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! ♥

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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!