Post Office Adventures

Note: Posting this blog entry was delayed due to a DSL outage at my house.  I’m back online now.  Hurrah!

Wednesday November 23rd was all about the post office.  Specifically about getting bookmark kits out in the mail.

Car in the snow

The first challenge was the complete and utter lack of internet access at my house.  This is still going on, and I’m not 100% sure how I’ll get this blog post up.  I may have to sneak out to Starbucks.

So in order to find out who ordered what, I had to use my cell phone to track orders and look up things on the website.  There’s no way to print from my phone, a lack I hadn’t noticed until yesterday.  (Seriously, wireless print drivers for mobile phones, is that too much to ask?)  So no one got pretty invoices with the lovely logo and nice fonts.  After spending way too much time feeling bad about that, I thought about the last time I got a package, and how many of the invoices I’d actually framed and hung up on my wall (answer: none) and decided that kits sooner with an ugly invoice was better than kits later with a pretty invoice.

Next was the volume of orders.  I am thrilled, delighted, that so many of you responded.  It caught me unawares, however, so I had to hurriedly wind off many more kits.  Which was an excellent opportunity to catch up on my book-on-tape listening.  I indulged in Water for Elephants, which lived up to the hype.

After the kits were wound and packaged, I hired Kai to be my “picker”.  In the mail-order business, this is the person who takes an invoice and pulls the products from inventory to ship.  He was great to work with.  We put labels on the piles of colors and I would shout out the colors I needed for a given order and he’d grab them up.  I double-checked every order, but he never got one wrong.

My plan was to pay him cash for his work.  But after looking at the colors all day, he asked whether instead he could be paid instead with a bookmark kit all of his own.  (Doesn’t that just make you go, awwww….)  He selected Delphinium and carted it off to his room.

Next it was a trek through the snow and ice.  Where I live (a rural area about 25 miles east of Seattle) got six inches of snow yesterday.  Now while I know that people in Canada and Wisconsin are reading this and thinking: “six inches, sounds like a nice spring day.” In the Seattle area, six inches is a snow apocalypse.  We don’t have the infrastructure for such weather, and to make things even more treacherous, when we get snow, the ground usually hasn’t frozen yet.  Which melts the bottom layer of snow, which then refreezes: resulting in 4 inches of snow covering 2 inches of solid ice.  Add drivers who’ve never seen snow before, and San-Francisco-esque hills.  And well, let’s just say that everyone with half a brain stays home.

For the purposes of this narrative, I have not got half a brain.  Later Eric told me that he and Kai (home from school because it’s a snow day) had looked at the treacherous snow-and-ice encrusted hill that leads from our house and made a bet as to whether I’d try to get out today.  I asked which of them was foolish enough to bet against me and my drive to get things done.  Eric said the conversation went this way:

Eric (46, married to me for 13 years) “I’ll bet you a dollar that your mother tries to get up that hill and go to the post office today.”

Kai (7, known me all his life): “I’m not taking that bet.”

The good thing about driving in a snow apocalypse, is that you pretty much have the road entirely to yourself.  This is sometimes a very good thing.

This man is my hero.  He came into work on a day when all the schools and libraries were closed, and he cheerfully welcomed me when I came sliding in just before closing with a huge bag of packages to mail out.

Postal guy

So the kits are packaged and off to their new homes, some to be woven up as gifts, others to be gifts for new weavers.  One customer, Sunny, wrote me that she ordered a kit last year, loved it so much that this year she and bought several more kits to give to young weavers along with the gift of teaching them how to weave.  That warmed my heart.

And after all that, I got a bit of a post office reward of my own.  This is magnet wire from the Florida State University magnet lab.  It was generously shared with me by Ramona.  Apparently FSU’s magnet lab was getting rid of surplus wire and offered it free to artists.  I studied physics at FSU, and my major professor was the head of the magnet lab.  At the time, I wasn’t a fiber artist and have since kicked myself for not acquiring surplus magnet wire when it was just laying around.  I’ve tried to buy some off eBay, but it’s pricey.  So to get this, and from the place I used to work, was a real blast from the past.  Thank you so much, Ramona.  You made my day!

Magnet wire

I can’t wait to see what I make from it!

P.S. The Viking Coffee Cozy pattern is in the works.  Thank you everyone who responded regarding it.

Viking Coffee Cozy

I’m so excited to share the results of my coffee cozy adventures, but first, a quick peek at some finished fabrics from my rigid-heddle loom.

Here is the polyester permanent-pleat fabric off the loom, before tying and pleating.  I like it so much in the flat form that for a second I thought about not pleating it, but that’d be crazy, considering how much work it was to put in the supplemental weft shots.

