The Enbuttoning

The world is a hot mess right now. There are so many people suffering, so many at risk, and so there’s so little we can to do help them that it makes a person feel…. well, helpless. So when I spotted a post on Facebook about a simple little crochet band with a buttons on the end that was supposed to be a huge help for health care workers, I thought, “THERE is a thing I can do!” Or, more accurately, “there is a thing I can instigate!”

The issue is that folks who are wearing masks for 12 hours straight are finding that the elastic straps on the masks rub the backs of their ears raw. Someone – I don’t know who – came up with the idea of making a little band with buttons to hook the straps onto instead, thereby protecting mask wearers’ ears. They posted the pattern in a group, and it was shared to another group, and so on. There are patterns on Ravelry as well, and others popping up here and there (there are patterns and links to more patterns near the end of this post).

Button band production chez moi.

I saw one of these posts and thought it looked like a good idea but before I mobilized the yarnerati I wanted to make sure they really were both useful and desired. I sent a picture to my friend (and family doctor) Margaret Fraser – who’s been working lots of shifts in emerg at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital – and asked what she thought. “Those look awesome!” she said. “We’ve been using paperclips!”

Paperclips. They were using PAPERCLIPS.

Step two was to make one and give it to her to try out. The next day I got her reply: “The crocheted band is the right length and the nurses all wanted to steal it! Success!”

I asked Ron to get a picture of me making some, because of REASONS.

Well, okay then. GAME ON. I shared the pattern I’d used on the Bobbin Tree page & groups, Margaret shared it on her own page, and right away people started responding. Bunch of people were all in right from the get go. Lots of folks had yarn and hooks but no buttons. No problem: I have (had!) tons of buttons in my stash. Others wanted a knitting pattern rather than crochet. Not to worry: Margaret came up with a quick and easy one which we shared around. Folks wondered where they could drop them off. Easy: either at the store or up at the hospital.

And then the bands started coming. And coming.

Pretty quickly I realized that my button stash, though prodigious, was not going to enbutton all the bands that folks were making. I also realized that, between trying to get The Bobbin Tree online and several other irons I have in the fire, I don’t have nearly enough time to enbutton dozens of bands. What I do have, though, is a fabulous bunch of folks (the yarnerarti) who also want to help however they can, a central drop off location, and deliveries to make once or twice a week anyway – which means I’m perfectly situated to get all the supplies to the people who CAN do the thing, then get them back again, then deliver them to Margaret.

This greeted me when I got to the shop this morning.
This system was…less than ideal.

Today my day went like this: go to the shop. Find a bag of already buttoned bands from Kate tied to the doorknob. (Spray the bag with bleach and) take it inside. Hang a drop off basket on the door to make it easier for folks to drop stuff off and pick stuff up. Get a text from Kara saying she dropped off bands; find two bags in the basket: one with buttons, one without. Put unbuttoned bands from Kara and a bag of ~90 or so buttons sifted from my stash out for Anne; have her stop by, drop off a bag of 55(!!) finished bands, pick up the new supplies, and take them home again to put buttons on. Do the rest of my shop stuff, then go to Sandra’s and drop off more buttons so she can finish up the bands she’s been making. Make my store deliveries, drop off 90 or so finished bands at Margaret’s, stop at Barb’s and pick up a giant bag of buttons from HER stash, and bring them home.

MUCH better!

ALL of this happened via doorknobs, baskets, mailboxes, tables out on the deck. ALL happened with zero physical contact. I caught a quick glimpse of Anne through the shop door. I shouted hello to Sandra from halfway down her drive. The others I didn’t see at all.

To date, I’ve only made about a dozen of the bands myself but between me, my button stash, Margaret, Sandra, Anne, Cora Lee, Deb, Kara, Kate, and others, we’ve gotten close to 200 of these bands made and into the hands of folks at the Regional. I started to wonder, so I asked Margaret “how many bands is too many?” Her response: “You cannot. make. too. many. Each person will need several. At least two: one to wash and one to wear.” [emphasis mine]

Even if we DO somehow manage to exceed demand at the Regional, there are home care workers, pharmacists, and any number of other essential workers out there who are also wearing masks and could use them.

