The Year I became a Hooker: My Crochet Journey

How it started.

Last year, as part of my Year of Restore, I decided to try something new. I taught myself how to crochet. This was not the first time I tried to crochet. About 10 years ago when the kiddos were small, I bought some yarn, a hook and gave it a go. You can see my first masterpiece in the pic. No, I have no idea what the hell it was supposed to be. I do know that it was kind of a disaster. Looking back I can tell you what I did wrong…. everything. That yarn is definitely NOT a beginner yarn. I would bet money that I was using the wrong hook size and I had no pattern. This was an aimless attempt at learning a new skill. As you can guess, after this monstrosity, I hung my head in shame, set down my hook, and gave up learning how to crochet.

I was not going to be a fiber artist. For years to come, I would still find myself wandering through the yarn aisle wishing I could do something with all of that beautiful yarn. This went on for years. Me looking at yarn and wanting to create something beautiful and then remembering the pink and blue eyelash yarn abomination. I would then leave the yarn aisle and head to the bead aisle feeling defeated. I would even see cool projects like temperature blankets and think, “That would be so cool to do if only I knew how to crochet.” Knowing, that I would probably never learn. Such quitter talk, I know.

The Pom-Pom Project

Holiday Pom-Pom Décor

In the winter of 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, something changed. I finally gave in to my yarn yearnings, bought some plain old yarn, and started to make pom-poms. I don’t know why. It was something to do I guess. I made them for all the windows. For the manel. For picture frames. I made a black and red one for our tree at work. I even sent some to friends and colleagues. There were pom-poms everywhere!! It was delightful! It also reignited my desire to give crochet another try.

I had befriended yarn again so it was time to pick up a hook and make something. But as the disaster danced in the back of my brain, reminding me of my failure, I knew that this time I had take a different approach.

Try Again

Learning from my past mistake of jumping in blindly with no direction or plan, or clue, I decided that if I wanted to learn this for real, I needed to start with the basics. So I found a pattern labeled easy and gave it a try. It was not too bad. The pattern was easy to follow. I successfully made a hat but I still made many mistakes. I used yarn that was a little hard to work with and did not use the right sized hook. But, despite that, I did create a hat. A too big, lopsided hat. Still basking in the afterglow of a semi-success, I turned to YouTube and found a video tutorial for a “simple” octopus. The tutorial was good. After a bit of struggle and some rewatching over and over, I made an an octopus! Like the hat, it was a little wonky and filled with mistakes but, it was were what it was supposed to be. It was at that moment I decided, I could crochet! I was now a hooker! OK, not really but I had made it further than I ever had before. I had some confidence and more yarn!

Taking the Big Step

After my two successful projects I wanted more. Since it was the holiday break in the middle of a pandemic, we could not really go anywhere, I started playing around with a few more simple projects. I made three more octopi and a few gauge swatches. The day after Christmas I decided that if I really wanted to do this, I needed to go big. My mind drifted back to those temperature blankets I had admired so many years ago. I decided that having a year long project to focus on would be a great way for me to practice my skills and get better. I was right. (If you want to learn more about the blanket project, you can read about it here.) Long story short – I kept with it over the course of 2021 and completed the blanket! The coolest thing was to see how my skill changed during the year. The beginning of the blanket was a hot mess. The edges were terrible and there were so many dropped stitches. But, I got better and better the more I did it every day. Seeing my skills improve gave me the confidence to try other things and keep learning!

How its Going

Over that past year, I have gone from the creator of wonky things to the creator of slightly less wonky yet beautiful in their own way things. Since that first hat twelve months ago I have made five blankets, one pillow, three pairs of fingerless gloves, a cardigan, (yes, a cardigan!! Who would have thought?) two wraps, six scarves, three hats, a dog snood, twenty mug cozies, a dice bag, a fox, a sting ray, a water molecule, some stars, some skulls, some Christmas trees and a hyperbolic pseudosphere. Whew. It has been a busy year. I do not even want to know how many hours of video tutorials I have watched or patterns I have tried to decipher. It has all been worth it. This time was different. I approached it like like an educator. I identified my objective, found the resources that would support my goal and I made things. Over and over again.

