Fridays with Franklin: Fluff My Cushions, Part Two

fwf-logo-columnsizeFor an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.

For the first part of this series, click here.

Somebody call the Vatican, because we’ve had a miracle.

Before I set out to make this pillow cover I measured the pillow. Of course.

My trusty tape measure said (and still says) it is 16 inches square. Measure twice, crochet once.

I worked the Tunisian crochet bit of it to be a bit smaller than that, so I could add a contrasting border in single crochet. That made for a fun change, and was quite simple.

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I’m very pleased with the effect. Crochet borders are, as the kids on my lawn say, da bomb.

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The finished dimensions of the front panel after wet blocking were almost identical to finished dimensions of the pillow itself, because what I like in pillow cover is zero ease. I want the cover to fit snugly. A loose cover, to me, resembles a sagging diaper or ill-fitting skirt.

Then something extraordinary happened. The moment I began the next stage–cross stitch embroidery of the center panel–the work expanded to cover 400 square miles.

fwf-59-relative-sizes
It’s all fun and games until your crochet blots out the sun.

Or so it has felt at times.

Cross Stitch Over Tunisian Crochet

There are so many excellent guides to cross stitch readily available that I will forbear for the moment to write one here. I do want to talk a bit about what I’ve encountered working cross stitch over a foundation Tunisian crochet.

What makes this crochet fabric so ideal for cross stitch are the nearly perfect little squares that are its hallmark.

If you have only worked cross stitch before on even-weave fabrics like Aida canvas, it can seem confusing at first as to where exactly you ought to take your stitches. There’s some wiggle room here; but you do want to make sure that once you establish your choice with the first stitches, you stick with it throughout

Here’s where I chose to make my stitches–in and out of the four orange dots. The orange cross to the right of them shows the size and shape of the typical resulting stitch.
fwf-59-stitching-holes

Since this is a crocheted fabric, the grain of it is not perfectly square like a true even-weave. The individual cross stitches will show variation.

To keep them as consistent as possible, I’ve worked with the fabric always oriented in the same direction (that is, the same edge always at the bottom while I stitched).

The Importance of Guidelines

When I teach cross stitch, I hammer home the importance of first laying out your guidelines with running stitches in thread. Don’t skimp on your guidelines! The larger your design, the more guidelines you put in.

This is the chart I’m using. My guidelines are marked with dashed lines. You’ll note they’re every tenth stitch, in both directions.
fwf-59-cushion-cover-chart

Why so many? Why not just the customary two, to pinpoint the center?

Because in large designs–especially large abstract (non-representational) designs like this, it can be too easy to make a mistake and not realize you’ve done so. The design looks fine, at a glance. You move along, and count from a bit of finished work to establish your next row of stitching–and then, only after doing a bunch more work, you realize your error.

Nobody enjoys ripping out. Put in a bunch of guidelines; and when you count, count from them first. Use stitches you know to be correct as a secondary reference point.

fwf-59-fabric-guidelines
To mark my guidelines, I used regular old sewing thread.

These guidelines also allowed me to look at the design as manageable blocks instead of a large and potentially confusing whole. So I could focus on working one 11×11 square, like this.

fwf-59-cushion-chart-excerpt
That’s  harder to goof up and, frankly, less daunting psychologically.

Keeping Your Twist

I got a very alarmed e-mail from a reader who told me you cannot, simply cannot, embroider with yarns designed for knitting and crochet.

I beg to differ, seeing as I and many others have done so for years. In fact, the booklet I referenced last time, from the early 20th century, was quite gung-ho about it. If it were impossible, someone would have twigged it by now.

I will say that any yarn or thread you choose for embroidery must be strong enough to withstand the repeated abrasion that comes from being pulled through the fabric. Most lightly spun and all unspun yarns are unsuitable–they will fall apart as you work.

Yarns with lots of texture (like coils) won’t pull readily through the small hole made by your needle, nor will yarns with additives like sequins. Beaded yarns may work, if the beads are quite small, but beaded embroidery is a topic I’ll leave for another time.

