Sunday, November 28, 2010

Some Assembly Required; The Story of Crochet Afghan Pattern

I don't think I have mentioned that I love to crochet! I started when I was about 6 years old.  My friend Jodi taught me to do a chain, and then to single crochet.  My grandma taught me to double crochet, and the rest I self taught, either by reading books, or by trying things out.  Over the years my interest grew into a passion, and a productive creative outlet!  I have done charity work, making hats for cancer survivors, and blankets for new born, afghans for soldiers, and afghans for their family members when they have been in need of comfort.  I assembled 3 afghans made from squares sent to me from all over Washington state to send to the family members of Michael Anderson, one of the astronauts killed in the Challenger explosion.

I have had several of my designs published in magazines.  I continue to design, and have a collection of patterns that a couple of my friends think I ought to publish in a book!!

I like my crochet work to be simple and useful.  I am very picky about my fibers and my colors too!  There is a lot of work that goes into creating an item, and to to have my designs become treasured and used for generations is my goal! In fact, that is the the idea behind the slogan I wrote on my business cards, "Carefully worked by Loving hands, to last generations. New Heirlooms, by Suzi Alcorn"

A couple of years ago I made a huge blue and black, soft fluffy afghan, for my boyfriend for Christmas.  It took me a long time in between work, and date nights to finish it, and I was very proud to present it to him on Christmas morning.  It has since become a staple for cuddle time, and spends a lot of time with someone under it!  That warms my heart as much as it warms my body!  My boyfriend's son, who is now 10, seems to spend the most time with that blanket, which always makes me smile! One day I was teasing him about stealing his dad's afghan, and he told me that if he had his own, then he would not have to take his dad's!  When asked what color he envisioned this afghan being, if he had his own, he promptly said, "Red!"

And so begins the life of the Riley's Red Afghan!  After looking at the limited stores in my area for purchasing yarn, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to use.  I went online to Smile's Yarns and compared prices and brands and colors, until I found what I wanted!  Lion Brand Color Waves in Sunset Red, and Red Heart Light and Lofty in Red Grape Multi.  After some calculations, I decided to order 6 skeins of each.  It was so much cheaper than buying it at the store, but each order must be at least $50, so I had to buy some more yarn ... I bought 10 skeins of a very YUMMY camel colored alpaca yarn to make a cardigan for myself someday!  Even with shipping charges, the total was still less than what the 12 skeins would have cost me at a local retailer!  Now, I do have to say that for the most part, I do support my local merchants! I DO prefer to "Shop Local, Think Local, Be Local", as per our town motto, but I also have a banking balance that must be considered!!

So, here is how the afghan goes .... 

Size P hook, starting with the Light and Lofty, I made a chain as long as my arm span ... ya, i know, that really is not that long but it was a good starting point! Your chain length ought to be 5-6 feet long.  Sc in the second chain from hook, ch1, skip one ch, ch1 in the next ch, ch1.  Repeat across, making sure that the you work a sc in the last ch, even if that means 2 sc next to each other ... this helps to ensure an even edge.

Ch1, turn. Sc in the end sc.  If the next stitch is a ch1 space, then sc in it. If the next stitch is a sc, then ch1, skip the sc, and sc in the next ch1 space!  Repeat! OK, that's it ... I worked 2 rows with the light and lofty, then 4 rows with color waves because the color waves has more yardage per skein weight than the light and lofty, and this (I envisioned) was going to help make sure that at the end I was going to have a balance, and I was pretty close.

I HATE weaving in ends, so when I am working color rows, I DO NOT finish off with each color!  When I get to the last stitch at the end of the row, I pull up with the next color to complete the stitch, and carry the yarn up gently.  This does mean that when working the edge, one must be careful to work over those lops, so they are secure!!

I also hate it when the skein runs out in the middle of the row!! But years ago, I discovered and old rope tying technique that my dad used applied to yarn!! I use this Russian Joining technique all of the time now!  With this yarn being SO bulky, I do not weave back into the strand as these directions show, but just make a loop and secure by working 1ch and sc, then passing the other yarn through the opening.  I may have to make that another post with pictures one of these days!

Any way. I kept up this pattern until I had a nicely shaped rectangle, and about 2 skeins of each color left.  The last 2 rows were the light and lofty.  This time I "finished off".

Using the Color waves, I joined at a corner working down the ends of the rows. Same pattern ... 1sc, ch1 ... just had to try it, and pull it out a few times until I felt like it was laying smoothly.  The general rule of on stitch in the end or each row does not work because of the difference in the weight and texture of the 2 different yarns. I worked down that one side, ch1, turn and worked back, then turned and worked back again, making 3 rows on that side. At the end of the 3rd row, I worked sc, ch1, sc in the corner, and worked the pattern down the end, corner at the corner, and then repeated the 3 row passes on the other side, and across the other end, then finished off.  Repeat with the other yarn.

After that, I simply went round and round, granny square style with each color until I ran out of it!!  My older son, who is 20 years old now, saw it, and is wanting one in green =)

Because this pattern is so easy, the key is in choosing fibers and colors that are enhanced by the simplicity.  Choose colors that have longevity.  Gallagher did a routine with a bit about the colors that only come in yarn, but I cannot find it to share it with you here!  Chose fibers that will hold up well, and remind any recipient that top loading washing machines eat knit and crocheted items for lunch, so use a delicate cycle, and dry on a low temp so it does not get all fuzzy! Those agitating posts catch on the stitches and pull and tear them (I love my front loader!!!)

OK ... get out there, and make someone cozy!

Love to you!
Live well my friends

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Peach-Mango Chicken Chili

I have really been using my crock pot a lot lately!

When my kids were little, I used to cook everything from scratch, and I cooked every day, but over the last couple of years, I cook less and less, but am recently finding that I miss it a lot! I like making delicious food that uses a few simple and inexpensive ingredients, especially if it makes good left overs!

Today, I was inspired by a tub of peach-mango salsa and some clearance-bin boneless chicken breasts to "invent" peach-mango chicken chili!

*2 boneless chicken breasts, cut in bite size pieces
*2 small (or 1 large) onion chopped
*1 whole bulb of garlic, pealed, and chopped
*2 cans pinto beans, drained (I would have preferred the little white navy beans, but I did not have any at home, and was not going back shopping)
*1 large can of diced tomatoes (you could use the ones that have chili peppers diced in them already!)
*1 one pound tub of peach mango salsa
*1 teaspoon cumin
*1 teaspoon chili powder
*A sprinkle of ground peppers
*A pinch cayenne pepper
*1/2 cup frozen peach slices chopped (only because I had some in the freezer, and I wanted a little more fruit chunks)

While the meat, onions, and garlic where browning in a frying pan, I put all the rest of the ingredients in the crock pot. When the meat was cooked, and the onions were soft, I added the meat mixture to the crock pot as well, and let it all simmer gently until the flavors blended together!  Notice that I added no additional salt!

Served with corn bread and sour cream, this was a very filling and delicious dinner!  More tasty than I had expected! I will be having left overs for my lunch tomorrow, and the next day too I'm sure!

Beauty (a poem I wrote)

Walks gently
The delicious scent of the forest.
The drops of pearl that blossomed
Guarded by the majesty of the mountain itself
In the comforting shelter of the trees.
Very still and very quiet
To move, for the dream might end.
To speak, for the sound would shatter the serine and beautiful silence.
To exhale for the movement of air is enough to scatter the birds from the trees.
The dawn unfold in glowing brilliance
In awe and wonder, so as not to disrupt the magic.