Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Learning to Crochet with Lace Weight Yarn: Part Two

This is the second part of my series on crocheting with lace weight yarn. Ultimately, the goal is to for you to be able to create those wonderful, gossamer creations for yourself. Since too many are easily intimidated, they never try.

The first part was about getting comfortable using smaller and smaller hooks. Here are the next steps.

Making lace requires the ability to manage your tension appropriately. This is where a lot of you get stuck since many of you are either all or mostly self taught.
• Lace weight yarn is a little harder to hang onto, so being able to figure out how to keep your yarn tension just right will help give you the right gauge.
• Lace doesn't require tight stitches when you use yarn rather than thread. But you don't want them too loose either.
• While your stitches don't need to be tight, you do want them to be regular. You want each stitch to look as much like the others as possible.

A lot of people struggle with tension, even with regular crochet projects, because they were never taught how to manage gauge with their hands. They only adjust it by changing the size of the hook. Here's what you can work on to help with that.

Look at how you hold your yarn while working. There is no correct way, only correct results. You should hold your yarn in a way that you are in total control of it and you can easily let the yarn slide through or stop it to create tension between your hand and the hook. If you're always too tight, you're going to have to figure out how to loosen up that yarn hand. Maybe fewer wraps, or just learning to relax and let it happen. If you're too loose, you need to learn how to lessen the slippage in your yarn hand. Maybe add a wrap of it around a finger.

Now take a look at how you use your hook. Yes, this is the other side of managing tension and your gauge. How much are you pulling on your working loop(s) to loosen them...or not pulling on them? With lace the key is to pull a little bit, just enough to let the hook through, but not so much to make a sloppy looking stitch.

Work on that for awhile and in my next post I'll talk about rhythm and tall stitches.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Learning to Crochet with Lace Weight Yarn: Part One

I know a lot of you out there get a look of terror in your eyes when someone suggests that you should try crocheting lace with lace weight yarn. It's this sort of mystical achievement that seems unattainable.

If you secretly wish you could make those splendid lace confections, keep reading. This is part one of a four part series of posts. I'm giving it to you in small bites so you don't get overwhelmed.

Making lace requires a small hook and this is where some of you get hung up.

• Making lace doesn't have to be done with crochet thread and a steel hook, although that's the most well known because of the doilies your great-grandma made. It can be a B, C, or even a D hook, and that's not so bad.
Lace weight yarn handles more like yarn than crochet thread. An exception is the gossamer weight mohair/silk blends that sing a siren's song to you from the shelf in your yarn shop. Avoid those for now.

So, ask yourself "what is the smallest hook I've ever used on a crochet project?" If it's an E, find some yarn that will work with a D hook and try it out. If you're fine, keep going down in size of hook and yarn until it starts getting a little difficult. That's where you need to stop and practice. Work on that size until it's comfortable then begin sizing yourself down again.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Treasure Bags

My Treasure Bags are now available as a Ravelry download.

These little bags are quick to make and perfect for using up the left-over nuggets in your yarn stash. They can be used to hold small treasures you keep or give away.

Yarn: Any worsted-weight yarn, approximately 40 yards of each in 2 contrasting colors for each bag. Models shows in Knit One Crochet Too Camelino, 90% merino, 10% Camel (50g/109yds), colors Pine and Rust.
Supplies: Size G-6 (4mm) crochet hook, yarn needle, and locking stitch marker.
Finished Dimensions: Approximately 3-4" (7.5-10cm) wide and 4-6" (10-15.5cm) tall depending on your yarn.

It's also available on 

Craftsy, Kollabora, and Patternfish.

Midwinter Blues Cowl

My Midwinter Blues Cowl is now available as a Ravelry download.

When you start feeling as low as the temperatures, make this cowl to boost your morale. It will keep you cozy warm, and the cable texture will make sure you look good, too.

Yarn: Any worsted-weight yarn, approximately 200 yards. Model show in Plymouth Yarn Monte Donegal Hand Dyed, 40% Alpaca, 40% Merino, 14% Acrylic, 6% Rayon, (50gms/~109 yds); color: Aqua, 2 skeins.
Supplies: Size I-9 (5.5mm) crochet hook, yarn needle, locking stitch marker, and 3-4 buttons, 3/4" diameter.
Finished Dimensions: Approximately 6" (15.25cm) wide and 22" (55.75cm) long.

It's also available on 

Craftsy, Kollabora, and Patternfish.

