The Competence Project: How to Get Competent, and What You Get If You Do

Sharon November 20th, 2008

Ok, there was a lot of enthusiasm for my first post on my new project - people seemed to think I was starting a challenge.  That hadn’t occurred to me, but heck, I’m for it - a new challenge it is.  I challenge each of you to pick some area of your skill set that’s kind of weak and strengthen it.  And when you feel like you’ve gotten competent, well, pick a new skill. 

In the other thread, Dewey had the best idea (thanks Dewey!) - I’m going hand out official “Competence Project Merit Badges” (and hope various scouting organizations won’t sue me ;-) ) to people who meet their goals.  So post your first project, and I’ll have periodic threads in which people can be awarded their merit badges for whatever skill set you are trying to gain.  Merit badges are completely virtual, of course, but if someone wants to make up a spiffy visual that people can add to their blog, I’m all for it. 

Several people asked how they should go about learning their skill set, and I have a few suggestions for resources.  I’m sure the rest of you have some good ideas as well.

1. Apprentice yourself to someone - this is by far the very best way to learn a skill, and it can save you an awful lot of trial and error.  Got a neighbor who is going hunting, fixing his roof or crocheting a sweater?  Why not ask if you can help out/get some lessons from them.  Barter is a great tool here.

2. Take a class.  Local adult education courses often cover things like this - check out their offerings.  And stores that sell craft or specialty items often have classes as well - for example, Home Depot offers regular courses, knitting and quilting shops have knitting and quilting classes, etc…  Just make sure that the class you are getting works with the skill set you are trying to gain - for example, if you want to learn woodworking with hand tools, make sure that you are getting a class that teaches this.

2. Use internet video - this isn’t an option for me or the rest of the world afflicted with dial up, but it is awfully nice for those who can take advantage.  That way, you can actually see how to take your radio apart, or how the purl stitch works.

3. Visit your local library and take out books designed for children.  Kids books have to cut the extraneous stuff out, and offer extremely clear language and direct instructions.  I finally learned how to knit by using Melanie Falick’s excellent children’s book on the subject, _Kids Knitting_ and I’ve often found books for kids and teens clearer than those for adults.

4. Find comprehensive book sources - besides the ubiquitous “Dummies” series (which varies a lot in quality), Reader’s Digest has an excellent series of how-to books that cover a wide range of skills including _The Complete Do-It Yourself Manual_ (which a builder friend noted would allow you to pretty much build a house from scratch with), _Practical Encyclopedia of Crafts_ and _Skills and Tools_.  I’m also partial to Gene Logsdon’s _Practical Skills_ book.

5. Specialize, specialize.  I’m a big fan of the personal library if you have space.  I find it really useful to have books (or material printed from the internet - never know when the service will go down, computer will be fried or the power will be out) that give detailed information and allow you to get more advanced. Honestly, we’re not all going to get really good at a lot of these things - most of us will have pretty basic skills.  Still, I think if you have the money (and these are the sorts of books that often show up quite cheaply on the internet, and frequently at yard sales) it is good to have specialized books for skills you might want or need to invest some energy in.  So, for example, I think that while a general crafts book will probably teach you to knit or purl, you might want a sock knitting book, or a mitten book if you knit a lot of them.  Basic woodworking stuff in the above books will get you fairly far, but if you dream of building outdoor structures, picking a book that focuses on building tools for farm and garden would be good.  I find it is easiest to push myself to pick up a skill if I’m doing something I really want to do - so if you can’t bear the thought of sewing the traditional pair of pajama pants as a first project, it might be worth investing in a book that will teach you to make something you really do want to make.

Ok, everyone sign up for their first merit badge project, and in a week or two, we’ll all update each other on how it is going.  My first project?  I’ve got a toilet that needs replacing.  Let’s just say that the replacement toilet has been sitting next to the defective toilet for a very, very long time. 


104 Responses to “The Competence Project: How to Get Competent, and What You Get If You Do”

  1. debraon 20 Nov 2022 at 5:39 am

    i started doing this a couple of weeks ago when i realized that i had a strong desire to learn to knit. my mom taught me when i was seven but i hadn’t picked up needles since then. now, after a lot of frustration and countless dropped stitches, i think i’ve got it. beginning next week i’m going to try my hand at more than just practice.. i’m choosing something simple for a first project, maybe a nice blanket.

  2. Alexahon 20 Nov 2022 at 6:31 am

    Regarding your toilet: Years ago I had a young plumber out to fix something. I asked LOTS of questions, and he said I could do a lot of the plumbing work myself. He said that the Time-Life series on plumbing were what was used in the classes he took to become a plumber.

  3. Anion 20 Nov 2022 at 7:34 am

    I’m going to continue to work on “purling”-just learned how- and then knit a pair of socks. So maybe by this time next year I’ll win my badge!

  4. Hamsteron 20 Nov 2022 at 7:50 am

    I’ve been trying to make some curtains since about July… I did one (of four) in about September and then my sewing machine had a hissy fit and kept snapping threads all the time and we’ve been glowering at each other sullenly across the room ever since. So I am going to make friends with my sewing machine again and actually make some damn curtains. And I want people to come and poke me with sharp things if I don’t.

  5. Bethon 20 Nov 2022 at 8:04 am

    I’ve been working on the purling, also, and am cautiously claiming victory. :) For anyone out there struggling with purling, may I suggest you try the Norwegian method. The yarn is kept in back of the stitches as in the knit stitch, so you don’t have to fiddle with flipping it back and forth. It works especially well in combination with Continental-style knitting, and IMO this combination is possibly the easiest to learn if one already knows how to crochet.

    I’m hard at work on my first project, a pair of 2×2 ribbed fingerless gloves. They are knitted flat and then seamed. My next challenge will be to work in the round…perhaps Ani and I will both win our sock badges this year. :)

    My other Competence challenge is to learn gardening in the South, more specifically in North Carolina. We have heavy yet fertile clay soil and many years we have drought conditions. Would anyone out there have recommendations of books or websites specific to this type of gardening? Everything I’ve found so far relates to landscaping and ornamentals…I need to grow food!

  6. martinon 20 Nov 2022 at 8:07 am

    I’m going to make a worm farm with my seven year old son. Will post diagrams if successful!

  7. conchscooteron 20 Nov 2022 at 8:14 am

    I’m going to learn how to dismantle an aircraft carrier and smelt it into post Peak Oil horse and
    cow powered plough shares. This could take a while especially as we don’t seem to be
    de-commissioning any of the half dozen or so nuclear aircraft carriers currently steaming around. In
    the meantime I’m reawakening dormant vegetable growing instructions I got at my father’s knee.

  8. Karinon 20 Nov 2022 at 8:14 am

    I have two things that I want to get done this week. The first is to sew the pair of pj’s that have yet to meet the sewing machine. The second is to learn to use the circular saw to cut some lumber for a little carpentry project I have an idea for.

  9. Bellenon 20 Nov 2022 at 8:15 am

    Beth - contact your county’s Extension Service, part of the state University system. They will have all the info you require, including soil testing, which varieties of veggies to grow in your area and Master Gardener’s to answer your questions and even classes and most is free or very low cost.

    For myself, my hubby and I are in our 60s. He has always done all the repairs and even built our house - built, not contracted. I can cook, garden, sew, knit, crochet, etc. BUT I cannot do plumbing, electrical or car repairs. Looking to the future, I know I need to learn the basics so I can take care of myself if I need to. Guess plumbing will be first on my list since the kitchen faucet needs to be replaced. Wish me luck.

  10. Jenon 20 Nov 2022 at 8:15 am

    I started already also-I learned to knit last week, am working on purling this week. My first project is a scarf-I’m just waiting for yarn to get here. I’m working my way up to socks. I’m also taking a CPR for adults/kids/infants class next week, which was another of my Competence goals. I have a million of ‘em. I should make a list :) !

  11. Green Hill Farmon 20 Nov 2022 at 8:36 am

    I’ll post a pic of the Fair Isle hat I am making in class its almost completed, speaking of completed that is something I need to work on.

    I have more than 1/2 dzn knit project undone :) .

