Saturday, February 28, 2009

Crochet as Therapy

Actually, the title should be as *insert craft name here *therapy, shouldn’t it? The principles apply to any craft or hobby you do that gives you pleasure and takes you away from stress and tension. I know much has been said about this from both a medical and psychological viewpoint, but as is my right as a Blogger, I’m putting my 2 cents worth in!

When my marriage ended in 1998 I moved myself and the children to Perth, Western Australia. I had never lived there before, having spent most of my life in Canberra, some 3000 miles east. When I look back on it, it was a pretty bold move, but at the time that was my only option.

For most of the next year I spent many hours crocheting rugs. It felt like a bit of an obsession, from deciding on the colours, to which squares to use, to which brand of wool. That very much depended on the budget, which was almost non-existent, so acrylic invariably won the day.

Apart from being able to give the kids some warm blankets, it gave me time to clear my mind of much of the negativity that was swirling around my head. I think I was suffering from depression, which I was later diagnosed with, but at the time I just expected to feel empty and worn out. Looking back I can recognise other symptoms, like not wanting to leave the house/answer the phone/engage with people. I am much more aware of the symptoms now and am managing them better.

I had another period of intensive crafting a couple of years later. My father was dying and I couldn’t be with him, as he was still in Canberra. I wasn’t working at that time, due to the ratbaggery of my children’s behaviour. I needed to be on hand to make sure they got to school every day and then came home once in a while! I was more into Cross Stitch at that time, and I made many lovely pictures for anyone who wanted one. I mainly made small items, as it gave me a sense of achievement.

I still have a couple of the crochet rugs I made all those years ago. When I look at them now I can see where I could have done a better job, especially weaving in the ends. I have tried sewing them in and crocheting them in but little endy bits still tend to wiggle out from time to time. I won’t say I’ve cracked how to stop that from happening, but I’ve found that when I sew the ends in firmly, going back and forth several times over a few centimetres, the ends stay put. This is all good for small items, but a big-a***d blanket is a pain! I try to set aside a non-hook night once in a while to do these housekeeping tasks. If anyone reading this has their own method of fixing ends, feel free to add your comments…all are welcome. I have tried crocheting them in, sewing them in, just cutting them off…

I am now back into the crochet obsession space! This time, I am concentrating on hats, bags, scarves and the occasional rug. Again, being able to make a hat in a couple of hours is hugely satisfying. I am also selling some of my hats so I’m trying to keep a bit of a supply handy. I only sell online at the moment, on OZTION, which is an Australian auction site. I’m not keen on selling at markets but I’m happy to make something for friends, family. My daughter wears some of my work and has had some interest from her workmates, so that could be another source of extra cash. The nice part of my current activity is that I am doing it as much for pure enjoyment as much as stress relief and I can identify it as just that...a nice feeling.

When I put all this into perspective, I can see 2 angles to all this mad crocheting. Yes, there is the therapy...when I am feeling lost and not so clever in real life, I immerse myself in the colour matching, pattern browsing and creative process. It allows me to free my mind from the stresses that are always around me and to focus on one thing instead of the flurry of thoughts that are usually present.

It also lets me just admire something that is beautiful and that was my creation. Not a lot beats that.

Here is a pic of my eldest granddaughter Zoe wearing her beret, barray as she calls it! She has been asking me to make one for a while and I finally got around to it yesterday, during her and her sister's weekly sleepover at Grandma's house. When I put it on her she had a bit of a grump. It turns out she wasn't keen on the colour, and would have preferred a green version! So, when she pops round today she can take delivery of her little green barray!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The curse of the wool snob

Opening disclaimer – Whilst I respect the use of the American term “yarn” to describe all kinds of knitting/crochet fibres, I'm afraid my brain naturally gravitates towards the term “wool”. I know this term isn't as all-encompassing as the word yarn, but it makes more sense to me. I have Anglo-Australian heritage, and most of us speak “Wool”. So, bear with me and feel free to adjust your personal mindset, while I revert to form and use the term wool for most of the time (unless I forgot to edit or it just happens to fit).

Ahhh...that's better! Which brings me to today's little ramble...or should that be yarn?! Once upon a time the only fibre you had to knit with was wool. Good ole dependable wool. Warm, smelt nice, great insulator, somewhat waterproof, just don't stick it in a washing machine unless you want your size 14 cardie (Australian women's average dress size) to turn into a dolly coat.

Knitting was for many a necessity. I'm amazed at how women could knit so many garments using extremely fine wool, given that there weren't any time-saving appliances like we have today and time must have been at a premium. Limited choice of colours and plys ensured that knitting was for practical reasons more than glamour and decoration.

