Knitted Christmas Balls

We had a Norwegian foreign exchange student for the school year when our daughter was a sophomore in high school. It was not something we had planned on doing. At the time our neighbor was involved in running the program and they were desperate for someone to house a student temporarily until a host family could be found for the whole year. We already had a very full life, but after seeing the profile of the student we agreed to a temporary placement. My husband’s heritage is 100% Norwegian which influenced our decision to go for it. After doing a DNA test since then, he was dismayed to find out he also has some Swedish!

Long story short but Ingrid was wonderful and we agreed to have her with us for the entire school year. It was a very positive experience and in fact she stayed with us for 11 months, and then returned a year later to see us as well as close friends she had made at school in Minnesota. We hope to visit her in Norway some time.

One of the fall outings we went on with Ingrid was a trip to Ingebretsen’s, a Scandinavian shop in Minneapolis selling gifts, food, books and craft supplies. Unbeknownst to me, she did some holiday shopping while we were there. On Christmas morning I was excited to unwrap a book called “55 Christmas Balls to Knit” by Arne & Carlos. It turns out that Arne and Carlos live near where she is from in Norway. Knitters out there have probably heard of these textile artist partners who have a blog and youtube channel, knitting and crochet patterns, a relationship with Rowan yarn and other ventures. You can see what is going on in their world on their website arnecarlos.com.

Ingrid’s aunt is a knitter, so another Christmas gift for me that year was one of the Arne and Carlos Christmas balls knitted from a pattern in the book. Following is a photo of that ornament hanging on our tree now.

Arne and Carlos knitted ball from Ingrid’s aunt

Arne and Carlos came to Minneapolis several years ago. A friend and I attended an event where they gave a talk and slide show about their textile projects, were available to autograph books, and handed out gift bags that included a ball of Rowan yarn and a pattern. I brought my copy of the Christmas Balls book for them to sign.

My book autographed by Arne and Carlos

Another Christmas ball on our tree this year was hand knit by my elderly distant cousin in Sweden, Sif. She is the daughter of my Great Grandfather Leonard Eriksson’s youngest sister. Leonard traveled to America from Sweden by himself in 1889 at age 14 with only $10, which was stolen while he was sleeping on a park bench during the journey. He eventually became a lawyer and in 1923 built our beloved family cabin from Swedish plans. The story of Leonard and the cabin is part of my mom’s self published memoir “The Red Cottage“. Our family has kept in touch with this branch of the family all these years. My husband and I visited Sif in 1988 at her home in Vasteras, Sweden, and more recently she and her daughter visited Jewett Lake several times during our annual Eriksson family reunion at the cabin.

Christmas Ball knit by my elderly cousin in Sweden

In the years since I have knit many of the Christmas Balls myself. A few of them are hanging on our Christmas tree, but most I have given away as gifts.

The following photo was taken while we still lived in the Twin Cities, and I still had that many Christmas Balls. They are displayed in a basket next to a ceramic turtle vessel adorned with a frog that my mom made. The entire back of the turtle is a lid that can be removed. I have always loved this turtle but at the moment it is packed in a box under the basement stairs from when we moved two and a half years ago.

Looking at the Christmas balls inspires me to knit more of them. I hope everyone had a good holiday and that 2022 brings new adventures and blessings.

Waffle Weave Kitchen Towels

My sister-in-law, Yvonne, spent over two hours on a zoom call helping me with some clean up in the family cabin bookkeeping. I was grateful for her time and expertise. I know she did not expect anything in return, but I decided to weave some towels for her.

I had been thinking about attempting towels with a waffle weave pattern. Ideally that requires a 4 shaft loom which is much bigger and more complicated than what I have. However, I found instructions for waffle weave using a pick up stick with a rigid heddle loom like mine. A pick up stick is a narrow piece of wood shaped like a ruler that is used by weaving it in and out of the warp yarns at the back of the loom, as in the following photo. The pick us stick allows for more combinations of which warp yarns are up or down to create more complicated patterns.

