Friday, August 30, 2013

App Review: knitCompanion - not just for knitting and crocheting!

Update!  If you're reading this before February 17, 2014, please consider donating to the knitCompanion Kickstarter campaign so they can expand to Android devices.  Click here for more information on the campaign and knitCompanion's history, but don't forget to come back to read my review!

Note: This review was written in August, 2013.  There have been a few updates since I wrote this, but the basic information should still be useful to you.  :)

A few days ago I was on the forum for the Colorfully Modern Cardigan on Ravelry, reading on everyone's progress and seeing their pictures, when someone mentioned an iPad app called knitCompanion.  She said it would "make it easier to keep track on the pattern".  I thought, "Oh?  I wonder how it would do that?"  I looked it up and installed it, and I was blown away.

The official website is, and you can go there for a bunch of information, including a vast array of tutorials and the user guide.  The app is currently available for iPads and iPhones, and they hope to expand to other devices.

There is a free version and a paid version.  You install the free version and upgrade to the full version if you want inside the app.  Currently the price to upgrade is $15.99.  A bit more on what the full version contains later on.

Even without spending a dime, this app is very full-featured.

But what is it? At the most basic level, you load your knit and crochet project PDFs into the app and use it to help you knit/crochet a project.  You can highlight areas, set markers to keep track of what row you're on in charts and in written instructions, increment numeric counters, zoom in on the part you're currently working on, add notes, and more.  This page of their website lists out everything that the app contains.

I mentioned recently that I like being able to read PDFs in my Kindle app, which is great for electronic versions of knit and crochet projects.  I mentioned the downside is that I can't highlight anything or make notes.  The knitCompanion app is all of that and a bag of chips.

I'm not going to go through all of the capabilities (that's impossible), but let's go through a little tour:

Here is the home screen.  The cute little sheep is your guide and is the "voice" in all of the videos.  She's very smart as well as being cute.  The "Live Events" shows when there are free info webinars or other events with designers.

Under "Designs", you can see the five very beautiful designs that come with the app (yes, even the free version!):

I have this scrolled in the center so you can see a little bit of each of the projects.
Oh!  Here's an iPhone/iPad tip for you:  If you want to do a screen capture (perhaps if you want to show off a particularly high score in Candy Crush Saga or take screenshots for your blog), it's so easy.  All you have to do is press and hold the sleep/power button on the top of the device then press the round button on the front (without holding it down).  Release the sleep/power button, and you'll hear a camera click (unless you're muted), and the screen will flash white.  The screenshot will then be in with your photos.  I've done this a few times accidentally and had no idea how to reproduce it, but a quick search found it for me.  I think this is great!

Back to the designs.  You can knit the designs, of course, but they're also there to help you get used to the app.

Since I'm in the middle of the Crochet-Along cardigan, I decided to load the PDF in and use the app while I worked the project.

Until I say otherwise, everything I'm going to show you was done on the iPad (as opposed to the iPhone or the computer).

First thing, locate the PDF online.  For this cardigan, it can be found here, then you click the download link on the right side.  That loads the PDF into a reader on the browser.  When you tap near the top of the page, you see a gray bar, and one of the buttons is "Open in..."  This is great for all kinds of apps, not just knitCompanion, as you can see here:

(The screen is truncated so you don't have to see a bunch of stuff you don't need to)

I touched "Open in knitCompanion", and it loaded right up:

(Again, truncated screen)

This PDF can be accessed from the "PDFs" button on the home screen, but you can't do all the cool stuff here.  You can flip through the pages like in the Kindle app, but there are no counters or row markers or any of the rest of it.

See that "New Project" button at the top?  Tap that, and it starts the conversion process into a project:

I think it's really neat that you can choose which pages you want.  Say you have a huge book in PDF form with a bunch of projects but only want to work on one of them.  You scroll through the pages and highlight the ones you want.  Since this PDF is for only one cardigan, I selected all pages and was then asked to name it:

The QuickStart refers to the part of the app that you can access in the free version.  It's available in the paid version, too, but I'm guessing this is what you'd use for most everything.

Once you create the project, now all the fun begins.  I found where I was in the pattern and zoomed in so I could read the instructions very clearly.  I also added some highlights, a row marker, and I incremented one of the counters for how much I've gotten done.

I made that really big so you can see the highlights well.  I'm working the small size (remember I'm using a big hook which throws my gauge off but gives me a loose sweater), so I don't really have to highlight the numbers.  I highlighted a few in my example so you can see how easy it would be to keep track of what you're supposed to do for larger sizes.  On future projects, I intend on highlighting all of the numbers I need to keep track of (how many stitches, how many rows, etc.) before starting, then I won't have to worry about it anymore.  There are even different color highlights available.

That scroll bar just to the left of the colored blocks with numbers is the row marker.  Tap in that area, and it appears, and you can move the marker up and down.  Tap in that area again to make it disappear.

The colored blocks on the right are the counters.  You can slide it out if you want to decrement or reset the counter, and you can keep track of four different numbers. (In proofing this before posting, I found that I typed "resent" instead of "reset".  I got a little giggle at resenting the counter, which I frequently do on slow-moving projects.)

As I worked I found it really nice to have the iPad propped up next to me on the couch, and I increased the row counter as I went along.  Of course, I had to rip out some of it because a ribbing went diagonal on me, and I used the counter to keep track of that as well.

I tried out the annotations and added a note simplifying the next decrease directions:

Tap on the little note icon (you can choose your color) to get the note to appear, and you tap anywhere but on the note to close it.

That's the gist of the app, but there is so much more.  If you have a Dropbox account to store files for backup or accessing on other devices, you can configure knitCompanion to interface with it, which greatly expands what you're able to do.  You're not limited to PDFs you find on the web or have in your e-mail, and you can use knitCompanion on multiple devices as long as you link to the same account (and remember to export when you're done with one device - more on that later).

I have used Dropbox for quite some time, and I really like it.  You get a huge amount of space for free.  I have documents and spreadsheets for my business on it in case my laptop crashes as well as personal files.  I also have a folder set up for sharing Loose Bead Society photos with a member who takes pictures for the society.  I need the pictures in one central location, and this gives her an easy way to get them to me.

