Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Figuring out fiber content in fabric and yarns

Whenever I try to diagnose the fibers in "mystery fabrics" or yarns with missing labels, I find the information online to be very hard to follow, so I came up with this flow chart to make it slightly simpler.  It's only accurate for fabrics and yarns that are primarily one fiber.  An awful lot of yarns are blends and those are harder to test.

Hope you can read this.  If it's too small, you might try holding the Control key and clicking the plus sign next to your backspace key.  The plus sign enlarges; the minus sign decreases.

Castle Gold
The two yarns shown here, by the way, are by Life's an Expedition yarns and are listed on Etsy.  But the chart above won't help you discern fiber content of Life's an Expedition yarns, because they are mostly blends.  Many of them have four or more different fibers in them.  Then again, most of my yarns already have fiber content listed on the label unless it's one of our big destash listings.

Have fun.
dj runnels

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cheap background for your Etsy, Ebay, Artfire, Zibbet photos

If you sell online but aren't quite ready to invest in an elaborate photography backdrop and light box for your product shots, here's a solution that costs about $10.  You know those white fold-up displays that kids use for science fair projects?  They sell them at Target and similar stores near the school and office supplies.  Here's what the package looks like. 

Be careful opening it, because although it is sturdy, the edges chip easily.  It's not a huge deal, since you will crop that part out of your photos.

Once out of the cellophane, the board opens up into a three-panel piece of foam board, about 1/4" thick that you can set up near a window in your home or apartment.  Choose the best window you can, because the light you get will make an enormous difference in your photos.  Natural light gives your product the most natural, accurate color and often alleviates the need for a flash, which can make your product look creepy strange if you don't use it right.  You'll have to experiment regarding the time of day and strength of light available, but soon you'll find the ideal window.  Often a slightly overcast day with a cloudy white sky works best.  Sometimes bright sunlight works if it's indirect, not streaming in directly onto the display board.  If you live in an urban apartment very close to another building or on an immense estate surrounded by trees (I hate you, by the way), you may not be able to find good natural light.  You might try taking the display board outdoors to use in light, overcast conditions.

So here is my closed, folded up display board on my dining table.  Doesn't look very bright in there, does it?  But it will work fine.  I am laying the board horizontally and I will use the large middle panel for arranging the merchandise I want to photograph.  I will use one of the short panels to hide whatever garbage may be on my dining table. 

Today I arranged to have an exceptional amount of junk on my table, just for you.  The curtain rod in my dining room fell and I haven't put it back up.  I can't open the other curtain until I do, because if I attempt it, the other rod could fall.  Meanwhile, my husband has a stack of bills he has to pay.  And there's a library book he is reading.  Plus I have a stack of photos in frames that I am going to do something creative with.

So now I open up one of the flaps of the board to hide the aforementioned junk.

I will place my product on the widest section of the board.  If I don't need the other short panel--which is now closest to me--I may simply tilt it up and let it reflect light onto the merchandise.  If the whole reflective thing is too confusing or doesn't work for you, don't worry about it. 

This is my product, photographed against the main part of the same board, on the same day, using only the light from a window to my right.  I cropped out all the debris and hoopla on the dining table and all we see is my hand knit cowl surrounded by lots of white.

If you sell on Etsy, you know having a white background is uber important. is loaded with white, so having crisp photos with white backgrounds enhances the Etsy look.  Some people don't like the Etsy look, but I think those who embrace it have better sales.  Also, if you sell on other online sites, it is still a giant plus to use a stark white background, because it puts focus on your product and makes for a sophisticated photograph.  I truly believe that a photo can make or break a sale.  I have seen what is probably perfectly viable merchandise online that I nevertheless didn't purchase merely because the photo was so dark or blurry that I wasn't confident it was what I wanted. 

When I am finished taking the photos I need--and I will take a lot, because another mistake that sellers sometimes make is showing only one photo when they could have shown 5 or 10.  Wait, where was I?  Oh, yes, when I'm through taking photos, I will fold up the board and put it to the side of a shelf in my dining room, where it is unobtrusive and less likely to get kicked or scratched. 

Now I need to figure out how to get that pesky curtain rod back up.

dj runnels

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Losing Hope: a short story by dj runnels

Most middle-of-the-night phone calls in my house are wrong numbers.  That is my first thought one night, shortly after New Year's, when the phone rings.  And without looking at the clock, I know it can't be past midnight, because I'm not groggy enough to have been asleep that long.  Still, I'm in no mood to deal with someone who can't dial a phone correctly.
I let my husband answer it.  It’s not a wrong number.  And something is clearly wrong.  He listens to the caller for many minutes, responding in brief non-sentences.  Uh-huh...Oh, no...Oh, my God...He sits with his head in his hand.  I cannot see his face, but I watch his back, hunched forward with despair.  Now as I lie on my back, my eyes scan the darkened room, trying to guess whom the caller could be.  My intense curiosity to know what has happened is choked with dread.  Someone very close to us must be injured or seriously ill for us to get a call at this hour.  My mother?  His mother?  Perhaps his sister lost the baby.
I should tug at his arm and whisper, “Who is it?”  But he will not be distracted whenever he is on the phone.  

