Monday, December 28, 2009

Felting fanaticism

Omigosh, I've got the felting bug big time. Mostly, I am making coasters. They are sooooo soft. And they absorb the drips from the drink, instead of dumping them in my lap. That's a plus. Some of these coasters have sold, but we may still have some listed at my Life's an Expedition shop if you want to see them in detail.  -- dj runnels

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Primary color blending in your crafts

In my last post, I wrote about mixing pastels and promised to give examples of yarn and color mixing in my work. Despite my short memory, I have not yet forgotten that promise (yippee!) and now I'm going to show something with primary colors.

You probably already know this, but for those who don't: red, blue and yellow are primary colors on the color wheel. These colors can be mixed to create secondary colors. Red and blue makes purple. Blue and yellow makes green. Red and yellow makes orange.

An easy way to remember these is to envision the classic 8-pack of Crayola crayons. If you omit the black and brown, these are the six colors you have left. The crayons in this pack are bright and saturated and that is why they will often go together in your artwork, home decorating and wardrobe planning.

If you were wearing a blue and yellow summer outfit, for example, you would probably want both the blue and yellow to be bright or both to be pastel or both to be muted. That doesn't mean you are locked into this rule, but if you aren't sure, the bright-with-bright, pastel-with-pastel and muted-with-muted is a good rule of thumb to follow.

In home decorating, imagine a living room decorated in medium light blue and medium light yellow in a sort of French country to Provencal scheme. Or think of a children's room, decorated in bright blue and yellow. For the exterior of a house, you might choose a muted smoky blue and very muted yellow trim.

Often small accents can tolerate a smattering of colors, whereas the backdrop will only use one or two.  A pillow in red, blue and yellow--I had a photo here, but lost it, long story--works well as an accent. But you would probably not decorate a room using all of these colors. Perhaps the pillow would serve as an accent on a royal blue sofa. Maybe there is a red side chair across the room. An Oriental carpet might tie the colors together in a dark navy with flecks of red, blue and green. Some houseplants would echo the green in the carpet and in the pillow.

Similarly, in your wardrobe, you instinctively know that when you put on a navy wool suit, you can get away with a vivid red, blue, yellow paisley scarf and perhaps some garnet jewelry.

Men might choose a navy suit, yellow dress shirt with a navy rep tie. Perhaps you are tempted to point out that navy is a muted color and the yellow shirt a man would most likely wear would be a pastel yellow and that this contradicts what I said earlier. That is because I have no freaking idea what I am talking about.

But I can usually wing it. Except for the time when I was pregnant and shopping for dress fabric and a contrasting floral collar fabric with my mother. The dress fabric was peach. And I thought the collar fabric was peach, blue and white until I got it home and saw it was rose, blue and white. "Why did you let me buy that?" I wailed to my mother, who has a master's degree in art. She said he hadn't wanted to argue with me. And maybe that is also a good rule of thumb. If you think you know what you are doing, trust your instincts and don't let people talk you out of them. But don't help me shop for maternity fabric, okay?!

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition on Etsy

Monday, December 7, 2009

An example of yarn blending

I still receive puzzled questions from knitters about yarn blending, so I thought I would start posting more of my project photos. Yarns do not literally have to match when you blend them. For example, the two blue yarns in this photo are not identical blues. And the pinks are not identical either. But when you hold two strands of yarn together as you knit or crochet, that sort of forces them to go together...

Well, within reason. Forest green and bright orange are always going to look like a sports team. But if you keep pastels with pastels, earth tones with earth tones, brights with brights, that will help you avoid some glaring color combinations.

All yarns shown in these photos are available in our online Life's an Expedition yarn store on Etsy.

dj runnels

Friday, November 13, 2009

Why do online sellers charge handling fees?

