Friday, July 27, 2012


Last winter, a family moved out of the second floor apartment in the two-flat next to me.  As often happens when people move, they threw out a whole bunch of stuff.  I happened to be taking my trash out to the back alley one day and I saw boxes upon boxes of stuff they didn't plan to take with them to their new digs.  Always curious about the way people live, I took a cursory glance before going back inside.  It was cold and I'm not in the habit of going through other people's trash. 

There seemed to be a lot of broken kitchen stuff, small appliances, toys, clothes and even books.  Nothing fascinating.  Just the detritus of 5 or 6 years of a family living in an apartment they'd outgrown.  But somehow, as I started walking away, one very small item caught my eye.  I don't know how I spotted it, but I assume the same uncanny ability was in operation that enables me to find a perfect seashell amidst all the broken pieces that wash up on the beach.  I took a second look, not even knowing what it was that had stopped me in my tracks in the first place.  Then I saw it and knew it had to be rescued.  I couldn't just let it sit there amidst the broken toasters, worn out galoshes and old toys, could I?  I took it inside and soaked it in detergent and bleach.  Then washed it in the washing machine.

They were discarding a doily.  But whose?  Did the harried young mom who lived next door to me crochet this beautiful piece?  That didn't seem likely.  Did she buy it somewhere?  Did her mom or grandmother make it and send it to her from Mexico?  I had no idea.  I examined it closely.  It's made out of some kind of stretchy synthetic fiber.  The stitches are very even, but the stitch counts sometimes vary.  I decided I'd attempt to recreate it one day, and put it away amidst my other zillion project starts, almost immediately forgetting it existed at all.

The other day, I happened across this persistent little doily again.  I took out a skein of Ultra Pima in Royal Purple and went to work.  To be honest, though, I took so many liberties with the original design that my piece is more accurately described as "based on" the one I found than an actual recreation of the original.

Flowers and Shells Doily - Yarnover Chicago (prior to blocking)

Now most people would consider using DK weight yarn a little unorthodox for a doily.  Well, dears, I used DK because my days of being young enough to design something in thread are long since over.  I wanted to be able to see what I was doing.  And here, on the blocking boards, are the results.  Note the difference between the finished piece above, and the piece being blocked below.  In case you weren't convinced by my last post on the topic of blocking...

Now - to reproduce this item in thread, write the pattern and make it available on Ravelry.

Before Blocking
In Size 10 Bamboo Crochet Thread

Being blocked.

Thread Version - During Blocking
I just love a picot edging, don't you?

Extreme Close-Up

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Do I really have to block my work?

Until about 10 years ago, when I first learned how to knit (shhhh; don't tell anyone), I never blocked anything.  If something didn't turn out quite the way I expected, I just assumed the fault was mine.  Mostly, I made afghans and baby blankets anyway, so I felt that blocking wasn't critical.

Once I learned to needlepoint and to knit, I realized that the benefits of blocking are universal.  Not everything needs to be blocked.  But in general - even if it doesn't seem necessary, I block.  Block first, ask questions later.  Recently, I've been working on designing some unique motifs of my very own.  

I've already posted pictures of my first three, but I confess I wasn't very happy with the way they turned out.  Why, I wondered, do the motifs in books and on other websites look so wonderful, when these look so sloppy?  Am I really just not a very good crocheter after all?  Have I been fooling myself?  Should I send my "Master Crocheter" certificate back to the CGOA?

Then it hit me -- with various family members in and out of the hospital, building a business, out-of-town company and a host of other events, I'd forgotten (or let's be honest - I'd neglected) to block my new motifs.  

So - for the benefit of you still skeptics,  let me just say that blocking your work will make a huge difference in its quality and appeal.  Don't believe me?  Take a look at these before and after pictures.

Crysanthemum Hexagon

After Blocking - Pretty nice, huh?

Blocking creates nice, crisp edges and defines the shape.  I deliberately pulled the corners out a little extra to give a curve to the sides.

