Never Say Never….

Dianne here….home from two braiding events, Thetis’ Woolgathering in BC Canada and the Valley Forge Braid In in Bethlehem, PA. After the latter, Kris, Christine and I drove up to VT to photograph some of the multistrand rugs Christine and others have made for her upcoming (see previous post) multistrand braiding book, and a few of my velvet pieces, as Kris has a nice photography setup with bright lights, etc.  In the end we used her iphone and the photos came out great. All activities were enjoyable as always; spending time with friends and others with like interests is such a joy.

But now I am back at home for awhile and find myself braiding two fabrics I have said I would

Tapered jean rug

never braid again! Never say never.  The first is blue jeans. Here is a rug I made a number of years ago for our ‘toilet room’ off the master bedroom, thinking I could easily toss it in the washing machine. I know it was awhile ago because it is tapered, not butted. I do remember it was hard on my hands, especially the lacing and I said ‘never again’. But I have enjoyed the various blues and it does wash well.

Around the same time I made long oval and round towel rugs for in front of double sinks and at the shower door. I bought new towels rather than old towels because I wanted to create a pattern with certain colors. What a mess! I cut them outdoors but it was so messy. Braiding and lacing was a bit more pleasurable than the jean rug but the towel rugs have not aged well, so I have been thinking of replacing them…..and because the bathroom is blue, have decided to make 2 round jean rugs for in front of the sinks (as Christine says, I am ’round centric’, not liking ovals as well as rounds).  I bought 11 pairs of jeans at our local thrift store on $1 day a

jeans in rolls, light/medium/dark

nd took Coleen up on her offer of more at the VF Braid In.



So here is the first, 27″  diameter, continuous with a butted row, trying to use light/medium/dark strips with an all light butted row.

27″ jean rug

I enjoyed the braiding and lacing this time! why? maybe my hands are stronger after years of braiding and/or I think there are more jeans made from stretch fabric today than before. So one down and one to go.

The other Never Say Never is braiding with cotton. I admired a round mat Pam Rowan made with a quilting jelly roll (40 strips of 2.5″ wide quilting cotton in complementary colors and patterns)


jelly roll mat

a couple years ago. I found one on ebay and made this mat  which I did not enjoy at the beginning but by the end did like the ‘crinkly’ braids that are produced with the cotton, attractive tweaks if you will. I ended up giving it to a wonderful woman who opens her home up to hookers (and braider) weekly. She has it on a coffee table with a candy dish filled with spice drops

William Morris fabric jelly roll

So….I ordered another jelly roll with William Morris fabrics. This one I will keep!


Get the Heck out of the House


My multi strand swirl… slowly getting the last row finished.  Photo by Cheri Coberly.

Now that the braid in is over, I am trying to get back into writing.  My friend Dianne, who often serves the needed role of Chief Nagger to my traits of Procrastination Princess, has been giving me good advice as to how I can best achieve the completion of my book on multistrand braiding. One of her main suggestions: get out of the house.

At home, I am subject to a million interruptions from my beloved family. Last night, I sat at the dining room table for two hours trying to edit the Introduction to the book, just to get myself back into “writing mode.” I catalogued the interruptions, for my own amusement.

Husband: We need to plan when we’re going up to the River in August. Do you have your datebook handy?

Daughter: Mom, do you want to go to Creative Re-Use with me? I want to get some paper to make journals. And maybe some stickers. (ie: Come along so you can pay.)

Son: We’re out of bread. When are you going to the store. We need chocolate milk, too.

Husband: Want to walk the dogs with me?

Daughter: Where’s your button box?

Daughter: Do you have red thread?

Dog: stamping on her water bowl repeatedly and looking at me.

Daughter: Could you sew these pages together for me?

Son: Are you driving me to guitar lessons tomorrow, or am I driving?  Because I have that stupid baccalaureate mass right after, and I probably won’t find a parking spot at school, so you’ll need to drop me off.

Daughter: Isn’t this journal pretty? Look at it.

Son: Where are your keys?

Husband: Could you move some of your stuff here so I can pay bills?

It went on, but the interruptions were so mundane that you’d be bored out of your mind reading them. The point being: Dianne is right. There is no way I can write at home as long as my family is awake.

So, I’ve made a plan. I’m going to try to go to the library, which is just down the street, for two hours a day. I’ll bring my laptop and charger and hopefully find a way to sneak in a cup of coffee. They open at 10:00, so I’m going to try for 10:00 to 12:00, then walk home to make lunch. I’d have more time to work if I went in the afternoon, but my brain functions better in the morning, so I’d better go then.

