Posts Tagged ‘crochet’

Is Handmade Truly Superior?

Isn’t that always the million dollar question among crafters? The discussion can get really ugly in some forums – there’s a lot of emotion involved in the thought. Anything you spend enough time on begins to reflect some of your own self-worth, and denying its value can be almost physically painful. But what about to people who were not involved in an artifact’s creation? From a broad, objective standpoint, is handmade truly superior? I won’t be posting much knitting here over the next couple weeks as I work on unpublished designs, to let’s have a nice discussion instead. Here’s what I’ve gleaned over the years of talking about it to countless crafters and non-crafters alike.

1. If there is something unusual about your body, handmade is the way to go.

Are your socks always too loose? The fingers of your gloves too long? Do you frequently have to choose between clothes that fit your waist or clothes that fit your hips (that’d be me)? Then loving, or being, a handcrafter is a beautiful, beautiful thing. No longer do you have to resign yourself to ill-fitting clothes. No more having to get all your professional clothing tailored either – at least some of it can surely be handmade! Since the truth is almost none of us are shaped like the mythical beings that mass-produced clothing is designed to fit, this is probably where the most undeniable value of handmade is.


Ain’t no other way to get a fit like this.

2. If you value having something unique, handmade will give you that.

You won’t find the average crafting pattern on a department store shelf. Even if you use one of the most popular patterns from one of the most popular sources for your craft, you probably won’t choose exactly the same media and exactly the same colors as many other people. Add in individualized shape and size for your extra special body, or some tweaks and technique changes for your own personal preferences, and there’s nothing else like your masterpiece in the whole entire world. If you want unique, you’ve got it.

3. For some people, the hours of sweat, headaches, and aching wrists they know went into a sweater really do make it more valuable. These people are not the majority.

Just like your baby is always the cutest, and the smartest, your handmade piece is always superior to store-bought. To you. Others who do your craft or similar crafts will probably also appreciate just how long it took you to make your piece, and just how difficult it was (or was not). They’re also the most likely to be aware of just how much that cashmere-silk blend actually cost, although ironically that’s the part non-crafters might be more likely to care about. Every now and then you’ll find a non-crafter who does truly appreciate the love that goes into every handmade object. Typically, these people have some other frequently undervalued skill, or love someone who does. However, these people who truly “get” how much of you goes into each handmade item? They are every bit as rare and precious as the item itself. Don’t assume your new friend is one of them.

Brambleton- Whole Sock

You know you can buy those for like, $5 at Walmart, right?

4. Some items will truly not ever be as good when made at gauges and with materials accessible to handcrafters.

No handmade fabric will ever truly replace denim, leather, or any number of other fabrics. Either, like leather, the material literally can not be made by hand, or like denim, the fiber may exist but human hands simply  can not work at the necessary gauge. You will never knit a pair of pants as practical as a good pair of blue jeans, and you will never crochet a bathing suit that stays put and dries as well as a store-bought swimsuit. You just won’t.

5. You can safely expect surprise gifts to end in tears and resentment. For everyone.

It can be surprisingly difficult to identify those rare people mentioned in #3. Even if they ask you, unsolicited, to make them something that’s no guarantee they really understand what they’re asking for. If they never ask, it may be because they don’t want anything handmade, but it could also be because they do understand how big a gift something handmade can be, and they don’t feel right asking for so much. Add in the fact that art is highly personal, and what one person finds beautiful may be garish or boring to another. How many bizarro, random gifts have you gotten from well-meaning friends or relatives (the proverbial reindeer sweater, anyone?) over the years that made you wonder whether the giver actually knew you at all? Were you then resentful about having to trot the gift out every time you saw the person after? Now imagine you’re on the other side of that exchange, and the beautiful gift you put hours and hours of thought and effort into gets an, “Oh…thank you” in response. More tears and resentment. Even worse if you’re making something where sizing is important, like a sweater – more effort AND more chances to make it unusable. Trust me, it’s much happier if everyone involved knows exactly what’s going on, and everyone opted in.

