Back to Basics

Many people who blog about their forays into fiber arts and crafts are motivated by an attempt to “get back to” the basics:  making their own clothes, reducing their corporate-created consumption footprint and eschewing the fast fashion industry.  For related reasons, some also turn their efforts to “get back to basics” to the food they consume.

CookieKit3I was thinking about this the other day when I saw this “Cookie Kit” by Scratch & Grain advertising the “fresh, delicious, made-from-scratch taste.”  It is the brainchild of two enterprising young mothers in CookieKit1Portland, Oregon whose “mission [is] to make homemade baking fun and easy.”   For this cookie kit, the home baker need only add one egg and two tablespoons of unsalted butter to make “9 to 12 amazing cookies.”

Except its use of “all natural,” “organic” and/or non-GMO ingredients, I’m not sure how the Cookie Kit differs significantly from the various goodies-from-a-box (or bag) offered by companies such as Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines or Pillsbury (all best friends of my mother).   Take a peek at the ingredient lists provided by the makers:

CookieKit4 (2)

Scratch & Grain Gluten-free Chocolate Truffle Cookie Kit

Cooki (2)

Scratch & Grain Chocolate Chip Cookie Kit







Betty Crocker’s Chocolate Fudge Cake Enriched Flour Bleached (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Cookie_BCSugar, Corn Syrup, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Leavening (baking soda, monocalcium phosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate). Contains 2% or less of: Corn Starch, Modified Corn Starch, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil, Propylene Glycol Mono and Diesters of Fatty Acids, Distilled Monoglycerides, Carob Powder, Salt, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Artificial Flavor, Xanthan Gum, Cellulose Gum).

Curiously …


1957 advertisement

During the early years of the commercialization of American home baking (starting in 1930), food scientists created cake mixes where the home baker (mothers were targeted), need add only water.  Their surveys/focus groups, however, revealed that the home baker didn’t feel her cake-from-a-box was truly homemade.  She had to do more work … hence the food scientists adjusted the mix to require the addition of egg and oil.  (Click here to read more on this interesting topic.)

BettyCrockerCorporate cake and cookie makers effectively used popular media – radio, TV and print – to reassure the home bakers that the cakes made from their products would be easy, perfect, use “just the good things you’d use yourself,” and create little mess to clean up.  In 1949, NBC’s The Light of the World announcer Stuart Metz exclaimed, “Now, even amateurs bake better cakes with Betty Crocker Party Cake Mix than experienced homemakers using their best 2-egg recipes.”  (Source)

TV commercials?!  Watch this televised guarantee from 1952 by Adelaide Hawley Cumming (hired by General Mills to portray Betty Crocker from 1949-1954) or a commercial where Burns & Allen pitch a Betty Crocker “calico cake” in 1957.

BettyCrockerPicFor a long time, using prepackaged mixes of all sorts have been very popular.  This advertisement shows what is apparently a woman overjoyed with her souffle made of Jell-O, mayonnaise and eggs.  (Click here to see other mid-20th century advertisements for and pictures other mid-century meals.)

Certainly convenience is a significant issue.  Who has the time to cook and/or bake everything from scratch when working full-time outside the home, commuting, raising a family, and/or taking classes?  Few people, I dare say.  Another issue is many households may lack the “essential” ingredients and supplies for basic baking.  Thus it is far easier and less time-consuming to make a “homemade” cake or cookies that really aren’t “from scratch.”

My mother used canned and prepacked goods whenever possible; she positively hated to take the time to cook.  (Anything remotely domestic or motherly took back seat to her Jehovah’s Witnesses door-to-door work.)  Perhaps because I associate canned and boxed goods with the ghastly meals, salads and desserts I was served growing up I have always tried to avoid them.

