Cotton Scarf

I used to wear fashion scarves on a regular basis before covid, and before I retired from my job. I have a variety of scarves in wool, cotton, and other blends of fiber, in both flat and infinity styles, rectangular and triangular shaped. I wore them like some people wear jewelry to provide interest for an outfit, but also to add an extra layer of warmth in the winter.

I have some 100% cotton yarn in my stash, so I decided to try using some for weaving a scarf. Wool scarves can be scratchy and some people are allergic to it, so cotton is a good lightweight hypoallergenic alternative that can be worn year around and in warmer climates. I picked out white 8/4 weaving yarn that I had used for dish towels, and Sirdar Beachcomber 100% cotton thick and thin variegated yarn, in a combination of turquoise, dusty blue and white.

100% cotton yarn for a lightweight scarf

I was not sure whether to use the 8 dent or 10 dent heddle for the warp yarn. There is not a right or wrong, but using the 8 dent heddle would result in fewer yarns per inch for a looser fabric. I used the 10 dent heddle for the dish towels with the same warp yarn, so that seemed like what I should use. I knew that I could start over if I did not like the result.

Our dining room table with all the leaves in is just right warp length for a scarf. The ceramic bunnies my mom made were watching over me.

The dining room table with all the leaves is just the right warp length
My mom’s ceramic bunnies kept me company while working on this project

When my mom was a ceramic art student she worked on a project to try out many different glazes. First she formed one small bunny and made a mold out of it. Using the mold she made dozens of bunnies, firing each with a different glaze. After she passed away, we used some of these rabbits for table decorations at her memorial service, and offered for family and friends to take one as a memento. There are still quite a few left in her house where I now live, including these three on the dining room table.

The following photo shows the beginning of the weaving, with the white warp yarn wrapping around the front beam, plain header rows that will be removed later, and a few inches of the variegated weft yarn. The rest of the warp yarn wound on to the back beam is not in view.

With header rows in plain white at the beginning, and several inches of weft yarn woven in

After weaving a few inches, I went back and added the hem stitch after the header rows and at the beginning of the warp yarn. It is best practice and easier to do this while the project is still on the loom.

With more rows woven and hemstitching at the beginning, after the header rows

The weaving goes pretty fast when there is not a pattern to follow or any changes of yarn. I do not know how many actual weaving hours it took, but after a few days of doing some weaving plus other things, I got to the end of the warp yarn, pictured below.

The end of the warp yarn

In my excitement to see what the scarf would look like, I forgot to do the hem stitch at the end before cutting the weaving off the loom. That made it trickier but I tied groups of warp yarns together loosely just to keep the last rows of weaving from coming apart while I did the hem stitching. The following photo shows the scarf removed from the loom with hem stitching on both ends, but before making the fringe or washing it.

Weaving complete, not yet washed, not done with fringe

I had some questions for Torri, my weaving mentor at Tangles to Treasures in Fergus Falls, about options for the fringe. There are various methods and options for what to do with the ends of the scarf. Torri sells Schact weaving and spinning equipment including a gadget called a “Fringe Twister”, as seen in the photo below on Torri’s work table, but you can accomplish the same thing by hand. I have not succumbed to temptation to buy one of these….yet. Twisting fringe involves taking two adjacent groups of warp yarns, twisting each group, and then twisting the two groups together in the opposite direction. There are youtube videos showing how to do this. The result is a very professional looking finish rather than letting the yarns hang loose. Leaving the yarns loose can be an option too, depending on the yarn you are using and what look you are after. I considered making an infinity scarf by sewing the ends together with fringe, or by cutting off the fringe first. In the end I decided to leave it as a rectangle shaped traditional scarf with the twisted fringe.

A gadget sold by Schacht for getting professional looking fringe

The next photo shows one end of the scarf with the fringe “twisted” (by hand rather than using the gadget), and the other end not yet twisted. Some of Torri’s weaving projects are on the table next to mine. As you can see hers have significantly more complicated patterns, made on a bigger more complex type of loom.

I finished twisting the fringe at the other end of the scarf back at home, and then washed it in the washing machine with a load of laundry, and dried it in the dryer. As expected the scarf shrank some, coming out nice and soft. The colors are not reflected very well but following is the completed project, which measures 8 inches wide by 68 inches long.

