Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Holidays and Plarn

  The kids and I had a little out-of-the-norm fun over the holiday season. I have a great new pattern that I'm working on for their room, and it's eating up my whole stash of grocery bags for plarn (plastic yarn). Now, the Boy doesn't mind helping me turn the bags into plarn; he actually says he likes it. The Kid on the other hand... I know she hates it, even though she doesn't directly say so. I can't even pay her to help me cut up bags. But even Little-Miss-You-Can't-Pay-Me was willing to put in some work over the holiday, and we managed to turn it into a new, weird family tradition.

plarn, plastic yarn, crochet, finger crochet, recycling plastic bags

  I usually prefer cutting my plarn using the single-strand method, but this time I'm cutting and joining with the "loop" method. It's easier for the kids, and faster for me. Plus, we're making super-thick loops by just cutting the bags in half. (And by "we", I mean "me", because there's no way I'm letting them handle the super-sharp rotary cutter.) Before beginning on the pattern for their room, I had them sit down with some scissors and help me make some material for testing. The resulting multi-colored, ridiculously thick chain of plarn became our special "holiday" decoration.

plarn, plastic yarn, recycling plastic bags

  To dive into a side subject for some explanation: I don't celebrate Christmas, so the kids usually spend it with other parts of the family that do. This year, they were stuck with Mom, so we decided to "celebrate" Festivus, which I also don't really celebrate.

  Many people believe that Festivus came to life from an episode of the T.V. sitcom "Seinfeld", but it only became known because of it. In fact, Festivus was being celebrated long before the show ever existed. It was the father of a writer from the series that first invented Festivus, not something just made up in the show. However, that doesn't change the fact that it's still a completely made up "holiday". From the "Airing of Grievances" to the "Feats of Strength", writer Dan O'Keefe's family celebrated it all a bit differently than what the public saw on TV... And there never was a "Festivus Pole". The "real" Festivus involved a clock being nailed to the wall in a bag... The purpose of which was not to be known by children. (Read all about the original holiday in the book "The Real Festivus: The True Story Behind America's Favorite Made-up Holiday" by Dan J. O'Keefe.)

  I didn't have a suitable clock, and I didn't really want to stick another nail in my wall, so I decided to roll with it and make our own tradition. By the time all was said and done, it wasn't really "Festivus" at all... It was just our own thing, which seems to be more in the spirit of the original holiday. We used the test plarn to crochet a multi-colored chain (and by "we", again, I mean "me", because although they're trying, they don't crochet... Yet), then we decorated a palm tree out front as our "Festivus Tree". The end result of the test material was a 65-foot long plarn atrocity that couldn't be more perfect for our newly-made family tradition... Which may or may not leave a few neighbors wondering what we were thinking, but that's "not for them to know"!

plarn, garland, Festivus Tree

  Now, on to a slight rant: Why I decided to teach them about Festivus, and not put on a fake Christmas just for them. (Also, why I really hate Facebook.) Many people see this made up holiday as a mockery of their own beliefs. The point of Festivus isn't to mock religious holidays; it's to mock the commercialism and greed that has taken over the Holiday Season in some cultures - or at least, to try escaping it. No matter if it's Christmas, Hanukkah, or one of the many other holidays celebrated over the Season and the rest of the year, the purpose of a holiday is usually to remember a sacrifice, hardship, or suffering, and to give back in return for it. To have an unselfish spirit and a giving heart. It seems like more often than not, that purpose is being forgotten.

  Every year, I watch the people that celebrate the Holidays. Some have it right, and that's nice to see. But many others push and shove in the name of a sale; fight over the latest toys their kids want; try to outspend each other on useless doodads and fancy feasts just to look better, while some out there don't have a home or a meal for the holiday. Kids rip open yards of colorful paper just to toss their new thing aside for the next thing... Then fight over it or forget about it later. Stores cry "Shop our sales for the Holidays!", all while doing their best to keep their opinions about which they celebrate neutral, so they don't offend anybody. And it all generates tons upon tons of garbage that overflows trash cans and landfills.

plarn, plastic yarn, recycling grocery bags, crochet

  Why am I ranting about it? Because this year, a few people went so far as to tell me they'll be "un-friending" me on Facebook for not saying "Merry Christmas". It has pushed me over the edge. These same people all shared photos such as: Christmas trees barely recognizable behind piles of presents, lines in Walmart, beer-can Christmas trees, and in one case, their kids strangling each other on a pile of wrapping paper. Some contained comments about being broke or not being able to wait for their tax return. It didn't make me want to wish anyone a Merry Christmas. It sickened me and made me sad, so I stayed off of Facebook. And then they were offended by that.

  Here's my opinion about it: I hope you had a Happy Whatever You Celebrate. And have a Happy New Year, too. I truly mean that. But, you don't need my wishes to make it a good one. If I know you celebrate Christmas, then I'll tell you "Merry Christmas" when I talk to you. Please don't be offended if I didn't think to jump on social media to personally say it to everyone over the holiday season, while I was spending time with my kids. If you celebrate Hanukkah and you wish me a happy one, I won't be offended. I'll be happy that you thought to wish me well, and I'll wish you one back. I honestly don't know much about how Kwanzaa is celebrated, so if I found out that's what you observe, I would ask you to tell me about it. Then I would wish you a joyous one.

  And that's the biggest lesson I'm trying to teach my kids; not just for the Holiday Season, but for every day in life. People are different. Not everybody is trying to offend someone, they just live a different lifestyle than you. So instead of celebrating a fake, meaningless Christmas and spending money I don't have on toys they don't need, we recycled a ton of grocery bags while spending time as a family. We talked about Greek mythology, healthy eating, civics, the President (with side subjects of gun control / safety), rap music, charity and cats; they both sat down with crochet hooks and worked on learning to chain; we had some awesome carbonara pasta for dinner. We had a little fun trying to throw our plarn garland into our "Festivus Tree", but required the previously-missing Other Half's superior strength to succeed before the sun went down.

plarn, Festivus, crochet

  So there we were, all out in the yard admiring our (horrendous) creation, and nobody was complaining about not having toys or a Christmas tree. Nobody was upset that they didn't get wished a Merry Christmas. Nobody (but me) noticed that I haven't trimmed the dead fronds off that palm tree in years... Everyone was proud of the hard work they had done, and the chain reminded them of that every time they went outside. But nobody felt the need to jump on Facebook and start sharing pictures with the world.

  It was a Merry Christmas, whether we "celebrated" it or not. Because we made the most of our day(s). We learned new things, and made new traditions. We made it a Merry Christmas/Festivus/New Year, turning one day of celebration into a week of opportunities. If your holidays weren't happy, then it's not because I didn't wish it for you. If someone else ruined your day, then I'm sorry; that always sucks. But maybe your holidays weren't happy because you're too busy looking for someone to say it to you; give it to you, instead of making the best for yourself and wishing the same for everyone else. Perhaps that's the even bigger lesson that I'm teaching my kids.

Happy Crocheting!
And Happy New Year!

finger crochet, plarn, plastic yarn, crochet without a hook

Speaking of BIG lessons, how about giant plarn and finger crochet? Coming soon... This will be interesting!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

We Did It! A World Record

  Did you make a blanket for the World's Biggest Stocking project? If you did, then CONGRATULATIONS ON BEING PART OF A WORLD RECORD! I fell short of my personal goal for blankets, but managed to send in four of them. And that's okay with me, because that's twice as many as I had originally planned. My target number jumped mid-project when I was bashed on Facebook for my work. Even though I didn't make it to the twelve blankets I wanted to make in retaliation, the negativity only drove me to push beyond just two.

Guinness World Record, World's Biggest Stocking, knitting, crochet

  I wanted to design a special pattern for the project, so I could definitely pick out one of my blankets from the Stocking. I never did, because I know how that would go... I'd get halfway through it and rip the whole thing out in a fit of rage when I'm not happy with the design. I do that a lot. Getting involved in this project was never about "look at my pattern". It was about "Hey, YOU can help make blankets, too!" I knew I couldn't get them done if I was wasting time on designing a pattern.

  I'm a little disappointed in a way... But not really. I wish I could find my squares in the finished project, just so I could say "Look! That's one of mine!" Like I said, the project wasn't about me. I'll just pretend that the one spot in the Stocking that happens to have four blankets a lot like the ones I made all next to each other... Yup, in my head, that's my spot, whether it really is or not. You can't have that spot. It's mine. Can you find your blanket in the stocking? I saw some really interesting originals in there!

