Changing My Name to…

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My beautiful daughter

Last weekend, I moved my daughter into her new apartment out in Landenburg, PA.  Where is Landenburg?  She lives less than a quarter mile from Delaware, in that rounded little southeast corner of Pennsylvania.  It is 5 hours away from Pittsburgh and NO, she doesn’t have a job to support herself yet, so the costs are all on us.  My husband has given her 6 months to get on her feet and find a job or he threatens to move her back home.  (He misses her terribly and texts her silly cat and dog pictures 10 times a day from what I can tell).

So the house has been in upheaval.  Somehow, with Katie moving out, everything in the house has been shifted or moved or is being re-evaluated.  Even my husband’s and my roles are changing.  Even with one child still at home, things are just… different.

There are bags of clothing in the hallway, containing items that she decided to give to Good Will rather than take with her.  I haven’t yet taken the bags there yet, in the misguided belief that I will go through my own clothing soon also.  An abandoned fan and printer sit on the front porch that I also need to get rid of, since her apartment is air conditioned and they have no space for a printer because the apartment is so small.  And her bedroom doorway stands strangely open into a stark space without the usual mayhem of laundry baskets and journaling supplies laying everywhere.

The dining room is also in upheaval.  I’m in the midst of working on my rug for the exhibit, and the dining room is where I usually work on rugs, so that means no sit-down family dinners.  Instead, we eat in the living room in front of the TV or a laptop, catching up on episodes of “Timeless” (a favorite time-travel show) or watching bad 1950’s-60’s sci-fi.  We used to watch PBS News over dinner, but the current machinations of politicians have enraged me so much that I just refuse to watch it.  Yes, I know that’s a cop out, but I don’t feel empowered to change anything presently, so stamping around the house yelling angrily about politics furthers nothing.  I will resume watching the news in October, when the November voting opportunity looms, and until then I want peace in my house, and in my own mind.


My dining room table

The exhibit rug has grown, and grown, and I am way past all ideas of fitting into the size requirements. As a co-curator, I decided that I had some leeway, but this is getting ridiculous.

I finished the roughly oval center about 4 weeks ago, and since then I’ve been working on making 4 roughly identical corners, which will turn the oval into a rectangle.  I thought I would be finished by now.  I hoped that it would be finished by now. But I had forgotten how incredibly long it can take to make little curlicues and triangles and oddly-shaped fill-ins.

I have changed my name from “Procrastination Princess” to “Queen of Fill-Ins.”  I think that’s an improvement.


The back of a taper, with frayed ends sticking out.  

One good thing:  I have always been unhappy with long skinny tapered ends.  The ends always seem to fray and either create lumpy loops in the row below where the ends are buried, or if I try to keep them out of the row below… just don’t look good.  Here is an example of a taper that I am NOT happy with, left.  It is held in place with a pin because it doesn’t lay right without the pin — I’ll have to re-work this.  Not happy with it at all.



The front of a new taper, reduced down to one strand that doubles back on itself to rejoin the original braid.  

I have now figured out how to drop from three strands down to one, twist it around itself in a “twisted center,” and rejoin the 3-strand braid.  It makes a MUCH better-looking long skinny taper.  So that’s at least one good thing that has come all of my sitting and braiding.


Another thing that I’ve enjoyed is the process of figuring out how to place triangles around an oval to make it into a rectangle.  First, there are two different triangles that are mirror-image of each other:  2 pink, and 2 blue.Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 9.12.44 AM

But, I couldn’t make simple triangles for my rug…  I had to put spirals inside them.  And, since the “oval” isn’t just an oval, I traced the outside edge of the corner of a rug onto a large piece of foam core board, then sketched how I wanted to fill it in.



The lower left is my tracing of the outline of a corner of the rug’s center.  The upper right is a rough idea of my design for the corner, drawn onto a piece of foam core board.

For awhile I was stymied as to how I was going to get a mirror-image of this design without spending a lot of money at a copy center (to get a large photocopy made and then trace the design on the back).  But after making the first corner, I realized it was easy:  I just turned the braided corner onto its back, and there was my mirror image all ready for me.

So, while I am probably going to be braiding up until the last week before the exhibit, I am learning some cool stuff along the way that I will find useful in the future.

