Saturday, March 29, 2014

Yarn Likes to Be Washed!

In my knitting, I have always been a big fan of blocking finished objects. Wool likes to get wet, and gently blocking knitted items evens everything out and often eliminates minor imperfections. Issues with size can also be adjusted during the blocking process as long as the measurement differences aren't too large.

However, I didn't realize until this morning how much of a difference washing a crocheted afghan could make. I am so pleased with the result I achieved by washing my acrylic Granny Stripe Blanket on cold, delicate cycle and then drying it on low (as the yarn band instructed). Not only is the afghan a lot softer and fluffier, but the drape of the afghan has really improved. It used to feel a bit stiff, but now it is light and airy. 

But the absolute best improvement of all is that now my corners are not curling!! It appears that the stitches I added in the corners (as I describe in this post) actually worked to make the corners lay flat. I am so pleased. I am not adding a picture of the afghan here because a photo doesn't capture the improvement. It is all in the feel of the yarn and in the feel of the drape of the afghan, something that can't be shown well in pictures. 

Does anyone have any other tips about finishing crocheted items that help to improve upon the finished object? Please share in the comments if you do.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Finished! Cozy Granny Stripe Blanket for the Whole Family to Enjoy

I put the finishing touches on my Granny Stripe Blanket this week, and I am very pleased with it. I decided to stick with Lucy's suggestion for the edging. I followed her directions closely, but I neglected to look at her photos as closely before completing several rounds. As a result, my corners aren't worked as well as hers were. I accounted for the need to add stitches to my corners by chaining three stitches at each corner the first time around. I then chained two stitches at the corner after a couple of rounds of not adding stitches when I noticed that my corners were curling in a bit. Even with those adjustments, my corners still curl in a bit if I don't straighten them. 

Of course, I noticed when it was too late that Lucy seemed to work her corners a little differently. If I make one of these blankets again, I will study her photos a little more closely to see what she might have done to prevent curling. I will also read Eddie Eckman's advice on corners in her book on borders that I mentioned earlier in the week. Why I didn't do that before I started my edging is beyond anyone's comprehension. As my mother always said, "haste makes waste." 

With all that being said, I am very happy with my finished afghan, especially since this is the first large afghan I have completed in at least six or seven years. It is nice to have a new one around the house. Here it is:

I made the blanket to put in our back sunroom, which has a blue, red, and tan color scheme, but I am finding that it actually looks good in just about any room in my house since there are so many colors in it. Here is what it looks like in the blue and red room:

Here it is all folded up nicely and neatly (something that will probably never be seen again in a house like mine with two teenagers).

Lastly, here is clos -up of the edging. I love the way Lucy's mind works. This edging was simple to crochet, yet it adds a touch of loveliness that really completes this afghan beautifully.

To recap the specifics about this afghan, it is the Granny Stripe Blanket by Lucy from Attic24.  I used various colors from Vanna's Choice yarn (details to follow on my Ravelry project page under suzknittyspinner). My color selection was random throughout the crocheting of the project. Measurements for the blanket will also be put on Ravelry when I get around to listing all of the colors I used there later this weekend.

I mentioned my great grandmother, Mum Jo, on the blog when I first started it, but I wanted to pay tribute to her again now that I have completed another afghan. She is definitely my inspiration for making these blankets since I vividly remember how she used to make so many crocheted afghans for her family members throughout her later years (she spent the earlier years crocheting exquisite dollies and table clothes) and how much these blankets were loved by all. She was the matriarch of a large family with nine grandchildren and upwards of 30 great grandchildren, and she was continually making afghans for each one she could before she could no longer crochet because of her advanced age. I feel very lucky to have been one of the older great grandchildren who received one of her afghans. I have it to this day, and I cherish it. I can only hope that one of my family members will cherish my afghans as much as I do hers. And maybe if I am really lucky, one of my descendants will also cherish the fiber arts as much as I do and learn from me so they can carry on as I have carried on Mum Jo's legacy.

So what I am up to now that I have a little more time to get back to focusing on my knitting? I am slowly making progress on my husband's Kearsarge sweater, knitting another chemo cap, knitting the lace socks I posted about last week, and trying to design my own cardigan. I will update you more on these projects in upcoming weeks.

(Just an additional note -- I guess I really do have ADD when it comes to fiber arts since I forgot to mention one other project I have been steadily making progress on, the Ivy League Vest. I will be casting on for the steeks soon, so I will update everyone on that with another "Adventures in Fair Isle" post soon.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Putting the Finishing Touches on My Granny Stripe Blanket

Thanks to Lucy at Attic24, I have gotten back into crochet after many years where I only crocheted infrequently when needing to make a baby afghan. Crochet was my first fiber passion, and I am having so much fun bringing it back into my regular nightly fiber fun. I enjoy having several fiber crafts from which to choose (knitting, spinning, and crochet right now but weaving on a rigid heddle loom keeps calling my name). 

