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.

How to Save a Fortune on Bavaria’s 2 Best Wools.

I don’t think I realized how popular knitting was in Germany until I landed here and saw people knitting EVERYWHERE. To the dismay of a German friend of mine, her daughter even has knitting and crochet (stricken und häckeln) class in grade school. Unfortunately the handcraft didn’t come easy for her 9-year-old. But the school insists that grades be given for this class regardless of natural ability. Do the US schools even have Home Economics classes anymore? With Germany being the knitting mecca that it is and everybody learning how to do it as part of their grade-school curriculum, it is no surprise that Germany was where I finally broke into the world of high-quality yarn.

I am a big fan of German designer, Martina Behm and her designs feature Wollmeise yarns predominately. It now takes me just 85 minutes to drive to the Wollmeise Brick and Mortar location in Pfaffenhofen Germany.

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I spoiled myself bringing home my first hank of Wollmeise. No other light-weight yarn will ever compare to their high quality and vibrant colors. And it should be said that the only Wollmeise I’ve had the privilege of knitting has been their discards. Those hanks they feel are not high enough quality to be sold at their store or online but were instead picked-up at their bi-annual sale. They put them out each spring and fall at a local church down the street at a considerable discount. Their typical prices go from 100g of twin at 21,50 Euros to 300g of lace at 44 Euros. That’s $50 USD as of today.

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I got most of my Wollmeise yarn for half or two-thirds that price at their Spring/Fall sales. So I’m not even raving about the “good stuff!” I’m raving about their clearance yarn that they can’t sell for full price! Want to join in the action? Click Here for more information about their next sale days and make sure you are there early as some of their best colors sell-out fast.

Wollmeise Spring Sale - Knit Wits on location.

I discovered Schoppel Wolle after picking up a Crazy Zauberball at a craft market in my town. After a bit of Friday afternoon research, I discovered that their factory and outlet was located only 90 minutes away in Wallhausen Germany just south of Nürnberg. That Saturday I was creatively figuring out how to make the trip with my 9-year-old. I may or may-not have promised a trip to the Lego Store in return.

I found their clearance area which is full of balls which aren’t quite 100g and perfect for my thrifty nature.

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Take this Zauberball for example. 100g for 10 Euros on their shelf. I found the same color way in their clearance area for 189g for 5,67 Euros. The only difference? The clearance balls didn’t quite make 100g. Maybe there is one ball of 90 grams instead of 100g. In this case I think there are two 90g balls. Perfect for me since my Christine and Carrie shawls typically take just short of 100g.

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I don’t expect anyone stateside to make a special trip to Bavaria just to go yarn shopping but if you were ever coming for Octoberfest or the Nürnberg Christmas Markets anyway – it would be a great way to stock up on fabulous yarns at a fraction of the cost.

For knitters who are already anywhere close-by you MUST VISIT these sales. Just don’t bring your husband!

Unlike Wollmeise, who specializes in amazing colors in mostly light weights, Schoppel has a large variety of weights and colors and most are available at a discount in their sale area.

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I love their Crazy Zauberball the most. Not only does the color veriagate through the ball but it is a two ply yarn and BOTH plys veriagate independently which makes the most beautiful effect.

I chose this Crazy Zauberball for my first Entrelac pattern: Christine. I picked up dozens of Zauberballs on my first trip to the outlet but discovered that the Crazy Zauberball truly is the best!

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The regular Zauberball below has a great color change but both plys of the yarn change color together.

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What makes the Crazy Zauberball so special is that both plys change color independently. It creates a multitude of shades that was the perfect yarn for these entrelac patterns.

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Unfortunately there are limited ways for me to get my hands on these two brands that have become my staples. I can’t get them at Michaels or Hobby Lobby and Local Yarn Stores stateside won’t have them either. I’m glad they aren’t heavy as I plan to stock up before going home. I don’t think I could live in a world without Wollmeise or Schoppel-Wolle and frankly I don’t think you should have to either!!

