Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Note On Our Work

In all the rush we needleworkers enjoy as we race to the finish line on our projects, it can be easy to look past the process. It's addictively satisfying to finish projects. I love the feeling of completion I experience as I tuck in those final loose ends, fold up my project, and set it on its course of usefullness outside of my work basket.

When I make things for others, especially children, there is also often a deadline involved. My son's sweaters need to be completed before he outgrows them. And everyone knows the rush of gift-making, whether for holidays or birthdays or other occasions. We have to finish by a certain date. It's like crossing things off a to-do list.

However, at this point in my life, I have limited resources with which to work and I need to make those resources last. I have rediscovered the joy of savoring my needlework. And the savoring is enhanced by the limitations placed on my time by my son. When I stop to stitch, I may only have a few minutes, and I make the most of them. It's like enjoying fine, expensive chocolates: they are too expensive to indulge in all at once, so they have to be enjoyed in small doses.

I highly recommend it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Working With Motifs...Again

A friend of mine is expecting her first child at the end of this month. Since she is expecting a girl, I took the opportunity in making her baby a gift to make something frilly and lace and completely inappropriate for my boy: a lace bonnet.

As indicated in my previous post, this project is another example of the versatility of motifs. The back of it is made out of this motif:

In order to make this motif an appropriate size, I only used the first four rounds of the pattern, which also made a better shape for the bonnet that the complete pattern would have.

For the side band, I used a pretty variation on crocheted net stitch:

  • Row 1: *[Sc1, ch 5, sk 5] twice, sc1, sk2, (dc2, ch1, dc2), shell made, in next st, sk 2, rep from * across, ending sc1, ch5, sk5, sc1. Turn.
  • Row 2: ch2 (counts as 1 dc), dc2 in last sc of prev row (counts as ½ shell), *sk 2, sc1in next ch5 space, [sc1, ch5, sk5] twice, sc1 in next ch5 space, sk2, (dc2, ch1, dc2) in next sc, rep from * across, ending with 3dc in final sc.
  • Rep these two rows for desired length.

After completing the band, I decided to put a ruffled edging on the bonnet for a brim and an edging around the neck to finish the bottom edge. I used a handkerchief edging from Traditional Edgings to Crochet, by Rita Weiss (another handy resource).

I’ll do a post soon on the pattern for the edging around the neck of the bonnet (also taken from Traditional Edgings to Crochet, as it features a really interesting stitch. Again, I only used part of the pattern and ignored the final row, as it didn’t look right with the rest of the project or in the gauge I used (size 10 crochet cotton with a US size 7 steel hook).

Finally, I single crocheted around the entire edge and tacked the brim back against the side band. Then I finished the project by threading a yard-long piece of pink gauze ribbon through the base of the brim.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More on Motifs

Unfortunately, the link to the pattern for the motif pictured below no longer works (I believe it has been removed from the website where I found it--Karen's Variety) I will provide instructions transcribed from that website in a future post.

This is a link for a beautiful little motif I've been playing with lately.

As you can see from the photo, it lends itself well to tablecloths and the like, but I'm using it for something very different. As I shared before, motifs are excellent for use as the basis of a project and very versatile. This one is also a perfect learning tool for the advanced beginner, because it uses every crochet stitch from chain to triple treble.

As soon as I have done the finishing work on my little item, I will post about it with photos!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Random stitches

The cardigan has been waiting for weeks to be finished -- I am 100 grams away from the end, plus buttons. All I need to do is lengthen the sleeves (now that I know there is enough yarn), and edge the whole thing, adding buttonholes, tuck in the loose ends, and sew on the buttons.

But three other projects got in the way. There were 6 skeins of black Cotton Classic that suddenly needed to be a rib knit top to go under this cardigan. The idea of this piece is to start at the bottom, rib up to the underarms, cast on the armhole stitches, decrease them down, do a little neck shaping, and there you are. I didn't make the body long enough because I was afraid of running out of yarn. So the leftover yarn got split into a 2-ply (Cotton Classic is 5 plies thick) and crocheted in ch-2 net stitch with a 4mm hook around the bottom. It was a satisfying project, but I prefer the freedom of top-down crocheting better.

That was one project. The second is the Snowflake Project: Annie's Attic came out with a wonderful leaflet some years ago called TEENY TINY SNOWFLAKES TO CROCHET. It is apparently out of print now, but is really good (when I googled the title, one site listed it for sale for $30). Only a few typos in the instructions, and once you have made a few of the snowflakes, you can catch them easily enough. Made 2 or 3 of each of the 24 designs -- they will become a mobile 'flurry' to hang above a winter holiday scene. The snowflakes are done, loose ends are almost all tucked in. Next will come washing, starching, and constructing the mobile.

Years ago, I would start a project just for the sake of exploring an idea. Once the idea either made sense or didn't, the project would get set aside for the next idea. Now, I am trying to discipline myself to finish one project at a time. Finishing things is very satisfying -- I just have to do it.

The third project is a round shawl. Something light I can work on while on the stepper and watching TV. There is something magical about a round shawl to fold and wrap different ways. With a center pattern stitch for a while, then a band of another pattern stitch, then ending with a third, just for the last bit. A combination of pattern stitches is really magical. The center portion is the basic Granny Square-type stitch, but starting with a triangle, then doubling the number of pattern stitches as needed -- that makes it round. After that will be a 2- or 3-stitch net stitch. Then most likely a shell stitch on the outside. Simple, fairly brainless, but interesting to look at and with a good drape. And how far does 100 grams of laceweight go, using a 00 (or E) hook? The merino/silk blend feels really good.

So the blue cardigan will be finished soon. I want to wear it. But there is only so much time in a day. The snowflakes have a deadline. The shawl is good for exercise time (the cardigan is too heavy/big for that). Hey ho. It will get done.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Finishing the yoke and then some

This is a lot of writing for a pattern, but it is the idea of the thing that is exciting. Now that you can see how the increases line up in each row of the yoke, there is more shaping to do:

Since I started the front parts after having worked a while on the back, there are a few rows where I add to the sleeves instead of the back (because the back is wide enough), but still adding to the fronts. So, once the back is the right width, start increasing to the sleeve caps, and not to the back, like this:

Start the row and work to the first increase point. Increase in the LAST sc of the increase in the previous row (to increase to the front), then
Continue to the next increase point, and increase in the LAST sc of the increase in the previous row (to increase to the sleeve cap), then
Continue to the third increase point, and increase in the FIRST sc of the increase in the previous row (to increase to the sleeve cap again -- no increases to the back), and finally
Continue to the last increase point, and increase in the FIRST sc of the increase in the previous row (to increase to the front).

