Falling down the rabbit hole of textured crochet

Sometimes you have to remove all the colour from a project to see the beauty of the pattern. That’s what happened to me when I decided to crochet a blanket. Yes. A blanket.

Startitis: Things not to do right before Socktoberfest

Because some days you’re a Troll druid in a silly hat.

There are times when I find myself in that very odd situation where my perceived knowledge on a subject far outweighs my actual experience. You know the feeling, right? You’re knitting away on a vanilla sock while your World of Warcraft character is taking the fifteen-minute flight between Undercity and Iron Summit when another crafty friend sends you a panicked message asking how to interpret a particularly tricky section of lace in the shawl they’re knitting. By the time you’ve landed just outside Blackrock Mountain, you’ve not only puzzled out the finicky line in the pattern, you’ve also chosen the yarn and needles and cast on your brand new project. The two people joining you on your transmog run are now sending you worried messages, wondering why your digital avatar is now sitting at the destination flight point with a bemused look on its face, and your significant other has been sent to make sure you haven’t wandered away from the keyboard without telling anyone.

This happens to me a lot. Which probably explains why I stopped immediately logging my newly cast-on projects in Ravelry. I like to give it a couple of days now, rather than facing questions and dashed expectations when the project either gets the little “frog” icon, or just disappears into the night like a ghost. Was it ever there? Who knows?

I am a bad friend when it comes to crochet.

I had the perfect defence against this exact problem when it came to crochet, because up until this past year, I didn’t. Crochet, that is. I knew that I could, but like many other knitters, I chose not to. And this worked in my favour when a particular friend (I see you Sherri) would message me in WoW or send me a text, asking if I could help her with a crochet issue.

“I don’t crochet,” I would say, and that would be the end of that. Hello Ragnaros, druid wants a new pair of pants.

I have to give her credit where it’s due. We’ve built a tidy little community of crafters within our small group of friends, and it’s better to ask than stumble along making mistakes. So I’d help as best as I could, and then when the jargon would only serve to confuse me, I’d suggest she ask someone on Ravelry and go on my merry way. Now that I actually have an idea of what she’s facing, however, the tables have turned and she’s happily leading me back down the garden path of project enablement.

The specific pattern I was asked to check out was Lilliana by Hooked on Sunshine. It’s a multicoloured textured crochet blanket that can be as small as a baby blanket, or as large as a bedcover. I suppose that at the right size and with the right yarn, it could also be a textured throw rug or tapestry. Looking at Ravelry’s yarn suggestions for the project, I saw that a lot of folks had made the blanket with a self-striping yarn like Mandala or Caron Cakes. I had picked up a couple of balls of Mandala on sale earlier in the year, so I decided to cast on with it.

Poor choice. I didn’t even take a photo of the clown’s breakfast that turned out to be. But I tried again later with another pattern. We’ll get there soon.

Next up: Raid the acrylic stash.

Lilliana Throw central motif, acrylic

Before anyone asks why I didn’t use any real yarn (meaning wool), I will just say that to do so would be cost prohibitive. Wool costs a heck of a lot more, and as we’ll soon find out, a mistake of that magnitude could get very costly indeed.

I dug out all the balls of solid-colour acrylic I had tucked away from various projects over the past 15-or-so years and tossed them into a small laundry basket I’d picked up at the dollar store for just this purpose. It’s not a trifling amount, folks. The reason why acrylic is more cost-effective for a venture like this? They give you a lot for a comparatively small cost. Particularly at weights marketed toward baby items like — wait for it — blankets.

I looked at the pattern and tried to co-ordinate my colours to match. Not a bad job, but before I even got through the first few circular pattern repeats before it starts to look like a square blanket, I realized that this was going to get messy. I’d be weaving in ends forever, whether by carrying the yarn along inside the stitches, or by tacking them in later with a needle. It was also starting to look suspiciously like clown barf. Far too many colours in too many combinations. The textured stitches remind me of Wedgewood Blue Jasperware. While I’d seen some ambitious blankets on Ravelry that could live up to that comparison, what I was creating most definitely was not that. Plus, I wasn’t about to go out to the yarn store and buy up five different shades of blue just to get the right shading effect. Just not in the budget.