I hear him ask, “Well, was anyone else in the car?”

A car accident.  That doesn’t narrow the field of possible victims.  We all have cars.  I sit up, mentally stumbling down a list of people who might consider it urgent that we know about a car accident.

“What about Darren?”

Finally, a name!  But it’s not a family member.  The only Darren I can think of is my friend Tania’s husband.  I press my hand to my mouth.  Not Tania.

“God be with you,” my not-usually-this-religious husband tells the caller.  “And thanks for letting us know.”  He hangs up quietly.  Sighs.  Then turns to face me, although I can’t see him in the dim light.  I am on the verge of hyperventilating.  

“Tania was in a car accident on Barrington Road.  She’s in the hospital.”
I swallow.   “Then she’s not dead?”
“I guess she’s in serious condition.  Something to do with a kidney.”
He waits, not wanting to continue.
“And?”  Curiosity conquers my dread.

He tells me all he has learned about the accident from another neighbor, who was kind enough to phone us.  Tania had just picked up her daughter Hope from preschool when an oncoming snowplow lost control and rammed into her station wagon.  Later we would read in the papers that the plow had peeled the car open like a can opener.

“Hope was killed,” he says.
Seldom do I notice the brutality of this word:  killed.  It starts with a crisp K sound.  It has only one blunt, choppy syllable. It conjures images of knives and explosions and violent encounters of the sort seen mostly on bad TV dramas.  And it doesn't belong in the same sentence as Hope.

Hope.  Age five.  Glossy black hair in a little-girl bob.  Tanned skin glistening with water droplets from having just jumped over the lawn sprinkler.  (“Pinkler,” she used to call it.)  Five or six neighborhood kids shivering, grabbing towels.  “Does anyone want a drink?”  Tania emerging from her screen door with a pitcher of lemonade and small plastic cups in purple, yellow and turquoise.  I regale Tania with some witty nonsense about my job.  But we keep our eyes on the kids.   Hope is squealing and running ahead of the others.  An out-going child.  Warm and sunny.

Summers with Hope stretch out endlessly.  Chalk pictures on the driveway—fish, houses and ABC’s.  Kids comparing their bright red or orange tongues after slurping down Popsicles.  Tubes of sunscreen falling through the webbing of lawn chairs.  The Big Contest:  who would be first to ride a bike without training wheels.  Huge bandages covering miniscule boo-boos.  My son helping Hope shovel sand into a plastic bowl in the sandbox, where they are building a parking garage.

The last time I saw Hope was December 27, in the Disney aisle at a video store.  Did you have a good Christmas, I asked her?  Her little Dalmatians hat bobs with every turn of her head.  She wants to get home and watch her movie, not chat with the neighbor lady.  But I’m not through showing what a good friend I am.  I ask what Santa brought her.  She says she doesn’t know.  I quip, “Can’t remember?  Must have been good stuff!”  Those were my last words to her.  A bit of sarcasm, then a casual dismissal.  See ya later.  And now the child is dead.

My husband and I cannot fall back asleep.  I will not sleep for the next three nights but will give in and take a sleeping pill on the fourth night.  Like somnambulistic sentries, we march sluggishly past the night-lights in our hallway to check on our own two children, a boy and a girl, each asleep in warm, flannel oblivion.  How will we tell them the girl they played with for four years—through sprinklers, across the grass, in the sandbox, running, laughing---is dead?  How to explain death to a child, when we don’t understand it ourselves?

We stand in our five-year-old daughter’s room and look out her window at Darren and Tania’s house across the street.  There is the dark bedroom window of their five-year-old daughter, Hope.  She should be in there, asleep in her bed, covered with a Dalmatians bedspread.  I can envision her little form lying there in the dark, perhaps with her mouth half open.  But she’s not in that room.  She’s dead.  We try and try to hammer this fact into our heads, but it’s like pushing thumbtacks into cast iron.

The rest of the night passes slowly, very surreal, with tears inadequate for their job.  I debate about driving to the hospital to see Tania, but the neighbor who called didn’t specify which hospital.  I don’t want to call her in the middle of the night to ask, although I can’t imagine that she is asleep, either.  Also I worry that I will drive badly through the cold night in my sleep-deprived state.  Towards dawn, we huddle over coffee mugs and discuss whether to take the kids to school or not.  

