Archive for the ‘What-I-Learned Wednesday’ Category

This week I have been working on what I am finding to be a necessary skill: knitting in the dark (aka knitting while not looking at my hands … though I have found myself actually knitting in the dark this week). My grandma and mom taught me to knit when I was young but I didn’t really start knitting in earnest until a decade or so ago. One of the things I remember about my grandma was her ability to hold a conversation and knit a baby hat while only occasionally looking down at her hands. My knitting at the time was sloppy and uneven and my stitches were always so tight on the needle that they never slid with ease, rather they grew more and more welded to the needle with each row until finally it became an effort to even get the knitting off the needles to rip it out.

I have since become much more fluid in my knitting, and I have enjoyed  knitting everything from a parrot to Christmas stockings to baby hats, of course. This week I made a concerted effort to knit by feel and it is incredibly fun to do. Sure, I occasionally knit into the wrong part of the stitch, split the yarn, or some other correctable mistake, but it is amazing how knitting by feel allows me to focus on aspects of knitting I never have before. It reminds me of a rowing drill we used to do; rowing with our eyes closed. All eight rowers rowing with eyes closed has the potential to do great things for the togetherness of the boat (or occasionally someone gets an oar handle in the back) because you are no longer focusing with just your eyes but you are forced to use all other senses to stay together.

I have been working on some simple kid-sized (they weren’t supposed to be kid sized but even when you knit a gauge swatch sometimes patterns are just like that) fingerless mittens in a bulky weight yarn with large needles. Next, maybe a hat knit in the round with worsted.

What skill have you worked on this week?


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Not so many years ago, I sold my car and used the money to buy a sewing machine. It is a fairly simple machine that I thought I would use to make pillows, curtains, and other things for the house (or apartment, at the time), along with some clothing for me. And I have used it for quite a few projects. I have made pillows, all of our curtains, I made all of our crib sheets, a skirt, some pants for a little one, bags to organize toys, and more; it is actually a longer list than I realize when I write it all down. The problem is that when I sit down to the machine, fabric in hand, needle threaded, foot on the pedal, checking to make sure I am sitting square to the machine, I feel tense. My shoulders tighten up, my blood pressure rises a hair, and I turn into the student driver of sewing. I cautiously start each project, occasionally swerve off onto areas of the fabric I shouldn’t, and, if my sewing machine had a speedometer, I would rarely make it over 25. So, I usually save my major sewing projects for when my mom visits. When my mom visits, she always asks if there is anything I would like help with and I usually drag out a sewing project because my mom is as comfortable behind the sewing machine as I am tense. She knows how to fix mistakes, she knows shortcuts, and she understand fabric. With my mom here, I know if I get stuck, make a mistake, or just get frustrated, she will help me out (or even finish up the last bit of a Halloween costume while I get dinner!).

Inexplicably, I continue to buy fabric, look at patterns, and plan sewing projects. My latest project was pajamas for one of my little ones. I had my instructions, we picked out the fabric, and then it sat there. We were in the middle of a backyard project and getting out the sewing machine kept getting put on the back burner. I thought I would get to it in the evenings but never did. So one day I decided to iron the fabric, just to have everything ready to go. After I ironed, it occurred to me that maybe I could hand sew one of the larger, straight seams … just to get the project started. I looked up “how to hand sew clothing” just to be sure I knew what I was doing, and I started working on the one seam.

After completing the one seam, I knew I was hooked. I could work on my sewing whenever I had a spare minute. I used safety pins for pinning instead of straight pins so I didn’t have to worry if one of my little ones decided to check out the sewing project. I also have always worried about losing straight pins in the rug (despite never having lost a straight pin, I always worry I will lose one and later find it stuck in a foot … perhaps a lingering fear from the time I took off my shoe to find a Fred Flintstone pin imbedded in my heel). It took me about a week to finish the pajamas without using the sewing machine and I enjoyed every minute of it. I even learned to hand stitch a hem here. Next up in the sewing queue is Halloween costumes.

What have you learned this week?

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The past few weeks I have found myself down the rabbit hole of genealogy. And, oh, the learning I have done! It is amazing what information is out there with just a few clicks of the keyboard, a phone call, or a written letter (yes, snail mail!).

