You’ll Never Guess What My New Year’s Resolution Is

keep-calm-and-blog-on-158Believe it or not, my WordPress draft archive has become a bigger dumping ground for unfulfilled randomness than my Amazon shopping cart. (Damn you $35 free shipping minimum!)

Apparently that’s what happens when I delude myself into committing to counterproductive blogging ultimatums for months on end. . .like putting all potential posts on hold until I finally have a new crochet pattern ready to upload. I’d say I knew what I was thinking at the time I made that brilliant decision, but my memory recall has been temporarily crippled by the soundtrack of baby Katie’s Fisher Price toys, which may also partly explain why I haven’t managed to focus much on patterning since August.

Now that the new year has arrived, I figure its as good a time as any to dust off my backlog of blog topics and start playing catch-up, even if the crochet patterns remain few and far between for the near-term. Forthcoming posts will chronicle various crafty projects and yarn-related topics, including:

  • planning my sister’s nautical-themed bachelorette party
  • the perpetual saga of cat-proofing my yarn stash
  • the pros and cons of magnetic spice racks (and how to make your own)
  • submitting proposals to crochet magazines
  • transforming a kitchen cupboard into a toy box
  • stockpiling discontinued novelty yarn
  • pretending to be Oprah (aka, a list of my favorite crochet-related things)
  • adventures in sizing crochet baby clothes
  • teaching myself to knit (aka, why I’m convinced there’s a level of hell dedicated solely to turning the heels of socks)
  • crochet cat tuffets

Thanks for hanging in there with me in the meantime and have a very happy New Year! ♥

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Some Serious Garage Sale Therapy

Between Katie’s latest sleep strike and the hot mess that downloading Windows 10 turned out to be, the soundtrack to my life lately has been a delightful combination of Microsoft technical support hold music and baby protest chants (i.e., intermittent and prolonged shrieking).

Luckily last week was MEGA GARAGE SALE EXTRAVAGANZA. And nothing takes the edge off a rough week like losing track of time rummaging through a wonderland of unspeakable randomness. Especially when there’s epic quantities of yarn to be had.

garage sale

This is just a small snapshot of the annual Hospice benefit garage sale. It’s three buildings, three days. and a whole lot of dangerous hoarding opportunities. Books are ten for a dollar. Golf clubs are fifty cents each. Arm chairs are five dollars. Yarn is sold by the garbage bag. If Goodwill and IKEA got married on Black Friday, this is probably what their love child would look like.

Needless to say, it’s a pretty popular affair. Standing in line on opening night rivals the running of the bulls. Anyone who thinks outrunning a bunch of riled up Spanish longhorns sounds like the adventure of a lifetime has obviously never tried to jockey their way through a crowd of veteran garage salers indiscriminately throwing elbows. The keys to success at the sale are getting there at least an hour early to secure a good position in line the gauntlet of chaos and formulating a plan of attack. (And reassuring your skeptical husband that you won’t deviate from it. . .too much.)

Thanks to a small army of Hospice volunteers who literally dedicate a week of their lives to sifting and sorting through hundreds of people’s donations for the sale, everything is always jaw droppingly well organized, which makes creating a shopping wishlist pretty easy. My usual shopping route is straight to the crafting section for first dibs on yarn, then on to the books section, the general toys section, the kitchen stuff section, the picture frame aisle, the antique stuff corner, the vintage suitcase and general luggage corner, then a pass through the baby clothes/toys building, and finally a pass through the furniture courtyard and building.

The thing is, no matter how much I strategize and try to stay focused, I inevitably drag at least one completely unnecessary and random thing home with me. One year, I stumbled on the most eighties-fabulous Shirt Tales wastebasket ever while I was charting a course to the throw pillow bins.

wastebasket1 wastebasket2

A freaking Shirt Tales wastebasket, people. Leaving it behind would have been like abandoning a baby unicorn.

In keeping with tradition, my usual haul this year was laced with just enough spontaneous must-haves to make Brett roll his eyes at me but not question my sanity. That’s a win in my book. Here are some of the highlights:

garage sale2

Bag of crochet hooks and tiny scissors: $2.00. Most of these are the nice aluminum Boye hooks with the rounded ends that my Jo-Ann’s store doesn’t carry anymore. (My passionate loathing of inline hooks is a topic for another post.). There’s some vintage tiny ones in there, too. Maybe I’ll get brave make a pitcher of wine punch one of these days and try thread crochet.

garage sale4

3 size K double-ended crochet hooks: $1.50. I’ve never seen these anywhere before, but Google says there’s such a thing as double-ended crochet. It can’t be any trickier than Tunisian, right?

garage sale1

Wooden toy car bundle: $1.50. It turns out Katie likes to pretend to be Godzilla and throw these things across the room.

garage sale3

Old textile thread spools: $2.00. For thread crochet practice, perhaps?

garage sale5

Vintage glass graduated pearls: $1.00. They just don’t make fake pearls anymore like they used to.

garage sale6

Giant wooden badger box: $1.00. After some rehab and paint, this will be Katie’s new living room toy box.

yarn stash

*Insert drum roll here* Garbage bag of yarn: $6.50. I feel like I just robbed a candy store. It’s mostly all discontinued colors of acrylic/acrylic blend, but beggars can’t be choosers.

