Review: Tunisian Cables to Crochet by Kim Guzman

Tunisian Cables to Crochet by Kim Guzman, Annie’s: 2012, 48 pages. Paper back edition available. Grade: A

This is a nice introduction to creating cables in Tunisian crochet. There is a helpfully visual tutorial about how to make them and a tasteful collection of patterns for different accessories. My favorites from the collection are “Geneva Scarf,” “San Marino Scarf,” “Verona Ruana,” “Valencia Wrap,” and “Limerick Wrap.” I like the other patterns, too, they’re just not my favorites. The wraps could be done up with a slightly chunkier yarn and become throw blankets, which I think adds some versatility to this design set.

The models in the photos are all women, but using my imagination I can see a lot of this crochet wear as unisex.

My only minor complaint is that there aren’t any sweaters. Then again, when I think about it, why do I demand a sweater from a pattern collection? It doesn’t have to be complete by including a sweater, I suppose. The fact that there are no baby bonnets is a positive quality the set has, so that can cancel out the lack-of-sweaters peeve.

I recommend this leaflet to anyone who wishes to learn how to Tunisian crochet cables and who enjoys making, wearing, and gifting crocheted accessories. The price is good value for the content which includes a thorough tutorial. That is why this gets a grade of A. It’s complete and helpful, sans sweaters.

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Crocheting all the things

I did it. I started yet another crochet project, which is a shawl for my big sister. This means:

List of things I’m crocheting:

  • Hexagons afghan
  • Tunisian crochet afghan with lots of blocks
  • A tablecloth
  • A pineapple shawl
  • A “Telegraph” sweater

List of things I’m knitting:

  • A pair of self-patterning socks
  • A blue lace scarf

I have seven projects going at the same time. The majority of them are crochet projects. I have been a very naughty crafter.

When I started the shawl this evening it was dark and rainy and guess what my first color on the Lace Ball self-striping yarn was? A blackish blue. I managed to increase to three pineapples and gave up trying to see where to insert my hook. This yarn is very fine and I’m using a 1.3 mm needle, so it was very hard to see my work, even with a lamp lighting my way. I’ll keep going on it tomorrow in the daylight.

Now that I officially have seven projects going I am very worried. I don’t think I’ll ever finish anything. This is the largest number of WIPs I’ve ever had going at once. I kept telling myself today, “you can’t start something else until you finish your blue lace scarf” but I caved. It’s self-striping yarn for a pineapple shawl, after all. I can’t say no to blue pineapples!

Tardy Thursday

I missed WIP Wednesday. I didn’t forget, I just had to work. Also, I’ve been swatching a crochet stitch pattern that I wanted to get “just right.”

This week, as last, crochet has been the dominant craft. I have plenty of knitting to do, I’ve just been distracted by crochet. I think the weather is helping direct my attention to crochet, because I typically find it more comfortable for hotter weather. This week has brought some seriously high temperatures so I’ve been working a lot with cotton.

Mostly, I’ve been crocheting my table cloth and my green “Telegraph Sweater”.

The work on these projects got sidetracked, though, because in my free time, on Monday, I started getting obsessed about a Schöppel Lace Ball that’s in my stash. It has many shades of blue so it has my sister’s name written all over it. It could have my name written all over it, too, because my favorite color is blue as well, but I haven’t made my big sister a shawl in a while. She is big on crochet, so I thought I’d crochet the shawl, and I decided it had to be covered in pineapples. Do you know a crocheter that doesn’t need a pineapple shawl? I thought not.

The problem was finding an appropriate pattern. The “Ananas Shawl” by Zsuzsanna Makai caught my eye, but to wear it you have to have the tropical fruits running sideways. I just know the wearer will want upright pineapples. Some other designs drew me in, but they weren’t triangles. My sister doesn’t do giant shawls. When I make her one, she most often uses it like a big scarf. Long story short: I had to work out my own pineapple pattern.

