Monthly Archives: December 2011

Ploughshare’s New Classes for 2012

We’ve greatly expanded our class offerings for 2012.  Below is a list of new classes. To find out more about a class or register for it, click the class name.


This comprehensive series of gardening classes will teach you how to raise a large portion of your family’s food, sustainably.

  • Gardening I – In this workshop, you’ll learn the foundational concepts and principles involved in gardening and how to select the best site for your garden. You’ll learn about soil and soil fertility, compost, growing beds, watering your garden, and pest control.
  • Gardening II – In this class, you will learn how to plan your garden, how to keep journals and records to improve your results, proper crop spacing, crop rotation, cover crops, how to start seeds, how to transplant, and ways to protect your crops in order to extend the gardening season.
  • Gardening III – The third class builds on the previous two classes. You’ll learn about saving seed from your current garden for next year’s or next season’s garden along with companion planting. We’ll also cover greenhouse design and how to do year-round gardening, so that you can get a food supply from your garden in all seasons.


  • Beginning Garment Sewing – This three day class builds on our Sewing 101-103 class. You’ll learn to make an elastic waist skirt. In this project, you’ll begin developing skills that you’ll be able to apply to other sewing projects. Next, you’ll learn hemming. We’ll teach you four ways to finish raw edges and four different hemming stitches.  Closures are next. You’ll learn how to insert both regular and invisible zippers, make button holes, sew on buttons, attach snaps, and use hooks and eyes. At the end of this class, you’ll have the skirt that you sewed, along with the pattern, a hemming sample book, a closures sample book, and step-by-step instructions for both hemming and closures.
  • Baby Jumper with Pantaloons – In this two day class you will further strengthen and develop your sewing skills.  You’ll make a baby jumper and matching pantaloons.  In making these projects, you will learn more about cutting out sewing projects, sewing a crotch seam, making a French seam, and other skills.
  • Paneled Skirt and Vest with a Collar – In this three day class, you’ll learn simple ways to adjust patterns for proper fit, how to make a one piece collar, and how to insert an invisible zipper. You’ll also learn about facing, understitching, and darts.  At the end of the class, you’ll take home your completed skirt and vest, along with the patterns and well-illustrated instructions.


  • Baby quiltBaby Quilt – In this two day class, you’ll learn the basic quilt making skills of fabric selection, rotary cutting, chain sewing, piecing squares, adding borders, laying-up, hand quilting, and making and applying a binding as you begin making a 36″ x 36″ baby quilt.  You will cut out, piece, and lay up your quilt in the class, and we’ll teach you hand quilting and binding, so that you can complete your quilt at home.
  • Table Runner – This one day class is a nice introduction to quiltmaking on a small project.  You’ll learn several quilt making skills, including fabric selection and rotary cutting as you sew an 11 1/2″ x 38 1/2″ table runner. In the class, you will cut out, piece, and lay up the table runner, and you will learn all the skills needed in order for you to complete the project at home.


We are offering three new half-day crocheting classes that will you teach you the basics of crochet along with the three primary crochet stitches. After completing these three classes, you’ll know how to follow any basic crochet pattern.

  • Crocheting 101 – This class is an introduction to crocheting. Learn single crochet then use this stitch to make a potholder, beginning the project with a chain stitch and completing it with a whipstitch.
  • Crocheting 102 – Further your skills as you learn half-double crochet to crochet a cotton dishcloth.  In addition, you will learn to read and follow a crochet pattern.
  • Crocheting 103 – Learn double crochet and make a baby hat using this stitch. In this workshop, you’ll also learn how to increase stitches, check gauge, and make a pompom (for the top of the hat).


  • Pottery Basics – This three day workshop is a great introduction to the art and craft of making pots on the potter’s wheel. You will learn to make a cylinder and a bowl first. Then we will teach you some simple shaping techniques and ways to make handles.

Rigid Heddle Weaving

In this series of classes, you will learn a variety of skills and patterns that you can then use as you weave attractive scarves and other projects, such as shawls, cushions, towels, and fabric.

  • Buffalo Check Scarf – In this class, you’ll be weaving a two-color buffalo check scarf and finishing it with an overcast stitch. The scarf will be made of merino wool/tencel yarn.
  • Houndstooth Scarf – You’ll use two shuttles to weave a traditional houndstooth patterned scarf made of merino wool/tencel yarn.  We will also demonstrate fringe twisting.
  • Brooks Bouquet Scarf – In this class, you’ll learn how to make a beautiful Brooks Bouquet lace pattern scarf (Brooks Bouquet is a finishing technique that can be used to weave lace). You’ll be weaving the scarf from cotton/bamboo yarn.
  • Chenille Scarf – The project for this class is a variegated scarf woven from rayon chenille. Chenille makes a soft, attractive fabric that drapes well.  Weaving with chenille requires proper techniques, which we’ll teach you in the class.
  • Pick up Stick Scarf – The pick-up stick is a tool that you can use to manipulate the threads to make complex patterns on your rigid heddle loom. We’ll teach you how to use the pick-up stick, then you’ll weave a scarf using your new skills.  You can use one of three finishing techniques to start and complete the scarf. For this project, you will use pima cotton/modal/silk yarn.
  • Spot Weave Lace Scarf – This class will further your skills with the pick-up stick, as you learn to use two pick-up sticks to weave a scarf using a 5-thread lace (spot weave) design from baby alpaca and silk yarn.

