Tea Towel Wrapping Paper

I needed to wrap a wedding shower gift for my son’s fiance. I could have found something to use in the drawers full of wrapping paper and reusable gift bags that are in the house. Instead I decided to weave some tea towels to give the bride as part of the gift, and also to use as wrapping for the purchased gift. This is a thing in Japan where wrapping cloths are called “furoshiki”. Traditionally they are fabric squares used to transport clothing or goods, around 17″ x 17″ or 28″ x 28″, made of cotton or silk. The cloths are wrapped around an item with the corners tied. They need to be thick enough, but not too thick to tie. My tea towel wrapping cloths will be rectangles, but oh well.

There have been many changes to weddings from when I got married in the 1980’s, besides the lack of puffy sleeves on dresses. These days many brides and grooms have been together for years, are older, already have a household established, and are more involved in the planning and financing of the wedding, or taking on complete responsibility. The traditional gift registry has a wider range of items and likely a cash fund for contributing to the cost of the honeymoon or other large expense.

One of the biggest changes has been a decrease in the number of weddings held in places of worship. According to the wedding website “The Knot” only 22% of weddings in 2017 were held in a religious institution, down from 41% in 2009.

Many of my contemporaries had weddings at a church, followed by a reception with dinner and dancing at another location. My wedding was traditional but on the lower end of the budget with a wedding dress I made myself (which turned out very well if I do say so myself), and a mid day ceremony followed by lunch in the basement provided by the stereotypical church basement ladies. Weddings today are often held at an event venue where the ceremony and reception can be at the same place, with the use of an internet ordained friend for the officiant, rather than a priest or pastor.

For my tea towel wrapping project I used a pattern called Running Stitch Towels, designed by Christine Jablonski. The yarn is Gist Duet 55% Linen / 45% Cotton. For once I had the exact yarn they used, although my two colors do not have has much contrast as theirs. My pattern will be more subtle. Gist also has patterns for Running Stitch Placemats and Running Stitch Napkins.

Two colors of Gist Duet cotton and linen blend yarn

This pattern has a slightly more complicated pattern than I have made before. The main yarn is blue, with darker blue stripes on one side of the warp, and also for about 1/4 of the weft yarn. The darker stripes are doubled, with the yarn passing through the same shed space twice, rather than every other space. You can see the darker warp yarns in the photo below.

Warping the loom, with stripes of the darker blue on one side

The first part of the warping process involves threading the yarn through the slots of the heddle and stretching it out across the dining room table and back, so that you have two yarns per slot. After that you wind most of the warp yarn on to the back beam. Then the next step is removing one of the warp yarns from each slot and threading it through the adjacent hole in the heddle. For this pattern the darker yarn has two yarns in the same space rather than one. In the photo below you can see on the right side where there are two warp yarns in each slot. On the left side I have moved warp yarns into the holes. Normally there would be one yarn in each hole and slot at the end of this step. In this pattern the darker yarn has two yarns, whether it is a hole or slot.

Distributing the warp yarns into the holes and slots according to the pattern

After all the warp yarns are distributed into the holes and slots, the yarns are tied on to the apron rod to hold them in place for weaving.

Tying the warp yarns on to the apron rod

Following is a photo with all the warp yarns tied on and ready for weaving.

Warp yarns all tied and ready for weaving

It is efficient to go ahead and do the hem stitch at the beginning of the actual weaving while it is still on the loom. If you wait until you remove the weaving from the loom it is all floppy and harder to work with (speaking from experience). I also found it works well to weave rows of waste yarn in between each towel being made on the same warp yarn, and do the hem stitch at the end of the first towel, and the beginning of the second towel. The next photo shows the weaving of waste yarn rows in between the first and second towel. The hem stitch is done at the end of the first towel, but not yet at the beginning of the second towel. You can see the pattern of darker yarn double thick on the second towel. The weaving will relax some after removing it from the loom, and shrink with washing, so the weave will be tighter.

The end of the first towel and the beginning of the second towel

You can see the pattern of darker rows in the photo below, after I removed the weaving from the loom, before weaving in the ends and washing.

Weaving complete and removed from the loom, before weaving in ends and washing
Closeup of the corner of the towel, showing the pattern of darker yarn.

It turned out to be a little slippery trying to wrap the towel around the gift. I had to wrangle with it to keep the fabric in place while tying the twine on. I really liked they way the tea towels turned out and will probably try the Running Stitch Napkin pattern with the same yarn.

Tea towel after washing and wrapping around the gift

Beeswax Food Wraps

A few years ago my daughter gave me a set of three beeswax food wraps. If you have not heard of these, they are a piece of cotton fabric applied with a thin coating of food grade beeswax that makes them water resistant, breathable, and tacky. They are used as a more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic wrap for covering bowls of leftovers or wrapping food. I liked mine and tried to use them as much as possible. Over time I lost two, and the wax on the third one gradually came off over time.

I saw references online to making your own beeswax food wraps, so I decided that would be fun to try (like I needed another project). As usual I googled this and found several blogs with instructions, and links for buying the supplies(here and here). Other folks have perfected the “recipe”, discovering that it works best if you add pine resin and jojoba oil to the beeswax. It is probably a better deal to buy the individual ingredients and mix it yourself, but I decided to buy a product that was already mixed and ready to use. Following is a photo of what I bought from Jenny Joys Soap online. Jenny also sells related products including soaps, salves, fabric for beeswax wraps, and complete kits for making them.

Beeswax Premixed for applying to fabric

I started the project by taping together old file folders to make a bigger size of heavy paper, and then I made templates for three sizes of square wraps and one size of round. The largest square size can be used to wrap around a sandwich.

Paper templates for four sizes of wraps

Next I assembled the supplies needed, including big baking sheets, parchment paper, pinking shears, paintbrushes, and clothespins (which I did not use after all). I have three pairs of pinking shears in the house. One pair is my own, one came from my mom’s sewing supplies, and the other one came from my mother-in-law. None of them are sharp. My sister was coming to visit, so she brought a pair she owns that turned out to be shorter but quite sharp.

