linen dishcloth

When the countertops and cutting boards, the faucets and the sink are all wiped down with a good clean cloth, I’m quite content. Keeping a stack of sturdy, beautiful cloths around for that purpose makes me feel a little more calm. I once hand-stitched a linen cloth and four years later it is still in excellent condition. Linen is stronger when wet, so it is ideal for the task. 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 beautiful. Now I make them for the tried & true series in the shop. Useful, perennial favourites.

linen-cloth-natural

Like rustic clothing, the difference between store-bought and handmade is often its strength. They’re certainly not cheaper than the imported cotton dishcloths I can easily buy, but then they last so long, and please me so much.

linen-cloth-natural

To care for these linen cloths, I just throw them in the wash as usual, cold or medium, with a drop of tea tree oil to kill any germs. You can throw them in a medium dryer too, though it’s best to take them out while still damp, lay them on a flat, waterproof surface like the top of the dryer, and block them. Block them?

linen-cloth-pewter

Blocking is what you do to shape any knit, woven, crocheted piece, and is simple 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

Like the candlesticks, each one is unique, each one a variation in pattern. A little bit simple, a little bit ornate, and thoroughly handmade. I adore the texture and gloss of wet-spun linen, at once hardy plant fibre and fine silk, artless pastoral and opulence combined.

One bright day soon I’ll have the fine folks from Flax-to-Linen round to the lake to demonstrate the wonderful process of transforming flax to gold. Stay tuned. There’s a wonderful old bit of Canadiana on the subject, too.

linen-cloth-natural

The linen cloths make a nice accompaniment to the natural sponge, my trusty stiff brush, and a stack of colourful tea towels. Elegant tools make the work far easier, far more agreeable, I think.

linen-cloths-stacked

If you’re in Vancouver, pick out your favourite handmade linen cloths on Main Street at the fabulous shop, Nineteen Ten. They have appleturnover’s handthrown candlesticks too!

handbuilt rhubarb forcing 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.

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

pannetone

One chilly winter’s day in England, not so long ago, the great baker Aidan Chapman taught a few River Cottage students how to make pannetone. This winter fruit bread dates back to the Romans, and Milan is its birthplace. Aidan was kind enough to let us share his recipe, and so I pass it on to you, on the first day of winter.

pannetone recipe © elisa rathje 2013

We’re going to need:

  • 300g flour
  • 5g yeast
  • 10g sea salt
  • 100g sponge/starter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2tb yogurt
  • dried fruit
  • citrus zest
  • 2 drops pannetone essence
  • a splash of brandy or rum
  • butter for drizzling
  • a pannetone paper case or lined cake tin

pannetone recipe © elisa rathje 2013

Mix the ingredients with water to form a loose batter. Pour into a pannetone case or a lined cake tin, cover with a clean cloth and leave overnight, ideally up to eighteen hours. Snip the surface with scissors before baking 45 minutes in an oven preheated to 160C/320F. Melt the butter with rum or brandy, pierce the cooled loaf and drizzle it over. Dredge with icing sugar and serve, warmed, with ice cream.

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p>This recipe first appeared in a winter edition of appleturnover’s newsletter – get it here. You might like to read about making winter bread at River Cottage, too.

milk paint

Like chalk paint, milk paint is an age-old mineral paint formed of chalk, earthy pigments and the casein that gives it its name. It is a pure, ecological paint I’ve encountered here in Canada, and comes in powdered form. I decided to try it out on the shopkeeper’s cabinet that I’d modified to fit a nook in my studio.

milk paint- algonquin powder-measure

Any paint lends itself to mixing to achieve just the right shade, but milk paint colour just begs to be played with, like the inks in the old lithography studios I used to print in. First I measured out 85 grams of Canadian Homestead House’s Algonquin.

milk paint-algonquin paint

Equal parts water went into the blender first, followed by the powder. I found it was critical to work quickly with a spatula to scrape down the sides. Be sure to blend it for at least five minutes. Shaking it in a jar doesn’t work so well, and pigments will appear grainy and mottled. Ask me how I know this. I do prefer doing things by hand whenever possible! Wash your blender and any tools thoroughly, immediately, as this paint dries quickly.

milk paint- coal powder

The same again of coal black. Being so simple in ingredients – so much so that I’ve heard that milk paint will go off! – I did think that the stuff wouldn’t smell like much. On the contrary, when mixed with water it smells out and out like any strapping, volatile can of paint. Once dry, there was hardly a whiff.

milk paint- coal paint

Blended, the black paint felt quite different from the brown, far thicker in texture, and asking for more water. Preparing milk paint feels more colour-theory-at-art-school than summer-job-as-student-painter. That alone has much to recommend it, if you’re an adventurous sort.

milk paint- mix

From there I began to mix the colour, adding a teaspoon of the black to darken and cool the brown, painting a swatch, letting it dry, mixing in another teaspoon, testing. If you plan to reproduce what you’re doing, for example to mix another batch as I needed to, it is a very clever practice to make notes of what you did.

milk paint- swatches

The first, plain swatch of algonquin went on to (a hidden spot on) the cabinet smoothly and promptly crackled over the orange stain as it dried, so I knew I’d need to use the binder wherever I didn’t want chippy paint! The shade I wanted appeared at about 5 teaspoons of the coal black paint mix to the half-bag amount of algonquin paint. After mixing in roughly half the amount again of the binder, I got to work painting the shopkeeper’s cabinet. About that – soon. If you missed me wrestling this oversized buffet-and-hutch into my studio nook with the assistance of a saw, crowbar, and vinegar, you can see it over here.