Rag Dolls

RaggedyAnnDollsIn the early part of the 20th century, the daughter of cartoonist and author Johnny Gruelle (1880–1938), brought him a faceless rag doll she found in the attic.  The doll is thought to have belonged to her RaggedyAnnPatentgrandmother (source).  After he drew a face on it, Gruelle christened the doll Raggedy Ann.  

In 1915, Gruelle patented the doll (see pic at left)  and, 2 years later, published the first of many Raggedy Ann (and later, Raggedy Andy) stories.

RaggedyAnnKennedyWhile many famous and not-so famous Americans have loved the Raggedy Ann/Andy dolls (Caroline Kennedy apparently had quite a large Raggedy Ann/Andy doll), I never had one.If truth be told, for some reason I always found Raggedy Ann/Andy dolls creepy and refused to even touch them.  (So it should be no surprise to anyone that I never made one for my daughter or grandchildren!)

SamDoll1Sam5In contrast, I find these dolls – creations of a young woman named Sam Fitzgibbon – attention worthy!  “Rag dolls” is most definitely not apropos for these dolls; they are “soft sculptured dolls

Sam, in making each of them, utilizes various stitching techniques, painting styles and fabric.  The Sam3 (2)closeuSam4p on the right of the Raven Queen’s face hints at Sam’s artistry.

Delightfully, some of the dolls come with various accessories, including doll-sized knitting, embroidery bags, maps and books!

These soft sculptured dolls are the opposite of the mindless, mass produced rag dolls that usually grace a child’s bookshelf.  (Sorry, Raggedy Ann/Andy.)  Rather, each of Sam’s soft sculptured dolls is a work of art, thoughtfully made and with great attention to detail.

If you happen to be in the Willamette Valley on Friday, September 11, take advantage of Springfrield’s “2nd Friday Artwalk” in its historic downtown and see some of these soft sculptured ladies on display at L’Etoffe Fabrics.

samsdollsI’m sure the originally Raggedy Ann doll was unique – certainly hand made (and probably lovingly) for a child before the turn of the 20th century, even before receiving her hand-drawn face.  Just as rag dolls have comforted children through the millenia, after Marcella died very young, her grieving father kept Raggedy Ann close by.

Posted in Miscellany, Other Fiber Arts | 9 Comments

What Are Those Numbers?

Have you ever found a cone of interesting yarn, looked insConesCottonide the cone, read “8/2 cotton,” 10/3 linen or “10/3 wool” and wondered what those numbers mean?  It’s the yarn or thread count.  The yarn count or thread count is the number of yards of that specific yarn needed to make up one pound of a particular sized fiber (“YPP”).

HandbookThe Handbook of Timesaving Tables for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers (Bettie G. Roth & Chris Schulz, 1993), sets out the yards per pound of various fibers as follows:

YPP  Fiber
840 Cotton, spun silk, rayon and acetate
300 Linen, hemp, jute, ramie & wool (cut system)
560 Worsted wool (spun system)
1,600 Wool (run system)

A.  Explanation

  • #1 cotton = 840 yards
  • #2 cotton (2x yardage and 1/2 diameter of #1) = 1,680 YPP
  • #3 cotton (3x yardage and 1/3 of diameter of #1) = 2,520 YPP
  • #8 cotton (8x yardage and 1/8 of diameter of #1) = 6,720 YPP
  • #10 cotton (10x yardage and 1/10 of diameter of #1) = 8,400 YPP
  • #12 cotton (12x yardage and 1/12 of diameter of #1) = 10,080 YPP
  • #20 cotton (20x yardage and 1/20 of diameter of #1) = 16,800 YPP

B. Plies

  • 8/3 = yarn size #8 in a 3 ply
  • 10/2 = yarn size #10 in a 2 ply
  • 20/5 = yarn size #20 in a 5 ply

