Reactive Craft

I’m taking an art class. Wednesday’s session involved studying a photo of a Jeff Koons sculpture, and working to capture its various shades of white and gray with black and white paint. After class, we had lined up our pictures and were talking about how the class had gone, how we felt about the materials, etc. Our instructor Jay Bailey said something that really struck me — that drawing is a reactive craft. You look at the subject, and you make a mark, and then you compare the mark to the model and see if it’s right, if you need to adjust, if you need to move it, or darken it, or what.

After thinking about it a little while, I realized that it’s precisely the passage of the attention back and forth between the mark and the model, comparing and adjusting, that makes drawing so soothing and engaging for me. It’s like a mantra, or a hypnotist’s pendulum – repeating that swinging of my focus, back and forth, back… and…. forth… and it puts me into a special, non-verbal but highly creative headspace. It’s what Betty Edwards calls “R-mode” – when you present the brain with a task that the analytical and linguistic “Left Brain” with a task that simply can’t be handled with the tools it has, it shuts down and relinquishes control to the creative, spatial, visual “Right Brain” side.

L. Reuteri Yogurt

I crush the tablets first, so that when I’ve got the slurry ready I can add the powder.

A few months ago, I found this post on Wheatbelly about probiotic yogurt made using special strains of Lactobacillus reuteri. That link will sometimes lead to a paywall; here’s another post that recapitulates most of the same info in case Wheatbelly is locked. Technically, it’s not precisely yogurt, because the strains that make it aren’t registered yogurt strains – but it tastes like yogurt and handles like yogurt, so that’s what I call it. I started making it, and switched from half and half to heavy cream to get more good fat and less carbohydrate since I follow a keto diet. I’m not sure how much of the Koolaid I’m willing to swallow in terms of some of the dramatic claims – but I can definitely agree that this stuff seems to help my digestion and make me feel better. This “yogurt” is about halfway between sour cream and cream cheese in both texture and flavor, and it tastes good in both savory and sweet dishes. I regularly take it sweet with Splenda and some Lily’s chocolate chips and crushed pecans, or savory with herbs and salt on vegetables or a steak, or thinned down with ranch seasoning for dressing. I made a batch and shared it with several of my friends recently, and some of them asked for a tutorial – so here it is!


Cream. I like to use Horizon or other organic types because I know they’re raised without hormones or antibiotics, but any cream will do. I’m usually making it by the quart, so two pints per batch. If you use a kind with stabilizers such as guar gum, xanthan gum, or carageenan, it will make the yogurt a little more stiff, but still perfectly fine.

Inulin. This is a fine, mildly sweet white powder made from processing starches. It’s used as a PREbiotic (not a probiotic) which means that it helps feed your intestinal flora, your “good bugs.” In this case, especially because I’m using cream which has very little milk sugar, it helps feed the Lactobacillus bacteria that make the yogurt. I can’t find any chart showing the difference between the inulin made from different sources (there are a LOT), but they do have slightly different flavors and significantly different textures. You do want to get one that’s a powder, not a bottle full of capsules. I use two tablespoons per quart. My friend Allison came over, and we did some experimentation – the Jerusalem artichoke inulin mixed up OK, but the agave inulin was easier to stir to a smooth slurry. The chicory inulin was tough to stir to a smooth slurry, and I had to strain it. I won’t get the chicory again.

The BioGaia tablets crushed to a powder.

And, most importantly: the bacteria. This supplement, BioGaia’s GASTRUS, is the one that was listed in the Wheatbelly post, and it’s made from two strains that have been used in a lot of laboratory tests. The tablets are designed to be chewable, and they’ve got a slight mint/citrus flavor which doesn’t come through at all in the yogurt, but you might want to be aware of if you’re allergic to mint or citrus. Other probiotics will work, with varying degrees of success, I’m sure – I haven’t tried a bunch, and I don’t have a huge amount of yogurt experience. Unfortunately, this means I also can’t answer “but what if I substitute this different thing for that thing” questions.

