Chemo Cap

My cousin-in-law is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. There is never a good time for this, but right now is particularly hard with social distancing precautions in place. I know she is receiving many virtual hugs and prayers and support.

I decided to contribute in the form of a knitted chemo cap. I researched what yarn would be best for this purpose and looked at patterns. Recommendations included cotton or a cotton/acrylic blend, or bamboo. Being it will be in direct contact with her skin, and summer is hot where she lives, I decided on some cotton and rayon blend yarn that I had in my stash.

Yarn selected for the chemo cap

I found a pattern on Ravelry that looked fun and stylish, the Regina Hat by Carina Spencer. I could visualize it on my giftee and she liked it too. The pattern involves knitting a long narrow band with a fan shape at the end in one color yarn, then picking up stitches from the band to knit the main part of the hat in a different color yarn, with a slouch style. Following is a photo of the knitted band with a fan shape at the end.

Band with fan for the beginning of the hat
Stitches picked up from the band for the main part of the hat

This pattern is knit inside out. Normally when you knit in the round the front or right side is the smooth looking side with all the little “v”s. This pattern has a stitch pattern that is showcased on the back, which is the “right” side in this case.

After starting decreases for the crown and switching to double pointed needles, with the color not showing accurately
Completed hat

It looks like there are mistakes in a couple of places, but after looking and looking I think the tension is just wonky there. The cotton yarn acts differently than wool or a wool blend, with less elasticity. The pattern called for using needles three sizes bigger than normal for the main part of the hat, which makes it loose and drapy.

The center back is very loose due to the large needle size (or my knitting?)

Where the stitches all come together at the top looks way looser than the photo in the pattern, but I guess it is OK as long as they do not come undone. For the purpose, it is just as well that it is “airy” as it will be cooler to wear during this summer’s hot weather.

What it is supposed to look like
Modeling the finished hat

Wigs are another method used throughout the centuries by both men and women to cover up bald or thinning hair, as well as for fashion and hygiene purposes. My mom had one in the 1960’s when they were in style. I also remember that when my grandma was getting older and her hair was thinning, she wore a wig that was supposed to look like her own hair.

My mom’s wig from the 1960’s or 1970’s that we found stored in a trunk
Marie Antoinette in a “pouf” hair style with her own hair on top of a hairpiece
Thomas Jefferson wearing a wig in 1786

When my daughter was on a semester abroad in Equador during college, she and another student shaved their heads. It was not because of the hot humid weather there, rather it was a statement about being beautiful with or without hair. A few months later when she was back home she was a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding. By then her hair had grown enough to have it professionally styled into a cute short cut. My mom was beside herself that not only did my daughter have this non-standard looking hair for the wedding, but my niece, another bridesmaid, had remnants of blue dye in her hair. It was a boho wedding with the bride wearing a long wedding style skirt with a camisole top, and her fringed moccasin boots. It was perfect.

My giftee’s hair completely fell out after one chemo treatment. She posted a bald photo of herself…she was and is beautiful. It is wonderful that she has options for going natural, or wearing a fun hat or stylish scarf. Or even a wig if she wants to.

60 Years of The Yarn Shop

In the late 1950’s my grandmother’s sister and her husband, Margie and Doc, were teachers in Glen Arbor, Michigan, near Traverse City. Margie liked to knit, so Doc had the idea of selling yarn to make money during the summer. They rented space and “The Yarn Shop” was born. Doc also ran small ads in a major magazine and sold yarn by mail during the winter.

A few years later the father-in-law of Margie and Doc’s daughter received a patent for a type of soda dispenser that is still used at restaurants today. Looking for more ways to supplement their teacher salaries, Doc bought a lot on the main drag in Glen Arbor and built himself a retail space with a soda fountain and ice cream on one side, and yarn for sale on the other side.

My mom and her Aunt Marge at the Yarn Shop in Glen Arbor, MI, in 1959

In the early 1960’s when I was a little girl we lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the same time, Margie and Doc’s daughter, Mary, and her husband, Ted, lived in Ipsilanti while Ted worked on his PhD at the University of Michigan. Mary and Ted had two kids, who were close in age to me and my sister. We spent quite a bit of time with them, travelling between our homes and to Glen Arbor.

