Author Archives: JJCrochet

Speed Crocheting and Conde Naste

THE most random experience of my life began a few months back on November 23, 2015. A few days before Thanksgiving, I received this email:

I work on the Casting Team at Condé Nast Entertainment, which is the digital arm of all of the Condé Nast brands (GQ, Wired, Vogue, Glamour, etc). Condé Nast Entertainment is producing a cool video for The Scene and is looking for people who can do things impressively and incredibly fast with their hands. This will likely shoot at our studio in downtown Manhattan.

We would love to have you casted in our video for Speed Crocheting.

Initial thoughts:

  • Speed crrocheting? Yes please.
  • This could be fake.
  • NYC? How cool!
  • How did they find me?
  • I really hope this isn’t fake and/or an elaborate plot to kidnap me.

So I replied and chatted with the recruiter. They wanted to plan something for December. Didn’t hear details so sent a follow-up email cause if there was speed crocheting happening, you’d better believe I wanted to be a part of it.

Silence.

Then in February, things got real.

They sent a few dates when other fast-fingered-friends (a Yo-Yo guy, fast clapper and a fast pizza maker) would be filming in NYC and asked which date would be best. March 4th, 2016. It was settled. They booked me a flight, sent me a hotel reservation and told me they’d see me in a few.

Leading up to my departure, I FaceTimed with the Producer and his assistant, Jeff and Joe, and they asked what I could make in about 2 minutes. They suggested a coaster or a circle. I said, “How about a flower?” Their reactions were the most excited I’d ever seen two men get about crocheting. “A FLOWER?!” Uh yeah, sure, I told them, 2 mins is enough time to make a flower.

A flower it would be.

I got a call from Marco, the prop guy, and we talked about colors of yarn and what he could buy. I asked what I should wear. He said there was no wardrobe guy. Fair enough, Marco, my hands will be the main focus. I told him I’d get a manicure instead of a new outfit and awkwardly laughed.

The filming was on Friday at 2pm so I arrived Thursday night. I had Friday morning in midtown to myself and couldn’t be more excited to explore the city alone. (My sister was planning to come, but with the short notice, I couldn’t convince her to buy a $550 plane ticket.)

Friday morning, I woke up at 6am, walked .75 miles to Times Square to watch Good Morning America film. I met Robin Roberts when she came to greet the fans. Hearing I was from Pittsburgh, she responded, “WTAE!!!” Heck yes, Robin – WTAE!

I then picked up $17 tickets to see Les Mis (thanks to my friends at GMA who gave me the tip on Broadway for Broke people and cheap same-day tickets), treated myself to brunch of eggs benny (my fav), and headed off to Conde Naste’s studios.

I got lost trying to take the subway there, but they’re right next to the World Trade Center Memorial. I went up, saw the studio, met a bunch of people and they told me to stand behind a table and crochet while they shot aerially.

Um, I don’t crochet standing up. That’s crazy.

So they got me a chair and I repositioned myself. But to be honest, it still wasn’t great. As any crocheter will attest, when you crochet your elbows rest almost at your hips, hands at about mid-stomach level. Normal. To get a shot, they had me stretch out my hands so they were centered over a table. Elbows on the table. It was very strange and I’ll admit didn’t set me up to do my best. I was dropping stitches and wasn’t as fast as I’d been practicing.

Imagine telling a basketball player they had to shoot free throws sitting down at the fowl line. Same thing. Possible, but awkward.

It was still great, though, and the camera man said my skill was the one he was most excited to see.

After 8 or so takes of crocheting in a silent studio of 10 men watching, it was a wrap. They did one final take with just sound to get the sound of the yarn scratching over my hook. Marco the prop guy fed me the yarn as I was crocheting so it looked like the yarn was almost appearing out of nowhere. So fancy!

 

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Riding Amtrak’s California Zephyr

Emerson said, “life is a journey, not a destination.” When I heard about cross-country train trips, I knew I had to go. My dad, mom, sister and I spent three vacation days taking an Amtrak train across the US (well, almost).

02 - Train

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The Planning

It began by telling my dad plans to take a solo train trip from Pittsburgh to San Francisco on the California Zephyr and evolved into a week-long family ski trip (don’t ask me how – it escalated very quickly and included an atlas). Rather than ride the track the entire way to San Francisco, we decided to hop off in Utah to ski. I wanted to experience the magic of train travel; my family was mostly interested in the travel after the train.

Amtrak’s California Zephyr officially runs from Chicago to San Francisco. A one-way coach ticket will cost you about $200, while a ticket for a sleeper car costs double that, though does have meals included. Amtrak’s website can be tricky to navigate – you don’t buy a “Zephyr ticket”, but simply input your departure and arrival stations (train speak!) and it’ll calculate the cost.