Eventually, I will even be able to have a family dinner at the dining room table again.  I’m hoping to change my name back to just Christine again, once this nightmare of a rug is completed.

Wheel Rug, Revisited


Shaker “Wheel” rug.

Christine here.  In the July 2014 issue of the newsletter, I wrote an article on the “Wheel Rug,” which is a large central circle (or rarely, oval or square) surrounded by a lot of smaller circles. No, I didn’t give it that name; it was a name given to similar rugs in the early 1900’s, when the style was popular and common in both crocheted and braided rugs.

Since the next issue of the newsletter (if I can ever get it finished) is about flower rugs, I was thinking about wheel rugs, which are kind of flower-like, right?  So I decided that I wanted to make a large wheel rug.  Then I wanted to figure out how big a given number of braided rounds would need to be in order to fit neatly around a larger center circle.  I didn’t want to do this by trial and error.  I wanted to know ahead of time just what I was in for, and not have to add or subtract from a central circle in order to get everything to fit properly.

Another Shaker Wheel Rug -- from

Another Shaker Wheel Rug from the Doug Towle Catalog

I took my usual course whenever I have a math question:  I went to my Math Professor husband and said, “Please figure this out for me so that I get a formula.”  He looked at my example of a large circle surrounded by 18 smaller ones drawn out on the back of an envelope and frowned.  “I’m grading quizzes,” he said, hedging.  “Whenever you can get to it,” I said.

He returned 2 days later with a formula that involved the radius of the center circle, and the cosign of something else… and a theta symbol… and my eyes crossed.  But he was proud of himself for figuring it out, so I sat there and listened to his (long) explanation of different approaches he had taken and how he finally figured out how to solve the problem and generate a formula for me.  I thanked him for all of his hard work, patted him on the back in congratulation, and promptly buried his formula calculations in a stack of papers that I will surreptitiously throw out.

I like math, I really do, but my last course in trigonometry was 39 years ago.  The cosigns and the theta in the formula creeped me out.  I’m good with algebra, but prefer to leave trig alone.

So, I did what I should have done to begin with:  I googled it. “Size of circles around a center sphere,” and this wonderful website came up:  It has blanks for you to fill in the size of the center circle, the number of small circles you want to place around it, and it will do all the math for you and spit out the exact size of the smaller circles that you need.

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This is the sort of image you get when you pick your sizes and colors from the website

Now, the only problem – and it’s a minor one – is that we’re used to thinking of our braided circles in terms of diameter.  The website requires you to enter the radius of the center circle, and it gives you an answer for the size of the outer circles with their radius also.  So you just have to remember that the diameter that you want is two times the radius.

Example:  I have a 72” (6 feet) diameter circle, so I enter the following:

Radius center circle:  36
Number of outer circles:  20
Gap between outer circles:  0
Click on “calculate and plot” and you see:  Radius outer circles:  6.6”.
So, the diameter of the outer circles is 2 times the radius or 13.2” to place 20 of them around a 6 foot center round braided rug.

And look!  You escape trigonometry.  Wonderful!


Messy Desktop

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 10.17.13 AMChristine here.  I have told you before in my comments about my marriage that my husband and I have an “Oscar and Felix” approach to household cleaning and life in general.  I am Oscar, and he is most definitely a Felix.

In John’s realm of the house, the folded T-shirts in his dresser are all the same size and neatly stacked.  The items on top of his dresser are the same every day and are returned to the same location.  He makes the bed every single day.  His desk is laid out and logical.

The same is true for his virtual “desk top” on his laptop computer.  He has a background of his dog Cindy from when he was a kid – a springer spaniel – and there are a couple of folders on his desktop, and nothing else.  All points of interest are accessed by clicking on items found in the folders.  It may take him about 6 sub-folder clicks to get to, but everything is there in logical trees of information.

He looks with disapproval on my own laptop screen.  I have a million photos.  They overlap.  Sometimes I have to search for them, moving other photos that have gotten stacked on top, until I finally find the one that I want.  I admit that sometimes I have to search for awhile, but I can usually locate the images that I want, after the requisite amount of muttering and resolutions to get things maybe just a little more organized.  I also have a couple of photo folders of stuff to look at, labelled “cool photos” and “more cool photos,” which are places to put photos when the search becomes impossible.

