Saturday, October 18, 2014

Most Often Asked Question

The most often asked question I get is truly the most surprising to me.  And it doesn't matter how it's phrased, it's always the same..

"What do you use to..."


I guess I find it surprising because I had never thought it was any different than what everyone else is/was using. As if I had some sort of magical tool that made things work as intended each and every time.  Mostly, it's just whatever makes the process easier.
So I will show you my "Crochet Arsenal" and see how it compares with what you use.


1.  Hook(s):  Every crocheter has hooks, this is a given - but what hooks are in your arsenal?  

Mine range from size 14 (thread) to Size P (at least I think that is currently the biggest hook I have, although I rarely use it).  But comfort and weight are the most important factor in your hook - it should feel comfortable to YOU.  It doesn't matter what the designer uses, what your best friend uses... you need a hook that feels good in YOUR hand .. an extension of your hand.



About 2 years ago, I had a client ask me if I used ergonomic hooks... and at the time, I did not.  

I was using the standard ole' Boye hook that could be purchased at any chain store that also sold crafts. Heck, once or twice, I had even seen Boye (or was it Bates) hooks in a Dollar Store.
But,  I was happy, didn't feel I needed anything 'fancy'... they did their job!  Then a client sent me a Crochet Dude ergonomic hook... and  boy oh boy how my opinion changed!!  Now, I hate working with standard hooks.. I love my soft-grips and bulkier handle :)   I won't go into all the 'reasons' behind ergonomic hooks - there are plenty of pros/cons and blogs about what is so great (or horrible) about them.



I currently use (almost exclusively) my Clover Tulip Etimo hooks. 
In fact, I love my Tulips so much; I purchased an extra set for myself in addition to purchasing a set for my lead associate.
It's all about comfort and I found these to be the most comfortable hook I've ever held.

Some suggestions before anyone rushes out and purchases a set, since these hooks can be quite expensive (Tulips are about $8 a hook/Crochet Dude Hooks are about $3).
     - Start by purchasing only 1 hook in the size you use most often.  It may take a little bit to get used to the new feel of the hook in your hand, and let's face it, you may not like it.  It feels different, bulkier.. heavier and may even feel a little 'off balanced' at first.  (I found these issues were easy to overcome - but that's me!  It took me about 2 days to feel completely comfortable with the new sensation in my hand)
     - Borrow a friend's extra hook 
     - Use coupons.  Now almost every major chain craft store offers 'deals' and discounts either through mailings or clubs. And yes, Michael's, ACMoore, Joann's and even WalMart carry "ergonomic hooks" now.



2.  Earring Findings??:  Well, okay - this one might not be as usual, but it's purpose sure is.  How do I use them?  These little beauties make EXCELLENT stitch markers!    I know many people use a snippet of yarn or a safety pin and some even purchase plastic stitch markers and that is what I used to use... until I had put my work down to grab the phone (out of my reach) and someone (a four legged someone) had snagged a toe on the working yarn while attempting to follow me.. and before I knew it.. I had 4 rounds pulled out.
For me, personally, I couldn't live without my earring findings.  They are very thin, so they don't gap the stitches.  They clasp closed, so I don't have to worry about accidentally pulling something out and they also can be used to "hold a loop" so that when you want to finish up for the night, you don't have to worry about your last few stitches going missing due to someone 'moving' your work!



3.  Knitting Needles:  Katt's got her crafts mixed up!  Knitting Needles are for KNITTING! what could they possibly have to do with Crochet?  Well, originally, I purchased knitting needles for, well, teaching myself how to knit... sadly there's just never been the time (or patience on my end).  
But one evening while working on a scuptgurumi, I could not locate a dowel to use for my neck - but there were these thin knitting needles sitting there.. so what could it hurt?
These long needles hold Amigurumi heads on very well!  Inserting the needle from butt (seated point) and out through neck and then into head or your doll can allow for optimal placement, posture and tilt!   This gives your creation it's own personality each and every time, before making that final commitment with needle and thread/yarn.  (They also work real good for leg placement(s).)  
** If you like this idea, remember to purchase very THIN needles as they WILL spread stitches.



4.  Quilting Pins/Long Pins:  I cannot live without my pins.  To me, they are nearly as valuable a crocheting item as the hook or yarn(s) I have at my disposal.
Well, you "design", I only follow instructions!  Of course you NEED pins so you can tell me where to put things.
What most clients don't give themselves enough credit for is the art that they, themselves are also making!  I merely provide the 'recipe', it is you who provide the love and the "ingredients"... that is why handmade is always unique. Your tension, flare, color choices... even how lightly or full you stuff your work can vastly change the 'look' of a project.  