Zephyr Route 2

Zephyr Route 1

We found it was only $10 more to include the leg from Pittsburgh  to Chicago so we purchased Amtrak tickets from Pittsburgh, PA to Provo, Utah. We opted to get off at Provo for two reasons: it has fantastic skiing and it let us ride through the majority of the Rockies (thanks, atlas).

Our 2,000 mile trip included a daunting 43 hours of train travel from start to finish (9 hours from Pitt to Chicago, with a 5 hour layover, then 34 continuous hours from Chicago to Provo). When my mom convinced my sister to come with us, she mistakenly told her the trip was 28 hours. It wasn’t until day two that she found out it was much longer. Needless to say, she was not happy.

The Trip

We arrived at the Pittsburgh Amtrak station two hours before our train departed since Father Bill likes to be early. I was unprepared for how casual the boarding process was. You wait in an indoor boarding area (similar to an airport gate), then a few minutes before you’re ready to board, you take your bags and walk onto the train platform. Someone scanned our tickets, assigned us four seats, we walked what felt like 5 blocks to a passenger car and were off. Simple as that.

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Amtrak wasn’t strict on their carry-on or luggage policy. We had two large suitcases and each had two carry-ons. Again, super casual – you carry on your luggage, stow on the bottom car, then find your seat on the upper level.

We left Pittsburgh at midnight and arrived at Chicago a little after 9:45am. This was poor planning on our part (though the cheapest option) since this meant we essentially slept on the train and didn’t get to do/see anything until we arrived in the Windy City the following morning. Sleeping on a train isn’t bad, but it’s not good. The chairs recline 45 degrees and have two foot rests (the bottom of your seat extends and the other is a bar that pulls down from the chair in front of you). Still, not ideal and my sister and I traded taking shots of Zzzquil to help us sleep. But for $10, it beat having to fly to Chicago. We brought pillows and “train blankets” and settled in for the ride.

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I’d been to Chicago years ago and was excited to show my family the city. We only had a 5 hour layover but took advantage of the time. We checked our bags at the station ($18 for 24 hours) then walked from Union Station to Millennium Park to see the iconic Bean. It was freezing out (9 degrees!), but the 1 mile walk was refreshing. Afterwards, we enjoyed deep dish pizza before walking to the oldest library in the city. We explored the historic building, shopped a bit, then Uber’d back to the station.

01- Bean

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We barely made it back in time since we got our track number wrong (Track #5, not Train #5!), but thanks to Amtrak’s lax boarding policies, we ran up to the platform, had our tickets scanned, boarded and 10 minutes later, we were on our way out West. Close one. Father Bill was sweating.

The first 20 hours of the second leg weren’t exciting. We headed from Chicago into Iowa, through Nevada and towards Denver. The land we could see for 3 hours until the sunset was flat and uninteresting. After that, it was darkness and a restless night’s sleep until we got to Denver.

The train arrived at the Denver station a little before 8am. My sister and I woke up from our Zzzquil-induced stupor to the train loudspeaker announcing this was a ‘fresh air’ stop. We  immediately started mapping a route to the nearest Starbucks.

We arrived in Denver, bounded off the train, asked a man for directions as we jogged out of the station (“You can trust him because he’s wearing Patagonia,” asserted my sister) and found a Starbucks three blocks away. My mother did not support our coffee dreams and said if the train left, we were on our own. We made it back with a few minutes to spare and didn’t even show tickets as we walked around the  corner of the train station building and back onto the train. Nothing stands in our way when coffee’s on the line.

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Our hop-off, hop-on stunt made me feel a bit like a hobo, but like Michael Bluth says, you’ve got to watch for hop-ons… cause you’ll get hop-ons.

After Denver, the scenery started to get interesting. We immediately began our ascent through the Rockies, going through what someone said were 26 little tunnels as the train slowly increased its altitude. We spotted a large herd of elk in the hills beyond Denver and were enthralled with the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. I don’t know if it was the flatness we endured in Iowa, but I was loving the views. They were incredible. This is the reason you take a cross-country train trip.

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My dad and I spent a few hours in the sightseeing car and took in the endless snow-covered mountains. Anna and my mom soon joined. We’d point out mule deer or coyotes as our eyes scanned the breath-taking landscape. At one point, my father turned to me and said, “Thank you for taking me on this trip. It’s incredible.” Those are powerful words coming from an engineer. When trying to get my sister to appreciate the same views, she said “Jayna, I have been looking at the same rocks for the past five hours. I don’t want to look.”

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The sun set behind the red hills of Colorado and it was amazing having nothing but mountains surrounding you for miles.

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It was close to 11pm when our train halted to a quick stop in Provo, Utah. We said goodbye to our metallic home for the past two and a half days and hailed an Uber. We couldn’t get to our horizontal hotel beds fast enough, no Zzzquil needed.

