Friday, December 14, 2018

A Little Mixed Media - "Believe"

 Hello my creative maker friends, we are almost at the middle of December! It is dark here in the Pacific Northwest, so I wanted to counteract that with some additional art. Since I have been really itching to create some mixed media, the More Than Words December Challenge has provided the perfect inspiration. Additionally, I wanted to create some original art for my newsletter subscribers, of which a final 2018 edition went out yesterday.

For those who may be unfamiliar with More Than Words (MTW), they are a team of mixed media artists and admins that host a monthly main + mini design challenge, arranged around a theme or technique. I have been lurking at the site for many months now (as well as follow their Instagram feed). While I may have a more painterly aesthetic than some on the site (for lack of a better descriptive term), I nevertheless find the challenges, as well as the resulting artwork, inspiring. Of course, I am a huge mixed media fan, so I was thrilled with the opportunity to create some using one of my favorite techniques, stamping.

In part, the raw materials.
December, 2018
9" x 12"
mixed media on watercolor paper
While my inspiration is fairly obvious (well, ok, at least to me): believe in the light of the season, it of course has a deeper personal meaning. Belief in oneself is an iffy proposition on the best of days (especially if one works in design/art/creative pursuits), so a little reminder to myself is always a good thing. 

Here is how it appeared at the top of my subscriber newsletter.

And here is how it looks on my holiday "mantle."

I will eventually frame it in a clear, floating frame, and I expect it will be displayed each year with all the rest of my holiday decorations and art.

Thanks so much, MTW, for this fun and timely challenge!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Ending the Year With Another New Design

It is December, everyone - and gifts are abundant. I am on the receiving end of a lovely publishing gift - as a new hat design (yes, you read that correctly, a hat design!) has just been published in Interweave Crochet's Winter 2019 edition! (The electronic version is available right now for download; it hits newsstands December 11th, although some LYSs already have it in stock).
Vanilla and Spice Hat, Interweave Crochet
Winter 2019 edition; photo courtesy of
Interweave/Harper Point Photography

I am not normally a hat-design kind of person. While I have published a few hat designs, I really don't wear hats (too warm for this polar bear), so they are not usually at my design ready. However, at the beginning of this year, the magazine's submission call (containing requests for designs with puff, bobble, and/or popcorn stitches) combined with all of my South Korean Olympic games-watching to create a perfect design storm for the Vanilla and Spice Hat to be created for release into the crafty wild.

While I will have more to say on the hat's design genesis in a subsequent post, I want to focus on the elements of Interweave Crochet's Winter 2019 edition, which is truly chock-full of crochet goodness. Can't you already tell????

Included with the Vanilla and Spice Hat are an additional 19 projects, many of which incorporate the awesome bobble, popcorn, or puff. Along those lines, I am all in with the Wintertide Sweater, the Snow Day Sweater, the Solstice Cardigan, the Cinnamon Cowl, and the Cedar Mittens. There is also a quick tutorial from Sara Dudek, the editor, on constructing each of these soft, textural stitches (and more on stitch construction a little farther below).

There are other designs in this edition that strike all of my favorite internal design bells and whistles: the Granny Hexagon Bag and the Nordic Tapestry Pouch both hit me in my bag-loving heart; and for those of us who love and appreciate history, Dora Ohrenstein has a streamlined crochet history article, coupled with projects from across the Interweave magazine library that underscore several crochet technique/tool firsts (and a shout out to Piecework Magazine as an excellent repository of crochet and fiber arts' history). 

As I mentioned above, cluster textural stitches like the puff, bobble, and popcorn, have not only shown up in my designs, but have been previous writing fodder for me. I wrote an article on the differences between them in an early edition of Below I provide a slightly reworked version of that article, complete with a visual tutorial of all three stitches (in case you cannot wait for your copy of the IC Winter 2019 edition to reach your mailbox). 

Bobble, Popcorn or Puff?
(originally published August, 2014 by

I use test crocheters frequently. All of my testers are well-seasoned crocheters and are invaluable to me. So recently, when two of my testers had questions concerning the bobbles and puffs I had in a few of my patterns, a green light went off – this was something I needed to investigate further.

As you can see from the makeshift bookmarks,
I consult these books frequently
Whenever I want to research a subject, the first thing I turn to is a book (oh, those humanities and literature majors!), and in this instance, crochet books from my own library that are relevant to the topic. While certainly not exhaustive (cause I’m a city gal and have limited space), you’ll see I consulted books written by industry professionals, all heavyweights and extremely knowledgeable. I admire all of these authors, and these books have been and continue to be incredibly helpful to me. But it wasn’t until I actually started to research this subject that I realized the extent of the inconsistency in the published material. Of these six books, only three directly address the bobble, popcorn and puff. Of those three, two are consistent in their approach and instruction; the third, while receiving an honorable mention was, shall we say, less than consistent (and no, I will not identify the publications). The other books either have different approaches to one or several of the stitches, or just didn’t cover them.

