Friday, November 18, 2011

How to make felted wool coasters in 700 easy steps.

It's easy to make felted wool coasters following these simple steps.

First, find that awesome handwoven wool poncho that you made.  (I've tried to find a photo of it.  It's gone. Just trust me, it was amazing.  It was hanging in a tree with fall foliage fluttering around it.)

List the poncho online for $80.
Wait a year or so for it to sell.
Get impatient.
Unlist it.
Run it through the washer and dryer (hot water wash, then cold water rinse, then hot dryer) and voila! It becomes somewhat felted and fluffy.
Plop it on the floor to see how it looks.

Hmmm. It looks pretty nice, but it is fuzzy.  That won't feel good when exiting the shower with wet feet.

So take the $80 poncho rug and repeat that whole hot water wash, cold water rinse, trip through the hot dryer.  Ten times.

Now it's a lot smaller, a lot thicker, and you can cut it with scissors.

Use a ruler, cutting mat, pair of scissors, slide rule, calculator, home theater rear projection system, string cheese, broom handle, chicken wire, duct tape, styrofoam and a socket wrench to make perfectly even squares.  When they turn out less than perfectly even, keep trimming them until they are almost too small and you wasted all your effort.
Now cut out some letters from some other felted wool that you may or may not have felted deliberately and I do not want to talk about that, so just leave it alone, okay?

Sew those letters to your small-to-medium sized (but very thick!) coasters and you have:

Make several sets. List 'em in your Etsy shop. Wait, no, don't do that! This is MY idea! Mine, I tell you!

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

ACK! I hate photography!

Good news, bad news.  I have created one of my favorite scarves of all time.  But I can't seem to photograph it the way it really is.  It's a wonderful, dramatic mix of greens with magenta and other colors.  But every photo either looks lifeless or too blue.  I have taken about 50 photos so far, indoors and out, overcast and not, with and without a flash, and I keep getting more variety, but not more truth.

I just uploaded a few of the photos I have (above) and I am appalled by how lame they are. It's okay. I'll get over it.  It's not like I don't have money to pay the rent or my dog died.

dj runnels

Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My summer projects, in preparation for fall.

For years, I've made yarns for everyone else.  In the past year or so, I have been using them myself in projects for resale.  Last year I went on a woven scarf binge.  Currently, I am exploring freeform fiber techniques. Here is a ribbon necklace with African bead that didn't quite turn out as I'd hoped, so I am keeping it.

Other recent creations did make the cut and are listed on Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

Here is my Purple Escape freeform knit-crochet-felted wool piece.  The flower is felted cashmere.  Much of the yarn is Genevieve, a discontinued Life's an Expedition yarn that I loved for its rich variety of purples.

At least four other scarves are in progress and going very well.

UPDATE October 4, 2017.  These photos are embarrassing amateurish.  Don't look at them! Stop! My work is much better than this now!

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Making what is "good" v. making what sells.

Every day, I face the same dilemma. Should I make what people want? Or make what I know will sell? Or should I make what I know is good, even if it doesn't sell? Or both? I am sure you know what I'm talking about, no matter what line of work you are in.

Well, here is what it is like as a yarn designer: I learned years ago which gauges and color combinations sell the best. If I want to have a more lucrative business, I will stick with purples, teals and greens. People scarf those up in a heartbeat.

But in my heart, I know that the average yarn buyer does not necessarily look good in purple. It takes a certain complexion and hair color range to wear it, e.g.: Women of Color or Caucasian brunettes with brown eyes and dark hair. A pale blonde, on the other hand, does not really wear purple well; purple wears her. A pale blonde often looks outstanding in peach. But peach yarn is the kiss of death in terms of online yarn sales. I have made peach color combinations that took over a year to sell out. 
And peach is far from being the least popular. Pastels in general do not sell as quickly as bright colors. Gray is worse. I have a wool blend yarn called Paiolo that I think is to die for, but it is gray and copper, so it sells slowly. And gray is nothing--NOTHING--compared to maroon and navy. I rue the day I created a maroon, navy, silver yarn that echoed the New England Patriots colors. It was a stunning, dramatic yarn but took three years to sell.

