A bit of My History – RSI and Crochet

There are a number of reasons that I started applying my training as a medical massage therapist to my crochet obsession. The main one though is my own experience with repetitive stress injury. When I was working full-time as a massage therapist 16 years ago I came near to causing myself permanent injury.

Repetitive stress injuries are very common in the massage therapy field. The last time I was researching the numbers on longevity for massage therapists I found that most work only a short time in the field. 2-4 years is often the typical life-span of a massage career, not all of them end due to injury, but that is a factor for many of them.

When I was in school at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy one of the things that was emphasized in our training was how to care for ourselves to avoid injury. Of course, my trouble didn’t come from my massage work, it came from crocheting.

I had made an ambitious decision to crochet afghans as gifts for a number of my close friends and family members for Christmas. Once the weather got cold they were particularly enjoyable projects. I would snuggle under the afghan as I was working on it. Unfortunately, the holidays were speedily catching up to me, so I was crocheting every spare hour I could find.

I didn’t realize at the time that I had some very bad habits in the way that I was holding my yarn and hook. Those habits might have gone un-remarked, except I was also crocheting for long stretches of time without taking a break. Now, for any of you that have attended one of my presentations about avoiding injury when crafting, you’ve likely spotted a number of red-flags in the previously described scenario.

One of the reasons that I’ve made it my mission to talk to fiber loving folks about how we craft and how to avoid injury when we are crafting, is because I came so close to losing my beloved crochet craft. In short I hurt myself badly. The pain got to the point that I had difficulty working at my occupation of massage therapy. So of course I went to see a doctor. First thing he said after our initial interview was that I would need to stop crocheting.

I asked if he meant just for a little while. His response was in the negative. His advice was that I should give up crocheting, basically forever. “After all, you are a young woman, and crocheting and knitting are for old ladies.”

Okay, stop laughing, I know you all are envisioning my response to that statement. Especially those of you that have met my rather “salty” side. Needless to say I fired that doctor.

Next I sought out a doctor that dealt with sports medicine. These doctors are trained to look at root causes of injury, so that the activity can continue but in a way that doesn’t cause further injury. Generally this work means improving the mechanics of movements involved in the “sport” of choice. In my case that meant crocheting.

First off, I did need to take a break from crochet, I couldn’t crochet for the entire month of January and the first 2 weeks of February. I was really missing my hooks and yarn. In the meantime my doctor had me doing daily contrast baths on my wrists and forearms everyday that I did massage work.

This involved filling a big pan with cold water and ice, then filling the sink with hot water that wouldn’t scald me. I would submerge my entire forearm, wrist and hand in the ice-cold water for as long as I could tolerate it, about 30 seconds.  Then move to the hot water bath for 30 seconds. I would go back and forth between the 2 temperatures, ending with the cold bath.

I know it might sound like torture, but it actually helped a great deal. You don’t even have to be injured for contrast baths to be helpful.

 

Holding the Yarn 2
My method for holding the yarn
Holding the Yarn 3
Once yarn is woven thru fingers I can grip my work without strain in my yarn hand.

After I was given the okay to crochet again I worked with my chiropractor to find a way of holding my crochet hook and yarn that wouldn’t stress my wrists and arms.  I also developed better habits in taking breaks when I was crocheting on a project.

4-ModKnfHoldLBL

My hook hold is a bit unusual, I call it a modified knife hold. It reduces the amount of stress on both my wrist and fingers. It took a while to get used to, but has helped me avoid injury for 14 years now. In the photo above I have the end of the hook between my 2nd and 3rd finger. Sometimes I hold it between my 3rd finger and pinkie. Just depends on the size of the hook and the project I am working on.

My boys when little

All this happened many years before I started designing professionally. In the years since that injury I became a mother and added all those fun tasks to an already busy life. For awhile I barely had the time or energy to crochet. Once I had some time for my favorite creative outlet though, I kept up with my better crochet habits.

Even as a designer working on some mad deadlines, I try to be very aware of listening to my body and being sure to take regular breaks. Even if a break is just getting up and putting another load of laundry in the washing machine or making a snack for my boys.

