The Swatchwoman

I used to never swatch. Until now. This year, 2019, is the year of the Swatchwoman.

The year started with failure. I decided to join a crochet-along, abbreviated CAL, as in Crochet-A-Long. We would get a pattern from the designer every so often and work on it at the same time, sharing the fun of making items together.

Moogly CAL 2 - www.facebook.com

It was fun. In the beginning. Before my failure. Before I began swearing and throwing (soft yarn) things across the room.

Failure tested what I thought of myself. It made me question what direction I was going with my craft.

Was I going to let a little yarn square stop me from doing what I wanted?

I realized I had a lot to learn about crochet.

I didn’t just want to learn, I wanted to learn to teach so I can support others in their quest and encourage them through their failures. I signed up for the CYC Crochet Instructor program and started the challenge of improving myself.

After months of doing and redoing swatches, I made 16 that might be good enough. This week I mailed them to my master teacher so she can review them for the CYC Crochet Instructor program.

Now it’s out of my hands, literally.

No matter what, I am a stronger craftsperson today than I was a year ago. I know how to swatch and make the correct gauge.

This process has shown me that while I might not be good at crochet, I am still a lucky person.

I have people in my life who care about me and what I am doing, even if it is something small like twirling yarn just so.

I have a patient partner who propped me up when I was frustrated and cheered me on when I wanted to give up. If I don’t pass the crochet instructor test, I know he will be there for me, with a hug and a cup of tea.

In this way, there is no way I can fail.

A love (of books) that never gets old

You might not know about my love for vintage knitting and crochet books from the 1970s. These books connect me to people in the past. They comfort me. Our lives come and go, but the spirit of giving and creating goes on.

It’s fun to hunt for old books at garage sales and used book stores. Anytime we take a visit to a small town, I make sure to stop by the local thrift store and check out the shelves of books.

A very special addition came into my collection this month. Here is the story of how it came to be.

Recently it was time to celebrate my husband’s birthday and we had plans to meet with my son and his girlfriend. I knew our local library, Daniel Boone Regional Library, was having one of their biggest sales of the year and I wanted to stop early for the best selection of donated books. I might have competition! Who else might be out there, eager to get the sweet 1970s crochet and knitting books? We walked into the library about 10 a.m.

We were told the sale was only open to Friends of the Library members until noon. After that, the public could enter. It was possible to join the Friends of the Library that day for $5 and enter the sale early. Normally, we would have come back, but that time was my only chance to shop since we had birthday plans the rest of the day.

I have lived in Boone County for more than 20 years. I have always loved and visited the Daniel Boone Regional Library. In all this time, though, we have never joined the Friends of the Library. This is important to know for the rest of the story.

I walked into the sale room and made a beeline for the boxes with craft books. I started to search through them. After collecting for years, I can usually tell from the cover at a glance the decade a book belongs to. I was seeing a lot of 1990s. Nothing yet for me.

Then I saw it. I immediately knew from the cover it was 70s but I checked the copyright inside to be sure. 1972. Yes! When I opened the book, I saw an address label with a name on it: Erica Pickard. I always like to see names of the people who had the books before. I feel a name on a crochet or knitting book means, “This book is valuable and it belongs to me.” I like to think the book might have been shared and the owner wanted it to return.

I continued to look through the first box and didn’t find any more. I was excited to see there were many more boxes to go through. As I started to investigate the second box, my eyes landed on another magnificent book. I checked the inside cover: 1974. I saw a sticker at the top of the page: Erica Pickard.

My heart swelled as I thought, This might be someone’s collection. It might be my lucky day!

As I leafed through the used books, I pulled out each relevant one. My arms got fuller with my heavy stack. At the end of my searching, I had 15 beautiful books formerly owned by Erica Pickard from the 1970s, plus two that were not my decade by publishing date (1980) but had the definite 70s feel and were part of her collection.

I checked out at the desk, paying for both for my old books and my new membership in the Friends of the Library.

In the car I told my husband that all my old books–my new treasures—were from the same person.

“I wonder why she gave up all her books? Maybe she went into a nursing home or passed away?” I said.