Polyester pleats
This next piece is the Curious Creek yarn woven up into 2-1/2 yards of lovely squishable fabric.  It’s destined to become a garment of some kind.  As to what, exactly, I haven’t decided; I’m still talking to it.  I meant to blog this in progress, but it was just too fun to weave, and before I blinked, there was the end of the warp coming off the back beam.

Eric’s birthday was a quietly festive affair.  There was a sunburst cake, made up of slices of a bunch of different flavored cakes from our local deli.  And there were gifts.  One of which was the practical, yet stylish “Viking Coffee Cozy.”

Vikirg Coffee Cozy

It is designed to fit over my husband’s french press coffee maker to keep his coffee warm as he works in the wee hours of the morning on his latest novel.

This is my second-ever knit design and I’m tickled with it.  Designing is even more fun than knitting!  My first attempt to create the cozy, I used 2×2 ribbing all the way up, but didn’t like how it interacted with the spout.  So I (to my husband’s astonished gasp of horror) ripped the three-quarters-completed cosy back into a ball of yarn.  It was actually sweet to see Eric looking mournful about the loss of my knitting progress.  “I can rebuild it,” I assured him.  “Better, stronger, faster.”

While I’d been knitting and struggling with the first version, I got the inspiration to use cables to flow around the spout.  Heat rises, so I continued the coffee cozy over the top of the press.  But I also wanted him to be able to put the cozy on when he poured in the  the hot water but not have to take the cozy off to press the coffee.

front of cozy

The body is knit up in heathered bulky grey wool (grey is my husband’s favorite color) and took about a day.  A caribou antler button from a family trip to Alaska completes this manly cozy.  (I recall thinking at the time, “What the heck am I going to do with one caribou button?  I’m glad I listened to my intuition and bought it anyway.)

back of coffee cozy

Stash diving provided all the materials, ingenuity the pattern.

I felt very artsy and thrifty giving this to Eric.  Those of you who know him, will recognize that this coffee press is perfectly suited to his aesthetic.  In fact, the cozy matches a hat I knit for him out of handspun that soon became a staple of his wardrobe. (Really, it’s his go-to wooby hat, but if I said that I’d get in sooo much trouble.)

When he’s working at his desk and wearing his handspun hat, he and his coffee cozy look like two vikings waging a war against the blank page.

I love how the coffee press now looks like it’s wearing a chain mail hood.  Very fierce!

P.S. I’ve already had one person inquiring about where to get the pattern.  Here’s what I’m thinking, I’d like to offer the pattern for sale as a downloadable PDF for $3.99.  If you are interested in purchasing it for that price, send me an email or leave a comment here.  If five or more people express interest, I’ll whip up something pretty in InDesign, get it test-knit, and put it for sale in the shop.

Permanent Pleats on the Loom

I’m doing a study of rigid-heddle fabric this year and my current project is playing around with the permanent-pleating possibilities of polyester.  This is what’s currently on the loom.

polyester yarn

The warp is a singles silk/wool, and the weft is a polyester yarn.  I’m putting in shots of monk’s belt to pull it up like you would for shibori, but I’m planning to steam and pleat the fabric instead of over-dyeing it for color.

This is thin yarn, and it’s taking a bit to weave through the five or so yards I enthusiastically put on the loom, so let’s take a tour of some other fun things while we’re waiting for me to weave this off…

Kristine (of Curious Creek Fibers) and her husband Phil swung by for a visit.  I’d met Kristine at GGFI and we’d hit it off, so when she mentioned that she’d be in the Seattle area for a night, I invited her and her husband to stay at our house.  We had a great time.  Phil is as big a fan of Legos as Kai is, and they built a number of intriguing things while Kristine and I hung out in my studio and discussed weaving, dyeing and other things fiber.  Eric cooked us a fabulous dinner.  Twas great fun.

She gave me two squishable lovely skeins as a hostess gift.  I think they were meant to be socks, but I’m thinking warp!

The cone in the background is a little something that I pulled from my stash that I’m planning to use as weft.  Though anyone who’s taken my beginner class knows that I “audition” wefts before I settle on the right one, so I may well end up using something entirely different.

Here are two more finished items from the glass blowing class.  One great thing about glass: no UFOs.  You have either a finished object at the end of a working session, or a pile of broken glass to recycle.  There’s no in-between.  Glass is a harsh mistress.

glass bowl

This is a bowl where I “broke the rules” and dipped in two different mixes of frit between layers.  I was supposed to stick with just one to avoid “mud” since glass colors interact in strange ways.  For example, topaz and orange make black.  I got lucky in my choices, however, and instead it had the wonderful effect of making the bowl primarily blues on the outside and primarily greens on the inside.  The asymmetry of its shaping was a throwing error, but one I find quite lovely.  I’m thrilled with it.

