Monday, December 22, 2014

A Yarn Story

Some years ago, I worked in yarn shops.  What fun it was to help people choose yarn and patterns and to see them stitch up all kinds of good things!  One day, a woman came in to choose yarn to make a lap blanket for her mother.  She didn't have much money, but she was drawn to a very nice hand-dyed wool, and there was just enough of it to crochet a lap blanket.

The customer wasn't much of a crocheter; her stitches weren't always that even.  She only knew one stitch and didn't know what it was called.  She was used to cheap acrylic:  It’s machine washable and works up into a nice big throw for not much money.  But her mother was in a nursing home, and in ailing health.  The price of the yarn took her aback:  at well over $100 for a 36x48 inch (or so) blanket – that much money was enough to make a few full afghans in the acrylic.  But this stuff felt really wonderful.  It called out to her, most personally.  

I urged her to consider carefully:  Nice things in nursing homes can disappear.  And if they don’t disappear, they can get ruined when laundered in the commercial-grade washers and dryers.  The customer’s mother might get very little use of the finished product, for all the love that went into making it.  There were other yarns in the shop that were machine washable, in nice colors, and much less expensive.

The customer thought about it, then came back later and bought the yarn.  I am sure she enjoyed her time with the yarn, as well as the pleasure the finished project gave her mother.  Good all around.

Trying to help people can be tricky.  There is an urge to steer folks to what is appropriate, stitching with safe yarns for predictable results.  Avoid the embarrassment of sending luxurious yarns out into the world as finished projects with crooked edges, awkward shapes and sizes, and uneven stitching and finishing.
And yet.

We live in a curated society, with all kinds of people making decisions for us, providing us with an appropriate selection of appropriate options to ensure our appropriate success.  We've also been trained to consult others before trying anything new, lest we make a wrong choice and end up with (gasp!) an unanticipated result.

And yet.

There comes a question of choosing between learning how to follow instructions and learning the craft. When all the patterns start looking alike – or don’t turn out as nicely as you expected – it may be time to wander past all the curators.  In order to do things well, sometimes it is good to do them well-enough.  That doesn't mean ignoring what has been done before.  Learning from others is a good thing, and so is making informed decisions.  But it is good to learn for oneself.

The great thing about crocheting and knitting is that they are still legal:  There is no knitting or crocheting police.  Play with unconventional materials, like fabric strips, wire, fishing line, or twine – and even with really nice yarns – and hold it up to the light of reality.  That’s when the craft becomes the cost-effective, obvious choice for making wonderful things in our lives, for ourselves and for those we love.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Covered ornaments for the holidays

Taking another step:  I am joining a local artisans co-op.  They loved my ornaments:

(Well, I really like them, too.) Some tricks to up the charm factor in covered ornaments:

1.  Use as small a thread as you can manage.  These are made with #50 crochet thread.  That's not always available, though.  Tatting thread is good, too, and even sewing thread can work well.  Sewing thread generally doesn't have such a tight twist, so it doesn't give as crisp-looking a fabric.  Small stitching almost always makes you look more clever.

2.  Add iridescent sewing thread (bought that at a sewing/quilt shop, but it might also be available with embroidery threads).  Holding the two threads together, I used a size 7-10 steel hook and stitched fairly firmly so the gauge isn't too sloppy loose.

3.  Add picots (it's from the French, so many folks pronounce it "pee-coe").  A picot is a little blip, shown here at the bottom corner of each net space in the pictured ornaments.  To make a picot, start after the single crochet that finishes a net stitch.  Chain 2 or 3 (doesn't really matter, but it's good to be consistent).  Refinish the single crochet just made.  By 'refinish' I mean:  make a slip stitch to join the chain stitches just made back to the top of the single crochet.  Insert the hook back into the single crochet as if you had not done the last bit (yarnover and pull through the 2 loops) to finish the stitch.  Then yarnover and pull through the 2 loops - to re-finish that single crochet - and through the loop on the hook to finish the slip stitch.  There, you just made a little blip, also called a picot.

Picots have been around long enough that there are different ways to make them.  This happens to be my favorite.

About the co-op: as I spend more time stitching, my inventory will include garments for smalls and dolls (18"), along with accessories like hats/scarves/wristers and little pouch purses.  But first, we have paperwork stuff to do, like sign a contract.  This may be fun.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Crochet Thanksgiving

Jumping into the holiday season, with so much Stuff going on in the world, in the country, in the community, I wonder sometimes, just a little, how I can be wasting my time stitching.  Wise quotes circulate about how important it is to protest the wrongs of the world, the importance of standing up for people (and creatures and the environment) suffering from abuse.

Of course, "abuse" can be hugely provocative.  The idea seems to be about manipulative, controlling behavior that just doesn't work, in the long run, with lots of collateral damage that is going to have to be cleaned up.

Off to one side, someone (was it Francis of Assisi?) encourages us to preach the gospel always, using words only when absolutely necessary.

Of course, "preach the gospel" can be hugely provocative.  The idea seems to be to live as an example of what works, owning the collateral damage, and, better yet, choosing to act in a way that prevents the damage to begin with.

An intriguing idea:  that words aren't always the way to go - for so many reasons.  Then the little voice reminds me:  that's why I crochet.

With so much abundance in our world, it is wonderful that we have the choice to work/play with craft, collecting and following instructions or exploring our relationship with the material - either way, spending time being in touch with what our hands can do, with the space around us, with meeting local needs, with calming and focusing our minds.  Doing good stuff.  No collateral damage.  Healing.

It's all good.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Holiday stitching

Every year about this time, I think about all the crocheting I didn't get done in time for Christmas.  This year feels a bit different:  It has finally dawned on my thick skull that ornaments and garlands and small projects like wrist warmers are perfect summer stitching:  they are portable and often made from threads and yarns that are thin and/or not wooly.  Rather than saving this stitching to November, as last-minute quickie projects, when so many folks are scrambling to finish sweaters and afghans for holiday gifting, it really does make sense to have these ideas floating around in June or July when the weather may be too warm for bigger projects.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Class Proposals for July 2015 Knit and Crochet Show

Bag Stitch is great for baskets
I just sent in my class proposals for next year's conference - it was like wandering around my booth from last July (but more organized).

