imageI spent a truly delightful weekend taking a workshop from the very talented Jackie Abrams.  Textile Center had Jackie come to teach a 2 1/2 day class on bias plaited baskets.  I am not a basketweaver, in fact, I had only ever made one basket before I took this class.  This gave me a rating of “0” on my name tag at the start of class.  There were several of us “zeroes” in class and although we were the total beginners, I never felt like I was struggling to keep up even though there were “fives” in the room, a credit to Jackie’s teaching style.  I took the class on a whim.  Jackie was organized and thoughtful and just lovely to email back and forth with while I was setting up the class (so I knew I would like her) and it has been a challenging spring for me creatively and I thought this would be a great jump start.  I am so glad I did.


Bias plaiting works on the bias.  You weave the base, over-under-over-under, and it looks just like a flat paper coaster.  It reminded me a lot of the woven paper placemats I have made with kids.  The bias comes in when you start to shape and you do that by bending things on the diagonal.  It was tough to get the hang of at first and I really forgot what it is like to be a beginner at something totally new.  It’s sort of rare that I jump into something that I don’t have a little experience with.  After wrestling with my first corner, I watched Jackie demonstrate again and it surprised me how much more it made sense the second time.  It also took me a little while to make the connection that I was working with the bias of a woven “fabric”, which stretches and compresses does all kinds of crazy things.  Once I remembered “oh yes, bias” and realized that I could boss the paper around a bit more, then things started to click.

imageOur material was painted watercolor paper, which is a lovely thing to work with. It’s thick paper which is hard to crease (which is a good thing) and is much less fragile than I had at first thought it would be.  We painted each sheet of paper on both sides because in this basket, you end up seeing both sides (and the contrasting colors are a huge help in remembering what piece to put where.)  Painting was fun because really anything goes and some of the wildest papers made some really great baskets.  We cut it into 1/4 inch strips using a pasta machine.  (Brilliant!)

You sculpt your flat paper by adding corners which change the direction and shoulders which are decreases (like k2tog for those knitters reading along).  Some of the class members went for asymmetrical sculptural pieces.  I (being a zero) decided that I would rather get a little practice with the classic symmetrical shapes first, so I made two different baskets in class: a “kimono” and a “pillow”.



The little clippies come from the electronics department at Radio Shack.  You should have seen the look on the face of the teenaged boy at the counter who asked me what project I was working on.  Basketmaking?  Priceless.








I get teased a lot at my day job for being a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to “yarn bombing”.  If you aren’t familiar, yarn bombing is the art of wrapping, covering, or decorating a public space with knit/crocheted “graffiti”.  There is a book written about it (probably more than one):  Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti.  I interviewed the authors of this book once and they are delightful.  There’s an interesting article about yarn bombers here and a very different take on it here (which I find myself nodding at alot as I read).

Yarn bombing can be cool and whimsical and fun.  Just check out a few photos I found online:

PicMonkey Collage

I have very mixed feelings about the “art” of yarn bombing.  Yes, it’s fun.  I get that. I have promised to work with a group of kids yarn bombing some things this summer as part of a community art project.  And I am sure they will have fun.

From the article I mentioned above, there is a quote that stood out for me.  I am not sure I agree with the “beautiful decay” remark, but:

“Yarn bombing exemplifies the ‘do it for the photo’ method of street art. There’s a disingenuousness. … It’s bright and colorful for a day, then it looks gross and someone else has to clean it up.” And it’s no beautiful decay, like the withering of wheatpastes or chipping paint. Personally, I always feel a bit uncomfortable with the awareness that someone put in a disproportionate amount of hours to make such a short-lived mess.

And that is the part that makes the knitter in me just cringe.  Let me explain.

untitled-2This is a baby sweater that I knit for a friend.  It’s little and is about the simplest baby sweater pattern out there.  I know you non-knitters will scoff, but trust me that this has nothing complicated about it, just swapping colors every couple of rows and 3 different stitches.  It’s worsted weight yarn (which is the standard kind of medium weight yarn) so in sweater terms it knits up very fast.  This sweater took about 15 hours to knit and is about $25 in materials.  I wasn’t working to break any speed records and I was probably reading a book as I knit, so it wasn’t my fastest project.

