Review: Lion Brand’s US Flag Afghan Kit

Knowing how much my cousin and her husband love Americana, when a Lion Brand newsletter arrived last summer featuring several red, white, and blue knitting and crochet kits, I sent her the link and said if something struck her fancy I’d be happy to make it for her.

As it turns out, we both liked the same one. The U.S. Flag Afghan.

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The finished flag afghan in its new home.

I hate to admit how long it took me to finish what’s a fairly straightforward pattern.

Under normal circumstances I probably could have finished crocheting this in a couple of weeks. But pretty much the day after buying the kit I injured the tendon running along my right wrist from my thumb almost to the crook of my elbow.

I’m right handed. And as fellow crocheters know, you move your wrist a lot when crocheting.

Than meant I could only do at most a row or two at a time.

Once my wrist and thumb began to heal I was able to increase how much I could do at once. I finished crocheting it in time for Thanksgiving, and over the extended holiday my cousin helped me place the stars. I only got a few firmly attached, so she said she’d ask her mother-in-law (a fellow yarny!) to help attach the rest.

Now for the review:

If you can double crochet and follow simple instructions for basic increases and decreases (which form the peaks and valleys of the ripples), you can make the body of the afghan.

The stars are a little more challenging since they’re worked in the round. I found using stitch markers helped me “see” the chain 1 space where the base of each new point joined the round. The stars are a combination of single crochets, slip stitches, chains, half-double crochets, and double crochets. But the design is so logical that after making two of three I didn’t need to check the pattern.

The only criticism I really have of the pattern is the vague instructions for changing colors where the blue field meets the stripes in the body of the flag. All it says is, “When changing color, drop, but do not fasten off the old color,” and later, “Change to color C” —or A or B, depending on the row you’re on.

It was only after a few rows that I realized sometimes I twisted the yarns, sometimes I didn’t, so the joint was more obvious on some rows than others. I finally discovered I could help hide that little bit of transition yarn by working it into the first stitch after the color change. (Sorry that’s so vague. It’s probably also why the pattern didn’t suggest it. It’s difficult to explain.)

As for the kit itself… I don’t often use kits, but the sale price was far less than buying the yarn alone would be, so it made sense.

I love the softness and thickness of Lion Brand’s Heartland yarn, and the almost time-worn look of the colors included in the kit were perfect: “Redwood,” “Acadia,” and “Olympic.” Being acrylic, it’s also easier to care for than wool.

Before beginning the afghan I did three gauge tests: one for the stars and two for the body. The stars were pretty close to gauge, but my first swatch for the body was a little large so I switched to a smaller hook and my second swatch matched the gauge.

My biggest complaint? By the time I reached the final two rows I was worried I wouldn’t have enough blue to finish the afghan. I started crocheting a little tighter—hoping to stretch out what little yarn remained—but only had maybe 10 inches of yarn remaining after the final stitch. And I even used the yarn from my blue gauge swatch. That’s a little too close to comfort for me.

There wasn’t much white yarn left after I finished the flag, either, so I opted to use an even smaller hook to make the stars. Because I was so short on yarn, I tried to keep the tails to about two inches when starting and finishing each star, barely long enough to secure the stars to the afghan. I only had about half an inch of white yarn left to tie off the 12th and final star.

Thankfully there was more than enough red yarn, especially since one skein was wound in a double strand. I’ve never seen that with any yarn before, so I’m sure it was just some manufacturing fluke. It looked fine from the outside, but when I tried working from one strand the other one kept knotting up. (I’ll just save that skein to use on a double-stranded project.)

If I were to rate Lion Brand’s U.S. Flag Afghan Kit using a scale of 1-5 stars, I’d give it a solid four stars.

Offering more details in the instructions for switching yarns where the stripes meet the blue field would boost the rating by half a point.

No one likes nearing the end of a project only to realize they might not have enough yarn to complete it. I’d suggest Lion Brand alerts crocheters that nearly every inch of blue and white yarn will be used so they won’t get too anxious when it starts running low. Knowing that before buying the kit would also give crocheters the option to buy more yarn (from the same dye lot, of course) or use a smaller hook.

Overall, those are minimal quibbles.

