How to be the best fibre artist you can be

I started to knit very early in life. At the grand age of six I was wielding those knitting needles, and Tunisian hook like a tiny little savant. I have my extremely patient grandmother, whom I called Ouma, to thank for that. Even though my great-grandmother, Oumie, Ouma’s mother, was a crocheter who was talented beyond imagining, I did not learn to crochet from her, and didn’t learn until I was in my thirties. I applied dogged determination. I was going to learn to crochet if it killed me. My first fiddly attempts did not scare me off. In fact they galvanized my stubbornness.

At first it was excruciatingly difficult. While knitting gave one the idea of tension, it was rather different. Tunisian crochet was a sort of knitting / crochet hybrid, and was a tad helpful. I started to immerse myself in crochet magazines, books, websites, blogs, the whole lot. The one thing I did that was the game changer was crochet every single day. I would challenge myself constantly, and in so doing steadily increased my skillset.

A current WIP, Six day kid blanket by Betty McKnit (Beth Elliot) on Ravelry

I read a book a while back, when it first came out, called Atomic Habits by James Clear. I recently reread the book, or rather listened to it on Audible. I’ve been mulling it over in my mind for some time, and there are principles that apply to pretty much anything one wants to do, or learn. The book deals with some ideas that I found quite fascinating.

The first of these is the idea of 1% improvements, the rule of marginal gains. You may also see it referred to elsewhere as “microexcellence”. In the book James talks about the British cycling team, and how this theory was applied, and how it moved them from mediocrity to stellar performance. Often we think that focusing on just the big things will lead to the biggest gains, but small and consistent tweaks can make the real difference. The rule, or theory, of marginal gains relies on small but consistent improvement over time. It was Albert Einstein who stated, “Compound interest is the greatest force in the universe”. This applies to effort too.

To put this into practice, let’s talk a bit about crochet (or knitting, etc). When I first started out everything seemed so intensely difficult. I looked at patterns and wondered how on earth I would ever get to that skill level. By my reckoning the only way I would get there is by sticking with it no matter how hard it was. Crochet would have to be a habit that I practiced every single day, so that’s what I did. As I gained skill I kept challenging myself to continuously improve by attempting ever more difficult techniques. It has gotten to a point now where, when paging through a crochet mag, or book, there usually isn’t a pattern I don’t have the skill to take on. It doesn’t mean I know everything. I don’t think any of us could live long enough to know everything about our chosen craft, but by challenging ourselves all the time we can learn a staggering amount.

The next thing James talks about is the “plateau of latent potential”. This is an interesting phenomenon. I think it is best described as where you don’t always notice how far you’ve come, because your improvements are small, but one day you have an epiphany, and realise that you have made incredible progress. You have arrived at a skill level you didn’t think possible. It takes a little time to realise that potential, and it won’t usually happen over a short period. Over the longer term, looking back you will be amazed at how you have mastered your art.

Compound interest is the greatest force in the universe.

– Albert Einstein

In order to become something you must take on board the identity of what you want to become. You have to consider yourself a crocheter, knitter, weaver, whatever it is. Then you do what crocheters, knitters, weavers, do. The outcome becomes a byproduct of the identity you’ve adopted.

Practicing your fibre art means turning it into a habit. The four laws of habit creation are described in Atomic Habits as follows:

Let’s start with the cue. The cue must be obvious. That’s super important. Place your work where it is easy for you to pick up and work a few rows. The cue will trigger the craving. “Ooooh, I’d love to work a few rows! It’s so relaxing.” The response to the craving must be clear and obvious. Pick up the work and satiate the craving. The reward must be satisfying. I have no doubt that when it comes to fibre arts that the enjoyment, and relaxation, as well as the visible result of your effort, is a huge reward. This habit loop, practiced often, will lead to the consistent effort required for mastery. The reward will make you want to perform the habit over and over again. Making the hobby a habit may sound formulaic, and risks boredom, but it won’t. In order to become really good at anything you need to put in the time so that it feels natural. Mastery is the outcome, but with fibre arts you get the double pleasure of enjoying the journey too.

One of the easy ways to incorporate a new habit into your life is to habit stack. Habit stacking is where you tack on a new habit to an existing habit so that it’s easy to work it into your day. Maybe a few rows with the morning cuppa. That’s twice the enjoyment. What a pleasure.

To become really, really good at anything requires hard work, and consistency. With fibre arts mostly being skills-based, it is essential that the movements become as natural as breathing. The only way that is going to happen is if you do it every single day. I often tell those I have taught to crochet that it’s fine if they don’t have a lot of time to practice. Fifteen minutes a day is enough. Consistency is critical. I cannot emphasise this enough. Do as much as you have time for, but make sure you make it a habit. This may sound like it would take away from the pleasure, but on the contrary. By mastering the movements and skills required, you will take your journey to places you couldn’t have imagined. One day you will be quietly sitting with a cup of coffee (or whatever beverage pleases you), and you will realise you’re not a beginner anymore. You are very, very good.

