Pillowcases for Kids in the Hospital

I’m going to do something I’ve never done before and that is ask readers of this blog to contribute money to a project.  The TL:DR is my mother, friends, and I have been sewing pillowcases for kids in the hospital.  We’re looking for help covering the costs of materials and shipping.  Our goal is 600 pillowcases this year.  If you’d like to contribute, follow this link to our PayPal Money Pool.  Keep reading for the full story!  Thank you for any help you are able to provide.

 

Fabric that needs to be ironed and cut to size for pillowcases.

In March 2017, I took a class at the Florida Tropical Weavers Conference.  We wove fabric using rags and then sewed the fabric into cute purses.  I always knew that I was going to need to improve my sewing skills if I was going to weave my own fabric, but I didn’t have a specific plan for when I was going to do that.  After taking the class at Conference, I decided the time was now.

I took three classes at The Sewing Studio, an independent fabric shop located about 10 miles from my house.  Each class was once a week for four weeks.  In the first class, we sewed pajama pants.  In the second we sewed a tunic and in the third we sewed a dress.

 

After the fabric is cut, we make it up into kits. Each kit includes the main fabric, a contrasting trim, and a contrasting cuff. The sewists take a kit out of this box and start sewing.

About the time that I was starting the second class, my mother told me about the pillowcase project.  My cousin is a nurse on a pediatric oncology unit at Hartford (Connecticut) Children’s hospital.  Someone gave them a few handmade pillowcases to give to the kids.   The nurses gave them out on special occasions or if a kid had a particularly rough day.  They didn’t have many pillowcases, so they were careful about giving them out.  My aunt and mother had sewn a few pillowcases.  My mother wondered if I’d like to make some also, as a way of improving my confidence in basic sewing skills.  I said sure.

 

This me, sewing a pillowcase on the used sewing machine I found for less than half the usual retail price!

Of course it snowballed from there.  My friend Shellee wanted to learn to sew, so we taught her the very basics with pillowcases.  Shellee is a lot like me — if she’s going to get into something, she’s jumping in with both feet.  Before you knew it, my mother, Shellee, and I had acquired far more fabric than we could sew through ourselves and we started recruiting other people to help.

 

Shellee and I ironing and cutting fabric.

We’ve held a couple of sewing days for the pillowcases.  At first it was just Shellee, my mom, and me but in November we recruited as many people as we could in order to sew pillowcases for December holidays.

My mother’s neighbor Bonnie doesn’t sew, so she did a lot of the ironing. My mother and Shellee are in the background, measuring and ironing.

 

My mother’s friend Maria Elena does not know how to sew, so she helped with ironing.

 

In this picture, Fredi is preparing one of the kits for sewing. She is also a talented sewist and we were excited to have her helping!

 

Cris’s machine gave her some fits, but she got them worked out and sewed the rest of the day.

 

Shauna has been sewing a long time. Before she moved to Florida, she volunteered significant time with Girl Scouts of America. She was looking for a new volunteer opportunity here in Florida and was excited to sew pillowcases with us.

 

My parents’ dog Kallie supervising the sewing.

Stories from the Hospital

I wish I could share pictures of kids with their pillowcases, but I can’t due to HIPPA and general privacy.  I do have stories, though!

 

Two nurses holding up holiday pillowcases we sent to the hospital.

Avery tells us that one of the reasons they like to give pillowcases to the kids is because it is the first indication to the patient that their hospital room can be personalized.  Patients tend to assume that sterile = impersonal.  This doesn’t have to be the case.  The staff encourages the patients to bring in things from home, to provide familiarity and comfort while they are in the hospital.  When they receive a colorful, non-institutional pillowcase, it offers a concrete proof that the staff really means it when they say, “Make yourself at home.”

Some patients come in and out of the hospital.  Sometimes the patient comes in for regularly scheduled treatments.  They might stay in the hospital for a week every month or for a couple of days a week while receiving chemo or radiation.  Sometimes the patient comes in on an irregular schedule as symptoms wax and wane.  One boy received a pillowcase on a visit several months ago.  Every time he comes into the hospital again, he brings his pillowcase with him.  He can’t fall asleep without it, even at home.

Just before Christmas, another boy came into the hospital.  He loves Christmas and was going to be in the hospital over the holiday, so his family decorated his entire room for Christmas.  They were so excited when Avery brought him one of the Christmas-themed pillowcases as a finishing touch on the room.  His mother was so touched when she found out they were handmade.  She took a picture of her son sleeping on the pillowcase and had Avery sent it to us so we would know how much it meant to them.

While most of our pillowcases stay on the floor where Avery works, sometimes they make their way to other floors.  When we sent 8 or 9 pillowcases made from “Happy Birthday” fabric, the woman in charge of special events for patients commandeered them all so she could distribute them throughout the hospital to kids who had to spend their birthday as an inpatient.

About the Budget

When you click through to our PayPal Money Pool, you will see that our goal is $6,000.  I thought I’d break that down for you a little.

The primary cost is for fabric.  Each pillowcase takes about a yard of fabric.  We use three different fabrics — one for the body, one for trim, and one for the cuff.  The total body is about 3/4 of a yard, the trim is about 3” long and the cuff is 10” long.  We use quilting cotton to make them and are using nearly the entire width of the fabric.  We tend to cut out pieces first for the body, then for the cuff, then for the trim so we can maximize our use of the fabric and have very little waste.

At regular price, quilting cotton costs $4 – $12 / yard.  The lower cost fabrics are definitely lower quality.  We found that they are often skewed to an extent that it is difficult to make a pillowcase with them.  In addition, they tend to have smaller all over patterns and don’t necessarily have the visual impact we like.  The high end of the range is either a better quality fabric or one that has licensed characters on it.

So far, we have mostly purchased mid- or high-price range quilting cottons when they are on sale and, hopefully, in combination with a coupon.  As a result, we have kept our average fabric cost at about $6 / yard.  We usually make pillowcases using either licensed characters or holiday themes.  The pictures in this post are all Christmas and Hanukkah.  We also made pillowcases for the 4th of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving.

