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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Design and Crochet A Baby Blanket With This Simple 3-Step System

I've been thinking a lot lately about the concept of "Preserving the Legacy of Crochet."  There are a lot of ways to capture and preserve the amazing art form of crochet for present and future generations, and I'll be talking a lot about this topic in future posts and in my new book project (now you know one of the things I've been up to during this dry period of posting!).

One way that the needle arts seem to make it from generation to generation is through baby keepsakes.  Everyone has a special "binkie" or hat or something that a beloved aunt or grannie crocheted or knitted.  These days, with all the registries and gadgets available for gift giving, I still think that the best baby shower gift is a crochet or knit baby blanket.  With the right yarn and size choices, it'll be a cherished part of baby's first few years.  And it's a great project for the beginner crochet or knit designer. 

Oh, a word on that:  I will be doing a series of blog posts geared towards the intermediate crocheter (and I think they will be helpful to knit designers as well) who wants to veer away from other designers' patterns and start designing her or his own projects.  I'm not talking about becoming a professional crochet designer (though we can explore that topic as well later on); this is about pursuing "Discovery" this year through exploring crochet and expanding your skills.  There tend to be two kinds of crocheters:  process ones and project ones.  Those who enjoy the process don't care if they end up with anything in the end; they just like crocheting and trying new stitches and techniques.  Project crocheters are on a mission and want a beautiful finished crochet item at the end.  I hope there's a little here for each, but I am gearing these materials for those project crocheters who want to take the design journey from the beginning to a purposeful end.

So, how to get started?  In designing a blanket project, I use a three-step process (not necessarily in the order below, but we'll talk about that more next time) to bring it all together: 

1) Choose the size of blanket you want to make.

I tend to start here because choice of size tends to set the boundaries of my "canvas" and helps me make decisions in steps 2 and 3.  You, of course, do NOT need to start here; many people find a yarn that they just love and want to build a project around it.  Alternatively, a crochet designer will see a stitch pattern that's perfect and will start experimenting from there.  Choosing your starting step is part of the fun!  And we'll talk more in future posts about each step separately so that you can mix and match as you discover what sequence you want to follow (and even that can change from project to project).

I've scoured the internet in search of all the different variations in blanket sizes and have come up with a chart that contains as many different blanket sizes as I could find, based on U.S. "standard" measurements (though I use that term loosely because there were quite a few discrepancies in the measurements for certain types of blankets).  Of course, now, I need to figure out a way to make that chart available to you!  I'll put the [place marker] here and edit it with a solution shortly and will include it in the separate posting on size.

I've found that the expectant mother usually has receiving, crib, and playpen-type blankets already covered, so I like to make the crochet car seat blanket pictured below.  It looks hard but is easy to make and can be made in all sorts of color combinations.  It's got a modern crochet look to it, and it makes for an unusual and useful gift in a versatile size (18x21 in/45.5x53 cm).  From a design perspective, the smaller blankets, like the car seat, burpie, or cuddle blankets, allow for more choices as I'll be discussing below.  Also, frankly, the smaller blankets are less time-consuming to make, especially if the baby shower or arrival is fast approaching.

But, again, only you know what you want to make in light of your unique knowledge about the recipient, just some food for thought as you consider your options.

2) Choose the yarn and hook you want to use. 

Softness and durability are going to be critical to success in your yarn choice.  It needs to be non-irritating, easily washable (for the mom's sake), and soft (for the baby's sake).  With the great strides that have been made with synthetic fibers, I don't mind using acrylic yarns anymore.  And good yarn companies, like Berroco and Plymouth, have reasonably priced synthetic options these days.  Synthetics tend to be a good choice for babywear because they are washable, don't trigger allergic reactions, and come in wide color selections, especially traditional baby colors.

If you want to stick with natural fibers, I'd recommend alpaca or bamboo.  Both will be pricier, but they have natural softness, anti-bacterial properties, and good drape and breath-ability, which make them great choices for a baby blanket, especially if you've chosen a smaller-sized blanket as discussed above.  Unfortunately, they need to be hand-washed, so that might be another reason to choose a small project that won't get a lot of wear and tear to make it easier on Mom!  In fact, you really might want to save "pure" versions of these yarns for a hat or sweater project.  You might want to look for yarn blends that have alpaca or bamboo in them but have other fibers like cotton blended in that give the resulting yarn different properties like wash-ability.

Now, there are a lot of natural and machine washable merino yarns out there as well that are easy to work with and so soft, but be sure that wool allergies are not an issue. 

Please also consider the thinness or thickness of the yarn.  You might want to think about the season in which the baby is arriving and the climate in which he or she will be living.  Frankly, it's also totally fair for you to think about the weight of yarn and the hook size combination that you will  enjoy working with; after all, you'll be the one with this project in your lap for a while, and you'll want to use the tools that will unleash your best inner crocheter or knitter!

