On the road--Oakland, California

My sister-in-law discovered A Verb for Keeping Warm for me, a yarn shop in Oakland, California. Click on the link above for more pictures of the inside of this gorgeous shop, or to order some of their luscious skeins online.
What's special about them? They have their own line of yarns they dye themselves using plants. They even have their own teaching garden of flowers they use for dyes. These are some of their own natural-dyed yarns:

I couldn't stop looking at the extraordinary colors! They also sell dyes, fabric, amazing buttons, and some vintage-style sewing patterns.  
Can you see the knit-covered branch in this lovely display?
The owner, Kristine Vejar, is in the process of writing a book (working title: The Modern Natural Dyer) due out in Fall of 2015. I'll let you know if I hear anything new from her--I can't wait to see it!

If you are in the neighborhood, there are two truly awesome little restaurants to choose from, right next door, with some outside seating: Actual CafĂ© and Victory Burger.

On the road--Sonora, CA

On the road with my dear husband. We visited By Hand in Sonora, CA, one of my favorite yarn shops.

The space was originally an old-time drugstore--note the beautiful woodwork! And notice how they display the yarn. By color:

And speaking of color, check out the name of this:
"50 Skeins of Grey"

Very friendly staff, not just crochet-friendly, a pleasure to shop there!

And proof of how we feel about our need for yarn:

If you're in the neighborhood (down the road from Yosemite), don't miss The Candy Vault for old-fashioned penny candy and exotic chocolates, and check out the many other amazing boutiques and antique shops, all within walking distance. Good prices, friendly people, and no chain stores!

November is full!

Not a lot of crocheting to report on--I'm finishing up the scarves I wrote about in my last post, and also participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). And getting ready for the holiday season--whew!

Fall Scarf--Caramel

I'm making scarves for my sisters, my niece, and my mom, all with Lion Brand Tweed Stripes yarn, and all different. We can't have them all wear the same scarf, now, can we?
My mom picked out the colorway "caramel," and I thought it cried out to be made into fall leaves. I added a couple of crocheted roses for depth, and accented them with some vintage buttons.
I'm using so many different techniques on each scarf, I'm thinking of designing a class around them. Here's a detail:
The color changes are all in the yarn strand itself, and it's a bulky weight, so the scarf took less time than you'd expect. Mom tells me everyone has stopped her to take a closer look.

"I Love Yarn Day"

Like we need a day to remind us about yarn? Who doesn't love yarn every day?


baby sneakers

Booties made from an old pattern of mine (available through Crochet Today, only--I no longer have rights to the pattern, so I can't give it to you, seriously). I used Red Heart brand Shimmer in royal (blue) and snow (white). The baby seemed to like the little sparkle in the yarn. It's one of my early published patterns, a little more complicated than it should have been, but cute as ever, if I do say so myself.

October Scarf--donated to charity

I wish I knew what the yarn is in this scarf--I really wish I knew!--but it's unlabled yarn I got from a swap at a church. I made the scarf using a pattern from crochet genius Doris Chan's new book, Convertable Crochet.

Today is International Crochet Day!

Which begs the question: Why aren't we celebrating crochet every day?

Keep crocheting, my friends, keep crocheting...

Heartbreak and hope...

Up the street from where I work, a forest of flags to commemorate 9-11. It casts a light on everything I see and do today.

Baby Blues--easy baby blanket

I've been working on a few design ideas over the summer, but for now I needed a really quick baby gift:
I made this in Lion Brand's new Tweed Stripes yarn, a chunky weight, self-striping yarn. The photograph doesn't do it justice--the colors are exquisite! The colorway is called "caribbean," rich blues with yellow-green and purple accents. I don't usually like acrylic, but it is lovely and soft, and it will be easy to wash and dry.

The baby blanket is made up of traditional granny squares, and since the yarn changes to a different color every few yards, there's no need to stop and attach a new yarn. It took me about a day to make it, start to finish! The yarn itself does most of the work--I would definitely use this yarn again for a baby blanket or a full-sized afghan.

Simple directions are available in my Ravelry store for free:

Break time!

I can't believe it, but it's July tomorrow! Time to take a break and go to the beach, go camping in the woods, work on my art journals, do some writing--and whatever else may come my way!

It's possible I'll do some sporadic posting, but I definitely need a little break from my crochet designing so I can refuel that part of my brain.

See you on the beach!

Summertime, and the crocheting is...