Selfish knitting is more fun anyway!

Selfish knitting is more fun anyway!

So what do you think? Is handmade superior?

Looking Back

In just a few hours, 2013 will officially be over. What did I accomplish this year? Well, there were some big life “things” this year, most notably the new house and new pup.


But this is a crafting blog. What about my crafting accomplishments? This year I knit 9168 yards, plus a few more if you count a WIP and a design sample not currently registered in Ravelry.


I released 10 new designs and made a serious effort to get my name out there more. Although I managed to afford Ravelry advertising for the first time recently (tech and photo editing had previously sucked up pretty much everything I made), I think the Giftalong was actually the best thing I did for sales all year.

Swept Away


I finished 5 adult sweaters and one baby sweater. I created a total of 19 knit projects and 3 crochet ones that are publicly viewable on Ravelry. Swept Away got the most favorites of the bunch, but I think September Storms gets the most day to day use.

September Storms cover


I also got the hang of spindle spinning and acquired a spinning wheel. I still wouldn’t quite say I’m adept at the wheel, but I’m getting better. It is definitely one more thing on the list of fibery addictions. I can’t even begin to estimate what kind of yardage I spun this year, since so much of it will never be knit. Maybe next year I’ll add a spinning widget to the knitting one.

I did not shrink my stash noticeably. I made plenty with it, but it’s pretty much all been replaced with more. I’m still gonna call that one a win.

P.S. Today is my birthday, did you get a gift from me? If you have one of my patterns in your Ravelry wishlist, you might have! Log in to find out.


Survival is definitely the theme of this week. I did manage to survive to Winter Break (obviously), although the virus I always seem to get on breaks from school showed up right on time. Unfortunately my schedule does not slow down for a couple days yet. The Winter Break Plague doesn’t seem to know about that particular part of my calendar!

tree skirt

“Christmas Tree Skirt No. 1971” by Carole

However, in addition to surviving 39 hyperactive ten year-olds the week before vacation and (for many of them) Christmas, I have also now survived the darkest days of the season. The solstice was yesterday, and each day from now on will be just a bit brighter than the one before it, literally.


“Striped Apple” by Ala Ela

We’re also having a fantastically unseasonable warm spell, just days after our last dusting of snow. It’s supposed to be back to unseasonably cold by tomorrow evening, but for now I’m enjoying it. I’m clinging to little things like the warm and the returning sun to help me get through these next few days of being incredibly social while I’d rather be curled up in bed.


No pattern. Just Sharktopus.

Most of my knitting right now is samples and swatches that I can’t share with you, so instead I’m sharing a few of my favorite little holiday projects I’ve done over the years. Happy crafting is another great way to survive the “endless” bits!

GAL Interview: Jennifer Raymond

As part of the Giftalong, several participating designers are making guest appearances on other blogs. This week I’ve interviewed Jennifer Raymond (Jennifer Raymond on Ravelry) of Tinking Turtle Designs. Read on to learn more about this under-rated designer!

How/why did you begin designing?  I come from a very strong strain of people who like to take things apart and put them back together – though I didn’t think of it that way until I was older.  My grandfather was very good with his hands, and love to take apart and repair clocks and all manner of things made from wood (he even built his own house).  My great grandmother used to write patterns for newspapers, punch rug hook, and crochet like a fiend.  My grandfather’s sisters are both excellent at sewing and knitting.

In addition, I wasn’t very good at following directions (because when I first learned to knit/crochet, I wasn’t very good at reading, and later, because I thought I knew better than the pattern-writer).

So I was designing for a long time, about 15 years or so, without it being any more than just something I did.  In college, and after, my husband (then boyfriend) started to point out that I could make a career out of what I did – and I laughed.  He kept saying I could make money from knitting and crochet, and the more he said it, the better an idea it sounded.  When we moved to the Metro Washington, DC area, the thought reached a critical mass, and I began the process of researching what it would take to become a professional in the industry.

one salt sea

One Salt Sea by Jennifer Raymond

What’s your design process like?

