Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Speedy Blankets

Need a blanket in a hurry?  

I managed to crochet a snuggly throw in less than 10 days. 

Here's how …



I'm sure it happens to all crafters at some stage–the need for a handcrafted item at short notice.  This happened to me recently ("…But Wait … There's More!").

It amazes me that, after 10 years of crochet , I am still learning new things even with the simplest of projects. 


Day 1: 2¼ stripes completed.

The "Shaded Ripple Afghan" pattern was chosen for speed and based on this premise:


large hooks + chunky yarn big stitches

= fewer stitches = quicker result


Off I went in search of a warm, super-chunky yarn for my elderly relative whose toes were freezing despite being wrapped in multiple hospital blankets.

Hospital blankets are not that warm. They are made from cotton for easy laundering and sterilising but cotton is not as warm as wool or other fibres. Cotton can be very heavy so the blankets are a very thin open weave to keep them light but the thin weave does not lend itself to warmth at all!

For my blanket, I wanted a wool-acrylic blend–wool for warmth; acrylic to keep it light, easy to wash and quick to dry. 

Unfortunately, my local shop had little variety with the only suitable choice a 100% acrylic, Moda Vera "Shiver".
12 skeins of Moda Vera Shiver acrylic super-chunky yarn in four colours, three skeins of each colour comprising Camel natural, Denim blue, Burgundy red and Dark Grey. They are arranged so that they are in an upright position against each other and viewd from the top of the skein.
Moda Vera "Shiver" is a super-chunky, 100% acrylic, loosely plied yarn.
It feels light, soft, 'squishy' and warm.
When choosing colours in the shops, I like to combine the skeins in my basket 

like this to get an idea of the final outcome's colour balance.

The colour range was limited (out of season at the moment) but I was pleased to find colours that I had in mind–blues, greys and beiges to match the home decor for use at home after hospital, plus an accent colour that would be harmonious but also acceptable to the recipient.  The recipient often wears red in his knitwear. I like the warmth of red against the cooler blues and greys, and its depth of colour against the neutral camel.

Shaded Ripple Afghan draped on seat with working yarns alongside in Blue, Camel and Burgundy. By Day 4, there are 8 stripes completed or 16 rows.  The colour order of stripes from bottom to top is grey, camel, blue, red, grey, camel, red, grey.
Day 4: 8 stripes (16 rows) completed.


Planning the Stripes


Four columns on graph paper listing colour order, rows for each colour, original pattern's colour palette and my colour palette.
Colour notes based on the
original pattern specifications.
The original Shaded Ripple Afghan pattern used four colours (as did mine) but before embarking on the crochet, I reached for the coloured pencils to get an idea of the finished look.

I didn't want to work a significant amount of the blanket only to discover that the combination doesn't really work and needs to be ripped back!

(That is not speedy!  It is better to invest a couple of hours planning than to lose more than a couple of hours crocheting, ripping out and re-doing.)

I was happy with the chosen colour palette but didn't like the look of the stripes when worked according to the suggested order of the pattern.

Out came the pencils again to experiment with swapping colours A, B, C or D.  Sadly, I wasn't very satisfied with any of the arrangements.


Tabletop in the midst of working out colours - pencils, graph paper with coloured-in stripes, scissors to cut out individual stripes and cutouts being arranged. A tray of coloured pencils, a dish containing erasers and pencil sharpener, and the edge of a mug handle can all be seen along the top of the photo.
Experimenting with the order of coloured stripes.

The only thing for it was to abandon the suggested stripe order and work something out by myself, specifically for my colours.

This time I cut out coloured strips so that the order would be easy to rearrange.  After seeking inspiration from examining other patterns, I was no closer to a decision! I just played with the cut-out strips until I found a combination that I liked starting with some known features:

  • Seventeen stripes allow for symmetry between centre and edges. 
  • I wanted grey on each end so that it wouldn't show up the dirt easily because frequent use can leave the edges of blankets and quilts looking shabby and the edges are usually the first parts to become worn.
  • I wanted the blanket to have a bit of symmetry and order, but also to disturb the symmetry in places to keep the colour combination dynamic and interesting.
    When I am sick and cannot do anything but lie there, it is good to have something of interest to observe.  If anyone chose to examine the blanket to look for a pattern, I wanted to provide some intrigue.
  • I also wanted a greater percentage of the light camel colour in order to balance the mix of darker colours.


Just as my daughter breezed through the room exclaiming,
"How many more hours are you going to stare at those colours?"  (almost on cue) a pleasing combination appeared!


Scissors and cut out coloured strips arranged on a piece of lined paper to represent 17 stripes.  The paper also has a stitch diagram for comparing this pattern with others.
A pleasing combination of cut-out stripes.
You can also see my stitch diagram for comparing this ripple pattern with others.

My daughter gave me a disbelieving grimace when I rebuked her with the news, "I've just found it!" and then gave her a lecture about the importance of planning.  


Now that I knew what I was doing, I was set. As if I had heard a starter's gun, I was off! With my 10 mm bamboo hook in hand and crochet certainty in my head, the blanket grew very quickly.  

Shaded Ripple Afghan draped on the sofa with 13¾ stripes completed. Colour order from bottom: grey, camel, blue, red, grey, camel, red, grey, blue, camel, red, blue, camel, red.
Day 6: 13¾ stripes completed.



Choosing the Right Tools

My bamboo hooks are great for projects like these:

Lightweight but sturdy–to offset the eventual heaviness of a blanket, and easy to hold.

In-line head–for ease of pulling through loops without getting snagged. A loosely plied yarn such as Shiver is more inclined to split and get caught. Because the head of the hook is no wider than the handle, the hook will slide out of a loop as easily as it went in. This reduces delays from getting the hook caught and is less stress on the wrist by not having to twist the hook so much on the way through each stitch. 

Natural material–bamboo is warm compared to metal hooks and a nicer texture and less sweaty than plastic. I find this kinder to my hands, especially with my MCTD*.


Even the type of stitch marker can make a difference.


Close up of pink locking pin stitch marker next to an open loop of the super-chunky yarn. They are the same size.
Locking pin stitch marker.
I had fallen in love with these locking pin stitch markers–secure but also thin enough and smooth enough to get through tight spaces without splitting stitches or yarn.

A pink locking pin stitch marker has been used to secure the last loop but the stitch marker is so small that it easily slides through the top two loops of the last stitch. The last stitch is coming undone despite fastening off with the stitch marker.
The stitch marker is sliding through
the top two loops of the last stitch
even though it had been secured on
the open loop.
That's okay for most yarn weights but these markers were too small for super-chunky acrylic.  I had difficulty opening them wide enough to get around the strands without splitting them.

Not only that, but the locking pins themselves were too small to keep the work from unravelling.

The old split ring markers were perfect for this super-chunky yarn. I used the largest of two sizes. 

These markers were large enough to accommodate the strands without splitting them, and also to secure the work properly.  


The top row of the ripple blanket shows two types of stitch marker: small, thin, pink locking pin marker on the left; a large, thick, red split ring marker on the right.
Stitch marker comparison:
pink locking pin on the left and red split ring on the right.

Stitch markers are useful for securing your stitches and marking out your pattern to avoid mistakes. I marked the first and last stitches of every row for ease of counting. 

This ripple blanket had a relatively short pattern repeat. With longer repeats and when learning to do ripple patterns for the first time, it is helpful to mark the centre stitch of each hill and valley.


Above view of a light blue square hobby crate containing three skeins of each colour: grey, blue, red and camel.
Big blue crate for
big super-chunky skeins!



The blanket soon grew too big for the project bag.  A big old blue plastic crate was rescued from the shed and thoroughly scrubbed clean to become a clean, tidy home for blanket and yarn. 

It was so convenient to be able to toss everything into it at the end of the day, knowing it would be kept clean but it was also handy to have next to the sofa, ready to just pick up and put down at a moment's notice.


Ripple blanket complete but unblocked. 17 stripes (34 rows).The colours from bottom to top (in order of crochet): grey, camel, blue, red, grey, camel, red, grey, blue, camel, red, blue, camel, red, blue, camel and grey.
Day 9: 17 stripes (34 rows) completed 
and ready to wash and block.

On the ninth day, the blanket was complete. I usually damp block my projects but I decided to hand wash this one.  I wanted it to be super soft and thoroughly clean with no trace of sizing or any other impurities on it before giving it to my relative in hospital.

It took much longer to dry even though it is summer time and the blocking board was placed right under a fan. Despite the extra drying time, it was well worth the wait for great results.

Compare the unblocked blanket (above) with the blocked one (below) and see how the blocking process evens out and defines the ripples.

Ripple blanket pinned onto blocking board.
Day 10: On the blocking board, 
all dry and all done, ready to give.

I'm afraid I don't have another photo of the finished, blocked blanket because I was in such a hurry to deliver it that I dashed off to the hospital without another thought!

In summary, here are my tips for a speedy blanket:

  • chunky or super-chunky yarn
  • large hooks
  • simple pattern
  • no piecing
  • no separate border or border detail included as you go
  • plan your project; invest time early to save time later; this includes test swatches or tension squares
  • choose tools and materials that are comfortable and easy to manipulate
  • in-line hooks
  • suitably sized stitch markers
  • weave in ends as you go
  • store the project in a convenient place
  • consider drying time when choosing blocking method



Do you have any tips or tales about speedy blankets?


*MCTD: Mixed Connective Tissue Disease


Project Details


Pattern
Lion Brand, "Shaded Ripple Afghan" free crochet pattern #L0092AD: http://www.lionbrand.com/patterns/L0092AD.html?noImages=

Yarn
Moda Vera "Shiver" 100% acrylic 
100 grams / 85 metres per skein.
A. 03 Camel, lot 14749, used 168 g / 143 m (2 skeins)
B.  14 Burgundy, lot 14746, used 140 g / 119 m (2 skeins)
C. 34 Denim, lot 14751, used 140 g / 119 m (2 skeins)
D. 20 Dark Grey, lot 14305, used 153 g / 131 m (2 skeins)

Hook
10 mm bamboo in-line hook

Finished dimensions
91.5 cm wide x 99 cm long / 36 inches wide x 39 inches long

(Original pattern dimensions: 
91.5 cm x 104 cm / 36 inches x 41 inches)


Related Posts, Links and References


Lion Brand, "Shaded Ripple Afghan" free crochet pattern #L0092AD: http://www.lionbrand.com/patterns/L0092AD.html?noImages=

Lupey Loops, "…But Wait … There's More!" blog entry, 4 February 2015: http://lupeyloops.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/but-waittheres-more.html

Lupey Loops, "Knitting & Crochet Blog Week: Day 6 A Tool to Covet #4KCBWDAY6", blog entry, 27 April 2013; a stitch marker is a tool to covet: http://lupeyloops.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/knitting-crochet-blog-week-day-6.html

Lupey Loops, "MCTD Resources", blog page: http://lupeyloops.blogspot.com.au/p/blog-page.html

18 comments:

  1. looks wonderful. I am making a sockyarn blanket - definitely not speedy - I am half way after a year! (or course there are lots of other projects that have gone on and off the needles in that time...but still I am very impressed with the colours and the pattern of your blanket. Planning paid off big time!

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    1. While some might think you are mad to use sock yarn for a king-size blanket (and I admire your fortitude), I reckon your motif blanket is a great way to use up all those leftover sock yarn skeins. Even though it will be a large blanket, the sock yarn should keep it relatively lightweight. You will have lots of pretty colours and lots of memories of favourite socks too! It will be great. xx

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  2. I will have to invest in some bamboo hooks as I really don't like the plastic ones. I've used those locking stitch markers and found that they break very easily. Your finished blanket is really lovely.

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    1. Thank you for the compliment, Gillian. I love my bamboo hooks. They have been well worth the investment. Be careful with the smaller sizes as the fine needles are prone to snapping depending on your technique. It is worth having spares on hand. I do like that bamboo and wooden hooks can be sanded to smooth out any nicks or to adjust their shape. I hope you can soon find some hooks that work better for you. xx

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  3. Love how the blanket turned out! It ripples pop your nicely with the thick yarn!

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    1. Me too! I love ripples but this one really needed the red to brighten up the blues and greys. I'm pleased with the balance of red as an accent colour. How are you going with your projects? Take care. xx

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  4. Ahhhh(said with a pleased sigh). and once again I'm am in awe of the difference it makes to 'block your finished product'. It's beautiful and as always reflects your attention to detail.

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    1. Thank you, Adrienne! I am very pleased with it. It was very much worth the effort to plan and finish it properly. Finishing is such an important step that I wonder why so many people skip over that. If one is going to take the time and effort to create a bespoke item, why not do everything possible to make it the best it can be? I would really like to know. Is it a lack of knowledge or skills to do it? Do people enjoy the making process and then lose interest once the crochet part is done? It was very tempting to deliver the blanket as soon as the crochet was done and ends woven in because it was urgently needed but I am glad I took the extra step. It will hold its shape better after subsequent washes now too. Have I convinced you to make time for blocking? It is certainly worthwhile doing for projects made up of motifs. It will make it easier to sew them together easily. Wishing you time for crochet every day. xxx

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  5. A lovely present for the person in hospital for sure and they will feel your love and the warmth of the blanket as they wrap it around them! xx

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    1. Thank you Amy! I has been used for feet and hands when I have visited! It was just the right size for laps too - big enough to wrap around a person but not too big to be heavy or get pulled to the ground. I would recommend this pattern and make it again. xx

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  6. This is absolutely gorgeous! The colours are just great together and I love how you chose the red to go with one of the recipient's favourite colours. I also love projects which grow very quickly-I am going to check this pattern out. I'm sure the receiver of this lovely gift will be thrilled with it!
    Best wishes
    Alison xx

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    1. Thank you Alison. I wanted the main scheme to be blues and beige but once the grey was added, it became a bit dark and monochromatic, even though it was a blue-grey. The red was definitely needed. Once the blanket was finished, the children noted that these are the same colours that the recipient wears in his jumpers. (I also noticed those colours would go well in my autumn-coloured lounge room so I might make another blanket with the same colours!)

      Which colours would you choose if you were to make a version of this blanket, Alison? If you make one, please let us know! xx

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  7. Thank you everyone for your friendly comments. Please excuse me for being late with replies - tech failure = no internet for a couple of days - but all fixed now.

    The ripple blanket was well-received and has been in daily use ever since. It has been a talking point for visitors and helpful to 'break the ice' with new hospital staff.

    I am so glad that the blanket is a success although I am very sad about my relative being so ill in hospital. I've had little time for blogging in between crocheting this blanket, extra errands and hospital visiting. Please be patient if my posts are not published as regularly as usual.

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  8. Replies
    1. Thanks Cheryl! I don't think I have made anything this large this quickly before! It's kind of liberating to know I can do it. Now other big ideas are entering my mind. As I got into the car this morning and observed the seat covers reaching the end of their lifespan, I entertained the thought of making my own...but then it was dashed when I realised the cost of the yarn may be more expensive than just buying a whole ready-made set. However! I need new throw rugs for the lounge room and some nicer covers or throws for the outdoor chairs when guests come over...I like the outdoor chair idea because they can double as wraps when the gully breezes whip up. I hope your projects are going smoothly, Cheryl xxx

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  9. Hi Jodie - am really impressed with your speed in this finished blanket. I've never worked with chunky yarn before but it's amazing how it works up so quickly. I really appreciated your comment re my diagnosis on my blog. I think it's a positive step in that I can gain access to more medication to control some of my symptoms. I've eliminated caffeine but was wondering if you had any recommendations for triggers to avoid? I know we're all different but am in that absorbing information stage to enable me to make better choices in light of this. Take care, J9 x

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    1. Hi Janine,

      I remember what it was like when first diagnosed and it can be overwhelming, scary, confusing and rather isolating too. I'm happy to be here as a helping hand.

      Eliminating caffeine is useful. I did it as part of a pain management strategy - I want to reduce my nervous system's sensitivity to pain and other stimuli. By avoiding stimulants like caffeine, my nerves get a chance to settle down and the body doesn't have the stress of highs and 'crashes'.

      Ultra violet light (sunlight) is a common trigger for many lupus sufferers. Exposure to sunlight and other sources of UV (such as some fluorescent tubes and some of the energy saving light globes) has a significant impact on my symptoms. The new LED globes are supposed to be much better. Sunscreen is part of my regular routine.

      I also try to reduce the toxic burden on my immune system by avoiding artificial additives (preservatives, colours, flavourings) in foods, avoiding processed foods as much as possible and sticking to fresh, whole foods and home cooking. If I don't know what's in it, I don't eat it!

      When in my late teens I cut out margarine and went back to butter and noticed an improvement. Nowadays I have lactose intolerance and don't eat butter but will either go without or substitute other things like olive oil, almond oil, avocado etc. We need 'good fats' in our diet because some nutrients are fat-soluble and only available to the body in their soluble form. I think Vitamin D is one of those.

      Be mindful of your nutrition - steroid medication can leach the calcium out of your bones so you need to find a way to get enough Vitamin D to metabolise calcium without over exposing yourself to sunlight. It's a tricky balance!

      Finally, sleep! I need to make a conscious effort to get extra rest in each day. It is easier said than done, believe me, but if you neglect your rest, it will soon catch up with you. The idea is to manage energy to avoid the 'crash and burn' cycle. That takes self-awareness and (for some like me) a lot of practise!

      I hope these are enough ideas for the moment. Again, I am sorry to learn that you have been diagnosed with lupus but you are not alone. Big hugs! xxxxx

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