I know I cannot change the buying public. But I wish I could hold little workshops and show people which colors work best with their coloring and which fibers work best for certain applications. That fuzzy purple acrylic from Walmart may be easy on the wallet, but it will look very cheap worked up as a child's sweater and will start pilling after a few washes. It's not a bargain. I have non-fuzzy acrylic strands in my yarn studio that do not pill and add strength to any garment. I'm sure I repel the purists by using it, but I know that when I mix it with cotton, it makes the yarn easier to knit, whereas 100% cotton yarn can be so stiff, it makes your hands ache. And when mixed with wool, it adds strength.

Sorry, I digress. I was talking about color, not fiber.

Chinchilla, the yarn at the top and bottom of this post, is a great example of what I mean. I put a lot of thought into it. I used gray, beige, taupe and ivory to give it lots of texture and depth. The gray or beige alone would have been boring, but the two together, especially with the multi-color beige/tan strand I used, make it a fascinating yarn. I put a thin green rayon in there for pizazz, without disrupting the overall muted quality. The ivory is an odd crinkly wool that gives the yarn a bit of fluffy excitement without going overboard into a chunky, mohair fluff extravaganza which is unflattering in a sweater--although fluffy can be very nice in a hat. Chinchilla could be stunning on a man or woman with graying hair or anyone with muted coloring. It's also a classic, dignified, sophisticated palette. But it's going to languish in my shop for some time, I feel sure, since it isn't a neon shade of purple that makes your jaw drop and your heart pound.

dj runnels

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The synchronous puppy dream

Last night, I had an extremely detailed dream about a rescue dog program. I saw men in camoflage uniforms logging in data entries and checking out special dogs that were about to go out on assignment and save people's lives.

I awoke at 3am with the sense that this was an important dream that I should tell my husband about.  I found DH on the computer and told him what I had dreamed, adding that it felt as if there were some important message in this dream, as if we should be helping these men and the dogs.  Well, guess what? Moments earlier, DH had read an email from one of the soldiers at one of the combat support hospitals he works with overseas via a national organization that helps American military deployed overseas.  In that email, the soldier tells DH about a dog they are using to help wounded soldiers cope with extreme stress.

What the--?  I know, right?

DH and I have had other similar incidents in which one of us was dreaming while the other one was watching TV or using the computer and encountering images or information similar to the content of the dream.  And a few times, we were both asleep, dreaming similar things.

These have nothing whatsoever to do with this story. I used the photo because there were dogs in it.

dj runnels
Visit my Etsy shop. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dear makers of protein bars, meal replacement bars, nutrition bars, etc.

Dear manufacturers of protein bars, etc.:

Enough with the mint chocolate double fudge crap.  Quit trying to fool us into thinking they are candy bars.  They're not.

What I want in a protein bar is: a high percentage of protein, high fiber, low refined sugar, reasonable fat content, some potassium to make up for all the sodium crammed in there and zero high fructose corn syrup.

This can be made palatable. I will buy carrot, cranberry, almond, blueberry, etc.  But the grocery stores do not typically stock many of these great basic flavors because they are too busy stocking up on those mint chocolate double fudge marshmallow cupcake flavors you insist on making.  Knock it off. Don't make me come up there.

Peanut butter is okay. I'd prefer something with less fat, but fine, if you must have a variety of flavors, then go with peanut butter.  Just remember you are not a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and furthermore, the American consumer doesn't need more candy choices.

Be what you are.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

Monday, March 21, 2011

$80 poncho turned into a rug

I made handwoven ponchos a few years ago, when they were all the rage, and still had some left. This tan one in particular was a nice, thick wool. I had been asking $80 for it as a poncho. But I decided to sew up the neck opening and turn it into a bathroom rug. Not exactly economical, but woo-hoo, is it ever soft. That's because I felted the daylights out of it. DH is putting a bit of non-slip tape under it to keep it secure. It looks better in real life.

Everything can be turned into something else.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Old and pretty: contradiction in terms?


Why are aging women expected to live up to an almost impossible ideal of beauty?

