Monday, May 24, 2010

Hexagon Afghan Yarn

While doing some blog housekeeping, I just came across this old entry that (apparently) I never got around to publishing.  I could've sworn I'd clicked "publish", but nope.  There it was, marked "draft". Oops!  I'll just publish it now, even though it's from 'way before I started the Procrastination Afghan...

It wasn't so long ago that the thought of crocheting an afghan would have elicited a "But why would you ever want to do that?" type of response from me.  The investment of time such a project requires was the most obvious deterrent, then there's the fact that you can buy a finished blanket more cheaply than the amount of yarn it takes to crochet your own.  Where was the appeal?

This, of course, was before I'd been bitten by the crochet bug.  Now it makes perfect sense.  It's about the process of making the afghan as much as (if not more than) the blanket itself.  You get the fun of choosing the colors and memorizing the pattern-- the cozy hours spent crocheting happily away. . . And then at the end, you have something unique that, if not for your skill and effort, would never have existed.  (Well, that's the theory, anyway.  I'm still waiting to see if mine turns out to look like it took much skill. . .)

After making the difficult admission that one only needs so many scarves (especially when one lives in a generally mild-wintered climate), I've been thinking about other projects I could try.  I'd still like to make some wristlets or mitts. . . maybe a lacy shawl. . . possibly a hat or two (. . .and I'm not giving up scarves, altogether-- just going on a little scarf diet)-- but this spirit of adventure (ha ha) prepared me to accept inspiration when I rediscovered some beautiful photos of hexagon afghans.

Around the Christmas holiday season, I started seriously contemplating the possibility of making an afghan and began scouring the Internet for more photos and patterns.  There's no telling how much time I've spent over the past couple weeks just in ogling hexagon afghans-- er, I mean researching.  Yeah, that it's.  Researching.  ;o)

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Here are a few promising hexagon patterns I found online, available for free:

"Grandmother's Flower Garden Afghan" from Sunshine's Creations:
This one is a drafted pattern-- reverse engineering based on a photo of an afghan.  I haven't found any photos of afghans made using this pattern, which would of course be nice.  She does link to a similar afghan, but the stitch counts are slightly different.  Still, it wouldn't be hard to work up one or two hexagons using the pattern to help you decide whether or not it's the one for you. 

"Super Simple Hexagon" from Leanda at One Loop Short:
Unless I'm mistaken, this hexagon pattern is based on the "similar afghan" linked to in the previous pattern.  (Here, you can find a photo of it in this entry.)  Anyway, Leanda writes that she likes this pattern as an alternative to the hexagons in the next pattern, because she found those were sometimes a little too time-consuming, per hexagon.

Each hexagon has only three rounds (versus the five rounds in the next pattern).  However, I think that it will vary from person to person as to which pattern is truly the most simple.  Unless the rounds are wider on this pattern than in the next, you'll need to make more individual hexagons (and join them all, too) to reach the same size afghan as you'd get with a lesser number of the wider hexagons.  Comparative simplicity aside, these do have a different look from the other hexagons, and I like them both.

Attic24's (aka Lucy's) "Hexagon How-to":
This, I think, is the pattern that initially caught my eye, and in the end, it's the one I settled on making (this time).  I'm not sure how much of my decision was based on the pattern itself or the glorious riot of color in Lucy's hexagon afghan.  The photos of her afghan are so appealing!  Even though I'm not using the same yarn (or, thus, colors) as she used, I thought her photos were proof that this pattern (with its five rounds per hexagon) lends itself well to a good mix of colors.

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No matter what hexagon pattern you choose, there's always the issue of how to join them.  You can make all the hexagons separately, then stitch them together at the end, or you can use a method of "joining as you go".  Alex (aka Moonstitches) shares her method of join-as-you-go, which she calls "Block Meet".  This is the method I'm using, as it seemed more appealing than stitching together who-knows-how-many hexagons all at the end. 

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Once you've settled on a hexagon pattern (maybe even considered how you'll join them) you get to the really fun part-- choosing yarn!  In my hexagon-ogling research, I found lots of people wondering how much yarn is required (never got a perfect answer to that one, as it depends on how big the afghan will be and what weight yarn you use), what type of yarn to use (in my case, acrylics fit the bill of affordability and washability), and how to choose colors.  Especially that last part. 

--How many colors are enough? (Most people seem to say you need at least three.  Personally, I prefer more than that.)

--How many colors are too many?  (Is there such a thing?)

--Is it okay to mix brights with muted shades, or do they clash?

--How much contrast is best (within each hexagon and the afghan as a whole)?

--What's the right balance between harmonious colors and something that has a little "pop"?

If you have a stash of remnants, some of your decisions may be made for you.  My stash, however, didn't contain enough colorful worsted-weight yarn to supply a bright and cheerful afghan.  I had to go yarn shopping to supplement the yarn I did have.  (Had to, I tell you.  There was no choice.  Heaven knows I didn't want to do it, but there are times we must simply bite the bullet. ;o))

When buying yarn for a project like this, you have to just remember that it's all a matter of personal preference.  You can study color theory-- read about complementary colors and what-not-- but eventually it comes down to your own taste.  I suppose that if you feel you lack the ability to look at colors and make the final call, you can base your decisions on photos of others' afghans-- or design a color scheme around a fabric swatch.  Of course, that's assuming that you can find the exact colors in your sample in the yarn aisle (or online).  That doesn't always work out-- especially if (like me) you're shopping yarn sales and discover that you're limited not only by the palettes available in the sale-priced yarns, but also by the fact that some of the colors are currently sold out.  (!!  How dare they?)