Repeat this row for a while, until the fronts have about the same number of stitches together as the back. Then it is time to increase only to the sleeve caps:

Start the row and work to the first increase point. Increase in the FIRST sc of the increase in the previous row (to increase to the sleeve cap), then
Continue to the next increase point, and increase in the LAST sc of the increase in the previous row (to increase to the sleeve cap), then
Continue to the third increase point, and increase in the FIRST sc of the increase in the previous row (to increase to the sleeve cap again -- no increases to the back), and finally
Continue to the last increase point, and increase in the LAST sc of the increase in the previous row (to increase to the sleeve cap).

Repeat that row to grow the sleeve cap. What is interesting here is that when the sleeve cap is about as wide as I want the upper arm to be around (for me that would be about 14 inches), it will turn out that the armhole depth will also be just about right, too. Amazing how that works.

To finish off the yoke, for a few rows, increase only to the fronts and back, and not to the sleeves. The rows are getting really long by now. It should look about like this:

Then, in the last row, set up the body like this: work across the front to the the first increase point, chain a few stitches (about 2 inches for an adult size; make sure it is an odd number so the pattern stitch will work), skip the sleeve stitches and sc to the next increase point. Stitch across to the third increase point on the other side of the back, chain the same number of stitches as before, skip the other sleeve stitches, sc in the last increase point, and finish off the row. There is a question here: Do you sc in the first or second sc of the increase point? That depends. You can go either way (but you want to be consistent). Often, it turns out that either the sleeve or the body is a tiny bit on the small side or almost too big. That clue tells me which side I want that last set of increases to go to. Once you get to that point, you will see what I mean.

From here on, work back and forth in rows, no more increases, for the body of the sweater. When it is long enough, finish off.

For sleeves: Rejoin the yarn at the underarm with the wrong side of the last sleeve edge row facing. Keeping in pattern, start on the sleeve: stitch along the underarm, along the sleeve cap edge, and finish off the row at the underarm again, joining with a slip stitch to the beginning of the row. I count my stitches after the first row to make sure the other sleeve has the same number -- it is good for sleeves to match. Now even though I’m working back and forth in rows for this stitch, there is no reason not to join the end of the row to the beginning and work the seam as I go. That way there is no seam to sew at the end. I like my sleeves to be fitted, so I decrease 1 stitch at each end of every 4th row. This makes a centered seam line and tapers the sleeve so it fits at my wrist.

You can decide your own tapering: By this time, you’ve stitched enough to have a really good gauge swatch -- the body of the sweater. Figure out how long you want your sleeve to be. How many rows is that, based on your gauge? How big do you want your wrist to be? You can figure that number of stitches from your gauge information, too. Knowing how many stitches you worked in your first row (A) and how many you want to end up with (B), along with how many rows you want to work (D), figure how many stitches you need to decrease and how often to decrease: (A-B)/D. Now this number has to be a whole number because you simply cannot decrease a fractional stitch. Usually, it works out to 1 stitch every 2 rows for a single crochet-type pattern stitch. To have a centered seam line, you need to decrease at both ends of the row, so that would be decreasing 2 stitches every 4 rows. Your numbers may differ, but you have all the information to decide for yourself.

It is amazing how many words it takes to describe the concept behind a shape that makes so much sense. But it really works. 

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Growing the yoke

Part 3:

So far, all there is is the back and the shoulder bits of the sleeves -- there are no fronts yet. The next step is to start the fronts. The increases at the 4 increase points have nothing to do with the neck edge increases from here on out. For a cardigan that comes together at the center front, increase to the neck edge as many stitches at there were on the back in the very first row. I started with 19 stitches across the back in the foundation stitch row, so I want to increase 9 stitches on each neck edge. That leaves a little gap, which will be filled in later with the button band.

So here is what to do for the next set of rows:
1. For a V-shaped neck edge, add 1 stitch at the end of the next 18 rows (that adds 1 stitch to each side of the neck edge every two rows).

2. AT THE SAME TIME, start the next row and stitch to the first increase point --
a. Increase in the LAST stitch of the increase of the previous row (to increase to the front)
b. Increase in the FIRST stitch of the next increase point (to increase to the back)
c. Increase in the LAST stitch of the next increase point (to increase to the back)
d. Increase in the FIRST stitch of the next increase point (to increase to the front)
e. Continue to the end of the row, and sc 1 more in the last stitch to add to the neckline for a total of 9 times on each side of the front. (This is the same as step 1 (above). Once these stitches have been added, skip this step and just work even on the row ends.)

Repeat step 2 for quite a while.

For this section, you will add 2 patt stitches to the back in each row and 1 patt stitch to each front side and 1 stitch to the front neckline in each row. The number of stitches in the shoulder/sleeve bits will stay the same for this time.

When the back is as wide as you want it to be, it is time for the next step. You can tell by measuring between the increase points on the back. Not including the increases, the distance should measure what you want across the shoulders. So for me, for example, the distance across the back, between the increase points, will be about 15 inches.

Since the neck shaping is not related to the over-all increasing going on for the yoke, if you don’t finish your neck shaping before you reach the end of increasing to the back, that is ok. But in this case, I finished the neck shaping first, so the instructions above worked as written.

Here's about what your work should look like now.

The next phase will be finishing adding to the front and starting the sleeve caps.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Colorwork: part II

As I described in a previous post, simple stitches in crochet worked in stripes of different colors can produce many pleasing, and often complicated-looking results.

By having many colors going at the same time can prevent the eye from detecting a regular pattern. So it is easy to work in new colors a old ones run out, producing a gradual, shaded effect.

Conversely, one can also create an obviously and intentionally striped effect.

