Fighting for Space

Christine here. I don’t have a small house. Really, I don’t. We have a living room, dining room, three bedrooms, a small office, and my fabric room (which is stuffed to the gills) and a kind of open space on the 3rd floor with its own bathroom, which is where we put guests. It’s much larger than the house I grew up in, but somehow, we trip over each other all the time. We’re either all in the kitchen at once, or all trying to use the big table in the dining room at once, or the two bathrooms are always occupied when I need them. The house is just too small. We moved into this house to get more space, and somehow we still just don’t have any room.

My daughter has her bedroom, plus she has set up an art studio in the unfinished basement, so that she can spread out a bit and can use the utility sink there for cleaning her brushes. My husband has the big bedroom (I have a corner and half the closet) and his office, and he has claimed all of the house’s available shelving for HIS books, not mine. My son has his room and that’s pretty much it. Given that everything including half his brain function has been uploaded to the internet, he probably takes up the least amount of space in the house of anyone.


My shelves with purples & some hot pinks

Then, there’s me. I have my Fabric Room. You have to take Giant Steps over the piles of fabric just to maneuver. Braided rugs are rolled up or piled on the table. Sketchbooks and notebooks and my treasured collection of vintage braiding books, booklets, and supplies are stuffed and spilling off of the one bookshelf. The other walls are covered with wire shelving and my wool is folded into flats on the shelves, and color coordinated: this shelf is blue and green, that shelf is red and pink, etc.  (Notice how the photos carefully avoid showing you the piles on the floor).

Then, there’s the closet at the back of my Fabric Room. You have to perform some acrobatics (if not aerobatics) to get to it, but it has my plastic drawers of Teaching Supplies. One plastic drawer is labeled Needles and has braidkins and sewing and tapestry needles. One drawer has different colors and weights of lacing thread. Etc.


Bookshelves stuffed with old braiding books (plus a few mysteries and sci-fi)

Then, there’s the dining room. Whatever rug I’m currently working on requires a large table to work on, so wool graces the table much more frequently than lovely dishes and dinner. I need the fabric I’m working with plus some options for the next few rows, so they’re in the dining room also. Then there’s the concurrent braided rug project(s) and their wool, and the temporarily abandoned project and its wool…all of which are stacked up on pulled-out chairs and the sideboard.

Really, when it comes down to it, I just need my own house for all my braiding supplies and fabric. That would solve all of the fighting-for-space issues in one fell swoop.

Yes, I just need my own house. Sorry husband, sorry kids, you have to GO. I need the room for my wool and braided rugs and braiding supplies. It’s been great, it’s been fun, come by and visit, and bring the dogs sometime, see ya bye.

OK, maybe you can tell that I am in need of a little time away from the bosom of my loving family. Looking forward to a vacation in California with Dianne… leaving in a few days!!


Wool piled to the ceiling, where I need a step-ladder to reach it

Challenge Rug Planning

Christine here. This is a simple, “What I’m working on” kind of post.

I have changed my mind about my Challenge project. The topic for the Rug Challenge this year (and everyone is welcome to enter the Challenge, whether you attend the spring braid in or not) is “Going Native” and whatever that means to you. It can mean Native American, native wildflowers, or acting like a member of a remote island culture.

Initially I was going to do a tiger theme, one of those rugs that is an animal skin, but out of braids.  I debated a lot about how to get the stripes to look good, whether to make the stripes switch direction around the legs as is correct in real life, and whether I would rug-punch the tiger’s face or try to make it out of braids. But, I kept hesitating because I wasn’t really comfortable with the project. Maybe someday.

leaf2.jpgFinally, abandoning it, I went back to a rug I was planning to make in the autumn, when I was enjoying looking at the maples all over my neighborhood and the many colors in their changing leaves. So, this is my sketch of what I will make:

I’ve already changed my mind about the color progression, since I don’t like the green veins standing out there by their lonesome, but something like this sketch. We’ll see what happens. Sketches and rugs are sometimes pretty different. And it’s much faster to draw a rug in Illustrator than it is to actually braid it.

I have completed the veins, and there are already a few problems to deal with.  See the short pieces coming off the veins?  I made them as individual pieces and finished the ends with the T-end that I showed in the recent newsletter.  The problem is, that T-end is slanted in such a way that it fits nicely against the central veins on the LEFT side, but the RIGHT side is going to require a little more creativity to make the join look neat.  I’ve got three places to test out different ways to do it, so I’ll keep you posted.

Kinda-sorta fits in the Going Native theme, right? Native trees… native leaves… OK, stretching it, but this is the rug I want to make.

