Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

BY KATRINA RODABAUGH | I’m thrilled to launch the Slow Fashion Citizen series with Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran, the founders of Fancy Tiger Crafts in Denver. Many of you already know Fancy Tiger Crafts as a yarn shop, fabric store, workshop host, community space, or other craft-centered bricks-and-mortar but I’m most excited to talk about their role in sustainable fashion. I love the ethos of Fancy Tiger Crafts as an independent business dedicated to supporting other independent designers, farmers and businesses, but I especially love how Jaime and Amber embrace this ethos in their own wardrobes and their own homemade textiles.

When Jaime recently posted an image on Instagram of her most-worn homemade garments I was completely smitten. It was exactly the type of clothes I’d want for my own closet, and so I promptly emailed Jaime and Amber to ask them to launch this series with me. In the coming months I’ll share interviews with artists, makers, designers, writers and advocates for slow fashion. Some will be makers and some will not. Some will buy their clothing from ethical designers while others will shop secondhand and others yet will make their own garments — some will do none of the above or others all three. We each enter the slow fashion movement with our own life experiences, skill sets, aesthetics, budgets, schedules and lifestyles, and I aim to share a variety of these stories with you through my interviews.

There was something so joyful, so friendly, so accessible, so relatable and so refreshing about Jaime’s outfit in that post. It seemed to say, “Hey, I made these beautiful garments and I know you could too.” And that’s the spirit I wanted to offer as I begin these interviews. I absolutely love that Arthur Ashe quote, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can,” and I reference it often in my work with slow fashion. Typically, we just have to begin. So today we begin with Fancy Tiger Crafts to get a better sense of their history, sustainable fashion journey, and their incredible homemade garments.

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Tell us about the founding of Fancy Tiger Crafts — was it an impulsive beginning or was it calculated? Did you two already work together in some capacity or was the business partnership new? 10 years! Congratulations.

Thank you! Amber and I met in Galveston, Texas, in 2001 and were fast friends. I moved to Denver in 2006 to open Fancy Tiger when Amber was still in Galveston. She relocated to the Western Slope of Colorado to open her own yarn shop in early 2008 and that was when I asked her to partner with me instead. She did! The shop started very small and we’ve slowly grown over the 10 years we’ve been open. We moved in 2012 to a larger location where we are still located today.

Did you make clothing and then start a business or start a business and then start making clothing? When you started, who were your maker or handmade wardrobe icons? Who are they now?

We both started making clothing a year or two after we opened Fancy Tiger. I hardly sewed at all and was only knitting scarves and hats when I opened Fancy Tiger. Even though I was a novice crafter, my passion for crafting was limitless and I was motivated to inspire our customers so I poured my heart into learning more and more. It helps being surrounded by our awesome staff and instructors. In 2006 there was not this same movement, nor was there the same online community (no Pinterest, or Instagram) so I didn’t have any handmade wardrobe icons. There were some local makers here in Denver that were inspirational such as Christina Patzman and Sunne Meyer. They both began teaching at the shop early on and are still sharing their knowledge here today.

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

On your website you say Fancy Tiger Crafts is a “revolutionary shop”. Can you say more about the revolutionary part? (Because I agree and I love this part.)

Fancy Tiger Crafts is a revolutionary shop because it was the first of its kind when we opened. Before Fancy Tiger Crafts, shops were usually committed to one craft — just yarn, or quilting or needlepoint. We wanted to do it all, so we sold supplies and taught classes for a variety of crafts, including quilting, garments, knitting, crochet, spinning, felting, embroidery and cross stitch. We were also unique in our age (we were in our twenties when we opened) which gave us a different aesthetic than the typical craft store of the early aughts and before.

You have such a great aesthetic and a great sense of community. How do you decide which products to carry or which artists to invite to teach?

Amber and I have very similar aesthetics so it is easy for us to decide what to carry — we carry what we love! We are both passionate about US-made yarns, natural fibers, sustainable products, and supporting small designers, farmers and businesses. All of this informs our decision of what to carry. We love carrying products when we have made a personal connection with the company or people behind the company. We have become friends with a lot of the makers we support.