A combination of stitches may also be used to increase the illusion of fairisle. For example, interrupting stripes of (sc1, ch1) with a row of double crochet can be very pleasing and improve the drape of the fabric.

One may also create vertical stripes using (sc1, ch1). When working in the round, verticle stripes will result if the single crochets are worked around the chains of the previous round. You use two colors and change them every round.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Starting the top-down sweater

Here is a picture of my sweater so far. My measurements are about a size 12. Since I am using sc-lite, a pattern stitch that is a 2-stitch repeat, each row has an ODD number of stitches -- that way every row begins and ends with a single crochet.

You may wonder why I don't use straight single crochet or straight double crochet. If you experiment with different stitches in crochet, you will see that each has strengths and weaknesses. Single crochet by itself makes a really stiff fabric if you work it at a firm gauge, and it stretches out of shape a lot if you use a loose gauge. I wanted something that would hold its shape and have a nice drape. I like the look of this stitch better than the look of straight double crochet for this type of thing.

WARNING: If you are not used to seeing your stitches, this may be tricky. If you don't want to be bothered and it seems like too much work, that is just fine. There is plenty of room in the world for all kinds of folks, and this technique is most likely not for everyone.

When you start at the center of something and work outward, you need to increase. Since the yoke of a sweater is a lot like a doily or a motif with the center cut out of it, I think about how many stitches to increase to make something that lays flat. For a single-crochet-type stitch, I need to increase about 6 stitches in each row for the piece to lay flat. Since I have 4 increase points for the yoke of a sweater, I will choose to increase 8 stitches per row. If I wanted to get tricky, I could increase for 3 rows (3x8=24) and then work without increases for 1 row -- that way, I would increase an average of 6 stitches per row over 4 rows.

Unfortunately, I would also have to think more: I would have to remember to count rows. I would have to look more closely at my fabric to make sure that on the row AFTER the row without increases I restarted the increases in the right place. I don't feel like thinking that much, and the net result -- for me, right now -- isn't worth the effort. So I am increasing 8 stitches per row, or one pattern stitch at each increase point.

Looking at the picture, you can see a visual seamline from the neck out along the shoulder, then down a bit of the armhole, then out again to the underarm. Kind of like a saddle shoulder design.

Now, there is actually one more bit of the line.

Row 1 actually starts at the neck back, so the little bits of the neckline that are up-and-down at the shoulder are also part of the visual seamline of increases.

And here is how I got there:

I like my neck-back edge to be about 5 inches across. Using foundation stitch for the first row, chain 2. (Sc, ch1) 3 times in the 2nd chain from the hook. This represents the point where 2 increase points come together, so it is a double increase. The chain that those single crochets went into is the Base Chain for those stitches.

For foundation sc-lite, do this: *Yarnover, insert hook in base chain of the last single crochet. Yarnover. Draw up a loop -- 3 lps on hook. Yarnover, pull through 2 loops -- what you just did represents the ch-1 space between two single crochets. Yarnover, pull through 1 loop -- this makes the Base Chain for your next pattern stitch (trust me). Make a note of that chain stitch you just made. Two loops remain on the hook. Yarnover and pull through those two loops -- just like finishing a single crochet, which is what you just did. Chain 1, like normal.**

To make the next foundation single crochet, repeat from * to **. Repeat until the piece measures (in my case) about 5 inches long. To end the row, (sc1, ch1, sc1) into the last base chain made -- for another double increase. You survived. It is all good. Just for the heck of it, count the number of single crochets across the back (not including the double increase stitches.

At this point, you have no way of knowing whether these increases were made to the front, sleeves or back. That gets decided in the next row.

RULES: For this pattern stitch, in every row, work sc into sc and ch over ch. That is the rule. Always ch1 to turn. To make an increase, (ch1, sc1 into the same sc) to add one patt stitch.

So here we go:

Row 2: Ch1, turn, sc1 into last sc made. (ch1, sc1 into same st) to increase. Ch1, sc into next sc. Ch1, sc into next sc. Ch1, sc1 into same sc to increase 1 patt st. (Notice that you have increased into the first and last sc of the double increase in the previous row.) (Ch1, sc1 in next sc) all the way across until you reach the double increase at the other end of the row. Increase into the first of that three-some. Work even for one patt stitch. Then finish off with an increase into the last sc.

Wow. Now look at your work. Doesn't look like much, but here's what you should have:
  • An increase
  • A little bit of shoulder edge
  • Another increase
  • A stretch across the back
  • A third increase
  • Another little bit of shoulder edge
  • And a final increase at the end of the row.
For the next few rows, continue this way: Begin with an increase. Work even to the nexe increase point. Increase on the first stitch of the next increase point. Work even across the back. Increase in the Last stitch of the next increase point. Then work even to the next increase point, and finish off with an increase in the last stitch. In this way, you will add 1 patt st to the sleeve bits and 2 patt sts to the back in each row. After about 2-1/2 inches (half the width of the back edge), it will be time to shift the line and start creating the front.

What you have now should look something like this

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Top-down crocheted sweater

You can almost always tell a top-down sweater because it has raglan sleeve shaping. Almost always.

Thing is, you get a raglan line because the increases (from the neck down) are centered over each other. If you don't center the increases -- make the increase in one row at the beginning or at the end of the increase in a previous row -- you create a visual seamline in any shape you want by increasing 'to the sleeve' or 'to the fronts' or 'to the back'.

I am starting a cardigan at the back of the neck, and it will have a saddle shoulder visual seamline, which looks more dressy than a casual raglan line. The advantages to top down include:

1. I have a limited amount of yarn and want a sweater from it. Dealing with the important stuff first, I can handle shorter sleeves or a shorter length and still have a sweater I like at the end. This way, I use as much of the yarn as possible and have virtually none left over. And even if I have plenty of yarn, working in one piece from the top down means I can make the sweater as long as I want, without any angst about running out.

2. Using a tape measure, gauge isn't the most important information to start with. In crochet, what you measure is pretty much what you get, since your stitches aren't restricted on needles. So my approach deals a lot with numbers and measuring. Some people don't like this; I am one of those who find this comforting.