Post-Newsletter Recovery

Screen shot 2016-01-25 at 6.57.18 AMChristine here.  While writing a newsletter issue, I work pretty hard on the project. I use a lot of self-denial to motivate myself. I make myself finish a diagram before I’m allowed to get up and go get a soda. I can’t make dinner until the next article is drafted. I can’t eat jujyfruits until I finish braiding a project. And NO MORE CHOCOLATE until the newsletter is done.

You have perhaps noticed that my best motivating factor for work is Food. After working on the newsletter for about a month intensely, you’d think I’d lose weight for all the self-denial that I use as a stimulant to keep working, but unfortunately that’s not the case. I tend to make up for any losses in the post-newsletter bingeing that I allow myself to indulge in.

I have found that I move through several stages of post-newsletter-release life. First there’s Persistent Anxiety. After having driven myself crazy with working long hours trying to Get The Darned Thing Done, you’d think I’d feel relief. But that doesn’t start right away: I’m still so keyed up from a combination of caffeine, scratchy eyes from staring at the laptop, and the mental tricks to goad myself into working… that my frazzled feeling hangs on, unwilling to relinquish its kitten-claws from my psyche. With no newsletter to work on, I wander around the house in a guilty/nervous state, certain that the website has crashed, I released the draft of the newsletter instead of the real thing, or that Dropbox has yet again expired all the linkages without my say-so. I have the general persistent feeling that I still should be working on …. something.

After Persistent Anxiety comes Deliberate Sloth. I am finished, I am sitting on the couch, I am watching TV, I don’t care that no laundry’s been done in 3 weeks or that dishes are piled in the sink. I don’t care that my family hasn’t had a home-cooked meal in a week: if you’re hungry, go order a G—D—- pizza. I am sitting here and I am not moving. Get your father to run you someplace.

After that there is the Sleep Binge. I lie in bed and caress my pillow. I stay in pajamas with pillow-creases etched into my face. I get up and blink a lot over my coffee, then go back to bed for a nap. I even dream about sleeping. This goes on for a day or two.

Then there is Entitled Self-Indulgence. I go to the only bookstore left within half an hour’s drive and spend decadent hours perusing the romance, sci-fi, and mystery detective novels. After working so hard on the newsletter, I deserve to buy a few books for myself. Then I move on to serious chocolate consumption. I deserve chocolate. I’m fairly indiscriminate in my cravings: Almond Joy, Hershey’s Kisses, and squares of gold-wrapped Godiva chocolates, all very small items temptingly available at checkout counters where if I add them to my purchases, no one will notice and somehow that means the calories are nullified. Then I usually end up at the office supply store, where I stroll aimlessly through aisles looking at pens, pencils, ever-more complex datebooks that will miraculously help me organize my life, and I usually find an excuse to purchase something. The office supply store is right next to the pet store, where I go drool wistfully at the puppy windows, especially at dachshund puppies. I look at the movie schedule for the first time in a month, and try to twist my son’s arm into going to an action sci-fi with me, while he informs me disdainfully that he is NOT going to the MOVIES with me EVER AGAIN since I hog all the popcorn.

After that I usually return to normal.

Summary:  Newsletter–>Persistent Anxiety –>Deliberate Sloth–>Sleep Binge–>Entitled Self-Indulgence–>Normal.


Something old, something new…..

(I just read Christine’s post about houseguests: disclaimer, my post not nearly as humorous)

By chance, I have made a number of things from old fabric of late, for friends to whom the old fabric is meaningful. I told you about my friend from my hooking guild who asked me to braid three small rugs from the braids her grandmother had made, long straight braids. My friend separated the braids by her color preference and gave me three bags of them. I made two before Christmas and one since. She said her daughter who is named after the grandmother cried when she opened her rug. The challenge was connecting the braids without having to rebraid; I butted them but several did not ‘butt’ correctly and wonder if they were braided right openings instead of left? The braids were wider and more ‘traditional’ (in that they were all 3 contrasting fabrics) than I prefer for my own braiding where I find I gravitate to using much more of the same fabric or two strands of one, etc. But the braids were good and the lacing went faster than with my tiny braids!

Here they are along with a bag of braids. I must not have take a photo of the 3rd.IMG_0569 (1)IMG_0579 (2)IMG_0572 (1)IMG_0629.JPG

We bartered for my payment to make the rugs. My friend had ‘inherited’ this partially and beautifully hooked “Persian Melody” from an older rug hooker who had died. I love the colors and the challenge of finishing it, although she had hooked the loops very low. It is done in a #3 cut which is very narrow so you might say this will be my tiny hooked piece! So, the barter piece is also old and partially finished…there is a trend here.

