This week, Whale Ears and Other Wonderings is asking for posts on crafts. One of my favorite subjects, and in fact, crafts have been key–absolutely key–to my sanity in several Foreign Service situations. Particularly those in which there was no electricity for many hours at a time, for many days at a time. It’s a dirty little secret of the FS that many posts are just plain BORING, especially for spouses.

Anyway, when we first started out in the FS I was very into quilting. I wasn’t what you would call an art quilter, by any means, but I was good at scrap quilts. Word got out, and I was connected with a Bolivian used-clothing merchant who had visited the States and had the rather good idea that the unusable clothing in the bales that he got from the States for resale could be turned into quilts and rag rugs. I made several trips to his factory on the Altiplano to teach his workers how to piece quilt tops and quilt them using an old-fashioned suspended quilting frame. They learned quickly and did a great job.

My star student. 
Quilting frame based on photos of old country frames in one of my quilting books.

This was in the days before the Internet, and I was not able to follow up and find out whether he made a success of his business after we left post. But I can say those guys turned out a quality product!

I collected quilting fabrics in Central America and Africa and had all kinds of fun with them. Unfortunately, the finished products have all either been given away, or put in storage because we have been showing our house. But here’s some of the stash I have left, all ready to play with on gray winter days in Vienna. (See, now I am prepared for the possibility of boredom and pack plenty of toys.)

Batiks, ikats and more.

Since coming back to DC in 2004, I have been more into yarn and knitting. This is partly because I didn’t have a place for my sewing machine until my daughter went to college. But it is also more suited to the smaller bites of time I have had available to me here. Things really took off after I learned that I could recycle sweaters into knitting yarn. It’s like quilting but with yarn! And hey, I was regularly shopping at thrift stores, anyway. Here’s a few items made with recycled yarn:

Wool hat and scarf.
Lacy lambswool shrug.
Pretty lacy cashmere-blend scarf for my grandmother.

I’ve experimented with dyeing recycled yarn as well, with mixed results. Here’s some that was dyed with food coloring:

Yarn dyed with Wilton’s food coloring.

As I write this, I realize that I am actually looking forward to having more time to be crafty once we get to post! Maybe I won’t be in too big a hurry to find work…


  1. You are a crafting goddess! What an inspiration! Especially passing on your quilting skills! I love these photos. I hope you will do a post on how to dye/recycle yarn … as if I need more yarn … but still, I am very curious. Thank you!


    • Haha, shows what fun you can have with 20 years of underemployment, that’s all. Here’s a good description of how to recycle yarn: You learn which sweaters will recycle well after a while, and which ones you have the patience for. I really like men’s poor boy sweaters that are large with a ton of yarn in them, and all stockinette so they unravel easily. Or sometimes I find a women’s XL scary batwing thing that will also produce a lot of yarn in a pretty color. I like to knit cables, so I am looking for aran-weight wool, for the most part. My daughter loves to knit lacy scarves and shawls, so she likes to buy womens’ angora or cashmere sweaters and use those. I would go crazy, but you can’t argue with getting a big old old pile of pure cashmere yarn for a couple of bucks.


  2. I am curious about the dying too. I have done a little with onions and the like, but how did you work it with material from sweaters?


    • I dyed it in an old crockpot. I am just playing around with that, really, so I wouldn’t write up how to do it myself. But I got the instructions from message boards on It was very easy to dye yarn just one color with acid dyes, but variegated was a lot trickier! That’s why I switched to food coloring to play around with that until I can get the hang of it. Fun, though.


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