Last week I spent a day at the MN State Fair demonstrating mending.  Well, it started as demonstrating mending, but watching someone stitch a hem is about as much fun as watching paint dry.  ReUseMN, the organization that was sponsoring the demos is all about reuse and repair and each day they had a different group showing how to fix up something.  I had brought a bunch of little projects with me, but I needed something that would draw people over.  So I started “mending” a t-shirt with reverse appliqué.

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Appliqué means that you take a little piece of fabric and stitch it on top of another piece of fabric, like a patch.  It’s a good way to fix a hole.  Reverse appliqué means that you take  little piece of fabric and stitch it behind another piece of fabric.  When you trim away that top layer, you can make really cool designs and you can get rid of a hole or a bleach stain.  You can see one flower petal in progress on the t-shirt above.  The yellow fabric is another t-shirt that I brought along. I put a piece of yellow behind the red, stitched each petal and then cut away the red t-shirt.  I worked on this shirt all day, making 4 sunflowers with leaves and a butterfly.  (I turned the rest of the yellow t-shirt into some t-shirt yarn and made an infinity scarf.  That’s a fun project for another post.)

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If you love the look, be sure to check out Natalie Chanin’s work.  She has made reverse appliqué (especially with knits) pretty famous.  Molas, a South American art form, are also made using reverse appliqué.  The Hood Museum of Art has a great article about making molas that you can download here.

Frequently asked questions while I was working and chatting with people at the fair:

Won’t that just shred itself where you cut it?  You can’t wash it?

I am always surprised when I get this question.  Why would I make clothing that I couldn’t wash?  For the most part, knits don’t fray or come undone when you cut them.  Especially t-shirt knit.  The edges will curl up a little bit especially on an edge that gets stretched a lot, but it’s going to hold up just fine.

You have to sew it by machine if you really wanted to wear that, right?

I guess there is a perception that if you make it by machine that it is somehow stronger and better.  (If you didn’t check out Natalie Chanin before, let me just say that every stitch of her garments are hand sewn and meant to be worn.)  As long as I use good sturdy thread (perle cotton for this) and make sure I secure my ends, hand sewing can be stronger than sewing by machine.  This kind of stitching is also decorative because I chose to make the stitches somewhat large and in a contrasting color, but those pieces are going to stay together.

Cut then stitch?

Many people assumed that I had cut out the holes first and then stitched something behind.  It’s a lot easier to actually stitch first and cut after because everything stays nice and flat and the holes don’t stretch out of shape.  I did these shapes free-hand, but you could easily draw some light pencil lines as a guide for stitching.  I pinned the two layers of fabric together and used the pins to help me see where the edge of my yellow fabric was so I didn’t accidentally stitch off the edge.


apple-2Happy Back to School to all of my favorite students and teachers.  Some were back last week and some have their first day today.  I hope all of you have a fantastic day!

My big back to school news is that this is my last week at Textile Center.  I have been at Textile Center for 11 years as a teacher, summer camp instructor, artist in residence, administrator, designer and much much more.  There have been a lot of changes there in the last few years and as I was looking ahead to this coming school year, it was like a little voice said to me “It’s time to move on”.

Several friends have asked me if I am sad and I don’t think I am.  I have had some of the most fun I have ever had working there.  I have met wonderful people who will continue to be friends for many many more years.  I have learned skills I never thought I would need to know.   It has been an amazing journey.  But right now, I realize that the things that I am excited about doing and the creative directions I want to go are heading on a path that doesn’t include Textile Center.

So what are my plans?  I am going to have a vacation.  I am going to remodel my kitchen and my studio, which may require a blow torch or a small explosive device to sort through the mountains of “why do I have this?”  I am going to finish that book I am working on.  I am going to say “yes” to some projects and see where they take me.  I am going to spend some time with my family.

It’s the time of year for new beginnings.  What’s new for you?

musketeersAs of today, I have three works in three different exhibitions, which are all open at the same time.  Pretty dang cool!

On the left is “Rain Storm” which was selected to be a part of Textile Center’s MN State Fair exhibition. These were selected works from the show which was originally held in January 2013.  I blogged about it here.  It is made from digitally printed and hand-silkscreened fabric with some hand embroidery.

The center piece is called “Concert” part of the 20 for 20 exhibition that opens tonight at Textile Center.  This is collaborative fabric that was made by attendees of Textile Center’s birthday party.  I guided an activity where everyone was invited to draw an image celebrating fiber art in a square of a 1 inch grid.  I combined all of the 50+ images and made a repeat.  The dress is inspired by some I saw in the collection at Kensington Palace and the draped sash is there to represent membership in an organization (a fun fact I found while looking up trivia about formal dress.)

The third is “Permafrost“, which I blogged just recently.

Here are some close-ups of the fabric designs, so you can see some of the details:

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I am absolutely delighted to be one of the artists featured in this regional Surface Design Association show which opens in just a few days.  When I got the announcement of the exhibition call for entry, I thought the concept was intriguing.

The intention of this exhibit is to illustrate things that are transparent, translucent, and/or transformed in this world, OR, things that should be (i.e. government, politics, fundraising, banking, corporate power, policy decisions, healthcare, etc.). You can go for the literal meaning of the words transparent, translucent, transformed… or, you can go with a more conceptual or abstract meaning of the words. We invite both the literal and wide view of this theme.

The piece I made for the show is called “Permafrost”.  We got a great photo (I think) and they must have loved it too because it is there on the flyer.


To me, the word translucent can be described by layers; something you can see through, but what you look at changes based on the layer you are looking through. This design was created using layers of images: fern frost on a window and a chain link screen. Separately, the two don’t have an obvious relationship, but combined they become a new idea and allow you to see one as it is influenced by the other. “Permafrost” is a geologic term for soil that remains frozen for consecutive years, bound or locked up as ice, and as the title of this piece, describes the connection I see between these two images. The lines of the dress give the feeling of emerging from this image of everlasting winter. The sleeveless style and broken neckline suggest the wearer is cracking and shedding away the ice.

Rahn_Becka_ttt_PermafrostDetailThe fabric is digitally printed, naturally.  It’s a lovely drapey silky faille from Spoonflower. This fabric has a nice weight to it so it hangs well.  A little challenging to sew as it is a bit slippery and tends to shift off grain if you let it.  Hand beaded with vintage flat sequins from Etsy.  Both photos for the design were taken on trips to my hometown.  The frost (which is actually 6 images put together) was on the windows at my mother-in-law’s house.  The chainlink was in a public art space called “Art Alley” and although I faded a lot of the color out for this piece, the fence is painted bright blues and pinks.

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.


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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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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…

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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!