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.