Monday, June 22, 2009

Tunisian Crochet Chemo Hat: Pros & Cons

In the midst of hosting house guests and attending the TNNA conference, a new crocheted hat happened, known as "Vanilla Crown." Early in this blog's life I talked about "Hat Yoga": a hat designing journey for my dear friend Kalli.

The Vanilla Crown is the latest addition to the Hat Yoga collection and the first to feature two tunisian stitches for specific reasons.

We're having a heat wave here, and my house guest is not used to the extremes of air conditioning and humid subtropical heat. After all the chemo she's had, she doesn't need the extra stress on her immune system. So I wanted to create a summer hat that breathes but protects, and is of course exquisitely soft. I chose Decadent Fibers' organic color-grown cotton in "vanilla".

I've watched some of my hats stretch out over years of use. Sometimes it's due to the yarn, sometimes the stitch or gauge. For this hat I focused most on which stitch and gauge. The yarn is bumpy and fleecy and for it to be summery, I wanted a stitch that wouldn't amp up the bump, thickness, or weight; and one that wouldn't add stretch. My thoughts turned to tunisian crochet.

I wanted to frame my friend's face with a gently flaring brim that wouldn't droop over time. I thought of how tunisian simple stitch (TSS), worked firmly, naturally curls. It's also solid enough to block the sun.

As for what I was in the mood for: I was not up for doing tunisian in the round, nor entrelac. I needed something mindless enough so that I could socialize while crocheting. We also like to watch movies together. I was willing to commit to crocheting a rectangle, then seaming it to create a hat band with just the right fit before adding the brim and crown.

So here's what I think of the result based on the design goals:
  • I'm very happy with the tunisian corded knit stitch used for the band. It has zero elasticity horizontally (around the head) and just enough vertically so that the wearer can pull it down over the ears or not.
  • The stitch is also pleasingly protective yet airy, and shows off the yarn's texture without adding more bulk. It's a great stitch to design with.
  • Using TSS for the brim is also a good choice, once I worked out the amount of increases to add so that the brim flared just enough. (I ripped out these rows so many times before getting them right!)
  • The yarn is even more beautiful than I expected. It's soft, luminous, and great with different skin tones. I couldn't resist adding some pearls around the crown!
Those are the pros, want the cons? Well:
  • I ended up using 4 different kinds of hooks. This is a problem designing with tunisian. Sometimes you don't know what you're in for until you're part way through a new design! I discover missing sizes and styles once I need one while designing :)
  • My favorite tunisian hook was barely long enough for the rectangular band. Once I added stitches for the brim, I struggled to use my favorite hook but eventually switched to some new bamboo circulars, which I didn't like. For the crown I could use a regular crochet hook, but kept switching it because the yarn worked distinctly better with one brand over others.
  • I underestimated how much the finished crown affects the way the band settles around the head. That's not this design's fault, just a design issue I learned the hard way. And in this case the hat still fits fine, just not the way I originally envisioned it; it was meant to be a "bucket" hat and became a "cloche."
  • Lastly, seaming is not my first choice for a hat design. The seam did its job of making the hat enjoyable to make while socializing, so I would make a hat this way again in a similar situation. The seam, which is crocheted, looks okay except for a lumpy bit at the brim, but it doesn't really show.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

How to Increase Crochet Stitches Like a Pro

I wonder how many crocheters are aware of small refinements they can make at row edges to improve an angular shape, such as a triangle? I wasn't aware of it myself until 2006, when I designed the trapezoidal "Swingy Ruffles" bag for Jean Leinhauser and Rita Weiss. My first swatches resulted in rounded blobby shapes. No matter how dramatically I increased and decreased stitches in each row to create diagonal lines, the row edges restricted the shape.

As you can see above in the 1st photo, the left and right edges of the greenish swatch are too tight and the top edge bows. (These are tunisian crochet swatches, see mini photo tutorial below.)

