Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Yarn Bombing - Activism and Social Statements in Yarn

Yarn Bombed Trees in the Castle Crown Wilderness Area:

Have you ever heard of yarn-bombing? It's graffiti made out of yarn - either knitted or crocheted. Sometimes it's created simply to beautify an area, sometimes to make a social statement, sometimes as a protest, and sometimes as a tribute or memorial.

I love the idea of using yarn to decorate public spaces, and to make social and political statements. It's fresh, original, creative, light-hearted, eye-catching, and non-violent. The recent yarn-bombing of the Castle Crown Wilderness area (pictured above - this is a beautiful and ecologically important wilderness area in South Western Alberta, where I spent 2 summers doing research on hummingbird behaviour; it's one of my very favourite places) reminded me of this neat phenomenon, that I wanted to share with you.

Here is another fantastic picture that I love, of a Yarn Bomb of the famous Wall Street Bull:
(from Knit Spirit:

Here are a few other Yarn-Bombing examples and websites that I like:

The YarnBombing blog - tonnes of great pictures of projects from all over.
I think this blogger is based in Vancouver - gotta love the Canadian connection :)

A recent Yarn Bombing protest against the logging in the Castle Crown Wilderness Area
(a beautiful and ecologically important wilderness area in South Western Alberta, where I spent 2 summers doing research on hummingbird behaviour):

A famous yarn-bomber in LA calls herself "Captain Hook" (love it!). She makes outfits for public statues in LA:
You can watch her and her accomplice in action in this video:

Last year Yarn-bomers from all over Canada made cherry blossoms which were used to decorate the historic home of Japanese-Canadian Author, Joy Kogawa:

Art Installation  - 99 Trees in Austin
I also love the pseudonym of the artist - KnittaPlease :)

There is even a book on Yarn-bombing. It's something of a How-to for folks who want to give it a try.

Apparently there is also an International Yarn Bombing Day - this year it is on June 11, 2012. Maybe I'll participate this year...

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Zig-zag Blankets Galore!

Shortly after finishing my first baby blanket, I found out that my cousin and his wife were pregnant with their first child (who would be my "first cousin once-removed" - or as one of my friends puts it, my "cousin-let"). I wanted to make a baby blanket for her, but I decided to try something a bit simpler than the block blanket I'd made for my friend. I had also recently come across some mill-ends (read: lots of yarn, for cheap!) of a lovely yarn for baby things - very soft, with a shiny thread running through it so it is sort of sparkly, and it's available in several colours - and I wanted to try working with it. I've since found that this yarn is Baby Coordinates by Bernat.

I liked the idea of making a zig-zag blanket, so I started searching online for a simple zig-zag pattern. I finally found this pattern, which uses only single crochet stitches (plus increases and skipping stitches), and decided to give it a try.

I figured I would need to make it smaller, but it turned out that this pattern makes a blanket that is pretty well exactly the width that I wanted for a crib-sized blanket. I ignored the colour pattern that they suggested, and decided to alternate between 3 rows of white, and 3 rows of purple, with two stripes of pink about a third of the way from each end. Again, I hate how everything made for babies is so insistently all pink or all blue, so I wanted it to be more neutral than that.

I worked on this blanket during a couple of summer road trips, and seemed to be making good progress - until I realized that somehow my blanket was getting wider! It turned out when I had originally written out the pattern into a notebook so I could take it with me on the trip, I had forgotten to write down one of the skipped stitches, and so I was gaining a stitch every row... I had to pull out about 12-15 rows, which was very painful! And to make things worse, a few rows later I was making the same mistake, so I had to rip out a few more rows! Very very frustrating. But I persevered and finally finished the blanket in time to send it to my cousin for the arrival of new baby.

Here is a picture of my lovely little cousin-let at about 4 days old with her blanket. My cousin and his wife have said it was one of their favourite blankets that they had been given, and they used it all the time. This compliment totally made my month!


A couple of months later, I found out that another friend was pregnant! So of course I immediately began planning another zig-zag blanket because it had come out so well. When she found out it would be a boy, I planned a purple, white, and blue blanket with a slightly different pattern. For this blanket I decided to use actual decrease stitches (also called stitch 2 together: st2tog) at each end, instead of skipping stitches. I think this made for a much cleaner edge, and also made it less likely that I would start gaining stitches again!

Here is a picture of that second blanket (unfortunately I can't track down the picture of the baby with his blanket, but if I find it, I will post it here later):

The other cool thing about this blanket pattern, which you can see quite clearly in this photo, is that the pattern is actually somewhat 3-D, it creates ridges running lengthwise down the blanket.


Once this blanket was finished, I was looking for another project. I had found some other colours of the same yarn, and so I was dreaming of making a rainbow-coloured blanket. I've always loved rainbows/the full colour spectrum all together, I just think it's so beautiful! When I go to a paint store or a yarn store or anywhere that sells things in every colour, I am so drawn to all the colours when they're together like that - to me the only way to describe these colours together is to say they're delicious!