But a messy desktop is just part of my creative process, I defend myself.  I kind of… mostly… know where things are, and they are a source of inspiration for me.  I need all the photos there on the desktop.

I thought I would take a few of the photos on my laptop, and share with you why I like looking at them, and why they have their place on the desktop as a source of inspiration.


Take the photo left, for example.  Simple Christmas tree ornaments woven from palm fronds, I think.  But I look at this image, and I think about green wools and multistrand braiding.  Some Christmas, I’m going to figure this out.




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Okay what about this photo?  I think it’s from Wayfair, or one of those shopping places that annoyingly pops up when you’re looking at a website.  Anyway, isn’t this the coolest rug you’ve ever seen?  I want to make it out of braids.


hook-rugOk, what about this one?  It looks like a drawing, but I’m not sure that it is.  The original link is gone, but “hooked rug” is in the title.  It looks like it’s hooked in the center, and the border, but there are some of the surrounding outline-stripes that look braided.  Wouldn’t this be a cool braided rug?


The image right is labelled “green painting” and its link is:  Look at the lighter-colored spiral.  Doesn’t it look like a “lined triangle” multistrand pattern?  I want to make a two-braid spiral, with one of my braids a multistrand like this, enlarging by two strands every row to maintain the lined triangle pattern.  The other, greener braid I might keep a plain single color for contrast.



What about this?  This is a sand painting mandala in progress; it is being made by Buddhist monks.  Aren’t the colors amazing?  And the design — if simplified — is completely doable in braids.  Wouldn’t you just love to have a braided Buddhist mandala?




OK, you have to know where I’m going with this by now.  See the path of this lace?  What if you could have a braid that travelled this path?  Maybe not with as many wedge-shaped segments as this one has, but still, wouldn’t this be a really cool round rug?  You’d have to figure out whether you could simply lace all those curves in or, more likely, have to put in sets of double corners to get the braid to curve sharply back and forth.  You’d have to lace the curves to the struts on either side.  You could make each wedge-shaped section a different color…. and best yet, only one butt!



Left is a weaving pattern that I found googling around.  It reminds me of my green-and-black maze rug that I made several years ago, but it repeats the smaller units to make a larger pattern.  I love geometric designs.




More interesting geometrics.  Follow the path of one of the center black stripes and see where it comes from and where it goes.  We don’t often think about starting a braid on the side of a rug.




And what about the beading pattern, left?  Somehow, someone’s got to make this in braids.  Isn’t that the most interesting thing you’ve seen in awhile?  And only double corners:  none of the fussing with alternating triples.

So now you see why my laptop is such a mess, right?


Now where to put it?

Dianne here:  a disclaimer: just mentally add ‘rug’ to hooker every time I mention hooker; it works.

I have finally finished ‘my Persian’. Some of you may know or remember the story. I have taught, and finished a few small braided pieces for a hooking friend of mine using her favorite grandmother’s braids. A couple of baskets, a braided pad for under a hooked chairpad and finally 3 very small rugs for my friend’s 3 daughters, using the very last braids that had been hanging around for years. Not the most exciting ‘job’, but the braids were well done, tho wide for me and, oh those retro colors. In addition, they were straight braids so I had to jerryrig the starts to get a semblance of a curve (I talked her into rounds).

I realized it was all worth it  when she told me the daughter named after the grandmother cried when she was given the rug. My friend has since learned to braid, and I taught her how to braid around (and I finished) a beautiful hooked chicken rug which won a prize at the state fair….

(YAY! that they appreciated the braiding, right?)

All this braiding would have added up to a pretty penny so we bartered. She has been a hooker in the community for a long time and seems to inherit unfinished projects, wool and equipment from families of hookers who have passed on. She was working on this Persian (Persian Melody by Pearl McGown) one day at our hooking gathering saying she was finishing it as the hooker had passed. It was about 1/3 done and came with all the wool in a #3 cut (for you braiders who have not ventured into hooking, a #2 cut is the narrowest so 3 is very narrow, meaning you can get good detail but takes forever!). I admired the colors and the detail reminded me of the Malibu tile hanging I did in an ATHA class (#4 cut). The challenge of  trying to match exactly the pattern is what intrigues me about these two projects; it must be my left brain trying to escape in retirement where I have been nurturing my heretofore, unknown creative right brain.

