Cotton Dish Towels

In December I wove some 100% cotton dish towels on my 15″ loom. Everyone can use a new dish towel, so I thought they would make nice gifts. And I can always use more myself whether they turn out perfectly or not.

I started researching patterns and yarns, finding many options. I learned that cotton yarn can be “mercerized” or “unmercerized”. The mercerized cotton is treated so it is smoother and holds dye better, but unmercerized will absorb more moisture. For my first attempt I decided to use the same inexpensive Peaches & Creme unmercerized cotton yarn I have used to knit dish cloths. There is thinner, more expensive, cotton yarn with more threads per inch, but I wanted to try the concept first with the cheaper yarn.

I used a pattern called “Classic Woven Dishtowels” from Purl Soho. It was a basic design using one main color with some horizontal stripes in a contrast color.

Unmercerized yarn for dish towels

After deciding on white for the main color, with blue for accent stripes, I “warped” the loom with enough yarn for the towels plus waste at the beginning and end. I forgot to take a photo while the entire 155″ warp length was stretched out across the living room. The photo below was taken after tying the warp yarns to the “front beam” of the loom, and winding most of the 155″ on to the “back beam”.

Warped and ready to start weaving
Close up of the warp yarns

Once the loom was all warped, I was ready to begin weaving. The weaving process is repetitive but calming. I can listen to music or an audio book while working, or just enjoy the quiet.

Weaving in process

The pattern suggested cutting the warp yarn after each towel and retying the remaining warp threads to the front beam. It said that this was better for maintaining an even tension for the remaining towels. The other option is to keep weaving all four towels, cutting and separating the individual towels later.

Since I was just learning, I went ahead and cut the first towel off as the pattern suggested. Before cutting, in order to keep the ends from coming undone during washing, and for a finished edge, I attempted to make a “hem stitch” on each end.

Hem stitching the end before cutting off the warp yarns to make fringe

I had trouble with the hem stitch on both ends. It was too loose and had too many warp threads in each group. I took the stitches out and sewed the hem stitch over again, after I had already cut the fringe to 1″, so the threads were flopping all over.

When I got part way through the second towel I started to have a problem with the tension along one side. The last two warp threads on one side got too tight. Towards the end of the towel I was tugging, and ended up cutting those two warp yarns to release the pressure so I could continue working.

In between towel two and three, in order to fix the tension problem, I cut the warp threads and then unwound the warp yarn off the back beam. I took the two offending warp threads off entirely so the weaving was not so close to the edge of the loom, and re “warped” the rest.

Towel number three looked good on the edges, and the hem stitching was successful! Yay! There was supposed to be enough warp yarn for 4 towels, but there was only about ten inches left after the third towel…so it ended up as waste.

All the waste yarn cut off the beginning and end of the warp, and between towels

After washing and drying, the towels shrank some as expected, and they are soft and thirsty. The second towel with the tension problem looks OK for my personal use. They work well for drying wet hands when working in the kitchen, drying dishes that have been washed by hand, and mopping up those annoying pools of water that collect on items after the dishwasher has been run.

Following are photos of the three completed towels. I am pleased with the results, despite their imperfections.

All three towels after washing.

I don’t usually hang three towels on the oven door handle at the same time, but I like the Scandinavian look in the next photo, which matches the colors in my kitchen. The towel on the right is one of the towels I just wove, and the towel on the left was designed and sold by my friend Cindy Lindgren.

My Scandinavian theme kitchen towels, with one of my hand woven towels on the right

Cindy Lindgren is a graphic designer in Minneapolis, a close friend of my sister-in-law. She sells cards, puzzles, prints and posters, stickers, magnets, and textiles with her unique designs including themes of Twin Cities, Paul Bunyan, Texas, Scandinavian, Frank Lloyd Wright, Christmas and others. Cindy designed the St. Paul Winter Carnival button for 2019, and more importantly, my business card and blog logos. Check out her products on ETSY https://www.etsy.com/shop/CindyLindgren?ref=shop_sugg

Following is a photo of Cindy’s towel next to my own hand woven towel.