After a couple of months of work on my Granny Stripe Blanket, I am beginning to see the end of the road for it. It has been a very enjoyable process since the stitching is very simple and meditative, yet the color changes have provided a lot of excitement.  Here it is with all but the edging to complete:

I have begun the edging following Lucy's instructions to complete a 3 dc cluster in each space along the edge using the purple yarn in the photo above. I then plan to continue to follow her instructions using the green, the pink, and then finishing with the blue at the outer edge. I might throw in one more color between the green and the pink if I think I need it. 

Right now I am having to deal with all of the ends that changing colors so frequently produces. This was the part I have always dreaded about color changing in crochet and knitting. However, I am finding that if I just buckle down and bite the bullet, it isn't too bad. The pictures below show the edging and the way that I first crochet over the two ends left for each color change row. You can see in the second photo that even after I crochet over them, there are still ends that I need to weave in a bit more with a tapestry needle since crocheting over them with only three dc doesn't seem secure enough to me. I would rather take the time to secure them now than regret it later if the blanket begins to unravel.

The 3 dc edging on the first round

I am so happy with every aspect of this project so far. It has been a joy to crochet and the Vanna's Choice yarn was nice to work with for this project. As you probably know from reading this blog, I am primarily a wool kind of gal. I love everything about wool from spinning it to knitting with it. However, for crochet, I have always found acrylic to work just fine. It is more cost effective when making a large afghan, it is easier to wash and dry, and a wide range of colors is usually easy to find. 

Has anyone made the switch from acrylic to wool in his or her crocheting? If so, could you add your reasons in the comment section below. I would love to hear about the differences you have found in using wool for crochet if you have decided you like it better. I just may try it soon as long as I can do so without completely blowing the budget! I think I see a crocheted shawl or scarf made in wool in my future.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Trying Magic Loop and Judy's Magic Cast-on for Socks for the First Time

As you can probably tell if you have been reading my blog, I am addicted to learning new techniques and acquiring new fiber-related skills. As much as I love to get into the Zen-like rhythm of knitting along on a garment containing stitches I know well, I also love the challenges of continually learning new skills. This is why I am having so much fun lately trying new techniques for making my socks.

I am a big fan of making my socks from the toe-up using Priscilla Gibson-Roberts' short-row technique as I have written about before. However, I recently purchased some Malabrigo sock yarn that I realized was absolutely perfect for a pattern I had from Wendy Johnson called the Serpentine Socks. I considered using the PGR method for the toes instead of following Wendy's instructions for her toe-up method, but then I decided I would use this an opportunity to try out a new technique. Not only is her method of increasing for the toe different from PGR's yarn-over, short-row technique since Wendy uses make-one increases, but her recommendation for ways to begin the sock challenged me to try Judy's Magic Cast-on for the first time. Wendy also recommended using two circular needles or a the Magic Loop method to make these lace socks. I imagine she did so to make it easier to follow the lace repeat pattern since it would have to be split up on the double pointed needles (dpns) if knitted in the traditional way. My sock is underway and going well so far. Here are some photos of it where you can see the look of the toe and how the sock looks when being knitted using the Magic Loop technique.

In the photo above, you can see how the extra-long cable on this 40" Addi Turbo Sock Rocket needle allows me to pull out the back needle to continue to knit in the round on the front stitches. When I get to the end, I will be able to do the same by adjusting the needles appropriately. (The color of the sock yarn above is not accurate; the yarn is actually a delightful shade of blue green that is more green than blue.)

The next photo illustrates how convenient it is to carry the sock when using the Magic Loop method since both needles can be pulled out enough to make the knitting stay in place but to also easily wrap the cable up neatly to fit in a purse.

You can also see the appearance of the toe in the above photos. My impression of Wendy's technique for making the toe is very positive. The use of the make-one increases was simple, yet it produces a nice-looking toe. This method felt easier than PCR's method, but I like both methods and will use each one for different purposes. As for the cast-on for the toe-up sock, I really liked learning and using Judy's Magic Cast-on. I normally use a crochet provisional cast-on (which Wendy describes in the "Easy Toe" in the linked article from Knitty), and I will continue to do so if I am making my socks on dpns. Judy's Magic Cast-on is just too cumbersome on dpns; however, making it on a 40" long Addi Turbo Sock Rocket needle was a dream. It was easy to perform and it provides less hassle since you never have to pick up the stitches from a provisional cast-on at any point in your knitting. 