    This is where I learned to make the heel in socks:

    Beth in Massachusetts

  12. Greenpaon 20 Nov 2022 at 9:04 am

    conchscooter- I love it! let me suggest learning to smelt old container ships and oil tankers too- there are more of them available. Aircraft carriers are relatively hard to come by.

  13. Chileon 20 Nov 2022 at 9:14 am

    I’m learning various basic fix-it skills from my handy hubby. And, once we eventually get moved and my mother-in-law is living with us, I’ll have her teach me crochet and knitting. I need constant reminding so there’s not a lot of point in having her show me once every couple of months right now!

    In the meantime, Sharon, maybe you and I can learn how to let go of all the extra stuff we don’t need. LOL!

  14. WNC Observeron 20 Nov 2022 at 9:17 am

    Sharon - a suggestion for your readers: Learn beekeeping

    I went to a beginner beekeeper class put on by our local beekeepers club (check with your local extension agent, most areas have a beekeeper club, and most do put on beginner classes) last February. Once you have learned the basics and made the initial investment for bees and hive (which comes in kit form, so that is another easy DIY project), you are set up to get FREE honey. (Check with your beekeeper club about the extraction equipment, many clubs have these available to borrow. Or, find a beekeeper with a larger operation, they’ll usually let you use their equipment in exchange for 10% of your honey.) If you get yourself set up with enough hives, you can not only supply all of your own honey but also have surplus to barter or sell.

    Hives can be set up in places that won’t work for gardening. My bee yard is set up in a semi-shady area under a black walnut tree. (Don’t try growing a garden near black walnuts, the roots give out a substance that discourages plant growth.)

    Need I mention that keeping bees will also assure you of having pollenators for your garden and fruit trees?

    We need lots more backyard beekeepers - that is the future of beekeeping. The big migratory beekeepers have just become vectors for parasite and pathogen transmission, which is why their hives are dying off. Distributing a few hives here and there throughout the landscape is a much better way to go, but this requires lots of backyard beekeepers.

    This is an important project for your own and everyone’s future. Please seriously consider it.

  15. Michelleon 20 Nov 2022 at 9:18 am

    For Beth, I concur with Bellen! Your extension agent’s job is to provide instruction and guidance to home gardeners and landscapers. I took the Master Gardener course when I lived in NW Florida (just a BIT different from Western Massachusetts, where I am now, but the basic principles are always the same) and the volunteer Master Gardeners will also be a goldmine of practical advice.

    For all the knitters - check around to find knitters’ circles in your area. My local Barnes and Noble has a group that meets on Monday evenings. If you need guidance on turning the heel of that sock, I expect somebody at a group like that could help. Also, if you have a yarn shop, the folks there could guide you. I’m lucky enough to live less than 10 miles from Webs ( and the folks there can sort out any mess I’ve ever come up with - including “I started this vest 7 years ago and have lost the directions. How do I shape the neck?”

    For my own project, I have already purchased an oil change kit for my lawn mower. My next door neighbor is a certified mechanic (teaches at a local Vocational school) and he has agreed to teach me how to change the oil myself.

  16. Lisa Zon 20 Nov 2022 at 9:23 am

    Okay, I said I wasn’t going to do a challenge like this because I already know too much stuff and my brain is fogged up!! However, even though I know how to sew I don’t like it. Do you think I can learn to like it? I am trying to sew more, a couple skirts for my daughter and a couple aprons for Christmas gifts, not to mention some quilts which are easy straight lines at least. Getting that sewing done and not pulling my hair out with it will be my goal. Ha ha, we’ll see.

  17. Sarahon 20 Nov 2022 at 9:24 am

    I have a short-term one and a long-term one:

    Short-term: figure out how to dismantle the grain mill and install the corn/bean auger to start grinding the lovely bag of whole corn that came in the mail this week. Then, learn how to make cornbread in a cast iron skillet, just for the ethnic cuisine points. :-)

    Long-term: Take a first-aid course, preferably including CPR certification.

  18. Fernon 20 Nov 2022 at 9:29 am

    This weekend I will install a programmable thermostat - I have never wired anything, husband is an Electrical Engineer.

  19. Matriarchyon 20 Nov 2022 at 9:30 am

    My DH is not the “posting” sort, but he does read your blog since I asked him to during your Adapting in Place class.

    Your last Competence Project post did seem to inspire him, and this week he signed up for an EMT class. You won’t be able to give him a merit badge until May, when he takes the certification exams.

    I have two Merit Badge-type projects right now. One is a building a worm farm out of plastic bins. The worms are waiting in the fridge.

    The other is building a rain barrel. It’s winter, so the testing conditions are not ideal, but I am sure we will have a rainy day that is warm enough to see of the thing works/leaks.

  20. sueinithacaon 20 Nov 2022 at 10:05 am

    I’ve been on an extended competece project for several years - my daughter’s preschool teacher asked if there was anything we *don’t* make ourselves, and I said there’s probably something (thrown pottery comes to mind - wheels are expensive). She countered with toilet paper, and I had to ‘fess up to the cloth wipes.

    Short term - dyeing fabric. It’s my goal to spend less than $200 on ALL Christmas gifts this year - including family, our two kids, their friends, and a plethora of doctors, nurses, teachers, etc. To do this, I’ll be learning to dye fabric that I’ll make into scarves (knitting will take too long at this calendar date). My husband will be making turned bowls from wood he finds around town (whenever he sees the city taking down a nice tree, he stops and asks if he can have a big chunk. they almost always say yes). I’m going to start with “commercial dyes” (koolaid) and move towards natural dyes. I haven’t stockpiled onion skins and the like so I’m short on ingredients for natural dyes, seeing as we have a good snow cover now.

    Also this week - learning how to make kombucha. I love the stuff and it’s $3.70/pint at the co-op. Managed to get a mother from a friend, and am hoping to save yself a lot of money.

    Also this week - slaughtering a turkey. I’ve asked a local farmer if my daughter and I can help with slaughter. I’ve never done this before, but feel it’s something I should do. Plus, my daughter is ridiculously fascinated by how we get our food, and that extends to the slaughter/butchering process. The only hitch is that the farmer in question isn’t great at communication, and we might not connect in a timely manner.

  21. Gailon 20 Nov 2022 at 10:11 am

    Back when the ex and I were in business I was the sewing teacher. My hints for beginning sewing: relax and drop your shoulders, the machine is a tool and your friend, not your enemy. Never hurry and quit or take a break if you get frustrated. Do not pull on the fabric or sew over pins, hand baste if you have to. Do not invest in the perfect fabric/pattern the first few times around. Odd things happen and you might be disappointed. Standard American patterns DO NOT FIT. Cut out with large seam allowances and fit as you sew. Better yet, get Kwik-sew, Stretch and Sew, Sunrise Designs books and patterns at the thrift store . Do not attempt to hem jeans by gunning the machine and contorting your face. Ease the machine over the seams with little pillows of scrap fabric to flatten out the presser foot and do a few stitches turning the flywheel by hand if you have to.
    I am not sure if I am up for a challenge right now. Maybe I will help with the aircraft carrier.

  22. Rosaon 20 Nov 2022 at 10:45 am

    Okay, I have all the pieces to a simple bookshelf ready. I just have to bundle up and venture out into the freezing garage to cut the boards & sand them.

    This isn’t complicated, and it’s something I’ve done before, but it’s something i’ve not done since I’ve been living with my partner because his criticism always makes me want to just throw up my hands and quit (and also, if I do that he will finish the project for me.)

    The piles of books are making me INSANE and it’s only going to get worse at Christmas. So that’s my goal for the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

  23. Bobbion 20 Nov 2022 at 10:52 am

    I’m perfecting my baking skills, just starting to work my way through some bread books, a few picked up from the weekly used book sale at our library. I’ve practiced all summer on challah/egg bread and last week decided to move on to a white and a wheat, both with different combos of flour, sweeteners and nuts added. I’ve also tried a rye this spring but that was way too rye-y even with some white flour added. Too scary. I’m holding back on that for a while. I love the details involved. I check the temp on the yeast with a candy thermometer! In fact, I’m scheduled to bake again and have to pick out today’s experiment. The family’s all onboard with this.

  24. robinon 20 Nov 2022 at 11:01 am

    I just ordered a grain mill and a lot of rye. I am going to attempt to make all our family’s bread. Yikes.