You can also learn to weave a dish towel on your rigid heddle loom:

  • Cotton Bouclé Dish Towel – In this class, you will weave a multi-colored, striped, cotton dishtowel using a slub yarn for the weft.  You’ll learn how to hemstitch both ends of the towel. Hemstitching is a skill that will be useful to you in other types of projects.

Learning How to Make Soap at Home

Homemade soaps

Homemade goat’s milk soaps

I learned to make soap about 18 years ago and for the past seven or more years have made all the soaps that my family uses. This includes soap for bathing, shampoo bars, laundry soap, soap for washing dishes, gentle soap for babies, and pet shampoo bars containing essential oils that help deter fleas and ticks. The photo shows soaps I’ve made in my home business, which makes and sells goat milk soaps.

In our one day course on soap making, we teach many of the things we have learned as soap makers. You’ll learn through hands-on training how to make soaps using the hot process and cold process methods.  Hot process soaps are usually made from tallow, which you’ll learn how to render. Cold process soaps are most often made from vegetable oils. You’ll learn about the advantages of each method, and at the end of the day, you’ll take home your own soap mold full of soap that you have made in the class. Half of the batch will be hot process soap and the other half will be cold process, goat’s milk soap.  After your soap has cooled and after you’ve cut, shaped, and aged the bars, they’ll be ready for you to use.

We have plenty of time in our soap making class for your questions, and we often cover topics like

  • “How can I make laundry soap?”
  • “Can I actually make all the different soaps that my family needs and uses?”
  • “What about homemade lye?”

We have several books available for purchase at each class so that you can further your soap making skills.  The books cover how to make shampoo bars, molded oval soap, herbal soap, and various other types of soap.

Best of Show at the Texas Furniture Maker’s Show

Hand forged table

Hall table made of mesquite, steel, and copper

Caleb Nolen, our blacksmithing instructor at The Ploughshare Institute, won best of show in the 12th annual Texas Furniture Maker’s Show with his hall table. The Texas Furniture Maker’s Show is a juried show that features the work of the finest furniture makers in Texas.

The sides of the piece are hand forged in a serpentine shape that runs in fluidity to the bow front, bringing your attention to the center oval, which showcases a cluster of hand forged roses.

Hand forged roses

Caleb fashioned each rose and its stem from a single piece of steel. The leaves are individually shaped then forge welded to the rose stem. On either side of the oval is a hand hammered copper rose.

Copper rose

Mortise and tenon joints with hand-hammered rivets hold the table together, and the top is made of figured mesquite.

Side view of table


Our Blacksmithing instructor at Ploughshare, Caleb Nolan, won best of show in the 12th annual Texas Furniture Maker’s Show with his hall table. The sides of the piece are hand forged in a serpentine shape that runs in fluidity to the bow front, bringing your attention to the center oval, which showcases a cluster of hand forged roses.

Caleb fashioned each rose and stem from a single piece of steel. He individually forged each leaf then forge welded them to the stem. On either side of the oval is a hand hammered copper rose, formed in the traditional repose method, done entirely freehand. The table is joined together with mortise and tenon joints and hand-hammered rivets, and the top is made from a fine piece of figured mesquite.

The piece is on display November 10 through December 10, 2011 at the show in Kerrville, Texas. The Texas Furniture Maker’s Show is a juried show that features the work of the finest furniture makers in Texas. Most entries in the show are constructed of wood, but entries also include materials as diverse as metal, stone, and fabric.

Ricotta: A Simple Cheese You Can Make at Home

Homemade ricotta cheese with blueberries

Homemade ricotta cheese with blueberries

Ricotta is a soft cheese that you can easily make at home. It is excellent eaten fresh with fruit, or you can use it in baked dishes like lasagna or baked ziti.

The recipe below, based on whole milk, is one of the simplest ways to make ricotta cheese. In our one day soft cheese making class, we teach another approach, where you first make fresh mozzarella, then make ricotta from the leftover whey.

This recipe makes about 1 3/4 pounds or 4 cups of ricotta.


  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid


Combine the milk, salt and citric acid in a large stainless steel pot, and mix the ingredients thoroughly.

Pouring the ingredients into a large stainless steel pot

Heat the mixture over medium heat on the stove top, stirring very gently to prevent scorching. Be careful not to stir too much because that will cause the curds to be too fine. Heat until the temperature reaches 195 degrees (F), but don’t allow the milk to boil. By the time the mixture reaches 195 degrees (F), the curds should have begun to separate from the whey.  When this happens, turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

Ricotta curds forming

Line a colander with butter muslin or fine mesh cheesecloth and set it in the sink (or in a pot, if you want to save the whey).  Scoop the curds and whey using a two cup measure and gently pour them into the colander.

Draining the Ricotta Curds through Cheesecloth

Draining the ricotta curds through cheesecloth

Drain the curds until they are the consistency you want.  The longer you allow them to drain, the drier your ricotta will be. You can eat it right away or store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. It also freezes well.

The final product: 1 3/4 pounds ricotta cheese and 3/4 gallon whey