How do you crochet a triangular fabric covered in pineapples? With lots of planning. These fruity things are not exactly simple to design with, even though following a pineapple pattern is really easy. After a lot of trial and error, and browsing my doily patterns, I realized that you basically need to think about your pineapples in panels. Double-v stitch is the most common thing to frame them with, and happily they can force a fabric to take on just about any shape you want: triangles, circles, squares, and so on. I swatched away with some cheap dollar store yarn and finally, after trying to learn how to use software for making crochet charts, I now have a game plan.

What could be harder than designing with pineapples? Figuring out how to use computer software to create crochet charts. Yes, I could have written the pattern out line-by-line, but I was experimenting and swatching, so I was desperate for a quick visual. Here’s my horribly messy, unprofessional chart, that will work just fine for me when I start this shawl:

pineappleshawl

I really need to practice more with this crochet charting program, which is really wonderful and convenient. Right now I’m pretty sloppy, but it’s just for my reference so, why worry? If you’d like to give the application a spin, it’s available for free.

This chart is not a pattern, really, it’s my personal record of what I need to do when I get going on the project. If you want to use it, feel free to do so at your own risk because I was just looking for the repeat for the increases. To understand how to make the pattern continue and grow larger, just pay attention to the increases. The double-v stitch panels are increasing over several rows. So, what will happen is that you will add many pineapples to the pattern at once. You start with one, then stitch two, then four, etc. The number of pineapples increases rapidly because they depend on the increases done on the double-v stitch panels. Really, it’s nothing special and this type of thing can be found in a lot of patterns, especially for doilies. The trick is to remember to start increasing for the new pineapples that will come later while still finishing off the old pineapples.

Review: Three collections of knitwear designs for men

Knits for Men by Margaret Hubert, Creative Publishing International: 2008, 112 pages. Spiral bound. Grade: A

Son of Stitch ‘n Bitch by Debbie Stoller, Workman: 2007, 215 pages. Paperback and digital formats available. Grade: A

Knits Men Want by Bruce Weinstein, Stewart, Tabori and Chang: 2010, 128 pages. Paper back and digital formats available. Grade: C

INTRODUCTION

A while ago the knitwear pattern market went on a long bender about knitting for men. Lore was created, duly published, and the authors made their pittance. Marketing is such a cold-hearted business, isn’t it? Anyway, one of the things that cropped up in all these publications about knitting for men was the dreaded “boyfriend sweater” that precipitated the boyfriend leaving the poor, love-stricken female knitter. I’m sure plenty of women knitters have told each other stories about their successes and failures in knitting for their boyfriends and husbands, but the whole drama spun up in print about how knitting for your boyfriend dooms your relationship was just too much for me. It’s sort of a sarcastic joke when telling the story orally because really the breakup wasn’t over a sweater, but it’s a funny coincidence.

Given the oral nature of this urban legend, with its folktale mystique, turning it into written media would have been great literary fodder for the age of Romantic literature. In a hyper post-modern age – in which the Author, the Artist, et. al. have been confirmed dead – it just makes me twitch a little to see this kind of literature. I suspect that this sudden fever of publishing books devoted to advice and patterns about knitting for men stemmed from a marketing research agenda. The algorithms no doubt discovered that a lot of women who knit also like reading Jane Austen, buying expensive tea, shopping for pricey organic foods, love a fairy tale British Royal Wedding, believe in a couple of conspiracy theories (Princess Di, anyone?), and have banished gluten from their diets because it’s in style. Stories of angst, budding love relationships cut off before reaching their full potential, and sensations of under-appreciation, either perceived due to fits of paranoia or very real, were the target “pressure points” that publishers wished to play with and extract cash from. Find a sore spot in a female knitter’s heart-of-gold, discover a pot of gold. A small pot of gold. This stuff doesn’t generate a whole lot of capital.

