The Upside of Stubborn

I saw this video on how to make an argyle pattern with a crochet stitch and got all excited. I had to try it. I went through my stash and found a yarn I thought would work (based on their explanations) but after several tries, I hadn’t succeeded.

earlyattempt_sockyarn_web
One of many failed attempts (this one used a sock yarn I had in my stash). NOTE: I’m pretty sure I could get this yarn to work now that I know more about it.
crochetargyle_web
Intentional crochet color pooling, or how to get an argyle pattern using only one yarn.

Determined to make something using this fun technique, I went out and bought a yarn that was on one of many lists of yarns that have been tested and work. I bought a crochet hook (I) to match the yarn and went to it.

I tried. And I tried. And I tried. I started using smaller and smaller hooks to see if I could get the pattern to work, but nothing was working. I went through 5 different hooks (I had to buy 3 of them). I crocheted, then ripped it out, then crocheted some more. Lots of ripping it back out.

I had ideas I thought would fix my problems and none of them worked.

But I still wanted to succeed.

So I watched another video. This one had a few details I had missed before, plus it cleared up a misconception I had about how the pattern should develop. She was much more adamant about the fussiness of this technique. I knew I might need to adjust tension now and then. She explained it was something that must be done constantly.

I started again, this time with a set of 3 hooks (G, H, I). I kept close tabs on how the colors were showing up in the stitches, and would change hooks to fix the tension (pulling out stitches to re-make them) until the colors were in the right places.

It is a fussy technique, but at last, I got it working. And I realized that stubbornness (more kindly referred to as determination) only makes us successful if we recognize that something isn’t working and we change what we are doing. To keep doing the thing that doesn’t work over and over again doesn’t get us anywhere.

I changed hooks. I gathered more ideas about how to do it by watching another video. I made more notes to help myself figure out how to get the colors to come out right.

And I succeeded.

FOR THOSE WHO ARE INTERESTED: Click here for the tips and tricks that helped me most.

When has being stubborn paid off for you?

Trying To Knit A Flat Circle? Geometry to the Rescue!

I learned a lot making my contribution for the All We Are Saying peace blanket. As soon as I started, I should have known geometry would rear its ugly head. All I wanted to do was make a circle in a square using yarn.

MISTAKE NUMBER ONE: Deciding to make a circle.

Crochet rocks flat circles, as the wonderful mandalas designed by Marinke prove. However, I have a lot more experience with knitting, and since I need a square to go around my circle, I decided to knit instead of crocheting.

MISTAKE NUMBER TWO: Thinking “I should knit this!”

Mandala designed by Marinke... and so round!
Crocheted mandala designed by Marinke… and so round!

I know that knitting a flat circular shape is possible. In fact, I was certain it would be easy. The sides of the East Meets West Satchel I made a few years ago were originally knit as one big flat circle. (Actually, it’s a decagon — a polygon with ten sides. But it approximates a circle and generates a circular pattern, which is what I wanted.) The only trick was figuring out how many stitches to increase by as the circle got bigger.

See? A knitted flat circle. Easy-peasey.
See? A knitted, flat circle. Easy-peasey. (OK. It’s not actually a circle… the regularly spaced increases make wedges.)

My first “circle” was a complete experiment. I just added stitches when it felt right. Not surprisingly, when the piece was big enough to transfer from double-pointed needles to a circular needle, I discovered that my circle was actually a circle and a half and not even remotely flat.

MISTAKE NUMBER THREE: Winging it.

Since I had a deadline to meet, I stopped re-inventing the wheel. I got online and found a pattern for knitting flat circles. The pattern was simple and what I expected. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. After 10 rows, my flat circle looked like a mouse hat. I figured I was doing something wrong, unraveled it, and tried again. I got a cup, when I wanted a coaster.

By now, I was annoyed. The pattern promised a flat circle but didn’t actually make a flat circle. The pattern didn’t say anything about gauge (the size of the stitches). The instructions were extrapolated from another pattern, and the knitter must have used yarn and needles similar to those called for in the original pattern, because the circle in the picture is flat. I tried to fix the non-flat circle pattern with my own adjustments. Things improved, but the circle wasn’t flat no matter what I did.

MISTAKE NUMBER FOUR: Trying to fix something that was clearly broken.

I stepped back and thought about what I was doing, and that’s when the light bulb went off. If the size of the stitches mattered, then I needed to apply geometry.

