St. Distaff’s Day

Pietro_Antonio_Rotari, Young Girl with Distaff

Distaff Day, or St. Distaff’s Day, occurs on January 7. The twelve days of Christmas are over, and it’s time to get back to work, for real.

Distaff Day is a way to recognize and celebrate women’s work in the home. Spinning was hugely important throughout history, and in European traditions it became synonymous with women’s work.

Pietro Antonio Rotari-Young Girl with Distaff

Today, some spinners celebrate January 7 as a kind of event, getting together for spin-ins and other fun.

Even if you’re not a spinner, I think it’s good to stop and think about all that unrecognized work that women have done to keep generations of people clothed. If you work with any kind of fiber to create fabric, you are doing the same thing. And we don’t need to be gender-specific here. Let’s recognize and celebrate all fiber crafts done by everyone!

What is a Distaff?

A distaff is a tool used to hold unspun fibers. The fiber is loosely wrapped around the distaff. The distaff can be held under the arm when drop spinning, or attached to a spinning wheel.

Man and Woman with Distaff
From 1941. Notice the woman and walking and spinning. [FOTO:FORTEPAN / Schwertner Ágnes, Woman, man, double portrait, street view, moustache, distaff, weaving, hat, village Fortepan 73437, CC BY-SA 3.0]
Woman spinning from distaff
1907 German postcard, spinning flax

There are different styles, but a basic distaff is simply a smooth stick with a finial of some sort. Russian-style distaffs look more like boards, and can be highly decorative.

collection of Russian distaffs
Russian Distaffs [shakko, Russian distaffs 01 (Ferapontov), CC BY-SA 3.0]

Who was St. Distaff?

Nobody. There wasn’t an saint, or even a person. (My opionion? The name probably came about because it is the “13th day of Christmas” and somebody back in history was trying to be clever.)

The 17th Century poet Robert Herrick wrote about shenanigans that happened on “S. Distaff Day”.

Saint Distaff’s Day, or The Morrow After Twelfth Day

Partly work and partly play
Ye must on S. Distaff’s day:
From the plough soon free your team,
Then come home and fodder them.
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow;
Scorch their plackets, but beware
That ye singe no maidenhair.
Bring in pails of water, then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give S. Distaff all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good-night;
And next morrow everyone
To his own vocation.

If you’d like to read a bit more about the history of St. Distaff’s Day, and spinning in general, check out these links:

Saint Distaff’s Day
Chambers Book of Days

Back to Work

To celebrate St. Distaff’s Day, I suggest you pick up your favorite fiber tools, gather some fiber (already spun yarn counts!) and get back to work.

6 Crafting New Year’s Resolutions I Can Keep

6 Crafting New Year's Resolutions I Can Keep
6 Crafting New Year's Resolutions That I Can Keep graphic

Conventional wisdom says that sharing New Year’s resolutions with someone else is supposed to keep us accountable and thus more likely to achieve success.

I’ve come up with 6 reasonable and sustainable goals for my crafting life in the New Year. With your help, I think I can achieve them. Who wants to join me with these New Year’s Resolutions?

This post may contain affiliate links, which help support me but don’t cost you anything extra.

Resolution #1: Allow My Yarn to Mature

Resolution #1 Mature Yarn: skein of natural-colored Candide Yarn
This classic yarn has been in my stash for many years.

Not all yarn needs to be used immediately. Sometimes it needs to age until it is ready to reach its full potential.

This process may take years. Since yarn doesn’t go bad if properly cared for—in moth-proof storage, for example—there’s no time limit on when it must be used. I have yarn that is more than 25 years old. It’s still a nice color. It’s still wool. It just hasn’t decided what it’s going to be.

My yarn stash serves as high-quality housing insulation.

I resolve to not stash bust this year.


Resolution #2: Allow My Yarn Stash to Grow

Resolution #2: New yarn from Stunning String Studio
Who wouldn’t want this beautiful pink yarn from Stunning String Studio? And some cute stitch markers, too?

Forget “yarn diets”! They just make me feel guilty about buying new yarn. Yarn doesn’t have calories and it doesn’t make me fat, so why should I diet?

