Winning Simply Crochet

I am the last stop …  the tail end, the caboose, batting clean-up… on the blog tour for the new book, Simply Crochet: 22 Stylish Designs for Every Day by Robyn Chachula.

This bothered me a little when Robyn sent out the tour schedule to all the contributing designers and I saw my name at the very bottom of the bunch.  As a kid I was used to being closer to the front. As the oldest child of three, I went through everything first.  Isn’t it true that the first-born is always the test subject for developing parenting skills? At least I made sure I was at the dinner table ahead of my brothers because they would have inhaled all the food had I not staked out my share.

In school, before my nearsightedness was discovered and I got my first pair of glasses in third grade, I was inclined to sit closer to the blackboard so I could see it. Somehow I turned into one of the geeks-with-glasses (House Magoo) who congregated at the front of the class. I would often peer longingly at the cool underachievers hunkered down at the back of the room and wished I could hide back there, too. I really didn’t need to be so close to the teacher that I could see the lint on his or her lapels.  Whether we students were sorted in alphabetical order or by height, either way I found myself toward the beginning of every line, or seated near the front of the room, or in the first row of every class picture, or standing on the floor in front of the chorus risers and the rest of the second alto section.

I wanted to ask Robyn why I had to be last.  I held my tongue, but  I wondered about that. Ellen Gormley, whose blog GoCrochet was the next-to-last tour stop yesterday says we are here either because we are the anchors (which is a typically sweet thing for Ellen to say) or because our designs use the most balls of yarn (not true). In a book of projects aimed at giving “budget-conscious crocheters the tools to make the most of their yarn stashes”, bloated yarn requirements win nothing but the booby prize.








I crocheted both of the book samples myself and I assure you that, with the exception of the long tunic version in the largest size (2XL/3XL), Spa Shawl Top can be made with 3 to 5 skeins of yarn.  That’s considerable yarn economy for a full, loose fitting adult garment. The key contributing factors are the open lace stitch and the great yardage in each skein of silky Spa. It’s the yarn I talked about last post, possessing a  special Z-twist which not only helps the tall loose lace stitches hang together but keeps them looking good.

Once I got my copy of Simply Crochet  and realized that my design  Spa Shawl Top was the last one in the book, I felt pretty stupid. Naturally I am last because IT is last. So I’m good with being here today unless I start obsessing over why my design ended up being the last one in the book. Hey, I guess I finally made it to the back of the classroom with the cool kids, huh?  Astoundingly, I have been included in a class made up entirely of cool kids.

Honestly, we were not told who-all the other contributors would be, not at the beginning. Publishers insist we harbor deep secrets for way too long. So when the list of designer names was at last revealed, it was brilliant, representing today’s best and brightest crochet talent. I am pleased to admit I actually know most of them, count many among them as friends, owe at least a few of them drinks (or chocolate cake), swap yarn and war stories with a couple, but mercifully don’t owe any of them money.

Here’s the complete blog tour schedule FYI, in case you haven’t been along for the entire ride and want to rewind.

Simply Crochet Countdown to Fun Schedule:
1 Ball or Less
Dec 1 Iced Ascot by Rebecca Velasquez
Dec 2 Flapper Hat by Margaret Hubert
Dec 3 Billows of Baubles Scarf by Sheryl Means
Dec 4 Twist Cowl Wrap by Linda Permann
Dec 5 Mystic Cuff by Robyn Chachula
Dec 6 Emma Lace Scarf by Simona Merchant-Dest
Dec 7 Diamonds and Lace Hat by Linda Permann
Dec 8 Neck Lattice by Vashti Braha

3 Balls or Fewer
Dec 9 Botan Placemats by Marlaina Bird
Dec 10 Tapestry Basket by Carol Ventura,
Dec 11 Blooming Beauty Purse by Tracie Barrett
Dec 12 Nedburt Puppet by Robyn Chachula
Dec 13 Natalie Shrug by Megan Granholm
Dec 14 Giselle Vest by Simona Merchant-Dest
Dec 15 Sidney Cardigan by Robyn Chachula
Dec 16 Annabel Shawl by Kristin Omdahl

5 Balls or Fewer
Dec 17 Tallula Baby Top by Marlaina Bird
Dec 18 Amelia Cardigan by Julia Vaconsin
Dec 19 Float Vest, Float Cardigan by Robyn Chachula
Dec 20 Linked Jacket by Robyn Chachula
Dec 21 Dots and Dashes Blanket by Ellen Gormley
Dec 22 Spa Shawl Top, Spa Shawl Tunic by Doris Chan

Not everybody gets why I’d work on a book authored by somebody else. I showed the book to my mom and had a hard time explaining why Robyn Chachula’s name is on the cover and not mine. The major reason I agreed to contribute to Simply Crochet is because of Robyn. I adore her, and not just because she is shorter than I am and her glasses are even thicker than mine (just kidding, Robyn). She’s a total dynamo, as scathingly focused as a laser when she needs to be, yet goofy otherwise. I can’t imagine how she manages to juggle her awesome career with home and family (hey, CJ!).