The yarn I am using here is called Crespo, a cotton/silk/nylon blend in a light worsted weight (recommends #6 needle and 5.25 sts per inch for knitting). I have 8 balls of it, at 125 m per 50 gram ball -- about 1000 meters in all -- and I want to make a size 12-ish cardigan. I am using a size H hook. My pattern stitch of choice: I call it sweater stitch or single crochet lite --

Over an odd number of stitches, sc1, (ch1, sk1, sc1) across. Row 2 for pattern: Ch1 to turn. Sc1 in last sc, (ch over ch, sc1 in next sc) across.

I will have pictures in a few days.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pricing handmade

The straight calculation of handmade in terms of time and materials starts making sense in terms of entertainment, but there are other aspects, or ways of thinking about it:

Skill level can be a factor. The more your skill level lets you be in tune with the process of what you are making, the more cost-effective your time will be.

Professional attitude. To sell things professionally, you need a certain attitude. That can involve things like understanding and identifying your market and exploring new ways to market your product.

If you are stitching as a way to cope with stress in your life, that can get in the way of thinking professionally.

I really enjoy stitching as a problemsolving methodology, so I would much rather teach people how to knit or crochet than make things to sell.

There is a balancing act between complete mass production and complete individual production. I know very few people who do much of anything truly 'from scratch.' I certainly don't grow the cotton that I crochet with, for example. As we have more choices every day for how we meet our needs, it can be a comfort to know that we can just go to a store and buy what we need. But it is also a wonderful thing that we can indulge in a process that connects us with the past, with the future, and with our environment.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Value of Hand Made

I have frequently heard other needleworkers, and spoken myself, about how you can't sell most handmade things for a price that covers the expenses of both materials and time. The price winds up being too far above the cost of ready made items to be able to compete. And that's even when the customer is aware of superior quality in workmanship and materials. We just can't compete.

This line of thinking leads many, especially those who do not do needlework, to wonder why we bother. It recently occured to me that we've been going about it the wrong way. You can't tally the costs of making things by hand the same way you would account for production costs in a factory or overhead in an office.

Say I want to make a sweater, for whom doesn't matter. We'll be conservative and say the materials cost me $60. I don't need to buy a pattern or needles/hook. Let's also say that the sweater takes me a grand total of 40 hours of work. Those 40 hours may be spread out over a month, but we only need to look at the hours I actually work on it.

According to the way of thinking about cost outlined above and assuming my work is worth the minimum wage in my state (California: $8/hr), the total cost of this sweater is $380. Why should I make that sweater when I can even buy a good quality sweater for under $100?

Making the sweater is still worth while because I have not accounted for my time properly. Those 40 hours were not spent slaving in some sweat shop trying to make a living for my family. They were spent passing the time, socializing with friends and family, and keeping my hands busy while I watched television or sat in the car.

The work was a form of entertainment. As such, the cost of materials was the price I paid to participate in the activity. My total cost was $60, and those $60 paid for 40 hours of entertainment. If I spent $60 going to a movie theater, that would only cover about six tickets, amounting to about 12 hours of entertainment. I could have one dinner with my husband at a fancy restaurant, or three at a cheap one--a maximum of four hours. I could buy one or two tickets to certain amusement parks, buying in the process no more than 16 hours of entertainment. The cost to make the sweater is a far better deal.

Of course, all this is small comfort for those who wish to make some money from their needlework, but it is an excellent explanation to give to husbands ; P

Saturday, August 8, 2009


I've posted before about using motifs for purposes other than those intended by the pattern in which one finds them. A great example is the crocheted snowflake. Usually, snowflakes are portrayed as stand-alone ornaments: tree decorations, bookmarks, earrings (when done on a small scale), appliques, and so on.

However, most snowflake patterns mimic nature in that they are hexagonal. Hexagons tile nicely. That means you can join them along the sides and not have any weird gaps or holes where another hexagon will not fit. So snowflakes are a good option for making curtains (your own personal flurry in the summer), doilies, tablecloths, lace garments, or any other lace fabric.

I think the best part is that snowflake patterns are often much more interesting looking than other motif patterns.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Alternate edging for wrist warmers

If you are using bigger yarn -- like worsted weight, with a 5mm hook -- this version of shell stitch may make finger holes that are too big. In this case, use: (2dc, ch1, 2dc) for the shell stitch. To join on the last edge, use (2dc, sc1 in ch space of shell on opposite side, 2dc) to join.

Here is an alternate edging where it does not matter whether you have an even or odd number of rows in the square:

Ruffled edging: Ch5, sc in the middle of the block, **ch5, sc between this block and the next block, ch5, sc in the middle of the next block, repeat from ** to the corner, ending with ch5, sc in the corner. Repeat this side for 3 sides. Do pretty much the same thing on the 4th side, EXCEPT: instead of ch5, do (ch2, sc in middle of corresponding loop on opposite side, ch2).

Then finish off.

For a dressier look, try using a smaller yarn/hook, like fingering weight (baby or sock weight)and a size E hook or so. You would still be making a 6-inch square (maybe 6-1/2 inches) then edging it. The thing is that the holes created at the end by joining the shell stitches will be smaller.

Crazy Stitch, two ways

This is a stitch I first learned from Victorian Crochet by Weldon and Company, with a new introduction by Forence Weinstein, published by Dover in 1974. The entire Weldon series has since been bought by Interweave Press, the publishers of Knits magazine.

The stitch caught my eye because I remembered a shawl made using a checker-board-type stitch in the “Anne of Green Gables” series on TV (wonderful series). At first I thought the stitch was a two row repeat: [ch3 (counts as 1dc), turn, dc1, ch1, sk 1, (3dc, ch1, sk 1) across, and ending with 2dc], followed by a row of [ch1, turn, sc, ch1, (sc in the ch1 space and ch3 over the 3dc) across, ending with ch3, sc1, ch1, sc1].

That makes a nice enough fabric, but it is a two-row repeat, which involves more thinking than a one-row repeat.

Then I saw this stitch, and realized that a somewhat loose fabric in this stitch would look similar from a distance. And it is a one-row repeat. Not only that, it is easy to vary depending on the yarn you are using and on what kind of fabric you want to end up with -- lacier or thicker. Plus it works great on the diagonal, which is really good when you have a limited amount of yarn and you don’t want leftovers. And who wouldn't want to try a stitch they called 'crazy' over a hundred years ago?

