Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Mitered Squares Scaled Up

I've always wanted to do something with mitered squares, but I had never found just the right project at the right time. Then on a whim, I decided to start a throw with yarn leftover from a sweater I made for my son. 

Usually, mitered square projects are done on relatively small needles. They are perfect for showing off multicolored yarns (especially hand-dyed yarns or sock yarns), because there is never an opportunity for the colors to pool in unattractive ways.  While incredibly simple to knit, the geometric lines of mitered squares appeal to people who like M.C. Escher designs, too. I've always liked the effect, but like I said, couldn't find the right project.

Well, when I found the right project, it wasn't with sock yarn or a luscious hand-dye.  I used a super chunky acrylic blend and size 13 circulars.  The result was a fun variation on your basic patchwork throw.  It has more visual interest than simply assembling squares knit in various colors and was more enjoyable to knit, without being complicated.  Since I didn't always pick up the stitches for the next square on the same side of the blanket, it came out reversible.  There was no sewing to do at the end (always a perk in my book).  I also played around a little with the directionality of the squares, which is another fun option with mitering.

Scaling up my mitered squares to a super chunky yarn really emphasized the texture of the garter ridges and made for a delightfully squishy texture. It doesn't have any of the clean, modern, precise look of small mitered squares. Instead, it has a casual, rustic look that reminds me of certain quilt patterns.  I would definitely recommend this, or some other project made of large squares (rug, pillow, etc.) as a fun introduction to the world of mitering.

If you're interested in learning to make mitered squares, the following video (from Knitting with Cheryl Brunette on YouTube) is a good tutorial.  The blanket I made used super chunky yarn, size 13 needles, and started with 61 stitches on the cast-on edge (30 stitches on either side of the central decrease).

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Choosing the stitch: Rethinking yarn and hook combinations

Bottom line:  The tighter the gauge (within reason), the more the focus is about the stitch texture.  The looser the gauge (within reason), the more the focus is about the fabric texture.

Note:  I say 'within reason' for both because there is such a thing as stitching so tightly or so loosely that the resulting fabric is just silly.  It may have an artistic or other purpose, and it may be fun, so it may be worth making.  But that might be a different discussion.  Back to topic:

Crochet is usually about the stitches, about stitch textures.  There's lacy stuff, with holes between stitches.  There's three dimensional stuff, with posts and popcorn and other raised stitches.  There's color work, too, seeing how different colors interact in the fabric.  But it's all really about the stitches and about how fun it is to make the stitches.

Threadwork, especially, has traditionally been all about the stitches, but most afghans are about the stitch texture, too.  The fabric draws attention to itself, which is great for making an accent piece to accessorize a room or an outfit.

A fabric that draws attention to itself is great for special occasions, but mine is a quieter lifestyle and I often prefer a more subdued fabric for most of what I make, not just accessories. That's when I remember there is another perspective:  the fabric.
Crisp gauge: #10 cotton, size 7 steel hook
14 rounds, 7 inches square

As an example of the first idea, here's a sample motif I like to doodle from time to time:

It's a combination of granny square and pineapple motif ideas, with a hint of filet crochet added at the end, so there are lacy and solid bits (no 3D bits for this discussion).  In order for this piece to look traditionally nice, I want to use a firm gauge -- a small hook with the small thread -- so the stitch texture is crisp and well defined.

Sometimes, I like the look of that texture, but I want it to be bigger and make up faster, so I go to a bigger hook:
Loose gauge:  #10 cotton, 00 (3.5mm) steel hook
14 rounds, 11 inches square

Problem with just bumping up the hook size, making a looser gauge, is that the fabric ends up not nearly as crisp.  It can look almost sloppy.  But it is still drawing attention to itself, because that is what stitch texture is all about.  If the gauge gets too loose, the fabric ends up looking sloppy and confusing, and the stitch texture gets lost.

This is where a different approach to choosing the stitch comes in.  I like to do my random stitch.  It makes a fabric that isn't about how the stitches work together to make a design.  When I work it at a firm gauge, the fabric is very solid.   Great for making tree bark, which is where it started.  (I didn't make a sample of that for here.)  But when I loosen it up -- a lot -- it takes on a whole new personality, and I really like it.

#10 cotton, 00 (3.5 mm) steel hook - solid fabric,
maybe a bit too solid. 9 inch diameter/16 rounds
With the more traditional thread bits, I used #10 cotton thread and a size 7 steel hook (for the first one) and a size 3.5mm hook (like a size 00 steel) for the looser one.  Then, switching pattern stitches, the tighter sample is made using the same #10 thread with the 00/ 3.5mm hook - and it's a bit too solid.

