and noticed the little critters along the edges. And in particular the little gryphon who was perched there, sucking on a wingtip, looking as if really he just needed a blankie and a hug, and I found my critter for April.
And then life happened, and brains are jerks and I hemmed and hawwed and procrastinated for 3 weeks. I peered at the tab now and then. I looked at my printout, carefully manipulated to the right size. I considered the wool I’d pulled from stash to use. I put it all into a basket to have it nicely together, I got little Buddy traced onto my fabric. (And then washed my fabric because somehow it got a spot on it while sitting quietly on the table.. seriously world? Fine. Bah.) I read every tutorial online about Bayeux stitch I could find. I reconsidered my thread choices. I realized that it was too small for a hoop (I didn’t want to have hoop on the design, I really do hate hoops), so added extra fabric to the edges for the hoop to sit on. I even started plotting May’s project, telling myself that it’s okay if you skip this one and come back to it. Life really does go on. Get the easy win on May, and then come back and do bits and pieces on April’s, it’ll be fine, the embroidery world won’t hate you forever.
Then, me and myself sat down one morning over coffee for a little chat. A ‘hello brain, what’s the actual issue here’ and a significant period of navel gazing later, there was yarn in the needle and a ‘just go on, just do a couple stitches, then go get your evenweave for May’s project’. And somehow, by the time the coffee was done, there was a wing filled in. And it didn’t look awful. And apparently I still /did/ know how to choose thread and embroider, weird how I didn’t forget all that when the world got wonky.
It was possibly the most pathetic of messages to a couple of friends that I knew would sugar coat any critique to the point of frosted flakes (but still give the critique) with that first bit. I knew full well that I was not in a brain space for anything but sugar coated frosted bombs, but there was plenty of ‘good job!’ and ‘keep going!’ and so with reassurances in brain.. the rest of the piece came together literally in a few days.
I can see quite distinctly where I started getting the hang of things and I wouldn’t call it my best work. I really really wanted to use the red (more of my dye work although the other colours are not), even though it was half the size, but it worked up fine doubled. What it isn’t, is particularly good contrast, so it all looks very ‘the same’ in photos, and honestly is pretty subtle in real life too. Which is.. fine? It’s fine enough. It’s not spectacular, but it’s fine. I’ll take fine right now. Onwards and upwards!
It feels like a great many of my posts could be titled this at the moment, although I’m grateful to be feeling a bit more like my creative self again. Apparently the whack a mole I’ve been trying to play with the brain weasels is working, for the moment. I was pretty sure I’d been doing nothing at all, because I haven’t done anything especially exciting, but it adds up. I tell others, all the time, that everything counts (sorry for the Depeche Mode earworm), and apparently I don’t listen to myself very well.
So what HAVE I been doing while trying to get myself back on some sort of new normal ish? Let’s wander through the projects littering my house. (As a note, apparently having people over is what keeps the projects from Taking Over.. the spouse is lucky I haven’t taken over his spot on the couch yet, but it’s a near thing.)
The scrappy side, full of ends.
There’s been some plain knitting, as best as I can manage on the plague shawl. It started out using up what looked like a failed warp in an inherited stash, and now has been just using up bits and pieces of whatever else is in the stash in about the right colours. I can’t work on it much, my arms hate every second of it, and it’s going to be CRAZY warm (I started it when my house was FREEZING to sit in all day), just in time for the weather to warm up. It is literally a triangle made by knit 1, yarn over, knit to the end of the row. Continue until you run out of yarn, or patience. Wait, no.. keep going when you run out of patience, you’ll run out of that early, cause damn it’s boring and those rows get super long by the end.
There’s been some modern textile collage, which was something I did long ago with an embroidery mentor. Basically if Sharron was teaching at our modern needlecraft guild, I took her classes. She is an amazing artist, and I wish I had a 1/10th her skills with a sewing machine. (Not enough to practice.. I happily stick to hand stitching). A modern embroidery page is doing mini challenges every week, and one of them was a collage, and I couldn’t resist the nostalgia. I’m trying not to overthink it, it’s not a stunning masterpiece, but I appreciated the distraction working on it. I’ve only done week 2’s challenge, even if they are starting week 6, but I appreciate watching everyone else’s work.
I have been baking and cooking.. basically every day. Nothing overly exciting, mostly dinner every night, and lunch every day. Granola and yogurt and candied peel and bread, so much bread, another sourdough starter, more bread, cake and curries and pottage and muffins and and.. cooking and baking has been my standby for creative work when I didn’t have brain for string. I’d say I can bake in my sleep, but I over yeasted my bread this morning when putting the dough together before coffee, but somehow it all has survived and it is perfectly tasty bread.
The mending box is.. damn near empty. Apparently global pandemics make me want to darn socks and patch holes in skirts. The clothes that need major alterations, well they might sit for quite some time to come, but that’s besides the point.
A wee tiny bit of knitted lace, to potentially end up on another textile collage that I can see in my head, which is generally a death knell to it actually looking anything like that, and destined to be disappointing, but we’ll see. It might end up just being another random bit of lace hanging out in stash.
I’m sure there’s been more, but those are the highlights that I can remember right now. What have you been up to?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.)