The other costs are thread, which runs about $5 / spool for the sewing machine thread and $9 / cone for the serger thread.  In September and October, we went through several spools of black sewing machine thread!  We usually have one serger threaded in black and another threaded in white.   We use whichever looks best with a particular fabric and don’t try to have multiple colors to precisely match fabrics.  For the winter holidays, we had one serger in red, one in green, and one in white.  Since there is so much thread on serger cones, we haven’t gone through a complete set yet.  We also try to buy thread on sale and with coupons, and are usually able to get it at half price.

The remaining two costs are shipping, which runs about $0.50 / pillowcase, and sewing machine maintenance.  We haven’t had to do maintenance on our machines yet, but with as much as we plan to sew this year, we will probably need to do maintenance on at least three sewing machines and three sergers this year.  Maintenance is $50 – $100 / machine, depending on the machine.

In 2017, we sewed approximately 250 pillowcases.  As quickly as we sent them, they were distributed!  We could not keep up with the demand.  Our goal for 2018 is 600 pillowcases.  Our $6,000 goal gives us a budget of $10 / pillowcase.  This gives us a slightly more generous fabric budget than we’ve been spending, maybe $8 / yard, so we can use higher quality fabric and more of the licensed fabrics, both of which are less likely to be on sale.

About PayPal Money Pool

When we first decided that we wanted to do some fundraising so we could expand the number of pillowcases we were making, we researched all the popular options, like GoFundMe and Kickstarter.  We discovered just how much you pay in fees on these sites.  They all take 4.9% for them plus an additional 2.9% for credit card fees.  Some of these services also charge $0.30 / transaction, on top of the percentages.  Losing 8% of donations to fees seemed excessive.  We hesitated on starting the fundraiser while we looked at different options.

Then I found PayPal Money Pool.  This service creates a separate pool of money in my PayPal account.  In order to reimburse someone who purchased fabric for this project, I have to transfer the money from the Money Pool into my regular PayPal Account, then pay it out to the person.  This extra transfer step is always required before using Money Pool money.  Best of all, PayPal charges NO FEES for the Money Pool.  Every penny donated through our Money Pool will be used to make and ship the pillowcases.

Just like GoFundMe and Kickstarter, I get a list of the people who contribute to the pool and their contact information.  The landing page of the Money Pool will show a list of contributions — you can choose to be anonymous if you don’t want everyone to see your name — and will keep track of how close we are to making our goal.

Project Updates

Services like GoFundMe and Kickstarter provide built in means of providing updates to contributors.  I’m not sure yet if Money Pool provides a similar service.  If it does not, I will be creating a e-mail list so I can give you a running tally of the number of pillowcases we sew and a breakdown of how we spend the donations.  I will also write additional blog posts throughout the year.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn to help.  If you haven’t done so yet, click through to our Money Pool and donate.  Every little bit helps and every little bit will be used for the project.

Since many of you are crafty people, I suspect some of you may want to donate fabric or make pillowcases yourself.  If that describes you, please see the Contact Us page and use one of the contact methods there to request additional information.

Thank you!!

Emergency Knitting, Again

Over the last several years, I’ve spent a lot of time doing emergency knitting.  I’ve knit at the vet while one cat or another was having an emergency exam or procedure.  I’ve knit in hospital rooms, while visiting with a friend or family member.  I’ve knit at home or in the homes of family members, while keeping a quiet vigil during a loved ones’ last days.

Managing during difficult situations is one of the oft-cited benefits of knitting.  Knitting is the perfect thing to keep your hands and, depending on the project and what you need, your mind occupied.  The repetitive motion of the needles is soothing and the quiet click the needles make as they slide past each other is a white noise.  You feel like you are doing something, which helps stave off the desperate realization that sometimes there is nothing that you can do.  Knitting takes off just a little bit of that edge and allows you to be more present in whatever challenging circumstance you face.

Yesterday, I found myself picking out emergency knitting projects.  We got the call that we knew would come sometime in the not too distant future.  My mother-in-law passed away.  We were able to find a flight for late in the day and we flew up to New Jersey.  We don’t know yet how long we’ll be here.

This is a little bit different than the other times I’ve picked out emergency knitting projects.  I had a little time to contemplate which projects to bring — I didn’t have to just grab whatever WIP I could find on short notice.  I don’t know how long I’ll be here, so I don’t know how much time I will need to fill with knitting.  I expect that most of the knitting I get done, will probably be done in the evening or other down times, as a way to relax.  I won’t be knitting while exhausted or knitting in dark spaces, so I could bring more complicated knitting rather than a plain stockinette project.

All of this added up to lace.  It takes a while and is perfect for occupying the mind when you need a distraction.  Plus, I have several lace WIPs in varying degrees of difficulty, so I can make progress on reducing my pile of WIPs and account for different levels of concentration.  I ended up bringing 3 projects, all of them lace shawl WIPs.

Begonia Swirl

The first project I packed for this trip is Begonia Swirl.  If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve knit this before.  A friend of mine borrowed it and accidentally felted it.  A few months later, I bought the yarn to reknit it.  I’m not sure exactly when I cast on, but according to my January 15, 2016  blog post, it was months before that.  I’ve done significant knitting on it since then, but it has been months since I picked it up.  Here’s how it looks right now.

This project was a good choice under the circumstances.  It’s a straightforward pattern, mostly stockinette.  I do have to count stitches as I knit, since I did not put in stitch markers to separate sections, but if I mess up it is easy to figure out where I am.

Morrigan

This shawl is one that I have never blogged about and I never created a Ravelry project for it.  I cast it on in August 2015, knit about half of it and haven’t looked at it since.  The pattern is Morrigan by Beata Jezek (Ravelry link) and I’m knitting it with Nerd Girl Yarns Stellar, a laceweight yarn that is 75% Merino, 20% Silk, and 5% silver-toned Stellina, in the Colorway Merlin.  I picked the pattern because Morrigan and Merlin are both part of the King Arthur mythology.  It’s not a difficult lace pattern, but of the projects I brought with me, this is the one that requires the most focus to knit because it is not a primarily stockinette pattern.

