Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Stitches West 2015

Top down sweaters, floral garland, and sampler wall
The Stitchwhisper booth at Stitches West 2015 (#846) was a wonderful success!  For four days, I talked with lots of visitors about all manner of crochet ideas, all leading to patterns and finished pieces to be posted soon to Etsy, and more pieces to be available at the Scotts Valley Artisans Co-op.

My focus on crochet is on the fabric, rather than on the stitch, so my pieces don't look like afghans or doilies.

Block and diagonal garments, shawls, and samplers
Crochet is more complex at a basic level than knitting.  That means that pattern-writing for knitting doesn't always work well for crochet.

Knit stitches are simple, so it is easier to make gauge.  Knit fabrics in process are on needles, making them difficult to measure.

Crochet has more complex stitches, so making gauge can be a real challenge, if not impossible for a lot of folks.  Crochet is worked one stitch at a time, so measuring the fabric in process is usually very easy:  you just lay it flat and measure it.

It makes more sense for crochet patterns to be written based on measurements than on gauge -- I've worked this way for decades.  The concept patterns on this blog very often are about measurements rather than stitches and rows.  And now my patterns will show how it makes sense.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Repairs can be magical

Wonderful afghan in need of repair
This wool blanket was the last finished piece by a woman who could no longer crochet after a massive stroke.  Her sister was the lucky recipient of this piece and was sad when holes developed.  There were a few runs where a single yarn had broken, and the center seam was loose.  Once those were fixed, there were a couple of places that looked like a moth had gotten in - but only a couple of those.  

The main bits to fix
Matching yarn is always a challenge, but I used so little that you'd have to look real hard to see where that is.  

And everyone lived happily ever after.
Symmetry restored - which side was repaired?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Variations on a Theme

Recently, I got thinking about how the same stitch looks really different depending on how it is worked up.  So I did an experiment.  I started with a fairly generic pattern stitch:
stitch diagram/chart
The pattern stitch is basically 1 row of a traditional shell stitch, followed by a row with a V-stitch and a (sc, ch, sc) made in the middle of the shell of the previous row.  Both rows have a multiple of 6 stitches. (An aside: Actually, the (sc, ch, sc) is (sc, ch2, sc), but the (ch2) counts as one stitch, so whether it is actually 1 ch or 2 ch doesn't matter that much.)  The shell stitch makes a scallop; the V-stitch row straightens out the edge.  I made samples out of worsted weight yarn (Encore by Plymouth) in rows, triangles, rounds worked from the center out, and strips.  Staggering the two rows, there is a 4-row repeat.

Starting with the pattern in just rows:  the two pattern rows alternate, so the shell stitch row is always right side (RS) facing on one side and the V-stitch is always RS facing the other.  The two sides look different, making an orderly fabric that looks crocheted:

Rows - shell stitch RS facing - this looks smoother to me.
Rows - V-stitch RS facing looks a bit more rough.

Next, a triangle - starting at the center top at the back of the neck, small, and increasing out, with an increase line down the center.  The increase line in the middle adds a visual element that breaks up the order of the plain rows.  The last row is the two short sides with the scallop-y edge.   The (fairly) straight line across the top is the row ends.

Triangle - looser gauge

A looser gauge version (left) makes a squishy fabric, that drapes well in different directions.  In a tighter gauge (below), the long edge isn't so straight - that means the corner isn't really square.  Both triangles are the same size, but the one with the looser gauge is 2 rows shorter.

Triangle - tighter gauge - not so straight across the top

In the round, starting at center

How does stitching in the round look different?  It is more dynamic-looking than the straight rows, with increase lines radiating out from the center and stitches going in different directions.  Stitched as motifs and joined together, the increase lines would create a visual lattice crisscrossing the fabric.  Ending with a shell stitch round gives a scalloped edge.  Ending with a V-stitch round would make a straighter edge and also would make joining motifs easy in the last round, with a slip-stitch joining to the neighbor block replacing each ch-1.