Which brings me to the hook (or needle) choice.  I've always tended to pick the yarn first; then, after reading the label and experimenting with different hooks, I settle on the "right" hook to use for the yarn and pattern I've chosen (see below).  But, if there is a certain size hook or needle that you prefer using, you certainly can make that choice first and build your yarn and pattern choices from there.

3) Choose the stitch pattern you want to make.

If you end up choosing a traditionally-known "baby yarn," often the company will include a baby blanket pattern on the label or its website that's especially designed for that yarn.  This is just such a great and easy way for you as a beginner crocheter or knitter to gain confidence in your new-found skills and get that baby gift keepsake made in no time!

If you're ready to stretch those skills, then you might want to look on Pinterest or in craft books and magazines for stitches you would like to use in designing your own blanket.  If you've chosen a monochromatic yarn without texture, then you can really go for a complex stitch pattern; if you've chosen a textured or multi-colored yarn, you will probably want to keep your stitch choice on the simpler side.

Directions on how to make the stitch will give you the multiples you need in order to make the repeating stitch pattern, so all you need to do is make a swatch, measure it (both before and after washing the swatch according to label directions to really test it), and divide the measurements into the blanket's dimensions to determine how many stitches and rows you need to complete the project.  For example, let's say your 4 inch x 4 inch swatch has 20 stitches across and is 10 rows in length.  If you are making a 16x20 inch blanket, you'll need a total of 80 stitches across and 50 rows.  Also, decide whether or not you are going to make a border around the blanket so that you can factor it into the measurements as well.

So, a word about swatching.  I've never been a big fan of it, especially when achieving an exact size of the item isn't critical.  Now that I've been knitting more and realizing how different yarns react to soaking and blocking, I'm starting to appreciate the need to make a swatch and put it through its paces before making a knit project.  I think we've got more leeway as crocheters, but swatching is still the right thing to do.

Ok, so that's it for now; after taking these three steps, you should be ready to get started on designing a baby blanket.  But, I know how overwhelming all of the choices out there in each of these three steps can be, so, in future posts, I'll be breaking down each step even further to help you make decisions that will work for you!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


So, as part of my "new" approach to things, I'm also trying new things.  I've never been much of a journal-er (well, except for this blog), so I decided that maybe that was something I needed to try in this new year.  But, I feel like I need some guidance and structure in giving this a try.  As it so happens, I was looking through my iBooks for something else and came across "Unravel Your Year," a download from Susannah Conway that I must have saved somehow and guides you through the process of unraveling the year you left behind and preparing for the year ahead.  What I really like about this download is that it's a workbook with specific step-by-step instructions on how to work through the process.

I flipped through it to get a sense of what kind of time commitment I was going to need to make (I'd say a couple of hours at least), and one thing that caught my eye was the statement that awareness + intention make for a powerful combination.  There was also the direction to choose a guiding word for the upcoming year.  My chosen word is the title of this blog post:  Discovery.  I want to approach this exercise as a discovery of what 2017 was all about (or as much of that as is possible), but, more importantly, what 2018 will intentionally be about.

I want to discover lots of new things in this new year, though this blog will be about crochet (and probably some knit and maybe even some other crafty) discoveries.  In the fall of 2017, as part of my "letting go" episode, I began an obsession with the construction of raglan-style baby sweaters!  I found it easier to knit from the neck down to the waist (while inserting the arms as well along the way), then crocheting the bottom half of the sweater.   In keeping with my distaste for weaving in yarn tails, the sweater is pretty much done by the time you're at the bottom (except for having to sew up the arms).  I was just experimenting and enjoying the creative process, but I think I'm ready to be more methodical about it and write down my process so that I'll remember and you'll benefit too!

Thus, one of my goals for this year is to discover and memorialize my crochet and knitting journey!  If there are any crafty detours you want me to take, please connect with me on social media!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Happy 2018!

A new year, a new start.  It's been quite a while since I've written a blog post.  My apologies, but something had to give, and, unfortunately, it was the blog.  I really needed a break from self-imposed deadlines and expectations.  I needed to be free from things hanging over my head, even things that I enjoy.

There's a lesson here I'm sure.  I'm still working it out, but I'm going with "don't pressure yourself to the point that you begin to dread things that you used to love."

So, I haven't been setting project deadlines.  Heck, I haven't even been dictating what the next projects should be!  I've let myself take whatever time it's taken to experiment with a project or even just stitch and color combinations to see what project they steer me towards.  I hope you follow me on Facebook or Instagram because I have been better about posting photos (but, even there, I haven't stressed about perfect pictures and posting schedules).

