Fun with Fibers …

Thanks to my friend K’s enthusiasm for learning anything and all things fiber, I am returning to my fiber work with the most interest I’ve felt since the November 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Most recently, K wanted to try dyeing.  Caught up in a fiber frenzy last year, she bought a lot of yarn.  What to do with one of her purchases – three cakes of cream colored yarn (Cascade’s Alpaca Lana D’Oro, 50% superfine alpaca, 50% Peruvian highland wool, 100g/3.5oz = 200m/219y) – flummoxed her.  K couldn’t think of anything she wanted to knit out of cream wool.  (I’d say such is the hazard of spontaneous yarn purchasing but let she who is without sin cast the first stone comes to mind!)  However,  her eyes got that dangerous spark when I suggested dyeing the yarn.  We quickly scheduled a date and time, and I readied my dye pots and supplies.

K liked the idea of dyeing so the yarn would have color variations.  To that end, I sent her an article to read and advised her not to soak her cakes of yarn (so she’d see more variation).  She arrived in a timely fashion armed with old towels, a jug of white vinegar and her cakes of yarn.  We dyed the yarn in my kitchen but, after rolling them in old towels, took the newly dyed, still wet, cakes outside to wind into skeins so they would dry more quickly inside.

I dragged our glass-topped patio table from the back porch and set up my Louet skein winder.  (K seemed pleased to use that type of skein winder for the first time too.)  Though the sun was periodically shining through the clouds that April afternoon, it was a cold, wet and windy day.  There K and I were, covered toe to head in winter gear, winding wet yarn as quickly as we could with fingers that quickly went numb.  We had to laugh at the sheer hilarity of the sight we knew we presented!  Anyone peeking over our fence would have shaken their heads at seeing two shivering ladies in their six decades giggling over wet yarn.KsYarn

K was very pleased – and rightly so – with the results of her first lesson in dyeing protein fibers!  She is so much fun to work with.

warpSoon K will learn how to warp a floor loom, specifically my 8-harness 55″ weaving width Gilmore.  I’m almost done winding the warp (8/4 Maysville 100% cotton) for a couple of rugs.  The piles of wool for wefts for several rugs have been staring at me reproachfully for the last year and a half.  K’s fiber interest has at worst put me to shame and at best revitalized me!

While I was packing up my dyeing gear, she asked questions about spinning.  I should have known her sharp eyes would spot my Schacht wheel, even though it was nearly hidden behind a big plant.  Maybe I’ll pull out some spindles for her to play with.

I am thankful that K’s curiosity and enthusiasm for all things fiber is blowing away the cobwebs of political angst that have been smothering my joy of fiber work!

As an aside, here are some pictures of recent baking … sourdough mixed grain loaves with chopped toasted walnuts and dried fruit, spelt bran muffins with dried cranberries and raisins, chocolate Devil Food’s cake mini loaves, chocolate cupcakes with applesauce instead of butter (to lower the fat content), and buttery almond mini tarts with a single fresh blueberry in each one (no lowered fats in these!).

Posted in Baking, Breads, Dyeing, Weaving | Tagged | 5 Comments

Sunny Visit

I recently returned from my visit with my daughter and her family over my grandchildren’s spring break from school.  They live in the blindly-bright and parched city of Sacramento, California.  While I brought an easy knitting project with me (a beautiful Koigu lace merino), I never picked up the needles:  The bright sunny days beckoned me.

moleHaving arrived from the cool, grey-sky, wet, emerald green environment of the beautiful Pacific Northwest (a mere 1.5 hour flight to the north), stepping outside of the airport I felt a bit like a mole squinting in the blazing California light.  Though it was still spring, for the duration of my visit I didn’t go outside without dark sunglasses, long sleeves and a big shade hat.  (My dermatologist once told me I dress like a dermatologist.)

We took one day to visit the Marin Headlands, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I spent a lot of time as a youth in California hiking on the beaches and in the hills near the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  Later I was delighted to introduce my daughter to hours of happy tromping around these same hills and beaches.  


The olfactory memories on this almost warm, nearly windless day were incredible.  If anything, due to the land restoration projects the GGNRA is even more beautiful than when I was young.  Today I share these pictures with you.


