Monday, 30 December 2013

Learning curve - when good crochet goes bad

Have you ever had a seemingly straightforward crochet project somehow go terribly wrong?

This happened to me the other day.

I bought this lovely crochet pattern for a hooded scarf.

I was excited!  Images of me, ensconced in an elegant, Grace-Kelly-like woolly hoodie, danced in my head!

(Pic of Grace Kelly from here)

The only difficulty was, I  needed to substitute the prescribed yarn, which is not available here.  According to Ravelry, the prescribed yarn (Lion Homespun) is 'bulky', which allegedly works up as a 12 ply equivalent yarn.  So I dutifully purchased this rather pretty multicoloured 12 ply (a bargain!!).

Almost immediately after starting on the project, it became apparent that there was something wrong.  The prescribed hook was too large and the work did not crochet up like it should.  So I switched to a smaller hook and extended the starting chain, figuring that I could also do more rows if required.  

But while I was working, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the yarn.  Sure, it looked pretty, but its texture was rough to the touch (there were even a few burrs in it) and it was creating a stripy effect instead of the random splashes of colour I was after.  But I persisted.  Perhaps, I reasoned, the yarn (a merino/acrylic mix) would soften after washing and conditioning?

Result: a project I am deeply unhappy with.

While the finished product looks 'OK', the hood doesn't quite sit right at the top (because of the tighter weave with a narrower ply), and the roughness of the yarn (despite conditioning) makes it unpleasant to wear.

*Sigh*  I am disappointed that my first hoodie didn't quite work out quite as planned.

But I learned some important things.  
  • You get what you pay for where yarn is concerned.  Go for quality every time!  
  • Ravelry's yarn database is not necessarily reliable where ply equivalents are concerned.  If substituting a yarn, be careful.  And ask at your local wool shop about overseas yarns.  It turns out that my local store has a reference on overseas yarns, and that according to this reference, Lion Homespun is deemed to be a 13-14 ply, not 12 ply.   I could have saved myself time and money if I had inquired at that point.  
  • Persistence is one thing, but denial is another!  Sometimes, it is better to admit to mistakes and cut your losses early on. 
And there is good news - I have now made a hooded scarf that has turned out well!

Voila!  BTW, the photos in this post feature my 20 year old daughter, Zoe.

The simple solution was to use the right ply-equivalent yarn, in this case a lovely, soft, 14 ply ('super bulky') acrylic alpaca mix.  I didn't want to muck about with multicolours this time - I just went with a nice, simple, rusty red.

The pattern worked well once the right ply yarn was involved (though I did make a few adjustments to the rounding of the hood and joining the scarf to the hood - more detail about these adjustments can be found on my Ravelry projects page).   

The slight bump at the base of the hood is from Zoe's ponytail.

Here you can see the hood join and where the scarf joins the hood.

While my daughter looks lovely and I am pleased with the result this time, perhaps this garment is not as glamourously 'Grace Kelly' as I anticipated.  It is probably more Babusha-esque, really!  I have also noticed, when comparing my finished product with the pattern picture, that my crochet is tighter than the pattern writer's, indicating that I should probably use a larger hook next time.   However, this garment will nevertheless serve me well next winter, when warmth takes precedence over glamour.  Besides, I will be as glamourous as a movie star in my mind!


Sunday, 29 December 2013

Summer harvest, and a New Year resolution

My vegie patch is going great guns at the moment.   This is very satisfying, as it is hard work keeping things hydrated at this time of year.

As you can see in the pic above, the lettuces have done well . . . too well really, as they have all reached maturity at once!  My fault - I should have staggered the planting out!  Luckily I already have a few takers who would like a fresh lettuce or two, so none of these will go to waste.  

As you can see, I don't have any ripe tomatoes as yet, but there are a few green tomatoes-in-waiting, and lots of flowers, which is pleasing.   (This is a Tommy Toe variety, which has apricot-sized tomatoes that have a wonderful flavour, and its small size means that it ripens before the fruit fly can attack).

