Category Archives: quilts

‘Tis the season…

I’m having a moment of old computer functionality again…

This is a wrap up (mostly for my own memory notes) of things of late.

The garden is officially done – we ate baby beets and their greens for Thanksgiving and again a week or so ago.

holiday-beets

The baby carrots went down the hatches of all of us a week or so ago too.

And just in time – we had a bitter cold snap last week followed by a shellacking of ice.

Our Thanksgiving on the actual day was a pleasant gluttonous one with just the two of us and a bunch of delicious Italian courses – including ravioli with squash and sage from the garden.

holiday-ravioli

Then we traveled to the family one a week later for an Eastern European version.

(I can’t remember the last time I had turkey and mash potatoes et al, and that’s just the way I like it.)

Rocco has been on much better behavior in some areas – Thanksgiving happened without a single counter-surfing incident since he’s learned to sit in “his spot” just outside the kitchen when we’re in there.

(Step away, however, and anything is still up for grabs.)

holiday-rocco

We also had a little jaunt up the Hudson to see Andrew Bird in an old music hall and stayed in a great Airbnb with a view of the new and old Tappan Zee, only it was frigid, so I didn’t take advantage of the balcony…

holiday-tarrytown

I’ve been meaning to do a wrap-up of all of the works-in-progress I’ve got going on, as this time of the year I’m usually in the mood to bang out/wrap up/undo and move on, but when I go to dig them out, I end up working on them a bit because I could check them off if they’re done, but they’re never as close to being done as I think they are.

(Or I have a marathon day with a staple remover at work and my hands can’t knit for a day or two afterward.)

I have a few paper-pieced quilt-like things in the works.

One I completely forgot about:

And I’ll likely play with it some more, but though I thought a lot about it before I started it, I’m not feeling it as much now – I’m not feeling a lot of “craft” or art now – it won’t be a viable source of second/additional income I hoped it to be, I pretty much hate what social media has done to it, and the art side of everything still burns.

The other long-term pieced piece I was working had a bit of a message – one that though still active, has passed in the popular mind – and the other issue I’ve got with hand-piecing is quilting – I really don’t want to do it by hand, but it seems somewhat wrong to machine quilt something that has hundreds of hours of hand work? Or it can be something for the wall and doesn’t need it, but I’m not making things for the wall…

I unearthed N’s quilt that I started as a housewarming gift for his/our first house nearly a decade ago and have it near the sewing station south to finally finish this winter, but I need to clean/oil/and in some cases repair, and find new parts for, all of the machines down there…

These socks are on their way to being wearable – just on the long cuff slog now, but I can do that without any thought and minimal looking, so they should be done soon. Another pair of socks on the needles are thick and fast, but a bit unwieldy to take for waiting room knitting, etc., so I’ll probably cast-on another pair as soon as I finish the aforementioned ones – perhaps suck it up and knit a fine-gauge pair with a maddening dark and boring yarn that I would really like to wear now, but haven’t wanted to knit.

Otherwise, there’s a sweater on the needles that is 75ish% done, but hurts my hands a bit, so it has to be slow but it’s finally cold out enough to wear it, so I’m motivated to finish, and there’s a fingering-weight cardi that I sometimes forget about and haven’t touched in a year? but I’d like to get back to soon. I’m not loving the way some of my old clothes fit these days, so I need to figure out the ideal dimensions for any new projects – definitely want things longer and with more ease, but that means more yarn and longer knitting.

And I still love working on my oh-so-soft Paris Toujours, but I feel like I need to bang out the few older things first – but this has promise to be truly grand – I want all of my shawls to be bigger, ridiculously, almost impossibly bigger these days and this might start to scratch that itch (but the amount of yarn left could be deceiving since the rows are constantly increasing).

I’ve also promised a poncho/serape sort of thing for N, as well as scarves for him and another, and why has another winter appeared without a pair of mittens out of handspun for me…?

But mostly I’m still just unraveling everything – a few old projects and dozens of thrift store sweaters – making for a sneezy cloud in the basement, much bigger muscles on my winding arm, and a pleasant non-thinking calm state of mind.

