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.

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

 

Review: Brightech LightView Magnifying Lamp

Brightech Lightview Rolling Base lamp

My mother, the needlepointer, taught me the value of a good lamp for crafters. Recently I was contacted by Brightech, who asked me if I would like to receive one of their lamps in exchange for a review.

This post contains affiliate links. Opinions expressed here are my own.

Brightech has a number of lamps to choose from, from decorative floor lamps to weatherproof solar string lights. Since the winter days are getting shorter, and my eyes aren’t getting any younger, I was especially interested in their magnifying lamps. I chose the Lightview Rolling Base LED Magnifier Lamp to try for myself.

The Assembly

Brightech Lamp in boxThe lamp arrived via UPS in a box inside a box inside another box. And inside the boxed box was a nice amount of custom-fit Styrofoam. It would be hard to imagine this lamp getting damaged in shipment!

There really wasn’t a lot of assembly required. Just stick the upright pole in the heavy rolling base, and screw it in with the hex wrench provided. Insert the top portion of the lamp assembly in the vertical pole, and in less than 10 minutes —including unpacking the box— it’s ready to use.

The Features

Brightech Lightview Rolling Base lampThe Lightview Rolling Base LED Magnifier Lamp is a magnifying floor lamp with a very heavy weighted base and six small casters. It stands about 47″ [114 cm] high when it’s collapsed down. You can adjust the lamp for both intensity and color.

The magnifying glass has a 15″ [38 cm] focal length and 1.75X magnification. There’s a flip-down cover to keep dust out when not in use and to prevent accidental fire. (Ask me sometime to tell you about that time when my mother’s magnifying lamp almost set the house on fire.)

Brightech Lightview LED Roller Base Magnifier LampThe arm extends a long way and it has a 53″ cord so it allows you some flexibility when placing the lamp near your seat. There’s an adjustable knob right next to the lamp which allows you to adjust the angle of the magnifier.

This is a nice, classic-looking magnifying lamp. I chose black, but it also comes in white. It retails for $94.99 with free shipping on the Brightech website. I’ve used the lamp for a couple of weeks now, so here’s my report.

Pros

The Base: The lamp feels really stable, unlike some extending-arm lamps I’ve had in the past. The base is heavy enough to handle a full extension without feeling like it will tip over. It rolls easily on bare floors.

Comparison of different light settings

The Light: What really appealed to me about this particular  lamp was the variable lighting options for both intensity and color. There are three settings for each, which makes it much easier to see those dark purple stitches in the evening! I tried to get good photos to show you just how different the lighting color and intensities look. The photos shown here have not been color adjusted, and you can see the differences somewhat. Take my word for it that they are much more distinct in real life!

The Magnification: Although I sometimes wear reading glasses to work on fine yarn at night, I don’t usually think of using any special magnification. However, when I started testing this lamp, I was amazed at how wonderful it was to be able to see the stitches so clearly. I’ve been crocheting with a fine-weight dark purple yarn, and I’ve had no problem at all. The ergonomic benefit of having magnification was a surprise to me!

The Portability: I have two main places where I sit to craft. I like that I can move the lamp from one spot to the other without a lot of trouble. I have more floor space than I do tabletop space, so the floor model is what works for me. The long cord means that I don’t have to use an extension cord to reach the wall outlet no matter where I situate the lamp.

The Stays-Puttedness: OK, I made that term up. Once I have the lamp set up at my optimal angle, it stays there. I’ve had extended arm lamps in the past that kind of dropped after a while. With this lamp, I’ve done a couple of marathon crochet sessions, and it stays right where I want it. And because it’s an LED, it stays cool during those long hours of crafting.

The Cons

The Base: I know, it was a “pro” also. Because the base is heavy, and the casters fairly small, it doesn’t roll well over carpets. I end up lifting it to move it over several area rugs. This might be a deal-killer if you have deep carpets and plan to move it a lot.

The Limited Swivel: Although the connection at the lamp is quite adjustable, the swivel action of the upright is limited. Sometimes I have to rotate the entire base to get the lamp head in the right spot when I first set it up in a new location.

The Styling: Since the lamp is spending a good portion of its life in my open-plan living area, I wish it were a bit more stylish. It’s not unattractive, and it’s certainly functional, but I’d like to challenge all the industrial designers out there to create a great magnifying lamp with a bit more pizazz!

A Final Word

Brightech Lightview Rolling Base LEDFor the price, the Brightech LightView Rolling Base LED Magnifier Lamp seems to be a great option, combining a reasonable price point with some good features. I’m making it a permanent part of my evening fiber sessions. If you aren’t sure you want or need a magnifying lamp, you might just be surprised at what it can do for you!

Lightview Flex 2-in-1 lampYou may prefer a non-magnifying lamp, a lamp that clamps onto your sewing table or desk, or a tabletop lamp. Brightech has a number of magnifying and non-magnifying lamps to choose from.

