Posts filed under ‘Tools of the Trade’
I was so afraid that I would not make it to MDSW this year. I have been totally consumed with a project for work – literally worked 85 hours this week – and I was not sure if I could get away for a few hours of yarn paradise. Not to mention, I am so tired and was not sure if I could even walk around to my favorite vendors. Fortunately, everything fell into place, and I was able to spend a couple of hours shopping for some more yummy yarn goodness.
As usual, I blew right through my budget. In fact, I almost spent twice as much as I had planned to spend. But, it was so worth it! I have lots to add to my stash, including:
* Minuet by Dancing Leaf Farm, 2480 yards of superfine alpaca lace yarn
* Hip Hop by Dancing Leaf Farm, 792 yards of merino/cashmere/nylon fingering, Crocus colorway
* Bamboo by Creatively Dyed Yarns, 1000 yards of bamboo lace, Sand colorway
* Sunna by Spirit Train Fiberworks, 1050 yards of merino/cashmere/silk fingering, Smashed Raspberries colorway
* Glenhaven Cashmerino Fingering by Three Irish Girls, 740 yards of merino/cashmere/nylon, Golden Afternoon colorway
* Homage by Shalimar Yarns, 400 yards of merino/cashmere/silk, Byzantium colorway
Well, I guess it’s back to my “stash buster’s” diet. I did work my way through several skeins since last year’s MDSW, so I don’t feel that guilty.
Goodness, I do love the first weekend in May!!!! Happy 40th Anniversary MDSW! Here’s to 40 more!
Keep Calm and Carry Yarn – this has truly become my motto. In fact, you will rarely find me without a ball of yarn along with a hook or needles in my purse. And, if my purse does not have these items, then a project bag is surely close by. I have been tempted to buy my one of these great posters made and sold by jenniegee on etsy. I think it would be a great addition to my craft room, although I rarely play with yarn in it. I do keep my yarn “organized” in my craft room. And, I wind all of my skeins and do my blocking in there, so perhaps I should put this on my wishlist for my special Valentine. What do you think?!?
Well, this week, I have been preparing for a knitting class that I am teaching next week. I have prepared some sample swatches for the students to touch and feel, and I am making a scarf in stockinette stitch as a classroom example. I love mindless knitting. It is so therapeutic and I am always amazed at how quickly projects like these can fly off my needles. On the other hand, my poor crochet Lady Violet shawl is 80% done, but I keep putting it down for a breather. The pattern is quite involved and making all of the strips can get tedious. I do hope I finish before this season of Downton Abbey ends, though.
Happy Stitching! Don’t forget your yarn!
Ask and ye shall receive. Well, that is certainly the case for crochet designers who have been patiently awaiting the release of a software program for creating crochet charts. In fact, the pleas had become quite persistent recently as several affordably priced software programs for knit designers were introduced to the market. And now, crochet designers finally have a tool at their disposal – right in time for their holiday wish lists.
Crochet Charts by Stitch Works Software is the creation of Brian Milco, a California native who grew up in New England with a passion for computers. Brian first became interested in software for fiber artists when he was employed by another company to write knitting software. “When I realized that it was time to move on, I decided that I really wanted to start my own business,” he explained. “I could see there was a market for good cross platform software in the fiber arts community, and people I had talked to expressed a specific need for crochet software. So when I decided to open my own company, I decided to start where there was a clear demand for what I could offer.”
Brian began work on Crochet Charts almost a year ago and launched the first version in October 2011. Reasonably priced at $50, the software program allows designers to create charts with crochet symbols of designs constructed in rows or rounds. Other features of the software program include the ability to export charts and legends to several standard formats (PDF, SVG, JPEG, PNG, TIFF, BMP, and plain text); customizable stitch libraries and legends; helpful tools to allow charts to be easily read, such as the ability to alternate row colors and add indicator marks; and, the flexibility to create multiple charts in one document.