But let’s put that in the perspective of yarnbombing a telephone pole.  This little sweater would pretty much fit right around a telephone pole and cover about 12 inches of it.  So let’s do the math.  If I want to cover a section of the telephone pole as tall as I am (which is a respectable amount of yarn bombing), that’s 75 hours.  Forget the sleeves and the button bands and maybe we’re down to 10 hours for this little bit of sweater knitting.  That’s still 50 hours to cover that telephone pole and $125 worth of yarn.  Even using inexpensive acrylic yarn (which is more typical I think for yarn bombing) and we have the cost down to $25 in materials, but the knitting experience has gotten a whole lot less fun.  Acrylic has it’s uses, but it isn’t nearly as fun to knit with as far as I am concerned.

I can tell you that as a knitter, I have a heck of a lot more things I would like to spend 50 or 100 hours working on.  Now I notice in looking at those yarn bomb photos I posted above, most of those are crocheted.  Crochet (by all accounts) goes faster row for row than knitting.  I am not a fantastic crocheter, so I can’t really compare apples to apples.  I read recently that crochet takes 3 times more yarn.  Even if we assume that you can go twice as fast, that’s still 25 hours to make that yarn bombed telephone pole and 3 times the materials.

And that quote that I mentioned above –  she’s not wrong.  It’s going to get wet and dirty and stretched out and faded and not so whimsical in not too much time.

So here’s my question to you.  Would you put in the time?  If you had 50 hours that you could dedicate to a project, what would YOU choose?  Is it the process?  Or the product, no matter how ephemeral?



This is affectionately known as the “yarn dress” at my house and I have worn it for about a half a dozen official type functions this winter.  I realized at some point that all of the dresses and things I have made from my Spoonflower fabrics have been very summery – sleeveless tops, summer dresses – and I live in MN, where there was a ridiculous amount of winter this year.  So I wanted a dress that was something I could wear with tights and a cardigan.  Then Spoonflower introduced “performance knit”, which is a stable but drapey kind of polyester knit.  Seemed like a perfect fit.  I LOVE this dress.

The fabric:  The design started from a photo of my friend Jen’s handspun yarn.  The original colors were a little too much for me, so I toned the whole thing down a little bit and made it seamlessly repeat.  Then when I set up the 2 yards of fabric to print, I added a photoshop effect to the edge of each yard, creating a kind of border print where the edge dissolves into polkadots.  I could just barely squeeze the dress on to 2 yards (it’s good that I am short).


Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 4.36.14 PMThe pattern:  The pattern is my favorite t-shirt  – Renfrew from Sewaholic – just lengthened to add a skirt.  I have another short sleeved one I did this to and I wear that one a lot too. When I do another from this fabric, because it doesn’t stretch much, I would add just a tiny bit over the shoulders/bust width, maybe just going a size up.


photo 1

I posted a photo of these to Facebook and got many requests for the recipe.  My mom will have to chime in here of where the recipe came from.  I just know she has made these for all of my 40 years and they are one of my very favorites.  The best part is that they are made from basic ingredients that you almost always have and they only take 20 minutes to bake.


1/2 c butter
1 c brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c hot coffee
1 c chocolate chips

Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the egg.  Combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder & soda and add these dry ingredients alternately with the coffee.  Spread into a greased 9×13 pan.  Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

My mama asked “when will there be a black dog series on Spoonflower” and I couldn’t resist the taunt.  Here is a sneak peek at the first two colorways of my Dogs Stealing Yarn design.  It will get a better title eventually.  I have swatches of these ordered so I can check them out properly and do some color fine-tuning.   Each dog has snatched some yarn and you will see some knitting needles scattered around if you look closely.  My hounds are fascinated with my knitting project and are convinced that the ball of yarn is actually a toy for them.  So far they haven’t snatched it, but it is only a matter of time.

