Advent, My Way #8

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The holiday season brings friendly gatherings. Friendly gatherings bring the need to feed people. Those people love snacks.

Snacks!

Sweet snacks are in abundance during the holidays but easy, tasty, savory snacks are more difficult, I think, especially snacks that can be made ahead and take absolutely no effort when guests arrive.

I used to just put out a bowl of mixed nuts.

Plain old mixed nuts . . . until I found this recipe, that is. This recipe takes nuts to a whole nother level, as we say at our house, a level that is exceptionally tasty, pretty addictive, not at all healthy, but totally worth the indulgence during this special season.

The recipe for Hot and Spicy Nuts comes from the good old Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. This series of Silver Palate cookbooks was all the rage in the 1980s, which you can see by the shoulder pads and that one hairdo on the cover!

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I’ve been making these spicy nuts for all those years and, even in the years when we do the absolute least for Christmas, I take the (minimal) time to make these.

Here’s the basic recipe, as it came out of the cookbook. I’ll follow with some comments.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon celery salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1½ cups mixed unsalted roasted nuts
  • 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 325°F.
  • Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over low heat.
  • Add the remaining ingredients except the nuts and coarse salt.
  • Simmer over low heat for several minutes to combine flavors.
  • Add the nuts and stir until evenly coated. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally.
  • Toss the nuts with the coarse salt and let cool. Store in an airtight container.

My Notes:

  • I’ve never used celery salt. I didn’t the first time and didn’t miss it so I’ve never used it.
  • Use the nuts you like. I use unsalted cashews, pecans, and peanuts that I get in the bulk section of the grocery store. I also use sesame sticks and love them!
  • Don’t bother making a single batch. Trust me and do at least double the amount.
  • The kosher salt gets added at the end. I let the nuts cool for a few minutes then put the salt into a big paper bag, add the nuts, and shake it all up.
  • Be careful about the amount of salt!! The recipe calls for a tablespoon but, even though I LOVE salt and often go looking for it, that is too much. For a doubled recipe, I use only 1.5 teaspoons.
  • Make sure the nuts have completely cooled before you sample them and judge. They need to cool to be crispy and crunchy.

Make them today, to be sure you like them. Serve them when you put up your Christmas decorations. Serve them when you take the decorations down.

Serve them when carolers come over, at the Christmas Eve soiree, and let people snack before Christmas dinner.

Serve them for every college bowl game.

Serve them on Boxing Day, just because.

They are perfect for New Year’s Eve and super-perfect for your Super Bowl football party!

I already made a bunch of these . . . and they are gone. That is unacceptable so I’ll be making more soon. Will you join me?

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Advent, My Way

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December is here, and for many people, that means one thing—Christmas.

Christmas is a complicated holiday for me.

It means little.

It means a lot.

Three sources conspire to create my mixed feelings.

First of all, I consider myself a “cultural Christian.” I’m a non-believer but I grew up in a very religious, Evangelical Protestant home, full of Christmas pageants and soaring hymns. I don’t believe in the stories but they hit me, at Christmas, on a very nostalgic, sentimental level.

Second, I am not a shopper and that means a lot of the focus of preparing for Christmas is lost on me. All my close family is the same—we don’t enjoy shopping and we buy what want we want or need when we need it. It has been years and years since we went the route of piles of Christmas presents.

Third, I live far from those close family members. The people I would want to celebrate this holiday with, who understand the holiday the way I do, all live far enough away that hours of driving and/or flying time would be involved. And no one wants to travel at Christmas.

For most of the year and most of the month of December, I’m fine with all of this. I’m all aloof and logical.

The month goes by and I don’t shop and don’t think much about decorating. I tell myself no one is going to see it but us and decorating is a lot of trouble, just to take it down again in January. We buy a wreath or two, do minimal fuss, and move on.

I don’t do special baking, although I like to bake, because we always have tons of chocolate around the house and we have friends who love to bake, and give, Christmas goodies. And if I bake cookies, we’ll just eat them!

I don’t shop because we’ve all agreed not to. Obligatory Christmas spending seems silly.

See? All aloof and logical.

But then Christmas Day comes, and I feel let down.

I tell myself it’s just another day

And yet . . . it feels like it should feel special.

I always reach Christmas Day wishing I had done a little more. Not more shopping or baking, but more to get in the mood, to remember my roots, to honor tradition, to make the end of the year feel warm and cozy and satisfying, even if the religious aspect isn’t meaningful to me.

So, this year I’m going to try to do that and focus on the advent, not of a religious event, but of a time of year that has had, and still does have, significance in my life.

I’ll be doing posts that encourage me to “think Christmas” and enjoy the mood and small projects and meaningful memories of the season.

To start this, I want to remind myself, and you, of a post I did a couple years ago. One thing we do find time for every year is the making of pomanders. To be honest, this is almost entirely my husband’s project but it is one that I love the best.

Pomanders are made with big, lovely oranges and whole cloves. The minimal time invested will provide weeks of incredible, powerful fragrance that seems the essence of the season. This is the perfect time of year to make pomanders, before all the other preparations get too overwhelming. Believe me, the pomanders will last, until Christmas and beyond!

You can find the full instructions here. We can make these together!

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By the wonders of polygenesis, my blog friend Kathy is doing a similar blog project this month. She’s taking a more spiritual approach—you can find her here.

Let Us Now Praise Newbies

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“Hi! I was just gifted a loom—I’m so excited to be a weaver! So . . . can someone explain how to weave?”

I am a member of several Facebook groups for weavers, where we go to ask questions and share our work. I have to admit when I see questions like the one above, from rank beginners, my first reaction is to roll my eyes and think, “Oh for heaven’s sake—go read a book! Take a class!”

Then I take a deep breath and remind myself how much newbies, newcomers to any craft or skill, bring to the rest of us.

I have been a complete novice myself recently, in the craft of weaving, and I am still struggling to learn a tiny fraction of what there is to know. My weekly sewing group includes a number of newbies—new to sewing, new to quilting.

Newbies have always been with us but, in days gone by, maybe they weren’t so obvious. A lot of us learned some basic skills in relative private, from others in our circle, by watching and emulating or by taking an organized class or reading. Those were the only options we had.

But now the Internet gives newbies easy access to knowledgeable and helpful people so their questions are public and their lack of knowledge and understanding are on view to us all.

And, though I will always think some newbies are being presumptuous in asking others to explain a difficult process in the space of a Facebook post, I really believe that these newbies are enhancing the craft world.

Are you a newbie at something, thinking about picking up knitting needles or sitting down to a sewing machine for the first time? Trying to learn a new set of skills, like hooking a rug or soldering silver? Surrounded, it seems, by people who already know the ins and outs, know the vocabulary, seem comfortable and calm in the realm where you feel edgy and inadequate?

I want to tell you how valuable you are!

  1. You are a source of amusement

Yes, it probably sounds harsh but let’s get it out of the way first—I am amused every day by a dilemma posed by a newbie. I laugh at the stories they tell about themselves and their confusion. They use the vocabulary wrong and make mistakes of the most basic kind. I am laughing with them, not at them—I see myself in their blunders.

  1. You remind us of the enthusiasm and joy of starting

The excitement newbies feel is energizing. This one just got her first loom, that one bought fabric for her first quilt. They have not yet felt the slings and arrows of outrageous craft fails. They are intoxicated with possibilities—and help me remember that feeling.

  1. You give us a chance to teach and feel smart

With novices, it always seems that, no matter how little I know, there’s someone who knows less. That gives me the heady feeling of having something I can share and teach.

  1. You allow us to feel competent and remind us how far we’ve come

There’s nothing like a newbie to remind you how much progress you’ve made, that you’re learning and growing. When I read the questions asked by newbies, I am pleasantly surprised when I know the answers to questions that would’ve been mysteries a few months ago. I feel competent and motivated to keep learning.

  1. You ask the questions we may not be comfortable asking.

I am one of those people who loathes looking foolish or incompetent. I hate to ask questions, to expose my ignorance. Newbies ask questions with abandon and I sit and listen carefully to the answer . . . and learn.

So, newbies, I say to you—keep starting new things.

Keep dreaming of being good at something that you have never tried.

Keep asking every question that pops into your mind!

Recognize the limitations of learning complex skills from Facebook posts or from one helpful friend and take advantage of all the resources available to you.

But don’t hesitate to start because the people around you seem so sure of themselves and the skills so daunting.

You are enriching the conversation by starting a new craft; you are bringing so much to the discussion.

My Pincushion Morning

I love a big, hefty project, one that takes a long time, sucks me into the process, and about which I can feel hugely satisfied when I’m done.

But sometimes, a girl just needs to start and finish something in a day. Sometimes, we all need a fun, small, manageable, creative endeavor that doesn’t involve a years-long commitment, like a yoyo quilt or a weaving project with a 6-yard warp. (Weavers—don’t laugh! Six yards is long for me!)

