"The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give it away." David Viscott

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Crochet In Times Of Crisis

Some days life just seems to throw everything at you at once.  These can be some of the most productive crochet days of all!

Crochet entails a lot of repetition and counting.  This can equate to meditation if you focus on it by distracting your mind from your troubles.  Crochet will be especially effective as a tranquilizer if the project you are working on has a repetitive stitch pattern that you can do easily.

Even though I had read about people using both knit and crochet to lower their blood pressure, I had never really thought about it.  When my brother had to go to court, I brought a newly started afghan with me and finished over half of it that day!  Apparently the nervous energy I was feeling prompted faster stitching.

Sometimes you don't have time to grab a large project to go.  Therefore it is a good idea to make your travel project (the one that's always in your bag or in the car) a fairly simple one.  My travel project for the past few months has been socks, simply because with the exception of the toe and gusset/heel, it requires little scrutiny.  Round after round is stitched without change for the foot and leg and sometimes even the cuff.

In almost any situation that produces nervous energy - the hospital (emergency room or surgery), the sports arena (awaiting competition results), the car on the side of the road (waiting for severe weather to pass), the airport (when your flight is delayed indefinitely), or any other situation over which you have little to no control - you can amaze yourself with the amount of crochet you can create.  Stitching is much more productive and soothing than pacing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Crochet Design Process

The crochet design process is how things go from an idea in your head to something that can be shared with the world.  Every designer is different, but I believe the basic steps are the same.


You have this great idea, now you have to put it on paper.  Even if you think you can't draw, you have to try!  The sketch is your base.  It reminds you of where you are going.  Use color to highlight certain areas or to make the sketch more complete. 


How big will it be?  Write down how long, how wide, how tall - use arrows if necessary.  What weight of yarn will work best?  What stitch pattern?  The sketch is now becoming your blueprint for the design, so add as many details as possible.  Remember, if you are planning to use this for a submission, you may not see it for a long time.  You will need as many details as possible not only to impress your idea on an editor, but also to jog your own memory when the time comes to make it!


Now pick up the yarn and a hook and play with your chosen stitch pattern.  Practice increases and decreases in pattern and see how it looks.  You many decide at this point that a different stitch pattern or different weight yarn would work better.  Change hook sizes until you get the look you want.  Be sure to write down the hook size you settle on and any other changes in the notes. 

You may also want to block your swatch to see how it will stretch.  This is a good time to measure your gauge as well.


Go ahead and make it!  Be sure to write down notes to yourself, such as how many stitches you chained, how many repeats, how many stitches per row, etc.  Sometimes I will write "started 2nd skein here" and sometimes I will simply save the wrappers with the project to keep track of the amount of yarn.  Keep in mind that you will be using these notes to write your pattern in a format the rest of the world can understand!


There are templates available for this stage.  Some publishers have their own submission forms that can also be used as a template.  Either way, this is the point where you take all those notes to the computer and start typing your design pattern.  This is also the point where you will learn how strong or weak your note taking was.  That's why it is best to also have your finished project with you to refer to if needed. 

Please keep in mind that this is a very basic overview of the crochet design process.  There are entire courses dedicated to the topic that cover all the details. 


Monday, July 25, 2011

Crochet At The Fair

Going to the county fair each summer has become a tradition.  The kids go off to the rides, while I stroll through the arts and crafts and animal barns.  I already knew from previous fairs that there were some extremely talented thread crocheters in the area.  What I saw yesterday was truly impressive.

The first piece to catch my eye was a framed (yes, behind glass!) 24" pineapple doily.  The stitches really popped from the black matte background.  It was definitely a work of art!  I like the idea of framing - I think it would make a wonderful gift.

The most memorable piece for me was a child's granny square afghan.  What's so special about that?  It was all done in thread!  Each 4" square was done in 3 different colors.  As it was on display, I couldn't get close enough to it to count the number of rows, but I did comment to my husband "now THAT was a winter project!"  What a wonderful idea, to cover a toddler in the summer heat with a light cotton afghan!  I can only imagine how many hours that took to create.

Remember that water bottle sling I wrote about last week?  I spied someone wearing one, quite similar to the ones I used to sell, walking through the fair.  I know I didn't make it, though, as I could clearly see it was made of acrylic as I walked past.  Whoever did make it had put little accents, like a row of double crochet around the middle and a couple of curly-cues at the top.  It was actually quite cute!