I love my family. But this is the summer, which means that none of them have jobs (yet), and they are home, intruding on my space. I have to get out of here, or I’ll never get the multistrand book finished.  It’s just impossible to get anything done with these Familial Interruptors surrounding me.


Try for a Braid In

Dianne here…I apologize I have not posted for awhile. I have been posting more on the Facebook’s Rug Braiding Group, an active group I inherited as administrator, so am trying to encourage it. Check it out as there are talented people who post.

I am aware Christine has kept you (and me) entertained with her life and projects.

For me, we just returned from the Woolgathering in BC on Thetis Island and leave tomorrow for Valley Forge.  It too just had its 10th anniversary and Gary and I have been to the last 9. It has morphed from a braiding camp to a fiber camp with many rug hookers and braiders doing both. Here is a pix looking from the braiding room out to the water on a cloudy day  IMG_1621

But part of the adventure is the drive. All other Braid Ins I attend need a plane, but this one is driveable, albeit a long drive up Rt 5 into Oregon, Washington and across the border. But I don’t have to pack so carefully and can take lots of projects. The downside is crossing the border. Here is our Prius leaving home IMG_1618

And a restrained visit to the Pendleton outlet in Portland, only a little selvage Gary, tho we stopped for more on the return trip. IMG_1617The custom guard questioned how much we had for just a week but seemed to agree a fiber artist needs supplies and we passed without examination of the boxes and suitcases which included much velvet which I sold at the Braid In.

Big pieces for braiders and long strips for rug hookers  Sue Davies a Canadian friend found the perfect pink velvet match for her hooked center.  See below

Tomorrow I am off to the Valley Forge Braid Christine described. I too have been to all 10 and they have forged great friendships with many braiders especially Christine.  As my husband is older and therefore longer suffering than Christine’s John, Gary just nods and asks for the itinerary.

My real reason for posting is to encourage you to seek out these braiding opportunities for their instruction but even more for their friendship.

PS: I have done this on an iPhone, not recommended.

Surprise braid in, astronauts, and more whining


I recently tried a “double corner finish” for each of the 6 braids in this spiral hexagon trivet.

We are coming up on the 10th anniversary Spring Braid In for the Valley Forge Guild. I have been to every single VF braid in! Despite the fact that for 10 years now I have been doing this, it is always a surprise to my husband. It never fails to take him aback.

The two of us, comparing datebooks:

Him: “So, where are you going this time?”

Me: “It’s the braid in. You know, I go every year.”

Him: “Where is this again?”

Me: “Bethlehem. Then after, the three of us – me, Kris, and Dianne –are driving up to Vermont.”

Him: “So… how long will you be gone?”

Me: “Seven days. I always go away 7 days. I leave Thursday morning and I’ll be back Wednesday night.”

Him: “A whole week??”

Me: “Yes. I do this every year, John.”

Him: Sigh.


My first flower rug from back in 2010.  I love the bright colors.

The reason that I am remembering this recent conversation is because inevitably, my husband invites houseguests as soon as it is spring, and usually right before the braid in.

I’ve written about the fact that I do not enjoy houseguests. Well, I do enjoy them usually, but I resent the time I need to spend cleaning up all the wool covering every surface in order to accommodate them. Cleaning is not something that I particularly enjoy. I especially don’t enjoy it when I’m madly rushing to finish my class handouts and finish my class samples and finish my Challenge Rug.

This year it’s a particular disaster, because we just finished getting the whole house rewired about 6 weeks ago, and I STILL haven’t finished unpacking all the boxes that I threw everything into to get stuff out of the way of the workmen.

Now, John’s cousin Victor is coming this weekend. Although I really enjoy Victor, who is just delightful, why couldn’t John invite him the week after the braid in? Why does it always –no matter what the date – have to happen that he visits right when I’m scrambling to get things done???

So now, instead of working on my challenge rug, instead of finishing my class handouts, instead of doing what I want, I am slogging away at boxes and trying to get things to appear neat and orderly for a guest.

If that isn’t enough, my daughter just decided that she HAS to come home from college this weekend. Absolutely has to or she’s going to crack up from the stress of imminent final exams. That means I have a 3.5 hour out, 3.5 hour back, trip to fit in on Friday. I’m sending her back on the train on Sunday. (She can’t take the train on Friday because there’s only one train out to Pittsburgh and she’s still in class when it leaves).

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From the Combining Rug Hooking and Braiding book:  “Stacked Picot” border.  Probably 2010.