The second project which found me involves an older friend who has given me wool garments and fabric over the years. She gave me a very old blanket with a story. She estimates the blaIMG_0625nket is nearly 100 years old as her mother took it to college in a IMG_0628trunk. When she graduated, the trunk was given to a cousin and the blanket was not discovered for 40 years….my friend thought I might use the wool. I washed the blanket and there were areas you could see right through. When I tore the wool, many of the strips just disintegrated…but I was able to salvage enough to make a braided mat by adding some thinner wool plaid. I gave it to my friend this week and she was overcome with surprise and gratitude. Her mother died in 1965 so this is a special keepsake for her.

IMG_0666 (1)As an aside, our dog Cisco thinks it is his keepsake also, and I have saved some of the blanket for his braided bed.


The third project involved my sister in law’s Scottish heritage tartan, the McCloud plaid. She asked me in November if I could make a basket for her kids with the tartan. We looked around my fiber room for some complementary wools and velvets and I was able to eek out 6 small hybrid baskets, all with some tartan. Hybrid becaIMG_0668use they had continuous base and butted sides. Here is one with blue wool accent.
Here is all the tartan I had left at the end!IMG_0669

Her sister sent me a note, saying ‘you took a neglected piece of wool and made me something to remember my dad’.

And the fourth and last involves my aunt giving me maroon velvet drapes a few years ago, soon after I began braiding with velvet. She had moved into a new house and didn’t wanIMG_0667t to keep the heavy velvet drapes. I washed them and used some to make her a mat soon after and now am making her a hybrid basket, perhaps with all velvet rows in between the others up the sides….

I share all this, not to toot my own horn, but to say how much making something out of a keepsake can mean to others. None of these fabrics would have been my first choice, in color or condition, and yet they will give so much pleasure to the recipients. I only wish I had been braiding/hooking when my mom passed away as she was a avid seamstress with a fiber room to match and a closet full of clothes she made for herself. If only I had been into this then, I could have repurposed her wool. Perhaps that is why I have attracted these recent projects…you think?

Houseguests and Fiber Mess


6-braid Trivet:  experiments on different ways to fill in the earlier version’s center hole generated a LOT of small-braids mess in the house.

Christine here.  We have entered a new era in our household: that of the daughter’s serious boyfriend as a houseguest. Over New Year’s, my daughter went to visit her college boyfriend’s family for a long weekend, and now his visit to our house is the expected reciprocation.

I have the usual difficulties with house guests of any kind: they make me fight my natural tendency toward supreme disorganization, so I always start off somewhat resentful. He looked obliquely at my piles of wool and braids stacked high in the dining room; I also saw him notice the collection of scissors, hemostats, needles, and clothespins on the coffee table as he searched for a place to set down his coffee cup. But, he’s a nice boy/man, and very sweet with my daughter, so he has that going for him.

One of the selling points for this boyfriend is that he is a science fiction geek like the rest of us in this family. He is able to compete on the same level as the rest of us for Original Series Star Trek trivia. (Name of Spock’s fiancée when he “killed” Captain Kirk?   T’Pring.) My daughter has coerced him into agreeing to watch the entire compendium of Star Trek: Voyager episodes. He has the habit of speaking to cats in a Yoda voice, which I found amusing when I first heard it.   But, we have 6 cats, so that’s a lot of Yoda.

My daughter and he came into the kitchen this morning while I was doing dishes and, after standing there expectantly for a minute, she began to make him breakfast. Her usual pose while in the kitchen is complete ignorance of all things culinary, but there she was making coffee and toast and pouring juice and setting out dishes and napkins. I am beginning to see some benefits of her having a boyfriend.

I know, with a 17-year old son in the family, that I should be used to a big young guy moving around the house. But my son usually skulks in his room and slips out only for kitchen forays before returning silently to his bat cave. This boyfriend actually engages with me verbally, wishing me good morning and asking me questions. It almost made me drop the dishes to have a young man speak to me… and before noon on a Saturday, no less. If I want my son to talk to me, I have to yell at him to yank out ear buds and… once I start yelling, I tend to continue yelling, so things never go well. Thus, it’s weird to have a pleasant and conversational young man in the house.

My mother has often told me that one of the most amusing aspects of parenting was meeting the young men my sister and I brought home. She has told me quite clearly that she wouldn’t have picked either of her son-in-laws personally, but they both seem to have hung in there with me and my sister so she thinks they’re All Right. This young man visiting my daughter is the first one who has been formally introduced to us as an important guy… it’s obviously unknown whether he will stay or go in her affections. We’ll have to see. But, at least he’s fiber-mess tolerant, which is a plus in my book.