If a man looks above average, doesn't gain too many pounds and manages to keep most of his hair, people will think he's increasingly distinguished-looking after age 40, in a Paul Newmanish kind of way. Wrinkles won't change that image, nor will reading glasses. In fact, if he wears glasses and puts on a sport coat, he will look distinguished AND intellectual.

Okay, now think of the average woman over 40. Add minimal extra weight and a pair of glasses. That should put her on equal par with an aging man. But unless she looks like Cher Bono, most people will consider her a frump. Put a sport coat on her and everyone will think she's a sexless frump. The glasses do not make her look intellectual. They put her in the grandma category. Add wrinkles and people will sort of curl up their lips when they see her. And if, God forbid, she has the poor taste to turn 60, she should start digging her grave.

I am not saying that men age better than women.
I am complaining that our culture views older men as better-looking than older women. We have been taught to view aging differently in men than in women.

This makes me more uneasy with each birthday I reach. My husband looks increasingly like Al Pacino to the rest of the world. But I am increasingly invisible. No one looks at me any more. I'm pretty sure I disappeared at age 30. If this continues, I'll be able to get into movie theaters for free. But how will I be able to stop the other theater-goers from sitting on me? Get off me! Go sit on somebody who's had botox!

I want this to change. C'mon. I'm getting older. My husband is getting older. We are ALL getting older. And I am not wrong or unimportant or sexless. I shouldn't be invisible. I refuse to be apologetic. I also won't divulge my age until you people get it right. Nyah!

dj runnels

Life's an Expedition

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I renamed all the streets in my neighborhood and here is why.

Today is the birthday of my nephew, Ethan, and since he was a bike guy extraordinaire, I decided to take my first bike ride of the season to commemorate him.  

This was an ambitious endeavor, since it followed a night of insomnia and two hours of intensive yard work.  We passed up any notion of traversing Heart Attack Hill--our nickname for a particularly steep street near our house.  But we did glide past Pulmonary Plateau, pedaled meaningfully through Osteo Avenue and came to a pathetic halt around Coronary Corridor.  

As I told my husband, "My goal is to be so freaking sore tomorrow that I won't be able to tell which aches are from which activity."  I am confident that I will get my wish.

Happy Birthday, Ethan. I miss you.

dj runnels

Monday, March 7, 2011

A houseful of faux painting

The background of this blog appealed to me strongly because of the wall paint. Much of my house is painted in faux finishes.

My office and its adjoining bathroom are a sort of French custard color over which I used a gold paint mixed with glaze, applied with newspaper.  I smeared the newspaper pages across the wall and let some of the newsprint ink seep into the paint/glaze.  When I removed the paper, I inspected each section to make sure I didn't have a Carson's yellow dot sale embedded in my wall.  A few times, the newsprint was legible and I had to do it over.  Twice, I saw my hand print from where I had pressed the newspaper into place, so I had to remove that, too.  The Chinese characters shown above are part of a commercially available wallpaper border.  I could not believe my good luck in finding that border, as it matched the wall so well.

My dining room (above) has an irregular wall surface to begin with, so painting it was no special feat. I merely used several colors of beige using a special sponge roller.

My yarn studio (above) is painted in layers of green, over which I applied beige and glaze, covered it with sheer plastic drop cloths, then removed.  It's a brighter, more varied color than you see in this photo.

My kitchen is painted a flat blue-gray-green, but I am using leaf rubber stamps around the back splash.  This isn't finished yet. This section shows mostly oak leaves and I need to overlap some other leaf shapes and tone down the blatant colors.

My living room has the same irregular surface that my dining room has.  It was painted a dayglo orange when we bought the house.  And when I say dayglo orange, I am not exaggerating.  It was the brightest orange wall color I have ever seen.  McDonald's pales by comparison.  I did not think I would be able to cover it completely, so I decided to work with it rather than against it. I layered four shades of pumpkin, rust, gold, etc. over it and you can still see tiny bits of orange peeking through, especially where the wall meets the ceiling.  The photograph doesn't do justice to the results.  It is the warmest, coziest, most autumnal room you could imagine.  Like a baked pumpkin pie.  And I use a lot of foliage in my decorating, so it feels especially cozy in there in September, October and November.

