Monday, December 31, 2007

A Post From the Road

For a little over a week now, I've been on vacation driving cross-country. While I was in Fort Smith, Arkansas, I happened to visit a lovely little yarn shop, and I thought I'd post about it.

It's called Stringtown Yarns, and is located in the historic downtown area in a beautiful brick storefront. Stringtime has only been open since June, so it's still getting up and running, with the owner getting a feel for the market, the landlord making the downstairs area usable for workshops, and inventory being bought when possible. Even though the store's selection is far from vast, the owner seems to make a point of having a little of everything in a good selection of colors. She also plans to sell dyeing, felting, and spinning supplies, and has started carrying a little in those areas.

Of course, the important part is the sale section. The owner is currently closing out a few Rowan Yarns, along with a few other things, and has marked them down by 60%!

I had a wonderful time visiting Stringtime and chatting with the owner, and I hope this post eventually leads someone else to share that experience.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pixie Slipper -- or the slam dunk

And speaking of gifts and last minutes, here is an idea for a little bootie that you can work in a lot of different ways. It works great in knitting (just plain old garter stitch, knit every row). I have done it a lot in crochet, too, using single crochet in the back loop only.

Basically, you make a square, but don't cut the yarn when you're done. To make the square easier to stitch together, knit as many ridges (on one side) as there are stitches. If you crochet, single crochet (in the back loop only) as many rows as you have stitches. The gauge will work out.

Then, fold the square so it is a triangle, so the yarn is hanging down at one end of the fold.

From that corner, stitch two folded sides together -- that is the sole of the bootie. Then turn the corner and stitch about a third or halfway up the other side. The point where the crochet hook goes through the edge in the photo is about how far up to stitch. Now fasten off and tuck in the loose ends.

Fold down the top flap that didn't get stitched, and you've got a cool goofy Pixie Bootie.

If you stitch tightly, it makes more of a slipper and doesn't stretch much. This is good with very sensible sturdy yarns.

If you stitch loosely, it is really stretchy and is more of a bedsock, for those of us with cold feet. This is nice for soft cozy yarns, even chenille (which was never made for the ages)

About sizing: Everyone is different, but here is a general guideline of how many stitches to start with, whether you knit or crochet:

3 sts/inch
4 sts/inch
5 sts/inch
6 sts/inch
3” square – ornament, good for holding little gifts, too
5” square – baby bootie
7” square – kid size
9” square – lady’s medium
11” square – large

(Thank you to Susie in Phx for the editing suggestion - I didn't know how to include a table when this post first published.)

It is always safer to make it a bit bigger than not big enough. If it turns out that the square is a tad too small, consider single crocheting around the square one time to add just a bit more before stitching the seams.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Handmade Gifts

If you are like me (and most needleworkers I know are), you probably enjoy planning and making gifts for your friends and family. In fact, many new knitters I have met over the years have listed "making gifts" as a goal. However, the successful handmade gift (one the recipient actually likes) takes much more consideration and planning and currently unusual ideas about etiquette to be successful. This is largely because more effort, more good wishes, more personal tastes, and often more money are on the line with handmade gifts than with store bought ones. Moreover, the gift is a demonstration of a personal skill to someone who matters, so it's a little like stage fright,too.

If the gift is something to be worn, one must consider the size of the garment. Is it possible to find out the recipient's measurements without spilling the beans? Or does gift giving need to involve surprises? Do they have fiber sensitivities or preferences? If one is using a natural or delicate fiber, washing is also a concern. If the gift goes to a child, what will his parents do with the gift when it is no longer useful to the child? What will the recipient do if they don't like it? What do you want the recipient to do if they don't like it?

In some families, handmade gifts are unspoken cues that the giver lacks the funds to buy "real" presents. In others, such gifts will be so treasured that even a gift of dish rags will never be used. In others, they will be used until they are worn out. What reaction would you want?

In groups that value the giving of handmade gifts, handmade gifts may be given on a regular basis. What are the chances of making the same thing that someone else is making?