I googled her name and her obituary came up immediately. I started to read it out loud. Although she was a stranger we didn’t know, we both felt impressed by her creativity and generous spirit as we learned about her life.

Then I came upon the following:

“Erica was also a strong supporter of the Columbia Public Library, helping establish the Friends of the Columbia Public Library where she helped initiate the regular book sales.”

There I was, for the first time in my life, a member of the Friends of the Library, with a stack of her books from the book sale on my lap. Isn’t it amazing that the day I joined was the same day I found all the books from someone who helped start the Friends group and the sale?

What an honor to have her collection join mine. The world is small because we never know how our life will enrich someone else’s. I will especially treasure these “new” 1970s books.

Now you know a little more about my love for vintage knitting and crochet books from the 1970s. These books connect me to people in the past. They comfort me.

Our lives come and go, but the spirit of giving and creating goes on.

Halfway Through to Minimum Requirements

Hooking, frogging, pinning, blocking. Hooking, frogging, pinning, blocking.

It’s the halfway point of my certified crochet instructor program. All my projects are due by December. I still have more than half the work to do, so it is time to…do the hustle!

If I were less free and easy, and more exacting and perfect, this program would be no problem for me. Had I been following crochet patterns all along in the past 8 years of my crochet life, I would probably be done with the requirements.

I am learning a lot about myself as a crocheter and a creative person in general through this process.

How do you motivate yourself when you are in the middle of a project, not close enough to the end to see the finish line? Let me know in the comments!

The reason for trying

I got to have fun teaching a friend to crochet this week. Teaching is what makes the challenge of this instructor program worthwhile to me. Since my friend is a strong knitter, she got the sense of crochet immediately and knew how to use the hook intuitively. I hope she will stick with it and get over the discomfort of the first weeks. Once your hands know what to do, it is both a joy and relaxation. The early days are anything but!

Other obsessions, I mean, activities

When I am not making — and remaking — crochet swatches for the certification program, I have been obsessively making bracelets. I have made more than 60.

Logan and I are having too much fun as jewelry designers. If you see me with six bracelets on, know that I actually held back. This is my restrained bracelet wearing.

I have enough now to wear them up to my elbows on both arms!

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We have not done much hiking this year, but we have been playing games with our animals. Our four-year-old Betta fish, Mr. Gardener, has one he especially likes playing with me called, “Sleeping or Dead?” I was convinced it was over the other night…but he got me good. He was sleeping!

Lots of luck

Please wish me luck on my crochet instructor certification as I work these final three months.

I wish you a happy start to fall — may it bring you both adventures and good memories!

bty

The Taming of the Wild Hook

I, who have never been known for my exactitude in yarn, now must be exact.

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I must count stitches to a precise number. I must make gauge where my work is an actual square that fits in a 5” measurement. Gone are the free-form blobs, random rectangles and spontaneous shapes. I must make 16 swatches. Gone is the girl who never makes swatches.

I must weave in my ends (gasp!) yet weaving them in is not enough! No, I must do it invisibly, like a yarn magician, a yarnician, if you will.

Why me? Why this? Why now?

I’m turning 50 this summer and about due for a New Thing. I’m happiest when I am working on some difficult quest (such as grad school while working full-time, writing 50K words in a month, practicing public speaking as a mortifyingly shy person or collecting obscure crochet patterns from the 1970s). When a new friend mentioned there was a certified yarn instructor program from the Craft Yarn Council, I got excited. Why?

  • I like learning.
  • I like teaching.
  • I LOVE certificates.

If I can successfully finish this program, I will get a certificate. With my name on it!

But, between me and my certificate, there are obstacles.

You could describe my current crochet style as:

  • Loosey-goosey
  • Willy-nilly
  • Happy-go-lucky
  • Catch-as-catch-can

Some days, you might even call it higgledy-piggledy.

If you know my philosophy, then you will understand my wild ways.

I believe you can do no wrong with yarn. Fiber is forgiving. Anything that happens with you, the yarn and the hook is an experiment. Some experiments don’t end with anything functional, but the process matters. The act alone of looping loops is worth the time.

Because of this love, it has been a joy to teach friends how to crochet. Finishing this program will show I have the fundamentals to not just teach people, but teach them correctly. I will be a responsible, knowledgeable crafter as I pass on my obsession passion to others. But first, I have to know the fundamentals.

Have you ever had the experience where the more you learn, the less you know? I have been crocheting 8 years now, and I know less today than ever! I might know next to nothing about crochet!

Before I started working on the program, I thought I was an intermediate crocheter, probably close to advanced.

I hesitate to call myself a strong beginner at this point. Maybe just: Old Beginner. Gen, the Old Beginner.

Now I seek to begin again in my second half-century and remake myself into a neat and meticulous maker of the stitch. Will it work out? Will I change my reckless carefree ways? I have until December 1 to find out. Wish me luck, friends!

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Use up the scraps!

I got the ends in! Success. I sewed in all the loose ends for my ripple afghan and it was the star of my show. I was happy to talk about my passion for crochet and knitting over the three days of the Mizzou Staff Arts & Crafts Showcase in May. My thanks to everyone who stopped by or supported me in spirit! (See a video tour of my table on Twitter)

bty

 

It’s time to enjoy summer. We have been having our coffee outside in the mornings and listening to the dozens of bird songs. In the evening, it’s still light enough out that we can sit out at 9 p.m.

Wildlife: 4, chickens: 0

Some sad news: our chapter on chickens has closed. Despite the electric fence, the predators on our land took out the flock. It was a lot of fun with our poultry friends and fresh eggs, but that is the end of our chicken keeping for a while.

We are well outnumbered by wildlife living in the country. The other day while we walked the dogs, there were dueling coyote packs on either side of our property. One pack howled and yipped. Then the other pack howled back. I knew intellectually that coyotes don’t often attack humans…but I still wanted to hustle back indoors. Please note that I was the nervous one. Our Chihuahua dogs think of themselves as mighty coyote hunters. They were straining at the leashes to get into the mix.

In truth, they are inspiring nappers.

Creative focus

Now my creative focus is to use up my scraps and make decisions on the unused items in my life.

My current yarn project is a scrapghan sampler. I am using a stitch pattern book called Crochet Stitch Dictionary and experimenting with the stitches. I make notes in the margins on what I like…and don’t like!

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Some people have a talent for using up what they have. I am more talented in acquiring. It’s a constant balance between buying the right amount and using up what I have. I should say, attempt at balance. My pantry, my closet, my scrap yarn bins: these areas will tell you that I am unbalanced. I live 15 miles from a store, it’s true. But do I really need more than 5 pounds of rice? I would make a great squirrel, hoarding away nuts!

I believe all the unused, neglected material goods in our daily life drain us. I have to look around at all that I own and weed it again. It’s almost a spiritual practice for me!

Next month I will go for the Uber Frugal Challenge again and eat up all the things and tighten up my spending.

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This stitch is called Larks Foot, which I love, but I love Logan’s name for it even better: “Purple Drops In On Friends”

What are your hopes for this summer? Let me know!

My wish for you as summer begins is that you feel a resurgence of bright energy in your life. May you be blessed with clarity, good times and warmth!

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My friend Aly using the scrapghan sampler as a shawl

Loose ends

Completion and creation.

Acquisition and release.

Closed hand and open hand.

A couple of months ago I read a brief essay by David Allen (author of Getting Things Done) about the value of completion. It made me think. As a person who loves diving into the new and seeking my next Thing, I focus on the future. What do I need to do next? What do I need to get to make my vision real?

I turned over the idea in my mind—completion—and started to layout my daily plan differently. Instead of only what I needed to do, I added a column for what I needed to complete. I’m already a long-time follower of inbox zero, but I still had some lingering emails that had gotten stale over the weeks. I archived some, deleted some and answered some.

I often hold onto things, imagining I will have more time in the future to craft careful replies. The reality is most of us have more tasks than time, between work, the home and yard, (almost wrote yarn there!), family, friends, health and faith.

What can you complete? What tugs at your attention? Where are your loose ends that need to be tied?