After the Second World War, knitting, like all types of fashion, became more glamorous and yarns (see it makes sense here!) were produced in a wider range of colours. This was all fine until the evil 80s, the decade where the hole in the ozone layer opened wider every time a teenager did their hair (figure it out!). The market was flooded with cheap imported machine knitted garments and the craft all but died. To be honest, when I flick through old patterns in my local opshop and stumble across a garish picture knit with huge shoulder pads, I can see why.

Bring on the noughties! The 21st century has given us the widest selection of yarns in history. We can now knit and crochet with angora, bamboo, synthetics that are as soft as silk (and machine-washable to boot) to name just a few. As for patterns, there is one for pretty much anything you can imagine. A quick google search for knitting or crochet patterns will keep you entertained for hours browsing through the hundreds of pages of hits. Go to YouTube and type in knitting, crochet, or even a stitch name, and you can watch video tutorials while you stitch along. I'm happy to admit that I've learned and re-learned so much by watching Youtube. Give it a go if you haven't already.

Now you would think that with the huge variety of fibres available, we would all be greedily building monumental stashes, and dreaming of piling all those balls of wool in the middle of a room and doing a swan dive right in the middle! And yes, there are some of us who try all sorts of fibres and textures just because we can. Then there is....pause....the wool snob! Yes, there live, amongst us, and not afraid to shout it from the rooftop, those dedicated souls who refuse to use anything else but that exclusive Tibetan hand spun, infused with essential oils mountain Yak wool. Marry this with a pair of responsibly farmed bamboo needles and you are in wool snob heaven.

Now, you may think I'm being harsh, and yes, you are right, I am. And with good reason. If we are to bring the humble crafts of knitting and crochet back to the masses, we don't need to scare them off by showing them a 5g ball of this wonderous fluff with a $100 per ball price tag now do we? By all means, when you have managed to knit more stitches than drop, sure, go ahead and impress all your girlfriends with the latest wool bling, but please, don't forget the more humble acrylics, acrylic blends, and of course, the fibre that started it all – good old, honest wool. Not yarn, wool.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What is so special about hand-crafted items?

Who really cares if a baby hat is handmade or bought from a chain store? What does it matter if someone has spent hours crafting an item when it will be discarded after the child grows out of it or when the item is no longer in fashion?

The reality is that we should all care. The growing global financial crisis is making many people stop and think about what they are spending their money on, and where that money is going.

There has been endless debate about the merits of buying locally vs imported, and the difficulties many people face trying to justify the increased cost of locally produced goods when money is tight. I’m not touching that argument with a barge pole! Instead, I’d like to tell you why I think handmade items will always be better value, both in money and personal terms. And who knows? Directing our focus to handmade items could herald the start of a revolution in how we buy and value our possessions.

Family heirlooms – this doesn't have to be a christening gown or expensive jewellery. It can be a jumper, rug, hat, anything that gave you pleasure as you created it and can be passed down the line. I wrote in an earlier post about a jacket I made for my first daughter. It is now waiting to be worn by her youngest son, making him the 7th person in 20 years to wear it.

Dressing the kids – When my brood were at school I made most of their school uniforms and a fair stack of play clothes as well. I found this a great money saver, as I would buy material when it was on sale, then store it away for making into jumpers and pants. Leftovers made little outfits for my son who was then only a baby, and my twin girls even had outfits for their dollies! My eldest girl didn't usually benefit from the doll's hard to make an outfit to suit a doll whose head has been ripped off! This girl now has 3 children of her own. The 2 girls love dollies and adore pink – revenge is sweet!

Anyway, I digress. My kids and grandkids now line up to receive hats, bags, scarves, jumpers, whatever takes my fancy at the time. I do believe my sewing days are mostly over though, due to lack of space, lack of enthusiasm and lack of time due to the crocheting and knitting! I do use the machine for sewing linings for my bags, but to be honest, I only set the machine up for the first time in...well...nearly 10 years? Wow...

Following fashion on the cheap– I love the way you can re-create many fashion items with yarn. I was watching an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie was wearing a knitted (or crocheted, can't quite remember, but I'm pretty sure it was pink lol) newsboy cap. That was the start of my newsboy obsession. I have done extensive research courtesy of Google and found quite a few patterns that I love. Here are a couple of my favourites -

Mimi's Warm Cap with Brim

South Bay Crochet Beret with Brim

I also browse Etsy most days searching for inspiration.

(I haven't been blogging for long so forgive me if I should have used a different technique for linking to these pages....I'm an IT person during the day so I'm sure I'll figure it out!)

I am currently working on several hats and adapting the patterns for local yarns. I have talked about this a little in an earlier post, but will be going into some more detail and adding a few of my own designs as I develop them.

