Manly Hands at Home: Recent Weaving

I’ve been oddly quiet about weaving lately, haven’t I?

It’s not that I haven’t been weaving.

There was that failed attempt (well, two attempts, if you want to be precise) at Monk’s belt coasters. Monk’s belt is a weaving structure that the rest of the world seems to think is just THE easiest but . . . the coasters were a disaster.

Because this is happy blogland, however, let’s not talk about failures.

And then there’s the gift I wove for a special person. It turned out nicely but it doesn’t seem right that you see it before she does.

You may recall, however, that I’m not the only weaver in the household.

My husband has been weaving up a storm, with no failures and no secret projects. So, it’s time to showcase manly hands at home!

Celebrating All the Days Together

weddingSee that couple, so young and soigné, with the bridesmaids dressed in white?

That couple got married 25 years ago today.

He will spend the anniversary in the hospital. She will visit. They will tell each other that it’s no big deal, that they will celebrate the anniversary when he gets the “all clear” from the doctors.

And they’ll mean it.

After being married for 9,125 days, this day, May 26, 2015, is just another day. It’s those 9,125 that matter, and the days yet to come.

She channels her inner Pollyanna and tells herself that this hospital stay, this blip on the radar, should ensure many more days to come.

And she acknowledges that being apart on their anniversary may make her even more aware of what a good thing they have going.

She felt incredibly fortunate 25 years ago, and she still does today.

Call Me Pollyanna . . .

pollyannaMy cat went hypoglycemic.

My car broke down.

My husband is in the hospital.

Does that sound like the first verse of an American country and western song?

It does, but it also describes my weekend. And, yet, the news isn’t as grim as it might seem. Not at all.

First things first. My husband went to the emergency room late last week with tightness in his chest. It turned out to be pulmonary embolisms in both lungs! That sounds awful, and it is, but . . .

. . . they caught it before he keeled over from it, which is exceedingly lucky, and he’s getting exactly the treatment he needs to address the problem. Along the way, they did a lot of tests on his heart and we now know there are no problems there! The hospital staff is well-trained and very kind.

Don, my husband, is bored and antsy but other people on the floor are in pain, very ill, frightened.

There are worse things than being bored.

Then, when I left to go to the hospital yesterday, a red indicator light came on in my car—the battery was not charging. I couldn’t be sure that I’d make it to the end of my road, let alone to the hospital 15 miles away. That sounds like a drag, and it is, but . . .

My mother and stepfather live nearby and have a car they are happy to lend. There’s a good service station close by, where they know us, and they’ll make fixing my car a priority. I’ve been inconvenienced but the car I have is a stalwart—14 years old and, generally, going strong; it can be fixed. And I have other options for getting around.

There are worse things than being inconvenienced.

Then, there’s my cat, my sweet Roxie, who is diabetic. I never would’ve imagined I could test blood sugar and give insulin injections but I do it every day with no problem. Yesterday, however, her blood sugar plummeted, which can cause seizures and death. That sounds scary, and it was, but . . .

. . . this cat is so sweet and mellow that it was easy to do what I needed to, to get her through the hypoglycemic episode. Repeated ear pricks, to get repeated blood samples for testing, leave this cat unfazed—she just purrs and loves the attention she’s getting! After lots of high-carb crunchy treats, her blood sugar rose and the problem was averted. We’ve had two cats die of cancer recently and I’ll take diabetes any day.

There are worse things than diabetes.

So, I’m sitting around on a Monday morning feeling pretty content, pretty optimistic, pretty Pollyanna-ish.

There are worse things than being a Pollyanna!

Enough about me! How was your weekend?!

A Close Encounter of the Sea Monster Kind

champAnother summer is on its way and, once again, I am hoping to see something I’ve always wanted to see.

It’s not Paris, although I hear that’s very nice. It’s not a puffin, although they are supposed to be very cool birds. It’s not a total eclipse of the moon.

No, I’ve always wanted to see the sea monster that inhabits “my” lake. I’ve always wanted to see Champ . . . although maybe I already have.