Someone wrote a guide on eBay that said sellers should NEVER charge a handling fee. I wrote a rebuttal there and I'm adding one here.
If a seller is cleaning out Grandma's attic, hopes to make more profit than they would at a garage sale, has access to a furniture store giving away free bubble wrap, lives within a mile of a post office and feels capable of giving customers what we call ACTUAL SHIPPING--in other words, charging no more for shipping than the seller must pay to ship the item at the post office window--I salute that seller. This is a great policy. The buyers will love it.
But if you are a seller who is running a business, who must buy wholesale goods to resell, you may not be able to adopt this business model. If you are an artisan who buys materials for crafts, makes said products and must factor in materials, labor, shipping and packaging, I think it is unlikely you will be able to charge actual shipping and stay in business. Wait, I'm getting to the best part. If you are said artisan who receives many small orders that ship in small envelopes with a lot of bubble wrap, just kiss off the idea of charging actual shipping. You will have to factor these expenses into your shipping and handling or your merchandise. Period. Am I wrong? Anyone out there able to refute me? If you have found a way, share it. But I assert that handmade artisans won't be able to keep product prices low and maintain an Actual Shipping policy for very long. The constant search for free packaging materials will wear you out unless you are receiving goods in the mail every day. Even then, did you ever try to recycle TAPE? Uh-uh, darlin', it will not stick.
I do charge a handling fee and the fee varies depending on the merchandise. I came by my fee structure honestly. I added up what we spend on tape, boxes, bubble wrap, etc. in the course of a year and divided that dollar amount by the number of packages we ship in a year. When I did this back around 2004 or 2005, this math equation told me to charge US $3.00 per package. So I implemented a US $3.00 handling fee. The recession has made that impossible so now I charge around US $1.00 or less. "Gee," you may ask, "isn't that hurting your business?" That's an understatement. The bottom line isn't pretty, but I am hoping to wait out the economy. That could be another entire blog post, so we won't go into that now.
BACK TO HANDLING FEES. There are some variables I take into consideration. When I wrap a handmade stone castle that requires a lot of TLC and bubble wrap, I will usually charge a higher handling fee. The more fragile an item, the more likely I am to charge up to US $5.00 for packaging. I don't go over US $5.00 yet I know there are people who charge more than that. If I order from someone who charges more than US $5.00 for handling, I assume they have their reasons and I will generally accept their judgment.
But once I ordered some toiletries for which I paid a US $10.00 handling fee. I assumed the seller's handling fee was justified until two plastic bottles arrived in a Tyvek envelope without cushioning. That, my dears, is just plain wrong.
I think the variable that kills a budget the most is the tendency to receive small orders. Orders that weigh over 13 oz., require Priority packaging in the United States if they go through the postal service. You can get those boxes and envelopes for free from the post office. But if you sell lots of breakable glass beads, requiring a small bubble mailer, maybe an extra layer of bubble wrap and/or a gift box, you must pay for those packaging components yourself and those things are not only expensive, they add up quickly. Jewelry designers have my sympathy. So do soap makers, whose shipments are always somewhere between a little bit heavy to a lot heavy to...sinking a battleship heavy.
Okay, dollars and cents.
Here are some of the expenses I consider when I calculate a handling fee. These are amounts I collected a couple of years ago, so they are just approximations:
  • US $27.00 or so for a six-roll pack of cheap, clear packaging tape. The stronger kind of packaging tape costs more. Strapping tape is even more expensive. And please do not even think about using masking tape. It falls off in the mail. Ditto for "scotch tape" unless you use the old-fashioned, hard-to-find, very shiny scotch tape. It's usually sold in a red plaid carton or package. Not the green plaid; that is "magic disappearing" tape and that is fine for wrapping a birthday present, but not for mailing packages. Tape is a big issue. I use tape on every package I mail. The cost for one of the components used to make packaging tape went up a few years ago and therefore the cost of tape rose.
  • US $3.00 to US $4.00 for a ream of printer paper. Recycled is cheaper but thinner. I use paper for printing mailing labels off my computer.
  • US $15.00 to US $49.00 for a pack of 25 bubble wrap mailers for books and blank journals. The biggest of such envelopes can cost almost US $2.00 each, but they are more durable and stable versus brown kraft paper over bubble
    wrap. I use first class plastic or Tyvek envelopes for yarn and the latter is pricey but if you ship yarn in a paper envelope, the envelope can break open, the yarn can roll out, the package can get wet and ruin the yarn and so on. Sometimes I use two manila envelopes, one over the other for strength, and use extra tape. Depends on what I'm mailing. I have had a very high success rate with my packaging--and by that, I mean, minimal complaints come through--although once in a while someone will tell me I over-package. But I'd rather have a complaint for over-packaging than for under-packaging.
  • Up to US $3.05 for a cardboard box. Fortunately, we usually skirt that cost by either recycling the boxes that come into our home or by using Priority Mail boxes that the post office provides free of charge. By the way, I have had dozens of eBay customers insist on Parcel Post rather than Priority Mail because they think it will save them money. Surprisingly, Parcel Post might raise the packaging fee, might cost the same or even more in shipping, might save them only 38 cents, and/or take up to three or four weeks to arrive. Sometimes I patiently explain this to the buyer and they understand and they trust me. Other times, I write up an invoice for them showing the Parcel Post option as legitimately higher than the Priority option and just let them choose. Okay, I'm a smart-aleck. I admit it.
  • 26 cents per square foot for bubble wrap. That sounds cheap until you realize how many square feet it takes to cover a birdhouse.
  • US $20.00 a bag for loose fill packing peanuts.
  • Around US $20.00 to US $75.00 for one or two printer ink cartridges, depending on type, brand, quantity, etc. Long story on this one. I find that recycled ink cartridges either burn out more quickly or do not work at all. That's just my experience.
  • US $16.00 a month to have an eBay store although I have since closed it. You can sell on eBay with or without a store. See their site for a detailed explanation. And when I had a store, I paid about US $60.00 a month to list 500 inventory items in addition to auctions. Note that this US $60.00 estimate changes somewhat depending on whether you use gallery photos, list items for under US $25.00 versus over US $25.00 and/or you are a powerseller. These fees have changed for me since I now list much more of my merchandise on other web sites. But those other web sites also have fees.
  • Commissions to the web site if something sells, depending on which site we're talking about. Not all sites charge a commission.
  • Another commission to Paypal and I realize many people are not fond of Paypal, but for a seller, it is a godsend because it eliminates a lot of bookkeeping. If I must spend time on bookkeeping, that is time I could have spent finding, designing, creating, investing in or shipping merchandise.
  • US $10.00 a month for a business checking account. Plus the cost for blank checks.
The worst expenses of all are computer expenses. Printer ink tops the list. If only we could use Chanel No5 in our printers instead, we would save a bundle there. Then there are hardware, software and internet expenses. Since beginning this business, I have had to replace my computer once and my camera and printer twice. My funky old monitor is still hanging on but that cannot last forever. I use McAfee virus protection, file back-up services, Comcast internet connection, a Yahoo web site and picture hosting, etc. Overall, it's a lot. In fact, I grow disgruntled writing this, so I will stop for now.
No, wait, a word about the post office.

Travel to and from the post office varies in cost. It was a huge eye-opener for me when I learned about a seller in an urban area who must take packages to the post office by bus. What a hassle! I can just see him making his way down the aisle of the bus and banging each and every knee with his humongous shopping bags filled with packages to mail. Do you think that seller is making a ton of money and should absorb the cost of bus fare? Most buyers would say, "Yeah!" Well, be careful what you wish for. If that seller IS absorbing the cost, he may go out of business soon if he's not careful. I sure hope you didn't like his merchandise too much, since it may not be available next year.
I have been getting my packages picked up off my doorstep for years now and love the convenience of it. The one type of package the USPS will not pick up is International First Class, which saves customers money, but actually costs the seller more in terms of time, money and effort. I rely on someone to take those packages to the post office for me and I cannot necessarily get these mailed within 24 hours.
Are you thinking, "So what? I live in Australia, and I will not pay for faster Priority mail just so you can get free package pick-up!" No, you are not saying that because my Australian customers are super nice and patient and are happy to pay whatever it takes for shipping. Since 2003, I have never had a disgruntled Australian customer. They trust me. They say "cheers!" a lot and I like that. And if I offer to save them money by using First Class, they wait patiently until I can get someone to take their package in. Bless those Aussies!
But my point about package pickup and post office visits is this: just because it is easy for me or for you to get to the post office doesn't mean it is easy for everyone. Just because your post office is close by doesn't mean some seller in North Dakota isn't having to drive 20 miles round trip. So sellers, please take this into consideration when you set up your online business. And buyers, please cut your seller some slack when you are thinking, "Just take it to the post office! What's the big deal?" Your life in your town and your gasoline prices are not the same as everyone else's. And did you ever consider that a number of buyers and sellers are disabled? Maybe that's why they like to shop online.
Any seller who is running a business must pass part of the cost onto the buyer and this is just obvious. How you pass the cost along is up to the seller. But if you don't do it, you will go out of business. My advice is to be honest, pass along whatever cost seems fair, apply the cost to the merchandise or the shipping or both, hope people like your products enough to pay a decent amount for it and then....well, then bite your lip when someone gets snippy. Sometimes a customer places a large order with me and the shipping calculator goes through the roof. I take pleasure in giving that person a hefty rebate. Often they appreciate it and often that is the best I can do for them. So perhaps what it boils down to is this: calculate your costs and do the best you can for as long as you can. The day you learn you are giving away too much for too little is the day you will wonder if you need to fold the business.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition on Etsy

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Unusual yarn combo

A neck warmer I am making. Can't sell it because I made a mistake in one row. Guess I'll have to keep it. Too bad. :o)

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition has lots of neck warmers on Etsy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Do this & you'll never run out of yarn again.

Yet another customer wrote to me to say she had run out of such-and-such yarn. Did I have any of that color? She needs it for a project she is working on.

[banging my head against a wall]

WHY does it have to be that same color and same dye lot? Because she started with Famous Brand Boring Beige #111 and by golly, she needs to finish with Famous Brand Boring Beige #111 even though the results are going to be just as predictably boring as any of us can imagine.

I'm not trying to tell knitters or crocheters what to do, but honestly, if you please, please, please just CONSIDER this piece of advice, you will never have this problem again.