Foundation Stitch Sampler
The classes cover foundation stitches, embellishment basics, crochet for knitters, tops/sweaters/pullovers (including side-to-side, top-down, and round 'n round constructions), stitching on the diagonal, baskets, samplers, and slippers/socks.

The Mobius class doesn't have a good photo right now -- maybe next year!

Crochet for feet
Almost all my classes are based on ideas described (at length) in this blog - what a blast it would be to do these hands-on!

This looks familiar, in a sideways way

Flowers are just the start; add gnurling,
corded fringe and Romanian cord

A Blox Top, on the Diagonal,
with shaped finishing
Round 'n round pullovers,
for dolls, for people

Samplers are great meditations 

Side-to-side construction

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Manipulating Increase Lines

Single increase on each
side of a center point
Single increases
centered over
several rows
Increases stack over each other to create a visual seam line.  When increasing only one stitch, you can increase in the first stitch of the increase in the previous row (see picture on left) - so from one row to the next the increases balance out to create a line over several rows.  The reason that top-down sweaters tend to be raglans is that the increases are centered over each other, like corners on a motif.  Often there is a point (see picture to right), and the stitcher increases one stitch on each side of that point stitch, with the increased stitches get added to its own side.  The effect at that whole increase point is to add 2 stitches.

Another option is to make a double increase in the point stitch.  That visual line can be manipulated:  Increases don't have to be centered over each other.
Double increase
centered over each other
Increase to the sleeve for 3 rows,
then to the front for 4 rows - we
don't know which way the increase
at the top of the picture goes.

To manipulate the visual line, the increases still have to line up over each other, somehow -- just not centered.  In the next increase row, choose whether to increase in the first stitch, or in the last stitch, of the previous increase point.  That way, the increases from the previous increase get allocated to one side or the other.  Notice that where the current increase being made is going (like the top double increase in the picture to the left) hasn't been decided yet -- that gets decided in the next row.

What is tricky about this is how to write it in a pattern.  In the case of adding one stitch on either side of a marker, if you look at the fabric, you are adding 1 stitch  in the 2nd stitch of the previous increase, then in the 1st stitch of the next previous increase - which sounds really complicated.  It sounds easier to say simply "increase 1 on each side of the marker." The orientation of the instructions is to focus on the relationship between the increase and the marker -- not on placing the current increase in a certain relationship to the previous increase in the line, which involves looking at the fabric structure.  It is easier to write the instructions that way.  On the down side, it creates a dependency on instructions and plays down the relevance in knowing what is happening in the fabric.

If the relationship in the project is between the stitcher and the yarn, with the pattern on the side, it is easier to look at the stitches, see what structure is going on, and simply say, "Increase to the front (or to the sleeve, or to the back)."  If more knitters and crocheters engage with the fabric, maybe that kind of pattern-writing will evolve.  It could happen.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Interesting Yarns

I just tried taking a survey put out by the Craft Yarn Council (CYCA) - it was in a post on Ravelry but also on the CYCA website.  Partway through, each time, at different points of the process, my computer hung on me, so I moved on.

But it prompted some thoughts:  Right now my table is covered with several pounds of Phentex yarn I bought at the thrift store recently.  "Knitting Yarn of 100% Polypropylene - New Tomorrow's Yarn Today!" - I suspect from the 1960's.  The distributor (Pic Corporation) has an address on the label indicating "Conn." instead of "CT", with the yarn manufactured in Canada and Phentex corporate headquarters in Quebec.  I will most likely make 7" squares with it, joining them into small rugs and adding an edge.  Nice brainless project, functional, and they will come out looking just as they ought.

The survey had me thinking about where and why I buy yarn.  As a member of SABLE (Stash Accumulated Beyond Life Expectancy), I don't need to buy yarn.  At all.  But I do like to hang out at yarn shops and visit a bit.  It is rude to go to shops on a regular basis and not buy anything.  Shops are there to sell stuff, and if you want them to be there, you have to buy stuff.  It is also good to buy a bit of current and/or really interesting stuff to keep in touch with what's out there now.

I also buy yarn at the thrift store, especially yarn affectionately referred to as dead lady yarn (or at least retired lady yarn) - that's the yarn left over after grandmothers and great-aunts can no longer use it, and no one else wants it or knows what to do with it -- hence a couple pounds of Phentex 100% polypropylene.  It's just intriguing to figure out something cool to do with it.

In the survey from CYCA, those reasons were not included in the options for why anyone buys yarn.  It seems to me that understanding outlier reasoning for stuff can be relevant -- and may turn out not to be so outlier after all.  Who knows, if we aren't paying attention to those things?

In asking how long I knitted/crocheted, the options went only up to "20 or more years," while it was very specific about shorter lengths of time.  I would have been in the 40+ category, if there had been one.  The feminist movement had a huge impact in the 1970's, so many women in their 50's now didn't learn to knit or crochet (for real) until 20 years ago or so.

The structure of the questions was interesting that way.  Makes one wonder what the statistical take-away is from surveys.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Evolution of a sock pattern

Modified Joan Hamer socks
I tell folks I use Joan Hamer’s sock pattern a lot, but there have been changes.  That sock, available for free, is a good starter pattern:  following the traditional structure but using a bulky or double strand of worsted weight yarn and size 8 needles, it goes really fast and is a great way to start knitting socks.  But over the years, I have made some changes:

1. I prefer to knit both socks on a long circular needle, which has an impact on how I interpret the pattern.

2. Using a double strand of worsted weight, I never did bother with the smaller needle for the top ribbing – I knit tightly enough that going smaller than an 8 (5mm) for such a thick yarn just seemed like overkill.  The original pattern calls for a double strand of Lion Brand Wool Ease, which is a light worsted weight.  If I am using Red Heart Super Saver, which also calls itself a worsted weight, I use a single strand -- but I don't normally use that for socks because I found that acrylic wears out pretty quickly.  These socks were made with a double strand of blue/green thin worsted weight wool (from a cone of yarn I got somewhere) held together with a single strand of 100% nylon brown sock yarn (ancient stuff I got somewhere else).