Moreover, if you make gifts every year, are you repeating yourself? You don't want to burden someone with more of something they need given in such a way that they can't do anything about it. And are you making gifts because you know you can make something the recipient will really like, or just for the sake of making gifts? Personally, I would rather receive a gift card to just about anywhere, than be given a set of holiday specific remote control cozies. Some people probably would love such a gift, but everyone has something that they would not find useful. If you can't think of something to make for someone, go ahead and buy. If nothing else, food is often a safe option.

All of these are important questions to ask before you pick up your hook or needles, and the answers depend on the individual needleworker and recipients, but they are very important to consider.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Why does my knitting curl?

This is a common question among new knitters who have just learned stockinette stitch (knit one row, purl the next). It is the nature of the knitted stitch.

Let us consider the stitch. Remember that a purl stitch is just the wrong side of a knit stitch. A knitted stitch is made of one loop of yarn that has been drawn through the one below it. On the knit side of the stitch, it looks like a "V", and on the back, it looks like a "-". On the front, the V (which includes about 2/3 the yarn involved in the stitch) has been pushed forward in the process of being drawn through the stitch below it. The - that is the back of the stitch (and about 1/3 of the yarn) is forced backwards when a stitch is pulled through it is the next row. In order for a knitted fabric to lie flat, there must be an approximately equal number of stitches being pushed in either direction by the fabric.

In other words, pattern stitches that have an equal number of knits and purls on either side will lie flat. For example, garter stitch has one row of V's followed by one row of -'s on either side. Seed Stitch alternates V's and -'s and off-sets them by one stitch in each successive row.

Some stitches lie flat by manipulating how the knitted fabric curls. Ribbed stitches alternate panels of stockinette stitch with reverse stockinette stitch. In this way, each rib will try to curl in its own direction. That is why ribbing stretches in an accordion-like manner.

Other stitches curl even though they look as though they should not. Usually, these stitches involve slipped stitches in certain rows, and are called slip-stitch patterns. While many slip-stitch patterns have textures that suggest an equal number of knits and purls, they almost always say "purl all wrong side rows" in their instructions.

Some stitches lie flat when they ought not to, even! Most lace patterns are primarily knitted on the right side and purled on the wrong side. However, the more yarn overs there are in the pattern, the more the fabric will lie flat. This is because of the looseness of the yarn over. Even stockinette stitch will lie flat in a loose enough gauge.

My favorite stitch dictionaries are the Barbara Walker Treasury and her Second Treasury. In both, she divides stitches according to type, including knit and purl patterns, slip stitch patterns,yarn over patterns, and lace patterns. When stitches are reversible or look interesting on both sides, Ms. Walker usually makes a note of it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Felting, part 1

Have you ever gone to switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer only to discover that you accidentally included your favorite wool sweater? And then, were you horrified to discover that it had shrunk to a size more appropriate for a three-year-old?

If so, you have done felting. When animal fibers (that have not been treated to resist felting) are subjected to agitation while washing and sudden changes in temperature, microscopic hooks on the shaft of the fur expand, hook themselves to other hooks, and contract. The result is that the fiber creates a dense mesh that is thicker and smaller than the original fabric. Many needle workers like to take advantage of this process to make highly durable and insulated textiles, such as hats, rugs, and purses.

The trouble with felting is that it is unpredictable. Much of the process is difficult, if not impossible to control. The degree to which a wool has been processed changes how much or how easily it will felt. For example, unprocessed wool can be difficult to felt until all the lanolin has been washed from it. At the same time, brightly colored, light, or bright white wools are often difficult because they have to go through harsh chemical processes to achieve such unnatural colors. Of course, every individual animal will produce slightly different wool that will behave differently (kind of how different people's hair reacts differently to high humidity).

If you want to try felting something, by extra yarn in the same brand, color, and dye lot. Make a large gauge swatch in the same needle and stitch called for by your pattern, and trace it on a piece of paper. Make a note of your gauge (both stitches and rows per inch), needle size, pattern stitch, and number of rows and stitches. Then wash the swatch several times, noting each time how much it shrinks by tracing it again. I find that sometimes, a piece will shrink a little in the wash and a lot in the dryer, so noting how many times the swatch was dried can also be useful.

I will have more on this topic another time. Currently, I am working on a felted watch cap, and have photos of the various stages of the process. I will post those next time.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Spot Purse

The purse started out as a simple octagon --

The points don't show well, but there are 8 of them.

