Review: 300 Classic Blocks by Linda P. Schapper

300 Classic Blocks for Crochet Projects by Linda P. Schapper, Lark Crafts: 2011, 256 pages. Paperback and hardcover editions available. Grade: A

When the title says this is all about “classic blocks” it isn’t a joke. These grannies are all older than the hills and mostly simple to crochet. In fact, we can find directions for some of these floating around the Internet free of charge. I’m actually grateful that “classic” is in the name so that I know what I’m getting into if I decide to use this to make something.

I think it’s also important to remember that this is a revised edition. It was originally published in 1987 and since then it has been redone several times. The fact that it continues to be edited is promising and also means that there are people who would buy this title (like me!).

I like how the blocks are organized by the types of stitches that are used to make them. For example, there’s a category for post stitches and another for bobbles, etc. Motifs that don’t fit into any of these groups are organized according to their overall shapes, like circles and triangles.

An experienced crocheter will no doubt open the book and say, “I could have made that up myself!” Indeed, there are many very basic patterns that a lot of us can just make off the tops of our heads. Others are traditional and we have memorized them by now. However, there are also more complex designs. My motive for getting this collection was to have all my information in one place without having to actually sift through millions of web links and/or patterns for afghans that take advantage of the “classics.” I’ve got all the basic things in one nicely organized book so that when I want to make something simple I can refresh my memory quickly. Alternatively, if I want to make up my own complex block, I can start with one of these simple ones and pimp it any which way I like.

I recommend this book to new and experienced crocheters. New crocheters will appreciate some guidance on how to make different shapes and learn how stitches can be stacked on each other to achieve a variety of effects. People with more hooking history might like to have this title for the same reasons I got it: all the classics in one place. I’ll add that it’s useful for designing our own blocks, maybe starting with one from this book and adding our own modifications to turn it into something else.

Review: One-Skein Wonders (r) and Designer One-Skein Wonders (r)

One-Skein Wonders (r): 101 Yarn-Shop Favorites, by Judith Durant, Storey: 2006, 240 pages. Paperback and digital editions available. Grade: A

101 Designer One-Skein Wonders (r) by Judith Durant, Storey: 2007, 256 pages. Paperback and digital editions available. Grade: A

So far I haven’t referred to Amazon reviews of the books that I subject to scrutiny on here, but this time I feel it is necessary.  I was wary before buying the ones I’m discussing here because I read some negative opinions about them. I want to spread some peace of mind all round the world and, hopefully, fewer people will debate with themselves whether or not to believe the harsher critics on Amazon. Additionally, I’ve decided to compare the first two members of the “One-Skein” series because some people don’t want to spend $20 (estimated digital price) and would prefer to just spend $10, forcing them to choose one or the other.

So, let’s start with the Amazon customer critiques, which are about as reliable as a Yahoo! Questions page. Most people who bought these books gave them five stars without leaving much commentary. The trouble comes from the fact that the more negative opinions are long, which seems to lend them authority. I think this is the problem with anonymous reviews, really, because the individual: 1) actually said something and took time out of his or her day to write; 2) the happy people clicked on stars and left it at that, looking like they didn’t read a thing of the book they bought; 3) the harsh critics got a nice “helpful” rating, which means their positive voters decided not to buy the product and never had the opportunity to experience it for themselves, because “helpful” here means “I didn’t buy it because I made up my mind a priori reading this opinion.”

It’s a waste of our time to go over specific commentaries. Instead, I think it’s best to generalize. I surveyed them quickly. Basically, it seems like a lot of the negative Nancies copied each other. So, according to some critics: 1) there are “too many errors,” 2) the word “one-skein” is meaningless because a lot of the projects use up less than one unit, 3) it’s disappointing to have a yarn in your stash you think you’d love to use only to discover you don’t have enough of it, and 4) it is necessary to understand the mysterious sorcery that is yarn substitution because everything relies on exotic, fancy stuff.

How many errors are too many? 18 of the 103 patterns in One-Skein Wonders (r) have mistakes in them, and they have been extensively corrected in the errata list on the Storey Publishing web site. But, this means that approximately 17% have problems. Is 17% too much? You decide. I’m more of an optimist. 83% have no mistakes at all. As for 101 Designer One-Skein Wonders (r), the stats are a bit more disappointing. 30 out of 103 have needed corrections, which means that roughly 29% are not written up accurately. Still, 71% are perfectly error-free. If you hate following along with errata and insist on spending your money on a book with fewer imperfections, the first of the series with an 83% success rate might be your choice if that’s good enough for you. My opinion? I don’t care, really. If by chance I choose to make something from instructions with errata, I just follow the corrections. Go Internet! You youngsters don’t know what it was like to knit or crochet something from a publication with errors, having to wait for the errata to come out in a magazine and remember to store the corrections some place and not lose them once you found them, which took some time. Not too long ago, it was a paper and wait game.