So… GAME IS STILL ON, folks! If you’re willing and able to help out, here’s what we need:

  1. MORE BANDS. There are patterns and specs below. If you have buttons to sew onto them, great! If not, I’ll get them enbuttoned before turning them over to Margaret.
  2. MORE BUTTONS. They should be at least 1/2″ or else they won’t hold the straps in place. I think 3/4”-1” is best, but bigger is fine, too. Margaret says “buttons cannot be too big – I think if you had really oversized, like 4-5 inches, they might [be uncomfortable], but 1″-1.5″ is fine.”
  3. MORE ENBUTTONERS. I can hook you up with bands that need buttons and the buttons to put onto them. (At least until button supplies run out. See #2.)

If you’re donating buttons or bands, you can drop them off at the store any time. Maybe shoot me a message or email to let me know you have done so I don’t leave them languishing there for days. If you’re picking up buttons and bands for enbuttoning, contact me and we’ll arrange a time when I’ll be able to put them outside in the basket for you to pick up.

GENERAL SPECS:

  • Tension is not important. Colour is not important. Buttons do NOT need to match!
  • Use a yarn and buttons that are machine washable and dryable. We want folks to be able to toss these into the washing machine with whatever clothes they wore on shift. (Laundering fabrics is thought to effectively kill the coronavirus.)
  • The buttons should be at least 1/2″, or a cluster of smaller buttons would also work. There needs to be a secure surface for the mask elastic to loop through.
  • I’m using a DK weight cotton yarn and 3.5mm hook. The original crochet pattern was for worsted weight and a 5mm hook. Margaret is using dishcloth cotton and 4 to 5 mm needles.
  • My bands are around 5″ long, but don’t worry about making yours a particular length. Mask straps are stretchy and, more importantly, heads are different sizes! It’s a good thing to have a variety of lengths.

PATTERNS:

The original crochet pattern I used is here, and was provided by Vicki Leverre Duncan. Emily Rinke made a video tutorial for folks who want some help.

I’m using an ever-so-slightly modified version, because I found that my ends were curling closed:

Make a slip knot, leaving a long tail (6-8 inches). Chain 20. Starting with the 3rd chain from the hook, half double crochet in each stitch along the chain until the last. Into the last stitch, half double crochet four times. Turning around at the end of the chain and working backwards now, half double crochet in the next stitch. If it feels like the band won’t lay flat at the end, work one or two more hdcs into that stitch to help it go flat. Then half double crochet all the way down the chain, working into opposite side of the same stitches you worked into before, until you get to the end. Half double crochet three or more times in the last stitch on this end, too. Finish off, leaving a long tail (6-8″).

Use the two tails to sew a button (at least 1/2″ but preferably 3/4″ or bigger) securely to the face of the band at either end.

And here’s Margaret’s knitting pattern:

Using cotton yarn – the same yarn as the dish cloths – and 4-5mm needles, cast on 22 stitches. Knit 6-8 rows, ending on the same end as the cast-on tail. Cast off (so the new tail is at the other end). Use the ends to sew on buttons and to weave in. Trim.

Here’s another knitted version I saw go by on Facebook as well. I’m honestly not sure who posted these and have forgotten which group I saw it in, so I’m not going to post the pattern. If you peer at it closely you can probably figure it out. The point is: it doesn’t really matter how to make them, as long as they’re about 1 or 1.5” wide and somewhere between 3 and 6 inches long, and there are some buttons at the ends.

Finally, here’s another pattern on Ravelry. It makes a shorter band, but includes instructions for knitted, crocheted, and sewn “ear savers”.

Dear Bluprint Subscribers…

Dear Craftsy/Bluprint Floor Loom Weaving class subscribers:

Turns out that there’s a big difference between questions posed by folks who have purchased the class outright (owners) and comments/questions left by people who have access to the class through a subscription (subscribers). Until now I’ve only ever had links to respond to owners’ questions but earlier this week Bluprint added a new link to the instructor’s menu that shows me subscribers’ comments as well. Unfortunately, they’re all mixed in with five years’ worth of already answered questions, seemingly at random, and there are 45 _pages_ of them.

Bluprint is telling instructors that we’re only obliged to answer owners’ questions and can ignore subscribers’ comments (also questions). Meanwhile, they’ve been telling students that everyone who takes a class, no matter how they gain access, will have access to the instructor. As an instructor, I want everyone who’s in the class to get the help they need and I HATE that folks may well have subscribed, asked questions, not gotten answers, and given up in frustration — all without me ever knowing they were there at all! Those people surely think that I’m simply ignoring them when in actual fact I was never given a way to see what they were saying.

