Easter Baskets

IMG_2012

Braided Easter Basket, with continuous octagon base, and wire braided into the top row and handle.

I came upon my kids’ Easter baskets in the basement about a week ago. We live in a very old house, with creepy low rafters, dim lighting, and spiders in the basement, not a new house’s “family activity room” with a pool table and carpeting in the basement. So the Easter baskets were stuffed down there in a closet, and a little bit of dark mold was growing on them.

I have to admit that I did not immediately throw them out: they’re made of plastic-coated wire, after all, and a good soak in detergent would probably have revived them sufficiently for their job of holding candy and cellophane grass Easter morning. But, I’m working on the next newsletter, with a teaching article on octagons, and I realized… braided Easter basket.

Why have I not thought of this before? My poor children, suffering for years by having to eat their Easter candy out of plastic-coated wire, when they could have been eating from a luscious, soft, warm basket made from wool.

So, the octagons (a shape I had been somewhat reluctant about: it didn’t appeal to me particularly) suddenly became a focus of opportunity and fun. I grabbed some pink and yellow and a blue plaid and started braiding.

My first basket, planned for Katie, was going to be a continuous octagon. Although I am usually unhappy with continuous hexagons, pentagons, or octagons, because they just cannot be ended symmetrically and will always be misshapen if made small, I decided that the octagon would be perfect in a continuously-made basket. Ending with a handle and fringe, who would notice any asymmetry?

I tried to braid corners into the walls of the octagon, and I found a way that worked… but it left a bit of lacing thread showing across the back (which, for this basket, was inside the basket). I could have lined the basket with fabric… maybe a soft yellow satin… but decided no: too much work, and I really wasn’t happy with the lacing thread showing, even if it was going to be hidden. So I reworked the braids, tried a zillion other ways to braid a sideways corner into the wall, and gave up:  time to braid with wire to get the corners.

The need to purchase wire gave me an excuse to go to JoAnn Fabrics, which has to be one of my favorite places on the planet. You wander in there, and get lost in a sea of quilting cotton, and home dec fabric, and shiny threads, and beads, and tools, and possible Christmas gifts to make… I have too much fun there.

I ended up buying an 18 gauge aluminum jewelry wire. (At least, that’s what gauge I think it was: I left the cardboard cover to the package on the dining room table, so that I could find it again, and it’s gone: I’m sure my neatnik husband thought it was trash and threw it out). It worked perfectly for stiffening the sides and making very malleable corners. But, it’s not so good for the handle: it’s soft enough that when you pick up the basket by the handle, the handle deforms slightly due to the weight of the basket.

IMG_2010

The base of Jack’s basket: an all-butted octagon, in progress

Next: I’ll have to wander around one of my second favorite stores on the planet: Home Depot, and find some stiffer aluminum (won’t rust) wire for the next basket.

Here’s the basket I’m working on for Jack, which has a base that is an all-butted octagon. I’ve got to get moving to finish this before Easter morning.

I’ll leave you with a photo of brotherly love: my daughter recently had her 20th birthday (cake: red velvet, with pink frosting, and jimmies) and there was one piece left that she labeled for herself. You can guess what Jack did just to tick her off, and what her response was.

IMG_2004

The last piece of Katie’s birthday cake…

On the Highway to … Braid

Some of you, I know, think it’s ridiculous for me to be a member of a guild in which I have to drive across the Great State of Pennsylvania to attend meetings. Six hours is how long it takes me to drive to a meeting.

Of course I stop at my parents’ home; they live about 4 hours away from me, so I stay overnight and only drive two hours in the morning to get to meetings. Ditto on the way back. And I only attend meetings about 4-6 times a year. Nonetheless, driving my 2003 Honda Odyssey van, (no plans for a new car until my son has had his license for a year), I get that sort of cross-country road trip feeling that reminds me of that Steppenwolf song,

Get your motor runnin’/ Head out on the highway/ Looking for adventure/ In whatever comes our way…

DSC_1828

Mary and Pat K at a guild meeting.

The community of people in the guild is very rewarding to me, so 6 hours out and 6 hours back is worth it. I like everyone in the guild, I like their perspectives, I like their amusing stories about going on The Hunt for Good Cheap Wool, and I like to see what they are working on. We plan future events, catch everyone up on gossip, we all try to help each other out with problem rugs, and I get to complain about my NRB (non-rug-braiding) family and their inexplicable annoyance with stacks of wool covering every surface in the house.

I tried, with repeated beginner rug braiding courses in the Pittsburgh area where I live, to create a community of braiders here. It remains a great disappointment to me that I never really got it off the ground. There is one loyal buddy with whom I braid regularly: Wanda, and a second braider, Lucy, who drives across the city (a good hour) to join us when she’s in town, but that’s it. While that’s fun, and I enjoy it, my braiding sessions on Thursday aren’t the same as meeting with a big group of rowdy rug-braiding-obsessed people like the guild.

DSC_3205

Judy and Pat B at a meeting

One of my theories about Pittsburgh, which is ethnically different from the eastern part of the state where I grew up, is that there just isn’t the tradition of rug braiding out here that resonates with childhood experience. When I was a kid, my grandmother’s braided rugs were all over the house. We called them “rag rugs,” a nonspecific term applied to any technique of assembling worn-out clothing into a floor covering…but in my family it just meant braided rugs. I think part of why I like braided rugs so much is because to me, they speak of “home,” just by their very presence. For people who didn’t grow up with braided rugs, they just may not evoke that same warm feeling of comfort and home that they do for me.

So, about every two months, I pack up some overnight things, too much wool for me to ever finish braiding in a weekend, and my red and black Darth Vader toothbrush and head off into the sunset. Along the way, I listen to mystery thriller spy stories (better yet if they have a time travel element: just listened to “Signal” by Patrick Lee, what a great book) and eat way too much air-popped popcorn just to stay awake while driving.

The next guild meeting is April 2nd. If you’re in the Philadelphia area… look us up! We meet at Arbour Square Retirement Community, 695 Main Street, Harleysville, PA.

A Time for Braiding…..and hooking

I have not posted for awhile….and Christine has very ably entertained us with her excellent writing and creative artistic skills (but I refuse to be intimidated!)

Seriously, my 95 year old Dad has been in declining health and passed away last week. I have found that during this time of his fading from us, I have gravitated to my fiber room and have plugged into hooking and braiding projects which require technical skill but little else, nothing new and innovative but satisfying none the less. It was satisfying to have my hands busy with little thought while my mind wandered or worried.

hooked and braided velvet bowl

hooked and braided velvet bowl. I made

I made a couple of braided bowls with hooked bottoms out of my hand dyed stretch velvet. I think the soft and stretchy velvet added to the tactile satisfaction.

future mulch!

future mulch!

After his passing we had to go to our coast house (where the large Hit and Miss rug is happily enjoying itself) to supervise some serious tree removal. We now have some serious wood chip mulch distribution in our futures.

As always,  I take a small bin of fabric, hooks, needles, threads. I found myself braiding, braiding, braiding….without really anything concrete in mind.

The worm mats just got bigger; were they going to be mats or baskets?
It wasn’t until I pressed them nice and flat that I decided, mats.

IMG_0746

Made from 'wooly worms'

Made from ‘wooly worms’

 

 

 

 

 

And the patterned selvage round: mat or basket?: butted or continuous?: and how to end? In the end I attached the butted row with double corners to give a simple Lunette Border effect although done with double corners to anchor  (pg 116 of Combining Rug Hooking and Braiding, McDermet, Manges, Tobias) and I fudged and used the uneven length to hang it in a bedroom with maroon bedding and furniture.

"Lunette" Mat

“Lunette” Mat

And before I knew it,  I ended up with 3 small items for the house.

The act of braiding gave my hands activity while my mind could wander in all sorts of directions, mainly about my dad. It was pure pleasure, especially after his passing because the mind began to regain the good memories from years past, not the more recent unhealthy memories. These items are not my best for sure, but the journey to finish them provided the calm I needed for reflection and healing.

Decisions

IMG_1983

The colors probably aren’t true in this photo, but the yellow is too strong for my maple leaf.

Christine here.  My daughter is considered the “artistic” one in the family.  She paints with acrylics and oil paints in the basement, in an area that she has converted into a painting studio.  The cats, who are confined to the basement and the kitchen (the dogs have run of the rest of the house) will sit and supervise her work, and occasionally utter their approving meows (or, demand to be petted, it’s hard to tell which).