I like having different options depending on my circumstances. As for using the Magic Loop method on an extra-long needles, I am mostly enjoying it since it enables me to complete all three lace repeats for each side of the sock without interruption. This is definitely the best method to use when making socks that have a lace pattern, cable pattern, or even a colorwork pattern since it avoids interruptions to the pattern. On the other hand, for making plain socks in stockinette stitch or even a simple rib, I would choose my dpns over magic loop or socks on two circs. I am so used to using them that I have an excellent rhythm when I use them and the sock seems to fly along much more quickly than it does when working on magic loop. The time I take stopping to adjust the needle in magic loop seems to be a bigger interruption that the slight adjustments I need to make with dpns.

What methods have you found work best for you? Please share your tips, questions, or comments in the comment section. Happy knitting.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Better Luck with Drop Spindling

I have been away on vacation, enjoying some incredibly great weather in Florida and visiting my parents, so I haven't been able to post here lately. However, right before I left for my trip, I spent a half hour attempting to spin on my drop spindle again (my way of relaxing before the flight). I decided to try to use some Romney fiber that I had instead of the Malabrigo Nube Merino fiber I had been using. I remembered that when I was learning to spin on my wheel, the Romney had been a little easier to pre-draft and to draft while spinning. It isn't as pretty as the Malabrigo since it is a blend of natural colors, but it was much easier for me to handle. As I worked on my drafting technique with the Romney, I felt like I had a lot more control and that I had more time to draft before the twist got away from me. I have since read in Abby Franquemont's Respect the Spindle: Spinning Infinite Yarns with One Amazing Tool that "Coopworth, Romney, Corriedale, and Bluefaced Leicester are excellent wool choices for a new spinner." This certainly seemed to hold true for me because the Romney is making a huge difference.

Another element that seems to have assisted me in making some progress is the park and draft technique. Both Abby Franquemont and Pricilla Gibson-Roberts in Spinning in the Old Way suggest using this technique when one is first learning in order to get the hang of drafting. I found it to be very helpful to me and even now that I am able to spin with the drop spindle suspended in air, I notice that if I feel out of control, I can simply park it between my knees to finish off the drafting. Now I am beginning to see why drop spindling is so appealing to so many people. I have a feeling that I might really take to the spindle more and more over time, which makes me wonder if my poor wheel will continue to gather more and more dust. Only time will tell.

I promise to post some pictures of my progress soon once I get back into my groove after being away. It is also tax time of year, so I might have to focus on that rather than my glorious fiber pursuits for a few days! :(

Happy knitting, crocheting, and spinning!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Join As You Go (JAYG) - Crochet Granny Squares

I have been crocheting for over 20 years, yet I have never successfully completed a granny square afghan. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. Knitting took over as my passion a year after I began crocheting, so most of my attention has been devoted to mastering the many aspects of knitting that I have caught my interest over the years.
  2. When I learned crochet, I became very attracted to stitch patterns (as I did for knitting) and spent a lot of time practicing different types to determine which ones I would use for various afghans I had planned. I ended up making three different afghans using three different stitch patterns (five-dc shell, front-post/back-post basketweave, and a combination cluster st/5 dc shell) in my early days of crochet. Recently, I became drawn back into crochet because of Lucy's fabulous Granny Stripe Blanket, another one worked in rows, as I have always done, but this time using color.
  3. Lastly, the idea of joining the squares has always been something that has been a turn-off! I have made squares for afghans worked with co-workers for charity before and have even participated in joining portions of those afghans, but I have never liked the joining process. I have begun at least two granny square afghans of my own and the completed squares have sat in baskets and trunks for years since I have never been motivated to join them. 
Of all the reasons listed above, I have to say that I suspect #3 is the real culprit. Luckily, I have recently come across a technique that eliminates #3 from the list - JAYG (join as you go). I had heard of this technique before, but I had never taken the time to practice it. Then I saw that Lucy from Attic24 was using the technique in some of her blankets and that she even had a tutorial for it. I had to try it, so I did. Here is the Granny Patchwork Blanket that I started the other day using the JAYG technique.

