Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Free Pattern: Monsoon's Blanket

The first blanket I ever made was a simple crocheted afghan made of three shades of green yarn. Right after high school, I spent a summer traveling across the country with a friend (and with the blanket.)  You can find out what happened to that blanket in the course of our adventures if you read this excerpt from my someday-perhaps-to-be-published memoir.

I've recreated the blanket pattern, and I offer it for free at the end of the story.  (Sign up to follow my blog and be among the first to know whenever I post a new free pattern!)


This happened in Santa Fe in 1972.  I was sixteen years old.  Names have been changed....

... Along the way, my friend Rose and I met Dee and Charlie, a married couple who temporarily adopted us by letting us park our van in front of their small adobe house.  It was nice to have access to indoor plumbing for a change.

They lived in a dusty, hilly neighborhood that had seen better days but had not abandoned all hope.  My impressions of the place--grey adobe, grey and dusty winding dirt roads--are forever greyed by the grey-blue light of the dusty dusk as we drove up their hill for the first time.

We were all hanging out in the living room one morning when we heard a growl.  A flash of grey and white feral fur leaped in through an open window and darted into the kitchen.

When Rose and I yelped in dismay, Dee said, "Oh, that's just the neighbor's cat."

Charlie said, "He sneaks in to eat our cat's food.  We leave the window open for him because we feel sorry for him."

We trooped toward the kitchen to see.

Charlie and Dee told us that the neighbors hardly fed the cat anything except, once in awhile, some rice and beans.  Maybe that was all they had.  Maybe that was the best they could do.  But we were pretty sure cats weren't meant to be vegetarians.  Rose and I were vegetarians and we liked rice and beans, but we weren't cats.  We couldn't help feeling sorry for this one.

Maybe the neighbors expected this cat to catch mice and rats, birds and lizards; maybe that was his job. But according to Dee and Charlie, he was hungry all the time.

He wasn't much more than a kitten, really.  Maybe he just couldn't catch that many mice.  He was just a juvenile delinquent with a bad temper who growled all the time and would bite anyone who came too close.  He never let anyone pet him and he never purred.

Our friends told us that the neighbors' little boy would chase the cat around the dirt yard, catch him, and swing him around and around by his tail.  Sometimes the neighbors would hit or kick the cat.

But this cat didn't cower or mew or whine.  Instead, he growled and spat and fought.  He learned how to run, how to hide, and how to mooch food from Dee and Charlie.

Screw the lizards, he no doubt thought, there's free grub in a bowl next door.

He was one tough, smart, teenaged cat.

To add insult to injury, the neighbors had named the cat "Fluffy."  This clearly had nothing to do with his personality and probably put him in an even worse mood, though, to be fair, his tail was long and fluffy, possibly from being swung around and around by it.

Obviously, something had to be done.

So we catnapped him.

Early the next morning, on our way out of town, Rose and I grabbed the cat when he snuck in to steal food, and he did not thank us.  He snarled and hissed and scratched and bit.  Bleeding, we plopped him into our van on top of my three-shades-of-green crocheted blanket.

The next thing we knew, his snarl-spit-hiss morphed into a startled stare.  Then this juvenile delinquent cat started kneading his paws back and forth, nuzzling the blanket as if it were his long-lost mother.

We gunned the motor to our van and drove off into the West like heroes.

Despite its magical mothering properties, my blanket couldn't work a complete miracle overnight.  Our hands and arms were soon covered with scratch and bite marks from the many times we tried, ever-so-gently, to pet our stolen prize.

He was a dark and stormy cat.  We named him "Monsoon."

When we fed him--real cat food, naturally--he still hunched over it and growled, and stared at us with unblinking eyes, and wolfed the food down, or lioned or tigered it down, as if ravenous on the plains of the Serengeti in a famine with no rain.  But we never gave up on him, and as the weeks passed, he grew calmer, until sometimes he would even let one of us pet him for a second.  His fur was softer than velvet.

Then he would whip his head around and clamp down on the offending petting hand with his needle-sharp teeth or his razor-sharp claws.

"Quick!  Where's the blanket?!" we'd say, and we'd toss him onto it again.  As soon as his paws hit that crocheted blanket, he'd start kneading and nuzzling.  It was like turning on a light switch, how quickly he changed.

One day, while safely nestled in his blanket, he let me pet him a little longer than a second, and when he lazily turned his head to bite me, he didn't bite very hard, just enough to warn me, to keep me on my toes.  He batted my hand with his paws, but he kept his claws tucked away.  Then he slowly lowered his eyelids over his bottomless black eyes, and he purred.

