Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thanks to everyone who came out for small business Saturday and open studio Friday.    Among them was a lovely young man who's a tv reporter, who interviewed me here -

And now I've got an answer to how many child-sized hats I can make out of scraps of yarn in two days and one evening...

And the answer is....   15.  Plus one scarf that was an afghan panel partly started - came with the scrap yarn.  When that's finished and packed, I'm done with crochet for a while to let my hands recover!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Today is Thanksgiving, and for the past few days I've been preparing for an open studio sale in my shop.  (look at the Graceful Arts Fiber Studio Facebook page to see a photo of that).  But in thinking about all the gifts we want to give, I was thinking once again about the ones that go to people we don't know, because we can offer a gift of warmth to someone who really needs it.  If you've read the blog for a while, you know I crochet a lot of warm hats.  My gift to you today is to detail how I do it - and I hope at least some people will be inspired to share their gifts with others, as time and opportunity and resources permit.

Many of us stockpile and stash bits of yarn that cross our paths, no matter how large or small those piles are...  and I have not only my own stash but it's often augmented by other peoples' as well.  For this weekend I'll spend in the shop, I put together two baskets of the smallest balls of yarn, the ones too little on their own to make a hat or a pair of mittens.

First thing I do is sort through them for inspiration.  I like to use at least two strands together for warmth.  Sometimes, if one or two of the strands is a bit finer than knitting worsted, I'll use three together, though the colors need to be somewhat related.  These are children's hats, and many children are surprisingly conservative about what they'll wear!  So on the left in the photo above, a fingering yarn - the close observer will see it was already knitted into part of something else before being abandoned - picks up at least one of the colors of a multi-colored yarn and on the right, various shades of green with a blue and a lavender.  The ball of thread at the lower end of the right side was part of what must have been a 50 gram ball of dk acrylic.

Taking up my trusty size L hook, my standard beginning is to leave a 4-inch tail and make a very loose slip knot and one ordinary CH.  (This is called a magic something-or-other beginning, but I had been doing it for decades before I knew it was called anything at all.)  Then crochet about 8 sc into that first loose CH and tighten it so there's no visible central hole.  Give it another yank, and then as you continue around in a spiral, work that end in so it's anchored (by making at least part of one stitch with that end, then crocheting over the tail).  You'll make two sc into every sc of the center, then continuing around and around, adding a stitch now and then until it looks about big enough.  By the time I added the blue yarn on the left, the hat looked large enough for a child.  If you make the crown too small, you'll have to increase later and the hat might look stocking-hattish or simply pointy - and honesty compels us all to admit this is not currently in style.  Make it too large and you'll need decreases down the road and the hat will be slouchy-looking, which DOES seem to be in style.  How much yarn you've got is one deciding factor.  Around and around you crochet.  Variegated yarns offer the dim entertainment of looking for the next change of color; working with small amounts of yarn offers the equally dim excitement of wondering when you'll be forced to change colors next.  It takes me about an hour to make one hat.  Tonight I spent two hours and made two.

I like to add something special to each one.  The bottom one got some sideways crocheting at the brim and a button.  The upper one got a stitch variation to make the blue stripe, which would go over the ears, just a little thicker.  Reverse single crochet is a good finish.   The church where I teach an exercise class (and also sing) put out a call for warm gloves, hats and mittens to put on the tree going up this Sunday, so I'm challenging myself to see how many I can make, and how many scrappy balls can be used up in the process before the end of Saturday. 

Most communities collect hats and mittens, and sometimes scarves and other warm attire.  These are given out to food pantry patrons, head-start students, to the school nurse, to the Red Cross, to the homeless, to battered-women's shelters, to anyone in need.

May I invite you to give yourself the gift of giving things away to people who can never say thank you?

Monday, November 23, 2015

This week's gift instructions are for the felted bag.  I make a lot of them, carry one myself, fall in love with each new one I make and have to persuade myself that no, it goes to the shop when it's done.  Before I start one, I look at the yarn I've got around, particularly "odds and ends" of wool left over from other projects.  I'm always knitting one thing or another, often from wool, so there's no shortage of project yarn.  What I want for a bag though is not just odds and ends, but a unifying color to carry through.  The tweedy bag with the purple top at 3 o'clock in the photo has a light brown yarn carried through with all the other colors, at 9 o'clock, there's a green theme going on, and in the dark bag with the exposed pink lining, there's black, blue, green and purple - no yellow or red, though a little rose and metallic crept into the mix.