Supplies assembled

My sister is a quilter, so she has a large stash of 100% cotton fabric. She brought a tub of scraps that we could use. I also had a couple of small samples of fabric I had bought from Cindy Lindgren.

Part of my sister’s stash of cotton fabric scraps

The next photo is our friend cutting out a square of fabric using the pinking shears, after drawing around one of the templates on the back.

Cutting the fabric with pinking shears

Next is my sister “painting” the beeswax product that has been melted in the double boiler on to her fabric square. The fabric is laid out on some parchment paper on a jelly roll size baking tray. It took some practice to figure out how much to apply without getting it too thick or too sparse. You only have to paint on one side as it soaks through.

Painting on the beeswax

After putting the beeswax on, we put the tray in the oven on a low temperature (between 225 F and 325 F) for a few minutes to let the wax spread out and soak into the fabric. After “baking” the fabric with wax, we took it out and used the brush again as needed to apply a bit more wax, or even it out. Sometimes it needed to go back in the oven again. When the wax seemed even on both sides of the fabric it was time to peel it off the parchment paper and lay out to dry. Any surplus of wax on the just completed wrap, or on the parchment paper, was soaked up with another piece of fabric before applying more wax from the double boiler.

Baking the wraps in the oven to even out the wax

The wraps turned out very well. They feel a bit stickier than the original beeswax wraps that I got from my daughter years ago, but maybe I just don’t remember. They need to be a bit tacky so they stick to the bowl you are covering, or stick on itself if wrapping around food. The instructions said you could hang them on a clothesline to dry, but we ended up laying them out on drying racks and an outdoor table.

Drying on a drying rack
Drying on an outdoor table

I put a round wrap over a bowl, and wrapped the large square one around some bread, to show how they work. You could make little snack bags by adding ties or buttons.

Sandwich wrap and bowl cover

PS A couple of notes about using and caring for beeswax wraps. They can be cleaned by rinsing with cool water mild soap. Hot water makes the beeswax melt off gradually. I washed the ones I had before with hot water and soap, so I am sure that contributed to their losing the tackiness. However if you do not wash them in hot water, you should not wrap any meat in them directly. When they are past their useful like, the beeswax wraps are compostable.

Refurbished Linen Crop Pants

I have a pair of linen wide leg crop pants that I love. They are at least ten years old, but are still in style and super comfortable. They are cool if it is hot out, or warm if it is cool out, and they can be dressed up or down. The waist band is just a simple elastic casing which lately seems to slide down and hit me in the wrong place. I have a pair of yoga pants with a wider yoke style waistband that sits right, so I decided to try to re-do the waistband on the linen pants like that.

I thought of looking for a pair of pants with the right kind of waistband at a thrift shop, to reuse for my linen pants. The places to shop for clothes where we live now include Walmart and Fleet Farm, plus a few independent shops, consignment shops and thrift shops. Sometimes you can find what you need there, but actually I have not needed anything much since retiring from my job, moving to the lake, and living though the pandemic (while wearing the same pair of yoga pants with a fleece top or hoodie sweatshirt almost every single day).

We went to the Twin Cities for a memorial service recently. My husband was giving the Eulogy and realized at the last minute that he needed a new shirt and tie, so we went to Macy’s and Kohl’s. I had not been shopping at a department store for ages, so it was quite a culture shock.

I have always felt overwhelmed inside a Macy’s store. There is a sea of too many choices and they are arranged by designer instead of by type of item. I want to see all of the same kind of thing in one place for easy evaluation. I get lost in a big department store and cannot figure out which displays I have already looked at, what direction to go next, or how to get out of there. And I am sure you have all experienced shopping at Kohl’s where they practically pay you to take the merchandise with all the sales, promotions, and Kohl’s bucks. It is part of the whole larger problem of fast fashion, which will be a topic for another day.

While my husband looked at shirts in the Kohl’s store, I browsed the clearance racks. I found a pair of denim pants for $4.00 (plus 20% off of that!). They were too short and a little big in the waist, but would work to reuse the waistband for the linen pants.

Following is a photo of my linen crop pants, next to the clearance pants from Kohls.

My linen crop pants next to some denim pants on clearance at Kohl’s

The first steps in this project were to undo the casing on the linen pants, and remove the waistband from the Kohl’s pants. I will save the rest of the Kohl’s pants for some other future upcycle project.

Undoing the waistbands on both pairs of pants

I found that the fabric where the linen pants folded over the elastic was completely worn through in several places, but I ended up cutting that part off.

Very worn out waistband with fabric completely shredded through

I took in about 1/2″ on the Kohl’s pants waistband. Next I trimmed and gathered the waist of the linen pants a little to fit the new style waistband. I used another pair of pants for a guide to get the right crotch length. The next photos show the denim pants waistband ready for attaching to the linen pants, and then the linen pants trimmed and gathered a bit.

New waistband with linen pants
Linen pants waist trimmed and gathered

Following is the new waistband attached to the linen pants. The color does not show very well, it is darker navy like the photo above.

Linen pants with new waistband

Following is a photo of me modeling the refurbished linen pants with a scarf I wove when we were in Arizona over the winter. It is like having a whole new outfit.

Modeling the upcycled linen pants, with a scarf I wove
A new outfit from 10 year old linen pants

Custom Spinning Job

I woman I know through the fiber community, Betsy, was looking for someone to spin some yarn for her. She was given my name, so I invited her over to talk about what she had in mind. Betsy knew my parents, but had never been to their home, where I live now. She enjoyed seeing the house and admiring my mom’s artwork on display, and we compared notes on our activities and our adult children’s ages and places of residence. None of them live around here!

Betsy had knit a vest using Patons Worsted 100% wool gray yarn, with some contrast stripes. She wanted to try the same pattern again with handspun natural gray yarn. She told me she tried to learn how to spin, but found it frustrating and decided she would focus on other things instead. So that is how I came into the picture.

Vest knit from commercial yarn

Based on the type and amount of commercial yarn used, the requirement was to spin about 400 yards of worsted weight yarn. We looked at some yarn I had spun recently that was the same number of grams as the commercial yarn but more yards. It looked a little thicker, but maybe it was just fluffier.

