Drafting Patterns for Crochet and Knit Garments

There are few people who make their crochet ideas come to life without a plan and if your plan is to produce a pattern you will need some experience in pattern drafting. I have a background in theatrical costuming and have had to make many, many garments straight from a sketch. But unless it was a very small show, I had to be able to create a pattern that could be easily followed by cutter and seamstress to make my own design or that of another designer come to life. And it had to look like the picture.

The same holds true when creating a crochet or knit garment. It is unlikely that you will find a tech assistant that can or would be willing to create the first draft of a garment from a sketch. You could make the garment up first, but unless you are making something that is a variation on a standard pattern, you will need to draft the garment pattern first. Right now, I have started swatching for a vest idea, but I quickly realized that I need to draft the pattern in order to determine accurately where the stitch pattern needs to change for the proper fit and overall shape of the garment.

You don’t need to take a dressmakers pattern course to do this, but you do need to be able to draft a basic pattern and work from their. I’ll give you a few hints to get you started here and then give you some references for more in-depth instructions at the end.

You will need:

Large paper – at least half the desired circumference of your finished garment

Source options:

Dressmakers paper with large 1″ squares

Butcher paper  or brown wrapping paper – some art stores have it.

Reel ends of newsprint – used to be easily found at newspaper printing offices. Try calling around to any local publications that may still print their own papers.

Large paper scissors – an old pair of Fiskers works nicely

T square – hardware store or art supply store

Soft pencils and erasers – because you are working with cheap quality paper, the pencils and erasers need to be soft enough not to tear the paper.

Compass: for drawing curves

Let’s use a vest for this example. For a first try, let’s use a garment with a fit you already like. Creating the entire garment from scratch can come later, after you have the hang of how to get the basic shape down on paper.

Take the following measurements:

Largest circumference of garment: __________

Divide by 2: __________ = basic front & back width

Divide by 2 again: __________ = center front and back

Length of center back __________

Add at least 3″ top and bottom __________ = approximate length of front and back

Measure across shoulders __________

Distance across shoulder seam at neck __________

Distance from outer shoulder seam and lower armhole seam

__________

First measure the garment for the largest circumference (the entire measurement across front and back). Divide by half, this is your basic front and back size. You’ll see in a moment why we don’t measure each separately. Divide by half again; this mark is your center front and back.

Using front and back width and length draft two large rectangles with 3-6″ of room on all sides. It’s best to cut these into two separate pieces for ease of working with the sheets. Mark each sheet either front or back and mark the center point of each. All other measurements will start from this center point.

Back: Use the shoulder width measurement and center it over your center back. Mark the outer edges of the shoulders on each side. Draw a horizontal line 1″ above the shoulders. Center your ruler or t square and mark the inner neck measurement on the paper.  Use your compass to create a half circle by placing the point into the center back line and opening the compass to meet one of the inner shoulder seam marks and drawing your half circle to meet the other inner neck point. You should have a gentle curve that mimics the curve on your original garment. Take a visual check and see if this looks about right. You could lay the garment out on the paper and trace it but this leads to inaccurate curves because the fabric is not stable like the paper.

Are you confused, yet? You could trace around the entire garment, but then you would have to spend a lot of time truing up all your lines and you wouldn’t learn how the relationship between each line and curve works.

Front: Try taking similar measurents for one armhole. This time draw a rectangle from the top and bottom of the armhole inward to the deepest point on the armhole. Use this rectangle to round off the curve of the armhole, making the bottom curve close to a quarter circle and gently curving up to the outer shoulder seam. If you are familiar with commercial dresspatterns, you will recognize this type of curve. If you don’t sew, just trust me. It’s not and oval, it will create more of an egg shape when joined with the front.

For the front, save time by lightly tracing off the back. Measure across the widest part of the front (this will cross over the bust points if it fits well). Find the waist (in this case the narrowest point of the front. and mark that on your pattern. Be sure each of these marks are the proper distance vertically from the armhole and lower edge. For now, mark that distance and draw a line from the bottom front to the underarm seam, gently curving inward at the waist and then outward to bust line and underarm. You should have one continuous gentle curve. If you have sharp angles, soften your curve. If this means missing your  marks slightly, that’s ok. We are making a fabric that will have more stretch than a woven fabric, so it will ease over the curves.

This is a very simplified explanation and there are a lot more tricks and details that can be added as you gain confidence and skill. But this will give you a basic pattern to work from. You can then lay out a mock up of the stitch pattern in strategic places and discover where your increases and decreases will best be placed. Lily Chin’s book, Couture Crochet gives some good images of how a flat drafted paper patern looks. She actually works out the pattern on paper with the stitch pattern printed on it full size. In order to do this, you would need to go to an office supply store that has a printer used for printing architectural designs and have it printed there. I think it might be too costly for the beginning designer, but it is good to know it is possible.