Ugh. Thank goodness I have a few more days until Victor arrives. I’m going to need every minute.

At least I got a slight reprieve: John is going away for two days to see Harrison Schmitt. If he isn’t a household name for you, he’s one of the twelve men who got to walk on the moon. He’s also the only scientist-astronaut who stepped on the moon: Schmitt was primarily a geologist. He was part of Apollo 17. He’s 81 now, and going to speak at some reunion event for the Grumman engineers (who built the LEM). John knows a guy who gets him into these events ($100 for dinner) so he’s like an excited kid running around the house packing.


Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17) obtaining samples of rocks on the moon

He’s a total space freak. It’s fun to see him so giddy with anticipation.

Almost like me looking forward to the braid in!

Wool Filigree


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“Spring Bunnies,” 2017, hooked and braided by Cheryl Pavlik; hooked design by Katie Allman. Wool filigree by Christine Manges.

It’s trite, but “mistakes are opportunities.” We not only learn from them (I’ll never do THAT again), but they are also opportunities for some fancy and creative cover-ups… that could make our work more interesting, and ultimately, more artistic.

This was the case with a recent mistake on my part. One of the women in the local hooking guild, Cheryl Pavlik, became taken with the idea of finishing one of her hooked rugs with braiding. She then decided to add on a second row of braid with knots on it, and asked me to help her with the project.

Those of you who’ve read the Combining Rug Hooking and Braiding book know that in the section on Fancy Borders, we talk about “motif” size with regard to each border, and how to place the border around corners. Cheryl’s project was a beautiful hopping bunnies pattern created by Katie Allman, and it was set in a rectangular shape. Since the knotted border has a motif size of 6 loops, each side of the rectangle needed to have a loop count divisible by 6… plus whatever spacing was needed to place the knots equidistant between the corners..

I didn’t remember that.

Totally forgot about it.

So, of course, Cheryl went ahead and put on the first row of braid, and we butted it, and then she finished lacing it onto her hooked bunnies rug. Only after that did I count the loops and realize that there was going to be a problem with the knot row. I counted loops to see where the knots would fall. The sides were okay, but the top and bottom were going to be “off.” With the “dots” pattern that I had planned for the two braids, the knot spacing was going to be completely asymmetric about the corners.


See the arrows? They show where the knots are placed asymmetrically about the corners.

I felt very, very guilty and embarrassed as I looked at this pretty rug and my expectant student. I felt sick that she had worked so long on learning to braid this knotted border (which she had already half-way braided) and that I was going to have to tell her that I had screwed up and it wouldn’t work.

Then, I had a flash. We could put an extra-long space between knots in the top center and bottom center of the rectangle, then fill the center of the enlarged space with something decorative. The space in the center would allow us to put the knots symmetrically about the corners.  Cheryl wouldn’t even have to unbraid that much.


My plan for how to fill the spaces on the top and bottom, where the knots are now arranged symmetrically

Initially I was thinking of a large knot as the decoration—one of those pretty Chinese knots perhaps, made out of a folded and sewn-shut strand. Eventually, after thinking about it incessantly, I decided that I would try something with wire running through the sewn strand: a pretty scroll or fleur-de-lis pattern.

­­         On the way to get together with my student again, I realized that the weight of the wire on the top of the hooked rug (which was going to be hung, not laid on the floor) would cause the scroll-work to sag forward and not look good. I realized that if I were going to use wire, that it would have to have a support along the back to keep it from falling forward.


I had to drop the wire down out of the center back, and Cheryl tacked it in place, to makes sure the filigree would stand up straight.

And you know what? It all worked, and I’m really pleased. Cheryl decided it should be called “wool filigree.” The wire support on the back is couched to the backing fabric, which is fused to the back of the hooking.

I think that the rug is actually prettier than it would have been if we had just placed a (symmetric) knotted border around it.  I think the wool filigree adds to the whimsy of the piece.


The upper wool filigree, seen from front

And, it all came about because I embraced the “mistake” and allowed myself to get a bit creative regarding how to work around it.  Mistakes, as disheartening as they can feel in the moment, can be good things.  Next time you make a mistake, think about some way that you can repeat it in such a way that it could become interesting… or allow you to do something different to cover it up.

Pittsburgh Knit & Crochet Festival


Two Students at the Skills for Round Rug Braiding Class

Yesterday I taught my first class at the Pittsburgh Knit, Crochet, & Fiber Festival, and thank goodness, it was a much better experience than my last class!


