Monday, November 12, 2018

Mittens that Stay Together

As a boy mom, I've learned that the cord holding a pair of mittens together is a vulnerable thing. If I simply crochet a chain between the two, it will be broken eventually.  If the cord isn't securely attached to both mittens, it is likely to come off of one or both. Last year, I made the cords "built in,"  and they held up beautifully.  This year, I'm repeating that construction for my daughter's mittens, and I thought sharing some photos might be useful.

After finishing the first mitten, I picked up three stitches on the edge of the cuff, below the thumb. 

I then made i-cord for the length that I needed between mittens.  I-cord is a narrow tube, usually of 3 or 4 stitches, knitted in the round on two double pointed needles. Since I picked up those stitches at the same place where I began knitting the mitten, I took the opportunity to enclose my loose ends in the I-cord.

Once the i-cord was as long as it needed to be, I made the three i-cord stitches the first three stitches of the second mitten, using a knitted cast on for the rest of the stitches.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Two easy cap patterns to crochet

Recently, I wanted to share some simple crocheted cap patterns with a friend who didn't have access to all her patterns right away.  She wanted an easy cap pattern to help use up her stash of worsted weight yarn.  Surely, they would be easy to find on the internet as free patterns!  Well, not so much.  So I went into my own notes and found my patterns (here).  But, oops, they were too wordy for someone who just wanted the pattern.  So I stripped down the wordiness, and here they are, plain and simple:


Sizes:  Little Kid (Big Kid, Grownup)
Use either DK/#3 or Worsted/#4 weight yarn

Side to Side Cap:  Stitch a strip of that fits snugly around the head.  Sew a seam. Gather the top.  Fold up the bottom edge. (shown left and bottom, adult size)
Top-Down Coil Cap:  Start at the top.  Go round and round.  Make increases so it fits.  Then stop increasing, but keep stitching.  The cap is finished when the cap is big enough, or you run out of yarn. (shown upper right, adult size)

For either cap, here’s what you need:
   50 gr of a DK/lightweight yarn (#3)  OR
   100 gr of a worsted/medium weight yarn (#4)
A Hook – to match your yarn
A Yarn needle for finishing
A Tape Measure – measuring is good!
For Top-Down Coil Cap: a split ring marker

Gauge (roughly)
DK weight yarn:  4 sts/inch
Worsted weight yarn:  3 sts/inch

Ch – chain                            
Hdc – half double crochet   
Sc – single crochet
St/sts – stitch/stitches

Side-to-Side Cap

Loosely chain 6 (8, 10) inches. 
     For worsted weight yarn: 19 (25, 31) stitches.
     For DK weight yarn:  25 (33, 41) stitches.

Note:  For sc, insert hook into the Back Loop Only.  For hdc, insert hook under both top loops.

Row 1:  Sc1 in 2nd chain from hook.  Sc1 in each of the next 4 ch, for a total of 5 sc.  Hdc across the rest of the row.  (If you're comfortable with foundation stitches, that can work here just fine, too.)
Row 2:  Ch2, turn.  Hdc in each hdc of the previous row until there are 5 stitches left.  Inserting hook into the Back Loop Only, sc across those 5 sc.
Row 3:  Ch1, turn.  Inserting hook into the Back Loop Only of each sc stitch, sc 5.  Hdc across the rest of the row.
Repeat Rows 2 and 3 until the piece measures 16 (18, 20) inches on the long edge, ending with on the hdc side – not the sc side – of the row.

Next row – the seam:  Fold the piece so the starting row and the last row worked are next to each other to join the last row to the starting row, to make a seam.  Ch1, turn.  Inserting your hook through both layers, slip stitch in each stitch across to join the two edges together.  The piece is now a tube.  You should end up at the sc side, which is the top of the cap. 

Leaving a tail of about 12 inches, cut the yarn, and pull through the loop on the hook to secure and finish off your stitching.  Thread the tail into a yarn needle to use to gather the top.  Using the yarn doubled, with the end of the tail about 3 inches longer than the end connected to the piece, weave the needle through every 2 rows all the way around the sc side of the tube, going around two times for a secure gather.  Leave about 3 inches of the tail of the yarn hanging out at the start of the gathering.  Holding the tail, carefully pull the double strand snugly to gather the top.  Tie a snug knot using the double strand on the needle with the single tail at the beginning of the gather.   Cut the yarn off the yarn needle, and tuck in the loose ends to finish the cap.

