The Great Crochet Adventure

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The last time I tried to crochet, it did not go well. My mother tried to teach me how to make a granny square, but we quickly realized a right hander teaching a left hander is beyond tricky. On top of that, I had no real basis of understanding how crochet works, so a granny square was probably way beyond my skill level.

I was going to let crochet go until I decided to launch a major project at work. In response to students wanting to learn how to knit (several come to see me for help) and craft in general, I am organizing an after school program that teaches students crafting skills. In addition, our little collective is going to have a community service component. Some of what we make will go to charitable organizations. We’re going to make and donate everything from chemo caps to kennel blankets!

In the midst of organizing everything, I found out a lot of kids want to learn how to crochet. Yikes! It’s kind of hard to teach them how to crochet when I don’t have a clue. So, last week I set upon teaching myself some basic skills – things like how to hold the hook, the yarn, and some basic stitches.

Due to a weekend of no internet, I ended up teaching myself using an ancient Reader’s Digest book, The Complete Guide to Needlework. The pictures weren’t the best, but it was enough to get me started. Seeing as the last time my left-handedness was a major obstacle, I decided to try learning right-handed. After several hours of epic failure – my right hand was fighting me the whole way – I finally managed to make a little 4×4″ swatch using a single crochet stitch.

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Hooray!! The little victories are the best, aren’t they?

Emboldened by my tiny success, I decided to make a set of coasters as a means to practice the single crochet stitch and to find my groove in holding the hook and the work yarn. Like knitting, there is a method and rhythm to manipulating both the hook and yarn.

Just like the first go around, there was plenty of failure, (and hand cramping – my right hand does not like all this work!), but the repetitive nature of the project paid off. I ended up with a cute set of coasters and the “groove” is falling into place. My fingers are naturally finding their grip on the hook and I’m finally able to regulate tension on the yarn without overthinking it.

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Not bad for a few hours of self-instruction. Sometimes you just have to jump in and do it! Even if failure is a given. I’m not a genius at crochet, but I’ve at least got enough to be able to teach students the basics. As I learn, so will they. If anything we can laugh at our mistakes and cheer our victories together.

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c.b.w. 2016

Knitting With Scrap Yarn

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After just a few years of knitting, my scrap yarn basket has started to overflow. I suppose its inevitable for every knitter. Projects rarely use every last bit of yarn, so we are left with partial skeins of all different sizes and colors.

Some would say just throw it out, but like most knitters I can’t bring myself to do that. I love yarn and put a lot of effort into picking just the right fiber and color. I can’t just pitch it like it means nothing! Instead, I take the overflow of scrap yarn as a challenge. There’s got to be a creative and productive way to use the leftovers hanging out in my yarn basket.

Inspiration came calling when I heard my very old dog snoring in his bed. He is 14 years old and struggles to get comfortable. His favorite blankets are knit and crochet blankets I purchased at craft fairs or made myself. However, his favorite blankets often end up in the washer due to old dog “issues,” which means he is often without them. There simply aren’t enough crochet or knitted blankets in our collection! Sounds like a job for scrap yarn!

I sorted my scrap yarn according to weight and then sorted them into color groupings. From there, I selected a baby blanket pattern that matched the yarn weight in the first pile. I settled on Size 8 circular knitting needles because most yarns in the pile recommend a 7, 8, or 9 needle – I figured 8 was in the middle and would likely accommodate the  different types of yarn I had in the pile.

The first blanket I made used six different yarns! I slightly modified a car seat blanket lace pattern, (Car Seat Blankets by Leisure Arts) so it would fit my dog’s orthopedic mat with enough left over to scrunch it up the way he likes it. The result was better than I expected, given the wide variety of yarn that was used to make the blanket.

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The funny part is I know where all the yarn came from – there are leftovers from 2 hats, a pair of socks, and 2 scarves.

I had so much fun making the first blanket, I decided to make another using the yarn I sorted into the second pile. This time around, I went with a pattern called the Maxi Cosi Blanket. It’s also meant for a baby car seat, but I’ll modify to fit one of my dog’s smaller beds (maybe 20″ x 20″). It’s not finished yet, but it is coming together nicely …

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So far, yarn from a pair of socks and a hat are in play. The fisherman’s wool (beige and cream) is a skein that just won’t stop giving … I’ve used the same skein in several projects including a scarf and a hat. This will hopefully be it’s last project!

When this blanket is finished, I’m planning on adding a flannel backing. I’ve never attempted to sew anything onto a knitting project, but I think it’s about time I got brave enough to try!

My scrap yarn basket has a lot more room in it after these projects, but there is still quite the stockpile of sock weight yarn. I’m on the lookout for the perfect project to put this part of my scrap yarn stash to good use.

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c.b.w. 2016

Summer Plans

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I’ve officially completed my sixteenth year of teaching and it was a great year. My students worked hard and we created a fantastic community I hope will last in the years to come. We learned, we laughed, and then we cried when it was time to say goodbye. This sort of bond doesn’t happen every year, so I am particularly grateful when it does happen.

Teaching can be a demanding profession, but all that hard work pays off when students walk out of my classroom a little wiser and a little more confident than when they entered nine months before. Having summers off is pretty awesome, too.

So, what should I do with two months all to myself?? The possibilities are endless, especially since I’m starting to feel a bit more free than I have in the last few years. After dealing with so much loss (family, friends, and furkids have all passed away in the last three years), I’ve admittedly not been myself. However, it finally feels like some of those heavy clouds are starting to clear. I can feel bits and pieces of myself falling back into place. And its exciting.