There are a million other reasons to support handcrafters, too many for me to go into here. I'm not for one minute suggesting that the handmade revolution will take over the corporate world or drive large stores out of business. The best thing for me is when someone admires something that I'm wearing and I can tell them “It's one of my own creations!”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Market Bag

It wasn't until I piled up all of my recent projects that I realised just how busy I'd been! I've amassed a large number of hats and quite a few bags as well. I will show them here and try to link to any sites where I found the patterns. For now here is the way I made my first market bag.

Market Bag

I made this one up myself, based on various similar patterns. I just started with 90 chain (I think), double crochet (single crochet if you are American) across the chain then back across the chain again using the other half of the loop about 8 times to make the bag base.

I then did a 4 chain 1 treble (DC) miss 3 dc (SC) all round, then continued with 4ch 1tr (DC) in each chain loop until the bag was as long as I wanted.

The next step was to dc (SC) 3 in each loop then 1 in the tr (DC) all round, continuing until I was happy with the finished height. Last step was to find the middle of the bag, pick up and dc (SC) 10 stitches, carry on until strap was as long as I wanted, then run a line of dc(SC) around handle and top of bag. Pretty easy really!

The yarn I used is a ribbony, slightly shiny one. It was from Lincraft and was in one of those cheap multi-packs of 5 balls for $5.00. Because I'm not sure what the composition is, I will be hand-washing only.
If you want to have a go at making one yourself, add a comment and I will supply the pattern in a more accurate way.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What is the fascination with crochet?

It's relaxing, therapeutic, more fun than housework, a cool way to express myself, I could go on...but I won't!

I learned to crochet when I was about 10 or 11. I already knew how to knit. I've done both ever since, although I think I've knitted more until recently. I took crochet up again after a few years break when I was looking at something to do that was quick and portable. I take the bus to work so a crochet hook is easier to manage than knitting needles, although I use circulars more now which makes bus knitting much easier.

I love the range of crochet patterns available now. It used to be a bit daggy to crochet, reserved for grannies who pumped out baby clothes and doilies. Of course there is nothing wrong with either, but now that crochet is back in fashion, there is no restriction on what you can make.

I have dabbled in designing patterns, mostly by adapting patterns for Australian yarn tensions. The good thing about hats is that the basic pattern doesn't really change, it is like a formula. Now that I've finally nailed the formula (and unpicked many lumpy hats in the learning process!) I can use whatever yarn I have at hand and experiment with different size hooks.

And who are the big winners? My kids and grandchildren! My granddaughters have an ever growing collection of cute hats that they are crash testing. One of my daughters has a couple of hats and bags and I am never short of a new fashion accessory.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Going on a yarn hunt

I mostly shop for yarn by price, so I use acrylic more than anything else. I know there is a bit of a political divide around acrylic yarn, with the purists condemning anyone who stoops to the level of using synthetic, unnatural fibres for their precious creations.

Bunkum I say! I believe there is room for all yarns in your repertoire and it really depends on what you are making. For instance, when I make things for my grandchildren, I mostly use acrylic so their mother can machine wash them. If I am making garments using wool, I make sure she brings them to me for know how clueless these modern kids are!

And the decision to use acrylic over wool often comes down to what is available and what would look best. I made a lovely striped jumper for Zoe, then 3, using Patons Inca which is a particular ply that I couldn't replicate in cheaper yarns. It would have cost me around $60 to knit, which I considered excessive for a small child's garment, so I waited until Cassidy's at Jamison had their 30% off sale (which I haven't seen for quite a while) and made the jumper for around $35 if I remember rightly. That jumper can be passed down to Claire who is now 3.

When their mother Emma was about 2, I made her an aran style jacket using Cleckheaton 12ply pure wool. It has been passed down to her 3 siblings and Zoe has had a crack at wearing it as well! So this is proof that using pure wool has its advantages, as that jumper has seen around 20 years use over 5 children and will be kept as a family heirloom. On the other hand, I also made a jumper for Louise when she was 3 or so, using a Bernat yarn. I still have it, and although it has pilled a bit over the years and hasn't been worn by as many people, I would still pass it on to my granddaughters.

I have already had my whinge about the difficulties of buying cheap 100% cotton in Australia. I did an experiment with some of the All Sorts yarn that I bought from Lincraft, by crocheting a dishcloth. As I suspected, after using the cloth on the washing up last night, it was still quite wet today, which says to me that it isn't all cotton and probably contains acrylic. So, another little source of income is denied me, for now anyway. Did I mention that I am going to start selling hats and bags on Oztion? It's either that or get a second job which I don't want to have to do if I can help it. I have a few things made and crash tested already so I just have to pull my finger out and get listing!

So, what do I use acrylic yarn for and what are my favourite brands? Carnival from Big W is very versatile, especially their fairisle and camo ranges. I do find them quite firm, especially the Camo, which makes it very good for bags, but not so suitable for garments. The fairisle ones can be quite soft but I would suggest you check them before you buy, just in case they are too scratchy for you.