Washed and fringe complete

I like the way this scarf turned out. It is now listed for sale on my Etsy shop, along with other items that I made, and items that were store samples from the The Yarn Shop in Glen Arbor, Michigan.

Finished cotton scarf

Potholders

I get regular ads from Purl Soho for potholder looms, like the kind I used as a kid. The box says it is for “Ages 6+”, but I have seen Instagram and Pinterest posts indicating adults are making potholders too. They look so pretty! Like dish towels, who cannot use a new one? Don’t laugh, but I ordered one. There were two sizes of the square metal looms made by Harrisville Designs, traditional 7″ x 7″ and Pro size 10″ x 10″. After looking at the potholders I always use in my kitchen, I decided to go with the smaller one. It came with one bag of random colors of loops, so I ordered additional bags of white loops and blue loops. Later I ordered three more bags of loops in green, peacock and tiger lily.

Potholder loom with loops and accessories

One of my memories of using a potholder loom in my youth was that some of the loops were too small to stretch across from one side to the other. I must not have been the only person with this problem since the box advertises “Cotton Loops that fit!”. I don’t know what the loops were made of back in the day, but today they are nice 100% recycled cotton that are all the same size and fit on the loom.

It was pretty easy and mindless to get started on my first potholder, after reviewing the instructions. First you stretch loops across all the pegs in one direction. Then you work the other direction by weaving the metal hook in and out of the loops on loom and pulling a loop through.

Making a potholder

Following is a photo of the box the loom came in, next to my first potholder in progress.

Partially completed potholder next to the box the loom came in

The booklet that came with the loom has some designs you can try using two, three, or four colors of loops. You need more loops in each color than what comes with the kit to make some of these patterns.

Suggested designs for potholders using 3 or 4 colors

It only took about 15 minutes to finish weaving the stretchy loops on to the loom in both directions. It could have been even less actual clock time, but I did not do it all in one sitting.

My first potholder with weaving complete

To finish the potholder, you start at the corner and pick the first loop off the peg with the crochet hook. Then you pick up the second loop and pull it through the first loop. You continue around picking up the next loop and pulling it though the previous loop until you get all the way around.

Crocheting the edges together to finish the potholder

And Voila! A finished potholder. It is closer to 6″ x 6″ after you remove it from the loom and the tension is relaxed. Apparently some people prefer the bigger size, but I always reach for my smaller potholders.

My first complete potholder

You can weave with yarn on this loom also. Torri, my expert at all things weaving friend, showed me how to wrap some yarn back and forth across the pegs on the loom with a continuous strand for the “warp”. With the yarn still attached to the skein, I then wove the long metal hook in and out of the warp yarn and pulled a length of yarn back through for the “weft”, continuing across the pegs without cutting the yarn. The cotton and acrylic yarn I used, Berroco Espresso, had many plies and no give. The metal hook kept catching in the middle of a strand of yarn. Also, due to the lack of stretch, it was hard to get the metal hook through the last couple of rows without the warp yarns popping off the pegs. I ended up estimating how much yarn I needed, cutting it from the ball, and then using a yarn needle to weave it through. The finishing process was the same as with the stretchy loops, using the crochet hook. I would probably not use this yarn again on the potholder loom. I am not sure I would make a potholder again with any yarn. The stretchy loops work really well, so it makes the most sense to use those.

The next photos show the potholder with cotton and acrylic yarn in progress and then complete. Note that getting photos showing the colors accurately is harder than actually making the item. The lighting conditions are constantly changing, and I cannot go back and re-take photos of a project in progress after it is complete. The actual color is somewhere in between the darker in progress photo and the more washed out looking completed project photo.

Making a potholder with some cotton and acrylic yarn
Completed potholder made from yarn

One reason I decided to buy the potholder loom is that I thought the potholders would make nice gifts, and also might be a good project to bring to Arizona for our winter snowbird trip. I can’t bring my entire craft stash with me to Arizona, so I have to plan carefully what projects I can make with efficiently packed supplies. Last year I brought my 15″ Rigid Heddle Loom, but I did not use it as much as I thought I would. Also after my experience last winter with the craft fair at the RV Resort, I am thinking about what or if I want to try to sell a few items there this coming winter. Not sure if the actual shop will be open, or if they will do the outdoor craft fair instead. Now I know that people in Arizona do not want wool hats, even if Minnesota is their permanent residence. Potholders are quick to make, and might be the right kind of thing to sell if I decide to participate in the craft shop or fair next time.

