Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Hook size, gauge, and drape

My "County Fair" scarf
Crochet gets a bad rap for producing thick, stiff, ugly fabric--suitable for an
afghan, maybe, but too awkward for garments or anything requiring drape. And it's true--there are a lot of bad sweater patterns that seem to bear this out.

But it doesn't have to be true. And it's actually really, really easy to fix.

Certainly, crochet lends itself nicely to projects that need structure. It's ideal for amigurumi and other stuffed toys for this reason. I love my dense single-crochet potholders, too. But as the patterns in the new Holla Knits crochet collection prove, it's also easy to make beautifully drapey crochet fabric as well. (Seriously, check out Rohn Strong's lovely "Betty... Betty Grable" and admire the way that fabric falls.)

"Drape" refers to the way a fabric flows, and, well... drapes. In crochet, as in knitting, it's affected by several factors: yarn weight, fiber content, stitch pattern, blocking, and hook size, among others. Today, we'll just focus on hook size.

In the picture below, I've got Henri the artist's model showing off three different swatches. All of them use Lion Brand's Cotton-Ease, a worsted weight cotton/acrylic blend (the same yarn I used in my County Fair Scarf, modeled above), but they're worked up with three different hooks. From left to right, they are: J/10 (6.0 mm), H/8 (5.0 mm), and F/5 (3.75 mm).

Work that runway, Henri.
Even without feeling the fabric in your hands, it's easy to see how the swatch made with the F hook barely drapes at all, while the swatch from the J hook flows quite nicely. I chose the H hook, in the middle, because that's the recommended hook size on the ball band. It makes an okay fabric, but here's a secret: when yarn manufacturers include a recommended hook size at all (and many don't), it's usually the exact same as the recommended knitting needle size. But since crochet and knitting produce fabric in very different ways, and with very different characteristics, making a one-to-one swap like that doesn't always work out well. Often, you'll need to go up a size or two from the recommendation to get a fabric with a drape that's comparable to the knitted version.

From the picture, it's easy to see how a small change can make a huge difference in the finished product, and how important it is to consider how your yarn, hook, and stitch pattern will interact in the fabric you're creating. I wanted my County Fair Scarf to be drapey and super squishy--so I pair worsted weight yarn and a granny stitch pattern with a K (6.5mm) hook. This made the fabric thicker, but also airier--exactly the sort of "squish factor" I was hoping for.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, take a look at Ann Leachman's pattern "Prim" from the collection--the small hook gives her collar the stiffness and structure it needs to hold its shape. It's a great way to harness crochet's natural sculptural qualities and use them for good and not evil. Or at least for cute accessories instead of toilet paper cozies.

Don't be afraid to experiment with hooks and yarns until you find a combination that's perfect for your project. I promise, there are no crochet police who are going to ticket you for ignoring the recommended hook size.

BONUS TIME: As your reward for wading through this little essay, I'm giving away a free copy of the pattern for my County Fair scarf. It's easy pattern, very suitable for beginners, and uses surprisingly little yarn for its size (less than a skein of each color). Just leave a comment below, and be sure to include a way for me to get in touch. I promise I will ONLY use your contact info if you're the winner--no spam here. The contest will be open until midnight eastern time on July 23 (one week from today). Good luck!

Monday, July 15, 2013

True confessions

Gorgeous yarn, though, right? I just want to snuggle it.
I'm not saying that I make coordinating customized stitch markers every time I get an exciting new yarn or pattern, but...

... I'm not saying that I don't, either.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What's on my needles: Scarf edition

 This is my current "purse project"--something compact and simple I can work on in waiting rooms, on lunch breaks, and sometimes, when I'm very lucky, on the Metro.

The pattern is "Trillian" by the incomparable Martina Behm, and it's both simple and quite clever. Every two-row repeat includes one decrease and two increases, which creates a long asymmetrical triangle designed to use exactly as much yarn as you happen to have. The eyelet edging is worked at the same time as the body of the scarf, and the whole thing uses stitches simple enough even for a beginner like me.

The yarn is Berocco Comfort Sock, a surprisingly squishy nylon/acrylic blend. (I know, I can hear you animal-fiber folks cringing, but it's really rather nice--feels cottony, but with more give.) It came to me by way of Quo Vadis Handspun on Etsy, where it was hand-dyed in those brilliant shades of gray and red. I'm normally wary of variegated yarns, but with only two colors I thought this might be a safe bet. So far, I like it; the colors are pooling in interesting ways and it makes an otherwise rather mindless stitch a little more fun to watch develop.

I posted two pictures to show how it's developing (and don't worry, the car was parked in photo #2). I've only used about half my yarn, so I've got a ways to go yet, but with no particular hurry, I'm enjoying the process.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Update: Long-standing Guilt Edition

This is the finished version of the long-standing WIP I mentioned a few months ago. I worked on it pretty steadily after that post, and although it was tedious in the extreme, it was so worth it. My husband is eminently craft-worthy, and he waited a long time for this.

