Sunday, June 16, 2013

Painting with Yarn -- an Introduction to Latch Hooking

Original Design Latch Hooked Rug, "Delicate Arch in Winter"
There's almost always a rug in progress in my workshop. I prefer latch-hook rugs, although I've also done them in needlepoint, crochet, punch-needle and braiding. I've recently completed one of Delicate Arch, the iconic rock formation from Arches National Monument near Moab, Utah. The reason that this landmark is so readily recognizable is that there are such limited viewpoints where one can stand to sketch or photograph the arch in its entirety. Few people visit it in winter, but it and its surroundings are spectacular in the snow. I chose to present it as a winter scene with a winter storm in the background. I love the drama of stormy skies and like to incorporate them into my artwork. You may consider the storm as approaching or moving away, whichever you prefer.

I learned to latch-hook as a young girl. A friend had gotten a pillow kit for Christmas that we worked on together. It's a simple skill that, once learned, stays with you for a lifetime. As my friend and I learned, two people can easily work on the same project. If each person pays careful attention to the tension in the knots, no one will ever know where one person's work ends and another's begins. I soon bought kits for their yarn, substituting my own designs and adding to my color range by hand-cutting pieces of Aunt Lydia's or other brands of rug yarns sold in hanks or skeins. I have taught these techniques to a long list of people, ranging from elementary school children to retirees to a woman who was legally blind (but who could still distinguish colors).

My Latest Latch Hook Work-in-Progress, a Geometric Pattern
The Impressionists are among my favorite artists. Latch-hooking gives me a medium for doing Impressionistic pictures. The effects can even closely approach pointillism. My favorite subjects are flowers (see previous blogs), wildlife, and landscapes. I don't paint my rug canvases as I sometimes paint my needlepoint canvases. If the rug is to be geometric in design, I graph several complete motifs and work from that, repeating whole or partial motifs as necessary. For realistic pictures, I outline large areas on the canvas with a permanent marker. Then I work “freehand” from my color sketches and J.D.'s photographs, blending my colors as I go. Most yarn today is acrylic (how I miss wool!), but I also use cotton, linen, and novelty yarns for special effects. These need to be cut to length by hand. I also use longer pre-cut rya yarn for texture. It can be hard to find and may need to be ordered from Canadian or European sources.

My Basic Latch Hooking Tools
I work on whatever flat surface is available. My most useful tool is a piece of two-by-four lumber with a row of “headless” nails down the center. The nails are spaced to fit into the square openings in the canvas. The wood has been sanded and painted and the bottom covered with felt to keep it from sliding or scratching the work surface. J.D. Made it for me several decades ago. It lifts the canvas off the work surface for easy insertion of the hook. After working a few rows, I lift the canvas off the nails and re-position it. An old muffin tin holds a dozen packs of yarn perfectly. Sharp shears for cutting canvas and yarn, a permanent marker, and a measuring stick complete my tool kit.

Beginner's Latch Hook, a Small Simple Owl Design
If you have never done any latch-hooking, I encourage you to give it a try. The easiest way to begin is with a small kit for a pillow or picture. If you enjoy that, I would recommend that you buy some canvas and yarn and start creating designs from charts (cross-stitch or needlepoint charts work well if you allow for the change of scale) or designing original works of your own. They are cheaper than kits! It doesn't take a large investment to begin. I start with a good jute canvas, preferably one which has always been rolled, not folded. The canvas runs $7 to $8 a yard in wide widths. If you watch catalogs like Herrschners or Mary Maxim or visit on-line stores such as Jo-Ann's, you can find pre-cut rug yarn on sale two or three times a year. The yarn comes in standard packs of 320 pieces per pack. Each piece makes one latch-hook knot. Standard rug canvas has 3.75 knot spaces per inch and requires a standard hook ($2). You can also use #5 canvas, sometimes called quickpoint canvas, but it requires a special hook with a smaller head ($3).

Try it. I hope you'll like it! Have fun --- always!

Desert Sunset, an Original Latch Hooked Wall Hanging

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Use It Up! -- What to Do with Leftover Material

In one of my earlier blogs, I mentioned a rhyme my grandmother taught me:

“Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do,
Or do without.”

A couple of the Annake's Garden members have been working to use up leftover materials, both our own and each other's. This is how it came about.

Sunflower Quilt
I've spoken before about the making of quilts and comforters as the classic example of recycling. One of our artisans has decided to concentrate on quilting exclusively from now on, so she has been cleaning out her craft cupboards. (You can see one of her quilts in the accompanying photo.) She generously donated some leftover fabric to another member and brought me a tall kitchen trash bag full of balls and skeins of yarn. In return, I was able to share some Hawaiian quilt patterns with her.

 A "Patchwork Princess" Dress
The fabric recipient started piecing together rectangles from her fabric windfall to make little girls' sundresses. These are very cute, with lined bodices, shoulder straps, and tiered skirts. They would also serve as swimsuit coverups or jumpers. We call them “Patchwork Princess“dresses. Needless to say, no two are even remotely alike.

I decided to turn the small and medium balls of yarn into what I call “scrapgans”. These are yard-square or meter-square afghans that are perfect for throws, baby blankets, lap robes, etc. They are based on traditional granny squares with some modifications of my own. By their nature, each is unique. In fact, I couldn't duplicate one of them if I tried. I have had great fun working out color schemes and figuring out how many rounds each ball or skein would provide. (I've only miscalculated once and run out of a yarn short of a round in the making of the last five scrapgans.)

A "Scrapgan"
I start with a yarn combination that will give me one of several typical granny squares about eight inches on a side. I join new yarn at a corner and work a full corner, rather than a half, ending the round(s) with a slip stitch in the first corner stitch. Then I slip stitch across to the middle of the corner, secure the yarn, and break it off there. This produces a very slight ridge in the stitches, but makes a much more secure joining. Then I move ahead one corner, join the next yarn, and proceed with additional rounds, increasing as needed on each round. I do only complete rounds. By moving ahead for each change, the little ridges do not accumulate at any corner, but are distributed all the way around. I combine different colors of yarn used in the body of the scrapgan to make tassels.

ripple afghan in progress
This technique of using leftover yarns can be used to produce more conventional afghans, of course. You can see here a picture of a ripple afghan I have in progress. Once I reach the midpoint, I will repeat the sequence of color rows in reverse. If you prefer the hit-or-miss approach of the afghan on the March 15, 2013 blog, you can use up any number of yarns in a continuous repeat of any stitch pattern you like. This causes a lot of yarn splices in the middle of rows, however, and I prefer to avoid that.

Very small balls of leftover yarn go into cardboard or foam egg cartons for use in needlepoint ornaments for next Christmas. I pierce the top of the carton over each section and thread the yarn from each ball through its own hole. That way the yarns don't get tangled and I can see at a glance what colors are available for use.

Even small scraps of yarn can be put to good ecological use. Put them in a perforated container like a mesh bag or a lattice strawberry basket from the grocery store. Hang them in a shrub, being sure that they are beyond the reach of neighborhood cats. The local birds will use them, in addition to their natural building materials, to make and line their nests. If you are lucky, a bit of bright-colored yarn may help you to locate a nest and watch the nestlings as they grow up. (The birds also like dryer lint for a soft bedding for their babies.)

Happy recycling!

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