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 NaturallyCaron.com 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!

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Crochet and Chocolate Cake

Perfect together.  But not at the same time.  See Crochet Rule #7 and instead of “coffee” read “chocolate”.

I leave the comfort of my home for a short list of reasons, aside from the obligatory everyday errands one must do in order to maintain health (grocery shopping) and solvency (trips to the bank).  Naturally, crochet events are high on the list but they are secondary to the continuing quest for chocolate cake.  Wherever both exciting crochet and great chocolate confections happen at the same time and place, well that’s got to be heaven. I had every expectation of finding the former while visiting London last week, but no idea what I’d discover concerning the latter. I shoulda had more faith.

On the very first day at Ally Pally, at 12:52 GMT, while standing on the Exhibitor Cafe queue (lunch line), I observed a wide variety of foods, not just the stodgy cuisine on which the population of the UK is rumored to subsist.  Aside from the obligatory fish and chips, sausage rolls and a sublime carved roast pork station, there was a nice grilled salmon and even salad.  Yes, salad.  But not simply salad on a plate.  I was offered a Jacket Potato, what we might call a stuffed potato, but taken to another level of invention.  You get an enormous baked potato, the top of which the server splits into quarters.  You’re already sure the potato skin is crisp and that the interior is fluffy carbohydrate perfection.  You’d be happy with just a pat of butter, maybe a dollop of sour cream.  But the Jacket Potato comes with your choice of stuff on top.  Surprising stuff, not the bacon and cheez whiz you see here on top of baked potato skins.  They do flaked tuna, shreds of real cheese, baked beans, composed pasta salads, mixed green salad.  Hokey Smokes, I think I even spied sprouts.

By the time I reached the back end of the queue for the dessert and beverage service, I thought I was ready for anything, but honestly I expected the usual cafeteria fare, a choice of puddings, or jello or small sweets, perhaps a slice of pie, but nothing prepared me for this:Here I must be absolutely truthful.  This is not my cake.  By the time I thought to ask Hyomin to take a picture of the cake for posterity, I had already inhaled half of it.  This is actually a photo of the cake belonging to a complete but friendly stranger sharing our lunch table.  She must have thought we were bonkers.  Or American.  Same difference.

So, refrain from drooling, as this was not plain cake, but more like a relative of our Boston Cream Pie, but with chocolate more of a player.  On a base of dense bittersweet chocolate cake there was a layer of silken chocolate mousse, then some vanilla infused creme patisserie, then a huge smothering of whipped cream, sealed with a thin chocolate glaze, finished  with curls of white and milk chocolate on top.  On the side was a smear of fruited sauce, a small split strawberry, and OMG the plumpest, most perfect fresh raspberry.  The plate was something you could expect at the end of a nice restaurant meal,  hardly the stuff to be found in and amongst the ordinary fare of lunch cafeterias.  I was impressed.  Floored, actually.  I had two.  No, not at the same lunch, silly.  On successive days.  I had to rethink my previously held opinion about Brits.  If this is a typical example of dessert offerings, then they definitely KNOW HOW TO LIVE!

The intensity of my chocolate cake quest deepened at each dinner opportunity.  As my hosts were choosing the restaurants all week, I had but to come along where they led. Two of the kids, Yuko and Daisuke, had just worked a long show in Moscow where there were no Japanese restaurants to be found.  Since they were longing for a taste of home, the first dinner was at a fantastic sushi place in central London  just off Leicester Square.  In typical authentic style there was no chocolate cake there.  Not a crumb of dessert there.

