Ferne passed away peacefully at home last week. She was 98.
Ferne hadn’t done ceramics in a long time, but her hobby was such an important part of her life that it was mentioned at her funeral. My sister and I even spotted one of her lovely ceramic Christmas trees in the background of a photo in a video montage that spanned her entire life. I sometimes wonder how many of those trees she made—I’ve seen at least three, and each was a little different from the others.
In Ferne’s honor, here’s a glance at some of my favorite Ferne-made pieces.
The Choir Kids & Christmas Tree: Ferne detailed these choir kids to resemble my sister, brother, and me back when we were all under 10 years of age. (I’m the one with pony tails.) In the background is the Christmas tree she made for my mom. Every year when I bring these out I treat them very gingerly. (On close inspection it looks like my sister was decapitated at some point and had her head carefully glued back on. I have no idea how or when that may have happened.)
Mom’s angel: Some people focus on the gold candle holders, but I love the iridescent gown most of all. I still have the special “tear drop” candles Ferne gave Mom for the angel to hold.
Dresser Sets: Ferne made nearly identical covered dresser sets for my sister and me. (I might not know the correct term for them, but I’m sure Ferne did!) My set has a slightly lighter green than my sister’s set. When I was a teenager, I was heartbroken when I accidentally dropped the lid of the larger dish. Thankfully it was a clean break and was easily glued back together. I can’t remember ever not having them.
The Cheese Plate: Most of Ferne’s creations were much like the woman herself—classy, refined, elegant—so this whimsical cheese plate really stands out. I especially love the tiny paw prints trailing from “Nibble with Arlene & Walt” right up to the playful cheese-eating mouse.
You can see more (but by no means all) of my collection of Ferne’s creations in my previous post.
Not only do I hope to honor Ferne’s memory with this post, I also want to use her work as an example of how precious handmade gifts are when they’re created with intent. She spent hours refining and perfecting her projects, and she imbued every brush stroke, every detail with love. She even signed and dated each piece.
I guarantee none of her ceramic pieces will ever be discarded or sold during my lifetime.
Ferne will be missed, but she’ll always be fondly remembered when the holiday pieces are on display, when the cheese plate is used, even when I dust my bedroom. (Which I’m sure is not nearly often enough to suit Ferne. She was extremely tidy.)
What are some of your treasured possessions that were handmade by someone you love?
As soon as I knew my cousin Dano’s due date was July 4th, I started looking for baby items I could knit. On Christmas, I overheard Dano’s mom mention something about a soft neutral gray pallet for the nursery instead of typical baby colors.
On Pinterest I spotted a gray baby blanket with a row of white sheep, but that wasn’t a knitting pattern, it was a finished item ready for purchase. So I searched Ravelry for “sheep baby blankets” and found several options. Of course the one I liked the most—”Sheep Dreams”—was out of print.
It was originally published in a book called Knit Baby Blankets! and I was able to track down a copy of that book on Amazon.com.
As soon as the book arrived, I ordered several skeins of Cascade Yarns Sateen Worsted—a soft, light, worsted-weight yarn I thought would be better for summer than wool—in Gunmetal Gray for the body of the blanket. Because I was substituting yarns, I bought extra skeins in case it wasn’t enough. (That turned out to be a wise move because I believe the color was discontinued.) I also bought a skein of the fluffy, chenille-like Brown Sheep Berrocco Plush in Cream, and a skein of Sateen Worsted in Black for the details, but it didn’t show up well enough against the Plush, so I used a slightly heavier weight black yarn from my stash.
I was so excited to finally cast on. The textured border was really interesting to do. It’s called a ribbed stitch, but it’s more than that. You double the number of stitches of one row by knitting in the front and back of each stitch, then reduce it back to the original number of stitches by knitting two together then purling two together and repeating that across the next row. The process results in a thicker border.
Then the real challenge began.
The pattern was challenging enough to be interesting, but it also contained a lot of errors. Luckily the structure is pretty logical and there were several photos to reference, so I could see where the problems were and how to fix them—like when the pattern said to continue the Double Bind Stitch from border to border I could see that would interfere with the Checker Board Stitch in the center field.