Yet for those with little time to devote to baking specifically or cooking in general, products like those offered by Scratch & Grain may be the perfect answer.  For those with limited financial means, however, the mixes sold by Betty Crocker (or one of similar companies) may be the answer:  Scratch & Grain’s cookie mix retails for $7.99 compared to $1-$3 for a commercially prepared cake mix.

Did cake/cookie mixes play a large role in your upbringing?  Are they fond memories?

Posted in Cooking, Miscellany | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Finding Treasures

I enjoy roaming the aisles of used book stores.  Over the years I have found some amazing HandweaversWorkbookbooks for very little money.  Recently I came across a 1956 edition of A Handweaver’s Workbook by Heather G. Thorpe (originally published 1936, reissued in 1974).  Not surprising given its age, the book is hardbound, and the pages are printed on heavy acid-free pages. It is also in perfect condition, nary a pencil mark! What a find!

Browsing through it, I was impressed by its thorough yet not overwhelming approach to introducing weaving.  I learned some interesting facts I’ve not seen newer weaving survey books or learned in a weaving class.

Did you know (I didn’t!) that …

PorteeCrossThere are different names for crosses on warps made withe a paddle dependent upon their position:  The first cross at the end of a warp is called a porrey cross; the second cross is called a portee cross.

A “reed” is called a reed because in “olden times …  reeds were … actually made with flat reed strips for partitions and the with twin wound between them to keep them spaced apart.”

“Tromping” is a “dialectic variant of the verb to treadle” used in printed materials to avoid confusion “because of the similarity in print of the words treadling and threading.”  (Thorpe notes that it “is a visual aid only and not intended necessarily that you use it in your speech.”)

HeddleJigYou can easily tie your own string heddles using a homemade “jig” made from 4 pegs and a piece of wood?  (This is so much easier than the way I’ve done it!

The crackle weave originated in Jämtland (Sweden’s second largest province), known there as Jämtlandsväv. It was renamed “crackle” by Mrs. Mary Meigs Atwater (1878-1956, “the grand dame and grand mother of the MaryMeigsAtwaterrevival of handweaving” in the US; pic source) who thought the pattern looked like crackle in certain pottery glazes and was worried that English speakers wouldn’t be able to pronounce its name.

The self same Mrs. Atwater rediscovered how the “summer and winter” weaving structure was woven.  According to Thorpe, “[w]ith the coming of machine-made textiles, weaving in the home died out as we know, and this was one of the first weaves to be forgotten.”  (Brava for Mrs. Atwater!  Click here to read Helena, Montana’s Independent Record‘s 2003 article about Mrs. Atwater.)

J&RBronsonbook2The Bronson weave was named after the two brothers, J. & R. Bronson, who in 1817 brought the structure to the attention of weavers in The Domestic Manufacturer’s Assistant.

Have you found fiber art related treasures in second hand stores and bookshops?

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Spending on Clothes

I have written before about “fast fashion” and its costs. Today I mull over how much Americans spend on their clothes.

My American father was raised during the Great Depression by a single father, a man who had been on his own since he was 13 years old.  My Norwegian mother, raised during World War II in German-occupied Norway, came from farming folk who were adept at using every bit of food raised and piece of cloth woven, knit, crocheted, sewn, felted and/or fulled.  My parents were frugal people – a frugality reflected in clothing.  Having “fancy” clothes wasn’t important to either of them.

But having “fancy” or expensive clothes didn’t seem overly important to anyone in my elementary school.  We were from the same neighborhood – working and middle class – and our folks had better things to spend their money on.  One’s clothing revealed much about one’s socio-economic status.  Frugality in clothing marked people of lesser means.

Now we live in the age of off-price department stores where shoppers can buy – at drastically reduced prices – “designer brands” and popular styles.  Here on the West Coast of the U.S., for instance, the landscape is dotted with Ross Dress for Less, Marshall’s and Home Goods.  People count on inexpensive “fast fashion” (ignoring its hidden costs) to easily add to or replenish their wardrobes.  (Of course, you undoubtedly already know that the vast majority of those clothes is cheaply made out of cheap fabric.)  American closets are overflowing with cheap clothes.