“The biggest difference between Crochet Charts and other software on the market is that it is designed specifically for crochet,” continued Brian. “It uses a free form canvas, so there’s no grid which you have to shoehorn your stitches into. Another difference is that I built my software so that it runs on Windows (XP/Vista/7), Mac (Intel, 10.5-10.7), and Linux (Ubuntu), and the look and feel is native on all three platforms.”
I had the pleasure of test driving Crochet Charts last week and I must admit that it has a very modern, user-friendly look and feel. In fact, I was able to put together my first chart in a matter of minutes without any crazy hair-pulling. Users, though, will appreciate the fact that Brian is available to answer any questions about the program via email and a special group on Ravelry. He is also readily open to suggestions for improvements and upgrades.
The next version of the software, v1.1, is planned for release this week. “The biggest addition is that I’m increasing the number of stitches to over 100, and generally sanding and polishing the rough edges. I’ve also included a couple of user-requested features – a ‘copy, cut, paste’ right-click context menu, and the ability to select the stitch increase when creating charts in the round.”
More New Features on the Horizon
Several new and exciting additions are in the works for Crochet Charts. For example, in the next 3 to 6 months, Brian plans to add a Tunisian Crochet set to the available stitch symbols and within a year, he plans to create a set of stitches for knitting that can be added to Crochet Charts. This will ultimately allow users to combine knitting and crochet on the same chart without any difficulty….how cool is that!?!
“My issue tracking software is telling me that there are about 90 items on my wish list right now, so I have a lot of ideas and suggestions,” he explained. “A lot of them are smaller items like a ‘Select All’ checkbox in the Stitch Library, but some are bigger like a properties dialog that allows the user fine control over the values (angle, scale, stitch, pivot point, color, etc.) of whatever items are selected.” These are both scheduled for the 1.2 version of the software. In addition, Brian plans to add adjustable guidelines for rows and rounds and to improve the usability of the indicators, allowing them to be individually customized.
“I have a few really big ideas that I don’t want to talk about until I’ve had a chance to do some prototyping to see if they’ll even work,” he added. So, users will simply have to stay tuned and wait as the goodies unfold. Brian hinted that these goodies may include a simple schematics program, which would really send crochet designers over the moon.
“It’ll probably be at least a year before I release any other software titles. For right now, however, I want to focus on making Crochet Charts the best software I can, and help to promote some more comprehensive standards when it comes to crochet symbols,” he concluded. And, crochet designers couldn’t be more thrilled.
This weekend I had the pleasure of taking a test drive with the new Knitter’s Pride Dreamz Interchangeable Tunisian Crochet hooks available through WEBS. Not only are they beautifully made, it is pure joy to stitch with them. The ergonomic design of the hooks makes them extremely comfortable to hold and the colors are absolutely mesmerizing. In fact, each size is color-coded, making the hooks easy to identify, grab and go.
The Dreamz Tunisian crochet hooks range in size from E (3.5 mm) all the way up to 12 mm and come in vibrant shades of purple, green, orange, raspberry and teal. Simply put – they are a must for every Tunisian crocheter’s upcoming holiday wish list. The basic set, which is less than $55, comes with 8 hooks (US sizes E, G, 7, H, I, J, K and L), 4 cables (one 24”, two 32”, and one 40”), cable connectors, 8 end caps, 4 cable keys and a clear carrying case.
Personally, I enjoy the feel of wooden hooks the most compared to metal or plastic ones – there is something about the weight and the natural texture that I find pleasing. The Dreamz hooks are made from densified laminated birch wood, which was selected with the test of time in mind. Birch wood is harder than other woods, like ebony and rosewood. It has minimal water absorption too, reducing the chances of warping and allowing the hooks to remain strong. Each Dreamz hook is topped with a low-gloss finish to enhance the intrinsic beauty of the wood and keep them smooth to the touch.
Well, I am sure like me you are asking – yes, these are pretty but why do I need another set of Tunisian crochet hooks. I asked Kathy Elkins, who owns WEBS along with her husband Steve, this very question. “The Dreamz hooks are similar to some other Tunisian crochet hook sets out there in all the ways we love – cords in different lengths, a great range of hook sizes and stoppers for each cord – but then they are different and so much better!” she explained.
