Summer Harvest

I am not much of a gardener. I would rather be doing something else, but am willing to put in a limited amount of effort to get some fresh produce. Our garden had several phases this year, starting in the spring with Wayne preparing the area by digging out the old growth and weeds from the previous season, and then putting in some small tomato plants from the garden store. I participated in phase one by weeding the raspberries and rhubarb, planting green bean, zucchini, carrot, and beet seeds, and putting down some wool mulch I got from my sheep farmer friend.

Phase two of the garden involved watching the plants and weeds come up and wondering what was what. Once the plants were big enough (and I had googled to get photos of what they were supposed to look like), I weeded and thinned. Phase three was getting some actual produce and doing periodic weeding to keep it looking nice and orderly. Phase four was when summer activities got out of hand, and while I continued picking produce the weeds started to take over. Phase five is now, when we continue to get tomatoes and zucchinis, but I have given up on weeding, it looks like a jungle, and you can barely find the produce to pick.

The following photo was taken at the beginning of August. Everything looks very lush and green, and weedy.

Lush and weedy garden in August

Wayne has talked about planting strawberries but so far it hasn’t happened. My grandmother used to have a strawberry patch that was full of ripe berries in June of 1982, the first time I brought my husband to the family cabin when we had been dating for only a few months. Between the strawberries, the good fishing, and the classic cabin, I think the deal with me was set in Wayne’s mind that weekend. This spring I heard about hanging baskets of strawberry plants at Walmart, so I bought one of those as an alternative. When my sister was visiting I also went to a U-pick it place and bought one big box of just picked berries We made strawberry shortcake, ate a bunch plain, and froze the rest.

Hanging basket with a strawberry plant

I am not sure the wool mulch was such a great idea after all. Weeds grew up through it and when I tried to pull them out, they got tangled in the mat of wool and it was a battle. In addition to taking care of the vegetable garden, I spent hours weeding in the flower bed and brick sidewalk in front of the house before we had company in the middle of July. Picking the weeds out of the bricks is tedious, and it is discouraging when all the weeds are back after a few weeks.

My uncle who lives near us keeps bees. I think this has involved more work and problems than he expected, but it is great for the plants and gardens in the neighborhood, and good to have a source of organic honey. One time this summer he found one of the bee boxes knocked down and broken apart with pieces scattered about and honey licked off. The bee boxes are heavy and up off the ground, so he thinks a bear did this. We had heard of bear sightings in Fergus Falls 12 miles away, so it is possible. I can’t help having a vision of pooh bear with his hand in the honey jar.

I do not know what I am doing with the vegetables, so I made a chart with some information about each type of vegetable I planted and including a range of dates when they should be ready to start harvesting. The beets had the earliest harvest date, followed by the zucchini.

I was not sure how to tell if the beets were ready, or what would happen if I left them in the ground too long. I picked a couple before the target date because they looked ready. They were small but big enough to cook and eat. I chopped and stir fried the beet leaves with some zucchini and onions. As it turned out, the beets I picked weeks later were even smaller. I tried to watch for zucchini as I prefer to pick them when they are small, but of course I regularly found huge ones that I missed hiding under some leaves.

The earliest produce from our garden

The next thing ready to pick were green beans. They are prolific and you have to pick them every day, or at least every other day. They are delicious and we had some at almost every dinner for weeks, but there were still more than we could eat. Last year I tried freezing some after reading up on the best method. Several sources online suggested you did not have to cook or blanch them first, so I just washed and cut them up and put them in meal size bags. Over the winter we ate some of them which honestly were not that good. They were kind of rubbery, like the frozen green beans from the store. I put them in soup instead of serving them plain.

At the end of July I was away for a week. I was worried about being gone for that long with the beans coming fast and furious, and knowing that the zucchini can grow very quickly. Wayne said he would check the garden while I was gone. When I got back there were quite a few rhubarb stalks ready to pick. We had another round of guests, so I made my favorite Rhubarb Dream Dessert and froze some.

Rhubarb from the garden
My favorite rhubarb dessert

Wayne said he checked the beans every other day while I was gone, but he must not have looked very carefully, because I picked an entire gallon ice cream pail full. And I found a ginormous zucchini. I know from experience that you can look and look and not find any zucchini to pick, and the next day there will be a huge one. I like to slice up the small zucchini and stir fry them with a bit of olive oil. I have a couple of recipes I like that use the big ones, including Chocolate Zucchini Cake and Zucchini Cheese Casserole.

I picked a couple of carrots which turned out to be very small, and three beets which were even smaller. Wayne thinks we should not bother with beets and carrots again due to the small harvest, but I like seeing them grow and eating them. The next photo shows everything I picked on the day I returned from my vacation away.

Produce after being gone for one week

The following photo shows my tiny carrots next to a normal size one from the grocery store. The carrots tasted delicious raw.

My carrots next to one from the grocery store

We have been getting many tomatoes. I found that it works best to pick them before that are completely ripe, before an animal takes a bite. They seem to ripen up fine in the house.

Wayne loves to go fishing, so we regularly have fish dinners. Fish tacos has become a favorite meal for company. Wayne prepares the fish, cooks it, and cleans up the mess, while I prepare the rest of the meal. His go to method is frying with beer better, although there are variations depending on what ingredients we have on hand. It is always a winner, but we are very aware that this is not the most healthy way to cook. We have experimented with baking the fish. It works and is good too, but the fried method is everyone’s favorite. Following is a photo of Wayne with a walleye that is Minnesota’s most prized fish.

Wayne used to take our kids out fishing regularly when they were younger, and he enjoys providing this experience to any visiting children. Our young adult daughter does not go fishing much any more, but she did get a fish tattoo. She was here in August with her boyfriend who had never been to Minnesota or caught a fish. Wayne took them fishing, and fortunately they caught several fish while having a fun bonding experience. Next is a photo of Britta’s bass tattoo next to a freshly caught bass.

My daughter’s tattoo next to a freshly caught fish

My time spent in the garden seems worth it when we have meals featuring produce we grew ourselves, or that are locally sourced or freshly caught from the lake. There are two farms down the road that put out freshly picked corn on the cob each day for a couple of weeks. It is self serve where you take the number of cobbs you want and put the money in a box.

Company dinner of fresh caught fish and local corn on the cobb

The following photo is a meal of fish caught the same day, potatoes from my uncle’s garden, and tomatoes from our garden. The beans are from the store, as we had eaten all of ours.

Summer meal with fresh produce

Now in September there are still tomatoes growing among many weeds, and a few zucchini that are hard to find, but the garden is about done for the season which is OK with me.

Zucchini jungle

Family Reunion at the Lake

I live in the retirement home my parents built down the road from our extended family cabin. The cabin is known by family and friends as the Red Cabin, the Red Cottage, or simply the cabin. It was built in 1923 by my great grandfather and is still in use today. Currently the cabin is an LLC with nine owners who are descendants of my grandparents, with the goal of making it available for all family members. Because we live near by, Wayne and I take care of many chores related to the property. I love the place and am willing to do the bookkeeping, pay bills, schedule and pay the cleaning lady, manage reservations, send out necessary communications to family, and keep all the paper files. Wayne spends hours mowing and checking on other maintenance needs.

Following is a needlepoint I did of the cabin yard in the 1970’s. My grandma painted the scene on the canvas, so I remember it was not easy to make the color transitions.

Every summer there is a family reunion when my mother’s family members with their children and grandchildren gather at the cabin. At one time there was a compound of seven homes or buildings where extended family could gather at the lake all at one time. A few of these options are no longer available, but we can still get about 30 people housed for the first weekend of the event. A few families stay all week.

There are some activities at the reunion that people look forward to every year, starting with a kick off dinner of wood fired pizza on the grill courtesy of one of my uncles who loves to cook. There are several potluck dinners in the yard, followed by a multigenerational kick ball game that goes on until the mosquitos come out, or this year until a dog popped the ball. One morning there is a pancake breakfast at Phelps Mill park about 15 miles away, featuring our family made maple syrup (click here for a post about that). Many attendees bike to the park. My 84 year old uncle biked both directions this summer!

