Friday, May 11, 2018

A Yarn Story in Bath, England

If you've been following my Instagram account, you know that I recently took a trip to London and Paris. The trip was a rather last-minute affair made possible by my best friend, Alex. His company sent him to London for work, and he paid my plane fare so that I could come along. Since I didn't have to pay for airfare or hotel, I was able to see and do some amazing things. Thanks, Alex! I would not have been able to travel at this time in my life without his support.

I'll only be focusing on one facet of my trip here on this blog. Check my Instagram for more pictures!

One of the amazing things I did was take a day trip out of London and around England. On that day trip, I ended up in Bath. The tour bus dropped us off in a fairly touristy area of bath, right next to a famous abbey and the baths that were built during the Roman takeover of the area.

The Roman baths were fairly expensive to enter, so I decided to pass. I did take a nice tour of the abbey. It was interesting to see the beautiful carvings inside.

We had limited time in Bath, so many folks from my tour group decided to stay in the touristy area. For both better and worse, I'm a rather adventurous person. I wanted to see more of what Bath was like away from the hubbub. And so, despite the very real possibility of accidentally getting lost and/or missing my tour's departure, I wandered off.

Looking around at all of the buildings was amazing. They are all made out of the same kind of stone, even the houses. Houses in the United States are often made out of wood, or metal and concrete in the case of downtown Seattle apartments. I had never seen so many stone buildings all together.

I decided that I needed a destination. Hmm... restaurant? No, not enough time. Not enough time to go through a Jane Austen tour, either (besides, she hated Bath). Figuratively crossing my fingers, I typed "yarn store" into Google Maps.

Wouldn't you know it... there was a yarn store in walking distance! I immediately began hoofing it up the hill.

Thus, I came upon an English yarn store! I was excited to go inside and see how it would compare to the yarn stores I'm familiar with.

The store was very similar to those in Seattle. They even had some of the same local brands that I am familiar with, brands from Oregon and Washington! The women running the shop were very friendly. I found out that one of them was originally from Portland, Oregon. It's a small world after all!

I didn't have much room in my luggage for souvenirs, seeing as I had only brought a backpack and a purse with me. However, I wanted to get a small gift for my cat sitter, Ariel of Stariel Knits. Here is what I chose: a mini-skein that I could squish in somewhere.

After leaving the store, I realized that I needed to hurry down the hill. I walked quickly and took a few photos as I went.

Happily, I managed to get to my tour bus on time! Traveling abroad for the first time was a truly amazing experience. I will be able to look back on it with joy for the rest of my life. I even managed to go to a yarn store! Life can be so good.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Review: Synchrony Yarn from Brown Sheep Company

Today, I will be reviewing Synchrony, a DK weight yarn from Brown Sheep Company. Disclaimer: I received this complimentary yarn in exchange for a review. I am not being paid to write this review and everything shared here is my real opinion. Big thanks go out to Brown Sheep Company for providing me with yarn to test.

With the winter doldrums of the Pacific Northwest finally wearing off, I've been feeling pretty bold lately. I'm enjoying trying new things, being adventurous, and getting the most out of life. This new attitude has also been reflected in my yarn and pattern choices. When I was presented with the opportunity to try Synchrony yarn, I got really excited. All of the colors are so fun! It was really hard to decide which one I wanted. Also, I don't normally work with DK weight yarn. I've done a lot with bulky, worsted, and fingering weight yarns, but not DK. What a perfect opportunity to play with something new!

Synchrony is 60% Pima Cotton and 40% Merino Wool. This makes it both sturdy and soft.

Since I've been in such a party mood lately, the colorway I settled on was Soiree. I totally love it! It is bold and exciting. Plus, I've always found marled yarn to be very attractive. The yarn wound very easily, with no snags.

