Jersey Scarf

This was a super quick project made like this one. It’s just a rectangle folded and sewn right sides together, flipped, then zigzagged around the edges to finish them. I gave it my daughter for Christmas, and she wears it nearly every day. Funny that the easiest projects are sometimes also the most popular.

If you want a cute ruffle edge on your jersey scarf, Holly Ramer of stitch/ craft has some easy tips here (at the end of the post).

I’m working hard writing and revising, doing some storyboarding in fact. I just discovered Carolyn Coman’s book Writing Stories. It’s especially for writing teachers but really for anyone who writes, and it’s wonderful to read during this process. Carolyn was my mentor while I studied at Vermont College, and reading the book is like getting a letter from her. So personable and practical and encouraging. Just what I need right now.

Jersey Scarf with Homemade Knit Stabilizer

I had some leftover knit fabric from this dress (and its mirror image, which I haven’t yet finished), and it seemed perfect for a little springy scarf. As I’ve mentioned before, a frau can never have too many scarves.

Last time I sewed with knits, I used spray starch to stiffen the edges since I couldn’t find knit stabilizer in Germany. Maybe it exists here, but I gave up looking when I didn’t find it at the neighborhood store. I’m lazy like that.

The starch or stabilizer makes it easier for the fabric to go through the machine and to take the stitches. The spray starch method was cheap and effective but required a lot of applications, which was time-consuming. 

Recently I had this out-of-the-blue memory of my Granny, who passed away almost 20 years ago, telling me that you could use the water from cooking rice as liquid starch. Isn’t memory strange? My fabulous fiesty grandmother is still with me in so many ways.

So here’s the skinny:

Take a handful of rice, throw it into a saucepan, and cover it with a slightly larger quantity of water. Boil until the water gets kind of milky. Then cool and drain the liquid into a shallow bowl or container.

I let the liquid thicken a bit, but turns out it was a leeeetle too much. The fabric, instead of being stiff, turned out to be so hard as to be crunchy. So, don’t let it thicken too much.

Next I painted the mixture on the edges of my fabric, using a pastry brush. (Don’t worry honey, no household objects were harmed in the making of this craft.)

After letting the fabric dry, it was ready to sew. After sewing I threw the scarf into the wash to get the starch out.

Speaking of memories of women in my sewing past, look what I found recently:

This is from my very first home ec class. I think we were required to use several hand-sewing techniques (buttonholes, hemming, hooks and eyes) before we received this and were then allowed to use the machines. Doesn’t it look so old and wonderfully low-tech? My dear teacher, the late Mrs. Atkins, was also a close family friend. Her memory lives on.

Does anybody know if they still teach home ec these days? It seems kind of quaint now, but as you can imagine, I loved it.

Getting Started with Dyes, Part I: Animal Fibers

Want to try dyeing things but don’t know where to start?

A reader wrote me recently asking for help.

Where to start, what to read?

The easiest kind of dyeing to start with is food dye on animal fibers. I love this because you can do it in the kitchen with grocery-store items, the results are super-satisfying, and the kids can join in.

What are animal fibers? Wool, silk, cashmere, you get the idea.

Wool and Cashmere:

You can do some beautiful things with Kool-Aid and wool, and IT WILL NEVER WASH OUT.

Kool-Aid (or Easter egg dye) and wool yarn is a perfect starter project, especially if you knit. You can dye it with a rainbow of colors, using your microwave. The yarn above was dyed with this method. Check out this article on for details and instructions. Lion Brand makes an undyed 100% wool yarn called Fisherman’s Yarn that is very reasonably priced. I used to buy it at Hobby Lobby, but it may also be available at Michael’s and other craft stores. Knitpicks also sells undyed yarn, in a wider variety of weights and variations. Their prices are very reasonable also, but you do have to order it. Also try dharmatrading for yarns.

You can dye pieces of old wool or cashmere sweaters in a similar way, but it’s a little tricky—-you should be prepared for uneven results.  Here’s a project of mine with Easter egg dye on cashmere. I would recommend starting with a light-colored sweater and dyeing smaller pieces (an arm or less) at a time, as a sweater acts like a sponge to the dye, absorbing the color before it gets the chance to circulate around the fabric.

The process is similar to the yarn-dyeing project, but use a larger amount of dye and a larger container, on the stove instead of the microwave. I used my big soup pot. The same process should work for wool and cashmere wovens, though I’ve never tried it.


Kool-Aid, Easter egg dye, or food coloring also works well on silk. I’ve used it to make playsilks, with the directions here. I’ve also dip-dyed silk scarves, which you can see here. After heat-setting, these dyes are not quite as colorfast as in wool and cashmere, so I would recommend hand-washing. Even so, the colors  bleed very little. Dry out of direct sunlight, or the colors will change.

With any dyeing project, there’s a certain amount of risk involved. You never know exactly what your finished project is going to look like, and for me, that’s part of the thrill. Be prepared for that uncertainty, because even if your project turns out beautifully, chances are it won’t be exactly as you  envisioned.

For part two of this article, about dyeing plant fibers, click here.

