hopscotch

Peevers, peeverels, pabats, piko, bebeleche, kith-kith, laylay, potsy, pon, delech, avioncito, scotch hobbies, hop-score! Peregrina, rayuela, bebeleche, amarelinha, rrasavi, thikrya, marelle ronde, himmel und hölle, hopscotch! When a game dates back to the 17th century, and possibly to the Romans, it usually passed through cultures and played around the world, with variations in name and technique accordingly. Here’s an illustrated guide to hopscotch, one of those good old fashioned games that hasn’t wavered in popularity these four hundred years. Unlike jacks and marbles, there’s no need for revival, no generation missed – long live scotch hobbies!

hopscotch-1

First, toss the pebble into a square, not touching any scotches or scores.

hopscotch-2

Then hop, not touching a line, nor falling out, or forfeit.

hopscotch-3

Land on a pair with one foot neatly inside each square.

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Leap over the square with the stone.

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Hop. If one has no chalk and paving, a stick in the dirt will do. I admire a game with great simplicity of materials.

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Turn at the end. Some variants have a safe square there, or a semicircle, for turning.

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Pick up the marker, don’t lose your balance! And hop through. We shall have to try the variant which requires you to kick the marker along with you.

hopscotch-8

Sometimes we draw the spiral variation as in the French marelle ronde or escargot.

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Grace, balance, aim.

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We write numerals in, in contemporary fashion, but a square is all that’s needed.

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There’s a good simple game. Did you grow up playing this one?

dyeing eggs

Gathering for the vernal equinox, a rite in celebration of spring, of the growing light and all the beautiful food that comes with it – this is what Gather Victoria set about to do. I laid a table in the midst of this extraordinary event, covered in foods that we used to dye our eggs. Oh, I adore the history of colour, of pigment, the natural sources and the culture that came along with them. Would you like to dye eggs with plant-life? Let me show you our experiments.

Dotted about on the table are bowls of sea salt and bottles of vinegar. We used a pinch and a splash of these as our mordants, to fix a colour, deepen it.

beet-table

In fabric dyeing these were often malodorous, and dyeworks would be found in their own district or well away from town.

beet-dye

Beetroot, for a gentle pink. Chop more beets than you think into as little water as you can – just enough to cover your eggs. With only a brief time at the event, we could get a pale pink on white eggs, but fill a jar with the strained dye, leave an egg immersed overnight, and you might deepen its colour.

cabbage-dye

Blue, blue from the outer leaves of cabbage! In England we dyed eggs cabbage blue, but our cabbage was grown on the biodynamic farm near our cottage. It was certainly not driven in a truck for thousands of miles, nor stripped of its colour-rich outer leaves by middlemen all the way to the supermarket, as I fear the cabbages I could lay my hands on had been. Suffice to say, our blues were of the sad, pale kind. Never mind – you will have more time, and can leave the eggs submerged. Brown eggs and white have a different effect, try both if you can. In fact, the cabbage is related to woad! So perhaps it is apt that we got our richest blue in the south of England, in keeping with the history of naked Celts painted with woad blue to frighten Romans back to the mainland. The Romans called indigo indicum, from the Greek, indikon; India was the source of indigo dyeing from Greco-Roman times.

eggs-table

Carrot tops give a pale chartreuse to the cheesecloth sachets I use to contain the vegetation, but the eggs themselves take a long, long time. I prefer to overdye cabbage blue with a touch of turmeric, for a fine green. Historically the woad of England or India’s indigo blues were overdyed with dyer’s broom for Kendal green, Lincoln green – think Robin Hood.

turmeric-dye

If green is the most difficult colour to achieve from plant-dyes, yellow is the easiest. Try oregon grape, or any number of wild greens. Here we used, no, not dyer’s broom, but turmeric. This cloth turned rich gold, but do not trust turmeric to fix in wool or cloth. You will wear the colour with the cloth. I captured the spice in a cloth, but in my own experiments the colour was more effective when the dusty spice stuck to the eggs and was gently rubbed off.

paprika-dye

Then, for a bright orange, paprika. We call the colour orange now, these last two hundred years, yet orange the fruit coined orange the colour, not the reverse. Previously we had only red as a descriptive, and so we have robin red breast and red heads.

dyed-eggs

For a deep red, you’ll want brown eggs, plenty of time, and surprisingly, plenty of papery yellow onion skins. Leave them to boil on and on and you may achieve quite an orthodox blood red, in keeping with the fertility rites of the season. Until 1869 and the age of synthetics, Madder red dyed the militia’s coats in France and Holland and the hunting pinks in Britain. Try your hand at growing madder for its colourful root, if you like! Murex snails along the Mediterranean yielded a drop each of an intense dye, some of which became Phoenician Red. You may know of the purple dyes from these snails, precious royal or Tyrian purple, vastly expensive, never to fade, likely developed by the Minoans of East Crete. Italian red silk was dyed with kermes, from the unlaid eggs of an insect, and across eastern Europe, the cochineal gave red. It was the brilliant, nothing-that-is-not-useful-or-beautiful William Morris who reviled synthetics and aniline dyes, and with the Arts and Crafts movement turned back to the traditions of using indigo and madder for dyeing excellent woven and printed fabrics. I believe we are continuing the tradition on a grassroots scale.

onion-spice-table

Red onion gave us yellow in its first moments, deepening to a rich chestnut over time. Beautiful. I liked the currants that gave a pale brown, and blueberry’s warm blue, but these are precious foods and mostly I prefer to eat them myself. What do you think? Will you experiment with colour this Easter?