  25. Survivalist News » Casaubon’s Book: The Competence Project: How to Get Competent, and What You Get If You Doon 20 Nov 2022 at 11:01 am

    [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » The Competence Project: How to Get Competent, and What You Get … Ok, there was a lot of enthusiasm for my first post on my new project - people seemed to think I was starting a challenge. That hadn’t occurred to me, but heck, I’m for it - a new challenge it is. I challenge each of you to pick some area of your skill set that’s kind of weak and strengthen it. And when you feel like you’ve gotten competent, well, pick a new skill. [...]

  26. Maryon 20 Nov 2022 at 11:14 am

    Wow! You are all so inspiring!

    I’m already pretty competent at “indoor” things except plumbing and electrical stuff, but that’s where DH comes in :-)

    I will be getting 8 angora rabbits tomorrow, so my goal is to get a place ready for them and improve their quality of life. They’ve been sadly neglected in the last couple of years and their current owners are now ready to let me have them. I would love to sell the fiber to make a few extra bucks or barter for other things.

    I would also like to research keeping bees for their honey and wax, but I’m not sure it’s practical on my city lot. So research in that area is next on my list.

    More, more, more gardening! I need to have some shrubs and trees taken out to make way for more garden beds, so learning about that is another goal. Maybe I can get DH to teach me to use a chainsaw…

  27. Heather Grayon 20 Nov 2022 at 11:17 am

    I’ve been sewing off and on for years but avoiding more complex sewing. Then I got interested in Victorian styles of clothing and bought some patterns. Currently I’m working on understanding the pattern directions and have cut out a vest and a riding skirt. Usually I do most of the sewing by machine and just do the fiddly bits and hemming by hand, but I’ve never done inset pockets or fancy collars before, so I’ve been working on the vest by hand — gives me time to see what’s going on and understand the pattern better. I actually cut out the riding skirt pieces first but the assembly was confusing so I’ve been re-reading the instructions and finding pictures of other Victorian clothing so I can see what things look like finished. Once the vest is done, I’m feeling more confident about making the skirt now.

    It looks like we’re going to be slaughtering some chickens soon too. And we have one friend who’s interested in learning. L hasn’t done it in decades, so we’ve been reading up on it, to try to have everything in place. Not thrilled with learning this, but the layers are getting old, and it makes sense to save at least the breast meat for soups and stews (layers don’t have much on them). We’ll see how it goes.

  28. Shambaon 20 Nov 2022 at 11:19 am

    I’m not up for electricity and plumbing competencies but I’m willing to take on something I’ve had in mind for a couple of months:

    Baking decent bread loaves and pizza.

    so, I’ll get to the flour I’ve got out for this very thing and see how competent I can become.


  29. Grumpy Old Manon 20 Nov 2022 at 11:26 am

    I’m going to learn how to dismantle an aircraft carrier and smelt it into post Peak Oil horse and cow powered plough shares.


    Go to Naples and apprentice yourself to the local thieves. In Malaparte’s novel The Skin, the thieves dismantel an American vessel in one night, while the crew is on shore leave.

  30. Grumpy Old Manon 20 Nov 2022 at 11:26 am


    Maybe I’ll learn to proofread first . . .

  31. Nancyon 20 Nov 2022 at 11:34 am

    For all you beginning knitters, is a great resource with high quality videos. Also check with your local library. Our library system has several ongoing knitting groups.

  32. Ecologystudenton 20 Nov 2022 at 11:43 am

    This is really good timing for me, because I’ll finish classes in December and finally get to return to life. The skills I’ll be working on are: sewing, gardening, keeping bees, cooking/baking, and basic woodworking.

    I just got my mom’s old sewing machine, and as soon as the part I ordered comes in, I’ll be able to start playing around with sewing. I really want to make clothes for myself, because I find it hard to find functional clothes that one can go into public in.

    I grew up on an organic farm, but this will be the first time I’ll actually have a garden to work on my own. I am going to try to get as much food as possible from my little 1/3 of an acre lot (although gardening space is actually much smaller as the house is on that 1/3 acre, are as a number of trees), and grow as close to year round as I can.

    I recently looked into top bar hives, and my mom has always wanted a bee hive at her place. So this year I’m going to really educate myself about bees and build a hive.

    Cooking/baking I’ve been doing for awhile, and I’d say I’m competent, however, I’d like to improve. I’m going to stop using refined sugars and flours, as well as milk and I’m going to cut way down on the meat. I also want to make really good food, food people will be in awe of. We’ll see how that goes.

    As for basic woodworking, well, I’ll be making that bee hive, and a number of cold frames, a chicken coop, and possibly a greenhouse. I think that’ll work my skill a little.

  33. Tracion 20 Nov 2022 at 11:47 am

    I have a lovely Jersey cow and have been making cultured butter, buttermilk, sourcream & keifer, but it is time to learn how to make cheese! I am not sure why I am so intimidated by this…

    I also plan to get bees in the spring, I have taken one class but need to get my hive so that I am ready when our local bee keeper calls with a swarm. Again, scared but enthusiastic.

    Knitting, it seems everyone knits. I have picked it up and put it down several times, why is this so hard for me? I found someone to hold my hand a bit while I learn, I start tomorrow.

    There is a really cool book called *You Can Do It* The Merit Badge Handbook For Grown-Up Girls, by Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas. It is amazing, practical and fun.

    Vancouver, WA

  34. deweyon 20 Nov 2022 at 12:00 pm

    Yippee! This might sound silly, but as an old 4-H kid I can be motivated to do a fair amount of work with the promise of a little pin (even a virtual one!). There was a book a few years ago that offered “merit badges for women” but it seemed to me that most of the skills promoted were silly. So you can count me in! I’m working right now on sewing and knitting.

    Gail wrote: “Do not attempt to hem jeans by gunning the machine and contorting your face.”

    No??? Aha, maybe that’s the problem! I’ve sewed several sets of small decorative pillowcases and two pairs of kitchen curtains (though never making the tiebacks) and have had fabric sitting around forever for bedroom curtains and an apron. I have always had problems with cutting fabric square and with the top layer of fabric getting behind and then bunched up in every seam I sew. Well, tonight as it happens I am going to take a two-hour pillowcase class at the fabric store, so maybe this will be my chance to sew something RIGHT for the first time.

    As for my current pair of two-year socks, the second one turned out enormous at the ankle because I did it on a metal circular needle, but I’m going to finish anyway; my sweetie has large legs so it might be okay. I’ve finished the heel and gusset and am onto the foot now. I also knocked off halfway through reinforcing the heel on the first one, so will have to get back to it. My goal is to have the pair done by the end of the football season. :)

  35. Gracieon 20 Nov 2022 at 12:02 pm

    Oh gosh, what a great idea. This is exciting. There are so many things I want to do. I’ve already joined a group to learn to really quilt (ok, I’ve made quilts for years, but I usually just tie them off…I want to learn to quilt by hand, and this will help). Also, leatherworking. Hubby has done this for years, but I’ve never attempted it. We also will be putting in a shop in the back, for him to work out of, so maybe I can learn some carpentry skills. There will be walls to go up, a roof to go up, roofing materials to put on, siding, electricity, plumbing and then we hope to run the whole thing with solar, so will have to learn something about solar installation.

    Ok, starting with quilting and leatherwork. Those are my two.

    Sharon, how exactly are we to keep track of how we are doing, and how do we know when we have gotten to the point that we know enough about the subject?

    Let me know. Going to go talk to hubby about those leather tools.


  36. deweyon 20 Nov 2022 at 12:05 pm

    I wrote that before your post was posted - didn’t mean to insult the book you were recommending, Traci! I just recalled that the book included various “social skills” and that where practical skills were involved, it didn’t provide enough detail to really let you learn well without having to go get other references. But that was my impression from looking at it in a store years ago - correct me if I’m wrong.

    That used to be the nice thing about 4-H - the materials for each project both told you what minimum performance was to complete the project (e.g., knit 3 small items or one large) and gave you enough instructions in the booklet that you could do those things without other sources. The Boy Scouts also seem to have some pretty neat instructional materials.