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Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 9.49.08 AMScreen Shot 2014-03-26 at 9.48.46 AM

IMG_2062This is an ugly photo.  But I am posting it here because my digital design class is going to learn how to turn this photo into this seamless repeat…

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 2.09.22 PMOr even this seamless repeat…

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 2.17.57 PM

If I post it here to my blog then it is easy for the whole class to find it and download it for class.  But I also thought it would be fun to talk about how that ugly photo gets to be something cool.  My top seamless sample needs a little work still to make a few more flaws disappear where the edges of the repeat tile meet, but once you add a filter effect on top of it (like sample 2) the flaws pretty much vanish.  For the third week of class, I let the students vote on what kind of a repeat we are going to work on and my class this semester chose to work with something photographic.  We are going to use a tool called Pixlr to do our photo editing.  It is a free online graphics program and it is pretty sophisticated.

In a nutshell, here’s what we are going to do:

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 2.31.45 PMWish us luck!


photo(7)Lots of things have been going on behind the scenes here at Chez Rahn, but one of the biggest is the new members of our family.  This is Leo (blue) and Chester (red).  It took us a long time after we lost our Lucy in April to decide we were ready for another dog.  And we weren’t going to get a puppy and we most certainly weren’t going to get two.  But then these two happened.

They are brothers, almost 7 months old and are lab/springer spaniel mutts.  We met both parent dogs who were absolute sweethearts.  These two were almost the last of a large litter and their people were really trying to find them good homes. In fact, we realized that our Lucy was part of an overstock clearance sale and these two were a buy-one-get-one-free.  I guess we like dog bargains. They were such good buddies we couldn’t not take them both.  It’s crazy, but it just had to be.

They are already each 50+ lbs, so they are very grown up.  No roly-poly puppies here.  They grew up on a farm belonging to a family friend and we have been introducing them to the adventures of living in the city for the past 3 weeks:  riding in the car (not fans), going to the vet to get neutered (riding in the car is worse), airplanes flying over (WTF!), leashes, kids at bus stops, mud puddles (hooray!) and more.


dripdropThis is my piece that is in the A Common Thread show at Textile Center this year.  It’s a 3 piece “suit” with three different techniques.  It started with the fabric for the skirt.  I taught a class last summer about silk screening and I needed a sample of how  you would create an all over repeat with silk screens.  This is two screens – one printed in dark silver and the other in blue.  So it took many passes to screen it to make sure that I wasn’t touching any of the wet paint where the edges of the screen might overlap.  I made the screens using a thermofax machine and specially treated fabric – you print your design on a laser printer or copier and run it through the machine with the fabric.  The coating on the screen is burned away whereever it touches your artwork.  It is a very cool process.  The fabric is a metallic denim and it is printed in metallic ink, so it is hard to photograph because everything reflects the light.  The pattern is a simple pencil skirt because I didn’t want to do much to interrupt the pattern.

The top is digitally printed “silky faille” which is one of Spoonflower’s newer fabrics.  I needed an excuse to get some and try it out.  The pattern is the same rainclouds from the silk screen, shrunk down and colored using the Spoonflower color chart.  The color chart is a piece of fabric printed with “chips” of about 1600 colors that can be printed.  Each one has a code, so you can choose the color you want and enter the code in Photoshop as you create your design. Since I had already printed the skirt fabric, I could compare colors on the color chart to the paint colors and get a pretty great match.  I forgot when I printed this that the pattern pieces are supposed to be cut on the diagonal grain for this top, but I wanted to keep the design running the same way as on the skirt, so I cut  it with the grain.  This is such a nice drapey fabric that it worked just fine.

