The Joy of Stitch Charts

Many of us that love to crochet are very visual people. It’s the reason I love stitch diagrams also know as stitch charts. I find them easy to understand and I can get a feel for what a stitch pattern will look like just from looking at the stitch diagram.

When I design I often draw rough stitch charts for my notes. I find it easier to make changes as needed without having to worry that I missed changing something in the text directions. Once I have it all figured out between swatching and stitch charts I am ready to write the text directions for the pattern.

Even before I knew about stitch charts I drew my design notes, using images and brief notes about the stitch order. So the first time I saw a stitch chart I was enthralled. They were exactly what I had been looking for all along.

Before I started designing professionally I was always on the hunt for patterns that included stitch charts. My favorite patterns use both text and charts for the instructions. Now that I am designing, most of the crochet books I purchase are stitch dictionaries, and my favorites are the Japanese published books.

Some Japanese Pattern books I bought in 2014.

Another reason I love stitch charts, they can be understood by everyone, no matter what languages you speak or read. I can’t read the Japanese writing, but the stitch charts and swatch photos overcome the language barrier. There is an element of educated guessing when working this way.

This coming Saturday I will be teaching a class at the Longmont Yarn Shoppe called “Stitch Chart Boot Camp”. In the class students will be working from stitch charts only, learning tips and tricks in how to make decisions about the final project. In this class students will work from a stitch chart to create a lovely motif. You’ll learn what the all the symbols in the chart mean and how they can vary depending on the country of origin.

If you are in the greater Denver area, please come join me for this class. You can enroll online at the Longmont Yarn Shoppe website.

Just for Fun Crochet

The strange thing about being a crochet designer and teacher is how little time I actually get to crochet. Especially crocheting just for the joy of it. Every once and awhile I break free and decide to crochet something just for fun. Recently my fun project was also about creating a lovely handmade gift for a very “crochet-worthy” friend.

Amanda, Me and Meghan

Amanda is the oldest daughter of one of my closest friends that I met soon after moving to Colorado back in the 1980s. She and her sister Meghan are like my nieces. Amanda is soon to be a mother for the third time and this baby is a girl. We had a party for her the second Sunday of August and I wanted to bring her a crocheted gift for the new baby.

My thinking when I was deciding what to make was that I wanted to use cotton. It’s a wonderfully breathable fiber and the yarns I was looking at are easy to care for. A definite advantage for a busy mom. Cotton is also a good fiber if baby is teething and wants to chew on the item.

I decided I would make a “lovey” for this gift. I like those little blankets with a head and arms in the center. They can do double duty as a cover and a toy. I wanted to make a bunny because the ears are perfect for little hands and good to chew on when baby has sore gums. To take the above photo I placed an empty water bottle underneath.

It was time to dig around in my stash and see what I had on hand. Since Amanda is so special to me I was willing to use some of my discontinued and carefully hoarded favorite yarns. In particular Bernat “Cottontots”. Easy care and wonderfully soft I was very sad when Bernat discontinued this line. The balls I have in my stash are all that I have available to use, fortunately I had a good selection of colors that would work well for the blanket part of this project.

I also needed a color for the bunny’s head and arms. I had a ball of Hobby Lobby’s “I Love this Cotton” in a nice tan that would be perfect. It didn’t take an entire ball for this project so I have enough left-over to use again. I find this yarn to be a little stiffer when crocheted up, but for a sturdy fabric it worked great for the “toy” parts of the lovey.

Since this was to be a gift for a baby I wanted the nose and eyes to be crocheted and firmly sewn in place. Fortunately I had some Katia “Mississippi 3” in lots of different colors, including black and a bright pink. Being that this is a fine weight yarn like a fingering or size#10 thread it would allow me a bit more latitude in the shaping for those pieces.

I started out my project by making the bunny’s head. Almost all the loveys I have seen just use a simple ball shape for the head. But I wanted my bunny to have cute little round cheeks. I also wanted ears that would stand up pretty well, so I would need a double thickness in the fabric. For the arms I wanted rounded paws on slender arms.

After some trial and error I had settled on the size and shaping for the ears, cheeks, head and arms. I had also worked out what I needed to do for the eyes and nose. Now it was time to crochet up all the various parts, that is the easy part, the challenge is sewing it all together.