The recipients love the finished project, and that’s the only thing that really matters.

 

Scrappy New Year!

Don’t even bother denying it. Every knitter, weaver, and crocheter has a yarn stash. Some are big, some are small. Mine is somewhere in between. I’d guess about 80% of my stash is leftover from completed projects and the rest is either for projects I plan (or planned) to make or yarn that I bought because it called my name.

Over a year ago, a couple of my cousins volunteered to have a garage sale to help their older friend—once prolific knitter—unload a lot of yarn, needles, and patterns. They sold a ton of yarn. I’m not kidding: They sent me a photo of their grown daughter sitting on top of a massive pile of garbage bags all filled with yarn.

Their sale was a success, but I never want to have to divest myself of that much yarn at once. I’d rather use it.

Last summer I burned through most of my cotton yarn by making myself a new bathmat (and another for a friend who requested one).

But to use up a lot of mismatched yarns, I decided to make a large, double-stranded scrappy blanket.

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The blanket is made from three panels: two using white, off white, cream, tan, and light gray yarns as a grounding color to be double stranded with random lengths of various colors of yarn scraps, and the middle panel uses black, charcoal, and dark gray as the grounding color.

To ensure the scraps don’t become untied, I held two strands parallel (as opposed to end-to-end) and knotted them with a loop so the harder you tug on the yarn, the tighter the knot becomes. Unless, of course, you pull so hard that the yarn breaks.

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Because there are so many colors, I used a medium gray to stitch the dark and light panels together.

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Each panel was 32 stitches wide and worked on size 19 needles, but I could have gone with 17s or even 15s and had a slightly denser fabric. Instead of counting rows I just tried to knit all three panels to approximately the same length.

I intentionally left the scrappy ends sticking out. First, there are so many that weaving them in would take forever. Second, if you do that in they’ll work loose eventually anyway. Third, it adds more texture.

On a whim, I stranded the random scrap yarn with some red that was leftover from the flag afghan and crocheted an edging along all four sides of the blanket. That was so last-minute that I didn’t get a photo.

The beauty of a project like this? If the blanket snags or frays you can quite literally use any color/size/fiber of yarn to knot it back up.

Oddly enough, I made this for the same cousins who held that yarn sale! It was a thank-you for hosting the extended family at their cabin. But it’s really a memory blanket since it includes scraps from pretty much every item I’ve made for family members over the years. My sister-in-law donated some of her own yarn scraps to the project, too!

Making this blanket led to my New Year Resolution:

No buying new yarn until either my stash is gone or the calendar says 2018—unless it’s needed to make a gift or special project for someone else. (Every good resolution needs a loophole!)

What are your crafty resolutions for 2017?

 

 

This Year’s Wreath

As some of you know, my family really likes making our own Christmas wreaths. This year was no exception. I think six or seven wreaths were made during our annual Thanksgiving Family Retreat and Wreath-making Extravaganza.

In prior years, we’ve roamed our cousins’ property cutting boughs from a wide variety of pine and fir trees. This year we used the scraggly lower branches of a couple freshly cut balsam fir Christmas trees and some showier white pine for accents.

For some reason, I got it in my head that I wanted to go with a white and gold color scheme for my wreath:

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My bow is a little small, but that’s what you get for buying a new, unmarked roll of wired ribbon at Goodwill. I still like it, but I’ll probably keep adjusting the bow all season.

Once I get my gold Christmas lights up outside, it should look even better. This may be my favorite wreath so far.

Making wreaths is one of my favorite family traditions. What are your favorite creative holiday traditions?

 

 

My Sofa Has Gone to the Dog(s)

My curved, two-piece sofa needs to be recovered, but because it’s eight-and-a-half feet long it would cost a small fortune to have it reupholstered. It’s also about nine inches longer than conventional sofas, so finding a slip cover that will fit is easier said than done.

For the past few years my sofa has been covered either with an ill-fitting, second-hand slip cover or a pair of thick, white, twin-size bedspreads. Years of abuse from dogs has left stains and small holes in both of those covers, so I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months looking for another option.

