Saturday, May 30, 2009

Crochet Foundation Stitches: A Beadwork Tip

Note: In the course of writing this post I explain two projects: a child's "hippie" headband and a hemp teacher's bracelet. They help me illustrate a new crochet tip, so I've turned them into simple free crochet patterns. I've put them into classic pattern format on my ToyDesigningVashti blog.

pictured: swatch of 5 heights of foundation stitches (no base chain used)

If you crochet
with beads, you know there's a list of things to keep in mind:
  1. The beads tend to fall to the back of the crochet stitches
  2. The bead hole needs to be big enough for the crochet yarn/thread & needle
  3. The beads often need to be strung onto your yarn in a certain order before crocheting
  4. Non-round beads may settle into a crochet stitch at an unintended angle
Today's post is about #4. Yes, for those of us who have ever tried to....
  • Line up alphabet beads just so (see 2nd photo)
  • Make smiley beads look you straight in the eye, not tilt toward 3-o'clock or worse
  • Have oval or tube-shaped beads lie horizontally instead of on a vertical angle
....Foundation crochet stitches can help! The Foundation Single Crochet stitch has also been called Foundationless Single Crochet, Chain-Free, Chainless Foundation, Double Chain Stitch, and Base Chain Single Crochet. I've blogged about them and designed with them. They're becoming hot additions to a crocheter's toolbox for at least 3 reasons besides bead crochet. They:
  1. Eliminate the need to crochet the first row of stitches into a foundation chain (something I've never enjoyed!)
  2. Are fabulous for fashion crochet because the starting edge of your garment is much more elastic (a big thank you to Doris Chan for teaching me this years ago)
  3. Result in a stronger, nicer cord (or purse strap, for ex.), of any desirable width, instead of plain chain stitches
  4. Are structured of vertical and horizontal strands that are easily beadable, unlike standard crochet stitches
(3rd photo: "Lunar Window" designed for House of White Birches in 2005, using foundation stitches of varied heights exclusively)

If you've been following me in Twitter, you know that I recently made small items with my fourth grade
r that his classmates can purchase with school dollars at their "Mini-Mall" event.

We settled on a '70's hippie theme and so I brought out my stash of hemp cord, rainbow yarns, and hippie-looking beads (smileys, peace signs). My son's first thought was "headbands"! My first reaction was, "Sure! Quick and easy,
if I use foundation crochet stitches."

I simply did 45 fsc with medium-weight yarn and an I (5.5mm) crochet hook, slip stitched the ends together, and added colored wood beads to the two yarn tails (no weaving in ends). See what I mean? Get out of here with that "work a row
of single crochets into a foundation chain." So old school.

Now let's add tricky beads. I made beaded hemp bracelets for a few teachers (using shank buttons as beads). I had to string them on before crocheting so that they were all facing the same direction. As you can see in the photo, you wouldn't want a peace sign or smiley sideways or upside down; the sunglasses would have ended up sideways in a standard single crochet stitch.
Show Tricky Beads Who's Boss

Here's the step-by-step on how to crochet 'em in, using the actual bracelet pattern I created:

String 6 beads onto hemp string so that they face the same direction. String on a 7th larger bead to serve as a clasp button.

1. Chain 1, slide large bead up close to hook, chain 1 (1 beaded ch
ain made), insert hook in 1st chain made, yarn over and pull up a loop, ch 1 leaving 1 loop still on hook (this becomes the "foundation chain" of the next sc you'll make; pinch it with your fingers or place a stitch marker there), yarn over, pull loop through both loops on hook (single crochet made).

2. Insert hook in the next marked (or pinched) stitch, yarn over and pull up a loop, chain 1 leaving 1 loop still on hook, mark it, yarn over and pull through both loops on hook. You have now made 2 fsc.

