Monday, August 30, 2010

Easy Zipper Pouches

Before I talk about these little pouches, I have to confess something. I adore containers of any sort. It borders on obsession... I have the hardest time throwing out any sort of box or bag, although recently the promise of recycling has made it easier to part with the less lovely items. My very patient family is well aware of this... eccentricity (?) of mine, and they do their best to work around the various collections (tins, bottles, boxes, bags, totes, pouches...). The bonus to this is that I don't mind giving my treasures away, usually as gift wrapping. So if you're at the party, you'll always know the gift I brought because it's a recycled bag from Japan with lovely flowers (& illegible to most, but very decorative kanji of the store's name) on it :) Whew- good to get that off my chest!

These little pouches were a summer brainstorm. I learned last year, while working in Carol Norton's "Tapestry Crochet" book (picked up years before, but since I wasn't crocheting, I hadn't done anything with it), that putting a zipper into crochet fabric isn't all that bad. I sewed it in by hand, of course, & it went along very quickly, nicely, & invisibly. A big help were applique pins (which are not even an inch long) because they hold the zipper in without getting in the way of sewing (very much).

After this zipper experience, a couple of ideas occurred to me- wouldn't it be even easier to sew the zipper in if the pouch wasn't already a pouch (not sewn together yet), & wouldn't it be neat to make pouches from crocheted motifs? Of course the motifs would have to be
relatively hole-less (not lacy) or the contents would fall out. So I looked in my motif books & found this one (# 90 in Edie Eckman's "Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs" - a book I use all the time, because it has charts, & because it's organised very nicely). It's designed to be knit with 2 colours, like the orange & red one (made with KnitPicks Comfy fingering, 75% cotton & 25% acrylic yarn), but if you look closely it does give a jog when you change colours. I don't really mind this, but I thought it would be fun to try it in a variegated yarn (this one is Noro sock wool), too. I used a "c" hook (2.75 mm) to get a tight fabric without making it like cardboard.

The motifs, both made in fingering-weight yarn, are about 4" square, I just kept crocheting the motif until it fit the 4" zippers, the smallest I could find. I made two motifs for each pouch (of course) & the other side of the Noro one is grey & blue, due to the yarn's long colour changes.

The main excitement of sewing the zipper in is to match the sides properly when you sew each one to the zipper. I sewed the zipper tape to the wrong side of each motif, then put the pouch wrong sides together (just as you see them in the picture) & used the tails from the motifs (cut ~ 18" long) to sew the motifs together invisibly into the last round of crochet. If I had put them right sides together to sew them, they would have lost their "motif-ness" & I wanted them to look just as they had when I finished crocheting them.

I like the way they turned out. They are a good size & the fabric works well as a pouch. I gave the orange/red one to Sis, my new mother-in-law, & the other one is in my purse, keeping things under control. It took me maybe 3-4 evenings to finish each pouch, so it's a good gift project, especially with fun yarns & colours :) I hope to experiment with other shapes & fibres next.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Making simple crocheted shawls & scarves...

a few crocheted scarves
Although I'm still figuring out the design ins & outs for crocheted triangle shawls, it's really simple to make rectangular shawls (& scarves, of course). The main things you need are a good stitch guide, an array of different-sized hooks, the yarn of your choice, & some common sense about making fabrics.

The bottom line when making anything knitted or crocheted (or tatted, or bobbin-laced, or whatever your needlework choice) is to understand that you are making fabric. And, no matter how you shape it, the fabric you make should work well for the purpose you're making it.  In other words, the fabric you want to make for socks is not the same fabric that works well for a shawl. Socks' fabric should be sturdy enough to keep your toes in, yet stretchy enough to fit over your foot, & not so bulky that they won't fit in your shoes. Shawl fabric, even for very thick, warm shawls, needs some drape so you can wrap it around you. It can have quite large holes & still be shawlish, but fabric crocheted or knitted too tightly will end up being more of a blanket (or table-protector :) than a shawl.

