Keep Your F#(&^ng Tribute, Give Moms Decent Wages and Support

One of our local TV stations shared this video on YouTube.

Their comment read:

This Mother’s Day video is a heartwarming story of love, sacrifice and what it means to be a mom. This tribute shows the multiple perspectives of motherhood: from the parent and the child, and it’s our hope that it tugs at your heart strings. This is a tribute to all moms! Happy Mother’s Day from all of us at Denver7.

While some may see this as sweet and endearing, it’s actually anything but that.  It’s horrifying and tragic.

Single Parent

First, the Dad (or other partner) seems to be absent.  It could be because of divorce or death, or the partner could be a deployed service-member or on some sort of long-term business trip.  Either way, the two are on their own and managing on opposing time schedules.  They’ve also been doing this long enough that it has become routine.

Not Poor – Yet

The house is a pleasant looking, stand-alone property.  They have a dog and trendy furniture and appliances, so they’re not dirt poor.  Perhaps the Mom won the house in the divorce, or her partner left them with a level of comfort when they died.  If her partner is out of town related to their job, the family could be on good footing to maintain their status of living.

But other evidence implies that they are dealing with significant financial troubles.  Here is Mom’s schedule:

  • 4:30 am – Wake up, prepare for the day, chores
  • 7:00 am – Job #1.
  • 2:30 pm – Home again.  We don’t know how long her commute is, but Job #1 probably ends around 2:00, making it a 6 hour/day part-time position.  (Most jobs don’t pay for the lunch hour anymore, so 7:00-2:00 is 6 working hours with a 1 hour unpaid break.)
  • 3:00 – Off to Job #2.
  • 10:05 – Home again.  Again, depending on her commute, it could be a 5 to 6 hour shift.

Job #2 is the real teller.  She’s not a restaurateur, she’s not a manager, and it’s not a volunteer, help-the-community role.  She’s a waitress/busser.  And based on her expressions on her shift, she isn’t working there because she wants to.  She’s doing it because she has to.

Her income from Job #1 (and any income from the partner that may or may not exist) cannot meet her expenses by itself.  Therefore she needs another job to cover the bases, one that will work around her day job.  If she wants to keep that nice house with the nice furniture and nice appliances, she has to take a crappy, after-hours job and never see her kid during the week.

This does not sound like a family that is financially secure.  It sounds like one that is just holding on.

The Low Cost of Women’s Labor

Food service and retail are the most available positions for the swing shift, the working period somewhere between mid-afternoon and midnight.  Retail typically pays around minimum wage or a little above; but food service and hospitality are frequently paid below that, relying on tips to make up the difference. It is no coincidence that these positions are significantly filled by women.  According to the Department of Labor1:

  • Almost 90% of housekeepers and maids are women
  • 73% of cashiers are women
  • 70% of restaurant servers are women
  • 63.5% of fast food workers are women
  • 56.6% of the service industry overall are women

Women are more likely to accept these low-paying jobs for many reasons including social expectations, discrimination in education and/or hiring, fear of harassment in certain fields, or sheer desperation.  Women who have children or aging family members to take care of can’t afford to wait through a three-tiered interview process for a salaried position.  They need a job that they can start yesterday.  So even highly overqualified women will apply at a nearby Applebee’s or Target that will allow them to flex their schedule around their family’s needs.

Notice that Video Mom’s Job #1 is a part-time position.  Why does she have a part-time administrative job?  It’s not because her schedule doesn’t allow for it – she goes to Job #2 just a half-hour after she gets home from Job #1.  If she had a full-time job, it would free up her evenings for her son.

Part-time positions are cheaper for employers to fill.  They allow employers to deny employees benefits such as healthcare, disability, retirement plans, and paid time off.  According to the National Women’s Law Center2:

Part-time employees are especially likely to be female and earn low wages. Millions of those in part-time jobs work part time not because they want to, but because they cannot get full-time work. … Part-time employees frequently make less per hour for the same work, lack access to important workplace benefits, are denied promotion opportunities, and are subject to abusive scheduling practices.