When the children get up for breakfast, we tell them the news carefully, in stages.  They look at us quietly, eyes turned up to us, the tall and supposedly protective adults.  But we certainly didn’t protect them from Hope’s death, did we?  We answer what few questions they have.  Is Hope really, truly dead?  Not just pretending?  Yes.  (Although we are secretly hoping it’s all one big mistake.)   Was Hope wearing a seat belt?  Yes.  But in some accidents, wearing a seat belt doesn’t help.  Why is Hope’s mother in the hospital?  We repeat what little we know.  Try to explain what a kidney is.  The kids turn quiet.  Do you feel able to go to school? we ask.  They nod.  They are more successful at eating breakfast than we were.

The phone rings and I jump, reminded of the phone call we received during the night.  It’s the school calling to see if I can serve as a substitute teacher today.  I feel a flash of outrage.  How dare they ask such a thing when Hope has just been—?  But of course, they have no way of knowing about the accident.

“I’m sorry,” I tell the secretary, “there’s been a—”  Not a death in the family.  A death in the extended family?  That’s not accurate either.  A death in the circle of friends?  That sounds like a movie title.  “There’s been a death.” Wrong thing to say.  She overreacts, thinking it’s one of my children or my husband.  “No, no,” I assure her.  “Just a friend’s child.”  But that sounds as if Hope is somehow unimportant.  “Look, I can’t even think straight.  Please take me off the list for a couple of weeks.  I’ll let you know when I can work again.”  She offers condolences I don’t deserve.

My children finish their Cheerios and head upstairs to dress for school.  My husband is in the shower.  I remain in the kitchen staring at the cold snow swirling across our deck.  Wishing I could be in another place and time altogether.  Suddenly a sparrow plows right into the patio glass door and flops to the deck.  I clutch the neck of my purple sweater, watching, hoping the bird is only stunned.  But it lies there motionless, save for the wind ruffling its feathers.  I dash to the bathroom.  Over the sound of the shower, I tell my husband about the bird.

“I don’t want the kids to see it!”  I wring my hands and pace the steamy room.
After he is dressed, my husband goes out on the deck, scoops the bird up with a section of the Chicago Tribune, then carries it to the field behind our house, where nature will reclaim it.  Evidence removed, the children will never know about the sparrow.  If only we could shield them from Hope’s death so easily. 

I take the kids to school and inform each of their teachers of the tragedy.  They are acquaintances of mine.  I have subbed for each of them.  And they, too, offer sympathy I don’t deserve.  I ask them to notify me if my children exhibit any emotional trauma.  Yet my children calmly remove their coats and placidly proceed to their seats.  I am the one tearing soggy tissues into shreds.

En route to the hospital, a pick-up truck nearly rams into me when I don’t change lanes fast enough to suit the driver.  I shiver, despite my minivan’s powerful heating system.  That’s all that’s standing between me and the Valley of Death:  one guy with road rage.  One snowplow.  One lightning bolt.

At the hospital, I work my way through a rat maze of chemical corridors and cold, metal desks to find a receptionist who knows where Tania’s room is.  But she questions my identity.  Only family members are allowed in intensive care.  The floodgates open.  No, I am not a family member, I sob, but I must see her!  This is not an orchestrated sympathy ploy.  I am simply desperate.  The receptionist rises, points around a corner and directs me to Tania’s room.  Take this elevator to the third floor, follow the corridor and something-something-something.  I don’t hear all of it because I can’t believe she’s letting me go there after all.

I go up the elevator and stumble irritably down the hallway like a toddler who skipped her nap.  This way.  No, that way.  My face scrunches up in confusion.  I find Hope’s father, floundering about in what looks like yesterday’s suit.  His power tie is loose, having lost all of its power.

“There was a car accident and Hope is dead!” Darren blurts, tears streaming.  Today, he is not the controlled lawyer.  Today, he is a grief-stricken father.  “They won’t let me see her!”
Darren takes me to Tania’s room, where she has recently been placed after being in intensive care.  Then he disappears, to continue his aimless sojourn of the hallway.  Tania is lying flat, with pillows propping one arm and both legs.  The IV tubes, I expected.  The monitors going blip-blip, I expected.  But she has large purple bruises under each eye that match my sweater.   And in addition to the kidney, one of her vertebrae is damaged.  Had it broken completely, she would be dead.  If it doesn’t heal correctly, she could be paralyzed.  So she must wear a neck brace, which looks like a torture device designed to squeeze and push her head right off her neck.  And on top of all this, her daughter is dead. 