Before long it was time to start putting the sheep in their pens.
The sheep are done with a Duplicate Stitch—sort of like embroidering new stitches directly on top of existing stitches. Centering them was a bit fussy. You have to count stitches from the sides, top, and bottom to find the starting points, but the charts—one with a sheep facing left, the other right—were very clear.
Yes, I know you’re supposed to work the Duplicate Stitch bottom-to-top, right-to-left, but for me it was easier to start with the right foot and work up, and then to the right before working to the left because the Plush is so fluffy it hid the stitches I needed to work on.
Close-ups of a left-facing sheep and a right-facing sheep.
Hoping the process would get easier with each sheep, I opted to do one corner, then the opposite corner, one side, then the opposite side so you wouldn’t be able to see if my abilities improved with each sheep. (They didn’t. For some reason the final two took the longest to do.)
Initially I was frustrated if I saw gray come through, or if stitches weren’t even or looked misaligned. But once six or eight were completed I realized those little inconsistencies give each sheep its own personality.
Funny how those sheep kept multiplying…
Several of the Sheep Dreams projects on Ravelry didn’t have all 14 sheep. Now I understand why some people stopped short. Each one took me about an hour to complete! Once the final sheep was in its pen and all of the ends were woven in, the only thing left to do was to block the blanket to size. The Plush yarn creates a subtle 3-D effect, which in turn slightly distorts the grid pattern of the blanket, so blocking is a must.
A different perspective of the sheep:
I loved the final result so much I found a pattern for a similar baby hat and made that, too!
I hope the little baby-to-be will have plenty of sweet dreams under this blanket.
A couple years ago I did a series of posts detailing how I went about making a pair of pink sock monkeys to help cheer up two women who were battling breast cancer.
That led to me making another pair of pink sock monkeys that were auctioned off to raise funds for a Texas-based breast cancer organization.
Since it’s still Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it seemed like a good time to revisit our Craft-a-Long from 2012.
If you don’t like pink, remember that you can make sock monkeys in other colors, too.
The instant gratification of knitting with thick yarn and large needles is hard to beat. That’s why I long resisted the idea of knitting socks. Tiny needles, fine yarn – worse yet, you have to make two!
A few years ago a great knitter I know, Ruk, took a sock making class and really loved it. She suggested I try it and sent me one of her favorite patterns. That’s back when I was blogging for a yarn company that gave me free access to all kinds of gorgeous yarn so I had no reason not to give it a try. I requested some fun, self-patterning sock yarn, bought a set of size 3 double pointed needles, and gave it a go.
While there are thousands of sock patterns to choose from, the basic construction is usually quite similar. The stitch counts mentioned below are specific to the pattern I used.
Adjusting to such small needles was frustrating. Despite each round being only 48 stitches, I was knitting at the sluggish speed of one inch per hour. It took days to knit the leg of one sock:
By the time I got to the heal flap of the first sock I was hooked. The heel flap and heel turn are my favorite parts of the sock because 1) only half the stitches are worked, 2) nearly every other stitch of every other row is slipped, not knitted, and 3) after a couple inches you start decreasing. All of which makes the work go even faster.
The next section is the gusset. Because you pick up new stitches along the edge of the heel flap and continue knitting in the round, this is when you’ll have the most stitches on your needles. That’s to make enough fabric to accommodate the ankle, foot and heel. There are decreases in every other row (until you’re back down to 48 stitches) which keep the work interesting.
The really cool thing about the gusset? The decreases create a graceful curved line at each side of the foot.
Speaking of the foot, that’s when the inch-per-hour frustration once again rears its head. You need to knit several more inches until you’re just shy of the desired foot length. (The upside: you can custom size socks for people with hard to fit feet.) Once there, a few rounds and some strategically placed decreases round off the toe.
When only eight stitches remain, I use the kitchener stitch to seamlessly join the toe, then weave in the yarn tail.
