linen dish cloth

When the countertops and cutting boards, the faucets and the sink are all wiped down with a good clean cloth, I’m quite content. Linen fibre is strongest when wet, so it makes an ideal dish cloth. I adore the texture and gloss of wet-spun linen, at once hardy plant fibre and fine silk, artless pastoral and opulence combined.

These cloths are a great little project to pick up and stitch when there are quieter moments in the day. All you need is some linen yarn and a crochet hook in your pocket, and the simple pattern, below.

linen-cloth-natural

The qualities of linen

Like rustic clothing, the difference between store-bought and handmade is often its strength. They’re certainly not cheaper than the imported cotton dishcloths we can easily buy, but then they last so long, and please me so much. In using natural linen we sidestep destructive farming practices, pesticides and toxic dyes. There are even folks experimenting with local flax production, and you can grow it easily yourself! To demonstrate the wonderful process of transforming flax to gold, there’s a an old bit of Canadiana on the subject, too.

linen-cloth-natural

Linen care

To care for these linen cloths, we just throw them in the wash as usual, cold or hot, with a drop of tea tree oil to kill any germs. I imagine it doesn’t get musty or stain as easily, but I might just take extra care to hang it to dry, because it’s handmade and beautiful. We hang them or lay them on a flat, waterproof surface like our countertops, and sometimes block them. Block them?

linen-cloth-pewter

Blocking is what you do to shape any knit, woven, crocheted piece, and is simply arranging it back into shape and allowing it to dry that way. You can get fancy with special pins and boards, if you were blocking pieces of a sweater before sewing it, so that it would fit perfectly together. But for the linen dish cloths, you’re just laying them flat while they’re wet or damp, and patting, pulling, shaping back to a square, then leaving them to dry. Shaping is ten-second task. No harm in skipping this part, either. It does please me to see them back in their fine shape.

linen-cloth-natural

Theme and variation

Crocheting linen fibre makes these pieces a little bit rustic, a little bit ornate, and thoroughly handmade. I love to use these cloths to experiment with variation in crochet patterns.

Linen dish cloth pattern

I like to use a heavier linen yarn like Euroflax, and a 4.5mm hook – aim to have the hook larger than what’s called for, to get that open weave.

Chain 27 stitches, and work into them half-double-crochet, double crochet, or triple crochet, repeating until you have a square.

I like to stitch the rows in hdc, and then finish with a restrained ruffled edge: chain 6, slipstitch to attach at every 5th stitch, and repeat to the row’s end. Then work back with 6 or 7 double crochets around that loop you’ve made, just enough that the ruffle lies flat, working a slip stitch into the previous slipstitches. Tie it off very firmly. Rinse the piece and block it!

linen-cloth-natural

Linen cloths make a nice accompaniment to a trusty stiff brush, and a stack of linen tea towels. Elegant tools make the work far easier, far more agreeable, I think. They encourage mindfulness in presence in everyday labours. We love these useful, perennial favourites.

linen-cloths-stacked

the 1940’s beds, improved

Curiously, when we assembled the antique beds after painting them, the beds did not look like this: 1940's-beds-reading-aloud

Instead, each bed lay at an angle, attaching a couple of inches higher at the headboard than at the footboard!

What on earth were they thinking? Have decades of children slept on a hill? Did someone in 1940’s England believe it to be healthier to sleep on an incline? Apparently some folks do. Or was it an error of production?

refitting-the-1940s-beds-1

Nor was that the only problem. If one used the box springs, the mattresses sat higher than the top of the footboard in the most unappealing way. Without them, there were no supports for a mattress. Mystified, we set about putting it right with my fathers’s kind help.

refitting-the-1940s-beds-2

My grandfather’s hand-drill was just the thing to bore new holes. Best to be precise on this kind of piece.

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Being thorough, and taking pity on me, he not only levelled the frame but also cut down store-bought slats, attaching metal along the edge to contain them. Very comfortable! This is fiddly work, but I highly recommend it if you’ve an old bed to update.

