Monday, October 15, 2012

Multiple strands of yarn in menswear.

Feast your eyes on the colors and textures in this.  It's a men's scarf in which I mixed some Tribal Earth Tones yarn with the soon-to-be-listed Warm as Toast series and some other similar yarns.  And it's far easier to knit than it looks.

Simply hold all the strands together and knit on large needles--US size 13 works well for many people--in a garter stitch or stockinette or whatever fairly simple stitch that you love and feel confident using.  The more complex the stitch or the pattern, the more challenging it may be, but I have customers using my yarn for entrelac and cables.

I listed this scarf on Etsy, if you'd like to see more details.

If you've never used multistrand yarns before, you will want to practice using two strands on large needles before advancing to more strands or to smaller needles, but virtually all my yarn customers get the hang of it.   If you stab the needle through part of the stitch, your mistake will likely go unnoticed because of all the colors and strands involved.  And your work can't unravel because the strands you DID stab will hold it all together. 

Crochet takes a bit of practice, too.  I recommend sticking with the larger hooks. 

I have more advice about multistrand knitting in this blog.  

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Everyone asks, "How do I launder this yarn?"

Washing something made with Life's an Expedition yarn is like washing any other knit garment.

I launder all knit garments, including those I made, either by hand OR in a mesh bag in the washer on delicate cycle for just a few minutes. The mesh bag is very important. Zippers and long fingernails and rings can snag your garment like crazy. Use cold water and shampoo instead of detergent. It's best to wash garments separately, as I have found some will ooze color, especially cotton chenille and hand-dyed wool.  But if I've washed something before and know for sure it is colorfast, I may throw it into a mesh bag with other things.

Shampoo is better than detergent for washing wool and it doesn't have to be a premium brand. I like Suave professionals with humectant in a white and blue bottle. My mom uses baby shampoo. We both agree to avoid Woolite, although it's fine for lingerie. 

I used to dry my work flat on top of the washer or on a bath towel in the bottom of a bathtub. Now I have mesh sweater drying racks that stack up; found 'em on eBay. 
Baby your hand-knits and they will last longer. If you live in a cool dry climate, the humidity will help humidify your house. 

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition.

Can a beginner knit with multiple strands of yarn?

Someone asked if a beginner can use multistrand yarn.

I recommend getting comfortable with a single strand first.  If you feel you know what you're doing with one strand, you can eventually handle more.  Start with two or three until you get the hang of it.  I have had customers write to me and say, "I can't get the hang of this!" But I reassure them that they can and virtually everyone DOES. It does take practice.

Your biggest challenge will be to knit each stitch in its entirety, without dropping part of it. But if you get two of the strands and drop the rest, the piece will NOT unravel and with all those colors going on, your mistakes will be less noticeable. In some ways, it's easier than single strand knitting, in which every stitch counts and every mistake shows.  And I'm the sort of person who hates to rip out rows and redo it.

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

OR if you are making a blanket or something on which there is no seam and/or both sides will be seen, you can loop the "longer" strand around the needle a second time as often as needed to make it catch up with the strands. I have created yarns in which I never had to do this at all, but sooner or later, most multi-strand knitters face the problem of uneven strands. It happens most when one strand is chenille, because chenille can stretch easily. 
Or sometimes I see it happen when some of the strands are much thinner and/or a different fiber than the others. It has not put me off of multi-strand knitting, but someone who is using multi-strands for the first time might freak. Just remember, most knitters DO get the hang of it and if you are clever about fudging the yarn a bit here and there, you will relax. 

Knitters and crocheters who are really into elaborate stitches sometimes resist the notion of multiple strands, because they have so much going on just following the pattern.  I can understand that.  Multi-strand knitting is easier when you are doing a straight garter or stockinette with minimal increases, decreases or shaping. But I've done seed stitch and ribbing with multiple strands and loved the results.  And I've had customers go on an entrelac binge with Life's an Expedition yarn.

Lastly, someone who is super-picky about their craft might never enjoy it.  Also, anyone who is devoted to knitting socks or anything on very small needles might not have the patience for multi strands.

I'm getting ready to shut down my web site, so I am transferring some info to the blog that everyone will be asking about later.

dj runnels
Life's an ExpeditionLife's an Expedition on Etsy.

Monday, August 20, 2012

An example of using multiple yarns in one project.