I have done some research before in this area and it has always been fascinating, but this time … this time I am in it deep.

My binder is full of newspaper clippings, census information, yearbook pictures … the list goes on. But what amazes me most, and what I have really learned while doing this, is that people are so willing to help and to share what information they have acquired. Genealogy is not about collecting information in a vacuum but about the sharing of information; it is about making connections, both past and present.

One interesting bit of information that I learned just yesterday … funeral homes also typically ran the ambulance service. These days I think that would be considered a conflict of interest but in the not-so-distant past, it was all part of the undertaker’s job. How did I come by this information? It all started with an ad in the newspaper for a funeral home that listed both funeral and ambulance services.

What has been holding your attention lately?

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This week I have been learning about tablet weaving (or card weaving, as it is sometimes called). I have always loved the idea of weaving. I love the history of it and the beautiful textiles and artwork that can be created. Tablet weaving creates long, narrow pieces of weaving used for things, such as belts, bookmarks, trim for clothing, or straps for bags.

Tablets, or cards, are usually made of plastic, though some are cardboard. I decided to make my own out of an old deck of cards. Depending on the shape of your tablets, you can weave different patterns. Below is a description of how I made the tablets (I am using 7 cards, but you can use any number you want to get your desired width):

  1. To make my cards square I used two cards, placing one lengthwise across the other card, drew a line, and cut.
  2. Next, I used the three hole punch to put a hole in each corner of the card. I set two hole cutters, after much trial and error, so that I could quickly work through all of the cards, cutting two holes at a time without having to measure on each card.
  3. I rounded the corners of the cards so that the sharp corners do not snag the yarn.
  4. Next up is warping, or threading the yarn through the holes. I used yarn the length of my arm span, which ensured that there was enough leftover for the knot at the end holding all of the yarn together. I am using plain old dishcloth cotton (which I am hoping is not too thick) because it is inexpensive and because I had extra on hand.

Now I need to find a good place to anchor my weaving, make a shuttle, and give it a go. That will all be in Part II next week.

It seemed that weaving was everywhere this week. There were handwoven scarves at the market, a display on textiles at the library, and this post on weaving in Laos. As always, handwork is beautiful in the many forms it takes.

What did you learn this week?

P.S., I will update this post with pictures in the near future; the pictures I had ready turned out to be blurry. I will also put up last week’s post soon. It is sitting in my notebook, awaiting some further attention.

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This week’s post came more of necessity than a thirst for learning. I decided to see what, if any, different ways there are to cut my own hair. I have long hair, so I don’t have much to lose if I mess it up, and I could use a haircut but haven’t really had time (it is also prom and wedding season around here which, I found out last year, can wreak havoc on scheduling at hair salons).

I started out by doing an internet search on cutting your own long hair. The search yielded many results, everything from sliding a scrunchy to the length you want and cutting it off to more elaborate cuts that are supposed to add layers. I decided on a combination of a couple of techniques. Here is my chosen method: I decided to cut my hair wet, make a ponytail on the very top of my head (experience a momentary 80’s flashback), twist the ponytail in one direction, cut off the desired amount, twist the ponytail in the other direction and check for any odd long sections, take hair out of the ponytail and hope for the best. (If you wish to try cutting your hair yourself, please look for more detailed instructions than this!)

So today, after much thought, I took the scissors to my hair. A couple of things to note

  1. My hair is very long so the odds of having an irredeemable haircut is extremely low.
  2. My hair is quite thick and has some wave to it so the ends do not need to be perfectly straight (i.e., it will hide a few minor mistakes fairly well).
  3. I generally wear my hair in braids.
  4. I don’t have an office job.

I used the technique described above and there were a few surprises, such as when I first started to cut and it just seemed like I was chasing the ends around; I was pretty sure this was going to be a disaster. Also, I think I should have started by trimming off a lot less. I got a bit overzealous and chopped off 2.5 inches, next time I will stick with just an inch. It wasn’t so much the missing length as it was the thickness of the hair that high up the ponytail that was the problem. Lastly, I would probably not do this again after having only 3-4 hours of sleep!

Bottom Line: There are no obvious long or short areas, my hair has some layers to it with this method and it got rid of some scraggly ends. So, would I do it again? Absolutely.