 

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A mostly 1970s quilt…

It’s hard not to call this ramble something like “that ’70s quilt” or “talkin’ bout my generation” (even though that was the ’60s and has nothing to do with fiber) – something overstated but understood, jingly and annoying but common and somewhat comfortable…

But that somewhat encapsulates my feeling of the whole decade – it causes me equal parts discomfort and nostalgia.

I hated the 1970s because I hated polyester, stale cigarette smoke, musky perfumes, mustaches, “me,” disco (I kinda like that now), cheesy love songs, feathered hair, giant cars (El Caminos excepted), tube socks (I kinda like those now), my bible-beating public elementary school, my ignorant small town, plastic toys, Vietnam-damaged fathers and uncles (I didn’t have one, but most did), high-waisted clothes, acrylic, popular colors of pus, piss, and poo, the stench of leaded gasoline, dusty scents from too much unwashed macrame and houseplants and pillows and tapestries, halter tops on women and girls, too much wood, terrible architecture…

But I loved typewriters, lower-waisted clothes, back to earth movements, interpretations of 1920s and ’30s revivals, funk, longer hair, afros, craft revivals, interesting food, fantastical fiber creations, and a bunch of other stuff – mostly wrapped up in nature and creativity and the lovely analog life…

It sort of all started with this fabric. It might be older than the ’70s, but the calico and earthy colors reminded me of rustic quilts in mountain cabins comforting those who played banjos, wore patched corduroy, and brewed dandelion wine. I suppose that is more Appalachian than the ’70s, but since my parents moved us to the country to get back to the earth then, and I had a musical family who partook (and still partakes) in old time music and dance, my association is personal, though part of a definitive ’70s cultural movement.

1970s baking fabric

The fabric came from an antique mall (I think), and it’s a massive amount – some 10 or 13 yards, and it had to have been priced at $15 or less, so I bought it without a specific quilt in mind, but with the thinking that any cheap large amounts of cotton fabric = quilt backs. At the time, I also had a cousin who lived in an old house and participated in old time life whose wedding was a few months away, and I had grand ideas of making a massive rustic quilt for the couple. But that thought was short-lived – I never thought about what the top would be, and our own old house didn’t yet have a kitchen and sewing machines were packed away, and I essentially had stopped making quilts for anyone, or any bed-sized ones at all…

Fast forward a few months ago when I was unpacking and organizing my fabric stash, I found that fabric again, and also pulled out the tiny bit of my mother’s leftover stash that I’ve keep separate for fear of forgetting what was from my own past and what was from someone else’s.

1970s home fabric

Some of these are are a little earlier too, and I remember the top blue covering a chair seat likely done in the ’60s… and I vaguely recall the black or navy used for a piece of clothing for me. A bit more of this sort of calico found its way into the treetop of this piece.

Birdscene

And my old bonnet – which still fits…

(Remember the ’70s aslo had that patchworked and bebonneted character of Holly Hobbie and the resurgence of Sunbonnet Sue – I’m not sure which inspired my mother to sew a long dress with matching bonnet and white eyelet pinafore for a xmas outfit for me…)

1970s bonnet

But the fabric is awesome – baby chicks, scarecrows, kittens… I don’t want to cut this up though, so bonnet/artifact it will stay.

1970s bonnet detail

I also kept a terribly sewn dress that I remembered hating to wear because the neck or the empire waist, or something about it was too damn tight, and it was a baby style sized up to my girl frame, though I was forced to wear it around the person who gave it to me, and clearly it is faded so I must have been strapped into the thing often – or – the fabric was lousy and faded on the clothesline quickly. I think the fabric is a Liberty of London? And I have no idea why I kept it except for evidence in a child torture suit? Because I like brown?

(As an aside, I don’t get the hullabaloo about Liberty – sure, I appreciate the historic factor, but where is the fabric made? England isn’t known for its cotton crop, so it isn’t really made there, just printed. And though some of the patterns are lovely, some are a bit too romantic and twee for me, and some are just plain frumpy and if not in the know, would appear to be something that came from the big box…)

So I have no qualms about cutting it up – and I had it stored with an unfinished felted bag with pinks and browns, so it still could become a lining.

1970s dress detail

And finally, I remembered an aunt’s homemade skirt from that time – a mountain dwelling dancer whom I looked up to – I don’t know why I ended up with her skirt, but I was a tall child, and it fit me with the aid of a safety pin and I remember wearing several times when I needed to look “old fashioned” for some school pageant or living history sort of thing.

