Friday, September 29, 2017

Are Some Yarns "More Equal" Than Others?

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.
— Napoleon Pig, George Orwell's Animal Farm

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that I was using Red Heart Soft Essentials (a yarn I can get at Michaels) to work a pattern designed for Bernat Beyond yarn (which our local Michaels does not sell).

There are a number of theories and rules of thumb for substituting one yarn for another: 
  • If the finished item is to remain the same size, the yarns should be of similar thickness
    • Alternatively, you can to change the number of stitches in your pattern (ideally for an even number of pattern repeats) to come up to the same measurements. 
  • Different fibers will handle differently in wearing and cleaning  cotton knits will become shorter and wider, wool will full or felt, acrylics will pull and pill. Try to keep yarns that will handle similarly after the project is finished.
  • Substitutions in both yarn and gauge can be used to scale patterns up and down — use a similar color and texture of fingering yarn to make an American Girl doll's sweater look more identical to that of her owner's worsted sweater, with similar numbers of stitches and rows for each garment piece.
  • Most craft yarn manufacturers' yarns of a given weight, fiber blend, and texture can be used interchangeably.
In theory, you should be able to swap out Red Heart SuperSaver for Loops & Threads Impeccable, Lion Brand Vanna's Choice or Heartland, etc. In the cotton utility area, Lion Brand Cotton-Ease should be one-for-one interchangeable with its 24/7 Cotton Yarn replacement or with Lion's Kitchen Cotton, or Lily Sugar 'n Cream, Bernat Handicrafter, Red Heart Creme de la Creme, etc.

Based on those general rules of interchangeability, I used some leftover Sugar 'n Cream to make Lion's Orient Point Washcloth, originally designed to use Cotton-Ease, using size 7 aluminum needles (the recommended size) and the recommended number of stitches. The sample on the pattern uses seven repeats of the eight-row eyelet pattern to create the 10" square; I only needed five and a half repeats.

At first glance, this made me think that Sugar 'n Cream might be a thicker yarn than Cotton-Ease. Then I looked at the two yarns on Ravelry.

According to Ravelry, Cotton-Ease is a 50/50 cotton-acrylic blend with a thickness of 8 wpi (wraps per inch), and a gauge of 17 stitches per 4" on size 8 needles. Sugar 'n Cream is a 100% cotton yarn with a thickness of 9 wpi (i.e., slightly thinner), and a gauge of 20 stitches and 27 rows per 4" on size 7 needles. (Note: yarn-wrapper gauges are always based on stockinette stitch; the gauge for a particular pattern may vary.) 

In other words, Sugar 'n Cream should be slightly thinner than Cotton-Ease. (Worse for my theory, my own test came up with 11 wpi for the Lily yarn.)

I finally checked the gauge (in eyelet pattern) on my finished article: 16 stitches and 24 rows per 4" in eyelet pattern. I guess I knit more loosely than I thought I did.

Which goes to remind us, always check your gauge before starting a project where fit is an issue

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Yarn Scarecrow

Continuing on the idea of simple yarn wrapping is the generations-old craft of a doll made of corn husks, lengths of straw or raffia, or — as is most easily taught in a short introductory class — yarn.

What better way to accessorize a yarn pumpkin but with a yarn scarecrow?

When choosing yarn for your scarecrow, there are a few things to remember:
  • A traditional yarn doll has no facial features. (Then again, neither does a real scarecrow need them.)
  • The head, torso, and legs (or skirt) will all be the same color. You can create a different-colored "shirt" by yarn wrapping over the torso or adding clothing from scraps of fabric or felt. (This is a great project for color-blocked yarns, such as Caron Cakes in a colorway such as Pistachio Fudge or Pumpkin Spice!)
  • In a traditional (no-clothes-added) yarn doll, the hands will be the same color as the arms or sleeves.
  • If you want to add a hat or a wig, you might need something to firm up the head. This could be a smaller ball of yarn or a small styrofoam ball.
  • If your local craft store sells miniature straw hats, you can use these for your yarn doll (just make your doll the correct size for the hat! If not, you can knit, crochet, or weave a hat, or just cut a hat shape out of felt. (Depending on the size of your yarn scarecrow, you can also use miniature witches' hat Halloween decorations!)
For this demonstration, I went as simple as possible for my yarn scarecrow just to give you an idea of how it can be done.
There are many websites and YouTube videos with instructions for making a yarn doll. WikiHow instructions have you braid the arms off the main body wrap; so does Sophie's World's YouTube video (which has an interesting method for adding hair before making the head.) The version I learned was closer to that of Ana Knoll's video, except that we didn't tie off the neck or remove the body from the cardboard until after we inserted the arm bundle. Ana's yarn dolls are further different in that she hot-glues felt heads onto them and adds facial features.)