 

Linea

The final project is a shawl I started in mid-2107 and I have neither written a blog post about it nor added it to my Ravelry projects.  This one is Linea by LaVisch Designs (Ravelry link).  I am knitting it with Baah La Jolla (100% Superwash Merino) in Brazilian Emerald.

I sometimes test knit for LaVisch Designs and she earburns me to her Ravelry group whenever she has a new test knit available.  This pattern is not one that I test knit; I bought the pattern after it was released.

Linea is a pretty basic knit and certainly the easiest of any of the projects I brought with me.  One of my goals for 2017 was to knit some larger shawls.  Linea is written for one skein of fingeringweight yarn, but I plan to use two skeins.  I will increase the number of repeats of the body pattern until I think I have just enough to do the large border and bind off.  I’m currently 3/4 of the way through the first skein.

Problem Solving

In October 2016, I went to the Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival (SAFF) with several friends.  A subset of those who went are members of the monthly spinning group I attend.  We found a good deal on an unfinished Kromski Fantasia and split the cost so that we could have a spinning wheel to use for teaching people to spin when they stop by our group or for members of our group to borrow to learn to wheel spin.  I brought the wheel home to finish it.

I decided to finish the wheel with Danish Oil.  I also decided to apply Danish Oil to my 15″ Schacht Cricket Rigid Heddle Loom.  I started working on both in December 2016.  I applied clear Danish oil to the wheel and dark walnut to the loom.  I applied three coats, waiting at least 24 hours between coats and making sure that they were dry to the touch before applying the next coat.  I was trying to finish them before Orlando Distaff Day 2017, which was on the first Saturday of 2017.  I signed up to do a wheel assembly demo and planned to bring all the parts of the Fantasia with me and assemble it at the event.

Early on the Friday morning before Distaff Day, I applied the fourth and final coat of Danish Oil.  That Friday night and into Saturday morning it POURED.  We’d had no rain for weeks and it felt like the sky had saved all the rain we should have gotten and dumped it all at once.  The pieces of the loom and wheel were on the workbench out in the garage, which is where I’d been working on this project.  The garage is not climate control.  When I got up on Saturday morning, the loom and wheel were both tacky to the touch.  In fact, they were tackier than they had been when I applied the fourth coat on Friday morning.  Obviously, there was no way I could bring them to Distaff Day!

I left the loom and wheel on the workbench for 3 or 4 weeks.  They were still tacky.  I brought them into the house, and laid them out around the house on any spare flat surface.  I figured they would dry better in the climate-controlled house.  Every month or so, I checked the pieces and they were still tacky, though it did seem as though they were slowly improving.

In the spring and summer of 2017, I took some woodworking classes, including one on finishing wood projects.  I asked the teachers about my problem.  They shook their heads.  In all likelihood, the reason for this problem was that the earlier coats weren’t cured as well as I thought they were.  I could continue to let the pieces to sit.  I could try to wipe them down with mineral spirits, which is the solvent for Danish Oil.

 

Since the fall of 2017 was so crazy here — Hurricane Irma left us with no power and no water / water restrictions for a week, my mother-in-law’s health declining, my husband getting laid off — I did not think about the loom and wheel pieces at all.  When I checked them in late December, for the first time in months, I discovered that they were slightly sticky, but not so much so that you could see my fingerprint on the surface.  I decided to try wiping them down with mineral spirits to see what happened.  I did just the pieces of the stand for the rigid heddle loom.  I figured that was the easiest thing to replace if the mineral spirits ruined the pieces rather than improving them.  I wiped the pieces down three times, letting the pieces dry in between.  Then I had something else to do and forgot about them.

When we came home from our Christmas in New Jersey, my husband finished the project he’d left on the workbench when he unexpectedly left 3 weeks earlier.  Then he asked me what projects I have to do.  Due to the high humidity of our summers, woodworking is a winter task here and he knew that I’d been saving up some projects, waiting for the weather to co-operate.  I checked the three pieces of the loom stand and found that they were no longer sticky.  The mineral spirits worked!  For the past two days, I’ve been working on the remaining loom pieces and the wheel pieces.

This morning, I wiped down the pieces with mineral spirits for the fourth time.  The repeated coats of mineral spirits seem to be doing their work!  It’s been humid the last two days and I think that this has caused more of the oil to come to the surface.  Despite this, the pieces are clearly improving and becoming less sticky overall.  For some of the pieces, this fourth coat should be the last coat I need to apply.  I will need to flip a couple of the pieces over so I can do the back.  My previous despair and fear that I’d ruined two expensive pieces of equipment have given way to hope.  I think this is going to work!

Scouring Fleece

Last week, I posted about inventorying my stash.  The post included two pictures showing all the raw fleece I have in my office.  In case you missed it, here’s those two pictures again.  The main pile, with all the full fleeces, has taken over one of my four-harness floor looms.

 

This bin consists of small portions of fleece, no more than a pound of any one breed.

Once upon a time, I said I would scour a fleece once, just to say I had done it, and then never do it again.  It seemed like too much work and there’s so many beautiful prepared fibers available, why would I bother scouring fleece myself?  But then I decided I wanted to do some breed-specific spinning, to understand the differences between breeds and why I’d chose one over another for a specific knitting, crocheting, or weaving project.  My stash of spinning fiber exploded and I learned that many breeds aren’t available in prepared forms.  I bought a couple fleeces and sent them to mills for processing.