I kept going in a coil, working 1 round with increases and 1 round plain -- that way the piece would lay flat. And it got bigger:

At this point, it measures almost 20 inches from side to side.

The next step is to fold and sew the center inside seam, so it would be a tube like this:

The next step is to fold the bottom part up and make the gussets/handles.

To stitch the gusset, single crochet along the fold on the right side edge from the top to the bottom. At the bottom of the fold, chain 60 or so stitches (about 20 inches) for a handle, and then single crochet along the fold on the left side edge from the bottom to the top. Then chain the same number of stitches for the other handle. That finishes one round.

Do 3 more rounds along this base, working in (sc1, dc1) along the gusset and single crochet along the handles.

Then fold the piece up and stitch the gussets closed and slip stitch along the handles to make them into tubes.

I also slip stitched both layers together where the center seam is -- this made small interior pockets.

The next step is to rejoin the yarn at one top edge and double crochet a long flap in just plain rows back and forth.

Monday, November 5, 2007


I like floor cushions. I like to make floor cushion. My favorite (in other words, most brainless) way to make them is to crochet eight solid granny squares, each half the width of the cushion, sew them together with four per side, weave fringe through the increase points, and stuff it. I think it turns out rather nicely, as does the cat.

However, stuffing material can be difficult to work with in knitting or crocheting, especially if you don't want to spend money (or effort on making) a pillow form. Unless you use a smaller gauge, and probably avoid crochet all together, the stuffing or batting can eventually squish out the sides. And, even if that isn't a problem, either material will eventually shift and bunch in strange areas. Well, here is a solution that solves all these problems, and is washable!

I've been keeping an eye out in the local thrift stores for large bath towels that I could fold and use in place of batting. I still think that would work well, except nobody gets rid of large bath towels, apparently. But a little while back, I found one of those big comforters that they use in hotels--looks like a quilt on one side, but is completely unfinished on the other. It was huge, and it was $1.50. Anywhere else in the country, and it probably would have been even cheaper. After I took it home and washed it, it looked like this:

I cut off a strip of the stuff that was as wide as my cushion and about four times as long, folded it with the unfinished side facing out, stuffed it into the cushion, and sewed the cushion shut. The cushion is wonderful, and it's more comfortable (not to mention cheaper) than the other one I made that is stuffed with quilt batting!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Binding Off

Now that we've thoroughly covered foundation rows in crochet, it's the knitters' turn. Cast on edges usually do not pose problems in knitting. Usually, they are sufficiently loose or elastic for any project. What does pose problems, however, is binding off.

Binding off involves pulling the current stitch through the previous stitch, and doing that with every stitch across the row. With every stitch tangled with the ones next to it, rather than "borrowing" slack from each other, the bind off edge has very little elasticity. To get around that, one is always well served by trying to bind off loosely (NOT while angry). But sometimes, a little help can go a long way. This is especially true of cotton and other plant fibers, chenille, and some synthetic fibers.

Beyond that, your bind off row will be looser (and even) if you use a larger needle to bind off. I prefer to use a needle two sizes larger. With smaller gauges especially, you can also use two needles at once, although that can be awckward.

Another thing you can do, especially in larger projects, is increase in the bind off row. You can do this with whatever kind of increase you prefer. The idea is that before you pull the previous stitch over the current one, you increase in your current stitch. If you prefer the yarn over or make one increase, you increase, and then bind off the increase. It works best if you increase every few stitches (say, 6), but it can take a little trial and error to avoid increasing too much and making a ruffled edge.

A Note About FDC

Thank you, Practical Crocheter. I think that was a really good explanation. I just wanted to make two comments about my experiences learning foundation double crochet.

1. Until I got really used to using it, my foundation stitch row came out with a larger gauge than the rest of my project. So when you practice it, practice until your fdc's have the same gauge as your normal double crochet in the same yarn.

2. At first it can be difficult to keep track of that chain stitch you make in the beginning of the stitch. Until you learn to see it (and to help with learning to see it), hold on to that chain from the time you make it until you insert the hook into it to start the next stitch.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Oh! The beauty of Foundation Stitches!