I must tell you, this spring, eggs are of particular fascination to me, for in April we’ll receive a dozen heritage hatching eggs, and in May we plan to build a coop and run that I’ve designed for them! Watch for more about keeping chickens very soon – get the postcards to stay in the loop.

Thank you to Gather, Nourish Café and all the wonderful people I met at the event, I loved it.

handbuilt rhubarb pot

Perhaps you’ve heard me talk of the rhubarb pot, that essential of the Victorian kitchen garden, and one of those beautiful objects that functions so simply to extend the growing season. Forcing rhubarb to reach for the light, warming and protecting it to set it growing earlier, and producing a fine, sweet, early fruit – this is the purpose of a rhubarb pot. Looking elegant in a walled garden is a fine off season occupation. When I saw the other potters handbuilding giant pots, I had to try making one myself.

patting

Enormous thing. It will shrink by almost a quarter as it dries, mind. Mine is unconventional not only in being handbuilt, where most rhubarb pots are thrown or cast, but it is also singular in using white clay, where terracotta is traditional. Still, it ought to do the job, or at least be sculptural. Let me show you something of the technique I learned.

press

The trusty press.

pressed

After wedging the clay, and adjusting the height of the press to a good thickness, say, half an inch, the clay is flattened in the press.

compressing

A rib is used to compress the clay on both sides, to smooth and strengthen it.

slip

As with any handbuilt thing, scoring and slipping connects the pieces – wide slabs that we slice and stand up and curve to meet. Any repairs later can use paper slip. Wonderful fortifying stuff, just wet clay with paper soaked til fibrous, not unlike papermaking.

applying

Just a slight overlap is connected. Scored, slipped, pressed, then worked smooth. Applying the next piece to the outside makes the thing wider; to the inside curves it in. Many of the potters built the piece half way up, then flipped the entire thing and worked on it that way – but because a rhubarb pot is entirely open at the base, and only curves in at the top somewhat, I left it.

bat

Knocking the clay into shape is one of those most gratifying tasks. It is amazing how much shaping can be done with a bit of brute strength and courage, as the clay doesn’t simply move but compresses. This bat is wrapped in twine to discourage the clay from sticking to it while it is the consistency of cool butter.

dart

I still needed to remove some clay with darts, work redolent of dressmaking. By this time I was standing on a step stool to reach into the pot, turning it on a lazy susan.

muriel

Isn’t it a wonderful process? I adore the wheel and must be torn from it. Yet somehow this technique felt more compelling than a coil pot, and the proportions are fascinating to me. Consulting with my friend and mentor, Muriel, the potter at Winter Creek. I’m so lucky to study with her. She talked me through the most wonderful bit of throwing, to make a handle for the lid. About that lid. Soon.

Meanwhile, you might like to watch a Victorian thumb-sprinkler being thrown, another fascinating bit of historical pottery.

painting the 1940′s beds

Having left our children’s beds behind in England, I was very pleased to stumble on a pair of twin 1940′s beds for sale not far from the lake. They were taken apart, but they showed great character and possibility, and even bore a plate stating that they were English themselves, by appointment to the King. Well then!

before

Such a charming shape. I confess to desaturating this picture, you didn’t want to see orange wood either, I’m sure. In summer weather I chalk painted them.

painting the 1940s beds

I sanded them a bit.

painted headboards

I gave them a coat of beeswax polish, and buffed them a little.

painted headboards

The children slept through the summer on the box spring and mattresses, stacked in their room. They slept through the autumn on the box spring and mattresses, stacked in their room.

Then I had a moment to assemble the beds, and here I got a bit of a surprise. More about this surprise, very soon.

apron fence

As we prepare for keeping chickens, fencing our garden is a critical task. Late winter is an excellent time to take care of this, on the coast, as the plantlife is still bare enough to allow for building, and other tasks in the garden can wait. To keep our lovely neighbour’s dogs from simply walking right under the existing fence, where they pose a cute but deadly hazard to our future hens – if only because chickens can be chased to death – I put together a simple apron fence.
apron fence, before.

An apron fence bends into an L shape where it meets the ground, and the fencing that lies along the ground is covered up with a bit of earth or rock. It is ideal for discouraging digging creatures. Being inexpensive and easy to install, and requiring only wire, gloves, a staple gun, and basic eye-protection, makes it quite appealing.

Attach wire along base of the fence. I used heavy staples. As you go along (or before you begin if your ground is predictably even) bend the wire into an L-shape where it meets the ground, so that it lays away from you, stretching out several inches beyond the fence. The wire mesh outside your fence is best buried under the earth somewhat, but our land is so rocky, instead I laid some large rocks over the apron to hold it down, and put a few on our side too. Chicken wire isn’t as long lasting as I’d like, but we had it to hand. Most animals will try digging in places along the apron and eventually give up.

apron fence, after.

Not a pretty thing, but the ferns promise to return with spring and mask it beautifully.