What this stitch does is make a row of little blocks, kind of like micro-entrelac. Here is one way to do it, on the diagonal:

First Way - On the diagonal -- this is the stitch for the Wrist Warmers recently posted.

R1: Ch4, dc in 3rd and 4th ch from hook, leaving a ch-2 space. The two dc make a little block.
R2: Ch4, turn, dc in 3rd and 4th ch from hook to make another block. Sl st in ch-2 space from previous row -- this anchors the corner of the current block. Ch2, dc2 in same ch-2 space to make another block. At this point it looks like a little heart, or like three little blocks.
R3: Ch4, turn, dc in 3rd and 4th ch from hook to make a new block. Sl st in last ch-2 space from previous row to anchor the block. Ch2, dc2 in same ch-2 space to make a new block. Sl st in next ch-2 space to anchor. Ch2, dc2 in same ch-2 space to make a new block.
Pattern Row: R4: Ch4, turn, dc in 3rd and 4th ch from hook to make a new block. Sl st in last ch-2 space from previous row to anchor the block. (Ch2, dc2 in same ch-2 space to make a new block. Sl st in next ch-2 space to anchor) across. End with ch2, dc2 in same ch-2 space to make a new block -- there is no place to anchor this, so this is the end of the row.

Repeat R4 until the piece is as big as you want. Makes a great triangle. Notice that the two short edges of the triangle are really straight.

If you are making an afghan on the diagonal, you can make a rectangle by keeping increasing on one side and starting to decrease on the other. If that sounds too much like math, just make a square and start decreasing when you are halfway through your yarn.

Here is how to decrease:
R1: Ch1, turn. Sl st between the 2 dc and in the ch-2 space to get to the corner of the little block. (Ch2, dc2 in same ch-2 space to make a new block. Sl st in next ch-2 space to anchor) across. Repeat this row until only 1 block is left. Finish off, or edge as desired.

What is crazy about this stitch is that if you look at the fabric, half the stitches seem to be going one way (left to right), and the other half are going the other way (up and down).

Second Way - Rows: This way has a more traditional feel to it. You make a long chain, make each row as a bunch of blocks, each anchored with a slip stitch, and each row has the same number of little blocks. This makes a zigzag edge along all edges.

Here’s how: Loosely chain a length as long as you want the piece to be, plus about 20 percent -- the pattern stitch draws in a bit. For afghans, I usually do not count stitches, let alone chain stitches. Too easy to miscount, too easy to be off in the first row by not skipping the right number of chains at one point or another. But if you want to count, that is just fine, too. This pattern as given here is worked over a multiple of 5 stitches.

Setup row: Row 1: Dc1 in 3rd and 4th ch from hook to make 1 block. Skip 2 ch, sl st 1 in next ch to anchor this block. *Ch2. Dc1 in next 2 ch. Skip 2 ch, sl st in next ch to anchor this block.* Repeat from * to * across the chain, ending with a sl st to anchor the last block. Trim any excess chains, leaving a tail of a few inches so you can tuck in the loose end.

You may want to count how many blocks (repeats) you have in this first row, just to get oriented. That way, if things look a bit off later on, you can count repeats and see if that is the problem.

Pattern row: Row 2: Ch 4, turn. Dc2 starting in the 3rd ch from the hook to make 1 block. Sl st in the ch space of the last block of the previous row to anchor the corner of this block. *Ch2, dc2 in same ch space. Sl st in next ch space.* Repeat from * to * across, ending with sl st in last ch space. Repeat this row for the pattern.
1. For a more open pattern, do SC1 instead of Slip Stitch to anchor each block.
2. If DC2 seems a bit skimpy, do DC3 instead. Working in Rows, that makes it a 7-stitch repeat and you would ch3 at the start of each block. It makes a more open fabric if you chain 3. You can also chain 2 but work 3 dc into each space. Your choice.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Wrist warmers to crochet

The stitch for this is a variation on Crazy Stitch from Victorian Crochet, published by Dover in 1974, with an introduction by Florence Weinstein. It is a handy stitch.

Wrist warmers - a basic pattern

Suggested yarn/hook: dk yarn with 4mm hook

The idea is to make a square about 6 inches on each side, then edge it in shell stitch, joining two opposite sides to make holes for fingers, and for decoration. There are different ways to wear this. But to get started:

R1: Ch4, dc in 3rd and 4th ch from hook, leaving a ch-2 space. This makes a little block.
R2: Ch4, turn, dc in 3rd and 4th ch from hook to make another block. Sl st in ch-2 space from prev row -- this anchors the corner of the current block. Ch2, dc2 in same ch-2 space to make another block. At this point it looks like a little heart, or like three little blocks.
R3: Ch4, turn, dc in 3rd and 4th ch from hook to make a new block. Sl st in last ch-2 space from prev row to anchor the block. Ch2, dc2 in same ch-2 space to make a new block. Sl st in next ch-2 space to anchor. Ch2, dc2 in same ch-2 space to make a new block.
R4: Ch4, turn, dc in 3rd and 4th ch from hook to make a new block. Sl st in last ch-2 space from prev row to anchor the block. (Ch2, dc2 in same ch-2 space to make a new block. Sl st in next ch-2 space to anchor) across. End with ch2, dc2 in same ch-2 space to make a new block -- there is no place to anchor this, so this is the end of the row.

Repeat R4 until the piece measures about 6 inches on each side edge, ending with an even number of rows.

This size fits a lot of hands, but if you want it larger or smaller, this is where you make that decision. Make more rows if you want it bigger; fewer rows to make it smaller. Remember that the edging will add about 2 inches to the width around, so you want the square to be too small to fit around the hand.

Now start decreasing:
R1: Ch1, turn. Sl st between the 2 dc and in the ch-2 space to get to the corner. (Ch2, dc2 in same ch-2 space to make a new block. Sl st in next ch-2 space to anchor) across. Repeat this row until only 1 block is left. Do not finish off.

