Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Patterns, How do YOU use them?

     For a long time I was reluctant to use patterns for anything.  It stemmed from looking at a very complicated pattern years before I knew how to crochet.  I was convinced that all patterns were a gobbly-gook compilation of letters and numbers, and that I had to count EVERY SINGLE STITCH.  I really don't like having to count everything, so I shied away from patterns.

     Then my husband decided he was going to make a Santa hat...from a pattern.  When HE succeeded, I HAD to at least give the idea another visit.  I put it off for a few months, figuring I would come across a pattern I really wanted to or needed to try.  Then it happened, it was a pattern for a cat toy.  Being a foster home for a local dog and cat rescue, I figured I would give it a go.  I meticulously followed that pattern, and I ended up with an incredibly cute and adorable cat toy...that no one played with.

    That is the story of my life as a dog/cat mommy; I find a toy that *I* love and think will be a hit, and they just snub it and walk away.  First attempt at a pattern was a success for me, but an epic fail for the item.  I played around and made a few more for the rescue, figuring SOME cat would like it.  As I was making the toys, I decided to see what I could come up with to make the toy more appealing.  I have to say that MY version was more widely received, and the cats in my house actually played with it.  I was thrilled!

  Some might say I had written a new pattern.  I did share it with a crochet group, but I guess to make a crocheted cat toy, you have to be in the mood.  I don't think I wrote a new pattern.  I think I merely took the pattern as a guide, and switched things up and took it in my own direction.  My end result was still a cat toy, and it still had many of the features of the original.

   I also love to quilt.  In looking at patterns for quilts through the years, and more recently at crochet patterns, I am stunned by how many people change a color of fabric or yarn, or the finished size, and claim to have written a new pattern.  I have to laugh at the patterns, online especially, that say you may not use any part of this pattern in a new pattern.  Does this person REALLY think they have created something so new and so far out there, that no one else would ever think on their own to put a single crochet stitch beside a double crochet stitch!?  Some of these people act like they just re-invented the crochet hook!

  All that said, I use patterns as a guide.  I often combine elements from several patterns, to get just the look I want.  I am not writing a NEW pattern, I just am not following THE pattern.  I am pretty sure we have all seen a pattern that we just have to make, and then something either doesn't make sense or we dislike a certain part.  Why be stuck doing it according to the pattern?!  Why not explore your options and your skills, and do something different?

   And then there are mistakes.  Yes, some patterns have mistakes!  *GASP!!!!*  Do you stop and go no further, or do you try to fix it on your own.  I know many people are actually afraid to fix it on their own.  I also that MOST of those people COULD figure out how to fix it, or change it to work better, but they are afraid to venture out on their own.  It is only yarn.  It isn't going to explode if you change something, and it isn't going to bite your finger off.  The pattern writer isn't going to come yell at you for changing a stitch.

     Patterns are written by people.  Most patterns are written by a person who has decided to try a different yarn or pattern combination, since that makes all the difference... I intend for that to come across VERY sarcastically.  You and I are not yarn drones.  You and I are hookers.  Hookers that likely have at least 1 HUGE pile of yarn.  I will often see a pattern that calls for a bulky yarn.  Bulky yarns are more expensive than the 4ply worsted weight yarn, so I tend to buy them more selectively and less often.  I will try a pattern, at least part of it, in a "regular" yarn before I go buy MORE yarn...

     Well, I USUALLY do.  I participated in a Mystery Crochet Along a few months back, and I bought the yarn FIRST.  That crochet along was for a hat.  The pattern was written in such a way, that MOST of us ended up with REALLY BIG hats.  I had to rip out my hat and start again.  Then I figured out I didn't really want to.  That yarn sat around for awhile, and I JUST used it for a set of wrist warmers.