  • Look at your project and figure out how much yarn you need.
  • Find three or four color-coordinated yarns in the gauge you think you will need--keeping in mind that you will have to test that gauge and/or use a different size needle.
  • Buy a little more yardage than you estimated.
Now, it just so happens that I sell yarn at Life's an Expedition on Etsy in harmonizing color families. I have a huge selection in my own home, so running out of yarn is inconceivable to me. But if you get a whole gaggle of color-related yarn, you can use whichever yarns you liked best, add a pocket later, change the collar, whatever, and likely still have some leftover. Save the leftovers for a hat or something.

Today, I am wearing a brown sweater that I knitted from a vast assortment of brown yarns that I sell. Many of them were close in color or from the same color family, but many were not. They were just brown. And I could gaze at this sweater all day. I am gazing at it now as my fingers slip off the keys and my words are starting tu[om siffers as a resi;t/

Do you think it was hard to make this? My knitting skills are pretty basic. I never learned to do intarsia, cables, entrelac or any of that stuff. I just use straight garter stitch or stockinette or maybe if I'm in a really fancy mood, I will do a seed stitch. I knit while I watch TV and I scarcely look at what I am doing. And no one has sweaters that look like mine. Well, okay, in a few cases, that is probably a good thing, but no, I'm being falsely modest, because my sweaters are amazing.  I have the most creative sweaters in my neighborhood. And I never run out of whatever yarn I was using, because I use a wild hodgepodge of yarn from ONE COLOR FAMILY and make sure I have extra.

If I did not have extras--this doesn't happen, but if it did--I wouldn't hesitate to shift to another yarn that sort of harmonizes and just repeat that yarn somewhere else on the project. What is wrong with having a sweater with contrasting collar, cuffs, pockets? That is tame compared to some of my projects, where I make the sleeves different colors and the front and the back are different lengths. Or the hem deliberately slopes to the left.

You CAN get wild and funky, people. But if that is not your taste, that's okay. I know some people like classic, traditional clothing. But please, at least contemplate knitting outside the dull beige box. Please. You will never run out of yarn again, but more than that, it will be good for your soul!

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition on Etsy sells wildly creative yarn, craft supplies and finished goods.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Yarn Mixing 101

Originally posted on eBay:

Everyone asks me how I blend my yarns. I normally reply that I use a pitchfork, bacon grease and 3D glasses. But after a few slaps to the head, I behave and give more intelligent advice. This guide will be about switching yarns while knitting. I realize some of you will read this and say, "Duh!" but I would not be writing this if I had not been asked for advice. Others are having trouble with the concept so if you know all of this already, try to sit still and be quiet. Or run out and get Starbucks for all of us.

The easiest way to explain what I do is to have you try a swatch. This should only take 20 minutes. Even less if you've been drinking Starbucks. Choose three worsted weight yarns that look completely different in terms of color. Yeah. We're going to make an ugly swatch so you can see what it is you did and how you did it. Next select a needle size that is about a size larger than the yarn calls for. Designate your colors A, B and C.

Cast on 12 stitches with A.

Row 1: knit across. In fact, knit all the odd rows.

Row 2: purl across. You will purl across all the even rows.

Row 3: knit across.

Row 4: Leave A hanging there. Make a slip knot with a three-inch "tail" with B. Purl across working the tail into your knitting. It will be bulkier than the other rows. I'll address that in a minute.

Row 5: knit across with B.

Row 6: purl across holding A and B together.

Row 7: knit across with B only.

Row 8: leave B hanging. Make a slip knot with a three-inch "tail" with C. Purl across working the tail into your work. It will be bulkier here, too. And now you will have strands hanging all over creation.

Row 9: knit across with A.

Row 10: purl across with B.

Row 11: knit across with C.

Keep going until you feel you are getting the hang of it. At any time, if A, B and C are creating a humongous tangle, cut one off at the seam and tie a knot that won't show when you sew the seams together which is sort of the beginner method. OR create a slit knot and work the tail into your knitting. The more distinct your colors are and the more often you switch at the end of a row, the more striped your results will be. The more you alternate between A, B, C and D and E and however many yarns you have, plus the more SIMILAR your colors are and the more you work the tails into your work, the more blended the effects will be.

But before you start making a coat the size of a Buick, please do this: measure your gauge. I asked you to use slightly larger needles to allow for those bulky double-yarn rows. How did they turn out? If you're using worsted weight yarn and you're getting 4 stitches to the inch on every row, that's great. If some rows are wider than others, you will likely need to swap needle sizes now and then as you work...unless you like the results you are getting. Also look at the color changes that started on knit rows versus the color changes that started on purl rows. If you always swap colors on a purl row, you'll have a nicer look on the "right" side of the piece. But if you don't mind the dotted lines or if you're doing straight knit on both sides, then don't worry about what everyone says you "should" do. Rely on what you like. It's your work. You go, girl.

This is not the only way to blend yarns. It is one way and it is intended to simplify the mystery for beginners who are nervous about this sort of thing. If you feel encouraged by this swatch test, try it again with yarns similar in color and texture and you will like your results much better. If you're familiar with the yarn in my store, THIS, my darlings, is what it is all about. This is why I create yarns in color families and this is how I knit every day of my life. I haven't made a solid-color anything in over a decade. This is what the rest of us have been doing with yarn-mixing, or at least one way of doing it. Good luck. Experiment. There is much more to knitting than following concise directions and I hope you enjoy this great adventure that awaits you. Stephanie, I wrote this for you and in honor of your grandmother.

Life's an Expedition on Etsy is loaded to the gills with more examples of how to mix yarns.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Zombieland, the movie

Saw the Zombieland movie.
The male leads are funny.
The female leads are okay.
Ya gotta love Bill Murray.

I laughed out loud over a dozen times but regretted that I was eating popcorn, because the grossness was just too gross.


Friday, September 18, 2009

eBay Powerseller Myths Debunked

This originally appeared on my web site, then on eBay. I am re-posting it here with the consent of the author (me) because both buyers and sellers tend to find the information valuable.
Ebayers make assumptions about sellers and powersellers that are absolutely untrue.
For example: MOST POWERSELLERS make six figures in gross income, right? ::snort:: Gimme a break. We're online retailers, not Bill Gates. The few who make this kind of money are the exception, not the rule. The requirements for becoming a powerseller are pretty low. Sellers needs to average $1,000 a month in gross sales over a three-month period, which means $12,000 a year gross. (This rule has been modified. More on that below.) If they run a very streamlined business, find merchandise at low cost, sell it for double what they paid, sell most stuff from an ebay store with minimal effort or through eagerly sought-out auctions in which customers clobber each other to buy goods... and that's asking a lot... best case scenario would be to take that $12,000 and subtract at least 60% to cover ebay and paypal fees and cost of goods. Net income is now $4,800 per year. Now deduct taxes based on household earnings tax bracket. At 25%, that leaves $3,600 a year. Ouch.
A $3,000/month average minus 60% fees is $14,400 net, which leaves $10,800 after taxes. Ouch again.