I look for a part of her not covered with cuts, bruises or tubes.  I decide on her head.  I become a human hairbrush, letting my fingers twist their way through her soft black curls, my fingernails barely skimming her scalp.  Little did she know, when she used the curling iron yesterday morning, that she would be lying here the next day--the curl still there, the daughter gone.  It is strange to touch someone outside of my family this intimately.  But it is one of the best ways to comfort my children when they awaken from a nightmare or become ill.  It either soothes Tania a little or she pretends it does.  

“I’m glad you’re alive,” is one of the few things I say to her.  But I can’t leave without murmuring the standard if-there’s-anything-I-can-do.  And she gives me a job.  Her laundry is piling up at home, she says.
“I’m the queen of laundry,” I say with a smile.  Laundry is my least-hated household chore.  And I’m relieved she didn’t give me the grim task of notifying family members of Hope’s death.

But I didn’t realize until I had her baskets of laundry in my house, and began loading my washer, that Hope’s clothes would be in there.  I see tiny Winnie the Pooh shirts that I remember her wearing.  I pile them around the agitator, feeling agitated myself.  I see knee smudges on a pair of floral leggings and squirt them with stain remover.  Hope will never wear them again, but I treat them with care, knowing they were hers.  I use sweet-smelling fabric softener.  I fold everything as neatly as you might see it in a department store.  I weep over tiny underwear, over socks no longer than a watchband.  I think of all the clothes Hope must have in her dresser and closet at home.  I remember the red dress I gave her for her last birthday.  I chose red because it looked so good with her shiny black hair.
Then a thought hits me: What if Hope was wearing that birthday dress when she was killed?  The concept overwhelms me.  Well, what if she was?  Would it make me somehow responsible for her death?  Illogical.  Would her parents remember the dead child in the red dress, forever equating me with her death?  Not likely, since Tania was knocked unconscious.  Darren never saw the body, either, as he drove straight from work to the hospital and the officials there would not allow him to see her.  So why should I care if Hope wore that particular dress the day of the accident?

But I can’t shake this thought and I’m obsessed with knowing what the girl was wearing.  I wonder how I can find out.  I can’t expect the hospital to tell me.  They were reluctant to let me visit Tania.  I’ll just have to ask Tania herself.  She would remember what she dressed her daughter in for preschool that morning.  But what am I thinking?  How can I torture the bereaved mother with such a trivial question?

My thoughts are tormented, erratic these first few weeks.  I travel the path of the bereaved:  Why are we here, why do we die, how can such a young child die, what is the purpose, what is the point---the same tired questions that have plagued humankind since life began.  Most of all, I find it hard to believe that it happened at all. 

And I become obsessed with other details.   What was the last thing Hope said in the car?  Did the driver of the snowplow feel guilty?  What was I doing at the exact moment of the accident and why didn’t I somehow know about it, by feeling a “disturbance in the Force,” so to speak?  Did the paramedics cry when they saw Hope?  Or are they numb to this sort of thing by now?  My brain will not shut up.  And there are nightmares about accidents, blood, decapitation.

Exasperated, I distract myself with trivial errands.  To Kmart to look for light bulbs.  To the hardware store for water softener salt.  Dragging my feet down the aisles.  Months later, I would remember very little of what I did during this time other than visit Tania in the hospital and shovel snow.  It seems to snow daily and I dig out my driveway, as well as Darren and Tania’s driveway.  Dreadful  weather.  But I see logic in it.  When someone dies, the weather should be dreadful.   I had read a book in junior high called The Red Pony.  Such a sad book.  Wasn’t there bad weather in that story when the pony died?  John Steinbeck knew death = bad weather.  So why do so many people die on bright, sunny days?  They are wrong.  They are supposed to die on snowy, gray days.  But of course, that isn't how it works.

The weather is especially poignant for Hope’s memorial service.  A Chicagoland snowstorm. My husband is stranded thirty miles away, on business, and cannot attend.  So I take the kids.  I almost faint before making it to my seat.  You can’t afford the luxury of fainting, I chastise myself.  You have to drive the kids back home through a snowstorm.  And there is the on-going guilt for not being stronger, since Hope’s parents feel so much worse than I do.

The foul weather doesn’t prevent a large turnout for the service.  Hundreds of mourners step through slushy, blowing snow in their nice black dress shoes.  Tania arrives in a neck brace and a wheelchair.  She is healing and will not end up paralyzed.  Not in the physical sense, anyway.  She does not cry, not even when they play (predictably) a song with the word “hope” repeated throughout.  I suspect that if she did cry, she would shatter into a thousand pieces.  I want to sit near her, comfort her, push her wheelchair when needed, but there are too many people present and they all want to be near her.  I feel left out.  And then I feel guilty for thinking about myself.

My eight-year-old son hopes that during the service, Hope will miraculously sit up in her coffin.  Look, everyone!  I’m all right!  It was all a mistake.  Throngs of teary-eyed mourners will rush forward and embrace her.  Hope!  Thank God, you’re all right.  You had us all worried, you silly girl!  Those stupid doctors thought you were dead.

