Tapping In and Warping Up

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We are waiting for our third snowstorm in two weeks. Even so, the air, light, and birdsong feel like spring. Our earliest seedlings–onions and leeks–are lined up in front of the upstairs southern window, with kale, chard, lettuce, and peppers soon to follow. And this year, we were even more aware of signs of spring because we tapped maples for syrup.

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The sap has been running for several weeks and there’s such a good flow this year that we actually have too much to use. We only tapped three trees and one–the big house-side maple that turns brilliant crimson in the fall–had such thick bark that we didn’t drill deep enough and gave about a third of the amount of sap of the other two. But, even so, we are drowning in sap.

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The dogs love to go gather the sap.

On our first boil, we used our lobster pot on the grill-side burner outside. It is supposed to take about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so it has to boil for a long time. A very long time.

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We finished it off on our kitchen stove indoors.

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We ended up with about a quart and a half of syrup on the first boil.

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We decided to do all of the second boil on our kitchen stove. It was much faster and we can use the added moisture in the air.

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Our trees are red maple rather than sugar maple and the syrup has a distinctive vanilla-like flavor different than commercial syrup. Since we have so much sap, I’ve been drinking it. Delicious.

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Right from the bucket with its own ice.

Aside from gathering sap, gathering wood, and our usual walks, we have been enjoying the last of winter’s snowbound inside days. As soon as the snow melts, we’ll be out pruning , readying the gardens, and starting building projects.

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I have loved the inside time.  I made a small quilt to cover the couch for the dogs.

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Note the wine for basting.

But I spent most of my winter blissfully spinning, restoring wheels, and weaving–for the first time in decades.

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George resurrected my old loom.

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The poor thing has been stored for about 40 years.

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Before.

He made a new square beam, tightened up joints and glued a break, and made new dowel pieces for the sectional beam.

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I made a new apron and replaced the old cords and tie ups with texsolv, a wonderful easy system using eye-looped cords and plastic pegs.

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It’s a unique and wonderful little loom. The woman I bought it from in the 1970s said that her grandfather made it for her grandmother early in the 1900s.

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The loom was thoughtfully made, and includes lights conveniently placed front and back. When George brought the lights in to have the wiring brought up to code, we found that one of the lightbulbs had a tungsten filament and dated from the 1920s. It’s still working.

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Even the light clamp looks like it’s from the 20s

I had forgotten how much I love to weave.

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Unlike some weavers, I enjoy all of the preparation steps–

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winding the warp,

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threading the reed and heddles,

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and seeing the neat warp all wound on, miraculously untangled and ready to weave.

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For this first weave, I made twill dish towels, without any set color or treadling pattern, just experimenting with both.

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Ready to hem and clip the strays

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I also took some Soay yarn that I have been spinning and did a quick sample, thinking I might use it in my next project. But I liked it so much that I wove enough to cover the seat in my spinning chair. Soay sheep shed their wool in lumps rather than being shorn, and the wool is fine and crimpy but with lots of short strands and little clumps.

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I spun it nubbly, thinking it might look interesting in a traditional twill, and was surprised at how much I liked it in this rosepath twill.

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My wheel herd continues to grow bigger and I have all of them spinning. Now to find new homes for some of the rescues.

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Our aggressive male bluebird continues to plague us daily. He continued to attack the windows even on the most frigid winter days. I wish we could have him neutered.

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51 thoughts on “Tapping In and Warping Up

    • After years of working, when I didn’t have time to do so many of the things I Iove, I am reveling in having sweet uninterrupted time to just spin and weave.

    • I will miss the slower rhythm of winter, but am itching to get my hands in the soil again. Visions of gardens are dancing in my head. I hope everything’s going well for you as you approach fall.

      • We have started autumn with lots of rain. That is, maybe, good as the norm for here is dry during winter, from about April to August.

    • Thanks Beth. I have become absolutely fascinated by antique spinning wheels and fiber tools. There are some lovely wheels down in your part of the country, by the way. I’m afraid on our next trip down there, I will be haunting antique stores. When you think about how much work and sap go into a bottle of syrup, it’s amazing that it doesn’t cost a lot more.

  1. I love every single thing about this post (except, possibly the bluebird, although he’s kind of cute from this distance). My cousins have a sugar house and have been talking about the abundant sap this season. I haven’t just drunk the sap since I was a kid, though, so that brought back great memories. We boiled sap in a sugar house on our farm but my grandmother took the syrup down to “sugar on snow” consistency on the kitchen stove–the humidity! And, of course, I’m very excited to see your loom and weaving! The loom is wonderful–such an intriguing amalgam of old and new. I like thinking of you and me, weaving together, but apart!

    • Trust me, the bluebird stopped being cute about 9 months ago. I can’t believe that I went so long without weaving. I hauled the loom all over the country with me, but never had the space or time to get it repaired and set up. I didn’t realize just what a sweet little loom it is until I wove on some others recently. It is quite a little machine for its tiny footprint. Now, I hope to always have a project in my head or on the loom and I’m already thinking of a second, larger loom. Long may we continue to weave together, but apart! I can’t wait to see more of your projects. I’m still on the wait list for Vavstuga, but keeping my fingers crossed.

