Fridays with Franklin: From Bun to Blanket

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For an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.

The last time I wrote about granny squares in this column it was to exult over having finally figured out how to do them.

Those who learned to crochet at mama’s knee are welcome to snicker, but they were a tough nut for me to crack. I was brand new to crochet. I knew nothing. And so often, the answers I got from crocheters to whom I appealed for help were, shall we say, opaque.

lost-bunny

One authority’s response was, “Granny squares? Oh, they’re easy. Just a ring and then double crochet and make sure to work four corners. You can do more corners or fewer if you want a different shape. Okay? Bye.”

I was reminded of a Victorian knitting pattern in my collection that instructs you to make a baby’s jacket by first casting on “stitches sufficient to reach around the baby.”

In any case, after poring over a pile of crochet books, and going so far as to draw maps for myself,

granny-map

I did finish six granny squares and assemble them into a multi-purpose accessory for the bath. You can see it here.

But I still hadn’t made myself the sine qua non of granny-based fabrics: a blanket.

Concentric Buns

Since this space is supposed to be the place where I try new stuff while people watch, it made sense to ask Makers’ Mercantile if I could use one of the newer HiKoo yarns, Concentric, for my blanket.

HiKoo Concentric is interesting stuff. It’s spun from 100% Baby Alpaca, so it’s soft and drapey–two qualities highly desirable in a blanket.

The construction is wild. Check this out.

The strand is made up of what are, essentially, four strands of two-ply lace weight. These four strands aren’t twisted together–they just lie next to one another.

yarn-01

There’s more. Every so often, one of the plies in one of the strands changes color.

yarn-02

A bit further along, a second ply changes color.

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Then another, then another, and so forth until they have all changed.

yarn-04

yarn-05

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The result is a slow gradient yarn, but the shifts from one color to the next are attractively speckled or flecked.

The yarn is put up into a bullseye bun from which you can work without prior winding.

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I picked this colorway, Trixie, and planned a simple experiment.

KISS My Buns

Emphasis on simple. I had a boss once who was entirely useless except as a dispenser of clichéd workplace acronyms, of which his favorite was KISS, or Keep It Simple, Stupid. He used to write it all over my project proposals.

I was still feeling a little scarred from my bout with the stenciled warp, and at the top of my notes for this project I scrawled KISS.

So, what do we do with gradients? Well, one of the things we do with gradients is play them off against one another like so:

gradient

I thought I’d like to do that, too, but rather than work in stripes, I’d do this:

squares-sketch
To join the squares, I considered join-as-you-go (JAYGO); but as is so often is the case, I had to consider portability. A JAYGO blanket very quickly becomes too large to haul around in a carry-on bag, and January through May is the time of year when my teaching schedule keeps me almost constantly away from home.

In Edie Eckman’s excellent book, Connect the Shapes Crochet Motifs, she lays out a method for joining granny squares that gives every square an additional round of double crochet, so the finished effect is side-by-side squares with minimal interruption from the join.

I decided to try it, since I imagined it would allow me to use a new bun of Concentric and run the gradient in the direction opposite the gradient used in the squares.

granny-sketch

So Many Squares

How big would this blanket be? I decided that through the highly scientific process of choosing a size of square that seemed reasonable to work while sitting in an airplane seat (three rounds), then working an entire bun to see how many I got.

With a US Size 4 (3.5 mm) hook, I got fifty. I kept them in strict gradient order by slipping them onto a stitch holder as they were finished.

gathered-squares
Then I did another bun’s worth, and got fifty-one. Great. I’d do a 100-square blanket. I like easy math.

In another mood, or in another month with less travel, I might have devoted a few hours to figuring out whether to keep the squares in the order they were made, or shuffle them together to make a longer gradient. Perhaps I might thrown them into the air to make them random. But sometimes you just need to make a choice. I decided to keep them in order.

To make the next step as portable as possible, I tied each strip of squares into a separate bundle.

bundles-tied
Because I have a brain like a sieve, I also added numbered tags so I’d know in what order I should attach the bundles.

tagged-bundle

It’s never a waste of time to protect your future self from the silly things it is prone to do.