Once I had the head finished I knew I didn’t want the typical attachment to the blanket. I had picked a circular center out stitch for the blanket so that it would give the look of a dress on the bunny. I crocheted the first 2 rounds in the same yarn as the head and arms, then switched to the soft purple Cottontots for the major part of the blanket.

I wanted the blanket part to be large enough to cover baby’s torso and legs in her car seat. So after I used all the purple yarn I used some yellow and green to complete the blanket edging. I wanted the yellow for the feel of little butterflies since Amanda is decorating the baby’s room with butterflies.

I finished the entire project with a day to spare. I even had time to crochet a pretty flower for the gift wrap, which is a good thing since I forgot to add a card. Amanda knew who it was from when she saw the crochet on the outside of the gift.

I have been asked by a number of folks about a pattern for this little lovey. I am working on how to do that since I used so many discontinued or hard to find yarns. I also did not measure the gauge of my work. Hopefully I will have a completed pattern available by March 2019 as part of my National Crochet Month celebration.

Beginner’s Mind

The further along the journey of life we travel the less patience we often have with ourselves regarding learning a new skill. I have often met people that say, “Oh I always wanted to learn to crochet, but I’m too old now.”

???!

No way! You are never too old to learn a new skill. In fact it has been proven that learning a new skill in our later years is a great way to increase the agility of our mental faculties. You just have to treat yourself with compassion and patience as you learn a new skill.

This is what is referred to as “beginner’s mind”. In many eastern teachings it is about beginning a new experience without expectation.  To just be in the moment.

I am often reminded of what that looks like when I am teaching young children. Whether it is crafts or math, teaching youngsters can be so engaging. They have no expectation of knowing how to do the task, they are completely in the moment of learning something entirely new or unexpected.

Sadly, children outgrow this most of the time about 8-10 years of age. Like the adults they will grow up to be, they have an expectation of how they should learn, instead of just being in the learning.

For me, one of the things I love the most about crochet is 40+ years after I first made my first stitches with a  hook I’m still learning new things. Sometimes these are things I learn from the teachers in my life, other crochet friends or students in my classes. There are so many things to discover and explore with crochet I’m never bored.

Even though National Crochet Month is over it is never too late to learn to crochet (or tackle a new craft). Just be kind to yourself and allow the new experience to happen without self-judgment. Have fun with being a beginner again.

If you are feeling like starting your crochet journey visit my “Getting Started with Crochet” blog post for some pointers. There are illustrations for both Left handed and Right handed crocheters on holding the yarn and hook.

 

Spring Break – Crocheting on the Road

Once again it is time for the kids’ school Spring Break. This year we decided on a trip to the Grand Canyon. It’s a shorter drive than going home to Kansas and Ohio and it is a destination I’ve always wanted to take the kids to. We had talked about going there last summer, but Arizona in the summer time seemed ill-advised for mountain dwellers like ourselves.

It looks like we will be having some fairly cool temperatures for the majority of our trip. We will also be doing a lot of driving. This means my packing is very creative. I need my warm layers of clothing so I can adapt to the weather as it changes. But I also need to have lots of “car crochet” projects as well.

What makes a project good for “car crochet”?

For me, I want it to be fairly small, something that will fit easily into a bag that sits on the car seat or in the foot well. It is helpful if it is also in a yarn that can be washed easily, getting in and out of the car on a trip with my family can mean dirt, mud and sometimes food ends up on the yarn. Fussy fibers like silk, mohair and baby alpaca need to sit the ride out, superwash wool and acrylics are more the ticket.

Berroco yarns for on the road

Berroco Yarns “Ultra Wool” is one of my favorite superwash wools these days. I’ll be taking a few colors of it with me on the trip and will be working on mittens and hats.

What are your favorite crochet projects for traveling?

Just a Suggestion

Sometimes I get questions about my patterns that are like the person is asking permission to make a change to how the they work the pattern. Here is the thing…if you want to crochet a project that looks very close to my sample in the photos…you need to follow the pattern as it is written; same yarn (could be a different color), same hook, same gauge. The pattern instructions I have written are to guide you in making a project very similar to the one I made.