Just as I was beginning to think "well, maybe I'll just start to make a rainbow blanket, and either a baby will come along amongst my friends and family, or I will donate it somewhere" - when out of the blue my new co-worker announced she was pregnant, and instantly my problem was solved - thanks universe!

Here is my lovely rainbow blanket (probably my favourite one that I've made so far - see above comment about my love of rainbows), keeping my colleague's baby warm af few days after he was born last fall.


What's next?
Well I've actually got another counsin-let on the way: a little brother for the little girl in the first picture above, who is now almost a year and a half old! So I'm working on matching zig-zag blanket for him, in white, blues, and green. And I also have another friend whose partner is pregnant and due in June, so maybe another rainbow blanket is in order.... we shall see. Stay turned for pictures of these blankets when they're done.

Sometimes it happens that I hear about friends pregnancies too far along, or when I'm already in the middle of making another blanket, and it just isn't practical to make them a blanket before their baby is born. In this case I try to make something simpler and faster for them, like a tiny touque or little booties... I'll talk more about those in a later post.

Stitch for Good - A Community Handcrafts Group

This fall I started a handcrafts group in my community - Stitch for Good. We meet once a week, and chat while we work on our projects - crochet, knitting, quilting, anything that's portable that you can do while chatting.

It's amazing how quickly the time goes - a hour and a half goes by before we realize it. And it's really nice to make time to crochet - sometimes when I'm busy I will go for weeks without crocheting at all, so this is a great change. It's also nice to have a community of folks (there are about 4 or 5 of us there each week) to share projects with; you can't always talk to your partner or most of your friends about your crafting, they get tired of it after a while!

Showing off some of our finished squares for the group blanket 
Every few months we are going to choose a project to work on together for a community cause or a charity. For our first project we decided to make a group crochet block blanket, for the local women's shelter. We chose four colours - dark and light blue, green, and purple, in a nice soft yarn (Red Heart Soft). We decided on 3 different patterns from the book 200 Crochet Blocks, and each person worked on a few squares. Some of the knitters in our group even learned to crochet so they could participate in the project.

We had some gauge issues  - to be fair, I'd never paid much attention to gauge before, since my previous project didn't require a specific size of finished product, so I didn't realize how important it was. Here I'd always thought that I crocheted quite tightly, but it turned out that everyone else's tension was much tighter than mine, and so even after everyone moved to larger hooks, and I moved to a smaller hook, we still ended up with a few different sizes of squares! After some agonizing over the issue and rearranging the original pattern, we decided to make a centre section with the larger squares, and then make a wide border around that, and then use the smaller squares to make another row of squares on the outside. I think the new design worked out really well in the end, and is just as lovely as the original pattern. And I finished off the blanket with a crochet border from the book Around the Corner, to pull it all together.

Our Finished Blanket

We've contacted the women's shelter, and I hope to be able to deliver the blanket in the next couple of weeks. I'll try to get a picture of us dropping it off at the shelter, and post it here later. We originally planned for the blanket to be used in one of the common areas of the shelter, but we've since learned that sometimes when they get hand made items, they use them in a silent auction to raise funds for the shelter, so we'll see what they decide is the best use for the blanket.

Overall I'm happy with how this blanket turned out, but it definitely was more complicated than I realized it would be - our next group project will be much simpler!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

My First Baby Blanket

Babies are an excellent excuse for crafters to make sweet little projects. First of all they’re so cute and adorable, and everything you make for them is miniature and therefore too cute for words. Secondly, since everything is small, each project is a manageable size, and so a few months, or even a few weeks, is often enough time to get it finished.

When I first learned to crochet, all I made were simple squares, then scarves. Soon everyone I knew had more scarves than they could wear, and I needed a new project.

Luckily, while I was trying to figure out what to work on next, a childhood friend of mine announced that she was pregnant, and due in about 6 months - perfect timing for me to make something for a new baby! 

I’d never really followed a crochet pattern before, so I went shopping for a pattern. I got the book 200 Crochet Blocks, and my mum and I went looking for some nice yarn. I picked some very soft yarn (Bernat Satin Sport), opting to go for lots of bright colours instead of pastel colours. We didn’t know if it would be a boy or a girl, and regardless, I’m not a fan of the overly-gendered stuff for babies (everything being pink or blue); so I went with all the colours of the rainbow, with yellow as a sort of default base colour.

I started making blocks from the book, but I didn’t have any kind of plan. I figured I’d make a few blocks in my colours, and then figure out which ones I liked best, and plan a blanket using those. Of course, things never work out quite that way - I made a few different blocks, and then made second blocks of most of the patterns, and then I was completely overwhelmed and at a loss. 

Finally, on my Mum’s advice, I decided to embrace this variety of blocks, and make it into a sampler (if you’re not familiar with the term, a sampler is some project that is produced to practice a range of skills and techniques) blanket, with a zig-zag of 4 of the same block running through the middle of the blanket, to tie it all together.

