Friday, August 27, 2010

A Tale of Two Afghans

On the plus side, it's very warm.
Several years ago, I decided the time had come for me to try crocheting something other than a scarf. An afghan, I thought, would be perfect. After all, scarves are just rectangles, and so are afghans, and I could crochet scarves all right.

Never mind that I couldn't read a crochet pattern yet, never having bothered to learn the abbreviations or the symbols. I bought a ripple afghan pattern booklet, a truckload of Bernat Soft Boucle yarn in four lovely colors, and set to work, possibly without ever really looking at that booklet.

I had no concept of increases and decreases, so I just made something up, resulting in a very uneven ripple pattern. But I soldiered on, happily crocheting and sipping beer while my friends played Rock Band and watched Dr. Who.* Meanwhile, the afghan didn't just get longer, it got wider. Somehow I was adding stitches to the width, without being exactly sure how.  So in order to reel that tendency back in--because I wasn't about to rip out all my progress--I just inserted a lot of random decreases, which resulted in an odd ruffled effect across one end of the afghan. (You can sort of see that in this picture--those folds along the bottom are not just from the way it's draped.)

The winter ended, it got too hot to spend all my time with a blanket draped across my lap, and, apparently, I was expected to write a thesis in order to graduate. So the afghan went on hold. I pulled it out last winter, half-heartedly crocheted a few more rows, and decided I was sick of it. I fastened it off, wove in the ends, folded it up at the end of my bed, and decided I would never do that again.

So, naturally, I started another afghan in June. By then I knew how to read and follow patterns, I could increase and decrease reliably, and sometimes I even bothered to count my stitches. I also picked a pattern that was virtually impossible to screw up: a retro-cool giant granny square. Inspired by the color scheme of the Great Granny pattern in the July/August 2010 issue of Crochet Today, I set to work.

I finished it last night, and I really couldn't be happier with the way it turned out. The difference between the two afghans--essentially, the difference between my skills two years ago and my skills now--is astonishing. What changed? I stopped saying "screw it" and making things up, and instead sat down and made a concentrated effort to learn new techniques and do them properly.

Technical Details (granny square afghan): I used a size K/10 1/2 6.5mm hook and worsted weight yarn: Red Heart Soft Yarn in teal, off white, grape, seafoam, and light gray heather. (I don't always love Red Heart yarns, but the Soft Yarn is perfect for projects like this--it really is soft, it's not very expensive, and it comes in a nice range of colors.) The finished afghan is about 50" square.

*Yes, this was during college. Our Rock Band name was the Sonic Screwdrivers. We were... kind of weird.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Force is strong with this one

So! Cute!
I'm a nerd, I admit it freely. In fact there's no "admitting" involved: I wear it on my sleeve.  I love Battlestar Galactica, Firefly and Serenity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and, of course, Star Wars. So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled across lucyravenscar's Etsy shop. It's the crocheting nerd's paradise. I want every pattern she makes, but so far, I've only purchased her Yoda pattern. He'll be a thank-you gift for someone who has been a huge help to me professionally over the past few years, and who also happens to love Star Wars.

The pattern is great--clear, easy to follow, and includes several pictures. And oh my golly, you all, it turned out amazing, if you'll let me brag a little bit. Of course, most of the credit here has to go to the pattern designer--the ears are what makes it, and she got them spot-on. I really can't wait to give this as a gift (and then make another for myself!)

Technical details: I used a size E/4 3.5mm hook and worsted weight yarn. Yoda's skin is Lion Brand Cotton-Ease in lime and the robe is Lion Brand Vanna's Choice in beige. The single row of brown is Loops 'n Threads Impeccable in chocolate. (I think that's Michaels' store brand? It's not bad.) Stuffed with scrap yarn bits, polyester fiberfill, and nine centuries' accumulated wisdom about the Force. Roughly 3 1/4" tall.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I made a cactus

I finally got around to trying out the cactus patterns I posted last week. I ended up combining the two patterns into a hybrid I'm rather proud of. I used Ana Paula's basic form, but with a few extra rounds (including a few extra rounds of increases) to make it bigger. The stubby little branch is a smaller version of the same. The flowers came from nadia308's tutorial, and I departed from both patterns by substituting an actual terracotta pot ($0.79 at Michael's) for a crocheted one. I just stuffed it and hot-glued the crochet in along the edge of the "sand." It looks great, if I say so myself.