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The Food

Having read a few articles beforehand, we went in with the assumption that train food was unappetizing and expensive, so we packed snacks for our journey. My thoughtful mother brought chocolate (of course), granola bars, nuts,  PB&J sandwiches, water and lots of fruit. We had enough food to last us during our two days on the train, but did break down and bought hot dogs ($5) the last little part of the the trip.

The Amenities20160112_153037

  • Two outlets at each seat
  • Reclining chairs with plenty of leg room
  • Sightseeing car, dining car, sleeper cars and coach seating for the paupers
  • Four bathrooms per coach car
  • No showers, no wifi, intermittent cell service

Not a luxury ride (we didn’t spring for the sleeper cars), but a lot better than expected. We passed the time talking, sleeping, reading, walking through the sliding train cars and taking in the landscape.

The Consensus

If you’re considering taking an extended Amtrak trip, DO IT. It’s an experience. It’s slow, it’s soothing and it’s unlike any other form of “modern” travel. You’ll adopt a new standard of hygiene (we wore the same clothes for three days) but you’ll get to see the heartland of America.

My friend sent me this horrifying article detailing the perils of Amtak travel the day before we left (thanks, Mel), but we found it to be an overall great experience. Bathrooms weren’t horrible, the ride was relatively smooth and the train people (conductors?) were friendly.

9 out of 10 we’d do it again.

The Final Leg

After saying goodbye to the train, my dad, sister and I skied at Robert Redford’s getaway, Sundance Mountain Resort, and enjoyed the steep hills and  notoriously fresh powder of western US skiing. My sister rated it one of the best days of her life.

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From there, we drove to Salt Lake City, flew to Denver, rented a car and drove 2 hours to Vail, CO. We stayed at an Air BnB, then skied the following day in Vail (conditions were a little worse than Sundance and the mountain drive treacherous), but when you come that close to Vail, you ski Vail.

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Our trip ended in an uneventful drive back to Denver and evening flight to Pittsburgh. My sister expressed her gratitude (multiple times) that we were not taking the train back and I’ll admit it was nice to cover 1,500 miles in 3 hours instead of 40.

Overall, it was an action-packed family vacation. We got to travel through small towns, sweeping mountains and secluded forests. Moral of the story is that if you’re considering taking a cross-country train trip of any length on an Amtrak, GO! One thing that’s certain is you’ll have an adventure.

Men’s Crochet Hat Pattern: A Basic

mens crochet hat pattern

Whipped this bad boy up this weekend because I wanted a basic men’s hat pattern. You know, for those projects where you want a neutral base. A few years ago, I made this men’s hat and wanted to create something that was sized a bit larger and without the textured band.

Finished hat will fit an adult male: 21.5 inches wide by 7.75 inches tall.

Men’s Crochet Hat Pattern

Materials: 

  • 120 yards worsted weight yarn. I used Vanna’s Choice in tan
  • Size H (5.0mm) crochet hook

**Important: Check gauge and either use thicker yarn or a larger crochet hook. After Round 2, hat should measure 3 inches in diameter**

Chain 3, join with sl st to form ring.

Round 1: Ch 2 (counts as first DC. Work Ch 2 at the beginning of every round in place of first DC). Work 14 more DC into ring. (15 stitches)

Round 2: 2 DC into each stitch around (30 stitches). Measure gauge. Hat should measure 3 inches.

mens crochet hat pattern gauge

Round 3: 1 DC into first stitch. 2 DC into second stitch. Continue pattern of *1 DC, 2 DC* around. (45 stitches)

Round 4: 1 DC into each of next 4 stitches. 2 DC into fifth stitch. Continue pattern of *1 DC into next 4 stitches, 2 DC into next stitch* around. (54 stitches)

Round 5: 1 DC into each stitch. (54 stitches)

Round 6: 1 DC into each of next 8 stitches. 2 DC into fifth stitch. Continue pattern of *1 DC into next 8 stitches, 2 DC into next stitch* around. (63 stitches)

Rounds 7 – 13: 1 DC into each stitch. (63 stitches)

Round 14: SC into each stitch. (63 stitches). Fasten off. Weave in end.

crochet hat patterncrochet hat

crochet hats pattern
crochet hat for men

The Fourth, Final & Finished Afghan

The last time I shared a progress picture, the afghan I was working on was 12 x 11 squares. The colors were blending nicely, but it wasn’t very big. If you’re going to hand-crochet a blanket, then you commit to make a blanket.

I decided to extend the pattern and the afghan turned out to be 12 x 14 squares. I worked until the yarn ran out. Now we’ve got ourselves a blanket! I added 8 rows of a granny-square border, working the same three double crochet cluster into each opening to mirror the look of a granny square.