Instead, I want to embrace the joy that purchasing a beautiful new yarn brings: the expectation of a future project; the zen of repetitive motion as colorful fiber slips through my fingers; the prospect of unlimited options.

Budapest Yarn Shop
I bought souvenir yarn with my last forints in this shop in Budapest.

Yarn makes an excellent travel souvenir. Every time I see that ball of yarn I bought in Budapest, I remember the adventure I had finding the yarn shop. I couldn’t read the street signs, the store was on a small street away from any tourist areas, and no one around spoke English (or Spanish or French, which were other languages I tried). When I found the shop, we all had a marvelous time visiting and admiring each others’ work, despite some pretty significant language challenges. They helped me figure out how many forints I could spend and still have enough change to take the tram back to the boat. If I had been on a yarn diet, I would have missed that entire experience!

I resolve to buy more yarn this year.


Resolution #3: Allow My Yarn to Range Free

Resolution #3 messy studio space with free-range yarn
The sad truth is that my studio is never Instagram-worthy.

Some people like a very tidy desk, a very tidy house, and a very tidy studio. I am not one of those people. While I like a neat kitchen, living room and bedroom, when it comes to my creative spaces, “tidy” is not a word that any one would use.

When I’m being creative, I want to see things out in the open. As I sit and crochet with one yarn, I like to let my eyes rest on other yarn that I have yet to use. I allow my mind to wander and dream of my next project. If everything is tucked away from sight, I can’t do that. I prefer free-range yarn.

I resolve not to organize my stash this year.


Resolution #4: Allow Some Yarn to Depart

Resolution #4: bag of yarn to donate
Not all yarn needs to live at my house.

This resolution may seem at odds with Resolutions #1 and #2, but it’s not. I do have a finite amount of storage space, and an even more finite amount of open (free-range) space.

Sometimes as yarn matures, it tells me it needs to leave the house and spread joy elsewhere. (Infrequently, it tells me this the moment it arrives at my house, but often it takes a bit longer.)

Maybe the color is not my thing, or the fiber content. Maybe I swatched with it and just couldn’t get it to behave in the way I wanted it to. These are the yarns that are ready to spread their wings and depart my nest.

There are plenty of people who would love my unloved yarn. I’ve given to senior centers, elementary and middle schools, and church groups, and they are always happy to accept donations.

I resolve to give away yarn this year.


Resolution #5: Use the Best Tools

Resolution #5: Circular knitting needles stored in The Circular Solution
I don’t love every single one of these needles. It’s time for some to find a new home.

I have a lot of crochet hooks, and even more knitting needles. I have tape measures in every drawer and project bag.

However, some of those tools aren’t the greatest. Needles may have blunt tips or sticky finishes that I find annoying. A few circular needles have a catchy cable-to-needle join. Certain brands of crochet hooks don’t fit my hand and make crocheting awkward and uncomfortable. A couple of those tape measures are surely stretched out and faded.

Some of these items should be discarded entirely, while others would be perfect for another crafter. Why am I keeping these tools?

I resolve to use only tools that make my crafting more enjoyable.

Resolution #6: Practice Safe Crafting

Resolution #6: Knitting Comfortably cover

If I want to keep knitting and crocheting for years to come, I need to take care of my body. This means avoiding repetitive stress injury, getting up and moving instead of sitting at my computer and behind my needles/hook. It means getting sufficient full-body exercise. It means using a body-friendly bag when I go to teaching gigs, fiber shows and shopping sprees. It means paying attention to proper lighting, keeping my yarn and electrical cords out from underfoot, and more.

These are not new resolutions to me, but it helps to remind myself of them. One of my go-to resources for reminding myself of these things is Carson Demers’ excellent book Knitting Comfortably. (Read my interview with Carson.)

I resolve to pay attention to crafting ergonomics this year.

Final Thoughts

Of course, I could make more traditional goals that would make me more organized, tidier, and maybe even more financially responsible. But I probably wouldn’t keep them, and that failure would just make me feel bad.

I’m content with the way things are, and these goals fit into my lifestyle this year. If they don’t fit into yours, that’s fine. Perhaps you need to save money and thus should use stash yarn all year. Maybe an untidy crafting spaces gives you the creeps, or UFOs make you nervous. Perhaps your living space doesn’t allow for more yarn.