I also try to include stretching exercises in my daily routine, like the hand stretches in my post “Keeping Your Hands Happy”.

If you notice, I say I “try” to do these things. We are all human and often times we have to be experiencing some aches and pains to remind us to keep up with these good habits. That includes me.

If you are starting to have regular pain from your crochet hobby be sure to get help from your healthcare provider. And if they are telling you to give up crochet forever…get a second opinion.

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The Name is…

Thank you to all my readers that voted on the name for my newest Shawl. The name that got the most votes was…

Mountain Whisper Shawl

Mtn Whisper Shawl - M2H Designs

I didn’t want to make you wait to find out the name, but due to having a few unexpected complications this week with family and work schedules the pattern won’t be available on Ravelry until tomorrow at Noon (USA Mountain Time). I’ll put the link in this post once it is available.

For those of you that voted on the name, you can use your coupon code starting at Noon Saturday, September 26 to get 15% off if you purchase the pattern before 10 p.m. Sunday, October 18. That’s midnight Eastern time.

The pattern for the Mountain Whisper Shawl will be available in my Ravelry shop for $5.99. Here is the link to add it to your shopping cart on Ravelry.

This pattern includes written instructions in U.S. crochet terminology, a photo tutorial on aggressively blocking the shawl, stitch diagrams for the body of the shawl and for the lace border, and instructions on how to make the shawl larger.

Edited: September 26, 2015  – The pattern is now available on Ravelry and the link above should work. Please let me know if you run into difficulty with purchasing or with the pattern.

Swatching and more Swatching, and Why that is good.

 

I’ve got a BIG project I just agreed to. I can’t tell you a lot about it yet. But I spent most of my weekend crocheting up swatches to figure out the amounts of yarn I would need to finish the samples for the project.

Pile of Swatches

The pile above is what I ended up with. Some of these yarns are just too lovely for words and I am really looking forward to crocheting the final pieces.

Next step, as I wait for yarn to arrive, is to write the first draft of the patterns for these designs. Because I am a geek I tend to swatch, do a bunch of math, write the pattern, then work the sample from that pattern.  It is the method I’ve found works the best for me. Then I can make corrections or additions to the pattern as I encounter trouble spots while stitching.

Photo Courtesy of Annies
Photo Courtesy of Annies Publishing

An example of this process was my Winged Columns Wrap in the Crochet! Magazine presents: Fall 2014 Special: Crochet Gifts in 1-2-3.

Stole Wrap Sketch 4web

Originally I submitted the idea for a smaller accessory, but had included a sketch and description of it as a rectangular wrap. The editor decided she wanted it as a wrap. She and I discussed the size of wrap she wanted. We decided on approximately 18″x 60″.

I then swatched with the yarn she had chosen, Premier’s Alpaca Dance. My swatch was 6″ x 6″. I then weighed my swatch in grams. That allows me to calculate how many yards of yarn are in the swatch. According to the ball band information there are 371 yards in a 100g ball of yarn. So 3.71 yards/gram.

The target size of my finished stole was 18 x 60 = 1080 square inches. My swatch was 36 square inches and took 23.4 yards to make. 1080 divided by 36 = 30. 30 x 23.4 = 702 yards. Which means I needed 2 balls of yarn to make the sample.

Now, how does this all help you?

Have you ever wondered if you have enough yarn to complete a project? Swatching in the stitch and yarn you will be using, then weighing it can get you there. Once you know the weight of your swatch and what size your final project is supposed to be, you can tell if you will need to go purchase more yarn.

Of course, once you are purchasing yarn you might find some other yarn that needs to join your household too. Yarn shopping does tend to add to our stash. But using the above formula, you’ll always know if you’ll need more yarn for the current project (or the next one).

My Clover Amour Hooks

A while back I was talking about keeping our hands happy when crafting. One thing that can help crocheters with that is using a hook that is kind to our hands.

