DesigningVashti Lotus Crochet

I did promise to show you just what I’ve done to put our new yarn, DesigningVashti Lotus, to work in crochet design.

First I substituted Lotus for a few sportweight gauge pieces from my book Convertible Crochet; the vest Callisto, the shrug Phoebe, the collar Corsair.  Also I used Lotus for the Jolimar Skirt, originally designed in now discontinued NaturallyCaron.com Spa.

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But the ultimate test of this yarn, the real reason I considered designing a yarn because I could never find the right one anywhere else, is to make… pants.  Finally, with the convergence of the perfect yarn at the point in my crochet career when I have the skills to actually do it, there be seamless crocheted pants!

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The same pattern set will offer the Boy Shorts, Tap Pants, Capris and Lounge pants.  Naturally, I had to design tops to go with; a babydoll and a sleeveless tunic.  The tank in Sapphire Lotus is already out, but you may not recognize the design; it’s DJC2 Tank Girl, made in Junior Size S and worn tight and cropped.  I know, I know.  Wearing crochet head to butt is considered to be a bit too much, over the top.  A No-No.  A Fashion Don’t.  However, these are pajamas.  Sleep sets.  Unless you invite the Fashion Police to your next slumber party, who’s gonna know?  Lotus Pants and the tops, oh, and one pretty, flirty little lace dress in one of my favorite crochet stitch patterns are coming to DJC Designs, Spring 2014.  Thereabouts.

Until then, what can you do to get to know Lotus?  If you see this in time, you can join me and the boss, Vashti Braha, in the Crochetville chat room, Friday, 10 January, 1:00 to 2:00 Eastern time.  Check this Facebook event page in the morning for info and a link to the chat location. We will be spilling our guts about Lotus and stuff.  Also, Vashti’s brain has been working overtime and she dreamed up a fun way for you to sample Lotus.  It’s the Lotus Color Chip Kit, yarn snips in each shade, enough to make these itty bitty, goofy but cool color chips.

Lotus_Color_Chipsc9face1a301e

Lotus Color Chip Kit

Join us in the Crochetville chatroom and find out how you can get your kit.  I’m already limbering up my typing fingers in anticipation.  Hope to meet you there.

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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!

On Choosing/Not Choosing Yarn for Crochet

(Note to picky readers: Please pardon the less than professional photography. I had the devil of a time with shaky-cam after dozens and dozens of attempts just to get the few good shots. I’m a crocheter, not a shootist!)

OK, so that was a trick question.  There is nothing essentially wrong going on with that crochet swatch.  Although most readers and comment-leavers are totally correct in assessing the yarn used in this swatch as having a final S-twist, most have also assumed that this is a bad piece of crochet.  S Twist DK yarn

Not so fast there, cowgirl.  Compare that previous image to this one:

Willow detail blockedThe same piece, but blocked.  From how crappy the stitches look in the before image, you thought this might be cheapo yarn.  Definitely not. This is a DK blend of 75% New Zealand Merino wool and 30% cashmere (Zealana Willow) that retails for around $15 a 50g skein. As a participant in a program that provides knit and crochet examples for new yarns that will be on display at TNNA in a couple of weeks (an exhibit aptly named the Great Wall of Yarn), I was given this yarn on which to work some crochet magic.

So how do I evaluate a yarn that’s new to me?  First impression is important. Here’s Zealana Willow in the skein:Willow in the ballImmediately you can see it is finished with S-twist. Upon closer inspection (peeling apart one end of a strand) I discovered that it is composed of three plies, three Z spun singles. This construction is fairly unique in my experience. The hand of the yarn in the skein is wonderfully soft, but not completely squishy.  By adding cashmere to the fiber content, by doing the plies as singles, then finishing with a looser S-twist, they have created softness and airiness, avoiding any density that can happen with wool. The surface appearance is not totally matte; there is a nice reflective quality that some might call a sheen. I’m willing to wager that Willow knits up beautifully. My task is to make it sing in crochet.

How do I know this is a DK weight yarn?  Just because it says “Double Knit Weight” right on the ball band does not automatically mean it works to DK gauge.  Do you see the difference? This is an imported brand and does not give the CYCA category for DK weight.3-lightThese little ball band symbols are the current accepted standards for classifying weights for hand yarn. Some manufacturers, brands and distributors label their yarn by weight alone (in manufacturing it would appear as yards per pound, YPP).  In other words, if a yarn falls within a certain range of YPP, then it is put in that class.  But yardage weight alone does not tell the whole story; we need to consider other factors such as density, diameter, texture, elasticity and eventual finish of the fiber. That makes a total difference in how the yarn will work in knit and crochet, in your hands and in your fabric.

Lucky for me Zealana Willow is indeed DK, perhaps on the light side of DK, at 148 yards per 50g skein, and a knitting gauge of 22 stitches per four inches. With a design for DK wool yarn (Zodiac in Filatura di Crosa Zara) already in place in my book, Convertible Crochet, I chose to work one of those featured motifs for the swatch. My first trial, using the same hook size, H/8 (5mm), was a Copernicus Minor Pent:

GWOY Zealana Willow This is the full motif, finished and blocked.  Before blocking I did not notice any serious issues with the S-twist, and honestly the yarn seemed happy. The motif did not quite get the same gauge as listed for the sample yarn Zara in the Zodiac pattern; it came out a tiny bit smaller and the fabric did not have the luscious drape of the original design yarn Zara, but those facts were not at all a concern for this end purpose, so this is the sample I eventually submitted.  What would happen, I mused, if I pushed this yarn farther?  I went up a hook size to I/9 (5.5mm) and crocheted another motif, this time a Carina Minor Pent. That’s the one I asked you readers to examine.

What happened?  Good news and bad news.

Good news. By exploding the gauge with the larger hook, the motif did reach the target diameter I was seeking and nicely matched the stated gauge for the design Zodiac; the resulting drape was, to my taste, improved. In person, you’d judge drape by feeling, fondling, hanging and otherwise playing with the fabric or swatch.  Since readers here can’t touch the results, I tried to figure out a way for you to see the drape. I forgot to do this with the Copernicus version so that you could get a side by side comparison, but here is the look of the drape of the Carina motif:

Willow drapeSee how the motif bends by itself and hangs off my finger.  Crochet fabric with lesser drape would stick out more and stand by itself like a potholder.

Bad news. The combination of this more relaxed tension with swapping out the motif style from Copernicus (more closed lace, with some stitches made into stitches, including rounds of solid single crochet) to Carina (more open lace, with no stitches made into stitches, the tops of tall stitches and the chain spaces are more exposed), exacerbates the twist issue.  The S-twist is more visibly and obviously being untwisted, particularly in the exposed loops of the outer motif rounds.

Now, here’s the lesson: block your crochet. This sample became respectable with blocking for two reasons: finishing the fiber, finishing the stitching. I already surmised that the wool and cashmere fibers would change with blocking. Both fibers really need blocking to bring out their best (most prized) characteristics: softness, slight bulking up (fulling) of each strand, and the hint of halo we expect from cashmere. And I know for absolute certainty that lace crochet needs blocking to smooth out the stitches, to lock the stitches into place, to attenuate stitch definition, to achieve finished shape and dimensions and to create an overall professional appearance. All this you can see when you compare the before and after shots, huh?

Willow full motif blocked

Blocking is your friend.  It means pretty much the same thing as “hand wash, lay flat to dry”.  I like to call it “wet and set”.  I talk more about wet blocking on this page.

So I go through this kind of special agony each time I am presented with a new yarn.  Often I am asked, as a professional crochet designer, what yarns I like to use.  HA!  Very rarely, as a professional designer, do I get the chance to actually use the yarns I like to use (I never choose the colors as published, BTW). More often I am compelled to design with yarns that suit the purposes of editors, advertisers and yarn companies for that particular magazine issue, or that specific season, as I just did with this TNNA assignment.  Working each unfamiliar yarn so that it realizes its full potential in crochet, making sure the yarn is happy, but at the same time making myself and other crocheters happy… that’s what I do.

What happens when I am given the opportunity to use ANY YARN I WANT?  I’ll talk about that next time.

Crochet Yarn Conundrum

It’s not my fault and neither is it yours if a yarn substitution isn’t working.  I’d love to tell you that it’s easy to just plug your favorite yarn into a design and get good results.  I’d sort of be lying if I did.

Let’s say you’ve discovered a crochet design that you want to make but you don’t like/have never heard of/can’t find/wouldn’t pay that much for in this lifetime, or whatever, the yarn suggested in the pattern. So you examine the yarn requirements and consider the possible substitutions.  You have on hand enough yardage of a similar product in a color you’d actually wear, so you go for it. Three things can and often happen: you can’t achieve the stated crochet gauge; you don’t like the looseness or tightness of the resulting fabric or drape; you end up with not enough yarn to complete the project. This would totally piss me off and I would be cursing the designer, the publisher, the yarn manufacturer, my dog and myself {not necessarily in that order} for the complete botched job. I say it again.  It’s not my fault and neither is it yours.

