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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 time 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?

 

 

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!

 

 

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?

 

With all this snow I forgot it was March

With all the snow outside, it’s hard to believe March is here.

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View from the front door. This is the neighbor’s car before it got plowed in. Taken mid-way through a storm that left another 11 inches of snow.

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The growing pile of snow out back. After the storm and final shoveling, the pile nearest the camera was about 4 feet high. Even Doggie Lily walks around it.

You also wouldn’t know it’s March by looking at my last blog post. It’s from February. Shame on me – especially considering March is once again both National Craft Month and National Crochet Month.

I wish I could say I’ve been so busy crafting and crocheting that I lost track of time, but the truth is I’ve been knee-deep in both snow shoveling and work lately. When you’re self-employed you have to tackle assignments as they come in, even if it means 10- and 12-hour work days and working through weekends and/or evenings to stay on top of things.

The other day I realized I haven’t knitted, crocheted or done any fun crafty stuff in weeks. While I’d love a day off, I’m glad to be this busy. It’s so much better than those dreaded lulls when you find yourself with no paying assignments. (Of course, freelance lulls are busy, too, since it takes effort to drum up new business!)

Stay tuned, though. I have some fun ideas for future blog post. I just need to find time to try those projects. What’s keeping you busy these days?

I Love Yarn Day

Happy I Love Yarn Day, everyone! It’s like Christmas for knitters, crocheters, weavers, felters and anyone who enjoys working or playing with yarn.

I am a yarn-a-holic.

The first clue? As a kid my favorite Dr. Seuss book was A Big Ball of String. (Second runner up: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.) What can I say? I never liked eggs or ham.

What do I love so much about yarn? Aside from obvious things like textures and colors, I love how each skein of yarn holds multiple possibilities.

Some yarns tell you what to make with them. Others sit there a while before you think of the perfect uses for them. Sweater. Scarf. Throw pillow. Afghan. Mittens. Hat. Wrist warmers. Cowl. Headband. Shawl. Lacy curtains. Toys. Bedspread. Table runner. Place mats. Socks. Dishcloth. Decorations. Even jewelry.

Yarn can be made of nearly any fiber. Some are natural fibers – cotton, wool, alpaca, soy, silk, even bamboo – others are man made. Some are blends. There are even yarns made of recycles fibers.

Along with macrame-ing the pool table pocket nets from worsted wool, here are a few things I’ve made from yarn in the last year or so:

Wavy scarf (Alpaca blend)

Dan’s hockey socks

Felted Easter eggs (worsted wool)

Barbie’s “mink” (made of extra long fun fur / eyelash yarn)

My favorite afghan, then on the needles (wool-acrylic blend)

Reese’s hat & scarf (bulky wool roving)

A pile of Bohemian shawls (acrylic-wool blend medium weight roving)

Aidan’s knitted/woven toy ball (self-patterning acrylic yarn)

Sweater coat I’m wearing as I write this (super bulky acrylic)

Yarn is incredibly versatile stuff. No wonder I love yarn.

What are some of your favorite things made from yarn?

Flip Flop Flowers

The coolest thing about crocheting is once you know a few simple stitches you can create fun shapes.

When I saw a free Lion Brand pattern for Flower Flip Flops the first person I thought of was my 7-year old niece. She loves flowers, wears flip flops all summer and really seems to appreciate handmade items.

I wasn’t sure what size flip flops she would need, and figured she might even have an old pair to dress up. So I made a couple of flowers to adorn some existing or yet-t0-be-purchased flip flops. They only took a few minutes to make (the mini pompons were another story), so I made another for a hair band:

I actually had a new band that was a good match for the green part of the flower (partially obscured by the slightly too large pompons). Of course, when my niece saw it, she suggested putting that flower onto a clip.

Naturally, I just realized I forgot to give her the rest of the blue cotton yarn to wrap the flip flops with…if she doesn’t decide to use them for something else. (She can be a pretty creative kid!)

Who crochets when it’s 100 degrees?

Call me crazy, but I started a major crochet project in the middle of a heatwave.

Yes, I still have the pool table pocket nets to work on, but they’re wool. Wool is hot to work with, so the pocket nets are reserved for slightly cooler days. When the mercury soars into the triple digits I want to work with cooler things like cotton or bamboo yarns.

In the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to make a cotton bedspread. I knew I didn’t want a traditional “granny square” motif, so I dug through an old stitchery book and found a versatile hexagonal motif that had a bit of motion to it – it was labeled “Paddle Wheel” but I call it a Spinning Hex, since it sort of looks like it’s turning.

Aside from using cotton, another cool thing (pun intended) about crocheted motifs is that you can usually make them as large or small as you like. Mine are small but not tiny at 5″ from point to point or 4.25″ from edge to edge. That means no bulky fabric piling up on your lap while you work.

Right now this project is all about using up scrap yarn. I haven’t figured out how many individual blocks I’ll need for the bedspread yet, but I’ll probably need to throw in some additional colors before I’m ready to start piecing things together.