There are always extra people staying at our house during the reunion, sometimes filling up every bed. It is all very fun but also exhausting. Between getting ready for the big event, having a house full of people, recovering afterwards, and other summer guests and activities, I don’t get very much knitting or weaving or spinning done during this prime time of the season.

Earlier in the summer I had thought of knitting a baby sweater. It is fun to knit baby things. They are cute and knit up quickly. My daughter-in-law’s cousin who lives in Fergus Falls recently had a baby girl, so I decided to make a sweater using yarn I already own from my 2018 yarn store liquidation purchase (read about that here).

Yarn and pattern for a baby sweater

I usually knit with natural fibers, but Baby Blossom Chunky yarn out of 70% Acrylic and 30% Nylon is a better choice for a baby garment since it is washable. This is a self patterning yarn, but I was not sure how the pattern would look on the sweater. The pattern I used, Quick Oats, is available on Ravelry. It says it takes “a couple of evenings” to make. It took me a lot longer than that because I did not sit down and knit for entire evenings, and I also had to redo some sections to fix mistakes.

I wanted the sweater to be baby size, but not too small. My own children were big, and my son actually never fit into size 0-3 months. The Baby Blossom yarn is thicker than the yarn that the pattern was written for. I knew it would work if I just went ahead and starting knitting, but I was not sure exactly what size the final result would be.

Neck of the sweater
Yoke of the sweater completed

I had the sweater almost done by the time of the family reunion in July.

Making progress on one sleeve

My niece from Northern Michigan loves coming home to spend time with family in Minnesota. She and her husband own and run Falling Waters Lodge in Leland, Michigan, so it is hard for them to get away during the peak of summer. A few years ago Emily convinced her husband to make the effort to come to the reunion. I can’t remember all the details, but he had made arrangements to fly from Traverse City, MI, to Fargo, ND, which is about an hour from the lake. We have all heard about problems with cancelled flights and lost luggage due to current staffing problems. However there have always been challenges at smaller airports with limited numbers of flights each day. Cooper had agreed to come to the reunion that year despite having to miss participating in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament. At the last minute, Cooper’s flight got cancelled and there were not any more flights to Fargo until the next day. The next day the flight got cancelled again. I think he was finally able to get a flight three days later after many of the people had already left the reunion. Emily was so disappointed. Cooper was frustrated that he not only missed most of the people and fun activities at the reunion, he also missed the frisbee event because he was at the airport trying to get on a flight that was getting repeatedly cancelled.

Not surprisingly, the event this year was affected by covid. Emily and Cooper made arrangements for their duties at the Lodge to be taken care of, and drove to Minnesota with their two large Berne Doodle dogs. They got to participate in the annual kick off pizza on the grill dinner, hanging out in the cabin with cousins playing games, a kickball game, and some beach time. Then Cooper started to feel unwell and spent the next outdoor group meal in their room sleeping. At the end of the evening when he was not getting better he took a covid test. The result was positive. My husband and I, our son and his wife, and my sister and her family, had all been in close contact with Cooper visiting and playing games inside the cabin. The other families at the reunion only saw him outside in the yard so they were not worried about exposure. Emily and Cooper packed up and headed for home first thing the next morning. I know Cooper had a good experience before he got sick, so I hope this does not affect his desire to come again next summer. The rest of us who were exposed isolated at our house for the next five days. We missed out on some activities and visiting with extended family but otherwise it was not so bad. No one else tested positive for covid which seems suspicious, but that is another topic.

One thing that made the reunion interesting this year was the number of dogs at the event. I counted 10 ranging in size from tiny to giant. At my house we had another niece with her four month old German Shepherd puppy Azora, my son and his wife with their one year old mixed breed medium size dog Winnie, and our own 10 pound 14 year old Yorkie Poo Lyla. Lyla does not really know how to play with other dogs, is not used to sharing her space, and cannot hear very well, so sometimes she snaps at people if they startle her. She was confused about having her food moved to a different location. Several times the other dogs found her food and ate it. There were a few accidents and conflicts, but over all it went pretty well. Winnie figured out quickly how to sneak through the gate we had casually leaned against the space separating the kitchen and back hall from the living and dining area, stepped easily over the low barrier we have to keep Lyla from going upstairs, and figured out she could bust out the front screen door if it was not locked. Winnie also dug a big hole in the front lawn. Once she got into some of my hand spun yarn but no harm was done.

I did not take very many photos this year, but I have a few featuring all the dogs. In the next photo there are three dogs on the dock and one on a paddle board.

Dogs on the beach

The following photo was taken inside the cabin. The small dog on the left is our Yorkie Poo. The two big dogs on the right are my niece’s Berne Doodles. Every time I see them together I think of the book “Go Dog Go” by P.D. Eastman. “Big Dog. Little Dog. Black and White Dogs”.

Go Dog Go. Big Dog. Little Dog. Black and white dogs.

In addition to the three dogs at my house, my cousin had her three small dogs, my uncle had his two Golden Retrievers, another cousin brought his large Goldendoodle and my other uncle who lives near the cabin has a Springer Spaniel. The dogs had fun racing around in the yard and chasing after balls thrown in the water.

Winnie ready to go after the ball in the water

My son and his wife and I happened to be in the right place at the right time to get a sailboat ride with my cousin. We all got on the boat and left my husband Wayne in charge of Winnie. However as the sailboat moved away from the dock Winnie swam after us faster than Wayne could stop her, so we had to drag her onto the boat.

Sailboat ride with Winnie, three other dogs on the dock

My son and his wife were able to stay for a whole week, working remotely during the week days. After all the other reunion guests had left, my daughter-in-law’s parents came for the weekend from their home in southern Minnesota. We invited the cousin and his wife from Fergus Falls over for lunch, so this family group could spend time together and see the new baby. Everyone admired the baby sweater, although it turned out to be toddler size rather than infant size.

Sweater complete

Summer is short and precious in Minnesota. When one is making plans, it is easy to schedule in visitors and trips back to back without thinking about how that will actually play out. After the busy reunion week I had a few days to regroup and prepare for a ladies trip to northern Michigan with three high school friends, followed right away by another reunion at the lake with Wayne’s side of the family. It is all good!!

Silk Sari Yarn

I usually have several blog posts in draft mode, but sometimes none of them are ready when I want to publish two weeks after the last one, or the timing isn’t right for the topic, or I don’t want to publish about socks multiple times in a row. For example, last winter there was a post about socks I knit as a Christmas gift for my daughter. It was ready to go, but I had to wait until after I gave her the socks before publishing it. Those scenarios are times to post about a past project before I started blogging.

When I first started spinning over 15 years ago I made a scrapbook of my projects and fiber adventures. That was the only scrapbook I ever made. There was a time when some people really got into scrapbooking. There were entire stores and companies dedicated to this hobby. My version of scrapbooking was to slap photos in an album and hand write a few captions. I was very good at documenting our lives this way until I went back to working full time after having a half time schedule for many years, which coincided with the end of film photography for our family. We have photo albums starting from the 1970’s and going until 2005, numbered and with the years documented on the spine. I even used the double prints you got with paper photos to make duplicate albums for each of the kids. Of course now they do not want those and I may even have tossed them when we moved three years ago.

After 2005 my husband managed the digital photos and for many years I did not pay attention to where or how to access them, or have the energy to figure it out. Currently we have a system of uploading photos to Amazon Prime Photos, which Wayne loves because you can view them on the TV. He makes digital photo slide shows that serve as photo albums for our personal use, or for events like milestone birthdays, weddings or memorial services. The spinning scrapbook I made was like an earlier version of this blog, except that hardly anyone has seen it. This post is about a project documented in my scrapbook.