I publish both independently and through magazines, and my design process tends to be dictated by a couple of different factors.  Sometimes, I have an idea, often what I think of as a “what if…?”  It normally starts with the thought, “What if I did ____?”  Sometimes I want to know just what it would look like, sometimes it’s because I see a stitch pattern I like, sometimes it’s colors, sometimes it’s shape.  But I’ll ask myself, “What if I used a slip stitch pattern on a shawl?  What would that look like?  How would I shape it?  What would make people like to wear it?” And then I try to answer that question.  I like answering design calls, because it already asks that question, a little bit.

Sometimes I’ll design something with a purpose.  My husband wanted an “aviator scarf.”  Well, I made him a scarf, my interpretation of an aviator scarf.  Same thing with a bag I made, I wanted something that served a purpose.  But in a way, I suppose that’s answering a question also, because I ask myself, “What would a knit aviator scarf look like?” or “What do I need in a crochet bag?”

One of my favorite variation of a “What if…” is when learn a new skill.  I learned a new way of doing a type of slip stitch a couple of months ago, and I got really excited about the technique.  I tried to do what I affectionately call “breaking it.”  That is, I try and push the technique until it breaks down, until it starts to stop looking interesting and starts to look bad/distort the fabric in a way that defeats the purpose of using knits.  In trying to find the limits of a technique, you figure out how it can be used in new ways.  For instance, intarsia works really well as a way to also make patches for a knit piece.

Unlike many designers, you have both knit and crochet patterns available. Do you find most of your audience is bicraftual too?

I don’t think it’s so much that my audience is bicraftual, as I don’t have a big enough list to really start seeing trends either way.  Instead, I feel that if I design in both knit and crochet, that widens my audience.  It means that I can apply to design calls from a variety magazines – and it doesn’t matter if it’s knit or crochet, because I can do both.

But the main reason I publish both knit and crochet is because my creative part of my brain doesn’t really see a difference.  In many other countries (Japan comes to mind) knitting and crochet aren’t viewed as different crafts.  My understanding is that the kanji for crochet in Japan translates roughly into “knitting with a hook.”  I think it’s really only in the last 60 years that knitting and crochet has become so stratified in the United States.  Before that, you’d see many projects that had both knitting and crochet.  There are things that knitting does well, and things crochet does well.  My creative side doesn’t quite understand that they should be viewed differently.  Logically I know that there’s good reasons to specialize, but I think if I limited myself to just one, it’d make me sad.

tunisian cat

Tunisian Cat by Jennifer Raymond

Why indie patterns? Why do you publish them, and why should crafters buy them?

Indie patterns are great for a lot of reasons!  Being that I publish both independently and with traditional publishing, I know that there’s some great reasons to support both industries.  I love indie patterns because designers can create things for very niche markets, and can create things that just wouldn’t work in a magazine.  Indie designers (if they publish online) don’t have to be worried about space, so you’ll find patterns that wouldn’t be published in magazines (or even some books) because of cost of printing issues.  Indie designers can sometimes “hold your hand” a bit more,  offering more support for patterns in the terms of tutorials (in patterns, blogs or youtube) and even in terms of being able to contact the designer.

Magazines and books, I think, in the crafting market have a wonderful place.  They can teach and educate, and they reach very wide audiences.  But because publishing schedules are so long (often, I’ll be designing something a year before it will be published), they can be slow to react to trends.

Indie designers can be a lot faster with their design releases.  They are more nimble, and they often have a close relationship with their audience, so if enough customers tell a designer they want something, a designer can react to that information much faster.  Plus, when you buy an indie pattern, you are supporting the designers directly, which is a wonderful thing.