To give you an idea of how the hexagons will fit together, I set some out:

That’s okay, but I want a lighter, airier look for summer, so the plan is to alternate the random colored blocks with white blocks. I don’t have any white blocks made yet, and am still toying with different arrangements. Ideally, I’d like a little more white space between the colors, but this might help show the feel I’m going for:

Now it’s getting hard to look at the hexagon tiles on the bathroom floor without mentally plotting out where I want the colors to go.

Perhaps the best thing about this bedspread is that cotton yarn is cheap. You can usually find in on sale for $1.25 or less per 120-yard skein, and each skein probably makes 5-10 blocks. (I haven’t yet used a full skein of any one color, so that’s a guess.)

What are some of your favorite ways to turn leftover materials into something new?

Utilitarian Objects

A couple weeks ago Deb asked  if I could make some nylon scrubbies for her – she said her “source” had dried up.

I’d made some a few years ago, mostly for the guys in the family since the guys are the official dish washers. (Except on Easter when I declared anyone who had helped me with repairs and painting didn’t have to do dishes. Even so, I swear they were looming over their replacement washers, mentally critiquing every move.) The idea of making Scrubbies again really appealed to me because I love the idea of transforming delicate netting into durable objects.

Deb sent me a pattern that was much easier than the one I’d used before. (Sorry, folks, I have no idea where she found it, so I don’t have a link. Maybe we can get Deb to post a link in the comments.)

Basically, you start by cutting nylon netting into 2″ strips.

Then you cut small holes in the ends and loop them together, sort of like slip knots. (It’s easier than it sounds.) You’re basically knotting strips together, but without leaving a a bulky knot. Maybe it will make sense when you see it….

Is it starting to make sense?

The trick is to pull it taut without pulling so hard you tear the netting. If you do tear it, just snip off the damaged end of your strip and start again.

Once you’ve pulled it all the way through, it should look something like this….

With only a half-inch or so of netting sticking out, these knots are a lot neater than a regular double knot would be – and more secure, as well!

I kid you not when I tell you cutting the strips and knotting them together was the most time-consuming part of the project. It was also the messiest. See those tiny flecks? They’re itty bitty bits of nylon from the netting.

A couple yards of netting – enough for four scrubbies – resulted in this ball of “yarn,” so to speak:

From here on out, it’s all a matter of double crochets and single crochets. I used a “J” hook, but even a “K” would have been fine. You work a few rounds of double crochet, adding stitches here and there.

The cool part is when you stop increasing the next round becomes a side, or edge. Before long you’re making decreases on the reverse side! They work up really fast – less than an hour per scrubbie.

These scrubbies are slightly different, front and back. One side is all double crochet, the other is single crochet. The different size stitches offer users a choice of scrubbing oomph.

Once you’ve worked the whole way around, don’t worry about hiding the end of the “yarn” because you tuck it (and some scraps, if you like) right inside the scrubbie for a little extra strength.

Okay Deb, here’s a sneak peak at your new scrubbies:

A                                                                                       B

While most people use scrubbies for, well, scrubbing, I know some people who swear by them as lint removers.

My favorite way to use scrubbies? Cleaning soap scum out of the tub using just a little water, baking soda and the scrubbie. Once you’ve used these scrubbies, you’ll understand why Deb needed a new “source.” They’re real workhorses!

What do you like about your scrubbies?

When good crafts go wrong

We’ve all had them: projects that just don’t turn out the way they’re supposed to. Sometimes that can be a good thing, like when something turns out better than you expected.

And then there’s this:

A really big mess with extra long sleeves.

A really big mess with extra long sleeves.

It’s so big that it practically fell off when I tried it on. I nearly cried. All of that crocheting (and several skeins of expensive mohair blend yarn!) for what? The bottom of the sleeves were down by my knees – which may have had to do with the fact that the opening for the collar fell over both shoulders. (The photo shows it inside out. Thankfully I didn’t weave all the ends in – that might make disassembling it a little easier.)

I did everything right. I checked the gauge. Twice. Crocheted the pattern exactly as written. Carefully assembled it precisely as directed. Front. Back. Then sleeves. The first time I saw the sleeves next to the body I thought something was wrong, but I trusted the pattern.

It still turned out over-sized and out of proportion.

This would-be sweater is composed of floral motif squares in two sizes — one being 7.5″ square, the other slightly larger. The pattern doesn’t mention an exact size for the larger squares (which are used for the sleeves), but they weren’t much larger than the smaller squares. I blocked the main squares to the exact size. So what went wrong?

I’m still not sure. But if I can separate the squares I think the sweater might be spared. Mohair likes to cling to itself, so disassembling the monstrosity might be a challenge. If I am able to free the individual blocks I should be able to re-assemble it as a smaller size. Who knows, I might have enough blocks left for a second sweater. Maybe a third.

Have you ever had a good project that somehow went utterly wrong? Were  you able to salvage it? Did you turn it into something different? Or did you scrap the whole thing?

What have you leaned from some of your crafting mistakes?

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