It still fits, but is nearly a foot too short for being the maxi-style skirt it is supposed to be. I am very hesitant about cutting it up, though I truly want to have less in my life – perhaps I’ll consider shortening it a bit to wear as a skit again, and then have the scrap to use, or perhaps I want to make a smaller wall quilt just out of it alone….

1970s-skirt detail

Though my thinking about ’70s fabric mainly revolved around brightly colored calicos and decisively shunned other fabrics of the decade, my mind started to wonder/wander about “cheater” cloth and if I shouldn’t just get several yards of the stuff and only add my own patch to it here and there.

I found this awesome hex pattern online and snatched it up…

1970s cheater fabric

It reminded me of my old pants.

1970s pants

(I’d like to think I caught Patches the cat leaping through the air in a trick feline circus move, rather than I’m probably squeezing her, or him? to the point of torture).

But that awesome mustard fabric is more of a canvas, there’s only a yard or less, and I think I’d rather make a tote bag out of it, so my focus returned.

I looked around for some more bright vintage calicos and was rather disheartened by the prices online – I’m used to picking up second-hand fabric (at least stuff that’s less than 50 years old) for a song…

But then this stuff is now “vintage” after all – I often think the ’70s was only about 18 years ago…

1970s cut fabric

I found a good deal on some pre-cut patches – normally I hate the pre-cut stuff because I like to use every last scrap of fabric and I mourn for the jagged corners thrown away, but I wanted some variety and this fit the bill.

And then I found a few larger cuts – the one on the left has a pleasing brown background, and the one on the right has a coy bird…

1970s bird fabric

(One of my online orders reeked highly of dryer sheets or some other synthetic stench. I can appreciate the need to scent the stash to deter fiber-munching predators, but if you sell it to others, please don’t use these chemical bombs – lavender and other herby sachets and naturally scented soaps and such work just as well and don’t cause respiratory distress in others as much… Better yet, send it out once it has aired and smells of nothing at all…)

And then I dug through my regular stash and found some prints older and newer that fit in well enough – most of these are scraps and fat quarters from the craft supply thrift store (usually 4 or 5 for a dollar), or in grab bags at antique malls, so all told, I spent less than $30 on my new old acquisitions to scratch my ’70s itch – not too overboard, but still fabric in, money out, and nothing to show for it….

1970s random scraps

But I don’t really like these colors – too primary with searing reds – I like that they’re warm and happy, but I don’t want to see them every day and I don’t want them in my bedroom with its calm and soothing hues. So perhaps it was enough to just gather my thoughts a bit and collect these few more fabrics – the total lot doesn’t take up much room and I’ve yet to lay it out or calculate to know if I even have enough for a quilt – a throw size definitely, which is perhaps what I’m leaning towards if anything at all…

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Quilts and blizzards

There was a whopper of a blizzard when I was a child. Right smack in the middle of it, my siblings (including some sulky tweens) and I all had chickenpox (I still have a scar on the bridge of my nose like a drunkenly placed inverted bindi), the power was out (including the water), the snowdrifts were so high that the pony* walked up and out of her corral, and our smallish house still lacked the addition that came a year later that made it much more livable – and survivable with a serious Nordic wood stove.

If I had been my mother, I’d have abandoned us all (perhaps first letting the chickens into the house so we’d have something to eat – actually they may have already been in the garage).

Instead, she made a quilt for me.

childhood quilt

The fabric, unfortunately a cotton – poly blend, and now very faded in in parts, came from a fabric store a few towns away that had been devastated by a tornado a few years earlier – you could still see its path a decade later. The colors matched the wallpaper in my room that I think I hated for my entire childhood (early on I saw faces in it, later I thought too many of the colors were too close to excrement, snot, and sickness, and I was over the moon to be able to finally tear it off for my 13th birthday, but in hindsight, I think I like it now – I kept a square of it, but I can’t find it at the moment). The paper was mostly greens and blues and sicklier shades of yellow and brown, and my carpet was a green and blue berber, so it was a tight color family in there. But I still really like green, and I liked the outdoors and my parents moved to the country when I was an infant to do that back to earth thing, so the colors of earth and sky were good ones to have overdone.

childhood quilt-poultry

The embroidery was the best part, and unfortunately most of it has worn away and neither of us remember what all was there. Certainly most of it contained scenes and icons of country life – our country life.

childhood quilt-blue eyes

Although a few oddballs cling on – like this solid-blue-eyed blonde floating head. I think it was supposed to be me, but I had green eyes and auburn hair and pupils – I’ll just pretend the blizzard kept her from obtaining the appropriately colored floss…

childhood quilt-house

And some of the applique and its puffy stuffing has literally held on by a thread…

childhood quilt-cabbage

A bit of the fabric was also on this piece and retained its deeper color.