One day I realized I had about 8 yards of a nice decorator fabric stashed in a closet. I bought it several years ago to make a duvet cover for an old comforter, but wound up buying a new comforter instead. The golden-tan color works well enough in the living room, so a few weeks ago I pulled out the fabric and realized I had just enough to cover the couch.

I started by folding the long piece of fabric in half to make sure there was enough fabric. There was. I cut it in half, into two long sections—about 12 feet each—and seamed them together lengthwise.

As luck would have it, I’d seamed about two feet before I realized the fabric—which should be right sides together—was wrong-sides together. In my defense the front and back look a lot alike. Can you tell which is which from the side-by-side photo below?

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I know, right?

The hardest part of this project was keeping control of such a massive piece of fabric. That meant flipping it over and realigning the edges wasn’t much fun, but I did it. Here it is, properly layered and pinned.

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I sewed a straight line from one end to the other, leaving a generous seam allowance. (When the cover is on the sofa, this long seam will be tucked and hidden under the sofa cushions.)

The next step was to trim the ends of the newly-formed piece into straight lines. With both sides together, I folded one cut end to the other, using several large binder clips to keep it properly aligned.

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Oops! The ends were a more than a little off, so on each end, I set a right-angle straight-edge over the shorter piece and carefully trimmed the ends so they would be as straight as possible.

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After that, all I needed to do was hem all four sides of the massive piece of fabric. Because I wanted a neat and durable finish, I folded the edge over itself so the raw edges wouldn’t show, then pinned it into place.

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I quickly realized it would have been easier if the pins were running in the opposite direction.

If the fabric weren’t so cumbersome, I would have pressed the seams flat before sewing, but it worked out fine anyway.

To recap, I:

  • cut a long bolt of fabric (approximately 24 feet) into two 12 foot sections
  • pinned the right sides together (after noticing I’d done it the wrong way first)
  • sewed one long straight line
  • folded it end-to-end and trimmed the ends in straight lines
  • double-folded the hem and sewed around the entire piece

The only thing left was to try it on the sofa.

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Yes, it’s a bit wrinkled, but the fabric had been piled up on the table several days as I pinned and stitched away. The wrinkles will come out in the wash. Between my dog Sadie, who’s napping on the sofa at this very moment, and our frequent guest dog Stanley, this new sofa cover will be washed quite often.

 

 

 

Triple Cross Post?

A confluence of events beyond my control led to my inclusion in a couple of my favorite writing blogs today.

I posted about those posts in a new (and similarly sporadic) blog on my website, HendricksonWrites.com, and since I’m all about the blogs today, I thought I might as well cross post it here as well:

A Community of Writers

Does that make this a triple cross post?

Even if it does, it doesn’t negate the fact that I’m honored to be part of a welcoming, supportive, and inspiring community of writers.

 

 

Jack-o-Lantern Extravaganza

In the spirit of this spooky season, I’m re-posting one of the more popular posts from over the years. It’s from 2012. Have a spooktacular Halloween, everyone!

 

Pumpkin Obsession: Extreme Edition

My brother gets a little crazy every autumn. Brice is always buying pumpkins in October, and he carves them all, or as many as time allows. Gourds aren’t even safe from him at this time of year.

As of Monday he said the current count was 26. That was nine pumpkin-shopping days before Halloween, so he may have even more by now. (I think he’s regretting not following through on his idea of planting a pumpkin patch this summer.)

It all started way back when little Bricie won a ribbon in a pumpkin carving contest. Not that lots of actual carving was involved – his creativity caught the judges’ attention.

Every Halloween season, Brice & I wind up talking about pumpkins. When I carve jack-o-lanterns, I only do one or two. I carve slowly, but add special touches like freckles (by plunging a metal skewer through the shell) or scars (by scraping skin and a little flesh off the pumpkin). Brice? He uses power tools.

Use extreme care when using power tools – especially on round objects.

Brice’s carving isn’t completed yet for this Halloween, so let’s take a tour of their yard from a Halloween past. (The great photos are by my sister-in-law, Jeanne.)

Hmm, doesn’t that white jack-o-lantern way back there appear to be eating something? Let’s take a closer look….

This last one looks a bit Seussian, don’t you think?

All right. It’s time to admit my role in my brother’s autumnal obsession. A couple years ago I gave him two Extreme Pumpkin Carving books by Tom Nardone.