C.  Formula for computing yardage

        (YPP)*(size of single thread) ÷ # of plies

             Example 1:  Computing YPP for Plied Cotton Yarn

  • 8/3 = (840 x 8)/3 ply = 6,720/3 = 2,240 YPP
  • 10/2 = (840 x 10)/2 ply = 8,400/2 = 4,200 YPP
  • 20/2 = (840 x 20)/2 ply = 16,800 yards/2 = 8,400 YPP

             Example 2:  Computing YPP for Spun (Worsted) Wool

  • 8/2 =(560 x 8)/2 ply = 2,240 YPP
  • 8/3 = (560 x 8)/3 ply = 1,493.33 YPP
  • 12/3 = (560 x 12)/3 ply =2,240 YPP
  • 16/2 = (560 x 16)/2 ply = 4,480 YPP
  • 20/5 = (560 x 20)/5 ply = 2,240 YPP

D.  What about cones of yarn without “those numbers?”

You may find yarn in a weight described as “wool, 1 pound cones, 1450 YPP” – no information about yarn size, diameter, plies, recommended gauge, et cetera.  So how do you classify this yarn?  Is it worsted? DK? Aran?  Though of course you will need to do a proper gauge before starting any project, it helps to classify the mystery yarn in cones so you can narrow down your selection.   The Craft Yarn Council provides a classification of standard yarn weights, but it is based on gauge, so that’s not easily helpful (unless you’re shopping at a store that allows you to gauge yarn before purchasing).

     1.  Chart

According to this handy chart courtesy of Spinderella’s Fiber Mill – the yarn in question probably would be somewhere in the DK to sport weight range.

(NOTE:  The best classification of weight is dependent on the type of wool, spinning and plies which might not bs supplied in the yarn description.  So buying yarn in this manner is best for experienced knitters and crocheters.  If you’re a newer knitter or crocheter, seek the advice of an experienced knitter/crocheter before buying.)

     2.  Another Way

Alternatively, you can pull out a calculator or pen & pencil and do a little math.  (I’m rounding to 2 decimal points.)

  • Remember that 1 pound equals 16 ounces or 453.59 grams.
  • Yarn skeins are generally sold in either gram (e.g. 25g, 50g, 100g) or ounce (e.g., 1.75 oz, 3.5 oz, etc.) weight.
  • So convert the YPP – in this case 1450 – into yards per ounces or grams and then multiply to get the weight you want (e.g., 100 g or 3.5 oz):
  •          For ounces:  1450/16 = 90.63y per oz = 317.19y per 3.5 oz skein
  •           For grams:   1450/453.59y per gram = 3.20y per gram = 319.67 per 100g skein

E.  Conclusion

Armed (overloaded?!) with this information, you can go forth and buy cones of yarn with more confidence!

Posted in Crocheting, Fibers, Knitting, Miscellany, Spinning, Weaving | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Die drei Männlein im Walde/The Three Little Men in the Woods

Grimm2A professor of German language and literature at a well-known U.S. university recently contacted me with some fiber-related questions.

Preparing reading selections for a class, the professor read through stories by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.  Her specific questions arose from the story “Die drei Männlein im Walde” / “The Three Little Men in the Woods” (1812).

The professor asked why yarn would be boiled and why might it then be rinsed in a cold river.  The part of the story her questions came from is this:

In GermanEndlichGrimm3 nahm sie [die Hexe] einen Kessel, setzte ihn zum Feuer und sott Garn darin. Als es gesotten war, hing sie es dem armen Mädchen auf die Schulter und gab ihm eine Axt dazu, damit sollte es auf den gefrornen Fluß gehen, ein Eisloch hauen und das Garn schlittern.

In English:  So at last she [the witch] took a kettle, set it on the fire, and scalded some yarn in it. When it was ready she hung it over the poor girl’s shoulder, and gave her an axe, and she was to go to the frozen river and break a hole in the ice, and there to rinse the yarn.

My first step was to determine whether Garn schlichtern/schlittern might have a  meaning other than physically “sliding the yarn” into the river.   The professor knew of no other meaning.  After searching through my textile-related books and several German commercial textile sites, I found no textile/fiber-specific meaning.

