Thanks to everybody for helping me decide which colors to choose for my afghan. I've enjoyed reading all the comments and can't want to see all the colorful combinations you choose for your projects. It seems like I got plenty of votes for colorway #4, and since that fits with my décor, I'll go with that one. Here are some I didn't choose, but that you might have:
Many of you are anxious to get started with learning a join-as-you-go method, but I'm going to ask that you be patient for one more week while we do some other steps.
Swatching Tells the Tale
As with any project, it's important to do a swatch before beginning a project. A swatch gives us an idea of what size hook to use, how much yarn we'll need, and what the likely finished dimensions of the afghan will be. Luckily for us, in this case the swatch may just be the first or second motif of our project.
I tried a couple of different hook sizes and settled on an I-9 (5.5mm) hook for the Vanna's Choice yarn that I'm using. You may need a different hook size to get the ideal feel for your gauge and yarn. You want a motif that has a little bit of body without being too stiff or too floppy. If you're not sure what size you need, start with the suggested size on the yarn band, but don't hesitate to change hooks to get the ideal gauge for you.
My motif measures about 3.25" across one edge, 6.5" from point-to-point across the center, and 5.5" from side-to-side across the center. I printed out some (really cool) hexagonal graph paper from Incompetech.com and used that to envision how the motifs will be arranged. Here's what my hand-drawn worksheet looks like. You can see the size and shape of the afghan outlined in black.
You can also see that I need 60 hexagons in all. My swatch weighs in at about 12 g, so 12g x 60 motifs = 720 g, or 8 balls of Vanna's Choice yarn. However, since I'm using more than one color, and I'll need some yarn for joining, I know that I'll need more than 8 balls of yarn, not including the yarn needed to join the motifs together either as we go or at the end. At this point, I can't be completely accurate in knowing what amounts I'll need, because I don’t know how colors A, B and C will be used.
If you are using lots of colors, and just want to do a patchwork/freeform design without a plan, just start stitching. Leave a longish (12") tail on the final round, and don't weave in the final tail. You'll understand the reason for this later.
Planning the Design
In my case, I want to have a plan for placement of my motifs. I still need to decide how I want to arrange the colors on each motif, and also how to arrange the motifs to form the overall design. I've started by stitching one motif. Because I'm still in the designing stage, I'm going to work the first few motifs in a variety of color arrangements. Let's call my colors A (taupe), B (cranberry) and C (linen). I use a kind of shorthand to describe the color arrangements, with letter designations for each round. Here are the motifs I've done so far, although I could do even more variations with just these 3 colors.
Here's where it gets really fun. I can do any of the following: (1) Decide to join my motifs once they are all complete. That means that right now I can just stitch individual motifs. I can decide on placement and color arrangements as I go, allowing the design to develop as I stitch. I don't have to commit to a placement scheme until the last minute. I actually prefer this way most of the time. That's because I don't mind joining motifs at the end—it's not that hard or time-consuming, I promise. (2) Use a random pattern of color variations throughout. (3) Pick one or two color arrangements and use them in alternating rows. (4) Scan the motifs, then print out the (now smaller than life-size) images on my color printer, making as many prints of each one as I choose. Then I can cut them out and play with the pieces until I have an arrangement I like. If I tape the pieces together I'll have a template to remind me what to stitch next. (5) Do #4 above with color pencils or crayons. This can be lots of fun, and the kids can play, too! (6) Scan the motifs, and then manipulate them digitally using an image-editing software program. Since I'm trying to learn a new-to-me program, and since it makes nice prototype afghans for this purpose, this is the method I'll choose here. You'll see that they are just rough digital "sketches", but that's all I need at this stage. (Note to mention: this is just about the extent of my skill at this point. The strange white lines between the motifs are just my inexperience!) Here are some of the options I came up with, based on the scanned motifs above.
Of course, there are many other options! This time, I'm going to let other members of my family decide which version they like, and which one I'll make. I suspect I'll be adding a tiny amount of a fourth color (sapphire?) to add some pop.
Whew! I've been doing lots of planning, but now I'm ready to start stitching in earnest. I'm going to make 4 or 5 complete motifs, but not join the final round. I'll probably make some others through Round 3 only. Once I decide on my joining method (next week's post), I'll do the final round on those motifs as needed. Why don't you do the same?
The Sliding Loop
One final thing for this week: I want to show you how I do the "sliding loop" technique for starting a motif in the round. Although the pattern says to start with a ch-4 ring, I prefer to start all my motifs with a sliding loop—a variation of what you may know as the magic loop. It is a bit tricky to learn, but once I mastered it, it became my favorite method. It makes an adjustable ring into which to work the first round, and I can make the ring as large or as small as needed to fit my needs.
Work all first-round sts into the doubled ring. Those of you with eagle-eyes will notice that this example is not exactly the same as yours-I'm only putting 1 chain between treble crochet sts, not 2 as called for in the pattern.
As you work, you may have to expand your doubled loop in order to get all the stitches in. Once you have completed the round, you'll see that the doubled loop is still peeking between your stitches. Gently pull on your yarn tail and you'll notice that one of the strands (probably the inside strand) will tighten. Go ahead and tighten that strand up, but not all the way. Once it is just barely visible, stop tugging on the yarn tail and instead pull on that tiny little tightened strand.
Please post your questions or comments here, and feel free to chip in with helpful suggestions for each other. We're in this together!