Can I Crochet With This Yarn?

Well, darlin’, even though the label clearly states “hand knitting yarn”, the short and sweet but hardly perfect answer is, yes, you can crochet with anything that you can wrap around your hook.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The designer question I would ask is, “Will this yarn be happy in crochet?”, and the answer to that is complicated.  Every yarn has to be treated as an individual and respected for its own qualities.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with dozens and dozens of ’em, from high-end luxury yarns to craft store bargain ones, silk purse and sow’s ear, the good, the bad and the totally indifferent.  I’ve enjoyed most of them, not-so-much enjoyed a few, and outright refused to work ever again with only one, maybe two. Maybe three. Back in 2010 I wrote a blog post that was going in a different direction from this one, but what I barfed up concerning my relationship with design yarn bears reprinting:

“Doris designs begin with yarn, always yarn.  I can propose, or an editor can suggest/demand, what sort of garment is needed for such and such an issue of a magazine, and we can reach agreement on an overall silhouette or impression, (for instance a fall/winter cardigan with 3/4 sleeves and collar), but that is an intellectual exercise, a step in a particular direction.  A wish.  For it is the yarn that tells me what it wants to be.  Happiness is when the editorial vision matches the desires of the yarn sent.  Agony is when the yarn refuses to cooperate and become the design it’s earmarked to be.

How does yarn speak?  How do you know when the design is right?  It’s like how you are sure you like dark better than milk chocolate.  How you feel better wearing blue and not rust.  How to tell if you are in love.  You just know.

Listen for the voice.  I pull an end from every skein and roll it between my fingers to assess the properties of thickness, density, roundness, twist and texture.  Do not rely solely on the hook/gauge suggestions or weight/yardage and fiber listings on the yarn label, or the wpi (wraps per inch) info to tell the whole story.  Your experienced fingers can gather more information about that yarn than anything you could read. This is the beginning of hearing the  yarn speak.

Each yarn has one optimum gauge for my purposes of top-down seamless lace garment construction.  A bit of tinkering and experimentation (some call this swatching, but what I develop is not your usual swatch) will soon tease out of the yarn what this gauge should be. The choice of yarn therefore is of such incredible overriding importance because the yarn totally dictates the gauge, that gauge helps determine which stitch pattern to use, that stitch pattern creates the fabric, that fabric is what makes the garment work.

I am not insisting that there is only one gauge and one way to use a particular yarn.  All I am saying is, for my very particular method of design and for each specific project, a yarn will tell me where it is happiest.  Once the piece is finished, blocked and put on the body, if you’ve been listening all along, that yarn will show you its greatness, how it behaves, moves, breathes, drapes and yes… you will hear that yarn sing.”

What was left unsaid in 2010, and what I chose not to mention at the time, is that my organic design process really chewed up certain yarns because there’s a lot of *crochet, uncrochet, recrochet, uncrochet some more*; repeat from * to * until you’re ready to scream.  Hokey Smokes, some samples were starting to look crappy before they were half-way done.  If only I had more of the technical designer in me, the type who engineers major chunks of the project first, then plugs in whatever yarn… and then can actually bundle the whole thing off to a contract crocheter who essentially tests the pattern while making the crocheted sample. Never gonna happen.  I worried about the many yarns that did not stand up well to my style of organic designing; three years ago I thought the fault was mine.

Since then I’ve come to realize that for relaxed (exploded) gauge lace crochet garments, Z-twist products are ultimately happier than S-twist ones.  As demonstrated with the mystery swatch in that previous post:S Twist DK yarn

some S-twist yarns become terribly untwisted with crocheting. This shows up as slackness in the exposed tops of stitches and the in the hanging chain spaces of my favorite lace stitch patterns, as an uneven gauge through the length of a skein of yarn, as a tendency of the yarn to grow increasingly splitty, as the appearance of sloppiness instead of the desired effect of drapey looseness. By the time I got to ordering yarns for my latest book, Convertible Crochet, it was early 2011 and I knew what I had to do.