I do this “cold start,” which means I don’t heat the cream to pasteurize it before inoculating it with the bacteria. I also don’t heat sterilize my equipment. I’ve read some sources that give all kinds of dire warnings about contaminated batches which go sour or fail to set. It hasn’t happened to me. If you want to heat sterilize your jars and tools and pasteurize your cream, by all means go ahead. I’ve done plenty of sterilizing with canning and jelly making, I’m just not that bothered about the likelihood of pre-pasteurized cream going bad.

Inulin slurry is really weird stuff. There are about three inches of fresh air between the bottom of the bowl and the countertop, and I’m holding the bowl up by the spoon. It acts like Oobleck; it’s stiff when it settles, it’s fluid when it’s moving. The agave insulin was much thinner, not as non-Newtonian.
After you stir the mixture, it’s fluid again, and it will pour off a spoon like this.

Start: make the slurry. If you try to just stir the inulin into the cream, it clumps up into little nodules, and they are very, very hard to stir out. I like to pour a tablespoon of water into a small dish, and sprinkle the two tablespoons of inulin on top of it, let it sink, and then stir. If you don’t let the inulin sink, its hard to stir. If you get lumps, you can press them through a tea strainer with the back of a spoon to break them up.

Add the probiotics. There are two ways to do this; if you’re starting from scratch, use ten of the BioGaia Gastrus tablets, crushed to a powder. I crush them on a dinner plate using the bottom of a small jar, but any kind of mortar-and-pestle arrangement will work. If you’ve made one batch already, then you can use two tablespoons of the last batch of yogurt instead. Whichever of the two you use, stir the mixture until smooth.

If you use prior batch yogurt to innoculate the cream, mix it into the slurry instead of the powdered bacteria tablets.

Put the slurry-plus-probiotics into the jars you’ll make the yogurt in. I like wide-mouth quart jars for my own use; I use wide-mouth pints or even little jelly jars if I’m making it to share.

Add the slurry to the jar, then half the cream, and stir to mix it in.
Add the rest of the cream and stir again. Be careful not to bang the spoon too hard into the jar; it can crack the glass.

Add the cream. Because this won’t be steam sterilized, you don’t need to worry about head space; it will set without increasing in volume or making any kind of froth. I use a long spoon to stir the mixture. Be careful not to hit the side of the jar hard with the spoon, or it can break a hole, and make a mess. Ask me about how much trouble it is to clean up a quart of cream that spills down the front of the cabinets! Put the lids on the jars.

The eight-quart Instant Pot will hold four quart jars.

Put the jars in the Instant Pot, add a few inches of warm water, and set it for YOGURT. My IP has options on the YOGURT button for “more” and “less” – I set it for “less.” I have read some sources that say the IP gets too hot, but again – my results have been just right, with that setting. If you have a yogurt maker, you can use that, or you can do the trick with the oven that the Wheatbelly blog recommends. I set mine for 36 hours on the timer (press the little + sign until the time goes up). It will be yogurt-y after about 6 or 8 hours, but it grows more of the good bacteria as it goes longer, and gets a tangier flavor that I like. Refrigerate it to let it set before you use it.

A lot of yogurt folks on the internet will show off their yogurt by standing up a spoon in it… this is really intense yogurt.

That’s it! Once it’s yogurt, you scoop it out, add whatever you like (or nothing at all) and eat it. If you’re going to mix it with something, it helps to stir it by itself some first in the bowl, and then add whatever you’re doctoring it with. I like to add C8 MCT oil to mine to get more ketones, and a tablespoon or more will easily stir into a half cup of yogurt with no major impact on flavor or texture. This stuff isn’t light – it’s about five hundred calories per cup – but it fits perfectly in a ketogenic diet, with almost all of the already minimal lactose in the cream being eaten up by the bacteria+. If you’re not doing keto, and you’re eating it for breakfast, just be aware that it’s dense!

This also makes an AWESOME cultured butter – just put the cream in a stand mixer with the usual paddle blade and let it do its thing on LOW. If you try to do it too fast, there’s a lot of splashing. Once it starts to clump, turn it all the way down, and let it run until it’s one big clump. Pour off the buttermilk (which is VERY sour, and awesome for use in recipes or to drink with some sweetening) and then wash the butter in cold water, pressing through it with a spatula until the water is clear and there’s no more buttermilk in it. Salt it if you like your butter salted.