To make your yarn doll into a scarecrow, you can tie the top of the head or the neck to a dowel, use a pencil sharpener to bring the other end to a point, and stick your scarecrow into a block of  hay (or covered Styrofoam). Lacking either of those, I just tied my yarn doll to an old pill bottle to get it to stand up for the photo at the top of the page.
Adding a pipe cleaner to the top-of-head knot
If you're putting your scarecrow on a wreath, use chenille stems to close the neck and waist, and use those to stick your scarecrow to your wreath.
Chenille stems or floral wires hold the neck and waist
Using the eyelets in my cloth as a stand-in for the holes in a grapevine wreath

Once your yarn scarecrow is set in place, add yarn pumpkins to your liking for a tabletop fall display.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Yarn Pumpkin Follow-Up

Yarn Pumpkin Follow-Up

Higher-End Yarn Projects Often Start With Yarn Balls

While preparing for the Caron Cakes Yarn Pumpkin class I noted that what my students will be doing is not much more than making a ball of yarn — the same thing we do before working with a yarn that is sold in hanks rather than balls or skeins. Since Michaels only sells skeined yarns, I slipped a hank of Cascade 220 Fingering yarn into my project bag to show why making yarn balls is a useful skill. (As it turned out, the way the colors of Caron cakes separate out, you need to ball them as well in order to use them... or you could just make a whole patch of yarn-ball pumpkins...)
Also, I've had enough experience with soft sculpture that I don't trust using blunt yarn needles (much less the plastic needles we were supposed to use on Saturday!), so I tucked in a few of my smaller doll needles, a supply of cheap-but-useful thimbles I bought years ago at Jo-Ann Fabric & Crafts from their Notions Wall, and some hemostats from my set of jewelry tools. (I chose not to take these along on Saturday because I was concerned about the presence of children.)

Can I Felt That For a Different Look?

Having hung around the historical costuming community (and having a friend who's an expert spinner), I looked for a yarn that might be easily felted or fulled in the washing machine and dryer. It's pretty difficult to felt or full acrylics — but a non-superwash wool should only need heat, moisture, and agitation in order to felt or full. (Felting happens when the fibers are randomly oriented and create a mat; fulling happens when the yarn fibers kink up and interlock in the direction they've been spun, woven, knitted, or crocheted. "Boiled wool" is generally fulled, not felted.)

I've wanted to play with Patons Classic Wool Roving for a while, and these pumpkins were the excuse to do so. I did up two pumpkins in "Yellow", and tossed one in the washing machine and dryer. (I left the other untouched for comparison.) Unfortunately, one trip through the wringer (so to speak) didn't do much for fulling the pumpkin; I had to take it through another cycle by hand.

While still damp, I used some old DMC Flower Floss (I would have used Six-Strand Embroidery Cotton, were it close to-hand) to create the sectioning we see on real pumpkins. I was also able to play with the pumpkin's shape, squishing it into the form I desired.

Unfulled and Fulled Pumpkins in Patons Classic Wool Roving

Adding More Color

I tried a couple of pumpkins using scraps of Lily Sugar 'n Cream. On one, I dribbled some leftover dye from a tie-dye project. While it kind of splotched (and didn't absorb well) over the dry yarn, it should work nicely over a wet yarn.

Grindle Pumpkins and Calabazas de Dios

If you're willing to spend an hour or two with the yarn needle, you can take your yarn to make the same sort of sections I made in floss (but don't pull them too tight!). These will serve as spokes for some yarn weaving. Starting from the bottom, work your yarn under two spokes, back around the spoke nearest the needle, and then around the next two spokes (the one you just went under, and the next one in line), bringing the needle under to the "top" of your previous stitch. Continue in this manner, keeping your yarn wraps close together, until you reach the top of the pumpkin. (This is the same technique people in the Renaissance through Victorian periods used to make a grindle button.) This will give you a pumpkin with "ribs" on the outside.
Grindle Pumpkin

You can also pass yarn over two spokes, and bring it back under the second spoke, and work over the whole pumpkin that way. The pumpkin below is a work in progress.

Note that is also the same technique used to make ojos de dios.)

And Back to the Yarn...

