Learn to crochet: Essential tools and yarn

Learn to crochet

A few of my friends have recently requested that I teach them how to crochet. Although I’m not sure I’m as good at teaching this as I think I am at teaching science (matter of practice), I hope that this ‘Learn to Crochet’ series is helpful not only to them, but anyone else interested in the art.

The first lesson is about the essential tools required and the yarns available to crochet. Please feel free to ask any questions via comment or e-mail. I will be happy to help any of you learn to crochet!

Let’s start with the essential tools required

tools for crochet W LETTERING

 

You obviously will need crochet hooks. We’ll discuss your options in a moment. Scissors to cut your yarn are also necessary. I have always used just plain scissors, or a nail cutter. No, I’m not kidding, they actually are fantastic at cutting yarn and you can bring them with you on a plane!. Just make sure you have a separate set for that purpose. As for fancy metal scissors available at some places, I don’t care for them. Why? a lot of people will tell you that yarn snips or embroidery scissors are better. But they were not designed to cut yarn. All you need is a sharp pair of scissors, anything else is optional. Tapestry needles come in bigger (gold color) and smaller (silver color) sizes. They both have a blunt end, so they are different from sewing needles. They are used to finish a project, by ‘hiding’ a tail of yarn within the crocheted piece. I mostly use the smaller needles, with the exception of bulky or super bulky yarns, which are really hard to thread through a thin needle. Last but not least are the stitch markers. You can find stitch markers in all shapes and materials, but the ones pictured are by far my favorite because they stay secured to the stitch, while other types of markers can fall off your work. Markers are used to… well, mark a part of your work. They serve as a reference so you don’t lose track of where the beginning of your round or row is, to separate a piece of work in parts etc.

You can buy these markers here: Clover Lock Ring Markers*

Now let’s talk about hooks

types of hooks by material w lettering

 

First of all, it’s important to note that there are many materials available to crocheters when it comes to choosing a hook. The most common are plastic blends, bamboo, fully metallic or metallic with a handle. My favorite hooks are the ones pictured last. They are the clover amour hooks. They were my self-gifted wedding gift and I have fallen in love with these hooks because they are incredibly comfortable. The handle is soft and they are tapered hooks. We’ll discuss what that means next. Let me add that the clover hooks are made in Japan and that simply gives me confidence in the quality. The Japanese are adept crocheters and they invented the art of amigurumi. If you want your own set of Clover amour hooks, you can get yours here. (And no, Clover didn’t pay me to say any of this)

Clover 3672 Amour Crochet Hook Set, 10 sizes*

types of hook shapes W LETTERING

 

An image is worth a thousand words and there isn’t much I can tell you about inline and tapered hooks. Inline hooks have a ‘sharper’ shape and the hook is cut in an angle with two straight lines. Tapered hooks however, have a rounded shape which reminds me of fishing hooks. I prefer tapered hooks because I find them to move more smoothly through the yarn, especially with yarns that tend to split (the fibers start separating). I suggest you try both and decide which one works best for you.

Hey, what about crochet hook sizes? Sizes are standardized and only certain dimensions are available. Hook size is given both by a letter and the millimeter diameter of the hook. Both designations are interchangeable and they go as follows.

Finally, we need to talk about yarn. The variety of yarns currently available is almost overwhelming. The major classification of yarn is done with regards to its weight. This may sound a bit weird, but it really just means the classification is based on how thick or thin the yarn is, which determines what the appropriate hook for it is. However, it is important to keep in mind that weight categories represent a range of yarns, not a single value. I’ll explain this further in a second, but the main weight groups are pictured below.

yarns by weight

The exact classification of yarn according to the yarn council of america can be found here. But I’d like to simplify things a bit for you. First of all, two yarns within the same weight category are not necessarily the same. I think the picture makes that a lot easier to understand. You can see several types of worsted weight yarn pictured and they are clearly not exactly the same thickness. Moreover, they are not spun exactly the same way and they aren’t all made of the same fibers. So how do you pick the right one? Something to keep in mind is the number of wraps per inch (wpi), which is exactly what it sounds like, how many wraps can you fit in one inch. This number will give you an idea of the relative thickness of two yarns that fall within the same weight category but are not exactly the same. The most important thing is that you choose a yarn that appeals to you and that is adequate for the project and season it will be used for.