I will do my best to sift through the old questions and comments and run down anything that I haven’t responded to, but it’s bound to take a long time and I can’t promise I’ll find all those needles in a very big haystack.

Please please please understand that I’m not intentionally ignoring you!

Note that this isn’t only affecting my class. It’s ALL the classes on the Craftsy/Bluprint platform. There’s an open letter from many of the instructors to the execs at Bluprint asking them to apologize and remedy this situation for subscribers, and to give us better tools for finding those unanswered comments so we can respond to them. Not every instructor is in a position to do so – my 45 pages seems like a mountain to me but is nothing compared to instructors who have several large classes – but I hope to whittle the list down eventually.

Master Weavers

Just got back from the week long classroom component of my Master Weavers Level 3 course at the somewhat cold and damp but still beautiful Gaelic College in St Ann’s. It was a week of weaving, friends, hard work, and good fun and now that class is over, I’ve got about 10 months to finish a series of weaving assignments and turn them in for marking.

Master weavers: it’s all about precision and record keeping.

But what is Master Weavers, you ask? It’s a five year weaving certification program offered by Olds College of Alberta for anyone who wants an organized, structured, and applied approach to acquiring a broad and solid foundation in weaving. What sets the Olds program apart from other certification programs is that it’s a teaching program rather than simply a testing one. It includes face- and loom-time with your instructor and classmates, and then you have access to your instructor for the year while working on your assignments so you can get help and feedback rather than working in a vacuum. If you turn things in early enough, some instructors are even willing to return an assignment with comments if they feel you could improve on it and get a better mark – because it’s all about learning and improving rather than straight up testing. I love that about this program.

If you keep in touch, you’ve also got classmates who are working on the same assignments and are solving the same problems and asking the same questions you are. In my case, I’ve got classmates who are counting on me to finish my homework so that there’s enough of us for the next class next year, which is a huge motivator for me. I’ve started other self directed study programs like the GCW but never actually get anywhere, ’cause there’s always something else demanding my time and energy. In this program I have to do the work, or I’ll have a mob of upset friends who’re cheesed at me.

My final project from MW1, which had to be in six values of the same hue.

My main reason for taking the course was to get some kind of official credentials that will be of benefit to my teaching career, but it’s been a good exercise for lots of other reasons, too. Although I already know all of the structures we’ve covered so far in the course, I haven’t been particularly technical in my approach to getting the fabrics Just So. Don’t get me wrong: my cloth is balanced (when I want it to be) and well executed, but that’s often been a result of intuition rather than legwork and I’ve been quite happy to accept a less than perfectly balanced beat if it was still producing good cloth. I also haven’t ventured very far beyond the cotton and wool so that’s so readily available and inexpensive in Canada, and this course is pushing me out of that box. It’s also been yet another opportunity to watch how other teachers teach and how other students learn, which is always valuable for a teacher.

Level 1 covers the foundation: dressing the loom, the impact of sett, methods of wet finishing, and some colour theory. The weaving assignments are all in wool, in plain weave and 2/2 twill, and are kind of like practicing your scales in music: extremely valuable but not terribly exciting. Still, they were the most intentional weaving I’ve ever done. You’ve got to weave a series of samples in the same yarn at five different setts, all perfectly balanced – harder than it sounds! And then the same yarns in warp and weft faced fabrics. And then yardage in both plain weave and twill that you cut apart and wet finish five different ways to see what does what. And THEN you’ve got to weave a value gamp in which all the squares are exactly 2″ square (and perfectly balanced), which means you have to know *exactly* how much your cloth is going to change from loom state to wet finished. It was a really, really valuable exercise. A pain in the butt, but a really valuable exercise.

MW2 colour gamp in plain weave: ALL the measuring!

Level 2 starts to look at structure: 4S twills, overshot, and double weave. You’ve got to (attempt to) weave perfectly executed examples of each. I’ve been weaving a lot of overshot in recent years thanks to Not Yer Granny’s Overshot and I’ve done 4S twill up the yin-yang, but I’ve actually done very little double weave and had never woven double width before (the joys of having a 60″ loom from the get-go). In addition to those three structures, there were more of the sett samples and two more of the colour gamps with those perfectly square squares – this time in cotton in both plain weave and twill – so again with the testing finishing methods and shrinkage rates and all that. Less pain this time, and just as much value. Plus colour gamps are soooo pretty, and optical colour blending is fascinating.

