Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Crochet Design: What Got Me Started

Three cosmic forces (to be divulged in three separate blog entries) caused me to stop putting off designing in 2004 and to start really living! I had dreamed of designing professionally ever since I learned to crochet as a child but the dream remained far-off and misty for decades. The first of these forces was the internet: specifically, 3 designers' websites that fascinated me back in 2004 or so. I visited their sites often, hungry to see their next crochet creations. They are:

1. Jennifer Hansen of Stitch Diva. Back then she had a riveting new vision of how tunisian stitches can look; she also had this jacket that intoxicated me with its sexy shaping in a kind of Edwardian style (one of my all-time favorite fashion periods). But even just her swirl pillow thrilled me. When I finally met her at a Stitches conference, I was in awe and babbled incoherently. Luckily Jennifer doesn't remember it.

2. Josi Hannon Madera. Back then her website was called Weirdmirror. She too did stylishly sexy really well. Her crocheted skirts were unlike any I'd seen in the old '60's-'70's needlework magazines I collect, in fact I don't know if I even seriously thought of crochet for skirts until I saw hers. One of them was a swirly skirt that has since gotten raves on various crochet discussion lists such as Crochet Partners. Thanks to Kim Guzman I recently learned that Josi overhauled her website. She has a book, In the Loop, in the works but at one point she said that the new website is taking the place of the printed book plans; all of the patterns that would have been in the book will be available at the site. Later I found this; Amazon says publication date is May 2007.
Here's a photo of her wearing a pretty amazing hat with matching scarf.

3. Teva Durham. I spotted Teva's name in an Interweave Knits magazine back in 2005 I believe. I googled her and found a whole treasure trove of rebelliously superchunky crochet stitches. It had the effect on me of a kind of manifesto! I wanted more! more! but the site languished and then her Loop-d-Loop book of knit designs came out and I feared that she had merely flirted with crochet. That was then; now I'm keeping eyes peeled for her forthcoming Loop-d-Loop Crochet book!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Pringle of Scotland: Not Your Mom's Cashmere

"Knitwear has become the statement piece."
--Clare Waight Keller of Pringle
The Pringle design house first got my attention in Fall'06 when this beauty cropped up in every fashion magazine:

The Autumn Winter 2007 Preview (see links at top of page) is available now. With their new knitwear collection Pringle has managed to rejuvenate the bobble for me, packing them in like peas and keeping them sophisticated in deep somber colors. The Pringle treatment of giant luxurious cables is refreshing too because the colors are so shadowy that the cables emerge from the murk where you don't expect them. This isn't your traditional aran knitting!

Pringle has a new Creative Director, Clare Waight Keller, and it's looking like she's going to take the Pringle look to great new heights.

Even though I see no actual crochet in the Pringle designs, the looks easily translate.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

'70's Read-Along Book #4: Adventurous Crocheter

Meet the Adventurous Crocheter--believer in simple means and spectacular ends, advocate of the little-known but highly successful anti-doily approach to crochet.
--Delia Brock and Lorraine Bodger
What a potent mixture of reactions I have to The Adventurous Crocheter by Delia Brock and Lorraine Bodger (1972)! I see it as a prime example of '70's American rugged individualism; even the illustrations and book design were handled by one of the authors (Ms. Bodger, who according to Google, went on to publish many more books and teaches how to write cookbooks at a community college). The authors' spirited voices come through so it makes for engaging reading.

What does the book promise, and does it deliver? It promises quite a lot. The authors "break the rules" and explore "uncharted" territory with an "improvisational and iconoclastic approach". They gave up their "very successful--and exhausting--career crocheting clothes for boutiques and department stores" (such as Bonwit Teller and Henri Bendel), and have distilled their experiences and professional production strategies for this book. I’d say that what the book delivers is detailed information on how to wing it: how to design as you go. I can see how this was truly new and is probably the book's greatest value still today. What it also often delivers, though, is glorified dumbed-down crocheting. Perhaps what also seemed so fresh, new, and adventurous at the time is the authors' rebellious attitude!

Although I think their John Wayne-like approach is unproductive in the long run, the authors succeeded very well at putting together a book that conveys their style and approach to crochet and fashion design. There is a wealth of solidly helpful information for beginners and for crocheting with individualistic style. As a designer I was fascinated to see how the projects were explained, diagrammed, and how the patterns (or unpatterns) were written up; every designer has his/her own ways of problem solving. I do wish they showed how to construct sweaters more ways than just from the bottom up.