I am using the slip-stitch method that Lucy uses, but there are two other methods described in Edie Eckman's Connecting the Shapes Crochet Motifs book in case you are interested (flat joins and single crochet joins). I am very happy with this technique so far. It is very easy to execute once you learn how to do it, and I enjoy watching the blanket grow as I am working. I think that might be one of the reasons I always liked making my afghans in rows. I love to see knitting and crochet grow. This might be what makes me more of a sweater knitter and a blanket crocheter than someone who enjoys making small items. I am also a person who is cold all of the time, so there is a certain appeal to working on an item that serves the dual purpose of being interesting while keeping me warm. 

Here is a closer picture of the slip-stitch, JAYG seams (to view a tutorial click on this link from Attic24):

I have become so enamored with this new project that I just had to have it with me (along with at least two other knitting projects) for my brief trip to Florida in the next couple of days. I couldn’t decide which colors to bring, so I cam up with the idea to wind small balls of each color (all 17) and to bring them with me in my luggage. Stitching squares by the pool seems like fun. 

Look at all of the beautiful colors; I have become quite fond of Stylecraft Special DK (recommended by Lucy of Attic24) for acrylic. I am normally a wool-kind-of-gal, but for an enormous crochet afghan that will hog a lot of yarn and need to be washed frequently, you can’t beat a nice acrylic. This one is particularly soft, which is a bonus.

Have any of you tried JAYG? I would love to hear some of your experiences or any suggestions for other methods that you use to make joining motifs fun. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Adventures with the Drop Spindle

I have been spinning for a number of years now but always on my Ashford Traveller (Double Drive). I learned a while back and took it very seriously for awhile so that I could learn it well enough to produce decent worsted-spun, worsted weight yarn. I never became very good, but I was pleased enough with my results while knitting up the yarn that I produced to feel like I had accomplished something. I don't spin often now since my lack of time causes me to need to prioritize my crafting interests, but it is nice to know that when I do pull out my wheel, it comes back like riding a bike does.

Drop spindling is another story for me. I got one years back and tried it on a few occasions.  One of my friends gave me a quick introduction, but then I had to follow the directions in books and on You-Tube to continue learning. I never got the hang of it and felt frustrated by my apparent lack of coordination. However, last week, I noticed that my awesome LYS, River Colors, was having a drop spindle class. I signed up and enjoyed a lovely Sunday afternoon learning to drop spindle. I really struggled, but by the end of the class, I felt like I was in a bit of a flow.   The yarn I was making was very lumpy and bumpy, but since I felt like I could keep the spindle spinning while allowing some twist to travel up the fiber, I was happy. From my previous experience with the wheel, I knew that in a matter of time, I would get better and have a hard time making this kind of beginner's yarn again even if I wanted to do so (which sometimes you do if you are looking for novelty yarn). I came home and kept trying. Much to my chagrin, I didn't seem to be doing as well as I did at the lesson. Now, I am determined to keep practicing to see if I can make any progress. We shall see!

Here are some pictures to give you an idea of where I am right now drop spindling in comparison to how much progress I have made with wheel spindling:

My first yarn on the drop spindle yesterday:

My latest efforts on the drop spindle:

Some yarn and a project from my previous spinning wheel efforts (after a lot of practice):

As you can see, I have a long way to go with the drop spindle to even approximate the kind of yarn I can now make on the wheel. However, I still have a long way to go on the wheel to approximate the kind of yarn I see experienced spinners making. Whether I will ever get there with either of these crafts remains to be seen! I dream of being a true "spinner" some day, but I fear that it isn't part of my DNA in the way knitting and crochet seem to be. Those crafts came to me fairly naturally (even though I had to practice with each new technique). Spinning feels like something I have to really think hard about to make my hands and movements work in the way they should.

What are some of your experiences with spinning? Do you have any secrets to success to share?  I would love to hear from others about experiences you are having or have had.

By the way, I have continued to pick up my knitting and crocheting a little bit every day, too, making progress the way I usually do (slowly but steadily like the tortoise in the famous parable). My husband's sweater is growing slowly with the back completed and the front piece halfway completed now, the Granny Stripe afghan is also growing, and it should be ready for me to begin the edging in a couple of weeks, and finally, I continue to knit the Ivy League Vest using the two-handed stranding technique while becoming more and more comfortable with it all the time. I am really enjoying Fair Isle!

As you can see, something in me just can't stop learning. I find that to be the most exciting part of the entire process of practicing these wonderful crafts. The only thing better than learning in my book is being able to teach others. However, through continually learning something new and through the process of struggling with it, I find I become a better teacher (both of the fiber arts, but more importantly, as an English teacher and as a parent helping my children with their learning processes). One problem with this thirst to always be learning, though, is it really slows down my production time on the projects I have started already! Oh well, the fun is in the process for me, and when I do finish the product, I am happy to finally have it to wear or use.