Friday, August 3, 2018

Text Selection: Another Teacher Moment

I have spent over $800 of my personal money on books for my classroom. A few friends have sent over books, which I am eternally gratefully, but one of the problems is balancing buying copies for whole class (10-20 copies), book clubs (3-5 copies), and independent books (1 is fine- more is cool too!) And, before you ask, my principal told me there was no money until the end of the school year, and all evidence in the room points to maybe purchasing 2 class sets a year at most.

I know that a problem I have right now is that a lot of the diversity I have (authors of color and women, characters of color, books written in the last 50 years, LGBTQ characters), lives in the book club and independent world. I'm hoping that their will be kids who love an independent book enough to want to make it into a whole class book- which I'm cool with, I just have had genuine trouble finding enough copies to make a class set or to, honestly, justify the cost. I just can't get wholesale prices for many of the more recent books.

And yet....sitting in my classroom currently are class sets of "Divergent" and "Hunger Games"- both totally great books, but I question whether they are meaty enough to warrant having a whole class slog through them (never mind recent movie adaptations). some point recently, the school purchased them.

Which leads me to a conversation with my bestie.....the biggest thing I've been thinking about lately is that incredibly complicated, and politically and morally, fraught choice of text choices. (Wow-am I ever overthinking this....but that's genuinely how it feels!) So, of course I talked to my best friend about it. He loves books, reads a lot of YA books, and frankly- has great tastes. I told him that one of the challenges I was thinking about was picking between "The Scarlet Letter" (have read- loved) and "The Crucible" (haven't read). And he said something that stabbed me in the heart....

"The AP class at [REDACTED-the high school we both went to] read both. We didn't read both because we weren't supposed to go to college." 

I stopped.

I had thought a lot this summer about how text selections communicate the value of different identities. Students deserve to see themselves in the authors and characters we read about, and not as flat, side-kicked, or evil characters- but as the richly, fully human, types they truly are. And also....students deserve to have texts put in front of them that communicate my full belief that they will conquer college level texts one day.

So, I went home from having lunch with my bestie, and I went over to Thriftbooks and spent $90 on 20 copies of "The Crucible" and 10 (more) copies of "The Scarlet Letter."

I know their is a lot of need in a lot of corners in the world....but if you would like to help support my quest to provide rich and varied texts to my students, I'd appreciate it- and so will my students!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Teacher Life Update

Teacher Desk
Since the last time I've updated, I've accepted a teaching job across the state line in Missouri, and moved back to rural Arkansas. I have been busy trying to make a decision about housing, while staying at my parents, taking summer graduate classes, and trying to reset my orientation back to teacher. Oh, and planning for my fall internship for graduate school. So....definitely not busy. Nope, not at all.

I will be the English teacher for 9th-12th grades. When I met with my principal, he was supportive of my plans to implement what amounts to a readers/writers workshop model. (I'm excited to finally get the opportunity to try this model out- especially after reading 180 Days (Gallagher and Kittle) and Novel Approach (Roberts) this summer). I asked about curriculum guidance or required texts per grade, and for the first time in my teaching career....I sort of have free reign. This is both really exciting, and.....well, a big responsibility. My priorities are preparing 11th graders for the state state (of course), but I also have other concerns.

Since students can read almost anything, within reason and my personal budget, I have a few things I am considering:

1. I want students reading a volume of books, and I want kids to have experience reading in a variety of groups. I want my units to include independent reading, book clubs (reading the same book with 1-4 other students), and probably 2 whole class opportunities to experience a book or play all together. 

2. I don't want students exposed to books based solely on my tastes, or on tradition. And since I expect mostly white students in a rural community, I feel pressure to find diverse authors and characters, particularly positive LGBTQ representation, different ethnic and racial background, and English language learners.

Built in shelves AND windows!
3. I am also mindful of how I pace 4 different grades can either make it unnecessarily challenging for me, or I could spread the load out to be more manageable. For example, balancing 4 whole class novels at once feels hard; balancing potentially 4 grades with 4-5 different book club options going on sounds like a potential hot mess.

I have built a decent beginnings to a classroom library for independent, choice, reading- but I am concerned for creating enough choice in level with enough copies of individual titles for book clubs. I am also needing to make a decision between The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible for 11th grade so I can order copies, and a little at a loss for 12th grade whole group texts. I have a rough draft idea to do a Southern Lit themed year, or plan for choice: give students the option between a couple of different combinations of whole class texts. If you want to creep on my planning thus far, here's a link.