Betsy had hand dyed the some roving (strips of batt) a beautiful cranberry color. She wanted that spun into yarn to use for the contrast stipes in the sweater. Unfortunately, it had gotten partially felted in the process so I could not spin it. She will buy some commercial yarn for the contrast stripes instead.

There are different ways to determine the price for custom spinning. It could be based on the hours spent working on it, the number of yards spun, the weight in grams or ounces, or a flat rate. I am not the fastest spinner, so I did not want to charge her by the hour. Hand spun yarn for sale online or at a yarn shop can be much more expensive than commercially made yarn for the same weight or yards. In this case, I thought that we could find a sweet spot price where I would be willing to do the spinning, but it would still make sense for Betsy’s project.

After discussing the needs of the project, and figuring out how much fiber was needed, Betsy drove 10 miles over to the Ellison’s, our mutual friends with a sheep farm and who host Fiber Day, to buy the wool already carded into a batt ready for spinning. She then came back to my house to drop it off, so I could begin the project.

The gray wool batts weighed a total of 243 grams. I divided the wool into 6 rolls of 40 grams each using a kitchen scale, which I planned to make into three skeins of two ply yarn.

Weighing sections of batt
Six bundles of batt at 40 grams each

I was nervous about producing the yarn exactly the thickness requested. Also, sometimes even if handspun yarn looks a certain way or meets certain criteria, it might not behave the same way as commercial yarn when knit into a pattern. I say this based on experience!

I spun up some of the wool on two bobbins and plied it together to get a sample. I wrapped some of singles yarn, plus some plied yarn before washing, around an index card to use as a reference as I continued with the project. Then I washed the sample small skein to make sure the final result was what I was expecting. It seemed about right, so I continued on with the spinning.

Singles yarn on the bobbin, next to the sample of 2 ply yarn, before washing
Single and plied samples before washing, wrapped on a card for reference, next to sample yarn after washing

Sometimes I watch youtube videos on my tablet computer while spinning. When I click on the youtube link, a selection of options are displayed. I watched short history videos, spinning or knitting related videos, current events videos, videos about TV series I have enjoyed, and other topics that catch my eye. And of course it keeps track of what I selected, and then suggests more similar content. That is good and bad.

Watching youtube videos while spinning

After filling three bobbins with fiber from three of the six batts I had measured out, I realized that I would be able to easily fit all the fiber on four bobbins, so I could end up with two longer skeins of two ply yarn, rather than three shorter skeins. I redistributed the rest of the wool across the four bobbins and then continued spinning.

The photo below shows the last bobbin filling up, with a pile of fluff on the floor. When I am spinning, I usually stop to pick off bits of short fibers, slubs or even dirt and hay that will cause a lump in the yarn. It is amazing how small of a bit of something will make a lump. In this fiber, I also pulled out quite a few long white wiry “hairs” that were not consistent with the texture of the rest of the fiber, and might cause the yarn to be scratchy. Some people would just keep spinning all that in, and that might be OK depending on the final effect you are going for. After a session of spinning I always end up with a mess on the floor that needs to be vacuumed or manually picked up.

Spinning almost done

Following are the four completed bobbins of “singles” yarn, plus the bits of stuff I picked off the floor while spinning, gathered into a blob.

Four bobbins of spun singles, plus all the slubs I picked off

The next step was to begin plying. Two bobbins went on the “Lazy Kate” with the ends of the singles yarn coming out together through a loop. I am not sure who came up with that name for the tool to hold the bobbins while plying.

The two bobbins of singles ready for plying

The two singles yarns coming off the “Lazy Kate” are spun on to another (larger) bobbin to make two ply yarn. Plying the yarn makes it stronger and more balanced, having less tendency to come untwisted. It is also possible to ply three singles together into three ply yarn. Note that the number of plies is not what determines the final thickness of the yarn. Lace or sock weight yarn can have multiple very thin singles plied together. You can also have very thick singles yarn.

Plying

After plying was complete, I carefully washed the two skeins of yarn to “set the twist”, so it would remember it’s new state. It turned out to be a beautiful, warm and sunny day, perfect for hanging the yarn outside to dry.

Washed and drying outside
Yarn washed and drying outside

The final yardage was just over 400 yards. One of the skeins was a bit thicker than the other one. I was not surprised about that. Even though I had the sample yarn on a card to use as a guide, I am not good enough at spinning to be able to match the sample exactly or make every yard the same. The finished yarn weighed 233 grams. I started with 243 grams, so I don’t know what happened to 10 grams worth. The blob that I picked off was less than 1 gram.

One way to measure and compare yarn is by yards per pound. The Patons Worsted commercial yarn was 890 yards per pound. This hand spun yarn came out to 856 yards per pound, which is less yardage for the same weight, but in the same weight category. For the purposes of Betsy’s project, it will work fine.

Ideally I would have a photo of the finished product out of this yarn, but I don’t know how long it will be before Betsy knits the vest.

Two skeins of yarn completed

Betsy knew how long it took me to spin the yarn, and that the $50 price we had agreed on was on the low side. She graciously offered me $60 cash AND a four pound chicken she raised herself, butchered and frozen, AND some rhubarb. I was very pleased with this deal! Sometime this summer when we have family visitors I will cook the chicken from Betsy at the same time as a chicken from the store, and we will do a taste test. Watch for a future blog post about that.

Yarn spun in exchange for money, chicken and rhubarb

Eriksson Maple Syrup

 

My grandfather, James Shonts Eriksson, became a lawyer in Fergus Falls, MN, after graduating number one in his law school class at the University of Minnesota in 1933. Shortly before WWII he was settling an estate involving 32 heirs to 120 acres of woods near his lake cottage north of Fergus Falls. None of the heirs would talk to each other, but they would talk to him. His solution for settling the case was to buy the individual shares of property from each heir, and thus he ended up owning the entire 120 acres. The land included a small shack with a dirt floor, where a squatter named Louie was living. Grandpa allowed Louie to continue living on the woodlot and paid him to do odd jobs, such as chopping wood. 