I can still visualize the inside of the soda shop/yarn shop with it’s unique layout of soda counter with tables and chairs on one side, and displays of yarn on the other side. Fuzzy soda and sticky yarn. Outside in front were tables with trays of shells for sale. At that time Glen Arbor was a sleepy backwater town with a few stores, wide streets, and lots of sand everywhere. Lake Michigan was a couple of blocks to the north. I remember going to the Sleeping Bear sand dunes a few miles west, and to a swimming hole on the Crystal River in the opposite direction.

Later we moved back to Minnesota, and Mary and Ted settled in the D.C. area. Ted was a professor at American University, Mary was an elementary school teacher. Around 1975 Margie passed on and the next phase of the Yarn Shop and Soda shop began. Mary would spend the summer in Glen Arbor running the Yarn Shop, while their daughter Lissa and her high school friend, who were close to my age, worked at the Soda Shop.

Some time in the late 1970’s, after Doc passed on, the Yarn Shop moved to a different retail space in Glen Arbor and Lissa took over the Soda Shop. The growing number of tourists in the area needed more places to get food, so Lissa expanded the Soda Shop by adding a grill and making it into a full service restaurant. Around 1980 Lissa moved to Glen Arbor full time. Mary moved to Glen Arbor full time after Ted passed on and she had retired from teaching.

A Yarn Shop sign with Mary’s logo

By the mid 1980’s Lissa had sold the Soda Shop and moved on to other activities. The Yarn Shop grew into a thriving business in several different prime retail locations in Glen Arbor over the years, as the area became a popular summer tourist destination. In addition to selling yarn, Mary designed and knit original sweaters and knitwear that she brought to high end trunk shows.

Yarn for sale at The Yarn Shop in it’s hey day

I have always loved trips to Glen Arbor as an adult. All the colors and textures at the Yarn Shop were magical and inspiring, and Mary would always send me away with a new knitting project.

Another generation of our extended family modeling a Mary Turak creation

Over time the business climate evolved with more online yarn sales, and cost for commercial space increasing.  As Mary got older and rent went up, Lissa remodeled the main floor of her house in Glen Arbor into a lovely space for The Yarn Shop. 

A few years ago Lissa’s entrepreneurial nature kicked in and she repurposed most of her home retail space into a successful wine tasting room, featuring locally made wine and a large outdoor space for games and socializing, 6 feet apart for now. Check it out if you are in the area.   As part of this evolution, the Yarn Shop was downsized and moved to an alcove on the side.  Mary was able to continue making a few yarn sales using the staff and point of sale system for the wine business, work on her knitting, and visit with customers.

Glen Arbor Wines is open for socially distant business

At the end of summer 2018 when Mary was 86, she finally decided to retire. The yarn was put into empty wine boxes and bags, and stashed in a back room with all the related accessories and fixtures. Lissa figured she would have to sell the yarn on EBay, but did not have time with her full time job as editor of Traverse Magazine, plus running Glen Arbor Wines, and taking care of her mom.

I have been knitting and spinning for a long time, and the wheels started to turn in my head when I heard that the Yarn Shop was closed. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a yarn shop! It would be cool to keep the Yarn Shop going in another location. I thought about all the positives and negatives and what I could do with all that yarn. I discussed the risks and benefits with my husband, considering that I was planning on retiring from my “day job” in the spring. I could sell yarn on the internet one way or another, or have in person sales from my parents large house on a lake, where we were expecting to move in the summer. After agreeing on a price with my cousin, I decided to go for it given that the worst case scenario was trying to unload the inventory on EBay and lose money on the deal. In any case it would be a crazy adventure, and we get to do that once in our life.

I had a four day weekend break from my school district job in October 2018, so we made the 12 hour drive from Minneapolis to Glen Arbor to get the yarn, thinking it would fit in our Honda CRV. HAHAHAHA. After we got there and saw the inventory, we realized no way would it all fit in the car. We rented a uhaul trailer at the last minute and it turned out to be one of those trips where you remember the details for years to come.  

