Saturday, July 31, 2010

Projects, projects, projects . . .

Just how many projects are you working on at the same time?

Usually, I'm pretty good about working on one thing at a time. However, the last week or so, I've found myself involved with more than one project. First, I was trying to finish a small group of 100% cotton coasters that I was making with my left-overs. The cotton yarn required a size "H" hook. Then I made a few pairs of lacy earrings using JP Coats Pearl Cotton thread that is actually for my overlock machine, but I've found crochets beautifully for very nice elegant earrings as well as snuggies for my drinking glasses (to keep the bugs out on these summer days). This thread is easy to work with using a size "E" hook. I'm also creating my first design and testing out the pattern instructions for my Nubby Mitt. This also calls for 100% cotton crochet yarn and I'm using a size "I" hook. As you can see, all of my projects use different sized hooks and thread. So I can easily switch from one thing to another and each project has all the tools with it.

Today, we drove out to the Franklin Grove Summer Harvest Festival where they had the first annual Fiber Craft show. There were about a dozen local fiber farmers / wool spinners with booths. All were selling their rovings for those who spin their own yarn or do needle punch work. They also sell hanks of hand spun yarn -- almost all from animals they raised on their farms. What an amazing thing to wander from booth to booth and feel wool in its natural state (some you could really feel the lanolin!) Then there was apalca wool, merino wool, angora, mohair and each had it own hand. Some of the most amazing looking / feeling yarn was also very expensive. I wish I could have bought the gorgeous mahogany colored hank of soft, soft apalca wool, but the small hank was nearly $25!

Not to go home empty handed (because I've been very curious about crocheting with hand spun local wool), I bought a hank of hand spun yarn (I have no idea what type of wool) for under $10. It's a pretty taupe color, worsted weight yarn with some softness to it. I think I'm going to try a lacy scarf, since the hank is not very big. In a month will be our annual Fiber in the Park, which is a local merchant festival, again showing off the many fiber farmers in our area. They also have people who still tat, one gentleman who makes spinning wheels, absolute artists with wool who sell their blankets, sweaters, hats, socks, etc. I visited last year and thoroughly enjoyed myself (I had just found the crochet bug once again, so this was a real treat!) I have time, maybe I'll save up and splurge on some super soft alpaca wool next time.

Now, I'm torn. I have the pattern-testing project started, but I'm dying to jump into this hand spun. I think I may try crocheting this worsted weight with a size "J". Hmmmm, I'm not using it for anything else at the moment. . .

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Traveling with Crochet

This summer, my oldest son and I will be traveling to visit my parents for my mom's 86th birthday. So I'm in a bit of a dilemna. The airline we will be using is an extension of U.S. Airways and only allows one carry-on -- either purse or laptop. So, I'm thinking -- I MUST crochet during the flight, so how do I bring my tools and still obey the airline's rules?!

Hmmm . . . I guess that I'll clean out all of the "unnecessary" items from my crochet tote (which is actually a Quilter's Stuff small tote I already use) and store my ID and the items I'll need just for the flight in it. I can pack the rest of my tools / yarn / etc. that I normally keep in the tote, in my checked baggage in a baggie. The Quilter's Stuff bag is actually about the size of a medium sized purse, so I think I can get away with it.

Now, what to bring along, you ask? Luckily, I think I have some great traveling crochet items.
  1. Bamboo hooks - the wood should not cause any security person distress or set off metal detectors
  2. Small plastic coffee container (to hold ball of yarn and keep it from unraveling or tangling)
  3. 1 or 2 balls of yarn or thread (depending on the pattern I choose to make)
  4. Small plastic round tipped scissors (should be sharp enough to cut yarn)
I won't worry about yarn needles (to weave ends through) -- I can put finished items aside for the final step when we're on land. :)

If you'd like to bring along crochet items when you fly, you don't need to spend extra money on bamboo hooks, plastic crochet hooks are affordable and would probably work just fine for short term crocheting. Of course, if you're traveling by car, just bring along your standard equipment.

Either way, crochet is the perfect pastime for travel.

Friday, July 9, 2010

First Time Crocheter

For someone who is interested in learning to crochet, the advice out there can be overwhelming. There are some who suggest starting with small hooks and fingering or worsted weight yarn. Then there are those who say, no, start with BIG hooks (size K through M) with one of the chunky yarns.

My motto is: “Go for the middle ground!”

I find it easier to work with a hook size of “H” (metric 5mm / UK # 6) and a worsted weight yarn. When I've helped friends rediscover crocheting, this hook/yarn combination seemed to reduce the frustration that can occur when learning something new or “relearning” a skill. I also stress starting with something small (not that I've ever taken that advice! I'm one of those “jump in to the most advanced pattern” kind of people. I know, “Do as I say and not as I do”!)