The zucchinis are hitting their first fruits.   Here's the very first!

This year I tried to only plant what we could expect to use ourselves, plus a little to give away (but not so much oversupply that it feels wasteful).   With this in mind, I didn't plant corn in this year.  They were so bountiful last year that it was a struggle to cook, freeze and give away.  (Besides, we are all trying to eat low carb/ paeleo at present!)  

As for my fruit trees:

There are A LOT of plums on my 'Luisa' plum tree . . . some of the branches are quite bowed from the weight of the fruit, so I have thinned the fruit a bit so the branches don't snap from the weight.   My goodness this is a prolific variety.  

There are even a few quinces, despite my over-enthusiastic pruning after last season.   [The leaves are marked from an earlier attack of pear and cherry slug, which hit both the plum and the quince in the spring.  I controlled this pest organically by tossing lots of plain flour over the tree.  It worked a treat and only cost about $1!   However I will have to flour bomb the trees again soon, as I can see a slug on the leaf on the left of the picture.  Horrid things.]

I am very chuffed to see lemons on my new (dwarf Eureka) lemon tree!

I am praying that this lemon tree survives the coming winter, as lemon trees are such good value in the home garden.  Unfortunately they are marginal here.  My last (newly planted) baby lemon tree died, sadly, in a -15C frost a couple of years ago, despite my coddling, so I have planted this new one in a less exposed position.  If I can get it through winter, it will cope from then on with a bit of TLC.

I have been successfully using Rocket Fuel on my vegie patch and fruit trees and have found it to be very beneficial. This product supports the worthwhile Stephanie Alexander school kitchen garden program. 

I am also keeping a close eye on the weather.  We tend to get thunder storms and hail around Christmas / New Year, which would be quite damaging.  I don't want to lose my crops, and am feeling weirdly  Farmer-like and protective about them!  And I am praying for good, soaking rain!

The more I grow my own, the more I realise how rewarding productive gardening truly is.  My New Year Resolution is to undertake a permaculture course in 2014.  I will keep you updated about this as the year progresses.  

UPDATE: Spent a lovely weekend in May 2014 at Caroola Farm (between Bungendore and Braidwood, NSW) attending an Introduction to Permaculture course.  I learned a lot, and it has stimulated a lot of thought and, I hope, future results as I apply permaculture principles to my block.    


Monday, 23 December 2013

The last minute gift

Despite (technically) being a grown up, I can't help getting that little bubble of excitement in my tummy on Christmas Eve!

Last night I finally finished my last gift - a lavender cotton scarf as a stocking filler for one of my darling girls.   Phew, I made it!

I found the pattern (via Ravelry), here.  It is called 'Easy one-skein scarf'.  It has been a sheer delight to crochet, being simple, fast and rather pretty.

As is my wont, I modified the pattern slightly, to accommodate the yarn I wanted to use and my personal preference for odd numbered motifs (I personally find that odd numbers look more balanced).

[For technical details of the changes I made to the original pattern, see * at the end of this post!]

The perfect gift.

A happy and healthy Season to you and yours.


* Changes I made to the original pattern: I used 8 ply (double knit) cotton, not 10 ply yarn (8 ply being the standard yarn width in Australia), and crocheted three motifs across, not four.
I made the starting chain using a 4.5 mm hook then used a 3.5 mm for the rest of the scarf.  My starting chain was 12 ch plus a turning chain of 3,.  For the remainder of the turning chains I only did 2 ch, as it seemed to sit better.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmassy things . . .

We have a funny kind of hybrid Christmas here.  Christmas falls in mid-summer, so school's out, lots of people are on holiday, and the cricket is on the telly for DAYS.   It's usually also great weather for the beach, the pool, the barbecue, and generally lounging about slothfully.

But some northern hemisphere Christmas traditions persist here - the exotic Christmas tree, the carols, the snowy, wintry scenes.

Despite the heat (and I mean, HEAT! it was 37 degrees C today), I like to find Christmassy things in all manner of places you might not expect.

