Saturday, May 30, 2015

When Life Gives You Thunderstorms...

Take pictures and design an afghan!

  What I'm supposed to be doing right now is working on the Nine Square Blanket for the World's Biggest Stocking. But what Mother Nature decided to do is take away the sunshine and replace it with some nice, dark thunderstorms. Lack of light has put a halt on taking the pictures of the final assembly. But, I ended up doing something really cool, instead.

  I've been feeling pretty poorly lately, so the other half came home with a get-well present: A long-desired "Blue Mystique" Phalaenopsis orchid. This is a dye-injected bloom, so once this spike is done, the beautiful color will be lost forever. What a shame... If only I could capture it's beauty forever in some way! Well, I guess I could start by snapping some photos, right? With it sitting on the sill of the rain-covered window next to me, I forgot about the Nine Square for a bit and directed the camera elsewhere.

  And... Here comes Jenn from Roving Crafters to the rescue, and she doesn't even know it! A while back, she shared this really cool tip on her blog: You can take any picture you want, and load it into this really cool tool called "Chip It!" on the Sherwin-Williams website. And what you get is a really cool paint chip card to match your photo:

    Did I mention "really cool"? I'm in the beginning stages of designing myself a new afghan based on the photos. I may not be able to keep these beautiful blue blooms forever, but I sure can crochet a blanket that will always remind me of them. Now, I just have to figure out which color scheme I like best. The one problem is, I'm not so sure about the black. Don't get me wrong - black is actually my favorite color. But, there's no black in these blooms, so I'm not sure it properly reflects the flowers. Each picture I load comes up with the same shade of black for a coordinating color:

  But, here's something cool: Just click "edit colors" to see more suggestions for coordinating colors! This one kinda made me cringe. I don't like pink. Argue with me if you want to about how it's not actually pink; that one is more of a "coral" and the other is sort of a "dusty rose", but I call it too close to pink... Argument over anyways, because the green is out:

  This one tickled me because it came up with "Quixotic Plum":

  Quixotic: Adjective meaning idealistic and unrealistic. Synonyms: Visionary; impossible. Just like these flowers. Try as they might, hybridizers have never achieved a blue orchid. So, the visionary growers of these blooms figured out a way to create the impossible, even if only temporarily. Although "Quixotic Plum" is still a bit off color for the afghan I had in mind, it's a fitting name.

  Now, for the hard part: Find yarn to match the paint chips. Do you know you can take a sample of any color to a paint store, and they'll custom-blend paint to match? Why don't they have a yarn company that could do the same thing? That would be this designer's dream come true. Have you ever had a perfect vision in your head of how you want to make a project, only to find out that every color available is just a little off?

  The "Chip It!" tool is a really great way to design a project based on a picture. It's also a really great way to make me want to go buy paint and get to work on my office. You could probably use it for an array of crafts, like jewelry making and quilting. But if you can't find yarn or supplies to match, remember one thing: Don't blame me, it's all Jenn's fault I stole the idea from Roving Crafters...

Have fun!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

WBS Blanket Progress: Mistakes I Made as a Beginner

The things I used to do!
Join me in my journey to become part of a world record - Let's help make the squares that will create the World's Biggest Stocking!

To learn more about the project from its creators, click on the World's Biggest Stocking button in the right sidebar.

To find out what drove me to make more than one blanket for the project, see this Yarn Tales Tuesday post.

  I'm dragging out the process of creating the Nine Square Blanket while I'm awaiting my latest package. Since I went ahead and ordered more yarn, I decided to stick to the original pattern. But... My scatterbrain forgot to figure in the holiday weekend, so I was still waiting for my big box of goodies when I began writing this post. (But, yay, I got it yesterday!)

  I took a lot of extra pictures while making this square, because some were meant for a Yarn Tales Tuesday post, which would have been titled "How Many Ways a Turning Chain Can Go Wrong". Since I was left twiddling my fingers, and since this post was scheduled to go up on Tuesday anyways, why not combine the two? (Yeah, it's late. Click here to read about the reason for the delay.) I'll be working the third and fourth rows of the square, and you'll get to see some of the problems I used to face when learning to crochet. Also included are a few extra beginning problems, and a little more of the tutorial for working over the tail. 