© 2012 Reyna Thera Lorele


This pattern also appeared in the 2012 Crochet Calendar.

Finished size:  36” x 45”
Gauge:  14 dc = 4 inches, 6 rows = 4 inches

Pattern repeat is a multiple of 2 + 1 (plus 3 for your beginning chain, which becomes the first double crochet of the first row.)

Materials needed:
Worsted weight yarn as follows:
400 yards Color A
300 yards Color B
300 yards Color C
H hook or size to get gauge

With A, chain 121.
Row 1:  dc in 4th ch from hook and in every ch across.
Working in front loops only on all rows:
Row 2:  Ch 3 and turn.  Dc in next st and in each st across.
Row 3:  Repeat row 2.
Rows 4 and 5:  Change to Color B and repeat row 2.
Row 6:  Ch 4 and turn.  Skip next st, dc in next st, *ch 1, skip a stitch, dc in next st*, repeat from * to * across.

With color C, repeat rows 4, 5, and 6.

Continue repeating rows 4, 5, and 6, changing colors as you go, until blanket is about 43” long (7 repeats total of entire color sequence).  End by repeating row 2 three times with color A.  Do not finish off.

Chain 1, sc evenly around blanket, doing 1 sc in each st on the top and bottom of the blanket, 2 sc in each dc on the sides, and 3 sc in each corner.  Finish off.  Weave in ends.  Donate!

© 2010 Reyna Thera Lorele
Ravelry: captainhook

If you like this free pattern, you might also like this elegant one, the River's Edge Ripple, or this playful one, Granny Paints the Town.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Festive Fish, Part 2

One fish

Two fish

Older fish...

...welcoming new fish

I said I would make more fish.  I kept my promise.  Don't they look happy?

I pretty much let the fish have the run of the house now.  They are relatively harmless.  Here are a trio of them, admiring the African violet I bought recently.

More fish in my future!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Yes, We Have No Tomatoes

The quilt shop was out of tomatoes.  You know, those pincushions shaped like tomatoes?  Apparently they'd had a run on tomatoes and were temporarily out.

I do have my mom's old tin pin box, which I love (thanks, Mom!), but the cushion on top has lost a lot of its springy, cushy, pin-grabbing properties.

The top of the box doesn't screw on, so it doesn't always stay on either.

I don't want to store my extra pins in it, as I seem to recall they have a tendency to end up in a pile on the floor when the top pops off unexpectedly.  I keep my thimble and such in it instead.

So I was going to go for a tomato, as I mentioned, but no dice.  Or rather, no tomatoes.  No diced tomatoes, either.  Or salsa.  But I digress.

The shop (Quilt Ventura) did have some of those big, red, magnetic, metallic holders, which I like because they attract pins and make it easier to find dropped ones, but I don't like the jumble of potentially finger-piercing pins that is stored in a pile on top.  I have already pierced far too many of my fingers in my day.  Or rather, I have pierced one or two fingers, too many times.  (I'm just trying to be precise here.)

The shop also had some felted pincushions, larger and heavier than I wanted, and a knitted one in the shape of a cupcake, which was cute, but I thought, "Um, I know how to knit.  I am learning to felt.  Surely I can make a pincushion myself."

Gauntlet thrown, challenge accepted.

I researched pincushion patterns.  There are lots.  Then I got one of those magnets in the mail, with advertising on the front for something I neither wanted nor needed.  I had some leftover batting and nine-patches from My Very First (Finished) Wonderful Quilt.  Surely I could find a way to use the magnet to make my own version of a pincushion that would have all the properties of the Perfect Pincushion of my dreams!

It took a little experimentation, but this is the result.  It looks like a tissue holder for your purse, doesn't it?  The magnet isn't very strong, so after a quick trial, I saw I couldn't put it inside the fabric of the future pincushion.  So I made little pockets for it instead.

If I drop a pin, the magnet underneath can find it for me.  On top is a nice, cushy place in which to poke pins.  Plus, the fabric is so gosh-darned pretty.

The day after I finished this, I got another of those magnets in the mail.  I know I could buy stronger magnets, but I do love repurposing things.  Reduce, reuse, recycle!  (Yarn in, yarn out, after all.)

Could there be more pincushions in my future?  Fabric in, fabric out!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Dark Side

Yes, I've gone over.

