Monday, March 31, 2008

Color Blind

Speaking of jumping in with both feet, my biggest challenge with stitching has always been COLOR. Gorgeous projects calling for a million colors would blithely start out by telling me simply to take all my leftover yarns to end up with what they had pictured. Right. Clearly, they had never seen my collection of leftover yarns.

Then, eventually, I did just jump in. I started making what I call my ugly afghans. Afghans made from such a scattered range of colors that you could never have a worse hair day than these creations looked. No matter how bad your day, you could curl up in one of these afghans and take comfort that your day was better than they looked. Spilling cocoa (by accident, of course) on one couldn't make it look worse. You get the picture.

And a funny thing happened: I had my first epiphany. As long as the pattern was simple and consistent, each afghan turned out looking like it was meant to look like that -- a lot like the new generation of stuffed toys coming out these days. For example, the traditional granny square afghan is made up of all kinds of leftover scraps, but the last round of each square is the same color. That unifying rule adds stability. Having additional rules, like how you arrange the squares, also adds stability.

I also learned two other rules that made life so much easier: Kaffe Fassett (and others, I'm sure, but he's one who got the most attention) pointed out that when you gather up your stray bits of yarn, organize them in color order (lining them up in a row) before winding them up in two big balls. Two balls because you start winding the bits from one end of the line to the middle of the line, and the second ball from the middle of the line to the other end. That way, when you use two colors in a row of stitching, there will be the most contrast. Duh -- why didn't I think of that? Just that amount of organizing creates wonderful stability in how the colors end up.

The last rule is a basic mantra from the fashion world: Light, Bright, and Dark. If you don't want all the energy of ten million colors, remember that 3 is really plenty. And for any three that you choose, choose a trio where one is clearly Light, another one is clearly Bright, and the third is clearly Dark -- all compared to each other. You could even use this idea in sorting your odd bits of yarn (see above).

These three rules have made my crocheting and knitting make much more enjoyable, and they make me look remarkably clever with very little effort, which is always a good thing.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Maybe I lack in brain cells, but the whole clockwise vs. counter-clockwise thing baffled me for the longest time.  Then I realized it only works if you watch the yarn over by pointing the hook or needles towards your face.  That simple, if awkward, act changed my understanding of needlework.

If you are new to knitting or crochet, perhaps the most difficult thing to remember is not to think.  I kid you not--if you try to focus your brain on what you are trying to accomplish, you will start having a hard time learning.  You just have to jump in with both feet.  

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Building on the good news

It may seem difficult to learn the basics of knit and crochet because you have to coordinate your thinking with your seeing and with what your hands are doing. Funny thing is, both crafts are just combinations of the same elements.

The basics of both crafts grow out of some combination of Insert, Yarnover, and Pull though. That's all there is to it. Really. And for each, there is a normal way to do it, and doing it differently makes a difference in the fabric.

A slip knot, to start at a starting point, is 2 yarnovers, 1 pull through, another yarnover, and a pull through.

Now, in crochet (for right-handed folk) the yarnovers are always clockwise around the hook. For lefties, the yarnovers are always counter clockwise. Either way, the hook is grabbing the yarn from underneath.

Some people grab the yarn from on top for the first yarnover after they insert the hook into the stitch, but that twists the stitch just a bit, and makes a visual effect.

In knitting, the normal yarnovers are always counterclockwise. This seems confusing sometimes because you also have to swing the yarn forward or backward to switch between knits and purls -- but that is not wrapping the yarn around the needle. If you wrap clockwise, you make a twisted stitch -- which you may want, or not. Normally, you insert your right needle into the leading edge (the side closer to the point) of the stitch on the left needle. Knitting into the back -- or non-leading edge -- of the stitch also twists the stitch.

In crochet, a stitch is everything that happens from the time there is one loop on your hook until the next time there is one loop on your hook. A lot can happen there, so there are lots of possibilities in crochet stitches.

In knitting, a stitch is everything that happens between the time a stitch is on the left needle and when it gets moved over to the right needle. Usually, all that happens is that you put a new loop through the old loop, but fancier stitches involve putting more loops in, adding yarnovers, or moving the old loop to a temporary needle to make cables.

Thinking of sttiches in terms of these elements makes it easier to communicate. Lots of stitchers run into problems when they are just shown how to do something and don't know what anything is called. Building that literacy is really empowering.