The added bonus that comes with these Tunisian crochet hooks is the perfect blend of well thought out design elements – namely, a novel screw-and-key mechanism that allows the hooks to seamlessly connect to the cords, extra long nylon cords that don’t kink, and a streamlined shape for crocheting ease.
“Not only is the color-coding by size a terrific and unique feature, the join is virtually seamless and the transition from cord to hook is gradual and smooth with no step-ups or bumps to catch your stitches,” Kathy continued. “Since the join is screwed together and you have the locking pin to get it nice and tight, your hooks and cords won’t separate. Finally, the hooks themselves are fantastic with an inline shape, a nice deep throat and a not-too-pointy tip; so, you don’t have to worry about splitting your stitches. And while not as slippery as the Addi’s, I have tried almost every fiber with these hooks and NOTHING catches on the surface.”
Of course, I took this as a challenge and had to try the hooks out on a range of yarns in my stash too. The hooks glided through everything from mohair to merino to acrylic without a glitch. Here is a sample of one of the hooks in action with Gems, 100% merino wool yarn, by Louet. FYI – this is a Tunisian crochet lattice stitch pattern that I have been playing around with for an upcoming design. Stay tuned for more!
An American Success Story
Although made in India by KnitPro, the Dreamz line is part of the next chapter for WEBS, a true American family business. The full line includes single-end crochet hooks in 13 sizes, interchangeable knitting needles, fixed circular needles, as well as double pointed and straight needles.
The history of WEBS is a beautiful story and an inspiration to all of us who wish to turn our passion into a paycheck. “WEBS was founded in 1974 by my mother-in-law, Barbara, and her friend. It started in the basement of Barbara’s home and the focus was to teach people to weave,” recounted Kathy. “Eventually the family wanted the basement back and her friend decided business was not for her, so they parted ways. Barbara leased an 800 sq. ft. retail space in Amherst, Massachusetts; and, by the early 80′s, she added yarns for knitting and crochet.”
Over the next decade the business continued to expand and moved from a Victorian house in downtown Amherst to a larger location in Northampton by 1992. Ultimately, though, WEBS landed on some prime real estate in the virtual world after Barbara’s husband, Art, read an article on the importance of the internet in the Wall Street Journal and purchased the url http://www.yarn.com.
Eventually, by early 2002, Barbara and Art had passed the reigns to their son Steve and daughter-in-law Kathy. “Art and Barbara asked us a couple of times if we were interested in joining the business, which we politely declined. By 2001, Art and Barbara were ready to move on and had finally found a buyer. They came to see Steve and I that fall – one last-ditch effort to convince us to take over the business,” Kathy said. “They came with financials, charts, and projections – the works. I decided it was a good decision for us and it took a few weeks, but eventually Steve agreed that taking over WEBS was the best for us.”
Today, WEBS has grown from a small mail order business to the go-to online destination for all things fiber related. Kathy and Steve pride themselves on listening to their customers and constantly improving to meet their needs. “We consider ourselves very fortunate to do what we do. We constantly remind our staff that knitters, crocheters and all fiber artists have many, many choices of where to shop. So, we have to always be grateful when we are their chosen destination and make their shopping experience the best it can be,” concluded Kathy.
In fact, the Elkins back all of their products 100%, including the new Dreamz line, and will replace any broken or damaged parts. For more information on the Knitter’s Pride Dreamz Interchangeable Tunisian Crochet hooks, visit WEBS online at http://www.yarn.com/.
My hook has never been so busy and I have never been happier with regards to my crochet. I am juggling life and managing to squeeze in about 3-4 hours of hook time each day. Pure bliss! I’ve been working mostly on my own designs and it is such a cathartic process to go from initial concept to reality. Best of all, I am working with some of the most amazing yarns available. It’s almost like a dream come true.
A few weeks ago, I gave a sneak peak of the yarn I am using in my latest design, which will be published in the Fresh Designs Crochet: Shawls book by Cooperative Press. It’s Poet Seat by Kangaroo Dyer – a hand-dyed blend of superwash merino (50%) and silk (50%) yarn. So, I thought I would wet your appetite for a bit more….here is the yarn worked up in a Tunisian crochet lace stitch that’s featured in the design.
