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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Bamboo Experiment

As I am currently working on designing summer things, I've been working with both cotton and bamboo.  I wanted to know if items made of bamboo yarn would float.  Therefore, I set up the following experiment.

First, I made 3 small (3"x3") swatches: one from size 3 cotton, one from Aunt Lydia's bamboo, and one combining the two.  I placed all 3 in a large bowl of tap water.  The cotton sank almost immediately, followed by the cotton/bamboo approximately 30 seconds later.  Amazingly, the bamboo stayed afloat for over 12 minutes!  It didn't sink until the entire surface area was saturated. 

Next was the stretch test.  I hung all 3 swatches on the clothesline weighted down with a single clothespin and let them dry for 24 hours.  There was absolutely no significant change in size with either the cotton or cotton/bamboo swatches.  The bamboo, however, grew over a centimeter! 

This result backs up the story I heard at the local yarn store.  A woman had knitted a skirt out of 100% bamboo specifically for the store's annual fashion show.  She wore it for the first time the day of the show, where it started to stretch.  At the end of the day, it had lengthened 8 inches!  The skirt had stretched so far out of shape that she needed to cut it and put a zipper in to make it wearable at all. 

It may add a bit to the weight, but I'm thinking that combining mercurized cotton with bamboo is the way to go for garments.  I don't want a crocheted top to end up looking like an over-stretched dress.  I think the bamboo would work great for hats and beach things that may end up in the water. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Severe Weather - Irene

One good thing about bad weather is all the guilt free time available to crochet.  The authorities tell you to stay indoors (at least in my area) and everything is cancelled or closed, so what better way to spend the day? 

Let the rain pour down, and the wind whip through the trees as my crochet hook flies through the project at hand!  My heart goes out to all of those people who were adversely affected by the storm.  My eldest daughter brought home a friend whose road was washed out thus couldn't get home. 

The eye of the storm passed within 30 miles of here, wreaking havoc on the lower elevations.  Several roads are closed due to flooding and washouts.  Schools are closed due to flooding and power outages.  It may be several days before things start to get back to normal.

Thus I choose to look at the bright side - I have more time to crochet!  Every extra hour is a gift I plan to use to create something good out of a bad situation.  Perhaps I can finish something today....

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

So Much Yarn, So Little Time

As I was going through my stash yesterday trying to match yarn to intended projects, it once again amazed me exactly how much yarn I have.  I know the next few months will put a dent into it, with birthdays and Christmas, but even so, I'll still have yarn left over for future projects. 

This leads me to think of yarn shops.  Ever watch people in one of those?  They scan the colors and read the labels, but mostly they simply feel the yarn.  Yarn is a tremendous form of comfort for those who knit or crochet.  Not only comfort by touch, but simply being surrounded by so much beautiful yarn, so many vibrant colors, touches a crocheter to the very core of their being. 

If I was having a bad day at work, a trip to the local yarn store was in order.  I've answered "are you looking for anything in particular?" with "a little sanity in an insane world!", which usually garners the response of a knowing nod.  Hundreds of skeins neatly ordered in bins or on shelves insulate one from chaos. 

Perhaps this feeling of safety and security is why every avid crocheter and knitter I've ever met has more yarn than they will ever use.  A sensory security blanket, having a stash of yarn simply makes us feel good.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sometimes the Strangest Things Happen

After the fire at our house caused by a window fan, everything ended up "in a box somewhere."  This included all of the projects I had been working on for Christmas gifts.  It didn't matter that the fire had been contained to one room; the entire house had to be packed up so it could be "binned" to get rid of any residual smell.

All of those Christmas projects for last year were finally found this past weekend!  Thankfully, they were all together and in perfect condition.  I now have a little bit of a head start on the holiday season, as most of the projects had been started.  All of them are in various stages of completion.

What astounded me is one project in particular, a pair of slipper boots.  The first boot was complete, the second only needed a couple of dozen rows on the cuff.  For whatever reason, the instructions were not in with the project.  Yet it only took a couple of minutes before I was completing them.  The human brain is amazing in its capacity to remember the smallest of details!  The stitch pattern wasn't difficult, but it wasn't one of the more common ones used either. 