     Crochet patterns for the most part, are not like sewing patterns.  Crochet patterns can be played with and moved around and mixed and matched to give YOU the look YOU want.  Using a dishrag pattern for an afghan is fine, as is using an afghan pattern for a dishrag!  Taking bits from a pattern is fine.  I just made some Christmas trees with stars on the tops.  I used a pattern for the stars, from a napkin ring pattern.  I like to think my trees look great, even IF I didn't use the pattern the way it was written!

     Improvise!  Play around!  Explore!  Experiment!  Look at patterns with the idea that you are looking at the elements within the pattern, and not necessarily with the idea that you have to make the whole piece.  You might just be surprised to find how truly creative you are!

Remember, no one is going to knock on your door and yell at you for not doing precisely what the pattern says.  The yarn won't bite you.  Crochet is all about the finished product, NOT the pattern(s) you used to get there!

     Here is the original cat toy pattern:

     Here is what my more popular with my cats cat toy looked like:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Crocheting for Christmas...

     Wow, where to begin?  The gifts, the decorations, the kitchen items!?  The list is endless and seems to grow with each day!  Too much yarn, too many patterns, and only one Purple Hooker makes for very busy days!   

     Let's see, I have some Christmas trees to make, let me start there.  I received a pattern in an email from a friend, after admiring her tree.  It is such a great pattern, I will share it with you below.  The pattern calls for support so it can be placed on a table.  I made 2 the other day for a set of 2 year old twins... I left out the support, didn't want them killing themselves with the things!  The trees were so incredibly cute, and they stand up quite well on their own.  Even the kids' parents loved the trees.

    I next made a pink and purple tree, still a W.I.P., for a little 4 year old girl who will be spending Christmas in rehab after having her appendix burst and the doctors not realizing what was wrong until it was almost too late. When my oldest was 6, we had a blue flocked tree, so I figure I can make Hannah a pink and purple tree.

    I have a wonderful friend who teaches at an elementary school in Odessa, Texas.  I asked her before making the tree, since she teaches in a public school and that is such a touchy situation these days...I didn't want to get her in trouble because I love my yarn so much and need people to give to.  I am right now working on the little ornaments for her tree, and later today I hope to have it all put together.

     Then there is my own little tree, a hooker can't make something so cute for everyone else and not make one to keep and enjoy... I am pretty sure that is a law!  My tree will be bigger, since when making something for yourself, you always know EXACTLY what to do to make it a hit!  Hookers among you will understand that!  So far for my tree, I have a few tiers.  Who knows how many tiers I will end up with, I will know only when I have enough :-)

     Once the trees are done, I have stockings to make... I haven't figured out exactly what to do there, but that is a few days away.  Then there are coasters to make, ornaments for friends, gifts that I haven't even started, and who knows what else will pop up on my radar as a MUST make!!

    Oh, and I am working on a wreath...just have a bow to make for that.  Here is the pattern I used for that, ,I used Red Heart Mistletoe yarn instead of the fall colors, and my bow will be solid red.  I will post a picture today or tomorrow of it once it is finished.


•    28-35 ozs. green knitting worsted, medium weight.  I use Red Ball "Christmas green."
•    size H hook for tree
•    7-9 ozs. green or white metallic or angora yarn for trim
•    size F hook for trim
•    1/3" wooden dowel
•    green spray paint
•    14-oz. tuna or chicken can, washed, with label removed
•    metal or plastic piping just large enough to accommodate the dowel*
•    plaster of Paris
•    hex nuts and metal washers one size larger than dowel, for spacers

Use green worsted and size H hook.  Turn after each round.

