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.