Posted in Miscellany | 10 Comments

Humble Knitting

A few months ago I was invited to a ladies’ afternoon tea/coffee (for lack of a better term) hosted by one of my sweet neighbors.  The host told me one of the ladies there was a long-time knitter, so I introduced myself to the woman as a fellow knitter.  The woman immediately asked what I had been knitting recently.

“Washcloths,” I replied.

“Bah!” was her instant response, with a dismissive flip of the hand as she drew her self up proudly and said, “I’m knitting socks!”

Resisting the urge to slap her, inform her I tired of knitting socks long ago, or describe all the difficult, complicated  items I’ve knit over the last 55 years, I instead headed to the cake table.

Why dismiss washcloths?  Too humble?  Too utilitarian?  BAH!

Why knit washcloths?  I have never liked the thick commercially-made washcloths sold in stores in the U.S. (even if they are part of a matched towel set).  They hold too much water and/or my hands aren’t strong enough to wring them out enough so they don’t drip!  Washing my face nightly with them I would end up with my bottom of my sleeves and the top part of whatever I was wearing soggy and wet.

My grandmother always used small, fairly thin clothes for her ablutions, and I decided to follow her example.  Digging through my substantial stash, I found a partial cone of Peaches & Cream yarn 100% cotton (400g/706y), leftover from a woven waffle towel projects many years ago.  The only other cotton and linen yarns I had, however, were for rug warps, so off to the local store I went.  (It is not a yarn store per se, but it is a local – not chain or big box – store that carries some yarns.)  I selected a couple of balls of Wendy Supreme 100% Luxury Cotton 4ply (100g/267m), Eulali (100g/360m) and Patons Grace 100% mercerized cotton (50g/125m).

Utilitarian, however, doesn’t have to mean ugly or plain.  Going to my bookshelf, I pulled out several books on lace patterns, made some calculations and started knitting.  Some of the lace patterns I knit include:  Sunspots, Little Parachute, Subtle Mesh, Falling Leaf, Ostrich Plume, Lace Lattice, Old Shale, and Mini Hearts.

I found that lace Washcloths2washcloths in smooth, multi-plied thin lace weight Eulali were my favorite.  Peaches & Cream (I think it’s now Lily Sugar ‘n’ Cream) felt rough and thick, so I knit a very simple garter stitch cloth and another using a slip stitch pattern.  Yuck.  (They now sit in a kitchen drawer holding various hot pads and oven mitts.)

Washcloths1I knit probably about two dozen washcloths – keeping a dozen for myself and distributing the rest as gifts.  (By the way, a hand knit washcloth makes a lovely gift especially when wrapped around a bar of handmade goat milk soap!)  Above are two pictures of washcloths I pulled out of the cupboard as I wrote this post.  IMG_6837 - Copy

One of my favorite patterns for a lightweight washcloth turned out to be Subtle Mesh from Barbara G. Walker’s “Charted Knitting Designs: A Third Treasury of Knitting Patterns.”

For beginner lace knitters, washcloths are an excellent way to learn not just how to knit lace but to see how different lace patterns act:  Some contract much more vertically and/or horizontally, others are open and loose, some create a curvy or scalloped cast on edge, others pull diagonally to the left or right.  It’s also an excellent way to see what you might like to tackle in, say, a curtain, towel, scarf, shawl or sweater!  (Newer knitters – or knitters seeking to refresh their skills – who haven’t considered knitting pretty wash cloths may want to take a peek at strikkelysten’s blog.)

I now have a stack of lace washcloths ready for me to grab.  I have a few in the guest bathroom as well, along with some of the heavier commercially washcloths for guests who may be more comfortable with those!

Happy knitting!

Postscript:  Here’s some pics of this week’s baking!

Posted in Miscellany | 26 Comments

Stress-Combating Fiber Arts …

For years I’ve appreciated that my fiber arts – particularly knitting and weaving – can combat stress and/or anxiety.  Since 45 entered the White House, my fingers have only reluctantly picked up my needles or warped my looms.  However, I have more thoroughly explored another kind of fiber.

pexels-photo-226615.jpegI have three different kinds of wild yeasts (sourdoughs) in my refrigerator, and one of the hall closets is now filled with food-safe storage tubs filled with different organic grains that I grind, sift (or not) and bake with.