In 2010 a friend and I went to Shepherds Harvest Sheep and Wool Festival in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. If you live in Minnesota and are a fiber crafter, you have probably heard about this large festival with many vendors, classes, demonstrations, food, music, and fiber animals. I was there again this spring and posted about about it here. It is normally the same weekend as Mother’s Day which was often a problem for me in the past when the kids were younger. There were several obstacles to my attendance including the fact that it is usually the same weekend as Fiber Day at the Ellison’s sheep farm in Otter Tail County (read about that here), it is often the same weekend as Fishing Opener, and also for a number of years my daughter had a fastpitch softball tournament the same weekend. My husband’s annual fishing opener trip with friends was non negotiable, so that left me to take our daughter to the softball events. I could have skipped the softball tournaments, but I did not want to do that. Once my daughter was done with school and travel sports, I was free to choose between Shepherds Harvest and Fiber Day while my husband went fishing. I would usually choose Fiber Day as it is so much more personal and hands on.

At Shepherds Harvest in 2010 I bought a recycled Silk Sari. The vendor had a large selection of old saris that could now be repurposed into something else. She was demonstrating how to fold and cut a sari into diagonal narrow strips for spinning into sari silk yarn. It was hard to decide which sari to buy, but I purchased one in a beautiful periwinkle color.

The photos of the sari project are scanned from the paper photos in my scrapbook. The colors are all over the place and are not very accurate. Unfortunately I cannot take new ones, so these will have to do. Following is a photo of the sari as it was when I purchased it.

The recycled silk sari from Shepherds Harvest Sheep and Wool Festival

I trimmed the raw edges with pinking shears so they would not ravel. Then I folded the sari fabric in half and sewed across edges to make a large tube. The process is the same as making tee shirt yarn, except this is woven fabric so it is cut on the bias to give it some stretch and reduce raveling. I laid the large tube out flat with the seam in the middle, and then cut diagonal strips, without cutting all the way through the folded edge at the top. That resulted in creating one long bias strip of fabric about 1/2 to 3/4 inches wide, with periodic seams from where I sewed the edges together. The color in the photo below is too lavender, but shows the cutting in process.

The next photo of a scrap left after cutting the strips shows the pattern and color most accurately of the selection I have, although it will show up differently depending on what device it is being viewed on.

A scrap from the silk sari

Once I had cut the long strip of fabric, I spun it on my spinning wheel to make a version of yarn. The process of spinning fiber involves three steps: drafting, followed by twisting, and then winding on to the bobbin. In the case of the long silk sari strip there is no drafting of fiber. There is only twisting and winding on. It is a good project for a new spinner since you only have to manage two steps instead of three.

The next photo shows the resulting yarn. There are little flaps of fabric poking out at the places where there was a seam in the bias strip. The fabric could be trimmed down so it does not stand out so much at the seams, but I thought it was a fun look.

Recycled silk sari yarn

I used part of the silk sari yarn in a shawl with some other yarns. I wore the shawl to a wedding in the Los Angeles area once during the summer. Normally it would have been warm out, but there happened to be an unusual cold snap that weekend. The wedding was at a beach club on the ocean and all the ladies with sleeveless dresses were freezing. The wedding couple happened to have a supply of pashminas as gifts for the women guests. I don’t think they had any idea how useful the pashminas would be when they were planning the wedding! I think there is a photo of me wearing the shawl (probably with a pashmina on top of it) at the wedding, but it would be in with the lost years of photos between paper albums and Amazon Prime storage of photos.

Shawl I knit with a selection of yarns, including the silk sari yarn

I still have one small ball of the silk sari yarn left that is not enough to make anything. When I come across yarn from past projects it is fun to reminisce about where I got it or how it came about, and how successful (or not) the project was.

What is left of the my silk sari yarn

I have never seen recycled silk saris for sale at any fiber fair since I bought this one. A couple of times I have researched buying another one online, but have not found the same large selection of entire saris. I would love to make more silk sari yarn if I ever find the fabric again.

Sneaker Socks

I am writing about socks again which is not as interesting as my last post about helping my mom with her memoir. I understand if you want to stop reading here!

After completing the cable pattern socks over the winter that took two months to finish I wanted to use thicker yarn for my next sock project so they would knit up faster. After looking over my yarn on hand, I decided to go with some MillaMia Naturally Soft Sock 75% Wool / 25% Polymide yarn which turns out to be thinner rather than thicker. However I really liked the color and feel of it, and they look nice with both my pairs of my sneaker type shoes. This time I used a basic pattern instead of the complicated cable pattern, with a short cuff which does not take as long to make.

Polyamide, also known as nylon, is a petroleum product. It is commonly used in sock yarn to add strength, durability and elasticity. Ideally we should be using less petroleum based products, but there are always multiple factors to consider. If your socks wear out faster because they do not have nylon and you have to make or buy another pair, is that better?

Nylon, which is a type of plastic, was invented in 1935. The first successful use for nylon was in place of silk for stockings, and then after that for military uses during WWII. It is not biodegradable and sheds microplastics into the water. Other synthetic fibers made from petroleum with the same issue include polyester, acrylic, rayon, and microfiber. I read recently that microplastics have now been found in people’s blood. That is scary. I wonder what other things we are doing and manufacturing today that in the future we will realize are having impacts on the environment that we did not foresee.

Toe of a sock

I started out trying to do turkish cast on for 2 socks at a time on magic loop needles size one. The stitches were slipping all over the place and falling off the needle. Plan B was to knit the toe for the first sock and put it a holder while I knit the other toe.

After the toes were completed with both of them back on the needles for two at a time magic loop knitting, I knit a couple of inches of foot. I ripped it back and started over a couple of times before I was satisfied that the number of stitches around was right. I would rather start over and get it right than complete the project and not be happy with it.

When it was time for the heel, I considered a method of “afterthought” heel that has extra rows in the corner where the heel meets the leg. Afterthought heel is a technique where you knit past the place where the heel will be, and then later go back and knit the heel. I decided against it since an afterthought heel requires two more ends to be woven in. Instead I knitted the Fish Lips Kiss heel one at a time while the other sock was held on double pointed needles. Both the afterthought heel and the Fish Lips Kiss heel come out a little tighter around the ankle than a traditional flap heel based on the geometry of the pattern. When I got to the end of the heel, I added another stitch in the corners to add a little width. Following is a photo of both socks, with the heel completed on one sock.

Heel complete on one sock

I am always coming across new ideas and variations for improving the fit and construction of socks. I like to browse on Pinterest, so once it knows you are looking at sock ideas, it sends you more and more. Now I also get lots of ideas on Pinterest for recipes with rhubarb haha. I found a pattern specifically for sneaker socks that makes an adjustment to a short row heel of adding some extra rows so that the completed sock will not slip down into your shoe in the back. That was happening with the first pair of sneaker socks I made, so I decided to try it. This pattern also suggested using knit 1 purl 1 for the ribbing instead of knit 2 purl 2, as well as using something called “Italian bind off” that I had not heard of.

Following is a photo of one of the socks after I finished knitting. Somehow I ended up with a big hole in only one out of four heel corners. I was able to patch that up with a scrap of yarn.

Oh no, there is a hole in the corner where the heel meets the foot

It is hard to avoid having a funny uneven column where the two halves of the sock meet when knitting with magic loop. Because the stitches are all connected by one continuous piece of yarn, it will eventually even itself out with wear and washing. I put the just completed pair of socks into an empty ice cream tub (ice cream is a staple at our house so we have a bunch of those that I use for various purposes) with some wool soap to get the process started.

Washing the completed socks in an ice cream bucket

All in all I was happy with how this pair of socks came out. The Italian Bind Off looked nice and neat, but was a bit tight. Even with the extra stitch I added in each corner of the sock they could have more room in the heel diagonal, but they work.