The pick up stick ready to make waffle weave

I warped the loom using enough off white 8/4 cotton weaving yarn for four towels. The weft yarn for the first towel was blue Cotton Pure from Purl Soho.

Yarn for the first waffle weave towel

Waffle weave consists of a pattern of six rows. It took me many repeats of the pattern, along with some tips from Torri, to really feel comfortable with it, understand what was happening, and be able to remember the pattern without looking at my notes. The six rows are combinations of having the heddle in the up, down, or neutral position, and having the pick up stick forward in a flat or standing-on-end position, or back out of the way. Following are the six rows of the pattern:

  • Row 1 heddle down; pick up stick back
  • Row 2 heddle up; pick up stick forward and flat
  • Row 3 heddle down; pick up stick back
  • Row 4 heddle up; pick up stick back
  • Row 5 heddle neutral; pick up stick forward and on end
  • Row 6 heddle up; pick up stick back

You can see three repeats of the blue waffle weave pattern in the photo below, after the blue plain weave rows for the hem, and green header rows which will be removed.

The next photo is a close up of two repeats of the six waffle weave rows. The shuttle of blue yarn is making the first row of the next repeat, which is every other yarn.

Shuttle going through every other yarn

The following photo shows the position of the heddle and pick up stick for row two of the pattern, with the pick up stick pushed forward and flat just behind the heddle. Every forth yarn warp yarn is down, the next three yarns are up in front of the heddle.

Pick up stick causing every 4th yarn to be down

The next photo shows the same row but in front of the heddle with three yarns up, one yarn down.

Every forth yarn is down, three are up

The next two photos show row five of the pattern behind and in front of the heddle. The pick up stick is pushed up behind the heddle and standing on end with the heddle in the neutral position, causing the opposite pattern of one yarn up and three yarns down.

The pick up stick forward and on end just behind the heddle
One yarn up and three yarns down in front of the heddle

After finishing the blue towel successfully I went ahead with towel number two and three for Yvonne. She picked pumpkin orange and olive green cotton weft yarn for her towels, with the off white warp yarn.

Yarn for gift towels

I wove some plain weave rows at the beginning and end of each towel that would become part of the hem. The following photo shows the end of the first blue towel and the beginning of the second orange towel. After removing from the loom and washing the weave will become more dense due to the yarn not being under tension and shrinking in the washing machine and dryer.

End of the first towel, beginning of the second towel

Following is a close up photo of the third towel in green waffle weave.

Close up of waffle weave pattern in green

For the forth towel I decided to use multiple yarns and colors to go with the decor in our new RV. The next photo shows the five yarns for the last towel in shades of green, off white and brick red. The multicolor yarn is Berroco Espresso which is thicker and is 50% cotton and 50% acrylic, so not as ideal for towels but there will only be one section of it and the colors really add to the look.

Weft yarns for forth towel

I wove random amounts of each of the various weft yarns using plain weave in most cases, but waffle weave for the green 8/4 cotton.

Last sampler towel in progress

The 8/4 cotton weaving yarn is thin enough to make a rolled hem without being too bulky. I prefer the look of the rolled hem for towels, although it is more work than doing hem stitch with fringe. To make the rolled hem after removing the weaving from the loom and washing, I used my sewing machine to zig zag stitch at both ends of each towel. Then I cut them apart, folded over the ends twice, ironed them flat, and hand stitched them down.

The three washed and hemmed waffle weave towels are shown below.

Three waffle weave towels

The sampler towel is not even on the sides due to the different thickness of the various weft yarns. The multi color Berroco yarn is much thicker than the 8/4 cotton yarn. The waffle weave pattern also causes the width to be narrower in that section.

Sampler towel

All in all I like the results and feel this project was a success. I expect to make more waffle weave towels in the coming months.