The truly sad thing about this fad: it sucked in a lot of talented designers and placed a terrible responsibility on their shoulders. Just imagine all the points of discomfort we could talk about, especially when a feminist knitter (Debbie Stoller) all of a sudden starts making generalizations about men, women, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives. A few of my peeves are: 1) this trend in publishing once again reinforced the idea that women are just expected to please men somehow with their labor, masked underneath the idea that “well, you really want him to wear it, so you should make it ‘just so'”; 2) presented women with a whole mythology about how they must follow a fixed set of rules to live a happy relationship with a man, resting it all on their success or failure in knitting; 3) told women that men are basically all the same and interchangeable in terms of clothing preferences; 4) painted women as unique because their clothes are flamboyant, eccentric, unnecessary, uniquely fun, THE TOTAL BEST, SO MUCH FUN TO SHOP FOR, KNIT, AND WEAR; 5) and insisted that they just had to understand that this represents their condition as opposed to that of the men in their lives, who are so much more practical and don’t like frills or frivolity. I’m pretty sure that the designers who authored these books went about their writing projects with good intentions and did not realize that they were sort of puppets on a sexist, marketing stage. We have a victim-less crime. Audience and author were feeding into and being fed off of thanks to the rules of consumerism and its desire to fool around with cultural, social, and psychological concepts of gender, love, and fashion with the ultimate goal of stimulating retail activity. The intended main message on the part of the authors was: here are some things you can knit for a man.

I think overall the good intentions are appreciated and emerge in spite of the gross generalizations about gender some of these books make. I can attest to the fact that there doesn’t seem to be enough patterns available for menswear, either knit or crochet. As a male knitter and crocheter who likes to make clothing for himself, it’s very difficult for me to “change it up” with patterns. However, we must understand a fact that the marketing gurus exploited, exaggerated by publicity or not: men’s clothing is generally boring because fashion conventions dictate that males are only allowed to wear a limited set of things. Unless you’re a famous rock star, as a man you don’t have a lot of options for clothing if you wish to have a job and “make something of yourself.” Nobody, in any of the publications reviewed here, pondered this reality, which  fascinates me. There have been times when “wild” colors have come in and out of men’s fashion. For example, recently there was a phase when heterosexual men were wearing pink shirts. Did you notice during this fad that the pink shirts, no matter what label they carried, were pretty much the same cut? Even “men wearing pink” found a way to be run-of-the-mill, and to my knowledge mostly on the weekend or on days off from work. The same goes for pants, tees, jackets, etc. There are a set number of constructions and shapes of clothing that are considered acceptable for men to wear, working or not. We’re not allowed to wear anything outside of these limits if we want to get on in life. Men are sort of obliged to wear a uniform and they have been trained to believe in these standard outfit clones, which in turn reflects an education that began at a very young age. Personally, I don’t really believe in the uniform, but I wear it, because if I didn’t I wouldn’t have a roof over my head, food to eat, and heat in the winter. No one will respect me in my profession if I go to work in a neon pink and green sweater with black flowers embroidered on it.

I happen to own three of the books that followed this publishing trend. I got them because I was curious about the patterns. For each I will tell you my opinion about the pros and cons of each. Well, not really. The last one has no list of pros and cons. Anyway, my grades are at the top of this post. Yes, that’s right, this is a review. It’s all about my subjectivity. Feel free to agree or disagree.

Knits for Men by Margaret Hubert is my favorite of these three. Comparing it with the other two it is the most rebellious with its lack of heavy-handed marketing spin. First of all, a whole book with many different sweaters for men! Whoot! I like all of the sweaters presented here. Another thing I enjoy is that the author didn’t blather on about how knitting for men can be a nightmare and make you single with a thousand cats to keep you company that will eventually eat your cadaver when you are all dead and forgotten. Her Introduction is brief and to the point. She talked to some men and asked them how they liked their sweaters. Their answers varied in terms of color and texture but they all said they wanted to feel comfortable wearing their hand knits. That’s it. Here’s the good and the bad:

PROS

  • designs are fun to knit
  • variety of sweaters, from more neutral and plain to colorful or textured
  • no sob stories, no fears of becoming a crazy cat lady
  • no generalizations about men and their tastes
  • no sexism or treatises on gender
  • aimed at appealing to different style preferences men might have
  • there are some accessories here, too, but the sweaters are more numerous

CONS

  • shaping isn’t too varied

Son of Stitch ‘n Bitch by Debbie Stoller is a great collection of patterns, especially for accessories. Unfortunately, it tries to generalize about what men want and tries to get you to “soldier up” with knitting a male uniform, but then the patterns reflect the contrary. Some of them are bold and others aren’t, reflecting a wide range of male preferences. I’m pretty certain that knitters craving patterns for men will find more than a few appropriate things to make.