I live on the shore on Lake Champlain, a lake that measures 120 miles long and is 12 miles at its widest point (that makes it a LOT bigger than Loch Ness!) Lake Champlain is a fresh water lake and it forms the border between upstate New York and Vermont.

For hundreds of years, stories have been told about a monster in the water. The Native Americans in the region, Iroquois and Abenaki, had legends about the beast, calling it Tatoskok or Chaousarou.

In 1609, the first European to see the lake, Samuel de Champlain, supposedly wrote in his journal about seeing the creature, and hundreds of other reports have made Champ a local legend. He (she?) is the mascot of a minor league baseball team in Vermont and the celebrity behind the annual Champ Day in Port Henry, NY.

Champ has been seen by not just cranks and drunks but by officers of the law, clergy, college profs, a whole boatload of tourists. The best-known photograph of the monster was taken in 1977 by Sandra Mansi.


This copy of the Mansi photo taken from

Killjoys have spent a lot of time trying to debunk the photo and to come up with scientific explanations for the sightings of the monster.

They even go so far as to say that most sightings are only pieces of wood floating in the lake!

But I caught these photos a couple of years ago.

What do you think? Huh? Huh? I’m just sure that all sensible, clear-minded people will agree that’s no piece of wood.

Right? Are you with me on this?

A Hostage to Sentiment


I’m being held captive, on memory lane. It’s a sweet captivity, in many ways, the bonds of fond reminiscences, but I’m shackled nonetheless.

Like so many of you, I am in spring-cleaning mode. I look around my house and I desperately want to simplify and streamline. I yearn for clean surfaces and for a-place-for-everything-and-everything-in-its-place.

But I am not temperamentally suited to it. So incredibly not suited . . .

This house is packed to the rafters with stuff. There’s the stuff for all the things my husband and I make—the weaving stuff, the lapidary stuff, the metalsmithing stuff, the quilting and cross stitch and candymaking stuff. Oh, and the vintage linen stuff. Let’s not forget that.

But at least those things have something of a purpose, good reasons to be here. They entertain us and allow us to be productive and make pretty things.

The other stuff is more problematic. It’s the stuff of sentimentality, of nostalgia, of family.

So much of what is here is laden with meaning for me and for my husband.

That table and chairs came from his grandparents. This table and chairs was my grandparents’, purchased when they first set up housekeeping 85 years ago.

The clock case my husband’s father made, the cases of specimens my grandfather collected as a rock hound, the sweaters my mother knit, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Some of the things we have have extrinsic value—I have my grandmother’s sterling silver flatware, a setting for twelve. Very nice, but we don’t use it, our lifestyle doesn’t call for it, so it sits and tarnishes and waits to be passed down.

Most of what we’re talking about here has only intrinsic value, it is special only because it’s special to us. A perfect example is a little wood and metal lantern we picked up in the middle of nowhere in Ireland on our honeymoon. Probably made by Travelers, just a piece of junk, but it’s our junk, from our honeymoon.

Lots of little things take up space, like a china rose bowl my grandmother loved, an aluminum measuring cup, full of dents, that came from the other grandmother’s kitchen. Three doll-size chests, made by one or another man in the family for one or another child. It goes on and on.

And it’s not all special because it’s old and handed down. I have a bust of Aristotle that serves no purpose except looking wise and collecting dust. But, see, it isn’t just a bust of Aristotle. It’s the bust of Aristotle that my sister carried back from Greece, on her lap so it wouldn’t break, to give me because I was finally completing my doctorate in . . . wait for it . . . rhetoric. See? It’s a special, special bust of Aristotle.

My grandparents’ bed is emblematic of the struggle I’m having. It’s an oak bed, carved wood, pretty ornate but nothing special; it was probably inexpensive when they bought it. I figure my father was conceived in this bed and I slept in it, with my grandmother, when I was a little girl staying overnight at the farmhouse.

I’ve always known this bed.

The bed moved with me from the farm to grad school in Pennsylvania and then to Buffalo.

