Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Micawber Scrubbies ~ a Short Crochet Pattern in a Very Long Post (with Lots of Helpful Tips)

Who doesn't love crocheted nylon net scrubbies? They're colourful, cheap, and fun to make; ruthless on dirt but gentle on most surfaces. At Micawber Towers, we keep several on hand, and use them to clean all kinds of things both indoors and out: dishes, vegetables, shower stalls, plant pots, and more.

There are lots of great scrubbie patterns available online, from classic squashed-spheres to uber-cute owls and flowers and cat's-head shapes. My scrubbies aren't cute, but after years of tweaking and experimentation, they have all the features I like:

  • They're flat, so they can wrap around sticky spoons, or fit into grimy corners and crevices.
  • They're round, so every bit of surface gets used (no corners to curl up).
  • They're stiff, the better to tackle tough dirt. (But they soften with use, like vintage Levi's.)
  • They come with a handy hanging loop (optional) for airing-out purposes.
  • They're edged with a tidy round of slip stitch for greater durability.
Best of all, these scrubbies are made from an extra-sturdy crochet stitch that keeps its shape and resists spreading. Here's a photo of one of our scrubbies after months of use:

A bit grubby and worn, but no holes between the stitches!

What is this super-sturdy stitch? Split Single Crochet (also known as Shallow Single Crochet or Waistcoat Stitch).

If you've never heard of Split Sc, it's a single crochet made by inserting the hook between the vertical strands of the sc below (instead of under the top strands, as in standard single crochet).

For Split Sc, hook is inserted between the vertical strands

A Bit of Crochet Theory - Feel Free to Skip this Part

Why does Split Sc work so well for scrubbies? It has to do with the way crochet stitches are linked.

Standard sc stitches are linked together through the top strands only, which concentrates all the tension at the top of each stitch. When the scrubbie is used, those top strands get repeatedly tugged, and the bottom half of the stitch (which is like a little knot) tightens up. This can lead to stretched-out stitches and gaps in your scrubbie.

In contrast, Split Sc stitches are linked through the central (knot-like) portion of the stitch, which distributes tension more evenly and helps to prevent spreading-stitch syndrome.

(Some crocheters get around the spreading-stitch syndrome by using a smaller hook and very wide netting strips to create a thicker fabric, but this method can be very hard on the wrists.)

And Now, Back to our Main Topic

Micawber scrubbies are super simple - just a basic circle with a few refinements. If you know how to make a crochet circle, you don't even need a pattern (though I've included one below). This post is more about Tips and Techniques for working with nylon netting and Split Sc.

If you've never crocheted with nylon netting, don't skip the Tips! They may save you some sore hands and wrists.

Tips for Choosing/Working with Nylon Net

Note: These tips will work no matter what stitch you use for your scrubbies.

~ For the scrubbiest scrubbie, choose the sturdiest net you can find, with the largest holes. I get my netting from Joann Fabrics - it's called "Scrubbie Mesh" and it's heavier than standard netting or tulle. (It's also more expensive, so you might want to wait for a sale, or use a percent-off coupon. But because it's extra tough, you can cut narrower strips and get more from your yardage.) If you can't get Scrubbie Mesh, just use a large-holed nylon netting that feels scratchy on the skin.

~ If you're not sure what kind of netting to use, buy a half-yard of a few different kinds and make a test scrubbie from each.

Experiment with various strip widths and hook sizes, until you find a combination that works for you. I use a US K/6.5mm hook and cut my heavy netting strips about 1" wide. For softer netting, cut wider strips - 2" works for me.

~ Cut your strips in the direction of least stretch. This may be crossways, rather than longways. To find the direction of least stretch, tug on the netting first lengthwise, then crosswise, with your hands a few inches apart. The direction that stretches least is the direction you want for cutting your strips. (Why do we want less-stretchy strips? Because a stretchy strip will keep stretching after the scrubbie is made, causing the scrubbie to quickly lose its shape and solidity.)

~ Cutting the Strips: Strips may be cut freehand, or with a rotary cutter. Nylon net is slippery stuff, so you may find it helpful to fold the netting several layers thick, and pin at intervals to keep the layers straight. (Just be careful not to cut through the pins.) You can also search the internet for ideas on cutting your strips; there are lots of tutorials out there.

Here's how I cut my strips

~ Joining strips: Some people use a special technique to cut a continuous strip (again, you can search the internet for ideas and choose whatever works best for you). I like to cut separate strips, and tie them together during the "pre-treating" process (see "Most Important Tip", below). This may sound tedious, but I've found that pausing at the end of every strip gives my hands a break from the hard work of crocheting with net.