Top-Down Coil Cap (have a safety pin or split marker handy for this one)

Starting at the center of the crown of the cap, ch3, slip stitch to make a ring.  (Or if you prefer, start with a Magic Ring.)
Round 1:  Ch1.  Hdc 7 into the ring. (7 stitches)  Attach a pin to the last hdc to mark the end of the round.  Move the pin from one round to the next. 
Round 2:  Continuing in a coil, hdc 2 into each hdc of Round 1.  Move the pin to the last hdc of the round. (14 stitches)
Round 3:  (hdc1, hdc2 in next st) 7 times – one time around. Move the pin to the last hdc of the round. (21 stitches)
Round 4:  (hdc2, hdc2 in next st) 7 times – one time around. Move the pin to the last hdc of the round. (28 stitches)
Round 5:  (hdc 3, hdc2 in next st) 7 times – one time around. Move the pin to the last hdc of the round. (35 stitches)
Round 6:  (hdc 4, hdc2 in next st) 7 times – one time around. Move the pin to the last hdc of the round. (42 stitches)

See the pattern?  Continue increasing like this until the crown measures 5 (6, 7) inches across from edge to edge.  Depending on your gauge and yarn, the piece may lie flat, or it may cup a bit – either way is fine.  From here on, you don't need the marker, so you can take it off and put it away.

Continue stitching in hdc in a coil until the cap measures 6 (7, 8) inches from the center to the edge.  Or, you can keep stitching, for more of a fold-up edge.  When you’re done, sc in the next 2 stitches.  Slip stitch in the next 2 stitches.  Finish off, leaving a 4-inch tail to weave in and finish.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Designing Sleeves!

If you've ever tried your hand at designing a sweater, you know that figuring out how to shape the sleeves is the trickiest part. Having tapered sleeves is also really important for winding up with a sweater that looks good.  However, if you know how, shaping sleeves only takes a little math that isn't even hard to do.  The instructions below are for a basic, drop-shoulder sleeve (that means there's no or very little shaping around the armhole on either the body of the sweater or on the sleeve itself).  Figuring out shoulder shaping is a little more complicated, so I'm only discussing the absolute basics here.

A tapered sleeve is: a slope.  If you aren't sure how to get the arm measurements you need, take measurements from a garment you already have that fits well. To start you need five pieces of information:
  • armhole depth
  • wrist circumference
  • sleeve length measured from armpit to wrist (If you plan to have ribbing or some other kind of cuff at the wrist, subtract the planned length of the cuff from the sleeve length)
  • stitches per inch in your garment's pattern stitch
  • rows per inch in your pattern stitch  
I like making sleeves by picking up stitches around the armhole, working in the round, and decreasing down to the cuff; because that means I don't have to sew the sleeves to the body and that the sleeves themselves are seamless.  This process works whether you are knitting or crocheting; and the SAME math still works if you make sleeves flat or work them from the bottom up, it just involves increasing from the cuff to the armhole instead of decreasing down to the cuff.  However, since making sleeves from the top down is the simplest way to go about it, these instructions are for that method.
Now to use all these numbers:
  1. Double the armhole depth to get an upper arm circumference.  
  2. Multiply the upper arm circumference by your number of stitches per inch.  This is the number of stitches you want to have at the top of the sleeve.  If you are using a pattern stitch, you will want to round this number to a multiple that will work with that stitch.  If for instance, your pattern is a multiple of 4, you will want to round your number of upper arm stitches (preferably up) to the nearest multiple of 4.
  3. Multiply your wrist circumference by your stitches per inch, and round that number to work with your pattern stitch. This is the number of stitches you will have at your cuff.
  4. Subtract #3 from #2.  This is the number you will have to decrease over the length of the sleeve.
  5. Multiply your sleeve length (minus the cuff length, if you plan to have a cuff) by your number of rows per inch.  This is the number of rows in your sleeve, not including your cuff.
  6. Divide the number of rows that you found in #5 by the change in the number of stitches found in #4. This is where you figure out the "slope" of your sleeves. Round the result to the nearest whole number.  This is how frequently you need to subtract (decrease) a stitch.
  7. Double the number you found in #6.  Every time you do this number of rows, in the last row, you decrease at the beginning AND end of the row.  This keeps your sleeve symmetrical, rather than tilting it to one side or the other.  The exception to this step is when you are working in a large gauge. When you only have two or three stitches per inch, increasing or decreasing two stitches in the same row can give a lumpy appearance to the slope under the arm.  When working in a big gauge, it can be better to increase or decrease once in a row, but twice as frequently, for a smoother appearance.  Just make sure you alternate decreasing between the beginning and end of the row every time.
I've been working on winter sweaters for my boys, and the math has worked out really beautifully for the sleeves.  I'm knitting them, and I don't need to have a particular number of stitches for my pattern. It makes for an excellent example of the math I describe above. These are the numbers for my third son's sweater. 
  1. Armhole depth = 6.5 inches. 6.5 x 2=13. Armhole circumference is 13 inches.
  2. Stitches per inch = 4. 4 x 13 = 52.  I will have 52 stitches at the top of the sleeve. This is the number of stitches I pick up around the armhole.
  3. Wrist circumference before the cuff is 8 inches. 8 x 4 = 32.  I will have 32 stitches at the wrist.
  4. 52 - 32 = 20.  I like to work sleeves from the shoulder to the cuff, so I will decrease 20 stitches from the top to the bottom of the sleeve. 
  5. My sleeve length is 12 inches, but the cuff is 2 inches.  That means my decreases will be distributed over the 10 inches before the cuff. I have 6 rows per inch in my pattern stitch.  10 x 6 = 60.  The sleeve will have a total of 60 rows before the cuff.
  6. 60/20=3.  I need to decrease 1 every 3rd row, 20 times.
  7. BUT I want to decrease 2 stitches every decrease row in order to keep my decreases symmetrical.  That means I will have 10 decrease rows, not 20.  Therefore, I will decrease 2 every 6th row, 10 times.
This picture (left) is actually of a different son's sweater and used slightly different numbers for the sleeve decreases, but the process for finding those numbers was exactly the same as described above.  The sweater I used for the written example was made in a dark variegated yarn, which makes the decreases hard to see in a photograph.