Mary Turak in front of some Yarn Shop inventory that had been stashed in the back after closing the shop

By the time we had the UHaul Trailer, there were only a few hours to load up and get on our way. The wine boxes had to be repacked with less yarn so they could be shut and stacked in the trailer. Several people stepped up to help us toss yarn from shelves and overfilled boxes into plastic garbage bags, close up the boxes, and load everything into the trailer.  There were also fixtures with vintage buttons, boxes of accessories, finished sample knitted goods, patterns, and random miscellaneous related yarn stop “stuff” that Lissa would have no use for. Finally the trailer and the back of our car were both stuffed full and we hit the road.

Loading the trailer

We drove through Chicago both directions, staying overnight with our son in his condo. Heavy rain and wind whipped the trailer around on the way from Glen Arbor to Chicago. We were worried about parking when we arrived at James’s condo as it can be a challenge to find one parking spot. We needed TWO contiguous spaces on the street to fit the car with uhaul trailer attached. Amazingly, we found two spaces just around the corner.

Later at home I had fun dumping all the bags and boxes of yarn out on the floor in our downstairs for admiring, sorting and documenting. I made a spreadsheet, did an inventory, reorganized it, and reboxed it all up again. A funny moment happened when I opened one box and found empty wine bottles instead of yarn!!

Checking out boxes of yarn in our basement….oops one has empty wine bottles from Glen Arbor Wines
Yarn Shop inventory unloaded into our downstairs

The yarn shop inventory was stored in our downstairs guest bedroom for the rest of the fall and all winter. During that time we were packing and preparing to sell our house in the summer and move to my parents house near Fergus Falls, to take care of my mom.

That winter of 2019, my uncle Steve who is active with doings in Fergus Falls connected me with Torri Hanna, a weaver and fiber artist. Torri had just rented a storefront space in Fergus Falls with room for her multiple large looms as well as gallery space for fiber art, work space, and sales space. Torri and I started communicating and she agreed to sell my yarn on commission. With our move, taking care of my mom, and other unexpected things that happened, it took until fall 2019 to get all the yarn into Torri’s shop, Tangles to Treasures.

Vintage Buttons from The Yarn Shop

The commission sales arrangement has worked out very well for me and for Torri. There is room to display all the yarn at the shop, it is a better place for customers to access the yarn than our home outside of town, and Torri buys some of my yarn for her weaving projects.

Following is the website for Tangles to Treasures In addition to inventory from the Yarn Shop, Torri sells locally hand dyed yarn and wool yarn from sheep raised in the area, as well as Schacht looms, spinning wheels and related equipment, and one of a kind hand made goods. Torri is currently open on a limited basis and available to assist customers from a safe distance and via phone, and is exploring options for ecommerce.

My own hand spun yarn for sale at Tangles to Treasures

Looking back over all the unexpected events of 2019 and 2020, who could have predicted this evolution of The Yarn Shop or what our lives look like today with social distancing. We all look forward to some return to normalcy, and who knows what new adventures await.

Making Bread

I love fresh bread. I could never do one of those diets where you can’t eat bread. I have been gradually changing my diet in recent years to be more healthy, including eating less meat and processed food, and transitioning to whole and multi grain bread.

When the kids were young we ate white bread. Occasionally I would buy wheat bread, but it always seemed dry and no one would eat it. Over the years I found some brands of multi grain and oat bread that I liked for sandwiches. These days I never buy grocery store white sandwich bread, although our local bakery has some amazing olive bread and french boule that are a regular treat.

During the stay at home order I have been experimenting with a bread maker that we have had for years. I had only used it a couple of times a year with mixed success. I never knew what went wrong with the flops, but probably one problem was old yeast because I did not use it very often. I wanted to give the bread maker away when we moved last summer, but my husband convinced me not to and I am glad about that.

Now that I have more time and fresh ingredients, I have been trying the bread maker again. So far I have made french bread, 100% whole wheat bread, and multi grain bread. I have also used the “dough only” option for egg bread and pizza dough, where the bread maker stops after mixing and rising so you can do the baking yourself in the oven. I separated off part of the egg bread dough for buns. They turned out quite good.

Whole wheat flour, oatmeal, 7 grain cereal, brown sugar, honey and salt ready to add to water, olive oil, white flour and yeast in the bread maker.

Today I made a loaf of multi grain bread with a recipe that I tweaked a bit from the one in the bread maker booklet. I have made this version successfully several times now.

Following is my version of multi grain bread: 1 cup plus 2 tbsp water, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 ⅓ cup white flour, 1 cup wheat flour, ¼ cup oatmeal, ½ cup 7 grain cereal, 3 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp honey, 1 ¼ tsp salt, 2 ¼ tsp yeast

Ready to close the lid and press “start”

The multi grain bread takes 5 hours, so if we want to eat it fresh, it is going to be an afternoon snack or a side with dinner. Or I guess I could get up earlier.

One problem with the home made bread is that it is hard to cut evenly. I am particularly inept at it and usually end up with a slice that is thick on top and thin on the bottom. To solve this problem I ordered a bread slicer gadget that is really slick. It is a bamboo sort of frame with slots on each side to keep the knife slicing even. There are different widths of slots so you can have thin, medium or thick slices. It folds down for storage.

Bamboo foldable bread slicer
Completed and removed from the bread maker
Slicing a piece of bread
Fresh bread with dinner…yes that looks like a lot of butter

There is a recipe for croissants (using the dough only option) I would like to try when we have more people around. The recipe uses seven ounces of butter, so how could it not be good? Watch for a future post about that.

Mother’s Ten Rules for Living

My mom passed away last fall. To honor her for Mother’s Day, I am sharing a little bit about her. My mom loved being at home. She rivaled Martha Stewart in her homemaking and creative abilities which included entertaining, cooking and baking, gardening, sewing, knitting, painting, ceramic art and writing.

My mom circa age 12
My mom holding me, with her mother and grandmother

Following is a photo of my mother taken a few years ago, holding an afghan she was knitting. Later in this post are more photos of her ceramic art, a painting she did in 1957, and a dress she made for me when I was a child.

My mom holding an afghan she knit

Here are a few sentences my sister and I shared at the memorial service last fall, including her 10 rules for living a good life.

From the Elizabeth Sweder Eulogy

Liz Sweder was living the dream.  How many people know exactly what they want to do, excel at it, and get to do it their whole adult life?  In her later years, I think she was increasingly conscious of and grateful for this fact.  Many of you heard her say this past year “I was so lucky, I got to be a homemaker.”  

You could say our mom was lucky.  But I think the fact that our mom was clear about her values and lived them is the more important ingredient.  She focused her time and her energies on the things that were important to her: her family, keeping a home that was warm and welcoming, her creative activities, and her spiritual life.  Our family could have had more money, gone on fancier trips, and gone out to eat more if she had gotten a job outside the home.  But she willingly chose a different life and was so happy with it.

Since we know our mom would want each of us to be as happy as she was, we want to share with you Liz’s 10 rules to live by:

  1. Start each day with a cup of hot cocoa.
  2. Eat three square, home cooked meals every day.
  3. Make sure you are put together every time you go out. You simply cannot have too many sweaters, scarves, purses, shoes, coats, and jewelry.
  4. Always be reading a good book.
  5. Show up.  Ideally show up at family and community events with a pot of homemade baked beans, or an apple pie, or a pan of brownies.
  6. Stay informed about current events and be prepared to discuss them in a civil fashion.
  7. Do some Bible study or other activity every day to feed your soul.
  8. Keep the porch light on and the coffee pot plugged in so you are always ready for company.
  9. A little travel is nice if it involves a road trip to visit friends or relatives; otherwise, there is no place like home.
  10. Go all in on the activities that bring you joy.   
Part of a series of ceramic sculptures focusing on chairs
A dress with smocking my mom made when I was a child, in front of her china cabinet
Hand knit sweater to go with the smocked dress
A bust my mom made of her mother
A ceramic elephant pitcher and cups my mom made
A lake shore scene painted by my mom in 1957
The cover of my mom’s memoir

There is more information about my mom’s memoir on the tab “The Red Cottage” in the menu above, including links to the Amazon listing. When she realized that my sister did not remember where she was born, my mother abandoned her ceramic studio mid projects and started writing.

I am grateful to be living in my parents house where there are reminders everywhere of all my mom’s creative accomplishments.


I finished knitting a pair of socks that I started ages ago in March, when we were in California.

Completed sock knitting project

One of my knitting mentors, my mom’s cousin Mary Turak, once told me how she could not understand the popularity of sock knitting. In her mind that is boring, they wear out, and it makes more sense to buy socks. For many years I never tried making socks because her words were in the back of my mind, the pattern seemed complicated, and I usually prefer knitting with thicker yarn and needles. In recent years I decided to take on the challenge and have made several pairs of socks with mixed success.