Why was the yarn sott or scalded ?  The yarn might have been scalded for one or any combination of these reasons:

  1. The yarn might have been in a dye pot where the water is brought to boil (though there’s no mention of dyeing in this story) so the fiber will absorb the dye.
  2. The yarn might well have been spun in the grease so a good roiling boil was needed to clean it.
  3. The witch might have boiled the yarn as a way to align the fibers in the yarn thus making it stronger and smoother.

Why schlichtern or slide the yarn into an icy river? 

  1. Moving water will quickly rinse away dye stuff not absorbed by the yarn.
  2. The cold river water would further tighten the fibers in the yarn (especially if kept under tension) thus making it harder wearing (desirable for, e.g., rugs or sole liners).

Grimm1I also suggested it could be that the witch was simply being mean.  Earlier in the story the witch sent the girl out in the dead of winter, wearing only a paper dress, to find strawberries!

What’s your best guess?!

Posted in Dyeing, Fibers, Other Fiber Arts | Tagged , , | 30 Comments

True Cost

Those of us who make and use what we make are aware of the “true cost” (or at least truer cost) of, for instance, knitting a sock, weaving a hand towel, crocheting a blanket, carding fleece, spinning yarn and dying yarn. SockButtonRecently on a hot afternoon as I sat knitting (a sock), I viewed “The True Cost” (2015) on Netflix. A documentary, The True Cost explores the true cost and impact of “fast fashion” – a term new to me.  As opposed to the traditional two-season fashion releases per year, “fast fashion” is  52 seasons a year, something new every week. The result? 

Autumn Newell explains:  Today, overconsumption of cheap, poorly made clothing is contributing to epic waste generation. Items are often available at prices so low one can purchase a new piece of clothing for the same price as a bottled of water. These prices are so irresistible to consumers that more often than not people have more clothing than they know what to do with. Problems with quality, fit and durability are turning the habitual overconsumption of apparel into a less satisfying experience and creating a growing waste stream of textiles when consumers clean out their closets.

According to The True Cost,

  • Today we purchase over 80 billion pieces of new clothing each year – 400% more than two decades ago.
  • The average American throws away 82 pounds of textile waste per year.  This translates to 11 million tons per year, most of which is non-biodegradable, sitting in a landfill for over 200 years while releasing harmful gases into air.

BalesClothesYou might be thinking (as did I), “Well, at least my family donates used clothing to thrift stores.”   I learned that in the U.S., only 10% of the donated clothing actually gets sold; more likely our donations are packaged up and sent to developing countries where people struggling to make a living try to repurpose and resell them.

As the price of clothing has dropped for the consumer, the way of making clothes has completely changed.  As recently as 1960s, 95% of our clothing was made in U.S.  and we outsourced 3% of it.  Today we outsource 97% to developing countries around the world. Outsourcing:  Another, serious problem with fast fashion.

Companies (and not just U.S. companies!) outsource and bargain with manufacturing plants in developing countries. In efforts to increase company margins without adversely affecting sales, the outsourcing companies demand lower prices from the manufacturing plants.  The outsourcing companies at the top of the product chain choose where their products will be be made and will switch manufacturers in an ever-moving quest to boost profits.  Seeking to maintain the outsourcing companies’ business, the manufacturing plants meet the demands, maintaining their own profits on the backs of workers and the environment.  (The fashion industry’s profits are almost $3 trillion per year.) Dhaka_Savar_Building_Collapse

It’s uncontrolled capitalism at its finest/worst:  Those clothes that seem like such a bargain come at a great cost – especially to workers, for instance, 1,129 dead and 2,515 injured in the 2013 collapse of the Savar building in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  (BangleTriangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire_on_March_25_-_1911desh is now second only to China in clothing exports.)  This tragedy was worse than the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York when 156 workers died.  In fact, three of the four worst tragedies in history of fashion manufacturing happened in a single year, 2013.  (Of course, the environmental impact is another discussion – also addressed in The True Cost.)