Then I switched to a gargantuan 5mm (huge!!!) hook in random stitch, and suddenly the fabric is all about the fabric -- it's not about the stitch at all.

#10 cotton, size 5mm hook - lacy, soft drape
11 inch diameter/12 rounds

In the context of the shawl (in the photo below), over the large scale of the whole fabric, a pattern does show up -- this shawl was made from a 100-gram hank of lace weight merino (about 1200 yards), worked with a 4mm hook (again, huge!!), but it's not about how the individual stitches interact at the stitch level.  It's about the fabric.

This is a great way to get a grown-up fabric. And the stitch doesn't have to be this complicated.  Even something fairly simple, like (sc1, ch1) where you sc into the sc of the previous row, or into the ch1 space of the previous row (like a net stitch), works up nicely at a loose gauge.  And the chain stitches keep the single crochet stitches from stretching out of shape.

Cobweb weight merino, 4mm hook
The great thing about all this is that, with such a big hook, it works up much more quickly than any stitch-texture-based stitches - totally a win/win!

Santa Cruz Satellite Coral Reef at the Seymour Discovery Center

The official, professional Crochet Coral Reef exhibit, which has been travelling around the world for a few years, has moved on from UCSC.  But the closing of that show marked the opening of our own local satellite project, which opened at the Seymour Marine Discover Center.  Here are some pictures from the opening:

Some figures are more realistic than others.  Some are more fantastical.

Materials included yarn, thread, VCR and cassette tape, plastic bags, and twine.

White bits suggest bleached coral -- looks elegant but is actually not a good sign at all in our oceans.

At a technical level, this was a fun way to explore increases and decreases in crochet and thinking of the medium for three dimensional constructions.  I remember playing like this almost fifty years ago, when I first started stitching.  It is still fun.

The installation is a combination of lots - hundreds - of small bits along with larger pieces, all contributed by UCSC students and community members,

This exuberant display will be at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center through the summer and into the fall.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tangle Meditation

For whatever reason, perfectly good balls of yarn sometimes end up in the thrift store.  Aimless, without context or purpose, they lie, waiting.  They get bounced around.  Even the structure of a label often gets torn off a ball of yarn, so there’s nothing holding it together.  And the more disheveled the yarn gets, the less likely anyone will want it.  And so it goes:  a tangle.

The process of untangling is calm and gentle and quiet.  There are tricks to it:  
  • Recognize single strands of yarn from double strands.  
  • Know the difference between a tangle and a knot.  
  • Never pull hard or use force.  
  • Look for an end, to start rolling a new ball.  
  • Differentiate the different yarns:  one white is slightly thicker or less fuzzy than another – they are different yarns.  
  • Move from yarn to yarn, when a knot is threatening in one place, loosen it up and see if another strand could use more attention for a bit.  
  • Remember:  they aren’t trying to be tangled.

As I coax out the separate balls of yarn, I see different projects for each.  A coaster, a scarf, baby booties, doll clothes, dish cloth, basket or bowl, or an addition to another, bigger project.

Once all the yarns are separated into their own balls, they are ready to start a new journey, to become something that goes out into the world.  And it is good.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Crochet Coral Reef exhibit at MAD in New York - traveling to Santa Cruz

A haul of garbage from the sea.
On a recent trip to New York City, I saw the exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design, which has since closed and is on its way the UC Santa Cruz.  I took pictures of a number of the pieces, some of which are in this post.

At the entrance is a haul of garbage, thankfully cleaned off.

When coral is white,
it has been bleached and is dead.
The bleached pieces are striking, but you have to remember that the white ones represent the dead coral.  It's not a good thing, no matter how elegant it looks.

A number of pieces are wildly colorful, with all kinds of shapes.  A trip to the aquarium reminds me that these pieces aren't that far from reality!

There is a Muppet/Dr. Suess quality to much of the exhibit.
But then, reality is like that, sometimes.

Each case included a plaque with the names of the people
who made the pieces, along with where they came from. 
The show is meticulous in giving credit to the artists/artisans who made the individual pieces.  Each installation can include pieces by many people, from around the world.
Small groups of pieces allow the viewer to focus on the 
techniques used, which include beading, netting, knitting, 
macrame, and mixed media assemblies in addition to the focus
on crochet.

It was calming, too, to see a piece where the elements were all similar, like this one:

I was surprised that there were no souvenirs to buy.  I would have been happy to buy a hook commemorating the exhibit/gallery.  But I guess that just makes me a consumer.  Oh dear.