My Cindy Lindgren Scandinavian design towel on the left, next to my own

Happy Holidays

I have written before about my mom’s extraordinary creative abilities. In today’s post, to celebrate Christmas and honor my mother, I am sharing photos of Christmas decorations and other things she made over the years.

The yellow angel has been around for as long as I can remember. My mom must have made that in her early years of marriage. It is made out of fabric and scraps of trim with a ceramic head that she bought.

Handmade cloth Angel, 8″ tall

In more recent years when my mom was doing ceramics, she made a series of angels. In the following photos they are staged next to a blue ceramic basket that she also made (she did not make the plate leaning against the back).

Ceramic basic and 9″ tall Angel made by my mom
More from the Liz Sweder ceramic Angel collection
Closeup of the brown haired angel
Another ceramic angel, 8 1/2″ high

The gnome shown below is formed out of ceramic with a wool beard and actual stick for a walking stick. It is sitting next to a bronze bust of my dad that my mom also made, which eerily looks very much like him.

Bust of my dad next to a ceramic gnome

The Three Wise Men below are made out of felt and embellished with rick rack, beads, shiny ribbon and trim. The faces are embroidered on. Like the fabric angel, they are probably at least 60 years old.

The three wise men

The following gnome is four feet tall and made in the last 20 years. Some family members think he is creepy. Note in this photo he is standing in front of the kitchen fireplace checking his email. My mom made the fireplace tiles when they built the house (which she designed).

4′ tall tall gnome checking his email
Closeup of the kitchen fireplace with tiles made by my mom
Living room fireplace with Liz Sweder made tiles

Happy Holidays to all and wishes for a better 2021.

Wool/Silk/Yak Yarn

A spinning project is a good activity for long pandemic days at home. I figured out how to download audio books on my phone using an app called OverDrive, so I hardly notice the time going by while listening and spinning. I had two ounces of a “braid” of 50% silk /50% yak roving that I bought at a fiber fair. It was $40…what was I thinking.

Braid of 50% silk 50% yak

In order to make the expensive fiber go farther, and be easier to spin, I found two ounces of some shades of blue wool in my stash to blend with the silk/yak.

Some wool from my stash with the yak/silk

Almost all of the yarn I spin comes out about the same thickness. My earliest attempts at spinning produced very bulky yarn, partly because that is what I wanted at the time. But also because I did not understand how the end result would be thicker after plying two singles together and then washing it. Over the years I have spun thinner yarn, closer to worsted or aran weight, but I am still always surprised when it comes out a bit thicker than I was expecting.

The spinning wheel has adjustments and parts for making thicker or thinner yarn. I have trouble wrapping my head around how all the components work together to end up with yarn on the bobbin. Trying to explain it would be an entire blog post, and I am not sure I can even do it adequately. In a nutshell, the settings for thinner yarn make the wheel go around more times per each time you peddle, adding more twist. Generally thicker yarn needs less twist, and thinner yarn needs more twist. In the entire time I have owned my Lendrum spinning wheel I have always used the same settings for average yarn (not super thin, not super thick art yarn).

For this current project I decided to try spinning thinner yarn than than I have made before, using one of the settings designed for that. It would be a healthy brain exercise for me, and hopefully result in yarn suited for a weaving a scarf. The first step was dividing up the wool roving into groups for blending.

First pass with some of the blue wool run through the drum carder, sorted with some other blue waiting to be blended

After carding the different blues of wool together into batts, I divided up the silk/yak to blend in with it.

A wool batt waiting to be blended with some silk/yak , next to a batt with the silk/yak/wool all blended together
Sections of wool alternated with sections of silk/yak

The silk/yak “rope” was rolled up tight, so I opened it out into a wider flatter thinner shape.

A wool batt, next to part of the silk/yak opened out

In order to blend the very different fibers together, I took each batt of the wool, and each section of the silk/yak and peeled them apart into smaller pieces. Feeding them into the drum carder in layers would result in a more thorough blend.

I peeled, divided, layered and carded all the fiber into batts. After this first pass of combining the silk/yak with the wool you could still see the layers of each type of fiber.

Pushing some of the fiber into the drum carder

The last step was to peel the batts up into narrower sections lengthwise, flatten them out, and run them through the drum carder again for a more complete blend.