There is no legal definition of part-time, but it is generally considered to be less than 35 hours per week.  A person can work two 34 hour/week part-time jobs, totaling 68 working hours/week, with no benefits and minimal stability or chances for advancement.  Compare this to a person with a full-time job, working 40 hours/week, receiving insurance, 401(k), PTO, and promotion opportunities.

Put It All Together, And What Have You Got?

We have a woman who has been forced by undisclosed circumstances to work 11-12 hours a day.  Because both of her jobs are part-time positions, she most likely does not receive any employee benefits.  Therefore she has to work even harder to be financially prepared for any emergencies that may come up for her or her son.

Her son has had to grow up too soon.  He looks to be about 9-10 years old, but he’s already mature enough to get ready in the morning on his own, do his homework, reheat his own meals, and take care of himself in the evenings.

And this situation is supposed to be “heartwarming”?  It’s not heartwarming; it’s heartbreaking.  It’s not sacrifice; it’s exploitation.  Sacrifice is when you willing give up something.  Exploitation is when you are forced to do something you wouldn’t normally do for someone else’s profit.

And it’s even more disturbing that this heartbreaking, exploitative situation has become so normalized that it is seen as beautiful instead of hideous.

I am not ok with that.  I hope you’re not ok with it either.  Elections are coming up, and I encourage you to use your vote to ensure that working families don’t have to live by the skin of their teeth.  Vote for politicians who support fair labor practices, equal pay for women, workplace safety, and child welfare programs like pre-K and after-school enrichment.  Your Mother deserves nothing less.





On Feedback, Critique, and Mentoring

A gentleman bard in the SCA recently asked me to read over one of his pieces and offer my feedback.  As with anyone who wants me to critique their work, I asked him how much critique he actually wanted.  This is a very important question – it establishes boundaries and asks the artist to think about their relationship with their art.

Answer the aproned ferret!!

In general, I offer three degrees of critique:

  1. Encourage me and say it’s great!
  2. I’m up for some bad news, but please tread lightly.
  3. Tear it up and dissect it for every flaw.

There is no wrong option as long as you’re being honest with yourself and with me.

Tell Me I’m Pretty

There is nothing bad about simply wanting praise and encouragement to build confidence.  We humans are pack animals and are evolutionarily designed to thrive on the acceptance and approval of our group.  I understand that, and I can usually find at least one element to rave about.

Sometimes an artist needs brutal honesty, because they want to create a very specific effect for their audience.  But if a piece is less for the audience and more for the artist themselves, there may be sensitive and vulnerable feelings tied up in it.  When an artist has a deep personal connection to their piece, it feels like the art is a literal part of them.  How many artists have you heard brag, “My art reflects my soul,” or some other statement that entwines the artist’s sense of self with their work?  If someone then critiques the art, the emotionally-invested artist can’t help but take that critique personally – someone is finding fault with their art, and is in effect finding fault with them as an artist and a person.  In reality, few critics are actually critiquing the artist as a person.  (I’ll admit there are supercilious assholes out there, but most of us mean well.)

A friend with limited expertise in a medium can be relied on for enthusiastic compliments or even full blown white lies.  But there are different expectations on feedback from someone who has knowledge and understanding of the art in question.  The artist is presumably asking for ways to become a better artist.  A critic who is also a mentor or teacher may even feel a responsibility to offer “constructive criticism”, even if the artist isn’t exactly in the best mental/emotional place to receive it.  How can a critic know if the artist is looking for approval and validation, or if the artist is looking for guidance on their next steps to develop their skills?

Easy.  Ask them what they need.  And let them know that needing praise and encouragement without critique is completely ok and normal.

Into the Breach

If an artist decides they want something more aggressive, I will point out the strong points and the weak points.  For the weak points, I will try to specifically describe why it is off, but I try to avoid telling them how to “fix” it.  First, I don’t want to limit our conversation to how to improve this specific piece.  I want the artist to learn how to recognize weak points on their own, and to build their personal tool box of editing skills.