After making four potholders with the stretchy cotton loops, and one with yarn, I put the potholder loom away for now. My next project is going to be a cotton scarf on the Rigid Heddle Loom.

Another Shrug for the Wedding

My next knitting project after the white shrug was another shrug. Normally I would not make two shrugs in a row, but the second one was to wear with my mother-of-the-groom dress. Our son got married over Labor Day weekend in Chicago, so we went on a week long road trip. The first leg of the trip was driving from our home near Fergus Falls, MN, to Wausau, WI. The next day we continued on to Chicago after picking our daughter up near Green Bay where she was working at Full Circle Community Farm helping with the harvest. She informed us that this farm provides food for the Green Bay Packers football team. After hearing this, my husband, Wayne, was scheming how to sabotage the produce since he is a Minnesota Vikings fan. Haha not really.

I tend to be a very low maintenance person, but I made some exceptions in preparation for the wedding. I have never colored my hair, and had never gotten a manicure or pedicure before. I don’t normally wear nail polish. I have never worn very much makeup, and have used practically none during the pandemic. My toenails were in very bad shape, as I am always whacking my toe on something. I looked at fake nails at the store that are glued on, but in the end decided to do a professional pedicure for the wedding. And then I figured that my fingernails should match, so I did a manicure too. They applied some gel polish that is super long lasting, but I was still paranoid that it would chip before the wedding. Several times I had to stop myself from picking corn-on-the-cob out of my teeth or scraping gunk off the kitchen floor with a fingernail. It was a good decision, as my nails STILL look perfect almost two weeks later.

I was invited to participate in the hair and makeup session with the bridal party, including the mother of the bride. My first thoughts were that I don’t have enough hair to do anything with, and I don’t want to look like a clown with too much makeup. In the end I decided that it would be a good opportunity to spend a whole morning hanging out with this group and getting to know them better. It was a special time, and I ended up looking good and not overdone. I was very glad I said yes.

My children are very different. My son is an actuary with a condo in Chicago, and my daughter is a free spirit who has held a number of outdoor jobs and been on cool adventures in exotic places for three years since graduating from college. Their different life styles were apparent at this event. My son had some VERY expensive custom made shoes for his wedding outfit. My daughter wore a beautiful vintage silk skirt she bought at a thrift shop, with an inexpensive top and shoes borrowed from me. She is also very au natural, and she did NOT do her nails for the wedding. They both looked fabulous. I am so proud of them both for their unique accomplishments and for being who they are!

My daughter doing a reading at the wedding

I was a little nervous about travelling right now, and specifically to Chicago. Masks were required inside the hotel and in public buildings and restaurants, so of course we complied with that. I am directionally challenged. Navigating in a big downtown is stressful for me, but as long as someone else knows where we are going I am fine. The hotel was walking distance from many tourist sights including the amazing river walk. It all felt safe and fun once we were there.

Our son and his Chicago friends do not own cars. Many of the wedding guests travelling to Chicago flew in and then used the train or Uber for transportation after that. We had decided to drive for various reasons. Having the car was a hassle but it came in handy a couple of times. There was literally no parking at the hotel in the middle of downtown. We had heard it was $80 per day to park at a nearby ramp, and that if you took the car out and put it back, you had to pay again. We went back and forth with various options of what to do with the car, including parking it on the street near our son’s condo miles away, or parking it somewhere far from the hotel but cheaper. As we were arriving in Chicago, Wayne was clued in to a phone app where you could find parking and pay online. It turned out to be about $25 per day at the ramp near the hotel, and we were able to take the car out and put it back without extra charges. One time Wayne used the car to transport a 55 inch TV from the bride’s brother’s apartment to the venue where the Friday Welcome Dinner was being held, and then back again. We also used it to bring some gifts and the rest of the wedding cake to our son’s condo the day after the wedding. A party bus was provided to transport guests from the hotel and back for the Friday dinner and the Saturday wedding. We used Uber a couple of times, and the rest of the time we walked. See a photo below of me, my sister, my daughter, and some other guests in front of the party bus on Friday. Notice I am wearing the Sea and Sky Shrug I made and wrote about earlier.

Getting on the bus to the Friday Welcome Dinner

You cannot do any kind of trip without a couple of glitches. This time was no exception. The first mistake was no big deal. I have a pair of small garnet stud earrings that I wear most of the time. They go with everything and I don’t have to think about it. As I was getting dressed on the day we left home, I put those earrings on. Two days later I noticed that I had on two different earrings!! One was the garnet earring, the other was from a different pair with a slightly bigger stone and different color. Oh well, I don’t think anyone else noticed and it made a good story for later. Fortunately, I had other earrings for the Friday dinner and the wedding.

The second problem was potentially more serious. The first stop after leaving our house at the beginning of the trip was to drop the dog off at a boarding place. After getting her checked in I got back in the car and we were ready to hit the road. Except that the car was dead. WHAT!! We had jumper cables in the car, and a person who happened to be standing nearby was willing to use his truck to get our car going. We went from there into Fergus Falls to an auto service place to have the battery checked out. An employee there said the battery was good and we did not need a new one, so we went on our way. Three days later at the end of the hair and makeup session at my son’s condo, there was a short window of time to go back to the hotel, put my outfit on, and get over to the wedding venue for family photos. Wayne came to pick me up and had to wait 30 minutes with the car radio on before I came outside. When I got in the car and we were ready to leave, the car was dead again. Very bad timing. Again, someone standing around nearby was willing to use his car to get our car jump started and we headed back to the hotel. We made it through the rest of the trip without any more dead battery incidents, but we will be buying a new one sooner rather than later.

I had to buy yarn for the wedding outfit shrug as there was not anything right in my large yarn shop inventory. The Sirdar yarn I picked out has a similar fiber content to the other shrug, with Merino wool, cashmere and also a little silk.

Sirdar Cashmere Merino Silk yarn for shrug

This is a center pull ball of yarn. You are supposed to be able to find one end of the ball tucked in the middle, and it is supposed to pull out easily so the ball is not rolling all over while you are knitting. When I tried to find the end of the yarn from the middle, I ended up with a mess. Check out the next photo, which a new knitting friend called a “yarn barf”.

Yarn barf

I used a pattern called Summer Party Shrug by Ruth Roland. It is constructed with no seaming, starting with a rectangle about 15″ wide and two inches tall, with some shoulders knitted on each side a couple of inches wide and a couple of inches tall. I forgot to take a photo after this step was complete, so I made a drawing instead.

Drawing of the beginning part of the shrug pattern

At the end of that part, I knitted across one shoulder, picked up stitches down the side, knitted across the bottom of the rectangle, picked up stitches up the other side, and knitted across the other shoulder. The neck stitches were on a holder. You can see the project below, after the knitting and picking up stitches all the way around. The flat part at the bottom is going to be the back. The side parts will be the sleeves and side fronts, after many rows knitting with increases at the edges of the sleeves and decreases along the side fronts. The neck section was waiting on the holder until needed later.

Beginning of shrug

Many rows were knitted, increasing at each side of each sleeve, and decreasing along the front. Finally, voila, the project reached the stage as seen below which looks more like a shrug.

Looking like a shrug now

The following photo shows the progress with stitches picked up on the sides, and about an inch of ribbing knitted around the back, sides and neck. The ball of yarn I was using ran out, so I decided to work on the sleeves instead. Starting on one sleeve, I replaced the waste yarn that was holding the stitches with double pointed needles and picked up some stitches under the arm, according to the instructions. The sleeves will be knit in the round, so no seam will be needed. Yay.

Border around sides, neck and back in progress, and sleeve started

This pattern included a very ribbony ruffly edge around the sides and back. Since I had just completed the other shrug with a ruffle border, I decided to do some other kind of edge. After considering various options, I decided to go with this Stretchy Picot Rib Bindoff that I found online, to give it a little interest without being too similar to the other one. In the next photos I am working on the picot bind off edge on the end of one sleeve.

Ribbing on hold around the back, front and sides while knitting the sleeve
Close up of sleeve picot border

I neglected to take more photos of the knitting in progress, but I finished the other sleeve and the picot edge all the way around the front, back and sides. One reason I liked this pattern was the lack of seaming. However there were an awful lot of ends to weave in, which I do not like either. The following photo shows the shrug with knitting complete and inside out, and a mess of loose ends. The color is not accurate, it looks too washed out.

So many ends to weave in

I had liked this pattern due to the lack of seaming and having real sleeves. However in the end it did not fit as well as the other one at the sides and underarm. I think it was partly a function of the pattern, and also it was a little too wide across the back. In any case, no one was paying attention to the underarms of my shrug during the wedding, but it fulfilled it’s purpose of keeping me from getting cold that evening.

The wedding was beautiful and it was nice to see family members from my side of the family, Wayne’s side of the family, and the bride’s family all having a good time and enjoying each other’s company. Some of our son’s friends from elementary school and high school were there. I loved seeing how they have grown up into successful adults.

Following are photos of me wearing the shrug at the wedding, from the front and back, and also me with my son, wearing his fancy shoes.

Front of the shrug
The back of the shrug
My son with me at the wedding, with his custom shoes

I am still wrapping my head around the fact that my son is married, and that I have a daughter-in-law! Now summer is over, the wedding is behind us, and I look forward to more adventures ahead.

Blending Board

I bought myself a blending board for Mother’s Day, which seems like ages ago. A blending board is another tool for preparing fiber for spinning. The main thing it does is make “rolags”, which are rolled up spirals of fiber for spinning. You can also make batts with the blending board. Ironically, one thing it does not do well is “blend” different fibers together. A drum carder works more efficiently for making larger batts and for thoroughly blending fibers together.

My new blending board

When I was ready to try out the blending board, I went to my fiber stash closet and picked out some different fibers and colors that looked pretty together. You can see below a bag of blue superwash wool (that I purchased in 2009 according to the label), a bag with some turquoise dyed angora rabbit, some darker turquoise alpaca fiber, and some orange, green and purple dyed bamboo.

Fiber from my stash to make rolags

I decided to just go for it without measuring or having a plan. I had watched a couple of you tube videos to learn how to use the blending board, so I knew the basics. I started applying some of the blue wool first, and them some of the alpaca and angora rabbit. You just swipe some on, dragging down so it spreads out, rather than being lumpy. A special brush is used to compact the fiber down so you have room to add more, or you can use a paintbrush. It took some practice to figure how much fiber to add on each layer, and to feel comfortable with the technique so that it came out evenly. It does not have to be even, it can be any way you like it. But I find it easier to spin if the fiber is somewhat evenly distributed, rather than having thick blobs here and there.

Some fiber applied to the blending board

I applied a layer of fiber, brushed it down, then applied another layer. I continued to add more layers and brush it down until the blending board was pretty full. I could have fit more fiber on, but decided to stop and remove the fiber into a rolag. The following series of photos shows the blending board after each layer of fiber was applied.

My hands got scratched up in the process of “pasting” the fiber on to the board. I did not see any references to this on the videos I watched. To get the fiber off the blending board and into a rolag, you wrap the fiber around two dowels starting at the bottom. Rather than lifting it all off in one big roll, you are supposed to lift it and pull part of it off on to the dowel, then start again to get more. I got too much fiber on the first rolag, and then it all started to come off the board before I got it rolled on the dowel. I had to start over brushing some of the fiber back onto the blending board, so the last rolag is thinner and blended differently.

Rolling the fiber off the blending board on to two dowels

I was able to make five rolags of varying thickness.

Rolags completed and ready to spin

The total weight of the five rolags is 48 grams. Maybe I should have measured the fiber out at the beginning to an even 50 grams, which is a typical weight for a small ball of yarn. The first rolag has much more fiber in it, the last one is the smallest. The rolags look nice in the photo, but I think I can do a better job of making them more even on my next try.

To spin a rolag, you start at one end and draw the fiber out in a spiral.

A rolag ready to spin

I got busy with other things for awhile (mainly knitting and ripping out and re-knitting sections of the Sea & Sky Shrug), so I did not spin for several weeks. Meanwhile I heard about a 21 day spinning event called the “Tour de Fleece” taking place from June 26 to July 18 and coinciding with the Tour de France bike race. I decided to make an effort to participate virtually.

From the Tour de Fleece facebook page: “The idea is to set yourself a challenge. It doesn’t matter what the challenge is — it could be spinning fine for the first time, or producing an artsy fartsy yarn as an exercise, it could be spinning enough for a specific project. If you’ve always wanted to spin a little every day (say, a spinning meditation practice), but never seem to find time for it, perhaps that could be the challenge — spinning every morning of the tour. What matters is you set out the challenge, and meet it during the specified time”.

My challenge was to practice making rolags with the blending board, and to actually spin every day during this period. It was a nice idea, but I am afraid I failed miserably, as other priorities came up. We had company coming and going, there were summer outside chores, the shrug was more important, etc. Oh well some other time I can set myself a new spinning goal. In the next photos you can see the five rolags spun on to two bobbins, and then plied together into a skein of yarn.

Two bobbins of singles spun from the rolags
Plying the singles together
Wound on to the nitty noddy

The final result was a small skein of yarn. It is not really big enough to make anything, but it looks very pretty sitting in a ceramic bowl.

Finished skein of yarn spun from rolags

Sea and Sky Shrug

I finished knitting a shrug to wear for my son’s wedding welcome dinner in September. My dress is sleeveless and I am always cold during an evening event, indoors or outdoors. If it is comfortable outside in the afternoon for a sleeveless dress, it usually cools down in the evening, or the air conditioning is blasting inside. I found the pattern Sea and Sky Shrug by Laura Bryant on Ravelry that was a little more fitted than some shrugs, but not too complicated and the gauge for the yarn was close to the yarn I wanted to use.

I had some off white Plymouth Cashmere Passion 80% Merino Wool / 20% Cashmere yarn from my Yarn Shop inventory purchase. It is very soft and comfortable against bare skin.

Cashmere Passion yarn

I actually knit a swatch for this project, as the gauge is important if I want the shrug to fit. The yarn and pattern both said to use a size eight needle, but that seemed big so I decided to go with a seven. I figured out that I needed to follow the pattern for a bigger size in order for the shrug to fit me, because my stitches per inch were more than the yarn used in the pattern.

Knitting a swatch for the Sea and Sky Shrug

This pattern is knit side to side, starting at one sleeve cuff, and then knitting up the sleeve, across the middle and down the other sleeve. I really wanted the sleeve a bit longer than the pattern showed, but I was not sure if I had enough yarn. I decided to use a provisional cast on using a method with a second circular needle. This leaves live stitches at the beginning, rather than a bound off edge. This seemed brilliant, because after knitting the sleeve I could figure out where it fit on my arm. I would be able to knit more rows at the end of the sleeve depending on how it came out and how much yarn was left. Following is a photo showing the live stitches at the bottom, with several inches of the sleeve knitted, and with my new stitch marker used for counting rows.

Starting at the sleeve using a provisional cast on and my Twice Knitted Sheep row counter

The second circular needle is hanging off the bottom of the sleeve where I cast on. It was getting in the way, so I replaced it with a piece of waste yarn. Later I put the needle back on when I needed to work with those stitches.

I used my Twice Sheared Sheep row counter for the first time since I bought it quite awhile ago. This is the first project where I needed to count rows since then. At first I could not figure out how to use it. It made sense to me that you would put the row counter on at the end of the row after you knit it, but that does not work because it falls off, and is also on the wrong end of the next row. Instead you have to put it in the middle of the row. If you were knitting in the round you could have the marker at the end of the row. I like it a lot. You cannot forget to change to the next row number, which is what I regularly do if using tick marks on a paper or another kind of clicker type counter. The Twice Sheared Sheep chain style counter has rings and counter numbers going up to 10, and another little marker to keep track of the 10’s place. My current row count as shown below is row number 34. The 10’s marker is on the three ring, and the four ring is on the needle.

Close up of the Twice Knitted Sheep row counter at row 34

There are many ways knitters follow a pattern and keep track of rows. What works for me is to have a paper copy of the pattern, so that I can write notes on it as I go and mark the sections that are done. After knitting several more inches, I penciled in a chart on the back of the pattern to keep track of the row numbers with increases every third row, and the number of stitches that should be on the needle after each increase row. This would be a cross check against the row counter to make sure I knew where I was and hadn’t dropped any stitches or forgotten to increase.