3. I like using a 3x1 rib for socks:  Ribbing for the whole leg of the sock makes it hug the leg more, which I like.  Plus, it looks different on the two sides so I can tell where I am easily (especially near the beginning, in case the knitting gets turned inside out for some reason.  I may or may not switch to stockinette for the foot.

4. After discovering that my sweetie generally wears holes in the heel, I switched to the afterthought heel from the standard heel flap/turn/gusset structure of the original pattern.  There are a number of tutorials online for afterthought heels.  I learned this from reading Elizabeth Zimmermann.  It is easy to forget to switch to stockinette at this point, so sometimes the whole thing is ribbed, as I did here.  If I remember, I switch to stockinette about an inch before the heel placement (working from the top down).

When I compared my foot to his, and my foot is 9" long, I saw that his foot is about 2" longer than mine - easy to remember:  When the foot is 7" long (I will be adding 2" for the heel later), it is time to start the toe shaping.  Starting with 32 stitches around, I decrease down to 6 stitches on each side, then graft / Kitchener the toe to finish.

5.  For the afterthought heel:  Pick up the stitches that were on the waste yarn (that would be 16 on each side).  To prevent a gap, pick up one more stitch on each side, in the corners.  That way, there are 34 stitches around.  Stitch 1 round even before starting the toe shaping for the heel decreases.  On the toe of the sock, there is always an even number (starting with 32 stitches around).  On the heel, starting with 34 stitches around (17 on each side), there are always an odd number of stitches on each side.  Decrease down to 5 stitches on each side, then graft / Kitchener the remaining stitches to finish.  Speaking of gaps, leave about 4 inches of tail to have some yarn for finishing, at the beginning, end of toe, and at the heels.

6. Sometimes, when it is time to replace the heel, I crochet the new heel, using a single strand of worsted weight and whatever hook comes to hand, which is more likely to get done.

Other than that, the pattern is just the same.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

That time of the year again

Such a soothing rhythm to the seasons and the years.  This time of year, I'm knitting a pair of socks for my sweetie.  Double strand of worsted weight, 32 stitches, on size 8 knitting needles.  Takes almost no time to knit up, which is wonderful.  I used to knit standard socks for him, but he wears them only once or twice a year.  He wears these really thick socks almost every day around the house.  With afterthought heels - that's where the holes end up - I can simply crochet replacement heels (single strand of worsted weight) when the time comes.

Once I get the socks done down past where the marking is for where the heels will be, they are more interesting at the county fair, coming up, where I hang out at the knitting guild table on a couple of days:  a pair of tubes in process hanging from a really long circular needle, both being stitched at the same time.

But that's just one project.  A recent post on Ravelry, in the crochet group, asked about how to work a triangle shawl as a rectangle, with the rows just back and forth.  Well - that's a whole 'nother sampler project:  reincarnations of a pattern stitch.  It can be in rows, in rounds (with corners), in rounds (making massive increases to be circular), in a triangle (with a center increase), on the diagonal, just a single repeat to make an edging, or in a mile-a-minute style (making strips that join to make a rectangle).   And that's just the possibilities I can think of off the bat.  And they will all look different, have different personalities, even though the stitch is technically the same.  So I'll be working on that and posting pictures as they happen.

Then there's stitching for gifts.  Stitching for charity.  Finishing up projects that are in process (it does feel good to finish something).  It feels like the start of a whole new year.  Review photos off my camera - upload them onto my computer and sort them into the appropriate folders, and back it all up.  It sounds easy, but takes time.  I was doing this last year, about this time, and the year before.  Is there a space-time continuum warp going on here? 

And then, there's the September issue of the fashion magazines - all ten million pages of mostly pictures.  I love going through the fashion magazines for ideas to crochet.  The ideas come from all over:  use of color, motifs, designs, shapes,  There's never really anything new under the sun - or if there is, it is so strange it doesn't compute for me - but the trick and the fun is thinking about all the ideas floating around and playing with them again or for the first time.  Lots of playing.  Yup, here we go again.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Being part of Royal Ramblings

What a delight it was to respond to the Crochet Queen's invitation to do a guest post!  And it happened - here's the link to Gwen Blakley Kinsler's blog:  She keeps an eye on what's new in crochet, the vintage, the artistic, and how it all keeps going.  Thank you, Gwen.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Dreaded Chain Ring

In a world where we learn new things by starting with something simple and easy, then moving on to something more challenging, crochet is counter-intuitive by starting with the difficult stuff.  One of the trickiest instructions in crochet is :  "Chain 3, slip stitch in last chain from hook to form a ring."  Then the first round of stitches is worked into the space of the ch3 ring.  Motifs can start this way, as can baskets and hats and doilies and anything else that starts at a point in the middle.  Sounds easy, right?

As an aside:  It works better if you lay the tail along the ring and enclose it in the first round.  That way, when you do the finishing, pull the tail before weaving it in, to make the center/starting hole as small as possible.

Starting without a slipknot - it helps to do all this loosely - here's what the starting chain 3 looks like:

Insert hook in 3rd chain from the hook (the first chain), like this:

Yarnover and pull through everything to make a slip stitch - and that closes the ring.  This is where it gets existential:

Oh, bleep!  What 'ring'?!  There's no ring!  Deep breath.  Trust me.

Chain 1, to snug up and define the slip stitch that joined and made the ring.  It still looks like not-a-ring, but have faith.  Insert hook into the middle of what is there:

Once you start stitching into what might be the center of the ring, it starts to make sense, maybe.  As you make each stitch, slide it over next to the previous stitch:

Here is the ring, with 7 single crochets made into it:

Of course, the hole in the center is obvious, now.  The tail is enclosed in this first round of stitching so when I go to do the finishing, the hole can be closed up.

The number of stitches crammed into that first round limits how small the hole can be closed in finishing:  more stitches, bigger hole.