Hope I don't sound like a broken record, but I am sometimes asked how it is possible to use more than one strand, or more than one yarn, in a single project.  And I did promise that I would show examples on my blog once in a while.

Here is a freeform crochet scarf called Brighton that I listed on Etsy.  It contains four yarns by Life's an Expedition:  Nightscape, Castle Gold, Millefiori and Tantallon Castle.

The most challenging part in working with so many yarns is dealing with color breaks.  Many people refuse to knot the yarn and are adamant about weaving it in, but I find that the ends come loose after awhile.  I tend to knot the yarn (gasp!) using a square knot.  Very important.  It must be a real square knot.  There are knots that look like square knots, but they are not.  If you have any doubts about whether or not you are tying it correctly, ask a Boy Scout for help.  (No, I AM serious.  It's kind of hard to tell with me, I realize, but I am being serious at the moment.)  Often I will pick up a needle and thread and secure the knot to the back of the garment to make sure it doesn't work its way to the front.  I do this especially when I mix yarns while making a handbag because a handbag needs to be super durable.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Don't be two sure your able to right good.

Bloggers, sellers on Etsy/Zibbet/Artfire, users of the internet in general:  Can we please take a moment to proofread now and then?

I know, I know.  You're in a hurry.  Aren't we all?  But consider the impact you have on your audience or potential customer.  When I run across a news article with errors in it, I usually stop reading.  When I see something I want to buy, I walk away from it if the description contains typos, misspellings and grammatical errors.

Yes, I admit, I make mistakes, too.   And I have no excuse.  I have a college degree, years of experience as a copywriter (someone who writes ads for an ad agency) and even proofreading experience, for cryin' out loud.  I used to gasp at the horribly written letters that my children's elementary teachers sent home.  Yet even I find mistakes in my own work.  So if it can happen to me, imagine how often it must happen to people who never wrote for a salary.

But you know what?  It's not that hard to refresh your knowledge. Some of the most common errors I see:

Misuse of their  and there  and they're
Misuse of its  and it's 
Misuse of your  and you're
Misuse of good  and well
Misuse of fewer  and less 
Combining two sentences with a comma, known as a comma splice

You get the idea.  You can Google "common grammatical errors" or  "frequently misspelled words" and find plenty of examples.  Or here is a pretty impressive grammar site.  And here is a Facebook page you can follow if you'd like your advice in small daily doses.

Some so-called errors don't bother me. Ending sentences with prepositions doesn't bother me if it's in a casual blog post or online sales listing.  Sentence fragments?  I love 'em.   I used them in advertising all the time.  But I wouldn't sprinkle a doctoral thesis with casual writing styles.  Just sayin'.

Okay, now get out their and start righting good!

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A few observations about birdhouses from someone whose yard is filled with them

I now share with you photos of birdhouses that have been in my yard for up to nine years, along with some snippets of bird wisdom we have learned along the way.

This one (left) is one of my favorites, a thatched roof birdhouse patterned after English farmhouses of a bygone era.  (Keep in mind, please, that this one is old and has been outdoors for years.  The ones we sell online look much better than this.)  What I love about this one is the stucco walls adorned with Tudor styling, paned "windows" and tiny logs stacked near the doorway.

Our love of birdhouses came to fruition when we formed Life's an Expedition in 2003.  My husband had always wanted to build them, so birdhouses became one of the mainstays of our craft show circuit.  He designed them, cut the wood and assembled them with galvanized screws, clean-out panels and drainage gaps to let the rain out. He read up on National Audubon Society guidelines and learned that only certain types of birds will nest in a birdhouse, while others prefer hollows of trees or marshy grasslands.   A sparrow or chickadee will favor a specific size of entry hole that other birds will not.  A perch outside the hole is not safe for the birds because it allows easier access for predators. 

And you should never, ever make or buy a birdhouse with a metal roof or sides--e.g.: some are made from old license plates.  No matter how clever it looks to you, please don't put one outdoors.  A bird may choose to build a nest in there on a chilly spring day.  But when the summer sun heats up the metal, the baby birds could be cooked to death.