The pattern indicated the number of increase rows that would be needed to get to a certain number of stitches, before continuing up the sleeve evenly. I could see that my chart showed way too many rows before getting to the maximum number of stitches for the sleeve. Oops. After reviewing the pattern again, I realized that it said to increase on EACH END of the increase rows, not only at one end. ARGHHHHHHH.

I ripped out all the rows back to row number two, just before the first increase row, and started again from there, with an increase at EACH end of every third row. ARGHHHHHH.

After re-knitting about 1/2 the sleeve over again, I realized that now it was increasing in width too fast because I forgot to account for the difference in the row count gauge. ARGGHHHH. I ripped it out again and refigured out how often to do the increases so the sleeve got wider at the correct rate. I made a new chart to keep track, so I would be able to reverse the pattern on the other sleeve, when I was starting at the top of the sleeve and decreasing to the end. Remember, you have to enjoy the process!! The following photos were taken with 1/2 of the knitting complete, first flat, and then folded over. Laying out flat it looks crazy, but when you fold it you can see how it works.

About half way done with knitting, laid out flat
More than half way, folded over and and with sleeve basted together for trying on

Finally after all the ripping out and starting over and reknitting other sections, I finished the main knitting part. See photos below laid out flat, and then folded over with knitting complete.

Knitting complete, ready to seam together
Sewing the underarm and side seams

I dislike having to sew seams in knitting projects, so generally pick patterns based on the lack of seams. This pattern required a seam up each side and sleeve. Torri, my knitting mentor, gave me some suggestions on ways to sew the seams and I forged ahead. The first side seam came out fine, but the sleeve part did not look good at all. I went ahead with the other side anyway. I tried a different method on the second sleeve and it looked better, but the side seam on that side looked bad. I ended up ripping out and redoing the second side seam and the first sleeve seam. They look acceptable now. After that, the last part of making the shrug was picking up stitches around the fronts, neck and back, and knitting on a ruffle edge.

Knitting the ruffly border

You are always supposed to block your hand knits, so it “remembers” its’ new state and looks more professional. It is like washing hand spun yarn to “set the twist”. After the ruffle edge was complete, I decided to knit another swatch (I don’t know what happened to the one I knit at the beginning) and block it, to see what would happen. When I was a new spinner, I spun enough of some bronzish color yarn to knit a sweater. It was a huge effort. I knit the sweater using a top down pattern with a boat neck, and then I attempted to block it. I soaked the sweater in some water with mild soap, carefully rinsed it out, and spread it out to dry on a towel. Unfortunately, it had stretched out in the process, large enough to fit a gorilla. I tried to push it and pat it back into the right size and shape, but it was never right again. I got it mostly back to the right size, but it looked sort of smashed. I was sooo disappointed. I wore the sweater anyway and I still have it, although it has gotten many pills in the meantime. I have always been very leery of blocking anything since then. Following are photos of my shrug swatch before and after blocking. It turned out OK, so I felt better about blocking the shrug.

Swatch knitted, to see what happens when blocking the shrug
Swatch after blocking

Before blocking my shrug, I laid it out on a bath towel on the floor, and put a few large pins in strategic places so that when I took it out of the water, I could get it back to the same size and shape to dry. The next two photos are the shrug with the pins on the towel before blocking , and after removing it from the wash water.

Before blocking with pins marking the edges on the towel
After removing from the wash water

I was not happy about what happened in the water. According to Torri, the yarn “relaxed” a lot. I had visions of that sweater that never looked right again, but I was able to gently push and pat and nudge the sweater back into the right size and shape inside the pin markings on the towel. After it was dry I also used the iron with steam, with a flour sack towel over it and without pressing down, to make a few adjustments.

If I make this pattern again, I would start in the middle of the back with a provisional cast on, rather than at one side. I would knit from the middle of the back out to the end of one sleeve, then go back to the cast on stitches in the middle, and knit out to the end of the other sleeve. With this method, I would be decreasing stitches for the sleeve on both sides, instead of decreasing on one side and increasing on the other side. More importantly, it would be easy to join the sleeve stitches and knit in the round so I would not have have a seam on the sleeves.

Following are photos of the final product, front and back. I am pleased with how it turned out.

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.