Peeling a batt off the drum carder

Finally the batts were ready for spinning.

A completed batt of wool blended with the silk/yak, ready to spin

After I finished spinning, plying, and then winding the yarn into a skein, I gently washed it using a bar of wool wash I bought at Tangles to Treasures in Fergus Falls. This is a gentle soap for washing wool fabric, yarn or clothing, custom made by a local craftsperson.

A locally made bar of wool wash

You can see my final result below, after washing. Around 270 yards, weighing 158 grams or 5.6 ounces. A little bit thinner than my default yarn.

Completed skein of silk/yak/wool blend yarn

I won’t be selling this yarn. The cost of the materials and time spent in creating it are too high in relation to what I could sell it for. I will use it myself for a woven scarf. Watch for a blog post about that, later in the winter.

Vintage Buttons

I was preparing to post some store sample hats from my cousin’s yarn shop for sale on ETSY. Normally I go for simple and practical, without a lot of embellishment. But I felt that these hats needed something more to distinguish them from the many other hats for sale.

I had the idea of adding buttons, tassels, or pompoms. I found some scraps of yarn in my stash that worked for each hat, then stopped at Tangles to Treasures in Fergus Falls to look at my large collection of Mary Turak buttons, and to consult with Torri. Torri suggested crocheting flowers to adorn the hats, which could have a button in the center. Bingo.

The button collection came with my Mary Turak yarn store inventory purchase in the fall of 2018. Many of them are cool vintage buttons from the 1960’s. Each unique design of button lives in a plastic tube as seen in the photo below. Some of the tubes have only one button, others have many. The tubes pack horizontally into display cubes so you can see the sample button attached to the top of each one.

Plastic tube for storing buttons

There are over 500 plastic tubes of buttons, packed into six display cubes. They are fun to look at, and technically for sale, but no one has bought a single button there. I can think of many ideas for using the buttons in art projects or fiber projects. Or I could try selling them on ETSY, but for now I am busy with other things.

Six display cubes housing over 500 tubes of buttons
A cool fish button
Mother of pearl and other unique buttons
An elephant button
More vintage buttons

I had fun looking at all the buttons and picking some out that worked with the colors of each hat. It is easy to google for patterns and instructions. I have not crocheted much for a long time, but after watching a couple of YouTube video’s, I was ready to go.

I used a pattern called “Autumn Berry Flower” by Jenny Dickens for the crochet flowers. It is available for free on Ravelry. Check out my first crochet flower in the photo below, with one of the Mary Turak buttons in the center.

My first crochet flower with button

Following are photos of Mary Turak store sample hats, with my crochet flowers and buttons added.

The hats are for sale on my ETSY shop, where you can find more photos. Following is the link to my ETSY shop (also found in the menu above). https://www.etsy.com/shop/LakesCountryHandmade

Too Much Stuff

Throughout history most people have lived with few possessions, by necessity, economic limits, or cultural norms. Early nomadic groups moved regularly. Most people for thousands of years were, or are still, just surviving. After WWII in the United States there was an economic boom that resulted in many people owning homes and experiencing financial stability for the first time, although noting that not every group benefited. The average size of a house in the 1950’s was around 1000 square feet. That increased to 1660 by 1975, and up to 2623 in 2018. Of course the larger houses of today have more closets and storage space, which naturally get filled.

Many people I know are having to figure out what to do with all the stuff that our parents accumulated, while we ourselves are trying to downsize at the same time. Closets and cupboards and drawers are crammed full. The young adults generally do not want any of it. Thrift shops are full. I admit that I have been a part of the problem, although over the last 10 years my mindset has been evolving. I have a vision of a more minimalist clutter free house, but it is challenging to get there.

I grew up in a home where you kept things in case you might use them later. My mother was a seamstress and artist. You might need that piece of elastic or craft paper. You might use that pattern again. My mom was also an excellent cook and liked entertaining. She loved her sets of dishes and china, and bought new ones at regular intervals without getting rid of the older ones.

