News March 2018: Teaching and Updates


fold dip print 3


Hello all!

First, I’m very happy to announce that I’ll be traveling to teach at a new venue this fall; North House Folk School, way up in northern Minnesota! I’m teaching two classes: Fold, Dip, Print: Natural Dye on Fabric and Creative Mending. It would be nearly impossible to say which of these I’m looking forward to more.

I have a new batch of fabric samples for natural dye printing just waiting to test (I’m working with tannin this time, and how it interacts with other mordants) so I should have even more to share in this next workshop. Figuring out things that I can’t just look up in a book keeps pulling me deeper and deeper into natural dye mysteries—I love it! (If you don’t know what a mordant is or why tannin might be one, maybe you would like to come to this workshop …)

I’m equally loving starting to prepare for this next mending workshop; thinking about what I know and have taught before, bringing topics together, trying new ideas, and wanting to integrate as many options from the different crafts I know as possible. We’re going to see how weaving and knitting work, what makes fabric behave how it does, and learn a whole bunch of ways to patch/darn/repair/decorate all kinds of textiles. It’s going to be great!


creative mending 1


Second, I have been doing some long-overdue website updating (it’s always overdue, right?). You may be surprised to click on one of the tutorial pages (like the mending one, speaking of) and find it reasonably complete and up to date. I am (ever so slowly) learning a little more about html, which will hopefully make it easier to keep up with this stuff as I go. Come look around the site if you haven’t in a while.

That’s all from me for now. If you want to be updated when I have new classes scheduled, the best bet is to follow this blog. No spam, and only occasional posts … you can also check in on the Classes + Workshops page.




Small Hats for 2017


Before it fades too far into memory, I want to share a project which belongs firmly to last year. Looking back, I still can’t quite wrap my head around 2017. How can a year in which I found the news so distressing and depressing that I more or less stopped paying attention to it be the same one in which I met several of my fiber arts heroes, learned a ton, made wonderful connections at John C Campbell Folk School, etc? Of course like so many things, it’s not either/or, it’s both, with many more things in there besides. (I started thinking about either vs. both while Bryan was working on this project, and it appeared again when I was reading The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer last summer. And again in this conversation with Brené Brown and Krista Tippett that I was just listening to. I think it may be important.)


pink handspun hats 2


A lot of the both/and of last year is in these little hats. At the beginning of the year I was both saddened by all the events that showed the need for the women’s march, and inspired by all the artists I saw “taking back” the color pink and making beautiful things. I thought a lot about two of my young nieces (then 6 and 8 years old), and what messages they were getting about the world. I wanted to make something for them that would act as some kind of balm, something that would represent what I wish for them; play and adventure and fun and the chance to express themselves as girls, to be wild and strong and free. And for myself, I wanted to make something different than I normally would, something that would be a place to put some of my feelings and transform them into something positive. I got out some pink wool, and started spinning, woolen-style.


pink handspun yarn


It felt good. And by carving out a little creative time every day and using it to spin, I made enough yarn for two small hats in short order. I decided to also incorporate some springy soft purple handspun yarn that I had traded another local fiber artist for, and cast on the first hat as I traveled to our family craft retreat in late March. The nieces in question were coming to visit us right after the retreat, and I arrived home with both hats mostly knitted, and finished up the last little bits in the evenings after the girls were in bed. Near the end of their visit, I brought out the spinning wheel, showed them how it worked and let them try it, and then gave them the hats. They, and their mama, loved them, which made me feel really good about the whole thing. It doesn’t seem like my place to post pictures which would probably embarrass them later, so you’ll just have to trust me that they looked wonderful, grinning and wearing the hats with their pajamas.


pink handspun hats 1

Caption-sized knitting notes: the pattern in the body of these hats is Quaker rib (the same as this shawl which I thought looked great in handspun), and the tendrils at the top are made following the directions from Cat Bordhi’s Anemone Hat pattern.


