Thursday, March 29, 2012

My New Bathmat
I couldn't resist the soft, chunky Deborah Norville yarn I found in a sale bin at Joann's.  The muted lavender, blue, and white shades of the yarn billed as "puppy dog tails" were simply impossible to pass up.  This is a washable acrylic yarn, so I started to crochet a potholder.  Then I decided it was too warm, soft, and alluring to be somebody's potholder.  I would make a small bathmat that would fit my small bathroom.

The 20" x 12" bathmat took one and a half balls of yarn; you would need two full balls for people with large feet.  It does not slip when you step out on it, and it feels like clouds under your feet!  It stores easily, hanging to dry out on the shower curtain rail.  

To make this, I chained 60 using a US 16 crochet hook.  Then I worked it using simple single crochet.  For things like bath mats, you really don't need anything fancy.  What you want is a soft, chunky yarn that feels good.  Stepping out of the tub onto a soft cloud makes you feel good, too!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Not Your Usual Cotton Yarn
That's not your usual yarn ball, either - one reason I picked it up in passing at Michael's.  This is Martha Stewart's 65% cotton 35% hemp yarn.  HEMP?!   Yes, the non-cannabis variety of hemp has been used by mankind for many things for 6,000 years.  The most notorious use, of course, is hanging rope.  Yet, according to Hemp Basics, LLC (web address below), hemp fiber is stronger and softer than cotton, lasts twice as long, and won't mildew.

Martha Stewart Crafts (with Lion Brand Yarn) has this claim for the product:  "This versatile, natural blend - soft, absorbent, and machine washable - is a smart choice for garments, knit or crochet, baby blankets, and even household projects like washcloths, place mats, and dish towels.  It works up nicely on the loom."

I'm enjoying experimenting with this slightly more expensive yarn.  As you can see in the picture, the yarn twists of itself, making it interesting to work.  I had heard of fibers being twisted together to form yarn, but this is the first time I ever got to feel it.  The yarn is slightly thicker than regular cotton and has a different feel.  As you can see, it works up well in a simple seed stitch.  I'm looking forward to trying out its wear qualities.

A number of sources for hemp yarn are available on the web.  Martha Stewart's blend appears about the cheapest of the lot.  I think it well worth trying out, especially for long wear household products.   

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dido & Aeneas as Cats
This painting is on the lid of a hinged wooden box I've just painted for the silent auction at Jackson Day, the Tennessee Democratic Party's fundraiser.  I enjoy donating to silent auctions; it helps a cause and is a great visibility tool.

I paint wood and paper mache boxes because people are more likely to buy an object that is useful as well as ornamental.  If nothing else, they're great gifts for the person who's got everything!  I have used paper mache boxes to make an ordinary but useful wedding gift special.  The box is both wrapping and part of the gift.  Wooden boxes can be used for almost anything.  When you have a sturdy, hinged box, you can even paint a picture on the inside of the lid.  I have always enjoyed the surprise of opening a box and finding another picture, and my customers seem to enjoy it as well.

On this 8" x 6" x 5" box, I had 6 paintable surfaces.  I can't stand blank space!  I painted four scenes of classical antiquity and two 1920s furnishings advertisements,  Variety and color make for an amusing piece. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Hand-painted Needle Case
I was fascinated when I found these needle cases on the CreateForLess website.  They are manufactured by Collins, a firm noted for producing things to make your sewing box neater.  I have 12 of these painted in my typical fashion at

These tiny, handmade wooden bottles don't look like much; they're so small you can hold two in your hand comfortably.  I decided to test how well they actually work, so I went to my sewing case and got some needles.  I managed to get 38 mixed sewing and embroidery needles in this little container.  They were quite secure when I put the lid on.  You couldn't use these items for yarn or darning needles, but for sewing and embroidery they could make your life a lot easier.

