Friday, March 6, 2015

Fiber Arts Friday: Tatting with Marilee Rockley

The first Friday of every month is Fiber Arts Friday! Join me as we expand our horizons beyond crochet to focus on other interesting fiber and needle arts. Enjoy the beautiful projects and learn something new along the way. Today we are indeed in for a treat! Master tatter Marilee Rockley is here to tell us all about tatting. What is tatting? "Tatting is a technique for handcrafting a particularly durable lace constructed by a series of knots and loops." Ready to learn something new? Take it away, Marilee!

About Marilee
Hello, my name is Marilee Rockley. I live in the exciting, culturally diverse area of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with my husband and 3 sons. Over the years I've experimented with many fiber arts, but tatting remains my favorite. I discovered tatting as a girl when I found a small needlework how-to book stashed among my mother’s art books. Between those sketchy instructions, library books, and trial and error, I soon taught myself and fell in love with the art.

I especially enjoy designing tatted jewelry combining colors, beads, thread, and pattern. I also dye some of my own thread to achieve unique colors.

How long have you been tatting? How did you get started?
I’ve been tatting over 30 years, and designing and selling tatted jewelry since 2004. Magazine articles featuring my tatted jewelry have appeared in Bead&Button (April 2012) and Belle Armoire Jewelry (Winter 2015). I am the author of the book Tatted Jewelry published 2011 by Annie’s Attic, as well as 3 self-published books: Up and Tat ‘Em (2010), Boutique Tatting (2008), and Marilee's Beaded Tatting Finery (2014).

What advice do you have for folks who are interested in tatting?
I teach an online video Shuttle Tatting course on Craftsy and video is a great way for people to learn how to tat. The basic "double stitch" of tatting is actually a knot most people are familiar with as a "Lark's Head" knot. The tricky part in tatting is that although the thread that the shuttle is carrying does the movements to form the knot, the knot itself must be transferred or "flipped" to the other thread that's wrapped over the other hand. This takes some practice to develop a muscle memory in your hands before it becomes easy and automatic. I compare it to learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels! But, once you've "got it" about the basic double stitch, it's easy to move on to more complex designs.

Here is some of Marilee's work...

For more information, check out my blog and follow my page on Facebook. I sell my patterns, hand dyed thread, and finished items on Etsy.

Absolutely gorgeous work, don't you think? What a cool hobby. If you're interested in learning more about tatting, here's a nifty website you can visit. Thank you so very much for sharing your expertise and your pretties with us today, Marilee!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Vote for the 2015 First Quarter Crochet Awards!

Remember when I mentioned the Flamies? Well, they've recently revamped their awards system! They are now going by The Crochet Awards and are holding awards events every quarter. The current quarter is up and running. You can get in on the fun by voting for your favorites here. The contenders are chosen by a panel of experienced judges. Good luck to all those designers who are in the running!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Learn to Crochet Lesson Three: How to Single Crochet

Today I am continuing on with my series for beginning crocheters. So far we've learned how to tie a slip knot and how to work a base chain. It's time to tackle our first major crochet stitch, single crochet. The most basic of all crochet stitches are single crochet, half double crochet, double crochet, and triple crochet. Single crochet is the shortest of these. It is roughly as wide as it is tall. The boxy nature of single crochet makes it great for detailed colorwork. Single crochet is also dense, making it good for items that need stiffness and structure like purses, toys, and household items.

Don't worry too much about making a particular item while you learn. Later there will be a CAL (that means crochet-a-long) that will help you to reinforce the skills you're learning as you create a finished project. For now, just practice a bit and get acquainted with your yarn and hook as you work. Here we go!

Start by chaining any number of stitches between about 10 and 15. I chained 11. 

You will now be working from right to left on your chain stitches. Skip the first chain stitch. Remember how I said that single crochet is about as tall as it is wide? That skipped chain stitch will be your first turning chain. A turning chain moves you up vertically for each new row and ensures that your work has even edges. This means that if I chain 11 for my base chain and I'm working single crochet, I will actually end up with 10 stitches in each row. That last chain stitch became by turning chain.

Now, insert your hook into the back loop of the second chain stitch from the hook. See the purple "v's" in the picture above? Each stitch has a front and back loop. You can insert your hook under either or both of these loops on your base chain depending on what your project calls for. Today, simply insert your hook into the back loop.

Here is another view of my hook under the back loop. Now it's time to yarn over as we did when chaining. See my yarn over under my hook tip?

Time to pull the yarn over through that back loop. Depending on how you hold your hook you may twist it in your fingers slightly as you work. It might be hard at first but you will soon develop a rhythm and pulling through will be no big deal. If you become tangled up or frustrated you can always pull out your stitches and start over when you're ready to try again.