I love the stitch definition with this yarn and the feel as it glides softly across my hand, but boy do I lament the fact that I crochet rather slowly. Recently, I have become sort of a Lily Chin groupie – last month I read her Couture Crochet Workshop and this month I am reading Crochet Tips & Tricks: Shortcuts and Techniques Every Crocheter Should Know. I had no idea that some crocheters lubricate their hooks for added speed. I am a bit nervous to try lotion as she recommends (it might stain my precious yarn) but I think I may give wax paper a try. I’ll be sure to report on whether it works and if my hook finally goes a’ blazing through the yarn.
I’ve been given permission to spill the beans and let everyone in on a little secret – I will be featured in the latest book series from Cooperative Press, Fresh Designs Crochet. My designs will be included in both the Fresh Designs Crochet: Shawls and Fresh Designs Crochet: Designs for Men books. It has been a crazy wonderful rollercoaster ride, from the submission process to playing with the yarn, and I am enjoying every single minute of it!
Here’s a bit of a sneak peak…..I am working with the most divine yarn ever – Poet Seat by Kangaroo Dyer – for my shawl design. It’s an incredibly yummy, hand-dyed blend of superwash merino (50%) and silk (50%). Believe me, it is PURE joy crocheting with Gail Callahan’s (aka the Kangaroo Dyer) fiber creations. The color blends are amazing – I am using her Spring Bonnet colorway. And, the yarn produces a beautiful drape while maintaining a lovely stitch definition. Thank you so much Gail!
Last weekend, I had a ball playing with my swatches…..I feel like a big girl now as I finally graduated to a real steamer! Boy, does it make a difference. I became convinced after reading Couture Crochet Workshop by Lily Chin that I really did need to make the switch and upgrade.
Lily also introduced me to the art of draping. So, I gave that a try too this past weekend. I used some basic sweater knit fabric from the remnants bin….It was not easy at first and I had to go through a lot of trial and error. But finally, I got my dress form Bessie looking just the way I wanted her to and now I have a great template to guide my shaping. Speaking of which, this design features Tunisian crochet and really serves as a lesson in shaping while using this technique. I can’t wait to share it with the world…..but, we’ll just have to wait until Spring 2012 when the book will be released.
Happy Easter! I am thrilled to report that after hours of being in a complete crochet frenzy, I finished the girls’ Easter boleros in time for the Easter Vigil Mass last night. Yesterday afternoon, finally in home stretch, I frantically did all of the finishing. On Holy Thursday, I contemplated, for a brief moment, not blocking in order to save time; but in the end, I could not bring myself to do it. So, I pulled out the good ol’ pilates mat Holy Friday evening and got busy blocking. The edging went from a curled hot mess to something really beautiful, almost instantly. Moral: ALWAYS, ALWAYS BLOCK!
The finished product is so worth it. The girls looked amazing and I am so pleased with the final results. Here goes…..
Well, off to the next project now…..my hook gets no rest!
Wishing everyone a beautiful day filled with family, friends, good food, lots of LOVE and HOPE! Happy Stitching!
Yesterday, I blocked my Tunisian Honeycomb Sweater. Blocking is an important step for all crocheted or knitted projects; however, it is essential when working in Tunisian crochet. This is primarily because the blocking process helps to tame the curl that is characteristic of Tunisian crochet stitches.
In general, I prefer blocking with warm or cold water, depending on the fiber, using a small spray bottle. I feel as if it gives me more control over the moisture. Many others use steam or gently submerge their projects. For the first time, I used a pilates mat as the backing for my blocked pieces. I really want some of those fancy mats from KnitPicks; but fortunately, since money is very tight these days ($3.61/gallon for gas today!), several folks on Ravelry told me about the pilates mat trick. It rolled out quite nicely and worked like a charm. Besides, let’s face it, the mat is not getting that much use these days….I have not done any ‘hundreds’ in months.