  37. Brian M.on 20 Nov 2022 at 12:27 pm

    Crap, I have too many projects I need to do. Here’s a couple that I should be able to do now or soon:

    -install programmable thermostat (I’ve also never wired/rewired anything)
    -read the entirety of “Where there are no doctors”
    -re-read “Home Maintenance for Dummies” (a good dummies book) and then DO some of the things it says to do!

  38. Tracion 20 Nov 2022 at 12:27 pm

    Dewey-I haven’t actually spent much time with the book, but I love the idea and layout of it. It really is geared more toward the mainstream now that I took it off the shelf. Good ideas for how to find support though.


  39. Robyn M.on 20 Nov 2022 at 12:28 pm

    Whoops, that “Brian M.” post should’ve been “Robyn M.” How dare he use *my* computer? Er… did I say that out loud?

  40. NMon 20 Nov 2022 at 12:31 pm

    The extension service is a great idea. For books, you might try looking at some written for west of the Cascades (a mountain range in Oregon) — I’m especially thinking of Steve Solomon’s Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. Obviously, you aren’t here, but the gardening conditions sound similar. We also have a lot of heavy clay here. It rains for about six to 9 months of the year, and then doesn’t rain for two or three months. Solomon talks about how to garden under those conditions.
    A good friend has been telling me to learn to knit for a couple of years, and I kept saying, I have enough half-finished projects around as it is. Yesterday we and a third friend had scheduled a get-together, and she informed me they’d be teaching me to knit. Then she marched me down to the local knit shop for yarn and needles. So I guess I’m in the new skill challenge, too! Was excited to find wool yarn produced in-state, by a ranch committed to sustainability — and it’s lovely stuff.
    For the first hour and a half, the process made no sense! Even when the stitches worked I couldn’t figure out how or why. But it finally started to click, and now I’m excited about it.
    Also on the competency project; getting better at making quilts and clothes. Have made a couple of shirts for my husband, and a dress for me, but it’s a struggle. I plan to spend a lot of time this winter sewing. After I finally finish preserving quinces and green tomatoes, and pressing cider. Running horribly late this year.
    Getting — and keeping — my yard under control is on the list, too. The blackberries tried to eat it this summer, and I must reclaim it. I also want to learn to maximize production from my fruit trees, and learn to successfully grow citrus in this cold dark northern place, since in a fit of determination, I bought a lime tree in September. Local citrus fruit would be marvelous, and apparently some people are managing it, so presumably, I can, too. Theoretically.

  41. Annaon 20 Nov 2022 at 12:46 pm

    My Merit Badge challenge is for learning pattern drafting (sewing). I want to be able to look at a dress or coat and knock off a reasonable facsimile.

    There is so much I already know how to do, maybe getting better at everything is a good start.

  42. kristineon 20 Nov 2022 at 12:57 pm

    i’m going to replace my laptop keyboard. i started researching this yesterday after a local computer store told me to buy a keyboard off ebay and bring it in for them to replace.

    i watched a few youtube videos and then looked up my computer’s manual and read the directions. it seems they want to charge me $50 to pry off a piece at the top, unscrew 2 screws, unplug the keyboard, plug in the new one, screw back in the 2 screws and pop the top piece back on. seriously?! i think i am capable enough of handling that on my own.

    waiting for the new keyboard to arrive…

  43. Cassandraon 20 Nov 2022 at 1:07 pm

    Hoo boy. Lots of inspiratioinal ideas here! There are so, so many skills I need to learn or polish. Back at my blog, I said I wanted to start with carpentry. So carpentry it is. My ultimate goal for the foreseeable future is to build my own chicken tractors. However, I am going to start smaller. There are a few smaller projects that need to be done in and on the house.

    First of all, it’s got to be pressure washed. (Because some of the work will require caulking and I just feel it’s silly to do that before giving the thing a good scrub down outside.)

    So, that’s what I’m going to do this weekend. I don’t even own a pressure washing. I’m going to see if I can borrow one. If not, I will just wash it down with a hose and a brush. That’s step one.

    All right… make an assertive statement here; don’t beat about the bush. “I am GOING to clean the outside of the house this weekend.” And I will post about it in my blog. Hope there’s no bloopers.

  44. Meadowlarkon 20 Nov 2022 at 1:19 pm

    Knit socks. I’ve tried and stopped. Tried and stopped. This time I’ll not stop. Um, I guess that means I’ll have to learn to fix mistakes first. So goals are:
    Learn to fix knitting mistakes
    Make socks.

    and gail - “Do not attempt to hem jeans by gunning the machine and contorting your face. ”
    Really? Are you sure? That’s always been my tactic! :)

  45. Cassandraon 20 Nov 2022 at 1:37 pm

    Oh, also wanted to mention I’ve contacted my local extension office to ask about their Master Gardener classes.

    … seems I could teach them a thing or two about competence. It’s been a week and I’ve gotten one email back letting me know my email was being forwarded to someone else. (sigh)

  46. Laurieon 20 Nov 2022 at 1:55 pm

    Can I have my badge already??? I made a promise to myself that I would learn how to knit socks before the end of the year, and I’ve now successfully completed TWO PAIRS. It’s not often that I get to be proud of myself like this. ;-) However, I wish that someone would have told me how addicting sock knitting is BEFORE I got into it.

    next up: CPR/First Aid recertification; beekeeping! I must be sure to not neglect all the other things that need to be done while I learn something new and exciting.

  47. Ravenon 20 Nov 2022 at 1:57 pm

    OK, sock knitting people- I have been knitting socks since I was eleven. What are your problems? You can ask me and I will try to help you as much as I can without seeing your fingers and helping you move the yarn. For starters, let me say that if you can relax, it will all go better. :) Also, everyone makes at least one loser sock before they get it. Just accept that your first pair might suck, and know that you’ll do fine.

  48. Ginaon 20 Nov 2022 at 2:01 pm

    This goes right along with another challenge I’ve been failing at lately (Doing Not Thinking Challenge) and the deadline is quickly approaching and I know I am not going to be done with one particular goal:

    I want to learn to build a stanchion for the cows. I suppose this is carpentry and I am not good at carpentry. I hope to accompish this before April (cows’ due dates).

    I also want to quilt. It can even be simple quilting! I have a friend in her sixties that is an accomplished quilter, although she sends out most of her work for the quilting part these days. She has shown me briefly how to hand quilt, but I am sure she would mentor me further. I’ll set my goal for the pc work to be done by the end of February and the quilting done by summer.
    (If I don’t set goals I can be sure I will not earn my badge, LOL!)

  49. deweyon 20 Nov 2022 at 2:10 pm

    Why thank you! I’ve knitted three and a half pairs over the past 12 years or so of trying and all of them sucked, so I can surely use the help. I have at least two problems:

    1. Even though I use needles a size smaller than recommended, the sock comes out big and loose. I can’t physically endure the sort of knitting where you yank the yarn after each stitch until it’s so tight you have to pull it off the needle with your fingernails, and can barely get a needle back under it; I either knit semi-loosely, or not at all. This is much less of a problem for a scarf or hat.

    2. I can’t purl worth a damn. I’m left-handed and knit in the continental style, holding the working yarn over my left index finger. To purl, as instructed by every book I’ve ever seen, I put the right needle through the stitch in front, with yarn held in front, then loop the yarn behind and around the needle tip from top to bottom. This requires me as a lefty to hold my index finger stiff and pulled back, then wave it in an arc and twist my hand for each stitch, which is slow and rapidly becomes painful (and leaves my purling quite loose, too). A woman at work says she purls by holding the yarn up behind the needle tip from bottom to top then catches it and pulls it through like for a knit stitch, with no loop around the needle, which looks easier. But it also looks like it must, relative to the book method, introduce a twist into every stitch. Which is correct?

    3. Oh yes, and I can’t rip back or pick up stitches effectively, so if I make a mistake, I’m in deep doodoo.

  50. Lisa Zon 20 Nov 2022 at 2:19 pm

    I love the comment section of Sharon’s blog almost as much as her writing itself! Thanks everyone, for contributing.