To join your strips Micawber-fashion, trim the strip ends at a long angle (about 4" from end), and tie a loose square knot (right over left, then left over right) at the base of the angle. Don't worry if the knot looks bulky - it will tighten up later as you crochet.

Joining the strips as you go

~ Hiding the strip ends: While stitching the scrubbie, when you near the end of a strip, gently tug on the knot to tighten it. Flatten the strip near the knot, and roll or twist the loose end into a cylinder (see photo below). Put the cylinder in the center of the working strip, and roll the strip around it from bottom to top (or from left to right). This will secure the loose end and keep it from creeping out of your crochet. Hold the rolled-up bit between your fingers and continue stitching, until it gets "swallowed" securely by a stitch. Stop and repeat the process with loose end on the other side of the knot.

Hiding the strip ends

The Most Important Tip of All

"Pre-treat" your netting strips by crocheting them into a long chain before you make the actual scrubbie. This will relax the netting a tiny bit, making it softer on your hands, and less likely to stretch out later.

Remember to work with one strip at a time, and trim/tie as you go. You can leave the knot ends sticking out of the crochet chain; don't worry about hiding them until you start stitching the actual scrubbie.

Each scrubbie will take about 12 yards of strips; try to chain that amount at a time. When you're ready to stitch the scrubbie, just start from the end of the chain and unravel it as you go.

"Pre-treating" the Netting Strips - don't worry about
hiding the knot ends until you stitch the actual scrubbie.

Getting Used to Split Single Crochet

To work Split Single Crochet (Split Sc):  - Insert hook between the two vertical strands of indicated stitch (when viewed from the wrong side, your hook should come out under the horizontal bar and between the two vertical strands at the back of the work); yarn over and pull up a TALL loop, yarn over and draw through both loops on hook.

~ If you've never used Split Sc, practice with some regular yarn, working in the round with RS facing at all times, to get a feel for the stitch.

~ Keep a very loose tension; your stitches will tighten up as the following round is stitched.

~ If you can't get the hook easily into the stitch, your "first loops" are not tall enough. Frog and try again.

Drawing up a TALL first loop for Split Sc

When you start the next round,
here is where your hook will be inserted

RIGHT place to insert hook

~ When working Split Sc in the round, there should always be 2 vertical strands between each stitch on both RS and WS. If there are less than 2, you've inserted your hook in the wrong place - frog the stitch and try again. If there are more than 2, you probably skipped a stitch.

Don't be discouraged if your stitch count gets off - crocheting with nylon netting strips is an awkward business, and sometimes a stitch can be partly hidden by the one next to it. If necessary, spread the stitches apart with your fingers to make sure you haven't missed a stitch.

Here is the Right Side after 2 rounds. Notice that the stitches
look like little Vs on top of each other.

Here is the Wrong Side after 2 rounds. There are 2 strands
showing between each stitch of Round 1;
the stitches of Round 2 look like upside-down Vs
with bars at the top.

~ When making Split Sc, frequently check the back of your work to make sure the hook is going UNDER the horizontal bar and BETWEEN the vertical strands (the upside-down V)  of each stitch. I know I said this already, but it bears repeating.

And finally....

Micawber Scrubbie Pattern

Crazy short version: Using Split Sc and nylon netting strips, make a crochet circle to your desired size. Edge with 1 round of plain slip stitch. Add hanging loop if desired. That's it. :)

~ Nylon Netting (the stiffest you can find, with large holes), cut into strips of your desired width. One yard of 54" netting will yield 4 flat scrubbies made from 1" wide strips, or 2 flat scrubbies made from 2" wide strips. The heavier the netting, the narrower you can cut your strips.
~ If using extra-heavy mesh, try cutting your strips 1" wide. If using regular mesh, try 2" wide.
~ A hook of your choosing (experiment with hook sizes US H8 - US K10.5 to find what works for you).
~ A smaller hook (two to four sizes down) for starting chain and hanging loop.
~ Optional stitch marker.

Special Stitch:
Split Single Crochet (Split Sc) - Insert hook between vertical strands of sc below, yo and pull up a tall loop, yo and draw through both loops on hook.

Note: Regular single crochet may be substituted for Split Sc if desired.

With scissors, trim the starting edge of your strip on a long angle (just as you did when joining the strips). With smaller hook, chain 5, join with slip stitch to form ring.
Round 1: With larger hook, loosely chain 1, work 6 very loose single crochets in ring, covering netting tail as you go. Do not join. Do not turn. Scrubbie will be worked in a spiral, with right side facing at all times.
Round 2: Work 2 Split Sc into each sc--12 sts. If desired, place marker in first stitch of round and move it up with each round.
Round 3: (2 Split Sc in next st, 1 Split Sc in next st) 6 times--18 sts.
Round 4: (2 Split Sc in next st, 1 Split Sc in each of next 2 st) 6 times--24 sts.
Round 5: (2 Split Sc in next st, 1 Split Sc in each of next 3 st) 6 times--30 sts.
Round 6: (2 Split Sc in next st, 1 Split Sc in each of next 4 st) 6 times--36 sts.
Final Round: Inserting hook normally (under top strands), slip stitch in each stitch around. Slip stitches will roll to the front and form a ridge around the scrubbie edge.
Join with invisible join to first slip stitch of round (see photos below).