PROS

  • a variety of things to knit: accessories, etc.
  • different designs to appeal to different individual styles
  • lots of patterns to choose from
  • everything looks fun to make

CONS

  • generalizations about men that actually could be true for some women I know

Knits Men Want by Bruce Weinstein is too pretentious. The cover actually tells women that if they buy this book they will never need another pattern to successfully knit for men. That’s it, ladies! If you want to knit a sweater for your man, you have to knit one from this book or your dead body will be devoured by your thousand cats. You have choices in life. If you die alone, it’s your fault for not buying this book. If you don’t believe me, check out the cover. The rest of the title says: “The Ten Rules Every Woman Should Know Before Knitting for a Man Plus the Only Ten Patterns She’ll Ever Need.” I’m sorry, but that’s obnoxious. The patterns aren’t at all very difficult to design or write. Don’t buy this book unless you want to read all the anecdotes of horror about how some men disrespected their girlfriends’ or wives’ craftiness. Get a book from The Knitter’s Handy Book of… series edited by Ann Budd and follow the directions there for some stockinette stitch in a variety of shapes. One positive aspect to mention: the patterns deserve praise because their constructions are interesting with some very innovative shaping. If you get a book like one from the Handy series, however, you will eventually come up with similar sweaters all on your lonesome. In my first draft of this review I gave this title a grade of “F+” to be sarcastic, but then I edited the text and decided it should at least deserve a “C” because the patterns are interesting experiments in form and the sweaters are nice even though they’re dull. I really dislike smarmy marketing ploys, and the cover for this text is one of the most self-aggrandizing I have ever seen in my life. Here’s the truth: You don’t need this book to successfully knit a sweater for a man. So, the low grade also reflects how the book promises and does not really deliver.

CONCLUSION

If you’re truly afraid that your boyfriend or husband won’t appreciate what you knit for him, don’t knit for him. There is no mystery to be solved, even though marketing tries to convince you that there is one. If, by chance, a man wants you to knit something for him, look at photos from patterns together and let him tell you what he’d like. It might not hurt to get to know him a little and observe what he wears most often, what he does for casual dress on the weekends, what he wears to work. Knit him something that fits into his style and way of moving through his life. If he dumps you just after you knit him something he didn’t like, this is the cold hard truth: he didn’t care about you anyway, so good riddance to bad rubbish! Just make sure you get the sweater back before you slam the door on his ungrateful backside.

Review: Beyond the Square by Edie Eckman

Beyond the Square by Edie Eckman, Storey Publishing: 2008, 201 pages. Spiral bound, paper back, and digital editions available. Grade: A+

Beyond the Square is an apt title. First of all, the motifs for which the patterns are written are not only squares. They come in a wide range of shapes. Second, the author provides a truly handy reference manual about everything related to creating beautiful things with crocheted motifs. I think it’s organized very well and it was very carefully planned to fulfill its aim at instructing crocheters on the principles and techniques of creating with motifs.

Rather than number the chapters, the author decided to just divide the book into three sections: “Crochet Motif Workshop,” “Motifs,” and a chunky Appendix that should be considered Appendices.

The workshop section – clearly taking new crocheters into consideration – begins with a “Quick-Start Guide” which discusses and illustrates crochet basics. There are lots of nice bits of information here, with so much wise advice, enough to interest crocheters of all skill levels. Some of the illustrations show Edie Eckman’s own personal tricks. She provides all kinds of information and instructions on the many ways motifs can be joined together, how to design with them, and many more lessons that should not be overlooked. Aside from the fact that this portion of the text is overflowing with tips and tricks, I think it’s quite original because, as far as I’m aware, it’s the first time a crochet book has ever attempted to catalog, describe, and instruct on so many techniques related to motifs.