Embrace what works for you, and set your goals accordingly. This fiber-crafting thing is supposed to be fun and relaxing. Make it so.

What about you? What are your goals for the New Year?
Share in the Comments below.

Stocking Stuffers for Knitters and Crocheters

Stocking Stuffers for Knitters & Crocheters
Stocking Stuffers for Knitters & Crocheters

Stuff a stocking with tools and notions for a fiber artist in your life. They’ll love you for it, and you may even get a handmade gift in return! Here are some suggestions for stocking stuffers for knitters and crocheters.

Scroll over the image for more information, or click the links to learn more.

This post contains affiliate links, which may provide a small income to me if you buy something, but won’t cost you anything extra.

Stitch Markers

Every crocheter and knitter uses stitch markers, and if they don’t, they should! And markers have a way of getting lost, so we always need more.

There are several different styles of marker. Even if the gift recipient has a current favorite, it’s always a good idea to try new products. Try them all!

Hint: Crocheters need markers that open. Look for the words “locking”, “split ring”, or “opening” in the title to make sure you are getting the right kind.

Scissors

A good pair of scissors is always appreciated. I’m always on the lookout for tiny scissors that pack easily but are sharp enough to cut well.

Wondering about scissors in your airplane carry-on? According to the TSA, scissors with blades less than 4″ are allowed. However, razor blade style circular thread cutters are not allowed.



Small Tools & Notions

Besides stitch markers and scissors, there are all kinds of little tools that make a fiber artist’s life easier. Here are some suggestions.

Hint: Check before buying tape measures. They either have WAY too many already, or not quite enough.


Note Cards & Paper

We can’t play with yarn ALL the time! Sometimes we have to write old-fashioned notes, on paper.

A Google search will lead you to lots of knitting and crochet-themed paper products. Here are some of my favorites.

Things to Drink From

It’s important for crafters to stay hydrated. Whether that’s water, soda, or wine, there are plenty of options for yarn-related beverage containers.

Once you open your eyes to the possibilities, there are lots of stocking stuffers for knitters and crocheters.

Want ideas for larger gifts? Read 12 Gifts for Knitters and Crocheters, and Sheep-Themed Gift Roundup.

If you find something I’ve missed, please share your ideas in the comments below.

Free Knitting Pattern: Quick & Easy Summer Placemats

Easy Summer Placemats Free Knitting Pattern by Edie Eckman
Easy Summer Placemats Free Knitting Pattern designed by Edie Eckman

Brighten up your summer with these quick and easy summer placemats. They are a perfect first project for beginning knitters, and they make a great house-warming gift for new neighbors.

This post may contain affiliate links, which help support me but don’t cost you anything extra.

The Yarn

Craft Yarn Council Size 5 yarn icon

Bulky-weight yarn makes the knitting go fast! Lion Brand Rewind Tape Yarn is fun to work with. Because of its construction, it’s less bulky than you would think, and it imparts a great texture to the fabric.

 

Lion Brand Rewind Tape Yarn

I love the exuberant colors that I used, but you can also choose from more muted shades to suit your taste. The instructions below are for two placemats in different main colors. If you want to make four placemats, two of each color shown, with a yellow stripe on each, you’ll need two balls each of the blue and pink, and one ball of the yellow.

 

The Pattern

Garter stitch is about as basic as a knitting stitch can be, and that’s all you need to know to knit these placemats! Minimal pattern-reading is required, and gauge doesn’t even matter all that much.

Easy Summer Placemats Free Knitting Pattern designed by Edie Eckman

Quick & Easy Summer Placemats

One size: 16″ x 13″/40.6 x 33 cm

Materials
Lion Brand Rewind Tape Yarn (70% polyester/30% viscose, 3.5 oz / 100 g, 242 yd / 221 m), 1 ball each color 148 Fish Bowl (A), color 195 Think Pink (B), and color 157 Make Lemonade (C) [See note above about yarn amounts for multiple placemats.]