Since many of you are called on to teach small braided rounds at events such as this, I thought I would share some of the teaching tips that I think made it successful. If you’re not a teacher, these tips will be too detailed and precise to bother reading! I really enjoy figuring out the details, and I lay them all out.

But first, I want to brag about my city a little bit. Yes, I know, I usually can’t bring up Pittsburgh without talking about the lake effect giving us 287 cloud-covered days per year (I still miss the sunshine that I grew up with on the eastern part of the state) …but today I’m going to focus on something good about Pittsburgh.


One of my great students at the conference yesterday

When people think of Pittsburgh, those of my generation and older grew up thinking of it as a “dirty city.” An older lady told me that after going to school and running outside as a child, she would come home with her white Peter Pan collars gray from the pollution from the steel mills. And many remember how the center city region was always “dark,” because the pollution blocked the sun.

But in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, all of that started to transform. The steel industry in the US was collapsing (surprise: foreign-made steel is much cheaper) and people were losing jobs like crazy. The city was dying. Many families were supported by the steel industry, and now the income-earners were being laid off. As the steel struggled to survive, it was cheaper to have a machine perform a job than an employee, so a lot of the job losses were due to mechanization. Eventually, Pittsburgh eliminated all steel mills from the city (a few still exist just outside the city) and focused on cleaning up and building up its other assets.

Today, the major employers in the city are colleges/universities, the healthcare industry, technology – importantly, green technology — and banking. The U. of Pittburgh Medical Center is the largest private employer in the city (I used to work at one of their hospitals: Magee Womens Hospital). Whatever your political orientation, most people I’ve talked to in Pittsburgh roll their eyes about “bringing back the steel industry” the way Trump talked about when he spoke here – it’s ridiculous. You’d have to first eliminate all the foreign competition, and all of modern automation, to get the well-paid blue collar jobs that people want back again.


The David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh

In any case, the Pittsburgh Knit Crochet and Fiber festival was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. This is a really cool place. It sits right on the edge of the Allegheny River, and when the 1,500,000 square foot area opened in 2003, it was the largest “green” building in the world. It got a “gold” certification from “LEED,” Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is a worldwide rating program developed by the US Green Building Council.  Interestingly, 4 states in the US have effectively banned use of LEED certification because those states consider the rating system to be too stringent (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Maine). But, here in Pittsburgh, with our new “clean and green” focus, we like it.

The coolest thing about the convention center is its roof: its curves remind me of white sails that are billowing in the wind. As I drive home from the north hills of Pittsburgh, my route takes me across the Allegheny River and I see the convention center at the river’s edge, with the city’s skyscrapers in the background. My class yesterday was held in one of the rooms off a hallway next to the River, with large glass windows in the hallway slanting diagonally outward over the water.


Continuous Round Rug example with butted border (in progress)

But now to braiding. Yesterday, I taught 12 women “Skills for Round Rug Braiding.” One of the conference organizers told me that I couldn’t call it a “mug rug” class, because she had found that classes with “mug rug” in their title were “out.” So I focused the class on the fact that when you start a … ahem, coffee mat… you can add more strips and end up with a round chair pad, and with more strips, a room-sized round rug. I think it’s a good point, and there was one student who decided not to finish her coffee mat, but bought 1.5 yards of fabric and said she would add on strips and continue braiding.

Some of my tips for teaching this 2.5 hour class:

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“Coffee Mat” Class Project

Kit prep. The kit contains: 3 strips of wool, each 72” long, and pre-pressed and rolled up. The 3 strands are sewn into a T-start, all of which I do on a machine because otherwise it’s too tedious. I include 80” of lacing thread wrapped on a cardboard spool that I cut from pretty cardboard tissue boxes. When I teach at other venues, I also include a #16 tapestry needle, a clothespin clamp, a safety pin for marking the row change site, and a plastic 6” ruler cut from gridded template plastic (for measuring fringe). And a handout.

The pre-pressing is really critical, and really awful. It’s terribly time-consuming, but the hardest step to braiding is getting those raw side edges folded inward. I’ve thought of just having people borrow braid-aids, but I make up so many kits ahead of time and with the T-starts already sewn… the braid aids would have to be on the strips already. If I have 30 kits ready, I’d have to have 30 sets of braid aids… that’s a lot of money hanging out in a box for my next class. So… I pre-press.


Another one of my talented students

Teaching Steps. The first thing I do is NOT to start with the double corners in a round. Instead, I have students: 1. Make the initial flip-turn to get all of the strands facing left and, 2. Straight braid for 6-8”. I have found that orienting people to straight braiding, correcting all of the plait-ers, and tightening up the too-loosies, is necessary. Warn people not to go to far, though, or there’s always someone who will braid the entire length while you’re not looking, and they get mad when they have to unbraid the whole thing.

