Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 14th, 2014

Love Family, by Suzann with motifs from Cute Crochet World

I love family.

Love Home, by Suzann with motifs from Cute Crochet World

I love home.

Pink Heart for Peggy, by Suzann

I love pink.

Gold Heart for Rachel, by Suzann

I love getting together with my quilting friends once a week.

Love Checks, by Suzann with motifs from Crochet Garden

Happy Valentine’s Day!

As Seen on TV!

February 3rd, 2014

Stranded Checks on the Ultimate Sweater Machine

Stranded checks on the knitting machine. Sounds good. Are they payable to me? Are they written for large amounts?

What? Oh. It seems the checks on the knitting machine are knitted checks with the unused yarn going across the wrong side of the work, i.e., stranded. It has been a really long time since I knitted on my Ultimate Sweater Machine, so maybe you can forgive me for the “stranded checks” mistake?

It really is fun to knit on the Ultimate Sweater Machine (as seen on TV!). Plain rows add up very fast. Stranded rows take longer, because they’re hand-manipulated. It helps to have a handy tool, like the one in the picture. It helps you push out every other pair of needles to make stranded checks.

I bought this tool years ago from Catherine Goodwin, who still sells handy knitting machine tools at her website: http://www.knittinganyway.com.

Flashback Friday

January 24th, 2014

Earthen house and ice

My parents’ 56th wedding anniversary on January 19th was also our one-month-versary of living in our new house. We love it!

We are unpacking stuff that has been in storage for years. Sometimes unpacking is like finding old friends and sometimes…well, I wonder why I kept some of it. It must have seemed important at the time.

double sided knit hotpad

This hotpad qualified as an old friend. It takes me back to the time before we ever dreamed of building a house, before kids, back to when my design career was just starting, in the early 1990s. Three double-sided knit hotpad designs were among the first I ever got into print. The house design may have been the sample I sent to the editor in my proposal. I gave it to my mother-in-law, Gene Frederick.

It hung in her kitchen for years. After she died, the hotpad returned to us and now we are using it in our new house. Things come around and go around and gather memories.

double sided knit hotpad

Instructions for this hotpad are in “House Warmings” (three potholder designs and patterns), Country Handcrafts, pp. 4–5, Bazaar 1992.

East and North Walls

January 6th, 2014

Earthen block cutter or guillotine

It was February 2013. With Mud Daubers Fred and Art working full-time, the east and north walls of our earthen home rose amazingly fast! Rachel and I helped at first, then left all the sifting and lifting, mixing and mudding to Fred, Art, and the rest of Callon’s crew.

They had little patience for the guillotine or block-cutter we had used since the Summer of 2010. It was slow, difficult to use, inaccurate, and it broke lots of bricks in half the wrong way. A circular saw, fitted with a masonry blade, was much faster. It cut through most of the brick’s thickness, and we could break through the rest of the brick by hand. Unfortunately the circular saw created a huge cloud of sandy dust. We either wore a dust mask, held our breath, or, if possible, stood upwind of the saw.

First row of earthen bricks on arch

So goodbye, dear guillotine! You weren’t a great block-cutter, but you were perfect for builders like me, who like quiet tools.

When it came time to build the last and biggest (5 feet wide) earthen arch in the house, Rachel and I were back on the job. We laid the first row with such speed and confidence, Fred remarked, “Looks like y’all have done that before.” Yep, we had a lot of practice rebuilding fallen arches.

Earthen brick arch

We finished the arch. Fred and Art finished the east wall. Jerry and Van answered my call to work on the bond beam as the daffodils burst into bloom.

Jerry and Van working on bond beam

Northeast corner of our earthen home

Morning daffodils

House Graffiti

January 5th, 2014

Once the rooms of our earthen house were defined by walls, I labeled the girls’ rooms, hoping to make more real to them the possibility of having their own spaces.

Eva's room

Ella's room

the artist at work

Inspired by my work, Eva added her artistry to the master bedroom floor. There’s something about spray paint…

I hope my daughters remember these symbols of love under their feet when they walk around in their rooms. And I will think often about the happy home hidden within my happy home.

Eva's happy home

Inside Walls and Over Heads

December 11th, 2013


Slabs are tricky. Because you don’t have the usual points of reference, it’s difficult to tell how big (or small) the rooms are.