I made just such a project lately and it made me inordinately happy.

First, I received in the mail, late last year, a small wooden circle loom, from the kind blogger at Twill Textile Design. I spent some happy time making a small woven piece on it, using the yarn she sent and some of my own.

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I love this little cutie but it drove me crazy that I didn’t know what to DO with it! I’m a practical gal and want my crafts to be useful.

Then I was trolling around on Pinterest and I saw the idea for making a pincushion out of an old cup.

I like pincushions.

I have lots of old cups.

Cups are round at the top and about 3-4 inches in diameter.

My woven circle was 3.5 inches in diameter . . .

Hey ho!

I went online and ordered the stuff of which pincushions are made—I ordered both emery sand, the stuff that goes into the little strawberries attached to traditional pincushions, and ground walnut shells, an alternative to emery sand. Both are abrasive and meant to keep needles and pins sharp and free of rust.

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And, for one happy, (mostly) carefree morning last week, I sewed and glued and fussed and fumed until my pincushion was finished.

I chose a vintage mug made by FireKing of so-called Jadeite. My mother had one of these when I was a kid so it has nostalgic value. (I have to admit I just researched, belatedly, and learned I could probably have sold this single cup for $25-$30 . . . oh, well!)

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I like the mid-century aesthetic and sturdiness of this cup and there’s one stripe of green in my woven piece that sort of matches the green in the cup.

To make the pincushion, all I did was dig out some scraps of quilt batting I had on hand, to fill the bulk of the cup. The emery sand and walnut shells would become expensive if I was filling the whole cup with them!

I cut two circles of finely-woven muslin about a half-inch larger than my weaving. I sewed them together and left a small opening, and used my teeny funnel to fill the little bag with ground walnut shells. I tried to fill it really full. Then I finished sewing up the opening.

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I hand sewed my weaving on top of the bag of walnut shells.

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I fussed around to figure out how much batting I needed to fill the cup and, when I had it right, I used the handle of a spoon to help me tuck the weaving and pincushion bag into the cup.

Then came the part I liked least—the glue gun! I am not proficient with glue guns, though I did find one that worked here in my house. I tried to be careful but still managed to get glue on the cup, on the weaving, on the counter, on my hands. It doesn’t show up too much in any of those places . . .

The finished pincushion! Super cute, huh?

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When I got done with that part, I still had my mojo working so I dissected a tea bag and used it as a template to make my own little muslin tea bag, to fill with emery sand. Since emery sand is the traditional filler for pincushions, I wanted to have at least a little of that available for use.

The sewing on the tea bag does not represent my finest crafting hour, it’s true. I was getting impatient to finish and didn’t think things completely through. But the thing was finished in one morning, and, frankly, I quite love it!

I learned a lot so, if I ever decide to do this again, I can make changes.

  • I would try one using a cup with a saucer; I could glue the two together and give myself a little saucer/tray to hold my spool of thread, etc.
  • I would dig through my damaged vintage linens to find alternatives to the woven circle. I am always trying to find ways to use vintage bits of embroidery or crochet and it would be fun to match such things with cups from different eras.
  • I would look for braid or trim or something to add to the place where the pincushion meets the cup, to hide the glue more effectively.
  • I would not leave a spool of 100 yards of tatting thread lying around, as temptation to the kitten from Hades.

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I am pretty pumped to add pincushion maker to my list of crafty skills! Is there an easy, one-day project you’ve turned to, when the big projects get overwhelming?

English Toffee: For Yanic and You

english toffee-5A little while ago, I posted a photo of English toffee I make and sometimes sell.

Some of you reported drooling and wanting to lick your computer screen. One blog pal, Yanic, did the more rational thing:


Yanic: Would you share your English Toffee recipe? It looks amazing.

Kerry: I’d be happy to share my toffee recipe but it’s really the same as every recipe you’d find on allrecipes.com–except instead of using chocolate chips, I temper real chocolate and put it on both side of the toffee. The only ingredients in the toffee itself are sugar, butter, water and vanilla. The only other thing you need is a reliable candy thermometer. Let me know if you want the specifics from the recipe I use.

Yanic: I would love your recipe… since I’ve never made any, even if it’s a classic, I’d rather have a recipe from someone I know. 🙂 Thank you!


So, Yanic (and all lovers of English toffee), this blog’s for you.

First, because I know you have children you love, Yanic, you absolutely must do one of two things if you’re going to make toffee. EITHER make it while they are out of the house or napping OR tell them firmly to put their bottoms in the kitchen chairs and not move until you tell them it’s safe, until the hot syrup is cooked and spread and cool.

I mean it, Yanic—scare them a little because nothing will burn them worse than 300 degree syrup that sticks to the skin.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, collect your many exotic ingredients. That would be sugar, butter, salt, water, and vanilla extract, and whatever you will use for chocolate coating. Candy coating or “melts” are easy but not really chocolate at all. Chocolate chips would be preferable, in my book. Or, if you know how to temper chocolate, use the real thing!

The most exotic necessity for making toffee is the candy thermometer! Be sure you have one!

Here is the recipe I use, which comes from the book that taught me all I know about candymaking, Chocolate and Confections at Home, by Peter P. Greweling.

English Toffee

  • Servings: about 1 pound 14 ounces
  • Print

8 oz. (1 cup) sugar

8 oz. (16 tablespoons; 2 sticks) butter, melted

2 oz. (1/4 cup) water

½ teaspoon salt

½ oz. (1 tablespoon) vanilla

12 oz. (1 ¼ cups) tempered dark chocolate OR dark compound coating, melted

6 oz. (1 1/2 cups) chopped toasted pecans or almonds

  1. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the sugar, melted butter, water, salt, and vanilla extract in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, over medium high heat, and stir constantly with a heat-resistant silicone or rubber spatula.
  3. Place your candy thermometer and continue stirring until mixture reaches 300 degrees F. For me, on my stove, this takes about 18 minutes from start to readiness.
  4. Pour (carefully, Yanic!) onto the prepared pan and spread quickly to the edges of the pan with an offset knife—be very careful not to get the syrup on your hands! Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do.
  5. If you are using chocolate chips: wait until the toffee has cooled just a bit and sprinkle the top liberally with the chips. Wait a moment or two and the chips will get melty. Use an offset knife to spread the melty-ness and then promptly sprinkle with the nuts you choose. You can really only coat one side of the toffee with the chocolate chips so you should keep it in a tightly sealed container—the uncoated side will be susceptible to humidity.
  6. If you are using candy melts or tempered chocolate, wait until the toffee is completely cooled. If there is oil on the surface of the cooled toffee, wipe it off with a dry paper towel. With your melted coating or tempered chocolate, cover one side and quickly sprinkle with nuts. Give it a few minutes to set, then flip the whole thing over, using a cutting board or another baking sheet. Coat the second side and sprinkle with nuts. Because this approach coats the toffee on both sides, it will probably hold up longer than toffee coated on one side only.

The toffee can be broken with your hands or with the point of a chef’s knife. All those little pieces that split off are super-good over ice cream or mixed into chocolate chip-style cookies!!


And there you have it! The recipe, with both sides chocolate-coated, makes almost two pounds of toffee. I stack pieces in cellophane bags and add a ribbon and . . . no one ever turns it down!

If you make it, let me know!

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Quilting On A Firm Foundation

Have you been intrigued by quilting but you’re not sure where to start?

A little intimidated by yards of fabric and the idea of cutting it up, just to sew the pieces back together again?

Overwhelmed by the idea of sewing all those straight lines straight and getting all the corners and sections to match up?

I recently took a workshop that I wish I had taken years ago, as a beginning quilter. The workshop was in what’s called “foundation” or “paper” piecing and, while experienced quilters often use this technique to tackle very difficult piecing of very tiny quilt pieces, it seems to me a fine way for non-quilters to dip a toe in the water and find early success.

I think, if you are at all interested in learning to quilt, this might be the route for you!

I am not going to teach you how to do it—I hardly know myself! I only want to tell you about the approach so you can consider whether it might be something to explore, whether at a local workshop or through online videos on YouTube or Craftsy.

Basic idea behind paper piecing:

You start with some sort of foundation that has the design marked on it; the foundation can be as simple as plain white paper or as fancy as specially made and expensive transfer paper.

To this foundation, the quilter stitches pieces of fabric, in a particular order, by sewing on the marked lines. Along the way, pieces of the fabric are also being stitched together, not just to the paper. Because everything is done on a marked pattern, everything goes together in a specific and controlled way. The foundation adds body and substance to the fabric.

When the design is finished, the foundation can be removed or, in some cases, might just be left as a component of the finished project. The paper ends up on the back so it doesn’t show.

So, this sounds complicated—what’s the point?

For me, one of the most frustrating, daunting, and difficult aspects of making a pieced quilt is cutting all those pieces. Yards of fabric flop around and I need hundreds of inch-size pieces from it.

