Crochet and Yarn: Seriously Twisted

I just freaked myself out, seriously.  My entire crochet life I assumed, and was assured by the writings of others, that it makes no difference whether you begin working with a skein, ball or cake of yarn by pulling from the outside or by pulling from the center (see here). HOKEY SMOKES!  As a result of some geeky experiments I did this morning while snow bound at home, I now know that there is a difference. Yes, I should get a life.  But if you’d like to know what I discovered, then read on.

Let me take a step back and talk about yarn twist for a moment.  I’ve been examining and writing about yarn twist for years (see here) and hope you’re all caught up, but I will summarize.  Except for ribbon, tape and tubular constructions (and perhaps roving, but I never work with unspun roving so I can’t say for sure) where the finished yarn is a wider or flatter product and the spinning, plying or twisting of the yarn fibers is not evident and not an issue, every yarn has a finished twist.  Yarn is either S-Twist or Z-Twist.  That particular twist is always the same no matter how you are viewing the strand, no matter which end is up or down.  How can you tell which twist?  Look at a single strand of yarn; if the fibers or plies make a slant this way \, like the center stroke of an S, then it is S-Twist.  If it slants this way /, like the center stroke of a Z, then it is Z-Twist.  Below, Z-Twist on left, S-Twist on right. That’s all pretty straightforward… so far.

twist

Z-Twist yarn on left; S-Twist yarn on right.

The huge majority of commercial yarn is finished with S-Twist, no matter how the individual fibers, strand and plies are spun.  No idea why.  Maybe it’s a manufacturing thing.  I suspect that it is an end-user thing.  Most hand-crafting yarn is designed to be used for knitting, by right-handed knitters.  S-Twist favors the knitting process; knitting reinforces S-Twist and keeps the plies coherent and the strand stable.  The opposite happens in crochet by right-handed crocheters.  Because the yarn is wrapped around the crochet hook (yarn over) in the opposite direction of the knit yarn over, and because crochet stitches have height and may contain multiple yarn overs each time, crochet tends to un-twist the S-Twist.  Eventually, if this continues throughout the length of a skein (exacerbated by the act of fixing mistakes, frogging and re-crocheting) then that S-Twist yarn will become seriously untwisted, splitty, lose coherence and begin to fall apart.  When the yarn is a loosely S-Twist product to begin with, crocheting it can result in disaster.

Manufacturers create the final put-up (ball, skein or cone) without additional twist.  They do this by rotating the spindle that holds the skein, so the yarn is wound straight onto the core, not twisted around the core.  You do this as well when you wind a hank onto a ball-winder.  From the perspective of the yarn itself, you are not putting any additional twist into the strand.  However, from the perspective of the user, there is more twist happening.  Why?  When you go to use the skein, you either pick up and begin with the end on the outside of the skein, or you dig inside the skein for the center pull, right?  The skein stays put, the yarn winds around the skein as it comes off.  You are adding twist.

If you consider the orientation of the skein each time you draw some yarn from it, you can choose for this user twist to be S or Z.  If you’re looking at the skein from one end, and if you continue to wind the skein it would be in a clockwise direction, then pulling the feed directly from the outside from this end will add S-Twist.  If you pull from that center end, you will add Z-Twist.

clockwise end

If you’re looking at the other end of the skein, and the yarn is winding around in a counter-clockwise direction, then pulling directly from that outside end will add Z-Twist.  If you dug around and drew the center of the skein through this same end, and you pulled from the center, then you would add S-Twist.

counter end

For most yarn users, this matters not, really.  The amount of twist may be negligible in the overall picture, and you may never have a problem. But if you have noticed your yarn feed getting ratty and loose, if the splitting gets worse and worse as you go, if you tend to crochet and un-crochet the same sections over and over, if you like to work loose gauges and tall stitches, if your finished fabric looks crappy and worn before you’ve even worn it, then you may have an issue with twist.

There is a way to eliminate user twist, and that is to rotate the skein as you use it, pulled from the outside.  Know how it is when your yarn ball flips and jumps around while you pull from it?  That’s your feed coming off the ball without twist.  I have a tool, a contraption, that holds skeins, balls and cones, lets them spin freely and allows you to pull yarn in the manner it was put on.

YP-2013A-W

It’s called the Yarn Pet, designed and crafted by my friends at Nancy’s KnitKnacks, and adapts (a tiny tool and some assembly required) to all sorts of yarn packaging.  The commercial Yarn Pet is what we use at DesigningVashti when winding Lotus into cakes from the manufacturer cones.

Not everyone needs to get so geeky about twist, but if you are experiencing twist issues, at least now you know it’s not your fault!  Just saying….

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Baby Crochet Territory

Specializing as I do in seamless crochet adult garments and accessories (how’s that for a pigeon-hole?), I rarely wander into other types of crochet design.  Aside from the occasional home decor items and my couple of indie tween girl designs for DJC2 , I keep myself to my usual MO.  That’s why I appreciate when my friends invite me to preview and review their work that goes where I do not dare to tread.

If you don’t count a chihuahua and more recently a couple of bunnies in my temporary care, there have been no babies in my life for many years. Baby stuff is truly alien territory for me. Yes, I did crochet for my sons when they were infants, but that was well before I turned designer.   Somehow I had the impression that baby clothes and accessories shoulda been… well… easier to design than adult garments. I discovered that while baby projects are tiny and therefore faster to finish, they aren’t necessarily simpler to create.  I always got hung up on sizing for babies.  Aren’t their heads so much bigger than the rest of them?  So my sons didn’t get many crocheted wearables from me.  But baby blankets and afghans they had in abundance.

The key to getting a baby blanket design right is hitting a balance between practical and pretty.  My friend Sharon Silverman, with whom I shared a startling orchid experience back when I talked about her Crocheted Scarves book, works her passion for Tunisian crochet into a collection of adorable baby blankets that are both.  I am quite late to the party for the book tour for Tunisian Crochet Baby Blankets, Leisure Arts, December 2013, but I don’t mind batting clean-up.

tunisian-crochet-baby-2014jpg-copy-150x150

Sharon has taken eight different Tunisian stitch patterns, both colorful and textural, and turned them into projects that not only give you an opportunity to learn or practice your Tunisian skills, but result in beautiful gifts for the special little people in your life. Fully loaded with clearly written patterns, an appendix of Tunisian techniques with photo tutorials, plus access to bonus free online video tutorials, this book overflows with Sharon’s considerable expertise. And since a baby blanket is a small, accessible size (30″ by 40″ average), it’s a terrific canvas for experimenting with yarns, colors and new stitches with reasonable commitment in time and materials.  Think baby, Baby!

Tammy and Me: CFFs (Crochet Friends Forever)

Who’da thunk it?  My CFF Tammy Hildebrand has just published her beautiful new book, Crochet Wraps Every Which Way. I believe mine is the final stop on the book’s blog tour, the trail of which you can backtrack by visiting Tammy’s Facebook page, Hot Lava Crochet.

Tammy Hildebrand's new book!

Tammy Hildebrand’s new book!

Others have written reviews and extolled the wonderfulness of Tammy’s bouquet of designs.  I can only sit here stunned.  HOKEY SMOKES!  Ten years ago when we first met, we could only have imagined this happening in our wildest dreams.

I kept running into Tammy (and I do mean literally) at a Crochet Guild of America conference, summer 2004 in Manchester, New Hampshire. This was my first CGOA event and I was a wannabe professional crochet designer there to meet like-minded people and forge a network, so I was going full tilt, dashing around and blithely bumping into… well… everyone.  The first days I was there I ran over Tammy a number of times wandering through the hotel lobby, piling into and out of the elevator.  We had a little mutual admiration thing going on, trading comments and compliments about each others crochet wear. Back then Tammy seemed a shy thing, hanging back from the crowds and commotion, hesitant about public speaking, avoiding any glare of attention on herself. Her husband George, the gallant gentleman, was ever at her side, carrying the huge bags of yarn Tammy had collected from the show floor market, lending his steady calm support and encouragement.  GOD, he really believed in her and wanted so much for her to realize her potential as a crochet designer, even if Tammy was reluctant to put herself forward.

Being complete newbies to the design game, we both jumped at the chance to worship at the feet of crochet legends Rita Weiss and the late Jean Leinhauser, who were on site scouting talent for their latest publishing ventures.  Tammy, not realizing that the two crazy ladies were holding court, like queen bees, smack in the center of the hive of activity in the hotel lobby, had missed her appointment and was anxiously looking around for a clue as to what she should do.  I found her there at the edge of the crowd and offered to share my own appointment with Rita and Jean.  From there we became buddies.