1940's-beds-readaloud-2

Do learn from my mistake – never purchase antique furniture unless you can see it properly assembled, or you’re up for a big project.

Our children adore their level, slatted, painted, new-and-improved vintage beds. Good night!

flying the coop

When it was time to take our leave of the cottage on the lake and go to live in the old farmhouse at Ravenhill, moving house was quite literally what we needed to do. Our sturdy little henhouse had a journey to undertake.

We made a date with a crane to pluck it from under the trees, fly it through the air, drive it through winding narrow forest country, and lift it over the herb farm fence to a spot we’d levelled and set with stones.

In the midst of packing up, we were struck with news that a tumour had returned, and I would face another major surgery in a couple of weeks time. When it rains, it pours! Which is precisely what it did – happily not until after we’d set the henhouse in place, and brought our eleven sweet hens to it, nestled in boxes of pine shavings, to settle in and wonder what just happened.

Deconstructing, then reconstructing the mink-proof run was an enormous challenge, for which I am so grateful to my father and his methodical approach. Now we are all settled in (and wondering what just happened). I am recovering well, having been carefully tended by my sweetheart and children through my convalescence, and we are beginning some new and exciting things over at Ravenhill Herb Farm! Yes, Noël Richardson wrote such exquisite books about this place. I loved In a Country Garden, and read it when I was convalescing the first time, back in March. How strange life can be. The new landowners here are wonderful, you must come and visit their farmstand if you’re ever on Vancouver Island.

coop rafters

Let me show you how I got the rafters framed up on the coop. This bit of the design required plenty of telephone conversations, wrestling with hypotenuse and getting my head around the concept of the rise and the run.

framed-roof

To design the coop roof I pictured what I wanted the slope of the roof to look like. I knew the width of the coop and the height of its walls, so I drew it all on paper. Then, I drew it all in SketchUp, which let me measure things out after, so I could play with information I had, incorporating what I’d drawn, til I had answers. I sent the 3D drawing to my father to confirm that it all worked out mathematically. I can tell you the following bit of information that he sent back was intimidating, but for those of you who like trigonometry, here you are:

Based on the roof angle (40 deg) and the width of the coop (60"), 
one can calculate the rise as follows:

Tangent (slope angle) = y/x
Y is unknown (Rise)
X is 60" / 2  = 30" (Run)

Formula is:

Y = Tan (40) * x

Tan 40 deg is equal to:  0.83909963117728

Substituting values and solving for Y:

Y = (0.83909963117728) * 30

Y = 25.17298835318394

Make Rise Y = 25"

Quite. 25″ rise and a 40º slope is what my original paper drawing expressed, but it’s best to double-check with a trusted mentor.

peak

I decided not to build trusses (triangles) flat on the floor of the coop, before putting the walls up. Instead I framed in a ridgeboard which rests on one 2×4 with two more sandwiching it, supported by the front and back walls. Critical to have a good level to hand, I have a tiny one and a standard large one, both very old but trusty. That sandwich piece, including the height of the ridgeboard, would be the rise. The children figure it looks like a lunchbox at this point.

side-view-rafters

Then I cut rafters (thanks to the kindly loan of a neighbour’s mitre saw, no more handsaws for all this cutting!) and notched them with a birdbeak which sits on the top of the wall. Simple strength.

rafters

Once the rafters were secure (I drill pilot holes and use deck-screws) I built the verge, the overhang, on each end. Rainy winters on the Pacific require it. You can see that the verge is anchored by a couple of flat pieces that attach to the main rafters, see? I laid one rafter flat to support these pieces. I love finding out how things work.

overhang

I’d planned the ridgeboard’s length to allow for 12″ of overhang on each end. Now it looks like a little house.

roosting-bars

The roosting bar design was a little bit inspired (see below). Now, there are cross-ties and there are chords, they complete that triangle from wall-to-wall or up higher. These give the structure of roof and walls strength, integrity. I decided to use these pieces first structurally, then practically, as roosts, and finally, socially, by staggering the height of the crosspiece, to give the flock a framework to express their social order. Each night we see who roosts at which height, and in which direction, based on pecking order. Yes, those are railings from the 1950’s house demolition.