3.  Practice braiding the right-right-left double corners. 4. Unbraid back to the Start, make the flip-turn, and then make 5 double corners. 5. Straight braid to the end. 6. Put a Row Change Marker safety pin horizontally through the second outside loop of the 5th double corner (loop #10 on the outside of the braid).

7.  Lacing. Everyone laces a round center differently, but what I do is to bury the knot in the 5th inside loop, and then lace a draw-string through the flip at the Start and the next 6 loops. This takes them around the center and 2 loops beyond the initial loop where the knot was buried. After tightening, they can then start lacing back and forth between the outside loops of Row 1 and the inside loops of Row 2.

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Chair Pad made with rows based on a count of 10 rather than 9 loops per row

Two tips for this process: a. I don’t express row counts in terms of 9’s and its multiples, as those who are experienced braiders do. When talking to experienced braiders, I say that Row 1 is 9 loops and Row 2 is 18 and Row 3 is 27… this is the standard for butted rows, certainly, but we’re teaching a continuous round. I thought it would be easier for beginners to understand if Row 1 were 10 loops, Row 2 were 20 loops, Row 3 were 30, and on up logically like that.  I braided a chair pad based on a row-change marker at loop #10 and changing my lacing style (skip every 3rd loop in Row 3… to skip every 4th loop in Row 4) at the 10-loop row change. It worked just fine – no rippling. So, because it’s easier to comprehend, I’m changing to rows of 10’s for beginners.


b.  I found there was a little greater comprehension of the correct direction for the needle to lace under loops if I changed how I described it. I used to describe it as coming down from the rug and up from the new braid, but students always mixed up which part was up and which was down. Then I tried describing it as “into the crevice between the rug and the new braid”, which helped orient people because “into the crevice” described the direction without saying up or down. Yesterday I tried saying, “lace from the inside OUT and from the outside IN,” and I think I had a little more comprehension than usual. So I’m going to stick with that.

8.  Finishing. It’s not possible to also teach a taper in 2.5 hours. So, I finish by wrapping the braid 10 times with lacing thread, turning to the back of the work, lacing once under a few of the wraps, and tying a knot between a loop of not-pulled-all-the-way-through-lacing thread and the end of the lacing thread. Trim the ends. Unbraid back to the wraps, and fringe the strands. I do try to make time to demonstrate a taper.

Finally, I have chair pad kits for purchase that are fabric only: three, ½ yard pieces of wool and wool blends, torn selvage to selvage, with snips every 1.5 inches for tearing, which will result in 12 strips of each of three colors. I thought about putting all of the accessories (table clamp, hemostat, braidkin, braid aids, lacing cord, etc) in a kit, but it became too expensive, and some people have one item or another already. So I sold everything individually and students chose what they wanted.


Soap making class I’m taking today from teacher Lori Chandler at the Pgh Knit Crochet & Fiber Festival

I was so pleased: a few of my students went and told one of the conference organizers that I was a great teacher and please have me back for next year! What a relief after all the frustration when I taught in Harrisburg and had that awful woman I wouldn’t fit into the class rant about me to everyone. After the class, I signed up for a soap-making class for me and my braid-buddy Wanda this afternoon, and the organizer gave me a discount on the cost of the class as a thank-you for being a good teacher.  How nice!





Teachers and Criticism

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Mug Rug Class Project

In the past, I’ve gotten praise for my teaching.  I work hard at trying to present things clearly.  I spend a lot of time drawing diagrams and re-writing captions and trying to present things as clearly as possible in handouts and my newsletter, and also in classes.

I recognize that I’m not perfect in this endeavor; sometimes my attempts to explain things fall flat and I have to figure out another way to present a skill.  I’ve had some failures…which have made me feel pretty bad.  Not everyone grasps a technique in a quick class that I’ve sometimes spent days (literally) working on and figuring out.  And sometimes I haven’t realized when I’ve done something that isn’t generalizable to other circumstances, and present it to students as if it is.

And, sometimes I’ve been “nice” and let too many people into a class, and then I don’t catch students’ mistakes early enough because I don’t have time to visit each person after each step.  When students realize that they’ve made a big mistake early in the class… and have to undo a lot of work to make it right… they get frustrated.  So do I.  I’ve made a commitment to keep class sizes limited.

But I try, I really do.  I try very hard to be a good teacher.  Nothing makes me happier than when I see someone use a technique that I taught them and then branch out and figure out their own way to make it a beautiful braided project.