There was one vendor there who's table was half crocheted baby sweaters and baby afghans and half jewelry.  I felt somewhat sad for them, as the summer heat was not the environment for selling these items and there never seemed to be anyone visiting their table.  As it was a county fair and not a craft fair, people were there primarily to have fun, not purchase gifts. 

As usual, I return home from the fair with a head full of ideas for my own crochet projects.  Time to write them all down in my idea notebook!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Crochet! - A Review

Every time I visit a bookstore, I always check to see if they have any new crochet books.  If they do, I will take the time to flip through it.  I'm usually disappointed as I find mostly how-to books.  I already know how to crochet, I want to know more!  Sometimes I come across a pattern book where a design screams out at me - I'll buy that simply for one pattern.  Every once in a while something different comes along, like Crochet! Techniques - Stitches - Patterns by Marie-Noelle Bayard.

It didn't take long for this book to impress me.  Chapter 1 - Techniques covers the usual stuff, but goes on to armholes, necklines, and buttonholes.  Chapter 2 - The Basics has the usual stitches, but some  unusual ones as well, such as the Toleware and Riddle.  The rest of the book follows the same formula, i.e. this is the basic, this is what the basic can be turned into.  I was pleasantly surprised, so of course I had to buy it!

One unique feature of this book is the index.  Flip through the book from the back, and you'll see color photographs of the 18 patterns in the book, then more color photos of the stitch patterns.  Each photo is complete with a name and a page number.  Talk about convenient!

I highly recommend this book to crocheters of all levels.  It's worth the investment!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Wake Up Call

Becoming familiar with all of the crochet publications is necessary for a designer.  Therefore, I picked up the July/August 2011 Crochet Today when I saw it at the supermarket.

Going through the magazine when I got home, I had to stop dead at page 13.  Maya Mackowiak Elson had designed a "Drink Bottle Tote".  This struck me because for years I had been making and selling what I called "Water Bottle Slings" of my own design.  It's not as fancy as Maya's version, but otherwise the same, as it has the long shoulder strap attached to a bottle cozy.  I made mine exclusively out of Peaches 'n Cream worsted weight cotton as it absorbed condensation and did a great job of keeping water cold. 

I looked up the pattern in my personal pattern notebook.  I don't know why, perhaps for just this type of occurrence, but I date every pattern I put in there.  The date on the "Water Bottle Sling" was 5/2007.  I made it for one of my kids who had to go on a hiking field trip where a water bottle was required, and she was notorious for losing things.  She loved it so much it went to camp with her!  From there it found it's way to the barn, so she had water while trail riding. 

My reasons for making it were very practical.  You can refill the water bottle without removing the sling.  You can push it around to your back to keep it out of the way.  The circumference of various water bottles does not vary much, so an 8 oz bottle fit as well as a 20 oz one.

I had been toying with the idea of sending this pattern in to the Pattern-A-Day calendar people, or perhaps posting it as a free pattern.  It wasn't a very big seller at craft fairs in Vermont - I think I sold maybe a dozen of them in 3 years.    Yet I don't want to start a reputation as a copycat designer, either.

It did serve as a wake up call.  If you have a good idea that serves a practical purpose, get it out there!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

That Nagging Feeling

Flipping through the pages of a crochet magazine you picked up on a whim, you find something that you absolutely HAVE to make.  You don't know why, the pattern is just screaming at you! 

You are not alone.  Like a sculptor who asks the slab of marble what it is going to be, certain yarns just scream at a designer what they should become.  Some patterns are so unique, so elegant, that you must make them even if you have no apparent use for the finished product.

It doesn't happen to me very often, but when it does, there is a reason for it.  These patterns usually teach me new techniques or how to obtain a certain look.  The most recent one was for a child's dress in a reprint of a Victorian era crochet pattern book.  I don't have any small children around to make things for, but I still felt I had to make this dress! 

I had recently traded some yarn for a cone of off-white rayon chenille.  Every time I looked at that cone, I saw the sketch of that dress in my mind's eye.  Eventually it got to be too much, so I started the pattern.

What did I learn?  For starters, I had to convert the pattern stitches to American stitches.  Secondly, the way the pattern mixed up vertical and horizontal stitches was incredibly easy to do and made a very defined look.  Although the pattern was intimidating at first, it was actually easier than I thought.  Lastly, it confirmed that sometimes your gut knows things your brain hasn't figured out yet. 

So if a pattern is calling out to you, take the time to make it.  You can always find someone to give it to once the item is done, and you might learn something along the way!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Crochet Designers and Artists

The more I explore the world of crochet design, the more similarities I find with other arts.  Although perhaps it may become big business, at the beginning it's anything but.