Now make a round of shell stitch around 3 sides of the outside edge. Each shell stitch spans 2 rows -- the reason for the even number of rows. The edging on the 4th side is joined to the edging on the 2nd side to make the holes.

Here is how to work this round:
A slightly different shell stitch: Starting at the point where you finished the square, and working along the outside edge of the piece, *(2dc, ch2, 2dc) in the next space between two blocks. Sc1 in the next space between two blocks to anchor the end of the shell. You should end up ready to make a sc in the corner, but don‘t. Then actually increase at the corner by making (sc, ch1, sc) in the corner. Then repeat from * until 3 sides are done, ending with an increase on the 3rd corner.

On the 4th side, do pretty much the same thing, EXCEPT: do a different shell to join this side to the opposite side: do (2dc, ch1, sc1 in ch space of shell on opposite side, ch1, 2dc) across. End with a sc in the last corner and slip stitch into the top of the first dc of the round. Finish off. Make 2nd the same.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Nothing to do with needlework

I just found this blog through Blogger. It's a craft blog, which normally doesn't interest me, but this one has some really interesting stuff. I especially like the soda pop tab bracelet an the cd photo album.

Color: part 1

I like working with color, especially in crochet. There are so many different ways in crochet to achieve an interesting color design without resorting to fancy techniques. My favorite is striping many colors to achieve an imitation of fairisle in knitting.

Because crocheted stitches dip into the previous row, they don't exactly make straight stripes, meaning that you can achieve the look of colorwork without doing anything other than striping yarns. If you use colors that are of a similar intensity or quality, the resulting stripes mimic fairisle. This is especially so when you use at least four colors, because of the possibilities that become available for color frequency.

In the case of the sample pictured above, I used what Practical Crocheter and I call "sweater stitch" because it makes a nice garment fabric. It consists of (sc 1, ch1, sk1) across in every row over an odd number of stitches (or an even number if worked in the round). In each row the singles are worked in the singles and the chains are worked over the chains. The only drawback is that it stretches significantly over time. In stripes, the rows almost make a ric rac shape.

The sample above was worked in the round, so the right side of the singles is always facing out. When this stitch is worked in stripes in rows, the right and wrong side singles change direction in each row and the wrong side singles show the row below through the stitch.

I think this way of doing it almost looks like a hounds tooth pattern. It also allows for better blending of colors if you want a graded look, because the transitions between colors are less distinct.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

process vs. product

The posting about process and product brings back memories. Someone once described how, in county fairs back in the 1950's needlework was judged by how well the product matched the original idea. A stitcher would actually lose points for adding beads or being more creative, presumably on the idea that adding fanciness was a traditional tactic to compensate for mediocre workmanship. The point of the process was to make something specific that had a place in the larger context of the world, so the quality of workmanship is really what mattered.

Then there was a cultural shift, and the products of the past just didn't hit the mark anymore. No one cared how well you made something that no one wanted or appreciated. The answers of the past did not address the questions of the present. So we started experimenting, and the process became the product ('the medium is the message' is an underlying key of the times).

So we have gone through a generation (or two) of disconnection between the process of making stuff for its own sake and the idea of making stuff with a place in the larger context of the world. (This may be a definition of hobby as opposed to craft or art, but that is subjective.) We ran the significant risk of having people look at the stuff we made and saying, "Ew, why would anyone want to do THAT?" rather than "Ooh, that's a cool concept. I wonder how I can do that better for the stuff I want to make."

And here we are, come full cycle perhaps, starting to look again at the bigger picture, connecting the dots. The knitting and crochet magazines over the past few years seem to pay more attention to techniques. Not every pattern is written for the beginner. We have played with lots of ideas over the last bunch of years, and now we are looking at results. This is a cool time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Should I care?

In needlework, especially in knitting and crocheting, one often encounters two kinds of individuals: those who are perfectionists and those who aren't. These individuals are often more intellectually and euphemistically referred to as "product" and "process" knitters and crocheters.

In the first case, the individual sets out in a project to produce a certain product, and that product is the priority. Either the process of making te product is viewed as unimportant or no effort is too great to make theresult perfect. The ends justify the means.

But in the second case, the needleworker simply wishes to enjoy the activity. The fact that the activity produces something is either unimportant or an added benefit. Such needleworkers rarely concern themselves with technique more than they absolutely have to.

I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. Sometimes I'm goal oriented, and other times I just want to keep my hands busy or play with beautiful colors.

Both types of needleworkers often produce beautiful work, with the perfectionists making the most intricate lace, complex textures, and visally satisfying patterns, and process knitters producing expressionistic work that satisfies the eyes and hands on an organic level. But in "real life" howmuch perfection is necessary?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Quick Tip

Knit-alongs are a great way to tie contrasting colors together, but they can also be expensive or draw too much attention away from the primary yarn. One thing I like to do is use size 10 crochet cotton along with my primary yarns. this gives a tweed effect to the fabric without detracting from the other colors and textures I'm using. It also avoids changing the gauge too much.

Another benefit to a neutral or coordinating knit-along is that it broadens your color choices for the primary yarn. Suddenly colors that seem to make too bold a contrast can be tied together to create a unified and intentional look. This is a great way to save money on yarn: if you can make diverse yarns in your stash go together, then you can rely more on your stash for larger projects, rather than having to buy new. Now, granted, buying new is a whole lot of fun, but it can be hard on the pocket book and time consuming when you have something particular in mind. It's also not terribly practical when you just have to start that new project at three a.m. on a Friday night. And even if you end up buying the cotton, it's one of the cheapest yarns out there.

And that's my two cents.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Yes, "making do"

No negative connotation intended. I was referring to the World War II adage "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

Historically, the needle arts have helped with that kind of thinking significantly. Of course, if you make your own clothing, you are more inclined to repair it when it gets threadbare. People have also been known to unravel old items and reuse the yarn (it's recommended that you wind the yarn into a hank and let it hang in a steamy room for a little while to straighten it out before reworking it, btw). Lace edgings have frequently been used to cover threadbare fabric and worn shelf edges. And in the world of sewing, people have long cut up old garments and such so they can reuse the remaining good fabric (see this post for an example).

