Monday, March 12, 2007

'70's Read-Along Book #5: New Ways with Crochet

Crochet has lost its stuffy and time-consuming image and is now bold and exciting. There's no great merit in producing large slabs of it unless at the same time you acquire a foreign language from the radio or something equally useful. But to use the the craft intelligently and discriminately can give attractive results without involving a great deal of toil and time.
Dorothy Standing, 1971

Sometimes I worry that I lack a feel for the times and therefore am not doing full justice to '70's-style originality. I mean, look at the cover--was there really a time when that image was the best possible way to convey NEW WAYS WITH CROCHET? Must have been, so after pondering this, I'm thinking that as a home decor item it must have seemed bold and fresh: one jumbo granny square in the hottest '70's colors, NOT little white or ecru lacy bits, not an antimacassar or doily. Ripple afghans must have been appealing for the same reason: a riveting, in-your-face, do-it-yourself home fashion statement. I wonder if this was electrifying for crochet's image if until then it had been stuffy and time-consuming as this author says.

Here again is an author who starts out complaining about old-fashioned crochet but it would help me to get inside a 1971 mind if she (and other authors like her) got more specific. The kinds of items made and the colors used, rather than the style of them, are big factors for her, so I think part of her goal is to get people to crochet new kinds of things, not just in new ways. She also seems to be down on colorless lacy, dainty, painstaking thread crochet. I kept expecting her to denigrate doilies (which occurs in other '70's books) but antimacassars seem to be more loathesome to this British author--she says "positively no antimacassars" and there's a chapter called "No antimacassars, but some useful household things".

She promotes a "new" way to follow crochet patterns. As a teacher she has seen many crocheters have trouble reading patterns so this book teaches the reader to make paper patterns using "basic dressmaker skills." Not only does she show how to modify a paper sewing pattern for crochet, she uses paper patterns for even the most basic shapes, such as a beret. It's taken to a quirky degree in my opinion but I like how visual and tactile the approach is, so I can imagine it really would appeal to certain learners. Still, the way this template approach is overly relied on in this book, it: a) depends on "basic dressmaker skills" which fewer people have today, b) still leaves the the reader without the understanding of how to read a crochet pattern, and c) I wonder how new it really is; I thought crocheting or knitting clothes the way a dressmaker would go about it is very traditional. Maybe what's new about it is how she empowers you to draft your own paper patterns.

I was pleasantly surprised to find some flexibility in the clothing section. The author questions the need for side seams, and for working rows horizontally when there are benefits to working rows vertically in a garment (side-to-side construction). I thought her hats chapter was strong design-wise. I had to pick up the hook when she discussed cords and braids and before I knew it I had 4 bracelets. (All stitches are in UK terminology.)

I'm not raving about this book, am I? I don't know if I'll keep it. I guess much of this kind of book depends upon the projects being exciting and they aren't, they're too dated. I'm fond of the author's voice throughout the book. The author is described on the bookjacket as a skillful, lively, and amusing writer and I agree. I appreciate how concerned she is about crochet dying out in the future; she ends the book by urging readers to teach not just the girls but also the boys in their families how to crochet.

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