So now that my stash is adequately refreshed and my computer works (most of the time), I should probably go bang out some more crochet patterns before Katie decides to reject the terms of our latest sleep strike resolution (i.e., she sleeps longer than three hours, and I won’t put any embarrassing pictures in her baby book). So long as she doesn’t call my bluff for a few days, new yarn creations will be coming soon! ♥

Campfire Hokum and Crochet Fireflies

When we finally caught a break from Ohio’s monsoon season last weekend, we decided to haul out some firewood and roast hotdogs in the backyard. Mr. Neon Sheep (aka, Brett) and I were pretty excited about introducing baby Katie to the simple pleasures of campfire cooking. Unfortunately, the mosquitos were pretty excited, too, and they took to us like a pack of tiny winged hyenas as soon as we set foot outside.

As I alternated scratching and hunting around the house for citronella-scented anything, Brett was still preoccupied with burning things. He found an article online about igniting bundles of herbs to repel mosquitos and quickly harvested a pile of sage from the garden. Then he rolled it up with newspaper and borrowed some of my white cotton yarn to bind it all together.

yarn binding

Unfortunately he borrows yarn about as well as my cats borrow pom-poms.

jealous tiger

Tiger was quite jealous.

Once the sage bundles were ready (and the leftover cotton was stashed away for future salvage), we tossed one on the fire and crossed our fingers, simultaneously swatting at a new cloud of mosquitos. Then we threw another bundle on. And another—the faint sound of mosquito laughter gradually growing louder in the background. It may have just been the sound of damp firewood hissing. . .but we were hungry and running low on blood cells at that point, so it’s hard to say for sure.

campfire

In the end, it was a forgotten bucket of citronella in the garage that saved us from requiring total blood transfusions after we’d finally eaten. The burnt sage repellent was a dud, but it turns out that our real problem was trying to attempt a DIY project on an empty stomach. We later realized that we totally overlooked two key ingredients for making flaming herb mosquito repellant: lavender and mint. Technically Brett overlooked them, but I was so desperate for a s’more that I didn’t ask if he’d read ALL the instructions in the online article. And if you were familiar with Brett’s track record with reading instructions, you’d know that was possibly a more detrimental oversight on my part.

Luckily we were able to stay outside long enough to enjoy watching the fireflies burn off some of their cabin fever. (At least, I imagine fireflies get bored being cooped up wherever they live when it rains for weeks on end. . .) Katie’s still too little to run around chasing them, which means I don’t have an excuse yet to run around and chase them either (other than too much sangria). Same goes for the ice cream truck, unfortunately. But I’m looking forward to regressing back into childhood foolishness when she’s a toddler. And embarrassing her with the pictures later.

In the meantime, I’ve crocheted some of these little guys to light up my workspace at night.

single bug

Trust me, the only thing better than rediscovering the awesomeness of capturing lightning bugs in a jar is discovering the awesomeness of playing with glow-in-the-dark Jelly Yarn. (And also not being eaten alive by mosquitos. . .) The pattern to make your own crochet lightning bugs is available here or by following the picture link on the Pattern Gallery page. It includes instructions with and without glow-in-the-dark yarn, but let’s face it—everything is better when it glows in the dark.

May your summer nights be bright and your bug spray plentiful! ♥

The Holy Grail of Beginner Crochet Projects

Once upon a time I taught crochet classes at my local Jo-Ann Fabrics store. I think the only reason they gave me the job was because my compulsive yarn hoarding was quite likely paying off the manager’s vacation home in Mexico and/or putting his kids through private boarding school. I had no experience teaching anything—let alone crochet—but I did have marketing experience, and I was pretty good at turning unsuspecting shoppers into unsuspecting hookers-in-training.

The first thing I learned about teaching structured crochet classes was that no one really wanted to make the projects they signed up for. And when it came to the structured crochet classes at Jo-Ann’s, I couldn’t really blame them. After all, who really wants to make a wearable crochet flower necklace or a starfish-shaped dish cloth? The “Crochet 101” course was problematic in a similar way, but for the opposite reason. There was no advertised project. The entire three-hour class secretly consisted of nothing but making practice swatches. Naturally, everyone showed up with pattern books in tow, totally punch-drunk on new yarn smell, expecting that they’d be halfway to a finished throw blanket before lunchtime.