The Clover Amour hooks first came to my attention when the Vouge Knitting Crochet issue can out in Spring of 2012. There was an ad in there for them and I was extremely intrigued. Oh let’s be honest, I wanted them, badly.

Not only did they have an ergonomic handle, they were pretty colors and they had the lovely shape of the Clover Soft Touch hook which I have always liked. The Soft Touch is a great value hook and the paddle shape of the handle can reduce the amount of grip strength needed to use the hook. I prefer a hook handle that has a bit more “give” to the surface though.

Rainbow-of-Hooks

The combination of elastomer and ergonomic shaped handles of the Amour hooks really caught my attention, as soon as I could I ordered a set of them to try out. These were the Yarn hook version. The working end of the hook is a lovely blending of tapered and inline with a nice point on the tip making it easy to work into stitches.

They quickly became my favorite hook to work with. Unfortunately, there was a limit in the sizes with bulky and chunky yarns becoming more widely available, I needed some larger hooks.

I embarked on quite the adventure searching for larger hooks that were commercially available and had a hand friendly handle. The common problem I ran into was that many of the larger sized hooks with ergonomic handles had very little space between the top of the handle and the bottom of the “throat” of the hook. This section of the hook is what determines the uniformity of your loop sizes when making a stitch.

This isn’t a problem if you are only crocheting chain or single crochet stitches, and sometimes was okay with even a double crochet stitch. Too often though, double crochet and taller stitches are impossible on these larger hooks because the yarn-overs are distorted. Then you end up with distorted or “leggy” stitches in your finished project.

Now if you are an experienced crocheter very likely you can compensate for these issues, but generally those compensations lead to other postural or motion habits that can cause stress in your wrist or arms. Ideally, the hook is designed so that working with tall stitches is as easy as the other stitches in your project.

Clover Amour Steel hook

At the Summer 2014 TNNA show I stopped by the Clover booth to compliment them on the design of the Amour hooks and let them know how much I enjoyed working with them. They were just rolling out their steel hook version of the Amour hooks and I took a sample home with me. It quickly became my favorite hook to use when adding beads to projects.

I was happy to hear they were working on coming out with some larger hooks in the Amour line and we talked about the design of the hook.

At the Winter TNNA show in Phoenix they had the larger sized hooks. I was excited to try them out. They had a wonderful little sampling station set up where you could play with yarn with the hooks. I was thrilled to see that all the hooks had plenty of room for multiple yarn-overs. I had a wonderful conversation with one of their representatives who doesn’t actually crochet. I showed him how the longer shaft of the hook made a difference in the tall stitches.

Bigger Hooks 6

I ended up bringing home a set of the 5 larger Amour hooks to add to my set of Amour yarn hooks; sizes K-6.5mm, 7mm, L-8mm, M/N-9mm, N/P-10mm. These larger size hooks are made with a slightly different material for the handle and the hook itself is a hard smooth plastic that I have found to be very cooperative with every yarn I’ve tried them with. The handle shape is still wonderfully ergonomic and comfortable for both a knife hold or pencil hold.

Biggest Hooks 12mm 15mm

This last Summer TNNA show they had added 2 more larger hooks to the Amour line-up. A 12 millimeter and 15 millimeter (P/Q) hook. The 15mm hook is a bit short between the handle and throat of the hook, but still very nice to work with. I rarely need to make taller stitches than a double crochet with this size a hook as it is generally used with extremely chunky yarns or multiple strands of worsted weight yarn to get the appropriate thickness.

Tiny Hooks w Caps

I was just missing the tiny steel hooks. I decided I needed to add them to my set of Amour hooks this summer. They are super for when I am working with thread weight yarns and they are a great tool for when I am creating projects that need beads. Because they come in smaller sizes than any of my other steel hooks with ergonomic handles, they are very handy for my intricate bead and thread work.

My work kit w Hooks and accrmts

I’ve filled my entire purple work case with my set of Clover Amours. I have a few other hooks in there, as well as the other accoutrement that I need when working on projects or teaching crochet.

These are not the only hooks I use, but they are definitely my favorites. I use a modified knife hold most of the time I crochet, so these handles are very comfortable for me. Everyone’s hands are different though, so you need to find out what works for you.