As much as we complained about having to do them, it was really good curriculum design that they made us do that whole perfect 2″ square gamp process twice, since it’s such a valuable lesson and such an important skill to have. We don’t have to do it again for Level 3 — but then again we kind of do, since our fabrics have to still be perfectly balanced and the size we want, so even though we don’t have to turn in sett and shrinkage samples, we still have to do them to get the other stuff right.

My final project for MW2: an overshot runner, woven star (and column) fashion. From the back, ‘cause there were a zillion ends sticking out the front when I took this pic right after cutting it off.

Level 3 is additional structures and new fibres: multishaft twill and block weaves, unit weaves, and what they call “grouped warp” or “linen” weaves. The specific structures we talked about and wove in class besides the multishaft twill were Crackle, Summer & Winter, Huck, and Bronson Lace. There was also a brief overview of Swedish, Spot Bronson and Ms & Os, all of which we’ll have to weave on our own for homework. 

The samples woven in class this year were done in linen and silk, both of which are new animals for me. I wove a linen sample in a workshop back in ’95 or ’96 and I combined a bit of linen with cotton in a project warp that first year Mom and I taught on Vashon. That was the sum total of weaving I’d done with 100% linen (as opposed to cottolin, which really just acts like hairy cotton). I honestly can’t remember if I’ve ever woven with 100% silk. Pretty sure not. So I was very interested to try them out and much to my surprise liked the linen even better than the silk. Silk is delish, but the linen is a whole new, surprisingly wiry and stiff, beastie and I’m really looking forward to using it more.

3, 5, and 7 end huck warp and weft spots in springy green linen.

The in-class weaving this year included projects on more than four shafts for the first time, though none of the homework assignments do since the course designers didn’t want to require anyone to go buy a new loom to complete the program. That’s commendable but I think there could be more in class discussion of multishaft design; a lot of information related to block and unit weaves doesn’t really clarify until you apply them to more than four shafts. Then again, none of the structures were covered in much theoretical detail: we got instructions for how to weave them and then we went and wove them. I could have said a LOT more about each of the structures in question (and do, in various classes that I teach) but it would’ve taken many more than the five days we had available, and it would have been beyond the scope of the class anyway. Master Weavers is applied rather than theoretical, and about technical mastery of execution rather than a comprehensive understanding of the mechanics of cloth. This week was meant to introduce us to the structures, and to give us the tools (and assignments!) we need to try them out and then investigate them on our own.

Variations of 2B turned twill in 20/2 silk.

Whether people read and weave and think about them sufficiently to come to a greater understanding of the theoretical mechanics of those structures or just weave what has to be done to pass the course without gaining more insight is a personal choice. I’ve already done a lot of weaving and thinking and writing and teaching about most of those structures, but there are always more mysteries to unlock. I’ve done very little with Ms & Os, so that merits some attention. Though I’ve woven Crackle and include it in some of my classes, I don’t know it nearly as well as I’d like. I definitely want to keep thinking about how to think about Huck. Summer & Winter and Bronson Lace are so straightforward that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of new ground to cover… except that there was a tantalizing taste of turned Bronson in our in-class assignments that will no doubt lead me to a far better understanding of how it works and how to communicate that to others.

A smidge of turned Bronson Lace followed by a little Bronson woven as overshot, which was new to me. I like it very much (so organized!) and the back is cool, too!
The back of the Bronson as overshot – how cool is that!?

So… a busy, fun, hectic week with lots of weaving and a few new nuggets of weaving experience to add to my stockpile. I’m anxious to order both linen and silk for the shop and my own use. I’m definitely looking forward to the homework assignments more this year than the previous two. Maybe that means I’ll get them done before the very, most bitterest of ends? This year I was not so much down to the wire as sitting directly on top of it.

A fresh start?

Wow. Seven years this time. Welp, that seems like a nice round number to give blogging another kick at the can… It also seems like a good opportunity to switch platforms, so here I am on WordPress. We’ll see if blogging sticks this time!

I won’t even try to cover all of the past seven years, but here are some highlights since the last time I posted (in no particular order):

Huh. No wonder I’ve been so tired so often.

So that’s that. ONWARDS!

(If you’re looking for the old version of the blog, all the posts are still on Blogger.)