Saturday 25 April 2015

Borders, Bobbles and Procrastinating

You may remember that in January I launched into hooking two blankets at the same time for using in my up-and-coming retreat space, which is shortly due to become a reality in my garden. I don't know why I can't just do one thing at a time but, it seems, I can't. And although it was, may be, a little on the ambitious side, I haven't fallen by the wayside too much on getting on with them. In fact, the body both of my stripy Handmade Glamping Sampler blanket and my Painted Roses blanket was finished before Easter. Good news! And you'd think with the end in sight I'd have got on with the borders but, somehow, I've kept putting them off.

Borders intimidate me slightly. We don't get on very well for various reasons:
1 I am never quite sure I have enough yarn to complete them and dread having to frog a whole round on a big blanket;
2 because my arithmetic is so erratic, I have no idea whether my stitch count is going to work with a particular border;
3 while I find crocheting along the top and bottom edges of a blanket is quite easy, going down the sides of rows and trying to make sure the stitches look evenly spaced is not at all easy. "Cats' teeth" stitches anyone? Mine sometimes look less like cats' teeth and more like crocodile bites and dearly though I love crocodiles, and I do, (more on that idiosyncracy at some future point, perhaps), borders that resemble crocodile toothmarks are not quite what I am after, in my hooky endeavours;
4 my creative momentum seems to give out with the last stitch of the final row, or the final join of a block, leaving not much mojo left for a border; feeble, I know, but there it is;
5 I underestimate what a difference borders make to a blanket and secretly wonder if I can get away without bothering; "No, you can't, Mrs T!"

This is all rather foolish and I felt I really must get my act together. I began with the stripy affair because that was pretty big to begin with and didn't need much of a border - just something to enclose the stripy, bobbly rows nicely, and in which to hide all the yarn ends, so I filleted a few rows out of the border pattern as given in Handmade Glamping and kept it simple - one "granny row" of groups of three double crochet stitches (trebles in UK terms) and then a couple of rows of single crochet stitches (doubles in UK terms) to finish.

Done! And even in its simplified form, it's really pulled the whole blanket together.

What was so difficult about that, Mrs T?!

The border on the other one is still, ahem, in progress but in my defence I can at least say I have started on it!

Here is the finished one:

I love the bobbles!

... and the soft cosiness of the wool and cotton mix yarn* ...

... and the stripes...

Did I say, I love the bobbles? I really do!

But I love the colours, almost as much as I love the bobbles ...

... and the way it tumbles and riots cosily...

... I love the whole thing, in fact, border included!

*The yarn is Spud and Chloe's Sweater, if you're interested, which is expensive but an absolute dream to crochet with and the colours are amazing. It's an American yarn, but if you're in the UK, you can get it at Mrs Moon's wonderful On-Line shop here (where I see it's on special offer at the moment).  I wouldn't normally use such an expensive yarn for a blanket but this is an exception and I hope to enjoy it for many years to come, before handing it on to another Mrs Tittlemouse perhaps, to enjoy in a future generation.

The colours I've used are:
jelly bean
ice cream 
tiny dancer
and lilac

Can't think why I put off finishing it. Anyone else do this, get to within an inch of finishing a project and find the last lap a real effort, that you put off and put off and once it's done, wonder why it took you so long?!

Wishing you all a happy weekend 
with finishing-off mojo coming your way, 
if you're like me and have a tendency to procrastinate!

E x

Thursday 16 April 2015

Washing Line Tales Part 3

This is the finale in my posts about my washing-line exploits, (for the time being, anyway!). You may already feel you have had more than enough of washing-line tales by now, but as this episode is a little bit different, I thought I'd post it, to round things off, if you see what I mean.

As I mentioned in my Part 2 post here, I've found it very difficult to get the sides of my washing-line baskets to turn up at, anything like, ninety degrees and then remain perpendicular to the base to form more of a cylindrical, bucket-like shape. However carefully I turn the basket up, it persists in splaying out, as it spirals upwards. Not that that's necessarily a problem, if that's the shape you're after, but I did fancy something more barrel-shaped.

