Inspiration and Beauty

In the midst of all the madness of preparing for my trip to the Knit and Crochet Show and the following visit from my in-laws,  I managed a wonderful short hike on our property with my sons.

So I decided to make my last post of June be some eye candy of the lovely wild flowers around my home in the mountains.  The beauty of our summers, though brief, is one of the many reasons I can tolerate our sometimes harsh winters (of course winter has a beauty of its own as well).

Wait a minute! That isn’t a wildflower! 

What a surprise, somehow we have a lovely dark blue/purple iris growing on our property.  I have no idea how it got here, but it is quite beautiful.  Hadn’t noticed it until today.

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Going Round and Round

I love to crochet in the round.  Maybe it is because I’m always going in circles anyway.  

 

I have spent many an hour figuring out how to translate a favorite stitch pattern into a design that can be worked in the round.  Whether it is a tube, mobius, or some adaptation of the granny square, I love going in circles  (or sometimes spirals and squares). 

There is a sculptural quality that can be harnessed in crocheting in the round. And  working in the round can change the appearance of stitches in ways that I find texturally interesting.  This technique allows me to make adorable amigurumis, warm hats, various and sturdy bags, or drapey and luxurious wraps and sweaters.  

 

Other things I love about working in the round…  

Eliminating seaming: This has to be my top reason for working in the round.  I have always found seaming crocheted (or knit) fabric by hand to be the most tedious of tasks.  I can do it, can even do a lovely job of it, but I just hate it.  So I often chose to work in the round (and design in the round) to be rid of this task.  

Unique opportunities for pretty edgings: I find the edgings to look much cleaner when one doesn’t have to work into sides of rows.  

A fondness for the tops of stitches: Admit it, don’t you think the tops of stitches look so much prettier than the sides?  Not only do you get a beautiful finish to all edges of your project, you are always working into the tops of stitches or the chain spaces between stitches.  It’s all nice and orderly…which appeals greatly to my inner math geek.  

An economy of Yarn:  When one is winging it creating your own design from a stitch pattern in your favorite dictionary or just doodling with the yarn…it’s very nice to be able to pick an easy stopping point.  I have made many a baby blanket as a gift by grabbing a few skeins of appropriate yarn from the stash and working a round or square flat pattern until I ran out of yarn.  None of my recipients have complained so far.  

The joy of starting small: I’m not that fond of working a lengthy foundation chain to begin a project.  So working in the round generally means I can start small and allow the increases in the stitch pattern to make the item grow to a usable size.  A recent example of this is my Flat Fuzzy Friend pattern in the Summer issue of Crochet Uncut.  Each piece for that pattern starts with chain 2 work in 2nd chain from hook, as small a start as you can get.  

Flat Fuzzy Friend

When working in the round your best friends are stitch markers.  They come in very handy for marking your increase points or at least the end of each round (particularly helpful when working in spiral rounds).  I also like them for helping me to locate the stitch for corners in square shapes.  

Some of my Favorite Stitch Markers

Generally, when doing flat circles in the round there are increase rules that help you keep the circle from cupping or ruffling.  Typical rule of thumb is you increase by the same number of stitches as are in your first round.  For single crochet that is 6, half-double 8, double 12 (US Terminology).   

Another tip to keep in mind when working a flat shape in crochet if your stitches are starting to lean to the right you need an increase.  This is especially helpful if you are mixing up the height of stitches you are using. 

Hopefully these tips will help you feel comfortable crocheting in the round as well.  It isn’t hard once you get the hang of it and you may find working in the round will become your favorite way to crochet too.

Flat Fuzzy Friend

My first published toy design is available in the Summer 2010 issue of Crochet Uncut.

Flat Fuzzy Friend

Everyone needs a cuddly little friend to keep them company.  I was inspired to create this design by my 2 sons.  They love having a toy along on our hikes and this fella fits nicely in their back packs.  He is also washable, a definite plus with my little mud monsters.

This is a quick crochet project that only takes a bit of yarn.  The sample for the pattern has 45 yards of Lion Brand Jiffy (bulky) and 40 yards of Vanna’s Choice (worsted).  Scrap substitution is fine too, though I would recommend double stranding for the body circle if using worsted to sub the bulky weight yarn.

I’m thinking I’m going to be making a bunch of these little guys in the next few months.  With embroidered eyes they would be fabby baby toys and wouldn’t take up a lot of room in a diaper bag.

I hope everyone enjoys making their own Flat Fuzzy Friends and shares photos on Ravelry.

Kid Cuddle Test

Also, if you are looking for a way to make your favorite hook more comfortable I have an article on modifying hooks in this same issue.