In the mid 1940’s my grandfather’s friend, Pete Nelson, came up with the idea of producing maple syrup in the woodlot. Pete worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Fergus Falls and shared common interests of hunting and fishing with Grandpa. Later he married my Grandma’s sister Ruth and they moved to Juneau, Alaska. Before that happened, Pete and Grandpa arranged to cut and mill trees on site into lumber, and then built an 18’ by 40’ building with a 12 foot wide lean to. The biggest maple syrup evaporator available was installed that burned standard four foot long “cord wood”. By this time Louie was long gone, but his shack was relocated next to the new building and was used for the syrup operation.

Louie’s shack appended to the original Eriksson Maple Syrup building

Two gallon metal containers that had been used to store liquid eggs were obtained from the bakery and repurposed to collect sap. They were hung from spiles tapped into the maple trees. You can find a few of those containers laying around in the woodlot today. At some point the metal containers were replaced by 2.5 gallon vinyl bags that were also hung from the spiles. Depending on the amount of snow, a team of horses pulling a sleigh, or a tractor pulling a wagon, towed 250 gallon tanks through trails in the woods. Sap collected at each tree was emptied manually into five gallon pails. Four bags of sap would fit into two five gallon pails, which the helpers then lifted up over their heads and dumped into the top of the tank on the wagon, usually slopping some out in the process. This was hard labour and usually involved working in cold and wet conditions, trudging through deep snow or slipping around on mud, while carrying and emptying the heavy containers of sap. A crew of Grandpa’s syrup workers included his sons, along with local grain and dairy farmers who were in their off season and got paid $1.00 per hour. 

The tanks of sap on the wagon or sleigh were driven up a gravel ramp where a pipe with a swivel attached was used to get the sap down into a 1,200 gallon storage tank. This final large storage tank was connected to the evaporator by a transfer pipe through the wall of the building. A float valve controlled the amount of sap flowing into the evaporator. The sap was then cooked down into syrup.

At one time as many as 2,500 trees were tapped, resulting in 25,000 gallons of sap and 650 gallons of syrup, which was sold to a wholesale distributor in Onamia, Minnesota. This went on into the 1960’s, when my uncles graduated from high school and were no longer around to help. 

In the 1970’s a neighbor was allowed to tap trees in the woodlot and make syrup using our family equipment, in exchange for a percentage of the syrup and some split wood. After my Grandpa died, my Grandma lived at the lake and used firewood for her wood burning furnace, so this was a big help. 

That original syrup building was still standing as late as 1982 when I first brought my future husband to the lake. There is a photo of the two of us standing in front of it from that era. Notice I am wearing my Frostline Kit down vest that I wrote about in an earlier blog post (click here to read that post). Sometime in the mid 1980’s, after Eriksson maple syrup production was just a memory, the building finally collapsed.

Wearing my frostline kit vest in front of the syrup building in the early to mid 1980’s

In the early 2000’s there was a bad storm with straight line winds that knocked down hundreds of trees in the woodlot. The idea of restarting a syrup operation was floated around. My uncles polled all the siblings and next generation cousins to see if there was any interest. There seemed to be enough willing helpers, so they went ahead with preparing the site for a new syrup building. A guy with a Woodmiser portable sawmill came and milled lumber from oak, ash and maple trees. The 30’ by 60’ building was constructed, consisting of a 30’ by 16’ evaporator room and space for storage of wood and various equipment. The cement floor was poured in the evaporator room in 2007, the floor in the storage area was left as dirt. In 2008 an evaporator was purchased for $14,000 from the Leader Evaporator company in Vermont. It came on a truck in pieces and had to be assembled with much trouble from cryptic instructions and unhelpful phone calls to the company. Rather than using buckets or bags for collecting sap, plastic tubes were strung through the trees, going gradually downhill towards the syrup building. Note that the Eriksson clan does not do anything on a small scale.

Cousins wrote their name in the newly poured cement floor of the evaporator room
The door of the evaporator where wood fuel is loaded in

The making of maple syrup in the spring became a renewed Eriksson family tradition, attracting relatives from across the country as well as friends interested in the process and getting out in nature after long winters. In late March and early April, depending on the weather,  trees are tapped and the plastic lines attached to the spiles. The sap flows by gravity into larger tubes and then into four storage tanks in the woods, and from there it is pumped into a transfer tank on the back of the truck. Sap is then pumped through a filter up into a larger tank on a platform outside the building, and finally, by gravity and using a float valve, the sap flows into the evaporator. It took several years of trial and error, and refinements in the system and equipment, before it all worked efficiently. 

Drilling a hole for the tap
Plastic tubes in the woods for collection of sap
Sap draining from the tubes into a collection tank

The sap in the large collection tank outside the building is cold, so it takes a long time to get it up to the right temperature while cooking. One of my cousins had the idea of installing a “pre-heater” tank just inside the building, where the sap could warm up using heat from the chimney before entering the evaporator, thus making the cooking process much more efficient. Interestingly, an east wind can reduce efficiency by as much as 25%. This is likely related to increased moisture in the air.

Sap storage tank outside the building
Sap flows from the large collection tank outside the building through the pre-heater into the evaporator

While the sap is cooking in the evaporator, someone has to sit there for hours and watch the temperature dial. At 219 degrees it is syrup, and the person “draws” it out by opening a valve that allows the syrup to flow into buckets through a type of filter used in the milk industry. After that step, the syrup is poured through another filter into 10 gallon stainless steel containers. It goes from there through yet another filter press. Finally it drains into a stainless container where it is brought up to 180 to 200 degree canning temperature, then out a spigot into one pint and one quart plastic jugs. Caps are put on the jugs, and the jugs are placed upside down to seal.

Watching the evaporator temperature gauge
At 219 degrees the syrup is drawn from the evaporator into buckets
Canning syrup after heating to 180 to 200 degrees
Syrup bottled and cooling

Last year the syrup team experimented with using food grade plastic buckets for collecting the sap instead of the plastic tubing method. A short length of plastic tube connects to the tree tap, with the other end going into the bucket sitting on the ground. The buckets get manually emptied through a filter into a larger container and then pumped into a transfer tank on the back of the pickup truck, like the old days but with better equipment. After that the process is the same. 