In fact, Robyn is so good at getting her friends to work with her that I signed on to do a design for the next book, Unexpected Afghans: Innovative Crochet Designs with Traditional Techniques by Robyn Chachula, coming in June 2012, available for pre-order. Yes, I briefly wandered over to the dark side and designed an afghan.  No, I can’t talk about it yet. And, with any luck I will not be the last stop on that tour!

So, to sum up nearly a month of blog tour fun, Simply Crochet is now available both in paperback hard copy and as a downloadable e-book. Please check out this beautiful collection of designs and thanks for following the bouncing blog ball to this final stop. I know everybody is busy right now with the holidays, but if you take a few seconds to make a comment on this blog post, you’ll be entered to win a free download of the e-book from Interweave Press. Consider it a last-minute gift to yourself.  Deadline for entries is midnight Eastern Time, Christmas Day, Sunday 25 December.  Don’t bother sucking up to me in your comment (unless you really really want to), because it won’t make any difference.  I’ll choose one commenter totally at random and announce the winner here on Monday.

Best of luck and Happy Holidays!

I’m a Valley {crochet} Girl!

Knowing for myself that I am loathe to leave the comfort of my home for any reason, I browse and shop for yarns on line these days.  I love WEBS at  I discovered a fully realized, fully functioning yarn store offering a staggering diversity of products and volume discounts… and I never have to get out of my chair.

But I was most impressed by the first  printed WEBS catalog I received last year.  In it, owner Kathy Elkins wrote so sincerely about being a crocheter herself and wanting to include crochet in what might otherwise be a knit-centric publication.  Her crochet-friendly attitude, the support for crochet design and designers and her willingness to be so in-your-face about it was refreshing.  So when it came time for me to raise funds for the CGOA 2011 Crochet Design Competition, I contacted Kathy.  Happily she immediately and wholeheartedly agreed to support us and WEBS is the proud sponsor of the prizes for the design category Accessories.

So when Kathy hinted at… asked… uh, insisted… that I do some crochet designing for her private label Valley Yarns, I dove right in.  Valley Cowl is the result.  Crocheted with Deerfield, a soft luxe DK blend of baby alpaca and silk, in a lacy stitch pattern in true mobius fashion (continuous figure 8’s), Valley Cowl looks amazing.

I recently talked with Kathy and husband Steve on the WEBS podcast, Ready, Set, Knit (episode #228 23 July)  and at the very end of the interview Kathy mentioned that the Valley Cowl would be the next featured crochet-a-long.  So check the WEBS blog on Saturday afternoon for all the details.

Kirsten Hipsky, Design Coordinator for WEBS, has asked for more details about the Foundation Double Crochet used to begin the cowl.  It’s not an impossible technique, just difficult to describe in words.  So when you join the CAL, which I hope you will, and you become petrified, which I hope you won’t, see this page or get a downloadable pdf version here.

DJC Foundation Double Crochet Tutorial

BACKSTORY: Pearl River

I think of my life as a tangled skein of yarn.  For a crocheter or knitter the physical reality of tangled yarn is a bummer. But virtually, as a metaphor for the path of life, the messy ball of yarn image is perfectly apt and no more aggravating than the meandering thoughts of a daydreamer.  The way in which one strand of yarn twists and loops back on itself, meeting, crossing and touching at unpredictable points  and getting distractingly knotted at times… that’s how certain themes in life are connected.

My sense of interconnectedness is not in the same class of consciousness-raising experience as Proust’s taste of tea-infused madeleines or his step on uneven paving stones.  (Be warned: if you tell anyone that I have referenced Remembrance of Things Past in a blog post I will categorically deny it!) And it’s not an ominous warning like Bad Wolf. The ball of yarn thing is casual and completely unintentional.  When some word or name keeps cropping up throughout your life you don’t think much of it at first.  But later you begin to believe there’s something there. Once in your life is incidence.  Twice is coincidence.  Three times?  That could be interpreted as a pattern.

So it is with me and Pearl River.  My dad was born in a farming village on the delta of the Pearl River in Guangdong (Canton) Province, in the southern part of China [see this post].  We lived in the back rooms of our Chinese laundry in a town called Pearl River [see this post]. Mere coincidence.