Below is what happened when Eric and I finished before the other set of students and were given the instruction to “go play with glass.”  I’d seen the instructor sculpting a rose  before class and decided to give it a go.  It’s not as lovely or large as his, but definitely recognizable as a rose and way much better than my first floral attempts.  I never thought of myself as the kind of gal who’d be tickled with a glass flower, but I am.

glass rose

And that ball of yarn with sticks in.  It’s been turned into a finished object, that I’m calling “Eric’s Viking Coffee Cozy” because everyone knows that strong coffee is absolutely essential for getting ferocious vikings up and going in the morning.

Eric's Present

Why does it look a lot like a wrapped present?  Because it’s a surprise for Eric’s birthday, and he reads this blog.  I’ll share it after he’s opened it.  Don’t want to spoil the surprise.

As a last detail.  Doti asked for the Stupid-Simple Wash Cloth pattern.  So here goes:

Stupid-Simple Wash Cloth Pattern

1. Cast on 4 stitches.
2. Knit 1, yarn over, knit to the end.

Repeat row 2 until the wash cloth is as wide as you want it to be, or you’re halfway through your yarn.

3. Knit 1, yarn over, SSK, knit to within four stitches from the end, k2tog, knit two.

Repeat row 3 until you have only six stitches left on the needle.

4. Knit 1, SSK, K2tog, Knit 1.
5. Bind off 4 stitches and weave in ends.


This pattern is so simple that it’s all over the knitting world in various forms.  This variant was un-vented by me when I was trying to recall the wash cloth pattern I’d knit years before and got it slightly wrong but it worked anyway and I hadn’t realized it was different than the one in Complete Idiot’s Guide To Knitting & Crocheting (1) until I’d knit eight or so.  As Laura Fry would say, if you can’t be perfect, be consistent.

(1) And yes, it is embarrassing to admit this is one of my go-to knitting references.

Playing with Fire

Eric and I have been taking a glass-blowing class together on Saturday mornings at Art by Fire.  It’s become our weekly “date night” and I’ve found that learning something together is more satisfying than passively going to a movie.

Add to that the fact that we’re learning something dangerous—the molten glass hovers between 2100-2500 degrees Fahrenheit—and that glassblowers work in teams on the bench and it’s been good for our marriage, if a bit stressful at times.

Glass Studio

(I have no idea why there’s a giant Mickey Mouse on the back wall.  Truly.)

Here’s Eric marvering glass to the tip of the gathering rod, which is the glassblowing way of saying: pushing a glob of glass off the end of the rod into a cylinder so it can be worked.

Eric marvering

(Note Sponge Bob on the back wall, gleefully demonstrating the importance of safety.)


I hadn’t realized before the class how much teamwork would be involved.  In glassblowing you rely on your partner to blow into the pipe while you form the glass, use wooden paddles to shield your skin from the intense heat of the glass while you’re working it, and to attach a punty on the end so you can flip the piece over and work on the other side.  Each partner in the team is crucial to the success of the piece.  Your work has your partner’s breath blown into it and vice versa.

Tyler teaching Katie
Working with molten glass is so very different from weaving, and yet there are skills that transfer over.  Design and color principals.  I found myself rolling the rod on the bench with the same full-body rocking motion that I use to slam a beater into place.

I brought the same intensity to marvering glass off the tip of the gathering rod as I do for threading a complicated pattern.

Eric’s comment after the first class was a surprised: “You have a gift for working with your hands.  A real kinetic sense.”

It was a nice moment.  I usually weave while Eric’s at work, so he doesn’t often get to see me in my element.

Textiles are everywhere, and glassblowing is no exception  I wore my Pendleton wool shirt for the class, since wool insulates from the intense heat and will self-extinguish if I catch on fire.  The Pendleton was the only woolen shirt I own, and I at first hesitated to wear it because it is a thing of beauty and was not cheap.  Then I realized that a shirt would be less expensive and easier to replace than my skin, so on it went.

In the class, we were offered the use of kevlar armbands to help insulate our arms while gathering and working the molten glass.  These were sized for big burly guys, and fit rather sloppily on my little wrists, so if I stay with glass blowing I may have to get some kevlar yarn and create my own.

Kevlar armband
Another interesting thing was working in a medium where I am a complete beginner.  I can approach a loom with a certain amount of confidence that I’ll come away with something usable.  Perhaps not quite the thing I had in mind, but a piece of cloth for sure.

Glass makes no such guarantees.

You can spend hours working on a piece, forming it and blowing life into it until it’s a thing of beauty…and then lose the whole piece in the very next moment.  Let the glass cool too much or the heat become uneven, and it’ll crack.  Attach your punty too loosely and the piece will fall to the ground, too tightly, and you won’t be able to get it off the pipe.  The only thing you come away with in those instances is experience and, hopefully, a bit more skill.