The next critique we must face is the opinion that the word “one-skein” is meaningless because a lot of the designs use less than one skein. I’m sorry Amazon reviewers, but that is sort of silly. This is not important, especially since the pattern notes state how many of a particular item you can get out of one ball. It’s so exact that there are directions for a mitten that tells us that one unit will make exactly five items – that last mit will remain unpaired with one ball only, so knit two pairs and use the rest for wrist warmers. Anyway, I like this information. If I want to knock out a bunch of one thing to give away to people, I can plan ahead and buy the right amount of yarn. I’m looking at you, “Wine Gift Bag” by Leanne Walker. To make these yarn counting people happy the title would have to be changed to Partial Skein Wonders. That doesn’t sound too catchy, does it? Again, I source my optimism: this set here is good for leftovers, too!

And then we have the whiner who complains about not having enough yarn for a particular project. I think that if you blame the book for the content of your stash you really need a couple of things: 1) an introductory course on logic, available in a college philosophy department near you; 2) a psychologist to help you understand how you – and only you – are responsible for your feelings. I mean, really!

Finally, the comment about “having to understand yarn substitution” made me laugh a lot when I saw it. It’s really easy. First of all, you need to buy some equipment: a microscope, some beakers, a Bunsen burner, litmus paper, the eye of two toads, a purple butterfly’s wings, the legs of an ostrich, the horns of five unicorns… If you think swapping one yarn for another is really problematic, let me help you: try the yarn you want to use and knit up a little swatch, preferably with the main stitch pattern the directions call for. Does the gauge on your swatch match the number indicated in the pattern? Do you like how it looks? If you have answered “yes” to these two questions you now have your official diploma in Yarn Substitution and you’re all set to legally practice this DARK ART at will, any time you wish.

Sometimes it’s tempting to pay attention to Amazon blatherers because it feels like their opinion must be better than our suspicions because they bought the book and took the whole thing in themselves while we did not. Now that I’ve glossed some of the most frequent negative opinions about the two One-Skein Wonders titles, I think we might judge some of these people as trolls, or just plain silly. The only observation that might be reliable or understandable is “too many mistakes.” This, of course, is subjective, but it really could be a valid reason to avoid a book for some people.

On the other hand, the projects in these two collections are really clever and help us yarniacs who tend to collect stray skeins here and there. Some are for crochet, too, even though the majority of them are for knitting. I think crocheters who don’t knit shouldn’t buy this book because the majority of the directions would be useless to them, but knitters who happen to crochet will be doubly thrilled. Both texts have the variety every knitter craves: bags, vests, socks, scarves, cowls, jewelry, various more accessories, and even decorative finishing touches to add to any project. In the original One-Skein Wonders (r) (2006) I particularly love: “Beaded Diamond Bag” by Diana Foster, “Crocheted Bag” by Deidra Logan, “Cozy House Socks” by Sue Dial , “Four-in-One Gaiter” by Nancy Lindberg,“Gossamer Shell Scarf” by Tamara Del Sonno,“Handpaint Highlights Socks” by Leah Oakley , and “Aran Tam” by Carol F Metzger . From the 101 Designer One-Skein Wonders (r) (2007) collection, I really admire “Basic Cable Mittens for the Family” by Marci Richardson ,“Broken Rib Socks” by Kathleen Taylor,“Cable That Bag!” by Chrissy Gardiner,“Kat’s Hat” by Diana Foster ,“Simple Mistake Rib Vest” by Karn J. Minott , and “Tucson Lattice Shawl” by Nancy Miller.

As far as the difference in the titles goes, the second book’s starts with the word “Designer,” which seems to give it more pizazz. In reality, the different wording has to do with where the patterns came from. In the first and earliest published set, One-Skein Wonders (r) (2006), the designs are by pretty cool yarn shop owners who thought it would be useful for their customers to give them patterns that only need one skein. So, the word “Designer” is used for the second one (2007) because the authors are not shop owners or hobbyists. The projects, really, come down to individual taste. If you only want to buy one of these and not both, I would suggest checking them out on Ravelry. You can see finished objects as well as the photos provided in the books. So, go to One-Skein Wonders on Ravelry to see all the patterns for the first title and just click on Designer One-Skein Wonders to see what the second set offers.

Both books organize the projects by yarn weight. This is especially convenient for those times we are thinking about a particular skein in our stashes and want some ideas on what to do with it. This structure makes consulting the text much more efficient. I also like the practical presentation of the designs, with very precise information about yardage and the number of items that can be made from one skein.

I recommend both of these collections to knitters, as well as knitters who crochet, that have some stray yarn and are looking for inspiration. There is enough variety in both books to please just about everyone. Errata haters, I understand your hesitation. For me, personally, it doesn’t matter, just as long as I have access to the corrections so I don’t drive myself crazy while trying to figure out “what went wrong” in the middle of my project.

Review: Crochet One-Skein Wonders (r)

Crochet One-Skein Wonders (r) by Judith Durant and Edie Eckman, Storey: 2016, 288 pages. Paperback and digital editions available. Grade: A

Do you crochet? If you’ve answered “yes” to this question, you will probably benefit from having this book in your library. The reason? If you often wield the hook, this means you have some singles lying around your stash. Even if you don’t, you are no doubt happy to crochet projects that only require a small amount. It’s cheaper to buy one ball than two or three. Also, a project that only needs one of something is fast to crochet, something I need so I can take a break from larger endeavors.

The number of projects to be crocheted with just one skein is impressive. I personally like books like these because sometimes I don’t feel like being creative and dreaming up my own way of using a ball or scraps. When I’m in the mood to plan and execute what I thought about, I’m all in on the creative process. Other times I just want to browse through some designs and find something to make and get on with crocheting right away. As a matter of fact, I love this collection so much I bought it twice: once for me and then another time for my sister at Christmas. In case you’re curious: she loves it, too. I have only made one item from it but plan to do more in the future. That was “Tunisian Croc Rock Cap” by Yvonne Cherry, which creatively combines Tunisian and standard crochet. I had so much fun making my first cap that I made a second one.

Then, there’s variety: toys, baby clothes, kitchen gear, projects with beads, hats, scarves, bags, table ware, and the list goes on. It’s really hard to pick some favorites because I like every single project in this collection. That’s right! I like all 101 of them and my life’s goal is to crochet every single one. That’s never going to happen, but I want to, I really really want to. There is just so much creativity here, also. To name a few examples: playing with self-striping yarn, as we see in “Autumn Camouflage Scarf” by Janet Brani, weaving, employed for “Boutique Weave Scarf” by Nirmal Khalsa, buttons with appliqué for “Fuzzy Tea Cozy by Melinda A. Sheehan, and felting with “Maywood Purse” by Brenda K.B. Anderson.

Finally, it isn’t necessary to use the recommended yarn for these items. For example, when I made my “Tunisian Croc Rock Cap” the first time, I used a “thick and thin” multi-colored number and it came out great. The second time I used some self-striping Katia City and I got really good results. The recommended skein-of-choice? Lorna’s Laces Worsted. The same can apply to the other patterns. Just think of the possibilities with the thread crochet stuff in this book, especially. You could even alter the gauge for some of them to make other things that are larger or smaller. For example, why not turn a coaster into an afghan square?

Crochet One-Skein Wonders (r) is very useful to me and it will continue to be handy in the future. I think crocheters who like to make small, quick projects, like to buy single skeins, or have leftover yarn from other projects will truly enjoy this book and go back to it again and again.

Getting Back into Cross Stitch

I think I was 15 the last time I did some counted cross stitch. That was more decades ago than I’d like to think about. It isn’t that I am hung up on my age. It’s just that I think I should have kept up the habit of doing this craft. Anyway, I don’t even remember what the last thing was that I cross stitched. I never kept the finished objects. I always gave them to my mom to use. I’m not exactly sure why I abandoned it. Knitting and crochet probably just distracted me. One memory that I do have is that I used to get frustrated looking for patterns at stores. There were always plenty of Biblical quotes and religious things, which often put me off. I have nothing against religious people, things, or the Bible, it’s just that neither have ever really been my preference for stitching. I think, also, I was too young to understand the history of cross stitch and therefore just too ignorant to appreciate these more traditional patterns, which were part of peoples’ educations for quite a long time in history. Cross stitching samplers with alphabets, motifs, borders, and sayings was the way a lot of children learned at school in the 19th century.

Unlike me, my mom has always been a cross stitch fanatic. I think it is her favorite thing to do even though she’s a very skilled knitter and crocheter. She loved to stitch up big wall hangings. I remember how her old-fashioned Santa Claus pictures came out, especially. She bought a book with several different ones and she made all of them.

