Searching for Color Inspiration

casting on the yarn

This is going to be kind of a rambling post. It’s going to start with knitting.

Yes, I knit stuff sometimes.

I wouldn’t say I’m part of the “knitting community,” at least not the online one, because I don’t think they’d have me. Yet, I knit.

Recently, I knit my very first pair of socks.

the finished product

They are not quite as comfortable as store-bought socks, since the yarn I used doesn’t have any elastic in it, but they are perfectly serviceable, nice and warm. And, most importantly, they are in colors that I don’t mind showing off in my Minnetonka moccasins.

and again …

I’m not a huge fan of the fancy, picot-style top edge, but that’s how the pattern that I used was written, and I decided to follow it exactly before I branched out. I also learned to use the “kitchener stitch” to close the toe of this pair of socks.

Anyone who knits (or does any of a number of other handicrafts) will tell you that they are always looking for inspiration for new color schemes. Sure, it’s fun to stroll through the fabric store and take your inspiration from the yarns that are there, but I’ve found that the most fun colors to knit aren’t always the colors that you will end up wanting to wear. (Example: pink shades are really fun to knit, but I don’t gravitate towards fluffy pink items of clothing. Whenever I wear one, my kids tell me that I remind them of Dolores Umbridge. Not a good look.) (Another example: black knits are the coolest, very sophisticated, and you can often gift them to people who don’t want to look like they’re wearing a knitted item. However, pure black yarn is harder to work with because it’s harder to see what you’re doing, and it doesn’t show the stitch pattern as well when you’re finished, which might be a disadvantage or possibly an advantage if the piece didn’t go real well.)

All that to say, I have found my latest inspiration in the colors that seem to be signature of the Shoshone/Bannock Tribes.

The Shoshone/Bannock reservation (Fort Hall Reservation) is located in my neck of the woods. In fact, I drive through the rez whenever I go to town to get groceries. Fort Hall was a stop on the Oregon Trail, and there is a replica of it in Pocatello. Shoshone-Bannock type beadwork comes in all different color schemes (such as floral on a white or light blue background), but one very commonly seen type uses the primary colors. The blue is a light blue, the red is very vibrant, and the yellow can be used with white. It’s a little hard to find links to examples of this beadwork, but try looking here.

Now, if I was going to use primary colors in a design, I would probably make at least two of them very dark. Light blue would not be my first instinct, and it certainly wouldn’t occur to me to turn all three colors up to 11. But this color combination looks fantastic in Fort Hall. The beadwork looks especially good against shiny brown or black hair. Also, it is what you might call organic. If you click here, you will see that the three vivid colors are echoed in every Idaho sunset. Grounding them with a little black just adds to the sunsety impression.

Color inspiration. No, I am not just going to steal these colors willy-nilly. I am not going to dress head to toe in them or something like that. But I don’t think it will cause offense if I incorporate them in one or two knitted items. The Shoshone-Bannock folks I’ve rubbed shoulders with (figuratively, of course; Covid!) seem pretty friendly and chill. And they have the coolest cloth masks!

P.S. Naya Nuki was Shoshone. Click here for my review of her biography.

A Very Exclusive Collection

The items in this picture come from around the world and from different aesthetic traditions, so it’s surprising that they look so good together. At least, I think they look good. You be the judge.

The prints on the quilt squares come from clothing items actually worn by my husband and me when we lived in Indonesia. Some of them are batik; others are more modern tropical prints. In Indonesia, formal dress for couples goes as follows. The man wears black slacks, a black pillbox type hat called a peci (peh-chee), and a shirt made of a batik print. (Batik can come in many different patterns and color schemes.) The woman wears a long, narrow skirt made of the same batik as her husband’s shirt, and this is topped with a lacy, fitted, tunic-length blouse called a kebaya. The kebaya can be black, white, or in a color that coordinates with the batik.

In a tropical country, you don’t wear your clothes seasonally. You wear them year-round, until they wear out. After several years in Indonesia, I had all these worn-out shirts and pants in unique prints that now had sentimental value. Now we come to the second aesthetic stream: #grandmacore. We happened to be living in a place where there was a sewing room, with a small army of volunteer grandmas who were happy to take on sewing projects to help stressed-out young families who had just landed from overseas or were planning to return there. I brought the batiks to the grandmas and asked whether they could make several small quilts, suitable to hanging on the wall, with them. They did a great job!