The Mandala Effect: A study of what not to do in Crochet (at least for me)

Phoenix blanket, Mandala Baby – Unicorn Cloud

I figured part of my problem was the pattern. I was trying to crochet something that was entirely too circular, and had far too many stitches that crossed down into previously crocheted rows. After looking at the other patterns by Hooked on Sunshine, I decided to try the newer Phoenix pattern.

I hunted up the Lion Brand Mandala I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, and decided to give the self-striping yarn a try. Unicorn Cloud seemed like an auspicious name, and I have two balls of the stuff, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. I have a couple of other Mandala Baby colourways as well, so I figured I could blend them in as needed.

Oh hell no.

Right off the bat we can see that the project has turned into one giant square blob of colour. There are maybe two places where the colour change and pattern change intersect to give the project a sculptural quality. I like those two places. The rest just looks like pink and purple had a really messy party. The discerning eye will also note that the main colour is flecked with the other colours to some degree. I think this was a possible effort to make the yarn appear hand-dyed, but it just wasn’t the effect I was looking for. It’s particularly noticeable in the white section. It looks like someone spilled paint on the project and left stains. Nope. Don’t like it at all. Back into the stash with this yarn until I decide to make a granny stripe blanket or something similar.

Sometimes you just have to go back to the drawing board. In my case, I browsed through the many pages of completed projects on Ravelry, trying to figure out what to do. I still wanted to crochet the blanket, I just didn’t want it to look ugly, and I didn’t want it to become some sort of expensive obsession that would leave me bankrupt and close to tears in a sea of less-than-adequate but expensive yarn.

At some point it hit me: I need to take away the colour.

Phoenix blanket sample, Red Heart Super Saver – Aran

With the kinds of ridges, bumps, twists and turns involved in the fabric of this blanket, colour is not an asset. The more I looked at other projects, the more I saw what did and did not work, at least to my eye. If you looked at a portion of the blanket close-up, it seemed wonderful, but if you zoomed back a bit? Busy as all hell. The most attractive blankets were also the simplest. White or off-white, crocheted at a gauge that allowed the sculptural elements to pop from the surface, depending on the light.

There’s a reason why artists like to sculpt in white marble. It’s the same reason plaster mouldings in houses are often white. It’s because the lack of colour allows the light in a room to accentuate the details. Look at Michelangelo’s David: firm muscles, wavy hair, worried brow, flaring nostrils, and vascular arms. The sculpture is a masterpiece not only because of the sculptural technique, but precisely because David looks like a breathing human frozen in a single slice of time. He’s probably wondering who stole his clothes.

Did I just compare crochet to a Renaissance masterpiece? Yes I did. I’m going to take it a step further: You can buy jumbo balls of Red Heart for a shockingly low price. I picked up two balls of Red Heart Super Saver Jumbo for less than $20 CDN. That gives me at least 1488 yards of solid-colour yarn to start work with. Even better, the Super Saver doesn’t use dye lots. So if I need more yarn (I’ll probably need more yarn), I can go pick up another ball of outrageously cheap inexpensive affordable yarn to make this thing as big as I’d like it to be. No, I’m not on Red Heart’s payroll. I’m just cheap thrifty.

To be very honest, if I was knitting this blanket, I probably wouldn’t use this yarn. It’s not the scratchiest acrylic I’ve touched, but the texture is rough enough that I wouldn’t want to wrap it through my fingers the way I do when I knit. I tension the yarn differently in my left hand when crocheting, so while roughness is a concern, it’s not as big a deal as when I knit. There’s a bit of a squeak to the yarn, so you’re still very aware that this is Not Wool and Definitely Plastic, but it’s not terrible for all that. The yarn doesn’t detract from the pattern; it allows the pattern to do all the work. The Super Saver has a consistency that allows for good stitch definition. I can see the flower in the middle of the sample, as well as the petals and leaves surrounding it. I can see the features, but also the framing of those features.