I want this to happen, too.  But there is no coffin.  Hope has been cremated.  I haltingly explain cremation to my son.  But he blinks his long eyelashes and looks at me blankly.  He cannot accept reality without seeing Hope’s body.  And we will never see her body.  The girl has just plain disappeared from the face of the earth, despite the image we carry of her and the fact that we just talked to her at the video store.  It’s a paradox that spins us around like a dog chasing its tail.  I wonder if my son will ever accept Hope’s death.  Or if he will ever grieve.

At the library, I try to find books about bereavement.  I am not successful.  Despite my schoolteacher’s familiarity with libraries, I cannot get my brain to lead me to the right shelf.  I have the patience of a gnat.  A librarian’s radar senses my frustration.  I tell her that my neighbor’s child has died.  A seemingly permanent quaver in my voice prevents me from saying more.  But I see something in her eyes.  She absorbs my pain, is saturated with it.  It is more than sympathy.   It is a Knowing.

Over the following weeks, the bereavement books lead me to books on religion—first my own, then everyone else’s.  Then philosophy books.  And now I am seeing that Knowing look in others, the way I saw it in the librarian.  We are all connected, claims one of the philosophy books.  I never did understand what it meant to “be one with the universe,” but suddenly I am one with all people, as if each of us were a computer, simultaneously linked to the Internet, able to access and trade ideas.

I explain this theory to my husband.  He gives me a funny look and wants to know what’s for dinner.

At Tania’s house, I notice several changes.  Every horizontal surface in the house contains a floral arrangement, each one competing to be the most colorful, the most spectacular.  Photos of Hope are all over, on every mantel, every table, every shelf.  In beautiful frames of all sizes.  And next to all the flowers and photos are boxes of tissues.  Long rectangular boxes and short squarish boxes.  Pop-up and regular.  Puffs, Kleenex, Scotts.

I take a seat on the sofa.  Smell the flowers.  See the pictures.  Talk about Hope.  Pull up tissues.  And every time I’m in this house, I look for Hope.  I feel her presence.  I look around, wondering when she will trounce down the stairs in mismatched socks or call out for more milk from the kitchen.

I visit Tania again and again, each time hoping I will somehow find Hope or find some sort of answer to the question of Death.  Each time, I realize we are cut apart.  I am a woman with children.  She is a woman without children.  We will never be close friends again.  Each time, I leave feeling depressed.  Yet a few hours later, when I am at home making meat loaf, listening to my children argue over whose turn it is on the computer, I feel better.  And lighter, as though I have shed a heavy coat. Everything goes wrong in my house about this time.  Just as the heavy snows start melting, my sump pump stops working and my basement may flood.  The oven igniter quits igniting and I cannot make dinner.  We lose one of the library books about bereavement and may have to pay for it, adding insult to injury.
But my children are alive, I remind myself.

We find the library book under the front seat of my car.  We pay to have the stove and sump pump fixed.  I go back to teaching.  And despite all our wishes to roll over and play dead, we do not.

Summer comes.  At Hope’s preschool, they plant a tree in her memory.  At the foot of the tree is a hand-painted stone with Hope’s name on it.  “She was a tree of life to all who embraced her.”  A quote from the Bible.  Romans something.  I struggle to understand the meaning of the quote.  A tree of life?  I like trees, but why compare an active, healthy, radiant child to a stationary tree?

My husband and I sit on our deck, gazing out at the field behind our back yard.  The field where he laid the sparrow to rest.  Summer thistle has given way to Queen Anne’s lace, then autumn goldenrod.  

“You’re not the woman I married,” he says.
“Really?”  I quip.  “Then just who did you marry?  And where was I during the ceremony?”
But he will not be distracted.
“Do you feel better?” he wants to know.
“Do you?” I counter.
“It was different for me.  I’m not home with the kids all summer.  I didn’t know her the way you did.”
I’m wondering why, if he has accepted Hope’s death as he claims, he still can’t say her name.  Or the D word.
“Yes, I feel better,” I admit.  “Whoever I am.”

On the anniversary of Hope’s death, it troubles me that there is no gravesite I can visit.  And I am reminded of an old story.  An Asian and an American visit the side-by-side graves of their loved ones.  The Asian places food on the tombstone of his ancestor.  The American, placing flowers on his own ancestor’s tombstone, looks over at the food and scoffs, “When is your loved one going to come and eat that food?”  The Asian calmly replies, “When yours comes to smell those flowers.”