I’ve seen them available in my local JoAnn’s craft store (and on Amazon), so they are easy to obtain. I recommend purchasing just one hook in a size you commonly use or need. Then give it a try-out for a while to see if they are right for you. You may find yourself falling in love with Amour hooks like me.

What’s in a Name?

Scotts Bluff National Monument 4web
Scotts Bluff National Monument

Last weekend was lots of fun. I was teaching at the Scotts Bluff Valley Fiber Arts Fair in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. I hope to be teaching there again in 2016 and will let you all know as those dates and classes are decided on. Hopefully more of you can join me there.

Brown Sheep Sign on Building

One of the major sponsors for the event was the Brown Sheep Company. I have used Brown Sheep yarns for years in my felting projects. My favorite thing about their “Lambspride” yarn is the color doesn’t fade away with heat felting, which means I can depend on my finished project having the same colors as the yarns I picked out. And I love that they are a “Made in the USA” product.

Andrew Wells
Andrew Wells

At the fair this weekend attendees could sign up for a tour of the Mill where the lovely yarns are created. Brown Sheep is a family owned business and our tour guide, Andrew, is the most recent generation working there. You can learn more about their company history by visiting their website here: BrownSheep.com.

“Bumps” of clean wool fiber ready to start thier journey to being made into yarn.
Fluffy wool fiber ready to be spun.
Fluffy wool fiber ready to be spun.

It was really fun to see all the stages the fiber goes thru from clean fiber in “bumps” to the almost rope like fluffy roving that goes into the spinning machines. A lot of us on the tour found the rope like look of the fiber ready to be fed into the machines very beautiful.

Now, of course there was yarn, and being I was at a Fiber Arts  event some yarn had to come home with me.

ShelleyLyn Designs Handspun

While at the fairgrounds I met one of the vendors that is actually from my neck of the woods. ShelleyLyn Designs. She hails from the Longmont area and had some lovely knit products as well as patterns. Of course I was drawn to her beautiful hand-spun yarn and had to adopt 2 hanks of this gorgeous pink and black yarn. I’m thinking I’ll be coming up with a lovely hat or headband to wear this winter when the cold-weather “blahs” are making me wish for summer again.

At the end of the tour at the Brown Sheep Company there were mill-ends of yarn and fiber that could be purchased. A few balls of yarn needed to come home with me again.

Brown Sheep Lambs Pride Superwash Sport - Green Envy

When I initially spotted this ball I thought the color was a gray. Then I got a closer look and realized it had a wonderful combination of lavender and 2 different greens called “Green Envy”.

Lambs Pride Superwash Sport - Finches

I got these 3 balls with something pretty for the Fall season in mind. I’m often drawn to the warm fall colors, though I don’t wear them as frequently as I used to.

Navy Brown Sheep LanaLoft Sport

These 2 balls of Navy yarn are either going to be a hat or slippers for my youngest son this Christmas. He isn’t quite as avid about hats as his Dad and older brother, so I am waffling on what I’ll pick for his Christmas gift.

Shawl as neck wrap

Meanwhile, one of the projects I was working away on before leaving for the fair, is this lovely new Shawl design. I made this shawl with Brown Sheep’s  “Wildfoote” luxury sock yarn. It was a perfect choice for a lace construction that I wanted to aggressively block.

Shawl from Back

Peggy of Brown Sheep was delighted to see the shawl when we got together at the fair on Friday. She was threatening to take it away with her, but I did persuade her to let me hold on to it so I can get the pattern published first. This pattern is going to be available the 25th of September.  But it needs a name and I am stuck on 3 different ones.

Fleur de Lis Shawl

Royal Veil Shawl

Mountain Whisper Shawl

I thought it would be fun for all my readers to help choose which one of the 3 I will use. So I’ve set up a little survey for you to vote on. Everyone that votes will get a coupon code to use for 15% off the pattern the first 3 weeks it is available. Voting will start today at Noon thru 10 p.m. September 22nd.

