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Summer Slump

Ah, summer. My least-favorite season. (Sorry, summer lovers, but sweating while standing still is not my idea of fun.)

My desire to knit and crochet anything more than cotton dishcloths is virtually non-existant in hot weather. And remember the knitting machine a friend gave me? I still haven’t read the books that came with it. One detail I gleaned from a quick glance at the books is that the knitting machine needs to be clamped to a strong table.

The only option here would be the heavy-duty formica-topped drop-leaf table Grandma bought when she moved from her house to an apartment. But that’s where the sewing machine is currently set up for making throw pillow covers for my sister. I’ve even left the ironing board up since the loud squeak it makes each time it’s set up or taken down freaks out Doggie Sadie.

Perspectives can be deceiving. This pillow is a whopping 27″ x 27″.

The sad part? I’ve only made two pillows so far. The first cover I made was for a huge 27″ pillow form. It was very frustrating because my sewing machine kept jamming. I thought I’d loaded the bobbin wrong. Nope. The machine was threaded properly, too. Then I realized the thread was too thick for the needle. I switched to a standard weight thread and all was well.

My sister bought two large pieces of that particular remnant, so I had more than enough to make a removable cover: a square front, and two rectangular pieces that overlap a few inches in the back.

This pillow is 12″ x 18″.

The second pillow is striped, and I wanted the stripes to run horizontally. While I had enough fabric to make it removable, I knew the reverse side would look really bad if I couldn’t align the stripes perfectly….so this cover isn’t removable.

The pillow form is machine washable, so if my sister washes the entire thing and the fabric shrinks or looks wrinkled, I can always make another cover.

A big reason I consider sewing a summer project: The only air conditioner in the house is in the dining room. (It’s an addition. The original house has large, beautiful casement windows that open like doors, but the addition has ugly canopy windows, so I had a canopy window removed and a window unit built in. And yes, I saved the old window in case anyone ever wants to put it back in.)

Once I finish some more pillows I’ll put the sewing machine away and start reading the knitting machine books. Then I’ll try setting up the knitting machine. From what I’ve learned so far, it will probably need a sponge bar, and I’ll also have to see what types of yarn I can use in it.

In the meantime, a friend who makes hats for the homeless gave me a grocery bag full of brand new cotton yarn. She couldn’t use the cotton yarn for winter hats, but knew I like working with cotton yarn in the summer.

In the last week I knitted eight classic dishcloths (with another already on the needles) and crocheted several Paddlewheel Hexagons for what I hope will one day be a summer bedspread.

All that and I’ve barely made a dent in the new yarn supply.

My siblings both got creative this summer too. My brother did a woodworking project,

and my sister did an art project. I’ve asked if they’d do guest posts about their projects, and neither said no. But it will probably boil down to if either of them remembered to take photos while making their projects.

What summer crafts have you been working on? 

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Leftover Yarn to the Rescue

I often say my dog, Sadie, has never seen a throw pillow she didn’t want to eviscerate. That’s not quite accurate. There are a couple she’s left alone, one being this Impromptu Pillow I made several years ago.

When I realized I had a couple of 10″ pillow forms and the two skeins of yarn Guest Dog Stanley got into a few months back, I decided to make a tiny version of the Impromptu Pillow. The 10″ pillows are small enough they could be dog toys (especially for my giant furry nephew, Duke—a Redbone Coonhound and Great Pyrenees mix), but since the Impromptu Pillows have  crocheted edges, I knew I could make it look larger but adding a couple more rounds of edging.

I designed the original pillows to be made with super bulky yarn, so I had to adjust the gauge, using the gauge information from the yarn label that Stanley didn’t shred to determine how many stitches I needed to make to make a square to fit the 10″ pillow form.

Since this particular yarn says 20 rows of 14 stitches knitted on US 10 needles averages a 10cm square, I used a ruler that has inches and centimeters to figure out how many centimeters I wanted the square to be. Gauge can vary a lot by knitter, so I first tried 28 stitches, but that ran a bit small. Then I tried 30. That was still a bit small, and I also remembered that seed stitch works easiest with an odd number of stitches—because each row starts with and ends with a knit stitch there’s really no pattern to remember other than Knit 1, Purl 1.

Thirty-five was the magic number for me. After a couple of false starts, It was finally time to start knitting.

 

The color is off in this, since it was taken at night under artificial light.

I didn’t count rows, I just eyeballed the size of the first square, and used it as my guide for the second square.

You’d think knitting panels for a smaller pillow would take less time, but I was using smaller needles and a thinner yarn. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it got a bit monotonous. There’s a reason I love thick yarn and big needles: The work goes a lot faster.

I made sure to finish each square with an odd row, so the cast-on tail would be at the lower right and the cast-off tail on the upper left.

Then the assembly began:

I positioned the pieces around the pillow form and used the tails to secure the corners.

After securing all four corners, I used stitch markers to mark the approximate center of each side.

Starting at a corner, I joined matching yarn—you could use a contrasting color if you like—and used a simple single crochet to join the first two edges. If you don’t crochet, or want a more modern, streamlined look, you can always skip the edging and sew the edges together with matching yarn and a blunt, large-eyed needle. But remember, my goal here was to make a 10″ pillow look larger.

I used 24 stitches to close each side of the pillow, and for the corners I did 1 single crochet, 1 double crochet, 1 single crochet all in one stitch to form a square corner.

I improvised the edging, but sketched out a few options, with each dash representing a single crochet stitch. (I am not fluent in crochet charting symbols, so I did what made sense to me.) The first row was basically a repeat of 1 single crochet, skip one space, chain 1, 1 single crochet (starting each round with a chain 1  in place of the first single crochet, and ending each round with a slip stitch joining to it for the final stitch).

 

The final round I did—starting and ending like the previous round—was essentially a repeat of chain four, 1 single crochet in the chain 1 space, and the corners were chain 2, 1 triple crochet (into the double crochet stitch of the previous round), chain 2 which ended with a single crochet which leads right back to repeated stitch pattern.

I think the final result looks pretty nice. A little bit of a lacy flourish, but not too ostentatious. Here it is sitting next to the 16″ Impromptu Pillow shown above. That pillow only has one row of edging because I was nearly out of yarn. That super bulky yarn also doesn’t really allow the lacy details of the crocheted edging to show through. So I guess there are advantages to using smaller needles and thinner yarn. Sometimes.

Anyone want to guess how long it will take Sadie to attack this new pillow?

 

 

My Year-Long Yarn De-stash Challenge: How Did I Do?

Precisely one year ago I announced my pledge not to buy any new yarn (unless it was for a special project for someone else) until my yarn stash was gone or the calendar said 2018.

The funny thing? I didn’t miss buying yarn that much. Or at least not as much as I thought I would.

This is what my yarn stash looked like one year ago:

This is what it looks like today:

And that includes remnants of new yarn I purchased to make one pair of socks, a baby blanket, four chemo hats, and four scarves!

How did I burn through so much yarn that it now fits into two under-the-bed storage cases?

  • Gave a bunch of yarn to a friend who was making hats for the homeless
  • Made two P-hats upon request
  • Knitted wool mittens
  • Knocked out a stack of cotton dishcloths
  • Used scrap yarn to knit a Santa hat for a sock monkey

But hands down, the best stash-buster of all was the Sediment Scrap Blanket.

Not only did the quintuple-stranded blanket rapidly eat through an incalculable yardage of yarn, it resulted in a lovely, thick, and warm blanket which has been getting a lot of use during the recent (and seemingly endless) arctic blast we’re experiencing.

The challenge taught me that it’s important to save yarn labels or find a way to note what types of yarn you have in your stash. Knowing which yarns are wool is important if you want to make something that’s washable, if you want to felt something, or if you’re making an item for someone who’s allergic to wool or other fibers.

Now that I’m free to buy more yarn without any restrictions, I think I’ll keep wheedling down my yarn stash. It’s been a fun challenge, and I’d encourage other yarn addicts to give it a try.

