Squirrel Picnic

Handmade with Love and Stuff


The Sleepyz Blanket: Playing with Yarn

When I last left you I had just figured out how to crochet a Z. It seems I was so excited about sharing how I made a Z that I totally forgot to tell you about all the fun I had winding up the yarn. I must’ve been super sleepy that day. I hope you don’t mind if I backtrack a bit.

Winding yarn is one of my favorite things to do. It ranks right up there with popping bubble wrap and watching videos of baby animals. So one morning, as soon as hubby was gone and the coast was clear, I whipped out my ball winder and swift and set to work winding up ball after ball of my beautiful new cotton.

It’s not that I don’t want Shelby around. He doesn’t mind my taking up the entire kitchen table with yarn. In fact, he’s very helpful. Last time I had a lot to wind, he noticed how I held the yarn to help feed it onto the ball winder. He offered to hook me up with something that would do that for me. I looked at him like he was crazy and said, “But you don’t understand, that’s the best part. I get to feel the yarn as it winds into a ball. It’s so soft and luxurious, and I can just imagine what fun it will be to work with it and turn it into something wonderful!” He, understandably, looked at me like I was crazy.

I’ve decided, I guess, that people are welcome to watch, but I’m finding it’s more of a thrill if I just wind my balls in private. For those who have never tried it, here’s how the process works. Often the yarn you purchase is in skeins. That just means that it is looped around and around in one big coil (like a garden hose). This isn’t much fun to work with as is. It’s easier to use if it’s in a ball. I used to use the back of a chair to hold the yarn and wind it up by hand. But now that I have my handy-dandy swift and ball winder, it is much easier. You load the skein onto the swift and thread a loose end of the yarn through the guide on the ball winder and into the slot on the top of the post around which it wraps. Then you just turn the crank on the ball winder and the swift gets to going, feeding the yarn to the ball winder. You can get them to go really fast! (I guess that’s the thrilling part.) Before you know it, you have a ball of yarn that feeds from the center. That’s the best kind, in my opinion.

Well, time to get back to crocheting those Zs. I hope that when we meet again I have lots of Sleepy Zs to show you.

Other articles in this series:

Making Zs by Trial and Error

Big Decisions to Make

Introducing the Sleepyz Blanket



The Sleepyz Blanket: Making Zs by Trial and Error

Crochet ZI usually do things the hard way. Remembering this whenever I am struggling with a design has often helped me to stop and look for an easier solution. Still, it usually takes many attempts and a significant amount of frustration before I see the easier path open up before me.

There are a few things in particular I strive for when creating a pattern: (1) I really do try to make it as easy as possible, (2) I hate having to cut and reattach yarn and weave in ends, so I try really hard to limit the number of FOs there are in a pattern, and (3) I also hate having to sew things together, mostly because it creates more ends to weave in, so I try to create designs that can be crocheted in one piece.

Taking all that into consideration, here is the process I went through to create the Z-motif pattern for the Sleepyz Blanket. I was really perplexed by this task for some reason. It took me a whole day to figure it out. It didn’t seem to matter what angle I approached it from, it just wasn’t working. But one of the great things about crochet is that there are usually several ways to achieve any one look. It all depends on the approach. If one thing isn’t working , just try something else.

So I looked at the Z from several different angles. I started off thinking of the shape as a “7” with a leg on the bottom. I started with a chain and single crocheted about three quarters of the way up the chain, put 3 single crochets in one stitch to turn around the corner, and then single crocheted in each chain along the top. But that meant I would have to go around and back down to create the other leg and that would give the legs an uneven thickness. Plus I was having trouble wrapping my brain around how to do an interior bend (the opposite of the 3-scs-in-1 stitch). So I gave that up pretty quickly.

Next I thought of the shape as 2 Vs that connect at the center. I found a pattern in one of my books that made a V by doing a decrease that skips one st in the center. First you insert your hook and pull up a loop, sk 1 sc, pull up a loop in the next sc, yo and pull through the 3 loops on your hook, and ta-da, you have a V! This created a nice V, but putting them together to form a Z was really silly. I even felt the need to sew them together with a contrasting yarn, thinking that maybe it could double as the Z’s mouth… and eyes!

Finally my husband came home and saw what a mess I had made with these Zs and said, “Why can’t you just make it one piece?” I started to answer, “Because I can’t do the corner the same way on both sides… wait — Eureka!!! I learned how to do both turns today, I just hadn’t put it all together until now!”

So I ran into the other room, pulled out my graph paper and drew out the Z, with 3-sc-in-1 turns at the top and decreases that sk 1 in the center at the bottom. After that, the pattern just came right together. After making a few more Zs I discovered that changing the decrease at the bottom to “pull up 1 loop in ea of the next 3, sk, pull up 1 loop” creates a tighter angle that does a better job of holding the lower leg perpendicular.

And that’s how I came up with my Z. I can’t believe that it took me so long to come to such a simple conclusion, but I told you… I always have to do things the hard way first.

Stay tuned and I’ll reveal the Z pattern when I publish the complete Sleepyz Blanket pattern in April.

Other articles in this series:

Big Decisions to Make

Introducing the Sleepyz Blanket


The Sleepyz Blanket: Big Decisions to Make

I like to think that we’re all designers in some way or another. Whether creating a beautiful work of art, a computer program, a tool, or even a sandwich, each of us creates unique things every day through the design decisions we make. So when you go about creating something new, where do you begin? Do you start with a pen and pad of paper or a digital sketchbook? How do you choose your materials? How do you make your imaginings real? I’ll share a bit of my own rather scattered course of action, but I’d love to hear about your process too!

