Eriksson Maple Syrup


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

220 buckets washed and stacked
220 lids washed and drying

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

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

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

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

Pancake meal with freshly made maple syrup

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

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

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

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

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

Upcycle Felted Slippers

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

My daughter and niece wearing felted slippers I made for them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knitted and ready for felting

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

Massive pre felted size compared to a regular sock

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

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

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

Felted slippers on my feet
With the cuffs folded over

I posted these slippers for sale on ETSY.

Organic Cotton Towels

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

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

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

Purl Soho Cotton and Cotton/Linen Yarn

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

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

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

Close up of hem stitch and header rows of weaving

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

The end of towel 1 and the beginning of towel 2

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

Removed from the loom and cut apart, not washed yet

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

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

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

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

Close up
The other two close up

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

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

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

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

Sedona Knit Wits

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

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

Triangular weaving loom

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

Close up of the triangular weaving

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

Shawl made using the triangular loom, with knitted border

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

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

Coboo yarn for “Knitted Knockers”

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

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

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

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

The pattern has instructions for knockers with or without nipples!

Fish Lips Kiss Heel

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

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

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

Looking at the pattern in the car

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

Knitting in the car, no I was not driving

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

Knitting at the pool, done with heel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craft Fair

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

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

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

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

My table at the craft sale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four completed scrubbies

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

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

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

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

Merino and Silk Hand Woven Scarf

I used my rigid heddle loom to weave a scarf using the silk/yak/wool yarn I hand spun last fall. I really wanted it to be a shawl or wrap, but the width of the loom limits the size to a maximum of 15″ wide. I had enough yarn to make it as wide as the loom will allow, and about six feet long. Don’t be surprised if someday I get a bigger loom.

For the warp yarn (the long way on the scarf) I used a skein of Madeleine Tosh sport weight “Pashmina” from my yarn store inventory purchase. It is very soft with 75% merino wool, 15% silk, and 10% cashmere. The weft (the short way) is my handspun silk/yak/wool yarn that I posted about in December. It is a little thicker.

It is hard to get the colors right in the photos, and they look different depending on what device you are using to read the blog post. My hand spun has a little variegation, but it is primarily a traditional denim blue. The Madeline Tosh yarn color is called “Arch”, and includes some tan, taupe, gray, blue, and bits of off white.

My hand spun yarn with the Madeline Tosh yarn

Our dog Lyla kept me company on the recliner while I warped the loom with 90″ of warp yarn in our small rental unit in Arizona. That is the entire living and dining area.

90 inches of warp yarn
Closer view of warp yarn
Warp yarn ready for weaving

Weaving every row with the hand spun yarn went quickly since I did not have any pattern to follow or changes of yarn. You can see the weaving in progress in the photo below.

Weaving in progress

As the weaving progressed, the completed fabric was rolled onto the front beam in order to access more warp yarn. See photo below.

Completed weaving wound onto the front beam

When I got to the end of the warp yarn, or as far as possible given the ends were attached to the apron bar, I did a hem stitch while the weaving was still on the loom.

Reached the end of the warp, working on hem stitching while still attached

After cutting the weaving off the loom, I twisted the fringe, using a technique I learned last summer. I could have left the ends loose, but the twisting method gives it a professional look. If you want to see how this is done, you can look at the following youtube tutorial. The tutorial uses a special gadget that I don’t have, so I used my fingers to hold the yarn while twisting.

Fringe twisting in progress

The next photo was taken after finishing the fringe, but before washing the scarf.

Fringe finished but not yet washed

I thought I was measuring out the warp yarn for a 72″ scarf. I did not account for “take up”, which is a reduction in length and width due to the yarn going over and under repeatedly in the weaving process. I knew the width would be a bit less than 15″ due to not using every slot and hole in the reed all the way to the edges. The finished size ended up being 14″ wide, and only 61″ long. A little longer would have been ideal, but it will work. After finishing the fringe, I hand washed the scarf carefully to allow the fibers to set and bloom, but not shrink or felt.