Winding a Center-Pull Ball

Having a yarn winder is handy when you purchase yarn that comes in hanks. However, not everyone has one. Often you can have it done at the yarn shop, but you can do it yourself if needed too. Here's how.

**Throughout this process it is important not to wind the yarn tightly. Keep it light and loose. This is better for the yarn in the long run and makes the center-pull aspect work better.**

1. Tension your hank around something like someone's hands or a couple of chairs. You can also lay it flat on a table or your lap, but that's asking for tangles. Believe me!

2. Take one end and hold it in your left hand (or right if you're a lefty). You'll want to leave a long tail hanging down past your palm. This is your center, so don't lose it. If you have trouble keeping track of it, tuck it into your watch band or under a rubber band around your wrist.

3. Begin by winding the yarn loosely around 2 or 3 of your fingers.

4. When you've got a nice bunch on your fingers, slide it off and flatten the loop between your fingers. Some YouTube videos show that you should fold over this part before moving on, but I find this makes it more difficult to wind the next part. So I just leave it flat. If it sticks out, who cares. It just needs to work.

5. Still keeping the beginning end towards your palm, begin winding the yarn around the compressed loops. Remember, don't wind tightly. When you have a nice bump you're ready for the next step.

6. Tilt the yarn ball a bit and start winding the yarn on at a bit of an angle. Keep the beginning end down by your palm.

7. When you've got a nice bump rotate the ball slightly and wind on at an angle in a new spot keeping the beginning end of the yarn down by your palm. Continue rotating slightly and winding on at an angle. This doesn't have to look like it was done with a ball winder so don't worry about rotating it every time you wind on. Just keep making bumps of yarn.

8. As you wind the ball will grow bigger and bigger. Throughout your winding be sure that you keep the beginning end down by your palm.

9. When you're near the end of your yarn, wind it around the middle of the ball and tuck the end underneath it. See how the beginning end of the yarn is still hanging down from the bottom of my ball?

10. Here's a view of the bottom with the beginning end hanging out. That center bump is the yarn that I wound around my fingers. As you begin pulling on the yarn end, that bump is what you will use first. If you wind the yarn around it too tightly you'll have trouble getting it to feed out as you use it.

I hope this is helpful. It's not a video, but sometimes still photos are helpful since you don't have to rewind.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dyeing for Crochet: An Adventure in Food Coloring

My crochet group came to my house at our last meeting and we learned to dye yarn using food coloring. coloring. We had soooooo much fun! In some of the pictures you can see Kool-Aid packets. Those are great to dye with also.

We used Wilton Gel Food Coloring to do it and here's what you'll need if you want to try it yourself:

• Wilton Gel Food Coloring
Wilton Mini Decorating Squeeze Bottles
• Yarn that was 100% animal fiber. No synthetics or plant fibers since they don't work. Animal fiber includes wool, alpaca, name it. If it was made by a creature, it counts.
• Cream of Tarter (white vinegar works too)
• Measuring spoons
• Glass bowls that fit in the microwave, or plastic wrap
• Some way of winding your yarn into a hank. A niddy noddy, a yarn winder, or something that will work of your own choosing.
• A microwave or steamer.
• Someplace to hang up your yarn to dry when you're done
• Toothpicks or craft sticks (small tongue depressers)
• Scrap acrylic yarn.
• Bucket

Winding yarn on a yarn winder.
First, we wound the yarn into hanks. We used a niddy noddy and yarn winders but you could do it by winding around your arm from hand to elbow or between a couple of chairs. We tied it very loosely with a figure 8 in a minimum of 2 places using some scrap acrylic yarn.

Second, we put the hanks of yarn into buckets of water to soak for 20 minutes while we mixed up our colors.

Beginning to mix up our colors.
Third, we mixed our colors.
• Using some Wilton Mini Decorating squeeze bottles we put about 1/2 teaspoon Cream of Tarter (for acidity) and some of the gel food coloring in (using the toothpicks or craft sticks). Don't worry about putting too much Cream of Tarter in since you need the acidity to make the dye colorfast. You want your dye liquid fully saturated with it. Next, put in the food coloring. The darker you want your color the more you want to put in. We tested our colors on a sheet of paper towel before using it on the yarn.
• We filled the prepped squeeze bottles with water and shook them up really well to make sure the Cream of Tarter and food coloring were fully mixed into the water.

Fourth, we took our hanks out of the water and gently squeezed out the water being careful not to accidentally start the felting process. That's something to be careful of throughout the dyeing process.

