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
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.
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)
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.
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.