Cedar Ring Mama

Taking My Cues From Mother Earth


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Dyeing Silk With Goldenrod (Michaelmas Capes!)

I can remember being annoyed with goldenrod when I first moved to the country.  It really dominates the September landscape, makes it hard to hike through our meadows, has a bad rap for causing allergies (the true culprit is ragweed),and did not seem to have much practical use.  Seven years later, I truly appreciate it- and not just because it dyes silk and wool a lovely, natural yellow- but for its essence and what it represents.  While goldenrod does have medicinal uses, it is also “The Bee Gold Rush”- offering our friends, the bees, a magnificent feast just when they need it most- before a long, cold winter.  While I am busy canning tomatoes and freezing corn, the bees are stocking up their larder with goldenrod nectar.

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If you spend some time with plants- meditating on them, sitting amongst them- I think it is possible to get a feeling for their work and purpose.  Goldenrod is a very giving, humble, and yet glorious plant. It is as though it has soaked up an entire summer of sun and then reflects it back to the world, standing tall and yet head modestly, slightly bowed- gathering all along the roadsides to greet passers by and create a celebratory gold-lined path on many of our country roads. It is also anti-inflammatory and diuretic, having a number of uses as a healing herb.

In Julia Grave’s incredible book The Language of Plants: A Guide to the Doctrine of Signatures, she talks about the difference between “a single, showy flower” and “a group of flowers giving an impression as if they were one flower.” The latter “often have to do with our comportment in groups, or the unification of all our sub-parts, of self”.  In North American goldenrod, single flowers are grouped into little flowers which are then additionally grouped into a rod.  This is a “double grouping process”

“It is the flower essence for children who seek attention from the group by acting in a negative way. It will enable them to act in harmony with the group without needing negative attention… In whichever variation, grouped flowers play on the theme of the individual versus the larger human context.”

Julia also talks about the significance of the order in which a flower blooms.

“Most flowers along spikes bloom from the bottom up… they open their lowest flowers first… it is remarkable that Goldenrod blooms from above down… The whole gesture is one of preparing to go in after the outward gesture of summer... Blooming with a gesture of a warm glowing candle that burns downward, Goldenrod speaks of bringing in the energy.”

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When I see goldenrod now, I see a living, vibrant metaphor of my place in the cycle of the seasons; I remember to check in with myself and often find the busyness of autumn is truly burning my candle low, and I feel the stirrings of anticipation for the slower pace of winter.

To dye with it, you want only the blossoms, as leaves and stems will contribute a greenish tone to your dye pot. You can use the blossoms fresh or dried.  It is time consuming to strip the blossoms from the stems, so find a pleasant spot or some pleasant company and settle in!

Prior to dyeing your silk, you may wish to mordant it. This ensures the color stays vibrant and your dye job does not fade or rinse out. Some people use vinegar as a mordant, but I find alum to be more effective and the safest of the mordants.  Common consensus is to use 1/4 the weight of the item to be dyed worth of alum, and in my dye pot I generally do a few yards of silk with 1 tablespoon of alum and 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar.  Handle the alum carefully (do not inhale or eat!). It is also well-advised to have a reserved dye pot and not use your pot for cooking edibles if you use mordants in it. Enamelware pots (like those typically used for canning) make great dye pots.

To mordant your silk, add the alum and cream of tartar and enough water to completely cover your silk, with extra for evaporation, and let dissolve.  Then heat the water to a gentle simmer (do not boil- may ruin the sheen of the silk!) and allow the silk to soak for an hour.  Now, remove from heat and let soak overnight. When cooled, ring out but do not rinse. You can allow it to sit in a cool place for a few days and this will “set” the silk all the more.

The day before you dye, you’ll want to put your blossoms in the dye pot with enough water to cover the blossoms and silk you intend to use (do not add silk yet though), and extra to account for evaporation. Bring blossoms and water to a boil for 20 minutes; remove from heat and allow to soak overnight. You may wish to add tumeric or marigold if you would like a more vibrant yellow; I usually add a few petals of this flower (not sure of the name) that shoots up each year in our garden to herald September.

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Strain the flowers and add your silk to the pot (and perhaps some natural wool felt or natural roving if you wish!). Heat, but do not boil (this damages the sheen of the silk), stir well to distribute dye evenly and be sure silk is not folded up as this will effect dye distribution. After an hour, remove from heat and allow to cool.

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Rinse and dry- all done!

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Don’t forget to dry some goldenrod for later.  It will cheer you up and remind you of Indian summer during the dark winter.

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If you are dyeing a large piece of silk as I did for our nature table, this is a great tutorial on hand-hemming silk. If you are dying a pre-hemmed 35″ square silk and wish to turn it into a cape, you can simply tie two corners to fasten the cape or get fancy and fold one edge down about an inch or so, sew in place, and thread a finger-knitted yellow chain through the “sleeve” for a tie.