Foundation stitch is one of the coolest, most practical concepts for crocheters. I learned Foundation Double Crochet from the Green Learn How booklet ten million years ago -- it's a way of adding double crochets at the end of a row in filet crochet to match increases made at the beginning of the row. But then I realized I could use it as the base row, that it is good for any kind of yarn, and that it can work with all kinds of stitches, including pattern stitches.

Interweave Crochet had a little article about the concept in their last issue, but they explained it differently than I do, so here's my take on it.

First, you have a chain row to start a project. Then you have the first row that you work into that chain row. Would it not be wonderful if you could combine the two rows and work them all in one swell foop? That is the foundation concept.

Foundation double crochet (fdc) looks the most like a row of double crochet, so it is easiest to start with. Here's how: Chain 3 to turn.

- yarnover/yo (because you're doing a double crochet)
- insert hook in last chain from the hook, yo, draw up a loop (3 loops on hook)
- yo, pull through ONE loop to make the chain stitch. (3 loops are still on the hook)
- look at the base chain stitch you just made -- see where it is
- finish the double crochet just like normal: (yo, pull through 2 lps) twice

That is one foundation double crochet. To make more fdc's, *yarnover, and insert the hook under two strands of the base chain you just made. Yarnover, draw up a loop, yarnover and pull through one loop (to make a new base chain), look to see where that base chain is, and finish off the double crochet. Repeat from * as much as you want.

You may want to stretch or ease how the stitches line up so they look straight.

Incorporating the base chain into the first row makes a wonderful, much better edge. PLUS, you are spared the torture of working into the initial chain row.

I'd love to hear how other people like this technique. It is really adaptable to other stitches, too. Do you have a pattern stitch you'd like to see worked as a foundation row? Let me know.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tight chain edges

One of the ongoing difficulties in the crochet world is the nature of the foundation chain. Knitters don't have this problem. Casting on usually creates a nice elastic (if sometimes floppy) starting edge. Knitters instead have difficulty with tight bind off edges. Since every crochet stitch is self contained, final rows pose no problems for crocheters.

Because of this problem, crocheting garments can be problematic. Keeping the foundation chain loose is really important for a good fit. Some crocheters, especially newer ones, also have trouble creating blankets and other four sided items, because the foundation chain cinches in that side of the piece, making it uneven. Here are some tips for working around this common problem:

1. The patterns always say to chain loosely. You can help this along by doing the chain with a larger hook. I use a hook two sizes larger (starting with an I and switching to a G, for example) and then switch to the hook the pattern calls for in the first row.

2. Try to find patterns that are worked in the round from the center or on the diagonal.

3. With garments, try patterns worked from the top down, have a shirttail edge (in other words, the side seams are open on the bottom inch (about) of the sweater, or orient the pieces so the chain edge is on the top, and partially consumed by the shoulder seams.

4. Never start a project when you are angry or stressed.

For more help with this problem, maybe Practical Crocheter will do a post about foundation stitches.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Blog Action Day...Belatedly

I signed up a week ago to post for Blog Action Day. That means that, on the fifteenth, I ought to have posted about something green. Leave it to me to think it was on the nineteenth instead! So, here we go.

Knitting/Crocheting Green

Needlework is a pretty environmentally friendly activity in the first place. Doing it requires no electricity and very little equipment. None of the equipment should contain any heavy metals or other toxins (unlike computers and other electronics). Of course making something yourself is also socially responsible, since, if you made it, you know for certain that no slave or child labor was involved. But going green can go further.

Over the past few years, the textile industry (which includes yarn companies and manufacturers) have developed a wide array of natural fibers from renewable resources. Of course, organic wool and cotton are a nice start, but both depend on large preexisting industries developed around hybridization. The sheep breeds that today are used for wool are not necessarily well treated, and many sheep today would die under the weight of the wool they produce if left unshorn. The breeds of cotton farmed today require vast quantities of water and are extremely vulnerable to insects and other pests, making organic farming both expensive and intensive. While I do not know about the care involved in raising the following fibers, they were developed specifically as renewable sources of fiber.