“the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”

― Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

Glorious Grannies

There are few things as simple and fun to make as your traditional granny square.  It’s dead easy, and the simple repetition is a meditative set of movements that calms the harried mind.

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This week, while working on very complicated projects, I had such a strong urge to make a few grannies.  Normally when I start something I have a pretty good idea from the get go what it will be.  This time I simply wanted to make for the sake of it, and felt I would figure out the details later.  So, I grabbed some yarn and just began.

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My week is not without deadlines, and I daren’t procrastinate, but I derived immense joy from the colours and simplicity.  For the newbies out there I thought I would share a few bits of info on granny squares, how to make them, and securely weaving in ends.

In the end I decided that this set of grannies would become a cushion cover.  I made it from Scheepjes Stonewashed, which is a blend of cotton and acrylic.  It’s gorgeous to work with, and comes in an astounding number of colours.  What amazes me most is they managed to assign a colour appropriate gem or stone to each colour.  That was surely no mean feat.

Righto then, lets start with how to make a simple granny square. I will demonstrate how to make a solid colour square, but should you wish to change colours at any point, simply fasten off and join the new colour in any corner.

How to make a granny square

For this tutorial I am using Scheepjes Stonewashed in colour 819 “New Jade” and a 3.5mm hook.  If you are using DK use a 4mm hook, or for any other weight the ball band should give you an idea of the hook size to use.

This tutorial will use UK terms.

Explanation of stitches

Slip stitch: insert hook into stitch, grab yarn with hook and pull through stitch to the front of work, pull through loop on the hook.

Treble: yarn over, insert hook into space, grab yarn with hook, and pull through space to the front of work, three loops on hook, yarn over pull through two loops, yarn over again and pull through remaining two loops.

Start with a slipknot and chain 5.  Join to form a ring.  For round 1 we will be working into the ring as indicated in the following image by the needle:  

Work into the ring as indicated

Next, chain 3 (this counts as the first treble.  Work two more trebles into the ring.  Chain 3.  This will be your first corner. Work another 3 trebles into the ring.  Your work should now resemble the following:

First corner of round 1 made

Chain 3 to make the next corner, and work 3 trebles into the ring to form the next cluster.  Repeat this step to create the 4th and final cluster ending with a chain 3.  Join to the top of the beginning chain 3.  Your work should now look like this, with 4 clusters of 3 trebles and 4 chain 3 spaces.

Round 1

If you were to change colour for the next round you would fasten off your work and join the new colour into any corner. Since we are making a square using one colour you need to slip stitch into the next stitch (as indicated by the needle). See the following image for guidance:

Slip stitch into indicated space

Slip stitch again into the corner. Now you are ready to do the next round.

For round 2 we once again need to chain 3. This counts as the first treble. Next work 2 trebles into the corner space and chain 2. Work another 3 trebles into the same corner space. You now have your first corner of the second round made. The reason we chained 2 instead of 3 in the making of the corner on the second round is I like to make a fairly compact square that isn’t too loose with the holes too big. To this end, while you may find many patterns for granny squares chaining one between clusters, we will not be making chains between the clusters.

The first corner of round 2

We will repeat this first corner by working 3 trebles, 2 chains, 3 trebles into each chain space around. End off with a slip stitch into the top of the beginning chain 3.

You will note that you now have four corners, made up of two clusters of 3 trebles, with a 2 chain space between clusters. You also have an additional space between clusters. This is important for the next round.

Round 2

To begin round 3 you will need to once slip stitch your way into the corner space. Then chain 3, and work 2 more trebles to form the first corner cluster, then 2 chains and another 3 trebles into the same space. Corner made. Now you will also need to work a cluster of 3 trebles into the newly formed space between the clusters (as indicated by the needle in the above image). Next you will make the second corner by working 3 trebles, 2 chains and 3 trebles into the next corner space. Repeat this all the way around and join with a slip stitch into to the top of the beginning chain 3.

At the end of this round your square should look like the one in the image below, and note that you now have 2 spaces between corners. For each round you work you will find additional spaces between corners on each side of your square. You will always work a 3 treble cluster into these spaces.

Round three, and the additional spaces indicated.

You can make the square any size you please, from a few rounds, to a massive square blanket. When you have attained the number of rounds you require, simply fasten off your work. Change colours as you please, or use just one colour. The possibilities are endless. I’m going to go ahead and work another two rounds, leaving me with a five round square.

Square with five rounds

Weaving in ends

I don’t know a single crocheter who enjoys the process of weaving in the ends. You will hear people try to find all sorts of ways to avoid doing it properly, which results in their work inevitably coming undone. My way of thinking is that if you are going to spend all that time and money on a project it really isn’t that much effort to work in those ends properly, thereby ensuring they never, ever come undone. I have seen beautiful heirlooms with sad holes in them because people avoid this step. So to you, dear crocheter, I say spend a little time on this and you will be glad you did.

Fortunately my five round square above only has two ends. The more colours the more ends. Lets start with the end that is left from making the first round, and centre of the square.

Turn your work over so the wrong side is facing you. You will always, unless instructed otherwise, work your ends into the wrong side.

Wrong side of work facing

First thread the yarn onto a sharp needle. I prefer metal needles with a nice point, but use whatever works for you.

Work the needle through several stitches at a time of the centre ring, working your way once all around.

Next you are going to work backward. Skip a stitch in the opposite direction, and work your needle back through the stitches working several stitches at a time. Repeat the process a few times and snip of the end close to your work. I like to use embroidery scissors as they are precise, reducing the risk of accidentally cutting the work itself.

Next we are going to work on the end where you finished your work off. If you changed colours you can apply the same method to any part of the work. Thread your needle with the yarn end, and work your end in several directions, skipping stitches and working back over sections already worked. Once you are satisfied that you have repeated the process enough times, you can snip the yarn end.

The work is turned as needed while you work the end, always into the wrong side of work.
Wrong side of granny square with ends worked in

And voila! You have a completed granny square. If your granny square is a bit wonky, or isn’t as flat as you’d like, check out my tutorial for spray blocking your work. It makes a huge difference.

From Start to Finish

I am a very good starter of things.  I start projects like the ADHD (which I have genuinely being diagnosed with, as well as a mild case of OCD) person that I am.  My concentration flits from one thing to another with astonishing ease and speed.  As I’ve blogged about before, this results in a rather large number of WIPs.

I must, however, digress and tell you about my word for the year.  My word for 2019 is less.  Less everything.  I’ve been decluttering for years, but toward the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 I really got stuck in and did some pretty brutal decluttering.  Even my yarn stash wasn’t immune to my fervour.  You see, 2018 was a dreadful year.  My husband had an intestinal issued that nearly killed him, eight times. He had eight surgeries in four months.  He spent nearly five months in ICU and most of the rest of the year in hospital and then a step-down facility.  The doctors were quite astonished that he survived, and said it was quite miraculous.  It felt like the year was out of control.  I really got some practice in how to manage my feelings about being so totally out of control.  I got to face the possibility of loss head on, and made friends with people who ended up not being as lucky as I was.  And we really leaned on each other.  I learned about the kindness of strangers, the disappointment in people I thought would be there and weren’t , but more importantly the huge number of people who were so incredibly kind and stepped up when I needed it most.  Back to the decluttering.  I think that with everything feeling so uncontrollable, I felt the need to exert some measure of being in charge of my life, so as a start I took control of my things.

Our home is pretty minimalist.  Despite this, there was still a fair amount of stuff in cupboards, drawers and the store room.  I was getting tired of it.  It starts to feel like possessions own you and not you them. I got stuck into books, clothes, papers, yarn, absolutely everything.  I first read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying” and “Spark Joy” by Marie Kondo, when they first came out in 2011 and 2012 respectively.  They made an impact at the time and I started and stopped the process many times.  During my decluttering I came to realise that there was a series based on her books on Netflix. I really enjoyed that, and the timing was simply perfect.  It spurred me on further.  All I have left is the kitchen and some sentimental items (which isn’t much at all) and I’m done.  Having said that, I don’t think you’re ever completely done.  You will likely revisit your things many times in your life, but the process gets easier, and the base from which you begin gets smaller.  Decluttering yarn was pretty difficult.  I’m generally not very materialistic and rarely get attached to stuff, but I really liked my yarn collection.  I had to fess up to the fact that there were yarns in there, bought on impulse, I was never, ever going to use.  Lovely though they may be, off they went.  And I actually felt more motivated than ever afterward to use yarns in my stash for projects rather than buying new yarn.

So, with this being the year of less, I thought I could extend that to fewer WIPs too.  Keep just a few WIPs about:  one complex, one easy and portable for out and about, and one for the list of gifts I’ve made.  And I’ve been pretty good.  These are my first three finished projects for 2019, not bad for nearly the end of Feb.  Furthermore they were all made with yarns from my stash:  Win!

 

I’ve been battling a little with the rheumatoid arthritis in my hands (not to mention the lupus everywhere else), so there are a couple of lovely projects in the works, but they’re taking longer than I’d hoped, but hey, I’m doing better than expected.

Our evenings in Rosendal are beginning to cool, as are the early mornings.  We are slowly but surely heading for winter, and I reckon it’ll be a cold one.  Not a bad thing since it means cosy crochet in front of the fire.  That sounds pretty awesome to me as the blanket projects come out then.  Yay.

The nostalgia of knitting and Tunisian Crochet

When I was six years old, my grandmother taught me to knit and Tunisian Crochet. I remember it clearly, because that is when my love of fibre arts was born. Catch them while they’re young, and all that. My real love affair with very special yarns came much later, but at that young and impressionable age I remember feeling the wonder that is the creation of something tangible with a stick and some stringy stuff.