What to do? Turning the conundrum over in my mind, I thought back to the crochet baskets I've made using no rope, just two strands of cotton yarn - most recently here. These don't have any problems with the sides turning up at a right-angle and remaining more or less perpendicular. Could I combine the two techniques, perhaps? Aha! A light-bulb moment!

Want to see what resulted? Here it is!

Much straighter sides, and very little splaying out. Bingo!

This is how I got there. (In case you'd like to also.)

Firstly you need some lightweight 1/8" / 3.2 mm diameter rope like this:

You'll probably need a couple of skeins for a basket this size (10"/ 25 cm in diameter, 10" / 25 cm high)

You also need some lightweight yarn - an acrylic / cotton mix is what I used. (Scheepjeswol Softfun,  a Dutch yarn that I used for my Spring Flower Bag and coin purse last year. You can get it in the UK here.) You don't want anything too dense or the finished basket will weigh rather heavy.

You'll also need:
a hook, one size up from what you would normally use for your yarn - I used a 5mm instead of the 4mm one specified on the ball band.
a tape measure;
a permanent marker pen;
plenty of safety pins;
stitch markers;
sewing thread and a sewing machine.
(Flowers and hens, optional - see below!)

What you do:
First coil the end of your rope round to make a little circle with a hole in the middle and the main part of the rope going off to the left (unless you crochet left-handed, in which case, it should go to the right). Pin in place and  using a zig-zag stitch, machine stitch it in place, to secure it.

Now get your hook and yarn and beginning with a slip-knot, make 15 single crochet stitches (UK double crochet stitches) into the ring. (Round one) Put a stitch marker in the first stitch so you know where the round should end. You are now going to crochet over the rope in a spiral adding 15 stitches in every round and crocheting over the rope as you go. So, in round two you will make 2 stitches in each stitch (30 stitches in total). In round three you will make 2 stitches in every second stitch (45 stitches in total), in round four you will make 2 stitches in every third stitch (60 stitches in total) and so on, increasing the gap between increases, by one stitch in every round. My base was 13 rounds deep so my final round had 195 stitches in total ie 2 stitches in every 12th stitch, with 11 stitches between increases.

When you want to change colour, join your new colour with a knot, just before you finish the final stitch of the round before, as in the pic below, so that the colour-change is nice and seamless. Crochet over the ends as you go, to avoid any pesky yarn-end-sewing-in later. : )

Continue until you have a circle the size you want. Mine was 30" in circumference. Measure the circumference and make a note of it. This is important because that old rope wants to go a-splaying and a-wandering and you're going to need to rein it in. Using your permanent marker, mark your rope in sections, each measuring the circumference you're working to. You don't have to mark all the sections at once - you may not know how many rounds you'll want to add to the sides to begin with anyway - but just make sure you stay ahead of your crocheting so you're never crocheting over rope that doesn't have a mark to aim for. From now on, you will not make any increases at all and you'll keep the same number of stitches in each round. A good idea to count them and make a note at this point therefore.

What you'll find is that as you get near the end of the round, despite the absence of extra stitches, your mark is short of the finish-line and the sides are beginning to lean outwards. You can see mine here, heading for the wild blue yonder without a backward glance! Naughty!

As you can see in the pic, my mark is arriving about 2" short of the end of the round. Which we don't want. So pull gently on the rope to tauten it up and get the mark to coincide with the finish line as in the pic below.

You can see in this pic what's happened now. The sides have been pulled in, to go up nice and straight. Which is what we want!

Before you get carried away and carry on blithely crocheting, safety-pin both the crochet and rope at the marked point otherwise it can start walking, when you're not looking. I know this because that's what mine did and it had to be frogged and redone! Thank you, H, for the safety-pin suggestion - works brilliantly!

Keep on crocheting round in simple single crochet stitches (UK double crochet stitches), maintaining exactly the same number of stitches in each round and changing colour whenever you feel like it. It grows fast because each stitch, made over the rope, is significantly bigger than a normal single crochet stitch would be, without the rope inside it to expand it. We are motoring now! Neeeeowwww!