The mills did a fine job, but then I took some classes and did some reading and learned how you can get very different yarns based on how you prep the fiber for spinning.  The options are limited when you send fleece to be processed at a mill.  I wanted to have more control over the finished yarn, or at least to understand how the different preps would change the finished yarn.  In other words, my spinning journey keeps moving me backwards in the process of producing yarn.  If I really want to understand yarn, I have to start at the beginning, with the raw wool.  This is how I roll; I like to take things back to basics.  So I started acquiring raw fleece and I made a spreadsheet to keep track of which fleeces and how much raw fleece and how much it cost and how much I lose in each step of processing.

Methodology

This post is not a step-by-step tutorial on how to scour fleece.  This is only the third time I’ve scoured fleece; everything I know I learned from Beth Shearer Smith.  Beth scours something like 300 pounds of fleece a year, partly for her own use and partly for use in the classes she teaches.  Fortunately, we all get to learn from her through her wonderful writing.  Visit her website for posts on the three ways of scouring: bulk scouring (most relevant to the rest of my blog post), tulle sausages, and by the lock.  If you’d like more information on which method to use for a particular fleece, Beth’s book, The Spinners Book of Fleece (Amazon affiliate link), walks you through the reasons you might pick one of these methods over another.  In the rest of my blog post, I’ll be describing the ways my set up differs from Beth’s and why I made those adjustments.  However, the overall method is the bulk scouring method I linked you to above.

My Set Up

I am not able to use exactly the same set up Beth uses.  My washer and dryer are not flat on top.  They are at a bit of an angle.  This means that anything I put on top of them is in danger of sliding off.  I do not have a utility sink in my tiny laundry room.  In order to get water from a tap, I could unhook the washer and attach a hose to that, but then I have to figure out how to dump out the water.  Finally, the first time I went to scour fleece, I measured the temperature of the hot water coming out of my tap.  It was only 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  The Unicorn Power Scour requires a minimum of 115 degrees Fahrenheit.  I had a plumber check our hot water heater, and it is set to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the hottest they are allowed to set it by law.  Our hot water is original to our house, which was built in 1977!  At some point, we will have to replace it and maybe when we do, I’ll be able to get water out of the tap at a temperature that will work for scouring fleece.  Until that day, I have to heat the water to get it hot enough for scouring fleece.  It’s a lot easier to do that if I work outside.

 

Apparently, I was too busy scouring to take a picture when I was fully set up, but you can see most of it here.  I ended up adding a card table, which I placed just behind the fire pit, over those two bags of fleece you see peeking up behind it.  In this picture, the white dish pan is sitting on top of my kitchen scale.  I moved the dish pan and the scale to the card table and then set up the wash bins on the wooden table.

Since part of my learning process is understanding how much weight is lost in processing, I weigh fleece just before I wash it.  I use an Edlund DS-10 food scale (Amazon Affiliate link), which I bought at a food supply place 15 or 20 years ago and which I also use for weighing ingredients when I bake.  The scale weighs in either grams or ounces and can handle up to 10 pounds.  I keep the fleece in the plastic bag and shove it into the dish pan.  The fleeces are almost always larger than the dish pan can hold, but the plastic bag helps keep them contained.  On my iPad, I have my fleece spreadsheet open so I can enter the weight of the fleece immediately after I weigh it.

 

Another option for weighing fleece is a fish scale (Amazon affiliate link).  One of my friends brought hers to the fleece barn at SAFF this year and I have to get one of these!  They are inexpensive, portable, less awkward to manage, and can handle more weight than my food scale.  Sounds like a win all the way around!

After weighing, I spread the fleece out on a sheet on the ground.  I don’t have a skirting table (it’s on my wish list!), so this is the best I can do.  When you buy a fleece at a show, you do your best to evaluate it, but you can’t always see everything.  Spreading the fleece out lets you make some decisions before you scour.  You get an idea of how dirty the fleece is.  Most fleeces only need two washes, but if this one’s particularly dirty maybe it will need three.  Sometimes the staple length or texture is different on different parts of the fleece.  Do you want to separate out the different staples or textures to use them in different projects or are you going to keep them all the same?  For example, look at the difference in the crimp on these two locks, both from the same Texel fleece.

The fleece on the sheet in the layout picture above is a piebald Finn fleece.  I thought I might want to separate it by color, but once I spread it out, I discovered that there was only one fist-sized clump of white, visible on the left end of the fleece.  The rest of the white is stranded throughout the darker parts of the fleece and it would be impossible to separate the colors.  I’ll break up the one clump of white and blend it in when I process this fleece.  I assume the finished yarn will have a heathered appearance.

In order to get hot water for scouring, I bought a propane-heated outdoor shower.  I wasn’t able to get it to work properly — water was spraying out everywhere, partly because the connection to the hose wasn’t solid, despite sealing it with Teflon tape and partly because the switch on the shower head was stuck in the on position.  I ended up soaking wet from the thighs down and if someone had been there to get it on video, I’m sure it would have been a great laugh.

After an hour of fiddling with it, I gave up and heated water on the camp stove you can see in the layout picture.  I have a couple of 20 quart pots that I used for heating water.  When I am putting a dry fleece in for its first wash, it requires nearly one entire pot of water.  For the subsequent washes and rinses, the fleece is already saturated so I only need about half of a pot of water.  Rather than lifting the hot pots and pouring it in, I use a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup (Amazon affiliate link) (I inherited mine from my friend Stacy’s grandmother) to transfer the water from the pots to the bins.  Easier on my back and I’m less likely to get burned!

 

When changing the water between washes, I pour it onto the ground.  I pour it through a mesh strainer (Amazon affiliate link) so when fleece inevitably sneaks out of the bin, I don’t have to fish it out of the grass or pick out leaves.  Like Beth, I don’t put fleece in mesh laundry bags during washing, mostly because I don’t want to create an obstacle for any VM that would like to come out of the fleece during washing.  There are a couple of good reasons to use a mesh bag, however.