The finished Hobbes is 16 inches from toes to ears, with another 10 inches of tail. Eleven total pieces needing assembly, plus a few bits of felt applique. Given that assembly and finishing is my least favorite part of any project, this was definitely a labor of love.

The scarf wasn't included in the original pattern, but Hobbes (in tiger form) wears a red scarf in several of the comics, and I thought he needed a little something. It's just two or three long rows of double-crochet, whipped up in about fifteen minutes.

The white and orange yarns are Red Heart Super Saver (not my favorite, especially for amigurumi, but it was the only suitable orange, and I had the white on hand anyway), and the black is Red Heart Soft Yarn. The red might be Vanna's Choice, but I wouldn't stake money on it--it's been in my stash forever and the yarn band's long since lost. I used a 4.5 mm hook.

The pattern is free and available from sukigirl's blog. I also recommend taking a look at Needle Noodle's tutorial for jogless stripes in the round, which made a huge difference in the look of the finished project.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

It's possible I've actually learned something about knitting

Terrible picture, favorite scarf.
Some time ago, I decided I was ready to learn to knit. It... did not go well. A year later, I decided (again) that I wanted to learn to knit--for really really, this time. It also did not go well. I did get that yarn untangled, eventually (I outsourced), but that particular project is still only five or six pattern repeats in. I look at it sometimes, and sigh, but I haven't actually picked it back up yet.

That does NOT mean, however, that I haven't been knitting. I'm made huge improvements in that arena, although given what I was starting out with, anything would have been an improvement, up to and including setting that first swatch on fire. My projects page on Ravelry tells me I've got twelve finished knitting pieces, and while some of them are pretty terrible (I'm looking at you, beach-towel-sized dishcloth!), some of them are actually pretty great. (See photo at left.)

I even marshaled all my wits and knit a few small things in the round with double-pointed needles (DPNs). I admit, I didn't think anything good could possibly result from adding more needles to the mix, but then things started working exactly the way they were supposed to work and suddenly I had a painfully cute stuffed hedgehog. (The free pattern is available from Purl Bee, which is a great source of attractive, beginner-appropriate patterns.)

I've learned that I do best if I choose patterns that only have me learning one or two new things at a time. There are some people who can make the leap from a garter stitch scarf to a shaped sweater, and feel invigorated by the challenge, but I'm not one of them. Limiting the number of new skills per pattern keeps me interested, but also allows me to actually master all of them by the time I move on to the next thing.
A scarf-in-progress

I've also found the videos at KnittingHelp.com to be invaluable. That's the magic of the internet, right there: watching someone do the exact thing I'm trying to do, in slow motion, over and over again for as long as it takes me to understand (without having to worry that someone's looking over my shoulder, rolling their eyes, and wondering why I'm so dense, it's just an ssk, jeese.) They even have separate videos for continental and English-style knitters. Magic, I tell you, magic!

I don't think I'll be changing the name of this blog to "Hooray Knitting" any time soon--it doesn't have the same ring to it, for one, and crochet remains my first love. But it's exciting to see actual progress, to be able to knit things that I actually want to have, finally. Apparently being bi-craftual is all it's cracked up to be. Who knew?!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Never say never

So remember awhile ago, I said I was interested in learning to dye pretty yarn, but not interested in spinning?


This happened:


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What's on my hook: swatching

Neither of these ended up being my final swatch.
I would have thought that I've made enough granny squares in my life that I don't need to swatch before beginning a granny-themed pattern proposal, but it turns out I do. The difference between those two squares shows why. I made both with worsted weight yarn, and both are about 4" square. But the gray swatch on the left was done with a J (6mm) hook, while the green square on the right was done with a K (6.5mm) hook. Nearly the same size, but one less round, uses less yarn, and will give the finished product a very different look--more open and "holey." Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on what I want to achieve. Thus the swatching. From the swatch I can also calculate the size of the finished product and the total amount of yarn it will use. It almost makes up for the tedium of making a square, measuring it, making another square with a different hook, ripping out the first one, re-doing it in a different yarn, re-measuring... et cetera.

All of these granny squares are towards another pattern proposal, this time for a yarn company. I can't share further details or photos (most publishers prefer the patterns they publish to not have been plastered all over the internet beforehand, understandably), but so far it's going well. The swatch I'll be submitting is turning out to be gigantic, but such is life with a motif-based afghan, I suppose.

And now it's back to work! Taking a break from crocheting in order to type is probably not an orthopedist-approved action, but at least it's different repetitive motion, right?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Yarn store score

So soft! So squishy! So plant-fibery! And it's mine, all mine!
My closest local yarn store (A Tangled Skein in Hyattsville) is within days of closing. (Sad face!) I went for (what I thought was) the last time a few weeks back, and left with a bunch of lovely linen yarn, but when I heard everything was down to 75% off, I had to go back. There was almost nothing left when I got there--mostly some weird novelty yarn and a few needle sets, but I managed to leave with a decent haul anyway.

