Friday, November 21, 2014

How to: Make delicate Thread-Weight Plarn

  I wanted to create plarn for more delicate projects, but had some difficulty working with it while joining strips. Follow along to learn a little bit about my trials with plarn, then get familiar with how to prepare the material for a thread-weight project.

  To make plarn using the loop method, loops are cut from the body of the bag then ran through each other to create a knot. Because the loop method tends to be stronger, I tried it after cutting the plastic as thin as possible for a lighter weight plarn. The material is so weak this way that it often breaks when you try to tighten a knot, no matter how gentle you are with it. And then I discovered that the knots, which are usually unnoticeable in a heavier weight project, are very noticeable in a thread weight project and they catch on smaller steel hooks.

  I went back to my preferred spiral method. Although there's nothing you can do to avoid the weakness of the plarn at this stage, you can cut it 1/2" to 3/4" (1.2 to 1.9 cm) wide, and try to avoid breaks when joining by being gentle with it. It can be worked with as-is, but if anything causes the slightest tug, the material will stretch or break. It's also very easy to accidentally push smaller hooks right through the plastic.

  The answer to the problem was a drop spindle. Plastic yarn is fun and easy to spin, because you don't have as much of a problem with slubs or having fiber everywhere. The only thing you really have to worry about is not over-spinning the plarn, because it will snap quickly.

  *A warning: I was sitting in a chair to spin, and had the spindle raised above head level. I over-spun the plarn, and it snapped right next to my face. The end of the broken plarn slapped me right in the eye, and it had quite a bit of velocity when it hit me. To top off my clumsiness, the spindle landed on my bare foot when it fell and gave me a nasty bruise. It's not like this is the most dangerous activity, but maybe I got hurt because I wasn't expecting any danger., don't poke your eye out or break your foot or anything, okay? Pay attention to what you're doing, and keep it away from your face.

  *Don't worry if you don't have a drop spindle, I'll show you how to use a few simple household items to create one, when we get to that step.  

Grocery bags
Scissors or rotary cutter and cutting mat, or both

*It's difficult for me to use scissors because of a hand disability. I purchased a rotary cutter, and it has saved me so much time and effort! It took some time to get used to cutting bags with the cutter, but it was well worth it. A rotary cutter can at least save you some time with cutting off the tops and bottoms of the bags, even if you still use scissors for the spiral cutting. Having to keep the loops out from underneath the bag while cutting is a bit of a pain until you get the hang of it.


For thicker plarn projects, it's okay to be a bit sloppy when cutting. Jagged edges or uneven spots blend in  once worked up. When cutting bags for thread weight plarn, you need to be more careful. Try to get the bag smooth and cut as straight as possible. Pull the bottom seam straight, run the inside seams flat with your finger, and straighten the handles as best as you can.
*Tip: Most grocery bag handles turn inside out once filled and carried. If you handles aren't straight, they probably need to be turned in. Then you can perfectly line up the seams of the bag.

Cut off the top and bottom of the bag.

Unfold the seams, so the remaining body of the bag forms a tube. Flatten the bag out again.

The open ends should be on the sides, and the side seams will be the top and bottom. Fold up the bag from the bottom. Leave about 2" (5 cm) unfolded at the top. This unfolded section will be referred to as the "spine".

Starting from the bottom, cut a 1/2" (1 cm) strip, stopping once you are through the folded portion. Make sure you cut all the way through the fold, but do not cut through the spine.

Continue cutting strips of the same size until you reach the end of the bag. If there isn't enough, or too much material at the end to make an even strip, cut all the way through to the top to remove the final portion.

Unfold and straighten the strips. You will have a bunch of loose strips and the uncut spine at the top.