Second, I want to make sure their piece retains their voice.  When I was in college, I took a Stage Direction class.  After I presented one of my scenes, the professor started offering guidance, but wound up completely changing the entire scene around – different blocking, different delivery, different nuances – and utterly demolished any semblance of what I had wanted to say.  It wasn’t teaching.  It was replacing my vision with hers.  I wound up dropping the class.

I went on to direct plays in the SCA despite this unfortunate incident, and I have full confidence in my talents and abilities in that arena.  But when a respected teacher basically tells a student that their vision is WRONG, it’s easy to imagine that student giving up in frustration and/or shame.  Having come close myself, I don’t want to put anyone else in that position.

I may offer some suggestions, but they are only that – suggestions.  And if my ideas are way off base from what they trying to do, I want them tell me.  I can better help them reach their vision if I have a more clear idea of what it is.  But in the end, this is their message and their words.  And I want them to be the one who tells it.

Teaching the Teacher

It’s been a long journey from a casual artist to a serious artist to a teacher of art.  It is always an honor to be asked to help other artists on their paths.  My hope is that the people I have mentored will go on to mentor others in the future.  And I also hope that as they learn about their art, they learn something about how to help others learn about their arts too.

Whipcord Gallery

I’ve been busy since I started playing with whipcord.  Here are some of the different looks I’ve been able to create.  (Please pardon the over-exposure of some of the shots.  My only camera is my phone, and I’m still learning how to adjust things.)


Simple, 4-strand cords with a 3:1 color scheme produce a speckled cord.

Left – Three black to one red.

Right – Three turquoise to one yellow.


4-strand, single-pass cords, but with twists inserted to periodically change the pattern.  The twists that change the pattern are seamless in the finished cord.

Left – After every 10 sets of passes I swapped two of my strings to alternate between spiral and stripe patterns.

Middle and Right – After every 10 sets of passes, I inserted a double-pass.  This caused the direction of the spiral to reverse.  (It’s much easier to see on the black/white cord than the purple/yellow.  In person, the purple/yellow is actually quite nice.)


4-strand striped cords in three colors are great for showcasing a dominant color with two secondary colors.

Left – Single-passes.  Two black stripes with green and white passing each other for the other stripes.

Middle and Right – Single/Double-passes.  The dominant color (red in the middle cord, yellow in the cord on the right) is single-passed, and the other two are double-passed.  Notice  in the middle cord how the black is more prominent at the top, but the white shows more toward the bottom.  This is due to the uneven pattern of stitches formed by a double-pass – a larger stitch and a smaller one that wraps around it.  When slynging yarn, these cords make lovely trim or couching cord with a dominant, secondary, and tertiary color.  The secondary and tertiary color is determined by which side you attach face-up on your project, as they will be the opposite on the flipped side.


4-strand spiral cords in three colors.  The dominant color is still evident in the solid spiral twisting around the other colors, but it’s not as striking as the stripes.  But it’s still a pretty cord.  All of these are single-passes.


Double-passed cords.

Left – Double-passed, 6-string stripes in blue, white, and yellow.  A simple color scheme, but a deeply textured cord.

Middle – Double-passed, 4-string “spiral” in blue and green.  The string arrangement on the hands would produce a spiral if it was single-passed, but since the double-pass puts the string back on its original side, the color never carries around the cord.  It does make a neat herringbone pattern, though.

Left – Double-passed, 4-string, tri-color in white (2), purple (1), and black (1).  The white strings were in one hand, passing with the black and purple strings in the other hand.  This would produce a three-color spiral if it was done with single-passes.


6-string cords.  The string arrangements for each of these cords are shown below.

Left – In-and-Out in blue, red, and black.  I describe this pattern in a previous post.

Right – An embattled cord in black and yellow made with single-passes in an asterisk pattern.  Due to the CW twist of the black 1-4 pair (the other pairs are CCW), it looks like yellow embattlements on a black field.  If the yellow pair had the contrary twist (i.e. twined in the opposite direction of the other two pairs), it would look like black embattlements on a yellow field.