Yarnspirations, World's Biggest Stocking, Guinness World Record

  So, here's the stats: (I got this info and the pic above from the Yarnspirations videos on Facebook... I couldn't get the photo to link properly, so this link should take you there.) 830 knitters and crocheters stepped up to the challenge. A total of 1260 knit and crochet squares were donated to make the Stocking. The final project weighed in at a whopping 1641 pounds, and measured 76 feet wide by 136 feet long! $100,000 was raised for the Children of Fallen Patriots fund, and the Stocking was disassembled so the pieces could be donated to those in need.

  Those who worked to assemble our squares into the Stocking spent a total of 40 days (960 hours!) sewing the project together. They deserve a big huge pat on the back! If you visit the Yarnspirations Facebook page, you can see a few different videos about the Stocking, but I think this one is my favorite. Watching the length of time it took to unroll the World's Biggest Stocking is a great reminder of how much work went into this project!

  So many people came together to make the World's Biggest Stocking possible! From the companies that sponsored the idea to the 830 knitters and crocheters that made the squares, and especially those who assembled it... I mean, without them, it would just be a pile of squares. It all came together to set a Guinness World Record and benefit charity, too. Everybody deserves a big, huge


  Now, enough with tooting our own horns over the World's Biggest Stocking. Because you know who deserves an even bigger thank you? The soldiers and their families that inspired this project. If not for their sacrifices and suffering, the Stocking wouldn't be needed... But even this project isn't enough to help them all. Remember that there's soldiers that won't be coming home this holiday season. Never forget the sacrifices they made for you. If you know a veteran or a family member of a fallen soldier, don't forget to say


  I'll be busy over the next week or so, making sure some of my Scarf of the Month projects see their way to some veterans in need. Others are going to Bridge and Beyond in Ohio, and a few that aren't so practical to donate to the homeless are getting sent to some friends that are down on their luck. I'll try, but it's possible there won't be another post on the blog until the new year - But I'll be picking up with all the free patterns that have been on hold! So in the meantime: My progress on the blankets for the World's Biggest Stocking was pretty dramatic, and full of tutorials! If you missed the series, you can pick up some skills and read my rants by checking out these posts:

The Wednesday Wishlist
It all started here, with a short little post. At that time, a giant box of Caron United was already in transit to my house. Ha! I mentioned "looking into" using some of it for this project.

Yarn Tales Tuesday - National Crochet Month and #crochetforcharity
Yup, that would be the semi-famous rant I went on after the Facebook bashing. My inspiration to make more than two blankets.

Yarn Tales Tuesday - I Need a Break!
The invititation to come make blankets with me. I took a moment to unleash some stress and recharge before starting the project.

First Color
The start of the Big Granny Square Blanket. Beginners can learn how to begin the pattern, make a double crochet, and work the first two rounds of the pattern.

Color Two
I deal with "yarn vomit" (tangles) as we work the next two rounds.

Color Three
Rounds 6 and 7, plus more yarn vomit. I call out Caron United for having a yarn-tangling troll in their factory. For some reason, I never received a response. (lol)

Colors Four and Five
The last two color changes before the colors repeat, and a vomit-free skein! 

Repeating Colors
Beginners can get a great tutorial to begin without a slipknot!

The Trouble with Trolls
Beginners can learn to tell the direction of their stitches; some advice about untangling yarn vomit; a mini-rant about trolls.

A Look at a Finished Blanket
More about the troll and how I messed up he made me mess up the project! Also, the last living appearance of Cornelius Peanutbutterus on the blog :(

The Big Granny Square Blankets Finished!
Beginners can learn how to invisibly weave in ends in the round and how to join yarn with the Russian join.

Big Granny Square Blanket, free crochet pattern,

Yarn Tales Tuesday - Finding Myself in a Pile of Yarn
After veterans opened up to me about their struggles and said thank you for my work, I open up about my own struggles to say thanks back.

Beginning Blanket Two   
Trying to decide what to do about having the wrong colors for the Nine Square Blanket; yarn vomit; how to begin with a knot-less slipknot.

Tips for Beginners and Beginning Squares
Beginning the squares, another lesson in the double crochet stitch, working into the knot-less slipknot, and weaving in your ends while you work.

Nine-Square Second Row
More weaving while you stitch and help with working into your turning chain.

Mistakes I Made as a Beginner
It's amazing that I have the skills of an expert, with all those mistakes I used to make! I get it all out there, with tips so beginners don't have to make the same mistakes.

Ready to Assemble!
Beginners can see what a square sometimes looks like before blocking - even when it's made by an expert.

The Nine-Square Blanket Finished!
Joining the squares.

Nine Square Blanket, free crochet pattern,

Beginning the Granny Square Blanket
Making the center of the squares and changing colors.

A Contrasting Color
Adding a second color to the squares, deviating from the pattern, and weaving in ends.

Uh Oh!
How I messed up again, and what I did to fudge it instead of frog it.

Time to Go
Due to some roadblocks, I skip ahead and share a sneak peak at all of the finished blankets.

Four Blankets Shipped!
The final result of the Granny Square Blanket after my mistakes, a tutorial for using the single-crochet-two-together for joining the squares, and shipping!

Granny Square Blanket, free crochet pattern,

  The idea that I wanted to join the project was announced February 18th, I began working on the squares in the beginning of March, and my four blankets were shipped to the project by the 19th of June. Twenty-three posts about my progress were published. I worked through constant thunderstorms; I worked through a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis; I worked through power outages and terrible flooding; I struggled and still worked through the death of my closest companion. I connected with some wonderful bloggers and some amazing veterans. I listened to stories from them and their families: How much of a struggle they face every day. How much they need help. How much my work meant to them. And I still can't get it out of my head... Just some measly little blankets... Money raised for a college fund... Surely that isn't enough to say "thank you" in return for what they've given.

Happy Crocheting!
A Big Thank You to all the knitters and crocheters that made the Stocking possible!
An Even Bigger THANK YOU to all the veterans and families of fallen soldiers out there!
And Happy Holidays, everybody!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Working with Boa Yarn

  The secret is out: The Kid saw the project, so now I get to blog about it! *Sigh* It's difficult to share a work in progress when it's intended as a gift or surprise... Especially when the sneaky little recipient says she's not going to read the blog, then surprises you with "I saw the project you're working on with the pink fuzzy yarn!"

Bernat Boa, blanket, eyelash yarn

   Many crocheters find it hard to work with certain novelty yarns, and Bernat Boa is one of the most complained about. Anything with fur, fuzzies, or fluff makes it difficult to see your stitches; personally, I think eyelash yarn is the worst. You might be able to make a chain or a stitch, but working back into it can be a pain. While I was working on my not-a-surprise-anymore project, I decided to put a tutorial together to make this yarn easier for those who have trouble. This "tutorial" might be more of a warning than a lesson.

  There's plenty of other complaining we could do about many "fuzzy" yarns: They shed, most need special laundering, and usually, they're not cheap. I refuse to pay full price for these headaches. My very first ball of Boa yarn was bought from a clearance aisle, just like every ball since. At first, I hated it. I thought I would never buy it again. Then, I found a bunch of half-unraveled balls with missing labels for 99 cents a piece, and I caved. After another project left me covered in synthetic fur, I swore I would never buy it again. And then I found a box full that wasn't so unraveled, and most of them still had the labels. Yup, I bought those, too.

Bernat Boa, blanket, eyelash yarn

  So if you have this yarn (or something like it) and you have trouble with it, maybe you'll find some help here. If you've never tried furry novelty yarn, then here's your example of what you will face. It's far from effortless. I'm not going to even suggest that it will be easy. But after some practice and a little wasted yarn, you might find that the results are worth the fight. When it's worked up in a project, the shedding stops. And once you get used to finding your stitches, you'll feel like you have super powers.

  I'll be making a double-crochet-three-together (dc3tog) stitch, also sometimes called the cluster stitch. If you're looking to learn the dc3tog for the first time, then I suggest using this tutorial instead. The furriness of the novelty yarn won't make this an easy lesson.