*Here is the difficult part if you use a rotary cutter. It isn't clear in this photo, but you will see how the strips are located underneath the spine. You will need to move them before every cut to avoid cutting through the material. Position the bag as shown in the photo, with the spine in the middle and the cut portions to each side.
If using scissors, you will be able to hold the bag in one hand while cutting with the other, so that the strips are open and there is no risk of cutting through them. Hold with the spine at the top, but slightly towards you, and the strips hanging down.

Follow the line in the photo for your first cut here. It will be a diagonal cut from the outer edge of the bag where the bottom strip meets the spine, to the inside of the first strip at the top of the spine.

Once the first cut is made, you will be able to "unravel" this strip from the body. It will now become part of the next strip at the bottom.

From this point on, no cuts will be made from the outer edge of strips. Cut from the inside of the bottom strip to the inside of the top strip.

This cut strip can be "unraveled" like the first. If you are using a rotary cutter, note how in this picture, you can somewhat see the outline of the bottom of the strips underneath the spine. Remember to pay attention! Move them out of the way by pushing them towards the uncut portion, or pull the next few strips out past where you are cutting.

Continue cutting in the same manner to the last strip. For the end strip, run your cut at the same angle as the rest, there just isn't another strip to cut into.

Now you have a big pile of plarn! With the material cut this thin, the plarn is very delicate, so try to keep it organized, and don't move it around too much. It's a real pain having to untangle the pile when it gets knotted up.

To spin the plarn, you can just twist it in your fingers while rolling it into a ball. This takes quite a long time to accomplish, though.  A drop spindle can be very helpful.

If you don't have a drop spindle, follow this link to learn how to make one from simple household items, like the one I'm using.

Now, follow along to spin your material. Make a leader yarn out of some scrap plarn. Simply tie the material into a loop. This loop needs to be long enough to go from the under the round piece to over the hook.

Insert the shaft of the spindle into the leader yarn. Twist the leader one time, loop it over the spindle shaft for a slip knot.

Bring the other end of the leader yarn up behind the hook, then through it. You want to have at least one inch (2.5 cm) of a loop after the hook.

 Run the end of the plarn you will be spinning through the loop of the leader yarn.

Twist the spindle counterclockwise to spin the plarn.

When the plarn has enough of a twist, remove it from the hook and wrap around the shaft of the spindle. Place the material back in the hook again; keep spinning.

If it twists tightly around itself (like shown) when you remove the plarn from the hook, you are spinning it too tightly. Let go of the spindle, holding the plarn, and let it untwist itself slightly until the kink is removed.

Roll it up into a ball, and you're done!

Well, almost done... It's really important to work up a gauge swatch before you go cutting up a bunch of bags. Grocery bags vary in thickness, so you can't guarantee that your plarn will match my plarn's weight.

Thread-weight crochet plarn is great for jewelry projects.
Check out these patterns using the same material:

Poinsettia Flower Brooch:
The bags used for this project were delicate boutique-style bags which were much thinner than the average grocery bag. You will see how it was necessary to cut the bags into 3/4" (2 cm) wide strips to obtain the same gauge.

Sunswirl Earrings
This pattern was made with plain ol' grocery bag plarn. The gauge is exactly equal to #10 crochet thread with the bag cut into 1/2" (1 cm) strips.

  It's been a long time since my first tutorial for How to Make Plarn! The original version includes instructions for joining using the splice method.

Happy Crocheting!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Free Pattern: Fall Napkin Ring Revise

  When I designed the original Beaded Fall Napkin Rings, I tried to make an easy pattern that didn't require assembling separate pieces. After I posted the pattern, I started to make another set of them with larger beads. During the process, I realized that the original pattern isn't symmetrical. It doesn't affect the functionality of the finished piece, but it does cause the beads to sit slightly off-center.

  This bothered me, so I set about re-designing the rings, and rushed to publish the new version. Forgetting my dislike of weaving in any extra ends, I decided to make the pattern in pieces. It only took me about ten minutes to make the two separate pieces, then maybe another five minutes to join them together. I have to admit that it was much easier than the first design.