So how much do we spend on clothes?  Today I read “How America Spends Money: 100 Years in the Life of the Family Budget,” by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic (April 5, 2012).  To read the original source, go to the full 69-page 2013 report from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Labor, “100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending.”  

As summed up by Thompson, this is how Americans spent their money in 1900, 1950 and 2003:



In 1900, Americans spent 14% of their budget on clothing.

Fifty years later, Americans were spending 12% of their budget on clothing.

Chart2003By 2003, Americans were spending 4% of their budget on clothing.  But this doesn’t mean that people are buying fewer clothes.  Rather:

In the last 50 years, food and apparel’s share of family has fallen from 42% to  17% … as we’ve found cheaper ways to eat and clothe ourselves. Food production got more efficient, and we offshored the making of clothes to other countries with cheaper labor. As a result, apparel’s share of the pie, which hardly changed in the first half of the century, shrank in the second half by two-thirds. (Source; emphasis mine)

I looked up the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer expenditure report for July 2014-June 2015:  Food expenditures have fallen to 10% and apparel expenditures to 3%. 

What percentage of your family budget goes to apparel?

As an aside, did you notice the growth in the orange “Other” category from 13% to 21% to 39%?  Here’s the two-part explanation of the growth in that category explained by Thompson:

  1. Half of that orange “other” is transportation costs: mostly cars, gas, and public transit. A century ago, … 80% of families were renters and nobody owned a car. Today, more than 60% of families are home owners, and practically everybody owns a car.
  2. The other part of that orange pie is health care.  Health-care spending makes up more than 16% of the U.S. economy, but only 6% of family spending, … One reason for the gap is that most medical spending isn’t out of our pockets. Employers pay workers’ premiums and government foots the bill for the elderly and the low-income.   (Source)


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Another Devotion?

Perhaps “addiction” or “obsession” rather than “devotion” would be more appropriate in this post’s title!  While I planned on filling our new house with hand made rugs, since meeting Una Walker of Wooly Walkers on the first day of at last weekend’s Black Sheep Gathering (Friday), I knew I would have to make at least one of those rugs in the punch needle method.

Under Una’s instruction, I made a mug coaster at Una’s booth.  I left her booth with a finished coaster, a hank of differently colored strands of wool yarn, a 24 inch square piece of monk’s cloth and a punch needle and started practicing the technique that very night.  PunchNeedleCoastersOn Saturday and Sunday I popped by her booth again for input on my progress.  She was so very helpful and informative – a gracious teacher.

Here’s a picture of the coasters/trivets I punched on the piece of monk’s cloth over the weekend.  I punched on both sides of the cloth, so you are looking at the undersides of some (e.g., the bottom right and top right coasters), and the topsides of others (e.g., the middle horizontal row).

The more I punched, the more I was determined that Thor and I should have our very own (made by me!) punch needle rug.  Of course, after Sunday Una returned to California, so I had to find a substitute punch needle information source.


As is my wont when I enter a new field, I started to do more research.  I had to learn more about punch needle rug hooking art – its tradition, history and usages.  I ordered Amy Oxford’s Punch Needle Rug Hooking: Techniques and Designs and started reading as soon as it arrived.  (I am glad I hadn’t started immediately on the large piece of monk’s cloth I bought from Una while at the BSG for my rug; I need to practice more.)

Filled with wonderful pictures, PunchNeedleLate 18thCOxford’s 157 page book is a sort of A to Z approach to punch needle rug hooking.

Did you know that punch needle rug hooking originated in the late 19th century?  The tradition is thought to have come from the Canadian Maritime Provinces and the New England region of the U.S.  (Pic source)

The first chapter is on the history of the punch needle, and from there she moves to George Wells (whom she describes as “the patriarch of punch needle rug  hooking).  Wells described his work thusly:  “The stage setting is the room, and the rug must suit the setting and the characters who live in that setting.  Above all, the characters must enjoy the rugs.”