Over the last 30 years in my own household, the things we accumulated changed as our children grew up and their toys and activities changed. I tried to get rid of things periodically, but somehow the house was always full. I also like sewing and creative activities, which require many tools and stashes of supplies. The laundry room, garage, and backyard shed were full with who knows what. I was always busy with more immediate needs, too tired or too overwhelmed to clean out closets and other storage spaces.

At one time we had five snowmobile helmets on a shelf in the laundry room. They were left from the 1980’s when my husband worked for a snowmobile magazine, but we have never owned a snowmobile. After much nagging and urging, I finally convinced him to pass the helmets on to his cousin who actually had a snowmobile.

We had a large guest bedroom that did not get much use in our early years of marriage. Any time there was box from a purchase or delivery, I would open the door and literally toss it in that bedroom. Eventually the room was filled solid with boxes. I delegated the job of flattening and disposing them to my husband, but he would never get around to it. Somehow, unlike me, he was finding time to watch TV, so one day I piled all the boxes up in the family room, blocking the space between the recliner and the TV. Finally that job got done and the guest room became available for human habitation again.

In preparation for moving last summer of 2019 we got rid of what seemed like massive amounts of stuff, including most of our furniture. It took a lot of mental energy and time to figure out what to do with various items we didn’t need or want any more, rather than throwing them in a dumpster. It was hard work. We sold things on Craigs List (almost getting scammed once), donated to various organizations, gave items to family members, recycled things, took bags of mixed paper to a business for shredding. Two pieces of furniture were placed in the alley at my sister-in-law’s house in Minneapolis. They were gone by the next day, taken by someone who needed them.

When we moved here to my parents home at the lake, we were adding what was left of our own possessions to their already full house. My sister and I had been working for years to sort and purge from our parents house, but there was still a complete household here. There are now boxes stored in the basement and garage including things from our kitchen and living room that I was not ready to get rid of. There are also boxes of things that my parents brought from their previous house 20 years ago that had never been unpacked.

My mom had sets of China stored in boxes in the basement, classic purses that were not really in style but might be needed to match a future outfit, drawers and chests of beautiful sweaters, trunks of high quality wool fabric (even though she had not sewed any clothes for many years), extra cookie tins stored in the basement bathroom. As she got older, she did not remember what she had anymore much less where it was stored.

Cleaning out my parents shed
Rubber overshoes found when cleaning out my parents storage shed
My mom’s bud vase collection
How many baskets are needed?
So many tee shirts

We had an entire trunk full of random extra hats, mittens and scarves from our old house. My parents also had baskets and plastic bins of extra winter gear. I dumped all of it on the living floor and sorted it all out. A few items in bad shape were tossed out, some organized for keeping on hand. Two entire grocery bags full were donated to the “Welcome Center” in Pelican Rapids, MN, where they were given directly to people who needed them.

Extra winter hats, scarves, mittens and socks

Now that our parents have both passed, my sister and I continue with the endless task of sorting and purging their things. I also continue paring down my own clothes and belongings. I have a vision of a clutter free life, and hope that when the time comes, my own children will have an easier time dealing with what is left of our lives.

P.S. My husband is now thinking about buying a used snowmobile, to keep cabin fever at bay over the upcoming covid winter. He will need a helmet. I will need a helmet. Any possible guests might need a different size helmet. Too bad we gave away those five helmets.

Bison Fiber Last Post

One of my fall projects was carding the 100% bison fiber I bought in South Dakota last fall. It seemed a little scratchy, so I carded it again, blending in some wool I had on hand. The result was softer and more like what I am used to spinning.

I had been thinking about making something felted with this yarn, so I googled to find out whether bison fiber will felt. One source said it would. My friend suggested knitting up a swatch and attempting to felt that, to see how it behaved. In the following photo you can see the bobbin of “singles” (1-ply) bison/wool fiber, and the swatch I knitted from that, measuring about 4.5″ square.

4.5″ swatch after knitting on size 10 needles

I tossed the swatch in with three different loads of laundry in the washing machine and dryer. It shrank to about 3.5″ square, but it was quite stretchy and only partially felted. Not what I was expecting. I know that wool felts, so that means that for some reason the bison fibers did not.