  I realize that many people have the internet at their fingertips when they need to know something nowadays, but I first began learning to crochet from a very old book that wasn't for beginners; one where you were expected to know the basics, like what direction to turn and how many chains your turning chain should be for each stitch. A book that had patterns stating "work in a typical circular pattern until your piece measures 24 inches", and "increase on right side rows only". A book with no pictures to explain the steps. With no other learning tools at my disposal, I made some pretty silly mistakes. You'll get to see some of them and laugh (or learn) while I continue on the square for the blanket.

  Remember that this pattern is not my design; it's provided for free by Yarnspirations for the World's Biggest Stocking! If you haven't done so yet, you can download all the patterns for this awesome project here

Let's get started!

Mistake #1:
I used to turn my work the wrong direction! This would make it extremely difficult to find that turning chain at the end of rows. The book I learned from didn't even have instructions for turning. I happened to catch a crochet program on PBS, and heard the lady say "keep your yarn behind the hook", but I wasn't watching at the time. I thought this simply meant you held the yarn behind the hook when turning... I had no clue that it actually had to do with the direction that you turn!

I finally learned about my mistake when I was given some old pattern magazines. One of them had a beginning tutorial for lefties, and although right-handed, I realized from the instructions that your yarn should actually be behind the hook when you turn. If it crosses over from the front of the turning chain when you yarn over, you're turning the wrong way!

Mistake #2:
Beginning the second stitch in the wrong space! Again, my first book had no pictures. It also used misleading terms such as "in the next available stitch", which to this beginner meant "in the first hole you see". As a result, my rows grew and grew, leaving me with wobbly trapezoids or parallelograms, instead of squares.
Well, you can see here that I finally figured it out, after purchasing a book. The newer book had clear close-up pictures and step by step instructions that were easier to understand. I wish I had bought that book to begin with!

Mistake #3:
Doing more work than I needed to! (By the way, if you've been following along with the tutorial, here's where I'm weaving in that tail some more.) My W.I.P.'s used to sit around waiting to be finished because of my dislike for weaving in the ends. 

Now, I work over the beginning tail for most projects, making my life just a bit easier. I don't just work over the tail, I weave it back and forth through the stitches as I go. I've never had a tail come loose this way, I don't dread finishing my projects anymore, and it's one less time that I have to pick up a needle during each project. 

Continuation for those learning this method:
I'm picky about the way I do this. I don't like taking the tail all the way back to the edge of rows. You can tell that the stitch at the edge is thicker than the rest.

Weaving the tail back and forth through a random stitch is less noticeable. Once you yarn over and pull up a loop, you can pull the tail over your working yarn for the next step of the stitch. 

Just go back and forth for every two loops you pull through, and you can take your tail to the top of the row! Notice how the stitch I just made doesn't look much different from the other stitches. If you were to try this at the end of the row, your stitch would stick out a bit. 

Mistake #4:
Working into that miserable, no good, stitch of a turning chain (or not). I had so much difficulty finding this stitch at the ends of my rows! This was because of tight tension, turning the wrong direction, and probably some other mistakes I missed, too. I went through a phase where I would just make two stitches in the second to last stitch to avoid working into the turning chain. (I think I just heard all the crochet gurus gasp and faint!)
I fixed my tension, and learned this nifty little trick after following each individual loop of each stitch to find where the front and back loops really are.

Mistake #5:
Speaking of tension... My tension used to be so tight that I had to go up two hook sizes when making my beginning chain. Instead of seeing the loops of a stitch as shown here, you would have seen my hook pulled vertically against the work. 

You can hold that yarn as tight as you want to. (Even though you shouldn't. That's not good for your hands.) Learn to pull the loops of your stitches up higher before making the next step. Your hook should never be pulled tight against your work, and your loops should never be pulled tight on your hook. If you begin to correct your tension by pulling up harder with your hook, you may find yourself loosening the tension with your other hand.

Mistake #6:
Missing the turning chain (for a different reason than #4). As a beginner, I made it even easier to make this mistake when I would work into the beginning stitch. The extra stitch threw off my count, so I couldn't figure out why I was making parallelograms instead of squares.

Mistake #7:
But, I only got parallelograms when I actually counted my stitches. I would keep working, kind of just hoping that a square would come out right. It never did.
Count your stitches.

Mistake #6+7-1/2:
Okay, so that's a confusing number... Anyways, it fits because I used to confuse myself with all the weird and wacky ways I used to crochet! I have a habit of holding my work diagonally as I crochet. I turn my paper the same way when I write. This made the illusion that I reached the end of the row because of the straight line of the edge, and created one more reason to miss the turning chain.