Pentagon Star — this project generated a lot of fiber mess as well, as I tried out various ways to fill in the tiny center.

PA Farm Show Winners

Christine here:  I said I would post the winners of the Pennsylvania Farm Show in the Braided Rug category and here they are!  It is just so great that all three winners are members of the Valley Forge Rug Braiding Guild.  After I present the first three, stay tuned:  Carolyn Newcomer also won in the tote bag category!

First Place went to Eileen Colligan for this pinwheel rug:


Eileen Colligan’s First Place Rug

Look at how beautiful this rug turned out.  All of the swirl sections are nicely proportioned, and I like the way the dark is speckled due to the plaid.  Congratulations, Eileen!






Second Place went to me, Christine Manges, for my “Whilrlygig” mulitstrand rug… (at least, I think that was the one that won 2nd:  I haven’t been to the show yet, and I dropped off two rugs at Carolyn’s to put in the show, so I think she entered this one into the braided rug category…)


“Whirlygig” Multistrand Braided Rug

I made this rug with two 4-strands, then two 6-strands, then two 8-strands.  Were I to do it over again (which I will NOT) I would make it only out of the dark red and pale beige and not have any of the maroon and camel to confuse the pattern.  But, I’m happy with it overall:  it has the vertigo effect that I wanted!





Carolyn Newcomer’s Zig Zag Strip Rug:  3rd place in Pennsylvania

Third place was won by Carolyn Newcomer for her Zig Zag Strip Rug.  My only photo is from when she won first place with this rug in the Elizabethtown Fair; she also entered this rug into the state-wide show and won Third.  Congratulations, Carolyn!


Then, Carolyn Newcomer won a first in the Tote Bag category with her zigzag tote bag:  see photo below.


Carolyn Newcomer with her first place Tote Bag


I think it is just great that the Valley Forge Braiders swept the state on prizes!!!

Sunshine in Pittsburgh



Christine here. This morning I was about to respond to an email with my usual Eor-like fervent pessimism when I noticed the sunshine streaming in over my braiding detritus left on the coffee table.

Sunshine is not a frequent visitor to my home.  We are surrounded by trees that block the sun in summer, and the lake effect makes 285 days per year cloudy and overcast in Pittsburgh.  The sky is usually a dim white to gray.  But today, it is a beautiful clear and cold blue.

One of my resolutions for the coming year is not to use this blog as purely a ranting place to vent my less than happy mood.  So I’m starting, today, with appreciation of the sunshine.  It may be brief, but it is beautiful.

I had some good news today:  I heard that the Valley Forge Rug Braiding Good swept the awards at the Pennsylvania Farm Show with first, second, and third places (I’m the second).  As soon as I get a photo of the 3rd place, I will post them all.  I’m so pleased with the guild for promoting rug braiding in this state.  It is a wonderful craft… and winning is always satisfying, too!

I have been working on the next issue of the newsletter, but I have been seriously hampered by the presence of house guests.  No matter how lovely they are, house guests always drive me bats.  They impair my ability to live in the state of creative chaos in which I am most comfortable.  I have to spend my time curtailing the natural entropy and refrain from being impolite.  It is truly a stressful condition, no matter how kind or amusing the guests are.

My natural de-stress mechanism is always to reach for an oval rug, so this is the one I’ve been working on:


It is a combination of peaches, pinks, browns, and camels.  At various points I have thought it was a boring sort of rug, but I like its calmness.  I was considering introducing some soft turquoises, but at this point I think I’ll just keep it calm and pink and brown.

The newsletter that I’ve been working on will have a few variations on 6-braid spiral hexagons, as well as butted pentagons.


6-braid hexagon

I made one for Christmas, but it has a hole in the center of it that I’m not certain everyone will like.  I’ve been experimenting with ways to fill in the center hole, and it’s harder to figure out than you might think.


6-braid hexagon but too tight in center.

The next hexagon I made, the blue and white one, was so full in the center that it has a little hat shape sticking up.


6-braid hexagon with partially filled center hole.

The next version that I made, with hot pink and maroon, worked a bit better but still is only partially filled in the center — and the loops are pulled quite tight to do so.

I’m left with considering braiding half of the braids a tad longer, and the other half shorter, so that 3 of the braids will reach into the center and the other 3 will rest just outside of the center.

The experimentation process — trying new designs, seeing what works — is always my favorite aspect of writing the newsletter.  Unfortunately, each “experiment” takes time to braid and lace, and I have a newsletter to get out!

Between getting the guild website up to date with information on the braid in, cleaning my house for guests and entertaining the guests, I am pretty far behind on the coming issue.  But, it will get done… sometime… before the end of January.