The Day after Christmas


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



Volunteering at SAWA


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

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

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

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


One of the wool tables at the sale

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pay it forward…..

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

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


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

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

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

Do I need more?

 at least 10 years; imagine!

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

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

strong, so strong,

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

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

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

Do I need I more?

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


                                                So my questions are: 

do you have similar stories? 

Who will take MY stash when the time comes??

All those blues!

Dianne here….

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

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

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

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

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


Ruffled Candle Mat



Christine here.  This is a candle mat — the center perfectly fits one of those scented candle jars that my daughter loves.   There are two rows of ruffling, and some yellow “pollen” loops.

I was thinking about teaching this as a class.  Is there any interest?  I can’t recall when we’ve made anything ruffled before.  And using the braids as a hooking foundation for the pollen was kind of fun.


Rambling Worries

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Above:  a Gerber daisy and my attempt to recreate this in braids, in progress.  I’m lacing a second row of braids onto an already-laced row, which is a trick I learned from Kris McDermet and Peggyann Watts, both of whom have made “footed” baskets like this.  My plan is to add several more rows both to the row in progress and to the outside row, but to put in so many increases that there will be two incredibly ruffled petal rows.  Then a black 9-loop center and some loopy rug hooking strips around it to get that pollen area.

In my mind’s eye, it will be perfect.  We’ll have to see what happens, though.

On the home front:  my son actually texted me the other day. Since he’s been off at college, it’s been difficult to communicate with him.

In contrast, we hear from our daughter just about every day. If nothing else, she calls to request more money — although that’s improved somewhat since I had a series of discussions with her and my enabling, “Yes, Princess, whatever you want” husband. Clearly, it’s in everyone’s best interest to have her learn how to budget, and if I occasionally have to scream at everyone to get them to recognize that… well, so be it.

My son, however, is impervious to manipulation via money. We gave him a set amount to last him all semester (having learned to do so because of our daughter) and it has sat there untouched so far except for $5. Apparently he eats at the cafeteria and doesn’t have a girlfriend, so his expenses are minimal.

The result, though, is that he doesn’t often talk to us. I text him to ask him how he’s doing, and he texts back, “fine.” I send him photos of the dogs doing stupid things, and he sometimes will respond “cute.” I demand that he call us that evening and… nothing.  About the longest communication I’ve heard from him is:  “Did you change your Netflix password? What is it?”

I am aggravated with him, and just a bit scared. Is this how families become estranged? It seems that everyone has a family member who has just dropped off the face of the planet, and you never see or hear from them again. I haven’t seen one of my cousins in more than a decade (of course, I don’t really miss him, either – he was a sarcastic jerk with no sense of humor at all.  But I still worry about him).

And I worry about my son and his lack of communication with us. He sees himself as an independent loner, but he’s a loner as long as there are people around him. If he actually severed ties with everyone, I’m pretty sure he would spiral downward pretty quickly. Despite feeling like a loner, he really isn’t.

Yesterday, he actually texted me on his own. He was having bad hand pain, and he was struck by the thought that maybe he was getting arthritis like his sister. She has inflammatory arthritis (think “rheumatoid” and it’s close), which started with terrible joint swelling and pain in her hands and feet and knees and elbows in the summer after graduating from high school. She had to go on steroids for awhile just to be able to write or type. She’s now maintained on Plaquenil and only complains when it’s raining outside.

Through a series of texts, Jack clarified with me: it was his right index finger only. No other joints were hurting. There was no redness or other signs of infection other than sharp pain. He has had no recent injuries to his hand. He has done nothing out of the ordinary. Wait for it: he’s maintaining his usual regimen of playing his guitar for 4 to 5 hours every day.

Yes: 4 to 5 hours every day.

Having the benefit of only texting him, I was able to laugh out loud and not have him get angry with me. So I laughed and texted him that maybe, just maybe, he needed to do something else besides play guitar for a few days, and see if his finger felt any better.

Sigh. I found myself hoping for more aches and pains on his part just so the boy would communicate with me.

But it made me think a bit about my braiding. I’m afraid that Jack gets his ability to stay on task for hours on end from me. We are both the opposite of ADD: we can focus on one thing almost forever, if we want to.

I’ve never had any hand pain from braiding or lacing – except once when I was working with some really stiff and thick coat weight wool and finger-folding. Then, I had some thumb-achiness, and I switched to using braid-aids for that wool.

But I have heard stories from people with repetitive motion injuries that seriously impaired their ability to do what they wanted due to tendonitis, which can in some people take a long, long time to heal up. One of my rug punching acquaintances couldn’t punch with her right hand for a whole year. Another friend had a tendonitis episode that limited her ability to hook rugs for many months.

Summary of today’s worries: that my daughter will be financially irresponsible and tap us for money the rest of our lives, that my son will become estranged from us at some point, that my cousin is homeless or in prison somewhere, that I will become unable to braid someday due to tendonitis… or because I lose my eyesight… or have a stroke and lose function in a hand…

There’s always something you can worry about, right? I can take on the best of them with worrying.

4-Braid Spiral


4-braid spiral; tapered and surrounded by butted borders of the pattern “Stacked Picot.”

Christine here.  Just finished a rug I’m really pleased with.  I figured out a way to end my tapers without those little spikes of the wrong color into the row below, and I even have a second way to try a la Peggyann Watts, from her advice and photos, thank you!  Next rug.

Of course, I’ve been having so much fun braiding, that I haven’t yet managed to write up the whole process for the upcoming newsletter on Spirals.  So I’ve got to put my braids down and start drawing diagrams — when at the moment, moving on to the next one I have planned (which is 6 braids) is what I really want to do.

But the good things are:  it’s fall and cooling off, so I have fewer hot flashes already; I have no relatives or property in Florida (what a nightmare it’s been for Texas and Florida); my introverted son has actually made friends at college; my daughter is doing okay at her school.  My husband and I seem to be muddling along quite well by ourselves at home… in fact, it’s quite peaceful.


Anna Wilks’ 6-braid Spiral with blunt endings

I dredged up an old photo of a rug made by Anna Wilks that she had posted on the Yahoo rug braiding group, which I cannot even find anymore.  It has a 6-braid spiral, and I figure I’ll make something along the lines of this:


Spiked Tapers


This 3-braid spiral has 3 tapers; the tapers intrude into the rows below. See 6:00, where the blue intrudes into the navy.

Christine here.  In the photo left, you can see a spiral made with three braids.  (I’m working on pieces for the next newsletter, which will come out in October, on making spirals with more than one braid).  I have plenty of two braid spirals, and so I started on this 3-braid piece a few days ago.

I like it… except for the fact that I hate how little spikes of color intrude into the braid below as the taper loses its strands. See 6:00 for the worst example, where the medium blue intrudes into the navy.

You might be able to make out something similar at 10 or 11:00, where the dark blue invades the light braid, and at 1-2:00, where the light braid invades the blue.  The remainder of the braids are butted, so there are no taper spikes.

I am stating here firmly, so that I can’t weasel out of it, that I am figuring out how to make a taper that keeps its hands to itself and doesn’t intrude into the rows below.  I know it will involve some hand sewing, so some of you won’t be enamored of the technique, but I will be happier with it.  I hate the spikes.  They destroy the “line” of the spiral and are unattractive.  I am going to figure out how to fix this.

That’s all.


Freedom and Spirals

Lately, since dropping both kids off at college (Katie is a senior, Jack is a freshman) I’ve been getting phone calls from old friends: women I haven’t talked to in a few years, whose kids went to the same local daycare. Although initially these women were my only friends here in Pittsburgh, our lives have gone in different directions over the years. All or most of us from that era have recently sent kids to college. In the last week, there’s an email, or a text, or a phone call: “How are YOU doing?”

I think I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve been greatly looking forward to the kids both going off to school. I’ve justified this attitude by saying that if we’ve done a good job as parents, then college is where they should be as they forge their own lives in that protected atmosphere.

I had visions of spending happy hours braiding away with my interruptions more limited: husband + dogs, rather than husband + dogs + kids. That’s a big difference.

Instead, it seems … well, weird. Not unpleasant. When my husband and I dropped off the second kid, we gave Jack a hug, told him we loved him, and walked by ourselves down to the parking lot. My husband swung his arms over his head and shook them out from all the heavy boxes and lifting, then commented, “I feel… free, somehow. Don’t you?”

It has been a very long time since we have been just partners instead of parents. These first few days of being partners again have required a little pleasant negotiation. It’s made me realize just how overwhelming – (even when the kids are recluses up in their room and try not to talk to you) – the sense of responsibility of a parent is. It’s a defining characteristic of one’s life. Now, for a brief time while they’re both off at college, that sense is lessened significantly.

And I have less stress about making dinner for my picky-eaters.

And the milk cartons don’t disappear as rapidly.

And the car is always available.

And… I feel a little weird. I’ve been wandering around, emptying out their rooms of the trash they left, throwing their dirty laundry into bins for washing, and delighting in sitting down on the couch with a cup of coffee to read my email, knowing that I won’t be bothered for awhile. I like it, but… it’s hard to let go of wondering when I have to get the car back for Jack to drive it to a guitar lesson. That watchfulness and concern suddenly have no direction.

I love it! And… it’s weird.

Enough of that. I have finally decided on my topic for the next newsletter: spirals. Two-braid spirals, three-braid spirals, 4-braid spirals, and 6-braid spirals. Adding strands, subtracting strands, staggered finishes and overlapping finishes and shaped finishes. Now that I have all these different ideas of things to make, how am I possibly going to finish all the samples that I want to make?  Luckily I’ve made a few over the years.

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Pittsburgh Skies, 2011, made for the “Skies/Weather/Sunset” challenge of the Valley Forge Guild.

Part of my decision for making spirals is that I recently pulled out my old “Pittsburgh Skies” rug, made for the 2011 Skies/Weather/Sunset challenge from the Valley Forge Guild. The VF Spring Braid in was held at Bally Springs that year.  At the time of making this one, I had just recently figured out how to make 2-braid spirals, and I experimented a bit with adding additional braids into the spirals to widen the distance between the bands.  I also was experimenting with different ways to stack and to end the spirals.  I’m not wild about some of the things that go on in this rug, and in other ways I’m inordinately proud of this rug.  It taught me a lot about putting shapes together.

In any case, I’ll be working on writing up and diagramming  different ways to start all the spiral braids at once, or add in more as one goes along, over the next month, for the October issue of the newsletter.

More baskets…..taper in, taper out

Dianne here….

Many of you know I love making baskets….and I have evolved from the continuous method of a spiral which of course ends up with ‘an end’ to hide, flair, etc. to all butted to what I call a hybrid where the base is spiral, tapered then all butted sides.  Butted sides provide opportunity to change fabric by row without joins, have separate rings, and a flat top row without an end to hide.

With a continuous spiral there is a bump where the lacing begins to go up the sides. Depending on the fabric it may be minimal or really show. And you have to choose between having your ‘better braided side’ be on the inside of your basket OR on the outside of the sides. You can’t have both….that is why I like the hybrid so much. You can have your better side on the basket inside base AND on the outside since the sides are butted.


a small wool and velvet oval basket with a fringe. I use it for my hooks and hooking scissors.

Continuous basket with fringe

With an all butted basket, there are many possibilities. No taper, no long end to hide, but time consuming!

all butted

With the hybrid there is some bumping at the point where the taper occurs and this can affect the evenness of the sides. With soft wool and velvet this is less apparent; with cotton more apparent because it is stiff.

continuous base, note taper then butted sides

hybrid velvet basket using hand dyed velvet pattern to advantage

Hybrid wooly worm basket. Continuous base and butted sides.

As I continue my new fascination with braiding cotton (“oh no, you never want to braid with cotton”), hybrid baskets became less enjoyable because butting the sides was tough. Cotton is just so much less flexible, forgiving and stretchable than wool. And braided cotton has tweaks, especially if you use more than one thickness. So I began to think… about a continuous base, taper as with a hybrid, but instead of butting the sides, begin the sides with a taper and create a continuous side so finish with an end to hide. Kind of best of both worlds? I checked with my muse, Christine…..and began.

I took some embossed cotton I was given and folded 3.5″ i

embossed cotton fabric

n half to braid 1.75″ strips to give the cotton more body.

I tapered the base then tapered 3 strips, folded in the raw edges, pinned them and began braiding. When I braided a few inches I pulled the tapers through to the inside of the basket at the point of the base taper and secured them then started lacing.

New glossy cotton basket tapered base and tapered sides ended with a reverse double corners to create a rosette.

Next time I will make the side tapers longer to have more room to work with at the end when I tacked down the tapers to the inside. Because the cotton was so stiff I was able to push down the area that had the base and side tapers so it is pretty even. For working with cotton, I am pleased. I like the rosette and no butting! 

One of my braiding students is a seamstress and she has given me cotton scraps so I am onto the next Taper In, Taper Out Basket:             The Tobias Taper!

PS: For years, non-braiders have joked that my baskets look like hats and my kids have even paraded around with them on their heads; I have too come to think of it when we had a braiding fashion show at the Methuen Braid In.  I have a friend in town who loves hats and I have given her several of my old continuous baskets and she wears them. She is as short as I am tall and her hair is as short as mine is long. She looks great in hats. She is going to France this week and wanted a black hat. Here are the two I made her. The mottled velvet one is more grey/blue than black despite using alot of black dye, it . It is my stretch hand dyed velvet so it hugs her head; she looks like a flapper!

Wool and velvet hat with flower

Hand dyed velvet hat with bow