Sunday, September 17, 2017

Learning to Crochet - VI

This is the last post in my series. I guess at this point I have quite a bit of crochet under my belt and even though I am still a beginner certainly not a novice.

Where next? Sweaters, socks, shawls, afghans. Endless choices. 
Also now I feel equipped enough to buy more luxurious wool yarn for my projects.

Just like designer fabric there is a ton of designer yarn available.
Some of my favorites are:

On the other end of the spectrum is crocheted lace. I ordered a set of finer crochet hooks.

I perhaps need to invest in a pair of magnifying lenses before I tackle that. :)

Then there are variations on crochet tatting, u-pin. And of course knitting!
For now I am content with quilting with crochet on the side.

Hopefully you found the posts informational and can perhaps help you pick up a new hobby. Let me know if you have questions or need more details on anything, would be willing to help.

To sign off, here is some extreme crocheting. I chanced upon the work of Jo Hamilton at the Seattle Art Fair. I was absolutely blown away and had never seen anything like it.

And then there is the work of Susanna Bauer. Crocheted magnolia leaves, stones and wood. Amazing stuff.

And then there are some crochet installations by Joana Vasconcelos. I have not seen any of her works in person, but would love to.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Learning to Crochet - V

On a quick visit to Target to get some essentials I chanced on some yarn in the sale bin. There were two sets of two balls of yarn. I loved the colors and decided to make small cushions with them. Since I only had two balls of yarn each I decided to make one square side till the yarn ran out and repeat for the next ball of yarn.

I particularly love this one with the metallic strand in it.

Once I had two sides I used a closely matched plain yarn to join them. I used a single crochet on three sides. However the seam was not as nice looking at the back of the cushion, so I went around an created a faux chain to even out the look.

I devised my own method of making a zippered fabric lining to allow for washing later. I hand sewed the lining and zipper to the woolen shell. In this case I added some ticker tape for a bit of interest. I even washed the pillow to make sure the stitching holds up and it did!

Now that I was a little more confident of my skills I ventured into my local yarn shop, The Tea Cozy Yarn Shop. It is the most adorable little shop. For the first time I was looking at yarn in person, touching and feeling the fibers. I was introduced to a whole bunch of designer yarns. Having already hoarded fabric when I started quilting, this time around I am determined to only buy yarn by the project. I was still itching to crochet something in cotton and use twisted cotton this time. I chanced upon Ultra Pima from Cascade Yarns. I immediately thought of making a cushion for the living room.

I had liked the texture of Bobble stitch I mentioned earlier and got started.

A week later I had a completed pillow. I love how the invisible zipper is truly invisible.

A little more detail on the two sided seam.

I am thoroughly enjoying using this pillow and plan to make more.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Learning to Crochet - IV

Having crocheted mainly with acrylic and cotton I now diverted my attention to more non traditional fibers. My mom gave me some scrap cording from her projects. It is actually metallic silk covered cotton cording for bags.

I made some small pouches with these. They look so dressy. I am still waiting to find appropriate zippers to finish them.  I used only one type of stitch to make each pouch. I like this better than a more patterned look.

I would like to source more of this cording, but cannot seem to find it anywhere. I am open to recommendations if you know where I can get more. An accent pillow made with this would be great.

Next I looked towards using finer cotton thread and make some doilies. Frankly doilies are not my thing. I don't really like the look but to give it a try I made a place mat using a tutorial from Purl Soho.

And a tiny one for my bedside table.

I think I am done with doilies for now...attention strays to a new project......

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Learning to Crochet - III

All along I was eager to try making Granny Squares. All the colorful scrappy afghans I had seen on Instagram was what had prompted me to learn crochet and I was ready to try one on my own. What came as a surprise to me was there is a classic granny square block and a ton of variations on the block.
I mean the possibilities are endless. I waded through a lot of patterns and ultimately settled on the Sunburst Granny Square.

I decided I wanted to make the granny square quilt in cotton. I researched cotton yarn and found that I really liked the color and texture of DMC Natura Just Cotton yarn. I wanted bright cheery colors and settled on the combination below. Each finished square measures 4 inches so I need to make about 360 blocks for a small throw. This is definitely a long term project.

I found this yarn to be splitty. Like I mentioned earlier it is low twist so it feels a lot softer but you have to be careful not to leave strands out. Oh well, live and learn. Another thing with granny squares is burying threads. No matter when you bury them, while making the squares or later it takes a while. Next time perhaps I will not change the colors as much.

I have been slowly chipping away making blocks but have a long way to go.

The little baskets I made earlier are coming in handy. This project is pretty portable.

While this project continues in the background I diverted my attention to more short term projects that I will cover next.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Learning to Crochet - II

There are a handful of basic stitches in crochet. Most patterns are a combination of these stitches. To list the main ones.

When starting a project you have to cast stitches using what is called a foundation chain

When making a round motif you start with chain loop or a magic circle. You will need this when making a granny square.