Bamboo. Bamboo is an Asian grass that most think of as a tree. Because it is a grass, each sprout is connected to the same root system as all the other sprouts in the area. This means that cutting down one sprout of many can not kill the entire organism. It is fast growing. Some species can grow up to a foot a day! And anyone who has had bamboo growing on their property knows that controlling the growth of the stuff is nearly impossible. Bamboo fiber is like rayon in that it is the viscose of the bamboo (made from its insides), so converting it from grass to yarn is intensive. Unlike rayon, their is no danger of driving bamboo to the brink of extinction, and unlike modern rayon, it is not a petroleum biproduct. Bamboo, when processed and spun, makes a fiber that is very soft, but heavy (kind of like cotton is heavy).

Soy. Soy silk is a truly green material. It is extruded from the liquid waste left from the tofu making process. In my experience soy silk can range in texture from feeling like cotton to feeling almost like bamboo.

Recycled silk and rayon. These yarns are produced by a company which hires poor women in Nepal (many of whom are trying to get out of prostitution) to weave saris. When the fabric is cut from the loom, the thread and fabric remnants fall to the floor. Rather than waste this material, they are swept up and spun into this yarn. Each skein is unique. I personally, do not like this yarn very much because it is difficult to work with and has a fairly harsh texture. It is beautiful, though.

Palm. This fiber is still fairly difficult to find. It is made from fiber contained in the leaves of a certain species of palm after they fall to the ground and dry. It has been used as a fiber by people native to the same area as that palm for many years, so production of this fiber uses, not only a natural waste product, but brings funding to an otherwise poor group of people. I bought a skein of it from Habu, and I think it feels kind of like linen.

Corn. I'm not exactly sure where the corn for this yarn comes from. It feels like cotton.

Milk fiber. This is a fiber extruded from milk. I think it is a little wasteful, considering the number of hungry people on the planet who could benefit from the milk (or from corn for that matter), but it is a truly renewable fiber. It feels like a cross between cotton and rayon.

Buying locally is also green, because less fuel is required to deliver it to your local yarn store. And there are lots of small mills around the country (the US, in my case, but this is true of many countries). So whether you decide to buy local yarns and help your local farmer or buy something exotic and help groups of underprivileged people in poor countries, knitting green is increasingly possible and economical. There are also yarn companies that specialize in carrying the exotic and green, South West Trading Co. and Habu, for example.

But really, anything that moves you away from synthetic fibers is a move towards green knitting. If it is synthetic, it is a petroleum biproduct (read plastic). If it is plastic, it isn't renewable, it isn't Earth friendly, it won't allow your skin to breath, and it took a lot of energy in the factory to turn it into something you would want to touch.

By the same token, though, it was once noted at a CGOA conference that there are too many people on the Earth to go without synthetics. If all we had were natural fibers, no single person on the face of the Earth could have more than one garment. In the end, it is probably not realistic to avoid all synthetic fibers, but buying green yarns sends a message to the industry that we want more of it. It can't replace synthetics, but it can decrease our use of them, and it can lead to new sources of natural fibers. Let's keep them researching.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Literacy...It's a good thing

For the most part, I don't follow patterns. It's not that I can't, rather, I usually just have a pretty good idea of what I want to make and how to get there from here. Often, when other needleworkers learn this about my work, they think that it's pretty impressive and a sign of being highly skilled. More accurately, however, it just makes me more prone to "brain farts."

So, a couple of weeks ago, I started crocheting a vest from a pattern written by Practical Crocheter. I was careful in selecting the yarn, choosing the size to make, and making a gauge swatch (yes, I do swatch--designing your own patterns will do that to you). My gauge was dead on, the size I had chosen looked perfect, and I know that my gauge usually does not change over the course of the project. So, on an evening when I was feeling particularly productive, I made the back. The next day I measured it and, saw that it was NOT good. I puzzled about it for over an hour. I had done everything right: my gauge, my number of stitches. What could possibly have gone so wrong that the vest was over three inches too small around?!

Eventually, my tired eyes got their second wind, and I finally saw that I had used the numbers, not for the size medium (which I had sooo carefully chosen), but for the size small instead. The evening was consumed by frogging.

The next day, I made the back again, this time following the correct size. The following day, I made the left front. On the day after that, I completed the right front. On the fourth day, I sewed the seams, tried it on, and saw that it was STILL not good. "What now?" I thought, as I told myself that the three inch gap between the fronts had nothing to do with weight gain (a reasonable assumption, I later learned, as there had been none).