  In all seriousness, this is going to be a sarcastic, complain-y tutorial for those who are fighting the fur, not a how-to-make-this-stitch for beginners. Also (wow, holy cow, here's some encouragement), remember that the examples are from my own experiences. It took me a few patterns to get comfortable with this yarn. It might take you more. You may never get comfortable with it; you might hate it and refuse to work with it ever again. And I totally understand that. If you've never had any trouble with this yarn, either you have magical powers or you haven't worked with it yet.

dc3tog, Bernat Boa, cluster stitch, crochet

  So, here we go: What you see above is the completed dc3tog stitch. Note how you can't really see the individual posts at the base of the stitch. If you lose track in the middle of the stitch, it's difficult to tell at first sight how many steps you've completed. There's a chain-1 in between the stitches, and one chain on the hook. Being able to make the stitch into a chain space instead of an actual stitch makes this yarn so much easier to work with.

dc3tog, cluster stitch, crochet, Bernat Boa

  So, to make the dc3tog, we yarn over and pull up a loop. A fuzzy loop that will want to cover the loops next to it. I cheated here for the first picture by sliding the yarn back and forth to spread it out on the hook. I won't do that in some of the other photos, and you'll see the difference. But, you know... Hint, hint. If you can't see how many loops you have on your hook, work it around. The loops will become more visible, and you might start getting used to the feel of the stitch; count with your fingers and not with your eyes.

crochet, dc3tog, Bernat Boa

  (In case you don't know, here's where you yarn over and pull through two loops.) I can't really help you with a hint for pulling through the stitches, other than to stick with the same advice as before. If you can't see it, you're just going to have to learn how to feel it. To avoid having trouble with the number of loops to pull through, I keep my index finger on the loop(s) that will remain on the hook.

crochet, dc3tog, Bernat Boa

  Now we yarn over and pull up another loop for the second half-closed double crochet of the stitch. Here you can see a better example of how the loops will really look on your hook. The fur twists and turns any which way it wants to, looking much like my hairdo when I roll out of bed in the morning. You know, except for that color... I would do something cooler like purple with black streaks or something. Anyway...

crochet, dc3tog, Bernat Boa

  I didn't mess with this one: After yarn-ing over and pulling through another two loops, I hit a thin spot in the fluff. Do a little happy dance when you get one.

dc3tog, Bernat Boa, crochet

  And now we yarn over and pull up the loop of the third half-closed double crochet. So much for that thin spot... The fluff monster ate my stitch again.

dc3tog, Bernat Boa, crochet

  This should be another "yarn over and pull through two", but it kinda looks like it's the same step as the last one. It should be the last step before pulling through all four loops on the hook. I got distracted while editing the photos, and now even I'm not sure what this is. I think I accidentally deleted the second-to-last step.

dc3tog, Bernat Boa, crochet

  Well, we can get back on track with this one: Here's pulling through all four loops in mid-action. Where'd the hook go? Am I pulling through all the loops?

dc3tog, Bernat Boa, crochet

  Sometimes, you just don't know until you're done with it. Or, until the hook gets caught on a loop inside the stitch because you're trying to take a picture (or just because), and you can't see which way you need to rotate it to fix it, so you wiggle it back and forth, but... Oops! That was the wrong way to wiggle it. Now all the loops of silky furry fluffiness slide right off the hook and the weight of the yarn pulls the entire stitch out, so that you can't even pick it up mid-stitch. Try again.

crochet, Bernat Boa, how to,

  Sometimes, you might come across a spot that makes you think you forgot to make a chain almost a whole round ago, and you start to cuss as you think you're going to have to rip it all out, inevitably ending with being covered in more synthetic fur. Before you go crazy and start that ripping, double-check your work. Here it looks like I forgot to make that chain, but after closer examination, it's just an extra-fluffy spot in the yarn that's filling in the hole. It's a good thing the kids weren't here and the cats and dog can't repeat some of the words I said when I thought I'd have to frog it.

Bernat Boa, crochet, difficulties, how to

  This is a yarn that makes you slow down and pay attention to what you're doing. As I said before, the result is worth the fight is you're willing to make the effort. I saw some throws kind of like this in an outlet store, on clearance for $40 - Original price, $75. By the time I get done with this, I think I'll have three, possibly four balls of yarn in it - And I only paid $1.50 a piece for them. Add to that the extra-fluffiness of the crocheted version... I think the ones in the store were just woven. This one is twice as thick. Plus, I get to brag that I can crochet with Boa like a boss.

Happy Crocheting!

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