Based entirely on 5 measurements, I was able to figure out that I needed to decrease 2 every 6th row, 10 times, and then add a cuff to make the sleeves for my son's sweater. All I needed to know in order to get there was how to measure, multiply, and divide.  And it worked. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Mitered Squares Scaled Up

I've always wanted to do something with mitered squares, but I had never found just the right project at the right time. Then on a whim, I decided to start a throw with yarn leftover from a sweater I made for my son. 

Usually, mitered square projects are done on relatively small needles. They are perfect for showing off multicolored yarns (especially hand-dyed yarns or sock yarns), because there is never an opportunity for the colors to pool in unattractive ways.  While incredibly simple to knit, the geometric lines of mitered squares appeal to people who like M.C. Escher designs, too. I've always liked the effect, but like I said, couldn't find the right project.

Well, when I found the right project, it wasn't with sock yarn or a luscious hand-dye.  I used a super chunky acrylic blend and size 13 circulars.  The result was a fun variation on your basic patchwork throw.  It has more visual interest than simply assembling squares knit in various colors and was more enjoyable to knit, without being complicated.  Since I didn't always pick up the stitches for the next square on the same side of the blanket, it came out reversible.  There was no sewing to do at the end (always a perk in my book).  I also played around a little with the directionality of the squares, which is another fun option with mitering.

Scaling up my mitered squares to a super chunky yarn really emphasized the texture of the garter ridges and made for a delightfully squishy texture. It doesn't have any of the clean, modern, precise look of small mitered squares. Instead, it has a casual, rustic look that reminds me of certain quilt patterns.  I would definitely recommend this, or some other project made of large squares (rug, pillow, etc.) as a fun introduction to the world of mitering.

If you're interested in learning to make mitered squares, the following video (from Knitting with Cheryl Brunette on YouTube) is a good tutorial.  The blanket I made used super chunky yarn, size 13 needles, and started with 61 stitches on the cast-on edge (30 stitches on either side of the central decrease).

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Choosing the stitch: Rethinking yarn and hook combinations

Bottom line:  The tighter the gauge (within reason), the more the focus is about the stitch texture.  The looser the gauge (within reason), the more the focus is about the fabric texture.

Note:  I say 'within reason' for both because there is such a thing as stitching so tightly or so loosely that the resulting fabric is just silly.  It may have an artistic or other purpose, and it may be fun, so it may be worth making.  But that might be a different discussion.  Back to topic:

Crochet is usually about the stitches, about stitch textures.  There's lacy stuff, with holes between stitches.  There's three dimensional stuff, with posts and popcorn and other raised stitches.  There's color work, too, seeing how different colors interact in the fabric.  But it's all really about the stitches and about how fun it is to make the stitches.

Threadwork, especially, has traditionally been all about the stitches, but most afghans are about the stitch texture, too.  The fabric draws attention to itself, which is great for making an accent piece to accessorize a room or an outfit.

A fabric that draws attention to itself is great for special occasions, but mine is a quieter lifestyle and I often prefer a more subdued fabric for most of what I make, not just accessories. That's when I remember there is another perspective:  the fabric.
Crisp gauge: #10 cotton, size 7 steel hook
14 rounds, 7 inches square

As an example of the first idea, here's a sample motif I like to doodle from time to time:

It's a combination of granny square and pineapple motif ideas, with a hint of filet crochet added at the end, so there are lacy and solid bits (no 3D bits for this discussion).  In order for this piece to look traditionally nice, I want to use a firm gauge -- a small hook with the small thread -- so the stitch texture is crisp and well defined.