Collecting buckets of sap from the woods
Carrying buckets of sap to the collection tank on the back of the truck
Dumping sap from the buckets into a container on the truck, through a filter
Pumping sap into the transfer tank on the truck
Pumping sap from the transfer tank into the large tank outside the syrup building

After canning of syrup is complete, there is a big cleanup process. The plastic tubes have a cleaning solution and then rinse water run through them. All the buckets and covers and lids are washed with a cleaning solution used in the dairy business, then rinsed, dried, and put away for storage until the next season. The short lengths of tubes attached to the spiles are run through the dishwasher, followed by a rinse with fresh hose water outside. The evaporator and other equipment and fixtures in the syrup building are all washed and cleaned up, and all tools put away. 

220 buckets washed and stacked
220 lids washed and drying

During the off season, and in preparation for a new season, there is a lot of maintenance. Sometimes fallen trees have to be cleared from the trails. There is always wood to be cut, split, and stacked in the syrup building, where ideally it dries out for about three years until it is ready for fuel in the evaporator. Between syrup seasons, the plastic tubes start to sag, trees fall on them, and animals chew through them, causing necessary repair. and straightening out. Before tapping the trees, the tubes must be straightened out and fresh water is run through them to make sure they are clean.

Splitting wood
Split wood drying out for use as fuel in the evaporator

Using the plastic tubes versus buckets for collection of sap each have their pros and cons with different issues and labor needs. Sap can run through the lines into collection tanks continuously whether there is a person there or not. As much as 900 gallons can be collected in a couple of days using the plastic tubes with ideal conditions. But sometimes the lines freeze, stopping the sap from flowing, and they require more maintenance between seasons. With the bucket method, there is less maintenance needed during the off season, but more people are needed to set up and collect the sap in a short window of time when the sap is running. Some sap is wasted if not all of the collection buckets are ready to go at the same time, some are emptied when only partially full, and others overflow before being emptied. It is time consuming to clean the buckets, as opposed to a two hour job of running water through the lines. 

This year 220 buckets were used, and the plastic lines were left to sag in the woods.  The conditions were right for the sap to flow at the right time, with comfortable weather for working outside during the day. There was no snow in the woods, there were enough people. The total amount of sap collected was around 1,300 to 1,400 gallons, resulting in about 30 gallons of syrup. It was very warm outside when all the cleaning of buckets happened with cold hose water. It was fun working outside together and we even used a little of the fresh syrup for a pancake breakfast in the woodlot.

Pancake meal with freshly made maple syrup

Maple syrup harvesting can be and has been a fun family bonding experience, but it is not without challenges and is not a cost effective way to get syrup. Problems have included the many hours of maintenance needed to keep the equipment and lines in working order, having enough labor at the right time (or at all) to get all the tasks done without a couple of people being stuck with most of the work, weather which can disrupt the sap flow and/or make it difficult to collect the sap if snow and mud interfere. 

Ideal conditions for sap to flow are temperatures below freezing during the night, and above freezing with sunshine during the day. Normally that happens in March, but the weather can vary from polar vortex to summerlike conditions. Some years the weather has not been right for sap to flow when the helpers are available, or sap is flowing before the equipment is set up and ready.

Climate change since the original Eriksson Maple Syrup years has had a significant impact on the harvest. Spring weather has become warmer and more unpredictable, and reduced the amount of time the sap runs from a couple of months in the 1940’s and 1950’s to around two weeks today. Also, the water table has risen significantly in the woodlot, causing mature trees to weaken and fall, causing more work clearing trails and repairing sap lines.

Restarting Eriksson Maple Syrup production 20 years ago was the rebirth of an Eriksson family tradition. Multiple generations of Erikssons gather in the woodlot after a long winter, and enjoy the camaraderie and being outdoors. Not to mention the fruits of all that labor, excellent quality maple syrup.

The enthusiasm for the annual tradition, however, has waned a bit over time. The novelty has worn out, and some years it has been hard to get volunteers. Fewer volunteers means the people who do show up do more of the work. One option being contemplated is to gather syrup every other year, since there is typically syrup left over from prior harvests. Hopefully the next generation of Erikssons will keep the tradition going.

Upcycle Felted Slippers

In past years I have made four pairs of felted slippers with a separate knitted and unfelted ribbed cuff. In the photo below, my daughter and niece are modeling slippers I made for each of them. Yes, my daughter wanted each foot to be a different color yarn.

My daughter and niece wearing felted slippers I made for them

Later my daughter asked me to knit a pair for her friend. In the next photos you can see one slipper before felting, next to the other slipper after felting, plus the beginning of the knitted cuff using some handspun yarn. After that is a photo of the completed project.

A pair of felted slippers I made years ago, one before and one after felting
Completed pair of felted slippers with non felted ribbed cuff

I have used various methods to attach the unfelted ribbed cuff to the slipper, including sewing it on the inside of the cuff of the slipper and then folding it over, and sewing it exactly at the top of the felted cuff. Once I tried knitting a provisional cast on with a non felting yarn at the top of the cuff, so that when I felted the slippers it would leave holes where I could pick up stitches to knit the decorative ribbed cuff. That was a lot of work and did not work out very well.

Felted slippers do wear out in the heel after awhile and there is no way to repair them. There are leather bottoms you can buy, but it gives them a very different look and they are hard to fit on and attach.

Last fall when I was sorting out drawers and baskets of hats, mittens, and scarves that had accumulated over many years, I found a purple hat and scarf my mom had knit. The yarn was good quality wool, but had worn out to the point where I did not think it looked good enough to donate and I probably would not wear it myself either. I decided to unravel the yarn and re knit it into a pair of felted slippers.

