Yarn comes in so many varieties. We’ve talked about size of yarn and matching yarn to your pattern, but just because yarn is the same size as a pattern calls for it isn’t always the best choice for every pattern.

So, what are the qualities or characteristics of yarn? How can you really hone in on what makes a yarn work in a certain pattern?

Fiber content, ply, twist, feel, drape, sheen, elasticity, memory, resiliency, non pill – these are all words we use to describe yarn. And there are many MANY more!

Fiber Content generally breaks down into three categories

  • animal based fibers
  • plant based
  • synthetics

Animal based fibers are wools of all types: sheeps wool (merino, highland, natural, cashmere, mohair, among others. They are essentially the hair or fur of an animal that is harvested while the animal is still alive, cleaned and spun into the product we call yarn. Silk is also an animal fiber, although considerably less allergenic than most other animal fibers.

Plant based fiber is exactly what it sounds like, fibers derived from plants like cotton, hemp or linen. These yarns are exclusively plant grown fibers that are spun into yarn in a variety of methods and blends.

Synthetic fibers are just about everything else. They are not found in nature, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. They are chemically processed and blended to create yarn. You can also find semi-synthetics like bamboo, which fall in this category.

No matter what the fiber content, yarn is spun out and several things happen next. It can be spun into very fine threads which are then grouped together and turned into a larger strand called plied yarn. These plies can be either twisted or not twisted forming different styles of plied yarn. Twisted yarns are easier to work with in general, as it’s (mostly) easy to grab all the plies at once with your hook. If the loosely twisted, yarn is sometimes called splitty which means you might grab only two or three out of four plies, leaving uncaught loops in your finished product. If yarn is tightly twisted it might be kind of stiff and harder to work with. This can affect drape which describes how a finished product hugs the curves and edges of your body.

Yarn can also come in one large strand, and this is called roving. This is not to be confused with roving that spinners use, so be sure that you are actually buying yarn, and not a fiber which will become yarn later.

You can also find core spun yarn. This is yarn where the enter core might be different than what’s on the outside. These usually, but not always, involve a synthetic fiber of some sort with a mesh or other strands containing or entwined in the core fiber. Chenille is a common example, and you can actually see the core fibers holding the softer, velvet fibers in place.

So, when would you choose each of those qualities? And why? What is the different effect?

These are HUGE questions and I’ll be going into more details, updating links in this post, as I expand upon these answers.

For now, Happy Hooking!

There are a lot of different sources for picking a new pattern. Yarn label, magazines, social media, blogs, websites, yarn stores, clubs – the list goes on and on. Obviously picking one single designer is never going to fulfill all your pattern needs. So, what do you do?

There are several websites dedicated to selling patterns, both for crochet and knitting. I’m going to list a few of my favorites and in future posts will include tutorials on how to find what you’re really looking for. It can be overwhelming but a few tricks will really make things simpler.

So, first stop: Ravelry one of the early adopters to online pattern selling, Ravelry set up shop in 2007 as a source for designers to promote and sell their patterns and crafters to curate their favorite patterns. It’s still one of my favorite sources, as I have years worth of projects and purchased patterns stored on their website. I admit to not being as good about uploading every project as I would like, but for a few years I was awesome! So, I have a documented list of finished projects with pictures! Ravelry boasts over 400,000 patterns (this includes knitting as well as crochet) so they are arguably the largest resource out there.

A newcomer on the market is LoveCrafts. They started as an online yarn seller and have quickly ramped up their pattern collection, selling patterns for individual designers and yarn manufacturers. They are a good source for newer, current patterns. And, they frequently sell the yarn the patterns use! So, that saves a few steps. Love that. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.

When I first started crocheting, I didn’t see why anyone would pay for patterns. There are so many patterns available for free! All Free Crochet actually only has free patterns. About 3,000 specifically for crochet. Pretty nice collection! The difficulty with free patterns is that they frequently have a lot of advertising (we gotta pay our bills, right?) and the patterns are not always well written or easy to follow. I find they’re great for novice crocheters, but once you move past beginner stages, you may want more complicated patterns. And, that takes some work. So, they probably won’t be free. But, again, great to build up your abilities.

