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A Little Crochet

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Today we headed to Tunnels Beach to do some swimming and some snorkeling.  In spite of the fact that the scenery was absolutely stunning, both at the beach and on the drive to the beach, I took no photos.  In fact, I didn't even bring the camera along.  I think that's the hardest thing about going to beaches that you aren't able to walk out your back door and go swimming in -- you just don't want to take all that much valuable stuff.  Especially if your car is not going to be where you can keep an eye on it and you have a toddler to patrol.  The water was wonderful and the snorkeling was great, even in the afternoon when all the water was stirred up.  It was like swimming in a fish tank with all sorts of salt water beauties swimming around and under us.  We're hoping to head back in that direction sometime in the next couple of days, and next time the camera will probably come with me.

Thank you to everyone who left nice words about Lotus.  They are much appreciated!  To anyone who likes the sweater but thinks it's too complicated to tackle, don't let the crochet or the fine gauge dissuade you -- it takes a little care, but it's not all that hard if you follow the instructions carefully.  Also, I know the Fine Milk Cotton is pretty spendy -- but I'm pretty sure that almost any sport weight cotton would work out just fine.  Rowan has a standard cotton 4 ply, and I believe Patons also has a yarn in the right weight range and I think both would be more affordable than the Fine Milk Cotton.

When I was packing for this trip, I brought very little in the way of fiber-related projects.  I packed Lotus and the supplies I needed to finish her up.   I packed the sock project I am working on using the Vesper Wee Skein kit, yarn for one additional pair of socks, should I finish up the Vesper sock, and a collection of perle cotton, an interchangeable crochet hook set and my Japanese Doily book.  It may not seem like it, but, for me, this was remarkably restrained.  With Lotus out of the way and my desire to knit wool socks dulled by tropical weather, I turned my attention to the doily book.

20090709_CrochetMotif.jpgI picked this motif somewhat at random, bt mostly because there were no complicated stitches to figure out.  Of course, it ended up having the crochet equivalent of bobbles (at the corners, they're a little hard to see), but I liked the end product even so. I crocheted the motif using 5/2 perle cotton on a size 3 steel crochet hook.  The motif is aboutt 6-7" in diameter and the perfect size for an actual doily.  The color changes are due to the fact that one little skein of perle cotton didn't go as far as I thought it would -- all those double crochet stitches eat up yarn pretty quickly.  I'll have to block it when I get home, but I think it will make a nice dresser decorationn.

With this one finished, I'm itching to start another one -- these things come together so fast, even on a small hook, and almost every row is different, so I'm finding it hard to put them down!

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Japanese Crochet Books, Part II

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Not surprisingly, thoughts about Lotus bring me back to my new stash of crochet inspiration.  This book (titled Crochet Accessories in English ISBN4-277-43080-5) is an interesting collection of crocheted jewelry (including necklaces, earrings and rings), scarves, and bracelets and charms.  Much of it I can't imagine wearing, but I can imagine using some of the foundation shapes for the beads, vegetables (yes! almost like tiny tiny amigurumi), fruits and flowers in other pieces.  

20090630_FloralCrochet.jpgThis is, perhaps, my favorite piece.  A cord of tiny flowers (it is modeled as a neck lace -- most of these flowers are probably not much larger than a quarter) in a riot of spring colors.  Done slightly larger, and with the right outfit, I could imagine it as a belt.  So much work in those little flowers, I can't imagine making it (well, maybe I can, but only over a long period of time), but I find it very inspirational.  A little garden path to wear around your neck or waist.

20090630_CrochetDreamcatche.jpgI think of these as crochet "dream catchers" suspended into necklace form.  This piece is probably one of the most "traditional crochet" looking pieces in the book, but I think it still feels quite fresh and wearable. Any one of those motifs, done singly, could be made into a simple choker (how the circles are so circular is somewhat mysterious to me -- I suspect there might be a small hoop that is crocheted around). 

This book has another surprising aspect -- at least it is surprising if you look at the photography done for most US craft books -- the models are diverse in both age and origins (though all are women) and none of them is overly polished or stylized.  It got my attention in a good way.

The instructions in this book are somewhat harder to follow than in the first book I talked about -- while the stitches are drawn using the standard symbols, there is no real explanation of what stitches they are except in Japanese, so you might need another reference to help you with this.  Also, the crochet and construction steps are separated.  For instance, the motifs in the second necklace are described in one area and the assembly process much farther on.  But this makes it easier to use the motifs in whatever context you might want, even if you do have to puzzle a bit more to get to the pieces as shown.