I hesitated a little bit about posting this, as it brings up some churn-y feelings from last spring, and I’m happy to say that I feel much more solid in general now than I did then. But after typing it out, I’m so glad I did. It gave me some good perspective, and I think I can even put more of name to last year. I’m definitely saying it was a good year, although a hard one. (If you still feel like the world is ending, may I suggest you read this article, and then go make something?)

I have quite high hopes for 2018 too, and some exciting things in the works that I’ll post more about soon. It’s early enough in the year, I’m still happy to wish you all a peaceful and fulfilling trip around the sun. May it be a good one, and with any luck not too hard!


A Silk Watson Bra

You may have noticed that I’m not big into bandwagons, and if I am going to jump on one, I like to wait until it’s safely parked back in the barn and everyone else has left first … I actually bought a copy of this pattern right when it came out and it seemed like everyone in my sewing-internet-world was talking about it, but then in more my typical style, I decided to think about it for quite a while before actually making it.


silk watson bra 1


What was/is really exciting to me about the Watson Bra pattern is that someone else already did all the hard work of figuring out the exact curves of each piece to make a smooth cup shape, make it fit into the band, etc. (thanks Amy!), and that it’s specifically designed to be made without underwires, which is exactly what I wanted.

What I was less excited about is the fact that it called for mainly synthetic stretchy stuff; lots of kinds of elastic and power mesh, etc. As you may also have noticed, I’m so over it with all of that, and I’m trying to use all natural materials whenever it’s even remotely feasible. And one of the things that kept popping into my head whenever I looked at all this cashmere felt I have around* was, “this would really be perfect in a bra!” Since you know, it’s substantial but flexible, and insanely soft on the skin. But could I really make a bra using all natural fabrics? Maybe without even elastic?

It turns out the answer is a resounding yes! Not only can it work, but it did work beautifully on the very first try (some luck involved). Using my measurements of approximately 31 ½” underbust and a 1” difference between full and upper bust, I decided to make a size 34A, erring on the side of a slightly smaller size since my materials weren’t super stretchy and I didn’t want it to come out too loose. I made a couple of alterations to the pattern; adding ½” to center front since I knew that would fit my frame better, and straitening out the bottom line of the band to allow for the possibility of using an existing hem when upcycling garments for fabric (although I didn’t do that this time). I also added to the seam allowance in the center of the outer cup pieces, so I could grade it with the inner seam allowance to avoid a noticeable ridge there.


silk watson bra 2


The grey fabric is from a silk knit top that had worn out around the underarms and cuffs but still had plenty of life in the body. The pink binding is leftover fabric from making these camis (very thin silk knit), cut 1 ½” wide, sewed ¼” from the edges, and turned under. And the inner cups are indeed felted cashmere scraps*—oh yeah! I sewed it all together with a simple zigzag stitch, and sewed the straps on by hand.

According to my notes I made this back in February, which means I can now safely report that it works as well in real life as I’d hoped. The only alterations I’ve made since then are to move the back attachment point of the straps closer to center back (typical for me if the straps are slipping off my shoulders at all), and to tack down the bindings at center front with some tiny hand stitches, since the edges pulled up a bit after a few wears and washings, revealing the cup layers.


silk watson bra 3


I thought this might be a wearable muslin version, but instead it came out near perfection in fit and function. It does everything a want a “real bra” to do: provide a smooth and socially acceptable silhouette under a single other layer of clothing, and add a little bit of support. It’s also so comfortable I forget I’m wearing it, which is key for me. I thought about making another one (I even have another old silk top or two with some features that might be really fun to incorporate) but the truth is I don’t need it right now. This one, plus my more bralette-type past attempts at upper-body lingerie, are covering all my wardrobe needs. So, I’m officially checking “make real bra” off of my bucket list goals, and moving on!

I’ve been thinking a whole lot about what it means to have “enough” as I get closer to actually filling the gaps in my wardrobe. This post by Felicia has only broadened my sense that this is a really important thing for us all to be thinking about. A whole post about it here is likely coming … I’d love to know your thoughts at any time.