Hey, Bri, it seems Nardone has an annual pumpkin carving contest. Enter it, and maybe you’ll repeat your childhood success with another win!

What are some of your favorite Halloween traditions? How many pumpkins do you plan to carve this year?

 

Stitch it Forward

I kid you knot not. Today is I Love Yarn Day. Appropriately enough, the official tagline for it is Stitch It Forward.

It’s no secret. I really do love yarn. Bulky yarns, fine yarns, ombre yarns, worsted yarns, roving yarns, even t-shirt yarns.

But this I Love Yarn Day is a little bittersweet. A lingering bout of tendonitis in my right wrist/thumb is making it difficult to knit or crochet for more than a couple rows at a time, even with a not-so-festive splinted wrist brace.

Another obstacle? Since the weather has begun to cool off, a certain puppy likes to climb on my lap every evening when I’d normally be knitting or crocheting:

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Sadie on my lap the other night, paws crossed.

That’s why it’s taking me longer than normal to finish crocheting an American Flag afghan for my cousin and her husband. The kit, from Lion Brand, includes a pattern that’s essentially a ripple stitch with strategic color changes every so often. I started working on it in July. This is where I was on July 31st:

Progress as of July 31

Normally, it might take me a couple weeks to knock this out, but it wasn’t until September 6 that I reached the field of blue.

Progress as of September 6

I think I’ve got about 15-20 more (long) rows to finish, then I can make the stars, which my cousin and I will apply later so they’re exactly where she wants them.

If Puppy Sadie allows, I hope to work maybe one row per day until my wrist and thumb can handle my usual pace.

This is the first (hopefully only) bout of tendonitis I’ve ever had. As far as pain goes, it’s minimal but annoying. The most frustrating part is not being able to play with yarn as much as I want—especially now as the leaves are turning and the temperatures are dropping.

But have no fear: I’ll work a bit on the afghan at some point today just to celebrate National Yarn Day.

 

Do you have a favorite yarn? Let us know!

 

 

Simple Fix for an Old Chair

Puppies can be obsessive. Sadie is no exception. One of her favorite things to do is “lose” toys under the furniture. Even better? Hiding them in the torn underlining of upholstered furniture.

The good news is it’s easy to replace the thin-but-durable fabric under chairs and sofas. The hard part—for me, anyway—was figuring out what the fabric was called. When I first got the idea to replace it, I wandered around a fabric store hoping to see it so I wouldn’t have to ask where it was. I could see myself saying, “You know, that black fabric that goes under chairs. Usually stapled in. Keeps the dust under control. Sometimes it’s gray. Maybe even white. It’s fabric, but not exactly fabric-fabric.”

I decided to do an internet search for it at home so I could enter all of the possible word combinations without having a store employee laughing at my ignorance.

Turns out the stuff falls under the category of utility fabric, and is simply called upholstery underlining.

D’uh.

It’s cheap, too. I think the stuff I bought was about two dollars per yard.

I knew I had to recover the underside of at least one chair and one section of the sofa, so I bought a few yards.

Forgive me for forgetting to take a before photo, but here’s what the bottom of Sadie’s favorite chair looked like after I’d torn off 95% of the old lining (there was a separate piece toward the back of the chair that was intact, so I left that) and stapled on new upholstery underlining.

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I folded the edges under for a cleaner line, and did my best to fit it under and around the front legs of the chair. It’s not as taut as I would have liked—you can see it hangs down a little on the left—but not enough to make me pull the staples and re-do it.

This is what it looks like from Sadie’s point-of-view:

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When the underlining was torn, I cringed every time I had to reach under the chair—and often into the torn underlining—to retrieve Sadie’s toys (which seriously, is about three times per day with this chair alone). Now I can see where the toy is, grab it, and marvel at my handiwork all at the same time.

Aunt Jean and Uncle Gale re-upholstered this chair for my dad back in the mid-80s, if I recall, and it still looks sharp. This has always been the most-used chair in the house, but it’s in far better shape than the sofa, which was re-upholstered at the same time.