As it turned out, I had relied too much on the pattern. I failed to calculate the measurements of the individual pieces, and simply relied on the total measurements given. The size I chose had the perfect measurement across the shoulders, but not around the bust. Out come both fronts. I used my guage to figure out how many more stitches I would need on each front to make the vest work, and remade the fronts according to my new numbers. So now, I'm a little burnt out on this project. I did finish remaking the fronts, and I completed the collar, I just can't quite muster the energy to do the plackets and edging.

The moral of the Twice Made Vest? Being careful in following a pattern exactly is all well and good, but relying on one blindly doesn't work very well. When you find the size you want to make, and figure out what hook or needle will make gauge, use the gauge to figure out how big the various pieces are by themselves. Use those numbers to compare specific pieces to specific parts of your body. In other words, blind faith doesn't work.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Purse Design

So there's two skeins of worsted weight wool. I'm thinking about a size I crochet hook (5.5 mm).

One way to go is to make a rectangle for the outside, fold and sew it, and add pockets and straps. That sounds too boxy and too much sewing.

I'm more in the mood for making a big piece that I fold and stitch and then add gusset/straps in one fell swoop. The one big piece would be fairly mindless to stitch, so I could do it while walking my dog (he walks slowly and stops to sniff). Then the other parts wouldn't take much time at all.

So -- for the big piece. An Octagon would be fun. That's 8 sides, or increase points. Crochet lies flat at 6 increase points in single crochet or about 12 increase points in double crochet. This is great because I want to use crocheted seed stitch, increasing 16 stitches every two rounds.

Crocheted seed stitch: (sc, dc) across, then in the next row/round, sc into the dc and dc into the sc. I'll start in the center with (ch3, slip stitch to form a ring), then (ch1, sc1 into the ring) 8 times to start a coil in the next round. It makes a fabric that is more solid than double crochet and doesn't stretch out of shape like single crochet.

Now I need to get started!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Stash Management

There's good news and there's bad news.

Bad news: I used to work in a yarn store...with a really good employee discount. Not only did it have a really good employee discount (well over 25%), but when an employee made a store sample, she received as compensation the full retail value of the yarn used in the sample in store credit. That combined with a really good discount spells trouble. On the bright side, the owner and I had very different taste in yarn, which helped curb my enthusiasm.

Curbed enthusiasm or no, however, I live in an apartment, and my stash lives in one of the cabinets in my pantry. In the beginning, that arrangement went very badly. We thought of calling in the Red Cross for help with the disaster area, but there seemed to be no solution. Aid is of little use in the absence of a solution.

Good news: I used to work in a yarn store! The owner bought for the store compulsively! A lot of the yarns she purchased were those higher end yarns that come in cardboard boxes of ten, fifty gram balls. The boxes are long and skinny, with little cellophane windows in the front. And when they were from a company called OnLine, the lids were actually attached to the bottoms, so the lids could fold down into the box. The quality of the cardboard was pretty nice, and they were always glossy and white. The yarn companies wanted their yarns to look fluffy and poofy straight out of the box, so the boxes fit ten pretty loosely. Best of all they stack and the store simply recycled them when they were empty.

Best news: I knew all about it, because I did most of the restocking, organizing, and putting away of new shipments. One day, I loaded my teeny tiny little car full of boxes in reasonably good condition, and took them home. I stuffed them full of my yarn (organized according to fiber content), stacked them up in my pantry cabinet, and suddenly had room for more yarn. It also turned out that these boxes are shallow enough to allow one to find specific yarn easily. Best of all, the Yarn Riots ended, and the Red Cross was taken off alert. And they all lived happily ever after.

So how does all of this help anyone else? Most people do not work in yarn stores (no matter how much they would like to), but most yarn stores Do buy yarn that comes in these little boxes, and those boxes are eventually empty. Sooooo, head on down to your favorite yarn store. They will have the boxes I'm talking about if they carry:

Adrienne Vittadini
various flavors of Plymouth, KFI, or JCA

Do any of you have favorite stash management ideas? Let's compare notes.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Purse Crisis

This is serious.

A simple purse.

