October Crochet Fun + Fave Links

I know I say this every month, but there is just SO MUCH going on! Fall is the time for crocheting, so I’m just going to go ahead and get started!

October Ami Club Pattern

Isn’t Mr. Jack the Pumpkin so adorable?
freshstitches pumpkin
I designed his arms to be like ‘vines’ that you can style any which way! And I created an easier technique for making the ‘pumpkin grooves’ than many other tutorials I’ve seen, so I hope you find it a cinch. Ami Club members can hop over to their account and download the pattern!

Get the pattern here.

Fave Links

Have you heard about the Red Scarf Project?

This post originally appeared on November 20th, 2013. But it’s such a great cause, I’m reposting it with additional information!

What happens to a child in the foster care system when they turn 18? They’re ‘adults’, and are set out into the world alone, and without a network of family or social resources.

Sad, right?

If those kids are awesome enough to get themselves into college… who sends them care packages? Who do they call if they need an emergency $50 for a surprise textbook?

In most cases, they have no one to turn to.

Makes you sniffle, right?

That’s why I love Foster Care to Success, an organization that supports foster care children who have ‘aged out’ of the system. The organization collects money for emergency funds and runs other great drives to support this often-overlooked population.

I particularly love the Red Scarf Project. I read about it in Craft Activism.

Red Scarf project

The Red Scarf Project collects scarves from September 1st – December 15th every year, and then distributes them to a foster student on Valentine’s Day.

Isn’t that sweet? Can you imagine how special you’d feel if a handmade scarf with a sweet note showed up on your door? And what a boost that would give to your semester?

That’s why I’m knitting one!

Red Scarf Project

I didn’t feel like I had the time: the Kit Club packages, hosting Thanksgiving dinner, planning for the holidays… and then I told myself “Balarky! You can make the time! These college students don’t have families!”

And surprise… I’m finding the time!

Join in!

Can you spare the time?

Nothing fancy is required, just a simple red knitted or crocheted scarf. Check out the guidelines, here.

This link tells you where to mail the scarves, as well as the not-too-hard guidelines (basically is red, gender neutral and about 60″ long). Pattern suggestions, too!

Sweet extras, such as a hand-written note, are welcome!

Color Theory: Neutrals + Pop of Color!

You know that I love color.

In fact, one of my most popular blog posts is this one where I talk about putting colors together.

But maybe you’re not into wearing lots of different colors. I have another great color combo for you: a neutral + a pop of color!

How to do it

My philosophy for mixing neutrals and color is to mix warmth, but keep the darkness the same. For example, I mix a warm color with a cool neutral… but keep them about the same lightness.

Here’s a little chart showing some ideas:
mixing neutrals and color from freshstitches

See it in action!

I just finished knitting Dromos (well… actually, I finished knitting it a long time ago, but I just finished weaving in the ends!), and I just love it. It combines a medium brown with a soft blue.

Dromos knit by Freshstitches

Here’s a close up:
close up

Yummy, right? It’s a warm brown mixed with a cool blue, and they’re both similar darkness and a similar muted tone.

And do you remember Phi?

Phi Shawl

A cool grey plus a warm orange… both fairly dark. Delicious!

Dark grey and lime green? Oh, yeah.
Bonus: whenever you use different colors in a project, it’s an opportunity to stash-bust and use up some odd skeins you might have on hand! Stripes are a stash-busters best friend!

Have you done this before? What’s your favorite color combination?

When should you teach a child to knit/crochet?

A little while ago, someone on Twitter asked me:

When should you teach a child to crochet?

My reply: whichever she’s most interested in, whenever she’s ready

Children begin to crawl at different ages. Kids start to speak at different ages. Is it any surprise that different children are ready to knit/crochet at different ages?

When is a child ready to knit/crochet?

There are a couple prerequisites to knitting or crocheting, so these are some good signs to look out for to see if your child is ready:

  • They hold and use a pencil (sloppy handwriting is okay!)
  • They can sit and work on an activity for at least 10-15 minutes
  • They can count to 10 (not a must, but helpful)
  • They show interest in the craft

Trying to teach a child before they are ready is not a good idea. It leads to frustration and can discourage the child from trying again later, so I highly recommend you look for these skills!

I began writing at four, and learned to chain when I was 5-6 years old. I just made chains for a really long time! That’s okay!