How did the 2013 tragedy affect the profits of companies known for outsourcing as they search for the biggest margin increases?  Not adversely.  As noted by The Guardian, In the shops that sell cheap clothing, no one has observed any drop in the brisk sales of €2.50 t-shirts, $19.99 jeans, or £5.90 king-sized duvets. Shares in Associated British Food, Primark’s parent company, were up 6.5% in the week after the collapse of the building which housed its manufacturing contractor.”

Thor and I had an interesting discussion about whether corporations have or should have a social responsibility.  In the U.S., except for minimum legally-mandated requirements, corporations are not required to be socially responsible.  CEOs, in fact, are legally mandated to work in the best fiduciary interests of their shareholders – not the public and not the consumer.  Thus, perhaps it should be of no surprise that U.S. corporations generally and the fashion industry specifically have grown into post-modern Lernaean Hydra; as activists attempt to force governments rein companies in on a certain area or topic, companies move into others.

Is there a better alternative?

Robert Reich (Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration), argues:  “The answer is to reform capitalism. The world’s productivity revolution is outpacing the political will of rich societies to fairly distribute its benefits. The result is widening inequality coupled with slow growth and stubbornly high unemployment.” (Click here to read his full discussion/article.)

In The True Cost, Richard Wolff, Ph.D. (economist and graduate of Harvard, Stanford and Yale), said that America is a peculiar country where we could criticize the education system to make it better, we could criticize the transportation system to make it better, but we couldn’t criticize the economic system.  He stated that, “If you don’t criticize something for 50 years it rots. A healthy society subjects its component systems to criticism so it would do better.”  Wolff argues that to effect real change, we have to deal with the system, not merely focus on improving worker rights.  (Here’s an provocative 2014 interview with Dr. Wolff available his web page.)

If interested in learning more about the fast fashion industry and what journalists and activists are trying to change about the fast fashion industry, take a look at the work of Lucy Siegle, a British journalist and broadcaster who focuses on the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry, and London-based Livia Firth of Eco-Age.

I asked myself what percent of my overall wardrobe is from fast fashion.  Admittedly I have several pieces (mostly t-shirts) that come out the fast fashion arena.  Yet I don’t replace them very often (sounds a little defensive!); most of mine are several years old.  When they are no longer wearable, I need to start making rag rugs.  (See what Craft Passion did with old bed sheets!)

handwovenSeptOct2015RagRugThe whole fast fashion-repurposing clothes conundrum has weighed heavily on my mind since I viewed The True Cost.  Well, it must have been Providence!  I opened the most recent issue of Handwoven (September/October 2015) and saw Amanda Robinette’s T-Shirt Rug!

Do you repurpose clothes and, if so, into what? 

Posted in Miscellany, Slow Clothes/Slow Fiber | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 70 Comments

Strengthen Your Pattern: Schematics

Recently I received the newsletter of a knitting organization that focuses on knitting and crochet patterns (some rather pricey – up to US $12).   I skimmed the patterns but only two caught my attention.  I gave them a closer look.  The first pattern was for a cardigan, and the second was for socks.  Both of these had, from a pattern writing perspective, severe limitations.  In this post I revisit the importance of providing schematics.

Knitting_schematicA schematic is a structural drawing, as illustrated on the right.  Unlike a drawing that provides readers a descriptive illustration of your project, a schematic is detailed and contains key measurements (e.g., lengths, widths, sizes, etc.).

Why provide a schematic?

  1. A schematic serves a good road map so knitters/crocheters can self-check and self-correct their progress.
  2. The visual learners can easily “see” where the pattern is going and how.
  3. Schematics are critical for knitters/crocheters who want to ensure good fit.
  4. Schematics are critical for knitters/crocheters who may want to alter the pattern.