You'd think this would be fairly easy: All I need is a simple purse. Bigger than a wallet. Small enough to carry my essentials in a professional, ladylike way. Fits into my tote bag that carries the rest of my life support system (binder, project(s), cell phone charger, address book, and whatnot). Easy to get into and pull things out of. A couple of pockets for small stuff. Strap(s) long enough to go over my shoulder but short enough to carry in my hand. Secure closure so things don't fall out. Classic style in a black-ish color to go with everything. No bells and whistles that will be out of style in a few months. Oh, yeah, and not expensive.

Can't find it anywhere.

Well, I do have lots of yarn. Maybe I could whip up a little prototype in worsted weight, see how I like it -- then I could make a nicer one in a thinner yarn (takes longer to make). It would have to be felted so it wouldn't need a lining. I don't do linings. I have a couple of skeins of Galway in off-black just calling me from the shelf. That's a start.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Space, and other frontiers

Here are a few comments in response to Practical Crocheter’s post below.

One way of understanding the fundamental complexity of crochet, if you are a knitter, is to think of each stitch being bound off before moving to the next. Such a view explains a lot about the characteristics of crochet. Anyone who knits knows that the bind off edge is inflexible, so if binding off is part of every stitch, it’s not surprising that the resulting fabric will lack the elasticity found in knitted fabrics.

Most knitters will also know that picking up a stitch creates a seam behind the new stitch. Every crochet stitch is “picked up” in the row below. While crocheted stitches do enclose the naturally resulting seam, they do not eliminate them, explaining the thickness of many crocheted fabrics.

Here’s an example. One of the simpler crochet stitches is called single crochet (sc). It is familiar to knitters as a nice option for edging knitted fabrics. If one were to accomplish an sc with knitting needles, the instructions might be as follows:

With one loop on your right hand needle, pick up one stitch in a swatch, turn. In the next row, knit two together.

In knitese: Row 1: CO1, pu1. Row 2: k2tog

Now, imagine following that instruction all the way across a row. With knitting needles it would be pretty awkward. Each of the basic crochet stitches is a variation on that concept, but with varying numbers of “rows” and “knit two togethers.”

In order for a knitted fabric to mimic the texture of a crocheted fabric, it must mimic (to varying degrees) the construction. Pattern stitches in knitting that look like they are crocheted often involve complicated increases and decreases in bizarre combinations because they are going through the process of “crocheting” with knitting needles.

Space. In knitting, all of the stitches are interconnected. If one stitch is dropped or the thread of one stitch cut, the stability of the entire fabric is jeopardized. In some knitting techniques, this fact is even exploited. Because every crochet stitch is bound off by itself, and is therefore its own fabric, there is space between the stitches. That space determines the drape and elasticity of the fabric--not to mention its potential uses--just as much as the stitches themselves. It is why crocheted lace looks crisp, even like cut work, and knitted lace looks mesh-like, almost like cobwebs.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Crochet and Knit

It's amazing that crocheting and knitting both come from the same set of basic movements. Everying in both crafts is some combination of Insert, Yarnover, and Pull Through. But from there, the paths are really different.

Knitting is binary: There is only one stitch, and it is just a loop that is pulled through another loop. Looking at it one way is called a knit stitch. From the other side, it's called a purl stitch. Then, there is the yarnover, which is a loop.

Because it is all just loops, and binary, it is easy to mechanize knitting, so we have knitting machines. Knitting makes a fabric that is lightweight and elastic, for the most part.

Crocheting is not binary at all, not in any way. Using the basic units of yarnover, pull through, and insert, crochet has five basic stitches -- and none of them is just the backside of another one. All that complexity at the basic level means that it doesn't make sense to try to make a crochet machine -- there are too many choices about where and how to insert the hook, how many yarnovers to do, and how to pull through the loops. It also means that crochet makes a fabric that is sturdy and textured.

For years, people who are used to knitting thought that crochet makes a fabric that is thick and heavy (as if that were a bad thing!). But those same people sometimes worked really hard to knit a fabric that would be sturdy and textured! They could have done it quickly and easily in simple crochet stitches instead.

Understanding the basic nature of the two fabrics helps me choose the right yarn and stitch for whatever I want to make. If I want to crochet a sweater, I choose a yarn that is thinner than I would use to knit the same type of sweater. I would also check the sizing and drape of the fabric to make sure it will fit.