For this blanket I had a lot of decisions to make: yarn weight, brand, color, fiber content, quantity, and price, to name a few. So here is how I decided what Sleepy Zs are made of.

A Big, Big, Big World of Yarn

Choosing yarn

There are so many yarns out there. How will I ever decide which one is right? When I have a design decision to make, I try to remember these things:

  • Keep an open mind.
  • Try not to get too attached to one solution or you might miss seeing easier, more interesting, or more elegant solutions.
  • Ask your friends. Special thanks to all of mine! (Especially my Squirrel Picnic friends on Facebook who weighed in on this very topic with some excellent yarn suggestions.)
  • Research, and more research.
  • Trust your instincts… and your sense of style. If it makes you feel good, go for it. If something feels off, it probably is!
  • Don’t shop for yarn without a list of what you’re looking for.
  • Ask yourself, what characteristics of the concept, pattern, and material are most important to me?

I’ve been thinking of this Sleepyz Blanket for a while now. After pondering over the design and discussing with Shelby about what the Sleepy Z should look like (he convinced me it should be Z-shaped and not more… globular), I think I’m ready to answer that last question.

What characteristics are most important for this yarn to have?

1. It needs to be super soft.
2. It should be thick worsted, probably Aran weight.
3. It should be a little fuzzy, but not so much that it will be hard to work with.
4. The yarn family should have a respectable color palette of at least 15 options.
5. It should be carried locally so that I can feel/test it out and so I can get more in case I run out.

I weighed a lot of yarns against these standards and consulted with a lot of people and websites before I finally made a decision. My Sleepy Zs will be made of… drum roll, please… Blue Sky Alpaca Worsted Weight Cotton!

Phew, I’m glad that’s done.

I Love You, Pantone

Now to decide on colors.

I don’t know about you, but the crochet blankets that generally catch my eye have several colors that work together in subtle ways, usually through the stitch pattern or motif. Color combinations can be gleaned from anywhere. Nature is usually my favorite source, but every year when Pantone announces their color palettes for that year, I get a little giddy about the idea of using some of their colors in a crochet project. When I saw the 2014 Pantone spring fashion colors, I instantly fell in love with this combo.

Pantone Colors

And it turns out, Blue Sky Alpaca offers quite similar colors in cotton. Yippee!

  • Aloe (604)
  • Thistle (603)
  • Stone (626)
  • Mediterranean (632)

I had a feeling that with the addition of a cool white (Drift – 614), these colors would really shine together. I have several ideas on how the Zs could be sewn together in the end, but I don’t think I will know for sure until I have a bunch of them made and I can play around with the configuration. Because I’m going to be crocheting Zs in solid colors, the blanket’s layout will probably be some form of a striped pattern. So I put together a quick visual by taking a screen shot off the yarn.com website to help me see how these might “play” together. Not too shabby… what do you think?

The Sleepies Are Taking Me Color Palette

When It Comes to Yarn, There’s Never Too Much (How to Make Extreme Ballpark Guesstimates)

I really don’t know if there’s a logical way to determine how much yarn you will need for a project that has never been made before. I haven’t even created the pattern for a Z. Perhaps I should do that first — but wait, I need the yarn first. Oh, yarn, you got me again!

So there’s only one thing I could think of to do. I used Ravelry to determine about how much yarn I might, maybe, possibly need. I looked up patterns and projects that had been made using Blue Sky Alpaca cotton that were roughly the size of what I hoped my blanket would be.  In the end, I bought 13 skeins, but I’m thinking I might need more. Luckily, I know where to find it at my local yarn shop.

The next step is one of my faaaa-vorrrr-ite tasks. Winding the yarn into balls! I’ll go get my swift and winder and meet you back here later, okay?

Other articles in this series:

Introducing the Sleepyz Blanket


Introducing the Sleepyz Blanket!

Have you ever felt so tired that you just couldn’t shake the sleepiness off you no matter how hard you tried? According to a theory I’ve been working on, you were being attacked by a horde of benign but persistent critters called the Sleepyz. (I should clarify: One all by himself is a rare occurrence, but when it happens, he’s called a Sleepy Z. Together they’re called the Sleepyz.) These cute, woolly, Z-shaped guys exist for only one purpose, and that’s to get you back to bed.

Preliminary sketch of a sleepyz.

Preliminary sketch of a Sleepy Z.

When you wake up in the morning, you are literally covered in them. You throw back the blankets, and although the Sleepyz may scatter for a moment, they catch you by the pajamas and try to pull you back in, making it so difficult to crawl out of bed. The best defense against them, especially first thing in the morning, is caffeine. It’s like Kryptonite to the buggers. But as soon as the caffeine wears off, they’re right back at your heels, climbing up your legs and making them feel like lead. Once you have enough of them climbing around on you, they join forces, stitching themselves together like a blanket. Eventually all you can do is close your eyes and give in, snuggled under a warm and cozy blanket of Sleepyz.

The Sleepyz are generally invisible. That’s why I think it’s very important for me to bring them to life in crochet for everyone to see. And that’s exactly what I’m doing for my next project here at the picnic: The Sleepyz Blanket. Just like in the story, the blanket will be made of a bunch of crocheted Zs that get sewn together. I’ve already begun creating an original pattern for a Z motif and I can’t wait to show you! Until then, the image at right might give you an idea of what I’m thinking of for each Sleepy Z.

I hope to be able to document and share the whole process with you, from concept development through to the final blanket. In addition to seeing how I create the pattern, you’ll be in on my process as I choose colors, decide on a layout, and crochet the Zs. Finally, I’ll present it all as a free pattern, so you can create a Sleepyz Blanket of your very own.