Archive | February 2012

Are Craft Kits Really Worth It?

I was in the craft store this weekend. I was looking at some kits for various crafts, and as I considered which one I wanted to buy, I kept hearing this voice in my head from when someone told me that kits are more expensive than simply buying the materials you need.  That got me thinking…is it really more expensive?  I think it depends on the situation, and on the kit.

Look at what materials, and how much of each, come in the kit.

This is the soap making kit I picked out!

I was looking at soap making kits, most of which were in the $20 range.  I looked at what came in the kit I wanted—16 oz clear soap base, 16 oz white soap base, fragrance, 3 colors of dye, a plastic mold with 4 shapes, 4 metal cutters (different shapes), and an instruction sheet.  The box tells me that I have enough material for 10 bars of soap.  As someone who does not make a lot of soap (and has yet to experiment with this type of soap making), that sounds pretty reasonable.  I suppose if you were going to be making lots of soaps, maybe to sell at a flea market or on Etsy or something, this would be an impractical way to buy supplies.  But, if you’re like me and you just want to try something new, I think that kits are the way to go!  Especially if there’s a reusability factor, like being able to reuse molds.

Want more proof that kits aren’t always more expensive?

This is everything that came in my kit

The kit I chose comes with a package of clear and a package of white soap base.  You can buy this independent of a kit, with the smallest package costing around $10.  Granted, that $10 package is double the size of what you would find in the kit, but you would have to buy two of them (clear and white) in order to create the same soaps that you would with the kit.

Also in the kit are 3 bottles of dye—red, blue, and yellow.  The same amount of dye would cost around $5 if purchased separately.  The same goes for the fragrance—about $5 or $6 for what you would find the kit.

Most of the molds, like the one in the kit, were about $2.50 in the craft store where I was shopping.  I didn’t see the metal cutters, but they’re basically the same thing as small cookie cutters, which aren’t usually expensive.

Being a soap making novice, I knew I would need instructions of some sort.  The kit I chose includes some basic instructions.  The instruction books in this store were $15.

It’s starting to sound cheaper to just buy a kit…isn’t it?

Aren’t craft kits too specific to allow creativity?

Some people don’t like kits because they feel locked in on a certain project and think they have to do everything a certain way.  Don’t be afraid to customize!  The box might show pink soaps with darker pink hearts inside, but don’t let that limit you.  Green hearts could become a nice shamrock!

I’ll certainly let you know how my first real soap making experience goes! I had a kit when I was youngerThis is the kit I had when I was young...yes, I still have it!, but it was a much different method, and that’s another story for another time.

I found a really great resource that I will probably make good use of as I try my hand at soap making.  A woman named Cathy has a blog where she posts soap recipes and answers questions that people have as they make soap.


Crochet Your First Scarf!

Now that you know the chain stitch, it’s time to crochet something!  Like I’ve said, a scarf is an excellent first project.  Everything repeats itself until you have enough rows that you deem your scarf complete.  For this project, we’re skipping over the single crochet stitch (abbreviated as ‘sc’ in patterns) and jumping right into the double crochet stitch (abbreviated as ‘dc’ in patterns).  Here’s my reason for doing this—you want your first project to move quickly so you don’t get too discouraged halfway through, and never finishing the project.  Double crochet moves very quickly, and isn’t any more difficult than single crochet.

Here’s a video to help you out.

What do I do first?

First, choose a yarn and a hook, and get a yarn needle.  I’ve made a post with instructions for that.  I will be using Caron Simply Soft yarn and a size H crochet hook.  Size I would also work nicely for this project, if you prefer.  I wouldn’t go any smaller than a size G though, because the thinner yarn and smaller hook you choose, the longer the project will take.

Next, you make a chain.  Look back at my instructions if you need help.  The length of your chain will be the width of your scarf—not the length.  Crochet creates a fairly thick fabric, so don’t get too carried away.  I have several wide scarves, and I want something different, so I’m going to go with 20 chain stitches.  Whatever number you decide, chain three more.  So, I will chain for 23 for my finished width of 20.  DO NOT PULL YOUR CHAIN TOO TIGHT!  If it’s too tight, you will have a very hard time getting the hook through the correct loops.

How do I start my double crochet?