Making the Invisible Join

1. Cut netting, leaving an 18" tail if you want a hanging loop, or a 6" tail if you don't want a loop.
2. Gently pull the tail up and out of the final slip stitch.
3. Insert smaller hook from WS to RS, through both strands of next slip stitch.
4. Pull tail through this stitch.
5. Turn scrubbie over and insert hook up through back bars of sc below final slip stitch AND through back loop of final slip stitch.
6. Gently pull tail down and through, forming invisible join. Adjust join if needed to match other stitches in size.

If you don't want a hanging loop, weave in the end now. If you do want a loop, read on....

Optional Hanging Loop

1. Tilt the scrubbie so you are looking down at the edge. You should be able to see the WS. Insert smaller hook, RS to WS, through all back bars of stitch just to the left of where the tail comes out. (Do not insert hook through back loop of slip stitch.)
2. Yo and pull up a loop with the tail.
3. Tightly chain 12-14 stitches or to your desired length.
4. Start the next invisible join: gently pull tail up and out of final chain stitch.
5. With WS facing you, insert hook from bottom to top through all back bars of the stitch just to the right of where the chain started.
6. Pull tail down and through, until final chain stitch just touches the scrubbie.
7. Insert hook through nearest loop of final chain (not through the back ridge), and pull tail through.
8. Second invisible join complete. Securely weave in end (I like to take it back down through the back bars, up through the back ridge of the final chain, back down through the back bars, then sideways back and forth once).
Trim as necessary.

Tips for a Cleaner, Longer Scrubbie Life
(as if this post weren't long enough already....)

~ Scrape and/or soak before you scrub. Don't use your precious crochet scrubbie to whittle away at baked-on cheese or gooey yeast dough. This will gum up the scrubbie and waste your energy. Instead, use a nylon pan scraper to chisel away any thick or gooey or greasy stuff, then switch to the scrubbie for finer cleaning.

~ A special tip for cleaning yeast dough: soak the bowl in cold water until the doughy bits are soft and swollen. Dump out most of the cold water, then use your hand to rub away the soft bits of dough. Rinse and finish as needed with soapy hot water and a scrubbie. (It's really hard to get yeast dough out of a scrubbie, but it will roll right off your hand.)

~ Don't wrap a scrubby around the tip or cutting edge of a knife. (Mr. M, are you listening?) This goes for fork tines as well. Instead, wrap the scrubby around the base of the fork, or the dull side of the knife, and wipe towards the tip or the sharp edge. :)

~ My scrubbies never seem to get smelly, but if yours do, pour some boiling water over and through them. Or you can soak them in some water with baking soda, or run them through the dishwasher, or nuke them (moistened with soap and water) for 30-45 seconds in the microwave.

~ If possible, hang your scrubbie to dry between uses; this will keep it smelling fresher. (Make the hanging loop long enough to slip over your faucet handle.)

The Last Word

If you have any questions, or find any mistakes in the pattern, please feel free to ask (or tell) in the comment box below. Or you can reach me on Ravelry, where I'm MrsMicawber.

You may do whatever you like with the scrubbies you make from this pattern, but you may not sell the pattern or reproduce the text of this post without permission. (Links are always welcome.)

Thanks for viewing, and happy crocheting. And scrubbing!

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Month of Rides

Dear me, how behind I am on posting ride photos! After the recent passionate defense of my right to blog about whatever I want - which at this time of the year is mainly wildflowers and cycling - I ran short on time and even these beloved subjects were neglected. There's irony for you.

So grab a cup of tea (or coffee) and a sustaining snack, and prepare to take a months' worth of rides in a single sitting....


Sunday Ride to the River

After last year's accident, I limited myself for the rest of the 2014 season to a kind of cycling comfort zone, riding only certain roads within a few miles of where we live. This year, I was determined to get out of that zone and back to all the places I'd been in 2013. The Wisconsin River has always been one of my favourite ride destinations, and I couldn't wait to see it again.

The day was lovely, sunny and hot, with plenty of wildflowers to be seen along the way.

The first thistles of the year:


Hoary Vetch (which I've been misidentifying for years as Cow Vetch):

Heliopsis helianthoides, or False Sunflower:

And rows of corn stretching to a green-and-blue-and-white horizon:

We stopped at a little riverside park for a break and a snack. Iris rested against a huge old aspen while Tallulah and I prowled around and took photos.