...not always easy. My hands get seriously sweaty when I crochet on hot days, so I came up with a remedy: baby powder. I feel like a gymnast when I pat powder all over my hands, but it works great. It smells nice, too.

More patterns!

The circus troupe patterns are nearly ready--I am waiting for better pictures. If you can't wait, please let me know!

More patterns are coming, and I'm aiming to have them all posted by the end of June.

If only my hands worked as fast as my brain...

Color Workshop #1--or fifty shades of...whatever

I am often frustrated with color theory instruction because it's usually relevant to painting or website design, and not so much for working with fiber. Unless we are dyers, we generally work with the colors as we find them. Not only that, but the texture of the yarn or stitch can affect the color due to the play of shadows and light.

I've adapted some of the color exercises I've found in classic color theory books for myself in my crochet designs. Feel free to experiment along with me in your own work.

The first exercise is using a monochromatic color palette; (using only one color). Here's a picture from Interaction of Color by Josef Albers:

He used papers in different shades and tints of gray, and arranged them from dark to light. Notice how the medium gray frame looks dark against the lighter grays, and light against the darker grays. We rarely see color by itself--we usually see color relative to another color.

For the first experiment, look over your stash (or some yarn in a shop), and pick out all the black yarns, or all the white yarns. Look at them all together in good light (sunlight is best), and notice the slight variations in color. Notice how the light affects the color of the smooth or glossy yarns in a different way than it does with the fuzzy or nubby yarns. Take out some different shades of gray, and arrange them in a pattern like the picture above. (If you are trying this in a yarn shop, don't forget to put everything back in the correct bins when you are finished!)

Try designing a project using only one color.

I once made a "dream cloud blanket," a free-form crocheted afghan, all in different white yarns. I made sure I used a lot of different textures of yarns--mohair to metallics--and textured stitches to keep it interesting. Another time I was inspired by a little girl who told me her favorite color was not pink or purple but yellow. I made a stuffed animal for her, a cat wearing striped pants and polka-dotted sweater, using every different yellow I could find.

Sometimes limiting yourself can push you in creative ways you hadn't expected!

Boston proud!

I had been planning on keeping this blog to write only about crochet, and yarn, and fun--but the last few days have shown me that I do not live in a castle with a moat around me. These bad things don't happen only in those "other" places, only to those "other" people. They happen to all of us. I might not live right in Boston city limits, but I live close enough to consider myself part of it and to love it as my city.

Over the weekend I signed on to one of my favorite internet forums, searching for friends to find out how they are doing, and to assure them of my own safety.

I was surprised and disheartened by some of the comments I discovered along the way. Shocked, even. I'm not going to repeat the insensitive remarks, but I have plenty to say:

Let me assure you, we were not "cowering" in our homes this week. We were happy to stay inside so police could do their job.

Recent events had been grim. At least two people had commited some heinous acts. They were on the run, desperate, with nothing to lose, and no one could be sure what else they were capable of doing next. After bombing, killing or maiming random bystanders--including small children--they hijacked a car, robbed a store, killed one police officer, nearly killed another, threw a bomb from a moving car, and one, wearing an explosive device, advanced on police, getting himself killed, and allowing his brother to escape in the chaos.

Could there be another dramatic and catastrophic event?

So, yes, we were happy to stay inside for a few hours. What were we doing? Many of us were online, checking up on friends and family in the area, or looking for ways to help victims with donations of money or blood. Hospital workers continued to tend to the kinds of injuries one expects to see only in a war. I imagine parents, were trying to figure out what to say to their children when they themselves were confused and concerned about the constant sound of sirens. More than one persom was baking cookies to hand to SWAT officers.

Cowering? Please! You don't know Boston.

Did you not see the footage of the bombings? Did you not see random people in the crowd running toward the smoke and the screaming, tearing down barricades, jumping over pools of blood and blown off limbs. Literally tearing the shirts off their own backs to apply tourniquets to wounded strangers? And all without knowing if the bombings were over.

Did you not see us bust out singing the national anthem the next time we were in public together?

And then, Friday night, when we knew it was all over, when we saw the ambulance holding the only living person we knew of who likely committed the heinous acts of the past few days making its way through the neighborhoods--yeah, they captured him alive!--after all that, and consumed with anger and grief, did the crowd turn into a mob, banging their fists against the glass windows of the ambulance? Screaming? Demanding justice? Demading blood?

Of course not.