One repeat edging
Then there could also be narrow strips:  A single repeat is asymmetric. The wider strip is a repeat-and-a-half to be symmetrical.  There's a lot of experimentation in crochet, using thread patterns with yarn and yarn / afghan patterns in thread to see how they look different.  These could be charming for a strip afghan, as edgings, weaving ribbon through the holes for baby headbands, or as bookmarks.
strip, handy for mile-a-minute construction

This is just a few variations on one pattern stitch, in one yarn.  I like to try out different stitches to see how the fabric plays out:

  • Is is better for garments or for afghans or for threadwork?  
  • Does the stitch pattern get lost in a loose gauge that drapes nicely?  
  • Does the fabric get too stiff in a firm gauge that shows up the stitches better?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Random Stitch

Random Stitch tree trunk
Malabrigo Lace crescent scarf
My posts lately have tended to the philosophical, but in real time I've been enjoying a sort of pattern stitch that works nicely for scarves.  It started out as a tree trunk for my marketplace booth:  I wanted a stitch that made a rough, organic-looking fabric that wasn't regular.  For the tree trunk, I used a double strand of Red Heart (one strand grey, one strand brown) and a 10mm hook.

The pattern repeat is:  sc, hdc, dc, tr, V-stitch, puff and chain 1, a shell stitch with a sc at each end, and finishing up with (sc, ch2, sc) all in the same stitch.  The diagram for one repeat looks like this:
One repeat of random stitch, no increases

The pattern is a repeat of 19 stitches (the ch2 towards the end of the repeat counts as one stitch).  As long as I don't have a multiple of 19 stitches in the row, the stitches of one row will be over different stitches in the previous row, making a random-looking fabric.

Then, it seemed that doing the same thing in a lace-weight yarn with a biggish hook (size H/ 5 mm or  I / 5.5 mm) might make a nice scarfy thing.  So I tried it for a crescent-shaped scarf/shawl, starting at the center of the back neck with a foundation row of a single repeat.  To increase, don't skip most of the stitches - that adds 7 stitches for each repeat across the row.
One repeat of random stitch, with increases

Because the stitches are slanted this way and that, the increase rows don't show up so much.  Then work even (no increases or decreases) until the piece, when laid flat looks like it could use more increases.  This makes a fairly special-looking grownup fabric.  And another advantage is that mistakes don't show -- it is supposed to be random-looking.
Green silk crescent shawl/scarf

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Baby Blanket

Recently, an acquaintance told me the story of a baby blanket:  When his wife was expecting their baby, they bought the yarn and pattern to make a baby blanket.  The project was started, then they realized their lifestyle did not include the time for things like stitching a blanket, so the project languished.

They thought about having someone else finish the job.  A friend who knew how to crochet said of course, she’d be happy to make the blanket – for $200.  My friend and his wife gasped, just a bit.  It’s just a baby blanket.  How can it cost $200 to make up?  And so the yarn continues to sit in a corner – of too much sentimental value to throw away, and still no time to finish.

Anyone who stitches has heard these stories.  I would be willing to make the blanket for half that amount – these projects are usually pretty brainless, and I could work on it while walking.
But the more I thought about it, other ideas suggested themselves.  A baby blanket is often 6 balls (@ 100 grams each) of worsted weight yarn, with each ball taking about 4 hours to stitch up.  That’s 24 hours of billable time.  A finer blanket, out of DK weight yarn, would probably be double that.  For $200, that’s less than $10 an hour for the thicker yarn.  Actually not a whole lot of money for the time.  How much is 24 hours of billable time worth to my acquaintance?

Then again, the child in question is now seven years old.  It’s a little late for a baby blanket, but a perfect age for her to learn to stitch.  There’s a window of opportunity between about 6 and 10 for people to learn manual skills. They become engaged in the physical world, learn how empowered they are to transform raw materials into finished pieces that are real in their lives. They have the fine motor skills to do the work, and know how to read and follow instructions.  They can make all kinds of  toy things first. Then, in a few years, they look at the process and figure out that, with a little more yarn, they could make bigger things for their own use.

At the very least, those of us who learned in childhood know that there are patterns out there for just about anything.  A lot of them are free, and many of the more creative ones don’t cost that much.  Even better, some of us realize how easy it is to design and make real solutions to meet our needs - then we just do it.

Understanding a problem-solving methodology is a powerful tool.  Even for problems that have nothing to do with knitting or crocheting, knowing that there is a way to tackle problems and create solutions is a priceless tool in adult life.

Of course, all this depends on the young lady's lifestyle.   Would learning a craft put her at odds with her peers or challenge the values in her home?  Would her parents see this as setting her on a path of demeaning women's work or of helping develop a powerful attitude to be a force for good?  One of the unintended consequences of the women's movement was dismissing traditional women's work as demeaning.  Traditional crafts teach us to think, be creative, be calm, engage in the world, as well as cope with the stress of everyday life.  It has taken a full generation for people to start realizing again the rich value of doing things by hand.

We may live in an ideas-economy, but it doesn't hurt to know how to work with your hands.