So she gave me the project and the wool and I tried very hard to match the fine hooking of the original hooker, Gloria Gray.

Have any of you finished a project from someone else whom you never met?

It is an interesting experience; I find I often think about the person when working on the project, wishing I could meet them and hoping I am doing credit to her/him. In this case, Gloria’s hooking was so fine and so low (loops very close to the hooking backing) that a sharp eye can pretty easily see where she finished and I started, but with some steaming (and some more) only a sharp eye can probably tell.

I found I used this rug as a ‘go to’ project between others and it became a favorite,  ‘always there’ comfortable project and, as with some braiding, I found myself slowing down at the end because it was so enjoyable, kind of like a book you don’t want to end.

And then there was the question of finishing technique. That too. How would I finish this rug? I have never whipped the edges which is the classic technique for hooked rugs; I have always put a straight or fancy braid around mine.

My hooking guild gave lots of suggestions: “whip the edges in yarn, in wool, add a fringe: a BRAID? “Not very classic, Dianne, but that is who you are, it is your rug, after all”. They think of me as the braider who dallies in hooking. sigh.

This would make a lovely hearth rug but we have a wood burning stove/fireplace and I wouldn’t want to risk an ember igniting it and most of my floor space is covered with braided rugs, so on the wall it will go, and a fringe, though classic would flop….I really didn’t want to cave and whip the edges, so………..a braid and was excited to see that my wool stash included a large piece of the same green color as the background that came with the wool, so I did two rows in slightly different widths to give a frame to Gloria’s masterpiece. Wonder what she’s thinking of that?

My current thought is to replace this button rug in our family room with Gloria’s and hang the button rug landscape-wise above my husband’s new black ebony piano in an upstairs bedroom.

My final thought is that thinking of where to put this rug has given me an opportunity to look at what I already have on the walls; many of my ongoing hooked/braided mats, showing how I have improved over time,  plus some of my mother’s Chinese and Japanese paintings.



My old, hard-working, 2010 laptop

Christine here.  See this?  This is a photo of my laptop, a 2010 MacBook Pro, which I have used for drawing diagrams, making handouts, writing the newsletter, updating the blog or the VF website.  It has journeyed far and wide — Maine to Massachusetts to multiple locations in Pennsylvania — and it is the repository of many many hours of drawing and writing about braids.  It has been my companion on many adventures… usually related to braiding.

So, how did I pay homage to this critical and essential device?  I spilled coffee into it.  Freshly made coffee, still with those caffeinated aromas steaming from the cup, and brimming with just the right amount of skim milk added to it, and in my favorite green Tasmanian Devil coffee cup.  As I was lifting the cup toward my lips, the cup hit the corner of my laptop, and — splash, right into the keyboard.

IMG_1138After I swore, jumped up and got paper towels and wiped the thing off, I tried to type an email and sighed with relief.  But before long, a “t” kept getting added in after every letter.  I could backspace the “t” and keep going for a little while, but pretty soon the t’s just kept creeping across the page all on their own.  Finally, I could type nothing at all.

The one saving grace to this whole episode is that I had my husband back up the hard drive yesterday, because there had been some weird glitches in its normal functioning.  In fact, the convenient proximity of the coffee accident to the safety of the back-up made my husband recall the time when our daughter Katie really, really, really wanted a new phone and my “yes, Princess, whatever you want” husband was uncharacteristically firm about telling her to wait until she qualified for an upgrade.  So the next day, oops, she dropped the phone into the pool, and then she got the phone she wanted.

Believe me, I did NOT want to get a new laptop.  I wanted to go on using my old one and having it function perfectly.

shadySo I scheduled a repair appointment at the local Apple store and had a very cute young man with long brown wavy hair and little gold wire rim glasses and a surprising amount of height and muscularity tell me that my laptop was old enough to be considered… ah… “vintage.”  Because it is vintage, the store no longer stocks parts for it, and they no longer do repairs.  The latest models on which they do repairs are from 2011.  Even then, the 15” model like I have would cost over $1000 to repair.