A lovely ride, exactly 30 miles long. And it happened to be the day before our 30th wedding anniversary, which seemed somehow appropriate.


A Quick Monday Ride

Not all my rides are blue-skied. This one was gloomy and grey, remarkable mainly for the heaviness of the sky, a fortuitous shot of rabbit's foot clover (which made a wonderful header photo), and clouds of a small lavender thistle which bloomed profusely this year.


Almost-the-Fourth Evening Ride

The week before Independence Day, I got a new jersey which made me feel very patriotic:

Barn gate decked in honour of the day:

Amish farm at sunset:


Long Sunday Ride

This out-and-back ride took me east, to a large lake in the next county. The weather was typical of early July: hot, humid, and windy.

Daylilies were in full bloom in many a ditch. These luscious orange flowers are not native to Wisconsin; instead they're classified as introduced/escaped/potentially invasive. But they're still lovely to look at:

I found a small new-to-me flower which I haven't been able to identify. Can anyone help?

Waves of crown vetch surged through a wire fence:

Red barn awash in a sea of corn:

I passed several stalks of the charmingly-named Butter and Eggs, a member of the snapdragon family:

On one stretch of road, feathery grasses bent before the wind, their long bristles catching and diffusing the light:

Viewed from above, they were beautifully prismatic and almost magical-looking:

A one-room schoolhouse (complete with original privy) stood at a country crossroads:

My turnaround point, a large windswept lake:

A handsome barn glimpsed on the way home:

Westering sun over hazy wheatfields:

A hot ride, and the longest of my year so far (just over 46 miles - not much in comparison with past years, but I'm not complaining).


Welcome Home Sunday Ride

Due to a vacation and other scheduling conflicts, it would be two long weeks before I could ride again. It felt awfully good to get back on the bike, and this ride was particularly rich in wildflower photo ops.

St. John's Wort has bloomed profusely this summer. I think it likes all the rain we've been getting:

I was excited to spot some White Wild Indigo on the roadside. This flower is new to me this year, and until this ride I'd only seen it in the prairie restoration project. It looks rather like a lupine, but with sparser blossom:

Heal-all from above. It looks like it's sporting a tiny bow in the center:

Another flower that is unusually flourishing this summer is Evening Primrose:

Wild Bergamot, looking tropical yet a bit unkempt (like an old lady in bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, with spiky, unbrushed hair):

Wild Bergamot with Bee:

Also rampant on the roadsides this year is a tiny umbellifer that I think is a type of hemlock:

The umbels are very small - less than 2" across - and I'm having trouble finding a good match in the wildflower databases. All I can say for sure is that it's a member of the Carrot family.

Curled blue stamens of Wild Chicory:

A lush patch of catnip:

Photo of a rare Cycling Turtle (Chelonia rota, var. atkinsoniensis):

("Hey!" says the Turtle. "I thought my name was Tallulah!")

We passed a patch of what I thought was Purple Loosestrife, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a flower I'd never seen before - Fireweed, or rosebay willowherb. Rather exciting to see it live and up close, after reading about it on the blogs of friends:

Dragonfly on Leafy Spurge:

This year's wildflower hunt has become so absorbing, I tend to spend much of my riding time looking down and sideways, scanning the roadsides for blossoms. Sometimes I have to remind myself to look up at the sky - and on this ride it was well worth a look:

Another good ride.


Have you had enough, or shall we squeeze in one more ride? (Blogger cups hand to ear, hoping to catch the faint, far-off cry of readers calling "Go on! Go on!")

Okay, just one more. (Which will bring us nicely up to date.)

Short Ride, Many Photos

On Tuesday morning I went out for a quick 15-miler.

Summer has peaked and is ready to begin the gentle downhill slide towards autumn. Trees look heavy and no longer fresh; the tired sweet scent of drying grass comes across the fields and down the warm wind. Swallows are gathering on the telephone wires, and blackbirds swirl and flutter above the cornfields and over the road:

Great banks of soapwort shine palely from a shaded verge:

Spiderwort, pale violet, spreads its petals wide to embrace the day:

A new flower catches my eye: pale-pink blossoms in a delicate spray standing up from a leafy base. Research at home identifies this plant as Desmodium glutinosum, or Pointed-Leaved Tick-Trefoil:

Everywhere I go I see flowery faces turned towards the sun:

Shadow of a cyclist:

An exhilirating morning ride.


Update: The 2015 Wildflower List has surpassed my wildest expectations: 103 varieties identified so far, and it's not even August yet. When autumn comes and the last blossom has faded, I'll publish a complete list.


How's your summer going? Does it seem to be speeding by too quickly?

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