Previous makes


*Thanks to all the Fiddleheads hats I’ve made over years now, I have an entire giant plastic bin of small bits of luscious felted cashmere knits, which I could never throw out despite the fact that there’s way more than I’ll use in one lifetime (unless maybe, a giant intricate patchwork cashmere blanket—don’t even think about that, self!). Which is why I’ve started sorting them into groups of pleasing colors and offering them to fellow makers in my Etsy shop. I’ll continue to sort and list more batches as they sell. If you’d like some and you have color requests, just give me holler, here or there!



At John C Campbell Folk School, and Thank You




Once I start talking about my time at John C Campbell Folk School, I usually can’t stop. So much happened in the three weeks I was there that one story just leads to another … in case that happens in writing too, I want to begin with a heart-felt thank you to all of you reading this. This blog may not have thousands of followers or get major media attention, but it stands out here on the big ol’ web as a picture of who I am, what I’m doing and sharing, and where I’d like to go. The fact that it exists has helped make several opportunities possible lately, including this one. The ties between this space and the real world are many and interwoven. So, thank you all for being part of this piece of my life, which has contributed much to the person I’m becoming.




A heart-felt paragraph is actually a good introduction to this story, since one of the biggest things that stands out about JCCFS is just how many people I met there who were speaking and acting from the heart. My wonderful new friend Becky (who got recruited to be my assistant in the second felting class) told me about another student who had said, “I always knew I marched to the beat of a different drummer, but at the Folk School I met the rest of the band.” I feel more than a little of that myself. Somewhere towards the end of the first week I started to realize that whoever I was standing next to while waiting to go into the dining hall, though they may look like a mild-mannered Southerner somewhere around retirement age, was in fact very likely to be a member of my own quirky maker tribe! And that if I started talking to them, it was also likely that I would learn something really interesting and/or get a new idea. It was amazing. It also made me wonder if part of the reason I’m usually shy with strangers is that I’m convinced they won’t understand me, and if I’m not giving the strangers in other places enough credit. In other places though, it is harder to start conversations with, “Oh, you’re taking blacksmithing, very cool! What are you making this week?”



Part of the view walking from my temporary home to breakfast. The garden is in the left background, hay right background.


The physical Folk School is a collection of a couple dozen buildings for classes, housing, and community areas. Some are new, and some are gently worn with the passing of many feet and hands. The campus is out of the way enough to feel like its own little world, surrounded by various hills (which people from lower elevations might call mountains), fields complete with picturesque rolled hay, and lots of greenery and flowers towards the end of summer. There was fog most mornings (which being from a dry place I find exotic and beautiful). The chorus of night insects and frogs stood out to me enough that I made a little recording to remember it. On a few weekend nights you can also hear the distinctly incongruous sounds of a nearby car racing track.

Each day is scheduled with class time, meals, and optional extra activities in the afternoons and evenings. Music and dance are a big part of things; there are songs before breakfast (optional of course), contra dances every Tuesday night (so much fun) and concerts on many weekends. And a dozen or more classes in different craft subjects going on all at once! It really is a lot like my family craft retreat every single week—that much energy, that much community, that much learning, that much working intensely—except that during mealtimes and free times you also see a bunch of other people who are having a similar experience in another studio nearby.



The door through the gazebo on the left goes to the Wet Room, home of felting, dyeing, and other great classes, one of my new favorite places. The door on the right goes to the cooking studio.


I taught three classes; two on felting (one was a week long and one was a quick weekend format), and a week on screen printing with natural dye. Anyone who has seen me in person (or even on my Instagram) in the last two years or so knows that I’ve been fairly obsessed with natural dye and printing in particular. So much prep work went into that class especially, because it’s the one that’s the newest to me, and also because of the nature of the subject. What makes working with natural dyes so compelling is the infinite possibilities, the way that every single variable seems to affect the color you get … but that also makes it nearly impossible to feel prepared for class! Nevertheless, we all learned a lot and my hope was that the students would all leave with a solid foundation for their own experimenting. I had had some really lovely students in all three classes, people who were gracious, and helpful to each other, and full of new ideas. I was really impressed with the curiosity and creativity of the students who are drawn to JCCFS. You would not believe how many unique felted objects can materialize (and how much wool can disappear) even in a weekend class. In the week-long felting class we formed such a little community that some of us (including me) cried when it was time to say goodbye.



