Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Great Online Resource

I rarely keep yarn labels after I finish using the yarn they describe. Sometimes that leads to problems. Recently, I needed to wash a sweater, but I just could not remember whether the yarn was machine washable. Since I did remember the name and brand of the yarn, I Googled it. That's when I found Yarndex.

Yarndex is an online database of yarns, including discontinued lines, that allows you to search by name, brand, fiber content, color, or texture. When you find the yarn you are looking for, it gives you the label information, and, if available, a photograph of the yarn. Truly a wonderful resource, and well worth keeping bookmarked!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Making Variegated Yarn Work For Me

Many needleworkers have a love-hate relationship with multi-colored yarns. We love the interplay of colors. And it's nice having yarn that does the work of creating visual interest for you, rather than having to focus on a pattern stitch. At the same time, though we hate that the colors have a tendency to pool...
This is a hand-dyed ribbon from Mountain Colors.
Notice the splotch of navy blue around the center left.

...and stripe and that the pattern of the variegation changes as we change stitches or do shaping. Here's another hand-dyed yarn--worsted weight.
Notice how the even striping on the upper part (worked in the round)
is interrupted when I started doing shaping in rows.
Here are some ideas for making the most of variegation while avoiding its drawbacks:

  • Try stranding with another yarn (solid or tweed). Stranding a variegated yarn with a solid or tweed, especially if the solid is a little fuzzier than the variegated, is a good way to minimize striping and pooling. It draws attention away from the "stripy-ness" of colors and adds something consistent throughout the fabric to unify all the colors. It can also be used to emphasize your favorite color in the variegated yarn. If you use a strong solid color that is at least as thick as the variegated, it can make the whole thing look like a variegated tweed. Muted colors or bi-colored tweeds combined with bold variegateds make the variegation more subtle and muted.
    This is the same variegated as the second one pictured above. This time, it's stranded with another worsted in solid red. You are looking at the top of a ribbed, baby-sized, watch-cap. The red worsted matches the red in the variegated perfectly, allowing the variegated to spiral, despite the decreases at the top.
    On the left, you see a variegated from Missoni, knitted on its own, in seed stitch. Notice how high-contrast it is. The hat on the right, is the same yarn stranded with a Cascade 220 green and black tweed. The tweed really tones down the contrast.
  • Make the fabric compete with the colors. If the yarn is going to stripe horizontally, using a simple ribbing will create a strong vertical line to draw your eye in the opposite direction from the variegation. In knitting, the purl side of the fabric draws attention away from color and towards texture, so using a stitch with lots of purling can also break up the effect of variegation.
This sweater was knitted in Noro's Kochoran (a bulky) and Joe Galler's Peruvian Tweed (a DK).
Note how the vertical movement of the body's pattern stitch and the ribbing distracts the eye from the stripes of the Kochoran.
Nothing interrupts the stripes on the sleeves, which are in stockinette.
  • Try striping with a solid. Alternating between solid and variegated yarns is a great way to include the interest of variegation without allowing it to take over. Using thin stripes of a multi-colored yarn doesn't give that yarn enough space to establish a real pattern. Alternating thin stripes of variegated and solid can also mimic Fairisle work with a minimum of effort--especially in crochet.

Two sock yarns in alternating stripes.
Two Mountain Colors variegateds (including the one in the first photograph in this post) striped with four solids in crochet. Here, each yarn only gets one row per stripe.
In this crocheted sweater, the background color is done in double crochet, with stripes done in single crochet net (sc1 in the ch1 below, ch1, sk1).
The variegated yarns are the bright blue and the green (which is tone-on-tone).
The use of variegated yarn in this sweater works with the pattern stitches involved to mimic the effect of Fairisle knitting.

Variegated yarns can do a lot to add depth and interest to your work, whether in knitting or crochet, but you have to play with them to find techniques or combinations that are flattering both for the yarn and for your project.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Following up on PC's post...

Practical Crocheter had some great ideas for handmade gifts this holiday season. The great thing is making your own can save money too! Here are a few more ideas:
  • A set of coasters (preferably cotton or wool). These are great for hostess gifts too, and they don't require you to know much about the recipient's tastes.
  • Going with the cup theme, you can make a sleeve for a travel mug. For extra insulation, make it a bit big, and then felt it. These are great for people who love having something warm in the morning, but don't want to burn their hands or put a bunch of paper in the trash!
  • To make something really special, but inexpensive, get a ball of thread and start making snowflakes! Little snowflakes can be attached to earring findings or made into necklace pendants. Several little snowflakes strung together can make a choker necklace or garland. Of course, larger snowflake are lovely on a tree or in a window. Just don't forget to starch them to make them look nice!
If you have young people in your life, they might not be so excited about receiving handmade gifts, but if you show them some neat things to make, they may be interested in the gift of your time! For children, consider making "gift certificates" for free needlework lessons. When combined with a treat at the local coffee shop, such a gift can make a tween feel very grown up.