Considering it’s going to take a while to complete this project, being amused by all the textures in the fabric can only be a good thing. Be prepared for posts containing exciting monochromatic updates. Socktoberfest is just around the bend, so hopefully I can offset all the off-white with a little bit of colour here and there!

By Socktoberfest, I’m referring to the month-long sock-knitting spree that came into the lives of many knitters around 2005 when a knitblogger named Lolly organized a knit along (thanks, Wayback Machine!). I’m not referring to the charity drive that currently operates under that name, though if you’d like to donate to your local shelters and charities during that time, I won’t stop you. People do need socks, after all. It’s a noble cause. My socks, however, will not be going to charity. I have family members with expectations and cold feet.

What the gel? Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love my nails.

In which we have a little envy and a lot of FOMO

A collage of this summer's manicures, featuring my brightly coloured nails.
A summer’s worth of gel manicures

I am the daughter of a long-time nail-chewer, and took up the habit myself when I was very young. I think I was around twelve or thirteen when the other girls my age started wearing nail polish. It was the 1980’s, and bright colours were a huge deal. The other girls had really nice manicures, even if they were DIY jobs. I had ragged, bitten nails. When I wore nail polish, it flaked off within minutes, let alone hours, and almost always looked awful.

My mother, a Mary Kay lady at the time, gave me a full manicure set for Christmas that year. If I really wanted nice nails, she said, this was the way to do it. Bear in mind, this was a lady who had been trying to stop biting her own nails longer than I had been on this planet, so you can take that with a grain of salt. By that point in time, she’d tried everything from foul-tasting nail polish to home-applied acrylic nails to try and break her own habit (which she’s done, don’t get me wrong, it just took time).

For the most part, the manicure kit did the trick. I happily buffed my nails, applied the different base coats for strengthening and moisturizing, put on the colour, and topped it all off with the top coats. Then watched with disappointment as everything peeled off. Okay, so it wasn’t perfect, but it was a start. I stopped biting my nails and aside from occasionally worrying at a nail with my teeth, I’ve broken that habit.

Because the nail polish didn’t do a single blessed thing for me, I pretty well ignored my nails from that point onwards. Oh, sure, I’d keep a pair of clippers in the purse in case a nail broke on a night out, but I gave up on doing anything fancy. At best I’d trim them regularly to keep from making ticking noises on the piano (and then computer) keys. Once in a while I’d get the urge to try something fun and exciting, but as the polish would chip, flake or peel within 24 hours, I really just gave up.

Mum needs a Girls’ Day Out and pretty nails

Fast forward to this spring. My Aunt was visiting and Mum decided we needed a treat. Sometime in the last dozen years she’s taken to getting her nails done at one of the shops down the street from her house. I’d never had a professional mani/pedi, so this was a brand-new experience for me. I was told to pick out a nail polish and get comfortable.

Unfortunately, the polish I chose would take too long to cure if I wanted to wear my socks and shoes home. There was a lot of tsk-ing over the bright pink choice, and after a lot of muttering on the part of the nail tech, a decision was made to “shellac” my hands and feet.
Folks, let me just say that ‘shellac’ had much different meanings when I was young. Either you were putting a tough coat of a particularly noxious varnish on woodwork, or you were getting drunk. I’m pretty sure the same meanings hold true nowadays. I distinctly recall feeling like I was in one of those “how did I find myself here?” situations as they polished my fingers and toes and cured the gunk with a UV/LED light.

And then it was over, I had bright nails, and could wear my socks home – which was good because it was a chilly day. Apparently they charged quite a lot for the service. So nice treat, but not an everyday thing, I thought.

After doing a little research online (because here I was with bright pink nails and the polish didn’t peel off after two hours!), I decided to pick up a UV/LED lamp of my own, and so ordered a kit from Amazon.

Learn from your mistakes

The polish started chipping as soon as I got home.