Sneaker socks completed
Another view of just completed sneaker socks

I wanted to make another pair out of the same yarn to try a few variations in different parts of the pattern, but I had to figure out if I had enough yarn left. I had started with two 50 gram balls of yarn, one for each sock. When the socks were complete I weighed them on my kitchen scale. Subtracting the weight of the socks (39 grams) from the original weight of the yarn (100 grams) told me that the remaining yarn (61 grams) was enough to make another pair of sneaker socks. It is fascinating to me that the weight of the yarn used for a project is exactly equal to the weight of the completed project. That works when spinning wool into yarn too, except that when spinning bits of the fiber get removed in the process, so the final product might be a little less that what you started with.

I knit another pair of sneaker socks using the same pattern and yarn but with a few adjustments. First I used yarnover increases when making the toe instead of knit in the front and back. Normally yarnovers are used to make an increase, and then when you knit it on the next row it makes a hole which can be a design element. In this case I knit through the back loop so there is not a hole. I made a couple of increases in the foot just before getting to the place where the heel started, in addition to adding a stitch in each corner at the end of the heel. Lastly, I used Jeny’s Suprisingly Stretchy Bind Off instead of Italian Bind Off. It does not look as neat, but it works better for this purpose.

Version two of ankle socks from MilliMia yarn
Wearing my new socks

I have made three pairs of ankle socks. They all have a Fish Lips Kiss heel, but variations affecting the fit. The first pair fit nicely, but slip down in the back of my show. The second pair fits a tiny bit tight in the heel diagonal and the bind off at the ankle is tight. The third pair fits perfectly and does not slip! I have more sock yarn that I bought last winter so I will be knitting more socks but I promise I will mix up my blog with something else next.

Three variations of ankle socks


My mom abandoned her ceramic studio and started her writing career when she realized that my sister did not know where our mother had been born. Clay projects were left partially completed, with tools scattered on her work table. The kiln was never used again. From that day on all my mom’s energy was focused on documenting the story of her large chaotic family during the 1940’s and 1950’s. She joined a writing group in Fergus Falls, and in the following years attended classes and workshops to improve her skills. She made a lot of progress in a few years, including having several short stories published in the Otter Tail Review and Lake Region Review, anthologies with stories, essays and poems by regional authors.

In the early years of this period my mom was successfully doing her writing thing. I was busy with my own life, job, and family three hours away in Minneapolis. At that time I wasn’t paying much attention to the details of her memoir in progress. Computers and technology were never her strength though, and as she got older and farther along in the project, my sister and I starting receiving regular panicky phone calls asking for assistance to figure out what happened to sentences, paragraphs, or entire documents that had gotten accidentally deleted or moved, or she simply could not locate. We both helped as well as we could from afar. I don’t know how many times we tried to explain “undo”, but she never did get it.

Around this time I started using Google Docs at work, which allows document sharing so that more than one person can see and edit the same text in real time. I could see how Google Docs would be a good way to help my mom with editing from a distance.

I also realized that assistance was needed to get the memoir beyond a large number of disorganized files and into a format suitable for publication. I did not need another activity, but without spending a lot of money that was not in her budget there was no one else to do it. I had the right skill set, so I made a commitment to be her book’s “project manager”. It took over the next three years of my life, but I would do it again.

One thing my mom had not understood was “save” versus “save as”, so there were three or four versions of each section of text or story. There were also multiple chapters saved inside one document, resulting in versions of chapters being buried in a document with a different name. My first task as project manager was to create a single Google Document for each chapter, and then paste the text from all the versions into the appropriate document.

After we had worked together to edit the text down to one workable document for each chapter, I shared them with myself so I could see what my mom was doing as she continued to make revisions and add more material. I made minor edits, fixed typos, moved paragraphs around at her request, and restored text that she accidentally deleted (regularly), and most importantly, saved backup copies. To be clear, the writing was all my mom’s. All I did was the most basic editing. This was not like Rose Wilder Lane collaborating with Laura Ingalls Wilder to transform Laura’s stories into the polished books that were published.

Other book project tasks that I helped with were fact checking, looking for instances where the same anecdote or story was used in two or more places, making sure events and text were in the correct order, making minor wording suggestions, formatting a family tree for use in the book, scanning photos, helping write captions for the photos and suggesting where they could be placed, creating the table of contents, and doing research on options for publishing.

One example of fact checking related to my grandmother’s younger sister. She had married young and had a daughter. Both sets of parents were unhappy about the union. We knew the birth date of the child, but we had trouble determining the marriage date. It seemed like it might have been a shotgun wedding, and my mom had written her first drafts under that assumption but without really saying it in so many words. Even though all the people concerned were no longer with us, it seemed right to confirm the dates. The records office in Des Moines where the marriage took place had the information but would not give me the date over the phone. We considered making a 400 mile road trip to Des Moines, which could also include visiting my dad’s older sister who we had not seen in many years. After finding out she had passed on, we gave up on that idea. I learned that we could hire someone to go to the records office for us, so we determined the marriage date that way. It turned out that my grandmother’s sister did not “have” to get married. My mom edited some of the text accordingly, and we were glad we made the effort to verify the information.

Eventually all the chapters were combined into one large cumbersome Microsoft Word document. After a lot more updating, a professional editor that my mom had taken a class from reviewed the document, providing helpful input for changing the flow of the story and making other improvements. Several trusted friends and relatives also proof read the text.

My husband designed the book cover using part of a painting my mom had done in 1957. My artist sister-in-law created a professional looking map of my mom’s childhood neighborhood from a sketch my mom had drawn. My cousin’s photographer wife, Kim Eriksson, took the author photo for the back of the book.

Author photo of my mom taken by Kim Eriksson

After considering options for self publishing, we hired a woman in Fergus Falls to format the text for publication using the software Adobe InDesign. She would format 10 or 12 pages at a time and email them to me and to my mom for proofreading. This was supposed to be final checking for typos or mistakes, but my mom never stopped rewriting sentences and making editing changes until the last possible opportunity. She wanted it to be perfect. Finally, paperback copies of the book were printed in Fergus Falls in the fall of 2014. I later published the book in Amazon print-on-demand format. After that I prepared the book text for Amazon Kindle which included removing page numbers and most of the other formatting, reducing the number of photos in half, and other changes so that it would work across many different Kindle platforms. You can find the Amazon paper and Kindle book listings here.

There is a page on my blog about the book which you can get to here. Following is the front cover.

Front of the book

The next image is the back of the book with the author bio and a short summary of the memoir.

When we received the first proof copy from the printer, it seemed like such a huge accomplishment that I started to cry. We were all very pleased with the outcome and got positive feedback from friends and family, people who lived or had lived in Otter Tail County or in the neighborhood where my mom’s family had settled in Minneapolis, and others including complete strangers. Despite a couple of not so great comments on Amazon, most of the responses were good. My mom loved getting emails and praise from people she knew who had read the book.

In retrospect, there were times when I pushed my mom a little too hard to accomplish a lot in a short period of time. Since I was working full time and had other responsibilities, the time I had available to work with her was usually in the evening when she was starting to get tired. Also, it was around this time when I first noticed that she was starting to have some memory challenges, which was unsettling to realize, and caused frustration for both of us. I could see that we needed to finish this project sooner rather than later, if it was going to happen at all. My sister and I are very grateful that the project was completed before it was too late.

I assumed we would be able to place a copy in the Hennepin County Library system in the Twin Cities. It turns out there are some big hoops to jump through in order for that to happen. There is not enough room for every self published book, and many are not very well done. I believe that the writing quality and presentation of my mom’s book is of a higher caliber than many of the memoirs I have checked out of the library, but we decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. On the other hand, the Fergus Falls library was happy to take several copies.

My mom’s two youngest brothers both objected to the way their grandfather, Leonard Eriksson, was portrayed. Some of the information about Leonard was written from my grandmother’s point of view of a young bride living in her father-in-law’s male dominated household in the 1930’s. My grandmother also may have been mistaken about some information that she shared with my mom. My uncles knew Grandpa Leonard at a different time in his life, and had a different relationship with him. They felt that some of the statements about Grandpa Leonard were unfair and possibly even slanderous.

There were seven siblings in my mom’s family with a 14 year age difference. My mom was the second oldest. She consulted with her older sister for memories and information about their parents’ early marriage and some of the details relating to their grandfather’s law practice. Grandpa Leonard had many positive qualities and accomplishments that were portrayed in the book as well as his more problematic traits. The four oldest children lived a very different life from the youngest three. Each person in the family would inevitably have a different story or version or memory of the same events, and not everyone was present during every event. Memories are not perfect.

I know that my mom made an effort to be accurate and produce a quality product. I believe she accomplished her goal, in spite of varying perspectives, imperfect memories, and possible misinformation. I loved participating in the book project despite the amount of time and energy it consumed. I learned a lot about my family history, spent many hours of quality time with my mom, and learned new skills. I am so happy to have the resulting product for my children, extended family, and anyone who likes memoirs.

Sheep and Wool Festival

The Shepherds Harvest Sheep and Wool Festival was happening in the Twin Cities over Mother’s Day weekend when I was in the area for some other commitments. At first I did not make the connection that I would be in Minneapolis that weekend. Then, I concluded that I had too many other things to accomplish while I was in town, and that I did not need the temptation of buying additional fiber when I already have more at home than I can ever use.

On that Sunday it turned out I had some free time after all, so at the last minute I decided to go for it. I am glad I did as it turned out to be a nice Mother’s Day treat for me, given that Wayne was out of town for the fishing opener and my grown children live in other states. It is always fun to walk around at a fiber festival and check out all the vendors, get new ideas, listen to live music, and look at fiber animals. I always notice new products I have never seen before, and keep my eye out for fiber that is different than what I have at home.

Lately, I have been knitting socks, so this time I noticed circular sock knitting machines for sale, sock “blanks” that is sock yarn knitted into a square and custom dyed that you unravel as you knit into a sock, and tube socks all knitted and ready to knit on your own heels. There were also regular knitting machines for sale. And of course bags of raw wool and other fiber for spinning, fiber already prepared for spinning, and lots of yarn. There were some live fluffy angora rabbits on display, with their owners selling the angora fiber which is super soft and warm. And many other things I cannot remember at the moment.

Years ago I saw a vendor selling recycled silk saris at the Sheep and Wool Festival. She was demonstrating how you could cut it on the diagonal into thin strips and then spin it into yarn. That day I browsed at the many beautiful saris before selecting a purplish one to buy. Later, I made it into yarn that I used as part of a knitted shawl. I will tell you about that another time.

Of course I was not able to get away from the festival without buying anything! I bought some roving made out of 50% baby camel and 50% tussah silk. It was more expensive than what I usually use for spinning, and the colors are a little dark so I am thinking of blending it with some merino wool to made it go farther, lighten up the color, and make it easier to spin.

50% Baby Camel, 50% Tussah Silk

I also bought some flax fiber for spinning. Spun flax is linen. I have used linen blend yarn for knitting and weaving, but I have never spun any. Flax is very unlike the other fibers people typically spin such as wool and alpaca. The individual fibers in flax are longer and stiffer, and spinning is somewhat different. The vendor gave me a few tips including that you should get the flax damp while you are spinning it. I will have to do some research when I get around to spinning the flax. Assuming I am able to successfully make some linen yarn out of the flax, it will be good for weaving tea towels. The color in the photo below is more gray than the actual, which is closer to a tan. It looks like hair.

Flax fiber to spin into linen

Another time when I was at the Sheep and Wool Festival with my daughter, she bought some fish leather which she used to make a wallet. Fish leather is an eco-friendly product made from fish skins that would normally be discarded. I have read that it is nine times stronger than cow leather because of the crisscross pattern of the fibers.

Wallet my daughter made out of fish leather, folded up and showing the front side of the leather
Wallet made out of fish leather, showing the inside of the wallet and back side of the fish leather

I saw the fish leather booth at the festival again this time, so I bought two pieces to give my daughter as a gift. The smaller piece in the photos below is Tilapia, and longer piece is Salmon. She recently learned how to tan hides herself and has been making cool things out of leather such as bags, backpacks and clothing items. I hope she can use the fish leather for a small project, or as trim on a larger product.

The smaller piece if Tilapia leather, the longer piece is Salmon leather
Closer up view of the fish leather

The last thing I bought on this Mother’s Day outing was some roving ready to spin, made out of merino wool, bamboo, and nylon in pretty shades of blue with a little purple.

60% Merino Wool, 30% Bamboo, 10% Nylon

I had not worked on a spinning project since last fall, so I was excited to start spinning the merino/bamboo/nylon fiber right away. I had the idea of making sock yarn, since I have been into knitting socks, and it is the right combination of fibers for that. However I don’t think I can get it thin enough and also there is somewhat of a risk that they will not fit right. It would be safer to use this hand spun yarn in a woven scarf, with some other commercially prepared yarn. Following are photos of the fiber being spun into singles (one ply) yarn, in process and then on two bobbins completed.

Spinning the wool / bamboo / nylon blend fiber
The fiber spun onto two bobbins

Normally when making hand spun yarn I divide the fiber into equal parts by weight and then spin onto an even number of bobbins. Once the yarn has all been spun into singles, I make two ply yarn by spinning two singles together. Invariably, even though they have the same amount by weight, one of the bobbins will have more yardage and so at the end of plying the two singles together there is still some yarn left on one of the bobbins. I had heard about plying from both ends of a center pull ball of yarn, so that you will not have any waste, so I decided to try that. I used my ball winder to make center pull balls out of each bobbin of the singles yarn. At one point in the process the yarn broke, so I just overlapped the ends together and kept going.

Center pull balls of yarn from each bobbin of singles yarn

I plied two strands of yarn from one of the center pull balls by using the end coming out of the middle, and the other end coming off the outside. It turned out to be difficult as the yarn coming off the outside kept twisting around the strand coming from the middle and getting tangled up. Maybe there is a way to avoid this problem but I did not stop to research it. I had to keep stopping to get the singles yarns lined up nicely for plying, so it took longer than it usually does, but finally I got to the spot where the two ends met and no yarn was leftover.

I should have done some research on this method of plying, but instead I decided to split the second ball of yarn into two balls and then ply those together so I would not have to fight with tangling strands. I used my ball winder and scale to wind another center pull ball from the end of the first one, until they were the same by weight. Then I was able to ply those two together using one end from the center of each ball, ending up with only a couple of inches of waste when one of the balls ran out before the other one. When I got to the place where the yarn had broken, I overlapped it and keep plying. It blended together nicely and looked normal, and I am hopeful it will not come apart later.

When hand spinning, it is challenging to spin the fiber so that the yarn comes out with a consistent thickness throughout the entire supply of fiber. There are tips for how to do this, but I always feel that I am doing well if I am actually able to spin my fiber into any yarn, much less to spin it so that it is all exactly even. When the two skeins of two ply yarn were complete, I measured the length and weight of each. One skein was 2 ounces and 130 yards. The other one was 2.2 ounces and 158 yards. Using some math to determine the yards per pound, which is a way of measuring yarn, it was not a surprise that one of my plied skeins of yarn was a bit thinner than then other one. It is not enough to cause a problem. Other than that, I was happy with how it turned out.

It will be a while before I get around to doing any more spinning as the busiest time of summer is coming up. There will be people coming and going at the family cabin, family visitors at our house, our annual family reunion at the cabin, and a girls trip at the end of July.


I love eating fresh home grown vegetables, but I do not enjoy the work necessary to have them. I like the look of pretty flower gardens, but I don’t like working outside in the dirt to make that happen.

At our old home in the Twin Cities we had an au naturale yard with a few flowers in the back and side of the house, and a couple of pots of flowers on the front steps and in hanging baskets. When my first child was born I got rid of all the indoor plants because that was just one too many things to manage. If someone gives me an indoor plant today, it looks nice for a little while until it dies because I don’t take care of it.

My parents always had beautiful immaculately manicured yards that they landscaped themselves. They had flower gardens, a rhubarb patch, a small vegetable garden, apple trees, raspberry bushes, and border plants around the house and side yards.

Now that we live in their house, it is hard to follow in their footsteps. I am afraid it isn’t going to happen. I have other things I would rather do with my time than garden, such as knitting, spinning and weaving, and Wayne likes to fish and golf. Normally Wayne takes care of most of the outdoor chores and I do more of the indoor chores. I will help outside when necessary, he will help inside as needed. But no way is Wayne going to spend all day every day all summer maintaining the yard and gardens like my dad did.

Just mowing this big yard takes many hours, and Wayne also regularly mows the large lawn at our family cabin property near by. Wayne read an article recently advising that the ideal timing for moving a lawn is once or twice a week. Around here at this time of the year with normal rain levels, the lawn needs to be mowed about every three days. One time my parents planted native prairie grass in a couple of areas of the yard to reduce the amount of mowing and provide a welcoming environment for insects and animals. What happened was that thistles took over in the prairie grass. My dad was spending more time attempting to remove thistles than he had been on mowing, so he gave up and returned the lawn to regular grass.

We are doing what we can to make the yard look presentable by maintaining one annual flower bed, some hanging baskets and pots of flowers in front of the house, as well as low maintenance border plants, and trying to keep the weeds at bay. We are also keeping up the raspberry and rhubarb patches, and growing a few vegetables.

At one time there were a couple of apple trees, but the sandy soil is not ideal for them. They did not make it and eventually were cut down. Maintaining the raspberry bushes is very confusing, since there are different kinds and conflicting suggestions for when and how to prune and manage them. The raspberries have been meaningful to our children, nieces and nephews over the years to the point that our daughter and two nieces got matching raspberry bush tattoos. So I guess we are obligated to keep them going. Two years ago the raspberry plants were looking very sad, so we dug them all up and started over with two different types of plants. There were a minimal number of berries last summer. We’ll see what happens this year. Following is a photo from years ago when my parents had an especially productive raspberry season. This is not what it looks like now.

The raspberries in a good year when my parents grew them
Matching cousin raspberry plant tattoos

The weeding is especially discouraging. I can spend hours picking out all the weeds that fill in between the bricks in the front walk and patio, and in the front flower garden. In a matter of weeks they are back. A few years ago we started getting an invasive species of weed from hell in the side yard areas. At first it was just a few plants here and there, but over the years it has taken over in all the border areas of the yard, and even along the road. The roots look like a miniature carrot. If these are edible, we won’t have to worry about going hungry in case of a global food crisis. The next two photos show the horrible weed growing in with some Hosta and among landscaping rocks, and then a close up of one plant I pulled out.

The awful weed growing in the Hosta and between the landscaping rocks
The weed from hell that looks like a mini carrot

We got a late start in the yard this year due a cold spring and fishing season. I finally did a little weeding in the front of the house on May 29 to prepare that area for annual plants. On May 30 Wayne got out the shovels and tools to turn over the vegetable garden. Depending on where you live, this might seem very late. It is a bit later than normal here, but not that much. I went out to help and found that there were rhubarb stalks ready to pick!

Rhubarb ready to pick
The raspberry bush and vegetable garden area being prepared for a new season
Getting the garden ready to plant a few vegetables

The flower garden in front of the house was full of tall grass and weeds. Following are photos after I had done some of the weeding, and then after annual flowers and new mulch were added. It looks decent but not as nice as when my parents were here.

Before photo of the flower garden in front of the house
Flower garden after weeding, adding annual plants, and spreading mulch

At sheep shearing day they were giving away garbage bags of fleece waste to use for mulch. It works great for mulch by protecting the soil from extreme temperatures, holding moisture, repelling critters, keeping weeds at bay, and providing nutrients. I brought a bag of the stuff home and although Wayne was skeptical, I used some around the rhubarbs and raspberries after pulling out the weeds. It looks unique and I wonder what folks walking by on road are thinking.

Rhubarb bed after weeding and adding sheep fleece mulch

I don’t mind picking fresh produce later in the summer. The green beans usually do very well and we eat them almost every day. I will be happy if I get a couple of carrots and beets. We have had mixed success with tomatoes, but any that we get are so much better than the hard tasteless version at the grocery store. Watch for another post in August with details about the results of our harvest. There might be a photo with my favorite summer meal of freshly caught fish, just picked green beans, locally grown corn on the cob, potatoes from my uncles larger garden, bread from the bread maker, and rhubarb pie for dessert.

I am willing to assist with the work that is necessary to have a nice yard and small garden as long as Wayne is up for doing most of the work. But if some day, by some unforeseen event beyond my control, I end up by myself, I would have to move to a condo where there is no gardening or yardwork.

Socks with a cable pattern

While we were in Arizona over the winter I knit another pair of socks using Madeline Tosh Twist Light yarn. This is the same merino/nylon blend and the same needles I used in two previous pairs of socks. I like this yarn and I wanted to see how variations in the pattern would affect the fit.

The purple pair I knit before were cuff down with an afterthought heel. The off white low cuff sneaker style pair were also knit cuff down, but with a Fish Lips Kiss short row heel. They both had 64 stitches around which turns out to be a little too big for my narrow foot. At the time I knit those, I was still getting comfortable with the construction of socks, and I did not understand how to get them to fit. There are suggestions for how many stitches to use for a ladies sock, but apparently my foot is not average.

This time I started at the toe, knitting two at a time. The other pairs are a little too loose, especially in the ankle, so this time I used only 56 stitches around instead of 64. I came up with that by measuring the other pairs, and by looking at my cardboard foot template as I knit the toe.

In order to knit two socks at a time, I had to divide the skein of yarn into two balls. I used my ball winder to make one big center pull ball, and then used the outside end from that to wind another ball, until the first one weighed half of the original weight. Interestingly, the first larger ball was very dense. When I wound the second ball with half of the yarn from the first ball, it looked a lot bigger and was less dense than what was left of the first ball, although they weighed the same.

Toes completed, the two balls of yarn weigh the same

I got a good start on this project knitting in the car on the way to Arizona, with the dog napping on my lap.

Knitting in the car with the dog on my lap

After getting some of the toe done, I came across a sock pattern called Rayanne Socks with a cable design going up one side. I decided that would be a good challenge and look interesting with the variegated yarn. The pattern uses two different yarns, alternating every other row, but I used the same yarn for every row.

Beginning of the cable pattern

A cable pattern in knitting uses a small extra needle with a bend in it to hold one stitch while you knit the next stitch, and then you go back and knit the stitch on the cable needle. The stitch on the cable needle can be held in back or in front as you work the next stitch, which results in swapping the position of two stitches and gives an overlapping curving pattern. The Rayanne sock pattern has a chart with 12 rows showing the pattern. Within the 12 rows of the pattern are three different variations of cable stitch indicated by slanting lines and an asterisk. It looks intimidating at first, but I got the hang of it after several repeats. Following is a photo showing the chart.

Cable pattern chart

This pattern required a lot more attention and ways to keep track of things than I usually need. I had stitch markers at the beginning and end of the cable pattern on the needle, a stitch marker at the beginning of the round, the row counter, and the cable pattern chart.

The cable needle ready for the next row
Toe and part of the foot complete

Usually I would stick the cable needle through the toe of the sock in progress until I needed it again. One time I could not find it, and looked all around on the floor, in the cushions of the chair where I usually knit in the RV, and in the front seat of the truck. I could not find it anywhere. I thought I was going to have to buy a new one and even checked the knitting aisle at Walmart when I was there for something else. Walmart has some yarn and knitting supplies, but they did not have a cable needle. I knit a couple of rows using a straight double pointed needle I had on hand, which actually worked pretty well. Then I found my missing cable needle. It was pushed all the way inside the ball of yarn! The cable needle is almost the same color as the yarn and about the same length as the diameter of the ball of yarn at that time. I got a laugh from that and was very relieved to have it back.