Crochet is my first love, so I decided to choose a crochet project for it. I finally settled on Fat Bag, a free pattern by Samanta Maragno. The original pattern makes a large bag. However, I'm being bold! I decided to try the pattern with DK and a smaller hook in the hopes of making a small purse. It went wonderfully! Even though the direction of the twist made the plies come apart a little while I crocheted, I had no issues with the hook catching. It was very smooth and enjoyable to work with. I think the bag turned out super hip! The pooling is very even, producing a modern finished item.

This yarn is awesome and I'd happily work with it again. It took so much less yarn to make my purse than I expected, so I have a whole hank left. I am currently knitting with it, which is just as pleasant as crocheting with it was.

I'll have to share my improvised knit bag with you when it is complete. In the meantime, here is some info on Synchrony and Brown Sheep Company:
  • Brown Sheep yarns is a family-owned and operated company located in Mitchell, Nebraska. 
  • Synchrony blends pima cotton and merino to create a springy yet sturdy yarn. 
  • In DK weight, Synchrony pairs perfectly with our Cotton Fleece and Serendipity Tweed yarns.
  • The mill employs sustainable practices such as recycling 70-90% of their daily waste water.
  • Brown Sheep Company buys the majority of their wool directly from the growers who have a variety of good wool breeds such as Corriedales, Rambouillets, and Columbians.
  • Not only are Brown Sheep yarns excellent for knitting and crocheting, they are great for weaving as well! They also offer roving for handspinners.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Guest Post: Choosing and Using a Crochet Word of the Year with Kathryn Vercillo

Kathryn Vercillo of Crochet Concupiscence is a crochet maven I've known for several years. I really appreciate her, and I've especially appreciated her encouragement and advice. Her passion comes through in everything she does. I'm honored to share this guest post, written by Kathryn. In it, she shares some unique advice for framing your crochet around a "word of the year." All text and photos below belong to Kathryn. Enjoy!

Choosing and Using a Crochet “Word of the Year”
By Kathryn Vercillo

Some people choose a “word of the year” at the start of each new year to set an intention for the year. It is a terrific practice for giving focus to your life in the months ahead. Although it’s helpful to begin at the new year, choosing a word to work with is something that you can begin at any time of the year. Believe it or not, crochet can be a key part of working with your word for personal growth and development. In this post, you’ll learn a five-step process for choosing and using a word in crochet. Note that this presumes that you already know how to crochet – at least the basic crochet stitches – but that you don’t have to have any advanced crochet skills for this exercise.  

Step One: Choosing a Word

There are many different approaches to choosing your word for the year. Personally, I do a lot of mulling over and journaling but also just let my mind wander and see what sticks. The word has to excite me enough that I think I'll want to commit a year to its use in my life, and I know in my gut immediately whether or not a word does that. That said, it's not at all unusual for me to select a word only to discover a week or two later that it's not the right word because there's a better one. For example, I thought for sure that my 2018 year was going to be "hope" but then later realized that instead I'm going to investigate (dis)comfort (technically two words, I know). If the right word comes at any time, stay open to recalibrating.

The word you choose does not have to be a lofty, abstract ideal or virtue. We often feel like we must choose such words (hope, gratitude, change, peace, discipline). And that's fine, but sometimes such words can be too limiting, too intangible, too hard to live up to. It's perfectly wonderful to choose a more common word, a noun (butterfly, shell, home) or a place (Hawaii, Iceland) or a word inspired by craft itself (which we'll explore more below). You can take the choosing of your word very seriously but you don't have to; this is meant to make your life better and easier and more fun, providing a little structure for your own growth but not in arms rigid, painful, stressful way.

How does this relate to crochet? First, you may use meditative crochet to help you find your word of the year. That downtime in crafting, the time when your hands are stitching away and colors flowing into shapes, is great for bringing a keyword to the surface. For a more active connection to crochet, you could brainstorm a list of words that you think of related to crochet and to choose your word from this list. You might include words that are specific to the craft (stitch, treble, rows, yarn) and you might include words that the craft makes you think of (cozy, inspired, relaxed, skillful).

