Friendship shawl

Today I had the immendse pleasure of a day-long visit with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in three years, and to celebrate I made her this shawl! I only picked up the yarn on Thursday, so it was a real race to the finish — I worked on it for 1-3 hours every night, and ended up doing the last three rows in front of her while we chatted. It got done just in the nick of time. My right thumb is feeling cranky and will definitely need a rest, but that’s ok. I’m just glad I managed to pull it off.

The yarn is Lion Brand Shawl in a Ball Metallic, in the colourway “Prism”. It’s got beautiful long transitions between sort of peacock-y colours, and a strand of blue metallic thread carried through the whole thing. Pictures don’t show how nicely it sparkles! The yarn is pretty soft to work with despite the metallic element, and it doesn’t fuzz and fray as much as regular SiaB; I had some of the non-metallic version a few years back and it was a nightmare to work with and impossible to frog. Whether this is a difference between the two related product lines or just a general improvement, I’m not sure.

This is a “virus” pattern — so-called because it expands in every row, and you just let it grow until it’s the right size. This particular one is often just called virus, although technically I think it’s German shells. It’s a simple four-row repeating pattern, and once I reminded myself how to get started it was pleasantly mindless. (I’ve done the same pattern before for another shawl and a baby blanket.) For this I used a size H hook, which gave me a lot of drape.

Fun fact: someone once pointed out to me that the centre line of the pattern looks like angry owls. I can’t unsee it and now neither will you.

Process vs. Product

Sometimes you make something and it just isn’t what you envisioned. It’s hard to know what to write about it in this case: “here is a thing, and it disappointed me” is not the tone I usually strive for. But here we are! I made a thing! It wasn’t fun to make and I don’t like the outcome. TA-DAA.

I mean, it’s not objectively hideous. But I am very conscious of the following things:

  • I had forgotten how much I dislike making amigurumi. It’s all small hooks and super-tight hand-hurting tension and counting, counting, counting all day. Forget it!
  • Because I don’t like crocheting ami, I shortened the ears by a good ten rows and completely omitted the arms. The pattern was for a sleepy bunny, rather than the… generic animal head? that I ended up with.
  • I didn’t have any polyfill and didn’t feel like driving across town to get some, so I stuffed the head with scrap cloth. In many ways that’s fine, but it kind of throws off the balance (though with a heavier head and the blanket trailing behind this would probably be great for throwing).
  • The ears appear to be different lengths. An optical illusion? Did I add or omit an extra row? I don’t know, man, counting stitches is annoying.
  • Also I’m not crazy about spirals. Working in the round is fine, but I’d much rather join at the end of each row than work continuously.
  • I used some of the crappier acrylic from my stash and it’s just not that nice to work with.

What this all boils down to, I guess, is that I am even more of a “process” crafter than I realized. It was already obvious to me that I’m not attached to my finished products — I have no qualms about giving things away or chucking them into the back of a closet no matter how much work I put into them. Out of sight (or perhaps, off of hook), out of mind. But what’s clear now is that whether a project is a success or a failure in my eyes has almost everything to do with how much I enjoyed the creative process and almost nothing to do with the actual result.

For my own records; I used Bernat Super Value yarn in white, Red Heart Super Saver in “Monet” (leftovers from Perpetua’s blankie), and the eyes and nose were done with Stylecraft Special DK leftovers from my Eastern Jewels blanket. I used a 3.75mm hook for the animal parts and a 6mm hook for the lovey portion.

Anyway, this was supposed to be a gift for someone’s baby… but I feel weird enough about it that I’ll just make something else. This can go into the toy bin for my daughters to fight over and I’ll pretend it never happened.

Oh well. At least someone likes it.

Season of small projects

I’ve been making and finishing small batches of things, lately.

With my machine (and a small amount of hand-stitching to finish) I made a dozen double-sided cloth napkins out of fabric I had in my stash. The gold stripes and the blue were both pillowcases. The green and the brown stripes were… I don’t know what. Bolt leftovers, I suppose, that I think I got from my friend Kendra many years ago.

I crocheted a hanging basket so that our hats and mitts would have somewhere to go besides all over the floors. This is yarn from my stash and it’s either Red Heart Super Saver or a similar acrylic from Bernat. It’s too rough and stiff to use for a garment — the sides stand up on their own! — but it’s great for this kind of household storage.

I darned a favourite pair of tights for Perpetua, using three stands of embroidery floss and a wooden darning egg. It is a very amateur job but got it done. She says that it feels “great, but more tickly!”.

I made Perpetua an ear warmer and she hated it, so I turned it into a hat for me. The first picture (a mid-construction fit check) is more accurate to the colours. The yarn was a small skein of some soft and lovely 100% alpaca given to me by friends a number of years ago. It can sometimes be hard to find good projects to do when you only have one skein of something, but this ended up being exactly the right amount of yarn. This was made without a pattern.

And finally, after many many months of hiatus, I’m working on my Eastern Jewels blanket again and determined to complete it. There are sixteen of these octagonal tiles, and I had finished them all through to row 9 — and then just got the most terrible mental block when I tried to move on to row 10. There was something off in my counting, I think, but I just couldn’t figure out what to do! But recently I looked at it again and it just clicked, so we’re off to the races. I can finish one tile (rows 10-15) in an evening and it’s been really fun to see them come together. I have some plans to expand and slightly alter the pattern so… stay tuned for that 🙂

Yarn and thread

Once upon a time, when we were relatively newly married and in our starving graduate student phase, my husband and I bought our first (artificial) Christmas tree, which cost $30 on sale at Rite Aid. We bought a few strands of lights, and I made some ornaments out of sculpy to supplement our small collection. As for the bottom of the tree, all we had for an improvised tree skirt was a white sateen baby blanket someone had given Anselm. It fit very awkwardly — being a rectangle and all — but we made do.

Two years ago we upgraded the tree, but we’ve still been making do with the same improvised tree skirt… until now!

This was made semi-following a pattern I bought from Mary Maxim. I followed it exactly for the twelve snowflake motifs, but then went off-piste for more of the rest. The original pattern isn’t a joined circle, but has two sort of flaps that overlap in order to make it easier to put around the tree. I prefer the security of having it totally closed; we’ll just have to remember to put it over the stand before the tree goes in. No big deal. I decided to go with a single red accent stripe in the outer section mostly because I was running too low on the other colours, but I brought the white and tan back in when I added the tassels. All in all, I’m very pleased with how this came out.

The yarn is also from Mary Maxim, called “starlette sparkle”. It’s nice and glittery, but it’s a fairly rough acrylic. That makes it good for household projects like this one — but I wouldn’t want to wear it. Still, I expect we’ll be using this for decades to come, which pleases me.

Also in the realm of pleasing things, check out this beautiful old girl:

That, my friends, is a vintage Singer 403a, manufactured in either 1959 or 1960. My grandmother was downsizing, and — lucky me — I ended up with with sewing machine. It came with the manual as well as all requisite parts, and after a good cleaning and oiling this morning it runs like a dream. It’s been years since I’ve had a working sewing machine, so I just sat right down for two quick and dirty projects!

I do mean quick and dirty. I neither ironed nor pinned (I know, I know). But I think they came out well regardless. The first used the fabric from Perpetua’s old broken umbrella, which I turned into waterproof tote:

The second is an envelope-style slip cover for a throw pillow (I’ll make its twin soon):

This fabric is very special to me. I mentioned recently that I’ve been sorting through all our old baby things as Tertia outgrows them. Something I couldn’t bring myself to either sell or donate was the woven wrap from Lenny Lamb that I used to carry Anselm through most of his infancy. He was a winter baby, and a heavy one (!), and those long cozy layers were perfect for us as I learned to be a mom.