If you want to make something for a young person, you may also consider having something other than what you make be the focal point. For example, the amulet bag to hold an iPod (as Practical Crocheter suggested) might be better received if it also contained a small gift card for downloads. It may seem silly, but giving handmade gifts alongside more mainstream gifts is a good introduction for people who don't know to care about things handmade.

Happy Stitching!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

'Tis the season!

Have you looked at the catalogs lately? With all the manufacturing gone overseas, we are living in a great time for handmade gifts! Flipping through some magazines and catalogs, I find myself muttering, “I could make that -- I could SO make that” a lot. If you have already hatted and scarfed everyone you know, have you tried slippers, wrist warmers, and washcloths? Flat little envelope purses, just big enough to carry your music and earbuds, with a strap to make it an amulet purse around your neck, are silly-easy to make and can help use up little bits of fabulous yarns in your stash.

The best way to have a fabulous stash is to buy only yarns in colors that speak well to you. If you buy only yarns you really like, your leftovers will be gorgeous.

Make sure the product is gift-worthy by paying attention to finishing details, like tucking in the loose ends.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Thoughts on Charity Projects

Practical Crocheter talked a little about needlework and charity in her last post. There are some wonderful opportunities out there for knitters and crocheters to use their skills to benefit others, ranging from nonprofits that take donations of finished projects, to opportunities to teach, and beyond. So I thought I'd mention a few unorthodox ideas.

First, practical crocheter mentioned she had some "ugly afghans" that are too big to give to veterinary hospitals. Many animal clinics and especially shelters take donations of old blankets and towels, because the kennels the animals sleep in are too cold and hard without any kind of bedding. Since the bedding is likely to get messy and torn, and the animals don't really care what it looks like, you can donate things that you would never donate for human use. And when these blankets and towels become too worn to use as bedding, many shelters cut them into strips and transform them into tug-o-war toys for dogs.

For example, I have two baby blankets (both handmade...sigh) that had a tragic encounter with the dryer. They got caught in my dryer door, and the part that was caught shredded. It really isn't worth my time to repair them, so I've cut out the loose threads and opened the holes (don't want anything getting caught!). At some point, I will donate them to my local Humane Society shelter.

Practical Crocheter said her blankets are too big. However, a large blanket can always be cut down to a better size. It could also be used at its original size as a horse blanket. However, I would only cut down a blanket that has big holes in it. A blanket made from wool can be felted and cut down to make especially warm animal bedding.

For those who are a little more creative, old wool blankets, socks, and sweaters can be felted and transformed into stuffed animals. The resulting critters can make charming gifts for your own children, but they may do more good if donated to a women's shelter, police department, or children's hospital, where they can comfort children who are trying to cope with difficult situations.

When it comes to giving of one's time, Practical Crocheter mentioned groups that teach needlework to prisoners, the young, and the disabled. Here are a few more ideas. Starting a knitting/crocheting circle at a home for the elderly is another option. Not only does needlework help people in nursing homes keep their minds sharp and active, it gives them an opportunity for social engagement with each other. And those who already know how to knit can teach others who are interested. Learning can happen at any age.

Teaching the young reminded me of knitting circles that were created during World War II. They were often created as an extension of home ec classes as an opportunity for girls to hone their knitting skills as they contributed to the war effort by making socks and such for the troops. Creating a charity-focused knitting class for high school students could be a good way to spread a skill, help others, and provide an opportunity for students to meet their community service requirements at school. For children, it could help them earn badges in 4-H or Scout troops. Of course, anyone who offers classes like this would benefit from donations of materials.

In all of this, I thought I would mention again, that I have set aside a day every week (Saturday, for me) when I only work on charity projects. I put away anything I am making for my own family or friends and take out something that I am making to donate. It's been a really nice way to avoid boredom in my projects and make sure that I actually get a little charity work done. At this point, I have completed several baby blankets this way and am now working on an afghan to donate to Warm Up America. Once that's done, I think I'll work on some hats.

One of the really satisfying things about needlework is that it is fundamentally constructive--both physically and socially. It creates relationships when people come together in circles. It reinforces relationships when we produce items for others--especially items that are truly needed. Best of all, it puts us in a mindset of seeking needs to fill, and filling needs is a really important part of reinforcing community.

Do you do any charity knitting? What's your favorite organization? What are you working on now?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Comfort afghans

Thinking about yarns, I am looking at the blankets around me. Between the weather and hormones, I have 4 blankets/afghans on my bed: One is a color block afghan I made back in the early 1970’s out of acrylic yarn from Woolworths. (Gosh, that was 40 years ago!)