Me, naif

Now, I mentioned in the previous blog post that we’d gone to Minnesota this past summer? Mum thought it would be nice to have a mani/pedi day before I went, so once more my nails were at the mercy of strangers. This time we used regular nail polish. That last trip, as I said, was expensive.

how my nails have changed over 5 months
My current manicure (left) vs. regular polish in May (right)

The polish started chipping as soon as I got home. Luckily, I had a similar colour that did an adequate job of filling in the missing bits. The chips weren’t too bad at that point. I thought I’d be smart and use the gel topcoat that came with my brand new UV/LED light. After all, I’d seen sources online that said you could do extend the wear of your polish this way. Um…not so much. By the time we returned home, my nails were a mess. Thus began the summer of home manicures.

My nails have been rose-gold, burgundy, pink, blue, black, wine, polka-dotted, and holo. I’ve learned how to shape them, how to buff them properly, and to apply cuticle oil for stronger, healthier nails. Because I have damage to a couple of my fingers from a previous experiment with glue-on nails (over 10 years ago), I started experimenting with gel overlays. After having dents in my thumbnails for years, it’s really nice to see them looking pretty and normal. One of those nails has a tendency to dent and then to split. So far, with the cuticle oil treatments, I’m split-free. Fingers crossed that this continues.

I’ve also noticed that the shape of my nails has actually changed. I’m not sure if it’s because my nails have more strength, or because I’m taking better care of them, or because I don’t worry at them as much. They’ve developed a much steeper c-curve over the past three months, and they look a lot more attractive than they did. The biggest change is in the nails of my ring fingers: they no longer look like tiny spatulas (spatulae?)

My takeaway from 3 months of DIY manicures:

Do I recommend gel nails? Oh, most definitely. If I was going to do the Minnesota trip over again, I’d probably skip the salon manicure and get the pedi, then just do my own nails from the small stash I’m accumulating at home. (I’d also dress more casually, but that’s a different story). Now that my DIY manicures are lasting about a week and a half*, I’d much prefer the gel over unwittingly leaving a trail of peeled polish in my wake.

My favourites so far? OPI Fearlessly Alice, OPI Berry Fairy Fun with a double coat of Geláze Fairy Dust, and ASP Enchantment. There’s also a wine-coloured Sally Hansen gel polish called Pat on the Black that looks as though it will be fun for fall.

I definitely recommend picking up a UV/LED manicure lamp of your own and giving the process a try. Mine was part of a kit I found on Amazon for just over $40 (Can). The polishes can be expensive, but as the manicures last a long time, I suspect the startup costs (Lamp, Base, Polish, Topcoat) are the biggest investment. You can pick up new polishes as a once-in-a-while treat. It helps to watch for sales.

And I’m finding that pretty nails are a treat indeed

* I could probably go longer between manicures, but my nails now grow fast enough that if I don’t file them down regularly, they interfere with my ability to type with speed and relative accuracy.

The Wildrose Backpack: A not-so-conservative purse

Wildrose Backpack

It’s your carry-on, my wayward son…

So there I was, the night before our trip to Minnesota…looking for a carry-on bag. Ideally, one I could haul my immediate-needs stuff in all weekend. And I had nothing.

I eventually made-do with a slim Samsonite laptop bag I’d used as an insert to my old and trusty college backpack (when the bag is over 20 years old but still in good condition, you find ways to give it an update). I didn’t bring the whole backpack, because I felt that would be overkill. It probably would have saved my neck and shoulders some strain, but I was trying to pack as lightly as possible. I wanted a place to put my tablet, my wallet, any cords or electronic peripherals I needed, and my crafting project. Somehow, I stuffed it all in the one bag.

Needless to say, when I found the Wildrose Backpack on Ravelry much later (as in after we came back home), my mind started to churn with the possibilities. I could make my own compact bag with a tablet pocket and room for my other “stuff”. Sure, it’s too late for our trip, but it will make a nice extra purse.

It’s bigger on the inside. Really.