Sometimes clients get a bit frustrated because I do not include in the instructions for the EXACT placements for items.  I tend to be more general.  "Between Rnds 9 &15 centered on Head" .. etc..   this is intentional.  Sure, I could write, top of eye should hit Rnd xx, bottom of eye to hit Rnd xx .... 12 sts out from center of Head.   But what if you didn't use Red Heart Yarn?  What if you had to use a thinner yarn as many of my overseas clients are forced to do...  or if you do not stuff your head as firmly as I do?
While in theory the placement(s) should still work ...  theory doesn't always match up with what actually happens.  

AESTHETICALLY.. that is a viewer's perception, could be vastly different due to the individuality of a client's work.  In addition, feature placements can change a 'personality'.   It is in my own humble opinion, that how exactly to arrange a product's features should be a "personal preference" based on general "knowledge" - eyes belong on heads, ears belong either at the top or along the side and noses fall center of the face under the eyes.... but then again, you see something like this..


© 2008 Sue PendletonSakura, A Little Japanese Bear
and he is ADORABLE!  Yet very unconventional!
Pins allow you to position and re-position before 'finalizing' your project.  You would be surprised at just how many looks can be made using the same features!
Do not under-estimate YOUR artistic part in creating a FiberDoodles pattern.



5.  General Purpose Tweezers:  I remember a few years ago watching as a designer marketed this plastic "stuffing tool" and I thought to myself.. OMG Really?!  Why on Earth would anyone need that?  I was surprised by how many people actually were interested in the little gadget.  Color me perplexed!
This item would be 1 of 2 items that I wouldn't be surprised to hear wasn't in a the casual crocheter's arsenal - but for any die-hard amigurumi hooker, it's a MUST HAVE!  Not only does a pair of tweezers help with stuffing - but also for those little tails that eventually will have to be hidden!
I also like to remove individual strands of stray fil with my tweezers, as sometimes these little strays aren't just laying on the project, but are weaved into the stitches or poking out a stitch.




7.  Yarn/Embroidery & Upholstery Needle(s):  I am probably the world's 2nd worst seamstress.  I say 2nd, because I am sure that there is someone out there that is worse than I am... perhaps a toddler or someone that may have to use fabricated materials to secure one thing to another... but I am really BAD.  
Therefore, I look for the simplest tools to help make the most challenging aspect of my work as easy as possible (and help it to look professional as possible).
In addition to needles like those photographed above, I also have several long needles which range from 6 inches in length to one that is 10 inches in length.  I use these very seldom, but they can be very useful when attaching limbs to a body of a doll!  (Example would be Pulp the Pumpkin)



8, 9 & 10  Yarn, Scissors & Fil: Obviously, in addition to hooks, the crocheter will need some form of working material.  Whether it is worsted weight yarn, baby yarn, sports yarn.. the list goes on and on.  Eventually, you will find a medium that you work best with.  
For amigurumi, I can't stress enough how good Red Heart's Acrylic Worsted Weight yarn is.  Unlike clothing items, like hats and afghans (for which I use cotton most of the time), toys need to be a little 'stiffer' to help hold their shape.  RH yarns I have found to be the best!
Scissors - You must have a sharp cutting instrument at your side at all times!  
Dull cutting tools will only cause you more headaches in the long-run!  Let's face it, yarn is not always perfect - pulls, clumps and snags can show up anywhere in a skein of yarn; most often when you've got a good rhythm going.    Having your cutting tools with you makes quick work of little annoyances and get's you back to crocheting quickly!  The Clover Pendant (like in the photo above) was given to me a few years ago as a gift by an associate... and it's around my neck at all times :)
I originally forgot to write in the fil.  I use a variety of fil - but the one most often is Polyfil.  It's inexpensive and since I am a heavy stuffer, it tends to not clump or get all yucky when I am packing it in my projects.


I hope that for the casual crocheter, this post helps you create projects that you find more rewarding and less 'stressful' to complete.   Having the proper tools by your side - which are really more everyday items - can truly make all the difference in your creations.
If this posts inspires you to create more handmade treats for your family and friends, then I have accomplished my mission.  If you have suggestions that you wouldn't mind passing on, I'd be happy to share them as well.  Sharing great tips is how we all benefit.