3.5″ after 2 passes through the washing machine and dryer

I went ahead and spun the rest of the fiber, ending up with one small skein of singles (1-ply) yarn, and one larger skein of 2-ply yarn. Following you can see photos of the yarn after spinning, plying, and washing. The smaller skein is the singles yarn, the larger skein is the 2-ply.

Singles yarn and 2 ply yarn

I could have found something to make by knitting and felting this blended fiber, where shrunken and stretchy was the intended result, but I was not feeling inspired.

The other bison/alpaca/wool blend yarn I had spun, and wrote about here (https://yarnsfromthelake.com/2020/08/22/bison-fiber-part-2/ ), sold almost immediately on my new ETSY shop, so I decided to post this yarn for sale also. It generated much more interest than my other skeins of yarn or the knitted items for sale, with 24 views and two people marking it as a favorite. Apparently people are looking for bison yarn.

The following photo was on the ETSY listing. One of the hardest things about doing this blog, as well as posting items on ETSY, is finding settings for photography so that the lighting is right without shadows, and the colors show accurately. On top of that, colors look differently depending on what device you are using. The colors look much more bright on my phone than on my laptop, and sometimes they look like a totally different color.

The photos shared here were taken outside only a few weeks ago. Since then fall came and went. We enjoyed some beautiful fall colors, followed by several days of 40 mile per hour winds blowing all the leaves off, and then there were three snow events. After that it was below freezing for days. Not ideal for taking outdoor photographs. Since then the snow has melted, but the trees are brown and ready for winter.

Last week someone purchased this latest yarn on my ETSY shop (you can find a link to the ETSY shop in the menu above or click here https://www.etsy.com/shop/LakesCountryHandmade ). Shortly after that a friend in Minneapolis purchased a hat. Woo hoo!

My New ETSY Shop

I am excited to let you know that I have opened an ETSY shop called LakesCountryHandMade. I am selling products I made including hand spun yarn and hand knit items, as well as store samples from my yarn shop inventory purchase. You can search on the store name in ETSY, or you can click on the following link to get to my shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/LakesCountryHandmade

I have been thinking about doing this for a long time. My summer was busy with a string of (mostly family) house guests (with necessary covid precautions), tornado cleanup, and other activities. Now that the weather is too cold to have windows open or socialize outside, and we are looking at a long stretch of indoor time alone, I decided to get the ETSY shop going while the season is right for buying hats and headbands and knitted things.

Following are photos of a few items I made myself that are listed for sale:

A ribbed pointy winter hat
A child size pilot cap
A soft wool headband with entrelac pattern
A hand spun skein of yarn
More hand spun yarn

I have been making things ever since I can remember. In elementary school my sister and I would cut simple doll clothes out of fabric scraps. My mom taught me how to use the sewing machine in about 6th grade, so that when my junior high home economics class was making hemmed dish towels, I had already sewed some simple garments. In high school and early adulthood I made many of my own clothes, including my wedding dress.

I first learned how to knit in an after school class in elementary school. I have a memory of knitting rows on a red scarf in plain garter stitch. Later I learned how to crochet, and I also dabbled in macrame, needlepoint, cross stitch, and embroidery.

Sometime in the early years of high school in the 1970’s, a friend of mine and I took a community education lingerie sewing class where we learned how to make slips, underwear, and negligees with stretchy lace. We bought tricot fabric, elastic, lace, and other related supplies at the Munsingwear outlet store near downtown Minneapolis. Munsingwear was a manufacturer of undergarments with origins in the late 1880’s. George Munsing received a patent for a union suit in the early 1890’s before central heating was a thing, and later in the 1920’s Munsingwear was the largest manufacturer of underwear in the world. I can’t say I have made any lingerie since then, but I have used some of the techniques I learned, such as sewing elastic on to a waist. That same friend and I also went through a phase of sewing stuffed animals.

A few years later my mom and I took a class where we made structured wool blazers with lapels, welt buttonholes and pockets, a vent in the back, and a lining. It was a lot of work and I never did it again. That blazer hung in the basement closet for years after I stopped wearing suits to work. Once our son wore it for a halloween costume. Before we moved last summer I finally donated it.