Well, so the good news is that I bought a new laptop.  The bad news is the $3500 bite out of my finances.  (The cost of the machine, plus Tax, plus the Apple Care plan so that if I spill coffee into it in the next 3 years, everything will be fixed for me, plus the adapter so that my old USB port will function with the new USB port, etc).  Ouch.


My newly purchased MacBook Pro, still in its box, in the neat little form-fitting bag from Apple

And, my Adobe Illustrator program will NOT work ever again.  So I’m going to have to pay $29.99 a month to subscribe to the online Illustrator program and even be able to open my old diagrams.  Double ouch.

Sigh.  I have a feeling that everything in my life is slowly becoming “vintage.”  (Especially that white-haired husband of mine).  I am comfortable with vintage.  I am quite content with vintage.  I am kind of dreading the whole process of getting adjusted to a new machine.

But, it will be nice once it is set up and I’ve gotten used to it.


IMG_0842Christine here.  I always seem to turn to this blog when I have something to complain about.  I try to also throw in something interesting about braiding, also, but really I just want to b—-.

So, today is my birthday.  My husband and I share a birthday, although 9 years apart.  (Usually at this point in the explanation, my husband usually cuts in and says, “She’s a cougar.”  Which I am not:  he’s older. )  In any case, we discovered that we had the same birthday on our second date, which was in the middle of a game of Pictionary that we were playing at a house party, when I lived with 4 other young women in a ramshackle old beautiful house in West Philadelphia.  We each pulled out our driver’s licenses to verify that yes, we both were January 15.  It is sort of amusing, but not really that interesting.

Our usual approach to our birthdays is that, at some point today, John will say to me:  “We should go out to dinner.  To celebrate.  You know, our birthdays.”  And I’ll say back, “Yeah, we should do that.”  That’s usually as far as it goes.

We used to love to go out to dinner.  When I lived in Philly and he lived out in Haverford, he would drive in and we would go to some ethnic place — Thai, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Palestinian, etc.  Since I veered toward vegetarian, and there were more likely to be good options in the ethnic restaurants, we tended to go to those places.  Besides, I’ve always liked ethnic food, and Philadelphia is wonderful for ethnic food.

Then we moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1990’s.  I have slowly come to appreciate Pittsburgh, but when I first moved out here, I was a bit dismayed.  Although now Pittsburgh is known as a “foodie” place, back then, it was a food desert — for the ethnic food that I liked, that is.  There were a couple moderately good Chinese places, and some too-oily Indian places, and that’s about it.

With John’s grad school and my residency, we just couldn’t find the time to go out, and when we did, we were disappointed.  Then we had kids and ate at Wendy’s and Chuck-E-Cheese, and the Burger King with the play land (yes, I was one of those bad Happy Meal mothers).  Due to my son’s persistently abysmal tastes (mac & cheese, pizza) we haven’t gotten much further than that.  We have one restaurant that is our Go-To place for fine dining when we have parents or cousins or other guests in town.

So what am I complaining about?  I’m complaining about myself.  I am just sick to death of my own lassitude, and even laziness, in making efforts toward doing some of the things that my husband and I used to do together — going out to dinner, going for walks in the evenings, just doing things together.  The guy isn’t getting any younger, which his birthday is reminding me of.  I need to pay more attention to him.  He is my husband, after all.

Yes, I’m busy.  I seem to spend the days running around like crazy.  Last night I came home from a weekend away (braid guild meeting),  with the intention of helping my son pack last night for going back to college today.  Of course he had put off doing laundry until last night, and wouldn’t you know that our 10 year old washing machine died last night?  So we had to pack up all of Jack’s laundry and go out to a laundromat last night, in the cold and ice and snow.  So it wasn’t an evening at home at all.

Today, Jack and I are doing a Target run for shampoo and soap and a new sweatshirt, and then heading up to school moving him back in, making his bed which he still pretends that he has never learned to do, and then I’ll head back home.  My daughter is still home from college for another week, and the my husband and daughter are close, so they’ll probably be out somewhere together when I get home.  I’m angry already about coming home to an empty house, and on my birthday, of all things.