Writers submit proposals and writing samples to prospective publishers.  Crochet designers submit proposals, swatches, and sketches. 

Visual artists, such as painters and photographers, show their work in galleries and sometimes craft fairs to gain sales.  Crocheters use craft fairs and consignment craft shops.  These require finished product as inventory and usually booth fees.  Depending on attendance, there may or may not be a return on the investment.

The whole 'starving artist' scenario may apply as well.  A designer that's just starting out pays out of pocket for yarn and postage, and then waits for months sometimes to find out if they will get paid for it or not.  A musician will work on new music between gigs.  A crochet designer must also continue forward on new designs for the next submission.

The old adage of "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!" must be part of the crochet designer's mantra.  Without it, discouragement will set in.  If you look to the other arts as inspiration, you will note that persistence does pay off.

Friday, July 15, 2011

This Is The Skein That Never Ends....

...it just goes on and on my friends....

Two days ago, I came across the submission call for Storey Publishing for one skein crochet projects.  I had just purchased a skein of hand painted sock yarn earlier this week with another project in mind, but it seemed perfect for what popped into my head. 

I envisioned an open work pattern shawl or scarf.  Certainly a 400 yard skein could make that, right?

It turns out that it only took 1/2 a skein to make the scarf, and I didn't like the look of it.  Thus, I ripped it out and started on plan B - the shawl.  As it was to be triangular, I started at the bottom back point and kept increasing each row.  I thought it might be about 50 rows.  Wrong!  50 rows turned into 60 rows turned into 70 + rows!

In the past I have easily gone through (2) 200 yard skeins of yarn in a day.  I didn't think this project would take as long as it has - I won't be finishing the construction until later this morning, and it's due today!

This is my first time with a submission that is both email and snail mail.  I can only hope that a proposal emailed today will be considered on time!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Designing vs. Modifying

Attempting to morph an idea in your head into a finished crochet item is design.  The sheer amount of details can be overwhelming!  What type of yarn would work best?  What color?  What weight?  What fiber content?  What hook size?  What stitch pattern?  Then, of course, comes the writing of the pattern.

I like to jot down notes that will eventually be turned into a pattern as I work.  This is always done in pencil so I can change it easily when I rip out that last row because it just doesn't look right.  I've read how some people will make the item first, then rip it out row by row, writing the pattern in reverse, counting stitches, and measuring how many yards they've used.  This method allows you to follow your own pattern to re-make the item, editing as you go. 

Modifying a pattern is much easier and generally less time consuming.  Someone else has already designed the item, and you are simply making a few changes here and there.  This can be anything from adding a lace border to adding sleeves to a vest pattern to make the perfect sweater.  Or doing the math to make it a size or two larger than the designer wrote.  Changing the hook size and yarn can turn a fitted sweater into an over sized one. 

It's important to know the difference between designing and modifying when you want to sell your work.  If I designed it, I do not hesitate to put my label on it.  If I modified it, I will put "based on the pattern by so-and-so in such-and-such publication".  Always give credit to the original designer - it's the right thing to do.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Crochet For Fun And Profit

Crocheting For Fun and Profit is a book that was written by Darla Sims.  I picked it up at Barnes and Noble when it first came out in 2000.  Even though it is now over 10 years old, the information inside is still applicable to today.

Reading this book made me believe that it was possible to crochet for money.  It gave me the courage to submit my first design to the Herrschner's Afghan contest in 2001, which won honorable mention and yes, did pay.  What's better than getting paid and published at the same time?

The uniqueness of this book also struck me.  In a world of books on how-to crochet and thousands of patterns, it stood out.  I don't know of any other how to make money doing something you love to do in your free time anyway book out there.  This book discusses niches and the business end of things as well as technique.  It offers options.

During a time when the economy is down, this book is well worth the investment.  Darla does not go into using the Internet, but those who already know the web should be able to apply her ideas to it.  The legal stuff hasn't changed that much, if at all.  As I discovered from my CGOA mentor recently, the part about finding your niche is still very important.

If you are looking for a good summer book to read, do a search for  Crocheting for Fun and Profit.  You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Yarn Hoarding

Yesterday, one of my family members came close to accusing me of being a hoarder of yarn.  "There are bags of it in almost every room in the house!"  she said.

I will concede she is partly correct.  The moving things around to change the purpose of a couple of different rooms in my house is far from complete.  However, this does not mean I am a hoarder.