I like this way of doing things for several reasons:
1.  The ring is solid enough that it won't loosen or break over time.
2.  It gets me to focus to start the project.  Being able to follow an instruction, as given, makes me more confident as I move on to the next instruction.
3.  But also, I've been doing it this way for a long time, so I'm used to it.

But there are different ways.  Here's one:  Chain 2, single crochet as indicated into the 2nd chain from the hook.  Again, enclosing the tail makes finishing easier later.  Here are 6 single crochets made into the 2nd chain from the hook.

Looks pretty much the same.  Which leads to the point:  Just starting is the important thing.  How you do it is up to you.

While we're at it, here's another way:  wrap the yarn twice around a finger - that makes a ring.  Insert hook into the ring and lift the ring off the finger.  Yarnover, draw up loop through ring:

Chain 1, single crochet as indicated into that big loop.  Here are 6 sc made into that big loop, also incidentally enclosing the tail, which is important:

Pull the tail to tighten the loop:

Again, looks pretty much the same in the final analysis.  The only weakness here is that the loop can break over time, or loosen up.  It can also break while you are tightening it, so do that gently but firmly.

Finally, another option is to take some other thread or yarn or something (I used about 12 inches of black buttonhole thread here), make a slip knot with that, making a biggish loop.  Then, insert the crochet hook into the slip knot loop, using the yarn you want to crochet with, draw up a loop, and start stitching as indicated - ch1, sc6 in this case.  Notice the starting tail is loose-looking, but don't stress about that.  The important thing is to start stitching.  I didn't even bother to enclose the yarn tail:

Pull the tail of the buttonhole thread to tighten the starting slip knot.  Again, looks the same.  And later, I can snug up the loose beginning.

The whole process is to get started on the project.  If you can get started on your project, you did just fine.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Crochet for knitters

RS of sample - includes edge samples, some bobbles,
surface slip stitch, and seams.  Also looks like a goofy person.
As practical as knitting is for all kinds of things, sometimes crochet is faster and easier for a few details.  Most common is the crab stitch edge to finish a knitted garment.  This sample has a number of examples of crab stitch edging.

Crochet can also be useful for seams and for embellishment.  When adding crochet to a knit fabric, choose a hook that is small enough to work comfortably into your knit fabric and is also big enough for your yarn.  F/G/4mm is a common size to use with worsted or DK weight yarns.  

Note that yarnovers in knitting are counter-clockwise Q, while yarnovers in crochet are clockwise P.  If that sounds confusing, just remember to wrap the yarn the normal way when knitting and the other way when crocheting. 

Crab Stitch
Edges:  Crab stitch is a name for doing single crochet from left to right, so the stitch is twisted.  If you haven't tried it before, there is an existential learning curve, and you may need to keep at it for a dozen or more stitches before it starts to make sense.  It really is just single crocheting from left to right, but the trick is for each stitch to be twisted.  A variation is to start a single crochet the normal way (from right to left), but rotate (twirl the hook around one time) to twist the stitch before doing the final yarnover and pull through.   

Lite Crab Stitch 
Crab stitch makes a very solid corded edge.  For something just a little lighter, consider lite crab stitch:  alternate a crab stitch with a chain stitch.

You can crab stitch directly into the edge of the knitted fabric, but sometimes the stitching can look different depending on whether you're stitching into row ends or into stitches.  In that case, it can be useful to start with a setup row, using the same yarn as the fabric, to make a consistent base for the contrast edging.
Shell Stitch border - very traditional

Other traditional edges include simply stitching a single row of a pattern stitch, like Shell, or Open Shell, or Crazy Stitch.  Including Picots makes the row look fancier by adding little pointy bits.  
Shell Stitch with picots

For a flared edge, consider - instead of binding off - doing a (slip stitch to bind next stitch off the left needle, then chain 1) all the way across.  To add a flared edge to an edge other than the last row, pick up stitches along the desired edge, stockinette a few rows (enough to make a ruffling fabric), then do the (slip stitch, chain) combination to bind off.  The massive increase of (a) switching from knit to crochet, and (b) adding the chain stitches will make the edge ruffle out a bit.  Working into the live stitches makes the knitted fabric shape itself into the expanded edge.

Seams:  Three-needle bind-off, mattress stitch,  and Kitchener / grafting are such perfect ways to join fabrics in knitting, you'd think crochet wouldn't have anything to add.  (An aside:  Did you ever notice that mattress is just like grafting, only tighter and on row ends rather than in stitches?)  If your yarn is really textured or delicate (like mohair), it may not be suitable for using with a yarn needle, and the three-needle bind-off is only for, well, binding off, which still leaves other seams to do.  

I learned the (slip stitch 1, chain 1) seam when altering a store-bought knitted sweater where the sleeves were too long and could not be shortened at the wrist.  Taking the sleeves out and shortening the sleeve cap worked just fine -- and the armhole seam had been joined that way.  Here, the seam is worked in a contrasting yarn, and you can see it on the right side.  It blends in much more if you use the same yarn as the fabric. 

Other seams make sense with projects like joining motifs.  In a pattern the instructions may simply say to whip-stitch, or just 'join'.  I generally don't care for whip-stitching seams because it tends to come apart easiest.  If the motifs, joined together, are coming out too small or too dense, it can make sense to join them with a lacy zigzag crochet that adds more fabric as well as 'give' between the squares.

Embellishments:  Even the most sensible knitter can have an embellishment emergency, and a few very simple concept tools in your kit can come in handy.  The simplest basic flower and leaf is easy, quick, and makes you look clever.  Other common embellishments include the Bobble (either worked in or added after), and Slip Stitch (as an alternative to Duplicate Stitch, and it is handy for designs that don't follow the grid-like structure of the knitted fabric).  

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Home Again

The chaos of unpacking
Golly, what a great time!  Wonderful to see so many friends from way back - I did attend the first few Crochet Guild conferences and taught back in '97 or so - but that is just history.  Lots of encouragement to see my classes offered at San Diego next year.

The fishing-line net worked well on the side walls for hanging all kinds of samples.