Itchy fingers? Nope. Simple stitches and cheap materials are not a turn-on for me. Throughout are comments like, "You can save at least a third on the price of a skein of yarn if you avoid specialty yarn shops and department stores and search out one of the following places: a large five-and-ten; a large discount store..." "...We discovered that [string] comes in many textures, colors and materials--thin cotton twine, twist string, shiny nylon string, ...It is cheaper and more interesting than the five-and-ten cotton string, such as Coats & Clark's Speed-Cro-Sheen..." "The 1st and best stitch pattern of all is row upon row of single crochet. It is solid, pretty, delicious, and you just cannot beat it for elegance." This is probably great for a beginning crocheter but even so is not great for crochet itself (in my opinion as a member of the Crochet Guild of America). I would worry about the future of crochet if this book had a lot of influence!

This gets to my strongest dislike of the book: the way crochet is taught produces low-quality results. For example, on blocking: "We think blocking is a boring, time-consuming chore. We never bother with it and recommend that you don't either." On dye lots: "That threatening note on the yarn label--buy as much yarn as you need now of the same dye lot to assure uniformity of color--is hogwash." On turning chains, they cut corners (literally) by teaching you to start the next row by skipping the first stitch, even if you're doing single crochet, therefore working the last stitch of the row into the turning chain of the previous row. Not so good for sc, especially because of what it does to the bottom corner (nor for hdc in my opinion). They line wallets by coating felt with glue. On buttonholes: "The simplest and fastest way to make a buttonhole, which has always been perfectly adequate for our purposes, is to push the button through the crocheting." I giggled at this explanation of how to change colors at the end of a row: "Do not worry if a bit of the old color mixes with that of the new on your first stitch. No one expects a person to attach color like a machine." (The remedy is simple and standard now: complete the last stitch of the row with the new color by pulling the new color through the last loops on the hook.)

Deja vu? Whew--the anti-doily syndrome! They are not the first crocheters to dis doilies, but maybe the most passionate. To this day there are still people who feel the need to distance crochet from doily making. I can see that it was a new idea in the early '70's to say, "Crochet can be modern! It can do so much more than just old-fashioned stuff like doilies!" But nowadays is this really news? Fifty years from now, are we still going to be reading that crochet is more than just doilies?? Can we move forward on this yet? (This is not a complaint about the book, it’s that I hoped we’ve come farther than this by now.)

New generations of beginning crocheters might enjoy this scrappy-rough-n'-ready book, although the lack of any photos or color illustrations is less enticing nowadays. The drawings are sometimes the best way the authors get an idea across, other times it’s the worst way. New designers of clothing and accessories could learn some tricks or new ways of looking at things. This book is a big slice of '70's style, so it’s just fun. I laughed out loud at times! Listen to this: "The Heart Belt is, without a doubt, a perky belt. To do it justice, you should use the 2 schmaltziest colors of yarn you can find."

Monday, February 12, 2007

Swatch Management

This new Swatch Bank, founded in 2007, yields high interest and I can make speedier withdrawals than with other Swatch Banks I've tried.
I suppose this might look like a heap o' mess but this madness has a careful method. Not only that, despite how it looks the tags do not get tangled. Maybe I should try to take a better photo.
The gist of the system is, I have a huge closed metal ring, and smaller metal rings that click open and closed hang from the big ring. Each small ring holds swatches of a certain type. For example, 1 ring holds all variations of single crochet, another is for all variations for hdc, etc.; more swatch categories that work for me:
- trebles and beyond
- colorwork
- aran
- lace
Most swatches have hang tags (on very short leashes) that tell me the hook size, the stitch pattern or what pg. in which book I found it, maybe the yarn.

What do other people do?
- Some Victorians used to baste swatches to fabric pages bound into a kind of scrapbook. I find I need my swatches to be free agents--I need to compare drape, stretch, loft, etc. I also hate basting.

- Other Victorians made one long continuous strip and rolled it up. I like the look but it's even less usable as a swatch bank than the scrapbook method, and my swatches are not uniform in size or color.

- Some people join them into afghans. If I stop designing someday, I'll probably do that.

- Many probably do what I used to: store some with the design proposals or completed patterns and stash the rest of them into a big box. Sad--the swatches can't show off this way. It's a swatch account that yields zero interest with no easy withdrawals.

- Is there a method I've left out? At one time I toyed with mounting each swatch on a large index card then filing them. One time I experimented with covering big stiff felt pages with elastic bands so that I could slip the swatches under the bands and remove as necessary (like how some people informally display photos on the wall). The hang tags got all tangled in that system and it took up too much room anyway.

Friday, February 09, 2007

'70's Read-Along Book #3: Crochet Discovery and Design

"In the Middle Ages a person's wealth was judged by the amount of taste, toil, love, and craftsmanship put into every article of clothing. I think today we are having a revival of this kind of thinking. Nobility is in your hands." Del Pitt Feldman (1972)

Del Pitt Feldman's Crochet Discovery and Design (1972) does not take long to read nor is it difficult to review, but I've been delayed by a birthday, wedding anniversary, and sick kid! So I thank you for your patience. Ah, it's good to be reviewing again.

