Friday, March 6, 2015

Crochet Hack: A New Hook

MacGyver Style!
A 75% serious tutorial - and a handful of zombies

  What would you do without your crochet hooks? Go crazy, or buy new ones? What if neither one is an option?  My troll steals/borrows mine sometimes, and doesn't return them until it's too late. Suppose a disaster strikes and your hooks are lost... Maybe a box fell off the truck while moving... What if it's the start of the Zombie Apocalypse, and you have to abandon everything? 

  Or, getting back to a more realistic note, what if it's just not in your budget? I've been there. When the decision comes down to food on the table or crochet, you pick food on the table, right? I know, we all say we "eat, breath, and live crochet", but you know you can't really eat your crochet. Well, you would get plenty of "fiber" if you tried! But, seriously again, you can't eat your crochet. Unless you crochet with rope licorice. The red kind. That would be delicious. Anyways... 

  So, somebody (you know who you are!) recently inspired this thought: What would you do without access to crochet hooks? Which led me to exercise my "MacGyver" style thinking, and consequentially, a perfectly usable hook was born from stuff in the junk drawer. *A disclaimer before we begin: This is just a silly, "look what you can do" sort of post. But... We're going to use tools, and maybe a sharp knife, and stuff might go flying... At least there won't be any rapid bubble gum chewing or explosions. Safety first! Make sure you don't cut your finger off or poke your eye out, okay?

Get ready for crochet:

  Here, we have my first idea. A plain ol' pen. And I'm going to turn it into a crochet hook! You'll need some wire cutters or a good, sharp knife; I personally prefer the wire cutters. Just so you know, before we start: It will probably take you longer to read this rambling post than it will to make this hook; I made mine in less than twenty minutes!

  Comparing the pen to my hooks, this looks like the equivalent of a size N-9.00MM aluminum hook. But, supposing you don't have any hooks because you're on the run from mutant zombies, you won't be able to judge the gauge, and you'll just have to wing it.

  First, disassemble the pen. Most of these pens will pull apart with a gentle pull and a little twist.

  Here's our "hook piece": Slide the piece that fits inside the pen shaft off of the ink-thingy. If it's not already empty, put the ink-thingy in the junk drawer for when another pen runs out of ink, or you can reuse it in this pen! (See, I'm thrifty like that!) If, by chance, you're on the run from the zombies, you might want to keep it for an eye-poking-out weapon, or something.

  This is the part where you could use a knife, but I prefer using my cutters. Forget the ink-thingy and save the knife for the zombies, right? I did some not-so-technical judging and measuring, and decided I needed to cut at about a 45° angle.

  Make the cut no more than halfway through the hook piece.

  Note where the piece flares out to sit on the pen shaft. Don't cut anywhere below it.

  And make another cut just below the first, at a slightly deeper angle.

  I had to wiggle the material out of the cut, but it came out easily.

  And just to make sure the hook piece isn't crushed or anything, give it a "fit check" in the pen shaft.

  An old nail file takes care of any jagged edges left over from cutting. Sandpaper would work, too, but I guess the troll needed mine.

  Make sure to sand/file the underside of the cut, too. It doesn't take much effort to round the plastic to the same shape as a crochet hook.

  I would have liked to use the piece shown here as the tip of the hook, but I've been told (by those more experienced in spit ball launcher making pen dismantling than I am) that if you remove it, the ink is going to go everywhere.


  Enter next item from the junk drawer: A broken bamboo skewer. (Why is it in there?) A little more work with the nail file, and I've tapered the end down slightly and made a rounded tip.

  I checked it for fit inside the pen shaft, and thought I cut it to the proper length, but after assembling it, I had to trim the end down more.

  After using the hook to crochet, I think I would still cut it down just a little bit more. The tip sticks up from the hook piece too much, and tends to catch on the yarn. If the rounded end of the skewer was more flush with the hook piece, there wouldn't be a ridge for the yarn to catch on.

  But...The proof is in the picture! The piece worked with my "MacGyver Style" pen hook is slightly bigger than the swatch worked with a N-9.00MM hook. However, I think I might still be right about the size; my tension was very loose while working with the upcycled hook, because I should have trimmed the tip down more. A proper test was never done, because I had to run from zombies got distracted by more potential hooks!

  Meet the "pencil hook". It didn't work very well, but it was usable, so I'll still share it. When I tried to pull through a loop, I had to rotate the "hook" a full 180° and immediately grab the yarn with my finger, or it would jump off of the hook. Less frustrating items can be turned into crochet hooks. Let's save the pencil for another zombie weapon; shoot it like an arrow from a rubber band or something.