However, you can put all sorts of "accoutrements," as we call them, on the front of the house and the birds will generally be safe.   I favored the very rustic, natural looking houses, but customers always gravitated to the ones with decorations, such as this one (left) with the cat fishing next to an over-turned rowboat.  The cat didn't deter the birds in the least.  Birds are also not deterred or fooled by artificial berries and will not try to eat them.  They certainly don't care if the front of the house shows Christmas decorations year-round.  So my husband and I got into the habit of looking for little figures and decorations to use as ornamentation.  I found this giant bug (right) a little creepy, but it does draw attention.  I came up with a painting technique that looked weathered and intriguingly colorful for this series.

One day, we saw an old barn being torn down near our home in the Chicago suburbs.  Upon inquiry, we were thrilled to learn that we could have some of the wood with its charming peeling paint.   The barn had been built shortly after the Civil War, so the birdhouses we made from it are very rustic.    We felt exhilarated knowing that we were preserving a little part of Illinois history.  The rustic barn wood series include my absolute favorites, although customers favored the modern ones with "accoutrements."  So we made more modern ones for our online shop and pulled the barn woods from inventory to put in our yard. I love their irregular weathered roofs and random twigs and they do complement our old cottage-style house.

Thanks for caring enough to read this far.  Sometime I should photograph the gardens surrounding the birdhouses.  We have more garden than lawn...literally.

We have just a few birdhouses in stock at Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

dj runnels

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Here's what I've been working on today and as I tore up the silk fabric to make this, I suddenly remembered a concerned customer asking me, well...isn't this scarf going to shed?  Or leave lint?  Or (I can't believe she said this) fall apart?

Ah, no.  How do I know this?  Because   I wear black.  Nearly every day, I have on black/dark jeans or black capris--depending on the weather--so that's what I wear when I work on my scarves.   If they were going to create a lint storm, I'd have the evidence on my lap.

Fortunately, my customer was open-minded enough to just go ahead and wear the scarf she bought from me.   She was pleased that (1) it did indeed hold up and (2) it generates many compliments.

The reason I thought of this while working on this particular scarf is because I used a type of silk I have not used before and I cut it in a way I have not cut silk fabric before.  It did leave lint on my cutting board.  I had to shake the fabric out in my front yard before I could continue.  Then I made the scarf and it was fine.  Another thready crisis averted.

I guess the next time I get a concerned customer, I will direct her to this blog post.  But what about the people who drool over my scarves, eye the threadiness cautiously, then don't buy without asking me for reassurance? I suppose that sort of thing happens a lot to any seller.

< Silk Bamboo is the name of this scarf.  There's no bamboo in it.  That's just the name.

dj runnels
Life's an Expedition on Etsy.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Life, death, friendships and other ships.

There's a sickening jab that pierces your heart when you learn that an old friend has died. The pain is no less when the friend is someone you haven't seen in a long time. And the pain is no easier to process when you learn of their death a year after it happened.

John Krevey was a handyman for a landlord in Rhode Island. The landlord was an important figure in my life, yet years later, I find that I remember far more moments with John. And certainly the memories are more pleasant ones.

John had a gift for taking a complex, painful scenario and slapping a healthy layer of common sense on it, like slathering a sandwich with the right amount of crunchy peanut butter. And I always thought that no matter how difficult the problem, peanut butter can fix it, at least a little.

Case in point: My boyfriend's wannabe girlfriend gave my name and phone number to another guy in an effort to break up my relationship. I knew nothing of this until the potential blind date called me. I was stunned. Didn't know what to say to the guy. What kind of girl would do something so manipulative? What was I supposed to say to this guy she had used as her pawn? I fumbled through the phone call. Afterwards, I angrily told my boyfriend what this wannabe girlfriend had done. I think he shrugged or mumbled something. This led me to believe that the BF had actually encouraged the wannabe GF to set me up on a blind date to distract or get rid of me. I indignantly told the BF this was deceitful behavior and cruel to both me and the blind date.

Then I told John Krevey about it. John laughed.

"Now, see, here's what you should have told [the BF]," John said in his slow, casual voice, almost a drawl. "You should have said, 'Wow! I went out on a date with that guy and he was terrific! Really good-looking, funny, a great guy. I had the time of my life. Please tell [wannabe girlfriend] thank you. She really did me a favor.'"

It's not that John was devious by nature. But when he experienced devious people, he knew how to play their game, work around them or at least mess with them. For all his boyish looks and countrified charm, he was not phased by con artists. And he knew months before I did that I should break up with this worthless boyfriend and find someone honest, straight-forward and deserving of my affection. (I finally did and I'm married to him.)