Even with the use of a rotary cutter and good rulers, my pieces seem to end up a little out of square, a little small, a little large. The mistakes might be tiny in each piece but, as I try to sew them all together, the mistakes are magnified and my blocks end up wacky.

I try so hard and still make mistakes (could it be my astigmatism?)—this just sucks the fun out of starting a new project.

Paper piecing solves that.

When prepping for paper piecing, you might cut your fabric into manageable pieces but those cuts are rough cuts and precision isn’t the issue. You cut more precisely after the stitching has been done and the cut edges of the fabric have nothing to do with the stitching. With paper piecing, you aren’t ever going to have to cut your fabric into tiny, fussy triangles that have to be exactly, precisely right in order for the finished product to work.

Let me say that again: With paper piecing, you aren’t ever going to have to cut your fabric into tiny, fussy triangles that have to be exactly, precisely right in order for the finished product to work.

YAY!

Another aspect of piecing that I have struggled with since day one of quilting is getting corners and points to match up. Look at a pattern like this one and consider all the corners and points and seam lines that need to be aligned.

This was the Santa sampler* we made in the workshop. This is the instructor’s finished piece:

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made by Jean Welch

And here are some of the happy Santas we made:

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SO many corners and points and tiny stitches!

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Unmatched corners and points were the bane of my quilting existence. Much of the reason I’ve done so much piecing by hand is that I couldn’t get corners and points even close on a sewing machine—pinning the fabric together made things shift and everything was just a mess. Sewing by hand let me handle the joins with more finesse but, needless to say, it slowed me down!

So discouraging. I began to just tell myself that imperfection was okay and that nobody noticed the mismatched points.

But with what I’ve seen so far, paper piecing means that precision is easy. You can use very few pins, if any. Since you are stitching on lines, if you follow the lines, you’ll get the predicted outcome. Very precise, very satisfying!

Paper piecing has made me pretty happy so far because it eliminates two of the big problems that took the fun out of quilting—cutting fabric precisely and stitching pieces together precisely.

Isn’t it ironic that, by looking for a technique that allows me to avoid precision, I actually end up with a much more precise product?!

This is not to say that paper piecing is all lollipops and rainbows and sweet songs of liberty—I think it has some drawbacks, too, and for me, it’ll be a question of whether the benefits outweigh the costs as I explore the technique more.

One of the drawbacks is that the technique really does take some time to get your head around. It is different from every sort of straightforward sewing you’ve ever done. I can’t imagine learning it from a book. It’s not that it’s difficult but it can be confusing.

In the workshop I took, the participants were valiant and focused, the teacher was well-prepared and patient, and . . . we struggled. It’s just a confusing technique to get a handle on so if you decide to try a) find a class (and there seem to be excellent ones available on the internet, if you can’t find one where you live) and b) don’t beat yourself up if this doesn’t come to you right away!

Two other issues to be considered: so far, paper piecing seems to waste fabric. I am told by my teacher that, in the long run, once a person gets more proficient, the opposite can be true, and you’re able to use up very small scraps of fabric. I hope so.

Also, in most cases the foundation, which was so helpful along the way, needs to be removed . . . I took the paper off the back of my Santas last week. The sewing stitches create a perforated line that makes removal pretty easy but it can still take a lot of time and you end up under a mountain of paper scraps.

For me, another issue that may play a role in whether I continue is that paper piecing is tied to a sewing machine. I like sewing by hand and am most likely to work on quilting in the evening, in an easy chair, with a cat on my lap . . . but I can’t really imagine sewing through paper by hand. Having said that, I CAN remove the scraps of paper in an easy chair and the cat in my lap thinks that’s great fun!

I am going to stick with paper piecing for a while. The red and white block I played with is done with this technique; my guild is having a challenge this year to make a red and white quilt so I’m thinking a lot of these stars would be pretty cool . . .

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Love the colors . . . but I still have one imperfect point!

As I look for more information on the technique, it is evident that paper piecing should never get boring—as the quilter grows in confidence and expertise, the paper piecing patterns get more intricate and the pieces of fabrics get tinier . . .

I’d love to hear about the experiences of other quilters on this topic. Are there benefits or drawbacks of the technique that I haven’t learned so far? And, if you aren’t a quilter yet, can you imagine trying this approach?


  • The Santa quilt pattern came from Favorite Foundation-Pieced Minis by the Editors of Miniature Quilt magazine

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?