Getting More Colors With Fewer Skeins

Based on the color-sorting instructions for the Caron Cakes pumpkin, I realized that if I'm not worried about knots, I can split up regular ombré and striped yarns by color the same way. I'm using this method for working Bernat's Koala Basket, splitting up Red Heart Soft Essentials Stripes yarn in Cobblestone Stripe for the accents for a koala based in Soft Essentials Greyhound with a Peony basket. The koala's inner ears will be out of the lightest of the three shades of cobblestone grey, while I'll use the other colors for the eyes and snout.

And What About That Freebie?

It appears that the promotional Caron Cupcake is in a colorway that is not for retail sale
The way to get it was to be one of the first several people to arrive for yesterday's free yarn class. But if your store didn't have ten people attending yesterday's class, the remainder was to be put aside for that store's next free yarn class. So... depending on how badly you want that colorway, you can sign up for that free yarn class and, if you are lucky, you might just score yourself one of these cute little cupcakes.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Caron's Fall Gifts

Caron's Fall Gifts

What are Caron Cakes?

In case you've not been following "craft yarn" trends, last year, the Caron brand of yarns celebrated its 100th birthday by introducing a line of multicolored worsted-weight yarns called Caron Cakes. These started out as exclusive to Michaels Arts and Crafts stores. Most colorways of Caron Cakes are limited edition, available for a single season.

About Caron Cakes:

Unlike traditional ombres and self-striping yarns, Caron Cakes skeins are colored in blocks. The best way to describe this is somewhat Whovian: in one skein, you can create an effect like the Fourth Doctor's scarf — except that you only get one block of each of five colors per skein, and you'd need several skeins to create its notorious 18-foot (5.5 meter) original length.
The way the yarns are skeined, no two skeins of a colorway will start with the same initial length of a color, even if they both start with that color. Additionally, skeins of a given colorway may start with any of the five colors in that colorway. The result has been a lot of surprise and delight among yarn crafters, each comparing identical crafts made from identical colorways to see how they differ. This has led Caron to introduce new versions of Cakes yarns, such as summer lines of Cotton Cakes and Baby Cakes (in baby colors). For the fall, they've introduced Big Cakes (300g instead of 200), Tea Cakes (super bulky - CYC size 6) in muted tones, and Sprinkle Cakes (super-bulky yarn with occasional "eyelashes" of color) — as well as new fall colorways for their original Caron Cakes and Cupcakes.

Similar yarns:

Other yarn manufacturers have picked up on the trend, so you may find Bernat Pop! and Blanket Stripes, Premier Yarns Sweet Roll, and/or Lion Brand Mandala yarns at your local craft shop or big-box department store. Bernat has even taken inspiration from Red Heart's yarns Boutique Changes and Boutique Magical, creating Mix Home, a blocked multi-texture super-bulky yarn.

Color-blocked yarns are also moving up into the higher-end yarns. Love Knitting (a site I love) just posted its new winter yarns. Lana Grossa has several lines of color-blocked yarns, as have Rico Creative, Bergere de France, and Paintbox yarns.

How to Get a Free Caron Cupcake:

Caron and Michaels are gifting the craft community with a class on Monday, September 25, during which we will be using fall colorways of Caron Cakes to create yarn pumpkins for your fall home decor. The class is free; you just need to purchase your own ball of Caron Cakes yarn. (You do need to register at least 24 hours in advance.) In addition, the first 10 students to arrive at each store will receive a complimentary Caron Cupcake. (Cupcakes are similar to Caron Cakes except that they're smaller, lighter, and have a pompom at the inside end of the skein.)

You can use these yarn pumpkins in small displays or on a fall wreath, as shown in the Fall Door Decor project here.

More Caron Gifts:

Caron and Michaels have gifted the entire crafting community with a Caron Cakes Look Book with links to all the information you need to knit and crochet your own fall looks using Caron Cakes, Big CakesTea Cakes, and Sprinkle Cakes yarns.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Floral Pumpkin Centerpiece

A Floral Pumpkin Centerpiece

Following on from Saturday's MAKEbreak Fall Door Decor, today Michaels Stores are holding a class to make a Floral Pumpkin that can be used as a seasonal accent or centerpiece. The class is free; you just buy the pumpkin. The actual decorating supplies will differ from store to store, so if you want to use something other than the flowers and fillers your local Michaels store provides, you may need to purchase those yourself.


The project guide for last month's Fall Floral Welcome Plaque is now available on Michaels' website. Note that some of the stems and fillers are seasonal and may have sold through. Take the instructions as a general guide and choose flowers and fillers of similar size and shape, and a colorway of your choosing.