So during this blizzard nearly 40 years later, and several states away, though nearly the anniversary to the day, I repaired it.

childhood quilt-repair

I’d like to re-create some of the missing embroidery, but knowing what it was is impossible… though I’m pretty sure this was the dedication square and the sun I sewed back on had rays…

childhood quilt-inscription

Or perhaps just leave well enough alone…

And enjoy its warmth (although stuffed with poly) during this stupid blizzard slamming into and darkening the windows while I try to knit and ignore the howling wind and my fear of loosing power (mostly because of the water).

sugar & chick snow

*Sugar the pony with a feathered friend.

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What I was thinking; what was I thinking?

I dip in and out of various media for scattered amounts of time, but I probably think about sewing the most.

I feel like I’ve made hundreds of quilts, but most of those were in my mind – the reality has only been in the double digits.

I still haven’t reconciled the disconnect of quilts falling farther on the craft side of the art scale and my desire to just whip out some for practical reasons, but not fully committing the time to do so because time should be used for art or making money to live. But that doesn’t reconcile the fact that almost all of the knitting I do is practical and most decidedly pure craft since I’m often using other’s patterns. I feel at odds with much of the quilting “community” both on social media and what can be had with guilds and such locally, though I’m not much of a community person to begin with… And I could go on with my discomforts on precision and technique versus visual interest, weird bandwagons and fad fabrics, and the pacing – slow down and make slow shit versus be sure to crank things out to keep up interest…

But I’ll rest here since I don’t have much time to ponder all of this, and frankly I don’t really care – I’ve been making a few quilts that will either be finished or not, be practical or hang on a wall, and I’m sure I’ll start a few more in the meantime…

But there was a time (late 1990s) when I wanted to really study quilts, and I forgot about it until I unpacked some old sketchbooks a few months ago.

thinking-scrapbook

I specifically chose an art program for my undergrad that focused on classical art “training.” We had an obnoxious amount of drawing classes and a somewhat rigorous prescription of moving up and through various media before finally focusing on our chosen one after a couple of years of fundamentals. I roughly still feel a sense of “you have to know the rules to break the rules” about making or doing most things, but my interactions with fiber have shoved most of that in its face. I spin but I don’t know shit all about twist; I knit but still knot when I shouldn’t; I sew but I don’t understand most of what anyone is staying about various seams and stitches and grains and biases.

Okay, I do know a bit, but from trial and error rather than a slow concentrated graduating effort.

thinking-blocks

So I think it was with this in mind that I started really looking at quilts – mostly old ones, especially depression-era, since I was collecting reproduction vintage feedsack fabric at the time. I think I wanted to make a grand all hand-stitched “traditional” quilt. At the time (and still now) I’ve only made pattern-less [I guess the kids are calling them] “improvisational” quilts.

So I printed off pictures of vintage quilts up for sale on ebay and pasted them into a sketchbook.

thinking-redblocks

And checked out lots of books from the library and copied the traditional squares. I’m not sure if I was too cheap to make photocopies or I thought sketching them would help me decide if I liked them or not…

thinking-storm

And I’m pretty sure I came really close to choosing the “storm at sea” as my traditional quilting masterpiece…

But then what?

Grad school intervened? I took up knitting? I didn’t have enough of the right kinds of fabric in my stash? (I still don’t) I didn’t have the focus to start cutting out the same shape over and over and over again? I couldn’t choose the colors?