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

Your handmade wardrobes are so inspiring. Did you consider sustainability or ethical fashion when you first started making clothing? It seems so central to your mission as a business.

We didn’t! We mostly started making clothes because we wanted to make a skirt out of that cute new Japanese cat fabric or something selfish like that. I think when you first get into making clothes it can be a bit of a novelty, and it’s cool to have fun with that. Of course, the more we make our own clothes the more the issue of sustainable fashion comes into play. Everything is a process and it’s been a journey to get to where we are today.

Jaime, you recently posted on Instagram about your favorite handmade garments, listing the patterns, fabrics and pieces that you were wearing in that image. I love your outfit! And I loved the blog post where you both share your most-worn handmade garments. How do you decide which pieces to make for your wardrobe — do you have a sense of your own fashion style, body type, material comfort or fiber preferences? Can you tell when you start making something if it will be a favorite, or is it a matter of serendipity that all the elements come together just so?

Thanks! I have very strong ideas about what I like and a good idea of what will fit my body. I’ve been making my own clothes for a while and they are not always a win, but it’s always a learning experience. Currently I’m into very simple and flowy, square-shaped tops. Sometimes I fall in love with the fabric or yarn first and then I have to find the right pattern to work with it. Sometimes I fall in love with the shape and fit of a pattern and have to find the right material. Since we buy for the store, I usually know what we have coming in and often have ideas of what I want to make with it before it even arrives.

I think so many beginning- to intermediate-level textile enthusiasts are scared off from making clothing. I think this is part perfectionism — fear we’ll get it wrong — and part that we’ve lost these basic skills and basic confidence because we can buy new clothing so inexpensively. Of course, cheap clothing comes at a high ethical cost but it’s often “cheaper” to purchase. So … how do you encourage students to take a risk on making garments? Was there a moment when you had to just dive in and start pushing outside of your own comfort zone? How do you calm the inner perfectionist as you sew or knit?

Absolutely, you have to take risks! It’s the only way to grow. We’ve made tons of mistakes. Sometimes we still wear things even when they aren’t perfect or didn’t end up how we imagined. If we’re not going to wear something, we will gift the item or put it on display here at the shop. The important thing is to learn from those mistakes instead of being defeated by them.

What’s your advice to other folks who want to make a garment or even an entire handmade wardrobe but haven’t yet taken the plunge?

Start small and then actually wear the thing you made! The confidence and excitement you get when you finally wear something you made will boost you to keep going — I promise. You are aware of every stitch in the garment and all the “mistakes” that might be there because you sewed every seam up close and personal; no one else will notice this. Your friends and family will all be impressed and inspired by your handmade garments, trust me.

Slow Fashion Citizens: Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

You carry such amazing materials and you are at the center of this amazing crafter’s community but if you had to recommend just three crafters for current inspiration who would you each suggest? And three favorite products or tools you personally cannot live without?

Jaime’s three current craft heroes: Tara-Lynn of Good Night, Day; Devon of MissMake; and Julia of Woodfolk. Jaime’s three tools: Swedish tracing paper for sewing, rotary cutter (how I cut out all my garment pieces), and 40″ Addi Turbo needles so I can knit anything I want using magic loop.

Amber’s current craft inspiration: Jen Beeman of Grainline Studio; Carrie Hoge of Madder; and Kristine Vejar of A Verb for Keeping Warm. Amber’s three tools: Oh, man, I agree with Jaime’s three picks. Those are essential. If I had to choose three other favorites I’d say a nice sharp seam ripper, a steamy iron — I love the Panasonic cordless irons we have in our classrooms — and a dependable sewing machine. I’m in love with my Janome Skyline and its automatic thread-cutting magic.

Thank you SO much for joining me. I’m so inspired by your business, your products, your classes and your amazing handmade wardrobes!

Thank you!!