Feedback from visitors helped define my ideas better.  Some people recognized my name from posts on Ravelry, which was cool.

I usually crochet with short hooks and had some to share with folks who hold the hook with their fingers rather than with their hands. Will any of them find it easier, or just different in a good way?  Or will it seem like a total non-issue?
There really is some order to this.

Shipping has its own language - freight and drayage and packages vs shipments and carriers and how to arrange for all of it - a whole learning curve right there.

This conference is put on by the knitting and crochet guilds - each a 501(c)(3) organization.  We're talking volunteers and committees here - lots of folks who do it because they love the crafts.  The atmosphere there is different from the Stitches conferences, which are bigger and more commercial.  It takes a huge amount of effort and attention to details to pull it off - it's amazing it happens at all!

Compliments to the people who did the yarn bombing:  it was tasteful and artful.  The scarves on the dog sculptures out front looked very appropriate.  The dream catcher ones were well done.  The garden creatures at the restaurant, among the plants, were delightful.

The hotel was very pleasant with helpful and friendly staff.

A week to get home (after visiting with family), then straight back to work (which has nothing to do with crocheting).  Finally the weekend let me unpack, get some sleep, and organize my thoughts.  Great to be home.  Even better to be planning the next step.  Onward!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Knit and Crochet Show, part 2

Here it is a week later, and the show is in full swing.  Thank you to all of you who have visited my booth, taken my brochure, and chatted with me about crocheting - All Wonderful!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Knit and Crochet Show

Well, a week from now, the show will be in full swing.  It looks like the marketplace is pretty well filled, so I look forward to seeing lots of folks there.  This will be fun.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Interweave Crochet, summer 2014 issue

Kathryn Vercillo's article about Vicki Sulfaro and Healing Through Crochet, along with Samantha Nerove's article about Combat Crochet brought crochet full circle for me:  When I first learned to crochet, it seemed that many folks considered the craft to be historically for injured people during their convalescence, keeping brain-injured people occupied, soothing for shell-shocked soldiers, and, of course, for old women churning out an embarrassing number of doilies that set the neighbors to gossip.  As a child, I did not know any of that.  I just liked the power of working one stitch at a time, the basic complexity, and the process.  As we work to heal in a world of pain, it is good to see crochet taking its traditional place again along with all its modern creativity.  I haven't seen the blog about this issue refer to these articles, yet.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Joost Neet

Working in yarn shops, I met little old ladies from the old country, who came in looking for yarn or buttons or needles for their next project.  Their English was accented. They were from all over:  Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, Western Europe -- just not from around here.  They would bring in something they had made as a sample of what they wanted to get more of or to match.  Other customers would gather around and be amazed by the wonderful knitting.  Another customer would ask, "Where did you get the pattern for that?"  And the lady would shyly reply, "Oh, I am not clever enough to read the patterns.  I just knit."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sturdy Baskets to crochet

One popular project with simple single crochet is the Basket.  It usually goes something like this: Start at the center with a small chain ring.  Single crochet 1 round into the ring, then continue in a coil in single crochet, increasing as needed (it generally averages out to about 6 stitches per round) until the base is as big as you want.  Then stop increasing, but continue stitching until the basket is as tall as you want (or you run out of yarn).  Finish the top edge simply with a round of slip stitch to make it nip in a bit.  For a fancier top edge, consider a pattern stitch:  Ripple, or chevron, adds a fancy edge and nips in, too.  For stability or extra sturdiness, make it tall enough for the top to fold down.  For a basket that holds its shape, use a sturdy yarn (more like cotton or a tough acrylic), nothing soft like alpaca or any acrylic intended to be soft.  All very well and good. 

Some years back, I made a bunch of sturdy baskets, holding 4 strands of worsted weight acrylic and stitching with a size I (5.5mm) hook.  It felt good and sturdy, and made baskets that did not stretch out of shape.  I was going through a divorce at the time, my life was in turmoil, and I had a lot of emotional energy to channel through my hands.  It felt perfectly normal.

Now that my life is much calmer, I simply cannot work that tightly.  It hurts my hands.  But I still make sturdy baskets – with bag stitch.  Here are samples of the old and the new:

The single crochet versions have rows that go straight across - two blue baskets in back.  The bag stitch versions have rows that look more diagonal.  The big one in front is made out of Zpaghetti, from Lion Brand.  The 2nd from the left is upside-down, making it a teacozy.

In rows, the stitch looks like this:  Set-up row:  Ch2, turn.  *skip 1sc, sc in the next ch space.  ** Repeat from * to corner, working (sc1, ch1, sc1 in the corner space.  Then repeat from * to ** to the end of the row, ending with sc1 in the last stitch.
Pattern row:  Ch2, turn.  *Skip 1sc, sc into the sc of the row before last, enclosing the ch1 of the last row. ** Repeat from * to the next corner, working (sc1, ch1, sc1) in the middle of the corner turn.  

Here is a sample instruction for a triangle, made in the round (from a previous post):   Bag stitch Triangle.  Ch3, sl sto to join in a ring.  Rnd 1: (ch1, sc1 in ring) 6 times.  Place marker in last st to mark end of round.  Rnd 2:  continuing in a coil, (ch1, sc1 in next ch1 space) 6 times.  Do not move marker just yet.  Rnd 3: *Ch1, (sc, ch1, sc - 1 increase made) in sc below next ch. Ch1, sc in sc below next ch.  Repeat from * around - 3 increase points made.  Move marker from rnd 1 to last st made into that sc.  Rnd 4: ch1, (sc, ch, sc) into middle ch of increase in previous row, then (ch1, sc into sc below next ch) across the side to next increase point.  Repeat rnd 4 for pattern for desired size of cloth (4-6 inches across is a good size, but that is just a suggestion, moving the marker every 2nd round, when you stitch into the marked stitch.  Finish off with 2 slip stitches, cut yarn, remove marker, and tuck in loose ends.  

I will have samples at my booth next month.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Short Hooks

Short crochet hooks
Another experiment is to see how long a crochet hook really needs to be.  I cut a couple of hooks off just after the thumb rest, so my hooks are about 3 inches long.  