IS THAT TYPICAL? I can't say for certain, as most powersellers do not want to talk about this. It's personal and embarrassing. But I've conducted informal surveys and gathered estimated sales figures on closed auctions for specific sellers. To the best of my knowledge, powersellers tend to be in the $12K to 36K gross income range. Assuming they sell goods acquired honestly, live in the US, have operating costs (as opposed to services they gain "free" at the office) and pay income taxes, they could be making as little as $4,800 to $10,800 net per year or worse.
Why am I telling you this? Because buyers accost me as if I were stingy and wealthy--which gets tiresome--and keep asking me for discounts and deals. And because would-be sellers are dying to know if they can quit their day jobs and make a living at this. I found a statistic somewhere saying 420,000 Americans support themselves on ebay without additional income. That number is lower than I thought it would be. Can you become # 420,001? Well, I've tried as hard as anyone I know to achieve that, yet I failed. So my advice to you is to give it a try for a few years before you commit full-time. I'm giving you realistic facts and educated impressions, but your own experiences will give you reality.

My husband made a valid observation that helped me put eBay in perspective: they take a percentage of your earnings. That means as you thrive, so do they, in geometric proportions. If you own a bricks and mortar store and business is going well, your rent, utilities, advertising, printer ink, etc., will not rise in proportion to your increased income. But if you sell more on eBay, they take a big percentage that rises in proportion to your gross income. You are actually paying a heavier penalty for doing well. I think this is why the most lucrative sellers (if there are any!) use eBay as a promotional vehicle to draw new customers into their online store.

WHAT ABOUT ARTICLES ABOUT MAKING HUGE INCOME on ebay? I'm sure there are exceptions to what I am telling you. But when were these articles written? Competition on eBay is fierce. According to, at the start of the year 2000, there were 2.5 million auctions running. January 2007 showed roughly 12-19 million running per day. Newbie sellers on the eBay blogs wail, "Why didn't my item sell? I started bidding at 99 cents and it's worth way more than that! What am I doing wrong?" The answer is: probably nothing. But you have FAR more competition than you realize.

SO HOW CAN YOU MAKE POWERSELLER STATUS? Study the email tutorials, the methods of other sellers, ended listings, articles about ebay on the internet and books about ecommerce. Tinker with headline wording, categories, prices, different products. Make sure your product is searchable in any search engine. Develop a little business savvy and a lot of patience. Be friendly and go the extra mile for customers. And be willing to devote months or years just to reach $36K gross ($10K net) depending on how popular your chosen merchandise is. If you want to earn Big Bucks, i.e.: more than the figures I have given, you will probably need multiple online venues, some social networking programs such as Facebook and Twitter, plus more smarts and perseverance than I have. I work my butt off and have little to show for it.
THEN WHY ARE EBAY SELLERS selling books and tapes revealing secrets of making huge money? Because those products sell better than their original merchandise did. Those sellers will be mad I said that. I don't care.
WHY AM I TRASHING EBAY? Whoaaaaa, hold it right there. I am absolutely NOT trashing ebay. I enjoy selling stuff. I am only debunking the notion that all powersellers are wealthy and a few other stereotypes. Take for example this belief that powersellers are arrogant. Okay, I am. But the other powersellers are super nice because if they weren't, their feedback would be lousy and no one would buy from them. Trust me on this. The powersellers are good people. Your bias against them, if you have one, is ill-founded. If you are biased against them because of wealth, that is ill-founded. If you are biased against them because they seem arrogant, I suggest to you that you have not rubbed elbows with enough of them to figure out that they are very nice, professional, conscientious people. Arrogant, mean sellers go out of business FAST on eBay.
However, I admit that an ambitious seller can reach powerseller status quickly, rake in too many negative feedbacks, get shut down by eBay or simply close up shop, then turn around and open a new shop under a new name. To avoid that sort of person, read feedback and be wary of the newest sellers.

WHY DO SOME POWERSELLERS ACT AS IF THEY NEVER EVEN READ YOUR LAST EMAIL? It's nothing personal! Larger businesses have more customers and more red tape. I am not one of the largest, busiest powersellers, yet I receive an onslaught of emails on eBay.
WHY DO SELLERS TAKE FOREVER TO SHIP? Short answer: they don't.
Long answer: Take a look at the date your payment cleared. No, not the date you sent payment. The date it CLEARED Paypal or the two weeks it took your personal check to clear the bank. Allow for mail delivery, too. Don't cheat. Come up with an honest date.
Now compare that date to the date the seller shipped, which appears on the shipping label. By federal law and according to ebay protocol, these two dates should be less than 30 days apart. I can practically hear you choking. Yes, 30 days. That's a huge window, isn't it? And that's why you will usually find the two dates are closer together than that. If you think the gap is too large, check the bottom of the seller's listing for the words "Usually ships within _ business days of cleared payment." If seller met that time frame, meaning you (the buyer) was told in advance what to expect, then the buyer is wrong to leave negative feedback or a low star ranking for shipping time. Normally, this is the part where I pause while standing on my soapbox and say, "Feel free to disagree." But in this case, I won't, because you have no right to disagree. Wipe that look off your face. Look me in the eye. Your bid signified your willingness to follow terms. If the seller fulfilled the terms and you ding their feedback anyway because you WISH the terms had been different, you are morally wrong. And so is your dog.

PARADOX: buyers who ask for Media Mail or Parcel Post tend to believe the seller shipped slowly, whereas those who ask for Priority Mail think the seller shipped quickly. My feedback confirms this perception and it is wrong. I tend to ship everything within 48 hours. It's just that one arrives faster than the other BECAUSE OF THE POSTAL SYSTEM. It has nothing to do with anything I did. Yet time and again, my orders that were shipped Priority Mail receive great feedback and my orders that were shipped Media Mail show a more tepid response. In essence, customers judge me and rate me for the performance of the U.S. Postal Service, even though their performance is completely outside my control.

HOW COME THE POWERSELLER SAID they no longer have this thing in stock? Why did they even list it if they don't have it? [I'm pausing for you to spew some swear words, cuz I know that makes you feel better.] No, sweetie, it's not a scam. It's hard to keep track of tons of merchandise. You will never understand this until you become an online seller with more than 100 listings. Go fill up two spare rooms in your house with $20,000 worth of merchandise and keep exact track of what you sell and what you ship for a year. It's more difficult than you might think. Do this for a year and then we'll talk about. --dj runnels (c) 2007 but edited periodically since then.

NOTE added September 17, 2009: eBay's powerseller criteria, rules and terms are changing rapidly. I don't mean for this guide to be out of date, but it will be from time to time. Currently, it is far easier to become a powerseller and remain one if you provide excellent customer service. I applaud that change, because the buyer doesn't care about doing business with the seller who makes the most money; the buyer wants the most reliable seller and the newer criteria reflect this. When you shop on eBay, look for Top-Rated Sellers. You will more likely get the best service from these people. Again, there will be exceptions, but as I said, read the feedback and scrutinize new sellers.

NOTE to crafters: I do not recommend selling on eBay. The shoppers do not normally seek, appreciate or value handmade goods. But craft supplies sell pretty well since eBay gets HUGE traffic and buyers tend to search on name brands.

Hope you found this info useful. I love sharing information with professional crafters, craft hobbyists, buyers, sellers, SAHMs, artists and/or anyone with just enough creativity to paint their own toenails. Please consider following Life's an Expedition on Instagram.  Happy crafting, sweetie!

dj runnels

Life's an Expedition on Etsy

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sock Knitting 101

Hooray! Someone told me this explained the process very clearly for her! I feel almost valuable or something!