Update: Well the survey site I chose isn’t working properly.  So change of plans, vote in the comments below: Tell me which name you like best (can only pick one) and I’ll send you the coupon code thru your email (codes will be sent next week after the voting ends). Please don’t share the coupon code with others.

I’ll post the winning shawl name and the link to the pattern in my Ravelry shop on Friday, September 25th.  No matter which name wins, all who vote will be a winner. Just be sure you go to the survey site to vote to get the coupon code.

I’ll leave you with a bit of poetry from William Shakespeare, who had Juliet speak some thoughts about names in “Romeo and Juliet”:

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, retain that dear perfection for which he owes without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, and for that name which is no part of thee take all myself.”

Granny Fans Redux

Photo of Granny Fans Scarf

This design is one of my favorites. Originally I created it for Michele Mak’s online subscription site, MainlyCrochet.com, back in October 2012 and it was published on there in the Fall of 2013.

Of course, after I send in a pattern and the sample, my brain keeps coming up with new ideas to expand on the original.

Granny Fans Redux - M2H Designs

When the rights for this pattern came back to me I knew I needed to re-visit those notes. Which is why this pattern in my Ravelry Shop: M2H Designs is called “Redux”.  I’ve re-done the design added in and sometimes subtracting things.

The new pattern is really more like getting 4 patterns in one.  There are lots of stitch diagrams for those (like me) that prefer those, as well as clear text instructions to help you make a Neck Cozy, Scarf, Tube Cowl or Moebius Cowl.

You can find the pattern in my shop on Ravelry by following this link: Granny Fans Redux

Tomorrow is “International Crochet Day” so I hope you get some crochet into your Saturday. I’ll be teaching at the Scotts Bluff Valley Fiber Arts Fair and touring the Brown Sheep Wool Company’s Mill. Going to be a day about fiber as well as crochet for me.

Hopefully I’ll have some photos of adorable fiber critters to share with you when I get back.

Getting the Twist Right

Anna Moebius Cowl - Andee Graves M2H Designs

Hopefully most of you reading this post got to participate in the “Hop” I was part of last Tuesday, and now you are the proud owner of my pattern for the “Anna Moebius Cowl”.  The moebius is one of my favorite shapes to use in designs as you can see below, all 3 of these designs (as well as the Anna Moebius Cowl) start the same.

 

Infinite Grande Cowl - M2H Designs
Infinite Grande Cowl – M2H Designs

 

Twisted Garden Cowl - M2H Designs
Twisted Garden Cowl – M2H Designs

 

Twisted Vs Cowl - M2H Designs
Twisted Vs Cowl – M2H Designs

Today I’ve created a little photo tutorial with tips on creating your foundation to begin any of these cowls. I use this same foundation in almost all of my moebius designs, so once you get the hang of it you’ll be set to try my other patterns.

FSC toplast btm1st 4web

When you finish the length of foundation single crochet that the pattern specifies lay it out flat. The stitches have a top and bottom. The green stitch marker is in the bottom of the first stitch and the orange marker shows the top of the last stitch.

Fold ends together 4web

Fold the foundation to bring the 2 ends together.

Circle to match top to btm 4web

To get the moebius twist you only want to add 180 degrees of twist. Which means you join the top of the stitch where your hook is, to the bottom of the first stitch you made.

Slip St Closure 4web

I use a very tight slip stitch.

Beg Crchtg Rnd1 4web

I usually let the beginning tail hang and then later use it to tidy up the join between the ends of the foundation. Meanwhile I just start crocheting my moebius.

Rchd Opp side 4web

When you get to the join you will be on the opposite side of the foundation from your beginning.

Rchd Opp side2 4web

You are working into the bottoms of your foundation stitches and then into the tops of those same stitches as you crochet your first round. You will have doubled the number of stitches in your first round from the number you made for your foundation.

Little Mini Moebius
Little Mini Moebius

Paper Moebius Strip

If you want to learn more about moebius strips and my geeky fascination with them take a look at my post: The Twists and Turns of a Moebius.