    Gail, thanks for the sewing tips. I actually am using the same sewing machine I got so frustrated with as a teen-ager, since my mom gave it to me when she got a new one. I have always blamed that machine for my sewing issues! However, this past spring I had it cleaned and repaired a bit and I vowed that when it came back from the shop it was going to work beautifully for me and we’d have a whole new relationship. Well, my positive thinking has helped a lot for the few times I’ve used the machine since then. I’m really working on this issue, I am!

    I think I will use patterns, though. I am far too visually-spatially challenged to make up my own.

    And yes, it helps to relax with all these things. Knitting, sewing, all of it. I work on that too. Now I find knitting to be so relaxing, but it didn’t start out that way. I am a fairly tense perfectionistic type by nature.

    I love making socks on two circular needles (not one! doesn’t work with only one….) because I don’t like all those double pointed needles poking at me, and I worry too much about losing the yarn off the ends of them. There are a lot of good books on knitting socks on two circs. I do not like trying to knit two at a time on two circs, however, so I gave that idea up even though it sounds great.

  51. Lisa Zon 20 Nov 2022 at 2:21 pm

    Oh, and to whomever suggested the Norwegian purling method, I am going to try that. I do not have good purling technique and it messes up my speed all the time, going back and forth like with ribbing patterns.

  52. Anion 20 Nov 2022 at 2:49 pm

    re: knitting- am lucky to have several “crafty” neighbors who knit- and we have a knitting night- not weekly but often enough- when we knit/spin/chat/drink tea etc- great fun and I can get tips there.

    re; bees- yes- used to keep bees- stopped when I lost the hives- it gets expensive to replace the bees- but want to start up again-sure could use the polination on the farm and go through a ton of honey…..

    re: sewing a hem- hmmm- my method is scrunch up face, close eyes and gun it! :)

  53. AppleJackCreekon 20 Nov 2022 at 2:58 pm

    For those who want to try gardening (Beth, this is for you in particular), have a look at the Square Foot Gardening book. It is excellent! Using raised beds gives you a head start on success like no other strategy … you’ve got a designated ’spot’ and you only have to have really good soil in that area, plus with the nice divider lines, you know what is where and it’s easy to do succession planting if you live where the growing season is long enough to allow for that (meaning just about everywhere except up here ).

    And, for those who want to learn about livestock or sewing or other skills, might I suggest you check out your local 4H club? I know we’re all grownups here and we can’t be members, but clubs *always* need leaders … and helpers … and leaders and helpers get access to all the materials the kids have (and more sometimes) and you have access to the other leaders and helpers (and kids!) who know more than you do. You are helpful even if you are learning along with the kids, believe me. The 4H kids in my local club think it is great fun to teach this former city person about farm stuff they’ve known since they were little, and the other leaders have been a wonderful resource for us. You will have jobs to do … but it’s fun to “learn to do by doing”!

  54. sealanderon 20 Nov 2022 at 3:11 pm

    Y’know, Greenpa, I hear that there are some Somali pirates that might be able to get you that oil tanker :)

    Summer is coming here and I have a project list a mile long….but one of the chickens has gone broody, so building a broody box and run has gone to the top of the list.

    And I would like to find my front yard again…for some reason the song “Welcome to the Jungle” starts playing in my head every time I’m out there.

  55. risa bon 20 Nov 2022 at 3:36 pm

    For readings, don’t forget Carla Emery and John Seymour.

    Remember, too, that many skills are transferable. Though I don’t sew pretty, I’ve discovered I can make decent drapes/blinds for winter warming and summer cooling with a cut-open recycled burlap bag, four pieces of scrap lath, a few whacks with a staplegun, and four wood screws! Just hang it by the handle — either end, where the laths project outwards — over the curtain rods behind the existing curtains in hot or cold weather, roll up when not needed. Tie with a ribbon if you like.

    Wanta learn how to make better sauces — growing some good ingredients now, but have been too shy of the blender (that thing is hard to clean).

  56. cornish K8on 20 Nov 2022 at 3:51 pm

    On a very grey day this post, and the comments, has lifted me; its not often I repeatedly laugh out loud at my pc.

    My challenge will be to pass on some of my skills to my daughter who thinks that her knitting is ok if she ends up with 95% of the stitches she started with. We also plan to make a garment from a paper pattern when school is over next summer.

    I am desperate to get started with my veg plot but as our land is shared with holiday rental homes and many, many wild rabbits this may be a challenge!

    My Xmas wish-list, the first I have ever issued, is full of useful stuff like preserving jars, books on preserving and breadmaking, garden tools etc. No more pot pourri PLEASE!!

  57. deweyon 20 Nov 2022 at 4:01 pm

    The old Square Foot Gardening book was fantastic. The newest version heavily emphasized a soil mix you are supposed to make up of three purchased ingredients, including peat moss and two I can’t remember. It repeatedly made negative comments about “existing soil” and remarked that you don’t have to concern yourself with it at all anymore now that you just plop this box of the perfect mix down on top of it. (Wondering about long-term supply of peat moss? Well, because you’re filling up compact boxes instead of the whole yard, Mel says you’re conserving resources.) Now, this is tempting for those of us with 3″ of highly depleted clay over clay subsoil, but it is not what I hope to do. Instead, I’ve bought humus and fertilizers and been making compost to try to build real soil in my salad patch. The new Square Foot book seems to promote short-term, reductionist thinking with no interest in the ecosystem that the garden is part of. I’m sure there are many copies of the old book available online cheaper.

  58. Ravenon 20 Nov 2022 at 4:22 pm


    1. Tension. So you have loose tension, that’s great actually. I can’t stand helping someone to knit who has achingly tight tension, it gives me a headache. It is helpful to be able to knit socks tightly, but might I suggest you just get a thicker yarn instead of the microthin sock yarn? Like regular sport-weight that you might knit a sweater with? Or (shocker) just cast on five or ten fewer stiches than your pattern reccomends. I wear a women’s size 10 shoe (USA) and a sock for me, on size four double-pointed needles, usually takes 50 stitches with sport weight yarn (I usually can’t afford special sock yarn). I’d experiment with the sock cuff, until you get a circumference that looks right. It’s not as hearbreaking to rip out a cuff as it is to rip out a sock with a heel.

    2. Purling. Even the books that teach you continental style have you purling in front? That’s really weird. I always thought purling continental was easier than purling English style. Anyhoo, yes, the way your friend purls will put a twist in the stitch (it’s the way my mom purls) but if I understand your description correctly you’ll untwist the stitch when you purl it again on the next row. Or if you don’t, maybe you could live with a twisted stitch- I have a hard time telling if a purl is twisted or not without looking at the wrong side. It’s twisted knit stitches that show. If the way your friend purls makes sense to you, do that. And then just say that the twisted ribbing is a design feature. It shouldn’t impact the functionality of the sock. (I speak from experience. I taught myself to knit and twisted every single stitch until I read about twisting them on purpose as design features and thought, “but that’s what I’m already doing…”)

    3. Ripping/picking up stitches. When you rip, take the needles completely out of the work, and GENTLY pull on the working yarn (the piece going to the ball). I’m betting what happens, if you’re like me when I have to rip, is that you get frustrated and pull real hard and the yarn makes a knot. (If not, post again and I’ll have another go.) If you pull gently, the loops should just come right out. In fact an enthusiastic baby or a panicked dog have occasionally helped me with this when I didn’t need help. :D Picking up stitches- I use a crochet hook, turn the work to whichever side has knit stiches on it, and put my hook in the loop of the stitch wherever it is. Then pull the first bar of the “ladder” above the loop through the loop. Now the “ladder” is your new loop. Repeat, until you get back up to the top of the work.

    Nobody says you have to knit a full-sized sock your first time, btw. Why not try a baby sock with 25 stitches, six inches from top to toe? All the shaping is the same, and it’s not such a long frustrating process. Try for free patterns (but I’d avoid some of their sock patterns, they have some very advanced ones). Set yourself up for sucess. Socks really aren’t hard, I think the people who write pattern books just want you to buy more books when you get frustrated with theirs. :D

  59. Competence Project: Beekeeping | MamaStorieson 20 Nov 2022 at 4:30 pm

    [...] Sharon - without knowing it, apparantly - started  The Competence Project: [...]

  60. Crunchy Chickenon 20 Nov 2022 at 4:35 pm

    Dammit, Sharon! I was just about to announced my Incompetence Challenge! But, because of the similarities to this project I’m going to have to rethink it.

    I was even going to have Incompetence Merit Badges for those of us without any gumption.

    I guess I’d better go buy that sawed-off shotgun and start working on my shootin’ skills. I’ve got at least 9 jars of peanut butter in my basement that I’ve got to protect.

    Okay, maybe I should just finish that quilting project instead.

  61. katrienon 20 Nov 2022 at 4:36 pm

    I just signed up for a beekeeping class next spring. Thanks, Sharon, to get our asses in gear!

    In the meantime I am going to learn to use DHs power tools. I know… they’re *power* tools, and I too would prefer to use hand tools, but they’re sitting in our basement (unused!) and I’ve got so many building projects in mind, indoors as well as outdoors.

  62. Ravenon 20 Nov 2022 at 4:38 pm

    Oh- and here

    if anyone wants it, is a way to make socks on 2 needles, flat. I think it’s more fuss than double-points, but just as a service to the public. :)

    And here

    is a universal sock pattern that starts at the toe and that doesn’t HAVE to have any ribbing (that means purling) if you’re bothered by it, from what I understand. As I said with the last one, this seems awfully fussy, but maybe it will make sense to someone.

    Hope this helps!

  63. katrienon 20 Nov 2022 at 4:42 pm

    I agree with Dewey on the new Square Foot Gardening book. I very much prefer the old one.

    We have mediocre soil and I want to build it up to good soil using only what we have on the property (compost, compost lots of compost, and cardboard boxes) and a minimum of other things like lime, straw, etc. Vermiculite (which along with compost is the other ingredient in (”Mel’s Mix”) is quite handy but, in my eyes, not a sustainable resource.

    But the first edition is fantastic! There’s nothing like those date charts: they’re the only thing that keeps me thinking I can get our garden started off on the right foot.

  64. Susan in NJon 20 Nov 2022 at 4:51 pm

    For me, I think this will involve shutting off the water, pulling the tub faucet valves, taking them to one (and then perhaps the other) of the two hardware stores that will either have the replacement part or perhaps if necessary new faucets and then installing them — Thanksgiving weekend (not turkey day) seems like the time for this project.
    Somewhere down the line, I also need to convert the broken bathtub drain stopper to a regular plug stopper. But I expect one plumbing project at a time works best.
    We had the toilet replacement project earlier this year — I read up on what needed to be done, bought the parts, but then hired someone since moving the throne was too much for either or us.
    And before that was the leaky bath drainpipe joint. And the even earlier garbage disposal jam. And the fix of the bathtub drain stopper (before the metal failed).
    Wow, I’m running through the plumbing stuff — with the help of two great illustrated books on home repairs, one by Reader’s Digest, the other a Black and Decker pub. Plus a little (or a lot of) help from my friend — I can’t seem to get things tight enough by myself.

  65. Jennon 20 Nov 2022 at 5:16 pm

    On no - I’m going to have to finally make a decision about what to tackle off the project list that’s as long as my arm! There are some things I’d like to do that aren’t really practical right now, now that there are many inches of snow on the ground, so that narrows it down a bit, though. Also, I’ve searched for classes that are local to me without much to show for it, especially in things I’m interested in. So, I’ll be starting with things that I can learn/do fairly easily on my own.

    First, I’d like to learn to sew a better, which will hopefully come in handy for three sub-projects. One, I was to sew reusable shopping bags for the upcoming holidays to wrap gifts in, and as gifts in and of themselves. Two, I want to finally make some resuable cloth pads, especially since I have most if not all of the materials. And third, I want to make a quilt out of old wool clothes, despite never having made a quilt before.

    Second, I have a source for worms, and would like to finally get that worm composter I keep thinking about set up and running.

    Third, I’d like to learn to can food. Being that it’s snowy, I don’t really know what I could can that’s “fresh”, but I’m hoping to somehow find someone local to show me how to do this without killing myself.

    Unfortunately, many of the other things I’d like to learn I can’t actually do in my apartment - fussing with the plumbing, wiring, or anything else home maintenance-ish is frowned upon in a rented apartment. I suppose that I could read up on what I’m interested in and then offer up my help in return for people teaching me things here and there. But, for now I think this is probably a good start.

  66. KatJon 20 Nov 2022 at 5:17 pm

    Well, I love this idea, and you’re all so creative! I taught myself to sew in high school - was terrible at it for years, but then I had kids to practice on and got a lot better ( they were too young to object - they actually thought the clothes were cool ’cause Mom made them). My former mother-in-law taught me to knit, but for years all I would do were straight lines, no decreasing or increasing or fancy stitches. But now I have grandkids to practice on . . .
    After reading Sharon’s book Depletion and Abundance, I ordered books from Amazon about goatkeeping, beekeeping, chickenkeeping,cheesemaking, graywater recycling, The Humanure handbook and an interesting little volume about using urine for fertilizer. My husband thinks I’ve tipped over the edge just a little bit! : ) Thanks, Sharon, (and everybody else) for the inspiration. It’s always more fun to learn new things together!

  67. Andreaon 20 Nov 2022 at 5:20 pm

    My plans are so lame compared to y’alls! I’m going to learn to make homemade snack foods so I can wean my kids off the Oreo’s, Cheezy Poofs and such. I’m going to attempt pretzels and cheese straws, and perfect a recipe for Oreo’s (that my kids so lovingly call Mommy-o’s)

  68. NMon 20 Nov 2022 at 5:39 pm

    How to can without killing yourself: Directions, recipes, tons of information.
    What you could can now, depending on what you happen to have around: quince jelly or jam, cranberry sauce or jelly, apple sauce, apple butter, pear butter, sauerkraut, spice vinegars, baked beans, bean soup …
    And starting in January, depending on how you feel about local foods, all sorts of citrus things, since that’s when they’re in season. Orange marmalade (with whiskey or coriander), lemon curd, grapefruit marmalade, lime marmalade etc.
    The site above has recipes for cranberry orange chutney and cranberry salsa that look good (you can also make cranberry ketchup, I’ve read). Main thing is to use tested recipes, which the site provides. The directions really are pretty easy to follow. Start with acidic things (apples, pears, cranberries, flavored vinegars) before you get into pressure canning (vegetables and beans); because it’s easier and less intimidating. But you can learn both from books. Also check to see if your local extension service offers Master Food Preserving classes; those are great.
    Another great resource is the Ball Blue Book of Preserving; most places won’t stock it til spring, but you could look on Amazon, or check the library. Look for a current copy.
    And have fun!

  69. NMon 20 Nov 2022 at 5:46 pm

    That should have said, how you feel about non-local foods. But anyway — the same site also offers an online course in food preservation you might also like, from the University of Georgia.

  70. Bethon 20 Nov 2022 at 5:49 pm

    Thank you to all who’ve answered with idea for learning to garden. I’m making notes and will be tracking down some books and materials for further study!

    I’ll echo what others have said…I’m learning so much just from the comments. Now I’m wondering if my 7-year-old would like to join me in taking up beekeeping? Hmmm….

  71. Judyon 20 Nov 2022 at 6:04 pm

    Ok. I’m another of those knitting people. My Mom tried to teach me to crochet when I was young and I made a pretty sorry scarf but I didn’t keep it up and never learned to knit. I got supplies and book and have been working at it since last weekend. I pretty much have the hang of casting on and have been working on the knit stitch. Now if my dog will just stop thinking the skein of yarn is a chew toy, we’ll be fine. I have several friends who knit so I can ask them for help as soon as I’m really stuck.

  72. Susan in NJon 20 Nov 2022 at 6:14 pm

    Beth — I don’t know if your serious about your 7 year old and beekeeping but here’s my own personal experience. My dad was a beekeeper — and exposed us kids to it from an early age. ( When I was about three I helped him with extracting the honey for the first time, this involved getting little snacks of honey comb including one I sneaked on my own which had a bee on it. ) When I was 7, I was pretty fascinated by the life cycle of bees, and my father’s one frame glass bee hive, but as for actually working with the real hives, that was fairly intimidating until I was somewhat older.

  73. karenon 20 Nov 2022 at 6:25 pm

    Hi there - I am learning to knit - from my best friend & from you tube.
    I am also learning to sew from my mother -in-law & getting Christmas money from my mom to take a continuing ed class at the local middle school. That’s my Competence Project. Thanks for the inspiration!

  74. Deb Gon 20 Nov 2022 at 9:23 pm

    For beginning sock knitters: I want to second Raven’s suggestion about staying away from “sock” yarn for first socks. I’ve done two pairs with sock yarn and quickly realized that if they were my first pairs of sock I would have given up in screaming frustration. :)

  75. Christy Oon 20 Nov 2022 at 9:58 pm

    I have 2 short term projects that are totally new for me. The first is building a raised bed, not a big deal I know but using tools is pretty new for me. The other short term project is building a small moveable chicken coop using a dog crate and fence wire. Again, it will involve using tools and some creativity in design.

    I also have 1 long term project, to build a large chicken coop out of wood. This will involve learning a lot of new skills.

  76. The Screaming Sardineon 20 Nov 2022 at 10:41 pm

    I’m going to finally start quilting again. I started a couple months ago, but ripped it all out cuz I was trying something different. Uh, it was too “different” - lol! So I’m cutting out my squares and will start hand sewing them together soon. I intend on making curtains and tablecloths.

    I also want to research more into self watering container gardening. I have a whole upstairs where I’d love to have an indoor garden. The only problem is it’s quite chilly up there. There’s only one vent from the downstairs to the upstairs where the furnace air can filter up. I could see my breath upstairs this morning, so I’m afraid it might be too cold to have my indoor garden in the winter.

  77. bridgeton 21 Nov 2022 at 12:12 am

    The first one is minor, but a necessary skill: Darn a sock.
    The second: Homebrew. I’ve done it once, more than 5 years ago. And I’d like to try again.

    For those KNITTING SOCKS (or not knitting them as the case may be), I made these felted slippers, which are like giant socks, before attempting socks. They were pretty easy, and helped me understand how socks are knit without as much hard work.
    There are of course many ways to knit socks, but this helped me see how to turn a heal and finish a toe without so many stitches.

    SHARON, DH installed a toilet this weekend. It was pretty easy; easier than the other minor plumbing work he’s done. Good luck! I am sure it is well within your abilities.

  78. Bettinaon 21 Nov 2022 at 6:30 am

    Hi Sharon,
    I’m in!
    This year I want to learn how to grow shiitake and oyster mushrooms.
    Yesterday I received the parcel with the “mycel” (what’s the word in english?) and now I have to learn how to fell a birch, so I can let the mushrooms grow on the wood. Husband will have to help me with that :-)

    It’s great you all are learning to knit!
    I’m knitting since I was 5 yrs old. It’s so comforting. Nice, warm wool on your lap, and then a cosy sweater to wear…

    I recommend the Elizabeth Zimmermann - books, especially “knitting without tears” - for all those knitters who HATE to sew the knitted pieces together!

    Regards and thumbs up! , Bettina

  79. Bethon 21 Nov 2022 at 8:58 am

    Susan in NJ,

    Definitely serious about the 7 yo and beekeeping…thank you for sharing your experience. My kids are 12 years apart, so 7yo basically lives with 3 adults and I think sometimes he feels a little useless even though he has some chores to do. I would really like for him to have something to be involved in that makes a difference in our family’s well-being.

  80. Kate@Living the Frugal Lifeon 21 Nov 2022 at 8:59 am

    I’ve committed to improving my incredibly rudimentary sewing skills, though I plan to wait until all the hubbub of the holidays is over. I want to sew a replacement tea cozy for our tea pot, using our current cozy as a model. If I get halfway decent at it, I’ll make a few extras to give away as gifts.

    I love the merit badge idea. It’s just going to take a while before I can clear my deck enough to pursue it.

  81. deweyon 21 Nov 2022 at 10:36 am

    Raven - Thanks for the great advice! That was a very helpful explanation of picking up dropped stitches, which I always have a miserable fight with (when I rip out to a certain row, before I can get the needle back in, about half the stitches drop down to the next row - argh!) My current sock pattern is done with sport weight yarn. So far I’ve only knitted patterns from Laura Bush’s Folk Socks book (either the basic sock pattern, or now the Welsh stocking type). I have not felt knowledgeable enough to change them in any way. If I reduce the number of stitches to let myself knit big, though, will the resulting sock not still be less comfortable and less durable because the fabric is less solid than it’s supposed to be? I get wool boot socks from the store that are about 15 stitches to the inch.

  82. deweyon 21 Nov 2022 at 10:39 am

    Oh, and where sewing is concerned, I discovered at the class last night that the same sort of project goes a lot better with an $1100 machine and $300 worth of giant ruled mat and rotary cutter than it does with a $75 machine and a yardstick and scissors. Anyone surprised? :)

  83. Judyon 21 Nov 2022 at 10:58 am

    Carpentry! I’m fairly competent with basic tools, but haven’t ventured beyond raised beds. I want to build a chicken tractor (having just learned that I CAN have some hens in the city). I also yearn for a garden shed — nothing fancy — just a place for me to putter and the feral cats to hang out in. Just need to get over my fear of screwing up and wasting materials. I have a good friend who is in a woodworker’s guild. He’s retiring in January and will have time on his hands — he doesn’t know it yet, but he’ll be taking on an apprentice ;0

  84. Greenpaon 21 Nov 2022 at 11:06 am

    Sealander- Good idea! :-)

    or even; some of us could become apprentice pirates! It pays well, and there’s good tradition! All the way up to Gilbert and Sullivan. Sharon, get your Piracy Merit Badges ready.

    Or we could apprentice on Wall Street; for the same badge.

  85. Susan in NJon 21 Nov 2022 at 11:11 am

    Beth — I’m not trying to be discouraging, there are definitely things a 7 year old can do to help with beekeeping, but a lot of the “live” handling is probably beyond an average 7 year old’s strength/height, etc. My dad encouraged us to read a book called “First Lessons in Beekeeping” and gave us all a hive scrapping tool for Christmas. Also the boy scouts had merit badge material for beekeeping. I’m sure if you take a class, the instructor will have ideas. Plus, it was pretty cool to dress up in the beekeeping hat/net. One thing to watch out for especially with a child though is bee allergy and reaction to stings, my little brother, who wasn’t allergic, at about age 9 got very badly stung by a generation of mean bees.

  86. Heather Grayon 21 Nov 2022 at 11:42 am

    In addition to sewing better and butchering chickens, I’ll add:

    - knitting a pair of socks (L knits well so I have an in-house tutor as well as some other friends who knit well)

    - learning to crochet (I couldn’t figure out how to get to the third row years ago, just kept making a long skinny spiral)

    - learning the mysteries of the heating wood stove. First lesson is today. L completed installing it this week so we are doing test burns. He did the first one yesterday and the draft is fine.

  87. Anion 21 Nov 2022 at 12:05 pm


    Too bad you aren’t out here- have been canning blueberry jam and strawberry sauce for my Farmers Market. I froze the fruit this summer and now, when I NEED the heat and humidity, I really felt like canning! First time I’ve been able to do the freezer bit since I haven’t had a freezer until now, but this was so much nicer than trying to can in the midst of the summer season. So ask around and someone may have frozen fruit they would be ok with turning into jam, or have apples to make sauce or apple butter with.

  88. Dianeon 21 Nov 2022 at 1:55 pm

    Unless I missed it no one mentioned spinning and weaving. I tried both and did quite a bit of weaving but sold my loom when I could no longer afford to “feed” it. Why is yarn so much more expensive than cloth and cloth than clothing? I still have my wheel but spinning quality fleece is hard to find. Do you think there will be a revival of these basic craft skills?

  89. deweyon 21 Nov 2022 at 2:37 pm

    That is SUCH a good question. I can buy a good pair of merino wool boot socks for no more than it costs to buy a couple skeins of sock yarn. I understand that with mechanization, labor and shipping are cheap, but they have to add SOMETHING to the cost!

  90. Someday I’ll be competent too! « What’s Your Name, Mommy?on 21 Nov 2022 at 3:17 pm

    [...] 21, 2008 by Jen The Competence Project is growing by the minute and I’m nothing if not a joiner.  Only I’m gonna make my own [...]

