Mastering Crochet the slow and steady way.

I had the most inspiring day today. I am giddy with pride and excitement.

I’ve hosted a monthly knitting/crochet group for a local service organization for the last year or two. In that time I’ve offered a few tips and gotten a few newbies started with either knitting or crochet and I love every minute of it. I love the camaraderie that happens when you get a group of yarn-lovers together to share their knowledge or show-off their WIPs (work in progress) with pride.

I love that I can encourage and motivate others to embrace this passion of mine.

Sometimes I am so busy jumping from student to student that I barely get time to chat. Other times like today I get to work one-on-one with a longtime student and finally help her break through a barrier.

My good friend, Sara Nantz, has been a consistent face at Knit Wits for the better part of a year now but has not been able to graduate from a basic single crochet swatch. At first her 10 stitch swatch would loose stitches on each row. Then she been to gain stitches and I could tell that although she wanted desperately to learn, she really struggled with her stitch count and turning properly after each row.

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I tried everything. I explained how to count her chains from the hook in order to find the starting stitch. I showed her the little “bumper” that appeared at the end of each row that would tell her to stop. Nothing was working. I was grateful that she kept coming back to the club but unsure how to help her past her hurdle.

Then it happened. She showed up at Knit Wits today with her starter project in hand. 4 inches of beautiful, consistent, and STRAIGHT crochet fabric. I was (sorry Sara) shocked. Completely flabbergasted and secretly dancing inside myself with excitement.

I thought I had better get this lady started on her first actual project before something happened and the magic wore off. She decided on a cowl in a beautiful deep purple and I wondered if I dare explain a double crochet. I knew it would make her piece softer and help her feel that addictive sense of accomplishment faster. After spending the better part of a year teaching her how to get 4 inches of single crochet straight would I overwhelm her and jinx the whole thing?

I decided to give it a shot. I showed her the double crochet over 3-4 stitches and then handed over the yarn and hook. A few “oh, don’t forget to wrap first” and “through the work and then through 2” comments during the first 3 stitches and she finished the entire row herself. I held my breath and watched her turn chaining two like I had explained, turning the work like the page of a book so she could count her chains and find her starting stitch for the way back and insert that hook exactly where it belonged. SHE DID IT!

Then I asked her if she wanted to work her cowl as a long rectangle and then sew it together or if she would rather avoid turning each row by working it as one long and (almost) endless loop. Can you believe she told me she wanted to keep practicing turning and she thought she should do it the “hard” way so she could make sure to learn it properly? I THINK I LOVE THIS WOMAN!

Today I feel like a Momma Bird who watched her little baby fly for the first time. It took her monthly visits for over a year and while other students came, mastered the swatch test and moved on to numerous project by now while she still had the original mustard-yellow swatch with wavy edges that she kept working relentlessly. I am so glad she never gave up. I’m so glad she kept coming back. I not only gained a success-story but I gained a friend.

3 Best Yarns for Beginning Knitters

When I first started knitting, I would never think of putting a ball of yarn in my basket if it cost more than $5. Red Heart, I Love This Yarn (Hobby Lobby) and Loops and Thread’s Impeccable (Michaels) was all I used. Most of the time I didn’t even buy them unless there was a sale. I even bought old sweaters or blankets at the thrift store or goodwill just to rip them out and re-use the yarn. I know – that was a little extreme I’m not suggesting you do that.

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But I do suggest to all my new students that they start with these three yarns for two reasons:

1) They are not a big investment. Before you decide if you will love knitting (you will) stick to the $5/skein yarn instead of the $30/skein stuff.

2) It is so much easier to learn on plain yarn than fuzzy, ribbon, mohair, or any other novelty yarn. Please just don’t do it.

If you ask me to make you a large blanket I will still turn to Michaels for Impeccable yarn. Priced at $3.49 for 4.5 ounces, it has a nice color selection, it isn’t too rough for a baby blanket, and once in a while there is a sale that makes it ridiculously cheap.

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Michaels’s customer service has impressed me as well. My Sister-in-law once offered to shop for me while I was in Korea. I sent her the colors and she filled up her cart. The cashier commented that she must have a big project. When she explained that it was actually for me stationed overseas with my Soldier, the cashier offered to take 20% off as a Military Discount. I suppose that would’ve been a pretty elaborate story for 20% off if it hadn’t been true but the cashier had no proof of that. She didn’t need to make that offer. That’s the kind of service that keeps customers coming back. And the yarn is great too.

Hobby Lobby’s brand, “I love this yarn/cotton” is a very nice budget yarn as well. You will pay $3.66 for a 7oz skein. It will work very well for first projects. It has a nice feel and is easy to work with both on the needles and on the budget.