I paint the items I sell, but you can get the plain ones at CreateForLess in a package that urges you to decorate them for your own friends.  These things are not only whimsical but helpful. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hollywood in Winter
Yes, this cat's name is Hollywood, and this is where you will find him every day during cold weather.  He enjoys his warmth and is convinced that this spot on the bed is his. Other cats can curl up on top of the cover; he gets under.

Hollywood came into my life around 2005, when as an eight-ounce kitten he wandered into my son's basement.  Of course, my son immediately zipped the little kitten into his jacket and brought him to me.  I took him for a check-up the next day, screaming all the way as only kittens can scream.  He proved to be healthy and also knew how to lap, so the vet showed me how to make kitten soup by watering down canned food.  So I kept him in my bedroom away from my adult cats, and he decided I was his mommy.  He would  even drink my tea.

I had him neutered as soon as possible, not only for the obvious reasons, but because he was an attack kitten.  Obviously, he was from a family that had been feral for generations.  He settled down and slowly began to learn how to mingle with my other cats.  (Mother cats actually teach their kittens life skills and whack them when they get out of hand.)

Hollywood is a one person cat.  He is intensely jealous of my son, who had saved him, and only tolerates other people.  Whatever I'm doing, Hollywood is close by, and he can be a pain in the neck when I'm knitting or crocheting.  But he's loving company and cuddles close in the winter. I enjoy him immensely.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Crocheted Acrylic Yarn Potholder
Acrylic and acrylic-blend yarns are extremely attractive and generally a little cheaper per pound than cotton yarn.  Most of them will machine wash, though you have to check each yarn band for specific instructions.  They can't, however, be expected to work as dish cloths or dish towels.  What they are great for  that you can make easily is potholders.

I made this potholder using instructions from  the video below:
These instructional videos are a real life saver for a beginner like me.  I was amazed at how many you can find on YouTube.  By all means take advantage of this marvelous resource.

I did, however, make some practical modifications.  Holding two separate strands of yarn under a hook is frustrating and time consuming; I spent a lot of time taking out and redoing bad stitches.  Then I bought myself a US 16 crochet hook.  That  made the job easy.  I also chained 30 stitches instead of 20 as suggested in the video.  My own personal measure for a potholder (or anything else useful) is that it has to be bigger than my hand and handle naturally.

For this potholder, I used one variegated yarn and one black yarn I had bought on sale.  If you use the chunky yarns, you can make a useful potholder from only one yarn.  The principle criterion here is that the hand be protected from burns.

These are easy and make great gifts.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Judge Dee Paper Mache Gift Canister
These little 3" x 3" paper mache canisters actually sell at street festivals.  They can make an ordinary gift - like wrapped candies - special and add color to a desktop or room.  I enjoy painting each canister on a theme of some sort - in this case, Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee novels.  He did marvelous Chinese-style illustrations - note the aggressive warrior cat in the middle of the cylinder.  The lids, of course, are excellent for detailed close-ups.

Paper mache actually has a reasonably good life span if you don't let it get wet.  You or your friends could enjoy these whimsies for years.  The canister was gessoed and then painted with interior latex before I began to draw.  (I had a lot of interior latex wall paint left from remodeling.)  The figures are painted with long-lasting acrylics.

This is a good size of inexpensive object to begin your own painting experience.  I personally like to put colorful figures on every available space, but your vision might be something altogether different.

At Peaypatch you will find several of these canisters available, as well as some of the supplies to begin your own painting.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Painting Shells
When I was searching Hobby Lobby for inexpensive objects to paint for outdoor craft shows, I came across these shells.  Ones like this are sold six in a packet with instructions on using them to frame a mirror.  This awakened memories of the shell faced dolls of my childhood, so I bought a couple of packets for my own purposes.  I also picked up a few of the big, more expensive lion's paw shells.  As you can see, shell pictures are attractive - especially to middle school girls.

There are practical uses for them in the adult world, too.  Put one on your dresser to hold hairpins or safety pins; it's a colorful accessory.  In the office, add color and originality to a workspace with a shell for paper clips.  They don't stand alone well, but can be propped up on a shelf to brighten a room.