Here is something fun to try. The folks at Interweave have shared a great new way to actually knit in a zipper. I am 100% positive that I can adapt this technique to crochet, and perhaps even Tunisian crochet too. I am adding this to my growing list of new techniques to explore.
It’s no secret that Tunisian crochet is a hot topic these days. One could easily make the argument that this resurgence is due in large part to Sharon Hernes Silverman’s 2009 book, Tunisian Crochet: The Look of Knitting with the Ease of Crocheting, which has become a gold-standard reference book for many crocheters. Fortunately, Sharon has just released her latest book, Crochet Pillows With Tunisian & Traditional Techniques, which is equally as inspiring as her past titles.
Crochet Pillows With Tunisian & Traditional Techniques was a joy to read and filled with more of Sharon’s helpful tips and tricks. The pillows run the gamut from fun and funky to classic and elegant. There is something for everyone’s taste and aesthetic in this book. Best of all, it is written in a manner such that beginning crocheters can comfortably stretch their basic skills to the next level using Sharon’s comprehensive stitch guide that is both clear and concise. I am sure that the final portion of the book, filled with information about traditional and Tunisian crochet techniques as well as a list of indispensible resources, will serve as the perfect reference for both novice and seasoned crocheters alike.
Sharon’s love for crochet and understanding of the art form is clear while reading this title, especially in the ease with which she explains both basic and Tunisian crochet methods. “From the time I was age 3 or 4, I loved crafts. I remember making mosaic trays, paper lanterns, even a wooden book-holder in kindergarten! I learned to crochet and cross-stitch from my mother when I was 6 or 7. She taught me to knit, too, but that didn’t seem to stick,” explained Sharon.
“When I was writing my second crochet book, Beyond Basic Crocheting, one of my stitch dictionaries had some Tunisian crochet stitch patterns. I had never heard of it before, and it blew me away! [It was] so much fun to do, so fast, and [created] such interesting results,” she continued. “I included an easy Tunisian crochet scarf in that book, and was inspired to learn more about the technique and the possibilities for using it.” Since then, Sharon has continued to expand her Tunisian crochet skills and begun to share her fascination with Tunisian crochet stitches through her books, patterns, and classes.
From the very beginning, the concept of a book of pillow designs intrigued me. In fact, for crocheters who mostly make garments, it can be a breath of fresh air to try a home décor project. Likewise, pillows are relatively quick to make and are easily portable. When asked to comment on the rationale behind the book, Sharon pointed out, “Look through any design magazine or catalog and you’ll see pillows galore. They are a great way to spruce up your décor quickly and without breaking the bank. Instead of buying mass-produced pillows, why not make your own and get exactly what you want? Pillows make great gifts also, since they don’t have to be sized to fit someone like a garment does—not a whole lot of risk! They are small enough to complete in a reasonable amount of time, yet fun and interesting to make. Another advantage is that because they have two sides, you can create two looks in one project.”
Crochet Pillows With Tunisian & Traditional Techniques includes 20 projects in total – 10 in traditional crochet and 10 in Tunisian crochet. While reading the book, eight designs instantly struck a chord within me. For fun, I decided to list each of my favorite patterns according to a particular category and Sharon was gracious enough to comment on the inspiration behind each one.
The thought of working all of those loops along with the nubbly feeling of the finished product was enough for me to rate this as the design that incorporated the most fun stitch. “I saw this stitch pattern in a dictionary and loved the look! The subtle shadings in the variegated yarn fit well with the pattern too,” Sharon added.
Most Elegant – Cable Columns
I instantly fall in love with any crochet design that includes beautiful cables. It is as if there is a little voice inside saying – “See, we can make cables, too.” Also, the reverse single stitch has become one of my favorite finishing techniques as it results in such a smooth silhouette. However, Sharon’s inspiration for this design was the fiber itself. She explained, “Sometimes yarn is the inspiration for the project, as in this case. The stitch definition of the Lana is excellent—perfect for cables. I hope that people will give crocheted cables a try when they see how nice they look on this pillow. Reverse single crochet seemed like the right kind of tailored edging for this project as well.”
