Archive for November, 2013

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When you think of Milkweed, you may think pesky weed, sticky white sap or something like that. Personally, I like it. I have fond memories of driving with my dad in the rural areas looking for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars on Milkweed plants. Milkweed grows in our yard – on purpose. I think it’s beautiful, with its soft leaves, and delicate blossoms; how it transforms through the season to growing pregnant pods filled with perfectly white fluff; watching the wind catch the fluff and carry the seeds up and away… It’s magical and makes me believe there might be fairies.

That was the extent of my thoughts on Milkweed until a couple of years ago when I read a historical fiction novel that mentioned Milkweed fluff being used as a pillow filler. Hmm! Interesting!…

As it turns out, Milkweed is pretty cool! Besides being the only plant leaf that Monarch Butterfly larvae eat, Native Americans used the stems for rope, twine and making baskets, the nectar as a sweetener, the fluff as fire tinder and the pods cooked to eat. The leaves, roots and sap also have strong medicinal properties. Early settlers used fluff to fill pillows, mattresses and cushions and to line quilts. During World War II, children collected Milkweed fluff to fill life jackets for soldiers – Milkweed fluff is almost 6 times more buoyant than cork! Over time, various companies have attempted to make textiles, paper, rubber substitutes, lubricants, fuel and pesticides using Milkweed but so far these have either proven uneconomical or not produced any large-scale successes…. Who knew?! And you thought it was a pesky weed!

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I was curious about the whole pillow filler idea and decided to try it myself. Without going overboard, I tried to use materials the early settlers probably used – woven fabric from natural fibers with no printing (cotton homespun), cotton thread, and a simple embroidered piece on muslin (that my sister-in-law generously donated to this project). I did use all my modern tools and machines, though, so not authentic I’m afraid.

NOW…. you think this process went smoothly? HA! Here’s how it really went down…

Collected big bag of fluff on quaint Sunday walk with family last month through rural park. Have at least 20 pods. Should be plenty.

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10:00 AM  3 pods in and think I have more fluff in nose and floating around studio than actually stuffed into pillow.

10:15 AM  10 pods in and laughing at the utter ridiculous-ness of this, wondering why, why, WHY I thought this was a good idea! Try to take artistic pict of fluff floating around me and cannot successfully capture full effect.

10:30 AM  20 pods in and realize need MORE FLUFF! Pillow only 1/3 full!… Must rush to rural park where we collected fluff last month. Hoping not too late in season. If too late, then will have to wait ENTIRE YEAR to finish pillow! Gah!

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NOON  Drag husband and toddler back to rural park, and, THANK GOODNESS, still see lots of Milkweed fluff! Though obviously nearing end of season as most pods are open now. Gather twice as much as before… just in case! As getting back into car, realize some interesting beetles have also been collected. Gah!

12:45 PM  Home again with overflowing bag of fluff. Put toddler down for nap and rush down to studio to finish pillow before house overrun with fluff.

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Eew! Is that a spider?! Oh. No. Just another beetle.

1:30 PM  (45 minutes later) Pillow is finished!… Where’s my lint brush!!

Can conclude from this project, while nice idea to use natural material for pillow filling and economical since studio near rural areas and lovely to involve family in collecting fluff/getting out in nature/quality time together, NOT a big time saver. In fact, total time vacuum. Speaking of vacuum, will be needing it for months to clean all of fluff remaining in studio. Studio carpet looks like light snow covering. Gah!

RESULT: Soft-ish pillow with down-like qualities. Slightly crunchy (from seeds). More flat than fluffy. Almost zero bounce/recovery. But quaint like vintage.

STATS:
Pillow dimensions: 10.5 in. x 12 in.

Milkweed pods emptied into pillow: 78

Number of minutes to stuff pillow: 77
Number of minutes spent with family gathering milkweed pods: 62

Beetles found (and flushed): 11
Spiders found (and flushed): 0 (whew!)

Inches of masking tape used to remove fluff from finished pillow to make presentable for photo: 52

Amount of fluff now on studio carpet: hard to determine
Amount of fluff in nose: also hard to determine
Number of times sneezed during pillow stuffing: 5 (surprising!)

Points for practicality: 0
Points for fun and experimentation: 10!

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References:

http://www.buymilkweed.com/history_of_milkweed.html
http://www.almanac.com/content/not-so-common-milkweed
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asclepias
http://wildblessings.com/plants/milkweed/

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In February 2011 I began my “year-long” 52 Pillows Project. At the time, I felt my life had “become about surviving, being practical and efficient, stretching every dollar, sometimes just getting through the day” because of the stress. I was “tired of getting by.” In undertaking this project, I hoped to bring myself back to life!… to thrive.”

Since I started my project, A LOT of life has happened. Stress and survival mode have taken on an entirely new meaning. And we’re not through yet.

You might be wondering why don’t I just quit? Forget the remaining 26 and call it good? Well, I haven’t quit because I’m actually having fun with it now. I started out trying to get something done, I had an agenda. Fun is certainly not what I expected from my project, especially after all that we’ve gone through. But there it is!…

At my current pace I expect to finish my “year-long” project in another 2 years, making my year-long project an almost 5-year project. I say this laughingly. It just shows how life rarely goes as planned and all you can do is hang on for the ride and make the best of what comes your way.

So you can count on seeing another 26 pillows, fun and creative (that’s my plan anyway), even if it takes me another 2-1/2 years!

Pillow #7 I Got Nothin’ was a week I didn’t get a pillow finished (or even started) and my realization that, like so much of my life, I was doing my project just to get it done and done on time, instead of digging deep creatively and living from my heart.

#8 Disappointed

#8 Disappointed (This pillow was about my dad who commit suicide in 2007. I think he’s spent more time with me, in spirit, since he died than in the previous 40 of my life, if you believe in that kind of thing.) = )

#12 Nest

#12 Nest (I made this before our Jenna was born – now the blank egg could be stitched with another “J”. However, it won’t be because of the pillows so far, this is my least favorite and it is now residing at the landfill.)

#14 Collaboration #2

#14 Collaboration #2 (This pillow I made for one of my nieces using the center embroidery piece done by her mom. I was delighted recently to see she still uses it.)

#19 Outdoor (and an exercise in perfection)

#19 Outdoor (and an exercise in perfection)

#21 Pinwheel The ended up donating this Pinwheel pillow to help raise money for one of the oncology nurses at the hospital who was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was really happy to help one of the amazing nurses who has helped care for our Jenna.

#21 Pinwheel
I donated this pillow to help raise money for one of the amazing oncology nurses who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She is one of the wonderful people who has helped care for our Jenna.

#23 Diversion (One of a set I made for my sister. Nothing special as far as technique – although I did really like this extra long lumbar pillow – and the fabric was yummy and fun! Overall, just a nice break from life’s stresses.)

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