Same as previous... Count your stitches. Also, as my teachers used to say in school: Stop that! Not only did holding my work diagonally place extra strain on my hands and wrists, it made my work crooked, just like my handwriting. Between correcting this and the rest of my mistakes, I no longer miss the end of the row. However, I still retain my "weird and wacky" way of turning sideways to find the turning chain. But that's a crochet hack, not a mistake.

At this point, I've worked the first four rows of a square for the Nine Square Blanket. I have one final mistake that I've never fixed... 
Not paying attention! 
I don't usually watch television. In fact, I went years without owning one. But when the other half came home with a new-used t.v., I had to start ignoring booing, bells, whistles, barks, explosions, screaming, yelling, singing, annoying music, infomercials, and chants of "Jer-ry, Jer-ry". But I couldn't ignore the cooking show he left on when he started snoring. Five rows had to be ripped out after I switched stitches in the middle of the next row.

Yeah, other than pay attention... Learn to face your mistakes. As a beginner, I would have thrown the project aside in disgust, and probably gone out to dig around in the garden. But we all know that doesn't fix anything, right? (It does make for some awesome home-grown potatoes, though!)
There are times that you can fudge a mistake. And there are times where you just have to rip it out. Don't give up. Just count it as a lesson learned. One I still learn every now and then.

And don't let your BF put his t.v. in your office! Make him install one of those cable-jack-thingys in another room, then crochet him some awesome pillows and an afghan so he can snore in his man-cave, still not watching t.v., and you can crochet in peace!

Or in my case, in Heavy Metal... Either way, I can't do anything with a television on. (Psst... Mom, Dad, are you listening? You were right! It rots your brain!)

What's the biggest/weirdest mistake you made when learning to crochet? 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Her Name was Cornelius

My apologies:

  The latest tutorial/progress report for my World's Biggest Stocking work will be delayed. I'm having some difficulty putting the final touches on it. I'm a mess. I'm a wreck. And I just can't concentrate on crochet right now. Memorial Day is already hard for me because it's the anniversary of my good friend Don's death. And now, it's the anniversary of another death:

  Her name was Corneluis Peanutbutterus, aka Peanut Butter and Nelly, aka Nelly Peanut Butter, aka Peanut Butter and Jelly, aka Nelly Belly, aka Smelly Jelly, aka Sideways. 


  When I found her, or rather, when she found me, she was a half-drowned kitten that wouldn't stop howling outside in a thunderstorm. I bundled up, braved the lightning, and ran out to get her, even though we already had two house cats, and I wasn't looking for another. The plan was to find her a home, but she had already found hers here.

  I dried her off and fed her, and she never left. She grew to tolerate the dog, and she fell in love with Bites, who has been gone now for almost two years. I think it broke her heart a little when we lost him, and now she's broken mine.

  Her favorite game was fetch. Yes, fetch, like a dog. For each time you would throw her little ring of bread tie twists or pipe cleaners, she would bring it back and drop it (almost) at your feet with a howl. And you were expected to throw it again, every time, until she got tired. 

  She was an inside cat, but escaped one day. And that was the day that someone in my neighborhood thought it would be fun to throw antifreeze-infused hot dogs over my fence as a treat for my pets. They killed five of the dozen wild cats I feed, plus Bites. She's the only one that got into it and survived the poisoning. After the first day in a coma, we all thought she wouldn't make it. But with severe neurological damage, and plenty of other problems, too, she pulled through.   

  The brain damage left her walking sideways and often falling over. She became an inside-only cat again, being only a shell of her former self. But she was still my Smelly Jelly with a Belly Full of Jelly. 

  She made a few appearances here on the blog, such as her most recent and last cameo in one of the final posts for the Big Granny Square Blanket. Although you can only see bits of her in photo bombs, she still made her presence known. And what you didn't see is how she has been by my side (or in my lap) for every project here on the blog. 

  And now, she will forever be in my heart. She got out again, and I found her in my driveway last night. She had no obvious injuries, but was too weak to walk after only one day out of the house. I have no idea what happened to her. Before we could get her to a vet, she looked into my eyes and she died in my arms. 

  As much as it breaks my heart, I wasn't able to take her in to find out what happened. If it was to keep her alive, I would have spent my last dime. But now that it's too late, I just can't spend the $500 the vet wanted for an autopsy. I placed her in a box with her favorite toys and her favorite treats, buried her in my backyard well after dark, and cried the rest of the night. It must either say something about me or Nelly, because I've cried more over the death of this cat than I've ever cried over the passing of a human.  