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Beeswax Flower Candle Tutorial and Giveaway

Ahhh… new colors in beeswax sheets!  I just ordered more for my shop, and could not resist playing with them myself.  Many people think of rolled candles when they think of beeswax sheets; but their flexibility and the natural stickiness of the wax lend them to so many creative possibilities beyond a simple taper! So, roll up your sleeves and get ready for a little candle art.

To make stunning beeswax flower candles, gather up a few supplies…

  • Candleholders (I used the brass holders that fit in birthday rings and advent spirals)
  • Cutting Board
  • Knife and/or Scissors
  • Wooden Skewer
  • Wick
  • Flower Cookie Cutters (check out the baking/cake making section of the craft store)
  • Beeswax Sheets (greens for stems and leaves; bright flower colors for petals)
  • A Cute Helper

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Start cutting out your beeswax flower shapes.  You may want to help your child choose the most judicious spacing of where to cut, so you have the least amount of scraps.  Scraps can be saved and melted down for future candle making- I like to use little molds like this and make floating candles for special occasions in a rainbow of colors.

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After pressing down firmly on the first side, carefully flip your sheet over and press the wax downward over the cutter to ensure a clean cut.

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Now carefully pop your shape out.

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We were able to get six petals per sheet, which was perfect for one flower.

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For the butterflies, I used two beeswax sheets (ten cut-outs).

To make the flower stems, cut sheets of green in different lengths.  We used a variety of sizes ranging from 3.5 to 7 inches, so they could be close together without bumping against each other like they would if they were all the same height.  I also used a variety of greens on the stems- dark, medium, and light. If you make the stems too tall, they are likely to crack when you press down on them to attach the flowers (unless perhaps you decide to make the stems thicker than we did).

When rolling candles, you want the wax to be nice and warm, so it is flexible and does not crack.  I kept a pot of water simmering on the stove and held my stem wax over it for a few seconds til it felt a little floppy. Once properly flexible, you can press your wick down at one edge and roll tightly.

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Keep your candle holder of choice nearby, so you can check the diameter of the candle to ensure a snug fit.  Leave a long tail on your wick, as you will need to thread your petals with it.

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I rolled until the candle was slightly thicker than the holder.  Then, using two fingers, press the wax together to condense it enough to squeeze it into the holder.  A tight fit is better than a loose fit… no need to set the neighborhood on fire, right?

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Next, grab your wooden skewer and poke a hole through the center of your petal cut outs.  I do them one at a time, then match the first to the second to line them up and so on, to ensure the holes are all uniform and the petals will be centered well when threaded onto the wick.

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Start threading your petals onto the wick, one at a time.  If the wick end gets frayed, just rub your fingers on some beeswax sheet scraps and then smooth the wick with your waxy fingers; it should help the wick thread easier.

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Once you’ve threaded all the petals on, carefully yet firmly press the center of petals down.  You want them to stick firmly, without pressing so hard that the stem bends or cracks.  When the petals are attached, you can begin to gently curve the top layers upward and the bottom layers downward to give them their layered petal look.

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If you like, shape a leaf with your knife or scissors and press onto the stem. 🙂

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For the butterfly, place your cutouts in to equal stacks.  Cut two small pieces of wick just long enough for the candle and antennae.

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Press the second stack onto the first firmly, squishing the middle a bit.  Then, carefully separate the layers a little, so the wings look as if they are fluttering in flight.

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These make wonderfully festive candles for a birthday ring!

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Couldn’t resist breaking out a birthday spiral too.  Since today is my birthday. 😉

Which means… we need to celebrate!

So… I’m doing a giveaway! It includes…

  • One of these lovely, locally made spirals.  Handcrafted by an Amish neighbor, they utilize a variety of woods to give them a unique, dual-tone effect 
  • 12 brass candleholders and twelve Grimm’s decorations of your choice!
  • A gold 35″ silk from Sarah’s Silks
  • A Create-Your-Own-Assortment Beeswax Sheet Kit with 12 beeswax sheets in your choice of colors, so you can try your hand at some flower candles (or whatever your heart desires!). 

Entry is open to US residents… please leave ONE comment to enter, and if you share on social media, don’t forget to tell me in your comment and you get 3 extra entry points for each share!

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Giveaway closes on Sunday night, May 18th at midnight. 

And the winner is Gabi- “Happy birthday to you! Lovely giveaway…can’t wait!”

Congratulations, Gabi 🙂


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Needle Felting Tutorial, Giveaway, and Shop Sale!

After my last outing in the woods, I was inspired by the Trout Lily.  I set to work creating a trout lily fairy using a new needle-felting technique from the Ashford Book of Needle-Felting, which involves using water soluable fabric stabilizer to create stand-alone layers of needle-felt that can be thin and wispy, or thicker, as needed. I pinned a lily petal template to the stabilizer carefully (it is super thin!).

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Next, I pinned the stabilizer pattern to my foam block, like so…

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And set to work needle-felting into the stabilizer.

Next, I cut small lengths of the thinnest craft wire I could find and turned the ends in with round nose pliers, like so… carefully centering the wire lengths, one for each petal.

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I needle-felted another layer over the wire, to embed it within the petal.

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After the pattern was completely felted, I flipped it over and carefully felted at a sideways angle (so as not to create more wisps on the first side if it begins to stick to the foam block again) to smooth out the “wrong side”, being careful not to poke the wire inside.

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Next, I dipped it in water, lightly swishing for a moment til the stabilizer was dissolved.  Don’t worry if you can see the wire; it will become more opaque as the wool dries.

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Drying!

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When fully dry, I clipped fuzzy edges and shaped the petals by carefully bending the wire inside after felting the two edges together and adding a bit of green for the petal base. For the magic wool fairy how to, visit my post here for links to my youtube magic wool fairy video.

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What do you think… does she remind you of a trout lily? She is looking for a home or nature table to watch over… will it be yours? For a chance to win her & a copy of Ashford’s wonderful Needle-Felting Book, please browse through my newly stocked shop, and leave me a comment here letting me know you visited… or share this post and leave a comment letting me know you did for another chance!

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…AND THERE’S A SHOP SALE…

To celebrate getting the store stocked up, select items are BUY 3 GET 1 Free: Small Bolga Market Baskets (not other styles or sizes), books, roving, peg people, individual wool felt sheets (any blend), individual stick crayons, and individual sheets of decorating wax, modelling wax, and beeswax candle sheets.

Sale and giveaway end Thursday, May 30th.

I’ll be back with a new project by then- I’m trying my hand at butterfly wings using this technique, can’t wait to finish them and show you!


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Enjoying “Ollie’s Ski Trip” and Ollie Doll Tutorial

We’ve been using Elsa Beskow’s wonderful books to supplement our kindergarten time, and this week we are reading Ollie’s Ski Trip.  With a fresh snow blanketing the world in white this morning, I was inspired to make a little wool roving Ollie to kick off our adventures in his story.

First, I took a piece of roving and formed a ball, leaving a tail- this will be the head and upper body.  Next, a thin piece of roving tied under the “head” serves as a neck.  After tying it and wrapping the loose ends around, I poked them a bit with the needle to keep them in place. Just click on the pictures to enlarge them a bit if they are showing up too small in your browser.  Also, you can see some of these steps in the first few video tutorials I posted last time for Magic Wool Fairies.

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Next, I took half a pipe cleaner minus 1 inch (save the other piece of half plus 1 inch for the legs!) and wrapped it once under the neck for arms.  I curled the ends of the arms in a bit to keep the hands from being poky (the end of the pipe cleaner is sharp) and to make them thicker to look more like hands.  Then I wrapped thin strips of roving around the arms, shoulders, and upper body to fill it in and give it the contours of a human body. Next, I separated the “tail” hanging from the upper body into two pieces- back and front- and then divided each of these into two, with the inner back and inner front serving as two “strings” to tie around the piece of pipe cleaner left over after making the arms. The leg pipe cleaner is folded in half of course…

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Next I took the hanging pieces of roving and wrapped them around the legs.  I folded the pipe cleaner “feet” just as I did the hands.  I wrapped the feet in white and black roving to look like Ollie’s boots and socks, and tied bits of red embroidery thread to mimic the ties on his legs.  Then I added some blue roving pants, wrapping and poking until they fit just right.

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I set Ollie on a piece of paper and traced a coat for him.  I made sure to cut the wool felt a bit larger than the actual tracing to leave room for his three-dimensionality.  I wrapped his hands in white mittens with a red border, and sewed his little coat right on.

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Next I added some hair, and “measured” him for his hat with a piece of paper.  I cut the paper in two and added some shaping to it, as a pattern for the felt hat he would wear.  Next time I won’t make the pieces quite so triangular in top, but it still turned out pretty well…

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I sewed the hat wrong side out, turned it right side out, and needle-felted it to his head by adding a circle of wrapped roving around the border (just like Ollie’s hat has a thick rim) and poking it through the felt and securely to his head.  I topped it with a tiny ball of roving.  Be careful!  Hard not to poke yourself with such a tiny ball.  Lastly, I gave him a face.  It was my first attempt at a face, using black and red roving in tiny quantities for eyes and mouth and a tuft of skin tone as a nose for the face.  My kids like the face, but I think I prefer him without one… what do you think?OllieTut6

The final touch was to hot glue his feet to popsicle stick “skis” and toothpick ski poles.

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For Christmas, the children got a collection of Arctic animals from Ostheimer, and we used them to reenact some of the Ollie scenes.  King Winter, gifted last year by my friend Mama West Wind, has a castle guarded by polar bears and a throne guarded by walruses.

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They enjoyed playing for a while…

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Until we headed outside to build a real snow castle for Ollie.

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Then we went inside and I had a cup of hot cocoa with my favorite little people. 😉 Our “natural” recipe is 1/4 cup of organic cocoa, a pinch of salt, and 1 cup of water heated til it begins to boil.  Then we pour in 3 cups of organic raw milk, 3 TBSP honey, and bring just to the point before boiling.  We remove it from the heat and mix in 1/2 tsp vanilla.  MMMmm!

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