I cannot overemphasize #3 and #4. For instance, if the pattern shapes the body of a sweater (e.g., it narrows at the waist), a discerning knitter/crocheter needs the distance between the hem and/or the shoulder and the waist. Why? Because a very tall or a very short person (unless the height is disproportionately from leg length), will need to adjust the waist placement.  There are many other reasons a knitter/crocheter might need to adjust a pattern from its called for measurements:  a wider waist? narrower waist?  larger bust? larger hips? smaller hips? longer arms? smaller shoulders? et cetera.

Of course, a skilled knitter/crocheter could pull out a calculator and, working from the written instructions, do the calculation herself – but why would she?  Why take the time to go through that sort of design technicalities for someone else’s pattern – someone who charged you for the pattern?

An alternative is to simply knit or crochet as the pattern instructs and, from time to time take fittings, and then rip out rows and re-knit/crochet multiple times in multiple places throughout the design until the pattern fits.  Not too many folks would enjoy doing that.

My daughter knit a pattern that I would not have chosen for her (or anyone, for that matter).  First, it is poorly written; it is in a long, rambling narrative style that jumps around.  (Ugh!)  My daughter found the pattern quite frustrating.  If I hadn’t 50 years of knitting experience I’m not sure I could have made sense of the instructions.  I translated the pattern into what I call my Neo-Norsk method (click here  and here to read my posts where I explain that style), which my daughter finds much easier to follow.

Second, the pattern she chose included no schematic (or drawing) though there were several (far too many!) photographs of the author modeling the sweater.  (For some reason known only to the woman, her son/daughter are in some of the photographs.)  My daughter frequently had to rip out whole sections and reknit.  Why?  She doesn’t fall into the “average” woman category.  My daughter is tall with long arms and legs and a low waist.  Further, though a marathon runner and quite slim, she has disproportionately wide shoulders due to many years of competitive swimming in her youth.  Ahhh, yes, alterations galore.

I never buy a sweater pattern that does not include a schematic.  I like my sweaters to fit well.

Posted in Crocheting, Knitting, Norwegian Knitting, Pattern Construction | Tagged | 12 Comments

Quilt-Inspired Knitting

As the granny square blanket I crocheted for Granddaughter F caused havoc in my right wrist, I waffled between weaving or knitting an afghan for Grandson O.  I settled on knitting and started looking for ideas.  I found them in Coburg, Oregon!

Yesterday my friend Joni (a quilter), invited me along to attend the annual Coburg Quilt Show.  The quilts were gorgeous and inspiring to Quilt3a  knitter looking for afghan ideas!  Take a peek at some of the beauties (in no particular order) on display!

Quilt12Quilt4Quilt2Quilt1     Quilt6  Quilt8 Quilt5    Quilt9

Knitters and crocheters can be inspired by the art of quilters.

miteredsquarepatternQuilt10This lovely mitered square blanket on the left was knit by Sue Anne Kendall.  (For those new to making mitered squares, check out her blog, Suna Knits, where she shares her method.)  Given a border, it would resemble this quilt Joni and I saw at the quilt show, pictured at the right.

logcabinpatternlog-cabin-knit-blanket1 (2)Quilters have long used the log cabin design in many delightful ways, utilizing from two to eight colors. Here’s the schematic shared by Staci Perry on Ravelry; it’s free.  (Source).  Just Trusting Myself used several  colors in this large version on the right.  Purl Bee logcabinpattern2made log cabin washcloths.   PDXKnitterati knit a three-colored baby blanket from this quilt pattern.

Quilt11Then there’s the rail fence pattern, as beautifully captured in this quilt pictured at the right.  It was another lovely piece that Joni and I saw at the Coburg Quilt Show.  Red Heart yarns has a free rail fence crochet pattern as does Ravelry by C.L. Halvorson.

courtyardstepsAnother basic but beautiful geometric design quilt pattern is courthouse steps.  Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne wrote courthousestepsa blanket pattern for in  Mason-Dixon Knitting.  Here’s my quick sketch of a courthouse step quilt pattern with 13 modular pieces (1 square and 12 rectangles).   Knitters and crocheters can borrow from quilters and, with their imagination let loose, create some amazing designs based on the courthouse step pattern.  (See here for more details.)