So, my daughter is the one whom I tap for opinions about colors when I think that I’ve made a mistake in a rug.  The problem is, since we are mother and daughter, the relationship occasionally interferes with my ability to use her for her color sense.  For example, here’s our interaction this morning:

Me, yelling up the stairs to her bedroom:  “Hey Katie, come down and give me some advice.  I need to figure out my next color.”

Her:  “I’m doing my Stats homework.”

Me:  “It will only take 5 minutes.”

Her:  “Well I would, EXCEPT that you said an 80 wasn’t good enough on my last exam, so I guess I have to work REALLY HARD on my homework, MOM.”

And so it goes.  Left to my own devices, and still pretty sure that my braided maple leaf’s yellow was too bright and not the right choice, I grabbed my husband, who got a very skeptical look on his face and suggested I ask Katie.  I explained about the Stats homework, and he sighed and told me I wasn’t going to really listen to him anyway, and I said that was fine, it was just an exercise.

IMG_1980

My first progression of colors–rejected.

I laid the stack of wools out for him, and explained about how I really like working with the heathered tones because they kind of have two colors at once in them.  He put on a pained face, as if making color choices were somehow damaging to his sense of self.  He said he didn’t like the pale yellow roll and the lightest orange layer because they just… didn’t fit.  Then he skedaddled quickly, before I could ask him to approve a revised stack.

I removed the two lightest yellow oranges and was left with the following:

IMG_1981

My second progression of colors.

 

 

 

At this point, Katie’s curiosity overwhelmed her and she wandered down and approved the second stack, and agreed with her father that the two lighter wools should go.

So, now I’m left to remove all of the yellow that I’ve laced on so far, and to cross my fingers that the heathered yellow/orange that’s next will make it around the leaf… if it doesn’t, I may have to recruit family members to revise the maple leaf colors AGAIN.

IMG_1984

Progress on the Challenge Rug so far.

 

What to Do with Awful Fabric

rug-example

Wagon Wheel rug that I’m thinking of making….

Christine here:  Recently, I went to my mom’s place and she’s good friends with this woman down the street. The woman is a bit older than my mom, who at 80 is only early-middle-aged for her retirement community. I’m not sure how old Ada is, but she was friendly with my grandmother before she died – mom’s mom – so Ada must be up there in years.

Ada is a quilter and she is also a quilt historian. She looks forward to my mother’s visits because mom is also a quilter and can appreciate her work, and mom enjoys hearing about the history of the pattern and what Ada had to do to recreate a historical quilt. To someone who doesn’t braid rugs, for example, they would look at our work and have no idea of the time and love that went into a rug’s creation. They’d have no idea about the search for wool, the picking apart seams, washing and stripping wool, the long hours braiding until you get the finger movements to be effortless, and the frustration of learning how to butt braids. It’s the same with quilters: you have to be a quilter to have an inkling of how truly amazing any quilt really is.

So Ada makes a fuss over my mother when she goes to visit, and mom makes the expected fuss over Ada’s latest quilt.

Mom has shown Ada the book that Kris and Dianne and I wrote a few years ago, and one of my first braided rugs in my parents’ foyer. So Ada knows that I braid rugs and hunt for wool.

Thus, I was gifted with 3 boxes of cut-apart men’s suits and pants, collected lovingly by a dear friend of Ada’s who always meant to get around to braiding a rug before she passed away and gave all this fabric to Ada. Ada says she spent two days going through it all and whittling it down to 3 big boxes of the “good stuff. “

Of course I was most appreciative, and I did look through it once I got home. Unfortunately, most of it is either pretty polyester-y or else it’s that really, really thin wool that just won’t thicken up. Then, the longest pieces are pants and sleeves… and I think Ada’s friend’s husband must have been a short guy from his inseam, so the length of these pant pieces is not great.

We’ve all been there. We all have friends who save up the worst kind of wool for us out of the best of impulses. But what do you do with it?

I know, I know, there are those of you who can easily and comfortably just throw the stuff out. And I did throw out some of it: some of that really crappy stuff that is about 5% wool at most. But I feel guilty about throwing it out.

The stories that come with the wool mean something to me. I still have my friend Suzanne’s hot pink wool power suit from the 1990’s when that color was fashionable, because Suzanne wore it when she was breaking into her business’ all-male hierarchy…I keep it because she gave it to me, even though the wool is whisper thin and would braid up to be a tweaky and wrinkly mess. I have the purple wool that my friend Wanda gave me because she knew I needed purple and she found it at the thrift store, even though it’s awfully polyester-y, but I can’t get rid of it because I associate it with Wanda. It’s the same with the new batch from Ada (who was friends with my grandmother, doesn’t that count for something??  And what about her friend the fabric-collector with the short husband?)

Before you know it your good wool is being crowded out by the awful stuff that is spilling off one entire set of shelving. You let that stuff in your house and it’s like the cats: it sneaks out at night and gets pregnant. The polyester in it is a fabric sex hormone and makes it have a tendency to multiply.

So what am I going to do with the awful stuff from Ada??

I’ve decided on an out: I’m going to use it, but I’m not going to braid with it. I’m going to use it to make one of those twined rugs on a frame. Either that or the wagon wheel rugs… not sure which kind just yet. More than a year ago I had my father make a rug twining frame, about 24 X 48”, and I have yet to start on a rug with it. As a frame for a wagon wheel rug, I would just have to go buy a large hula hoop. Either way, twined rug or wagon wheel, I’m going to use up the awful wool that I keep ending up with and make a fabric-eating rug. No one’s feelings will be hurt, I won’t have to feel guilty, and I also won’t have to braid with sub-standard wool. I do have my standards.

(PS: You might not hear from me for awhile: my husband and his cousin, who is coming to visit, are going to upgrade my several-generations-out-of-date computer operating system, which apparently means several days of work, and cross your fingers that my Illustrator program still works after the upgrade.)

Video

Christine here.  OK, here it is, my first venture into posting a video on YouTube (and Marjorie Kauffman did all the work — filming, editing, uploading, etc).  I admit that I have no future in Hollywood!!  But focus on the technique:  I think the butting technique is shown pretty well and that people should be able to follow the instructions… I hope so, anyway!

In the future, I’ll work on versions of this for right opening braiders and for same-colored braids (which are pretty easy with this technique:  you just need to buy colored safety pins and you’re all set).

Video:  Annie’s Fanny Butt Method for Left Opening Braiders

Entering the 21st Century

Screen shot 2016-03-01 at 9.35.35 AM

The YouTube video — still being edited right now.

An announcement: in 2016, here today (or maybe this past weekend), I am finally being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. The rest of the world entered the 21st century back in Y2K, but I finally made it over the line two days ago: I made a YouTube video.

Strictly speaking, I didn’t “make” the video; I was simply an actress in it. My friend Marjorie Kauffman has the equipment and shot the video and is editing it for posting on the YouTube site. It’s on the Annie’s Fanny butting method. Marjorie has been working on other braiding videos, too, which I think will be a big asset to the World of Rug Braiding.

My daughter inspired me in part. I taught her to crochet a couple years ago, and last semester she wanted to crochet a jar-cover. At her environmentally conscious college, no self-respecting student drinks coffee or water from (shudder) paper or styrofoam cups; they all drink from mason jars that they re-use over and over. To be able to hold hot coffee, they make their own jar-covers. (Their own version of “cool.”)

IMG_1978

My daughter crocheted a jar-cover from a YouTube video

By the time my daughter had this desire to make a jar-cover, she had completely forgotten how to crochet. Instead of buying a book or going to the library, as I would have done, she just watched YouTube videos, and finished her project in an afternoon. So, increasingly, people are turning to videos as the way to learn how to make things. The same will be true with rug braiding.

In preparation for the video — after remembering Kris McDermet’s comments on rather unattractive finger nails in a book’s technique photos – I even painted my nails. I got some pale pink polish that I thought would be discreet and unobtrusive but turned out to be kind of neon. (The last time I painted my nails was probably 10 years ago… or more).

I mentally rehearsed what I would say but of course I was nervous and left out some things I would like to have remembered. I had an unfortunate tendency to keep clearing my throat. Occasionally I said something incorrectly and had to correct myself. But, overall, I think it was good! Not professional, certainly, but clear enough that I think people will really be able to follow the technique, which is the important thing.

When it’s finished being edited, I will put a link here on the blog… and you, too, can enter the 21st century with me! (If you haven’t done so already).