I end up crocheting with my fingers rather than with my whole hand.  The shorter hook is convenient for joining motifs in the last round:  Slip the back end of the hook through the second motif and make a slip stitch through all loops – it makes a nice look that is different from slip stitching into that same stitch. 
Flat joining motifs in last round

I will have a selection of short hooks at the show for anyone who wants to try it out for herself.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Entrelac in crochet

Two entrelac sweaters in crochet, a bit fuzzy photo
Some years ago I played with entrelac in crochet. Here are two sweaters I made that way.  The one on the left is out of DK weight yarn; the one on the right is out of worsted weight. Traditional entrelac in knitting makes a fabric that is a bit puffy because the blocks are in stockinette stitch, and knitting is like that. Garter stitch entrelac comes out flat.  Crocheted entrelac comes out flat, too.  These were done in single crochet. For each of these sweaters, each square has the same number of rows and stitches.  I chose a block size geared to the armhole depth I wanted.  Of course, the neckline was shaped by omitting blocks or half blocks.

To get a straight edge, I started with a row of triangles along the bottom.  For sweaters, this had the advantage of pulling in the bottom edge.  For an afghan, I might make the block fabric first, with the jagged edges, then fill in the edges afterward.

Annie's Attic had afghan patterns using the entrelac technique.  One really interesting one used a variety of stitches from single all the way to trebles, so the blocks were not square but formed scallops.  Annie did a lot of really creative crocheting.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Net backdrop.

Booth construction is a new challenge.  Fishing line, specifically 20 or 25 pound fishing line, 10mm crochet hook.  Ch-3 net stitch.  Fairly quick to make.  Very stretchy.  Feels kind of fun.  Tied to the side beams and a few points across the top, I have a net ground for hanging things.  Still need to arrange how things will hang, but here I’m just testing to make sure it won’t break easily – some archival pieces (contest winners from the 70’s and 80’s, plus sweaters pictured in my Threads articles, and some fun little cardigans for smalls).  The black background simply covers my bookshelves – at the show it will be a clear view to the next booth on each side.  I may like this.  We’ll see if it works.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Round and Round Pullover or Top to crochet

works fine for dolls, too
An enduring quality of knitting basic socks is that the process is blissfully brainless except for a couple of places to think a little bit.  Pulling together my samples, I came across a bunch of sweaters and tops – for myself, for 18” dolls, and for smaller teddy bears – all from the same ‘round and round’ pattern concept that is pretty brainless, except for a couple of places to think a little bit. 

Schaefer Lisa 3, a lightweight yarn
I start with a narrow band of single crochet rib for the neck – skinny for a simple neckband, wider for a collar.  Making the strip long enough to be a pullover and the front will be low enough that it won’t rub my neck.  The sweater is identical front and back.  Mark 4 points for where the increases will be, then continue in a coil until the yoke is as big as desired.  Then joining front and back, adding a few stitches for the underarm and skipping the sleeve stitches, continue in a coil with no more increases for the length of the body.  Going back for each sleeve, rejoin yarn and stitch in a coil for each sleeve.  And that’s really about it.
Persio bulky weight yarn

Of course, there are Measurements That Matter:  bust, sleeve length, upper arm.  The actual numbers vary depending on the measurements I start with.  The initial increase points can just be set up in quarters along the starting long edge, but for a more fitted top, the sleeve sections are smaller than the front/back sections – and there’s arithmetic for that.  I usually mark the underarm point and do a double decrease every 4th round to taper the sleeve.  Decrease 10% at any lower edge if you want it to look trim before finishing off.  

Using sweater yarns and a simple pattern stitch (like the one below), the focus is on the yarn/texture/color.  The results have been consistently satisfactory.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Small Hounds-tooth check in crochet

Going through my swatches and samples, I came across a simple cap in one of my favorite garment stitches:  (sc1, dc1) across, then in each round sc in the dc and dc in the sc.  (It looks a little different in rows.) If you change color each row/round, you get a small hounds-tooth check without even trying. I love that about crochet.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

And then the garment wall ...

The swatch/sampler wall is done, for now, pending adding additional swatches as I find them (I know a couple are missing).  Next step is hanging the garments on another wall.  There isn't room for all, so I may rotate them over the three days.  It’s kind of fun.
A batch of garments to show - all are either really simply shaped or are
examples of the top-down pattern I use a lot.

On the table, there will be the baby and doll things on one side, and hats/socks/other small stuff on the other.  I have a bunch of stuff.

Wrapping up the brochure.  It’s a good start.  There is the brochure, proper, and an additional page with lots of measurement charts:  for people, for 18” dolls, and for square/rectangle things including scarves, pillows, and throws.

And once it is done, we get to take it all down and ship it.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Putting it out there.

For years I have crocheted on the side, with some kind of real, respectable job participating in civil society.  Now, with the booth coming together for the conference in July, I feel like I am coming out of the closet.  Crocheting is what I do:  teaching, designing, writing.

It’s not like I have hidden away to crochet.  Lots of folks around here know me by sight, from years of crocheting while walking my dog – he was the type that sniffed and commented as we walked twice a day, perfect for me to work on small projects like socks, hats, motifs, washcloths, or the start of something bigger. And I wear and use what I make - sweaters, tops, socks, purse, wallet, hat – so I have a certain look. But few people have seen my work area, and now a version of it will be in the marketplace at the show, out there, just like that.

Wall of samplers and swatches
Designing my playpen for three days in July:  There are definite trends in my stuff:  A wall of swatches to explore yarns and stitches and how colors interact with pattern stitches.  That’s what I am working on today.  Then there are the hats and socks and other small stuff to hang up.  And the garments:  sweaters and tops for grown-ups, smalls, and dolls, with designs hugely influenced by Elizabeth Zimmermann, of all people.

One friend, finding out about this project, said, “Of course you’ll have business cards, right?”  Well, duh, of course I have business cards.  Then another friend added, “So, what will your brochure look like?  It’s not a real booth without a brochure.”  Oh.  So now I have a brochure.

