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!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pursuing Growth and Health

For the majority of educators, putting themselves "out there" becomes a common job requirement. Presenting a lesson after a new haircut, tripping in front of students, or just plain starting a new year all require a sort of jumping out of your comfort zone. As new priorities, dictates, and research come down the pipe, the majority of educators are observed and evaluated much more frequently than in the past and have revised both content and pedagogical directions of their classrooms drastically. On top of that, educators are facing a myriad of critics: everyone from parents and politicians to strangers and comedians on social media have an opinion on changes to education. 

However, it's not like educators are necessarily more comfortable with putting themselves forward for critique or potential rejection than the non-education population. I have seen educators refuse to go to a professional development without knowing someone that will be at the session. I have heard many educators refuse to revise lessons with changing curriculum or testing because the current rumblings in politics lead them to mistrust the validity and consistency of those changes. 

As for myself, I am consistently seeking out those "leave my comfort zone" opportunities. I have honed my interview skills, reflected, researched, and practiced- and failed. Spectacularly. Embarrassingly. Painfully. 

Even as I write this, I know what to say to myself- so? Suck it up. It's part of growth; it's all a learning experience. Every failure is just the chance to grow. It's your 20's....they are supposed to suck. What kind of model are you to students if you are not approaching failure as a chance to grow?

That's all true, but I just coming back to the idea from Dave Stuart Jr.'s e-book "Never Finished"- no teacher starts out burnt out. NO ONE. 

So, backpedaling a bit, what can individuals do to prevent burnout and what can system-level organizations do to build up professionals? Here, have some info-graphics! 

In a nutshell, make sure you are prioritizing your long-term growth, and not just professionally. 

While I am a big fan of personal responsibility in creating healthy careers, I think all organizations, schools, and professional development opportunities should take a serious look at their applicant process. Specifically...
Whether you are selecting students for a writing competition, or one day hiring candidates, you have the power to build people into leaders or contribute to bitterness and burnout. Be sensitive.

Love and light,
-Ms. L

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Mercury Retrograde

Credit: the internet search for "Mercury Retrograde"
It's been a pensive week. Maybe it's the resolution season, or just the gathering of W2's for taxes, or just the whispers of change in the air. Or maybe it's because I am a scientist gathering evidence, a historian looking into the past for clues to the present, and an unmoored artist, all rolled into one.

I realize that the past was not clean, neat, or pain free. I also know that the future also demands different things, causing my own personal evolution, and therefore I simply cannot be static-ever. So, it's not exactly nostalgia that I'm feeling; it's just that I feel the need to self-assess and evaluate my own professional and personal growth and make sure I am not swerving towards some foggy cliff in the near future. I feel like things have gotten a little too wonky to not suspect cliffs.

I've re-read old emails from ASMSA (circa 2006), my application for Teach for America, and emails from my my earliest days of teaching (circa 2011). I've re-read sections from Eat, Pray, Love- a book I vividly remember reading in the winter of 2007-2008. I've been drawn back to books that formed my initial thoughts about education: Teach Like A Champion, Teaching as Leadership, and the big green manual of required readings.

After all of that introspection, I cried- a couple of times, really. I cried because I was both ashamed of the girl I was at ASMSA and because I missed her- I was once someone who was independent enough to leave home at 16 years old, and insecure enough to cling to people. I had meaningful relationships- now, I have obligations. I felt painful twinges of guilt reading my application to Teach for America-where are my fundamental values as a teacher today and do they line up with that application, now five years old-or should they even line up any more? Am I really making an impact in educational equality for all students, not just the ones that pass through my classroom?

Not that there aren't things to celebrate! Of course, in my fourth year of education, things that were once incredibly complicated or strange to me as a new teacher, suddenly make sense to me. I have a new critical understanding of all educational theories, arguments, and texts, including things I once accepted without question. I also have the ability (finally) to have some free time; it's taken four years to reclaim Sundays, to not sleep through the news most evenings, and to not fight semi-regular panic attacks. I have even left school with just one bag on occasion lately.

However, to paraphrase/quote Hairspray, "I'm hungry for something that I can't eat!" Yes, I have miles and miles to go professionally, but I don't want to build my life solely around my professional life, or give up my core values professionally-there has to be some balance. As I consider next steps and next jobs, I don't want to sacrifice my values or abandon the good things about myself. Self-reflection is good-it's just uncomfortable.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Sometimes, the thanksgiving posts that clog my social media soaked life sound an awful lot like a celebrity at an awards show: "First of all, I want to thank God and my manager..." 

I get it-it's good to take stock and give thanks, even if it's only once a year. It's just terribly ironic that many Americans give thanks on their Facebook page, eat a huge meal, and then spend hundreds of dollars online or after a rousing fist-fight at the local mega-mart.

As for me, I'm going to eat a reasonable lunch with my parents, review math skills for my upcoming GRE, and hopefully catch a movie later. We're not big on sharing, so here's my thankful list.

  • thankful for a good memory of good times
  • thankful for forgiveness 
  • a huge world 
  • good books and good people who love books 
  • teachers to look up to
  • my own good health
  • my Dad's sense of humor
  • my mom's strength 
  • baby calves
  • friends and thought partners
  • concerts
  • sinus medication
  • seat belts 
  • dependable shoes and vests
  • wild animals and wild spaces
  • Vegetarians
  • Stubborn people; kind people; artists; historians;
  • Fairy tales and musicals
  • Fast shipping
  • Old men and tattooed ladies 
  • Foster and adopted families
  • Glasses 
  • High schoolers that like Lisa Frank stickers