Lately the only sewing I do is mending, facemasks or upcycling. Over the last 15 years I have focused my creative energies on knitting and spinning, and now I am learning to do basic weaving on a 15″ wide table top size rigid heddle loom. Who knows what will spark my interest going forward.

P.S. I knitted another pair of green thick socks that fit me. We now have his and hers boot socks.

Thick Socks & Thin Socks

I happened upon a knitting pattern for a thick sock to wear with hiking boots or winter boots. “The Fisherman’s Boot Socks” is a free pattern available on the website for “Maritime Family Fiber”, a family owned small business located along the coast of Maine, near New Brunswick, Canada. The pattern can also be found on Ravelry.

The best sock yarn is wool with some nylon for strength. Most sock yarn is very thin for size 1 needles. There are many patterns for heavier socks and slippers, but most of the thicker yarn does not have nylon in it.

When I saw the “Briggs and Little Tuffy” wool yarn with nylon for size 6 needles suggested for this pattern, I decided to order some and try knitting the book socks. Little Woolen Mills is another family owned business located in New Brunswick, Canada. Maritime Family Fiber is one of the retail outlets for the yarn they produce.

Briggs and Little Tuffy wool and nylon yarn for thick socks

Using thicker yarn means bigger needles and fewer stitches, which I like because it goes faster. You are always supposed to knit a swatch to check your gauge before starting a knitting project. Gauge is the number of stitches per inch, which will vary depending on the thickness of the yarn, the size of the needles, and the tension of the knitter. Patterns include a gauge using the suggested yarn and needle size, but if you substitute a different yarn or needle size, or if you knit tighter or looser, it may turn out differently. A small difference in gauge can make a big difference in the finished size of the product. If you are making a scarf or shawl it does not matter, but if you are making a sweater or socks, or something else that has to fit, it DOES matter.

I was using the exact size needles and yarn suggested in the pattern. I wear a size nine shoe, so I assumed that following the pattern for a ladies medium would be close enough. WRONG. The pattern started with the Knit 2 Purl 1 ribbing which I find tedious. It is hard to tell the gauge from that since ribbing bunches up, so I kept plugging along for eight inches of cuff. It looked a bit big, but after sticking my foot in while still attached to the knitting needles, it seemed OK. The next part where you work on the heel was more interesting, and then I continued on with the foot part which goes faster because it is straight knitting. After I got about three inches into the foot, when the project was in the home stretch, it became clear that the circumference of the foot was way too big for my size. At that point I could measure my actual gauge because there was a big enough section of straight knitting. The number of stitches per inch matched exactly with what was on the Ravelry page for the pattern, but my sock was turning out to be WAY too big.

The cuff and heel flap on the thick sock, next to the cuff of another sock with thin yarn

It looked like the sock might fit my husband, so I took the stitches off the needles and put them on waste yarn so he could try it on. His first comment was “how do you know how to do that???” haha I have showed him my knitting projects countless times, including socks, and he never noticed how it was made before. Of course there is a step by step pattern that tells you what to do. It seemed like the sock would work for him, so I decided to put the stitches back on the needles and continue knitting, rather than undoing it and starting over with fewer stitches for me.

The pattern has directions for multiple sizes, based on this Tuffy yarn. I could have, and should have, taken the gauge information and determined the circumference of the cuff and foot before I started the project. The ladies medium works out to 10″, which matches what I got. But I have a narrow foot with the widest part at the ball being closer to 8.5″. Their Child 4-8 size would be closer to the circumference of my foot. This is very far off. But the problem was not the gauge, but that I did not figure out the measurements for their ladies medium. Another learning experience. I plan to try knitting this pattern again with the smaller size that should work for my foot. The photo below shows the too-big-for-me boot sock, under the regular sock I knit earlier that does fit me.

The sock I knit with normal sock yarn that fits, on top of the too big boot sock

The purple sock I knit and posted about in May has an “afterthought” heel. Click on the link to see that post: https://yarnsfromthelake.com/2020/05/06/socks/ The boot sock has something called a dutch heel, also known as a square heel. The afterthought heel is easy but you have 2 extra ends to weave in at the end. The dutch heel and french heel are versions of a gusset or heel flap pattern. The dutch heel shape is square, the french heel is more V shaped. I read that the different versions of sock heels can be better or worse depending on the shape of your foot. For example the french heel is better if you have a high arch. Who knew.