Yarn Composition

The weight of yarn you require will be determined by a project. But besides the thickness, it is important to consider yarn fiber. There are plenty of fibers available all over the internet and at craft stores. The price of the yarn is directly related to the fiber composition and also to the way in which it has been spun and dyed. Cheaper yarns are usually acrylic or blends of acrylic and wool. Typical prices range from 3-10 $ for about 200 yards.

Some yarns I use often, within that price range are: Caron Simply soft (made in the USA), Vanna’s choice from Lion Brand and Vickie Howell’s Sheepish. The first two are 100% acrylic and the last one is a mix of acrylic and wool. I do not recommend cheap wool yarns. These are usually spun using long fibers which end up poking out of the yarn and make it itchy. Most wool sensitive people are not allergic, they just don’t tolerate the poking.

So if you want to use wool, and you’ll want to, it’s best to choose merino wool that has been finely spun and is not itchy or scratchy. My favorite is Malabrigo yarn, which is available online and at small(er) yarn stores and is reasonably priced at about 14$ for 200 yards.

Cotton yarns are a must for any items that will be exposed to high heat and heavy wearing, such as potholders and cozies. I have recently discovered bamboo  yarns and I am absolutely in love with the lightness and softness of them. But, these are only suitable for lighter garments such as summer shawls. Another favorite is t-shirt yarn, which is made out of the remnants of knit stretchy fabrics. It’s great to create big crochet pieces for the home, like rugs and baskets. The thickness and type of fiber makes the items really sturdy. When it comes to amigurumi, and we will explore it in a future post, I always resort to acrylic because it makes the process much easier on your hands and is resistant to wear.

So… where can you buy yarn? My main stores for cheaper yarn are JoAnn’s or Michaels. (No, I don’t and I won’t shop at HL). However, the type of yarn you will find there is very limited. Mostly affordable yarns made by Caron, Lion Brand and Bernat. The colors are relatively limited and the availability will vary store by store. I recently discovered Knit Picks. They are an online yarn supplier with a large amount of available fibers and colors. Sure, it’s a bit more expensive because of the shipping (the price is actually comparable), but it’s worth it. Another place to keep in mind is Ice yarns. Their yarns are sold by lots of 2-8 skeins. The amount of skeins per lot and the price depends on what yarn you’re buying, of course. I absolutely love their tube t-shirt yarn, which is thinner than most t-shirt yarns (pictured second from the top). Their shipping is a flat price of 10$ and if you have a relatively large project in mind, or you are ok with buying large quantities, I highly recommend it. They are based in Turkey but shipping is typically 2 days! If you are looking for nicer yarns, which are almost exclusively wool, you can find plenty of online stores that distribute some pricier yet affordable yarns, like Malabrigo. While I wouldn’t start crocheting with a very nice yarn, they are worth buying for special projects, especially clothing or accessories that go close to your skin.

Well, that’s it for now! I hope I’ve helped a bit and not confused you very much. Stay tuned for our next ‘Learn to Crochet’ in which I’ll show you how to make single crochets. And please, feel free to ask any questions you might have!

*(This is an affiliate link. It will cost you the same as shopping for it on your own, but I get a wee bit of something which helps me keep this blog full of free tutorials)

Ice cream delight mug cozy (Free pattern)

ice cream delight mug cozy

My friend T is getting her PhD very soon. She’s just at the polishing and writing stages of the process, probably the most stressful part. Her lovely family came to town to throw her a graduation party and even though I was a bit late, I made her a graduation gift. A simple yet functional crochet mug cozy.

You can whip this up in no time. I used cotton yarn, which is preferred for applications involving any sort of heat, as acrylic yarn can melt! I picked these three colors because they reminded me of those neapolitan ice cream bars which have three flavors. Hence the name of the pattern.

I used a mix of sugar and cream and peaches and cream yarn I had around. You can make your own color combo or leave it plain. A fancy button would be a great complement to this simple pattern.

Ice cream delight mug cozy

Using a 5 mm crochet hook and sugar and cream or peaches and cream yarn.