It’s most important that your child enjoys the activity, rather than hoping they accomplish a certain syllabus of skills. I liked crocheting (and according to my mom) was hopeless at knitting. Again, that’s okay. Encourage what the child is interested in.

What can you expect at what age?

One of the members of my Ravelry group taught her 6-year-old son to crochet. He made this frog all by himself!

frog crocheted by 6 year old

Isn’t that amazing? Before the age of 10, a child can typically learn to crochet with help from a parent who shows them the stitches and teaches them the steps of a pattern.

I’ve had children as young as 10 learn to crochet on their own in my Craftsy Course. By this age, kids are used to following instructions in class, and are able to take instruction from a teacher. So even if you can’t knit or crochet, your child might be able to learn!

child learning to crochet

Once a child is a teenager, they’re just about adults as far as learning knitting/crochet is concerned. ‘Kids’ of this age are usually fine taking an adult class at an LYS/shop (but double check with the store’s policy, first).

The younger the better!

As long as a child has the prerequisite skills (listed above), the younger the better! My husband, Tim, learned to knit when he was about 6 or 7, and it’s a skill he still has today!

With that background, I taught him to crochet as an adult in no time!

I think that exposing children to skills and experiences is a great thing to do… and they may never use it later on. (Tim has knit, like, one thing in his life) That’s okay! They may also latch on to it and the skill becomes a lifelong love, like it did for me!

You won’t know unless you give it a try! I recommend reading my post on tips for teaching a child to crochet!

Photos from Stitches East!

What an awesome weekend!

I had such a fabulous time at Stitches East this weekend!

View of the market session

Rainbow of Yarn at Knit New Haven booth

I had the chance to hang out with friends…

with Melissa Leapman and Daniel Yuhas

Fellow teachers Melissa Leapman and Daniel Yuhas (who are both so amazing!
Stitches teachers having dinner

… and even more fabulous and fun teacher friends!

And of course… I did a little work… book signing and teaching!

my books! Yarn Barn book signing

We had so much fun we had in my courses!

crochet colorwork course Stacey Trock Stitches East

Especially the Kool-Aid dyeing class… check out these fabulous skeins!

Beautiful Kool-Aid dyed skein

Pretty skein from the Kool-Aid class!

Kool Aid dyeing Class

I had such a blast… and I can’t wait until Stitches West in CA! If you’re on the west coast, check out my classes and join me in the fun!

It’s only weird if it doesn’t work…

Do you watch football?

It’s okay if you don’t. I’ll fill you in on the important stuff.

I love watching football, and there’s an ad that often comes on that I absolutely adore.

What I love about the ad is the tagline:

Oh, so true! Right?

Weirdness, Knitting & Crochet

Now, before you think I’ve gone off the deep end, I’ll tell you why I love this line so much… it’s my teaching philosophy!

I strongly believe that there are lots of different ways to do something… and as long as it works, you’re doing it right! Why should you do everything exactly the way I do it? Do you use the same amount of milk in your coffee as me? No? Well… why should you hold your crochet hook the same way?

Besides the frequent airing of these ads, this issue came up for me because I read a blog post by Kellie about her grandmother-in-law telling her that she wasn’t crocheting ‘right’. Do you know what affect that had? It made Kellie stray away from crocheting… isn’t that sad?

Are you weird? Some examples.

When you’re beginning to knit or crochet, it can be difficult to tell if you’re struggling because you’re learning a new skill… or struggling because you’re doing something problematic.

Let me give a few examples that come up frequently in my classes, and my ‘professional diagnosis’.

Holding the crochet hook/knitting needle: There are all sorts of ways to hold your hook/needles! I knit, holding my needles overhand with my yarn tensioned in my left hand. I crochet the same way (‘knife hold‘, yarn in left hand).

I know people who hold their needles like a pencil, hold the yarn in their right hand… you name it. And while ‘knitting/crochet rumor’ claims that this way or that way is faster, I know lightning-fast knitters/crocheters in each style/method.

So you hold your yarn with your right hand. Is that weird? No. Because it works! To put it differently: no matter which way you do it, the end result is exactly the same.

Which way you wrap your yarn: When you’re knitting/crocheting, there are two possible ways to wrap your yarn. You can either bring it from the back of the needle, over the top to the front (1) OR you can bring it under the needle, around the front and to the back (2).

Do you see the difference?

Most people do the second method. Are you weird if you do the first one? Maybe. Let me explain: these two methods produce different results, making the stitches sit differently on the needle. Since most people knit the second way, most knitting books/instructions assume that the stitches sit on the needle that way (with the front leg of the stitch to the right of the back leg).

So, if you knit the first way and don’t change anything else about your knitting, then your stitches will come out twisted… which is different.

Of course, their are solutions: I know someone who knits the first way, but then knits all of her stitches through the back loop to avoid a twisted stitch. She’s not weird, because her way works.

Which way you wrap your yarn matters in crochet, too. If you wrap your yarn the first way, the yarn will be difficult to catch with the hook. For most people, wrapping your yarn the first way doesn’t work.

How do you tell if you’re weird?

One simple question: is what you’re doing working?

If you’re new… I know this is hard. Sometimes nothing feels like it’s working! So as you knit/crochet, look for a consistent problem. In the example above, if you consistently find that you can’t catch your yarn with your hook, then that’s a clue that something’s wrong.

But if you find something that’s working for you, even if none of your friends do it the same way… don’t let anyone tell you you’re weird! That’s just how you roll!

Are you getting the most out of classes?

Let me ask you a question: have you ever taken a knitting/crochet class and felt like you weren’t quite getting the most out of it? Other students said it was great… but it just wasn’t clicking for you?

Well, I’ve got a little secret. There’s one thing you can do that will magnify what you get out of any class, no matter who is teaching. But… it’s something that YOU have to do. You have to do a little self-exploration. Are you ready?

What’s your learning style?

How do you learn best?

Do you need a picture? Does a step-by-step review of a technique really make something click for you? Do you like learning by reading books? Or, would you prefer a teacher grab your hand and guide you through the motions?

Some of us intuitively know how we learn best. These people say, “I’m a visual learner” or “I need someone to show me how to do it”. But, others of us have no clue. If you’re feeling clueless about how you learn best, think about classes or experiences that you really connected with and got a lot out of. This is a clue into your learning style.

My learning style

I want someone to tell me the basics, and then I want to be left alone to try it out for myself until I internalize my new skill. This is because I have a very hands-on learning style: I need to discover the technique for myself as a way of learning it.

That’s just how I am. Doing is what makes a new skill click for me.

Spend a minute thinking about what makes learning a piece of cake for you. Write it down.

How your learning style works in classes

Now, here’s the key part of my secret: once you know your learning style, you can make that work for you in a class.

Every teacher, even if they’re the best teacher in the world, has their own teaching style… which may or may not line up with your learning style. A teacher may like to show lots of pictures, or walk around and demonstrate… which is good for some students (who have visual learning-styles), but not great for others.

My learning style (and I know this from experience) annoys a number of teachers. Many teachers (particularly newer ones) teach you step-by-step how to learn a skill, exactly the way they do it. And they think that their job as a teacher is to make sure you’re ‘doing it right’ every step of the way. This drives me nuts. It’s not how my learning style works.

I’ll give you an example. A couple weeks ago, I went to a Native American festival. A man there was teaching firestarting. Of course, I wanted to give it a try.

My teacher was very keen to make sure I held it exactly as he would, and put my foot right where he would… but that’s just not how I roll. I just wanted to hear the essentials, and then experiment on my own.

The result? A less-than-stellar learning experience.

Action plan: voicing your learning style

My firestarting tale isn’t complete. But you can see how I stopped there, I would have walked away being very unhappy with my ‘class’. Here’s where my secret comes in.

Your teacher can’t read your mind. If you can clearly voice your learning style, you are more likely to get exactly what you need out of class.

To get the most out of a class you’re in, it’s helpful to do two things. One, say your learning style aloud (describe). Two, make a suggestions about exactly what the teacher can do to help you (ask).

Here’s a chart of suggested ‘describe/ask’ combos for various learning styles:

Imagine… getting exactly what you personally need from every class you take!

Back to my firestarting tale… as I said, my teacher and I weren’t clicking. So I said, “I need a minute to play around to get it right. Do you mind if I just try it on my own?” And he did. And I learned better!

Use with caution

I have to say, on behalf of all teachers everywhere, this doesn’t give you license to turn every class into a personal lesson. Keep in mind that if you’re in a classroom with 30 other people, each of those people has their own learning styles.

So, I don’t intend for you to ask more questions (and monopolize the teacher), but instead ask better questions, so that you can get exactly what you need. You’ll be happy, your teacher will be happy. Everybody wins.

And, I’m not going to fib… every once in a while, you’ll come across a teacher who can’t accommodate your learning style. They won’t be able to explain why they’re doing what they’re doing or guide your hands. In my opinion, these are the not-so-great-teachers. It happens. Acknowledge that they’ve tried, and move on.

So, what’s your learning style?

And do you think you can use this information to get more out of classes?

5 Surprising Reasons Your Handmade Biz isn’t Making Money

I’ve talked before about pricing and selling handmade items, but the same principles apply to handmade businesses of all varieties. Because you may have missed it, I’ll summarize some key points here.

Here’s the kicker: whether you make items for sale, sell instructions/patterns for handmade items or are a teacher of a crafting skill, there are a few common roadblocks to earning the money you deserve. Warning: they may surprise you!

Reason #1: Your prices are too low

Counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

Here’s the thing: people often their perception of quality on what they pay. Think about it: if you were given the option of having a steak dinner at a restaurant for $3, what would be your first thoughts about the dinner? The restaurant?

You’re not assuming that you’re getting a lovely meal, are you? And why not? Because your alarm bells are telling you that the price is too low for a high-quality product. Not only are you going to assume the food is crappy, but you’re probably going to walk away from the entire restaurant. Who wants to go somewhere that serves (potentially unsafe) food?

Solution: Evaluate your prices

I’m not saying that you should to raise your prices just for the sake of it. But, you should ensure that you’re charging the correct amount… and not selling yourself short.

Do a market analysis. See what others who are selling comparable products are charging. This goes for teachers, too… do a little sleuthing to discover the going rate. You don’t want to be the cheapest one, around!

Reason #2: Your customer doesn’t know why they should pay for your product

I hate to break it to you: you can’t expect your customer to know why your product is valuable. Let’s say you charge $8 for a very detailed knitting pattern, which is slightly higher than average and seems very pricey in a sea of free patterns. Does your customer know that it’s full of step-by-step photos? That purchasing the pattern comes with unlimited email help? That the pattern has been tech-edited and is error-free?

How would they know unless you tell them?

Solution: Be clear about the value of what you offer in a concrete way

Maybe you think it’s obvious that any knitting pattern worth it’s salt would have clear instructions with photos. Maybe you’ve even attempted to convey this to the customer by saying “it’s a quality pattern”. But words like ‘quality’ mean different things to different people. So it’s up to you to concretely explain why your product rocks and is worth what you’re charging.

If you make products, do you make clear the materials and workmanship that go into your pieces? If you’re a teacher, is your skill at targeting in on student’s concerns apparent? I’m not saying this is easy to do… you may need to come up with creative ways of demonstrating what you bring to the table. But it’s worth doing.

Reason #3: Your customers don’t know what you do

Oy… this is even worse than the last one!

Let’s think about dinner, again. You really want a nice steak. Are you going to go to a restaurant with a reputation for being the best steakhouse in the area? Or one that serves lots of food… and sometimes it’s steak?

I think we both know you’d choose the one with a great reputation. And you’d probably be willing to pay more, too!

Are you heading towards being a person who sews dog hats, crochets baby booties and silkscreens onsies? Is that the best place for you to be headed? What if you could be the person who sews the BEST dog hats?

Solution: Make a niche

Who am I? I’m the chick who sells the most well-written crochet stuffed animal patterns. And… they even come with amazing customer service. I’m constantly writing tips and posting videos on the blog, and I take great care to answer questions that come in via email. That’s what I do.

Why don’t I design knitting patterns? It’s not because I can’t… because I can! But, customer service is my number one priority, and I know that I couldn’t provide the level of tips, videos and tutorials for both knitting and crochet (at least, not right now). So I don’t.

Can you find a niche? Don’t worry… you can still crochet baby booties on the side. But maybe just not for your business!

Reason #4: You’re not interacting with your customers

What’s the difference between you and a big company? YOU are a person. YOU make each item (or teach each class, or write each pattern) with your own little hands. YOU are a crafter with passions and ambitions that your customers want to hear about! In fact, the average customer is willing to pay more/more likely to buy from a crafter that they feel a connection with.

How do you build this connection? Maybe by sharing photos on Facebook. Or by posting stories about your work on your blog. Or even by putting a little bit of you in your item descriptions.

Solution: Share!

I know it’s hard. We all have a limited amount of time. As a small-business owner, you’re handling shipping and accounting in addition to the actual making of your product.

So, start with one way customers can connect with you. Begin with the medium that makes you most comfortable. And begin sharing your story!

Reason #5: You’re giving away your work for free

As crafters, we love what we do. It can be easy to forget that you should be getting paid.

I’ve heard it happen so many times: teachers who are roped into teaching a group of school kids to knit. Designers who add a new size in the pattern at a customer’s request. Crafters who put too much time doing modifications of a custom design without charging for the overtime.

Stop it! How are you going to earn a fair wage if you’re giving it away for free?

Solution: Set boundaries

I’m not gonna fib. Almost everything about running a business is hard. Especially setting boundaries. But you have to do it.

(I’m half kidding: don’t actually be mean. But, I’m serious about not working for free.) Don’t hesitate to quote a price for what is being asked of you. Watch, I’ll show you how it’s done:

Customer: Stacey, I LOVE the owl in your Etsy shop! I was wondering: can I order one with horns and pigtails (my husband is a Vikings fan), and about 24″ tall (he’s a big guy!)?

me, option 1: I’m sorry, but those modifications are pretty serious, and that’s not something I’m able to do. Thanks for thinking of me, though! When you need a just-plain-cute owl, I’m your girl!

me, option 2: Ooh! Sounds like so much fun! My rate for custom work is $xx per hour, and I estimate that those modifications will take about 2 hours, plus require $xx in additional materials fees.”

See? Either way, I’m not doing work that I’m not getting paid for.

Any of these reasons give you ideas for changing how you do business?

The sad, the bad and the ugly…

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about my favorite finished items: pieces that have stood the test of time.

But life isn’t all daisies and roses… I’ve had my share of a few flops. Today, I’m going to share some finished items that turned out to be flops. Most of the flops are completely my fault: I picked an inappropriate yarn, I made changes to the pattern (which didn’t turn out so well) or I rushed ahead without doing a proper gauge swatch. So, I’m not going to link to the patterns… because it’s not really their fault.

Here we go! Weep along with me…

The super-stiff wrap

The pattern called for lace-weight yarn held double on size 6 needles. Somehow, I thought that if I held a laceweight yarn (in pretty colors) with a dk yarn (that I had a ton of), it would come out alright.

The gauge swatch should have been my clue: it was stiff… but I pressed on. The finished item (and this was a lot of knitting!) is as stiff as a board, and sorta uncomfortable to wear. And, because it’s knitted from 2 strands held together… it’d be a pain to frog. It’s currently living in limbo in my drawer.

The ugly yarn shawl

Fabulous pattern. Fun to knit. But the yarn…

Help! The weird pooling hurts my eyes!

The sadly felted tunic

This one breaks my heart. It took me forever to knit this entire tunic on size 3 needles. After wearing it twice, it had felted under the arms.

I told myself it was no big deal… who looks under your arms? But now, after about a dozen wearings, it’s sprung a few holes and the felting has continued to consume the sweater. I can probably eek a few more wearings out of it… but then it’s off to the trash…

The too-short hat

This one sorta is the pattern’s fault… it’s too short! It doesn’t cover my ears! What kind of hat is that?

The pilling cardigan

I LOVE this cardigan. It’s super-soft. It’s my favorite color. I handmade the buttons. I even did a fair-isle snail on the pocket.

Unfortunately, I picked a 100% merino that probably wasn’t meant for heavy-duty wear. It’s pilling… and bad. Sniff.

So, I brush it with a sweater stone, and hope it keeps hanging in there!

Have you any flops to share?

These are only the ones I’ve had since 2011! Trust me, there are even more if I go back further!

Thanks for stopping by and reading!

If you want to see more great finished items… make sure to visit Tami’s Amis blog, the organizer of this great FO Friday theme!

I hope you have an awesome and craft-filled weekend!

American/British Conversion chart: cut out & save!

As I am about to enter my 3rd year of spending 1/15th of my year in the Land Down Under, I am becoming increasingly aware of the differences between the US and Australia. Forget about vegemite vs. peanut butter… the real issue is sorting out your crochet patterns!

I made a handy-dandy guide that you can cut out and carry along with you. You don’t even need to travel much to use it: chances are, you’ve run across a great pattern from another country, and you have to translate the terms. No longer a problem! You can even hide this chart in your pocket and impress your friends!

Click on the button below to download a .pdf version of the chart. Enjoy!