I think I need to spend a little more time paying attention to the details of my marriage, and setting up things that we can do together.  I’ve always delighted in the fact that we were so comfortably independent — he flies off to his astronaut and space-oriented events, and track events, and I drive or fly off to braiding events.  But I think we’ve gotten to the point that we just don’t do anything together anymore, except live in the same house.  We’re not unhappy… we’re just sort of preoccupied with our own things.

I need to work on that.

And, I need to finish the newsletter issue, and get to work on my Challenge Rug, and get to work on some of the handouts for classes at the braid in….

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Ocean Waves Border: one of my classes I’m teaching at the braid in.

But what I’m really interested in at the moment is scrolls.  I’ll be teaching the class on the “Ocean Waves Border” at the braid in, which is two S-shaped braids that inter-link.  And I worked on the 6-braid scroll for the upcoming newsletter — although I think it’s a bit complicated and will probably hold off on the directions for anything other than the 6-braid spiral.

IMG_0895.jpgI think the rug that I’m going to make for the “Contemporary Braided Art Rugs” exhibit will be something that has a lot of spirals and scrolls, perhaps in a sort of Persian Rug kind of design.  We’ll see…








The Day after Christmas


Every single year for 26 years of marriage I have made my husband Charlie Brown pillowcases at his request.

Christine here. It’s the day after Christmas, and all through the house…. Not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been up for hours now, walked and fed the dogs, fed the cats (indoor + 1 outdoor) and put in laundry and loaded the dishwasher from last night. Somehow, going out to see the Star Wars movie last night was so “exhausting” to everyone else that they’re all still in bed at 9 am.

I know I shouldn’t complain. I’m a morning person and the rest of them take after my husband and are adamantly NOT morning people. When my husband worked a 9 to 5 job, he got permission to work 9:30 to 5:30, because “traffic” into the city was so bad. Ha, traffic. He just couldn’t get his skinny butt out of bed in the morning.

Besides, I like the time by myself in the morning. Just me and the beagle snoring on the couch, and a lot of ripped up Christmas paper all over the floor.

I got a used, reconditioned Vitamix blender for myself for Christmas, because I am determined to diet yet again, and the particular diet book I’m following calls for all these salad dressings made with a high-powered blender so that you can put in flax seeds and make your own hummus and things like that. Sigh. It will always be a struggle for me. I even hired a personal trainer at the gym and we’re working out twice a week for 3 months, which is making me have terribly achy muscles all over. It is not fun to have to get in shape.

But, given how much I plan to be sitting and braiding in the coming year… I’d better do something proactive.

The next thing coming up is finishing a rug to enter in the PA Farm Show. I don’t think I’ll actually get to the show this year (I love the tractor square dances, which are hysterical, and I love to look at the goats and chickens) but Carolyn Newcomer is going to drop my rug off and I’m going to pick hers and mine up a week later.

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Ocean Waves Border: one of my classes I’m teaching at the braid in.

The next thing after that is the registration (which opens Jan 1) for the Valley Forge Guild’s Spring Braid in ( I’m teaching a million classes so I have a lot to work on. And there’s a newsletter to get out in January also. In February, Carolyn and I are teaching at the FiberFest in Swatara, and in March, I’m teaching two classes at the Pittsburgh Knit, Crochet, and Creative Fiber Weekend.


A class I’m teaching at the Pittsburgh Knit, Crochet, and Creative Fiber festival.

Then, there’s a lot of work with the upcoming exhibit in August at Sauder Village, which I’m really looking forward to. I hope everyone’s working on a chair pad to contribute to the Chair Pad Pageant!

A lot of good braiding things to look forward to in the coming year!



Volunteering at SAWA


The Salvation Army Fabric Sale (around noon, after it’s cleared out a bit)

Christine here.  Recently there was the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary Christmas luncheon, a “thank you” luncheon for the volunteers. I’m a member of “SAWA” and I volunteer at their very large warehouse once a week in the fall and late winter, which are the times of the year when we work on fabric. I don’t volunteer for the Toys for Tots, the camps, or the bell-ringing at Christmas. I work hard at the warehouse, but I limit my volunteer activities to the one I’m interested in: Fabric.