I finished both socks and they do fit my husband.

Both socks completed, with a dutch heel

The socks I knitted and posted about in May used normal sock yarn with 64 stitches and size 1 needles. If I knit another pair using the Briggs and Little Tuffy thicker yarn with size 6 needles and 36 stitches, it will go much faster and be ready in plenty of time for winter. Check out the too-big-for-me pair on my husband below.

Fiber Day

My sheep owner friends, Joan and Dave Ellison, host a semi annual “Fiber Day” at their farm in Pelican Rapids, MN. This is one of my favorite events, so it was disappointing when it had to be cancelled in the spring of 2020, and again this fall, due to the pandemic. Fall Fiber Day would have been today. In lieu of actually attending this year, I am writing about it and sharing photos from previous events.

On Fiber Day, old and new friends are invited to come to the farm and work on their projects, try something new, dye yarn or fiber, visit with other fiber enthusiasts, and share food. Some of the attendees are also string musicians who might hold an informal jam session.

Joan Ellison

My mom met Joanie when she was the speaker at an event about 15 years ago. I was learning to spin, and was excited about this new connection to sheep and wool. The first time I went to the Ellison’s, I brought my daughter, who was about 11 at that time, to see the new lambs. Living in the city we didn’t have much opportunity to visit a farm, so this was really cool. I was enthralled. I have been back to their farm many times since and have the same response every time.

I have gotten to know many talented and interesting people at Fiber Day, which has made our recent move to the area easier. There are folks who come regularly, but always new faces too. Most bring a project to work on, but some are just observing. The die hard fiber enthusiasts stay all day, some people stop by for an hour. There is stimulating conversation, a variety of crafts going on, new things to watch or experiment with. Usually there are materials and instruction for a project to try in case you didn’t bring something of your own, or want to try something different. One time there were silk scarves to dye, often there is a felting activity.

Some fleeces from the Ellison’s sheep are sold to hand spinners. Many are sent to a mill to be made into roving and yarn, in their natural color or dyed first. Following are photos of the yarn and roving for sale at Fiber Day.

Yarn from the Ellison’s sheep
Hand dyed yarn for sale
Dyed roving from the Ellison’s sheep for sale

If the weather is nice, the back deck is crowded with people working on their project, chatting, and comparing notes with the other attendees.

Working on projects outside

Everyone brings something to share for a potluck lunch.

Taking a break from spinning to eat lunch
Needle Felting

Large pots of water are heated over an outside fire for dying. Many colors of dye are available. Wool fiber and yarn for dyeing is on hand for purchase, or you can dye something you brought with you. There are people around to help.

Dye pots on an outside fire
Wool removed from the dye pot
Roving dyed yellow and orange

I always bring my spinning wheel and a knitting project to Fiber Day. Usually I take advantage of the opportunity to use the Ellison’s “picker” and big electric drum carder. After a fleece is washed, it has to be “picked” and carded in preparation for spinning. Picking is fluffing out locks of fleece while also removing bits of hay and debris. This can be done with your fingers, but that is very labor intensive. The picker is a tool with sharp points that can accomplish the task much faster. You push the fiber in one side, swing the part with the sharp points back and forth, and the picked fiber comes out the other side. This tool is sharp and dangerous if you get your hand in the wrong place at the wrong time. One time a sharp point caught on my shirt and made a tiny rip. I was bummed because I really liked that shirt, but also lucky it was only a small rip and not a gash in my chest.

The “picker”

I own a drum carder but it is narrow and manual. The Ellison’s drum carder is wider and electric, so I often make batts for spinning when I am at Fiber Day. The wool in the photo below is the natural color. Other times I have used the drum carder to blend different types and colors of fiber.

The big drum carder for making batts from fiber

One time Joanie had an outdoor weaving project set up in the yard.

A weaving project in the yarn

Another time someone organized “human lace”. The ladies were instructed when to put their yarn over or under which other yarn. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the finished product.