Here is a list of words from the world of crochet that you might want to pull from in selecting your word of the year: Loop, hook, craft, granny, chain, single, double, treble, ripple, chevron, motif, doily, vintage, handmade, frog, skein, hank, hands, insert, pull through, popcorn, cluster, bullion, bobble, picot, edging, finish, weave, ends, join, cable, color, creativity, self-expression, arrange, lay flat, shell, Tunisian, basketweave, lace, stitch, row, round, gauge, freeform, art, decor, garment, toy, pattern, symbol, abbreviation, graph, increase, decrease, work in progress

Step Two: Investigating the Word

Once you have a word, spend a few weeks or months really digging into that word. Get curious about it in every way that you can and explore those curiosities. Of course, you'll probably do some version of this throughout the year but it’s especially important to immerse yourself in it early on. During this time, I look up the definition of the word and its synonyms and find books with the word in its title or subject and ask others what they think of when they hear this word. I try to generate even more interest in the word within myself than I had as the year began by getting to really know this word.

During your deep dive into the word, take some time to research the relationship of the word to crochet. Some Googling will get you started - pair your word with "crochet" or "yarn" or "craft" or "hobbies" to get inspired ideas about how your word might relate to crochet out there in the world. Ask crocheters that you know what the word makes them think of, particularly in regards to the craft. This year, I'll look at how crochet makes people comfortable / uncomfortable. Last year I learned about immersion dyeing of yarn and thought about the possibility of immersing myself in a crochet retreat. If you can't find strong links between your word and crochet, try synonyms of your word as well as tangents that your word makes you think about.

Step Three: Going Inside

In the process of learning all about the word, I certainly do a lot of thinking about what the word means to me personally. The next step is to dig even deeper into this. How do I relate to the word? What has come up emotionally or tangibly as I've investigated this word? I journal more during this time, pondering it more, working with it more as it relates directly to my own experience. In 2017, my word was “immerse”. I thought that maybe during this time I would immerse myself in one of those sensory deprivation tanks; I didn't do that, but I did think about why I would or wouldn't do that. It's good to have goals for this project and you still benefit when you don't meet all of them.

Let’s bring this back to crochet. Again, you can use meditative crochet to dig deeper into the word’s meaning for you. You can work with affirmations in crochet, repeating the same mantra after each round, to reflect upon the word. Sometimes coming up with the affirmation is easy ("I immerse myself in the joy of crochet") but even when it's less obvious, it can be done ("My crochet is like a butterfly, powerful in its transformation.")

Crochet can also be a way to lighten your exploration of the word and make it easier and more fun to work with. In journaling, you can only do so much with the word itself. Sometimes it feels too heavy and serious and frankly just confusing to ask yourself repeatedly, "what do I think about immersion today?" (or "when should I choose discomfort over comfort"). But you can tie the word with crochet and the investigation becomes a little simpler ... What do I feel about immersing myself in crochet? What are the benefits of doing so? It's easier to grasp onto this tangible thing and to work with it in small bites, through a yarn language that I understand. Pair your word with “crochet” and see where it takes you.

Step Four: Reaching Outside

Next, I try to turn the study of the word from inwards to outwards, and more specifically to how I can use this word to connect with others. In what ways does this word relate to my community, to my work, to my relationships, to the art I share? I didn't end up doing a whole lot with "immerse" in the third quarter of 2017, but one goal I had in mind was that when I went on a very special trip to my mom's hometown with her and my siblings, I would not take any work or other distractions and would fully immerse myself in being there with them. Doing so was invaluable.

Crochet can be a way to connect us with other people. We can gift our crochet, donate it to charity, crochet simply with the intention of another's benefit in mind. We can crochet to calm ourselves down and make ourselves happier with the secondary goal of improving our relationships with others, increasing our patience and kindness towards the world around us. We can crochet in ways that connect us to the people around us. These techniques can be combined with your word in creative ways as you think about how to use both to reach out to your community.