Sometimes, I like the look of that texture, but I want it to be bigger and make up faster, so I go to a bigger hook:
Loose gauge:  #10 cotton, 00 (3.5mm) steel hook
14 rounds, 11 inches square

Problem with just bumping up the hook size, making a looser gauge, is that the fabric ends up not nearly as crisp.  It can look almost sloppy.  But it is still drawing attention to itself, because that is what stitch texture is all about.  If the gauge gets too loose, the fabric ends up looking sloppy and confusing, and the stitch texture gets lost.

This is where a different approach to choosing the stitch comes in.  I like to do my random stitch.  It makes a fabric that isn't about how the stitches work together to make a design.  When I work it at a firm gauge, the fabric is very solid.   Great for making tree bark, which is where it started.  (I didn't make a sample of that for here.)  But when I loosen it up -- a lot -- it takes on a whole new personality, and I really like it.

#10 cotton, 00 (3.5 mm) steel hook - solid fabric,
maybe a bit too solid. 9 inch diameter/16 rounds
With the more traditional thread bits, I used #10 cotton thread and a size 7 steel hook (for the first one) and a size 3.5mm hook (like a size 00 steel) for the looser one.  Then, switching pattern stitches, the tighter sample is made using the same #10 thread with the 00/ 3.5mm hook - and it's a bit too solid.

Then I switched to a gargantuan 5mm (huge!!!) hook in random stitch, and suddenly the fabric is all about the fabric -- it's not about the stitch at all.

#10 cotton, size 5mm hook - lacy, soft drape
11 inch diameter/12 rounds

In the context of the shawl (in the photo below), over the large scale of the whole fabric, a pattern does show up -- this shawl was made from a 100-gram hank of lace weight merino (about 1200 yards), worked with a 4mm hook (again, huge!!), but it's not about how the individual stitches interact at the stitch level.  It's about the fabric.

This is a great way to get a grown-up fabric. And the stitch doesn't have to be this complicated.  Even something fairly simple, like (sc1, ch1) where you sc into the sc of the previous row, or into the ch1 space of the previous row (like a net stitch), works up nicely at a loose gauge.  And the chain stitches keep the single crochet stitches from stretching out of shape.

Cobweb weight merino, 4mm hook
The great thing about all this is that, with such a big hook, it works up much more quickly than any stitch-texture-based stitches - totally a win/win!

Santa Cruz Satellite Coral Reef at the Seymour Discovery Center

The official, professional Crochet Coral Reef exhibit, which has been travelling around the world for a few years, has moved on from UCSC.  But the closing of that show marked the opening of our own local satellite project, which opened at the Seymour Marine Discover Center.  Here are some pictures from the opening:

Some figures are more realistic than others.  Some are more fantastical.

Materials included yarn, thread, VCR and cassette tape, plastic bags, and twine.

White bits suggest bleached coral -- looks elegant but is actually not a good sign at all in our oceans.

At a technical level, this was a fun way to explore increases and decreases in crochet and thinking of the medium for three dimensional constructions.  I remember playing like this almost fifty years ago, when I first started stitching.  It is still fun.

The installation is a combination of lots - hundreds - of small bits along with larger pieces, all contributed by UCSC students and community members,

This exuberant display will be at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center through the summer and into the fall.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tangle Meditation

For whatever reason, perfectly good balls of yarn sometimes end up in the thrift store.  Aimless, without context or purpose, they lie, waiting.  They get bounced around.  Even the structure of a label often gets torn off a ball of yarn, so there’s nothing holding it together.  And the more disheveled the yarn gets, the less likely anyone will want it.  And so it goes:  a tangle.

The process of untangling is calm and gentle and quiet.  There are tricks to it:  
  • Recognize single strands of yarn from double strands.  
  • Know the difference between a tangle and a knot.  
  • Never pull hard or use force.  
  • Look for an end, to start rolling a new ball.  
  • Differentiate the different yarns:  one white is slightly thicker or less fuzzy than another – they are different yarns.  
  • Move from yarn to yarn, when a knot is threatening in one place, loosen it up and see if another strand could use more attention for a bit.  
  • Remember:  they aren’t trying to be tangled.

As I coax out the separate balls of yarn, I see different projects for each.  A coaster, a scarf, baby booties, doll clothes, dish cloth, basket or bowl, or an addition to another, bigger project.

Once all the yarns are separated into their own balls, they are ready to start a new journey, to become something that goes out into the world.  And it is good.