After reading the chapter on McAddo rugs, I found this article about the enterprise from the NY Times (March 5, 1987).  Oxford’s book includes an excellent chapter called “A Private Lesson – How to Make Punch Needle Rugs” and an equally useful chapter on FAQs (aka Frequently Asked Questions).

PunchNeedleCoastertacosAfter reading Oxford’s instructions on what to do once the rug maker removes the piece from its frame or hoop, I began the steps to turn my creations into usable trivets.  First I cut them apart, leaving fabric for seaming.  Yikes!  They rolled into little cloth tacos.  But from Oxford’s book I learned that’s normal!


Here’s a picture of my coasters all steamed and pressed.  With a needle and thread and working from the under side, I stitched each one to a piece of wool felt.  As you can see, these trivets suggest the need for more practice.

But I will make a punch needle rug for our new house – after I finish reading Oxford’s book and after I finish another practice piece.  (Earlier today I ordered a yard of monk’s cloth from Wooly Walkers … I’m thinking I will make a larger trivet on which I can place hot pots or plates when serving a meal.)


Posted in Punch Needle Rug Hooking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Fun @ BSG

Last night I received a text from my friend Summer in California asking whether I planned on attending the annual Black Sheep Gathering (BSG), held in Eugene, Oregon.  (It started this morning, Friday, June 24, and runs through Sunday, June 26.) If so, Summer asked, was I willing to buy and send her a Jenkins spindle she had her heart set on?  (But of course!)SummerSpindle

So 20 minutes after opening time on opening day, there I was in front of the booth displaying the “fine wood tools for fiber artists personally handmade in Scotts Mills, Oregon” by Ed Jenkins.  Summer particularly liked two of his designs – Delight and Lark.  I selected a Delight spindle (1.02 oz/29g) in Brosimum rubescens (aka Bloodwood).  I thought its color and grain lovely, and I hope Summer will too.

Woolywalkers4Woolywalkers1Dragging myself away from the beautiful spindles, I had walked only a few feet when my eyes were drawn to Wooly Walkers and the lovely punch needle rug hooking creations of Una Walker.  I’ve never hooked a rug in any manner, so I when I saw her sign inviting passerbys to make a small coffee trivet, I immediately sat down.  An excellent teacher, Una soon had me punching, using two strands of colorful Romney wools.  As we all know, one can never have too many fiber hobbies, CoffeeTriveg2so I left her booth not just with my coffee trivet but with a punch needle (by Amy Oxford), several large hanks of Fancy Tier Crafts Heirloom Romney Yarn, an 18″ square piece of Monk’s Cloth and a Morgan 5″ No-Slip Hoop.  (As soon as I got home I made another coffee trivet and hope to make another before I go to bed tonight!)

BautistaRugDetermined to make my way through BSG’s Marketplace without buying any more yarn, I stopped up short to gaze at (drool over?) the amazing rugs of Bautista Hand Wovens.  Franciso (a fourth-generation master weaver) and his wife Laura have over 46 years of weaving between them.  And of course I asked; their  young children have joined the family weaving tradition!

I loved the blue tones in this churro rug shown here held by Francisco.  As I left Francisco’s booth with this rug rolled up and tucked under my arms, I consoled myself I didn’t technically buy any more yarn; I bought a rug.

Besides, our new house will have wood floors throughout, so a rug is actually a necessity, right?

In for the penny, in for the pound (as the saying goes), I stopped to admire the beautiful colors of Melanie Dilworth’s Black Trillium BlackTrilliumBlackTrillium2Fiber Studio.

I remembered reading Michele Lee Bernstein’s (aka PDX Knitterati) recent post “Re-introducing: Twin Leaf Crescent,” a shawl pattern she designed to showcase Black Trillium Fibre Studio’s 165 gram BlackTrillium5five-color gradient set (shown in the above left picture).