Recently I decided to store my jewelry designs' tutorials on Dropbox so I wouldn't lose them if my laptop crashes (do I sound paranoid?) but also so I can access them on the iPad.  I remember most everything, but sometimes I need a little help remembering how to start, what I did with the clasp, and a few other details.  It's been very helpful, but now I have an even better way to access them and will recommend this app to my customers who get the electronic versions of my tutorials.

You do need to explicitly tell knitCompanion that you want to interface with Dropbox.  It's a simple process and can be found in the Settings (the gear at the upper right of the Home screen).  There's a "Sync Options" button in the lower right, and that's where you can enable Dropbox. Once that's done, it interfaces with the Dropbox app on your device.  Oh, that should be installed and set up ahead of time.  :)  I'm not going to go into all that now, but if you're interested in doing that but get stuck, let me know.  I may be able to help.

So in the "PDFs" section of knitCompanion, once you've enabled Dropbox there's an option on the bottom for Local PDFs and Dropbox PDFs.  You can store the PDFs in the default knitCompanion folders, or you can navigate through your Dropbox folders to where you have them stored.

Let me show you my list of tutorials.  I have folders for each design which include the photos, but I also put the PDFs separately so I don't have to go hunting for them.  I tapped on the one I wanted, and an "Import" button appears:

I touched that, and it copied the PDF from Dropbox onto the device.  I tapped on "Local PDFs" to see it and to create a project as I showed you above:

This is a postcard I made up for the 2012 Bead&Button Show Meet the Teachers reception.  I figured it was a good example to show you how knitCompanion can be used for beaders as well as knitters and crocheters.

Zoom in on the chart and add a row marker:

...and you can keep track of your beaded charts!  They designed this capability for knit designs with fancy charts, but it works just as well for beading, too.  Every rectangle that has a blue line going through it is a bead to be stitched in this row.

One of the many great things about this app is that it remembers exactly where you are in the project and even how zoomed in you are.  The row counters are saved with each project, so you don't have to worry about losing your place when you bop between projects.

Speaking of bopping around, what if you don't want to lug your iPad with you when you're at the repair shop waiting for your car to be done?  Knitting or crocheting is a great way to pass the time, but juggling paper patterns or a big tablet isn't all that easy in a waiting room.  If you have Dropbox and knitCompanion on your iPad and iPhone, you don't have to!  Just remember to export your project into Dropbox on the last device you accessed it on and import it on the other device.

I imported the cardigan project onto my iPhone, and I think it'll work just fine:

It's quite a bit smaller, of course, but you can zoom in more or even turn the phone sideways if that helps.

When you're done at the shop and want to work on the project at home on the iPad again, export it from the phone and import it onto the iPad.  This is really important, or you'll probably end up repeating rows.

Even though I'll have to remember these extra steps, I think it's wonderful that I can store my files locally on different devices.  If everything was stored on Dropbox (and you accessed and saved to Dropbox while you were working), you'd be at the whim of your cell signal, and the performance would likely lag.  I have a grocery app I really like - I can plan what to buy and from where based on the prices I've put in and make up a grocery list, but when I get to the store and access the app from my phone, it's so slow I don't even want to use it anymore.  There are ads that have to load, and every time I click an item that I've purchased (essentially crossing it off the list), it updates the database "out there".  It's a bigger drain on my battery and my sanity.  Having local files like knitCompanion has frees you up for more knitting (or crocheting or beading...).

Speaking of ads, there are none.  NONE.  Honestly, there are no ads.  The free version has all the capabilities I mentioned above (and more), and there are no ads.  Also, there are no limits to how many PDFs or projects you can access in the app.  I don't know how they do it, except I'm sure they're hoping we'll all buy the full version.

Update to the above paragraph:  They did have to add ads, unfortunately.  They're small and at the bottom of the screen, so they're unobtrusive.

In the full version there are keys to help you while you're knitting, smart counters (helpful if you have instructions like, "after x rows do the decrease, and at the same time, after y rows do something else"), clearer row markers, and much more.  Since I have not yet purchased the full version, I can't comment yet.  :)  I do think the clearer row markers (the entire row is highlighted, either with a normal background or an "inverse" one) would be helpful, but at the moment I'm very happy with what the free version has provided.  I do see myself purchasing the full version when I have some extra cash to support the product and to play with all the cool new stuff.  (Don't get me started on bills - between vet visits for the cats and the aforementioned car repair and a lot more, I'm lucky I can afford the free version of the app right now.)

One more feature I want to show you, which is accessible from the project screen (Edit/Measure):

A ruler!  How neat is that?  This one is from the iPad app.  You can measure your piece as you work!  This would be great for those dreaded swatches, but I can also see myself measuring bracelets when I can't find my tape measure (which happens more often than I care to admit).  I'm sure there are ruler apps out there, but why load up your device unnecessarily?  The iPhone ruler goes to just over 2 1/4", which I can see useful for when you're at the hair salon and want the stylist to know what an inch actually is (instead of the 2 or 3 inches is usually ends up being).  "This is how much I want cut off.  THIS much!"

It's the attention to detail like the ruler and all of the other features they've provided in the free version that make me recommend this app very highly.  I do hope they're able to develop it for Kindles, Nooks, and other tablets, because knitters, crocheters, beaders, and probably other crafters I'm not thinking of right now can really benefit.

Gone are the days when you're searching for the scrap of paper or notebook where you've tallied your rows, a pencil, a highlighter, the pattern itself.  If you're like me, you're practically glued to your iPad and/or iPhone, and all your designs will always be with you.