Before blocking the motif is blocked, you can see the rounded corners and uneven appearance, and notice how the hexagon is slanting in one direction.  Sloppy! 

The Double Shamrock Hexagon

 After blocking.  It needs a little work, but has pretty even sides, 
and the double shamrock center is clearly visible.

Using blocking wires, rather than pins might have resulted in an even better appearance.

Before blocking - uneven and lumpy.  Not so good.

 And last, but not least:

The Four-Leaf Clover Square

After blocking - nice crisp edges and flat sides.  Looks like a square!

When blocking, I took care to shape the leaves of the center clover.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Some Product and Pattern Reviews

I've just finished The Elise Shawl (pattern by Evan Plevinsky) that I've been working on between other projects for a few months.  I'll soon be teaching a class on this shawl at Windy Knitty.  

Since the pattern is relatively simple, I decided to try a couple new things with it.  First, I used Hemp For Knitting, which  feels a little different than more traditional yarns.  Second, I decided now is the time to try out my new Blocking Mats.

Hemp for Knitting (TM)

My reviews?

Hemp for Knitting:  8 out of 10

Because I'm allergic to wool and most other animal fibers (I can work with them, but can't really wear them against my bare skin), I'm constantly on the look-out for natural fibers that aren't animal-based.  So I was excited to try Hemp for Knitting (pictured above).  It comes in a wide variety of luscious colors, and is very reasonably priced.  When working with it, I find that the feel of the yarn is very stiff;  and the fibers are not continuous, giving the yarn an appearance similar to the split ends your hair gets if you blow-dry it too much (the curse of every curly-haired girl who wants straight hair - see 1970s).  It takes a little while to get used to the unusual texture.  On the other hand, the stitches really hold their shape, so it's easy to see exactly where to put your crochet hook.  One friend had knit a sleeveless top for herself out of the DK weight in this yarn, and after washing and blocking, it had a very soft hand to it.  Another friend had crocheted a cover for her Kindle out of the same weight I used here (sock?  lace?).  She hadn't washed or blocked it, but it also had a soft texture, which she said just happened over time from handling.  All in all, I thought it would do very nicely for the shawl.   About half-way through the project, I can't say I was particularly thrilled with how the yarn was stitching up.  It seemed kind of meh, compared to other photos I've seen of this shawl.


But I had a deadline and didn't want to start over, so I finished the shawl.  This morning, I decided that for a store sample, the project was large enough, so I did the edging row and wove in the ends.  Then I I ever-so-carefully placed the finished garment into a lingerie bag, and threw it in the washing machine with several other items of similar color.  I washed it on cold / permanent press.  It washed up beautifully, with no loss of color.  There was no unraveling in any of the places where I'd joined new yarn, and the "split-ends" seemed to felt into the rest of the fibers.  So far so good.  Based on the other finished projects I've seen in this fiber,  I expect excellent results.  So all in all - I recommend this yarn for summer projects.  My only objection is that the yarn is made in China, and I prefer to buy American whenever possible.  Still - I do have to say, the results are pretty wonderful.  Here is my crochet student, Ritu, modeling the shawl.

How cute is she?!

Blocking Mats by Knit Picks:  6 out of 10

I was very excited to get these because up until now, I had been using the bed in my guest bedroom for blocking.  When I opened the box, I found several of the squares were stained or dirty, so first I had to scrub them all with dish soap and a brush.  This did not make me happy.  A brand-new product should come out of the box in pristine condition.  The pieces did fit together nicely, with no gaps or uneven places.  However, I notice that the pieces are too thin for standard blocking pins, so the pins must still be placed at an angle, and I don't recommend using these mats on top of a piece of wood furniture (my table has a pad).  All in all, even using these mats, I'll probably still use them on the bed in my guest room more often than not.  Another problem I had was that even using all the squares, I really needed about 5 additional squares to get the size I wanted.  Although they can be configured to various shapes, I still would have liked a larger surface on which to block my shawl.  Fortunately, I'd made the shawl a little smaller than I normally would have done so that it would be ready to be used as a store sample.  But I will probably buy another set of these mats so that I have enough to block larger projects in the future.  The good news?  They're not particularly expensive.