Notice that when you make each fsc, first you make a chain and the 3 yarn strands of the chain will run horizontally along the row of fsc when you're done. When when you complete the single crochet part of the fsc, two roughly vertical strands, which are often called the two "legs" of a crochet stitch, can be seen on the front side of the stitch. Also created are two horizontal strands that are found at the top edge of every kind of crochet stitch. It is difficult and sometimes impossible to place beads on the top two horizontal strands, but you can easily place beads on a leg of any crochet stitch (they end up on the back). With a fsc, you can also easily add beads to the horizontal strand running under the stitch legs.

3. To bead a leg of the next fsc: Pull up a loop in the next marked stitch, chain 1 and mark it, slide up a bead close to the hook, yarn over and pull through both loops on hook. You have now made 3 fsc.

4. Work another plain fsc like in step 2.

5. To bead a lower horizontal strand (the chain part) of a fsc: Pull up a loop in the next marked stitch, slide up a bead close to the hook, chain 1 to make a beaded chain, mark it, yarn over and pull through all loops on hook. You now have 5 fsc.

In 5th photo, only the "u" alphabet bead on the far left is readable. That one is on the lower horizontal strand of the chain part of the stitch. The other 2 beads are on the back "legs" of the stitches.

6. Continue working a plain fsc, then a beaded fsc, until you've used all strung beads.

7. Work 2 plain fsc.

8. To make a buttonhole for clasp, chain 2 then work a fdc, ready? yarn over, insert hook in marked stitch of last fsc, pull up loop, chain 1 leaving 3 loops on hook, yarn over, pull through 2 loops on hook, yarn over, pull through last 2 loops on hook. Fasten off. Add small wooden beads to each yarn tail. (Last photo shows only 5 small beads; I think 6 is better)

I'll be uploading more photos to the ToyDesigningVashti blog and creating some Ravelry pages for these free crochet patterns.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Fun With Tunisian Crochet (a.k.a. "Afghan Stitch" or "Tricot")

Although I learned how to do tunisian crochet as a young child, I spent most of my years thinking of it as pretty much just one stitch. I wonder if others have too. That basic tunisian stitch, the Tunisian Simple Stitch (or TSS) is certainly special! (see 1st photo)-- but it's only a hint of what's possible.

I wonder what stitches haven't been discovered yet! I crave complete sets of tunisian hooks that haven't been invented yet! I fantasize about different stitches in weird or unexpected fibers! (for example, third photo below is batik fabric strips in tunisian. My friends prefer this side, usually called the "wrong side")

It wasn't until I started designing professionally
 that my creative imagination woke up to tunisian crochet.It's a rich alternate universe. Learning how to publish downloadable crochet patterns egged me on because now, tunisian crochet patterns can have space for step-by-step photo tutorials and other helpful information that might take up too much room in print media.

Yes, I have the tunisian fever and have been developing some new designs. For example, tunisian crochet roses (2nd photo). Another uses what might be a new tunisian crochet stitch, which I call "Wicker Stitch." (last photo below)

I'll be announcing new tunisian crochet patterns here as soon as they're professionally edited. I have my own storefront for downloadable crochet patterns set up in Ravelry now. I'll be making them easily available in other places too.

I'm inspired by these books, designers, and designs:
Two great forums:

Fabulous for learning about Tunisian Crochet:

Friday, May 15, 2009

How to Journal About Your Crochet Ideas

Can you find my notebook in this project pile?

We crocheters are a creative bunch. With all the fresh yarn colors, new crochet hooks, free crochet patterns, and exciting crochet fashions on the runways, some days my problem is too much inspiration! A crochet notebook really helps. 

Do you already record your crochet inspirations somehow? If so, you know that there's more than one way to go about it. 

I used to use sticky notes of all sizes and then throw them into folders. 
I liked this because each design idea remained independent and
 recombinable; they were also easy to jot down anywhere at any moment. I still have sticky note pads in every purse, car, and throughout the house so that no inspiration is ever forgotten. 

The sticky note system is not ideal. I didn't like it because the ideas were less likely to evolve. They tended to remain just sparks, or seeds still needing to be planted. (Of concern to professional designers: no built-in intellectual property protection!)

I love my 8.5" x 11" thick spiral-bound blank notebook by Miquel Rius. I found it at the local Barnes & Noble. Its durable hard plastic looks good and protects well. The pages have faint graph paper lines. 

Here's my basic system:
  • I number each page consecutively in ink.
  • I reserve the 2 back pages for indexing by page number. 
  • Each entry is in ink, dated, and initialed by me. 
  • If I had to jot down something on a sticky note or scrap paper, it gets firmly taped into the notebook as a signed and dated entry. 
  • No pages are ever ripped out.
I know what you're thinking: seems a bit formal. Hold that thought.

Other things that go into this notebook: 
  • sketches, diagrams
  • inspiring clippings
  • samples of crochet stitches and patterns 
Not all of my swatching fits into a bound book like this but it's the ideal place to keep my thread crochet lace pieces. For sketches I've learned to keep colored pens nearby. Some ideas are just plain better drawn than written. Years later I especially enjoy looking at my quick sketches, even those that didn't seem like much at the time. 

At first this was a big change and did seem a bit formal to me, but it's an easy habit and well worth it. It's a fertile garden where I can watch the seeds that I've planted grow over time. The entry dating turns it into a lovely memory book. I love just paging through this notebook. A big bonus is that all of these steps help to protect my ideas as the intellectual property that they are.

Sometimes while crocheting I jot down into this notebook seemingly random thoughts or opinions I have that are in any way related to crochet--maybe about the yarn or hook or pattern or color I'm using. Later, these thoughts become useful. 

It's good for crocheters to recognize that what we naturally do generates intellectual property! Below are some links to descriptions of how design notebooks are used in other fields. I hope you are inspired to record your crochet stitches, experiments, observations, and daydreams.

I love seeing how Paul Hughes thinks in diagrams and sketches
College-level guidelines for creating design process notebooks, including graded evaluations, here and here

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Using Crochet Jewelry with Wire Free Patterns

I've been thinking about how to crochet wire jewelry since posting one of my free patterns 5 days ago. Within the first 36 hours alone it earned over 70 "hearts" in Ravelry (was favorited by over 70 people), and this brought a big smile to my weekend! 

Yet the bracelet did not become a new project for these Ravelers. 

Handmade beaded wire jewelry crochet patterns use materials that are not available everywhere. I shop for beads in 5 local stores and every store has a very different bead selection. Some craft stores don't carry nice jewelry wire in different gauges. (For this reason, jewelry wire crochet kits are probably ideal.) 

As a crochet designer, I know that yarn substituting is not always easy. Substituting crochet jewelry wire might be even trickier. It was for me when I made a second Love Knot Embracelet yesterday! Here's what I learned:

Lesson #1: 
There's a good chance that the wire gauge you want is the one that you don't have.
I wanted to use pure silver wire for my 2nd bracelet but I only have fine gauges (30-gauge or "30ga" and 26ga), no thick 22ga. I can't just go out and buy pure silver wire locally, only online.

Lesson #2: You can make your own thick gauge wire if you have a thinner gauge on hand.
I cut 3 pieces of 26ga silver wire, all 26 inches long, and twisted them together into one thicker piece.

Lesson #3: Wires of the same gauge, different metal, and sometimes different brand, can behave differently.
Pure silver (a.k.a. "fine silver," more pure than sterling) is softer, more pliant than the copper I used for the first bracelet. Also, some copper wire has an invisible coating, such as the 22ga I bought from Radio Shack. I think if I'd twisted 4 strands of 26ga silver together instead of 3, the result would be closer to the stiffness of my 22ga copper wire.

Lesson #4: Big round beads will require a longer 
bracelet than flatter, streamlined beads.
Laid flat, the two bracelets are the same finished length. When worn, the bulkier red one fits just right and the flatter blue one is just too big.