How its Going

It Ain’t Nothin’ Unless You Learn Something

I have learned so much and am really proud of how far I have come. It has been fun to challenge myself with different projects and techniques. With any new hobby or skills there are things you learn as you put in the time to move from beginner to…er… less of a beginner. Some of these lessons are specific to crocheting such as the difference between a signal crochet and a double or why it is important to write down which hook you used if you are going to pause a project. (Don’t ask me how I know. Just know that I know.) But, some of the lessons we learn along the way can be applied more broadly. So what did I learn as I hooked my way through 2021. Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are some of the things I have learned on this journey.

First and foremost, don’t let past failures, challenges, or mistakes stop you from trying again. I say that all the time. I’m surprised I let a failed attempt define me as a crafter. If you really want to do it, try again. Only this time find the resources and tools that will help you be successful. I could not have done this without all of the great YouTubers out there doing demo videos. Thank you, fellow crochet people!

Nest, don’t be afraid to start. Some time projects seem so big and overwhelming that you don’t even know how to start. Crochet a yearly temperature blanket. Wow – that is a lot of work. But not when you break it down into single days for about 15 minutes a day. That makes it much easier to attack! Make a cardigan. What? I never thought I would be able to make a cardigan. As I was working on rectangular blankets I could not even imagine making something wearable. But, I found a great pattern that broke it down into easy to follow steps and one week later, I had a wearable. (The pattern was the Kami Cardi by TL Yarn Crafts.Check out her stuff. It is amazing!) Breaking it down into pieces helped my get over the overwhelming idea of the finished project. Take it one step at a time.

Image from NASA.gov Hubble Space Telescope – https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/multimedia/index.html

Going back to failures – just because you made it, doesn’t mean you need to like it or keep it. Frogging is a crocheter’s best friend. Made a mistake? Frog it. Made something weird and ugly? Frog it. In the world of crochet, “frogging” means to rip out stitches. (Yes, I use crochet slang now.) Remember my first wonky hat? Well, it was kind of unwearable so, I frogged it. It is now art of a beautiful blanket in my office. It was hard to frog that first piece. All I could think about was how all the time I put into making it was wasted. But really, isn’t it wasted if the hat just sat there unloved? Frogging is not admitting failure but correcting a wrong or giving something new life. Speaking of past failures – that pink and blues eyelash monster might be just what I need to create a crochet version of the above Hubble Telescope image. I look forward to frogging that thing and using it to make something new and (hopefully) beautiful. Bit, if it doesn’t turn out, no worries, just frog it. This is becoming my second favorite F word.

It was a Crochet Christmas this year!

And finally, it is ok to pause a project and start something new. Blame my weird brain but I get bored with big projects. As soon as something becomes repetitive my brain finds something shinny to focus on instead. I found that taking a break from a big project to complete a small quick project gives me the break I need to continue. It’s ok to have multiple projects going at a time. Give yourself permission to project hop. (Just remember to write down your hook size before you move on. Again, trust me on that one.)

The End?

Well, that post is way longer than I expected. But, I guess I was trying to reflect on 365+ days of my crochet journey. There was a lot to cover. Big thank you to all my IRL and social media friends who have suffered through the MANY pictures of the various projects and all of my talk about yarn. I appreciate all of the support this past year as I tried something new. This is not the end of my journey but the start. I have so many projects I want to try (and so much yarn)!!

Resources

If you are thinking about taking your own crochet journey, I support you. Do it! It’s a fun hobby. Oh – and my fitness app counts my hand movements as exercise. So, bonus!! As one newbie to another, here are some of my favorite resources for learning.