Happy crocheting!

http://www.lilychinsignaturecollection.com/main.php

It’s Not about the Hook

We’ve considered crochet history and techniques and how they influenced today’s designs. Now we want to consider the process that gets us there. In order to create your own designs, you will need more than skill and great ideas. You’ll have to understand how fiber creates fabric.We say each fabric has a hand; meaning whether it is soft of stiff, smooth or coarse, whether it drapes well and holds a curve or looks better in pleats and tucks. When you knit or crochet, you are creating fabric and you need to take each of these things into consideration when choosing the right fiber for your design. But how do you know? If you are going to make a sewn garment, you go through the fabric store and look at color, sheen, and texture. You feel the fabric in your hand (thus the term hand) and you hold up a length of it to see how it drapes or pleats. In the case of crochet or knit, you are creating the fabric and you will need a good bit of knowledge about fiber to anticipate what kind of fabric you can create with a given fiber.

Reprinted with permission from Creating Crochet Fabric © 2010 by Dora Ohrenstein, Lark Crafts, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

Reprinted with permission from Creating Crochet Fabric © 2010 by Dora Ohrenstein, Lark Crafts, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

Dora Ohrenstein’s book Creating Crochet Fabric: experimenting with hook, yarn & stitch addresses all the procedures you need to follow in order to produce the right fabric for the design or pattern you want to make. She starts with the basics; going over the different types of fibers, their weights and size, and the different types of yarn that can made from them. Each of these elements alone will affect the resulting fabric. A fiber can have a thick or thin strand, it can have more or less twist, can have single or multiple strands, and more. The hook size, too, can affect your fabric but the yarn itself is by far the most important and complex choice you have to make. Dora has laid out all the details in this first chapter and then offered a simple circular motif scarf which can be made by repeating the same stitch pattern with a series of different fibers and gauges. This will give you a fun wearable project to experiment with and get the idea of how fiber weight and hook size affect outcome. You can follow this pattern or create a repeating design of your own as a practice piece.

In the following chapters, you’ll see many examples of swatches depicting definition with different types of fiber, how stitch patterns create geometric designs, colorwork samples, and swatches worked with different size yarns. Each chapter includes patterns you can use to go beyond swatches and make a practical project using the techniques you’ve learned. In the final chapters, Dora gives you suggestions for how to put together what you’ve learned, offers additional patterns and a short stitch dictionary to get you started. If you are serious about design, you’ll want to start collecting stitch dictionaries, too. But Creating Crochet Fabric will also be an excellent reference book that you will return to again and again as you continue to learn more about creating fabric in crochet. Read it cover to cover when you first get it and then keep it handy for future projects.

What’s your favorite crochet reference book?

Vintage Crochet Influences Today’s Designs

Have you ever wondered why some crocheted objects have a neat and professional look, while others have that homemade look as opposed to handmade? Skill with your medium, as well as with the hook, are needed to create a finished object that has all the qualities needed to serve its purpose and highlight its beautiful crocheted stitches. Crocheted garments need particular care in the choice of yarn or thread, as well as hook size. The wrong hook or a too think yarn can turn that gorgeous vest you worked so hard on into something as stiff as a throw rug.

It’s no wonder the choice of yarn and hook are the biggest challenge for crocheters. Historically, crochet was seen in household items, which required just such a stiff fabric. The other way we traditionally found crochet was in crocheted lace garments that were truly elegant, but could only be produced with thousands of hours of work, something most of us don’t have these days. So, the traditions were either very thick, dense, stiff fabric or very fine delicate fabric.

Knit fabric is naturally softer and most wool yarns were developed with knit garments in mind. So, this has been another barrier. Some folks, even think you can’t crochet with yarn, only thread. It’s true, crochet was most often done in cotton thread and thus we have those amazing motif designs which were seen around the house right up to through the 1950s as doilies and antimascars (seen on the backs of chairs as protection from men’s hair oil) which are the basis for many of the lovely exploded lace designs we see today on crocheted garments. A crocheted garment was for the most elegant occasions. So, if you could afford it, a crocheted wedding gown was a treasure, as was wedding gift of a crocheted bedspread.

In the 1960s there was a revival of crochet and other hand crafts. Today, we may remember the ungainly acrylic granny square vests as a testament to the ugly 1960s and 1970s, but this was also a time fo true innovation in the crochet art. As we saw in last week’s post, it was a time when wearable art came to the forefront and many innovative crochet designs remain as attractive and stylish today as they were in the hippie era. And don’t think it was all jeans skirts and granny square vests. I was recently perusing a website of vintage patterns from the ’60s and there were not one, but two, crocheted hoodies! If you made one of these, no one would never know they were designed in the 1960s. And how about all those fashions with ripple stripes we see today? Yep, 1970s styles in that amazing new polyester started the craze. Crochet pattern designers, also, had some lovely interpretations of ripple striped tops. What goes around comes around.