  91. Heather Grayon 21 Nov 2022 at 6:08 pm

    Hi Diane,

    I spin and weave already, so I didn’t put them on my list. Although I may be teaching someone(s) to spin this winter… No problem with finding quality wool around here in western MA, but I also sometimes go to the sheep show in Rhinebeck, NY. We have the MA Sheep and Wool show in Cummington over Memorial Day weekend and our county has a fiber artisan/fiber providers weekend event every fall now (Franklin County Fiber Twist). Then there’s the April show in Tolland, CT and something in NH but I haven’t been there. Plus has listings of many of the folks who raise sheep for the fleece, so it’s possible to contact people directly to see what’s available.

    I’ve also bought some rovings and fleece online, but that can be a tricky proposition. I’ll confess though that I prefer spinning from rovings rather than processing the fleece myself. I do have a few raw fleeces though, so one of my projects for next spring/summer should be cleaning them — they’re safely bagged and stowed so they won’t be agitated in their bags, but they won’t keep forever, so I really have to clean them next year…. if you have the time though, it’s the cheapest way to get wool for spinning, at least for oneself.

    As to cost, I think good quality yarn and fleece are primarily made in small quantities, whereas most fabric is mass-produced on machines. Small operations can’t afford to eat as much of the overhead as the big factories. That may change over time as energy gets more precious — unfortunately I don’t think that means things will get less expensive, just that prices may be more comparable. The only good thing about that is that people won’t be buying more clothing than they need… although again, not good for folks who don’t have a lot of money to start with.

    I’ve actually sold a small number of woven scarves since I started selling them last year. I’ve only made real yardage once so far but hope to make more at some point. But it won’t be for sale because of the time involved and cost of materials. Right now I look at it as a way to make custom fabric for unique clothing — and of course it keeps the skill alive. One friend of mine got a new loom as a gift this year (several anniversaries combined), and another is starting to teach some folks how to weave.

  92. Ravenon 22 Nov 2022 at 10:45 am

    Hi Dewey,

    Well, loosely knitted things may wear a bit more quickly than tightly knitted things, but you can always work in some clear nylon thread to your toes and heels or whatever wears quickly on your sock (hold it together with your yarn and knit with both like they’re one thread). That will extend the life of the heel or toe significantly. And if you think about it, changing five or ten stitches can’t make that big a difference in the strength of the fabric, or they couldn’t publish patterns in various sizes, could they?

    The other thing is, I would just learn to get a pair of socks that fit you right first, and then worry about snugging up your gauge. You can always get a pair of size 1 needles and some very fine yarn if you want to make dense socks, but I would get the basics of sock construction down first, without fussing with the fine needles and yarn. At least, I’m always impatient to put socks on when I’m knitting them. :)

    May I suggest a pattern from “Homespun, Handknit” from Interweave Press (check your library) called “Family Socks”. It illustrates well how changing the number of stitches can change the sock size without compromising the fabric, and it’s dead easy.

  93. Dianeon 22 Nov 2022 at 3:03 pm


    Thanks for the really helpful info. I am in R.I. so the places you mention are within reach. I’ll have to get my tetanus booster soon and look for a fleece. (My spinning teacher told us that droppings adhering to the raw fleece could be a source of infection.) Hmm. Something else to worry about after P.O.

  94. Lauraon 22 Nov 2022 at 6:37 pm

    Wow! Everyone is going to be busy. Inspired by your earlier post I listed some goals for the next year on my blog. But I definitely think that more frequent progress check-ins will be necessary to keep me going, so I really appreciate that you are making this an official challenge. My goals for the next week or so are to mend a pair of slacks (I have no idea how to do this and have it look ok) and call the extension office to find out about community gardens in my city. I think I can do that!

  95. teresa from hersheyon 23 Nov 2022 at 3:27 pm

    Toilet repair first: get THREE wax rings at the hardware store when you get the other repair parts you need. If you don’t seat the toilet right on the wax ring it is rendered instantly unusable (it will leak) and this way you have spares immediately on hand and don’t have to go back to the store in a rush.

    Sewing: get a GOOD razor blade type seam ripper from LeeValley tools. It makes all the difference in the world when you have to rip out yet another seam. Cheap thread from those dollar bins will not be smooth and will break in the machine. Coats and Clarks used to be pretty good but they have changed their manufacture and are no longer the same so now I have to wait for those 50% off sales at Jo-Annes to stock up on basic colors in those expensive German threads. Besides not gunning the motor when hemming jeans, the best gadget is a “jean-a-ma-jig”. This is a plastic square with a slot cut out and it lets the presser foot maintain even pressure on the fabric as you go over the thick hump at the side seams. They are a few dollars at Jo-Annes and pay for themselves the first time when you get a tight seam and no broken needle. Lastly, machine needles get dull! There doesn’t seem to be any way to sharpen them. If you have a lot of trouble skipping stitches, it may be the needle and/or the cheap thread. You can only use a machine needle so many times and then they have to be discarded.

  96. deweyon 24 Nov 2022 at 10:30 am

    Thanks for the further advice, Raven! I would use a reinforcing thread next time for sure. I had been weaving in reinforcement yarn on the heel of my first sock in this pair, but yesterday I turned it right side out and discovered that much of the yarn was not actually woven in but hanging loose on the right side, so I’m giving up and pulling it out.

    But I finished the second sock last night! Yayyy! I just have to weave in the ends and weave some yarn over the *ahem* ugly little hole in the toe, then I get my merit badge! For those who are just thinking about socks now, I highly recommend the circular needle method. I did one sock of this pair on four bamboo #1 needles and the second on a metal circular (after the first few rows), and the second was definitely easier and (relatively) quicker, although the gauge got bigger.

  97. Kathieon 24 Nov 2022 at 4:21 pm

    I want to learn to knit. I took two lessons with a local yarn shop owner and am working on a scarf…. I may actually have it done it time to give to hubby for Christmas.

  98. tasterspoonon 24 Nov 2022 at 8:21 pm

    I love it! I agree with the several people up there who said that earning a badge is much more motivational than my typical lineup of New Year’s Resolutions.

    Last week’s post inspired me to learn to crochet. I literally learned how to crochet in one evening with the help of somebody’s Aunt Esther on YouTube. There’s a series of three videos, I highly recommend. I am now six inches into a baby blanket for a friend. Hopefully I can finish it in the next four months.

    I then got some books out of the library and re-learned how to knit. And then I went hog wild at the yarn store. I hope to learn how to cable before the end of the year…and, like everybody else, Socks in 2009!

    I’m going to have to come up with a good long list of merit badges and put them on my own blog. GREAT idea.

  99. Green Hill Farmon 25 Nov 2022 at 8:50 am

    I’d love to teach someone beginning knitting and sewing :) . I live in central Ma. zap me an email if interested. Beth

  100. Chrison 30 Nov 2022 at 11:28 am

    I’m already doing a Pantry Challenge for the month of December-spending only $10 per adult and $5 per child per week in my household (2 of each makes for $30/week)-that dovetails nicely with this project. Our freezer, fridge and pantry are stocked, and now it’s time for me to practice cooking from my food stores. Some aspects of this are new to me-I started fermenting vegetables this summer for the first time and now I get to figure out how to put them to delicious use.

  101. espon 04 Dec 2022 at 4:05 pm

    I have two pressure cookers in the cupboard I have never used. I am going to drag them out and figure out how to use them.

  102. How to… Select Paint « Learning to Step Lightlyon 10 Dec 2022 at 4:10 pm

    [...] is part of the “How To” section of the blog, which I decided to do after Sharon over at Casaubon’s Book suggested that we all learn how to do more things ourselves. I figured I could share what I knew [...]

  103. Meganon 16 Dec 2022 at 6:10 pm

    I am going to switch the direction of my refrigerator doors!

  104. The competence project « Dweller on the Thresholdon 15 May 2023 at 11:29 pm

    [...] 20, 2008 in Uncategorized Over at Casaubon’s Book   Sharon’s set up the Competence Project, getting people to start new projects that will increase their competence in a variety of areas [...]

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply