Have you noticed how absolutely everything is suddenly braided and corded? From hairstyles (little tiny braids amongst long hair), to jewelry (tasseled, beaded silk twists to loop around your neck), to waistbands (thick and thin ropes to knot around layers of loose shirts and under vests), to plant holders (thick white macrame tufts and cords holding handmade ceramic pots).
Take a tip from the American Indians who use everything around them to create things of beauty - fur, feathers, clay turquoise, silver and leather - and look for things "ready at hand," which for us are found at the hardware store, the notions store or the five-and-ten.
Though you may sometimes think it's easier to search the forests and deserts for what you want rather than finding it in a store, keep your eyes open for the unexpected. Sisal ropes, clothesline, heavy white roving (untwisted hanks of natural wool), silky, satiny macrame cords, linen and cotton threads, and narrow or wide ribbons are all wonderful materials to combine to make cords and tassels.
You can use them for wrapping around yourself or your favorite planter. You can tie back the curtains, edge a pillow or a lampshade, decorate an evening skirt or a stole, or make a magnificent vest with couched and looped braids and cords.
Most people can't remember when they first learned to make a braid (about the same time they learned their ABCs!), but it was always done with three threads. How about using four? It's just as easy, and twice as effective.
And have you ever heard of a "rolling bosun" - that wonderfully easy knotted cord with a spiral effect. I've often wondered if the name was a reflection of the fact that the bosun got most of the rum ration or whether it simply meant that it was the bosun's job to make the spirally cord. Perhaps old seafarers reading this column many enlighten us.
Anyway, to make the rolling bosun, you take four lengths of string - two of one color, two of another - and knot them all together. You simply knot a pair of one color together (just like the first knot you do when you tie your shoelace), then a pair of the other color, knotting this second pair over the first. Continue knotting the colors alternately.
Nothing much happens at the beginning - it just looks somewhat of a mess. But don't despair, as soon as a couple of inches have appeared you will begin to see the spiral.
On your fist attempt, it's easier to use two colors to avoid confusion with the knots. But once you are used to working it, the rolling bosun is really more effective when done all in one color. Try it with all kinds of different threads - each different texture will create a surprisingly different cord.
Now try that miraculously easy thing, a twisted cord. You can make it by knotting a few strands of yarn together at either end, twisting the two ends against each other until the thread begins to kink. Then hold the twist firmly at the middle, bring the two ends together and stroke the twist (which has been formed like magic) until the kinks disappear. Knot the cord together to prevent it from untwisting - and there you are!
To make a long length, tie one end of your yarn bundle to the door knob and twist the other end with a pencil, "twizzling" it round and round with your finger. This is by far the quickest "mass-production" method. Remember, you will always end up with a little less than half the length you started with, whether you're using fine silky threads for a beaded necklace or thick strands of white wool for a tasseled plant holder.
Q: I've been unable to find any stamped cutwork for sale. In the past I've sewn several tablecloths (it takes about a year to finish one) and have loved to give them away as gifts. Now that I want to sew one for myself, I can't find any. I'm told they are "passe." Is this true? And if so, can you give me any advice as to waht I can do?
A: It's true that cutwork tablecloths, ready-to-stitch, have vanished from the scene - but far from being "passe," they are coming back into fashion. Of course, there's always a time lag between what's become the latest thing and the manufacturers' ability to produce it, so you may have to wait a little while before you can buy what you're looking for.
In recent times, the dining table has been covered exclusively by those easy-to-care-for plastic place mats because no one wants to do hand laundry anymore. You might consider using drip-dry fabrics that are available in large quantity to make your own cloth - then you would have the advantage of being able to throw it into the washing machine. With the renaissance in cutwork embroidery, you should be able to find a book on the subject quite easily. Ask at your local library for information on hardanger, Danish cutwork and counted patterns. Much of this doesn't need a stamped pattern - it can easily be counted out onto the even-weave cloth, straight from the designs in the book.