Lace Embrace Shawl

So back in January when I ended up in my wrist brace for a time, it was because I was crocheting like a fiend on this project: 

Lace Embrace Shawl

And now the secret is out.  My lovely shawl is just one design in the new line of Debbie Macomber Blossom Street Collection yarns being offered from Universal Yarn.  It is crocheted from 6 balls of “Rosebud” a lovely DK weight superwash fine merino yarn that blocks like a dream. 

If you would like to get in on the action early you can pre-order the  Debbie Macomber Blossom Street Collection – Book 1.

A Wet and Woolie Day

I am very fortunate to live in the mountains of Colorado quite near Estes Park.  Amazingly, I’ve never made it to the Estes Park Wool Market, despite it being held only 40 minutes away.  So this year I vowed to change that.       

I made plans with a friend to join me on my outing. She and her 2 small daughters were to come stay at my house for the weekend.  Then Saturday (possibly Sunday too) of the Market we would trek over for some fun times learning about the wonderful animals that provide much of the fiber in our favorite yarns.       

Unfortunately, the weather folks predicted that the weekend would be very rainy and cold.  My friend felt it would not be a good plan to drag small children around in freezing cold wet weather.  So she decided to stay in her warm home for the weekend instead of visiting my very cold mountain.  Who can blame her.  I was thinking it would be quite nice to be somewhere sunny and warm as well.     

But being the intrepid venturer I am, with admittedly a more than minor addiction to fiber loveliness in the form of yarn, I planned to don my armor of rain gear and woolie warmness to explore the Market.  I was aided in my resolve by 4 of my stitching pals from Denver.  They were making the commitment to drive all the way up from the big city. The least I could do would be meet them for a few hours of yarn petting.       

Sue, Tam, Sheila, Betty-Anne and Myself

Yesterday dawned gray and dismal; when it wasn’t raining it was misty.  A bit reminiscent of a few of my trips to Scotland in late June.  I had second (and third) thoughts about the wisdom of this adventure, but had talked to my friend Sheila the night before and thought it would be bad form to bail out.     

My reluctance must have slowed me down, and I left later than originally planned.  When I drove out of my driveway the rain had turned to a wet sort of sleeting mess.  I threw out a random prayer to any listening deities to please let the weather in Estes Park be a bit nicer.     

The drive there wasn’t too bad and,  after a minor adventure with fellow travelers who were distracted by the Elk having a kip in a roadside meadow, I arrived at the Fairgrounds.  Paid my $5 for parking to the young boy scout (who apologized for the soggy state of the change he gave me for the dry $20 I paid with) and following the guidance from the various traffic directors was safely landed in a parking spot.     

I swiftly grabbed my raincoat and my bag containing the items I thought necessary to the outing.  Then squelched along the parking lot to the entrance to the event.  Arriving at the gate I observed an information kiosk, where I checked to see if there was a fee for the event.     

I was happy to learn that there wasn’t, as I was uncertain how long I planned to stay…and it would have been far too depressing to fork over my hard-earned cash to only turn around and depart.  I quickly made a beeline down the row of stalls and such to the Vendor’s Barn.  Completely missing this pen of Yaks (I took their photo afterward, they didn’t seem too happy about the weather either).   

I had already attempted to contact my friends on their cell phones, but had only reached voicemail messages.  I knew they had planned on arriving around 10:30 and we were to meet between 11 or 11:30 in the Vendor Barn.  So I figured their phones weren’t working in Estes and that they had given up on me making it there.   At this point it was noon.     

There was lots of lovely yarn and interesting things to look at in the barn and it was relatively warm and dry.  So I decided to take a turn around the various booths and keep an eye out for my friends as well.  I had been wandering about for nearly an hour, looking more at the other market attendees than the goods on display, when my cell phone rang.  It was my friends, they were just arriving at the Festival and would be with me shortly.     

By this time I had made plans for the adoption of at least 2 skeins of yummy yarn.  But I swiftly marked their location on my map and dashed off to be at the entrance to meet my friends.  A happy reunion and breathless explanations and we were all soon plotting a plan of attack for perusing the vendors wares.     

My Yummy Yarn from the Market

I must say, these gals are truly amazing in their thoroughness.  The next few hours flew by in a frenzy of yarn and fiber perusal and acquisition.  I stayed within my budget, but temptation was everywhere…made even more so by the fact that one or the other of my friends’ eagle eyes would spot things that I would have missed otherwise.  Helpful, and not so much.     

We finally emerged from the Vendor’s Barn and I took some photos of a couple of young Alpacas (as well as the earlier photo of the Yaks).     

It was unanimously agreed we were all hungry.  There was a wonderful little booth that had stuffed gluten-free crepes so we stopped there while Sheila and I each purchased one.  Then we all headed to our vehicles since it was far too cold and wet to sit at the provided picnic tables to eat.       