Washed and drying

Finished scarf!

More 100% Cotton Towels

I made another set of 100% cotton towels. This time I used something called 8/4 cotton weaving yarn, which is thinner than the Peaches & Creme yarn I used for my first set of woven towels. It has a higher number of yarns per inch (think sheet thread counts). There are other cotton yarns called 8/2, 6/2, 6/4, and more. The two numbers signify the thickness and number of plies.

8/4 Cotton Weaving Yarn

The rigid heddle loom has a wood and plastic part called a “reed” (see photo below) with holes and slots that the warp yarn is threaded through. It is used to separate the warp (vertical) threads into alternating groups (the holes and the slots…haha sounds like names of gangs), so that while one group is up and the other group is down you can slide the weft (horizontal) yarn between them to weave a row (see photo below). In this type of loom, the reed is also used to push the weft yarn in place up against the completed weaving as you go.

My first set of towels used the “8 dent” (8 threads per inch) reed that came with the loom. The 8/4 cotton yarn required a “10 dent” reed (10 yarns per inch). The following photo shows the 8 dent reed and the 10 dent reed. You can see that there are more holes and slots in the 10 dent reed.

8 dent reed and 10 dent reed

The photo below is from my first towel weaving project, showing how the reed separates the yarns in the slots from the yarns in the holes, so you can slide the weft yarn across between them.

The rigid heddle reed makes alternating warp yarns go up or down

The first part of the weaving project is measuring out the right length of warp yarn for the project, and threading it through the holes and slots in the reed. After all the warp yarns are threaded, the yarn is wound on to a beam at the back of the loom (the back beam), so it is not taking up your entire work space. As you weave, you unwind from the back beam, and wind on to the front beam. At that point, instead of needing my whole dining area, the work was contained on the loom itself, which is about 17″ square.

First step of warping the loom

The next photo shows the weaving in progress, using some linen and cotton blend yarn for contrasting horizontal stripes.

Off white cotton for the main color with accent stripes in a yellow cotton/linen blend

The following photo was taken after weaving five towels back to back, and removing the fabric from the loom. There was supposed to be enough warp yarn for four towels, but after I finished four there was still quite a bit left. Rather than wasting the extra I kept on weaving a shorter fifth towel.

Weaving removed from the loom

I had woven one row of yellow yarn between each towel. Washing the fabric after removing it from the loom causes the cotton yarn to shrink, so the towels become more dense. After washing, but before cutting the towels apart, I used my sewing machine to zig zap on each side of the yellow threads.

Zig Zagging on each side of the yellow thread woven between each towel

It was scary to actually cut in the middle of the weaving, but it worked out fine with the zig zag stitches to prevent raveling.

After cutting the towels apart

The towels got very wrinkly in the dryer. I could not iron them smooth even after multiple attempts with high heat and steam. Next time I will take them out of the dryer before they are completely dry. Two of the towels have hand finished hems, while the other three I folded over and zig zagged down with the sewing machine. The zig zag method worked fine and is not as bulky, but is not as neat as hand stitching. Following are three of the completed wrinkly towels. The two on the left with yellow stripes and blue stripes have the zig zagged hem. The towel on the right has the rolled and hand stitched hem. The red stripes were made with the thicker peaches & creme yarn, which makes it bow out on the sides.

Wrinkly towels with different styles of hem

Next is a close up photo of the two different styles of hem. Zig zagged on the left, rolled and hand stitched on the right. The towel with red stripes was given to my Wisconsin Badger alumnae son.

Zig zagged vs hand stitched hem

The following photos show the other two towels from the current project using the thinner 8/4 cotton yarn, next to one of the heavier Peaches & Creme towels from my first set.

Towels from the current set and the previous set

The next photo is a close up showing a thinner towel with rolled and hand stitched hem, next to a thicker towel with hem stitch and fringe.