By definition, a hoarder is someone who collects things then fails to use them or give them up.  Yes, I collect yarns for projects.  If she bothered to open the smaller bags, she would more than likely find a pattern in there with the yarn.  Sometimes I buy yarn in bulk at yarn sales, and these beloved skeins are in larger, clear plastic bags so I can see exactly what is in there.  I cannot be classified as a hoarder, however, as I use the yarns - constantly.  I also have given many skeins away.

I will confess to an iota of emotional appreciation of certain yarns that feel wonderful and are pleasing to the eye.  Yet those yarns are always made into something more, something that is either sold or given away.  Yarn is the main material of my craft - of course I have a stash of it!!

I think her complaint has more to do with the fact that I am not currently using wool.  Once a year, there is a yarn sale at a local farm where I stock up on all the different weights and colors of wool I plan to use.  It supports the local economy and saves me a ton of money!  Usually I have gone through over half of what I purchased by this time of year.  Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case this year.  Does this mean I'm a hoarder?  I think it means that once the weather turns, I'll be very busy!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer Is For Sock Yarn

As I was putting a hank of sock yarn on my swift to wind yesterday, it occurred to me how wonderful sock and other fingering weight yarns are for working with in the summer months.  Although I wouldn't recommend 100% wool or alpaca, the fiber blends are wonderful.  Cotton and bamboo are terrific as well. 

Why?  They are light weight.  This means you are not going to be engulfed by a heavy warm fabric while working on it.  The skeins are small and easily portable, so you can bring them anywhere.  Finally, they come in such a vibrant array of color schemes, they are fun to work with.

I don't restrict myself to using sock yarns only to make socks.  I love to see the color variations when I use it to make shawls, scarves, tops, light sweaters and skirts.  "Self-Striping" sock yarns sometimes turn a larger project into a tie-dye color scheme. 

Sock yarns also make wonderful plus-size items.  Since gravity pulls down and most fibers have some sort of stretch, light weight yarn a crucial part of retaining the shape of larger garments that drape.  Of course there are many other factors to consider, but to me this is important.  Who wants to wear a 5 pound skirt?

I am amazed at the number of people I meet who say they love to knit or crochet, but don't in the summer because it is simply too hot.  I have never found myself with sweaty hands working with sock yarns, cottons, or bamboo no matter how high the thermometer goes. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Connecting With A Mentor

This week I have had a few discussions with my new mentor from the CGOA.  I think it's fabulous that I was assigned someone who is so different from me - there's so much I can learn!

I wasn't really sure when I signed up exactly what it would be like having a mentor in the field of crochet design, especially considering to qualify for one you need to know so much already.  As with anything, however, there is always more to learn! 

We have discussed goals, swatching, and submissions.  She suggested I visit several web sites I hadn't heard of before to learn more information.  I learned more about proposals and what editors are looking for.  We discussed size charts, fit, and drape of garments and matching them to the customer base of each publication.  She even told me what to expect for compensation!

We made a loose plan of action.  It's important for a new designer to get their name out there on line and in publications.  We discussed how to self-publish and the importance of great pictures.  Now it's up to me to use this information, learn, and act upon it. 

I am so happy that I decided to request a mentor!  Even though it took a couple of weeks, it was well worth the wait!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gauge And Swatching

When I first started to crochet, I didn't have a clue as to what gauge or swatching was.  To me, a gauge was the thing you used to check your tire pressure.  Nor did it really matter all that much, as I started with items like scarves that didn't require precise measurements.

Then I came across a pattern I wanted to make that listed the hook size as "whatever size is needed to obtain gauge."  Huh?  How exactly was I supposed to know that?  Thankfully, the pattern also had instructions on how to make a swatch.

A swatch is a small piece of crochet fabric you make using the yarn and pattern stitch of the item you want to make.  It should be large enough to get a good measurement of how many stitches are needed to make an inch across and up.  Don't make the same mistake I did at first of trying to make a 1" x 1" square!  For some reason, your stitches even out the larger the piece gets, so try to make the swatch at least 4" x 4".  It seems like a frustrating waste of time that is preventing you from making what you want, but it is necessary to ensure it your finished item will be the correct size.

There are many reasons that gauge can be off, from crocheting too tightly or too loosely to the type of yarn being used.  There are just as many ways, if not more, to correct it.  You can start by making a swatch using the suggested hook size, either in the pattern or on the yarn label.  Make swatches of the same yarn with different hooks until you obtain the gauge you are looking for.  Stitch height is a bit more difficult to correct, but there are many tutorials on the web on how to do it.