Last year Cari Clement, Design Director for Caron International Yarns, asked me to develop a crochet project, specifically a wrap featuring broomstick lace technique.  As is the usual procedure for free-lance design work, I was forwarded a gang of paperwork that outlined the contractual agreement and identifying label/title for the project. To my surprise Cari had picked the name Pearl River for the broomstick wrap. YAHTZEE!

The yarn to be used for this wrap was Spa.  Pretty much all of the names given to Spa designs are those of spas and resorts.  Therefore, in keeping with that theme, Cari was probably thinking about Pearl River, the hotel/casino/spa/resort in Choctaw, Mississippi, and not my dad’s hometown or mine either. But I still felt a little stab, a thrill of recognition and an affinity for that name. Even before I picked up my hook, I understood that the Pearl River Wrap had to be really special and beautiful.

Our choice of Spa in the creamy shade Naturally has an inner glow that reminds me of pearls.  So I was inspired to integrate broomstick lace with regular crochet to create a lovely, textured fabric I call “Broomstick and Pearls”. The pearls are little bobbly bumps that are such fun to make and pop to the front of the fabric. The wrap gets its stay-put shape from a line of increases at the center back and may be styled in stunning ways.  I hope you enjoy the Pearl River Lace Wrap,  pattern now available as a free download at

And ponder this.  Suppose we took two yarns, held them together and wound them into one ball, then took that ball and threw it around the room, let the dog or cat bat it across the floor, let the kids play Monkey in the Middle with it.  That’s what a relationship is like.  🙂

The Passing of A Crochet Legend

It is with terrible sadness that I am speaking now.  Earlier today marked the passing of  a wonderful friend, Jean Leinhauser.

It will not be her status as legendary crafting-crochet-publishing-icon-empress that I’ll be thinking about today.  Neither will I dwell on the awesome empty place she leaves in the crochet firmament.  Nor should I speak with regret on behalf of the Crochet Guild of America that Jean will not be at the CGOA Chain Link Conference next month to be inducted into the Crochet Hall of Fame.  Why did we wait so long to extend her that honor?  Hey, never mind that last bit.  I said no regrets, didn’t I?

Rather, I will be bravely grinning broadly.  Perverse, you might judge me.  But if you knew Jean you’d totally understand.

I met Empress Jean in 2004, at my first CGOA Chain Link conference, held that summer in Manchester, New Hampshire.  Jean and her publishing business partner Rita Weiss (the Other Legend!) were scouting crochet design talent for their latest publishing venture, Crochet Partners.  My crochet career had just begun the year before with not much to show.  This would be my first time meeting editors and publishers and hawking my wares.  I had arranged an appointment with Jean and Rita and brought along a sack full of my crochet pieces, hopeful of finding a slot in one of their future books.  Yes, I was pretty cocky.

I  was mightily afraid of both of these women, as their reputations were so huge.  I arrived at the appointed time and waited in the conference hotel lobby for a good while, expecting to be met and shepherded into a meeting room or something.  Anxious and horrified that maybe I had messed up the schedule and missed my slot, I started pacing around and around.

It was Jean I spotted first, seated in one of the high-backed upholstered chairs in the lounge area adjacent to the lobby, backlit by the hotel’s entrance windows, holding court.  Yes, it was as though the entire room was at her feet, paying court.  I think I scurried over, introduced myself as the two o’clock appointment and sat down.  I also think I burbled a lot.

Jean was actually immediately warm and welcoming, but that’s not how it seemed to me in the moment in my petrified state.  She had a way of peering at you over the tops of her glasses with a stern, piercing stare.  Even though her face was smiling and kind, her eyes were always keen and observant, ever watching you, know what I’m saying?

Of the two, Rita presented the bigger personality, the glibber tongue, the louder voice.  Jean appeared to be the more reserved, but in retrospect that’s only because everybody seems reserved next to Rita. I answered a few questions from the ladies, then pulled my stuff out of the bag for them to examine. Eventually I reached the bottom of the bag, where I had these Hat Heads.

Without hesitation, Jean snatched up the lot and pulled them onto her own head.  At the time I thought that the whole world had busted out laughing at the absurdity.  Maybe it was only me and Jean laughing out loud.  From that point on, I knew I had found a kindred crochet spirit.

Jean and I would cross paths many times from that day.  Here we are at the 2006 CGOA Chain Link conference, with Jean at the center.

Clockwise from me at 9 o’clock, that’s Tammy Hildebrand (before her hair was orange), Jean Leinhauser, Vashti Braha (before contacts), Rita Weiss with her head turned away, and Marty Miller (most recent past President of the CGOA Board of Directors).  That was some power lunch!  As  you can see, I am not actually having lunch with them.  I sort of wandered over with my coffee and was allowed to sit down.  I can’t for the life of me recall who took this shot.