But by the time the daffodils peeked out of the ground at the end of January 2013, our builder Callon provided those points of reference by framing most of the interior walls of the house.

I wandered around the place, gazing up at the tall walls and feeling that we might someday be able to live in this house.

Wood frame inside walls of the earthen house

We moved our breakroom (meaning we moved the lawn chairs) into the library, one of the most eagerly anticipated rooms in the house. You can just make out the chairs between the wooden studs in the foreground. Those are part of the exterior wall that joins the library corner (see previous House Building post) with the front door corner, which had yet to be finished. Our house has only two short lengths of wood-framed exterior wall.

Loblolly pine ceiling

Ceilings appeared over our heads, like this one in the master bedroom. The loblolly pine beams and planks were rough-sawn at a sawmill nearby. We were happy to find out that a 1 x 6″ plank is really one inch by six inches, which is apparently a very nice bonus you get when dealing with a small sawmill.

The beams really appeal to the German half of my soul—the part populated with thick forests, mountain Gasthauses, and Grimms’ legends and fairy tales. I love how the curved edge of the tree shows on the lower side of each beam.

With Callon on the job, events moved quickly. Rachel and I realized we wouldn’t be able to finish building the northeastern walls in time to keep Callon and his crew busy. Did Callon know anyone who could help us? He did, and soon “mud daubers” Fred and Art started working. Rachel and I stayed busy sifting dirt and sand, mixing slurry, and ferrying bricks to the two men. We only worked part time, but Fred and Art worked full time. Those walls got tall in a hurry. Callon even built some earthen wall himself.

Mud daubers Callon, Fred, and Art, working on the earthen house

Crochet in Glen Rose

December 10th, 2013

Somervell County Museum

It was June 2012. While our daughter Eva and her friend Grace explored the river in Glen Rose, Texas, Charles and I were freeeeeee! At moments like that I imagine the wind blowing my hair in a beautiful way, as I peer into the distance, ready for any adventure that comes my way. Great rock music is playing in my head, adding to the effect.

Crocheted flower at Somervell County Museum

In this state of wild freedom, we strolled around the town square, where we found a farmers’ market, antique shops, and a local museum. Local museums can surprise you with the strange and interesting items on display. They are staffed by local people, they serve local people, and local people donate the stuff they think is important. Needlework, for instance.

Crocheted flower at Somervell County Museum

The Somervell County Museum surprised me—a wild, free, and cool author of crochet flower books—with a vintage crocheted flower, complete with typewritten instructions! The flower’s maker and designer are unknown. I asked for and received permission to take photos.

Somervell County Five-Petal Flower
(as written on the paper accompanying the flower)

Ch 12, slip st in first st.
Ch 1, 15 sc in ring, sl st in 1st sc
Ch 20, skip last 4 sts, joined dc in next 4 sts, joined trc in next 2 sts, 8 tr, 1 hdc, 1 sc, sl st in next sc on ring
Ch 2, turn, sk sl st and 2 previous sts, dc in next st, (ch 1, dc in next end st) 5 times.
Ch 2, turn, 3 joined dc in last dc, 2 joined tr in next space, (1 tr in next dc, 1 tr in next space) 4 times, dc in next dc, hdc and sc in last space, sl st in next 2 sc of ring

Repeat for 5 petals.

Erie Dewberry crocheted collar at Somervell County Museum

In another display case, Mrs. Erie Dewberry’s crocheted collar delighted me with corrugated leaves reminiscent of Irish Crochet lace. Mrs. Dewberry (1881-1966) was a resident of Glen Rose.

Charles was glad to find fossils and photos of old buildings.

Crochet and fossils at the county museum—good times for a temporarily wild and free mom and dad.

at the river park in Glen Rose

Windows at Last!

December 10th, 2013

The library corner and arch of our earthen home

I love this picture of the library arch, shot from high up on a scaffold in January 2013. The frame for the bond beam was still in place over the arch, but our builder had already closed in the gable and part of the north and south walls. We were still working on the east and north walls of the house, so we had lots of bricks stockpiled.