Other modern examples can be found through a brief search of the Internet, or better, Ravelry. For example, people make scrubbing pads by crocheting cut up plastic grocery bags. In the absence of an appropriate yarn, Practical Crocheter has found a better material by using hardware store nylon twine to make net shopping bags.

Repurposing things that would normally go to waste is not only economical and environmentally friendly, it's incredibly satisfying and has a long and proud place in American history that's worth identifying with.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Making Do?

Your process for making a rattle sounds perfect: using what you have in just a few minutes to make something you can use. There are lots of connections there, connecting you with your environment (resources), needs, abilities, and time available. A project with a beginning, middle, and end that goes out into the world with a purpose. How very satisfying! While your baby may not even notice the rattle, he may spend a small corner of his mind wondering forever what the 'hidden meaning' was behind the choice of colors and patterns in that rattle.

I vaguely recall wondering very seriously what the plot was in a little book I had as a small child: "ABC with Ant and Bee." Every page seemed disconnected from the one before -- the plot was very esoteric.

The title "Making Do" implies all kinds of negative stuff -- but maybe that is just me.

FAO Schwartz (among others) seems to be capitalizing on the ugly critter phase (probably started by that delightful book of "Stupid Sock Creatures" by John Murphy). Going from there to the Museum of Natural History in New York reminded me more that crocheting critters (or knitting them or sewing or whatever) may be a meditation on really cool shapes: some kind of shape for a body (maybe), adding fins, flippers, tails, ears, mouth (with or without teeth/tongue), nose, and legs/arms that keep dividing into smaller bits like toes/fingers. How delicious.... And then applying those ideas to the natural shapes suggested by specific stitches makes it more fun.

And it makes you look clever, too.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Making Do

Baby toys. They need to be simple, safe, and sturdy. Bright colors are preferable so that baby will notice them, but not necessary. And how it looks isn't too important to the baby, just to the parents. At the same time, baby toys can cost an arm and a leg, and recent studies can put a new parent ill at ease about plastic toys certain to find their way into baby's mouth. So I make do.

My little one is just at the age that he's starting to enjoy toys. I wanted him to have a rattle. Unrelated to my baby, I also wanted to use up little bits and pieces of leftover sock yarn. I put a few dry black beans in an empty prescription bottle, closed the lid, and crocheted a cover around it in single crochet. I started with a hexagon just a little bigger than the diameter of the lid. Then I worked without increasing in a tube for the length of the bottle. Finally, I decreased six per round around the bottom of the bottle, trapping the bottle in the cover.

After making the cover, I did not finish of the project. I made a chain the length of the bottle and attached it with a slip stitch to the other end. I finished off after working a row of single crochet. The result, while not the most aesthetically pleasing rattle, but it does what it's supposed to do and the handle fits securely around my baby's wrist, so he won't drop it easily.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

One skein of lace weight merino ...

A lady once came into the yarn shop and hunted for laceweight merino wool. Not only is it soft and lovely, it is incredibly cost effective: you get about 1200-1600 yards for $10-20. (That yardage in worsted weight makes an adult sweater; in sock weight, it makes 3-4 pairs of socks) It is also small, so it can be a purse project to keep you busy for a really long time. For those of us with limited budgets and only little snippets of time to stitch, a hank of laceweight may be the methadone of yarn addiction (and I mean that in a good way).

So not more than 6 months ago, I started working on a small shawl project from a single hank of laceweight merino from my stash, with a size 00 hook. Suddenly, I couldn't think of any of my other projects and ideas. Finally, I finished the project. My new favorite stitch: ch-2 net stitch. Firm enough to be a subtle lace pattern, stretchy enough to make all kinds of things from afghans to socks to shawls. More on that in another post.

Looking back over previous posts:
  • A neat addition to a bookmark, of course, is a paperclip at one end to attach to the book itself (a cover of a paperback or an inside page or spine of a hardcover) so the bookmark does not disappear.
  • Motifs can be really fun -- fancy ones just for themselves, but I am exploring some simple ones that can be blocked into different shapes for completely different looks.
  • Also, there is the idea that stuff that looks great in thread for lace can be equally useful in heavier yarn for afghans -- the mile-a-minute concept being a traditional case in point.

Now I am off to my next pair of socks. It is really nice to start a new project.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Design Elements

It's a common joke among needle workers that there are no mistakes only design elements. There are a lot of short cuts, too. Often, if you don't know how to do something, you can find a way around it.

Socks are a great example. If you don't want to use double pointed needles, there are ways to use circulars. If you don't want to do short rows, you can make tube socks or use the "afterthought heel."

Once, I was working on some baby socks for a friend and I didn't have a darning needle to close up the toe when I was done. I figured out that Kitchener is not absolutely necessary--you can work around it. If you decrease the toe just like you would the top of a hat and gather the remaining stitches, it works just fine. In that case, it came out cuter than originally planned, because I only decreased three stitches in each round, making a pointed toe.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Quick Gift

I know, broomstick lace got a bad rap in the 1970's, when it was combined with worsted weight acrylic in garish colors. For example:

But it doesn't have to be that way. Broomstick lace, when used with crochet cotton makes a quick, easy, and lovely lace:

It also makes a simple, sort of Art Deco edging. As a quick and easy gift, it makes an excellent bookmark.

Use size 5 crochet cotton and a hook to match, and make a chain that's about 7 inches long and a multiple of 5 (60 or 65 work well). Work one row of single crochet. Then, using a size 13 knitting needle, draw up a loop in each stitch across. Inserting your hook into 5 loops at a time, work 5 single crochets into each set of loops across. You'll end up with the same number of stitches you started with. Then work in crab stitch around the whole thing. To make the bookmark look really finished, weave a piece of half-inch ribbon through the lace.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Baby socks

Baby feet get cold really easily, so it's important to keep them covered. Besides baby socks are a really easy and inexpensive gift that's also stinkin' cute. Unfortunately, babies excel at kicking them off--usually within five minutes of having had them put on. But I have two pairs of socks I made for my little guy that stay on pretty reliably, and they both have cuffs.