Turning your work and starting a new row also requires a bit of practice. A chart to illustrate how many stitches you should take when turning a row. Also when you turn a row the edges of your work will start to look uneven. You need to handle that correctly. This explains how to get around that. When doing this you need to be careful not to drop or add stitches. If you started with X number of stitches you should have X stitches on every row. If you continue to drop or add a stitch with each row the crochet swatch will not be square but conical in shape.

There is a comprehensive list of tutorials by Ester at It's All In a Nutshell that I found invaluable. She even has her own YouTube channel where she addresses both left and right handed crocheters.

There are a bunch of YouTube videos from American Crochet Association.

If any of these tutorials are not to your liking you can just search on YouTube and hundreds of tutorials by individuals or bloggers will also appear. Take your pick. There is no shortage of online free resources.

So initially you should be ready to practice, practice, practice.

Create swatches of 15-20 stitches and do them over and over again till you get the hang of the process. Things you should aim for:
  • Good ergonomics, your fingers should not ache at the end of two hours of crochet.
  • Even stitches, even tension. Tension is a tough thing to keep steady at first. With practice you will start to get the hang of it. Try to notice if you lean towards taking loose stitches or tight stitches. If your swatch looks all curled up the tension is too tight, use a larger hook. If your swatch looks a bit too holey the tension is too loose, adjust yarn tension using fingers or use a thinner hook.
  • Do not drop or add stitches as you add rows. Try to get even looking edges.
  • Try and establish a rhythm you can stick with.

If the swatch is not to your liking just unravel and start over. 

Once I created a few swatches using acrylic yarn, the practical me was wondering what I would do with them. Keep them, throw them away. This prompted me to switch to another alternative. Wash cloths. For wash cloths you need 100% cotton yarn. Lily's Sugar 'n Cream is a good choice, affordable and at the end you have a stack of wash cloths for use. I must have created at least 20-25 swatches. They were just so fun to make and I got a ton of practice in the process. This exercise also helps determining which stitch you aesthetically prefer over others. I found that moss stitch was my favorite.

I even made a few baskets to store my crochet supplies.

Once you get comfortable with the basic stitches you can try other more complex stitches which are essentially a variation or a combination of basic stitches.

Some of the ones I really like are
Another thing you can practice is changing different colored yarns. Color blocked swatches look great.

Reading patterns:

Being able to read patterns is a complete game changer. At that point there are very few things that are out of reach.
Here is a complete glossary of abbreviations you will see in a pattern.
Sometimes the pattern is represented using symbols.

You can start with an easy pattern and you will be surprised how quickly you catch on. I considered making a beanie or socks which would have been more useful but instead bought a pattern for making crochet flowers from The Hat and I and made a few of those. This really helped me get accustomed to reading a pattern and familiarizing myself with the abbreviations. I made these using a pack of Bonbons. It is a good way to get a sampling of colors in small sizes.

Once I was a bit comfortable with smaller projects I was ready for more of a commitment. I ordered a ball each of Aran weight yarn in rainbow colors from LoveCrochet online store. This store is not for you if you like instant gratification. The yarn takes a while to arrive. Anyway I was in no hurry. Since I really like the look of Moss stitch I decided to make a small afghan using that stitch.

I had exactly one ball of each color but I found that while I worked through the colors I had different lengths of yarn remaining. For some colors I ran short of completing the section and the reason was the tension of my stitches varied. I was not consistent. Some sections were loose and some were tighter. This was apparent once I washed the afghan. For me consistent tension was the hardest part. Also keeping edges straight and neat looking was a challenge. I had to really follow the tutorial I mentioned earlier to get straight clean edges. Now I understand why people add a border, it kind of masks the knotty edges.


Apparently blocking is a must in crochet. Blocking is the act of mildly washing the finished project and drying it flat securing the edges in the shape you want it to dry. Makes a big difference to the final project. Once I blocked the afghan the differences in tension were not as apparent. Also acrylic and wool are a bit forgiving to inconsistent tension issues. The afghan was a perfect rectangle once I blocked it. Blocking is particularly helpful when making wearable items likes socks, sweaters and shawls.

Once I was done with this I decided to make a few more quick blankets with a huge emphasis on keeping consistent tension.

I was happy with the way things turned out and was ready to move to the next project.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Learning to Crochet - I

I have spent the last few months learning to crochet and decided to chronicle my journey in the hope of helping a fellow newbie. I have prepared a six part post documenting my learning curve so that it may make someone else's journey a tad bit easier.

Having never held a crochet needle before I kept seeing granny square afghans on Instagram and it really peaked my curiosity. I could not wrap my head around the technique. How do you get one continuous piece of yarn to make shapes? I had also looked at a lot of Amigurumi items on Pinterest and was fascinated by the process. I have a cousin who is a master at crochet and she keeps making one thing after another and sending me pictures. I had to give it a try.

Just around that time I saw a destash sale by Erin at pipersgirls on Instagram for a pack of Clover crochet hook set and snatched it up.
Crochet Hook Set

I had some scrap wool laying around from my tapestry phase and started making tiny swatches. The best resource to learn all the different crochet stitches was YouTube. It is amazing how many good tutorials are out there.