Here are a few:

Red and white feijoa flowers . . .

candy striped petunias . . .

these heart-shaped leaves in a wreath-like tangle (this is String of Hearts in a hanging basket) . . .

bells of various shapes and sizes (this one is Penstemon 'Sour Grapes') . . .

Not to mention, decorating the tree!  Christmas is coming!


Friday, 6 December 2013

A Christmas scarf

Although it is decidedly summer here, I am still rather obsessed with scarves.  It is such a lovely way to crochet something pretty, yet practical.  

My latest scarf is my own design . . . voila!  

I have to say I am loving the scrumptious colour and texture of this scarf!  

It uses my favourite stitch, half treble (known as half double crochet to those who use US terms).

Working back and forth in this stitch makes a dense fabric with an interesting texture, and the colour contrast of the five darker stripes in this scarf adds interest and a classy feel.  As a bonus, there is no 'wrong side', because the stitch results in a reversible pattern.

 You can see the interesting reverse colour effect below.

As I have completed this scarf close to Christmas, and its colours are pretty Christmassy somehow, I have called it my Christmas scarf.  But don't let the name stop you wearing it any other day of the year!

Here's the pattern:

Christmas Scarf

Yarn:  8 ply (double knit) in two contrasting colours.  I used Bendigo Woollen Mills Luxury (fine micron pure wool) 8 ply, in Stone (lighter colour) and Ruby (darker colour).  

Notions: You will need a 5mm hook, a 4mm hook and a darning needle to hide any loose ends.

General instruction:  After changing to a new yarn colour at the end of rows 4 and 5, crochet over your loose ends to save having to darn them in at the end.  Once you have completed the ch 2 in the new colour and have turned your work, lie the ends over the top of the next row and simply crochet over the top of them.  You may have to pull them slightly to make them snug.

Foundation chain: Using a 5mm hook and the lighter coloured yarn, chain 250 to 300 stitches, adjusting the length to suit you.  (Remember, if you add the fringe, this will make the scarf longer, so remember to factor this in.)

Row 1:  Switch to 4mm hook, and complete two extra chains onto your foundation chain.  Then, starting in the third stitch from the hook, htr (US hdc) into back bumps of each chain.  After completing the last htr (hdc), ch 2, turn.

Row 2:  Htr in each stitch.  At end of row, ch 2, turn.

Row 3: Repeat Row 2.

Row 4:  (Still using lighter yarn) htr in each stitch (see general instruction above).  At end of row, keep last stitch on hook and cut light coloured yarn, leaving a tail about 10 cm  long.  Make slip stitch in darker coloured yarn and slip onto same hook.  Pull darker loop through lighter loop and pull the tail of the lighter yarn to secure.  Ch 2 in darker yarn, turn.

Row 5:  (Still using darker yarn) htr in each stitch (see general instruction above).  At end of row, keep last stitch on hook and cut dark coloured yarn, leaving a tail about 10 cm  long.  Make slip stitch in lighter coloured yarn and slip onto same hook.  Pull lighter loop through darker loop and pull the tail of the darker yarn to secure.  Ch 2 in lighter yarn, turn.

Rows 6 to 13: Repeat Rows 4 and 5 four times.

Row 14 to 15: Repeat Row 2 twice.  Secure and cut yarn.

Using darning needle, hide any ends.  If you followed the general instruction, you will only have to weave in the ends from the foundation chain and the final row.

Fringe:  I made 8 tassels on each end to form a fringe, using three strands per tassel.  I followed these instructions and was happy with the result.

Please feel free to contact me through the comments facility if anything is unclear.

As always, if you share any of my patterns, please attribute by linking to my website.


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Botanical beauty

I am not known as a shopping lover.  I find it a chore really, and rarely experience that 'eureka' moment.   But . . . a couple of weeks ago I did.  I saw something in a magazine that my heart could not resist.  I Had to Have It.  And today, it arrived!

