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."

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