Find ways to relate your crochet to the word while linking it with your values. If I care about the environment, I learn about what yarn dye immersion is and how my choices around the purchasing of that fiber do and don't impact the environment. Or I think about how I can "immerse" myself in my crochet community. Or I immerse myself in a crochet project for a specific person. If your word is "butterfly", how does fiber processing impact their environment? Or what can we learn from the ways butterflies migrate to inform our own travels to other parts? Get creative, make links in your mind between the word, the craft and what matters most to you in relation to others outside of yourself.

When sharing your crochet, as gifts or online or in art shows, add labels and captions and messages that incorporate your word. Ask yourself how your crochet and this word can strengthen your connections and act upon that.

Step Five: Reflection

I don't like to put too much pressure on the word's power or importance. I like it to be a guiding point throughout the year but I don't ever want it to feel like an obligation. After researching and looking in and out, I have a good sense of the word, and I like to take time to just kind of relax with it and reflect upon it. Sometimes new things come up or I try things that I had thought of earlier in the year but didn't explore. Sometimes it's just a period of rest and rejuvenation and not paying too much attention to the word, letting it relax into the background while waiting for a new word to emerge to start the process over again.

We need time to rest with our word, and crochet is such a great way to rest. As your hands work with yarn, the loops come together into a fabric ... and the different stories and situations from throughout the year come together in a narrative in the mind. Crochet is the jumping off point for exploring our word and the tool that gives us space to reflect upon it.

This has been a guest post by Kathryn Vercillo, blogger at Crochet Concupiscence and author of several books, including Crochet Saved My Life and Mandalas for Marinke. You can support her work with micro-donations through Patreon.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Crochet Pattern: Redshift Infinity Scarf and Hat Set

Even though spring is just around the corner, it's still pretty chilly out. If you're still feeling the need to cozy up, why not work up my new pattern? With both a scarf and hat included, it's a great deal! You can find it on Ravelry and Craftsy.

Tall, cold, and cozy-loving ladies will love this extra long infinity scarf and hat set. This squishy infinity scarf can be wrapped around twice for a longer look and three times for a shorter look. You will need four colors. The unique dance between texture and color make this scarf red hot! A sweet hat completes the look. A light worsted yarn is the best choice for this project. This pattern is gift-ready and smooth to craft.

This pattern is a part of the Cerebral Crochet Series. For your entertainment, a few fun facts about redshift are included at the end of the pattern.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Kangaroo Leather Experiment

Yep, you read the title correctly... kangaroo leather. I ended up being given an entire bag of kangaroo leather scraps when I purchased a gift from a retail store near my workplace. The store sells traditional western apparel and gifts, including many items made of leather. Since leather is made from animal skin, there are many different types of animals that can be used. This includes kangaroos!

Keep in mind that I have absolutely no experience working with leather.

What to do with a bag of kangaroo leather? Well, I decided to experiment. I started by sorting the thin strips and the chunky pieces into separate piles. Ranna cat was fairly interested in this process, so I gave her a strip to play with.

My hope was to crochet with the strips. I wanted to make a belt or a mat with my 8mm hook. However, working with the leather turned out to be way more difficult than I expected. It did not slide nicely on the hook, instead clinging to the hook and to itself. The results were... um... interesting. By interesting, I mean horrible.

Yikes. Maybe a second run would be better? I selected the thinnest leather strip that I could find and tried again with the loosest tension I could manage. The results were a bit better, but still sloppy.

It seems as though leather strips are not ideal for crochet. At this point, it was time to go rogue and try other crafts. Braiding the leather looked decent.

Tying a bunch of knots in it didn't look too bad, either.

Finally, I remembered all of the macrame hemp jewelry I used to make in high school. I tried out a simple style with the leather and it worked out well.

By this time my hands smelled funny and I hadn't accomplished much. Thus, I ended my short and sad foray into the world of leather. I think I'll stick to what I know. Do you have any experience working with leather?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Review: Eucalan Delicate Wash

Today, I'll be reviewing Eucalan Delicate Wash. Disclaimer: I received this complimentary product in exchange for a review. I am not being paid to write this review and everything shared here is my real opinion. I'm thankful for the opportunity to review this gift pack. The package even included a handwritten note from the CEO of Eucalan. Super classy! The gift pack includes five scents: lavender, grapefruit, eucalyptus, jasmine, and unscented. They all smell very nice.

