Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hot pad tutorial

Here is hot pad #7. This one is definitely approaching "really good" in my opinion. It hits most of my marks—invisible seams, front and back and nearly jogless stripes. The best method for smoothing the jogs yet, but I'm beginning to believe there is no way of getting them perfect, especially narrow stripes.


There was interest in my recipe for the "seemingly seamless diagonal-knit" hot pad, so here goes....

First, credit where credit is due. This is the pattern I started with. It makes a perfectly good diagonal hot pad, with the clever fold. You could be happy stopping right here, but I wanted to see if it was possible to eliminate the seams that run diagonally across the front and back. I found the answers on the internet, especially on YouTube. I will post the relevant links at the bottom. So kudos and thanks to all the smart people who figured this stuff out and then generously shared it with the world!

The basic pattern has you knit a tube that is open at both ends. Later you sew each end closed. I could eliminate the first seam by casting on using Judy's Magic Cast-on (link below). I used 2 size 7 circular needle pairs. They need to be at least 24" and can be longer.

I am using worsted weight cotton yarn. Some of the brand names are Sugar and Cream, Peaches and Cream and Premier Home.

Cast-on 50 stitches on each needle—100 stitches total. This cast-on gives you a row of knitting that can be knit into on both edges, so after casting on, you knit around the cast-on row, continuing in the round, to knit a flattened tube that is closed at the bottom. To do this, you need to know how to knit in the round using 2 circular needles (link below)

Place a marker where the rows begin and another at halfway around. Continue knitting in the round, making sure to keep the stitches tight at those two spots where you switch needles. Add stripes if you wish, starting the new color at the marker that begins a new row. (There is a link below with a technique for smoothing out the jog at the beginning of a new stripe.) before long your knitting should resemble a small canoe! You can continue to knit with both sets of circular needles, or switch to just one set once it is a couple inches high. I can knit faster using just one set.

As it gets bigger you can push the sides down and begin to see how it will go from straight across knitting, to diagonal.

Knit until the sides are half the measurement across the bottom edge. Mine was 11" wide, so I knit until the sides were 5 1/2" high. Your measurements may vary.

Cut your working yarn, leaving a good tail. Secure the end by weaving it into the inside. Do not bind off.

Starting at the row marker, slide 25 stitches onto your second circular needle, then slide those stitches down the cable and slip the marker and 25 stitches on the other side of the cable onto the same circular needle. You have now redistributed half of the stitches onto each of the two sets of needles, with the markers in the center of each set of stitches. This is hard to explain, but hopefully the photo below will help.

Now you are ready for the second invisible seam!

Cut a piece of yarn at least 5 times the width of the opening and thread it onto a tapestry needle. Tie the end to the bit of yarn right between the needle at one end of the opening.

Then use Kitchener stitch (link below) to close the opening.

Secure the end and bury the tail between the two layers. You may need to use a crochet hook to tighten and even up the Kitchener stitches before you secure the yarn (I did). Steam press, shaping the square and adjusting and straightening the stripes. Done!

If you've never done some or all of these techniques, be patient. I found them pretty confusing, needing multiple attempts and rewatching of the videos. That's why I made hot pads—they are quick, cheap and small mistakes and glitches don't matter. My seventh HP is the only really "good" one, but all are usable and won't go to waste! Have fun with color and design while you hone your skills.

Helpful links:
Original HP pattern

Judy's Magic Cast-on

Knitting in the round with 2 circulars

Jogless stripes

Kitchener stitch

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Hot pad obsession

I have been making hot pads. Obsessively. I know, that's pretty crazy. But hear me out. It isn't that I want or need a large number of them, but they are nice to have, right? No, it's really about figuring something out. And this is an intriguing little puzzle.

It all started when our knitting group went away for a weekend at Hood Canal—an incredibly beautiful place in Washington state. We relaxed. We ate, we drank wine, we laughed, we knitted. Except for Joyce—she crocheted cleverly constructed hot pads that were a nice thick double layer. Like this. We loved them, but why, some of us wondered, couldn't they be knitted, instead of crocheted? I like knitting, and I like the way knitting looks—better than crochet.