Interweave is another great source. Their patterns tend to be more complex, but they have some beginner patterns as well. They also publish a magazine that I look forward to every quarter. Their patterns tend to be very on trend and are great for inspiration. Interweave is slightly more knitting focused, but they also feature other crafts as well. Most of us tend to be multi crafters, so they appeal to me on many levels.

Yarnspirations has recently merged with Craftsy and is a source for Red Heart, Caron, Lily, Bernat, Patons, Phentex, and Sugar Bush patterns. It’s pretty comprehensive and they’re all free!

Annie’s Catalog is another large collection that’s been around a while. They started as a catalog and quickly became a much loved resource for products, patterns, and anything related. Their patterns are generally paid, but you can also subscribe to Crochet! Magazine to get many of their paid patterns.

I’ll add to this list as I think of great resources.

In the meantime, Happy Hooking!

When deciding whether to block or not, the fiber of the finished project is key in deciding your methods.

The doilies I showed in my previous post are 100% cotton. Cotton blocks well, especially in a lacy pattern. In most circumstances, you would soak in plain water. But, if you have a variety of bright colors in one project, you might want to consider adding some vinegar and/or salt to your soaking solution to help set the dyes and prevent colors from bleeding. Nothing is more heartbreaking than soaking a finished project and seeing your red thread has turned all the white threads an irregular shade of pink. I use about a half cup of vinegar and a couple teaspoons of salt in my bathroom sink full of cool water.

The downside of blocking cotton is that you will need to do it every time you wash your project. Cotton will revert back to its original shape when wet, so in order to open those stitches back up, they need to be stretched out again.

But, what about wool? Wool behaves very uniquely when soaked and blocked. It has memory, so the placement of stitches during your blocking locks them in place during the blocking process, and depending on the fiber, will withstand machine or hand washing and retain that shape. Pretty cool! Follow the fiber instructions before washing though, as not all wool can be machine washed.

Wool feels and performs better after washing if you soak in a lanolin no rinse washing solution. I like Eucalan. And as someone sensitive to scents, I prefer unscented Eucalan. Like this one.

I add one capful of Eucalan to my sink of cool water. I normally let it soak for at least 30 minutes, but sometimes I get distracted and left something soaking as long as overnight with no adverse effects.

Acrylic, or other synthetic fibers don’t necessarily *require* blocking, but in my opinion, everything looks better after blocking. I would treat any synthetic fiber much the same as I would cotton. Check for color fastness and add vinegar and salt if needed.

After I remove anything from soaking, whether it’s cotton, wool, or a synthetic, I use the same method. I have two thick beach towels reserved just for this. Make sure they’re clean and dry. You don’t want to contaminate your project with anything unplanned!

Remove your project from the soaking liquid and gently squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can without wringing. If it’s something small, I normally squish it against the side of the sink until I can lift it without it dripping too much.

I then lay it out flat on my already spread out beach towel. If it’s bigger than your beach towel, go ahead and use the second towel. Or more if you need them! Then, I fold the towel over if I can, or lay a fresh towel on top. When the top and bottom are covered by dry towels I gently roll up the towels, keeping my project flat inside, kind of like a cinnamon roll. Once your have your towel cinnamon roll, you can press down on the towels as hard as you can. The project is well protected inside your roll so just go to town! Don’t wring though, because that places undue pressure on your stitches. The more water you can remove at this stage, the less time the next step will take.

Once you’re confident you’ve done your work, you can unroll your project and set to pinning it on your blocking surface. If you have blocking boards, that’s my preference, but I also will block directly on a mattress (over a sheet).

Depending on the size and fiber of a project, drying can take just a few hours, to a few days sometimes! I have a ceiling fan in the room that I use for blocking, so I turn it on high and shut the door to keep my kitties away. (And lock it to keep out my naughty Percy who’s long enough to open my doors!)

You can check periodically and see how the drying is coming along. I encourage you to not unpin the whole thing until you are 100% sure that is completely dry. Pinning for blocking is even more tedious than sewing in ends, in my opinion, and you don’t want to do it more than once!

Once it’s dry, you’re ready to go! Admire your work, you deserve it!

Have you ever blocked anything? Some things are fine right when they come off the hook, and so you may be tempted to not block them. Especially big, bulky things like large blankets. But, blocking is really a game changer when it comes to a project looking really finished.

With doilies, it’s a no brainer. Doilies are usually made with very fine cotton thread in a lacy pattern that really shines when it’s blocked and opens up.

Take for example, this doily I made using Grace Fearon’s design Whitney

Whitney by Grace Fearon

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Very lacy and lots of delicate little picots around the edges. Let me tell you, it was a nightmare to block. But, so very worth it for this finished product!

This next photo is Whitney before blocking.

Whitney by Grace Fearon, before blocking.

Hardly looks like the same doily, does it? It’s kind of thick, and while you see there are detailed post stitches throughout, it doesn’t really wow me.

Just to really appreciate the difference, here’s a side by side.

Whitney by Grace Fearon, unblocked and blocked

So, how do you achieve those results?

For something like a doily, a wet block works best. Some people like to soak in a corn starch and water mixture, or use liquid fabric starch. I don’t like stiff doilies, so I stick to just water.

Next, I set up my blocking boards. If you have interlocking foam mats, those work great! I bought this set and I love them. If you’re making doilies, they have concentric circles to help you line up your outer edges and know they’re symmetrical. As you can see, I didn’t use those for this project because I was blocking several things at once and I needed all the space.

This set happens to come with 100 t-pins which are what you use to hold your project in place. This is a perfect set for getting started. I store mine behind a dresser in my guest room. When I need it, I pull it out, spread it on the bed and get to work.

It is not mandatory to use blocking boards when blocking things. The main benefit is that it has a grid to help you line things up straight, and gives you the opportunity to lift your projects (very carefully) off the surface you’re using to support them so you can use that surface. My guest room has a frequent visitor, my dear mother in law, so if she’s visiting, she sleeps there at night and I move the boards somewhere else overnight.

If you are fortunate enough, as I am, to have a bed that isn’t always in use, you can just block directly on the mattress. My guest room has a ceiling fan, which I find particularly helpful to speed up the drying process. And a nice door I can close to keep the kitties away. Of course, my one kitty, Percy, likes to stretch up and open that door so I have to lock it to keep him out. But, it’s securable.

Now, if you are blocking something with long straight edges, like a shawl, afghan, sweater, table runner, etc, you might benefit from a set of blocking wires.

Knit Picks blocking wires and t-pins

These are not necessary, precisely, but if you have long straight edges, they will make your life a whole lot easier. If you don’t have blocking wires, you will definitely need more pins. A LOT more pins

I like these:

T-Pins are really important and it’s essential they’re made of a high quality steel and are rust proof. I’ve had this set for years and they have served me well.

Okay, now that you have all the supplies, what next?

Whitney while being blocked

I start in the middle of a round doily and secure it with several pins. If I used just one, it might leave a mark. Even two is not enough. So I use at least 4 and try to make it look as circular as possible.

My next step is to start at approximately 12:00 and secure the outermost picot. I don’t worry about the littler ones yet. I then travel across to 6:00 and secure the corresponding picot. I repeat the steps for 3:00 and 9:00. I now step back and make sure that everything looks symmetrical. Did I actually get the right picots? Are there the same (or approximately the same) number of picots between each pin?

The next steps are pretty much the same. This was a 16 pointed circle, easily divided by 4, so I had 3 picots between each point. I would go halfway between each “quarter hour” and pin one picot, then do the corresponding picot on the opposite side. And, keep repeating that process until all the outermost pins are in place.

Next comes the tricky part. Each of these points is composed of 3 picots. If I stopped here, my points would show up, but they wouldn’t be anywhere near as lovely as the one I showed you. So you have to meticulously go around the edges and find every single little picot and spread them evenly. It can take a whole lot of pins to do this. But, why go to the trouble of making a beautiful doily if you’re not going to let it shine?

Once it’s all blocked out, it will look like this.

Some people use pins in the center, but I find I don’t have to. I stretch my work within an inch of its life and the stitches open up nicely. The more pins you use, the more likely you are to put a wonky line somewhere you don’t want. So I let it do its thing and hope for the best. You can always reblock if you need to!

So, that’s the basics of blocking doilies. They really are simple to block just a little tedious. Squares are the easiest and can be stacked to block multiple squares at a time. I make a lot of shawls, which are really long on one side and shorter on the other. They can be difficult to keep the angles symmetrical and keep the tension evenly spaced on the long side. I’ll go over my techniques for that in another post.

Happy hooking everyone!

There are many ways to communicate a pattern – written pattern, charts, video tutorials, or just passed down from one person to another verbally. I think the most common way is a written pattern.

But, written patterns have a lot of flaws. Our language is not precise when it comes to crochet. I’ve mentioned this problem before with regard to yarn and hooks but the problem is even more obvious when it comes to patterns. A double crochet in the US is not the same as a double crochet in the UK, so you need to know which terms are being used by the patterns.

Even more confusing, many stitches don’t have standardized names. A lot of people use the terms popcorn, puff, and bobble stitches interchangeably, even though they are three different stitches.

This is why I love charts. Charts have no language, except maybe in the legend. But, that’s really unnecessary because the symbols are universal. So you can pick up a chart made in Japanese and still be able to follow along. Most of the time, you can presume US Terms, but in a UK pattern, the symbols are in UK Terms.

I’ve made a simple little chart here to help demonstrate how easy charts can be. This is for a simple granny stitch row, with two double crochets on each end.

The first thing you may notice is that there are two different colors. One is black and one is red. Black is pretty much the standard used to indicate right side and wrong side is frequently represented by red, blue or grey. It’s pretty easy to figure out for the most part.

Somewhere on most charts is a legend, which indicates which symbol represents each stitch. Mine is below, but sometimes it’s in a box on the side, or the top even.

Sometimes charts have numbers for the rows, sometimes not. Frequently you will see something small like this, which is representative of the whole pattern and not the entire pattern. There might be rows above and below that are not included in the chart, such as your first row of double crochets or something along those lines.

In this image, I’ve put a bracket around the pattern repeat so you can see it’s a two row repeat. I’ve also added numbers, so you can clearly see odd rows are black, and even rows are red.

Starting with row 1, you see two elongated Ts with a hash mark across them. In the legend, you can see that represents a double crochet. Here’s a little hint – the hash marks represent each time you wrap the yarn around your hook. One hash mark = one wrap before you pull up a loop = double crochet. Two hash marks = two wraps before you pull up a loop = treble crochet. And so on. There are no stitches below those first two stitches so you can assume that they go in the first two stitches.

The next stitch is a chain, which would correspond with skipping a stitch in the row below if we could see it.

The next stitch is a bit more confusing. In the legend, you see that it’s 3 double crochets in one stitch. To make things easier, I added a row of single crochets below so you can see where the stitches end up going. In my opinion, this is where charts really shine!

You can see that the 3 double crochets in one stitch lines up with a single crochet below. So you know exactly where to place those stitches. It is very hard to express this in worded patterns, especially with more complex patterns. I love the visual representation that charts provide!

After the 2 double crochets together is a chain stitch, and then you simply repeat that until the end, where you finish with 2 double crochets.

In subsequent rows, rather than place your 3 double crochets together in a starting chain, they will go around the chain space.

This is a very simple repeat, one that is very common in basic crochet patterns. It can be in rows or granny squares, but you will see this repeated over and over.

Feel free to test it out and see if you can follow along with no words. I plan to include a chart with all of my patterns as I find them easier to read and follow along with. When patterns get too wordy, my head scrambles things a bit, and the visual representation helps me a lot. My favorite patterns include both words and charts so I can refer back and forth to understand exactly what to do.

Which do you like better? Charts or words? And why?

This is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about recently. How do I best tap into my creative resources and help things flow more freely? Are there habits I need to work on to make this easier? What’s holding me back and how do I work on overcoming those obstacles?

I listened to a podcast over the summer that really helped motivate me. Start With This by the makers of Welcome to Nightvale. It talks about creativity being a muscle you need to exercise, just like any other muscle, in order to strengthen it. I set a goal for myself after the first episode to write two blog posts per week and see how that went.

So, how did I do? In two months, I published 20 posts. That’s more than my goal! Nailed it!

What have I noticed? It has gotten easier. This post right now is a little off topic, but it’s important to note that setting goals for yourself helps you accomplish things.

In that same time period, I have designed 3 items, a hat, a scarf, and a shawl. But, are they ready for publishing? No way! That’s my next big goal. I really need to look at what’s holding me back to conquer that one. I’m nervous. I’m worried that my written versions won’t communicate clearly the steps required to make the items I’ve designed.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on my style sheet and I’m pleased with the progress I’m making. I’m tweaking the blog trying to find the right layout and design features that work the best. And I’m crocheting like mad. The creative process is actually the easiest part of all of this for me. I have so many ideas! But, getting them out of my head and into the world is what needs the most attention.

Patience, grasshopper, patience. It’s coming…

Up until about 5 years ago, I was exclusively a big box yarn user. I had my favorites, but I never really understood why anyone would pay more than $5 for yarn.

And then I got my first hank of ArtYarns Milano, a yarn distributed by the former Craftsy (now BluPrint, they no longer sell yarn). It was 100% merino wool and a sport weight. Two things I’d never worked with. I’d always thought of wool as scratchy and unpleasant. And sport weight seemed so tiny compared to the yarns I’d worked with before!

I fell in love. The shawl I made is still one of my favorites. It’s a basic pineapple lace shawl and I finally understood why my projects were so bulky and cumbersome before.

Yarn Matters. And, when you limit yourself to big box stores (like I did), you’re missing out on a world of fabulous yarn.

Don’t get me wrong, I still spend way too much money at Michael’s, JoAnns, AC Moore and occasionally Hobby Lobby. There is some great yarn available at these stores. Durable, colorful, easy to acquire… it definitely fills a need. But sometimes you want something special and unique. That’s where small yarn shops really come in handy.

Your local yarn store is a great resource for finding new yarns, new friends, new patterns, fun buttons, notions, all things yarn related. A lot of yarn shops have crochet and knitting groups that meet regularly too! My area has between 5 and 9 small shops (depends on how far you’re willing to consider “my area”). Every spring, all 9 participate in a “yarn crawl” event and I go around and visit them all. I normally set a small budget for each store to buy something little and do my part to support small businesses.

Does your area have a yarn crawl? Check it out if so! It’s a lot of fun!

So, last week I celebrated my 50th birthday by heading to Hatteras, NC. If you’re not familiar with Hatteras, it’s at the VERY bottom of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It’s remote, and small, and rarely crowded – my kind of place!

We stayed in a lovely little house across the highway from the ocean. Now, let me clarify that statement a little bit. “Highway” is kind of a grandiose word for a two lane road that divides the ocean side from the sound side. And, in case you think of acres of land when you hear that, let me clarify even further. The island is less than a football field wide where we stayed. From the back deck, you could see the ocean AND the sound at the same time. It widens up a teensy tiny bit below us, but then the road ends and there’s just ocean beyond. It was amazing!

Amazing and awesome and kind of intimidating, to be perfectly honest. Hurricane Melissa was living just off shore for most of the week we were there. The first couple of days were spectacular – high 70s/low 80s, nice breeze, just perfect weather. Except the ocean was rough. Way too rough to swim. I was nervous if anyone got in the water past their calves. The waves were crashing HARD up on the shore and the rip current was stronger than I’ve ever seen. There were visible troughs. Scary stuff!

The middle part of the week was dreary. My husband and son went home and my daughter and I stayed in and crocheted and watched many episodes of Veronica Mars. Not a bad way to spend a vacation, IMHO.

But, then my friend Christine arrived, and just a couple hours later, the storm effects took hold for realz. We had literally no idea what was coming, but apparently this is every day life for the locals, so they were unperturbed. Mostly.

The weather stayed lovely, but the surf kicked up a few notches. Now remember up above where I mentioned how narrow the island is? It’s even narrower in some parts. Just North of Rodanthe, there’s a tiny strip of road that is protected from the ocean by only some 10 foot tall dunes. and the other side is a narrow strip of marsh that leads to the sound. I’m talking like 100 feet wide at the most. It’s narrow. They are building a bridge that will go over this stretch of sand bar and connect the northern banks to the southern banks.

But, in the meantime, they are treated to this excitement periodically. https://islandfreepress.org/outer-banks-news/subtropical-storm-melissa-in-pictures-with-slide-show/

With very little notice, the ocean just crept up, knocked down the dunes and covered the road with sand and water.

And just like that, we were stranded.

In all my life, I have never considered the ocean more than just a beautiful and awe inspiring place to lose myself and enjoy. But, this trip, that changed. I saw the ocean soooo much bigger. So much more awe inspiring. And, a little bit like an enemy.

All day for three days, NCDOT would hustle between high and low tide to shovel back the sand and rebuild the dunes. And then high tide would come along and knock the dunes down again. Nighttime was just lost. It’s so dangerous, so powerful, if they can’t see well enough, it’s just not a good idea to drive a bulldozer in crashing waves and hope for the best. So, two high tides worth of sand would accumulate and two high tides worth of waves would crash down the dunes overnight. And they would start all over again.

Meanwhile, on shore, the weather was beautiful! Still couldn’t swim because the surf was so rough, but you would never know that we were dealing with hurricane aftermath just by stepping outside.

Unless you lived in Avon. Which was under about 5 inches of water in some places, and more than a foot in others. It was intense.

But, we made it home after a few days. It was kind of touch and go whether we’d be able to leave on Sunday as planned, but NCDOT worked hard and we were able to leave. There was still lots of water on the road, which was partly due to ocean overwash and partly due to seepage from being on just a low sand bar.

I love Hatteras, but that may be my last visit. Now that I’m home again, I’m so happy to have all the land around me keeping the ocean far far away. And, I think I want it to stay that way.

I recently learned a new technique for starting stitches and it’s made a HUGE improvement to that irritating little gap at the beginning of rows. It’s called Stacked Double (or Treble or Quadruple…) Crochet.

I’ve tried a multitude of methods but found most of them lacking. Starting with just a chain leaves a gap that I don’t like. Chainless starting double crochets don’t always look right with all yarns . I’ve slip stitched into the first stitch and then done a chain, hoping to move the stitch over and close the gap. I’ve done a modified chainless starting double crochet, where you actually pull the first loop up through the first stitch and then twist and treat like a double crochet. But, they all have their flaws and don’t match well.

Until now. I started doing a stacked double crochet and that seems the best solution! It’s a tiny bit thicker than a regular crochet, but once it’s in a finished project, it’s virtually undetectable. It’s coming in especially handy with my current project.

To start, place single crochet in the first stitch, no chain or anything. Nothing hard yet! Then, here’s the really novel part, you slip your hook in between the two vertical parts of the loop in front of you push your hook out the side of the loops, yarn over, and pull that loop back through. You should now have two loops on your hook. Yarn over and pull through two loops and you’re done! This is a single crochet, with another single crochet stacked right on top of it, thus the name “stacked” double crochet. You can repeat this process as many times as you need to achieve the height you want. A stacked treble crochet has three singles stacked on top of each other, and a stacked quadruple has four. Great stuff right?

I’m at the beach celebrating my 50th birthday this week and I neglected to bring anything to film this stitch with. When I get home, I’ll post a video and include it in this post. It’s a great way to start a project with no gaps!

When I attended the Crochet Guild of America conference in July, I discovered that I have the qualifications to be recognized as an Associate Professional with Crochet Guild of America. I love CGOA and I’m proud to have earned this title.

My process may be slow, but I’m moving forward steadily towards my goals. I need to continue posting to this blog regularly, get my patterns up here, round out the technical information I’ve been writing so I have more resources to refer back to, and make my presence known.

Watch out World, here I come!

Caroline Cameron, Associate Professional with CGOA