First of all, Del's book is quite a contrast to Annette's. They complement each other nicely, in fact I see very little overlap among all 3 books reviewed so far. This one is short on text but larger-than-life in visual aids!! The text is so concise that I experience crochet differently every time I re-read it, so sip this one slowly and savor. By my third time through I'm a bit in awe of how much is here.

Having looked over many '70's crochet books lately, I'm starting to appreciate the book's cover blurb, "An innovative craftswoman shows you how to design and create new fashion artistically--without pattern" because it distinguishes the book accurately and succinctly from others available in its time. I'm seeing these categories: some guides to crocheting clothing using patterns similar to the way dressmakers and knitters traditionally go about it; and some guides to freeing you up to see crochet as an art form with infinite possibilities for sculpture, wall hangings, or new home decor statements. Then I'd say there's a 3rd category that merges these two: guides to crocheting wearable art. (These may end up being clumsy categories, we'll see.)

Not only are the projects designed well, they display an impressive array of materials such as suede, rayon braid, linen, rattail, raw fleece, silk ribbon, silk chenille, and rayon-wrapped cord ("Corde'" - Judi & Co. currently supplies this; I bought some from Dreamweaver and I love it). It's important to me that when crocheters come up with a great design concept, that they also consider what would be an original/ideal/fresh/adventurous material to use other than smooth worsted weight acrylic or wool. I also appreciate that Del spares no expense for her crochet. Very inspiring. Timeless.

A favorite chapter, "Forms and Building", has some of the most helpful, down to earth info for anyone building the shapes they want with a freeform approach, whether the shapes are wearable or not. Valuable tips and very clear symbol diagrams are provided. "Forms, Background, and Discovery" takes the freeform approach further toward amorphous shapes, filling in spaces, and setting shapes into a background.

"Working with Hard and Semi-hard Objects" is also remarkable. I wish I'd read it before I tried to edge a tote bag with suede lacing! This chapter covers how to incorporate beads, cabochons, mirrors, metal pieces, leather, and woven pieces.

Itchy Fingers Effect? Yes, throughout, though more of an itch to build out stitches and shapes with uncommon materials (uh, freeforming), rather than the itch to swatch up unfamiliar stitches that I got from Annette's book. In Del's brief stitch dictionary she provides closeups of familiar stitches done with unusual materials straight from her finished projects.

Deja vu Effect? Yes--It's common to hear nowadays that it's no wonder we have so many new and resuming crocheters and knitters, after all, look at the exciting new yarn choices out there! I've thought this myself because the only yarn I remember buying in the '70's as a young kid was acrylic worsted, as if that's all that was available to buy (or the baby yarn versions). Many resuming baby boomer crocheters seemed to recall the same thing when I helped them in a local yarn shop--as if they (and I) had never seriously tried crocheting with anything but the most conservative plastic yarns. I learned to card, spin, and dye wool with marigolds in '79 or so, and crocheted up a pair of mittens with it, but I don't remember doing so with the '70's adventurous art spirit or thinking seriously about any creative possibilities this opened up. (Sure wish I still had those mittens!) Gee, if Del was crocheting up SILK CHENILLE in 1972, and she had both twisted and untwisted rayon corde', yarn choices really weren't so limited back then were they? People have always done specialty handspinning and dyeing too. Maybe it's about cost (and still tends to be among many crocheters). I'm told that all else being equal, you actually get more yarn for your money nowadays.

At the same time, I can see that there have been some recently invented yarns such as the fake furs and microfibers. Also maybe some of the fancy novelty textures such as railroad, flag, and knotted are 21st century inventions. Hopefully someone who's been in the yarn industry for a long time could tell me. Yes, the 21st century now has soy and bamboo fiber yarns, but surely there were some less mainstream plant and animal fibers available in the '70's too, like qiviut, baby camel, possum, alpaca and llama, though maybe you had to meet tropical natives to find out about banana leaf, ramie, manila, sanseveria, etc. I wonder if the internet has helped inform people about uncommon fiber choices?

I am so glad to finally have this book in my library; I've searched for it sporadically in the past and eventually got one at a good price. A keeper!
Here's a copy for $5. Alibris has one for $20.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Annette Feldman Swatching

Here are 4 stitch patterns that I swatched up after reading CRAL Book #2, Crochet and Creative Design. They appealed to me because I don't recall ever seeing these variations on long single crochet in a stitch dictionary. The top left swatch is split hdc puffs worked into the spaces between stitches. The lower left one biases but it could probably be prevented, even though you have to cut the yarn at the end of every row so that all rows face the same side.
The yarn is Patons Grace mercerized sportweight cotton. Split hdc puffs would look very different in a wool.