I have given myself permission to sit on the couch after work and do nothing, to make a mess (and not clean it up!) at my home work station, and to not make plans.

But, all good things must come to an end!  I think I'm getting my groove back, and maybe it's time for me to give myself permission to get back on the gerbil wheel!  This time, though, I'm not going to (try to) go from zero to 60; I'm going to try to be more freewheeling, but a bit more organized about it (if that makes any sense).  Well, dear crocheters and readers of this blog, I hope we get to explore this adventure together and see exactly what 2018 has in store for us!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Week 1 - Recap

Well, amazing how things never go as planned!  Week 1 turned into a two-week whirlwind of cleaning, organizing, and finishing up some of my many half-done projects.  I found at least 10 projects that are all at the 80-90 percent done phase.  What is that about??  As a result, instead of sitting around dreaming up new projects (though I did jot down a few new ideas like the original plan called for), I've been trying to assess what gets finished, what gets put aside again, and what gets pitched.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself - a good portion of my time during this phase of things has been spent organizing, maybe not my thoughts as this blog post is demonstrating, but at least my physical arts and crafts supplies.  I'm truly committed to figuring out the hopefully finite universe of "stuff" that I've already got and getting it all organized in a manner that makes it easy for me to access and actually do something with.  I got a bunch of nice boxes and labeled them:  "needles and notions," "pompom makers" (yes, I actually have enough of them at this point to warrant a separate box!), "buttons," etc.  That way, as I plow through all the bags and piles of the craft supplies that I have, I can immediately "file" them away in their new homes.  For example, I discovered that I have a total of 14 yarn needles, and, now, I know where they all are :-).  I still have five more project bags to go through and assess, but I feel like I've made progress in getting a handle on what I've got and what I want to do with it.  I will post photos and give more specifics about the tools and tricks I've used to make this a fun and inexpensive endeavor, but here's one quick hint:  Michael's sells packs of photo boxes that are perfect for organizing all the little things that easily get lost and disorganized.

In addition to the physical reorganizing I've been doing, I've been trying to get my digital world in order too.  I've joined the legions of people who can't live without their iPhones!  But, what can I do, between some great apps and the ability to sync with my phone and real computer, I'm finding ways to be more efficient and organized in the virtual world too.  For example, one of the main themes that emerged these past two weeks is that my "branding" needs some freshening up.  So, one of the first steps I took was to revamp my crochet pattern template.  Now that more functionality has been added to Word (or maybe my knowledge of that functionality has increased), I was able to set up a template that I like as much as the one I had on InDesign.  I also discovered that my hastily created system of 1) typing a pattern into SnapWriter, a notetaking app that works with Evernote (because, of course, my phone is right next to me while I crochet), 2) later accessing Evernote while sitting at my real computer and copying and pasting the crochet pattern instructions into my new Word template, and 3) then being able to convert the Word doc into a PDF and list on Ravelry is actually working out pretty well (though I have not made it yet to the third step because I need to re-test the pattern and finalize the instructions, and, oh, take a few more photos too!).

I'm also in the process of testing out Trello and Milanote, but I need to work with them both a bit more and gather my thoughts before posting about them.

And, ha, I haven't even told you yet about the cookbook that I just self-published -- You'll have to visit my new website and Facebook page to learn more!

Now, off to figuring out what Week 2 is going to be about!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Week 1 - Organization and Ideas

Hard to believe summer is over, and I've got a lot of blogging to catch up on (my trip to London and some projects and partnerships that have been in the works!).  But, first, I feel the need to do some "spring cleaning" that never happened during the actual season :-).  That spring cleaning is taking place both literally and figuratively.

I've written before on this blog about the many challenges of running a small business, especially on a part time basis. And, lately, I'm finding myself yet again pulled in many directions.  And there's a lot of materials and "gurus" out there offering direction.  It's hard not to get caught up in those free ebooks that promise to give you all the inside secrets about how to do whatever you've chosen to do successfully.  But, of course, to get more than just generalities like "create it, post it, and watch the revenue stream in," you've got to spend at least $97 for the full program (it always seems to be $97, discounted from thousands!).  I'm not knocking these offerings; I'm sure that many of them are quite worth it, but, even having explored some of these tantalizers, I'm not sure that I've found the one perfect program that's going to be right for me; I'm finding the need to cobble together bits and pieces from many different sources.