I came away from my experience at the Wool Market with a new love and appreciation for the talents of my stitching pals and a head full of ideas and inspiration for new designs.  I’ll be flying off in 23 days for the Chain Link Conference in New Hampshire, so some of these ideas will have to wait for me in my sketch pad.  But I will hope to attend the Festival again next June and I will be buying myself some comfortable wellies to wear if the weather decides to be as miserable. 

The Breaking Point

Time flies when you are having fun, and even when you are just working hard.  But if you don’t take regular breaks during your work, the fun is likely to be replaced with pain.  Not a good thing in most people’s book.   

When I talk about taking breaks, people who are working on a deadline project just shake their heads at me. Who has time to take a break?  But taking a break doesn’t mean that you always have to have a yoga moment.   

A Simple Hand Stretch

Taking 30 seconds to stretch your hands and breathe deeply every 20-30 minutes can save you hours or days of hand and neck pain.   

Our bodies are designed to move.  Just getting up and doing something different for a moment can make a difference.  Move the laundry into the dryer, take a walk to the bathroom, or get a drink of water.  Doing another task is as much a break as stopping to stretch.   

Ideally, you should take a break every 20 minutes.  It’s easy to get so engrossed in the task at hand that an hour can slip by un-noticed.  Setting a kitchen timer for 20 minutes can be a handy reminder. 

You don’t even have to get up from your seat every time. Just set down your hook (or needles if you’re knitting) and wiggle a bit in place. You can stretch your hands, lift your arms above your head looking up at your hands, then twist from side to side.  That might take all of a full minute, then you are back to working on your project or previous task.  

A wonderful result is you will find yourself feeling more energized and better able to focus.  Keep in mind that the longer you wait to take a break,  the longer and more active the break should be.   

Making breaks a habit while stitching or even working at your computer can help you avoid ever reaching your Breaking Point.  And allow you to enjoy many years of pain-free stitching and typing.

Plarn Experiment #1

Plarn Spring Basket

I had never heard of “Plarn” until I read Amy Swenson’s book “Not your Mama’s Crochet.”  In it was a pattern for a hand bag made with plarn.  I thought the idea was genius.

After all, the number of plastic bags that routinely take over my household pantry is ridiculous.  And this is in a household that uses our own market bags for much of our shopping.

Our newspaper is delivered in green plastic bags most of the time.  We reused them for various things, but I kept thinking that they are a great color for making Plarn.

I gathered a bunch together in my crocheting area, as I knew it takes quite a few to make a significant length of plarn.  Unfortunately, before I could do anything with them, my husband and father-in-law cleaned out the recyclables and tossed my collection.

So I started collecting again. This time I made sure that all my family understood these were being saved for a purpose.  I kept gathering them and placed them all safely in a container in my crafting room.  Then life got a bit busy…our second child arrived,  I found Ravelry, time kept marching forward.

A few months ago I joined the Laughing Purple Goldfish Group on Ravelry.  Sharon Maher , who is Laughing Purple Goldfish Designs, is a wonderful and inspiring voice for designing and encouraging the use of “up-cycled” materials in our fiberwork.  Each month she has been having challenges to get folks to look at non-traditional materials for crafting supplies.

The challenge for May was to create something using the “Ubiquitous Plastic Bag.”  The demo project used a technique for fusing plastic bags (which I plan to try out sometime too), but I decided to finally experiment with Plarn.  I went to my container of plastic bags and picked out a handful of bags to use.

Cutting Plastic Bags for Plarn

To cut the loops I first slit the sealed bottom of each bag.  Then I folded the bag in half, cut at the fold and repeated that until I had a bunch of one inch wide loops.

I then joined the loops together, by overlapping and pulling the bottom loop thru the top loop, then back under itself like so:

After awhile I had a decent sized ball of plarn and began crocheting a circle.

Beginning of Basket

The really fun thing about working on this project was that I could create more plarn as I needed by joining more loops onto the end of the working plarn.

Adding on more Plarn loops

I did find working with the thickness I had a bit difficult and wouldn’t consider plarn to be very hand friendly.  A  wooden crochet hook seemed to be the best tool for the job.  My plastic and metal hooks both “stuck” too much to the plarn.

Finished Plarn part of Basket

I had in mind an idea of making an easter basket using the plarn and adding some scraps of yarn from my stash.  I also added a flower.

Finished Basket

I learnt a number of things working on this project.  I didn’t like working over the knots where the loops joined. And, as the loops were short,  there was a knot to deal with frequently.  Next experiment I will try working with strips of plarn and possibly will cut them thinner too.  I’m too enthralled with the idea to give up quite yet.