When, or if, you need to join in a new bit of rope, splice the two ends together and machine stitch together with a zig-zag stitch over the join, backwards and forwards, a few times.

Trim off any fraying edges on the rope, on a slant, to make the join less bulky and carry on!

I made the handles in the same sort of way as I made them in my fabric-wrapped version. Mark where you want them to come and mark the handle length on your rope and simply crochet only on to the single layer of rope on the handle section itself - make sure you use enough stitches to cover it completely - and go back to crocheting into the stitches below when the handle ends.

On your next round (the final one) crochet along the top edge of the handle, joining the rope, as you go, on to each handle, to make it nice and strong, as I've done here, in the paler green colour.

When you reach the end of your final round, carefully cut the rope at a slant ...

... and crochet a few slip stitches over the join, and beyond it, as if you were beginning another round. Only you're not beginning another round, so fasten off and sew in your yarn end.

Now, if your basket is going to be mainly decorative, you may wish to omit the next step but if it's going to work for its living and you might at some stage want to wash it, I suggest using the sewing machine to stitch with a zig-zag stitch, both over the end of the final round where the rope ends and heading south, in a line that crosses all the rounds, from the top of the basket to the bottom, where your safety pins secured each round end, at the correct marked point. Take your safety pins out before you start stitching, obviously. This means any ideas that rope may have had of taking a meander or a wander, now, or at any point in the future, are well and truly scuppered! Even on the high seas of the washing machine! I went down and back up again just to make sure I had that rope's colours well-nailed to the mast! It ain't going anywhere fast now, me hearties!

You may find that the act of stitching down, flattens the crochet stitches out slightly and leaves the rope peeping through in places, or you may find the stitching looks a bit too obvious. I found that, anyway. To correct this, simply thread up a few short lengths of yarn in the right colours and make a few strategic over-stiches to cover any gaps. Tie off neatly inside the basket and no one will ever know!


 ... after!

The finished basket isn't as stiff as the fabric-covered ones but it holds up OK, even without anything  in it and actually, it's not going to have nothing in it - it's going to have yarn and shopping and may be a picnic to carry. And, filled-up, it stands up very nicely indeed. I'm very happy with it, anyway.

When I took my basket into the garden for photography purposes, it aroused interest from an unexpected quarter.

This is Black-Eyed-Susan who is very friendly and won't go to bed without being fed from a caring hand. She only gets sunflower-seeds like this, as I draw the line at plunging my hand into the bar-snacks bowl, aka the dried meal-worm tub!

I was flattered to think she liked my basket too!

Enough to hop up on to the back of the garden bench and get a proper close look at my crochet stitches and the nice, stripy colours. What a discerning hen you are!

But it became clear, that actually it wasn't my crochet at all that she liked the look of! It was those yummy flowers I had provided for her especial delectation and delight!

OK, Susan! That's enough of that!

I hope, if anyone wants to give this a go, that my little tutorial notes are helpful. Feel free to email me if anything isn't, or ask a q in the comments and I'll reply there.

E x

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Washing Line Tales Part 2

My experiments with wrapping washing-line in fabric and stitching the results into baskets have continued over the last few weeks. It's proved rather an addictive process. Or more accurately, I should say, it's proving rather an addictive process because I am still at it, in spare moments.

I've learned quite a bit since I started. In case you're interested, here are my conclusions. I hope they might be helpful to any of you wanting to give this a whirl too.

1 Cutting the strips of fabric on the bias gives a much cleaner finish. (You are so right, Nancy!) I don't mind the soft, slightly ragged edges on my first basket but the clean edges that the bias-cut strips retain after the winding and stitching process, are undoubtedly satisfying. Not so quick to rip the strips up, though - they need cutting properly, with a cutting-wheel, ruler and cutting mat. 

 2 My second basket contains three skeins of washing-line so it is really big and roomy as well as being strong. (It measures 16" / 41 cm wide at the top, 10" / 25.5 cm wide at the bottom and 7" / 17.5 cm high) Surprisingly light though. Very practical. Would make a fab laundry receptacle or ironing basket.