Or, for another way to look at it all, a peek at my journals from that week:


30 june
the girls helped to mind the chicks, they love the playground under the maples, though i must enclose the area outside my potatoes. i fixed my problems after some tears – broke a drill bit, things were wonky. i managed to get things levelled, plumb, and my tall girl helped me to pop the ridgeboard in – yay! how grand! it looks pretty funny, but then i sorted through a couple of videos and worked through plain old fear, and i got the rafters worked out, one of them is up! not attached, but just there — and that was a moment of huge satisfaction. hypotenuse, kiss my -! i am so happy to have pushed through, i really thought it was going to fail. well, i’ve got it now, and i’ll cut from my template and then work out the supports for the verges.
i actually threw up my hands and closed up my writing desk, it is right beside the brooder and getting so dusty! i threw a dust cover over it. i give in! when the chicks move out i’ll return to it.

2 july
i made a mistake, and needed to raise the ridgeboard ¾” and cut the birdbeaks to my original plan. that worked, and i’ve cut 6 pieces for the support for the overhang gable. it has been mad, as it is all being done with small children visiting. the lawn needs mowing, and the thistles need to be pulled, and a front bed cleared of flowers before a tree felling.

3 july
cool and a bit windy today, but i was glad for it. i made great progress with the coop. i attached the middle rafters and with a chat with my dad and some more mad calculations i figured out the overhang. the verge. when a friend came we got it put together on the front! i am so relieved! very pleased. it will need the same again at the back. my friend was just brilliant, so practical and enthusiastic.

little birds were well and went to sleep easily. i have the heat lamp on, still. they’ve weeded the patch under the maple very well, and i think i’ll move them to a spot under another bush further on, tomorrow, where i can watch over them as i build.

i had a brilliant idea that came out of a conversation with my dad – to use the chords as roosting bars, yes, but to stagger the heights, descending toward one end of the coop like a ladder. i’ll end at wall height, and the highest must still have headroom. so that’s finally sorted. good. the next steps, then. i’ll be attaching the back gable verge next, and securing all of it, yes. i’ll need to add supports to the posts.

i’ll not be putting wire over soffits, instead i’ll just close them up and plan to keep the back gable screened.

i’m quite tired. and sore, from falling over on to a rock! slipped in the rain while carrying a couple of chickens, pippin and blue. i saved them, but not, literally, my own ass. ah well, more bruises.

6 july
i took on the north gable verge, banging my head repeatedly, in the rain, swearing. i did it alone, save two minutes from our tall girl. clamps ‘r’ us. the chicks were happy in their enclosure all day, and i’m glad to have had help to move them inside. now the framing is complete, topping out ceremony traded for an epsom salt bathe.

plant labels

We’re sowing seeds to catch the early springtime in a coldframe set upon the sunny deck. I wanted a robust and beautiful method for marking our seedlings as they grow and move out into the garden. We’re trying out a couple of natural materials.

stone-labels

First, bound for planters and pots, smooth stones with a bit of white ink. I’m fond of calligraphy, but simple printing would look lovely as well.

chamomile-label

Some offcuts of cedar are just the thing for marking a veg patch, for they’ll last many years in wet weather and will develop a silvery patina along the way. Nothing toxic near the edibles, I say. Or anywhere else, ideally.

tomato-labels

I like how the shape of this wood lends itself to displaying information. On one plane, ‘tomato’ and the next, ‘jaune flamme’ or ‘indigo rose.’ Latin plant names might be quite lovely too.

labeled-frame

All our little seeds tucked up in bed.