Compared to the Crochet Doliy book, I think I am more likely to use this book for inspiration than I am to crochet anything from it.  Unlike most knit accessories books I have come across, however, there are actually things I would wear were I to actually find the time to make them.  Some of the pieces are more whimsical than my wardrobe could bear, but many of them are interestingly constructed, well thought out and much more jewelry like than you might think crochet can be!

And speaking of crochet.... the first of Lotus sleeves got her pink edging last night.  I feel like I am moving at a glacial pace right at the moment. When I first saw the little pink edging on the model garment in the magazine, I was somewhat suspicious of it, but now that I see it in place, I quite like it!

In my last post, I neglected to metion which interchangeable crochet hook kit I got.  It is nothing fancy -- the kit is made by Boye and is called "Interchangeable Head Crochet Set".  I got mine at JoAnn's (I would link to it, but I don't see it in the online store).  It comes with 14 steel heads ranging in size from US 1 to US 14 (i.e. from tiny to really really really tiny), a handle and a case to hold all the parts.  It's an all metal set, but I have some foamy finger protectors that can slide over the handle to provide some cushioning.  I think it will be perfect for traveling with.  And if you wait for when they have one of their 40-50% off coupons you could pick the set up for $15-$20 bucks.


Japanese Crochet Books, Part I

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My office has moved from Chicago to Arlington Heights. While I am still adjusting to this transition I was pleased to discover when we first looked at the space, that the building we were considering renting in was across the street from Mitsuwa, a large Japanese market that includes a reasonably sized bookstore.

I'm a newcomer to Japanese craft books, but the more of them I see, the more inspired I get.  The first time I visited this store, it was clear that knitting was a big theme of many of the books.  But on this trip, if number of books represented is any evidence, crochet is taking off big with Japanese crafters.  The crochet edging on Lotus has gotten me thinking more and more about how the craft can be used. I realized that I'm not really interested in crocheting garments, but I am interested in housewares and accessories.  And I found three books that really knocked my socks off.   Since I wanted to share a few pictures of the contents, I'm going to divide my "review" of these books into three parts.

20090625_JapaneseDoilyBook.jpgThe first book that I picked up and really got me inspired was this one, subtitled in English "Crochet Lace Doily" (ISBN 978-4-529-04590).  Frankly, doily patterns were just about the last thing I thought I'd be inspired by, until I started paging through the book and saw some very contemporary lacy doily stylings in some very contemporary contexts.  While there are some more traditional patterns, these definitely aren't what you'd expect to find on your grandmother's dresser.

20090625_JapaneseDoilyEx1.jpgThis doily would show itself extremely well around Danish modern furniture.  All the color comes from the use of variagated thread.  It would be easy to imagine a set of these used as fancy dress up placemats for a special occasion as well.

20090625_JapaneseDoilyEx2.jpgThis is one of my absolute favorite designs in the book -- styled for use as a curtain.  I could see this hanging in my kitchen window and I think it would pair well with the stainless steel and granite in our modern looking kitchen.    This one is definitely on my "want to try" list.

While I didn't take any photos of the pattern pages (I don't want to do harm to anyone's copy right) I will say that I don't think you need to know any Japanese to work from them.  Instead of written out instructions, these patterns are illustrated using the standard symbols that you see in Interweave Crochet and other US crochet publications -- and the back contains a complete pictoral dictionary of the crochet stitches.  The illustrations are excellent, so with this book in hand, you probably wouldn't need to tote around another book, if, you, like me, are still working on building your crochet stitch memory banks up.

I've been thinking about how I want to travel light on my coming vacation.  This book, a couple of small crochet hooks and some fine cotton thread could be a perfect recipe for that.

All White, Baby

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Today marks the end of my first full work week since I went on bed rest at the beginning of July. Part of me had been dreaming of the day where I could be back with adults and wouldn't have to hear a baby cry every time I needed to take a phone call or send out an important email. Another part of me was terribly sad at the thought of not being able to spend the day with her. Worried that maybe she'd get more attached to her grandmother (who is watching her three days a week -- we're still working out how to deal with that last day) that to me once I wasn't around quite as much, and hating the idea of having to use my pump so much. Breastfeeding is a mixed bag, emotionally, for me, nursing her directly always beats pumping, especially now that she's getting faster and her nursing style rarely causes me any pain.

After working three days, I had Thursday to think about everything. I decided to ignore my work email, turn off my cell phone and just have a nice day with my baby. I will say one thing about being back in the office. I like being a mom much better when I can separate the work part of my life from the mothering part. I do a better job of work when I don't have to worry about whether Z is unhappy and I do a better job of being with Z when I don't have to worry about work. I'm definitely not at home with her as much, but she gets to spend the day with someone who wants to and can devote all of their attention to her, and when I am home, I can focus on her.