I am going to go through a few things in detail before I continue recanting my crochet journey. These are things that I discovered along the way.


Crochet does not require many tools. Just a few crochet needles based on the yarn thickness, a big eye tapestry needle (blunt tip) to bury the ends and a pair of snips. Once you get a little advanced perhaps a few stitch markers. So far I really haven't needed anything else.

Stitch Markers

Blunt Tapestry Needles

You can get plain aluminium crochet hooks, which are a fraction of the price. However I prefer the ergonomics of a padded handle. Crochet requires repetitive hand movements and it can wear you down easily. It is essential you take a break every 10 to 20 minutes, else stiff shoulders and neck are a surety.

Plain Crochet Hooks

Some of my favorite are handcrafted crochet hooks made of artisanal wood from BQueen Collection. Driftwood crochet hooks from Lykke. The choices are endless. You can get as fancy as you want but perhaps you want to ensure you will stick to this hobby before going all in.

Another point to note is the finish on the hooks. There are ones with matte finish and others with shiny chrome finish. Apparently the shiny chrome finish is too slippery for certain types of yarn whereas matte works with all yarn. I have yet to experience slippery yarn phenomenon but then I do have hooks with a matte finish.

This is pretty much all you need in terms of notions.

Next we talk about yarn.


This is probably the most confusing part of the process. Selecting your yarn.

Most yarns are made of either acrylic or natural fibers. I have seen a few that are a hybrid of both.

Acrylic yarn is a lot cheaper in price and more readily available in big box stores. Not recommended for at home dyeing.

Natural yarn includes everything from wool, linen, cotton, silk, jute, etc. A lot of natural yarns are a blend of two or more materials. Natural yarns can get pricey very quickly but they are a sheer joy to work with. They breathe well and your hands don't get sweaty. There are a ton of artisanal natural yarn choices. It is very hard to resist. They are also good for custom dyeing. Naturally dyed yarn is my favorite. This is a topic by itself which I will cover later.

Then you have specialty yarn like nylon, mainly used for macrame. Metallic yarn mostly used for crocheted bags. Recycled T-shirt yarn, recycled denim yarn, etc. The list goes on. Wool roving, extra bulky yarn that require large custom hooks or used in arm knitting. Ohhio is a great little shop that stocks extra bulky yarn.

Yarn weight:

This is the most important thing to know about yarn. Yarn comes in different weights. The major categorization is:
  • Extra bulky
  • Bulky or Chunky
  • Aran or Worsted
  • DK or Light Worsted
  • Sport
  • Fingering or Sock
  • Lace

DK or Light Worsted is the most commonly used weight. As a beginner I would recommend using Aran weight yarn as the stitches appear more distinct and easier to count. I would also recommend using lighter colors as it makes it easier to see if you skip or add stitches. Do not use black, dark blue or dark gray for your first project. It makes it very hard to inspect the quality of the stitches, with a lighter shade it is easier to spot missteps.

The hook size you use depends on the weight of the yarn. Most yarns will tell you on the label which hook size to use. Usually they mention a range. For example for Aran weight yarn they recommend 4.5mm - 5.5mm hook. The size you want to use depends on the overall look you are going for. 5.5mm hook will give a more loose weave whereas the 4.5mm will give a tighter weave.

Recommended hook size 4.0mm - 4.5mm
Super wash wool - will hold up to washing
can be washed in washing machine at warm or cold temp.

Recommended hook size 3mm
Can be washed in washing machine using cold water, lay flat to dry only

We will talk about yarn tension in a bit but you can vary the hook size to counter the tension with which you crochet. If you find that you tend to crochet with a tighter tension use a bigger hook or if you tend to take looser stitches use a thinner hook to even out the look. You don't want very loose stitches nor you want stitches that are very tight.

Wool or acrylic is a bit stretchy so it is more forgiving in terms of tension whereas cotton or linen is less forgiving. 

Also when picking yarn there are high twist and low twist yarns. Low twist yarns have a softer feel but tend to split easily and are a lot harder to work with as a beginner. I would definitely recommend using a twisted yarn, especially when using cotton or linen.

Yarn is also differentiated by how easy or difficult it is to maintain. Arcylic is quite easy. Can be washed in a washing machine and dried on a gentle cycle. You can also lay flat to dry. There is no fear of moths getting to it.

Natural yarn can vary. Some woolen yarn is specially treated and is described as superwash, which means it will hold up to multiple washes. Most of them however must be washed in cold water.  Warm or hot water felts the wool. Some finer yarn like Cashmere, etc. can only be dry-cleaned. So please look at the washing instructions and pick the appropriate yarn for the project at hand. You also have to protect the final product from moths and silver fish.

If you buy yarn from a big box store most of them are already wound in a ball and you can start using them immediately. However if you happen to get a hank or a skein of yarn you will need to roll it into a ball. If you buy from your local yarn store they will have a ball winder and do that at no cost. You have to ask. Else, you might need to get home and do it yourself.

At this point you have a set of crochet hooks and a ball of Aran weight yarn in a light color. That is pretty much all that your need to get started. Next we will talk about the most common crochet stitches.