After all of this educational goodness come the motifs, which are organized by shape: circles, hexagons, triangles, squares, and an “unusual shapes” category. The motifs are modern, refreshing, and there’s a really good balance of more “closed” versus “more lacy” patterns. Furthermore, I like how the title doesn’t disappoint. Not only do we see motifs far beyond the square, we also see new ways to create them. My favorite is the inclusion of the leaning tower stitch and illustrating how it can be employed to generate an infinity of shapes, textures, and color combinations.

Then, there’s an Appendix, graph paper, thorough directions on how to arrange and attach the motifs, basic stitches, and an index. Again, the emphasis is on creativity and options, not set patterns that instruct the reader on how to create something that looks “just like the photo.” As in the previous two sections, the Appendices are chock full of interesting and innovative tricks for making original designs all thanks to crochet’s versatility and convenience.

I recommend this book to all crocheters that wish to get their creative juices flowing when it comes to motifs and what to do with them. I truly love how this book encourages independent creativity while at the same time provides patterns to hook away at motifs. It’s a wonderful oxymoron, when you think about it, and why not say it? That’s what crochet is all about. It’s truly modular, as modular as the crocheter wishes it to be. We crocheters know that if we can imagine it, we can pick up a hook and yarn and make it happen. This title taps into that spirit of going far beyond the square.

Contradictory Frogging Friday

Today it’s FO Frogging Friday. That’s one contradiction.

I was very happy to unravel my project. I was so happy I took a picture of the resulting balls of yarn and never, in the history of this wanton WIP that is now RIPped, ever photographed it. I love these balls of #4 fingering weight yarn.

Photo May 19, 13 40 58

The brown ones are safe and snug in the stash. The green one is now engaged in a new creation.

Formerly known as a project of mine, the offender in question was an “Adult Surprise Jacket” designed by the very pithy Elizabeth Zimmerman, queen of garter stitch and empress of knitterly ingenuity. According to Ravelry, there are currently 860 projects logged on the social stitching site, among which mine was never counted. That is how excited I was about knitting it off and on for the past year. Man was it a bore. It’s not the pattern’s fault. I made bad life choices.

My first poor decision was to choose fingering weight yarn for it. Of course, the pattern is written for any yarn the knitter chooses. So, I had all this fingering weight wool – and I still have it, about two kilos of it – and I said, “Cool! All I have to do is calculate smartly like these pithy directions explain and I can knit myself a fingering weight jacket! With random stripes! Yesyesyesyesyesyesyes.” The knitting was boring, but I persevered. 396 stitches a row, gradually decreasing to 220, only to be increased back up to 396, in garter stitch. I picked it up. I put it back down. I actually managed in a year to get to step two, beginning the double increase phase after the initial decrease phase. I randomly chose when to change colors. Knitting it in a different color from time to time did not take the boredom away. I put it down. I picked it up.

I did not realize until recently that I had made a second bad life decision: color. I put it down and let it sit in my project bin for about a week, disgusted with it without knowing why. Then I picked it up last Wednesday or Thursday and I looked at it and I said, “Oh my God, the colors are like the kitchen appliances we had when I was a kid!” If you are old enough you might get my drift. Way back in the good old days, at least in the Fifty States of America, we went through an avocado green appliance phase. The fridge, the stove, and any other modern convenience connected to electricity and installed in the kitchen was avocado green for lots of people, to the extent that I think we could say it was all the rage. My parents weren’t very well-off and when the 1980s rolled around – and this “kitchen color way” went out of style – they just stuck with what they had. And then, the unspeakable: our 1970s gag-worthy-looking appliances added a new buddy to their horrendous color crowd. Alongside our avocado green washing machine came its new mate, a dark brown dryer. It was exciting to have an electrical dryer in 1983. Until then my mom had to hang out the laundry, even in the winter time. Convenient as it was, we the family often referred to it as the “turd” floating in “snot.”