E Pluribus Unum

Edie’s book is a model of clarity. Still, I was nervous. Even with a couple projects under my belt, I find crochet charts daunting. I asked some of the crochet authorities in my address book for tips, and the replies ranged from “Oh, I never use charts. Just ignore them.” to “You don’t follow them like you do knitting charts. Just sort of look at the chart, and get an idea of what you should do, then go.”

I often wonder if I lack the moxie to crochet.

Happily, Edie offers crystal-clear written instructions. As I compared them to the chart, for the first time the fog began to clear. And the little squares began to become a big square.

joining

After the second strip had been joined, I picked up speed and the process became–dare I say it?–fun.

And then there was one.

unblocked
Now, I know people who say they don’t block crochet. I do. And I always wet block, because when I think about all the places where these squares were made, the idea of not washing the fabric thoroughly makes me green in the gills.

After blocking, I was almost perfectly happy with the project. There’s a patch where the joining rows and the squares are both the darkest grey, and thats reads to me as a black hole in the work. I’m not sure I like it.

blackhole
But the fabric is cuddly beyond words.

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finished-02

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Aside from that, three buns gave me a lap blanket (the finished dimensions are 33 inches x 33 inches) that is handsome and comforting.

Yet I do have a fourth bun sitting here. A border, perhaps?

edging
Or something to dress up the black hole? I’m gonna go cuddle up under this and think about it.

See you in two weeks…

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

HiKoo Concentric (100% Baby Alpaca; 437 yards per 200 gram cake). Shown in Color 1027 (Trixie).

addi Color-Coded Crochet Hooks

Boye Stitch Holder, Large 3-Inch

Connect the Shapes Crochet Motifs by Edie Eckman

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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This Is Not Going to Be Pretty

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

I am unabashedly in love with rigid heddle weaving. I’ve written about it repeatedly, in “Fridays with Franklin” and elsewhere.

My Schacht Cricket rigid heddle loom was reasonably priced and is sturdy, portable, reliable, and easy to use. I love what I make with it. I love the way it helps me to burn through stash and see new possibilities in old yarns.

I have crowed so much about it that shops and guilds have begun asking me to come over and teach rigid heddle weaving. I’d love to, but have said over and over that I don’t feel I’m quite ready yet to do that.

I’ve said over and over that I won’t feel qualified to teach it until I’ve done enough to have made lots more mistakes.

But this project, the project I will be writing about today, has moved me miles closer to be ready to teach rigid heddle weaving. Yeah. Let’s look at it that way.

Before we begin, I’d like to introduce the little bunny who will be playing the part of my Better Judgment.

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We’ll be hearing a lot from him.

The Idea

This past summer I was privileged to attend a weaving conference for the first time. I took a bunch of excellent classes from some legendary teachers. I saw techniques in the fashion show and the gallery that set my brain on fire, including methods for decorating the fibers before weaving (i.e., painted warps) and after weaving (i.e., felted decorations, embroidery, shibori).

The painted warps especially grabbed my attention because of the possibility adding pattern to plain-woven fabric. Most of the painted warps were utterly abstract–bold splashes of color running into one another. Pretty, but it seemed to me that many yarns (like our own, dear HiKoo Concentric) could give much the same effect right off the ball.

What I wondered was whether I could paint a repeating pattern on a warp, then weave a warp-dominant (see next section) fabric with it. The finished piece would be boldly patterned and full of curves–large-repeat patterns and curves being the preserve, generally, of multi-shaft looms–but also be made simply on my Schacht Cricket.

I asked a pack of the experienced weavers I know if they had any advice about this, and they all said no, in their collective 600 years of weaving they hadn’t seen it done before quite as I proposed to do it.

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Yes, perhaps.

The Canvas

A warp-dominant fabric is one in which the warp threads enjoy greater visual prominence than the weft threads that cross them. This may be a result of a difference in warp and weft yarn weights; or the result of packing of the warp yarns closer together than would be called for in a balanced weave.* Or it may be a combination of the two.

I wanted a big thick warp to paint on, and a delicate little weft to hold the warp together but not grab the spotlight.

So for warp I chose Delilah Undyed DK Yarn.

undyed-alpaca

And for weft I chose HiKoo Alpaca Lace Light.

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My weaving friends said those fibers would be prone to stick together, so I might want to think twice. But they’re almost always weaving slippery stuff–tencel, silk, cotton, rayon. Whereas I have almost always worked in wool, and that is practically alpaca which is practically llama, if you squint. So what did they know?

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Pegging It Out

One of the reasons I wanted to use the Schacht Cricket for this is that I’d always seen warp painting done (“always” being, you know–twice, from a distance) with the parallel strands of the warp stretched out on a framework. And of course if you use the direct-warp method on a rigid heddle loom, before winding on that’s exactly what you get.

The only change I needed to make, it seemed to me, was the orientation of the warping peg. The warping peg is usually vertical, and this causes the yarns to tilt as they approach it.

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Standard vertical warping peg.

To keep my yarns horizontal all the way from loom to peg, I did this–which I’ll draw, since a drawing will be easier to understand than a photograph.

 

fwf-56-horziontal-warping-peg

You want to use a sturdy dowel, of course, or a length of smooth metal pipe or a metal rod. Your peg shouldn’t bend under the tension of all those wrapped yarns. If it bends, your yarn ends will be different lengths, and there your troubles will begin.

I hoped this theory would work in practice. You can imagine my delight when I stood looking at this.

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The heddle is at the far end, to keep the it out of the way of the painting. This seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Motif

I knew perfectly well that no matter how much I care I took to preserve the lengths and alignments of my warp threads, they were going to wiggle and slip some during the process. So I told myself:

1) Do something large and abstract, rather than figural or representational.

2) Don’t put any fine, or even medium, detail into it. It’ll just get lost.

Then I started sketching. Within ten minutes I had forgot both 1 and 2. Ultimately I devised an Art Nouveau(ish) lotus with lots of detail.

lotus-cutout

The little bunny, in case you’re wondering, was out having a smoke at the time.

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The Stencil

I hadn’t done any stenciling in years, and never on yarn. In “Fridays with Franklin” I always use supplies from Makers’ Mercantile, so I asked them to send me two colors of their Createx Fabric Paint. This is a paint, not a dye. You apply it to the fiber and it sticks, and can be set permanently by putting the fabric in a hot dryer for 40 minutes after the paint is dry to the touch, or by ironing it. Nice.

I cut my stencil out of freezer paper, bought at the grocery store. It was inexpensive, a good size, and I was able to trace the design through it onto the shiny side of the paper.

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Yeah, I added leaves. The flower looked so lonely without them.

and cut it out neatly with an X-Acto Knife.

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Like buttah.

The Painting

I smugly made certain my warp was long enough to allow me some space to experiment. That was good thing, because my first lotus was a mushy mess.

I soon realized that I needed to support the warp on a smooth, flat surface while I stenciled. In my case, a couple of box lids stacked on the table underneath worked fine.

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Dabbing from the top with little vertical jabs worked well to apply the paint only where I wanted it, disturbing the threads as little as possible.

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But the wet stencil was pain to handle, even when I held it with one hand while dabbing with the other. (You can see it buckling in the photo above.) So I taped it (with strong packing tape) into an improvised, stiff frame made of cardboard strips. It worked!

With each repeat, my pace picked up and soon the lotuses were looking good, but ghostly.

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The paint was dark in the bottle, but the yarn sucked it up and diluted it to a pale pearl. I was happy to have the gold to hand for reinforcements. With the silver dry to the touch, I offset the stencil and dabbed on the gold to turn the silver into a pretty, smoky shadow.

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Not half bad, if you ask me.

It wasn’t a quick process, but so what? This was starting look, dare I say it, I amazing.

 

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Dang, I’m good.

The rest was just weaving. And I know how to weave. What could possibly go wrong?

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See you in two weeks.

*A balanced weave has the same number of threads per inch in both its horizontal and vertical grains.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

Schacht Cricket Rigid Heddle Loom (15-inch version shown)
Schacht Cricket 12-Dent Reed (for 15-inch loom)
Delilah Undyed DK Yarn (100% Baby Llama, De-Haired)
HiKoo Alpaca Lace Light (shown in 1006 Smoke, 100% Baby Alpaca, 1540 yards per 100 gram hank)
Createx Acrylics Fabric Paint

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.