There are many methods for knitting a sock. You can start at the cuff and knit down to the toe, or start at the toe and knit up to the cuff. There are multiple ways to knit the heel, including the flap heel, short row heel, square heel, fish lips heel, and afterthought heel. You can use double pointed needles, tiny circular needles, or something called “magic loop” using a circular needle with a super long connector. You can have more or less ribbing on the cuff, you can make the cuff longer or shorter. You can make them very basic, or with a complicated stitch pattern.

Starting at the cuff with magic loop needles

Once at a fiber fair I saw someone with a cool antique circular sock knitting machine. You can buy a brand new circular knitting machine that can make socks and smaller tubular or flat items. There are also larger flat knitting machines. Is that cheating?

Page from an antique sock machine manual

For the current project I used some purple merino wool and nylon blend Madelinetosh yarn, and a pattern called “Smooth Operator Socks” by Susan B. Anderson that I purchased on Ravelry, where I get most of my patterns. I cannot recommend this pattern enough if you are a little nervous about knitting socks, or in any case. It is 20 pages long but includes a summary version as well as detailed explanations of every step, instructions for multiple sizes and gauges, many photos, and links for video demonstrations.

Cuff finished

The Smooth Operator pattern uses an “afterthought heel” which means you knit some placeholder rows where the heel is going to go, and then go back and complete the heel later. Some of the advantages of this method are that you can easily use a contrasting yarn, and it is easier to replace later if it wears out.

Preparation for the “afterthought heel”
The bamboo needles are on the heel stitches, the other needles are on the foot

I used a tool called a “sock ruler” for measuring how much foot I had knitted, so I knew when to start decreasing for the toe. It can also be used for measuring how much cuff you have, or if you started with the toe, how much foot you have knitted before starting the heel. It is more accurate than trying to measure the project on your foot or laying on a surface.

Sock Ruler
Measuring the length of the foot with the sock ruler

I love the dark purple yarn that includes tones of blue, but knew it would be harder to work with than something in a lighter color. I had to make sure to have plenty of light and wear the right glasses when knitting, or I was subject to mistakes and frustration with not being able to see what I was doing. Not surprisingly, I had to fix some mistakes.

Knitting the foot, with the completed heel underneath
Completed socks!

There was quite a bit of yarn left after completing the project, so I decided to knit a pair of tiny socks using a pattern called “Infant Socks” by Judy Ellis. I finished one baby sock using the cuff to tow with heel flap method, but have something else in my queue to work on before I finish the second one.

Adult sock with baby sock out of the same yarn

Now that this adult pair of wool socks is finished, it is past the season for wearing them. Oh well, fall will be here before we know it.

Dryer Balls

I have been making dryer balls, which are an environmentally friendly alternative to dryer sheets. Dryer balls reduce static and absorb moisture resulting in less total drying time, without any harmful chemicals.

Felted wool dryer balls in one of my mom’s ceramic fish platters

I have seen dryer balls in plastic and wool. The plastic version has little spikes, resembling a covid-19 virus. Usually people use three or more in one dryer load.

Dryer balls in plastic and felted wool

There are various methods for making a dryer ball with wool fiber or wool yarn. You can wrap wool fiber into a ball with or without a core of a different non felting material, put it inside a nylon stocking, and felt it by rubbing it with soap and water, or in the washing machine. Another method is winding wool yarn into a ball and felting that. I experimented with knitting a ball, stuffing it with wool, and then felting it in the washing machine.

After many attempts and versions of a pattern that turned out too big, too small, too lumpy, or too floppy, I came up with a successful pattern that I could document and get consistent results.

Last fall I made some dryer balls and sold them at Tangles to Treasures in Fergus Falls. They were popular and sold as fast as I could make them in sets of three for $15.00, a price consistent with other wool dryer balls available for sale. Even though I have not spent any money on materials, one dryer ball takes a couple of hours to make which is not the best use of my time for the amount of money I make on it. Also I generally don’t like making the same thing over and over again. As it got closer to the holidays, I had other priorities, so I did not try to sell any more.

More wool dryer balls

I started to think that maybe I could sell the pattern instead of selling completed dryer balls. Over the winter I spent more time documenting what I was doing, tweaking the pattern, and researching how to sell a pattern on Ravelry.

Ravelry is an online community and database of projects, patterns and yarn ( Knitters and other yarn crafters use it to document their projects, search for patterns, look at examples of patterns made up in various yarns, or figure out what items have been made out of a particular yarn. Many patterns are available for sale on Ravelry. When I have a new knitting project in mind, Ravelry is my go-to place for browsing patterns and checking what they look like knit up. I also use it to keep a record of my projects.

This week I successfully listed my dryer ball pattern for sale on Ravelry for $1.00. I started out thinking I would sell it for $3.00, but found there were several other dryer ball patterns offered free of charge. I decided that listing it for $1.00 was a compromise. If no one wanted to pay that, then I was not any worse off than offering it for free. I had a sale about five minutes after it was listed. By the end of the day there were a total of four sales, but nothing since then. After the PayPal fee I net 67 cents per pattern sold…woo hoo. It will be my Caribou Coffee fun money. If you have a Ravelry account you can find my dryer ball pattern easily by searching the patterns for “dryer ball”.

Following are photos showing a dryer ball in progress and completed.

Getting started with the knitted outer layer
Switching to double pointed needles before beginning decreases
Decreasing while knitting in the round
Knitting complete
Wool batt used for stuffing
Wool batt rolled and stuffed into the knitted outer ball
With the slit closed up and ready for felting in the washing machine
After 2 loads in the washing machine and dryer

I may still knit and felt more dryer balls for sale. They are quick and mindless when I am in between other projects. It is satisfying to watch the transformation from yarn to knitted ball to felted ball, resulting in a useful product.

Quarantine 1950s Style

My mother-in-law spent over a year in a sanatorium for Tuberculosis after my husband was born in the 1950s. It seems timely to share an essay he wrote about this experience.

Wayne’s Essay about his Mother’s TB Experience

On my birthday in late March, as the Coronavirus pandemic was being declared, I thought about the year I was born. I suspect that as Mom was recovering from childbirth in the hospital (mothers may have been allowed a week or more hospital stay in those days), she was probably infected with the tuberculosis (TB)  bacteria when someone in the hospital sneezed. 

Wayne’s parents
Wayne at the hospital after being born

TB, which primarily attacked the lungs, reached epidemic proportions in the early half of the 20th century. Communities across America built isolation sanatoriums where TB patients could be isolated and treated. Antibiotics were introduced in the late 40s and 50s that proved effective in most/many cases to treat the disease. Mom had TB and soon after I was born she had to go into the Glen Lake TB sanatorium in Minnetonka, not far from our future home. My Dad took me to my grandparents house in Hatton, North Dakota, where Grandma and my Dad’s younger sisters took care of me. He continued to work in Minneapolis, away from his newborn son and away from his wife. This went on for more than a year. 

The Glen Lake TB Sanatorium operated from 1916 to 1976

It is not hard to imagine what a mental and physical hardship this must have posed for my parents. My Dad had also been in World War II, pulled from his family at a young age to face the stress and uncertainties of war. And he and Mom had been born into the Great Depression. They had to face and endure some of the hardest times in our history. 

Wayne and his Mom reunited after she spent more than a year in the TB sanatorium

Yet Mom recovered, and went on to have three more children and enjoyed remarkably good health until she passed away at age 93. My parents were able to enjoy many years of raising the family and watching their grandchildren grow. 

Thinking about this helps me put some perspective on our current crisis. It will be hard and stressful. For some, it will be far worse than that. But I am confident we will get through it. Our parents and grandparents have showed the way. 

Loom Knitting

While having more time at home I learned about loom knitting, which is a different way to knit using a row or circle of pegs, and with a hook and your fingers rather than needles. I had seen knitting looms before but never used one myself. My niece had given me a set in various sizes, after deciding she wasn’t going to use them.

A set of round knitting looms in different sizes
Instructions with hook used to knit with the loom

Knitting looms come in different sizes and shapes including a straight line with one row of pegs, a rectangle with two rows of pegs, or a circle, and with different numbers of pegs for smaller or larger projects. You can make tubular things like hats and sleeves using a round or rectangle shaped loom. You can do flat knitting with any of shape of loom. I have seen at least one rectangular loom where you can move the “end” back and forth to adjust the size and total number of pegs for a project.