This may be addictive. I really want to find more plants to crochet. It'll be my personal alternative to the crocheted food craze.

Technical details: I used a size E/4 3.5mm hook and worsted weight yarn: Vanna's Choice in fern and beige and Lion Brand Cotton Ease in terracotta. It's stuffed with my usual combination of leftover yarn bits and polyester fiberfill.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book review: Stitch 'n Bitch Crochet: The Happy Hooker by Debbie Stoller

cover image from
Let me get my complaint out of the way first: I hate how hard this book (and others of its type) tries to convince me that crochet is hip. For one thing, I don't care if crochet is hip or not--I do it because I enjoy it, not because I'm trying to make myself cooler (that's a lost cause anyway). And if I were that insecure about a hobby, well, I'm not sure that the semi-forced girlfriend-to-girlfriend banter and "edgy" title would convince me. No one I know actually talks like that.

That said, I deeply appreciate the book's attempt to provide patterns that are flattering and wearable for younger consumers. Some of us might have learned to crochet from our grandmothers,* but that doesn't mean we want to limit ourselves to the the sort of things our grandmothers crocheted. If that makes sense.

The patterns are largely aimed at women; there are a few unisex and more masculine patterns, three baby patterns, and a few miscellaneous items (housewares, stuffed animals, etc). Most of the clothing patterns go up to size XL or XXL, and, of course, the accessories are one size fits all. Some of the patterns are questionable (just because you can crochet a bikini doesn't mean you should), but most are patterns I could picture a real person wearing or using, even if they're not all to my personal taste. (I am picky.) The range of styles and designers that Stoller has collected is fairly impressive and goes a long way towards disproving the notion that good crocheted clothing can't be done.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Free patterns: cacti

photo from Flickr user Nadia308
I am about to start a brand-new, very exciting, grown-up job. I will have my very own desk and a computer I don't have to share with anyone. This is thrilling.

Naturally, I want to personalize my space a little bit--all the more important since my workspace is a warehouse. It'll be roomy, but not exactly homey. So far, I've got a fun job-related poster, a photo of my handsome fiance, and a small whiteboard with colorful markers for my to-do list. What more could a girl want for her first desk?

Crochet, of course! And also plants. Unfortunately the space doesn't have any windows (and I'm not sure that a potted plant--with dirt and the possibility of bugs--belongs in an art storage warehouse). So real plants are out.

So, I decided to make my first installment of Free Patterns from the Internet all about crocheted plants. Cacti, to be specific. Too cute, right?

The first cactus comes from Ana Paula's Amigurumi Patterns, and features an adorable smile and a sweet bow.

The second pattern comes from Flickr user nadia308, who provides step-by-step photos and instructions. I love the itty-bitty cactus flowers (see photo above). (NB: Nadia's Flickr profile indicates that she's in Australia, so she uses different stitch terminology than the US. Double-check to make sure you're doing the correct stitches.)

You could really have fun with your choice of fibers for these patterns. If there was ever an occasion for green fun fur, this could be it. The right yarn might come pretty close to the actual texture of some cacti (except soft instead of spiky).

And if you want a huggable cactus but don't want to make it yourself, well, that's what Etsy's for. A quick search for "crocheted cactus" turns up 90 results, for patterns and finished objects alike. (And a couple of complete non-sequiturs, but that's what makes web searches fun, right?)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Crochet for weddings

Here's a gross oversimplification for the ages: weddings, like holidays, frequently bring out the worst in the craft world. Or maybe just in the crochet world, because overall, DIY wedding stuff seems to be getting a lot better. Or maybe I just read the right wedding blogs.

Still, I haven't been feeling a lot of love for the intersection of crochet and weddings. I'm getting married in May, and since I'm into DIYing it in general and crocheting in particular, I'd love to find one or two ways to incorporate that into Our Special Day. Crochet Today's wedding feature in the May/June 2010 issue gave me a brief burst of hope, but that was quickly dashed when I saw the patterns. They're not bad, exactly (except the crocheted wedding cake--I just think that's weird), but they're not really me, let alone us.