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I have been interested in origami for years and have enjoyed folding everything from simple baby booties to use as a gift tag on a baby gift to a more complicated photo mosaic origami quilt. My little one became interested in origami when we read Lissy’s Friends by Grace Lin, in which Lissy folds some origami friends to keep her company in a new school. Now we both love discovering what creatures and objects can be created from just a few folds of paper. What I never realized, though, is how closely math and origami are intertwined. I only briefly touched on the subject this week but how fun it would be to incorporate origami into a lesson in angles or geometry.

I choose to try out the theory that flat-folded origami creates a crease pattern that is two colorable (it only takes two colors to color the crease pattern so that there are no adjacent color repeats). I used an origami church to test the theory because it involves several folds but no small folds that would create small crease patterns that would be hard to color.

And it worked!

This led me to read about the four-color map theorem, which is the idea that any map can be colored with just four colors while having no adjacent color repeats.

Origami and math really seem to feed off of each other, with mathematicians using origami to test theorems and origami artists using math formulas to create more intricate folds.

There is so much information on origami and math that it is hard to know where to start. Below are just a couple of links that I found interesting:

Mathematics of paperfolding

Origami & Math

What did you learn this week?

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Week one of What I Learned is complete and it brought with it much reading about bees. Mason Bees initially, but you can’t read about Mason Bees without also moving into the topic of honeybees. Honeybees leads into Colony Collapse Disorder and then on into the decline of pollinators as a whole. As with all real-life learning, topics easily slide from one to the next — and isn’t that the beauty of it? It is like talking with a small child and realizing that they could ask “why?” all day long!

How did Mason Bees become my topic of interest? Well, several years ago I received a Mason Bee house as a gift. I let it languish in the basement, not really knowing much about Mason Bees or what was involved with a Mason Bee house. I also seemed to miss the hanging window each year (early spring).

And then last year we decided to grow our own pumpkins. Now in my experience, having too few pumpkins in a garden is never a problem … they tend to be like zucchini in that way. (As an aside, zucchini always make me think of the midnight zucchini raids in Cry Uncle, by Mary Jane Auch … out-of-print but a great book if you can find it!) Our two small plants flowered over and over but pollination never happened. Our front yard, with no fewer than nine lavender plants, literally hums with the sounds of working bees. Our backyard is considerably quieter.

This got me thinking about pollination, a topic of much scientific research in recent years due to Colony Collapse Disorder and what the loss of pollinators is going to mean for putting food on our tables — certainly it means an increase in the price of food. There are a few theories as to why we are loosing so many hives with heavy pesticide use being one of them.

Currently, the outlook for honeybees is still rather grim. (You can help by having a bee-friendly yard.) However, there is some good news for gardeners and farmers and it comes in the form of a small bee called the Mason Bee. Mason Bees are solitary bees (meaning they don’t have a hive to defend), incredible pollinators, easily cared for, and quite gentle. They are also native to most of the continental U.S. (honeybees are not).

Mason Bees utilize small tubes, holes in trees, or the occasional ground hole in an electrical outlet, to lay their eggs in beds of pollen and then the chamber is plugged with mud. The larvae then hatch, eat the pollen, and spin cocoons from which they will emerge as adult bees the next spring. I was also pleased to note, especially having little ones helping in the garden, that Mason Bees will generally only sting if trapped (if they get inside of your sleeve, for example).

So, armed with this knowledge, we hung our Mason Bee house. This house does not have removable tubes, which is important to keep the bees healthy year-after-year. Mason Bees are susceptible to pollen mites and this can become a problem in solid tubes. Generally, each fall, the tubes are opened and the cocoons are harvested for release in the spring. If we do attract any bees to our little house, we will need to move them into another house next year. Luckily I found information on this process here.

Each day I — with my garden helpers! — check the tubes anxiously to see if we have any guests. Nothing yet. I will update you if we are so lucky. I don’t know if it is hung in the ideal spot or with ideal conditions, but it is a start — and I do know the Mason Bee population of our basement is zero.

If you would like to learn more about Mason Bees, I found this site to be a wealth of information!

I hope you will check back for next week’s post on What I Learned. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you learned this week!

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