In good news, I have heard we are ordering chrome books for students (Yay!). I also feel like I have a decent handle on how I want my writing units to look like, where every grade follows 3 deepening laps in 4 chunks (not exactly genres) of Narrative, Informational, Argumentative, and Multi-Genre. I think if every grade is following the same chunks, I can differentiate the models, and cross-pollinate (if you will), having students write to each other and share their writing.

If you happen to be reading, and would like to help with books for my classroom library, I'd greatly appreciate it!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Few Words About Acrylic Yarn

Since January, I've done my best to avoid buying yarn, no matter how crappy my day has been or how much I've wanted to forget about my troubles for a minute in the local big box craft stores. I knew that I wanted to buy some high quality yarn when I went to the Dallas Fiber Festival, and I knew the only way I could psyche myself up to make the purchases was if I knew I had not indulged in several months. And besides, I needed to finish up an assortment of half-started projects anyway.

In the last 2 years or so, I have had the luxury of living in a city, and not only that, I have lived one street over from a Michael's, JoAnn's Fabrics, and a Hobby Lobby. When I have been particularly sad or anxious, I have gotten into the habit of visiting these stores. It's not like I've bought something every time I've been in- heck, I walked around two of them today and made no purchases. However when I have made purchases, all of those purchases have been acrylic or acrylic blend yarns. I will admit to not having a clear intention of what to make for most of those purchases, though I've been really into crocheting blankets, and generally bought enough of any one purchase to make what I guesstimate would be enough to make at least a small baby blanket to an afghan.

While I was acquiring for the first time what felt like an unlimited stash, I began listening to an assortment of podcasts, getting back into reading blogs, and generally tentatively stepping back into the crafty community at large. And that community was loud and clear- acrylic was evil, crap, and only suitable for the homeless and others who could not be trusted to properly launder things.

That ideology was not shocking to me- I had heard all of these things when I started loom knitting seriously in college. I also recognized that there was a huge divide between the knitters that I followed through podcasts and blogs, many of which were sponsored by wool based yarn companies, and the crocheters online who were either independent or sponsored by the big yarn conglomerates I could easily shop for in the big box craft stores.I get it- I don't fault folks for trying to pay the bills.

However, I know that I am uniquely privileged- I have access to local yarn shops and big box stores in my city. That's something I didn't have access to where I grew up and went to college. If I want to purchase yarn when I'm visiting my parents, my options are Wal-Mart or a 45 minute drive to the Hobby Lobby. That being said, the local yarn shops in my area are not open the hours of the big box stores, as conveniently located, or frankly, as welcoming to browse aimlessly.

I didn't dare whip out my acrylic yarn project, even with everyone knitting and crocheting away, while at the Fiber Festival. I don't think anyone would have said anything, but I knew better. I'd rather look like the weirdo with no knitted accessory present (I have gifted almost everything I've made at this point), walking around alone, then be the idiot sitting next to piles of wool using the "crap" option. I intentionally signed up for a lecture based knitting class, and sheepishly participated in a crochet class with a skein that said "Wool-Like" on the ball-band. I skipped the seats on either side of me and hoped everyone near me didn't recognize the label.

This is where I've landed in my thinking about acrylic vs natural fibers:

*We (crocheters/knitters) should attempt to stop being judgy McJudgies. People outside of wealthy, typically white, neighborhoods don't have easy access to local yarn stores. Plenty of folks don't want to shop online for yarn, and so for access or budget reasons, you get the materials you get.

*Acrylic yarns are not the same as they were in the past- many of the premier acrylics are pleasant to work with and soften with time. However, they aren't natural fibers- they won't stretch, they won't block or felt, and they will melt in extreme temperatures.

*The project should dictate whatever fiber is used. I am not someone currently making socks, sweaters, or delicate or lacy fabrics. I have some projects in mind that are like that, and I get that I will have to pony up for more expensive fibers if I want to make those things.

*I like making baby blankets and afghans. There is no way I could afford to make those projects with purely natural fibers.

*That being said, I want to transition to more natural fibers for the same reason I didn't use a straw today at lunch. No, I don't want a medal, but I do want to be part of a movement away from unnecessary plastic use.

*I have saved up for months to buy "the good stuff" while I was at Dallas. This is what I got. From what I guesstimate, this will make 3 pairs of socks and a shawl. If that's all I worked on, I think this would keep me occupied for 2-3 months at my current pace. If I exclusively bought yarn like this:
-I couldn't afford to give so many of my projects away. (Like I said, I saved for months to feel okay with this purchase.)
-What would I do with the other months of the year?