Either way, I think it is important to make sure that designers are compensated for their time, creativity, and experience.  Most times, when you buy indie, you know they are being compensated fairly, because the indie designers are the ones setting the price.  There is a lot more transparency.

Do you have a favorite tool or yarn?

I love, with a fiery passion, locking stitch markers.  I love them so much I bought a whole bunch of them.  I love them because there are so many uses for them.  I also like my grandmother’s really sharp sewing needles.  If I could only have one sewing needle, it would be one of those, because I could use the threader end as a blunt tip needle.

swirl socks

Swirl Socks by Jennifer Raymond

What’s your favorite thing you’ve designed?

Ack!  How do you answer that?  There are things I like that I’ve designed because I think they are elegant solutions to a question – I like my Totoro socks because they are a pattern that does not stand out or dig into your feet.  I love Witchlace because the math was hard (so hard!) but it came out looking so flattering and exactly as I wanted it to.  I love my Swirl Socks because they are the most comfortable socks I own.  Designs: how can you pick just one?  When I’m working on something, I have to love it enough to spend some time with it, so I’ll be motivated to finish it even when the task becomes hard.  If I don’t have that love, I think it shines through some ways, and most times, I’m not as motivated to finish the idea through.

What has been the highlight of the GAL for you?

I love the diversity of ideas that the GAL has been able to highlight.  I love that a group of people who are very independent and motivated can band together to make something really cool.  I’m hoping next year, with a little bit more lead time, I might be able to volunteer and help out more.

Now for the best part: Jennifer has agreed to give away one of her patterns to one of my fabulous readers! She is offering the winner’s choice of One Salt Sea, Outrageous Orange, Tunisian Cat, Sweet Strawberries, or Swirl Socks. To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us which pattern you want the most, and why. Don’t forget to leave your contact info (Ravelry names preferred)! I will choose a winner from the comments next Wednesday, December 18 and then Jennifer will be in touch with your prize!

Moral Support

You guys are fantastic! I did force myself to commit to one (okay, two) project(s) for a while, and wonderful things have happened.

shell bag


I finished the Lace Shell Basket that’s been languishing in my WIPs pile since summer, and stuffed it full of all our hats and scarves and whatnot (See my Smitten Glittens peeping out of the top? I wear those so much they’re starting to come apart).

black hole


I also finally finished the other front of my Black Hole cardi, and started a sleeve. That sleeve is actually twice as long as it looks, because I had to rip back and cast on with waaaaay fewer stitches than called for. Still, I have been productive and stayed committed. Thanks for the moral support!


I’m going out of town in a couple days, and that trip will involve both planes and a really long time on a bus. Of course I’m going to need plenty of knitting, but I may have overdone it a bit. Maybe.



The shawl is coming with, of course, because it’s still fun and because I have just over a month left to finish it in time for my friend’s wedding. I will not be bringing the beads for the third section though, because beads and travel just sounds like a bad combination. So “in case” I manage to finish the center pattern (or more likely, run out of attention span for lace), I cast on some new projects.

wheel cover


The steering wheel cover for my sister’s car, in all it’s silky, lovely glory, seems like it will be a quick knit. Quick can lead to finished with nothing else to work on! Gasp!


So I also cast on another scarf for the Operation Gratitude knit-along. My first scarf for the KAL’s been done since shortly before I moved, so I was due to start another anyway. This one should take a while – possibly long enough to keep me occupied while traveling! But then I remembered someone once told me that crochet hooks get less questioning than knitting needles on planes. I’ve never had my knitting questioned at the airport, but I figured just in case…



I’d better start that lovely basket/wine tote pattern of G-Ma Ellen’s that’s been in my queue forever. It’ll be nice to have someplace pretty to store our hats and mittens and whatnot this winter. And nice to be really darn sure I’m not going to run out of things to knit and crochet. But I’m loading up the Kindle just in case.