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HiKoo CoBaSi Plus

HiKoo CoBaSi Plus has worked very well, with one caveat. Like any embroidery strand made from fibers that do not stick together (this includes purpose-made embroidery cottons with multiple plies), the yarn will tend to untwist as you work.

Just pause every so often and twiddle the needle to put the twist back in. That’s all.

Some Now, Some Later

I began working the central motif as I’ve always worked cross stitch: row by row, laying in the first part of the cross from left to right, then completing the row by working back from right to left.

Then, after realizing how much of this piece would be done on the road while teaching or in company when I was liable to mis-read my chart, I decided to take a different tack.

When I’ve been in a situation that allowed me to focus–at home, in my workroom, or alone in a hotel room–I’ve worked only the first part of each cross stitch, filling out the design.

fwf-59-embroidery-progress-shot

Then, when I’ve been in distracting situations like airplanes and airport lounges and cafés, I’ve worked over those established stitches–in other words, that’s when I’ve done the mindless work that requires no counting.

Where Am I?

It’s gone well, though I have not as I hoped finished all the embroidery yet. As I said at the beginning of this installment, what began as a cover for a tiny little pillow keeps growing larger, and larger and larger. Still–I’m pleased. The entire first layer is in, so now I merely fill in the second layer. (I may add borders in the blank areas to the right and left, but I’m not sure yet.)

fwf-59-firstlayer

We’re going to have to pause this project for a bit, anyhow–because a newborn baby in the apartment upstairs needs a warm sweater, quickly, and I have just the thing waiting to be knit up: Zitron Gesa & Flo, with a dash of Schoppel-Wolle Edition 6 Light Fingering.

fwf-59-newballs

I’ll show you in two weeks.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
HiKoo CoBaSi Plus (55% Cotton, 16% Bamboo, 8% Silk, 21% Elastic Nylon; 220 yards per 50 gram hank)
Zitron Gesa & Flo (100% Ultra Fine Merino. 98 yards per 25 gram ball; shown in Color 8: Lavender)
Schoppel-Wolle Edition 6 (100% Merino Extrafine Superwash Wool. 328 yards per 50 gram ball; shown in Color 2296: English Garden)
Addi HeartStopper
Addi Click Crochet Hook Interchangeable Set

About Franklin

Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His newest book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book was brought out by Soho Publishing in May 2016 and is in its second printing.

He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Squam Arts Workshops, the Taos Wool Festival, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.

Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue KnittingYarn Market News, Interweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkTwist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Mason-Dixon Knitting, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection/Makers’ Mercantile. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.

He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet (presently on hiatus).

Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, four looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.

Follow Franklin online via Twitter (@franklinhabit), Instagram (@franklin.habit), his Web site (franklinhabit.com) or his Facebook page.

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Do you wanna build a snowman…or maybe knit some hats?

I almost always do a charity project of some sort for my birthday and this year I chose  Linda’s Hats for Hope Initiative. When I was younger I collected lots of hand knit toys for charity and every year Linda would knit my age in donated toys. She’s sweet and generous  and has helped me with so many projects so many times so this year I’m helping her by knitting my age in hats! It’s only January 15th when I’m writing this (I have to turn it in early for approval and stuff) and I’m already at 15 hats and a couple of scarves… So I think I’m going to send her a few extra if I keep knitting until January 27th.

Kenzie yarn makes a nice soft drapey hat and the colors are lovely too. But my favorite thing is Makers’ gives you yarn when you get a knitting machine. It’s soft and squishy and two balls makes a great hat.

Are you a process person or a product person? Mom is process person but I am a product person.  Having a knitting machine is awesome because I can make so many hats in a short amount of time. I just have to be careful not to go too fast and drop stitches.

First off you need to watch the video Karin Skacel has for how to use a knitting machine. I watched the video and in an hour I had my first hat. Mom still helped with finishing, but a hat in an hour and it was so much fun to watch the knitting machine go around and around. Karin had some really important tips that helped me set the machine up successfully so that it wasn’t frustrating, like how to start and how to watch the counter.

Most of my hats are two colors and reversible. Sometimes if I have smaller amounts of yarn I add more stripes, but it is important for these hats to hold up well, so I try not to cut the yarn for no reason.