Of course, my mom taught me how to cross stitch. It’s an easy craft to pick up, in my opinion, and a fun way to keep children busy in the summer months. She taught me because I complained about being bored with my paint-by-numbers and coloring books. Obviously, I came to view cross stitch as a form of coloring with thread. I never had my own supplies, except for a kit here or there. My mom always gave me prepared fabric and strands of floss from her huge stash.

I am lacking in stash for cross stitch, that’s for sure. At Christmas in the USA I did buy some precut DMC Aida cloth, but that has not helped curb my budget to get my first project started because one isn’t the right count (it’s 18) and the other is the wrong color (it’s 14 but plain white). I had to buy everything: floss and 14-count light-coffee-colored fabric. Shopping for a first project, although expensive, is worth the money because then I will have leftovers (fabric and floss) to be used for another, so I’m not too worried about the money.

It’s a low-cost hobby, as a matter of fact, which is just one of its benefits. Another is that you can make some really nice things to decorate the house or add embellishments to things you make or have around. A little cross stitch motif can spruce up just about anything you’re tired of looking at. It has lots of possibilities, even greeting cards. I decided to get back into it because it’s just suffocatingly hot this week and I need something else besides crocheting with cotton to keep me occupied when I have a free moment. This, above all, I think, is one of the best advantages to cross stitching: it’s comfortable all year round. It is definitely not a huge wool afghan to roast you more than necessary on an already unbearably hot afternoon.

So, I got going on my project I picked out, which is a Celtic cushion, and I’ve begun working on it. This is the first time in my life I have ever actually got myself organized to cross stitch something since my mom always gave me stuff that was ready to go. Anybody who is curious about the steps to follow before even beginning to cross stitch something can check out this captioned photo gallery:

A lot of people swear by beginning to cross stitch a project from the center of the fabric. I’m not into that. I like to follow a chart from corner to corner, from bottom to top, and stitch away at the design in ten-square blocks or so. It keeps me from getting lost. I do believe however, in the importance of finding the center of the fabric. It’s easy to do: fold the fabric in quarters and crease it, then open it up. The point where the four creases meet is the center. From here, I just counted the number of squares necessary to find the corresponding bottom-left corner on my chart and marked it with thread. All I had to do was count to 70. On some sweaters I’ve had to cast on and count to 270. Piece of cake.

Getting ready for a project that requires fewer colors, of course, is a lot faster. Also, as you acquire more threads from doing different projects the organization is less involved.

And now I’m going to get something cold to drink and cross stitch for a while as I wait and see if it gets cool enough to work on my wool sweater. If it doesn’t that’s fine. I’ve got a sock and a crochet cotton table cloth to work on.

Review: 150 Knit and Crochet Motifs by Heather Lodinsky

150 Knit and Crochet Motifs by Heather Lodinsky, Interweave: 2011, 128 pages. Paper back and digital editions available. Grade: A+

I think it’s pretty obvious why I bought this book a few years ago. It’s for people who like to knit and crochet. Another motive for getting it is that I’ll never stop adding things to my library, especially motif books and stitch dictionaries. They provide me with lots of inspiration. Finally, I was eager to grab this title because it’s no-nonsense.

It’s just motifs and a handful of projects to illustrate how to use them. The book starts with a visual table of contents. A clear picture of each motif is presented and captioned with its page number. All dictionaries should be planned this way. It’s so much easier and time-saving to just see all the photos and decide which ones are appropriate for the project in mind. There are very few squares in favor of more interesting and unusual shapes. It’s delightful to see circles, leaves, flowers, and many other cool forms.

Although the idea here is to create interesting projects that combine knit and crochet, the reader doesn’t have to do that. I like the idea of combining the two crafts but I haven’t really got serious about it just yet. I see myself trying it out in the future.

After the motifs come five projects using some of the presented patterns: two beautiful afghans, a bag, and a cushion. The directions are very straight-forward and visual. I hope I have time in the future to try one out because they’re really beautiful designs.

At the end of the text comes a little tutorial on techniques. Among the more useful instructions are on how to fit motifs together and planning an original project.

Something that has come to mind while thinking about this book: It’s possible to combine stuff from this book with others from other catalogs, both knit and crochet.

This dictionary most certainly isn’t for everybody because some people only know how to do one craft or the other. I recommend this title to people who equally enjoy knitting and crocheting and would like to have a book with motifs made with the two methods. Anyone who is curious about creating original designs that combine knitting with crochet would also want to add this book to the pattern stash. I’m certainly not sorry I bought it. I hope in the future more references include a visual table of contents. It’s one of the strong points of this collection aside from the fact that I want to knit and crochet all the motifs now that I’ve perused it again!