Here are some pictures!  (If you click any of the pictures, you can read a brief description of each baked item.)

I am regularly asked how Thor and I stay thin though our kitchen regularly smells (and now looks) like a professional bakery.  Having 45 in the White House has put a damper on my appetite.  In the late afternoon we start listening to and watching national and international news, which makes it difficult for me to stomach much food after that point in the day.  Our country’s political chaos hasn’t killed Thor’s appetite, so in order that he doesn’t overindulge we share my baked goodies – with friends, neighbors, medical providers, the folks who order my organic grains, repair people, landscapers, etc.

The next post I will share some pictures of the other fiber work.  🙂  I’ve been working a fair amount with Lopi (in various weights) my absolute most favorite yarn to knit with.  I will put aside the Lopi once there is no snow left on the hills near us, which is the time the local farmers say it’s safe to starting planting.


Several friends have said they’re waiting for me to start ripping up our yard to plant grains.  Nahhh, I don’t think that will happen; Thor is sure to stop me if I tried.  (That said, I did look into it – but don’t tell Thor!)


Posted in Cooking, Miscellany | 19 Comments

Indoor Caps for Exposed Pates

Thanks to the fact that most homes in industrialized countries have indoor heating (not to mention running hot/cold water and showers!), the old tradition of women and men wearing knit or woven caps indoors to keep their heads warm and hair clean(ish) has been out of date for a long while.  Nonetheless, you may well know someone with an exposed pate who might well appreciate a hand knit indoor cap.

According to WebMD, “By age 35, two-thirds of American men will have some degree of appreciable hair loss and by age 50 approximately 85% of men have significantly thinning hair.   About 25% of men who suffer from male pattern baldness begin the painful process before they reach 21.”  Over and above male patterned baldness, there are other conditions than contribute to thinning hair, including (but not limited to) people suffering from alopecia, receiving certain medical treatments and even taking certain medications.  Certainly they may appreciate a nice indoor cap.

My Thor certainly does.  Relocating from cool San Francisco, we now live in the even cooler and rainy Pacific Northwest.  Whether in SF or the PNW, we prefer a low set thermometer, even in the coldest months.  Over the years, I have knit Thor several caps.  As he doesn’t want a bulky hat and dislikes the feel of wool on his bald pate, I reach for fingering weight yarns of cotton (at least 80%) blended with a protein fiber such as qiviut, silk, yak, or alpaca.  I have found that 50 grams is more than enough to IMG_6814knit Thor (who has a very large head) a cap patterned with knit and purl designs.  However, his newest cap had cables and used almost a full 50 grams (all but 8 or so inches!).  Here is a picture of it still damp from its wash.

Some of you may recognize the cable pattern I borrowed from Irina Dmitrieva’s “Men’s Ski Hat.”  I say “borrowed” as I adjusted her pattern to fit Thor’s head and my gauge using Classic Elite’s “Gigi” (8-ply, 50g=142y, 85% cotton/10% silk/5% stretch polyester.)

Cables knit with cellulose yarns do not have the “pop” they would have in a crisp wool, but as this is an indoor hat, Thor doesn’t mind them flattening.  (He’s nice that way!)




Posted in Miscellany | Tagged | 9 Comments

Fiber Lethargy No More

Since I last posted in February of this year, I have received e-mails from other bloggers asking why I had gone silent.  The answer to that question is simple:  The 45th president of the U.S.  After the November 2016 election, I was angry and, worse, despondent.  Since that fateful day two months later (inauguration day), my interest in researching and writing on fiber-related topics seemed, well, irrelevant given the political damage that I anticipated would be wrought by the most unprepared and unsuited president in the history of this country.  As a retired political science professor, I seriously thought about establishing a separate blog focusing on politics.  Yet every time I sat down at a computer, my fears, angst and depression about the future of this country choked my voice.

Sadly, my fears were all too prescient, as substantiated by the outrageous behavior, words and decisions of 45.  In an attempt to loosen the choking panic and anxiety that I had been fighting for months, I decided to read Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new book, What Happened.  Though I have been crying while reading it, I have been able to breathe a bit more freely.  But I still wasn’t able to sit down and write about fiber art.