The pair of socks shown here were made (upon request) for my cousin Mark. They’re made with Patons Stretch Sock Yarn in “Mineral.” To be honest the yarn didn’t feel as soft as other sock yarns I’ve used, so I’ll be curious to hear how they compare with Mark’s other socks.
I’d intended to finish them for Christmas but was so far behind that Mark got a box of yarn instead. He finally got his new socks in January – just in time for the Polar Vortex!
For some reason unknown to the rest of the world, Mark likes wearing socks with flip-flops that have divided toes. Even in winter. When I asked for a photo of him wearing the socks, he replied, “With or without flip flops?” When I said without, he said, “Well, okay, if I must.”
Looks like they’re holding up pretty well despite being stretched around those toe dividers!
Have you tried knitting or crocheting socks? If so, do you love sock making or do you hate it?
Earlier this month, on I Love Yarn Day, I said the color work cowl I made for my sister was my final non-holiday knitting or crochet project of the year.
Yeah, um…I got lured in by an interesting new pattern.
I can’t justify spending $80-90 on the gorgeous yarn the pattern was designed for, especially when I don’t know if the project will turn out well. Luckily I had plenty of a much cheaper (but nice!) yarn on hand from an abandoned project. I compared the weight, yardage, wraps-per-inch and gauge of the two yarns, and they were close. Very close. I had the right needles, so I cast on. This is how far I was by day three:
The pattern is fun. After a border of alternating sections of garter (knit every row) and stockinette (knit one row, purl the next), the “mixed texture” repeats begin: a simple arrowhead-like lace pattern followed by a few rows of seed stitch. I have a couple more repeats to go before any shaping starts.
The structure looks simple. Start at the bottom and knit the back and sides as one unit — no piecing, hooray! — and eventually divide the block into sections to form the shape. The tricky bit will come when the main piece is done and it’s time to “evenly” pick up 200+ stitches from the front bottom edge on one side, all the way around the neck, and down to the bottom of the other side. After that you knit a wide border like the one you started with.
One trick to knitting any complicated pattern, like lace, is to add a lifeline every few rows. A lifeline is just a piece of contrasting yarn or string that you run through each “live” stitch. (Live stitches are the ones on the needles.)
If you make a mistake and need to rip some rows out, the lifeline will keep all of the stitches on that row from unraveling. You can slide them back on the needles and continue knitting. It’s a good idea to note which row your lifeline is in, so you’ll know where to resume the pattern.
The sad thing? I only learned about lifelines a few years ago. Before that I’d usually give up when — not if — I found a mistake.
What are some “I can’t believe how easy that is!” tips that make your own projects, of any type, a little bit easier?
A couple weeks ago my sister-in-law told me “heavy wrists” are in style this season – the more bangles the better – so I decided to make some.
Late last year I made a few felted bracelets following a pattern someone else developed.
Some turned out really cute, but some wound up with a groove down the back where the edges curved in during felting. I knew there had to be a way to make smoother edges, so I created my own “pattern” by knitting and felting i-cord.
What’s i-cord, you ask? It’s a small tube of knitted fabric that looks kind of like knitted rope, and is often used as drawstrings or handles on bags.
Knitting i-cord is faster than knitting the same number of stitches in a flat piece since you never turn it. It’s sort of like a micro version of knitting in the round – using only two double-pointed needles.
My “pattern” is simple: knit about 12″ of i-cord from feltable wool yarn, then whip stitch the ends to form a circle. Some are made using 3-stitch i-cord, some with 5-stitch i-cord, a couple with 7-stitch i-cord.
Once you’ve knitted a few, pop them into a zipped laundry bag or into a pillow case tightly closed with rubber bands (I usually knot it, too). Set your washing machine for a small load and hot water. I like to add a tablespoon or so of baking soda to alleviate the “wet wool” smell. They might felt perfectly the first time, but sometimes it takes two or three cycles to achieve the look you want.
This is my trial batch, before felting:
The same bunch, after two feltings:
I put them on a marble rolling pin to dry because it seemed about the right circumference for bangles. It was perfect. My first batch was made with single stranded wool using size US 10.5 double-pointed needles. Next, I decided to try double stranding on size US 13 DPNs. That let me mix colors as desired. The result: slightly bulkier bracelets.
I kind of like mixing and matching the thicker and thinner bracelets. Pardon the odd angle, but it’s a bit tricky to take a photo of your own arm…
Heavy wrists might be in vogue, but I think I may have overdone it a bit. In my defense, they all went well with what I happened to be wearing that day.
If you’re a crocheter who’d like to try making felted bangles, let me know. Crocheted stitches don’t dissolve as nicely as knitted stitches, but I’m up for trying to test some ideas for crocheting some felted bangles, too.
Thanks to a hail storm, a couple months ago the old family bungalow got a brand new roof. The original part of the house had three layers of asphalt shingles on top of the original cedar shakes, so the roofers did a total tear off.
Being both sentimental and crafty, I decided to save a small box full of cedar shakes in case inspiration struck. I cleaned them with TSP and let them dry in the sun, as advised by the helpful people at a neighborhood hardware store.
Over 50 years ago, a previous owner accidentally started a house fire, so some of the shingles were a bit scorched, but most were simply well worn. I set them on the table and started toying around with ideas. I decided to make frames and wound up buying simple wooden photo frames at the craft store – unfinished wood that’s ready to be painted or decorated.
After arranging the pieces, I glued the shakes together with strong glue and weighed each frame down with a large book. Twenty-four hours later, I glued the shakes to the photo frame using the same process. I didn’t like seeing the light wood from the sides, so I used good old crayons (black and various shades of brown) to help camouflage the edges.
This is what I came up with:
I made two, and didn’t even realize that I’d crossed them in opposite directions. I wanted each frame to have at least one scorch mark and a nail hole or two. I made the frames for my brother and sister, so on the back I wrote a note about where the shakes came from. My sister happened to see the shakes piled on the table during my first attempt to nail them together (turns out the wood is too delicate for that). She thought it was a cool idea and suggested gluing them, so she probably wasn’t too surprised to unwrap one!
The frames are light weight, but I really hope the glue holds! (If not…re-glue!)
Next I’ll make one for myself.
What are some creative ways you’ve repurposed something destined for a landfill, and what did you make from it?
Most of us are on pretty tight budgets these days, which has more people than ever looking for inexpensive gift ideas. Instead of going cheap and buying someone another five-dollar fleece throw (as warm as they are, they are sort of impersonal), try putting your own skills to use.
Not everyone has the talent of my woodworking cousin, who has made things like table trays, mantel clocks and cutting boards all of us over the years, but everyone has at least one thing they’re good at.
Here are some other memorable gifts I’ve received in recent years:
- Homemade Pumpkin Chili from another cousin, complete with the recipe. It was frozen, easily transportable, and so delicious that I’m looking forward to making it again very soon.
- My niece and nephew’s framed artworks.
- The cool yarn Christmas wreath my sister-in-law made me that I’ve been dying to put up this season.
- Personalized ornaments.
- Glass coasters (the ones you’d put photos in) with individual pastel drawings instead of photos, from my sister.
- Handmade jewelry from another cousin.
- The hat a non-knitting friend made for me on a knitting loom.
- Framed scrapbook page with photo of my newborn nephew and me.
- Kitchen task lights installed by (and from) my brother.
- Framed felted piece made by my sister.
Still not sure you can make a great gift? Worried you won’t have time to make gifts? How about these ideas:
- Duplicate a favorite photo – Copy the photo, pop it into a simple frame and give it to someone who can appreciate the memories. One year I copied photos of my paternal grandparents at their jobs — he was a train engineer, she was a telephone operator – and put them double frames for my sister, brother and cousin. (Perfect photos for a home office.) Another year I found an old photo booth strip of my sister and me as little kids, put it in a simple landscape frame that could be turned on end and gave it to her.