Starting with pale pink/redish
Make a magic circle and chain 1 (work in spiral from now until indicated otherwise)
Rd1. 6sc
Rd2. 2 sc in each st (12 sc)
Rd3.(2 sc in first st, 1 sc in next) around (18 sc)
Rd4. (2 sc in first st, 1 sc in next 2 st) around (24 sc)
Rd5: (2 sc in first st, 1 sc in next 3 st) around .(30 sc)
Rd6: (2 sc in first st, 1 sc in next 4 st) around (36 sc)
This completes the base of the cozy

ice cream delight cozy front
Rd7: sc in each st around in back loop ONLY! (36 sc)
Rd8: sc in each st around in both loops (36 sc).
Rd9: sc in each of the next 32 st. Now you’re leaving the gap for the handle. From now on you’ll work in rounds. Turn, chain 1.
Rd10-11: sc in each of the next 32 st. Turn, chain 1.
At the end of rd11. change to yellow yarn
Rd12-16: sc in each of the next 32 st. Turn, chain 1.
at the end of rd16, change to dark red
Rd17-21: sc in each of the next 32 st. Turn, chain 1.

ice cream delight handle

Now single crochet along the handle gap. At the end, chain 21. Or however many so that once closed, the loop can reach whatever button you’d like to attach. Join the chains to the origin with a slip stitch and sew the button in place. Weave in all ends and enjoy!

Crochet hook color me case

hook case square crochet

After the hubby and I got married, i self gifted myself a set of clover crochet hooks. I can’t even begin to tell you how in love I am with this set of hooks. The handles are soft and smooth and the different colors make it very easy to identify which hook you’re working with.

Since I am a fan of all things organization (you can blame the hubby on that one), I figured I should make a case to keep my hooks and stitch markers. I had also just bought a skein of Bernat baby coordinates in ‘Posy patch’. The colors happen to perfectly match those in the hook handles. Can you say match made in heaven?

The zipper was sewn by hand, although I’m sure you could choose to do so with a machine. I haven’t yet tried to sew anything onto my crochet using my sewing machine. Perhaps it’s about time to try!

Without further ado… here’s the VERY EASY pattern for this hook case

Crochet hook color me case

hook case horizontal crochet

Crochet hook 4 mm (G)

Less than 1/2 skein of Bernat baby coordinates in ‘Posy patch’

A 9 inch zipper in a contrasting or matching color

Yarn needle

Sewing needle and thread or embroidery floss

Pattern:

Round 1: ch 31. Hdc in 2nd ch from hook and each ch to end. Turn. (30 hdc)
Round 2: Ch 1, hdc in each st to end of the row. Then hdc in the side of the first st of the first round. Turn and hdc in the each ch of the starting ch, opposite of the first row of hdc. Turn again and hdc in the side of the last st of round 1. Join to the first stitch of round 2 using a slip stitch.
From now on you’ll be working in the round

Rounds 3-17: 1 hdc in each hdc around. Do not join or chain at the end of rounds.

Weave in ends and sew the zipper along the opening of the pouch using a needle and thread or embroidery floss. I used green embroidery floss to match my zipper.

Enjoy!

 

Pom pom galore child hat

 

pom pom hat flat

My friend Sheng, a fellow colleague in the department, is always very enthusiastic of my crochet creations. To repay his enthusiasm, I decided to make something for his 2 year old little girl. I am currently working on a pair of slippers for her, but the work got interrupted by a skein of awesome yarn.

On a quick trip to the craft store a couple weeks ago, I saw this Bernat dippity dots yarn. I must confess I adore variegated yarns, especially if they have texture like this one. So, in an impulse, I grabbed a skein of lavender, along with a couple other fun yarns I’ll feature in future posts. This yarn is such a wonder to work with. Unlike other textured yarns it works up really well and you can use a size H hook. However, I do recommend you crochet loosely, to make sure you don’t rip off any of the pom poms as you work.

As for the pom pom… I have tried many methods of making pom poms at home. I must confess I failed miserably. So I recently ordered a set of Clover pom pom makers, which I used for this one. On a funny note… my husband asked what the pom pom maker was. I told him it is a device to make pom poms out of yarn. He looked at me surprised and confessed he thought pom poms came premade. Silly!

Anyway… the pattern!