Katrina Rodabaugh is an author, artist and slow-fashion advocate. Visit her website www.katrinarodabaugh.com or follow her on Instagram at @katrinarodabaugh

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PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion Citizens: Introduction

Photos © Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran

Introducing “Slow Fashion Citizen”

Introducing "Slow Fashion Citizen"

At the turn of the year, I asked what you guys had enjoyed most last year or want to see more of this year, and what I heard loudest from you was more content relating to slow fashion. There were several requests for me to spread the subject out more, with comments that Slow Fashion October can be overwhelming and that obviously it’s a subject that’s of interest and relevance year-round. I couldn’t agree more! I’m definitely not saying Slotober is going away or anything, and obviously there’s a slow fashion aspect to every post I do about what I’m making (or even that I’m making my clothes in the first place), but I do want to address the subject in various and direct ways throughout the year. I was particularly happy to hear that feedback because I already had an idea for a series of interviews — discussions with slow fashion proponents and role models of all kinds, from sewers and knitters to thrifters, designers, manufacturers — and had that on my editorial calendar beginning in January.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the series launch: while falling immediately behind schedule, I also found out author/slow fashion advocate/mending teacher Katrina Rodabaugh had the exact same plan! I’m a fan of Katrina — we met in an “embroidermending” workshop in Oakland in 2014 (a workshop that had a major impact on me) and we’ve been social media friends ever since. (We also bonded at Rhinebeck ’15 over the difficulty of adjusting to life outside the Bay Area, both of us having moved away.) So when I heard what she had in mind, I got in touch. And I’m happy to report that instead of the two of us hoeing the same row, Katrina will be conducting the interviews and they’ll be published here on Fringe Association! We’re calling it “Slow Fashion Citizen” and it starts tomorrow. So welcome aboard, Katrina! I’m really looking forward to this.

I’ll have more to say about other slow fashion content coming up soon. Meanwhile, if you’re not familiar with Katrina — or even if you are — I hope you’ll go read her recent post where she talks about her background and what she hopes to accomplish with this interview series. Definitely check out her Instagram feed. And if you have kids, take a look at her book The Paper Playhouse.

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Knit the Look: Camille Charriere’s stripes

Knit the Look: Camille Charriere's striped sweater

Here’s a styling option I hadn’t considered for my striped pullover: shiny pants! Never happen, but I admire how striking Camille Charriere looks in these photos — showing the world that black-and-white does not equal boring. And I do look forward to wearing mine slung over my shoulders like this — one styling holdover from my teen years that I’ve never not loved in the interim. All you really need to approximate this sweater is my notes on my striped sweater, but the other option would be to pick your favorite basic pullover pattern and simply knit it in alternating stripes. Camille’s sweater looks to be more like 1.5″ or 2″ stripes (as opposed to my 2.5″ awning stripes) and more of a truer, flatter black and white than mine. So for yarn, you might consider Brooklyn Tweed’s new Arbor in Kettle and Thaw. I’m told Thaw is technically a really pale icy grey (I haven’t seen it in person) but it would read more white against the black than an undyed (ivory) yarn would. Not a lot of yarns include both black and white in the palette, so feel free to pipe up below with other ideas! As far as the other sweater details, it looks like the waist ribbing spans the last two stripes, and the ribbed cuffs might actually be grey? They seem darker than the white stripes, and I like the idea of that, either way.

For Vanessa’s suggestions on the rest of Camille’s look, see her original blog post.

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PREVIOUSLY in Knit the Look: Perfect grey turtleneck

New Favorites: Baedecker

New Favorites: Baedecker

I have yet to knit a scarf, and every once in awhile I see a scarf that makes me think, hm, that might be the one. I’m still not over Linda, but now there’s Baedecker by Marina Skua (from Quince and Co’s Scarves Etc 6 collection) putting up an argument that perhaps it should be my first. I’m entranced by those giant cabled diamonds — so simple, but so striking. If I get to do some long-distance traveling this spring, this might be a good companion, since it would be occupying but slow going.

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Purl’s most brilliant blanket

Q for You: How do you use Pinterest?

Q for You: How do you use Pinterest?