This past weekend I worked with Carolyn Newcomer and Pat Beltz on the Gathering of the Guilds in Harrisburg.  They’ve renamed it Fiber Fest or something but I still call it the Gathering of the Guilds.  Mary Emrich also helped us out (thank you).  We taught two classes, utilizing a rather time-consuming-to-make little mug rug kit, and most although not all people finished the project in the class.  I briefly got to see some of the other guilds that were there (basket-makers, wheat-weavers, knitters, crocheters, quilters, rug hookers, embroiderers, etc).


Trivet that I’ve decided to sell at the Fort Hunter Museum needlework exhibit in May.

There was one woman who showed up just as the morning class was starting.  She was very disappointed that the class was full and asked if she could be squeezed in.  Because we already had squeezed in one other person, and had 11 students, I said no, but that there were plenty of spots open in the afternoon class; maybe she could take it then.  She said she couldn’t take it in the afternoon because she had already signed up for an afternoon class.  She left very angrily, muttering loudly that she had skipped a funeral in order to come and learn rug braiding.

She then proceeded to go up and down the hallway, telling everyone she encountered about what a b—- I was.  The students in the afternoon class (which also filled) all had heard her angry descriptions of our interaction, which was presented a bit differently from how I just presented it.  Even the next day, Carolyn continued to hear about how awful I had been from people this woman had talked to.


Another trivet that I’ll be selling

I wrote to the woman who runs the Gathering of the Guilds, and she essentially told me not to worry about it:  you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and she knows that Carolyn and I have a good history with teaching there; she hinted that maybe this woman wasn’t the easiest for her to deal with either.

My Dad — I stayed with my folks this past weekend — quoted our old minister from growing up, Pastor Spiegelholder.  I’m not a particularly religious person these days, but he was a big figure in my life when I was a kid and he was one of those terribly kind but firm men who could make you feel okay, even when he told you that you were screwing up or just plain wrong.  I don’t think I ever heard him raise his voice, even when he was clarifying arguments and settling them.  In my childhood mind, he and Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Rogers were all mixed together in my mind as just about the same person:  tall, slender, reasonable, moral, kind, and intelligent.

Anyway, Dad said that several times he had heard Pastor S. say that if you weren’t being criticized, you probably hadn’t been doing much of anything lately.

That quote made me feel a little better, it really did.  We all are going to be criticized, no matter how hard we try.  We all are going to tick people off from time to time, even if it’s unintentional.  And we all are going to have some angry person tell everyone they know about how awful we are.


A 6-braid trivet that I also plan to sell

In the meantime, Carolyn and Pat and Mary and I taught 22 people how to braid this past weekend and I think a few students enjoyed it enough that they might pursue it further.  I’ll just have to focus on that.

Freedom and Twisted Centers


Friends Dianne and Kris, outside of Cushing’s Dye shop on a recent visit to Maine

I just dropped my husband off at the airport.

Let me repeat that statement, and this time as you read it, infuse the sentence with a strong sense of relief and joy and just maybe the tiniest bit of guilt:

I just dropped my husband off at the airport!!!

First, let me reassure you that 95% of the time, I am happily married. Both of us have our quirks, but I think we muddle along fairly well together, and we are tolerant of each others’ (mainly MY) foibles and flaws. He is a good and kind man and I love him.

BUT, he has this annoying tendency to become irritated when wool fabric covers every available surface in the house. I can’t imagine why. The other day as he cleared a space on the dining room table so that he could use his laptop, he dropped a stack of wool about 2 feet high into my lap. (I had just finished washing and folding it, so I had placed it on the table). Then he quietly and dramatically sat down in his chair and opened his laptop, and said nothing… but the criticism was heavy in the air:  I could feel it.

So every once in awhile, it’s nice to have all of the silent censures removed. I have 48 hours in which I am completely free from criticism and can cover every surface in the house with wool with impunity.

However, I think I will have to spend some of my censure-free time clearing off the dining room table.