The trick is to have a cuff that folds over the ribbing to prevent it from stretching out of shape. The easiest thing to do is to start the sock with the ribbing, follow it with a round of purling to create a crease where the cuff will fold, and then do stockinette for the same number of rounds as the ribbing. Once the sock is complete, fold the ribbing down into the cuff and tack it in place.

You can also start with the stockinette tube (or any other pattern stitch, for that matter), do a round of purling, and then do the ribbing. This way you don't have to sew anything, because the cuff folds out. You just have to do the cuff inside out.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Stitches West

Practical Crocheter and I went to the Stitches West market on the 28th. While we didn't get there until the afternoon, it was nice to walk around the market, see vendors we look forward to seeing every year and a few new faces as well.

We always enjoy looking at the unusual offerings of Habu. I particularly enjoy working with their Silk and Steel blend. It adds a beautiful, if subtle, texture to lace weight mohair, and gives thin yarns some substance and weight. While a lot of Habu's yarns are just silk, they also specialize in unusual fibers, such as kenaf and pineapple. It's always fun to see what new things they are experimenting with this year.

We also make a point of going to the Newton's Yarn Country booth. They carry mill ends of a wide variety of yarns, so one can always find a good deal.

But what really makes stitches fun is seeing all of the hand dye companies. The colors are almost overwhelming, and you get to see small companies represented that you don't usually find at your lys.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


In making clothes for my new baby I wanted to make something special, dare I say heirloom-worthy, for him. I chose to make a receiving dress: white, long, lace bodice. However, I find crocheted lace worked in rows feels like it takes forever, so I chose to use motifs. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a pattern for the sort of thing I wanted to make, which leads us to the inherent versatility of motif work.

My solution was to use motifs from a table runner pattern I have (from Captivating Crochet). (click on photos to enlarge)

(taken from Captivating Crochet)

The motifs were simple, and the matter was made even easier by the fact that the pattern called for the same guage I wanted to use. So I made the motifs and connected them in the shape of a bodice, using measurements from the Knitters Companion. I even tiled the motifs differently than suggested in the original pattern. Low and behold, it worked!

Because the motifs were an irregular shape, I had to smooth out the neckline a bit, so I added an edging from a Dover book I have, attaching it to the bodice by the scalloped edge rather than the chain edge originall intended for that purpose. Then I went around all the openings of the bodice in crab stitch to finish the piece. I'm very pleased with the results:

The moral of the story is that motif work makes knitting and crocheting a matter of assembly rather than design. I recommend that people look at motif patterns for the motifs themselves, rather than for the finished object. An interesting motif may be lovely as a table cloth, but it can also be used for a garment, or in a different guage for an afghan, or by itself as the back of a baby bonnet. They can be tiled in different ways or even combined with other motifs. Many motifs can be disassembled into different motifs if you use a different number of rounds. It's like playing with blocks--once you have the pieces, you can make anything.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The paradox of crocheted socks

Knitting makes a lightweight and elastic fabric, compared to crocheting. Crocheting makes a textured and sturdy fabric, compared to knitting.

Given such a cut and dry comparison, it seems a no-brainer that socks are generally knitted, and not crocheted.

As true as this comparison may be, it is not complete. There is a lot of overlap between what knitting can do and what crocheting can do. Theoretically, then, if you can knit socks, you should be able to crochet them. So there’s the puzzle. Where in the intersection of knitting and crocheting can socks fit?

Socks need to be thin enough to wear with shoes -- though I know people who buy a size bigger shoe to wear with handmade socks. The fabric needs to conform to the leg and not be too baggy. The sock needs to be easy to put on and take off. And the pattern to crochet the socks needs to be easy enough that it can become a fairly brainless project -- just as basic knit sock patterns are. And like a basic knit sock pattern, a pattern for crocheted socks needs to work with different gauges and be fairly universal -- it certainly cannot be tied to a specific brand of yarn.

I crochet socks from the toe up because I don’t want to run out of yarn, but I also don’t want the socks to be too short and have leftover yarn. This means I don’t have yarn set aside for mending, but that hasn’t been an issue. For sensible socks, I'm not willing to go smaller than fingering/sock weight yarn. DK weight yarn works up quickly and is only a bit thicker. Worsted weight socks are good for around the house or wearing with boots.

Knee highs often have leg shaping, but shorter socks usually do not. Shaping means more instructions. I want to make the shorter kind for a basic pattern, so I want a stitch that can be pulled in different directions.

The challenge is to find the right stitch: Knit socks often have one pattern for the toe, another for the heel, plain stockinette for the foot, and perhaps a decorative stitch for the leg. So I'm allowed to use different stitches for different parts of the sock. But each stitch has to make sense for where it is.
Originally, I worked the heel in, but now I do an ‘afterthought heel’ (term coined by Elizabeth Zimmerman), which makes life much easier but has the drawback of being a bit less fitted than the heel flap construction -- this problem is in knitting, too, so it’s not just a crochet thing.
Because it is still an evolving meditation, I crochet socks mainly for myself, not for others -- although I did crochet a pair of bed socks out of a dk alpaca/silk blend for my mother once. When they wore out, I knitted a replacement pair -- She appreciated both pairs.
So, how is the pattern evolving?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Gift tip

As indicated in my previous post, I am expecting a new addition to my family this month. Not surprisingly, I've been making lots of clothes for the little guy, and it's reminded me of a common problem I encountered when I work in a yarn store.

Ladies would come in needing to make something for a baby shower, but the expectant mother had elected not to learn the baby's sex in advance. It's become expected in this culture that the mother will learn the baby's sex via ultrasound, allowing her loved ones to buy/make gender specific gifts. In fact, many of the women I encountered were actually angry at the expectant mother for not learning the baby's sex.

I have opted not to find out my baby's sex until it is born, which can pose some difficulties in making things for the baby. So here are some tips for gender-neutral gifts:

  • White, green, and yellow are traditional gender neutral baby colors.

  • Primary colors and "adult" colors (colors that are traditionally too dark for babies) can also be gender neutral.

  • Stuffed animals are gender neutral.

  • Rather than choosing a sweater pattern that is a cardigan, choose a boat neck pattern that buttons over one or both shoulders, so that you don't have to guess which side of the placket the buttons go on. These sweaters can also be easier to put on baby.

Hope this helps.