Mittens

I had a friend from elementary school, Elissa, who I had lost track of and reconnected with several times throughout our lives. I changed schools when my family moved to a different community during junior high, later she lived moved away from Minnesota. Elissa looked me up after she had moved back to Minneapolis and was expecting her first child. In one of those small world things, it turned out her husband was from my high school class. During that period we enjoyed get togethers with our young children and occasionally as couples.

Later after our kids were grown and we had both moved again, we crossed paths when her son, Jesse LaVercombe, was in a holiday season play called “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis. Elissa happened to be at the play the night I attended. At the same performance, I also ran into my theater loving cousin and her mother, Erika and Tina. They both write reviews for a blog called “Aisle Say Twin Cities” which results in them getting free tickets to shows. Here is the link for Erika’s review of the play.

The next winter Jesse was in another Jane Austen theme play at the Jungle Theatre, “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley“. This time we planned ahead and met Elissa for dinner before the performance, and this time we got to meet Jesse at the dinner. Tina wrote a review of that play.

This spring Elissa was interested in scheduling hour long phone conversations with me. I don’t really like talking on the phone, much less for a whole hour, but it seemed to fill a need for her so I went along with it. We had some good conversations and found many things to talk about. She ended up coming for an in person visit of several days at our house during the summer.

The end of Elissa’s visit at our house happened to overlap with the beginning of a family cabin reservation by cousins Erika and Tina, so they were excited to meet and visit with Elissa after having enjoyed both of the plays that Jesse was in. We talked about other work that Jesse has done including some screen writing and a role on a Canadian TV show called Murdoch Mysteries. Another topic that came up is that Elissa’s ex mother-in-law, Jesse’s grandmother, is Judith Guest, the author of Ordinary People. The book was published in 1976 when I was in high school. Later it was made into the movie with Mary Tyler Moore and directed by Robert Redford. At the time there were rumors about Robert Redford visiting their home in the suburbs of Minneapolis

While Elissa was here visiting, she asked me to knit her a pair of mittens. Due to severe arthritis that was diagnosed in childhood, she had trouble getting traditional gloves or mittens on her hand. We went to Tangles to Treasures to pick out some yarn for the mittens, which would be stretchy and easier to get on than a stiff leather or fabric pair. She decided on some extremely soft Cascade Yarns Color Duo dark blue and gray variegated bulky yarn in a blend of alpaca and merino wool.

Cascade Yarns Color Duo for the mittens

I started knitting the cuff using three double pointed Denise brand needles with short flexible connectors, and using my Twice Sheared Sheep row counter.

The cuff of the mitten

After knitting the cuff, I switched to a larger size of traditional bamboo double pointed needles. After a couple of rows it was time to start increasing for the thumb.

Increases for the thumb

The thumb stitches went on a holder while I continued knitting up the hand.

Stitches for the thumb on a holder, starting to look like a mitten

When I was in the middle of the project, I got an email from Jesse, Elissa’s son, to a large group of people, informing us that she had been diagnosed with advanced terminal cancer, and she was in the hospital for pain management. This was quite a shock as Elissa seemed healthy when she was visiting me a few months earlier. It did not sound very good. I was not sure if she would get to ever use the mittens. I decided to keep knitting, and as I did I kept her in my thoughts.

Finishing the thumb

It did not take very long to finish the mittens, especially once I made it a priority to get them done. Following are photos of the completed mittens laying flat and on my hands.

Mittens completed

As soon as they were done, I mailed the mittens to Elissa, not knowing what her condition was by then. She texted me a photo of herself modeling them with a big smile on her face, from the hospital. A couple of weeks later I got an email blast from Jesse with information about her memorial service. I am sad to lose another friend too young. But I am also glad that I rose to the occasion of participating in those long phone calls, that we had some quality time together this summer, and that maybe I added a bit of joy to her last months.