I don’t remember exactly when she started calling me her “little buddy”.  Oddly, geekily, it makes me think of the Skipper and Gilligan (“…a three hour tour…”). Through the years we have shared our crochet lives as best we can, long distance by phone and e-mail, meeting once or twice each year at CGOA events. Tammy, once too painfully shy to be coaxed into the limelight or onto the catwalk, would go on to serve on the CGOA board of directors (she was just elected Vice President!), chair the Professional Development committee, became one of my go-to models for fashion shows and the Design Competition parades, where she now enthusiastically models her own award winning designs and anything else we throw on her!  Tammy blossomed, not into a delicate flower, but one of those Steel Magnolias, now in charge of her destiny and enjoying life to the fullest.

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It was to Tammy I turned in 2005 when I desperately needed help to finish samples for my first book, Amazing Crochet Lace.  She put her own work on hold and crocheted the Allegheny Moon Mobius and the huge Pistachio Parfait Ruana.  And now in 2014 I am thrilled that Tammy asked me to contribute a comment for the back cover of her book and to participate in this blog tour.  Again I ask, who’da thunk it?

I am bursting with pride and happiness for her and can’t say enough about Crochet Wraps Every Which Way.  Please see for yourself with this wonderful Look Book created by her publisher, Stackpole, and join me in congratulating Tammy on her success.

New Favorite Crochet Yarn For the New Year

Today I sit and contemplate the approaching new year.  As is my nature I am not looking back at 2013. It is not my way to evaluate or analyze the events, triumphs and complete bummers of the past.  Rather, I am anticipating the excitement yet to come.  2014, the Year of the Wood Horse, promises to be an auspicious one for me, as I was born in the previous Wood Horse Year.  It’s also going to be a brilliant year for crochet if we have anything to say about it (“we” being me and the boss, Vashti Braha), for 2014 will be the year of Lotus.

Vashti and I, both avid crocheters and professional crochet designers, both writers for and about crochet, really love yarn. Between us, we have tasted and tested hundreds of products from the ubiquitous craft store brands to esoteric and/or ultra-luxe boutique yarns. But, sadly, few yarns in our experience have been completely lovable.

A couple of years ago when Vashti and I were once again bemoaning the fact that most yarn is S-twisted and not very happy for our styles of crochet, she started asking me pointed questions about what I look for in the perfect yarn. I thought she was just making conversation; she was actually taking notes, while her brain was furiously and obsessively planning her new venture.  Since we couldn’t find or buy the yarn we wanted, Vashti set out to design it, have it produced (in the USA) and offer it on her website, DesigningVashti.com. That’s how Lotus was born. It is quite simply the yarn I could live in…. and couldn’t live without.

DesigningVashti Lotus Color Card

Lotus fills a place in crochet in a way that no other single yarn has done. It is a sportweight blend of cotton and rayon, with a gorgeous drape, pretty sheen and just the right amount of Z-twist.  Lotus substitutes perfectly in just about any crochet pattern that calls for sportweight yarn; for example it works well in most of my designs for the discontinued yarn, NaturallyCaron.com Spa. And with a bit of care and attention to tension, you can crochet it in a range of gauges from sock to DK. Lotus is sturdy as well, and holds up incredibly well in garments, even ones you sit on (dresses, skirts, pants). This is, left to right, Becky Barker, me, Vashti, and Diane Moyer, modeling Lotus wear on the runway at the CGOA 2013 Fall Fashion Show, Charlotte, NC.

Lotus Designs at CGOA Fall Fashion Show

I have kept quiet about Lotus until now, but Vashti has already been blogging and news-letting about becoming a yarn designer. Following a soft premier in December (see DesigningVashti Crochet newsletter issue #55) the major promotion begins in 2014. Please join us on January 10th for a live chat at Crochetville; here’s the Facebook Event page for information. Look for interviews and features about DesigningVashti Lotus in magazines and e-zines in the coming months.  And very soon there will be a butt-load of Lotus design support from DJC Designs, my independent pattern line.  Next time I will post a peek at what I’m working on.  For now, the anticipation is killing me!

Giftable or Not: Products for Crocheters

We crocheters know exactly what gifts we’re giving to everyone on The List;  we raid the yarn stash, find an interesting or appropriate or not-been-previously-gifted pattern, and just crochet our gifts.  I pity the civilians (non-crocheters and non-fiberazzi) who don’t have a clue as to what to give us.  In case you are wondering what to get for the yarn enthusiast (or anyone who works with their hands) in your life, and you’re open to a few suggestions, here’s a gathering of stocking-stuffer type products I’ve had the pleasure to own and use this past year.