The simple, obvious solution for regular (non-tunisian
) crochet is to add a turning chain or two to loosen up the row edges, and it works. Diagonal lines created by increasing or decreasing crochet stitches need room to flex and breathe. This is especially important for fashion crochet! Some elegant garments depend on truly angular edges that drape for their dramatic flair.

Maybe you knew this already. If s
o, please tell me if you found advice like this in crochet books or sites because I like to alert crocheters to sources of great information.

What about corner-start tunisian crochet? I'm currently designing a triangular wrap in which you begin at the bottom corner of the wrap and steadily increase at each edge to create a big triangle. In tunisian (a.k.a. "afghan crochet"), there is more than one way to add stitches at the beginning and end of a row. The most common usually works fine, except in cases where you are increasing a lot (that's the greenish swatch in the 1st photo).

The way I think of it is that adding stitches repeatedly is like creati
ng a vector which has a momentum. A small momentum can be absorbed by the stretch of the fabric, but a greater momentum needs room to fully expand. Shell stitches have this momentum too.

A way to look at it geometrically is that when we crochet a square with the same number of stitches in each row, the rows stack up and stitches fill their little slots. When we (rarely) crochet a diamond shape in which each row increases for awhile then decreases to a point, each added stitch at the edge is launching off on a diagonal angle.

Here's a way to steadily increase stitches in tunisian simple stitch that helps the added stitches do their shaping job (like the bluish swatch in the 1st photo). Stay tuned for a wee photo tutorial when we get to the left edge. I've been experimenting with it this week, using different gauges and fibers. I like that:
  • it has enough flexible drape for fashion designs
  • it's substantial enough to support an added edging later
  • the left edge and the right edge have equal tension and look equally nice to me (a tricky thing for tunisian crochet!)

To increase 1 stitch at the beginning of a forward pass, chain 1, insert hook in first vertical bar and pull up a loop to create the added stitch; then continue across the row, pulling up a loop in each vertical bar across. So far, so what, right? No surprise maybe? Some crocheters already increase by working into the very first vertical bar instead of skipping it. I recommend that you chain 1 first. It gives a more flexible edge, especially if you will be adding more increases to this edge in each row. It seems to control the tension of the 1st stitch. To my eye, the chain melts into the diagonal edge and adds a little substance.

To increase 1 stitch at the end of a forward pass, I borrowed a stitch from macrame called a Half-Hitch Knot; in knitting it's known as the Simple Cast-on (or Backwards Loop Cast-on). In my testing, two half-hitches added to the hook at the end of the row work great as one increase. If you add only 1 half-hitch, it will be a flimsy, loopy edge. I'm unable to find a video that would show you how to do a half-hitch while happily crocheting along, so until I create one I hope my 3 photos help. It's cool. I enjoy crocheting half-hitches. I like what they look like.

How to make a Half-Hitch: Your goal is to add a loop onto your hook that has a twist in it so that it stays on your hook. All I do is instead of doing a usual yarn over with the strand of yarn from the finger controlling the tension of the yarn, I yarn over with the strand behind my tension finger. I "scoop" it from the palm of my hand. I know, sounds weird, and a little video would clear it up instantly! In photo 1 of 3, I added two loose half-hitches to the hook at the end of the forward pass. In the 2nd photo I simply tightened them. Aren't they cute?

How to crochet the return pass with the half-hitches: yarn over and pull through both half-hitch loops on hook (1 increase stitch worked off of hook), yarn over, pull through two loops on hook at a time until one loop remains on hook. In the 3rd photo you can see what the two half-hitches look like now that I've pulled the yarn through them to begin the return pass.

How to crochet into the half-hitches in the next row: when you get to the end of the row of your next forward pass, insert hook in the 2 far left loops of the half-hitch pair. To add another stitch to this row, make another pair of half-hitches.

When half-hitches are used to augment a
widening left edge, you can see how they'll blend into the edge in a slightly bumpy, pretty way, and match the look of the chain 1 edge on the right edge. It's easy to add a nice edge too (pictured is just a quick slip stitch + chain 1 edge.)

I hope that you'll try this and let me know what you think. If you've learned about this elsewhere, please tell me about it.