  2. You certainly have had a productive, creative winter. No wonder you don’t mind the snowy days. Beautiful work!

    • The political storms intrude everywhere, but it is nice to be able to turn off all the noise once in awhile and become immersed in something timeless like spinning and weaving. Think of all the political nonsense my old spinning wheels have outlasted!

  3. I’m so impressed with your industriousness! All your work seems so lovingly done. Nice chair, both your new woven seat cover and the wood itself.
    Hard to believe spring is in the offing, this winter seems to go on and on. At least the snow we’ve been getting has melted between storms. We’ll be scratching in the dirt soon enough!
    You might wish for a passing cooper’s hawk to swoop in on Mr. B! 😉

    • Thanks Eliza, but the funny thing is, I don’t feel the slightest bit industrious. I guess because I get such pleasure out of restoring the wheels, spinning and weaving, and it is so soothing, it feels like I’m just sinking into a lovely dream world.
      I love my little spinning chair. I found it at an antique store down the road. It’s low and has wonderful back support for spinning. Plus, it’s pretty and only cost $25. As with my wheels, I wouldn’t trade it for a new chair for anything.
      Your snow may be melting between storms, but ours hasn’t been. Things are howling outside right now and we are bracing for this latest storm, but the snow hasn’t arrived yet. I hope you stay warm and dry!
      I had hoped that our local eagle might be looking for a tasty blue treat, but no luck so far.

  4. I have a serger that requires four spools of thread. I thought that was complicated. 🙂 It looks like you are certainly settled in and all of your family is doing well. We tapped our own trees for a few years, and that boiling on burners is some kind of project. Maybe you need a sap house next? 🙂

    • No sap house! It is a project boiling down in the house, but the smell is sublime. When are you heading back up north? You are missing all the good nor’easters, you know!

  5. A very interesting post, and what a productive winter you’ve had! How wonderful that a loom made a century ago could be restored by George, and used so skilfully by you to weave, you are a good team. I enjoyed looking at the tapping of the maples for syrup too, and of course, your lovely dogs, ever ready!
    I too, enjoy the restorative nature of winter. Although our winters are so mild in comparison to yours, I enjoy resting and having some quiet time after the heat and activity of summer.

    • I often wonder about the man who built the loom and the woman he built it for. Was it a surprise, with lovingly imagined thoughtful touches, or did she dictate exactly what she wanted? It was well-used in its time and it feels good to get it weaving again.
      The dogs adore the snow, so they have had a very good winter. Our latest blizzard is just beginning, and we are, once again, readying for more than a foot of snow.

  6. What can I say after reading and viewing your photos! The beauty of the wood; the process of restoration; the preservation of an art form that women have used for centuries; the harmony with nature; the lovely quilt for the dogs – all of it is just amazing and a joy to read.

    • Thanks Beth. One of the reasons I enjoy restoring the old textile tools is the pleasure in bringing back the incredible beauty of the wood. It feels pretty good to remove layers of grime and discover that there is beautiful glowing wood underneath. Some has exquisite grain or ray flecks and I wonder if some of the pieces were chosen for their beauty. Some of the makers were quite whimsical, too. I have a clock reel that has a mouse for its arm. If only we knew more about the makers.

  7. Lovely to read a post from you, Brenda. Your weaving is beautiful (love the pattern in those dishtowels) and the dogs’ quilt is lovely. Life with your loom, wheels, maple-tapping and those gorgeous dogs sounds extremely good.
    PS Re the pesky bluebird, have you thought of getting a cat?!

    • Thanks Sam. It’s been a very satisfying and relaxing winter. We have thought of a cat–not for the bird–but for the mice and chipmunks that continue to do damage to our vehicles. But my husband isn’t really a cat person and our son is allergic to them, so I think we are going to stick to dogs for now. We took down the birdhouses in hopes that he would go elsewhere, but so far it just seems to upped his aggressiveness another notch. “HOW DARE YOU!” I’ve never seen anything like this bird.

  8. I remember the first time we tapped our ‘Birch’ trees for sap…. my friend and I held up a glass of crystal clear liquid and looked at each other trying to decide who would be the Ginny-pig turned out I lost but after that first sip I knew I won. It indeed took many hours to cook down the syrup but in the end after we added some local blueberry juice we had an uniquely Alaskan treat. Thanks for reviving the memories.

    • You’re welcome. I never tapped birch when we lived in Alaska, but we could do so here, having some large birches on our land. It might be interesting next year to tap both birch and maple. I’ll raise a glass of sap to your memories tonight!