I couldn’t resist.  I left the Black Trillium booth with another purchase:  Melanie’s gradient set in the Tidewater colorway and a copy of Michele’s Twin Leaf Crescent pattern.

Okay, this was a yarn purchase – but only 165g!

BSG_goatBSG_alpaca2I next walked to the other side of the fairgrounds to visit the building where I was sure to be safe (trans: I would make no more purchases):  The building housing wool-bearing livestock! This was a spinner’s delight, and I was sure I wouldn’t be tempted to buy fleece!

PuraVidaAlpaca2But, alas, while I didn’t buy a fleece or even any more yarn, I bought another rug – a felted alpaca rug in tones of deep wine from Pura Vida Alpacas.

But at least I didn’t buy any more yarn!

The BSG runs for two more days … But can I stay away?!  Should I stay away?!

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Tweed Lopi

Icelandic sheep

Icelandic Sheep

I have long loved Lopi yarns.  Lopi yarn is a single ply yarn spun from the dual-coated fleece of the Icelandic sheep (a descendant of the Norwegian Spælsau, which, by the way, provided the yarn used to weave the Viking ship sails).  A combination of both the long, coarse hairs of the sheep’s outer coat and the short softer hairs of its inner coat, Lopi yarn is warm, durable, water repellent and hard wearing.  I have knit with Lopi yarn in all its weights, loving it all.

TweedSkeins2Thor has long eyed (and frequently borrowed) the Bulky Lopi pullover I knit for myself 20 years ago and still wear on winter’s coldest days.  Thus when I found Istex’s (Icelandic Textile Company) Bulkylopi (100g/3.5o, 60m/66y) in a blue tweed (shade 1415, lot 0952) at a great price a few months ago, I quickly ordered some for Thor.

The skeins were very attractive – a lovely dark blue spun with flecks of red, blue and white.  My gauge swatch looked fine, but when I knit up the sweater the sum total of the flecks didn’t work for Thor (or me):  All the fleck colors were too bright, and the blue and red were simply the wrong hues for the lovely dark blue yarn.

TweedDonegalTweed yarns are spun in a basic background color with slubs or nebs of colored wool added.  Ideally the color of the slubs work well with the background color, as they do in this picture of Donegal Tweed to the left.  But when they don’t – well, even great yarn doesn’t look as nice as it could.

Years ago I found skeins of tweed wool from Ireland spun from a lovely,  lanolin-rich, crisp wool.   The main color was a natural cream, but the slubs were pastels in shades of pink and purple.  Though I thought the tweed looked awful, it I bought the yarn (it had such a nice hand!) and overdyed it with a deep, rich purple.  Dyed as such, the tweed flecks and the background color were well suited!


Growing Pile of Removed Slubs

But as I was knitting with Lopi, I had another option; remember, Lopi is a fairly loosely spun, single ply.  Further, each fleck in this yarn was small (though there were a lot of them), which means few were twisted very tightly into the yarn.  So I picked up a pair of tweezers, sat down under a good light and started removing slubs.

I was strategic about it; I didn’t remove all the slubs.  (I wanted the yarn to look tweedy after all.)  I also had to be careful to remove them in a balanced way – avoiding both clumps of tweed flecks and large areas with no flecks.  The actual slub removal was easy.  Granted it took me a couple of hours, but the result was worth it.  Thor loves the sweater (and now he’ll stop stealing mine).

TweedLarryAs shown by the picture on the right, though tweezed, there’s still variation in the blue yarn due to the red, white and blue flecks I left in, but there is no garish contrast.

TweedSlippers (2)Now compare the tweediness of the sweater to that of these slippers I knit and fulled from the un-tweezed Lopi.