The Return of the Light

The solstice has passed and with it, the darkest days of the year. In honor of the slowly returning sunlight, I’m going to take a moment to appreciate the other things bringing light to my life right now.

Thanks for your generosity!

Thanks for your generosity!

The donations from this  post have been made, and giving, no matter how small the donation, always makes me feel a bit warm and fuzzy. I hope the families of Sandy Hook and recipients of NAMI’s aid are also feeling a bit more warm and fuzzy now.


On more of an “immediate gratification” level, my coworkers were very excited and gracious about the apples and handful of cabled bracelets I made for them. I deliberately chose projects that wouldn’t take more than 30 minutes or so apiece so I wouldn’t feel crushed if they were simply met with a polite smile. However, there was a literal gasp of excitement as two of my office-mates arrived at the same time and rushed over to the basket, then immediately began negotiations over who got the orange bracelets and where the best place to hang an “amazing” ornament like one of those apples might be.


I also taught a student to crochet during the little party we had at the end of the last school day. He was really intrigued by the apple ornaments and wanted to know how to make them, but I unfortunately didn’t have any knitting with me that day. I did have my half-finished tree skirt in the car though, which is crocheted. He took to it like a fish to water, picking up the hook and producing perfect single crochets after watching me make all of 3 stitches. He can now lay claim to most of a row in my new Christmas tree skirt, and I am proud as can be.

tree skirt

Which leads me to my final bit of joy today. All of the presents are wrapped, just about all of the baking is done, and there is nothing left for me to do but enjoy this Christmas Eve in peace. Whether you’re celebrating anything this week or not, I hope you’ll find a little time to appreciate the light in your life during this dark time of year. Love and peace to all!

Being Bicraftual

With the new school year underway my time lately has been pretty consumed by trying to figure out how to cram all 10 of us into our room and trying to figure out schedules, new official forms, new laws, etc. I’ve knit maybe 40 stitches since my last post. So instead of boring you with my absolute lack of crafting this week, I’m going to expand on a story I shared with Gmaellen last week.

crochet hook



I learned to knit at a fairly young age, after my family full of crocheters pretty spectacularly failed at teaching me how to crochet. I always maintained an interest in crochet, but somehow had it set in my mind that it was something I just couldn’t do. I was a knitter, not a crocheter. In my mind you really couldn’t be both.

Then I discovered that my crocheting friend “A” could also knit. She insisted that crocheting was even easier than knitting and I could definitely pick up the basics in an afternoon or two. She even offered to loan me one of her hooks and teach me right then and there. I was skeptical, but since she was my friend I agreed.

honeymoon potholders

Crocheted these on the plane during our honeymoon. Airlines never complain about crochet hooks.

I quickly worked up a foundation chain, which was about as far as I’d ever gotten before. Chain stitches aren’t wildly different from slip knots, so they always made sense. After that I was lost. I watched “A” easily form row after row of single, double, and triple crochet but I just could not make my stitches look like hers. I may at one point have accused her of magic.

Finally, after what felt like hours but was probably about 30 minutes, I had the hook going in the right directions without 30 seconds of thought before each stitch, and I was definitely making fabric. I was excited, and proudly showed “A” my work. She looked at my work, and looked at me, and looked back at my work. After a moment, she informed me that I had just discovered how to knit with a crochet hook.

dance skirt

I literally wore this skirt out.  Pattern “Lara’s Dance Skirt” by Doris Chan.

At that point I was pretty ready to accept that I would never be “bicraftual” and throw in the metaphorical towel. “A” was not ready to give up though. She really dialed it back to the basis and even compared each part of each step to knitting. There were a lot of YOs, k2togs, k3togs, and picked up stitches in my early crochet stitches, or so I thought. Looking back now as a trained teacher I know she was lowering my affective filter, but at the time I just called it a miracle.

That Christmas we exchanged lapghans and I’ve been both knitting and crocheting ever since. It still makes me proud.


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