What craft-related resolutions did you make last year—or for the new year?

How Will You Celebrate I Love Yarn Day?

If you ask me, every day is I love Yarn Day, but this year Saturday, October 14 is the official date.

What’s not to love about yarn? It comes in every color – or “colorway” in yarn-y parlance – you can imagine, and in hundreds of fiber combinations, textures, and thicknesses. Best of all, with a few knots and loops, you can turn long strings of yarn into beautiful and useful items.

Heck, you can even tie odd bits of scrap yarns together can make something cool!

You don’t need to know how to use knitting needles or crochet hooks (or Tunisian crochet hooks!) to use yarn. You can:

  • make pom-poms
  • finger knit
  • use a knitting loom
  • use a weaving loom
  • arm knit
  • coil and glue yarn into designs or objects
  • tie bundles or packages
  • hook rugs, like this one….

A mystery piece of yarny goodness made by someone on my mom’s side of the family proves I’m not the first yarn lover in the family.

Do you have any family treasures that were made from yarn? What are some of your favorite ways to work with yarn?

 

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.

 

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?

 

I Love Yarn Day

I love yarn, but you already knew that.

For some of us, every day is I Love Yarn Day. We see a world of possible projects in every skein of yarn and can’t wait to start a new project.

Some knitters and crocheters will have several WIPs (Works In Progress) at any given moment, but I try to focus on one project at a time. I wish I could share photos of a couple of my more recent works, but I’ve already begun my holiday knitting and some future recipients may be reading.

Instead, here’s a photo of the Colorwork Cowl I recently completed…it’s my last non-Christmas project for the next few months:IMG_1345Looking back at that post, called “Early Signs of Autumn,” it’s kind of funny that the past few days the temperatures have been in the upper 70s. Anything but autumnal. But that didn’t stop me from knitting.

What do you love about yarn?

Summer Knitting (and Crocheting)

Just because the weather heats up doesn’t mean the knitting has to stop. I usually switch to making smaller things with lighter weight yarns.

Over the years I’ve crocheted a lot of different dishcloths. But my hands temp to cramp up if I crochet too much, so I looked around for interesting knitted patterns and found The Hive Knitted Dishcloth at BeingSpiffy.com, a site that has a different dishcloth pattern for every week of the year. It was a quick project, but turned out a little smaller than I’d expected:

IMG_1267

I love the honeycomb texture. I’ll try it again on slightly larger needles, but worst case scenario I’ll just add one pattern repeat to the width and length.

Another dishcloth design I couldn’t resist making is this fun (and sometimes frustrating) new crochet pattern I found called Sailor’s Knot Dishcloth (free registration required to download the pattern):

IMG_1265

Some patterns are available in both knit and crochet versions, but I couldn’t find knitting instructions for this one. The blue, green and variegated one above was my first attempt. I used different colors to better see how the pieces are woven together. Now I’ll show you how a Sailor’s Knot Dishcloth is assembled:

Start with the square loop...

Start with a square loop…

Then make two oblong loops...

Then make two oblong pieces.

Weave one oblong piece over and under the square loop as illustrated in the pattern.

Weave one oblong piece over and under the square loop as illustrated in the pattern.

Follow the same steps with the second oblong piece, and….

IMG_1263

…you have a large, thick dishcloth that looks more complicated than it really is. The great thing is the designer planned it out so the ends of the oblong pieces join right where they meet the cross pieces, so the seams are nearly invisible.

The dishcloth is reversible.

Here’s the flip side. The dishcloth is reversible.

Since the guys do dishes in my family (at least for family gatherings), I couldn’t resist making this for my Canadian brother-in-law:

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From the front or back, this clever pattern looks like a red and white striped square. But viewed at an angle, like above, you see the maple leaf. The colors are reversed on the flip side. The illusion is created with strategically placed knit and purl stitches.

Dishcloths are great projects to test new stitches and learn knitting and crochet skills, but they also make doing dishes a little more fun.

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?

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