Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Stardust Melodies CAL: 3 FOs

I've finished the first three blocks for the Stardust Melodies CAL (which I mentioned in a recent blog post).

These are smaller than the typical 12" blocks (mine in heavy worsted/aran are coming out as about 9" squares), and they are one color each, so they work up fairly quickly.  Since Polly's releasing a new pattern twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays, I believe), this CAL won't last all that long.  (It ends August 17th.)

I'll try my best to keep up, but I haven't yet decided how big I want my afghan to be, and I'll likely want to make multiples of at least some of the blocks to "size up" the finished blanket, so even if I do keep up, I may not be finishing my afghan immediately after the CAL wrap-up.  There's no hurry, of course, but I do want to finish this project in a reasonable time frame.  No more hibernating projects, please!

So, the first few blocks!
A lot of participants are changing up the patterns slightly to avoid visible seams.  (They're not extremely visible, as it is, but we all have our pet peeves, and it appears that many of us will go out of our way to eliminate even a slight seam.)  There are at least a couple of ways to do that.  Some people are adjusting the patterns so that each round begins/ends in a corner, where seams are more easily disguised.  (There are instructions for corner joins in the CAL introduction PDF you get if you purchase the ebook.)

Others are working the blocks in a spiral.  Basically, instead of slip-stitching to join and chaining up for the next round, you just work the first stitch of the next round directly into the first stitch of the last round.

I've used the spiral method for all three blocks, so far, and I've found that it's a must to use a stitch marker to keep track of that first stitch.  Be sure to move it up as you go!  Otherwise, it gets very confusing.

My blocks all have a slight "blip" where the final round is joined, because they were worked in a spiral.  I feel confident that this will even out once the blocks have been joined and laundered, but it is visible in my photos.  I don't pre-block afghan squares, so they're just gently pulled into shape, for the time being.

I've hardly had to look at the patterns at all, in these first three blocks, because I've followed along with Polly's detailed video tutorials.  They've been a great alternative to the written directions and the charts.  I highly recommend them, if you learn well from watching a demonstration or listening to instructions.  I've even picked up one or two little tricks that will serve me well beyond this CAL.

"Begin the Beguine"
Once you get into the groove of this one, it's simple enough (and enjoyable to crochet).  It looks more complicated than it is.  Really interesting texture.  (Prepare to see that a lot in these CAL progress reports, considering that they're all all about the texture. (g))

"Begin the Beguine"

"Begin the Beguine"

"Fools Rush In"
This is the first of the paid patterns.  (Remember, half are free and half only come with the ebook.  Freebies are published on Mondays; paid patterns come out on Thursdays.)

This one was somewhat more advanced-- as you might expect.  I had fun making it, but you do have to pay more attention than with the free blocks, which are more of a solid, all-over pattern.  Working this one in a spiral kind of slightly "mussed" the dimensional diamond on that side of the block, but it's not too bad.  If I make this one again, I might try a corner join, instead, to see if I prefer the results with that method, but I'm not bothered enough to rip this one out.  It'll be fine in a blanket!

"Fools Rush In"

"Fools Rush In"

"Don't Fence Me In"
I've never been particularly drawn to basket-weave/checkerboard crochet patterns (or entrelac, for that matter)-- but I like this pattern more than I would have expected.  It was very easy, once in the rhythm, and the texture really jumps out at you.  Very strong 3-D effect with this one!

"Don't Fence Me In"

"Don't Fence Me In"

I'm surprised that my blocks are turning out to be 9", because I think that's what they're "supposed" to be, and my crochet blocks generally turn out to be smaller than they're "supposed" to be.  Of course, it doesn't really matter how big/small they are, so long as all the blocks for the same afghan are close to the same size-- and they are!  (~cue dancing in the streets~)

Checking Size...

I'm even happier to report that they're working out to be about the same size across different brands of yarn.  Sometimes mixing brands can cause problems-- especially when each block is worked entirely in one yarn.  (At least when you change colors/yarns every few rounds, things have a chance of evening out.)  However, though some of the brands I'm using are slightly thicker than others, it doesn't seem to be an issue, so far.