Wanna know a true story? I can be pretty lazy when it comes to 'proper' care of my clothes. Dry clean only? Well, I hope it doesn't get ruined when I toss it in the wash! Lay flat to dry? Guess I'm throwing it on the drying rack! Hand wash only? I hope the gentle cycle does the trick!

This attitude also extends to my finished objects. I know that a diligent, mindful yarn-lover would take the time to care for their handmade items on a regular basis in the most thoughtful way possible. However, I am a super busy person. I have an intense full-time job, a boyfriend, wonderful friends, more chores than seem reasonable, a karaoke habit, my designing... Who has time to hand wash and block a scarf after each wear? Therefore, I think I am the perfect person to review this delicate wash. I'm not even a typical user... I'm perhaps a shade lazier.

Check out my scrunched up, well-worn example items. I chose a crochet scarf that is a silk wool blend, a woolen knit cowl, and a silk scarf by Laurel Burch that I never got around to having dry cleaned.

The directions on the bottle say to fill the basin with room temperature water and then soak your items for at least 15 minutes. Totally reasonable. However, lazy Sara watched the sink fill about halfway before putting the crochet and knitting in and then dumping in some wash. I didn't even measure how much I was using; I just eyeballed it. As a result, there were some suds when the wash met with the running water.

You know what? This delicate wash is awesome! I took a relaxed approach to its use and it still went wonderfully. The best part is that you don't even have to rinse it out! You just squeeze out your now nice-smelling items and lay them out (which for me means putting them on the drying rack). I spent the 15 minutes they were soaking doing some other chores, so it worked out really well. Super easy, even for a lazy person like me. Side note, don't you think the squeezed out objects look like pretty flowers sitting in the sink?

When I washed the silk scarf, I was a little more regimented. I waited until the basin had filled before adding the wash, and I also measured it more carefully. I washed it separately so it wouldn't pick up any dye from the other two items.

Again, so easy. No rinsing needed. I think the no-rinse aspect and the good scent selection really make this delicate wash a winner. Grapefruit is my favorite one.

I had a great experience using this wash. It's so easy to use that I'll actually be willing to wash my items more often. In fact, I got inspired to use it to wash my bras. I hate washing my bras because I have to hand wash them, then rinse them, then hang them out. However, the no-rinse quality of the Eucalan wash meant I could just throw them in the washer on the soak setting and then spin them. So much less effort, and they came out clean. Sometimes regular detergent ends up making my bras itchy, but they weren't itchy this time. Win!

I wholeheartedly endorse Eucalan Delicate Wash. It's easy to use, smells nice, and gets the job done -- even though I was lazy about it. Before I tested it, I thought about sharing a bottle or two with my fiber friends... but now I think I'll keep it all to myself :3 Here are some additional details from Eucalan:
  • Eucalan Delicate wash is a delicate no-rinse wash that is perfect for caring for handmade items.
  • Our formula is non-toxic, pH neutral, biodegradable, and free of optical brighteners, phosphates, synthetic fragrance and dye.
  • Eucalan is scented with only quality essential oils (which are naturally antiseptic), in addition to natural/unscented.
  • The lanolin acts as a natural conditioner, keeping fibres supple and reducing static.
  • Eucalyptus and Lavender are naturally moth- and flea-repellent, making them an excellent choice for wool fibres and fabrics.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Fiber in the News: Incan Knotted Rope

I recently came across this cool piece on the Inca's use of string in recording their world. It is so fascinating! Have a listen or a read over at NPR. What an interesting use of fiber! I can't share any pictures of the ropes here because I haven't gotten permission. However, if you do an image search of these ropes, you'll fine that they have a certain beauty to them. They remind me of sun rays.

This is once of the more unique uses of fiber arts that I have seen. Have you seen any unique uses of yarn or string? Share in the comments!