These are just a few of the looks you can achieve with whipcords.  There is much more creativity available to you than the basic stripes and spirals.

Distaff Holster

One way of supporting your whipcord distaff is by tucking your skirt or shirt into a belt and  anchoring the end in the resulting fold.  But I didn’t particularly want to risk poking a hole into or skewing the weave of my clothes.  So I devised a small holster that I could easily hang on my belt.  Having dealt with plenty of hangy-downy-things on my belts before, I also wanted to be able to remove it without having to completely take the belt off.


How To

I have a 1 ½” wide belt, and my holster will work for up to a 2″ belt.  If your belt is significantly wider, you can adjust the fastener as needed.

Start with a 16″ x 2 ½” strip of a heavy cloth like trigger or duck.  (I used a piece of trigger twice that size, and doubled it over to make finished edges without having to hem.)

Fold up the lower 4 ½” to form the holster pocket and stitch it down on either side.  Just a reminder – don’t sew the mouth closed at the top.


I used a button and button hole, spaced as shown above, to make the belt loop.

And that’s all there was to it.  It supports and stabilizes the distaff really well while standing or sitting, and is super convenient to use.  Feel free to get creative with yours.  Embroider it, paint it, or tool one in leather.  Or keep it simple and practical.  As long as it serves its purpose.

And Then There Were Six – Viking Whipcording Variations, Part 2

In the previous blog entry I explored patterns that could be made with six bobbins.  I limited my discussion to what could be done with single passes and simple sequences, focusing on how the bobbin arrangements alone changed the resulting cords.  Now I will show what adding complex passes can bring to our asterisk and star patterns.

Flat Cords

My standard pass sequence for asterisk patterns is 2-5, 3-6, 1-4.  This brings your passes around in a continuous circle.  When you change it to 2-5, 3-6, 1-4, 3-6, like a see-saw, you get a flattened cord.  The extra 3-6 pass squishes the cord with the other threads flaring to the sides.  If you use a bulkier fiber, it works very nicely as trim; it lays well and shapes easily to curves.




Textured Cords – Triple Doubles and In-and-Out

These variations produced exciting cords with beautiful textured effects.  The depth of the waves on Triple Doubles, the double-pass asterisk pattern, is particularly striking.

In-and-Out is the star pattern made by passing each triangle three times, all the way around to its starting point, before passing the other triangle.  I only tried this to be thorough, and I didn’t expect anything interesting to come of it.  I thought that by returning each color to its starting place, I would just get long, single-color stitches around a dense core.  I was very pleasantly surprised by the little dots the wrapping threads make!  It has a more subtle texture than Triple Doubles, but the interplay of the two small stitches on the larger stitch is quite lovely.



Single Doubles and Double Doubles

The Single Double pattern is similar to the Flat Cord pattern, but not as flat.  Also, the stitches on the double-passed pair alternate small and large, rather than the even stitches of the 3-6 passes in the Flats.  I did find, however, that the pattern is much more distinct if you use your 3-6 pair for the double-pass.  If you double-pass on the 2-5 or 1-4, the small stitch tends to get swallowed by the twist that forms when you start the next pass sequence (visible in the pictures below).  The same holds for Double Doubles – the pattern is more distinct if the 3-6 pass is unique; the single-pass between two double-passes.

The direction of your passes, clockwise (CW) or counter-clockwise (CCW), is more important in these patterns than in the normal single-pass patterns.  If the direction of your double-pass is in the same direction as the previous pass, e.g. CW CW, the pattern gets muddied and sloppy.  Passing the double in the opposite direction keeps the look more crisp and defined.  For example, I typically start each sequence with the 2-5 pair going CCW.  When I pass the 3-6 pair, I need to pass them CW to keep the pattern neat.

sds     dsd


The colored charts above are a simplification of the actual cords.  As you can see in the picture of the real cords, the CW-CCW transition between the 1-4 and 2-5 passes produces an angled stitch that subtly impacts the pattern.  Play with this quirk to see how you can use it to your advantage.