Felting in the Wet Room.


Printing in the Quilting Studio.


After the classes I taught were finished, I stayed a third week as a student (one of the benefits of teaching at the Folk School is that you get instructor credits which allow you to take a class more or less for free). I’m so glad I did, it was wonderful to experience the place from a more relaxed perspective, to have a week with more time for walking, extra activities, and hanging out with Julie, one of the student hosts who took my first felting class and became a fast friend. I took a class called Sheep to Shawl with Martha Owen, who is the resident artist in charge of felting, spinning, dyeing, etc. (and the person who hired me to come teach felting). We washed and dyed fleece in some gorgeous natural colors (without felting it, which I always found intimidating before), we learned to hand card, and we practiced spinning different styles and preparations. I also got to try out a great wheel, and even spinning the fuzz right off of an angora bunny! Martha is a generous teacher who shared a lot of her life with us, taking us to visit her sheep and her home. She knows/knew many people in the fiber world who are legends to me (like Norman Kennedy and Jim Liles), and her class is full of stories. The whole school actually is full of stories, and connections being made.



Photo of me at great wheel via the JCCFS Facebook page.


When I got home I knew I still had some internal processing to do, continuing to turn over everything from a very full three weeks until it started to make sense with the rest of my life. Still, I kept thinking that it was taking me quite a while to get back to feeling “normal” … until I realized that is what it feels like when you’ve left a part of your heart behind. I grew a lot at the Folk School. I left as a better teacher, and as a person more able to be calm and trust that things will work out. I met and bonded with so many wonderful people. I’m surrounded by little reminders of them now; handmade things people generously gave me, and other beautiful things that I bought to bring home, and lovely wool from Martha’s class which I am trying to comb a little bit of each day. At least once a week, and usually more, I get a postcard or an email from one of my new buddies. Even if I wanted to pretend to be the same person I was before I left it would be impossible. Whether or not this turns out to be a “big break” that leads to other things for me, I’m profoundly grateful to have been able to go, to have learned all that I did and made all of these connections, to have been somewhere where I felt so at home that I understand what it’s like to fall in love with a community. As my excellent assistant for the printing class, Sally, says, “The Folk School is the easiest place in the world to practice gratitude.” I will endeavor to practice at home too.




A New Slow Sweater, What it Says, and the Idea of Knitting “And”


MMHenley 3


You know how sometimes you see someone, a stranger, and without meaning to, you imagine that whatever they’re wearing and whatever car they drive are the things they have chosen out of all possible options, that these things say something meaningful about their personality and their life? And then you look at yourself, your car, and maybe your clothes, and realize how many other circumstances played a part? I feel like we who make our own wardrobes move slowly (slowly, please cut yourself some slack, it’s going to be a process) towards the point where at least for what we wear it’s true: our clothes say exactly what we want them too. (My car is another story, I don’t know about yours. It does say that I would rather duct tape the mirror back on and buy better food than other possible options …)

This sweater feels like a step towards what I want to say with my knitting. It’s made with Mountain Meadow Wool (they’re a woman-owned company using US wool from the West, committed to eco-friendly practices) in a sheep-grown color (“natural dark gray”) which I love. I feel like the message that real wool is beautiful and good comes through, even if you saw me and assumed I bought this sweater (although if you saw my car you’d know I couldn’t afford it). You can also see that I love texture and value detail, and hate being cold.