Stardust Melodies CAL

One of this project's idiosyncrasies is that I felt the need to use a larger hook than usual.  Typically, I use a 4.0mm or 4.5mm hook with these types of yarns, when I crochet afghan blocks.  However, I think the fact that these are all based on single crochet was making the resultant fabric feel tighter than I wanted.  I ended up using a 5.5mm hook-- and probably could've gone up even higher, but this will do.

Stardust Melodies CAL

Now I need to figure out how large I want the blanket to be-- how many blocks I'll need-- and if it's more than 24 (the number of patterns in the CAL), which ones I want to repeat.

The next pattern comes out tomorrow, so there's not long to wait!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

New FOs and Steel Crochet Hooks

First, a couple of sets of finished objects!

I recently came across this (free) pot-holder pattern ("Double-Thick Diagonally-Crocheted Potholder"), which is perfect for mindless crocheting.

Crochet Pot Holders

I wanted to use up what cotton yarn I had in-stash (which turned out to be Hobby Lobby's I Love This Cotton!), so I had limited color choices.  It's kind of an autumn palette, but I'm not enough of a seasonal decorator to bother about that.  They'll be used year-round.

I ended up with seven of them before my yarn ran out.  Two have gone to another home, but that leaves more than enough for us. ;o)

Crochet Pot Holders

It's an easy pattern-- particularly after you get past the crocheting into the chain part.  The only possibly tricky bit is deciding when to seam it closed.  I found that I tended to want to close them up earlier than I should, so once or twice I had to rip out a seam and add another round or two.  If you close them too soon, they might be slightly rectangular (instead of square).  They'll still work just fine, though, if they're rectangular.  It's purely an issue of aesthetics.

(I made a few technical notes over on my Ravelry project page, if anyone's interested.)

Crochet Pot Holders

Since I was already in pot-holder mode, I decided to try making some quilted pot-holders, too.  I've had the insulated batting for a long time, but just hadn't taken the plunge.  I was in a hurry to finish them in time for Mother's Day (along with two of the crocheted ones and some other things), so I kept the design simple-- just string blocks in blues and neutrals.

Quilted Pot Holders

And then I quilted them with straight line stitching on the sewing machine and used some striped fabric for the binding.  I chose to leave off the hanging loops-- partly because I was running out of time and partly because, personally, I hardly ever actually hang pot-holders by their loops.  (They go in a designated drawer, instead.)

Quilted Pot Holders

The backs are even simpler-- wider strips of fabrics sewn together.  A pieced back is a little more interesting and "handmade"-looking than a solid piece of fabric would've been-- and it used up some scraps I already had on hand, ready to go.

Quilted Pot Holders

I love sewing with scraps-- strings, in particular-- but I don't have a huge supply of them in a wide variety, and you really need a good variety to achieve the look I like.  So I'm trying to accumulate more variety, a bit at a time.

Quilted Pot Holders

I am happy with how these turned out, though, even if the selection of fabrics was a bit more limited than ideal.  There's plenty more of the insulation batting ready and waiting!

Quilted Pot Holders

- - - - - - -

I recently noticed that my favorite steel crochet hook (affiliate link: Clover Amour, size no. 0/1.75mm) had developed a discoloration on the metal where my finger touches it.

The way I hold my hook, I touch the metal a lot with the pad of my pointer finger (holding the thread/yarn in place), and I'm one of those lucky people whose body chemistry messes up nickel-plating.  (*sigh*)

The hook is still usable, but I suspect it's only a matter of time before the dark spot gets worse and starts to smell like metal-- and leave my fingertip smelling of metal, too.  (That's the eventual fate of all the nickel-plated tapestry needles that I use for weaving in ends of yarn.)  Once it starts to smell metallic, I won't want to use it.  Painting over it with clear nail polish would probably be at least a temporary fix, but it would likely also be a different texture than the unpainted metal.  It's a possible last resort, but I'd rather find a replacement.

Clover Amours are nice hooks, but in my opinion they're a little pricey to have to buy the same size of over and over again.  (And the price has gone up a couple of dollars since I bought mine.)  If I can't find another hook I like as well, I might bite the bullet and buy an identical hook.  This first one has lasted since September 2014, after all.  However, it seems worth looking at other options, first.