I'm not planning on a gigantic veil, so the bridal headband might have some potential buried underneath the starched flowers and the pearl beads, but the effort it would take to make it work for me is probably not worth it. Not when Etsy exists. The double wedding rings blanket would be great in a different colorway, but that would be for our house, not the wedding day itself.

I could make a pretty awesome ring bearer pillow... but I don't think we're having a ring bearer. (And I don't think our best man would be down with toting a pillow around. Not as long as suits come with pockets.) I'm not really a lacy-wrap-wearing kind of girl, and I don't think my 'maids are either. So far, my two best ideas are amigurumi cake toppers (zombie for him, robot-with-a-veil for me?) and doilies like these for under our centerpieces. (Which will also be DIY. Thanks, Martha!)

Anyone have any better ideas for adding (modern, fun) crochet touches to a wedding?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Book review: Creepy Cute Crochet by Christen Haden

cover image from
Let me get right to it: I love this book. Seriously, it might be my favorite crochet book ever, if we judge by the fact that I want to make every single pattern in it. Even the monkey, and I hate monkeys.

This book was also my introduction to amigurumi, the art of making small and sickeningly cute stuffed objects. I'm not a fan of sickeningly cute, but I am a fan of robots, zombies, ninjas, and more.

So far, I've made three of the patterns: the Corporate Zombie (to celebrate my fiance's first "grown-up" job), Cthulu (because the fiance loves Lovecraft), and the robot, which is dangling merrily from my rear view mirror. My next project from the book will probably be Medusa, a mythological villain for whom I've always had a soft spot.

The patterns are well-written, clear and easy to follow, even for an amigurumi newbie like me. Each pattern has a series of illustrations to show how the creatures are assembled, and all of the crocheted elements include a visual diagram to accompany the written instructions. The book does not provide basic crochet instruction, which is fine by me, as that's easy to find elsewhere. Plus, I don't think amigurumi is a very good introduction to crochet. While it's not (necessarily) difficult, if you're not used to increases, decreases, counting stitches, and working in the round, then trying to do it all on a very small scale is going to be frustrating. Still, if you've been crocheting for awhile and want to try amigurumi, this book would be a fine place to start.

One of the best things about it, though, is the author's blog, Not only does she show off her wicked cool crochet work and offer some free patterns, she's also made video and written tutorials that provide more detailed instructions on some of the trickier bits of the patterns in the book (Cthulu's wings and tentacles, for example). There's also a Flickr group dedicated to showcasing people's creepy-cute creations. Thanks, Internet age, for making that possible.

So, two thumbs up to Creepy Cute Crochet by Christen Haden (who needs to go forth and write the sequel, pronto).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

ISO: the perfect vacation project

I'm about to go spend a week in the mountains, with nothing in particular to do except eat Goldfish and drink iced lattes. I found a couple good space operas at the library, and if the spirit moves me, I'll probably get in some crochet time, too. So I've been searching for the perfect vacation project.

What makes a good vacation project? Compact--so the granny square afghan I've got going is out. Simple--so the amigurumi projects I've had an eye on aren't going to work. I want to be able to relax and stitch on auto-pilot, not sweat over teeny-tiny increases. I also don't want a project involving multiple color changes--that many more balls of yarn I'd have to tote along.

So I'd settled on this pretty triangle scarf from the September/October 2009 issue of Crochet Today. Gray is my color of choice for far too many projects, but the only gray crochet thread I could find was mercerized cotton, which wouldn't drape well enough for this sort of thing. So I figured I'd use their recommended bamboo thread (which is super soft), in a nice neutral.

Too bad I can't find any. Michael's doesn't carry the Aunt Lydia's brand, and my local Joann's has been consistently out of the natural color that I want. I'm leaving tomorrow morning, so unless Joann's does an overnight restock (unlikely...) I'll just have to find a project I can make with the yarn stash I already have.

Right now I'm leaning towards a basket-weave clutch in cotton, a design I've been working on in my head for awhile. Unless anybody has any better suggestions?