  And for the grand finale: While looking for more anti-zombie weapons digging in the junk drawer, I came across my broken ear buds. (Again, why is this stuff in there?) These have already been "MacGyvered" back together, broken again, and now I give up on them. I was trying to figure out how to turn the back panel of the speaker into a hook, when I discovered the perfect piece for the tip of my pen hook!

  It works great! This piece is a little longer than the tip of a hook would normally be. Maybe that's cool, though, because it creates slightly bigger loops than normal, which makes it easier to insert the hook into the next stitch. Good for tight tension problems!

  And, just because I originally sacrificed the ear buds for the piece you see here, I did crochet with it. I was going to cut the center out in a hook shape, and fix it onto a bamboo skewer. That never happened, because the skewer was too small, and I couldn't find anything else that would fit the piece. I think it would have worked, but I gave up for now. It's a Win/Fail. I managed to use this tiny piece to make a few chain stitches, but holding it in my fingertips was too strenuous. I proved it can be done, but I don't think I proved that you would want to do it.

  What items are in your junk drawer that can be used as a hook? Think like MacGyver, and you will find! Want a tiny hook for thread crochet? Get a paperclip. On the other hand (you have more fingers), I had another idea for a bigger hook - But wouldn't you know it - That's the only thing that's not in my junk drawer! How many times have you thrown out an old wooden handled paint brush? I was looking for the kind that has the hole in the handle for hanging. And then I was going to get even bigger, sharper tools (a hacksaw!) and cut a notch under the loop of the hole, making it a hook. That would have made a really cool rug hook... And for my last suggestion: Don't forget that a new hook could be as simple as finding the right twig on a tree!

  *Before we close, I'm going to give you a quick warning: If you're squeamish, and you don't like frogs and toads, don't scroll down to see the picture. I'll put a nice, big space between here and there, so you don't have to see it. But, sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and I've had enough typing for the day.

  Why make a hook "MacGyver Style? Because sometimes you just don't have the money for a new one. Because sometimes disasters happen, and you lose everything. Because the Zombie Apocalypse... Because... You can! And sometimes, it's because you live "in the country", and it takes over twenty minutes to get to the craft store that closes at six on Sunday. And you had plans to go there that day around four o'clock, but because you live in the middle of "NATURE", you have to deal with things like this, instead:

-  -  -  -  -

Like what I found in my yard?
This will put a stop to your day!
But, hey... Maybe I can poison the zombies with them, right?
(Are zombies vulnerable to poison?) 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Yarn Tales Tuesday

Recycled, Upcycled, and Alternative Materials
The stuff you don't find in the craft store...

  For last week's Yarn Tales Tuesday, we played a little guessing game. A whole week has gone by, our skilled reader hasn't returned to try again, and nobody else has made any guesses, so...I guess I'll go ahead and release the rest of the results. 

  We've already seen the results for the fiber yarns featured last week, now let's check out the alternative materials shown in the quiz! 

1. Jute Twine

  Okay,  let's get this one out of the way, because it doesn't completely fit the description of "not found in the craft store". You can find jute twine in the craft store, and the hardware store...flea markets..."dollar" discount stores, and more! You'll mostly see the natural kind everywhere, but the craft store usually has the colored kind, too. 

  I'm including it as an alternative material because it's inexpensive, and all natural, too. So, whether you're in to "green" projects, or you're just broke like me, this material could be your new favorite! Clothing, gunny sacks, and burlap have been made with Jute for centuries. If you would like to learn more about its use in textiles, this article has a ton of information! Although you wouldn't want to make garments from the rough, scratchy fiber of this twine, it makes great bags, baskets, and other home decor items. 

  What is jute, and why is it a good choice for "green" projects? Jute is a natural plant fiber, just like cotton or bamboo. But cotton farming often uses chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and requires irrigation. And bamboo, although mostly awesome and considered more "green" than cotton, has led to deforestation in some places. In comparison, jute is an easily grown, rain fed crop that is considered one of the least expensive materials to produce.    

...And it makes nice coasters - Check out these Jute Mug Rugs!

3. Tee Shirt/Jersey Cotton yarn

  There are sources available to purchase t-shirt yarn, but you can make it so easily on your own! Jersey cotton makes a smooth, soft yarn that can be cut fairly thin for a finer yarn, or really thick for bulky projects. Small holes that ruin the fabric as a tee shirt can be cut around while making yarn, and minor stains will disappear once worked up.

  Need more reasons to use t-shirt yarn? How about colors, colors, colors, and cheap? Check out yard sales and local thrift stores to score super-cheap shirts in a multitude of colors; I often see extra large and 2XL tee shirts for a quarter at yard sales! And screen-printed fabric makes great anti-skid yarn for rugs.

  Looking for a ton of yarn for cheap, and it's completely brand new? Keep an eye out in outlet stores and clearance aisles for jersey cotton bed sheets! Sometimes, you don't find a great deal, and it's just not worth it. But other times, I find king-size sheet sets for under $15. Depending on how wide you cut the fabric, you can get over 1,000 yards from one sheet!


5. Plarn (Plastic Bag Yarn)

  Usually made from plastic grocery bags, but available from other sources, too. By now, most people know plarn, and I feel like just saying "blah, blah, blah, you know what plarn is"...And maybe you're thinking "blah, blah, blah, I know what plarn is"! But, I still remember the first time I discovered plarn as an even-more-broke 20-something. First it was like "what?", then it was like "cool!", and now, my house is full of stuff made from plarn, because I went nuts with it. I've grown and graduated from making everything from plarn, but my baskets, mats, jewelry, and even a toothbrush holder are still super-awesome-cool to me, because I still love trying to explain to non-crafters how I made a rug from grocery bags.

New to plarn? Click here to learn how to recycle your plastic grocery bags into "yarn"!

Not new to plarn, but want to take it up a notch? Learn how to make delicate thread-weight plarn for jewelry! 

Check out the Recycling Ideas for Crochet page for free crochet patterns using plarn.


7. Recycled Rubber Yarn

  Now, this is new to most of you! Any rubber ball can be cut into yarn, just like tee shirts and grocery bags. The material you see in the picture came from an exercise ball. And after one reader's question, I think you could cut air mattresses this way, too. (There's one with a hole in it in my closet that I'm itching to cut up now!) Although I never want to discourage anyone from trying anything, I don't think this material is the best choice for beginners. It causes a lot of friction, making it almost impossible to work up with a hook, unless you grease it up. 

  I'm currently working with the material shown by using finger crochet, which makes it so much easier to handle. I hoped to have it finished by now, but my young wards have been acting rambunctious and they're working on turning my hands into hamburger. The resistive rubber helps to amplify pain, wherever pain already is, so if you have "I-have-a-kitten-shredded-hands", arthritis, or any other kind of issue, it may be best to leave rubber yarn alone.   

  That said, give it a try if you wish, but be careful! If you decide to work with this high-friction material, stop periodically to take a break. My secret is petroleum jelly. Rub a dab into the fingers of your tension hand, and if you're using a hook, grease it up, too. Lubricating the rubber yarn reduces the friction to almost none, but you have to pause often to add more. That's okay, since you should take a break, anyways. As a bonus, the petroleum jelly will leave you with baby-soft hands.


9. Recycled Speaker Wire

  So, if you're a return reader here, you probably know about my love of loud heavy metal. Every day. I don't know if it's because of constant use, or if I'm just buying cheap speaker wire, but I have to change mine every two years or so. If I don't, speakers start cutting out, making popping noises, and will completely stop working. Half a day of running new wires has me back in business (some of them stretch 50 feet across the house), and replenishes my supply of wacky things to crochet with.

  If you've crocheted with jewelry wire, and you've crocheted with plastic lacing, working with speaker wire is a lot like combining the two materials. It doesn't create a lot of friction like I thought it would, and is surprisingly easy to work with. Most standard speaker wire has clear insulation, with the wire on one side being copper, and the other side being silver-toned. These two wires are "molded" as one wire, but they pull apart easily, leaving you with two different colors of crochet material. Now, what you see here is really cool-colored speaker wire; I'm having fun with this stuff! This super-cheap, I-don't-even-know-where-it-came-from wire only lasted six months before I fried it as speaker wire, and now it's making some loud but interesting jewelry. 

   I've had a run of luck with people giving me other kinds of wire, because some other stuff has threads inside. Pure metal wire is harder to score, because it's worth money as scrap metal. Most "scrappers" don't want to bother with the kind that has threads, because it's worth little to nothing without a ton of work. Perhaps you can find sources of free wire, too!

11. Recycled VHS Tape

  Some of my old VHS tapes are held near and dear, waiting to be converted over to DVD someday. But many of them have been sitting in a cabinet for years, never watched, and completely forgotten. Or, they've already been eaten alive and regurgitated by that ancient, evil machine known as "The VCR". And that's what makes them a candidate for crochet material! 

  VHS tape is "crackly", shiny, and extremely strong. The first thing I do when testing an alternative material is: Try to break it! I want to know how strong the material is before I continue. When I gave VHS tape my "pull test", I couldn't break it by hand. This is another material that may be a bit limited in its uses, but it will definitely make some super-strong stash baskets!

  There is one thing I'd like to address about this tape. I've heard rumors that it contains the chemical BPA. I say "rumors" because after hours of research, I couldn't come up with a single source to back the information. Now, I'm no chemist or anything, but here's my opinion: 

(1) With the amount of warnings over plastic containers, receipts, and canned products containing BPA, I would think that it would be easier to find the information, if VHS tape actually does have the chemical in it. 

(2) What I would be more concerned about is what we "kinda" know. Keep in mind - I do research. Lots of it. But I can't always find all the answers. So speak up if you know more than me! Here's the chemical components of VHS that I did find -

  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) - This stuff has a good/bad reputation. Although the FDA approves of the plastic, you should never reuse any food container made from it. It can leach cancer-causing chemicals into your water, just like BPA. However, if you're not eating or drinking from the item you crochet, perhaps it may be safe.

  • Okay, my brain is tired, so let's just say "magnetic powder and stuff".  I also read the words "fungicide" and "polymer". Those are the parts that worry me, because what's in that stuff?

  • Polyester-polyurethane. Now that sounds pretty safe. Polyester, you know, the stuffing inside of those cute little stuffed animals? And polyurethane, well, I've been painting furniture and stuff with that since I was a kid! And...that could possibly be why I can't make sense of these chemical components. But seriously, I'm not a chemist. So forgive me, okay? I'm pretty sure those two words hyphenated together mean something other than painted fiber fill.

  And depending on the age of the tape, it could contain different chemicals. So, because I have limited knowledge of the possible dangers, here's the link where you can find the same information. And if anybody has any other helpful information, please share the link in the comments section, or you can contact me personally and I will add it here. VHS tape makes some pretty cool material, but we don't want to put our health at risk, do we? As for myself, I'm not worried about it because there just isn't any warning out there that says "Absolutely DON'T touch VHS tape", so, you know, I'm gonna live dangerously and stuff.

12. "Rescued" Fishing Line

  This is 80 - 100lb/test fishing line. The reason why I call it "rescued" is because I saved it from the garbage. An old acquaintance was about to throw it away while cleaning out his shed, so I snagged it before it went into a landfill!  This super-heavy line is somewhat irritating to work with, because it's not as flexible as a thinner line would be. I worked this test square with a tiny steel hook, just to see how stiff I could make the material. The line continually jumped out of the throat of the hook just as I would pull it through a loop. - That said, it's much easier to work with when using a larger hook - Lighter test line is fun to work with, and even comes in many different colors! 

  Now, I don't think you'd really want to recycle used fishing line for crochet, and I don't know what you would make with it, but...Hey, maybe you'll come up with an idea! When I think "used fishing line", I think "fish, fish guts, dirty water...", you know. Maybe there's a way to sterilize it for future use, but I don't want my crocheted jewelry smelling like last week's catch!

  What I have done with used fishing line is: Save my garden! I love nature, but I don't like birds eating all of my fruit and veggies! It's since been removed, so I couldn't share a picture...A few years ago, I scored a bunch of used fishing line that somebody so nicely thought I could crochet with. I tacked it with staples to the posts around my garden, and tied fabric and yarn scraps to it to scare away the pesky blue jays that love to rip my plants right out of the ground - I wish I had taken a picture of it - What a colorful bird deterrent! It's a good thing I live in the middle of nowhere. (I wonder what the people in planes thought?) 

  And if you were paying attention, yes, I said "jewelry". Fishing line can make really cool jewelry. I'd love to share a picture of that, too, but it's sort of a "super-secret" project that I'm perfecting/being really selfish with right now. You'll see it someday, I promise. Until then, you can create your own - You can find 650 yards of Monofilament line at for under $2!

  By the way, for those of you who picked up on the "shark fishing and stuff" comment in the last answers post, here's the story: It came from the previous owner of this super-heavy line. I'm uneducated about deep-sea fishing. When I asked him "What kind of fish are you catching that are that heavy?", his reply was: "You know! It's for shark fishing and stuff", so I asked him if he ever caught a shark with it - "Nope, they always break the line"...I guess that's why he was throwing it away!

Well, my game kinda bombed...I thought it would be fun, but I'm a reclusive shut-in that crochets and has cats... Perhaps I should start rolling my hair in curlers and yelling at people to "get off my lawn"! Anyways...

Thanks for playing!

Oh, wait, I already do yell at people to get off my lawn! Check this out: A couple of weeks ago, some guy just goes walking across my yard...It's five acres, fenced. With a locked gate. With "beware of dog" signs, because I have a 120 pound Great Dane-mix, who likes to bite whoever doesn't belong. So I yelled at him. The guy, not the dog. He's lucky that I saw him before Tater Salad did, and I restrained the dog just as he caught sight of him. This dude had jumped my fence, pulled the wire loose in the process, and bent it half way to the ground, to take a shortcut. Across five acres...Six hundred and sixty-five feet, to be exact. Instead of turning around, he just kept walking. And he didn't understand what my problem was...

Am I the crazy one? What do you think?

Wanna cross my yard?