Holding two strands together and using a size L crochet hook, chain 10. (Note that one is your main color - you're going to carry that one or a similar one all the way through.  The secondary color - in this case the purply one, changes when it's used up or you're tired of it.  One sc in second chain from hook and next 8 chains, then 3 sc in the first CH, turn work, and sc back into other side of that foundation chain.  When you return to the first space, sc twice more into that space, then continue by working a sc into the top of the first sc you made.  Now you're off and running - crocheting in a spiral - one sc into each sc of the row below, two or three into each "corner" as needed. 

As mentioned before, change yarns when you run out of one or feel like it.  At some point, you might go back to your stash and pull out something else that just might go.  There are no mistakes here.  Remember the eventual felting will blur color combinations.  When the bag looks large enough, stop increasing and keep working even.

Moving right along here, I kept adding different yarns.  I guess there was some yellow and an orange that came as part of something else.  Some of these were seemed-like-a-good-idea at-the-time decisions.  I mostly eyeballed the size of the bag, working until it seemed big enough.  When I started the handles, the bag dimensions were

about 15 inches high  by 17 inches across

which was a little surprising, because it looked about even to me, but, okay. 
About those handles.  I wanted them to be sturdy, which meant wide and durable after felting.  For these, I used the linked double crochet, building each stitch upon the previous one and the final (of 50) at the place where I wanted the handle to attach.  You can find a tutorial on the linked double stitch here -

- and if you crochet at all, you'll get the idea quickly.

When the bag is done, cut the yarns, pull the final end in, and then it's time for felting.

The easiest way to do this, particularly if you've got only one item to felt, is to put it into the washing machine when you're doing a regular (colored) wash.  About four times, maybe more.  It's done when your crocheted bag has shrunken a bit, and the stitches are no longer completely distinct.  Dry it.  Flatten it on a flat surface and cut a doubled length of fabric about an inch wider and longer at both ends than the flattened out crocheted bag.  I also took a shorter length of fabric, as wide as the long doubled-over part, and hemmed it to make pockets.  I stitched the pocket to the lining fabric, cleverly leaving both ends of the pocket even with the sides so they could be finished with the seaming.  Each time I do this, I also stitch the pocket a few times along its length, effectively creating three or four pockets, often including a tall, narrow pocket for pens and pencils.  (Or crochet hooks).  With right sides together and the pocket on the inside, I sew the doubled length of fabric, turn down its upper raw edges and press them, and without turning the lining, whose finished side is going to be the inside of the bag, stuff it inside and pin it to the inside of the bag, at least half an inch down from the bag's upper edge.  This gets hand-sewn from the inside. 

Total time to make the bag - about six hours.  A reasonable amount of time for a special gift, and particularly pleasant if you're listening to a book on tape. 

These were popular at the first crafts sale of the year, barely looked-at at the one this past weekend.  But I somehow doubt I'll have many left when the crafts sale season is over. 

And why am I doing so many crafts sales this year?  Bill was wondering, too.  This is why.  Do you have any idea how much a new roof costs? 

Funny, I didn't either...

Thursday, November 12, 2015

First - everyone wins - I've got enough prizes to go around!  So if Stephanie will email me with her street address (everyone else's I've got) your prizes will be in the mail soon!

Second - I'm posting earlier this week because

we're going to a crafts fair this weekend.  That's Moe, Larry and Curly sitting atop a pile of fingerless mitts waiting to be labeled to go into the bin.  We're going to the "Believe" bazaar at St. Mary's of the Lake, the pre-eminent pre-Christmas crafts fair in Watkins Glen.

Third - the pattern for the cowls

The rainbow-colored one at the upper left is simple - I had a limited amount of this gorgeous multicolor eyelash yarn.  I cast on 14 stitches on size 11 needles, knitted in garter stitch until I ran out of yarn, bound off and sewed the bind off to the cast-on edge.   In a novelty yarn, you'll never see the stitches, so you might as well knit in garter stitch. 

And garter stitch also works in the other cowls.  The silky one used two strands of silk and silk-rayon yarn and size 11 needles; the blue one is a super-bulky chenille knitted on size 13 needles.  Instructions are for the blue cowl, with the multi-strand silky counts in parentheses. 

Cast on 19 (25) stitches and knit one row, using the tail yarn together with the yarn from the ball to double the beginning.  Really, you just need an odd number of stitches, at least 19, but you could use a LOT more.
Even rows: slip 1, K 2 together, K 6 (11) YO, K1, YO, K6 (11) K2 together, K1
Odd rows: slip first stitch, K across.