I do a total of 108 rounds on a hat. So its pretty easy…just 54 rounds of each color.  I can divide by 3 to get even sections of 3 stripes.

I gather each end up tightly and carefully finish each end.

Then I turn one end inside the other. Make sure you leave a tail of yarn to join the inside so it will turn inside out without coming apart. The video I suggested has the cute topknot finish.

I hear weather reports about how cold it is up north and I hope these hats keep people warm this winter and that they know people care.

Next month I’m making an “unbearably” cute kit….it reminds me of a craft project my Grandmother did. I’ve been excited about making it ever since I got it and I can’t wait to show you guys. My Grandmother and Great -Grandmother were both really good at sewing, so I’m looking forward to more of that.

Mom is getting ready to start a knit a long over in the Makers‘ group on Ravelry…I love the scarf pattern. It’s called Holey scarf  and it’s a free pattern. She’d love it if she had some friends to knit with.

And then! We’ve been snowed in for two days… probably tomorrow too because it just keeps snowing…Mom said “hey! I bet we could make a snowman.” She made the nose and I did the rest….we made a knitting machine snowman! I don’t have a pattern for him yet, but we’re working on it so you can make one too!

And p.s. if you want to join in the fun and get your own knitting machine, this is the one I have. I just love it!

 I will see you in February! Post in the comments and tell me about projects you like to do when you are snowed in.

Fridays with Franklin: Fluff My Cushions

fwf-logo-columnsizeFor an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.

If you ask me, you can tell a civilization is in decline when it stops caring about good throw pillows.

Most of us, if we are lucky, spend quite a bit of time with our throw pillows, and they do so much for us. They hide that coffee stain on the sofa from visitors, they add a certain quelque chose to the bed on days when we make the bed, they support our backs as we knit in a favorite chair, they cradle our heads while we fall blissfully asleep during a weekend binge of The Crown or America’s Next Top Cake Hero.

Yet how much thought do we put into the selection of these small but essential elements of the well-appointed home? Judging from the pillows I’ve seen lately (including on my own sofa), shamefully little.

roz-and-pillow.jpg
Rosamund doesn’t like it, either.

I’ve taken a hard look at the soft furnishings of our nest this winter, in part because for a couple of weeks I couldn’t leave the nest or the Chicago weather would have killed me. And I feel the need of an upgrade.

I don’t even know where that green sofa pillow and its twin came from. They mystify me, because I don’t like that depressing olive green and I don’t like that clammy fabric.

I suspect they came home because I was out at some discount store, remembered that we needed new pillows, and grabbed the least offensive pair off the shelf because they were a) cheap and b) meh, good enough.

Is that any way for a man who claims to be a fancier of fine textiles to act? No, it is not.

Out of the Past

A few years ago I was visiting a friend’s great-aunt, and the friend told her that I knit and crochet. The great-aunt said languidly that the afghan over the back of the couch upon which we were sitting was her own work, circa 1950; and it was the first and last thing she’d ever made because needlework was boring as all hell.

It was quite a showpiece, fashioned entirely from wool, weighing in at about three hundred and forty thousand pounds. Most fascinating to me were five square panels set into the center and corners, each embroidered with florals in cross stitch.

I asked if I could photograph it. She thought that was a weird request, and said no. She changed the subject to the voracious and seismic lovemaking of the newlywed couple in the apartment above. They, on cue, went into action at that very moment and we scrambled to keep the tea service from bouncing off the table. The afghan was forgotten.

Months and months later, I came into possession of a 1916 book of knitting and crochet patterns that included an afghan with cross-stitched panels.

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I strained my rudimentary crochet skills to understand the method, which the book called “afghan stitch,” and realized it was what I had seen demonstrated at a couple of fiber shows as “Tunisian crochet,” and had read about in a few Victorian books as “tricot crochet” or “tricot stitch.” (And yes, “tricot” is French for “knitting.” Foreshadowing!)

Ever since, I’ve been looking around for a chance to play with the technique, and at last hit me–why not do up a pretty sofa pillow/cushion cover in Tunisian crochet, and embroider it to suit?