Baby Socks

Last winter I knit a pair of socks for myself with a low cuff to wear with sneakers, using the Fish Lips Kiss Heel pattern. There was quite a bit of yarn left, so later I started knitting a pair of baby socks. You never know when you might need a shower gift and they are cute! Making baby size socks is a good way to use smaller amounts of yarn and practice sock techniques since there is less knitting, and you don’t have to worry if they will fit a specific person.

I used the Fish Lips Kiss Heel pattern again, because I wanted to practice that and because it works no matter how many stitches around you have. I also used the same magic loop method as the pair I made for myself, with two socks at a time, starting at the cuff, but with a taller cuff for the baby socks. I started knitting these socks last spring, then put them aside for awhile before working on them again recently.

Working on the cuffs

It did not take very long to finish the cuffs and get started on the heels. Usually the only times I knit are in the car (assuming I am not driving), or in the evening in front of the TV. I will knit in the middle of the day at home if there is a part of a project where I have to focus on figuring out how to do something or follow a detailed part of the pattern, like with the sock heels. The following photos show the completed heel on the first sock, and partially done on the second sock, from the back and front. It is easier to see what is going on with the front view.

Done with one heel, working on the other heel, from the back
Heel progress viewed from the front

After completing the heel, it was easy going with just straight knitting in a circle for the foot section. Once I got going again on this pair, it did not take long to finish them.

Completed baby size socks

It is hard to tell the scale without another object for comparison. Following is a photo with the baby socks next to the adult pair made from the same yarn and with the same Fish Lips Kiss heel pattern (click here to read my blog post about the adult pair). Other than the scale, the only difference is that the cuffs are shorter on the pair for me.

Adult and baby socks using the Fish Lips Kiss Heel pattern

In the past I have knit a few other small size socks using leftover yarn. The next photo shows some purple socks I knit for myself, next to baby socks made using the leftover yarn. The adult socks have an afterthought heel, while the baby socks have a dutch heel with a flap.

Adult and baby socks with the same yarn

The third pair of child size socks I knit is shown below with the other two pairs. They are a little bigger using yarn leftover from a pair of socks I had knit for my son.

Baby and child size socks from leftover yarn

I am continuing my sock journey by working on another pair of boot socks using thicker yarn. I wrote about my first attempt at boot socks, with a reference to the purple socks, in a blog post last fall. Click here to read about that. There will be more sock posts in the future. This is a topic less exciting than writing about our new RV, but it is still fun for me to document my smaller as well as bigger adventures.

New Adventures

Years ago when I was in the throes of parenting and working, I was envious of friends and acquaintances who were able to work out a break from normal life for an adventure that was completely outside the box. I dreamed about having an experience like that, but I did not know what I wanted to do, and it did not seem possible at the time.

The last ten years have included many adventures as well as challenges, some planned, and some we did not ask for or welcome. I had some experiences at the same time I was going about normal life that were very rewarding, such as hosting a foreign exchange student for almost a year, and helping my mom self-publish her memoir The Red Cottage. More recently there was a multi-year difficult period that included moving, elder care, a lawsuit, some broken bones, a tornado, and the pandemic. There were also some good times including our son’s wedding, and I have much to be grateful for.

We have all learned that you cannot know what is coming around the corner, so you have to go with the flow and make the best of things. A very close friend of mine, Tracy, was fortunate enough to travel all over the world and have many cool experiences. We had talked about trips and activities we would do together after I retired. Unfortunately she passed on unexpectedly two years ago. I miss her very much and grieve the loss of her friendship, as well as fun things we would have done together. At her Celebration of Life, one of the themes was to “Say Yes” while you can, because you don’t know if you will be able to later.

This fall some bigger challenges are finally behind us. In the spirit of Tracy, we just said Yes and bought a slightly used 5th Wheel RV and truck! That is not quite as outside the box as some things, but it is a big decision for us and qualifies as an adventure different than anything I have done before.