Knitting looms seem limiting to me since the pegs are a fixed distance apart and there are a limited number of pegs. With knitting needles you have a wide range of possible length and width of needles appropriate for any thickness of yarn, and you can cast on however many stitches are needed. However, if you have the right yarn and project, the knitting loom can result in exactly the same result as traditional knitting, and provides an option for people who have problems using regular knitting needles.

The information in the pamphlet that came with the set was enough to get started, but youtube videos with instructions for different methods of casting on and doing stitches were more helpful. There are very simplistic cast on and “knit” stitches that would be good for a person who has no experience with knitting and wants to get the hang of it and actually make something pretty easily, but it will look a bit different than traditional knitting. After reading information I found on the internet and watching some videos I realized that there was a way to get the exact same result as the regular knit stitch produced with knitting needles. I cast on and started knitting and ripped it out several times before I was satisfied that I knew what was going on.

I started out thinking I was making a chunky cowl using two years together, from a loom knitting pattern I found online. I did not try to figure out the gauge (bad idea) since the yarns combined and the number of stitches seemed about right. That was a mistake because after several rows I realized it was going to be a baby hat. OK fine.

Casting stitches on to the loom by wrapping the yarn around the pegs

To make a “true” knit stitch (so it produces the same result as with knitting needles), you lay the working yarn across the next peg above the loop that is on that peg, poke the hook under the loop on that peg, and then scoop up the working yarn and pull it through the loop. Then you use your fingers to lift the old loop off the peg and place the new loop you just made on the loop. There is a simpler way to make a stitch by picking up the loop currently on the peg with the hook and lifting it up and over the working yarn and over the peg. This results in a slightly different stitch.

The first step of a knit stitch is to pick up the loop with the hook
Then use the hook to pull the working yarn through the loop on the peg
Lift the previous stitch off the peg and put the new stitch on
In progress..too many rows it turned out
Removing the stitches from the loom while pulling the tail through each loop

In addition to having a much smaller circumference than I was expecting, I knit too many rows for the width of the hat. It could have been a very tall clown baby hat, but I decided to rip some of the rows back before cinching up the final row of stitches by threading the working yarn through each loop. Finally I added a braid at the top.

Completed baby hat using a knitting loom

Sewing Face Masks

I sewed two face masks using bandanas for the fabric and two different patterns I found on the internet. I used to do a lot of sewing, including making many of my clothes, but in recent years I have only used my sewing machine for mending.

The face mask I sewed using an old girl scout bandana

Fabric stores used to have large selections of beautiful wool and other good quality cloth for making garments. Today most of the fabric for sale is polar fleece, and cotton for quilting. The clothing industry has changed so that buying clothes is relatively cheap, which is related to “fast fashion”, a topic for another blog post. One reason I do not sew much any more is that it is hard to see that tiny hole in the needle.

My mom was an excellent seamstress and I started learning from her at a young age. When my junior high home economics class was hemming dish towels and making aprons, I had already made simple garments at home.

When I was about 11 or 12 years old, my mom and grandma bought some of the inventory from a sewing store that went out of business. After that we had entire display cases of thread and drawers full of zippers and seam binding in the basement. Any time I needed thread for a project, I went downstairs to pick out the right color. I still have some of the thread and zippers leftover from those days.

Zippers from 1970

For my high school graduation present my parents gave me an Elna Lotus compact size sewing machine. The Elna Lotus machine did not have any fancy attachments or stitches, but it was well built and reliable, and has served my purposes to this day. I even used it to make my own wedding dress.

Back to the face mask project, I realized it may be necessary to have one when out and about in the coming months. I think part of the purpose for the mask is to reduce fear in other people you might have to interact with at a store. I found a couple of bandanas and some cotton fabric in my stash that would be suitable. There was plenty of elastic and thread in the house.