One is if you have less than a couple of pounds of any one fleece.  You can put 4 ounces, 8 ounces, 1 pound, or whatever of different fleeces into different bags and wash them in the same bin at that same time.  Another reason for using mesh bags is the weight of the full bins.  Each of the bins above is holding about 2 pounds of fleece and 3 – 4 gallons of water.  Since water weighs 8 pounds / gallon, each bin full of fleece is in the neighborhood of 30 pounds.  Lifting the bins and pouring the water out is a workout — especially if you wash multiple fleeces like I did while taking these pictures.  I washed the two fleeces you see in these pictures (about 3 pounds each of Texel and Finn), plus a 2.5 pound Icelandic fleece, plus 6 pounds worth of an 8.5 pound Coopworth fleece.  I then ran out of both daylight and propane, so I had to stop.  It took me about 4 hours, during which I was lifting each of those bins every 15 – 20 minutes.  As I told my personal trainer when I saw him the next day, that’s why I train; it makes the rest of my life possible.  If lifting that much weight is not an option for you, put the fleece in mesh bags!  You can lift them all the way out of the water and use a measuring cup or some other scoop to remove the water a little at a time.

 

When working with hot water and wool, I use SteamGloves (Amazon affiliate link) to protect my hands and arms.  These gloves are made for food service workers to protect themselves when working around steam tables or with cleaning chemicals.  The gloves are rated to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.  I use them when dyeing, to pick the finished yarn directly out of the hot water.  I use them with scouring, either to pick hot wool directly out of the hot water or to protect the hand that is holding the wool in the bin while I pour out the hot dirty water.  The pair I have are 20″ long, which means the cuffs come above my elbow, and they are a size large.  I bought these at a local restaurant supply place and it was the only size they had.  Amazon carries a variety of lengths and sizes.  The link I provided is the size and length I use, but click around a bit if you need a different size and you should find something suitable.

 

After scouring, I put the fleece into mesh laundry bags and run it through the spin cycle of my washing machine.  I bought mesh laundry bags in a couple of sizes for this purpose.  I’ve been using the jumbo size, which can hold an entire fleece, but I’m going to switch to a smaller size because there is too much space in the jumbo ones.  The fleece moves around itself and I ended up with a little felting.  It’s not terrible, and I’ll be able to deal with it when I comb or card or flick the wool, but why make extra work for myself?

After the spin cycle, it’s time to lay the fleece out to dry.  That big green thing is my drying rack.  It’s meant for drying herbs and it’s the best thing I’ve found for drying wool.  It’s huge — more than 3.5 feet in diameter — and has 8 shelves.  Each shelf holds at least 3 pounds of fleece.  The shelves are strong enough to hold more than 3 pounds, but I like to spread the fleece out in a thin layer so it will dry quicker.  When I’m done drying fleece, the rack collapses and folds up into a small carrying case that fits inside the bins I use for washing.  I store all of my fleece washing equipment together, stacked up in the white laundry basket in the first picture.  Two of these drying racks fit in that stack.  The rack is hanging from a plant hook installed by the prior owners of our house.  In this picture, it is holding (from top to bottom) the 6 pounds of Coopworth separated into two sections, the 2.5 pound Icelandic fleece, the 2.75 pound Texel fleece, and the 3.15 pound Finn fleece.

 

I’ve got a huge oak tree in the front yard and it is home to many squirrels.  Since I don’t want the squirrels stealing fleece to line their nests, I pin mesh laundry bags over the openings.

Here in Florida, since I wash and dry outside, scouring fleece is a winter task.  Between April and October, sometimes into November, it is so hot that you don’t want to be doing all this labor outside and the humidity is so high that the fleece just will not dry outside .  I do not have anywhere inside to hang the drying rack.  But last Sunday, it was in the mid-60s and the humidity was low.  It was spectacular weather for working outside and I had a pleasant afternoon scouring fleece.  I hope to scour the rest of my fleece by the end of January and then I’ll start processing it!

WIP Wednesday: January 3, 2018

This week, I’m sharing my two active projects.  I have a lot of WIPs / UFOs that are sitting around, waiting for me to get to them.  As part of the inventory that I blogged about on Monday, I will be making sure Ravelry is up-to-date with those projects.

SassyBee Orchid

My current spinning project is two batts of SassyBee Orchid on Polwarth.

SassyBee Fibers (this is a link to her FB page as her website isn’t active) is a vendor at The Fiber Event in Greencastle, Indiana, which I have attended for the last 3 or 4 years.  I love her batts and I have a pile of them.  In fact, all the batts in the suitcase full of batts, pictured in Monday’s post about inventory, are SassyBee batts.  In addition, one of the big bins in the big pile of bins is full of SassyBee batts.  They are so beautiful, but I had not spun any of them.  In fact, I had never spun from a batt at all.  On the first Friday in December, I spent the day spinning as a demo during the Weavers of Orlando Annual Holiday Sale.  My wheel was empty, so I grabbed a SassyBee batt and spun that the entire day.  I’ve spun a little more on it since, but not a lot due to the holidays.  I’m about 3/4 of the way through the first batt.

 

Mesa

Last year, my LYS had an Anzula trunk show.  This cape (available on Ravelry) was one of the sample items Anzula brought with them as part of the show.  I tried it on and loved it.  I also thought my mother would love it.  I bought the yarn and the pattern and intended to finish it for her birthday in March.  Then for Mother’s Day in May.  Then for Christmas.  I only have about 10 rows of knitting left, then I have to weave in the ends, sew on buttons, and block it.

2018 Word of the Year

This is my third year picking a Word of the Year.  If you haven’t heard about this idea before, basically you pick a word as a touchstone for the year.  Instead of making resolutions, you let the word guide you.

Honestly, when I first heard about it, I thought the idea was kinda crazy.  I’m not as intentional about picking a word as many people are.  Look on the internet and you’ll find plenty of people describing a process for picking a word.  Think about who you want to be, make a list, etc, etc.  I have never done a process like that.  I don’t do any of that.  Every year, sometime in the late fall, a word has just sort of bubbled up into my consciousness.  I roll it around in my head for a few days and see what comes up as I think about it.  Every year, the word that has bubbled up has felt right.  In addition, each year, something has happened to affirm that the word was the right one for me.