From 2008 through 2010 I called Jean my “Center Square” of the Crochet Design Competition.  Her steady guidance, discerning eye and impeccable taste made her the perfect anchor on the judging panel for three years.  Funny, she must have known she wouldn’t be available to fill the center square for the 2011 Competition this September because she asked me to find another judge. Lord I will miss her.

But I am smiling right now about one of the last moments I shared with her.  At the close of the 2010 Chain Link event, the last thing she said to me, peering down at my mismatched high-top Chucks and chuckling, was “You are so adorable!”.

You go, GoCrochet!

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I whispered, not certain myself how far this obsession would lead.   I scrambled for something clever to say but nothing else could possibly enter my head, swirling and pounding as it was with desperate desire.

 She coyly lowered her eyes and as she carefully weighed her response the flush that rose to her cheeks was a deep petal pink. I had no right to expect a positive outcome.  Had she not just witnessed the crashing and burning as I approached each of her dinner companions in turn and got shot down?  She was my last chance.  I knew it.  She knew it.  For a second I feared she would decline my offer and leave me to slink away into the night.

 Wait, was that a smile?

 The little crinkling at the sides of her mouth deepened into a delicious grin. When at last she lifted her eyes to meet mine, an unmistakable “yes” shone there, reflecting the same hunger and anticipation that no doubt colored my own gaze. With a simple nod she signaled her complete surrender.

 Mo better go easy, I warned myself.  At least try to act cool. Stop fidgeting with that wine glass.  Stop checking that door every two seconds.  Leaning back from the café table as nonchalantly as I could manage, I forced myself into the stillness of a savannah predator stalking a gazelle.  Before I could draw another shivery breath the moment had arrived. 

 Hokey Smokes!  Neither one of us had been fully prepared for the enormity of the commitment that lay before us. We hesitated out of respect for each other and for the bond our shared experience would soon forge.

 Oh, the heck with propriety.  Ellen and I grabbed our forks and greedily divvied up the best piece of chocolate cake I’d had since I landed in Columbus.  She even left me most of the whipped cream AND I didn’t have to fight her for the cherry on top!

And that is pretty much how I got to know the inner Ellen Gormley.  Hey, that cake was ginormous and I couldn’t talk anyone else into splitting some with me. The friend who shares dessert when nobody else dares, she’s a keeper!

That dinner was a few summers ago during Ellen’s first trip to The National NeedleArts (TNNA) industry show in Columbus, Ohio.  Her generosity of spirit extends well beyond chocolate cake, as you might guess. This past year she has taken time from her own busy career and hectic family life to help me with DJC, Too!, my design line for girls, tweens and teens.  She and her daughter are the wonderful photographer/model team whose lovely smiles grace the pages of every DJC2 pattern.

Foremost Ellen is an accomplished, award winning crochet designer with by now a hundred published designs, a prolific and popular blogger and an active professional member of CGOA.  Her brand GoCrochet is a sign of thoughtful, functional and fun design.   I am so happy to be today’s stop on the blog tour celebrating her first book.  About time, girl!

Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workshop: 50 Motifs, 10 Projects, 1 of a Kind Results, (see it at the page or buy a signed copy through Ellen’s blog) is a feast for the eyes and food for your afghan-crocheting soul. Ellen’s inventive motifs, glorious colorwork and thoughtful presentation illustrate, page after page, her command of the genre. Loaded with stitch diagrams, assembly diagrams, full-color detailed images of every motif, full images of every afghan, all connected by Ellen’s playful prose, this is a wonderful resource for beginners and experienced crocheters alike.

I love how each set of instructions begins with a mini-story that reveals as much about the author as it does the motif or project. I admit I do not posses much afghan soul. But Go Crochet Afghan Design Workbook could help me grow one!

The motif that knocks me out is Last Blueberry.  It’s just so juicy, I guess.  Makes my teeth itch.

Mated here with the Oscar Square (yes, as in The Grouch) in the afghan Blueberry Pancakes, the effect is effervescently cheerful.  Her words give me the impression we have yet another obsession in common and that I might not get so lucky if I were to ask Ellen to share her blueberry pancakes with me.

When you have your copy, go directly to page 35 (that is if you can stop yourself from being sidetracked by all those other eye-popping motifs) and read the introduction to Cherry Cordial.  It goes a long way toward explaining how it happened that Ellen so willingly gave up the cherry on top of our chocolate cake that night, although knowing this does not make me love her any less!