Hat and scarf my mom knit years ago that was worn out
Starting to unravel the scarf so I could reuse the yarn
All the yarn from the hat and scarf including the fringe and pom pom

For this pair of felted slippers (and two of the pairs pictured above) I used a pattern called “NL8 Felted (Fulled) Slippers” by Nancy Lindberg. I bought the pattern at a yarn shop years ago, but now you can get it electronically on Ravelry. It is a basic top down sock pattern with a gusset heel, but on thicker yarn with bigger needles. It knits up quickly.

I cast on the stitches for this pair of felted slippers about five times before getting it right. All knitters know what I am talking about. With the long-tail cast on you have to estimate how much tail to start with. I have read various methods for determining how long to make it, but have never found them to work. My method is to guess and go for it. Usually it takes several tries of getting it too short or too long, ripping it out, and starting over. Or it is too short, so you start over and adjust accordingly to make it just the right amount longer on the next try, but it ends up being massively too long. So then you just give up and leave the long tail. Then you start to knit with the tail by mistake and have to undo those stitches and start knitting again with the working yarn.

This yarn from my mom’s hat and scarf is thicker than the suggested yarn for the pattern, so I used bigger needles. It is also thick and thin yarn, so I was not sure what would happen with the felting process.

You are always supposed to knit a swatch to determine your gauge, but I usually don’t, and decided not to bother this time. Instead I guessed how many stitches to cast on and knitted most of the cuff before determining the circumference was too big. At that point what I had knitted so far became my swatch, so I figured out how many stitches I should have cast on in order to get the right width. I ripped it out and started over with fewer stitches. See step one. Remind yourself, it is about the process, not the result. You have to enjoy the process.

Knitting the cuff of the slipper
Knitting the foot of the slipper

Following is a photo of the two slippers knitted up and ready for felting. I used up almost all of the yarn, except a few yards plus the short pieces from the fringe and pom pom.

Knitted and ready for felting

They look like they will fit Paul Bunyan next to a regular hand knit sock.

Massive pre felted size compared to a regular sock

The slippers felted up nicely to the right size after two cycles in the washing machine (with laundry I needed to wash anyway), using hot wash water and cold rinse water. Notice below how much the slipper shrank in the felting process, compared to the regular sock.

After felting compared to the same regular sock
Completed slippers laid out flat, with the color looking more accurate

The thick and thin yarn felted with no problem and resulted in an interesting effect. I decided not to add an additional decorative unfelted cuff to this pair. The yarn for the main boot is interesting by itself, and I didn’t have anything on hand that seemed right. I think they look nice plain in this case. The cuff can be left up or folded down.

Felted slippers on my feet
With the cuffs folded over

I posted these slippers for sale on ETSY. https://www.etsy.com/listing/1009333048/hand-felted-slipper-boots?ref=shop_home_active_1&frs=1

Organic Cotton Towels

For my forth towel weaving project I used some expensive organic 100% Cotton Pure yarn from Purl Soho. It is a little thicker than 8/4 cotton yarn, but thinner than Peaches & Creme yarn. I wanted to know if the more expensive yarn would make nicer towels and if it was worth the extra cost. You can see each type of cotton yarn below.

Thinnest 8/4 weaving yarn, Purl Soho yarn, Peaches & Creme yarn

The following photo shows five colors of the Cotton Pure yarn, and one ball of Purl Soho “Lantern” cotton/linen blend. I only had two skeins of off white, so decided to use most of that for the warp. I would have a small amount of off white left for weft, and then use the colors for the rest. I decided to save the yellow cotton/linen blend for another project.

Purl Soho Cotton and Cotton/Linen Yarn

After warping the loom, the next thing to do before weaving was adding some rows of header yarn. You can see below how the warp yarn is tied on in groups to the “apron bar” at back of the loom. Weaving some header rows with a contrast yarn spreads the warp yarns out so they are evenly distributed before you begin your project.

Warp ends tied to the apron bar, header rows, and the beginning of the first towel with hem stitch already done

For this project I did a hem stitch at the beginning and end of each towel while it was still on the loom. In the photos you can see the contrast yarn header rows and the hem stitch at the beginning of the towel. The weave looks loose. It relaxes after it is removed from the loom, and also the 100% cotton shrinks when it is washed, causing the fabric to be more dense.

Close up of hem stitch and header rows of weaving

This pattern suggests that you cut the first towel off the loom and retie the warp yarn to the apron bar for the second towel. I did that with my first set of towels, but found that wasted a lot of yarn. Instead I decided to try weaving another section of header rows after the first towel, and then go ahead and start weaving the second towel. After weaving a couple of inches of the second towel, I did the hem stitch at the beginning of the second towel. In the next photo you can see the first towel wrapped on the back beam with the end hem stitched, some contrast header rows, and the beginning of the second towel with hem stitching completed.

The end of towel 1 and the beginning of towel 2

After using up all the warp yarn I had five towels with hem stitching on each end, and about 2.5 inches between each towel, including header rows and what would be the fringe. I removed it all from the loom, took the header rows out, and cut them apart. The photo below shows the five towels at that point.

Removed from the loom and cut apart, not washed yet

I really like the plain white background with contrast horizonal stripes, but I did not have enough off white yarn for that. Instead, one towel is the opposite pattern, with the main weft yarn a dark color and with off white stripes. Two towels have a single contrast color for the weft yarn, and the last two are stripes of contrast colors. The fifth towel is shorter, because that is how much warp yarn was left. Maybe some day I will get the right amount of warp yarn so all the towels are the same length without wasting any yarn.

For this project I documented the completed and washed size of the towels, compared to the size they were on the loom. Between “take up” (reduction in size due to the yarn going over and under) and shrinkage from washing, the finished size was 20% smaller than what I measured out at the beginning. The next two photos show the five towels after weaving in all stray ends and washing. It looks like there is a herringbone or diagonal pattern, but actually all I did was plain weave (over under over under). Torri, my weaving mentor, tells me that twist in the yarn caused this effect.

After weaving in ends and washing
After weaving in ends and washing

Following you can see close up photos of the five towels in this set.