The people parted, and allowed the ambulance and the police cars to pass.

And they applauded.

They took to the streets and applauded and smiled and waved and held up signs and shouted "Thank you!" to the heroic officers, and treated the convoy as a kind of impromptu parade, knowing the person in the ambulance would eventually face justice. For now, it's time to simply say, "Thank you."

So, to those of you who are not from here, I'm happy for you, I truly am, that this horror did not visit you. I'm happy for you that you have the luxury of judging from afar and after the fact, what should have or should not have happened in my community. I'm happy that you have the freedom of speech to use this as your platform to make your perverse point about guns or whatever. I'm happy you have the time and energy and have nothing more compelling to do than to complain about how inconvienienced you were by not being able to watch your favorite tv shows due to all the coverage.

Lucky you.

This time.

But let me tell you this: I have never been prouder of my favorite city. Thank you, Boston, for reaffirming my faith in mankind, for showing me the best in people. Thank you, you magnificent and diverse and complex city.

You are wicked awesome!

Now where do I sign up to donate blood?

A Very Vegan Circus

I designed a troupe of circus amigurumi, and, in honor of my friend Jane, proclaim it to be a cruelty-free circus! No, this one is fun for everybody, even the animals--especially the animals! More about their story later, but here's a quick peek:

Patterns for these little cuties will be available in my Ravelry store as soon as I finish writing it all up. You know you need these!

Hooked on hooks

Even though I have a good-sized collection of crochet hooks, most of the time I use the same hooks I learned to crochet with when I was 10 years old. My favorite hooks travel with me in a pencil case in my purse, along with a pad of paper and pencil to jot down my design ideas. You never know when genius will strike!

Crochet hook sizes can be confusing. Unlike knitting needles that are the same diameter from end to end, hooks have so many variables in the shape of the hook and the throat, there's no guarantee that one manufacturer's hook is going to be the same size as another's. Think of the sizes stamped on your hooks as "guidelines" rather than rules...need I remind you that this is a good reason to always check your gauge, and to use the hook that will give you the proper gauge?

The main styles of aluminum hooks are usually referred to by two major brand names: Susan Bates (top) and Boye (bottom).  Note the different shaped heads and throats of the hooks. Crocheters usually swear by one or the other. (Personally, I am a Boye girl, but I am not adverse to tucking a few Susan Bates in my bag.)

It's amazing how inexpensive crochet tools are, so it makes sense to buy hooks in lots of different sizes and types so you will always have an appropriate hook for your yarn or project. Aluminum hook sizes in the US start at B (why no size A?), and go up to about K, though crocheters most often use sizes G through J.

 Steel hooks (center) are used for crocheting with thread. They are slightly shorter than the aluminum hooks (on right), and have their own sizing system: the larger the number, the smaller the hook. Size 6 is smaller than size 5, and size 14 is downright tiny. And just to make it more confusing, there are sizes 0 and 00, both larger than size 1. The two hooks on the left are Tulip brand--they are more expensive than those you'd find in the big box stores, but they are such a joy to use they are worth it.

Afghan hooks look like a hybrid of a knitting needle and a crochet hook, and it's what you use for tunisian stitches--it's a way of crocheting, but at times there are a number of stitches held on the needle. Some have a hook on each end (see the top two) and the Daisy brand in the center has a cable for holding the extra stitches.

I don't often use wood hooks--aluminum ones are sturdier for my frequent use--but I sometimes find lovely carved hooks that I can't pass up at craft shows. Crochet designer Nancy Nehring teaches how to carve your own crochet hook, and the bottom two hooks are the ones I made in her class.

Old hooks can come in other materials like plastic (the top two with the brightly painted ends) and bone (center). The large hook on the bottom isn't made for crocheting at all--it's a souvenier from Florida, used for peeling oranges.

Don't forget to look for old hooks at thrift shops and yard sales. You never know when you might find a Gem--literally. A US company made a hook with the brand name "Gem." And regularly clean your hooks in warm soapy water, then give them a good polish with a Puffs Plus tissue for smooth, lightning fast crocheting. Try it--you'll thank me!

For more info about standard US and international crochet sizes, here's a link to the Craft Yarn Council of America's excellent resource.

On the (crochet) road...

Welcome! I have a free pattern available in my new ravelry.com store, in honor of National Crochet Month and Crochetville's blog tour:

LINK to March Lion to Lamb Amigurumi pattern--an adorable lion who takes off his disguise to reveal he's a real lamb!

It's only the second pattern in my new store (Lola, the roadtrip-loving cat in pink pajamas, is the first), but I have more coming: Vegan Circus--a set of 5 cute animals in festive outfits, due by the end of March--and in April, Parisian kittens and a set of 5 Steampunk animals.

I've been enjoying seeing the blogs of my fellow crochet designers--great idea Crochetville!

March is National Crochet Month! How to Celebrate--

Crocheters deserve to be honored the whole year, but we are willing to settle for one month.

Travel the crochet blogosphere this month! Here's a LINK to Crochetville's crochet trip, 1 or 2 different crochet blogs every single day of March.

Get your passports ready...

Oh, and yours truly is on the itinerary for 11 March.

Lola pattern is online!

If you'd like to make an adorable Lola doll--and really, who wouldn't?--I just added a pattern to my Ravelry.com page for a mere 3.75 US:

"I know you want me--I'm adorable!"--Lola

Gauge--get over it!

Whenever I teach a class and talk about gauge, everybody groans. I understand--you've got a brand new pattern and a pile of lovely yarn in your basket, and you cannot wait to get started on it.

But wait!

Think about this:

That yarn is probably expensive. And your time is even more expensive--you can't frog your time and take it back. By not making a gauge swatch, you could be wasting yarn, wasting your time, and probably getting frustrated when something doesn't come out right.

Gauge is most important for a precise fit in a garment, but it's also important for stuffed animals or accessories to come out properly.

Another reason:

I'll let you in on a dirty little secret...

For the past several years I've written crochet (and knit) patterns for most of the major magazines and book publishers. I think I'm doing something right, because I've seen lots of great comments about my patterns online (thank you, all!), and yarn companies and publishers personally ask me for more.

When I write a pattern and suggest a hook size--and I emphasize that word "suggest"--I am guessing what size hook you need to obtain the same gauge.

You see, I am a very loose crocheter. I once watched a woman using an "I" hook on a project for which I would choose a "G." Every time I see anybody crocheting, I check out what size hook they are using. It's usually at least one, sometimes two or three sizes larger than I would use for the same gauge. I must always guess your hook size--and I surmise my fellow designers are doing the same.

Only YOU can decide what hook to use!

Hooks are so inexpensive, there's no excuse not to have several different sizes on hand.

Plus, even if they are marked the same, different brands can be different shapes and sizes.

But that's another post for another time...

Lola goes to the White Mountains

Lola decides to drive to the White Mountains. Road trip!

The view is spectacular!

Everything is labeled at the rental property so no one takes anything.

and yet...

Lola thinks mountain climbing sounds like fun!

But, it turns out Lola is afraid of heights...

...so a Starbucks sounds pretty good right now. Non-fat decaf, please.

If you'd like to crochet your own adorable Lola doll, check back for updates for when a pattern is available on Ravelry.com. 'Cause you know, she's the cat's pajamas!

Yes, a bonus pattern for her pajamas will be available, too!

Mimi and Lola; or What's in a Name?

I always liked my name. DONNA is no-nonsense with all those sharp edges, yet softened by just a few feminine curves.

It suits me.

Then, my college Spanish teacher thought it would be fun to give us all Spanish names to use in class.

Mine was Lola.

L--O--L--A, Lola...it rolls off the tongue like poetry.

The signature on my homework was loopy and round. As the semester went on, I drew it with increasingly large and curly flourishes.

Donna is smart and business-like, but Lola was different: sassy and sexy, bold and brazen. Giving up the name at the end of the semester was a bit of a let-down.

I nearly forgot about Lola until I was in the middle of coming up with ideas for a new doll. I was going to name her Mimi the Cat--daintily Parisian, prim and sweet in pastel with satin ribbons--until Lola demanded my attention.

Mimi the Cat will make an appearance some day, but I expect Lola to make the scene by the end of the week.

Are you missing out on Ravelry.com?

What are you waiting for? Ravelry.com is the liveliest of knit and crochet forums with over 2 million members. You can download patterns (some are free!), keep track of your projects, snoop through others' yarn stashes, read reviews of the latest craft books, vent about current events, and make new friends. It's free to sign up!

I'll be selling the original patterns to the dolls that will be found on this blog on my Ravelry page. (You have to be signed in to Ravelry for this link to work.)

Already available is a free pattern of a cute lamb disguised as a March lion.