THE THING I DID RIGHT: Stopping a minute to think about what I was trying to do.

THE OTHER THING I DID RIGHT: Realizing geometry was the answer.

Math often comes up when knitting, so I wasn’t completely daunted. However I got a C in geometry in high school, something my husband loves to tease me about since I also worked as a computer programmer for years. Although I am good at math in general, I’m not quite as confident when I have to use my ancient C-level geometry skills.

The key was to think about the circles my knitting was making. I looked up the equation for calculating the circumference of a circle (2πr) to make sure I had it right. Then I got out my gauge swatch (which I already had for this particular yarn and needle size) to measure both the height and width of my knit stitch.

My calculations, complete with mistakes.
My calculations, complete with mistakes.

I calculated number of stitches for the outside edge of each successive row of my circle and noticed a pattern was forming. The difference between the outer circumference of adjacent rows of knitting was a fixed number and that number told me exactly how many stitches I needed to increase in every row to get a flat circle. When I did the algebra (which is probably where I should have started), I found the single equation used in my simple pattern.

I sat down to knit, finally certain I would have my circle. However, increasing by five stitches in the same places every round gave me a pentagon, not a circle.

MISTAKE NUMBER FIVE: Spacing my increases at regular intervals.

Circle_web
Flat but not exactly a circle… My regular increases are making a pentagon!

I started again, this time knowing what I needed to do: increase by the same number of stitches in every row, at irregular intervals. Finally, I got something circular in design.

FlatCircle_web

That I had to chase my tail a bit before realizing the elegant and simple solution to my knitting problem could be construed as proof that my C in geometry was well-deserved. However, I’d like to think my teacher would be proud to learn that more than 30 years later, I am finding ways to use geometry in my everyday life.

Of course, my ordeal was not yet over. I had to solve the problem of adding corners to my circle to make a square, plus my first block came out too large and I had to do it all over AGAIN. In the end, I think all the effort was worth it. My finished work is on display, starting today, along with the other textile contributions about world peace at the All We Are Saying show in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England.

The Colorful Crochet of Marinke Slump

I’m in the middle of knitting my block for the All We Are Saying peace blanket project. I probably should have tried crocheting it, but I’m still feeling like a bumbling beginner. As a beginner, I’m on the lookout for simple patterns that interest me so I can get some practice in while making something I love.

Recently, I came across the work of Marinke Slump (also known as Wink). I’m in love with the bright colors she uses, as well as her mastery of making simple projects look elegant. Her website provides lots of free patterns, as well as a few for sale.

What first caught my attention was her mandalas. I love circles and they seem to be a natural shape to crochet. Hers vary from the most basic concentric circles to intricate flower-like structures.

Standard Mandala by Marinke Slump
Standard Mandala by Marinke Slump
Picot Mandala by Marinke Slumpe
Picot Mandala by Marinke Slumpe

Her little hearts are definitely on my list of things to try. I can imagine these cuties hanging from a Christmas tree or as a pin with some beads or embroidery added.

Little hearts by Marinke Slump
Little hearts by Marinke Slump

The other thing Slump does well is make use of granny squares. Her crochet squares bag makes an unusually shaped carry-all from a stack of granny squares.

Crochet squares bag by Marinke Slump
Crochet squares bag by Marinke Slump

The single-color granny squares in her kaleidoscopic lap rug give an old stand-by a fresh, modern look.

Kaleidoscope lap rug by Marinke Slump
Kaleidoscope lap rug by Marinke Slump

I keep talking about Marinke in the present tense, but I first learned about her through the Mandalas for Marinke project which was created in response to her suicide in June 2015. Knowing that she struggled with depression and crocheted to help herself deal with it just makes all these projects seem that much more precious to me. She was able to capture the light with her hook and yarn. It’s sad to think that the dark defeated her.

Dinosaurs From the Knit-aceous Period

My recent dragon fixation has shifted to dinosaurs. I’m not sure how I got the itch to combine dinosaurs and yarn, but I’m apparently not the only one. There are some amazing dinosaur patterns out there, in a full range of styles.

For fast and cute, you can’t beat these adorable crocheted baby brachiosaurs (free pattern) designed by Jana Whitley.

Baby Brachiosaurus designed by Jana Whitley
Baby Brachiosaurus designed by Jana Whitley

You can also knit a more complex and stylized stegosaurus (free pattern) designed by Tina Barrett.

stegasaurus

In fact, Deramores has a plethora of free dinosaur patterns for both knitters and crocheters, including the two I mentioned above. Definitely check out their other offerings, including with the exciting news that archeologists have discovered the first knitting dinosaur, the Derasaur. (They posted that on April 1. Do you think that means something?)