Close up
The other two close up

I knew that the Cotton Pure yarn was quite a bit more expensive, but when buying it I did not think about what that meant per towel. After weaving towels with three different kinds of cotton yarn, I did some calculations to compare the cost on a per towel basis. For this exercise, I assumed 160″ of warp yarn for four towels. Interestingly, the Peaches and Creme yarn that you can buy at Walmart (8 yarns per inch), and the 8/4 cotton yarn (10 yarns per inch), both came out to about $3.00 worth of yarn per towel. The organic Cotton Pure yarn from Purl Soho online costs about $12.00 (!) per towel. Quite a big difference, more than I expected. The Cotton Pure yarn towels are extremely soft and nice, and a good weight, so maybe it was worth it. They make a very nice gift, and I am worth it too, right?

The last photo shows one towel from each type of yarn.

Towels from three yarns: 8/4 Cotton, Cotton Pure, Peaches & Creme

I will be making more towels in the future. Besides being practical, they are conducive to learning new weaving techniques, such as using “pick up sticks” to make more complicated weave patterns, and “double weaving” where you can make a wider cloth. I hope everyone is not tired of reading about dish towels!

Sedona Knit Wits

One of our day trips while in the Phoenix area was a 150 mile drive to Sedona for some hiking, and to see a former coworker. It is beautiful in Sedona with it’s dramatic landscapes and famous red rock formations. We arrived there around noon, pulling into a commercial center to get some lunch. While sitting in the car eating my sandwich I happened to notice “Sedona Kit Wits”, a yarn shop across the way. Naturally I had to go and check it out.

This first thing I noticed in the yarn shop was a large triangular loom set up vertically in the front of the store. Someone else had just been telling me about her daughter-in-law’s triangular loom, so I was intrigued. This one was seven feet wide across the top, but the woman at the shop told me it can be disassembled and reassembled into various sizes as small as three feet across. The weaving is done with one continuous strand of yarn, without any warping process. The edges are completely finished when you are done with the weaving, although you can choose to add fringe, or a knitted or crocheted border. You can connect two triangles together to make a larger fabric.

Triangular weaving loom

There are many options for purchasing a “triangular loom” in various sizes online. It is just a triangular wooden frame with nails in it, so there are also instructions for making one yourself.

Close up of the triangular weaving

The following shawl woven with the triangular loom and with a knitted border was on display in the store window.

Shawl made using the triangular loom, with knitted border

Some other displays in the knitting shop that caught my attention are in the following photos.

I don’t need any more yarn, and I did not have a project in mind when I went in there, but it is hard to go in a yarn shop without buying something. I want to support the owner, and also it is soooo tempting. After one pass around the store I found something that called out to me. I bought a skein of Coboo cotton and bamboo blend yarn. Being very soft, breathable, and comfortable for wearing against the skin, this yarn is approved for “Knitted Knockers”, knitted prosthetics for women who have had a mastectomy. I had heard of these, and in the past had thought about making some for donation, but at the time I didn’t have the right yarn and then moved on to other projects.

Coboo yarn for “Knitted Knockers”

I don’t need two photos of the yarn, but the setting was so beautiful.

We had a nice visit with my friend Deb and her husband outside on their patio, which backed up to an undeveloped area, had mountains in the background, and was about three blocks from a hiking trail. Deb is also knitter and crafter, so it was fun to compare projects as well as catch up on news from our lives and families.

After the social visit, we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon hike.

It was a full day but worth the driving time to enjoy the beautiful scenery, see my friend, and have a bonus visit to a yarn shop. Later I completed a pair of knitted knockers, using a pattern on the website for the organization that collects and distributes them, free to the recipient (www.knittedknockers.org). There is enough yarn left in the skein for at least one more set, maybe two.

The pattern has instructions for knockers with or without nipples!

Fish Lips Kiss Heel

I brought yarn and patterns for sock knitting on our trip to Arizona this winter. I have been interested in learning new methods for knitting the heel, and socks are also very portable for working in the car.

In an earlier post about knitting socks, I listed some types of heel patterns. I recently found a chart in another blog showing photos of 16 different heel patterns with the name of each, for both cuff down and toe up patterns. There are even more than I had realized. A person could spend all their knitting energy trying every different method. https://curlsandq.wordpress.com/sock-heel-patterns-glossary/

This post is about socks I knitted with the “Fish Lips Kiss Heel” using a popular pattern by Sox Therapist. You can get the pattern for $1 on Ravelry. This is a very long pattern with many details to help you make sure the sock fits, as well as including instructions on the heel method. It works for either cuff down or toe up. I started looking at the pattern in the car on the way to Arizona. No, I was not driving.

Looking at the pattern in the car

In addition to trying out this new heel method, I wanted to try knitting two at a time using magic loop, where you use one circular needle with a very long connector. I made them with a short cuff to wear with tennis shoes, and more importantly so I could spend less time knitting. There are some YouTube videos with demonstrations of casting on two socks at a time on magic loop. I found this one very helpful and clear https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbxZsSpnV5M. However once you cast on the stitches and try to actually knit the first row it is exasperating, as the stitches and needles tend to twist all around every which way. I had to start over a couple of times before I got it right. Once several rows were completed, which reduced the twisting, it was fairly easy.

Knitting in the car, no I was not driving

The fish lips kiss heel uses a method of short row that is easy to understand and execute. This pattern has no increases or decreases used for the heel, no counting, no picking up of stitches, no adding a stitch “somewhere” in the corner, no gaps or holes.

Knitting at the pool, done with heel

The completed heel creases inward, thus the “fish lips” name (you know like when you pinch your lips together biting on the inside of your cheek). I don’t particularly like the way it looks just laying there, but when you put it on your foot it fits well and looks good.

Knitting at the dog park, starting to look more like socks
Trying a sock on while still attached to the needles
Ready to finish off the toe

When knitting from the cuff down, the last step is finishing the toe. Ever since I found some good instructions for kitchener stitch to join two sets of live stitches, I have been knitting my socks this way.