What does it mean to let the word guide you?  Again, there’s a variety of approaches.  Some people are very formal, meditating on and journaling about the word.  I’m less formal.  In 2016, the first year I picked a word, my word was CREATE.  During the time I was contemplating whether this was the right word, I got an order in the mail that included a bookmark as a little bonus item.  The bookmark has a bright yellow background and the word CREATE in big block letters.  I stuck that bookmark to my office door so I would see it multiple times a day.  I didn’t do anything else in terms of meditating on the word, but it was right in front of me every day.  I was incredibly productive in my creative pursuits in 2016, more than I had ever been.

Last year the word that came up was FINISH.  It was an interesting word, that played out in unexpected ways throughout the year.  I didn’t have a good way of connecting with the word though, and there were entire months when I didn’t consciously think about it at all.

My word for 2018 is MOVE.  On New Year’s Eve, I got an affirmation that this was the right word for the year.  My fortune cookie told me, “It’s time to get moving.  Your spirits will lift accordingly.”  I’ve actually taped that fortune to my computer monitor so I will see it every day.

MOVE is such a dynamic word that can be interpreted in many ways.  Move my body by exercising, moving forward, moving on, moving to a new home (I’ve really wanted to move for several years, but circumstances have meant staying put was a wiser choice).  It’s an encouraging word for me.  Due to various circumstances, I’ve felt rather stagnant for a while.  I’m excited about the idea of getting MOVING and out of this stagnant place.

It’s only the second day of the year, but so far I’ve found that I’m regularly asking myself, “How can I move right now?”  Is there a task I can do to move a project forward?  Can I do a little exercise?  What would it mean to move right this minute?  I’m looking forward to seeing where all this moving takes me!

An Inventory

This year, we spent Christmas with my in-laws.  My mother-in-law is in poor health.  She has cancer and then got pneumonia.  She was in the hospital for 2.5 weeks, moving to rehab on the Tuesday after Christmas.  For a while, we thought she wasn’t going to make it to Christmas, but she did.  For the moment she’s stable, but the cancer is advanced and at this point we count each day as a gift.  During the time I visited with her, we talked a lot about her life and what has been important to her and what is important to her now.  “None of that stuff matters to me anymore,” she said, referring to her physical possessions.  What matters to her is speaking with and spending time with her people — her children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, friends.

In November, my husband was laid off from his job.  This was something we’ve expected for some time, so we’ve saved money and he got a severance payment, so we are not in an immediate financial crisis.  He spent most of the last six weeks with his mother and is now starting to look for a job.  We don’t know how long it will take for him to find a job, so we need to manage carefully so that the money we have lasts for as long as possible.  As a result, buying yarn and fiber are definitely off the list!  I must craft from stash.

These two factors have me thinking a lot about what really matters and about how I want to spend my time.  I am feeling the need to let go of some things and consolidate others.  I want to spend more time on my fiber pursuits.  Over the last few years, I’ve acquired an astonishing variety of fiber books, tools, and supplies.  I’ve acquired things at a much quicker clip than I’ve crafted them.  Once upon a time, I kept Ravelry up-to-date, but I fell out of the habit.  I feel as though I don’t really know what I have anymore and to make plans, I need to know what I have.  It’s time for an inventory.

Fortunately, inventorying is in my blood.  For most of my growing up years, my father worked in stock rooms.  When I was very small, he worked in the warehouse of a local clothing store.  When I was 11, we moved to a different state where he had a new job as the manager of a hospital stock room.  My sister and I went to a private school in the same town as the hospital, which was a 30-minute drive from where we lived.  We commuted with my father.  Since we got out of school a couple of hours before he got out of work, we spent those hours at the hospital.  We usually stayed in the cafeteria, working on our homework.  Sometimes, especially on days when they were short-staffed, we hung out in the stock room, working on homework and occasionally answering the phone to take orders from the floors while the employees pulled and delivered the needed items. Twice a year, on a Sunday, the stock room closed for inventory.  All the stock room employees came in, along with people in other administrative departments, and my sister and I.  We counted every single item on every single shelf, balancing the inventory against the computer.

I started my personal inventory process before Christmas.  I started by consolidating — putting away all the random yarn and projects scattered around the house.  It’s a lot easier to do inventory when everything is where it belongs.  It’s a little scary to flash my stash, but here’s the pix so you can see where I am now.

These bins are the main stash collection.  Each of these is a 40 quart bin.  One of the bins holds finished projects waiting to be gifted, but the rest are full of yarn and fiber.  I sorted the fiber by type (wool, plant fiber, blends, batts, etc).  There’s so much wool that it takes up 8 bins and I’ve alphabetized the wool by breed.  I separated the yarn by weaving yarn and knitting / crocheting yarn.  Then I sorted each of those categories  size of the yarn.

 

These shelves hold the yarns made from plant fibers.  It’s mostly cotton, but there’s some linen and bamboo in there also.

 

These batts have been living in this suitcase since I bought them last April because I can’t fit them anywhere else.

 

This pile consists mostly of raw fleece, waiting for me to wash and process it.  There’s also a couple of bags of yarn that I haven’t put away.  That’s my four-harness, 28″ weaving width LeClerc Fanny counterbalance loom under all that fleece.

 

This bin holds raw fleece in smaller quantities.  There’s a variety of breeds in this bin, but no more than a pound from any one fleece.

 

These boxes hold fleeces that I bought and had processed by mills.  I believe there’s three fleeces total in here.  They are sitting on top of my four harness, 22″ weaving width Dorset direct tie-up loom.

These bins and the hamper on top of them hold WIPs.  A couple of years ago, I conquered all my WIPs, but now I have a new pile.

 

These are smaller bins, about twice the size of a shoebox.  They hold a couple of WIPs, including two or three that only need blocking, but mostly they are projects waiting for me to cast on.  I matched yarn to patterns and sometimes the needles are with them also.