This reinforced my belief that even year old unfinished items can be completed without instructions.  Take just a few moments to study what has already been worked, measure your hook (if it's not with the project) to the last few stitches, and see where it leads to.  You just might finish that project after all!  I know I did!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Warning: Black Does Not Scan Well

Crochet design often presents many frustrations that seem to come out of nowhere.  I ran into one of these roadblocks recently when I designed a crocheted hat.  After spending many hours working on it and its significant amount of detail work, I brought it over to the scanner to start the submission process.  The hat was worked entirely in black simply because that was the first skein in my stash I grabbed of the correct fiber and weight.

That is when I discovered something new.  Black does not scan well.  None of the intricate details I had so painstakingly worked into this design showed up.  This is not lace, but rather texture detail, so no amount of blocking would help.  I tinkered with the scanner settings, to no avail.  After cursing the technology, I had to face facts.

I now was left with 2 choices:  redo the hat in a different color or make the submission by mailing the hat and all other related materials.  Reworking a swatch is not really an option as the shape of the hat is crucial to the design.

It is always helpful to find a way to make a roadblock to work in your favor.  In this particular case, it looks like I will be doing my own pattern testing to see if I can re-create this hat in a different color following my own directions.

I've never had issues scanning surface/textural detail in lighter, more colorful projects.  Now I have learned that black is not a good choice for working samples I plan to scan.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Choosing the Right Yarn - Stretch

One of the many factors when choosing the yarn for a project is how much it will stretch.  It's a shame to make a garment that can only be worn once due to gravity.  It's also quite unnerving when a handbag becomes the size of a tote!

These examples are not exaggerations, but real life lessons learned.  I was in a yarn store yesterday asking about bamboo.  I was told a story of a person who knitted a skirt from it and within 3 hours it had stretched out over an inch.  By the end of the day it was way too big and dragging on the floor!  I must admit that I was amazed.  I had made a project out of a cotton/bamboo blend and couldn't block it at all!  I know that cotton stretches, so I had thought the bamboo was responsible for the rigidity. 

The lady at the yarn store recommended Merino because even though it does stretch some, the fibers tend to bounce back when washed.  I don't want wool to make a summer hat.  Therefore, I've decided it's time to do a little experimentation. 

I purchased Aunt Lydia's bamboo and size 3 crochet cotton.  I plan to make a swatch of each individually, as well as a swatch of the two combined.  I want to see how much "growth" will occur.  It's a good thing to know before investing hours on a project.  It's also another example of why making a swatch is so important!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Changing Weather, Changing Projects

Crocheters often have more than one project they are working on at a time.  Some may not understand why they can't complete a project before starting another, but it makes perfect sense to have multiple projects in the works for a variety of reasons.  The weather is a good example.

In the course of a single day, it could be cold and damp, turn hot and steamy, and end up mild.  Why not have a project that is comfortable to work on regardless of the weather?  It's much more productive that way.

Yesterday's cold rainy morning was perfect for working on those wool coats.  As more fabric was created, it draped over my lap keeping me warm and comfortable.  Cold, damp hours are also perfect for afghans or any other large project.

When the sun comes out with its summer heat, time to switch to cotton or some other lightweight fiber.  Small projects, such as socks, work up relatively quickly and won't stick to your skin or provide unwanted warmth by covering you up.  This is the perfect time to work on those submission swatches for the spring/summer deadlines that are coming up.

In the evenings after the sun has set, the mild temperature allows the crocheter to work on whatever project they would like.  Mid-weight tops, skirts, purses - the possibilities are endless.  Personally, I like to work on the gifts I'm planning to give as a way to unwind at the end of the day.

Instead of cursing the weather, use it to your advantage by working on a comfortable project suited for the current temperature.  You'll soon forget all about what is going on outside!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Halfway Through August - Time For Wool!

It may only be August 15th on the calendar, but the feeling of the air has changed.  It's mother nature's way of reminding us that winter is coming.  Therefore, my weekend was spent pulling the wool out of my stash.