Then of course I worked all the ends in (the most annoying part!), sewed it all together, and then took it with me to visit my friend and her new little boy. My visit was around when he was turning 1 month old, and he was so little, as you can see in these pictures. The blanket was a complete surprise, which is what I was hoping for!

How I Started to Crochet

I learned to crochet about 6 years ago, when I was laid up at my parents’ place after getting my wisdom teeth out. I was sore and groggy, and was sitting around for hours on end watching movies and TV - and feeling like a total waste of space. I like to have something to work on with my hands while I watch TV, but I didn’t have any current projects or tasks, so I was antsy to do something at least mildly productive. I’d grown up watching my mother knitting and crocheting, so I asked her to teach me to crochet. I’d actually learned to knit years before, but it hadn’t really grabbed me, so I figured I’d give crochet a try.

Once I learned the basics (chain stitch, single crochet and double crochet) I started making 8x8 inch squares, for a project called Blankets for Canada. The way is works is that you make 8 x 8 inch squares (knit or crochet), and then you can drop them off at donation centres (Michaels craft stores often have donation boxes, for example), then volunteers stitch them together and donate them to various shelters and agencies. I had found out about this program when I worked at the Michaels in Lethbridge, AB in University, but recently that I found out that the project actually started in Lethbridge, though it’s now spread out across the country.

I spent my recovery (which was conveniently over the Winter Break from school) making squares for Blankets for Canada, and continued to work on them over the next few months. Even today, if I want to crochet but don’t have any patterns or projects in mind (which is rare), I make another square. When I teach someone to crochet, I often set them to making squares as a good way to practice the basic techniques. As of December 2010, when I was moved, I had made and donated over 20 squares. Recently when I taught myself how to knit again, I started making 8 x 8 inch knit squares, so that I knew my practice piece wouldn’t go to waste.

So if you’re just learning to crochet (or knit) and want a great way to practice, or a simple project that doesn’t require a pattern, I recommend making some squares! Or, if you’re itching to crochet (or knit) but don’t have a project (or you don’t have the supplies you need for the project right now), this is a great project to work on because you know it’s for a great cause. Here is the basic Crochet and Knitted patterns from the Blankets for Canada website.

Knit or Crochet - What’s the Difference?
For those of you who are confused about the difference between Knitting and Crochet, here is one description:

Basically, crochet is done with 1 hook, and you only work on one stitch at a time, while knitting uses two long needles, and you hold lots of stitches on the needles at once. In both cases you’re using interlocking loops of yarn to create a fabric.

Some people are shockingly militant about the issue of Knit vs Crochet, saying one (whichever one they do, of course) is better than the other; but I think that both crafts have their own unique history, and their particular strengths and weaknesses, which I’ll go into in a later post. In many cases which one to choose to do is simply personal preference, or which one you learned first - in other cases, the type of project you want to create will dictate whether you decide to crochet or knit it.

Welcome to my Blog

Well, this is the first entry in my new craft blog. I started this blog because I wanted to keep a record of the projects that I do; and I also wanted a place to share my ideas and projects (and other cool things I find out that others are working on), especially for projects that benefit a worthy cause. Over the next few days I will be taking pictures of some of my creations and posting them on here. I’m excited to see them all in one place! 

My name is Christine, and I grew up in Calgary and currently live in Guelph, Ontario. I’m trained as a high school Biology and English teacher, but I currently work as an outdoor educator at a nature centre, and as a community programmer in a multigenerational community.

I’ve always loved crafts of all kinds - as a child, instead of having a play-room, I had a craft room! At one time or another I’ve played around with or made all of the following: plasticine, corking/finger knitting, friendship bracelets, wire jewelry, sewing clothing, knitting, latch-hook, cross-stitch, and crocheting. Crochet has become my main craft for the past few years, and recently I’ve also gotten back into knitting. This blog will largely focus on crochet because I have the most projects to showcase here, but it won’t all be crochet!

My next post will introduce how I got into crochet, and my first few minor projects; as well as the difference between knitting and crochet, since many people seem to get them confused. As well as 
I hope that you’ll enjoy reading my blog - as well as showing off and chronicling my projects, I’ll also include some tips and techniques for crochet and other crafts (for any crafters who are reading this), as well as highlighting great resources (patterns, tips, tutorials, videos) that you can check out, and also projects that you can be part of that are in support of a charity or another good cause.

I’d love to get to know the folks who are reading this blog, so go ahead and leave comments and let me know who you are & what you think of what I post (let’s keep it respectful though, ok?).

A little warning before you go any further - there may be a few pictures thrown in of my kitty Nikko - he’s the handsome fellow in the picture above. Like any self-respecting cat, he loves playing with yarn, and loves curling up on soft things. So whenever I’m working on a project, he’s always interested! He’s so cute I can’t help but take pictures of him cuddled in amongst my projects. So I apologize in advance for too many pictures of my little kitty!