Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Crochet, Socks, and Karen Whooley


If you're visiting my blog for the first time because you're touring blogs with my friend Karen Whooley, welcome and thanks for stopping by! I chatted with Karen about her new book,  I Can't Believe I'm Crocheting Socks! and you can see some of our conversation below. I love what she says about socks and her school uniform, lace crochet, and what she imagines her Nonna would say about her book.

The #1 reason I wanted to be a part of Karen's blog tour is: Knitters have been having so much fun with gorgeous new sock yarns, comparing the virtues of toe-up vs cuff-down patterns, how to "turn a heel", etc. Making socks that fit is a whole art form. There's not nearly as much information out there for crocheters as for knitters....until lately.

In Progress: Nice fit!
Even though I learned to crochet over thirty years ago, I only recently crocheted my first pair of socks. You can see a view of them finished here

Whose crochet sock pattern did I carefully choose for that first crochet sock experience? KAREN WHOOLEY's. I was hooked! I bought so much sock yarn LOL. Now that Karen has written a whole book on crochet socks, we have everything we need to enjoy crocheting socks in the style and size we please.

Vashti: When I think of you, Karen, I think about how you learned to crochet from your grandmother when you were 7, and how much your love for crochet shows in your commitment to it over the years. I also identify with you a bit, because we both learned to crochet in the 1970's as young girls. I learned from my Mom when I was 9. 

Karen: A lot of my students tell me that I give way too much credit to Nonna for the crocheter I have become.  And I have to agree that yes, I have learned a lot on my own over the last 12 years as a designer and instructor.  
Karen's Nonna. Photo taken in the late 1980's
I lost Nonna in 1992 and sold my first design in 1998.  But, if it wasn’t for Nonna, I probably wouldn’t have learned to crochet to begin with.  I owe my love and passion for crochet to her. And I can honestly say that as I am working, she comes to mind, and a lot of her words spill from my heart when I get frustrated with a design. 

Vashti: Back then, I never imagined I would one day be a professional crochet designer. I knew only a little about patterns and different kinds of projects. I did try many kinds of crochet, but strangely was also completely unaware of many other kinds--such as real crocheted socks....the kind that you wear comfortably in shoes....to school!! 

Imagine wearing real crocheted socks to school in the 1970's! Did you imagine them or try them, Karen? Which of the socks in your book would you like to have crocheted for yourself and wear to school, at what age? In a color, or for a specific outfit? In high school I would have wanted PURPLE. Purple with deep red. I would have worn them with fringed moccasins.

Karen: I never, ever thought I would be a professional designer back then.  My Nonna spoke very broken English, so I learned all my stitches in Italian.  After learning all the basic stitches in Worsted Weight and an H hook, I was given a size 6 steel and bedspread weight cotton and for about 5 years, I did a lot of lace.  I don’t think I ever would have thought of socks until I was in my late teens/early 20s.  But I can tell you I did do a lot of slippers, so maybe if I knew then what I do now, socks would have been on my agenda! 

I think in High School I would have worn the ripple socks just as they were designed.  Blue has always been a favorite color, and I used ripples a lot. But then of course ripples were very popular back then.  When I first learned to crochet I think I may have made the Lace socks, but in PINK!  I was such a pink girl.  I might have made the Tube Socks in Navy, Hunter Green and/or White because I went to Catholic School and wore only knee socks in those colors with my uniform!

Vashti: I find that often, while I design something, I'm picturing the crocheter I was. Sometimes I have a sense of contrast with the crochet I started with and crochet as I know it now. (Other times I have trouble remembering what I knew or experienced about crochet back then; for example, I recall no specific opinion of hdc, whereas now I think it's a distinctly cool stitch!) Sometimes I'm still amazed that I get to design crochet professionally, and the "I" that is amazed is my young crochet self. I love crochet as much as ever and am honored to add to the designs.

Karen: Many times I do think back at what I used to do. For example, since Nonna couldn’t read an English pattern, she taught me to “read” a picture.   Until I was in my early teens, I couldn’t read a pattern very well, but boy I could copy an item from a picture. I am self-taught in reading patterns. Now I am almost fanatical about being sure my patterns read right for the crocheters who may purchase them.  A lot of times I think back to when I couldn’t read a pattern, and I think that is why.  I was determined to make my projects look exactly like the one pictured, and by gosh, I want my fans to be able to do the same. 

Like you, I am amazed I get to design professionally!  My Nonna told me that she had given me a skill, and that I needed to do something with it.  Mom tells me she meant crocheting items for the family or for charity. But I know she would be proud of what I am doing now. I am doing a lot of techniques I am sure she may have seen, but I don’t know that she had ever done. (I wish now that the younger crocheter in me would have asked!) But I think the part that amazes me the most is that as much as I got tired of lace back in the day, I have come full circle, and I am bringing more and more lace into my work, and into my classes that I teach. Of course, now it is with more lace yarns and larger hooks than with size 6 steels and cotton! And the even more amazing part?  I LOVE IT! The inner young crocheter still is not quite sure about that every time I decide to go for lace.

Vashti: Something I wonder, how does it feel to you to look at your new sock book through the eyes of your inner young crocheter? Which socks do you think your younger crochet self would like the most or want to make first, and for whom? What step in the sock crocheting do you think your young crochet self would be most hooked on? What do you think your grandmother would say?

Karen: Looking at my book as my inner young crocheter, I would have to say, “WOW, did I really do that?”  I always experimented with ideas, and my stuffed animals and my younger sister were the not always willing recipients of the end results.  From a young age I have always been a perfectionist in my work.  And I can’t tell you how many items were ripped out time and again because of that.  So my inner child looks at this book and really is amazed I could do what I did, and have it turn out even better than I had planned. 

My younger self would have made the two learning patterns first.  I know that because of the perfectionist in me would want to learn the ins and outs first. And after that, I would have made any of them, but I would have made them uniquely my own by changing something.  I don’t know what exactly, but as I would crochet them, something would change!  I know I would have been hooked on toe up socks.  To this day, sewing seams is not my favorite thing to do, so the toe-up method would be my favorite even then.

What would Nonna say?  I wish she was here to actually tell me, but, I think she would say, Caterina, Hai fatto un lavoro meraviglioso. Il tuo lavoro è pulito e raffinato. Dovreste essere orgogliosi. Ora vediamo cosa si può fare il record.”  (Karen, You did a wonderful job.  Your work is neat and fine. You should be proud. Now lets see what you can do to top that.)


That's Karen with both of her grandparents. Karen writes, "It was taken in 1990, 2 years before I lost her. She is holding the basket she decorated for my wedding favors. It is the same basket used for my mom’s wedding in 1963 just different lace. Nonna was big on all sorts of crafts from Crochet and embroidery to having the skills to be professional seamstress."