Close up of a towel using the thinner yarn next to a towel with the thicker yarn

After completing the set of 8/4 cotton yarn towels and giving them all away for Christmas gifts, I made another set so I would have some for myself. The third set, using 8/4 cotton yarn, had some vertical stripes of blue in the warp. The towels with the thinner yarn look more professional, the thicker towels are very absorbent. I like them both!

Another set of towels using the thinner 8/4 cotton yarn

Frostline Kits

Does anyone remember Frostline Kits from the 1970’s and 1980’s? That was a company selling kits with fabric, 100% goose down filling, and accessories for sewing outdoor clothing and equipment, including down vests and jackets, backpacks and tents.

Frostline Kits was started in 1966 in Colorado by a former employee of Gerry Mountaineering. At the time it was a cost effective alternative to paying high prices for good quality gear. In the late 1970’s they had 18 retail stores in addition to mail order. The company was bought by Gillette in 1978, but downsized and changed ownership several times after that before disappearing by 2010.

I made four Frostline Kit vests when I was in high school and college. I customized one for me, and one for my sister, by adding some cotton fabric on the yoke. Those two vests turned up 40 years later and were claimed by my niece and daughter.

My daughter and my niece modeling Frostline Kit vests I made

The kits came with a professional looking label. At the time I also had a roll of fabric tape labels with my (maiden) name printed on it. There is still some of that personalized fabric tape left.

Close up of the professional label that came with the kit, and a printed label with my maiden name

More recently my green vest was found crammed in a box with some of my daughters things, so now it is wrinkly and smells musty.

Modeling the vest I sewed for myself

My niece posted a photo this winter while wearing the red vest originally sewed for her mother.

Following is a photo of the vest I made for my dad, which is still hanging in the front hall closet at their house (not wrinkly or musty).

Vest I made for my dad

I found an advertisement online from 1978 with a photo of the same style of down vest as the green one above. The model in the photo is looking rugged and about to chop some wood in his vest.

An advertisement from 1978

The pattern pieces in the kit were already cut out, and every notion needed to complete the project was included. I remember the little plastic tubes of down filling. You had to be careful when opening them to avoid an explosion of down flying all over the room.

Image from Pinterest showing part of the contents of a Frostline Kit

I sewed a vest for a friend while at college. Yes, I brought my sewing machine with me 1300 miles to college. I was probably the only person on campus with a sewing machine in my dorm room. I never enjoyed the “mixers” that were the dorm parties of that time and place. After a drunk townie asked me something about “Minneanapolis” (notice the extra syllable), I never went to another one. I found other ways to spend my time, including making things!

That reminds me of the Sociology class I took at college where the professor babbled on randomly for the entire class period. The lectures were interesting but there was no outline or train of thought. I found it impossible to take notes, and it was not necessary as the entire grade for the class was based on a project. So instead I sat in the back row and knit a sweater while listening to the lecture. I still have that sweater, which was the result of a visit to The Yarn Shop in Glen Arbor, MI. The proprietor, my mom’s cousin Mary Turak, was always successful in inspiring me and sending me on my way with a new project. If you have not read my post about The Yarn Shop, you can check it out at the following link.

There are many completed products made from Frostline Kits for sale on ETSY and Ebay, as well as a few original kits waiting to be sewn into a finished product. I am very tempted to buy a kit.

Minnesota Winter

Minnesota winters can be brutal, but they are not as bad as they used to be due to climate change. There are still stretches of severely cold weather, but not as many or for as long, and days with above freezing temperatures are more common. Being comfortable outside is not necessarily about the temperature. A dry zero degrees with no wind can be pleasant if you are dressed properly. On the other hand 35 degrees on a damp windy day can be miserable. Snowy landscapes are beautiful and provide many options for outdoor recreation and exercise.

We have had several days of beautiful hoarfrost this winter

Birds come to the bird feeders all year around. I am not much of a green thumb, so it is kind of a relief that I do not have to do any yardwork in the winter. And there are no bugs!! Notice in the photo below my pink glass flower sticking out of the snow near the bottom of the bird feeder. A few days later it was buried under several inches of new snow.

Notice the glass flower poking out near the bottom of the bird feeder.

I have memories of walking one mile to school in seventh grade during the winter (uphill both ways…haha not really). During high school there were some bitterly cold days standing outside waiting for the school bus. We would get dropped off behind the junior high and have to walk up a long flight of steps and across a practice field, against the west wind, to the high school building. It was not cool to wear boots to school. One time I missed the bus because I was wearing clogs and could not get up a hill on the way from my house to the bus stop.

Getting up early for work in the dark on cold winter days is part of life in Minnesota. Going outside after work to a bitterly cold car, possibly having to scrape off a layer of snow, sitting on a freezing stiff seat and finding a frozen solid water bottle, is not fun. Now that I am retired, it is not so bad because I don’t have to get up early, and I don’t have to go anywhere if I don’t want to.

I enjoy ice skating. I am not very good at it, but in a relative scale of all people including those who live in warm climates, I am probably better than average. When I was in elementary school in the 1960’s the neighborhood skating rink was huge and always packed. I was terrified when boys carrying hockey sticks would whiz by within inches of me. As an adult, I took skating lessons where I learned some basic skills which really boosted my confidence.

Skating path on Lake Alice in Fergus Falls

The following photo was taken by my sister on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. The poor tiny fish was frozen a few inches below the surface of the ice.

Tiny fish frozen into the ice on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis

In December there was still a massive pile of stumps and brush at our family cabin property, left from trees that came down in the tornado this past summer. Our son and his fiance were visiting just before Christmas, so we decided to have a winter solstice bonfire and outdoor potluck dinner. A couple of other relatives and friends on the lake joined us for a fun evening. Facing the heat from the huge fire provided for a very warm front side, but did not reach our backsides. Someone mentioned the Saturn and Jupiter convergence, and just then we all looked up and could see it in the sky as some clouds moved out of the way.

Burning brush left from the summer tornado cleanup
S’mores anyone?

During high school the family of a friend owned a small second home they used like a cabin on Lake Minnetonka, west of Minneapolis. Interestingly, I don’t have any memories of swimming there, but I do remember fun times snowmobiling in the winter. Later when I was first married my husband was editor for a snowmobile magazine. He had the use of a snowmobile, so I got to go for an occasional ride.

Now that we live on a lake, Wayne bought a used snowmobile for a winter activity, and to use for towing his ice fishing gear out onto the lake. Normally I prefer something quiet like cross country skiing, or in the summer, canoeing or hiking. The snowmobile is loud, but it is fun for a little while, until the jiggling makes me feel like I have to make a pit stop back at the house. There are miles of snowmobile trails in Otter Tail County, as well as in other parts of Minnesota. During non-Covid times, and assuming there is enough snow, it is common for folks to spend hours snowmobiling from one country bar to another along the trail. There might be dozens of snowmobiles parked outside any given watering hole.

Staged in the front yard
The back yard
In the woods
Me posing as if I am driving

My husband has an ice fishing tent, although if it is a “nice” day, he will not even bother with it and will instead just sit out in the open on a bucket while fishing. He likes to scope out some of the other 1,000 lakes in Otter Tail County (the most of any county in the United States). We have eaten several dinners of fresh fish this winter.

The snowmobile can tow ice fishing equipment out onto the lake

There are dozens of ice fishing houses on the lake in all sizes, up to large rigs with TV’s and sofas and kitchenettes.

Many ice fishing houses on the lake

December and January were mild for Minnesota, allowing for more outdoor time than average. With that said….we left for Arizona, just in time to miss a polar vortex stretch of subzero weather.