I know that there will still be plenty of hot days to come, but now is the time to start on those winter projects.  I've started a cape requested by one daughter and a coat for the other.  Thankfully I have enough wool in my stash to complete them both without having to purchase more yarn.

Living in the north country where winter can last 6+ months, I try each year to have a season's worth of hats, mittens, gloves, fingerless gloves with mitten tops, and scarves completed by the end of September.  I put them all in a basket in the mud room next to where the coats are hung so everyone can be prepared to face the elements.  Right now that basket looks a bit forlorn with only a couple of mismatched mittens in it. 

Making winter items for my family has saved hundreds of dollars over the years.  I use wools from local farms that cost a whole lot less than name brand from somewhere in South America.  I use local alpaca yarn rather than alpaca from Peru.  Both are warm and naturally waterproof!  Summer farmer's markets are the perfect place to find local wools.

Completing this annual commitment doesn't necessarily interfere with crochet designing.  Most of my designs are tested on family members anyway!  The gloves and fingerless gloves with mitten top are my own designs, created during this yearly ritual.  It's always fun to create a new hat, and it usually doesn't take more than a few hours. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Space Bags for Yarn Storage

When Space Bags first came out, I thought they would be terrific for storing my stash.  Unfortunately, after packing a jumbo bag and vacuuming out the air as directed, it split down the side when I tried to move it, spilling the contents everywhere!

Yesterday I decided to try it again.  I purchased a "combo pack" at Big Lots, which contained a jumbo, extra large, large, medium, and two travel bags for $15. 

I started with the jumbo again, this time filling it with unwound hanks.  I untied them and laid the twisted loop along the bottom of the bag.  Although still huge (a little smaller than a baby mattress), at least this time it stayed intact.  Encouraged, I filled the extra large one the same way.  It's nice that they now have a "fill line" marked on the bag - I guess that little extra room at the top is required so it doesn't explode.

I found that wound skeins fit perfectly in the medium bag.  I stacked 3 skeins across and about 6 skeins up - 18 skeins now the size of a standard pillow - yeah!  If I had the time, I think that the large bags would do just as well and be much more uniform if filled with wound skeins.

I like the travel bag as it appears to be large enough for a full sweater project, yet small enough to fit in a tote bag.  I think those will be used to keep my work in progress clean.

I believe an investment in the medium or large space bags is my next step.  I was impressed by the amount of yarn I could fit in one bag, and how well the bag filled with skeins stacked in the closet.  The jumbo bag, filled with hanks, is incredibly lumpy with no flat edges, but I can easily see every color that is in there. 

I consider Space Bags to be a viable alternative to clear plastic bins.  They are less expensive and more pliable, thus can fit in an area a bin cannot.  Space Bags keep the yarn clean and fresh until you are ready to use it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Making Money With Crochet

As crochet is an artisan skill with some level of popularity, it is possible to make a little money with it.  It is NOT a get rich quick type of deal, however.  The upfront investment is yarn and a whole lot of time.

 People who sell at craft fairs must create their inventory.  Using a hat as an example, let's say that one hat takes 4 hours and one skein to make.  To have 10 hats on hand to sell, 40 hours and 10 skeins of yarn have to be expended. Obviously, you would need more than those 10 hats to fill up your table, but you get the idea.   The day of the fair can be a profitable one or not, depending on attendance and how many people purchase items from you. 

Designing for magazines takes longer - sometimes, much longer.  Although I've never worked on the editorial side of things, I've spoken to many designers and emailed publishers.  As a designer, you come up with an idea, sketch it, swatch it, gauge it, notate it enough so you can make it on demand, and for fashion submission, draw a schematic with sizing.  This process can take days or even weeks to complete.  It can take months, sometimes even over a year, for an editor to contact you.  They may hold on to it for a future issue.

About 7 or 8 years ago, I had submitted a laptop case (finished product, no sketch) to a crochet magazine that now no longer exists.  Imagine my surprise when I received it back 20 months later with a "thanks but no thanks" note!  By that time, the Lion Brand yarn I had used had been discontinued!!