I have two full skeins of Lopi remaining.  As we always ask our guests to remove their shoes and as the house we’re building will have wood floors throughout, I will use the unused Lopi to knit and full multiple pairs of slippers in varying sizes and keep in a basket by the front door for guests to don.  Though the slippers will be identical, save for size, I will denote pairs by sewing matching buttons or pompoms on each size!  I’ll have to put some sort of sticky substance on the soles so our friends don’t slip and slide on the wood floors.

So should you buy tweed and it not knit up as nicely as you hoped it would, don’t despair!  You have options!

Posted in Bulky Lopi, Dyeing, Fibers, Knitting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

After an Absence …

I haven’t posted for a couple of months!  I’ll bring you up to date on why I’ve had such a quiet blog presence lately.  (My subsequent post will be fiber-related.  I promise.)

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, CA

After two years in limbo, early this year we decided we had to step up our house hunting in the Pacific Northwest.  We left the San Francisco Bay Area two years ago, settling first in the fiber arts rich area of Portland, Oregon and began house hunting.  The problem we encountered was finding a new house that was both reasonably priced and, important for two retirees, single level.  Due to strict density regulations of Portland’s urban growth plan, every house we saw in the greater Portland area was two or three levels high with very small footprints, resembling the little plastic houses that come with the “Monopoly” board game.

Portland, OR

Portland, OR

(I have to wonder how the restrictions comply with U.S. laws that forbid housing discrimination.  Almost all of the two-level houses had all bedrooms and sometimes the utility room on the second floor, and the first floor of most of the three level houses was taken up by a garage.  These houses automatically exclude people with mobility impairment and anyone who is concerned with aging knee joints.  While the intent of the growth restrictions of the Greater Portland area are probably not discriminatory, their effects certainly are.)

Eugene, OR

Deciding against the Portland area, we packed up again and moved south to Eugene, Oregon (home of the University of Oregon), a city I enjoyed living 20 years earlier.  It is still a nice city, but we ultimately decided we needed to live closer to a large city with an international airport.


Downtown Vancouver, WA

We next cast our eyes back north and across the Columbia River to the Vancouver, Washington area – about 2.5 hours’ drive north from Eugene.  As we didn’t want to pack up and head north to lease another dwelling before buying, for the last several months we’ve been driving to Vancouver, spending days touring new houses and meeting builders with our realtor, Marcus Saxon (who not only was committed to finding us a house in an area where we would be happy, but clearly had the proverbial patience of a saint), and then driving another 2.5 hours home.  (Exhausting.)

Vancouver … new houses are being snatched up (both both U.S. and foreign buyers), which, of course, encourages the builders to raise prices.  We saw prices go up $30-50,000 in a few months.  We didn’t like the “quick buy now before it’s too late” feeling we were getting from sellers (not from our realtor).


Near Battle Ground, WA

BattleGround2Lo and behold, our realtor took us to a small city slightly north and east of Vancouver called Battle Ground.  We liked the city, and we really liked the houses of the builder he recommended.  Voila!  So papers signed, we now wait for the house to be built.  In the interim, while we selected the floor plan, we now face so many other choices, including (but not limited to):   counter tops, sinks, hardware, cabinets, shower designs, tiles, flooring, windows, doors, paint colors (both exterior and interior), landscaping, appliances, and window coverings.


(Not us)

This will be my 30th move (give or take) in my life.  While moving doesn’t get easier as we age, we’re certainly looking forward to unpacking our belongings!

My daughter and her family will be coming up to spend the week of Thanksgiving with us.  Dare I tell them what MovingPicthey’ll be doing before dinner?  (Pics source  here and here)  And did I happen to mention my son-in-law is a landscape architect?!

MtStHelensI’m know they won’t mind helping.  Thor and I will help them by getting out of their way.  Maybe we can take the grandchildren to visit nearby Mt. St. Helens:)

Next post:  Tweeds


Posted in Miscellany, Other Fiber Arts | Tagged | 19 Comments