I bought this beautiful botanical wall hanging online from Erstwhile, a website with a select collection of maps and botanical prints.  It is called Zimmerpflanzen, which is German for 'house plants'.   It comes from and old German Encyclopaedia, the Meyer Konversations Lexikon, and has been enlarged and printed beautifully on canvas.  

And here it is dressing my lounge room wall!

This wall had been bare for ages while I looked for the perfect adornment.  So, this lovely thing is everything I could have wished for. 

I should add that it is quite large - one metre x 90 cm.  It came with the wooden batons and string all ready to hang.  

Sometimes, things are 'just right.'  This is one of those things.  


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Welcome to Nandina's Place!

Hi and Welcome!

I have decided to simplify my blog URL and have moved all my posts and patterns over to Nandina's Place.

I hope you like my new place!  It's a bit like moving into a new house but with the same furniture you had at your old place.  Please contact me if you can't find what you are looking for.


Friday, 8 November 2013

Happy scarf

And so, back to scarves . . . as flagged in an earlier post, I have been searching for a scarf pattern that will work well using cotton yarn.

This is partly because it is getting increasingly warm.  But is is also because one of my daughters finds wool itchy and won't wear a woolly scarf.  To her, even the softest ultra-soft, baby-soft merino feels itchy - which has always made life a bit of a challenge.

But she likes the feel of soft cotton, and it does not itch her skin.  So I set about looking for a nice, soft, cottony scarf pattern for her that would work well in cotton yarn (which, of course, has less 'give' than wool).

This happy, colourful scarf is the result.  Voila!

It has been christened the 'happy scarf' because of its rippling joyous colours.

I used 8 ply (ie double knit) cotton yarn from Bendigo Woollen Mills, in Pomegranate, Daffodil, Blush, Kiwi, Tasman Blue and Lavender.

Using a 3.5mm hook (but using a 4mm hook for the foundation chain), I simply followed the
example-sized pattern used in the Attic24 Neat Ripple Pattern.  This blog is well worth a look if you don't already know about it.  While attributing the ripple pattern to Jan Eaton's Soft Waves pattern, the Attic24 blog sets out the 'how to' very clearly with excellent pictures.

After completing the number of rows to make the desired length (in my case, 79 rows), I then 'straightened' the curved ends using a series of stitches of varying size (sl st / dc / htr / tr / dtr / tr / htr / tr / dc / sl st (with dtr being in the deepest part of the ripple and sl st being at the top of the curves), and  then completing another treble row.  Doing this on each end adds an extra two rows, so bear that in mind when working out how long you want it to be.

Here's what the straightening row/treble row look like close up:

(For some reason the colours are a bit dodgy in this shot, but you get the idea.)

Here's a close up of the border - a simple pattern of 5tr and dc (5dc and sc):

I find this ripple pattern easy and rhythmically enjoyable - comforting even, if you know what I mean.  And the feel of the soft cottony yarn made making this scarf a tactile pleasure.

Here is the happy scarf on the hat rack, with some of our other scarves and hats.  I hope it makes my lovely girl happy when she wears it.

One last thing on the ripple pattern:

This is a picture of my biggest ripply work - a cotton summer bedspread.  I made it last summer.

Have you made any ripple items yourself?  I am always looking for new ideas and do enjoy a good ripple to work, so please let me know if you have a ripply work of art to share or have been inspired to make a happy scarf too!

Have a happy day.


Friday, 1 November 2013

A little bit of happiness . . .

Another pictorial garden post, I'm afraid - I cannot help but rejoice in the riot of colour and movement in my garden.  I just feel so blessed to have a little piece of earth, and be able to share in its bounty.

Here are a few things in my garden that made my day today:

The rock roses (cistus) and pigfaces are in their element at this time of year.

The barrow gardens - this one has fried egg flower finishing and some self-sown petunias popping up.

And my new one has been coming along nicely since this post.  That's oregano at the front, and bronze fennel at the back.

My favourite pelargonium (geranium) is blowsily blooming, just the way I like it.