Double crochet, like almost all crochet stitches, is worked from right to left.  Holding the yarn the same way as for the chain stitch, wrap the yarn around the hook one time.  This is called ‘yarn over’ and is abbreviated as ‘yo’ in patterns.  Keeping that wrap of yarn around the hook, insert the hook into the fourth chain space from the hook.  The reason you do this is, those three chain spaces that you skip become the first double crochet in your first row.

When you insert the hook, you can put it through the front loop, the back loop, or both.  Each way will create a different look.  Using the front loop is the most common, but as long as you are consistent the whole way across, whatever you choose to do is fine.

So, you’ve just done yarn over and inserted the hook into the fourth chain.  Next, you catch the yarn on the hook, pull a loop through the chain, and slide it onto the hook.  This is called ‘drawing up a loop.’  You should now have a total of three loops on the hook.  Catch the yarn on the hook again and pull it through the first two loops on the hook, then catch the yarn and pull it through the last two loops on the hook.  You should now be back to just one loop on the hook.  Congratulations! You made your first double crochet!  Now make another one in the very next chain stitch, and continue to the end of the chain.These are the beginning steps for double crochet

How do I start a new row?

Remember how we skipped the first three stitches in our chain as we started the first row?  They’re not there this time, so you have to make them.  Chain 3 stitches, then flip the fabric from right to left and take a close look at your work.  There will be one double crochet that seems to be attached to your chain.  Skip that one, and make a double crochet in the very next stitch.  Continue across.

For items like scarves, I like to insert my loop through the both the front and back loops.  It’s difficult to do that for the first row, so that’s why I use only front loops until I get to my second row.  Going through both the front and back loops makes a smoother fabric.  If you want to put horizontal ribs in your scarf, go ahead and experiment with using front or back loops.  When you get to the end of a row, chain 3, turn, and double crochet in the first stitch that is not attached to your turning chain.  Keep this up until your scarf is the desired length.

These are the steps for turning the project and starting a new row in double crochet

Ok, I’m done.  How do I tie off my crochet?

Your scarf is the length you want—you’re almost finished!  When you get to the end of your last row, cut the yarn so that you leave a tail about 6 inches long.  You can always trim it again later on if it’s not quite right.  Pull the tail all the way through the last loop on the hook.  Now pull on the tail until that last loop tightens securely around the yarn tail.

What do I do with the ends of yarn that are left hanging?

Weaving in the ends took me a while to master.  My first few projects, I tied knots and just tried to hide the ends as best I could.  Tying knots in your project isn’t really a good idea.  Yarn has a certain amount of elasticity and stretchiness, and if you tie a knot you are constantly putting a strain on the yarn.  Eventually, the yarn can break, causing your project to unravel.

Thread the loose end onto your yarn needle.  Starting right next to where the end is, thread the needle and yarn through several stitches.  Skipping a portion of the last stitch you threaded the yarn through, take the yarn and needle back through the same stitches.  If you don’t skip a bit of that last stitch, there will be nothing to hold your yarn in place.  Some instruction books tell you that once through and once back is enough, but I like to go back through those stitches one more time.  Repeat this step for the tail at the beginning of the scarf.  Weaving in the ends can be kind of tricky, so feel free to post a comment here or send me a message on twitter and I’ll try to help you out.

And there you have it!  Your very first crochet project!  Hopefully, you’ll have better luck with your first scarf than I had with my first—my cat bit through the yarn when I was halfway through and I had to learn quickly how to change colors/add a skein.

I’ll post some pictures and video for tying off and weaving in the ends when I get the project completed.  It shouldn’t take too long, so be sure to check back!

In the meantime, Crochet Cabana is a really nice resource.

What color scarf did everyone make?  The very first scarf I made was heather grey.

Learning the Chain Stitch

My instructions are right-handed.  If you need to adjust the instructions to left-handed, just reverse everything.

How do I hold the crochet hook?

The first thing to learn about crocheting is how to hold the crochet hook.  Hold the crochet hook however is most comfortable for you.  There are technically two correct ways to hold it, either right-handed or left-handed.  You can hold the hook sort of like the way you would hold a pencil,This is kind of like holding a pencil, right? or you can hold it more like you would hold a table knife.This is how I like to hold the hook!  I like to hold it the way you would hold a table knife, so that’s what all my crochet pictures and videos will show.  But what is most important is to do what is easiest for you.  I think the reason why it took so many tries for me to finally learn crochet is because I was trying to hold the hook in a way that didn’t work for me.  Once I figured out how my hand wanted to grasp the hook, learning was a breeze.