Of the 19 yarns I cast, seven of them are Z-twisted.  That is a staggeringly huge percent compared to the ratio of Z to S yarns in the general population. In order of appearance, the Z-twist yarns are: Berroco Weekend, DMC-Cebelia Crochet Cotton, Blue Sky Alpacas Skinny Dyed Organic Cotton, Tahki Cotton Classic Lite, Prism Yarns Windward Layers, Louisa Harding Mulberry silk, and NaturallyCaron.com Spa.  I thoroughly enjoyed them all. Some of these yarns were chosen because they were destined to become skirts, in which cases a firm Z-twist contributes to long wear and stability in fabrics on which you will be sitting. I did offer two butt-covering pieces in an S-twist yarn, Elsebeth Lavold Hempathy, which worked so incredibly well as a bottom weight because of the sturdy fiber blend of hemp, cotton and modal (a type of rayon) and resulted in such beautiful drape that I put up with the untwisties.

What about the other yarns featured in the book?  How did they get happy?  Well, one of them, Southwest Trading Company Oasis, is a tubular or tape yarn, where twist is not an issue. The others, although S-twist, were perfectly fine in their roles, chosen for other properties such as luscious softness (NaturallyCaron.com Joy! and Filatura di Crosa Superior), wooly goodness (Manos del Uruguay Rittenhouse Merino, O-Wool Balance), stunning color (Misti Alpaca Tonos Pima Silk), easy care (Kraemer Tatamy), spot-on gauge (Spud & Chloe Fine and Filatura di Crosa Zara), or simply because they told me they would be fine. With a bit of TLC and judicious blocking, every piece turned out splendidly.

This begs the real question, and the point of today’s exercise: why aren’t there more Z-twist yarns on the market?  Darned if I know. 🙂

Etimo K Hook Winner

Congrats to lucky crocheter number 11, Carol Wiebe, who authored that cute poem! Carol gets a shiny new Etimo size K-10 1/2 cushion grip crochet hook, compliments of Tulip Company and myself.

Etimo hooks are available in AC Moore craft stores, in select local yarn shops (if you don’t see them in your LYS, you could ask for special order) and may certainly be ordered online at sites such as buy.caron.com (which has the Etimo Rose hooks with pink handles,

Etimo Rosewhich are so adorable, as well as a range of other Tulip products) and joann.com.  I have not seen the size K hook offered anywhere yet, but it’s so new that I’d give everyone a chance to get them in stock.

Thanks to everyone for the outpouring of Etimo love in your comments.  I hope each of you has the chance to get one in your hands soon!

New Crochet Toy: Tulip Etimo K Hook

I know, I know. Two posts ago I said I was going to talk about yarn for crochet.  I will get to that, I swear.  Today I am showing off my shiny new toy, and later at the end of this post I will be taking names to win one of your own.

Etimo KMy one and only tiny regret about the original collection of Etimo hooks that I continue to rave about and use exclusively in my crochet, both professionally and for fun, is that the sizes ran out at the J-10 (6mm) size. My friends at Tulip Company musta got tired of hearing me beg, because they went and adjusted their manufacturing in order to produce this beauty, a US size K-10 1/2 (6.5mm) crochet hook, the crowning glory in the Etimo Cushion Grip line.

Let me assure you that I am in no way paid by Tulip to endorse their crochet tools. In fact, nobody could pay me enough to work with hooks that I didn’t totally love. I discovered Etimo hooks at a TNNA (The National NeedleArts Association) trade show in 2009 through the sheer force of will of my boss, Vashti Braha. She had seen this brilliant new line of hooks earlier in the day and insisted that I HAD TO SEE THEM. She dragged me over to the Tulip exhibit as I was not in the mood for browsing new tools, I really wanted to go get some coffee. I always want to go get some coffee. Anyway, she made me play with the sample hooks and yarn that were thoughtfully provided. From the moment I held one in my hand I was, pardon the expression, hooked.