Here I have pulled through. Now I have two loops on my hook. We are almost done with 1 single crochet stitch.

Yarn over once more just as you did before. 

Finally, pull through both of the loops on your hook. That's it! Your first single crochet stitch. There is one loop left on your hook. This is your working loop that will remain as you continue. 

Here's another view of your first stitch. Notice the "v"? You will work into those loops again when you're crocheting your second row. You're ready for the next stitch!

Here I am inserting my hook into the back loop of the next chain stitch.

By following the same steps as above (insert hook, yarn over, pull through one, yarn over, pull through two), you will soon have your second single crochet stitch completed.

Here is that top view once more. See the two stitches?

Continue on in the manner until you have worked into the back loop of every chain stitch. You should now have ten single crochet stitches (or one less than your base chain). 

Let's recall what I said about turning chains. They give us the height we need for the next row. Since we are ready to start row two of single crochet, we need a turning chain of 1. Yarn over.

Pull through. You've made a sole chain stitch and your turning chain is complete. Now it's time to turn. Turning allows us to work into the stitches of the previous row from right to left.

Turning basically means flipping your item. Hold one end in each hand and rotate it horizontally 180 degrees until it looks like the picture above. 

Hey, look! There's a whole row of "v's" just waiting to be crocheted into. From now on, insert your hook under both loops of each stitch as shown in the picture above. No need to skip the first stitch, either. We already have our turning chain for height. Your first and second rows should have the same number of stitches.

Here I have worked one single crochet into the first stitch of row two.

Here is what my second row looks like when it's complete. I'm ready to work up row three! I simply need to chain 1 for my turning chain and then turn my work as before.

Here's a swatch, or small sample, of single crochet. My swatch has 12 rows. It's okay if your stitches are uneven at first. Practice makes perfect! Just keep going until you feel comfortable with single crochet.

We've covered a lot in this lesson. If you have any questions about crochet and the process I've outlined, please don't be afraid to ask them in the comments! I'd love to hear from you. Next up will be half double crochet.

Friday, February 27, 2015

From the Source Friday: SB Farms

The fourth Friday of every month is From the Source Friday! Show your appreciation to these dedicated fiber farmers as they teach you all about where your yarn comes from. Today's featured fiber is bison. Originating from prairies and grasslands, bison produce a fiber that is warm, fluffy, and strong. Shirley and Bill of SB Farms raise bison for all kinds of purposes, including fiber. Here's what they had to say about day to day life with these impressive animals.

Life on the farm...
Daily routines vary based on the season of the year.

Winter – Generally by mid-December the bison have exhausted the available pasture grass and are then moved off the pasture grazing rotations and into winter feeding lots. Here they are fed grass hay, a small amount of supplement and trace minerals. Bison eat about 2% of their body weight per day so we have to check on their hay supply daily and replenish it when necessary. We use large round bales of hay that are stored inside and are moved from the building to the feeding areas one at a time, sometimes needing 4 or 5 at a time. This can take about an hour and a half and is done regardless of rain, snow, wind, or cold. Each day we also check the water supply to be sure it is not frozen and they have access to it, and that is always has trace mineral present. All of this takes about 2 hours. 

Spring and Summer – By late March or early April the pastures have been fertilized and the grasses are beginning to grow. When the grasses reach a height of at least 6 inches we move the bison out of the winter feeding lots and into the pastures. We have 8 pastures and the herd is rotated through them based on the grass height. Each day the herd is visited to check on their well-being, check the water supply, pick up any hair that has shed, check on the trace mineral supply and monitor the grass availability. Calving season begins in late April and lasts until about mid-June. Part of the daily routine then is observing which cow had a calf, assuring the calf is OK and that the calf is nursing. This info is then recorded in our production records. In early June we begin our fly control program by mixing a fly growth inhibitor in the trace mineral and by using insects known as “fly predators”. We receive 20,000 of them per month and they are spread around the pastures and water stations. This daily routine takes about 1 hour and is performed regardless of the weather. In mid to late April we mow, rake and bale our own grass hay to be used for feeding the bison during extended summer droughts and during the winter. We try to have about 450 round bales of hay stored inside for each year’s hay feeding cycle. Once the grass reaches the optimum age and height it is mowed, raked and baled. Because the grass has to dry before it can be baled, there are usually 4 to 5 days between mowing and baling depending on the weather. Once baling is finished the bales are moved from the field to the storage building and stacked. The complete process takes from 6 to 8 days depending on the weather. The bison are rotated to different pastures based on grass height all through the spring, summer, and fall period. Moving the bison takes about 30 minutes each time.