Plenty of thread in the house

I researched ideas and patterns for masks online. There are many variations with a center seam or side pleats for shaping, with or without a pocket for inserting a filter, and different methods for attaching the elastic or ties. For the first one, I settled on a pattern that had a bit of shape to it and was designed for health care workers with a slot for a filter. I made a simplified version without the slot, using only one of the pattern pieces provided. Here is the link for the pattern:

Cutting out the pattern pieces
Sewing the center seam
Sewing together the two layers
Adding a casing on the side for elastic
Not my most attractive look

I decided to try a different pattern for the second face mask, using another bandana for the fabric. This one was basically a rectangle with pleats to give it some shape, and with the elastic sewed into the corners instead of threaded through a casing.

Second face mask

Sewing the elastic on makes the face mask more or less one size fits all, so for the next one I will try ties on the side instead. I hope face masks won’t be needed for much longer. I think we are all ready for our lives to go back to something like normal.

Self Quarantine

We are almost done with our two week self imposed quarantine, after leaving California and traveling across the country back to Minnesota. In the meantime a shelter in place order has started, so after the quarantine period is over we will continue to spend most of our time at home.

I don’t know where the time goes, even when I am home all the time. It would help if I got going earlier in the morning, or was productive later into the evening. People ask if I am a “morning person” or a “night owl”. What is the term if you are neither? I have trouble waking up in the morning, but I also start to get tired and unproductive by about 9:00 pm.

It took almost a week to get through mail and related paperwork, unpack everything we had brought on the snowbirding trip, and do all the laundry. The house was grungy and needed cleaning. I am still working on knitting the same pair of socks I started in California. We have been watching Outlander on Netflix. Every episode I notice the beautiful 18th century knitted shawls, capelets, wraps, wrist warmers and other accessories worn by the ladies.

Sock in progress

We have been going on walks every day. Since we are in a rural area, we usually do not see anyone else out at the same time. The other day we drove to a dam on the Otter Tail River a couple of miles away and walked around a bit, just to get out of the house. There were no people anywhere.

Walk near the Otter Tail River with no other people anywhere near

Like many others, we have experimented with new forms of socializing remotely. We had not seen my dad in the nursing home since January, and now we are not allowed in. We were able to arrange a Facetime visit. It was good to see him and know he is OK. We participated in an online game using our phones and Zoom, with our son and his girlfriend and members of her family. We were in four different locations but enjoyed time together laughing and connecting. There have been a couple more sessions using Zoom with different groups of family members and friends.

I am careful about not wasting food since we have a limited supply of fresh produce during the quarantine period. I kicked myself one evening when I got distracted and incinerated some broccoli I was baking in the oven. There was not much left in the refrigerator and I would not be able to run out to the store and get more. It made me appreciate the fact that in past times (and in some places today) every bite of food on hand might be needed for survival.

We had one loaf of fresh bread. It was a seedy multi grain bread that was one of the few options available when we stopped at the store in South Dakota. There were a couple of partial loaves of multi grain bread in the freezer from before we left for Arizona. I hauled out our bread maker that was still in the garage from when we moved here last summer. The only flour in the house is white flour, so I made a loaf of french bread that turned out well. I used to have some very old whole wheat flour but I am now regretting tossing it out before we left on the snowbirding trip. I look forward to trying other more healthy recipes once I can get to the store and buy some different types of grains and flour.

I don’t know how I functioned when working full time and also raising a family and doing other things. I know that I was stressed out much of the time. I usually did not get enough sleep, and only the most important tasks got done. The closets were a disaster. There was always a backlog of paperwork. There were years when the only television I watched was the news while working in the kitchen. I missed several entire TV series, because (before streaming) I could not remember when they were on or be available every week at the same time.

I have the most amount of time on my hands that I have ever had or ever will have. I am plugging away at necessary tasks, having time to knit, watching TV in the evenings and reading for a half hour before bed. Being retired at home under self quarantine is the opposite of working full time at home, with children at home trying to do school remotely or needing care. I don’t know how those families are making it work. My prayers go out to the many people having their lives disrupted, fighting for their life in the hospital, having to work more hours than before while at risk of being exposed to the virus, or in some cases not even having a place to shelter at home.

In the time since we have been back in Minnesota most of the snow has melted, except for some drifts and shaded areas. The lake is still frozen. Everything is brown and drab, except the sunsets. A winter storm is in the weather forecast for tomorrow night, including wind, rain, freezing rain, and up to three inches of snow. We are already having a “snow day” at home, so we’ll keep hunkering down as usual.

Spring sunset