I think the most difficult task of making a pair of socks is imagining how the heel turns and trying to visualize it from the directions. Once you knit a pair—or someone shows you how—it all becomes more obvious.

So my goal in writing this is to give you an idea of how the sock creation process works. You can actually knit a pair using my directions. I do it all the time because I loathe following directions. But be forewarned: my socks come out less than perfect. Ideally, if you can grasp my description and then find some easy-to-follow directions, you will be better off.

Here’s how I make socks. I generally use about 200 yards of a sport weight yarn or two strands of fingering held together. I cast on 48 stitches onto THREE size 6 double-pointed needles, using a FOURTH needle to work the stitches onto. I also have a FIFTH needle nearby that I will use later. I use a knit 2, purl 2 ribbing. Ribbing is nice for the ankle section because it helps the socks stay up. I use this ribbing pattern all the way around on three needles, which form a triangle, being careful not to twist the stitches when I return to my starting point. That’s one mistake beginner sock makers tend to make: twisting the stitches. With me so far? I am hoping the photos that I took will help you visualize it.

Whenever I make the transition from one needle to the next, I snug up the first stitch on the next needle. If you don’t do this, you end up with a sort of ladder-like gap running the length of the sock. But if that's too much information for now, don't worry about it. Try your hand at knitting socks and you will quickly see the ladder showing up and then you will smack your forehead and say, "THAT's what she was talking about!" Then come back here and re-read this. Snugging up the first stitch on each needle is one method to avoid that gap.

Another method to avoiding the ladder gap is to go ahead and transfer four stitches over to the previous needle. This is a little more technical, but don't panic. Try to envision this: let's say I k 2, p 2 three times, which makes a total of 12 stitches. Then I am about to move onto the next needle. But instead of moving on, I skootch four stitches over to the one I'm still using. In other words, I will k2, p2 the first four onto the needle I am currently on. THEN start a fresh needle as I work around the triangle. So I am sort of sneaking future stitches onto the current needle. If this is just too darn hard to understand, don’t berate yourself. You are doing fine. It’s hard to explain. You can get by with using the first technique I described and figure this out later.

Personally, I use both techniques. With a little practice, you will be able to do so as well. I hope I don't sound as if I am addressing you as an eight-year-old. I don't mean to. I am just trying to explain it as carefully as I can. I have complete faith in you being able to get the hang of this!

I continue the k2, p2 circular pattern around the three double-pointed needles, using a 4th needle to work the stitches onto, until the cuff is the length I like. If you like knee socks or if you are making large adult socks, you are going to need more than 200 yards. But if you are a size 6 ½ like me, or making children's socks, or are okay with short ankle sections, 200 yards ought to be enough. Don’t hold me to this, okay? It's just a ballpark estimate.

I now have a nice ribbed ankle section hanging off three needles. I am through using the ribbing pattern. I will put 24 stitches on a stitch holder and work the remaining 24 stitches back and forth on two needles while the other needles are idle. I knit across and then purl my way back. As I work, my sock is inside out and I keep it inside out the whole time.
I know to knit when I can peek inside the sock at the “right side.”
When the inside of the sock is turned away from me, I purl across.

I continue doing this for about 2 ½ inches. Guess what we just made? It's the infamous heel flap you hear so much about. So many knitters freak out when it's time to turn the heel because it seems to make no sense. This flap will go on my heel when I wear the completed socks. There is a better way to make this heel flap and you will learn it when you follow a real sock pattern. But my sock diatribe here is for beginners or cheaters or those who just want an overview before they start working with an actual pattern. It will still produce a sock, but it probably won’t be the perfect sock. Can I tell you something, though? Your first sock probably won't be perfect anyway. You may as well make a cheater sock in cheap yarn before tackling a real pattern. Use the cheater sock as a dust rag when you are through. Or give it to that sister-in-law you never liked.

You're looking at my photos, right?

Notice we now have a ribbed ankle that ends in a stitch holder on one side. Opposite that, we have a heel flap whose last row is on a needle. Then there are two other sides of this rectangular (almost square) shape we are looking at. And those two other sides are the sides of the heel flap. I am going to pick up and knit (or purl) off those sides. Okay, how do I know whether to knit or purl? Repeating what I said earlier:

I know to knit when I can peek inside the sock at the “right side.”
When the inside of the sock is turned away from me, I purl across.
This is still true.

I start with the needle end of the heel flap. I will either purl or knit across--according to the rule I just stated. Now I will pick up and work one side of the heel flap. Then the stitches on the stitch holder. Then the other side of the heel flap. I am back where I started. Ta da! My four needles (I'm using four now because I have more stitches to juggle) form a square. My 5th needle is for working the stitches.

At this point, regardless of whether I have been knitting or purling, no matter which direction I have been going, I will now pick up my work so that I can see the inside of my lovely sock. I now knit across all my stitches, every row, continually, with my project inside out, going around 4 needles and using a fifth needle for the current stitches. I’m still using size 6 double-pointed needles. I stopped using a ribbing pattern. I am using stockinette, the way I did on the heel flap.

We can tell this is stockinette because there are V's on the right side of the sock and U's on the wrong side. And again, the sock is inside out, so the right side is inside this tubelike shape I am making. I will continue to use stockinette (straight K across) for the rest of the sock. Stay with me! We are past the hardest part!

Since my foot tapers, I am going to periodically knit 2 together or decrease so that the foot of my sock will get smaller and narrower as I go. Because I am not following a pattern, I really don't know if I am decreasing often enough or not. So I will carefully try on the sock. That's right. I am going to slip my foot in there. It’s a riot. Don’t let any stitches fall off the needles.

When it looks as though I have enough to encompass my foot, I begin to cast off. And hopefully, at this point, I have far fewer stitches than I had near the heel flap. I then stitch the toe shut by hand. If I were to photograph this sock without my foot in it, it would resemble a balloon-like sock and we would all get a good laugh. But when I put my foot in it, it looks better. And after it’s been worn and been through the wash a few times, it will probably fit reasonably well...or at least well enough to wear with boots, because that’s what these are: thick boot socks that few people will see except for the cuff or ankle and, btw, I did a great job on that ankle so I don't care a whole lot what the foot looks like. Nyah!

Hope this helps you get an overview of the mystery of sock knitting. I’ve made a few dozen pairs like this. Good luck!

This article is copyrighted (c) August 2009 to dj runnels, owner of Life's an Expedition. Plagiarists will be hanged. But you are more than welcome to link to it.

Ta for now.
dj runnels
I have no socks for sale at Life's an Expedition on Etsy, but I have some amazing things there you will want to see.  Especially unusual yarn.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


What a great day! I got my first feedback on a site I won't mention because I no longer sell there. (Edited 10-4-17.)  And the woman who left the feedback for me was very kind, a wonderful customer.

Also, I just got an email from TiLT Treasures saying one of my husband's castles is featured.

There is nothing more wonderful than sharing creativity with other artisans. It makes my heart sing!

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition on Etsy

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Are they following you back on Twitter? An easy way to check.