I fully intend to purge my stash of yarns pretty soon; there are some projects I'm just not interested in anymore, and I've made peace with that and can forgive myself. I also know that I want to switch to having projects in mind before I buy yarn (as much as possible-I know myself a little too well). However, I think acrylic yarns will probably have a place in my crafting life for a while.

Monday, February 12, 2018

How I Organize Digital Patterns

This is probably a really dorky post, but one of my all time pet peeves is disorganized files. One of my favorite organization systems I've created is my ststem for keeping all of the patterns orderly. I don't think this is a finished system, but maybe it will give someone an idea!

I keep all of my downloaded files in .pdf format. If there is a blog post or non-.pdf file, I use to clean up any advertisements or fluff that isn't relevent.

I first created a general "Patterns" folder on my flashdrive. You can see from the screenshot (left), that I use a common naming convention. Basically, type of craft/thing being made/title of pattern.

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD: If you are in charge of organizing a lot of documents for yourself or others, please come up with a naming convention. See how everything stays in alphabetical order? BEAUTIFUL. 

 As this folder got...well, a little long, I noticed there was some natural groupings that needed folder. As of right now, I've made the three folders on the right. Since I've been on a big crochet blanket/afghan/baby blanket kick lately, I decided to dive into organizing that particular folder further. I created two main sub-folders: CALs for patterns released over several weeks (i.e, crochet a-longs), such as the Atlanticus CAL, and then a subfolder called Center Start.

Why this folder? Well, I'm secretly very excited to tell you about this genuis idea I had for organization!  I've found that I've really enjoyed doing center start blanket projects since I can just use however much yarn I have to make whatever size blanket I can make that many rounds of- baby, toddler/lap, couch blanket....You get the idea.

 A couple of weekends ago, I went through all of my CrochetAfghan, CrochetBabyBlanket, and CrochetBlanket files (and no, this variation doesn't bother me-to me, it connotes size differences) and created the center start folder underneath the crochet blanket folder. I've found myself using this folder several times as I planned projects for my existing yarn stash.

So, there you have it- my system. I'd like to figure out ways to "tag" these files for different yarn weights or specific yarns I have in mind, but for now, all I want to know when I go to look for a pattern is CraftType/Thing Being Made and does it need a foundation chain or not.

Oh, and this is my current project...And it's a center start crochet blanket, in case you were wondering.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Some things I made, and some things I learned, in 2017

I know this may sound bizarre to some, but a lot of things changed for me due to the election of 2016. I simply could not take all of the vitriol and, well, crazy that became my facebook. I love lots of podcasts and NPR, but even they seemed just too much. I want to always be involved and informed, but I simply can not be angry and anxious all of the time. 

Once upon a time (circa 2008), I was very much into crafting blogs and found a sort of peace and belonging in that community. So, since google reader is gone (#RIP), I flooded my facebook with knitting, crochet, loom knitting, and bullet journal groups to get away from all of the arguing and hate and to recapture a peaceful corner of the internet. It inspired me to find my way to The Crochet Crowd over on YouTube and finally learn how to crochet. 
I played around with some cotton and attempted to make a washcloth at first, but lesson learned- making even edges requires counting. Instead, I discovered Bella Coco's excellent tutorial over on Youtube to do the "virus" shawl. It turns out, the pattern became viral, and you could definitely tell in the Facebook groups this year! I used Lion Brand's Shawl in a Ball, and I gifted this project to my mom for her birthday. I learned that Youtube tutorials are an excellent way to learn new stitches or basic patterns. Better late than never!

I made this window-pane inspired scarf using Lion Brand Shawl in a Ball Metallic. I made this project mainly during meetings at work, which was easy to do with the simple mesh pattern and one ball. This became a Christmas gift. 

Oh the siren call of big projects I haven't yet finished.... I made a whole pile of granny squares this year. They are easy enough to do, and they are easy to fit in my bag to work on during spare moments or in meetings. The problem was that since I used cotton yarn, and I need to a) block, b) lock in the color so it won't run in the laundry, c) decide on a method to join the pieces together.

For the Dusty Snowflake Afghan, I enjoyed creating the motifs and have connected several more since this photo. I haven't moved on very quickly however since the two colors of the motifs requires that I carry around two skeins of yarn. I'm using I Love This Yarn in a variegated blue and a white.

I hope to complete both of these projects early in 2018. We will see.
 Oh, how I love to make baby blankets! They are just the right size to hold my attention and to play with different stitches. Because I had enjoyed doing a virus shawl, I decided to use Lion Brand's Mandala in a virus blanket. I recently gifted this to a friend who is having her second baby girl. While the color changes initially really annoyed me (do you see that line of dark purple? Oy), I've since realized how to change colors without a lot of fuss, and feel comfortable making my own choices when necessary. Besides, you can't beat the yardage in each Mandala cake. Though I feel like there's a whole other blog post around Mandala yarn...

I also fell a little in love with baby blanket sized corner to corner projects! The great thing about using something like Caron Cakes (original kind) or Caron Jumbo Baby Skeins, is that I found that you can use one cake or skein for the increase side, and one for the decrease side. They are easy projects to carry around, easy to do while watching tv, and come in interesting and baby-friendly color and textures. The C2C pattern also creates a tight fabric without a lot of holes. I know that Caron Cakes has some wool content that tends to make folks nervous about laundry, but all of these projects have turned out just fine in the machine wash and dry!

 My 2017 Magnum Opus: a basic ripple pattern I modified from The Crochet Crowd's 2015 stitch game. I had grabbed an assortment of original Caron Cakes as they were on sale, and I just wasn't in love with any of the smaller projects I saw. As I looked at the colors together, I thought I would try a ripple blanket. I learned how to do color changes, and for the first time with a back and forth design, I actually ended up with straight edges!
I started this project in July, and by the time it was long enough to cover my feet, it was getting cold. I finished it in time for Christmas Eve, and gifted it to my mom. I originally intended to include a border, but ran out of time and, frankly, patience.

Coming soon in 2018...I started this beautiful shells pattern in Lion Brand's Mandala Chimera.I thought it would be a baby blanket, but I think I am going to keep going into a throw. I really don't have a clear plan, and I'm okay with that!

I've recently also attempted needle knitting. I've wanted to learn how to knit for years, and well, so far, it's been a struggle. I've twisted most of my stitches, and have struggled to finish a project, especially when I've become pretty fast at crochet. However, after doing some reading, and listening to the first 100 or so episodes of Knitting Pipeline, I am determined to get better!
Things I've learned:

  • Go to YouTube for video tutorials- seriously. 
  • Patterns aren't scary- I just need to go slow and steady. 
  • I like portable projects best: especially baby blankets! 
  • Beware the siren call of afghans- they are a commitment!
  • Oh, how I love buying yarn....but actually in writing all this up, I notice that I've mostly used just a few types of yarn. I want to use up more of my stash of yarn this year and do less shopping without a project in mind. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Looms: A Review

Technically, I've been loom knitting since I was about 7. With a little googling around, I found the original Lisa Frank set that included a weaving loom and two knitting looms: a French-styled knitter and what LF dubbed a sock loom. I could never figure out how to make anything other than really long tubes using the basic instructions, but little did I know then that this formative experience would set me off on a long journey, leading me to finally open a side business and to teach others how to loom knit. 

As such, I wanted to introduce you to my looms, and give my two cents worth of opinion on your options, in case you'd like to start looming! All opinions are my own, and I purchased all of the looms below. 

Basic Looms for the Beginner

#1 choice for beginners: On the left, my first set of Knifty Knitter brand looms, bought at Wal-Mart many years ago. In the middle, the modern equivalent, Loops and Threads brand, bought at Michael's in 2015. On the right, the Hobby Lobby equivalent, also purchased in 2015. (In case you are wondering why I have three basically identical sets: I left the original set of looms at my parents house when I moved to Oklahoma, so I bought the middle set. While traveling for work, I got more or less marooned in a storm, and ended up purchasing the set on the right out of sheer boredom.) 

Why I recommend: At under $20 (usually closer to $10-15), these sets are so close to each other in design, that a quick search will give you access to literally hundreds of patterns. Each of these looms are large gauge looms, meaning that the space between the pegs on all of these looms is approximately 3/4 inch. This makes them particularly easy to work with for all ages, and those with arthritis or other dexterity issues. A large gauge also generally makes a loose and stretchy fabric, perfect for hats. 
The Knifty Knitter brand is no longer readily available, but you may find a set at a yard sale or online; it is also highly sought after in certain sizes (see Ebay). Loops and Threads set comes with all but the smallest loom shown here, which I purchased separately. The plastic of the Hobby Lobby set seems a little less firm to me, though I have not had any pegs to break. 
What you can make: A lot of things. I've mostly used these looms for scarves and hats, mainly to donate or gift. You can also make flat panels and blankets, but I prefer straight looms. 
NOTE: I DO NOT recommend the Boye brand currently available at Wal-Mart and other locations. Other people can explain why, but I'll just say that I think the peg design is difficult to work with, and I have not been satisfied with the quality of the construction.