- Make a favorite recipe – Cookies are great, but change it up like my cousin did with the pumpkin chili. That froze well, but unfrozen perishable foods can be “wrapped” in insulated lunch bags. Look for a large recipe you can split among several people. Spiced nuts, chai latte and peanut brittle are a few edible gifts I’ve enjoyed in years past.
- Offer your time – If you’re good at DIY projects, offer your time and skill with things you’re good at. It might be painting a room, planting a garden, moving heavy furniture, shoveling snow – anything you think the recipient might like a little help with.
- Print some coupons – A friend who doesn’t cook much loved my homemade veggie burgers, so I gave her a coupon to redeem at a later date. My sister loves Fudgy Bonbons, but they’re best fresh, so when she visits her in-laws for Christmas, I usually give her a coupon to redeem for a fresh batch.
- Make plans – My grandma was always hard to shop for – by age 90 there wasn’t much she didn’t already have. One year my aunt & uncle and dad decided to take her out to lunch on alternating months throughout the entire new year. Grandma always loved going out for lunch, so I’m sure she enjoyed that more than a more traditional gift.
I try to give some homemade or handmade gifts every year. Sometimes they might not quite hit the mark, but when they do it’s a great feeling, like hearing how much some folks look forward to my chocolate almond toffee each year, or arriving at my cousin’s house on Thanksgiving and seeing he’s wearing the socks I made him last Christmas.
Even better? When you start getting special requests for handmade items.
What are some fun homemade gifts you’ve given or received over the years? Why are they so special to you?
I’m not sure Ferne would like me giving away her age, so let’s just say that today is her birthday and she’s probably celebrated more birthdays than most of you have.
Ferne is my mom’s cousin, and despite a slight age gap, the two seemed more like sisters. It’s no wonder since Ferne spent most of her summers and school vacations staying with my grandparents. Since my mom grew up with two brothers, I’m sure she relished every visit from Ferne.
Back in the day, Ferne’s hobby was ceramics and she made lots of beautiful gifts for Mom and Grandma. A couple years ago I was chatting with Ferne and told her I’d just put out all of the gorgeous Christmas decorations she’d made, and she seemed a bit surprised that I’d set the “those old things” out each year. In places of honor, no less. But I do.
To help celebrate Ferne’s birthday, I decided to share photos of just a few of her creations. (Others were packed away with more decorations, so I just pulled out the ones that were easy to find.)
This trio of angelic choir kids – painted to look like my siblings and me (I’ve got the pony tails) – is my personal favorite:
In the background is the Christmas tree light Ferne made. According to family lore, the tree form didn’t originally have all those pin holes, so Ferne had her husband, Lenny, painstakingly drill each and every tiny hole. She also made Grandma a slightly larger three-piece tree, so Lenny was pretty busy that year.
Another year, she made Mom and Grandma each a Christmas Angel. The coloring of this one kind of reminds me of my mom, which was probably intentional on Ferne’s part:
She also made Mom a green holly leaf candy/nut dish (with bright red berries) and a matching dessert stand. Christmas wasn’t the only holiday Ferne made decorations for. Here’s an Easter egg (she even painted the inside):
One year she personalized a cheese tray for Mom & Dad. I don’t know if you can read the script, but it says, “Nibble with Arlene and Walt,” then she painted in a path of tiny footprints leading up to the cute little mouse eating a piece of cheese. The footprints were an extra special touch that I adore:
Mom and Grandma weren’t the only ones to get special gifts. One year Ferne made dainty little covered dishes for my sister and me. This is my well-worn set:
You can probably see the feint crack across the right side of the larger lid. I was devastated when I accidentally dropped and broke it when I was a teenager, but thankfully a bit of glue did the trick.
Somewhere I still have a large owl she made for us. There’s also an unsigned cake stand that I think Ferne made. It’s elegant, like Ferne herself, and done in her signature colors: off-white and pale green, with gold accents that match the gold on the Angel’s candle holders.
Needless to say I’m very careful when handling all of Ferne’s creations. I treasure each piece for different reasons, but mostly because they were were made with love. By today’s birthday girl.
Happy Birthday, Ferne!