1) The Perfect Notion Case.

Perfect Notions Case

This little wonder box was a bonus from the adorable Shroyers, Nancy and Bob, after purchasing the Yarn Pet from Nancy’s Knit Knacks following TNNA in June 2013.  Bob told me it was originally manufactured to be a pill box, but that it turns out to be really useful for holding and keeping track of yarn doo-dads.  The six clear lidded compartments provide different sized storage for stashing pins of all sorts, from T-pins to safety pins, stitch markers, tapestry needles, beads and the odd band-aid and breath mints emergency stuff.  The outer case has a tab that locks down the two halves like a clam shell so there are never any escapees or spillage.  I put mine to the test earlier this month while coordinating the CGOA 2013 Design Competition at the conference in Charlotte.  Throughout the arduous task of creating a 60-foot long display of 100 crochet entries my notions box proved perfect, and got more than a few comments.  Where did I get it? It’s probably available in yarn shops and on line at fiber sites, but I got mine from the source. Around $5.  Here.

2) Gingher 4-inch Featherweight Thread Snips

Gingher Thread Snips

I don’t travel very often, but when I do and I need to carry crochet tools, this is the cutting tool I prefer; incredibly sharp and precise for cutting yarn ends. In fact, be vewwy vewwy careful with the tips of those blades, and always snap the protective cap back on after use.  At half an ounce, they won’t weigh down your crochet hook case.  I’ve found them for considerably less than the full retail price, around $20, so it pays to shop around and use sales/coupons at craft stores like JoAnn.com.  I know that’s still a bit pricey for just tiny scissors, but I know they are worth having.

These remaining three products aren’t as much about crochet as about hand care.  I know they might not be gift-worthy, but I have no doubt that all would be welcome and at least are worth seeking out and having around.

3) Band-Aid ACTIV-FLEX

ACTIV-FLEX

Band-Aids?  Really?  Yes, really.  These are the best fracking bandages on the planet for those tiny nicks (think paper cuts!), needle and scissor stabs, torn hangnails and other annoying hand and finger injuries that might bleed on your yarn or keep you from crocheting on.  They are nearly invisible on the skin, stay on for potentially days, and they do flex comfortably on fingers.  Although this style is becoming increasingly difficult to find (I get them here), they remain the bandage of choice for DesigningVashti.  At around $5 for a box of 10, they are not cheap, but what price absolute protection?

4) Revlon Shape-n-Buff

Revlon Shape N Buff

Ain’t nothing as horrifying as crocheting (or simply petting) your precious luxury yarn and having it snag on your rough or splitting nails, cuticles or fingertips. Now, I have never had a professional manicure in my entire life, but if even that’s your thing your hands will still need occasional maintenance to keep them smooth. I like this tool, a half-inch thick foam block with two long filing sides and four graded buffing areas.  It’s easy to hold and use, lasts a long while.  No snags, no worries.  Around $3.50, find it pretty much everywhere.

5)  EOS Complete Care Hand and Body Lotion

EOS Hand and Body Lotion

Trust me, I’ve squeezed out, applied, slathered on a million thousand hand creams, from the highly rated and prized brands (like the perennial beauty favorite L’Occitane) to ordinary dollar-store no-brands.  I got annoyed with paying over $10 for an ounce (maybe a couple of weeks worth) of hand cream.  Really.  Even if the ingredients list for less expensive products isn’t as clean, natural or special, they can still do the job and be mostly harmless. For stay-at-home hand care, I like the pump action of this EOS Complete Care Hand and Body Lotion in the Boost variety; works one-handed, with no caps, pouring or squeezing to mess with. It dispenses as thickly as what others call a cream, and is not runny.  It does three things for me: keeps hands soft, smooth, moisturized; absorbs quickly and completely so you can touch your yarn and projects right away; has only a touch of sweet-ish, vanilla-y fragrance that is non-offensive and never transfers. It does contain some good stuff, skin-nourishing stuff; it also contains two ingredients that I normally try to avoid (mineral oil and petrolatum); it does not contain two things that are for me unacceptable, parabens and lanolin. Overall, this lotion is a great compromise and wonderful for frequent use, and not just for hands naturally, at around $8 for a 12 ounce bottle.

Merry Crocheting, Happy Hands!