Red Heart Super Saver is a great “learning yarn” I wouldn’t choose it for that gorgeous sweater I saw on Pinterest. But I would use it to practice a new technique, cast-on, or pattern. Some say it can be scratchy. It can. For a baby blanket or other item that might be cuddled with or held up to a chubby cheek, I would pick the other two. But for most other items (mitts, dog sweater, hat, novelty items) a trip through the wash and Red Heart is almost as cozy as the others. Plus paying just $4.29 for a 7oz skein gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside too.

Remember – you will not want to show off your first projects. You really won’t. You’re just learning and making plenty of mistakes. Your stitches won’t be consistent and you shouldn’t be focused on making them consistent yet. Just knit. Just crochet. All of that perfection comes with time. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pull back your crochet or tink (un-knit) your knitting to fix mistakes and learn to do it right. If you are going to take the time to learn this craft you should strive to do it right. But if you focus on perfection you will drive yourself mad. When starting out – just focus on learning and developing. Use the cheap yarn and enjoy the process. Make a few mistakes. Finish a piece and master a new technique and then laugh at the hideous neon-green yarn you picked. I did. Then throw it out (it cost all of $5) and start again with a nicer yarn the next time. Your taste in yarn will grow along with your confidence in your abilities. Until then – remember everyone has those first projects they aren’t proud of. EVERYONE. And if you are going to chuck it later. I would much rather it be Red Heart at $5/skein than Wollmeise at 44 Euros!!

My first blanket mid-way through the stitch-together process. Lovely huh?

 

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And what’s on my needles 5 years later.

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Travel Maps to the Rescue

36e15-img_0781Craft Fair Season is upon us. Well it is the right season for SOME crafters. For knitting – I have found that the spring is never my friend. It is warming up, the sun is shining and most ladies are excited about pulling out their skirts and flip-flops. They are NOT excited about picking up a shawl or scarf for next fall.
I already expect lower sales in the Spring and I still enjoy a chance to display my items and hear, “Oh you make such lovely things.” Even if those kudos don’t translate into dollars. It is my time to exhibit my designs and work.
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Last year the items most requested were: boot cuffs and cowls. At my last craft fair (in the fall) I quickly sold-out of my entrelac cowls and had requests for boot cuffs so I got to work and made more but (of course) the spring craft fairs are just not as conducive to wooly knits.
thumb_IMG_0784_1024Thankfully – my visitors seemed to like my cross stitch travel maps. I have long wanted some kind of record of my travels. Being a military family we have covered most of the US and now that we are stationed in Germany we are quickly covering most of Europe too. I thought it would be great to have a map that we could fill-in over time and show off our travels. I have seen large travel maps with pins to track your locations but 1) they are very expensive and 2) they aren’t as customizable.
I searched and searched online for a pattern to use but couldn’t find one. So I made one. And I figured if I want one then maybe others would want one too. I made my pattern, tested it for myself and invited a group of ladies over from my husband’s unit to test it for me too. They loved it but a few of them didn’t finish. They got hung-up with the initial black outline of all the countries.
I had to make it easier. If the initial outlines were giving them problems – could we just skip that step? I printed the pattern straight on the fabric and VOILA! problem solved. Now they can just fill it in using whatever color scheme they want.
But what if they don’t know how to get colored thread or don’t want to pay $2/color to fill-in their map? Why should they have to pay $3 for 10 needles when they will only use one? So I purchased a variety of colors and made a sample pack of colors with enough to cover 1-2 countries/states per color. I included a needle and figured I had better include some basic directions in each pattern.
I thought about offering a little class for anyone that wanted it and then I had one of those brilliant shower ideas: wait a minute – I have an iPhone – why not just make a little video tutorial? So now each pattern has a link to a video tutorial to get them started and talk them through some of the snags they might hit.
While showing-off my new design to family and friends, my cousin demanded a North America Version. Why should us overseas military spouses have all the fun? So I kindly obliged and developed a North America Version with my home province of Manitoba featured prominently. Rugby North Dakota might be the geographical center of North America but Elkhorn Manitoba is the center of my map!
thumb_IMG_0520_1024I’m so excited to see their finished products. I colored in my examples using a variety of colors but I’d really like to see someone do a monochromatic color scheme. Dark red is where we lived, medium red is where we have visited and light red is where we just drove through or stopped at an airport?? Blue is where he has been, Red is where she has been and purple is where they have been together? The possibilities are exciting. I included my contact information with each pattern because I want to see and share all the finished results.
I still have the original cross stitch patterns with Aida cloth and those are available as a kit as well and surprisingly they are doing just as well as the pre-printed fabric option.
Hopefully these maps will help alleviate my boredom at Spring craft sales as well as offer my military friends around the world (and my bossy cousin) a chance to track their travels.