And so, instead of getting rid of it, I decided to transform it. Anselm’s wrap will live on in our home as cushion covers, and perhaps other things as well — there’s certainly enough fabric for more projects. It warms my heart to have a reminder of those special months that’s so tangible, beautiful, and practical. Hooray for being able to sew again!

The honeycomb blanket (free pattern)

This blanket made it safely through the mail to its recipient, so I can finally blog about it!

Dear friends of ours are expecting their third child very soon, and since the sex is a surprise I thought a nice neutral like yellow would work well. This is Lion Brand Scarfie yarn in the colourway “cream/mustard” which reminded me very strongly of bees and honey — and so the honeycomb blanket was born! I’d never used Scarfie before, but it’s a delightful wool-acrylic blend, warm and very soft, that I would be happy to crochet with again.

The construction of this blanket is relatively simple. If you can crochet a granny square, you can crochet a granny hexagon, as the principle is exactly the same. Once you have the basic pattern down it’s easy to just keep repeating until you’ve achieved the desired size. In this case, I used almost four skeins of yarn for a toddler-sized blanket.

Start with a magic circle (or if you’re rather not punish yourself, ch 4 and sl st to join).

Chain 3 to serve as your first dc, 1 dc — this is your first granny cluster (six sides requires only 2 dcs per cluster as opposed to the regular 3). Ch 1, and repeat until you have 6 clusters joined with a chain stitch in between each. Slip stitch to close the round and move over to a chain space.

Ch 3 to serve as your first dc, 1 dc, ch 1, 2 dc — this is the first corner cluster of your second round. Repeat pattern in each chain space around; you will have 12 dc granny clusters, with a chain space in between every second cluster. The chain spaces will be the corners of your hexagon (although it can be a little hard to discern them in the early rows this will become very obvious soon). Slip stitch to close the round and move over to a chain space (corner).

Repeat the general cluster pattern, doing two clusters joined with a chain in each corner of the previous rounds, and a single cluster in between each non-corner cluster. Go until your hexagon is as big as you want it, then sc around for a nice finish.

Happy crocheting!

Can’t stop, won’t stop

… making 12-pointed star blankets, that is. I think I’ve found my default pattern. Someone’s having a baby? Star blanket! Need something warm for winter? Star blanket! Just feel like crocheting something with no occasion or recipient in mind? It’s star blankets all the way down, baby.

As it happens, this particular star blanket does have a recipient. It’s for my husband — partially because his office is freezing, and partially because I realised I had made blankets for all the children but nothing for him. Actually I don’t think I’ve crocheted him anything since we were engaged (sorry, honey). But I hope this lovely, cozy, squishy blanket will make up for that deficit.

[Edit: not true; I made him a tea cosy. Thanks, Mom.]

The yarn I used for this is Fanatic Lux by Feza Yarns in their colourway #8. It’s an acrylic-wool-nylon blend which is soft and warm. It’s also a chainette yarn, which was something new to me. Instead of being plied in the usual way, chainette is machine knitted into a thin hollow tube — like a shoelace. Even though this yarn should be at least bulky weight by width/thickness, the hollow core means that it’s deceptively lightweight.

Fanatic Lux is discontinued, but I bought five skeins from someone on reddit, originally intending them for a cardigan. I used the entirety of four and most of the fifth, working with a K hook. It was a real pleasure to work with.

Of course, just because it’s for my husband doesn’t mean that he’ll get to use it…

Women’s work

A few months ago I read a fascinating book, Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times (that’s right, it’s rigorous enough to need two subtitles!). She traces the history of textile production — perhaps the quintessential women’s work — from the Paleolithic through to the end of the Iron Age, drawing on archaeological evidence as well as written records and even artwork. It’s well worth a read if you have any interest in spinning, sewing, weaving, or their related arts and crafts… or in how to tease out historical accounts from activities like these that are often very marginal to official records, for that matter. It’s a dense read, but an excellent one.

Something that really jumped out at me, however, comes from the introductory chapter, where Wayland Barber asks what it is about these activities that makes them traditionally “women’s work”? She quotes from Judith Brown’s 1969 article, “A Note on the Division of Labor by Sex” in her explanation:

Twenty years ago Judith Brown wrote a little five-page “Note on the Division of Labor by Sex” that holds a simple key to these questions. She was interested in how much women contributed to obtaining the food for a preindustrial community. But in answering that question, she came upon a model of much wider applicability. She found that the issue of whether or not the community relies upon women as the chief providers of a given type of labor depends upon “the compatibility of this pursuit with the demands of child care.” If only because of the exigencies of breast feeding (which until recently was typically continued for two or three years per child), “nowhere in the world is the rearing of children primarily the responsibility of men….” Thus, if the productive labor of women is not to be lost to the society during the childbearing years, the jobs regularly assigned to women must be carefully chosen to be “compatible with simultaneous child watching.” From empirical observation Brown gleans that “such activities have the following characteristics: they do not require rapt concentration and are relatively dull and repetitive; they are easily interruptable and easily resumed once interrupted; they do not place the child in potential danger; and they do not require the participant to range very far from home.

Just such are the crafts of spinning, weaving, and sewing: repetitive, easy to pick up at any point, reasonably child-safe, and easily done at home. (Contrast the idea of swinging a pick in a dark, cramped, and dusty mine shaft with a baby on one’s back or being interrupted by a child’s crisis while trying to pour molten metal into a set of molds.) The only other occupation that fits the criteria even half so well is that of preparing the daily food. Food and clothing: These are what societies worldwide have come to see as the core of women’s work (although other tasks may be added to the load, depending on the circumstances of the particular society).

Readers of this book live in a different world. The Industrial Revolution has moved basic textile work out of the home and into large (inherently dangerous) factories; we buy our clothing ready-made. It is a rare person in our cities who has ever spun thread or woven cloth, although a quick look into a fabric store will show that many women still sew. As a result, most of us are unaware of how time-consuming the task of making the cloth for a family used to be.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber, Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, pp. 29-30

This jumped out at me because it makes an intuitive sense, and accurately reflects my own stage of life. Women bear and birth children; until very recently on the scale of human existence, only women could feed the youngest members of the species. Women have not traditionally been the cooks and gardeners and sewists and spinners because of an inherent aptitude for that work or an inability to perform other tasks, but because of the biological realities and demands of mothering.

Everything I do at home is mediated by those same concerns and responsibilities. I have three children under seven, one of whom is still nursing; all of my daily tasks have to be fit into the day around breastfeeding, diaper changes, naps, home schooling, squabble mediating, disciplining, reading and playing, and of course the constant, unending cycle of making food, serving food, and cleaning up after having food. I spend 14-18 hours a week putting children to bed. My cumulative breastfeeding time is now up to 4.5 years (and counting!). And so it makes sense that my hobbies are things that fit around these things: reading, writing, sewing, embroidery, crochet. They’re the kind of thing that I can pick up and put down as needed, that can be left on top of the piano for a week before being picked up again, that don’t take more thought or attention than I can easily spare.

And they’re slow. Handiwork takes time: even a small baby blanket can easily take a dozen hours or more to crochet, depending on the yarn weight and pattern. It takes many evenings of work to finish a piece. I don’t mind, really. The time it takes to make something sends its own message to the recipient: that I value them enough to spend my time in order that they would be warm, or that their clothes would be mended, or that their house would be beautiful. And while I’m very glad that I don’t have to make all of our family’s clothes by hand, or spin my own thread and yarn before I can use them, I love being able to feel myself a part of this great historical chain of women working with our hands to make, mend, and care. Women’s work is good work; here’s to twenty thousand more years.