I briefly toyed with the idea of finding a steel crochet hook that wasn't nickel-plated-- something that's 100% surgical stainless steel (no plating of any kind) would be ideal, but I haven't had luck finding anything like that.  I have no trouble (knock on wood!!) with aluminum hooks, but no-one manufactures aluminum hooks in that small of a size.  (Not strong enough, I'm sure.)

I did find at least one source for luxury hooks in sterling silver or gold, but I can't recall if they make hooks that small (doubtful)-- and the whole point was to find a source that would be cheaper than the favored Clover Amour hooks.

Anyway, to finally get to the point, I found many different (but similar) sets of handled steel crochet hooks on AliExpress.  Some of them are incredibly cheap, so I decided to give it a try.

I ordered a set of these.  (That's not an affiliate link.)   They're currently $2.99 (free shipping) for a set of eight steel crochet hooks (sizes 1.0, 1.25, 1.5, 1.75, 2.0, 2.25, 2.5, and 2.75 mm) with multicolored rubber/plastic handles.  (Actually, they're listed as aluminum hooks, but I'm confident mine are steel hooks.  I think it's a translation mistake-- or someone forgot that the smaller hooks are a different material from the larger sizes.)

They're coming all the way from China, so you do have to wait a while, but my packet came faster than expected.  I placed my order on April 25th and received them... Saturday? Monday?  Not too bad.

Here they are:

Steel Crochet Hooks

Nice, bright, cheerful colors.  (Exact colors can vary, by the way!)

The size in millimeters is clearly stamped into the bottom end of the handle:

Steel Crochet Hooks

I haven't yet tried to crochet with them, but just looking at them, they seem to be of decent smoothness.  The tips are gold-colored, which is kind of gimmicky, in my opinion, but shouldn't do any harm.

I also haven't double-checked to see if they're actually the size marked.  That's one problem that you see mentioned fairly often in reviews of these super-cheap hooks and knitting needles.  But as long as you swatch or pay attention to your gauge at the beginning of a project-- and use the same tool for the duration of the project-- it shouldn't be an issue.

Steel Crochet Hooks

The texture of the handles is different from that of the elastomer Clover Amour handles.  It's not quite as rubbery-- slightly more plasticky-- but not bad.  It's definitely not hard plastic.  It's slightly flexible (which makes it obvious that the metal rod doesn't go the full length of the handle, as it does with the Amour) and has a pleasant-enough texture.  There is a slight seam down both sides of the handle, too-- more so than with the Amour-- but again, it's not bad.  I've seen worse (on the rubberized plastic handle of the two Boye Crochet Dude hooks I own).

About the fact that the metal doesn't go all the way down the handle... It's possible the hook part might eventually start to come loose from the handle, but if that happens, I can't see why you couldn't just glue it back with a little superglue.  That's what I'd try, anyway.

Steel Crochet Hooks

For the price, I think they're decent quality-- especially for someone who wants a complete set of steel hooks with comfortable handles, but isn't ready to invest in more expensive brands.  You'd certainly be hard pressed to find a better price than this!

If you're willing to spend some time looking, you can find a variety of different sets with slightly different specifications (and at slightly different price points).  Just be sure to pay attention to not only the product description, but also the product reviews and seller ratings.

(If I notice any glaring problems with these new hooks when I do finally give them a test-run, I'll try to remember to come back and mention it here.)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Stardust Melodies CAL

One of my favorite crochet designers, Polly Plum, has a new crochet along (CAL) starting in a few days.  The Stardust Melodies CAL will include 24 textured crochet blocks, which will be revealed as the CAL proceeds.  (So it's a bit of a mystery, though there have been some sneak-peek photos of some of the blocks.)

Twelve of the blocks (the simpler ones, from what I understand) will be free.  For the other half, there's a coupon code that will take 50% off the ebook price.  (See the link above for more information.  That 50%-off code is only good until the start of the CAL, May 18th, so if you want to take advantage of it, don't wait too long!)

I've enjoyed Polly's past patterns a lot (though solid-color blocks are a bit of a departure from the extremely colorful designs she's been known for), and I feel confident recommending this CAL.  There are plenty of helpful people in her groups on Ravelry and Facebook, if you run into any sort of trouble.  (That's one of the big benefits of a CAL-- many people will be figuring out these patterns at the same time, so you can get very quick responses from crocheters who have the pattern's ins and outs fresh in their heads.)

I've set up a project page for my afghan, and now I just need to get started on the "preview" block that is already available to download (for free!):  Begin the Beguine.

I hope to be back with photos of the finished block before too long.  (And there are photos of a couple of other FOs, too, once they've been edited and uploaded.)


Sunday, April 23, 2017

FO: Quilt-Style Curtains

Remember the quilt-style curtains I was making for the kitchen?

They're done and in the windows!
They have been for weeks, actually, but I only recently took a few photos for "show and tell".

The main attraction curtain is basically a doll-size mini-quilt-- a rectangle to go in the window of the kitchen door.

Quilt-Style Window Curtains

I chose to make a carpenter's star (sometimes called "carpenter star", without the possessive) as the focal point, with a simple chevron for the bottom edge and a row of random half-square triangles along the top.

The fabrics are a selection of greens and deep blue-greens as the darks and a white-on-white print for the lights.   I made a scrappy binding (my first!) from a handful of the same fabrics.

The backing is just leftovers from a pale cream sheet I had on hand.  White might've been a more ideal choice, but you'll never see the two sides at the same time, so this is fine.

The batting is 100% polyester leftover from a quilt, and the quilting is extremely simple-- just straight vertical lines on either side of the seams.  That was enough to give it a little poof and texture.

Quilt-Style Window Curtains

I also made a small valance for the window over the sink (the only other window in the kitchen that has/needs curtains).  I used the same fabrics for this second curtain, except that I substituted a different white-on-white print for part of it (because I was running out of the first fabric).

The valance is a very simple arrangement of half-square triangles.  I think I would've preferred the looks of another band of chevron (like on the bottom of the door curtain), but that would've require more HSTs, and I just wanted it done, at that point.  It's fine-- though it did turn out very slightly narrower than I was planning.  (Oops...)

Quilt-Style Window Curtains

I didn't include loops or ties on either curtain.  The hanging rings come with alligator clips, and those seem to be working well.  (However, the hanging rings don't match the finish of the curtain rod on the door, so I'll probably eventually try to paint the rod a darker color.  That would match the door hardware better, too.)

My seams don't all match up perfectly (as is especially obvious on the valance), but I think it's good enough to count as a success.  I do love the looks of the carpenter's star and would be happy to use it again, sometime.

Quilt-Style Window Curtains


So, there they are!  Quilt-style curtains.  I'm not sure I'll ever want to make them for any other part of the house, but at least I gave it a try, and I like the panel on the door well enough that I can imagine making a few for that window (but probably not matching valances) to trade out as the seasons change.

When the sun comes through (not much, because it is a shaded north-facing window), it lights the fabric up like stained glass-- which is pretty, but also makes it glaringly obvious that my seam allowances accidentally got folded in the wrong direction in a couple of spots, sometime during the process.

But on the whole, it's good.  I like it!  :o)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

FO: Mermaid's Tears

Here's another finished object with photos, at long last.

This is one I knitted in a couple of weeks, back in the late summer of 2015-- but I only recently got around to blocking it and taking some photos.

"Mermaid's Tears"
Pattern:  "Petits Trous de Printemps" by Berangere Cailiau
(Free on Ravelry, in English and French)

"Petits Trous de Printemps"

Yarn:  Knit Picks Aloft, "Tranquil"

One ball made a nice-sized scarf.  I'd estimate it's about 64 inches long.

"Petits Trous de Printemps"

The pattern doesn't call for adding beads, but there are several projects on Ravelry (with accompanying notes) that include them.  My own notes mention the modifications I made (and the Raveler whose notes I found helpful).

"Petits Trous de Printemps"

This was my first time working beads into a knitting (or crochet, for that matter) project, but once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed the process.  I'd definitely like to work glass beads into more projects.  They add an elegant touch of sparkle, and I like the contrast of the cool, smooth beads with the warm, fuzzy yarn.