Silk-Cashmere Persimmon Scarf

I finally finished this scarf from the cashmere/ silk yarn I bought at Tuesday Morning. It ended up being more of a scarfette, but that’s what I get for doing absolutely no figuring before starting. I can totally live with that.

For those of you who are knitters, I used a seed stitch. No brainer.

When it came time to weave in the ends, I couldn’t find my yarn needle. Story of my life since moving. I happened upon a craft shop when I was out and about. I didn’t know the word for yarn needle, though, and I realized when I began explaining that I must sound like I was looking for a knitting needle. I stopped to think a moment and then said, in German, “I knitted a scarf, and then…” here I pantomimed the hanging strings, then said, “Now I need to…” and pantomimed weaving in the threads.

The two shopkeepers burst into uproarious laughter, then offered me a yarn needle for free. I was pretty pleased with myself for not being afraid to look like an idiot. It’s all about getting my point across, right?

This scarf is so soft I’ve been wearing it a lot. Plus I love the color—-orange brightens up our gray weather. My daughter rubbed it against her face last night during story time.

Silk + Easter Egg Dye

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I did these pieces right before we left for Germany. It’s really easy to dye animal fibers with food coloring, kool-aid, or easter egg dye. These dyes don’t work on cottons or linens but are very colorfast in wool and also work for silk, though in silk they’re a smidge less colorfast. Cashmere also works.

I figure a good frau can never have too many scarves. And now I know why (or at least I think I do) they’re such a big thing here in Europe. Part of it has to be the fact that during most of the year it may be the only item of clothing people see, other than your coat and hat. Now that it’s late May I’m finally emerging from my heavy wool coat and into my trench coat. And I’m proud to announce I’ve even ventured out a few times with no coat at all! Amazing!

Anyway, these are a few scarves I dyed using Easter egg dye. They were blanks from, which is a great resource for clothing blanks of all kinds. I started with the instructions here for dyeing playsilks (which I did last fall with kool-aid) and improvised a little. I wanted to create patterns on the scarves but wasn’t sure how to go about it. The good thing about dharma trading is the scarves are so inexpensive I didn’t have much to lose. I want to keep experimenting, but thought I’d share what I’ve come up with so far.

With the orange scarf, I tried a dip-dyeing technique where you fold fabric and, yes, dip it into the dye. First I folded, then wet with clear water, squeezed gently, then dip-dyed the edges of the triangle. I would make the dye a little stronger next time. It doesn’t look finished to me, so I think I’ll do something else to it but don’t know what yet.

With this bluish-greenish scarf, I think I just dyed it straight but of course it always has folds and all so the color never is perfectly even. Part of the charm of hand-dyeing. I forgot to heat-set the blue and over-dyed it with green later, ending up with a tie-dye-type effect. Then I heat-set so the design would stay.

I can’t decide if it’s cool or if it looks like something Ruth Fisher (from Six Feet Under) would wear. The kids definitely like it. They are always stealing this one, and it’s only fair since sometimes I steal a playsilk and wear it 🙂

In case you’re wondering, the scarves can be hand washed. The color washes out a tiny tiny bit but not enough to matter.

Another Recycled Cashmere Scarf

It may be summer here, but in southern Africa, Lesotho to be exact, it’s rather chilly right now. My friend Megan is a physician there, and to warm her up, I sent her this scarf. It started out life as a thrifted Banana Republic sweater in a dingy blue-grey color. I felted it (didn’t shrink much), dyed it greenish-blueish aqua with kool-aid, cut it into strips, and sewed it into a gathered scarf. I embroidered over the little bitty holes in it, too. See my other cashmere scarf post for more detail.

For information on dyeing cashmere, see this post. For information about overdyeing, click here.

Recycled Cashmere Scarf

 This was a simple yet satisfying project inspired by an article on shibori felting in Interweave Press magazine and by projects in a book called Second Hand Cool. Lately I don’t have the patience for knitting, so sewing up felted pieces of old sweaters is very appealing as a quick and fun knitting “substitute.” Also, it allows me to use high quality fibers at low cost. This scarf was made from a cashmere-silk blend sweater that I picked up second hand. I did not change the color, although any animal fibers can easily be dyed with food coloring, kool-aid, or Easter egg dye.

First I cut a small sample of the sweater to see how it would felt up in the dryer. It shrank lengthwise but not width-wise, so when cutting the pieces for the scarf, I took that into account. Felting is always a bit of an experiment: you never know exactly what the end product will look like, but that’s one of the things I like about it. You can felt just about any 100% animal-fiber sweaters, though for a scarf I suggest something really soft (like cashmere) with a fine gauge. Once you wash the sweater and dry it on high heat in the dryer, it will shrink up and felt in such a way that the resulting fabric is (usually) ravel-free.

In this case I wanted the stitching to be a part of the pattern created by the felting process, so I cut up the sweater before felting it. I then sewed the rectangles together with embroidery thread. I made the seaming a decorative element of the scarf, so that they look like zig zaggy gathers at random increments. Then I threw it in the washer and dryer. The results are pictured above.

For more specific instructions on how to make an old-sweater-shibori-felted scarf, check out this link: