Thursday, January 11, 2007

Read-Along: Thoughts on 1st book

"Crochet is essentially unlimited in its potential because it is open-ended in all directions, but sometimes we have to stick with it, push it, and exploit it in order to grow beyond the traditional boundaries. Scale in crochet is a matter of how much energy the artist is willing to expend." Clinton Mackenzie

First book up for discussion is New Design in Crochet (1972) by Clinton D. MacKenzie.

[Readers of this book are welcome to add their comments. For more info on this '70's Crochet Read-Along, look at the end of this entry for a label that says "'70's Crochet Read-Along" and click on it. This will bring up all related entries.]

The author writes about crochet as an art professor, in fact he is still teaching art today at Fullerton University. I am so accustomed to crocheting clothing and accessories that the freeform-style sculpture emphasis of this book was refreshing. For example, Chapter 12 is called "Armatures and Stuffing". He also favors the technique of surface crochet, where you can build vertical 3-D rows onto crocheted horizontal planes, anytime, anywhere. Mackenzie sees such freedom and possibility in this kind of crochet that it had me wondering, why don't I see this kind of crochet more often?--as a fashion edging, as an all-over linear design on a bag, etc. Right now, I can only think of what Annie's Attic is currently calling "Wiggly Crochet"; I've also heard it called "hotpad crochet". Dee Stanziano has more info with a link to a free pattern at her site. Mackenzie, though, wasn't so much into the wiggly look (see bookcover image).

There is also a strong emphasis on crocheting with "new" materials, and Mackenzie encourages crocheters to scrounge around in hardware stores and other places for unconventional materials, such as covered wire. However, there is so much crocheted jute, sisal, and raffia in the book that in the future, when I see it on my shelf (because I will be keeping this book), I'll think of it as an inspirational guide to crocheting jute-type fibers. It has a dated feel mostly because of this, but I like it.

It briefly passed my Itchy Fingers Test: the section on crocheting differently-shaped tubes had me suddenly wishing hook and yarn were handy. It is a small section of the whole book, though there are photos of art pieces featuring tubes that I found strangely inspiring. But for the most part, for me, too many pages are taken up with teaching newbies how to crochet and I'm so tired of every crochet book having to devote a third of its space to how-to basics. (It's probably unfair to complain about an early book having a big how-to section.)

Oddities of the how-to chapters:
To my 21st cen. mind, he places extra emphasis on the slip stitch (sl st) while de-emphasizing the half-double crochet stitch (hdc)! He notes that a fabric of all sl st is slow going, but he likes its denseness especially for sculptures. He only teaches going into the back loop. (See the chapter on "Bosnian Crochet" in Donna Kooler's Encyclopedia of Crochet. See Dee's site again; she says this is the Bosnian, whereas going into the front loop only is "Shepherd's Knitting". Also see a pullover shrug I designed for CGOA using only sl st worked in the front loops.) For the hdc he says, "The hdc is treated last because it is seldom used." Have times changed or WHAT?

The section on crocheting discs is from the Dark Ages--there is no formula for how much to increase in each row so that a circle lies flat, you just have to go by trial and error. I remember that and I don't mean fondly: all the ripping out and uneven distribution of increases bogged me down. Also no suggestions for closing up the center hole. Also there is a bowl-shaped art piece next to text describing how to make a disc cup by decreasing stitches, yet the rows of the bowl were worked vertically, not in the round. The bowl's vertical stripes could confuse someone!

He offers a variation on the love knot with a heavier knot that I don't remember seeing before. His way of fastening off is not so good--leaves a short tail; but the temporary ending is cool. The illustration showing how to start the 2nd row of double crochets has an error in it. He explains long double crochet with more detail than usual as I recall. In the chapter on Tunisian, he teaches a stitch called "knitted afghan crochet" and I don't recognize it, but maybe I did it a while ago and the look of his swatch throws me off. He has very few rigidities, but one is that Tunisian simply can't ever be worked in the round. (Another one is that you can only do bullions if your hook is tapered.)

Overall, the how-to information is more thorough, with more fine points, than in many books. I'm impressed by the space he gave to chainless foundation stitches, tunisian, and hairpin lace. He even provides a chapter for lefties.

Chapter 14, "Contemporary Crochet", is my favorite. It is full of vision and an art professor's perspective toward crochet compared with other art media such as weaving, glassblowing, and pottery. I see crochet a new way because of it.


  1. Anonymous6:46 PM

    Fascinated, Vashti! Looking forward to the book reviews! Need to blog about this in my next entry. Thank you for being so overwhelmingly thorough. I am very intrigued.

  2. Hi Kim,
    A little TOO thorough maybe??!! I don't expect to write this much every time. I guess this book gave me more to think about than I expected.

  3. Anonymous12:05 PM

    1/12/7 Vashti, the travesty of these older books is that they are in black and white! The few color pages at the beginning just aren't enough! I thought it was interesting that he did spend so much attention on the ch/sc foundation together rows. (I thought this was a newer concept!) He also goes on to describe a foundation for "double ch st" and a "triple ch st" together. I also loved the leaning tubular designs. Wait until you see the tubes in the Feldman book! I have to admit, part of what draws me to crochet for the vehicle of my own art is its functionality. In the same way that I admire architecture, furniture design, etc, because it has the challenge of addressing both tasks of art/aesthetic and practicality simultaneously. I have a few crocheted objects around my house where I have simply "played" without the goal of function and it has its role (an equal role). But for me, I don't see myself branching out into sculpture too soon, especially sculptures of people/faces/figures.
    Is it just me, or do many of these sculptures seem oddly "feminine" (The Gayle Wimmer design on p. 113, the Caroline Potter wallhanging on p.125, Celibacy by Walter Nottingham on p. 12) but now as I look for the exact references, I see many masculine feeling pieces as well! I guess I see so much that is femiine in crochet with its beautiful softness, curves, and texture.
    I like how MacKenzie references "building" when crocheting using the stitches as "blocks" (or did I read that in the other book?) Anyway, I was struck by this because that is how I look at my work when I am designing with no particular goal: I just start and build upon my beginning until I have made something that I want to spring from and a purpose or goal just develops.
    This book was good, it serves a role, but I think I like the Del Pitt Feldman one better. I need to look at it more to decide. (Ellen Gormley)

  4. Anonymous1:44 PM

    For the wiggly crochet you might want to get Ruthie Marks new book called "Geometrics". She calls them dragon curves.
    Cindy C

  5. "Dragon curves"? I think I'm just going to have to ORDER Ruthie's book because I've been keeping a lookout for it locally and now I find out I've been missing out on Dragon Curves!

    Ellen, feminine/masculine styles stood out sometimes to me too. Some of the art reminded me of the feminist revisioning going on at the time (some pieces seemed to celebrate the female reproductive system). MacKenzie's interest in ways to crochet with enough body that you can build on it, and the ways he used jute, raffia, etc, brought Mark Dittrick's Hard Crochet book to mind at times.

  6. Hi Vashti,
    I have this book somewhere!
    Just wanted to say "hi" and tell you how exciting it has been to see your designs popping up in all the magazines!
    SusanSW (who went to New College too--we met a few years ago at CGOA NH)

  7. Anonymous6:42 PM

    hi, Vashti--

    I'm not with my copy of Clinton MacKenzie's book (learning about the tall-first-loop dc and discovering how nicely it drapes and shows off yarn was worth the tiny price I paid for it used), and I don't recall what he wrote about discs. I wanted to mention that there IS a formula for the increase rate for flat circles.

    Make a gauge swatch (if turning the disc between rows) or gauge tube (if working in one direction without turning). Measure stitches and rows per X*.

    Stitches per Inch* divided by Rounds per Inch* multiplied by 2 pi (6.283 -- or use the pi button on your calculator) = Number of Increases per Round Needed to Keep a Circle Flat

    *the "per X" can be any measurement, as long as the "per" for stitches and rows/rounds
    is the same, e.g., stitches per 10 cm used with rows per 10 cm

    An example from a real gauge of mine: 4.375 stitches per inch divided by 2.5 rounds per inch = 1.75.

    1.75 times 2 pi = 10.99 -- mighty close to a perfect 11 increases per
    round. In that case, I'd start with 11 dc into the center circle and add 11 increases per round.

    As you get away from the center of a circle, it gets easier to space out increase rounds, say 22 increases every other round, going with the example above.

    I hope this makes sense.

  8. Anonymous11:35 AM

    Great blog, Vashti! (we met at Chain Link this past summer. Looking forward to reading more.

  9. Anonymous5:15 PM

    Thank you so much for doing this RAL! I'm so looking forward to your summaries!

    PS: missed you this weekend!

  10. Anonymous3:21 PM

    Hi Vashti,

    I just found your blog - which makes me *so* happy!

    This RAL is a wonderful initiative. I'll have to see if I can bend my brand new book-buying rules (one per subject per month) so I can participate a bit more actively.

  11. Hello to those of you I know--and missed seeing at TNNA--and thanks for the positive comments from those of you I don't know. I'm about to write up my thoughts on Annette Feldman's book but am stopping by to respond to some of your comments.

    Susan--so do you have fond memories of doing ISP's & IRP's? I was suddenly nostalgic this Jan.

    Pippin--thanks so much for going to the trouble of explaining the formula. Not only can I come to my own blog to refer to it when needed, so can others. After muddling through in the '70's, I found guidelines at some point. For example, these come from Edie Eckman's Crochet Answer Book p143: for sc,6 sc in 1st rnd, inc 6 each rnd; for hdc, 7 hdc, then inc 8 hdc each rnd; for dc, 11 dc then inc 12 dc each rnd. This amounts to: inc every st, next rnd inc every other st, next rnd inc every 3rd st, etc.
    I really like knowing the mathematical formula too--thanks again.


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