Braids for Babies


Dianne Tobias made a hooked and braided baby rattle for the 2015 “Just for Kids” rug challenge.

Christine here. This past Friday I went to what was probably my first baby shower in… 15 years? Or more? Having been rather late to the baby adventures myself, most of my girlfriends had kids ages before me. Maybe there was a shower for my sister when she had my nephew about 13 years ago (sorry, Valerie, I can’t remember).

My most recent job (which, given the salary, I thought of more as a volunteer work than anything) was as a secretary for the local borough. My boss was a young woman whom I both liked very much and yet… I didn’t really have the personal maturity to accept orders from her. After all, she was young enough to be my daughter, and I had to advise her on work basics (Council is never going to listen to you until you make yourself look older: glasses, low heels, slim skirt, pearls, and a hair cut or at least pull your hair back, and modest make up). She was terribly competent: a Master’s degree in Government from Pitt, and a father who’s a Borough Manager in a nearby larger and more-moneyed borough to tap for advice.


Kris McDermet made a baby beach ball of hooked and braided pentagons for the “Just for Kids” 2015 Challenge

Once Julie dropped the college student clothing and wore glasses and heels, she really did get some more respect and authority, but I just wasn’t that good about accepting it from her. I realized it was me, mostly, and not her… but that didn’t make it any easier to put up with, so because of that and a host of other reasons, I left the job after 3 years (and the loss made no appreciable effect on our standard of living, which tells you why it just wasn’t worth it.) Since then we’ve kept in loose contact: I drop in to harass the code enforcement manager about my deadbeat neighbors with 3-foot tall weeds and horribly peeling paint, and I always stop in to see how Julie’s doing.


Eileen Collegian made a bear rug for the “Just for Kids” challenge in 2015

I was absolutely delighted when I ran into the current secretary while we were both out walking our dogs, and she invited me to Julie’s baby shower. I realized that I just wouldn’t have enough time to make a rug as a present, and none of my former rugs rolled up and stashed in a corner were sufficiently baby-looking. So I got to go to Babies R Us for the first time in many years, and had way too much fun picking out baby boy clothing.

The shower was a lot of fun, but since then, I’ve been thinking, if I’d had enough time… what would a braided rug for a baby shower look like?

The “challenge” in 2015 was “Just for Kids.” There were wonderful rugs there, with all sorts of game-themed ideas… but not too many of them were really specifically for babies: they were more for older kids. The only real “baby” oriented ones were: Dianne Tobias’ rattle, which was hooked and braided; and the baby ball of hooked pentagons connected by braiding, which Kris McDermet made. These braided items weren’t rugs, though, and I’ve been thinking about a RUG for a baby. Some of the other rugs from the 2015 Challenge were more “baby” oriented: Eileen Colligan’s bear rug, Deb Lynch’s Mickey Mouse rug, and Pam Landry’s round rug of crayon colors.


Deb Lynch’s Mickey Mouse Rug


Pam Landry’s rug of crayon colors

But still, not exactly what I have in mind for a baby rug. I guess I was affected too keenly by all the pink and pale blue in the Babies R Us store. I googled, “Braided rug for baby” and got about a million images of those t-shirt cotton rugs in pastels stitched together with machine zigzag stitching. Cute, but I like working with wool. There also were a whole lot of crocheted rugs that came up: again, cute, but not what I was looking for (I find it very annoying that crochet rugs are being “tagged” as braided rugs: I love to crochet, but the technique is DIFFERENT from braiding and should not be lumped in there).

So, I’ve decided – for some hopeful date in the future… or at least the next baby shower – to make baby boy rug and baby girl rugs. I’ll work with heavily felted wool to make thick, soft, plush braids – no thin or tweaky wool, and a preference for fuzziness. Although a round would be easy, I always have to have something a little extra complicated to keep my interest.

The baby girl rug is easy: a big pink flower with a light yellow center, and 5 short spokes to make the rounded petals. The baby boy’s rug… for some reason I’m attracted to the spiral square pattern, maybe 6 squares lined up in a 2X3 grid, with a million blue, turquoise, and light green scraps used up, something like this:


Plans for baby boy and baby girl braided rugs

I’ve gotten started on the spiral square one, which is a fun pattern IF you are comfortable with counting loops and IF you are perfect about doing so. I’m using up all of my turquoise and baby blue and light green scraps, which is fun. I’ll keep you posted.

Anyone else have any braided rugs for babies that they’ve made?

The Hulk’s Older Sister

Christine here.  Fifty-four years ago in May, 1962, a great character was born: The Hulk. (I was also born in 1962, but in January, so you can think of me as Hulk’s annoying older sister). For as long as I can remember, I have loved the character of the Hulk. One of my prized possessions is a vintage bright red metal trashcan with the Hulk raging on it, and “Ka kroom!” written underneath. When a friend borrowed it (without asking me) in college to use as an ice bucket for alcohol and dented it, I was furious.

Obviously inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Hulk was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for Marvel comics. Interestingly, the Hulk originally was colored gray, but he quickly was changed to green due to some print difficulties.

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Bruce Banner being bombarded with gamma rays

Part of the origin story in the comics is that the physicist Bruce Banner created the gamma ray bomb that ended up causing his own Hulk transformation. The idea that our worst difficulties are often of our own creation is a recurrent theme in literature (and in life).

I don’t know what attracted me so strongly to the Hulk character. I think much of it was simply that in non-rage form (newly called “David” Banner) he was portrayed so well on TV by the actor Bill Bixby, with Lou Ferrigno playing the Hulk. But another part of it was that I was often very angry as a child, and I just didn’t see any good way to express it and still be a good girl. I think I got a vicarious thrill watching Bill Bixby have his eyes start to glow, then his muscles grow to immense size, splitting his shirt and popping buttons, and then Lou Ferrigno would roar in rage and smash things.


Transforming into The Hulk

The expression of anger is still difficult for me… as I think it is for many women who grew up in quiet, restrained, religious families. While growing up, I absolutely never saw my own parents yell at each other, and I rarely saw them angry with anyone else (except my brother, but that’s another story). In addition to the ten commandments, in my family there was number eleven: don’t get angry. So I wasn’t blessed with the best examples for expressing anger appropriately – because we all get angry, and sometimes you need to express it to protect your family or yourself.

One of the times I have been the most furious in my life was in dealing with a colleague at the first hospital where I worked as a physician. She saw my soft-spoken-ness as weakness rather than simply being polite and quiet, and my having the lowest C-section rate among my colleagues as being fearful of performing surgery, rather than skilled at obstetrical management.

It came to a head when she was on call for the weekend and refused to round on a post-operative patient of mine whom I had transferred to the pulmonary ICU. She said that if I were too scared to manage my own patient’s breathing problems and had to transfer her to another service, that she wasn’t going to bother rounding on her. (Even when a patient is transferred to another service, as a surgeon, you still care for the patient’s post-operative issues).  I had plane tickets out that weekend, but I stayed home to keep tabs on my patient.

That Monday we had a staff meeting, and I definitely was angry. I said that if I couldn’t trust my colleagues to care for my patients while I was away from the hospital, that I was withdrawing from the call schedule and would care for my own patients while I sought another position. Unfortunately my voice shook terribly while I said this. The head of the department backed me up and threatened to kick out the offending physician if she ever refused to round on a patient that was signed out to her again. (The patient stayed in the ICU for a week but recovered fully).

Obviously, I’m still angry about that old issue with a colleague, and I think that’s part of the problem with people like me who don’t express anger well: we hang onto it. To this day I think of that doctor… and I seethe.

Right now I’m angry… the reason is stupid and doesn’t really matter: it’s one of those things between mother and daughter. I know she’s simply asserting her own independence by behaving in a way that goes against her parents’ ideas. I know that it’s even expected and necessary for her development, for her to rebel in order to become her own person. I certainly did, when I was her age. But I’m angry with her, anyway.

You see why I like the Hulk? What would it be like, when you’re angry, to be able to just not care about anyone’s feelings or perceptions of you, and just let it all go, and smash walls and break buildings and even raze entire cities, if you felt like it? What would it be like, to transform into another being altogether, and to roar and scream and just RAGE in anger? No control, no limitations, no responsibility, and no psychiatric commitment in the offing… because after all, it wasn’t you, it was THE HULK.


Co-Authors and Friends


Christine Manges, Dianne Tobias, and Kris McDermet at Longwood Gardens

After the recent braid in, Dianne and Kris and I went to the Chadds Ford/Kennett Square area outside of Philadelphia and stayed in a hotel together.  We did our usual post-braid-in review of the event, discussed thoughts of how to make it better, and hung out in pajamas and hooked and braided.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 8.57.28 AM.jpgWe also went to:  the Brandywine Museum, Longwood Gardens (we had lunch/dinner there, see above photo, it was delicious) and Winterthur.

The three of us are united by the common history of writing a book together…a book that, while the price ended up being higher than we would have liked (the publisher determined that, not us), we still are proud of.  Immediately after publication, though, there was some serious repair work to do on our friendship.

During the writing, illustrating, and editing of the text, it seemed we were an unlikely combination.  At the beginning of working together, Kris was the only one who both hooked and braided… and this was, after all, a book on COMBINING rug hooking and braiding.  Dianne at least had the grace to learn how to rug hook and has remained captivated by rug hooking as well as braiding.  I whined a lot about how I just didn’t like rug hooking and I couldn’t get my old loops to stay in when I hooked new ones.  (I continue to whine, just like that).

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Kris, Dianne, and me with the new book… 2012?

The book took a long time to write — at least two years, I forget exactly, I think I’ve blocked it out — and there was some friction among us during that time.  Dianne bossed us around a lot (which we needed, because she’s good at organizing and managing, and Kris is too nice to yell at people, and I procrastinate something awful).

But, every year since, we’ve tried to get together at either the Valley Forge braid in or the Methuen gathering, or both, to renew our friendship.  Dianne flies our from California and copes with jet lag amazingly well.  I still drive the same beat up old van filled with braiding supplies and fabric to pick her up from the airport.  After Methuen, we often stay in Boston at Kris’ apartment there.  The three of us even wrote together again:  two book chapters for the Finishing Rug Hooking book.  But I think that’s probably the last time we’ll collaborate on a writing project — I think we’re all afraid we’ll get too ticked off with each other again and lose our friendship if we do.

Dianne has asked me, “Do you think we’d be friends if we lived near each other?” and “Do you think we’d be friends if we didn’t have the book in common?” and the answer is, I don’t know.  I meet a lot of very nice people at braid ins, and while I greatly look forward to seeing them again, they don’t necessarily cross into day-to-day life the way that the three of us have.  I think, in some respects, that having a real friend is knowing their faults and liking them anyway… I try to protect most people whom I meet only at braid ins from seeing my worst flaws, but I gave up trying to conceal that long ago with Kris and Dianne.  I think our closeness is, in part, that they have seen what I’m really like and still put up with me.

In any case, the common history of writing a book together, with the difficulties and still with pride in the outcome, has united us… hopefully forever.  We make enough from book royalties to take each other out to lunch or dinner once a year… although soon I think it’s going to have to just be breakfast!  It’s not exactly been a lucrative experience, except in the friendship department.

2016 Rug Challenge

Christine here.  I am back home after the recent Valley Forge Spring Braid In last weekend, which was a tremendously fun event.  After the braid in was over, Kris McDermet and Dianne Tobias and I stayed in the Chadds Ford, PA area and went to the Brandywine Museum, Longwood Gardens, and the Winterthur estate and gardens.  (Do you get the feeling that I was trying not to come back home?)  But yes, it’s all still here:  little progress was made on the stone and cement soup of a back yard and the demolished kitchen while I was gone.

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2016 Valley Forge Spring Braid In

Here’s a photo of the attendees of the braid in:

One of the events that I look forward to every year is the Rug Challenge.  Truly, I believe that the craft and art of rug braiding is advanced every year by the creations for the Challenge.  It stimulates the imagination and encourages the makers in new directions in order to achieve the image they have in mind.  The Rug Challenge is one of the events that I look forward to the most about the braid in.

Unfortunately, with all the recent mayhem in my life… I didn’t finish my own Challenge rug — the leaf.  But, I’ll keep working on it, because I’m enjoying the rug and the process.


Nancy Young and Pam Rowan as braided hula girls

I did, however, enter one thing for the “Going Native” Rug Challenge:  I made a braided grass skirt and sashayed with the other braided hula girls across the luau “stage.”  I’m hoping someone sends me a photo of all of us together because if nothing else we made each other laugh!  Here’s a photo of Nancy Young and Pam Rowan as Hawaiian Natives.

Here are some of the entries to the Challenge.  Thanks to Cheri Coberly for her photos.


Cathy Kinship made braided ear muffs for her Challenge

Cathy Kinship made braided ear muffs in honor of Chester Greenwood, the inventor of ear muffs, from her home town of Farmington, Maine.



Pam Landry and her hooked and braided rug that honors her Native American ancestry.

Pam Landry made a beautiful hooked and braided rug that honors her Native American ancestry.



Deb Lynch of Maine made a quillie’d and braided Maine Lobster.

Deb Lynch brought two items to the Challenge.  She lives in Maine, and brought a braided buoy and a quillie’d and braided Maine Lobster — see photo.  The backing needed to be reinforced to support the weight of the large claws.  Deb used hot glue to attach the quillies.


Bobbi Mahler made a large and beautiful basket with Native American designs.










Bobbi Mahler made a large and beautiful butted basket with Native American designs on the sides.  (It amused me to see Bobbi working with such a somber color palette:  her rugs are usually tropical flower colors — hot pinks, purples, and lime greens…)  Well, we all stretch in different ways for this Challenge!


Peggyann Watts made a mat that was hooked, braided, and quillie’d to make the Native American piece — see the photo in her hand.

Peggyann Watts modeled her design after a Native American piece she found — see the photo in her hand.  Her own mat uses braiding, hooking, and quillies to create the design.  Note the felted flowers on Peggy’s braided hula skirt:  Peggy taught a class on how to make these flowers at the braid in.  She also was one of the “Hawaiian Natives” in braided hula skirts.


Marjorie Kauffman’s braided basket featured possum fur

Marjorie Kauffman’s take on “native” featured a basket with possum fur braided into the walls of the basket.  The fur was actually cut from a thrift store fur coat and, due to the stiff nature of the fur strips, required an adaptation to the braiding in order to incorporate the fur.  In between the fur strips she has 9-loop centers arrayed in a decorative row.



Pam Rowan’s “Going Native” challenge rug is a Zebra Rug

Pam Rowan’s entry into the “Going Native” Challenge is a dramatic Zebra Rug.  She achieves the stripes with an 8-strand diagonal stripe mulitstrand.  I particularly like the center, with those sharp corners that change the stripe direction.   Very graphic!

Next year’s 2017 Rug Challenge is “The Four Seasons.”  (If you’re particularly ambitious, the challenge for the year after that is “Blue Willow.”)

Not to be repetitious, but I think these Challenges are really important.  Just look at the different techniques and fabrics that were incorporated into the braiding in order to achieve the challenge goal:  we had multi strand braiding, braided possum fur, quillies, rug hooking, some sculptural pieces, felted flowers, and some items of clothing.  Pretty amazing!