Most Adorable – Spiral Flower
As the mom of two “girly girls,” this pattern grabbed my attention right away. It would be fun to decorate my youngest daughter’s room with several of these pillows in her favorite colors, lavender and pink. “I was fooling around with little shell shapes and arranged them into a circle. They looked so cute that a whimsical accent pillow came to mind. I think this would look adorable hanging from a doorknob,” Sharon chimed in.
“This is another pattern that I found in a stitch dictionary. Usually I shy away from anything leggier than a treble crochet, but I was really intrigued by the three-dimensional aspect of this pattern even though the stitches are quite tall,” Sharon explained. Personally, this stitch is breathtaking. When I first saw it, I experienced one of those wonderful moments in which you are mesmerized by a crochet pattern.
Must Have NOW Design – Red Hot Heart
It is clear why this felted pillow made the cover – it is simply fantastic. “In one of my home design magazines I saw an embellished pillow that got me thinking. I liked the idea of using the same color embellishment in a different texture. I first tried the spiral rope in a traditional heart shape, but the asymmetrical version gives the pillow a big jolt in personality,” remarked Sharon.
For those who are anxious to give felting a try but who still feel a bit apprehensive about the technique, Sharon shared some great advice. “I can understand why felting seems intimidating – you invest a lot of time making something and then aren’t sure how it will look when it comes out of the washing machine. My best advice is to felt your swatch. You may find that it shrinks more in one dimension than in the other, which is important to know,” she cautioned. “You’ll also learn that you can felt something multiple times if it doesn’t get small enough the first time. Fortunately, pillows are very forgiving. You should wait until your project is done before you purchase an insert, so if the felted project comes out a slightly different size than what you expected, it’s not a problem.”
Most Sophisticated – Debonair
“Tunisian net stitch, or full stitch, is very classy. And, of course as far as colors go, it doesn’t get any more sophisticated than black and white! This pillow design reminds me of a tuxedo, with the buttons adding an element of individualism,” she added. I couldn’t agree more and have already starting shopping for the perfect set of buttons.
This pillow would make the perfect baby shower gift. In fact, as Sharon reminded me, the pattern serves as a complement to one of her previous designs. “This pillow goes with the Sweet Dreams Baby Blanket I designed for my previous book, Tunisian Crochet: The Look of Knitting with the Ease of Crocheting. It’s a small project with a lot of impact. I agree that this would make a great gift!”
Perfect Holiday Project – Lovejoy
With St. Valentine’s Day right around the corner, this pillow would make any loved one feel extra special. However, I was fascinated by this design because it serves as a reference to crochet’s historical repertoire. Traditionally, Tunisian crochet was often used as a backdrop for cross-stitch embroidery. In fact, I have many such designs in my antique pattern collection. “Tunisian simple stitch has highly structured horizontal and vertical components, which make it an ideal backdrop for cross-stitch. As you mention, antique patterns often took advantage of this, especially in beautifully embellished afghans,” Sharon added.
Crochet Pillows With Tunisian & Traditional Techniques closes with a befitting discussion on stuffing and closing pillows. Many crocheters turn to fiberfill when packing pillows, however Sharon argues against the use of loose fiberfill in the book and explained to me the other options available for filling pillows. “Maybe it’s the way I stuff my pillows, but when I use fiberfill it always seems to clump up and get lumpy. I would certainly encourage crafters to try whatever pillow filling suits them. I used hypoallergenic synthetic inserts, but something like down could add an element of luxury. You can also have foam pieces cut to size at a craft store. If you are using a prefabricated pillow form, remember that it should be slightly bigger than the outer shell, so that when you stuff your pillow it is nice and full with no floppy areas in the corners or along the sides.”
Crochet Pillows With Tunisian & Traditional Techniques can be purchased online at Amazon or WEBS. To learn more about Sharon as well as her designs and classes, visit www.sharonsilverman.com, or join her on Facebook at Sharon Silverman Contemporary Crochet.