Warning: the others are distinctly scrap afghans, which are not for just anyone, and that is okay, too. Another layer is made from a fluffy bulky weight yarn called Charleston that was discontinued some time ago, worked in a log-cabin style, with one ball of yarn for each block, starting in the center. A friend had bought bunches of it and then moved on to preferring something else, so she passed that bit of stash on to me. After making sweaters and blankets out of most of it, this came from using up the last of it.

It can be very satisfying to make what I call ugly afghans: pulling together different yarns or combining collections of motifs that different people started. It is always surprising to see how the motley-est collection of yarns takes on a solid personality in the finished piece. Most of these afghans go to charity, if they look decent, but sometimes, well,
the third afghan on my bed is an ugly afghan made in a log cabin style with lots of different leftover acrylic yarns: starting with a block made from one ball of yarn, I added rows on one side with each new ball of yarn, rotating the piece so each new block is on a different side. I did not get the gauge quite right, so the whole thing does not lie square. It is too ugly to give away, and too big to give to a veterinary clinic for the animals to use, so it is on my bed, where it works just fine.

And finally, another ugly afghan made from blocks that are fast to make and joined in the last round. I was very naughty with this afghan, using up single skeins of different fiber content from my stash: the yarn ranges from acrylic to hand-wash wool, so it will be a challenge when the day comes to launder it. All these styles and yarns made me think about the price of yarn and what the money to buy yarn really represents.

With the economy these days, the price of yarn is tricky to understand. Some yarn is expensive because you are paying for all the marketing and advertising around it. Some yarn is expensive because it is made out of really rare stuff that is carefully manufactured. Some yarn is cheap because it is made to be sold cheaply. Some yarn is cheap because it is an out-dated color or texture. Some cheap yarns last and last, while some expensive yarns are delicate and wear out quickly -- but the opposite is also true, so the sturdiness of the yarn is not directly connected with the price.

And then, of course, different people simply prefer different yarns. I have heard some women explain that they never use animal fibers because it makes them break out in a rash, but I have also met a woman who cannot work with acrylic because it made her fingers bleed. But back to pricing: after all that, some yarn companies and yarn shops are raising or lowering the prices on yarns depending on how well or poorly they sell. Yarns that don’t sell well to the independent yarn shops sometimes end up in dollar stores. In general, I have been the most creative with yarns I get cheaply -- it gives me a sense of freedom. I do very simple things with the really expensive yarns, not wanting to mess up with a limited material.

And aside from what is available at yarn shops - both brick-and-mortar and virtual - the thrift stores can have a surprising variety of yarn. Sometimes they have some real treasures. I have favorite sweaters are made from yarn I got at the thrift store. Other times, if I can afford it, I snatch up a basketful to donate: there are people who teach knitting and crocheting to young people, to people with handicaps, and to people in jail. All those efforts need yarn and tools to keep going, and the generous ladies who maintain that inventory and do the teaching don‘t have time to keep an eye on all the local thrift stores. Of course, there are lots of charities out there, too, for finished pieces. There seems to be a place and a time for just about everything, and it feels really good to be able to pay attention to that.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


September is a great month to think about inspirations -- it is, after all, when fashion magazines publish their biggest issues, with the fall lineup, and when mail-order companies start rolling out their catalogs for the holiday season. But there are inspirations for knitting and crocheting all around. A tree has trunks and branches that suddenly looked like a crochet motif, with treble stitches on the bottom half and shell stitches filling in the top. Tire tracks in the dirt where I walk reminded me of rows of different pattern stitches, running lengthwise on an afghan. And then footprints on top of the tire tracks reminded me of Irish lace, where individual motifs are joined together on a netted background.
Even in a parking lot, there are lines and shapes that might be panels or color blocks or motifs or pattern stitches. Need to make thread samples to go with these thoughts.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The joys of Thread, especially #10 cotton

Think of thread and you usually think of lace and doilies and fancy delicate stuff. Traditionally, #10 cotton was used for heavy-duty stuff like bedspreads and potholders. Patterns for tablecloths often called for #20 thread, and you wouldn't waste your energy making fine lace and doilies out of anything chunkier than #30 thread.

A lot of patterns are very fancy, but I like fairly simple concepts -- they can feel like walking a labyrinth. Simple patterns (I do a lot with the basic granny square stitch) can have interesting optical effects.

At one point, I wondered if the number of loose ends on a small-scale motif project would drive me nuts:

Using the same thread, I could see the difference in gauge for different hooks on the same pattern:

I use it to try out new ideas, make prototypes, with a yarn that is small enough to be a purse project, and remarkably inexpensive. And since it is such an underrated material, you can get it even cheaper at the thrift store.

On top of that, because it is cotton thread, it isn’t fuzzy like a yarn, and it doesn’t split easily (unless you are using a hook that is too small). Having one sample of a motif can take the place of remembering where the written pattern is. 

It works with knitting, too. This is #10 thread in knitted seed stitch on #6 / 4mm needles. I really like how it turned out and am considering it for a window covering, like a sheer. It looked a bit more clunky in the double crochet portion (to the right), stitched with a 4mm hook.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

CGOA/TKGA conference in September

The CGOA conference brochure (for Sept 21-25 in North Carolina) arrived the other day. Looking through the class descriptions, I was delighted to see the same old broad range of interests keeping active in the group: business-oriented sessions for people who want to design or to run shops; artistic/creative sessions about stitches, colors, and shapes; and classes for the concept-oriented crochet geek. It was heartwarming to see classes on crocheted socks and foundation stitches - two ideas I was promoting years ago - still making it into classes. Maybe we could yarn bomb the venue!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Toddler Tip

Now that one of my little boys is a toddler, he wants to dress himself. But it takes a lot of practice, and the clothes don't always cooperate!

Naturally, I like to make him a lot of his clothes, especially his outerwear and socks. Turns out those hand-knitted socks are perfect for someone whose learning how to put on socks. Store-bought socks have elastic in the cuffs to keep them tight. While that's great for keeping socks from stretching out or slouching, the tight cuffs make it difficult for a toddler to get his foot into them! Handmade socks, on the other hand are much easier to put on.

That, and he likes having socks in his favorite colors.

Now, most of the time, when we need to go out, I can have my boy take care of putting on his socks and shoes while I get his brother ready to go. That saves me time and lets him feel like a big boy. That's good for Mom, and good for my boys! They might get outgrown quickly, but handmade socks for toddlers are well worth the effort to me!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Scarves for Kids

We live above the snowline now, and my toddler needs a scarf to keep his neck warm while he plays in the snow. Problem? I have enough trouble keeping my scarf on, how is a toddler supposed to manage it? I could just see him taking off the scarf and leaving it someplace weird just because wearing it was inconvenient. Still, I had to try.

I decided to look for patterns on Ravelry for animal themed scarves. I'm not sure why, but two patterns came up (among others) in the search that were women's Aran neck cuffs. A warm, fuzzy, woolen light bulb went off above my head: Neck Gaiters.

In short order, I have made two scarves for my son--the first being a prototype. Both are about half the length of a normal scarf for a child that size (scarves are generally about the same length as the height of the person wearing them). They have buttons at one end and buttonholes at the other. They are short enough not to be in the way, but keep his neck nice and warm. The button closure helps keep the scarf on more securely and makes its removal a little more labor-intensive. I'm hopeful this idea will make bundling up my little guy a little easier for the rest of the winter.

Thus far, the second one has worked well. Mostly, this is because it has one button, while the first one has two. My son just can't stand still long enough for me to fasten both buttons. Here's my pattern:

less than 100 yards bulky weight yarn (I used one strand worsted and one strand light-weight mohair)
US size 10.5 needles
Cable needle
one 3/4-inch button, and needle and thread with which to sew it on

CO 15, and k 6 rows even.

Pattern Row 1 and all odd numbered rows (WS): K3, p9, k3
Row 2 (RS): K3, sl 3 onto a cable needle and hold in front, k3, k3 from cable needle, k to end.
Rows 4 and 6: K
Row 8: K6, sl 3 onto a cable needle and hold in back, k3, k3 from cable needle, k to end.
Rows 10 and 12: K
Rep these twelve rows until piece is long enough to fit comfortably around an adult neck (plenty of room to grow!). The cable will look like a braid.
K 6 rows even, and bind off.

Attach a button to one end in the middle, just above the garter stitch border. Use a cable crossing on the other end as a button hole.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Yarn department at the hardware store

Sometimes when the lys seems just a bit too warm and fuzzy, I am drawn to the local hardware store, and their yarn department. There is twine, string, and rope. In the sporting goods section, there is also fishing line, but that is for another day. Twine is great for hats (hatband is a necktie from the thrift store; lining is a cotton handkerchief tacked in place) and faux loofahs (lower right). I have also tried it to make a floor mat, but it was a lot of work and still has kinks in the design. Thin rope was great for a basket to hold fresh fruits and veggies in the fridge -- easier to get to than the drawers, so more likely I will eat them before they go bad. The more yellow part on the bottom of the basket shows that dye lot really does matter: the first batch of rope was an old bit I bought at a thrift store eons ago. And nylon string (the pink thing on the lower left) makes a really sturdy, stretchy net bag for shopping. Just a few ideas from the hardware store.