 

Finally, this is my fabric collection.  Last spring and summer, I took sewing lessons.  I’ve mostly sewed pillowcases, which we send to the pediatric oncology ward where my cousin works, for nurses to distribute to the kids.  I actually have a lot more fabric than this, but everything I bought for pillowcases is stored at my mother’s house.  This is everything I have at my house.

 

I have complicated feelings about all this stash.  I’ll be writing more about it as I continue the inventory process.  My goal for the next week is to get Ravelry back up-to-date.  I’ve downloaded the spreadsheet of my Ravelry stash as a starting point.  I’ll write an update next week, to share my progress and next goal.

Braaains

Today’s Yarn Love Challenge prompt is “Currently Making.”  If you haven’t read my previous posts, this is the third in the series.  If you’d like to start from the beginning, here’s the link to day 1.  At the end of each post there’s a link to the next post in the series.  If you’ve read the earlier posts, but missed yesterday’s, click here to catch up!

I’ve mostly been making brains.  Perhaps you’ve heard about the March for Science scheduled for April 22?  The date was set in early February, not long after the Women’s March.  Crafters excited about the impact of the pussy hats immediately started discussing options for hats for the March for Science.  Many scientists and science lovers expressed an interest in Brain Hats.

Photo by pattern designer Alana Noritake

As even a non-knitter can probably tell, this hat is far more complicated than the brain hats.  In the March for Science Ravelry group and Brain Hats Facebook group, there’s much discussion regarding better ways to make these hats, so sufficient numbers can be made before the march.  The project breaks down into three primary tasks: (1) Creation of the skull cap, which is a straight forward and fast knit; (2) Creation of the i-cord, which isn’t difficult but is tedious and time-consuming; (3) Attaching the i-cord to the skull cap.  Since I’m lucky to have a number of local fiber friends, I e-mailed them all and asked if anyone was interested in working on this project together.

My friend Katie has knit caps.  As of last week, she’d finished 13 of them.  I’m sure she’s finished a few more since last week!  I am working on the i-cord for the brains.  To make this process easier, I procured an Embellish Knit i-cord maker (Amazon Affiliate Link).  It’s tough to find them now, even through Amazon, because they either have been or are being discontinued by the manufacturer.  I managed to scoop up three of them on clearance at my local Jo-anns.  I wind the yarn I’m working with onto a ball winder and leave it there while I crank the i-cord.

Keeping the working yarn cake on the ball winder helps in two ways.  First, the ball of yarn doesn’t hop around all over the floor while I’m working.  Second, the working yarn feeding into the Embellish Knit doesn’t get tangled with the finished i-cord coming out of the bottom of the machine.  The i-cord doesn’t just move straight down as you crank.  It tends to whip around in a circle and quickly become tangled with the working yarn unless you keep the two ends far apart.

The yarn in the picture above is Vanna’s Choice.  The Embellish Knit instructions say that you cannot use anything thicker than fingering weight in the machine.  However, after much experimentation, I found that I could use worsted weight yarns as long as they are smooth, slippery yarns.  I have to pay attention when setting up the machine and I have to move the weight up to the base of the machine after I’ve cranked about six inches of i-cord.  I also can’t crank as quickly as I would if I was using a thinner yarn.  However, it is quick enough.  Using this set up of Embellish Knit plus ball winder, I am able to crank through an entire skein of Vanna’s Choice in 45 – 60 minutes.  Each skein is probably enough brains for one hat.

A bowl of brains. The pink yarn is the practice yarn that came with the machine. The turquoise and the yellowish-green are Vanna’s Choice. The darker green is Cascade 220. The pink / gray variegated under the Cascade 220 is Debbie Bliss Sock yarn. The blue-gray variegated and the blue-variegated towards the back are a worsted weight felted singles yarn, no longer labeled with a brand name. It’s some of the first yarn I purchased back in 2006 when I started knitting again. I ordered it from Uruguay, from a place that appears to no longer be in business.

Sometime soon, we have to start attaching brains to hats.  In order to make that process easier, I purchased a styrofoam head meant for displaying wigs.


Since attaching the brains will take both hands and since it is better for the hat to be slightly stretched, I needed a way to holding the hat still and stretched while I am working.  In the previously mentioned Ravelry and Facebook groups, people have mentioned several options for stretching the hats, but many of the other methods (e.g. a balloon) still required you to hold the stretcher while simultaneously applying the brains.  Even some using the styrofoam heads found it challenging to keep the head still while working.  They make clamps designed specifically for holding these heads firmly on a surface, so I purchased one of those a the same time I bought the head.

Close Up

It’s Yarn Love Challenge Day 2!  If you missed day 1, explaining what exactly Yarn Love Challenge is, please see yesterday’s post.  Today’s prompt is “close up.”  Over the last few years, I’ve tried to improve my ability to take close up pictures.  Close ups help us focus on details, providing a better understanding of and appreciation for finished projects.  Rather than just sharing fiber arts pictures in this post, I’ve chosen close-up pictures that represent different aspects of my life.  Collectively, these small details provide a better understanding of the ongoing project that is my life.

Fiber

Since this is primarily a fiber blog, I am starting with the fiber pictures!

First, one of my favorite projects and pictures: a close up of the lace border on the Raindrops on Roses Shawl.

Next, one of the first close-up pictures I ever took of a fiber project.  It’s a humble garter-stitch dishcloth and I hoped to take a picture that made it look like more fun than that!  I tried to make it look like ocean waves and added the octopi charms both because of the ocean theme and because I love octopi so much.

This is the lace edging on the first project I ever knit from my own homespun yarn.  I was (and am) so proud to be able to knit from yarn spun by my own hands!

I have been obsessed with cables ever since I knit a cabled baby blanket as my second-ever knitting project.  (The baby I knit that blanket for just got married this week and is expecting his first child).  When I knit the Sand Tracks scarf, I became obsessed with the combination of cables and seed stitch.