There is no other cushion grip crochet hook like it, and in my opinion none other as fine. I could go on and on about how the hook is supremely comfortable and fits the hand, how it is perfectly balanced in weight and proportion, the exacting quality of the manufacturing. Nothing else I’ve tested even comes close. Now that there’s the K size to fill out the set, I am a totally happy hooker. I had to custom order my first Etimo set straight from the company in Hiroshima, Japan. Since 2009, Tulip Company has secured US distributors for their products, including incredibly smooth bamboo knitting needles, bead and thread crochet hooks, specialty needles and awesome interchangeable hook and needle sets. Today you can find Etimos right on the shelf at your local AC Moore craft store!

Why, you ask, does the Etimo K make me so giddy?  Isn’t a hook that big only used with chunky or bulky weight thick yarn (CYCA category 5)? AH-HA!  Not in my ‘verse.  I routinely match the K with medium and heavy worsted weight yarns (CYCA category 4) in order to lighten up the fabric. Vashti says the K is the key to creating the melting drape of her special sort of slip stitch designs (get Vashti’s free pattern here). For my crochet demonstrations at TNNA in Columbus, Ohio next week I’ll be presenting a unique stitch I call the K-Cluster, worked into a burly scarf with a ribbing-like texture, using the Etimo K and Filatura di Crosa Zara 8, a true worsted weight yarn in wonderfully soft superwash merino wool. Here’s a preview of the scarf pattern I’ll be giving to visitors to the demo:

K-Cluster Scarf

So, who wants one?  To celebrate the launch, I am offering one lucky crocheter a free Etimo K-10 1/2 (6.5mm) hook, compliments of Tulip Company and myself. If you’ve never tested an Etimo hook, then here’s a chance to get one in your hands.  If you’re already a hardcore fan, then this is the hook to complete your collection. Just leave a comment/reply to this post before midnight Eastern Time, Sunday night, 16 June, and I’ll be back with a winner on Monday. Remember, sucking up to me does not increase your chances of winning! 🙂 But you are invited to tell me about your own experiences with Etimo crochet hooks, if you like. Best of luck to all!

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.

Gifting Crocheters: Win Clever Crocheted Accessories

A woman of my word, I am keeping to my policy, actually more of a guideline, of not burying the lead.  At the end of this post you will discover how you can enter to win a copy of the new book, Clever Crocheted Accessories: 25 Quick Weekend Projects (Interweave Press, 27 November 2012) edited by Brett Bara. Now back to fluff.

There’s something about Christmas that brings out the best (and occasionally the worst) in people. Crocheters who participate in the yearly hand-made gift crunch can become heroes on Christmas morning. We can also turn into zombies. The two outcomes are not mutually exclusive. I truly enjoy the holidays and over the years, during those few brief lucid moments before the onset of total brain death, I have written about it ( see Crochet Marathoning). I have also offered a cute little Mini Stocking pattern. For civilians (non-crocheters), figuring out what sort of holiday gifts would be appreciated and cherished by crocheters can be a daunting endeavor.  In the past I have written some helpful hints (see 2008, 2010) and even shared a recipe for smelly ornaments. This year I have an idea that will cover all this ground.Released today, the new book from my crafty friend Brett Bara makes a brilliant gift for yourself if you are a crocheter… or for a civilian to give to a crocheter who enjoys crocheting gifts to give to you.  Too meta?  Brett is one of those editors who is real good at herding cats, a skill that served her well in gathering the rock star designers who contributed to this pattern collection. From the first project, Saturday Beret (on the book cover), designed by Ellen Gormley, to the last, my own Chunky Capelet (in super-fast broomstick technique), Clever Crocheted Accessories is a happy guide to making quick work of your gift list. I’m going to have to refer to Ellen as my bookend friend from now on.  🙂

Click here for a look inside the book, or see this slideshow of just some of the designs, please to maintain composure and resist drooling.

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You’ll find Clever Crocheted Accessories at bookstores and yarn shops, or you can order from Amazon and from Interweave Press.  Thanks to Brett and Interweave Press you can also enter to win a copy right here right now. Leave a comment to this post below and I’ll choose a winner at noon EST on Friday, 30 November. Please keep your replies brief.  Sucking up to me will not help your chances at all.  Happy happy joy joy to all and best of luck.