technique tuesday: granny squares (& other motifs)

Happy Granny Square Day! Don’t worry if you didn’t know that was today (15 August); I hadn’t heard about it until earlier this week. May your counting be correct and your ends weave themselves.

Granny squares were the next thing I learned to crochet after perfecting miles of chains. When I was 7, my mother was still working on my baby blanket and I wanted to make the cute little squares too. I made at least one square for the blanket. Unfortunately I can’t find my photos or the blanket (without looking in the attic storage). Please picture granny squares with each round either pastel pink, blue, or yellow and finished in white. I have some vague recollection that she also tasked me with weaving in many of the ends — at the time I thought it was fun!

5 reasons why I love crochet motifs

stack of multicolorful motifs in progress on a black background. in front are 6 centers, the stack includes the first 3 rounds for the "literary fragments blanket"
literary fragment motifs in progress
  1. They use up yarn from other projects.
  2. They are quick, so you can crochet one and feel accomplished.
  3. They are portable, so you can bring them when travelling.
  4. They are forgiving, if you messed up because you were distract, you
    didn’t mess up the entire project.
  5. They are small, nice for when it’s hot and humid outside.

They’re one of my favorite techniques and part of my toolkit when
when I swatch a new-to-me yarn.

a stack of granny squares on a small round grey metal table. the squares are primarily green. a ball of blue/grey/white yarn and a gold color 3.75mm crochet hook are laying next to the stack. the table is outside next to bench and a tree on a sunny day.

In addition to my chaotic chai granny hexagon blanket, I have
several other crochet motif projects I’m working on. One is my Literary Fragments Blanket; we bought new seating for our library room and I wanted a new blanket.
I’ll need approximately 400 of these tiny motifs! They’re worked in
various scrap sock yarns, most from my stash and a few from friends. You
can read my notes on my personal notebook. Another is a blanket
destined for Project Linus. M has gifted me lots of yarn scraps over the
years, many are superwash sock yarns and I still need to figure out how
to turn this into a cohesive blanket.

Granny Square Resources

There are many books and resources to help you create successful crochet motifs.

Edie Eckman published her Granny Square Guide earlier today. I enjoy all of her books including, Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs which I reviewed in 2009
at my personal site, Penguin Girl. I also recommend her book Connect the Shapes Crochet Motifs which helped me expand beyond the simple joining I knew from my childhood.

Margaret Hubert’s books are useful resources that I often turn to for inspiration: The Granny Square Book (2011) shares 75 different motifs and Granny Square Flowers (2013) includes 50 botanical themed granny squares.

New-to-me author, Shelley Husband offers several ebooks through my library system via the hoopa ebook system. Granny Square Flair (US Terms Edition) was my gateway to her work. I found her approach novel, motifs are first presented in a
solid – the same color is used throughout. This makes a striking visual. I also appreciate how she shows how different color options can completely change the look of many squares. The photos are clear and she includes charts, written instructions, how approximate yardage to work the square with 8ply/DK/light worsted and a 4mm/G hook. Further she includes an infinity symbol with a crochet hook if it’s a square that can be increased endlessly into a really big granny square.

You can find some of my very brief thoughts on granny squares in this 2014 post technique tuesday: weaving in ends.

Are you working on a granny square project? Track your thoughts in a notebook or print out a planning grid. A spare crochet hook is always useful. If you like me and can never find them when you need one, order a needle to weave in all those pesky ends!

Making with Notes

Notes and notebooks are an invaluable part of everything I do. By recording observations, ideas, triumphs, and failures, I’ve created an environment that I can review and learn from. This process enables me to find new patterns (in all senses of that word) and draw different connections to create something new. The process of writing helps me slow down and think about the challenges I’m trying to solve. 

I prefer to scribble on and refer to paper. Yes, electronic options exist – I use them too. However, when I’m trying to solve a problem – be it a design that isn’t working out how I thought, or a bigger idea I need to contemplate — I’ll pick up a notebook and a pen. That’s what works best for me. Something else may be a better fit for you. [Consistency in notes is a topic for other posts, such as this one.]

Writing everything down, pasting ideas, scribbling thoughts and doodling are all part of the process. Nothing comes straight through in its finished format, at least not for me. I will revise and edit until it’s the best I can make it – and my notes along the way help that process. My scribbles are a draft. It’s rare that I share the full details of a page with anyone except maybe the cat. They’re an essential step for me. 

My archives supply a source of both information and inspiration. I still find it much easier to review my paper notebooks than any digital ones I’ve created. 

This week, I’m working to finish a new design that combines simple elements – basic stitches both for regular and Tunisian Crochet. It’s been a struggle to decide on one part of the design. I’ve tried different stitch permutations, and nothing felt quite right.

The other day I pulled three notebooks off the shelf and let them open (somewhat) randomly. They cover a multi-year time period, 2013, 2011, and 2017. There’s no real reason to why I pulled them down other than those were the first three I grabbed. 

a wooden desk strewn with open notebooks and a pink swatch laying on one with a green pen.

A page from June 2013 showed my notes and sketches for an asymmetrical cable top – one that was far in advance of my design ability a decade ago. (I should revisit that!) The movement of my cable sketch made me think of the stitch used in my Autumn Transitions Cowl, one that receives compliments every time I wear it. 

Another open page was a spread from October 2011 when I affixed the actual swatch into the pages (I now photocopy them if I really need the swatch with the notes – it makes for a less bulky notebook). What made me pause here was not the swatch, but the photocopied chart next to it. I pasted that in landscape and when viewed sideways it makes me think differently about the panel it portrays. 

The third book opened to sketches for the still not yet released Transposon design as sketched in 2017. Then as now, random stripes (or ribbing) is what captured my attention and provided me the spark that will work for this project. 

My scribbles as I work out what I may do (still subject to change) read: 

lined rhodia notebook on a wooden desk with a green fountain pen. the left page has notes about a crochet design.
click to open full size
Tunisian + simple crochet -> light drape stripe.
Change to hdc herringbone or dc in sc section?
simple texture? 
alt sc, tc, sc, sc, with a fib[onacci] seq[uence]! 
swatch LB Cotton Ease K/6.5mm

Well, I mostly swatched. Dot loves this discontinued yarn and stole the ball off my desk as I was taking photos. I’ll need to wait for her to nap so I can complete the swatch and finish the design.

Tuxedo Cat on a messy desk with a ball of pink yarn in her mouth.

See also:

Looking for a notebook of your own?

Thoughts on my supply & tool organization

My studio is a feline friendly space so I need to keep it tidy. That task is easier when I also keep it organized. The system evolves as my work and priorities shift. Today’s post shares a few thoughts about my system.

Why organize?

In addition to helping me safely share my life with a cat or two, keeping my supplies and tools organized helps me find things when I need them. I don’t want to spend hours hunting down a tool, I’d rather spend my time creating.

It’s a challenge to find the right organization system. I know myself–if it’s too detailed, I will resist using it. If things are squirreled away in unmarked bins, I’ll forget they exist. Further, while I like a consistent look to my space, I need to be wary of it looking too perfect. In that case I’ll be hesitant to use it for the irrational fear of messing it up.

What is my system?

My system depends on multiple factors including the size of what I need to store, space available, and how often I plan to use it. No, this is not a wishy-washy response. The system needs to be one that I’ll use without putting thought into it, and still allow for flexibility as those requirements change.

Most of my supplies and tools are kept together by general category; like is grouped with like. In general, that means by the type of tool, for example crochet hooks are stored together. But it can also mean by general purpose, or by brand. My crochet hooks and interchangeable knitting needle tips each have their own compartmentalized container and are sorted by size.

Yarn takes up most of my storage space. I still use the Expedit units I bought when we moved nearly 13 years ago. The specifics of how I group the yarn in each section often shifts. Right now, the bins hold items that are similar yarn weights (such as fingering/sock), materials (cotton/blends), or are design support. Some days I fantasize about storing by color family, but I’ve not made that change yet.

Label everything

It’s important however to label everything. It doesn’t need to be perfect! I now like to use washi tape or sticky notes held in place with washi tape. They’re easier to remove than a folder label.

If I don’t know what’s in a box, I’m more likely to ignore it. This also lets me rearrange boxes and not have to take time to verify if the top right box holds scissors or sewing thread.

When do I change my system?

I know to change my organization system when I stop using it. A few months ago, the need to change my system for crochet hooks and knitting needles storage became clear when I dumped a chaotic mess of circular needles and interchangeable cables into a larger “miscellaneous” bin because I ran out of space. Shortly thereafter, a wooden chest of drawers was added to my bookshelf.

The key is to be flexible and adapt when things aren’t working. For years I struggled with this part, I wanted to set it once and it would work forever.

Simply accepting that the system needs to evolve is what has reduced friction and created a more organized studio. My skills, tools, and projects change and evolve, it makes sense that my organization system may occasionally need adjusting.

I hope these basics tips and the photo gallery below helps to inspire you.

If you would like to discuss your supply and tool organization needs, please contact me. I’d love to work with you to discover a system that helps you work best with your space, supplies, and tools.

This is a 2022 update and consolidation of posts written in 2014.

Swatch Thoughts: Focused vs Sampler

Pile of swatches
a messy pile of swatches

There are as many ways to swatch as there are to create. Two of the most common methods are sampler and single swatches. A sampler can combine multiple techniques, materials, or tools in one. A single swatch, by contrast, decides on the variables and keeps them consistent throughout. Is one swatch better than the other? It depends on why the swatch was created, what is the question it answers?

Note: if you click the images in this post, they will open at full size.

Single focused swatches

For gauge swatches, I like to create a single focused swatch so I can evaluate it without changes that can alter stitch counts. I often create multiple single swatches, each with a single variable changed each time — yarn, tool (material or size), stitch, method to start/finish.

Four Tunsian crochet swatches on a plain background.
swatches that focus on (mostly) a single change

This example shows four Tunisian crochet swatches. They started to help me practice my general technique, and that meant both creating the starting chain and finishing off.

I’ll confess these aren’t swatches that only changed a single variable, but they come close. All are made in the same yarn, a 100% grey cotton. Half are worked with one hook (4mm) and half worked with a second (6.5mm). I’ve worked a Tunisian knit stitch with each size hook. Then I practiced the Tunisian purl stitch with one hook, followed by a simple pattern [Tks, tps] for the other.

Sampler swatches

When I swatch for fun (aka fundamentals), I most often end up creating sampler swatches. It isn’t always my intent when I start, but I tend to ask “what if” as I’m working and just start fiddling and making changes.

I have three different examples of how these swatches can look. These are the types I most often make because “what if” is my favorite question.

Technique Sampler

Tunisian crochet sampler swatches, different shaping techniques worked in the same yarn.
Technique sampler for shaping

For the first I was practicing shaping in Tunisian crochet. For the right-most swatch I simply decreased and increased on the right edge of the fabric and kept the left edge straight… until the end when I got excited and wanted to try out an idea. The swatch on the left came next and shows different techniques on both edges.

Stitch Sampler

Tunisian crochet sampler swatch, two stitches worked with the same yarn
Stitch sampler

This next swatch shows one yarn, in this case a silk mohair worked up in two different stitches. This happens most often when I’m swatching for a design in a specific yarn.

There are a few instances where I would use this as a gauge swatch, it would allow measurement of differences between elements (stitches), sometimes a significant element in a design. Working with this example, let’s pretend it’s a swatch for a piece worked primarily in the Tunisian simple stitch (Tss) that ends with a lace border. I’d also likely work up a swatch like this one, one that would change the hook size between the Tss and the lace. Sometimes sampler swatches can also be focused single swatches.

Yarn Sampler

Tunisian crochet sampler swatch, same stitch pattern worked in 3 different yarn variations
Yarn sampler

The third swatch is a different kind of sampler, where the material changes but the stitch is consistent. I wanted to know what type of fabric would result if I worked a silk mohair held together with different options 1) with a light-sport weight merino-cashmere blend, 2) with a second strand of the silk mohair, and 3) for reference the same stitch worked with a single strand of the silk mohair. I wanted to feel the differences and working it all as one swatch made that easiest.

Final Thoughts

How you choose to swatch is up to you. My hope is that this post shares useful ideas and inspiration for your swatches.

Please note that no swatches photographed in this post were blocked, they’re SOTH (“straight off the hook“, see SOOC for details. As a word it is from Old Saxon and means true, real).

Spring cleaning, tools

purple crocus and yellow daffodils emerging through leaf strewn ground

As the spring bulbs emerge, I like to give my tools some much needed TLC. The winter months are when they see the heaviest use.

The process is similar for the different types of tool. I gather them together, evaluate their condition, clean, and perform maintenance, wash the container, and put everything away properly. I don’t do it all on one day, that’s overwhelming. I spread it out over several weeks.

Below are the things I focus on during this spring cleaning.

Knitting needles and crochet hooks

Thanks to a cat who loves to chew, I now keep all needles and hooks put away. However, there are always some that end up in a bin “to be put away later.” As I sort through everything, I evaluate the condition and give everything a good wipe with a damp cloth. I use hand lotion more often in the winter and this residue can build up. This year after I clean them, I’m also working bees wax into the wooden tools, I had a few knitting needle tips split over the past few months. The dry air was not kind to them this past winter, so everything is getting a light conditioning. Don’t forget to check interchangeable cables, I’m rough on mine and use this time to evaluate which need replacement.

I also have a few containers of what I’ll term “vintage needles” that are mostly for decoration. They look nice in the background of video calls, but I don’t often use them. It doesn’t take long to check for signs of deterioration and clean away the dust.

Cutting tools

While I keep cutting tools safe from any curious felines who share my space, each spring I like to sharpen or replace blades and oil moving parts, so they cut smoothly. I also attempt to corral all the wayward seam rippers.

Pins and needles

I check for rust and make sure that storage containers still close securely. When I’m sewing, I’m apt to just toss pins onto a magnetic dish and put that away without sorting and storing properly.

Spinning and weaving tools

This year I’m giving all wood a quick conditioning. These tools receive their annual check in autumn during spinning and weaving week, held the first week in October.

Sewing Machine

My machine is susceptible to a slipped timing belt, so checking that is now part of my regular maintenance before I start a new project. During this cleaning I make sure to clean the table it’s on, give it a good blow out with compressed air, and oil all the recommended spots.

Project Bags

While these are a very different type of tool, it’s important to clean these periodically too. I tend to toss mine on the floor, especially when I’m a passenger in the car. They roll around in some pretty gross environments. I either toss them in the washing machine or hand-wash depending on how they’re made. If the weather is nice they get to dry outside in the sun, though since temperatures are still fluctuating, mine enjoyed a spot in front of the fireplace.

This is a 2022 update of a post first written in 2018.

a few thoughts on Tom Bihn bags

It’s well established that I love my Tom Bihn (TB) bags, though I was not an early adopter. As a child of the Northeast, I tended to turn to bags from a certain retailer in Maine. The initial splash of their first knitting bag caught my attention, and in 2010 I took a cautious first step with a bag that was best geared for my life at the time – one with a NYC commute and life in an office as an IT Manager.

That introductory bag, a Co-Pilot, introduced me to the thoughtful design and construction that are hallmarks of Tom Bihn bags. That led to my buying a Swift, then a Little Swift, followed by a Side Kick. My TB bag family also includes an Aeronaut 30 and a Truck which were provided in exchange for writing for their website.

With the announcement of the pre-order return of the knitting bags, I thought it would be a good idea to update my 2016 post about these products and how they’ve held up over the past decade. While the pandemic has shifted how I do (and use) everything, I still turn to them first.

Here are some thoughts about four of the products in the February 2022 preorder. The links in the list below jump to their spot in this post.


The Swift was my first knitting specific bag. These days it enjoys spending most of its time at home, much like I do. Right now, it’s holding my Garden as Safe Space scrap blanket. It’s a bag that I’m using in a very different manner than I did when it first joined me years ago, but my needs have changed too.

What makes me love it now as much as I did when I bought it in 2011 is how versatile it is. A decade ago, it held all the stuff that made office work bearable. Today it helps keep a curious cat from adding her own embellishments to my knits in progress or stealing tools.