This was also a big week since she started solid foods (just a bit of rice cereal) and has really begun to interact with her environment. She actively grabs toys when she's on her gym, she's begun to chew a bit on teether toys, and she's constantly in motion, rolling to one side or the other from her back to get a different perspective on the world or get her hands on something that interests her. And she has an incredible vocabulary of noises now, including this funny puttering sound she now makes with her lips. She's generally much less fussy and spends a lot of time with big smiles. Her favorite parent-assisted activities involve sitting up and trying to stand. She loves to be upright, even though she can't do all the muscle work herself.

She's also gotten to enjoy some new hand made, very special items recently. The Sunday after Thanksgiving was her christening. My mom made her a beautiful gown (note: my inability to get it to sit right on the hanger and the fact that this is long after the dress was worn should in no way reflect mom's sewing skills; the dress is beautiful and sweet and the collar sat perfectly for the ceremony):

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And my Aunt Mary crocheted her a sweet little white sweater to wear with the gown -- November in Michigan is chilly after all!

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What could be sweeter than the little heart details and the ribbons at the collar and cuffs? Well, maybe one thing:

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My own baby angel after her christening. She was so sweet for the whole day (except for when she had the water dumped on her head). My Aunt Mary took the picture and I just love how it looks like her eyes are sparkling. I thought the picture captured her so well and it was probably the best one taken the whole day.

Eye Believe

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If knitting up some bone could help heal Mr. Etherknitter, then I figured that crocheting an eyeball could provide some good healing mojo for John's eye. Lucky for me, I didn't even have to design an eyeball myself -- the wonder that is the internet provided me with an excellent free pattern for crochet eyeball creation.

The pattern for the crochet eyeball from Monster Crochet called for perle cotton, but since I didn't have any of that around my house and I wasn't sure I could deal with the itty bitty tiny crochet hook I decided to see what my stash held. This is the yarn I selected for the pupil, eyball and iris.

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Fibers for an Eyeball

The pupil is a black merino sock yarn that was in my stash, and came as part of a trade from Emma, a long time blog friend, the white yarn is some left over Phil'Onde from one of my all time favorite sweater projects, and the yarn I selected for the iris is the Trekking XXL that I just recently used for a pair of socks for John. Since this eyeball is meant as something as a healing talisman for my sweetie, I decided that I wanted the color of the iris to be similar to the color of his own eyes, which are a lovely green with bits of brown and I wanted all the yarns to have a special meaning. The last yarn I selected (which didn't make it into the picture here) was for the "optic nerves". For this, I selected some Mountain Colors Bearfoot in reds, blues and browns which some how called out to me as appropriate for this project. This yarn was left over from a pair of socks that I knit for the woman who taught me to knit while I was in grad school.

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Look Into My Eye.... Think Good Healing Thoughts

After a few hours in the afternoon, I had a completed eyeball. It's stuffed with some left over coopworth fuzz that remained after Julie and I put the lovely stuff that Liz sent us on a drum carder. I figured if I was looking for fiber stuffing with good vibes, this last unspinnable remnants of this stuff would be the perfect stuff.

So now as we enter the weekend, John has his own personal eye healing talisman. And when things are hopefully all done and healed, he'll have a funny little reminder of all the positive energy that came his way as he was working on healing.

Crochet Lesson #2: Going in Circles

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I didn't tell the guy checking my bags at the ferry, but I snuck a crochet hook and a little bit of cotton yarn into my knitting bag before I left for Sleeve Island so that I could work on my next lesson in crochet: making circles.

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Two Crochet Circles

One of the things that I have always thought was one of the strong points of crochet is making circular pieces of fabric. Let's face it, when it comes to knitting, circles are hard to do. You end up having to get creative with short rows or deal with fussy double pointed needle tricks. Crochet circles have a simple elegance to them in both the way they look and the way that they are constructed.

After getting through the explanation on the basic stitches, the next lesson in The Happy Hooker is on creating circles. The circle on the left in the picture was my first circle. It's started with a loop of single chain stitches and, as such, has a hole in the center. The circle on the right was started with something like a slip-stitch -- after you make as many stitches as you want around it, you pull on the free end and tighten the hole down to nothing. Very clever and not very difficult.

Believe it or not, it actually took me a little while to figure out how to end each round of the circle without having a big gap between the series of chain stitches that start the circle and the last crochet stitch. Apparently I was putting my slip stitch into one of the chain stitches instead of into an actual stitch. Once I figured that out, it all got a lot easier and my circles looked like they were supposed to. Amazing how something so simple could elude me for so long -- I actually ripped that one out 3 times before I figured it out!