The standard amount of time for a book deal, I am told, is about a year's worth of work.  Booklets take a little less time, perhaps, but with either one a proposal must be written and accepted, examples of your work have to be submitted, several editorial approvals must be given....lots of administrative time in addition to crochet time. 

Self-published designs still require you to go through the design process.  Add to that making the finished product, photographing it, writing up the pattern, editing, and formatting.  Once all of that is done, you can put your pattern up for sale on Etsy, Ravelry, or your own website. 

Contests are a little different, in that you may or may not have to provide the pattern for the item you made.  County fairs sometimes award cash prizes, as do several contests online, such as Herrschner's and Mary Maxim.  

Although it is possible to make money from crochet, every item, every submission, every design is a gamble.  You must truly love your craft and stick with it to profit.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Fresh Crochet Marketing Idea

While walking through another gift shop in Port Clyde, Maine, I came across a display of crocheted kids hats.  I was astonished to find that they were all hand made by someone in California!  This prompted me to investigate a little further.

The display itself was a hand painted hat stand that stood about 3 1/2 feet tall, perfect for both kids and adults to see.  It had space for perhaps a dozen hats, but there were only about half that there.  The proprietor told me the hats were good sellers, as they appealed to the kids.

And why not?  They were nicely made sun hats, each with a unique animal somehow attached to it.  One had a stuffed octopus off center on top, another had a surface crocheted dolphin.  They were 100% acrylic, therefore washable, although the tag cautioned against machine wash and dry due to the adornments. 

What was incredible to me is that this shop was NOT a craft shop by any stretch of the imagination!  It carried cards, books, gifts, stuffed animals - the usual array.  It was also more on the upscale side of things with sterling silver, glass, and antiques.  Therefore I had to ask exactly how does a hand crocheted hat display from California find its way over 3000 miles to a gift shop in Maine?

I was answered with a shrug and "It was in the distributor's catalog.  I thought it was cute and would sell."  Wow.  It was pretty obvious she was right, even marked at $21 each.  What a terrific marketing idea!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fisherman Mittens

I recently visited the lighthouse museum at Port Clyde, Maine.  The first thing I saw as I walked through the door was a large spinning wheel that had belonged to the wife of one of the light keepers.  This led me to the display of the fisherman's mittens.  According to the write up, these mittens were hand made by the wives and mothers.

The curator noticed my attention to the mittens, and came over to talk.  Come to find out he was a retired fisherman himself!  The mittens were made about a third too big and given to the men.  On board the boat, they had a hot water barrel (heated by coils from the boiler wrapped around it) which they used to clean buoys.  They would put the mittens on, dunk their hands in the hot water barrel, then go to work.  The heat from the water would keep their hands warm while they worked, at the same time as "matting" the fibers of the mittens.  When they were done working, they would hang the mittens on a nearby hook.

As you can imagine, this caused the mittens to felt.  What's interesting is that this process made an exact mold of the hand!  The end result would be a very stiff mitten until it was dipped in water.  According to the curator, most fishermen stopped using them once the neoprene glove came into existence, primarily due to the fact that the glove allowed use of all the fingers, making the work easier.  Yet there are a few men out there who would love to find a pair of hand made wool mittens!

What's sad is that the art of making these mittens has all but disappeared.  The museum has a newspaper article discussing how women of the past made so many mittens there was no need to write down a pattern, and the last woman in the area who made them had died.  As making mittens was such an important part of her life, her surviving daughters kept the pair she had been working on.    A local named Elizabeth Bergh borrowed those mittens, measured and counted, and came up with a knit pattern called Chebeague Island Fishermen's Wet Mittens.  It is available for purchase at the museum store.

Of course I bought the pattern, even though I do not knit.  I want to rewrite it in crochet, and perhaps try the process out on my crochet glove pattern, just to see how it would come out.  I also want to see how much of a difference there is felting with salt water, if any.

Visiting that museum was a mind opening experience.  You never know what traditions will die out, and some things need to be preserved.