3 I have progressed to adding handles, which, I think, are a useful addition to my prototype. Very easy. You just stop stitching the spiral continuously, for the space of your handle, and then resume when the handle section comes to an end. The next time round, you carry on stitching onto the handle section. The results are pretty sturdy. I did some extra zig-zagging along the lower part of the handle and the upper part of the basket below the handle afterwards, just to make sure, though, as you can see, in the second and third pics below.

4 Before I tracked down washing-line of the right thickness, I'd bought some thinner, cotton rope at B&Q and so I thought I'd have a little play with that too, to make a smaller basket. The rope is only 1/8" thick and that makes the process rather more fiddly. I think, ideally, I should have cut thinner fabric strips for this diameter of rope. Half-inch-wide strips may be a bit wasteful because of the way they wrap round, over the narrower circumference and smaller surface area. If I did not have a gnat-sized mathematical brain, I suspect I would have known this ahead of empirical discovery of the same, and not cut all the strips too wide, but, tant pis, mes amies!

This smaller basket came out measuring 8" / 20 cm wide at the top, 3" / 8cm wide at the bottom and 3.5" / 9cm high. It weighs almost nothing in the hand*. Deliciously light and satisfying somehow. *2.75 oz / 80 g to be precise - I've just weighed it on my digital scales. As you do!

5 Both these versions have been made with scraps of Liberty lawn collected over the years, most of which were too small really, to do anything with, but were too nice just to throw out. Some of them are so ancient they probably qualify as "vintage". Over twenty years old anyway. The shortness of a lot of them made it tricksy to get them to stay in place before stitching, but it's been a good way of using scraps that would otherwise have languished, unused, and the thinner weight of the Liberty lawn, as opposed to normal dressmaking-weight cotton fabric, is perfect for making the stitching breeze along - no more broken needles - yay! (Although I've bought some industrial strength jeans needles for future deployment!)

I wouldn't exactly go out and buy expensive, Liberty lawn for making a basket, but any scraps you have - hoard them! This is a good way to show them off and make something useful too, I think.

6 Despite my best efforts, I cannot make the basket turn up from the base at anything more than a 45 degree angle. Slightly frustrating, as I quite fancied making a more bucket-shaped version. 

7 Where there's a will, though, there's a way. I'll post about that in part 3 of my little washing-line tales saga! 

In the meantime my big, new basket holds the yarn for my version of the Lilypond CAL. This is a gorgeous project designed by Jane Crowfoot in conjunction with Stylecraft yarns. The patterns are free and are being released in fortnightly instalments over the next four months. Have a look at Janie's post about it here and you can find the patterns here, if you're interested. The yarn used in the original design is Stylecraft Life which is an acrylic / wool mix. I am using Stylecraft Classique Cotton in my version because I had quite a few of the colours already in my stash. Deramores, the UK On-Line yarn store, are selling blanket-making packs for this project, both in Stylecraft Special DK yarn and in the Stylecraft Classique Cotton, and you can pre-order Stylecraft Life packs from Janie's website in the first link I've given above. Have a look, if you're tempted! The colours in the Classique Cotton are slightly different from those in the original design so I am playing around with a few alternative colour possibilities. It's keeping me creatively happy (when I'm not tying myself in happy washing-line knots to make baskets, that is!)

Happy Creating!

E x

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Eastertide 2015

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that comes alive in Holy Week and Easter

"I hear and I forget;
                               I see and I remember;
                                                                  I do and I understand."

I increasingly think that "doing" is more important than "hearing" or "seeing". Which is perhaps an odd thing to say when I spend so much of my time listening, writing, reading and speaking. But it's true, I think. And this Easter has been a wonderful journey of "doing" in all sorts of ways, both sacred and secular. An "alive" mixture of meaningfully-serious and frothy-and-frivolous. I recommend it for the sheer, accentuated feeling of being alive that comes in its wake. I do much the same things every Eastertide, but some years are special, for some reason, and 2015 is one of them.

Tutorial for these eggs here
Wishing you all 
 the Easter blessing of living life to the full, 
with those you love best.

May life, light, love, peace and joy be yours. 

E x