US Size 10.5 / 6.5 mm knitting needles

Stitch marker or piece of waste yarn

Gauge
13 sts and 22 rows = 4″ / 10 cm in garter stitch (knit every row)
Gauge is not crucial in this project.
Watch How to Measure Gauge in Knitted Garter Stitch for more information.

Pattern Notes
Leave a 6″ / 15 cm tail for weaving in each time you begin and end a yarn.

Beginning knitters will want to knit the pattern exactly as written. More experienced knitters may create a slip-stitch selvedge by slipping the last stitch of each row knitwise with yarn in front.

Abbreviations
k: knit
RS: right side
st(s): stitch(es)
WS: wrong side

Instructions
With A, long-tail cast-on 42 sts. Knit 1 WS row. Turn work, and place a marker or piece of waste yarn on this side to indicate that the side is the right side.

Knit every row until piece measures 13″ / 33 cm from cast-on edge, ending with a WS row. Cut A, leaving a 6″ / 15 cm tail for weaving in.

With C, knit 10 rows (5 garter stitch ridges). Cut C.

With B, knit 2 rows (1 garter stitch ridge). Cut B.

With A, knit 6 rows (3 garter stitch ridges). Bind off.

Weave in ends.

Make a second placemat, substituting B for A and A for B in the instructions above.

Other Projects

Check out these other easy knitting patterns:

Blue Springs Double Cowl

Easy Quick-Knit One-Skein Tea Cozy

Molly Hat

Stoneybrook Shawlette

Zig Zag Eyelet Scarf

 

The Embroidery Project

Embroidery in Progress

Needle envelopeAs part of National Craft Month, I decided to try a few new crafts and share my successes and failures throughout the month. For this first project, I did a simple, no-fail embroidery project. Embroidery is not entirely new to me, but I’ve never done it in quite this way before.

This post may contain affiliate links, which help support my day job but don’t cost you anything extra.

Remember those sewing cards you had when you were a kid (if you were lucky)? The holes were nice and big, which made it easy to lace your shoestrings up and down and back and forth and feel like you were really sewing. They were great, but I always felt like something was missing. All you could do with them was to take out the lacing and start again. As an adult, I want something to show for all that work!

Notecard PackagingLucky for me, Twenty Stitches has taken the sewing card concept to a whole new level, making embroidery-on-paper projects just right for the grown-up who wants to make and share useful craft projects. I ran across these kits when I was at Stitches West a few weeks ago and knew I had to try them. The product choices are adorable, the packaging irresistible, and the esthetic is clean and modern. 

Notecard kit unpackedI chose the Embroidered Notecard Kit (C1), which contains perle cotton, archival paper with laser-cut holes, a needle, glue dots, note card backs, envelopes, and clear instructions for embroidering my own cards. In other words, absolutely everything I needed for the first embroidery project that I’ve done in many years.


Embroidery in Progress

All I had to do was thread the needle and follow the superduperly clear instructions, choosing my own color placements. It was fun and easy.

I was going along, feeling pleased with myself and happy that I was doing such a great job. It was looking just like it did in the pictures! I’m so smart! I can read instructions! I can embroider!
Pride goeth before a fall, so this happened: Stitching Mistake

Look carefully, and you’ll see that when I stopped paying attention, I messed up. I had to carefully unstitch and re-stitch a couple of times. This happened more than once, each time when I stopped concentrating.  (There’s a lesson here. I still haven’t learned it, apparently.)

I used five stitches in this project: Smyrna cross stitch (shown in red above), diagonal straight cross stitch, Rhodes stitch (the messed-up orange one), lazy daisy and French knots.

Although I didn’t time myself, I think it took just over an hour, from start to finish, to stitch all four cards. I didn’t need an embroidery hoop, or to buy lots of extra thread (there was more than plenty).  I could easily tackle a larger fabric project after having worked these stitches as a kind of refresher course. This would be a good project for novice embroiderers, including middle-elementary grade kids and up.


And look! When I paid attention and didn’t mis-stitch, they turned out so cute! Since writing hand-written thank-you notes was one of my New Year’s resolutions, I’ll be putting these special cards to good use. Do something nice for me, and maybe you’ll get one.

So that’s it for my embroidery-on-paper project. Coming up next week: Shibori dyeing.