If you want a more practical dino, how about a hat? Free patterns are available for both crocheted (Danyel Pink)  and knitted (Kris Hanson) hats with dinosaur spikes on top.

Dinosaur Spikes crocheted cap designed by Danyel Pink
Dinosaur Spikes crocheted cap designed by Danyel Pink
Knit Dino Cap, designed by Kris Hanson
Knit Dino Cap, designed by Kris Hanson

Of all the dino knits I found, however, my favorite is Christine Grant’s Tracy Triceratops, which has the level of detail I love in an animal knitting project.

Tracy Triceratops, knit pattern by Christine Grant
Tracy Triceratops, knit pattern by Christine Grant

While I’m sharing fun dino-knits, I can’t pass up sharing Katie Bradley’s charming tortoise “cozies”. She knits these covers (or costumes, depending on how you look at it) for her many pet tortoises. She’s made them pumpkin covers, shark fins, and, of course, dinosaur spikes.

Katie Bradley's adorable Tortoise Cozies, dinosaur style
Katie Bradley’s adorable Tortoise Cozies, dinosaur style

To get the full fun of her creations, watch this short video of her pets modeling their cozies.

I’m not willing to tell you what exactly I am up to with my own dinosaur knitting project. So here’s a teaser picture to give you a hint.

Tyrannosaurus Rex + yarn = ???
Tyrannosaurus Rex + yarn = ???

Any dino-knits in your life? Feel free to share them here.

Yarn Inspirations: Knit and Crochet Bags and Backpacks

I’ve been trying to figure out how to spend my birthday money. The list has gotten so long that I now have way more I want to buy than money to spend. The list includes everything from new headphones to a new dictionary to yarn for a big project to a new purse. Suddenly, it hit me. What if I combined two of my wants into one? I could cross two things off my list and save a little money in the process.

I ruled out knitting headphones and went straight for knitting a new bag. Not that I need any, really. I’m a bit of a bag junkie. I’ve got plenty of them lying around and yet I’m always ready to add one more to the collection. I’ve knit some bags before, including the colorful East Meets West Satchel designed by Kerin Dimeler-Laurence. So I know the joy of making my own bags.

East Meets West Satchel made by Kit Dunsmore from a kit; designed by Kerin Dimeler-Laurence.
East Meets West Satchel made by Kit Dunsmore from a kit; designed by Kerin Dimeler-Laurence.

As soon as it occurred to me that I might make my new bag myself, I was online looking for ideas. Here are some of the ones that appealed to me most. (None of them actually look like the bag I think I need, but that’s not that important, right?) Some are projects made by individuals, others are available as patterns or kits from distributors. I’m not endorsing or guaranteeing anything or anyone, just sharing the things I found interesting.

The first project that caught my eye was a wonderful crocheted house bag by The Twisted Yarn. An original design, this bag has lots of lovely detail on the outside plus some good design features (like a lining) that would make it a bag you can actually use. (The pattern is not available yet, but she says it will be soon.)

The Twisted Yarn's crocheted house bag.
The Twisted Yarn’s crocheted house bag.
The Twisted Yarn's house bag is lined, and everything. Sweet!
The Twisted Yarn’s house bag is lined, and everything. Sweet!

While I am theoretically looking for a new purse, I found myself perusing backpacks instead. The patterns were more whimsical and appealing to my “I refuse to be a grown-up” tastes. Morehouse Farm carries a bunch of kits for animal-themed bags and backpacks that are probably intended for kids. My favorite design? The elephants, both the backpack and the little purse.

Elephant Backpack kit by Morehouse Farm
Elephant Backpack kit by Morehouse Farm

A lovely backpack by InfiniKnits uses entrelac knitting in rainbow colors for a cheery effect.

InfiniKnits' knit backpack
InfiniKnits’ knit backpack

Just as colorful is Made By Julianne’s string bag. This knit bag would be very handy on shopping day.

Made By Julianne's knit string bag
Made By Julianne’s knit string bag

Most of the bags I’ve knit myself are simple drawstring bags, so I have to include a few of those, too. Knitwhits’ striped drawstring bag (available both as a pattern and a kit) is knitted and reminds me of my grandmother’s afghans.