Yarn in South Korea – No Problem!

I know I have been neglecting this blog. But it is not without good reason. For the good part of February I was preparing to and during March I was moving to South Korea. If you were moving to the other side of the world what would be some of your concerns? What your kids’ school would be like? What kind of housing will be available? I was somewhat concerned about those too but if I’m being perfectly honest, and I do try to be, I was really worried about how I would find good yarn.

Well have no fear, within a week I have tracked down two yarn stores that are each within 2 blocks of my apartment and found a local guy selling bags of yarn on the corner by the subway station. I am set.

I haven’t made it into the second store. We just found it as we were strolling around looking for a place to eat last night and it was closed when we discovered it. The first is on the way to the subway so I stopped in and took some pictures. The shop owner really doesn’t speak English but I had already used Google Translate to translate: “Can I take some pictures? I have a blog.”

I’m not sure how that translated but she said yes so I snapped a few of her and her friends. Two were knitting and two were crocheting and she was working on crocheting a purse with a plastic flat yarn.

I stood and watched for a few minutes and then pulled out my iPhone again to translate: “Is that a lesson? May I come back and knit with you when you are not teaching a lesson?” She nodded yes to that so I will return.

I have to wonder what they said after I left. Probably, “What’s with the crazy white chick? Don’t they have knitting in America?”

I wandered off down the street past the subway to kill some time before I had to go to pick Kayson up from school. I’m glad I did because on the other side of the Jihaeng subway station there was a guy and his wife selling yarn.

A friend of mine had sent me pictures of this same guy but in her pictures the yarn looked cheap and stiff. I was wrong. It was fine and there were nice colors and all kinds of textures. My only concern is that the multi-ply yarns did not seem to have much of a twist to them and may be hard to work with.

His English was minimal but he said $5 for one bag (with 4 balls) and I was trying to tell him I would be back and a passerby realized we were struggling and translated for us.

But that wasn’t the last yarn-related event of my day. As we were waiting for the subway home we met one of Kayson’s classmates and his family. Take a wild guess what his sister was doing. You have a 50/50 shot!

She was … Crocheting!! Her mom said she was self taught and when I took a look at her project I could tell nobody had ever told her to chain one between rows. I gave her a bit of help and I could tell she was eager to learn. You have to be if you have self-taught yourself and are already toting around a 8×10″ piece of work! I was so pleased to see a young girl picking up the craft.

If I have found three yarn vendors within 500m of my apartment then I am really excited about how many more opportunities are out there.

FeBREWary Inspiration – Mug and teapot cozy


Noble Teapot Wrap
To me crochet is like walking. I just do it. Just because I know how to do it doesn’t mean I can teach someone else how. But a few ladies asked me to give them a little class so I picked a mug cozy pattern (Link Here) from the blog; Tutus and Tea Parties, and showed up with some hooks and stash yarn and a lot of anxiety.

At first it was a bit rough. One of the ladies began referring to the first row as the “Satan” row and I thought that was a perfect description. But after spending at least 75% of our time on that first row they soon got the hang of it. I told them that I had to make about three projects before I really knew where I was supposed to insert my hook to make a single crochet and to chain one after turning each row. I didn’t keep either the slanted “purse” or the entire blanket made by crocheting into the back loop only.


I soon realized that these ladies were also anxious. They wanted to succeed and make something they could be proud of. We all achieved those same goals. By the end of the day they each had a nice size swatch and if they weren’t quite finished, they posted pictures that night of their finished projects.

I was so inspired that I came home and made a matching wrap for my teapot with the leftover cotton. This free pattern was designed to fit a Noble Teapot from DavidsTea.com and can be used with any oversized teapot. It also makes a great first project if you are just getting started.

Nobel Teapot Wrap

Yarn: Sugar ‘n Cream Cotton
Hook: 4.5mm
Embellishments: 2 medium buttons, needle and thread

Directions:

Ch 19
Row: 1 turn and ch1, SC across
Row 2-26: repeat Row 1
Row 27: turn, ch1, SC in next 5 SC, ch9, skip next 9 SC, SC in last 5 SC
Row 28-50: Repeat Row 1
Row 51: turn, ch1, SC in next 2 SC, ch 5, SC in next 11 SC, ch 11, SC in last 5 SC, fasten off.

Finishing:
Weave in ends
Position wrap on your teapot and estimate button locations. NOTE: better to make your wrap snug than too loose.
Sew on buttons
Brew a nice big pot of Earl Grey and ENJOY!