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Making the Best of It: The Yarn Closet

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Like many Americans, I can easily be tricked by the metric system. The most recent incident of this was when I accidently purchased knitting needles that were 5mm instead of an US size 5. This, of course, constituted “A Craft Emergency” because I couldn’t start the fingerless gloves I had planned on while on the train from New York to Philly. For a while my mind ran through options, ranging from borrowing some from someone to paying for yet another Uber to and from JoAnn’s, when suddenly I had an epiphany: I could seek out the fabled Yarn Closet of Cornell and hope the treasures inside would be what I would need.

I had first heard of the yarn closet my freshman year, but given my large stash of yarn and crochet hooks, I had never found a reason to seek it out myself. Now, however, was the perfect opportunity to take advantage of one of the many resources Swat has that are not exactly secret, but not advertised either. I started at the Cornell circulation desk, where I asked for the key and was directed to the basement portion of Sci Center near the vending machines. It’s not really a closet per se, but it’s one of those double-door steel cabinets that teachers had at my public school.

Giddy with excitement I undid the lock and found an amazing yet chaotic collection of fiber art tools. There are dozens of old pattern books and magazines with both crochet and knitting patterns, a yarn swift and winder, hooks, knitting needles of various sizes, and some yarn. In addition to these fiber art tools, there are some odds and ends for other kinds of crafts in the cabinet such as cloth for cross-stitch, small beads, a punch tool for rug making, and embroidery floss. Most of these things, however, are jumbled together in a series of boxes, so get ready to do some digging. Some of the yarn is sorted into bins with whimsical names such as “Odd Balls” while others are just thrown in at random. There is a plethora of that hairy eyelash novelty yarn if anyone out there feels like a weekend of self torture trying to make something out of it. As for the knitting needles and crochet hooks, they are all in two boxes, jumbled up and unmatched. I would highly recommend tricking a friend into helping you find a matching set because there are a ton.

In addition to all the supplies I also found hints about the club that originally owned the supplies, Knit Wits. According to their website, they were a group of students, faculty and staff that met in Parrish Parlors on Thursday evenings between 1995 and 2012. They offered basic knitting lessons, maintained a library of patterns, subsidized off-campus knitting classes members, and had a set yarn budget for the group that they used for beginner projects.  In 1995 they also hosted a Knit-a-Thon where members attempted to stay awake all night knitting pieces to donate to the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. Like many Swarthmore clubs, however, it seems that interest waned and the club eventually faded away.

While I ultimately had to turn to Amazon for the set I needed, I am extremely glad to have had a chance to check out the yarn closet. I warms my heart that while the club may not be here, their supplies continues to be a resource for fiber artists on campus. And if those of us who use it work together to keep it neat, and add donations every once in a while, it will hopefully be around for another yarn club in the future.

Making the Best of It: Lessons from a Tangled Mess

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Over break I started on something years in the making: “The Icarus Shawl.”When completed, I will have my own pair of golden, lacy wings connected by a feathered back and tail. From the moment I found the pattern and accompanying photos I knew I had to make it. At the time, however, I was an awkward middle schooler still mastering pattern reading, so I tucked the magazine that I found it in safely on a bookshelf. Over winter break, though, I found the perfect golden mohair, a soft, light kind of wool, on sale at Fancy Tiger Crafts in Denver, so I knew it must be time to finally make my wings. I figured time has passed, and I can now read patterns and follow diagrams, so there was no way this would be a problem. Or so I thought. While there is a written pattern for the shaw,  it was apparently published with lots of errors so I have to cross reference it with a sheet of revisions. On top of that, the diagrams are in three colors, worked continuously but not in full rows, and have overlapping stitches due to the stitch type.Which just so happens to be the crocodile stitch, one that I’ve tried before for a purse that ended up in lots of tangled yarn and swearing. In short, my dream project has turned into a monster since I have to follow a diagram that looks like a small child’s scribbles, a set of instructions with as many small errors as a paper written in a frantic all-nighter, and uses one of my least favorite stitches. Great.


So, brandishing my hook and surrounded by papers, I took a deep breath and started. While projects that are a breeze are nice on occasion, the ones that start out horribly are also the ones that I end up most attached to. There’s a “simple” cylindrical pillow that took four tries to make round, a pink sweater that is a hairy mess, and an afghan that took over a year to make, just to name a few. You could say the only reason I like these is that I’m justifying all the effort that went into making them, but that would be oversimplifying things. I love these projects because of what they have taught me.


These monster projects have taught me some important crochet techniques that have opened up the possibilities of what I can make. On my own, I never would have considered trying to figure out things like colorwork and shaping sleeves, but the context of a beautiful project proves why they are worth the effort. In addition, I’ve learned the gist of what kind of math and ratios goes into various shapes so that I can use them as the base for whatever I want to make without a pattern later on. This is extremely important, as it opens up the possibility of making something that is tailored to my vision.


These projects have also taught me about myself — about my own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve learned exactly how stubborn I can be and that stubbornness will literally drive me to focus on something for hours on end, skipping meals and ignoring everything around me. While this tenacity does come in handy, as it insures that I will finish what I start, I am also now aware that it can be a huge weakness. It leads to forgetting to take care of myself and going in circles as I repeatedly try the same thing and grow more frustrated. Neither of those things helps complete my goals, and they are actually a form of self-destruction that I can justify in the name of getting things done. This lesson is invaluable here at Swat because there are so many assignments and tests that could easily destroy me if I let them become my primary focus.


One of the most important strengths I have learned is that I have the magical power to create. Creation adds a sense of fulfillment and a way to make my mark on the world. It allows me to express who I am through color and textures and patterns. It is a way to show my loved ones how much they mean to me while also giving them something that serves a purpose. Creation also opens up a door to healing from the pains of everyday life. It can distract, or be a productive way to fidget while thinking, or even be a vessel to hold whatever anxiety there is while wiping it away with soft fibers.


In the end, taking on something difficult is worth it. And attempting something hard within my comfort zone in small doses every day helps give me the strength to take on other challenges. So bring on the yarn tangles.

Making the Best of It: Crochet Resources

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Whether you believe or not, spring break is finally within reach! Ten days of free time, here we come! With all that free time, it’s the perfect opportunity to pick up a new hobby that will give you a break from all that mind-numbing reading and help keep you awake in lectures once we’re forced to come back. What is this you ask? Crochet!  I know it sounds daunting, difficult, and maybe even dangerous, but crochet really is something that you can learn to do and enjoy. Don’t worry, I’ll point you in the right direction and be there to help you every step of the way.


First for some basics. Crochet is a method of making fabric by tying together some sort of fiber, usually yarn, together using a set of loops and a hook. It’s a method used by people all around the world, from Russia, Chile, Japan, Syria, Ireland and everywhere in between. Much like knitting, it can be used to make a variety of clothing, accessories, home goods, toys, and pretty much anything else you put your mind to. Unlike knitting, crochet is not possible to make using a machine and also uses about a third more yarn.


It doesn’t take many materials to get started, and they’re all relatively easy to find, if you know where to look. The easiest place to get what you need is to go to a store, such as Michael’s or Joann’s. The employees will be able to help you if you have any questions and they have a great variety for getting started. If you don’t want to leave the comfort of your home, there are lots of online stores too. Some of my favorites include KnitPicks, LoveCrochet, Wool and the Gang, and Herrschners. You can also find a small amount of supplies on Amazon, which are sufficient for getting started. However, I would not recommend relying on getting your yarn there for most pieces as their selection is small and generally of poor quality.


There are a few supplies that you will need to get started. The most obvious one is yarn. The best kind for beginners is one that you can easily undo if you make mistakes on your first piece (and believe me, you will, and that’s OK). These are yarns that are twisted tightly, easy to get more of, and not hairy. Red Heart brand yarn specifically their “Super Saver” line is a great first yarn as it comes in a huge variety of standard colors and is easy to undo. However, it is acrylic, meaning it’s made of a man-made, petroleum-based fiber. If you want a natural fiber, Cascade brand yarn is made with different kinds of wool from sheep and alpaca; I would recommend their 220 line to start. Lots of patterns for beginners will tell you exactly the brand to get too, which you can also do if you want to use a pattern.


You’ll also need hooks. You can use either plastic or aluminum hooks to begin with since both are smooth and durable; I would not recommend wood hooks because they can snag the yarn, making them harder for beginners to use. The other thing you’ll need are stitch markers, which you use to keep track of counting when you do circular or big pieces.Everything else you need might already be in your desk drawer: this includes a ruler and scissors.  However, don’t buy anything until you see what your instructions call for.


Finding beginner instructions is extremely easy. Searching “how to crochet for beginners” on Youtube will bring up a variety of different step-by-step tutorials and starting projects. If you don’t want to weed through all of these results, finding a single blog with tutorials helps too. My personal favorite is Mooglyblog.com. In addition, Amazon Prime offers a video class included in your membership. There are also websites that specialize in video crafting classes. My favorite is Craftsy, where you can buy a single video series and watch it as many times as you want. They also have helpful forums you can use to get help. Another option is CreativeBug, which requires a subscription, but once you have one you have access to all kinds of classes.


You can also go old-school (*gasp!*) and learn through books and human interaction. Most books of patterns have tutorials at the beginning of them, but they aren’t always comprehensive enough to learn from scratch unless the whole book is labeled “for beginners.” Generally, you want something with lots of illustrations. A great beginner’s book is “Chicks with Sticks Guide to Crochet,” which has a variety of different patterns and plenty of pictures. Don’t be afraid to check out your local library or Barnes & Noble either, as they will have more than you think. To find someone to teach you in person, you can either ask around to find someone to help or go to store and sign up for a class.


Okay, so you have supplies and you have instructions on doing stitches. Now for your first project! Most classes have set projects you can make, but if you are using Youtube videos that don’t give a specific pattern, the easiest thing to make is a scarf. This way you don’t have to focus on reading a pattern, but can work on using that hook and making the stitches. Using your yarn and a 4.0mm hook, make a chain the width you want the scarf; your instructions will show you how to do this. Then work on doing single crochets, the smallest stitch in crochet. After you get about a third of the length of your scarf, you can switch to half-double crochet, the medium sized stitch, and then move on to double crochet, the tallest crochet stitch.


If this scarf doesn’t catch your fancy, other easy things you can make and find patterns for include hats, fingerless gloves, blankets, bags, and mug cozies. Googling what you want followed by “for complete beginners” should give you what you need.


There is also an amazing site called Ravelry that is home to an international fiber art community. On it you can find forums for help, patterns, make a catalogue of the yarn you own, and keep track of the projects you make. It is as nerdy as it sounds, but it is super helpful and easy to use. You can find me on it as bessbg23, so feel free to reach out using the messaging if you need help!


Before I send you forth into the world to start your crochet journey, I want to leave you with a few words of encouragement. Learning it may be a challenge, but don’t give up! If one method of learning doesn’t work, try something else or a combination of resources. I know you can do it. At the same time, remember to take a break if you need it. There will be times where you’ll be frustrated and want to throw the whole thing in the garbage, but set it aside for a while and come back when you’ve calmed down. You will need to undo what you’ve done sometimes because of mistakes and that’s okay. Really, it is, and you will finish that piece eventually. As a word of caution, you will get tangled up at some point, but this is part of initiation into the world of yarn. Don’t squirm too much, ask for help getting untangled, and if all else fails cut yourself out and start over. Finally, if you’re called a grandma, own it! There’s nothing wrong with knowing how to make things, and there are plenty of us young’uns who make.


Now, go forth and make

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