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.