From left to right: 2 skeins of Fibranatura Flax (100% linen), 3 skeins of Classic Elite "Seedling" (organic cotton and so soft), 4 skeins of Classic Elite "Cotton Bam Boo" (cotton/bamboo, also super soft and squishy), and 5 skeins of Queensland "Bebe CotSoy (cotton/soy). The CotSoy is the only thing I have an actual plan for (Hogwarts Express, to be cast on as soon as I finish Hobbes, because I need it like breathing), but I have great faith in my ability to find suitable projects for the other yarn, too.

Oh, and the best part? I walked away with 1600+ yards of squooshy delicious plant fibers for $25. Amazing! I'll miss A Tangled Skein, but man, was that an awesome sale.

Friday, March 8, 2013

I thought I checked the dye lots on the yarn, but this photo is making me wonder...
I took advantage of Wednesday's (snow-free) snow day to block my "Sapphire & Steam" scarf (posted as a WIP last week). Blocking items need to be constantly supervised around these parts--I have four very curious cats who would love nothing more than to make a cozy nest out of my knitwear. We managed to get through the whole process without any kitty-related incidents, though, and I wore the scarf today. I can already tell it's going to become a new favorite.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What's on my hook: guilt & shame edition

Finished: head, body, muzzle. Still left: arms, legs, tail, belly patch, ears.
When I mentioned last week that I had works in progress (WIPs) that were nearly a year old, this was the one I was really thinking of. I promised my husband, a lifelong Calvin & Hobbes fan, a crocheted amigurumi Hobbes (from this pattern) for his birthday... last year. Given that his birthday is coming up (again! it's like they happen every year) at the end of this month, I thought I'd better get on this. It's been hanging over my head, filling me with (well-deserved) guilt since last year. Time to do something about it. Besides, I'm no longer trying to keep the project a secret from him, so it's a lot easier to find time to work on it.

I finished the blue scarf that I posted about last week, so perhaps this post will be the boost I need to finish this project, too.

Monday, March 4, 2013

So many puns, I don't know where to start

So let's pretend I opened with a groaner and move on from there, yes?

Lately, I've been really interested in learning how to dye yarn. Up until recently, this was something that interested me about as much as spinning--which is to say, not at all. (Sorry, spinners. It's not you, it's wool.)

But when the more I've started to think about it, the better it sounds. Firstly, and most obviously, it's a chance to play! with! colors! And I love playing with colors.

More specifically, though, it's a chance to get the colors I want in the fibers I want. I'm sensitive (though not allergic) to animal fibers--any fiber, any blend, any quantity, pretty much. Plant fibers, though? Oh, plant fibers. I want to marry plant fibers and have their plant fibery babies forever. Merino, angora, alpaca? Meh, whatever. Cotton, linen, bamboo, soy, hemp? A thousand times yes! (Silk too, even if that is, properly speaking, an animal fiber.)

But animal fibers are easier to dye, and animal fibers are what the rest of the world loves best, which means that the vast majority of the scrumptious, gorgeous, brilliantly-dyed yarns out there are--yes--animal fibers.

So maybe, instead of getting needlessly frustrated over whatever latest handpainted bit of lovely I can only find in bleeping merino, I could just... do it myself.

So I did some research, and it turns out it's not as intimidating as it could be. (Knitty did a great article on dyeing plant fibers that I suspect I'm going to be coming back to again and again.) Of course, it's not something I can do right this minute--dyeing of any kind requires dedicated containers and utensils--you can use kitchenware, but you better only use it for dyeing. I don't have room to store a whole separate set of pots, let alone the counter and sink space for it. (And we won't even talk about where I could possibly hide the drying skeins from my horde of destructive cats.) But we're talking about buying a house this summer (!!!), so perhaps this won't have to stay on the back burner for too much longer.

And in the meantime, I'm developing an increased appreciation for the hand-dyed silk/linen I'm knitting with now. There's something really hypnotic about watching the color changes slip through your fingers as you work.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What's on my needles

The stitch markers are handmade and owly. Yes!
According to my Ravelry projects page, I have eight current works-in-progress. That's bad enough, but it gets worse when you factor in the fact that a) not everything I've got going is on Ravelry, and b) that's just the knitting and crochet. Not the embroidery, the cross stitch, the sewing, the mosaic plant stand...

I've heard this referred to as "startitis," but whatever you want to call it, I've got it bad. I've got projects in "progress" from this time last year, and we won't talk about the wedding afghan for the couple who got married in October.

That said, I've been working on this scarf/shawlette pretty steadily since I started it a week ago. It's the very popular Age of Brass & Steam by Orange Flower in Patons Silk Bamboo yarn. (The yarn is nice, but not as magical as I'd hoped. It's quite soft, though, and has a lovely sheen, and I think it'll be very nice draped around my neck.)

I have been on a major triangle scarf kick lately--I finished a different one (striped, cotton blend) immediately before starting this one, and I've got a couple other scarves on the go as well. All that stockinette makes it great TV knitting, so I had an excellent time on Sunday working on this and rewatching both seasons of Sherlock. (Come soon, season three. Sooooooooooooon.)