  9. It was so interesting reading about the maple sap, I didn’t realise you could drink it too! You have been so busy inside, and it must been so rewarding to produce something from your loom. Those are lovely dish towels! Looking forward to seeing what else you will produce. Sarah x

    • I was thinking of you and Bridport recently. One of my spinning wheels has unusual wear marks on the spokes and on an online antique wheel group, we have been trying to figure out what might have caused them. The wheel is from a fishing area in Nova Scotia and we wondered whether the spokes could have been used somehow for making rope or net out of flax tow. Someday, I want to go to your Bridport museum. The dishtowels are part linen, by the way. At some point, I will be weaving something out of the flax that I am now spinning.

  10. Hi. I have to tell you how impressed I am with your spinning and all that you have accomplished this winter. The seat you made for the chair in rosepath twill is beautiful. You have an amazing gift!

    • I appreciate your kind words, but you totally overestimate me. The type of weaving I do is quite straightforward and doesn’t really require any giftedness on my part. I’d say attention to detail and a patient pleasure in each part of the weaving process are my biggest assets in being a weaver. But, thanks for the compliment!

      • Attention to detail and a patient pleasure definitely work well for you. By applying them, you end up with amazing results. on good days, I try to apply those same traits to photography.

  11. Hello again, Brenda. I came back for another look at your blog, drawn here by several things: the images of the work you have been doing over the winter, the simplicity of your blog theme, and your dogs. They make me smile. For years we have had dogs in our home, most notably a springer spaniel we lost to old age and infirmity last September. Currently we are “boarding” our daughter’s sheep dog as they search for a new home or property on which to build, and we are enjoying her company. For the past eight months, I have been an inactive blogger, and I’m trying to pick up the pace, become a “regular” once again, and rejuvenate my blog. If you wouldn’t mind telling me the name of the theme you use for your blog, I would be interested in trying it out.

    • I’m becoming a pretty inactive blogger myself! The blog theme is Twenty Eleven. Your daughter’s dog, Mabel, looks as if she’s very happy at your home. All that trail walking must agree with her. Your bird photos are gorgeous. Too bad I can’t ship our bluebird out to Ohio. You’d be welcome to him–we just want him to go away!

      • Thank you for the reply, Brenda. Your bluebird would be welcome here. We have two empty bluebird nests waiting for him. I am amazed (and amused) by his persistence. The picture you posted of him peering in the window made me smile. Mabel has a brother Cooper, a Portuguese Water Dog. They are temporarily apartment dwellers and couldn’t take both dogs to the apartment, and certainly not one as large as Mabel. She does seem happy here though, and we enjoy her company. Thanks for providing the name of the theme. I like The theme I’ve been using, but feel the need of a little spring cleaning.

  12. What a wonderful post, how I enjoyed it. I could imagine you beavering away, as happy as Larry, cosy and content. I would have loved to have joined you for a glass of wine! I love your recovered chair and dish towels, looking forward to seeing other projects too. That quilt is gorgeous, far too nice for the dogs, mine get old towels. Damn….sorry to hear bullybluebird is back!xxx

    • Thanks. The bully bluebird never left. I have really enjoyed following your blog posts on your trip. It looks like you covered a lot of territory and exotic experiences but I imagine it felt good to get home. You are home, right?

  13. I love the fabrics you have woven, and I can almost taste that maple syrup. I’m interested in your observation about the different taste of the syrup from the red maples. I ran out of maple syrup for my hot breakfast cereal before I was ready to switch over to a more summery breakfast, so I bought a pint of local syrup. It has a distinctly different taste, and I now wonder if it was made from red maple sap.
    I just got out to work in the garden for the first time today. Enough snow has melted that I was able to prune my clematis. I also raked up the leaves that were half-hiding the crocuses that are now blooming near the foundation. I’m definitely ready for spring.

    • Thanks Jean. I attended a workshop on syrup making and was surprised to learn there how varied syrup flavors can be, even from sugar maples, at different times in the season. This year the season was long, with extremes in weather conditions, so that could have affected your local syrup. I believe that most commercial growers shun red maples, but the reds are doing better in Maine than the sugars now, so it’s possible your local syrup had some red maple in it.
      We’re still not getting much gardening done here. Snow remains on most beds and it’s cold!

  14. I love it! The syrup refining looks so delicious, then how you casually just threw together a gorgeous quilt like it was no big thing! Then got back to the loom for more beauty. So good!

    I can’t seem to crochet a blanket without getting wider as I go (even though I don’t add stitches, and actually start taking them out after a few rows!) 🙂

  15. I’m sorry I missed this post. My mother had surgery the day after and I was out of commission as far as going to WordPress! She’s good now and I wondered what you’d been up to. What a pleasurable time you had this winter, rediscovering and renewing. And as for the sap, that lovely smell of sugar!! I’ve never drunk it iced, but I’d like to try it some time.

    • No apologies needed! I’m just barely managing to read other people’s blogs–and most commenting has fallen by the wayside. I’m happy to hear you mother is doing well. Spring has finally arrived here and we are madly trying to get things planted. I keep thinking that I need to do another blog post, but as long as the nice weather holds–I’ll be outside.

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