So, I'm challenging myself to find/create my own path, and I'm going to share my journey with you, frankly as a way to hold myself accountable (and, who knows, maybe I can charge $97 for it someday too ;-).  Over the next several weeks, I'm going to try to methodically go through the general steps that many programs suggest and adapt them to my particular situation.  I want to combine some resources and pick the best high and low tech tools for getting things done.  I tend to be a paper and pen kind of gal, but I have a feeling that there are apps and software out there that might actually make my life easier in the long run.  I want to explore how I can, wisely, make use of virtual assistants and gig providers on Fiverr, for example, to free up my time to do what I do best and what I most enjoy doing -- crochet (plus a couple of other areas of interest I hope to be exploring more ...).

Since it's Sunday, it seems like a good time to start Week 1: Organization and Ideas.  This week, I'm going to concentrate on just organizing my creative resources and supplies and brainstorming about the content that I want to create.  I've always just started crocheting when an idea pops into my mind because I really can't draw (or, more accurately, I've never taken the time to learn some fundamentals of drawing), and I'm not suggesting that I'm going to abandon this approach.  Instead, I want to harness it a bit better.  I've got a bowl of yarn and some hooks sitting on the coffee table so that, when an idea strikes, I can actually start playing around with it.  But, ideas don't always strike when it's convenient, and, to me, it's hard to be inspired when I don't even know all the supplies I already have.  I've kept all sorts of inspiration boards on Pinterest about how to organize a work station and my craft supplies, but it's time really to start implementing some of those ideas.  I can't keep running out and buying stuff when I can't find stuff that I know I already have!

So,  I want to use this week to just take the pressure off (hey, that's what August is for, right?!), look around my world and see what inspires me and what needs to find a new home, organize the remaining stuff and write down some ideas about what to do with it all, and then be able to look at the big picture to prioritize the projects I want to pursue.  For example, this week, instead of thinking of a potentially great idea and then promptly forgetting it, I'm literally going to carry around pen and paper to scribble down whatever pops into my head.  Then, later in the week, I will go back through my notes and see if any of it still makes sense!  There are a couple of apps that are supposed to help you virtually/electronically create project boards and organize files and resources, so I want to experiment with some of them to see if I can combine physical and electronic methods for getting projects launched and finished efficiently and cost effectively (I'm sure you're sensing another theme here too about maximizing already existing resources so as to achieve cost savings :-).

I hope my musings (not sure I can really call this a "plan" just yet...) about Week 1 are inspiring you to undertake your own journey as well.  I'll be posting each week about what I've learned the previous one as well as where I'm intending to go the next week.  I'll be posting on Facebook and Instagram as well about the progress that I've made, so please come follow me there!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Metro Yarn Crawl 2017

I can't believe another Metro Yarn Crawl has come and gone!  We actually made it to 8 stores this year, but we still didn't make it to the store in Occoquan.

Nina, Mary, and I did the Maryland stores on the first Friday of the crawl, visiting Second Story Knits to pick up our totes (and some yarn of course).

We headed to Knit Locally's new location in Gaithersburg, where I scored some beautiful red yarn and a shawl pin.  They have such luxurious yarns there, this is definitely for a project for ME!

Our last stop was at Woolwinders on the way home.  Just like last year, it was a rainy, cold day, so what better to do than visit yarn shops and buy yarn!  Actually, this year, even though it may not seem like it, I tried to concentrate on getting new gadgets that would help in using up my yarn.  I will let this one speak for itself :-)

On the second Friday of the crawl (rainy and cold again!), Mary and I headed to Virginia.  It was a real adventure out to Leesburg to visit Finch Knitting and Sewing Studio.  It was worth the trip!  Such a great store, and you'll be seeing my new gadget from there in another post.  But here's a taste of the amazing vibe and decor.

Then off to Red Fox Yarns, where Uniquities used to be.  The new shop is delightful, with an emphasis on baby yarns and reasonable prices!  And you can't help but stumble upon a cute little stuffed fox everywhere you turn :-)

Our last stop was Nature's Yarns, where I scored a Della Q organizer for my knitting needles (haven't actually organized those needles yet, so no pix).  Love that store; it's definitely a place where you could sit and spend an afternoon so comfortably...

On Saturday, I bribed the hubby to driving me to Old Town Alexandria for a quick stop at fibre space, and I walked on Sunday to Looped Yarn Works (for the locals, that's about 3 miles!).  Another awesome Metro Yarn Crawl!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Last Days for #NatCroMo GIveaway!

Hope everyone's been having a wonderful National Crochet Month!  Amy and Donna of Crochetville have outdone themselves once again with the Designers' Blog all month, and here's my original post on the 9th.

I've been hinting all month on FaceBook about our NatCroMo giveaway, and you have only until midnight EDT on March 31st to enter on our FaceBook page (just "like" and follow the page!).  Last hint: it's a fun amigurumi project. 

Spread the word, we'd really love to hit 500 likes!  And we'll be posting complete photos of the giveaway and announcing the winner next week.