When Pinterest was young, I was deeply in love. Back around 2011-’12, when I also happened to be a brand-new knitter, it was an essential part of my daily routine. I’d log on late at night with a glass of wine, and/or first thing in the morning with my yogurt, scroll back to where I’d last left off, and wander my way upwards — looking for random inspiration and also (maybe moreso) for interesting people. In those days, your feed was made up very straightforwardly of the chronological pins of the people you had elected to follow, and it also displayed who they had repinned an image from, as well as any comments on the pin. So not only could you control what you were seeing by choosing who to follow, and could keep your place because it was chronological, but you could find and meet new people! I loved seeing who my chosen pinners were getting their best pins from, clicking through to find out more about those people, and interacting. Along with being lit up by all the beauty in my curated page, I discovered all sorts of interesting people with excellent taste, and met some of my favorite knitters and even one of my very best friends that way.

Then, as seems to be inevitable, things went south. From my perspective, anyway. A redesign a few years ago buried the community layer — no longer did the bottom of each pin in the scroll say who it was repinned from, comments were collapsed (and thus suppressed, activity-wise). If you want a pin to lead you to other good pinners, it now requires time and effort. The feed stopped being chronological and gradually became jammed full of sponsored or suggested pins, so it was no longer specific to the pinners you’d chosen to follow. Which meant it looked more like the old front page (the everyone page) and less like one’s own little curated world. And now they’re even collapsing the captions — it’s like they have a vendetta against words! Having worked in tech, I have no doubt they’re making data-driven decisions — they must have evidence that other people didn’t care about all that stuff that made me love it in the first place. I guess. But is that true? Or is Pinterest no longer the phenom it once was because so many other people valued it the same way I did, data notwithstanding?

The thing is, I still love Pinterest — or at least, I want to. I long for those days when I could call it up in my browser and know I was going to tumble down a gaping rabbit hole of gorgeousness, but I’ve been trying to find new ways to make use of what it is, since it’s no longer useful to me in the way it was. I think now I use it more the way it was originally conceived — simply as a place to store things I want to save and find again, or occasionally to search for something specific. I’m enjoying making my guest board for BT. I have some secret/shared boards for project planning. I’ve been repinning the whole site archive onto series-themed boards, and love being able to see whole series at a glance like that. (And hope you do, too!) And I still see a lot of blog traffic coming from Pinterest, so I know people are still using it.

But I am curious, and so that’s my Q for You today: How do you use Pinterest? What do you use it for and hope to get out of it. Do you look at it every night/morning or only when you have a specific need? What works for you, Pinterest-wise. Or do you use it at all?

I look forward to your responses, and also wish you a happy weekend!

(NOTE: The image above is a screengrab from my Yarny Goodness board. I have two Pinterest accounts — karentempler and fringeassoc)

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PREVIOUSLY in Q for You:

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

In Our Tools, Ourselves, we get to know fiber artisans of all walks, ages, styles and skill levels, by way of their tools. For more on the series, read the introduction.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

In recent months, Beth Thais — I mean, @beththais — has become one of my very favorite Instagrammers. You may recall she was also one of the WIP of the Week winners last summer. I don’t really know anything about her other than that she’s an incredible sewer and knitter, takes beautiful photos and lives in the Bay Area. Since encountering her online, I’ve wished I had made friends with her while I still lived there, and having asked her to answer my Our Tools, Ourselves questions — reading her answers and seeing these photos — has made me wish I had moved in with her. Forgive me if that sounds creepy, but I think you’re likely to feel the same way. ;)

In addition to her Instagram feed, you can find her on Ravelry as beththais. Thanks so much for doing this, Beth!

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Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?

I knit (14 years running), sew (five years) or quilt (two years) almost every day. I enjoy spinning and crochet on occasion. I dyed my first-ever skeins of yarn last month and I liked it.

Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.

I get attached to the potential tools bring, and their sentimentality. Like fabric on the bolt, it’s easy to pick up a tool and picture all things you could make with it — that sense of possibility is so heady and hard for me to resist.