Could have used additional blocking mat space.

The Elise Shawl Pattern:  9 out of 10

I really like this pattern.  It's intricate enough to be interesting, but simple enough to work on while watching television, or chatting, or sitting in a doctor's waiting room.  Since it's made with sock or lace weight yarn, it's fairly portable, especially at the beginning.  Once the initial part of the shawl is completed, there is a two-row repeat.  Because the pattern comes with written instructions and a stitch diagram, it's a great project for advanced beginner to intermediate level crocheters.  The diagram is not the most professionally done I've ever seen, but it's still easy to understand and follow.  And really, I'm not exactly the most proficient stitch diagrammer on the planet, myself.  The final piece has a very lacy appearance - perfect for summer.  The picot edging is somewhat underwhelming - but you can always add a more exciting edging or even fringe if you prefer.  This is a free pattern, which makes the uninteresting edging quite forgivable.

So there you have it.

Hemp for Knitting:  8 out of 10
Knit Picks Blocking Mats:  6 out of 10
Elise Shawl Pattern:  9 out of 10
Getting it done in time for my class:  Priceless

Close-up of stitch pattern, after washing, during blocking.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


One of my favorite crochet bloggers is Aberrant Crochet.  I don't normally just reproduce someone else's blog post, but if you've been following the controversy between Ravelry and the USOC, then this post might interest you.  It's beautifully written - heroic, even.  If you're a crocheter or knitter; in fact, if you do any hand-crafting at all, I encourage you to read Julia's Aberrant Crochet post in its entirety:

Disparaging Handcrafts In The Name Of Law – How Far Does It Push Us Back?

Another favorite crochet blogger is the woman many of us refer to as our "Fearless Leader."  Laurie Wheeler is a force of nature, not to mention being the founder of the CLF (Crochet Liberation Front), and  Here is  a link to Laurie's:

Open Letter to the US Olympic Committee.

As these ladies have said what I would say on the topic, I won't bore you to extinction with my own commentary.  I'll only reiterate that crochet is one of the very last, if not the very last of the needle arts that cannot be reproduced by machine.  There are only two ways for a clothing manufacturer to add crochet trim to a garment.  The first is to pay a fair wage to skilled workers, raising the price of the garment considerably.  The second is to use sweatshop labor.  Naturally, the same can be said for the production of entirely crocheted garments, home fashions, snowflake ornaments, and the like. 

So whether or not you plan to participate in Ravelry's salute to the Olympic Games, ladies and gents, hold your hooks high, and take pride in the art produced by your hands.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Joy of Teaching

Here's a photo of my Tuesday night crochet class.  These four ladies have become not only students, but friends.  This is what sharing needlework can do.  Our hands are busy, but we're free to talk and learn about each other while we're learning crochet.  I liken it to the quilting circles of the 19th century (though I'm sure there are present-day quilting circles as well).  There are many hobbies and interests in which to form lasting friendships.  There are team sports, individual sports, bands, choirs, book clubs, cooking classes, nature tours, yoga classes, and heaven only knows what else. But there's something uniquely intimate about sitting around someone's living room crocheting (or knitting, needlepointing...) that even open-knit-night at a favorite LYS (mine is Windy Knitty) can't quite equal.  I'm very grateful to my four new friends, Miranda, Karin, Maya and our hostess, Cass for inviting me to be part of their lives.  I love watching their skills grow and learning about who they are as women.

Left to right:  Miranda, Cass, Yours Truly, Karin, Maya
(photo taken by my sister, who joined our group one evening, though I still
can't get her to pick up a hook)

It'd be even more fun if they's stop making fun of me all the time.  :o)