A stitch on the cable needle, held in back

I tried another type of heel that I found on Pinterest for this pair of socks. The Fleegle Heel involves increases on each side of the heel while continuing to knit the stitches on the front of the foot, until you have double the amount of heel stitches that you started with. Short rows are then used to decrease the heel stitches back to the original number. The pattern is free on the author’s blog and on Ravelry.

While knitting the increase rows for the heel, I was also continuing the cable pattern on the front. I made a chart to keep track of which row number of the heel I was on, which row of the cable pattern I should be on, and how many total stitches I should have. Add that to the list of ways to keep track of things for this pair of socks.

My row chart came in handy when I had a knitting crisis that was my own fault. I know better than to try to knit on a complicated section of a pattern when the light is not good, I am tired, the TV is on, and the dog is on my lap. In this case it was late in the evening with the TV on, and the dog was wining to get on my lap. I should have asked Wayne to take care of her, but instead I leaned over across my knitting, picked her up and plopped her on my lap ON TOP OF THE KNITTING. Then when I tried to extricate the knitting out from under her, it was tangled in her feet and tail and she growled at me. Wayne reached over and lifted her off, but in the process one of the needles came out of the knitting and a couple of stitches started dropping back to earlier rows. It is easy enough to put the needles back in if there is just plain knitting. But this was the section with the cable pattern. I was in tears at this point and set the whole thing aside until morning.

I was in better shape the next day with a good nights sleep and natural light. However I had to rip the knitting back several rows to get to a place where I could make sure the cable pattern was restored correctly on the needles. There were other times when I had to restore dropped stitches or reknit sections and it is likely there are a couple of mistakes sprinkled throughout the sock. The cable pattern, along with the variegated shades of color in the yarn are good for camouflaging any minor problems. No one will know.

Following is a photo with the sock in progress on my foot after most of the heel increases had been completed. The pattern says to us “lifted” increase, but instead I used “knit in the front and back”.

Increases for the heel

You can see in the photo my leggings that were too tight in the ankle. First I had just slit open the side hem and worn them for a year with the fabric at the ankle flapping around. Later I sewed a piece from an old pair of sweat pants in the space with zig zag top stitching. It is not pretty but works. Now there is a hole near the knee, and the fabric is starting to wear out around the inside of the thighs. Maybe time to get a new pair.

The Fleegle heel pattern has instructions for avoiding a hole in the corner that can be applied to other types of sock heels. It worked out very well. Following are photos showing the completed heel from the side and back.

Side view of the heel
Back view of the heel

I like this heel pattern. There are not any funny gaps or holes at the corners of the heels. The Fish Lips Kiss Heel pattern is pretty good too as far as no gaps or holes, but you do have to pay attention and pull the yarn snugly at a couple of key points.

When you are done with the heel, there are two extra stitches so you have to decrease one more time on each side to get back to your original number. In order to do 2×2 ribbing, I needed to have the total number of stitches divisible by four. My sock was barely big enough around, so I did not want to decrease the two extra stitches. Instead I added two more to get up to 60 stitches around for the ribbing. I probably should have had that many stitches from the beginning but it was too late for that at this point.

It was a relief to be done with the cable pattern which required more concentration than ribbing, and was more prone to mistakes. The ribbing is mindless.

Working on the cuffs

I changed to double pointed needles for the last step, using Jeny’s Suprisingly Stretchy bind off.

Casting off using double pointed needles

It was interesting trying out the cable pattern going up the side of the sock, but I am not sure it was worth the extra energy required. I would most likely be wearing these socks with pants, so the pattern will not show anyway.

The other socks I made with the same yarn and needles seemed too loose, but this pair is a bit too tight. The yarn is the same as the other pairs in a different color, but does not feel the same. If I could start over I would use 60 stitches around instead of 56. I also made the foot part a bit too long, although there were some very specific instructions using the your actual row gauge to determine when to start the heel.

Completed socks back at home
Close up of the heel

Following is a photo of the three pairs of socks made with different colors of the same yarn. I liked knitting the Fleegle heel, but I wonder if the way the heel slants back instead having more of a right angle contributes to it feeling a bit too tight. Maybe the cable pattern pulls the stitches closer together to make it tighter. Or maybe it feels tight because I used 56 stitches instead of 60. There are so many variables between the yarn, the heel pattern, and the stitch count it is hard to know what is causing what. Maybe my next pair will be the perfect combination.

Three pairs of socks using Madeline Tosh Twist Light yarn

Shearing Day

I love shearing day at Joanie and Dave Ellison’s sheep farm. There was a time when I dreamed about owning sheep, but I really just want to look at the sheep and let someone else do the work. Getting up every morning to feed the sheep in all weather conditions does not appeal to me. My ideal morning is getting up at 8:00 am, and then catching up on email, news and Facebook on my laptop for an hour in my pajamas, while drinking a hot mocha. Holding a newborn lamb is amazing, but I don’t know about checking on the ewes every few hours all night during lambing time. On a nice day I could sit for hours outside in a chair with my knitting watching the sheep. However, if the weather is nasty I would rather be inside watching out the window.

Participating in shearing day gives me a chance to be part of the process on a limited basis. It is exhilarating to be in the barn with the sounds and smells and movement. Two years ago I was all prepared to go, but there was a blizzard that day and it was not safe to drive to the Ellison’s farm 10 miles from us. Last year was still in the middle of the pandemic and I did not even inquire about helping. This year we got home from Arizona just in time. My sister and a friend with her young adult daughter came from Minneapolis to attend with me.

Some of the photos below were taken this April, others were taken a different year. They all show what it is like in the yard and barn during the shearing event.

Shearing is most commonly done in the spring before lambing. The Ellisons have usually done shearing near the end of January, which is determined by their ideal schedule for lambing. When the sheep are sheared in January or February, it is cold but the sheep are comfortable and will stay close to the barn, having their lambs there rather than out in the field. This year shearing was at the beginning of April, after the new lambs had already been born. The reason was related to covid rather than lambing. They wanted to hold off until it felt safe to invite a group of people over, and when they could have the doors to the barn open.

The only heat in the barn comes from the animals and a heat lamp over the shearing space. There is enough activity going on so that the temperature feels comfortable. One year it was minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit on the morning of shearing. This year it was around freezing at 8:00 am, but by midmorning there was a muddy mess outside the barn. I was grateful for my rubber boots which can be easily cleaned off.

Sheep with their coats on waiting to be sheared

On shearing day all 35 sheep are in the barn which is divided into areas by movable fencing sections. This year forty or more lambs were there too which added to the cuteness and noise level. The sheep waiting to be sheared are in one area. There is another section set up where the shearing takes place. The rest of the barn is open for helpers performing related support tasks. The process starts with making an opening in the fence so that four or five sheep from the waiting area can be moved into the shearing area. This can be chaotic with sheep getting spooked, running in circles and trying to get away or jump over the fence. Next Dave Ellison grabs a sheep inside the shearing area by the leg and flips it over on to its back, or this might take several people. The sheep’s coat is removed. Yes, the sheep wear coats to keep their fleece clean. Once on its back the sheep will normally be somewhat docile and allow helpers to trim its hooves and give it vaccinations with a needle. Another helper notes the ID for the sheep from a plastic ear tag. The ID gets written with sharpie marker on a large garbage bag which is used to store its fleece.

Oh no! A tiny lamb with a broken leg
Another young lamb

When the trimming and vaccinating is done, the shearer uses special electric clippers to quickly shave off all the fleece which falls in a big mound. At this point the “bagging” helper scoops up the fleece, trying to roll it up in a bundle, and stuffs it into the garbage bag with the correct ID for that sheep. The weight of the fleece is determined by hanging the bag on the hook of a scale suspended from the ceiling. The weight is written with sharpie marker on the bag next to the ID. Fleeces can vary in weight from around 2 to 6 pounds before any processing.

Shearing and nail clipping in progress
Documenting that I was there

When one group of sheep have been sheared, they are very happy to be let out of the barn. The next group are not pleased to be herded into the shearing area.