Three things happened, however, that shook me back into enjoying fiber:  My new friend K; the 2017 Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival (OFFF); and Flora Felts.

First, my friend K, whom I met on a senior van trip.  (Yes, I have become one of those white-haired ladies!)   K – creative, intelligent, determined and energetic – asked if I would teach her how to knit.  I thought “sure,” thinking I could maintain an emotional distance from fiber art.  (After all, it’s just knitting, right?!)

Second, yesterday K and I drove over the Columbia River to OFFF in Canby, Oregon.  I started to feel pulses of excitement and anticipation as we neared the fairgrounds, passing women and men (mostly women) of all ages toting large baskets and bedecked in an array of hand-made creations.   I could smell the wool-producing animals and heard their quiet bleats.  Over the course of the day, K posed an array of intelligent questions (why do these two skeins from the same dye lot look so different?  When can I knit with mohair?  Would this yarn work well for a beanie?  What is qiviut and why is it so costly?), and by the end of the day, both K’s curiosity and my chatting with vendors (both new and old) had gone a long way to prodding me out of my fiber lethargy.

Third, the creations of one vendor specifically sparked my interest:  Flora Felts – the work of a Seattle-based Hungarian-born artist Florá Carlile-Kovács (first pic below).  The photographs below I took with my iPhone fail to do justice to her silk and wool felt work.  Florá’s pieces are colorful, bold, powerful and, well, capture (demand?!) your attention.  She seemed delighted to speak about her work with K and me, two women in their sixth decades – something I’ve learned that not all newer, younger fiber artists are eager to do.  (I discussed that in my post two years ago, The Pisher Paradox.)  I left with one of Florá’s wall hangings tucked securely under my arm (paid for – not stolen!).

As K and I perused the award winning creations on display (the judges awarded Florá’s nuno felt dress Reserve Grand Champion, second pic below), I realized that the fiber lethargy that had been heavy on my shoulders had fallen away.  As last year my political despair had led me to cancel the party I had planned to celebrate my birthday (as well as the inauguration of our country’s first female president), I decided this coming January I would celebrate two birthdays.  With that in mind, I returned to Florá’s booth and exchanged the wall hanging for one of her felted pieces of clothing.  It now hangs secure in my closet, and I will wait four months to wear her beautiful art on my next birthday.  (At the next event where K and I see Florá, one of Florá’s wall hangings will go home with me!)

So thank you K, thank you OFFF and thank you Florá! 


Posted in Fibers, Knitting, Miscellany, Other Fiber Arts | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

Cloud & Congress – Part 2

My apologies for the post notice you may have received earlier.  It was a glitch – truly!  I am using Thor’s PC and he’s been having some “issues” with it.  In any event, let me try again.


I haven’t blogged recently; I’ve been too distracted by U.S. political events.  Today, however, I decided to write a post.  First, Cloud, followed by Congress.


Three years ago I used Anzula’s Cloud (100g=575y=525m, 80% superwash merino, 10% cashmere & 10% nylon), to knit Linda Marveng’s “Milanese Shawl.”  (I wrote about it here.  Marveng’s attention to detail and exquisite use of cabling has made her one of my favorite designers.)  I narrowed this pattern, however, because I wanted more of a scarf than a shawl.  That scarf is my “go-to” winter scarf; it is warm, soft and long – and I love a wrappable scarf.  I was left with a full unused skein.

anzulacloudheadband-2Cloud is a fingering weight, and I wanted a heavier yarn for a headband.  After partitioning the skein into four balls to experiment with gauges, I decided I liked the three-ply the best.  Using Chic Knit’s cabled headband in its Elisabeth Collection as a start, I am pleased with this attractive and warm headband – and it matches my favorite scarf!


This morning I was mulling over the Republican-dominated Congress’s rabid obsession with ending the Affordable Care Act, privatizing medical care, and push to employee 401(k) plans.  Curious, I thought, given the cushy health and retirement plans of Congress members.  How cushy?  Extremely generous compared to most workers, even those employed full times.