I modified the original design by adding a few extra rows of height to accommodate my 9.7″ iPad Pro. There were couple of likely spaces both above and below the central motif where I could just add a few rounds. I also added a tablet pocket. There were instructions for a cell phone pocket, so I enlarged that, then stuck the cell pocket on the tablet pocket. Not sure I’ll ever actually use the cell pocket for its intended purpose, but it’s there in case I need a place for extra tissues or loose “stuff”. I may eventually add snap closures to keep things from roaming around inside the purse.

There’s also a lot of room in the main section. I was able to very easily fit a sizeable wallet and a project bag holding a sock-in-progress. I’m pretty sure I could also get a nice notebook in there as well.

I have enough cotton yarn in my stash that I could possibly make a second backpack with even more modifications. I’m thinking possibly fountain pen pockets/holders and a place for my iPencil. Possibly a second pocket for my power brick. It’s either that or design my own bag, which is a definite possibility. The Husbeast has a nice cross-body tablet bag made by Moleskine a few years ago that has given me some ideas.

Just a small note:

The Wildrose Party was a far-right political party here in Alberta. When the Conservatives didn’t seem to be doing enough Conservative-ing, they split. They all came back together in 2017 when they figured enough time had passed that Albertans would forget that they were the same old politicians we kicked out in the last provincial election for wasting money (among other things). Unfortunately, they were right. I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Conservative or Wildrose party. I was raised better than that. Plus, the centrifugal force caused by my Granny spinning in her grave would probably bring about an apocalypse. Therefore, this is my not-so-conservative backpack.

Made Using:

Yarn: Yarnspirations Caron Cotton Cakes in Lilac – 2 1/4 250g balls
Hooks: 2.75mm (C) and 3.75mm (F)
Also: My eyes are getting older, so I used my magnifying lamp while making the strap/cord. If you don’t have one, I definitely recommend picking one up!

The Luminous Dead

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling book cover

Not a Review

aka: I read a thing.

I realized after doing my wee writeup for Silver in the Wood, that I’d forgotten to mention I’d read The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling.

Gyre takes a high-risk spelunking job in hopes of getting off the backwater rock she calls home, ideally to find her mother. Em is a stubborn controller responsible for Gyre’s well-being underground. When Gyre realizes Em is her only support staff, and the job isn’t quite as posted, it’s a no-holds barred adventure. It’s a race against the clock as equipment malfunctions, supplies go missing, and the glowing, luminous dead remains of previous cavers rise to the surface like so many buried untruths. Add in a deadly underground predator, and it’s a thrill ride.

Seriously, folks, if you enjoyed the video game Portal and the movie Tremors, you’ll be all over this horror-thriller. Literally, the only thing it’s missing is the bacon (har har). Once I got into the story (as previously mentioned, I’ve been having some difficulty immersing myself in my reading), I couldn’t tear myself away.

I read the digital version of the book, which caused my one issue with the book. The map at the front was difficult to reference later in the story, so I read on the Kobo and referred to the map on my iPad. That’s a me-thing, though, and smarter readers who actually go get the dead-tree version of the book will find it very easy to flip back and forth.

Definitely a thumbs up. Definitely a recommend!

ps: I purchased this book all on my ownsome with my own cash monies. Because Kobo had it on sale for a more than reasonable price and PayPal is now an option at checkout. No goods were exchanged in trade for this not-a-review.

Silver in the Wood

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh book cover

Not A Review

aka: I read a thing.

Tobias is a Wild Man of the Wood. Henry Silver is the new lord of the manor. When the two meet, magic happens.

I just finished reading this little gem. On my Kobo, at my preferred font size, Silver in the Wood clocked in at a whopping 82 pages, which gave me hope that I’d actually be able to finish it in a timely manner. I’ve been having some difficulty settling my brain and getting into my reading lately, so discovering that the story that’s been making little ripples in my twitter stream wasn’t a full-size novel was actually refreshing.

(I’m also ramping up to do some reading for the Aurora Awards, so this is helping me ease into it. Huzzah.)

The concept of the Green Man of the Woods isn’t a new one. I think that any kid raised on fairy tales recognizes the Grimm atmosphere of dense woods, trees with a mind of their own, and uncanny forest-dwellers. Archetypes run the gamut from Hearne to Treebeard; I suspect that as long as there have been trees, someone has looked for their spirit.

Tobias has been around for at least 400 years. His memories are hazy, but that’s the count he’s sticking to. He’s happy taking care of his woods, his cat, and his dryad friends. Henry Silver, the new owner of Greenhollow Hall, is fascinated with his new home and the legends surrounding the area. Green as a young sapling, he’s enthusiastic to learn, and quickly manages to attach himself to the older, wiser man. It’s an attraction with consequences, evoking the changing of the seasons and the pagan rebirth of the old god.

Folk fantasy has had a huge boost in the past handful of years with works such as Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Spinning Silver and Thomas Olde Heuveldt’s Hex. Silver in the Wood seems to sit solidly between the two, with a sweet romance that, more than once, reminded me of C. L. Polk’s Witchmark. It’s not really a fairy tale, but it’s not overt horror. At least not at first. If you enjoyed Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, this might be right up your alley.

ps: I purchased this book all on my ownsome with my own cash monies. Because Kobo had it on sale for a more than reasonable price and PayPal is now an option at checkout. No goods were exchanged in trade for this not-a-review.

Craft and the art of goal-setting

A couple of posts back, I mentioned that I was learning to crochet. This might seem odd since I’ve posted a lot about my somewhat manageable yarn obsession. You’d think that by now I’d have this particular craft under my belt or (like many other knitters) just refuse to learn it out of stubborn solidarity. Really, knitting is just a really satisfying creative outlet. That doesn’t mean I haven’t used it to learn new things, though.

Almost ten years ago, I became frustrated at my knitting speed, or lack thereof, and taught myself to lever knit. Also known as Irish Cottage Knitting, lever knitting is a variant on the English method of holding one’s yarn and needles. It gained new popularity with the current crop of yarn enthusiasts through blogger Stephanie Pearl McPhee, who learned the method from her own grandmother. 

As far as learning new techniques go, lever knitting wasn’t terribly difficult. I figured out how to hold the yarn and wrap it through my fingers for the amount of tension I required, and started slowly. I’d knit that way for about five or ten minutes every time I picked up my knitting until it just became second nature. Learning to knit two-handed for stranded knitting was an added layer of difficulty.

I left my long-term employer this past September, and started looking at courses of study. I’ve had people suggest that I complete my network training or go into security or development. Development is an area where I have a bit of interest and some small experience. I fell in love with web design back in the 90’s, and reluctantly left it behind when my career started leading into network operations. At the time, web developers weren’t really valued unless they lucked into a career in a design house. I’m really happy to see that’s changed, and it’s a direction I’d like to head towards. 

Blue Crocheted Afghan
Granny Stripes afghan. Yarn is Caron Cakes Faerie Cake.

How does this tie into learning crochet? When I’m learning new crafts and crafting techniques, I generally teach myself. I’ve had to learn to set small, achievable goals, and make them interesting enough to want to complete them. I try to build off areas where I already have some competency and proficiency. The payoffs for me are awesome in scope: I’ve learned patience and focus. I’ve gained dexterity in fingers that currently have trouble performing a simple scale on the piano. I also have some warm socks, hats, mittens and shawls. I’m not really seeing a down-side to this.

It doesn’t escape my notice that I’ve just described something called a S.M.A.R.T. goal. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Related. I’ve found that management makes a lot of noise about this method, but rarely gives you a real-world application for it. Having SMART goals sounds awesome. Being engaged enough to actually accomplish anything is another matter. Usually my interpretation of a SMART goal set by management translates to “How can we offload this thing we don’t want to do onto someone else so we can find something we like better.”

This attitude is probably why I tend to stick to crafts (at least for the time being).