I don't get to Spotlight as often as I would like, but to be honest I don't think their range is much different to Lincraft. I use Lincraft brand yarns quite a bit, especially their Cosy Wool, which is pure wool and not too bad quality wise. I'm also use their acrylic which has a huge range of funky colours, great for baby and kids' clothes.

I haven't used Patons or Panda acrylics much, mainly due to the increased cost per ball. I'm not against paying a lot for a beautiful yarn that I will be wearing for years (the main reason I don't is that my knitting isn't in the expert class and would be a waste of good wool) but I don't see the point in spending twice as much for the same acrylic. I wouldn't mind trying Panda or Carnival soft acrylic though. I do draw the line at Panda Disco! Awful stuff!

These days I crochet hats, bags, scarves and am about to start doing Amugurami, because I think there is a market for funky little desk pals for all us working people. When I get started on my “seachange” what's life all about posts, I'll explore more about why I am trying to earn extra money and what I am planning (albeit theoretically at this stage) for the next phase of my life.

Here are some Australian links to the major yarn brands and free patterns -



Patons Australia


Panda Yarns

Carnival Yarns

So, until next time...keep on hooking!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Converting US yarn weights to Australian.

I've been using American patterns for long enough now to know that Worsted weight yarn (or number 4) is roughly equivalent to 10ply yarn in Australia. Our most popular wool is 8ply, so you can see how some of my creations were odd sizes in the early days!

Here is a resource that I refer to frequently. It is the American Yarn Standards site which has a PDF file that lists the yarn weights, related gauges and knitting and crochet US sizes with conversions to European/Australian sizes. Bookmark the page and download the PDF, as you will use it all the time.

Now when I use 8ply yarn for patterns that specify worsted, I either use a larger hook/needles, or in the case of hats, I will add a row or 2 of increases and maybe a couple of extra straight rows. If I have the hat wearer handy, I will try it on as I go.

One of the problems I have with crocheting and knitting is getting the tension (gauge) right when using patterns from overseas websites. As I am way too lazy to make tension squares, I often find myself unpicking a hat that would fit a basketball, or chucking it in the back of the cupboard, not to be seen again until I do my semi-annual de-junking exercise!

I know you are saying that a tension square done now negates all that wasted effort later....but when you have to crochet, you just have to crochet!

I've been madly crocheting cotton market bags to sell. I've been having trouble sourcing good, cheap cotton yarn locally. I feel this is a huge gap in the Australian market, as most shops only sell crochet cotton, which is more for doilies, or expensive brands that are limited in colour/texture etc. This is one area where I wish I lived in the US...there are so many varieties over there and very cheap compared to here.

I did find a local site American Yarns which sells some of the more popular US cottons like Lion Brand, Bernat, Lily and Caron. Their prices seem pretty good, although they don't appear to carry the full range of colours. They use Australia Post rates which makes it a good idea to buy up, as they can pack into satchels.

If you are looking for high quality, basic Australian yarns, try Bendigo Woolen Mills. Their 4ply cotton is lovely to crochet, very smooth and no knots so far. They charge $12.00 per 200g ball which works out a little cheaper than other local brands.

I've also discovered some cotton (I think) yarn from Lincraft. They get bulk buys of Chinese yarn which they label All Sorts. The label is generic so you are never quite sure what you are getting but at $5 for 5 x 50g balls, you can always find a use for it. So far I've found some variegated 4ply (Sport Weight), some 8ply in fairly ordinary colours that will make good bags/washcloths and some really funky ribbon type yarn in a camouflage pattern that I used to make a cool market bag. (Pic to follow)

I haven't listed any of these things on the auction site that I use, Oztion but am planning to list some hopefully this weekend. In the meantime, if you want to see my other listings of mainly knitting patterns, look here.

Keep an eye out for my next post, where I will be discussing the merits of cheap vs expensive yarn, and sharing my thoughts on some of the most common Australian yarns.

Well, here I am!

Here we go....will this be another one post wonder blog to clog up the internet? Or will my blog go on to attract millions of visitors who leave comments to say how wonderful I am and how my opinions and thoughts are vital to the future of the world....I think we all know which is more likely!

So, let me tell you a little about me and what I am hoping to achieve with this blog. I am a single mother of 4 children and grandma to 3 (rising to 4 in July). I work full time in the Public Service (Australian for Government) as a Business Analyst. I'm not entirely happy with my career these days and am toying with the idea of running away to find a seachange in the next year or so.

My blog will be a central point for my rambings about the seachange, as well as information about my favourite hobbies, which are crochet, knitting and jewellery making. I sell small quantities of all 3 online, and am building up some stock so I can sell more over the next year or so. My aim is to earn extra money to help with some of the costs of doing work around the house to get it ready to sell, and to give me a more rewarding outlet than my job currently provides.

So, without further ado....let's do this!