First, Congress’s health plan.  Congress members (and their families) participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

  • The Office of Personnel Management describes it as “the widest selection of health plans in the country.”  (Click here to read more detailed description from the OPM.)
  • The Congressional Research Service sheds some light for us on this topic. (If you want details, read its nine-page summary report.)

Second, Congress’s retirement plan.  Nearly all members of Congress are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).  What does this provide them upon retirement?

  1. Social Security (yes, Congress members have SS taxes withheld from their paychecks).
  2. Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).  This is a defined contribution (DC) plan for federal employees.  (Click here to read more.)
    • TSP is similar to 401(k)s common to private employees.  (By the way, 401(k)s were and are not intended to be a retirement plan.)
    • Federal agencies match up to 5% of a member’s contribution.
    • TSP differs from 401(k) plans in a key manner:  Whether or not the employee chooses to contribute anything to her/his TSP, the government contributes 1% of the person’s base pay to the TSP.  This isn’t a hidden bonus; click here to go to the TSP website and read their own words.
    • A Defined Benefit (DB) plan that guarantees an employee a specified benefit level upon their retirement if they serve five (5) years.  This means recipients receive a lifetime annuity (i.e., series of monthly payments) based on their salary when employed and years of employment.
    • According to the Congressional Research Service:  “There were 601 retired Members of Congress receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on
      their congressional service as of October 1, 2014. Of this number, 351 had retired under CSRS [the Civil Service Retirement System, pre-1984] and were receiving an average annual pension of $72,660. A total of 250 Members had retired with service under FERS and were receiving an average annual pension of $41,652 in 2014.”
    • What does that translate to?
    • Retired Members of Congress Annual Pension Pay* Total Per Year
      Retired Under FERS 250  $    41,652  $             10,413,000
      Retired under CSRS 351  $    72,660  $             25,503,660
      Total 601  $             35,916,660
    • If you feel like reading relevant data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you will learn that fewer than 20% of private employees have DB plans  Experts believe DB plans are on their way out for private employees.

Are you wondering how much a person would need in savings in order to create a replacement income for the pension income taxpayers are footing for their elected officials?  Here’s how much you would need (thanks to Thor for preparing this for me):

Yield Needed: 0.80% 1% 2%
Amount of principal needed to generate $41,652 per year in income  $       5,206,500  $       4,165,200  $       2,082,600
Amount of principal needed to generate $72,660 per year in income  $      9,082,500  $      7,266,000  $        3,633,000
Yield Needed: 3% 4% 5%
Amount of principal needed to generate $41,652 per year in income  $       1,388,400  $        1,041,300  $           833,040
Amount of principal needed to generate $72,660 per year in income  $      2,422,000  $        1,816,500  $        1,453,200
Yield Needed: 6% 7% 8%
Amount of principal needed to generate $41,652 per year in income  $          694,200  $           595,029  $           520,650
Amount of principal needed to generate $72,660 per year in income  $        1,211,000  $       1,038,000  $           908,250
Yield Needed: 9% 10%
Amount of principal needed to generate $41,652 per year in income  $          462,800  $           416,520
Amount of principal needed to generate $72,660 per year in income  $           807,333  $          726,600

As an example, the following yields show (as of 2/27/17, 9:27 pm EST), the yields currently available to bond investors.  Yields of 10% are not available unless you invest in stocks and it’s a good year.  Higher overall returns thus requires greater risk to the investors.  Investors are not assured a steady income as are our elected officials.

Current Bond Yields From To
US Treasury Bonds 0.45% 2.93%
Municipal Bonds 0.72% 3.38%
Corporate Bonds 1.21% 3.89%

In conclusion, if privatizing health care, abolishing the Affordable Care Act and starving Medicare and Medicaid are for the benefit of our country and its citizens, Congressional members should set the example.  Let them first get rid of their defined benefit plans, Thrift Savings Account and Federal Employees Health Benefit Program so they can more closely experience what we taxpayers would have to experience.

Let’s remember that elected representatives work for the taxpayers, who are effectively, then, employers of the those elected.  How many employees in the U.S. create retirement and health plans for their employers?  The answer, I would guess, is a very small number or, more probably, none.

It’s time Republicans put their moneys where their mouths are.

Posted in Miscellany | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments