Knitters be warned: this post is mostly about the glowing spirit of indomitability that resides in us all, but superficially it sounds like I'm talking about crochet (perhaps because I'm talking about crochet).
As a knitter, I love projects that give me a little nudge of challenge. Not too much—there's definitely a sweet spot—but just enough to feel that, at project completion, I haven't merely knit a hat/scarf/vest/dishcloth/bookmark but in fact mastered a skill or technique. There's certainly a place for comfort knitting in my life (meetings, airplanes, doctors' waiting rooms, or while the tenors are trying unsuccessfully to learn their part), but when my primary purpose is to knit, I like sitting down to a slightly-more-difficult project than the last one, usually.
Now, I've recently completed Sophie's Universe, the giant Queen-sized crocheted blanket that first caught my eye 13 months ago. And since I'm not a crocheter, that was quite the achievement, let me tell you. It took three nights to complete the first round, and the first round was merely this:
Round 1: Into a magic ring: ch 4 (this counts as your first dc and ch 1) and then make a dc. (Ch 2, dc, ch 1, dc ) five times. Ch 2 and join to the third st of the beginning ch-4 with a sl st.
Eagle-eyed readers will notice how short these instructions are and marvel at how it could take me three nights to achieve this. Let me repeat: I am not a crocheter, did not know how to crochet, and had to learn this new skill from scratch. Day 1 I attempted this first round, badly. Day 2 I pulled it out, and tried it again. Better. Enough better to make me think, Day 3, that a third try would be the charm, and it was.
Each day after that, as the rounds flew by, I would of course look-up new stitches and techniques, but essentially I'd grasped it, all was well, and (at least until the blanket got huge) I completed a new round every night.
Fast-forward to today, and the arrival of a box of Knit Picks' cotlin yarn, the basis for my 2nd blanket, Jane Crowfoot's Bohemian Blooms (reminder photo below):
I was hoping (after the Billion Dollar Blankie fiasco) to save a little money here, and at $3.99 a ball, in the appropriate fiber and weight, cotlin (their cotton/linen blend, natch) was a clear winner. I bought several, in reasonable colours which strongly resemble the original colourway (which is not always the way I go!)
I now want to say "I cast on," but that's not crochet talk: I made a slip knot and chained 9 times, very loosely, because I have learned something from my past. This is where I first get confused ... I should really ask Ravelry ... it says to chain 10, but in knitting that slip-knot would count as a stitch. I worry that if I chain 10 I will have 11 whatever-stitches-are-called-in-crochet-including the slip knot, so I only do 9.
If you look at the original blanket, you'll notice blue-ish and grey-ish tiny stripes near the bottom ... that blue/grey strip is the first bit constructed, and it grows very gradually lengthwise, so you're crocheting back-and-forth a bazillion times, making a strip. So my tiny two-inch chain is pale blue, and all is mostly well, unless I'm 1 stitch off of the count, which I could well be.
And then I have to turn my work, and crochet the dread "Foundation Row."
Full disclosure: prior to falling in love with Sophie's Universe and forcing myself to crochet it, I had tried crochet twice before. Chaining was fine, but each time I failed utterly when turning my work and attempting the Foundation Row, where one inserts (or tries to) one's hook into the chain, and attempts to make, say, a series of single crochets along the length.
(I am convinced I only managed Sophie's Universe because it was (a) knit in the round, and (b) began with crocheting around a magic loop, rather than into a chain).
I struggle. The yarn is smaller and firmer than I am used to. I generally make crochets by sticking my hook through two strands and above one strand, but in a chain there appears to be only the one strand. I revert to youtube videos (how embarrassing. I've already crocheted this, for God's sake, see below):
The videos do not help, as they assume I am slightly more capable than I am, and promise to teach me things more advanced than sticking my hook in a chain.
I simply can not quite see how I am to interact with that first chained row. Still, I know the basics. I will be indomitable (as promised in paragraph one). I stick in the hook, in the middle of the chain. It doesn't look quite right, but I imagine that those Giant Flowers in the finished item will distract from the slightly-sloppy 9 stitch Foundation Row at one edge of the blanket. I make a single crochet.
The next chain is just as unhelpfully constructed as the first, but I have my workaround (which for all I know is the right thing to do): I plunge the hook in the middle, make a single crochet, and get out quickly. And so on, and so forth.
Now it should be smooth sailing. I am actually very capable of making single crochets (or double crochets, or treble, or popcorn stitches) in other single crochets, having done it tens of thousands of times in my prior project. And yet, as I turn my project ready to work back, it once again doesn't look quite right. It's tight, of course--good luck getting it past one strand of yarn, let alone two. But I manage.
It's such a shock to me how a change in yarn content, weight, and needle size is enough to almost completely derail a confident textile artist like myself, and yet it did. I felt like an Absolute Beginner, rather than a confident crocheter who has already completed his magnum opus. By the fifth row, I was kind of into a rhythm (I'm not sure it was the right rhythm, but at least it was there), and I finished the night thinking that this was going to be trickier than imagined, but not impossible.
Of course, tonight I'm going to unravel everything I've done, and make another beginning chain, as loose as loose can be (if one's main problem is "I can't stick my hook in," it seems likely that looser crocheting will help enormously!)
It's Now the Next Day
So, last night I unraveled, and began anew, making my too-tight chainer looser by going up a needle just for one row.
And I solved one of my problems, yippee ... and I created a new one.
Solved problem? Well, no wonder I was having trouble figuring out where to stick my hook. I'm used to crocheting "in the round", and I've always faced the right side, and (at least to me) it appears that the stitches are kind of tilting toward me, and the little V shape that I like sliding my hook into is plainly visible. BUT, when one is crocheting back and forth, you're always crocheting into what I (as a knitter) would think of as the "purl" side of the crochet stitch, and the little V shape is always tilting away from me and hard to see. So no wonder I found it difficult to figure out where to insert my hook! (And I could still be doing it wrongly, for all I know--maybe the rule in crochet is for back-and-forth knitting you stick it somewhere else).
So I crocheted this:
And a whole new problem emerges. I'm not quite certain of where my edges are supposed to be, and I seem to be either starting too soon or ending too late (or vice versa)—but whatever I've done, it's certainly making the fabric into a parallelogram rather than rectangle. So there will be more ripping out and starting again ... but with a pit stop at the Ravelry crochet forums first!*
So hurrah to indomitability (my blog software is quite sure I've spelled it incorrectly, and I'm quite sure I haven't), to challenging oneself, to accepting failure as a chance to grow and learn and for providing you with the opportunity to do something fun (your mileage may vary) again!
On the Needles (and actively being worked on):
Itineris Shawl (I'll pretend it's a scarf. I've just about finished the third repeat, see below:) This is the knitting project that tried to assassinate me in California, in case y0u were wondering.
Sophie's Universe crochet project #1 (essentially finished ... I think I can add rows to the edges indefinitely ... round and round and round he goes, where he stops, no one knows ...)
Persian Dreams Blanket (round 43 of Hexagon 8)
Caldwell Vest (up to 9th stripe of the back)
Grey Intarsia Vest (my own pattern, almost finished the first set of squares which will be more like rectangles, I think)
*Ravelry forums turned out to be super-helpful, of course. Among other instructions, I've learned the slip-knot didn't count, sigh.