The instructions for the samples on yesterday's Fall Door Decor registration page can be found here, here, and (for kids) here.

My Demonstration Pumpkin

Build a Fall Wreath

Today, Michaels Arts and Crafts Stores had a "MAKEBreak" event from 1 to 3pm.

If you haven't heard of MAKEBreak, I think the older label, "Make It — Take It" describes it much better... While MAKEBreak is meant to be read as "take a break and make something", I read it more as "make something and break it". (How many of your childhood crafts got home from school the way they looked at the end of the class?) That said, one of the biggest virtues of the Maker movement is the freedom to break the "rules" and put existing components together in new and different ways to create useful systems and devices.

(Personal prejudice here: I dislike the co-option of the "Maker Movement" by craft stores, sewing stores, and art stores; the original idea was to use electronics and circuitry to create novel useful items, to solve problems that aren't addressed by products currently in the marketplace. In short, "everybody can be an inventor". I'm also STEAMED at the addition of "art" into STEM; I fear it will only serve to further disenfranchise the girls and women who need to get into, and understand, science and engineering.)

Today's craft was called "Fall Door Decor", but it was just creating a fall wreath. You purchased the wreath at Michaels; the store supplied the flowers, fillers, and the floral wire and hot glue to put it all together. The entire project should take about a half hour.

For children, the MAKEBreak project was to create a wreath from their own handprints. (Mom and Dad: if you've a place to store this next to their hand turkeys, you can try this again next year and show them how they've grown!) As it turned out, the hand wreath took more time than the grapevine wreath, but it turned out to be a great parent-child bonding craft.

As often happens with Michaels' floral crafts, the selection of materials will varies from store to store. Remember to sign up early for the best chance at finding a spot, and the best of the materials for your trend floral creations.

As always, there was the Saturday Morning Kids Club® from 10 to noon. Today's half-hour sessions focused on creating Craft Stick Characters.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Planner "Bookmarks" Can Hold Tablet Styli

Who Needs an Elastic Pen Holder?

I don't get the current Planner craze. For me, Google Calendar does OK, Sunrise Calendar did better, and if I really, really needed to go for the complete journaling gold, I'd break down and use Microsoft Outlook. Carrying around five pounds of paper that has to be searched through manually is, for me, a time sink.

This past Sunday's Planning With Michaels project was a "pen holder bookmark" made with felt, hot glue, and embroidery-floss tassels. Being a "Trend" class, we needed to have someone in the classroom in case someone who hadn't pre-registered for the class decided to walk in and have a go at.

Not All Tablet Covers Are the Same

I've been pretty lucky with most of my tablet covers. I bought a keyboard cover for my original tablet, a Galaxy Tab 2 7". My iPad Air 2 Smart Cover has an elastic closure, an elastic handhold, and a small elastic loop for a stylus. While there's no stylus loop on the cover for my Galaxy Tab 4 7", it has a wrist strap and a magnetic closure.

Sadly, there was no such option for my HP Stream 7" Windows tablet. While it came with an OEM cover which uses magnets to create a bit of a stand, the cover has nothing to keep it closed, and I have cracked a screen because of its flimsy nature. I cut the design's elastic strap smaller, and presto! I now have a stylus holder for my Stream.

Taking it One Step Further

One thing I really hated about the construction of this project was its reliance on hot glue. The cut felt was hot-glued to create the pen pocket, and the elastic was hot-glued to the felt. Both of these come out looking flimsy and amateurish. It would have been better to securely sew the elastic to the felt before making the pen pocket, and to blanket-stitch the sides of the pen pocket, keeping a similar look but with much better product quality.

That said, hot glue is a lot quicker than sewing, and the project was designed to be completed within two hours.

Additionally, the pen pocket came out too short and too wide to fit my Cross stylus pen; it fell out almost immediately upon picking up my now-securely-closed tablet.

And What About the Men?

Looking at my bright stylus holder, I could see a much nicer version done in suede or leather, with black elastic, holding a nice Cross stylus pen. While one could add a leather tassel, it wouldn't need one: the fine leather would speak for itself. Such a style would work for men and women alike, and could be easily feminized by using one of Michaels' pieces of soft embossed leather. It would work in a business environment as well as a casual one. I'd replace the hot glue with E6000 or leather cement, and if I were using a heavier leather, I'd also stitch the edges with artificial sinew. A second piece of leather enclosing (or hiding) the edges of the elastic would make it look even more professional.

I think I'm going to have to make one...