But you don’t need permission to take things in a different direction, there are no Crochet Police. For myself pattterns have always been just a suggestion. A place to start, but not necessarily the place I’ll end. My mother has often said that I have never followed a pattern. I guess that is part of why I became a designer.

I think that some of my attitude toward patterns comes from sewing so much. Especially when sewing clothing, adapting the pattern to get the right fit is typical, most sewing patterns even have notes of where to adjust for size changes. No one sees any thing odd about this, though many of us feel overwhelmed by the challenge.

I’ve been asked how I learned to make those modifications in crochet. The simple answer is, a lot of failures.  I experiment all the time, and only 10% of those experiments become part of a design that will be published. The best advice I can give (and not just about crocheting) is “Don’t be Afraid of Failure”.

If you really want to hone your skills on adapting garments for fit, I recommend taking a sewing class. Most will cover fitting, and if you already have the basics of sewing, you will quickly see how you can apply these ideas to your crochet garments.

For a more gradual approach to modifying patterns try playing with substituting yarns. We yarnie types tend to accumulate yarn stashes over time, and wanting to work with the yarn you have on hand is understandable. It just means you need to a have a bit of flexibility in your approach to the pattern you are subbing with.

Using a heavier weight yarn and still trying to match the pattern gauge is a really bad idea. Instead you will want to experiment with increasing the hook size appropriately to the weight of the yarn you have picked. You may have to fiddle with the dimensions of your finished project to get things to come out as desired.

Also keep in mind the fiber content and tightness of the twist for the yarn you’ve picked. If it is very different from the yarn in the original pattern, you may be surprised by the results. Sometimes this is a pleasant surprise, other times not so much.

When substituting yarns your best friend is the swatch. For 3 swatches above I was trying out different size hooks with the same yarn to see which fabric I liked best. I know many crocheters hate to swatch, but it can save you a lot of heartache down the road. Working a swatch that is approximately 6×6 inches is usually enough to give you a feel for what the fabric is going to be like in a larger project. If there is intense blocking needed it is a good idea to block your swatch to see what result you will get.

For many of my design swatch experiments I often don’t cut the swatch from the ball of yarn. Instead I place the remains of the ball in a ziplock style bag sealed over the working strand. Then I handwash, spray and/or pin for blocking to see how the yarn responds. If it’s all a bust, I’ll eventually carefully unravel the swatch and rewind it on the original ball of yarn.

Now you have a few of my tricks to try out it is your turn to begin experimenting. Remember to enjoy the journey of discovery, after all crocheting is supposed to be fun.

It’s All by Design

Last week I posted about Jan and I having a great time exploring the sites in downtown Chicago after the Chain Link conference. Today I’m writing about the 2018 Chain Link Conference in Portland, Oregon. For me this is going to be a bit of a home-coming.

The first CGOA show I went to was in Portland in September 2008. I’ve told the story before how I met some of my dearest friends at that conference, two of them being Jan and Pam. In fact I met them both in my first class there.

Who could have guessed that a little less than 10 years later I would be returning to Portland for a conference as a board member? It will be a very busy conference for me as I hope to meet as many of our membership as possible, while also attending to my board responsibilities.

One of the exciting events at each conference is the Design Competition. The chair person this year for that committee is Louise Thurman and I am the board advisor. She and I have been working to get everything in place for the competition and I’m excited to see it coming together.

If you haven’t ever entered a piece in the Design Competition then this could be your year, you just need to be a member of CGOA to enter. The deadline for entries is June 30th, so you have plenty of time to get something ready. If you’ve been one to experiment with crocheting you may already have a finished piece that can be entered. It doesn’t have to be recently crocheted, it just needs to be your original design and not publicized or published before.

This year we will have 6 categories, that will be awarded a First, Second and Third place prize:

  1. Fashion: garments (not accessories), including sweaters, tops, jackets, vests, skirts and dresses.
  2. Accessories: including wraps, scarves, cowls, socks, mittens, hats, bags, belts and jewelry.
  3. Home Décor & Afghans: items primarily for the home, including afghans, throws, and baby blankets.
  4. Tunisian: 80% of design needs to be Tunisian crochet.
  5. Artistic Expression: items more artistic in nature, including free-form or mixed media pieces, wall hangings, and wearable art.
  6. Thread Crochet: anything made in crochet thread or fine/lace weight yarn (CYC category #0/Lace); this category may overlap other categories, and includes doilies, garments, baby clothes, or accessories.