Please hear me: I am not knocking these designers/authors or publishers! I note that the authors who didn’t touch upon these stitches may have felt a discussion of them was beyond what they were attempting to accomplish with their respective material. Additionally, there is, unlike knitting, no cohesive crochet language. Stitches on one side of the Atlantic have a different interpretation on the other side of the pond. Season the above liberally with copyright issues every author faces when writing instructions, and the heat level surrounding all of this just went up by at least one chili pepper.

There are professional organizations one might turn to – the Crochet Guild of America, The National Needle Arts Association, and the Craft Yarn Council of America – and while all provide excellent training, there is no consensus for definitive answers (and this takes nothing away from the good work these organizations do every day for crocheters). Finally, while crochet symbols are universal, they are incomplete (although for my purposes here, well established), and not all crocheters feel comfortable with them. So, in the face of all this wishy-wash, what’s a hooker to do?

Focus on the stitches themselves, of course.

One of the ways to create crochet fabric is to work clusters of stitches. Clusters come in two basic flavors:


Clusters worked                     Clusters worked
over several stitches               into just one stitch

Close-up of the Vanilla and Spice Hat;
note puff stitches on brim of the hat.
Photo: Voie de Vie
Bobbles, popcorns and puffs fall within the category on the right – they each are worked in just one stitch. That’s the first main element to note: if the instructions say to work over several stitches, then it isn’t a bobble, popcorn or puff.

Next, the generally accepted symbol for each of these respective crochet stitches is instructive in showing the second main element – how each stitch is closed at the top. The symbol for bobbles and puffs have a short, straight line at the top. This indicates that for each, a number of incomplete stitches are held on the hook and closed at the top with a yarn over through the multiple loops on the hook. Popcorns are different – the stitch symbol is acorn-like because the stitches are completed and not held on the hook; as will be shown below, popcorns are closed at the top by removing the hook from the last stitch worked, inserting it into the first stitch of the popcorn cluster and pulling the last live stitch loop through the first stitch.

There is a difference in the size and texture of each stitch – popcorns are the largest and provide bold, textural interest. Bobbles and puffs are generally smaller, yet still pack an excellent textural punch This leads to the other main stitch element – while bobble and popcorns can be made with multiple types of stitches – double crochet, treble, double treble – puffs are usually made with half double crochet stitches. Of course I say usually, because there are exceptions to every rule, and exceptions to the exceptions.

Here is a quick visual tutorial of how to construct each stitch:

1. The bobble:
Work a partial double crochet into the designated stitch: yarn over,
insert hook, pull up a loop, yarn over and through two loops on the
hook. Two loops will remain on the hook.
Repeat the above instruction for as many double crochets
as is called for in the pattern instructions (in this instance,
I am making a three double crochet bobble).
Once you have completed the requisite number of
incomplete double crochets, yarn over and pull through
all remaining loops on the hook.

2. T
he popcorn:

Work a complete double crochet in the stitch indicated.

Repeat the above instruction for as many double
crochets as is called for in the pattern instructions
(in this instance, I am making a five double crochet popcorn).
Note they are all in the same stitch.
After the last double crochet is complete, remove
the hook from the live loop and place your hook through
the top of the first double crochet in the popcorn.

Now place the hook back into the live loop of the last
double crochet and pull it through the first double crochet.

After being pulled through the first double crochet.
Notice how the completed popcorn is raised up
from the crochet fabric. 
3. The puff:

Work a partial half double crochet in the stitch indicated: 
yarn over, insert hook into designated stitch, yarn over 
and pull up a loop. You will have three loops on the hook.
At this point, you will place yarn over hook and 
pull through all 7 loops. The partial half double crochet loops 
should be even and just slightly loose, so the hook will slide 
easily through all 7 loops. 
Here is the completed puff. It is shorter in hight than
either the bobble or popcorn, but it is cushiony soft.

These stitches provide loads of texture to any project, as well as enjoyment for the maker. Just remember to focus on the elements of each: all are worked in only stitch; popcorns are clusters of completed stitches that are closed at the top by removing the hook from the last live stitch and putting the hook through the first stitch and pulling the last live stitch through; bobbles and puffs are clusters of incomplete stitches that are closed at the top by pulling a loop through several stitches held on the hook; popcorns and bobbles are usually comprised of double crochet or larger stitches; and, finally, puffs are usually worked with half double crochet stitches.  Knowing the elements of each will allow you to easily identify the correct cluster used in any pattern.