Below are the more successful of the flowers I made (the others are more anatomical than floral) and a tree ornament that would better serve the season as a bludgeon with which to deter present thieves.  (It weighs half a pound.)

Flowers and ornament

It was useful and humbling to be a complete beginner again.  Hoping a piece will turn out, ready to settle for knowledge if it didn’t.

Though every now and then, if you keep working in spite of setbacks, you can create something of beauty.

hand-blown glass cup


A Wee Bitty Obsessed

On Monday I submitted my first-ever knitwear design to an editor/publisher.  I’m waiting to hear back as to whether it was accepted, fingers firmly crossed.  It was a fun project to puzzle out, incorporating many features that I’d never worked with before, so there was a huge learning curve.  Turns out I love huge learning curves—who knew?

Designing knitwear is largely a matter of geometry and tracking rates of change.  I very much enjoyed the exercise.  In fact, it’s given me a whole new appreciation for knitting and a new sense of freedom about what’s possible.  If I can create a 3D model of the human body, and then through sampling and swatching figure out the fabric per square inch to cover that model.  Well, then I can knit whatever the heck I like!  No more being a slave to patterns.  Whoo-hoo!

I’m also thinking that this fabric-to-3D model work might work for designing fabric with woven cloth.  Which might just get me over that “designing clothing” mental block.

(Speaking of designing clothing, have you seen the cool Handwoven / Väv design challenge? I’m giving it a thought.  Heck, I’m starting to scheme ways to get to Sweden.  Smart textiles is one of the conference topics, how cool is that?)

Anyway, back to the pattern that I finished up on Monday.  No spoilers, but here’s a sneak peek.

Sneak preview of knitwear design

My looms are all tied up right now with challenging weave projects, so when I wanted something mindless to do while taking Kai to after school events, or waiting at the doctor’s office, I turned to my stash and discovered a pile of miscellaneous balls of worsted weight cotton (Sugar n’ Cream) in a variety of colors.

I briefly puzzled out my variant of the “Stupid-Simple Wash Cloth” pattern.  You know, the one where you increase for a while, and then decrease for a while.  After I knit the first one, I thought “pair that with some homemade or fancy soap, and that’s the start of a fine holiday present.”  It felt wonderfully thrifty to be converting stash into presents.  Add to that the near-instant gratification of knitting a wash cloth in an hour or two.  And…my brain got a bit stuck on wash cloths.

Handknit wash cloths

I’ve knit eight so far, with no sign of stopping.  I promised myself I’d stop when the cotton ran out (the whole point was to use up stash, right?) but then I taught Eric to knit a dishtowel.  And then Kai wanted to learn, but he wanted blue yarn.  So I wound up at Michael’s and some cunning balls of yarn leapt into my shopping basket when I wasn’t looking.

Only one or two…or perhaps three.  But at the rate I’m knitting wash cloths, I still have a chance of winning.  Especially since I’m recruiting the whole family now.

As long as I don’t enter a JoAnn fabric or Michael’s I should be fine.  Right?

On a related gift-giving subject, since we are in the final lap of the holiday-gift-crafting season.  Eric, my husband, has a need.  With the weather cooling down, the coffee in his French press gets cold before he can finish it.  He’d taken to wrapping it in a towel to keep it warm and opined that he wished there was something like a tea cozy, only for coffee presses.

Bouyed on by my recent knit-design success, I dug into the stash and found a bulky feltable wool.  (I recently learned from Teresa Ruch that feltable wool is more insulating than superwash wool.  Which makes sense if you know how superwash wool is made and think about it a bit.)

I whipped out my measuring tape (after searching for it for a good long while.  I swear, gremlins come into my studio and hide the dratted things) and measured the press in several places.  I have a cunning plan, involving wool, DPNs, and ribbing.

French press cozy, some assembly required

I got Eric and Kai to watch Franklin Habit’s video on holiday knitting.  Eric, a laconic fellow, said dead-pan afterwards: “That seems…familiar.”  And Kai, less laconic chimed in with feeling, “Yeah, REAL familiar.”

Nevertheless, I will be knitting Eric a French press cozy for his upcoming birthday.  Likely there will be cables.  Hope he didn’t want roller skates.

Compulsory Weaving Content

I got an email asking how the singles wool/alpaca fabric turned out.  I never got the interesting tracking or crinkling I had hoped for.  I washed the samples two ways: full on machine wash with hot water and towels,and the “hand wash” machine cycle.  (The third sample on the right is the unwashed fabric.)

washed samples

Both felted too much for my liking.  So I cut off another chunk of fabric and washed it by hand (something I try to avoid, hence the machine-cycle testing) and liked that result very much.

hand-washed alpaca woll fabric