Her Milkshake

It brings all the boys to the yard. The female Polyphemus moth that hatched out Sunday at DFW Fiber Fest was mated last night.

To ensure that I get eggs for the next generation, I make a slip-knot leash out of silk sewing thread and tie it around the base of her wings, so that it doesn’t bother her as she moves. I tie the other end to a spring clip. I hide her in a bush (in this case, a Japanese maple) and she uses a pheromone to attract nearby males. They will fly up to 5 miles to find her, based solely on scent. In a natural state, they will stay attached through the following day, and then part ways at dusk. She will start flying around laying her eggs (usually around 200) and he will fly off to find another mate. If I’m wanting to rear the eggs, I will put her into a brown paper lunch bag and fold down the top; she will lay eggs inside the bag, and I’ll collect them by tearing up the bag into little pieces with the glued-down eggs attached. I often do half-and-half — she lays half the eggs in the bag for me, and I let her go to fly around and give the other half to the woods.

Butterflies make silk too.

A thing I didn’t know until I started doing more and more research about silk: butterfly caterpillars make silk too.

Many of them don’t make much silk – it’s often just a little tuft, a few yards total – but it’s critically important to their life cycle. Most of the time, silk is used to make a small pad which attaches to a surface – anything from a twig to a leaf to a patio chair – where the caterpillar is going to pupate.  Many, like some swallowtails, also make a “lasso” which helps keep the pupa in position against its substrate.

This is the hatched-out chrysalis of a Gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, from my backyard  passionflower patch. The silk pad attached it to the garden chair.


Marguerite’s Trim



I’ve been weaving some. It feels good. I wanted to do something with a little more “OMG” factor than the plain black and white cotton I’ve been doing the past few warps, so I went for some silk sewing thread ribbon. The pattern is on 25 tablets, plus 3 tablets of plain border on either side. The pattern is worked in double-face technique, with all the tablets threaded the same – two holes carrying the copper thread, two carrying the silver. The finished trim is just over half an inch wide, yielding an effective density of about 250 EPI (ends per inch.)

I graphed out a chart for this trim for a dress a friend of mine in the SCA made back in the early nineties. It’s based on a portrait of Marguerite de Valois by François Clouet.

Looking at the portrait, the original trim is probably either couched cord, or trim of couched tiny beads. Either way, it rendered really well into tablet weaving graph.



The silk I’m using for this is a very glossy machine embroidery thread. I like low-twist, high-sheen thread for ribbons like this; they are supple and glossy, more so than regular garment sewing threads. This is the band before a wash and a hard steam press; you can see how much the silk flattened out in the first picture.


A turn-of-the-seventeenth century book on sericulture, translated into English by Nicholas Geffe, refers to the”glosse wherein consisteth the chiefest bewtie of the silke.” Still photos just don’t capture it, you have to see it move. Depending on your browser, this might be a moving image.


Rainbow bracelet

I saw another band weaver’s bracelets on Facebook, and got intrigued with the concept. This is the first result. The original ribbon was from years ago (decades, actually!) and is Gutermann polyester button thread that I had made for an SCA Iris ribbon; I had woven off the remainder of the warp just to have. I’ve always thought it was pretty, but didn’t have any real project for it. I saw it in my stash of woven bands, and thought, “This could be some seriously crafty homo bling.”


This is one of those projects that had a lot of “opportunities for learning” – where you aren’t sure how to proceed, and you screw up in interesting ways, but once you’ve un-superglued your fingers from the table, you have learned a valuable lesson, and you’ll do it differently next time. The clasp is magnetic, I got them from Amazon. Also, single-use packets of SuperGlue are AWESOME; one tiny tube did the whole thing, and there was no sad half-empty tube sitting in the drawer getting crusty afterward.