Shearing one sheep takes only a few minutes, so the bags of fleece start to pile up while another group of helpers work on “skirting” the fleeces which takes longer. Skirting is removing the dirty or undesirable parts of the fleece that are not suitable for processing or using in a fiber project. The fleece to be skirted is dumped out of the bag on to a surface that looks like a giant cooling rack hanging from the ceiling. When skirting is complete the fleece gets rolled up, put back in the garbage bag and tossed into another area.

Joanie with a huge fleece on the skirting rack
Helpers skirting a fleece

Shearing starts first thing in the morning. The time goes fast and by about 10:30 am it is time for a break of cookies and coffee while standing around in the barn. People who where bundled up upon arriving have shed layers and some are in shirtsleeves depending on the temperature outside. Trips to the house to warm up or to use the bathroom are allowed. After the mid morning break, work resumes in assembly line fashion until early afternoon when all the sheep have been sheared and fleeces skirted.

Other tasks for helpers include sweeping and picking up bits and sections of fleece from the shearing area and from under the skirting rack. All the reject pieces of fleece get saved and used for mulch. Another helper task is using a plastic sled to drag bags of fleece from the “complete” pile to a shed for storage until they are needed.

Bags of fleece on their way to the storage shed
Shed where the fleeces are stored
Many fleeces in the shed are waiting for processing
Dave Ellison in the yard

Lunch and social time follows in the house. Later, Joanie will check over the fleeces and do more skirting. Most of them are sent to a mill for processing into roving or yarn. Like fiber day, it is a fun time interacting with an eclectic and interesting group of people. Helpers are offered some fleece or roving in exchange for their labor. I have more than I can use already stuffed in my stash closet, so I did not take anything this time. Participating in shearing day is a wonderful experience. I think many city people would pay them to be a part of it!

Naked sheep running in the muddy yard

Weaving on the Potholder Loom

After finally completing a pair of socks I worked on for most of our two months in Arizona, it was time to dig into the supplies I had in the RV and decide what to work on next. To mix things up a bit, I decided to experiment with weaving on my potholder loom. The next photo shows some of the cotton loops that came with the potholder loom, next to some 100% cotton yarn I had brought that is like a stretchy tube.

The stretchy loops that came with the loom next to some stretchy cotton yarn

I found some YouTube videos with instructions for diagonal continuous weaving on a pin loom or potholder loom. A pin loom is a basic small loom with nails or posts on all sides for wrapping the yarn around. The potholder loom does not have posts in the corners which is necessary for diagonal weaving, so I had to improvise with office clips which can be seen in the photo below. It is hard to communicate the process with words and photos. I had to watch several different videos, but once I figured out how diagonal weaving works it was easy. Starting in the upper corner, you alternate between weaving the yarn across over and under the vertical rows, and then wrapping the yarn vertically around the next set of pegs on each side.

Beginning of diagonal weaving on the potholder loom

As you get closer to the middle, it is hard to get the metal hook through the open space, so I started using a crochet hook. That was easier, but the hook part was not really deep enough to hold on to the yarn. For the very last row I used a darning needle to pull the yarn through.

Using a crochet hook instead of the metal hook
Using a darning needle for the last row

The weaving looks very uneven, but once removed from the loom it naturally evens itself out.

Done with weaving

The next photo shows the weaving off the potholder loom. It is not thick enough for a potholder, but would make a very nice washcloth. It could be used with the sides left as is, after weaving in the ends.

Removed from loom

Later I crocheted around the sides to give it a firmer border, but in the meantime I had another idea. I had read about making tee shirt yarn, which would be similar to the stretchy cotton yarn in the project above and suitable for weaving on the potholder loom. When I told my husband I wanted to go to the thrift store to buy a tee shirt to make yarn, he could not wrap his head around it and made a comment about how that did not make any sense. Soon after that I did make a trip to Goodwill and bought a plain purple tee shirt for $2.29. I had to browse through quite a few racks to find a plain tee shirt that was appropriate with no side seams. I wanted a solid color, although you could end up with an interesting effect with some graphics on the fabric.

One of the fun outings we had in Arizona was getting together with two couples we know from Minnesota who were also snowbirding there. Deb is a former coworker from the Twin Cities who is a knitter. Deb’s husband and Lauri’s husband were coworkers. Lauri is a knitter and lives with her husband in Ottertail County 30 miles from our home. Deb connected me with Lauri after we moved to the lake. Even though we all live in Minnesota, it seemed easier to get together in Arizona. The three couples met at the house Lauri and her husband were renting in Sun City, on the western side of the Phoenix metro.

Sun City is the original adults only retirement community. At the time it was a brand new concept. When the first model homes were available for viewing and purchase in 1960, the developers where not sure what to expect but it was an immediate success. It must have been out in the middle of nowhere back then, but now it blends in with the other suburbs of Phoenix.

One of the original Sun City model homes is now a museum and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The guys played golf while the ladies visited and worked on fiber projects, while sitting outside under an overhang in the shade. The temperature was warm but very comfortable and there were NO BUGS. That is an amazing thing to Minnesotans where the mosquito is sometimes said to be the state bird. It was so pleasant sitting there relaxing, socializing, comparing notes on snowbirding and working on projects. I had not decided for sure what to work on, so I brought my entire stash of supplies that I had in Arizona on this outing. It seemed like a good time to try making the tee shirt yarn.

I had watched some YouTube videos with instructions. As with the diagonal weaving, it is hard to describe with words and still photos. The first step was to cut the shirt body and sleeves off from the bodice, and then cut off the seams. It is possible to use almost all of the fabric for yarn, but the biggest bang for the buck is the body section.

Cutting up a thrift store tee shirt to make yarn

The next photo shows the main body of the shirt turned sideways with the bottom folded up almost all of the way, and then strips cut leaving the very top fold uncut. The instructions suggested cutting the strips about 3/4″ wide, but I did not measure. I just started cutting freeform, so my strips were not even or all exactly the same width.

The body section of the tee shirt folded over with strips cut, leaving the top folded edge connected

It is hard to see what is going on with these photos, but I then unfolded the fabric and repositioned it so the uncut part that had been folded at top was now flat and in the middle. Next I started cutting across diagonally from one strip over to the next strip. When that was done all the way across, the result was one long narrow strip of fabric.

Unfolded and starting to cut across the strips
One continuous strip of fabric

The last step is tugging and stretching out the strip of fabric which makes it curl on itself and turn into yarn. The one long strip all stretched out was about 30 yards of “yarn”.

Stretching out the strip of fabric so it is narrower and curls on itself

Later after we were back at our RV I found another video with instructions for horizontal weaving on a potholder loom. This time the clips in the corners were not needed.

First I wound the yarn up and down vertically around each post. The yarn looks too blue in the next three photos.

Wrapping the yarn up and down around the pegs

Using the hook to pull the yarn across horizontally over and under each vertical yarn was similar to pulling one of the stretchy loops across and hooking it on a post.

Pulling the yarn through over and under going across

When I got to the last two rows the vertical loops started to pop off the posts. I had a struggle getting both the vertical and horizontal rows back in place and staying in the right place.

Weaving with tee shirt yarn complete

The last photo shows three items made with the potholder loom. First on the left is the washcloth with the stretchy cotton yarn after a crochet border was added. In the middle is the tee shirt yarn potholder. The rows at the top of the tee shirt yarn project where I had a fight to get everything in the right place look different than the other rows. It is very thick and good for a potholder. For comparison on the right is a potholder I had made earlier using the loops that came with the potholder loom.

Cotton yarn washcloth, tee shirt yarn potholder, cotton loop potholder

Potholder loom projects are small, portable, and do not take much time to complete. Weaving washcloths on the Rigid Heddle loom compared to the potholder loom takes a lot more set up time, and it is most efficient to make several at once. It would be possible to make a potholder on the Rigid Heddle loom with thick yarn, but it makes more sense to use the tool and supplies that are designed for it. I haven’t used the Rigid Heddle Loom for awhile since I did not bring it to Arizona, so I am ready to make something with that next.