Fall – By October we will have planted our grass for the next year’s hay crop. This takes about 2 days of work.  Near the end of the month the cows and calves are brought into our bison handling facility and we give each one a deworming shot and put ear tags on the calves. This takes about 6 hours of work with 4 people. The cows and calves are then let go back to pasture and during our daily pasture visits we observe which calf nurses which cow and is recorded by tag number. That information is then recorded in our production records. This usually takes about 30 minutes extra per day until all cow calf pairs are identified. Near the end of November we bring the cows and calves back into our handling facility and separate them. All of the calves are put into a group and all of the cows are put into a group and put back onto separate pastures. This takes about 3 hours to complete.

Bison Stories
Abandoned Calf 
Bison cows calve in the spring and generally have one calf. Sometimes 2 or 3 cows calve the same day and in order to record the birth date and the cow’s tag number we have to stay in the pasture with binoculars until we see the calves nurse a cow. One year during about the 3rd week of calving we had a cow herd in each of 2 adjacent pastures. Both herds had 4 or 5 calves with them. The pastures are about 1000 feet from our homestead. One morning I happened to look out the back of the house and there was a calf all by itself. I thought, wow! How did that calf get all the way up here by itself? With the help of my wife we caught the calf and headed down to the pastures where the cows were. Now normally when a calf gets separated from its mother the cow is extremely upset and will be in a frenzy until the calf is reunited. When we got to the pastures none of the cows appeared to have lost the calf. Well, what to do? We took the calf into the first pasture and got as close to the cows as possible and turned it loose. It ran right to the cows but no cow claimed it. We waited, the calf visited several cows and finally seemed to claim one but the cow wouldn’t let it nurse. We waited for about an hour but the calf didn’t nurse.

The next morning during our daily herd check we found the calf had gone through the fence and was with the cow herd in the adjacent pasture. We waited and watched. None of the cows claimed it and none would let it nurse. This was serious because by now the calf had not nursed for at least 24 hours. So there were only two choices: leave it on its own (which would surely result in death) or bottle feed it. So bottle feeding won. We have a neighbor who loves all animals and had quite a few on their farm: horses, pigs, cows, goats, sheep, chickens, etc. We called her and explained the dilemma and asked if she would take the orphan. “No! I can’t do it”. You have to or it will die. “I’ll call you back shortly” she says. In a few minutes she calls and says her cousin is on the way to get the calf. Great! We went back to the pasture and after about 30 minutes were able to catch the calf again and bring it up to the barn.

The cousin and his two young daughters arrived in a crew cab pick-up. The girls loved the calf. We got it to feed from a bottle, they scooped it up, put it in the back seat and away they went. The last report is he is doing well and is quite a pet.

The Great Escape 

Part of the process of raising livestock is weaning the calves from their mothers. With bison this is during late fall or early winter. One particular year we had weaned all of the calves and had put them in the same small winter feeding pasture as the breeding bulls. This is a common practice for us as the calves are with their daddies and it eases the weaning process. The weaning had been completed for several months and all of the calves had been well settled. A normal practice for us is to feed the calves a supplement several times per week after weaning. The calf feeding area is partitioned off from the pasture so the bulls can’t get to the feed but the calves can easily enter and exit. We had been using 2 five gallon buckets to fill the calf feeding bunks and the bulls always tried to get to the feed before we could get it into the calf feeding area. 

One particular day I filled the 2 buckets and walked over to the pasture gate and saw that both bulls were all the way across the pasture. I figured I could open the gate, slip in, dump the feed and get out again before the bulls knew what was happening. I opened the gate stepped in and pushed the gate shut. The wind was blowing against the gate and I figured it wouldn’t swing open so I didn’t latch it. By the time I made it to the calf feeding bunks one of the bulls came running toward me at full speed. I jumped inside with the feeding bunks and emptied the buckets. Now I was ready to leave but the bull was no more than 2 feet from me and I wasn’t about to chance coming out and trying to get by him and back to the gate. I waited, he waited. I waited some more, he waited some more. Well the only other way to get out was to climb over a seven foot wall and exit a different way – so that is what I did. I then went about finishing my chores and other necessary work.

As it happened, the weather forecast was for a snow storm coming in that night. And sure enough it started snowing and blowing about 9 PM. At about 1 AM the next morning my wife went to the bathroom and happened to look out the window. Holy cow! It was still snowing and what is that? A bison looking back at her – not 10 feet from the house? She woke me and said “the bison are out”. What?? “The bison are out” What?? How do you know? “I can see them right outside my bathroom window”. 

Oh no! Well, I’m not about to go out in this snow storm and try to get them rounded up and back where they belong I told her. So I spent most of the rest of the night listening to them roaming around the lawn and snorting and got very little sleep. At the first light of dawn I was up and saw the snow had stopped. I formulated a plan to try to get the bison rounded up and returned to their correct location. As soon as I got outside I could see bison tracks everywhere, but no bison around the house. I walked towards the pasture where I though they belonged and low and behold there they all were, in the pasture with the gate wide open. I walked over and closed and LATCHED the gate.