POM POM GALORE HAT

Using an H crochet hook (5 mm) and Bernat dippity dots yarn in lavender (I used half a skein for the toddler size)

Make a magic ring

Rnd1: make 9 dc in the magic ring, join to the first dc, not the chains. (9 st)

Rnd 2: 2 dc in each stitch around (18 st)

Rnd 3: *(2 dc in the next st, 1 dc in next) Repeat from * around (27 st)

Rnd 4: *(2dc in the next st, 1 dc in the next 2 st) Repeat from * around (36 st)

Rnd 5: *(2dc in the next st, 1 dc in the next 3 st) Repeat from * around (45 st)

Rnd 6: *(2dc in the next st, 1 dc in the next 4 st) Repeat from * around (54 st)

Rnd 7: dc in each stitch around (54 st)

For Child size

Rnd 8: *(2 dc in first st, dc in the next 8 st) Repeat from * around (60 st)

Rnd9-13: dc in each stitch around (60 st)

Cut off yarn and weave in ends

For toddler size

Rnd8-12: dc in each stitch around (54 st)

For Child size

Rnd 8: *(2 dc in first st, dc in the next 8 st) Repeat from * around (60 st)

Rnd9-13: dc in each stitch around (60 st)

Cut off yarn and weave in ends

Using your pom pom maker on any other pom pom making device, make a pom pom and attach it to the top of the hat.

You’re done!

Pencil^2 case

 

pencil standing up crochet WM

back to school banner

Needless to say, I want my nephew to go to school in style. So this summer, I’m making back to school items to mail back home. At the age of 3.5, learning activities involve lots of coloring and learning how to draw and write. So in order to keep his coloring pencils in order, I made the little one a pencil pencil case. We can call it the pencil^2 case.

The case can be finished with a button or a zipper. In this case, I am going with a button, as this will be easier for him to handle. If you already have a suitable pencil case, you can crochet the pencil in once piece and stuff it with fiberfill to make a pencil crochet toy. Don’t like the colors? change them up! too big? start with a smaller base circle. Whatever you do, make them with love and make sure you use fibers that can be easily washed in the machine!

Now for the pattern!

pencil crochet sideways case WM

Pencil^2 case

Materials: worsted weight yarn in pink, gray, yellow, oatmeal/skin, and black. I used Caron simply soft for the pink and gray portions. The yellow and black portions are made with red heart super saver. The oatmeal portion is made with vanna’s choice.

Crochet hook 5 mm.

Do not join rounds. Work in spiral and use a stitch marker if necessary.

Step 1. Make the pencil base/eraser

pencil eraser crochet

Rd1: 6 sc in magic ring (6sc)

Rd2: 2sc in each stitch around (12sc)

Rd3: (2sc in 1st st, 1 sc in next st) around  (18sc)

Rd4: (2sc in 1st st, 1 sc in next 2 st) around (24sc)

Rd5: (2sc in 1st st, 1sc in next 3 st) around (30sc)

Rd6: (2sc in 1st st, 1sc in next 4 st) around (36sc)

Rd7-12: 1 sc in each st. (36 sc)

On the last st of Rd12, change to gray

 

 

Step 2. Make the metal portion

Rd13-16: 1 sc in each st. (36 sc)

On the last st of Rd16, change to yellow

Step 3. Make the wooden/yellow portion

Rd17-33: 1 sc in each st. (36 sc)

On the last st of Rd 33, change to oatmeal

Step 4. Make the pencil tip

Rd34: sc in each of the next 6 st. chain 30 and join with a sl st to the beginning of the row. (Warning! if you want to keep it as a toy, do not chain, simply continue around with the new color and stuff at the very end)

Rd35: 1 sc in each of the 6 st of the previous round and each of the 30 chains. (36 sc)

Rd36: (sc2tog, sc in the next 4st) around (30 sc)

Rd37-38: 1 sc in each st (30 sc)

Rd39: (sc2tog, sc in the next 3 st) (24 sc)

Rd40-41. 1 sc in each st (24 sc)

Rd42: (sc2tog, sc in the next 2 st) (18 sc)

Rd43-44: 1 sc in each st (18 sc)

On the last st of Rd 44, change to black

Rd 45: 1 sc in each st (18 sc)

Rd46: (sc2tog, 1 sc in next st) around (12 sc)

Rd47: 1 sc in each st (12 sc)

Rd 48: sc2tog around. Cut yarn and weave in end

Step 6. Join oatmeal yarn at the middle of the pencil, on the opposide side of the 6 sc that join the two portions. Chain 6, skip 2 st and join the chains. Now you have the loop for the button. Sew a button of the right size and weave in any left ends.

Enjoy!!!

 

 

Kitchen chemistry: how to remove tarnish from silver in 30 sec

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Problems with tarnished silver? I have the solution for you. A mix you can make with kitchen items and that will remove said tarnish in 30 seconds flat. 

Let’s talk silver chemistry, shall we? Don’t go running away yet. I promise it’s not as painful as it sounds. (and if you really want to, you can scroll down and skip to, how to do this at home)

First of all, we need to talk about reduction-oxidation (redox) chemistry. You’ve all heard about electrons. You probably know they are a very small part of the atom and they orbit around the nucleus, which is in turn made of neutrons and protons. Changing anything in the nucleus of the atom requires, of course, nuclear chemistry.  In other words, a lot of energy. That’s because protons and neutrons are highly compacted at the nucleus and they have several forces keeping them together.  Electrons however, really like to mingle.

When an atom gains an electron, we say it was reduced because we reduced the oxidation state. In other words, we increased the negative charge of the atom. When an atom loses an electron, we say oxidation occurred because the atom is now less negatively charged. Let’s look at a common example.

The most common example of oxidation is iron oxide or rust. Iron metal has an oxidation state of 0. This means it has the number of electrons it should have. However, when iron metal comes in contact with atmospheric oxygen, it likes to oxidize. This means iron now has an oxidation state of 2+, while oxygen is now more negatively charged. Importantly, we can’t have reduction without oxidation and viceversa. This is a game of pairs in which someone gives someone else its precious electrons.

So what about silver? Unlike iron, when silver oxidizes it is not reacting with oxygen, but with hydrogen sulfide (a compound of sulfur).

2 Ag(s) + H2S(g) → Ag2S(s) + H2(g)s 

Above is the chemical equation for the reaction. Silver reacts with hydrogen sulfide, generating hydrogen gas and silver sulfide. This has a characteristic black color and we commonly call it tarnish.

So how do we remove it? with household items! 

You’ll need:

Aluminum foil

Baking soda

Boiling water

A glass

Tarnished silver jewelry

Step 1. Grab a (beaker) regular glass or glass bowl (DO NOT USE METAL!!!)  and place aluminum foil at the bottom, covering the whole surface as shown below.

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Step 2. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil (you can increase the volume if you are planning on treating a large piece of jewelry)

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 Step 3. Pour the boiling water in the glass which has the aluminum foil. Add to it about 2 tablespoons of baking soda. You should see bubbles appear as the baking soda dissolves and carbon dioxide is released.

20140514-202739.jpg

Step 4. Immediately add the piece of jewelry to clean. Make sure it touches the aluminum foil as we require contact between the two metals for a faster and more efficient reaction.

HERE’S A VIDEO TO SHOW YOU WHAT WILL HAPPEN! 

As you can see, there are tiny bubbles forming right where the earrings come in contact with the foil. Why? because this is what’s happening…

OXIDATION:   2 Al(s) + 6 OH– (aq) –––> Al2O3(s) + 3 H2O (l) + 6 e–
REDUCTION:  Ag2S(s) + 2 H2O (l) + 2 e–   –––>   2 Ag(s) + H2S (aq) + 2 OH– (aq)

OVERALL:       3 Ag2S(s) + 2 Al(s) + 3 H2O (l) –––> 6 Ag(s) + 3 H2S (aq) + Al2O3(s)

If you look at the first reaction, you can see that aluminum metal is now being converted into aluminum oxide (this will turn the foil brownish). Silver sulfide (Ag2S)  is being converted into silver metal (Ag)  and hydrogen sulfide (H2S).

Hydrogen sulfide is a gas. A pretty nasty one which can be toxic at high levels. Which is why we need the baking soda! 

3 NaHCO3(aq) + 3 H2S(aq) => 3 NaHS(aq)+3 H2O(l)+ 3 CO2(g)

Sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) reacts with hydrogen sulfide (H2S), generating carbon dioxide (CO2 )and sodium hydrosulfide (NaHS) . This way, the sulfur is contained in the water and you can safely dispose of it down the sink .

So here you go, you HAVE DONE KITCHEN CHEMISTRY!!!

Now for the questions…

Do I need boiling water? yes! because a lot of chemical reactions, like this one, require energy. Boiling water has lots of energy acquired through heating and it helps drive the reaction forward so it takes very little time.

Would it work with cold water? I’m afraid the process can’t happen that way because we are not providing the system the oomph it needs to react.

Am I losing silver? No! this method is great because you get rid of the tarnish without losing a single silver atom!

Can I repeat the process with other pieces of jewelry? you can, but you’ll need more foil, water and bicarbonate. Doing the reaction once consumes the reactants and thus more reactant is needed to repeat it.

I hope you enjoyed the short kitchen chemistry experiment. Because we can, all, achieve better living through chemistry.