It feels different.  Choosing from a lifetime of swatches and finished pieces, I am putting my money where my mouth is.  What a ride!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Knit and Crochet conference in July

What an adventure -- I am looking forward to the TKGA/CGOA conference in Manchester in late July.  I really wanted to teach, but that was not to be.  So I'm going anyway, to stitch and hang out and see friends from past conferences and have a great time.  Then the email came soliciting vendors/exhibitors for the marketplace.  Why not have a booth to show a variety of things I have made and produced over the years?  So my sweetie asks, "Do you have enough things to display in a 10x10 booth?"  Um, yeah. So now the fun is all about planning what to put in it and how to make it look.  And, of course, what is a booth without a handout, so a brochure is in the works.  All very low-key.  How wonderful it will be to have my stuff out on view for a change.  And I have a guaranteed place to hang out and stitch for a few days - doing what I love best:  demonstrating things like splitting yarn (making sport/fingering weight in colors that are so available in worsted), foundation stitches in lots of flavors, making flowers, or stitching on the diagonal.  Might make a pair of socks or footlets or wrist warmers or doll clothes - lots of great little projects. Or maybe a big project, like finishing a sweater I started with super bulky weight yarn.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Translating knit patterns into crochet

Every once in a while there is a buzz about how to crochet from knit patterns. It is tempting for crocheters to take a knit pattern, use the same yarn, adjust for gauge, and basically follow the pattern.  The result can work just fine, or it might be kind of clunky and not so good.  Conceptually, the process is not that hard.

The parts of a project are:
  • Construction or shaping
  • Yarn texture
  • Yarn color/s
  • Stitch properties - solid fabric, an open fabric, or a dimensional fabric
  • Embellishments
I thought of all that recently when I bought a kit for a knitted pullover using sport/DK weight alpaca, where the design was based on two rectangles of 1x1 rib knit.  Cool design, great yarn.  I wanted to crochet it, so I thought through the process:

Construction:  very simple - two rectangles.  I can do that in crochet.
Yarn texture:  dk weight alpaca, fairly smooth, not a fancy texture. Since this was a kit, the yarn was given - I had to figure out how to use the same yarn to make a comparable fabric.  Normally, if I am starting with just a pattern, I would choose a lighter weight yarn to crochet than to knit, but not in this case.
Yarn color:  neutral.  Sometimes what you like in a pattern is really the color. It can be a subliminal thing, so you may not notice this.
Stitch texture:  The 1x1 rib knit stitch makes a thicker fabric than regular stockinette stitch, with a lot of stretch, and is reversible.  The point of the exercise here is not about the visual look of a ribbed fabric, so I did not try to match that.  The whole issue of stretchy fabric in crochet is tricky because crochet doesn't have the stretch of knit -- the construction of the fabric is basically really different.  But I did notice that a chain-one net stitch worked on the diagonal makes a nice fabric.  The chain stitches add less weight than the single crochets, and the diagonal bias has more give than working back and forth in rows.

There weren't any particular embellishments here, so that wasn't an issue.

So I figured out the measurements of the rectangles, based on the given gauge in the pattern.  Made two rectangles in ch-1 net stitch on the diagonal (one of my favorite stitches), and followed the instructions for assembly.  Stitched around outside edges in single crochet and a row of crab stitch to finish, and voila - I was a happy camper.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Quick tips for felting

Quite a while ago, we had a couple of posts about felting, with a photo of two identical swatches -- one felted; the other, not.  If you are new to felting, here's a quick checklist:

1.  Use the right kind of yarn.  Acrylic does not felt.  Use an animal fiber, like wool or alpaca, where the washing instructions say "Hand Wash" for easiest felting.  Wool/acrylic blends and superwash wools will felt/shrink eventually - socks made from sock yarn eventually shrink a bit.  People have been known to run Plymouth Encore (75% acrylic, 25% wool) through the washer with nearly boiling water, and it did felt a little.

2.  Make two identical swatches -- one to felt, one as a control so you can measure the percentage of shrinking.  It's easy to skip this and say, "I'll take good measurements and calculate from there."  It is more useful to have two swatches so you can really see the difference.

3.  Is your washing machine a top-loader or a front-loader?  Front-loaders are designed to be gentle on your washables, which is the opposite of what you want to do with felting.  In this case, consider going to your local laundromat, or visit a good friend who has a top-loader you can use.  You can also felt manually by vigorously agitating the piece in a pot of hot water.

4.  If you ran your piece to be felted through the washer one time and not much happened, run it through again.  Some yarns don't react much the first time around.  You may need to run it through several times for the most felting/shrinking to happen.  To maximize agitation, don't have too much water.

5.  If you stitch in a tight gauge, the yarn may not have room to shrink much.  The fabric may felt and get very solid, but it won't shrink unless there is room for it to get smaller.  That is why felting patterns often call for big needles/hooks -- like a size 10 needle for worsted weight yarn, which is usually worked on size 7 or 8 needles.  Consider bumping up your needle/hook size considerably in order to get a loose fabric that will shrink as well as felt.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Tip for Knitting Hoods

I recently came across a store-bought knitted baby sweater with a hood, and it had an excellent idea built into its construction.

The sweater itself was in stockinette stitch (knit 1 row, purl 1 row--the knit side is the right side), but stockinette curls in on itself--a problem faced by all knitters.  On a knitted hood, however, the problem of curling looks particularly awkward in the finished product.

The sweater I found side-stepped this difficulty by having the hood in reverse stockinette (same as stockinette, but with the purl side facing out).  Oriented in this way, the curling becomes an attractive design element and frames the face.

Since this fix can be applied to any stockinette hoodie pattern simply by attaching the hood "wrong" side out, it is easily adapted for hand knitting.

Sorry I don't have a picture.  The sweater is black, so it does not photograph well.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pixie slippers morph into socklets

After making a bunch of pixie slippers for gifts (they are really quick to make), I found myself wondering if the basic concept couldn't be modified to make a little sock.  After all, I don't really need the flap at the top (which is just about a quarter of the square), and it would be nice to avoid the pointy toe for everyday use.  And it would be nice to use different pattern stitches, something smoother, more sock-like than garter or ridged single crochet.