The kids and I brave the snow and cold to visit Hope’s memorial tree at the preschool.  No one is there at this hour of the afternoon.  We tie a red ribbon around the tree.  A remnant from one of my daughter’s Christmas presents.  It seems inappropriate, since Hope did not receive any presents.

“How does that look?”  I give the red ribbon an extra knot at the back, to make sure the Chicago wind doesn’t decimate it within the week.  I slip my gloves back on and look at my children—five and eight no longer, but now six and nine.  While Hope is forever five.

“Mom,” says my daughter in her high voice, “sometimes I feel sad about Hope.”
I hold her pink-gloved hand in mine.  Her gray eyes look up at me.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her.  Neither of my children has cried openly over Hope, but I understand now that they quietly grieve.  As I look back to the ribbon, I feel tears coming. And I wonder:  do I cry because Hope is gone?  Or because she is not to be found at this tree?  And if she is not to be found at this tree, where is she?  Some would say she is everywhere.  But if that’s true, why do we need to visit this tree?  When is my loved one going to come and see this ribbon?

“It’s cold out here.  Let’s get in the car.”

I make sure the kids are buckled before I drive off.  Saying a silent prayer to God or Buddha or Allah that no snowplows collide with us on the way home.  Feeling simultaneously glad and guilty that I have two children whom I love more than my life.
I do not tell Tania that we tied the ribbon around the tree.  She will find it on her own.  And her lips will form a soft smile, knowing someone remembered her child.  But she will always carry a sadness with her.

I dream that I find Hope wandering around the field behind my house.  Her eyes unfocused.  Lifting her short bare legs through the weeds.  It is summer.  She is barefoot, in her red birthday dress.  But the weeds are dead and dry, as in winter.  I run towards her.  Here she is!  She was here, all this time! Didn’t anyone think to search the field?  Hope!  Hope!  Let me take you home.  But she can’t hear me.  I want to run to Tania’s house to tell her the exciting news.  But I’m afraid if I leave, Hope will disappear again.  So I call and call to Tania.  Tania, I found her!  I found Hope!  She can’t hear me, either.  Instead, I follow Hope, watching her.  She is day dreaming.  Looking at the weeds, yet not looking at them.  The sun glinting off her short black hair.  Tiny tanned toes stepping gingerly through the crunchy stalks.  In this field, last year’s dead sparrow has long ago begun its journey to rejoin the earth.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

If you're having trouble knitting with multistrand yarn

I virtually never have problems knitting with multistrand yarn.  Crocheting, yes.  Weaving, a little.  

But knitting with it is easy for me... unless one or two strands are chenille. 
Azalea is for sale in my Etsy shop.  See links to the far right.
Chenille has a tendency to stretch and sometimes you have to wrap the chenille strand around the needle twice.  Or tie up some slack every ten rows. 

But let's back up a moment.  If you are a rank beginner, I recommend getting comfortable with a single strand of yarn first.  Then two strands on fairly large needles.  Then two strands on slightly smaller needles.  Then three strands.  I have had a couple of customers write to me and say, "I can't get the hang of this!" But only a couple of people have said this since I opened Life's an Expedition in 2003.  Virtually everyone DOES get the hang of it. It does take practice.  The fewer the strands and the larger the needles and the simpler the pattern, the easier it will be. But I have one customer who is a huge fan of entrelac using many strands of my yarn. 
Monaco is also in my Etsy shop.

Your biggest challenge with multistrand yarn will be to knit each stitch in its entirety, without dropping part of it. But if you get two of the strands and drop the rest, the piece will NOT unravel and with all those colors going on, your mistakes will be less noticeable. In some ways, it's easier than single strand knitting, in which every stitch counts and every mistake shows.  Since I hate to frog, I really like this feature of multistrand knitting.  People who are more anal will have more trouble taking a casual attitude to their work.  Especially if their work requires attention to tiny details, as in a pair of intricate socks.

A second problem
you may encounter when you're using multiple strands is that one strand will sometimes be stretched out or seem "longer" than the others as you work your project. (I mentioned this a moment ago.  It tends to happen with chenille.)   If you reach the end of a row--that is, on a seam--and your piece has a right side and a wrong side, go ahead and tie up the slack on the pesky strand that is too long. Then when you sew up the seams, you can incorporate the slack into the seam. 
This is Cabana.

OR if you are making a blanket or something on which there is no seam and/or both sides will be seen, you can loop the "longer" strand around the needle a second time as often as needed to make it catch up with the strands. 

I have created yarns in which I never had to do this at all, but sooner or later, most multi-strand knitters face the problem of uneven strands. 

Multi-strand knitting is easiest when you are doing a straight garter or stockinette with minimal increases, decreases or shaping.

dj runnels

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bunions: 4 1/2 months after surgery

Remember when you were little and your mom made you eat broccoli? And you hated it and didn't want to talk about it? That's how I feel writing this update about my bunion surgery.