Top section
Row 1:    Ch 4, join with sl st to form a ring.  Ch 1, 10 sc in ring, join.
Row 2:    Ch 3, 5 dc in each sc, join.  (50 dc total)
Row 3:    Ch 3, 3 dc in each dc, join and break off.  (150 dc total)

Second Section
Row 1:    Ch 4, join with sl st to form a ring.  Ch 1, 10 sc in ring, join.
Row 2:    Ch 3, 2 dc in each sc, join.  (20 dc total)
Row 3:    Ch 3, 3 dc n each dc, join.  (60 dc total)
Row 4:    Ch 3, repeat row 3 and break off.  (180 dc total)

Third Section
Row 1:    Ch 4, join with sl st to form a ring.  Ch 1, 10 sc in ring, join.
Rows 2, 3, 4:    Ch 3, 2 dc in each sc, join.  (20, 40, 60 dc total)
Row 5:    Ch 3, 3 dc in each ed, join and break off.  (240 dc total)

Fourth Section
Row 1:    Ch 4, join with sl st to form a ring.  Ch 1, 10 sc in ring, join.
Rows 2 - 6:    Ch 3, 2 dc in each sc, join and break off.  (20, 40, 80, 160, 320 dc total)

Fifth Section
Do same as Fourth Section, but with 7 rows.

You can make this tree as large as you wish by making additional sections, each with an extra row.  The tree pictured above has seven sections.

Sc in each stitch around the edge of each section using the trim yarn and the F hook.  For a fuller look, you can put two sc into each edge stitch, to accommodate the difference in weight between the yarn and the thread.  (Note that the amount of metallic thread given at the top is for one sc in each stitch.)

You can trim the top of the tree with a star or angel ornament, or anything else you want. You can hot-glue it into place or leave it loose to facilitate dismantling the tree from the top.  (See Assembly instructions below.)

Or you can crochet a topper cone out of the same green yarn you used for the tree:

F hook
green yarn

Ch 2 and make 3sc.
Make 2sc in each. (6sc)
2sc, sc, 2sc, sc, sc, sc. (8sc)
2sc in the first sc; sc the rest. (9sc)
Sc for 1 round.
2sc, sc, sc, 2sc, sc, sc, sc, 2sc, sc. (12sc)
Sc for 1 round.
2sc, sc, sc, sc, 2sc, sc, sc, sc, 2sc, sc, sc. (15sc)
Sc for 2 rounds.
2sc in the first sc; sc the rest. (16sc)
Sc for 2 rounds.
Join, snip, leaving a 10-inch tail.

*These instructions assume that you want to be able to disassemble the tree for storage.

Determine how tall you want the tree to be, top to table.  Cut the dowel to that length and spray-paint it if you wish.

Cut the tubing to the height of the tuna can plus 3".  Close one end with a piece of tape.

Fill the tuna can with plaster of Paris.  Sink the tubing, taped end down, into the center of the wet plaster and leave until set.  You may have to put a piece of tape over the top and down to the can to guy it in place so it remains vertical.

When dry, insert the dowel into the tubing.

Slip the tree sections over the top, largest first.  Separate the sections with hex-nuts, with a washer on top of each spacer to evenly distribute the weight of the crocheted layers.  Experiment with the hex nuts to get the height you want; fewer make for a shorter chubby tree, while more make it taller and slimmer.

Top with whatever you have chosen.  You can balance a hollow angel on the top of the dowel.  If you prefer to hot-glue the topper in place, you can then disassemble the tree by pulling the dowel out of the tubing and removing the layers and spacers from the bottom.

I cut mini-poinsettias off the main stem, leaving the short ones, which I thread through the edges of the layers.  I suggest hot-gluing the blooms onto the short stems first, because they pop out easily.

If you don’t intend to disassemble the tree, dispense with the tubing and sink the dowel directly into the plaster of Paris.  Guy it in place with tape to ensure that it’s perfectly vertical as it dries.   Hot-glue the spacers and tree sections in place.  Hot-glue the trim onto the sections; I use tiny birds, colorful beads, or mini candy-canes.

For my star, I used the star from this pattern:  I made 2 and then whip stitched them together.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Learning to crochet the "right" way...

     It was March of 2006 when I learned the "right: way to crochet.  It was almost by accident, since I was actually taking a class for a knitting loom called the Knifty Knitter.  After that class was over, I was talking to the instructor.  Somehow the topic turned to crochet.  Even back then I always had a hook and yarn with me.  I whipped them out and started way.