  The new and improved pattern is so much easier to follow, works up faster, and has symmetrical beads. The original version is pictured on the right in the following photo:

You can see that with the tiny seed beads I used, the piece looks symmetrical, but it's not. The following new pattern works better with the larger beads. View the original pattern here or check out the step by step tutorial if you would like to compare the differences.

Skill Level:

Worsted weight (4) acrylic yarn
- I used Red Heart Super Saver in "SH Browns". After looking on their website, it appears to be discontinued. Worsted cotton is interchangeable, just check your gauge.
Hook size I/9-5.50MM or size needed to obtain gauge
Yarn needle or smaller hook to weave in ends
Beads - 5 per piece

4" x "4 (10 cm by 10 cm) =
14 rows of 14 single crochet

To use smaller beads on worsted weight yarn, use a drop of glue on the tail of the yarn. Twist tightly and allow to dry. Thread all of your beads before beginning.

Stitches and abbreviations:
Chain (ch)
Slip stitch (sl st)
Single crochet (sc)

Beginning (beg)
Repeat (rep)
Space/s (sp/s)
Yarn over (y/o)


Strip A (3 beads):

Row 1:
Ch 3, make 1 sc in 2nd ch from hook and in last ch. (3 sc)

Row 2:
Ch 1 (counts as 1 sc), turn. 1 sc in each of the remaining 2 sc.

Row 3:
Repeat Row 2.

Row 4:
Ch 1, turn. Insert hook in next sc, pull up a loop. Slide a bead up to the stitch, y/o, pull through both loops on hook. 1 sc in last st.

Rows 5 - 7:
Rep Row 2.

Row 8:
Rep Row 4.

Rows 9 through 12:
Rep Rows 5 through 8.

Rows 13 through 15:
Rep Row 2.

*(Ch 1, sl st in the next available post sp) 14 times. Rotate to work across bottom. (Ch 1, sl st) in each of the next 3 sc.* Rotate. Repeat from * to *. Ch 1, join with a sl st to beg ch-1. Bind off, weave in ends.

Strip B (2 beads):

Row 1:
Ch 3, make 1 sc in 2nd ch from hook and in last ch. (3 sc)

Row 2:
Ch 1 (counts as 1 sc), turn. 1 sc in each of the remaining 2 sc.

Row 3:
Ch 1, turn. Insert hook in next sc, pull up a loop. Slide a bead up to the stitch, y/o, pull through both loops on hook. 1 sc in last st.

Rows 4 through 12:
Repeat Row 2.

Row 13:
Repeat Row 3.

Rows 14 and 15:
Repeat Row 2.

Ch 1, turn. (Sl st, ch 1) in each of the next 2 sc, in each of the next 14 side post sps, in each of the following 3 sc, and in the remaining 14 side post sps. Join with a sl st to beg ch-1. Bind off, weave in ends.

*I have to apologize for not knowing the correct term for my seam. I always thought it was another version of the whip stitch, but a true whip stitch is brought back over the stitch. This seam is woven back and forth. Please, leave a comment (and a link to your blog if you have one) if you can give us the name of this stitch.

Pin the pieces together in an "X" shape before joining the ends. Strip A should be on top of Strip B, with the beads facing you.

Thread about 8" (20 cm) of yarn on a yarn needle. Start by folding so that the ends of the strips meet, with the beads on the inside. Weave the yarn through the back loops only of the first corresponding stitches of each strip. Pull the yarn through, leaving about a 6" (15 cm) tail. From the current side you are on, insert needle in the back loops of the next sts, pull through. Continue to the end of this strip.

Holding the next strip ends together, weave back and forth through the back loops of the sts.

Pull both ends to tighten and settle the stitches. You want to make sure there isn't a gap between the strips, or you'll have a big space and a single thread dangling in between them.

While weaving in the ends, work towards the center of the strip, where the middle bead is. Secure the strips together by weaving the yarn through the middle bead stitch.