I used a piece of the “Fuck That B.S” sampler as the backing. I figured it was apt, and it was the right width. It gives the finished project a lot more heft, and it protects the gold threads from getting sweaty and/or snagged. The thickness of the band, however, meant that there was a significant difference in diameter between the inside and the outside once it was done. What it means in practical terms, is that the piece won’t lie flat. It buckles. Which is fine – it’s not meant to be flat, it’s meant to go around a wrist, and it’s more important for it to lie smoothly on the curve. But for the next one, there will be some curved pressing involved before the stitching, and careful distribution of that diameter difference to make sure that it’s even. Also, my stitches show up a LOT more in photos, so next time I’ll stitch a little more carefully.


This is the ribbon I started with. I wove it some time in the late nineties.

Notes for next time: Press the ribbon round.  Stitch in the ditch between threads, even if whipping is faster. Be careful where the SuperGlue goes.

Special lighting

I got this shot of a long-tailed skipper (Urbanus proteus) a couple of weekends ago, at my friend Dale Clark’s butterfly farm. He does an open house every fall, catching the migrating monarchs as they float through his giant yard planted with nectar and host plants. I love the way the light strikes this butterfly’s head and shoulders – it’s almost as if he had a special spotlight that followed him around. I’ve known people like that – wherever they are, they appear slightly brighter than the surrounding area. I think it’s partly an innate thing, and partly an out-pouring of energy – attitude, spirit, whatever you want to call it.

I feel like I do it sometimes. I can feel it, when the light is on me – and I feel it even more when I step wrong and I’m out of it. It’s a feeling of alignment, like you’re in the right place and you’re saying the right lines and the show’s going well. It feels like I’m harmonizing, like I’m in tune.

Lately, I’ve been out of it a lot. I’m trying; I get bits of it. Occasional moments.

I’ve been dreaming a lot, and working on exploring my dreams; this always helps me connect.




Class for the Board


Last weekend, I taught a class for the DFW Fiber Fest Board. Everybody had a loom, and I loved how they looked lined up on the table!

Getting a Sample of my Mojo Back


This past weekend was the DFW Fiber Fest. I’ve been on the board of this annual event for three years now; it’s a LOT of work, but it’s also a really great reminder of the fantastic fiber arts community, and the power of getting together to do creative things with string. We hire both local and national instructors, and we draw over sixty vendors from the region and across the country.

I had gotten cotton yarn a few months ago to weave a sampler, but just hadn’t ever gotten around to it. I finally sat down and warped the loom on Friday during the event, and sat and wove, and talked to people about weaving, and showed people how the weaving worked, until I finally finished it on Saturday. It was good to visit with everybody, and it was satisfying and pleasing to weave again.

I normally don’t title “pieces” of my weaving, unless there’s something going into a show that needs a title. A sampler, in particular, wouldn’t get a title – by its very nature, a sampler is a process piece, a test, a recapitulation of technique and pattern. But I decided that because of the unique situation, and the fact that it’s more of a way of brushing off my weaving skills, than a set of pattern sketches, this piece deserves a title. I’m calling it, “Fuck That B.S.” Because it’s bullshit to let somebody stomp on your joy, and it’s bullshit to doubt your worth because of petty things people say, and I just don’t need that kind of bullshit in my life any more.

Used to do

I woke up this morning with sad thoughts… thinking about when to go from “I do these cool things,” to “I used to do these cool things.” My feet hurt so I can’t dance. I haven’t woven anything in years; there has been a single project since 2013, and that one was like sleepwalking. I haven’t made soap, drawn anything noteworthy, sewn a costume, made silk. I’m wondering if I’ll raise silkworms this year, or if that will go into the pile of things I used to do. I contemplate tearing out the roses and passionflowers, and letting the yard go back to grass, or just letting it grow up like a jungle.

I know that some of this is a natural result of getting older, but I feel like I’m tottering around in two rooms of a mansion, with many rooms locked up and the once-beautiful furniture under sheets.

The embroidery project that I did last year gave me a burst of energy, and I’m hoping that I can jump-start the creative engine somehow… but it’s becoming, more and more, the creative life of somebody I used to be.