I do most of my sewing on a modern Bernina and a Brother serger that I researched and bought deliberately. And my rotary cutter and mats and my first good pair of sewing scissors were the same. Most other things I use, including the 1950s Gimble sewing machine I learned on, are things I’ve stumbled across online or at garage sales, or I am lucky to get them as gifts from family or friends.

And I know it’s bizarre, but I just don’t care that much what kind of needles I knit with. Metal, wood, circulars, DPNs — I care about the yarn and the pattern, everything else is background.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?

I have a big cabinet for yarn and another for fabric. The fabric cabinet was pulled out of the dining room of a 1920s home in Burlingame, California, before demolition and came to me by way of Craigslist years later. My husband restored it and installed it in the spare bedroom I use as a workshop. He did such a beautiful job — it looks like it’s been a part of our house for a hundred years.

My yarn cabinet is a 1930s kitchen cabinet with stove burner etched glass that I bought from a woman downsizing her home in Oakland. She had used it for many years to hold painting and ceramic art supplies, so it’s on a second tour of duty storing tools for making. My rolled sewing patterns are in a ceramic umbrella stand I found at a garage sale. Boxed patterns are in two baskets in an order I can pretty much recite but has no real organization behind it.

I have a yellow standing sewing box that I treasure. It’s a bizarre little piece of midcentury furniture built entirely with making in mind: pin cushions on the inside of the lid, dozens of little pockets lining the inside for your tools and notions, a deep curved bottom for your sweater or hand sewing project in progress, and little wheels so you can drag it all around the house with you. It is incredibly useful, but also so specifically built to my purpose that I can’t help having an affinity. We share interests, it and I.

When my projects leave the house, I have little tool kits to go with them. Tasa Gleason came to a monthly Seam Allowance meeting at A Verb for Keeping Warm in Oakland with a Sew Together bag she had made. We all loved it and kept after her until she agreed to teach a class so we could each sew our own. I have a full-sized one for hand sewing and the mini size for knitting. They have built-in pin cushions and needle stops and a million pockets and I know by heart what goes in each one.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?

With exceptions for gifts made on a deadline, I give myself freedom to work on what inspires me. I use a big bulletin board to plan projects obsessively when it suits, but also wait for that idea that bewitches me out of nowhere. Some of my most euphoric makes are completely unplanned and heady with that sense of giving into a wonderful whim.

My Snoqualmie cardigan sent me on a bus to buy yarn on my lunch break, and I cast on during my commute home despite not having the right size needles to do a tubular cast-on properly. So one sleeve starts with a long-tail cast-on and it looks a little different than all the other hems, and while I completely get that most people think that’s totally nuts, I don’t know … it’s never bothered me. I look at that cast-on that doesn’t match and remember how much I loved that sweater when I first saw it, and how thrilling it was to turn around and suddenly be making something so beautiful and complex with my own hands.

This approach begets many active projects. I have a drawer for sleeping or misbehaving WIPs, and an accordion wall rack that has the ones I’m rotating between more frequently. I’m a huge fan of the Stowe Bag for active projects — if I end up with more WIPs than bags, I can always make more. There is literally a Stowe on the project rack that has pieces of other Stowes-in-progress inside.

I’ll pick the project that speaks to me and head to my little rolling sewing box if I’m working around the house, or grab the right travel bag if I’m headed out the door. It’s a system that works surprisingly well, and I’m grateful for the freedom to have most days start with thought and a decision about what I’ll spend time with.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?

I inherited a beautiful blue spinning wheel that has been in my husband’s family for generations. I spin on a modern wheel, but think about restoration.

I have a small gold thimble from my husband’s grandmother. There’s a scissor case that looks like a pizza slice that I made on a whim that I’m bizarrely attached to and take everywhere. My husband is a geologist and my pattern weights are all rocks he’s brought home over the years.

I have a standing mirror that was the mirror my mother-in-law shared with her sisters in their room growing up. The table that holds my sewing machine and serger is an old oak desk built for two people to use facing each other. The drawers open in either direction, which I adore, and it’s full of weird little corners and drawers that I fill with patterns and notes and books and tools.