The second night we celebrated the birthday of the lovely Hyomin, who we decided should be 25 years old.  Thereabouts. She is originally from Korea, so they chose a very special Korean restaurant at her request and in her honor.  You can assume there was no chocolate cake there, either.  Normally there wouldn’t have been.  But, hey, it was a birthday party and we would not be denied.  Aki Harada arranged for a cake to be brought in from a downtown patisserie.  At the end of the superb Korean meal, lit with candles that spelled out Happy Birthday, came this little beauty:

No, not Mr. Harada, who is doing the cake slicing honors.  I mean that cake.  Once again, this was not a simple chocolate cake.  It was more of a gateau-like trifle.  The base was a light cocoa genoise (sponge cake), filled with a lightly sweetened layer of  cream swirled with mixed fruits, then more genoise, some whipped cream, with fresh fruits, dark chocolate cups of flavored cream on top.  The stunning presentation was highlighted by a ring of delectable bittersweet chocolate batons, like a tasty fence all around, tied up with a ribbon.  Awesome.  No, brilliant!

The rest of the dinner choices that trip were also Asian cuisine, including Chinese and Thai, and thus ended my chocolate cake discoveries. However, I did satisfy my curiosity about one UK sweet that had been puzzling me for a year.  Other American fan-geeks of the 11th Doctor of Doctor Who Series 6 will be thrilled to know I finally found out what’s up with Jammie Dodgers (spelled with “ie” and not “y”):

A typical English after-school tea time treat, these biscuits (cookies) are ubiquitous, sold in any corner grocery, one package containing 8 cookies costs one pound nine (around $1.70).    They remind me of Pepperidge Farm Verona cookies (the little rounds with fruit filling), except not as delicate and certainly not in the same way marketed to adult tastes.  Or maybe thumbprint cookies, but not. Jammie Dodgers are crisp rounds of shortbread cookie with a gummy sort of  filling sandwiched between.  The jammy part tastes of raspberry, but it’s a mix of flavors really.  It’s the sort of food nobody admits to eating or liking (much as Pop-Tarts are viewed here), and yet somebody is enjoying them because they are everywhere.  Not a sophisticated sweet by any means.  Yet strangely compelling.  A perfect match for hot, strong tea. I took away two packages but polished off a whole one during the endlessly boring flight back to Philadelphia.  Now that I’ve done the show and tell, I can eat this one, too! 🙂

Broomstick Crochet Sweeps Ally Pally

Situated at the corner of  Awesome and Brilliant, the Tulip Company booth at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in London last week drew wave upon wave of intrepid UK crocheters.  By the way, the locals do not say “awesome”.  I suppose I was the only person among 50,000 who allowed that expression to pass her lips.  Every time I let that wretched word slip I was invariably greeted with comments like “Are you from America?”.  And as hard as I tried to say “Brilliant!” instead of the A word, I never got the hang of it. The more I attempted to speak Brit, the worse my American accent grew.  At least I could be understood by most.  I hope.The four day show was not nearly long enough to take in all the sights, with over 300 exhibitors and constant activity. Whiplash was the order of the day because every square meter of this gorgeous venue was jammed with head-turning displays, boundless inspiration and wondrous wares for sale.  I can report two other inconsequential downsides to the event: 1) trodden toes from making your way as quickly as possible (like swimming upstream!) to the ladies during my breaks, and 2) aching dimple muscles from smiling.  Other than that, I not only survived the trip but returned with renewed dedication to my craft.

I didn’t keep a tally for the first two days, but I counted the number of Broomstick crochet rows I did on Saturday and extrapolated that I must have completed around 80 of my 5 to 10 minute demonstrations over the course of the event.  It was tremendously helpful that I did not need to explain “slip as if to purl” even once, because practically every visitor reported that she could both knit and crochet, contrary to my experience with a very different attitude among US stitchers.  The impression I got was that there would be much more crocheting being done in the UK if my new friends had more and better access to stylish designs. The hunger for fresh crochet patterns and unique technique (and Etimo crochet hooks, of course) was evident in each appreciative smile and in every voracious gaze. Here’s a look at what I experienced from the inside of the Tulip booth.I’d like to welcome everyone I met at Ally Pally to my site.  I see quite a few UK friends among the comments to my last post so I guess you’ve already followed the links I gave you and found me.  Hey, I am truly terrible with names and faces, so  if you recognize yourself in any of the images here, please let me know and I’ll tag you.