In spite of being a three-quarter bed—only about 48 inches wide—my husband and I slept in this bed, with multiple cats, for the first 15 years we were married. It was cozy, to say the least. Eventually, it was moved to the guest room. When we retired and came here, back here near the farm where it originally stood, the bed came along.

It’s big. It’s awkward. It’s not comfortable for sleeping.

Like so many other things we own, it has got to go.

I look around me—Don gave me that decorative box when we were dating. We got that blanket on our honeymoon. My students gave me this desk plaque when I finished my Ph. D. Nice memories of wonderful times, but the things aren’t the memories and I’m drowning in things.

For heaven’s sake! Why do I keep this stuff?! What am I afraid of? That if I throw away the tag from my first cat’s collar, even though she died 15 years ago, that I’ll forget the cat?

Or that, if I sell my grandmother’s bed, I’m somehow betraying her and forgetting where I came from?

Intellectually, I know that’s ridiculous. If you came to me with a similar dilemma, I could coolly and calmly explain to you why you should divest yourself of the weight of the past. I’d say, “Take some photos of these sentimental things, keep the photos, sell the things, and use the money to go on a nice trip and make new memories.”

I’d say, “They’re only things.”

See how smart I can be when I’m being logical? If only logic ruled . . .

I am making progress—some sentimental possessions have been pressed into practical service so I can justify having them, because they’re earning their keep. One handmade doll’s chest holds spices in the kitchen, another holds office supplies and stamps. An antique knife box corrals dishtowels, and so on.

But, as of two days ago, the bed is in the garage. A yard sale looms and there’s always Craigslist. Maybe some young couple will see the value in a cozy bed with history on its side. My husband and I are being pretty ruthless and are getting rid of things we couldn’t’ve 5 years ago.

We’ll still have plenty of things left to sustain our memories of people and places, but we won’t have ALL of the things.

We’ve allowed ourselves to be hostages to sentimentality for a long time, and we’re ready to pay the ransom. The ransom will have its cost—some pangs, a tear or two, maybe even some regret down the road—but freedom always has its cost.

Tools, Glorious Tools: The Fringe Element

IMG_5493It’s unruly. Just looking to make trouble. It needs to be tamed. It’s the fringe element.


The fringe element, at its most unruly

A clever blog pal noted that there seemed to be a “fringe element” infiltrating these posts lately! But I have the perfect tool to tame the fringe element, to get it to conform. When a weaver cuts cloth off a loom, there are lots of long warp pieces, just hanging there and waiting to be finished somehow. The fabric can be hemmed, so the ends are tucked under and secured. Or the ends can be knotted and left as loose, flowing fringe, which, as we know, has a tendency to make trouble.


Fringe twister to the rescue!

But there is a tool, one perfect tool, designed for this specific problem. The tool is simple in design, a perfect fit in the hand. It does its one job to perfection. It makes this maker’s life easier. The tool is a fringe twister, something I never knew existed until last year. It offers another option to hemming or to leaving the fringe as individual threads waiting to fray and tangle. I learned about the fringe twister (or twinge frister, as I’m apt to say) as a specialized tool for weavers but it might be useful to anyone who works with fibers and likes the idea of long, sexy, swaying fringe or who wants to create a custom cord for sewing or other crafting. The tool is so simple, such an elegant design. It consists of two (or more) alligator clips attached to a bar that rotates and moves the alligator clips. You clamp the clips onto two bunches of threads, keep tension on the twister tool, and wind clockwise.

Many thanks to my husband for being my hand model!

Many thanks to my husband for being my hand model!

Then, when they start to kink, the two bunches of tightly-wound threads are removed from the clips and you knot them together at the end.


It’s time to knot the two bunches together, close to the end

When you let go, the two will twist back around each other, counter- or anti-clockwise. This produces a lovely corded effect.


That’s more like it!

So, when I finish a scarf I put weight on the scarf so I can pull back against it. I decide (pretty arbitrarily) how many threads will be in each bundle and clamp two bundles into the clips. I’m careful because the grip on these little clips is very tight. (Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do). Then I wind and count. If I like the way it all looks twisted together after 20 clockwise wraps, I make sure I wind all my bundles that often as I work my way across the width of the scarf. I clamp and wind and twist and knot, and obsess about getting all the twists the same length. And then I enjoy the appearance of bouncy, sleek, controlled, corded fringe.