After the digital clearing, I still have more to declutter in my house. Strangely, I haven’t felt as much pressure as usual to buy in my two major categories: food and yarn. I actually went into a craft store and left without a yarn purchase the other day. No, it’s true!

Part of it might have to do with a book I read recently. It has an amazing title that made me look at my home differently, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter.” The author (who says she is between 80 and 100), encourages you to take the burden off your loved ones and shed your excess stuff now. Having lost three of the five members of my birth family, with just me and my sister left, I appreciate the kindness inherent in thinking of others beyond our own ends. It’s easy to look around the house and know that my son, with his clean modern aesthetic, won’t want to deal with any of our stuff!

A reason for completion

It always helps the completion process to have a deadline.

I have a pressing due date for completing my yarn projects: Tuesday, May 21. You are invited to the Grand Opening of the Mizzou Staff Arts & Crafts Showcase at noon, in the lower level of the Student Center. Parking available in the lot next to the Student Center or on the street.

Now comes the test of my commitment.

Will I get the ends sewn into my ripple blanket in time for the Showcase?

It’s one thing to ponder the value of completion…but it’s a whole nother thing to live it!

Blessings to you this week as you complete what you can and open up space for more light to come in.

 

 

Shhh, do you hear the sound of beads?

If you’re a collector, it’s good to go through your collection every so often and make sure you still like it.

I collect 1970s crochet and knitting books.

It’s fun to hunt for them. We stop by antique and thrift stores when we travel. I look at garage sales. I find some online. Lately I have been using ads in my books to find other books. I have branched out to include European books. These techniques have opened up a huge new horizon for me.

Sports and books

When I was young, I didn’t understand why people watched sports. It looked like bodies crashing around and balls being flung. I rode horses as my sport but riding was rarely on TV. We never had games on like football, basketball or baseball. We were not a sporty family, much more on the bookish side.

Then my son played in school sports. I started to understand the appeal. Sports have a lot of drama and stories. Would this player perform after an injury? Would this new player live up to his potential? Could this coach motivate his team to success? Could the team overcome its obstacles?

In the same way, my book collection holds drama and stories.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, I didn’t realize I was part of a time that would change. I walked through beaded curtain doorways and on shag carpet innocent of knowing I lived in a trend. I can still remember the click click click sound as I passed through. I thought the 70s was how the world was and would be. I thought the Vietnam War was never ending and the Beatles would always be around. I didn’t know the clothes I wore would be dated. Patches on blue jeans were normal. Crochet was in its heyday.

When I look through my 1970s knitting and crochet book collection today, I see stories. It helps that I have a hilarious partner who can caption any photo for me and make me laugh. I like to look through my books and wonder how their lives turned out: the models, the copywriters, the photographers, the editors and the designers, and sometimes even the librarians.

Some treasures from my collection

The Mystery of the Stamping Librarian

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A new book to my collection, this British book was a library copy in Minnesota. I LOVE the blank library checkout card still in the pocket. Most of all, I love the librarian who stamped the library name 13 times in the book, including on page 49. Why so many times? What do the numbers mean? This book isn’t just a crochet how-to, it’s a transatlantic mystery!

Not quite

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Good try, but that’s not quite how it’s done…

Eastmas, or Christer

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Which holiday as we celebrating here, Easter or Christmas? I know, we are celebrating the 70s!

Never throw away jeans!

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“Never throw away your jeans,” reads the copy. Well, I never will again now that I know I could buy rickrack and make…this thing!

Wear red

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“When in doubt, wear red.” —Bill Blass

Work it without getting ruffled

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Amazing brown crochet pantsuit? Check. Attitude to match wearing a fully crocheted pantsuit, ruffled shirt and buckle shoes inside a greenhouse? Check and check.

Life curator

For almost 50 years, I have collected experiences. I have created a family and home. Now as I look toward the last part of my life, it’s time to go through my collection.

I’ll keep the memories I still like, and let go of the rest. I’ll keep the sound of beads in the doorway as I pass through life –click click click— and the soft abundance of shag carpet under my feet, a delight in fiber.  I’ll keep the happiness of crochet, in riotous colors, hopeful and bright.

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Granny square afghan made with love from a mom to a daughter