Our formula so far goes,

Batik + Grandma

The rest of the stuff on the table is more boring. It was all bought in the U.S.A., and what could be more American than Red Hots in a Mason jar? But put on the batik quilt, it suddenly looks planned.

The orange-and-white ramekin, though boringly bought in an American department store, brings another aesthetic stream into this murky pool. It’s from the collection sold by Pioneer Woman, who lives on a ranch in Texas and has monetized her lifestyle with cookbooks, children’s books, and now kitchenware. Most of the kitchenware is colorful and detailed, and would tend to dominate any table it was put on. This ramekin, though a little busy, appeals because the flowers on it look like folk art. And who knew that American-style folk art would play so well with batik? Or maybe it could, because if you look at folk art from around the world, there is a certain similarity.

Batik + Grandma + “Pioneer” + Folk Art = A table I love, and I hope you haven’t hated seeing

I Rejected Cottagecore Before You Even Heard of It

In case you’re not picking up that this is self-deprecating humor, this is my version of that popular meme where a bespectacled hipster claims that he or she (or ze) was into some obscure thing long before it became a trend.

I’m not really this big of a jerk in real life. Quite.

But I am half-serious.

Eustacia made a lovely post recently, and it was there that I (for the first time actually) heard the term #cottagecore. Here is a BBC article about it. Since the article is by a major news organization, we can assume that it is late to the trend and gets a few things wrong. Still, this will be my source.

Basically (per the article) “cottagecore” is a visual aesthetic that became popular during the pandemic. It involves pictures of cottages, mushrooms, billowy dresses, rustic picnics, maybe gingham, maybe a gnome here or a fairy there. “It is the equal and opposite reaction to the contamination, helplessness and incoherence of our contemporary mise en scène,” says someone in the article. In other words, it’s sort of the exact opposite of a gritty urban fantasy.

As a lifestyle, cottagecore seems to involve things like gardening, sewing, crafting. Practicing self-sufficiency.

Correction: pretending to practice self-sufficiency.

I love the aesthetic. I do. I also love the idea of living self-sufficient. But it’s not really possible to do that in any thorough way, and if you do, you will be working so hard, and suffering so many privations, that your life will not look like a billowy, gingham-clad escapist fantasy. Hence, I can’t help feeling that anyone who takes this cottagecore thing as more than an interior decorating theme — anyone who tries to pretend it is somehow their lifestyle — is actually a poser. Let’s not fool ourselves, friends. I like mushrooms and sparkles as much as the next person, but they are not going to save us in the apocalypse.

I said as much here. Technically, this post was published before the pandemic started, so before cottagecore became a really big thing on Instagram. However, the article notes that cottagecore (as well as “faeriecore,” “farmcore,” and “grandmacore”) have been around since 2018. So I can’t really pull the hipster I-was-into-it-before-you-were move. Not to mention the Amish. And, you know, real subsistence farmers. They beat me to it a long time ago.

Neanderthal Woman and the No Electricity, Redux

This is Neanderthal Woman, a.k.a. me.

This is the tree

that came down this June

in the yard of N.W., a.k.a. me.

This is the tree

that came down this week

in the yard of N.W., a.k.a. me.

This is the weather

in our favorite State:

90, then freezing, then 90 again.

This is the sunflower

that grew in my yard,

now killed by the weather

in our favorite State.

This is a small

price that we pay

to live near the mountains

in our favorite State.

Freaky Flower of the Week: Woolly Mullein

As you can see, fields near my house are done with wheat harvest.

This is yet another flower that grows so prolifically on the roadsides, and looks so bizarre, that I was certain it would turn out to be native to the Intermountain West. Will I never learn?

The tall, coarse stalks of woody mullein stand as sentinels along the roadsides. They are biennial plants, growing the first year as a round cluster of large (12 x 4″) radiating basal leaves covered with thick, woolly hair. The second year, they rapidly grow a 1 – 6′ (!) tall stalk, crowded with yellow flowers in a spike arrangement. Then, with all its energy expended, the plant dies.

This introduced (!) weed colonizes disturbed places from the valleys and plains to the montane forests.

Dioscorides, the Greek physician to the Roman armies in the first century, used mullein to treat coughs, scorpion stings, eye problems, tonsillitis, and toothache. Today, herbalists value it as a medicinal herb for asthma, bronchitis, coughs, throat inflammation, earache, and various other respiratory complaints.

Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers by H. Wayne Phillips, page 157

Yellow Salsify

On my walks along the country lanes of Idaho, this wildflower is one of the most handsome and prominent. As you can see, it looks like a giant dandelion but with a more sculpted-looking stem. During the morning, the striking yellow flowers open and face the sun. Later in the day they close up into those very pointy-looking buds again. Eventually, they turn into large puffballs, like a dandelion but about three times as big.

Here is some growing in front of Silver Sage, which was our last featured wildflower.

Naturally I assumed these things must be native to the Intermountain West. They seem so at home here. But I could find them nowhere in my Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers guidebook. So, after Googling things like “yellow chicory images” and “looks like a giant dandelion images,” I at last discovered … it’s Yellow Salsify. Native to Eastern Europe, according to one web site. Yet another distinctive “Idaho” wildflower that is actually introduced! But look at how well it is getting on with that silver sage!

By the way, when I Googled “salsify” just now, I discovered that there is a purple variety and that the taproot is edible. This somewhat ameliorates my disappointment at finding out that it’s not a yellow variety of chicory as I had first hoped, and that there are, in fact, no yellow varieties of chicory. So, if you are into foraging, send me your salsify recipes!

Idaho Wildflowers

It became necessary to buy this book last week.

The fam and I went on a hike. A steep hike. The mountainside looked barren from the valley below, but when we were in among it, we were passing through thickets of trees and meadows (near vertical meadows, mind you) of tall grasses. And wildflowers. So many wildflowers.

This is the only wildflower picture that actually came from that hike. Obviously some kind of thistle, though it does not appear in the guidebook.

Every one of them was very distinctive looking, as if a person who knew what they were about would be able to identify them at a glance. I realized it was a disgrace that I didn’t know any of their names. (OK, Indian Paintbrush, but that was it!)

Black Sheep (who has apparently dropped off the Internet!) was aiming to have a Big Year with bird watching. I am not up to that, but perhaps I can start watching wildflowers. At least they hold still!

Having bought and looked through the book, I now know at the very least that I saw Lupine. The others have fled my memory. But here are a few found around our house, with my best shots at identifying them.

Wavy-Leaved Thistle. Much easier to find, but less spectacular, than the (thistle?) above.

Volunteer Yellow Columbine growing right in my flowerbed.

Showy Milkweed.

The things with yellow flowers are Leafy Spurge.

“This introduced noxious weed grows in disturbed soils along roadsides and fields. It is vigorously colonial, spreading laterally and forming dense communities, often excluding other plants. Twelve native species of spurges occur in the Pacific Northwest. Leafy spurges and other Euphorbias are known to be poisonous. Cattle and horses seem to be affected by the toxic properties of spurge more than sheep, which readily eat leafy spurge.” (page 133)

The hanging-down ones are Wild Lily of the Valley.

“This common native wildflower was named for its resemblance to the introduced garden lily of the valley flower … The garden plants have dangerously poisonous compounds that are purgative and have a digitalis-like effect on the heart … The native wild lily-of-the-valley has edible berries, although they are not very tasty, and eating too many will unleash their laxative properties. It is sometimes called starry Solomon’s seal.” (page 219)

And, climbing on a juniper tree, Climbing Nightshade.

“Climbing nightshade is an introduced vine [in the Rockies] … The plants scramble over shrubs and other vegetation for support, sometimes robbing them of the light needed to survive. Solanum is one of the larger genera worldwide, but it is concentrated in tropical and subtropical America. It includes the common potato (!). Many species of Solanum contain poisonous alkaloids, and grazing of climbing nightshade foliage has caused livestock deaths. … The bright red berries of climbing nightshade are very attractive and tempting, but they are poisonous and should not be eaten.” (page 62)

This instance of climbing nightshade is on our neighbor’s juniper, but we also have it in our raspberry patch!

And, finally, an old friend …

Lamb’s Quarter. This isn’t in the guidebook, as far as I can tell, but I include it because is is one of my favorite weeds. Yes, it used to be my job to classify weeds for agriculture scientists and I always kind of liked Lamb’s Quarter because the silvery power hidden in the top of it was something I found romantic. I would imagine a group of adventurers (very tiny ones, of course) climbing to the top of one of these things and being surprised by what they found there.

Happy Summer, everybody!

What’s your favorite weed?