When I’m teaching myself new crafts, I gain another side-benefit that I haven’t really talked about yet: an increase in self-confidence. I gain satisfaction in knowing that I’m not stupid, and that I can learn new things. I came out of my last job feeling pretty defeated. It’s taken me the better part of five months to start feeling like my old self again. I’m rediscovering a person who hasn’t seen the light of day in over a decade. I’m writing fiction again. I’m dusting off Photoshop and Illustrator. I’m digging further into WordPress and HTML and trying to teach myself Javascript. I have a lot of pans in the fire, and if learning how to crochet a shawl is the thing that helps me complete some of those tasks? Well then the extra acrylic yarn was well worth it in my estimation.

I’m not the only one who sees multiple mental health benefits to craftwork. Neuroscientists are studying people who craft and finding some really interesting observations about the meditative and social benefits. Even Lifehack has picked up the story.

The styling’ outfit my buddy Ollie is wearing was made by my Mum.

Crafts were a big thing when I was a kid. Growing up, there were always books on sewing, cross-stitch, macramé and knitting on the shelves in the family den. They were usually tucked willy-nilly between books on art history and the latest Stephen King or Kathleen E. Woodiwiss novel, but they were a natural part of my daily landscape.

My baby dolls had custom clothing and their own quilt. Mum made designer dresses for my Barbie dolls that were prettier and more durable than anything bought in a store. Cross-stitch and embroidered samplers were hung tastefully in certain rooms of the house, and crocheted snowflakes became a treasured part of the tree-trimming process.

I talk a lot about my Grandmother’s guidance on my love of craft, but I really can’t discount my own mother’s influence. By the time I was an adult, my mother had added Dene beadwork and moose hair tufting to her list of accomplishments, as well as leatherworked moccasins and mukluks. The parka I took with me to college was made and hand-embroidered by my Mum.

My mother also became an Amateur Radio Operator (HAM) in the early 1980’s, at a time when you needed to be fluent in Morse code as well as have an extensive knowledge of electronics to gain a license. Without that license, you were unable to participate in talks on various frequencies or attend meetings with other similarly-inclined persons. I can tell you from personal experience that learning Morse isn’t easy. I’ve given up on it a few times now, and I speak two languages (poorly, I grant you) in addition to English. Being able to draw on that background and meld it into the projects I’m currently working on? You have no idea how much this pleases me.

Red Heart Yarn doesn’t suck.

Yes, you read that right. No, I’m not shilling for Red Heart. Yes, I actually typed that sentence.

If you, like me, are a 40-something who plays with brightly-coloured string, you might remember the Red Heart of the past. Acrylic yarn so rough it made the scrubber side of a kitchen sponge feel like silk. That was my opinion of the spare yarn my Grandmother had lying around. The stuff that was purpose-made for teaching little fingers to knit. The stuff that convinced me that this knitting thing was the devil’s own handiwork and that I’d much prefer to go play softball with the boys, thank you very much.

This is the reputation that Red Heart has been dealing with for the past 80-some-odd years. I bought precisely two balls of acrylic when I was re-learning how to knit, and promptly shoved them in a storage box with the cheap needles I’d picked up as soon as I found access to Better Yarn soft wool. Soon my shelves where stocked full of merino and alpaca, and I swore I’d never touch acrylic again.

Right. Then my friends started having babies. Maybe you can see where this is going.

Yes, acrylic is improving.

I had an inkling that acrylic yarns were improving around the time someone suggested I knit a baby sweater or two. Instead, I dabbled in a baby blanket that didn’t get very far before I lost interest. At some point I bought some boutique acrylic from a local yarn store when I finally realized that baby sweaters need to be able to go in the laundry. A couple of years ago, I found that a slightly slubby acrylic had the kind of sheen I wanted for a pair of mittens for a co-worker. It’s been a slippery slope from there.

Speak Friend and Enter Mittens inspired by Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. Made for a co-worker using wool and acrylic yarns.
Speak Friend and Enter mittens made for my work buddy Lila

I recently decided to deepen my knowledge of crochet. Learning new crafts helps me kick-start my brain into learning other things. I think it has to do with being an experiential learner. At any rate, I have some very basic crochet skills, but haven’t used them beyond making the odd chain for a provisional cast-on. Mum gave me a crocheted doily she’d made years ago, and while I’ve tried my hand at it, I found some of the directions confusing (despite your best efforts, Leisure Arts).