Shells like this are fun to paint.  You have to draw your image with a Sharpie or similar indelible marker;  pencils won't work.  Acrylic paints do a good job for you here.

And where do I get my image ideas?  This one is a cat version of artist's model Kiki of Montparnasse wearing 19th century clothing.  I got it from a book I inherited from my father.   If you love to draw, build your own inventory of books and scrapbooks to give you inspiration.  Sometimes you can even sell it!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pencil Pillows for Hand Health
These unassuming jelly pencil pillows are readily available at Office Depot, but I've put them in my inventory at because you might not notice them in a big store.  And they can be important - especially for older people like myself.

I spent most of my 40-year business career working in loss prevention and engineering for a large insurance firm.  We were forever sending out leaflets about various kinds of available safety gear.  One area of great interest was Repetitive Motion; most folks have heard of carpal tunnel syndrome.  These little pencil pillows are great for an aging artist.

I started taking hand health personally after suffering a stroke in 1994.  The stroke affected my right side, and for a while I lost the use of my right hand.  Getting it back was my only goal.  Thanks to good therapy and some acquaintance with tai chi I was able after several months to draw again.  After that, I took special note of anything I found at work about hand health.

The main thing a home artist or crafter needs to minimize is pinch grip - holding something tightly between index finger and thumb.  A soft grip like the pencil pillow prevents stress.  I am also featuring soft-grip paint brushes.  Save your hard grip for when you really need it, like with needles.

The fingerless stress gloves sold in most craft stores are a great help, and you can also use them to good effect working on your computer.  There are even sturdier, reinforced gloves that are especially kind to old hands.  You can even find ergonomic wheel covers for your steering wheel.  I love mine.

Look around for products that are good for your hands.  Remember, there's a hard way and a soft way.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Conundrum of Splitting Embroidery Floss
I'm hoping somebody out in computerland can help me here.  I learned how to split floss the old-fashioned way: cut the length you want, hold one end in your teeth, and start pulling the other end apart into the proper number of strands.  Okay, it's not very polished and mannerly, but it does get the job done.

I consulted the Google "how to's" and found a couple of alternative methods.  One method is to split out one strand at a time - doable, but still liable to tangles.  The other is to cut slits in an index card or empty toilet tissue roll, put the desired number of threads in each slit, and slowly unroll the entire skein around your object.  This should work, but pigs should have wings, too.

This business of splitting the thread slowly around a card or tissue roll is especially calamitous for metallic threads, acrylic, and rayon.  These will curl up and twist at the slightest opportunity anyway.

So, if anybody out there knows a better way, please email me at and tell me what you do.  In the meantime, I'll keep embroidering in private and use my teeth. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

My Aging Tortie Examines the Knitting Board
The amazing thing about this picture is not that my Tortie (short for tortoiseshell) closed her eyes against the flash.  The amazing thing is that she is in my house at all, much less getting close enough for me to get a picture.

My mother fed and provided neutering services for a small colony of outdoor cats.  At one time, there were as many as 20 gamboling around the large yard.  When Mama became bedridden after my father's death, we started feeding them only once a day, and many drifted away to new homes or died in road accidents.  When I was arranging the sale of the property, only this Tortie was left.  I don't know whether she is Ena or Patches (Mama named all the outdoor cats.), but I was anxious to catch and provide for her before we abandoned the property.

Cats understand more than people think.  After I had attempted to get her into a have-a-heart trap and caught a juvenile racoon instead, she walked up to me one afternoon and let me pick her up and put her in a carrier.

I took her immediately to the vet's to make sure she wasn't diseased, and she immediately reverted to type.  The vet had to net her and apply almost as much anesthesia as he would for surgery before he could examine her and pronounce her well.

Her lopped ears are the result of healed hematomas.  She was not used to living closely with other cats and never backed down from a fight.  Right now my big male cats won't challenge her. 

But Tortie discovered something new living indoors - beds, blankets, and other soft places to sleep.  She will sit purring on my bed for hours and comes up to be stroked.  She won't sit in my lap, but she had to come close to see what the knitting was. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Knitting Board Set to Double Knit
There are two kinds of knitting boards generally available - the Knifty Knitter by Provo Craft ( and the Knitting Board (  The one shown here is one of several Provo Craft models. Each company sells several board types and sizes.  Provo Craft has a round one designed to knit hats, and Knitting Board, which specializes in fine gauge knitting, offers a special sock knitter.

Many experienced knitters rather disdain these boards, but they are fun and useful for people just getting started.  The idea of winding yarn around pegs to create cloth is a very old one.  Queen Mary of England, wife of George V,  taught her daughter and two sons (the future Duke of Windsor and George VI) how to do this kind of knitting.  Growing up, they spent their afternoons in her sitting room making scarves for the poor, which she sent off to one of her charities. - Like I said, this is something anybody can do.

Knitting Board provides patterns you can use to make many items, sewing individual pieces together with an invisible stitch.  The Knifty Knitter comes with instructions on how to create a really beautiful pattern for scarves.  Both types of boards can be used for different types of knit.

The one thing you can do with these boards that you can't do with needles is double knit, like the example shown above.  This produces a very thick, smooth texture.  It's just the thing if you want your loved one to be extra warm.  It can also be used with heavy acrylics or cotton yarn to make a nice, washable bathmat.  Or you can make a pad to set hot dishes on.

These boards are great for beginners who want to make something really useful.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Pin Cushion Made of Covered Pillow Foam
 I've had many pin cushions in my time.  Most leaked sand or sawdust, or else the cotton batting inside them became compressed and shifted.  The result - I'd get pin pricks when I picked the thing up.  I got pretty fed up.

My solution was a byproduct of major surgery.  When I left the hospital after cancer surgery, I was given two big chunks of pillow foam that had been used to support my legs comfortably while I was on the operating table.  Thick foam - measly pin cushion that shed pins and stuck me - h'm.  Am I seeing a solution here?  I grabbed some large cloth scraps and sewed the pillow foam into a marvelous pin cushion.  The pins stay inside the foam and out of my skin.

When I began to sell sewing craft items, I remembered my wonderful pin cushion and set out to produce small ones.  These are approximately 3" x 3" (anything made by hand is approximate), and I cover them with the most attractive felt and fabric scraps I can find.  They weigh less than an ounce, and you have 5 surfaces to stick in pins.

These are fun to make, and anyone who sews can do it.  I've created a few for those who want a useful, pretty gift for a crafty member of the family. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me About This?
This is a picture of a needle threader for large-eyed needles, showing how you can thread even six-strand metallic floss without swearing.  Discovering this device in a package that illustrated its proper use brought me back to embroidery.  I love to create with thread, but the rayons, metallics, and acrylics almost defeated me.  Yes, my eyes are getting older, but this needle threader is a wonder for any age.  You can actually concentrate on the embroidery without dreading the next time you have to thread a needle.

Finally, needlecraft manufacturers are getting the hint that people who want to do needlecraft didn't learn how to do it from their mothers.  I took four years of home economics, and needle threaders - even the cheap looking kind for sewing needles - were never mentioned.  (Those cheap little sewing needle threaders that look like gimcrack junk actually do work - even on sewing machines.)

Armed with my new needle threader, I'm ready to handle any type of thread or yarn that can be threaded through a needle.  I can't believe it's so easy!  Needle threaders like this one are available at 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Everybody likes a cat story, so here's one about my Ophelia, looking angry here because I flashed a light in her face while she was climbing into my lap.  You see, my time at the computer is Ophelia's petting time.  She absolutely hates the three boy cats she lives with (even though two are her half-brothers) and won't get on the bed or anywhere else they can challenge her.  I have to be in a one cat space to pet her.  She is a smart girl, though; when she hears the ping of my computer shutting down she jumps out of my lap.  You cat knows a lot more about you than you think it does.

Ophelia was originally one of my mother's cats, born on her property and brought in to be a house companion.  (Ophelia's wild mother objected to this; she thought her children should learn to hunt and run the risk of vehicular traffic just like she did.)   Anyway, Ophelia was one of Mama's bed cats who comforted her during her final illness.

The most serious charge I had from Mama as executor of her estate was to take care of her multiple cats.  I was glad she also secured me the services of the nice lady who'd been helping her clean up after them.  It was a zoo around here for a while, til the transplanted cats settled and the older ones went to their reward.

Meanwhile, I had a horrible problem with Ophelia and her half-brother Tiger.  I had to sell Mama's house, and nobody could catch those two.  My brother fed them herbal tranquilizers from Vitamin Shoppe for weeks, but it didn't seem to help.  Finally, I took desperate measures; I went to the liquor store.

We had grown up teetotal, so I still have almost no idea about the varieties of liquor or how they are served.  I started prowling the store's back aisles, where the small bottles were,  reading about their flavors and serving suggestions.  How could I tempt cats?  At last, I found a bottle of Kahlua.  It said "top up with milk".  That did it!  I bought a bottle and then got some milk from the grocery.

I took a day off from work and went to Mama's with my booty.  Carefully removing all other food and water dishes, I left each cat a saucer of milk with about a teaspoon of Kahlua in it.  I do know that liquor affects people according to their body weight, so I was sparing with my dosage.  Hopefully, Ophelia and Tiger would become sleepy and be easy to catch.

Things are never quite that simple.  The Kahlua simply affected their ability to maneuver.  I finally got a protesting Tiger while he was trying to climb up to his basement fastnesses.  Immediately I put him in a carrier and took him home.  Ophelia, I knew, would require more time.  She's that kind of cat.

After stopping for lunch, I did get Ophelia.  She wasn't in the least sleepy, but she was purring and trying to work her claws in the hardwood floor.  At last I got close enough to scoop her up!  Mission accomplished - no personnel lost.

Ophelia and Tiger are homebodies here now.  Tiger is a bit wilder than she is, since my folks were too old to socialize him properly.  He will come up and sit in my lap, and he loves his place on the bed, but he bites when he gets excited.  And, of course, he loves to chase Ophelia around and make her yell and spit.  After all, she's his half-sister. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Why Paint Dressed-Up Cats?
The short answer is that I discovered early on I can't paint people.  My father was a self-taught artist who painted wonderful portraits.  When I tried to develop my own painting style, I came up with these cats.  The family always had cats, and of course I was familiar with cat artists like Kleban.  I really started with cat angels on Christmas cards for my friends in high school home economics; they really enjoyed them.

 One of my early loves was opera.  Strange places, strange customs, wonderful costumes, and plenty of opportunity to let it all hang out.  I collected opera pictures, especially Callas pictures, because, when she did it, opera looked and sounded real.  The picture above is based on a photo of her and Ruggerio Raimondi in Act I of Lucia di Lammermoor.

Gradually, I became interested in painting all sorts of scenes, especially with historic costume.  From my father I learned to "look for copy", and I made scrapbooks from Metropolitan Museum of Art catalogs, tracings from fashion books from the library, and similar things.  One of my favorite sources is magazines from the 1920s, saved by a relative.  Dover Publications is a wonderful source of inspiration.  (They also have books of free pictures you can use for painting or embroidery.

Everybody needs a touch of fantasy in their lives.  My whimsical cats amuse even non-cat lovers.  Many of my best customers are middle school girls, which is why I paint paper mache and wooden boxes to provide a little bit of fantasy at a reasonable price.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Why Create?
And why have I opened a web-based store for my creations and supplies you could pick up in any large town?  For one thing, if you want to sell something, you need to know a lot about it..  Hand crafting has been my joy and relaxation most of my life, so I decided to share.  Also, I think right now we humans need the crafting experience.

You hear a lot of talk about how the US has become a society of consumers - that's the way we define ourselves.  There's a lot of truth in that, and it's really unfortunate.  We're loosing our sense of individual achievement. 

Most people realize that children need to experience individual achievement.  That's why many stores and many recreational programs for children include crafting experiences.  The feeling of achievement is one of the needs of a healthy person.  So why do we forget about it as adults?

The fortunate among us have gainful employment - but there's no sense of achievement with it.  You do part of the job, the next guy does part, then it goes to the next department.  Seldom can you say 'I made this', or feel the satisfaction that brings.  That's why many men work on cars as a hobby.  "See that car running?  I fixed it up!"  Computer geeks spend hours at home rebuilding hard drives or solving similar problems.  "See?  I made it run!"

This is the joy of hand crafting.  Once women had to learn fabric crafts; it was their livelihood, or they had to make the family's clothes.  Some have always found a way to make necessity a creative outlet; we still celebrate their work today.

Now our uncertain economy calls us to be creative with necessity.  Knit a dishrag so you'll have a nice one.  Crochet potholders for your family and friends.  Sew, crochet, and knit for your church or charities.  You, too, can have the joy of achievement - can say 'I made that!'.  Stretch your budget by being a producer rather than a consumer.  Discover abilities you never knew you had!

At Peaypatch, I'm starting with modest, low end craft items to help beginners.  I will be adding to my inventory as I myself learn more, and I'll be blogging about my progress.  Contact me with your questions and suggestions at

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Adventures in Knitting
The picture above is one of my first knitted dishrags, currently on sale at ebay.  Not much to look at, eh?  Well, when you want to do those pesky dishes, looks don't matter.

I learned to knit in high school home economics, where I successfully made a sweater.  Later, I followed another pattern well enough to make a shoulder cape, but I found both experiences rather frustrating.  You see, even after being blocked, my garments looked like they had been made for squirrels.  I decided to stick to sewing and embroidery instead.  Then, years later, my son asked me to knit him a Dr. Who scarf, and I managed that.

I've always found plain knitting, or using a knitting board, a soothing, practical way to use your time at the laundromat or while talking to friends.  This is knitting without a pattern, of course, so I could only do flat things.  You can only make so many mufflers before your family and friends are completely outfitted.  Then I found out about the dishrags and dish towels.

EVERYBODY needs dishrags and dishtowels, and you can even use the same skills for place mats and bath mats, if you're so inclined.  The dishrag above is done in the simple seed stitch pattern - knit one, then purl one.  If you have an even number of stitches, you'll need to alternate between starting with a knit and starting with a purl.

I even put my knitting in the service of my political interests.  I'm involved in trying to repeal the Tennessee Voter ID law, and we try to wear yellow to rallies.  What did I have that was yellow?  I remembered some El Cheapo yellow acrylic yarn I had left over from my son's Dr. Who project.  There was enough left to make an attractive tie!

You can use knitting to serve your interests, too!

This is the header for my online store,  I sell painting, embroidery, knitting, crocheting, and sewing supplies along with my own painting on paper mache and wooden articles and on shells.  Come along and visit!

Right now, my main interest is in something I just learned about a couple of months ago.  I've always done various kinds of fabric crafts, but I didn't know that you can buy cotton yarn and knit or crochet your own dish rags.  They're just like the dish rags I knew as a child (I'm 66.), and maybe even better!  No manufacturer makes anything of this quality, which can pick up spills, scrub your pots, clean your counter, and wipe down your microwave.  You can wring it out and put it in the washer.  If you recycle cans, as I do, you can even wash them out without cutting yourself!

I was so excited about this I got six balls of lovely cotton yarn to sell to crafters and will be getting more as needed.  Manufacturers think it's not cost-effective to create a good dish rag, but that's no reason to do without!  You can make dish rags with plain crocheting or knitting, no pattern needed.  After all, do you want fancy to do the dishes?