Then there will also be the $1000 Grand Prize, the Technical Merit Award, and the People’s Choice Award.

Judging will take place at the conference Wednesday and the winners will be announced Friday evening at the Awards Ceremony. All the entries will be on display Thursday evening thru Saturday afternoon at the marketplace. Folks attending the conference will be able to cast a ballot for the People’s Choice Award, which will be announced Saturday evening at the Closing Ceremonies Banquet.

You can find out more details about the Design Competition and how to enter it at the CGOA website: Crochet.org. From the home page use the Members Only drop down menu at the top, then go to Design Competition.

Jan & Andee’s Chicago Adventure – Part 2

Since I’m now on the CGOA Board of Directors I am very involved with helping to plan the 2018 Chain Link Conference this coming July in Portland, OR. With that in mind, I thought I should get Part 2 of Jan and I’s Chicago adventure up on the blog.

When Jan and I heard that the 2017 Chain Link Conference was going to be held in Chicago we were very excited. Jan lived in Chicago for 10 years before she moved back East to be closer to her family. She says Chicago was one of her favorite places. I’ve always wanted to visit Chicago because of the Art Institute. They have an amazing collection there, especially of Impressionists (my favorites). I also am very interested in architecture and I knew that Chicago has some famous buildings.

Jan and I generally plan to travel on the Tuesday before the conference starts and then we stay an extra day if it is a place we want to explore. Being Chicago was definitely a place we wanted to explore we decided to stay 2 extra days. Honestly, a week extra is really needed to fully explore all downtown Chicago has to offer.

The first challenge we faced when planning our outings for our 2 days was how to best get from the Westin Hotel in Itasca to downtown Chicago. I was in favor of riding the El, but we still needed to get from the hotel to the nearest station. Fortunately this is where meeting Mike, the friendly cab driver, earlier in the week came in handy.

Jan had done all kinds of research for our 2 days to get the most out of the time we had to explore. Sunday we had reservations to go on an architectural boat tour on the river.

It was a great way to see a lot of the landmark buildings of downtown with a super informative guide (and without getting blisters on our feet).

It was amazing to me how much of Chicago’s impressive architecture is visible from the river.

Our second day was dedicated to the Art Institute.

Jan was a little worried that I was going to hyperventilate in the room where the Monet paintings were on display. I wasn’t really in trouble, but I was excited to see those paintings. Most of them I had only seen as photos in books.

It was wonderful to get close enough to the canvas and see how Monet had picked up various colors of paint in one brush stroke. Made my fingers itch to paint again.

It wasn’t just the Monets though, there were also many other paintings that I’ve always wanted to see. Like the beautiful “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte” by Georges Seraut. This is a massive canvas that took up most of one wall in the room with the Monets.

There was this lovely little painting by Degas, “Danseuse rose {Pink Dancer}“.

One of the things I most enjoyed about Chicago was the use of intricate metal working in the architectural details.  Jan had taken us on a specific path thru the city from the El to the Institute so I could see the beautiful Carson, Pirie,  Scott & Company store building (also known as the Sullivan Building). She was a bit horrified to realize it had been converted into a Target store. Though we were glad that the conversion was subtle, it had actually taken us sometime to realize it was a Target store and no longer the department store that Jan had known.

The Art Institute had many beautiful examples on display,

as well as some fascinating stone work.

We really could have spent a lot more time at the Art Institute, but our time was limited. I wanted to make it to the harbor to see Lake Michigan before we were heading back to our hotel.  I wasn’t able to get a really good photo of the lake, but I did get to see some ducks that were begging food off other harbor visitors.

Then we hiked back to our station to catch the El to head back to the hotel. We spent the evening discussing how we needed to do another trip to Chicago together as there were lots of other sites we never got to.

Later this summer I’ll have Jan and I’s next adventure to blog about when the 2 of us re-unite in Portland, Oregon at the 2018 Chain Link Conference. I hope you’ll be there too.