I don’t like to start with easy projects.

I wanted to do something more than wash cloths or scarves, so I picked a shawl. A surprisingly easy shawl, once I found a YouTuber who was patient enough to film three videos on how to follow the pattern. Armed with this knowledge, I set off to Michaels in search of something I wouldn’t feel bad about accidentally destroying in a fit of pique. Hey, I can’t be held responsible where something lands when I pitch it across the room! I was surprised to find out that the colours I liked best were Red Heart Unforgettable. I’m a sucker for pinks, purples and blues. Some of the Unforgettable colorways seem to be calculated specifically to target me.

Virus meets Granny shawl in Red Heart Unforgettable colorway Candied. Posed thrown over the grey sofa in my office.
Virus Meets Granny shawl crocheted with Red Heart Unforgettable yarn

I was surprised at how soft the Unforgettable is! Granted, I’m crocheting with this, not knitting. Totally different way of holding the yarn. Even so, crocheting the shawl took surprisingly little time. I figured I’d be slogging away at it for a few months. It was done within a couple of weeks.

Hold on. There are still some drawbacks.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not perfect. It has a halo, somewhat like mohair, which means it sticks to itself. You better hope you find any problems quickly if you need to rip back, because after a couple of hours being manhandled, the fibres start locking together. Under other circumstances this could be a feature, but for my personal skillset, it was something to watch out for.

Otherwise, I’ve found my Red Heart experience rather pleasant. To an extent where I’ve bought more. I figure there will be another Virus Meets Granny shawl in my future, possibly a Queen Anne’s Lace scarf. In the meantime, I have an afghan that I’m working up out of a bunch of Caron Cakes I picked up on sale after Yule. I’m almost convinced that the reason crocheters keep acrylic companies afloat is through the sheer speed involved in making afghans. Particularly if, unlike knitters, you don’t have to wrap the yarn around half the fingers on one hand.

Four balls of Red Heart Unforgettable yarn in the colorway Echo

No, I haven’t forgotten about knitting. I have a perfectly fine sock that I’ve been carrying around in my purse, thank you very much! 😃

Once more into the fray

I’ve been gearing up for a redesign of Stringchronicity for a while now. Imagine my surprise when I checked the site from Twitter to find..well…nothing. All the source code was present, but the site had gone *poof* into so much aether. I took this as a hint that maybe, while my host was restoring backups, I should rough in the new design.

Stringchronicity cat logo

I call the little guy over there on the left Widget. He’s my mascot. After all, if I’m not posting up pictures of yarn, knitting or unwitting family members, I’m usually posting pictures of my cat.

Widget was sketched on paper, scanned, and used for Adobe Illustrator practice. I’ve been so far into networking tech that my graphic skills have suffered a little atrophy.

If I don’t wind up refining Widget myself, I may ask a buddy for help. Widget is destined to grace my collateral items like business cards and such.

I’m also getting used to WordPress’s new Gutenberg posting interface. I’m enjoying it, for the most part. I like being able to choose and customize elements and plunk them into the appropriate places. I particularly like having nicely ordered menus full of those same elements. It makes life a lot easier. I’m looking forward to seeing whether the Gutenberg block is something I’ll be able to make from scratch, because I have Ideas. 😄

I guess there’s a part of me that’s happy the site broke. It got me to stop hesitating about the redesign and start posting again. Ever have those days where you start thinking about a blog post, and it’s only later that you realize you never actually wrote it out and posted it? I’ve been having a lot of those moments, lately.

December in pictures

Wrapping up December, 2018 with a wee gallery of memories! I got in a bit of Yule shopping, knit a whole lot, took a trip to the southern half of Northern Alberta, and dusted off some really rusty crochet skills. Not bad for a month filled with family events and last-minute panic knitting!