MMHenley 1


I’m pretty sure this was supposed to be my One Year, One Outfit project for 2016. I started planning it in late 2015, started knitting as spring came around, and brought it with me on the road last summer, but it took until this spring to finish. This was a long knit for a whole lot of reasons. The textured stitch patterns just take longer; there was more stopping and checking and thinking than with plain stockinette or one pattern all over. Sweaters are big, and pretty soon I wouldn’t necessarily take this one everywhere I went. Making something only loosely “inspired by” a pattern (the Cotswold Henley by Meghan Babin) takes a lot of thinking, and measuring, and planning, and sometimes ripping out and knitting again. All totally worth it, but time consuming, and sometimes I ended up not knitting because planning the knitting was daunting and I was too tired or overwhelmed.

When we got home in the fall, I really wanted to keep making progress on it, so at first I decided I would work on the sweater before bed, instead of spinning, until the sweater was done. I love spinning before bed, and it has to be said that I did not love knitting the sweater during that time as much. Sometimes I would just skip it. After a while I realized that, although I’m not the kind who likes having a bunch of projects in progress, this was a false choice—it’s actually healthy for me to have a little knitting and a little spinning going on at the same time. I also realized something about how I like to work that I kind of already knew; knitting is an “and” activity for me. I love knitting while traveling, knitting while hanging out with friends, and knitting at meetings, but I really don’t love sitting quietly by myself and knitting. I’d rather do something else with that time. So I went the other way; I started spinning at night again, and hauling an extra tote bag full of sweater-in-progress with me to social events and anywhere else I could see that I might have some down time. That worked much better, and before long the sweater was actually done!


MMHenley 2


I believe that it’s done and that I knit it, but I’m having trouble believing that I get to keep it, if that makes any sense. In other words, I got pretty much exactly what I wanted. Of course there are a few things I’ll change in the next version, but there always are. I’ve decided that just shows that I’m still on a journey.

I started wearing it as soon as the last seam was sewn, and it went on quite a few outings this May, and into June in our variable mountain weather. The yarn has pilled some, but I’m hoping that how brilliantly it held up to being ripped out and re-knit (ahem) multiple times in certain sections means that the pills will be temporary and not terminal. I drafted Bryan to take the photos of it on me on the last cool day we’re likely to have until fall, and then carefully packed it away. Getting it out when the weather turns again is going to be such a treat!


MMHenley 4

There are two different stitch patterns, but they’re hard to see unless you’re really looking. I possibly should have gone with something bolder/more contrast, but then again subtle is my jam …


A few knitting notes: I wanted this to fit over my thickest winter shirt/sub-sweater (I hate being cold). I used Karen Templer’s idea of in-the-round “seams”. This is seriously brilliant as far as I’m concerned. Knitting seems so perfectly adapted to be made in the round, to be shaped organically, to be seamless, and I’ve never been willing to give all that up for the structure that seams can add. Now I just might get both! I made a pretty detailed/extensive chart of measurements for various sections of the sweater when I was planning where the “seams” would go and how big the whole thing should be, based on trying on an old sweater and marking it with pins. I’m really looking forward to having that chart and this sweater for planning future sweaters. I’ll be able to look at them and compare pattern measurements and know how big I want the sleeves, or how wide across the shoulders, etc.


MMHenley 5

Guts: Picked up stitches around the neck/placket, and where the sleeve joins the body. “Seams” closed with mattress stitch between the two stitch patterns vertically in the body, and horizontally near the bottom of the sleeves.


For now, I’m enjoying knitting socks in spare moments. Compared to this sweater, they seem to appear instantaneously! I have a pair almost done already. I think the speed is mostly due to the “and” factor; socks are really suited to occupying my hands while other things are going on. They’re small enough for me to keep the whole project in the bag I usually carry, and I purposefully kept the stitch patterns simple enough that I can keep track without needing to refer to a pattern most of the time—which also means I don’t have to stop much for deep thinking. I could really use some new socks, so I may just make a few pairs before settling down to anything big and complicated again.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you want to share about big versus small projects, or crafts you like to do on your own in a quiet space versus things that are good for groups and busy times, or where you are in your journey of what you’d like your wardrobe to say …


MMHenley 6


A Winding Road to a Versatilde Headband


versatilde headband on 1


Hello! Life has just been a flood, a river of things lately, but this space has still been on my mind, and now seems like as good a time as any to share a somewhat long-lost project.