When I first reacquainted myself with crochet, I had been chosen to decorate for our office holiday party. Since we were trying to stay away from the traditional red & green Christmas theme that year, we decided to focus on Winter. We had people in our warehouse making paper snowflakes, frosting bowls with artificial snow (and placing winter scented candles inside), using mirror tiles with artificial snow on the tables (kind of ice pond affect) and finally, I organized a group of people to help me crochet iceskates! This ultra simple project was just the thing to introduce some people to crochet and reaquaint many others to this craft. As you can see, you start with a paper clip (easily found in an office). We crocheted white skates with blue for the girls and black skates with blue for the boys (yes, we had to get a count of how many men and women would attend the party that year -- over 100 people!) The skates were finished with long tails on each skate that we tied to a pom pom and then attached to safety pin.

The skates were handed out to each person entering the party and were very well received. Many are still hanging around the office after 5 years.

To obtain a PDF of this project please click here. (This project copyrighted by Celeste Dunn, 2005. But you can use it with my blessing. CDunn).

Since ice skates are a little superfluous at this time of year (July), another great project is to single crochet 4" squares out of cotton yarn for coasters. They absorb condensation wonderfully and can get thrown in the wash with no problems (just don't bleach if you use colors).

In fact, for a first time crocheter, I would probably suggest the coasters.

If you've mastered the basic crochet stitches, chains, sc, hdc and dc, you could try something unique in making a coaster.

Chain 13.
Row 1: *SC in second chain from hook. HDC in next stitch, DC in next stitch. Repeat from * to end. 12 stitches. Turn.
Row 2: CH 1 (counts as SC). Skip first DC, HDC in next stitch (HDC),  DC in next stitch (SC). *SC in next stitch (DC), HDC in next stitch, DC in next stitch. Repeat to end.
Continue Row 1 and 2 until your coaster measures 4" by 4". Tie off and weave the cotton end in to the coaster.

Can you see what the pattern is doing? You are graduating from a short stitch (sc) to a tall stitch (dc) and then reversing the pattern by stitching the tall stitch (dc) in the previous row's sc, keeping the hdc in the hdc of the previous row and ending with the short stitch (sc) in the previous row's dc stitches.

This creates a coaster with some nice texture to it.

Until next time -- Happy Stitchin'!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

First Yarns -- Now Hooks

When you talk to a crocheter about hooks, you'll get all kinds of opinions! Some prefer the old standard metal (aluminum or steel) hooks, some exclusively choose the wood style hooks (like bamboo) and others prefer something a little more ergonomic (which can include Clover Soft Touch - my personal favorite) or the Comfort Grip cushions that will slide on your current metal hook). You can even get hand-carved crochet hooks in various woods at wool craft shows, if you're willing to spend a little (well, a lot) of money!

When I first started crocheting back in the Psychedelic Age, I purchased an entire set of Boye aluminum crochet hooks (C through K, I believe). They came in a nice plastic case with slots for each hook. I used that set for years and years and when I lost interest in crocheting, I kept that set and carried it with me through multiple moves and households. When I decided a year or two ago, to recapture my old hobby, I found that set of hooks and started re-familiarizing myself with this wonderful art. Much to my horror, I found that my old hands / wrists protested the straight cold aluminum hooks. Crocheting was PAINFUL! I was, to say the least, upset!

At the same time, my 20+ year old son needed something to occupy his downtime after being laid off and I convinced him to allow me to teach him to crochet. He learned quickly and I passed my set of Boye hooks to him. Luckily at work, someone brought me a new crochet hook they discovered -- Clover Soft Touch ergonomic crochet hooks. I borrowed it for a weekend and fell in love. I could crochet once again! Since then, I've saved my pennies and shopped at sales and I'm slowing building up my set. They are a lot more expensive than the stand-by aluminum hooks, but to me (and my aching hands) they're most definitely worth it!

I also was given the opportunity to try bamboo hooks (Clover Takumi brand). These are also very comfortable hooks. They warm in your hands as you work and they feel smooth and silky. I've not noticed any catching or grabbing of even the loosest weave yarn. I was given a couple of these hooks, but they're the same size as my Soft Touch hooks, so they don't get the use they deserve from me.

My suggestion for first time crocheters or someone looking to get back into this craft is start low-end and then move up if needed. I find that younger, more supple hands and wrists get along quite well with the old standard aluminum or steel hooks. I always shy away from plastic, only because I'm rough on my tools and tend to break plastic (ask me how many plastic yarn needles I've broken), but these might be an option as well. For us slightly more aged crocheters (we're not OLD, we're aged -- like fine wine!), I would try bamboo or the Soft Touch hooks before abandoning this art. The main thing is to be comfortable while you relax and create beautiful items.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Let's Talk About Yarn -- Yes, Yarn!