Everybody wants to know if the people they follow on Twitter are also following them back. There are probably programs that will help you find out, but I don't like using those things. Some of them ask for your password and then start churning out spam under YOUR NAME because they have access to your account. Not cool.

Anyway, I was tinkering around on Twitter and found a relatively easy way to see which of the people whom you follow are also following you. It takes a few minutes. If you have over a thousand followers, it may take 20 to 40 minutes. Rough estimate. It also depends on how many people are using Twitter at that moment, since it slows down when traffic is heavy. But this technique does work and if you are the sort of person who wants to indignantly unfollow these non-followers, hey, go for it. You will be able to do so instantly.

Open your Twitter account. Do this online at Twitter because I am not sure if this works from TweetDeck or any other program.
Click on PROFILE in the upper right corner.
Drift down a few inches.
See the word FOLLOWING under the number of people you follow? Click that.
It will take you to a page of the people YOU follow.
There are two icons in the upper left end of a pale gray bar.
Select the second icon, which is called LIST.
Now you see a condensed list of people you follow.
Across from these names, over on the right, is a column entitled "ACTIONS."
The ACTION column contains buttons showing a picture of a sun or something.
For each person, click on that SUN button.
It will give you a choice of 3 or 4 actions you can take.
If it gives you 4 choices, the second choice will be sending a Direct Message to that person.
But if it only gives you THREE CHOICES--and sending a Direct Message is not one of the choices--then this person either STOPPED FOLLOWING YOU or has never followed you.

Now you must decide: is it important that they follow you? Some people believe it is irrelevant. But if you wish, you can UNfollow them on the spot, because that will be one of the three choices you are given. I do not endorse this behavior, but hey, people DO want to know and that's why I'm letting you know. Something to keep in mind is that some people do not add new followers every day. If you only recently added a person, maybe they have not seen you yet. You might want to give them a couple of weeks.

dj runnels

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Knitting without directions

Somebody was asking how to translate a pattern from chunky to worsted.  I can't even wrap my brain around that. I would toss out the pattern directions and keep the schematic or sketch. Figure out the dimensions and write them down in inches. For example, let's say you have a sketch of a sweater. Look at the hem. Maybe it's a size large and the hem is 40 inches in circumference, worked up on circular needles.

Next test your yarn and needles and get a gauge. If you see that the yarn you want to use on a particular circular needle is worsted gauge, or 4 st to the inch, then you will want to cast on 4 st x 40 inches. So you cast on 160 st. If the schematic says the length from the hem to the armpit is 20 inches, then keep knitting until it is 20 inches long. At this point, you probably need to divide the stitches onto non-circular needles. Perhaps you will put the back on stitch holders and continue working the front. You might decrease three inches at each armhole.  Since you are working in worsted, then you will need to dec 4 st per inch or 12 st on each side.

Does this make sense? If not, then you probably need directions to follow and there is nothing wrong with that.  Your work will come out more precisely. If you are averse to following directions and/or if you tend to work better from visuals, you may like my way better.   Socks are a challenge because you must envision how that heel flap works. I will see if I can draw it or something. Unless of course I forget completely or wander off to eat a sandwich.  [Edited November 16, 2011 to add: I did follow through and write about the socks.  Avid knitters who were always confused by socks have written wonderful things about that particular blog post without my having to bribe them or anything.]

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition yarn is on Etsy

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

scarves, blogs and Michael Jackson

The photo you see here is completely unrelated to what I am about to say, but if you read me regularly, you might want to just sorta get used to that. Heh.

Michael Jackson. Sigh. I am not following the memorial service, as I think I will get too sad. Normally, although I refrain from using the word "judge" or "assess," I tend to assess or view people in the Big Picture. The whole enchilada. I am that way with most people. But with MJ, I cannot reconcile the enormous debts or adverse media coverage about his alleged sex life. So I am compartmentalizing my view of him. Regardless of whatever else he may or may not have done, I will go on record as saying that I consider MJ the best performer, musician, singer, dancer, artist and creative icon of the past hundred years, if not longer. If I can think of a better one, I'll let you know. I have frequently said, "I want to write the way that man sings." I still feel that way, even though I have shifted from a life as a writer to a life as an artist. If you disagree with any part of this paragraph, I am fine with that. I just know in my heart that I must stick with my convictions and not alter myself to gain mass approval or to avoid controversy. I am saddened by the loss of a great creative genius.

dj runnels
What I make as a fiber artist is at Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Life of Ethan, part 1

I have been procrastinating writing this because it is so painful, but that is no excuse. It all has to be said and you can skip over it if you want, but you will be missing out on an extraordinary human being.

My nephew Ethan Runnels, born in 1983, was a cherubic blond child who eventually went through the typical teen-aged angst...and then some. I hope I do not offend anyone by mentioning that Ethan dropped out of high school (but later got his GED). And that he sort of "borrowed" his father's car in Indianapolis without permission. The police in Nebraska were kind enough to inform my brother that they had located my nephew and the car. But hey, whose kids are perfect?

Okay, there were some other incidents, too. Some of them a bit scary. But no matter. It was a phase Ethan was going through and not one that we condemned him for, because he was a good person at heart and we hoped he would find himself, as they say. I mention that he had issues, because it will make this story all the more meaningful to you when you learn how he later turned out. I can't have you reading this and thinking, "Oh, yeah, sure, those privileged kids always have it made. He never had to suffer."

Ethan did suffer although we are not entirely sure how or why. He was a typical, middle-class kid. Things were not handed to him on a silver platter. He had a good home and good parents and went to a good school. But that boy had major issues. Perhaps another person, in his shoes, would have gone straight into alcoholism or other serious problems, dragging everyone down with him. But Ethan took the time to think. His introspection served him well and he overcame many of his issues. And with his good heart, he blossomed into an even better person over time.

By the time he was in his early twenties, he was picking apart bicycles, tinkering with them, developing an appreciation for nature, getting a feel for his Native American roots--although by my estimate, if I am 1/32 Native American at the most, that puts Ethan at 1/64. No matter. There is a segment of our clan that loves gardening, nature, all things botanical, Native American lore, etc. And Ethan was part of that mindset. No, he was more than part of it. He was a leader for those who bothered to listen.

So when Ethan participated in some kind of Outward Bound program to get his head on straight, and evolved from there to participating in other nature programs, we were all proud of him and started to have wonderful conversations with him. My husband and stepson had many long talks with Ethan about camping and survival skills.

And when Ethan chose to spend half a year honing those skills out west in 2008, his family and his friends all said, "Cool! Go, Ethan!" I received sporadic updates on his adventures, including a rented house that accidentally caught fire and an incident with some road kill. See photo of Ethan with a deer. He did NOT kill that deer nor did he feel insensitive about its death. But he found it dead and simply did not want to pass up the photo op. That's why he is mugging for the camera.

In late August, 2008, Ethan announced that his car was kaput so he decided to sell it and ride his bicycle from Montana back to Indianapolis. This trip was at least 1,800 miles. And despite some issues I have about visitors--which are completely unrelated to Ethan or this story, so I will not elaborate--I insisted that my nephew stay with me in the Chicago area in his last few legs of the journey home. Up to this point, it felt to me as if my husband and stepson had bonded with Ethan better than I had. I felt left out. Something told me that I MUST spend time with him, find out what made him tick, what he valued, who he had grown into. He was 25 and it was time to re-meet my own nephew.