Working kitchener stitch to finish off the toe on the first sock

The Fish Lips Heel pattern by Sox Therapist has some detailed instructions for how to make a sock fit perfectly by making a cardboard drawing of the person’s foot and taking some measurements. It turned out that the cardboard foot does not apply or help if you are knitting cuff down. To take advantage of the method described, you have to start at the toe.

When starting at the cuff you decide how many stitches to cast on so you will have the right circumference, which is not an exact science if you are using a new yarn that you have not used before. Alternatively, using the Sox Therapist instructions starting at the toe, you increase until the stitches fit perfectly on your cardboard cutout, which then gives you the right amount of ease. After that point there are no more increases, and the pattern tells you when to start working on the heel so that the foot part is the right length and the heel fits your foot in exactly the right place. I will try that next time.

Finished!
Close up of the heel
Wearing my new socks for the first time

The socks fit pretty well, but are a bit loose in the heel. I have narrow heels, so maybe one of those other heel patterns out there is more suited for my foot. I got side tracked making kitchen scubbies, so I only finished one pair of socks on the trip. My list of things to make is way longer than what I have time for.

Craft Fair

When preparing for snowbirding in Arizona this winter, I had to decide what to do about my ETSY shop. I don’t have a huge inventory or tons of traffic, but I decided to put everything in a plastic box and bring it with us. If an order happened, I could fulfill it from the road.

The RV resort has a store where residents can sell their hand made products. Last year I bought a cute visor cap and a water bottle carrier there. Apparently this store is well known in the area and gets shoppers from outside the park. I had the idea that maybe I would be able to sell my ETSY shop items at the store, but when we got there I found out it was closed this winter due to Covid.

The cap and water bottle holder I bought at the RV Park craft store last year

Instead of a physical store this season, a few residents had organized an outdoor craft fair once a week for a couple of hours. I decided to try selling my ETSY items at the event in the RV park.

My table at the craft sale

Notice the perfect fake grass behind my table, and in the next photo, some ladies practicing yoga on it. There is a nine hole golf course in the RV park with real grass, but other than that all the landscaping is desert appropriate.

Ladies doing yoga on the fake grass in the plaza area. Real grass on a golf hole in the background.

There is a big question of whether participating in a craft fair, or selling homemade products in general, is worth the time and effort. Whenever I think about it, I remember that I don’t want to make dozens of the same thing. I decided to try the craft fair at the RV Park, since the set up effort was minimal, I had the inventory all ready to go, and only a couple of hours per week was required.

It turned out that the woman who sold me the hat I bought last year was in charge, and my booth ended up being next to hers on my first day. I enjoyed talking to her about where she is from, how long she stays in the RV Park, what kind of sewing machine she uses, where else she sells her things, etc. She sells a large assortment of fabric items such as sandwich wraps, reusable snack bags, bags for microwaving a potato, aprons, small purses, caps, etc. She does all her sewing in the summer, and sells at this RV park, and at one other large craft fair in her hometown. The prices on her items were very reasonable. I have to wonder how much profit she is actually making after taking into account her time and the cost of materials. I told her about my struggles using a 40 year old serger sewing machine that takes forever to thread and then usually does not work right. After learning about her newer self threading serger, I am tempted to buy one for $1000.00 (or more). That will not help my bottom line.

Shown below is a sandwich wrap and snack bag I bought this year, which are lined with Polyurethane Laminated Fabric (PUL) that has a polyurethane film on one side to make it waterproof. PUL fabric is durable, breathable and waterproof. It was originally developed for hospital settings, but is now commonly used for diaper covers, baby bibs and other products benefitting from a waterproof layer. The information I found said it is safe for food and the environment, but I am slightly suspicious. Eventually whatever product is made with it will be in a landfill, but that has to be better than using disposable diapers, or single use plastic bags for snacks.

Sandwich wrap and snack bag made with a layer of PUL waterproof fabric

My wool yarn and hats were not in demand in Arizona. People walked by and admired them and chatted. It was pleasant for the most part and I enjoyed meeting other residents at the park. On the forth week, it was really windy. I was spending all my energy trying to keep things from blowing off the table, or running after things that HAD blown off the table. I was about to bail out and pack up my stuff, when someone pointed out a different place for my table that was less windy. I decided to give it a try. After that someone bought a hat!

Another woman sitting at a booth near me was selling handmade cards. It turned out that she was manning the booth for her Canadian friend who could not travel to the RV park this winter due to Covid. She was looking for kitchen scrubbies, so I told her I could make some if she bought the yarn.

The following week the woman brought me 4 skeins of YarnBee Scrub-ology 100% cotton yarn. I found a pattern on Ravelry called “Scrubby Set” by B.Hooked Crochet that looked good. After I figured out what was going on with the pattern it was easy and quick to make. However the yarn keeps catching, and if you yank too hard it starts to break. I made several scrubbies in time for the craft sale the following week, selling one for $5. I won’t get rich on that, but it is enough for 1 Caribou Mocha haha, except that they do not have Caribou Coffee in Arizona.

Four completed scrubbies

Later I bought three skeins of “Sugar ‘n Cream Scrub Off ” by Lily at Joann Fabrics. It is similar to the Yarn Bee yarn, but there are lengths of smooth yarn alternating with sections of the abrasive yarn. It is also 100% cotton. I knit up a few scrubbies from this yarn, and between the two types of yarn I sold four the next week.

Sugar ‘n Cream Scrub Off yarn and a completed scrubbie
Scrubbies from two kinds of yarn

My other experience with craft fairs was in November and December of 2019, when Torri and I participated in a Holiday Artisan Fair in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Getting all the inventory documented and tagged, and setting up the space, took quite a bit of time and energy. The booth was in a large space with many vendors and a common central sales counter, so I did not have to sit there or process any sales. I sold three items, but at the end one item was unaccounted for, probably lost to shoplifting. Not a good use of my time and energy.

I have some ideas for things to make that could be sold on a limited basis, but I won’t be doing any big art fairs or farmers markets. Strictly from a financial perspective, if you add up the hours I spent sitting at the craft sale in the RV park, compared to the amount of money I made, it was not a good use of my time. However in this case it was a nice way for me to get to know some people at the park.