And if you can get a real sock from one 50-gram ball of sock yarn, you'd get a pair of footlets out of the same amount of yarn, if you had a pattern that worked.

So that was the challenge.  First question:  What shape would I be making?  Well, if you make one pixie slipper,

Here's the basic pattern -- This doesn't look like a square!

But with a loose gauge it can stretch
Fold in a triangle, ws facing, stitch along the
bottom and halfway up a side ..

Turn outside out, fold down the top, and here you have a pixie slipper, with loose ends that need to be tucked in.
cut off the pointy toe and the flap at the top,
OMG! She cut the fabric!
Actually, it is starting to look like a bootie/socklet thing

and then take out the seam that held it all together, here's the shape that comes out:
And here is the shape to make ..

Second question:  What is the easiest way to make this shape?

Well, "easiest" can mean different things to different people.  For me, an intuitive shape is to stitch in the round (a coil) starting at the ankle, increase out to the toe, then join a little seam for the toe and along the bottom edge.  This photo shows a cut edge (bottom of photo) that is the top of the sock.  The two short straight sides going out on each side join to be the center back. The two long straight sides coming in are the center bottom.  The little dip at the top is going to get joined for a toe seam.  Should work.  Here's how:

1.  Choose a pattern stitch.  I chose chain-1 net stitch:  Setup row:  on a chain stitch foundation (even # of sts) the desired length, sc in the 2nd ch from the hook.  *ch1, sk1 ch, sc in next st.  Repeat from * across.  End the row with a sc.  To continue in a round, ch1, insert hook in the first ch sp of the row - that joins it in a round and starts the coil - and sc1.  There is a jog where the first row starts.  In finishing, use the starting tail to make a neat join and smooth that point.  Then, *ch1, sc in next ch space.  Repeat from * around.

Note:  the size I am describing here is to fit my foot, which is 9 ( ___ ) inches long.  Half that is 4.5 ( ___ ) inches, a relevant piece of information later on.  If the size you want to make is bigger or smaller, substitute your numbers in the ( ___ ) so the statements are true for you.

2. Start at the top of the sock, with a foundation row that is as long as my instep - because it has to slide over it.  The point where the end of the foundation row joins the beginning - to make a round - is the middle of the top front of the sock.

3.  Before continuing in a coil, take a moment to place a marker in the 2nd sc of the row just finished.  Increase 1 pattern stitch on either side of the marker in each round.  Each time you reach the marker, move it to the stitch above it in each round - it will alternate between a sc and a ch. To increase 1 pattern stitch:  (sc, ch1, sc) in the closest ch space on either side of the marker. In one row there will be just a ch1 between the increases.  In the next round there will be a (ch1, sc, ch1) between the increases.  Keep the increases close together at the center top of the piece.

4.  Continue in the pattern as set until the piece is as long as the foot.  By that, I mean that the measurement of the last round completed, when the piece is laid flat (2 layers), is as long as the foot.  So I stop increasing when the long edge is 9 ( ___ ) inches long.  Finish with a sc in the ch sp just before the next increase.

5.  From here on, continue in rows.  Ch2, turn.  Sc in next ch sp.  (ch1, sc in next ch sp) across, ending with a sc in the ch sp just before the next increase.

6.  Ch2, turn.  Sc in next ch sp.  (ch1, sc in next ch sp) across, ending with a sc in the ch2 turning chain at the beginning of the previous row.  Repeat this row until the piece measures 4.5 ( ___ ) inches from the foundation edge to the last finished row.  Remove marker.

The row ends make the toe. The last worked row will be joined as the bottom seam.  Here's how:

7.  (WS facing) After the last row, sl st to the ch2 at the beginning of the last row, joining the short toe end into a round.  Ch1.  Stitching across the row ends and point at the toe, sc in the same ch sp.  *ch 1, sk 1 row end, sc in next ch space. Repeat from * around, keeping in patt across the stitches at the toe point all the way across the other row ends, ending with sc in the sl st space where the toe end was joined into a round.  Fasten yarn, but do not cut.

8.  Lay the piece flat to join the toe seam, with the long open edge centered on top, looking at the two layers of the toe next to each other.

9.  Lay yarn along toe edge over to right side to start joining the short seam.  Draw up a loop in a ch sp at the corner.  Enclosing the yarn along the edge when convenient, sl st in the ch sp on one side then on the other, zigzagging across.  At the left edge of the toe, fasten yarn, but do not cut.

10.  To join the bottom seam:  Place marker in a sc on one side of long open edge, about 2/3 of the way to the heel (this does not have to be exact).  Insert hook in ch2 sp at the beginning of that last row, at the toe.  Draw up a loop, making sure the excess yarn is not held too tightly.  Since this excess yarn is short, on the inside of the toe, there's really no point in dealing with tucking it in or fussing with it -- it would take more trouble and fuss to cut it, start new, and have to tuck in both loose ends.  *Ch1.  Sl st in corresponding ch sp on opposite side.  Repeat from * back and forth, joining the seam, ending with a sl st in the ch just before the marker, with about 1/3 of the seam left open.  Move the marker to the last sl st made. Continue with the heel shaping.

Bottom seam including heel shaping
11.  The heel whorl:  Decreasing and continuing in a coil, *sc in next 2 sts.  Sk next st.  Rep from * around the remaining opening one time, ending with sc around the marked slip stitch .  Then, (sk next sc, sc in next sc) around and around until 6 sts remain.  Lay the piece flat, and slip st the remaining seam together, inserting hook through both layers.  Fasten off.

12.  Weave in the loose ends.
Finished socklet

This was made using Cascade Sateen worsted weight, for a quick bedsock, stitching with a 4.5mm hook.  This made a slightly loose gauge so the sock stretches to fit my foot neatly.  Normally, I would look at the recommended knitting needle size on the yarn label, and use that size hook.  If I didn't like how that gauge works out, I adjust the hook size to something I do like.

Next, the same thing in sock yarn, so I can wear it with real shoes.  Onward.