Please see the previous two posts for information about the surgery, severity of bunions, a link to a web site that gives you many perspectives about different surgeries and recoveries, etc.  Then regale yourself with this lovely (albeit distorted) shot of my new feet.  I just took my shoes and socks off, so my feet have "sock wrinkles" all over them.  That's partly because they always look wrinkled when I take my shoes off.  But they are especially wrinkled and strange-looking now because my feel are still swollen from surgery.  It takes six months for the swelling to subside and a full year for the foot innards to heal.  The doctor says the scars are coming along fine, but despite bending my toes on a regular basis, the left big toe is too stiff.  I have an appointment scheduled for some contortionist thing he plans to do to them, which requires that I take Valium before he injects something into each foot to make it numb because whatever he does would normally hurt like hell.  Naturally, I'm looking forward to it.  [sarcasm]

4 1/2 months post-op

Crimony, I must be a masochist to post this photo.  But honestly, if I had known I had bunions, I would have gotten help before they got so bad.  So if writing about my experiences will prevent even ONE person from going through what I've gone through, it's worth showing this.  Okay, so the main point here is that my feet are nice and straight.  If that's important to you, you'll probably be thrilled with your surgery results.  As for me, I am satisfied that each foot resembles a foot.  I just want to be able to walk more than five miles at a time and ride my bike for a couple of hours.  Bike riding season starts in about 4 to 6 weeks, depending on weather. 

To limber up in anticipation of cycling, I took my first mall walks recently. The first one was quite brief.  The second one may have been 3/4 of a mile and I was achy and exhausted afterwards.  Feel free to call me a wimp, if you like, since I cannot hear you.  I have better luck with my stationary bike, which I can ride for half an hour at a time.

UPDATE JULY 8, 2014:   I had a cortisone shot back in February that hurt like bloody hell, even though I was on painkiller and the doctor used a topical anesthetic before he injected my foot; afterwards, I could walk well, without pain and it was glorious.  But the pain returned in six weeks.  And the shot hurt so much, I will never agree to it again.
Today, over nine months since surgery, the foot swelling continues.  Walking makes my feet ache and I have trouble walking more than 45 minutes.  When I'm barefoot, my walking looks weird and stilted, as if I am somehow limping, yet I am favoring neither foot.  The bottoms of my feet sometimes feel sunburned.  My little toes, which were so very tightly squished in the bandages last autumn, actually hurt just as much as my big toes, which took the brunt of the surgery.  Bike rides are no problem, however, and that is enormously important to me.  Sorry, to those of you contemplating surgery, that I cannot give a more encouraging report.  I am not happy about it, either.  But when I think about all the other medical problems that exist in the world, I think I am lucky.

dj runnels

Friday, November 1, 2013

Bunion post-op update. The agony of de feet.

It has been over four weeks since I had bunion surgery on both feet.  I walk like Frankenstein (which seems appropriate since yesterday was Halloween).  My feet are still bandaged and probably will be for another three weeks.  I tried to get a photo of my unwrapped feet but I blacked out--not from the sight of them, but from the pain.  If you want to see gory photos of stitches and swelling, the internet can provide you with plenty. 

I'll give you a few highlights of post-surgical progress, but remember, how you fare after your own bunion surgery depends on how severe they are and what type of procedure you have done. (See post just prior to this one.)  My bunions were severe and I needed an osteotomy on each foot, plus some fancy bone drilling on one foot.  I'd lost a lot of cartilage on one toe.  Curse you, Mrs. ____!  (My ballet teacher.)

After one week, I went to the doctor, who removed the bandages.  He happened to mention, "This is going to hurt," a split-second before grabbing a foot and re-wrapping it.  On a scale of 1-to-10, the pain was a startling 8.  Not as agonizing as childbirth, but it made me cry and I started shaking.  Fortunately, I was tanked up on painkiller.  But all the progress I'd made in the first week seemed to disappear, because I hobbled out of there as if I had just had surgery all over again.  Two days later, after applying ice packs for many hours, I felt better.  And when I say ice packs, I really mean bags of frozen peas.  They drape around the foot better than ice.