Finish weaving in the ends. Turn right side out.

As I stated in the original pattern, I would love to see these starched to stiffen them, but I still haven't solved the problem of the beads becoming cloudy, and it shows even worse on these larger beads. I'm still open for suggestions if anyone has one.

So far, I've tried store-bought fabric stiffener, home-made liquid starch, and diluted craft glue. The glue dried clear on the beads, but with bumps, bubbles, and bare spots, so then I had to take the time to peel it all off of each bead.

Again, maybe they're better left as-is.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Yarn Tales Tuesday

Crochet Inspiration

  The designing part of my brain has become blocked again...I guess sometimes I just get burned out and need a break. The extra-busy time of the holidays is fast approaching, and I might as well take a bit of time to unwind while I still can.

  When I say "unwind", I don't mean stop. I can't stop crocheting...I think I begin to suffer symptoms of withdrawal if I'm away from yarn and a hook for too long. What I mean by "unwind" is to change things up a little. Aside from designing some new things outside of my comfort zone, I have some yarn-oriented cleaning and organizing to do, plus some yarn-related crafts I've had on hold.

  Of course, this means there could be a few less free crochet patterns being posted for a few weeks, but I'm focusing creating better projects in the meantime. While I'll be backing off of posting patterns, I'm going to be adding some new tutorials, tips, and ideas.

  Now, let's dive into my new motivation:

  One of my other biggest hobbies is gardening. You'll find me outside when I'm not buried under a pile of yarn. I have 5 acres of plants to take care of, so there's no such thing as a true "break" in my life, there's just something else to do. Whenever I develop another case of "designer's block", quitting is never the answer for me. It only means it's time do do something else!

  I often rediscover my creativity when I'm taking care of everyday life tasks. The Fmelted Plarn Toothbrush Holder was invented when my wall-mounted toothbrush holder fell off while I was cleaning it. My Deca-stitch Cowl 2.0 was created in the favorite color of a dear friend who passed, and these Men's Fingerless Mitts were designed in the middle of a cold winter for my other half. Life usually jumps in and provides a reason for me to create something new.

  But lately, Life has stepped back and given me the time to design what I want to design. I've been experimenting with flowers, headbands, and some jewelry. Until now...I only have one project in design queue, but it's something very large that I can't begin until I can afford all of the material at one time. Hopefully I can create some new stuff before I finish posting my recent group of patterns.

  So as I mentioned, it's time to go do something else. Winter is on it's way, and I need to be taking care of my plants and making sure the animals will be cozy. I often carry my camera with me when I'm out on the property, and I've been snapping some great photos of nature in my backyard.

  Coincidentally, I've found my inspiration after all. What better muse is there for creativity than Mother Nature? The bold, beautiful colors and many fascinating shapes found outdoors often lend their influence to design. Why not use them in my crochet?

  I'm not talking about recreating plants and animals; I've already covered that. I'm thinking something more along the lines of an afghan with stitches and colors revolving around the interesting image of this recent thunderstorm:

  I love the contrast of the blue/gray sky against the rich green of the grass and the dramatic lines in the clouds. Unfortunately, the spiderweb-like orange and yellow lightning streaking across the sky wasn't captured in the picture, but I'd like to find a way to also work it into the design.

  And if that's not inspiring enough, I've have plans for the following photo, too. I'd like to create a garment of some kind, I just haven't made up my mind over what it will be.

    Perhaps you can give me some hints about what you'd like to see. Why not take some inspiration from my readers, too? I can't make everything for everybody, but I sure could use a jump-start right now.

  Use the comments section to leave a suggestion for what you think I should make next. Would you like to see a tutorial for something? I'm up for a challenge, so don't hesitate!

  Has something in nature ever inspired you to design your own crochet pattern? Do you get the motivation to create from everyday life situations? Let us know about it with a comment or by sharing a link to your own post.

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