A few weeks ago at the local yarn shop, a group of us knitters/crocheters/spinners/weavers were sitting around chatting about all the many projects we were working on, most of us with multiple projects in varying stages of completion in our project bags, in closets, on our couches, stuffed into a cooler in the garage, or an otherwise empty oatmeal box in the pantry, and someone joked, "At least you haven't gone over to the dark side and started quilting too."  (This might have been, in part, a reference to the quilt shop next door.)

I piped up, "I'm planning to take a beginning quilting class soon!"

Some eye-rolling ensued, probably because half of those knitters/crocheters/spinners/weavers are already quilters themselves.  They no doubt knew what I was getting into.  Another obsession, another stash, this time of fabric.

I have wanted to make a quilt for many years.  As a child, growing up in Tennessee, during those hot, humid summers, when to go outside during the day was an invitation to heat stroke and chiggers, I used to curl up on the floor beside the air conditioning vent, with a book to read--the thicker, the better--and a quilt I grabbed from the linen closet.  It wasn't really my quilt, I just adopted it.

It was a mass-produced, machine-made thing with no family history to it, probably one of hundreds like it, probably from Sears or Spiegel or some other big chain store.  It had a paisley top with pink backing and simple machine stitching in straight lines.  These days, I find I don't care much for paisley, possibly a result of severe, adolescent-onset Paisley Overdose in my hippie years, but never mind: at the time, I liked it just fine.

I would lie there in front of the air conditioning vent, reading, and when I got too cold, I would wrap myself in the quilt, and when I got too warm, I would unwrap.  I would spend hours there, day after day, reading Dickens and Michener and George Eliot.  "How I Spent My Summer Vacation?"  I was in other worlds, other eras.

That quilt is long gone; I don't know what happened to it.

Once, in my teens, I tried to piece together some bits of mismatched rags by hand, never having had a quilting lesson or read a quilting book, with no quilters in the family showing me the ropes.  Needless to say, I didn't get very far with it.  It was lopsided and ugly and boring.  I thought, "I hate to sew."  (In fact, I used to make my own clothes, until one day I decided I hated to sew.)

Then, in 2010, during my two years back in Tennessee, I met a quilter, Janet, and thought, "I need to learn a new skill and keep the synapses in my brain firing so I don't get dementia in my old age."  It was close to my birthday, and Mom bought me a cutting mat and one of those big rulers.  Janet gave me a spare rotary cutter she had.

I got some free fabric from a local Project Linus, and started hand stitching.  I told myself, "I don't want a machine, I don't want the noise, I don't want to have to be plugged in, I just want to make this 'old school.'"

I actually did get the borders on, and with Janet's help, the batting and backing, and I started hand quilting, and after awhile, I thought, as I so often do at times like this, "I am going to be stitching this one blanket for the rest of my life."

It sat on my couch for months, one-third quilted, staring at me reproachfully, while I knitted and crocheted and learned to spin, until I finally flounced back to Project Linus, gave them what I had done so far, with all the left over fabric.  I flounced away again, thinking, "I don't like quilting.  I hate to sew."  That was my story, and I was sticking to it.

But now, in my new home, with a quilting store offering great classes right next to the LYS, with my brain still needing exercise, and wanting to meet new people, I got sucked into the vortex.

I had a vision of making something beachy, in aqua and turquoise and sandy colors.  Then I fell in love with an unexpected fabric, and the vision morphed.  This fabric still had teal involved, but so much more!

Strips sewn together, then cut into smaller strips

9-patch and setting squares (and more strips need sewing)

Note the many shadings of colors in the beautiful flowers!  Everyone in the class was making the same quilt, but since we all chose different fabrics, they all look different, and all are beautiful.

The top is ready!

The phrase, "the dark side" took on new meaning, as I learned to press seams to the side under the darker fabric so they are less likely to show on the quilt top.

Finally I have the quilt I have wanted for so long.  It's the perfect lap quilt, just the right size for wrapping myself up and reading a good book.  (Gee, who wrote that book on the table?!)

Eye-catching backing!

Despite the occasional slightly mismatched seam and the imperfections of my hand stitching on the binding, I am inordinately proud of my first quilt!  When you have such gorgeous fabric, it's kinda hard to screw it up.

Next up, my secondary goal in all this: to make a charity quilt!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Free Pattern: Stripe Up The Band

design by Reyna Thera Lorele

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I had some chunky yarn left over from another project.  It was lying around in my stash, just hanging out, sipping a Mai Tai and watching the sunset from its hammock.

Then someone donated almost a whole ball of another color (the brown) of the same yarn.  I dragged the blue off the hammock and started crocheting.  Of course, I didn't have quite enough to make a whole blanket.  An excuse to shop.  Off to the LYS for more of the blue.  Luckily, they had some.  (It's the James C. Brett Marble Chunky, btw.)

The blanket pictured here is going to Binky Patrol in a couple of weeks.  It's all folded up, nice and cozy on the couch, napping until it's time to load up the car.

This is another of those almost-mindless projects that you can take to knit night and not make a ton of mistakes and have to rip out everything you did.

Hate to weave in ends?  Not to worry!  When you change colors while crocheting this blanket, you carry the non-working yarn up the sides.

The crochet border then covers up the yarn “floaters” and leaves you with very few ends to darn (or otherwise curse.)

The two contrasting colors of self-striping yarn give extra visual depth, a little zazz, if you will.  Chunky yarn makes it a quick project, great for a last-minute gift or for charity.  Easy-to-follow directions for the half-double crochet stitches are included.

Skill Level:  Beginner to “first-time intermediate:”  if you can chain and double crochet, you can make this blanket.

Finished size:  33” x 38”

Gauge:  in pattern, 2.5 sts per inch, 2 rows per inch

680 yards color A (2 balls James C. Brett Marble Chunky)
340 yards color B (1 ball James C. Brett Marble Chunky)
J hook (6 mm), or size to get gauge

st, sts = stitch, stitches
sl st = slip stitch
ch = chain
yo = yarn over
rep = repeat

Half double crochet (hdc):  yo, insert hook into st indicated, yo, pull up loop, yo, pull through all 3 loops.
Reverse half double crochet (rev hdc):  yo, insert hook into st behind current st, yo, pull up loop, yo, pull through all 3 loops on hook.

With Color A, ch 93.
Row 1:  hdc in 3rd ch from hook, hdc in each ch across.
Row 2:  ch 2, turn, hdc in next st and in each st across.

Rep rows 1 and 2 twice more, changing color with the last loop in the last st of the last “row 2” by using Color B to “pull through all 3 loops.”

Drop Color A (don’t cut!), and with Color B, rep rows 1 and 2, changing back to Color A in last st at the end of row 2 as described above.

Rep these 2 rows, changing colors as indicated, until you have 14 reps of Color B.

Change to Color A and rep rows 1 and 2 three times.

RS facing, ch2, then working backwards instead of forward, (skip 1 st, hdc in next st, ch 1) around.  In the corners, (hdc in next st, ch 1) three times without skipping a st in between.  Be sure to wrap your border sts around the floaters of yarn on the side where you changed colors.  Join with sl st to 1st hdc and finish off.

Weave in (very few!) ends and enjoy!

If you like this free pattern, you might also like this inexpensive one:
River's Edge Ripple.

© 2012 Reyna Thera Lorele
Ravelry: captainhook

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Festive Fish Chronicles Begin

Perhaps you know of the Festive Fish pattern.  There are several fishy patterns floating around, but the one I have is from Knitter's Magazine, Summer 1998, designed by Paula Levy.  (I think it's the original fish pattern of this type, but I could be wrong.  If anyone knows for sure, please leave a comment and clue me and the rest of my readers in!)
I was surfing Ravelry one day when I came across some pics of fish blankets that looked so beautiful, I got inspired and pulled my bags full of sport weight Idena Juvel from my hoard... er, I mean my stash, my artist's palette, if you will... and started knitting.
I chose to use Paula Levy's pattern because her fish not only have eyes and fins, they are smiling!  I wanted happy fish.
Well, I don't know if they're happy or not, but they sure are rambunctious.
One day I went out for a swim at the Y--this was back in Tennessee, where the air is so humid in summer, you feel like you're already swimming the second you step outside, and yet it isn't refreshing in the least.  Because it's hot.  Because the air is still.  Because the air hangs there between the hills like a hammock made of sixteen layers of molasses.
I used to try to come up with accurate ways to describe just how hot and humid it was, and how it affected me.
As in, "My head feels like it's stuffed with wet cotton balls and someone is running a razor through it."  Or, "My head feels like someone strung a suspension bridge made of wet rags between my ears, and Shrek is jumping up and down on it every time I take a step."
In other words, the air was so heavy it gave me a lot of headaches.  But I digress.
I went to the Y, and I didn't take the fish, because even though they are made of superwash wool, I didn't think I could keep track of them all in the pool.
I got home, and darned if I didn't find the fish on the floor, watching TV!  I could have sworn I left them on the couch!

Apparently they are hooked on reruns of Stargate SG-1.
Then I noticed there were several missing from the school: turned out, they were in the kitchen, microwaving popcorn!
Those little devils--they get into everything.  You can’t leave them alone for a minute.  I'm just lucky they didn't hide the remote.
Well, I knitted more fish, even though at times I thought it would have made more sense to use a worsted weight, because sport weight is just a hair thicker than fingering for heaven's sake, and I started thinking I'd be knitting fish for the rest of my life.
Then I moved.  I packed the fish.  I really thought they wouldn't be able to cause any trouble, safely packed away, but now I wonder if they had something to do with a box that went missing during the move.
Here's what happened.  It was so hot and humid when the movers came to load the truck that the little numbered and color-coded labels they put on every box and piece of furniture  to keep track of your shipment fell off in the heat.
When the truck arrived in California, after traveling across the country in one of the hottest summers on record, there were about a dozen boxes that had no labels.  I wasn't completely sure I got everything that was mine, but I was so darn tired, I hardly cared.  If you move a lot, you realize, you don't have your possessions, your possessions have you.  Lightening the load starts sounding really appealing.  I had already given away a lot of stuff I just didn't want to pack (and unpack) again.
Anyway, a couple of days later I got a call from the friendly lady at the moving company.  She said, "This may sound like a weird question, but are you missing a box of cookbooks?  There were several different people moving to California at the same time as you, and their stuff was on the same truck, and there's a lady in Los Angeles who says she has a box of cookbooks that isn't hers, and she is living in a loft, and doesn't have a lot of space, and she would really like to get rid of that box."
I said I wasn't sure, but I would check, and if she could ask the L.A. gal specific titles, I would know whether they were mine or not.  She said she would check, and I made myself unpack boxes of books that were likely to contain cookbooks before I unpacked things that were more crucial, like, say, dishes on which to place the food one might cook.
One cookbook more or less on my bookshelf?  I really didn't care.  But it turned out I had all my cookbooks, so I called the moving company lady back and told her, and she said, "Oh, well," and that was that.
And so the days passed, and so it was that I unpacked, and I found many UFOs (a.k.a., unfinished objects, for those of you who don't know), among them The Fish.
Here they are, jumping onto the blinds in their new home, scoping out the view of palm trees and ocean in the distance:

I finally got down to the last box marked "bedroom," which turned out to hold my knitting books.  Except they weren't all there.  And there were no more boxes to unpack.

I called the nice lady at the moving company again.  "I hate to say this, I know it's been awhile, but I'm now realizing I'm missing a lot of knitting and crocheting books and magazines."  
She said she had just heard from the L.A. gal a couple of days before; she was still hanging onto that box of "cookbooks" and also, she now said, "photo albums," and still feeling somewhat put-upon to have this box of books in the middle of her living room, especially when she had so little space.
"Well, I have all my cookbooks, and I brought my photo albums in the car with me.  Is it possible she just glanced at the books, and they are really my knitting books, not cookbooks, and the things she thinks are photo albums are really the three-ring binders that hold all the patterns I've already knitted and crocheted?"
The lovely lady at the moving company said she would check.
Long story slightly shorter, the L.A. gal did indeed have my books, and Fed Ex brought them to my door a few days later.  Never mind that my last name was on the outside of the box the whole time!!!  (Hellooooo!)  Or that if she had bothered to check a title or two, I would have known immediately that the box was mine, and we could have gotten it out of her living room a month earlier.  (Helloooo, anyone home?)  After all, "More Big Girl Knits" pretty much gives it away.

But I'm grateful that at least she hung onto the box and didn't just toss out my books.  And along the way, I had a couple of cheerful and funny chats with the sweetie-pie at the moving company.

I figured the whole mix-up was caused by the hot, humid weather that made the stickers fall off (did I mention it was hot?  and humid?), and then I was thinking, why didn't I or the movers think to write the sticker color and number on each box instead of using the stickers?  (Hellooooo.)
But now I'm thinking, it was the fish.  They want me to stop making all these shawls and scarves and squares and such, and focus on fish.  They want their school to grow.  They want to be made into a blanket; they do not want to remain a UFO for a year and a half.

Somehow they got out of their box in the moving van, somewhere in Oklahoma, perhaps, and removed the sticker from the box of knitting books.  Sure, they took some others too, to hide their tracks.  Who knows what they did with those stickers.  Maybe they ate them.
I hope that by blogging about these mischievous critters, they will behave, and I will fish more often.  I will still work on seven other projects at the same time, of course--shhh!  Don't tell the fish!--but I will finish this blanket, little by little, inch by inch, step by step, fish by fish.