How to Make Plarn

One knitting/crocheting material that is growing in popularity right now is plarn (plastic yarn).  Plarn is made from shopping bags, something that we all have too much of in our homes.  Some of the common items that crafters are using plarn for include rugs, sleeping mats for the homeless, bags, and baskets.

I just started making plarn this summer.  During our move I fell behind, so one of my Christmas break projects was to bring out all the plastic bags I had been saving and give them new life.  I like to use a rotary cutter with rotary board, but scissors also work.

1) Lay a bag out flat and make it smooth.

2) Cut off the top and bottom.

3) Gather the scraps to recycle at your local store.

4) Your bag is now a big tube.  Unfold the sides and smooth it out.

5) Cut the bag into strips that are approximately 1 inch wide.  Make sure you cut from one of the sides, not from the top or bottom.
Each strip is a circle.  This makes them stronger than if they were just a single layer.

6) Join the strips together by knotting the loops.  Be careful when you pull the loop tight.  Sometimes the plastic tears.

Here is another look at the knotting.

7) Once you have a long chain made, you can wind it into a ball, but you don't have to.  Plarn does not tangle like yarn does.  In the chain below, I doubled the loops to make bulkier plarn.

8) Knit or crochet with it.  I started a crochet chain.

You will have to contend with some static cling, but you can use that to your advantage.  Because they cling to each other, you can stack several bags on top of each other and cut them all at once.  It will be faster this way.  Just keep a hand on top of the pile.

I now have a big pile of strips that need to be looped together.  It might be a good movie-watching activity.  I just wish my local stores would make their bags more colorful.

I have some ideas for what I might make with mine and will post pictures when I have something finished.  If you have made anything with plarn, tell me about it in the comments.

Do You Need a Tech Editor?

I had been knitting for a few years before I first heard of tech editors.  As an English major, I had experience with proofreading students’ papers, so it made sense to me that anything that is written needs to be checked for errors.  Two years ago I acquired Kate Atherley’s book The Beginner’s Guide to Writing Knitting Patterns, and it really resonated with me.  After reading it, I found myself critiquing the patterns I was knitting from.

Joeli Kelly has a free webinar for designers where she explains what a tech editor is, why you need one, how to find one, and how to relate to your editor.  One thing that stuck with me from the webinar was that even tech editors who design should hire someone else to edit their pattern.  Even if you are skilled at finding mistakes, it is always more difficult to find mistakes in your own work.  Because you know inside your own mind what you mean, your own pattern is going to make perfect sense to you, but it might not make sense to other knitters.

Everyone needs a tech editor.  A lot of small designers just use test knitters for their patterns, but that can be insufficient for two reasons.  1) A test knitter is less likely to catch issues of style consistency, formatting, and other more technical things.  2) Most test knitters are receiving little compensation for their time, and it is frustrating to them to work from a pattern that is full of errors.  The best practice is to send your pattern to a tech editor before you pass it on to test knitters.

If you are going to charge money for your pattern, then you want to make sure your customers are purchasing a quality product that will be easy for them to use.  Even if it is going to be a free pattern, still consider using a tech editor.  The purpose of having free patterns is to attract more customers to your shop, and you want that free pattern to make a good impression.

I had been wishing for some sort of knitting-related work I could do from home to supplement our income.  After I heard about Joeli Kelly’s training course for tech editors, I realized that tech editing would be the perfect fit for me.  I am very excited to have work that integrates my passion for knitting.

ShawlStar Review

I had the opportunity to review something I was really excited about: an 85-page ebook called ShawlStar.  ShawlStar is written by Elizabeth Felgate and published by Knotions, an online knitting and crochet magazine.  I only heard about Knotions a few months ago.  If you are not familiar with them, you should subscribe to their newsletter because they have stunning patterns.  A few weeks ago, Knotions announced that ShawlStar, which was originally published in April 2018, is being updated and re-released in March 2019.  I am always eager to learn more about knitting construction, and I had been wishing for a resource that would walk me through different shawl shapes.  I jumped at the opportunity to review ShawlStar in exchange for a free copy.

ShawlStar is an excellent resource for designers, tech editors, and knitters.  When I am following a shawl pattern for a shape I have not made before, I like the pattern introduction to explain how the construction works so I know what to expect.  In the case of a pattern that doesn’t do this, ShawlStar would be a very helpful reference to have on the side.  As a tech editor, it is important to be able to visualize the construction of the pattern you are editing.  More and more, designers are experimenting with creative shapes.  If you encounter something that is not familiar to you, consult ShawlStar.

If you want to design shawls, this ebook is invaluable.  The lengthy introductory material covers basic shawl anatomy; sizing; yarn, needle, and gauge choice; and different methods of shawl shaping.  There are around ten different cast-ons discussed, with either photo tutorials or links to online tutorials.  The shawl shapes are divided into seven categories: triangles, rectangles and squares, polygons, circles and half-circles, crescents, hybrids, and special shapes.  The special shapes are completely original and very creative.  The new version of ShawlStar adds three new shapes to the section on special shapes (“Flourish,” “Harpoon,” and “Rainbow”).  The ebook concludes with many border choices (including charts); spine and gusset variations; several bind-offs; blocking guidance; and a list of other shawl books to consult.

Throughout ShawlStar, there are pictures of mini shawls in various shapes, pictures of actual finished projects, schematics, and links to online tutorials.  I do wish there were more pictures.  I think mini shawls are very helpful for visualizing how a shape would work with stitch patterns, and I wish that every single shape in the book had a picture of a mini shawl.

The typical chapter for each shape includes a basic recipe followed by variation options.  It gives guidance on stitch count, explains how the increases/decreases work, and lays out the pros and cons of each shape.  A few of the more complicated shapes even include links to online spreadsheets that will help you with the math.  Even though I wish it had more pictures, there are a lot of schematics.  I definitely feel like I could use this ebook to confidently design my own shawl in a shape I have never knit before.

The updated version launches on March 23rd.  If you buy before then, you will automatically receive the updated version later.  If you found my review helpful, you can use my affiliate link here to purchase ShawlStar for yourself.  Enjoy!

Gwaihir Shawl

A pattern that I test-knitted has just been published: Gwaihir by Lindsay Scarey.  My Ravelry project is here.

I wanted to test-knit this shawl because I love bulky lace.  Also, the shawl is designed to look like the eagle from Lord of the Rings, and I am a big fan of those movies.  This shawl kept us company while we were watching the Olympics last winter.  It is the perfect thing to wrap up in when I'm at home relaxing.
I made two changes to my version of the shawl.  I added a slip-stitch edge (because I love slip-stitch edges).  I also made the shawl smaller by finishing early (skipping chart C).  I did the two repeats of chart B, but on the second repeat I made the triangles of purl stitches look like those at the end of chart C so my smaller shawl would have the same finished look as the larger version.  I then proceeded with the garter border and bind-off as written in the pattern.

One thing to note: the designer wrote this intending for the charts to be read from right to left on both right and wrong sides.  If you will be reading the charts from left to right on the wrong sides, then all you need to do is go to the key and switch the P2TogTbl and the P2Tog.  That will ensure your finished result matches the chart.
If you are new to garter tabs, then my pictures should help.

 I thoroughly enjoyed the process, and this is something I would definitely make again.  Lindsay was great to work with, and I really enjoyed thinking through her pattern and giving input.  This experience has inspired me to become a tech editor.  I will be posting more about that soon.

The Danish Sontag Shawl

When I received my copy of Holiday 2017 Vogue Knitting Magazine, I was immediately drawn to Meg Swansen's "Danish Sontag Shawl."  There were a few changes I wanted to make, but I was confident that I would love it.  The only thing holding me back was the cast-on.

I like to read directions over and be able to picture them in my head before I knit, but with this cast-on, I could not picture what it would look like.  I couldn't find anyone talking about it online, so I had to figure it out on my own.  I hope this will be helpful to someone else who might be hesitant about getting started.

One thing that was tripping me up was that I couldn't figure out which end the shawl started at.  I didn't have much experience with triangular shawls back then, but I know much more now.  After I knitted for a few rows, I realized that the cast-on edge runs along the entire bottom of this shawl.  It is a perfect match for the shaping that is done along the sides as you knit.  The CDD (centered double decrease) is what creates the point of the triangle.  This shawl includes ties to keep it on, which is pretty clever.  The ties are one long piece with the cast-on.  First you make the tie for one side, then you continue with the cast-on, and then you make the tie for the other side.  When this step is finished, you have one really long skinny piece.  Once I jumped in and got started, I quickly saw how it was going to be accomplished.  I used clip-on stitch markers to help count my stitches.
This lace cast-on is pretty genius.  It uses purl stitches instead of knits because YOs done in purl stitch are a little larger than YOs done in knit stitch.  If you would much rather be knitting, just persevere with the purling.  I promise it will be worth it.
After this is finished, the next step is to pick up stitches in the YOs, but only from the center section, not the ties.  Ignore the ties while you knit the body of the shawl.
Meg Swansen gives a recommended range of length for the ties.  At the time, I wished she would have given more guidance on deciding which length to choose.  After my shawl was finished, I ended up shortening the ties, which wasn't difficult to do.  They ended up being the shortest length in the range she gives.  (I am a small adult.)
I also made some changes to the main body of the shawl.  I did the CDD (centered double decrease) in garter stitch instead of stockinette stitch.  I didn't like how the CDD in the pattern picture stood out so much down the back, and I wanted to make it more subtle.  This also made the triangle slightly less pointy.
The other change I made was to add a few more eyelet sections.  I loved the way the eyelet section looked, and I felt like the rest of the shawl would be too plain-looking for me.  I did four eyelet sections total.  Each of my eyelet sections contains three YO stripes; there are two garter ridges between stripes; and there are six plain ridges between eyelet sections.
Another thing about the pattern that I felt was too vague was at the end.  When the shawl finishes at the upper back, there are only a few stitches left.  The pattern simply says to weave them together, but it doesn't give any guidance on how to do that.  I looked up how to weave in garter stitch (basically, the garter version of Kitchener stitch).  That finishing made it look really polished.
I hadn't gotten very far on the shawl when I got a concussion.  I couldn't read or look at computer screens for two months because they made me dizzy, so I spent my time working on this shawl while listening to classical music.  It was the perfect relaxing project for a time when I was low on brain power.  I now think of it fondly as my concussion shawl.

I still need to take pictures of my shawl off the blocking boards.  Those are coming soon.

The Bleach Test

I recently acquired some partially-used yarn with no label.  There are two different ways to find out what the fiber content of mystery yarn is: the bleach test and the burn test.  While the bleach test can only tell you if your yarn is natural or synthetic, I have read that the burn test can actually narrow down the specific type of fiber, based on how the yarn smells and smokes when you burn it.  Unfortunately, I don't have a backyard in which to do the burn test, and I don't want my kids to see me making fire inside.  They might get ideas...

The bleach test is very simple.  If the yarn dissolves in the bleach, then you know it is a natural fiber.  If it doesn't dissolve at all, then you know it is a synthetic.  If only part of your yarn dissolves, then it is probably some sort of blend.

Get a glass bowl (because you don't want bleach in the pores of your plasticware), and pour an inch or two of bleach into the bowl.  Cut short lengths (two inches) of the yarn you want to test.  To make sure your results are accurate, also cut a piece of a yarn that you know for sure is wool.  If the wool doesn't dissolve, then you will know that something is wrong with your test.  Use a tweezers to set the yarn in the bleach.  (If you use your fingers, just wash your hands right away.)

I had three mystery yarns to test, plus one yarn that I knew was wool.  After 15-20 minutes, the wool began to dissolve.  After an hour, there was hardly anything left of the wool.  In the pictures below, the wool is the green in the center (dissolved into a few pieces).   Since the other three yarns were unharmed, that told me that they are some kind of synthetic.
At some point in the future (when I acquire a backyard), I would like to try the burn test to determine exactly what kind of synthetic they are.