The jacket is a simple bolero trimmed with a little blue organza around the collar and cuffs and then hand embroidered with rows of running stitch, matching the rain drops from the design.  I laid out the stitching lines with masking tape that I stitched along the edges of. The buttons are vintage ones I found on Etsy.


photo (6)


Pattern:  Seeded Mitts by Heidi Buekelman, Yarn:  Happy Feet by Plymouth, dyed by ME

This was my first experiment in self striping yarn.  My mama-in-law asked for some nice sock yarn for Christmas and so I decided that was an excuse to dye some nice sock yarn for her.  Happy Feet is my favorite base.  I have seen it dyed up by many dyers and I just love it.  I love the way it takes the color, I like knitting it and it makes me happy.

So I did some research and it seems that in order to dye something that will self stripe for a sock, you need a section of yarn about 30 inches long.  In otherwords, each 30 inch section you dye equals one row of your sock.  Fingerless mitts are about the same as a sock, so this means that for each of the stripes you see, I had about 3+ yards of that color.

How do you accomplish that?  It is MANY steps.  Not hard, but fiddly for sure.  I used a warping board because I have one.  A warping board (if you have never heard of one) is a giant peg board used by weavers for measuring out warp ends for weaving.  I put my original skein on the swift and wrapped it round and round the pegs to make a new giant skein and added lots of ties with scrap yarn to keep it from getting tangled.

My warping board is big enough that I could make a new loop of yarn that when I stretched it out it was about 5 yards.  (Imagine a letter O that you grab from both sides and pull apart to make a big squished loop.)  I have a huge long table at the Dye Lab at work.  I soaked the skein in citric acid and then I laid the skein on top of plastic wrap the whole length of the table.  The dye is Dharma Acid dyes added with a sponge brush.  4 bright colors mixed half and half with grey.  On the table I painted it in 4 quarters – pink, green, red, blue.

Once the yarn was saturated with the dye then I folded the saran wrap over the sides toward the center and rolled the whole thing up like a snail shell.  Pop it in to a ziploc bag (unsealed) and into a large steamer pot for about 1/2 hour.  You can tell when the dyes are set when the liquid in the ziploc is basically clear.  Then I pulled it out and tried very much to ignore it while it cooled off.  After rinsing and hanging to dry in the shower then it was time to re-skein once again.  This time I stretched it between two chairs in the dining room and walked between them winding it on to my niddy-noddy.  The niddy-noddy makes a skein that fits back on the swift and from there I could wind it in to a ball for knitting.  Each stripe is about 4 knitted rows.  Once I got going it was so fun to knit that these mitts took me just a couple of days of the polar vortex weekend to finish.

Nuts, huh?  Totally super cool yarn is completely worth it.

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1.  A couple more fun finished objects for the holidays.  The woven piece is a camera strap and two more octopi hats.

2.  The high temperature here today was -20 degrees.  It was beautifully bright and sunny, but with the windchill it felt something like 45 degrees below zero.  That is just crazy.  If you throw a cup of coffee in to the air it instantly freezes and patters down on to the ground as snow.  (I am not kidding)

3.  Just to prove that it is indeed a small world sometimes, I wanted to share an email that I got over the holidays.

I just happened upon your lovely blog while researching for my familys upcoming 150th anniversary and I immediately recognised an image of our family ribbons on your post, Exquisite Trims: Passamaneria Valmar.  The two ribbons he showed you are in fact created in my familys factory, Julien Faure of St. Etienne and not in Italy, these are two of the more well known designs. Our company is 5th generation artisans and is one of the only remaining silk ribbon companies still in operation as many have been forced to close after the World Wards due to changing fashions and economic constraints.  I’ve been creating jewellery from antique salesmans samples so I’ve gotten to know the archives pretty well….each ribbon is a miniature work of art!
How cool is that?  Ruth and I have emailed a little back and forth and I am super impressed that she found me and my ribbons and recognized them.  What a neat connection to have!  You should go and visit Rubanesque, her etsy shop, where she does beautiful things with samples and scraps of the ribbons.