Here's a tip that I learned yesterday - save your swatches, every single one.  Mark it with the type of yarn, hook size, and stitch pattern you used.  That way you'll have something to reference in the future, therefore cutting down the time required to perfect your gauge. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Setting Goals

Goals are where you want to be or what you want to have achieved by a certain time.   They can be broken down into short term, mid-range, and long term increments.  They should be realistic, or else you set yourself up for failure.

I find short term goals relatively easy to set and obtain.  What to you want to do today?  For me, today, I want to finish that afghan.  It's so close to being done now I can see the end.  My greatest fault is underestimating the actual time required to accomplish what I set out to do.  Will I actually finish it today?  I'm not sure, but I'm going to give it my all!

Mid-range goals are slightly less concrete.  What do you want to accomplish in the next few months or year or two years?  A look at the editorial calendars tells me that submission dates for different magazines are quite close at times.  Therefore if two submissions are required for August, can one of them be done by the end of July?

Long term goals are where you want to be.  They are the road map to keep you on the path.  I was once told by a respected elder to hand write a list of things I wanted to accomplish in the next 5 years and why and post it on my mirror.  By seeing this list every day, I managed to successfully accomplish every item on that list, including buying a house, in only 4 years!  By checking an item off the list and noting the date it was accomplished, you gain confidence that the rest of it is possible.

Setting goals gives you reason for why you are doing something, which is especially important when frustration sets in.  It helps with time management as well, as it can help you prioritize.  Achieving goals provides a sense of accomplishment like no other.  The trick is to make the goals realistic so you are not setting yourself up for failure. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Doesn't Everybody?

Although I have never come across a true definition of 'crochet fanatic', I'm guessing I must be one.  Every July 4th, our family has gotten into the habit of going to a local state park after the parade, having a cookout, and watching the fireworks over the lake.  For fear of getting it dirty, the afghan I've been working on was left at home.  Instead, I brought a skein of bamboo to play with a couple of design ideas I had.  Small, portable, easy to work with, bamboo yarn doesn't cause you to sweat on a hot day.

After the cookout was over and everything packed up except the chairs, out comes my crochet hook.  There were a couple of hours to kill before the fireworks, so I thought it would be a great time to crochet.  It never occurred to me that such behavior was odd.  One woman came over to see what I was working on, and commented on how sometimes it just felt good to knit or crochet, but no one did it every day.  Huh?

Some sort of crochet project goes with me wherever I go.  Sometimes it is something that simply has to get done and I need every spare second to complete it.  Sometimes, like yesterday, I just play with ideas that I have had to see if they will work.  Sometimes I just practice stitches I feel I haven't yet mastered.  On some level, part of my brain is thinking about crochet just about every moment of every day.

My old boss used to shake his head when he would walk in to see me with a crochet hook in hand during breaks.  The traffic control guys laugh when they see that I've finished an afghan or sweater while waiting for them.  The receptionist at the doctor's office always asks what I'm working on, and sometimes where I found the pattern. 

Crochet every day?  You bet I do!

Friday, July 1, 2011


Life has thrown some unexpected curve balls my way this week, and as a result, my production fell far short of my goals.  Therefore, today is all about focus.

Like focusing a camera to get the image clear, focusing your mind on a single project works the same way.  You put on imaginary blinders to whatever else is going on around you.  All that exists is the project, and the goal is to complete it.  Look at it clearly and realistically from every possible angle.

Everyone feels overwhelmed at times.  That can feel like stumbling around in the dark, or being a fish out of water.  It's not comfortable, and you don't feel like you are in control.  When this happens to you, stop whatever you are doing.  Take a deep breath and exhale it slowly.  Write down everything that has to be done that is overwhelming you.  Prioritize - does anything have to be done right this second?  If the answer is no you can relax because it is now all written down on a to-do list.  If the answer is yes, take care of the emergency, then continue on with your day.

Think about it.  Many times "emergencies" aren't your problem at all, but rather someone close to you who is venting frustration.  Sometimes a simple suggestion (did you leave your car keys on the kitchen table?) is all it takes to defuse the situation. 

If it is your own to-do list that is overwhelming you, take a moment to focus on that.  Does everything on your list need to be done? Really?  Give yourself a reality check - there's only so many hours in day.  Can anyone else do something on that list for you? 

Take the time to regain control.  You can then tackle that to-do list or overdue project with renewed energy and enthusiasm!