I haven’t completely explored the designs possible with doubles patterns, but I have figured out one that my kids love.  I’m using a narrow yarn, so the cord is thick enough to make a nice trim for a tunic or two.  Have fun with Poké Balls!




And Then There Were Six – Viking Whipcording Variations, Part 1

After exhausting the permutations of four bobbins, I decided to try my hands at juggling six bobbins.  This required figuring out new hand positions and some focus to keep the patterns in mind, but after a yard or two I could maintain a comfortable rhythm.  The results were exciting new patterns, some very pretty cords, and lots of cool exploration.

For my sampler cord, I used three colors wrapping two bobbins each.  This would make balanced tri-colored cords, rather than the 2-1-1 tri-colored cords possible with a four-bobbin set.  There are two basic passing patterns possible with six bobbins: passing opposites in three sets of pairs, like an asterisk; or passing three bobbins at a time in a six-pointed star pattern.  (Passing adjacent bobbins is in effect the star pattern, unless you’re swapping specific bobbins for a very precise design.  But that’s more involved than the “basic” passes we’re looking at now.)


For orientation, threads 1 and 2 are closest to the body, held out by the thumbs like a cat’s cradle hold.  4 and 5 are farthest away from the body, held with the pinky and ring fingers.  3 and 6 are hooked with the middle fingers, leaving the pointer fingers free to steer the passes.  This hold is especially important for keeping the bobbins organized for the star pattern.

Single Passes in the Asterisk Pattern

There are five ways to arrange three pairs of colors without just rotating the same arrangement around your fingers.  My pass order was 2-5, 3-6, 1-4, and repeat.

Stripes – Clean and simple.


Stripes and Spirals – Notice the change in the direction of the red and yellow spirals depending on the bobbin arrangement.  These make very nice looking cords, particularly to highlight one dominant color (the stripes) against two secondary colors.


Broken Spirals –  In the first arrangement, the blue spiral slants down to the left, while the red and yellow slant to the right.  In the second, all the spirals slant to the left.



Single Passes in the Star Pattern

Of the five bobbin arrangements for the asterisk pattern, two are formed when two other arrangements are passed through their sequence in the star pattern.  (This leaves us with three effective star pattern bobbin arrangements.)  My pass order was 2-4-6 clockwise (CW), 1-5-3 counter clockwise (CCW), repeat.  The two triangles must go in opposite directions to make a single cord.  If they rotate in the same direction, you will get three smaller cords of two strands.

Eventually I hope to have some video showing how I pass three bobbins at a time.  Until then, here’s a text description.

  • Starting with the 2-4-6 triangle, pass bobbin 2 from your right thumb to your empty left index finger.
  • Pass bobbin 4 from your right pinky and ring fingers to your right thumb.
  • Pass bobbin 6 from your left middle finger to your right pinky/ring fingers.
  • Shift bobbin 2 (now in the 6 position) from your left index finger to your left middle finger to prepare for the next pass.
  • Next for the 1-5-3 triangle, pass bobbin 1 from your left thumb to your empty right index finger.
  • Pass bobbin 5 from your left pinky and ring fingers to your left thumb.
  • Pass bobbin 3 from your right middle finger to your left pinky/ring fingers.
  • Shift bobbin 1 (now in the 3 position) from your right index finger to your right middle finger to prepare for the next pass.
  • etc…..

Zigzags – All three colors zigzag in both directions.  This pattern can be made with the two bobbin arrangements shown.


Chevrons and Stripes – The blue forms a broken chevron pattern, while the other two colors make stripes underneath the chevrons.  This pattern can be made with the two bobbin arrangements shown.


Broken Chevrons – All three colors form a sequence of broken chevrons.  I really liked the look of this cord too.



Draft Your Own Patterns

If you want to try out other numbers of or combinations of colors, you can use the graphs below to plan your designs.  The colors on the pattern show where each bobbin thread will be visible.



For example, if you want a continuous spiral of two colors, use one color for bobbins 2, 3, and 4, and another color for bobbins 1, 6, and 5 in the asterisk pattern.  Have fun!