You can find everything by Googling, and, sure enough, someone had interpreted the clever hot pad into knitting instructions, so I made one.

The way this was done was to knit a tube, in the round, cast-off and then sew each end together after making the fold that gives it its diagonal stitch pattern. So it has, as you can see, a diagonal seam through the center and another seam on the other side. It was OK, but wouldn't it be nice if you could make those seams disappear? As fate would have it, my friend, Kristin LaFlamme was knitting at our STASH meeting and showed how she had cast-on a sock in a way that created a smooth, seamless toe, using something called a Turkish cast-on. I tried it on my next hot pad and voila!—no visible seam on the top side!

But there was still a seam on the back side.

Back to Google and a YouTube video demonstrating the Kitchener stitch for invisibly joining two knitted edges. It is a complicated piece of work and my first attempt at Kitchener stitch was not great. Meanwhile I had run across Judy's Magic Cast-on, which was even better for my project than the Turkish cast-on.

Magic cast-on front:

Messy Kitchener stitch back:

Now I had a basic recipe and needed to perfect my technique.

A coordinating pair, front:

Same pair, back. That Kitchener stitch was proving to be my nemesis, but getting better with each one:

Now while I was concentrating on getting those seams smooth and invisible, don't think I didn't notice the ugly jogs in the stripes where they start and end. There are many YouTube videos that address how to create "jogless stripes" and each had a different approach. I tried many with limited success. I'm still working on that. The latest one looks promising.

So, I am making one hot pad after another,each one just a little better than the last. Do you see, it's not about hot pads? It's about mastery. This is how I learn. And after that first, boring red and beige hot pad, I decided it would be more fun if I had more colors to play with, so I went out and bought a bunch of balls of cotton yarn. It's cheap, comes in great colors and won't melt if you put a really hot pot on it. Because when all is said and done and I finally make a really good one, I will have hot pads for me and some friends and relations to use until they are faded and ragged and scorched. Then maybe I'll make some more. Maybe.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017


If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the color of the evening sun
Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime's argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star
Like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are, how fragile we are...
- Sting

Do you know how, sometimes events, unrelated to one another, begin to pile up on one another and some feeling emerges that begins to tie them together in your mind and you know as memories they will be intertwined forever after? I was hand-stitching a small wallhanging years ago as the first Gulf War was starting and the TV images of US bombs falling on Baghdad as I stitched, attached themselves to that quilt—a sweet, flowery piece that now reminds me of death and destruction. That. That's what I mean.

After my eye surgery several weeks ago I was sent home, not with the tough little sight marble I have taken for granted forever, but with something quite altered and vulnerable, carefully packaged in protective gauze and a plastic shield. It felt quite fragile. I felt quite fragile. It is gradually toughening up, but I still must be cautious and the shield is still advised for sleeping.

Three days after my surgery something terrible happened in Portland. You probably heard about it. Three men, riding on the MAX commuter train came to the defense of two young girls who were being harassed for their skin color and religion. The irrational, ranting harasser turned on the men, attacking them with a knife. Two died, the other severely injured. In my city. On my MAX train. The most shocking example of human evil meeting extraordinary human goodness. And that reminder of how fragile we are and how connected each of us is to the other. As the story spread I kept hearing how people I knew were connected to the men who were attacked—a friend worked with the mother of one, another friend knew one of those killed when he was a sweet little boy, and on and on. The city grieves. And life goes on. But it feels a bit more precious—life that is—and more fragile. And it has continued. The unexpected death of a friend, a young woman hit and killed by a train as I waited, a few blocks away, for that same train. It has been a terrible few weeks.

Photo Willamette Week

Perhaps it is an unconscious attempt to make sense of things that have no sense, to group them together and find the ways they are related. "OK, this last few weeks has all been scary and abnormal—let's just file everything under 'fragile'. There's even a theme song..."