I took a workshop on Versatildes with Cat Bordhi in July of 2015. As you know if you’ve been reading here for a while, Cat is my knitting heroine—and Cat if you’re reading this I’d like to include a sincere and hearty thank you for all your warmth, humor, and love of knitting and of the world in general that shines through in your classes and projects!

I wanted to make something that I knew I would wear using the Versatilde ideas, and as usual I wanted to experiment, so I sketched this headband and started working on it during the workshop. It didn’t actually take that long to finish knitting it, and it was a fun journey. I’m usually a note-taking, think-it-through kind of person (as you might have noticed), but I really enjoyed Cat’s way of making these, which is much more about enjoying the process and not over-thinking decisions. There isn’t a chart, instead you decide things like when to make cable crossings and increase/decrease at the sides as you go, following a few suggestions to make it flow organically.


versatilde headband flat


I’m not sure if I over-thought it at the end. My original plan was to close it with buttons, but I couldn’t find any that went with the wool and the pattern without distracting from it, so eventually I just sewed it closed. Somehow, it took me the rest of the time until now to get photos of the finished thing and type this up … these things happen.


versatilde headband sewn 2


versatilde headband sewn 1


This yarn is semi-worsted spun Romney from Solitude Wool. I got it because I’m interested in single-breed wools, and I wanted to try some samples for another project, so it was already in my stash. I was also curious how I would feel about Romney next to my face, since it’s more of a “medium” wool, rather than a super fine one like Merino. It turns out it’s totally OK (at least for me, these things are individual of course). At first I could feel a little bit of a prickle, but certainly not enough to keep me from wearing it—if it’s cold I want my ears covered! And I was surprised to find that it softened more in the first wash, so that the prickle was less noticeable. I really like this yarn; it’s wooly, sturdy, and a little bit smooth/slick, and the finished fabric has both some drape and some spring. Also, whatever processing they use, it smells the best—sheepy and soft and clean. I wouldn’t choose this yarn for underwear, but other than it that it would be good for all kinds of things.


versatilde headband on 2


My plan worked; I’ve worn this headband quite a bit. It’s especially good for cross-country skiing and hiking when the weather’s cold, since it allows some heat to escape out of the top of my head while protecting my ears from the wind, which can be vicious around here. It stays on well too. And, you know, that art-deco-meets-rustic look is really big in the woods this year, right? But seriously, I’m really pleased with how this came out, and glad I’ll have it in my wardrobe for more cold seasons to come!


Some Good News for February 2017




This year promises to be a challenging one in a lot of ways, as we’ve seen already. And yet there are good things on the horizon too. Personally I’ve been looking forward to 2017 since about this time last year, when I found out I would be teaching at the John C Campbell Folk School this summer! At last my classes are up, I can tell you about it, and you can go check it out on their website. In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m just thrilled for this!

I have two felting classes, a weekend and a week-long one, both of which will give students an opportunity to sink their teeth into wet felting. In the week-long one there will be lots of time for exploration of your own designs and ideas, with plenty of guidance of course!

The third class will be a full week of diving into printing with natural dyes, covering all aspects from preparing the fabric, making screens and designs, to printing and finishing. A longer workshop is really the only way to cover this whole process, and I’m really looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned over the past couple of years working on these techniques, and having the quality time to grow together with my students! Please sign up and spread the word.



On another note, but related to finding the cracks where the light gets in and finding ways to come together, I’d like to recommend this book to everyone in America (and maybe in other democracies too), especially to anyone who is worried about the direction we’re headed in. It made me rethink what it means to be a citizen, and to live with people we disagree with, in a really good way.

Anyone else have good news to share?