Wire is a fascinating crochet "yarn" that makes pretty beads even prettier. More tips on how to crochet wire are found in one of my 2006 free patterns for crocheted doilies: Coffee Hotplate Doily.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Free Crochet Pattern for Mothers Day

I awoke from a dream about crochet love knots (a.k.a. "Solomon's knots") covering two sides of a string of beads like airy cages or nets. As I went about my day I planned out the crochet yarn and beads for the experiment: wire would make the love knots stand out from the beads the most. I could use any beads I liked, even big heavy beads with little holes.

Here is today's result, which only took about a hour at most. I describe below how to crochet it, in case you wish to try it with whatever beads and wire or string you have on hand. It would make a nice Mothers Day gift. If your mother is a crocheter too, she would appreciate how the love knot stitch in wire has a fancy new look wrapped around special beads.

In appreciation of mothers everywhere, here is my....
Love Knot Embracelet
copyright Vashti Braha, all rights reserved
For this project you'll need to know how to crochet a love knot. (To learn how, google for a how-to video, such as this one. Try it first with smooth light-colored yarn before you try wire.)

Materials (and substitution tips)

  • 26 gauge wire (I used a copper one from a craft store. You can find it in many colors. If 26 gauge is not available, I recommend 28 gauge, which is a little finer.)
  • A 25-inch long piece of 22 gauge wire (I used a spool of copper from Radio Shack! 22 gauge is too thick to crochet but still easy to cut and bend. You can try using 20 of 24 gauge.)
  • Wire cutters (I used kitchen shears from the dollar store)
  • One steel crochet hook in the size range of #3 to #0 (whatever works best for you. Some folks crochet wire very loosely.)
  • Any medium-large-sized beads (I bought mine at Michaels.)
  • A hammer or pliers, for flattening and compressing the stitches of the hook and loop closure. (Or use a ready made bracelet closure of your choice.)
1. Loosely fold the 25-inch piece of wire in half so that the fold is a round loop. Do not string on the beads.

2. With the thinner wire, make a slip knot, place on hook, single crochet (sc) into the loop of the thicker wire piece so that the stitch is wrapped around the thick wire. *Make a love knot that is approx. one-quarter inch longer than the bead you're using, slide a bead onto both ends of the thicker wire and slide up so that it's snug against the sc, then sc around the thick wire on the other side of the bead. Repeat from * to * until 2.5 inches of thick wire remain.

If this is your first time trying wire crochet, don't worry about how your stitches look! Try to avoid crumpling up your stitches too much as you go, but a certain amount of crumpling can't be helped when you crochet with wire. It looks unsightly but you can spiff it up later. Notice in this photo that like ugly ducklings, the love knots look nothing like the swans they will become. (Actually, I was tempted to try leaving them as is, only twisted a bit. See what you think.)

3. Sc over the remaining thick wire ends, leaving one-half inch unworked. Then flatten the sc's a bit and fold that strip of sc's in half. Flatten and compress it. Wind the unworked thick wire ends around the sc strip and hide the ends so that they don't snag or poke when bracelet is worn.

4. Fold the sc strip in half again, loosely, to create a hook for the clasp. I like to fold it around the shaft of my steel crochet hook; then compress the stitches some more. (See first photo.)

5. Continue working along the other side of the thick wire: *make a love knot of the same size as the others, sc around the thick wire on the other side of the next bead.* You can scrunch the beads apart so that you can fit your sc in there. Continue from * to * until you reach the thick wire loop end.
6. Scrunch together the beads so that about one inch of the thick wire loop is free of stitches. Sc around this loop until it is covered. Fasten off and hide the ends. Flatten and compress the sc's.

7. Now you can coax your love knot strands into a pretty look. Each love knot has 3 strands, so each bead is enrobed with 6 floaty wire strands.

For more photos and comments, please look for this project in Ravelry. If you make your own version, I hope you'll upload a photo and let me know!