We had been thinking about buying an RV for years, but there were many reasons why we had continued to think and not actually do it. We had done a lot of research, been to RV shows, and made spreadsheets comparing models and features. We wanted something big enough to live in for a couple of months straight (without driving each other too crazy), but small enough to be able to maneuver and get in National Parks. We will use it for lodging this winter in Arizona, and for other trips around the country later.

At the dealer

Our 5th Wheel trailer is a 2018 Jayco Eagle HT 27.5RLTS. The exterior length is just under 31 feet. The previous owners took excellent care of it as it is in immaculate condition. It looks huge when I am standing next to it, but we know folks who have RVs that are much bigger.

On the road near our house

After purchasing the RV, we had to leave it at the dealer for a couple of weeks while we bought a truck to tow it, and then got the truck fitted with the right equipment to tow a 5th Wheel trailer. By the time we drove the RV home it was too late in the season for a “camping” trip (not sure if staying in this thing qualifies as camping), so it will sit in the driveway until the end of January. It took Wayne an hour to VERY slowly back the RV into the driveway two feet at a time. We were able to hook up the electricity and put the slides out to do a few things inside, but the dealer winterized it so we cannot use any water. Following are some photos of the inside.

The kitchen, with stairs on the right leading to the bathroom and bedroom
The living area with loveseat, recliner chairs, and dining table
Wayne loves the recliner chairs
Dining table and entertainment center

The 400 square foot “Park Model” cottage we rented in Arizona during the winters of 2020 and 2021 was compact but comfortable for the amount of time we were there. I was able to bring my 15″ Rigid Heddle Loom, a big bag of yarn for potential knitting and weaving projects, and a box of items listed for sale on my ETSY shop . The floor plan of the RV is similar but with an even more compact kitchen and less closet and storage space. I will have to think carefully about what fiber supplies I will be able to bring and what projects I can do while travelling or snow birding in the 5th Wheel.

I have had a goal of living smaller with less stuff. Spending two months this winter in the 31′ RV will be a good opportunity to see how that works for me. One of my tasks now this fall is to assemble all the items we will need to use in the RV kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. I am trying to find as many things as I can that we already have or can get at a thrift shop, but it is necessary to buy a few things. At the RV dealer there was a small sales area with things that RV’ers need like special hoses for connecting to utilities, as well as other optional items. I bought an RV sink sized dish drainer there. I resisted the temptation to buy a fake lighted palm tree.

Here is to new adventures ahead!!

Cotton Scarf

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

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

100% cotton yarn for a lightweight scarf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end of the warp yarn

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

Weaving complete, not yet washed, not done with fringe

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

A gadget sold by Schacht for getting professional looking fringe

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

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

Washed and fringe complete

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

Finished cotton scarf

Potholders

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

Potholder loom with loops and accessories

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

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

Making a potholder

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

Partially completed potholder next to the box the loom came in

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

Suggested designs for potholders using 3 or 4 colors

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

My first potholder with weaving complete

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

Crocheting the edges together to finish the potholder

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

My first complete potholder

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

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

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

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

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

Another Shrug for the Wedding

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

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

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

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

My daughter doing a reading at the wedding

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

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

Getting on the bus to the Friday Welcome Dinner

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

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

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

Sirdar Cashmere Merino Silk yarn for shrug

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

Yarn barf

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

Drawing of the beginning part of the shrug pattern

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

Beginning of shrug

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

Looking like a shrug now

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

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

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

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

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

So many ends to weave in

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

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

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

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

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

Blending Board

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

My new blending board

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

Fiber from my stash to make rolags

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

Some fiber applied to the blending board

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

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

Rolling the fiber off the blending board on to two dowels

I was able to make five rolags of varying thickness.

Rolags completed and ready to spin

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

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

A rolag ready to spin

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

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

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

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

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

Finished skein of yarn spun from rolags

Sea and Sky Shrug

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

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

Cashmere Passion yarn

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

Knitting a swatch for the Sea and Sky Shrug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knitting the ruffly border

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

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

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

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

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

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

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