The honey locust has put on its yellowy lime fronds.

The sage (above) and thyme (below) are a such a mass of honey bees they are literally BUZZING.  The way the bees seem to be in a state of drunken ecstasy, burying themselves deeply into the thyme blooms!  You can see at least two bees in the photos above and below.    

This scruffy looking vegie bed is waiting for me to plant my tomatoes out.  In Canberra, tomatoes are traditionally planted after Melbourne Cup Day (the biggest horse racing carnival of the year, held on the second Tuesday in November), to avoid any risk of frost.  Planting them earlier is 'at your own risk'.  I can't wait till Tuesday - the anticipation is killing me!

And it is good to see the camellias (above) sending up glossy new shoots since their haircut a couple of months ago.  Some years are better than others, weather-wise, for my camellias.  This has been a good spring for them, as we haven't had too many days over 30 degrees yet.

Plants are such natural wonders, aren't they.  They feed us, keep us cool in summer and warm in winter, and look good to boot!


Friday, 18 October 2013

Crochet placemat

My daughter and son-in-law, newly married, have just moved into a rented town house.  (In Canberra, a town house is a medium density house, usually in a complex).  It is quite new, and although they have furnished it rather nicely, it still lacks that personal touch.

It came to my attention that they would probably appreciate a few hand made items in their favourite colours, to warm the place up - perhaps place mats? a table runner? . . . maybe a decorative cloth on top of their lovely new stainless steel microwave (a wedding present), so they can put other things on top without scratching the surface (eg their salt and pepper grinders)?  

In line with their expressed favourite colours (she loves green and he loves red), I have made a pair of placemats that could also be used as toppers.


I based these placemats on the Lion Brand South Beach Washcloth set pattern.  

I found the original pattern (which is in US crochet terms) to be easy and well set out, and it was not difficult to adjust the pattern to my needs.  In fact, I reckon the original wash cloth pattern could be modified as a basis for anything you like - for example, a table runner - or you could follow the source pattern exactly and make attractive heat pads or wash cloths.  I have set out the modifications I made for my placemats, below.

I really like textured weave of the stitch, which is simply half-trebles (half dc) alternating with slip stitches.  According to my Harmony Guide to Crochet Stitches, this stitch combination is called 'Crunch Stitch'.  It found the stitch to be a very relaxing, uncomplicated stitch to crochet, and my placemats worked up quickly.

Placemat pattern variation (converted into UK terms) - based on the Lion Brand South Beach Washcloth Set pattern

1. Choose three colours in 8 ply (double knit) cotton washable yarn.  (I used a cotton acrylic blend).

2. Using your main colour, chain 47 stitches using a 5mm hook.

3. Switch to a 4mm hook.  Beginning in the second ch from the hook, slip stitch into back bump, htr into next stitch, continue to last stitch (which will be a htr into back bump).  Chain 1 and turn.  

4. Slip stitch into first stitch, htr into next stitch, continue to end of row.  Complete another 8 rows of the main colour.  

5. Cut yarn and join second colour, completing 3 rows in that colour.

6. Cut yarn and join third colour, completing 2 rows in that colour.

7. Cut yarn and join second colour again, completing another three rows.

8. Cut yarn and join main colour again, completing as many rows as you need to make the 'middle' of your item.

Then work the pattern back the other way, i.e., repeat steps 7, 6, 5, and 4, then an extra row of the main colour at the end as the equivalent of step 3 (which was your first full row).   Weave in ends.

My Tips:

  • Crocheting into the back bumps of the starting chain creates a nice even edge that makes it easy to work a border, if desired.  I personally like the look of these placemats without a border, but it's always good to have options!
  • Having all the new colour joins along one side of the work made the pattern beautifully symmetrical with a neat 'right side'.
Have a sunshiny day!


UPDATED: Just a quick edit to add a pic of the heat pads I have made to complement the placemats - using the washcloth set pattern exactly.

So without further ado, here they are!