So that did it. My cardigan was actually the horrendous color combination of the kitchen we had when I was a child. Boredom and the yuck feeling combined to make me hate the project.

This afternoon I frogged and frogged, feeling very happy. And then I had to work. Once freed from my teaching duties, with the green yarn, I started a “Telegraph” sweater by Peter Franzi. If happy to be frogging isn’t contradictory enough, we now have a new conundrum. I actually said on this blog that although I wanted to start another sweater by this designer I wasn’t about to get going on one right now. I didn’t feel like doing the dc and hdc flo rounds. I got over it in a very brief amount of time, apparently, and I must say that the alternating rounds of dc and hdc flo are not bugging me one bit. I’m actually pondering a top-down crochet sweater of my own invention because I have some yarn reserved for such an endeavor, but instead I was drawn to the “Telegraph.” I really love this shade of green in isolation. Now that I’ve taken away the poop color that was our family’s first dryer, it’s a cheerful hue to work with.

Anyway, the past couple of hours I’ve been hooking away at my sweater and I’m very pleased. You might recall that I made a super-sized version of this pullover earlier this year, to go over extra layers of clothing to do outdoor things in winter without having to fuss with a coat or a jacket. (Hint for hikers and explorers: a big wool sweater that fits loosely at the bottom and can go over all your other clothing allows more freedom of movement than a zip-up coat or three-quarter). I decided I also wanted one in a normal size because I just think it’s an awesome sweater to wear any time. The sooner the better, right?

I’m still obsessing over my top-down crocheted sweater. I’m afraid to commit to a stitch pattern, actually. I’ve been browsing dictionaries and making swatches and I can’t make up my mind.

If you’re frogging, I hope you’re enjoying it. If you are frogging and irritated, remember that you are 1) freeing yourself from a terrible project and 2) getting ready to start a new, exciting, and wonderful project. 🙂

Some old, some new

The WIP saga continues and the FO story seems to have slammed into a wall. Guess what FOs I’m sharing on “FO Friday?” Did you guess ZERO? Dingdingdingding!!!!

Since I seem to be dragging my rear through my WIPs, I’ll just remind you of what I’m working on: Dewdly Blue Knitted Lace Scarf, Crochet Afghan Made of Hexagons, Tunisian Crochet Afghan, Arne & Carlos Self-Patterning Socks. I could link to older posts about them all, but who cares? It’s too much work for you to click on them and I feel too lazy to link to them. If I’m going to drag my behind, I’m going to do it with an “all in” attitude. That includes not bothering with photographing them all. I dare say, though, that I should take pride in the Dewdly Blue Lace Scarf because the ball of yarn has got a lot smaller and the scarf has grown considerably.

To make the WIP experience less drab I’ve started a new WIP. It’s a crochet table cloth:

fans2

It could look complex to a casual eye, but it’s wicked easy. The square gets bigger by repeating the same pattern over and over, adding more and more fans. The fans are sort of like truncated pineapples because that’s how a lot of pineapples begin to develop in a lot of patterns, starting with the famous row of clusters. I got the idea from a YouTube video from Milagros Ena’s channel. It’s in Spanish. I’m sorry if you don’t speak Spanish.

This square can also be turned into a triangle to create a shawl, as Milagros demonstrates in another video:

So, as you can see, often a repeated stitch pattern can be used in a variety of ways to create different shapes to suit your needs. I think this would look fantastic as a shawl with a self-striping yarn with very long stripes, like in the popular Lace Ball, which is made by the same company that produces the Zauberball sock yarn.

Autopilot crochet is my therapy this week, I think. The best part is that my dining table is a square most days. Once a year it gets expanded into a rectangle. So, when I feel like making the living room look super cool I can throw this table cloth on it. That is, when I finish this thing.

This is so autopilot that I can crochet it while thinking about which border I want to finish it off with!

I hope you have had time to play around with your yarns and threads this week. 🙂