This is how the finished product looks

Is it possible to twist fringe without this tool? Of course it is. But when faced with holding one clump of threads in my left hand and one in my right and twisting them each clockwise at the same time, then transferring the two bundles to one hand to tie the knot . . . let’s just say I don’t want to live in a world without a twinge frister! What’s your equivalent tool to the fringe twister? Do you have a special paintbrush or pair of knitting needles? Is there a whisk that whips your egg whites to meringue like no other? Or is it an obscure gardening tool? What makes your making easier?

Made by Harriett

IMG_4551In one of my piles of vintage linens was this treasure—a tray cloth of fine white linen, embellished by hand with embroidery and fancywork. Very pretty, very delicate, probably made in the early part of the 20th century.

Lovely, but not so unusual, except . . .

IMG_4546It was made by Harriett.

Who was Harriett?

I so wish I could tell you she was my paternal great-grandmother or a maiden aunt who entered the convent after her heart was broken. But the truth is, I have no idea who Harriett was. I don’t know her. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t even remember where this cloth came from.

But I know there WAS a Harriett. She put her talent and skill into making something lasting, and knowing that this cloth was made by Harriett gives me a different sort of connection to this piece.

So many things I come across were made by hand—but whose hand? We can’t know. Those details are lost to time. Making was such an integral part of daily life, such a staple in what people did, that most things weren’t signed in any way. No note was attached to document the maker and connect her or him with that which was made.

And because we can’t put a name to the maker, we may fail to think about the person. We admire the tangible product in an abstract way but forget to think about the flesh and blood that created such beauty.

These were people so much like us, with the same urges to create, to brighten a room, to clothe a family, to leave something lovely in their wake.

With this piece of linen, we at least have a first name to remind us of a specific woman, Harriett. I can’t see her clearly; it’s as if she’s in one of those old tintypes photos that has become faded and cloudy. But she’s there. And she’s real.

Her name makes her real. I can imagine her looking forward to a quiet moment in her day, when the chores are done, to pick up her embroidery and sit by the window for the best light and put in a few tiny stitches. I can see the ghosts of her hands, her touch left in the work she did.

This tray cloth tells me that Harriett was a maker of a special order. Whatever else she could or couldn’t do, that woman could sew. The work on this cloth is done completely by hand—the embroidery, the cutwork, the hemstitching—but more on her work soon.

For now, let’s just think about Harriett.IMG_4545

Inaugural Show of the American Dishtowel Club: We Announce the Winner!

Welcome back to the American Dishtowel Club Show! We are so pleased to have you with us, as fans and judges, at this final meeting where we have the pleasure of announcing the winner of “Best of Show.”

But first, to recap the action:

In the tightly-contested showdown among the finalists for Best of Breed, we saw the winners of three categories go head to head.

The winner of the Non-Working/Non-Sporting Group was the Fringed Display Towel, noted for its sheer physical perfection and breeding.

The winner of the Sporting Group was the 1950s Towel, with its exuberant style and sociability.

The winner of the Working Group was the Flour Sack Towel, appreciated for its willingness to work hard while never losing its charm.

Although the judges felt all of the towels exemplified conformation standards for their class, they also argued that one dishtowel breed stood above others and deserved the title “Best of Show.”

And the winner of the Inaugural Show of the American Dishtowel Club is:

The Flour Sack Towel! Let’s give them a huge round of applause!

The Flour Sack Towel was recognized for its appeal to owners and the extent to which it satisfied many needs. For instance, one judge pointed out that the towels are “cute, serviceable, AND repurposed,” alluding to the fact that many of these towels were originally bred from large sacks that held flour or animal feed.

Another judge, with affection for all the breeds in the finals, ultimately cast her vote for the flour sack towel because she had “fallen in love with its unbelievable ability to soak up water and leave articles dry and sparkly.”