 #2 choice for beginners: Knitting Board recently came out with the super large peg zippy loom. It comes in pieces of four pegs that can easily snap together to form either a straight loom for panels, or additional corners can be added to knit in the round.
Why I recommend: Super bulky yarn is very popular at the moment, and the zippy is perfect for using either bulky yarn or several strands of yarn together. Each zippy loom piece is under $10, and most projects I've made only require two pieces. Because it is so large, it's super easy to see stitches, making it the perfect loom to learn new stitches that can be translated to other looms. To be totally honest, I didn't understand how to do purl or other basic stitches until I watched a video using a zippy loom. Also, I've been AMAZED at how different yarn looks using a super large gauge.

More specialized looms...

 So you're ready to commit...
I love my large gauge looms, above, and I do most of my projects with them. However, recently I've become interested in doing projects with finer patterns, including cables. At left is my set of CindWood Looms, custom made to have 5/8 inch gauge. CindWood Looms are only available online, come in a variety of styles, including round, long, and afghan shapes, and a variety of gauges. You can also customize your peg color!

Why I recommend: My CindWood looms are made from MDF wood with nylon pegs- this means that these are looms are ultra sturdy, slightly heavier, and yarn glides over the pegs easily. This is basically the Cadillac of knitting looms, ya'll.

Why I pause: This set is made in the USA by a small company-it's not a mass made product, and the price reflects the care and quality of the product. I am so glad I bought this set, but I pause to recommend these looms, particularly to newbies, because this set cost over $50. Because it is not as readily available, patterns are also not as easily available.

Go Long, Baby-maybe for beginners: Sometime long ago, I bought a set of long looms from Knifty Knitter, left. Over the years, I think I've lost all but two. Recently, I bought the Loops and Threads loom, right, and the All-in-One loom from Knitting Board.


 Why I recommend: Long looms are great for creating either wide panels, or thick fluffy projects by knitting back and forth across the loom. This will create a more seamless, or less hole-y, look compared to the Zippy. Personally, I adore the Loops and Threads loom on the right. It is the right size to tote around for knitting on the go, and it handles bulkier yarns really well with it's wide gauge. The All-in-One is truly all-in-one because it is adjustable to either knit in the round or as a long loom.
Why I pause: Remember when I said that you can do flat panels on a round loom? The longer blue loom in the left hand picture can create the same width panel, within an inch, as the large yellow round loom (above-to the left). I've also found that many patterns can either be adjusted for a circle or a long loom, but that may ad a layer of complexity that is frustrating.
A set of plastic long looms can be more expensive than a set of round looms, for not a whole lot of pay-off in the range of projects that you can do. The All-in-One loom sells for around $40 retail, but can almost always be snagged with a coupon at JoAnn's or other craft stores for much less. I haven't completed a project on it yet, but I am impressed with it's construction and pegs- it's also a finer gauge and adjustable from socks to shawls and blanket sizes. That being said, the loom to the right was under $10.

And, in case you were wondering what those funny looking looms were... Afghan Looms, sometimes called Serenity or Infinity Looms, are s-shaped looms that are specialized for very large panels, mainly for blankets or shawls. Most importantly, you probably don't need a specialized loom to make a large panel, unless you are making a bed-sized blanket-but if you do decide to go big, know that many knitters have found these looms too large to easily tote around, and a little awkward to hold. I recommend sitting the loom on a flat surface, like a lap desk or table, to use.

On the left, I have a green Loops and Threads Infinity loom, and on the right, I have the Knitting Board Afghan Loom. I have a very strong preference to the loom to the right. The green loom has a larger gauge, meaning the cloth has larger holes and is looser. It is also made from more flexible plastic- these two factors made it even more difficult to maneuver the loom, and also made me doubt it's ability to hold a heavy panel of fabric without warping. The Knitting Board Afghan Loom is a finer gauge and is SOLID. I don't feel the same wiggle in the middle as I do with the green loom, and I believe in this loom enough to start my 365 day Temperature Blanket project on it.  


 Those are my thoughts on my knitting looms, thus far. My only strong opinions are on the afghan looms (Knitting Board > Loops and Threads) and on the circle looms (NOT Boye; biggest bang for your buck). Other than that, it really depends on what projects, designs, or patterns you are interested in tackling, and what your budget allows.
If you hold a loom for a few hours, you'll develop some strong opinions. If you have an opinion, please leave a comment below! Happy Looming!