Human Lace

It is not unusual for attendees to have a music jam session during Fiber Day.

Spontaneous Jam Session

Most of the photos here have only women in them, but a few men do show up. Dave Ellison is there assisting where needed, and in the music photo above. A few husbands accompany their wives, and there is an occasional man interested in the fiber activities.

On a normal day at home it is hard for me to carve out a chunk of time for my fiber related projects. At Fiber Day I have left behind my other responsibilities, and I can focus on what I really want to do. This year Joanie encouraged folks to email her with their pandemic projects so she could share them via her mailing list. That is a good alternative, but I miss being there in person. For today I will have my own Fiber Day, giving myself permission to ignore normal daily tasks.

Bricks of Fergus Falls

Some of the streets in Fergus Falls were paved with bricks until around 1960. At that time the bricks were removed in order for a gas main to be installed, after which the street was resurfaced with asphalt. The bricks were relocated to a massive pile where they were available for purchase at 1 cent each.

My uncles and dad, with “help” from my sister and I and some cousins (ages three to eight), participated in extracting bricks from the huge pile. They were loaded into the bed of a red 1960 Ford F-150 pickup truck that my grandfather had bought from a neighbor, and hauled out to the lake cottage property. The bricks were used to construct a “road” from the yard down a bank, so that vehicles and equipment could get down to the lake shore. Bricks were also used to line the floor of a boathouse my grandfather built, which was the size and look of a double garage, painted red like the cottage.

The brick road from the yard to the lake shore is still there

An earlier construction project my grandpa undertook was a tiny cabin on the lake shore. It was just big enough for two bunks with flimsy mattresses, one above the other, and a small side table and chair. From the ages of about 10 until 18, my uncles slept there to get away from the chaos of the crowded cottage. The next generation of cousins in the late 1960s and early 1970s sometimes used the beach cabin for sleeping, but more often as a fort. Mostly it was unoccupied except for spiders and mice.

A photo from the 1980s showing the boathouse and beach cabin on the shore

The main purpose for the boathouse was to store a classic old 1948 Palmer wooden racing sailboat. My grandpa had purchased the sailboat from someone in Minneapolis after it was badly damaged in a storm. He rebuilt it with white oak and applied a new coat of fiberglass. After one season on Lake Harriet the renovated sailboat lived at the lake. The boathouse also was used to store other beach-related items, including a canoe, duck boats, life jackets, paddles and yard tools. The sailboat rested on a makeshift flat trailer with wheels. There were tracks under the trailer that went on out into the lake, allowing it to be easily wheeled into the water. At that time the beach was wide enough to drive the truck between the boat house and the water, and there was plenty of space for games and lounging on the other end of the property where the dock and swimming area were located.

My mom’s younger brothers spent many happy hours on that sailboat. In later years when I was growing up the sailboat was sometimes anchored in front of the swimming beach, where it was used as a swim raft. I remember sunbathing on it, or climbing on and jumping off with my cousins.

The lake water has been rising steadily since the 1980’s. The brick road down to the lake is still there, but the boathouse and beach cabin are long gone. Most of the land where they were placed is now under water. The shoreline has receded back 25-30 feet from where it was 40 years ago. Some 20-inches of rain this summer threatens even more lake shore as water levels continue to rise.

My parents used some of the bricks leftover from the boathouse project for landscaping their yard when they lived in Edina, between 1972 and 1999. There were borders around gardens and a walking path on the side of the house.

The bricks that had been the floor of the boathouse became a beach patio after the boathouse was torn down. Over time as the water got higher, my uncle moved the bricks and used them to make a patio behind his lake house, which had been built on the south end of the property next to the cottage.

When my parents built their retirement home at the lake in 1999, my dad dug all the bricks out of the yard in Edina and brought them to the new property. The bricks were relocated a few at a time on the floor of their dodge minivan, so it would not be too heavy. You can see them now on the walk and patio in front of the house, where we live now.

Bricks from the streets of Fergus Falls on the front walk of my parents lake house

When this house is eventually sold, we may have to dig up the bricks and move them again. We may also want to cut out the ceramic tiles my mom hand made for two fireplaces, but that is another story.