So you don't have to scroll up to find the link again, it's  You're welcome.  :)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Successful Socks (plus Crochet-Along update)

Today will (hopefully) be a short post. I had insomnia last night, and I had to get up early this morning, so I'm very loopy, and it's getting late. I just spent a half an hour on my desk drawer (I got a new little organizer and wanted to get it OFF and INTO my desk). It's not all organized yet, but I found a number of interesting items in there. Perhaps I'll tell you about them sometime

I believe I've mentioned a few times that I've wanted to knit socks, and I posted about the Lion Brand Sockies slipper socks I made for myself. There wasn't a picture because they look all stretched out and baggy. :) Ages ago I purchased some actual, honest-to-goodness sock yarn, Patons Stretch Socks. As the name suggests, the yarn has a bit of a stretch to it. I figured that would help socks to fit me because I have (as I've mentioned before) duck feet and cankles. I wasn't really sure what pattern to use, but shopping in Michaels with Mom a number of months ago, there was a booklet called "Sweet to your Feet" featuring - you guessed it - Patons Stretch Socks!  Mom bought it for me because she's very generous.  I'm really not trying to butter her up... she really IS generous, especially in Michaels.  Thanks, Mom!

If you're interested in seeing the patterns and possibly purchasing this booklet, click the above picture or click here to be taken to the preview page.  There's a link there for buying it online.  It's $4.95, and there's a PDF version for $3.95.  I love PDF versions of books, especially crafts books.  I load them on my iPad, and I never have to wonder where they are!

The one downside to that is that you can't make notes to PDFs in the Kindle app, and I had to make a lot of notes to the "Ankle Socks" pattern.  I was able to figure things out and make adjustments, but I had to write it all in the book so I remember for the next pair I knit.  More on that later.

See how cute they look on her skinny feet?  Looks are a little deceiving here.  See how her toes are pointed downward?  That's so the socks don't bunch up at her ankles.  Here are the socks I made, straight on and "profile":

Now, anyone who hasn't knit socks will think that this looks very odd, especially the right one.  It goes straight out like a triangle instead of conforming to the foot.  I was really worried about that, too, but then I saw this post all about sock knitting on  They have a picture of a sock, and it looks just like mine, so I guess I did it right.  That post covers all the basics about knitting socks and says everything I wanted to say about it plus a lot more.  I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to knit socks but hasn't tried yet.  The process really is simpler than it seems it would be.  I followed the directions, and voila!  Successful socks!

Now, I know I mentioned above that I had to make notes in the directions.  Some of the notes were numbers of rows for different sections.  It said, "Knit until heel measures 2 1/2 ins", and I know for this yarn and the size 3 needles I was using, that is 26 rows.  I don't have to measure anymore.  Same for how long the foot should be for my feet and stuff like that.

Other areas needed a bit more explanation.  After scrutinizing the pattern for a long time at the first rearrange stitches section, I wrote my own instructions and drew a diagram.  There are also a few things missing (or I just didn't understand the next instruction).  I wrote notes on what to do in that case, too.

The one thing that was in common between this pattern and the Sockies was where the yarn ends up when you're done knitting and sew things up (which is called grafting).  What this means is you have a bunch of loops on one needle and a bunch of loops on another needle, and you have to take a tapestry needle (big sewing needle) and sew the two together so it looks like it was knitted.  The loops start out on three needles, but you're supposed to combine the loops on two needles onto one.  Sounds simple, but the yarn is in the middle, and the grafting is supposed to start at one of the ends.  It wouldn't make sense to just rearrange the loops so the yarn is at an end - the toe would be diagonal or perpendicular to the decreases, which would just be weird.

So since I have problems with spacial things sometimes because of the whole being left-handed-in-a-right-handed-world thing, I watched a number of videos on YouTube for the Kitchener Stitch, the most common toe-grafting method.  One of them said to knit the stitches onto the needle with the other half of the loops (causing the yarn to end up where it's supposed to be), and I had a smacking-myself-on-the-forehead moment reminiscent of a V8 commercial.

(As an aside, those V8 commercials were really popular when I was little.  When I was about three, Mom and I were in the grocery store, and I was riding in the cart.  I saw the V8 display, smacked myself on the forehead, and cried out - really loudly, I guess - "I coulda had a V8!"  Mom is still embarrassed about this.)

The booklet is worth trying out, even though I had a few problems.  It could have just been me because I'm still a new knitter, spatially odd, and left-handed, but if anyone gets the booklet and wants my notes, let me know at

I mentioned recently (when discussing the Crochet-Along) that my mother is going into the hospital for cancer treatment.  She's going in tomorrow, and the chemo is going to be really rough.  If you have a mind to, I'd appreciate any nice thoughts, vibes, prayers, and juju sent her way.  Aim it towards Chicago, and it should reach her.  Also, if you'd like to verbally send your juju, leave a comment here, and I'll make sure she gets it.  Thanks!

Anyway, I thought it might be nice to send her off with some nice new hand-knit socks, so I frantically worked on them (because, of course, I've known this was coming for months), and I brought them when we visited on Saturday.  She loved them and was really impressed.  I told her she shouldn't be - I just followed the directions - but I should have kept my mouth shut and let her be impressed.  :)

Here she is in the socks:

I did warn you this was for the blog, Mom!

She doesn't have ankles, either, it would seem.  :)  She has bloating problems, so it's good that these socks will stretch for her, and the bright colors will hopefully cheer her up a little.

Crochet-Along update!

I have been busy busy busy!  I'll keep this short, because Steve is waiting to go to bed, and I'm more verbose than I expected to be.

I gauged.  Remember in my review of Sweater Quest I mentioned gauging?  Gauging sucks.  Gauging is boring.  Gauging uses yarn that would be better used on an actual project.  Gauging looks weird after you've typed it five times.

Gauging also helps determine what size hook to use.  My first gauge (with an N hook) I was a half an inch short because I crochet tightly.  With a P hook I was a half an inch too big.

Here are both gauge swatches:

I didn't do the requisite number of rows on the bottom one because I knew it was going to be big, so why waste the yarn?

Here are the hooks:

The pretty blue metallic one is the N, and the not pretty (but very functional) gray plastic one is the P.  You can see there's a huge difference in sizes.  The N is 9mm, but the P doesn't say.  The P only says "Korea" on it, excepting the "P" that was scratched onto the end by someone.  Possibly me, but I can't remember.  According to a Wikipedia article on standard crochet hook and knitting needle sizes, there's an M/N of 9mm and a N/P of 10mm.  I've measured, and my P seems to match with this.  Doesn't look like it's only 1mm bigger, though, does it?

I really wish there was a 9.5mm O hook - that would have been perfect.  The swatch made with the N hook was nice and tight, but I didn't want that for this sweater.  I wanted something a little looser, so I chose to use the P hook.  Steve liked the tighter one because it would be warmer, but I don't want something that's going to be a SWEATER.  I want a sweater.  See the difference?  I do, but that could be because I'm really loopy today.  Ha!  Loopy!  I'm crocheting, and I'm loopy!  I really need to wrap this up and go to bed.

Armed with this gauging knowledge, I started the sweater using the Large size instead of the X-Large size I had planned on making.  If I had used the N hook, that wouldn't have been big enough, and I would have had to make the 2X.  More crocheting = more time spent.  Blech.

Steve has gone to bed.  I don't have to rush.  :)

While waiting for Steve's brakes to get fixed yesterday, I chained on the number needed for the Large and crocheted 3 rows.  It was enormous.  I measured it, and it was easily big enough for 3X, which I do not need.  Since I want a XL, I figured I would go back two sizes and try the Small.  That seemed to be wide enough, so I'm going with that.  Steve said, "You just want to tell people you're wearing a Small!"  Ha ha ha, husband.  Very funny.

I was at the repair shop long enough to eat lunch, crochet the enormous first attempt, rip it out, start the second attempt, and play a partial game of checkers with a little boy on my iPad before he had to leave, and chat with someone who was there even longer than I was.  I was able to crochet 5 1/4"!  That may sound like a lot, but remember I'm using a very large hook and that crocheting is faster than knitting.

Here's what I have so far, after crocheting a little more tonight:

It's going pretty well.  There are decreases at either end, and because the FPDC ribbing skips a stitch I got a little confused once.  I thought I hadn't done the decrease and did one, then a few rows later I realized I had done the decrease but was crocheting into a skipped stitch.  I then added a stitch, and no one will notice.  You can tell if you really look, but it doesn't screw up the look of it at all, since it's such a gradual decrease.

I've measured the width again, and it seems to be a bit short of the XL width, but it should be okay.  I think.  My bust size is in between L and XL, so I'm hopeful it'll fit fine.  If not, it just won't close all the way.  It's not meant to anyway, so there shouldn't be a problem.  I'll stop doubting myself now.

Now that I've finished with gauging, I'm letting Frisco play with one of the swatches in an attempt he'll leave the sweater, my earrings, a spool of wire, and everything else on my desk alone.

 He's getting so big!

Okay, so I'm incapable of writing a short post, even when I'm really tired.  I hope you all don't mind!

The good thing about last night's insomnia was that I now have a new jewelry design.  It's perfect for a bracelet right now, but I'm hopeful I can make a necklace and earrings as well, and the tutorial and maybe some kits should be ready for sale at the Milwaukee Bead Show in October!  It uses some of the same beads as the other designs I talked about in my recent rants (check out Kits rant #1 and Kits rant #2 to refresh your memory or to catch up), so I don't have to worry about finding too many supplies.  Yay!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review: Jewelry Projects from a Beading Insider

This week's review is on Jewelry Projects from a Beading Insider: Original Designs and Expert Advice from the Editor of BeadStyle Magazine by Cathy Jakicic.  This is a brand new book put out by Kalmbach Publishing.  I am very excited to tell you about it, and not just because I know Cathy personally and have had an article in BeadStyle magazine.  :)  This is a great book on a great many topics, and it will be great to have on hand for techniques, inspiration, tips, and more!  Yes, I just said "great" three times in one sentence.  Read on, and you'll see why.

Let's start with the author.  You may be looking at her last name and wondering how the heck it's pronounced.  I hope Cathy doesn't laugh at my phonetic attempts here.  It's ja-KEYS-ick with an actual J sound at the beginning.  Until recently Cathy was the Editor of BeadStyle magazine, but now she has moved on to another position at another company.  I just found out that she also writes movie reviews for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  How cool is that?  If you're interested in checking out her reviews, they can also be found on the Rotten Tomatoes website here with links to the original articles on the Journal Sentinel website.  I agree with her assessment of Disney's The Princess and the Frog, so she must know what she's talking about.

If you're on Pinterest, you can follow Cathy here.  There's even a board for her book with pictures of a few of the projects and some of her many tips.  Oh - there's a book review.  I shouldn't read that before I write my own.  Moving on!

And now for the book.  The title intrigued me, and on the cover "Beading Insider" is in very large, bold letters.  See for yourself:

If that doesn't catch your eye, I don't know what will!  You can carry this book around, and folks will immediately think you know what you're doing.  After reading this book (and with a little practice), you will.

Once I got past that fabulous cover and looked at the "What's Inside" (Table of Contents) section, I knew that this book would be perfect for not just beginner beaders but for intermediate and advanced beaders, too.

The first big section is called "Skill-Building Workshops" and covers beginner techniques needed for making jewelry such as plain loops, crimping, wrapped loops, and measuring for multi-strand necklaces all while explaining how to make beautiful necklaces or bracelets (and matching earrings for each project!).  Each technique is described in "Learn!" sections for each project (as well as in the "Techniques Review" at the end of the book), but there are also tips to help you master the technique and to help you plan your components for a flawless design.  For example, in the wrapped loops section, the tips include what gauge wire or headpins to practice on, how best to tuck in the end of the wrap, what to do if you're making clustered bead units, and more.  In the plain loop section, she gives two alternatives to the "standard" method of making the loop that might work better for some people or situations.  Even someone who has made numerous plain loops and wrapped loops (such as myself) can learn something from her tips.

If that isn't enough, the "Skill-Building Workshops" section includes a number of techniques I wouldn't have expected, including wire crochet, adding color to metal using Gilder's Paste, wire wrapping, simple beadweaving, and dyeing beads to get just the color you want.  There are tips galore and plenty of full-color pictures.

The next section is a "Creativity Boost!"  This section has three projects for what you can make with items already in your stash.  There are matching earrings for each of these projects, too!  The project that was most surprising for me in this section was the paper-folding one.  Remember the weave that can be made with gum wrappers?  Well, Cathy created a bracelet on that theme using regular colored copy paper!  Add a chain and a charm with some patina on it, and it's an adorable accessory.  She even experimented with different types of papers so you don't have to.

When you're comfortable with the techniques, it's time to create your own masterpieces.  The next section, "Designing with..." showcases necklaces and bracelets using a variety of materials: gemstones, river stone, art beads, charms, lucite, crystals, chain, ribbon, and more.  Of course, each project has its own matching earrings.  This shouldn't surprise me by now, but I was tickled when I figured this out.  A number of the projects in this section have alternatives so you can see how the same technique looks with different materials.  For example, in the "clear" project, "Clear and Present Style", the main project uses a silver chain with clear round and rough-cut beads for a classic, sophisticated look.  The alternate project uses the same beads and the same technique but with a patterned chain.  Just changing the chain gives the same necklace a fun, funky look.

In this section the tips cover designing, facts about the materials, what to look for when shopping, beading wire facts, and more.

The final project section is a second "Creativity Boost!"  The projects here challenge the "traditional" methods of using materials.  The first one has beads glued directly onto memory wire (I'd never have thought of that!).  The second project takes her mother's old necklace that had mother-of-pearl leaves on it and pairs them with bright crystals.  The third one is a pearl and chain necklace that is bold and full of visual interest.  I know my goddaughter would love to play with those dangly chains.  The one thing I'll say is that the original necklace in the second project was GORGEOUS.  I would have loved to have worn it.  I don't think I could have taken it apart, but the necklace wasn't Cathy's style.  The reconstructed one is bold and vibrant and I'm sure is more fun to wear.

I'm going on a lot longer than I thought I was going to, but there really is so much in this book that will keep any beader busy for ages.  The tips throughout the book are great, and they show up all over the place.  I just looked down at the reconstructed mother-of-pearl project and found a list of classic necklace lengths from choker/collar to rope/lariat.  They're everywhere, and I know that every time I open the book I'll find something new.

Are you a beginning beader?  Get this book.  It has everything you need to know to get started.  Have you been beading for years, off and on, and are comfortable with what you've been doing?  Get this book.  It'll help you refine your techniques and inspire you to try something new.  Are you a professional who sells your jewelry?  Still get this book.  At the very least, you'll remember things you'd forgotten and will give you ideas on different techniques to try and different materials to work with.

Don't bead at all?  Get this book for your friend who does bead, or maybe you can try your hand at a project from it, and you'll get hooked.

If you're on Facebook, feel free to "like" The Beading Insider's page.  I'm sure she'd love to see posts by you with pictures on what you've made!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Future project: Lion Brand's Fall Crochet-Along

A while ago I signed up to receive the "Weekly Stitch" e-mails from Lion Brand Yarn.  They give excerpts of some articles (one that was really funny was about school subjects being related to yarn and knitting called A-B-C-K-2-P-2 by Franklin Habit).  There are sales, and they always highlight some of their free patterns available on their website.  Also, there are links to what's on their blog, the Lion Brand Notebook.  There's more to the e-mails than that, but you get the idea.

It was in one of these e-mails that I first read about the Crochet-Alongs that Lion Brand holds.  Now, I'm not really one for group crochetings or knittings or readings or anything where I have to go along with the crowd, but I took a look at the projects.  One was a shrug - nah... I'm not fond of shrugs.  Another was a top-down jacket.  That one had potential, but it was striped (horizontally - ugh!) and only went to the waist.  The sleeves were to the elbow which is a nice length.  The third one... it was also a jacket, but it was long, had sleeves just past the elbows, and had pockets.  It looked loose, whereas the other jacket looked kind of rigid.  It looked like there were stripes, but they were more subtle than the other jacket, and stripes can be omitted.  The texture of the jacket would give visual interest, so a solid or variegated yarn would work just fine.

In short, I was enamored with this jacket and would make it no matter what.  It was just a matter of when.  I voted (along with over 20,000 other people), and the one I liked loved won!

 Isn't it purdy?

Click on the picture to be taken to the announcement post with all the relevant links and stuff.

Still, I wasn't sure if I was keen on doing a Crochet-Along.  When would I be able to afford the yarn, and would I have the time?

My birthday is this week, and in the mail came a Michaels gift card from Steve's parents that would more than cover the cost of the yarn.  Thanks, Mama and Papa!

The pattern calls for the new Unique yarn in a number of colors along with some stripes of Vanna's Choice yarn.  Some people asked about what yarn to use if they don't want stripes, and they recommended using Vanna's Choice.  Unique is a chunky yarn, and Vanna's Choice is a worsted weight - slightly thinner than Unique.  What I found interesting is that the pattern calls for different weights of yarns to be used in different rows.  That's typically not done.  I decided to use all Vanna's Choice, so the resulting jacket should be a little lacier, which is exactly what I want.  Perfect for chilly Loose Bead Society meetings or movie theaters.

Yes, the Vanna from Vanna's Choice is Vanna White from Wheel of Fortune.  She is quite the knitter and crocheter and has books of patterns as well as yarns named after her.  I have her Vanna's Afghans A to Z: 52 Crochet Favorites.  I haven't made anything from it yet, but there's one in there with cats on it, so it's only a matter of time.

The last thing I needed was a partner in crime.  Mom and John were over on Sunday, and I told them about the Crochet-Along and showed them the picture.  I thought it would be neat if Mom and I could crochet the same jacket at the same time.  She's going to be in the hospital for three weeks pretty soon for cancer treatment, and I thought it would be fun for us to Skype and show our progress.  It took some convincing because Mom has never crocheted a sweater before, but she gave in after only a little guilt-tripping.  So she couldn't back out, I showed her the yarns recommended for crocheting it without the stripes, and once she picked one, we ordered it from the JoAnn website to be shipped here (since she won't be home this week for medical procedures, either).  Hopefully the yarn will come before she goes in the hospital.  She'll be in Chicago, and I'm in Milwaukee, so I won't be able to just run it over.