The scarf didn’t see it coming

My blue lace scarf had no idea it was going to be finished. I sort of sneaked up on it and ended this very long project on Tuesday evening. This is also the second Friday in a row that I have an FO. So, I’ve got two reasons to be very pleased with my knitting.

 

 

You might recall that I made a deal with myself to knit one pattern repeat a day to get this finished. A week after I made this pact I did not stick to the letter of its law. It still helped me to make this promise to myself, though, because it was constantly on my mind. I’d be at the supermarket and the voice in my head would nag at me, “You haven’t knitted a repeat on your scarf in a few days!”

This design is called “A Man’s Scarf in Blue to Knit” by Inna Voltchkova. It took me about seven months to complete it. It’s a difficult lace pattern to follow because the repeat is several rows long. Consequently, I did not ever memorize this and had to have the chart in front of me the entire time I worked on it. Although the directions recommend using blocking pins, I simply washed my scarf and laid it out flat to dry on some towels, stretching it width-wise. It held the shape I wanted as it dried and the zig-zag pattern is very clear and crisp. So, if you decide to knit this blue number, you may not need to aggressively block it with a thousand pins, either. I used Zitron Filigran, a merino size 0 lace weight yarn which is very light and soft. A happy bonus with washing it: it gets longer because the wool expands quite a lot after having contact with water. I don’t know about you, but my scarf philosophy is: the longer the better.

A clever thing about this wonderful pattern is that the cables, just like the garter stitch lace, are reversible. The cables are actually k1p1, which allows them to look the same on both sides, as you can see in the photos.

You may not agree with the designer about men wearing this, but I totally do. It’s all mine and I’m going to wear the living daylights out of it. I think it’s suitable for men and women, actually. Anyway, I love to knit lace and tire of having to give it away because I can’t wear it. This is lace a DEWD can wear, if it fits in with his style. I shall wear it with my Levi’s denim jacket, so I think it will look fantastic on me and not the least bit strange.

I hope you knit and crochet a lot this weekend! I certainly plan on it.

Review: Stashbuster Knits by Melissa Leapman

Stashbuster Knits by Melissa Leapman, Potter Craft: 2011, 144 pages. Paperback and digital formats available. Grade: A+

Of all the books, leaflets, and digital patterns I have in my library, I ought to use this one, but I haven’t yet. I do have a ton of sock yarn scraps in my stash, as well as some stray skeins leftover from knitting sweaters that I should try to use up. When I decide to get going on this task, at least this book is waiting for me to use up my scraps.

Part 1 gives some very good advice on how to organize a yarn stash and get the scraps ready to use in a project. It’s very practical and straight-forward. Knitters who don’t know what they have in their stash or who frequently take a peak into it without being able to remember why they bought this or that skein will especially benefit from this how-to. I know what I have in my stash, but it is most certainly disorganized. If it grows any more I’ll have to tackle organization following this guide. The author includes a primer on joining scraps of yarn together to create a “customized variegated ball of yarn” and a very handy chart on how to substitute strands of yarn held together so that, for example, if you have some worsted weight and a few stray pieces of sport, you can combine strands of sport weight to knit it with the worsted.

Part 2 brings on the patterns. One of the most surprising aspects of this section is the variety of designs. Melissa Leapman didn’t leave out any type of project. There are sweaters, baby clothes, bags, bracelets, shawls, cowls, scarves, and the list goes on. It’s also very helpful that the patterns are organized by yarn weight. That way, if you say to yourself, “hmmm, I have a ton of sport yarn scraps” you can just go to that section and see if you want to use it up knitting this or that project. The variety of techniques that each pattern highlights is also impressive. Cables, colorwork, stockinette, garter stitch: All the bases are covered to bust any old stash.

As far as the patterns go, I like all of them. The photos definitely demonstrate that no one would ever know that they were knitted up with scraps. I think I would like to knit up just about everything. Of course, I don’t need everything in this book, so I won’t, but that’s how awesome the designs are. Just check out the “Cables and Colors” and “Sea of Blue” sweaters. They’re amazing. As a matter of fact, they’re so beautiful that they’re worth buying yarn especially to make them.

This book is for any knitter who is stumped about what to do with the variety of scraps lurking in the stash. Even if you have a mixed bag of stuff, with various amounts of sock, sport, DK, and worsted, you can combine it all to knit up something beautiful and stylish. I plan to use this book in the future, especially because I want to use up my sock yarn scraps and don’t see myself starting another afghan with it all.