snowdrifts and snakeskin

Everything looks nice covered with a blanket of snow. Well, except maybe that vinyl tube lawn chair.

Already this winter has given us more snow than we’ve really been accustomed to.  Last year we had a lot of heavy snows and we usually have some snow every winter but not like this.  Today we’re getting snow from what I think is the fourth significant storm already this season and it’s just January 10!

how many bushes were there anyway?

So obviously I can’t get out of here for a few days.  If you have not seen my driveway, allow me to simply say that it is responsible for many a tale of woe, mostly when in it’s icy glacial snow or post-snow state.  I will not be posting pictures of the devilish driveway because the last time I walked down there to check on the condition of the driving surface I slipped on the scary part so you will just have to take my word for it for the time being.

I decided to get to work on an art project. I have been waiting for the chance to get to work on that snakeskin, so here are some pictures of how far I got with it today.

trying to get the scales off

The dry snakeskin was shedding it’s scales.  I found that the easiest way to get them off was to just pass it over my thumb while rubbing them off with my finger.

scales
glue and leather to back the skin with

I had some concerns about the leather, mostly that the grain on the non-smooth side would give me problems, but I definitely wanted the smooth side of the leather out so I decided to go for it and hope for the best.

allowing the two halves to dry to the 'tacky' stage required for contact cement

So I put a thin layer of contact cement on both halves, the back of the snakeskin and the inner suede grain of the leather.  The leather was just a scrap I got out of the bin at Earth Guild.

smoothing the snakeskin onto the leather
waiting for the glue to dry

The problem is that I don’t think I have any grommets or snaps to finish the piece.  It may have to wait until after the snow melts!

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snow days

One good thing about snow days is that you pretty much get forced to do some work. Here at the alchemy lab I’ve been retooling our labels and making some Seven Deadly Sins samplers. Can’t wait to show everyone the new packaging idea!

Also we poured up the yellow root tincture and I am testing the bundle of yellowroot to see if any dye remains in the sticks. I’m trying it on my police line scarf, the yellow has faded from that one a lot. We’ll see. If it doesn’t do much I may throw in some turmeric.

AND, I’ve almost finished another police line scarf…if noone buys it before Saturday I’ll have it at my booth at the Madison County Arts Council Holiday sale, at the Arts Council building on Main Street in Marshall.

Looks like I will be making a snakeskin project for my Design Project. I am looking for the right kind of glue to use on snakeskin. I have not decided what I am going to make but it will probably be something simple since I have never worked with snakeskin before.

my first actual wildcrafted tincture-yellowroot

I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about native (and not-so-native) plants here for a while. It is a ridiculously complex endeavor, and though I’ve gone on many wild plant walks and such at various gatherings I still feel like a novice.  I am feeling ready for more intensive study of woodslore in my life, and I was recently spurred on by how I was able to go camping, find a plant I had been looking for, spontaneously recognize it with no hesitation, determine that there was plenty growing in the area so it was safe to harvest some for myself, dig it up, and bring it home to make tincture.

Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera camping.  I was so excited to be getting away from home that I didn’t feel like turning back to get it.

Here are pictures of the tincture making process though.

my bundle of yellowroot

Yellowroot is used for dye, yellow, obviously.  It also contains a high concentration of berberine, one of the active components in goldenseal.  Since I like using goldenseal for what ails me, I get good results with it, I want to see how yellowroot works.  I love every aspect of the herb gathering and preparation.

I cut the roots off the plant when I harvested them, and brought the bundle home.

the roots, all shredded up

We cut the roots up with a variety of tools.  I cut some of them up with the kitchen shears, we used the pruners to cut some of it, and the really tough bits went into the (cleaned out, of course) coffee grinder.

just added the vodka to the roots

I bought a mid-priced vodka, because I just couldn’t bring myself to buy the cheapest kind, even though it would be fine.  I have heard you can make tinctures with glycerin too, but have never tried any that were prepared that way.  I used an ear ache medicine for one of my kids years ago that was glycerin based, I imagine it’s about like that.

this has been steeping for a few days

I have been keeping this jar in a cabinet where it stays dark most of the time.  I will keep it like this for about 6 weeks and then strain the tincture and transfer it to small brown glass bottles, and they’ll be ready to use.

Fun with chemistry in the soap lab

cold process soap in the gel phase

Cold process soap goes through an interesting chemical reaction an hour or even longer after you pour it up into the mold.  If you keep the soap from cooling off quickly by keeping it wrapped in a blanket or otherwise insulated, it will heat back up and almost liquefy into this gel. It starts in the center of the mold and moves outward in a circle until the whole mold is full of gel phase soap. Then it hardens back up in a reverse pattern, outside in. It’s weird.