Don't offer any sympathy. This is the human condition and we are all a part of it and fragile can also mean precious and beautiful.

And so it goes...

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Saturday, May 27, 2017


I have glaucoma. For the past four years it has been controlled with expensive eye drops, then suddenly the eyedrops weren't working anymore. Glaucoma is a condition where the pressure inside the eye is too high, which begins to destroy the optic nerve, leading, eventually, to blindness. My pressure was too high, despite the drops.

So, here's the thing about glaucoma—you don't know there is anything wrong for a long time, or until your eye doctor checks your pressure and discovers the condition. My vision was not affected in any way I was aware of, but, according to my doctor, I was in something of a crisis. She sent me to a glaucoma specialist. He recommended we try a laser procedure—one eye first—to see if that would lower the pressure. It did—but not enough. So this last Tuesday I had an eye surgery called a trabeculectomy, again on one eye. I was nervous, knowing that this was a serious modification to my very eyeball and held higher risks than the previous treatment I'd had. The surgery itself was OK—good drugs get one through it with minimum trauma! Now I am healing, which will take awhile. Only later will I know if this will be the solution to keeping my eye pressure at a safe level. If it does, we will do it again, to the other eye.

I have had a lot of time to think, and I have a tendency to think too much. Maybe what I mean is that I worry. The day after the surgery the Doctor said it looked good. My vision in the operated on eye was pretty bad, but he assured me that was normal and it would get better. The next day it was worse and I panicked. A very bad day. I was cursing the idea of disfiguring what had seemed a perfectly good eye and rendering it useless! The next day it began to clear and today, even more. My anxiety has lifted considerably. I have many restrictions as I heal—don't bend over, don't lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk, don't sleep on the affected side, wear a shield over the eye at night, eye drops every two hours... Healing my eye is my job for the next few weeks. And I hope for the best. And I try not to worry. The "best" is stopping glaucoma's progress. The damage that has been done cannot be undone, and unlike my friends who are having cataract surgeries, my eyesight will not be better after surgery than it was before.

Glaucoma is hereditary. My father had it. But you may have it regardless of heredity. It is also more common than you might imagine. I know at least four people who also have it. Have your eyes checked every year. Just do it. Don't think "they seem fine." Mine seemed fine too.

So I celebrate the gift of sight and am enjoying a beautiful day here and all the beauty my eyes can see. Send me a good thought for a good outcome and take care of yourselves...

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Yeah, I know...

It's been more than a month. I used to post to this blog so regularly, so frequently. I had stories to tell, things to share. Maybe I've told all my stories, or maybe I'm just telling them in different ways and in different places. I'd like to think there are still stories in me.

Story about what I'm doing with threads and fabrics and colors:

I'm still working small and smaller.

This one is about 6" wide

This one is about 2" wide, copper hanger

That chair, by the way, is in my house. The colors have been changed to indulge my imagination. I wish that pillow existed in the real world. I am finding pleasure in reimagining the everyday items from my life. I started a little list on a scrap of paper of things I want to draw and reproduce as little fabric pictures—shoes, suitcase, lamps, backpack, hat...

Knitting story:

When I started knitting a couple years ago, in a quest for a form of creative meditation, I started with inexpensive yarn, so I could make lots of mistakes and knit a lot. Repetition and perseverance are, I believe, the only way to master hand skills. Then a lovely friend gave me a gift of a ball of extraordinarily beautiful yarn that knits up as a color gradation from one color to another. I was very much afraid of ruining it, so it took me awhile to gather courage to use it, and time to find a pattern worthy of it. There are mistakes in this scarf, but I can overlook them and be happy every time I look at it. The color thrills me. The pattern confounded me and ultimately taught me.

Next up, I needed an easier, less stressful project, so I knitted a shawl to cover the foot of our bed and keep my always cold feet warm. Since mastering that fancy lacy motif in my scarf, I decided to incorporate it into the foot-warmer.