     The instructor looked at me and told me that wasn't crocheting!  Ummm, it may not be the conventional method, but what I ended up with was exactly crochet.  What she mean was I didn't have the smooth fluid flow of my hands and the yarn.  Each stitch was excruciatingly more complicated LOOKING than it actually was.

     She showed me how to hold my yarn in my left hand to pull tension.  Okay, I got that down by pulling yarn through my fingers over and over.  Now how was I supposed to hold this yarn like that AND crochet MY way at the same time?!  She then had my move my right wrist back and forth, the way you do when you crochet.

     She then stepped back and told me to crochet.  I looked at her like she had just told me to kill my husband with the crochet hook!!  I didn't think I could do either of them...give me a knitting needle, and my husband might have been doable.  I just sat there for a second, and finally she spoke.  She told me I already knew how to build the crochet stitch.  I nodded while I stared blankly at her.  She told me to TRY it.

     I thought for a second or 2, while staring at my hook and yarn.  I shrugged slightly and figured I would try it.  At the same time though, I was thinking there was NO WAY I was going to be able to crochet a stitch without using the fingers on my left hand.  It was very slow going, but alas she was right and I was wrong...I hate being wrong!

     I left the store with new yarn, something that plagues me to this day...I can not go into a craft store without buying yarn for crocheting or fabric for quilting. It is like going to Walmart for milk.  When you leave the store, you have 3 bags and are $30.00 poorer.  I got home and I couldn't wait to start crocheting the "right" way.  I sat down, got out my hook and my new yarn, and I stared at the two without a single clue as to what I needed to do next!  10 minutes prior I was crocheting the "right" way, and now I sat there with nothing.

     I decided I would chain a few stitches, since every method of crochet starts with some sort of chain.  After many miles of chaining, I decided that wasn't really doing it for my memory.  Okay, it was probably more like 6 or 7 feet, but if you have ever chained that long, you know it looks LOOOONNNG.  I pulled out the chain, and started again.  This time I got to a reasonable length and thought for a second.  Okay, I DID know how to build the stitch.  I could do this.

     I wrapped the yarn around the fingers on my left hand as I had been shown.  I held my chain in my left hand between my thumb and index finger.  I had my hook in my right hand.  I went in through BOTH loops (remember, I had only been using one loop before), picked up my loop and stopped.  I then wrapped the yarn around my hook and pulled it through the loops.  HEY!!  I COULD remember how to crochet using my right hand for the stitch making and my left to guide the thread and pull tension!  I was a crocheting turtle!

     I was slow crocheting when I used both hands to form a stitch, and this new way was even slower.  It took me hours to crochet the length of a small blanket, and then come back and do the next row?!  It was daunting!  I kept at it though, since I found my hand and finger were very sore and stiff if I missed a day.  Slowly I picked up speed, and I learned that all crochet stitches are built off the same basic principle of the single crochet.  Today, my friends watch me and comment on how fast I am, or how quickly I finished a project.

     I have to make time each day to crochet, it is what keeps my right hand in working order with the least amount of pain.  Since I have to make this time, I am able to work on my projects every day.  I also get more time each day since I stay at home with our dogs and cats...and let's not forget all of my "imaginary" friends online ;-)

     I put quotation marks around the word right in this post, since I have learned through the years that each crocheter holds the yarn and hook a little bit differently.  There is no right way to crochet.  I have taught a few people to crochet.  I always tell them that if they don't mind their "mistakes", to keep going.  Embrace your work and love it.  If you are gifting it to someone, unless you confess, that person isn't going to know how you crocheted it, let alone if you crocheted it the "right" way!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Healing a Broken Hand

How I came into crocheting is likely far different than most stories you have heard.  My grandmother didn't teach me at her knee, and my aunts and my mother would have tied themselves in knots trying to crochet.  In fact, my mother and I tried several times through the years to learn how to crochet.  It never happened.