Maple Leaf in Progress

In the meantime, I finished another twisted center flower sample for the class I’ll be teaching at the VF braid in. I have also been working on the maple leaf for the Rug Challenge “Four Seasons” this year. Yes, I know, my autumnal maple leaf represents only one season, but…it will have to do. In any case, I have been finding that the twisted center technique that I’ll be teaching is very useful for filling in strange little narrow spaces between some of the maple leaf edges. Here’s a small example, see photo below:


Twisted Center technique used to fill in the narrow and elongated triangle between braids

I am enjoying the colors in the leaf, and I’ve been looking forward to starting this heathery red/orange row. I am just a little nervous about having enough of this fabric to finish a row, so I’ve been filling in odd spaces between leaf veins with the prior orange color. Some of the spaces I’ve filled in have been very odd little triangles, and I’ve had to be a bit creative to get them filled. I have thought of allowing a few holes in the leaves… don’t bugs chew holes in leaves sometimes? But I decided there would be no hungry insects for this leaf, and that’s that. Besides, it’s sort of fun to figure out how to braid the weird shapes.


Weird triangular shape created to fill a space

The list of braid in attendees is up to 34! So if you’re thinking of going to the Valley Forge Spring Braid In, please sign up soon! We can accommodate up to 50 people. A couple classes have filled, but the majority of classes still have openings.


and about that velvet….

Dianne here….

I have often thought how lucky we braiders (and rug hookers) are in that we can pick up our projects with just a few minutes to spare and do a little more, enjoy a little more. Unlike pottery which is messy and needs a commitment of certain time. I have encouraged new braiders to look for a designated place in their homes where they can devote to their braiding so that it is out, visible and ready for those few minutes to spare.

Well, now that I have gotten into dyeing (first wool, but lately more and more stretch velvet) that is not the case. Unless we have dyeing studios (lucky few), we dyers take over spaces for periods of time. I had been dyeing velvet outside on the back porch since I don’t usually use the stove for velvet but do need multiple plugs for the assorted frypans, crockpots, prestopots, etc. which I use in the dyeing. And water to rinse.

This weekend was stormy in California and so I decided to use the kitchen as I used to when I dye wool. I will blame my husband who was watching at least 10 football games in the same room, fixing a sardine(!) sandwich in ‘my dye kitchen’ then cleaning up etc. that made the dye experience less than pleasant. Perhaps it was also that I did not have enough velvet and am running out of dye AND had a small commission to try to dye some velvet for a hooking friend to hook car chrome silver, not as easy as it sounds. So I frenetically dyed, did all the cleanup and dried the dyed velvet.

I had an epiphany in the middle of the night: why not commander the unused upstairs bathroom for my dyeing…not permanently but could keep it set up for several days at least. Water in the sink, not a deep sink but will work; 4 plugs; and next to my upstairs laundry room for drying. So I checked it out with the sardine eater who I am sure is happy he won’t be barked at in the dye bathroom like yesterday in the dye kitchen and I began moving a card table and dye things upstairs.

I wasn’t too pleased with some of what I dyed yesterimg_1468day,  so set up some reds, yellows, browns in two pots and redyed some patches for an autumn hooked/braided piece I will start soon. It was wonderful!


Here are a couple of the pieces I dyedimg_1466 and a img_1467hat I am braiding from hand dyed velvet for a friend who loves hats. Velvet of course is not sturdy enough to use exclusively for walked on rugs but gives a unique shimmery contrast to wool in hooked and braided mats, baskets, hangings, etc. I have used velvet sparingly in floor rugs for emphasis and it is wearing well. Hooking and braiding only velvet is special too and can show off the randomness or patterns of the dyeing. Maybe it is my pharmacist background but I love dyeing!

I am giving a class at the Valley Forge Braid In in May called Venturing into Velvet with the project a basket braided from hand-dyed velvet. Check out the website or contact me for information.


Virginia and the Van


Nancy Young’s rug with a pretty 9-strand multistrand border.


Christine here.  When I was in college, I had brief aspirations of being an English major. I loved courses like, “Women of Talents,” in which we read works by Doris Lessing, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, Mary Shelley, Toni Morrison, Iris Murdoch, and Virginia Woolf. (We jumped around in centuries a bit).  I could have continued with the major if it had involved only fiction….unfortunately there’s a thing called poetry that is also considered important.  After almost failing a course in 19th Century American Poetry, I called it quits with that major.

One of my favorite books from that time was Virginia Woolf’s, “A Room of One’s Own.” The author is famously quoted as saying, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” In my own (non-poetic) way I have been thinking about the minimum requirements for other creative activities lately… such as rug braiding. Money always helps; money helps in just about every situation, especially since Dorr’s prices just went up. A room of my own is certainly nice, although I don’t think it’s necessary; I tend to braid in the living room on the couch, where I can quickly respond to incessant interruptions and demands from my family.

However, a recent loss has helped me to understand one of my other minimum requirements for rug braiding: my minivan. I inherited the van from my father-in-law, who had toured the country in it one summer while my mother-in-law hadn’t yet quite fully descended into dementia. They travelled the country’s national parks, took a million photos that they made into a million slides, and stayed in hotels at night. Upon their return, he developed a bone infection that kept him hospitalized for two months, then rehab for another 3 months, while his wife went into assisted care and eventually the Alzheimer’s unit. My husband flew down to their home in South Carolina every Friday late afternoon and came back Monday mornings, and I took a leave of absence from work, because I simply couldn’t maintain my overnight “call” responsibilities, with little kids and a spouse home only Mon-Thurs.


A pattern for this continuous, double corner, tapered heart is in the recent newsletter.

In the meantime, the poor van sat lonely and unused in my father-in-law’s garage. We finally moved both in-laws up to Pittsburgh so that I could go back to work (still had over $100,000 in med school debt at that point) and my husband could visit them only 20 minutes’ drive away, rather than a plane ride. We had to bring the van up to Pittsburgh,too. At that point I was driving a 13-year old used Taurus station wagon that was on its last legs/wheels, so getting a 2003 van for free was very helpful.

I didn’t like the van at first. I wasn’t used to being so high up off the road. I didn’t like how huge the van was – I felt as if I were driving a truck. It was white and I wouldn’t have chosen white. It was a pain to put the back seats up and down for extra kids and all the inevitable kid birthday parties and interminable Chuck-E-Cheese play-dates. The van just wasn’t my style.

Now, at 55, I don’t have any style to worry about, and I have come to treasure the van. It is absolutely perfect for warehousing several bags of wool fabric that I have bought until my husband isn’t home and I can sneak them into the house without explaining to him why I just bought more wool. My van is great for trips to and from braid-ins, where I can load up the back with everything I need… given my indecisiveness about exactly which braided project I’m going to work on at any one moment, that can mean a lot of projects to bring with me. And when I have teaching jobs, I always have a lot of stuff that I have to bring, so the dear old van is perfect.

I have an old GPS that I bought years ago, and have taped onto the dash with clear packing tape in what my daughter tells me is particularly unattractive (although very useful). To complement the look, my central column has a short and I can no longer see the numbers of the digital clock nor get my CD player to work. I now have an extension cord that plugs into the power adapter, and I plug a boombox CD player into that so that I can listen to my murder spy thrillers while I drive. Given how disastrous a housekeeper I am, it should come as no surprise that my car similarly has quite a few empty diet coke cans and other miscellany that my husband ostentatiously collects and puts into the recycling or trash before he rides with me (I have to drive or I get carsick, so I drive us everywhere).

The other evening, I needed something from Target and I went out in the van. As I was pulling into a parking spot, the van died. Just died. There I was half-in and half-out of a parking space, and the van was unresponsive and comatose. In my usual fashion, I had forgotten my phone (I hate all phones) and I had to stand in line behind 20 people at Customer Service before I could call my husband and Triple A. I had to leave a message on my husband’s phone, and I got through to Triple A, and they said an hour.

In the meantime, I went shopping for what I needed, then I hung out with the poor sick van. When it was long after my husband should have arrived, I went back in and waited in another line to use the phone. This time John answered, and it turns out he had gotten my message, and had gone to Target, and where was I? Well, when he had gotten my message, he hadn’t really listened to me, and he went to the Target he usually goes to instead of the one I told him to go to (we live equidistant between two Targets, and so I had been sure to specify). So I exercised great restraint and explained to him that No, Dear, I was at the other one, and could he please come wait with me in the dark creepy parking lot?


Another slightly larger double corner heart.

We got the van towed, and the mechanic couldn’t even look at the van for a couple days because he was so busy. In the meantime, I started catastrophizing and wondering how I was going to afford a new van (they start at $30,000) so that I could get one exactly like her as a replacement. I had to miss my weekly visit with my braiding buddy, Wanda. I started thinking unhappily of limited trunk spaces in more affordable sedans, and how would I ever manage to take everything I wanted to the braid in, in May.

Then, my husband walked in, and dropped the keys in my lap. The old girl was fixed! It had been a simple belt issue that had taken them about 15 minutes to correct. My 2003 van was running again.

But my brief, 48-hour stint of being van-less had been enough to make me realize just how much I depend on her for my braiding adventures (and the associated wool-gathering). So, bastardizing Virginia Woolf, “A woman needs money, a room of her own sure doesn’t hurt, and a 2003 white Honda minivan to braid rugs”… at least this woman, anyway!

In other news, we have 27 people signed up for the braid in!  Some of the classes are close to getting full, so if you have a specific class in mind, please register soon!