Okay, everyone knows what yarn is -- right? Well, think again. It used to be (back in the Dark Ages of my teenage years) that you had wool, cotton thread or man-made materials (acrylic, rayon, etc.) So, you ended up with scratchy items, lace or afgans and throws made with sometimes stiff yarn or soft yarn (which usually depended upon how much you wanted to spend).

Well, one step into the yarn section of a JoAnns or Michaels will change your outlook on yarns in no time at all -- natural yarns run the gamut from wool, alpaca, cashmere, angora, mohair, llama wool, bamboo, silk, cotton, as well as infinite combinations of these (at least it sure seems like it when I'm perusing the aisles or web sites). Of course, the man-made products are still basically acrylic, rayon, nylon and again, infinite combinations with each other and also with the natural yarns (such as wool with acrylic). These blends are beautiful and have a wonderful hand (in other words, soft). And don't forget the organics!

Depending on how much you want (or can) spend, you have some pretty amazing choices out there.

As for me, I am on an extremely fixed budget. I have a disabled husband who can no longer work and a son who lost his high-paying computer job and is now working part-time for a little over minimum wage. For me, the choices are pretty limited.

This doesn't stop me from creating wonderful crocheted items. I just have to be more patient (if I want expensive yarn), by waiting for coupons or BIG sales. I recently made a wonderful lacy tank top with silk bamboo yarn. Luckily I received a gift card for my birthday and was able to spend it entirely on this luxurious, lusterous yarn. Most of the time, I wait for sales -- even for more affordable yarns. In our household, it is money for food or money for yarn, so I have to be extremely miserly!

So, for yarn, here are some suggestions:
  • If you're making items that will touch bare skin, check the softness of a knitted sample. Yes, don't just feel the skein, sometimes the feel of a skein is not the same as after you crochet (or shudder, knit) a particular yarn. Not all stores provide them, so I'll take the time when I'm visiting a store that has samples to run one across my skin and make notes of how it feels. Then when I'm ready to buy, I can refer to my notes for brand / yarn type and purchase accordingly.
  • For blankets / afgans that will be used as decoration or on top a bed, you won't need something as soft and can go for the cheap. A lot of the money-saver yarns (in price or the one-pound type) are not as soft and pliable (when made into items) as the more expensive yarns (and I don't mean EXPENSIVE! Just costing a little more). Then again, sometimes you get pleasantly surprised by the money saver yarns! So always keep an open mind (see brands below).
  • I often choose yarns which focus on babies. Not all are lightweight, so I can make some thick, warm hats or scarves (for my cancer comfort hats which MUST be soft). My only problem with baby yarns are the colors -- they tend to be pastels, which I'm not particularly fond of.
  • When you find a brand you like, go to that brand first when looking for suitable yarn for a project. I have one or two companies that I consistently turn to for my various projects (Bernat, Vanna's Choice by Lion Brand, Caron). Note: my drool over yarn is the furs / eyelash types, which are small skeins and more expensive.
  • However, for cotton -- I go cheap! I shop at Walmart (where you can get some of the above yarns, too - check it out!) and buy the Peaches and Cream cotton. This is wonderful cotton yarn! It comes in great colors and works beautifully for washcloths, coasters, anything that calls for cotton. Of course, its counterpart Lily's Sugar N Cream is wonderful, too, but costs almost a dollar more -- I always get some when it goes on sale.
I used to ignore patterns that called for specific brands or types of yarn that I couldn't afford. Then I tried substitution (basically dragging out whatever yarn I had and trying it). That often led to scratchy or stiff finished products and an unhappy me!

Now, I've found that if I follow the weight category (I google the yarn the pattern suggests and read the weight class (fingering, worsted, etc.)) and the amount of a skein (in ounces or grams) then I have a better idea how I can substitute with a more affordable yarn.

Finally, test gauge, Test Gauge, TEST GAUGE! This really, really is important! Especially if you substitute.

So don't feel restricted by your budget or what a pattern is based upon. A little prep work and you can make exceptional items on a budget.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Welcome to Crochet 4Ever

Welcome crochet fans!

At least I assume you are a crochet fan -- why else would you be here! :)

I love to crochet and consider myself to be advanced (in age, maturity, and general crotchetiness) in my crochet abilities. I started crocheting in my teens, (Dr. Who scarves were the rage!) then with college, marriage, family, etc. I slowly lost my desire to grab the "hook" and yarn. Lately, I needed something to do with my hands (especially in the evenings) and ease the stress / panic attacks that were becoming more and more frequent. I found crocheting once again! Not only does it help relieve the day's stress and frustration, it has proven to be extremely rewarding.

I started full-bore by taking on the project of crocheting cancer comfort hats for our local hospitals. But I also make many other projects.

My biggest desire, though, is to pass the art, and yes, it is art, to others. But I don't have anyone I can teach!

Voila! This blog. I hope to teach others the joy and satisfaction of crocheting.

I may not post regularly at first (we're having internet issues in our town). But I will try to build this Blog into something I will be proud of.