Here is how they got out. When I climbed over the wall to get away from the bull the previous day I didn’t go back by the gate. I forgot that I had just pushed it shut. During the night when the snow storm hit the wind changed direction and was blowing in the opposite direction. The wind blew the gate open and, being the naturally curious animals that they are, the bison decided to do some exploring.

Have a look!

Bison (American Buffalo) down is an extremely soft, comfortable product much like cashmere. It is strong, soft and very insulating and therefore warm – warmer than wool. Any item you choose to make out of this yarn will not pill – an added feature. Bison yarn needs no dying – we create the yarn using its rich, natural, chocolate brown color.

Man, I sure got a kick out of that second story, didn't you? Raising bison sounds like an adventure. If you're interested in bison yarn, SB Farms has some for sale on their website. Thank very much for all of the detailed information, Shirley and Bill!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Look at Yarn Textures

There are every so many different yarn textures. Subtle differences in texture are often due to the ply and fiber composition of the yarn. A yarn with a high silk or nylon content will be smooth. A 100% acrylic yarn might be a bit stiff and scratchy. A single ply yarn will have a loose, fluffy texture.

There are also wilder yarns whose textures are bold and different. Yarns with bold textures like boucle, fun fur, eyelash yarn, and terry cloth can bring a completely different look and feel to your projects. Today I'd like to share a plethora of yarn textures that I found while perusing my local craft store. Note their similarities and differences. Think about how they might best be used, what hook sizes would be best, etc. The goal is to expand our horizons and use texture as an inspiration.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Build-A-Bed Blanket Request

Don't you just love the feeling of climbing into your own bed each night? So cozy, so warm, so comforting. Perhaps you even have a special crochet blanket on your bed that was made with love by you or someone who cares about you. Now consider this: In eastern Kentucky there are children who spend their nights without such comforts. Either they have no bed at all or they have to share a bed with other family members. Build-A-Bed, run by Morehead State University, seeks to provide needy children with beds of their very own (along with special bedtime items) so that they can get a great night's sleep. Red Heart has picked up the cause and is calling for help. To make each bed even more special and inviting they are seeking to gift a handmade blanket along with each bed. That's where we come in! Crocheters are needed to donate blankets for the beds. You can read more information about Build-A-Bed on Red Heart's blog.

Are you ready to help? Blankets must reach Red Heart by April 1st to be included.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Reach Out Friday: Snuggles Project

The third Friday of every month is Reach Out Friday! Learn about ways that you can use crochet to help others through special charities and groups. Today we'll take a look at Snuggles Project!

When homeless animals arrive in shelters they are often very frightened. It's hard enough being a little critter alone in a big world, and now there are so many new noises, smells, animals, and people to be worried about. That's where Snuggles Project comes in. They seek to provide shelter animals with "snuggles", or small blankets/mats for them to use as a comfort item. The animal can cuddle up to their snuggle and feel just a bit safer. Great cause, right? Nobody wants to think about all those sweet little animals being so frightened when they don't have to be.

Mission Statement
"The Snuggles Project is well-known as a multi-beneficial project. The first, and most important, benefit is to the animals. After being given a Snuggle, a frightened and/or difficult to handle animal is able to become calm. This calming effect gives the animal and the caregiver time to learn how to handle the situation. We believe that this calming effect has saved the lives of many newly-sheltered animals.

The next benefit is to the shelter. The Snuggles provide a more homey environment for shelter visitors and staff. Most animal shelters have an industrial feel to them. This does not present a comfortable atmosphere for shelter visitors to stay very long. By softening the edges and adding color, visitors stay longer and can take more time to find someone to adopt. It also helps shelter staff to feel more at home and increases the amount of time that they want to spend with the animals.

Another benefit is the good feeling that the Snuggle maker (aka Snuggler) receives when they create something using a skill that they know and love for someone who really needs their gift. This personal benefit also reaches beyond the individual when they talk about the project with their friends and associates, when they teach someone else a new handcraft skill, when they find that they still have value to give something of themselves to the world.

Please join us and partake of the benefits yourself in the Snuggles Project."

Special Considerations
My recommendations for crocheting for cats are particularly relevant here and are useful to know for dogs as well. Also, Snuggles Project requests that you fill out a form to submit along with your snuggle. 

Reach Out!
Are you ready to snuggle some critters? Visit the Snuggles Project website and they will hook you up with all of the information you'll need. If you'd like you can also make a monetary donation. As a final note, a big thank you goes out to all of you who have adopted a shelter animal, enriching both their life and yours. If you've never adopted a shelter animal and you're looking for a new pet, I highly recommend doing so. Just look at how it's turned out for me...