Rainbows make me happy, and this Redfish Dyeworks 20/2 Spun Silk gradient is no exception.  I love this picture because it captures all the skeins in the gradient and because there’s something perfect about the way the circle draws my eye around and around and around the rainbow.

The Gotland / Teeswater fleece pictured here is one of the first fleeces I purchased (at SAFF 2016) to process by hand.  This picture is of the raw fleece and I love all the different colors in the fleece.  I took this picture just before I washed it.  I have yet to comb or spin it.

 

Tiger

I take a ridiculous number of pictures of our cat, Tiger.  He’s so photogenic.  He’s also ridiculously cuddly.  Sometimes he’s so cute and happy with cuddles that I don’t want to disturb him, but I’m also bored.  I almost always have my phone with me, so I whip it out and take pictures of him.  Of course, I take many close ups of his face.

But I am also rather obsessed with taking pictures of his paws.

 

And the way his tail wraps around his body and curls up beside his hip is one of the most precious things in the world.

Life

My husband grew up in Toms River, NJ.  Toms River is right about in the middle of the New Jersey coastline, separated by the intracoastal from Seaside Heights and Seaside Park, NJ.  He grew up going to the Seaside beach constantly.  His grandmother and an aunt each lived a couple blocks from the beach where the boardwalk was.  Superstorm Sandy destroyed much of the boardwalk.  If you watched any of the coverage of that storm, you might remember a picture of a roller coaster in the ocean.  That was the Seaside boardwalk where my husband grew up.  After Sandy, the boardwalk was rebuilt in record time, and the businesses lining it reopened for the following summer season.  That fall, one year after Sandy, an electrical short started a fire that burned six blocks of the newly-rebuilt boardwalk (this article says 3 blocks, but it was really 3 blocks in Seaside Heights plus 3 blocks in Seaside Park for a total of six blocks).  Fire trucks came from all over the state to fight that fire.  In the end, they were only able to put it out by bulldozing out part of the new boardwalk to create a fire break.

Three months after the fire, we were in New Jersey for Christmas, so we went down to the boardwalk to view the devastation.  The picture before is a charred piece of wood, about 4 inches long, embedded in the sand near where the fire started.

Birds

My father is a birdwatcher; I’ve been birdwatching with him since I was 6 months old, in a backpack on his back.  Last year, we attended the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.  One of the tours we took was a bird banding tour.  The guide was a licensed bird bander.  We accompanied him to the location where he bands and helped him to capture three birds for banding.  He applied a band to each bird, weighed them, measured their wings, beaks, and leg bones, then released them.  This is a Bachman’s Sparrow, an uncommon species which is in decline due to habitat loss.

 

In the vendor area of the festival, was a booth operated by a bird rescue.  They brought several of their education birds — birds that will never be able to released back to the wild due the extent of injury — and you could have a picture taken with the bird of your choice.  I picked the Golden Eagle because I am a Ravenclaw and the Eagle is the emblem of our House.  Note that I am not holding this bird.  Only licensed handlers are able to do that.  The eagle is sitting on the gloved hand of the handler and I am standing beside her.  The picture is taken from a clever angle, making it seem that I’m closer than I actually am!

In the Yard

Several years ago, I got lenses for my iPhone camera.  I didn’t know such a thing was possible until I was traveling on business and a colleague had them for her phone.  I was so excited, I bought myself a set.  I especially loved the macro lens.

Leaf and tendril from the grape vines.  We’ve since pulled them out because they were growing up against the house, destroying the paint and the window screens.  Plus the neighborhood birds ate all the baby grapes while they were still green so we never got any ourselves.

A cherry tomato, still on the vine.

Lichen on the trunk of a crepe myrtle.

A crab spider on its web.

 

Click here to read Yarn Love Challenge, Day 3: Currently Making.

 

 

(Re)Introductions

For the month of February, Ravelry developers Mary Heather and Christina introduced an Instagram challenge called the Love Yarn Challenge.  I’m not on Instagram, so didn’t learn about the challenge until halfway through the month.  When I found out about it, I thought I’d play along on my blog, but right around that time, my blog got hacked and it took a little time to fix that problem.  On the theory of better late than never, I decided to do the challenge in March.  If you haven’t seen the challenge yet, here’s the themes for each day:


Obviously, February has only 28 days while March has 31, so there’s no challenge prompts for the last 3 days of March.  This month, I’m attending the Florida Tropical Weavers Guild and then going to London with my husband to celebrate our anniversary.  I’ll post about those adventures on the last 3 days of March, so you’ll get a blog post every day this month!

Most of the people who read this blog know me irl or have been reading for a while.  For you, the ‘introduction’ in this post is to the idea of the yarn love challenge!  If you’re new to the blog, please check out the About Us section and the first ever post on this blog to start learning more about me.

Where Do We Go From Here?

When I started this blog back in 2014, I was numb.  The preceding 3 years were emotionally and physically exhausting.  I felt drained and untethered.  I identified with Season 6 Buffy:

I started writing this blog because I needed something positive and productive to do.  The blog was the first step in recovering and reconnecting with myself.  This is an ongoing journey, but I have traveled well along the path over the last 3 years.  It has been a time of growth and rejuvenation.  Many of you reading this blog have been part of that and I am so grateful to you.

I do not usually have a word of the year, but for 2017, a word floated up for me in December: Finish.  This word continues to sit with me.  I’m working with it in the sense of completion.  The craziness of 2011-13 and the numbness that followed meant that many routine things didn’t get done in my life and now there’s a pile of things, many little but a few big ones too, waiting for my attention.  I’ve been working slowly through the pile.  Since that’s been taking my time and attention, I’ve done less fiber work and less blogging.  However, I miss both the fiber and the blog.  I am taking on this Yarn Love Challenge because I hope that it will jumpstart my love for both and help me focus more attention on them.

Click here to read Yarn Love Challenge Day 2: Close-Ups.