Swift with in progress blanket sitting on a grey couch
Swift at home on my couch

It commuted to and from NYC, pins have intentionally pierced the fabric, and it’s still looking polished. This next picture shows the bag at Rhinebeck, in 2011.

Swift and PSG at Rhinebeck in 2011
Rhinebeck, 2011. Swift with pins.

Little Swift

The Little Swift (LS) is my everyday bag when I actually leave my house. It’s big enough to hold some notebooks, a sock project, my PPE, and a shopping tote or two. I love that its size provides constraint so I don’t try to bring everything with me.

Little Swift filled with notebooks and a YSS
LS on my studio couch

I love that it’s Penny sized. I’m 5’2 (on a good day) and it fits me really well. I took this photo in 2014 to show both sizes.

collage of same person holding both swift and little swift.
comparison of 5’2″ person with LS (in black) and Swift (green)

It’s small enough it can sit on the floor of the car next to me (when I’m the passenger), or back when I flew places under the seat in front of me.

Aeronaut 30 & LS under the seat in front of me
Little Swift with Aeronaut 30 under an airline seat

Note on Fabric

All of my bags are ballistic nylon (black when possible) for the exterior. I made this choice because I didn’t want to worry if foster kittens played with them. Because they do.

3 kittens playing on a black little swift
3 foster kittens playing with a Little Swift, 2014
little black foster kitten in a black little swift
a foster kitten enjoying the Little Swift, 2014

Yarn Stuff Sacks

These unassuming small bags (YSS) are my favourite for my projects. There’s no zipper to catch on yarn, no velcro, and I can attach them via key straps to a bag’s o-rings.

I use the smallest size one the most. It lives in the Little Swift along with my current sock in progress.

YSS with sock in progress

The medium one in wasabi with a clear bottom tends to hold a design project. The bright color helps me find it. I think I have another medium one, also in grey … but it tends to take projects and disappear. I can’t explain it, but I seem only to keep track of these two. No matter how often I organize my studio! I wish the projects came back completed, but while these are amazing bags, they don’t perform magic.

Note on Fabric

The Halcyon constantly surprises me by it’s strength. The small YSS, with many safety pins and 1.75mm knitting needles poking through it as I shove it into the LS. It doesn’t look as if it’s abused. I tried to find evidence of needle or pin holes for this post. I couldn’t find any. Yes, I keep a tapestry needle shoved in the taped seam and secured with a pin.

a hand holding a grey small YSS showing no holes there is a tapestry needle and pin near the hand on the inside of the bag.

I honestly go back an forth if I like the clear bottom or not. It’s nice to verify “what’s inside” as I toss it back on my pile of WIPS, but not critical.

example of clear bottom of YSS

Knitting Tool Pouches

Honestly, I hadn’t been using these, preferring the large binder pouches I’ve used for years. However, I reorganized my needles the other day. Since how I work has shifted, I know that these will return to regular use.

Swift, tool pouches, and notebooks
Swift with a size 2 tool pouch holding some crochet hooks and a pen

They keep my interchangeable tips and crochet hooks tidy and I can keep a selection organized while I swatch.

Final Thoughts

I’m very impressed by these bags. They commuted, they’ve met numerous foster kittens and resident cats, and put up with me.

I should note that key straps and the o-rings have changed my life. The key straps snap onto the o-rings of my various bags. I have several short ones and chain them together if I want a longer one using a hard plastic stitch marker (or a washer)..

key straps
example of keystraps, 2016

Thanks to the o-rings, I no longer lose my keys. They get latched onto the o-ring with a small s-hook.

How I secure my car keys
keys with small s-hook

I repeat I haven’t misplaced my keys in years. While I’m driving the key is in the ignition, at every other time, it’s attached to the bag.

Swift & Little Swift side by side with YSS in front of each.
TB bags: LS with small YSS, Swift with medium YSS

While the cost of these bags is an investment, I feel it’s a smart one. They last. These bags are thoughtfully designed, carefully constructed, and my favorites.

You can find additional Tom Bihn bag review posts at my personal blog, Penguin Girl.

Note: This is a 2022 update of a post initially published in 2016.
All photos of foster kittens were taken prior to 2020.
If a date is not specified in the caption, the photo was taken on 2022-02-25