What was happening during that period more than anything else was experimentation. Sure some of the styles didn’t work, or they only worked for that time period, but the experimentation lead to a better understanding of how crochet works. Whether it’s crochet, knit, or woven, it’s the fabric that makes the garment. Fabric has a texture, a hand, and a drape that will determine how the final garment will look and all the experimentation during the mid to late 20th century helped develop the wide variety of patterns and even the influenced the innovative yarns and threads we have available today.

So, the next time you are browsing patterns on the web or stash diving at a garage sale, take a second look at some of the old designs. If a design was a great look back in its day, it is probably still a great design today. Try to imagine the same garment with today’s yarns and colors. With only minor modifications in fit, maybe the same pattern could be given a totally modern look. Women’s garments, especially can go from baggy to body hugging in just a few years. If you are crocheting it yourself, you can adjust that fit to suit your body and today’s fashion look. Bring the shoulders in, and a 1980s look can become a classic. Lengthen a 1950′s cashmere sweater, and you have an updated, yet still elegant look.

The trick is knowing how to get the look you want. Next week, we will take a closer look at creating the fabric. Getting that right is the number one skill you need to get a polished look with your crocheted garments. We’ll take a look at Dora Ohrenstein’s book, Creating Crochet Fabric, and highlight some of the basic skills and top tips she gives you in the next post.

Till then, Happy Crocheting!

The Crocheter’s Art: Nicki Hitz Edson

I am isolated here in a small town with not much of a crochet book collection in the local library. So, I recently requested some crochet books on interlibrary loan, just to see what might be  available. Apparently, here in Tennessee, there is a dearth of books on crochet. But among the few books I was able to obtain was Del Pitt Feldman’s The Crocheter’s Art (Doubleday, 1974). I remember this book from my early research into fiber arts and it is now a classic. A first edition is listed on Amazon for more than $600 dollars! Don’t worry; there is a contemporary paperback available for about $11.00. I daresay, the pictures are not nearly so marvelous as in the original.

This book came at a time when crafts and especially fiber arts were experiencing renewed interest and, for the first time since the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century, fiber arts were being recognized as art and being included in shows in some of the major national galleries. Today, the larger museums still give a nod to crafts with a few select pieces, but major shows are not on the agenda. (Readers, correct me on this one if I am wrong. Are we in a renewal period for textile arts? If you know of any art shows that are currently featuring fiber artists, please post them here. This site is all about making crochet as art more visible and along with that goes any related textile art.)

Some of the artists featured in The Crocheter’s Art are no longer working, but a few are still around and even still actively producing work. I’d like to focus on just one of these artists today. Her name is Nicki Hitz Edson. Some of her best known early work was crocheted masks. She is an artist after my own heart, one of my favorite art forms is maks and my current favorite textile medium is crochet. You can find excellent full color photos of some of these early works at Nicki’s website.(http://www.nickihitzedson.com/index.php-page=crochet.html) My personal favorite is the Satyr. What’s yours?

These masks look as fresh and inspired as they did back in the day when they were first being shown in Tiffany’s windows and the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City. Her mask work continued to be a major part of her art shows throughout the 1970s and then in the 1980s wearable art became the predominant theme in her work. This is not to say her work is limited only to these two ideas. If you browse through the other pages on her website, you will see she also does tapestries and pet portraits, gives workshops in freeform crochet, and sells patterns for some of her original designs for  knitted vests.

I hope looking at Nicki Hitz Edson’s work has given you some inspiration. Has anyone tried a crocheted mask? Maybe there are some of you out there who’ve done some similar work for theatrical costuming. These are not your typical weekend projects for a Halloween costume, but they could be something for one of the big masked balls held around the major cities during the Halloween season. Post a comment, link, or photo of your work or work of someone you admire who’s done some amazing crochet masks!

Happy crocheting!

My short hiatus

I have missed my goal of posting once a week. I started a new job, part time only; but I haven’t had the brain energy to do the serious kind of post I like to do for this website. In upcoming posts, I will be researching crochet artists from the past decades and considering how crochet has changed for the 21st century. I will look at who is still around and active in the medium and how  they have changed and, also, who are some of the up and coming crochet names today in future posts. So stay with me.

Oh, yes, during the chaos of the last couple of weeks, I finally finished a crocheted jacket that I started more than a year ago. It’s been five jobs, seven moves, and a lot of stress, including a lot of hair falling out. But I am pleased with the result. I am not planning on posting pictures of my own work here, but I will have a photo up on Ravelry  by the weekend.

BTW: If anyone knows the protocol for posting pictures of other people’s work, please comment or send me an email. I’d like to have images of the work I am reviewing here, but I am afraid most of the work I am reviewing has copyrighted photos.

I am going away for the weekend, so I should have a new post by Friday evening. Stay tuned!

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