I still don’t have the focus or proper stash to execute something more traditional, but I’m thinking about it again…

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Anatomy of a hex

I’ve yammered on about my love of the hexagon shape for a bit now, and have finally put needle to cloth and started to play…

hex-green

I’m still obsessed with the hex-tile floor and passing though my old city recently, I was shocked to see more lovely old buildings ripped out and re-planted with soulless new shitboxes. All of the other lovely and unique architectural details destroyed aside, I mourn for the very likely loss of hex-tiled entrances, halls, coatrooms, mudrooms, bathrooms, and maybe even kitchens. I still dream of living in a house that was untouched by vinyl, paneling, laminate, textured paint, beige ceramic tile, and all other destructive DIY – unless it was carpeted and paneled in a way that preserved everything underneath and it would be a matter of unwrapping a lovely surprise room to room…

But  I digress…

To date, all of my fiber hexing has been via the English paper-piercing method. I ordered some pre-cut little buggers last year and was on the lookout for some plastic ones I’d seen that require basting stitches cinched up, but weren’t stocked in my area until I forgot about them. I started cutting some shapes out of mylar to try out the general idea, but got distracted and moved on.

hex-plastic

The plastic ones reappeared at the big box recently, and at a time when I had good coupons, so I finally got some thinking that I would fall in love with them and they would last forever and I was happy that they were manufactured in the USA… But sadly, I just couldn’t get them to work for me (or I’m too set in my paper-piercing ways).

The main problems were: I had to run too many basting stitches, it was fiddly to get the tension right and the corners sharp, they are too thick to finger-press the fabric, they are slick, and the whole thing took longer.

I should back up first – I’m working on a project that needs to be very portable and not require electricity (will take on a rustic vacation later this summer) and I’m making it out of old shirts that have some poly or stretch that makes the fabric harder to control. The plastic shapes did work better with rougher, stiffer quilting cotton or  good lay with a hot iron, so all hope isn’t lost for them, but they’re just now what I need right now.

(And in general, I’m usually working on pieced things on another floor from the ironing board, or on a hot day when the iron is banned.)

So I attempted to make them more usable by drilling some holes to provide better stability with a piercing method. That helped a good deal, but I was still slow in finding the drill holes with the needle, the thickness still prevented a good finger press, and they were still too slippery.

hex-drilled

So I tried to drill some bigger holes and score the surface with a variety of rasps, but that was an utter failure…

hex-fail

So finally, I just used the shape as a template on the other half of the coupon used to purchase them (and lifted from the recycling bin) and voila, success!

hex-samples

But that was the only piece of scrap card stock in the house, so I have to wait for the mail to arrive (for a few days likely) to obtain more…

hex-templates

This piece might end up into something finished, and perhaps something with a bit of meaning… but the green hexies at the top are just a doodle for now.

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When the drapes became the bedspread

It’s been the time of year when I have to give up my much loved down duvet for a lighter bed covering for a few weeks now.

I have to shamefully admit that we’ve been using a plain green store-bought quilt for the last few summers since buying a bigger bed. (And I still haven’t gotten around to finishing a bigger quilt… yes, that shirt one I started years ago isn’t any further along, and it is even further from my thoughts.)

I’m thinking of other quilts I’d like to make, but I don’t really have the space or patience right now to make one as big as I’d like – at least king-sized, though the bed is a queen – so I accepted another summer of the boring commercially-made thing.

Then a week or two ago, I stopped by the thrift store to find some summer pants to replace the ones I intentionally (and not) turned into paint pants, and happened to wander by the home textiles – a land of either intimately disgusting, or wonderfully fabulous, textilely things. In the past I’ve scored vintage drapes and tablecloths that I’ve re-sold well online, and our current perfect-condition woolly throw blankets are pre-owned.

bedspread-curtains

This time, a set of jacquard toile drapes – two panels and two valances – caught my eye and passed my it’s-pleasant-to-the-touch, seems to be natural fibers, and doesn’t stink or have gross stains test (though the dye had bled and the fabric was a bit puckered from a hot wash or dry). I passed them by, but came back just before leaving, figuring I could use the fabric to make knitting bags…

or perhaps, a bedspread?

Now, the fabric really isn’t my thing. I collected blue and white dishes for only a half a second in my past, once put a cobalt blue wine bottle on the kitchen windowsill for a few weeks, and only have just a few toile pieces in my stash. I like deer, but don’t like hunting scenes, and the over-the-top romanticism?

No, because it falls in with things I don’t like such as the paler pinks and purples, some peach (but not peaches), pearlized things, potpourri, Precious Moments, things with panache, plump, perfume, things with poof and pounce, pathetic romance novels, and most of all:

putti.

bedspread-putti

And our house is an amalgamation of mid-century modern, late 19th century office, Italian/Moroccan/New Mexican fusion, and art school detritus – nothing frilly or froofy or sickeningly sentimental between our walls.

But I wanted this perfect-weight cottony thing on the bed.

bedspread-no binding

And so it is.

bedspread-binding detail

I cut the curtains in half, alternated the right and wrong sides, and added one of the valances.

I wanted it to be reversible, so I sewed twill tape over the seams. I wanted to dye the tape, but I figured that would set the project back days or years. The seams on the tape are a bit wonky due to my impatience and the difficulty in shoving this huge heavy thing into my old machine on a too-small table, but it is a practical piece that will get laundered and abused, so perfection is pointless.

bedspread-binding

And I think I like the tape side better as the public side…?

bedspread-deer

So now I can slumber under slaughter-in-progress deer, and hope the putti don’t plunk down in my dreams…

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Nothing in my oatmeal but oats…

Last summer, my mom sent this silky little ditty my way:

cigsilk-whole

She found it at a church rummage sale and described it over the phone as something that had lace and was probably silk with a bunch of flags and was from a factory in New Jersey.

I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about.

When it arrived, I immediately recognized that it was made of cigarette silks – little fiber freebies that used to come with a pack of shit-sticks to entice women to smoke, or encourage the men in their lives to smoke more…

Mad quilts and other decorative home textiles were made from these little beauties.

cigsilk-bather

My favorite patch in the above piece is the “Michigan Beach Girl” poised to dive in what was undoubtedly a woolen swimming costume and stockings that would have done more for drowning than swimming…

As much as I hate today’s overabundance of factory made shite, I’m quite smitten with the original versions of the stuff – the explosion of goods and advertising from the late 19th century to nearly halfway up the last.

I would have loved to open a box of oats (though I would have hated it was called “Mother’s Oats” and would have written a terse letter to the company to rename them “My Oats” or “Oats Aren’t Just for Children” or “Men Eat Oats Too” or “Woman Does Not Always = Mother” or “Women Without Children are Busy and Desirous of a Fast Breakfast Too” or “My Mother Ate Gruel Made of Ground Corncob with Stones, So Don’t Remind Me”) and found a new teacup inside. Perhaps I would have been so strapped for cash working at the shirtwaist factory, I could only dream of buying the oats with the swag and only been able to purchase a box a year or every other year, and by the time I was wasting away from an early death of consumption or radium poisoning I’d have had just a service for one and a half…

OatChina

(Image yanked from page that didn’t identify its source and was selling butchered publications – shame on you!)

But the past is past – thankfully, for the most part.

And I’m slowly dealing with all of my collected old things that I purchased with less sweat and toil than that of my predecessors, and for much less, even factoring in the cost of oats, since they were discards at the thrift stores.

HLwild rose

But in researching some of the things I’m thinking about selling, I found out I had a few pieces of oat china!

HLpastoral

See?

HL Pastoral in oats

I think both of these were made by Homer Laughlin (the company that makes my beloved Fiestaware) and date from the 1940s – ’50s, not the 1930s which I had originally guessed them to be…

So that didn’t get me any closer to getting rid of them, but at least I’m a more informed hoarder, right?

I’m disappointed that we don’t get free things in boxes of oats and soap powder and whatnot these days – and the free things in the cereal boxes of my childhood were always a disappointment (that is, when I got real cereal, and not that godawful desiccated puffed wheat bullshit…)

But then I remembered Red Rose tea.

I drank gallons of the stuff along with a brand of coffee too embarrassing to admit in my poorest student years as they were the cheapest sources of caffeine. I think I still have some of the figurines that came in the tea (somewhere) but I wanted that small rush again of finding a little porcelain freebie.

Red Rose tea mermaid

But now I find the tea undrinkable – it gives me a stomachache – the product and/or processing has gotten so cheap to be able to afford putting in the swag? My delicate system only tolerates organic, fair-trade, ripened by the harvest of the solstice moon?

So I’ll just call it dye instead.

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