Experience has shown me that no two skeins of yarn are exactly alike. I’m not talking about skeins of completely different yarns that list the similar information on the labels. I mean I’ve had skeins of the same yarn that differ, albeit subtly, in weight or thickness, twist and texture from one color to another color, even from skein to skein of the same color same dye lot.  Hell, there has been yarn that worked to varying gauge within the same fracking skein. (This happens occasionally when you crochet with softly S-twist yarn that inexorably untwists and loses coherence as you go.  However I’ve had yarn that wasn’t intended to be thick and thin, but gave me thick and thin areas just the same!)

How is a crocheter supposed to navigate these waters? The only way to know for sure is through experience; lots of trial and error and cursing.

You’d think there should be some standardization in how yarns are classified and categorized and that such critical information be printed on the yarn labels of every skein offered for sale to aid the unwary public. Well, in a limited way there is.  The system developed and published by the Craft Yarn Council of America (CYCA) is in this downloadable booklet, Standards and Guidelines For Crochet and Knitting. Not to say that the CYCA efforts are unappreciated, but if you study the page Standard Yarn Weight System you’ll find that the system is general and still leaves you guessing.

Standard Yarn Weight System

Categories of yarn, gauge ranges, and recommended needle and hook sizes

Yarn Weight Symbol
& Category Names
lace super fine fine light medium bulky super bulky
Type of
Yarns in
Category
Fingering
10-count
crochet
thread
Sock,
Fingering,
Baby
Sport,
Baby
DK,
Light
Worsted
Worsted,
Afghan,
Aran
Chunky,
Craft,
Rug
Bulky,
Roving
Knit Gauge
Range* in
Stockinette
Stitch to 4 inches
33–40**
sts
27–32
sts
23–26
sts
21–24
st
16–20
sts
12–15
sts
6–11
sts
Recommended
Needle in
Metric Size
Range
1.5–2.25
mm
2.25—
3.25
mm
3.25—
3.75
mm
3.75—
4.5
mm
4.5—
5.5
mm
5.5—
8
mm
8 mm
and
larger
Recommended
Needle U.S.
Size Range
000–1 1 to 3 3 to 5 5 to 7 7 to 9 9 to 11 11
and
larger
Crochet Gauge*
Ranges in
Single Crochet
to 4 inch
32–42
double
crochets**
21–32
sts
16–20
sts
12–17
sts
11–14
sts
8–11
sts
5–9
sts
Recommended
Hook in Metric
Size Range
Steel***
1.6–1.4
mm
2.25—
3.5
mm
3.5—
4.5
mm
4.5—
5.5
mm
5.5—
6.5
mm
6.5—
9
mm
9
mm and
larger
Recommended
Hook U.S.
Size Range
Steel***
6, 7, 8
Regular
hook B–1
B–1
to
E–4
E–4
to
7
7
to
I–9
I–9
to
K–10 1⁄2
K–10 1⁄2 to
M–13
M–13
and
larger
* GUIDELINES ONLY: The above reflect the most commonly used gauges and needle or hook sizes for specific yarn categories.** Lace weight yarns are usually knitted or crocheted on larger needles and hooks to create lacy, openwork patterns. Accordingly, a gauge range is difficult to determine. Always follow the gauge stated in your pattern.*** Steel crochet hooks are sized differently from regular hooks—the higher the number, the smaller the hook, which is the reverse of regular hook sizing

The CYCA system is not universally recognized nor are the stated standards and little ball band symbols used much outside the US.  They know that.  And it figures. It is after all the Craft Yarn Council of America.  Imported yarns are often labeled by their US distributors for our market, but that is no guarantee that the CYCA category will be offered or even considered. Hey, even US manufacturers aren’t putting those symbols on all yarn labels yet.  Is that any example for the world?  Really.

This chart tells you what you can expect from each category in terms of suggested tool sizes and stitch gauges.  For the most part, for knitting and for normal crochet techniques, these suggestions are OK and enormously useful.  But this chart does not spell out what guidelines are used to categorize the yarns in the first place.  You’d hope that the thickness or diameter of the strand (occasionally measured in wpi or wraps per inch) would be considered along with the density or airiness of the fiber (apparent in the number of yards per ounce). You can judge this for yourself in many ways, the simplest is by running a strand through your fingers. Some yarns are between categories or posses qualities that put them in more than one category.  It is then up to the manufacturer or the distributor to assign a weight based on their own customary method.  And that method is often unfathomable.

You say tomato, they say to-mah-to. Even if the yarn description uses familiar terminology, there’s no guarantee that we’re speaking the same language. For example, I have been stalking 100% silk yarns on a UK site, Colourmart

A caveat is printed alongside this DK silk offering: “note that we call this a dk based on its yardage but the denser nature of silk yarn means our dk silks feel more like a fingering weight or similar..”.  The gorgeous Z-twist silk yarn I eventually purchased is put up in a 150 gram cone with 540 yards, which divides out to 180 yards per 50 gram skein (50 grams equals 1 3/4 ounces and is a universally common put-up for skeins of yarn).  This places my silk way finer than DK (CYCA Category 3 Light), possibly finer than sport (CYCA Category 2 Fine). It coulda been a disaster, but because of their warning, I was prepared for that yarn to work to an even finer fingering weight gauge that better corresponds to CYCA category 1. Buyer beware!

Don’t let the CYCA Category names fool you.  The titles Medium, Light, Fine, SuperFine are not meant to be absolute descriptions, they are relative terms. A Category 4 Medium yarn can actually feel lighter than a Category 3 Light one.

All things considered, it is very fortunate if your yarn has a really good label like this example, but you must still beware.  See newly added Crochet Rules #29 and #30.

Even if your label tells the truth and the yarn appears to be a perfect match for your purpose, your substitution outcome can still go horribly wrong due to factors beyond weight category and suggested tools and gauge.

  • Fiber content makes a huge impact. Sticky fibers, definitely mohair as well as some wools, cashmere and alpaca, can adapt to a range of gauges and applications because that stickiness helps the surface hold the stitches, either tighter or looser, so there’s a better chance you can match stated gauges. A classic example is when laceweight mohair is worked using oversized tools to get extremely open, cobweb gossamer fabric.
  • Slick, slippery fibers, such as rayon, or dense fibers, such as mercerized cotton, might not offer as much latitude.Taken to extremes, the stitches could be too stiff at smaller gauges (potholders) or begin to fall apart, unable to hold larger gauges.
  • The spin or twist of the yarn also makes a difference in how a yarn behaves, which I’ve come to expect given my experiments with twist.
  • The most annoying issue is that the yarn color can make a difference in the gauge. Intuitively you’d think that a darker shade of a yarn would have more processing and dye.  If there’s any difference at all, it should be the darker yarn that feels weightier in your hands and on your hook than a pale or natural shade of the same yarn. Hokey Smokes!  The opposite is often the case.

Back to the conundrum.  How does a crocheter confidently substitute yarn in a project, particularly in cases where critical label information is lacking or just plain wrong?

You can begin by first judging a yarn by the yardage per skein, hank or ball. This is only a crude initial look and cannot tell the whole story.  The yardage can vary wildly from product to product, but for traditional type yarn these are some of the averages you can expect:

  • worsted weight Category 4 Medium yarns contain around 80-90 yards per 50g;
  • DK weight Category 3 Light yarns contain around 110-120 yards per 50g;
  • sport yarns Category 2 Fine contain around 140-150 yards per 50g;
  • fingering yarns Category 1 SuperFine contain around 200-250 yards per 50g.

Again, it all depends on the heaviness or density of the fiber and type of construction and twist. For example, compare these two yarns that I’ve had the pleasure of using for recent design.

Blue Sky Alpacas Techno is put up with 120 yards per 50g hank:

It has a more yardage per hank than this Tahki Cotton Classic, which is 108 yards per 50g hank:

The Techno is a whipped up baby alpaca blown into a mesh tube of silk, making it very light and airy.  It is a Category 4 Medium yarn that works to worsted gauge, bordering on chunky! The Cotton Classic is a firmly Z-twisted mercerized cotton that is dense.  It is a Category 3 Light yarn and works to DK gauge.

Here’s the next tell, and you can try it too.  Much of the yarn available to us is manufactured, labeled, marketed, intended and destined for hand knitting. The industry is accustomed to catering to knitters.  Nearly every skein of commercial yarn I have ever held (this does not include certain boutique, specialty or artisan products for which there are few rules!) gives a suggested knitting gauge on the label. So in cases where the weight class or crochet gauge is not clear, canny crocheters can use the ubiquitous knitting gauge as a guideline.

Compare the suggested knitting gauge of your yarn to the CYCA standards above. I know, I know. Every listing in the standard is given as a range, so it’s not exact. For example, the Techno above gives a knitting gauge of 3 to 5 stitches per inch using a US Size 9-10.5 knitting needle.  The needle diameter alone (same mm size as crochet hooks I/9 through K/10.5) puts Techno squarely in the thicker worsted, even chunky range. Cotton Classic is labeled 5 stitches per inch on a US Size 6 needle; it is on the heavier side of DK.

I find myself writing the next words more than I’d care to. There is no magic bullet. After these initial judgements of yarn weight class and knitting gauge, the next step, and the only way to truly know if the yarn will work, is to just do it. Experience, trial, error, cursing. :-)