Sometimes it is fun to follow a pattern or just play with the yarn and see where it takes you. But lots of times, understanding how the structure of the fabric works can free up your creativity to soar in new directions.

Hi Harper

Hi Harper,

It's great to see a new voice. It will be fun to read (and write) about the technique side of knitting and crocheting. Understanding the nuts and bolts of how they work (along with the numbers) makes it a real pleasure to make things that fit reality -- and to try new ideas just to see where they lead.

Your comment about making plain things in crochet is intriguing. As a practical crocheter, I'm always looking to make things that aren't screaming for attention. Crochet, being more basically complex than knitting, automatically makes a richer textured fabric. (Knitting has the advantage in making a simpler fabric.) So the simpler the basic design, the more the focus can be on the understated richness of the fabric. That way, the finished project -- whether it is a garment, a throw, a toy, a purse, or whatever -- can fit into the bigger world more nicely.

Your notes about different increases are so true! If I am confused about what kind of increase to use in a pattern, I look for clues: Even though 'm1' and 'inc1' are both increases, the first usually means 'make one' which is between the stitches (like you say) and the second one is 'knit into the front and back of the next stitch.' Sometimes, with older British patterns, they say something like 'yf (yarn forward)' or 'yrn (yarn round needle)' -- and that means 'yarn over'. They make distinctions depending on whether the next stitch is a knit or a purl! It can be confusing. Also, if the picture shows a lacy fabric, it's probably a yarnover type increase.

With any pattern that calls for increases and decreases, it can be handy to use markers on the needles to keep track of the stitches, too.

I look forward to more of the conversation --
Practical Crocheter

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Knitting: When Increasing One Isn't

So, you're knitting along, following the pattern, just minding your own business. Somewhere in the row, the pattern tells you to increase, you do, you work to the end of the row, and somehow you're one stitch off! You have the right number of stitches, you followed the pattern exactly, you even rip it out and do it over again...twice. Before you toss that disobedient project into the black hole of your stash closet, you may want to take a second look at your pattern. More specifically, at the glossary.

You probably know that, in knitting, there are many kinds of increases, and that they all look different from each other. The complicated part is that the seemingly self-explanatory instruction "inc 1" can refer to any one of those increases. Fortunately, most patterns will specify which increase the designer intends in the glossary. Unfortunatley, vintage patterns and European patterns often expect a level of expertise or improvisational abilities above that expected by most modern American designers, and so leave out such life saving information. Now, to the heart of the matter:

  • If "inc1" is defined as yarn over (yo) or make 1 (m1), the increase is made between two stitches, where no stitch previously existed. The yarn over is used primarily in lace patterns, because it leaves a large hole. The make 1 creates a much smaller eyelet, and is used in pieces where it is important for the shaping to be unobtrusive.
  • When "inc1" is defined as knitting into the front and back of the stitch (also known as a bar increase), the increase is made in an existing stitch. This kind of increase leaves no eyelet in the fabric, but it does create a bump, kind of like a purl.

The point? If you increase with a make 1 when the pattern intends you to knit in the front and back, your pattern will be off as though you have one stitch too many. If a yarn over is intended and you knit in the front and back of the stitch, your pattern will seem to have one stitch too few. The devil is in the details.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Let me introduce myself. I'm Harper, and it's a pleasure to meet all of you--well, maybe not meet, but open the conversation.

Between enjoying time with my husband and family, playing the harp, working, and working on my degree in psychology, I enjoy both knitting and crocheting. While I do work from patterns on occasion, I mostly use my own designs, many of which I have self-published. My mother (a fellow designer) taught me to crochet in childhood, and I taught myself to knit at thirteen. Since I get bored easily, I rarely make plain things in knitting. Usually, my plain things are crocheted, and I reserve knitting for lace and cables.

In any case, this blog is meant to be interactive. I worked in a yarn store for several years, and was active in local guilds for even longer, so I have lots of experience answering needlework and fiber questions. While I will select topics to write about on my own, I am extremely eager to hear from others and help you mull over the things you are interested in or about which you have questions. I also want to make this blog a forum for you, dear readers, to sing the praises of your favorite yarns stores, magazines, websites, blogs, and of course-yarns!

I hope to hear from you soon. You'll certainly be hearing from me!