Fifth, we applied our color and heated the yarn to set the color. There are a couple of options for doing this step.

• You can put the part of the yarn you want to color in a glass bowl that will fit in your microwave. Squeeze on color and mush it in with your gloved fingers until the yarn has no or few white areas. Heat it in the microwave for a couple of minutes then move to the next part of your yarn to color another area with another color. Repeat the color and microwaving until all your yarn looks about how you want it

Microwaving the yarn to set the color.

• Cut a piece of cling wrap that is about 10 inches longer than your hank of yarn. Lay it flat on the table and center the damp hank of yarn on it. Apply the colors you've mixed up where you want them. Fold the ends of the cling wrap over the ends of the hank then fold in one side and roll the hank up in the cling wrap. Next, roll the whole thing up in a spiral. At this point you can put it to heat in the microwave. I have never had problems with the cling wrap melting, but heat it a minute at a time (2.5 minutes total) and check on it to make sure everything is okay every minute. If you don't want to use the microwave you can put it in a steamer and steam it for 30 minutes. Make sure the yarn package is suspended and won't melt to the side of the steamer.

Using plastic wrap allows you to color all of it at once.
Sixth, remove your yarn from the heat and let it cool down completely. When it's quite cool, rinse in cool water until any excess dye is completely rinsed out. Carefully squeeze out the excess water and hang it up to dry.

The finished product.

These are the 3 that I did. The one on the left is a light gray Alpaca yarn. The other two are white Merino.

I would encourage you to have fun with it! Why fuss about not being able to find the color yarn you want when you can make your own?

If you want to try dyeing with Kool-Aid just use half a packet of regular Kool-Aid in one squeeze bottle. Use it just as you would the food coloring with these exceptions. Do NOT add sugar, don't use sugar free Kool-Aid, and you don't need to add Cream of Tarter or Vinegar because Kool-Aid already has citric acid in it.

Estes Park Wool Market 2014

Most years I make a trip to the Estes Park Wool Market. It's always in June and it's always worth it.

I didn't take a lot of photos this year because I was so busy buying. I mean it. My hands got full very quickly. I took two bags for carrying stuff and they were both full when I was done.

I was impressed by the new building. It seems a little bigger than the old one. Or maybe it was the nice new layout of the booths that made it seem bigger. The quality of the vendors was really high too. 

Here's the haul:

I didn't get much yarn. That doesn't mean that they didn't have any, it just means I like to spin my own. 
•There is one hank of green in there. It's from Daybreak Dyeworks and it was a gift for my neighbor. She likes green and was taking care of my cat, Calypso, while we were gone. The colorway was done specifically for the wool market and was a limited edition.
• There are 2 hanks of white from Skaska Designs. That's silk for plying what I spin on my Russian spindles.
• The red braided fiber is Bluefaced Leicester from Daybreak Dyeworks in her Dance Fever colorway.
• The hot pink and blue fiber on the right is superfine Merino from The 100th Sheep.
• The silver gray fiber is Angora rabbit from Midnight MoonSong.
• The brown fiber in the gift containers is Paco Vicuña from Jefferson Farms Natural Fibers. I'm spinning that on one of the new Russian spindles I got.
• 3 new Russian spindles from Skaska Designs. 2 are for spinning and 1 is for plying.
• The brown bag far left is full of Bison down from The Buffalo Wool Company.
• The ball of purple yarn is Yarn Place Graceful Lace Yarn in their Dusty Autumn colorway from Skaska Designs. It is fine enough for my Spring Hope Shawl pattern being published in the Spin-Off Fall 2014 issue.
• Last, but not least is the 2 braided, multi-colored rovings from Dicentra Designs. They're Bluefaced Leicester and Tussah Silk in their Road of Trials colorway.

That should keep my wheel and spindles busy for awhile.

Honey mentioned to me earlier in the year that he wanted to stay at another Grand Lodge. They're the old, grand accommodations built when the national parks first started attracting a lot of visitors. So, we splurged and stayed at the Stanley Hotel.

It's quite grand and is famous because it's the place that inspired Stephen King to write "The Shining." They give tours that focus on the hauntings and book trivia, although we didn't do that. And we weren't haunted in our very nice room either.

We visited Rocky Mountain National Park the next day, although we didn't have to go into the park to see the elk. This guy was hanging out by our hotel parking lot.

The days were overcast but we still enjoyed the RMNP scenery.

Who can resist a view like that?