One reason I abandoned crochet almost entirely more than 25 years ago is that I couldn't make the kinds of fabric that I wanted to with crochet. I wanted to make sweaters, but the fabric I ended-up making (using patterns & working to gauge) was too thick. I wanted to make mittens & socks, sweaters & shawls, so I turned to knitting & only got my hooks out when I needed a crocheted edge on a shawl, or when I needed to make a repair on fabric I was weaving.

my wedding gift to my new mother-in-law, Sis
As I mentioned in a prior post, a crochet motif book caught my eye in a craft store in Japan, nearly a year & a half ago, & after all these years, I am crocheting (like mad) again. I think the main reason I'm having so much fun (& so little frustration) with crochet these days is that I've finally figured-out the fabric thing. Not only have I been making knitted fabric for all these years (more than 30, if you count my "serious" knitting years) and felt confident enough in my fabric-making to have been a knitting teacher for more than 15 years, but I finally took the plunge into weaving about 8 years ago, which is probably the ultimate in fabric-making. In all of these different endeavours, there is a common thread- swatches. The only way to really know what kind of fabric you're going to get with yarn & needles, or yarn & hook, or yarn & loom, is to swatch it- make a small sample see what you get. And feel it. Wash it, stretch it, smoosh it, drape it. Feel it again. The you'll know if you're making sock fabric or shawl fabric. And if you want to make socks & the fabric feels like a shawl, then you need to do some adjusting, either in your yarn or your needle(s).

shawl from crocheted motifs
I think that another reason I'm having fun with crochet these days is that I have had a lot experience with lots of yarns- all sorts of fibres, blends, & especially weights of yarns- over these years of fabric-creating. I remember a time when lace or fingering yarn would have given me the shakes (too thin! too much! it'll take too long!!), but now I have a house full of it (my husband heaves a sigh...  ;) At some point in my fibre explorations I became a process person, for whom the process was just as rewarding as the final product. This mindset really helps when working in fine yarns. (Learning to spin my own yarn also took some of the scary out of working with various fibres & weights of yarn...)

shawl (& small crocheted cap for Sage) for my friend Katie
So, from an adventurous perspective, & loaded with lots of skinny yarns, I'm enjoying the process of figuring out how to make lovely, drapey fabrics from crochet. One of the ironies is that, although I'm finding the skinny yarns to be very useful, most of the scarves & shawls in this post were made from Lion Brand Recycled Cotton yarn, which is a light worsted weight. I did swatch it thoroughly, & took notes as to which hook gave the best shawlish fabric. Katie's & Sis's shawl stitches came from Linda Schapper's "The Complete Book of Crochet Stitch Designs" (Lark Books - & the companion book  "300 Classic Blocks for Crochet Projects" by the same author is also a favourite of mine). I added a crocheted-in fringe to Sis's, which worked well. The picture of Katie's (blue) shawl captures the drape of this relatively thick yarn. Two of the three scarves at the top are also made from Recycled Cotton yarn. The smaller, white & taupe one was made from an alpaca blend, sport weight yarn. It's the same stitch (from the same book) as the green one in that picture, but you can see the difference the weight of yarn makes... & I put motifs at the end to jazz them up a bit :) The orange shawl made from motifs is from lace-weight wool that I shibori-dyed (the colour gradations were very subtle, so they don't show up in the picture).  The motifs were put-together geometrically & simply, with no edging. Same for Katie's & Sis's shawls, which were made by repeating the same stitch pattern until it was big enough.

There is so much fun in producing something that works- does what it's supposed to do & feels good. I look forward to continuing my exploration of crocheted fabrics (& sharing them ;).

Friday, August 20, 2010

What's Wrong with this Picture...?

I found this cute, little crochet motif in the Japanese book previously blogged. I liked it's simplicity, & how it meshes together as you add motifs. Plus, it's a great opportunity to play with colour. So I decided to use every colour (except black, after some consideration) of KnitPicks Comfy (cotton/acrylic blend)  fingering weight yarn in the basket to make Something...

 I worked away one evening while watching "Natsume Yuujincho" with Brendan & achieved the row of motifs at the top of each picture. Next day, I decided to add row 2 (all a-quivver with excitement...). But row 2 didn't want to go on properly. After a lot of fussing & looking in the book, it hit me that I'd connected the whole first row the wrong way :(  What to do...
As you can see in this photo, the motifs need to be connected at 3 points, not 2, in order to make them all mesh together in the charming way that made me want to use this motif in the first place. Hmph... I guess you can guess by the photos what I chose to do. 

Start over, yep. (Small sigh.) Good thing it's a little, 3-row motif. The mis-made one can sit around & remind me to look carefully at the chart before I decide I'm doing it right. It's also a nice, cheerful chain of colour- always welcome :) 

It will be interesting to see what this turns out to be. The edge is angled, like many 8-sided motifs do when put-together (& 6-sided, for that matter). You can see the angling in the photo- the edge  on the right is growing, & if I keep the same number of motifs in every row (which I've been doing), then the left side moves in. It does move quickly, as projects go... I should clarify, since I don't know what this "project" is. The little motifs (they're about as long as my pinky finger- maybe 2.25 inches) only take about 5 minutes to make & attach, so adding them moves along quickly. I also made a glitch in the middle of row 2, attaching a motif on too many sides, which I found on the 3rd row. I muddled with it for a while, then just cut the offending motif out & remade it correctly, which was very easy to do.