Then one night in 2003, I went to an arts and crafts night for military wives.  One of the other wives was going to teach us all to crochet.  I laughed hard at this, knowing how many times before I had tried so hard to learn.  This time though, it was different.  I don't remember her name, but she showed us a VERY primitive method to crochet.  EVERY single stitch required 2 hands.  It was very mechanical and basic, but HEY!!  I WAS crocheting by the time I left!

I crocheted a few blankets using this method, not even knowing I was supposed to go through BOTH loops of the stitch in the previous row!  I was doing a decorative stitch and didn't even know it!  One of the blankets I made this way, I sent to my husband who was on a long deployment on the USS Nimitz.  I was so proud that I had finally learned to take yarn and make knots to actually make a blanket and not just a mess of knots.

I crocheted that first blanket, the one I sent my husband, for therapy!  No, not mental therapy, though it DID provide that as well, I crocheted that blanket for therapy for my HAND!

On December 23, 2002, I was delivering a box of food to another military family, for Operation Homefront.  Carrying a rather large box, I went to step up onto a sidewalk... only the curb was higher than most sidewalk curbs.  Down I went, box and all.  The family rushed to my aid, and I had scraped my knee up pretty good.  My hand hurt, but my knee was bleeding.  After sitting for a few minutes to gather my composure, I thanked the family for their help and left.

It wasn't until I went to open the car door that I really noticed I might have really hurt my hand.  I couldn't make a fist or bend my index finger.  I got in the car, buckled up and drove right index finger pointing to the sky.

On December 26, still not able to bend my right index finger, and experiencing intense pain throughout my hand, I went to see a doctor at the Naval hospital in San Diego, affectionately referred to as Balboa.  The doctor I saw at Balboa heard my tale, looked at my straight and only slightly swollen finger and informed me it was just jammed and it would take a few days to get better. He didn't even splint it.

I thought maybe he was right and went home, and lived life with my right index finger pointing always faithfully to the sky.  I experienced on and off pain throughout my hand, but I figured it would go away at some point.  When February rolled around, and my finger was still stuck in position, I returned to Balboa.  This time another doctor looked at it and sent me for x-rays.  The x-rays of my finger were fine, though he agreed something was indeed wrong.  I was then informed that sometimes jammed fingers can take a few months to heal...

Finally July rolled around and I was still going through life with my right index finger frozen in place.  I was beginning to experience a lot more pain a lot more often.  Back to Balboa I went.  More x-rays were taken.  This time the doctor also said my finger looked fine, but I was referred to a hand surgeon since it had been so long.

I made the appointment and waited.  It was during this waiting time that I went to the arts and crafts night and learned to crochet!

Finally it was the day of my appointment with the hand surgeon.  He took x-rays of my entire hand, not just focusing on my index finger.  He came in with a very serious look on his face.  He put my x-ray up and showed me where the bone leading to my finger had been broken off.  My index finger was not broken after all, it was actually my hand!  He was a little upset that Balboa had taken so long to send me his way.  He told me had I come to him sooner, or had Balboa looked at my HAND and not just the finger, things might not have gotten so bad.

The part of bone that had broken off was absorbed by my body, so it wasn't even there to repair.  I was informed that I could still have near normal function of my hand and finger, but I would likely experience pain that would increase as I got older.

The hand surgeon then sent me to physical and occupational therapy to regain use of my hand and finger.  As I was talking to my occupational therapist, she asked me if I knew how to crochet!  I told her I had just learned!  She then grinned and told me I was about to get "a whole lot better at it"!  I showed how I crocheted, using my right middle finger since I was just starting to get movement back in my index finger.  She told me to really try to use my index finger...and that I needed to learn the "REAL" way to crochet.

I went home and made the blanket.  Crocheting, along with the other hand exercises I was doing, brought my hand back to almost full function... I now only have slight movement issues, when I try to do things like turn a lid.  I credit crocheting most of all, since it was the only exercise that I really enjoyed!  I could SEE what I was doing.  I went from doing 4 or 5 stitches a few times a day, to whole rows a few times a day.

Crochet healed me!