This was the second thing I learned about teaching crochet: the only thing more certain than death and taxes is the blind ambition of someone who picks up a crochet hook for the first time. In fact, it quickly became clear that nearly all my students intended to begin their crochet odyssey the same unfortunate way that I began mine: tempted by that infatuating siren of the fiber world—the afghan. I still have the failed trapezoid that resulted from my very first afghan attempt.

fail blanket

My twelve-year-old self was clearly too in over my head to keep an accurate stitch count.

If ever a melancholy Sarah McLachlan PSA could be justified, it would be to demonstrate the tangible regret of adopting overly ambitious crochet projects. Learning to crochet is frustrating enough as it is without complicating it with unreasonable expectations. There’s all the hand positioning, tension adjustment, stitch identification, and pattern interpretation—all while silently counting to yourself. It’s a small miracle anyone makes it through this juggling act without opting to braid a noose instead. Not to mention that trying to learn how to crochet confidently in three hours is like getting my cats to learn how to brush themselves. It’s just not going to happen. Because Leo said so.

leo with brush

But it’s hard to explain the concept of baby steps to a room full of hopeful people paying for my guidance on how to make their lofty crochet dreams a reality. So at first I humored new students with granny squares. But they’d usually finish one or two by the end of class and then wearily ask for the fifteenth time, “How many of these do I have to make again?” What they really wanted was something to show for their work—something that they wouldn’t feel embarrassed unveiling to their friends and family members who had long ago graduated to crocheting flawless afghans in their sleep.

So I drafted an ultimate beginner pattern wish list:

  1. Quick design (Basic stitches only and easy to finish in just a few hours.)
  2. Teachable pattern (Short, but with several common pattern conventions, like skipped stitches and working in chain spaces.)
  3. Not god-awful ugly (And at least a little bit practical.)

Thus, the Revolution Cuff Bracelet made its debut, and my Crochet 101 classes were never the same again.

beanstalk cuff cropped

Finally people could practice crochet basics, learn to read a pattern, and finish an entire project in just one class—with plenty of yarn and ambition to spare. It was a less dramatic journey than Indiana Jones’, but I still like to think I helped save the world a little bit. Or at least helped save a handful of people from embarking on ill-fated afghan adventures.

Unfortunately my local Jo-Ann store did away with all its classroom programs last summer, but the silver lining is that I can share this pattern with everyone now. ♥ Download it for free here or click the photo link on the Pattern Gallery page. Feel free to leave questions or feedback in the comments. Happy hooking in the meantime!

Pom-Poms: The Stuff of Dreams and Cat Toys

The origin story of this blog begins with a big honking box of pom-poms.

pom poms

Two years ago I vowed to ditch my awful day job, have a baby, finally publish my crochet patterns, and blog about my adventures along the way. It seemed like a simple enough plan, but by then I had already started spending all my money on prenatal vitamins and ovulation kits instead of gin and vermouth, so I was probably a little definitely delusional at the time. . . . About a zillion negative pregnancy tests and freelance query responses later, my ambitions to blog and publish started to accumulate dust faster than my liquor cabinet, and my frustrations manifested into an ungodly hoard of pom-poms.

Some of them were put to good use.

pom pom flowers

But my cats borrowed a lot of them without asking. Cats are jerks about borrowing things.

dead pom pom

The rest ended up as various garlands, hat embellishments, and rainbow-tinged hairballs outside my bedroom door. Four hundred and sixty-three pom-poms later, things finally started looking up. I secured a few sources of steady freelance work, politely told my bosses to suck it, and this drooly little miracle happened:

baby1

The moral of the story: sometimes getting from point A to point B in life just requires some intensive, semi-neurotic pom-pom therapy. And a really big bottle of cat puke stain remover.

Now that I’ve finally arrived at my point B, operation “Publish Crochet Patterns” can commence—mostly in the middle of the night. It’s a stealth mission that involves sleep deprivation, yarn camouflage (to make it look less like cat spaghetti), and avoiding eye contact with the baby monitor. Seriously, NEVER MAKE EYE CONTACT WITH THE BABY MONITOR. I’m pretty sure it triggers a silent alarm that really pisses babies off. The end goal is to share my patterns/patterning adventures with the world and hopefully inspire an army of flying birthday pigs. . .

100_1727

or a bunch of crochet duckling clones. . .

Ducklings

I have the blueprints for a whole crochet zoo floating around in my head, but there’s some practical stuff in there sometimes, too:

legwarmers 2

rug1

I believe anything is possible with a hook, a little imagination, and a lot of experimentation, and my crochet design philosophy is equal parts quirky and eclectic. A sleepy baby, well-behaved cats, and a few adult beverages tend to help the creative process, too. So whether you stay for the crochet shoptalk or my random late-night musings, I’m grateful for your company as I begin this adventure in blogging. Here’s to crafty camaraderie that never sleeps. ♥