Similarly, another judge spoke of the ways the flour sack towel accomplished what other towels in the show did not, “they soak up water (just what towels are supposed to do!) and are adorable at the same time.” These judges value the ability of a towel to the job of a towel.

Evidence strongly suggests that the judges were impressed with the fact that these towels were both practical and handmade. As one judge stated succinctly, “they look most likely to be the love children of loving hands at home.” The folky embroidery featured on many of these towels was a deciding factor for some judges.

The Flour Sack Towels earn the honor of “Best of Show” for their practicality, their hard-working style, their homey charm, and their exuberant personalities, which reflect the interests and abilities of their owners.

We, the organizers of this gathering of exceptional dishtowels, thank the judges for their commitment to the process and to the selection of the best of the best.

All of the towels that participated are winners, providing evidence that there are no bad dishtowels and that dishtowels truly are a human’s best friend.

Dances of Delight

2007 sunsets-72I almost always have one song or another running through my head. Often it’s something silly and annoying, like Roger Miller’s “England Swings Like a Pendulum Do” or “Waltzing with Bears,” which was apparently written by Dr. Seuss. He should’ve known better.

But for the last few days, as spring has sprung in the North Country of upstate New York, the song in my head has been “When I’m Gone,” by folksinger Phil Ochs. Not a silly or annoying song at all, but one that sets forth a philosophy I wish I could live up to. (You can hear the song by going to the link. I admit I almost never click on links in blogs but I think you’ll really like the song!)

In the song, Ochs lists the things he won’t be able to do anymore “when I’m gone” and concludes, “So, I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.” He itemizes the things we take for granted and put off and say we want to do, but shy away from, and reminds us that our time here is not limitless.

I’ve always loved and been moved by this song but it’s in my head right now because the last few days have seemed so perfect to me. These days have made me think constantly of a phrase Ochs uses in the song–“dances of delight.”

I’ve been in the sunshine, raking last fall’s leftover leaves, and finding tender-green new growth beneath. I can recognize that these will be peonies and those will be heuchera, when they’ve had a few weeks to grow.

I’ve been on my knees weeding, feeling muscles glow and tell me that no, I did not stay fit over the winter, but I can be soon.

On my whim, I’ve moved from yard work to old linens, and spent time reclaiming them from years of neglect in storage, returning them to beauty, and finding new homes for them.

When the spirit moves, I’ve wandered to my weaving, to wind warp for a gift and to help my husband figure out a new-to-us loom where he’ll make something beautiful out of ordinary string.

I‘ve stopped by here and visited with you. I’ve shared a meal with dear friends. I’ve watched my cats nap in the sunshine and dive headfirst into piles of leaves, older cats made young again by springtime. I’ve heard geese honk on a lake of lapping water (not ice!), watched the weeping willows turn green-gold as they bud, and smelled the sun on pine needles.

These days are much of a muchness. Nothing wild or crazy or exotic or thrilling.

But, these are my dances of delight. Full of anticipation and promise, hard work, productive and varied, but unpressured and mellow.

I’m very aware that this won’t last forever. Things change. Complications arise. Nothing gold can stay. But, right now, it all seems so delightful.

I won’t be able to dance these delights when I’m gone, so I guess I better do it while I’m here. What delights are you dancing?

Phil Ochs, When I’m Gone, 1966 lyrics

There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singin’ on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t feel the flowing of the time when I’m gone
All the pleasures of love will not be mine when I’m gone
My pen won’t pour out a lyric line when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t breathe the bracing air when I’m gone
And I can’t even worry ’bout my cares when I’m gone
Won’t be asked to do my share when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t be running from the rain when I’m gone
And I can’t even suffer from the pain when I’m gone
Can’t say who’s to praise and who’s to blame when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

Won’t see the golden of the sun when I’m gone
And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I’m gone
Can’t be singing louder than the guns when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

All my days won’t be dances of delight when I’m gone
And the sands will be shifting from my sight when I’m gone
Can’t add my name into the fight while I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone
And I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone
Can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.