  • TL Yarn Crafts – patters and tips. Her videos are what really helped my with technique. She also has great Tunisian Crochet tutorials.
  • Ravelry – Join this free community for so many patterns and to connect with others who are just as passionate for the craft.
  • Bag-O-Day Crochet – Watch her videos for tutorials and yarn reviews.
  • Alt Knots – Do you need you dark soul but still want to crochet? Try Alt Knots. She puts the spooky in spooktacular crochet videos.
  • Jonah’s Hands – This kid is amazing! He has great tutorials and is a joy to watch.

Have fun hooking!

Word of the Year 2022

Happy New Year!

It’s that time again when we dust off all of our failed resolutions from years past, shake off the disappointment, and give them another go. For the past five years I have gone against the grain and instead of coming up with a list of things that I will not accomplish, I have instead, chosen a word that will be my focus for the upcoming year. (Apparently, this is a whole thing now online. It has a hash-tag and everything – #OneWord2022. I like to think that I was a trendsetter with this one.)

For the most part, this idea of one word to rule them all for the coming year has been a fun exercise. It has given me a way to focus my energy and drive my priorities. At the very least, it’s a way to plan for the year in January and a framework for reflecting on the year in December. I think I have been fairly creative in my word choices over the past five years. I have tried not to be too generic with words like Love, Believe, or Hope. Don’t get me wrong, they are all good words. But none of them have the teeth I needed to be inspired for a whole year. So, what have been my words for the past five years. Well, since you asked…here is the list (if I blogged about it, I was even so kind as to give you the link.)

Past Words of the Year

  • 2016 – Nourish
  • 2017 – Transform
  • 2018 – Boundaries
  • 2019 – Reach
  • 2020 – Less – I thought this was a great word at the time. Hindsight, am I right?
  • 2021 – Restore

It has been fun to pick the words. I was super proud of 2020. It was going to be the year of “Less but Better”. All I can say is the Universe is full of irony. I was smarter in 2021 and chose Restore so I could focus on bringing back some of the good things. Yesterday I took some time to reflect on the positives from 2021. There were quite a few and I do feel I restored some important things. So, what to choose for 2022?

The Right Word for 2022

Finding the right word is hard. I really thought about it and was about to give up all together. This was going to be the year with no word. Just a year. Then I listened to a podcast from one of my favorite thinkers, Greg McKeown. In fact, his book Essentialism is what inspired the Year of Less. I was listening to one of his recent podcasts, episode 83 to be exact, while working on a project and thinking about why choosing a word was so hard. The episode dove into the first chapter of his new book and asked “What if this could be easy?” Seriously, I stopped what I was doing and repeated that out loud. “What if this could be easy?” The past two years have been really hard. What if it could be easy? That is when my word for 2022 hit me right in the face. Easy. This year will be the year of Easy! It all made perfect sense. Look at the definition below.

eas·y/ˈēzē/adjective

  1. achieved without great effort; presenting few difficulties.
  2. (of a period of time or way of life) free from worries or problems.

Don’t both of those sound amazing? I want to achieve without great effort AND have a period of time that is free from worries or problems. I wish that for all of us!

So, how do I plan to approach the Year of Easy? After kicking the word around in my head a bit and completely overthinking it, here are my three Easy Goals.

Be Easy – Don’t Over Complicate

I know that living Easy is not going to be…well, easy. It feels like today’s society believes that things of value or quality are hard. (That might explain some of my underlying issues with Impostor Syndrome if you think about it.) And, if you take the easy way out you are lazy or what you do is low quality. I don’t think that’s true. For example, over the past year I’ve been learning how to crochet. I have seen that even the easy stiches can create beautiful things. So, the year of easy is not about quick fixes and low quality. It is about simple solutions and less complicated actions. I am going to look for the easiest way to get the best result and stop over complicating (and over thinking) everything.