You can see by the picture the knitting quickly takes a pointed arrowhead shape.  I left that one squiggle of tail thread hanging out to remind me to I'm on an odd numbered row when the squiggle is to the right.  You can also see my knitting needles, which are the same size, don't actually match.  Which doesn't matter.

Keep knitting until

You've got about 22 inches done, then bind off.  Cut your yarn leaving a length for sewing.
Fit the pointy part at the end into the notch of the beginning and sew the scarf ends together.  Sew in that squiggle, its work is done.  As with the first one, if you've enthusiastically knitted to 26 inches or so, which couldn't happen with the first one because I ran out of yarn, you could alternatively give one end a twist to create a Moebius shape.

Note: the gifts of Christmas, as well as Moe's cousins and a bunch of other good stuff, will be at the shop for a Thanksgiving weekend crafts sale.   Which means between now and then - and beyond - the needles keep moving...

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Whoo-hoo!  This is my 100th post...  which is pretty exciting!  In honor of this event, I'm going to send a small prize to a randomly-chosen (by Bill) person who comments on this post by noon next Thursday (the 12th).  Tell us what you're knitting for the holidays?

And here is part of this past week's fingerless mitt harvest.  There are at least three different ways to make plain fingerless mitts, and this photo shows two of them

 with the tools of the trade, in this instance, double pointed needles.  Look closely and you'll notice there's a range of sizes and materials (birch, metal, bamboo) ranging from 6" long to 10 " long.  A few knitters were discussing this today and our consensus was that we prefer using 10 inch long double pointed needles to circulars for their versatility.  The longer the needles, by the way, the more likely the work in progress will stay where you want it.  And a confession - the longer I knit, the less attention I pay to uniformity in size of needle.  I'm happy with the results when the needles are more or less in the ballpark of the same size as each other.  The yellow and dark purple solid-colored mitts are  Kraemer's Mauch Chunky yarn (100% wool, $7.50/100 gram skein/ size 9 needles); the multicolored ones are "Big and Beautiful" ( a hand-dyed-by-me line, 50% superwash merino, 50% nylon, super-bulky, knits like butter, $16/100 gram skein, size 10.5 needles).

Using a long-tail cast-on the Mauch Chunky, cast on 27 stitches on three needles: 10 on the first needle, 8 on the second, 9 on the third.  (In the B&Beautiful, cast on 25 stitches on three needles - 8, 8 and 9.)  Take the last stitch and move it to the needle with the first stitch.  Holding the yarn "tail" with the yarn from the ball, knit those first two stitches together with the doubled yarn, then purl the next stitch with the doubled  yarn, continue around alternating a knit stitch with a purl stitch to create a stretchy ribbing.  Continue in ribbing with the usual single strand when the tail has been used up.

***  Here is an alternate method for those who don't have, or are daunted by using all those double pointed needles.  Knit the whole shooting match on straight needles, adding up all the rows and knitting them in ribbing until the bind-off.  You'll shape the mitts in the sewing-together part and you'll get nearly the same result (only you'll have a seam).  Using the double pointeds, of course, you don't need a seam.  ***

When you're 20 rounds from the cast-on, turn your knitting so the inside faces you and knit three needles back (in the "wrong" direction) with the inside facing you.  This is creating the thumb opening.  Turn the knitting again and knit three needles the other way.  Knit back and forth for 9 rows, then on row 10, continue around on the right side for 8 more rounds.  Bind off.

(alternate thumb opening was used in the variegated mitts.  At row 22, I bound off 7 stitches, then immediately knitted on 9 using the cable or knitted cast-on method.  I continued around the mitt for 8 more rows before binding off.  This is essentially creating a large buttonhole opening in the mitt which keeps the base of your thumb warmer.  But it doesn't look quite as nice as the first method.  I try to remember to use the first method, but I don't always remember, and once you've started that buttonhole bind-off/cast on you're sort of committed.)

These mitts are actually fine as they are once you've woven /sewn in ends.  But if you, like me, have some eyelash/novelty yarn left in your stash, it's a neat way to give your mitts a little pizazz.  The one mitt already treated here has two rows of eyelash added in loose single crochet.

It takes me about 2 hours to knit a pair of fingerless mitts.  They are versatile because you can wear them in semi-cool weather on their own, or over a pair of inexpensive "magic" gloves, even mittens,  when the weather is colder.  So there's still enough time to make a pair for everyone on your list...  or are you holding out for next week's easy cowl pattern?