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

Coffee Time & Rug Planning

IMG_0308            We have fallen into a daily routine, finally, for the summer. I get up first, walk and feed the dogs, feed the indoor and outdoor cats, and then finally get to make coffee. I use old-fashioned cone-shaped melittas and filters because I think it tastes better and there is less machinery on my limited counter space.   My cup: Tasmanian devil drinking coffee, or Maleficent (evil witch from Sleeping Beauty), or the snowflake cup. My daughter’s cup: a wolf howling at the moon, or the one with pink and purple hearts all over it, or the smiling kitty cat. My husband’s: The NASA cup, or the one with equations all over it relating to rocketry, or the JFK library one.

During my first cup of coffee, the house is quiet and serene. The dogs sigh on their respective chair and couch, already back to sleep. Maybe there is the hum of the dishwasher doing the dishes from last night, or the chug of the clothes dryer, but otherwise the house is silent. I get to sit, read my email, make my list of things to do that day (the sub-list, drawn from the 3 page master list, that includes only the absolute essentials) and contemplate the morning a bit, basking in the quiet and peace.

Then, abruptly, all hell breaks loose. My daughter never seems to come awake slowly. Her bedroom door opens with a bang. She stomps down the steps, clanks 4 to 5 cups and bowls from her room onto the clean counter, and sleepily demands, ”Did you make me coffee?” before banging open the refrigerator door and getting milk. My husband quickly follows, although a little more quietly, and everyone fights for counter space to pour cereal, make toast, pour milk into coffee, and whine about who ate up all the blueberries or raspberries or whatever.

My son tries to avoid mornings … but his work schedule sometimes demands an early start, and he does his best to inflict his misery on everyone around him when this happens.

I wish I could stretch out that lovely quiet that exists for about 10 minutes every morning before everyone else is awake. This morning, there was a gentle rain that I could hear through the open window in the kitchen. An occasional excited dog bark sounded from the twenty or so dogs that get walked every morning in my neighborhood. The oppressive heat and humidity of midday hadn’t yet descended. It was a happy time.

Finally getting around to the topic of braiding: I am allowing myself a brief diversion from the multistrand book. I had an idea (this morning, during coffee)  to make a strip rug that isn’t really a strip rug: it’s a series of zigzag shapes that are assembled together lengthwise, like this:


Sketch for rug of assembled zigzag units

Why would you want to make a rug out of smaller units that are laced together? For one thing, it’s a lot easier to travel with smaller units. We’re headed up to “the camp” that my husband owns up on the St. Lawrence River this Friday, so I have to think ahead as to what I can reasonably pack.

The problem with assembling a rug of smaller units is that you have to make sure that your fabrics for each unit are EXACTLY the same size/weight when braided up. If you try to fit in a unit that’s too big, or too small, it just won’t work. So identical weight fabrics are key.

Many people have made granny square rugs, which are assembled square units. This sort of rug is also possible with hexagons. I tried to figure out a rug of puzzle-shaped pieces, but I never managed to get the corners to fit together neatly.

Usually units such as this are e-laced or shoe-laced together. Sometimes you can figure out a way to avoid this – if you make a unit “backward” – with the folds to the outside, and corners turning in the opposite direction. If you look carefully at the above diagram, you’ll see that this is the way I plan to make the 2 pink and 1 center black units: the Start and Finish are on opposite sides compared to the other units. This way, I can lace regularly between units.

So, this is a good challenge for me to try to figure out while I’m up at the camp: what lengths between quadruple corners will look good, how to adjust for the sides, how to flip directions and still keep everything fitting together… looking forward to it!



Summer of My Discontent

Lincoln mother rug

This 21′ diameter beautiful — but very worn — 4-strand braided rug from 1943 is found at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.  It is in the hall honoring his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln.  I have a big article in the newsletter about its history, and Country Braid House is making a new one for this site.

Christine here.  The summer is always one of my most difficult times. The kids are home and need chauffeuring around Pittsburgh to things where there is no parking; my husband doesn’t teach during the summer and inconveniently invites family and friends to come stay for awhile; and, in the division of marital labor, the mowing has fallen to my husband but the trimming, weeding, and planting have fallen to me. And we have a big yard (for a city, anyway).

This is an especially busy summer due to a bunch of other details – a car broke down and stranded me in Harrisburg for a week, then we had to shop for a new car. My husband had to consider every possible car option… before we went out and bought the exact same model we got 14 years ago. The one good thing is that the new vehicle has individualized temperature controls for the front passengers. At this time of life, I am only comfortable with the air conditioning set on Arctic Blast, and my husband takes issue with having to wear a winter coat in the summer just to ride in the car with me.


Large Braided Star pattern is found in the current newsletter issue.

Some other Difficult Summer details: we are getting some carpentry work done on our exterior cedar shakes and a couple moldings, and we have taken to calling our carpenter “Annoying Man” because he either calls us 5 times a day with questions, comments, or excuses, or doesn’t show up at all. This is in preparation for exterior painting. The garage needs to be replaced, which will also be a lot of money. And, my Dad is sick with some unknown problem that has made him lose 20 lbs. in the past month. That worry underpins all my thoughts.

But, as John Lennon sang, Life is what happens to use when we’re busy making other plans.

It’s been making me think a lot lately about how we choose to spend our time. We all have a certain allotment of time in a day that is our own, and how we choose to occupy it is a big indication of our personality and our goals.

There are truly situations in which we simply “don’t have time” at all – raising small children comes to mind, or caring for someone who is sick, or having an insane job. Then, our time is not our own to choose what we will do and what we won’t – you simply move from one task to the next, marching forward, handling the next situation as it comes.

Many of us are beyond those demanding situations, and we have reached a point in our lives where we can have more freedom to choose how we spend our time. And yet, day to day, doesn’t it still feel that we’re rushing to get this or that or the other thing done? I have a “TO DO” list that I cross off every day, and it has grown to two tight pages. Sometimes my husband “helpfully” adds items to my list. More tick-off squares get added every day. How is this possible?


A pattern for this small star ornament is also found in the current issue of the newsletter.

I’m reminded of that wonderful piece of satire written by Judy Brady back in 1972: “Why I Want a Wife.” She listed off all of the things that wives do, and said she wanted one for herself (Ms. Magazine, premiere issue, 1972). Think of how much more time we’d have if meals were never our responsibility, dishes washed themselves, and someone else figured out the mysteries of food shopping. Since my husband has shown no inclination toward changing his gender, I guess I’m stuck with my situation as it is.

I remember when I was a kid that there was this idea of “leisure time.” That one day, in the future, we would all have jobs that only required about 25-30 hours a week, but we all would have enough money despite that, and leisure time. The image was of smiling families out together driving their big American cars toward some sunny golf course, or beach, or other vacation spot… all tanned, rested, and ready.

In the summers, I don’t have leisure. It’s supposed to be a more relaxed time of the year, but I feel as if I’m scrambling to keep up. There just doesn’t seem to be any time left at all for sitting, relaxing, and braiding.

And, do you know how long it’s been since I just sat and braided a rug????

No wonder I’m going crazy.

Braiding (and hooking) with other fibers

Dianne here…..

It has been awhile since I have blogged. To be truthful, I have been writing and responding more to the Rug Braiding Group on Facebook than blogging here. We are up to more than 470 members and the discussions can be lively with admiration for posted ‘rugs’ and advice and answers for questions by members. If you haven’t joined, suggest you give it a try: just search groups for Rug Braiding. FB will ask me to approve you and away you go. For those of you who do not want to get involved with FB, this is a pretty narrow way to do it. My understanding is that the group postings including yours only stay in the group and are not shared with your ‘regular’ FB friends unless you share.

Another reason I check FB frequently is that my youngest daughter is traveling in South America while on a leave of absence from her techy job. She is as unplanned as I am planned and so it is so nice to be able to talk and text through FB Messenger and (don’t tell her) I can tell when she was on last, so if less than 24 hours, I don’t worry as much!

Anyway, I was asked recently to write an article for my ATHA Hooking Guild on Hooking with Other Fibers. I pulled up a bunch of pictures and realized that I have experimented with quite a few other fabrics for both braiding and hooking. The article and pix for them will include a number of braided items and this post for you will include a few hooked items….so Kris McDermet can be extra proud that I am a combo….and just ask me sometime how difficult I was when Kris, an ultimate in rug hooking, offered to teach me and lead me along…..we often laugh about it now.

My first braiding with velvet was a tiny braid mat. I  found a velvet remnant that perfectly matched the wool combination I was using. I remember telling Christine what I was doing and she said “Oh velvet, that sounds great but isn’t velvet kind of fussy?” I have often laughed at the truth of her words, but I’ve grown to appreciate it anyway! I probably gave away that mat but enjoyed the texture contrast.

So I began to buy velvet remnants for possible non-rug braiding projects, first incorporating the velvet with wool and then using all velvet.  I tried to use all the colors in my everyday dishes for this table mat. You can see my stash of bought velvet was growing!

The first time I hooked with velvet was for this hanging

I was a little bored hooking the dark charcoal wool, so I tried some random black velvet on impulse; I liked the look and added maroon velvet as stems and in the braid. I wrote an article for Rug Hooking Magazine about incorporating velvet into hooking and got some good feedback, so kept going!

My friend Kris McDermet and I began to make ‘braid bowls’ with hooked bottoms and braided sides.

This velvet bowl is hooked with hand dyed velvet, wool and chenille and the braid is more of the velvet. By now I was dyeing the stretch velvet and trying to use it up so I could dye more.

We went to Iceland last year and I bought some unspun yarn and found it hard to knit but easy and fun to hook. This Difranza doorstop kit was in my UFO stash and I didn’t use the wool provided but finished it by hooking the cat outline with heavy black yarn, the grey unspun yarn and hand-dyed velvet for the

background which made it go so much faster.

The duck was another UFO. I had hooked the duck with the kit wool but left the background unfinished and when I saw it recently I didn’t like the yellow background wool so used some velvet. 

This heart was hooked with hand dyed velvet, unspun wool and ‘as is’ wool and braided with velvet.

I have braided with denim and am making a third jean rug for my blue bathroom. I think I have shared the second one in previous posts. The variety of blues in jeans is amazing and the rugs  will be washable.

As mentioned in my last post, I have recently experimented with braiding cotton for table mats. Here is the finished William Morris quilting jelly roll, a cotton and velvet mat made from scrap sheeting and an all cotton mat from retro cotton fabric and gingham.

So what’s your experience braiding (and hooking) with other fibers?


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).

IMG_2755 (1)

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


IMG_1024 (2)

“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!