You can spend a lot of time dithering over which colors go best together-- whether that green is too neon or that blue's too dark.  I know I did!  I'd brought snippets of the yarns I already had, taped to a scrap of paper.  I think the snippets helped me see whether Shade A was more harmonious with the others than Shade B, but it was still a little of a leap of faith.  I had to keep reminding myself that even if the colors turned out not to all "go" perfectly, that would just make it look like a scrap afghan-- and I like that look at least as well as the overly coordinated style that uses only a few carefully selected colors.

Incidentally, I think it's easier to "let it go" and be random when you work entirely from a stash of yarn.  If you have to go out and buy new, you're more prone to designing/planning-- feeling like you have to make the "right" decision on each color you select.

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Here's a list of the yarns and colors I'm using (in case anyone might possibly care):

I Love This Yarn! from Hobby Lobby
*Hot Rose
*Orange
*Turquoise
*Limelight

Impeccable from Loops & Threads
*Soft Rose
*Rouge
*Lavender
*Claret
*Butterscotch

Simply Soft, from Caron
*Iris
*Berry Blue
*Violet
*Blue Mint

Simply Soft Eco, from Caron
*Sprig
*Ocean Mist

Vanna's Choice, from Lion Brand
 *Mustard

Assorted Acrylics (no wrappers or vintage)
*Christmas Green
*Peach
*Lemon Yellow

None of them are luxury yarns, but I'm not exactly a yarn snob, and I think they're pretty nice for acrylics.  Most of them are quite soft-- and they're washable and affordable enough that I don't have to feel wracked with guilt over having purchased enough yarn to make a whole afghan (and probably-maybe-possibly have leftovers to start the next one).  (Reasonable prices are very important to me.  Even if it's not a question of being able to afford more expensive yarn, guilt over craft expenditures takes all the fun out of a hobby for me.  But I'm probably an extreme case. . .) 

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Still on the subject of choosing colors, here's a tip that helped me and might help you, if you also have a hard time letting things be totally random.  (g) 

This is a trick my mother told me (that one of her aunts told her). They both use it for quilting, but I don't see why it can't work for anything that requires the selection and combination of color.

The idea is that to get an impression of what a bunch of colors of fabric (or in this case, yarn) look like together-- without being distracted by any one pattern or color-- you should lay them all out together (or stack them up, maybe, in the case of skeins of yarn), stand back, and look at them through squinted eyes.

I thought that a purposely blurred photo would be one step better, so I took out the camera, set it to manual focus, made everything nice and blurry, and snapped away.  (If your camera won't let you focus manually, you can blur a photo afterward, using Photoshop or a similar photo-editing program.  You might also be able to trick the camera by putting something small and neutral a few feet in front of the yarn and focusing on that.  The background should blur somewhat.)

Another Yarn Abstract

Looking at the colors this way does give a different impression. You'll likely notice that certain colors stand out more than you realized they would, while others seem to recede. When I took my blurry photos, I was happy to discover that some of the colors I was initially hesitant about seemed more harmonious when mishmashed with all the other colors.

(Keep in mind that the lighting and surrounding colors in your photo may affect the accuracy of the yarn colors.  Incandescent lights, for instance, tend to make colors appear more yellowy than they really are.  This is definitely not an exact science.)

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When you settle down to crochet, you find that you still have one more decision to make-- what size hook will you use?  When you're using a variety of yarns, you may find (as I did) that the wrappers recommend slightly different hook sizes.  I worked my first hexagon in a few different hook sizes before settling on a J hook.  I'm still not sure if it's the perfect size, but it'll have to do, because I'm not starting over again.  (g)

So far, I've worked five hexagons, and I'm still a little uncertain if I'm doing everything correctly (according to the pattern).  The pattern itself is simple enough.  There are no intimidating stitches.  For me, the struggle has been learning to tidily change colors (using knots) and trying to crochet over (most of) the tails so that there's not so much weaving in of loose ends.  This is my first time changing colors in a project.  Obviously that's a big part of this afghan-- and one of the most exciting aspects of it-- but it's still taking a little getting used to.

Also, I've had to admit that I'm not sure if you're supposed to "turn" the work at all. . . I'm going to just try to be fairly consistent in what I do.  Even if you do every hexagon "wrong", it probably won't be as noticeable if they're all that way.  (Well, that's what I keep telling myself.)

It's been something of an adventure already, this afghan, and I've barely gotten started!  (g)

I'll try to keep this blog updated on my progress, every so often.  In the meantime, here's the hexagon afghan's Ravelry page.

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P.S.  I found these videos (and others like them) on YouTube to be helpful when trying to grasp the concept of working tails in as you go:





And this one is good for those times when you need to weave in an end that you accidentally left too short:



Why did it never occur to me to position the needle into the crochet before threading it?! It makes perfect sense.

Hi, it's Present-Day Me again. I have picked up the hexagon project again.  I decided to start it over from scratch, because with a little more experience under my belt, I saw that I shouldn't have turned the motifs as I worked them.  I only had five done, anyway, so it wasn't a huge loss of time and effort.  I'm enjoying the project much more now and should have some photos of my progress soon!