Crochet Curmudgeon Revealed

It isn’t often that I am interviewed.  Since becoming a professional crochet designer I’ve been grilled by the best, asked the most penetrating and difficult questions, and have answered as honestly and sincerely as possible.  Most interviews focus on my craft and the crochet techniques I champion. Some are just great opportunities to brag on… I mean, promote… my books, current published designs and whatever I’m working on at the time.  All of them take the form of Q&A, where they send me a list of questions and I send back my answers, and for the most part my words are presented as written, perhaps edited for length.  Don’t blame them.  I do tend to ramble on.

But I worry.  I often worry that something I say could be taken out of context and misunderstood.  I really worry that instead of presenting myself as a competent, innovative but quirky crochet designer I come off sounding like a total geeky, odd-ball curmudgeon (which I am, but who needs to know that?). It’s the rare interview where the questions are put to me in such a way that both personalities are revealed, and published in such a way that I am not embarrassed to let people read it.

VY14_1 23.inddWEBS Summer 2014 Catalog

This brings me to the most recent Q&A I did for WEBS, America’s Yarn Store, for the feature in the Summer 2014 catalog, WEBS <3 Doris Chan.  I love them back, too!  My only tiny and in no way critical issue with the interview is the altered interpretation of that list in the right-hand sidebar.  In the original Q&A, I was asked to list My Five Favorite Things.  If the question had been what are my five must-haves (as published), I would have curbed my normal impulses and limited the list to crochet/craft related objects of desire. But no. Instead I allowed a couple of my geekiest and gooey-sticky-soft-centered answers to sneak onto the page.

Tardis T

So, although I love this interview and deeply appreciate WEBS, Kathy Elkins and Sara Delaney for allowing me the honor, you can understand my wanting to correct the impression that I am a total EEEDIOT.  Yes, baby animals are my favorite things.  I will fall apart playing with a litter of puppies or baby bunnies.  But are they MUST-HAVES?  I don’t actually have any baby animals here at the moment.  Besides, you get them, you feed them, they grow.  You no longer have baby animals, you have monster animals.  Just saying.

I have never been to the WEBS ginormous warehouse of a store in Northampton, Massachusetts.  It’s about time, don’tcha think?  So on my way back from the CGOA 2014 Conference in Manchester, New Hampshire I plan to make the short side trip and visit WEBS for the first time.  If you’re in the area and want to see my face light up with joy and yarn-overload, please come, Monday 28 July, late morning, if I get my butt in gear and leave the conference venue early enough.

Introducing DJC Lotus Bolero: Crochet Conference Ready

She’s small, but makes a big impression.  Meet the new crochet design from my independent pattern line DJC Designs — DJC Lotus Bolero, a seamless, sleeveless vest for girls and adults.

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Lotus Bolero was chosen to be the first of my crochet designs in support of DesigningVashti Lotus yarn (a previous post about Lotus here) because it is a perfect showcase for all the qualities of Lotus.  The bolero itself isn’t particularly trendy or different.  It’s a classic silhouette, boxy, with clean, uncluttered lines and conservative fit and coverage.  What transforms this simple little layering piece into an absolute stunner is the Lotus fabric. No photography can adequately convey the experience.  Although the stitches appear crisp, the fabric they make has a meltingly touchable texture and is supremely comfortable, so lightweight yet densely fluid, silky and smooth, with a luscious drape. Even in dim home lighting, Lotus is softly luminous, as if it is glowing from inside.  Take it outdoors in sunlight and it blazes.

I kinda love how Lotus Bolero works well over grown-up clothes like camisoles and tank dresses (where it hides all the jiggly bits!), but also looks cool over my collection of fan-girl T-shirts!  I could so wear a number of the sample sizes, because you can choose how you want your bolero to fit and whether you want to close the fronts or leave them nonchalantly loose.  Also, I am amazed that it takes just one big cake of Lotus to make the two smallest girl sizes; two cakes for sizes girl 29/L through adult 38/M; three cakes for the rest of the range up to 53/3XL.

I have another motive for bringing out DJC Lotus Bolero at this time.  Many of my crochet friends are already getting ready for the CGOA (Crochet Guild of America) conference in July.  For us it’s now about what new stuff will we make in time to show off in Manchester.  The crochet-for-conference phenomenon is similar to holiday crochet marathoning, except totally self-centered.  The happiest outcome is to finish something for yourself that is a practical garment for conference wear.  Ideally it is a lightweight layer that’s so gorgeous you’ll be the center of attention from across the crowded hotel lobby, is packable, airy enough for summer in New Hampshire, yet will provide some comfort in potentially drafty classrooms, can go dressy or casual, and since it is already the beginning of June, it has to fly off the hook in days. May I suggest Lotus Bolero?

Lotus yarn and the downloadable pattern are available exclusively at DesigningVashti.com, ready now for your inspection.  Although I went with a palette of paler, spring-y and neutral colors for the current bolero samples, there are deeper hues of Lotus and even black if you want.Lotus_Color_Chipsc9face1a301e

Hey, if you’re coming to the conference, look for me and Vashti to hold a geeky fitting lab, where we’ll have all the Lotus Bolero samples for you to try on.  I can’t wait to show you how they fit real women of all sizes.  And if you’ve crocheted one of your own, don’t be shy, get in my face and show me!

Invitation to Design Crochet

CGOA20thAnniversaryLogoThe Crochet Guild of America continues to celebrate and reward excellence in crochet design, as we invite you to participate in the CGOA 2014 Design Competition.  Please download the official information package here and find out what our membership already knows: this is the only competition of its kind and is an amazing showcase for our craft.  This is my sixth year of involvement with the competition and I am so proud that each event brings more and greater prestige not just to crochet and to the competition itself, but also to the participants and the award-winning designers we honor.

Perhaps you saw the back page of the Winter 2014 issue of Interweave Crochet, and marveled at the little face staring out at you.

Crochet Bandit

Marcy Smith, editor of Interweave Crochet, President of CGOA Board of Directors and one of our competition judges last year, was so entranced with this entry, Summer Visitors, that she asked winning designer Sachiko Adams for permission to feature her work in a magazine piece. YAY, Sachiko!Summer Visitors

Of course there’s more at stake here than pride, crochet glory and a gang of prize ribbons. Thanks to generous grants from our magnificent sponsors we have thousands of dollars in cash awards, sweet indeed. Please join me in acknowledging and appreciating these supporters of crochet and CGOA, including to date:

Cari Clement

Crochetville

Interweave Crochet

Gwen Blakley-Kinsler

MainlyCrochet

Red Heart

WEBS, America’s Yarn Store

The competition is open to CGOA members; deadline for entries is July 1, 2014.  Judging and exhibition of entries will be held during the CGOA Conference, 23-27 July in Manchester, New Hampshire. If you’re up for the challenge, please visit the CGOA website at crochet.org to become a member and then get ready to show me your crochet!

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….

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!