Knitwhits' Roma bag; a knit bag with a crocheted afghan look.
Knitwhits’ Roma bag; a knit bag with a crocheted afghan look.

I also found a pattern for a drawstring bag covered with cables. It looks like a great project for someone interested in practicing cables without committing to a sweater.

Cable bag (Sandra Singh)
Cable That Bag! (Gardiner Yarn works)

I still haven’t decided how to spend my birthday money, but at least I had fun looking at all these different projects and sharing them with you.

Tired of Snow? Here’s Some Color Therapy to Warm You Up

I love snow and I hate snow. I love how peaceful the world feels as it’s falling. Everyone hides inside and waits for the storm to end and we wind up with a world that looks new and magical in its fluffy coat. Unfortunately, I don’t tolerate the cold well, and all that whiteness eventually gets on my nerves. It doesn’t take long before the dreamy, peaceful landscape seems barren and dead. I need some color to help warm me up.

When I lived in upstate New York, the darkness of the winters would weigh me down. My favorite antidote was color therapy: I’d spend my lunch hour at my favorite quilt store, wandering through the rooms, absorbing all the colors displayed on the shelves of fabric. I’d usually go home with at least a fat quarter of something new to play with, but the real benefit was being exposed to color to counter winter’s white, black, and gray.

Thanks to the internet, you can get color therapy without leaving the house. While I was soaking up the beautiful colors in other people’s projects, I realized the things I found were too cool not to share.

Part of my color therapy is just working with bright colors myself. Recently, I made some more crochet owls using Bunny Mummy’s free pattern. While I think the pattern is really cute, I was pretty sure smaller would be even cuter, so I dug out scraps of sock yarn and got to work. I’ve included the owl I made using worsted to give you an idea of the size difference.

Owls

A brightly colored project that made me smile, Graziela Leah’s DIY tea cozy uses an unusual crochet stitch. Click through to see some pictures of how the crocheted chain that goes up the side of the pot is made.

DIY Tea Cozy Leah

Another rainbow project that caught my eye was Rocky Char’s knitted equalities cowl. A simple idea with colorful results.

equalitiesCowl

Also for knitters, I found Nikki M’s stranded colorwork. She’s making a scarf full of different patterns in order to practice the technique. Smart!

colorwork

Perhaps the most elegant dose of color I found is this knitted shawl by Mollie and Claire. (I think Claire did the knitting; Mollie is apparently a dog.)

ShawlMollieandclaire

Do you need color therapy to get through the winter? What do you do to get it?

Finished Friday: Crocheted Owl and Cockatoo Necklace

I’m just back from a week in Tucson, where I helped my sister sell her art glass beads at The Best Bead Show, which is part of the annual Gem and Mineral show that takes over the entire city for nearly a month. As a downtime project, I took along Bunny Mummy’s free crocheted owl pattern and a bunch of scrap yarn. I made my first crocheted owl.

OwlFront_web

OwlBack_web

The pattern is very detailed and easy to follow, with lots of photos to help explain things. I used yarn instead of beads for the center of the eyes, but otherwise I followed directions. I even made the wings, although I don’t think it necessarily needs them.

eyeCU_web

WingCU_webMy yarns were not all the same weight, so I doubled up on the thin ones. Instead of using a single yarn doubled, however, I put together two different light-weight yarns of similar shade, which gave the final project richer colors. The yellow (except for the beak) is two yarns, and the dark blue-purple is one strand of blue, one strand of purple.

If you look closely, you can see that the yellow is really one strand of yellow and one of gold.
If you look closely, you can see that the yellow is really one strand of yellow and one of gold.

The only thing I don’t like about this project is the size. I was hoping for a more petite owl, so I will try this again with a sock yarn and see if I can deal working that many stitches that small.

My other project from the week is a necklace I made while in Tucson. My sister gave me the beautiful cockatoo bead as a thank you for helping her out and I bought the rest of the beads at the show. Then she helped me finish it since my jewelry-making skills are rusty. I love how it came out.

The cockatoo is glass with a delicate feather pattern in transparent all over it. The bead is 2 inches long. Bead by Cleo Dunsmore Buchanan (Grama Tortoise Beads)
The cockatoo is glass with a delicate feather pattern in transparent all over it. The bead is 2 inches long. Bead by Cleo Dunsmore Buchanan (Grama Tortoise Beads)

Have you finished an art or craft project recently? Share it here!