Dad’s fabric choice for the sofa didn’t prove nearly as durable, so I always have a slip cover or throws on that. That needs to be totally re-upholstered, but that’s way out of my budget. Replacing the torn underlining of the sofa will be my next furniture-related project–and I’ll make sure to get a before photo.

Yet Another Bathmat

When you’ve made a lot of cotton dishcloths over the years, you tend to buy colorful cotton yarn when it’s on sale, and always wind up with leftover bits. Like these:

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Earlier this summer I turned some tee-shirt yarn (aka “tarn”) into That Darn Bathmat. It’s a little smaller than ideal, but I love it. The only problem was I didn’t have enough tarn left to make a bathmat for the other bathroom.

I decided to rectify the situation over the long weekend. I pulled out my box of cotton yarn—puppy Sadie sniffed it, but managed to leave the contents alone after I said “Leave it.” (Apparently puppy school is starting to pay off!) The problem was I didn’t have a pattern.

Cotton yarn is thin, so I decided to double it. I tested a couple different crochet hooks to see what felt best with two strands of cotton. The L-size hook won out. Because I had so much white, I used that as a through color, and double stranded it with one color after another.

At first I tried single crochet. It was fine, but slow going. I wanted to work in rounds, but that made it hard to know where to add stitches so the rug would be flat. That’s when I decided to shape the corners kind is if I were making a granny square, by working 2 dc, ch 2, 2 dc into each corner opening. After all, granny squares are always nice and flat.

I had a few false starts with the bathmat because the corner where each row stops and starts is slightly different; the rows start with ch 5 (which equals one dc and the ch 2), so the row ends with one dc into that starting hole. It took multiple attempts to figure that out, but once I did I finally managed to get all of holes created from the corner increases to align, basically creating mitered corners. I’m not quite sure if I did it correctly, but it worked for me.

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It’s not perfect, but it’s a big improvement on the old white/seafoam/pink store-bought woven cotton bathmat that was so faded and tattered it looked off-white!

If you’re a knitter or crocheter, how do you like to use scrap yarn?

 

 

That Tarn Bathmat!

Remember when I went crazy and made all that t-shirt yarn—aka “tarn“— last summer?

This weekend I turned several balls of tarn into this funky, textured bathmat:

That tarn bathmat!

This tarn bathmat measures about 17″ x 26″

The colors aren’t quite true, since this in an interior bathroom lit only by two wall sconces with “warm” LED bulbs. (The tile and tub are actually white.) But this is scrap art, made from several random old t-shirts, so it’s not like the colors actually matter. Your own mat will vary depending on the colors of any old t-shirts you have on hand.

You can knit or crochet tarn, but the knitted swatches I made last year all curled under on the edges. Since I wanted my finished product to lie flat, I broke out my massive crochet hook (the size isn’t even marked, but it’s roughly 1/2″ in diameter) and chained 26 so I’d wind up with 25 stitches per row. Next time, maybe 30 stitches.

I also wanted my mat to have some texture, so instead of working the mat in single crochet, I decided to crochet in the back loops only. That’s as simple as it sounds.

See the texture

Look closely and you’ll see how every other row points up a bit, like the reddish-orange section. The edges sticking up slightly are the front loops; the row above recedes a bit because it was worked into the back portions of those loops.

Now that you’ve seen how I worked the rows, let’s jump back to where I decided to change colors. I joined new colors using the same technique succinctly demonstrated in this brief You Tube video I ran across. Initially I wanted to start new colors at the end of each row, creating true stripes. But it took several attempts to get the second color to start at the end of the first row, and by the time I switched to a third color I gave up and went with random lengths of tarn.

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That third shade of tarn wound up joining a couple of stitches into the third row.

Knitting or crocheting with random colors can be tricky, since you still want the colors to be evenly distributed—unless you want a lopsided look—so instead of creating a giant ball of tarn scraps, I decided which color to add as I went along. I kept going until I ran out of tarn, but always planned to end with a row of the same color I started with. Here’s what I had after one evening of crocheting:

Quick work!

Quick work!

The best part of a project like this is you’re upcycling old t-shirts into something fun and practical—and you’ll still have the sleeves to use for dust rags.

You can make a rug or bathmat any shape or size you want, as long as you have enough tarn.

What would you like to make from tarn?

 

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