Do you lend your tools?

About two years ago, a woman at an improvisational quilting class who was much better at improvisational quilting than I was gave me a 12 x 12 ruler because she had a spare and I didn’t have one yet. It felt like a validation of the skill I was trying to learn, and support of the work I had left to do. I will lend anything and give most things if you need them; I believe in our community and the support we can give each other.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

What is your favorite place to knit/sew/spin/dye/whatever?

I work away from home and I have young children who don’t nap anymore, so nights are my creative time. And I’ll get up much earlier on weekends that I ever do during the week, and have the sun come up while I’m cutting out pattern pieces if I’m feeling ambitious, or sit on the couch with sleepy pets and knit and think about the day. It’s a meditation, a beginning and end of the day I always recognize.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

What effect do the seasons have on you?

I’m consistent in my inconsistency; seasons tend not to change my approach.

Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?

I knit everywhere, I sew everywhere, but I only feel like spinning if it’s 75 degrees and breezy and I can sit outside, listen to music and have a glass of wine. It happens maybe four times a year and it is transcendent.

I take a project with me everywhere; it’s like a comfort object. The one day I leave the house convinced that bringing a WIP is silly will be the day I get a seat on the train and that train will break down and spend 45 minutes stuck in a tunnel. If you happen to meet me in the supermarket, know there’s at minimum a sock-in-progress somewhere on my person.

What are you working on right now?

I have a crocheted afghan that lives in a basket on top of a cabinet. Knitting feels the best to me, but I’ll crochet a square every few weeks just for the feel of something different in my hands. There’s a Furrow Cowl by Jared Flood that’s been my project of choice for a few weeks and is nearing the finish line, knit off a treasured cone of Sally Fox’s naturally colored cotton.

My most ambitious undertaking is an English paper pieced quilt called Patchwork of the Crosses, designed by Lucy Boston. It’s my first hand-sewn quilt, my first English paper pieced project. Weaving, crochet and spinning are enjoyable, but I’ve never found them captivating the way I do knitting and sewing — and I think I assumed I had found the two types of making I’d love most. But I folded the two first little fabric scraps around paper templates and stitched the edges together and I knew immediately that I’d do this forever. It’s such a surprise and a gift, to find another thing to fall in love with.

Our Tools, Ourselves: Beth Thais

PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Karen Templer

Photos © Beth Thais

Hot Tip: Go long

Hot Tip: Go long

I ran across this tip on Pinterest a few years ago — a link to a 2009 blog post about “traveling loop” — and only just recently tried it. It’s a cure for what may be a less-common problem: trying to knit with a circular needle that’s longer than the circumference of your knitting. All you do to get the excess cord length out of your way is pull the right needle tip out, along with the slack in your cord, bend it into a loop, and start knitting. The loop will remain between those two stitches, and will travel around the round with them, just like a stitch marker would. (In fact, it could function as your Beginning of Round marker if that’s where you create the loop.) It will continue to travel on up your left needle tip at the end of the round, so once you’ve knitted the last stitch, you start over — pushing your stitches to the end of the left tip, pulling the right one out, making your loop. There are step-by-step pics in the blog post linked above, but it’s also the kind of thing that’s hard to grasp until you’ve done it.

So when and why would you do this? It will work on a cowl or a sweater body or any circular situation where your cord is too long but your tips aren’t. For small-circumference knitting, you’d still need to resort to Magic Loop or DPNs. (Long needle tips won’t allow you to knit a hat or mitts this way.) But I’ve discovered a bonus aspect of this, if you’re knitting a sweater body in the round, is that using one really long needle is a decent alternative to the two-needle method for try-on. With this method, when you’re ready to try on, just pull the two tips free and the whole sweater can rest on the longer cord. It makes for more fiddly knitting, but it’s a good trick to have in your arsenal.

(And why are the two tips in the pic different colors? See Mismatch your tips.)

UNRELATED: I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting this blog (and others) to load in Safari over the past week. Are you any of you experiencing that?

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PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Bury your ends