Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Life Cycle of a Blue Jean Rag Rug

Actually, I'm not going to show you the complete life cycle of a blue jean rag rug. I suspect most of you are familiar enough with the intended use of jeans that I don't have to go over that. 

But once they're worn out...

First I fillet the jeans--I cut away everything but the front and back leg panels. A friend uses pockets for her creations, so she and I trade bits of jeans that we don't want. I discard any leg panels that are extremely stained or worn. 

Because I like a lot of different color sprinkled throughout my rugs, I obsessively lay out random colors and work around a circle. I figure I'm getting some exercise at the same time. 

The Fraser rag cutter is primarily meant to cut narrow wool strips for hooked wool rugs, but I find it works very well for my purposes, too. The strips fall into a box on the floor, and I mix them up in the box as I cut.

Then I (or my dear mother) sew them end to end to make one very long chain of blue jeans strips. Each seam has to be clipped and trimmed.

Once the sewing, clipping and trimming is finished, I wind the long strips on to shuttles, and begin weaving. This is my favorite part of the process. I love seeing how the colors work together as the rug is created.

My two Union looms are very basic, sturdy machines--perfect for rug weaving.

When I cut the rug off the loom (carefully!), I sew each end three times for strength and stability. The blue jeans are now ready for stage two of their lives. I have rewoven old blue jean rugs after many years. The warp (string) eventually gives out, but the blue jeans seem to last forever.

The traditions of thrift and frugality live on in rag weaving. The old saying, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without," could be the theme here. We could all stand to reuse a bit more, to take the pressures off the landfills.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Kerstmarkt is Open!

Each year during Kerstmarkt (an outdoor, European-style Christmas market) we are so focused that I neglect the blog. This year I wanted to give you some pictures of what we have made to bring to the market. We are busy all year long making these items. 

My mom and one of our daughters make these mittens from recycled wool sweaters. Yes, many people make this style of mitten, but ours are especially well-made and cute!

The famous sock-maker has been very focused on his task. His mom and one of our nieces did a huge batch of dyeing this fall. Despite his head-start, the shoppers are quick to snap them up.

This year I have a decent stock of rugs for the market. I make these rugs the traditional way--by cutting recycled fabric into strips, sewing them together, and weaving them into rugs on a loom. The one in the right foreground on the top is made from blue jeans. I cannot keep blue jean rugs in stock. They are very durable and beautiful.

We offer our heirloom beans for sale. These make great gifts for the foodies in your family.

We also offer wool socks in more basic colors, made at a Michigan mill out of our wool. Recycled wool sweater hats, scarves and headbands are available, as well as ornaments for your tree. We bring along a limited supply of wool roving for spinning, felting kits for that crafty person on your list, and some hand-dyed yarn.

We are only open four more days:

Friday, 12/5, 3-8pm
Saturday, 12/6, 9am-5pm
Friday, 12/12, 3-8pm
Saturday, 12/13, pam-5pm

Hope to see you at the Kerstmarkt!

(Just a note--while we are at the Kerstmarkt, our farm shop is not open.)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Part-Time Job

The past few weeks, The Farmer has been milking cows for another farmer each weekday morning. The dairy farmer is dealing with a bad back, and can't do it himself. There are at least three other guys helping out, too, covering nights and weekends. It's hard to think about the sole proprietor being laid up in any line of work, but dairy farming is one of the most relentless jobs out there. We feel for our friend, who planned to work five or so more years before retiring. Now what? He waits for the results of tests...

The other day I read a New York Times op-ed piece titled "Don't Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Farmers," quite obviously a play on the country music song, "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys." The author got my attention early in the article when he said: "The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn't making a living." And then he went on to share statistics from 2012 that show that the median annual farm income is negative $1,453. That means that half the farmers are making more than that, and half are making less.

That reminded me of conversations I've had with other farmers about whether or not they might need to take an off-farm job "to support the farm," or quit altogether.

Our dairy farmer friend has a wife that worked full-time for years. I hold a part-time job myself that allows us to take less from the farm in income. Many farmers work a day job and then come home to their second job.

Granted, most people can't seem to make enough to support a family on one income today. It's not just farmers that struggle with this. But the next time you ask someone how many acres they own and then gasp at the answer, remember that acres owned are not a measure of financial health. The next time I speak to you about farmland preservation and you go off about how farmers have everything handed to them, dig a little to get to the economic reality. And the next time you ask me if you can have a discount if you buy two bags of beans, watch me closely. You may see me swallow and pause just a bit as I remember the back-breaking time that both sets of our "retired" parents put in out in the field this summer.

In the meantime, it looks like two of us now have part-time jobs.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Corn Is In!

I've been dreadfully neglectful of blogging this summer/fall. Something about being so busy doing that I don't have time to document (with a little writer's block sprinkled in, if I'm honest).

If you ride through our corner of the world, you'll find quite a bit of corn still in the fields. In fact, off to the left in this photo, you see another farmer's corn still standing. We know how it is to leave corn in the field for the winter, as we did it just last year. It's not good at all. You lose a bit to gravity, and you lose a lot to wildlife.

We finished harvesting our corn on October 31 this year. None too soon, either, as it was about two weeks later that we got our first snow. Many of the farmers are poised to start combining again as soon as the weather permits, but they will be battling either snow or mud.

There were more photos of the combining process, but all were blurry. Something about the vibration of the huge machine... and perhaps the dirt on the front window.

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