Thursday, July 22, 2010


We're studying barbarians and Vikings recently - what a great topic for boys! Lots of battles, double-crossing conquerors, pleading bishops.... drama and action! Alas, many of those battles have been re-enacted in our home, which can drive a mama batty after a while. Certainly Vikings did something other than fight? Enter in the fiber arts....

Hang with me. I see you snoozing as I prepare to mention wool. No knitting involved here. This is fiber arts as related to battle training, children, and household productivity!

Every Viking home and village needed ropes and cords - lots of it. They used it on their clothing, boats, you name it. And those Vikings also had children hanging about that had lots of energy. So they figured out a way to occupy the kids and put that energy to good use - making whipcord! To ensure they'd stick with the job, it developed into a fun game.

Here you see four "bobbins" with attached wool yarn hanging from a plant hook. Vikings would've used a tree branch, but we made due. The bobbins would normally be carved wood or even plain stones. Something with some heft. Water-filled bottles work great. Enter in two enthusiastic, fair-haired Viking boys.

"Leif" and "Rolf" each hold a bobbin in each hand. Two bobbins are wound with black yarn, two with white. They toss/trade bobbins, right hand to right hand, left hand to left hand. As the bobbins are traded back and forth, the yarn is braided into a very sturdy cord. As they boys got the hang of it, they aimed to set new speed records. This productive game helped train young Vikings for battle, increasing eye-hand coordination. Even our 4 yr old figured this out! Not complicated, but highly entertaining!

Here's the finished rope, which is about 3-4 feet long. Depending on how the black and white bobbins are oriented in the boys' hands, different patterns result. At first we had a spiral pattern going, then some blunders later accidentally reoriented our bobbins which gave us a vertical stripe. You can see that the tension is tighter, and thus the rope is firmer/denser, as the rope got longer. This is mostly because the boys figured out that they didn't have to be so gentle and gave the bobbins more of a pull.

If you want to try to make your own Viking whipcord, you can find instructions and read all about it on this pdf.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer Abundance

There are two pear trees in our yard, great big 30-foot tall trees, loaded down with ping-pong ball sized pears. These diminutive fruits are seckel pears, sweet and delicious when at the perfect stage of ripeness. Mmmm. It's harvest time, and the lower branches have yielded plenty to keep us busy! The squirrels are welcome to eat everything I can't reach. If only I could train them to knock down some of the beauties that are higher up in the trees! The first batch of pears became a delicious Walnut Pear Coffee Cake. Last year I canned pickled spiced pears, but I think they were too vinegar-y for our family's tastes. Perhaps I'll try regular canned pears this year. Any thoughts on canning them whole with just the peels and stems removed?

A special boy celebrated his birthday this past weekend. A friend's son has his birthday the day before, so we did a joint party. I contributed this "Tow Mater" cake from the movie "Cars". Volcano cakes are easier, but the little guys were quite pleased with this one. My birthday is next in the queue, and I will NOT be making a cake for myself. To be honest, I don't even like cake! A nice Chinese dinner will suffice, thank you.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Beat the heat

What would summer be without kids in swimming pools?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Taking dominion of.... the wheel

spinning on my great wheel

This great wheel was in my parent's house for years, decorating their basement. I took it home, had some help replacing missing parts, and now it's up and running! It spins really well, once I got some tension issues out of the way. But like any 200 yr old object, it's gonna have some quirks to deal with.

The yarn is stretching from my hand to the spindle at the far left. You can see it's a bit bumpy and uneven. I'm still perfecting some techniques, so I'll call this batch of yarn "designer" yarn. :)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Taking Dominion of....the chair

We have a favorite chair in our family. It's not quite a loveseat, but technically called a "chair and a half." I call it just the right size for mama and a few kids to squeeze into to read books together. It's also great for taking naps.

Our chair has been loved for 12 years, and is showing it's age. Four children growing up in it have left their marks, too. Quite a few marks, actually.

Instead of purchasing a new - and way too expensive - chair to replace it, I challenged myself to sew a slip cover. I had no pattern and no experience in this! How to even judge the amount of material one would need? After a few measurements and sketches, and a bit of math, I did my best to estimate. Here you see 6.5 yd of 54" wide fabric, as well as my method of sewing. I primarily used a "drape, trace & cut" technique, leaving some ample room for mistakes. The sides, arms and front of the back are one long piece that gets tucked into the space between the arms and back. The backside is another piece with some tucks to accomodate the curves. Mostly I tried to duplicate how the original fabric was pieced.

Working on such a large project required me to transform my dining table into a sewing room. That propelled me forward to get this completed as quickly as possible. Pins and irons around little ones leads to trouble! The cushion cover was sewn in a few hours, and everything else (except the skirt) was sewn in one day (Grandma made sure the kids were out of my hair).

This was my first time covering any sort of box cushion. I reused the zipper from the old fabric cover. It was covered in marker anyway and was destined for the bin. Covered piping or welting was new to me as well. That was actually really fun and easy to do with a zipper foot. Sewing it in along the curved arm pieces while sandwhiched between huge quantities of fabric was another story though. Pins were my best friends!

I came out really close with my original purchase of fabric. I did go back and buy another yard to do the skirt, but even that came out a wee bit short. So instead of piecing in more of the same and creating an awkward seam line, I added a contrasting band to the bottom of the skirt.

The finished product fits great! I love it! There's enough of both fabrics left over to make a matching pillow or two. The entire project was less than $100, MUCH cheaper than a new chair!
The rest of the room was dragging me down, so a fresh coat of aqua paint went on all the walls. I love how the reds and pinks pop against the blue! This is my favorite room to be in now!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sock Challenge 2010

What's wooly, colored like the rainbow, and walks around on two feet? Performing circus sheep? Not quite...
It's pair #4 out of 10 for the 20 socks/10 pairs in 2010. I challenged myself to make a type of sock I've never done before: knee socks! I had a skein of Noro Silk Garden Sock laying around, and since it's a bit of a heavier weight, I thought it'd be great for this. I added in some Brown Sheep Nature Spun from my stash left over from this little sweater, which is a decreasing stripe as you go up the leg. I ran out of yarn, so the cuffs are a blue-face leicester wool hand-dyed yarn I purchased on etsy a while back. These socks are 28" from toe to cuff, so I had to really dig around to find yarn to s-t-r-e-t-c-h this project!

These are very warm, thick socks. It was almost unbearable to try them on in our near-100 degree heat. They will be much appreciated this winter though!
And as if these weren't enough to make me happy, I just found out I'm a prize winner in the knitaversary drawing over at Grumperina's blog! How exciting!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

From Grandma's Attic

Today I'll share another treasure from my Grandmother's attic: a dresser scarf or runner, beautifully hand embroidered and in pristine condition. Nobody knows for sure if she or her mother - or someone else for that matter - made this. It is hand stitched with beautiful little stitches! I especially like the use of variegated thread to make the orange and pink flowers. That cute little bluebird snatching a berry is just the same color as my bedroom walls, so I was delighted to add this piece to my bedroom!