This and other John Krevey encounters and snippets of wisdom have stayed with me over the years. So a few days ago, when I was zipping through some Google+ posts and saw somebody with a last name similar to Krevey, I spontaneously Googled John's name. I had done this several times in the past without finding him. This time, the auto-finish feature not only finished his name, it prompted obituary. Not a good sign.

Whereas once I tried and tried and could not find the guy, now the internet is swarming with hits for John R. Krevey. He became an electrician and started his own business, R2 Electric. He resurrected a rusty lightship, refurbished it and brought it to a Manhattan harbor, a process that took years to accomplish. Once there, he began a campaign to bring life back to a neighborhood that apparently used to look like something out of a Marlon Brando movie, On the Waterfront. John earned the respect and love of many mariners and New Yorkers. He deftly dealt with bureaucratic red tape and...well, con artists of a sort who didn't want him to have that boat there, let alone turn it into a floating restaurant. He nurtured the ambitions of one Reid Stowe, who achieved fame for his "1000 Days at Sea" voyage. He won local awards that he accepted in his "aw shucks" kind of voice. He married and had two children. And one week, when he took his grown son on a vacation to Santo Domingo, he died of a heart attack, leaving behind a devastated family, countless friends and a saddened community.

Fast forward a year. And I find out, all in the same minute, where John Krevey has been and what wonderful things he has been doing. And that he not only passed away, but has been gone for over a year. Okay, it's over and done, but the heart of a friend does not use logic in these matters to argue away the shock and grief. He is still my friend of long ago, as if no time had elapsed.

In my heart, this is the John Krevey for whom I bought a birthday cake. The man who kept a bicycle in his apartment. The man I painted rooms with and had many a philosophical discussion with.

"Look at this." John Krevey pointed to a hole made in a window shade from a decorative pull cord. "Now a cord like that is always going to leave a hole." He deftly retrieved a white plastic device resembling a wide money clip, about 1 1/2 x 3 inches, from his jeans pocket. "See, this is all you need." He quickly slipped the plastic clip onto the end of the window shade and centered it. Then he opened and closed the shade by grabbing the plastic clip. Next he slipped the plastic device to the right and it came off the shade. It left no marks on the shade, he pointed out. "You can take it with you and put it on any window shade." To my artsy decorator's eye, the gadget was plain and unremarkable. But its portable nature appealed to my nomadic soul. And John, who had a knack for seeing through complexity and b.s. of all kinds, had impressed upon me the pragmatism of it.

After almost a year of being in John's acquaintance, I left Rhode Island. I tried to stay in touch with most of my friends, but I lost contact with John.

"Whatever happened to John Krevey?" I asked my ex-boyfriend within three months of moving away. "He didn't answer the letter I sent him."

"He went home," the ex-boyfriend told me.

Just that. He went home. Where? His home state? What town? Did he have an address? Where is he working? No information. My heart sank. Yet again, my so-called boyfriend had let me down. He had let John Krevey slip from both of our lives and now we had no way to find him. He had skittered away taking his plastic window shade pull, his bicycle and his no-nonsense philosophy with him. I suspected I would never see him again. This proved to be correct.

Maybe one day, one of John Krevey's friends will read this and smile. Yeah, that was him. That slow, unassuming speech of his that she describes...yes, I remember that. She writes about pulling that window shade pull out of his jeans pocket. I wonder if his jeans were rolled up at the bottom?

I am smiling as you think this. I envision those rolled up jeans as he ambles towards me with his bow-legged walk. I see him mentally churning a little soliloquy. He shoves one hand in a front jeans pocket and shifts his weight to one side. A boyish grin, something like that of Harrison Ford.

I found this video of him accepting an award.  I watch in silence, marveling at how he looks the same.  Then I whisper, "You were right, John. Those were good window shade pulls. John Lennon was more talented than Paul McCartney. Not so sure about the Elvis stuff. There are some paint colors you should not use in a room because they just don't make sense. My boyfriend in Rhode Island was an absolute jerk. Rusty ships are worth saving. Red tape is worth fighting."

Update July 9, 2014: I am thinking about John a lot today and feeling down.  But I realize that I was lucky to have known him.  He was unique.  And I don't think I've met terribly many unique people over the years.  Better to have known him and lost him than never to have known him. 

dj runnels
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