The inspiration was, of course, Attic 24’s Granny Patchwork afghan.

crochet granny square blanket

Lucy of Attic 24 uses a different method for making granny squares and it’s one I’ve adopted myself. (Once you make 168 squares, you learn to love something). Lucy prefers to not work the chain between 3 DC clusters and only uses 1 chain instead of 2 for the corner stitches. Cutting out or reducing the number of chains makes a tighter square without sacrificing the base elements of the traditional crocheted granny. I really liked her modification.

This afghan was the fourth and final piece in a series of blankets I’ve been working on for the last 4-5 years. I told myself I wouldn’t get sentimental, but it’s hard not to! When I was a senior in college (2011), someone contacted me through my Etsy shop and asked me to crochet a blanket for her daughter as she started college.

The plan was one afghan a year for four years.

#1: Crochet Hexagon Blanket

Crochet Hexagon Blanket

#2: Ripple Crochet Blanket

Crochet Ripple Blanket

#3: Picot Granny Square

rainbowafghan

and this is #4.

crocheted granny squares

Of the four, my favorite was the third one–the Picot granny square. It also took the longest amount of time (by far), but the design is so unique I loved making it. Textured, small and large squares and the colors–just perfection.

Over the years, the woman who contracted the blankets and I became friends. We exchanged Christmas gifts and emails, thoughts on the blankets as they came together. A random note to share vacation plans and life updates. She’s seen me move four times, congratulate me on two new jobs and always been a part of my free time.

It was odd packing up the last of the blankets and writing the final note a few weeks ago. I’ve never met this woman or her daughter who graduated from Yale, yet somehow we’ve been part of each other’s lives. Her daughter joked she’ll have to consider grad school to keep the blankets coming!

It’s the end of a JJCrochet era. Now the question becomes… what to work on next.

Crochet vs. Knitting Differences

If you’ve found yourself inexplicably drawn to the yarn section of craft stores, you may be looking to learn the differences between crocheting vs. knitting.

crochet vs knitting

Some crocheters also knit and knitters have been known to crochet. There’s a benefit to being able to do both, though some crafters prefer to just do one. I’ve been crocheting for 18 years and knitting for 14. Over the years, I’ve found benefits for each.

Knitting and crocheting are different, though are the same at their core: You’re creating something from yarn and a needle or hooks by following a pattern. Learning both will allow you to choose which is better for your particular project whether you’re making a dog sweater or a tea cozy.

The table below outlines basic differences I’ve found between knitting and crocheting. You may have found the opposite, this is what I’ve experienced over the years. Review to learn if you’d make a coordinated crocheter or knowledgeable knitter.

Crochet vs. Knitting: A Comparison
CrochetingKnitting
ToolsOne Hook & YarnTwo Needles & Yarn
Basic Stitch MotionLoops & KnotsLoops
Active Stitches at Any Time1All
Number of Basic Stitches102
Fabric TextureCoarse & Thick Smooth & Flat
Construction MethodSpacial: Turns or Irregular ShapesLinear:Limited by Loops on Needles
Correcting MistakesEasy: Rip Out StitchesMedium: Unknit without Dropping Stitches
Flexibility in PatternsHigh: Easy to Free-FormMedium: Harder to Free-Form
Average Project TimeMedium: Stitches are Bigger & Projects Work up FasterHigh
Yarn NeededMore: Crocheting Takes 1/3 more Yarn Less
Availability of PatternsMediumHigh
Best Used ForWearable Accessories (Hats or Scarves) & AfghansSweaters & Wearables
Ease of LearningDepends on you!Depends on you!

Leave a comment of what you think. What have you found to be better for your crafting: knitting or crocheting?

The Fourth & Final Afghan

If you’ve been keeping tabs, I finished the third of my afghans–the crochet granny square flower–last spring. Since then, I’ve been busy working on the fourth and final installment of the afghans.

It’s with great pride I present the Solid Squared Afghan!

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This guy differs from its three sibling since its squares are solid colors, not comprised of four to six different colors. The squares themselves are working up quicker (no time joining colors) and can I just tell you how infinitely excited I am to have 75% LESS ends to weave in.

My fellow crocheters, can I get an ‘amen’?!

This afghan was designed to be 12 x 12 squares, yet I found it too small. Each square measures just under four inches, forming an afghan 48 by 48 inches. I figured why stop there? I had enough yarn and plan to keep working until it runs out.

Project Details:

  • Size 3.5mm (E 4) crochet hook
  • Over 15 different colors of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmireno
  • Five rows of granny squares, using the join-as-you-go method

This is also a great project to use up yarn scraps. Pick complimenting threads or random colors and join, join, join until you have yourself an afghan. It becomes almost mindless work–great while watching episodes of Arrested Develpment or Mad Men or nothing. 🙂 Enjoy!