How do I start off the skein of yarn?

There are to ends to a skein of yarn (obviously).  You want to make sure you use the end from the center of the skein, not the one from the outside.  Yarn skeins are designed to not tangle as they are pulled from the center.This is the center pull.  SomeThis is the outside pull. skeins have instructions for finding this elusive ‘center pull,’ and sometimes you just have to reach in, grab a hank of yarn, and hope you finally find it.  And sometimes, you just have to give up and use the outside pull.  That’s okay too, but it can make it more difficult to keep your tension even.  I’ve noticed recently that Caron has gotten very good at helping crafters find the center pull.  They leave a tail sticking out that’s an inch or two long.

I like to keep the paper wrapped around the skein.  There’s no real reason to remove it, and if you leave it on, it keeps the outside pull from unraveling.

How do I put the yarn to the crochet hook?

Next, make a starting loop, or slip knot.  Again, whatever is the easiest way for you is the best way for you to do it.  I like to wrap the yarn around Wrap the yarn around your fingersYou can make a slip knot any way you like, but this is my way.Slide the yarn to the shaft of the hook.Pull the yarn snug on the hookmy left index finger and thumb, insert the hook into the loop, catch the back strand of yarn, and pull.  Some patterns differ, but you should leave about 4 or 5 inches of ‘tail’ or end of yarn not attached to the skein or yarn ball.  Then put the loop around the crochet hook and pull it snug, not tight.  There should still be room to slip the end of the hook through the loop.

Now you’re ready to start making a chain.  All crochet projects start with a chain, whether the chain is very short or very long.  Even circles and squares start with a small chain.  The abbreviation for the chain stitch is ch.  Sometimes you will need to make a chain stitch in the middle of a project in order to create spaces or lace-like patterns.

How do I hold the yarn?

Holding the yarn and the project in your left hand, the hook in your right hand, and keeping the correct tension in the yarn, all takes practice. You also have to be careful that you are not holding on to the project too far away from where you are working.  When I’m making a chain, I can usually only chain about 4 stitches before I have to move my hand, and I have pretty long fingers.

So, you have your starting loop on your crochet hook and you’re ready to go.  Put the yarn in between your pinky and ring finger, then bring it around the pinky and between the middle and index finger.  There should only be one wrap of yarn around the pinky.  When that feels comfortable, bring the yarn over the top of index finger. You only want about 2 or 2 1/2 inches of yarn between your index finger and your crochet hook.  When you get more practiced this step will be second nature.Bring the yarn up across your fingersBring the yarn over the top of your index fingerKeep your index finger extended and grab the tail with your thumb and middle fingerRemember that tail I talked about?  You also have to hold onto that as you begin your chain to make sure you keep the right tension.  Since you’ll need to be able to move and adjust your index finger to keep the tension as you work, hold onto the tail with your thumb and middle finger.

How do I make a chain stitch?

While most other crochet stitches work right to left, a chain is worked left to right.

To make the chain, bring the yarn over the top of the crochet hook, and using the hook, pull the yarn through the loop on the hook.  Continue until you have a small chainPull the new loop through the loop on the hookThat is one chain stitch.Catch the yarn on the hook  Repeat the stitch until you have the number of chain stitches required for your pattern or project.  Like I said, you will probably need to move your left hand up the chain every 4 stitches or so.

What should my chain look like?

Chain 10 or 15 stitches, and then take a look at your work.  Hold the chain so that the tail end is to the left.  One side will have a sort of V pattern.  This is the front side of the chainThe top loops are the back loops and the bottom loops are the front loops.  On the other side, you will see a row of bumps down the middle.  These are called the back bumps.  This is the back side of the chainDepending on the project, you might work your first row of stitches into any of those three parts.

What do I do next?

If you feel comfortable working with the yarn and crochet hook, feel free to look around for some patterns to try!  I’ll post some of my favorite patterns on this blog, but you can also find lots of other free patterns.  Interweave has a lot of nice resources.  If you register your email (it’s free), you can download free ebooks and patterns.  This is a good one to get started with.

What kinds of patterns and projects would you like to see on this blog?

Ask Me Your Craft Questions!

Did you know you could ask me craft questions? Follow me on Twitter @CelesteGossmann or send me a direct message! Feel free to ask me all your crafting questions, and I’ll answer them as best I can.  If I don’t know the answer, I can still direct you to some good resources!