Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Crochet Designing and TNNA 2011

If I'm a sailboat on a sea of creativity, the waters have been choppy lately! The schedule of my son's summer camp is like a big speedboat that leaves a big wake for my sailboat. He loves the camp and I'm getting the hang of those waves. There's also the TNNA conference I've just attended: it's an unexpected air current that keeps catching my sails! (OK, I'll stop the analogy here.)

'Twas great to see Linda Permann, Doris Chan, and
Ellen Gormley crocheting simultaneously!
(Click here to see one with me in it.)
I've attended and blogged about The National Needlearts Association trade shows ("TNNA shows") every June since 2006. The attendees are primarily needle arts and yarn shop owners, and the exhibitors are businesses that offer yarns, tools, books, etc. for these shops. As a crochet designer I experience the yarn side of the show much more than the needlepoint-cross stitch-embroidery side. 

This year, warm appreciation and abundant new opportunities flowed toward designers! It was wonderful. Almost every business responded with a sparkling 'Yes!' when I asked if they work with indie {crochet} designers, which wasn't so much the case in previous years. I think that as social media and other online resources develop, helping each other succeed just keeps getting easier.
Fun picture of Marly and me taken at the
Ravelry Ice Cream Social, TNNA 2010.
Click here for Marly's original photo
(less grainy resolution than mine)

At a designer dinner I received a remarkable goody bag of everything from a stylish Namaste messenger bag to a coveted skein of pure buffalo yarn. Like I told Marly (see photo at left) who organized the dinner, it's had a great effect on my creativity. 

I'm already using and loving:

Looking forward to using: 

In addition to the buffalo yarn, I'm looking forward to swatching up: 

I have more experiences with new tools and yarns to report when time permits. Until then, I have issue #22 of my Crochet Inspirations newsletter to prepare this week (it won't have anything to do with TNNA, unlike issue #20), and my first-ever crochet videos to upload! 
Plus, the usual stream of crochet patterns to complete and publish. 
I've been adding charts to some published patterns and I announce stuff like that in my newsletters so please subscribe here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tunisian Crochet Lace: New Habits

After designing several lacy Tunisian crochet wraps, and teaching how to crochet Tunisian lace to both knitters and crocheters in local yarn shops, I've noticed a few things. I thought I'd blog them below as a way of listing my tips, strategies, and observations in one place.
My newest Tunisian crochet lace design!

The #1 most remarkable thing to me about Tunisian crochet: it can be super-lacy, but rarely is. I suspect that a lot of people don't know just how lacy it can be. Instead, a huge amount of Tunisian crochet that I see is perfect for keeping someone warm. For me, Tunisian crochet can also be breezy, weightless, and super-lacy: perfect for a Florida summer! 

Sequined Tunisian Net for Evening
In my Tunisian crochet lace classes, I find that many crocheters start out expecting to use a tighter gauge with Tunisian stitches--even if they have experience making other kinds of lacy items. Some think that their Tunisian stitches are done correctly if they look and feel like they have no 'breathing room' (no extra ease built in). 

I've seen some people make lacy Tunisian stitches, then assume that they need to rip them out and start over with a smaller crochet hook size to firm up the stitches. (This would be true for making sweaters and blankets.) Actually, they might only need to spritz with water to dampen and block
Sneak Peek of Rivuline

When I look at looser Tunisian stitches, I see room for the lace to open up and "blossom," with flexible joints for beautiful draping. 

I suspect three possible reasons for non-lacy approaches to Tunisian crochet:
My Petals Tunisian stitch pattern.

1. When many crocheters and knitters learned how to do Tunisian crochet, they made afghans first. These students need to see the familiar stitches (such as Tss) in a new way: more open, with room to breathe and drape.

2. Each Tunisian crochet stitch tends to be shorter and smaller than most regular crochet stitches, especially when making lace. So, viewed up close, looser Tunisian stitches can look too loose, even sloppy to some, but will look elegant and stylish as clothing, especially after blocking.

Shaktism, a sneak peek
As a designer, another way I'd put it is, the fine-grained smaller scale of Tunisian stitches inclines one to lose sight of the larger perspective, which is how these stitches look together from a distance as a larger piece of fabric.

3. The unique Tunisian crochet process of adding all loops of a new row onto the crochet hook during the Forward Pass, and then working them all off during the Return Pass, might make some people want to "yank" their loops too tightly, rather than too loosely.
Most of all what I see in my classes is a habit, or comfort zone, of working Tunisian crochet so that the stitches are snug and dense. This is fabulous for afghans and winter sweaters, hats, and scarves. If this is true for you, don't worry. It doesn't take long at all for your fingers and eyes to start experiencing Tunisian stitches in a new, lacy form.

Here are some tips:

If it's your first experience with a Tunisian crochet lace pattern, really try to match the designer's gauge as a way of learning a new way of perceiving, and a new feeling for the stitching fingers. (Normally, matching a designer's stitch and row gauge exactly might not be essential for wearing a loose-fitting, gorgeous swath of Tunisian crochet lace, unless you want to match the finished dimensions and yarn amounts stated in the pattern as closely as possible.)
Ennis Wrap: Tunisian Filet Crochet

- I suggest swatching with a yarn that has gentle color changes if this is your first Tunisian project featuring multiple Tyo. The color changes make it easier to distinguish a Tyo loop from the nearby vertical bar of a Tss.

- When making three or more Tyo (Tunisian Yarn Over) in a row, tug on them a bit to firm up how they're wrapped around the hook during the Forward pass. (If they don't slide easily along your hook though, then you've tightened them too much). 
- When working multiple Tyo loops off of your hook during the Return pass, use longer stitches. I stretch them a bit as I work them off of my hook.

- Spritz your stitches with water as you crochet anytime and gently stretch open the lacy holes to see how the extra ease of a looser gauge allows the lace to open up.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Poem-Lariat for a River Goddess: a Crochet Necklace

Aquamarine Réclamé Poem-Lariat 
(a Trailing Vines Lariat©2011
I call this freeform crochet jewelry the Aquamarine Réclamé Poem-Lariat:
'Réclamé' (reclaimed) because I recycled the aquamarine gem chips from an old necklace.
'Lariat' because the clasp is decorative, worn in the front, and slides for different styling options. Here the crochet clasp is a flower basket. It's a fun feature of my new Trailing Vines Lariat crochet jewelry design. 

See the other two versions below; try a section of the pattern! It's included in yesterday's newsletter issue #17, "Crocheting Fancy Cords."

'Poem' because of the river goddess Sabrina, who gave her name to the River Severn. 'Sabrina' is the poet John Milton's preferred version of 'Severn' which is the preferred version of an old Celtic word. 

Anyway, Milton wrote this famous verse in his larger work Comus. I love it so much that I memorized it as a teenager and used it for a calligraphy project:
Aquamarine Réclamé Poem-Lariat

   Sabrina Fair
   Listen where thou art sitting
   Under the glassie, cool, translucent wave,
   In twisted braids of Lillies knitting
   The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair,
   Listen for dear honour's sake,
   Goddess of the silver lake,

   Listen and save! 

Sabrina would save the aquamarine chips from an old necklace too, I just know it. Especially if she brought them home from Cassadega, Florida as a souvenir. The unusual town was founded in 1894 as a spiritualist community. Incidentally, the name means "water beneath the rocks."

The yarn is also a poetic choice: it's composed of organic sugar cane (Araucanía Ruca Multi). The aquamarine chips looked like sugar crystals as I crocheted them into the sugar-yarn. I thought about how sweet water can taste sometimes. Surely it tastes sweet to Sabrina.
©2011 Vashti Braha
©2011 Vashti Braha 
I subconsciously associate aquamarines with mermaids, naiads, sylphs, water deities--Milton's "goddess of the silver lake," and Nimue or Viviane, the "Lady of the Lake" in Avalon. I would envy Pisceans their aquamarine birthstone except that I also like mine, the amethyst (see below).
Photo from PaganPages.org
Aquamarines are rather crudely marketed. Strong-colored specimens have likely been cooked, and if you see a lighter strand, notice how they're strung on a cord that's a strong shade of what we tend to think of as "aquamarine."   

Unstrung, the gem is watery-looking and usually nearly colorless. (I've noticed the same thing with rose quartz jewelry: look for whether it's strung on a stronger pink cord to make you think the stones are more pink!) 
I had to make my own beading needle
for these aquamarines.
When I rescued these bead chips from the old yellowed (though "aquamarine"-colored) necklace string, I wasn't sure if I'd find out that I'd been duped. What if they were plain old quartz, or worse, glass? They seemed colorless until I sprinkled them onto white paper; then they showed a lovely pale watery-blue tint. I was hooked. Every aquamarine that I could reclaim and load into my crochet stitches was sheer joy. 

Something's been nagging me about this verse, though. Milton says 'knitting,' but crocheters know that half the time 'crocheting' is actually meant. That's just the way life is. (I'm suspicious of the term 'plaiting' for the same reason.) 

Let's try it:
     In twisted braids of Lillies crocheting
     The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair,

© 2011 Vashti Braha (Silk yarns; Amethyst chips at right)
Trailing Vines Lariat

It does makes more sense, in context. It's so easy to finger-crochet. If I were a river goddess, I'd be stringing pearls and aquamarines and moonstones, then finger-crocheting them into my hair, seaweed, vine tendrils....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Slip Stitch Crochet Lace Possibilities

Woke up this morning and saw this:
It could only mean that fairyfolk got into my yarn stash while I slept. 

I don't know if they forgot to take this swatch with them, or what. Maybe they're hinting at something. I'm not even sure what the fairies mean it to be, but get this: 

These are slip stitches. I can see why the wee folk favor slip stitch lace--slip stitches being all about small and all. 

I'm seeing a wide shallow triangular wrap. I hope I can figure out how they made slip stitches look like that.

Full moons embolden fairies, and we just had that super-full moon the other day. If I've noticed that moonlight makes my yarn stash glow, surely fairies have too. Seems to make linen yarn magnetic for them too. Luckily they left my beaded silk and glittery mohair alone! (Wouldn't be easy to rip out fairy crochet swatches with those yarns.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Year Full of Crocheted Accessories! Have a Favorite?

Satin Pillows Necklace
Sterling Boutique Handbag
Tunisian Islander
Onefellswoop FlexMitts
Until I learned this month that I'm a finalist for the Crochet Liberation Front's Best Crochet Designer for Accessories award, I didn't realize how many accessories I designed in 2010! 

I've been staying out of trouble, writing up new crochet patterns, learning how my new website works, and how to make downloadable PDF's look the way I want them to--stuff like that.

I'm still a bit stunned: I'm very honored to be nominated and to share the honor with the other designers in this category.  Makes me wonder if I should write a book of accessories to crochet LOL. I guess these patterns can pile up if one keeps designing them, huh. 

Pallas Scarf
Weightless Tunisian
I don't think of them as "accessories" though. Maybe that's why I didn't realize how many I designed in a year. The crochet jewelry designs, especially necklaces & lariats, feel like they're from a different part of my brain than, say, Tunisian shawls and wraps

Remember that cowl fever I caught? Cowls, mobiae, and scarves are their own thing too. So are handbags, and fingerless gloves

Lovepod Boa
Stitchmerge How-to
(And then that Lovepod Boa, see at left--I don't know which part of the brain that one came from. Is it jewelry worn as a scarf, or vice versa?)

The Crochet Liberation Front created the Flamies Awards about three years ago, and the winners are announced on a special episode of Mary Beth Temple's Getting Loopy podcast. ("Flamies" refers to flaming hooks of justice!)
Chainmaille Cowl-Scarves
Frostyflakes Superpattern

Voting for the Annual Flamies Awards begins this week: March 15. I'm very excited because in only three years it has become the "academy awards" for crocheters. 

Aran Rozsanas Superpattern
1380 Cashmere Picots
Do you have a favorite DesigningVashti crochet accessories pattern?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Crochet, Socks, and Karen Whooley

If you're visiting my blog for the first time because you're touring blogs with my friend Karen Whooley, welcome and thanks for stopping by! I chatted with Karen about her new book,  I Can't Believe I'm Crocheting Socks! and you can see some of our conversation below. I love what she says about socks and her school uniform, lace crochet, and what she imagines her Nonna would say about her book.

The #1 reason I wanted to be a part of Karen's blog tour is: Knitters have been having so much fun with gorgeous new sock yarns, comparing the virtues of toe-up vs cuff-down patterns, how to "turn a heel", etc. Making socks that fit is a whole art form. There's not nearly as much information out there for crocheters as for knitters....until lately.

In Progress: Nice fit!
Even though I learned to crochet over thirty years ago, I only recently crocheted my first pair of socks. You can see a view of them finished here

Whose crochet sock pattern did I carefully choose for that first crochet sock experience? KAREN WHOOLEY's. I was hooked! I bought so much sock yarn LOL. Now that Karen has written a whole book on crochet socks, we have everything we need to enjoy crocheting socks in the style and size we please.

Vashti: When I think of you, Karen, I think about how you learned to crochet from your grandmother when you were 7, and how much your love for crochet shows in your commitment to it over the years. I also identify with you a bit, because we both learned to crochet in the 1970's as young girls. I learned from my Mom when I was 9. 

Karen: A lot of my students tell me that I give way too much credit to Nonna for the crocheter I have become.  And I have to agree that yes, I have learned a lot on my own over the last 12 years as a designer and instructor.  
Karen's Nonna. Photo taken in the late 1980's
I lost Nonna in 1992 and sold my first design in 1998.  But, if it wasn’t for Nonna, I probably wouldn’t have learned to crochet to begin with.  I owe my love and passion for crochet to her. And I can honestly say that as I am working, she comes to mind, and a lot of her words spill from my heart when I get frustrated with a design. 

Vashti: Back then, I never imagined I would one day be a professional crochet designer. I knew only a little about patterns and different kinds of projects. I did try many kinds of crochet, but strangely was also completely unaware of many other kinds--such as real crocheted socks....the kind that you wear comfortably in shoes....to school!! 

Imagine wearing real crocheted socks to school in the 1970's! Did you imagine them or try them, Karen? Which of the socks in your book would you like to have crocheted for yourself and wear to school, at what age? In a color, or for a specific outfit? In high school I would have wanted PURPLE. Purple with deep red. I would have worn them with fringed moccasins.

Karen: I never, ever thought I would be a professional designer back then.  My Nonna spoke very broken English, so I learned all my stitches in Italian.  After learning all the basic stitches in Worsted Weight and an H hook, I was given a size 6 steel and bedspread weight cotton and for about 5 years, I did a lot of lace.  I don’t think I ever would have thought of socks until I was in my late teens/early 20s.  But I can tell you I did do a lot of slippers, so maybe if I knew then what I do now, socks would have been on my agenda! 

I think in High School I would have worn the ripple socks just as they were designed.  Blue has always been a favorite color, and I used ripples a lot. But then of course ripples were very popular back then.  When I first learned to crochet I think I may have made the Lace socks, but in PINK!  I was such a pink girl.  I might have made the Tube Socks in Navy, Hunter Green and/or White because I went to Catholic School and wore only knee socks in those colors with my uniform!

Vashti: I find that often, while I design something, I'm picturing the crocheter I was. Sometimes I have a sense of contrast with the crochet I started with and crochet as I know it now. (Other times I have trouble remembering what I knew or experienced about crochet back then; for example, I recall no specific opinion of hdc, whereas now I think it's a distinctly cool stitch!) Sometimes I'm still amazed that I get to design crochet professionally, and the "I" that is amazed is my young crochet self. I love crochet as much as ever and am honored to add to the designs.

Karen: Many times I do think back at what I used to do. For example, since Nonna couldn’t read an English pattern, she taught me to “read” a picture.   Until I was in my early teens, I couldn’t read a pattern very well, but boy I could copy an item from a picture. I am self-taught in reading patterns. Now I am almost fanatical about being sure my patterns read right for the crocheters who may purchase them.  A lot of times I think back to when I couldn’t read a pattern, and I think that is why.  I was determined to make my projects look exactly like the one pictured, and by gosh, I want my fans to be able to do the same. 

Like you, I am amazed I get to design professionally!  My Nonna told me that she had given me a skill, and that I needed to do something with it.  Mom tells me she meant crocheting items for the family or for charity. But I know she would be proud of what I am doing now. I am doing a lot of techniques I am sure she may have seen, but I don’t know that she had ever done. (I wish now that the younger crocheter in me would have asked!) But I think the part that amazes me the most is that as much as I got tired of lace back in the day, I have come full circle, and I am bringing more and more lace into my work, and into my classes that I teach. Of course, now it is with more lace yarns and larger hooks than with size 6 steels and cotton! And the even more amazing part?  I LOVE IT! The inner young crocheter still is not quite sure about that every time I decide to go for lace.

Vashti: Something I wonder, how does it feel to you to look at your new sock book through the eyes of your inner young crocheter? Which socks do you think your younger crochet self would like the most or want to make first, and for whom? What step in the sock crocheting do you think your young crochet self would be most hooked on? What do you think your grandmother would say?

Karen: Looking at my book as my inner young crocheter, I would have to say, “WOW, did I really do that?”  I always experimented with ideas, and my stuffed animals and my younger sister were the not always willing recipients of the end results.  From a young age I have always been a perfectionist in my work.  And I can’t tell you how many items were ripped out time and again because of that.  So my inner child looks at this book and really is amazed I could do what I did, and have it turn out even better than I had planned. 

My younger self would have made the two learning patterns first.  I know that because of the perfectionist in me would want to learn the ins and outs first. And after that, I would have made any of them, but I would have made them uniquely my own by changing something.  I don’t know what exactly, but as I would crochet them, something would change!  I know I would have been hooked on toe up socks.  To this day, sewing seams is not my favorite thing to do, so the toe-up method would be my favorite even then.

What would Nonna say?  I wish she was here to actually tell me, but, I think she would say, Caterina, Hai fatto un lavoro meraviglioso. Il tuo lavoro è pulito e raffinato. Dovreste essere orgogliosi. Ora vediamo cosa si può fare il record.”  (Karen, You did a wonderful job.  Your work is neat and fine. You should be proud. Now lets see what you can do to top that.)

That's Karen with both of her grandparents. Karen writes, "It was taken in 1990, 2 years before I lost her. She is holding the basket she decorated for my wedding favors. It is the same basket used for my mom’s wedding in 1963 just different lace. Nonna was big on all sorts of crafts from Crochet and embroidery to having the skills to be professional seamstress."

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Update on Slip Stitch Crochet Sweater Design

Would you like a sneak peek? Well, I'm the publisher, so we don't have to sneak around anymore*, right? I should call it a preview. This "Eva Shrug" crochet sweater pattern is so close to becoming a proper downloadable PDF.

*still breaking that old habit from freelancing days, when a designer had to be careful what s/he said about a design, months before someone else did the big reveal!

You're looking at the final draft of the cover page. I'll probably make that 3rd photo a bit smaller and make room for more text.

What do you think? I'm excited about the Eva Shrug because this big experiment worked out! I wanted to make a sweater by starting with the ribbing and then filling in the rest. That's like crocheting the edging, then filling in the middle to make it 3-D. Or it's like drawing something and then coloring it in.

Turns out this new experience is fun and it works and it's easy. Not to mention that this is one shrug that stays on my shoulders without binding anywhere.

Something else happened too. I'm more deeply hooked on this slip stitch ribbing than ever. It takes me by surprise because I didn't like wearing the knitted ribbed tops of the 1980's! I always wanted to cut off the ribbing. This crochet ribbing is different. It feels luxurious to make and wear, and cozies up to you without being annoying.
Isn't it beautiful when combined with other crochet stitches?

I want to design some summery things next, and am actually considering ways to use slip stitch ribbing in summery ways. That's how hooked I am. I don't know yet how plant fiber yarns like cotton, linen, or bamboo will work for this ribbing. I might look into those cotton yarns that have some lycra content. We'll see.

One thing I've noticed as I swatch this ribbing with a range of crochet hook sizes: there comes a point when my hands sigh blissfully and melt into the fabric. That's when I know the crochet hook is large enough. Until that happens, the slip stitches can feel unremarkable, like generic machine-knitted ribbing, or even feel a bit tough. Trying larger crochet hooks is important because slip stitches are passionately responsive little creatures. Each pairing of hook size and fiber blend is unique. I can't rely on traditional yarn weight and hook or knitting needle size guidelines.

Another thing I've noticed about this slip stitch crochet is that I need a good number of rows before I can see and feel the ribbing accurately. I need at least 6" of stitches x 6" of rows to judge the optimum crochet hook size.

I titled this post an "update" because this design was first mentioned in "Slip Stitch for Style" (issue #9 of my newsletter): Vashti's Crochet Inspirations . You can subscribe here if you haven't already (it's emailed every other Thursday.) It's an easy way to be alerted when I add new crochet patterns to my site.