Two weeks post-op, I went back for a bandage change, tanked up on a fuller dose of painkiller.  This part of the proceedings went better than last time, but then my doctor did something I did not expect.  He bent the big toe on each foot forward and backward as far as he could, to gauge range of motion.  On a scale of 1 to 10, this was a ten.  It was brief--just a few seconds--but very intense.  He says that when he does the toe-bending, sometimes his patients yell at him, order him to stop or even kick him.   I was better behaved than that, but it took will power. Some patients refuse to let him bend their toes during this phase of recovery and even refuse to bend their toes themselves at home between doctor visits.  Unfortunately, these patients then end up with severely stiff toes that do not make contact with the ground.  The toes stick up and won't flex when the patient tries to walk.  It's a major problem and ...I guess it cannot be undone...? I'm not sure if it's permanent or not, but dammit, I am NOT going to find out.  I know the importance of having it done, so I let the doc bend my toes.  I cannot sugarcoat it.  It hurts.  Or at least, it hurt like hell to have my doctor do it at two, three and four weeks post-op for the type of surgery that I had done.  I've heard other people say the whole bunion thing was no big deal.  I don't know why it varies so much from one person to another.

Three weeks post-op, the doctor recommended that I bend my toes myself 2 or 3 times a day.  He says I don't have to bend them as far as he does, but I need to start bending them a little more each time and make progress each day.  When I bend my own toes, the pain is mild--perhaps a 2 on a scale of 1 to 10, plus I feel better knowing I have control over the pain.  Even as I increase the range each day, I still only feel a level 2 pain.  And bending my own toes frequently in the course of the day does have the added benefit of helping me walk (or hobble) increasingly better, without crutches.  It is only when my doctor bends them, really forcing the range of motion, that the pain is intense.  At one visit, I started blacking out.  At another visit, I nearly threw up.  But as intense as it was, it only lasts a few seconds.
The bunions, before surgery.

So, if I had it to do over again, would I still have this surgery?  I can't answer that yet, since I am only four weeks through recovery.  But I don't think I had much choice.  I suspect I will never be able to run or dance again.  But walking and cycling are vitally important to me and I was beginning to have trouble with both.  I'm hopeful for a good outcome.  Meanwhile, I sleep a lot and feel achy from lack of exercise.

Hope this info helps, but without giving you nightmares.

dj runnels

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bunions?! WTH!

Bunions.  Meh.  Such a silly word.  Sort of a cross between Bunnies and Onions.  And who has those things anyway?  I was pretty sure it only happened to 80-somethings, along with their lumbago and other antiquated illnesses.

Then reality slapped me the face.  And it slapped hard.  Yes, there is a medical condition called bunions and you can have get them in your TEENS and 20's.  And although I tend to keep my medical travails private, because that's just how I am,  I will tell you about this one because I hate the thought of others not knowing what these bumps are and not seeking medical attention early enough to avoid pain.

I had gone to a podiatrist for a sports-related injury, tendonitis on the side of my right foot.  In the course of x-raying my foot and taping it, he mentioned that I had a rather serious bunion.  It was a bump that stuck out the left side, just under my big toe. I had had a slight bump there for years and didn't think it was important.  I had gone from wearing a medium to C width shoe and thought maybe that slight bump had something to do with it.  But I never dreamed I would ever need surgery for it.   In fact, I didn't have pain from it at first and later learned the reason for this is because I had somehow learned to walk in such a way that I spared my feet the discomfort.  But in doing so, I was causing ankle pain and other weirdness.

I have since learned a few things about bunions.  For example, wearing high heels or being inclined to exercise heavily despite a mild deformity can turn said deformity into a major one.  I continued to bike ride vigorously and aggressively after being diagnosed with the bunions--there was one on the left foot, too--and I will confess, they both became more serious within a year.  I could see them getting larger and they were beginning to hurt more.

Here's how the bunions looked a few days before finally having surgery:

Notice how my toes all sort of slant to the side.  The big toe on each foot is so dislocated that all the other toes are pushed away.  The left foot has a severe bunion, plus a lot of cartilage has worn away in the big toe joint.  But the right foot, which looks relatively harmless to me, also has a fairly severe bunion.

So I had bunion surgery this week.  There are dozens of different types of surgery, and many types of casts/bandages, etc. and every recovery is different.  But once you have a diagnosis, I recommend skimming the Foot and Ankle section of this health board forum.  Scroll half-way down the page and you will find a couple hundred topics specifically about bunions.  Sift through many topics, because sometimes you will find the same issue under a slightly different phrase.  Just please find out from your doctor how severe your bunions are, what procedure s/he recommends (and get a 2nd opinion from another doctor) and be sure to compare apples to apples.  In other words, if you are having a minor procedure, don't pore over the notes of someone having bone replacement, cuz you'll just freak out.  And if your bunions are severe, don't expect to go back to work in two days just because someone else did.  Also, if you post a message in a forum and get some feedback, that's great, but remember, they don't know you and haven't seen your x-rays.  Still, it's okay to ask your physician something like, "Hey, I was wondering why I have a bandage instead of a cast."  Or "is there a less invasive procedure that will work for me?"  They're your feet and you have the right to ask lots of questions.  

Good luck and avoid high heels.  And remember, men can get bunions, too.  But it's less common.

dj runnels
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