Encouraged by the relative success of both of these projects, I took a gift card my daughter gave me two years ago to my favorite yarn shop and bought the deliciously soft, outrageously expensive, silk/cotton yarn needed to knit a large lace shawl. It is very challenging and I'm going to be plugging away at it for awhile.

And that serene, meditative knitting state I was after? I have not yet achieved that. When following the complicated chart for this shawl, i try to keep my hands, arms and shoulders relaxed, but I find my toes are clenched and beginning to cramp. I stop, uncurl my feet, shake out the tension and resume. Serenity is not achieved without effort!

Spring story:


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Sunday, April 09, 2017

Birthday week

I've had so many birthdays now (71 of them) that you'd think there would be no reason to celebrate it again, but I did anyway. My thoughtful daughter brought grandchildren and flowers and gift card to my favorite art supply store over and Ray told me I had to wait for the weekend for his gift. I thought about my mother and how much I loved her and how I miss her, because birthdays are really about the person who brought you into the world.

And maybe because it was my birthday, it seemed like a good day to finally get a weight off my shoulders that has been sitting there for a couple years. I took on the job of gathering the photos and text to self-publish a small book for the Twelve by Twelve group as a document of our second project—the one that came after our first book was published. It has been a hard project—many hours laying it out, proof-reading, tweaking, making changes, interrupted by long periods when it went on the back burner while I worked on other things. It was finally finished months ago, but I kept having second thoughts and the longer I procrastinated, the harder it became to just make the decision to send it to print. But I did, this week, on my birthday, and then I sent an email to the other eleven and they all got excited and happy and we all ordered books! It is available on Amazon. You can get the details here.

This birthday week then handed us a crazy storm Friday morning with strong winds that blew down power lines and uprooted trees and left the city littered with debris and dangerous roads. We had no damage and didn't lose our power, but near the path where Beth and I walk, at least 5 trees were uprooted and scattered like twigs.

Whew. I was more than ready for my birthday surprise, which was an overnight trip down the road to Forest Grove and the McMenamin's Grand Lodge, where we spent the night. The McMenamin brothers are famous around this area for turning historic old building—schools, theaters, the old county poor farm, and such—into delightfully artsy and interesting pubs and hotels. The Grand Lodge in Forest Grove was an historic (and grand!) Masonic Lodge, now hotel/restaurant/theater. We enjoyed a good bottle of wine, a nice dinner, followed by a dip in the soaking pool. We strolled the grounds, explored a bit of the charming little town and enjoyed the quirky Grand Lodge ambiance. The McMenamins employ a number of artists to produce the very distinctive decor and artwork in all their establishments, always incorporating elements of the lore and history of the properties they inhabit. It's always a treat!

This morning we drove home through farmland and vineyards and stopped at Farmington Gardens where we bought a few plants for the garden.

I think that orange coleus was a great find—and the perfect ending for my eventful birthday week.

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Sunday, April 02, 2017


Once again, over the past few months, I've found myself working on things uncomfortably out of my comfortable scale. My comfortable scale is small—that place where you come in close and recalibrate your eyes to focus in on individual threads and tiny pieces. Exhibitors don't like that scale. I understand. They have walls to fill. They want wow works that drag casual passersby in off the street. So I have been responding to calls for big art. Big art can be exhausting. The way I work is slow. It's a considerable investment in time and materials and often, in the time it takes to get to the final bits, I am so tired of looking at the darned thing my enthusiasm for it is gone. And when it comes to pricing big work, well, it's always a compromise between what my time is worth versus what the market will bear. So when I finished the last one on my list last week I could hardly wait to do something quickly, using things I could easily lay my hands on. A couple hours later this:

That night I dreamed of chairs and the next morning I wandered around my house snapping photos to work from and have finished these in the past few days.

I really like "drawing" with my sewing machine, which is really only effective on a small scale. And wire hangers. Something satisfying about bending and hammering wire. And something even more satisfying about finishing something before I am thoroughly sick of it!

One corner of my design wall is filling up with "small". (The light switch gives an idea of scale)

Small feels good for now.

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