Third time’s the charm

Another baby, another 12-point star blanket. This is such an easy project to work up, simple to memorize, and I love the way it looks when finished. I’ve previously made this pattern (two ways) with Red Heart It’s a Wrap Rainbow in “foggy” (Levi’s blanket, Sami’s blanket); this blanket is for Mayah, an old friend’s baby girl, and since the package finally made it to her I can blog about it now!

This also uses Red Heart It’s a Wrap, but in their “Sprinkles” line rather than Rainbow. As you can see, Sprinkles is an apt name for it! All those lovely long colour changes are still present, but one of the four strands is variegated, which breaks it up visually and disguises the change-points somewhat. This colourway is called “sundae” and I got it from YarnCanada.ca (that’s not a referral link; they’re just my go-to).

As usual, this blocked up nicely. This is in my tiny little basement craft room, and it’s got almost the last bits of carpet left in our house — which I suppose I can’t get rid of or I’ll have nowhere to dry large projects!

And now that this is finished — both blanket and post — I’m going to take a drink and a book outside and enjoy the sunshine in our backyard. Happy Sunday!

Pattern: Easy Child’s Crocheted Ruffle Scarf

This is an easy scarf for the child in your life who loves all things ruffled! It was inspired by the “Mindless Mandala Scarf” from Trifles & Treasures; the biggest difference is that with my pattern you’re only working on one side of the starting chain, which gives a spiral effect.

This works up quickly. I used some Lion Brand Mandala in “Thunderbird” that I had left over after finishing Anselm’s afghan, and I love the effect of the long bands of colour. Between the shape and the stripes, this scarf made me think of turkey tail mushrooms the whole time I was making it.

Anyway, here’s the pattern!

Child’s Crocheted Ruffle Scarf

Abbreviations used:

  • ch = chain
  • sc = single crochet
  • hdc = half-double crochet
  • dc = double crochet
  • st = stitch

Materials: Any 4-weight (worsted) yarn with its suggested hook size; adjust as needed if you’d like a longer or wider scarf.

Foundation: Ch 150.

Row 1: Ch 1, turn, 1 hdc in each ch across

Row 2: Ch 1, turn, 2 hdc in each st across

Row 3: Ch 1, turn, 1 dc in each st across

Row 4: Ch 2, turn, [2 dc in first st, 1 dc in next st], continue across

Row 5: Ch 1, turn, 1 hdc in each st across

Row 6: Ch 1, turn, [2 hdc in first st, 1 hdc in next st], continue across

Row 7: Ch 2, turn, 1 dc in each st across

Row 8: Repeat row 7

Row 9: Ch 1, turn, 1 sc in each st across, fasten off

Happy crocheting!

A few recent crochet pieces

None of these were intensive enough to warrant their own posts, so here’s a quick roundup.

1. Hat for Tertia

I started by following the pattern for this hat from Five Little Monsters, but I got bored/annoyed eight rows in and just freehanded the rest. Yarn was Lion Brand Mandala in ‘Thunderbird’ (left over from Anselm’s afghan) and I used an I/5.5 hook.

She thinks wearing hats is hilarious. It’s the best.

2. Dishcloths!

I wanted better dishcloths so I bought some scrubby cotton yarn and whipped these out over a couple of evenings (not pictured: a few more that are either in use or in the wash). It was a good chance to also get in some practice with changing colours! This is Red Heart Scrubby Cotton in the colourways ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Blissful Print’. I used a G(4.25) hook and they’re all just simple half-double crochet squares.

3. Tertia’s Christmas stocking

Only briefly alluded to in my Christmas-rehash post, here is the thing itself, hung by the chimney with care. Obviously it’s got her real name underneath my hasty scribbles; this was the first year I remembered to do the embellishment before crocheting the two sides together. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, it was much easier that way. Yarns were random basic acrylics from my stash (probably Red Heart and/or Bernat) and I probably used a G hook. Maybe. I don’t know; I just wanted to finish.