I guess the bottom line with this project is that I'm not only indulging a desire to play with colour, but I'm learning a lot- as I usually do from trying something new & making mistakes!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The story of these little guys...

This basketful of fun was (were?) the end-of year presents for Brendan's teachers & school staff members this past Spring. Brendan had attended this school since 1st grade, so we were about as entrenched as you could have been at this school. It was a wonderful school, full of wonderful people, and as this was Brendan's final year there, we wanted something special to give to those special folks.

I'd started making amigurumi (the Japanese word for knitted or crocheted, stuffed toys) back in February, when my friend Momo brought a book of amigurumi masukotto (needlework mascots) patterns from Japan.

I wasn't very confident at first, because I was worried that I wouldn't be able to put the bodies together right, or the faces would look weird. But from the first, it all seemed to flow. I started with a teddy for my purse, & then made mascots for friends. I made a rabbit holding a carrot for Brendan's Easter basket (which later became the character in a book he wrote- more on that another time) & he really liked it. So when I suggested mascots for his teachers, as a little bit of Brendan to keep with them after he left, he liked the idea. I just made different ones that caught my fancy, & when we had enough he assigned them to each person. I found cute, little gift bags at JoAnn's to package them in, & I just wrote on the bags (the To~From part) with sharpies & tied them with fun ribbons.

I think the giftees enjoyed receiving them (& hopefully still are enjoying them :). Brendan had fun giving them, for sure. And- most of them have gemstone hearts, an idea that hit me as I was creating them, based on an idea from "Gakuen Alice" (see the manga & anime sidebar). So- even though that basket is empty now, they are keeping other folks company, carrying precious memories. 'Nuff said!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Red Crochet Shawl

This shawl is from the Summer 2010 issue of Interweave Crochet. It was on the cover, actually, but all in blue. (I apologise for the poor photo- I took it on the dining room table, which was, for once, nearly clear &, for once, had a white cloth on it.) Being an iconoclastic sort, I don't usually make anything I see in magazines or books, at least exactly as printed...  I have been a knitwear designer for more than 15 years & am pretty hung-up on making my own designs. But, being newish to crochet design (although I've been crocheting for ~42 years...) I've only made stoles since taking up the hook again, & wanted to try my hand at triangle shaping. So I decided to make something from a pattern for the experience (thank goodness there were charts...!).

 I looked in the stash baskets for the right amount of yarn- of course there wasn't quite enough in any one colour, of the right weight anyway. So I found 2 skeins of one colour & one of another, all the same weight &, gasp, even the same fibres & brand. This yarn is Knitpicks Gloss (merino & silk blend) laceweight yarn, in raisin (discontinued now & on sale when I bought it, hence the 2 balls of it, heh, heh) and the red- can't remember the exact name. Either way, I thought they harmonised nicely when I held the balls together & they indeed harmonise well in the shawl, I think. 

It took maybe 6 weeks to make, not consistently working on it, though (I always have at least 4-5 projects going at once). As I worked along I found lots of things I might have done differently, but I like the pattern overall. The flowers in the main body & edging are made over 2 rows for each flower, which was kind of neat. It blocked very well & dried quickly, & it has a lovely drape. When I blocked it I was showing a friend how to block, so it was fun as well as educational :)

Like a lot of needleworkers, I began with crochet, taught by grandma when I was 10-ish years old (maybe earlier). I crocheted all through my teen years, & progressed to crocheting lace as I got older. But I ran into the difficulty of not being able to make anything useful (not purely decorative) other than crocheted washcloths & potholders, because of the thick fabric. I tried making a sweater but it just didn't drape or look the way I wanted it to. When a good friend was able to re-introduce me to knitting in my early 20's (another skill left-handed me had learned at a tender age from left-handed grandma) I dropped the hook & didn't pick it up again except for crocheted edgings for shawls (very useful). I didn't think much of crocheting until April 2009, when I was in Japan, shopping for crochet books for a Japanese friend back in the US. There was this really cute motif book & all the patterns were charted!!! And the colours... I haven't looked back since, and knitting has just has to share me with crochet these days.