My list of things I want to do is already likely to fill up more time than I have, but I like having options when I wake up in the morning:

  1. Start trail running, again. Years ago, I was a trail runner and I loved it. I gave it up due to time constraints, but now I think its time to bring it back into my life. The physical activity and time with nature did a world of good for me.

2. Start cooking, again. For some reason, I stopped cooking healthy meals and making salads. I’m going to pull those old recipe cards out and get away from those processed boxed meals.

3. Knit. Like there was ever any doubt this would be on the agenda! This summer I’m looking to learn some new techniques and add more socks to my already stuffed sock drawer.

4. Write. Also a no-brainer item for the agenda. I’m hoping to continue my haiku practice, but also to jump back into the query process for my novel. I haven’t given up on that yet and I have all summer to send out query packages to the agents on my list.

5. Read. I have a stack of “to read” books I can’t wait to dive into this summer. I’m already halfway through my Goodreads Challenge goal, but I want to be at least 5 books ahead of schedule before the new school year starts.

6. Learn something new. I’m still deciding what I’m going to learn – I’ve kicked around everything from languages to a new craft. We’ll see where the muse takes me!

7. Binge on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. I have several shows/movies I want to watch and catch up on including, Grimm, Portlandia, The Blacklist, Bob’s Burgers, About Time, Theory of Everything, The End of the Tour, and so many others!

8. Work. Yep, teachers can’t help but do some work over the summer. I’m teaching a new class (AP World History) in the fall, so I’m going to try and get a jump on the planning process. It’s a class I’ve always wanted to teach, so I’m looking forward to outlining the basic structure.

9. Spend time with family, furkids, and friends. As my circle continues to get smaller, more free time means more time with those I care about the most. I’m just going to hold onto them a little tighter and make sure they know how much I love them.

10. Clean out the house. It’s time to purge the shed and closets of the stuff we no longer use or need. I cleared out the built up junk in my classroom last week, so I’m already in the mindset of getting rid of clutter.

This list should probably have the word “relax” somewhere in there, but I’ve never been one for long periods of sleep or sitting still. Why start now?

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c.b.w. 2016

Fourth Try Socks

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In the knitting world, we call a project “frogged” when an unfixable mistake has occurred or the pattern has stumped the knitter. Sometimes patterns are written poorly, have errors, or are simply beyond the skill level of the knitter. Regardless of the reasons why, it’s alway annoying to label a project as frogged.

The first pair of Horizontal Rib Socks I made turned out perfect. The texture of the rib played nicely with the self-striping yarn and it was the first pair of socks I made that fit my foot without being a touch too snug, (this is a huge victory for newly minted sock knitters!). I added a star to the pattern to designate it as a favorite.

The second pair Horizontal Rib Socks did not go well. Despite using the same yarn (in a different color), my second attempt ended with the first sock being full inch too short and incredibly tight around the foot. I ended up ripping it apart and rewinding the yarn.

The third pair of Horizontal Rib Socks also did not go well. This time the sock ended up far too large and had no elasticity. Frogged again. I almost erased the favorite pattern star.

That was two years ago.

I don’t like losing to a sock pattern. Especially a pattern I’ve conquered before. This is the only reason why I decided to make a fourth attempt on this wretched pattern! I pulled out some Paton’s Kroy sock yarn and loaded up my sock loom for what I hoped would be a sweet victory.

It turns out the fourth try is the charm! This time around, I realized part of the problem was in the foot section of the pattern – instead of two repeats in the stitch pattern, I had to do three to fit the length of my foot. Never underestimate the power of trying on the sock while it’s still on the loom to see whether more length is needed.

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Horizontal Rib Socks in Paton’s Kroy Sock, Bramble Stripes

One thing I’ve learned from this process is that patterns, no matter how well-written, are not set in stone. There is always room for adjustments to achieve a better end result. You just have to be brave enough to look away from the pattern and trust your own skills.

 

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c.b.w. 2016

Tsunami Socks

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While in Portland, Oregon last summer I bought some beautiful hand-spun, hand-dyed sock yarn. I spent more than I should have, but when it comes to finding gorgeous sock yarn in a place I love I’ll pay just about anything to take it home!

Two beautiful skeins from The Yarns of Rhichard Devrieze (Peppino in Class Act) sat in my stash (wrapped in tissue paper) waiting for the perfect sock pattern to come along. I found it six months later in a great little book called Knitted Socks East and West by Judy Sumner. This fantastic collection of Japanese inspired stitch patterns included a pair of socks inspired by tsunami waves and islands. The second I saw them I knew my fancy yarn had met its match.

My Tsunami Socks are my new favorite pair! I love the subtle shades of blue and coral – a perfect combination for the idea of “waves” rolling around “islands.”

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Tsunami Socks

Overall, the pattern for these socks was incredibly easy to follow. I’m usually not a fan of chart only patterns, but the charts in this pattern are large enough to read without difficulty and the instructions are very clear. Just be careful reading the instep chart. The red repeat line is hard to see.

I’d recommend this pattern for knitters with a little experience who might  be ready for a challenge. The “wave” in the leg of these socks is completed with a four-stitch cable, which can be daunting for knitters who have never worked with a cable needle. Still, it’s a good first project as the cable only occurs once in 12 rounds. Be brave and give it a whirl!

My current project is a cute easy-knit tank top. Stay tuned!

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c.b.w. 2016