Whipcording Bobbins

When I first started playing with whipcording, I cobbled together some bobbins to make do.  I based them on bobbin-lace bobbins – long and narrow, with decorative beads on the end to add weight to the bobbin and maintain tension on the fiber.  They work well enough, and I’ve probably braided over 100 yards so far for various cording projects with no major issues.  The most recurring problem I have with my current set is that the top of the neck is too shallow compared to the head, and the knot anchoring the fiber to the neck is prone to slipping off the top.  It’s not a terribly disruptive problem, but it gets annoying.

IMG_0262.jpgMy woodworking hobbyist husband plans to get a small lathe for his shop someday.  When that happens, I’ll make myself a set of turned bobbins.  But until then, I wanted to try to carve a set of nice, heavy whipcording bobbins for a Kingdom Artists’ Exchange.  Using multiple kinds of rasps and files, I sculpted a few trial bobbins to test out proportions and techniques.  Still thinking in terms of lace bobbins, I started with 5/8″ dowels.  These proved too light-weight on their own, and one even snapped at the neck during carving!  Something more robust would be needed for proper slyngyng.

IMG_0264.jpgFor the next set, I used much stouter 1 1/4″ dowel cut into 8″ pieces.  I marked 1″ for the head, and 3″ for the handle.  This left about 4″ for the neck – long enough to hold a good amount of fiber and still leave a handle that fits comfortably in the hand for two-person whipcording, and offers good tension weight for solo cording.  These proportions are functionally balanced and aesthetically pleasing as well.

In my early attempts, I found that the coarse rasp that I used to hollow out the neck was difficult to control at the upper and lower boundaries of the neck.  As soon as I got into a nice rhythm with the rasp, it would skip over onto the head or handle, marring the edges.  Using a round file to score a deep groove at the top and bottom of the neck made containing the rasp much easier and produced significantly cleaner shoulders.

IMG_0265.jpg        IMG_0266.jpg

Bracing the coarse rasp in a screw clamp, I drew the bobbin over the teeth to rough out the neck about 1/4″ deep on four sides.  I then braced the the bobbin in a table clamp and used the medium-toothed side of the rasp to sculpt the neck into a cylinder.

IMG_0271.jpg          IMG_0272.jpg

Next was checking the width along the neck and using a fine, flat file to smooth any lumps and irregularities.

IMG_0273.jpg          IMG_0274.jpg

Finally, I used the course rasp, medium rasp, and flat file to shape the top of the head and round off the shoulders and base of the handle.  I used the round file to flatten and even out the underside of the head where the half-hitch will rest when the bobbin is strung.  A nice polish with sand paper cleaned up any left-over marks and finished the bobbins.  As a final touch, I carved ermine spots and cat paw prints on the handles, since ermine spots and a cat are major elements in her SCA heraldic arms.  (While the entirety of the work thus far – from cutting the dowel to carving the bobbins – had been done with simple hand tools, I cheated here and used a Dremel Tool to carve the decorations.)

IMG_0275.jpg          IMG_0307.jpg

While the final set of whipcording bobbins aren’t perfectly symmetrical or identically matched, overall I am quite pleased with the results.  They have a rustic, primitive look to them, as if they may have been recovered from an Iron Age village rather than a Renaissance, merchant-class, urban neighborhood.  Functionally they work very well.  The securing twist has plenty of room to tuck up against the bobbin head and not slip off.  The weight swings smoothly and evenly.  There is lots of room on the neck to spool fine or bulky fiber.  And they make a pleasant clacking sound as they hit against each other while braiding.  They will do well for both solo and two-person whipcording projects.

I had fun and learned a lot making these.  I think I will wait for the lathe before I make any more – this was a fair amount of work grinding away the shapes on the practice pieces and the final project, and my shoulders were not happy for a day or so.  But it was well worth it for the experience of slowly uncovering the bobbins hidden in the wood.  I hope the lady who receives this set will have as much fun exploring whipcording as I did exploring woodworking.