Now that I've gotten Mom roped in I needed to get my own yarn.  JoAnn's had a sale on Vanna's Choice for $2.99 a skein (normally $3.99).  I saw a Michaels ad online that had it on sale for the same price.  They unfortunately don't have online ordering, so I called a store near last night's chilly Loose Bead Society meeting, but they only had 5 skeins of the color I wanted.  Other stores in the area have it, and I was pleased that there's no dye lot, meaning I can get the yarn from any store at any time, and it should all match.

Dye lot is a funny thing.  You would think that they would determine that "3R 1G 4B" would be the formula for a particular color and that would be the color forever and ever (amen).  However, I have seen some vast differences in colors for the same yarn (I can't say "exact same yarn" like I want to because it bugs Steve. :::grin:::).  I've seen this in scrapbook paper and beads, too.  What you need to do is buy at least as much as you need for your project at the same time to make sure it all matches.  If you're at the store buying the yarn, check the dye lot on each skein before throwing it into the cart.  Better safe than ACK! There's a big dark stripe right over my BOOBS!  How did that HAPPEN?!?

Update: See the end of the post for more on dye lots.

I went to Michaels last night after the chilly Loose Bead Society meeting with my friend Amy (who drove), and the yarn was not on sale.  I was perplexed, but Amy checked it out while I was in the hook aisle trying to find the elusive "O" hook (one bigger than the "N" hook the pattern calls for because I crochet tightly).  Turns out there is no "O" hook, so I'll have to use the "P" hook I think I already have.  The sale starts next week, so I bought 1 (one) skein using my 40% off coupon.  That will keep me busy for a little bit, and I'll either buy more next week when it's on sale or keep getting one at a time using 40% off coupons to save 40 cents or so on each skein off of next week's sale price.  Anything to milk that gift card!

Are you ready to see the color?  It's going to be a HUGE surprise...

Purple Mist!

I looked at other colors.  Really, I did.  I wanted a variegated yarn, so that limited the choices.  I decided I don't want anything too dark (I have a lot of that) or too bright (which just doesn't work for me), so the choices were even more limited.  Browns and tangerines are right out (shudder), so I was left with Denim Mist, Rose Mist, Seaspray Mist (light green), and Purple Mist.  It had to be purple.  Of course.

If I do it again I'll choose a different color.  Really... I will!

Mom chose Vanilla Twist:

That should be pretty!

When I was looking at the yarn in the store it looked positively rope-like to me.  Much thicker than I expected a worsted weight to be.  Later, I realized that the last few projects I've knitted (including the train baby hat) have been with sock (super fine) yarn.  Worsted weight is marked as a "4", and the sock yarn is marked as a "1".

Here are the two yarns next to each other:

I'm going to have quite an adjustment to make when I start working on the jacket!

As for the time I was concerned about having, my summer season is winding down.  I have a few more farmers markets to go to, but those don't need any more preparation at this point.  I've decided that daytime should be spent on the business (writing blogs and designing and bookkeeping and stuff like that) and at night I can knit or crochet or do nothing.  We'll see how that works out.

Now that I'm in, I will be posting periodic updates to my progress.  I may wait until Mom gets her yarn.  If anyone else wants to join in, I'd love to post pictures of your progress, too!  E-mail me at and let me know you'll be crocheting along.

If you're on Ravelry (my name is taotte there - look me up!), there's a group for discussions and updates on this Crochet-Along.  It can be found here.  I'll be bopping in there from time to time to see how other folks are doing.

Yes, I'm aware I still have that damnable hooded cardigan to finish, but that will take forever.  Yes, I'm aware that it will take forever if I never knit on it, but that's a topic for another day.

Update:  I knew it was too good to be true.  There is a dye lot on the Purple Mist Vanna's Choice yarn.

Steve and I had to drop off my car at an auto body shop because some nimrod scraped along the driver's side while I was blissfully unaware in the grocery store.  Both doors have scratches and minor dents, and it's quite possible that it'll rust if it's not fixed.  I'm doing all the follow-up stuff to get it reported, and hopefully the culprit will be found (there's a tape at the grocery store) and will pay up so I will get my $500 deductible back.  Anyway - we were near another Michaels store, so I thought we'd use the 40% off coupon on Steve's phone to get another skein of yarn.  I was quite surprised (and dismayed) that there were dye lots listed on all of the skeins there (except for the two that were missing labels, of course).  There were 4-5 dye lots represented, and some had a more bold variegation than others.  I tried to remember what I had at home, and we picked one of the bold ones.

There is a very slight difference - the one on the bottom is a little bolder - but I don't think it'll be too noticeable.  The problem is that they only had about five skeins of this dye lot or others that looked close enough.  I'm going to need 16 skeins total.  My dreams of picking up a skein here and there as I needed it have unraveled like a badly crocheted sweater.  The only thing I can do is to go back next week when the yarn is on sale and pick up as many skeins as look right and hope that I can find more later.  I'll keep you posted!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Review: Recycled Crafts: Crafts Made Using Recycled Materials

Happy Friday!  Today is going to be short because I have a big sale tomorrow I still am getting ready for (the Donna Lexa Memorial Art Fair in Wales, Wisconsin) and because the kitten is trying to eat my words and my computer as well as trying to drink my water.

I'm not going to do this very much, but I'm going to post a review I wrote on Amazon for a Kindle book, Recycled Crafts: Crafts Made Using Recycled Materials by Kara Kelso and her 10 year old daughter, Jillian.  Kara has a blog, Idea Queen, where she discusses recycled crafts as well as other crafts, food & recipes, home & garden, and shopping & saving.  While a number of her posts and crafts are geared towards parents and what can be done with their children, I think I'm going to have keep an eye on this blog.  She has some great ideas!

This is from the Amazon website so I'd have an image to pin on Pinterest.  :)

Onto the book.  Like with her blog, many of the crafts would be fun for children, but I do see some that I'm going to try, and some have planted other ideas in my head.

Here's the review I wrote for Amazon:
I like that this book has a range of ideas and techniques. There is sewing, painting, decoupaging, and more. Each technique is described in good detail so even a novice should get great results.

There are a number of materials used (water bottles, CDs, T-shirts, jeans, boxes...) with cute, imaginative ways to dress them up for functional items. The full-color pictures are wonderful, and I like that multiple examples of some projects are shown.

I also like that the author's cat, Stella, is in a few pictures. The poor cat thought she was going to get a dolled-up box that was destined for another purpose. I hope the author and her daughter dressed up a box for Stella, too.

Unfortunately I did find some formatting problems:

The table of contents is not functional. If I want to go back to a specific project, I either need to scroll through the book to find it or set bookmarks for each of the projects ahead of time.

In some places, the picture and the description are on different pages. Once I thought the description was for the picture right above it (on the same page), but it was really for the one on the next page. I'm not sure if there's anything that can be done to fix that, though. Maybe a page break?

In the T-shirt pillow section, there are a number of white squares that appear with the black or sepia background. I have sepia turned on because I do a lot of reading when I can't sleep (like tonight), and it's less jarring in the dark. I checked them with the white background, and they aren't visible. I don't know if those are missing pictures or something else.

Later in the book, starting in the "Computer Art" section (specifically the line above "Window Art" and down until a few lines after "Step 1"), it appears that lines are highlighted. It occurs in "Keyboard Necklaces", too (the whole section), and just the heading for "Word Magnets". Again, I wouldn't have noticed it if I was using the white background (I checked). It doesn't distract from the instructions, but I found it a bit odd.

All in all, I recommend this book. Hopefully the author can get the table of contents working to make the book easier to flip around in, but don't let that detract you from getting this book and trying out these projects! The next time my husband is ready to toss a pair of jeans, I'm going to make catnip mice for our cats, and I'll keep in mind the other projects as we have the available items!

Yes, I did go on a bit about formatting things, but I would want to know about it if it was my book.  Fortunately, Kara agreed and wrote a reply to my review:
Thank you so much for the feedback! Your suggestions for formatting and table of contents will be fixed in the second edition. So glad you found a lot of useful crafts for you and your family.

Oh, and Stella does have her own decorated box (two, actually) that Jillian made for her :)
Steve can tell you, I was very tickled at this reply.  I've written 11 reviews on Amazon so far (most of them in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep, so I hope they're coherent), and Kara has been the only one to respond.  I was also genuinely happy that Stella the cat has her own decorated boxes.  I may have to do that for our cats.  I think Steve thought I was nuts, going on and on about Kara replying to my review and about Stella having her own fancy boxes.  I guess I'm still in that "authors are out THERE" mentality that I mentioned in my Sweater Quest book review a few weeks ago.  (Oh! Adrienne Martini linked to that review on her her blog.  I was so excited!)

Like I mentioned in the review, I recommend Recycled Crafts: Crafts Made Using Recycled Materials, especially if you have kids and are looking for ways to recycle materials meant for the trash.  I look forward to reading more about what the "Idea Queen" comes up with!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Same stitches, different beads (and a few updates)

Last July I wrote about a set of jewelry I made using the same bead but different stitches. The necklace was made with spiral stitch, the bracelet with Right Angle Weave (RAW), and the earrings with RAW beaded beads with a bit of a change.  I get a lot of compliments on this set, and people look at me funny when I tell them it was easy.

When I bought those adorable vintage purply/gray bicones, I also picked up some vintage black bicones and frosted white oval-ish/bicone-ish beads.  I thought they would look good together in a RAW bracelet, and yesterday I finally did it.  I took a picture of it with the original purply/gray bracelet so you can compare:

I like the subtle and bold look the bracelet has, and it will go with just about anything.

Next I made the earrings.  The challenge with making RAW beaded beads with these beads is inconsistency in sizes, especially with the black bicones.  It took a few tries, but I got two that look to be the same size:

They don't look as compact and ball-like as the originals, but they have an interesting look to them.  Instead of just nestling a bicone at the top and bottom of the beaded bead, I had to also add one in the middle for the black/white ones to give it a little more stability (and so you don't see the headpin through the gaps).

Finally, I'm working on a spiral rope for a necklace.  It's not done yet, but I have enough of it done for you to see how it looks:

You can really see the spiral when using two colors like this.

Unlike the purply/gray set, the black/white set will be for sale.  I'll be sad to see it go, but I have so many pieces with black, white, and gray that I won't miss it.  Besides, I'll have enough beads left over to make a few more sets, I think.

Update #1:

The above set will be completed and out for my big sale of the summer, the Donna Lexa Memorial Art Fair in Wales, Wisconsin.  It's from 9a - 4p, and it's sure to be a lovely time.  I hope to see you there!

Update #2:

A few weeks ago I wrote about making jewelry for my friend Geri based on a shoe that she was to wear to be in a wedding (if you missed it, you can read about it here).  I mentioned that Geri couldn't go to the wedding, but she was still thrilled with the jewelry.  She wore the jewelry and the shoes (but with different clothes) to an Adam Ant concert, and she posted a few pictures:

I think she looks great, and I'm sure she had a great time at the concert.  I'm so jealous.  Thanks for the pictures, Geri!

Update #3:

This is a sad update, unfortunately.  Last August I wrote about the passing of my cat, Simoon.  (You can read about her here if you're interested.)  She loved being on my desk and right in the middle of everything. 

After a few months, Steve's cat, Miss Katy, wanted to hang out on my desk.  She came up next to my chair and meowed at me.  I lifted her on my lap, and after she had enough of lap time, she climbed up on my desk.  She loved stretching out and pressing the Caps Lock key or the Escape Key (especially while I chatted with Steve on Facebook during lunch).  I liked having her there because it made me a little less lonely that Simoon was gone.

You know what's coming... Katy was 20 years old.  Her age caught up to her, and she started shutting down.  Last Friday we took her to the vet where we said goodbye to her.  We are both heartbroken.  Steve had her since she was a small kitten, and I worked very hard to win her over since Steve and I started dating in 2007.  I spent a lot of time with her: during the day with her on my desk or on her shelf in the kitchen, in the evening with her on the back of my couch (sometimes begging for food), and at night with her sleeping between our pillows after I brushed her.  A lot of that time was spent petting her and telling her I loved her.

We will miss her terribly, but we have no regrets.  We cared for her the best we could, and we knew she loved us as much as we loved her.

Frisco, our new kitten, is already taking up some of Katy's duties and is frequently keeping watch on the kitchen shelf as well as bothering me on my desk.  He's even started sleeping with us for part of the night, and that helps somewhat.  It'd help a lot more if he wasn't so playful (and so sharp while he plays)!  He has time.  Lots and lots of time.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tool Review: One Step Looper

One of the first things I ever made when I started making jewelry was earrings.  I'm not sure the grammar of that sentence is correct, but you get my meaning.  I took a head pin, put a bead or three on it, cut the excess off leaving an indeterminate amount, made a loop in it, and voila! I had a dangle for an earring.  I don't remember when I started doing this, but I believe I was in my early-to-mid twenties.  As I am about to turn (ahem) 42, it has been probably about 20 years.

In all of those 20 years, I have not yet perfected this simple dangle.  What's that?  I make jewelry for a living but can't make a consistent dangle?  Yeah, I know.  Embarrassing, isn't it?  I can never gauge how long past the beads to leave the wire, so my loops are either too small or too big or too odd-looking, and I found myself remaking pieces and throwing away a perfectly good pin.  I even took to using straight pins (from the sewing aisle) because they were incredibly cheap.  Not very malleable, though, so that might have contributed to my problem.

At long last, there is a solution.  It's not without its problems, but it is a HUGE step in the right direction.  I first heard of BeadSmith's One Step Looper from my friend Michelle.  She was so excited about it and gave me a demonstration.  She has let me borrow it, and I made many pairs of earrings in a short amount of time and decided to tell all of you about it.

Here's what the tool looks like:

Yup, that's in it's "natural" position.  It's a little wide for my taste, but there is a reason for it.  Let's look at the business end of the Looper:

The wire goes in on the left side.  It goes under that circular peg, above the two pointy bits, and through the hole you can't see on the right side which is in that round swoopy part.  Yes, these are all technical terms, I'll have you know.

Let's see it in action:

The wire is placed, and we give it a squeeze:

This is in mid-squeeze.  You can see that the wire is already cut and the loop is starting to form.  The excess wire shimmied its way through the hole as I was juggling the camera and the Looper.

(Do you know how hard it is to take a picture of a process like this?  One hand is squeezing, and the other hand is taking a picture.  Very hard!  I should have waited until Steve got home so he could take the picture.)

Once you've squeezed (squoze?) all the way, here's the result:

As you can see, the loop isn't closed all the way.  This is okay if you're going to put it on an earring wire.  You just slide the loop onto the earring wire then close.  It would be nice if it had the capability of closing all the way, but I'm more concerned with the amount of wire is left between the bead and the loop.  That's a little much for me.

I tried it again and really pushed the beads up as far as they would go:

Michelle said that it helps if you rock it a bit while you're squeezing.  I think that tightens the gap and closes the loop more, but I haven't tried it yet.

Here's what I got from pushing the beads far up:

The first one I did is on the left, and the second is on the right.  Much better, isn't it?  I don't think it's ever going to be right next to the beads, but I can live with a little gap.  I also wish the loop was a tiny bit larger or if there were attachments that you could snap in to make different sized loops, but for making simple dangles for earrings, these Loopers are brilliant.  I found that if I press my thumb in on the end while I squeeze there is a smaller gap.

So since I can't have inconsistent earrings like the above pair, I remade the first one.  PLD (Pre-Looper Days) I would have tossed that pin.  However, PLD (Post-Looper Days - hey, wait... that doesn't work), I can use that pin to make a small dangle.

Here's a comparison of a normal-sized pin and the cut-down pin from the first earring (with a 6mm bead on it so you can kinda tell how big it is):

I inserted the pin as far in as it would go:

The hole in the swoopy part is there to stablize the wire.  When working with a smaller wire, I had to be careful it didn't slip.  It was long enough to cut and loop, leaving me with a small dangle and a small end I don't feel guilty tossing:

I put that dangle in a diamond-shaped earring component:

No wasted wire!

But what of the spare piece leftover from a non-rejected dangle?  That can be used, too!

That's a 5mm crystal up there for size comparison.  I took one end of the wire, made a loop right at the end, put the crystal on, and made a loop at the other end:

This could be used in any number of jewelry pieces.

I did try it with one straight pin, and it cut just fine.  I have some earring components with a bunch of holes in them, and I think I'd prefer to use straight pins which are dirt cheap rather than the more expensive headpins.  However, since the tool isn't mine, I didn't want to dull it by cutting a bunch of harder pins.

To sum up: this tool is really neat.  (Another technical term, that.)  I don't know if there's any way they could change it so there'd be less of a gap, but that can be worked around with a bit of patience and ingenuity.  The benefits far outweigh the negatives, so I recommend it very highly for anyone who makes earrings or dangles for any purpose.

Unlike the two previous tools I reviewed (the Xuron Fireline scissors and the Xuron 4 in 1 Crimper), I have no plans to carry the BeadSmith One Step Looper.  They can be found all over the Internet, sometimes under BeadSmith and sometimes under Vintaj.  As far as I can tell, they're the same tool.

I have one last warning:  If you get this tool, you will soon run out of earring ideas and maybe even beads!  That's not a bad problem to have.

Unfortunately, I need to give this back to Michelle.  Hopefully I'll get my own soon, and Steve will have to make me another earring holder!


Up there ^ I mentioned that I wish there could be a bigger loop.  As of June, 2014 there's a new tool called the One Step Big Looper, which makes loops twice the size!  I've posted a review of it, including comparisons with the original One Step Looper.  Check that out before you pick up the tool so you get the right one for the size loops you'll need.