"Petits Trous de Printemps"

The mohair/silk-blend yarn was pleasant to work with, too, even though mohair has quite a reputation for being a nightmare to tink or rip back.  The key seems to be to not make significant mistakes. Very helpful tip, right?  But seriously, if you do need to frog mohair, it may help to put it in the freezer for a while beforehand-- and get yourself a pair of small, very sharp-pointed scissors so you can carefully snip tangled bits of fluff-- not the strand of yarn as a whole-- that just don't want to budge.  

"Petits Trous de Printemps"

It's light as a cloud-- soft, fluffy, decadent-- and (though I haven't yet had an opportunity to wear it for very long) I think it's surprisingly warm, for something that looks so insubstantial.  I wouldn't put it up against an Arctic wind on a blustery day, but it's warmer than you might think.

"Petits Trous de Printemps"

All in all, this was a very satisfactory project.  Its super easy to knit (especially if you forego the beads).  It's definitely one of those patterns where the yarn is the star of the show.  Even simple stockinette (with occasional eyelet rows) looks lovely when knitted in a floaty, fuzzy yarn.

"Petits Trous de Printemps"


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

FO: In Anticipation of October

Yet another finished object is finally getting its moment in the spotlight!  ;o)

"In Anticipation of October"
Pattern:  "October is for Spinners" by Sharon Emery
(Pattern free on Ravelry)

"In Anticipation of October"

Yarn:  Lion Brand Fishermen's Wool, "Natural" (hand-dyed with food color gels)

"In Anticipation of October"

I've forgotten most of the ups and downs of this project, but I did blog about it fairly early in the process.  There are also a few notes on my Ravelry project page.

"In Anticipation of October"

What I do remember is that it was fun and exciting to knit the spider and the first intentional holes.

"In Anticipation of October"

The "end" of the scarf (the part without the spider) is very chaotic and messy-looking.  I had to block it pretty severely to get it to the right width (or "close enough").

"In Anticipation of October"

I'm afraid this project shows that I am prone to "rowing out", which is generally thought a bad thing.  I try not to worry about it, though.  It might be a technical short-coming, but I guess it's one I can live with.

Rowing out aside, I was pretty impressed that I could knit that neato spider!  (g) And to think, when I started out on my first knitting project, I could barely even hold the needles right! ;o)

"In Anticipation of October"

Will I ever actually wear it?  ...Maybe.

"In Anticipation of October"

Some things are worth making just for the sake of the making!  (That's proving to be the theme of all these latest FOs, isn't it?!  I probably am more of a process crafter than a product crafter.)


FO: Rhubarb Scarf Wannabe

Here's another long-overdue finished object report!

This is a project I've written about multiple times before, back when it was still in-progress.  Basically, it's a Catherine wheel pattern worked in two colorways of the same yarn.  The whole thing was inspired by this lovely scarf, which the crocheter called her "Rhubarb Scarf", because (if I recall correctly) the colors of the yarn and the ruffled edging reminded her of rhubarb.  (I think you have to sign in with Ravelry to see the scarf at the link above.)

I dyed my own yarn, and because of the crazy colors, my resultant scarf bears little resemblance to its inspiration, but it was an interesting project, all the same.

"Rhubarb Scarf Wannabe"
Pattern:  "Noro Catherine Wheel Scarf" by Michelle Mooney
(Pattern free on Ravelry)

"Rhubarb Scarf Wannabe"

Yarn:  Deborah Norville Serenity Sock Weight Solids, "Soft White" hand-dyed (see below)

I think I used three skeins, though there was probably some left over of the last one, which I used for edging only.

"Rhubarb Scarf Wannabe"

I've discussed the yarn-dyeing procedure before-- at length!  (And here's the entry about dyeing the yarn for the edging, for good measure.)

"Rhubarb Scarf Wannabe"

It's a little bit kooky, maybe, with all those bright colors...

"Rhubarb Scarf Wannabe"

...But I got a lot of hours of entertainment out of those three skeins of yarn!

"Rhubarb Scarf Wannabe"

I decided to make it into an infinity scarf (with a twist) instead of leaving it as a regular scarf.  It wraps around my neck twice loosely or three times snugly.

"Rhubarb Scarf Wannabe"

(Another old project scratched off the list!)