Okay, thanks for letting me share.

dj runnels

Sunday, February 27, 2011

10 minutes that changed my life

I don't have the greatest amount of will power in the world. [insert audience laugh track] But I have come up with ways to make myself follow through on a project.

For example, I have written six novels. I also wrote six children's books and six short stories. Put 'em all together and you get 666 and therein may lie the problem to my difficulty in getting published, but I digress.

Do you have any idea how challenging it is to write a novel? You have to scope out the plot, come up with characters, create a time line, make sure you know where each character is at any given point in time, because chances are, there will be flashbacks and people's paths will cross...and that's just for starters. The actual writing of each chapter takes a very long time. In total, it is difficult to write a complete novel in less than a year. If it's an historical novel or something that involves a lot of background research, figure on two or three years, minimum.

That means you sit down at the computer each morning thinking, "Holy crap! I can't do this!" So I used to say, "Well, dj, just sit here for ten minutes and write what you can. Work on chapter three a little. Edit that last scene you wrote yesterday. Whatever. Just tough it out for ten minutes. If after ten minutes, you still think you cannot possibly work on this today, then you can get up and come back to it tomorrow."

In the decades that I've been using this Ten-Minute trick, I have never walked away. I use the Ten-Minute technique to get me through writing, yarn-winding, filing documents, counting inventory, eating broccoli, clipping my toenails, exercising, etc.

dj runnels


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Get your negative vibes outta here. I'm in Pollyanna mode.

My husband and I were watching someone perform a sport on TV--let's say it was tennis --and he turned to me and said, "Too bad Mike isn't here. He would have told us everything this guy did wrong."

"Mike," whose name I have changed to prevent World War III, is a tennis buff.  Okay, he's not really a tennis buff, because I am changing the sport, too, but the principle is the same.  Mike plays tennis every chance he gets and knows all there is to know about a proper serve, how to stand, brands of rackets, which court surface is the best and so on, to the point where I wonder if anyone has ever played a game of tennis that lived up to his standards.  I actually do care about Mike, but I cringe when the subject of tennis comes up, because I know there will be a painful yet brief lecture laced with sarcasm and negativity.

What worries me is that Mike seems unaware of how he sounds when he does this.  If I am put off by his negativity--and I really care about him!--how must others respond? It's not my place to tell him or correct his behavior, but sometimes I wish I could gently let him know that he is turning away the positive responses he might get from others if he were to convey positive thoughts to begin with.

In contrast, I had a wonderful exchange with someone in an email the other day.  She radiates happiness, charm and optimism.  She shared with me her joy of crafting.   Like attracts like.  I found a kindred spirit in her.  I basked in the glow of her creativity and she basked in mine.  I want to foster this in others, but if I don't always succeed, I at least want to share what I feel and connect at some level. If someone sneers at my weaving (or my tennis serve), I back away and do not let them daunt me.

But just as I am somewhat impervious to negativity, so is Mike somewhat impervious to positive vibes.  He lives in an unhappy universe, I'm afraid, unless he decides there is another way to be.

dj runnels

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

So we're all in agreement, right? Right? RIGHT?!

Something I've learned in my 7+ years of selling online: No matter how fervently you cling to a cherished belief that you feel is universal, it isn't. Examples:

A birthday card in the mail is better than an eCard, right? Somebody picked out the card especially for you, wrote a personal note and slapped a stamp on it. Isn't that better than an emailed version? But there are people who are horrified by cards in the mail--on an ecological level--because they use up paper.

Or take shipping. When I sell a choker, I ship it by first class mail, which is suitable for anything up to 13 oz. It saves the buyer a few dollars in postage and arrives within a week. I was surprised to learn that many jewelry makers ship Priority Mail, which costs $5 or so and arrives in about three days. I'm scratching my head over this. Would someone rather pay several dollars more to get the package in three days instead of five? If it were for a wedding, sure. But just an everyday choker? Maybe most people do prefer that. I don't know.