Go Easy – Don’t be a Jerk

Also, as I said before, the past two years have been hard. For all of us. And we, my friends, have been kind of hard on each other. I mean really, some of us have been complete jerks to each other. It is time for us to stop and go easy on each other instead. Show some compassion, some grace, some empathy. We all deserve it. I mean, come on, even Adele gets it.

If you go easy on me, I’ll go easy on you. Haven’t we all been through enough?

Take it Easy – Slow Down, Partner

It’s ok to slow down.

The Year of Easy will also be about slowing down and enjoying life. I will continue to nurture those restored habits of creative pursuits, finding joy and being connected. We can’t do that if we’re rushing through life. So, take it easy. Slow it down. Enjoy the ride a bit more.

There you have it, everyone. My 2022 word of the year and more explanation than you ever asked for. My wish for you is that you all have an easy, yet amazing year. You have all earned it.

Exploring Micro Fiction and Visual Stories

Here we are, another NaNoWriMo and I still have not penned the next great American Novel. Every year I think, “This is my year! I will write that book that has been bouncing around in my brain! I’ve got this!” Then December comes around and I realized that I did not have it and the story has again gone untold. Sigh.

Yes, I know that I can write any month of the year. It does not have to be a November thing. But, there is a hashtag. So… #NaNoWriMo

This year however, I have discovered a type of fiction that seem much more my speed. Micro Fiction!

Several years ago I started writing little mini one or two sentence stories. But I didn’t think of them as stories. Just short little musings. I was inspired by one of my favorite artists, Brian Andreas of Story People. I discovered his quirky art twenty five years ago on a business trip to Decorah, IA. (If you have never been to Decorah, go. Go now. I’ll wait.) There was something about his whimsical, child-like drawings and the simple statements that really spoke to me. I loved his messages and was inspired to start writing some of my own. They were silly and sappy but I would post them to social media anyway. It was fun. I mentioned this fun hobby (Is it a hobby? I don’t know.) to a writer friend of mine and she said, “Oh, you write micro fiction!” Micro fiction. What is that? My interest was piqued.

Science tells us that most of our memories, even the ones we hold most dear, are false. They are nothing more than stories constructed by our brains using bits and pieces of fact mixed with ideas from our imagination. But when I remember you I smile so I have decided that I like the way my brain thinks.

K.A. Brynteson

I started doing some research. It is a thing and apparently very popular. From the two sentence horror stories to six word summaries to (let’s be honest here) the social media posts we write with a 144 character limit. We all write micro fiction from time to time.

As I’ve had fun writing more, I’ve been look for ways to connect this type of writing into the classroom. I know that there are many students out there who love to write but find longer works a bit overwhelming. Shorter stories, 100 – 500 words or less, can be an accessible alternative. Accessible, but not easy. The constraint of few words helps you be creative in your word choice. You have to flex your writing muscles. Each word is necessary. They kind of remind me of some of the activities I do in my visual literacy class with images such as my Tell a Story with 5 pictures or my Photo a Week photography prompt. They both focus on constructing a story with either your visual vocabulary or a few well selected images.

Because of this connection, I have started taking the mini stories and turning them into a visual posts, adding a layer of visual literacy into the activity. For the examples I’ve shared in the post, I used Adobe Spark. If you read my blog at all, you know that this is one of my most favorite tools. I use Adobe Spark tools all the time for digital storytelling. I found it was a fast way to take the text and create a visual representation. I experiment with fonts and colors and shapes until I have a composition that I feel compliments the message of the passage. This would be a very simple activity to do in the classroom. Have students write their own micro stories and then us their design skills to turn them into posts or even posters for the classroom.

Here are a few more examples.

Ok, I admit that I am starting to creep into Jack Handy’s deep thought territory, it is still a fun challenge to see if I can take an idea and turn it into a mini story. No, they are not all good. I know that. They are not up to the level of Story People by any means but it is fun. I have also found that I go back and edit them often. Especially when I turn them into a visual post. I play around with the word choice to see if I can say the same thing with fewer words or in different ways. It feels more like playing with words than actually writing a story.