 

The Apparatus

Now, the world of Tunisian crochet is large and varied. This is not the only stitch, but it’s the one called for in all old manuals for cross-stitched panels.

First, a note about the tools for working it.

Tunisian crochet is usually not made with typical crochet hooks, but specialized hooks intended for the purpose. Maker’s Mercantile sells them, and they are usually either double-ended, like these, or have a hook at one end and a stop at the other, like these.

But they also sell a set-up that interested me particularly because of the size of the panel I wanted to make. It looks like this.

fwf-58-hooksetup
An Addi Click Interchangeable Hook at one end, a cute little Addi Heartstopper at the other.

That’s a hook from the Addi Click Crochet Hook Interchangeable Set, with an interchangeable cable and, to keep the work from sliding off the end, an Addi HeartStopper. A long panel can be heavy, and using a hook on a cable means the weight of the growing fabric slides down the cable to rest, and won’t wreak havoc on your wrists as it might with a traditional hook–one of the same reasons circular knitting needles have become so popular, even for flat knitting.

Also, I knew I’d be working on this project on a lot of airplanes–and a short hook with a short cable is less cumbersome in an airplane seat and less attention-getting at security than a long metal hook.

The Tunisian Crochet or Afghan Stitch, Part I: The Set-Up

You may have noticed that those Tunisian hooks with an end stop look like knitting needles. That’s no coincidence, because this odd form of crochet acts a whole lot like knitting. (Hence the nineteenth century moniker “tricot crochet.”)

In fact, if you are a knitter and think you can’t possibly do this, let me give you all the fundamentals of the basic Tunisian stitch in two steps:

*1. Pick up and knit stitches into your fabric. Don’t turn the work.
2. Now bind off all but one of the stitches you just picked up. Repeat from *.

I’m not kidding. You pick up stitches and you bind them off. You can do that, right?

Let me show you how.

I’ll demonstrate some of the gold HiKoo Simpliworsted left from Rosamund’s superhero sweater. (If you want to crochet a washable afghan that incorporates this sort of fabric, Simpliworsted is a great choice.)

We have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is with a crochet chain. It’s no different than the standard chain you’d use to start a regular piece of crochet.

The chain has two sides to it. The front shows you little Vs.

chainvs

The back shows you little bumps.

chainbumps

We will work the next stage, the “forward” row of picked-up stitches, into the bumps.

Set-Up, Forward Row

Insert the hook into bump nearest the hook,

firstpickup

and pull through a loop of the working yarn. Now–and herein lies a great difference between Tunisian crochet and other sorts–we slip this new loop onto the shaft of the crochet hook. That’s right–just as we keep our knitting stitches on the shafts of our needles.

Continue to pick up a loop through every one of the bumps on the back of your chain, keeping all the newly-created stitches on the hook.

middle-of-setup-forward
In the midst of the set-up forward row.

Do not turn the work. That’s right–don’t turn the work. In fact, never turn the work.

Instead, we will now work a “reverse” row and bind off all these new stitches.

Set-Up, Reverse Row

Yarn over the hook, and pull a new loop through the stitch at the left end of the row.

setup-reverse-01
Yarn over hook, pull a loop through last stitch you made in your forward row.

Yarn over the hook, and pull a loop through the first two stitches on the hook.

set-reverse-02
Yarn over the hook, pull a loop through the first two stitches on the hook.

**Yarn over the hook, and pull a loop through the next two stitches on the hook.

Repeat from ** until you have only one stitch left on the hook.

setup-complete
The forward and reverse rows of the set-up are complete. One stitch remains on the hook. You’re ready to work the rest of the fabric.

Your set-up is now complete. The next section will tell you how to work the remainder of the fabric.

The Tunisian Crochet or Afghan Stitch, Part Two: All the Other Rows

You’ll continue to work your fabric in much the same way–with forward rows (right to left) in which you make new stitches; and backward rows (left to right) in which you bind off all but one of them.

Forward Row

Look at the fabric you’ve created in the set up. You will see a series of vertical “bars.” I’ve marked them here to make them obvious.

verticalbars

Each bar you see has a mate on the back side of the work. We will work only into the bars on the front until the last bar of the forward row.

Put the hook under the second bar in from the right selvedge of the work. Yarn over the hook and pull up a loop.

forward-01
Slide the new loop onto the shaft of the hook.

Repeat into the next bar, and all remaining bars until you reach the final bar–the one at the left selvedge.

forward-02
Working a forward row, making a stitch under each vertical bar at the front of the fabric.

Create the stitch at the left selvedge by sliding the hook under both the front and back bars, yarn over the hook, and pull up a loop.

forward-03
The left selvedge stitch is picked up under both the front and back vertical bars (outlined in orange).

This little change gives you a neat left selvedge that matches the right selvedge.

DO NOT TURN THE WORK.

Reverse Row

Note: This is pretty much identical the reverse row in the set-up!

Yarn over the hook and pull a loop through the first stitch on the hook only.

***Yarn over the hook and pull up a loop through the first two stitches on the hook.

Repeat from *** until one stitch remains on hook.

DO NOT TURN WORK.

first-row-completed
First complete row of fabric (made from one forward and one reverse row) completed.

Begin the next Forward Row, as above.

Bind off as you would any flat piece of crochet.

The fabric this stitch creates is intriguing: dense, cushy, and with a surface texture that reminds me of the little square cells in a waffle.

DSC05149

Destination: Throw Pillow 

For my pillow cover, I settled on HiKoo CoBaSi Plus. It’s a worsted weight–unlike the original CoBaSi, which is a fingering weight, and fabulous for wool-free socks and summer shawls.

fwf-58-hikoo-cobasi-plus
Yes, please.

CoBaSi Plus (a mix of cotton, bamboo, and silk–get it?) is strong, soft, durable, springy, lustrous, washable, and feels nice against your face–all important in a cushion you’d like to be beautiful and useful.

In setting about making my fabric, I learned a few things very quickly.

First, when guides to Tunisian crochet tell you to use a hook size that seems large for the weight of your yarn, they mean it. This fabric is tight. Use a hook that would be reasonable for, say, a granny square, you may find very that your fabric is impossible to work without damaging your fingers.

How do you figure out which hook to use? SWATCH. No way around it.

cobasi-swatch
I tried three sizes of hook. The smallest (at the bottom of the photo above) made a fabric so dense that was nearly impenetrable on forward rows. The largest (at the top) made a fabric loose enough for the fabric of the pillow form to show through…tacky. The hook in between (in the middle), a 5mm, was just right. You can barely see the difference in the photograph–but it’s there.

Also, Tunisian crochet has a reputation for being tough on the hands and wrists. I won’t disagree with that–it can be. Using the loosest suitable tension (therefore, the largest suitable hook) will help, as will avoiding yarns (like pure cottons) that don’t like to stretch.

I also found it was far easier on my hands and wrists when I grasped my hook knife-style (in the palm of the hand, rather than resting pencil-style on the thumb), and held it nearer the lower end of the hook, where it joined the cable.

Coming Up…

The making of the fabric was quite pleasant, if occasionally monotonous. But what I was really looking forward to was turning it into a big, bold piece of cross stitch.

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For that more on that, see you in two weeks.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
HiKoo CoBaSi Plus (55% Cotton, 16% Bamboo, 8% Silk, 21% Elastic Nylon; 220 yards per 50 gram hank)
HiKoo Simpliworsted (55% Merino Wool, 25% Acrylic, 17% Nylon. 140 yards per 100 gram hank)
Addi HeartStopper
Addi Click Crochet Hook Interchangeable Set

About Franklin

Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His newest book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book was brought out by Soho Publishing in May 2016 and is in its second printing.

He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Squam Arts Workshops, the Taos Wool Festival, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.

Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue KnittingYarn Market News, Interweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkTwist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Mason-Dixon Knitting, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection/Makers’ Mercantile. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.

He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet (presently on hiatus).

Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, four looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.

Follow Franklin online via Twitter (@franklinhabit), Instagram (@franklin.habit), his Web site (franklinhabit.com) or his Facebook page.