Learning Curves

Learning Curves

6 years ago I borrowed a friend’s crochet hook while she was in Australia and taught myself how to crochet. There were more than a few hiccups along the way. After I figured out how to keep the same number of stitches in each row I tackled my first blanket.

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I’m sure I didn’t take a picture of it and I’m not even sure what happened to it (I’ve been known to frog a whole project for MORE YARN). I finished the entire thing and then realized I had crocheted through the back loops of the entire blanket.
That taught me that it is important to be consistent. Nobody else knew it was a mistake. It is an actual technique after all. I guess I was accidentally ahead of the curve.
My next blanket was only a touch more successful. I was making each stitch correctly but my sizing was laughable.
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Soon I had mastered REAL projects. full baby blankets with appliqués of jumping sheep that each required 16 ends to weave-in and then sew in place. I love that blanket but that’s the only sheep blanket I will EVER make.
I would have loved to have made one more black sheep for my friend Amanda. She wanted one to sew on a pillow or a “jumper” for her little girl and it was a brilliant idea but I could not stomach the thought of even one more 16-ended sheep to sew on. Counting sheep became a bit of a nightmare for me after this project.
Soon after, I started experimenting with knitting. It was NOT fun. I kept crocheting for another year or so after I taught myself to knit because it was adding stress to my life instead of relieving it. If anyone would ask which I liked better I ALWAYS said crochet. I explained how you could make all kinds of 3 dimensional shapes easily with crochet and tried to convince anyone who asked how superior it was to knitting. I don’t think I would make the same argument today.
Deep down inside, I knew that I preferred the fabric that knitting makes but It was daunting and I didn’t want to put in the work to become good at it. Until I did.
I thought I liked crochet but I became obsessed with knitting. I wanted to knit faster so I spent a whole scarf forcing myself to use the Continental Method and at the end of the scarf, you couldn’t pay me to switch back to English.
IMG_0894I’m trying to remind myself that there is an “other side” of any learning curve as our family made a major electronics purchase yesterday and purchased our first Apple computer. I can’t get my son’s swimming time-tracking spreadsheet to calculate his “percentage improvement” anymore because apparently C4 contains a date instead of a number. Umm that might take a while to solve. But I will keep reminding myself that deep down inside I know I will love an Apple world. I just have to put in the work to succeed. It still beats weaving in 16 ends x 9 sheep on a baby blanket.
NEVER AGAIN

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.

Continental Success and Silence

My biggest accomplishment in my knitting means absolutely nothing to any of my family or friends. None of them knit. Well my Mom knits and purls enough to make a sweater and my friend, Amanda, is the master of the single crochet. But no one I know is as obsessed as I am. The other day I called my Mom just to share my big news. And nothing. She didn’t know what the Continental Method was. She had no idea of the new blazing speeds my needles could now travel at. I tried to explain over the phone:

“Well instead of holding the yarn in your right hand and then wrapping it around the needle, you hold it in your left and kinda hook it with the needle and pull it through.”
Silence.

I had seen it done by a lady on TV one day and was amazed by how fast she could knit. I had tried it a few times in the past but it felt like I was knitting left handed. Awkward and not relaxing at all. But I vowed to learn. I was working on a scarf with lots of ribbing and I absoultely hated ribbing. Loathed it in fact. I don’t remember why but I swore I was going to knit the whole rest of the scarf using only the Continental Method and that’s exactly what I did.

At first it felt odd and frustrating. It reminded me of keyboarding class when you were forced to learn the proper way to type. But like taking a keyboarding class, after months of painfull  aaaa-ssss-dddd-ffff excercises, you finally feel liberated and free to type without hovering over the keyboard doing the two-fingered-peck.

Now I knit ribbing as fast as I would knit or purl a whole row. I don’t drop my needle pulling my yarn to the front or the back anymore because I don’t have to let go of either needle. Life is grand. I’m estatic. I want to scream my excitement from the rooftops but all I get is silence from my Mom.

So I’ll share my big news with you and hope that it is met with more than silence.