It’s me and a bunch of women who are mostly older than I am. I pick up Kay, who lives in my neighborhood and probably shouldn’t drive anymore, and we go over a bridge and through a tunnel (Pittsburgh has 3 rivers, and you can’t go anywhere without going through at least one tunnel and over a bridge or two) and end up at the South Side warehouse. We munch a donut and coffee, and then go sign in and set up at our stations.

Kay is still an amazing quilter despite completely illegible handwriting due to her shakiness. She works at neatly folding and assembling scrap bags of coordinating cottons that sell for a buck. I work a table behind her, where a yardstick is taped onto a high table. I grab stacks of random fabric from the large bind of donated fabrics, and measure them carefully, fold them into a neat package and tie them up with string, staple the measurements to a selvage, then put them in the pricing area.


One of the wool tables at the sale

Whenever someone who used to sew dies, there is an incredible wealth of fabric that would otherwise be thrown in the trash. Instead, the Salvation Army collects it, and all the associated textile crafts as well. My van has trundled off to obscure neighborhoods around Pittsburgh to collect weird bags and boxes and take them to the warehouse for sorting and measuring. Cross stitch kits, yarn batches, sewing machines, crochet hooks and knitting needles, buttons, zippers, etc…. all are donated to the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary.


The volunteers wear red aprons.  Again– this is pretty cleared out compared to what it looks like in the morning.

Once a year in April, there is an immense one-day sale at incredibly low prices. There are 6 large tables full of neatly folded quilting cottons, where the most money is made. There are more tables of folded cotton scraps, sold by weight, that are roughly fat quarters. The yarn area is also a very big seller. Other tables are: linens, suitings, polyester knits, wool, upholstery, holiday fabrics, sewing machines, quilting supplies (frames, etc), notions, kits…you name it, it’s there. Last year we made over $44,000 for the Salvation Army, despite selling everything at low, low prices. In one day.

The doors open at 9:00, but people start lining up at 6 am. By the time I show up, about 8:00, there’s usually a line out around the building and into the parking lot. Rain and snow do not deter the women and a few men who show up. The place is PACKED. Think rock concert from when you were a teenager and you have a vision of what the place looks like. When the doors open, we have very large shopping bags that we give everyone as they enter, but most of the serious people have bought those immense rip-stop IKEA bags and have one on each shoulder. (Strollers and carts are banned — there’s not enough room).

I usually drag a kid along to help me at check-out, but Jack made it clear that he was NEVER doing this again, EVER, so don’t ask him. He’s at college now anyway. When he was bored out of his mind with calling out prices that I would total up, I would send him off to help ladies who were struggling to carry too-heavy bags to the shuttle bus back to the parking area. I had hoped that my son would find volunteering and helping out to be of value, but I think I turned him off of it for life.

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 9.21.08 AMSo, after the Christmas luncheon, I’ve been thinking about my own volunteerism.  Clearly, it helps to find an area of volunteering that is, at least partially, somewhat self-serving. I absolutely work hard at my volunteer job and I think I’ve helped to streamline some of their processes. But I admit it: I have an ulterior motive: I get first dibs at all of the wool.

The wool that is donated has been in closets and attics and basements for years. Some of it is awful, and moths have destroyed much of it. But every once in awhile, I discover one of those exquisite 1960’s plaids with kelly green and chartreuse and a stripe of orange that has been perfectly preserved, or fabric for a 1980’s wool suit that was never cut out – the uncut pattern still in a bag with the fabric, or just a beautiful cashmere/wool camel color that is so lovely and soft that I can barely believe it. And I get it for $6/yard.

Frankly, I think the day before the sale – when we volunteers get to pre-shop the fabric sale by ourselves– is more like Christmas to me than Christmas.

Pay it forward…..

I am sure many of you have been lucky enough to buy or be gifted wool that has been in the stash of an older braider who has died or retired from braiding.                                                                           Christmas, right?