Window sills for our earthen home

While all the bond-beam pouring and drying-in were going on, Charles and I waited long and anxiously for a phone call from a limestone quarry in Leuters, Texas, where our window sills were sawn and hewn. The call finally came and we drove to Leuters. The forklift driver loaded our first shipment directly into Charles’s pickup. It only groaned a little under the weight.

Not long after that, Charles and I visited the house site and experienced another wonderful moment in our house-building adventure. We saw our house with real windows for the first time.

Windows in our earthen  house

The gray stuff underneath the windows is lead. It will protect the earthen wall from any water that might seep in under or around the windows. Our first experience with lead was when we lived in England. People used lead sheeting to cover the tops of bay windows. They used mallets to bang it into shape.

Library windows in our earthen house

When the lead was delivered, my dad unloaded the heavy pallet with his tractor and brought it to the building site. The next day, I looked all around for it. I knew it weighed hundreds of pounds, so I imagined a large roll of metal. It was nowhere to be found!

Rachel, who was building walls with me, said, “There’s a new pallet over by the trees.” It was the one. The lead rolls were no more than 8″ in diameter. I later lifted the leftover lead (by that time about 4″ in diameter and 24″ wide). It was very heavy. You knew that. I knew it too, intellectually, but the physical reality was a shock.

Earthen house windows from the inside

You can see the limestone window sills in this picture taken from the inside. The sills are on top of the lead, and the window frame is on top of the inside sill. Callon and crew added outside sills later.

Drying In the Earthen House

December 9th, 2013

Jerry and Van working on the earthen house

Last year about this time, the extremely efficient, thorough, and excellent builder, Callon Ratliff, agreed to finish the inside of our earthen house.

Before Callon could start installing windows and framing inside walls, my efficient, thorough, and excellent family team had prepare the house for drying-in. This is why, as related in the previous post, we worked in the cold and rain to finish the bond beam. Callon would soon be free to work on the house, so we had to hurry, hurry, hurry!

Van cuts angle steel to prepare for drying-in

The finished bond-beam covered the south, west, and about two-thirds of the north walls of the house. Once it was cured, Jerry and Van attached angled sheet metal to the bond beam and the eaves.

In the photo above, they are working in the eastern half of the house, where we were still working on the walls. At the top right of the picture, you can just make out the concrete bond beam on top of the wall. The form for our final arch is on the left of the photo.

Callon and his crew attached M-panel sheet metal to the angles to span the area between the eaves and bond beam. My favorite part was when they closed in the gable on the western end of the house.

Now the gable end is open.

Earthen house gable end open

Now the gable end is closed!

Earthen house gable end closed

Bond Beams

December 8th, 2013

Jerry and Van build frame and reinforcement so we can pour bond beam

The southern wall is the longest earthen wall in our house, so my friend Rachel and I were happy to lay its last brick in September 2012. My brother Van and our cousin Jerry came as quickly as they could, to begin work on the bond beam.

They set up frame boards and ran re-bar along the top of the walls. Our bricks were so sandy and dry that drilling holes for the metal stakes was an exercise in frustration. Van drilled the hole, the sand filled it back up. Finally we hit upon a solution: just add water! Drill, pour water in sandy hole, drill again, wet sand doesn’t fall back in. Yay!

It wasn’t until December that we finished pouring the bond beam for the great majority of the earthen walls. My sister-in-law Kathy joined us on a cold and miserable day to pour the north and west library walls and the bond beam for the infamous arch of a previous post.

The next day, in order to finish the southern wall, we worked in the rain until after dark. Jerry mixed concrete, I carried buckets of concrete and lifted them up to Van, and Van poured and smoothed the concrete.

We captured rain water to  mix our concrete on that cold, miserable day.

We had around 40 bags of concrete for the southern wall and we knew we would probably use most of them. We were cold, tired, and sore. I don’t know how Van and Jerry managed. This is the trick I played on myself. I didn’t look at the pile of concrete bags. I didn’t look at the pile of empty bags. If Jerry poured me a bucket of concrete, I carried it; if there were no more buckets, I would know that we were done.

It wasn’t quite that simple—but that strategy kept me going almost to the end, when Van said, “I think we’ll need about two more bags.” At that point, pure relief kept me going, and the anticipation of a long hot bath.