Thursday, February 28, 2008

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

The bad news:

The beginning of any project in knitting or crochet is usually the hardest part.  So is learning almost any technique, or even learning to knit or crochet in the first place.  In knitting, casting on is the most awkward part, and one usually needs to learn how several times before it sticks.  The first row is also usually difficult to work into.  Joining in the round, especially when double pointed needles are involved, is also a pain to learn, especially if the yarn is slippery.  In crochet, the basic movements that make up the entire craft are involved in the foundation chain, making it perhaps the most important thing to learn.  And it often takes a lot of practice to learn how to do that loosely and evenly enough for the first row to work nicely.

Whenever one works in the round or learns a new pattern stitch, it takes several rows before the work looks like anything recognizable in either craft.  The line between project and tangle is thin, indeed.  

As has been discussed in the recent interest in foundation stitches in crochet, they too are difficult to learn, and for the same reason.  It is difficult, in the beginning, to see whether the work looks like a mess because it is right or because it is wrong.  I will make a post on that in a few days.

The good news:

In this culture, we often start learning new things with easy stuff.  Once the easy stuff is mastered, we learn things that are progressively more difficult.  Needle arts are not like that.  Once the basic concepts are mastered, the apparently hard stuff turns out to be variations on the original theme.  In other words, if you can figure out the hard stuff in the beginning, you can do almost anything.

So, if you knit, and you want to learn how to make lace or cables, don't let the appearance of the finished product intimidate you.  Yes, they are more awkward than just knitting or just purling.  And, yes, it is difficult to keep track of your rows.  But they are just variations on knitting and purling.  The former makes increases and decreases in a specific pattern, so if you've made a hat with decreases at the top and something else that involves increases, lace won't be that hard.  The latter, despite the extra needle, is exactly the same as knitting, it just knits the stitches out of order.

If you crochet, the major hurdle is learning how to look at your work and see where one stitch begins and ends.  Once you are comfortable with identifying a double crochet versus a single crochet and each stitch as its own thing, you can do anything.  In the case of foundation double crochet, to use the recent topic of interest, if you are really comfortable with chain stitch and what that looks like, and really comfortable with double crochet and what that looks like, then it's not so hard to combine the two in a useful way.

You've pedaled all the way up the hill, now you can coast.

Monday, February 18, 2008

More about Foundation Stitches

I'm seeing more interest in the idea of foundation stitches, which is very cool. A description, including pictures for foundation double crochet, is at

This was put up by my friend Mary Cahill, who also thought up the name Slam Dunk Slippers for the slipper pattern a few posts ago. Some of the information there, including the pictures, are scanned from the Learn How Book, put out by Coats and Clark -- my copy is dated 1959, and the pictures are on page 11. Not every edition of the Learn How Book (and there are lots of editions) have this technical tidbit. Earlier crochet books refer to any stitch used to begin a project other than chain stitch as a Foundation Stitch.

Some people are so excited when they learn about foundation stitches that they ask, "Why don't they teach you this stuff at the very beginning?" I hesitate to teach this concept until the crocheter is advanced enough to see the structure of the stitches. If a stitcher doesn't know what s/he's looking at, being specific about where and how to insert the hook can just be really confusing.

More visual aids for this technique, including how to do it with stitches other than double crochet, are on the DVD Crocheters' Guide, put out by Victorian Video.

The article in Interweave Crochet a few issues ago was interesting because it compared foundation double crochet with extended double crochet, also known as the Elmore Stitch. The only difference between the two is where you insert your hook. With extended double crochet, you are stitching into a row that is already there. With foundation stitches, you are making new stitches. While this may not seem like much, it makes all the difference in the world. Kind of like the difference between a winch and a wench, even though there's only one letter different.

Most important, with foundation stitches, you want to keep an eye on that chain stitch you're adding at the base of the stitch. You want to mush the stitch around a little so that chain is at the base of the stitch you end up with.

The posting on the South Bay Crochet site has been useful for a number of people -- it helps if you have some yarn and a hook in hand to try it yourself as you read. That way you can see what you are doing and compare it with the description and the pictures.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Purse

Here are pictures of two versions of the Spot Purse:

The one on the right is a prototype after felting -- that is the one with the flower on the flap. It used two skeins of yarn and has only one flap that goes from the top of one side over the purse opening. The one on the left hasn't been felted yet. You have seen this one in process all along.

I will be felting this one this weekend to see how it turns out. They both look big in the pictures, but the felted one is about 10 inches wide, and the unfelted one is about 13 inches wide and about 9-1/2 inches deep -- it will be smaller after washing. By having a flap on both sides, I used a good part of a 3rd skein of yarn.

This is a good sized purse for me, and I really enjoyed the process and how it turned out.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Wrapping up the Spot Purse

The last post about this purse described the gusset and handles. Here is a picture of how that turns out. The other end looks just the same.

Just before the handle starts, the edge has a corner (near where the yarn is wandering away). There are 4 of these corners.

The next step is to fold the whole thing in half so the handles are next to each other, and stitch the side seams from those corners down to the bottom edge.

The handles right now are flat. Slip stitch the long edges together to make a tube for each handle, and it felts nicely into a rounded handle.

I'll have pictures of the finished item in the next post, with any luck.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Felting, part 2

It takes me a while to transfer photos onto my computer. Better late than never, right?

So, felting.

When you want to felt something, it can be difficult to estimate what the size of the finished product will be based on the item before it is washed. What I like to do is figure out from the number of stitches and the finished measurements (either those I plan to use if I am making it up, or those given in the pattern otherwise) what my finished guage will be. This is the part where you do lots of swatching. Remember that how something felts depends not only on the fiber, but on the brand, color, and your washing machine as well.

The two green swatches are actually identical-one is felted, the other not. Your swatch does not have to be big, as felting is far from exact. In this case, the standard sized business card on the right shows the scale.

With this particular project, I used sport weight wool. I like using lighter weight yarns for felting, because it keeps the finished product from being to bulky or stiff. A good guage for sport weight yarn, in general, is about six stitches per inch, and I would have gotten that guage with this yarn on a size 5 needle (US). Because it was a felting project, I wanted the finished product to measure about that guage, so I used a size 8 needle (US) to get about 4.5 stitches per inch, and felted it until it measured 5.5 stitches per inch (close enough).

While I did not try to get any specific row guage, it is also important to note that I kept track of both my before and after measurements for the row guage as well.

Using my stitch guage and row guage information, I was able to figure out how many stitches I needed to cast on, how many inches I needed to work, and how many times I needed to wash the item to get the finished product. In this particular case, I was making a hat:

The math told me to make the hat about twelve inches long before decreasing for the crown, so it looked really long before I felted it. The finished product looked like this when I put my husband under it:

A perfect fit!