  So again, my apologies. The next post is in the making and will be up, sometime... I'm just finding it hard to concentrate without my Sideways sidekick interrupting my work. You had no idea what a big part of the blog she was, behind the scenes. And I swear I can still hear her meowing...

Friday, May 22, 2015

WBS Blanket Progress: Nine-Square Second Row

Working the second row and continuing a tutorial!
Join me in my journey to become part of a world record - Let's help make the squares that will create the World's Biggest Stocking!

To learn more about the project from its creators, click on the World's Biggest Stocking button in the right sidebar.

To find out what drove me to make more than one blanket for the project, see this Yarn Tales Tuesday post.

  Soooo... I did it again. I bought more yarn, and I'm waiting for it to be delivered. I'm currently debating whether or not I should continue with the Nine Square Blanket the way I planned when I ran out of yarn, or wait for the yarn and make it exactly like the pattern. But while I make up my mind, you can still enjoy the continuation of the last tutorial for working over the tail, plus I've included a tip for those turning chains, too!

  Remember, this is not my pattern! It's provided for free by Yarnspirations for the World's Biggest Stocking. If you haven't done so already, you can download all the patterns for the project here. Let's crochet these blankets and help to set a world record! We left off in the last post at the end of the first row, where we worked into the slipknot as a chain. Now, we'll continue weaving in the tail. Ready?

Let's get started:

The next row is going to be a simple row of single crochet stitches. To weave in the tail as you work, bring it up and over the working yarn before we make the turning chain.

Chain 1. This will count as the first single crochet of the row. Hey, beginners: Are you having trouble working into your turning chains at the end of rows? Pull up some slack in the loop before you make the chain, then pull up to make slack again after you chain. Your loops should not be tight against the hook.

When you turn your work, make sure the working yarn stays to the back of your hook. Bring the tail around the front of the stitch.

And now, we're going to do something a little different. You're not going to make a stitch yet, we're just going to work on weaving in the tail. You can do this with the chain-1 on the hook, or get a separate hook if needed. Insert the hook in only the front loop of the next stitch.

Yarn over with the tail, and pull through the front loop of the stitch. For the next step, we'll go back to make that single crochet, but first, take a look at the next picture:

This could trick you, so pay attention! In the white box, you see the base of the first stitch (the turning chain). You might also see what looks like the loops of another stitch. Look underneath! In the black box, you can see there is only one post under the turning chain. This extra "loop" is made by crossing over the front with the tail. Look in the red box, and you'll see the post for the next stitch. Above, the arrow points to the top loops of the second stitch (the loop we pulled the tail through).

Insert your hook in the next stitch, making sure the tail is above the hook. Yarn over and pull up a loop for the single crochet. Now the tail is trapped in this stitch. 

Yarn over and pull through both loops to complete the single crochet. Now you have the turning chain and the first single crochet, which together count as two single crochet.

Continuing with the tail, skip the next stitch and insert your hook in only the front loop of the following stitch.

Once you pull the tail through, you can see that the tail blends in with the skipped stitch. Just remember to insert the hook under the tail in the stitch when you work! 

Once you work a single crochet in each of these stitches, you can't see the tail under them! You could keep working across the row this way, but I like to zig-zag the tail through a few rows. We'll move it up in the next step:

In a single crochet row, this is as simple as moving the tail over your working yarn before making the next stitch. Let the tail fall to the back and keep working across.

Okay, newbies: So, if you've reached the end of your row, and you can't even find your turning chain, you made your stitches too tight. (That used to be me... I pulled my chains so tight that they would disappear into my work!) But if you can see that one little bar in the front, and can't get your hook in the stitch, follow along! 

There's two ways you can do this: Either turn your work the wrong direction (which can be confusing to you newbies), or, grab the end of your work and twist it slightly towards you. Hey, look! What's that thing? Oh...We found it! That's your turning chain!

You may find it a bit difficult to learn how to work into this stitch as you twist it around, and that's why it could be easier to turn the work in the wrong direction as you insert the hook. I've developed a habit of just turning my work sideways at the end of the row. After many years of working this way, it's become second nature to flip it one way a bit, make the stitch, flop it back, chain the turning chain, then turn the right direction.

Once you pull up the first loop of the stitch, you can turn your work back to the proper direction. No need to keep working backwards, or sideways, in my case!

And now, we're ready for the next row! Next time, we'll pick up the tail and continue weaving it in, plus learn to find the more elusive single crochet turning chain.

That was a lot of photos again!

That's it for this time!

Seriously, can y'all go "like" my guides on Guidecentral (there's new crochet patterns!), so I can make enough money to buy a spare camera battery... Please? Then maybe I could make a photo tutorial AND a video in the same day! (Or, at least take more pictures!)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

WBS Blanket Progress: Tips for Beginners and Beginning Squares

Let's learn as we begin the squares!
Join me in my journey to become part of a world record - Let's help make the squares that will create the World's Biggest Stocking!

To learn more about the project from its creators, click on the World's Biggest Stocking button in the right sidebar.

To find out what drove me to make more than one blanket for the project, see this Yarn Tales Tuesday post.

  In this post, we'll work the first row of the square as we continue on the Nine Square Blanket for the World's Biggest Stocking. I'll show you how to work into that loose slipknot from the last post as if it's a chain stitch, beginners can learn the double crochet stitch, and we'll begin to weave in the tail as we work, too! I wanted to include the tutorial for the slipknot because when I was learning to crochet. I always found myself one chain short at the end of my foundation row. The book I learned from stated "The first loop after your slipknot counts as your first chain". I misunderstood, thinking that the actual knot was all they meant, and the loop counted as a chain. Looking back, I can laugh at myself now... But with only one book, no internet access, and no help, I was so frustrated!

  I've learned to properly count my chains since then, but I still have times that I accidentally count a stitch twice or skip one. And then, there's always those times where you're making an afghan with a foundation chain of 500, and you reach the end of the first row to realize that you're 11 chains short... (Yes, you can fix that!) But that's another crochet tutorial for another day. The most important reason I work into the knot this way is because there isn't any knot! I love knot-less joins and can't stand knots anywhere in my work; so why not begin without a knot, too? And going hand-in-hand with the knot-less beginning, we'll start to learn how to weave in the tail as we work, which saves time and hides the end with no bumps or knots! 

  Ready? Follow along as I begin the first row of one of the squares for the Nine Square Blanket. Please remember, this pattern is not mine; it's provided free by Yarnspirations for the World's Biggest Stocking! What I'm doing is providing help for beginners that may want to join the project. If you haven't already, you can download all the patterns for the World's Biggest Stocking here

Let's begin!

The foundation chain of each square is the same: 41. The first three chains from the hook will count as your first double crochet, so we'll be making the "second" stitch in the fourth chain from the hook. Yarn over from back to front to make a double crochet.

After you yarn over, insert the hook in the fourth chain from the hook. Beginners: Why do we work into the fourth chain, when a double crochet is equal to three chains in height? Because the fourth chain counts as the foundation chain for the base of the stitch!

For the next step of the double crochet: Yarn over, pull a loop through the stitch. You will now have three loops on your hook.

With three loops on the hook, yarn over. Remember to always yarn over from the back to the front during all steps of the stitch!

Pull through the first two loops on the hook. This will leave two loops remaining on the hook. (Beginners: This is known as a "half-closed double crochet", in case you ever read that in a pattern!)

You're almost done! With the two remaining loops on the hook, yarn over from back to front. 

Pull through the two remaining loops on the hook. You will now have only one loop on the hook. One double crochet complete!

Make a double crochet in each chain across, until you reach the slipknot that we will work into. (You will have a total of 39 dc's once the row is finished. You should have 38 when you stop here.)

When you insert the hook into the slipknot, you should see the front and back loops of the previous chain running into the center of this loop. For additional help, see each of these loops highlighted towards the end of last week's post.

Now, let's begin weaving in that tail while we work! If you notice your working yarn over your tail, then let's fix that before we continue.

Move the tail up and over the working yarn, keeping it behind the hook for the next step of the stitch.

Yarn over, pull through two loops. The tail will now be in trapped in the first loops of the stitch.

Before you yarn over to complete the stitch, bring the tail over the working yarn again.  You may sometimes see other crocheters yarn over the hook with the tail, instead of the way I'm doing it here. Go ahead and do that if you like! Both methods work, but I can still see the tail if I yarn over the hook with it. Most people don't notice it. I'm just super-picky like that. 

Yarn over, pull through the remaining two loops on the hook. Now the first row is finished! We'll work over the tail some more as we crochet the returning row, but we've gone through a lot of pictures! That's going to be all for this post!