I will never forget a sunny Saturday morning, several years ago ( when I had a tiny stash of wool), sitting on the back patio, listening to classical music and going through several large garbage bags of wool I had picked up from a woman who no longer wanted to braid. We found each other on the old yahoo site….which was mainly made up of Eastern braiders;  her phone number was my area code! She had some flat wool but mainly deconstructed wool garments. That was in my basket days and I pinned together possible combinations for future baskets while enjoying the California sun and music.


And I remember being contacted by a woman in North Carolina whose grandmother or maybe great grandmother had worked in a Maine woolen mill. The woman had moved a significant supply of beautiful 3″ wool pieces several times over the years and was ready to give it up for the postage. I took it to the next Braid In back East and gave some away and have used most of the rest over the years. I think of her and her grandmother when I reach for the diminishing stash of beautiful wool, easy to tear into my 1.5″ strips! Interestingly each piece had a ‘wool mark’ I assume of the mill, now closed I am sure as almost all US mills have closed.

My rug hooking guild has gifted me a number of rolls of braiding wool over the years when they have been contacted by braider-relatives….alas we do not have a Braiding Guild here…

Which brings me to the present story:  The Guild was contacted by a quilter who was demonstrating at our State Fair. A couple asked her if she knew any braiders as their mother had a storage shed full of rolled wool in San Francisco…the message eventually got to me and the quilter and I made email contact and agreed to travel to SF.  The couple had told the quilter that we would need a pickup truck to take it all.  My husband Gary did the driving in our 4Runner, the closest we have to a pickup. The quilter was not a braider, tho she had braided a small rug out of ‘bathing suit’ fabric years ago she said and she was interested in doing more. I was concerned: my fabric room is pretty full, but I was intrigued…I of course was also concerned about critters, especially moths as they had had the wool in the self storage for

Do I need more?

 at least 10 years; imagine!

So on a recent Friday we took off for SF, the quilter, Gary and me. We met the couple at the self storage in downtown SF and proceeded to their shed. They were so pleased that we might want the wool.

Well, there were about 15 cardboard containers with metal top crimps in the room. Rather than rolls they appeared to be all filled with woolen coats, gathered over the years by the mother, Jane, to be used in her braiding. Fortunately there was a strong smell of moth balls. I was

strong, so strong,

taking only 3 pieces and promising to make the couple a basket from them. The quilter was giddy and took FOUR of the containers.

Hallway of storage shed; only one small bag of rolls; rest was coats separated by color.

So it went; I have had a few pangs of regret since the trip, wishing I had taken more, especially after washing and preparing the pieces I took, since they were so retro and beautiful wool once washed, but again,

Do I need I more?

I made them this basket out of 2 of the pieces. The daughter sent me the following: “If it is possible to hug a hand made braided bowl, we did! I feel you understand how very much this means to us. Your kindness will not only be long remembered but also a great comfort”.010882f7fa79ffad47e0ea9366cdcd3d39aec667da


                                                So my questions are: 

do you have similar stories? 

Who will take MY stash when the time comes??

All those blues!

Dianne here….

I am out at our CA coastal vacation rental and only brought knitting and denim rolls. I have recently made two medium (~25″) round rugs out of denim jeans for our master bath to replace a large oval from towels I made as a new braider  The towel rugs did not age well and so the denim ones hope to be a good replacement.

I was lucky to buy 11 pairs of denim jeans at our thrift store during their periodic $1 pant sale and then Colleen Blaisdell offered a number of jeans she had been saving when we’re both at the Valley Forge Braid In last year.  Bonanza!

I brought several rolls of the denim to the coast this trip planning to make a round or rectangular rug for the area going into the garage, but once I got here I realized a denim rug would not go with a couple of wool rugs I had made for nearby areas.

What to do on a cold day? Why not braid some denim baskets to sell at a rug hooking show next summer. I have found that rug hookers are impressed with small, non-rug items especially if braided with other fibers and/or narrow strips. As I began the first base, I was reminded how unforgiving denim is in terms of tweaks and how hard braiding and lacing is on the hands. The thought of tapering then butting a last row and side rows for each basket began to depress me, so I decided to make continuous mats in various sizes…..for trivets or for table center mats or even mats for under house plants.

I have always loved the way braiding brings out the various blues and textures of jeans . So here they are…..what do you think?