So in the last days of August and early September, Ethan kept me posted as to his whereabouts. He emailed me from libraries and checked his cell phone once in a while as he got close to Chicago. This cell phone, if I am understanding correctly, was one of the few electronic possessions Ethan owned. In recent years, he had been giving away possessions and paring down his life to keep himself connected to That Which Mattered Most and this was just one of a long list of attributes I wanted to learn more about.

And learn I did. When Ethan was about to leave Wisconsin, I emailed maps to him to help him find his way down a bike trail from Crystal Lake, Illinois, along the Fox River, down to my home in suburban Chicago. The man who rang my front doorbell was lean and unevenly tanned from being on a bike day after day. We watched him eat two hamburgers, half a pizza, two pieces of apple pie and numerous bottles of water. We talked until we were all hoarse. We made him spend the night. (Oh, yes, we insisted he shower first, as he was so rank!) And then we talked his ears off the next day, too. We literally did not want him to leave. Please believe that I am not exaggerating when I say that I was awestruck by his persona. I hugged him goodbye with tears in my eyes and told my husband that we had been given a precious gift. That was how I viewed two days with this man--September 10 and 11, 2008--a precious gift. Roger took photos of him right before he left and as he rode away. (See below.) A few days later, after some of the heaviest rains seen in the midwest in a long time, Ethan soggily made it within 50 miles of Indianapolis before too many bike repairs made it necessary for him to call his dad for a ride.

I saw Ethan very briefly once more, in Indianapolis, but I was too preoccupied with a family crisis to give him the attention he deserved.

Then on February 14, 2009, my mother, Ethan's grandmother, called to tell me that there had been an accident. Ethan had gone canoeing with a friend in the White River that runs through Indianapolis. If you want to know more about it, google the name Ethan James Runnels and you'll find plenty of hits.

Please remember, Ethan was a very accomplished and confident survivalist. He took classes in survival skills and taught these skills to others. He had given a class in hypothermia two weeks prior to the accident, wherein he cut a hole in the ice in this same river and jumped in, then showed his students what to do in case such a thing ever happened. If you google his name and read about the accident, you will learn that the media focused heavily on the fact that Ethan was not wearing a life jacket when he drowned. Yes, he should have worn one, but perhaps due to overconfidence, he didn't. He got in the boat that afternoon and skillfully navigated six miles in choppy water, wearing hiking boots and a winter coat. Then just as he reached his destination, he got caught in some low tree branches and capsized a few feet from shore. His companion, a strong swimmer, made it out. But the strong current exerted thousands of pounds of pressure on Ethan and pulled him downstream and underwater. The winter coat and hiking boots probably absorbed a lot of water. A life jacket may or may not have saved his life, but we will never know. His body was found two months later, on Easter Sunday, washed up on a sandbar near the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

I will say no more about the accident, nor will I allow any insensitive or disrespectful comments to be written about it on this blog.

The family is still in shock. We cannot fathom how the best survivalist of our family did not survive. Valentine's Day and Easter Sunday are forever ruined for us. Many people grieve for Ethan, especially his father, mother and sister. But also my brother's extended family... my sister-in-law's extended family... Ethan's many friends.

I am just one of many people who feels the grief and I do not place myself high in the pecking order of those who are saddened. Yet I think of him every day. I cannot see a bike without thinking of him. The river near my house reminds me of him. Any discussion of bicycle parts or mechanics upsets me. I cry when I see a canoe, even if it's on TV. Yet I am willing to sit here with tears running down my face and dredge up awful memories and fill you in on the background of this story because the world deserves to know what an amazing person Ethan was. And in my mind, still is. His philosophy lives in us still.

So to paraphrase my cousin Allen, I will talk no more about how Ethan died. I will talk about how Ethan lived. And this story will continue in a blog post that I will entitle, The Life of Ethan, part 2. And it will continue until I have said all I can think of, but even then, I will never be able to say it all. I love you, Ethan.

aunt dj

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Modular knitting and crocheting

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My customers often send me photos of their projects.
Here is one from a woman who crochets up a storm. She's been making squares of this sort and assembling them into garments such as boleros for her daughter and the daughter's friends. Many of my yarns are shown in this photo, but since she mixes the colors--Yes! That's okay to do!--I can't honestly tell which yarns these are. I think she told me she used some silk sari blends I used to sell.
I predict this sort of piecework knitting and crocheting will increase in popularity. Western society is mobile and this craft lends itself to being on the road. Did you ever try to make lampwork beads in an airplane? Or shove a floor loom into the back seat of a Jetta? Even if it was your Jetta? I'll bet you've been arrested less often than I have, too. Knitting and crochet are so portable compared to other crafts. Even if this were not one of my primary hobbies, I would probably do it as a lesser hobby, just to have something portable to do during school recitals and road trips. Especially if I am not driving.
I am grateful to see that the piecework knitting / crocheting repertoire has extended beyond granny squares, as they used to be called back in the day. There are some excellent books out there--I believe one is called Domino Knitting--that show you the many wonderful newer options. You can make intricate squares, triangles, bargello-looking patterns and more out of single color yarn that really show off your skills. Or, if you're more like me, you can make simple squares out of intricate yarn and no one will know what your skill level is because they'll be too mesmerized by the colors.
There are many benefits of modular knitting, which is another term I've heard applied to this method:
  • If you totally mess up a square, you can toss it out, if you are not adverse to doing so. That's a lot easier than ripping and backtracking, which I loathe.
  • If you don't like how the colors look compared to the other squares in your project, you can save the piece for another project. No work goes to waste and you are exonerated in your quest to be Green.
  • It's portable. Take a little or several yarns with you in a tote bag to the doctor's office or your kid's soccer field. Much nicer than lugging a large sweater around and you can skewer the opposing team's soccer ball with a knitting needle if you feel especially rowdy that day. (At the police station, tell them your name is D.J. Runnels.)
  • One of the most onerous tasks in knitting a garment is in continually measuring it or trying it on or double-checking your gauge. With modular squares, you can set one square on top of another and say, "Yep! Looks good to me."
  • You can add to the piece later, especially if it's an afghan or baby blanket. You could be 75% done and start using the so-called finished piece and just keep adding to it when you feel like it. Imagine making a baby blanket for a new mom and adding another row in a different color when mom has another baby. Imagine a four-foot winter scarf becoming a five-footer or six-footer as your schedule permits.
Yarn sold in our Etsy store.

