The Brellis House


Category Archives: Hobbies

[Failed] Experiments with Natural Dyes: Pokeweed

Posted on October 17th, 2014 by Susanna

Last year I successfully died fabric with black walnut, which was my first try at dying fabrics with natural plant material. My end goal is to have about 10 or so colors so that I can make a quilt similar to this beauty. This year I decided to try my hand at pokeweed. I had read that it can be difficult, but we have so much pokeweed around our neighborhood I couldn’t help but try. A 25:1 ratio is recommended, 25 pokeweed weight to 1 fabric weight. I ended up with about a 35:1 ratio. Then I picked all the berries off the stems. This part took FOREVER.  pokeweedAnd it made my hands look like this. It’s a bad sign for dying fabric that this washes right off your hands with soap and water.

pokeweed handsUsing two books from the library (one of which is a really beautiful book called Harvesting Color) and the internet, I read that a vinegar mordant helps the fabric hold the dye, so I pre-mordanted the fabric in vinegar, which was done by simmering (160 degrees) the fabric in water with about 1 cup of water. To prepare the berries for the dye bath, I mashed them in the dye pot, filled the pot with water and 1/2 cup vinegar for every gallon of water for a pH of 3.5. I heated this for 1 hour over low-medium heat, then strained the berries out. The pre-wetted/mordanted fabric went right into this dyebath and soaked on medium heat for 2 hours. I turned the heat off after 2 hours and let it soak for about 30 hours.

I ended up with fabric that looked like this. Needless to say I was pretty ecstatic, but worried it would all wash out like it did on my hands.

pokeweed fabricWhich is exactly what it did. I let it sit and dry for over an hour, then brought it to the sink. The color immediately started to rinse out, and I was basically left with a piece of dirty looking fabric, with a SLIGHT pink hue if you squint (or just pretend). Oh well! Maybe I’ll try again. There are a few things I think I could possibly do better, such as being more precise with measuring exactly how much vinegar should be added to the dyebath and using pH strips to get to exactly a pH of 3.5 in the dyebath. Also, using a thermometer because the dye is very temperature sensitive and the color will be destroyed at temperatures too high.

pokeweed fabric

Here are the three fabrics I have so far. Pokeweed on the left, black walnut method #1 in middle, and black walnut method #2 (soaked overnight) on the right.

natural dyes fabric




Converting A Chest Freezer

Posted on August 6th, 2013 by Dan

Susanna and I have been brewing for about a year now. We’ve been having a great time with it, and have made about 14 different batches. Some better than others, but so far, all drinkable (and some have been really good). A few months ago we got a chest freezer from Susanna’s parents’ neighbor. Originally we have wanted one to store summer’s harvest, which we still plan to do, but we realized we could use it as a temperature control for lagers over the summer.

The problem is a freezer’s max temperature is something like 20°F and we needed to keep it at around 40°F. You can buy temperature controls which cycle the power on and off to maintain a higher temperature, but we thought we could do it for free. One website showed us that there are two screws which control temperature, a coarse adjustment screw and a fine adjustment. The fine adjustment is the obvious one with numbers on it 1-10 for instance.


Chest freezer temperature control.

But, if you take apart some of the housing, you can see a tiny coarse adjustment screw. Tightening the coarse adjustment screw will allow the freezer to get to a higher temperature. The physics are explained here:


Chest freezer coarse adjustment screw

With a good amount of trail and error, I’ve gotten the freezer at a consistent 39-42°F. This is perfect for lagers and, as it turns out a keg.


Homemade beer!

Posted on August 26th, 2012 by Susanna

We love everything homemade, so we just FINALLY got into homebrewing. We completed our first homemade beer!  It is a hefeweizen with coriander (from our garden) and lemon peel. Thanks to help from Dan’s uncle, Dave, the brewing process went well, it fermented for 1 week (not quite long enough), we managed to bottle it up without too many things going wrong, and brought it on vacation with us to Chincoteague to share with the fam. Vixen's Weizen

We think it turned out pretty decent for our first beer. Our second beer is already fermenting. It’s going to be a lambic and we’re adding figs from Dan’s sister’s fig tree. It actually needs to ferment with the figs for quite a while and will be done a year from now! So..not such a great beer for someone with no patience such as myself but it’s pretty exciting.

Mary Beth's figs


Monarch Tagging

Posted on August 25th, 2012 by Susanna

One of the most fun things we did on our honeymoon on Nantucket Island was tag monarchs. We finally ordered a few tags from Monarch Watch for this fall and went out for the first time last weekend. We caught nine monarchs in less than an hour! They were everywhere!monarch butterflytagging monarchstagged monarch

I love spring!

Posted on May 6th, 2012 by Susanna

peonylily of the valleyroseoak gallCamassiapeony

Winter Crafts

Posted on January 23rd, 2012 by Susanna

I’ve been feeling pretty crafty lately… My quilt top is pinned to the batting and the backing, now all I have to do is QUILT and add the binding border. This is michi hiding in between the batting and backing as I was pinning it together.I’ve also been doing some quick less than 20 minute projects including 2 pillow covers from remnant fabric I found at Joanne’s for 70% off.

I also was in desperate need for a pincushion so I fashioned a quick one out of a little mason jar and some remnant fabric (is there any other kind of fabric?) that I love love love.

It’s been a crafty winter over here so far…


Mandolin Convention

Posted on October 30th, 2011 by Susanna

I’m a bit late on this post but a few weeks back Dan and I took a few days off to attend the Classical Mandolin Society of America’s annual convention that was conveniently being held in five minutes from our house this year. We didn’t take enough photos, but my sister kindly took my camera during our concert and got some shots of our orchestra. The en mass orchestra was about 150 people (mandolins, mandolas, mandocellos, mandobasses, and guitars, oh and we had an accordion, a percussion guy, a penny whistle guy, and a singer), and it was SO much fun to play with that many people.  We’re both looking forward to next year’s convention already.

Here are two pictures of the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra (Dan and I are in the back row): Baltimore Mandolin OrchestraBaltimore Mandolin Orchestra