A million thousand thanks to my hosts in London, my new family: Mr. Kotaro Harada, President of Tulip Company (on the left),  Ms. Hyomin Kang (the photographer and sadly not in the shot, but whom you’ve seen on this blog modeling the teeniest award-winning gowns in past CGOA Design Competitions), and my three adorable adoptive kids, Ms. Yuko Mizumoto (center), Mr. Taisuke Itoh (right) and Ms. Aki Harada (most likely swimming upstream at the time!). Thanks also to Katie Fowler of GMC book distributors, who arranged for my book signings and supplied the dozens of copies of my books that literally flew out of the booth, and a shout out to Diana and the staff of our retail partner at the event, The Crochet Chain.

In a bit I will be prepared to address the issue of Chocolate Cake in the UK. 🙂

Red Circle Crochet Dates

How we mark the passage of time is a function of how we think about time and, more to the point, how we mark our calendars.  Most people dance along the path of time from marker to marker, from important date to the next important date.  For most people the primary markers are holidays. Conveniently most calendars come factory-loaded with the generally recognized, politically correct holidays on-board.  Isn’t it grand how practically every month of a new calendar already has at least one red-circle day already on it.

The exception is August.  Poor August has nothing to commend it.  (I think that’s why most people including the entire population of Europe take the entire month of August off for vacation since nothing else is going on.) Granted, not every date so noted is a true holiday or cause for reverence or celebration.  Those official temporal high-points are strictly for the unimaginative and for the purveyors of greeting cards.

We tend to red-circle our own personal important dates.  Birthdays.  Anniversaries.  These markers serve merely as reminders, and do not necessarily indicate any joy or anticipation for the dates. I stand in awe of those busy people who are compelled to micro-manage their time dances; those for whom a monthly calendar does not provide sufficient space for the noting of stuff, meetings, calls, reminders and admonitions and they have to keep an hourly appointment book or journal.  Me, I’m good with the twelve pages a year.

You’d think that as a free-lance crochet designer I would dance to the tune of design deadlines, an endless progression of due dates.  You’d be mostly correct.  When, like me, you’re massively disorganized, flying solo and blind and work at home in your pajamas, you must have blatant, harsh, hard copy reminders of what’s owed to whom and when they expect it.  Certain times of the year all I can see are angry, inflamed due dates to the point where actual holidays are obscured by the red ink.  But since I have little respect for deadlines (ask any of my employers!) there are no longer any red due date circles on my calendar because, as peripatetic as they tend to be, the circles keep getting crossed out and moved.  Trust me, it becomes a mess.  Shouldn’t there be split rings for calendars?

What then, you might ask, are my current markers?  Non-due dates, naturally.  Happy dates.  I gleefully red-circle the season premiers of my favorite TV shows as well as the few cherished times when I am allowed, even required to run away from my work at home.  In other words, crochet road trips.

So it is with giddy guilty pleasure that I approach the next red circle, the Crochet Guild of America conference in Greensboro, NC.  WOWSERS, only a few days to go and I’m not even packed.  This conference, 21-25 September, hosts the CGOA 2011 Crochet Design Competition, which I am producing.    I will be arriving with a sleigh… uh, station wagon… full of 115 wildly creative, potentially award-wining design entries as well as my own seriously over-packed luggage.  Keep watching here and at the CGOA Now blog for the announcement of the winners following the Awards Ceremony on Thursday evening.

My goal is to load the car in such an efficient manner that I’ll be able to see out the rear hatch.  Yeah, right. That’ll be me waving fond farewell to my drudgery and my dog as I tool down the interstate and head for the bustle and camaraderie (and yarn and wine and chocolate cake) that never fails to accompany every CGOA conference.  If you’ve got a red circle around the date, too, then I guess I’ll see you there.

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 NaturallyCaron.com 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 NaturallyCaron.com.

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.  🙂