Another example regarding shipping fees:

I tend to set a basic shipping fee for a ball of yarn. If the yarn happens to be heavier or lighter than most of my yarns, I will adjust the cost of the yarn itself. When I list yarns for sale on Etsy, it is much faster for me to select YARN on the drop down shipping profile menu and then skew the price a few cents higher or lower if I think I need to. It's not a huge adjustment. Most yarns weigh around four ounces, but some weigh three or six. Most customers seem to have no problem with this concept since the end result is sort of a wash. But some people are adamant that the product is the product and the shipping is the shipping and they hate it when sellers do not fine-tune their prices to be very precise.

I saw a heated discussion of this in an online forum and it surprised me. One seller in particular was vehement about it. But anyone who has sold a wide variety of merchandise online knows that shape, weight, packaging, fragility, insurance, zip code, distance from the seller, customs laws, etc. can wreak havoc on the best shipping policies and end up costing the seller or buyer a little extra (or a little less) money.

But come on, this is not rocket science, nor is it Ethics 101. If customer A buys a yarn from me for $10 and customer B buys the same yarn a year later for $5 because it went on sale, well, where's the fairness of that? It was purely a matter of who bought it when and how much in demand it was. And whether or not there was a recession.

Anyway, not a month goes by that I do not hear of someone's outrage over a practice or principle that I thought was universally accepted or at least tolerated. No such animal.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

If your power goes out during a blizzard or ice storm

It has been a while since I've experienced a power outage in winter, but I am rehearsing in my mind which precautions to take. I am keeping candles and matches at the ready. Since the water heater should continue to work, I will be able to make lukewarm tea to make up for the lack of a coffeemaker.

And I remember some years ago being without refrigeration. This is always a judgment call, depending on the insulation of the house and outside temperature.

  • If the power is out for a day, the food inside a refrigerator will stay cold as long as no one holds the door open for any period of time. The food in the freezer will start to thaw a little. Looking at the ice cubes is a good way to gauge how rapidly the meat is thawing. Once it thaws, it will have to be eaten soon.
  • After a few days, the food inside a refrigerator will start to spoil unless the temperature in the house is in the 30's, by which time you may have to evacuate.
But here is a trick I learned one sad winter when I was without refrigeration for three days. Placing food in a cooler and putting the cooler outdoors in freezing temperatures will preserve it as long as temperatures stay below freezing. You may need to lock or tie it up to keep dogs or woodland creatures out of it.

I kept a second cooler of food in the garage and it kept my refrigerator contents at an adequate temperature for three days. Here, I was lucky. This location is more variable in terms of temperature fluctuations. Fortunately, I have a "gift" for knowing when milk is about to go bad 24 hours before it actually does.

Obviously, the bigger issue is staying warm. But I figure everyone writes about that, so I chose a less commonly addressed consideration.

The blizzard that is headed for Chicago as I write this is predicted to be the third worst blizzard in recorded history. And it may affect a third of the country. Stay warm out there, my friends.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Soldiers going hungry in Afghanistan this past week

The Air Force CASF evacuation unit at Bagram, Afghanistan gets over 200 patients per week needing medical evacuation.  Since these patients face a seven-hour flight to Germany, the medical base asked for snacks of all kinds to give them.  Members of the Soldiers' Angels Medical Support Team have stepped forward to assist.  With the help of many donors, including the Harry & David Store located in Geneva, Illinois, we have shipped over 30 cases of snacks in 10 days.

For some reason, we have gotten requests from several medical units in the past week  or two asking for food.  One unit lost their dining tent due to artillery fire.  Another one lost supplies that were interrupted somehow en route to their camp.  It would be great if people would send over a package via Soldiers' Angels.

Just to clarify: this does not mean you should write an angry letter to your congressman demanding to know why the U.S. Army isn't feeding our troops, okay?  Just pop some jars of peanut butter and a box of crackers into a Priority flat rate box and send it over.  Even though it is going overseas, a flat rate box only costs $11 to ship.  Email me and I'll give you an address (I don't want to post them on the internet).  Or sign up in the Soldiers' Angels group on Facebook.

dj runnels
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