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...

Happy Crocheting!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

WBS Blanket Progress: Mistakes I Made as a Beginner

The things I used to do!

  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.

Happy Crocheting!

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. 

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