A few disadvantages or considerations:
  • It's easy to come up with a garment that screams of 1970. You see this sort of thing at estate sales all the time and it often smells like moth repellent. Ewww. Maybe you want that. Maybe you don't. Several ways to avoid this trap are to use good wool instead of cheap acrylic--and darlin', I would hope you are not wasting your time with cheap Walmart acrylic when there are so many worthwhile yarns out there that will do your work justice. Secondly, you might knit instead of crochet the squares. Seed stitch would look lovely. Thirdly, carefully consider what you are making. An afghan made of squares makes a great deal of sense. A vest is likely to look like a throwback to an earlier decade, but then again, maybe you WANT that '70's look and that's okay if it's what you want. But you could also make modular rectangles, stripes or triangles instead and that will update your look considerably.
  • I tend to feel that modular crochet has more substance to it than modular knitting. Not always but often. Crocheters, feel free to whoop triumphantly. I am a knitter, so you just scored a victory here.
  • There's a lot more assembly involved. Some people hate piecing their work together. I kind of like it. You will do more fitting and measuring at this stage that you were able to avoid earlier, but at least you can make modifications.
  • What if you're all done knitting and now you're piecing together, say, a jacket and it's just a little too big around. The typical person might go ahead and leave it too big rather than take out some squares and end up with something too small. Okay, fine, I'll confess, that person would be me. Or I might make some "half-squares" to go into the side seam to get a better fit. Or what if you leave off one square on the sleeves and add some extra-long ribbing? We can be flexible with modular knitting and be willing to break the rules when needed. So what if it's not entirely made of squares. The jacket is there to serve you, not vice versa.
dj runnels
Life's an Expedition directory of what I sell and where the hell it is

Monday, June 1, 2009

New pattern books

I listed pattern books today. I have never sold pattern books before because I find patterns too confusing. But I know other people out there do not have ADD and can follow a pattern successfully without creating a sweater with one arm longer than the other.  The two new books are from Laines du Nord.

Coming soon: I'm making a bizarre, rustic, autumnal table runner. My husband swears it is cool.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

How to paint a raspberry

My painting project yesterday went smoothly and I learned a little about how to paint a raspberry. Sorry if this sounds rudimentary, but I am not a painter, so this was groundbreaking for me. I studied a photo on the internet and noticed that raspberries tend to be formed of many shade of red while still ripening. Then there tends to be a light highlight on each "bubble" of the raspberry, originating from its light source. So I used a stiff rounded brush and composed each raspberry of dots in different reds and mauves and wine shades, then added a gleam to most of the bubbles. I started out using a stencil but ended up freeforming the whole thing.

Let's upload photos of the raspberries I painted. I have to put my name on the photo because people in Indonesia keep "borrowing" my photos. I can't stop them from doing it, but by golly, they will promote me as long as they are at it.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition

Monday, May 11, 2009

Summer Activity List for Kids

School will soon let out for the summer and the little cherubs will be whining, "I'm borrrrrred" and "I don't have anything to doooooo." I suggest setting aside a few minutes to make a list of activities and post it on the refrigerator. Add to the list as you think of new activities. Ideally, the to-do list should include both family and solitary events, with and without school friends, indoors and outdoors, special events, cheap excursions and a few useful chores disguised as fun.

I would not bother to list TV or video games, since kids will gravitate toward those too often without any prompting from you.

Some suggestions for your list:

  • library
  • swimming
  • email Grandma
  • find a penpal in another country
  • learn a new language
  • plant flowers
  • zoo
  • write a story
  • make wrapping paper
  • make fruit juice popsicles
  • play Clue or other board games
  • collect cans for a food pantry
  • start a neighborhood newspaper
  • museums
  • search for fossils or interesting rocks
  • learn to identify trees by their leaves
  • start a vegetable garden
  • make birthday cards
  • write to soldiers in Iraq
  • collect used clothing for kids in Afghanistan
  • learn to knit
  • wash the car
  • clean out the inside of the car
  • go to yard sales
  • visit a pet store
  • learn soccer
  • bake muffins for a neighbor
  • cut long sleeve tees into tanks
  • cut long pants into shorts
  • make a birdhouse
  • make place mats from paper and rubber stamps
  • catch and release butterflies
  • cut out newspaper coupons
  • make a piggy bank out of a salt box
  • play t-ball
  • ride a bike
  • take a walk
  • organize family photos
  • have a garage sale
  • paint toenails
  • use sidewalk chalk outside
  • play in the sprinkler
  • hide & seek
  • play tag
  • make something out of a huge box
So when you hear, "I'm bored," your correct response is "let's go look at the refrigerator list."

BTW: the birdhouse shown in the photo is no longer available, but we DO sell birdhouses on Etsy and Artfire. My husband makes them and I paint some of them. The birds themselves will nest in them; we can't take credit for that part.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition
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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Knitting rag rugs

Lately, I have been recycling good clean t-shirts by cutting them into neat ribbons and knitting them into rugs. Actually, I have done this for years, with a variety of fabrics, but I have gotten very savvy about reclaiming every last scrap and using it as a rug.

This is a rug I named Stagecoach. I had it for sale in my eBay store, but I worried that whoever bought it might be unhappy with it because it was lumpy. (Can't let an eBayer go unhappy! I've had nightmares about my powerseller feedback going down the toilet. ) Eventually I decided I had to keep the rug rather than risk having somebody buy the rug and flame me over it.

Turns out, it was never a problem. The lumps flattened within a short period of time. Not only that, but it became flatter and more stable with extended use. I have had it in an extremely high-traffic area of my home for 3 1/2 years and it still looks wonderful. I had heard that rag rugs last a long time, but I am shocked by how resilient this one is, since it was my first knitted rug.

More recently, I made a rectangular rug. Again, I had intended to list it for sale, this time on Etsy. But when it began to turn out crooked, I decided there was no way it would sell. It is in my bedroom now.

The rectangular rugs with straight garter knit are the easiest to make. Cutting the fabric strips of uniform width helps. I generally aim for 3/8" because narrower strips tend to break and wider strips get bulky. But if you are cutting a particular fabric and notice it is bulkier than another fabric you are using in the same project, you might want to shave a fraction of an inch off that cutting width.

I use size 13 or 15 needles and cast on up to 60 stitches, depending on the width I want. Plastic needles seem to work better than other types; you want the least friction you can achieve. Then I knit a straight garter stitch and keep it loose. T-shirt and knit fabrics stretch pretty well, but if you knit tightly, your hands will hurt after awhile. Another way to get more stretch out of the fabric is to cut strips on the bias.

If you are a purist and do not want that dotted line that appears when you add a new color, be sure to add a new color ONLY when the right side of the rug is facing you. Otherwise, you can add colors willy-nilly and consider the rug to be reversible. Tra la! I love them.

The circular rugs require considerably more detailed instructions, which I will try to get before I die. I have one almost completed somewhere in my yarn studio. I named it Taos because that is the town I was in when I began making it. I hope to find that before I die, too. As I recall, it's almost four or five feet in diameter.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition

Please follow me on Twitter. website and directory of my handmade wares and supplies

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Resurrect old tees into wearable ones

This was a t-shirt that I got from a garage sale for 50 cents. No, not the performer. The monetary amount, as in half a dollar.

I loved the top of the shirt but the bottom always twisted sideways for some reason. So I cut off the bottom--from the rib cage on down--and sewed on a long piece of fabric and wore it as a dress. I used a t-shirt scrap to make a patch pocket on the right side and added a decorative tan wooden button. Ten years later, it was still in excellent condition, so I shortened the hem and I now wear it as a shirt over jeans. It's one of my favorite tops of all time. The sleeves look wrinkled on me because I had them pushed up above my elbows, as is my habit.

Find more remakes of t-shirts, along with directions.

dj runnels
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