The first circle is composed of all double crochet stitches. In the second circle, I decided to practice the different stitches from the previous lesson. The first ring is single crochet, the second ring is half-double crochet, the third ring is double crochet and the outer ring is triple crochet. It's a bit hard to see, but the circle is getting airier and arier as it expands out. Making circles is also a lesson in increasing. Also something that is much simpler to do well in crochet than in knitting.

If only I'd had this book and done this little project before I put the edging on my spiral rug, I'd have known exactly how to avoid that jog! I'm not going to go back and change it, but this has gotten me thinking again about crocheted rugs made from good thick cotton yarn as accents for my bathrooms.

As it turns out, about the same time I crocheted the circles, I also picked up a copy of the most recent issue of Interweave Crochet. I think I have now found my next "sweater" project -- Annie Modesitt's Lacy Leaf Cocoon. It looks like a crochet take off on a similarly shaped jacket that she had in Vogue Knitting not too long ago. I love things like this for summer wear -- sometimes I just feel a little too undressed in just a tank top and want a little something extra that isn't too warm to wear as well. I think this project would be perfect! It's really a shame the picture on the website doesn't show you the back of the jacket. The back is what is really spectacular in my opinion. And really takes advantage of the neat thing you can do with crochet in the round. (As an aside, I like this issue of Interweave Crochet a great deal... I think it would be kind of fun to make the crocheted sandals (scroll down from the Cocoon jacket if you've clicked on the link above) and there are several other projects I can see myself enjoy making over the summer).

I've still got a few more lessons to go (and knitting projects to finish) before I commit to more yarn and a large crochet project, but I love how now that I have some basics, I really feel like I can tackle almost anything. And given how easy and fast it is to rip and re-crochet, I'm not even afraid of making mistakes. I can't see myself becoming a full-time crocheter, but I have to agree with Debbie Stoller's assessment that crochet is the perfect summer yarn-related craft and that cotton yarns (usually something I avoid when I knit) really shine when you have a crochet hook in your hand!

So I've been thinking about crochet. Like a lot of things, I got thinking about crochet because I got a good book recommendation from Julie. She'd just purchased a copy of Debbie Stoller's The Happy Hooker and was working along on a scarf and singing the praises of the section that describes how to crochet in the first part of the book.

I've been intrigued by crochet for a long time. Longer, actually, than I've been intrigued by knitting. When I was somewhere in my early double-digit years, my great aunt Verna taught me the basics of making a granny square. She didn't teach me everything, just enough so that I knew how to keep going around and around and around with my happy colored cheap acrylic yarn. This granny square became one of the biggest granny squares ever known to humanity. I just kept going and going and going, adding new skeins of yarn as I went. I kept going because I really had no idea how to stop and finish it off. I'd probably still be working on it today, except I have no idea where it went. At some point, it was just no longer in my life. And since I couldn't remember how to start another crochet project, and I was moving on to counted cross stitch, I never really got back to crochet.

And I wouldn't find my knitting muse until my mid-20's. For most knitters, crocheting is pretty much relegated to the provence of making pretty edgings on garmets. Slip stitch and single or double crochet are just about all I ever needed to do and those simple edging elements were explained in my big Vogue Knitting book. But putting that edging on my Handspun Spiral Rug really got me thinking about crochet again. I generally like doing those crocheted edgings on knitted garments: so fast, so simple and so easy to rip out and correct mistakes.

So it seemed like high time to give crochet another chance. I bought the book and decided that I was going to give myself some at home crocheting lessons, with the goal of actually creating a crocheted garment that I would enjoy wearing. Or at least some cool placemats for my table.

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Crochet Sampler Swatch: (From Bottom to Top: Single Crochet, Half Double Crochet, Double Crochet and Triple Crochet

Here's the results of my first lesson: a sample swatch composed of single, half-double, double and triple crochet, separated by a slip stitch rows. The swatch is done in Sugar n' Cream a 100% cotton yarn that I picked up at JoAnn's for just such a learning experience. I did five rows of each stitch between the slip stitch dividers. Pretty amazing how the size of the stitch can change just by adding one more loop. It also has a big impact on the density of the fabric. The single crochet at the bottom creates a much denser fabric than the triple crochet at the top.

So far, I have to agree with Julie whole heartedly -- this book does really have good instructions. After my first "lesson" with the book, I feel like I am ready to create a whole army of dish cloths. And I'm very excited about the next steps: increasing, decreasing and crocheting in the round. Maybe I'll finally actually figure out how to bring a granny square to a natural and lovely completion.

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