A guy who stopped by my booth told me he made soap with honey that heated up way more than typical gel phase. I haven’t made much soap with honey, only a few batches. I am going to look into the chemistry of that soon.

why yes, it is real snakeskin

poor mr. snake

We went to the Laurel last week and met with a woman who had just killed this snake.  I have no idea why, it was really small and non-threatening, but you know some people just can’t let things that freak them out slither away.  So, I asked her if she was going to use it, and she gave it to me.

scissors work well for cutting open a snake

I’ve never done anything with a dead snake before, but when my pocketknife failed to produce the desired effect, I decided to use scissors.  Worked like a charm.

peeling the snake open

Once I got the skin split down the length of the snake, I gutted it.  It was pretty much just like gutting a fish, much easier than a chicken for sure.

peeling the skin off

After I cut off the head, I worked the skin off at that point and it was really easy to peel it off the rest of the snake.  If it had been a bigger snake I might’ve decided to eat the meat, but it looked like it would really be more trouble than it was worth.

see, not much meat

So, I already knew that I could preserve snakeskin with glycerin and alcohol, both of which are common household items for me…I have glycerin for soapmaking purposes, but I understand that it is quite pricey if you don’t buy it in quantity from the soap supply.  Anyway, after a quick online search I found that you can use isopropyl alcohol, it doesn’t need to be denatured, so we were good to go.  It’s a half and half solution.  I just eyeballed it, I didn’t measure.  I poured the isopropyl in first and then the glycerin.  This is my attempt at a picture showing the two before they became one.

probably just looks like clear liquid, ack

Hey!  you can see where the line was.  Well, sort of.  I think the white line is the top of the counter as refracted (is that what I mean?  someone will tell me) in the liquid, but you can clearly see there is some swirly action there in there.  I think if I had waited, the two substances would’ve made a uniform substance on their own, but I stirred them up.

it wanted to float, which is why the skewer is in there

So, at first the skin bobbed out a little, so I wrangled it down with a skewer.  After it soaked up some of the solution it was okay, so I put the lid on the jar and waited three days.

We went for a nice long hike at Mill Ridge one of those days.

butterflies mating

We saw these butterflies mating, too, and I had to snap a picture.  I’m surprised it turned out so well.

stretching day

After three days we get to stretch the skin.  I was surprised at how it really has to be stretched.  It was wiggly and puckered.

wiggly and puckered, see?

All that I had to do now was pin it down and work more pure glycerin into it.

stretching the snakeskin and pinning it
the fully pinned down skin
rubbing glycerin into the pinned skin

So now I have to wait until tomorrow, and then it’s supposed to be finished, according to everything I’ve read about it.  I am thinking of making a choker necklace from it, since it is not a really big skin, but I would like some other ideas if you have any.  I’d like to have it completed before I go to the Firefly gathering so I can show it off to my fellow primitive skills enthusiasts.  I am really excited about this! so if you see a dead snake in the road or something, I’d love to have it.  I know only a true friend who really really loves me, or someone who’s just as much of a weirdo, I guess, will pick up roadkill for me, but if it’s a big enough snake to use it’s vertebrae as beads, I’ll make you something pretty with them.  Promise!  I haven’t proceeded to other forms of road kill yet so, hold off on the possums and raccoons for now.  If you see a fox, though, I might just accelerate my learning for one of those.  Yes, I know they spell possum with an o at the beginning but that’s just wrong.

jewelweed soap and what it led to

This is the flower of the jewelweed that grows in our front yard. Some varieties are more yellow, less orange.  Jewelweed is useful as a poison ivy remedy and I like to make soap with the pulp in it in summer.

patch of jewelweed (and others)
wineberries

When I was out harvesting jewelweed, I came across an unpicked hidden surprise wineberry vine

jewelweed stems look sort of powdery blue

So when using jewelweed for poison ivy, what you want is the pulp inside the stems.  I like to look for big jewelweed plants with big nodes, because the nodes have a big chunk of the pulp in them.

Later in the summer they get even bigger and we will harvest them and freeze the pulp for next spring.

this bowl of wineberries is what I harvested from inside the jewelweed patch, minus the ones I ate while picking

After I harvested the berries and jewelweed I decided to take a few pictures of stuff that’s going on outside at our place before heading inside to get to work (Actually I had already started the batch of soap cooking in the slowcooker)

first praying mantis
upside down tomatoes
volunteer egg gourd

So, now back to work.  We split open the stalks and scrape out the pulp.

split open node and stalk section
nodes have a lot of pulp
I use an old grapefruit spoon to get the pulp out
jewelweed pulp in a jar
the soap overflowed!

This is the first time I’ve used the slow cooker to cook soap.  I guess I need to cut my recipe down so it doesn’t overflow like this next time.  I cook the soap that I make into jewelweed and other herbal soaps to protect the properties of the herb from the chemical reaction of the lye.  I will add the pulverized jewelweed pulp to the soap at the end of the cook and incorporate it with a stick blender.

cabbage water ph indicator

purple cabbage water is a ph indicator.  I decided to make some as a little experiment.

cabbage water turned green by soap on spoon

I don’t think the cabbage water ever shows a neutral color for soap.  Just a little aside experiment.

the jewelweed pulp being pulverized with the stick blender
adding the pulp to the soap
adding essential and superfatting oils

I add essential oils to scent the soap with a calming scent, and a little shea oil to soften up the soap that has been cooking for so long.

stick blendering it together
into a cardboard box mold
in it's mold waiting to be sold