I’m sure that there are students out there that might feel the same way. Micro fiction could be a way to turn even your most reluctant writer into an author, a couple words at a time. Give it a try and see what they create.

If you want to learn more about using Micro-Fiction in the classroom, here are some lessons and blogs to check out.

Happy mini-writing!

Temperature Blanket: A Cozy Approach to Data Visualization

Several years ago I stumbled across a fun project idea. Someone posted a picture of a scarf they knitted based on the temperature for the past year. I was fascinated by the concept because 1) I love the idea of a fun, creative, year-long project and 2) I am a sucker for interesting data visualizations. However, not knowing how to knit at the time, I filed it away in my brain (or saved it to Pinterest which is the same thing) as a project-I-might-think-about-but-probably-never-do.

Fast forward to 2021

Hat and octopus
Since 2020 was such a crap year, I used my holiday break to try something new. I taught myself how to crochet. I’ve tried before but to pretty dismal ends. But this time I was determined. It stared with a hat and moved on to several adorable octopi. (You can find the pattern for both here and here, respectively.) Aside from my hat being weirdly large and my octopi being a bit wonky, I felt that my crocheting adventure was a success. I was feeling very confident after my week being a crocheter. (Is that a word? It should be a word.) So, I decided that it was time to take on a year-long crochet project and crochet myself a temperature blanket!

Getting Started

My biggest piece of advice for anyone wanting to tackle this type of project is to do your research and make a plan. Before I started I did quite a bit of research. I watched videos and read some blogs from the brave souls who have come before me. Apparently, temperature blankets, quilts, and scarves are a big thing online. A simple search and you can find a lot of crazy…er..I mean creative folks who have taken on this type of project. Hearing others experiences was really helpful. Not only did I learn a lot about their process, it help me learn from their successes and mistakes. I’ve listed a couple of my favorite posts and videos below. The research was key. I learned how to do the math and create the color ranges as well as how to make sure it does not end up 10 feet long!

Making the Plan

After much research and thinking, I was ready to commit and make a plan. I first looked at historic temperature data so I could see how much the temp in my area varies during the year. You need this info to determine how high to set your highest range and how low to set your lowest. Based on the average temps in my area, I went with a high cut off of 94 degrees and a low cut off of 15 degrees. (I am being optimistic that we will not have any -30 degree weather this year. Fingers crossed.) I also decided that I was only going to use eight colors. This was mainly an artistic choice. I’ll get into my color choices later. With my high point and low point set, I used some mad math skills and determined that I’d change colors every 13 degrees in between. Now on to the yarn.

Color Inspiration I decided early that I did not want a rainbow temp blanket. It seemed like many of the ones I’ve seen use the basic rainbow color spectrum. However, I loved the ones that broke free of the rainbow and went with a unique color palette. I went on the hunt for some color inspiration. This took a while. I take color very seriously and I wanted to get this right! The blanket was going to live in our living room. The room is filled with shades of grey and blue but also has a space theme. Images from the Hubble Telescope adorn the walls next to an original movie poster from Star Trek IV. (Thank you, NASA for the amazing Hubble images.) As much as I loved all the nebula art and the movie poster, there was a bit too much orange for my liking. I was starting to get discouraged but then inspiration hit! The blanket was for my husband who was turning 50 in 2021. So I looked to one of his favorite things – World of Warcraft. He made me watch the trailer for Shadowlands and I’ll have to say, the colors were perfect. So armed with a plan, a screenshot, and a new sense of determination, it was time to shop for yarn! It was a little difficult to find colors to match the image all from the same brand. But I think I did OK. I’m pretty happy with my color palette.

The last piece of the plan was the stitch. Being new to the crochet thing, I needed a simple stitch. I decided on using a single stitch with a size 6mm hook. That gave me a simple stitch in a size that was easy to work with. I still had to play around to figure out how big this thing was going to be. You figure, it will be 365 rows long. Thanks to some math and several gage swatches (don’t skip the gage swatches), I determined that doing a single crochet into he back loop only condensed the size and gives the blanket a nice pattern. Also, thanks to Crochet Crowd for their handy size chart. It really helped me figure out the math behind the size of my future blanket.

Plan, hook, and yarn in hand. I started my blanket.

One Month Later

Then and nowFast forward to February 1st. I am proud to say that my blanket is coming along. I work on it every night as a way to decompress. (It is sooo much better than doom scrolling social media.) Even though I’ve only been doing this for a month, I have learned some things I’ll use “next time.”

  • Document everything – I set up a spreadsheet where I keep track of the daily high and if I completed the row. As my blanket gets bigger, this will be helpful. And, if you miss a day, you have the temp there and ready to go.
  • You are not a data scientist, artistic license wins out over accuracy – There have been a couple days where the high temp was just barely hit and that sent me into a different colors range. I wanted variety so I went with the lower temp to better represent the day. And then I forgave myself for faulty data representation. There have also been times when I made my row and then the temp snuck up into the higher range. I could have taken out the row and redone it in the right color but I hate going backwards on projects. So I kept it. It was close enough.
  • Two sided – The stitch I chose created a two sided blanket. Which I’m fine with but you can’t see the entire month when you lay it out. If I would have thought of it earlier, I would have done two rows a day (one for low and one for high). Then the two sided blanket would have been a side for high and a side for low….and also very very large.
  • Smaller color ranges – The temps so far this year have been stable. Therefore my blanket does not have a lot of color variation. That is also partly because my color ranges are wide. If I would have chosen more yarn colors and used smaller ranges, I would have more variation. But, I also hate changing colors so I guess that is a positive.
  • Useful website – I get my temp data from both Weather Bug and weather.gov. I find the weather.gov site is fantastic. Especially if you are not doing temp but some other weather phenomenon instead like precipitation.
  • Find friends – I posted about doing this project on Facebook and several of my friends liked the idea and decided to do it too. They told their friends and now we have a small Facebook group of folks from across the country making blankets. Some are crocheting. Some are knitting. Some are doing blankets. Others are doing scarves. Some record temp and others record precipitation. It is a fun way to provide each other support and motivation. It is a great group and I have learned a lot form them. I can also say from this and several of my past year-long projects, find a group of supporters to help keep you going. (Shout out to all the Temperature Facebook group folks! You all rock and your blankets are beautiful! You can read about one group member’s project on her blog.)

That is just what I have learned in the past month. It has been quite the journey. I have also learned that I suck at making edges. But that is ok. I’m embracing the imperfect and calling this my growth mindset blanket.

Other Project Ideas

This project has reignited my love of data. As I planned for this project, I thought of so many other ways I could take simple data sets, like temp, and create fun works of art. A couple years ago there was an art exhibit on campus that featured data as art. It was amazing and inspiring! Most people think that data is only viewed in charts and graphs. While those can be informative, they are not necessarily beautiful. There are some many ways to turn information into art. In a classroom, this is a great way to help students see just how beautiful information and data can be.

Even something simple like my blanket could be done with students. Don’t have a year? Have them pick a month or week. Let your students collect some data and decide on a creative way to display that data. Don;t want to teach the kiddos how to crochet or knit? No worries! Use what you have. For example, use beads. Each color range is a different color bead. Have them make jewelry or a beaded garland. Use paper to make a temperature paper chain. Even a simple piece of graph paper could be transformed into a colorful data visualization. Color a square or row based on your color key. Don’t limit it to temp. What other data can you or your students collect? I also love all the questions you can ask when you finish your project. What do you notice and wonder? What patterns do you see? What story does your data tell?

So many ideas and so many ways to use this in the classroom. The possibilities are endless. There might be a future post on that….Hmmmm.