Good lighting is an important ergonomic consideration for all crafters. You want to be able to position your body and hands in the ideal way, and to have adequate light and magnification to avoid strain. Do yourself a favor and look into finding the perfect lamp for your needs.

For more on ergonomics, read Knitting Comfortably with Carson Demmers.

 

New Book: Pincushions to Sew

Pincushions to Sew
Pincushions to Sew Leisure Arts Edie EckmanThis post may contain affiliate links.

Surprise! I’ve written a sewing book! Pincushions to Sew, from Leisure Arts, features 15 pincushions designed by yours truly.

These were great fun to make, and I had a blast thinking of ways to embellish them. And since I’m only an intermediate sewer myself, I can guarantee that the sewing skill needed is “not that much”.

Why Pincushions?

Pincushions to Sew Prairie Points

 

  • They are quick to make. I was amazed at how quickly I finished these, compared to a knitting project!
  • They offer the perfect opportunity to practice your sewing skills. I learned to make Prairie Points just for this book.
  • It’s a great way to use small amounts of fabric. Each of these uses only 5″ charm squares or jelly roll strips, in coordinating prints and colors.
  • You can embellish them using all kinds of fun ribbons and other trims. What a terrific excuse for another trip to the store to get more doo-dads!
  • The finished product is completely utilitarian. You can always use another pincushion.
  • They make great gifts for your crafty friends.

Continue reading “New Book: Pincushions to Sew”

How to Sew the Vintage Touches Apron, Part 1

Sewing Apron Top
This page may contain affiliate links, which help support me, but don’t cost you anything extra.

Amanda Jarvis knitsA little bit of sewing + a little bit of crochet = a lot of charm in this Vintage Touches Apron project.

When Vickie Howell asked me to be on the “vintage touches” episode of The Knit Show with Vickie Howell, I had to come up with an appropriate project. Something a little bit retro, a little bit modern, and of course, with a crocheted edging straight from Every Which Way Crochet Borders. Because I’m getting back into sewing in a small way, I thought making my own apron and adding a cute edging would be just the ticket.

Follow the easy instructions below, and you’ll have your own apron ready to embellish when The Knit Show premieres online on October 5. 

Gather Materials

Find a cute cotton tea towel. Avoid terrycloth, and go for 100% cotton if you can. You’ll want one that is at least 25″ [64 cm] wide and looks good in “landscape” mode. You may be able to find a real vintage towel at a flea market or in your grandmother’s kitchen. I used the Artiste Vintage Stripe Towel Set, which comes in a two-pack.  It measured 20″ x 28″ [51 cm x 71 cm] before washing.  See below for additional options.

You’ll also need about 80″ {203 cm] of 1 1/2″ [4 cm] wide grosgrain ribbon in a color to coordinate with the towel, sewing thread in the same color as the ribbon, pins, and clear fabric glue or Fray-Check. And if you’re trying to coordinate colors and thinking ahead to the crocheting part, you’ll need Size 10 crochet cotton in a color to match the towel, plus a contrasting color. I used Red Heart Classic Cotton in Natural and Burgundy.

Oh, and you’ll need an iron, ironing board and sewing machine. Let’s not forget those!

Prepare Fabric

Machine wash and dry your towel. It will probably shrink some. Iron it.

Gather Top

Center PleatFold towel in half lengthwise and place a pin at center front. Open towel and place on flat surface with right side facing up. Fold in 1″ [2.5 cm] each side of center front pin to create a box pleat. Pin pleat. 

Measure for side pleatsPlace pins 5″ [12.5 cm] either side of center front pin. 
Pin side pleatsFold in 1/2″ [1 cm] either side of each pin to create box pleats. Pin pleats, then press.

BasteBaste two times: one line approximately 1/4″ [.6 cm] from top edge, and one line parallel to and 3/4″ [2 cm] from first basting. 

Sew on Waistband/Ties

Pin ribbonFold ribbon in half to find center. With right side of apron facing up, pin center of ribbon at center front of apron, aligning edge of ribbon with top edge of towel. Working from the center toward the sides, pin edge of towel along top edge of towel, aligning edges or allowing ribbon to extend a scant 1/16″ [15 mm] past towel edge.

Beginning at left edge of apron, sew 1/4″ [.6 cm] from top edge.

Beginning at left edge of apron, sew 1/4″ [.6 cm] from lower edge of ribbon.

Trim Ribbon

Seal ribbon endsTrim Ribbon ends at an angle. If desired, run a bead of Fray-Check or clear fabric glue along ends of ribbon to prevent fraying. I used clothespins to keep the glue off my tabletop while it dried.

The next step will be to embroider a blanket stitch on the three remaining edges in preparation for crocheting the edging.

That will be in a separate post, coming soon!

Watch for the release of Season 1 of The Knit Show with Vickie Howell on October 5.