Perhaps the most fun of taking up crochet again, after all these years, is the joy of deconstruction & learning new technical skills. In order to design with crochet, I need to be able to deconstruct the actual stitch patterns to see how they will fit, either together, or in a particular item or garment. Thinking about the fabric that crochet makes- how to make it thin enough for shawls or sweaters, how to use thicker yarns to create interesting lacey things- is really absorbing & rewarding. Add the ease of changing colours in crochet, & it has become *the new obsession*.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Wonderful Book

This is my go-to crochet book these days, when I want really lovely motifs that either work together (to make something bigger) or stand-alones (to use as small doilies or coasters. The title translates as "Motif*Edging 300" & the book is from Japan, land of the always-charted crochet patterns, and appears to be published by Nihon Vogue. I bought it late winter time from the late, lamented Sasuga books (moment of silence) & I honestly didn't even know what I gem I was getting at the time. I think I was trying to get my book order up to $40 so I'd get free shipping...

Other than every last design being charted in easy to understand terms, the other main thing I love about this book is that it not only shows you photos (some in colour) & charts of each motif, but also photos & charts of the motifs put together, with charts for any small motifs to fill in the spaces between motifs. Multi-coloured motifs are shown in colour, so you can see how pretty they are (or not... but most are gorgeous).

The small motifs at the bottom of the picture are the beginning of something to soothe a soul hungry for lots of colour. Most of what I've been making lately is shower & wedding presents for a friend who requested muted colours for gifts, so it's been creams & taupes & browns for the past couple of weeks. Occasionally I go over to Attic24 & geek out over the lovely colours (& how she refers to crochet as "hooky" :) so I decided it was time (now that the wedding prezzies are blocking on the bed (I can hear Charlie's plaintive call to unpin so he can go to bed...) to make some colour splashes of my own. I found a little, 3-round motif that kind of pinwheels around, so I thought I'd put together something with every colour of Knitpick's comfy fingering that I have... I'll take another photo when it's farther along.

I have made everything from swatches, scarves, doilies & baby bonnets, to the aforementioned wedding prezzies (will post pictures after the wedding) from this book & have not even begun to get bored. Hooray for wonderful books like this one. Hopefully it will keep me busy until we get back to Japan next summer...

As long as you don't turn it on until you want to cut the wool...

Hi, I'm back!

I checked and, outside of trips to Japan, I haven't really blogged in more than 2 years! Yikes!

So, here's why:

I took a break from blogging because I was part of the search for a new minister for our church & was really worried that I might leak something while we were in search (there were some things we couldn't make public immediately & I was afraid of the loose-lips syndrome). Then we found a wonderful new minister (more than 2 years ago...) & I could go back to regular blogging... but I didn't. A lot had changed during those 9 months of search. Of course people change over time, but especially kids change at an amazing rate over time. While I was on search my little boy became a pre-teen. And as much as he still & will always have Aspergers (& Tourettes, & OCD...) the way I relate to a pre-teen (& now real-live teen) has changed remarkably over these past few years. It's all so much clearer to me nowadays that he is raising us as much as we've raised him. We follow his lead, & he shows us what he needs. The ultimate goal is a peaceful family life, & when things aren't peaceful, we work together to put it back together.

It was very satisfying to share our family life in my "Life in the New Republic" blog,  As much as I want to continue to share our journey as a family with neurodiversity, out of respect for Brendan's growing-up, I've decided that his privacy is more important. We still have our ups & downs- some teen-related, some neurodiversity-related, some not related to any of that- but he's not a little boy any more. He's 14 years old & heading for high school in just a few weeks, for heaven's sake! (Mom takes a deep breath.) (Brendan is calmly excited about it all.)

Anyway, in these intervening months & years I have missed blogging. Blogging is what finally turned me into a writer, removing my life-long writer's-block issues so that it's really fun to write now. Plus, blogging is communication- a good way to stay in touch with friends far & wide, so I've finally decided to jump back in.

This blog, as you can see by the title, will be more about my on-going love of the fibre arts. Knitting, crochet, weaving, dyeing, sewing, crafting, beading- they are my sanity, my (sometimes contentious) friends, my ways of communication with the outside world. They help me connect with others, they drive my family nuts sometimes, but my patient husband & son would always admit that they are an essential part of my life.

So I plan to share projects, plans, pictures, & occasional glimpses into our family life as well. I plan to practise my Japanese as well, so there will be "secret codes" occasionally embedded for my Japanese friends. たのしみ、ね?(As a side note, Brendan & I have been studying Japanese for 5 years, and it has become another constant in our lives, just like fibre stuff :) Also, when I speak of knitting, I am really using the word in an all-inclusive way, as the Japanese do- amimono, or needlework. As you will see...

So, as soon as I can figure out how to manage the new (to me) editing controls, there will be pictures. Look forward to it!