Looking lisquaredealke quilt influenced is Square Deal from Wooly Thoughts.  Wooly Thoughts has some amazing afghans to knit and crochet, and provide several patterns free that can be put together to emulate quilting patterns!

Quilt_WeddingRingOf course, not all quilt patterns rely on 90 degree angles.  Yet the adventurous knitters can again borrow from their quilting siblings.  Compare the double wedding ring pattern idoubleweddingringquilt (2)n the quilt pictured to the right (on display  at the Coburg Quilt Show) to the picture at the left  from Interweave Knits Summer 2002.  (I saved that pattern for years thinking I’d knit it for my daughter and her husband.  I never have.)  It’s also available at Interweave Knits.

woollythoughtsturn (2)For knitting and crocheting that create the illusion of curves long used by quilters, take a peek at the modular designs – both knit and crochet – of Wooly Thoughts.  (See also its Ravelry page.)  About Turn (left) consists of squares, each of which is divided into two different colored triangles.  The shaping in Curve of Pursuit (right) is done by short rows.  Each uses only garter stitch.

logcabinMoreWith a pencil, ruler and eraser, you can sketch out your own modular design.  Colored pencils are always nice to see how you quiltafghan (2)might order your color scheme.  Look how Christiane Burkhard arranged simple rectangles of varying sizes and a beautiful array of colors – a great way to use up yarn left from other projects!

Have you translated quilting designs into your knit or crochet work?

Posted in Crocheting, Knitting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Smarter Socks

When Thor and I left San Francisco, we settled in an area where the winter climes were much colder.  We needed wool socks!

From time to time in the SF Bay Area I wore wool socks, but not often.  Thus, when the first winter arrived (yes, with snow and ice), Thor and I each bought several pairs of SmartWool© socks.  By the end of the first winter, socks that we had worn no more than four times a month were showing worn out heels and toes.

SmartWool© will replace any defective socks, and I took advantage of that policy, but not for long.  We paid for the return shipping and were given another pair of socks in exchange, but the new socks wore out just as quickly.

Clearly it was time to revisit sock knitting.  Of course I knew how to knit socks; in fact, while in my “sock phase,” I regularly gifted socks to family and friends.  But then I moved onto other  “phases.”  Until now.  Moved by the sock enthusiasm and encouragement of Wei S. Leong, I picked up needles for sock knitting this (hot!) summer.

SockButtonI took measurements of my feet, knit up a gauge swatch from John Q Earth Wear (a blend of recycled possum/merino and nylon, 100g=361m sent me by Kiwiyarns Knits– – I got the subtle hint: “knit some socks!”), and jotted down a basic pattern.  Remembering that I had never managed to make myself a pair of socks out of a single skein (yes, I have large feet), I used a provisional cast one and knit a sock with a short leg.  After weighing the sock, I realized I had enough yarn to lengthen the leg, remove the provisional cast ons and add a ruffle, and make a matching sock!

What fun!

While attending the Black Sheep Gathering this past June, I bought several cakes of sock yarn (3.5oz/400y) from Las Flores del Altiplano Alpacas of Yacoult, Washington.  The alpaca was blended with merino (40%) and nylon (10%), both of which adds to the sock yarn’s overall strength and durability.



Using yarn courtesy of Lacey I knit Seadragonus.



I then knit Anemone out of yarn made from Daphne’s fur!

I was on a roll!

After browsing through a few books for ideas, I sketched out two more sock patterns.  One will incorporate an Old Shale pattern (not the same as the Feather & Fan stitch – thank you, Northern Lace, for explaining and illustrating the difference!), and the other using some sort of twisted stitch, maybe a type of traveling clock stitch.





The yarn?  Courtesy of these two pretty ladies here!

I doubt I will knit enough socks this year to rival the impressive number and variety of socks made in 2014 by Ms. Leong.  That said, I should probably knit Thor a pair or two of warm socks.  I see a drive north to Yacoult!

Posted in Fibers, Knitting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments